Seen at The Festival of the Tree

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

Sunday, 30 September 2012

An Award for Veg Plotting :)

It's always nice to receive an award, especially when Veg Plotting is in such good company and the citation says:

Vegplotting was pointed in our direction as one of the ‘Queen of the Blogs’. Excellent. It lives up to its name.

I owe a beer to whoever said that :)

You can check out all the other winners here. There's plenty of excellence and a number of sites I'd not found before, which is great. As usual with this kind of thing, there are plenty of blogs, websites and whatever that haven't had the recognition they deserve.* Therefore I'm pleased to see My Garden School is asking you to mention your favourites in the Comments (via the above link), ready for consideration next year.

* = which I mused about in relation to a certain list of top influential gardeners published in January.

My thanks to Toby Musgrave for blogging about his inclusion, which led to my discovery. If you're interested in garden history, his blog is well worth a look :)

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Horatio's Garden: A Sneak Preview


Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the press preview of Horatio's Garden at the Duke of Cornwall Spinal Treatment Centre in Salisbury. It looks very different to my last visit at the end of May*, when just the outline of the garden's structure was in evidence.

I'm pleased to report the press weren't the first people previewing the garden. The patients had the first 'taste' of their garden the day before, which is just as it should be.

The speech makers - Cleve West, Olivia Chapple and Annie Maw
There were speeches, laughter and tears. Most of all there was plenty of time to talk to people about the garden. The most amazing thing is how it not only softens the brutalist architecture of the hospital it surrounds, but it also makes the place look outwards rather than in on itself. Annie Maw put it really well:

For once I'm turning my back on the spinal unit and at last I'm seeing the possibilities of the outside world. 

When Annie was a patient at the unit, it was months before she went outside. When at last she did, it was hearing a skylark in the distance, which she says was the turning point in her recovery. Birds and insects have already found the garden to their liking.

The garden won't just be a garden. It'll also be a space for art, theatre, music and community projects. Olivia Chapple outlined the partnerships already being formed with local schools and the wider community in Salisbury. It's another aspect of looking to the outside world to bring new experiences and possibilities to patients and Salisbury alike.

Cleve spoke about how he'd been taken around in a wheelchair to understand a little of the needs of his clients. As a consequence a slight slope to the site was removed (OK for more experienced patients, but too much of a challenge for those just starting to get used to their new life) and the installation of a special resin bound surface. Patients have already given the smoothness of the latter a big thumbs up.


This is the 'driving engine' of the garden where patients will sow seeds, pot them on and get growing. They will be growing some of their own food, which they will then take inside to their adapted kitchen to get cooking. The planters you see are on wheels, so they can be moved around according to how the patients are using the space.

Having seen the garden in May, this was the most surprising part of the transformation as it takes what then looked like the most unpromising part of the space and makes it the heart of the patients' activities. There are also places here and throughout the garden where large umbrellas can be put up to provide extra shelter when needed.


Here are just a few of the many people who've worked extremely hard to make Horatio's Garden happen: Horatio's mother, gardeners, designers, volunteers, SSIT trustees etc. There's still work to do - 2,000 bulbs will be planted next month; the native hedge will be planted to screen out the car park and link the garden with the distant landscape; and the arch will get its covering of apple trees, carefully selected to include Horatio's favourites and to provide a long season of both blossom and apples.

Dorothy (the lady in the middle wheelchair, who was a patient at the hospital 2 years ago) will be working out how far into the borders she can get to plant bulbs with her long bulb planter. This shows how the garden will evolve over time to match patient's capabilities and needs.

I'll leave you with a final collage of some of my other pictures from the day...
... tomorrow is the official opening, with Frank Gardner performing the ceremonial duties and around 400 people expected to attend. You'll also be able to read what The Sunday Telegraph makes of it. I think it's one of the most important gardens of recent times and I hope it inspires the creation of many more hospital gardens in the years to come.

As I left to come home, I noticed a woman sitting on one of the benches talking to a young man in a wheelchair. The garden was safely back with its owners :)

* = do have a look at my link from my last visit - it provides a lot of background to the story of how Horatio's Garden came into being as well as showing the hardscaping work in progress.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Salad Days: The Fennel From My Seedy Penpal


This month's Salad Days is doubling up as my Seedy Penpals progress post as this week I've been pondering the fennel Joanna sent me recently.

