Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Monday, 28 February 2011

West Dean Gardens

I'm fast forming the opinion February is one of the best months for garden visiting. There's less crowds, the reward in the tea shop afterwards is far more comforting and there's a delicious sense of being let outdoors when it really isn't allowed.

Earlier this month I had a gallop round West Dean Gardens following my day's course there and despite the rain, what I saw was enough for me to be smitten instantly. Who can't help but fall in love with a garden boasting features such as a crinkle-crankle wall with matching hedge, plus a dear little hobbit-like building built into it?

When the borders lack flowery fireworks the attention is drawn to the garden's 'bones' instead. West Dean has particularly fine ones and as you can see I was rather taken with the brick and flint contrasts I found there as they add texture as well as visual interest.

West Dean is noted for its walled kitchen garden and I now have severe glasshouse and cold frame envy. Old tools such as watering cans and lantern cloches were posed around the garden to good effect. Even bare earth can be made to look attractive in my view. It was good to see proper rhubarb forcers in action and I now realise I'm far too mean with the amount of manure I use around mine. A good layer a few inches thick is what's needed!

February is the best time to see just how fruit should be pruned and the multitude of different ways in which it can be trained. There's a masterclass of techniques on view here and over at Sign of the Times, I've already displayed the perfect arch. Whilst I was there I met a number of the garden's volunteers plus the garden manager and his wife. They are all truly proud of the place they have under their care.

This pergola was designed by Harold Peto in the 1890s and is a promise of things to come out in the main part of the garden. I'm already planning to return for a his and hers weekend: The Weald and Downland Museum next door for NAH and a much more leisurely stroll around here for me :)

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Great Gardens of Italy: Book Review

This is the book to accompany the soon to be broadcast TV series of the same name. Monty Don takes a personal journey to 30 of Italy's major gardens. Most of these are clustered around major cities such as Rome, Florence and Naples. Top photographer Derry Moore had the enviable task of capturing each garden in photographs.

After a brief introduction where Don explains his journey and how Italian gardens have shaped and informed his own gardening activities, there then follows 6 chapters dividing the gardens by region: Naples, Rome, Viterbo, Tuscany, Veneto and The Lakes. Don's journey was made south to north and the chapters reflect the direction of travel.

Each chapter is prefaced by an introductory essay describing the regional setting in which the gardens reside. There then follows a 'word-scape' for each garden where Don describes his visit to the garden and his own impressions of it, the historical context, who looks after the garden today etc etc. After each essay there follows a number Moore's photographs to give the visual details. Each photo has a detailed caption linking back to the previous text.

I'm sure the intention is to let the words and pictures speak for themselves with an equal voice. Personally I found the result a little disjointed and would have preferred them to lie side by side as they do in the general introduction. The larger text used for the regional introduction added to the disjointed feeling for me. Much as I admire Monty Don's writing, I found it quite tempting to skip straight to the pictures. I resisted the temptation by limiting myself to reading one garden at a time, rather than trying to read straight through. I would have liked a plan to accompany each garden too, as it's hard to gauge from the text and photographs their size, shape, layout etc.

I can't really say whether the chosen gardens are the 30 'best' ones or if they're the most well known. I'm sure every expert will have their own list which may coincide or wildly differ to this selection: I'll leave the arguments on that score to them. A quick look at other books on the market on the same subject reveal quite a few differences in some and similarities in others.

One feature I liked very much is the Chronology tucked at the back of the book showing where each garden fits in terms of style, date and major events of the time. Thus Emperor Hadrian's Villa Adriana in Rome is rooted in the 2nd century AD's Classical times and Torrecchia is the youngest: a Modern garden from 1995-2010.

I was rather surprised the end section didn't contain a bibliography for further reading: Don refers to the odd text used during his research, so I would have liked to see these (and others?) gathered together in one place. Nor were there details of how to go about visiting any of the gardens which take our fancy. However, I believe these are notoriously prone to change, so perhaps it's understandable these details have been left out.

We owe a great debt to many of these gardens as they have formed and shaped many of our own in the UK. For instance, I now can clearly see how the gardens at Blenheim were influenced by places such as Villa Lante, Giardino di Boboli and Villa Torrigiani. However, after a while I found myself wanting to get away from the masses of topiary, enclosed box hedges, statues and walls these gardens contain.

It's the more unusual gardens which have stayed in my mind and now form my fantasy shortlist to visit: Ninfa for its romantic emergence from the ruins, Villa d'Este at Tivoli for its terrace of Hundred Fountains, Sacro Bosco for its giant mossy statues which made me laugh and Isola Bella for its giant fantasy wedding cake effect.

It'll be interesting to compare the TV series with the book to see if my list changes.

I received a review copy from the publisher, but the review and opinions of the content are my own. I don't know yet when the series will be broadcast.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

ABC of Chippenham: Foghamshire

My walk into town takes me past the quaintly named Foghamshire which always makes me smile because I feel a bit Bilbo Bagginsish whenever I see it. It's just off the High Street and apparently used to form part of the main Bristol to London road in days of old when people wished to avoid the (then) unsafe Town Bridge*. Wikipedia also says it formed part of a medieval cloth route, which together with the making of woollen cloth itself was the source of the town's riches at the time.

