Showing posts from January, 2009

YAWA - Your Event Guide for February

Here's the latest monthly event guide as compiled by the You Ask, We Answer team :D

Snowdrops are bravely showing their heads to reassure us that Spring really is on its way. Many gardens noted for snowdrops have events in full swing this month. The coldest start to winter for over 30 years should give us a magnificent display this year, to more than satisfy all Galanthophiles * Details of National Trust properties with snowdrop events can be found here. Other properties worth visit are Brandy Mount House (complete with snowdrop national collection), Hodsock Priory and Welford Park. An extensive list of gardens famed for their snowdrops with links can be found here.

Like last year, I'm conducting my weekly snowdrop count. It currently stands at 898 - this time last year it stood at exactly 700.

* = the name given to snowdrop lovers, particularly collectors. I can't recall any other group having a special name like galanthophiles do - can anyone enlighten me?

Dates of note:

Defining Public Planting

Click to enlarge if needed: the public planting at the centre of Radstock, Somerset on a grey January day two weeks ago

At the start of the year I declared I'll be writing a series about public planting. Of course my taste might not be yours, so my good and bad may end up with us having a debate (I do hope so), but before we get to that part, I need to state some terms of reference.

I've found there's all sorts of opinions on what actually constitutes public planting. In its widest sense it can be anything designed for us to view, or land that's accessible to us all. If these were my terms, we'd need to consider any properties with gardens open to the public, allotments, parks, common land - practically everything that's not built on, farmed or designated as a National Park or Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. I just want to focus on the everyday and (usually) mundane: the areas we pass by on the way to work, the landscaping of our suburban estates, what we s…

Veg Plotting - 2009 Style

Click on image to enlarge if needed
This year's plot's a little nearer reality now I've sucked on the end of my pencil and produced my planting plan - the sole record keeping I have for my allotment apart from the task and buying information I record for both plot and garden in my RHS diaries. You can see last year's plan here, which also explains a bit more about my allotment's design. It's got a basic grouping of 4 sub-plots, which makes planning crop rotation a breeze as long as I keep the previous year's plan updated with what actually went where. Permanent features and planting are in glorious technicolour, the rest's in pencil until the actual planting takes place as the initial and actual plans are rarely the same. I'm hoping to start actual plotting next month if the soil's not too wet - with the shallots I've saved from last year's mega crop, plus the garlic currently in pots on my patio. Other jobs earmarked for next month inclu…

ABC Wednesday 4 - B is for...

...Book Review
Just before Christmas I had the good fortune to win this book courtesy of the lovely Zoe and her fundraising advent blog. She's raised over £441 pounds so far for Macmillan Cancer Support - how about helping to make it a round £450 or even £500 by visiting her fundraising page? If you're not aware of Zoe's story, you might like to have a look at her Journey blog first.
When I found out I'd won, I promised to review the book as soon as I'd read it - here goes.
Val Bourne is a well known garden writer and organic gardener who writes regularly in a number of our newspapers and gardening magazines. This is the first book I've read by her and it won't be the last. Although Clive Nichols is credited with Special Photography on the front cover, most of the sumptuous photographs are Val's, mainly taken in her own garden. They're so vibrant and colourful, thus making a fantastic advertisement for organic gardening before I'd even started to r…

Desert Island Plants - The Experts Set Sail

This is a follow up post to last week's fun and very successful Desert Island meme posed by Shirl plus my response. If you haven't visited her desert island already, do pop over and follow Mr Linky to see what we all came up with.
Whilst I was researching links for yesterday's post, my search for Graham Stuart Thomas revealed he'd chosen hisdesert island plants for a series of articles Mary Keen wrote for The Telegraph in 2002. It seems he had just as much trouble as we did in deciding and he had the luxury of choosing eight! His selection naturally errs towards the herbaceous border and is particularly rich in winter interest: Alchemilla mollis, Crocus tommasinianus, Hedychium coccineum 'Tara', Hemerocallis 'Marion Vaughan', Jasmine nudiflorum, Mahonia x media 'Underway', Rhododendron x 'Nobleanum Venustum' and Rosa 'Souvenir de St Annes'.
Do follow the link to the original article as Mary Keen is a lively writer. She also mana…

Garden Tagging The National Trust Way

Gardening Gone Wild's (GGW) design theme is all about plant labelling and records this month and last time I wrote about my own tagging and record keeping. This post's about my experiences from volunteering at the National Trust's (NT) HQ in Swindon. The guy I do the voluntary work for is the NT's plant curator, meaning he's responsible for ensuring there's a good methodology in place for labelling and record keeping its hundreds of thousands of plants in the 200-odd gardens in its care, and also for looking after the Trust's plant database.
Until now, the recommended way has been to label major trees and shrubs with small, unobtrusive aluminium tags like the ones shown above. I've found quite a few of these whilst trawling through the Trust's gardening archive boxes - each tag I find represents a dead plant. I've also found long 'labels lists' i.e. lists of plants a Head Gardener (HG) sends to HQ, so that interpretive labels can be orde…

Erm, I Think I Might Have a Book Problem...

