Seen at The Festival of the Tree

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

Thursday, 30 April 2009

YAWA: Your Events Guide for May


It might be the month of Maying (see last year's Muse Day for picture and poem/song), but it's also the month of Clematis in my view. Already I have vast swathes of Clematis montana clothing the fence and this pictured Clematis alpina 'Francis Rivis' is threatening to overwhelm the contorted hazel supporting it. Looking like that though, I can forgive it entirely. Elsewhere there are fat buds of other Clematis bursting forth everywhere - if our mix of fair weather and rain keeps up over the next week or so, I'm sure they'll be the main feature for May's Blooms Day.

Without further ado, here's May's events as assembled by the ever diligent You Ask, We Answer team:

1st: May Day - traditionally the day when Britain's men get out their handkerchiefs and sticks and wave them at each other in a spot of Morris Dancing. There's also very quaint dancing round the maypole and the Queen of the May is chosen in each village. Sadly not every village does this these days and if they do, it's quite often shifted to the first Monday of the month as this is the May Bank Holiday. The above link takes you to lots of information about our traditional May Day customs and the venues where they're still held and this link gives you an overview of all things associated with May.

3rd: International Dawn Chorus Day and International Worm Charming festival, Blackawton, Devon. How many worms can you get out of the ground without digging them up?

3rd-9th: Compost Awareness Week - this year's theme is Food for Thought. I might also have a guest post elsewhere in celebration, watch this space!

4th: The Great London Garden Trail - 10 great garden designs to have a gawp at to celebrate the launch of the RHS' Encyclopedia of Garden Design

7-10th: RHS Malvern Show - yippee I'll be there on the 8th!

13th-24th - National Be Nice to Nettles week [week? Shorely shome mishtake -Ed] - see my article from last year for more information about this much maligned weed

17-24th: National Watercress Week. Alresford in Hampshire is the venue for the Watercress Festival on the 17th. I've seen the watercress beds there - most impressive.

19 - 23rd: RHS Chelsea Flower Show - I'll be going there for the first time on the 19th :D

22-24th: Late May Bank Holiday weekend and also the Chippenham Folk Festival. Even more men waving hankies at each other than you can shake a stick at. My post from last year will give you a flavour of what's in store.

25th: Cheese Rolling, Cooper's Hill, Gloucestershire - lots of totally mad people chase Double Gloucester cheeses down a very steep hill each late May Bank Holiday Monday whilst trying not to fall over. The prize for the winners (who usually do fall over and roll down the hill head over heels)? The cheese they've been chasing. Thanks to Matron for reminding me - this is one of the most bizarre events that will make the events diary this year and was one of the main reasons I put the YAWA team on the case in the first place. And whilst we're at it, let's not forget the Woolsack races in nearby Tetbury either.

29th: Bluegrass legend Dr Ralph Stanley and his Clinch Mountain Boys are playing at Bath Festival and we have tickets!!!!!!!!!!

As ever, if you think I've left anything out, do get in touch. Have a great month everyone.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

ABC Wednesday 4: O is for...


...Organic

Ever since I bought the fantastic River Cottage Preserves book earlier this year, I've been toying with the idea of making Preserved Lemons so I can have a play with some middle eastern cookery. The recipe calls for unwaxed fruit, so I was very pleased to find these Organic lemons reduced to 15p a couple of days ago. Since bringing them home, I've noticed the kitchen has a lovely fresh lemony aroma - perhaps their usual waxing locks in the smell. Now I'm Off to make that recipe - byeee!

Off you go to the ABC Wednesday Mr Linky blog to find some more O's...

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

YAWA: Chia Pets

The You Ask We Answer team have been hard at work investigating Chia and Chia Pets after Mr. McGregor's Daughter likened them to the plastic topiary I found recently. We don't have these in Britain, though we do have something a bit similar: usually around Christmas as a garden centre gift line, which then quickly enters the drastically reduced section in January. However, for all non-American YAWA readers who don't know what we're missing, this rather helpful clip from YouTube reveals all:



But who would have thought something so innocuous could be quite so controversial? And not only that, it would appear that Chia Pets might have some of the same issues as their live counterparts, with a potential environmental disaster in New Mexico resulting from the dumping of unwanted pets. So do remember you owners out there: a Chia Pet is for life, not just Christmas ;)

Monday, 27 April 2009

Monkton Park: Public Planting in the News


Public planting seldom makes the news, but an almighty row has broken out in the local paper over the recent changes to the entrance to Monkton Park. I believe most of it's political point scoring ahead of the local elections - the two main councillors involved are hardly doing themselves any favours as they sound like children who have thrown their toys out of the pram - but I'd hardly call the work so far the expected 'stunning' result as quoted by one of them in the newspaper recently. I'm rather stunned in fact, though to be fair the work isn't complete yet.

