Monday, 30 November 2009

YAWA: Your Events Diary For December

The darkest days of the year are upon us here in the Northern hemisphere, so our thoughts turn to Christmas and our hopes and dreams for the perfect garden and plot next year. However, if you're fed up of curling up in front of the fire and fancy something a bit more outdoorsy, then the You Ask, We Answer team have found the following gems to whet your appetite.

Anytime: Want to blow away those winter blues and cobwebs? Getting out for a brisk walk during the daylight hours, particularly on a cold, crisp, clear morning could be the perfect antidote. Here's some ideas of where to go.
Throughout December - Christmas Markets, Fairs and Fayres. Many of our towns and cities hold some kind of Christmas market, usually in early December. I've had the pleasure of attending events in Bath, Birmingham, Bristol, York and the Eden Project so far. This website has details of all of these, plus all others in the UK and much further afield in Europe and the USA. A great way to get in the festive mood.
Until 8th December: The Mistletoe Festival in Tenbury Wells continues. Mistletoe auctions will be held on December 1st and 8th, and the Mistletoe Queen will be crowned on December 5th. If you're buying fresh mistletoe for your decorations this year, it's likely to have come from here.

5-6th: Tree Dressing Day. A new 'tradition' started by Common Ground in 1990, to celebrate our trees by decorating them on the first full weekend in December. Note that these decorations are not usually Christmas ones, though judging by what happens in Chippenham, it's also the time when most people put theirs up.

8th: Holy Thorn Ceremony, Glastonbury. The eldest pupil at St. John's School will cut the branch from the legendary winter flowering Glastonbury Thorn, which will be sent to the Queen as a Christmas greeting.

21st: Winter Solstice. Be of good cheer, the days will be getting longer from now on :)

25th: Happy Christmas everyone!

26th: Boxing Day aka St. Stephens Day in Ireland. The traditional starting day for pantomimes and for mummers plays to be performed. Marshfield's is the closest one I know of and other ones not far away from here are at Gloucester and Langport.

31st: New Year's Eve. Hogmanay in Scotland is the event tonight. However, if you want to party in Edinburgh, you'll need to get your tickets in advance. Here's all the details you need. If you're looking for something more dramatic, then Stonehaven's Fireballs Festival could be just the thing. Across the border in Northumberland, there's also flaming tar barrels in Allendale, a tradition dating back to medieval times.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Ohhhhh Christmas Tree

Today's Advent Sunday and ever since I was a little girl this is always the day we get the Christmas decorations down from the loft and I decorate the Christmas tree. It's a family tradition which NAH is more than happy for me to continue with ;)

So you can imagine my delight when the nice people at Dobbies offered to send me a sparkly Snowtime Fibre Optic Sunburst Christmas Tree for me to try out. A package promptly arrived from Scotland via Parcel Force and as I was away on holiday at the time and my neighbours were out, it was taken to my local post office for me to pick up later.

I unpacked the box this morning and assembled everything within a mere 5 minutes. There's 3 legs to attach to the base, the tree's branches (a single unit for this 4ft tree) to slot into it, plus the transformer to plug into the base and the wall socket. The base also contains the light and the revolving disc to drive the changing colours within the fibre optic lights spread throughout the tree. There's 175cm (just under five feet) of cable from the transformer to the plug, so you'll need to put your tree fairly close to the socket, or else use an extension lead (with care!) if you want to put the tree further away.

With everything duly assembled and all the branches pulled down into position to make everything look much more tree like, I then switched it on... and nothing happened :(

Being the electrical and electronics engineer that he is, NAH of course has just the right equipment to hand to test things out and was able to quickly confirm the transformer's as dead as a dodo. I'd noticed when I unpacked the box (which was in good condition) that the transformer had come out of its carton. On closer inspection, the carton wasn't fully taped together and its protective cardboard packaging wasn't taped around it either. NAH thinks this may have been enough to damage the transformer whilst in transit from the manufacturer or from Dobbies to me. Alternatively it might not have been working before it was put in the box.

I don't blame Dobbies at all for this problem and I see they have a clear returns policy shown on their website where faulty goods can be returned to them within 28 days for either a replacement or a full refund. I've emailed Ian at Dobbies - who asked if I'd like to review a tree - to see what he'd like to do next and to show there's no hard feelings, I've ordered some outdoor Christmas lights on the strength of Karen's review. Ours finally gave up the ghost last year, so I'd been planning on getting some anyway and hadn't found any I liked locally.

If a tree's more your thing, then you might like to know Ryan has a giveaway for UK readers over at his blog at the moment. You can choose any tree, artificial or real from Dobbies range and if you leave a comment there before the close of Friday 4th December, you may be lucky enough to have Ryan's glamorous assistant pull your name out as the winner!

NB OOTS alert! It's nearly time for our quarterly look at public planting. December will be a sparkling festive edition where I'll be asking you to show us your neighbourhood's decorations. There's more to come on introducing this to you in the coming week, but I know how some of you like plenty of notice so you can get your cameras out ;)

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Of Awards, Women Pioneers and Missed Biscuitry


It's a bit of a mixed bag today, but I've a few things to tell you which are all demanding to be written about right now, so here goes...

First up is this sparkly new bit of bling, courtesy of Kitchen Garden, aka The Constant Gardener with her vegetable growing hat on. I also see Rothschild's Orchid has given this to me this week, so that makes it double bling. Rather cheersome, after a week of wind and wuthering weather. Thanks both of you, it's much appreciated :D

As usual I'm going amend the rules for this award so that they work for me. I see it's been doing the rounds of most of my regular gardening reads already and I'm confident it's only a matter of time before everyone I have in my sidebar links, plus all my bookmarked favourites will receive this award. So instead of nominating 15 of my gardening friends, I'd like to draw your attention to a non-gardening blog which I've come across recently via my site statistics. It's called White Girl, Arab World and chronicles the life of Shirley Dockerill, who's called the Middle East her home for the past 25 years. It's a fascinating read, which is helping me to understand a completely different culture, and that's precisely what best blogging's all about.

A fascinating watch for me last night was Carol Klein's Gardeners' World special on women gardening pioneers. She covered such a wide range, from the 'herb wives' of medieval times through to the appointment of Inga Grimsey as RHS Director General in 2006. In between were stories of artists and writers; the woman I always think of as one of the first guerrilla gardeners; the first women horticultural trainees at Kew in the late 1890s; the first women head gardeners at Sissinghurst; the role of the Women's Land Army during WWII and much more besides. It was a return to the kind of intelligent gardening programme we've been crying out for and my only criticism of it is I wanted to know even more. If you missed it and you live in the UK, do seek it out on the BBC's I-Player over the next week or so.