We always kick start the new year with a thorough tidying up, especially our respective studies. Mine's still a work in progress because things have got even more out of hand than usual. This pile of books was rescued from various corners and is awaiting a new home somewhere. That's not counting the enormous pile by the side of my bed either. Nor the box of 6 which arrived from Amazon on Monday (thank you Premium Bonds).
We bought Billy last year to cope with a similar sized problem, but he's full now. NAH's adamant I can't have a giant new bookcase on the landing even though there's loads of room for one. All the other bookcases are full to collapsing point. I feel like part of me goes out the door when I get rid of a book, even if I'm donating it to charity, so I've only managed a measly 7 for that particular pile. Even so, they're threatening to play hide and seek back into the house whilst I'm not looking.
Hmm, what am I to do?
My name is V…

Problems You Don't Get at the Office

NAH is finding competition for the mouse can be quite tough when he works at home and the cats' keyboard skills leave a lot to be desired too. We held our second board meeting yesterday - with a cake baking in the breadmaker at the same time after the last meeting's woeful sparseness in that department - and Skimble insisted on joining in with us. He just would not stop climbing onto the table, purring and nudging the various files and papers. The only way we could stop him was for NAH to have him sitting on his lap*. We went flat screen quite a while ago, so we have at least managed to cure the cat draped over the monitor problem before all this mayhem started.

* = NAH's written up the meeting's minutes showing Skimble as an attendee, so I guess that makes him our company's sleeping partner ;)

If you work at home, what unforeseen problems have you encountered which differ from office life?

Desert Island Plant Fare

It's January, gloomy and raining, so what could be nicer than to be wafted away to a desert island where there's warmth, blue skies, good company and a host of lovely plants to grow chosen by my garden blogging buddies? Shirl set us that challenge for yesterday, but my leaky, battered raft of a blog has taken a little while to reset its course and has landed on the soft, white sand a day late. I hope I'm not too late for the welcoming party. Rum punch anyone?
James set us a similar challenge last year and it's one worth revisiting with Shirl, only this time we have just three plants allowed as stowaways instead of six. My head really hurt back then when choosing my companions and you'd think that by having a shortlist already, I'd be in a better position to whittle it down to three. That just ain't so, the plants I didn't include the last time around are still sulking in my garden and of course the select six are still preening themselves most winsomely…

Tagging My Garden

Gardening Gone Wild's design topic for this month asks how we label our gardens and keep our records. As my garden is small and not open to the public, I don't have any labels in my garden at all. I used to occasionally put out the labels which came with my purchases in my previous gardens, particularly for plants which die down or were in the seasonal pots, but found the plastic soon became brittle and broke up, not to mention how awful they looked in the first place. Gone was the plant's ID and the useful information found on the label. Record keeping was nil. A different solution was needed.

When I started my current garden in 2000, it was the first time I was a plant planner rather than a plant plonker. I'd been reading every gardening magazine and scrap of information I could find on plants for a year before we decided on the garden's design, so I was pretty sure of which ones I'd include. However, the garden was my largest so far and had so many levels and…

ABC Wednesday 4 - A is for...

... Allotment News Roundup
The picture may have been taken on a gloomy day, but for once I have some positive allotment news to report. As you can see, Bradford on Avon (about 10 miles away) is set to have some sparkly new ones. Fifty new plots will be available for a three-year let on farmland and are already over subscribed. Trowbridge - Wiltshire's county town - is also seeking to extend one of their current sites and Corsham, another town near here is also keeping an eye open for suitable land. There are 70 names on the waiting list and the town council is anticipating room for new plots will be made available as soon as a site is found for a new cemetery. I haven't been able to find a link for you to verify this story, so you'll have to rely on my memory of an article I read in Wiltshire Life at the dentist's recently. I'm rather intrigued - are the town council looking for dual usage perhaps, or just a site with room to house both alongside each other?

