Seen at The Festival of the Tree

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

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

ABC of Chippenham: King Alfred

The building in front of you is the Chippenham Museum, not far from the Buttercross which we looked at for the letter B. What makes this of interest for the letter K is the plaque on the wall, which you can just see to the top left of the lady walking past.

You see the legendary King Alfred was here: he of burnt cakes fame. He was king of Wessex - one of the realms of England during the Dark Ages - and one of the more famous ones of those times.

During these times Chippenham was a villa regia aka a royal estate with a hunting lodge. The king would bring his court here to stay for hunting in the surrounding rich forest and also preside over matters of justice. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle states that the Anglo Saxon Witan, or parliament was held in Chippenham in 933.

During the ninth century, the kingdom of Wessex was under threat from Danish Vikings, who'd already captured the other three Anglo Saxon kingdoms. In 878, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle says:

This year, about midwinter, after Twelfth Night, the Danish army stole out to Chippenham, and rode over the land of the West Saxons, where they settled, and drove many of the people over sea.

In 879, King Alfred defeated the Danes at the battle of Ethandune, which is thought to be modern day Edington near Westbury. He then chased them back to their stronghold at Chippenham and lay siege. Thus peace was restored to the kingdom of Wessex and it's this defeat which went towards him earning the title King Alfred the Great.

Whilst the remains of buildings dating from Saxon times have been found close by where the pictured commemorative plaque is displayed, there's no real proof yet that this is indeed where the royal hunting lodge actually was.

However, a couple of mentions in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle, one of the key documents we have of this poorly documented time, shows that Chippenham must have been of some importance. There's other evidence too, but that story is a better tale for next month :)

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

Monday, 28 March 2011

Psst! Fancy Some Nasturtium Seeds?

As you can see I have rather a lot of packets of nasturtium seeds, which I acquired in the process of telling you about Nick Hamilton's Twitterchat last year.

They're the perfect thing for a giveaway as they can be used by both gardeners and food growers alike. I started growing nasturtiums up at the allotment a few years ago, where they've made a regular appearance ever since. Gardeners concerned about their self-seeding tendencies may like to restrict them to their summer pots, where they can be kept under total control ;)

They flower prolifically and all parts apart from the stems are edible. NAH is usually quite conservative when it comes to vegetables, so it's pretty surprising that he happily munches away on the flowers as well as their peppery leaves in salads. I also make delicious nasturtium capers and have been known to give my plants an allotment version of the Chelsea Chop.

The variety I have on offer is Jewel Mix, which grows to around 9-12 inches in height. I don't usually go for seed mixes, but I rather like the rich yellows, oranges and reds of these. Now's the perfect time to sow them and I can confirm they have a good germination rate.

If you'd like a packet, then do leave me a comment below. I have 25 packets of around 20 seeds per pack to give away, so I'll do it on a first come, first served basis. Once they've gone they've gone! Sorry, this is only open to UK readers.

Update 29th March 5pm: Note to self: I must also ask you to send me your address details when setting this kind of thing up! Everyone who's replied up to and including Juliet should have been contacted by now for your address details. However, I can't get hold of 30foxley, Karen and Hilary. I do hope you come back here, see this and contact me via vegplotting at gmail dot com so I can arrange to send you your seeds. Assuming you do, I have 6 packets left for anyone else who'd like some :)

Sunday, 27 March 2011

It's Census Day


Tonight's the official night to record who's present in your household for this year's census return. Don't be put off by the form, most of you won't have to fill out every page as it's designed to cover households with up to 6 people living there.

As you can see, this year you can do it online, or you can pop your return in the post. Online Help is available or you can call 0300 02101 101 (or 18001 0300 0201 160 if you need the Text Relay service). Do please complete yours and return within the next 10 days, else someone like me * will be calling round to see if we can help.

The census has been taken every decade since 1801, apart from 1941 when we were a little preoccupied with WWII. This might be the last one, so it's history in the making perhaps?

* = I've taken the Collector role for an area around here, which means next month I'll be following up on questionnaires which haven't been returned.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Love is in the Air

The really warm weather the past few days has brought many noticeable changes to my garden and plot. We've succumbed to the first grass mowing of the year and the weeds are starting to make their bid for the sky. The birds have turned up the volume, the bees are buzzing and previously slow and sleepy ladybirds* are getting a little more racy in their activities. Love is most definitely in the air ;)

Has anyone else noticed there's lots of ladybirds around at the moment? I'm having to rehome loads of them as I work my way through all this spring's pruning and shredding activities. It's probably just as well they're here: I'm sure the sunshine will also wake those pesky aphids from their slumbers...

