Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Friday, 27 December 2013

Salad Days: Food for Thought

When I started the 52 Week Salad Challenge 2 years ago it was because I was horrified at the proportional cost of our weekly bagged salad fix, when compared with the price of the likes of top quality steak. In the video above (click here to view if the embedded version doesn't work) Jane Perrone explains this consumption has surprising  political (to me anyway) as well as economic implications. Some food for thought going into 2014...

Green salad from the cold frames
...December's mild weather means my under cover salad has continued to crop well. It's been interesting to note how the cos type lettuces ('Intred' in particular) are standing well in comparison to their looser leaved cousins. 'Salad bowl' has disappeared completely under its protective fleece and some of the 'Marveille de Quatre Saisons' have rotted off at soil level.

A spot of sunshine last week meant I was able to give everything a good airing and clear away any mushy leaves, which will help to keep things going. I have leaves to last into January and then the cores will be left to recover for early spring pickings. I can also see that the plants picked earlier in the autumn are healthier. Perhaps their being closer to the soil, plus the greater airflow around the plants has left them better prepared to meet winter's chills.

Refreshing the allotment leaves
A few nights of frost have started a real change to the radicchio up at the allotment - from a red freckled green to its characteristic deep crimson winter heart. I must remember to take my camera next time, so I can show you. One surprise is I'm still picking the unprotected buckler leaf sorrel and 'Green in snow' mustard. Their touch of citrus and heat respectively are helping to enliven our taste buds at tea time.

How's your salad faring this winter? There's no Mr Linky this month, unless there's plenty of salad to report. If you leave details of your salad related post in the Comments, I'll add a full link to this post.

Elsewhere on the salad front...

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

An Unexpected Visitor

Christmas is usually a time when unexpected, random things happen. Our share for this year occurred at 3.15pm yesterday afternoon when one of ash trees on the public land next door decided to hop over the fence for a visit.

Ironically, it was probably the last huge gust of yesterday's storm which brought it down. I heard a loud crack and then saw what at first looked like part of the roof falling past our bedroom window. It turned out to be the top of the tree brushing against the house on its way down. We were very lucky as there's only minor damage - just a small branch stuck in the gutter, plus my apple tree in the pot next to the house is no more.

The council's website says they'll respond to this within 5 working days. In view of the strength of yesterday's storm I suspect we'll be quite a way down their list of priorities, so I'm contemplating decorating it for Christmas ;)

Update 30th December: After a slight hiccup (the council initially said it wasn't their problem and closed the incident), a local contractor removed the tree from our garden this morning.

I'm pleased to say they've left all of the wood on the public land to help wildlife, so well done D W Oliver Tree Services Ltd!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Merry Christmas

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

One of my GNO pals put this fun ecard together. I've had such a giggle viewing it and I hope you do too.

Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year. Veg Plotting will be back briefly for Salad Days on the 27th and will then resume in January.


Friday, 20 December 2013

Garden Scramble

I thought it would be fun to devise a quiz for Christmas...

...can you unscramble the anagrams to find the hidden gardens?

The photos are further clues but aren't necessarily presented in the same order. All the gardens are found in the UK or Ireland and I've visited them all, but I may not have blogged about them.
  1. Back lace boy (6,5)
  2. O! He must run (5,5)
  3. Half edit shoe (8,5) * 
  4. Err yet warp (10)
  5. Hop to curt man (7,5)
  6. Rob nets wit (10)
  7. New dates (4,4)
  8. Axed gritter (5,6)
  9. Roy earns my talc (5,4,5)
* = Wellyman has helpfully pointed out you need to add a 'u' to this anagram to find the solution. He suggests Leafiest doh uh (or perhaps Uh! Leafiest doh) for the full anagram experience. My apologies.

I've put the solution here, ready for you to check your answers. How many did you get before you had a sneaky peek?

Update: Tuckshop Gardener has a fun Christmas-themed garden quiz if you fancy another stretch of your 'leetle grey cells' over the festive period :)

Monday, 16 December 2013

How to Make My Wellies Happy

Here's my variation on the famous 'Dig for Victory' single boot photo ;)

Picture the scene. You've had a couple of busy hours up at the plot and you've driven home weary but refreshed from all that fresh air and exercise. What's the single thought you have in mind? Get the kettle on. What thwarts me from that act every single time? Yep, my pesky wellies.

So I was pleased when Rich from the English Lamp Post Company offered me one of their boot scrapers to review. Previously I've resorted to using our doorstep to help with my welly removal and it's not been a total success. As well as taking a while, the picture above shows the damage I've caused to our doorstep. This is now awaiting a good rub down and re-varnish next year. My wellies aren't that happy either as I often chuck them across the garden afterwards in a fit of bad temper.

