Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Out on the Streets: Twinkle Twinkle...

It's nearly December, so it must be time for our latest edition of Out on the Streets! It's chilly out there, so it's time to have some fun with our public planting meme. What's going on in your neighbourhood this year? Is everything looking all twinkly and festive, or more like Chichester?

As you can see, we have our usual mini real Christmas trees adorning many buildings in Chippenham. I always think these are a simple but very good touch. We also have a Christmas tree in the centre of the town, which has been a little more controversial. More on that soon.

So now it's up to you to get out there with your cameras and show everyone your place. Festive lights are great, but there are opportunities to show us public planting too. For example, which plants in your neighbourhood are proving to be good for local wildlife? Does your town make use of the evergreens already in place and decorate these? Or perhaps there's a planting scheme you've found which is proving to have year-round interest.

If you need more ideas, then do have a look at last year's sparkly festive edition, which proved there's plenty of variety with our public planting even in the winter (NB the link towards the bottom of the post will take you to all the links for everyone's efforts). Of course, those of you in the southern hemisphere have the opportunity to make us sigh with envy with your summery planting schemes :)

Mr Linky is open below for you to add details of your festive post once it's up. Do put in full details of your post's URL, not just your blog otherwise we won't see your efforts once you've added more posts. I'll also put a picture link up in the right hand sidebar, so you can easily get back here to add your contribution.

So see you soon, Out on the Streets!

Monday, 29 November 2010

Introducing Pickles

Our Skimble and Jess have a rival for our affections in the shape of the pictured Pickles. He's been a resident in our neighbourhood for about 9 months now and for most of that time we thought he was trying to adopt us as he's the friendliest cat we've ever met.

It turns out he lives just around the corner, but craves affection when his owners are out during the day. This means he waits for the children going to/from school and also is firm friends with Nina, our neighbour's border collie. They frequently rub noses when Nina returns from one of her daily walks.

It also means that anything we do out the front comes under intense scrutiny whether it's simply taking the bin out to the kerbside emptying area, gardening or whatever. Walking can be quite hazardous as Pickles at some point will trip you up and looks quite hurt that you've trodden on him. Our postie was asking if we knew where he came from the other day: this cat's been following me for the past 10 minutes and has tripped me up at least 4 times!

It's only recently we've found out his name. NAH managed to lock him in our garage one day after Pickles had been 'helping' him out in there. His owners were most relieved when we found him, as they'd had to deal with a pair of distraught children all day.

On Friday he tried to come to IKEA with us: jumping in and out of the car as we got ready to leave. Here you can see one of our attempts to try and distract him away from the car. Skimble and Jess haven't quite cottoned on to the fact he's attempted to get into the house many a time and so on the whole have been quite tolerant, though Jess did see him off the other day.

He brightens up our day and I can't think of a better name for this most curious of cats.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Sunday Supplement #7

Sunday Supplement is an occasional round up of the virtual and real here at VP Gardens. I'd like it to be a weekly event just like the best bits and reviews you get in the Sunday papers, but I'm not promising ;)
Web Watch
I had an email from The Woodlands Trust this week about their Visit Woods website. This is a collaboration between themselves, the Forestry Commission, Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and The National Trust, which allows you to enter your postcode or town to find woodlands you can visit near you.

You can also add pictures, stories, rate and review any wood you visit, so the site builds into a ever richer source of information. Seeing many of our woodlands are under threat at the moment, I'm of the opinion that use it or lose it should be our motto going forward, so anything which enables us to do just that has to be a good thing.

Trending Topic

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr winter's here! Snow's everywhere (the earliest we've had since 1993) and some parts of the UK had the coldest November night on record yesterday. So here's this morning's news round up courtesy of the BBC.

Link Love
The cold snap's making life hard for our wildlife at the moment, so reacquainting myself with the RSPB's Gardening for Wildlife blog has been a very timely thing to do this week.

Blog Action

I was surprised and delighted to find Veg Plotting's amongst the 10 nominees for Walton's best gardening/shed blog on their garden shed page this week [the link's no longer available- Ed]. I'm amongst very fine company, quite a few of whom are dedicated to all things shed. Whilst the competition's not really about who has the best shed blog (it's actually for you to vote and enter a prize draw to win a garden store), I thought I'd better include a picture of mine from yesterday at the top of this post to make my blog more worthy of inclusion ;)

Don't forget, there's still time to enter my super book giveaway...

Comment of the Week: is from Janet @ Plantiliscious who said about the impending start of Out on the Streets (kick-off post due on Tuesday):

Excellent, sounds fun! Though the idea that I might find "festive public planting" to contribute round here made me smile. Though you do irony, so maybe that's my "in"!

(Word verification was "grimed", which sums up the local roundabout planting...)

Janet, here's my offering from Bristol last year and an update or anything you'd like to show us re roundabout planting would be good. You'll see the latter is a topic I return to on a regular basis if you care to have a look through previous editions of OOTS. Irony is also most welcome ;)

Keyword Search of Note: joint winners are Jingle Clogs and Marmite makes me hiccup because they both made me giggle :)

Back to Reality:

My fingers got a bit frozen yesterday when I ventured outside and the cold weather's set to continue for a few more days yet. Therefore a little light seed catalogue shopping is in order for this week methinks.

Time Out

I'm off to the Garden Media Guild Awards on Wednesday, snow willing. The link takes you to my account of what happened last year, just so you get the idea of what it's all about.

Last year I was pondering Awards, Women Pioneers and Missed Biscuitry, whilst in 2008 I answered the question Why do I Garden? Finally, in 2007 I looked at the wonders of my local newspaper ;)

Enjoy the rest of your weekend and stay warm!

Saturday, 27 November 2010

The Plotting Daily is Out!

