Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Monday, 30 April 2012

Things in Unusual Places #10: The Snail

Despite the recent rain, I've been popping up to the allotment between the showers to finish clearing the ground and plant up this year's crops. There's also been a fair few things to bring back with me as they no longer fit my scheme after giving up half the plot last year.

A heavy shower sent me scurrying homewards on Friday. I also hastily dumped a pile of stuff in our lobby ready for finding new homes for various things when the weather cleared up (ha ha). It looks like I had an extra passenger in the car with me at the time as I found the pictured scene on Saturday afternoon!

Have you found an unusual visitor in your house lately?

Friday, 27 April 2012

Salad Days: Experimental Salad

Hello and welcome to April's Salad Days, our monthly get together to see how everyone's been getting on with their Salad Challenge :)

April's miserable weather here in the UK has seen plant growth slow right down after March's unseasonal warmth. Ironically it also means there's been no need to use hosepipes during their ban! This must be the wettest drought in living memory ;)

For me, allotment time is taking precedence between the showers, so I've been trying some quick experimental salad growing on the windowsill this month.

I've been given some biochar seed compost to trial and having a couple of identical little trays to hand, I decided to compare rocket sown using the biochar in one tray and John Innes seed compost in the other. The biochar tray is the one on the right.

I put the same amount of seed compost and then sowed 80 rocket seeds (from a freshly opened packet) as evenly spaced as I could on each tray. I covered the seeds and watered lightly. Initially I used a little water sprayer so that the compost was relatively undisturbed.

Germination was quick. 49 seeds (61%) germinated in the John Innes tray and just 29 (36%) on the biochar. As you can see the biochar seedlings are much larger now, but this could be because their lower germination rate means they have much more room to grow and compost to draw nutrients from.

If you look very carefully at the biochar tray, you can also see a small white patch at the bottom right. I think this might be the mycorrhizal fungi showing through (this is one of the other additives used in the biochar compost mix and is a beneficial soil organism).

Soon I'll be transferring the seedlings to pots to see how they fare. I have some biochar to trial for this stage too.

As an experiment it's too small a sample size and there's too many variables at play to draw firm conclusions. For a proper trial, I would need to start with exactly the same compost base and then add some biochar to half of the compost to see what effect it has on germination and growth. However, it was an enjoyable little experiment to do and soon I'll be eating the results :)

How are you faring with your salad this month? Are you trying anything new compost or salad-wise?

Mr Linky is set up below for your posts for April. NB our next Salad Days will be on May 25th.

BTW @FennelandFern has let me know that May is National Salad Month. This is a USA based campaign which has been going for 20 years and is designed to celebrate freshly prepared food, especially salad. The Taste Spotting blog has a salad making challenge set up for next Monday/Tuesday in which you might want to take part. We won't be able to use the salad brand featured, but I'm sure we can do MUCH better with our home grown stuff!

Friday, 20 April 2012

Edible Flowers For Your Salad

Tulips overlooking the more conventional edibles at The Organic Garden at Holt Farm last week

Last Saturday I received my order of climbing Fuchsia plants from Thompson & Morgan. Tucked inside with the usual cultivation leaflet was another on edible flowers. How timely, seeing they're on my list of Salad Challenge posts lined up for you :)

I've been eyeing up my garden in a completely different way ever since. The list names an amazing 69 edible flowers. 20 of them I've tried already (including our summer salad stalwart, nasturtiums); 26 I knew about but have yet to try, which leaves a further 23 surprises. They also helpfully list another 28 to especially avoid as they're poisonous.

Since Saturday I've added apple blossom*, tulip and strawberry* to the flowers I've tried. All were very tasty and sweet. I particularly enjoyed the tulip which was a more substantial mouthful and [to me] tasted like a cross between pea and bean. It was enjoyed as much for my surprise at it being edible as its taste. However, Jane Perrone warned on twitter yesterday some people can have an allergic reaction to this flower.

I'm particularly looking forward to trying Dianthus, sunflowers, Phlox paniculata and Calendula when they come into season. I'll be trying some Fuchsia flowers from my new plants too as I've tried (and liked) their berries previously. I'm not sure about my Yucca flowers though!

The booklet ends with a selection of unusual recipes to try. Here's their Primrose Salad. I've found primroses in my garden have a delicate sweetness. Probably best to stick to those if you have them rather than going a-foraging.