On the plus side germination has been quite good and I seem to have managed to sow thinly enough so I don't need to take out any of the seedlings.

However, they're quite leggy. The ivy on the fence above them is fruiting in profusion, thus casting quite a bit of shade for most of the day. I've now moved them into a warmer, sunnier spot on the patio. As we're past the autumn equinox, that extra bit of warmth and light is precious. So too is the ivy's fruit as it'll be hoovered up by the birds.

Whether I'll get any delicious fennel bulbs this year remains to be seen. I suspect not if the return to cooler weather continues and I may have sown the seed a wee bit too late. Whatever happens, I'm looking forward to adding some of those fronds to liven up our autumn salads.

How's your salad coming along this month? I reported on the rest of my progress last week, do add yours to Mr Linky below:

Thursday, 27 September 2012

'Garden' Visit: Poppleton Community Railway Nursery

At the Nursery entrance

NAH and I are great fans of the Heritage Open Days (HOD) held each September, so we were keen to find somewhere suitable whilst staying in Yorkshire. I was surprised to find something which combined our individual interests of gardening and railways, in the shape of Poppleton Community Railway Nursery (PCRN). Perfect :)

Upper Poppleton is a pretty village just outside York on the York to Harrogate railway line. Right by the flower bedecked station is a rich slice of little known railway history. PCRN is the last remaining garden nursery of the six which used to supply flowers and vegetables to stations and other railway properties up and down the land.

Its buildings and around a dozen greenhouses in various states of repair are squeezed into a narrowing slice of land right next to the railway. There's even a pit-house and boiler rooms more reminiscent of Victorian kitchen gardening than the nursery's actual beginnings.

One of the volunteers kindly took us round on a guided tour, which was absolutely fascinating.

Some of the restored buildings

Early history


The nursery started during the Second World War, when the Dig For Victory campaign meant the railway company had to look to its own resources to provide food for its workers' canteens and railway owned hotels. In 1941, the land at Poppleton Station's Goods Yard was pressed into service and so the garden nursery was born.

After the War, and the nationalisation of the railways into British Rail, attention initially turned to the provision of shrubs and trees to stabilise bomb damaged railway embankments. Soon afterwards, production changed to supplying flowers for the tubs and hanging baskets used along the East Coast Main Line. Supplies were often taken to London too. Once a week an entire carriage (emptied of its seats) was parked at the station ready for packing with flowers to be taken down the line to the capital.

During the 1980s a miniature railway was installed which was used to transport materials and plants around the site. It seems this was a whim of the nursery manager at the time!

Remains of the miniature railway beside the real railway

Towards and beyond railway privatisation


British Rail continued to invest in the nursery well into the 1990s. The gas lamps were finally replaced in 1991 and the boilers converted from coal to bottled gas. As well as supplying the railway, diversification was also tried to keep the nursery in profit.

Surprisingly the nursery remained open when British Rail was privatised and the site became the local office for Jarvis, one of the companies who used to maintain our railway infrastructure. The greenhouses gradually fell into disrepair and Jarvis finally abandoned the site in 2006.

By then Poppleton was the only remaining railway nursery and a group of railwaymen were keen to save it. Jarvis were persuaded to provide the secure lineside fencing required and the site was eventually re-opened and leased from Network Rail in 2009 on a rolling 3 year basis.

Just one of the large greenhouses on site

Today

The nursery is run by volunteers as a community based, not for profit venture. Lots of repair work is still needed and where possible this is done by linking with other local groups and initiatives. Horticultural therapy is another key strand in the group's work and the nursery works in partnership with the local NHS.

Plants are grown and supplied to local stations like Poppleton and to some along the Settle to Carlisle line. Regular plant sales are held at the nursery and local hospitals. These form a major source of income. Membership is also available for a mere fiver. I've joined to show my support as we didn't have room in the car to bring any plants home :(

As well as our guided tour, one of the sheds had a slideshow of photographs of the site both during its heyday and absolute dereliction. There was also a little model railway which showed part of the site in operation - the link opens to a pdf of an article and photos about it if you're interested.