I never thought I'd have my own newspaper empire, but an application called is making me feel like I do. This clever software allows me to broadly define which content I want to look at via Twitter and then takes all links tweeted during a set time and re-formats and sifts them into various categories within a newspaper look-alike.

I follow quite a few people and organisations on Twitter who not only promote their own blog posts on there, they also tell their followers about other interesting snippets of news and blogs, post lots of pictures and pick their favourite things they've found on YouTube. To follow all the links they tweet about would take forever and it's often hard to tell whether it would be something I'd like to read anyway. That's where my newspaper is really useful, because all that content is re-jigged into just a few pages and I can see at a glance whether I want to read the full article, play the video or whatever.

There's also a rolling live feed of tweets from the Twitterids I've included and this, plus the possibility of playing any YouTube videos incorporated makes this 'newspaper' feel a bit more like The Daily Prophet of Harry Potter fame ;)

I actually have 2 newspapers. One is made up of those I've included in my Plotting list on Twitter i.e. the people I chat to whilst on there. The other comprises the media and organisations I follow who are generating the news and information I find to be useful. I could have just one paper if I chose the option to include everyone I follow rather than using one of my lists, but I wanted the flexibility to have different publishing times and frequency for my broad sources of information.

You can see some of the results from the Plotting list at the top of the page. I've elected to make this a daily edition and for it to come out at around 2pm, just in time to read with my afternoon coffee. I've also elected to make this paper a public one, so there's a daily tweet when the latest edition comes out. If I miss an edition e.g. because I've been on holiday, then I can use the archive function incorporated into the newspaper by clicking on the calendar displayed to bring up the edition(s) I've missed. There are some basic editing facilities too, which enabled me to slightly change the title of my newspaper.

I was surprised this week to find my month's worth of papers have been read nearly 3,000 times and that I have a few subscribers. It's only recently that this information has been included on there. The other paper also comes out daily, but I've elected to make it a private one because I believe one paper from me on a daily basis is enough for everyone.

I've also found out this week that you don't have to be registered with Twitter to read The Plotting Daily. If you take the link, it'll take you to the latest edition where you can also click to subscribe at the top right hand side of the page if you like what you see. You'll get an email when each edition comes out. I've also added a link to it in the My Other Blogs and Webby Stuff section towards the bottom right of my sidebar if you'd just like to take a peep from time to time.

The only thing that isn't included is the daily chit chat and banter I have with my Twitter friends as there's no content link involved. However, that's OK as having my newspapers means I can concentrate on this side of things whilst I'm on there safe in the knowledge I haven't missed anything. It's also proved to be a useful backup for me recently as most people use as their URL shortener of choice. For some reason my browser isn't currently allowing me to follow these links, but I still can via my newspaper :)

The functionality of this application is evolving quite quickly at the moment, so I've found it quite handy to look at their blog from time to time where there's news of what's happening. Naturally they also tweet and I found them to be pretty responsive to my tweets at them when I had a few teething problems when setting up The Plotting Daily in the beginning. Some of the categorisation is a bit wide of the mark sometimes: e.g. an article on Jerusalem artichokes was put into the Travel category and one of my How Advertising Works in Chippenham was slotted into Politics, but I'm sure this will change as their sorting algorithm improves.

NB I could have up to 10 newspapers, but for now I feel 2 is enough!

Update: I've also added a link to my Media and Organisations newspaper in the My Other Blogs and Webby Stuff section in the lower right hand sidebar. It looks like you can subscribe to this paper via this link if you wish, even though I've chosen not to publicise it via Twitter.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Book Bargains AND a Giveaway - yay!

It's less than a month to Christmas, so what better time is there for me to have a fantastic book to give away, plus details of a bargain book discount available elsewhere?

First up is a copy of The Well-Connected Gardener by Sue Minter. This is the biography of Alicia Amsherst, who is credited with founding garden history via her book A History of Gardening in England published in 1895. She may have been brought up in a very privileged family (hence her being well-connected), but she was a very well educated, talented woman whose recognition in the gardening world seems to have been largely forgotten until now.

I'll be reviewing this book shortly. If you like what you see, then all you need to do is leave a comment on here between now and December 13th and the first name out the hat wins the prize. This'll give me time to catch the last parcel post, so you should receive it before Christmas. Sorry, this is available to UK readers only.

However all USA and UK readers can benefit from my book bargains... :)

Black Dog books are offering 40% off 4 of their titles: Growing Stuff (£10.50 or $14.95), Kids in the Garden (£5.95 or $10.95), Recycle: The Essential Guide (£11.95 or $17.95) and Making Stuff (£10.50 or $14.95).

I reviewed Recycle: The Essential Guide a while back and the links above will take you to the UK Amazon listings for the other three. All you need to do to take advantage of this offer is to email Jess at Blackdogonline dot com with Veg Plotting Book Offer in the subject line and your delivery address details, plus the book(s) you're interested in your email and Jess will place the order for you. P&P will be extra, but it should still work out cheaper than Amazon's prices. This offer is open until December 31st 2010.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #23

  1. Operate a railway station in a small rural town
  2. Get all concerned about health and safety
  3. Put up informative signs warning passengers how fast trains can be when they roar through the station
  4. Wait for a blogger with a camera to notice the train symbol is rather old fashioned for these modern times
  5. Et voila!

We do still get the odd steam train rattling through Chippenham, but it's around 50 years since they made up the regular service. We are on the main line to London after all ;)

Fingers crossed it doesn't snow for my trip to the big city next week...

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Public Planting Resource Page

At the beginning of the year when I was musing about how often to run Out on the Streets in 2010*, a number of you suggested I should produce a separate blog about public planting in its own right.

Whilst I like the idea, I also know it would be too much for me to try and run a separate blog to the same level of quality and success as this one. Besides, I believe a separate blog wouldn't reach as wide an audience and I do love weaving in these posts amongst all the other things which interest me.

