Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Monday, 31 August 2009

YAWA: Your Events Guide for September

September sees us slowly slipping and sliding into Autumn, but I'm ever hopeful for an Indian summer this year to make up for some of the dull days we've had over the past weeks. In a few days I'll be launching this quarter's Out on the Streets, to explore what's in your neighbourhood re public planting. But before that gets started, let's see what the You Ask, We Answer team have found in the way of events to tempt us outdoors this month.

4-6th: The Gardening Show - the closest national show to me and based at the Royal Bath & West showground at Shepton Mallet. It includes the National Dahlia and National Giant Vegetable championships.

5th: Chippenham Gardening & Allotment Society Annual Show. Our very own produce, cookery and handicrafts show which I entered for the first time last year. It's also the annual Gardeners' Question Time garden party at Harlow Carr.

5 or 6th: Dig Together Day. Lots of awareness raising events for local gardening clubs and societies across the country.

8th: Widecombe Fair - a traditional Dartmoor agricultural fair, immortalised in song.

10-13th: Heritage Open Days - a marvellous chance to have a look round our architectural and cultural heritage, absolutely free. Lots of the places aren't usually open to the public, so there's a chance to be nosey too. Use the link to find out what's open in your area.

12-13th: Thames Festival, London. A free event celebrating the capital's river and including Sing for Water on the 13th, the fantastic fundraising concert I sang in last year at The Scoop. Martyn's partner will be singing there on the Sunday.

18-20th: Harrogate Autumn Show - a last garden show hurrah for our northern contingent.

19th: Egremont Crabapple Fair. This village event in the Lake District, dating back to 1267, is home to the World Gurning Championships aka competitive face pulling. If you think a member of your family is in with a chance for this title, the link will show just what they'd be up against. Stiff upper lip it ain't!

22nd: Autumn equinox and NAH's birthday :)

23rd: Britain in Bloom winners announced - judged to be the places with the best public planting in the country. I'll be explaining further as part of this month's Out on the Streets.

26-27th: Malvern Autumn Show - the last outdoor RHS show of the year. I went last year and met Patient Gardener and Beholder's Eye for the first time :)

27th: World Stone Skimming Championships. The former slate quarry at Easdale Island in Scotland is judged to have the best stones - at least three bounces on the water and the longest distance skimmed will bag you the prize.

Phew - that's it for this month, unless you've got anything to add of course. The picture is of the Naturalistic Planting area at Garden Organic last week.

Sunday, 30 August 2009

Dog Daze

The adorable Tilly - an 11-week old labradoodle - has entered our next door neighbours' lives recently, so they've had to have a rethink of the contents of their garden as many of the plants are toxic to dogs. I offered to take all the branches of one inch thickness or less and I also collected those they'd pruned from where my Fuchsia was overhanging their drive: it's been full of wasps lately and proving to be a hazard to any passengers getting out of their car.

I set to this morning with my shredder and now have three enormous bags of chippings to mulch some of my paths up at the allotment. And because I've saved my neighbours from a trip to the tip, I've been invited round for Sunday lunch, plus more fun and games with Tilly. Result!

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Cat Tales

Skimble on top of the fridge again

We've just had this note popped through our letter box:

Our newly acquired kittens have taken a keen interest in catching small animals: unfortunately today they bought in a live guinea pig. We have taken the guinea pig to the vets - it is dark brown/black all over. If you are missing a guinea pig please contact us on the number below.

We are trying as much as possible to stop the cats catching animals, but as you probably appreciate there is only so much we can do.

As the note is signed by someone with the same name as NAH, our neighbours have been all a-giggle and agog as soon as we stick our noses out the front door. I've had to remind them our two are no longer kittens.

However, one of ours did bring a bright orange hamster home and left it for me to find at the foot of the stairs a couple of years ago. It bore a striking resemblance to next door's beloved pet, but thankfully Harry was merrily going round in his little wheel when we went round and checked :)

What's the most unusual creature your pet(s) have bought home or encountered?

Friday, 28 August 2009

Unusual Front Gardens #2: Moreton-in-Marsh

Whenever NAH and I travel up north to visit relatives, we always go up the Fosse Way, an ancient road dating back to Roman times. Sometimes it's arrow straight and with some rather alarming dips - helpfully signed High Risk Crash Area THINK! and BIKE! from time to time - which passes through fine, mellow Cotswold villages like Stow-on-the-Wold and Moreton-in-Marsh.

A couple of years ago, I spotted the pictured garden in Moreton-in-Marsh and it's this very one which inspired me to start my Unusual Front Gardens strand. We usually don't have time on our way up north, so I was pleased to take this picture on Tuesday when I stopped for a break after my fantastic day out with Maggi. As you can see it's a typical front garden, but elevated to the unusual because the owner has decided to use rather a lot of hub caps in the design. I was rather hoping he or she would come out for a chat whilst I was taking the photo, but it wasn't to be. Later on, I saw a hub cap lying in the road as I went through Stow-on-the-Wold: I seriously thought about stopping the car to pick it up and taking it back to Moreton-in-Marsh as a present ;)

Many thanks to those of you who left comments on my first post in this new strand, telling me about some local gardens which may fit the bill. I'll be popping out to have a look at them soon. I'm also indebted to Mark over at Views From the Bike Shed, who's sent me some great examples from his travels in Wales. They'll be featured shortly :)

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Official Announcement: It's The Year of the Wasp

I've made a few passing remarks recently on how bad the wasps (aka yellow-jackets if you're reading this across the pond) are this year. There were early signs of trouble up at the allotment at the beginning of July when a newbie plotholder asked me what she should do about the nest on her plot. Later that month I was stung rather badly when a wasp objected to me picking their raspberries. Harrumph. Victoria's reported on her problems with them - with rather public consequences - and they've been a rather annoying presence on various garden visits recently.

Now it's official. It's the worst year for wasps in a decade. In fact the dour pest controller interviewed on Breakfast News a couple of days ago said it's one of the 2 worst instances he's seen in thirty years. Last week the cafe at Dyrham Park - a National Trust property close to here - had to be closed temporarily whilst a nest nearby was dealt with. I understand the situation there's much better now.

At Garden Organic on Tuesday, everyone was partaking in a new dance: the waft a wasp away. This isn't the thing to do if they get rather interested in you as it can anger them even more and increase the likelihood of stinging. Instead, you should stay absolutely still until they get bored and move on. I find muttering go away makes me feel like I'm actually doing something positive whilst playing at statues. I've also changed my approach to raspberry picking: the fruit tends to get a bit hidden under the foliage, so it's very easy to reach underneath to pick and not realise a wasp has just nipped in there. Now I have a good look first and find other fruit to pick if they're around.

I've also put out some traps: lovely coloured glass 'beehives' filled with sugar water to attract them away from my fruit. As you can see, the wasps have upped the ante and bought in reinforcements. Thank goodness these don't get stirred up as easily as their waspish cousins: the pictured hornet just glared at me whilst I picked my way round my raspberry canes.

