Showing posts from December, 2009

ABC Wednesday 5: X is for...

... Xmas
In the run up to Christmas last week I'd been pondering where the abbreviation Xmas came from and today's ABC Wednesday is the perfect excuse to find out a little more. According to the entry about Christmas in Wikipedia:
The word Christmas originated as a compound meaning "Christ's Mass". It is derived from the Middle English Christemasse and Old English Cristes mæsse, a phrase first recorded in 1038. "Cristes" is from Greek Christos and "mæsse" is from Latin missa (the holy mass). In Greek, the letter Χ (chi), is the first letter of Christ, and it, or the similar Roman letter X, has been used as an abbreviation for Christ since the mid-16th century. Hence, Xmas is sometimes used as an abbreviation for Christmas.
My parents and school always suggested using the word Xmas was rather vulgar and such was this air of disapproval dinned into me from an early age, even today I find it rather a difficult word to use!
The picture's a scen…

Merry Christmas!

Some suitably festive decorations in my garden
Seasons Greetings to you all and here's to a cracking 2010. Like many of you, I'm taking a break until the New Year, though ABC Wednesday will pop-up on the allotted day and hour next week to see what's what for the letter X.

To send you good cheer, here's the Gower Wassail from me and the rest of the Wiltshire Wailers at Stourhead last Sunday. Update: sadly this video is no longer available :(

In the meantime until I return, you might also like to have a look at everyone's contribution for this month's festive edition of Out on the Streets. Do also follow the link if you're ready to add your own contribution to the list :)

Since September's OOTS, Leamington Spa station's garden has been voted Britain's best, Ken Livingstone has had a go at Boris Johnson over London's public spaces, Jakarta is giving its petrol stations a green makeover, Karen over at Greenwalks has been looking at street trees

ABC Wednesday 5: W is for...

This post is especially for Helena and The Constant Gardener, who both commented recently when ABC Wednesday stood at S for Secateurs.
Helena asked the question:
How do you keep yours from going rusty? I'm sure I dry them off but when I come back to use them again in the spring they are stuck fast and at least a little rusty and never the same again! I wonder if rubbing a little olive oil on them would work....
The Constant Gardener kindly answered:
Helena - WD40. Spray, preferably, all over the blade + joint when you put them away for the winter.
Though I carry on using mine all winter long these days... and just a few drops of 3 in 1 [a brand ofoil which claims to have rust inhibiting properties - Ed] on the bolt that holds everything together from time to time seems to keep everything in tip-top working order.
Because this conversation concerned tools, NAH (who was peering over my shoulder at the time) couldn't resist joining in. Apparently his dad used to use the oil fro…

OOTS: Chippenham's Christmas Lights

In a slight change to the advertised programme, I'm not going to show you our Christmas tree in the market square, nor the 'corporate-style' decorations from our two small shopping centres*. Instead, I thought I'd show you just those festive lights which makes Chippenham the unique town that it is. Apologies for the fuzziness of the pictures, but they were taken at 10 o'clock at night and are hand held to boot. I was also on my way home after a GNO, so a fair amount of wine had been consumed beforehand ;)

The first picture shows you a couple of the key features. Firstly, a simple shape attached to a lamppost, usually of a single colour outlining a typical Christmas symbol, such as an candle, star or bell. Some are multi-coloured and a few are vaguely animated, but the pictured angel shows the most usual fayre. Secondly, lampposts without shapes usually have a string of lights wound around them and you can see a couple of them in background of the above picture.


You Know It's Winter When...

A very chilly Stourhead, yesterday morning
You know it's winter when... The TV and radio are full of talk about the state of betting on whether there'll be a white Christmas this year There's the lightest dusting of snow and the traffic is in chaos (yes I know there's much worse around at the moment, but you know we're not truly geared up for it like our continental and north American cousins are) The local garden centre brings in a couple of real reindeer for its Santa grotto Singing Christmas carols outdoors with a windchill factor all day really brings home the meaning of Winter Wonderland and the Field Mice's Carol (see photo for where we were yesterday) It might be the shortest day of the year, but search very carefully in the garden and the first tiny shoots of next year's daffodils can just be seen :) You can't get the lid off the compost bin because it's frozen solid You're still behind with all your gardening jobs However, garden reality is rapi…

Things In Unusual Places #8: Santa

This amused me last Thursday whilst we were waiting for the Sandbanks ferry back to Poole. The staff have decorated the natural vegetation surrounding the toll booths with baubles and tinsel, plus this rather surprising view of Santa. It was a welcome injection of humour on a very cold day.

