Monday, 29 October 2012

Ashes to Ashes?


I spent a huge chunk of the weekend peering up at the ash trees (Fraxinus excelsior) at the side of our house. They're always one of the last trees to decide it's autumn and last week they finally donned their seasonal clothes of buttery yellow. Saturday's blue sky and slanting sunshine made for perfect viewing. It's something I always do at this time of year, but this time was a poignant one because of the recent news about ash dieback fungus (aka Chalara fraxinea).

This fungus has attacked ash trees across Europe the past few years, for example decimating around 90% of those found in Denmark. Cases have been reported recently in East Anglia and Kent and many concerned groups - especially The Woodland Trust - have been actively lobbying the government to act swiftly to prevent the disease from spreading.

Today, a ban on the import of ash trees comes into force and a number of civil servants have been redeployed to cope with the extra work anticipated over the coming months. Only time will tell if the government has acted quickly enough. Around 5% of our trees are ash and whilst that might not sound a lot, in some places their presence accounts for much more.

One of those places is the area next to our house. We have three ash trees next to our garden fence, two at the back and one at the front. In addition ash trees line the banks of Hardenhuish Brook close by. Along with the leaf miner ridden horse chestnuts I've written about previously, ash trees shape our immediate and local landscape.

Whilst they're not actually in the garden, the trees do much to give it its sense of place. The sound of the wind rustling through the leaves helps to drown nearby traffic noise and their shading of half the garden informs my plant choices. We often watch the daily soap opera of the local wildlife taking place within their branches, which on one memorable occasion was a sparrowhawk sitting within a few feet of the house. The trees also shape some of my regular gardening tasks: there's plenty of leaves to be collected from the back lawn at the moment and I'm forever pulling up ash seedlings during the summer months.

Whilst their lofty presence is both a blessing and a curse, I know I'd miss them if they became infected and had to go. It's a notifiable disease, so I'll be keeping an eye on the trees and any of their twigs and branches which drop into the garden in future.

The Forestry Commission's website provides lots of information about the disease, its known whereabouts in the UK and provides links to various agencies should you need to report an outbreak. It also links to Forest Research's very good pdf format pictorial identification guide and video. It's a website worth keeping an eye on, if like me ash trees form part of your local landscape too.

I also made a couple of short videos on Saturday to try and capture some of the huge presence these trees have for us. The one below shows the way the shadows of the leaves in the breeze affects the light in our kitchen at this time of the year.



If the video won't play from the picture, try this link instead. The second video attempts to capture the sound of the trees whilst out in the garden.

Update: There's an android App launched today to help identify and track the disease across the UK. Take a look at the Ash Tag website. Update 30/10: App also available on Apple..

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Book Review: Three From Haynes

Haynes are well known for their car maintenance manuals with their anatomical-style cut-away pictures and step by step guides for home car care. However, the increasing complexity of our cars means we're more reliant nowadays on garage mechanics rather than doing it at home.

So Haynes have diversified their offering into other areas; adapting the style where needed, but generally keeping to their philosophy of using clear, colourful diagrams and pictures to get the information across to readers. I've been  offered the pick of their catalogue a couple of times this year, and have chosen three* garden related manuals to review.

First up is the Garden Landscaping Manual by Paul Wagland. This is aimed at gardeners who are considering the DIY approach to a major hardscaping project. It would be a good start for anyone who's bought a new-build house and is looking to create a garden from the brown, muddy patch or wall to wall lawn the builders have left them with.

Pretty much every element of a garden is included, from a simple hanging basket, through all manner of hardscaping projects to pond construction. The pictures are clear and the text explains each job well. There's also an excellent introduction to the tools needed and advice on health and safety.

The chapter on design however, is sketchy, so readers will need to look elsewhere for more guidance or get a professional in to help them. This isn't really the book to help with more complicated projects either, such as dealing with a slope.

This is a good book to help decide whether the project you have in mind is do-able, or whether some expert help is required.

The Allotment Manual by Paul Peacock is aimed at beginner allotment holders or anyone considering allotment life. There are plenty of similar guides on the market already; this one differs because it also includes introductory chapters on how to find an allotment and one describing the community aspects of allotment life, including running a tool share and holding a show. These are useful in helping a potential allotment holder decide whether having an allotment is for them. However, not all of these aspects apply to a particular site, so the reader should bear this in mind.

There are the usual chapters on plot planning and soil preparation and guides to fruit, vegetable and herb growing, plus a month by month guide to the tasks required to look after the plot. The usefulness of the chapters on livestock (hens and bees) and greenhouse/polytunnels will depend on what an individual site's regulations allow.

Overall, this is a well thought out guide, with clear text and plentiful pictures which holds up well in comparison with similar books on the market.

Mr Digwell: A Year in the Garden by Paul Peacock is slightly different to Haynes' usual approach. Mr Digwell is a cartoon character from the Daily Mirror and the bulk of book's content is cartoon strip driven instead of Haynes' usual photograph/diagram based approach. This is a general gardening book covering both herbaceous gardening and food production.