If you do get stung, it's best to remove yourself from the area at once as the sting delivers a double whammy: a nasty poison plus a pheromone which can attract other wasps in the area to join in the attack. Luckily they didn't in my case even though I did continue to pick my raspberries. However, I did need to go home after a while as I started to react to the venom: the NHS Direct website has information on what to do should this happen to you.

Which pests are you finding the most troublesome this year?

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

ABC Wednesday 5: F is For...

... Fence

I went to Garden Organic at Ryton yesterday to meet up with Maggi and to have a mooch around a place that's been on my must see list for ages. A fuller report to follow, but I thought I'd give you a taster of just one of the gardens I saw yesterday. I was particularly struck by this most unusual fence which frames the entrance to the Elysia Biodynamic Garden.

Apologies for the short post, but I have a migraine :( In the meantime, if you go here, it'll tell you lots more and also has a rather good slideshow of the garden in August.

For more ABC Wednesday posts, do Follow this link to the Fullest of blogs...

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Garden Visit: Lytes Cary Manor

After a year of trying, I finally managed to get the SUP team together last week for a visit to Lytes Cary Manor. As you can see we had the perfect day for it: the only (minor) downside was the amount of wasps, but then it does seem to be a particularly good year for them everywhere. If anything the gardens are even better than last year: there's lots more pots and many, many sultry Dahlias, including D. 'Arabian Night', which I'm also enjoying in my garden at the moment. S and D have fallen in love with the place: have a look here and here for my reports on my previous visits - with lots of photos - and I think you'll fall in love with it too.

Whilst we're on the subject of garden visits, I'm delighted my latest guest post is on this very topic over at The Guardian Gardening blog today. I'm exploring the issue of how garden visiting is becoming the victim of its own success and what can be done about it. I'd welcome anything you can add to the debate.

I'm blowing my trumpet even more: you may have noticed my welcome to BBC Countryfile Magazine readers at the top righthand sidebar. NAH and I went to Devizes for the afternoon recently for one of our gentle wanders around and to visit their brilliant newsagent which stocks the biggest range of magazines I've ever seen. For some reason I idly picked up this month's copy of Countryfile and then found Veg Plotting is their blog of the month! What an unexpected surprise :D

You also have an opportunity to do some trumpet blowing of your own. By popular demand Emmat is running another Emsworth, the fun virtual village show with plenty of honour to compete for. So, if you fancy being an allotment showoff, or you have some carefully made handicrafts, or have been practising your floral skills, or if you're simply just a Nigella with attitude, there's bound to be a category you can enter. Get cracking and click on here or the picture in my sidebar to go there! Hurry, hurry, hurry - you have until September 5th to do so!

Monday, 24 August 2009

Psst! Are You Self-sufficientish?

I'm not really a campaigning kind of person, but I am trying to take some baby steps in leading a greener lifestyle as part of my New Life's Resolutions. Therefore, it's always good to discover websites which are there to help with guidance on how this might be achieved. Today, I've found out about The Green Village - i.e. they emailed me - which is a relatively new UK-centric website and is about:

... helping people to be greener, live more self-sufficiently and ethically, and providing people with the information they need to make responsible decisions about how they live their lives. We are a community of like-minded people who know the importance of looking after the only planet we have and celebrating the diversity it contains.

In tandem with my post on Incredible Edibles last week, I've thinking quite a lot about food issues lately and how our diet will have to change over the coming decades*. I've been doing some background research and came across the Self-sufficientish website. They also have a book just published in paperback which immediately went onto my Amazon wishlist. It happens that The Green Village are running a competition to win a copy of this book [so why are you telling everyone about it - Ed]. They also have details on how you could get involved in the next series of Grow Your Own Drugs.

The Green Village has lots of other useful information about green issues, such as a closer look at the increasing popularity of free-range food and what the NHS is doing about its rather high fuel consumption. These topics are presented in a fresh, non-preachy way, which I like. One for your Bookmarks/Favourites methinks.

* = Emma Cooper, Soilman and The Inadvertant Farmer have also been having a bit of a debate or think about these issues lately, if you're interested.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Hi Diddle Dee Dee, A Writer's Life For Me? *

I've been tagged by Soilman at er, Soilman with a writing meme. I'm rather flattered as he says he's tagged pro or semi-pro writers and seeing I earn s*d all from writing, even semi-pro's a pretty good compliment in my view** :)

OK, let's see...

Which words do you use too much in your writing?
  • So - I haven't really got the hang of joining words yet - says she quoting the kind of thing her primary school teacher used to say ;)
  • Well - Well, I try and write like I'm having a conversation, so (!) that one tends to creep in here rather a lot.
  • Here - tends to creep in here rather a lot
  • I also have a dreadful habit of repeating almost exactly the same phrase in the next sentence: luckily, self-editing usually weeds them out ;)
  • Add my most over-used word or phrase of your choice: I'm sure there's plenty I've either forgotten about or haven't spotted yet. Feel free to tell me in the Comments below...
Which words do you consider overused in stuff you read?

Lovely, stunning and delightful. Trouble is, it's rather difficult not to use them when you're talking about rather lovely gardens, or looking at stunning scenery. I'm just as guilty as anyone else and the results are rather less than delightful.

What’s your favourite piece of writing by you?

The next one.

What blog post do you wish you’d written?

I can't single anything out in particular as I see at least one post of that ilk every day. There's a very important piece I'm glad I haven't written, because it'd mean I'd had some really bad experiences. It's Carrie's piece on Ecotherapy. I do understand what she's talking about though, as gardening and having an allotment have also pulled me through some pretty bad times.

Regrets, do you have a few? Is there anything you wish you hadn’t written?

My first blog post is cringingly awful and entirely unoriginal. Luckily no-one was reading my stuff for aaaaages, which is probably just as well.

How has your writing made a difference?

Blogging can be a bit navel gazing at times, so I was glad to do something a bit different last year with my Open Garden to raise funds for WaterAid. The money raised - including Gift Aid - was over £1,300 (£2,000 USD), which is enough to give an entire village in Africa a clean, safe supply of water for ever. As for my everyday stuff, who knows?

Name three favourite words...

Grumplebum, chucklesome and holiday

…And three words you’re not so keen on

This week they're wasp and potato blight.

Do you have a writing mentor, role model or inspiration?

Mentor? No, but I'd like one - any offers? Role Model? I've always had a strong sense of being me ever since I can remember, so that's who I strive to be in my writing. Inspiration? There's loads, but I have to single out The Bath Crafting Cranny as it was reading her blog nearly two years ago which made me want have a go. I also have to mention Christopher Lloyd as it was his writing for The Guardian which got me into gardening in the first place, never mind writing about it.

What’s your writing ambition?

I didn't have one for ages as I just enjoyed the process of blogging. That changed towards the end of last year when I went on a creative writing course. The course itself was pants, but it did show me I'd like to actually get paid for writing something one day. In the meantime, I'll just keep practising until I get it right, which could take a wee while.

