Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

The Easy Recipe Finder

Judging by Veg Plotting's statistics, my seasonal recipes are one of the most popular parts of my blog. It's great when people take the trouble to thank me for a recipe they've tried successfully themselves :)

I'm also aware my recipe label isn't the best way of finding things, nor is asking you to use the search facility at the top of the blog. So I've put together this summary, showing what's on offer in the simple, seasonal recipe line both on Veg Plotting and my Open Garden blog.


Allotment (also a generic Glutbuster as are most of these recipes)
Garlic Mushroom
Last of the Summer - a Glutbuster way to use up lots of salad leaves and cucumber
Mangetout (a guest post on The Guardian Gardening blog)
Moroccan Pumpkin Soup


But It's Too Cold for Salad! Ideas of what to do with those leaves when the icy weather hits (also in the comments)
Make Mine Mint - lots of ideas for using this herb in salads
My Simple 4 Step Salad Guide - how to make an interesting salad every time
Primrose Salad
Roasted Squash and Rocket Salad
Sprouted Lentil and Pea Shoot Salad - a warming winter version, plus a summery variation

(Mainly easy suppers and courgette/squash ideas)

Roasted Tomato Sauce
Universal Pesto

I also have a post dedicated to ideas for using lots of cucumbers - both hot and cold dishes 

Puds and Tea Time Treats

Apricot Tart (with a later variation using figs)
Chocolate Cake (with an amazing mystery ingredient!)
Chocolate Spice Cookies (a Christmassy option from Encounters With Remarkable Biscuits)
Quince Tart (a major adaptation with link to original recipe)
Scones (aka 'biscuit' across the pond and not to be confused with our biscuits!)

Jams and Preserves

Dessert Apple Jelly
Fig Jam (an amazing variation of my Rhubarb and Ginger Jam recipe)
Nasturtium 'Capers' (NB only use the small seeds - see comments)


Croutons and simple salad dressing - two essentials which help a salad go with a zing
Garlic powder - great for a huge harvest that can be made to last for up to 2 years
Gooseberry sauce - a good accompaniment to oily fish, such as mackerel
Mushy peas - lots of information about them, plus instructions to make your own and a link to a video showing how they're made chip shop style
Raspberry vinegar - great for salad dressings, ice cream, drinking and coughs

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

OOTS: Birmingham's Mini Roundabout

Birmingham's 'mini' roundabout* has cheered me up considerably on my recent trips to the city. Driving along the A38, you can't fail to miss it when you reach the massive 'gateway' roundabout at Longbridge. The car used for this planting would have been made just a few yards away.

The old mini production line** is no more: the site's reduced to rubble and signs nearby say there's 47 acres ripe for development. Overall, 468 acres comprise the area in Longbridge's regeneration plan. Who knew the area was so vast? Apparently there's 27 acres of public open space included, though I've yet to find out exactly what this entails. In another ironic twist, one of the roundabout's many signs says the planting is sponsored by a Jeep dealer in nearby Rednal.

However, I do welcome the humorous touch and sense of place that's been added to this roundabout - other towns take note. Coincidentally I parked next to a new mini (sadly no relation to the old one*** as they're made by BMW) when I stopped on the way home to take this photograph.

Do you have something similar - or different for that matter - to contribute to the current edition of Out on the Streets? I have a couple of further posts lined up, so there's still time for you to participate if you do :)

* = a similar arrangement also appeared at this year's RHS Flower Show Tatton Park.

** = NAH has reminded me that another name for a factory is plant, so there's also a puntastic connection ;)

*** = my first car (and NAH's) was a mini :)

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Meeting Blogging Friends in Seattle

Thank goodness arriving late for the party (by one day) didn't mean I missed out on a warm welcome when I joined the others at the Seattle Garden Bloggers Fling.

NAH strikes a pose at the Bloedel Reserve - thank goodness that brolly was big enough for 2!
NAH decided to come with me too (after sending many emails to him with links to goodies marked Persuasion), which was the first time everyone met the both of us. On the way to breakfast on the first day, NAH suggested he went in first so that no-one would catch on it was him. We were both unprepared for the screams of delight when I showed up, not only from Gail, Frances and Victoria who were at breakfast together, but also from Barbara and Carol on the same table! Blog regulars Pam, Dee and Cindy soon joined in the welcome party :)

Tales of the gardens we visited will follow in due course. It was a packed programme with lots to see and marvel on each day, but I feel the most important thing to show you for my first gardening post from Seattle are some photos of my fellow friends from the Fling...