Naturally, a great deal of interest was taken by the Britain in Bloom judges when they came round during the summer. They do like a good community project :)

Towards the top of the site looking back towards the entrance

Final thoughts


When we think of 'heritage' it's often of castles, stately homes and other grand or ancient buildings. It's great to see there's room for our more recent history under HOD's sheltering umbrella. Without it - and the hard work of the band of enthusiastic volunteers we met on the day - I'm sure Poppleton Community Railway Nursery could so easily have been lost forever.

This is just the kind of unusual project and place NAH and I like to find :)

Update: An edited version of this post is also on the HOD blog :)

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Seed Saving at Nursery View


For some reason when NAH booked Nursery View cottage for our holiday, I didn't twig it meant a garden nursery. Here it is - the window you can see straight ahead was our kitchen window. With this view in reverse, suddenly washing up didn't seem such a chore after all.

Our hosts gave us the run of the tomatoes which ran down the whole of one side - you can just see some of them at the top right of the picture. There was nothing better at the end of a day's activities to go and pick some for our our tea.


One of the varieties merited special attention. This thin skinned lemon yellow plum tomato had a juicy, sweet flavour which burst into the mouth. It was more like drinking than eating.

The owners couldn't remember its name, saying it's nowt special. They saved the seed from a ripe tomato they were given onto a piece of kitchen roll and have been growing and saving ever since. As it's worked so well for them, I've saved some too :)

Update: Not all tomato seed can be saved so easily and I know my simple way will work because it has already for the cottage owners. Patrick from Bifurcated Carrots shows the foolproof way in a guest post he wrote for The Guardian Gardening blog a while ago. I'll be keeping the kitchen roll dry in my seed tin over the winter and using it in a similar way to seed tape next year.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Belated Bloomsday: Dahlias

We arrived back too late for Blooms Day this month, but since then we've been thoroughly enjoying this year's Dahlias which came into peak production whilst we were away. It seems appropriate to use them instead to brighten up this wet and miserable Monday morning. The photos show them as a bit of a jumbled mess, but I'm loving the wider view from our kitchen window.

The removal of the sentinel conifers has given new life to dark, dusky D. 'Arabian Night'. Previously I was lucky to get three blooms at once. This year, I'm getting at least thirty at a time. Across the steps, I and the bees (as well as the pictured fly) are loving the simple yellow flowers of D. 'Knockout'.

I've also been trialling some mega big Dahlias courtesy of Thompson & Morgan. They're in the catalogue as v. 'XXXL' and the mixture of yellow, white and orange are what I was sent (though you can also order them in their single colours). They're certainly most striking and whilst initially I was horrified at having massive orange blooms in my garden, I now think they're great.

T&M's catalogue claims these flowers don't need staking. I'm having mixed results, though I suspect my treatment of them before planting out has more to do with it. A combination of an early arrival of the cuttings with a very wet, cold spring meant they were surviving woefully mistreated on my windowsill for three months before I planted them out. They got a bit leggy as a result, which I think has contributed to their tendency to lie down in the garden.

I've planted these Dahlias as a 'stop gap' whilst continuing my step sitting ponderings for a more permanent planting for the old conifer areas. My conclusion so far is Dahlias will continue to feature, though probably in their single flower form. The huge double blooms look fab in full flower and last for ages, but they aren't attractive to bees and haven't died that well. They tend to curl up into a brown mush rather than prettily shedding their petals like the single flowers do.

What's helping you to cheer up today?

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Book Review: James Wong's Homegrown Revolution


This is a fabulous book. James' easy and infectiously enthusiastic TV style translates well to the written page. Homegrown Revolution is all about more than 80 unusual fruits and vegetables James has trialled extensively in his Croydon garden (alongside 120 others which didn't make it) and knows are viable for growing in the UK.

Some of them may already be familiar because you either grow them already (e.g Globe and Jerusalem artichokes), or you've caught one of James' popular talks at the last two Edible Gardening Shows. However, I guarantee you'll be eyeing up your garden differently when you learn garden familiars such as Dahlias and Cannas are also edible and if you're growing the right kind of bamboo, that's exactly what you've been eating in your Chinese takeaway. It could be a novel way of taming the latter's invasive nature in your garden!

