Showing posts from May, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: Fluffy Clouds


Echalote Grise Update

It's still early days as far as my echalote grise allotment experiment is concerned, but already there's a noticeable difference between my shop bought and seed varieties.

The ones on the left of the photo are the sets I bought. Their growth is much more spidery in appearance and it looks like they're shaping up to give me lots of new shallots. To the right are the shop bought ones and their growth is much more onion-like. I suspect I'll be getting fewer shallots per bulb. Whether they're also much larger remains to be seen.

The picture shows another allotment experiment I'm trying this year. Despite the plentiful rain we had last month and for most of this one, the recent dry weather has taken the allotment back into really parched mode. So I'm trying out mulching around my crops with grass clippings to retain as much moisture as I can.

I saw this being used a lot at Glendale, a fantastic garden I visited on Vancouver Island last year and as they also tra…

Fulfilling a Childhood Dream: Meeting Sir David Attenborough

A few weeks ago I received an email out of the blue inviting me to Kew to meet Sir David Attenborough and to preview his new series Kingdom of Plants 3D, which starts tonight on Sky 3D (with a simulcast on Sky Atlantic HD).

I sat there for 10 minutes emitting feeble cries of Wow!, until NAH asked me what on earth was the matter. Naturally he thought I was joking until I showed him the email. After all, the chance to meet a childhood hero, someone who's shaped the key choices I've made in my life doesn't happen everyday.

The result of my day at Kew was published yesterday over on the Guardian Gardening Blog (welcome if you've come over from there), but of course I have a lot more to tell you about the day itself.

I had to suppress lots of giggles because we were referred by the names of the organisations we were representing, so I was called The Guardian for the day. About 12 journalists attended including the BBC, The Sun, TV Choice, and a couple of geeky gadget types…

Salad Days: At Chelsea Flower Show

My final post about this year's Chelsea Flower Show - and suitably for this month's Salad Days - is to bring you this picture of salad looking at its very best - if you ignore the QR code!

There was quite a bit of salad on view, if you looked carefully enough. Sadly the living wall of nasturtiums didn't make it onto Tom Hoblyn's garden for Arthritis Research UK. I'd been looking forward to telling you about seeing them just after their germination last November and how Jekka McVicar had had to chop them back and eat them several times so they'd be just right for the show! However, having seen the garden on Monday, I can see how they wouldn't have fitted in with the rest of the planting.

So I had to hunt around a little for an alternative salad fix. The Crocus Kitchen Garden Blog has featured most of the prime spots from the Great Pavilion already so I'm not proposing to repeat them here, even though I was blown away by Jersey Farmer Union's 'st…

Wiltshire Gold

In my previous visits to Chelsea, I've always been a little disappointed in the small number of exhibits which have a connection to Wiltshire. Not so this year :)
And what could be better than Best in Show? I loved Cleve West's show garden for Brewin Dolphin, a Wiltshire based company who are celebrating their 250th birthday this year. When I first saw the design, my first reaction was the gates reminded me of peering through those at Avebury Manor. Cleve told me they hadn't formed part of his inspiration, but I like to think serendipity played a hand in his choice.
I'm delighted the sponsors will be donating the beech hedges and some of the stonework to Cleve's current commission, Horatio's Garden for the Southern Spinal Injuries Trust in Salisbury. More on this garden to come.

I found quite a lot of Wiltshire gold in the Great Pavilion. The best story is the pictured Bentley Ferns. The exhibitor, John Wilson, only had 2 weeks notice to put his exhibit togeth…

The Day of the Torch

Things are happening thick and fast at VP Gardens at the moment, but I couldn't let this morning's momentous visit by the Olympic Torch Relay team pass this blog by. Here's the first of the runners going through Chippenham at just after 10 am. NAH and I had a short walk to find our spot in front of the town's football ground.

Whilst we were waiting every cyclist passing by was treated to a massive cheer from the crowd, as were the many vans taking police officers to their assigned places. Then we had a cavalcade of police motorcycles with blue lights flashing and sirens blaring, plus various sponsors lorries and the coach taking the torch bearers to their designated spots.

I don't think I've ever felt so emotional about a complete stranger running by. The Olympics were here :)

Update: There's quite a few films of the torch relay in Chippenham posted up on YouTube now. Here's just one of them plus another which was taken just a few yards down the road fr…

Meeting Ringo

The absolute highlight of my time at Chelsea this year was meeting Ringo Starr. The combination of my favourite Beatle opening this Artisan garden for my favourite charity - WaterAid - was irresistible :D

I have Victoria to thank for this moment. Not only did she cover this story for the Indy, she made sure I got introduced too. So I had the opportunity to shake him by the hand and have a chat about Sing for Water and my Open Garden.