Finally, I'm pleased to see my latest guest post on Encounters With Remarkable Biscuits has gone up today. It's more of a non-encounter really, but you'll need to head over there to find out more...

Happy reading and viewing everyone!

Friday, 27 November 2009

Postcard From Liverpool


Last Thursday, whilst the poor people of Cumbria were enduring Britain's heaviest rainfall in 24 hours, NAH and I were not that far away in Liverpool for the day. Surprisingly we had no rain at all, although it threatened to do so for most of the time we were there. It was tremendously windy, the kind you can lean on without falling over and the antics of a pigeon on the ferry across the Mersey [cue song - Ed] amused us greatly: it was clinging onto the deck for dear life, but the wind was still managing to push it ever closer to going over the side.

We'd decided that the ferry was a holiday 'must do' and this was my first ever visit to Liverpool. Here you can see one of the classic Liverpudlian vistas: The Three Graces aka the Royal Liver Building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building (from left to right). NAH and I think the view's been spoilt somewhat by the brand new Pier Head ferry terminal in front of the Royal Liver Building: you can just see the Liver Birds - legend has it that if they fall off then Liverpool's prosperity will cease. Needless to say they're very well tethered on their perches!

Liverpool has the most Listed Buildings in England outside of London, so the hop on, hop off city bus tour was a good way to see a number of them and to get an overall feel of the place. We stopped off at Mathew Street, home of the Cavern Club where it all began for The Beatles, but didn't have time to visit either of the museums dedicated to the Fab Four. NB The Cavern Club shown in the link is not the original, but a mere shadow of its former self. There's some rather kitsch street furniture around there, which will be turning up over at Sign of the Times shortly. A quick run around Albert Dock with its many museums rounded off our flying visit before we boarded the train* to head back to Cheshire.

* = I need a need little rant here - it cost us £3.20 return from Hooton plus 80p for a day's parking at the station and the parking was manned by a cheery man at the pay station on the way out. I went to Bath on Saturday, a shorter train journey which cost me £4.50, plus £4.50 (unmanned) car parking. Rip-off southern Britain or what?

Thursday, 26 November 2009

A Taste Of My Garden


Yesterday afternoon NAH and I visited our local farm shop* to see which unusual apple varieties they have on sale at the moment. Whilst there I spotted the pictured shelf of honey. Now Allington is less than a mile as the bee flies from my garden, so there must be plenty of the nectar from my flowers in each and every one of these jars :)

* = a thinly veiled excuse to have the largest slice of chocolate banana fudge cake ever in the tea room :o

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

ABC Wednesday 5: S is for...

... Secateurs

Secateurs (aka pruners, pruning shears) are probably the tool which I use most frequently when out in the garden or up at the allotment. I'd previously not given much thought in choosing a pair and as a result, I've needed to buy a new one every couple of years. More recently I've resorted to the gear assisted type, such as those developed by Wilkinson Sword (now rebranded as Fiskars) as I've found my increased usage has led to a rather painful elbow at times.

However, earlier this year I decided that constantly replacing my secateurs was a waste and I should go for the kind where the parts can be replaced. Thus I decided to finally bite the bullet and buy me a pair of Felcos to celebrate my birthday [she really knows how to party eh? - Ed]. I even had a nice stash of garden gift vouchers, courtesy of Gardeners' World magazine, to cushion the expense: we're talking about the Rolls Royce version of garden tools after all.

So I wended my way down to the garden centre, where I was instantly stopped in my tracks. There was just too many of the darn things to choose from. Whilst I can appreciate the differences between anvil and bypass types, what hope do I have when faced by a plethora of numbered options, such as the Felco range sports? So I retired in all of a dither and got NAH to re-sharpen my secateurs, which then fell apart in September.

Imagine my whoops of delight when I won a pair of Felcos in Ryan's giveaway in October. Desired brand and all dithering thoughts were thoroughly dispelled. Have a go with a lovely pair of Number 8s (Classic, Ergonomic, High Performance, Bypass) and be done with it. They promptly arrived and I promised Ryan faithfully I'd review them. Thus I've been cutting my way through my autumn clearing for a while and now I'm ready to give my preliminary report.

First Impressions - on arrival

There really isn't quite anything like their shape is there? They're slightly more heavy than my last pair, but then those were mainly plastic whereas these are mostly aluminium. Number 8s are designed for larger hands, but that's fine: my hands are quite large and the curved handles fit comfortably. I like the red too - I'm less likely to lose them in my borders as I've had a habit of doing with other (mainly black) brands in the past.

Using them for the first time - just after they arrived

The safety catch's a little stiff and opens in the opposite direction to my previous pair, but I soon got used to that. Once opened they don't have a habit of unexpectedly shutting with the safety catch on like others I've had; definitely a plus point. I love the ready oiled cutting surfaces and the slick sound they make as I open and shut them. The positioning of the cutting 'head' is different to what I'm used to, so I had to really concentrate in getting the angle right for cutting. One immediate advantage: I can cut much thicker stems than usual, up to an inch in diameter without much extra effort (and pressure on my elbow) at all. This means I'm not having to get out my more unwieldy loppers so often, nor troll around with two lots of gardening tools :)

Continuing to use them - a few weeks later

I've now got used to the different angle of the cutting 'head' and I've found I can use them for long periods of time without my elbow hurting as much as it used to. The extra weight's not posing a problem either. I haven't used the wire cutting notch yet, nor do I really understand what the sap groove does. However, the first will be rectified come the spring when I need to put in some new wires for my apple tree cordons up at the allotment and I'm not that worried about the latter feature. Having such an expensive pair of secateurs means I'm taking better care of them than I used to: I'm also hoping Santa might bring me one of those nifty little holsters so I can attach them to my gardening trousers when I'm not using them.

One final observation: up until now I've only used anvil pruners and these are of the bypass type. I've had no problems in using my new secateurs for exactly the same jobs as I've carried out with my other ones in the past.

Therefore it's a major thumbs up from me so far. Of course the real crunch will come if I experience the most frequent criticism of using Felcos (apart from their cost): losing the spring, or a couple of years down the line at the point when I usually have to buy a new pair. It'll be interesting to see how I fare with the parts replacement/servicing aspects of what Felco have to offer.

Thanks to Ryan's glamorous assistant for pulling my name out of the hat and to Ryan for having the give away in the first place. You've really brightened up my autumn clearing :)

ABC Wednesday is bought to you this week by the letter S, why not See what else is on offer over there today?

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Vegetable Growing: What I Would Teach

Food security's a hot topic at the moment and I reckon it's set to become even more so over the coming years. Fluffy Muppet and Soilman had some thoughtful posts and debate on this subject earlier this year, and now Matron's joined in too.

