Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Saturday, 28 February 2009

YAWA - Your Diary for March

Whenever I think of March, it's in the colour yellow. February's gloom gives way to crocuses, daffodils and primroses in abundance: even the cheery self-sown Lesser Celandine in my gravel path's a welcome sight. I was worried my daffodils might be too late to show you for St David's day tomorrow, but they're just beginning to flower - much later than last year. By the end of this month, I expect most of you will be fed up of the sight of them as we UK bloggers proudly boast about our sunny blooms - Carol, you have been warned!

Daffodils are found in the wild here in England, so rather than telling you about the cultivated daffodil festivals and walks around various gardens, I thought it would be a treat to show you some of the places where they're still found. First stop has to be the Lake District, to the place which inspired Wordsworth's famous poem, no less. Next, we visit the Malvern Hills, close enough to visit Patient Gardener for a cup of tea as well perhaps? They're also found in abundance near here in Gloucestershire, where they're celebrated in various events during March. Finally, UK Safari has a summary of places I've left out of our whirlwind tour, so you can seek them out for yourself if you have the time.

Dates of note this month:

6-15th March - National Science Week (harrumph, that's more than a week - Ed.). EmmaT's already blogged about a rather fab event at Kew. Unfortunately I can't go as NAH's whisking me away for the weekend.

13th March - Comic Relief's Red Nose Day. The biennial event where the entire nation goes ever so slightly bonkers. I'll have more on this later.

14th March - National Ideas Day. I have no idea what this is about ;)

20th March - Spring equinox, so we have as much day as night today - hurrah the lighter times have arrived! More information about equinoxes and solstices can be found here.

22nd March - Mothering Sunday and World Water Day. Here's the post I wrote about the latter event last year.

28th March - Earth Hour - vote for planet earth with your light switch.

29th March - The clocks go forward as British Summer Time begins. Am I the only one who's out of sorts for ages after this happens, in spite of the lighter evenings?

Have a great month everyone - if you've anything to add to March's diary, do let us know here at You Ask, We Answer ;)

Friday, 27 February 2009

Out on the Streets: Your Public Planting

It seems my posts about public planting have struck a bit of a chord - thank you for your response thus far. It's led to Lucy and I putting together a joint post recently on the roundabout she spotted in Weymouth; Anna has generously sent me a photo of a veggie planting she saw in France for me to use at a suitable point; and a couple of you (thanks Susan and Catmint) requested an opportunity to throw things open for contributions from anyone. That's great and was something I'd been mulling over for a while. Most of the examples I'm using are taken from my neighbourhood or travels and thus have geographical limitations. This is a subject that touches us all.

So I'd like to announce Out on the Streets, a quarterly look at public planting in your neighbourhood and/or on your travels this year. What you choose to show us is entirely up to you - here's some ideas:
  • Choose a site, perhaps the one closest to where you live and show us how it changes through the seasons. OR perhaps you have something to say about the way plants are used in the public area of an office or another building you visit frequently
  • Write about a community project that's happening in your neighbourhood, maybe one you're involved in yourself
  • The Good the Bad and the Ugly - contrasting examples you see every day or you've noticed on your travels
  • Choose an example near you and find out about the people responsible for designing, building or maintaining it
  • Write about a particular issue or trend you'd like to explore which fits this meme e.g. Britain in Bloom (or another community project), vandalism (and how it can be minimised), vertical gardens, or something else...
  • Anything else that takes your fancy - you may like to have a look at the post I wrote when I introduced my public planting series to see how I'm defining it for my own use this year: it may help you to focus in on a particular topic you'd like to write about

I thought I'd put up a couple of pictures as examples to give you further 'starters for ten'. At the head of this post is a picture I took on the way to the RHS Show last week. London is noted for the lavish planting some landlords use to decorate their pubs. In the summer these are usually eye fryingly bright or use a patriotic colour scheme (red, white and blue), but here you can see a more restrained planting the pub has adopted for its winter wear. Now if I went to London on a regular basis, this might be the kind of shot suitable to show seasonal changes, or to cavalcade the best and/or worst examples.

You don't have to live in an urban area like London to take part in this topic. Lucy has kindly sent me this more rural scene as part of her active search for a suitable example to show on her Pictures Just Pictures blog as we're planning another joint post. The photo shows tree planting recently completed on the Poundbury bypass in Dorset: this happens quite a lot in this country on our bypass roads - lots of trees are planted at much denser rates than they should be on maturity. I'll return to this topic when I get to talk about roadside verges soon.

I've also created a new slideshow for my sidebar to include the public planting photos I've posted thus far; some previously unpublished ones; plus all the photos kindly sent to me by Lucy and Anna. These may give you further inspiration if you decide to join in.

So when do I post? It's up to you. I'm keeping this topic open during the whole of March: my post's due to go up on March 2nd and I'll put in Mr Linky on there for you to add your post's details as and when you do them. I'll also put a photo link up on my sidebar that day like the current Dinner Party one, so you can easily find this topic again. I'll also do a summary post at the end of the month, especially if we uncover some recurrent issues or themes to mull over as a result of your posts. Don't worry if you've nothing to contribute for March as there'll be opportunities to take part in June, September and December.

See you soon, Out on the Streets!

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Interviewing Myself: For Double Danger

It's February, so there needs to be lots of fun things to do to brighten up the month. My latest find is Double Danger's starting their own meme: it's a bit like doing a mini interview, so I'm feeling like I'm talking to myself whilst putting this post together. Hope I don't mutter too much, can you hear me clearly out there...?

Describe your gardening style.

What was the last plant you bought?
The lovely pale blue Iris reticulata at the RHS London Show's plant sell off last week. I was going to put them into my revamped border project, but after reading James' article a couple of days ago, I'm tempted to try them out in my gravel bed. Perhaps that gives you an inkling why my gardening style's confused - or should that be indecisive?

What were the last seeds you bought?
It depends on what you mean by seed. I bought some seed potatoes at Malmesbury Potato Day at the end of January. If you mean packet seeds, then that was the seed order Threadspider and I put together at the end of November via our local Garden & Allotment Society. Each member puts their individual orders in which then get transferred into one giant one, thus giving us a huge discount (40%) - a bargain. I'm going to collect the seeds on Sunday and then Threadspider and I will divide the spoils next week. A great excuse for a get together and a coffee :)

When was the last time you had to pick the dirt from under your nails?
This morning - one hour and twenty minutes ago to be exact. I've just come back from the allotment where I dug up some leeks and carrots (see photo) to add to the soup I'm making for lunch. That's simmering away nicely now, so in the meantime I just popped up here to write today's post.

Any big plans for the garden this year?
Lots - as usual. Though to make sure I actually complete something this year, I've restricted myself to just one major project, which is to revamp the back border of my back garden. Other plans for this year can be found here.

What was has been your biggest mistake in gardening EVER?
Mmm, so many to choose from. Apart from the bad choice and siting of the Berberis and bluebells I talked about the other day, my other current bugbear is my Skimmia bushes. I made the mistake of putting them out on the sunniest spot on my patio in their first year, so they turned a sickly yellow colour. Although I've moved them to a nice shady spot, they haven't recovered and look at me forlornly every time I go to my shed.

Biggest success?