Ringo and his wife, Barbara Bach weren't token celebrities as far as this garden and WaterAid are concerned. They are passionate supporters. Victoria asked why. It's simple, was Ringo's reply, one of these pumps changes people's lives. Clean water is a basic right and WaterAid can give it to them. What could be better than that? 

So my Chelsea cup of happiness runneth over - especially when I bumped into them again later and they remembered me (with no prompting) and said hello.

Things I Wasn't Expecting To Do At Chelsea...

... but I did them anyway :D

I got a view of the showground from on high (AND unlike lots of others I didn't queue - a benefit of getting there early to see Roy Lancaster on the Plant Heritage's fascinating Veitch exhibit beforehand)...

... before whizzing down on a gert big slide. A bit of a scream on the way down (when I sped up), followed by lots of giggling at the end :D

If you can remember the scenes from Dr No when James Bond has to slide down lots of slippery pipes to escape from the cell where he's being kept prisoner, then I can tell you it was like that, but without the background danger.

I had to tell lots of people where I'd got my lovely buttonhole from (thanks to Georgie and the power of Twitter!) because they were pretty envious - apologies for the naff photo, but it was a bit of a positioning guess when I took it. I also had to avoid all the candy floss I'd got on my fleece - another surprise find (the candy floss, not getting it all over me) at the…

National Tomato Week

Apparently British Tomato Week starts today. So here are a couple of mine out frolicing in the garden in celebration ;)

Sadly the dedicated tomato website to this event doesn't seem to have much on offer. We have until 27th May to think of our own celebration. Shall we go Tomatina style or Totally Tomato?

Which tomato varieties are you growing this year? And your favourite?

David Attenborough Meets Chelsea Flower Show

I'm off to Chelsea Flower Show for a couple of days, so I thought I'd leave you with this teaser of a picture of David Attenborough at Kew when he met himself constructed from plants by 3 times Chelsea gold medallist, Joe Massie.

As well as tales of Chelsea, I have another to come about the great man himself :)

NB Picture courtesy and copyright of Sky 3D.

Salads for Awkward Situations #2: Shade

I have a confession to make. My salads are most moribund. All the seeds I've sown for the outdoor season are either sulking, shivering or eaten by slugs. So I'm starting all over again when I get back from Chelsea Flower Show next week.

What's worse is I know I should have known better. I have plenty of experience of growing salads in the shade as one of main areas I used for them up at the allotment is underneath the apple trees, so I know what works and what doesn't. It's the perfect experience for dealing with growing salads in the miserable conditions we've had in the past few weeks.

So what went wrong? Seduction by Shiny Seed Packets, that's what. I have lots of new things to try this year, so I merrily sowed these instead of my tried and trusted friends of yore. Big mistake. Thank goodness I kept the pea shoot production line going, just in case*

Here's my list of salads which I've found work in shady areas:

Lettuces - shaded lettuces are also…

GBBD: Lady in the Bath

One of my favourite plants for May is Dicentra spectabilis* because it always gives such good value in the shaded part of my garden. From the first sinister looking unfurling fronds in February/March - which look like dragon's claws - until it flowers in May/June, Dicentra adds a lot of interest and also helps to disguise the dying foliage of the daffodils. Until this morning I hadn't realised I'd placed it to catch the sun so nicely. Gardening serendipity is a Very Good Thing.

One of the common names for this plant is lady in the bath, which always makes me chuckle. Garden chuckles are another Very Good Thing in my view :)

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens - have a fantastic time at the Asheville Fling this weekend Carol!

* yes I know it has a new latin name - the more forgettable Lamprocapnos spectabilis - but I see most suppliers are still insisting on the old one

I Have a New Pet - Called Sourdough

One of the surprises after the Yeo Valley cookery demonstration I mentioned last week was the departing gift of my very own sourdough starter. I'd always wanted to have a go at making bread using this method, so here was just the encouragement I needed.

However, on getting it safely home, I was faced with the fundamental question of what on earth do I do next?

I looked through all my breadmaking books but they only referred to a more solid sounding starter, rather than the liquid form I had in front of me.

Thanks to the 52 Week Salad Challenge, I'd already become a regular Twitter and blog correspondent with Carl Legge.  He pointed me in the direction of the very thing I needed re sourdough starters: in his article for Permaculture magazine :)

I'm keeping my starter in a large, clean old coffee jar. The picture shows a nicely active starter a few days after I started taking care of my new 'pet'.

