Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Monday, 31 October 2011

An Evening With Bob Brown Part I

See the footnotes for the question I now have about variegated plants - your help with the answer is appreciated...

Another sign the nights are drawing in is the garden lectures start up again. For Threadspider and I this means a monthly trip to Bath until May to hear whoever's been tempted over by Derry Watkins.

As usual it's a cracking programme and first up a couple of weeks ago was Bob Brown, the renowned nurseryman of Cotswold Garden Flowers. His subject was Propagating Your Plants and he apologised for short changing us as his talk is usually combined with a practical session at his nursery. Sign me up immediately!

It was a most entertaining talk, shot through with a dry sense of humour and questions barked out at the audience. He gave us so much information that I'm going to divide this post into two. First up are some of Bob's observations on perennials...

There's a number of reasons why propagation by seed for perennials isn't usually as successful as for annuals - and it's not because Bob's a nurseryman so he wants you to buy his plants!
  • Seed production isn't usually as prolific because these plants don't need to invest all of their reproductive strategy into seed production. Their numbers may be less or it takes several years before any are produced at all
  • Seed germination rates decline very rapidly due to increasing concentrations of germination inhibitors. Derry added she likes to sow her collected seed fresh or at the most within six weeks because of this. She's also noted seeds sown after this time and left around her nursery might start germinating some years later. This suggests seed viability isn't the issue in these cases
  • The seed of named cultivars doesn't come true* so what you'll actually get is a bit of a gamble as it's not stable**
  • Variegated plants are actually 1 plant within another aka a chimera***. The seeds are formed from one plant (whichever colour forms the edge of the leaf) and the roots are the other. To retain the variegated form propagation by cuttings or division is required
I've always looked at the lists of plants given for a particular propagation method and wondered how you decide the best method for a plant that's not on the list. I now see that understanding the type of plant it is (e.g. hybrid, chimera etc) and the way it grows give major clues as to which technique(s) are the most likely to be successful. I need some further study before I can make my own predictions with confidence.

Next week, I'll share the tips I gleaned from Bob as my 'starters for 10'.

* = this suggests they're the same generation as the F1 hybrids we encounter in the vegetable and fruit growing world i.e. they're the first generation of plants produced after the parent plants have been crossed?

** = however Bob did encourage us to try sowing dahlia seed collected from our plants as a fun thing to do. As they're tender plants, the seeds need to be saved until April the following year - an exception to the sowing fresh rule!

*** = therefore does that mean all variegated plants are chimeras, but not all chimeras are variegated plants?

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Getting Ready for GMT*

Tonight the clocks go back, so we get an extra hour to play with - hurrah! It's also meant I've been getting ready for GMT* in my garden this week by taking advantage of the remaining light and relatively sunny weather. OK, we'll draw a veil over Thursday's miserable day ;)

As you can see, there's plenty to be done. The fallen leaves have been gathered up and used for mulching the garden. The shredder's been pressed into service to make further mulch from various prunings. Although the fat lady hasn't quite sung yet, this year's thick dahlia duvet is firmly in place.

I've had some further clearing up to do on the lower patio as last weekend's high winds brought down lots of branches from the overhanging silver birch. It wasn't anything too severe, it's just their super long thinness means they're always ripe for a little weather pruning. These got added to the mulch pile too :)

Also, the ivy from the neighbouring public land made a full scale onslaught over the garden fence this summer and started scaling my garden shed. Whilst I like the ivy for its wildlife nurturing properties, this was simply a step too far. It's now had a severe haircut and lobbed back over the fence - I daren't add it to the shredder as I've been caught out by its survival abilities before. I'm sure the neighbourhood trees will enjoy a little random mulching too.

The shed's had some further TLC: I've cleaned the windows and had a little clear out, so I can gather up all my solar lights and various bits of garden whimsy today and store them in there over the winter. There won't be any appreciable illumination from the lights during the next few months and I don't want to lose any of my garden ornaments to the frost, so in the shed they'll go. The last day of BST* is always my signal to complete this task as it seems rather fitting somehow.

What autumnal tasks have you been up to lately?

NB: The BBC are promoting the Go On, Give an Hour campaign this weekend, which is all about using our extra hour to help someone get online. I signed up earlier this week and I'll be helping a friend to get her blog started tomorrow. I'm rather chuffed Andy Garland from BBC Radio Kent got in touch earlier this week about a garden blog feature he's doing to promote this campaign on his Sunday gardening show.

