Seen at The Festival of the Tree

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

Friday, 30 September 2011

These Aren't Just Crocus Corms...

... they're saffron crocus aka Crocus sativus crocus corms, courtesy of one of Emma Cooper's bargain finds on her blog a couple of weeks ago*. I've always grown the ordinary autumn flowering crocus and I'm always looking for ways in which I can shove one or two more edible items into my borders, so this was too good an opportunity to miss :)

30 corms have now been distributed around the garden in little groups of 3, planted just over 3 inches deep. The packet says they flower in September/October, but in view of their relatively late planting, I reckon it'll more realistically be sometime in November this year.

I'll keep you posted on their progress :)

* = no longer available, but bargains may still be found if you look around the interweb.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Wildflower Wednesday: Streetside Delights?

One of the surprises of my trip to Seattle was how familiar many of the wildflowers were to me as well as lots of the plants we saw in the gardens we visited. Foxgloves were in abundance and at last I discovered what exactly fireweed is as often mentioned on American blogs. Here we know it as Rosebay willowherb aka Epilobium angustifolium.

One plant which had me puzzled was a swathe of pink often seen at the side of the road as we swept by in our bus. Bright Barbie pink and rampant, it mocked me from the side of the road. Victoria had an idea of what it was, but it wasn't until we reached her namesake city on Vancouver Island that I managed to at last get up close and personal and confirm her diagnosis:

It's the perennial sweet pea, Lathyrus latifolius, a native of Europe and sadly not perfumed like its more familiar annual cousin Lathyrus odorata. Most of the time I saw the bright pink form, but here you can see the duskier and white variations I also found adorning the sea cliffs towards Oak Bay. I wonder if the other wild flowers I've highlighted today are also European introductions and if seeing them is as controversial as say Himalayan balsam or Japanese knotweed are over here. I wonder if my American friends didn't see these flowers as streetside delights like I did?

Once again it's a pleasure to participate in Gail's Wildflower Wednesday meme, do head over to her blog to see what else is on view for today :)

Monday, 26 September 2011

OOTS: Some Blooming Good News!

It's been a rather good week for Wiltshire's public planting. Cricklade, often the lone banner carrier for Wiltshire was last night named 'The Champion of Champions' at the Britain in Bloom awards ceremony at St. Andrew's, which means it's deemed by the judges to be the best in Britain :)

Cricklade has long been on my to do list of posts, not only because of its Britain in Bloom prowess but also because it's home to over 90% of Britain's wild fritilliary population. Yesterday's good news means it's moved up my list of OOTS must do posts for next summer. I've also added Corsham to the list as it was recently awarded Gold in the South West region's Britain in Bloom awards, marking steady progress from an inaugural silver in 2009, through to silver-gilt last year and now gold.

Finally, Friday morning saw us at Bradford on Avon's station ready to catch a train to Weymouth as a birthday treat for NAH. It meant I just had time to take the above photo of the station's planting from the railway bridge. Bradford is one of the stations* on The Heart of Wessex Line, with an active group of 12 volunteers who've been looking after the station's displays since 2009. Their hard work has paid off as they're one of 5 finalists (out of 300 entries) in the Best Station Garden category of the Association of Community Rail Partnerships Awards. The awards ceremony was on Friday, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed...

* = it's also one of 675 stations which may be unmanned in future. The local taxi firm which is based on the station's forecourt is hosting a petition to keep the ticket office open. We certainly found it useful on the day and the cleaners in attendance whilst we were there making sure everything was spick and span as well as all the flowers meant we felt a real sense of community in this part of Bradford on Avon :)

Update: Congratulations are due to Devizes and Trowbridge who were also awarded Gold in the South West Region's BIB awards. It shows how many of Wiltshire's towns (including Calne who traded in an inaugural silver last year for a silver gilt this) now consider Britain in Bloom as a way of showing pride of place. I'll add a link to this year's winners as soon as it's up on the RHS website.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Notes on Wisley's Trials Field

Today I'm going to have a closer look at the RHS Award Of Garden Merit (AGM) and the trials field at Wisley as promised a couple of weeks ago. I'd asked if I could have a look around when I went to the flower show and the RHS kindly arranged for me to be shown around by Andrew McSeveney, the trials manager.