Her piece focused on our ability to pass on our vegetable knowledge to those that don't grow their own, which Soilman followed up by posing the following question:

If you had to give three specific bits of help/advice to a total vegetable virgin – once the oil and fertilisers have gone – what would they be?

As usual his response to this question is pithy, smile inducing and thought provoking. Lots of people have left their ideas in the comments already, but I wanted to have a think about it and respond on here. Matron's original post said:

Growing food locally using sustainable methods has been placed at the top of the Government's food security agenda following its first ever assessment on the safety of the country's food supply. So all of us out here, the beekeepers, poultry keepers farmers and allotmenteers will be in great demand. I know I won't go hungry! will you?

Having seen some of the Government's consultation on Food 2030 and their most recent Food Security Assessment, I'm appalled there's hardly anything in there about folks doing it for themselves. Yet we have a country facing a projected population increase to 70 million souls (the current UK population is about 62 million) over the next few decades with greenbelt and farmland being used to meet our increased demand for housing and services - 3 farms are set to go in Wiltshire's proposed plans for Chippenham 2026 alone. Imagine how this will be scaled up nationwide.

So, I can't see us having a hope in hell of feeding ourselves economically without there being a WWII-style approach to tackling the problem to complement anything happening in the UK food industry. So back to Soilman's question, what of my hard-won knowledge would I like to pass on to others?

Grow what you actually like to eat

Ignore any specific advice about starting with cabbages, beans, potatoes or whatever. NAH hates both cabbages and beans, so I'd be wasting both a lot of veg and my time if I'd heeded this advice. Of course, it might be a little tricky if your current dietary favourites include lots of warmer climate items such as avocados and mangoes, so do keep your sights to what can be comfortably grown in this country. Joy Larkcom's Grow Your Own Vegetables will show you not only what's achievable, she also says which crops will give you the best value for money and also provides plot plans depending on whether your needs are feeding the family or are more gourmet inclined.

Things will be different every year

Expect crops to do poorly or to give you the biggest glut you could ever imagine. You will rarely achieve the nirvana of 'just enough for your needs' and what crops poorly one year will probably be a glut the next. A lot of this will not be down to your level of skill, but is dependent on the weather, the health of your soil, what pests are doing well that year etc etc. As your experience grows, you'll be able to take this in your stride and to ensure you provide the best possible growing conditions whatever nature throws at you. You'll also feel increasingly confident in tackling those crops which are more difficult to grow.

Be flexible and adaptable

As space becomes a premium, you'll probably not have enough room to grow everything you need. I'm assuming government plans will focus mainly on the basic foodstuffs, so grow more of the other items you like (or are most expensive to buy) and be prepared to have them in your borders or on your patio. Herbs can be used instead of shrubs and flowers - I grow thyme as a border edging for example and I've planted a couple of apple trees instead of more ornamental ones in my garden. Gluts will mean learning about preserving or sharing/bartering with your neighbours. In fact there's a lot more you could do as a community - you can pool your resources and knowledge, as well as sharing food. Think about seed saving - so you'll need to know about open pollinated varieties rather than F1 ones and perhaps buy your seeds from companies like Real Seeds - and seed swaps. Expect the unexpected and change your plans where necessary.

If all this makes me sound a bit alarmist, well I am pretty concerned about what's going to happen in the future, but I'm also optimistic that the issues we face can be tackled positively if we all get involved in some way. Do you think I'm being melodramatic or just sensible? What advice would you add?

Monday, 23 November 2009

Garden Visit: Dunham Massey's Winter Garden

Last Monday, NAH and I took advantage of a relatively good weather forecast to visit Dunham Massey, a vast stately home and estate just outside Manchester. It was a sunny, showery day and our drive around the outside of the estate's boundary walls to its entrance was marked by vast piles of burnt orange beech leaves being whipped up by the winds over the walls and flying across our path. It felt a little like being caught inside a childhood Christmas snowdome, with leaves instead of snow and made an exhilarating start to our day.

The house itself is closed for the winter, but the parkland and gardens are open year-round. I was particularly keen to visit because a newly planted winter garden had been opened just a fortnight prior to our trip to Cheshire last week and I wanted to be one of the first to see it. It's meant to be the largest winter garden in England and we have only a few gardens open at this time of the year, so I was intrigued in seeing what this actually means. The celebrated plantsman, Roy Lancaster's been involved as advisor to the project, so I was confident the plants chosen would be top notch.

First impressions on entering the garden are favourable. This is the view looking north from the entrance gate. There's a good variety textures in the planting, using both evergreens and stem colour to provide interest. This view also shows much of the general structure to the garden: there's a network of gently curving paths which gave us a number of different walks around the garden to admire the various themed beds. There's also lots of healthy, mature trees and as soon as I saw these, the choice of a winter garden for this area started to make sense as their reduced canopy at this time of the year would allow the underplanting to start to shine through.

Further in, the youth of the garden really began to show itself. There's a wide variety of plants, all lovingly numbered by the garden volunteers (as they so proudly told me when we arrived and there's an accompanying catalogue available for £1 if you wish to know what all the plants are) but because the garden's so new, they've not had sufficient time to spread themselves out and for some of the beds to really knit together. This means that the much of the garden looks rather like a selection box of winter interest plants rather than a garden at the moment: it pretty much contains every plant of that ilk you can think of.

However, there was still much to admire. This is the Birch Triangle complete with bench from which to view it. There's plenty of benches dotted around the garden and each one is different: they're a great excuse to stop and listen to the roar of the wind through the trees accompanied by plentiful birdsong. The use of birch might be becoming a bit of a cliche nowadays because a number of conceptual show gardens have used it as their main theme over the past few years, but I still think it's an effective idea. Here, single columns of washed Betula utilis 'Doorenbos' are interplanted with black-stemmed Cornus alba 'Kisselringii'. At the back of the triangle (with a path between) the birches change to a multi-stemmed form and are underplanted with hundreds of marble-leaved Cyclamen. There are thousands of snowdrops planted, ready to burst forth in January. This is an area which I think will go from strength to strength.

An area still providing an injection colour was the Hydrangea Walk. The flowers may have been on the wane, but their skeletons were adding a faded beauty to the garden - particularly Hydrangea 'Annabelle' - plus this unamed cultivar was still going strong:


Much of the Bog Garden had been cut back for the winter, especially the skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus). For once the presence of duckweed in the small canal could be viewed in a positive light! In the distance, you can see a new bridge which takes you through to the other areas, which aren't shown in the guide as being part of the winter garden. However, there was much to see here too and I'll take you around them another time.

I liked how the addition of thousands of Acer leaves to this bed provided contrast and also echoed the red berries on the holly and other nearby shrubs.