RHS Online Forum - Update

What an interesting morning that was! And I'm glad to see Arabella, Gary and NewShoot joined me for the debate. It would have been good to have had a few more there, but the low attendance is to be expected on a working weekday. It would be interesting to hear how it compared with other Q&A sessions held previously.

The low turnout didn't mean there was a small number of questions though. Lively debates were had on membership, the broadening of The Garden's content, value for money, Gift Aid, RHS Shows and a 5thRHS garden amongst others. 21 threads were started and I suspect it might have been more had the method of kicking them off and getting back to the start of the forum had been a little more user-friendly.

I managed to ask all the questions you asked me to (if I wasn't beaten to them already) and the forum is being kept on indefinitely for future debate and reading for those of you who are interested. Overall, a good start - though note that not everything wa…

Sharing the Spoils - VPGGB #8

After our seed choosing session, Threadspider and I decided it would be great to do the same with our potato order. They arrived last week and we met up at my house to divide the spoils. We'd both chosen one of our favourite croppers from last year, plus we gave a little nod to nostalgia by each choosing a variety our fathers liked to grow. I chose Harlequin and Pentland Javelin, Threadspider went for Vivaldi (the potato lower in carbohydrate) and Ulster Chieftain. It also meant we shared postage costs between us, our size of order qualified for a free bag of Dunluce and we can grow more varieties than usual without having to resort to buying massive quantities, nor using up half our plots to grow them. Result!
We've decided not to order any maincrop or late potatoes - blight's been so bad up at the site the past couple of years and we're not going for any of the Sarpo varieties (blight resistant) to compensate. Having harvested a massive bag of spuds is one thing, but …

Stop Press - RHS Online Forum

I've just been checking out the RHS website ready for tomorrow's online Question and Answer session and it looks like you can set up questions ahead of tomorrow morning's 9.30-12.30 live discussion. There's a couple on there already and it means there's an opportunity to take part even if things like work prevent you from doing so tomorrow.

As I mentioned in my post last week, you need to be registered on the My Garden section of the RHS website in order to take part. Once you've done this, go to the Forum section and click on the RHS Directors Online Forum discussion thread. If you've already registered or just want read-only access, then this link will take you there. You'll see I've tested it out already by taking the Write a New Post option and asking how long the discussion will be available for viewing afterwards.

Thanks to those of you who commented last week - I've added your questions to my extensive list ready for tomorrow.

Calling All Food Lovers!

Emma Cooper (Fluffius Muppetus) has started an exciting food growing bloggers e-book project. Here's an extract from her introductory post:

...Contributions could be on anything relevant – green gardening, composting, detailed cultivation notes on a particular plant, a report of a visit to a kitchen garden that’s open to the public, notes on how to deal with a pest or a disease, or just a collection of handy hints. It doesn’t have to be high brow, tales of gardening disasters could work too. We’ll also need photos or illustrations, and if you’re a gardening cook then perhaps you could share a recipe. Maybe you once wrote a blog post that you think deserves a more lasting audience. Each contribution would be attributed to the author, you can plug your blog/ website/ other projects/ favourite charity along the way...

This came hot on the heels of my Undecided post and seemed just the ticket to do something with my writing, so I signed up straight away. There's still plenty of room…

No Fuchsia In It?

It's not long into the new year and I'm ready to have a rant courtesy of the above advertisement I received recently. It's for the world's first striped Fuchsia and as much as I usually love them, I do hate the habit some nurseries seem to have in bringing us pretty well every variation and colour for a plant under the sun, irrespective of their quality and whether we actually want them. Judging by the pictures actually used, to call this Fuchsia striped is quite debatable and adds nothing as far as I'm concerned. In fact I think it looks worse - if I saw that in someone's garden I'd be worrying the plant had a virus.
I'm not even told whether this is a hardy or tender plant, just the massive price saving I can expect by taking them up on the offer. I hate the assumption I'm completely price driven when considering plants for my garden. It's called Bland's New Striped - hardly the best of names to choose, except maybe the marketing people had…

How Advertising Works In Chippenham 3

Spend several years locked in a controversial planning tussle to build on some land on the edge of ChippenhamThe company finally starts building and advertises the fact on major routes close byAmend these advertisements with your feelings on the subjectWait for a blogger with a camera to notice what's happeningEt voila! This is the third in an occasional series on the more unusual advertising seen around Chippenham. The last one was here and in turn links to the first one. If you like these you may also like to see what I said about Bath and Devizes. If this builds up into a more substantial body of work, I'll set up a label for them.
I have a couple more in the pipeline... ;)

VPGGB #7 - Living Salad

I laughed at the idea at full price - I thought to myself - I can do that at home from seed much more cheaply and so promptly did nothing about it. But at 20p reduced from £1.29...
A quick trip to the supermarket after choir on Monday evening to buy some biscuits ready for the accountant coming to see us the next day, found me waylaid by the bargain vegetable trolley. And so I came home with the pictured tray of Red Chard, Baby Pak Choi, Tatsoi and Golden Streaks. Oh and some dark chocolate HobNobs too.
Having a Sell By date's a bit laughable in this instance, but OK by me. What do you think? It means a kick start to this year's successional sowing - I'm already ahead on last year's efforts :)

GBBD - January Brings the Snow...