Kylee and her mum negotiate the steps at the Epping Garden

... after all, it was almost impossible to photograph the gardens we visited without at least one of them getting into the shot ;)

Lots of chances to make new friends including Judy (far left) Andrea (2nd left), Nan (3rd left), Annaliese (4th left) and Mary Ann (far right). I'd love to know who the others are!

If Frances isn't seeking or taking a photograph, there's plenty of notes to be taken

Frances was always on the move...

I wonder what's in there Barbara?

... and Barbara was always seeking the perfect shot.

Gail and Victoria looking cool at the Bellevue Botanic Gardens

After being warned about the miserable weather the Pacific North West had had this summer, some people were surprised they had to buy a hat!

It was tough for Victoria and I not to be able to buy any plants to bring home, but who cares when fellow blogger pals like Melanthia are full of smiles with their haul at Dragonfly Farm?

Look what I got!

It's been lots of fun going through my 1,000+ photos from the holiday and my biggest smiles are when I see my fellow flingers in action. I'm also sad I haven't managed to get pictures of everyone I spoke to, especially those who've regularly visited me here at VP Gardens. Apologies to everyone who's been left out or I can't name at the moment - that wasn't my intention at all. Thank goodness for my fellow bloggers who've all posted about their time in Seattle and can help plug the gaps.

Lorene flung open her garden as well as being on the organising committee

Thank goodness also for Lorene, Marty, Debra and Mary Anne who not only put together a marvellous programme for over 70 of us to enjoy, but also stayed calm and full of humour throughout the hectic four days. They've also had the presence of mind to post a group picture of themselves which I never achieved, heading up their request for everyone's links to their posts about Seattle.

Go forth to the above link and enjoy...

...more blogger pics to come... :)

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Does Your Blog Need a Favicon?

What on earth is a favicon?
You may have noticed recently all kinds of new little pictures popping up when you read a blog, or are looking at listings some people like me have on their sidebar (see Local Vocals to the right).

The large orange 'B' for Blogger and 'W' for Wordpress are still there (as is what looks like a speech bubble for Typepad), but in other instances such as Meet at Malvern listed to the right, or if you're reading my blog in a browser which uses tabs, you'll see another picture: in my case a tiny square version of my Avatar.

These are all favicons (aka favourite icon) and are used particularly by online businesses as part of their company branding. Where does this fit with blogging? Well, it mainly depends on whether you want to 'brand' your blog in a similar way to what a company would do, OR you want your blog to be distinct from others using the same blogging platform as yourself.

As most of my current online presence is using a pseudonym, I decided very early on in my blogging 'career' that I wouldn't change my avatar, so that everyone would know when it was me doing the talking irrespective of where it was displayed. By complete accident I'd also chosen something pretty distinctive which contained a tiny picture of me in the middle - perfect!

Therefore it seems sensible for me to have my own favicon and have now installed them on all my Blogger and Wordpress blogs. An unexpected advantage I've discovered since then is when I have loads of tabs open (as I often do when writing a post), I can find my blog(s) much more quickly amongst all the sea of Bs and Ws et al. at the top of my screen.

OK you've sold it to me. How do I install a favicon on my blog?

Using the Blogger Help facility to find out more about favicons comes up with a list of links which are largely out of date. The key information you need if you're contemplating changing from the big orange B is in the Buzz post dated 1st August. It's pretty straight forward to install, but note that the picture you're proposing to use needs to be in a square format first.

I used the facilities in Microsoft Office Picture Manager to crop and save my Avatar into a square format: your photo editor of choice should have the same facility. I kept the picture as large as possible (in terms of pixels) as Blogger takes care of getting the picture down to the right size. Some favicon displays can be larger than the 16x16 pixel standard, so it's good to have a file I can use for any upload I might do in the future.

Wordpress have renamed the favicon as blavatar (blog avatar) in their online help. Their upload facilities will take rectangular format pictures and you have the option to choose your preferred crop into a square format as part of this process.