Two years ago I managed to pick 24 punnets of strawberries in just 10 days. I'm not talking about your usual punnet size, but those containers designed to hold eight peaches. The unusually warm spring that year meant there were lots more flowers and pretty well 100% fruit set. NAH and I managed to scoff the lot, no problem.

If you could be doing anything right now in regards to gardening… what would it be?
There's so many jobs just crying out to be done at the moment, so it's hard to pick just one. The thing that's going to make the most difference right now is if I go out and clear all the leaves off the patio and gravel path. Just a quick tidy up always looks like you've done more than you actually have. So that's this afternoon's job - byeeee!

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

GBDW/ABC Wednesday 4 - F is For...

... Felines in the Garden

I'm doubling up on a couple of my regular memes this week, to tell you a little more about Skimble and Jess and the role they play in my gardening. As you may have noticed, I call them my 'garden helpers': that's because as soon as I start to do anything in the garden, such as weeding or digging, they're always there, shoving their noses into anything that's going on, trying to lend a paw and generally approving anything I do, particularly if it means they can thoroughly get in the way. Whilst it usually ends with me, gently pushing them to one side and shouting 'gerrrrroff!', I do enjoy their company in the garden. They certainly take more interest in my activities than NAH does!

There's plenty of advice around about pets and gardening, but I have to confess I haven't read much of it. My garden's design didn't really take them into account, because when we made it they weren't here and their predecessor was rather old and ill at the time. However, they do like its nooks and crannies, especially during the heat of summer when there's usually a cooler, shadier spot for them to find somewhere. At other times they'll seek out the warmer spots - like the patio and stone bench they're adorning at the top of this post. One thing I've learnt since we've had them is to be a lot more relaxed about my gardening. I can guarantee a different part will become the must-have spot each year, so of course the plants there get rather flattened. And whilst I might feel a little annoyed at the time, I know from experience that the plants will bounce back eventually and next year it'll be the turn of another to become their 'summer bedding'.

I haven't really borne them in mind when choosing plants for the garden either. In their first year here I did plant some Nepeta 'Six Hills Giant' for them and that was one plant that did succumb to their attentions. They both absolutely adored it and spent hours rolling around on it in sheer ecstasy. I haven't planted any since then. The only other planting change I've ever made is not to grow lilies as these are toxic to cats. I wouldn't usually worry about toxic plants as apart from grass from the lawn (and the Nepeta!), they don't eat any plants. However, lilies are rather profuse with their pollen, which can be easily transferred to fur as they brush past the flowers, which would then be licked off when grooming. That could be sufficient to make them very sick cats, so regrettably lilies have been struck off my planting list.

Keeping cats can be controversial with non-cat owners or naturalists - and here's some advice for you if you do have a cat problem in your garden. The former are usually concerned their neighbours cats may use their garden as a loo. We've been lucky with our neighbours thus far, they've either been cat owners themselves or haven't had any trouble from our two on that score. Naturalists are rather concerned about the impact of cats on wildlife, particularly small mammals and birds. Admittedly ours are rather good at catching mice and voles (usually when NAH is away, so I have to deal with them), but I've seen plenty others scurrying about the neighbourhood for the local owls to hunt at night. They do bring in frogs from time to time too, which we have to chase round the kitchen in order to catch them. Birds are bought in to us about once or twice a year, so they don't really hunt them that much. Jess is usually too busy chasing butterflies and Skimble is very lazy - perhaps we feed them too well? The only other notable catches in their 8 years here have been a bat (which recovered and flew off) and a large ginger hamster. Luckily this wasn't next door's as we'd initially feared. Of course we could give them collars with warning bells fitted, but we know our two would be able to get them off again within 30 seconds flat. Then they'd run out into the garden, laughing at us.

As you can see from the photo at the top of this post, they're rather a good design feature in their own right- adding to my garden's other whimsical objects.

For other fantastic ABC Wednesday fun, click here.

Garden Bloggers Design Workshop is hosted by Gardening Gone Wild.

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Allotment Good News Continues

Last week the National Trust announced it's going to make 1,000 allotments available on its properties. Demand for allotments is soaring (100,000 nationwide apparently) and it appears all sorts of initiatives are starting up in an effort to meet it. I've already reported on the new allotments in nearby Bradford on Avon and according to our local TV news a number of farmers here in the south-west are starting up similar schemes. I wonder if this is because after two poor summers, they're needing to find an additional income, but the current low demand for new properties means developers aren't sniffing around willing to buy up their land.

The Trust are the latest to sign up to Landshare, a great initiative set up by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. This aims to match landowners with spare land with people who want to grow their own, but don't have the land to do so. About 40 National Trust properties will be involved across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, in addition to those like my local Lacock Abbey which already has allotments in its walled garden. If it proves popular, they may well release more land into the scheme. National Trust visitors needn't worry, the Trust won't be spoiling those lovely garden views you've come to expect. On the whole, derelict land previously used for cultivation or tucked away will be used for the scheme.

Hopefully this good news will spread to Chippenham. The waiting list for an allotment here now stands at 100 (it was 70 last summer - both figures are from previous anonymous comments I've had on my blog) - it would be great if someone could make some land available to meet our town's continuing demands for grow your own.

Update 26/2: Jane Perrone's come up trumps in The Guardian today. I wanted to write about the Garden Share and canal barge growing schemes which I'd read about previously, but hadn't found anything to link to for this piece. Now I can, so there's even more allotment good news to share with you :)

Monday, 23 February 2009

Regrets, I've Had a Few...

Regrets, I've had a few;
But then again, these few I'll mention.
I'll do what I have to do
And see it through without exemption.
I'll plan each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
But more, much more than this,
I'll do it my way.

With apologies to Frank Sinatra and to any of you who now have this song on your brain after reading this post.

Last week Patient Gardener posed the question What plant do you regret acquiring? Well, there's plenty I could confess to, but I thought I'd share my current bugbears with you which are the main reasons why I'm redesigning the border at the bottom of my garden this year. Apologies for the lack of picture quality today, but I don't have any better images of these thugs to show and perhaps showing them at their worst gives you some idea of why I want rid.

Who in their right mind plants Berberis in their border? Not only that, one of them is at the front! If you enlarge the above picture, you can see I must have been out of my mind at the time. Yes, it did have an attractive leaf (dark red with a gold rim) at the time of purchase, but those thorns - ouch! And because Frank's Plants had a special offer on at the time, I bought two others with equally attractive leaves, equally brutal thorns and equally non-descript form. I curse every time I have to squeeze past them to trim and tidy up the back of the border.

Then to add insult to injury, I decided to plant some bluebells in the same area. Most of them I've sensibly planted in the shaded, wooded area in the front side garden: the kind of place they grow in the wild. Right plant, right place. But I had some left over and planted them in my back border too. Why? They've self seeded everywhere including the gravel path and their ugly, large leaves smother everything in sight for a couple of months before they've died down.

So, as part of my spring tidy-up and garden projects for 2009, this little lot's coming right out, baby. And this time there'll be no regrets, I promise.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Chelsea Gets Pruned For 2009

First James found he couldn't get sponsors last year, then Cleve West withdrew his show garden recently. Now it's official: Chelsea has been pruned into a much smaller affair. Instead of the 22 show gardens seen in 2008, there will be just 13 or 15* on offer in May. In view of the usual sponsors attracted to the show - investment companies, banks etc. - I suppose there was an inevitability about it all, but a 30-40% drop rams home how tough times really are.