Click to enlarge image if needed. Clockwise from top left: Clematis cirrhosa 'Freckles', Pulmonaria, Primrose 'Cottage Cream', Galanthus nivalis
It was touch and go whether Blooms Day would be held here at VP Gardens this month owing to the week upon week of frosts with a little snow and the many freezing cold days we've had since the beginning of December. It's officially the coldest start to winter for 30 years, but of course we still have a while to see whether that title will be upheld.
As a consequence all the plants in bud last month have stayed steadfastly so, except for Lonicera x purpusii 'Winter Beauty'. However, my winter honeysuckle's flowers are so small, they confused my camera and stayed resolutely unfocused in the viewfinder. The same happened with my rosemary (another new bloom this month) and my Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve' (in bloom for a whole 8 months so far!). The winter jasmine has retreated to the back fence in a huff and a …

ABC Wednesday - Z is for...

The United States Department for Agriculture (USDA) plant hardiness zone map, 1990
... Zones - a You Ask, We Answer Guide

If you blog about gardening here in Britain, it's not too long before you encounter your American and Canadian cousins who all talk about which zone they garden in as if it was as natural as breathing. Strike up a conversation with any of these gardeners and it's not long before you're asked what zone is your garden? Luckily when I was first asked this last year, I had just been looking at the above map in The Essential Design Workbook by Rosemary Alexander.

The USDA map is based on winter low temperature records and divides the continent into 11 hardiness zones - zone 1 is the coldest and zone 11 the warmest (plants surviving lows of -45.6 degrees centigrade or below, and lows of just 4.5 degrees centigrade respectively).
Whilst knowing their garden's zone is a useful tool for your American and Canadian friends to understand what they can grow in …

Parsnip Potage

When I told you all about parsnips last week little did I realise that I'd need a follow up post quite so soon. We decided the large parsnip on the right of last week's photo was too much, even for parsnip lovers like us, so I put it back in the damp newspaper I'd used to take it up to Yorkshire, so it wouldn't dry out. Back home I prefer to store them in the allotment, though I couldn't get at them last week because the ground was frozen solid! Others who dig them up and store them in damp sand would have been feeling most superior.

So it was just as well I had my newspaper wrapped parsnip when I came to make some soup. On unwrapping it, I was surprised to find the top of the parsnip had started to sprout as shown in the picture, betraying its close cousinship with celery. As a result I'm wondering if parsnip tops can be forced* like other vegetables such as beetroot. I'm tempted to have a go with the ones left up at the allotment. These tops are edible (…

The RHS - Time To Be Direct

A little while back a number of us had a bit of a rant about the RHS and I also examined whether I was getting value for money from my membership. It seems that the powers that be must have been listening and have arranged an online question and answer session for next Tuesday (January 20th) from 9.30am until 12.30pm.
You don't have to be a member of the RHS to take an active part, but you do need to register on the My Garden section of their website. If you don't, you'll have a read-only access. If you've already registered, it might be an idea to try and login beforehand, because if like me you're an infrequent user, it may take a while or you may need to go through the password reset process like I did.
The lineup for the Q&A session is impressive: Inga Grimsey - Director GeneralJill Cherry - Director of Gardens & EstatesDr Simon Thornton-Wood - Director of Science & LearningSarah Buxton - Director of FinanceGordon Seabright - Commercial DirectorDan …

At Sandbanks

Click on image to enlarge if needed. Clockwise from top left: 1. Ferry shed window 2. Poole Harbour on ice 3. Ferry with bus 4. Jetty 5. Ferry shed detail 6. Shore Road, Poole 7. All aboard 8. Street furniture 9. Our ferry arrives

NAH and I made one of our regular trips to Poole yesterday to see his aunt - always an enjoyable experience. We arrived at midday and immediately entered her timewarp where lunch takes at least 3 hours, very continental and relaxing. When asked what she'd like to do for the rest of the afternoon, she requested a trip to Sandbanks, on the edge of Poole and always an interesting place to visit, for me in winter particularly as I think that's the best time to be at the seaside.