Plug alert! List any work you would like to tell your readers about:

I've got another guest post for The Guardian Gardening Blog coming up soon - possibly next week - which is looking at garden visits, how they're becoming a bit too successful for their own good and what could be done about it. I'm also very excited about getting stuck into my new Incredible Edibles strand and I'm looking forward to seeing everyone's contributions for Out on the Streets, my quarterly look at public planting which kicks off again next month.

Now it's tag-time. I'm not entirely sure how many it should be and secretly there are some others I'd like to add to my list, but I'm too shy to ask you all and 4 people seems to be the norm anyway. Also, as with any tagging memes I take part in, there's absolutely no obligation for my nominees to take part, or perhaps someone not nominated might like what they see and answer the questions themselves anyway. If you do take part, please let me know as I'm fascinated to see your answers. The names pulled out of my virtual hat are:

Constant Gardener

* = with apologies to the makers of Pinocchio (1940)
** = I'm probably just making up the numbers though

Friday, 21 August 2009

Gardening Vertically

Gardening vertically's in vogue at the moment. We have Patrick Blanc's amazing creations which look like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon; the RHS shows have been full of edible verticals this year, like Freshly Prepped at Chelsea. There's lots of absolutely stunning ideas and results. I've also seen a couple of vertical gardening products at the shows, so you can go and get the look yourself.

I even considered them for my boring fence project. Using climbers, vines, trellis and wires is just so yesterday, especially when you can install something exciting to do the same job, with very different plants. However, I still haven't got a clue how you'd look after those fancy planters effectively and without bringing the fence down. Sometimes it's good to get out and about and have a look at what the neighbours are doing. The pictured Euonymus from just round the corner, is a good reminder that sometimes simplicity is best.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Public Planting: Chippenham's Summer

At last I have some positive news about Chippenham's public planting :) The hanging baskets are up, the tubs are filled, and large, strange shapes are stationed strategically outside some of Chippenham's civic buildings, such as the Town Hall. Even a wet day like yesterday failed to dim the pictured assemblage outside the Yelde Hall and Tourist Information Office at the top of the High Street.

The show is so good this year, it's even made the letters pages of the local newspaper. 2 weeks ago, B Vincent was moved to write:

May I through your newspaper congratulate those responsible for Chippenham's hanging basket flower displays - they are again fantastic and much appreciated...

Then the response last week from Michael and Philip Glen of Showell Nurseries was:

Having won the contract to supply the hanging baskets in Chippenham again this year, it was very pleasing to read B Vincent's letter of appreciation.
A great deal of care and effort went into producing them.
However, I feel I should commend the council staff responsible for maintaining them so well. Despite the wet "Barbour Queue" Summer, baskets need watering daily and feeding regularly to reach such a high standard...

It's good to know a local supplier was chosen to put the display together. Now, please Town Council, we need them to weave their magic over the lacklustre shrubby beds and red mulch!

I also need you to weave your magic: so do get out your cameras ready to take your next set of Out on the Streets photos for next month...

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

ABC Wednesday 5: E is For...

... Evison, Raymond Evison

Regular readers of this blog know of my fondness for Clematis, especially those grown by the lovely Mr Evison. I call him that because he's such a courteous, dapper gentleman who helped me solve my clematis mystery last year when I met him at the RHS Inner Temple show. I spoke to him again at Chelsea in May, so imagine my excitement when I opened my gardening club magazine to find he's coming to my local garden centre next month to give a talk on Clematis for today's gardens.

Raymond Evison is the top Clematis grower, who exports all over the world from his nursery in Guernsey. I find his plants are the ones which settle into my garden most easily and draw the most comments from visitors, like those who came to NAH's curry evening last week. If you have Clematis in your garden, chances are at least one of them will have been introduced by him. The clue is in the code after the plant's name: if you see the letters EVIPO + 3 digits or EVI + a written number, then it's a Raymond Evison plant.

My local garden centre always puts on a great display of his plants at this time of the year, which I've also tempted Threadspider to partake in. She took home C. 'Arctic Queen' (TM - Evitwo) last year and we've been admiring it in her garden since mid Spring. My friend H, who came with me to Chelsea is desperate for C. 'Cassis' (TM Evipo020) to grace her garden. Last year I took delivery of gorgeous C. 'Crystal Fountain' (TM - Evipo038) by post and its arrival was quite the special event: the distinctive blue box with a healthy plant carefully packed and nestling inside made me feel like Christmas had come early. I suspect I'll be indulging in another purchase or two myself next month when Threadspider and I go to hear what the great man has to say. I just hope he doesn't have a look at our tickets that closely ;)

For other Exciting posts on the theme of E, do visit the ABC Wednesday blog.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

A New Blog Theme: Incredible Edibles

A few things have gelled in my brain over the past week or so. It started with the weeds on my plot and my joking over at Soilman's and last month's Blooms Day they're my best crop this year. Then I posted about my Monstrous Weeds for this month's Muse Day and found out that at least one of my them - fat hen - was indeed a crop until usurped by spinach. A quick perusal with Mr Allotment Warden last week confirmed I had at least one other weed/crop in abundance on my plot: Good King Henry.

Whilst I don't make New Year's resolutions anymore, I've had the resolve in the back of my mind to make better use of hedgerow harvests this year. Elderflower cordial and plum jam are the results thus far. Next month will see hazels - as long as those pesky squirrels leave me some - elderberries and sloes added to the list. My River Cottage Preserves book has highlighted some surprising additions: beech leaves for a very alcoholic beverage called beech leaf noyau - sadly it's too late to make that one this year - and a saucy haw ketchup which I can make next month from the pictured hawthorn berries. I always thought they were poisonous, but I'm happy to give them a try.

A couple of weeks ago Lucy Halsall wrote on the Guardian Gardening Blog that we make use of surprisingly few of the many edible crops - some 5,000 - and that most grow your own encyclopedias talk about just 50 or so of them. Out came my pen and paper and I soon had a list of 100 crops I'd grown, 200 fruit and vegetables I'd tried and an overall list of 350 crops I'd actually heard of. Way short of the total available!

So I'm off on a culinary journey: to try eat and grow as many of the 350 I haven't tested thus far and to extend my list beyond them as far as possible. I'm sure many of them can't be grown in this country, especially without something like a greenhouse available. However, if I can get hold of any of these more exotic crops, I'll try them at least. I'm also sure a number of them won't be to my taste and who knows what might be absolutely delicious - the haws just over my garden fence perhaps?

I'll be reporting my journey in my new Incredible Edibles strand and adding snippets on useful recipes, resources, campaigns and anything else I find out. My head's brimming with ideas and things I want to try, so don't be surprised if it all gets hived off into a blog of its own at some point :)

What's the most incredible edible you've eaten?

Monday, 17 August 2009

VPGGB # 10: Plant Rescues

I had a bit of a plant buying frenzy a few days ago. I suspect I was feeling a bit left out after Patient Gardener bought a rather lovely red herbaceous Potentilla at Hergest Croft last week. She also knows I've been after some Echinacea since we met up at Malvern in May.