Whilst I was waiting for Andrew to meet me, I took the above photo of half of the trials field. I was tutting about those people getting in the way, only for Andrew to tell me they were the Dahlia Assessment Panel who were meeting to assess this year's trials! Much deep discussion was in evidence, with the occasional raising of hands. No doubt all will be revealed in due course when the RHS produce the trials reports plus details of any AGMs awarded. NB it's well worth browsing through the trials database - available online (also have a look at the list of Plant Bulletins available) - especially if you're thinking about a particular plant for your garden or plot. They're a goldmine of information about each variety trialled.

In my Postcard From Wisley, a number of you asked if anyone can visit the trials field. Yes, it's open to all and can be found by walking up the hill where the double borders are, past the Henry Moore sculpture and once you're over the brow of the hill, you'll see the trials field in front of you. There's a big new pavilion at the bottom of the field, should you be in need of a rest before looking around the trials themselves.

Just before going into the field it's worth pausing at the entrance as there's a large board showing what's being trialled and where. As it was towards the end of the season quite a few of the beds were in the process of being cleared and others had caliente mustard (a crop which helps with soil hygiene because it's a biofumigant) or a green manure growing in them. The beds which were still going strong each had a display board describing the plants being trialled.

As well as the trials themselves, one section of the field holds the national collection of rhubarb (RHS Harlow Carr is also the national collection holder and Andrew told me each RHS site has different rhubarb cultivars) and another part currently houses a botany trial where Bergenia are being grown to solve identification and nomenclature problems.

A wide variety of plants are trialled each year: annuals, perennials, shrubs, fruit and vegetables. Andrew told me they're trying to align the trials with the RHS' campaigns and objectives e.g. Grow Your Own. Another factor are any horticultural developments e.g. if a particular plant has had lots of new cultivars introduced, then it becomes a prime candidate. The various plant committees recommend which plants should be considered for a trial and it's up to them to provide a case to the RHS detailing the reasons why. Sometimes trials are international, such as the current one for Vinca, the results of which will be particularly of interest in Germany apparently.

Trials for 2012 will include:
  • Clematis
  • Saxifraga
  • Dahlias
  • Sweet peas
  • Alpine Dianthus
  • Euphorbia
  • Stipa
  • Salvia (sub-shrubby)
  • Lettuce
  • Parsley
  • Tomatoes
  • Basil
We talked a lot about the criticism that the trials only show which plants grow well at Wisley. This is being looked at in some detail: the RHS are keen to involve Further Education colleges and schools in the trials. Harlow Carr has trialled Meconopsis and broad beans this year and a nearby nursery has also been involved in the trials. This is so a protocol can be put together to ensure consistent trialling of plants away from Wisley. You may also remember I also took part in a couple of RHS trials when I grew radishes one year and then peas. Whether there'll be people like me involved again remains to be seen as collating the results from us all was time consuming. I hope we are.

Andrew also told me that a good trial result at Wisley doesn't necessarily guarantee an AGM, nor does a poor result discount an award either. The experience of the people on the assessment panel (usually drawn from specialist nurseries, societies and national collection holders as well as appropriate RHS representatives) means they can also judge how well plants perform elsewhere. All this goes into the decision melting pot for the awards. There's no limit to the numbers awarded the AGM: if a plant meets the AGM criteria, then it will get the award.

Whilst the trials field is one of the most interesting aspects of Wisley (in my view), some of you might be put off by the lack of garden context. This is where the above AGM border comes into its own :)

My chat with Andrew also highlighted some unexpected aspects of trialling. Whilst we were walking past the Lobelias in their hanging baskets and pots, he told me a supplier was concerned that their cultivars weren't being trialled fairly. Apparently their Lobelia had been bred to need less water and so weren't performing as well as their thirstier cousins. Andrew explained that all the plants are cared for in the same way, i.e. in the way we would grow them and to introduce different growing regimes would negate the results of the trial.

NB plant hardiness isn't one of the aspects trialled because a plant that isn't hardy doesn't mean it isn't garden (or greenhouse or conservatory) worthy. Hardiness is assessed separately and is given alongside the AGM information to help us decide whether a plant will do well in our garden. The RHS have just announced a revised hardiness rating of 7 levels and I expect their website will be updated soon with more details.

Lots more information on the AGM can be found on the RHS website. It's also in the process of being revised and will be relaunched in 2013 - as I have some information on what's being looked at, I can post about this another time if anyone's interested.

My thanks go to Andrew for being so generous with his time on a very busy day and to Erin O'Connor for arranging for me to meet up with him.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

The Holburne Museum Revisited

In Monday's post I mentioned the recent refurbishment of the Holburne Museum had been a controversial one. A walk round the back to this view from Sydney Gardens reveals why that was so.