Therefore, I was very pleased when Google implemented their Pages function earlier this year as this seemed to provide a good compromise. However, having started to sort through the hundreds of links I've bookmarked and filed under Public Planting, I've also realised that I can't really do them justice within a single page.

So I've classified the links I have into a number of key categories, which will be explained briefly on my new Page and over the next few weeks I'll be publishing as series of posts, one for each category. I'll then be linking to these posts on my Page and once the final one is published, then it will be as well. Hopefully you'll find them interesting in its own right and if you've found something useful which should be included, then do please get in touch.

The posts will also be updated as appropriate when any new useful resources come to my attention and of course may be split down even further if and when any of them become unwieldy. The categories I've identified so far (in no particular order) are:
  • Academic/Professional Organisations - UK
  • Charities/NGOs
  • Non-UK Resources
  • Initiatives/Projects
  • Publications
  • Blogs/People
  • Techniques and Best Practice

Sometimes I wonder if I should have been a librarian, as the urge to categorise and file information is a strong force within me ;)

The picture is of some minimal public planting I found on my way to take the Chippenham webcam photo.

* = NB kick off post for the next episode is due shortly, so do be on the lookout for suitably festive public planting and/or decorations in your neighbourhood ready for our twinkly celebrations :)

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Garden Visit: Biddulph Grange

Way back in the early summer we visited Biddulph Grange whilst on holiday in Staffordshire. I've had the title of this post lurking in my drafts ever since, and seeing that this garden is set to be featured in tonight's Alan Titchmarsh's Garden Secrets programme, I thought now is the time to give you a quick sneak preview alongside the 'postcard' I sent you a couple of weeks ago.

It's a prime example of how gardens developed during Victorian times. A combination of the craze for plant hunting in the remote regions of the world, plus the riches gained from Britain's industrialisation led to many gentleman of the time building smart large houses complete with a garden to show off their newly acquired collections of rarities and new introductions to the UK.

Biddulph Grange was built by James Bateman and has a number of themed 'garden rooms' reflecting the flora of the various countries comprising his collection. Thus you are transported to 'Italy' on entering the garden. The picture at the top of this post shows you the view through Italy towards the garden's entrance.

The formality of the Italian garden then opens out into a large lake bordered by many species of Rhododendron. Although it was early June, the coldness of May meant that many of these were still in flower when we were there. This is probably the most open part of the garden - I felt quite hemmed in elsewhere [and this is in complete contrast to the vastness of Stowe's 18th century landscape garden as featured in last week's programme].

We then entered a Scottish Glen the pinetum, which with its towering specimen trees and sweeping path was one of my favourite parts of the garden. [NB there is a Scottish Glen, but this isn't it!]

The path led us to a most innocent looking 'Cheshire cottage'...

...bizarrely we found ourselves in 'Egypt' when we left the building. I imagine this is how the children must have felt on reaching Narnia after passing through the wardrobe, as I was certainly feeling rather confused at this point.

Our final stop in our global tour was China. As well as this striking bridge there was a pavilion decorated with bells, plus a magnificent gold bull, which Happy Mouffetard showed you a while ago. There was also a miniature Great Wall of China, which was being restored whilst we were there.

Another Victorian fashion was the stumpery, complete with ferns and Biddulph has a fine example.

One of the most famous features of the garden is the 'Dahlia walk' which was being planted up for the 2010 season whilst we were there. I would have liked to have returned later in the year to see this in full flower. There were plenty of Dahlia bargains to be found in the plant sales area though.

The Grange itself doesn't belong to the National Trust and has been converted into flats, except for the area housing the shop and tearoom. Another interesting area is the room (I'm not sure if this is original or has been recreated as it was lost during the house conversion) where Bateman tried to reconcile the (then) new theory of evolution with God's creation. This showed a changing fossil record laid out over 6 days with the 7th shown as a day of rest.

The room was vast and allowed Bateman's many visitors to promenade in the dry and ponder the fossils presented to them. Sadly most of the originals are no longer there, so today's visitors have to make do with fossil shaped holes on the walls, plus a drawing showing how it must have looked during Bateman's time.

After that, there's a walk through some more formal areas of the garden and back to the house to seek out a refreshing cuppa, a slice of cake and the discovery of a book depicting the history of the yummy Staffordshire oatcake :)

Monday, 22 November 2010

An Evening With Dan Pearson

Last week Dan Pearson came to speak at the University of Bath Gardening Club. I first heard him last year when I won a ticket to the Hay Festival (see above picture). There he previewed his latest book Spirit (you can get a flavour of what he said from this YouTube video taken at Chicago last year), but this time we were promised a talk on the Millennium Forest.

We actually got three for the price of one as Dan chose to talk about some of the key projects he's been working on over the past few years. I was very happy as they're all projects in the public planting arena: Broughton Hall, Maggie's Centre and the aforementioned Millennium Forest.

If you take the above link to Dan Pearson's website, select Projects and then the Commercial option, you'll find that all three projects are featured on there and it'll give you a good idea of some of the slides we saw last Tuesday evening. Apologies for the slightly convoluted way of getting there, but unfortunately I can't seem to be able to locate a link that takes you directly to the pictures I'd like you to see.

Dan Pearson's approach is very much assessing the mood, heritage and surroundings of each place he is asked to design in addition to the client's brief. He likes to get to what he calls 'the sense of place', which aims to ensure that each design is not only individual, it also sits well with its surroundings. The results are usually very much in tune with what I'd like my own garden to be like.

Broughton Hall

Broughton Hall is in Yorkshire and Dan was asked to re-design the walled garden following the owner's restoration of the estate and the establishment of a number of offices for rent in the outbuildings, now housing some 500 people. I'm sure that most of us immediately think kitchen garden when a walled garden is mentioned, but this wasn't really appropriate for the estate's new users.