So I should have known that a trip to my local garden centre with Threadspider last Thursday - on the pretext we hadn't been there for absolutely ages - would break my recent plant buying duck, especially as she was being all encouraging and up for buying a few plants herself. I showed you the Achillea and Scabiosa on Saturday, plus I bought six superbly scented Lavandula angustifolia to start a lavender hedge on the patio. I also showed you another view of this Echinacea 'Kim's Knee High'. However, I didn't tell you it was an absolute bargain :)

Whilst Threadspider went off to get a gorgeous Dahlia 'Bishop of Canterbury' which had taken her fancy, I homed in on the Achillea and Scabiosa. What should I espy on the way, but a tubtrug full off dead headings, wilting leaves and the pictured Echinacea, still in its pot. I took it out of the trug and as far as I could see it's only crimes were it was listing rather severely to one side and some of the compost at the top of the pot was missing. The leaves were rather pale, but there were plenty of flowers, plus a few more on the way. It certainly looked like throwing it out would be a little hasty.

I found the assistant doing the dead heading and asked if I could rescue the plant for her. I could as long as I was prepared to pay a nominal fee for it - even the staff aren't allowed to rescue plants without paying for the privilege - would 50p be OK? As you can see, it certainly was - a fully healthy plant is £8.99 - and Kim's now looking much happier in her new home :)

The next time you're out at a garden centre, nursery or anywhere selling plants you like, have a look to see if they have a bargain plants section. These are legitimate plant rescue opportunities and always be on the alert for even more opportunistic rescues like mine :) If you can do a little plant 'rescuing' yourself do also bear in mind:
  • Give the plant a gentle tug. If all or quite a bit of the plant 'comes off in your hand guv', don't buy it. It's dead or very nearly that way.
  • Take the plant out of its pot. Are the roots pot bound? Avoid it the roots are severely wound round each other or bursting through the pot wall - the plant is unlikely to throw out new roots to establish itself in its new home. If it's lightly pot bound and you can easily tease out some of the roots, it's still rescuable
  • If the plant is severely wilted - don't bother. Signs of very recent wilting are rescuable if you immerse the plant + pot into water until the compost is fully wetted through again as soon as you get it home. If this presents any difficulties, adding a couple of drops of washing up liquid to the water can help to re-wet thoroughly dried out compost
  • Look for signs of damage by pests or disease. Avoid if you find any - you never know what's still lurking on or around the plant even if it looks like the cause of the problem has gone
  • If the plant's severely misshapen due to trimming back and is a shrub - don't buy. The plant is unlikely to regain a shapely silhouette. If it's a perennial, like my Echinacea, it should regain a good shape next season
  • What's the condition of the compost like? If there's masses of moss and/or weeds, particularly perennial ones - avoid
  • What's the plant's leaf colour like? Compare with healthy stock if possible. If most of the leaves look rather tired or sick (brown or yellow) - don't bother. You'll see that my bargain plant had some yellowing and the leaves were a paler green than I would have liked, but nothing that a quick feed and some nice new compost to settle into wouldn't cure
  • Is the plant an annual? Avoid if it's towards the end of the season for that plant. Don't laugh - quite a few places attempt to sell off annuals to unsuspecting customers at knock down prices towards the end of the growing season to make room for new stock :O
Do you have any plant rescue tales or tips to add to the list?

Sunday, 16 August 2009

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #8

  1. Decide which products will be on special offer in your retail stores
  2. Order the advertising materials, ensuring they're spellchecked and everything
  3. Distribute to your stores who duly display them on their shelves
  4. Wait for a blogger with a camera to spot what the spellchecker couldn't
  5. Et voila!

Let's hope they're not using old has-beens in their salad ;)

This is number eight in an occasional series which I thought would never get past 3. Click here to see the previous one, or here for the whole lot plus additional views of how it's done in Bath and Devizes :)

Saturday, 15 August 2009

GBBD - New Flowers on the Block

This post's a bit hasty today as we're off to a wedding in the Cotswolds, so bridal bouquets are more on my mind than all that's blooming in the garden. A quick run round this morning found me concentrating on just this year's new additions which are now strutting their stuff. From top left circulating clockwise (click on the image to enlarge it if needed) we have:

1. The new patio bed - more on this to follow - I really am writing this in haste! 2. Dahlia 'Arabian Nights' 3. Anthemis tinctoria 'E. C. Buxton' 4. Rosa 'The Fairy' supported by an enormous pot of Lavandula angustifolia, which in turn is surrounded by bees 5. Echinacea 'Kim's Knee High' 6. Part of the revamped single terrace bed showing the Fuchsia genii has indeed recovered from its capsid bug attack :) 7. Scabiosa 'Chile Black' 8. Achillea 'Walther Funke' 9. Echinops ritro with bees 10. Begonia boliviensis 'Bonfire' enlivening the 'boring fence project' 11. Verbena bonariensis 12. Dahlia 'Dark Angel Red'

A year ago today, I opened my garden online as a standalone blog to raise money for WaterAid's Sing for Water. A magnificent total of £1085 was raised - around 1750 USD. Many thanks to all of you who visited, commented and donated, it was a fantastic response. As no further money has materialised since January, I've now closed the garden to donations. However, I won't be closing my Open Garden blog as it gives such a good introduction for new Veg Plotting readers. It'll also give you a good idea of how the garden as a whole is doing at the moment. I'll be updating the link from the sidebar on here as well as the blog itself to reflect its new status shortly.

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

Friday, 14 August 2009

Book Review: The Alternative Kitchen Garden

Ever since I knew Emma Cooper was writing a book about her Alternative Kitchen Garden, I'd been intrigued how she would make it stand out from the many books about vegetable and fruit growing currently found in our bookshops today.

Thankfully she's taken a different approach to the usual monthly/seasonal calendar and come up with a unique guide on how to transform a garden into a productive one. Like many of us, Emma started with just a few pots, but soon realised this wouldn't be enough for her. Today, her garden is dedicated to growing fruit and vegetables - and chickens! - with a 'grow dome' installed to extend the productive season and to grow her more tender crops.

It's not a 'How to' book - there's plenty of those on the market already - but there are lots of hints and tips within its 371 pages. Instead it's an A-Z of enthusiasm, ideas and experiments, where Freecycling, Osteopathy and Zero Waste cheerfully rub shoulders with Achocha, Peas and Strawberries. Unlike most gardening books, Emma is looking at the kitchen garden in its widest sense. She isn't afraid to talk about her failures as well as her successes and sometimes you won't find definitive answers either as Emma is discussing what she's found out so far from eight years of gardening. That honesty is most refreshing and should encourage pretty well everyone to 'have a go', whether they're starting out or just wanting to try something that bit different.

A positive, friendly and informative book, which has relevance for anyone growing their own in the 21st century, irrespective of whether they're a beginner or have some experience.

You can also catch up with how things are progressing in Emma's garden via her blog and podcasts.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Three Gardens In One Day

On Monday I took a trip up to Malvern to see Patient Gardener for a good old natter and to do a little garden visiting together. Naturally my first garden visit was Helen's own hallowed plot. Goodness knows why I left my camera in the car whilst I got the full tour. You'll have to take my word that her garden's looking on top form at the moment and it made a great start to the day. Next time, I promise you lots of photos...