As well as the dulcet tones of Dawn, James and possibly Nigel, listeners will hear me reading my Dusky Rose post from this month's Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day. I had to dream up a rather wacky way of recording my piece as I don't have a smart phone and I couldn't find our PC's microphone**. So I sent Andy a recording made via my camera, accompanied by a rather wobbly and boring picture. Fingers crossed it's done the trick!

Update: Here we all are on BBC iplayer until around 11am next Sunday. It's about 2 hours and 18 minutes in.

* = GMT - Greenwich Mean Time; BST - British Summer Time
** = I found out later NAH had 'tidied' it away.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Tiger Sheds. Note I'd planned writing it anyway to remind us re the clocks going back tonight.

Friday, 28 October 2011

A Tale of Two Welsh Gardens

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of enjoying Karen and Shedman's hospitality... lovely to find fresh flowers from the garden in my bedroom in this dotted blue vase :)

And how fantastic it was to have time to watch the early morning sunlight gradually creep through and light up the garden. I marvelled at how quickly the willow has recovered from its major haircut last year and how much the garden has changed and matured since I first visited it 3 years ago. It's also the first time I've visited in the autumn. As you can see there is still plenty of interest.

Later on it was even nicer to sit outside in the sunshine... In a T-shirt... In October... IN Wales!

When I showed NAH this photo he said Ooooh I'd like to go there. NB He has never expressed a wish to visit a garden ever.

Karen is gradually gathering all her Schizostylis into one spot. Mine seem to have disappeared from my garden :(

Karen caught me taking this picture of her grass. Oh how we laughed about that. The direction her garden faces is perfect for the light to slant through their fluffy heads at this time of the year. I doubt I can get the same effect in my garden. Or if I can, not for such a long period each day.

Naturally I had to admire Shedman's hard work in the vegetable area and say hello to Digger. I rather liked the snazzy new nursery area too, but sadly didn't take a photo to show you.

After our seaside walk on Saturday with Dobby, on Sunday it was time to head inland to visit Elizabeth. On the way over we paused for a while on top of the moors. I rather like how the subtle variations in the vegetation's colours create a tapestry-like effect in this photo.

When we arrived at Elizabeth's, I couldn't stop looking at the view. Her garden is very large and blends in nicely with its surrounding landscape.

It also needs to accommodate Gwenoldy, their holiday cottage plus various outbuildings. I photographed the cottage for future reference so I can tempt NAH for a break in north Wales.

I spent so much time drinking in the view at Elizabeth's (and just chatting away to be honest), the only detailed area I took a photo of is the vegetable garden. I envy her two greenhouses, plus delightful chickens. Elsewhere she is working very hard to create a garden out of an unyielding mountainside. I loved her edible hedge, which echoes the surrounding hedgerows. Plants here need to be tough and windbreaks provided, even though we realised later her cottage's builders centuries ago had selected a relatively sheltered place on the hillside.

After lunch (another day of al fresco dining in Wales, in October!), our brisk walk up to the top of her hill revealed just how breezy it can be as well as giving us further magnificent views.

All too soon it was time to take our leave and head back through the mountains via a slightly different route. The stormy skies meant the sunset slanted right through to colour the very air itself. This photo doesn't do its intensity justice, but it does give you some idea.

Thank you Karen for making such a grand day out happen as well as allowing me to be let loose in your garden. Thank you Elizabeth for your hospitality and willingness to show me your part of the world. It was great to have some time for a proper chinwag with you at last :)

Update: As Karen has gone to the trouble to put it into her comment, it's only fair I refer you to the post about the time we first met, so you can see how her garden has changed :)

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Wildflower Wednesday: At Mount St Helens

Part of our USA road trip this summer included a visit to the Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument. Here's a view of what remains of the volcano today. You can see the Toutle River valley is still full of volcanic ash, even though it's many years since the volcano finished its eruption.

NAH took this picture, so you can see how different things were in 1980 and the drama of the first few moments of the eruption the mountain is famed for. I'd recommend a visit to the 4 visitor centres there, especially the talks given by the park rangers. It's not often you get to mess around with plasticine to see how plate tectonics and the various types of faults work! Nor is it every day that you get to have lunch outside with a volcano ;)

I'd spotted on the map there's something called a Sediment Retention Structure built by the US Army Corps of Engineers. It turned out to be this dam-like structure built across part of the Toutle River.

When the volcano erupted its effects were felt for many miles. Yakima, the town we'd stayed at a few days previously had day turned to night by 9.30am owing to the ash debris falling like snow. The mighty Columbia River we'd sailed on the day before had its depth altered from 40 metres to 14 metres pretty much overnight by the amount of debris carried down rivers like the Toutle. The Army Corps were brought in to dredge the Columbia River back to its normal depth, but it soon became clear that this was too expensive for a long term solution.