Personally, I love the new extension. It's bold and exciting. And the glass reflects the mood of its surroundings and thus becomes an ever changing picture. On Sunday after the rain had stopped and the sun came out, the reflection of surrounding trees danced across the new facade.

The preservers of Bath found the thought of all this far too shocking and would no doubt have preferred some kind of faux Georgian style extension to match the monstrosity (in my opinion) that forms the recently opened Southgate Shopping Centre. I'm so pleased the architect stuck to his guns, even though it meant it took 10 years for the vision to become a reality.

I took this picture at the beginning of May just as the finishing touches were being applied to the new galleries and the re-landscaped garden prior to the grand reopening. I've found this interesting piece from The Observer published a few days after I took the photo, which gives you a lot of background to the way this part of Bath was originally developed in the 18th Century plus the author's review of the new extension.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Emma Cooper's Write Club: Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner

I'm guest posting today on Emma Cooper's blog as part of this month's Write Club re some news about the horse chestnut leaf miner. Regular readers may recall I've posted about this pesky pest before in the shape of Chippenham's Double Whammy Chestnuts in 2009 and 2008's An End to Chippenham's Conkers?

Head on over to Emma to find out the latest about what's being done to discover the extent of the leaf miner's presence and how you can help to gather the information needed by the researchers at Bristol and Hull Universities.

And if you fancy a spot on Emma's blog, you still have a few days left to submit your guest post. Full details of what you need to do, plus some writing prompts if you're stuck for ideas can be found here. NB She has a fantastic prize on offer for the best guest post and even if you're not inspired to write one yourself, simply adding a comment over there puts you in line for her prize draw for a book from her ever groaning bookshelves :)

Monday, 19 September 2011

OOTS: In the Footsteps of Jane Austen

A last minute change to my weekend's arrangements meant instead I was able to meet up with my SUP pals D and S yesterday afternoon in Bath. A cold had kept me firmly indoors all week and it was great at last to take a tentative step outside for some fresh air.

My usual parking spots in Henrietta Gardens were all taken, so instead I found myself in Sydney Road opposite the Bath Spa Hotel. From there it's a pleasant walk down the hill through Sydney Gardens (which first opened in 1795), where I found the above beds still managing to look cheerful in the pouring rain.

At the bottom of Sydney Gardens stands our afternoon's rendezvous, the impressive Holburne Museum, recently reopened after an extensive (and controversial) refurbishment. The museum first opened its doors around 100 years ago, though before that it was an elegant hotel. It now houses the Holburne collection, a vast repository of art, fine furniture, porcelain and silverware collected in the late 18th and 19th centuries and left to the citizens of Bath after Holburne's death.

The refurbishment means that much more of the collection can now be shown in state of the art galleries as well as in the old building and there are some inventive touches in the way these are displayed. One new feature are the hand held listening sets at various points around the museum with a menu of options to listen to.

One option was a description of Sydney Gardens from the early 1800s, when Bath Spa was an extremely popular destination for the wealthy to 'take the waters'. It turns out that they were extremely popular, and said to rival Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens (called Spring Gardens today) in London for their quality and variety of entertainment. Crowds of 4,000 people or more would pay to see what was on offer.

Another option was to listen to an extract from a letter written by Jane Austen in which she enthusiastically described her walk through Sydney Gardens from where she was living in Sydney Place. So I was following in Jane Austen's footsteps yesterday and I'm sure she would have often gazed on the above view down Great Pulteney Street towards the city centre. Standing at the museum's doorway and taking in that view, I can imagine elegant ladies of those times parading in all their finery.

Do you have a tale about some public planting you've seen recently? Then do blog about it and add your link to my Out on the Streets meme :)

NB Coincidentally, the Jane Austen Festival is currently taking place in Bath until 24th September. Also, entry to the Holburne Museum is free at the moment, but D believes charges are imminent. So it's worth visiting ASAP!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

My Garden, The City and Me: Book Review

My Garden, The City and Me is a charming tale of one city dweller's adventures in starting edible and wildlife gardening. Except she doesn't have a garden, so undaunted she borrows her neighbour's kitchen roof to explore the possibilities. This really is gardening against the odds: a garden just 3 metres square with limited access to be gardened by a novice who just has oodles of enthusiasm to get her over the hurdles.

How much can be grown in such a tiny space? Well, it turns out to be quite a lot and Helen Babbs tells us about her triumphs and disasters. In between life on her rooftop garden, she tells us about the various community projects and initiatives she's discovered which take place in London. This is in complete contrast to the usual view of London as a faceless city, and shows there's thriving communities to be discovered if one only knows where to look.