It's a bit hard to imagine all the hustle and bustle of those times today as it's now a relatively quiet side street, quite narrow in places with some of the quainter buildings of central Chippenham. Sadly it was even quainter still until a number of the 17th and 18th century houses were demolished last century.

I'm getting to know this street a little more after two decades of largely ignoring it. Last December I started a pilates class in the studio housed upstairs in the street's old Temperance Hall. This also ironically hosts the local amusement arcade downstairs.

The naming of Foghamshire is uncertain: 13th century maps show today's Hardenhuish Brook as 'Fokena' running along the back of the street. Old English 'facn'ea' means 'treacherous stream' which may have described the brook's habit of flooding unpredictably. In 1289, there is a reference to 'Fokena' in Chippenham, then 'Fokenstret' in 1370. In the 16th century a more familiar 'Foggamshyre' appears on the map. Another suggestion is the name is derived from Yorkshire Fog, a rough meadow grass which grew in the area and indicates poor drainage.

Today the Hardenhuish Brook which flows past my house has disappeared underground by the time it reaches the centre of Chippenham, only to reappear briefly at its confluence with the River Avon by the town weir. In breaking news it seems there's a proposal to turn the weir into a hydroelectric scheme **.

There are a couple of other F's to share with you today from the archives. Chippenham's main annual event is the Folk Festival held at the end of May and in a previous ABC Wednesday I also talked about the Food Miles at our local Farm shop.

* = My copy of the 1899 Ordanance Survey map for Chippenham (reproduction) shows there was a ford across the Hardenhuish Brook at the end of Foghamshire.

** = the BBC news clip in the link lets you have a good nose around the River Avon and the centre of town

This is for ABC Wednesday and is the sixth in my themed round of posts about Chippenham.

Monday, 21 February 2011

West Dean Rain Gardens

Last year I was lucky to be sent a list of West Dean's winter/spring workshop programme with the invitation to select one if I so desired for 'review purposes'. It was a mouthwatering prospect and my shortlist finally boiled down to either my vegetable guru Joy Larkcom in a rare foray from her home in Northern Ireland, or Nigel Dunnett on the subject of Rain Gardens.

I finally plumped for the latter and thus found myself on an aptly drizzly day driving down to West Sussex a couple of weeks ago for an absolute treat. Whilst I'm an admirer of Nigel Dunnett's work, I really only had the vaguest notion of what a rain garden actually is. It's a subject which has yet to catch on in Britain in a big way: the pioneering countries are the USA, Germany and Australia. Having spent a day thoroughly immersed in the subject and taking frantic notes, it's something I believe which needs to be taken much more seriously here too.

The Problem

No matter what you might think about the validity of climate change, there's no escaping from the fact that storms are on the increase in both their frequency and intensity. This is made even worse by the increased runoff we see as our environment changes from natural ground cover (typically 10% of rainfall) to increasingly built up areas (55% when surfaces are 75-100% impervious).

The usual response is to provide an engineered solution i.e. replace the current drains with even larger pipes and managed via the depressingly named SUDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems). Nigel argued these aren't really sustainable enough and their design is often downright dangerous and usually very ugly. Cue lots of pictures of fenced off deep rectangular shaped lagoons ringed with vegetation and warning signs.

The Solution

Nigel proposed a landscape based solution (aka Rain Garden) where surface runoff is managed via a number of absorbent surfaces which capture the rain and let it flow away much more slowly. Features include the more familiar (though optional) trendy green roof as the first point of capture. Nigel then advocated disconnecting the downpipes from our drains and instead letting the water flow out into a bed of plants away from the building - the actual rain garden itself. It sounded a very scary thing to do, but Nigel admirably demonstrated via a number of case studies that aesthetically pleasing results are achievable, with less pollutants (as the beds also act as a biofilter) and at a much lower cost than using a SUDS solution.

We came away convinced, but I suspect we will need our government to adopt an approach like they have in Portland, Oregon where households and businesses pay for the amount of water which enters their drainage system.

Can I apply it to my garden?

Many of the examples we saw on the day were from the public planting arena, but the handouts we were given show it can be scaled down for our gardens. It involves quite a lot of calculations though, so I don't think it's currently a DIY solution. I also expect that more guidance will become available in the future to help us to adopt this approach ourselves. For example, a book by Nigel and a number of colleagues is due out in May on how home owners can build their own green roofs.

Also in May, The New Wild Garden will be revealed at Chelsea Flower Show. Inspired by William Robinson's ideas and Nigel's research, it will demonstrate a garden-scale rain garden for us all to debate and ponder over.

How was the day?

Nigel Dunnett is a very engaging speaker whose audience on the day was a mixed bunch of garden design students, West Dean Gardens volunteers and interested members of the public like me. We were all made thoroughly welcome by the day's organiser Annie Guilfoyle and everyone participated in the discussions. The sandwich lunch with cake and fruit to follow was good quality too. I'm looking forward to returning at my own expense for another study day. It's an inspirational thing to do in the winter, when practical gardening activities take a back seat.