So they built the Sediment Retention Structure. The 'dam' contains many pipes through which the river continues to flow. These are gradually getting clogged up by the volcanic debris still being carried down the mountain (it's a bit like a very slow motion avalanche). This is part of the design. The river's height will gradually build up behind the dam as the pipes get filled, until it finally spills over the dam in around 2030.

That's assuming there's not a further eruption of course. Apparently there's another cone building up in the volcanic crater :o

I asked the park ranger how many of the mountains in the Cascade range are volcanic. All of them came the reply. It's just that Mount St Helens is the most recent eruption and the most active seismically at the moment, the rest are simply sleeping giants. Mount Rainier is considered to potentially be the most dangerous. That's probably why I'd seen evacuation routes signposted at the side of the road when we were there.

So where do the wild flowers come into all of this? Well, to get to the Sediment Retention Structure there's a mile hike through the woods to get there. It's a very pleasant walk which NAH left me to tackle alone. At first I felt OK about this, but I must confess I was worrying a bit about what might happen if I came across a bear when I took this photo. It does give you an idea of what this part of the forest and understorey vegetation looks like though :)

Looking more closely at the understorey, I was delighted to find there were lots of Tiarella trifoliata or foam flower amongst the ferns. Having read in my Heuchera book about how many of the native forms of these and their Tiarella cousins prefer shady and mountainous habitats, it was great to see my book coming to life in front of my very eyes :D

Do visit Gail's Wildflower Wednesday to see what everyone else has discovered this month.

Monday, 24 October 2011

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #25

  1. Start a vintage sales area at your garden centre
  2. Acquire some wire salmon fish traps for said area
  3. Display them prominently so the blogger with the camera is intrigued by the marriage of two of her interests: fisheries research and gardening
  4. Wait for her to notice that the suggested re-use isn't quite as desired
  5. Et Voila!
The price was quite eye watering too.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Fiskars Garden Tools: Product Review

Autumn's a busy time in the garden, so I have a selection of garden tools permanently trugged up and ready to go for easy carriage to wherever I need them. Most of the contents are the tools Fiskars gave me to test earlier in the year. Having given them a pretty tough time over the past few months, it's time I brought you the results.

Secateurs and loppers

I'm really impressed with the secateurs. These are the bypass type and have a rotating handle and comfortable grip. I found the handle's rotation a bit strange at first, but once I'd got used to it, I found it much easier on my hand and elbow, particularly when cutting thicker (up to 20cm) branches. The secateurs are geared too, hence their ability to cut thicker wood than usual.

I've had Fiskars secateurs before, but their lack of replacement parts previously meant I was very pleased to win some Felcos a couple of years back. I see the blade can be replaced now, which is a step in the right direction. Do I prefer them to the Felcos? Well, for me it's a dead heat so I keep the Felcos for use at home and the Fiskars are always in the boot of my car, ready for any jobs up at the allotment :)

I already have a pair of the loppers (in their previous Wilkinson Sword guise), so I'm a convert already. These are quite a bit longer than my other pair, so I've been able to get to some of the places behind our back garden fence to deal much more thoroughly with the elder tree which invades VP Gardens from time to time. I do like elder, but this particular one grows over one of our apple trees given half a chance.

The loppers have done a perfect job and they've also been a stalwart up at the allotment this year, where I've had to cut all my fruit trees back to 2 metres.

QuikFitTM Tools

I was given a selection to try. The idea is to have one handle onto which various tools can be attached for whatever job needs doing. Thus the storage space needed for garden tools is reduced, plus less materials are used in their manufacture as one handle fits all. So far, so good.

I received the 84cm long terracotta handle (can't find it online, so perhaps it's no longer available), plus the 3-function hoe and universal rake. As I already have a couple of items from Wolf-Garten's equivalent range (lawn aerator and patio weeding knife), I was also sent a universal adaptor so I could try these out too.

The adaptor works OK, which means in theory I can use my Wolf-Garten* tools alongside the Fiskars ones. However, I found the attachment system wasn't robust enough for life up at the allotment or for a rough gardening job such as lawn aeration. It's a simple slot in and click system which is meant to quickly lock the tools in place or to easily take them apart. It's very easy to do that, but I found after a few pulls and pushes on the rake or hoe, the head detached itself from the handle and I had to traipse all over my plot to retrieve it. The same thing happened when I did some lawn aerating. Most irritating - grrr :(

The locking mechanism could be improved by including a twist action to hold the handle and head in place more securely. Even better is the one I saw on Threadspider's Gardena system (which she's had for quite a while and we looked at over the summer): hers has a screw mechanism and whilst it might take a bit longer to attach or detach tools, it's much more secure than either Fiskars or Wolf-Garten.