The Acers also have a bed to themselves and this one was still adding its fire to this part of the garden. There's also plenty of the snake bark maple (Acer davidii) to add contrast and texture once they've matured a little more and I found some multi-stemmed Prunus serrula doing that job right now. This area also hosts the Scented Walk, where shrubs such as Daphne, Mahonia and Witch Hazels (Hamamelis) will play their part. Sadly I was there at the wrong time of the year to check out this particular feature.

However, there's plenty of ground-cover interest. I'd forgotten how good the pictured Arum italicum is at this time of the year and there were plenty of Hellebores already in flower as well as the last remains of the Cyclamen and various Colchicum. In the spring they'll be joined by thousands of bulbs in the Yellow Meadow (Daffodils, Iris and Crocus), the Bluebell Walk and the Blue Meadow (Scilla, Chionodoxa, Crocus and Dwarf Iris) areas.

My new discovery of the day were these dramatic seed pods of Cardiocrinum giganteum at the start of the Hydrangea Walk. Their stems stand 6-8 foot high and a drawing of their lily-like flowers adorns the cover of the informative weatherproof guide (returnable) you're given when you enter the garden.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, in spite of being there at the wrong time. I believe the garden will be even more dramatic in 2-3 months when the bulbs start to flower and it stands to be even better still once the shrubs begin to mature in a couple of years. Only then will I be able to judge whether this good garden is a great one - a good excuse to go back there then! In the meantime, anyone wanting ideas for robust plants to provide scent, berries, form or flower to their garden at this time of the year will find plenty of food for thought at Dunham Massey.

This garden was also reviewed yesterday in The Times (thanks for letting me know, Robert), have a look here if you'd like to see what Caroline Donald has to say.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Postcard From Chester

Hello, I'm back and rather nicely refreshed after a week in a cottage just outside Chester. As you can see from the above image, Cheshire is famed for its black and white architecture. This is a scene from our walk around the town walls last Tuesday. I'll be taking you on a longer tour shortly :)

I also have a trip to Dunham Massey to show you their newly opened winter garden; a tour of Port Sunlight, an early example of a Victorian/Edwardian garden village; plus a brief sojourn in Liverpool. We enjoyed ourselves immensely and plan to return to the area for a much longer holiday at a later date.

Here's a taster to whet your appetite. You may be familiar with this Liverpudlian scene already as Anna has featured it twice as part of her posts for Out on the Streets. I recognised it immediately and couldn't resist a quick snap myself (we were running to catch the hop on hop off city bus tour at the time) just to show you it's still looking good in November and from a distance.

Anna, Happy Mouffetard, Lisa and Elizabethm - I'm sorry I didn't get in touch with you, even though I was just a few miles away from you all last week. Our trip was arranged at the last minute and because it was mine and NAH's holiday, I felt it wasn't fair on him if I was constantly galavanting off to see my blogfriends. He was getting grumpy enough at my constantly stopping to take photographs!

NB Hurrah - Blogger for once has allowed me to load more than one image into a post and make both of them clickable. Do click to enlarge either photo if you'd like a much closer look :)

Saturday, 21 November 2009

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #11

  1. Decide to make your living through writing in stone
  2. Find a derelict but prominent place to show off the kind of thing you can do
  3. Wait for a blogger to have a good look at your wares by the railway viaduct
  4. Wait for that blogger to tell the blogger with the camera what you've found
  5. Et voila!

In case you missed it first time round, just like I've done for so many years, compare the word area with the rest of the piece. My thanks to Mark for telling me I should take a look again at this body of work ;)

And here's a wider view of the first thing you see when you hit Chippenham's high street should you walk into town (like I do) from the west. Welcoming isn't it?

Friday, 20 November 2009

National Comment Leaving Week


Visit NaBloPoMo

OK, it seems that only Helen, Mark and I have committed ourselves to National Blog Posting Month: Helen's been going great guns, telling us all about gardening life in Toronto and whilst Mark also lives in Chippenham, his brilliant blog is very different to mine or Helen's, so also well worth a look. I'm still on holiday (back tomorrow), but as you can see, I managed to set up my posts before I went away :)

If the thought of all of that is making you feel a bit tired, how about having a go at National Comment Leaving Week instead? It could be just the thing now the nights are drawing in and it starts tomorrow, November 21st and ends on the 28th. All you need to do is leave five comments per day on other blogs and return one comment that's been left on your site lately per day. That's a total of 6 comments per day.

It could be a good way of exploring those blogs you've had bookmarked for ages but never got round to reading, or seeing how some of your old buddies you've lost touch with are getting along. If you're like me, you love receiving comments, so here's a way of making lots of people very happy over the next few days :D

Thursday, 19 November 2009

What I've Learned From Mr Treeman


A line of silver birch trees brightening up a gloomy November's day along one of the paths on our estate. Just a few of the many trees that have been planted in our neighbourhood and which help to make it one of the better public spaces in Chippenham

Following my report on Chippenham's Double Whammy Chestnuts a while back, I've eventually managed to talk to someone from our local council about them. As expected, it took quite a while to track down exactly whom I should be talking to. Here's what I've learned in the process.

Who exactly I should be talking to:
  • As I live in Chippenham, Wiltshire, it should be someone from Wiltshire County Council (WCC) right? Er, it depends...
  • If the tree's on a main road or on a highway structure such as a roundabout, it's the responsibility of the Highways Agency, who are contactable via the county's CLARENCE hotline *
  • If I want to discuss something like tree flailing which happened at the wrong time of the year, that's part of our estate's maintenance schedule. Therefore I should talk to the head of WCC's estate maintenance team
  • For all other trees in public spaces, then the county's sole arborist (aka Mr Treeman) is the person to talk to
What Mr Treeman had to say:
  • Nothing will be done about the horse chestnut leaf miner problem as they don't harm the tree and there's no budget available to treat them or clear up the leaves anyway
  • It seems there's pretty well no budget to do anything to any of our trees, unless the problem with them constitutes a health and safety hazard. Thus there won't be any tree thinning of the overcrowded trees, nor the removal of any of the branches touching our house - for now at least. I am however, most welcome to do any of these things - including clearing up the horse chestnut leaves - myself.
  • The horse chestnut trees with canker will be added to the county's observation list. The county has no policy to remove these trees as they may recover from the infection. However, they are kept under observation, because trees with canker tend to drop their limbs, which is of course a potential health and safety hazard
  • The trees at the side of our house aren't a danger to the house foundations (phew)
  • The broken branch on the ash tree at the side of the house will be removed because it could easily fall on top of our heads when we're in the garden and therefore constitutes a safety hazard. A month later: we're still waiting for this work to be done and gale force winds in excess of 75 miles per hour are expected as I write...
  • NAH and I are most welcome to contact Mr Treeman each year and request a review of the trees at the side of the house or any others we feel need attention. However, it's unlikely that anything will get done, because there's no budget available blah, blah, blah...