This entrance leads from Chippenham's main shopping street into a parkland landscape of river walks, trees and large open spaces. It was tired and run down, so the council earmarked (a reported) £65,000 to improve it. I imagine the brief given to potential contractors went something like:
  • Stabilise the river bank area
  • Screen the adjacent Emery Gate Shopping Centre so the parkland feel to the landscape is extended further towards the High Street
  • Prevent further erosion to the grassed areas at the boundary between the tarmac entrance and the parkland pathway

If this was the brief, then it has been fulfilled as you can see in the picture - click to enlarge if needed. I suspect much work has been carried out below the waterline to stabilise the bank (this might be where most of the money was spent?) and the bank itself has been covered in a fine mesh which will probably discourage people from coming down to the waterline (and thus churning up the bank) to feed the ducks and swans. I'm totally mystified why ivy has been planted through the mesh - I know this is often suggested as a disguise solution for people with steep banks in their gardens - but I feel it doesn't fit with the context here, especially as the river floods from time to time. I admit I don't have an alternative to suggest - offers anyone?

The side boundary by the shopping centre now sports a nascent hedge of mainly beech plus some hazel and holly and a few trees (possibly hawthorn - it's hard to tell before they're in leaf) to add some height. The hedge also continues to the tarmac*/pathway boundary providing a barrier and encouraging wandering feet to keep to the path. I know I should be grateful native species have been used and that dreadful red mulch isn't there this time around, but I feel rather short changed. As the area's been mulched over (except where it's floated off down the river - see picture), it seems the planting aspect of the work could be complete. Where's the wow factor for one of our main public spaces? In a month's time we'll be welcoming thousands of visitors to the annual Folk Festival. Monkton Park is the focus for a number of the activities as well as housing one of the camp sites. So those thousands of visitors will see these changes. Will it say Welcome to our town we're rather proud of it to them? I don't think so, I suspect most of them will just laugh.

And then I see The Bicycle Garden's marvellous guest post from the landscape architect who redesigned the hell strip (boundary between car park and road) at the campus where she works and I just want to weep. So, I'm off to the council offices to ask some questions.

* = Why use tarmac? Why not take the opportunity to use a more absorbent paving material like everyone else is being encouraged to do, especially as the river floods from time to time?

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Surprise - Why Hello Anemone!


This one's for Frances who remarked on my Hope post recently that despite hiding them under a rock for several years, her Anemone blanda had defied the odds and rebloomed for her this year. This genus must be pretty robust, because I was delighted to make the re-acquaintance of this Anemone coronaria De Caen group in my front garden a few days ago. I didn't hide it under a rock, but as these are usually a relatively short-lived variety and I did plant them a few years ago, I am surprised to see this one after an absence of several years. As Carol Klein would say - 'Geeeeeeorgeous!'

This is another shameless interim Blooms Day post bought to you courtesy of Veg Plotting ;)

PS I scheduled this post for today not realising it's Frances' birthday: I can't think of a better way of wishing her well on her day than by coincidentally dedicating a post to her :)

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Something for the Weekend: Introducing 'The Beast'


A couple of weeks ago and completely out of the blue NAH and I had one of those milestone kind of conversations:

NAH: There's a petrol mower for sale at B&Q for under a hundred quid
Me: @!#% a petrol mower?
NAH: Yes, for under a hundred quid
Me: But we've got the push pull mower!
NAH: This one will cut the grass
Me: So does the push pull and it doesn't use any fuel
NAH (in a small voice): I'm not getting any younger dear...

Flashback to the last time the allotment was mown: our understanding is mowing is the sole help I get from NAH. We bought the push pull mower second hand and from time to time he'd sigh and go a-mowing, with very ill grace. Often on his own too - best to keep a safe distance. But last time we'd gone together as I was behind in my other tasks, as usual. After a while the reassuring gentle whirring of the mower slowed and then stopped. NAH was nowhere to be seen. I stormed up the plot where I found him slumped in the car looking rather grey around the gills and my temper turned to concern. After a barrage of tests the diagnosis is NAH has high cholesterol and a touch of the Tony Blairs about him. It's not life threatening, but enough of a warning that lifestyles have to change and we need to look after ourselves a bit better.

So The Beast took up residence in our garage last weekend. Whilst I'd prefer not to have a petrol guzzling mower on environmental and noise grounds (plus a completely irrational fear that the house will catch fire if we keep fuel on the premises), I do prefer (and love) having my husband around for a whole lot longer. And guess what? Now there's a power tool involved, NAH mowed the allotment last weekend without me having to ask him :)

Friday, 24 April 2009

International Garden Photographer of the Year

I can't think of a better way to celebrate a perfect St. George's Day yesterday than a trip to Lacock with Threadspider to see the International Garden Photographer of the Year exhibition. This features the results of the first IGPOTY competition held in 2007/2008 and Lacock Abbey is one of the few venues chosen to show these photographs. Where could be better than the garden where William Henry Fox Talbot experimented with his Pencil of Nature? The photographs were breathtaking and a number of the finalists demonstrated that it takes only a back garden and a keen eye to take a winning image, such as the stunning portrait of a grass snake taken by David Maitland in Calne - a mere 10 miles from here.

Ever since I'd known this exhibition was coming to Wiltshire I'd been intrigued as to how it would be staged in the open air. It looked like the images were printed onto a waterproof board - there was no sign of lamination. I also liked the sinuous path that the exhibition took through the centre of the garden with a boardwalk to keep those feet off the grass, plus the play of the tree's shadow on the photographs echoing the tree in the overall winning image. With hardly a soul in sight there was plenty of time to marvel.

We also explored the rest of the garden where the highlights were the frou-frou tulips in one corner and a jealous peek at the walled allotments the local villagers get to tend. There was the scent of wild garlic and magnolias in the air and the light was just perfect: that spring moment when it highlights the vibrancy of the fresh green growth on the trees and slants through the flowers so they shine outwards.