Other points to note when using favicons:
  • Blogger accepts all image types and Wordpress currently (as of 27th August 2011) accepts JPEG and png file types only: other providers may be different. The industry standard is to use a file type that uses .ico after the file name. It's very easy to convert your picture or photo to an .ico file using this handy converter. NB the resultant image is in 16x16 pixel size and it's probably automatically saved your new file to your download folder on your computer if you're wondering where it is!
  • When discussing Wordpress, I only have experience of users are welcome to add anything useful in the comments below
  • You may find that your new favicon isn't displayed straight away. Mine were there after about 24 hours
  • Most favicons are displayed as 16x16 pixels so you need to choose something which is still identifiable at such a small size. Most photos won't be (I believe mine is borderline) as most have lots of colours in them, so simple, clear graphics like the ones used by Blogger and Wordpress are recommended and tend to work best
  • The Wikipedia entry says that favicons can slow website download times. This is true as any graphics or photos you have on your page have a much larger file size than the text. However, we all have some kind of favicon associated with our blogs already. The upload process used by Blogger and Wordpress should* be such that the resultant file used is no larger than if you chose to keep their favicons on your blog
Whether a new favicon is suitable for your blog is entirely up to you. As far as blog design goes, I'd class it as a 'nice to have', but if I was running a business I'd think of it as an essential. What do you think?

* = note to self: must test this out...

Friday, 26 August 2011

OOTS: An Early Autumn

Autumn is arriving early here at VP Gardens: here I'm contemplating the leaves which have fallen onto our front drive from the public land next door. I've never had to think about sweeping them up in August before and it's not the first sign of seasonal change either. Before our holidays last month I was exchanging tweets with The Woodland Trust who were asking if anyone was observing autumnal signs back then. I'd been noticing the rowan trees around here were positively groaning under the weight of extremely ripe looking berries - that's during our mid summer!

Earlier this week the RHS issued a Press Release about early leaf colouring on the trees seen in various RHS gardens. Our evenings aren't dark enough yet to trigger this, so our extremely hot and dry spring is being blamed as the culprit. Despite the indifferent weather we've had since June, our soils still haven't had enough rainfall to make up for the loss they had from March through to May, so our trees are still stressed and dropping their leaves.

Driving back from Birmingham yesterday I was struck by how yellow the leaves were on most of the trees lining the M5 as well as spotting just how many of them are sporting rosy red apples. Judging by how far back lots of these were from the side of the road, some drivers must be awfully good at throwing their cores from their car windows as they travel up and down the motorway.

If you keep a nature diary or are interested in when things are happening in your garden or surrounding countryside, then you might be interested in joining the Woodland Trust's Nature's Calendar project. You'll be joining thousands of others like me who are collecting simple but important data on when various key signs of spring and autumn are seen. If you've ever heard anything about how our daffodils are flowering much earlier than they used to, or we're cutting our lawns much later each year (or even year round), then it's likely the information collected by this project is being used for the report.

This kind of research even has a special name: phenology and it's being used to track and provide supporting evidence on whether climate change is really happening. It's a worthwhile project, which won't take up a lot of your time if you decide to join in :)

Are you seeing signs of an early autumn yet? What's happening down your way?

Thursday, 25 August 2011

OOTS: This Year's Palmstead Seminar

I've had details of this year's soft landscaping seminar hosted by Palmstead in Ashford on September 28th and once again it promises to be a good one. Here's the day's lineup:

  • Andy Sturgeon - starts the day and then chairs proceedings
  • Noel Farrer - a Landscape Architect who knows plants make great places
  • Professor James Hitchmough - I'm a great fan of 'the Sheffield School' and this talk carries on from Sarah Price's presentation last year. He'll be discussing techniques and his designs for the Olympic Park meadows and gardens
  • Gill Chamberlain - Horticulturalist who offers a garden upgrading service for owners with staff mentoring and project management for designers
  • and last but not least James 'will share his passion for plants and point out which ones are best for long term workloads'. Let's see he if he does shall we? ;)
There's also a mini-exhibition of companies associated with landscape works; Michael Packard's specialist book stall and a 'Plant Help Desk' with access to Palmstead's specialist growers and team to answer any questions.

And all this for £20 including lunch. See you there?

See my Garden Talks summary post for a list of write-ups from the past two years if you need further persuasion. They really do put a good event together.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Wildflower Wednesday: Mount Rainier's Delights

I've wanted to join in Gail's monthly meme for a while, so I'm happy that after our recent reunion in Seattle, the roadtrip NAH and I subsequently took provided the perfect material to do so. Firstly a little scene setting...

Mount Rainier is Washington State's highest mountain at 14,411 feet (4,392m) high and its image is found everywhere, even on car number plates. On a good day in Seattle [and we were told these are very few each year - Ed], it can be seen in the city even though it's over 50 miles away. There was much excitement on our coach on my first Fling morning after Gail cried out: oh look at the mountain, it's come out to play.

