Showing posts from June, 2009

Taking the Credit

I'm not given to on the spot decisions. My head usually spends too much time dithering over things my heart just knows are right. Finally I'll inhale deeply and take the plunge, just like I do at a swimming pool. Today's different. For once head and heart were as one immediately and now I'm a film producer :o
Cinema's always been a major part of my life. In fact, I can confidently say that without it, I wouldn't be here at all. Dad and mum met completely by chance in the 1950s when the film broke at their local picture house in Birmingham. The lights went up and they started chatting. Dad escorted mum home at the end of the film, they started going out and well, I'm sure you can guess the rest...
I saw my first film aged 4: Zuluatthe ABC in Selly Oak. A surprising choice for parents to make perhaps, but I was transfixed. I had a box of Paynes Poppets and they went untouched for the entire film. Mum reckons it was the soldiers' uniforms - bright red, m…

OOTS: Where the Wilder Things Are

Two of my favourite places in Chippenham are within yards of my house and I'm not even sure how much of them is public planting at all. They're very different to anything I've shown you previously in Out on the Streets. Both represent the wilder face of Chippenham's open spaces and are neither park nor wasteland. They're definitely not wilderness, as both are managed by the local council, and they provide vital green lungs for the town.

The first is at the lower road entrance to our estate and is a small area of land bisected by the Hardenhuish Brook. In the middle is a reedbed - celebrated previously here at Veg Plotting for World Wetlands Day last year. Now this really is public planting, but of a different sort as the reedbed has been installed as a way of filtering and cleansing the runoff from the main road nearby. If it wasn't there, I wouldn't be able to use the brook further downstream for freshwater invertebrate identification workshops as there wou…

All Ship-shape and Bristol Fashion

Here we are - all ship-shape and Bristol fashion* - at the end of our rehearsal for Sing for Water West yesterday morning. This is what a choir of 641 looks like - you'll have to imagine the foreground (and more) filled with the massive audience we had for the afternoon. Umbrellas were much in evidence during the day - as sunshades! I sang on the far right of the photo and it was quite hard to hear the choir's other parts apart from our own soprano one from that position. When I slipped out to take this photo during our encore rehearsal of Shine, I was amazed at the incredible wall of sound we were making. Just after we'd finished our morning's work, The Matthew (see yesterday's picture) sailed by, so we gave everyone aboard an impromptu rendition of Bristol Ho!

Sometimes we had a little taster of what it must be like for those whom we were fundraising for. There was a standpipe available for us to refill our water bottles - the steward smilingly informing everyone …

Bristol Ho!

From Bristol Harbour we set sail When blowin' it was a devil of gale With the ring-tail set all avast the mizzen peak And the rule britannia plowin' up the deep
With a Bristol Ho! Tow row row Foll dee roll dee rye dolly day

It's Sing For Water time again! Chris, our choirmaster has been busy organising the first event in the south west and tomorrow's the big day. 600 of us will be assembling dockside at the Lloyds TSB amphitheatre in Bristol to sing our socks off for WaterAid. We're rehearsing there all morning and the real event kicks off at 2.30 pm. The Wiltshire Wailers will get things going in style with Now Let Us Sing and Bamba Lela - you can still hear us performing these songs on Chris' website together with the words for tomorrow's programme.

We've seven songs to sing for the main event, which also shows off the talents of some of our local choirmasters as they've either written or arranged them. Seeing we'll be harbourside it's most ap…

Out on the Streets: Can Plastic Be Fantastic?

Ever since I started my public planting series this year, I've been waiting for the right moment to ask Can plastic be fantastic? For years my daily commute ended at Bristol Temple Meads station where the most elaborate hanging baskets were to be found. As they were in the underpass section - the main thoroughfare to various train platforms - they were made from plastic as no self-respecting brightly coloured real plants would be able to survive the low light levels. However, this year they've disappeared. I suspect they've been hijacked by Kemble station - Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen said he'd been fooled by some there on How Britain Got the Gardening Bug recently, until they were taken down for dusting.
So I shelved my planned post - though I was seriously tempted to make the 40 mile round trip to Kemble for you dear reader. Now I don't have to as I found just the thing on a very wet afternoon in Norwich recently. There's a great shopping area where one of the mai…

ABC Wednesday 4: W is for...