It looks like visitor numbers will also be down. Last week I had an email from the RHS offering me the opportunity as a member to buy 4 tickets instead of the usual 2. Perhaps this year, there won't be the usual complaints about overcrowding. I do hope that's the case. However, a friend of mine went to a Chris Beardshaw talk recently where he told the audience the space usually reserved for the show gardens will probably include some of the smaller designs. If that happens, I'm concerned the organisers might have missed an opportunity to stand back from the show's usual format and redesign it to be a more comfortable place for both exhibitor and visitor alike.

Are you going to Chelsea? What do you think about the recent announcements? Does a pared down show make you more inclined to attend? The RHS at least are being upbeat about how great this year's event will be. Perhaps a pruned Chelsea will prove this hybrid's vigour: let's hope it sees a focus on good, achievable design ideas shining through instead of some of the overblown excess found in recent years. After all, a tighter budget doesn't necessarily mean an end to the innovation Chelsea is famous for.

* = depending on which source you use: 15 according to the RHS, 13 in the The Evening Standard. There was a buzz of chatter on the subject around the Horticultural Halls last week and 13 was mentioned frequently.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

May I introduce You To...

... some of the new plants for my revamped back garden border. 1 tree (Pinus mugo), 3 Euphorbia characias 'Portuguese Velvet' and 2 clumps of Iris reticulata, all bought for the bargain total of £15 at the RHS Show's plant sell off late Wednesday afternoon. The Pinus is from Capel Manor College's show garden, the Euphorbia from NDG's and the Iris from Jacques Armand nursery's show stand - that's the same company I bought my Gladiolus callianthus from at Malvern last year.

Manoeuvring 6 carrier bags of plants on the Tube during rush hour was a little tricky, but as you can see everything got home relatively unscathed. Those of you who've watched the plant sell off montage shown at Chelsea's closing TV coverage every year will be able to picture the scene exactly. What the programme doesn't tell you how sore your arms are the next day, especially after you've taken the wrong turn at the Tube station and gone down the Victoria line's deep escalator instead of heading for the Circle line.

I was surprised to find just how friendly Londoners can be: there must be something about a woman with loads of plants which brings out the best in people. Whilst buying a sandwich at Victoria station, a gentleman with an armful of Prunus twigs stopped for a chat about his crusade to bring trees back to the Hebrides. He was off to plant them in his mother's garden up there, having already made a start with hazel, hawthorn and birch. A lady stopped to ask if my Euphorbias were a Jade Plant. Unfortunately her neighbour had left her giant one outside during the snow and had mushed it, much to this lady's despair as she'd been coveting it. She then went off into WH Smith to see if she could get a copy of Fatherland as a surprise present for her boyfriend and stopped by later to tell me it was half price. Even the two lads next to me waved a cheery farewell after finishing their station bought equivalent of Pot Noodle.

This phenomenon isn't unique: Julia had a similar experience after buying her bargain Mr Stabby on Tuesday. Based on this very unscientific straw poll of just 2 people's experiences, perhaps we need to give everyone armfuls of plants to carry around with them: world peace might just be achievable if we do.

Friday, 20 February 2009

RHS London Plant and Design Show

Wednesday saw this wide eyed country mouse head off to the big city to peruse the goodies at the RHS London Plant and Design Show. There's been a lot of criticism lately of the RHS' decision to cut the number of London events, so I was keen to see whether this had translated through into the show itself. It hadn't - plenty of people were there and the nurseryman I spoke to was happy with the RHS' event publicity (it had been poor in the past apparently), the show's quality and how this translated into sales at his stand. He predicted if this trend continues, then the recent falloff in exhibitors should be reversed.

The above collage gives you a flavour of the show - click on the picture to enlarge it if needed - the 2 largest pictures are an overview of Lindley Hall where most of the nursery exhibits were sited, plus part of Capel Manor College's show garden in nearby Lawrence Hall. The 3 pictures at the top right are close-ups of the delicious Hepaticas on display, plus Narcisus 'Mite Be' which I was very tempted by, until I was told they cost £6 per bulb. I must have put on my 'expensive good taste' head for most of the day as the first plant I enquired after (the gorgeous Edgworthia chrysantha on Capel Manor College's show garden) was also rather dear, but luckily for me had been sold already.

The last 4 pictures at the bottom right show overviews of the Hepaticas and snowdrops displays plus another show garden and a very cluttered balcony. The snowdrops were particularly welcome as I was able to look at 100s of different Galanthus cultivars without having to lie down flat on my tummy to see their differences. Whilst they all were indeed beautiful, I did fall in love all over again with plain and simple G. nivalis and G. nivalis 'Flore Pleno', so I wasn't persuaded to shell out pots of cash for a single bulb of a more select cultivar.

I'm pleased the RHS is trying out different themes for their London events - this one was design. This resulted in 3 show gardens and about 7 balcony gardens being shoehorned into Lawrence Hall and I was particularly keen to meet up with The Ecospot's Claire Potter. Her The Electric Urban Orchard was grabbing a lot of attention, but she still had plenty of time for a good old chinwag with me. I was interested in the vertical garden solution in her design as I've been pondering something similar for my fence project. She pointed me in the direction of her supplier where I had the most refreshing of chats: a professional who's not afraid to say when the proposed solution is overkill - instead I came away with some simpler, more cost-effective ideas of what to do: they won't bring my fence down either.

I loved the humorous There's a Leek in My Balcony and whilst it isn't a design I'd necessarily use in the format shown, I have been busily thinking about putting some different small containers on my fence to hold salads and herbs since Wednesday, so definitely an idea to nick and adapt! I also liked the clipped juniper used to add height to the lower, more restrained balcony design. Both illustrate that a simpler, more unified scheme is effective. I do like the balcony gardens idea - it's a hard brief to do well and can be used as an introductory piece into the world of garden design or show gardens.

Sadly I missed the show's other blogging visitors as they went on Tuesday. Deb met up with her friend Claire prior to their showgarden reunion at Malvern in May; Julia has particularly fine shots of the outside and inside of Lawrence Hall over at her blog and Arabella has a full and frank commentary on events, particularly the balcony gardens and the restorative powers of retail therapy. She's also included a shot of one of the balconies I forgot to photograph, where I liked the three tiered planting solution used to disguise the balcony's railings. Again, another potential nickable idea for my fence, though the way the plants were held in place (the bottom 2 layers of plants were held in their pots at an angle) wouldn't translate into a more permanent feature.

On the whole, a fabby day out and one worthy of at least one other blog about it: tune in tomorrow, when I'll be revealing the bargains I found at the plant sell-off.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Our Choir Has a Website

Well to be truthful our choimaster's got a website, but it's designed not only to promote his work, but for us to use it too. From now on we can find the song sheets for the new ones we're learning plus YouTube videos where available. There's also a 'singalonga' section which is structured like the practice CDs we've had previously. There's the full version of each song, plus its breakdown into each of the parts. You'll also find photos of various singing events - I'm to be found in a couple of them...