* aka ladybug for those of you from across the Pond

PS don't forget the clocks go forward tonight here in the UK. Sweet dreams and from tomorrow we can garden in the evening - yay!

Friday, 25 March 2011

When I am Queen

RHS London - I wonder what lies within?

When I am Queen, I will sit in my stately chamber and demand books be brought to me by the dozen, served on golden platters. I had this fantasy in my mind when I visited the RHS Lindley Library recently.

I'd been wanting to visit for a while as there's several strands of research which couldn't be satisfied by my usual sources of information. I had to go to London last week, so here was the excuse I needed to spend a few hours in every garden book lover's idea of heaven. It's so heavenly I'd like to live there.

The ground floor has the reception plus a general library stuffed with books and every garden publication imaginable. However my pre-visit enquiries showed I would need to visit the research archives in the basement instead, where an appointment had been made for me. Beforehand, the good folk of the library would see what they could find in the archives to meet my needs.

When I got there I had to lock away my coat and bag, then pick up my day pass to allow me into the inner sanctum below. I was shown to my table with a large pile of books waiting for my perusal. How civilised is that? The only downside was how LOUD my scratchy pencil was as I made my notes. The room was so quiet, I was certain I was disturbing my fellow researchers. Next time I'll ensure I have a softer one to go with my notebook.

Though of course when I'm Queen I'll probably have someone to take notes for me. That doesn't quite seem so much fun as my visit was last week.

Update 25th March: Just found out Veg Plotting's a featured blog this month on the RHS Grow Your Own website, so here's a big welcome to anyone who's arrived from over there :)

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

ABC of Chippenham: John Coles


I've often wondered who exactly John Coles was and now have the answer courtesy of my research for today's post. He was a pharmacist who owned a pharmacy and general grocer's store at the top of the town where Coates' flower shop is now. There he made medicines, invalid wines and other products such as garish dyes, furniture polish, insect powder and 'Chippenham Scour Mixture', a cattle remedy. He was a keen supporter of secondary education and was Chippenham's Lord Mayor three times in 1891, 1898 and 1914, so he must have been well respected during his lifetime.

On his death in 1916 he left a legacy to the then Chippenham Borough which they used to purchase a suitable plot of land for the provision of a public park. When I was researching D for Donkey Field, the purchase of this land was also documented in the papers I was looking at: just over £4,000 for 15 acres of former farm land.

John Coles Park opened in 1923, which I believe makes it one of the younger parks of its type in this country, those resulting from a local benefactor. This kind of philanthropy was more common during Victorian times when the provision of open spaces became a popular way to improve a town and general public health. However, age doesn't really matter: its continued presence and use in the heart of the town is much more important.

Changes are afoot at the park this year which I hope to tell you more about in my regular Out on the Streets meme. The Town Council - who look after the park nowadays - have decided to apply for Green Flag status and to have a Friends of the Park scheme to help with upkeep. I'm expecting the latter to happen all over the country this year when the fallout from the round of local government spending cuts bites ever deeper.

Talking of Out on the Streets: look out for my kick-off post in early April where I'll be asking you to show us what's out and about re public planting in your neighbourhood.

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

Monday, 21 March 2011

Showtime Preview


Friday had an air of Buy One Get One Free for me last week courtesy of the RHS. Thanks to Jekka McVicar when I visited her last month for VP's VIPs, I was invited to London for a sneak preview of all this year's outdoor shows, plus what's afoot at the RHS gardens.

This was held at the Lawrence Hall, where the second sneak preview was on offer as all the exhibitors were quietly getting ready for the weekend's Orchid and Botanical Art Show. I wish this blog had smello-vision because the scent whacked you smack between the eyes on entering the Hall's reception area. The above picture shows you the scene from our briefing eyrie and later on I was able to get a much closer look with a most civilised glass of wine in my hand :)

What did I learn on Friday? Well, if you're planning on going to Chelsea on either Tuesday or Saturday you'd better get in there quick as tickets for these days have almost sold out. Thankfully all the Japanese crew involved with Kazuyki Ishihara's The Green Poem Garden are safe and still planning to fly the flag for their country at this year's show. Diana at Elephant's Eye will also be pleased that Kirstenbosch have finally secured their funding needed to exhibit this year.

Show Manager Alex Denman announced there'll be a Chelsea App launched in April which will have lots of insider information on the show. The lovely Raymond Evison (who I also bumped into on the way in) will have the first ever walk through Clematis exhibit in the Great Pavilion and I'm thrilled that Crug Farm Plants will also be there.

On the show gardens front, we had a more detailed look at Bunny Guinness' 'sophisticated potager' and B&Q will have the tallest garden ever at Chelsea with their 8 metre high vertical vegetable tower. I must find out how that's going to be watered! I also bumped into Matthew Wilson who's involved with Nigel Dunnett's show garden and hopefully I've persuaded Cleve West to tweet or post a picture a day of his once he's on site.