As you can see, the scraper I received is a sturdy piece of kit. We have a lobby area inside our front door, so I'm keeping it there ready for whenever I need it. Bearing in mind Cally's recent problems with her door wreath being stolen, I think that's a wise move, even though the scraper's pretty heavy as it's made from cast iron.

The brushes and scraping area are great for removing the mud from my boots, though NAH found it wasn't so good for the work boots he uses at Midsomer Norton. His boots have super deep tread, which makes his mud super hard to remove.

The best bit is the boot jack at the back. It makes my wellies a dream to remove and nowadays I'm inside putting that kettle on in super quick time :)

Sunday, 15 December 2013

GBBD: How Not to Look After Your Princettia®

My offering for this month's Blooms Day is a sorry tale of how not to look after your Christmas Poinsettia. Mine is a called 'Princettia'®, a more unusual pink version of the traditional red seen at this time of year, which is available from Thompson & Morgan.

I acquired mine in a much happier condition at the Garden Media Guild Awards at the end of November, where they formed the centre piece of each table. I hope the blurry photo I took at the time is sufficient proof that I did at least start with a nice, healthy looking plant.

I now offer you a handy guide, which I think you won't find elsewhere...

How not to look after your 'Princettia'®... or any other Poinsettia for that matter

You should NOT...

  • attempt to squash it into the watering can goody bag provided so you can leave one arm free to deal with your overnight bag
  • take it to a very crowded pub for a few hours
  • rest it for a while in a dark corner at the Turkish restaurant across the road from the pub
  • give it regular walks in the frosty open air for 24 hours after your acquisition
  • bring it home on the train the next day
  • leave it to recuperate on the kitchen windowsill

So I'm very sorry Thompson & Morgan for my woeful mistreatment of your gift. Despite this cultivar's noted resistance to draughts and the ravages of central heating, I suspect it's too late to save my plant, even though I've been following the RHS's guidance since I brought it home. 

Despite the falling bracts and leaves, the actual flowers on my plant (you can just see a couple of them in the photo) seem to be relatively OK. Time will tell whether that happier state of affairs continues...

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

Friday, 13 December 2013

Seasonal Recipe: Roasted Squash and Rocket Salad

Most food bloggers are busy with festive recipes*, so I'm going against the trend today by posting a salad recipe for December. Earlier this week NAH and I found ourselves overstuffed from our respective Christmas parties, so we were happy to have a simple salad the day after.

I was inspired to create this recipe back in October, after finding a delicious squash salad on the menu when I visited the Yeo Valley Organic garden. Their version had butter beans which I don't have, so I substituted some mixed toasted seeds instead.

This recipe is still seasonal for December and is a great way of using some of my Bucket o'Squash and eking out my remaining winter salad leaves, such as the rocket I've used in this instance. This recipe serves two and accompanies our usual salad of mixed leaves, plus some grilled fish or meat.

  • 1 'Jack be Little' squash (or equivalent), approximately 300g in weight
  • A generous handful of rocket leaves (or whatever you have to hand - preferably on the spicy side such as land cress or mustard leaves, or perhaps some baby spinach if making this earlier in the year)
  • 50g toasted seeds - I used an equal mix of pumpkin, sunflower and linseed
  • 4 tsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • Freshly milled black pepper

  • Heat the oven to 200oC (or 180oC for fan ovens) or gas mark 6. I took advantage of using the oven for our Sunday roast and cooked my squash a couple of days ahead of when needed
  • Pop the squash in the oven and roast it whole for around 25 minutes, until the skin is just beginning to turn brown and come away from the squash's flesh
  • Allow to cool then peel the squash (much easier than when raw), deseed it and chop the flesh into smallish cubes
  • Add the squash to a serving bowl followed by the rocket leaves and toasted seeds
  • Mix the olive oil and balsamic vinegar together with a couple of good twists of black pepper and add to the bowl
  • Gently mix everything together, until the dressing has coated everything - it won't take long!
  • Serve immediately

  • If a cold salad doesn't appeal at this time of year, then this salad can be served warm. Simply peel and cube the squash prior to roasting on a pre-oiled baking sheet, then quickly add to the other pre-mixed ingredients and serve
  • I like the idea of adding some ruby red pomegranate for a more colourful, festive looking salad
  • Add some crumbled feta or goat's cheese for a vegetarian meal
  • Use any salad dressing and herbs of your choice to ring the changes

* = I can offer you some Chocolate Spice Cookies from the guest post archives instead, if you're looking for something more festive.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Unusual Front Gardens #17: Chillies

The houses by Regent's Park in London are extremely des res, but without much in the way of a front garden. Instead, planters and windowboxes with lots of tasteful topiary and clipped shrubs with the odd bit of lavender are the norm. I was photographing some examples to show you, then to my delight I found the planting at the last house contained a twist which elevated it to my Unusual Front Garden series.