In the first part of the book James gets down to gardening basics with his Top Ten Commandments. The Tips and Tricks section outlines some easy and speedy ways of growing at home. A lack of space isn't a problem and some of the projects would be great for getting kids started.

Then comes the 'meat' of the book where over 80 varieties are described in the following sections:

  • Leaves and Greens
  • Fruiting Veg and Grains
  • Buried Treasure
  • Experimental Herbs, Spices and Flavours
  • Dessert Fruit
James is very good at the 'one liner strapline' describing why a particular plant is a 'must grow'. At least 2 pages is devoted to each of them and the accompanying illustrations are appealing. All have growing, harvesting and eating guides and many of them are also followed with recipe ideas. NB James uses the common name he feels is the most popular in the UK right now, so you'll find you'll know some of the entries by a different name. Latin names are included for universality, as are any different common names in use, where applicable.

The final chapter is Garden Essentials, which briefly describes the kit you may need, plus a glossary, places for inspiration and a directory of suppliers.

My only minor criticism is the book's index. I would have liked the latin names, plus common name alternatives (when they occur) to be included as well as the main common name James chose to feature. It would have made it much easier to check whether the 'Karella' I found at Harrogate Show is included. After searching through the entire book, I now know it isn't.

That hasn't stopped me wishing I'd written this book, nor writing out a long list of things to try next year :)


At Harrogate Show last week I was surprised to find the cucamelons James showed on Breakfast News earlier in the week had made their way onto one of the trugs entered into the vegetable competition via the entrant's garden.

Since then I've been musing on whether this is signalling a major change in our growing/eating habits. I'm thinking back to the 1960s when peppers (plus aubergines, chillis, garlic etc) were almost unheard of, never mind being available in the shops. Then we started travelling abroad for our holidays and started to demand the foods we'd tried there when we got back home. No-one blinks an eye today when peppers et al. appear on the allotment, or indeed in the pictured trug.

Are we seeing something similar happening all over again today with these more unusual varieties? James' exciting new book makes it more likely, I'm sure.

Find out more:
  • James Wong's Homegrown Revolution website. James is currently on tour (Sept 2012) and will be joining the Edible Gardening Show again next year
  • Sutton Seeds' James Wong Homegrown Revolution seed range. NB they currently have a book and seed bundle which works out much better than buying the book from Amazon + seeds from Suttons. Their plant range is also due out shortly.
  • Emma Cooper's blog - Emma's been writing about growing unusual fruit and vegetables on her fab blog for years. She's also reviewed James' book as well as attending Suttons' launch of the Homegrown Revolution range (sadly I couldn't go as we were in Yorkshire) and visiting James' garden (I'm deeply envious). She starts a Masters degree in Ethnobotany tomorrow and if she still finds time to blog, I'm sure her posts will continue to be fascinating.
  • Radix - Rhizowen's adventures in growing root crops, which are often unusual and hail from South America. He's a fascinating, informative and dryly humorous (often puntastic) guide as well as kindly sending me some Mashua to grow earlier this year :)
  • Claire's Allotment tries Electric Buttons (aka Daisies in the book) with hilarious results (found via Weeding the Web). This shows not all the varieties in James' book will be popular with everyone, but I'm sure a number of them will form part of our mainstream growing and eating habits in the years to come.
Related book and post: My review of Marc Diacono's A Taste of the Unexpected - Mark's Otter Farm blog also has interesting insights into trying to grow some of these more unusual fruit and vegetables on a commercial basis.

Disclosure: I received a copy of Homegrown Revolution for honest review purposes.

Friday, 21 September 2012

My Salad: Rich Pickings and Starting Afresh


The new salad beds sprouted lots more leaves whilst I was away, despite my giving them a good haircut to supplement my Ultimate Travellers' Salad. As you can see, regular picking's made these oakleaf types much taller than usual as happens with most salad plants picked in this way. I wouldn't expect them to reach this kind of height until they're getting ready to go to seed. A quick inspection showed they're still in leaf production mode.