The book is calendar based, divided primarily into the four seasons, then into the appropriate months for each season. Each month starts with a week by week list of tasks followed by various guides to looking after plants or general gardening tasks appropriate for that month.

If a reader is looking for overall guidance on soil preparation, they will find some of it in the autumn to winter section at the end of the book, whilst making compost and soil conditioning are in the winter to spring section at the start. It means that getting an overview of what's needed for general soil care comes out rather jumbled. There are gaps too - there's nothing on soil pH and testing for instance.

Gardeners who prefer a monthly calendar to work from will feel most comfortable with this guide. However, care still needs to be taken. For instance the guide to tomato growing is in January's section (which in itself is a bit strange), but the bulk of the care described happens in the summer months. I believe the author has missed a trick because the weekly tasks guide for each month could have included a reminder of the tasks (with a cross-referenced page) described in other months.

Anyone considering organic gardening should note that pest control errs on the chemical side and the general emphasis isn't peat-free.

Overall, this book comes out too muddled and lacking in content to be the encyclopedic guide claimed in the introduction. It's a fun idea, but there are far better general gardening books on the market.

In conclusion

The first two books reviewed are good for beginners. The Mr Digwell guide is also better for beginners (not expert alike as claimed) and is probably more suitable for someone who's a fan of the Daily Mirror cartoon. If anyone wants to grow more unusual fruit, vegetables or flowers, then they will need to look for supplementary information elsewhere.

* = a fourth one I've given to Diary of a Novice Beekeeper to review as it's their Bee Manual. Whilst we await his full report, he's said it's pretty good for the interim.

Disclosure: I received review copies of these books. The links to Amazon are for your information only and I don't earn a penny if you decide to buy from there.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Salad Days: Tucking Up For Winter

Battening down the hatches ready for winter. I'm also going to line the sides of this coldframe with some polystyrene sheets I've found to keep things as warm as possible

Today has significance at VP Gardens because it's the last day we have daylight for 10 hours until the middle of February next year. It means my salad plants won't be growing much over the next few months even if today's wintry temperature goes back to the unseasonal warmth we had earlier this week.

Salad leaves need both a decent temperature and sufficient light to grow. The experience we've had during the 52 Week Salad Challenge so far suggests for many of us light is the more restricting factor in winter, even though quite a few salad crops usually do well in shade during the summer. I suspect in summer temperature has the major part to play as lettuce don't like things to be too hot and tend to bolt if they are. In that situation the shade is enough to keep them feeling comfortable.

We've found that plants grown indoors in reasonable warmth still don't really get going during most of the winter months, hence our anecdotal thoughts that light levels have the edge in restricting growth at this time. My thanks to @GillyinAriege whose #saladchat conversation with @Bosleypatch this week reminded me of our shared experiences earlier this year.

As you can see I've brought my plants under cover. This protection will keep things a degree or two warmer than outside and help keep off damaging frosts. Elsewhere there's various cloches covering lettuces and other oriental leaves as well as another coldframe protecting rocket, fennel, land cress, lamb's lettuce and chervil. I've also potted up some mint and flat leaved parsley for windowsill grown supplies and my sowings of pea shoots have recommenced.

Unlike the past few months these supplies won't keep us in our 3-4 salads per week. I reckon I need a patch about four times the size I'm using to do that over the winter months.These coldframe/ cloche grown plants, plus various windowsill supplies and the odd bit of foraging should see us enjoying at least one weekly home grown salad for the next few months.

Not everyone has 10 hours of daylight today, nor good temperatures for growing. To work out your local light and temperature averages for growing outdoors, have a look at my post on What's the Weather for Salad?

NB don't forget the clocks go back here in the UK at 2am on Sunday morning.

Mr Linky is now open for this month's contributions. Many thanks for your posts and those you've provided previously. NB when entering your link, enter the URL of your blog post, rather than your blog, so we can still find out what you've been up to salad-wise after you've published further posts.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Separated at Birth? Apples

Spartan                                                                                      It's a mystery to me!
I have an exciting 'Case of the Mysterious Apple' to solve up at the allotment as my Spartan apple tree is also sporting some completely different apples this year.

The green apple shown on the right is confined to a sturdy upright branch. I've traced it back and it looks like I missed one of the growths from below the graft union when pruning a couple of years ago.

I'm in the process of asking my apple supplier if he knows which variety it is. He often grafts his own trees, so may have the information to hand. When I asked about rootstock at Marlborough Apple Day recently, the local nurseryman there was rather surprised as they're usually from a crab apple variety, rather than the larger apple I have.

I've yet to do a taste test as it isn't quite ripe enough for picking. I can tell this because it's staying firmly attached to the branch when I gently cup my hand around the apple and lift it up.

The usual advice would be to prune this extra branch out and to rub out any subsequent regrowth. However, my Spartan tree (which I'm training as a cordon) is extremely prolific and assuming my mystery apple tastes OK, I'm tempted to see what happens if I keep it growing with both apples. I'll keep you posted!

Have you experienced anything like this as well? What did you do? Or have you had another gardening mystery to solve this year?