I also managed a quick run round the gardens a couple of times in the rain. Even on a miserable day in February it was enough for me to fall in love with the place. Have a look at a recent Sign of the Times Friday Bench for a quick taster. There's more to come soon :)

Further reading

NB we were given loads of handouts on the day, and told there's vast riches to be found if you Google Rain Gardens. I've tracked down most of the ones we were given as your starter for 10, should you wish to know more:
These documents and websites are much more readable than their titles suggest! Finally, Nigel has written a book about Rain Gardens which is aimed at landscape architects and designers but is still a most interesting read.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

I've Got Bottle

I've been trialling a new water bottle over the past few weeks courtesy of Purekit and Fuel My Blog. I've been getting really cross with the plastic one I use for choir and the allotment as it leaks absolutely everywhere, so the offer of a 1 litre Sigg bottle came just at the right time.

The upside
  • It's as light as a plastic bottle
  • It doesn't leak - hurray!
  • I was given the 1 litre size, which is plenty for a 2 hour singing session or an afternoon at the allotment - I get very thirsty in that time
  • It's easy to drink from
  • They're usually very stylish - though I was a little disappointed with my streaky aluminium version. I'm not complaining seeing I got mine for free ;)
  • Drinks stay cooler for longer
  • It can be washed in the dishwasher
  • Anyone like my friend C who's concerned about plastics residues and health will be reassured that Sigg claims the liner used in these bottles doesn't have those problems
  • I'm sure it's very long lasting too, I just haven't had the time to test that part yet!
  • It can be recycled

The downside

  • The bottle dents easily - mine arrived with one (NB Purekit, you need to rethink your parcel packaging - something more than just a flimsy plastic bag is needed methinks) and I added another when it fell off the table. The bottle hasn't cracked so it's still perfectly usable
  • It's not see-through, so it's hard to tell if the right amount has been added for things like fruit squashes which need diluting
  • It's hard to get dry after washing out as the neck opening is so small (even when washed/dried in the dishwasher)
  • I would have liked something to attach the screw top to the bottle when open - I'm worried I might lose the top very easily
  • They're relatively expensive

Overall it's a vast improvement compared to my plastic bottle.

Friday, 18 February 2011

VP's VIPs: Jekka McVicar

'Queen of herbs' Jekka McVicar hardly needs my introduction. Her dozens of gold medals from shows such as Chelsea, her commitment to organic growing and championing of herbs makes her a familiar face all over the world. I'm lucky that I live just a few miles from Jekka's Herb Farm and could easily pop over for a chat last Friday.

We started off with a tour of the farm where we were constantly followed by Hampton and Borage, the McVicar's dog and cat who are inseparable companions. Everything outside had been power washed ready for the new season and I caught occasional glimpses of Mac, Jekka's husband at work. I get ridiculously excited when I visit nurseries, even when they're relatively empty like they are now. Jekka joined in my excitement: It's a fantastic time of the year: we're frantically sowing seeds and everything's pushing their noses up through the soil.

In the heated greenhouse Claire was busy sowing thousands of seeds and many thousands more were already pushing their way through the compost. It was exciting to see many of the trays sporting pink labels (and many of the plants in the polytunnels) as these are earmarked for the three Chelsea show gardens which Jekka is supplying with plants this year: the M&G Investments Garden by Bunny Guinness, the B&Q Garden by Patrick Collins and Laurie Chetwood and Marney Hall's Skyshades Garden. Occasional red labels amongst the pink showed these trays will be used for Jekka's own displays for Malvern and Chelsea. No she isn't returning to Chelsea's Grand Pavilion, she'll be returning to her booth.

Well that's not quite true: I can exclusively reveal that Jekka will be returning to Chelsea's Grand Pavilion. As she is the chair of Moderation. The first woman ever to be appointed and she'll be performing the same role for Cardiff and Malvern's floral marquees :)

Now on with the interview...

As you grow over 600 varieties of herbs, your definition must be pretty broad?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'herb' as a plant of beneficial use to man. That's good enough for me.

What's new at the farm this year?
I'm growing much more of the range and bulk of the plants in the larger 1 and 2 litre pot sizes. People want plants which they can use straight away (the supermarket effect) and will look good immediately when planted out or in a garden pot. I can provide twice the size of plant for just £1 extra, which customers also like.

I have a wonderful new hot bath which I'm using for sterilising mint roots using the RHS approved method to prevent mint rust (6 minutes at 44 degrees centigrade). I'm also experimenting with it to see what temperature kills root aphids, but not the plant. They don't harm the plant that much, but it doesn't look good from a customer's viewpoint.

You recently advertised a number of vacancies, have these been filled now?
We just have one horticultural worker vacancy left. We need someone who loves plants and wants to learn all about growing them. We're horticulturalists here: we grow healthy plants and have the knowledge to advise where they'll grow to their best, their maximum height, spread etc. for a gardener to buy and grow for their enjoyment.

Your Herb Cookbook was very well received at its launch at Chelsea last year, do you have any more books in the pipeline? (Patient Gardener suggested one on medicinal rather than culinary plants)
Sadly none on the horizon: there needs to be a TV tie-in for anyone to say go as the writing world is in such turmoil.

What are you launching at Chelsea this year? NB another exclusive announcement coming up...
My new range of whole leaf herbal teas* (whole leaf is definitely the way to go judging by my cup of refreshing lemon verbena tea - Ed). Hanna's (Jekka's daughter) designed the packaging, which is also biodegradable, unless you go for the fantastic kilner jar store cupboard size ;)

You seem to be adding quite a number of non-herby things to your range e.g. your gift cards last year.

