Showing posts from September, 2010

Things in Unusual Places #9: Diarmuid Gavin

I know, I know: this campaign's been run by Morrison's for the past two years already, so I should be used to a lifesize Diarmuid Gavin cutout popping up at my local supermarket at this time of the year by now. Thing is, I'm not used to it at all. Especially seeing as the telly's showing him shivering his socks off in the Arctic at the moment...

Messing About on a Boat

I suppose it was inevitable we'd hire a narrowboat whilst on holiday: memories of long past holidays where we'd gone on an annual 'booze cruise' with friends were reactivated by looking out over the Llangollen canal from our holiday cottage and waving madly to all the narrowboats passing by. Then we found there were several boating festivals being held and a trip to the first one at Maesbury sealed our fate. That and our proximity to one of the seven wonders of the UK canal system: the famed Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, a prospect so tantalisingly close that we knew in our hearts that just a trip to see it would be nowhere near enough.
A few enquiries at the boat festival revealed that a trip to Trevor (or Trefor in Welsh) was the best place to go and hiring a boat for the day would be easy peasy so long as we chose to go midweek. This wouldn't be a problem, so then we kept a close watch on the forecast to see which day looked the most promising weatherwise. We only had…

Fascinating Fasciation

Just before we went on holiday, I spotted that one of my Digitalis purpurea (foxglove) was in flower again. It flowered in June just like it's supposed to, but I was rather surprised not only to see a second flush had started at the top of the plant, but also that it's flowering at this time of the year at all.

Closer inspection revealed that things are even stranger than I first thought as it's an example of fasciation, a disorder where the plant shows distorted stems and flowers, usually at it's head or other strongly growing tip. Here you can see that the stem resembles a cheesestring rather than its usual smoothness and there's some distortion to the flowers too. Mind you, it didn't seem to put the bees off their stride, they were busy shoving themselves up the flowers as usual :)

Fasciation's not a common disorder, but Digitalis is one of the species it more commonly appears on. It can occur due to a number of reasons: genetic; bacterial, viral or inse…

A Taste of the Unexpected hits Malvern Autumn Show

Saturday morning dawned bright and fair which was just as well because I was due to drive up to the Malvern Autumn Show, not only to see the pictured Mark Diacono and Joe Swift exchange their top tips re chillis, but also to meet up with a number of blogging and tweeting pals (see here for a full rollcall).

A further treat after reading Mark's book (A Taste of the Unexpected which I reviewed last Friday) was the opportunity to find out more about some of the foods he talks about and to see about sourcing some of them. That and the added attraction of cider and perry tasting plus the whole harvest festival atmosphere of the show to sample ;)

The Good Life Pavilion not only turned out to be a good place for us all to meet up, it was also the venue for Mark and Joe to strut their stuff. Their morning session was all about the alternatives out there for us to grow tasty, useful but unusual foods. First up was Szechuan Pepper, suitably modelled here by Michelle. It's the pink outer …

The Curse of Gardeners' Question Time - Part 2*

I was a little miffed whilst listening to Gardeners' Question Time (GQT) today as Pippa Greenwood had a little dig at the quality of advice handed out by bloggers. The implication was that other media sources are much more reliable, so the following must never have happened: When I asked a question on GQT a few years ago, one expert advised me not to bother training a wisteria into a tree whilst the other two were most encouragingMe shouting no that's wrong, or you need to tell them about x whilst listening to GQTA certain allotmenteer rotovating all that couch grass on the tellyGrowers in places such as Scotland saying the RHS' plant trials aren't relevant to them because the conditions at Wisley are so different to theirs (I referred to that debate here, but unfortunately I can't find a relevant online link for you)My plants growing much taller than it says on the labelSome of my plants thriving in conditions the book says are the kiss of deathOf course, Pippa Gre…

Book Review: A Taste of the Unexpected

A few weeks ago when I asked the publisher for a review copy of Mark Diacono's new book, I was worried that knowing him would cloud my objectivity. I spent ages telling myself I'd have to be, because compromising my honesty would mean this blog is dead in the water. I needn't have worried, it's simply a work of genius.