Sunday, 21 October 2012

A Chance to Hear Charles Dowding


I received an email from Sy yesterday, who's asked for my help to drum up support for a talk by Charles Dowding. Charles is an excellent speaker and as the talk is at a not for profit organisation, I'm very happy to do so. Please pass the word around to anyone you know who may be interested. Here's what Sy has to say:

Hi VP

It’s so great to find someone that has met Charles, your blog about your visit to his farm is fantastic - it takes me straight back there. I wondered if you would be able to tell people about this talk on your blog for me. No one knows about him where I live - that’s why I wanted to have Charles talk to my community of grow your own enthusiasts.

Little did I know how hard it was going be to find them. Stockwood Discovery Centre [the venue] may even cancel the talk as they are a charity and will not be able to make a loss. The text below is the email I’ve been sending to everyone.

Thank you for reading this.

I run Sweet Pea Gardening Services and I have an allotment at Lewsey Leisure Gardens and I came across this website [Charles Dowding's] purely by accident. I joined in January 2012 and used the forum for advice from Charles (it’s all given free) and converted my allotment to no dig. The transformation is tremendous. No weeds and amazing veg.

So on the 30th July I went and worked for Charles for the day at his farm in Somerset whilst on my camping holiday in Dorset. I was amazed how healthy and productive his farm was and from that day on I have been voluntarily spreading the word and have managed to secure a fantastic venue - Stockwood Discovery Centre for his talk at 2pm on 13th November 2012.

Come early so that you can visit The Mossman Collection in the museum and to go the cafe and have a lovely coffee and cake after a walk around the beautiful gardens - even in the winter they look amazing. Then listen to Charles explain how it all works. Please can you forward this on to the people that you think would be interested and print a copy off and put it up on your notice board and try and get as many people to come and hear this inspirational speaker. 

Tickets are £4 each and booking is essential on 01582 548600. 


Are you free on November 13th and live near Luton? It looks a fantastic venue to visit as well as having the chance to hear a great speaker. If not, please help to spread the word.

Book Review: Kitchen Garden Estate

Part of the glasshouses at Tyntesfield last year. The whole of the kitchen garden area there is being restored back to its former glory.

I have dreams of having a walled kitchen garden and a vast orchard, but the reality of life means my ownership of such is a few fruit trees on my allotment and garden, plus regular visits to National Trust properties, or the likes of West Dean in Sussex to get my fix. I now possess another way of visiting; a rather nice way of doing it in the comfort of my own home.

Kitchen Garden Estate documents life on the country estates looked after by the National Trust. The introduction briefly traces the development of estate management over the centuries, and how the Trust now sees their role for educational purposes, their restaurant/cafe supplies and wider community involvement.

The bulk of the book is devoted to highlighting the produce an owner would expect from their country estate. This is much wider than what initially springs to mind. Not only are the usual fruit and vegetables; herbs and flowers; orchards and bees explored, the wider estate and its provisioning in the form of dairy and other farm production; game; fish (in the form of fish ponds and lakes); fowl (poultry and dovecotes), plus hops and vineyards are included. These form the book's main chapters.

Each section documents the full range of produce which an estate might be expected to provide. These are richly illustrated with historical documents and pictures; photographs; and stories of how individual foods reached our shores or those associated with particular estates managed by the Trust.

There are also plenty of recipes for you to try. Some of these are today's fare found in the Trust's cafes and restaurants which you may have sampled already, like the well-known Apple Scones at Erdigg. Others have an older flavour and origin, such as the recipe for Woodcock Soup taken from Lady Wentworth's recipe book (from around 1730) found at Dunham Massey.

Kitchen Garden Estate is described on the back cover as both an inspirational and practical guide. If you're looking for a full how-to manual for your allotment or small holding, this probably isn't what you're looking for. However, if you want a fascinating glimpse into the history of estate management at some of our most famous country houses, which is richly illustrated and contains techniques and recipes you'd like to try at home, then this is the book for you.

Note: if you like the look of this book, it's worth seeking it out in the National Trust's shops. It's often on offer at £15, which is cheaper than what's found on Amazon at the moment. It may also have a different front cover to the one I've shown from my copy.

Disclosure: Not only did I receive a review copy of the book for independent review, I also sat next to the author when she started her job at The National Trust HQ in Swindon in 2007. I was volunteering there one day a week and I remember passing across snippets I'd found in the archives - which I was cataloguing - re walled kitchen gardens, orchards etc. as this was the main focus of her research at the time.