I'm particularly enjoying the YouTube video of So Happy Together at the moment.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

ABC Wednesday 4 - E is for...

Here's how not to look after your tender plants like the above Echeveria during the winter - leave them outside to fend for themselves. True, I'd been lulled into a false sense of security as they'd survived unscathed for several winters, but that doesn't excuse my not rushing out to rescue them as soon as a severe frost was forecast. Luckily I'd potted up some offsets last summer and so far (touch wood) they've survived round the corner where they're westerly facing and snuggled right next to the house. There's just enough left for me to start over again. The pictured healthy plant is about the same size as the one I bought originally, so I know some TLC and only a season or two will mean I'll soon have a potful of them again on my patio. They're tucked up in the cold frame now, just in case. It seems my Echeverias are in good company - a lot of the gardens tended by the National Trust here in the south-west have reported damage to their trees (weight of snow) and tender plants (severe frost) this week. As many as 60% of their tender plants have been lost.

How are your plants doing? Perhaps the alternative title for this post should be Bring Out Your Dead ;) Hmm, another meme to while away the rest of February perhaps?

At ABC Wednesday you'll find loads more to Enjoy today!

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Who's Got 'Shares' in Your Blog?

Taking a look at my site statistics is often a journey of discovery. How many visitors, where do they come from, and what weird and wonderful searches* find me here. A week or so ago I was intrigued by a visit from a site called blogshares. My initial thought was my content was being ripped off again, but the reality turned out to be quite different. Remember my Blogsworth story and comment follow-up? Well, blogshares turns out to be a variant on that theme. I haven't researched the site in great depth as my brain started to melt a little the more I read, but it turns out there's a fantasy shares game based on blogs instead of companies.

It seems it started out as an academic exercise, which then turned into a more widely played game. Nearly eight million blogs are being tracked and registered players get a 'fund' of $5 million to invest. Blogs are categorised into Industries: thus gardening blogs can be found under Hobbies/Gardening & Horticulture - there's just 247 listed thus far, so they've got a lot of catching up to do. It looks like the only way a blog can be added is for someone playing the blogshares game to submit them - who did mine I wonder? There are rules for acceptance (e.g. it must be a real live blog - not an aggregator or one without a fresh post in the last 6 months) and once accepted the game's spider assesses the blog for its initial worth. These are based on incoming and outgoing links in some way and it looks like links to/from blogs already in the game are the only ones which count.

A blog has 5,000 shares, 1,000 of which are reserved for the blog's owner. This is where I get a bit annoyed. My blog's not up for sale and is totally owned by me. Yet in the game a certain Corporal Kickyourass holds an 80% stake in my blog. His strapline's Your ass is grass and I am the lawnmower! My annoyance turned to giggling at this point (especially when I found his profile photo) and of course I couldn't resist looking at my 'valuation'.

From what I can tell the game's got a lot more to it than just the trading of shares. They're even trying to simulate elements of the real world such as introducing a 'fiscal stimulation package'. However, I'm not going to take part - I may even request my blog to be withdrawn if I can - so there's no point in studying it that closely. I may look at it from time to time, because of course it's another great way of finding other blogs - gardening or otherwise.

Are you intrigued enough to have a look? Is your blog listed? Are you happy with your 'valuation' and blog 'owners'? ;) Be warned if you do take a look: a lot of the pages (particularly share profiles etc.) look like they're blank with just adverts down the side. There's quite a bit of scrolling down needed before you hit the information. The site's design isn't that pretty...

Update: You can remove your blog from the list - Compostwoman left the following comment which I'd like to share with you:

To have your blog removed from BlogShares, you must send the request to You will need to prove that you are the author/owner of the blog before we remove it. This may include temporarily adding a small text to a specific part of the blog, profile page, or other area worked out between you and the administrators of BlogShares.

Retrieved from "

Thanks for the information Compostwoman :)

* = how about this search: I want to go to the Isle of Wight on the Monday afternoon ferry what time does it leave and how do I get there? Sadly I was no help at all as they landed on my Sandbanks ferry collage.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Gulp! What Have I Done?

This little lot arrived a couple of days ago. I have 14 weeks to get myself to the point of being able to power walk a marathon with the top half of my body just sporting a bra*. Thank goodness it's through the night: I don't want to put off the locals.

It seemed such a good idea that Friday afternoon back in October when S proposed we do something a little more challenging...

You can find out more about it here. According to the schedule, training starts next Sunday. I thought I'd better start straight away, so you could say I'm in training for the training at the moment. Wish me luck!

* = since I applied to do this, NAH's idea of Moonwalking is to walk backwards with his bum sticking out ;)

Sunday, 15 February 2009

GBBD - After the Snow

The snow's almost gone. It's lain around for the longest period I can remember since moving down here 25 years ago, but the flowers are emerging as if waking up after a nice little nap. If anything they seem to be a bit perkier after their ordeal and I wonder if there's some truth in the alternative name given for late spring snowfall - poor man's fertiliser.

New this month are the crocus and winter aconites shown at the top of the collage. The aconites are just clear of the snowline and will soon be forming a river of gold in the top part of my front garden. The crocuses are just peeping through and should open more fully in the next few days. Clematis cirrhosa 'Freckles' is showing what a stalwart she is for the winter months. The snowdrops are the lovely double form - from the back garden this time. I can't tell you how many there are as some of them are still buried in snow. The primroses are now in their eighth month of flowering. Elsewhere violas, winter honeysuckle and perennial wallflowers have a few blooms and there's one single Kerria japonica flower. The viburnums and pulmonarias have been totally knocked back by the recent frosts their flowers having turned to mush.

Lots of tantalising buds are beginning to show around the garden despite the major freeze they had last week. That's made up for during the day if the sun comes out - it's beginning to have a real warmth about it and coaxes my plants to show themselves a little more each day. All around life is stirring itself - exciting times indeed.

Garden Bloggers Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Tagging Along: A Quick and Easy Photo Meme

Frankie over at Veg Plot tagged me last week with a neat photography meme. All you have to do is to go into your computer's photography folders, go to the 4th one listed, find the 4th photograph there, post it on your blog and then write a little about it. I expect Frankie thought I was a shoe-in for a nice flower picture or scenery to show you: little did she know one of my earliest forays into digital photography was this picture of a Terex Autospade!

When I mentioned these to Soilman at his hilarious first webcast last Sunday*, he thought Terex Autospade sounded like an American secret agent and I can see his point. However, this unlikely looking object is an absolute godsend during the autumn digging season as it uses the principle of the lever to take the back breaking work out of digging. Mine was my first ever purchase on eBay as Wolf discontinued their manufacture about 30 years ago. However, I see that another company has started making them again recently - appropriately renamed The Backsaver - much to the delight of many an allotment holder, including Fred my allotment guru** and another Fred in his shed.

I also wrote about my autospade when I first started blogging, here you can see it posing proudly on a freshly dug plot in November 2007. It's bound to get those people who like tools very excited...

* = hilarious because Soilman spent a lot of time messing around with his broadcast software saying things like 'this is cr*p', 'is anyone still there?', 'oh gawd this makes me look fat' and doing filling in broadcasts just like the best of TV commentators do at royal occasions and President Obama's inauguration ceremony - except his consisted of descriptions of his allotment and asking if anyone had been up to theirs during the recent spell of bad weather.