Whilst the handle had a comfortable grip, I found it isn't quite long enough for jobs such as raking or hoeing. My allotment is divided into 10x4 ft sub-plots and I couldn't rake or hoe the whole width of a sub-plot from one spot like I can with my usual one. I see there are some longer handles in the range, so this is one drawback which can be resolved easily.

A far greater problem was the rake head. It's plastic and described as a universal rake, so it can be used for jobs on either grass or soil. It was totally useless on the clay soil of my allotment as I couldn't break down any of the large lumps into a fine tilth like I can with my trusty metal one. The teeth are quite widely set apart compared to my other rake and lumps of soil often got trapped in them. A case of jack of all trades, but master of none perhaps?

To summarise...

It's a big thumbs up for the secateurs and loppers, but the part of the QuikFitTM range I tested needs to be improved substantially before it's a viable option for a clay soil allotment.

PS As Fiskars sell their tools in many countries, they use pictograms rather than words on their packaging to tell you more about the particular tool you're looking at. If like me, you often find these hard to understand, they have a handy guide with accompanying descriptions on their website.

* = I've stopped using my Wolf-Garten tools because I found it really hard to change the tool heads over as the locking mechanism is so stiff. I was hoping the universal adaptor for the Fiskars system meant I could use these tools again, but sadly the results reported above mean I can't unless the problem with their locking mechanism is resolved.

Update: As with all of my reviews, I sent Fiskars the link to this one. They've requested I send back the QuikFitTM tools, so their R&D department can have a look at them. They didn't come across my problem when they did their product testing, so would like to see why there was one with mine. I'm very happy to do so and for me this is one of the strengths of companies letting real people review their products. I look forward to hearing how things turn out.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Postcard From Wales

I'm back from a wonderful weekend spent with Karen and Shedman of An Artist's Garden. The photo is a view of one of my favourite places in the whole world, the Mawddach Estuary taken whilst out walking with Karen and Dobby on Saturday afternoon. As you can see it was sunny in Wales :o

It was so sunny and warm, lunch was taken al fresco and I've acquired a tan! We visited Elizabeth at Welsh Hills Again and Kate from Beangenie popped in for a while, so there was plenty of time to see blogging friends :)

A more gardeny post will follow...

Monday, 17 October 2011

A Simple Way to Help Our Orchards

I love apple trees, so October's pretty special because it's Apple Day on October 21st*. The decline of our orchards over the past 40 years or so is shocking, so I'm pleased I've found a simple way to help them, courtesy of Copella's Plant and Protect campaign.

They're planting up to 100,000 apple trees on October 21st, with the actual number depending on how many people pledge their support. I've signed up already: I've only had to supply my name and email address** and they'll plant an apple tree on my behalf. There's just under 18,000 pledges made so far and only a few days left to swell the numbers to meet their target, so it'd be great if you can add your name to the list too :)

I've also registered my apple trees. According to the National Trust's way of defining an orchard, I have one on my allotment as I have over 5 apple trees on my plot :o

The picture is of some of the apple varieties I sampled at RHS Wisley Flower Show last month. Are you doing anything for Apple Day this year?

* = judging by what I saw in Washington State in the summer, October 21st seems to be a significant date re apples in the USA too - I wonder if Common Ground's naming of this day has borne fruit over there?

** = and you can easily untick the box about receiving further offers if you're concerned this is just a way of collecting emails for marketing purposes

Update: Fancy having your own community orchard? The government has issued a how to guide to help you do just that :)

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Keep Calm and Pot On: Book Review

Keep Calm and Pot On is a pocket sized little book written by Liz Dobbs, formerly of Gardens Monthly magazine. Whilst its design is based on the famous (and seemingly ubiquitous these days) WWII poster Keep Calm and Carry On, it's certainly not warlike in character.

It's a dippable little book with a short quote or handy tip per page. It's the kind of thing that's good for a 10 minute break in the potting shed with a mug of tea and a couple of biscuits. I rather like the following quote from page 119 as it sums up the way I feel about my garden:

I am the fonder of my garden for the trouble it gives me. Reginald Farrar (1880-1920).