Friday, 19 October 2012

Tried and Trusted: Other Leaves

I now have some bigger pots available after my autumnal clearing, so  these pots of Mizuna will be potted on to give them more room. As my plants are quite small, I probably won't be picking many leaves until around February next year

When I asked you for your favourite lettuce varieties recently, there were spontaneous recommendations for a host of other leaves and herbs. Today's post bundles them up to form a companion to August's Tried and Trusted: Lettuce :)

Top Bloggers and Tweeters recommend:
  • Agastache - 'Tasted an agastache leaf today. BLOODY HELL! Why'd no one tell me they're so utterly delicious?'
  • Basil - 'amazing flavour'. 'Wow, what's the herb in our salad tonight?' - said NAH after I'd scattered the smaller leaved Greek basil over our summer salads 
  • Beetroot leaves - 'earthy'
  • Bulb fennel - thinnings, fronds and bulb all add a great aniseed flavour to salads
  • Chervil - 'virtually indestructible' 
  • Lamb's lettuce (added by me in 2013, as it's doing so well outside)
  • Land Cress - 'I over winter land cress in my greenhouse, does well and spices up a winter salad'. NB @mandahill warns germination and growth rates for the variegated variety for her in Canada aren't as good as the more usual variety grown
  • Mint - so popular it deserved a recipe post all to itself
  • Mizuna - 'looks really good and can pick by the leaf'
  • Mustard - 'Green in Snow', 'Green Streaks' and 'Red Giant' all get a mention. 'Green in Snow' is particularly valued for withstanding colder weather and for the possibility of late sowings made in October
  • Nasturtiums - 'just discovered the joy of Nasturtium leaves, only ate the flowers until now. Can't think why'. So versatile as its leaves, flowers and seeds can be used in salad. Good watercress-like flavour
  • Pea shoots - a good emergency gap over the winter/spring if other crops fail. We've had lots of Salad Challenge posts about this one :)
  • Rocket - 'because it never dies'. I go for wild rocket over the salad variety for its stronger taste and ability to withstand foul weather
  • Add your own favourite to the list by commenting below :)
Update: regular Salad Days contributor Liz says: 'Parsley! Parsley! Parsley! Well OK so I'm a little obsessed with it but I think its probably my favourite herb and so really needs to be on the list'

Update 2: I'm adding the following from my interview with Charles Dowding

  • Kale - stands well outdoors
  • Chicory/Raddichio for a contrasting bitterness
  • Pak Choi
Many thanks to the following contributors (covering growing in Australia, Canada and the UK):

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Wiltshire's Apples

I'm trying to decide which apple is the most local to Chippenham - it could be 'Celt' from Melksham or 'Beauty of Bath', which hails from Batheaston. Click on the pic to enlarge if needed.

After last week's post about Wiltshire's Apple Days, I decided to go to Marlborough's on Sunday. This was on the strength they were having some Wiltshire varieties available for tasting and I'd been wanting to find out more about them for ages.

Marlborough has a community orchard project and they've decided the town's 'Diamond Jubilee Plantation' will "celebrate 60 years of HM The Queen's reign, and restore historic links between common land and local foods for local people".

Part of this project has been to find as many apple varieties as possible which hail from Wiltshire. I knew of 3 before Sunday; that knowledge has now expanded to 10 and I've also tasted 7 of them :)

Some of Wiltshire's apple varieties. Big picture - 'Mary Barnett' . Top right downwards and clockwise: 'Dredge's Fame', 'Chorister Boy', 'Roundway Magnum Bonum',  'Burn's Seedling, and 'Bedwyn Beauty'

'Roundway Magnum Bonum' came top in my taste test on the day, but I'm sure some of the others would have been strong contenders at other times. One was an early apple already past its best (in my view, though it was proving popular with others) and two of the dual purpose cooker/dessert apples were definitely on the cooking apple end of the taste scale.

I'd like to plant a an apple tree which has come from as close as possible to where I live. I've quickly put together the Google Map shown at the top of this post from Sunday's information to help me find out which one it should be. The locations are quite well spread out throughout the county, though the map needs a bit of tweaking as I need to do some research on where a couple of the places actually are. So far it looks like I have a choice between two - 'Beauty of Bath' (not from Wiltshire but very close by) and 'Celt'. I've haven't tasted either of these yet - and the rarity of 'Celt' means it might be a while before I'll be able to do so -  that might be the clincher.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, full of local knowledge and people enthusing about all things apple and the town's new orchard. For instance, I love that the planting of 'Chorister Boy' has been sponsored by the local choir. The launch party is next Sunday, on Apple Day itself and looks like it'll be a real celebration.

I'll leave you with a quote from the invitation leaflet to Sunday's launch:

"The Diamond Jubilee Plantation will become a living larder and beauty spot, an outdoor classroom and convivial meeting place - for holding blossom picnics; beekeeping classes; teaching children to build bug hotels and bird boxes; planting, pruning and grafting workshops; harvesting parties; storytelling and wassailing."

 Marlborough "town in an orchard"

Perhaps everyone's town should be in an orchard too?

Update: I've just realised this is my 1,500th post :) My 5th blog birthday is at the start of next month too - leave me a Comment on how we should celebrate!

Monday, 15 October 2012

GBBD: Shiny New Salvias

Salvia 'Hot Lips'  looking shiny and luminescent in the sunshine after the rain. I love how the
flower colour changes depending on the temperature
My thoughts are beginning to gel re the revamped terrace beds which I've been mulling over for quite a while now since the demise of the 'sentinel' conifers early this year. 1. Rosa 'Kew Gardens' to froth over a larger version of a peony basket which NAH has promised to make, and 2. Have lots more Dahlias of the single flowered kind for the bees.