** = another fact disclosed during the webcast on Sunday was Fred usually warns everyone about leek moth as he's usually first to notice it on his plot. I'll post a picture of the kind of damage it causes as soon as my plot's sufficiently dried for me to venture onto it again - you know what happened the last time ;)

As is usual with these memes I'm supposed to tag some of you (4 I believe) to see if you'd like to play along. However reading a number of people's blogs lately, I detect there's a need for a few fun things to do during February. Therefore I'd like to throw my tag open to anyone who'd like to play - just let me know what you come up with as I'd like to have a look :)

Friday, 13 February 2009

Blogging for Darwin: Kew Herbarium

I spotted this blog swarm (yes, it's new to me too) over at Emma's yesterday and having invited the man of the moment to my fantasy dinner party last Saturday, I just had to take part.

In the mid 1990's I decided to career change out of computing, did a masters degree in freshwater biology and ended up working at an environmental charity in Oxford. There I wore many hats, one of which was arranging an annual programme of volunteer weekends. Having started out as a volunteer on a number of these myself, it was a joy to be involved at the opposite end of things.

In the spring we'd have three weekends based at the herbarium at Kew, where the task was to help catalogue the ferns - the first such computerisation of part of the plant collection. The herbarium isn't usually open to the public, so it was great to have a peep behind the scenes. It's enormous - a vast room full of cupboards, yet still managing to be light and airy. Inside each cupboard are stacks of folders, just like those you might use in an office, but each of these contain a precious sample of plant material either collected by Kew staff or sent to them to add to their records. The amount of plant material there is mind bogglingly huge.

Inside each folder would be a plant, pressed and dried carefully, then mounted onto backing paper. In some instances a plant would have more than one folder to its name - specimens showing characteristics such as flowering that might not be there in the others, or it might have been collected from another country. Larger items like seed pods form a separate part of the herbarium collection. I'd previously dismissed ferns as being rather boring, but going through them folder by folder, I soon started to appreciate their diversity and differences in form.

Beside each specimen were all the details needed for the database - ID down to species level, when and where collected and by whom. This information often needed quite a bit of deciphering as they were usually handwritten and over 100 years old - handwriting has changed significantly in that time! Luckily we had experts on hand to confirm we had the correct details, particularly species name. Occasionally we'd alight on a very special folder - one with the pages edged with orange when opened. This denoted a type specimen - the plant used to describe a species discovered for the first time. We'd all crowd round to have a look at these pieces of botanical history whenever one came to light.

I was getting a little fed up. Everyone had found a type specimen in the cupboard they were cataloguing, but not me. Our weekend's stint was nearing its end and we were about to go on our behind the scenes tour. I collected my last folder from the cupboard, opened it and there at last was a type specimen. I started to type in the species details and collection information. Then my hands started to shake. Charles Darwin had collected this plant. He had plucked it fresh in the wild, preserved it for transportation back to Kew and maybe even described and named it. Now I was holding it in my hand - on my birthday. That's one hell of a present.

Do go over to Blog For Darwin - there's tons of blog posts and information there about him. It'll be a fantastic resource to dip into both now and in the future.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

RHS People's Gardener

The first of the fortnightly winners for the RHS People's Gardener award outside the BBC. Click to enlarge to see how the photographer has thoughtfully captured the foliage hat on Tina's head. Picture courtesy of the RHS.

I've just received my first ever press release, thanks to the RHS. Not only that it's actually targeted at garden bloggers viz:

Please see attached press releases about the People’s Gardener competition. The search is still on and we would love your bloggers to nominate themselves or someone they know. So how could I resist telling you about it? ;)

I won't give you the contents of the press release as the above link to the RHS website tells you everything you need to know about the search for the nation's best community gardener. Each fortnight 4 nominees will battle it out on Alan Titchmarsh's chat show to go through to the finals in early April, which will be decided by public vote. The first showdown was on February 2nd, so it's early days yet in the competition. The prize is pretty good too:

  • £10,000 in garden gift vouchers to be spent on community project(s)
  • Life membership of the RHS, possibly becoming an informal ambassador for their work
  • A VIP trip to Chelsea, spending time with Alan
  • Guest of honour at the Britain in Bloom awards
  • A top RHS gardener to advise on their community gardening project(s)
  • The chance of a regular gardening slot on Alan's chat show in the autumn

Spookily before I received the press release I'd already left comments on various blogs saying my inner imp is telling me to nominate guerrilla gardener Richard Reynolds. Whilst I'm being mischievous, I do believe that Richard has done more than most of us to ensure not only is his local community improved, but also galvanising many others to do the same across the country via his website. His methods may be controversial, but his recent book On Guerrilla Gardening is not only intelligent and thoughtful, it also advocates a responsible approach, ending with the acknowledgement that guerrilla gardens need to be accepted into community gardening for their ongoing care. Thus the act of guerrilla gardening can be the catalyst needed to galvanise a community into looking after its open spaces.

I've contacted Richard about nominating him and got his OK to do so. He'd already nominated himself, but the researcher who phoned him up couldn't quite get her head around what Richard does. Perhaps a nomination from a more 'mainstream' person like me with a link to Richard's guerrilla gardening website might help the TV programme to understand what he's all about. You may know of someone in your own community who also deserves a nomination, including yourself perhaps. If you do, then you need to send a short email or letter of nomination plus photographs to the appropriate address below:

Email or send your application to: The Alan Titchmarsh Show PO BOX 64382 London EC2P 2GJ

The closing date for entries is March 4th.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

ABC Wednesday 4 - D is for...


This may be a gardening blog (of sorts) but that doesn't mean everything's perfection here at VP Gardens. In fact it was described as a 'normal' garden by James in Gardeners' World magazine last month (see sidebar quote to the right) and I think that's a real compliment. As a 'normal' gardener it also means I'm free to write anything about my own experiences - successes or failures - and today I'm 'fessing up to one of the latter, warts and all.

I'm a great one for never getting round to things, but even I'm appalled at how bad I've been at planting out my bulbs for this year's spring display. I finished off planting up the tulips last month and was surprised to find 3 large bags of daffodils hiding at the bottom of the large cardboard box in which I'd been stowing my bulbs in the garage. I was even more surprised to find most of the bulbs are still viable and just beginning to show some shoots. Perhaps there is an upside to having a harsher winter after all - I reckon it's helped to keep these bulbs a little longer rather than having them turn to mush by last November, which is what I would have expected.

Now all I need to do is to get some more compost as I've run out again. The bulbs are giving me some advice on what to do about this as one of them's called Tamara (sorry!). I'll be putting them into pots, so I can plug some of the gaps in both my garden and my guerrilla planting next door once all this snow's melted and the soil's dried out a little. What's the latest you've managed to get away with planting out your bulbs? Did they flower their socks off in spite of everything?

Do hop on over to the ABC Wednesday blog to find oodles of posts on the subject of D.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Come With Me to the World of Giant Veg...

I partly solved my book problem a couple of weeks ago by joining my local library where I was delighted to find 2 books on my Amazon wishlist. The first was The Biggest Beetroot in the World: Giant Vegetables and the People Who Grow Them by Michael Leapman. I've found this subject most intriguing since seeing them for the first time at Malvern with PatientGardener last September. I've finished the book, so here's my review:

The most frequently asked questions when giant vegetables are displayed are how and why do they do that?