OOTS: Poole's Festive Tree Controversy

Little did I know when we ventured south to Poole on Thursday that we were entering the nation's hotbed of Christmas tree controversies. NAH's aunt soon filled us in on all the details: there were complaints that last year's real Christmas tree looked rather ugly. It was spoiled by the boards surrounding it and the guy ropes needed to secure it to prevent it falling on passers by. So, the shopping centre's management decided to have a fake tree this year, complete with hidden speakers to play carols to shoppers at a cost of £14,000. Naturally, this also led to howls of protest with the replacement tree being described as an astroturf witch's hat.
This local news story had all the key ingredients needed to make it go national: members of the public raging against decisions made on their behalf by faceless local management; the health and safety angle; rather a lot of money being spent, possibly at public expense [however, the press says the local shopping centre mana…

OOTS: St Laurence School

Regular readers of this blog know that one of the reasons I've got such a bee in my bonnet about public planting is because the roundabouts in Chippenham are very uninspiring. All too often they're a motley collection of the same dreary shrubs with the odd tree, plus grassed areas mown to within an inch of their lives. I've seen some really good examples in Taunton and Poole, but have yet to have been there on days conducive to taking pictures so I can show them off to you.

So I was taken by surprise last Saturday when I visited St. Laurence School in nearby Bradford on Avon for the first time. We had an extra choir rehearsal arranged there for the morning as our choirmaster felt we needed it ready for Tuesday's Christmas Cabaret*. The road leading up to the school entrance has a large roundabout with the pictured planting. There were a couple of off-centre columnar conifers to give some height to the arrangement, surrounded by lavender and rosemary to give flowers, sce…

Hurrah - Recycling's Just Got Easier :)

Our latest recycling leaflet with the dates for our fortnightly black box kerbside collection's just been delivered. Just as well, as the actual collection days for us over the festive period will be anything but our regular Friday, owing to various Bank Holidays.

I looked inside at the guidance on what can and cannot be recycled via our collection and was pleased to see the source of much bickering between myself and NAH has just been removed. We both agree that recycling is a good thing, but our main bone of contention has been over the relative difficulty with recycling paper. NAH believes it should be made easier for us, almost to the point of not recycling some paper on principle because the job of separating out coloured paper and the removal of windows from envelopes is rather time consuming and tedious. And don't get him started on the type of glue used for sticking down envelopes!

Luckily having an allotment means I've been able to shred our brown envelopes and p…

ABC Wednesday 5: V is for...

... Vacant
I was feeling pretty vacant about what to post for V this time around until a couple of days ago when I was reviewing which photographs to feature in my walk around Bristol. I'd also been pondering how best to introduce the concept of Quirky Offices to you, then Voila! the perfect match was found :)
I'm wondering if they're using Quirky in its architectural sense, as I outlined for Q's ABC Wednesday. It's possible, but for some reason I can't get the picture of rather oddly shaped rooms out of my head...
For other posts on the subject of V, have a look at the ABC Wednesday blog.

GBBD: Green Shoots for December

Click to enlarge picture if needed. From left to right and top to bottom: 1. Potted Violas 2. Clematis 'Elsa Spath' 3. Rosmarinus officinalis 4. Rosa 'The Fairy' rosehips 5. Clematis 'Freckles' 6. Shivering Anthemis tinctora 'E. C. Buxton' 7. Cyclamen 8. Iris reticulata shoots 9. Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve' - in flower since April 10. Rosa 'Celebration' - a silver wedding anniversary gift this year 11. Cornered Campanula 12. Self-sown surprise Lobelia 13. Primula 'Cottage cream' 14. Snowdrop and Crocus shoots 15. Eryngium surprise 16. Clematis 'Crystal Fountain' sport seedhead
After the rainiest November since records began, December has been much colder and drier thus far. As I write this, a ‘continental block’* is heading our way from the east. This means days of clear weather straight from chilly Siberia, and with luck, some much needed sunshine. Snow is also forecast over the next couple of days, which might put paid to so…

OOTS: Bumbling Around Bristol

My first festive contribution to this month's Out on the Streets is a little short on public planting, but is long on festive sparkle. For some reason my feet took me in totally the wrong direction on the way to Borders bookshop last Thursday, but once I'd realised what had happened, I relaxed and decided to take the more scenic route. After all, I had plenty of time before meeting my friends later and besides, this direction took me to some of the more interesting parts of the city centre. The following pictures are clickable for your enhanced viewing pleasure...