3. has taken me a bit by surprise because it involves Salvias, something that's relatively new for the garden. I've tried (and killed) S. 'Hot Lips' before, but the small plant I acquired at Combe Trenchard in early June has thwarted any attempts for an early demise so far.

I did think I'd planted it in the wrong place as this year's Dahlias were threatening to shade it out completely. Instead it's sprawled comfortably from underneath them and looks like it's leaning over the terrace wall for a long chat. The Dahlias' days are numbered and next year the Salvia will be growing well way before they poke themselves back up through the soil. Close by is S 'Royal Bumble', bought entirely for its chucklesome name and deep red flowers. Sadly there's no blooms to show you at the moment, so you'll have to wait until next year.

I first encountered S 'Amistad' at Capel Manor in June and it's my plant of the year. It's a taller Salvia with the most amazing deep purply blue flowers. I bought these at Tatton, so they're also a souvenir of happy times :)

Has a plant taken you by surprise this year? Any favourites to report?

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

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Review: Into Gardens

Part of a screen grab I took from the Into Gardens website's News page (click on the pic to enlarge if needed) - the picture on the left + the headings and icons above it  give you a good idea of what you see on the iPad when you first enter the App
We're well into the Autumn, so it's time to curl up in the warm with a glass or mug of something comforting and a good book or magazine. Soon, it'll be Christmas, so I'm spending the next few Sundays reviewing some of the things that have grabbed my attention this year, which might also please the gardener in your life.

First up is the newly launched Into Gardens, an App which is available on the iPad and due to become available on iPhone and Android early next year.

I don't have an iPad, but I was able to nick borrow NAH's sister-in-law's brand new one when we were 'oop north' last weekend. The chaps and chapesses at Into Gardens have cleverly put a trial issue in the Apps store, so you can 'try before you buy'.

Downloading the App

There was no problem in finding the App in the store and selecting the trial issue (Issue 00). The first issue is also there to download for £2.99 (or £9.99 if you decide to take all the first year's quarterly issues). I just looked at the trial issue as I'd borrowed the iPad I was using. One surprise (to me anyway, but it's probably normal) is that the App doesn't download onto the iPad's touch screen like others do, but is accessed via the Newsstand.

First impressions

Into Gardens gives us some real eye candy and makes full use of the latest iPad's punchy screen resolution. The photography throughout is superb. It should be, as several well-known garden photographers are listed in the line up of worthies involved (NB these and even more team members are listed on the App itself).

If this is the future of garden media, then it looks like we're in good hands. It's not just good writing and photography, video and hyperlinks are used to explain the more complicated bits. There are also 'hot spots'* on some of the pictures for the viewer to click on for more information, or even buy what's on show**.

The success of the App depends on the strength of the images. These are used as article 'headings' and often as a sequence of images forming the article's 'bones'. Tapping on these images brings up the supporting text and any accompanying hotspots. Therefore if the images aren't enticing enough, the viewer won't be tempted to find out more.

Once a particular heading is selected from the menu at the top of the screen, readers can 'swipe' through the content 'pages' just like they would in a real magazine. Text and pictures can also be enlarged or made smaller in the usual iPad way.

I liked the Scrapbook feature which allowed me to select pictures or articles I want to keep for future reference. This feature is designed to work across a number of issues and reflects exactly what I do with my current magazines.

The Content

Remember I was looking at the sample copy. Issue 01 looks like it has the same headings, but of course could be very different inside...

The App has 7 key content headings:
  • Issue Number - introductory stuff including an editorial, Help information and introducing the team involved 
  • Gardens and plants - an article about Elba with several pictures demonstrating the hotspot feature. A number of these display text with links which goes through to an option to order the plants or other items under discussion. This connects the advertisement content of a conventional magazine into the feature content in a much more relevant and targeted fashion.
  • Writing - Lettuce from America - a guest article from Jean Ann Van Krevelen
  • Eating - Cleve West on Squash which includes a short video for more detailed information
  • Doing - Ursula Cholmeley of Easton Walled Gardens on gardening tasks for Autumn. Lots of content in this area - 17 individual articles if I remember correctly
  • A wheelbarrow icon - for the stuff you want to buy (having clicked on the same icon elsewhere in the App). I only clicked on the icon to check it worked, I didn't test the buying functionality
  • A scrapbook icon - for the content you want to save and any accompanying notes
Overall, the content is good with great pictures and I learnt something new. This is an inspirational App with a touch of aspiration. Whether it can also provide really in-depth, detailed information remains to be seen. That said, I have doubts whether electronic media is best suited to that kind of content anyway. This App's strength is its use of varied visual media with some supporting text, coupled with the ability to drill down further via hyperlinks and hotspots.

I felt it wasn't until the Doing section that the App's demonstration really got going in terms of showing lots of content. I believe from the on-screen messages I saw in the other sections saying there's lots more in Issue 01, that this section is probably the nearest to what's seen in a full issue. However, there's a risk that someone working through the demo content in menu order may decide the App doesn't have enough for them and gives up before they see the section fully stuffed with goodies.