This is the tale of one year's growing, told by the season, which turns out to be a life changing experience, not only in Helen's new form of transport (a bicycle), but also a career change into freelance writing.

At the end of the book there's Helen's selection of the best plants to grow, the best moments she's experienced, things to read and places to go which forms a useful reference section for readers (not just those based in London I'm sure) inspired to follow in Helen's footsteps.

My only criticism is the book's length: it's far too short and I was left wanting far more than a mere 140 pages. Luckily Helen has secured regular freelance work with Kitchen Garden magazine (and she also blogs for them), plus as a regular garden blogger for The Guardian, so more won't be too hard to find.

Update: she also has her own blog about aerial edible gardening.

NB Timber Press attended the final event of the Seattle Fling and this is what I found in my goody bag, courtesy of Andrea who kindly gave me hers when they'd run out :)

Friday, 16 September 2011

The Organic Garden at Holt Farm

It's not often that my worlds of gardening and choir collide*, but earlier this year they did, in the shape of Eileen who I first met on my singing holiday last year in the Czech Republic. We bumped into each other for a quick catch up before Sing for Water West in July and it was only then we found out we have a shared love of gardening.

However, Eileen is lucky enough to be a professional, where her daily work takes her to The Organic Garden at Holt Farm. Come and see our meadow, she said, I'll email you when it's ready. Her email arrived whilst I was in Seattle, so shortly after my return, on a very wet day I did...

... two massive fields of Pictorial Meadow form a late season burst of colour. It's much more yellow in character this year and James, the Head Gardener, thinks this might be due to late sowing. The dry weather this spring meant the seeds couldn't be sown until late May. Look a bit closer and you'll still find plentiful red, blue and white flowers as well as a couple of beehives.

The garden plan I was given at the gate must be one of the few which places The Compost Yard centre stage, but all the garden team are very proud of it and give regular demonstrations on how you can make your own. I believe many of us may need to re-learn this 'lost art' for ourselves in future.
I'm not going to give you a full guided tour as I want you to go there to find out for yourselves. This is the view of The Veggie Garden from the cafe. Make sure you grab a windowside table for this view. James told me that their vegetable growing is more experimental and ornamental here. Off site there's a much more extensive productive fruit and vegetable area which provides for both the garden cafe and the staff canteen at Yeo Valley.

Yes you read that right: Holt Farm belongs to the Mead family who own Yeo Valley, so you can guess just how yummy (and organic) the cafe's fayre is for those who come and visit. The cafe deserves a post to itself because it's extraordinary, though I've already given you a preview of the ladies' loo when I posted this month's Muse Day.

The garden is very much part of the family home and is one of the few with full Soil Association registered organic status. There's quite a few gardens (such as Hampton Court in Herefordshire) which are gardened on organic lines, but very few go the whole hog and register with the Soil Association. With the surrounding farmland having full registration so that Yeo Valley can sell their products as organic, it makes sense for the garden to be so as well. This does give them some extra hurdles to go through, not only with record keeping, but also with sourcing plants for the garden e.g. there's just one registered organic herbaceous nursery in the UK, so plants brought in from elsewhere need to be bare rooted or their non-organic soil washed off and repotted straight away.

The above picture shows how the farmhouse rises above the new gravel garden like a ship. Elsewhere you can lose your self in some of the other garden rooms such as the Bronze Garden and the Red and Lime Beds.
Another view over the gravel garden from Tarka's Hut, which shows the garden's proximity to Blagdon Lake. It also shows how including yellow flowers in the planting scheme act like spotlights on a dull day in the garden. From here, I walked by the side of the house to a courtyard area where I got talking to a local couple. It turned out that the lady of the two had been Mr Mead's (as she called him) secretary i.e. the father of the current owner. She was trying to remember what the courtyard looked like back in the day in the 1970s when she also saw the first ever Yeo Valley yoghurt coming off the production line.

After bidding the couple farewell, I walked across the fields towards the lake and this rather jolly sculpture ** which also served as a warning: go beyond it and you'll find the Ha-Ha.

I'm showing you this because I have severe greenhouse envy and this is where the garden team plan to propagate much more of their own plants in the future. The green building behind is part of the Yeo Valley business so you can see how close I was to there. The garden team are most enthusiastic about the garden and I can see there'll be plenty of projects to come. Whilst it's the Meads' garden, the entire team are involved in the planning process and have lots of discussions on what comes next.