Confused? Annoyed? Yes, so am I. Threadspider is too because a couple of weeks after my meeting with Mr Treeman a whole gang of youths in hi-vis descended on the top of the estate and cleared away all the lavender nestling under the trees at the main entrance, hacked away at the tree roots and left everything looking extremely tidy but rather bare for now. It looks ripe for a weed fest next year. I think they were the estate maintenance team, so we'll be contacting them shortly to see when they're coming over to finish the job they've started.
Assuming there's the budget to do so of course.

* = NAH and I are constantly amazed that the reporting of our county's road and lighting - and now it would appear roadside trees - defects would appear to be named after a cross-eyed lion: one of the animal characters in the 1960s TV series Daktari. The acronym may have a perfectly reasonable explanation (Customer Lighting And Roads ENquiry CEntre), but the choice of accompanying logo - a lion - hardly helps us to take this system seriously.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

ABC Wednesday 5: R is for...

... Rickey!

I'm not really a fan of Eastenders, but I can't help but remember Bianca's call of Ricky! whenever I see Heuchera 'Lime Rickey'. This was a most popular plant in the displays at the RHS shows early last year and I also admired it at several of my lime tolerant plant workshops at The Botanic Nursery before I finally caved in and bought one from there last summer.

It now nestles in a pot in a shadier corner of my patio. This particular Heuchera is descended from the woodland line, so it's not one for full sunlight - a lot of this can make the leaves look washed out. It also likes a moist soil and produces white flowers in the summer which are attractive to bees. As you can see, it's still wearing the lime hues that it's named after at the moment. I actually value it even more during the winter. As the colder, frosty weather kicks in, the leaves will take on a more buttery, yellow colour - a most welcome trait in the darker days of December and January.

For more posts bought to you by the letter R, do visit the ABC Wednesday blog.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Musing About Moss

I have a confession: I have done absolutely nothing about the moss in my garden this year. I told Threadspider as much last week when we were admiring the patterns the moss is making in the block paving drive outside her house. It's similar in effect to the the scene pictured above from my patio, except hers is more on the diagonal.

This damascene conversion came about when I closely inspected the gravel path in the back garden early this year. A limey clay soil underneath the gravel (no membrane installed) which is waterlogged over winter and shaded for much of the day means moss is pretty much inevitable. Up close and personal it's rather beautiful, so I decided to let it stay for once and it's a lot less work as a result. I felt rather smug when Dan Pearson extolled the virtues of moss at the Hay Festival in May.

I've also let it remain in my lawn: so mine was the only one to remain green in our neighbourhood during September's drought. Patio crack infills? Yes, the moss has been allowed to stay there too. It means I'll have less dry mortar infilling to do: that job's always felt rather like Atlas rolling the stone up the hill anyway. Another type's colonising all the path edging bricks and looks like a green shaggy fur. That's fine. I'm feeling all chilled out and rather zen as a result of my change of heart.

NAH's agreed it all looks rather good, especially at this time of the year - he said it's winter interest for the patio - that was without any prompting from me either :o

However, these feelings of garden bliss do not extend to the moss on our front drive :(

Have you made any drastic changes in the way you look after your garden this year?

Monday, 16 November 2009

Enjoying the Red, Yellow and... er, Orange?


I had to go to Corsham last week to visit my dentist, but as I arrived early, I took the opportunity to have a brief exploration of the town's Millennium Garden. I've only really looked at it in passing before and whilst it wasn't the best of times of the year to have a closer look, there was still quite a bit of interest.

I was especially taken with the above Acer. Bright red stems and buttery yellow leaves did much to raise my spirits on the kind of miserable day which November seems to specialise in. I also admired its bright orange berries...

Hold on, Acers don't have berries, never mind bright orange ones!

A closer inspection revealed my error: the rowan tree nearby had lovingly adorned the Acer with lots of its berries.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

GBBD: Flowers in the Rain

Click to enlarge image if needed. From left to right and top to bottom: Fuchsia 'Genii', Anthemis tinctoria 'E.C. Buxton', Cosmos 'Chocamocha', Dahlia 'Moonfire', mophead Hydrangea, Fuchsia 'Garden News', Campanula with leaves, doorstep Cyclamen, strawberry, Sedum, Centaurea montana, Helianthus, Fuchsia 'Hawkshead', Clematis cirrhosa 'Freckles', Clematis 'Elsa Spath', and tender Cyclamen.

I'm actually on holiday as of yesterday, but I'm sure Friday's drenched flowers will be in bloom today - as is my Dahlia Delight - because we're having a spell of mild, rainy and windy weather at the moment. So whilst the garden's definitely very 'backendish', there's still quite a lot of floral bounty around. It just takes a little more time to find it. Lesson learnt this month: Cyclamen has a lovely ethereal scent. I hadn't noticed that before, but then I haven't put some in the hanging basket next to the front door before either.

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

NB I have posts set up for the whole of the week, but I'm going internet free whilst I'm away, so I won't be answering your comments until after I get back on Saturday.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Things in Unusual Places #7: Children

Further to my Advertising post last week, it's amazing what you can pick up in garden centres these days ;)

Do click on the image to enlarge it if needed.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Muck & Magic Update

You may recall I spoke recently about the problems of Aminopyralid contamination here. Yesterday, I finally received (after finding out the outcome weeks ago) the government's official response to the e-petition raised which requested this herbicide would not be reinstated for use on farms:

The Government acknowledges the difficulties that the use of manure containing traces of aminopyralid has caused some gardeners and allotment holders. In issuing approvals for two new products, it carefully considered the advice of the independent Advisory Committee on Pesticides (ACP).

The restrictions on the new approvals are intended to ensure that manure containing aminopyralid does not leave the farm:

The new products may only be used on grassland for grazing (not for forage) or amenity grassland.

The labels must state that manure from animals grazed on grassland treated with aminopyralid should be returned directly to grassland - i.e. kept on farm. Similarly, labels will contain a warning that animal waste or plant material suspected of containing aminopyralid must not be used for composting or mulching.

Only grassland grazed by cattle and sheep may be treated - not land grazed by horses.
DowAgrosciences has developed a communications and stewardship campaign for users and distributors to further reduce the risk of problems arising from manure containing aminopyralid residues.

The company will also submit regular reports to Government detailing any complaints and the action taken. These complaints and any received directly will be monitored and, where appropriate, investigated by the Chemicals Regulation Directorate.

If, despite these additional controls and safeguards, significant problems arise in future, the Government’s position will be reviewed again.

In view of recent events, it seems strange the government has heeded the advice of its pesticides committee (yes, I know - an extremely cynical dig, but I couldn't resist) and it remains to be seen whether the new products do indeed stay on the farm, as intended.