The exhibition is at Lacock until the 3rd of May, or you can have a sneaky look here, where you will also find details of this year's competition.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Pots and Lavender: VPGGB #9


A rethink of my strategy for the boring fence project led me to seek out some large pots recently so I can put some screening plants on the patio. I was very pleased to find some large blue 'long tom' style pots - 20 inches high and 16 inches across - for half price at Homebase. I was even more pleased when they went through the till at one third price - that's £9.99. I've planted one of them with a holly tree from last year's Franks Plants and the one in the picture's housing Clematis 'Crystal Fountain' from that lovely Mr. Evison.

Revamping part of my borders saw me rip out quite a few woody lavender and I've had a bit of a guilt trip because I'm not replacing them with plants the bees love. Instead I was very happy to replace a very tired looking rosemary on the patio with three good sized lavender plants bought from Focus for a fiver. They're not a special variety, but the bees won't mind that. And don't worry about the rosemary - I have an extremely rampant prostrate one elsewhere in the garden which certainly doesn't read the manual regarding its height and spread, plus it flowers prolifically from winter through to summer. The one in the pot only managed a few miserable flowers at springtime.

Have you found any good bargains lately and what have you done with them?

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

ABC Wednesday 4: N is For...


...Narcissus

Here's the last hurrah from my Narcissus aka daffodils from the back garden. This one's always the last to bloom, though I can't tell you what it is as it came in an extremely large sack of mixed bulbs. As you can see it's an orange rather than yellow flower and I rather like it. It's last partly because I believe it's one of the later varieties - if you plan carefully you can get blooms from February through May - plus it's also in the shadier part of the garden. In the front I have another late bloomer N. 'Pheasant's Eye', which has the rather lovely Latin name Narcissus poeticus. Sadly only a couple of them seem to be appearing this year - it looks like the ever growing hedgerow on the public land is beginning to shade them out.

Do have a look at the ABC Wednesday Mr Linky for other posts bought to you by the letter N.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Dig In for the Big Lunch


You may have spotted this logo on your post lately and be wondering what it's all about. It's a fiendishly simple idea from the Eden Project (they don't just do a fabulous place to visit in Cornwall) where they're inviting us all to get together with our neighbours for lunch on July 19th to eat our homegrown produce. A great combination of community spirit and fresh food without the food miles. If you're also taking part in Gardeners' World's Dig In campaign, it could be a good way to combine the two - you could have some of your freebie tomatoes, lettuce and beetroot ready by then. I'm thinking it'll be a good idea to have a street barbecue with our neighbours - we haven't done one of those for quite a while.

I see I've had quite a few searches for the Dig In seed give away dates hit Veg Plotting lately - the above link will take you to the website with all the details. The Big Lunch website is well worth a visit too, irrespective of whether or not you'll be joining in on the day.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Girls Night Out

You may have noticed the GNO acronym explained on my left hand sidebar. It's mainly cinema evenings I arrange with some ex-colleagues of mine and we've been going to these for 10 years now. Over the years other things have crept in like celebrating really big birthdays, plus trips to Bath Christmas Market and an annual spa weekend. After loads of wine at Jamie Oliver's new restaurant in Bath last month (a great GNO), we're now contemplating a walking holiday (! and yes, these are the people I would have been Moonwalking with too). However, I thought you might like to see the kind of thing I put together each month.

It's cinema choice time! We've seen Slumdog (brilliant), I've seen Gran Torino (thoroughly recommend), so we need to select from what's left at The Showcase for next Tuesday [tomorrow]. Here's my shortlist for your perusal:
  • 17 Again - Big meets Groundhog Day as aging exec. goes back to boyhood again. 12A, 102 mins @ 7.35pm
  • The Boat That Rocked - a trip back to when we hid under the bedclothes at night listening to Radio Caroline, courtesy of Richard Curtis. 15, 134 mins @ 8pm
  • I Love You Man - The search for a best man by Billy no mates forces him to choose been friendship and his girlfriend. 15, 105 mins @ 7.30pm
  • Knowing - aged schoolgirl jottings reveal stunningly accurate predictions of past disasters with only Nicholas Cage able to save us from the next one. 15, 121 mins @ 7.05pm

So we have 2 light hearted films, Brit nostalgia or strong threat and disaster scenes to choose from. I'm dismissing the 2 light hearted ones as I suspect 17 Again will be full of giggling schoolgirls anxious to see their High School Musical heart throb and I suspect the other one will be cringe worthy rather than romcom. The Boat That Rocked has had mixed reviews - I suspect because of lack of plot, though the soundtrack is meant to be very good. So, I'm plumping unpatriotically for Knowing based purely on the trailer, which could be a dangerous move. Of course, you may wish to choose differently.

Well, which one would you go for - especially if you just had my one-liner summaries to go on?