In the afternoon, I was also excited when I turned round at the Olympic Sculpture Park to find it posing right at the end of the path ahead (see photo at the top of this post). Now it just so happens that my Persuasion emails to NAH included a trip to find Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad. NAH has much more to tell about this part of our journey: suffice to say we not only found ourselves at the railroad - and staying in a fab converted caboose the first night - we liked the area so much we stayed an extra day and had the above view from the lakeside swingseat of our historic home lodging in the tiny town of Mineral.

The next day we headed for Paradise, one of the visitor centres in the heart of the National Park and on Mount Rainier itself. Spring has come very late to this area this year: the highest mountain road only opened a week before our arrival in July. As we climbed up the mountain there were plenty of opportunities to take photos of breathtaking views. At one stop I was struck by the scent of meadowsweet and the tiny flowers dotting the roadside.

On reaching Paradise, there was a wildflower walk advertised with one of the park rangers. However, the late spring meant there was very little to see at around 5,000 feet, so the walk was cut rather short. Instead here's a picture of NAH in the snow.

It's a shame the park ranger couldn't do his walk a thousand feet or so below Paradise, because below the snowline, the sub-alpine meadows could be seen in all their glory. I spotted the wild versions of my garden's Mimulus and Penstemon as well as a much fluffier one of our clover on the roadside verges as we descended the mountain.

And then we stopped at Reflection Lake, only to find it was too late to take the traditional photo of the mountain as the breeze was disturbing the water too much. I turned round to find the entire roadside was covered in Erythronium. Now I understand why Keith Wiley fell in love with this genus when he saw them in the wild. I wish we could have spent longer on the mountain, so we could have hiked away from the road and immersed ourselves in the meadows. But then we would have had to miss out on other highlights of our journey.

I have a couple of other wildflower posts to come, though I think they'll probably get posted before next month's Wildflower Wednesday. In the meantime, why not have a look at what Gail and friends have to say today?

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

The Plot Thickens

As yesterday was possibly the only good day this week, I spent quite a bit of time up at the plot harvesting the various crops which are ready to be gathered in. I was feeling a bit maudlin about giving up half of the plot, when I heard distinct voices coming towards me.

I looked up and sure enough, the couple I saw had the appearance of people having a look around as prospective new tenants. I wanted to dive away and hide, but smiled and said hello. They were unsure of just what constitutes plot 14, so I showed them around.

It turns out they're the owners of The Priory, a care home in Chippenham and have already agreed to whichever half I'm giving up so that they, the care home staff and residents can take on the plot as their project. The member of staff in charge of this is a Ghurka army wife who intends to run this along the lines of how it would be done in her village in Nepal.

I'm absolutely thrilled at this outcome as it fits in so well with what I've been saying about the need for gardening in care homes. This has worked out so much better than I dared hope and I'm looking forward to meeting all my new neighbours :)

Monday, 22 August 2011

Garden Bloggers in the Rain

As I said last Friday, our Fling trip to The Bloedel Reserve didn't have the best of weather. NAH and I hadn't really dressed for this eventuality, so it was rather a relief that the Reserve had a plentiful stock of umbrellas for us and quite a few others to borrow. My previous post on Meeting Blogging Friends shows NAH posing with ours.

Whilst we had an umbrella large enough for two, NAH did make sure he wiped each branch we went under so I was showered with raindrops. By the end of the day I was thoroughly soaked but instead of me getting all cross with him, it just gave us fits of the giggles. So what could have been a miserable day turned into lots of fun.

I had the same fits of giggles when trying to photograph Jim under his umbrella (see above) as I wanted a picture of the Reserve's logo. He's using the umbrella to protect his camera and tripod, but was finding the space rather tight to work within. So it ended up twirling around like something out of Singing in the Rain as he tried to find a comfortable spot. I hope Jim doesn't mind this photo as I'm hoping he'll let me have a copy of the group picture he took of us all on the ferry. It's such a super shot, how about it Jim?

You've seen this umbrella before as it featured in my post about Hakonechloa and other grasses. Hiding beneath it is Katie Elzer-Peters. I also have a portrait version of this shot as I was considering it as a cover photograph alongside the one I eventually chose for my Bloedel Reserve Special.