I've come back to a leaf glut. It'd be great if you could help me by offering up your ideas of what to do with them, other than in salad. I already have recipes for lettuce and lovage soup (plus sorrel or watercress or spinach) and plenty of pesto variations. I'm looking for other recipes which use up lots of salad leaves or herbs, which I'll feature in a future post. If you've already offered them via Salad Days, previous Comments or via #saladchat don't worry, they're already included :)

Which reminds me, our next Salad Days is next Friday, so it's nearly time to show me your salad! Or for you to blog a glutbuster recipe to share...


I've realised I haven't told you much about my new salad area, even though you've glimpsed it before. Allow me to introduce you to the narrow place between the front of our house and our neighbours. There's just enough room widthwise for a cold frame and me. This area is laid to gravel, faces east and very rarely gets much sun. It's an ideal place to demonstrate salad can be grown successfully in small, unlikely places! Probably the only things going for it are our house provides some shelter and many salad leaves like shade.

I acquired 3 old Belfast sinks from my friend P at choir earlier this year to form the basis of my new salad beds. I added a layer of gravel to each of them for drainage, plus the soil from a turf stack that had been lying around since I dug up part of the front lawn a number of years ago. Two were topped with peat-free multipurpose compost and the other with biochar ready for a comparison trial. More on that in a later post.

I rescued the coldframe from my allotment where I hadn't made best use of it. It's sheltering one of the Belfast sinks and currently playing host to a very productive cucumber. I have cloches waiting in the wings for the other 2 Belfast sinks. I also have a pot of carrots on the go, ready for later in the year.


Most of the individual winter pots I showed you earlier are filling out nicely - as are the number of pots - ready to go into the space in the coldframe next to the sink (in the modified square foot arrangement I described), or to replace the cucumber.  The 'Amaze' lettuce has now turned completely red since I took its photo for my lettuce preference post. The slugs haven't touched them whilst I was away.

The one disappointment is the wild rocket. Two pots are looking very sorry for themselves and another is already in flower. It looks like I'll be looking to the other two pots for some winter pepperiness.


I've had mixed fortunes with the seeds I sowed before holiday too. The pictured mizuna and pak choi are looking very perky, as are the chervil, fennel and lamb's lettuce. The spinach is still to emerge or has been eaten (though there's no slime trails in evidence to suggest the latter) and my 'Bulls Blood' beet emergence is patchy, yielding just enough plants for a sprinkling of rich, earthy redness through the winter.

I bought some ordinary and variegated landcress whilst I was away which I'll be sowing today. It's probably too late for them to provide much for the winter, but at least they should help kick start the spring. @mandahill said she found the variegated land cress didn't grow so well when we were having a #saladchat, so it'll be interesting to see how my packet fares.

How's your salad coming along?

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Onions and Dahlias the Size of Your Head


Last Friday I went to Harrogate Autumn Show for the first time. It was NAH's first flower show EVER and I'm happy to report we both had an excellent day. We particularly enjoyed the weigh-in for the heaviest onion class (top picture in the collage courtesy of NAH).

It turned out we witnessed a world beater, weighing in at an eye watering 18 pounds and 1 ounce. The grower of this particular giant was Peter Glazebrook, who's very well known in championship veg growing circles. Unknown to NAH, he was standing next to him at the weigh-in and was briefly glimpsed on the local TV coverage that evening as a result.

Peter Glazebrook swept the board in the six other heaviest/ longest/ biggest categories on offer at the show and thus earned the attention of the national media this week (and across the pond!). On Breakfast News on Monday he revealed his giant onion will be grown on next year to provide seed to add to his own world beating strain. I guess that makes it the world's biggest onion set too ;)

Other exhibits which particularly caught my eye were Robinson's (of Mammoth Onion fame) showing the origins of many vegetables we grow today. This was a different approach to their usual display which I thought worked well and was fascinating. R.V Rogers' display of fruit was exquisite.

Harrogate is also famous for its Dahlia championships and they didn't disappoint this show first timer, especially as some of the blooms were almost as large as the world beating onion and pretty much the size of my head.

On entering the competition area, there are Dahlias as far as the eye can see of every size, shape, colour and form available to the Dahlia world. Some vases displayed a special extra red ticket, which meant they were being considered for the overall championship across all the competition classes.