The garden is usually open only on Thursdays, plus the first Sunday of the month during the season, but starting tomorrow they're opening every day from 11.00am until 5pm for 'A Year in the Garden' until October 2nd. This is part of Somerset Art Weeks and is an exhibition by a local group of artists who've been inspired by the garden.

I'm hoping to revisit again during this time and for 'Seedy Sunday' on October 30th which is in association with Garden Organic (the garden also acts as a seed guardian for two local varieties). There'll be lots of seed swaps, compost demonstrations (I'm sure), plus Pennard Plants and Thomas Etty Esq. will be in attendance. I'm also anticipating the pleached crab apples will have a lot more colour, so I can show them off to you. I'm a big fan of trees trained in this way and the use of crab apples was a refreshing change from the usual lime or hornbeam.

I'm really pleased to have discovered this garden in such a serendipitous way, which deserves to be much more widely known. My thanks go to both Eileen and James for giving me so much of their precious time on the day. BTW you'll love the admissions 'hut' on the way in - I handed over my entrance fee to a very cheerful lady in a Yeo Valley ice cream van! Look out for the planted up mini in the car park too - very different to the one I found in Birmingham last month ;)

Update: I emailed Eileen this morning with a link to this post, so she could see my write up. Here's part of her reply because it's important and sums up the impression I gained about the place on the day, especially the dedication and enthusiasm of Sarah Mead and her team:

I love the write up but can you include a bit about Sarah, I hope you will meet her when you come because the garden wouldn’t exist but for her, her energy and enthusiasm. I have included the extract from our web site that I wrote up when we were getting the site off the ground and it really sums her up. In addition, it is her generosity in working so closely with the team that makes this a great place to work, we are all involved in the design and decisions which I think is pretty unique:
“Sarah is the garden owner and the driving force, with the big ideas (come and see the purple glasshouse) and the sense of humour- look at the sculptures around the garden. Sarah did the RHS Horticulture course. It's her passion, vision and enthusiasm that gives the garden its unique character.”

* = apart from when we perform at Stourhead

**= just like the gate in the top picture and this kite, the garden is full of jolly metalwork to make you smile, all commissioned locally by Sarah Mead

Thursday, 15 September 2011

GBBD: Steely Globes

As Autumn's arriving early this year, the garden's looking a bit more backend-ish than I'm used to for September, but I'm still really pleased with the way my Echinops have performed this year. They're just the ordinary cheap kind, but have filled out nicely in this their third season.

Their steely globes have added much interest to the single terrace bed for a few months now and I like the way they're currently helping to screen off the patio from the bottom of the garden instead of fulfilling their usual mission as a back of the border plant. With smaller gardens like mine it can be quite hard to do this adequately and I do like this as an alternative to using Verbena bonariensis.

The bees love these plants too, they haven't needed staking and I've only used 3 of them, so what's not to like?

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

Monday, 12 September 2011

A New Recycling Option

I've noticed a bit of a sea change on our supermarket shelves recently with the introduction of refill bags for instant coffee. I got a bit annoyed at the pictured one because there's a big eco-friendly customer message trumpeted on the packet re less weight and transportation miles (reduced costs for them more like), yet I'm now faced with throwing away something to go to landfill rather than recycling my glass jar. I wonder how well the two cancel each other out?

I was harumphing away about this again in the supermarket on Saturday when I spotted a rival company has thought things through a bit further and signed up with Terracycle, who will take in their bags and do something useful with them. Looking at the website this can result in a few products suitable for the garden amongst other things. How about joining in too Nestlé?

I hadn't heard of Terracycle before and it looks like they're relatively new in the UK. Their aim is to upcycle the more difficult waste we throw away*: the stuff usually ignored by our regular household recycling collections. Specific products are targeted (called 'brigades') and you sign up for those which match what you're throwing away. Postage is free (by downloading a Royal Mail label from the website) and you send each waste type they're collecting separately in batches of less than 5kg in weight.

Points are awarded for the rubbish you send, which can either be donated to charity or for a school fundraiser. It's not said specifically on the website, but it looks like it's aimed at community initiatives to collect waste and fundraise, but I'm sure they won't say no to individuals sending their stuff in either. I see one of their waste brigades is asking for a certain brand of yoghurt pots, of which NAH throws away at least 2 a day, so I'll be collecting these in future :)

The Terracycle concept isn't just for the UK, it's currently available in a further 14 countries: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and USA. What's accepted varies between the different countries.

We're about to have another change to our recycling in Chippenham as we're all awaiting delivery of our new bins for kerbside cardboard and plastic collection starting next month - more on this another time.