Thanks to those of you who signed the e-petition after my post or following Green Lane Allotments' updates in the comments. It now remains for us to be vigilant and to raise the alarm, should the signs of aminopyralid contamination be seen again. I'm sure Green Lane Allotments will be at the forefront of this vigilance.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

You Ask, We Answer: Marmite

Staying with yesterday's quirky theme, today seems to be a good one for saying something about one of the more unusual items in our British cuisine. You either love it, or hate it: can you tell which one I am? The clue's in the amount I put on the knife...

...yes, I hate it. My mum still proudly tells the tale of how she put Marmite on my bread soldiers when I was little and I immediately threw them on the floor whilst pulling the most screwed up baby face you could ever imagine. NAH of course loves it, so I have to bear the sight and smell of this muck spread most lunchtimes :(

I find it surprising how such a lovely product such as beer results in jars of yeast extract. Well, I suppose I shouldn't be really because the yeast used for beer making has enough at the end of the brewing process to start another 5 batches of beer. Thus a home has to be found for the other four fifths, otherwise over time our breweries wouldn't have enough room to produce any more beer and would be awash with loads of creamy, browny looking foam instead.

With our breweries facing such a disaster, some clever people in Burton-on-Trent decided the excess could be used to make yeast extract and that it would also be rather jolly if they put it in a jar modelled on the shape of a french stockpot, aka marmite.

What's more, it's choc full of all those tricky B-vitamins that were quite hard to come by in the diets of yore, so it could be marketed to mums like mine as a nutritious tea-time (or breakfast or lunch) treat for their families. Bet they didn't imagine screaming toddlers throwing it on the floor though, just happy, smiley family faces instead. However, there must have been plenty of each scenario happening all over the land, otherwise how else could the phrase Marmite Moment have come about? [for a practical example of the use of this term, you need look no further than this post here - Ed]

So, Mr. McGregor's Daughter (and not forgetting Gail), you can feel relieved that no lovely furry creatures like marmosets were harmed in the making of this fare, just lots of budding yeast cells instead. And if you're reading this in countries like Australia or New Zealand, I'm afraid your Vegemite comes nowhere near to being as yukky as Marmite actually is. And no, it's nothing like its deliciously meaty cousin, Bovril either, even if both brands are owned by the same company and they're made in the same town.

Unbelievably this post only scratches the surface as far as Marmite is concerned, so the You Ask, We Answer team have helpfully added this link [and this one, plus this one's rather fun - Ed] should you wish to know more.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

ABC Wednesday 5: Q is for...

...Quirky

My blog is often described as quirky and I take that as a real compliment: it's probably the best way I'd like you to think about Veg Plotting. But what does quirky actually mean? The Free Dictionary defines quirk (pronounced kwurk) as:
  1. A peculiarity of behavior; an idiosyncrasy: "Every man has his own quirks and twists" (Harriet Beecher Stowe).
  2. An unpredictable or unaccountable act or event; a vagary: a quirk of fate.
  3. A sudden sharp turn or twist.
  4. An equivocation; a quibble.
  5. Architecture - a lengthwise groove on a moulding between the convex upper part and the soffit.
It goes on to cite Collins Thesaurus' alternatives for the adjective quirky as:
odd, unusual, eccentric, idiosyncratic, curious, peculiar, unpredictable, rum (Brit. slang), singular, fanciful, whimsical, capricious, offbeat, out there (slang) We've developed a reputation for being quite quirky and original.
Well, perhaps I can't fulfill definition number 5, but I aim to do something with 1-4 and all those Thesaurus options ;)
Seeing quirky means unpredictable, perhaps the ABC Wednesday meme can be described in the same way? Hop on over to today's contributors and see what you think.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Looking at the Whole Picture

Instead of choosing an evening class this Autumn, I've joined the University of Bath Gardening Club. I'm unsure of the exact connection with the University - apart from us meeting there - it's certainly not the reserved domain of dons or students and everyone's most welcome. The programme of speakers is put together by Derry Watkins of Special Plants, so the standard is extremely high. Fergus Garrett treated us to a tour of Great Dixter: Past, Present and Future last month and I'm particularly looking forward to future presentations from Keith Wiley, Charles Dowding, Catrina Saunders (Head Gardener at The Courts) and Derry herself.

Last week it was the turn of the redoubtable Mary Keen, garden designer and regular Telegraph columnist. I'm not that familiar with her work or her writing, so I didn't quite know what to expect from her talk's title Looking at the Whole Picture. She took everyone by surprise immediately by declaring her talk was to be without slides. I'm sure from the sighs which followed that at least half of the 100 strong audience were quite disappointed.

What ensued was something quite thought provoking. I may not have particularly enjoyed her style of delivery - it was haughty and full of name dropping, which made Threadspider (I'd persuaded her to come too) and I feel we were back at school being lectured by our headmistress, Miss Miller - but I've been pondering what she said ever since.

After asking us which garden we'd most like ours to be like - most people wanted Sissinghurst - her first challenge was to say this is impossible, only Sissinghurst can be Sissinghurst and if your own garden isn't your favourite, then you need to do something about it immediately.
She also dismissed using pictures from magazines to convey what's wanted, especially those sections called Get the Look. Here she argued that pictures are a waste of time because they only capture that instant, which constantly changes. Her dismissal of Get the Look was because it's what's right for that garden, instead of what's right for you. Whilst I can see her point, I think it would be hard for ordinary mortals like me to dispense with pictures because I don't have a vast experience of design or a massive knowledge of plants - yet.
Her alternative approach is more wordy than pictorial - which was quite strange in view of her talk's title and her initial description of a garden being the equivalent of painting a picture. She's much more focused on a garden's theme (aka narrative), mood and the selection of key words of what the garden should be e.g. a sanctuary, fun, secluded, sensual etc. She argues that this approach results in a garden that's distinctive, belongs to you and conveys a sense of place (echoes of Dan Pearson's talk at Hay here), particularly if the garden has a sensitive use of local materials and plants (the latter reminded me of my Listening to the Locals post last year). She likened plants to cushions: they're the finishing touches. She's much more interested in getting the spaces in the garden right first, those places without plants where the eye is to rest, pause and take stock.
A couple of days later Threadspider and I met for coffee as usual and mulled over what Mary Keen had to say. We talked about our gardens not just being a picture, and how we try to engage our other senses - something we felt was missing in her talk. I also said my favourite garden is actually my own. Threadspider was quite taken by surprise because I'm always displeased with something and I'm always wanting to change things - to make it a better garden. But yes, my garden is my favourite one. It's not perfect, but it is mine and if I could choose any garden in the world where I'd like to be, my choice is my garden. It's taken Mary Keen's talk for me to realise that. However, I believe I'd struggle to adopt her approach wholesale, because I don't have her experience and I think in a much more pictorial and practical way.
You can see the gist of her talk by reading this recent article from the Telegraph. What do you think about what she's said? Where's your favourite garden and what picture or mood would you like to convey with your own?