Our first port of call was Hampton Court Gardens. No, not that Hampton Court, the Herefordshire one! Both Helen and Anna at Green Tapestry have enthused about this garden previously, so I leapt at the chance to see for my myself when Helen suggested it. Our first sight of this property was a most romantic castle, which predates Hampton Court Palace by about 80 years. The walled garden dates from Victorian times and we started our tour in the marvellous kitchen garden. This has lots of veggie beds edged with Lavender or Nepeta and the bees were in overdrive in spite of the dullness of the day. Trained fruit trees and supporting arches for beans and squashes were also in evidence. There's also a proper orchard with lots of heritage fruit trees plus a wildflower meadow. I was most envious of the greenhouses with their racks of onions set out to dry. There were quirky touches too: Lobelias interspersed with onions, plus large raised baskets in which the pumpkins were revelling. The produce supplies the onsite shop and organic restaurant :)

The flower gardens are mostly formal in nature using box edging plus lots of yew to give height. I was interested to see yew pillars were also used in the double border instead of the more usual structures with climbers. There's plenty of water too in the form of pools and rills. Beyond the maze - which we didn't tackle - is a rather tatty looking large pond, but the little thatched 'cottage' gives a more picturesque view of this area. Large pots are also used to lead the eye to some of the garden's main focal points. I was particularly taken with the ones shown in the lower right picture housing enormous Agapanthus. I'd also like to return in May to see the enormous Wisteria tunnel in full throttle. There's also a 1,000 acres of estate to explore - we just managed a tiny little bit of this area by finding a bench under a large tree for us to have our lunch. Definitely a garden to return to.

Keeping within Herefordshire, it was Hergest Croft's turn next, a short drive away and another garden which has been on my list for a while. I wasn't disappointed. Here, the influence is Arts and Crafts - the house is dated 1906 - and I loved the conservatory which served as both a welcoming entrance and to house a large collection of potted Fuchsia and Pelargoniums. The display of Cacti which reminded me of an Auricula theatre also made me smile. The house is set within lots of trees - over 5,000 - which gave it quite a different feel to Hampton Court. It would be best to visit in the spring to do these justice as there is an Azalea Garden and Maple Grove to explore.

A sharp shower sent us scurrying from one of the shrub areas back to the house for a well deserved drink and gooey cake. We were able to sit on the open verandah with views over the croquet lawn and beyond. A most delightful spot! We then decided to focus our attention on the kitchen garden and herbaceous border areas which are a little way from the house. It was well worth the effort: I was seriously coveting the many rhubarb forcers and the cold frame. Unlike Hampton Court, the kitchen garden was designed along more traditional productive lines, but no less beautiful in my eyes. Lots of flowers were incorporated into the veggie areas, plus the proximity of the herbaceous borders meant the bees were very busy in this garden too. Helen and I joked at the time how similar some of our photos would turn out, so I'm asking you to compare Helen's photo of the double border - my middle right photo in the above collage - and guess on which side of her I was standing at the time ;)

Three fabulous gardens in one day, in the best of company. Thanks Helen, for suggesting our itinerary and I'm already looking forward to the next time :)

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

ABC Wednesday 5: D is For...

... Deficiency

For the past couple of years my raspberry foliage up at the allotment has tended to look rather sick and this year is no exception. I've ruled out a virus as these tend to give the foliage a mottled appearance rather than the distinctive veined patterning you can see in my picture. I'd also ruled out the usual mineral deficiencies, such as iron or manganese I've previously seen in my garden as these tend to affect the younger foliage first. In my photo, the younger foliage at the top of the plant is a healthy green and the problem gets worse the further down the plant you go.

But then I got pondering the ideal conditions for growing raspberries: a neutral to acid soil and loamy, perhaps with some sand. Mine's the complete opposite as it's lime with clay. Clay soils are notoriously fickle about hanging onto their nutrients, even though they're considered to be a nutrient rich soil. Time for a bit of Googling...

...and there you have it. Looks like I have what's called Lime-induced chlorosis, which is a posh way of saying you're-growing-an-acid-loving-plant-in-alkaline-conditions-which-is-poorly-adapted-for-absorbing-the-trace-elements-it-needs-from-that-kind of-soil. And it turns out I have a magnesium deficiency as this affects the older leaves first. Magnesium, iron or manganese are the usual minerals which are deficient and the clay soil isn't helping as it tends to hold onto these elements quite firmly. According to the link, waterlogged conditions don't help either, which makes me wonder if that's why I've only spotted the condition in the past couple of years. Whilst I grow my raspberries at the top of the slope, last month's rainfall and the past couple of wet summers have been rather extreme. The saving grace in my book is that I haven't noticed any drop in yield.

As it's a magnesium deficiency, I could try a foliar feed of Epsom salts using crystals obtained from the chemist to counteract it. For iron or manganese deficiencies, those specially formulated feeds for acid-loving plants available at garden centres could be used instead. However, that would only cure the problem for this season. I could also put something like flowers of sulphur around the plants to acidify the soil, but I suspect the 'power of clay' would soon return pH levels back to alkaline and thus I might shell out my cash for very little return.

So, I'm planning on carrying on as usual, especially as I'm getting oodles of raspberries at the moment. However, I am pondering the large conifer tree at the end of my plot. It sheds rather a lot of needles which I can't really compost as they're too acid for the health of my heap. I'm wondering whether a well-rotted mulch of needles, might help in the longer term especially as I'll have a pretty constant supply. Time to rescue some of my pallet stash from the nettlebed at the bottom of the plot to make a nice 'needlemould' bin methinks.

For more Decidedly Delicious posts, do visit the ABC Wednesday blog.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

12:34:56 on 07/08/09: Attempt #3 x n

Many thanks to all of you who took part on Friday or stopped by to leave comments. It's been great to see everyone's 'moment in time', even if Carrie missed it by twenty minutes. In view of what she found, photographed and emailed to me (click to see a bigger image), all is forgiven :)

As I suspected, lunch featured heavily on the menu. You've already seen my cookathon in progress: however, I do need to tell you that such scenes of domesticity are rare, just in case you were worried. Patient Gardener made me hungry all over again with her pictured chicken noodle soup. Luckily she's given us the recipe too. Karen at Artist's Garden was at lunch in glorious surroundings and found perfect happiness in her moment. Greenwalks Karen was at a restaurant and cleverly involved her companions in both choosing the shot and being her subjects. Constant Gardener was serving a lunch-wrapped pill to her faithful companion whilst Elizabethm had some tricky lunchtime manoeuvres to make involving hot bread, cats, a ringing telephone and greeting a neighbour, so it's no wonder she couldn't fit in taking a photograph!

Juliet mused about time and teased us a little by getting us to find which of her photographs was taken at the right moment. Weeping Sore 'fessed up to missing the moment entirely whilst trying to photograph the atomic clock, but Gerald came up with the goods by finding a splendid clock moment on Geograph for us.