Have these coffee refill bags hit your shops yet? Or have you noticed any new recycling initiatives in your area lately?

Update 12/9 @ 19:40: I've just left the following message for Nestlé via their website:

Re your new coffee refill packs. It would be good if you'd adopt the same approach as your competitor, Kenco. Perhaps you'd like to comment on my recent blog post on the subject: http://vegplotting.blogspot.com/2011/09/new-recycling-option.htm

Update 14/9 @ 16:00: I've just had the following response from Nestlé:

Thank you for your questions about Nestlé’s coffee refill packs.

We work hard to provide different packaging options that suit a range of different needs. However we also always look to ensure that where possible our packaging is designed to minimise the environmental impact across the entire lifecycle of our products.

We are working to improve the collection and recyclability of our products and are currently working with external partners to explore different ways of promoting the responsible disposal of packaging which currently cannot be recycled.

We are proud to say that more than 90% of Nestle packaging in the UK is recyclable and we are working hard to find solutions for that last 10%.

Thank you again for taking the trouble to contact us. We are grateful for the interest you have shown in our company.

Yours sincerely

Stuart Jones
Senior Officer
Nestlé Consumer Services

* = of course refuse, reduce and reuse should be done first, but anything which helps in the recycling line is to be welcomed in my view.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Local Shops For Local People


I've been meaning to put this post together after my Locally Sourced one earlier this year and yesterday's miserable weather meant I could snuggle up indoors to do it. It's a list, not very scientific or complete, of the local independent shops and businesses I've tried. No money has exchanged hands to prompt me to do this: in fact I've paid them by buying their wares and liking what I find :)

These are all within 10 miles of home: it's good to find North Wiltshire has good suppliers, which are worth knowing. You'll see the list's biased towards gardening and food i.e. the topics I write the most about ;)

Nurseries
Food and drink
  • Allington Farm Shop - within walking distance of home and is the place of choice for squishy cake in the cafe as well as locally grown or made foodie goodies (see my post about Food Miles)
  • Box Steam Brewery - Box's famous railway tunnel and the boyhood home of Thomas the Tank Engine's author inspired the beers' names
  • Bishop Brothers venison - signposted to the left on the A429 on the way to Malmesbury, just after J17 of the M4. NB limited opening hours
  • Ceri's cheese - sample their ice cream too if you get the chance
  • Lackham Farm - part of Wiltshire College and produce is available at Whitehall Garden Centre's Farm Shop
  • Langley Chase Organic Lamb & Mutton - award winning meat from less than 5 miles away
  • Marshfield Bakery - a fruit cake you can pass off as your own and fantastic ice cream
  • Moles Brewery - with a very nice pub up the hill at Lacock when you want a good view to look at
  • MyLoaf - Corsham's artisan bakery
  • Tallywacker Farm - local veg box scheme
  • Tracklements - lots of chutneys, pickles, sauces, jellies and the sweet form of cheeses
  • V & P Collins (Bromham, on the way to Devizes) - for seasonal veg grown within a mile or so of the premises
  • Wadworths - complete with traditional beer deliveries made by dray around Devizes :)
  • Walter Rose & Son - the local meat supplier of choice for many pubs and restaurants
  • Wiltshire Farmers' Markets - usually sourced from within 40 (ish) miles. Here's the current list of producers
Cafes, pubs and restaurants (those sourcing their ingredients locally)
  • The Bridge Brasserie - menu changes daily
  • Revolutions - where we celebrated NAH's 50th birthday
  • Steamers - internet cafe at Chippenham railway station which also exhibits local artists
  • The Bistro (Devizes) - our local celebrity chef who not only has a fab restaurant and cookery school, but has written a delicious cookery book and works hard at various local food festivals
Independent Bookshops (which we all need to cherish)

OK North Wiltshire peeps, there must be loads more for me to sample and add to the list? E.g. Wine? Fruit? Fish? Game? Anything so long as it's good and local.

Not in North Wiltshire? How about telling us what's good in your local area - after all, we may come a-visiting sometime :)

Saturday, 10 September 2011

The Bad Tempered Gardener: Book Review (ish)

Anne Wareham discusses The Bad Tempered Gardener with James Alexander-Sinclair at this year's Malvern Spring Garden Show

When I found out the title of Anne Wareham's book The Bad Tempered Gardener, I was rather worried. Not about the content per se, but whether potential readers wouldn't get the joke (a play on Christopher Lloyd's well known work, The Well Tempered Garden), and would be rather put off by it.