Instead the rolling hills of the surrounding landscape were established in miniature within the garden's walls to give a garden with both wide open spaces and intimate corners depending how sociable people want to be during their lunch breaks. In addition miniature versions of the drystone walls of the area's sheep folds surrounding small copses of trees were built closer to the main garden building. These formed a series of square spaces with a shady tree above and seating below. Quite a few of the trees bear fruit or are vines, the idea being that workers can pluck fresh fruit to accompany their lunch at certain times of the year. I would have dearly loved to have worked in place like this!

Maggie's Centre

This was a very different garden because it's in an urban setting in London and is designed as a healing garden for people suffering from cancer. The various Maggie's Centres in the UK are for anyone affected by cancer and offer psychological and practical support.

The first part of the design for the Maggie's Centre in London is of lots of trees surrounding the building. Dan explained that this was to give the perception of the building being embraced, thus underlining the supportive nature of the work undertaken at the centre. I also thought it was a good way of reducing traffic noise and thus helping to provide a calm atmosphere to the place.

Next there is the walk from the street into the centre. Lushly planted, it's also designed to have lots of succession planting to give highlights to the garden at regular intervals. Not only does this maintain interest, it also means that the centre's users see something inspiring, no matter how much time they actually have left.

Finally, the garden and building is designed so that every room has a view onto the garden. This again gives a calming influence to the place and also picks up on the studies which show that patients having access to views of greenery have a greater sense of well being and recover more quickly. It was interesting to note that Dan had a very close working relationship with the building's architects and that both building and garden combined were cited when Maggie's won the Stirling prize last year.

Tokachi Millennium Forest

The Millennium Forest is in Hakkaido, Japan (not the Midlands as I'd originally thought: I now realise I mistook it for The National Forest) where its owners wish to create a place to last for a thousand years. It's also meant to be an antidote to the intense farming of the surrounding landscape.

We were shown three aspects to the project: the first was the regeneration of the forest landscape, where the close ranks of spruce were being opened up to encourage the native vegetation slumbering beneath the forest floor below. This was having to be done quite carefully as bamboo tends to invade once the forest is cleared. It looked like around half of the trees were taken out leaving lines of them in place, with the bamboo then cleared at regular intervals until the native vegetation re-establishes itself.

The next section of the project was a re-design of a relatively level and featureless area which was re-shaped to echo the landforms of the surrounding hills. These were designed in such a way to encourage people to move through the landscape to discover its hidden features. Previously visitors had tended to stay put on reaching this area, and the owners wanted everyone to enjoy and interact more with the landscape.

The final piece was a large garden surrounding the forest's restaurant. Again, people were tending to go to the restaurant and stay there, so the garden was planned to encourage them to go for a walk after taking their refreshments. A mixture of native and non-native plants were chosen to give a garden much more English/prairie-style in its feel. Apparently 'English' gardens are very fashionable in Japan at the moment, thus people would want to explore the many routes available to them.

I was completely blown away by this project, as I don't know how I'd get my head round designing a landscape of more than 200 hectares, or indeed a planting plan for a garden involving 35,000 plants. But then I'm not Dan Pearson ;)

The evening was rounded off nicely by Dan signing my copy of Spirit (won courtesy of Constant Gardener's Christmas competition last year) and us chatting about how beautiful the Gower Peninsula is. It also transpires that he's just moved from London to the Bath area (hurrah!), to a place which in time will have a completely new garden. There's no hurry to start this long term project - as this beautifully written piece for The Observer a couple of weeks ago shows.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Sunday Supplement #6

Sunday Supplement is an occasional round up of the virtual and real here at VP Gardens. I'd like it to be a weekly event just like the best bits and reviews you get in the Sunday papers, but I'm not promising ;)

Web Watch

More stunning photography this week: Earth as art, courtesy of the Landsat satellite and The Telegraph.

Trending Topic

Lots of talk about the anniversary of last year's floods in Cumbria, plus the ones which happened in Cornwall this week almost to the day. All this rather overshadowed the reports about the Environment Agency's proposed river restoration scheme in Cumbria which is designed to reduce the impact of flooding amongst other benefits and was also timed to coincide with the anniversary coverage. The link is to an article in The Guardian which tells you more about it and also has a good debate going on in the comments. I first came across this approach in the late 1990's where it was piloted on the River Skerne in County Durham.

Link Love

On Friday I met Mark for the first time, even though we've been 'friends' via our blogs for around two years. Mark's Views From the Bike Shed is one of the few non-gardening blogs I follow: our residency in Chippenham is the thing we have in common. I was worried our meeting might not be as good as I'd hoped, but as soon as Mark opened the door, I realised that was plain silly. His interest in life is actually what we have in common and time passed all too quickly. Oh and I saw the new bike shed too ;)

Mark has written much more eloquently than I ever can about our meeting, calling me a blog fairy as he had lots of good fortune come his way on Friday. I also had good fortune later on that day, so our friendship looks to be set fair for the future :)

Blog Action

I'm about to do a couple of blog tweeks, which I'll tell you a bit more about shortly.

Comment of the Week: is from Mr McGregor's Daughter who added the following to my Guide to 'Cataloguespeak':

"Thrives in dry shade and difficult conditions" = weed-like tendencies. My favorite is "good cut flower" or "perfect for arrangements" means it flops like crazy or the flower heads are too heavy for the stems.

Keyword Search of Note: is Morrisons recycled packaging which reminds me: I haven't had a reply from them since they acknowledged my rant query about their woeful information about recycling their plastic packaging last January. Must give them a wee nudge about that methinks.

Back to Reality:

We're due to get a cold spell of weather at the end of the week, so it's about time I potted up my garlic ready to get nicely frosted.