Since then I've managed to:

Keep my starter alive for a couple of …

High Tech Salad

One of our local supermarkets is trialling lots of new ways of increasing and displaying the fresh produce it has on offer (introduced to you recently in my How Advertising Works series). The most high tech of these is the misting unit which sprays water over the produce, thus helping to keep it cool and fresh.

Here you can see the herbs area which has delicious samphire on offer as well as the usual suspects. Another of these units is used for some salads and quite a few supplements such as beetroot and carrots.  Another unit has the leafier salads displayed on a bed of ice.

Of course it's all wonderful for consumer choice and relative freshness of the produce. However, seeing this display and the resources it must take has made me more determined to make my own salad challenge work.

What do you think - is this something you'd like to see at your local supermarket?

Rhubarb Cheesecake: Seasonal Recipe

My last visit to Holt Farm was as a guest of Yeo Valley and the day included a fab cookery demonstration courtesy of Jaime, their head chef who conjures up the wonderful food at the garden's cafe.

We were shown how to make sourdough bread, tea smoked trout, and rhubarb cheesecake. We also got to eat the results, so I can vouch for their scrumminess. Each item on the menu included a technique I hadn't come across before, or one which I'd been wanting to try.
For the rhubarb cheesecake Jaime showed us how to make curd cheese from yoghurt. I had no idea how simple it is to do and with a glut of juicy rhubarb around on the allotment at the moment, I've been having a go at home :)
I've adapted Jaime's recipe into a lower fat version, so my cheesecake is still a treat, but your stomach's not grumbling about coping with the digestion overload you've just given it. You of course, may choose to go with the original recipe!
500ml natural yoghurt (Jaim…

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #32

Start a local farm shop which stocks plenty of fresh, seasonal vegAdd a very popular cafe to your business offeringSeeing it's raining and unseasonably cold, tweet what a treat a hot chocolate would beWait for a tempted blogger with a camera to spot there's a new type of veg on the blockEt voila!

Talking Compost at Holt Farm

It's International Compost Week (6-12 May), so it's a good time to tell you about the talk I attended at The Organic Garden at Holt Farm recently. James (the Head Gardener) is famous for his enthusiasm for the stuff and has made the compost area the heart of the garden.

The above picture shows 2 of the large bays where the compost is made. As you can see they compost on a concrete base at Holt Farm which goes against the usual advice. They've not found it makes any difference to their compost making and the worms don't seem to have a problem in finding their way into the heaps to help turn the raw materials into the finished product.

Being a certified organic garden, compost is the main soil amendment used by the team, so they make as much of the stuff as they possibly can. Like all gardens there's never enough though, so perhaps it's just as well the garden is on rich clay soil. As the garden is 6 and half acres and next door to the farm, a large heap of the …

British Leafy Salads Association

One of my online salad discoveries this year is the website of the British Leafy Salads Association. Whilst it aims to support and promote the interests commercial salad producers, there is still much of interest to anyone growing their own salads.

It's worth a browse on a rainy day - especially the Know Your Salads section. The recipes are OK, though not so good on the whole if you're aiming to stick solely with seasonal ingredients. This observation of course may change!

There are links from this website to a couple of other promotional websites of note:
Watercress - lots of information and recipes on my favourite salad ingredient. Note: the Watercress Festival this year is May 20th, at Alresford, Hampshire in the heart of British watercress landFresh Herbs - information and recipes for the most commonly used culinary herbs Do you have any salad-related websites you visit regularly? It'd be great to build a list of online resources for everyone to share :)

Update: I'v…

Secret Wisley

Yesterday I was privileged to be whisked away to a 'secret' part of Wisley not usually seen in public, to witness the official opening of the RHS' new Field Research Centre. As you can see, the ribbon was cut by one of my childhood heroes, David Bellamy.

Readers of Veg Plotting since the early days, know about my passion for science and how I value supporting the independent research the RHS conducts on behalf of gardeners via my membership. It seems the new building has caught the imagination of lots of other members too, because its funding was raised in 9 months instead of the usual 12-18 month timescale the fundraising team work to.

The building might look like a large garage - and was described as such by RHS Head of Science Dr Roger Williams (pictured right) at one point in the proceedings - but its modest exterior disguises the state of the art facilities which lie within. It's temperature controlled to within 10C of a given point without the need for shading. The…

Wordless Wednesday: Estate Cowslips


GBMD: Ah Sunflower

Ah Sunflower, weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the sun;
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the traveller's journey is done;

Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale virgin shrouded in snow,
Arise from their graves, and aspire
Where my Sunflower wishes to go!

William Blake (1757-1827)

Chosen in celebration of today's International Sunflower Guerrilla Gardening Day :)