For those of you who prefer reading from cover to cover rather than dipping, there's a thoughtful cloth bookmark incorporated into the spine. Anyone with an hour or so to spare, won't need it as you'll be able to whip through in no time as the book's short and sweet.

NB don't believe all of the blurb on Amazon e.g. Ever looked at a plant infected with white fly and wondered what to do? Well then this is the book for you. This isn't an advice book where you can look up the answer as there's no index. So ignore what the publisher says you'll get out of the book and just enjoy it as a miscellany.

I can see this forming a stocking filler for quite a few gardeners a little later on this year.

Note: I received a review copy via the publisher.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

GBBD: Dusky Rose

October's unseasonably warm weather continues, so quite a few plants are in a slower fade than usual this month. The one surprising me the most at the moment is the pictured Rosa 'The Fairy'. I chose it as a companion for my Clematis 'Crystal Fountain' to scramble around the latter's roots and keep them cool.

Both are in a very large, tall pot next to the stone bench on my sunny patio. Whilst the clematis reaches for the sky, the rose has launched itself over the edge to mingle with the potted lavender below. This turns out to be another happy companionship as the rose has hardly any scent, whilst the lavender has plenty.

I chose the rose's dusky red form (pink and white are also available) for its richness and I've been pleased with the result. It flowers prolifically from early summer until now and I like their simplicity. There's still plenty of buds to brighten up the next few weeks, depending on how the weather goes. The flowers are similar to the red Rosa rugosa used for the estate's planting schemes nearby, thus providing a connection from my garden into its surroundings.

I found another surprise when I came to take this photo. I've been a bit lax in dead heading the spent flowers to encourage more over the summer and so I found some bright red pearl-sized rose hips ready to brighten up the winter months.

What this rose lacks in height, it certainly makes up for in length of interest in my garden :)

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

Friday, 14 October 2011

'Writing For The Web' at Cheltenham Literature Festival

Last Saturday found me at Cheltenham Literature Festival for the afternoon. The town was abuzz and I walked past several familiar faces who were lost in the crowds before I could remember who they were. I'm sure they were some of the famous authors due to talk that day.

The last time I attended the festival was when Anna Pavord talked about her book Bulb at The Everyman Theatre a couple of years ago. And very good it was too. This time I decided to sample something from the workshop programme and Writing for the Web tutored by the RSC's digital producer, Suzanne Worthington caught my eye.

My experience of writing courses is slight* and I don't quite know what I'd been expecting, but a workbook to go through was quite a surprise. However, it turned out to be just what was needed to structure the afternoon well. Suzanne took us through a number of short exercises designed to make us think a lot and to sharpen up our prose ready for publication on the web.

You can see if I succeeded because I was invited to guest post about Writing Great Web Content on the We Love Books Website. I've tried to encapsulate my key learning points from the course in 300 words. I found it quite a challenge, but an enjoyable one.

Lucy remarked via Twitter a couple of days ago she thought the piece could have been written by anyone and wasn't the 'me' she's used to on my blog. She's right, but I believe what's good for a website isn't necessarily the way we'd write for our blogs anyway. The needs of the publication we're writing for and its audience are just as important as using our natural style or 'voice'.

The workshop made me realise just how wordy I've become lately on Veg Plotting, so I welcome the opportunity to learn from the workshop and sharpen things up a little on here. Though let me know straight away if you think I'm not being me won't you?

BTW the references to being tipsy in the guest post are from the key learning point I said I was going to take home with me at the end of this enjoyable course. Write drunk, edit sober. It's a quote by Ernest Hemingway apparently. It means write like you're blurting things out to someone so your words are to the point. Then you come back and edit them later when your mind's clear and you can be objective about what you've written.

NB The picture is of Imperial Gardens, one of the main 'hubs' of the festival. As you can see, I couldn't resist taking a picture of the public planting as I sped past on my way to class. Looks like I'm still me after all ;)

* = the only other writing course I've attended was pretty awful, though it did make me decide via my Undecided post I'd like to be a writer. Progress has been slow so far...

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

All Change for Chippenham's Rubbish

Today sees a big change to Chippenham's kerbside (or communal in our case) rubbish collection. Now we have a plastics and cardboard collection one week and a land fill one the next. This replaces the weekly everything going to land fill rounds. The timing's quite ironic in view of the government's recent announcement on encouraging a return to weekly rubbish collections. I suppose our local council would argue it's still providing a weekly service.