Time Out

The picture is of some of the Japanese Quince Mark gave me when I visited on Friday, along with some quince jelly his mum made. Food gifts from friends are great aren't they? These are earmarked for slow roasting - another recipe I'm keen to try from Kitchen Garden Companion, plus making membrillo a la River Cottage's Preserves :)

This time last year I'd found another way How Advertising Works in Chippenham, whilst in 2008 I showed you one of my fortnightly Plot Views snapshots taken over that year. Finally, in 2007 I proved my talent for bad poetry covers more than one genre ;)

Saturday, 20 November 2010

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #22

  1. Start up your local computer business in a small rural town
  2. Think about ways in which you can show off your expertise
  3. Install a webcam at the side of your shop
  4. Wait for a blogger with a camera to realise it doesn't quite show off the town at its best
  5. Et voila!
I'm not really being fair as the company is located right behind where I took this photo, so they've had to work with what they have. I'm sure they'd have had all kinds of problems in getting permission to show off the Yelde Hall or the Buttercross in the marketplace at the other end of town. Besides, Brunel's railway viaduct is a grade I listed building too.
NAH thinks it's an extremely useful webcam as it allows Westinghouse employees to see if they'll be held up in traffic on the way home. I on the other hand am used to looking at webcam views such as this one in Sydney.
Chippenham's webcam updates every 10 seconds showing what's going on at the traffic lights at the bottom of New Road. If you wait long enough, you'll be able to see me on the way into town ;)

Update April 2012:
The computer shop has moved up the road, so sadly the webcam isn't there any more. Hopefully they'll set up another one soon. I've taken a screengrab from this website as it shows a shot from 10th January 2012, so you can compare it with the photo I took and see what the webcam used to show. I like that it has a train going over the viaduct.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Kitchen Garden Companion: Book Review

If you're looking for a comprehensive guide to growing fruit and vegetables, plus lots of recipes to deal with all of your produce, then you need look no further than Stephanie Alexander's Kitchen Garden Companion: I was lucky to be sent a review copy recently :)

Stephanie hails from Australia, where she is a very popular cookery writer. In addition she's pioneered getting children involved in both growing and eating food, resulting in her founding the Kitchen Garden Foundation, which has projects throughout Australia. It means the book is slanted towards getting children involved, though it's useful to all irrespective of age.

It's also a hefty tome, with over 700 pages featuring over 50 fruit and vegetables. The first part of the book is geared towards making sure the reader is adequately equipped for both garden and kitchen; plus there's a general introduction to getting started in the garden and gardening with kids.

The bulk of the book deals with each crop in alphabetical order: from Amaranth through to Zucchini. For each crop there is a page of general information about growing, followed by a couple of pages going into a bit more depth about growing and harvesting, plus sections on container gardening, preparation for the kitchen and a final section called Especially for Kids, but which has a wealth of unusual facts which I hadn't seen before, so it was interesting to me too (or perhaps I'm a big kid at heart? You decide!).

The gardening section is then followed by a number of recipes: sweet and/or savoury as applicable. The recipes reminded me very much of eating out in Australia: they draw on the wealth of culinary influences from the many immigrant communities there including Italy and Greece through to Asian fusion food, so there is plenty of inspiration to suit all tastes. Stephanie is also very good at suggesting substitute ingredients, thus extending the possibilities even further.

I've tried quite a few recipes already and have particularly enjoyed the Pumpkin, Coconut and Seafood Soup, Easy Plum Cake, Oven Roasted Pears and Dried Borlotti Beans with Pork. I like being able to see what I have a glut of in my kitchen and immediately have several possibilities to hand in one chapter, rather than having to hunt through an entire book or the index to see what tempts me.

The book ends with a Basics section which includes garden and kitchen glossaries, plus a chapter on pests and weed control with the emphasis on organic methods of control. I must confess I found the separate glossaries a little frustrating as almost invariably I'd open the Kitchen Glossary to look up a gardening term and vice versa.

Whilst this book originated from down under, it's clear that it has been extensively re-edited for the UK market, which the publisher also confirmed when I contacted them. The exception to this is the naming of some vegetables: thus chard is found under silver beet and courgettes under zucchini. However, to have renamed these to their UK counterparts would have resulted in an re-indexing nightmare, so I can understand why they were left alone.

The book comes with a protective cloth cover, plus two silk bookmarks, which are nice touches and I found the latter particularly useful when following the recipes. It's almost impossible with such a large book to keep it open at the right page when using recipes from the front or end sections.

Personally I found the recipes of more value than the gardening, but that's because I have plenty of grow your own books already. However, I'm sure that someone starting growing fruit and vegetables for the first time will find the cultivation sections just as useful as the cookery ones.

The final test for me is whether this book made it into the small section in my kitchen where it will be consulted frequently, or consigned to languish in the bookcase in my dining room. Despite its heftiness, I've managed to find room for it in my kitchen cupboard :)

Thursday, 18 November 2010

VP's Guide to 'Cataloguespeak' Part II

Threadspider and I took a trip to our local garden centre recently and saw the 'cataloguespeak' I discovered earlier this year has now found its way into the descriptions on display there. Here's a fun quick guide to the meanings behind what the signs say...
  • Vigorous - will swamp all your other plants nearby
  • Best eaten fresh - doesn't keep or cook well
  • Crops heavily - you'll have much more than you'll know what to do with
  • Unique flavour - tastes so bad you'll need to mix it with something to disguise the flavour such as chilli or ginger, or sweeten it with a whole bag of sugar
  • Bright light in winter - you'll need to leave the light on all day, especially as we've also advised you to keep it on a north or east facing windowsill
  • Fast growing - will engulf your house in just one season
  • Ideal for cooking - it has no taste or is sour when eaten fresh. May also have a unique flavour
  • Challenging - impossible to grow, so don't bother
  • Uncommonly found - no-one's managed to keep it alive, probably because it's challenging
  • Maintain a warm temperature year round - take out a mortgage on your heating bill now

Have you found any good examples of 'Cataloguespeak' lately?