I also continued in my role of rubbish reporter from these kind of events. On being introduced to Luciano Giubbilei, all I could muster was a feeble Ooh I follow you on Twitter. He fared better than I did despite speaking in a foreign tongue: he's been very busy and has just returned from Cumbria where he's been sourcing stone for his show garden. I also managed to gabble to the RHS President I'd visited her garden in Herefordshire, and the Director General knows I'm an RHS member who's passionate about science. All three of them must have wondered why on earth I was there ;)

I had much more sensible - and fascinating - conversations later with Director of Shows Stephen Bennett about show planning and someone (so sorry I didn't catch your name, I do hope you read this and set me straight) about his role on the advisory side of things. Colin Crosbie also proved to be just as enthusiastic about his Garden Curator role at Wisley as he had been earlier when telling us how wonderful all the RHS gardens are. It was a fantastic opportunity to talk to these people and to hear the friendly banter going on between them all.

That's it for now: I'll be giving you more news about the other shows and gardens another time as this post is long enough for today.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Channel Hopping

I have a guest post over at the BBC Gardening Blog today, so do press the Red Button to see what I have to say on the subject of colour :)

If any of you have hopped channels to here from the BBC, then hello and welcome!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Book Offer: Kids in the Wild Garden


Jess from Blackdog Publishing has been in touch with me again, this time to offer you 40% off their latest publication, Kids in the Wild Garden.

It's a project based book, aimed at encouraging children out into the garden to find out about the world around them. Projects include making a bird box, growing a tadpole tank, creating a butterfly garden and making warm winter habitats for bugs.

I haven't got a copy of the book, but the photos I've seen in the Press Release (PR) are clear and cheerful and if my days as an environmental education officer are to go by, anything involving creepy crawlies or making stuff is an instant hit with most children. I can send you the PR if you wish to know more before making your order.

This 96 page paperback is available for £5.97 instead of the usual £9.95 - and cheaper than at Amazon! To obtain your copy send an email to jess at blackdogonline dot com with Veg Plotting Book Offer in the subject line and your delivery address details. She'll then contact you to sort out the rest :)

Friday, 18 March 2011

Red Nose Day 2011

If you have, put her back immediately!

We had loads of gardening jokes for Red Nose Day in 2009, which has been my most read post for the past month. Do add some more in the Comments below ;)

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

ABC of Chippenham: Isambard Kingdom Brunel


Thanks to the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Chippenham is a railway town. He decided that his Great Western Railway line from London to Bristol - nicknamed 'Brunel's billiard table' at the time because the line is relatively flat compared to others in the UK - would be routed through the town and was also based here for a while whilst it was being built. When you visit many of our towns and cities, places of heritage are often marked with a blue plaque like the one above. The temporary presence of one of our greatest Britons ever was deemed to be of significance by the Civic Society.

The plaque is placed on a small building to the side of the railway station. This was Brunel's office which he used whilst supervising the works in Chippenham and the surrounding area. He left quite a mark on the town in 1841, but you'll have to wait until a later letter to see exactly what that was...

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

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

GBBD: Not So Mellow Yellow

March of course is unashamedly yellow. There's lots of daffodils nod, nod, nodding in the breeze, their cheerfulness reassuring us that spring is truly here, even if things might go out with one last wintry roar at the end of the month. Until now, I've always chosen them to showcase March in my garden. However, 2011 already is turning out to be an untypical year: if there is such a thing as typical in the world of gardening.

After the cold of December, January saw my snowdrops blooming far earlier than usual by around 10 days. They're just beginning to go over and now my daffodils are taking their place. But what's this? We have a usurper in our midst: my Forsythia has decided to bloom ahead of its far daintier cousins. This is a first for my garden and is just plain wrong.

I'm sure it's because I've decided to get rid of it this year, so it's decided to play by the rules of Houdini Plants I devised a while ago. As you can see it's flowering its socks off in a kind of last hurrah. Until now it's never been a prolific bloomer, usually preferring to proffer an odd twig of gold here and there instead.

Today it's as loud as its far lustier cousins and showing just how garish a Forsythia can be. I bought it because the corner it's planted in is usually dull and I wanted it to brighten the spot. It's also a variegated variety, my reasoning being that this would make it more interesting during the non-flowering period. How wrong I was: a variegated non-flowering Forsythia is just as boring as the more conventional kind. So I'm showing it off today because I've never shown it before and as a final record of how that part of the garden looks before I change it.