It's always good to meet some of you on here for the first time like Jill-O and 3C - welcome! Jill-O found the perfect Monet bridge in Michigan and Linda confessed to being asleep at the exact moment, but showed us a most tempting shot afterwards of where she'd been lying. Sadly Anna was travelling at the time, trying to find Tiverton Parkway, so couldn't join us. 3C's contribution also involved a journey, to the same place that coincidentally I also featured last Friday on my photography blog. However, my image was taken at a different day and time.

Allotments also featured. Deb at Carrots and Kids treated us to a fantastic group photograph and a delicious account of its taking. Like Deb, Happy Mouffetard's story also involved nettles as she was tackling them on her allotment at the time. In view of this, it's probably just as well she forgot her camera: I suspect she avoided a few stings by doing so.

I confess to having one that got away: Maggi also joined in, but at the moment her blog doesn't appear to be showing her post. Update: It's sorted and her inspiring post is here. Of course, I may have missed others. Do let me know and I'll make sure this piece gets updated.

Whilst we all took pictures of or just thought about our daily lives, I believe the results were far from ordinary. What comes across are thoughtful, invigorating commentaries which you probably wouldn't usually tell us about. I've enjoyed each and every one of your posts and comments :)

Monday, 10 August 2009

Things in Unusual Places # 5: Chickens

The garden centre with the flowery loos also has chickens roaming the plant sales area. I got quite a shock when one of them suddenly appeared from underneath one of the plant stands. They're allowed to strut about and scratch through the display beds and bark mulched areas during the day, then retire at night to rather superior hen house accommodation. They're for sale too - the garden centre notice says: Grow your own eggs fresh from the garden.

NAH and I were quite taken with them as were my niece and nephew last week when we took them along to discover the delights of this garden centre. They were most reluctant to go at first, but the chickens and the flowery loos soon won them over. They also loved the carnivorous and sensitive plant display indoors.

We also made another discovery, but I'm saving that for another time :)

Saturday, 8 August 2009

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #7

  1. Decide on a completely new retail strand for your DIY business
  2. Distribute the goods and advertising materials to your stores
  3. Wait for a blogger with a camera to notice and wonder where this fits with your business model
  4. Et voila!
I wonder where it might end - the advertising strapline says Now you can look after your pet as well as your home. Hmm - let's see... How about selling food too and saying, Now you can look after yourself, your pet and your home? Mind you, that would probably bring them into direct competition with the mighty Tescos, so that's probably not a good idea. There's conflicting advice on offer to businesses for when the going gets tough: some say focus on your core business and do it really well, others say diversify, diversify. It looks like this company's doing the latter. However, I'm wondering if their choice is wise: in this week's Gazette & Herald there's a piece on how the local pet shelter in Bath is full as lots of people are abandoning their pets when finances get tough.
If you think the location's familiar, the same company had Spring deals to DIY for. Also have a look here for the last item in my occasional Advertising series.
What's the strangest retail mix you've seen? The one I remember most clearly is the marvellous cafe in Nothe Gardens, Weymouth where you can not only get a good cup of coffee and something gooey to munch, you can put in your meat order as well.

Friday, 7 August 2009

12:34:56 on 07/08/09: Attempt #2

Lunch was a little later than usual for us today, which is why I'm showing you an ingredient instead of the finished result for my 12:34:56 on 07/08/09 photo. I went to my local supermarket late yesterday afternoon and hit a rich seam of bargains in the greengrocery section and I've been frantically processing my spoils ever since. My haul included:
  • the pictured 6 small avocados - just right for a spot of guacamole for today's lunch with some of Tracey Smith's delicious rubbish flatbreads. I used just half of the avocados today; the rest need ripening to give us lunch for another time. Putting them in a paper bag with an apple for a couple of days should do the trick. In the spirit of Tracey's flatbread recipe - and when I saw her at Corsham festival in June - I also used up some very floppy carrots in the bread mixture!
  • 5 x 150g bundles of asparagus. 1 bundle is for tonight's tea - asparagus and new potato frittata with salad - the rest I preserved in oil just like I've seen done in Spain with surplus produce
  • A large bag of pears - some have been poached in red wine for tonight's tea and the rest will be eaten as snacks
  • 1 small punnet of lychees. NAH always cooks a curry on a Thursday, so in the best tradition of my childhood visits to Indian restaurants with my dad, we had them after last night's curry. They just needed peeling and de-stoning for an instant luxurious dessert
  • A massive cauliflower from the local grower promotion stand. I love cauliflower and NAH hates them: that's why I don't grow brassicas up at the plot. I've made and frozen loads of cauliflower cheese ready for me to guzzle when NAH's away at the end of the month
I rather like the bargains section, not only for its value - all these items were half price i.e. I paid less than a fiver for the lot - but it also shakes me out of my cooking rut from time to time. I find it's rather good to buy something different to usual and ask yourself, what shall I do with this then? I usually tackle my shopping the other way round: starting with a list of meals and then the ingredients I need to make them a reality. As a result we tend to have a lot of the same things, even though we do eat well and healthily.
What were you doing at 12:34:56 today? Do tell me in the comments below, or better still leave me a link to your post about it. Have a look here for what I was doing for attempt #1 - 12:34:56 on July 8th - the same numerical sequence as today for those of you using American date notation.

Flowers for Bees: VP's Dozen

It's Tweehive time today, so once again it's a warm welcome to both my regular readers and any new ones, especially you busy bees gathering nectar and pollen for today's task. There should be a flower popping up here for you today, plus a couple of others elsewhere - have at look at the end of this post for some clues. I thought I'd also give you a nice collage of bee friendly plants found in my garden.

From top left reading clockwise (and you can click on the image to enlarge it if you want to) they are:
  • Pulmonaria saccharata 'Redstart' - note I'm showing a plain leaved pink cultivar because this flowers much longer for me than the nicer, spotty leaved ones - from December until April
  • Rosmarinus officinalis 'Prostrata'
  • Allium sphaerocephalon
  • Lavandula stoechas - I prefer Lavandula angustifolia, but I don't seem to have a decent photo to hand
  • Sedum 'Autumn Joy'
  • Monarda aka bee balm 'Croftway Pink'
  • Eryngium - I think it's a different cultivar to the alpina the supplier said it was
  • Dahlia 'Moonfire'
  • Phacelia tanecetapholia up at the allotment - a couple of years ago I must have had most of the bees up there as I had plenty foraging away on this, but everyone else was moaning about the lack of them on their plots!
  • Centaurea montana - with a sneaky extra bee friendly allium
  • Spirea japonica 'Goldflame'
  • Echinacea purpurea.
My collage of a dozen plants isn't a definitive set by any means. I've just chosen the top ones which do really well in my garden or on my allotment and attract dozens of bees. I have an alkaline clay soil to deal with in both locations, so do bear that in mind if your soil differs greatly. As you can see, they're also plants which are common in many gardens, so there's no problem in getting hold of any of them for yours. I've found in my south-western corner of England this combination gives me flowers for most of the year, thus it's great for bees too.