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Tiptoe Through The Tulips

What a difference a few days make: the tulips are now truly in control of the potted areas of the garden. I couldn't resist an interim Blooms Day collage to show them off on here as they will have gone by May. James, I see the T. 'Spring Green' are taking on the tousled look like yours had the other day ;)

Click to enlarge the image if needed: from top to bottom left to right we have: T. 'A pink frilly thing - I've no idea, it was a garden magazine freebie'; 'Viridiflora'; 'Spring Green'; 'Ballerina'; 'Rembrandt'; 'A pink frilly thing' and 'Red Riding Hood'; 'I've forgotten but it's a very nice red one'; 'White Triumphator'; 'Purissima'; 'Viridiflora'; 'Red Riding Hood' and 'A pink frilly thing repeated just to make up the numbers and because I like the photo'.

In the garden are further T. 'Purissima', plus T. 'Queen of Night', 'Tarda' and an unknown tiny species tulip (another magazine freebie). I don't dig these up each year - I have the same attitude to them as Victoria. We might get to tiptoe through these tulips another day as they're only just coming into bud :)

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Hope


A couple of days ago I was delighted to find that at least one of my tree ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) has survived the winter. Not only did I mistreat this one woefully by not wrapping it in fleece, but I also kept it in the side garden nursery area for two years. I finally gave it a more permanent home in a large pot in the front garden a couple of weeks ago. Look how it has repaid my (eventual) kindness - aren't those unfurling fronds just gorgeous! This sight gives me hope that not only has the other one survived, I may have got off more lightly from the winter's ravages than I first thought. So far only the Echeveria has been consigned to the compost heap, which bodes well for my return for the RHS' winter hardiness survey.

How's your garden doing - what tales can you relate of survival against all the odds?

Friday, 17 April 2009

Garden Centre Kitsch: Part Deux


Regular readers know I've got a bit of a love-hate relationship with my local garden centre. On the plus side they've started a garden plastic recycling scheme, which is very well used. However, they've outdone their selection of kitsch for this year by offering plastic topiary which doesn't even look like the real thing. Can you beat that for craziness?

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Out on the Streets: Wrap-up for March


Many thanks to all of you who took part in the first Out on the Streets last month - it was a fine set of contributions from everyone and I thought I'd add this flower bed I passed a week ago to wrap things up until June. It has a companion which I showed you last year and even more unbelievably this one's on the main road into Chippenham. The structure behind it is Brunel's railway bridge - another listed building and deemed to be such a grand entrance to the town it's floodlit at night. On that basis you'd think the planting would be more than one bed of mainly red mulch plus vast expanses of grass with daisies wouldn't you? Oh well, I suppose it's better than the subway that was there before. I promise a much more positive example from Chippenham in my next post on public planting and it will still feature that red mulch!

If you haven't looked at Out on the Streets for a while, I can thoroughly recommend the diverse range of posts chosen by those who participated. Debbi discovered a fantastic community garden, Lucy showed us the typical kind of tree planting found on our highways here in the UK, Mr McGregor's Daughter treated us to a Florida roundabout (more on roundabouts soon) plus some good commercial planting within walking distance from her house. In contrast, Julia was pondering some guerrilla-style gardening when she visited Tesco's whilst Happy Mouffetard found a living sculpture in Birmingham of all places. Anna found stylish plantings in France whilst Rob kept with the French theme by showing us some sunny pollarding from his new home country. Still on the subject of trees Greenwalks pondered the value of the trees we see on the streets - I'm currently researching a follow up piece to this - if you're interested in public planting, then Greenwalks is worth visiting frequently as it focuses on that awkward 'parking strip' between front garden and pavement (sidewalk). Raingardener also wrote a piece on these in her home town and I also found a post by Philip Bewley about a great tree planting project in San Francisco.

Finally Susan at The Bicycle Garden showed us the water hungry non-native planting at the campus where she teaches. She also has news on exciting developments and hopefully a change in thinking along more landscape/climate sensitive lines. I wish her and her colleague Jason well in their presentation this week.

That's it folks - you can find the links to all these posts, and more here. Otherwise, I'll see you in June for another Out on the Streets!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

GBBD/ABC Wednesday 4: M is For...

... Mid Spring Blooms Day


I confess it's a rather contrived M so I can combine 2 Memes today - but we are in the Middle Month of the spring quarter of the gardening calendar - so I hope you'll indulge me a little. I feel the garden's in a state of transition: from the bright yellow I associate so strongly with March - particularly daffodils - to the more purple hues I associate with late spring. Along the way there's the tulips to enjoy and I'm really pleased with how the ones I potted up last December have turned out. For once 'Red Riding Hood' hasn't been ravaged by slugs and failed to bloom - a first for this garden. In the nursery area are the daffodils I didn't pot up until February (bottom right above - next to the cowslip picture) as you can see they've come on good and strong in spite of their very late planting! It's a very exciting time to be out in the garden - new plants and flowers are appearing daily - I'm sure you won't mind if I head off there to join them?


For other ABC Wednesday posts you need to go via the ABC Wednesday Mr Linky blog.

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

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Salad: Feeling the Pinch


I've resolved to try and get to grips with succession sowing my salads this year. However, it looks like the planned revamp of the little patch on the patio for this purpose will have to be changed as I have just taken delivery of an asparagus freebie which I thought wouldn't be here for at least another month. The bed earmarked for it up at the allotment is still full of gooseberry bushes and weeds, so it's now destined for the patio bed instead as this area will be relatively easy to clear and get the soil to the required consistency.