Yes, I've tried extending the season for my herbs, but I've decided not to fight nature any more and just stick to a March to August plant season. Anything else we can add to the range which extends the season in other ways is helpful. The books, gift cards and seed collections were a natural step. Now I'm introducing organic teas which are big on flavour. Hannah's also designed new aprons for us to use at shows this year and these will also go sale as well as a new tea towel.

Back to herbs: which ones are good for this time of year? (i.e. winter months)

Any of the evergreens such as rosemary, bay, myrtle and this year's crop of chives. I made bay ice cream last week it was delicious.

Isn't bay a bit peppery for ice cream?

No, it's a wonderfully warming flavour. I made a bay custard and converted it to ice cream, inspired by the guys at Casamia.

I think I might have lost my myrtle this winter :(
You probably haven't: you need to cut it back really hard in a couple of months time when the weather's warmer and it should re sprout from the bottom of the plant. The same applies to any member of the olive family.

The Constant Gardener would like to know which herbs can be grown in the shade?

Avoid the silver leafed varieties as they need the sun. I have a north facing bed here which hardly gets any sun at all where Tashkent mint, sorrel, Afghan chives, fennel and skullcap all do well. Oh and myrtle if it's grown against a wall. Others to consider are salads - as shade prevents them from bolting, coriander, sweet woodruff, meadowsweet and parsley. Rosemary can do well if the site gets some sun.

Which herb deserves to be better known?

Savory - both summer and winter as they're much more prolific than thyme. Also Hyssop - so versatile as it can be used in soups, stews and casseroles.

Any other top tips?
  • Borage is a good companion plant for runner beans: their yield will be increased as the blue flowers attracts bees, as any blue flower does and this in turn ensure better pollination of the beans.
  • Always keep secateur blades sharp and clean. This minimises the size of the wound and helps the plant to recover more quickly and cleanliness prevents disease.
  • Bicarbonate of soda spray is excellent for treating downy mildew should the usual preventative measures break down
Do you have a 'room 101' herb?
Just like my favourites it all depends on the time of year :)

And finally, who or what inspires you?
Beth Chatto - her exhibit at Chelsea was truly extraordinary: until then everything was displayed in pots and hers was like a garden. AND she hasn't retired, but is still going strong. Christo (Christopher Lloyd) inspired me to use red in my displays and Penny Hobhouse for her wonderful colour combinations. Fred Daws who judged my first ever exhibit at Bath Flower Show ** - he advised me to grow specimen plants.

That's about it for today - thanks so much for finding time for me to come over and see you :)

NB Jekka's Herb Farm isn't usually open to the public, but her next Open Days are April 1st, 2nd and 3rd 2011. In the meantime you can also follow @JekkasHerbFarm on Twitter (one of the better business adopters of the medium in my opinion) and read the monthly diary on the website (as well as browse that oh so tempting catalogue). Fans across the pond will also have the chance to see Jekka in June when she will be giving the keynote speech at the Herb Society of America's AGM in Pittsburgh.

* = whole leaf herbal tea is definitely the way to go judging the cup of refreshing lemon verbena I had. Jekka did tell me what's in each of the three teas she'll be launching (Bright and Breezy Brew, 3pm Tea and Goodnight), but that would spoil the fun of you finding out wouldn't it? ;)

** = sadly Bath Flower Show is no more - a victim of the recent council cuts.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

What Garden TV is Missing This Year :(

Click here to go to the clip if the above video link isn't working.

Many of us have been enjoying Carol Klein's Life in a Cottage Garden recently and will now be wondering when the next intelligent garden TV programme will be gracing our screens. Sadly it won't be series 2 of the award winning Landscape Man as Channel 4 have dropped the series.

Matthew Wilson recently posted the above snippet on YouTube to show us exactly what we'll be missing. They may be dealing with a large pond, but this clip is packed with information for anyone considering putting a pond in their garden - large or small - or wondering how to improve an existing one.

It also reminded me of happy times as a freshwater biologist spending my lunchtimes amongst the meadowsweet and water mint at the Water Research Centre's* SSSI in Medmenham. However, I'm rather worried Matthew seems to have found the pair of waders I threw out last year because the rubber had perished ;)

*= Sadly this has since closed and the WRc is just based in Swindon today. I spent an idyllic 6 months there (at Medmenham not Swindon!) working on my MSc thesis in the summer of 1994. It was a most amazing place to work: it was situated next to the river Thames, had a SSSI on site (because of the rare Loddon Lily), plus allotments available for employees.

We regularly went on bird walks at lunchtimes to provide data for a RSPB observation project and there were trips into the beech woods of the nearby Chilterns to go orchid surveying or walking before going to the pub on Fridays. My actual work was fish surveying (salmon and trout) which involved weeks of fieldwork interspersed with lots of time spent in the fisheries lab with Radio 1 for company. At least I had my dream job for 6 months: some people never have theirs.