However, judging by the extensive coverage Anne has received from the gardening press she often criticises; the number of bloggers who've posted a review; and its sales ratings on Amazon, my worries were quite unfounded. Anne must be delighted with her book's reception.

This left me with a dilemma as there really isn't much more I can add. So I've been putting off my review for months now, especially as all the bloggers (from both sides of the pond) have put it so much better than I can (if you google the book's title, you'll find them all listed for your delectation).

I was struck how the content is like the article anthologies some of Anne's colleagues have published after years of sterling service, except she's managed to cut out 'the middle man' (the publication) and gone straight to the book. And whilst she portrays herself as a lone alternative voice in the garden writing world, I wonder (ironically), how many of her readers will now put her firmly alongside those she strives to stand apart from, simply because she's had a book published.

So... read the book and judge for yourself.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Postcard From Wisley

I had a great day at the RHS Wisley Flower Show yesterday and found this fab woven sculpture on the way to the orchard where 9 apple varieties awaited us for a taste test (and invited 'scrumping'). I discovered the apple harvest is around 2 weeks early this year: another sign of the early autumn I wrote about recently.

As well as the gardens themselves (the borders were looking fantastic and the new rose garden doesn't look like it's in its first year at all) there's around 30 nurseries displaying their wares until Sunday. I was pleased Sean and Jooles from Heucheraholics were awarded best display (and they were thrilled), even though they were invited to attend just a couple of days before the show started.

For once I bought some plants: an unusual Lespedeza thunbergii ready for a competitive planting to compare with the one Ms. Arabella Sock bought (I've sat in the Sockmobile - get me!), plus a Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' ready for evaluation as a possible replacement for my front lawn. I had quite a few to choose from, but after some discussion with the nurseryman, I believe this cultivar might work better with the spring bulb interplanting I'm thinking of.

My absolute highlight of the day was a guided tour around the trials field to find out how the Award of Garden Merit works, but that deserves a post all to itself :)

Update: Forgot to mention that visitors to the trials field this weekend can vote on their favourite Dahlia being trialled :)

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Keyword Gardeners' Question Time

An occasional series answering the questions found in my Keyword Search statistics which won't have found an answer on my blog. Note: some of these are useful but others may need to be taken with a hefty pinch of salt ;)

Have blog, now what?

That blank page is a bit scary isn't it? If you're stuck for ideas, then find some blogs you like and start reading: not only the blog, but the comments too. Add your own comments and if you find yourself writing a really long reply, then you've found your next post: a reply on your own blog, acknowledging the original entry. Gardening Gone Wild have a fantastic ideas gallery for garden bloggers you might find useful too.

Can you have a bird box and vegetables together?

Absolutely, as long as they don't house pigeons who'll eat all your brassicas before you can say 'knife'. Most other birds nesting nearby will gleefully hoover up those nasty aphids, slugs, caterpillars and most other pests keeping a beady eye on your crops.

I didn't label my veg plants, now I don't know which is which?

Have a look at the photos in a good vegetable book, to help you determine the broad families of plants you have at least. For example, sweetcorn and tomatoes should be easy to identify, but you probably won't be able to sort out your courgettes from your squash or pumpkins; your peppers from your chillis; or your onions from your leeks until much later. However, if you're looking to identify which varieties you've sown, that's usually impossible until they're ready to harvest. Be brave, plant them all and enjoy your crops at random ;)

I buy jam jar lids from Lakeland, do I still need to cover the jam in greaseproof paper?

It depends on how long you want to keep your jam for. No matter how full your jar is, you will still have a tiny air gap at the top. The greaseproof paper (applied so that it seals your jam) protects it from any bacteria in that air and thus prevents mould forming on the top. If you're going to eat it all up straight away, or are prepared to keep your jam in your fridge, then you can get away without using the greaseproof paper.

Is it worth making jam out of damsons? and Does damson jam have the skins in it?

Yes. It's one of the very best and my recipe for damson jam is in my top ten posts of all time. There's also a fantastic crop of damsons this year and it'd be a shame not to make use of them. The jam does contain the skins: it's fiddly enough getting the stones out when they float up to the surface of the jam without having to remove these as well. When cooking, you need to ensure the fruit is softened and well broken up before adding the sugar, otherwise the skins will be tough.