You might be surprised I'm naming some plants which flower during the winter in my garden, but bees will still need to forage on the odd warm winter's day and my Pulmonaria and rosemary will be there to welcome them when they do. If you'd like a much bigger list of plants to choose from, then look no further than the Bumblebee Conservation Trust's list - their website is well worth a look for lots of information about bees in general and other ways you can help in their conservation.

Just like a baker's dozen, I'm going to add a thirteenth flower to my list. As you can see it's Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve'. I manage to keep this in bloom for 12-36 months, so it's on-hand year round for any passing bee who wishes to avail itself of its riches. It's also slightly scented, so it pleases me too.

BTW did you see the item on the national news a couple of days ago about encouraging keeping bees in cities using a new kind of plastic hive? I must remember to ask my beekeeping friend S what he thinks on that one.

NB It's also Emma's blog carnival day, so she'll also have plenty about bees there today. I suspect she'll also be taking part in the Tweehive again. Do have a look here for further information on what this is all about. If you're playing the Tweehive game, you'll find further flowers to plunder at my bee related posts last month - Voice of the Tweehive and Norfolk Lavender...

Don't forget it's also 12:34:56 on 07/08/09 meme time. I'll be posting my effort later ready for you to add your comments and links to what you've been up to at that time today.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Seasonal Recipe: Hedgerow Plum Jam

It looks like it's going to be a bumper plum crop this year, so I was pleased to see my hedgerow 'stash' close by was looking ripe and plentiful a couple of days ago. I'm not sure whether the trees were planted as part of the hedgerow or have sprouted from discarded stones. On closer inspection it looks like there are 3 different plum trees: one looking like an Oullins Gage, one which could be a cherry - though there is a cherry plum - and another bright red variety - about the size of a damson - which fits in between the other two sizewise. I did ponder whether the yellow plum might be a Bullace - a wild plum usually found in hedgerows - but having looked at lots of photos on the 'net, I'm happier with the gage variety.

All of these trees are ready for picking early on in the season, so I had a very happy half hour the other evening resulting in 4lbs of them in my bag and still plenty to go! Some were stewed for tea, but I used the bulk of them for jam, following the recipe given in River Cottage's Preserves Handbook - fast becoming my hedgerow harvest recipe bible.

As I got the plums for free, I suppose I could also put this recipe into my frugal category. Don't worry if you haven't got a garden or hedgerow plum tree close by, they're extremely cheap in the shops and markets at the moment. This means you're most likely to be buying British produce too. Award yourself bonus points if they've come from Worcestershire, the 'home' of our English plums. They're also central to my childhood memories of roaming the countryside with my cousins around Inkberrow for the summer. We'd pick dark, luscious damsons straight from the hedgerow and wander down the lane depositing the fruits' stones back from whence they came.


1.5kg plums
1.25kg sugar
400ml water

  1. Halve and stone the plums and place in a large pan with the water
  2. Bring the pan just to the boil and simmer the plums slowly for 15-20 minutes until the plum skins are soft.
  3. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved
  4. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly until setting point is reached - usually 10-12 minutes - if you have fruit bobbing about on the surface, the jam's probably not ready as the fruit needs to absorb the sugar and thus become heavier until set point is reached. If this happens, boil for a further 2-4 minutes
  5. Pot the jam into warmed jars and cover. Use within 12 months
Makes 8 x 340g jars
Hints, Tips and Variations:
  1. I used plums which were just about soft when I squeezed them slightly. This means they aren't fully or over ripe and will have the maximum amount of pectin available to help with jam set
  2. Only use perfect fruit - discard any pecked by birds for instance
  3. I use Fairtrade granulated sugar, which is also the cheapest where I go shopping :)
  4. How long the plum skins take to soften depends on the size of the plums you're using. You must make sure the skins are soft before adding the sugar as this will halt the softening process
  5. Set point is reached when a little jam spread on a cold plate - e.g. put in the fridge for the purpose - and left for a minute wrinkles when pushed with a finger. The liquid will also drop off a spoon in little jagged flakes instead of drops when set point is reached
  6. The recipe also suggests cracking open a few of the plum stones using nutcrackers to extract the kernels. Place them in a bowl and pour over some boiling water and leave for a minute. Rub off the kernels' skin and add them to the jam at stage 1 or 2 to add an almond flavour to the finished result. Unfortunately I couldn't do this with my plums as the kernels were tiny
  7. Other variations suggested in the book: replace some of the water with freshly squeezed orange juice and/or add 2 cinnamon sticks. Or add 100g chopped walnuts to the jam towards the end of boiling time

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

ABC Wednesday 5: C is for...

... Cafe Garden and other delights beginning with C!

One of the best things about visiting people like Esther, is you get a different perspective on familiar places. I've been to Portland many times, but always hurried along to the end to marvel at the area around Pulpit Rock.

This time we took the bus and had a marvellous 'mappers' view of the whole of Chesil Beach as the bus lumbered up the steep hill. My picture of it is more of a 'ground view': the link will give you an idea of what we saw on the way. We alighted in Easton and I appreciated the slowing down of time this afforded as we ambled down the street. We were able to have a really good look at things: there's bright public planting in the park and the rows of terraced houses lining the street have stone troughs of cheerful flowers around their doorways instead of gardens. Esther really liked the Erigeron we found in some of them and I wouldn't be surprised if there's some decorating her garden the next time I visit.

We walked via the Portland Museum and Pennsylvania Castle - with two very busy gardeners in evidence in the grounds - to Church Ope: a secretive place, the kind which makes you glad to live in Britain. Quite a lot of the walk down is steep and not trusting my trainers, I elected to keep Esther company in the area around the ruined St. Andrews church. As you can see, the view we had from there is superb. BTW the link shows and tells you a lot more about Church Ope, St. Andrew's Church and the places we passed along the way. On the way back we were close to one of the working quarries. If you're unfamiliar with Portland, you probably have seen its stone as Sir Christopher Wren - who was MP for Weymouth - used it for St Paul's Cathedral and many of the buildings built after the Great Fire of London. It's also used for the armed forces headstones in the vast war cemeteries on the continent. Portland stone is also famous for the giant ammonites and other fossils found in it from time to time. I was most envious to see one of these in Esther's garden.

Our last port of call for the day was White Stones cafe back in the village. I suspect it's named after the Portland stone as it's quite close to the quarries. As well as having a warm welcome and serving excellent coffee plus a host of tempting treats, the cafe's also a gallery. I particularly liked the Dorset photographs on display there. The inside is vast, so there's plenty of room for both art and coffee drinkers. But the cafe had a final surprise up its sleeve. Out the back was an exquisite courtyard garden, a cut above most of the outdoor areas attached to cafes - do have a look at the link to have a good walk around. Like Carol Waller's garden I visited recently, it was a showcase for sculpture and showed how it can be used to enhance a more intimate garden. I particularly like the pictured fun fishes sprouting out of the pond area. Other pieces of art, such as ironwork had been used to create lots of little spaces with tables and chairs for customers to enjoy the varied planting and art around them. The wall I showed you in my August diary a few days ago was also taken there.