PS The video mentions HabitatAid, so I've added a link to Nick's blog so you can check him out :)

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

ABC of Chippenham: Eddie Cochrane

One of Chippenham's claims to 'fame' is that it was the place of the fatal crash which lead to Eddie Cochran's death in 1960. He, his girlfriend and Gene Vincent and two other passengers were in a taxi taking them from Bristol to London on 16th April after a concert at the Bristol Hippodrome. The driver lost control of his car and crashed at 11.50pm.

Amongst the police who arrived on the scene was Dave Dee later of Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich fame. Chippenham hospital is just a few yards away from the scene of the crash, and the assessment there showed the injuries were too much for our small cottage hospital, so Cochran was transferred to Bath where he died the next day.

Recently there's been an Eddie Cochran memorial weekend most years, where participants dress in their '60s gladrags; parade around town in big American cars, preferably with lots of chrome; and dance the night away to various bands from that era or of the tribute variety. This year's event on the 16th April is already being advertised in the town.

Last year was the 50th anniversary of the crash and the pictured memorial stone was placed at the scene of Eddie Cochran's demise on Rowden Hill, not far from the Rowden Arms pub on the opposite side of the road.

This is for ABC Wednesday and is the fifth in my themed round of posts about Chippenham.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

GBBD: Winter Beauty

This is the time of year when my winter honeysuckle (Lonicera x purpusii 'Winter Beauty') comes into its own. Each flower is tiny but so prolific they make quite a show against the back garden fence. As the border is quite narrow at this point, I've trained it against the fence using my Rosa 'Rambling Rector' as a support. As both of these plants are quite thuggish and I have a lot of fence to cover, it means they're good companions: providing interest from June through to March/April.

At any other time of the year, these flowers would be unremarkable, but my Muse Day quote still holds true and their presence on bare stems - plus their beautiful scent - makes them most welcome in February. I believe this year is the best yet in terms of their profusion.

It's the time of year when the wind still has a wintry breath, but on days such as yesterday the sun's warmth can be felt on one's back. Everywhere is waking up around the garden and there's carpets of snowdrops, crocuses, cyclamen, violas, primulas and winter aconites plus Clematis and Viburnum x bodnantense 'Dawn' to be enjoyed in the sunshine.

Some of the berberis are bursting into leaf already and the birds have started their nest building. Spring's promise is on its way :)

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

Monday, 14 February 2011

Birthday B's: Badbury, Beeches and Ballet

The ancient landscape that is Badbury Rings. Click on the picture to enlarge if needed.

Saturday dawned the nicest day of the week and was also NAH's aunt's birthday. 85th birthdays are to be celebrated, so we took G and her friend E (they've been friends since primary school days) for a meal at Prezzo's in Wimborne, just a stone's throw from the Minster and in the older part of town.

Nearly three hours later after a delicious meal, we thought it was far too nice a day to go straight back home to Poole, so we decided to visit Badbury Rings nearby. This is an impressive iron age fort dating back to 800 BC, but stands in an even more ancient landscape as there are several tumuli dating back to the bronze age on the way to this impressive structure. There are 3 rings of ditches and earthworks surrounding the central protective area now clothed in trees.

The late winter sunshine had bought out many other families to the spot and the car park was nearly full. The scene was dotted with many walkers climbing the ramparts to play their version of 'king of the castle'. The breeziness of the day had brought out plenty of kite fliers too.

The famous avenue of beech trees lining the B3082, just by the entrance to Badbury Rings

Badbury Rings now forms part of the Kingston Lacy estate, both owned by the National Trust. I was pleased to see as we drove along the road to Blandford Forum that the estate's famous avenue of trees lining the road was still largely intact. This is one of my favourite drives in the entire country as it's lined with hundreds of mature beech trees over 170 years old.

A few years ago it was reported in the press this avenue was going to be felled. The implication was it would happen all at once, but I see now that the cull is planned over a period of 30 years or so. It means that this scene will remain for a while yet. Further back from the road the next avenue has been planted: it's of hornbeam this time and it will be quite a while before it reaches the stature of today's scene.

So where does the ballet fit in? That was the final part of the birthday celebrations. NAH and I deposited G and E at the theatre in Poole in plenty of time for the evening performance of Sleeping Beauty before we headed off for home :)

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Adverts and Blogging With Integrity

I've been meaning to write this post for a while because I'm in the process of compiling a new Page for this blog about my policy regarding advertising and links. Some of you may have noticed a new Sponsors section on the right, which shows I'm now taking some paid advertising.

I've resisted going down this route for 3 years because I appreciate the blogging community and it's been very easy to do so previously because it's clear that most of the many companies who do get in touch haven't read my blog at all. However, I was shocked late last year when I reviewed NAH's and my accounts to find just how much my blogging is costing me in terms of travel, entrance fees, arrangements for Meet at Malvern, postage for giveaways etc etc. Of course I would have done quite a lot of these things anyway as they're so enjoyable, but it's also true that blogging has intensified these activities: probably doubled them at least.

So after a great deal of thought I've decided not to go down the Affiliate or Adsense routes as I have little or no control over what happens with these potential income earners. Nor will I be accepting paid blog posts or commercial 'guest' posts. Instead I will be accepting paid advertisements for a limited number of 'slots' on my blog, which will reflect Veg Plotting's main content i.e. gardening, allotments, seasonal food, greener living and life in Wiltshire.