As I reported yesterday the current allotment priority is spuds, so it'll be a while before I'll be sowing salads up there. In the meantime, I've sown a pinch of each seed I use for saladings into small pots: as you can see from the above picture, I sowed bulls blood beetroot, coriander, mizuna, pak choi, rocket, spinach and sorrel yesterday. Mixed lettuce leaves and 'Little Gem' have gone into larger seed trays as we use so much more of these. As usual the allotment will be yielding nasturtiums with absolutely no effort from me, so we'll be picking a good variety of leaves for our salad bowl in a few weeks. I'm hoping that the sight of the pots on the patio will serve as a reminder for me to sow a pinch of these seeds on a weekly basis. If it does then I'll have got succession sowing cracked at last - yay!

Monday, 13 April 2009

A Hectic, Happy Easter

What a weekend - I hope your Easter was great too. Friday saw us in Poole for the day visiting NAH's aunt - we were overfed as usual and NAH fixed the fence. The rest of the weekend has seen me in panic mode: the good weather has been perfect for gardening and whilst I've made great inroads into what needs to be planted out in the garden and up at the allotment, I'm about a quarter of the way through what actually needs to be done. I'm also staring at an enormous hole in the lower border having started clearing it for its planned revamp. I'm currently at the OMG what am I going to do with all that stage. So just to feel better I ripped out a horribly clashing set of plants in the single terrace border - apricot Diascia, Stachys byzantina and Fuchsia 'Genii' has got to be one of the worst combinations invented by anyone, not just me - and did an impromptu revamp of that border instead. Pictures to come, I promise.

The next big job is to plant the potatoes: I've over ordered as usual (in spite of sharing them with Threadspider) and their space on the plot has yet to be dug. Unfortunately I've hit a major couch grass problem, which means my digging rate accomplishes just 5% of what's needed every couple of hours. This calls for desperate measures, so I've decided to experiment with some bag grown potatoes this year on the lower garden patio. A few holes in half a bag of compost and hey presto! the Edzell Blues from Malmesbury's potato day were planted up in a matter of minutes sans back ache. As the potatoes grow, I'll start unrolling the bag and keep topping up the compost. Bearing in mind my volunteer spuds were the best of the potatoes on my allotment last year, I've got a good feeling about this one.

What did you do this Easter?

Sunday, 12 April 2009

A Word About Verification

I love your comments. I'd like to make it as easy as possible for you to leave them as I believe the conversations we have are the lifeblood of this blog. However, yesterday's spambot incident means unfortunately Word Verification (WV) is back on here to stay. I've chosen WV over comment moderation because I've seen how you respond not only to what I've said, but you also react to the comments left already. I really like that and besides, I always seem to leave the worst spelling mistakes or links that don't work which I can't correct immediately where comment moderation is in place. Of course I realise that comment moderation is easier for you, but I believe the convenience to later readers outweighs this.

I know some of you do find the extra hoop of WV a real pain - it may also stop some of you from joining in - but that's the price I'll have to pay and you're still very welcome to lurk. If the word's unreadable, then refreshing the page usually presents a simpler one. The same solution applies if you get a box with a red cross in it instead of a word. For those of you in Blotanical experiencing comment problems when viewing through the Picks page, I find the 'open the page in a new tab' option usually sorts things out. If all fails when you're in here and you're still keen to comment - or indeed if your problem with commenting here hasn't been covered in this post - then you're most welcome to email me at vegplotting at gmail dot com.

Now a word to those of you using Blogger's default embedded comment option. There are some problems with this which you might not be aware of. Sometimes non-Bloggers can't get to comment at all - the above solutions don't work either - and as a Blogger blogger I find the comment process really seems to really get its knickers in a twist if I'm not signed into my Google account at the time. The full-page and pop-up window options don't seem to get these problems, so you may wish to bear this in mind over at your place.

WordPress (WP) users of course don't get any of this because they have the benefit of an in-built spam filter. I believe most Blogger users will cheer very loudly if and when this is provided for us - it's very high up on our wants list. I don't know very much about other blogging platforms such as Typepad or Mac - with these I find the main issue tends to be with page load times rather than the WV process, though I have had problems in the past with page expiry on Typepad blogs when leaving a long comment.

Finally, let's look at the follow-up comment option you can take when leaving comments. Of course it's a marvellous way of finding out what others say about the post and also getting my reply to what you've said. However, if a post is very popular you will find your inbox gets quite full, OR as we found yesterday if a spambot does get through, you will receive some unwanted email(s) from there containing who knows what. The measures I've taken should prevent the latter with regards to Veg Plotting from now on.

I hope this post helps you to understand the thought process I've gone through in choosing the way the comment process works in here: as always, I welcome hearing your thoughts too, especially if it helps me to make the process easier without introducing any risks. I'm also going to put this post in my New Reader links as it not only explains the comment process for Veg Plotting, it may also be helpful for new bloggers to understand some of the issues they may face.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

@*&! Spammers - My Apologies

This morning a delightful (not) spambot decided to start going through my blog leaving a comment on each posting. It would appear these were then forwarded to at least some of you as part of the spamming process.

Luckily I found out what was going on before the spambot had gone through all 600-odd posts on my blog: unfortunately it had managed to get through 140 of them. If you are one of the unfortunate ones who received forwarded email(s) as a result of this, I can only offer my sincere apologies and I do hope it wasn't from all 140 comments left on my blog.