NB If you're wondering what the pictured Corsham Gardeners' Question Time was, the link will tell you all about it :)

I've done this kind of post in the past, so you'll find further notes and queries under the Question Time label.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Postcard From Dorset

8 go mad in Dorset, courtesy of A, our hostess for a fab variation on our regular GNO: A Girls' Weekend Away :)

A weekend of fun, laughter, walks, Italian food and much celebration of life (and one birthday). I'm sure King George III on his white steed at Osmington would approve.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Autoreel Hose: Product Review

When I blogged about Testing Times way back in April, little did I realise it'd be this long until I revealed the results of testing my autoreel hose. But I've been uncharacteristically girly and patiently waited for NAH to fix it up. A minor tantrum from me when we got back off holiday means at last I've been able to try it out.

What's really great about being offered this for review is we actually needed a new hose as our old one (at least 20 years old) was a winter casualty. It's now more suitable for porous pipe duties rather than watering ones. You can just see it looking rather forlorn and lost at the back of the photograph.

I was really fed up with my old hose. Winding it up after watering was such a faff: the hose would constantly get kinked; the winding mechanism often got stuck and I had to do a lot of bending down. Consequently it would spend most of the summer in an unreeled state lying in wait for the unwary to trip over it - usually NAH - when venturing outside.

Those problems are no more. I now have a hose which doesn't kink, is soooooo much longer than the other one (because this one's 40 metres long I can now water all of the back garden and the front in one go - yay) and thanks to that nifty little ball mechanism you can see in the photo, it smoothly reels itself back in when I give the hose a little tug.

You may have spotted the reel isn't fixed to the wall, which means I haven't tested how the reel can be turned to best advantage depending on where I want to water. NAH thought the hose may be too heavy for the rubbish building of our modern house, hence his reluctance to fix it up. He worried it might fall off, especially if it gets yanked in various directions.

I'm sure the guys at Hozelock* will have something to say about that. However, by not fixing it up properly I've found this has two distinct advantages**. Firstly, the reel fits in a slot between a load of pots on the patio just like the old one did, so I haven't had to shift about 15 heavy pots out of the way.

Secondly, it's portable, so I've been able to take it up the allotment for tree watering duties. My plot is equidistant from 2 taps on the site and previously I've struggled to water the lowest part of the plot where some of the trees are. My apples are now all plump and rosy cheeked in appreciation ;)

NAH thinks the downside to not fixing the reel up is that it topples over when used. That used to happen with the old one anyway, so it's not a problem as far as I'm concerned. Overall, it's a massive thumbs up from me :)

* = thanks for taking the music off your website, it's so much nicer to visit now :)

** = there might be a third as I can store the hose inside over winter, which will help keep it in good condition. Only time will tell...

Friday, 2 September 2011

Wow! Gorillas!

I've had great fun playing spot the gorilla in Bristol over the past couple of months. Just like the pigs and lions in Bath previously, various gorilla designs have been placed around the city with a view of providing a fun way to see Bristol and eventually raise cash for charity.

The added twist this time is the gorillas are helping to celebrate Bristol Zoo's 175th birthday and to raise awareness of conservation issues. I particularly liked finding the pictured 'zoo keeper' when I met my GNO pals for dinner at Cabot Circus back in July, and as you can see he (?) was putting a smile on the faces of passers by :)

You have just a few days to see them for yourself as they're being rounded up and corralled back at the zoo after September 6th. You can download your copy of the trail map from the Wow! Gorillas website* - there's 61 of them to find. I've seen about 20 whilst mooching around the city centre for a couple of hours without really trying.

I rather like the fact there's a couple of wandering gorillas one of which is currently visiting Birmingham; another is floating around wherever The Matthew is headed in the harbour. There'll be a last chance to all the gorillas at the zoo on September 24-28th, prior to the auction on the 29th. The usual entrance charges will apply, though the wandering gorilla will have returned from Brum and you'll be able to see it for free outside.

Don't forget the zoo also has a firm horticultural links (it is short for zoological gardens after all) as it hosts the national collections of Hedychiums and Caryopteris. All the more reason for heading there soon and a perfect excuse for me to provide a link to this You Tube time lapse video of the gardens team at work :)

* = do have a look at the website anyway - it's fab, particularly the gorillas aboard the Bristol ferry boats :)

Thursday, 1 September 2011

GBMD: Well Behaved Women...

As seen in the marvellously decorated ladies loo at the equally marvellous The Organic Garden at Holt Farm a couple of weeks ago. Go there. Even if it's on a dreary rainy day like I did :)

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

Update: I see that Carolyn has just moved to North Carolina, so her Chicago blog is in abeyance. However, I enjoy GBMD so much I plan to continue with it. Hopefully Carolyn will revive her meme if she decides to pick up blogging again and I wish her well in her new home.
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