I also found a few technical niggles with navigation through the App, using the scrapbook feature, plus a couple of video problems. I'm emailing the team separately on these, though I'm happy to say what I found/share user experiences if anyone's interested.

In Conclusion

Into Gardens sets the bar very high for anyone else considering taking gardening into electronic media. Despite its teething niggles, I liked it, and would consider taking out a subscription if I had an iPad. NB if you do decide to subscribe, your subscription is renewed automatically.

Don't have an iPad? Into Gardens has website, facebook page, pinterest and twitter accounts to explore and is currently sharing content via all of them on a regular basis.

* = Gardenista's review shows an example of a page with hotspots from Issue 01.

** = I'd like to know whether the companies linked to have paid for their inclusion or if there's an affiliate agreement or suchlike. If there is, then how Into Gardens fits with e.g. the disclosure legislation bloggers have to adhere to is an interesting side issue.

Update: Dawn from Into Gardens has been in touch via the Comments:

Thanks for taking a look at intoGardens. As you say this was the free issue which only gives a small taste of what the whole episode has to offer. In fact, the sample episode shows you only part of three different features or articles whereas the full issue has over 20 - many of which are packed with not just writing and photographs but also audio and video content. And as well as hearing from the delightful Cleve West we also have the the likes of Joe Swift, Nigel Colborn, Laetitia Maklouf and Mark Diacono.

She also tells me the technical niggles I've emailed about separately have been passed on to the team to investigate ready for the next issue :)

Friday, 12 October 2012

Salad Glut Busters: Cucumber

Is this raita or tzatziki? The choice is yours...
We're well into the cooler days now, so I spent some time earlier this week clearing some of the beds up at the allotment. The cucumber plants were past their best, so I rounded up their fruit and now have a glut!

I tweeted this fact on #saladchat and received some interesting ideas to share with you today:
  • Cucumber soup w/ dill or lettuce/bacon/pea/cue, cucumber stew, cucumber sauce for fish, yoghurt/chilli salad (via @Carllegge - with various links I've found since our #saladchat)
  • Might not use up loads but I like making a big bowl of tabouleh with cucumbers in (and toms, parsley etc) - thanks @kitchgardengirl. Now it just so happens Liz at Suburban Tomato gave us a recipe for tabouleh in an earlier Salad Days. Her recipe doesn't include cucumber, but it's ripe for adaptation :)
  • We are pickling glut cucumbers now said @cafebargeArgyll *. I asked them for a recipe and they suggested: Ours are about 6 inches. Quarter lengthways, salt overnight, pickle in rice vinegar/spices. @Karlasparlour added: I pickled mine last year with some shallots. Most yummy. For those of you wanting a more specific recipe, Fiona at The Cottage Smallholder has 2 for you to try
  • @Featherwalking reminded me: @TheMontyDon has a nice one in his Fork to Fork book. Cucumber warmed through in cream. NB it's the Fried Cucumbers recipe found on p217.
NAH always makes curry on Thursdays, so last night a nice cooling cucumber raita (also inspired by Carl's reply) seemed the best place to start my actual glutbusting.

Ingredients
  • 8fl oz (250ml) natural yoghurt
  • ½ cucumber, finely chopped (or grated if you prefer; you may also remove the seeds, but I like them. If your cucumber skins are tough, you may also want to peel them first)
  • large handful mint leaves, chopped
  • sea salt to taste
  • ½-1 green chilli, de-seeded and finely chopped (optional - I don't usually include it)
Method
  1. Mix the yoghurt, cucumber and mint together - some recipes say to squeeze out excess water first, but I find I don't need to with homegrown ones
  2. Add salt to taste and chilli if using
  3. Chill and serve
Alter the ingredients slightly and you have the classic Greek tzatziki - omit the chilli and mix in a tablespoon each of lemon juice and olive oil, plus a crushed clove of garlic and a twist of black pepper. Serve with warmed pitta bread for a starter or light lunch.

@Martina_Der kindly emailed her #saladchat suggestion for a hot dish using cucumber. We'll be trying this on Sunday as it's just what's needed to cheer us up after all the foul weather we've been having lately.

Cucumber and Pork with Soy Sauce (serves 2)

1 cucumber
100g/4oz pork loin
1 clove garlic, crushed or chopped
1 tbsp peanut oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp sugar
100ml water
1 tsp sesame oil

Top and tail cucumber, quarter lengthwise, deseed and cut diagonally into 1cm slices. Slice the pork loin thinly.

Heat the peanut oil in a wok, and fry the garlic lightly. Evenly brown the pork and add the cucumber, stir-frying until it becomes translucent. Stir in the soy sauce, sugar and water. Bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for a further 5 minutes until the cucumber is tender. Sprinkle on the sesame oil, and serve on a bed of boiled rice.