So we now have up to three bins to find room for in the garden*: green for landfill; brown if anyone opts in for the weekly garden refuse collection** and a blue lidded one for plastics (types 1 -3, but only of a certain kind) and cardboard. Judging by the bins put out last night, my neighbours aren't quite sure what's being collected today, or they're mounting a silent protest and insisting the land fill collection remains a weekly one ;)

There's quite a lot which needs clarifying about the plastics collection, so don't be surprised if I post about this again soon. Let's just say for now my usual joy at an improvement in the recycling service is on hold.

* = we're lucky as I can move things around to find room at the side of the house, but there's plenty of people who can't. I'd love one of the garden shows such as Chelsea or Hampton Court to have a specific competition for designers to show-off their solutions for this and other practical problems we mortals face
** = which we haven't as I have 9 compost bins to feed!

Update: And in other rubbish related news today, Liverpool is launching the UK's first singing litter bin :0

Update 2: It's 3.55pm and the council are collecting the rubbish from the green bins. The plastic and cardboard were collected this morning. Looks like I got it wrong and my neighbours didn't!

Update 3: It was a temporary reprieve. We now have fortnightly collections, recycling one week and household rubbish the next

Monday, 10 October 2011

Exploring Caen Hill

On Friday NAH and I took one our favourite walks at Caen Hill flight in Devizes. I never tire of this view towards the town.

For once we didn't walk up the hill, but instead we ducked through the bridge under the main road and strolled towards Lower Foxhangers. Here I was surprised to find a few liveaboard boats as well as the holiday narrow boat passing by. It seems permanent canal life is spreading. A few years ago it was seen just around Bath, but now several other communities have sprung up, such as the one here in Devizes and also Bradford-on-Avon.

We'd decided to walk this way as we'd read in the Gazette and Herald about a new 248 berth marina about to open at Lower Foxhangers. It's a significant change to this part of the canal, but in reality too well tucked in to show you a decent photo. Perhaps I'll take one after it opens in a week or so's time, when we'll be able to get a bit closer.

Nearby, a boat hire company was busy with people arriving. NAH and I speculated just how far they might be going if they were weekend rather than weekly hirers. The Caen Hill flight has 29 locks in total, so at 4 locks per hour - a general rule of thumb for canal holidays - we worked out they'd only travel around 3-4 miles. That's probably why most of the people we saw were going away from the main part of the flight: by travelling towards Seend there's just 5 locks to tackle.

On our way back I spotted some horse chestnut trees close to where I took the top photo. As well as displaying their usual autumnal colouring, there were distinct patches of leaf miner moth damage and blossom! This is the first example I've seen of the spring flowering many gardeners are currently talking about. It illustrates perfectly how this year's unusual weather has tricked mother nature into thinking it's spring again.

Where did you get to over the weekend? Did you find anything new or unusual?

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Some Thoughts on the BBC Cuts

There's been loads of comment on this week's announcements re the proposed BBC cuts, so I thought I'd add some personal and some more garden related thoughts to the mix, especially as there's quite a few things of interest which didn't made the headlines.

Overall, I think the Beeb's been pretty savvy in snipping away across the board, rather than facing the active campaigning lobbies such as those which sprang up against the closure of 6Music and when deep cuts to BBC4 and the World Service were mooted. That's not to say protests won't happen - for instance there's already a strong campaign to #savebbcbirmingham - and I've also witnessed - and rightly so - some lively debates regarding more TV repeats and the changes to the BBC's news services.

Here's some less well-known snippets:
  • Gardeners' World, Countryfile and Chelsea Flower Show coverage are amongst the programmes set to move from Birmingham to Bristol. Whilst they'll still be on our screens, whether their new location and/or proximity to the acclaimed Natural History Unit will influence a change in direction or content remains to be seen. For instance, will we get more (yes please) of the themed coverage - on William Robinson and plant hunters - like we saw from Chelsea Flower Show last year?
  • Local weather forecasting: if you're like me, you've found this one's the most reliable on offer and therefore the one to watch. Spare a thought for this service then, as it's set to have one presenter per region. Imagine the consequences of a solo presenter covering breakfast, lunch, dinner and late at night. And what happens when they go on holiday or are sick? I'm predicting more pre-recorded forecasts, which in turn leads to less flexibility to react to what actually happens. OR of course, our weather won't change at the last minute in future ;)
  • The BBC's already sold BBC Magazines, the publishing arm responsible for titles like the Radio Times, Gardeners' World and Gardens Illustrated. The impact on content or any of our favourite writers remains to be seen.
I also have an observation about the demise of local radio. In some ways it's a relatively 'easy' cut for the BBC to make as it has a more fragmented and lesser following compared to any of the national stations.