The photo is courtesy and copyright of Threadspider because I'd forgotten my camera.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Windfall Apples

I picked a crate full of windfall apples at the allotment yesterday - do help yourself!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Unusual Front Gardens #10: Minimal

What are the options for our new build homes when you're given 2 minimal, postage stamp sized lawns either side of your front pathway? Here's one solution...

Monday, 15 November 2010

GBBD: Hanging On

Today has dawned foggy of the freezing kind, so it's only just brightened up enough for me to venture into the garden to see which flowers are hanging on for dear life this month. It's been a matter of finding tiny little vignettes dotted around, most of which I fear won't last the day once the sun's rays begin their feeble work. The night's frost was sufficient to preserve my remaining flowers in an aspic-like way, but this very act of preservation may serve to turn them into mush later on.

The Sedum 'Autumn Joy' pictured above is highlighted with tiny little frosted pin pricks. This flower will probably survive better than most as it'll still look attractive when the decaying flower heads turn brown later on. Elsewhere, I found frozen flowers of Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve', rosemary and Phlox paniculata 'Snow White' (see the last picture, below). Perhaps the most surprising of all was a solitary perennial cornflower (Centaurea montana, below), better known as a spring flower which always lasts for much longer in my garden. I wonder if I'm seeing subsequent generations of self-sown flowers from spring's profusion?

Some of winter's flowers have also started to awaken, as have the spring bulbs: I was surprised to find the tiny snouts of snowdrops and crocuses beginning to push their noses through the earth recently. Planting up my pots of daffodil bulbs also revealed tulips awakening from their slumbers. For once I've completed my spring bulb planting: 2 months earlier than usual :o

However, for now I'm content to leave these treats for their allotted Blooms Days and instead I'll savour these last few traces of autumn in my garden.

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

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Sunday Supplement #5

Sunday Supplement is an occasional round up of the virtual and real here at VP Gardens. I'd like it to be a weekly event just like the best bits and reviews you get in the Sunday papers, but I'm not promising ;)
Web Watch

I'm unashamedly going to plug Britain From the Air again and the BBC slideshow presenting some of the 100 images comprising the exhibition. Our landscape is so diverse and these pictures show that even man-made features can look beautiful when seen from a different perspective.

Trending Topic

The campaign to prevent the government's sell-off of Forestry Commission land continues apace (see Sunday Supplement #3). A complementary campaign I spotted this week is the Woodland Trust's More Trees More Good which is promoting the increase of trees found in our everyday lives. Their My View tool allows any street scene or landscape picture to be taken and enhanced to show how much better the view looks when trees are added.

I can see this being used widely for anyone campaigning to make their neighbourhood a better place and I'm contemplating trying it out for next month's Out on the Streets.

Link Love

It was lovely to meet Emma of The Orchard Studio in Bath this week; something we've been trying to do for aaaaaaaaages. A mutual love of gardens, photography and squishy chocolate eclairs meant the time passed all too quickly. Emma is working on a very exciting project at the moment, which I'll be telling you more about soon :)

Blog Action

Comment of the Week: is from Lucy who wrote in response to my Britain from the Air post:

I'm wondering what Bath itself is like nowadays. I haven't been there for a number of years but, when I last went, I felt overwhelmed by the number of street theatre artists etc. - a bit like the way one ladybird is charming but to have them crawling everywhere (as we did one year) is alarming.

Lucy, I know exactly what you mean, though I usually love to watch a bit of street theatre when I go to Bath. They weren't so evident on Tuesday, probably because it wasn't one of the main shopping days. Also the Britain From the Air exhibition is taking up quite a lot of space they usually inhabit around the Abbey and main shopping drag.

NB Lucy's photography blog has now moved to Message in a Milk Bottle - well worth a visit.

Keyword Search of Note: is My dinner party got cancelled. I do hope you had some fun here instead. Perhaps this dinner time might be a good substitute?

Back to Reality:

Guess what: Thursday's stormy winds means last week's leaf clearing task is carried forward to this week too :o

Time Out
This week myself, Threadspider plus a number of other local bloggers and tweeters will all descend on Bath University Garden Club to hear Dan Pearson speak about The Millennium Forest. Google has thrown up a number of possibilities of where this might be; I thought it was in the Midlands, but it appears Scotland and St Helena also have contenders for the title.

We seem to be having a landscape/tree theme here this week, so what could be better than watching Making Scotland's Landscape, which tonight focuses on trees? 8pm, BBC2.

The picture is of some minimalist balcony gardening I spotted in Bath last week.

This time last year I'd found something for my Unusual Places strand, whilst in 2008 saw the launch of my spoof magazine, You Ask, We Answer. Finally, in 2007 I was distributing my leaf mould.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

How Advertising Works in Poole

A rather surprising item we found on the menu at the local Indian takeaway whilst visiting NAH's aunt in Poole earlier this year. Although I'm a trained freshwater biologist and so I usually take finding strange river beasties in my stride, even I didn't like the thought of eating this dish!

Friday, 12 November 2010

Britain From the Air

Bath is a fantastic place to see top quality photography at the moment, such as the pictured Britain From the Air exhibition on the streets surrounding the main shopping centre plus the precincts of Bath Abbey. As well as the pictured view of the second Severn crossing, I spotted an aerial view of the Longleat Hedge Maze and the garden and village at Portmeirion. The exhibition's on until February 2011, so there's plenty of time to see it, or you can have a taster by viewing this audio slideshow from the BBC.

In addition. the Victoria Art Gallery is showing a retrospective of one of my favourite photographers, Don McCullin called Shaped by War. His work is extremely powerful and the exhibition includes not only many of his most iconic images, but also the artifacts and letters spanning his career from the past 50 years. You need to be quicker for this one as it closes on November 21st. Entrance is free.