There was often an opportunity to take blogger-to-blogger photographs and here Nan is demonstrating that holding a brolly whilst taking a picture can be rather tricky. Guess what the grass is at the bottom of the picture?

Here I was struck by the similar jaunty angle of Susan's umbrella as the hat on her bag. Our umbrellas were also a good opportunity to introduce a contrasting jolt of colour into the dullness of the day.

And finally, how many garden bloggers can you spot in this picture? Is it the same number as there are umbrellas?

Update: Many thanks to those of you who responded with suggestions for how I can present my Bloedel Reserve posts in a magazine format. I've since realised that I already have a way to do this as I have a copy of Page Plus which I need to load up and have a play with. This post might get the 'magazine treatment' at a later date and once I've got to grips with the software, I'm anticipating that at least one of the posts from last Friday's 'cover' will get presented in this way.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Minding My Peas and Cucumbers: Book Review

If you have an allotment: Read this book

If you want an allotment or are thinking about it: You need to read this book

If you don't have an allotment: Read this book anyway

Why? I hear you ask...

If you have an allotment: you will be squirming and giggling with that uncomfortable sense of delight that Kay Sexton has a plot on your allotment, but you haven't met her yet. You may even recognise yourself in the character(s) she portrays. Failing that there's quite a few recipes in there you probably haven't tried yet which will come in handy for those future gluts.

If you want an allotment: Kay really tells it like it is, including all the hard bits*. You will be going into the deal not only with your eyes wide open but also armed with lots of useful little nuggets of information all those shiny, authoritative looking Grow Your Own books have somehow forgotten to mention. Failing that, you will see how inventive allotment folk have to be to use up their annual harvest.

If you don't have an allotment: you will realise that allotment life encompasses the whole of the real world in miniature and you will enjoy the stories she recounts about the version of it up at her plot. Failing that, there's always the deliciously unusual recipes to try...

Kay has beaten me to it and written the book I've always wanted to tell. Mr Allotment Warden, Threadspider and Fred to name but three can all sleep easy in their beds from now on.

This is an entertaining read which is also useful. I wish I'd had seen Kay's advice years ago re taking a whistle for lonely evenings up at the plot. The 5 stitches I needed for my leg one time would have been far less traumatic had I had the means to summon help more loudly. The reality of years of co-working, allotment managing and service on the allotment committee before getting a plot of one's own was quite an eye opener too.

My thanks to the publisher, Summersdale for giving me the opportunity to review this book :D

* = Yes it is hard work, but that's what makes allotmenteering enjoyable and the harvest all the sweeter.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Bloedel Reserve Special

Editor's Letter

Hello and welcome to this very special edition of Veg Plotting. Our final day's Fling in Seattle was spent in The Bloedel Reserve. We took the ferry across to Bainbridge Island (a treat in itself) whereupon the marvellously warm and sunny weather we'd been enjoying refused to come and play and we finally got a taste of the rain which the Pacific North West is famous for.

In addition to having exclusive blogger access to the Reserve on a day it's not usually open to the public, we were also treated to the wit and wisdom of David Perry who kindly agreed to provide 3 mini-photography workshops spread across the day in order to accommodate us all. There's lots more to come in later posts, but for now I'll just say that David's challenge to us was to pretend we were on assignment for a magazine and come up with the all important front cover shot, a story plus the photographs needed as illustration.

Today's post forms the first part of my response to that assignment: the front cover of my 'magazine', plus its contents page. As you can see magical Bloedel has many stories to tell, some of which will be added to this blog over the next few weeks. Their links will be added to the list below (and show up in brown) as and when they appear on Veg Plotting.

I'd really like to mock up one or two of these to look like proper magazine pages, but I don't think I have the software around to enable me to do this. If you know of anything (preferably free) which can be used for this purpose, do leave the details in the comments below.