However, local radio really comes into its own during times of local emergency. Where do you turn to for information (apart from Twitter!) when there's major flooding, a massive fire or the recent riots? For many people the answer's their local radio station, at a time when a comforting presence and good information based on local knowledge can be vital. How will that service be maintained in the future when great swathes of their programming will be on a national basis?

And finally, most of the news coverage hasn't told you there's a public consultation on the proposed BBC cuts from now until December 21st. So do have a look at the proposals in full (I can't link to the PDF document directly, but there's a link from the one I've just given), have a ponder on which of them affects the service(s) you most value and let the BBC know what you think about it. This post is helping me to do just that and I'm also on the look out for any campaigns I want to add my voice to.

What are your thoughts on the proposed BBC cuts?

Friday, 7 October 2011

Bristol BlogCamp

Yesterday was definitely a 'do something different kind of day' as I'd signed up for Bristol BlogCamp, held in the newly reopened sparkly M Shed - formerly the Industrial Museum - shown above. Our venue for the day was in the events area at the top of the building, so I'm sure some aerial views of this scene will be appearing over at Sign of the Times shortly :)

BlogCamp is the one of many brainchilds of Sally Whittle, whom some of you will already know through Tots100 and the MAD Awards. She's cleverly spotted there's a need for bloggers to not only get together and have a good natter, but also to find out a bit more about blogging itself. There's only so much you can do online - and often the information on there is conflicting anyway - and many of the events available are aimed at businesses, with a price tag to match.

This event was free. It had lunch. And... it had cake :)

A broad range of topics were covered and whilst much of these were aimed at working with companies and being more business-like about blogging, I'd say any blogger would find something of interest and useful from this kind of event.

Chris Mosler spoke about ethical blogging, both in terms of how it informs the voice and personality of her blog and also which companies and charities she chooses to work with. Elisabeth Winkler, then went back to basics with some reminders about why we blog and using these reasons to shine through in our words and pictures.

Phil Szomszor spoke about his recent research findings about the relationship between PR agencies and bloggers. Finally, Lee Smallwood not only defied the traditional post lunch slump but also made Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) entertaining [:o - Ed]. There was also plenty of opportunity to ask questions and discuss the issues we all face as bloggers throughout the day.

I won't summarise everything from each presentation as that would mean a very long post. Besides, I want to experiment with some of the things I've learned and share them with you at a later date. However, here's a few tips from yesterday to keep you going:
  • Be yourself, but act like you would in a public space
  • A blog is your own voice even when campaigning: writing a story around what I do is much more powerful than a preachy this is what you should do
  • Research the companies who approach you: if they don't fit with your content and/or ethics then politely decline. Always use the opportunity to explain why the answer's no
  • Do experiment and keep 'playing' to keep your blog fresh: write with a beginner's mind so you can share what you've learned
  • Make your blog easy on the eye: write short paragraphs with spaces between them; pay attention to spelling and punctuation; read your words aloud before you hit Publish
  • If you want to make money from your blog, then think about what your goals are as these will inform how you go about it and how long it might take. Have a look at the guidance from the NUJ on freelance writing rates (including online, though you will also need to take your experience and the publication into account) and the Blogger.Ed forum will be gathering information on rates actually obtained for advertising
  • The main ways PR companies currently find bloggers to work with are: manual searches; blogrolls and forums; and Twitter. Once they've found you, the main aspects looked at are: content relevance; post frequency; and comments
  • Around 19% of bloggers have had a PR company ask them to not mention anything negative about the product. Thankfully my experience has been quite the opposite and I believe the main strength of blogger:PR relationships is the opportunity to sort out any negative aspects of a product or its sales/after sales service
  • Consistency is vital in not only in what you write for your readers, SEO likes it too. Ensure the key words you use for your post are included in your post's title; your first and last paragraph (and every couple of hundred words if possible, but not at the expense of your writing style); your chosen image title(s) and its alt attribute. NB it's good practice to use the alt attribute for your readers too - the link to Wikipedia explains why
  • Search engines also like backlinks to your blog very much, so do keep on being sociable!
NB these events aren't just aimed at parent bloggers, but are open to anyone who doesn't blog commercially. There are other BlogCamps coming up as well as yesterday's in Bristol - the next one's in Brighton today - so it's worth checking out the website to see if one will be coming to a venue near you very soon.

Update: Here's a list of links to everyone who's posted about Thursday's event :)

Update 2: I found this interesting piece re SEO changes a few days after BlogCamp. Unique, useful and well-liked content will also be key in the future. This might be due to Google's moves to downgrade the importance of content mill pieces in returned search results?