Some of you may be wondering what this has to do with the clothing company currently on display on the right, but they sponsored a new garden at Barnsdale last year. If my available slot had been larger, I would be displaying their Plant Finder application instead of their outerwear logo. It was also clear when they approached me they'd actually bothered to read my blog and understand what I'm writing about :o

As far as links are concerned, I won't be accepting link exchanges from organisations seeking to improve their SEO, or to simply point you in the direction of websites or blogs dedicated to gaining income from advertising.

I do accept items for review - mainly books so far - and these will be appearing on Sundays in future. Note that my reviews are honest and unbiased, plus I'll always tell you when I've received something for review purposes. I do also accept items for giveaways and competitions as these add some fun to my blog.

It's not my intention to earn pots of money from Veg Plotting (I believe a gardening blog isn't the route to do that anyway) but to try and cover my costs to bring you three posts a week - excluding reviews - of the kind of content that keeps you coming back for more and keeps me sane. At the moment NAH and I are living off our savings in order to care for aging relatives in 3 places over a distance of 250 miles, so anything which helps to eke those out a little further is most helpful.

My placing the Blog with Integrity badge at the top of this post is to assure you I will endeavour to continue to comply with the voluntary code this badge embodies, even though I haven't been displaying it on here previously.

Do feel free to leave your comments below, or you can email me at vegplotting at gmail dot com. And if you ever think I haven't disclosed something that I should, then do please get in touch :)

Update December 2011
: Since I wrote this post I've discovered UK bloggers are now obliged to disclose any relationship they have with a company. This covers products received and reviewed, competitions and advertising. This does not affect the way I run Veg Plotting as operating under the Blog With Integrity code ensures this happens. Unfortunately this change in the law (December 2010) does not seem to have been widely publicised, so many bloggers are unaware of their new obligations. I will be posting about this more fully soon.

Friday, 11 February 2011

A Seedy Italian Saturday

A couple of Saturdays ago Threadspider and I sought inspiration on a cold, grey wintry day amongst the dreaming spires of Oxford and the warmth of Italy. Our destination was Oxford Botanic Garden for a workshop given by Paolo Arrigo from Seeds of Italy.

We were greeted with good wholesome bread still warm from the oven, drizzled with a peppery olive oil from Tuscany and a squeeze of lemon. We quickly learnt that seeds, plants and food are one continuous thread in the Italian way of life: most refreshing! With this in mind our workshop was not only learning about seeds, but also seeing how pesto and passata are made, then tasting the results :)

Paolo took us through a number of seeds in the range, using his display stand as illustration. We learnt which tomato is best for passata (San Marzano because it's a juicy not fleshy variety), whilst another (Principe Borghese da Appendere) can be hung up to ripen at the end of the season and fresh fruit plucked off the vine well into November, even December. Soon it seemed to be quite reasonable to be sowing 2, 5, even 10 different tomato varieties.

Basil Genovese is best for pesto (and I've vowed never to buy shop bought again having tasted the real thing), but the large 'lettuce' leaved variety is used for wrapping around mozarella. We quickly learnt about the regionality of Italy's seeds and how this is tied up with the culture, language and individual recipes of the region. Eager questions from the audience bought even more examples of different seeds to try, including a pepper more suitable for outside rather than greenhouse growing (Dolce di Bergamo).

We may think of Italy as a mainly hot country, but the temperatures of their mountain regions show there are varieties from there which are also suited to our climate. Paolo also emphasised the importance of reading the sowing and harvest times on the seed packet as some of the varieties sold have different requirements to others we may be used to growing. Their Alpine fennel for instance is more suited to later sowing and harvest times.

That's why I've chosen to show the back of a seed packet to illustrate my post: the UK is shaded blue, so we follow the blue dots shown lower down to gauge when to sow our seeds and harvest our crops.

It was a most inspiring day and the perfect antidote to winter. I'm now itching to get started and sow the seeds I bought on the day and try the recipes from Paolo's cookbook :)

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

ABC of Chippenham: Donkey Field

Just five minutes walk away from our house is the Donkey Field: an area of open land bordering the Bristol Road, Sheldon School and the sports club. It's a much needed set of 'green lungs' at the western edge of the town: used by walkers, dog owners, school cross country runners and me when I used to commute to Bristol. It formed about half of my 20 minute walk to the railway station and was a welcome escape from the roar of the traffic on the main road.

It's neither park nor countryside, but something in between. There's two main areas: pictured is part of the smaller one where the grass is left longer to allow masses of wild cranesbill to bloom in summer. The other part is much bigger and mown a little more often - I don't really know why. There's also a couple of old hedgerows: one by the school and the other bordering Hardenhuish Brook where it flows near the main road. Both have many dens and swings made by children in the summer.

I haven't got to the bottom of why it's called the Donkey Field round these parts: research at the town's museum and the county History centre have born little fruit so far and I haven't had time to make enquiries at the Town Hall yet. I have established it formed part of the Hardenhuish estate and was either gifted or sold to the town by the Clutterbuck family on March 7th 1938. The Borough records of the time label it as 'Open Space' with a value of three hundred and ninety three pounds, six shillings and six pence (£393 and 32.5p in today's decimal parlance).