This book explores both these questions in some depth and introduces us to some of the characters (both male and female) who grow some of the largest vegetables in the world. It turns out it can be pretty much a full time occupation with some of the competitors not taking a holiday for years.

It isn't a hobby for reducing your carbon footprint. In order to succeed, vast amounts of heating a lighting during the winter months are needed. Ingenuity is also required, with a variety of structures constructed in which to support and nurture potential veggie champions and perhaps achieve the ultimate goal - a coveted Guinness World record. The competitors are dedicated to their work - always seeking out a vital tweak in their nutrient, compost, timing etc. to eke out that winning ounce or part of an inch to give them an edge over their rivals.

Each show with giant vegetable classes is visited, over the six week window for exhibiting. Some have many classes such as Malvern or Shepton Mallet, others are more specific such as the world onion and leek championship in Ashington. Some of the vegetables are shown at more than one show and the best will also be saved for seed, to hopefully provide the champions and record breakers in future years. Don't think that this eccentricity is confined to Britain, there is a thriving giant vegetable competitiveness in the USA* too and a strategy to wrest the world record giant pumpkin record from there (at over 1,600 lbs) and bring it home to Britain is outlined.

Whilst the subject is covered in great depth by the author, I found its structure a little too repetitive. I found it hard to distinguish between most of the characters - I suspect most of their growing secrets weren't disclosed, thus leaving us with their similarities rather than differences. The descriptions of each of the shows were quite samey too and the passion these growers obviously have for their monster vegetables just didn't come across on the page.

A book that doesn't quite live up to its hype nor the characters which inhabit this eccentric hobby.

As you can guess I won't be buying it to add to my book collection - which means my library strategy is working already - it's saved me some bookshelf space for a little while longer at least :)

* = in Alaska they're so keen on giant vegetables apparently it's not unusual to find kale, cabbage and other veggie items included in the public planting on the streets.

Helen - do you remember these two guys we saw at Malvern and our speculation they might be growers of giant vegetables? Well, the one on the left certainly is - he's Peter Glazebrook, one of the characters followed in the book and was the world record holder for the longest carrot (over 17ft) until just before Malvern 2007.

Monday, 9 February 2009

The Roundabout: Lucy's Discovery

From having a guest post from The Garden Monkey on Saturday to today's joint one with Lucy - isn't blogging just great when friends hop along to join in?

Over the weekend Lucy over at Pictures Just Pictures has been out and about in Weymouth. Unusually for a seaside town it also had some snowy scenes last week like the rest of Britain, though I suspect things are back to normal now. Lucy sent me this picture as a contribution to my Public Planting series as she knows I have a particular interest in roundabouts. But before I wade in and say something, here's her thoughts about it:

Foord Roundabout Weymouth – 7/2/2009

The council and the undertakers who sponsor this roundabout (Rose Funeral Service) must be very proud of this roundabout. Not only is there a bench on the bank ahead, there's one behind where I was standing to take the photo so, if you wish, you can sit and look at it in comfort.

Indeed they pay a lot of attention to this area. Low growing evergreens guide pedestrians towards safe crossing places and across the road (out of view to the right) there is quite a wide patch of grass through which daffodils grow in the spring.

And not only have they gone to the trouble of planting out flowering pansies in the winter (definitely winter, think they are pansies), circular beds have been made within the larger circle of the roundabout.

Lucy Corrander

There's a couple of design points she's noted - low evergreens planted to guide pedestrians to the safer places to cross (yet not hampering visibility), plus the circular beds echoing the shape of the roundabout. Note that pansies seem to be the only winter bedding solution used for this kind of situation - let me know if your town's differ. I giggle at the fact the sponsor's a funeral parlour and they're called Roses. I haven't found out yet exactly what sponsoring a roundabout means e.g. whether it's a one-off or continuing payment, or if they have any say in what's planted.

The example Lucy's found is very similar to some in Chippenham, though I have got some shrubby and tree-lined examples lined up to show you too. At some point I'll be bringing you views from Bath, Poole and Taunton - the ones there are very different and show what can be done with a little imagination. What are the roundabouts like in your neighbourhood? Are any of them sponsored?

Thanks Lucy - that's helped me make a good start at looking at public planting in more detail :)

Sunday, 8 February 2009

How Advertising Works in Chippenham 4

  1. Decide to show advertisements on petrol/diesel (gas) pumps at your fuel station
  2. Accept one from a company promoting energy saving and display accordingly
  3. Wait for a blogger with a camera to notice the odd juxtaposition of product sold versus product advertised
  4. Et voila!

Click on the picture if you need a closer look. Click here for the previous item in this series ;)

NB Don't worry if you couldn't make yesterday's Dinner Party meme, I'm leaving the link on the top righthand sidebar for a while if you'd like to join in. It's been such fun and fascinating to see everyone's choices, my thanks to everyone who's taken part so far. I already have some ideas for a few other memes to while away the winter blues :)

It's Dinner Time!

It's been a tough week trying to choose my dinner party guests since I announced this meme on Monday. My list has changed several times a day and at one point everyone's names began with a C and were likely to be a bit curmudgeonly. I nearly left it like that just to prove Alan Titchmarsh wrong, but decided on a different mix in the end.

My first guest is Charles Darwin - the man of the moment as his bicentenary is next week. His experiments and observations in his garden and greenhouse at Down House were central to the evidence he gathered over a period of 20 years for The Origin of the Species. Some of the techniques he developed are ones I've used in my own studies and I'd love to talk to him about the importance of his garden, daily walks and thinking time. Judging by a letter auctioned locally recently he could be a tad snippy, but I'm assuming the convivial company I've assembled here will put him in a good mood for us.

My second guest is a local man and photography pioneer William Henry Fox Talbot. Whilst delving into the archives at National Trust HQ, I've been reading a photocopy of the notes he made about his botanic garden at Lacock Abbey in the 1800s, fascinating stuff. I then checked the dates and realised he was doing all of this whilst working on his new process which gave us the world's first positive photographic image developed from a negative. Like me he had so many interests, but seemed to have time to fit them all in - I think any tips he could offer me on time management would be useful. I believe he and Charles Darwin would complement each other very well and I'm curious to know what he'd make of the National Trust's restoration of his botanic garden.

The magic of blogging means there's no language problems with my third guest Gregor Mendel, the father of genetics whose extensive study of peas in his monastery's garden helped him to formulate his ideas on heredity. I wonder what he'd think of today's plant breeding methods, particularly genetic modification. Would he agree the quest for a blue rose is worthwhile? I'd also like to ask him how long it took him to formulate his ideas from the data he'd amassed. I studied Nuffield Biology at school: this syllabus tended to give the original data the great and the good worked from and expected students to come up with the same answers via guided questioning along the way. At the age of 16, I just found this so hard, though of course it stood me in good stead for my later studies. Did he struggle like I did?

My final guest is Heather Angel. Her wildlife photography is magnificent, particularly of plants and fungi and features in many of the books in my collection. When I graduated from University, I applied to become her assistant, but got nowhere with my application. I don't want to berate her about that: I'd just like to hear the conversation she'd have with Fox Talbot about how photography has changed as well as picking up some hints and tips for my own. I wonder what she thinks of the digital medium?