Word Verification is back on now and this instantly stopped the spambot in its tracks. If you were affected, do leave me comment about your experiences (or email me at vegplotting at gmail dot com if this is easier for you) as I'd like to understand the extent of what happened ready for a post I'm now planning to do about lessons learned and Blogger options to stop spamming. At least that way some good may come out of this nasty experience.

How Advertising Works in Chippenham 5


  1. Allow your store's Head Office to dream up a new marketing campaign
  2. Display the promotional material you've been given at the roundabout where your store is located
  3. Wait for a blogger with a camera to notice it and almost crash their car because they groaned so loudly
  4. Et voila!

This is the fifth item of an occasional series - some more are in the pipeline - the previous one can be found here.

Friday, 10 April 2009

How Ensure We Have a Hot Summer This Year


It's a Bank Holiday Weekend, so naturally our expectations are low for getting some decent weather. And of course after 2 poor years, we're all keeping our fingers crossed we have a much better summer, especially as many more people will be taking their holiday (vacation) at Stopatham* this year. I've decided a much more scientific approach is needed to ensure we'll get what we want, so I've:
  1. Sown tomato and courgette varieties that don't mind a bit of cooler, dull weather
  2. Installed a gauge in the garden so I can measure all that rain
  3. Ordered a massive new water butt so I can store all that rain
  4. Can you add anything else to help?
Have a good Easter everyone :D
* = a term used by an ex-colleague of mine a few years ago, which I prefer to the relatively recently coined Staycation.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Seasonal Recipe: Rhubarb and Ginger Jam*


Once the euphoria of new season forced rhubarb has died down, I simply can't keep up with all the sticks my single Victoria rhubarb plant sends out. Perhaps I need to stop the annual manure feed in February and things might calm down a little.

This year I'm intending to make better use of my allotment surpluses. So bearing this in mind plus our dwindling jam mountain - we 'inherited' about 20 jars of varying vintages and flavours last year when NAH sold his mum's house - I made some rhubarb and ginger jam yesterday. Since leaving work, our jam consumption has risen significantly as NAH usually has some with homemade bread for lunch, so replenishing our stocks seemed a wise move.

My trusty Good Housekeeping Cookery Book - first published in 1948 and still going strong - has the recipe I use. It makes 3-4 jars as follows:

Ingredients

1.1 kg (2.5lb) rhubarb (prepared weight), chopped
1.1 kg (2.5lb) sugar
Juice of 2 lemons
25g (1oz) root ginger
100g (4oz) stem or crystallised ginger, chopped

Method
  1. Place the rhubarb in a large bowl in alternate layers with the sugar and lemon juice. Cover and leave overnight, so the rhubarb juices are drawn out. You should end up with a bowlful looking like the one in the picture
  2. Transfer the mixture to a large pan (preserving or otherwise) - you may find there's a lot of sugar at the bottom of the bowl, so be sure to stir the ingredients well beforehand
  3. Peel and bruise the root ginger (crush lightly using a large knife or rolling pin), tie up in a muslin bag and suspend it in the rhubarb mixture
  4. Bring to the boil and boil rapidly for 15 minutes, stirring frequently
  5. Remove the muslin bag, add the stem or crystallised ginger and boil rapidly for a further 5 minutes
  6. Test for a set - either a jam thermometer reads 105 degrees centigrade (221 degrees fahrenheit) or remove some jam with a clean wooden spoon, let it cool a little and drop the jam back into the pan. If the jam runs along the back of the spoon and forms flakes which drop off the spoon sharply, set point has been reached. NB whilst testing for a set, the jam should be removed from the heat so that it doesn't become over boiled (which weakens the setting property)
  7. Once set point is reached , remove from heat and take off any surface scum with a slotted spoon
  8. Pot up into warmed jars and cover
The recipe says use within 12 months - we've just opened a jar from 2005 and it's still scrummy.

Tips, Wrinkles (literally) and Variations
  • Adding a knob of butter during the boiling process helps to clear the jam and reduce (sometimes eliminate) scum
  • The type of sugar you use is up to you - I use granulated sugar as it's the cheapest, though you may prefer to use jam sugar because it has added pectin which helps with jam set as rhubarb has a low pectin content. If you use brown sugar (which is fine) it will darken the jam's colour and gives a different flavour
  • I use the cheapest lemons I can find and 'cook' them on the microwave's highest setting for 20-30 seconds before using to maximise their juice
  • Rhubarb's very low pectin levels means this jam tends to set slightly runnier than say raspberry or blackcurrant
  • I don't have a jam thermometer and the flake test is a little hard to judge with this jam as finding the set point can be a little tricky. I find the wrinkle test is much more reliable - at the start of jam making put 2 saucers in the fridge. When the mixture is starting to thicken, remove the jam from the heat, then take one of the saucers out of the fridge and put a small teaspoonful of jam onto it. Put the saucer back into the fridge for 2 minutes. If the jam then wrinkles up when you push it with your finger, it's ready to pot up. If it's not ready, bring the jam to the boil again for a few minutes and use the other saucer for a second test - and so on until set point is reached
  • After potting up the jam, I cover the top with a circle of greaseproof (waxed) paper before it cools. This helps to keep out harmful bacteria and prolongs shelf life even when pot lids are used. You can buy the paper discs or make them yourself - guess what I do!
  • I don't bother with putting the root ginger in a muslin bag and adding stem or crystallised ginger. Instead, I chop the root ginger into extremely small pieces and add it to the mixture. The boiling time is the same as steps 4 and 5 combined
  • If I'm using the root ginger from frozen, I squeeze out (by hand) as much liquid I can from it into the mixture first - this makes chopping the soggy ginger a little easier
  • I wouldn't recommend converting this recipe to a low sugar one as rhubarb is rather tart and there's also a lot of lemon juice used!
* = I think I need to set the YAWA team onto finding out all about jam vs jelly vs Jello forthwith.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

ABC Wednesday 4: L is For...