My first festive stopover was the aptly named St Nicholas Market: here's the Glass Arcade area with it's simple lights of stars and greenery. However, I felt these were in keeping with the place itself, and the florist on the left was doing her best to ensure there was plenty of real Christmas greenery around. Her wreaths in particular were adorning several other stalls.

Further on was another seasonally aptly…

VPGGB #12: Borders Books

Last Thursday I bumbled along to Bristol for a GNO get together, but beforehand I decided to visit the soon to close Borders bookshop in Clifton to join the other vultures customers to see what they had left in the way of bargain books. The occasion reminded me so much of this time last year, when we all descended in a similar fashion on Woolworths in particular, to pick over the remains of that once popular store.

There were only a couple of shelves of gardening books left: long on volumes by Alan Titchmarsh, plus lots of RHS guides on succulents and irises. However, closer inspection revealed a number of gems were still left: quite a few of those pictured have been on my To Read list for a while and the rest looked so interesting (and cheap) that I couldn't resist adding them to the pile. I'm rather glad there weren't even more to choose from, because I suspect I would have simply bought them all. These were all half price, with a further 20% taken off on the day.

Looking …

Seasonal Recipe: Chocolate Spice Cookies

A yummy traditional Christmas biscuit from Switzerland. However, if you want the recipe, you'll have to look here as I'm guest posting there today :)

Ooooh Christmas Tree :)

A couple of weeks ago I told you about my free Christmas tree trial which didn't work. I'd also contacted Ian at Dobbies to see what they'd like to do next and received the following reply:

I am so very sorry and embarrassed that your tree had a non functional transformer and in every thankfully rare instance where things like this happen we do our upmost to make amends. In that spirit we would like to offer you a replacement tree – one that works !

Please confirm if this would be ok or if you wish to either return or just leave it as is we will of course respect that.

If you also let me know the order number for the lights when I pass this on to the customer service team I will ask them to do a good will refund toward those.

Thanks for your patience and understanding.

In the meantime the lights I'd ordered on the strength of Karen's review had arrived (ordered Sunday evening, received Wednesday, so well within the 3-5 day delivery promise) and were twinkling merrily ou…

Unusual Front Gardens #6: The Hanging Gardens of The Barbican

Most people associate The Barbican with its many arts activities such as drama, dance and film. However, the area's also home to around 4,000 people in just over 2,000 flats and maisonettes. The buildings rose from the ashes of a severely WWII bombed area in central London: its architecture is a prime example of Brutalism, a post-war movement which gloried in the wonders - and the relative speed and cheapness - of concrete.
Like most rebuilding projects at the time, city planners envisaged a Utopian new world for the Barbican area. Their finalised concept is rather like a walled city within London, containing spacious raised pedestrian walkways, a lake, plus numerous 'secret' communal gardens to soften the gloomy concrete. Building work commenced in the 1960s, with much of the residential complex completed in the 1970s. The Queen officially opened the Arts Centre in 1982 and the entire complex was awarded Grade II listed status in 2001.
I don't usually go for this st…

ABC Wednesday 5: U is for...

... Up in the Air
The photographer Yann Arthus-Betrand spent many hours up in the air taking the amazing set of pictures which forms the Earth from the Air exhibition currently showing in Bath. I first came across these images in a Sunday supplement around a decade ago and was blown away. I found them even more impressive when they went on display in the middle of Bristol 5 years ago. There's 120 giant photographs on show and each one was taken from between 100 to 10,000 feet.
This street exhibition has been on tour for a number of years. It's aim is simple: to raise awareness of the issues facing this planet simply through the power of these images and their accompanying narrative. I gave up eating tiger prawns 5 years ago, simply by seeing the damage done to the places in Asia where they're farmed intensively. The city of Bath is using the exhibition to raise awareness of climate change and is aiming to get many people to pledge to make simple change(s) to their daily li…

Out on the Streets: Sparkly Festive Edition

It's time to bring some bling to Out on the Streets (OOTS) and for you to show off your neighbourhood's festive decorations. I realise I'm a little late with kicking this off for December, but I've been waiting for it to stop raining so I could show you Chippenham's simple decorations and tree. This is unlikely to happen for a while, so I've dug into my emergency archives to bring you Chester's decorations as seen late one November afternoon in the historic Rows shopping area. If you click on the image to enlarge it, you'll see Chester has a rather nice real tree decorated simply with multicoloured lights.