Of course the food and drink I serve my guests will be plentiful, delicious and exactly what they'd like, just like the feasts are in Harry Potter. I did toy with the idea of inviting Christopher Lloyd along too, not only because his writing finally made me realise what gardening's all about, but also his cooking skills as evidenced in Dear Friend and Gardener and Gardener Cook were far superior to mine. However, I thought many of you might want to invite him to your dinner party, so I've left him for you to fight over.

Now it's over to you - I'm dying to see who you've invited. Do leave your name and the URL of your dinner party post in Mr Linky below (not your blog URL as this makes it slightly longer and more awkward to get around your posts), so we can all come along and drop in. That way we get to see all of our blogfriends too - yippee! Alternatively you can leave a comment here with your guest list, or email me (vegplotting at gmail dot com) and I'll make sure your list goes up on here. Don't worry if your party's late - Mr Linky and I will still be here and I'll be along shortly to say hello to you and your guests :D

Just before I go, I'd like to thank everyone who's helped with publicity this week - particularly Arabella, Shirl, Anna (Flower Garden Girl) and Karen - you've been wonderful. Shirl in particular needs double thanks as she's been really helpful behind the scenes with hints, tips plus lessons learnt from her recent Desert Island Challenge.

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Guest Post: Dinner with The Garden Monkey

I'm so delighted The Garden Monkey (GM) has not only agreed to do a guest post for me today, but it's also part of my Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? meme. GM needs no introduction from me, so without further ado...

I tend to think that inviting guest to a dinner party is like putting together a cocktail. Get the mix wrong and it’s terrible. Get them right and it will be both refreshing and intoxicating.

So who would I invite to a dinner party?

Firstly, I would invite Geoff Hamilton and Christopher Lloyd, partly because I revere them both, but also to see how well they got on. Christo makes some fairly chippy comments about St. Geoff in the book, “Dear Friend and Gardener“, calling him, egocentric, nervous of competition and lacking in humour.

I'd also invite William Robinson because he didn't seem to get on with anyone - I do like a party to have a bit of fizz.

Aware that this guest list is so far entirely made up of deceased males, I'd balance that up with Germaine Greer, who always has interesting things to say on many subjects, not least of all gardening. And I’d also invite Anna Pavord who’s also interesting, but less confrontational, and would be a good companion should I be forced to hide in the kitchen if things got a bit heated.

Into this mix I would stir a very liberal helping of champagne, stand back and admire.

It might also be sensible to have a small first aid kit on hand.

Some handy advice as well as a thoughtful guest list, showing why we still need you around the blogosphere GM. May I join you in a glass or two of champagne to celebrate your albeit temporary return?

Thanks :)

Friday, 6 February 2009

Public Planting: Do We Care About It?

Frosted public planting - Chippenham - in early January

I didn't expect to be returning to public planting so soon, but after last week's post on the subject, Anna (thank you!) sent me details of a recent article in The Telegraph which needs a little comment and debate right here, right now.

Harvard Professor Martha Schwarz claims that the poor standard of our parks and other open spaces is due to the British public attaching less importance to them than we do to our own gardens.

I think it's great that people want to express their individuality through their gardens, she said. However, the romanticised ideologies attached to this are holding Britain's back from thinking about the wider issues that face their landscape. By this, I do not mean only the British countryside, but the space "in between" buildings, which is a notion people in Britain struggle with.

She has a point, but my preliminary research into this topic shows there are other factors at play. The RHS (The Garden, May 2008) cites a decline in funding since the 1970s which has seen council parks departments and other institutions reduce the range of plants used in public displays. I've also found a couple of council design specifications for urban areas on the internet which clearly state the need for low start-up costs and low ongoing maintenance solutions for their outdoor spaces. One even goes as far as recommending confining their planting to trees only.

In my own experience there's also a general inertia amongst lots of people for anything in the public domain really, not just our open spaces. There's a belief these things are someone else's responsibility: "it's what I pay my council tax for". Think about what would happen if our councils no longer had the responsibility to look after our open spaces and it was up to us instead. Would it be any better? Would enough of us care?

Fortunately there are exceptions to the general dross, both by public bodies and public led: the Radstock planting we glimpsed last week is a well designed open space, looking good even on a very dull January day. But it's interesting it came about because there's an ongoing regeneration project in the town at the moment, thus perhaps there's a little extra money available and public will to make something of the town. Noel Kingsbury is working with Bristol City council to improve urban spaces there, particularly roadside plantings. Professor Schwarz could potentially benefit from one of these initiatives herself as her company is on the shortlist for the King's Cross Square regeneration project. There's also a whole raft of community initiatives around such as the annual Britain in Bloom competition and work undertaken by organisations like Groundwork. And, dare I say it after last week's Gardeners' Question Time debacle, guerrilla gardening shows there are many people out there who are keen to improve their own community's surroundings and are prepared to take their own practical measures to do so.

It's not a perfect world and there's much room for improvement. However, I believe the issues are more complex than Professor Schwarz suggests. What do you think? Are you involved in Britain In Bloom, another community initiative or guerrilla gardening? Perhaps you work for a council or another public body and can give us a different perspective. I'd love to hear about your experiences.

After last week's posting, it's clear you have an interest in public planting. Thus I'm considering introducing a quarterly meme to take a look at it through the seasons. The first one's set for March and I'll tell you more about it then.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Snow Time

It's rare for us here in south western England to get plentiful snow, but last night the perfect conditions happened for it - the cold continental block (i.e. high pressure from northern Europe) we've had over England for the past few days clashed with a moisture laden south-westerly stream of air coming up from the Atlantic. The result? A good few inches of snow - the most for 25 years - enough to have a really good scrunch around in today, build lots of snowmen with snowpets and have giggly snowball fights. As for our cats, they did go out in it first thing this morning but didn't even bother to complete their usual circuit of our house before returning to central heating duty.

NAH was out with his trusty snow shovel to clear the road, then he and I had a good old tramp through our newly muffled world. I also ventured up the hill this afternoon for coffee with Threadspider and returned with lots of pictures to put into today's slideshow. Whilst there I heard Wiltshire is running out of salt and so only major roads will be treated for the forseeable future. The most bizarre thing I heard today though was the cricket test match commentators in Jamaica talking about snowmen and snowploughs whilst they're experiencing tropical temperatures.

We have a similar amount of snow forecast again for tonight, then -10 Celcius temperatures for tomorrow night - brrrrrr!

Bramley Apples: The Lowdown

This post's for Petoskystone, a welcome regular who asked why Bramleys are the only British apple she'd heard about when I published February's diary a few days ago. As it's also National Bramley Week, now seemed a good time to respond.

What I didn't make clear earlier is that Bramley is a cooking apple and yes, it's pretty well the only apple available for these purposes, making up 95% of sales. There are plenty of other varieties, but they're mainly grown for private consumption. In terms of overall varieties (cooking, dessert and cider), the National Fruit Collection at Brogdale has over 2,000 of them, so Bramleys aren't the only British apple by a long chalk. Sadly most of them aren't for sale in the shops - a quick check locally on Monday revealed Bramley's, Cox's, Egremont Russets and Braeburn are on sale: there were other varieties available (NB including Washington Red Delicious, Petoskystone as well as Royal Gala, Jonagold, Golden Delicious, Granny Smiths, Pink Lady and Fuji), but they were all imports.