I hope you enjoy what's to come: rest assured I won't be exclusively blogging about Seattle over the next few weeks. There'll be a mixture of the usual stories too :)

Until the next time,



On the Cover

Plants and Design
  • The Devil's in the Detail The tiny accents which caught our eye
  • Reflections of Bloedel A very different view of the Reserve
  • A Rolling Stone... ...gathers lots of moss in this most unusual part of the garden

  • Sneak Peek Our intrepid Fling organisers' trip to The Bloedel Reserve last May
  • Behind the scenes What it takes to keep Bloedel in tip top condition
  • Bloedel and other stories As told by Seattle's Flingers across the world wide web

  • Editor's Letter
  • Contributor
  • Readers' Comments Your chance to share your thoughts on this most magical of places, ask questions, or just have your say [do add yours below - Ed]
  • Garden Bloggers' Muse Day A thought provoking quote courtesy of Prentice Bloedel
  • Out on the Streets Our summer look at what's hot - or not - in the world of public planting
  • Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day A spiky visitor is found up at the plot
  • Book Reviews Helen Babbs' tale of a novice gardener on a tiny London rooftop was among the new releases up for grabs in Seattle
  • Crossword B*gger!
  • Classifieds See the right hand sidebar for our current sponsors
  • Next Issue What's coming up in September

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

OOTS: Don't Fence Me In

We arrived home from holidays to find the above pictured scene: one of the open spaces on our estate was fenced off right at the start of the school holidays. Needless to say it's the open space closest to the densest of housing on our estate and is the only one on their side of the main road.

Our local Residents' Association have been on the case and established that Crest (who originally bought the land making up the estate, then sold it off to various developers) still own this piece of land: it's enough to build another house or two.

Further delving by them elicited the following information from Crest via one of our local councillors (I've emboldened some of the wording):

I have spoken to Andrew Cox (Land and Property Dept) at Crest Nicholson at Bristol.

He informs me that shareholders have asked that all the odd pieces of land owned by Crest Nicholson are fenced off and put into a portfolio. What is to happen to these areas has not yet been decided. He did state that say that at some stage he will be talking to the relevant planning depts.

I told him that the residents were upset as the children use the area for football and cricket and he apologised for the timing of the work, but it had been agreed that if someone was injured on these pieces of land that they (Crest Nicholson) could be held responsible.

Amazing how our local children have managed to play on this land without overly harming themselves for over 5 years isn't it? So where are they playing now? In the road next to it - much more dangerous surely?

This is the remnant of land that was originally earmarked for a primary school, which was subsequently developed for housing instead. It appears that Wiltshire Council designated this remnant 'for community use' in 2003 when they rejected a planning application. Bearing in mind the land's original intention, its use as an open space seems much more in keeping and morally right.

I'd love to know who's been cutting the grass over the past few years and who will be going through the padlocked gate to do so in the future. Crest or our local council? And if it's the latter, I'd also like to know what bearing this might have on ownership/usage (ideas/advice anyone?).

Thank goodness we now have a Residents' Association willing to get to the bottom of this mystery. It might just be an ordinary little patch of grass, but it's valued greatly by our residents nevertheless.

Monday, 15 August 2011

GBBD: A Spiky Visitor

I've taken advantage of the extra space up at the allotment this year to grow lots of Dahlias for cutting. Regular readers know of my love for this flower, particularly D. 'Moonfire', which miraculously survived our coldest December in over a century out in the garden snuggled under its Dahlia duvet. It's been flowering its socks off since early July.

I usually keep my flowers firmly in the garden, apart from sweet peas - which need lots of cutting so they'll keep on producing blooms rather than going to seed anyway - and any daffodils which get knocked over by spring winds or heavy rain. I feel that cutting my flowers shortens their lifespan, so I'd rather enjoy them outside and for longer.

However, it does feel rather decadent - and luxurious - to have an excess of Dahlias which I can cut for display on my kitchen window. Besides, I'll see these for longer if I bring them home, even though there's lots of work to be done on the plot.

It's the first time I've successfully grown the cactus type of Dahlia too and as they don't need to fit in with any particular garden scheme, I've chosen one of the lipstick pink variety. Just because I can. Isn't she an absolute floozy? However, a frantic fit of tidying up before we had friends to stay last month means I've recycled the front of the tuber's packet which I'd diligently kept for an occasion such as this post :(

So you'll just have to enjoy it as it is then ;)

Have you done anything out of the ordinary or outrageous with your blooms this year?

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day is hosted by Carol (Hi Carol - great to see you last month!) at May Dreams Gardens.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Hmm Hakonechloa (and other grasses)

You may recall that Hmm Hakonechloa was something I was pondering for my front lawn just after reading Neil Lucas' fantastic book, Designing With Grasses.

Sorting through my photographs from Seattle, I'm struck that this thought hasn't strayed that far yet. The above example from the Lane garden is just one of many shots I took of this grass and you'll probably be seeing more in later posts.