In other news I've lost my heart to a Hellebore. This is most strange as I don't usually go for them at all. I get irritated by their downward looking flowers and have had lots of difficulty when growing them in the past with ugly black spots on the foliage. All that changed when I went to the RHS Show last month and met Helleborus 'Winter Moonbeam'. I spent a lot of time looking at her whilst Victoria made her snowdrop selection, but the visions of that black spotted foliage made me determined not to cave in to her charms.

Returning to the Halls late on in the afternoon was a dangerous move as the crowds had gone and there was time to chat at length to the pleasant woman on the Harveys stand. I explained my previous difficulties with Hellebores which prompted lots of questions about my garden and soil. It appears its previous life as a farm means that the ground is trying to return to a meadow and the clay soil isn't really helping re the fungus responsible for the black spots. I really need to rework the soil, dig deep and add lots of gravel. There was lots of advice and absolutely no pressure to buy, just a cheery 'well you need to go and do a bit of thinking about what you want to do then'.

Then I spotted one of them in a large pot. 'Oh, can you grow them like that?' I asked. 'Oh yes' came the reply, 'These have been potted up for 3 years. Just give them some bonemeal a couple of times a year and they'll be fine.' That made my mind up and I now have a pair of delightful large flowered Hellebores lighting up the steps down to my shed. I love their marbled foliage too: a double unexpected delight. It just goes to show that perhaps if we dislike a particular plant, it's not really dislike at all but probably because we haven't found the right one yet.

I'll make an exception in the case of the Forsythia though ;)

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

Monday, 14 March 2011

Look Out Flingers, We're Coming to Seattle!


I'm not one for New Year's Resolutions anymore, but I did make a couple of promises to myself at the beginning of the year which started to come together last week. The first of these was to go to the Seattle Fling in July.

That sounds a pretty easy promise, but I gave myself a couple of hurdles to make it a tad more tricky. I didn't feel I could go all that way without NAH coming along and I couldn't really justify splurging out on a mega holiday from our savings without getting some paid work beforehand.

It's time for our Census this year, so our going to Seattle hinged on me getting one of the 35,000 temporary jobs on offer. We'll draw a veil over the frustrating and long winded process this has been: suffice to say at last a provisional job offer came through last Monday, subject to the necessary security checks, references, training etc. etc. all being satisfactory.

In the meantime I've been emailing NAH with links to various things we could do and see in and around Seattle entitled Persuasion. Lots of engineery type things; boat trips; spectacular coastal and mountain scenery; Mount St. Helen's; whale watching; a hop, skip and a jump to Canada. Lots of exciting things to make it a wonderful time for us both, with not one mention of gardening or blogging ;)

You see, I'd assumed NAH would join me for a holiday after the Fling...

Then our friends in Oz got in touch to say they'll be in the UK in July and could they stay with us on July 22nd -arrrrgggghhhhh! Much frantic emailing ensued and they're now staying with us on the 21st July - phew!

Then NAH announced not only is a trip to Seattle most tempting after all my Persuasion emails, he's also found out one of his classmates at university now lives in Seattle. So yes, let's both go and let's go there at the same time.

So the flights are booked and we'll be arriving on the 22nd :) Treat him gently eh guys?

Sunday, 13 March 2011

How to Keep a Naturalist's Notebook


If the name Susan Tomlinson is familiar to you, it might be because you read her great blog, The Bike Garden. Susan arranged for me to have a review copy of her fab book last year and I'm feeling a little guilty it's taken me so long to write my review.

I wish I'd had a copy of this a few years back when I started my Designing with Plants course with KLC. The course requires quite a bit of drawing, particularly for the 50 plant profiles element, showing how each chosen plant plus 3 selected companions fit together. I bought a couple of botanical illustration books at the time as I haven't done much in the way of artwork since I was 14, but found them to be way above the level I needed and gave up the course soon after.

Whilst Susan's book is aimed at nature journaling, the guidance within is equally suited to someone wanting to keep a visual diary of their garden, garden visits, wildflowers or whatever takes a gardener's fancy. We all take many photos to accompany our blog posts, but there's something about sitting down with a notebook, a pencil and either paint or crayons (or even those wonderful watercolour crayons) which really helps you to see.


Susan has plenty of sound advice on the kind of kit to put together and I've found it useful to have added a hand lens to my bag, so I can really look at plant details. There then follows a chapter on basic drawing skills, which looks at the shapes found in nature, putting these together, then adding shade, tone and colour to the drawing.

I was familiar with these principles from my previous purchases, but what elevates this book above those is that Susan then shows how these basic skills are actually applied in the field notebook context. This is much better for quickly gaining an impression of a place or a plant than a polished botanical drawing achieves. For anyone who still aspires to botanical artistry, this is also a useful step to master and is missing from the books I have in my collection. It's also much more achievable!