Why are Bramleys so popular? I haven't got to the bottom of that one fully as there are plenty of other excellent cookers around. It's a sharp fruit, full of flavour and cooks down to a pulp, so is good in many of our cooked apple dishes. It also crops and stores well, which means it's pretty much available year round. The Bramley apple industry is now worth £50m per year, involving commercial growers across Kent, East Anglia and the West Midlands.

Its history's also interesting and has had a hand in its success: pips planted in 1809 in Southwell near Nottingham grew into a handsome tree bearing fruit by 1823. In 1846, a local butcher Matthew Bramley bought the cottage plus garden housing the tree and 10 years later a local nurseryman asked if he could taking cuttings from the tree. Bramley said he could but insisted the apple should bear his name – thus Bramley's Seedling was born.

The cuttings were nurtured until 1862, when the first trees were sold to Upton Hall, a local stately home. Fruits of the grafted apple were first exhibited before the Royal Horticultural Society's fruit committee in 1876 and nine years later Bramley's Seedling received a first class certificate at the Royal Jubilee Exhibition of Apples in Manchester. So a combination of early patronage and exhibiting at a time when interest in apples was at its height in England set the apple up on the road to success. In the early 1900s many Bramley trees were planted and their fruit was a useful food source during WWI. The original tree however blew down in 1900, survived somehow and still bears fruit to this day. Cuttings are being taken from this tree and are marketed as 'original' Bramley's Seedlings.

There's a strong marketing body who'll be co-ordinating the bicentennial celebrations. This link showcases lots of recipes using the Bramley apple as a main ingredient. I'll be using the pictured apples in the latest version of my windfall cake :)

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

ABC Wednesday - C is for...

... Collection

Ever since I can remember I've been fascinated by rocks. Walks on the beach have always seen me with my head down seeking out shells and unusual stones. I astounded my parents at the age of 10 when I dragged back home a suitcase full of rocks found in and by the river North Tyne, picked up during my first holiday away from them. One turned out to be an unusual fossil, so I was hooked.

Fortunately for me my school offered Geology to A Level: I had a very indulgent two years just looking at and handling various rocks and minerals. Our field trip was to Dorset - its magnificent geology and coastline now acknowledged as World Heritage status. I still haven't figured out why I didn't study it at University - I went for a more applied option instead (with oodles of geology though) - if I'd known my graduation was going to coincide with the 1980's recession, perhaps I might have chosen differently and gone for a subject closer to my heart.

I still go fossiling even now - a geological hammer's always in the boot of my car and it's also a regular aspect of my gardening I've not told you about before. We're on Jurassic limestone here - on what's called Cornbrash (the early geologists thought it looked like the mass of broken corn fragments after threshing) - so bits of coral and shells are always turning up in our stony clay soil. Note to Gail - the Cornbrash overlies Forest Marble, which is officially described as clay and limestone! Even our gravel path can yield something as it's crushed limestone from the Cotswolds. Anything I find in the garden is used to mulch the tops of some of my garden pots.

My other finds have always been displayed on various bookcases and windowsills, but like my books I've got a bit of a storage problem, so I've resorted to arranging some of the biggest specimens around the largest pot on the patio. On Sunday, as well as taking the picture for today's post (just as well as the scene's snow covered at the moment) I discovered yet more treasure as part of my ongoing New Year's tidying up - an innocuous looking old ice cream tub bought down from NAH's mum's old house in Darlington turned out to house part of her reference collection of various rocks she used when teaching at Durham College. Much better than the sewing machine accessories I was expecting in there :)

What's in your favourite collection?

Do go to ABC Wednesday Mr Linky for more fun with the letter C and ABC visitors, can I interest any of you in my fun Dinner Party meme on Saturday? The link tells you all about it.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Spuds We Liked

Malmesbury had its first ever potato day on Saturday, so of course I couldn't resist going to have a look and renewing my acquaintance with 'Taffy Tatty', one of the great characters of the potato world who grows around 400 varieties to gold medal winning standard. Here he is, telling us a joke about what it's like in heaven for allotmenteers who go there. In front of him is an impressive display of potato varieties, some of them extremely rare. Sadly there was no sign of the Lumper potato variety this time (he does usually have a plate of them on show) - this was the variety which succumbed to potato blight in the 1840s, thus sparking off the potato famine so devastating to Ireland.

Potato Days are an initiative started by Garden Organic in the 1990s. They were concerned at the lack of varieties available in the shops and set out to change this. Now potato days are held all over the country at this time of the year, but this is the first time one's been held so close to home. The great thing about them is not only the wide variety of different potatoes on offer (46 in this instance, including some organic), but they also can be bought singly instead of the usual bulky nets of at least 20. I decided on just two this time as Threadspider and I had already placed our order before I knew about this day. I've gone for Yukon Gold and Edzell Blue, two varieties which have always intrigued me, but not sufficiently to merit buying a whole net full. I also stocked up on my onion sets (Red Baron and Centurion) and then NAH and I settled down for a well earned cuppa (Fairtrade) and a very gooey piece of chocolate cake - yum.

David at Greenseeds organised the day - a local business he started just a couple of years ago to supply organic vegetable and herb seeds at reasonable prices. I'm hoping I can persuade our allotment society to register with him - we'll get a 10% discount if they do, without anyone having to co-ordinate a giant seed order on behalf of everyone. It would be great to support a local business and have the flexibility to order from someone as and when seeds are needed in addition to the D.T. Brown scheme we currently enjoy. NB he also sells paper potato sacks - one of the most frequently asked questions up at the allotment at potato harvest time is where these can be got hold of instead of the usual hessian ones on sale. Well, now we know - and I bought 4 of them on Saturday :)

Congratulations David and I hope it went well enough at the weekend so you'll organise another Potato Day for next year - I'd like to be back for lots more spuds next time.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

February's my least favourite month - to me it's gloomier than November, feels so much longer than January and deliberately gets in the way of much nicer things like my birthday and wedding anniversary in March. Not to mention Spring.

I thought some good company's needed to brighten things up a bit and what could be better than a dinner party? Don't worry about the food, music, whether the dining room needs decorating or indeed the weather (though you can tell us about all that if you want), I'd love to see who's on your guest list - of course they must have an interest in gardening or nature. You can invite figures from the past, present, future or a mix; celebrity, learned or your gardening buddies - it's up to you. Anything goes, though do keep it to 3-5 guests because I want you to be able to hear all the gossip so you can tell us all about it. I'm also interested in why you've chosen them and any thoughts you have on anything which might happen. It doesn't matter if you've never met any of them before - let your imagination and the power of the internet rule!

The date's set for Saturday February 7th, and I'll try and set up Mr Linky for it once I've figured out what to do - he's especially useful for us to gatecrash drop in on everyone else. Don't worry if you can't make Saturday, I'll put a link to this post in the sidebar on the right so you can easily catch up and find the meme and of course Mr Linky will be able to accept any latecomers.

The RSVP on my dinner invitation is for you to say you'd like to take part via my comments - the more the merrier :D
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