Seattle may have a similar climate and planting palette as our own - though both Victoria and I were struck by how much higher and lusher our familiar plants were growing - but I'm pretty sure gardeners across the pond are making much more use of grasses than we tend to do (or perhaps I'm more tuned into them nowadays?).

They're effective too - as I hope this quick trawl through some of the gardens we visited and the public planting I found (like the above example from the University Shopping Village right by our hotel) will show...

The meadow's grasses at the Bloedel Reserve added to the day's mood.

The scene in front of the Italian restaurant we dined at close to our hotel in Seattle. Since I've arrived home, I've realised that this might be the first physical example of a rain garden I've seen.

Grasses lighting up this pathway through the Epping garden made the whimsical lamps superfluous at this time of day.

Another grass and whimsy combo - from the Farley garden this time. I could have used glass or whimsy as a common theme to give you a quick garden tour as they're in much evidence in the Pacific Northwest.

Dreamy combinations from the Bellevue Botanic Garden on a very hot afternoon.

Lorene's Stipa shows just what a good see-through 'curtain' it can make when placed at the front of the border.

This looks a good place to lead daddy a merry dance away from the West Seattle Farmers' Market.

Ooh look - another sneak preview of the Olympic Sculpture Park ;)

A sense of humour in a garden is always welcome and the Dragonfly Farms and Nursery didn't disappoint.

And there you have it: a quick tour round most of the gardens we saw - both public and private - whilst we were in Seattle and told in the form(s) of grasses :D

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Rethinking the Plot

As we're in the middle of National Allotments Week, it's an appropriate time to bring you up to date with happenings up at the plot. After a great deal of thought, sadness (and much growing of weeds), I've finally decided to give up half of the plot. Our distance caring responsibilities have increased enormously this year, plus I've gone back to work part-time, so I have to face up to reality and I can see that I can't keep things going in the way they should be.

I've written to the allotment committee and we'll be getting together shortly to discuss which half I'm keeping and the arrangements for handing over the other. I have the whole 10 lugs until the end of September, so there's lots of work to be done before my new neighbour (I hope they're nice!) comes in.

There's pros and cons to each half, so I'm swithering over which one I'd like. Not only that, there's trees to be moved and I'm hoping that not only can I delay moving them until they're dormant, I'll also be allowed to transfer them to my half of the plot. We've just had an amnesty on keeping existing allotment trees so long as they're kept to 2 metres in height, so I also need to get cracking with my summer pruning. Thank goodness I won a spanking new Felco pruning saw when I was in Seattle!

Irrespective of that decision, I also need to build new supports for any trees allowed to remain. The arches I've trained the trees over or have used for cordon/espalier training have finally collapsed in a heap. Some serious allotment ER is needed.

To help with my deliberations over my plotting future, here's the most important features I'm considering:

Left hand side (as you're looking at the picture)
  • already has space at the top of the plot ready for manure delivery
  • has the largest compost bin (720 litres and it's full)
  • has a slightly larger growing area since the demise of the nettle patch last year
  • has a great fennel 'hedge' which provides me with all the seeds I need for a year's supply of fennel tea
  • has 3 of the 7 most productive apple and pear trees, plus cherry (with canker), plum, damson and gage
  • 9 trees to move
  • has the raised bed (though easy to move)
  • 1 grape vine to deal with (work is needed anyway as it's sprawling over the ground)
  • 30 strawberry plants and a globe artichoke to move (this was going to happen anyway)
  • has a patch of bindweed and an absolutely dreadful patch of couch grass that won't lie down and play dead
Right hand side
  • has the TARDIS like shed
  • has the water butt (and it's nearly full - 220 litres)
  • has 4 compost bins (mainly full - approx. 1,000 litres of compost)
  • has my prize winning raspberries, plus rhubarb, gooseberries, more raspberries and some tired strawberries
  • the main (and prize winning) raspberry patch needs to be moved or replaced if I'm to have a manure delivery this autumn
  • has the cold frame (woeful success with melon growing, so considering abandoning)
  • has 4 out of the 7 most productive apples and pears, including our favourite and the best keeper (Saturn)
  • 7 trees to move
  • 1 grape vine to deal with (work is needed anyway as it's sprawling over the ground)
  • has a voracious and vicious self-sown bramble amongst the gooseberries
Hmm, writing that little lot down hasn't helped me decide at all. Do you have any thoughts?

Whilst there's a lot of hard work ahead and I hate the idea of giving up half of the plot, I have a sneaky suspicion I might be quite a bit more productive up there next year...