Both exhibitions are so good, I'll be going to Bath to see them again.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

YAWA Dictionary: Crane

Previously on Veg Plotting when referring to cranes I've meant these:

Which confused quite a few people because they thought I meant this:

And the confusion will probably remain because I'm likely to write about either nowadays because the Common Crane (Grus grus) is in the process of being restored to the Somerset Levels and Moors here in south western England via The Great Crane Project. The above picture is courtesy of Simon at Serendipity, who took this photo on a recent trip to the fantastic London Wetlands Centre. Great spot Simon and many thanks for sending me the picture :)

The YAWA Dictionary: adding meaning to your garden blogging

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Sweet Dumpling

Sweet Dumpling is my favourite squash this year. It has the most pleasing colour and shape and the flavour's one of the best. It makes a fine soup owing to its hint of sweetness and is lovely when roasted or pan fried. Some pumpkins turn out a bit mealy and floury in their taste, but not this one. It's also a good size for NAH and me as a whole pumpkin will make enough soup for us without any head scratching over what to do with the kilos of flesh left over. There's usually plenty of fruit on each plant and I've found they store well into January or February too.

The only drawback thus far has been its tendency to take a looooooong time to germinate. I'd almost given up on having any this year, but I'm glad I held on for a couple of days before consigning the compost to the bin. It took a whole 4 weeks for the first seed leaf to appear. I suspect our very cold start to the growing season didn't help, but sheesh 4 weeks is a long time in my experience all the other cucurbits I sowed at the same time couldn't wait to get going.

But seeing these three on my table outside last week and all is forgiven. What's been your favourite squash or pumpkin this year?

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Postcard From Biddulph Grange

We visited Biddulph Grange in June just after Alan Titchmarsh and his attendant TV crew had finished filming for Alan Titchmarsh's Garden Secrets, which starts tonight on BBC2 at 8pm. He'll be looking at four key garden styles over the centuries encapsulated in four great gardens and then seeing how the ideas from these can be translated into our humble smaller plots back home.

Biddulph Grange will be used to illustrate the Victorian era: a time of plant hunting and travel to far distant lands and how the styles and plant collections of these countries were often squashed into one garden. Biddulph Grange won't be featured in tonight's programme (it's the turn of the 17th century and Hatfield House), but soon I'll be taking you with me on my visit back in June.

Happy Mouffetard's been more recently and you can see what she made of it in terms of bling and benches.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Separated at Birth? Avenues

We may not live in a stately home such as Dyrham Park (though we are situated on the remains of the old Hardenhuish estate), but it's rather nice to feel that the avenue of relatively new trees which lines the main road echoes the design of its older, more aristocratic National Trust cousin.

We don't have a herd of deer whose bloodline dates back to the early 1600s though, hence there's no need for our trees to be protected from their marauding mouths.

NB for those of you a little confused by my pictures and text, it's traditional in Private Eye to swap the captions around on the two pictures ;)

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Sunday Supplement #4

Sunday Supplement is an occasional round up of the virtual and real here at VP Gardens. I'd like it to be a weekly event just like the best bits and reviews you get in the Sunday papers, but I'm not promising ;)

Web Watch

Kate Bradbury in her Gardeners' World blog this week reported on the study carried out by Gardening Which? recently on the effectiveness of commercially available wildlife shelters such as bee boxes and those used by hedgehogs for winter hibernation. Their study and Kate's own experience revealed many of these aren't actually used by the wildlife they're designed to help.

Nick Mann from Habitat Aid said pretty much the same thing to me earlier this year when I met him. He believes getting the habitat right e.g. providing a meadow rich with the flowers and plants attractive for bees is a much better option. From what Kate and some of her commenters say, perhaps combining a shelter with a 'messy area' comprising grasses, log piles, piled up leaves etc. might be another option to consider if we don't have the space for a full-on meadow?

Trending Topic

Stick around on the blogosphere for a while and it's almost inevitable your posts and/or photographs will get scraped to provide content for a 'blog' designed purely to provide advertising revenue or worse. However, that's relatively small beer compared to the Cooks Source story which exploded onto the internet this week.

What makes it different is not only the editor's alleged response when Monica Gaudio asked for redress for her article being lifted, but also the resultant viral reaction across the internet which spawned spoof Twitter and Facebook accounts in addition to the many howls of protest. The internet community's work has uncovered content was extensively lifted from relatively minor bloggers through to some of America's big names such as Martha Stewart and Disney.

I expect the fallout from this story will be felt for many weeks if not months to come as at last it looks like this kind of copyright infringement will be tested in court. It would be great if it also results in improved help being made available to any blogger who experiences content scraping or other forms of plagiarism.

Update 7/11 @10.45: Oh the irony. I've just been checking my web stats only to find my content is appearing here on this Italian news aggregator site which is simply re-publishing my RSS feed. It's even more ironic because if I'd submitted my blog to them to feature, they'd reject it as I break their first rule of acceptance. NB Liquida - this is a personal blog, not a news/topic one. This issue needs a bit more thinking about and a follow-up post.

Link Love

There's been an interesting debate over at My Tiny Plot this week concerning Heritage vs. modern F1 varieties. It follows her report of a trial conducted by Gardening Which? where the results were quite variable. The arrival of Gill's baby's also imminent, so I wish her well when she finally makes the dash to Chippenham Maternity Unit!

Blog Action

I seem to be taking part in NaBloPoMo after all (post every day during November - something I've done for the past 2 years). Last month the sheer thought made me feel tired. I hope I can keep the momentum up!

Comment of the Week: is from Mark who had a confession to make about the photo he sent for my Unusual Front Gardens strand: I also nearly crashed the car taking this photo - the things I do for Veg Plotting! Well Mark, I nearly did the same thing gawping at the autumn colour last Sunday, so that makes two of us!

Keyword Search of Note: is Ornate Drain Covers which somewhat confusedly sent the searcher to my post about becoming a film producer. I haven't posted about drain covers at all yet, so perhaps I should do so as soon as possible?