...Listed Building

Red telephone boxes may be a British icon, but they're fast disappearing from our streets: our use of mobile phones for instance has drastically reduced the need for them. However, this telephone box won't be disappearing from Chippenham because it's a listed building.

English Heritage is the official public body which looks after the listed buildings register: in the majority of cases it's the owner's not their responsibility to look after the building itself. If a property is listed, it means it has a special architectural and/or historical interest and any proposed changes to the building require additional scrutiny within our planning system. You can find out a lot more about what listed building status means and the different grades awarded on English Heritage's website.

In 2000 and 2001 I was involved with Images of England. This was a Heritage Lottery funded Millennium project - completed last year - which aimed to photographically record over 350,000 listed buildings in England. I was allocated parishes within Chippenham and its surrounding villages where I took a representative photograph of each of the items on the listed buildings register for those areas. Mine and the photographs taken by hundreds of other volunteers are displayed on the Images of England website alongside the architectural listing description.

Lots of things not usually considered as buildings are listed: I've had to photograph tombstones, memorials, an historic walkway, dovecotes, milestones as well as the above phonebox. When I walked past it on Monday, I saw that it's changed slightly since I took the 'official' photograph. It now says on the outside that email and texts are possible as well as making the usual phonecall. However, when I looked inside I couldn't see how this was to be done as it still had the standard telephone. No sign of a keyboard, let alone anything that could be used for letters rather than numbers. However it did have one modern touch: there was the usual McDonald's carton left on the shelf.

For other Lovely ABC Wednesday posts, Look Lively and Leg it over there.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Peas Please Me


It doesn't take a lot to make me a happy bunny and yesterday's mail contained just the thing to get my week off to a good start: my free packs of peas for this year's RHS trial. I'll be growing mange tout Oregon Sugar Pod which I usually grow, and the new kid on the block for me is Sugar Ann, a sugarsnap pea. According to the packet Oregon Sugar Pod grows to 3 feet - as usual the plants I grow don't read the manual as mine frequently reach twice that size. I'll keep you posted on what happens.

The RHS are also asking for help in their winter-hardy survey 2008-2009, so there's a possibility some good will come out of all those tender plants we've lost over the winter. The survey is due in late spring - to give those dead looking plants every chance to come back to life - but you can start to compile some of the details needed now. Have a look at the RHS changing climate page for further information.

And finally whilst we're on the topic of making good out of bad, if you didn't watch Darwin's Garden recently you might not be aware of the MegaLab survey. This is looking at how tiny changes seen in the banded snail might be affected by climate change and the density of their main predator, the thrush. For starters I was surprised to find the yellow and stripy snails in my garden are in fact the same species - I'm still working through all the fascinating information on the website before conducting my own garden investigation.

Monday, 6 April 2009

The All New Gardeners' World: Roses or Compost?

Friday saw the start of the new Gardeners' World season on TV. New production company, totally new garden, plus relatively new lead presenter heading up the rest of the gang. How was it for me? Well, you'll find my initial reactions as part of the fun panel assembled by The Garden Monkey over at The Guardian's garden blog today. How cool is that? :)

Having had time to think about it over the weekend, I believe the producers have missed a trick and tried to squeeze two programmes into one. If you're going to start with a totally blank canvas by digging up a rugby pitch, why not show us the field of dreams in more detail? On Friday we had just a few glimpses of Toby Buckland's plan, so unless you read last week's Radio Times, you'll have no idea of what's in store. It would have been far better to have shown us the initial planning and development stages, the key parts of the new garden and given us an overview of what's to come in the next few weeks.

With all of that in programme 1, next week could have focused on the new programme elements and given them proper time to breathe - especially Mr and Mrs Ovens in the Me and My Garden strand, who were a delight. There were too many pieces of a jigsaw puzzle being fitted together. As for nicking the cool wall from Top Gear, I believe it's only a while before my tongue in cheek suggestion of lawn mower racing will be featured on the programme!

Happy Mouffetard and Emma Cooper have also given their reactions over the weekend. As to whether the programme's smelling of roses or badly made compost, it's too early to tell yet: a little more bedding in is needed first. What do you think?

PS I've already had a google search hit asking what was the tree Joe Swift planted on the programme. It was a Snowy mespilus (Amelanchier lamarckii), one of the best trees for the smaller garden as it has lots of interest over the seasons. It's not native though, if that's what you're looking for.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Aiding International Gardening Relations


READER!

Does intercontinental misunderstanding get you down?

Convinced your gardening buddy across the pond is talking in gibberish or tongues?

Does the mention of hoar frost make you want to snigger?

Then look no further, the team at You Ask We Answer has just the thing for you!