1 round lettuce
115g (4oz) lamb's lettuce
2 tbsp young primrose leaves, chopped
50g (2oz) parsley, chopped
450g (1lb) tomatoes
1/2 (half) cucumber, peeled and chopped
15-20 primrose flowers
3 tbsp sunflower or olive oil
1 tbsp primrose or white wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper and salt

  • Wash and shake the lettuce dry, discarding the outer leaves
  • Add the lamb's lettuce, tomatoes, parsley, primrose leaves, cucumber and mix thoroughly
  • Combine the oil and vinegar in a bowl by whisking thoroughly, then season to taste with the salt and black pepper
  • Pour the salad dressing over the salad just before serving and scatter the primrose flowers on top

Which edible flowers have you tried? Did you enjoy them?

* = though not too many of these as I want lots of fruit!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Horticulture: A Career To Be Proud Of

It was a privilege to attend the RHS' conference on Horticulture: A Career To Be Proud Of in London yesterday. It's part of National Gardening Week and was arranged in response to two rather shocking things:
It's clear horticulture has an image problem. In contrast the 21 speakers yesterday were admirable ambassadors, demonstrating clearly just how good an option horticulture is for a career. The array of speakers was glittering and the day was chaired by Alan Titchmarsh.

I took loads of notes - far too many to post as it would be soooo long. For me the best part of the day was hearing the four young people who spoke so eloquently about their struggle to get started in horticulture. I wish I could bottle their enthusiasm and love for their jobs and get everyone to have a good long sniff.

Unlike many sectors there are jobs to be had. There's an anticipated shortfall of 11,000 people entering the horticultural industry over the next few years. The majority of them are for well qualified individuals from GCSE right through to post graduate level. 3,000 jobs are at graduate/post graduate level alone - that's hardly ranking alongside litter picking!

Some of the problems highlighted yesterday were the lack of awareness of the diversity of careers on offer, awful pay (though there ARE well paid jobs in the sector too), the lack of careers advice and how to fit horticulture into the curriculum at secondary level.

However, we need solutions not problems. A new discovery for me yesterday was the Grow website pictured at the top of this page. At last there's a 'one stop shop' for finding out about the industry. It's something the careers teacher I spoke to yesterday was very pleased to see and is a useful site for anyone contemplating a career change as well as those currently in full time education. It has lots of information, adverts for jobs, details of apprenticeships and stories from people working in the industry. It's a great first step on that image makeover.

Now it needs our help to make it er, grow - by linking to the Grow website, following them on Twitter and liking their Facebook page. Let's help to create a buzz about horticulture and get those vacancies filled.

Update: There's a very interesting reply from Esther on her blog with a blog post length reply from me.

Update 20/4: Victoria has a great piece in today's Independent :)

Monday, 16 April 2012

The Organic Garden at Holt Farm Revisited

On Friday I had the pleasure of returning to The Organic Garden at Holt Farm to see my friend Eileen, the rest of the garden team and finally to get to meet the garden's inspiring owner, Sarah Mead. As you can see we had much better weather than for my last visit!

However, my main reason for going wasn't just to have a good natter and nose around the garden. Oh no. They're hosting a monthly series of talks to raise funds for Horatio's Garden at the Duke of Cornwall Spinal Injuries Treatment Centre in Salisbury. On Friday it was Alys Fowler's turn to give her talk on Edible Gardening. I've wanted to hear her speak for a very long time so here was an ideal opportunity to do that (and learn loads), visit one of my favourite gardens, eat scrummy food and all whilst supporting an immensely good cause. Sheer perfection.

Both Alys' talk and Horatio's Garden deserve posts of their own, so I'll be writing about them soon. Suffice to say that following her talk, the design of the kitchen garden pictured above was under reconsideration by at least one member of the garden team. I'm expecting them to have quite a debate about trying some of Alys' techniques and suggested plants very soon!

Naturally the day included a garden tour with James the head gardener enthusing about everything as usual. It's rather wonderful to meet a team who are serious about and very professional in what they do, but ensure fun and humour aren't lost in the process. Yesterday I said we'd discussed stumpy tulips, so to redress the balance here's some rather good looking T. 'Abu Hassan' instead. Every time I see them I make a note to myself to get some and without fail I forget. Durr.