Monday, 9 November 2009

Christmas Carols & Fantastic Fireworks

Saturday was one of those days which ends in a cloud of happiness. Firstly I attended a Forgotten Carols workshop led by Ali Burns - a descendant of Robert Burns - who has found and researched a wealth of traditional seasonal songs. She's also set many of the texts she's found to her own music, including one of our choir's favourites, The Field Mice's Carol.

We were based at Holy Trinity Church in Trowbridge for the day. It had just been painted and had a cosy, welcoming feel owing to the unusual choice of shades of reds and pinks for the decor. We learnt five new songs, all very different: from our merry start with Sing Nowell! through to the oldest, Christ Has My Hart, Ay dating from 1567 which was an amalgamation of two Scottish texts.

Ali wove tales of how she found the songs and their origins into our day and I was surprised to learn there are very few Christmas songs originating from Scotland. We also sang a completely different version - words and tune - of The Holly and the Ivy, where we learned that holly represents man, and ivy woman. In some songs the holly dominates and in the others, ivy and Ali thinks this reflects a shift between male and female dominated societies during Medieval times. It was an absolutely fascinating and uplifting workshop, which I'll be returning to for our next Garden Bloggers' Muse Day :)

In the evening we were invited up on Solsbury Hill - the location of last year's Barefoot Picnic - for a firework party. This was a fundraiser for Jamie's Farm, a local charity which started in 2008, aiming to help vulnerable youngsters. Jamie Fielden was a teacher in London and noticed a vast change in a number of his more challenging pupils when he brought some sheep from his parents farm into his school. Now he's developing that idea much further through his own farm and charity just outside Bath.

Our hosts Andrew and Annette put on a fine spread for us plus a firework display set to music. Andrew's been keen to have our choir sing to fireworks for a while now, so we had to work for our supper. Around 40 of us gathered at the top of the hill to sing Shine and Imagine from our Sing for Water repertoire to some of the more quieter fireworks in the display. Another uplifting experience, but very different to the one earlier in the day!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Poppy Day

Norfolk, June 2009

A million blood red poppies fell slowly to the floor
And I heard a million voices that I had heard before
Calling from a foreign field, the earth, the sea, the sky
Telling all the story of why they had to die.

Liberty and freedom, motherland and home
These are words to cherish but the dead lie deathly prone.
Have we learned the lesson, all they gave was it in vain?
Is this a better world we live in built upon their pain?

A million blood red poppies, remember them and pray
They gave their tomorrow that we might have this day
We must strive to greater effort for peace and goodwill to reign
Never should one single poppy fall to the floor again.

Cyril Frederick Perkins (1920 - ), WW2 People's War

WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar.

NB This site also gives details on how People's War material can be re-used for publication. As Veg Plotting is a non-commercial site, a simple acknowledgement of the source as shown above was sufficient to grant me permission to use it.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Unusual Front Gardens #5: Topiary


Like last time, I'm indebted to fellow Chippenham blogger Mark for this example. He told me about its existence early on in my front garden series, but it wasn't until I went to his house a couple of weeks ago to pick up a spare dalek compostbin that I finally got to see what he meant in all its glory. It looks like a couple of neighbours have a friendly rivalry going, because this is what's on view next door:

The creature on the right might be a crocodile - what do you think?

Friday, 6 November 2009

Seasonal Recipe: Garlic Mushroom Soup


This is a great time of the year to go on a fungus foray. If you're worried about your identification skills, then it's best to go on an organised hunt with an expert. Your local wildlife trust, The Woodland Trust, the Forestry Commission, National Trust or similar organisations in your area often have this kind of activity at this time of the year and you're usually allowed to take your share home with you.

Of course, your fungi might be a little gourmet for soup, so you might like to google elsewhere for a more upmarket recipe for your spoils. However, if your haul includes field mushrooms, then this is the recipe for you. When I was little, we frequently visited my aunt and uncle near Swansea. One of my strongest memories from that time was going out mushrooming with my uncle. Their house was on common land and we had to get up early to beat one of the local smallholders to the pick of that day's crop.

I absolutely adore mushrooms. The merest mention of them in Tolkein's Lord of the Rings was enough to send me out to the nearest greengrocers immediately to get some when I was 10. I loved them grilled on toast back then. Whenever we visit NAH's aunt in Poole, garlic mushrooms always appear on the menu, even though she's not keen on them herself. I've combined both of these treats into a warming soup for November. Don't worry if you've not procured your own supply via a fungus foray, shop bought ones do equally as well, especially those from the budget end of the selection.

Ingredients

400g mushrooms (including stalks) wiped clean, but not peeled
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock
3 fat garlic cloves (adjust according to how much garlic you like)
1 very thick slice of bread (white or brown - it doesn't matter which)
1 tablespoon fresh chopped herbs - parsley works well
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method
  1. Put the stock and mushrooms in a large pan and bring to the boil
  2. In the meantime peel and finely chop the garlic and add to the pan
  3. Add the bread, roughly crumbling it into the stock as you do so
  4. Add the herbs plus the freshly ground black pepper
  5. Once the mixture is boiling, turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes
  6. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary
  7. Turn off the heat and liquidise the soup
  8. Serve immediately with more fresh, crusty bread
Serves 4-6 generously

Thursday, 5 November 2009

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #10


  1. Decide on a completely new product range for your garden centre
  2. Assemble your publicity material
  3. Ensure it has a prominent display in the latest Garden Club newsletter
  4. Wait for a blogger with a camera to spot something's wrong
  5. Et voila!

For me this is wrong on two levels: Victoria has also explored the topic of garden centres' chosen product ranges recently - worth a look not only for her views, but the ensuing conversation in the comments. My local garden centre's also displaying a banner alongside the main road which reads: Our themed Christmas store now open. Guess what the theme is?

In the interests of balanced reporting I should also add they're organising a project to coincide with National Tree Week, where representatives from each school taking part will have a session at the garden centre on how to plant a tree and look after it. They'll then choose two trees from a selection of native species to take back to plant in their school grounds :)

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

ABC Wednesday 5: P is for...


...Potato

The day after our Food Bloggers' day in Oxford, a few of us got together for a more detailed session on tomato and potato plant breeding with Tom Wagner (pictured left alongside Vicki of the Heritage Seed Library) of Tater Mater. Today I'm concentrating on the potato part of the workshop and the above picture shows a small selection of Tom's new varieties, which Patrick will be growing back home in Amsterdam. As you can see, there's an amazing variety, all seeking to increase the different characteristics (or genetic resources aka germplasm) available to future plant breeders.