Every petal on display was perfect, though at one side of the room were blooms which had been discarded during the setting up process. These were deemed as not quite reaching the appropriate standard for exhibition by the competitors and were on offer to show visitors for a £1 a bunch ('select as many as you like madam') with the proceeds going to charity. I thought this was a nice touch.

Other items which caught my eye were the garden borders show gardens put together by local colleges and garden designers. These were around 4 metres in length and showed a lot of variety. I loved the 'cottage garden' display in the Floral Hall, but sadly I've lost my note of the exhibitor (note to self: take a photo of the gold medal award card next time. Update - the show PR people say it was Mires Beck Nursery).

The 'plant of the show' as far as its appearance in lots of trolley carts was concerned was Rudbeckia 'Herbstonne' with its stems reaching skywards at well over 4 feet high. Acers were being carried away in large quantities as well. Seasonal Gladioli and Cyclamen had a strong presence too and I was surprised to find there's a competition category for collections of single Gladiolus florets and well as the usual spray vases.

I'd also wondered before the show (being the possessor of a shiny catalogue beforehand) how the National Daffodil Society was going to exhibit in the autumn and of course should have realised it would be using bulbs - durr, silly me ;)


And finally, bearing in mind his waxwork alter ego at Madame Tussauds requires regular cleaning owing to the amount of lipstick applied to it via numerous fans, I'm rather surprised this stand wasn't inundated with women eager to add Alan Titchmarsh to their party planning ;)

Related post:

  • Come With Me to the World of Giant Veg - my review of a book which tells the story of the people in the UK who grow giant veg. This also has some pics from my first encounter at Malvern Autumn Show, in which I take a picture of Peter Glazebrook without realising it at the time.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Wiltshire's Greatest Girl

The start of our holiday in August found us in London for the Paralympics to cheer on Stephanie Millward in the 100m backstroke, the first of her 5 medals from the Games. Yesterday she came home to Corsham to where it all started: at Corsham ASC.

I've spent most of the Olympics and Paralympics caught between a major high and on the verge of tears at how well Team GB and Paralympic GB performed at the Games. Last night was no exception. I wasn't the only one: the mayor was pretty overcome too when the time came to welcome her back.

Stephanie was her usual poised and smiling self. In her speech she said:

These medals aren't mine, they're yours because all your support helped me to achieve them.

Everyone had a chance to wear a medal as they then made the rounds of the people who came out to cheer, including NAH and me. They're really heavy! I was told the 5 of them together weigh around 2.5 kilos. Stephanie was also an Olympic torch bearer in the relay, so we got the chance to hold that as well. Later on, I also got to see one from the Paralympics torch relay as P bought hers to choir :)

When I left Stephanie's homecoming an hour later, she was still surrounded by excited children asking her loads of questions. Her head could just be seen amongst them as she crouched down to talk to them all.

Update: Our local newspaper reports the town council have written to Royal Mail asking for Corsham's postbox to be painted silver in view of Stephanie's achievements as the GB athlete who's won the most medals from either the Olympics or Paralympic Games. I hope their request is granted. For those of you who don't know, all our gold medal winners have been honoured with a gold painted postbox in their home towns :)

Update 2 Sadly no silver postbox for Stephanie, but she was the first person ever to be granted the Freedom of Corsham in 2013.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Greetings From Yorkshire

NAH and I received an image makeover whilst on holiday, courtesy of the activities available at Beninbrough Hall. In view of the recent furore over the Duchess of Cambridge's holiday photos, we thought it best to play safe and go for the totally-covered-from-head-to-toe look ;)

Sadly the paparazzo taking this photo didn't quite have the equipment required to offer you a highly enlarged version.

Be back soon for lots more Travellers' Tales :)

Friday, 14 September 2012

The Ultimate Travellers' Salad


I've realised there's another advantage to growing salad leaves in light, plastic pots. You can take them on holiday for the ultimate Travellers' Salad ;)

See you soon...

Monday, 10 September 2012

OOTS: More Trees For Chippenham


A couple of years ago I showed you the High Street transformed by the addition of 10 birch trees placed in strategic places. Chippenham was originally destined to have 20 trees and I've often wondered what happened to the others.