And finally here's a picture of the grass meadow. Lots of 'February Silver' daffodils plus Fritillaries and Camassia just coming into bloom. Fingers crossed I get to see them plus the crab apple blossom in their full glory in a week or so's time :)

If you fancy visiting, the garden's just reopened for the season - every Thursday (10-5) and the first Sunday afternoon (2-5) of each month are your options for now until the end of September. Make sure you leave enough time to have some cake (or lunch) too ;)

Sunday, 15 April 2012

GBBD: Tulip Time

The tulips are out and much in evidence wherever I go, like the tulip festival at Dyrham Park I showed you last week. They also seem to be telling the story of our strange season this year as everyone's talking about having stumpy tulips!

The subject cropped up again last Friday when I revisited The Organic Garden at Holt Farm - more to come - and we concluded the dry winter's to blame, though I'm also wondering whether the unseasonally warm winter meant they didn't get enough chilling time. The warm weather in February/March started them flowering early too and the colder weather of the past couple of weeks has slowed their decline. It means my display is lasting much longer than usual.

The pictured 'Spring green' seems to be one of the more reliable varieties - no stumpy tulips here thank goodness - and are standing proud in the large pot I have of them in the front garden. This is their third year of flowering with no sign of their blooms getting smaller, unlike some tulips which are left in situ to bloom again.

In the back garden it's a different story. The tulips I so admired a couple of years ago seem to have changed colour! The deep shade of mauve I loved then has turned into a wishy washy pink. The blooms have faded now, but I'm still puzzling over them. They're also in pots so I'm pondering whether the bulbs need feeding or whether they're offshoots from the original bulbs. They're not streaked so I'm discounting it's due to a virus.

I learnt recently the petals are edible - they're supposed to taste like peas or beans - though I haven't plucked up the courage to try one yet. Must do that later!

How are your tulips doing? Are you finding they're stumpy too?

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

Update: The Guardian has picked up on the stumpy tulip story (and linked to here - yay!). It does look like the dry weather's been the culprit - though it doesn't resolve @countrygate's comment here, who kept hers well watered (she's wondering about chilling time). My 'Spring Green' are later flowering, so the recent spell of rain probably got to them just in time.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Supermarket Sweep - A Quick Look at Bagged Salads

One of the reasons why I started The 52 Week Salad Challenge was when I realised the bagged salads we're buying are much more expensive - weight for weight - than buying meat. Not only did that seem a crazy thing to be doing, I immediately realised that here was a golden opportunity to make a big saving on our weekly food bill.

Since then I've been having a closer look at precisely what's on offer in our supermarkets. Whilst the shelves are stacked high with lots of different salads e.g. sweet, baby leaf, bistro, herb, Italian, individual leaves and suchlike, the actual mix of leaves in each of these types is quite limited. The total number of different leaves used for the various mixed bagged salads is around 24. The maximum number I've found in an individual salad is six (and even that isn't guaranteed) and the more typical packet has just 3 to 4 different kinds.

Already we've seen that even in winter the number of different leaves available for cropping is much wider and with a much greater range of flavours than those displayed in the above photo. You want a boring salad? Then buy one from a supermarket! Carl has shown us salads even in the depths of January can have more than 20 different kinds of leaf. If I can provide at least half of that at the end of the year I'll be very pleased.

I'm starting a new salad growing area in a part of the garden I've not shown you before to prove all this can also be done in a very small growing space. More on this project shortly. I hope I've done enough to persuade you to join me in The 52 Week Salad Challenge if you haven't already!

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Make History With Your Garden

Put 17th April (a week today) in your diary right now! As part of National Gardening Week, the RHS is asking us to share our pictures of our plots, in order to create the ultimate 'snapshot' of Britain's gardens in 2012. Those of you who remember my 12:34:56 on 07/08/09 meme, know how much I love capturing these moments in time :)

The aim is to record and share the styles and trends seen in our gardens today. Next Tuesday we're requested to post our favourite picture of our own front or back garden, taken in the past year, onto the Gardens of the Nation flickr group. Or perhaps you might like to take a picture on that particular day (weather permitting!)?