Thank you Esther and family for showing me some of your Dorset and for being such wonderful hosts. Esther's written her chucklesome perspective on my visit today, which is a rather good coincidence :)

For more curvaceous C's, do visit the ABC Wednesday blog.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Product Test: Air-Pot Update

Back in June I introduced you to the Air-Pot, a product I'm testing to see how good it is for growing potatoes on the patio. I'm evaluating it against the compost bag trial I'd started a little earlier. I must admit I've not been too good at watering the pots and bags over the past month, but then I've had more than twice July's average rainfall according to my garden rain gauge. I'm hoping that'll be sufficient to negate the instructions about watering the Air-Pot even when it's rained.

As you can see there's plenty of foliage, though it's rather leggy in nature. I think this is my fault rather than a feature of this growing method because everything's on my shaded lower patio. I'd put them there so they were tucked away: I suspect I'll have to be a little more public with any future home veggie growing. Whilst the plants are raised off the ground, this hasn't stopped the slugs from finding lots of juicy foliage to nibble on. This happened before the foliage flopped to the ground, though of course that hasn't helped. I just hope they haven't gone further and bedded down in in the pots and bags for a good old feed on the tubers.

The foliage is beginning to die down, so it'll soon be time for the big reveal and crop assessment. Just as well as potato blight has just started to appear up at the allotment. The link has the best blight photos I've found including stem, leaf and tuber infection and also talks about a new, more aggressive blight strain recently found in Britain. It also has details of the blight watch scheme you can join for email updates on the disease status for your postcode area.

Monday, 3 August 2009

Postcard from Esther's

Dear all,

I expect this postcard will reach you well after I'm back from Esther's*. I'm having a lovely time - it's good to be able to have a good old chinwag for once. Blog comments and emails are all very well, but there's nothing like a face to face conversation. Ming, Didcott and Worthing are charming - I was prepared for Didcott and Worthing to change ages, but I think they must be on their best behaviour, or else they're doing it whilst I'm not there.

Esther's garden is amazing. There's 2 large Victorian greenhouses and her garden boy plucked us a lovely pineapple for tea on my first day there. As you can see from the postcard, Esther's espaliered apple tree is in fine fettle and the globe artichoke bloomed just in time for my arrival. I must ask the gardener what's his secret if I get the time - it's all go here! There's no sign of Mrs Rustbridger next door, though Esther's other neighbour - Lucy - has been taking her duties as a Weymouth tourism officer extremely seriously and made sure I've seen most of the key sights. I declined Wessex Water's offer of a tour of the local sewage works though. As you can see the public planting in Weymouth is extremely colourful, as is the seafront clock. The other view is across Portland Harbour towards Portland itself. This is where the 2012 Olympic regatta will be held.

I'm feeling a bit wary of Esther's cook. I usually don't sleep very well on my first night in a strange bed anyway, but I'm sure there must have been something in her late night supper which disagreed with me. I had all sorts of strange dreams afterwards about badgers from Mars coming to kidnap me who were crashing about the house during their search. Of course I could laugh it off in the morning: I must have mixed up the excitement of going on the badger walk with the children that evening with my natural caution about meeting someone via the internet. I needn't have worried of course.

See you all too soon,
* = NAH and I have a theory that the longer it is before you write your postcards on holiday, the better the holiday is.

NB Readers who are wondering what on earth I'm going on about may like to have a look here. I thought it would be a nice change to write my post about my visit to Esther's in the spirit of her blog :)

Sunday, 2 August 2009

YAWA: Your Events Diary for August

August is the time for events, travelling and holidays, so the You Ask, We Answer team have had some difficulty in editing this month's choices into a bitesize chunk for your delectation. Therefore, I'm not doing my usual preliminary preamble about the month, but handing over to them straight away...

1-31st: Pershore Plum Festival. A month long celebration from the heart of Worcestershire's plum country, culminating in the Pershore Plum Fayre on Bank Holiday Monday.

4th: Egton Bridge Gooseberry Show. Dating from 1800, this is the country's oldest gooseberry contest, where the heaviest takes the prize!

7th: Don't forget to take your entry for my 12:34:56 on 7/8/9 meme and to let me know how you got on

8th: Chilli Fiesta, West Dean Gardens, Chichester. West Dean have a number of good events throughout the year, but with over 200 different chillis grown there, this one's their hottest ticket by far

10-16th: National Allotments Week. Lots of sites will be opening their gates for you to find out what allotment life is all about. You can find further information here and it looks like Carrie's allotment site is participating this year.

20-23rd - Southport Flower Show. One of the largest non-RHS events and celebrating its 80th birthday this year.

24-31st: Festival of the Tree, Westonbirt Arboretum. A fantastic event celebrating all things arboreal, which I wrote about last year.

28-30th: Open Days at Jekka's Herb Farm, nr. Alveston. As well as more Chelsea gold medals and herbs than you can shake a stick at, Jekka McVicar's introduced a couple of workshops into the mix to replace her usual talks. Choose from How to Divide and Maintain Herbs at 10-10.45 am, or Herbs for the Winter Season at 2.30-3.15 pm. I've been to these days a couple of times and they're well worth it. Last year's August event was very special as I got to meet Jekka herself and EmmaT, who blogged all about it and set off a trend for photographing my shoes.

29th: Amateur and Children's Produce Show - Whitehall Garden Centre, Lacock. Last year's event was my first ever attempt at exhibiting at a produce show and was a lot of fun.

30th: Rare Plants Fair - Lady Farm, Chelwood, nr. Bath.

BTW the picture's of a rather nice wall in a cafe garden I was introduced to by Esther whilst out and about in Dorset. More about my visit later :)

The team's bound to have left something out for this month, so do add them into the comments below.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

GBMD - Monstrous Weeds

In a grudging way, you have to admire the cheek of weeds. Without an invitation, they turn up anyway to the party and then proceed to take it over, elbowing out the delicate flower aesthetes who had gathered for an intellectual discussion of colour and texture.

They remind you how thin is the skim of garden over wilderness. Weeds were here first, and they don't want you to forget it. Turn your back and they creep silently back into their territory, garotting the newcomers as they advance...

... Fat hen, one of the commonest weeds of arable land, with succulent leaves and heads of small, bobbly green flowers, can carry up to 28,000 seeds on one plant. Most common weeds, such as groundsel or annual meadow grass, produce at least 500 seeds each.

Anna Pavord's Gardening Companion (1992 ). August - Monstrous Weeds.

Monstrous weeds have been my allotment's most successful crop this year and Anna Pavord sums it up for me completely. She's also made me realise that I've totally messed up my clearance strategy over the past month or so as I've been concentrating on the flowering groundsel and willowherb plants. Their flowers and fluffy seedheads are very noticeable and I thought if I cleared these I'd keep my allotment neighbours - not to mention the inspection committee - happy. However, I now see concentrating more on the pictured fat hen (Chenopodium album) probably would have been a better approach in the longer term. The link says it's an edible weed, being used widely until the 16th century when it was replaced by spinach and cabbage. Perhaps I should be trying out some recipes - fat hen soup anyone?

Garden Bloggers' Muse Day is hosted by Carolyn Gail at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago.
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