I also like the many step-by-step practical exercises Susan has devised for the reader to gain confidence and the many real examples shown from her students' field notebooks. Some of these also show Susan's comments to her students, so it feels like she's there guiding you through the whole process.

All in all this book has a much more practical and achievable feel to it, than the others I've tried. I've even used the skills I've acquired during some of the talks I've attended (such as Nigel Dunnett's Rain Gardens course recently) to quickly sketch a slide or photograph shown. However, I'm keeping my notebook to myself for a little while longer - I still need to practice a bit more ;)

How to Keep a Naturalist's Notebook has 'translated' well to this side of the pond and I'm pleased to see it's now available here in the UK ;)

Friday, 11 March 2011

Fish Trap Gardening

It's not often the worlds of two of my passions, freshwater biology and gardening coincide, but they did last week when Threadspider and I took one of our regular trips to our local garden centre. Here we are at the Garden Bygones section where all kinds of items are for sale. This is the place where I bought my vintage potato fork a few years back and I'm always tempted to buy some of the old apple boxes.

The strange looking contraption you can see in the photo is a salmon fish trap used on the River Severn during the 1950s. I was rather surprised to find a couple of metal ones on display as I've only seen ones woven from willow before. You can see the more traditional structure and an explanation of the fishing here. I felt rather sad to see them as it probably means someone has stopped fishing the Severn in the traditional way: it's a technique that's dying out as and when the fishermen retire. However, looking on the bright side using them for a different purpose is far better than just throwing them away.

I'd love to have one as a companion for the woven one I have in my study as I write this. A friend brought it back as a gift from her trip to Cameroon to remind me of my fishy past when I researched salmon and trout populations. That was here in the UK rather than in Cameroon, but I did appreciate her thoughtfulness. However, the price of the salmon trap on display is a bit too steep for me. Mark managed to acquire some for Otter Farm recently, so I'm hopeful I might find a cheaper source soon. I won't be using it for the purpose suggested on the label you can just see in the picture though: it's for growing sweat peas ;)

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

ABC of Chippenham: History Centre


It's been really hard choosing this week's H because there are quite a few good ones to choose from as far as Chippenham's concerned. In the end I plumped for the
History Centre because I went there for the first time whilst researching D for Donkey Field.

As you can see the centre is for the whole of Wiltshire and is one of the latest (and largest) public buildings to be built in the town. It's built on part of the old cattle market (which closed in 2004) close to the railway station and opened to the public in October 2007. The move of the various records held at Trowbridge (our county town) and Salisbury to Chippenham was quite controversial at the time because whilst Chippenham has relatively good transport links, it's neither in the centre of Wiltshire, nor is it the largest (which is Swindon) or the county town.

The History Centre is the focal point for all heritage services relating to Wiltshire and Swindon which includes the collections of the county's local studies library, museums service, archaeology service, Wiltshire buildings record and the conservation service. It has purpose built archive storage and research facilities and covers an area of about 5 football pitches (4,000 square metres) in size. All kinds of items are stored there: documents, film, microfiche, newspapers, video, CDs etc. etc. Some of the more unusual items can be found on the Records Office blog.

About 10,000 people use the archives each year, many of whom are researching their family history and have found links to Wiltshire. My visit was slightly different as I was trying to find out some of the history of a local name and area of land.


Like all visitors I had to register on arrival (unless they've done so already) and store my coat and bag in one of the lockers provided. No food or drink is allowed inside the archive area in order to help preserve the materials and I was only allowed to carry a notebook and pencil. I then asked one of the staff on duty about my query who then scurried off to find the right set of indexes for us to look through.

As my query was about land belonging to the previous Chippenham Borough Council, I was told at the outset that it was highly likely that the information I wanted would be at the Town Hall in the middle of town as the town council have decided to store those records there instead of making them available at county level.

However, there was just one likely looking reference in the index which I then ordered up from the archive storage area. I was then shown into the 'inner sanctum', the silent study area where a few people were seated at tables making notes from various books. After about 10 minutes my document arrived tied up with white ribbon and I was able to find just what I needed for my letter D :)

I'm hoping they'll have behind the scene tours for the national Heritage Open Days in September as this is the most fascinating of places.

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

Monday, 7 March 2011

VP's VIPs: The Fat Gardener

Following my observations in last Friday's post about garden bloggers rarely writing about their garden tools, it's rather good timing today that my VIP is The Fat Gardener who blogs for Quality Garden Tools. When I started out with VPs VIPs last year, I said I was aiming to get at the nuts and bolts of the gardening industry. Today I'm doing just that, albeit a little more literally than usual!
How did you become the 'voice' of Quality Garden Tools?