Mark's crafted a rare thing: a non-fiction book about food, growing and cooking that's a cracking page turner. I returned home on Wednesday evening after my loooong day at the Palmstead seminar to find at last it had finally arrived. It was like opening a present: I was instantly hooked and I finished reading it in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Mark's turned his attention away from last year's standard grow your own fayre to his major love, the growing of the more unusual fruit and vegetables he does at Otter Farm and writes so well about on his blog. His philosophy is simple: why waste so much time and effort on growing the usual s…

OOTS: The Stark Facts About Budgets

Once again Palmstead Nurseries put on a fantastic workshop yesterday and I've come back brimming with inspiration concerning how we can get the public planting we deserve. However, there's one big issue poised to put a major spanner in the works which I've only touched upon lightly so far. This is the result of the spending review due next month which will significantly affect all of our public services, including those parks, gardens, allotments and other open spaces managed by our local councils.

Paul Bramhill of GreenSpace (an organisation whose activities I introduced to you here) stepped up to the plate to tackle this thorny topic. Public open space is one of the few non-statutory provisions made by local authorities and thus is ripe for deep spending cuts. The fact that it's a tiny percentage of a local authority's budget (less than 1%) and so won't actually go that far in finding the massive savings needed just won't wash with them. Just like other no…

OOTS: Chippenham's Trees

In an earlier addition of OOTS I gave you the glad tidings that our High Street in Chippenham was going to be graced with some new trees. Well, here's a couple of them posing outside the entrance to Neeld Hall yesterday. There's another 8 of them in various locations nearby and I think they're a big improvement which should get even better with time. I showed you a different view of the same entrance last year and now the large floral planters have moved across the road to either side of the entrance to the Emery Gate shopping centre. I also noticed there's much more in the way of hanging baskets this year, making the New Road area of town look less like the High Street's poorer cousin. If was writing a school report I'd say: B+, Chippenham has tried much harder this year. I look forward to more of the same in 2011.
On my way back home and up to where I'd parked my car at Homebase, I was totally surprised to find 2 apple trees: 1 just outside and the other…

Going Italian at Blenheim

On Sunday I visited Blenheim for the first time thanks to Patient Gardener (PG) who'd given me a ticket to hear Helena Attlee in conversation with our very own Victoria about her new book (Helena's not Victoria) Italy's Private Gardens: An Inside View. Sadly PG couldn't make it as she was busy watching her son take his first flying lesson (which she's written about here - sounds most exciting).

Blenheim held a literary festival over the weekend, sponsored by The Independent (hence Victoria's involvement and my attendance) and my ticket allowed me to have a thorough wander around the park and gardens beforehand: more on that to come. The photo is of the Italian Garden, the one part which unfortunately isn't open to wander around, hence my rather poor shot taken over the hedge. Whilst there I was pondering how many gardens like Blenheim were strongly influenced by those found in Italy during the 18th Century and anticipating how this subject might be tackled …

This Year's Cyclamen Colour is...

Why? Because...
I love their colourI love the contrast with the silvery leavesI need to replace some rather fetching red I've had in a couple of my summer potsThey made the pink and the white ones on offer look wishy washy (and they were rather leggy too whereas these are sturdy and healthy)I couldn't resist a whole tray of 18 for a mere tenner (one of my usual autumn bargains from Frank's Plants which means I can indulge myself)Need I say more? ;)What's your colour this year?

Postcard from Marcherland

NAH and I have just returned from a wonderful time on the English:Welsh border aka Marcherland. We stayed on the English side in North Shropshire, but this view of the Llangollen canal next to our cottage shows Wales on the other side of the bridge. Every town and village in this area has its own castle or at least a raised area where once stood a motte and bailey structure. Evidence of the turbulent times once experienced in what's now a quiet backwater of the country. We were also very close to the counties of Staffordshire and Cheshire, so we were staying in a multitude of borderlands.

Not only did we have a marvellous time waving to all the boats pottering on by our cottage, we were right next to a National Nature Reserve: Whixall Moss. This is a most rare kind of peat bog, called a mire or raised bog which has many features I need to tell you about sometime. The whole place was in transition: in the warm sunshine we were treated to the last of the swifts zooming over the cana…

Taking Some Time Out

I'm on holiday at the moment, but thought you'd like to see a little something from my previous one in the Czech Republic. I was on a singing holiday and the video is of our tutors performing as The Barefooters in the Monastery Gardens in Litomysl. I'll be telling you much more about this garden when I get back. In the meantime, have fun and note that I'm still taking any contributions you may have for Out on the Streets. I'll be doing a wrap up post on my return.