(From It's Raining Plums, ed. by Xanthe Clay)

* = I love the idea of a Cafe Barge tweeting :)

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

BUG Talks and Gardens by the Bay

Supertrees at Night 1 - Photo Credit: Darren Chinn

October sees the nights really drawing in, which I find a bit depressing. However, one bright spot on the horizon is the start of this season's talks at the University of Bath Gardening Club (aka BUG).

I'm particularly excited about the first one next week, because it features the pictured Gardens by the Bay. I first saw their Avatar like presence in one of the gardening magazines a while back and I've been itching to find out more about them ever since.

It just so happens the landscape architects responsible (Grant Associates) are based in Bath and offered to come to talk to BUG, so we have Andrew Grant and Patrick Bellew coming to tell us all about their work :)

By coincidence Grant Associates' PR company contacted me recently and gave me permission to use the above image. It also means I'll have plenty more for when I write up next week's talk. Not only that, I'm hoping Andrew Grant will be a VP VIP very soon :)

I see Derry hasn't updated her website with the details yet, so here's the full list of talks we'll be enjoying over the coming months:

  • 16th October - Andrew Grant and Patrick Bellew - Gardens by the Bay, Singapore
  • 12th November - Mark Diacono - A Taste of the Unexpected
  • 11th December - Ann Brooks - The Botanic Gardens of Bath
  • 17th January - Jake Hobson - The Art of Creative Pruning
  • 11th February - Troy Scott Smith - Winter Gardening
  • 13th March - Anthony Archer-Wills - Creating Naturalistic Water Gardens
  • 11th April - Rosie Hardy - Seasonal Planting
  • 21st May - Heather Russell - My Garden Changes
Sadly Threadspider won't be joining me this year as she's moved to a wonderful new home in Herefordshire. It means I have space in the car if anyone else wants to come!

Update: Gardens by the Bay won a top award at the World Architecture Festival last week.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Apple Days: Going Local

A few of this year's windfalls - Court of Wick, Falstaff, Kidd's Orange Red,  Princesse,
Saturn, Scrumptious and Sunset
October 21st is now firmly established as Apple Day in the calendar thanks to the sterling efforts of Common Ground over many years. Until 2010 they published a great calendar of events which made it ultra easy to find a suitable one to attend.

Sadly the calendar is no longer kept up to date, though their Apple Day page is still worth a visit to find leads for possible events in 2012. There's also lots of information about apple lore and traditions, apple based games and a 'toolbox' of ideas to help you arrange your own event.

I've decided to go to a local Apple Day this year, so here's what I've found so far in case you'd like to go to one too.

What's on in Wiltshire 2012
  • Holt - Punkie Apple Day at The Courts - October 29th @ 12 - 4pm (included in admission price)
  • Lacock - Apple Day at Lacock Abbey- October 21st @ 10.30am - 5.30pm (included in admission price)
  • Marlborough - Big Apple Day - October 14th @ 9am - 3pm (free)
  • Swindon - Celebrating National Apple Day at Lydiard Park - October 21st @ 11am - 12pm and 2 - 3pm (£6 to include admission to the walled garden and booking is essential)
  • Trowbridge - Apple Day - October 13th @ 10am - 4pm (free)

Finding your local events

I googled Wiltshire Apple Days 2012 and found the following general websites which you may find useful:
  • Orchard Network events listing - the longest list of 2012 events I've found so far. They also have a contact form for updating the events listings. NB this site was set up to help deliver the Habitat Action Plan for traditional orchards and is backed by a number of key organisations. It's probably more likely to be kept up to date and to have more content added.
  • Orange Pippin events - another site which invites updates. Orange Pippin is also a good general resource for all things apple.
Many National Trust properties with gardens also have an orchard and are keen supporters of Apple Day, so the events and individual property pages on their website are also worth a look. The same also applies to the RHS as part of their Taste of Autumn events. Update: Juliet's reminded me Garden Organic's Apple Day is on the 13th October this year.

Also look out for Apple Day events at your local garden centre, growers' nurseries, orchards and farm shops.

If you know of any other apple events this month (in Wiltshire or elsewhere), please leave details in the Comments below and I'll add them to this post.

Friday, 5 October 2012

A Cheat's* Guide to Salad Growing

My emergency rocket supply - to replace the rather moribund plants I mentioned
a couple of  weeks ago
This post is for my new commenter Black and Tabby (welcome!) who asked after my Rich Pickings post recently:

Hi, have been following 'salad days' for a while but only just got my allotment up and running so only just sowing. Is it worth putting in a row of beetroot, or salad leaves now, or is it getting too cold for them. Appreciate any advice! #newbie

I gave some advice on what she could do then (too late now) in my comment reply, but her question and its timing got me thinking on what can be done when things don't quite go to plan e.g.

  • we don't get the timing right for a particular crop because other tasks got in the way
  • rampaging slugs and snails eat up everything in sight (how many posts and tweets have we had on that subject this year?!!!!), or some other plague or pestilence lays our salads low
  • our lovingly sown seeds don't come up (like my non-existent spinach this autumn)
  • there wasn't room at the time, but there's some space magically free now
  • supply your own growing calamity here 

When I've had a disaster previously, I've simply gone without if it's too late for resowing and grown something else. Doing The 52 Week Salad Challenge this year means I haven't given up this time. I've started thinking a bit more laterally and found the following alternatives...