Tom has crossed hundreds of different potatoes to produce new ones. In order to do this he has selected potatoes with a tendency to produce berries - the seed capsules sometimes seen on potato plants - in addition to their more usual tuber production. As the seed is the product of a cross pollination made by Tom, the seeds will take on characteristics from both parents - unlike the tubers which will be an exact copy of the parent plant. From these seeds, further crosses may be made or further generations of seed produced until Tom has a stable line that he is happy with. The pictured potatoes are some of these and he has made tens of thousands of crosses.

In addition to berrying, Tom is also selecting for a number of other positive characteristics in his crosses. Flavour is one, as is improved nutrition, particularly in the production of anthocyanins (often seen in red and blue/black skinned potatoes and thought to have anti-cancer properties) and higher mineral content. He's also produced varieties with shorter cooking times and longer keeping qualities. Blight resistance of course is a bit of a holy grail at the moment, particularly with the recent emergence of a new vigorous strain of late blight - Blue-13 - which has already seen some of the traditionally resistant varieties such as Cara, succumb in this country.

Tom is an independent plant breeder and has spent the last couple of months touring Europe to spread the word about his life's work. Whilst in this country he also visited the Sarvari Research Trust who are responsible for trialling and introducing the new blight resistant varieties we've seen on sale recently, such as Sarpo Axona and Sarpo Mira. It'll be interesting to see if anything comes out of his visit, particularly as some of the pictured potato varieties Tom has bred - e.g. Pam Wagner - have good blight resistance.

Tom is very keen his work has a much wider uptake and is providing materials to kick start projects. I'm happy to say that I'm the lucky recipient of some of these and so I'll be growing potatoes for Tom next year - as part of my Incredible Edibles strand - and sending him any seed the potatoes produce. In order to spread the risk over a number of plots and thus increasing the likelihood that one of us at least will get a decent crop, I'll be getting my allotment friends to help out next year. Threadspider's already volunteered without me needing to ask her :)

For more Perfect P's, do visit the ABC Wednesday blog.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Dahlia Delight

After all that wind and rain on Sunday it was good to get out into the garden yesterday for a good breath of fresh air. Some of my Dahlias have been a bit late to the party this year and as it's November, I wanted to celebrate them with you before the frosts finally turn them to mush. The top one is D. 'David Howard': I thought I'd lost him over the winter, but at last a lone stem appeared, then this single bloom last week. The bottom two are from the ones I ordered after seeing the spectacular display of some of the National Dahlia Collection at the RHS Inner Temple Show last year. Unfortunately I've lost the order form, so I can't tell you which ones they are. They were also late in flowering as they suffered from a capsid bug attack early in the summer. As they've all struggled against the odds, I'm especially pleased to see them, no matter how briefly.

Update: I've looked back at my photos from the Inner Temple Show and the pink one is D. 'Karma Lagoon'.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Blogaversary: Approaching The Terrible Twos

Some dates have a resonance. Your birthday is one of these of course, plus any where one of life's milestones is met along the way: graduation or marriage for instance. Sometimes other dates acquire significance, seemingly at random. For me, today's one of the latter.

Five years ago, it was the date I finally 'phoned in sick at work and told them I couldn't take the stress anymore. A year later, it was when I and several of my colleagues commenced our Diplomas in Business Analysis *. Then two years ago I decided to join my local choir and I also finally realised my career break really needed to become a little more permanent.

It was that very same day I decided to start this blog without a clue about what I was doing and where it might lead. Your company on the rollercoaster is much appreciated, it's been heaps of fun over the 800+ posts I've made. However, now we're at the notorious terrible twos stage, who knows what tantrums I'll find alongside the uninhibited giggles?

In the meantime, here's a rather calming view for us to admire and to thank you for your support and comments. It was taken last Thursday from the top of Bowden Hill near Lacock. It's a view which caters for both rich and poor. Here I'm standing on National Trust land and the view's free. A little way down the hill, I can look out across the vast swathe of Wiltshire spread below me like a map for the cost of a pint or three at The Rising Sun (one of our favourite spots on a warm summer's evening). A little further down the price for the same view is well over a million pounds, should I wish to buy a house very similar to this one shown on Grand Designs.

* = the marking for the oral exam is rather enlightened as one of the categories assessed is Enthusiasm. I was awarded an A+, probably because once I'd been asked a question, they couldn't shut me up despite them fielding a rather tricky one on Profit and Loss accounts!

Sunday, 1 November 2009

GBMD: All Saint's Day

Rotary Glade, Westonbirt Arboretum

Why blow'st thou not, thou wintry wind,
Now every leaf is brown and sere,
And idly droops, to thee resigned,
The fading chaplet of the year?
Yet wears the pure aerial sky
Her summer veil, half drawn on high,
Of silvery haze, and dark and still
The shadows sleep on every slanting hill.

How quiet shows the woodland scene!
Each flower and tree, its duty done,
Reposing in decay serene,
like weary men when age is won,
Such calm old age as conscience pure
And self-commanding hearts ensure,
Waiting their summons to the sky,
Content to live, but not afraid to die.

Sure if our eyes were purged to trace
God's unseen armies hovering round,
We should behold by angels' grace
The four strong winds of Heaven fast bound,
Their downward sweep a moment stayed
On ocean cove and forest glade,
Till the last flower of autumn shed
Her funeral odours on her dying bed.

So in Thine awful armoury, Lord,
The lightnings of the judgment-day
Pause yet awhile, in mercy stored,
Till willing hearts wear quite away
Their earthly stains; and spotless shine
On every brow in light divine
The Cross by angel hands impressed,
The seal of glory won and pledge of promised

Little they dream, those haughty souls
Whom empires own with bended knee,
What lowly fate their own controls,
Together linked by Heaven's decree;
-As bloodhounds hush their baying wild
To wanton with some fearless child,
So Famine waits, and War with greedy eyes,
Till some repenting heart be ready for the skies.

Think ye the spires that glow so bright
In front of yonder setting sun,
Stand by their own unshaken might?
No--where th' upholding grace is won,
We dare not ask, nor Heaven would tell,
But sure from many a hidden dell,
From many a rural nook unthought of there,
Rises for that proud world the saints' prevailing prayer.

On, Champions blest, in Jesus' name,
Short be your strife, your triumph full,
Till every heart have caught your flame,
And, lightened of the world's misrule,
Ye soar those elder saints to meet
Gathered long since at Jesus' feet,
No world of passions to destroy,
Your prayers and struggles o'er, your task all praise and joy.

John Keble (1792-1866). A Gloucestershire poet, for a Gloucestershire scene.

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

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