I've had a lot of fun looking back through my pictures from last year - taking part in Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day every month means there's quite a few photos to go through. I finally chose the pictured overhead shot of our back garden from last October because it's the last view I have with both flowers AND the conifers which we took down recently.

It's shame they're not collecting video - I found this little film I took in the garden last May during an evening thunderstorm. It was the first rain we'd had after the very dry spring last year and as you can hear the birds were loving it. If you can't see the video above, try this link instead.

Which photo of your garden will you choose?

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Have You Seen This Gnome?

This highly subversive individual [who apparently answers to the name of Borage - Ed] is reported to have escaped from his house of confinement to cause mayhem at this year's Chelsea Flower Show, where gnomes are strictly banned from proceedings. All sightings are to be reported to stand PW30 where his guards are anxious to ensure the more genteel and civilised proceedings usually associated with the event may resume.

Rumours he is in deep negotiations with RHS Council candidate James Alexander-Sinclair to deliver the gnomic block vote in return for a better deal for all garden ornaments were hotly denied by Mr Alexander-Sinclair yesterday before he returned to his dinner with a representative from the meercat contingent.

Normal broadcasts from this blog will continue shortly after the author returns from her trip to Chelsea ;)

Friday, 6 April 2012

Salads for Awkward Situations #1: Drought

Nasturtiums on my allotment last year

As the awaited hosepipe ban came into force for much of eastern and southern England yesterday, and with other parts of the country probably set to follow suit, I thought it'd be a good idea to look at which salad crops (both leaves and supplements) stand up to less watering.

The selection for your delectation (in no particular order) is:
  • Edible flowers such as nasturtiums, marigolds and violas - I've decided to keep my winter potted violas growing over the summer to see how they do, both drought and salad-wise. Nasturtiums are already a firm summer salad favourite with NAH and me :)
  • Beetroot - I grow 'Bull's blood' for its leaves and they're delicious
  • Spinach - I love these grown as baby leaves
  • Carrots - not forgetting their leaves are edible too!
  • Peas - pea shoots have become a firm favourite and I can vouch for their drought tolerant capabilities - I haven't been that good at watering my windowsill crops :o
  • Chard - I'm not so struck on this so far, so will be giving it a miss
  • Kale - one I'm going to try as it looks a good option for the winter
  • Don't forget Mediterranean herbs such as sage, oregano and marjoram - they'll add a flavoursome boost to salad dressings too
  • Add your choice of salad crop which you've found does well with little water - and tell me about it in the Comments below :)

So, even in the driest of gardens - whether you have a sandy soil or are in drought conditions - it's still possible to grow a good variety of salad items :)

If the dry weather continues, it's a good idea to pick salad leaves when young, as older leaves may be a bit tougher than usual. This will also encourage the plant to continue to produce leaves.

NB If you're in a hosepipe ban area, check your water authority's restrictions to see how it applies to you e.g. using a drip or trickle irrigation system is fine at the time of writing (except in Hampshire and the Isle of Wight) and anyone with severe mobility problems who's a blue badge holder may still be allowed to use a hosepipe.

The Horticultural Trades Association's website has links to all the water companies imposing hosepipe bans as well as one to the Environment Agency's website for the most up to date information. They're also providing advice for growers, retailers and landscapers, plus a downloadable poster aimed at ordinary people like me.

In later posts, I'll be looking at other awkward garden situations e.g. shade. I'll show you it's possible to grow salads for the 52 Week Salad Challenge irrespective of the type of garden you have, it's situation, or the weather :)

Sunday, 1 April 2012

GBMD: A Seed

Teeny tiny birch seedlings and moss on my patio - I won't be letting any of these grow into a tall, green tree!

See how a Seed, which Autumn flung down,
And through the Winter neglected lay,
Uncoils two little green leaves and two brown,
With tiny root taking hold on the clay
As, lifting and strengthening day by day,
It pushes red branchless, sprouts new leaves,
And cell after cell the Power in it weaves
Out of the storehouse of soil and clime,
To fashion a Tree in due course of time;
Tree with rough bark and boughs' expansion,
Where the Crow can build his mansion,
Or a Man, in some new May,
Lie under whispering leaves and say,
"Are the ills of one's life so very bad
When a Green Tree makes me deliciously glad?"
As I do now. But where shall I be
When this little Seed is a tall green Tree?

William Allingham (1824-1889)
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