Our trip took us past Evening Hill, scene of many a windsurfing weekend and holiday for us, though with no windsurfers to view yesterday as we'd arrived at low tide. Poole is always an interesting place to windsurf as it has a double high tide owing to the proximity of the Isle…

Hyacinths - The Easy Peasy Way

There was quite a bit of a conversation over at Emma's recently on the difficulty of Christmas hyacinth cultivation. I'd just taken the above photo and was feeling a bit smug, so I left the following Comment:
The solution for hyacinths is:
Your niece (11) and nephew (7) buy you some for Christmas and get them delivered to you a couple of days beforehandYou put them on the coolest windowsill in the house, because the accompanying leaflet tells you to put them somewhere cool and where there's not too much light so they won't flop over - our dining room's ideal as it's north facing and the central heating doesn't seem to work in thereYou also give the moss area around the bulbs about 2 teaspoons of water because the leaflet says to give them just a tiny amountYou shut the door and forget about them. In the meantime Christmas and New Year happenYou go past said dining room yesterday (5th January) and are bowled over by the scent of hyacinths COMING THROUGH THE DO…

VPGGB # 6 - Compost

I don't usually expect much in the way of gardening bargains in the January sales, but Homebase this year have come up trumps - 60 litres of peat free compost substantially reduced as you can see from the picture. January would normally be one of the worst times to buy compost too - the bags on sale have usually been left outside for months and consequently have had a lot of their nutrients leached out and aren't a good buy. However, the bag I bought a few days ago had been kept inside in the stock area, was for sale inside the shop and was therefore OK. Just as well as I still have a few tulip bulbs left to pot up as I ran out of compost just before Christmas.
At other times of the year, you may pick up similar bargains. Stores often have a cheap deal going on 3 bags of compost and I use the empty bags as a weed suppressing cover on my allotment. I have 10 compost bins on the go, so you'd think I'd never have to buy any wouldn't you? But I seem to have a garden and…

My Garden's Mission Statement

Part of our back garden on Monday morning - click to enlarge if needed
Anna (Flowergardengirl) wrote an amusing and excellent post a few days ago about the name she's given to her garden. This was inspired by an article by Helen Yoest over at Gardening with Confidence who's challenged us all to come up with a name and/or mission statement for our own gardens.

At first I dismissed the idea and told her so. I've spent many a long meeting at work where we've discussed mission statements ad nauseum. They're meant to encapsulate an organisation's ethos in a succinct and memorable way, so it's a serious business and needs to be just right. In my experience World War III has practically broken out over whether and where the word and belongs in the sentence. It can get really picky and heated. As a result I feel they belong firmly in my former life and not my present one, certainly not in something as personal and non-corporate as my garden. However, I found I coul…

ABC Wednesday - Y is For...

... YAWA - Your Guide to January's Top Events

Last year when ABC Wednesday was back at S, I promised You Ask, We Answer would provide a guide to UK gardening events for 2009. At the time I thought I'd just highlight the quirky like the sprout festival Anna had found, but on doing some research, I thought it would be good to include all manner of things which you might be interested in hearing about or even attending. I found the list got ever larger, so I've divided it into a monthly guide.

Although it's winter and our gardening activities are severely curtailed, there's still plenty of events to highlight this month:

Gardeners' Question Time - 9th January onwards. Not really an event, but a new time to note. The new broadcast day changes from Sunday to Friday afternoon at 3pm, with a full repeat (not shortened like today's will be) on Sundays at 2pm. It looks like the content's undergoing a revamp, as we're promised a weekly rant from one of the panel…

A Guide to Parsnips - You Ask, We Answer

It never ceases to surprise me how some of the simple things I take for granted are complete unknowns to other people. But the comments from December's comedy vegetable post soon showed me parsnips are not the universal seasonal food I thought they were - apparently they're only familiar now to northern European gardeners. So for Prairie Rose, who asked and Mr McGregor's Daughter, who didn't like the look of them, here's You Ask, We Answer's definitive guide.

You'll see I've pictured Pastinaca sativa this time in both their misshapen and desired forms, together with their close relative, the carrot. Both are umbellifers, setting their seed in their second year, though they're usually harvested during the first so they can be eaten at their sweetest and most tender. Parsnips in particular can go rather woody at their core if they're left too long before harvesting.

I've welcomed the chance to investigate their history: in cultivation here fo…