OOTS: News Round Up

Town square planters in Litomysl, Czech Republic. I was quite taken with the use of Solanum laxum 'Album' * to contrast with the red geraniums

In local news, our newspaper's finally cottoned on to the plight of our conker trees, something I've reported on over the past couple of years (here and here, the latter also having some positive news to report). They've also noted Chippenham's new flower bed, which is marking the centenary of voluntary work by the British Red Cross. I really must go and check this one out as it's described as a rose garden, but it looks suspiciously like begonias to me**.
Some local news making the national papers was a pensioner's penchant for brightening up Wilton with hanging baskets being cited as a safety hazard. Elsewhere BBC News reported on the battle for Berlin's gardens and Chicago's Daily Herald found a local electricity company is threatening to pull the plug on Des Moines' community gardens. On the other …

My Allotment: What I've Learned This Year

This question was posed recently over at UK Veg Gardeners and I realised I've learnt quite a bit over the past few weeks, never mind this year. Possibly not the kind of things Jo had in mind though ;)
Nettles bite even when dead - my legs have just gone a bit tingly again at the memoryGrowing your own bamboo canes isn't perhaps the wisest thing to do - especially when it decides to grow under your compost bins and out the other side. I'm growing Phyllostachys nigra by the way - a bamboo I thought wasn't that invasiveWasps attack bees - I witnessed a very aggressive chasing off of a bumble bee from the raspberry patch a couple of weeks agoThe rootstock used for my Victoria plum is a thorny beast, as my head found out recently (and how come I didn't notice it had sprouted until it was nearly 8 foot high?)You'll never know what you'll find buried on a plot. I'd got used to finding dozens of bags of soot, bits of twisted metal, rotting wood, baler twine, emp…

Seasonal Recipe: Damson Jam

Over the past week or so I've been the lucky recipient of the fruits of friends' gluts, namely a carrier bag full of windfall apples and a similar amount of damsons once I'd shaken them out of K's tree. This in turn has led to a frantic amount of preserve making activity and we now have a year's worth of jars of various sweetmeats stashed away in the kitchen cupboard :)

These gifts arrived in the nick of time as we were about to enter a 'jam deficit'. We often have soup and bread for lunch and NAH likes to add jam to this usual fayre. I made loads last year which we've just finished and unfortunately various circumstances led to the store cupboard not being restocked over the summer*.

I've been merrily making apple jelly and cheese, plus damson jam and cheese. The damson jam recipe I found on the Cook it Simply website is so easy, I have no hesitation in recommending it to you [my notes are in square brackets]:

1.25 kg damsons
500ml water
1.5 …

Garden Visit: By Royal Appointment

Today was a day decreed by Royal Appointment: the ultimate of tweetups arranged by Patient Gardener for 25 of us take a tour round Prince Charles' private garden at Highgrove. Anna has already beaten us all to the scoop as she went round last week with her garden group. They waited 10 years for their visit, but ours was arranged in far less than 10 weeks as the arrangements for booking tours has been changed recently.
Our trip was very similar to what Anna has described already, except that we had the perfect day for it: sunny and almost too hot. Also, because Helen had warned them that there were some quite knowledgeable people in the audience who just might ask a tricky question or two, Highgrove had arranged for a volunteer guide who just happens to be a triple gold medal winner at Chelsea to show us around the gardens.
It was my second visit and just like last time we weren't allowed to take photographs. The last time I'd had the privilege of an evening reception on Mids…

GBMD: The Clematis

Concealed were all thy beauties rare
'Neath the dark umbrageous shade,
But still to gain the loftiest spray,
Thy weak stem its efforts made;
Now, every obstacle o'ercome,
Thou smilest from thy leafy home.
Extract from The Clematis by Alexander Bathgate (1845-1930)
It might look a little poorly, but I was so pleased to discover these flowers of my Clematis 'Gravetye Beauty' last week. I thought this plant had long gone: drowned beneath a veil of contorted hazel (Corylus avellana 'Contorta') overlain by an extremely vigorous Clematis 'Frances Rivis'*.
But it seems it must have taken heart from this poem and emerged triumphantly 6 feet up, using those very plants I thought had smothered it to support its new blooms. It's suffering from a touch of powdery mildew, which isn't surprising in view of the lack of rain we've had this year and my policy of minimal garden watering. I'll be thinning out the plants in this area of the garden to ensu…