By accident! Quality Garden Tools was a new company and were looking for someone who both loved garden tools and could write (a heady combination!) to put together a blog for them. I just happened to be in the right place at the 'write' time.

Over 130 posts on a niche gardening topic is impressive going, where do you get your ideas?

The first thing to say is that you have to love what you're blogging about. Garden tools and gadgets are constantly being invented, improved and redesigned which makes life much easier as there always seems to be something new to blog about. Fortunately, Quality Garden Tools allow me to write about anything within horticulture, not just garden tools, so my blog contains posts on shows, issues and other garden news. A blog is quite a personal form of expression, so I tend to write exactly what I think; if I like or admire something I say so and if something makes me cross I write that too. I find that the world of gardening inspires and infuriates me in equal measures, so I never seem to have any shortage of what to write!

I'm a little confused from looking at the website: is Quality Garden Tools a separate company or part of Bulldog Tools?
It's a completely separate company. One of our owners, Dominic Elsom worked for Bulldog Tools for a number of years and was amazed that their great range of British made tools was available in so few garden centres. He started Quality Garden Tools with the specific purpose of supplying every product that Bulldog Tools manufacture direct to keen amateur and professional gardeners and landscapers. Five years on and the company still offer every tool that Bulldog manufacture as well as many other leading other brands.

I can get my Bulldog tools from my local garden centre, why should I buy them online?
If you're lucky and you live near a garden centre like the Plant Centre at the RHS garden at Wisley you will be able to get hold of a few Bulldog Tools. However, if you want something a little different like a tree planting spade, potato fork, onion hoe, compost fork or even a long handled spade for taller gardeners you will have problems finding it 'offline'. Also you should expect to save at least 10% if you buy online along with the convenience of never having to leave your garden!

I see you still manufacture in the UK [a much rarer thing these days! - Ed], why is that?
We stock a number of British made products including Bulldog Tools, Nutscene Twine, Haws Watering Cans, Hayter Lawnmowers and Haemmerlin Wheelbarrows which are made in both France and the UK. I recommend British tools because the production values (quality) tends to be extremely high. Many of these products have a 'handmade' quality to them with the manufacturing tradesman manufacturing 'by eye' to ensure fantastic quality based on experience rather than machinery. I also think that it makes sense to buy a spade or wheelbarrow that hasn't travelled half way around the world to get to your local garden centre. They may cost a little more, but these British tools will last longer and may even help to save the planet.

Can I come and look at your factory?
Anyone is welcome to visit Bulldog Tools in Wigan on one of the regular factory tours. Tour dates can be found here.

Anything new or major projects in the pipeline?
We've just introduced a range of Haws Professional Watering Cans to their website. They are made in Smethwick, West Midlands and I was lucky enough to be the one to test the samples - which was great fun! Later this year we will have a very secret new range of famous horticultural tools arriving in stock, which up until now have been very hard to find in the UK. We will also be showing Ethel Gloves at the Chelsea Flower Show this May.

I struggle to find a spade and fork that are right for me. What are the key things I should be looking for?
This is an incredibly common problem. Many gardeners (particularly ladies) struggle to find the right spade and fork to suit them, but the correct tool is often easier to find if you ask yourself the following questions:
  • How tall am I? A standard digging spade is designed for gardeners of between 5' 7" and 5' 11". If you are between 5' 2" and 5' 6" try a border spade and if you are shorter than 5' 2" use a shrubbery spade. Taller gardeners will find long handled spades more comfortable.
  • How fit and strong am I? A spade or fork full of soil is heavy! If you need a lighter spade try to remember: Stainless steel is lighter than solid forged steel and pressed steel is lighter than stainless steel. The smaller the spade or fork the lighter it will be, so if you find digging spades heavy, a border spade will be lighter. Also a wooden handle is lighter than a steel handle and a fibreglass handle is lighter than a wooden handle.
  • How often do I use them? If you only use a spade and fork occasionally you may want something heavier to get the work done quickly.
  • What extras do I want? Do you need boot savers (or treads) on the spade? Do you prefer a 'YD' style grip or a traditional 'T'? Do you prefer an epoxy coated finish or stainless steel? Do you want an open socket, a closed socket or a strapped tool (this will affect the strength of the tool).
These questions should lead you to the right tool. Try not to be fooled by the style or 'look' of the spade/fork - just because it looks like an old fashioned tool doesn't mean it was made like one.

I often garden in my trainers and these sometimes get damaged when I dig, is there anything I should be looking for which helps to prevent this?
Oh dear, trainers are never good (I'm not called the Fat Gardener for nothing)! I would first suggest that you get a pair of stout boots which will be much better at stopping misplaced fork prongs, then I would recommend a spade with treads. These are small pieces of metal attached to the top of the spade blade and will save both your feet and your shoes.