Back to Reality:

There's lots of autumn leaves to sweep up in the back garden thanks to all the trees on the public land which drape themselves over our fence. I need to empty the leaf mould bin first before I can cram in this year's contribution. Our next door neighbour's been very kind and swept our front drive in addition to his and the entire access road to our little group of 5 houses, so thankfully the front garden's been taken care of already :)

Time Out

This week saw me start a beginner's pilates class, from which I seem to have recovered quite well, so onwards and upwards to next Thursday's lesson :o

Today is Remembrance Sunday, so you won't be hearing a peep from me for 2 minutes at 11am. Oops, this is carried over until next Sunday. Thanks to Steve for commenting that I'm a week ahead of myself.

The picture is of an information board (click to enlarge if needed) I found not far from our holiday cottage in September about Shropshire's emblem plant, the carnivorous round leaved sundew.

This time last year I was looking at some unusual topiary; 2 years ago NAH had been given some honey; and in 2007 I was making deductions about a certain comet.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #21

  1. Decide on your company's Unique Selling Point
  2. Devise some natty straplines along the lines of: No need to ask, everything's a pound
  3. Don't price anything in your stores, just have big display signs to remind everything in the shop is priced at £1
  4. Wait for a blogger with a camera to spot something's slipped through the net
  5. Et voila!

For some reason I felt ridiculously pleased to find a little anarchy still rules when I found this on my trip into town last Thursday :)

Friday, 5 November 2010

Unusual Front Gardens #9: Tea Pots

I'm indebted to Mark at Views From the Bike Shed who sent me this photo a while back. He tells me that it was taken Just outside Narberth on the road to Colby Woodland Garden. It reminds me of one of the balcony gardens at the RHS London Plant and Design Show last year (see the second collage, upper right hand side) where Andrew Fisher Tomlin (I believe) used lots of brightly coloured IKEA watering cans to decorate his allotted wall space. Both make me smile.

Thanks Mark, and do visit his blog everyone as not only is he an all round good egg and blogger to boot, he's also taking part in NaBloPoMo this month and so needs every bit of support he can get.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Japanese Quince

I've always wanted a quince tree, but my sensible head tells me one will never fit in our garden. However, reading Mark Diacono's book got me all a-wanting again and also struck a memory chord of seeing a flowering quince (aka Chaenomeles) ornamental hedge complete with similar fruit on my commuter walks into Chippenham. A little investigating at Malvern Autumn Show confirmed my memory was right. Not only that, but also the fruit are edible like their true quince cousins and can be used in the same way, as long as you grow enough of them.

That decided the next allotment project for me to get under way after the Future Fuchsias hedge I told you about last week. My plot will have not one, but two hedges and the second will comprise flowering quince. But which cultivar to buy? Asking Mark what he grows, a bit of googling plus leaving questions on both UK Veg Gardeners and Gardenersclick revealed a wealth of possibilities.

Luckily for me a half price plant offer last month then had me looking around my local garden centre for a suitable apricot to grow in a pot (another of my projects following in the trail of Mark's book) but with none to be found. However, there was an extensive range of Chaenomeles on display, all complete with glowing fruit owing to the time of year and something I hadn't been able to compare online. Most of them were a melting golden colour, but my heart was taken by the pleasing shape and red tinged fruit of the pictured 'Crimson and Gold' (which turns out to be a cultivar of Chaenomeles x superba). I've always like the deep red flowers and yellow anthers of this plant, so I'll be getting good spring colour too.

The plant I bought is a bit like a smaller version of the upright whip you get when buying fruit trees such as apple and pears. I was careful to choose one with plenty of tiny side shoots so I'm in the best position to start training it into the hedge I want next spring.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Autumn Colour

For the first time ever I like my local roundabout :o

Can you see why? The light and autumn colour were so good on my way home last Sunday afternoon that I rushed and grabbed my camera.

Orange and blue turned out to be such a good colour combination elsewhere on our estate and the low angled light from the day's setting sun added a luminous quality to the tops of the trees.

I've always loved this stately avenue - which lines the main road - at this time of year. I believe whoever planned the trees for our estate did a very good job :)

It's been a berry good year don't you think?

For lots more Autumn Colour, do visit Dave's Fall Color Project.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

A Blogaversary

So Veg Plotting has survived the Terrible Twos and is in full toddlerdom at the ripe old age of three today. I've had several conversations with other bloggers recently on how hard it can be at times to keep going: there's a seasonal rhythm to writing about gardening which sometimes makes it feel like you're beginning to repeat yourself. I believe the third year of blogging is a bit like that 'difficult second album' which some singers and bands experience. The freshness and sparkle of starting something new has worn off and in my case it's the real desire to communicate and explain which keeps me going. And chocolate too of course ;)

There's been quite a few blogging milestones this year: the 1,000th post, 100,000th visitor and 10,000th comment. Your comments are the most important and I love the conversations and debates we have. Thanks to all of you who've visited, read and commented and here's to fresh projects in Veg Plotting's fourth year :)

Monday, 1 November 2010

GBMD: John Helps a wer an honest mon

John Helps a wer an honest mon;
The perry that a made
Wer crunced vrom purs as honest
As ever tree displayed.

John Helps a wer an honest mon;
The dumplings that a chewed
Wer made vrom honest apples
As Autumn ever growed

John Helps a wer an honest mon;
And I be sorry a's dead.
Perry and honest men be scarce
These days 'tiz zed.

F. W. Harvey (1888-1957)

Perry continues to be scarce, but hopefully perry pear days like the wonderful one I and My Tiny Plot attended recently at Dyrham Park will help to turn the tide. I'm not quite sure how we might cure the lack of honest men though.

The picture is of a perry pear windfall I found in Nichol's Orchard, the relatively new orchard at Dyrham Park.

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