A companion volume to the wildly successful You Ask We Answer series, The YAWA Dictionary will steadily build into a must-read tome, to vastly increase your daily reading pleasure.

From Aubergine to Zucchini, you will always have to hand the meaning of all those tricky little words your blogging friends toss into their posts with gay abandon and nary a thought regarding cross-border communication and international relations.

Already the mysteries of butt, bramley apples, hoar frost, parsnips, verges and zones have been explained in great detail and to international acclaim. However, we've found some explanations can be more bitesize than our standard service and that's where The YAWA Dictionary is designed to plug the gap. Coming soon: aubergine, butt updated, canning, collards, flats, hell strip, ladybug, rutabaga and yard. Don't miss this vital aid to communication and understanding!

Don't see the word you need explaining in our list? No problem! Contact the YAWA lexicon team at Veg Plotting and we'll take care of the rest, pronto. Remember, The YAWA Dictionary isn't confined to transatlantic translations - our expert team is poised to field enquiries from all corners of the globe.

Can't find what you need, but you know it's there? Don't worry - everything explained thus far can be found in The YAWA Dictionary link in the New Reader section of the right hand sidebar. This will include links to the explanations from our standard YAWA service as well as The YAWA Dictionary, so you need never miss out ever again! Regular updates will be added when appropriate - a unique, unparalleled service!

The YAWA Dictionary: adding meaning to your garden blogging.

Friday, 3 April 2009

A Day Out for NAH and Me

Somewhere (last Friday) to please both of us - hmm let me see...

A place with shiny, snorting things for him...

... and a place with bright, planted things for her

Thursday, 2 April 2009

YAWA: Your Events Guide for April


April's always been tulip month for me - summed up by the Tulip Festival (sadly no more) held annually when I was a child in Birmingham. Cannon Hill Park became temporarily Dutch during the Easter holidays and the park's beds were packed with every conceivable colour and variety. Nowadays, I have to get my annual fix at nearby Abbey House Gardens in Malmesbury, where thousands are waiting to greet me at some point over the next few weeks. The other great floral event this month is the fritillaries at North Meadow, Cricklade; a nationally important nature reserve - the site has 80% of the nation's wild population - Wiltshire as a whole has 95% of them. They're beginning to peep through now - the link is regularly updated with how they're doing - and the meadows should be spectacular at the end of the month. Teas will be served in the village hall to raise money for the church - you can't get more English than that.

The presence of Easter also signals the start of the main tourist season, so many gardens and properties will be opening their gates and doors after their winter hibernation. I believe Madame Zelda is also beginning to stir out of her sherry induced slumbers and will be along shortly with her highly individual selection of must-see gardens for you to visit ;)

Dates for your diary this month:

10-13th - Easter. Lots of traditional events, such as egg rolling and the Bacup Nutters Dance: the Common Ground website has full details

17-19th - RHS Show Cardiff - the first show outside London of the year

19th - National Garlic Day - yum!

22nd - Earth Day

23rd - St George's Day - the patron saint of England. Why this isn't a national holiday is a mystery to me. This day also marks the start of the British Asparagus Festival in Evesham, a series of events celebrating this luxury vegetable over its main cropping season from now until 21st June.

25th April - 3rd May - National Beanpole Week. A celebration of all things coppicing - thanks for reminding me Anna!

Here's to a great month - as usual if you've anything to add to April's diary, do let us know here at You Ask, We Answer ;)

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

ABC Wednesday 4: K is For...


... Keeping up with climate change

We're all concerned what climate change will mean to us: could we overwinter our tender plants with impunity; might our spring daffodils disappear; what's the best way to look after our garden in times of drought; and a host of other questions yet to be answered definitively.

The National Trust is trying to find some of the answers. Nymans garden in particular is in the forefront of adopting greener gardening techniques: for example, they've found that by using a fungus inoculant at the time of planting up the borders, watering can be reduced to just four times from May to October without affecting the summer display. Remarkably this result was achieved during the hot summer of 2006 and an added benefit was a reduction in aphid infestation. The Head Gardener - Ed Ikin - believes this is because the plants' growth was more compact and lacking in the soft, sappy stems so attractive to this garden pest.

One of the perks of volunteering at the Trust's HQ in Swindon is not only do I get to hear about what's going on at gardens like Nymans, I also sometimes get a scoop on a major announcement - like last year's Phytophthora story for instance. Today I can exclusively reveal the Trust is actively considering how the charity's image needs to change once global warming takes hold. An exciting young Spanish designer - Pilar Lofo - has been bought in to update the traditional oak leaf and acorn design (see top picture) into something more suited to our projected hotter climes. Eight possibilities are under consideration, with the logo on the left the most extreme. Others include variations on stylised palm trees, hostas and the kind of lush tropical foliage which may be adorning more of our gardens in the future.

Public consultation will be included as part of this exercise, so you will have a chance to have your say on the matter. However, the poor weather over the past two summers, plus concerns over the projected costs of the change (possibly millions of pounds) and how the credit crunch might affect the National Trust's income means the project has been put on hold for the next financial year. I'll keep you posted on any further news.

For other ABC Wednesday posts, head on over to here.

I confess: The logo changing story is utter twaddle. Up until that point the rest was absolutely true - even the fungus story. Congratulations to Joanna for being first to spot the April Fool ;)
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