The land has a covenant to prevent building on it, but this has already been breached when the town sports and social club was built. In late 2007 the football club applied for planning permission to take another slice of land to use for covered pitches, but so far this hasn't materialised. I for one hope it doesn't as I would like the land to remain available to all local residents.

This is for ABC Wednesday and is the fourth post in my themed series about Chippenham.

Monday, 7 February 2011

What's New for Your Garden This Year?

What's new for your garden in 2011? There's plenty that's what, as seen at my first ever garden press event at the RHS Halls in London last Thursday. This is one of the key events the Garden Media Guild organises and is the first opportunity of the year for all kinds of companies offering gardening and sundry products to show off what's new.

It's also the place for a good chinwag* and to spot a few gardening celebrities like Charlie Dimmock, Helen Yemm**, Peter Seabrook and Pippa Greenwood. Alan Titchmarsh was also present, but only in the form of a cardboard cutout on the Plant Heritage stand. However, he was very much the subject of the day's gossip as his move to ITV to present a new gardening programme had just been announced.

I was able to catch up with a couple of VP's VIPs [yet to be published - Ed] in the shape of HabitatAid's Nick Mann - who was launching his rather splendid Meadow Anywhere product on the Hillier's stand - and The Fat Gardener who was his usual shy and retiring self ;) I met up with fellow 2011 Malvern Meeters Philippa Pearson, Catherine Horwood and Nigel Colborn, plus it's always good to bump into Martyn Cox and The Constant Gardener :)

A lot of the gardening press have predicted the demise of GYO*** this year. However, I've seen no evidence of that locally (our allotment waiting list still grows apace) or from what I've seen elsewhere. Many of the exhibitors are in agreement with me (particularly Gardman): the continued economic downturn is still converting into a strong public interest in all things GYO.

Within the GYO arena I saw two clear trends for this year: 'nostalgia' and vertical gardening. As you know I've been reading a number of books on the WWII Dig for Victory campaign which is echoed by Kings Seeds joint venture with The Mirror to reintroduce Mr Digwell to us. A welcome modern development with this campaign is the introduction of a detachable recipe plus nutritional information on the seed packet.

Thompson and Morgan are introducing a heritage vegetable seed collection: these are some of the varieties dropped from their catalogue when the new EU registration rules came in which have been reinstated now these have been relaxed. I need to investigate further what is meant by the term heritage seed - does a variety from the 1970s count for instance?

There were at least 4 different vertical growing systems on display from a couple of very functional plastic versions through to a more stylish looking wall hanging from Burgon and Ball, a most robust stand alone offering from Vertigro and a whizzy wall or stand alone version from Treebox. I've yet to be convinced that a solution on how best to keep these watered has been developed yet, but the latter offering was the best thought out I've seen so far. You'd need quite a few of any of them to get a decent crop, so I expect their main use will be for growing herbs, salads, tomatoes or strawberries, even though the top of one of the systems was sporting some broad beans.

Back down to earth there were all kind of gizmos available for watering (including hydroponics); pop up cloches and even a pop up greenhouse; screening for unsightly growbags or for edging borders; and creating all kinds of shapes and sizes of raised bed using nothing more than much taller plastic lawn edging. Collapsible bucket anyone? This is where I fail as a reporter because I haven't made a note of the companies involved. Just rest assured a large selection of what's on offer will probably be hitting a magazine or supplier near you very soon ;)

Not to mention a bewildering array of tools to help you get the job done: I was amazed to find Fiskars were demonstrating their 'new' Weed Puller as I've already got one at home (you'll see mine on the right's labelled Wilkinson Sword which was consumed by the Fiskars group a few years back). It turns out there was a 'limited product launch' around 10 years ago which is when I got mine (limited might mean it was a Wilkinson Sword product originally which Fiskars are now seeking to revive?). Expect to see this gadget being heavily promoted on a TV screen near you soon.

I was really pleased with my goody bag from Vitax as it contained a nifty 'spout' to convert a plastic drinks bottle into a wasp trap. This will come in handy if I have the same kind of wasp woes as I did last year. I'm also making use of their sticky fly traps right now as we've been invaded by compost flies in the kitchen.

Back at Thompson and Morgan's, I had an interesting chat about their new Verbascum 'Blue Lagoon'. Some of you know about my scepticism about the need to introduce 'unnatural' colours not normally seen in a particular plant, but apparently there's been a lot of interest from both the garden press and plant sellers on this one. It's mainly due to the plant being truly blue (a very rare colour in the plant world apparently) and similar in hue to a Meconopsis. It's the product of Thompson and Morgan's own breeding programme and I was told it's the result of the breeder's attempts to create a red flowered plant!

Talk of Chelsea was very much in the air. Hillier's theme for this year is Feel Good About Gardening (and they confirmed they will be blogging in the run up to Chelsea), Crocus are busy growing the plants for three of the major show gardens (though I spent more time casting envious eyes at their lovely rhubarb forcers and old fashioned cloches) and Bulldog Tools will have a nostalgia exhibit based around the local blacksmith forging his own gardening tools for a self-sufficient lifestyle.

Further reports of the day can be found on The Garden Network, Garden Forum, The Fat Gardener and The Constant Gardener.