I find continued pruning often hurts my elbow, what kind of things should I be looking out for to help prevent this when I buy my next pair of secateurs?

First, you may want to check your pruning action has a straight grip (like shaking hands) and isn't twisted (like turning a screwdriver). The second thing is to always make sure you are using the right tool: don't use secateurs to do a lopper's job and don't use loppers to do a saw's job. It is really easy to try and use secateurs to prune a thick stem, but it will put strain on your arm. Finally it may help to use either secateurs with a rotating lower grip which are designed to make prolonged pruning more comfortable, or ratcheted (sometimes known as geared) secateurs which reduce the pressure needed to make a cut.

My friend and I have been arguing about lawn care. I say it's OK to edge with a spade, she says I need a lawn edger. Which of us is right?
Neither of you! Using a spade or a lawn edger tends to remove too much turf for my liking. I only use a lawn edger when I am rejuvenating a very overgrown garden or making a new vegetable patch or flower border in an existing lawn. I think the best tool to keep your lawn edges looking like a bowling green are edging shears. Assuming that your lawn edges were properly created, just tidying up the edge of the unkempt lawn will get them looking great. If you are going to use a spade, check it doesn't have a curve to the blade, otherwise you will end up with scalloped edges!

And finally, where can we see the giant spade this year?
It was actually on TV recently! The spade will be visiting a number of nurseries and garden centres this year and you can check out the schedule on the Bulldog Tools website.
Thanks for such a fun interview! I've now bought a pair of proper safety boots following your advice, so if Threadspider spies me up at the allotment digging in my trainers she should be telling me off ;)
I also see whilst grabbing the links for this piece that Bulldog are also blogging and tweeting about their Chelsea exhibit this year :)

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Competition Time: Win a Cloche :)


In a change from my usual Sunday review slot, I thought it was time for something different and to have a competition instead. I've found just the thing with PochCloche, who are offering you the chance to win one of five AcryliCloche® Low Barn Garden Cloches in their ‘Cloche and Grow’ Competition.

Everyone who enters the competition will receive a 10% Discount Code to spend on AcryliCloche® Garden Cloches on the PoshCloche website, so we're all winners in one way or another :)
For your chance to win one of these fantastic garden cloches Enter Here.
The AcryliCloche® is made in the UK from rigid plastic which is resistant to UV and frost damage and comes with a 5-year guarantee. It doesn’t require any assembly so you can begin to use it as soon as it arrives.
The Low Barn Garden Cloche can be used for:
  • Growing your own fruit and vegetables
  • Protection from frost, wind and rain
  • Protection against pest damage
  • Warming up the soil before sowing or planting
  • Extending the growing season
  • Forcing crops
  • Hardening off tender plants
Good luck everyone - I'm looking forward to getting an email from PoshCloche telling me that at least one of you has won by entering from my blog!
NB I've started a new Competition Page in the right sidebar for this and future competitions, giveaways etc., so you'll quickly be able to find what's currently on offer in there.
Competition details:
  • The competition is running from 1st March – 30th April 2011
  • Five lucky winners will each receive an AcryliCloche® Low Barn Garden Cloche 75cm and one End Pack worth £25.99 (and postage is free too)
  • The competition is being run on other blogs and websites: all entries will be collated by PoshCloche and winners will be chosen by them at random on May 1st
  • Winners will be notified by email, so do please follow the instructions in the email sent to you so that your email address can be validated
  • Prizes will be dispatched within two weeks of the competition closing date
Rules:
  • This competition is open to UK residents only
  • Winners will be picked at random
  • Prizes can't be exchanged for cash or other items
  • The judge's decision is final (and it's not me!)

Friday, 4 March 2011

Garden Bloggers Under the Microscope


Here's some evidence that garden bloggers are being taken very seriously by the garden industry these days in the shape of the 68 page Global Garden Report, a study commissioned by Husqvarna and Gardena. These are two of our major garden tools and sundries providers, whose range of products is substantial.

Mr BrownThumb had a look at this report over at GardenBloggers.com a few days ago, which prompted me to go and see for myself. Over 1.4 million blog posts from 2009 were analysed from garden bloggers in 13 countries: Australia, Brazil, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, UK and USA.

Naturally a lot of automation was used to analyse that many posts (plus internet searches), but a manual analysis of blogs and forums, plus a questionnaire were also used to compile the results. In general they found garden bloggers to be non-competitive, who strive for personal fulfilment through the creation of their own personal 'Eden'.