What's it like where you live? Do you have a tree in the centre of town? Is it real or artificial and how is it decorated? If it's a real one, where does it come from? I still remember Kate's horror last year over how a massive tree from Montana gets to adorn the Capitol's lawn. Perhaps your town has other festive displays such as stre…


This year is the 250th anniversary of Handel's death and to celebrate his life, the BBC declared yesterday as Sing Hallelujah day. Various events were held up and down the country for singers and choirs of various standards to get together to sing the famous Hallelujah Chorus from the Messiah. I've always wanted to get involved with this work in some way ever since I was a student: I was grounded in the university sick bay late one Christmas term and whilst there I heard my grandad's cousin singing one of the solo parts on the radio.

Our local BBC region had decided to mark the event with the gathering of a massive scratch choir to open their BBC South West Sports Personality of the Year awards ceremony held at the University of Bath yesterday. A rather strange mix in my view, but an opportunity not to be missed. So I duly sent off my email application and promptly forgot about it. 2 weeks ago I finally got a reply back to tell me I was in :)

Team Bath at Bath university is…

VP Does the Garden Media Guild Awards

Yesterday this country mouse found herself in the heart of the big city to attend the Garden Media Guild Awards ceremony at the [very swanky - Ed] Brewery. This is the annual bash for the great and the good from the garden writing, photography and broadcasting worlds. There was no red carpet rolled out for us, oh no. Instead there was a most appropriate green one flanked by topiary balls with a very nice man at the end doffing his hat and issuing cheery greetings to all attendees.

Of course I personally knew hardly anyone there, though pretty well everyone was a familiar face. However, I had an instant result as the first person I bumped into was Cleve 'most snoggable male' West. The magic words 'Psssst I'm VP' was sufficient to generate a satisfying hug and pecks on both cheeks and the invitation to 'come and meet some people'. I'm most grateful to Cleve for making me feel welcome instantly. After that it was a mad whirl of introductions with a fair num…

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #12

Think about well known phrases associated with finance and the financial crisisChoose one of these phrases to play withDream up a whacky promotion which has nothing to do with your core product, beerNegotiate with companies to display the promotion in unusual placesWait for a blogger with a camera to notice what's happened to her supermarket trolleyEt voila!

ABC Wednesday 5: T is for...

.... Tree o'clock
Thanks to Juliet, I'm the proud owner of a eensy weensy hazel sapling (Corylus avellana) ready for Tree o'clock, Saturday's world record attempt for the most trees planted in an hour. Juliet's article linked to places giving away free trees and my local Homebase is one of them. You can choose from 6 of our native species: birch, cherry, field maple, hawthorn, hazel and rowan. All are good trees, varying in size, are attractive to wildlife and there's bound to be one of them which would look good in your garden.

I've chosen hazel because of its relatively small size, attractive late winter catkins and autumn nuts. Perhaps if I have one a little closer to hand, the squirrels might not get their paws on all of nature's bounty! In a few years time I'll also be able to coppice the tree so that I'll have my own supply of supports and poles for my garden and allotment.
If you'd also like to take part, then here's the list of pla…

GBMD: Christmas Song

Frosty Chippenham Station at Sunset - January 2009 The trees all are bare not a leaf to be seen
And the meadows their beauty have lost.
Now winter has come and 'tis cold for man and beast,
And the streams they are,
And the streams they are all fast bound down with frost.

'Twas down in the farmyard where the oxen feed on straw,
They send forth their breath like the steam.
Sweet Betsy the milkmaid now quickly she must go,
For flakes of ice she finds,
For flakes of ice she finds a-floating on her cream.

'Tis now all the small birds to the barn-door fly for food
And gently they rest on the spray.
A-down the plantation the hares do search for food,
And lift their footsteps sure,
Lift their footsteps sure for fear they do betray.

Now Christmas is come and our song is almost done
For we soon shall have the turn of the year.
So fill up your glasses and let your health go round,
For I wish you all,
For I wish you all a joyful New Year.

Source: Tune and text from the singing of the Copper family, Sussex…