* = so much chinwagging ensued that I didn't get round all of the 70 odd stands!
** = who is coming to talk at Bath University Gardening Club in April :)
*** = Grow Your Own

Friday, 4 February 2011

A Warm Welcome to Grow Your Own Readers :)

I'm delighted Grow Your Own Magazine has chosen Veg Plotting as one of the first blogs to feature since its recent revamp. For those of you arriving here after reading your copy this month (or indeed any Saltburn allotmenteers arriving via their local magazine), it's lovely to see you and I hope you'll quickly feel at home :)

You'll see to the right there's some summary Pages to help you get started which includes a bit about me plus an introduction to my garden and allotment plot. Below this there's a selection of some of my Popular Posts: I see quite a few people lately are discussing whether tomato grafting is any good, so you may like to have a look at my post on this topic.

If you wish to home in on a particular subject, there's a Search box you can use at the top left of the page. This is just like Googling, except the search and results are restricted to what's here on my blog. Staying on the left hand side, but further down, you'll also find a Labels section, which shows the broad topics I write about and the number of articles written for each of them. Using Search or Labels will present you with a series of appropriate articles I've written in reverse date order and you can simply page through them as you like.

Last week I showed my proposed plot plan for 2011, so you can have a look at what I'll be growing this year plus a few of the projects and experiments I'm hoping to complete. You may also like to see my Allotment Dreams written in early January. What are your hopes for your plot this year?

As it's early in the year I've been catching up with my reading and there's a couple of book reviews you may be interested in: Digging for Victory is a detailed look at the well known WWII campaign and is quite an eye opener. Organic Vegetable and Fruit Growing and Preserving Month by Month is the latest opus from Garden Organic's former directors.

Next week I'll be telling you about a fantastic workshop I went to in Oxford recently given by Seeds of Italy, so you may like to look out for that.

Grow Your Own also mentions my trips to Dyrham Park and RHS Wisley last year. I went to a perry pear day at Dyrham Park in October which was fascinating and I'll certainly be returning to Wisley again - at less of a gallop - to look at their orchards and vegetable plots.

I do hope you'll enjoy your visit and would like to come back sometime. With this in mind I've provided a number of options on the left hand sidebar to make it easier for you to not miss a thing. If you have a Google account set up, then the Follow facility is for you. Or if you already read blogs using another reader such as Bloglines, then you might like to Subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, there's an Email subscription option which will pop my latest article into your inbox whenever I publish something.

Finally, do dive in, enjoy and if you have any questions or anything to say about my blog in general or on a specific post, then we can start a conversation in the Comments either via the link below or via the one below the particular post you're looking at.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

ABC of Chippenham: Churches

A selection of Chippenham's churches. Clockwise from top left: St Andrew's, the Weslyan Methodist Hall, St Paul's and St Nicholas'.

I've selected just four of Chippenham's churches for today as they're the ones for which I have stories to tell. St Andrew's is the oldest (dating back to Norman times, though the site has evidence of building dating back to Saxon times) and stands in the centre of town just off the Market Place. It's main story is reserved for another time - it'll be well worth the wait! When I was taking the photograph a couple of weeks ago I was surprised to find the church has its own website. I felt it was strangely modern for so ancient an institution, but then we all have to move with the times don't we?

The Weslyan Methodist Hall stands on Monkton Hill just off the High Street. I usually pass by it on my way to town. It has a very steep garden (just off to the right of the photograph) which I've photographed a couple of times for Out on the Streets, but never got round to writing the article.

The garden's lovingly tended by volunteers, many of whom must find it quite hard to perch themselves on the steep slope. It often has some quite innovative planting, which I learnt when I stopped to speak to the gardeners one day is often due to them being reliant on donations of plants. One year there were masses of deliciously varied Dahlias dotted around the garden. These had arrived on the Hall's doorstep one day courtesy of the local milkman who'd come across a surplus of plants on his travels.

This church is also notable because it was built just over 100 years ago to mark the centenary of Methodism in Chippenham. I also believe it's built on the site of an old inn, which is quite ironic bearing in mind the Methodist views on the demon drink.

Many of you will be familiar with the work of the architect responsible for St Paul's which stands on the Malmesbury Road at the top of town, not far from the railway station (and Views From the Bike Shed). It's by the Victorian architect Sir George Gilbert Scott, who more famously was responsible for the design of the Albert Memorial and St Pancras Station in London.

Finally, St Nicholas Church is the one closest to where I live in Chippenham. When I drive into our estate, I can see it peeping out just above all the modern houses as it stands on the hilly part of Hardenhuish Lane. It's rather surreal to see something so classically elegant floating above so many box-like houses huddled together, but I smile every time I see it. I had to photograph it for English Heritage in 2000 when I took part in their Images of England Millennium project. It's a relatively tiny church but worth its listed* status as it was designed by John Wood, the architect responsible for The Circus and Prior Park in Bath.

This is for ABC Wednesday and is the third in my themed round of posts about Chippenham.

* = this previous ABC Wednesday post tells you lot more about the listing of our heritage buildings and my involvement with the Images of England project.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

GBMD: The flowers of late winter

The flowers of late winter and early spring occupy places
in our hearts well out of proportion to their size.

- Gertrude S. Wister

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