... Walsingham
Sometimes I'm amazed at how little I know about my own country and its history: I didn't know a place like Walsingham existed until a couple of weeks ago. During medieval times, this was the second most popular destination for pilgrims in England - Canterbury was the first - all because Lady Richeldis had visions of the Virgin Mary in 1061.
Today pilgrims still make their way to Walsingham and shrines and churches of the Catholic, Anglican and Russian Orthodox faiths are crammed into an otherwise small village. Many of the houses seem to be used for housing pilgrims, with glazed pottery plaques dedicated to the saints adorning their walls. I say seem as the door of the one dedicated to St. Anne opened whilst we were passing to reveal a bent old lady intent on watering her potted plants. This made me think some of them might be almshouses. Even the village shops are in on the act - there's a gift shop with a nice line in the largest, most ornate crib scenes you…

GBDW: Front Gardens

Click to enlarge image if needed.
Paired photos from top to bottom: Top - The usual kind of modern housing estate front garden; Middle - my version of it from the side and above; Bottom - common design issues: drain covers and extra parking spaces

Regular readers will know that I very rarely show my front garden here on the interweb. That's because I don't really want to reveal exactly where I live in Chippenham. However, for this month's Garden Bloggers' Design Workshop I've cast caution to the four winds and roped in a few of my neighbours to help out too.

Our house is 10 years old and sited on a fairly typical modern housing estate. This means the gardens are small, especially the front ones. The minimalistic planting provided by the builders tends to be just like the top two pictures: a minute patch of lawn surrounded by a hedge of something tough like Lonicera nitida, or side boundaries comprising a single species like the pictured Rose of Sharon (Hypericum ca…

Seasonal Recipe: Elderflower Cordial

Ever since I took Tea in the Garden with my SUP friends last year, I've been waiting to have a try at making elderflower cordial. It's deliciously airy, refreshing taste is just like drinking a glass of summer. This weekend's sunshine and plentiful hedgerow flowers meant it was the perfect time to start. However, I was lacking a key ingredient: some citric acid. A search around town yielded nothing. Brewing shops are quite some distance from here and an internet order might mean a delay until the flowers are past their best. Fortunately I found just what I needed in my trusty Jekka's Complete Herb Book: a slightly different recipe using ingredients I had already. It makes lashings of elderflower cordial at a fraction of shop prices.

4.5 litres water 700g sugar Juice and thinly peeled rind of 1 lemon 30ml cider or wine vinegar 12 large elderflower heads
Method Shake any bugs off the flowersBring the water to the boil and pour into a sterilised containerAdd th…

Postcard From Norfolk: Blakeney Point

If you're in North Norfolk, a boat trip out to see the seals at Blakeney Point is a must. Most of the coast there is a mass of salt marsh, sand dunes and secretive river creeks that eventually meander out to sea. Blakeney Point is a large sand bar across one of these and also a National Nature Reserve. You'll find lots of unusual plants and well camouflaged birds eggs amongst the sand and shingle, but the main reason for going there is one of the largest colonies of seals in the UK, about 500 of them. There's common seals (the grey looking ones) and more confusingly the grey seals (the black looking ones). We were about a fortnight too early to see the newly born common seal pups, but dark, unfathomably curious eyes bobbing just a few feet from our boatside ones, were just as exciting.

Postcard From Norfolk: Great Massingham

Almost completely at random (i.e. find a cottage in North Norfolk that's centrally located, reasonably priced and for 4 or more people - we always like things to be a bit more roomy on holiday) we found ourselves based in Great Massingham - all the villages in North Norfolk have cheerful signs like the one pictured. It's just how an English village should be, with an extensive village green and with not one, but four massive ponds. These came complete with bulrushes, yellow flag irises and a multitude of quacking ducks, some of whom were found outside our door every morning in spite of Squid, the cottage owners' cat.

A place with a traditional church, sadly not one of the intriguing fortress style churches found elsewhere in the area, but built from the same materials. A thriving village shop plus a pub rescued from the ashes of the deceased Rose and Crown and resurrected as The Dabbling Duck. An object lesson in how a community/council partnership can restore the beating h…

Out on the Streets: In Norfolk

Click to enlarge image if needed. From left to right and top to bottom: outside Cromer Museum; King's Lynn; roadside lavender in Sherringham; 3 from Norwich

Norfolk provided both resignation and surprises in pretty much equal measure as far as public planting is concerned. I'm rather resigned to a significant amount of our public planting in the UK being poor and unfortunately found further evidence whilst I was away. There are many issues contributing to make it so - to be covered at a later date - but I'm convinced there are ways of addressing these to get something more like what we deserve.