Hang on to the spares

I grow a lot of my salad leaves in modules, then plant them out in their final positions after a few weeks growing. There's nearly always some plants left over, which I usually throw on the compost heap straight away. Hanging on to them for a while means any plants which don't take, or are wiped out, can be replaced quickly.

Beg, steal or borrow

Well, only 'begging' is really needed. Friends, family, fellow gardeners and even Freecycle (or some of the other recycling options mentioned here) may have spare plants of just the thing you're looking for. If you can do swapsies with any of your spares, that's even better :)

Be flexible and seek alternatives

There could be another crop which can be sown right now. For instance, we started The 52 Week Salad Challenge in January, and were able to provide something for the salad bowl within days - albeit not the entire bowlful - simply by sprouting seeds and growing microgreens. These options can be grown year-round.

It's also surprising what can be foraged for salad at any time of year. There's a full post on this subject to come.

Have a look at my Page under the What you can do and harvest this month heading to see what else can be sown and when (NB advice given applies to the UK only).

Do the supermarket sweep

Quite a few supermarkets sell potted herbs and/or 'living salad' designed to be used straight away, but they're really seedlings or small plants. These can be potted up or planted out instead to provide so much more than they're sold to do.

I'm doing precisely that with the rocket pictured at the top of this post - it's too late to re-sow my moribund rocket now, but the trayful I bought last week means I have plants which can be potted up and picked as if I'd sown them 3-4 weeks ago.

The choice available is fairly limited (I've found 3-4 lettuce varieties, salad rocket, a couple of mustards, basil, parsley, chives and mint depending on the time of the year), BUT they're usually a lot cheaper than other sources to buy at around £1 to £1.50 per item (2012 prices).

Try the postal option

A number of the seed companies also supply plants by post. If you've had a disaster, then you may have missed the boat with these as there's usually a very specific window for ordering and delivery. However, they're still worth a try.

There's usually more variety than the supermarket sweep option, but you'll probably have to buy a collection of a few varieties bundled together (e.g. winter salads, oriental leaves, lettuce collection) and you won't be able to pick and choose individual varieties or numbers to make up your own collection. Costs are around a fiver for 20 large plug plants (2012 prices) and you'll also have to take postage into account.

Find local supplies

Garden centres and DIY stores often sell strips of individual salad varieties (and also leaf mixtures) at key spring, summer and autumn planting times. Depending on who it is, the choice available may be more limited than the supermarket sweep or postal options. Availability can also be a bit hit or miss depending on supply and demand.

Prices also vary: e.g. £1.75 to £3.99 (2012 prices) for a strip of 10 lettuce plants, depending on the supplier or plant size. However, if you get your timing just right, there may be bargains to be had e.g. less than £1 each to clear the last few trays. Make sure they're not on their last legs though!

In conclusion

Some may turn up their noses at these options and say it's not real growing if you don't grow your own from seed. However, if you still want to eat salad and your growing hasn't gone to plan for some reason, even the most expensive of the above options will work out much cheaper and fresher (probably tastier too) than shop bought table supplies.

Do you have any other sources or hints and tips to add to this guide?

Update: Anna has come up with some excellent advice in the Comments which is worth acting on now (October) if you're still on the hunt for salad supplies:

I have ordered from Delfland Organics including an order that arrived in the last week. Have always been impressed by the quality of their plants. They are offering a variety of plug plants for October delivery including a winter salad mix or individual varieties which include claytonia, corn salad, land cress, lettuces and wild rocket. Rocket Gardens also offers similar but I have no experience of ordering from them. If you have a Country Market (formerly WI Market) it is worth having a peek in there.

Update 2: Jane Perrone has good advice re salad and foraging options in The Guardian (5th Oct) for this time of year. There's a rather nice name check for this blog and our continuing #saladchat conversation on Twitter too. A very warm welcome to everyone who's come over as a result :)

* = it's not really cheating, but the title sounded much more interesting (and snappy!) than how-you-can-still-grow-salad-when-it's-too-late-to-sow-your-seed-or-slugs-have-eaten-your-entire-crop-or-you-didn't-have-room-at-the-right-time-or-you're-too-impatient-to-wait-and-are-looking-for-a-shortcut ;)

Monday, 1 October 2012

GBMD: All Gardening Is...


I found William Kent's quote whilst visiting Beningbrough Hall last month. There was an interesting exhibition about landscape styles and designers using scenes from various National Trust gardens to illustrate them. Beningbrough's entry on the National Trust's website says:

The exhibition pairs contemporary landscape photography with portraits of 18th-century landscape designers. In partnership with the National Portrait Gallery.

If you go there you get to see that well known portrait of Capability Brown for real.

The exhibition continues until January 2013 and the Trust's partnership with the National Portrait Gallery was responsible for my recent Greetings From Yorkshire. Beningbrough also has its own blog :)
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