Update 3: SEO advice needs to be taken with a pinch of salt as the search algorithms are constantly being tweaked. Therefore I'm continuing to write this blog for me a real people :)

Update 4: Sally and her team have re-branded Blogcamp, so the website is no longer available to link to. Probably best to find out about future blog seminars via the TOTS100 site.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

A Rescue Dig and a Fond Farewell

The weekend saw me bid a fond farewell to Plot 14 and this is the last picture I'll be posting of it in this way. It was taken last Sunday, the day after I ceased to be the tenant of the whole 10 lugs and during the hottest start to October since records began. From now on any plot views I post will be of just the right hand side: I agreed with those of you kind enough to post a comment on my Rethinking the Plot post and have gone for the side with the shed. This is now called Plot 14A, so I must remember to go and add an A to one of the plot markers...

As you can see, I've left Plot 14 (as the other side is called) looking quite different to when I last posted. The trees have been given a severe pruning and are now below the regulation 2 metres. The other trees further down the plot will be moved onto Plot 14A when they go dormant for the winter. The blue bin and dustbin are languishing on my side awaiting their new home.

At times the plot has resembled something of a rescue dig in the heat, except my buried treasures were my crops hiding amongst the weeds rather than any hurried archaeological finds ahead of a development. The raised bed (NB showing no signs of weeds growing through it - hurrah, the thick layer of newspaper I laid down did the trick!) has been moved to a temporary home and the strawberries moved onto it until I've dug and weeded their new bed. Onions, shallots, potatoes and a season's worth of leeks have all been dug up, sweated over and brought home. I haven't found my garlic and I need to locate the globe artichoke amongst the Dahlias. I've still to move the mother of all compost bins, so that my new neighbours can install a new shed. I also need to call on my mate Mark to pick up the water butt he's given me, which in turn I'm donating as a 'plot warming' present for Plot 14.

I've also been having a think about the priorities for my new plot, but I'll tell you about those another day...

Monday, 3 October 2011

Postcard from Castle Combe

On Friday evening NAH and I had the treat of visiting the Manor Hotel at Castle Combe for a gourmet meal on behalf of Wiltshire Magazine. It was quite simply the best we've ever had :D

As it was so unseasonably warm, we decided to take advantage of the weather and sit out on the lawn (by those umbrellas) with our pre-meal drinks, peruse the menu, and for me to interview the chef, Richard Davies. Although it was light when we arrived, there was an owl hooting in the woods to serenade us, the sunset and dusk.

Our table was set in the bay window you can see behind the fountain for the meal itself, and then we took our post dinner tea and petit fours in one of the many lounges on offer. We chose a cosy wood-panelled nook in which to gird our loins for the trip home, some four hours after we'd arrived. Next time, I think we'll be staying the night.

For once I got a little squiffy and I've been floating on a bubble of happiness ever since, despite NAH's instructions for me to up my game a bit catering-wise ;)

Sunday, 2 October 2011

OOTS: Green Places Magazine

Some of you may know I've started to review books for Green Places magazine and my latest effort (pictured left, click to enlarge if needed) was published yesterday. As you can see, the books I get to review are quite different to usual as they're aimed at professionals working in the landscape and horticulture industry. Even so, I've found them to be an enjoyable, sometimes challenging, always informative read so far.

You may not know of this magazine. It's produced by the charity Green Space and the magazine's mission is to:

...raise awareness of environmental, social, cultural and economic factors in the creation, management and use of public space. It aims to stimulate debate, promote best practice and create a forum for the exchange of information between all those with an interest in public space.

If that sounds too dry for you, then you might like to consider this month's contents. Did you know there's a project to build a mountain in Holland? There's a look at how the Jubilee Gardens on London's South Bank will be transformed in time for both the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and The Olympics next year; how Scotland's open spaces have been mapped; the transformation of a pit site in Nottinghamshire and the proposal for a new square in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter (where my mum was born); plus trips to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park and Brighton.

There's also lots about community projects, trees - including apples and orchards, a look at RIBA's electricity pylon design competition and the breathtaking images from the Astronomy Photographer of the Year. An interview with Andy Sturgeon rounds it all off, where he reveals a very surprising favourite place.

If you're looking for something a bit different and more informative from your magazine reading, which also supports a worthwhile cause, then I recommend you consider Green Places. The link takes you to an earlier edition, so you can have a ponder for yourself. BTW I'm not paid for my reviews: it's my way - as is this post - of positively supporting what Green Space does.

Update 2013: Sadly this magazine is no longer in print.
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