I was surprised Norfolk had so much of poor quality though. This is a county of blowsy seaside resorts and lush countryside, where tourism is one of the main sources of income and so needs to look good. Unfortunately, many of the few places set aside on the streets for planting weren't well maintained and so looked rather threadbare.

If Norfolk has a signature plant, it must be lave…

ABC Wednesday 4: V is For...

... Viburnum Beetle
Just before we went on holiday my friend L emailed me with the following question: guelder rose [aka Viburnum opulus - VP] is being eaten by small black and white caterpillars, about 5mm long. Not that I mind particularly but they are making a good job of turning the leaves into skeletons and I’d be interested to know what they might turn into, and if I might care then. I’ve had a quick look on t’internet but can’t find it. Any ideas?
My reply was:
I hope they aren't Viburnum Beetle:
The larvae do the damage, not the adults. My Vibunum tinus leaves are like lace and I'm going to replace it soon because the damage is that bad.
You've guessed what came next haven't you - it is indeed Viburnum beetle (Pyrrhalta viburni) that's doing the damage. The picture's of my Viburnum tinus 'Eve Price' showing the early signs of the beetle's presence - the badly damaged parts are currently swathed with Clematis 'Rouge Cardinal' and C. …

You Know It's Summer When...

Strawberry bed escapees I found lurking behind a bench yesterday

Just before I went on holiday, I was delighted The Guardian Gardening Blog accepted a guest post on how to spot it's summer. I didn't realise that comments would be closed by the time I came back, so I'm unable to thank those people who took the piece at its light hearted face value and added their own contributions. Here will have to do instead, so thank you.To those others who saw fit to add personal remarks, I'll say only this: I'm glad I was out in the real world enjoying myself at the time. Of course everyone's entitled to their own opinions and The Guardian was right to show them as they say far more about the commenter than they do about me. However, it would be much better if the same standards used when judging my piece were applied when commenting. I don't mind disagreement or criticism of what I say - what a boring world it would be if we all agreed with each other - but a constructi…

GBBD - Flaming June

Click on the image to enlarge it if needed.
From left to right, top to bottom: Clematis obelisks (C. 'Elsa Spath', C. 'Dorothy Walton'? and C. 'Hagley Hybrid' on the left and my 2 clematis sports on the right); Gladiolus byzantinus*; C. 'Crystal Fountain'; Rosa 'Rambling Rector'; C. 'Rouge Cardinal'; Aquilegia 'Mckanna hybrid'; C. 'Arabella'; Cosmos 'Chocamocha'*; sport of C. 'Crystal Fountain; Geranium 'Splish Splash'; C. 'Rouge Cardinal' & C. 'John Paul II', self-sown Allium christophii; C. 'Hagley hybrid'; Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve'; the label says C. 'Duchess of Albany', I think it looks more like C. 'Ville de Lyon'; this year's new welcoming hanging basket; sport of C. 'Josephine'; a bargain Regal Pelargonium*; C. 'Elsa Spath'; and creamy Euonymus flowers
* = new this year
What a difference 2 weeks makes! Dan Pearson said at the Ha…

A Postcard From Norfolk

Hello, hello, good to be back...

A change of scenery and two weeks without a computer - absolute bliss. Of course it means I've got loads to tell you - gardens, bookshops, places, wildlife, public planting and an Art Deco marvel just to whet your appetite. However, I also have hundreds of photos to sort, a massive sack of post and e-mails to sift through, probably loads of weeds up at the allotment as we've had 30+ mm of rain whilst I was away and a photography competition deadline on Wednesday. Oh, and there's a little matter of cramming 5 weeks worth of song learning and rehearsals - including knowing all the words in several languages - into two weeks ready for Sing for Water on June 26th. Gulp. Then back in the world of blogging there's Blooms Day tomorrow, all your comments here - many thanks for them, you've been as delightfully thoughtful and thought provoking as ever - and I need to catch up with everything you've been up to as well.