Each gardener has their own vision of what this 'Eden' might be, divided into 10 main types:
  1. Kitchen Gardening
  2. The Organic Garden
  3. The Feel-Good Garden
  4. The Designed and Artistic Garden
  5. Re-Creating Wilderness
  6. The Social Garden
  7. Urban Farming
  8. The Lush Garden
  9. Container Gardening
  10. Greenhouse Gardening

Each country had its own favourite categories: in the UK these were Kitchen Gardening, The Feel-Good Garden ('a soothing experience') and the Designed and Artistic Garden (self expression through style and 'making the garden into a personal piece of art').

I struggled with the latter category: there's quite a few UK garden designers who blog and I wondered if this might have skewed the analysis, and I felt the very similar Lush Garden category ('planned, designed, well-organised' and 'requires a lot of work') might fit us a bit better.

There were general observations about us not saying that much about the tools we use. I can understand this: tools are part of the work side of gardening which don't get bought or replaced that often, plus if we're focusing more on the end result in the form our own personal Eden takes, the humble spade or trowel we use isn't really going to get much of a look in.

Lawns aren't discussed much either: but then according to the report the core group of bloggers in the UK is middle-aged women and if I and my (non-blogging) friends are anything to go by we're not usually the person looking after the lawn anyway.

As we don't talk tools or lawns, it's going to be a harder job for Husqvarna and Gardena to use this information to bring us the products we want. However, I'm sure they'll work hard to interpret what's needed for each of the 10 categories and which ones are best suited for marketing in each of the 13 countries.

I have some reservations about how the study has been conducted, particularly as there's an implied assumption the garden blogging community is a (albeit very large) representative sample of all gardeners. It's also interesting to see that we're perceived as the garden trend setters or 'shapers': we talk about issues, techniques, styles and products well ahead of what books and magazines have to say.

I wonder how all of this will translate into what we find at our local garden centres over the next year or so.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

ABC of Chippenham: Goldiggers

I have a confession to make: what you're looking at isn't Goldiggers at all. It's 'son of Goldiggers', the development which replaced it in 2005. When we moved to Chippenham in 1984, Goldiggers was the place to be at weekends. You might have 'been' there too as it was frequently where
Sight and Sound In Concert was recorded for BBC TV in the 1980s.

Goldiggers started life as the Gaumont cinema, an Art Deco building designed by the cinema architect W E Trent which opened in 1936. It was then was converted to a popular nightclub/concert venue in the 1970s and was owned by Sir Richard Branson in the 1980s.

It also housed The Bit on the Side, a bar which had a trompe l'oeile painting on the outside wall. Inside was a place which drew thousands of clubbers from around the country plus very well-known bands to perform there such as The Smiths, The Boomtown Rats and The Style Council (here's a longer list for your perusal). This video shows the late Gary Moore in action, so you get an idea of what it was like. There's also a video of it in nightclub mode, but the cameraman had a bit of a problem with the vertical hold ;)

NAH and I went there just once: in 1984 to see Howard Jones (don't ask) in concert. We'd never been to a gig at a nightclub before, so didn't realise there was about 3 hours of disco to endure before the main act came on at 11pm. It was a week night and we'd both just started new jobs, so were a bit concerned how our late night (well actually morning) was going to affect things the next day. As you can see, we survived to tell the tale.

At some point I believe it was sold by Richard Branson and the club started to go downhill and developed a reputation for drugs. Finally sometime in 1999/2000, the lease was forfeited for non-payment of rent, and the building repossessed. Most people in the town wanted the building to remain as a leisure/community facility, but it was finally demolished in 2005 to make way for shops on the ground floor with retirement flats above them - I always thought this decision was a bit daft.

The new building is roughly the same footprint as the old and looking at NAH's photo above (taken just before demolition) I'm wondering if the the windows/stone carvings on the new building are the ones taken from the old. Most of the shops are still empty (this isn't exactly the busy part of Chippenham), though one part was recently rented out to an insurance company. Some of the retirement flats have been the subject for my Unusual Front Gardens series and I used a more conventional angle for the photograph that time ;)

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

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

GBMD: Dear March, Come In!

Primrose 'Cottage Cream' - in flower since July last year

Dear March, come in!
How glad I am!
I looked for you before.
Put down your hat–
You must have walked–
How out of breath you are!
Dear March, how are you?
And the rest?
Did you leave Nature well?
Oh, March, come right upstairs with me,
I have so much to tell!

I got your letter, and the birds’;
The maples never knew
That you were coming,–I declare,
How red their faces grew!
But, March, forgive me–
And all those hills
You left for me to hue;
There was no purple suitable,
You took it all with you.

Who knocks? That April!
Lock the door!
I will not be pursued!
He stayed away a year, to call
When I am occupied.
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come,
That blame is just as dear as praise
And praise as mere as blame.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

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

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