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

OOTS: Downtown Seattle

Seattle has vast riches when it comes to public planting and the way it chooses to present its open spaces all over the city. Here's just a taste of what I found when NAH, Victoria and I set out on our post Fling sight seeing. These planters are on Pine Street. Note also the use of paving to add interest: I could do a whole post just on paving alone from what I found in and around Seattle.

The area around the famous and bustling Pike Place Market had chosen cheerful sunflowers as its signature plant for this year.

And many of the other local businesses had chosen to adorn their balconies or go in for full blown roof gardens.

Unfortunately I haven't got a photo of the amazing Freeway Park which covers 'the ditch' created by the criss-crossing of motorways in the centre of the city as we were always bowling along the I-5 on the way to the next Fling garden or back to the hotel. I'm hoping one of my fellow Flingers may have captured it. We saw vast curtains of vines and other tropical planting hanging down off various roads and bridges. They swayed in the wind caused by the passing traffic. Apparently the part which covers a municipal parking garage also has an artificial stream and cascade.

Finally, here's a quick teaser photograph of the Olympic Sculpture Park, one of our Fling venues which deserves a juicy OOTS post all to itself. Corten steel isn't big just at Chelsea Flower Show!

Fancy joining me for OOTS this month? You can find out how here.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Out on the Streets: August 2011

It's August, so it's time for another episode of Out on the Streets! Our recent trip to the States also included a side trip to Victoria in Canada. Victoria is famed for its hanging baskets* and these adorning the walkway by the Undersea Gardens entrance in the harbour were a particularly fine example last Thursday.

The view across the pond has given me much food for thought and I've plenty to show you over the coming weeks. There's not only planting styles and examples, but also the use of planters, water and hardscaping to add to a sense of place. I hope my fellow Seattle flingers will join me: indeed they have already without knowing about OOTS and I'll add their links to Mr Linky below if allowed.

I hope you'll join me too: The Constant Gardener has already shared her thoughts on the spending cuts and the decline of the marvellous public planting she noticed recently on the Isle of Wight. Hers is a fitting start to this month's Out on the Streets.

All you need to do is post on your blog an example of public planting or use of outdoor public space which has taken your notice this month. It may be good or bad; old or new; in your neighbourhood or something you've seen on your travels. Our public displays should be at their best this month, so do show them off to us. I'll place a picture link in the right hand sidebar, so you can get back here easily to tell us all about your post.

When placing your link in Mr Linky below, do provide the link to your post, not your blog. That way we can easily find your OOTS post and add our comments.

So... see you soon, Out on the Streets!

* = though having been down town today (10th August), I'm sure Chippenham is giving them a run for their money

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Postcard From Seattle

Just got back from a fabulous vacation holiday. I'll be back with lots of traveller's tales once the jetlag has worn off...

In the meantime I hope you enjoy this photo of Seattle's iconic Space Needle.

Friday, 5 August 2011

NAH Has a Blog

After years of teasing me mercilessly about my blogging activities NAH now has a blog all of his own: Sentinel Steam Loco 7109. Some of you know this already because you've kindly popped over from my Local Vocals list on the right hand sidebar. What could be more local than someone else blogging from the same house?

As you can see, NAH's blog is completely different to mine and is charting his progress in restoring Joyce, described by him as his 28 ton girlfriend. She resides at Midsomer Norton and is in a much sorrier state than the above picture showing her in her heyday.

NAH is rather chuffed to be getting so many visitors from Veg Plotting, so he's written a welcoming post especially for you. He's even gone to the trouble to make it garden related. Not bad for an engineer. NAH has invented a blogname for me in a similar vein to how he appears here, though you'll have to take the above link to find out what it is ;)

If you haven't already, do pop over and say hello!

Monday, 1 August 2011

GBMD: The Flower Is...

The flower is the poetry of reproduction. It is an example of the eternal seductiveness of life.
Jean Giraudoux (1882-1944)

If the above quote is true, then in my view the Begonia 'Amour' by my front door is aptly named. I love the dark sultry leaves topped by the kind of shade of seductive red I don't usually go for. The plants nearby are green or have a similar shade of foliage, so it looks very much at home. Elsewhere in the garden it would clash horribly.

It was a chance discovery recently at my local garden centre and I immediately knew its purchase would solve the problem of finding something to fit well in my 'wheelbarrow' container for the summer. Most plants look out of place there, but the sprawling shape of this one is just right.

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