Well, this year some of them have been placed in front of the railway viaduct which dominates the town centre. I've often pondered this location: the viaduct is a listed building and part of Chippenham's heritage. But it's stonkingly big! It also cuts right through the centre of town. My visit to Kilver Court highlighted the possibilities. Their use of a tall, though  unfashionable planting of conifers* around a similar railway viaduct looks just right.

That kind of scheme wouldn't be right for Chippenham's viaduct, especially as access is needed for repairs and I suppose there might be a potential crime issue if too much became obscured. Personally I'd prefer the trees to have been planted to reduce the watering needed and for them to potentially reach a greater height. However, in view of the location I suspect this might not be possible and a compromise has been made.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this particular public planting develops with time :)

* = but VERY fashionable when the garden was developed and still looking good today

Friday, 7 September 2012

Red vs Green Lettuce: What Do Slugs and Snails Really Like?

Luckily this snail was exploring the possibilities of compost digestion before deciding to attack my lettuce 'Amaze'. ...Or was it?
As reported previously in August's Salad Days, we've been having an interesting #saladchat on Twitter recently about the seeming aversion slugs and snails have to red lettuces.

The majority of you reported this is so with the varieties you've been growing this year. This is a top tip, particularly for any wet year which leads to a population explosion of these pesky pests. Resistant varieties particularly mentioned were Red Salad Bowl and Dazzle.

Others said they hadn't noticed any difference, or indeed their slimy populations seemed to prefer red varieties such as Lollo Rosso, so it seems it's not quite as simple as red vs green. @littlesaladco said he'd found sappiness and leaf thickness was important, with the more sappy, thinner leaved varieties being preferred.

During this conversation, I vaguely remembered something I'd studied in A Level biology, where slugs  showed an aversion to plants producing compounds from the cyanide family (thankfully not enough to be poisonous to us!). I believe this is what Alys Fowler was referring to at a talk I went to earlier in the year when she mentioned lettuces produce bitter tasting compounds when nibbled. It's a defence mechanism which usually prevents further eating: probably not enough for a wet year like this one with slugs and snails in abundance though :/

Then came the breakthrough. Zoe Lynch came back with a reference showing the presence of anthocyanins in red lettuces might be a key factor. I'm also wondering if these levels are higher in sappier lettuces irrespective of their colour. Of course there may be other factors at play, all contributing to a sliding scale of nicer tasting  (probably sweeter) and juiciness, with mainly red at one end (not so palatable) and mainly green (oh so tempting) at the other.

Some saladchatterers said they found red lettuces weren't as nice as green ones, as they tend to be more bitter tasting. It looks like it's not just our pesky pests which have a preference for sweeter tasting, generally greener lettuce ;)

With thanks to Annemieke who originally posted the comment which led to our conversation on #saladchat. Also thanks to the people mentioned above plus @CarlLegge, @CountryGate, @karlasparlour, @maogden, @nicelittleplace, @PatientGarden, @Swanimages, and @wellywoman for joining in the conversation.

I feel the need for some field trials next year :)

NB I also found some other references around this subject if you're interested:

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Echalote Grise: Final Update

I've now harvested my Echalote Grise and so this year's experiment has come to an end. As you can see the differences I noted in my update earlier in the year have continued.

The ones from the sets at the top are relatively plentiful though mostly really small in size whereas the shop bought at the bottom are fewer and larger. The latter come close to the size of both types planted at the start of the year.

This year's wet weather meant that most of the crop rotted into the clay, so it's hard to make a comparison by weight. The difference in appearance makes me wonder which are actually Echalote Grise shallots.

The shop bought crop is quite soft, so these will need using up very quickly. Therefore I won't be trying growing these again as one of the beauties of growing shallots is their fantastic keeping qualities.

I've ordered some sets for next year's experiment: a comparison of growing with and without biochar.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

GBMD: September

Windfalls from the allotment :)
The breezes taste
Of apple peel.
The air is full
Of smells to feel-
Ripe fruit, old footballs,
Burning brush,
New books, erasers,
Chalk, and such.
The bee, his hive,
Well-honeyed hum,
And Mother cuts
Chrysanthemums.
Like plates washed clean
With suds, the days
Are polished with
A morning haze.


John Updike (1932-2009), September
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