So forgive this littl…

ABC Wednesday 4: U is For...


One of things I learnt from my visit to Chelsea is that the devil's in the detail. No matter how much you look at the TV and internet coverage, there will be lots of tiny little design details and ideas that you can only glean by actually being there. This is some of the paving used in A Japanese Tranquil Retreat: I didn't particularly like this garden, but I loved the solution used to add interest to the paved areas. It just goes to show that even where I wasn't inspired by the overall design, there's still something to engage and interest.

If you like the Unusual, then you'll like the posts over at the ABC Wednesday blog.

Off on Holiday...

I'm away in North Norfolk at the moment - have been for a while actually - where I'm hoping the weather will mean we'll need to follow rules 1-3 of the notice I found in London recently, but can safely ignore rules 4-5, unless T-shirts are included. My U for ABC Wednesday is scheduled to go up on the 10th and I'll be back shortly after that.
In the meantime, don't forget about Out on the Streets - just click on the picture in the right sidebar, leave a comment on there when you've put your contribution up for June and I'll come and have a proper look real soooooon.

Product Test: The Air-Pot

I'm pretty excited at the moment as I've just been given my first product to test, courtesy of Gardeners' Click. I was asked if I was interested in testing an Air-Pot, so naturally I jumped at the chance. I had the option of testing a kit for growing tomatoes or one for potatoes. I went for the latter and decided to go for the smaller, 50 litre patio sized kit so I could keep an eye on things at home.

I'm already familiar with Air-Pots, as the Yew I bought at the garden centre 2 years ago came in one and Martyn used a close-up picture of one for his mystery guess quiz a few weeks ago. It looks like they're going to be more widely available in the future, hence the product test. Since getting my Yew, I've been intrigued at how they work as a pot with holes seems plain wrong doesn't it? According to Martyn, the holes encourage the roots to grow a myriad of fine hairs in response to their contact with air rather than spiralling round the pot as usually happens.…

ABC Wednesday 4: T is For...

...Terrific or Tacky?
I couldn't really go to Chelsea and not talk about that garden could I? Of course it's not really a garden at all as even the soil's made out of plasticine - 24 colours of it in fact. It really proved to be a marmite moment: you either loved it or loathed it. My friend H wouldn't even look at it whilst I was taking this photograph. I loved it.
Should it be at Chelsea? That's a toughie. Strictly speaking the show's all about horticultural excellence, so a garden without any plants doesn't have a place at all. BUT in a year when lots of show gardens had to pull out due to the economic climate and the RHS had space to fill, why not? It put a smile on lots of people's faces and there's just so much detail. Shhh, even an RHS banned garden gnome was sneaked in there! Lots of people were involved in its making and I hear it will be going on to cheer up the children at Great Ormond Street hospital afterwards.
The garden's part of …

Things In Unusual Places #2: Astroturf

One of the freebies being handed out on the way to Chelsea was a sample of astroturf, something I'd associate more with the footballing version rather than the hallowed grounds of the Flower Show. I was given this about halfway between Sloane Square and the show itself. I can imagine it raised the eyebrows of a lot of visitors when they found out what was in the bag they'd been given. What amuses me most is that it even has little brown tufts of false grass in it, just like it's building up its own thatch for raking out. I wonder if Emmat will allow the use of astroturf in her plans for a revamped Chelsea?

GBBD: Bed In Summer

A perfectly fragranced bed for summer: Thuja plicata, roses, lilies, pinks, lavenders and irisis. Click here for the planting plan from Chelsea's Perfume Garden
In winter I get up at night And dress by yellow candle-light. In summer quite the other way, I have to go to bed by day.
I have to go to bed and see The birds still hopping on the tree, Or hear the grown-up people's feet Still going past me in the street.
And does it not seem hard to you, When all the sky is clear and blue, And I should like so much to play, To have to go to bed by day?
Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) from: A Child's Garden of Verses (1885)
Do you remember that frustration when you were a child? I certainly do!
BTW I'm rather pleased to be double posting today. I have a lighthearted guide on how to spot it's summer over at The Guardian Gardening blog: if you enjoyed my guide to spring, then I'm sure you'll enjoy this one too.
Garden Bloggers Muse Day is hosted by Carolyn Choi over at