I think the addition of luscious red chillies amongst the more usual heather, cyclamen and Skimmia gives the planters a festive looking touch too.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Senzeni Na?

Last night amidst all the Christmas carols and mince pies, our choir sang Senzeni Na? to honour Nelson Mandela. We've performed this before as South African songs are a rich seam which we exploit with great passion and enjoyment.

The title's translation is What Have We Done? It's traditionally sung at funerals and is a protest song, so it's a fitting tribute.

The picture is from the opening ceremony at the Special Olympics in Dublin in 2003 which were opened by Nelson Mandela. He's a tiny dot because I was perched right at the top of the stadium. It was emotional to be in the presence of such a great man. You can read my account of that time here.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Great British Garden Revival

The nation's gardeners await with anticipation. I hope it's worth it!

Starts tonight on BBC2 at 7.00pm - every weekday evening this week + week beginning 6th January 2014 for another week. Full episode synopsis here.

Thought for the day: Interesting to see a TV trailer also published on YouTube...

Update 10th December: Last night's programme looks like it's been well received - I'll be catching up today as I was at choir last night.

NB The schedule has been altered slightly with no progamme tonight or tomorrow and a subsequent extension into week beginning 13th January. The above link has been updated to reflect this, so is worth keeping an eye on for any future changes.

Update 2: It's been amazing to see Twitter light up with reactions to the programmes as they're happening. I particularly enjoyed James Wong's tweets last week which showed further inspirational examples of roof gardens. It got me thinking: as so much of these programmes has let real gardeners tell their stories (one of the programme's strengths in my view), it would be great to capture further examples from viewers - either existing ones or in response to the programme.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Let's Kickstart Incredible Edible Todmorden

I'm delighted Joanna Dobson from Incredible Edible Todmorden is writing a guest post for Veg Plotting. You may remember I've mentioned this amazing project before, especially when I've written about public planting. I've enthused so much about what's happening in Yorkshire, even NAH knows what I'm talking about! *

So I'm thrilled Joanna has offered to write a blog post, which will appear here in the New Year; it'll be great to have an injection of inspiration in the post Yuletide slump ;)

So why am I telling you this now?

I noticed from the links Joanna sent me that she's written a book about the project (along with her partner Julian), called Incredible! Plant Veg, Grow a Revolution and is seeking funds via Kickstarter in order to get it published. It needs £10,000 for them to do a 'proper job' of the publishing process and to finance the first print run. When I last looked (on December 5th), they'd raised £7,843.

The fund raising period closes on December 12th (next Thursday), so time is of the essence and that's why I've written today's post. I hope you'll join me in helping with the final push to get Incredible Edible's story out there. There aren't that many projects which have international inspiration as a claim to fame.

The pictures for this post are courtesy and copyright Joanna Dobson. They illustrate a post called Hope: an update on Joanna's own blog. The wonderful plaques shown at the top of this post were made by Linda Reith.

Update: I'm pleased to report the fund raising target was reached on Monday evening. Thanks to everyone who donated or spread the word as a result of reading this post or my tweets :)

* = though seeing Michael Portillo visit it on one of his Great British Railway Journeys in 2010 may have helped a smidgen ;)

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

GMG Awards Sees a Fresh Perspective on Gardens

If the embedded video above doesn't work, click on this link instead.

There's been much comment this week on the viability of Amazon using drones for delivery purposes. If and when that happens is still some time away.

Last week I had the privilege of seeing the results of a drone actually in action at the GMG Awards. It introduces the romantic gardens at the fairytale Ch√Ęteau du Rivau* in the Loire region of France.

Sit back and enjoy both a birds-eye and visitor level view of this garden; it gives such a different perspective on the provision of garden information. Later on at the Awards, Dr Hessayon** spoke about the need for conventional garden media to become more inventive; to be something which can't be found via Google. I think the bar has just been set particularly high for those writing about or photographing gardens.

My thanks to garden owner and designer Patricia Laigneau for letting me use this video. She simply showed me this on her iPad last week and I was blown away by what I saw. What a wonderful way to introduce me to her chateau and garden.

Drones are relatively inexpensive and used for a wide variety of interesting applications such as aerial surveys of archaeological sites and historic monuments. I sense there's a great business opportunity here, not only for garden owners, but also for garden and landscape designers to add this perspective to their design portfolios. Also, the RHS have already made 360 degree views available for the show gardens at Chelsea, how about using this for the entire show?

* = Click on the EN in the top right hand corner if you need an English translation

** = yes, THE Dr Hessayon :)

Monday, 2 December 2013

I Love December For...

... Carols

I've missed my last two choir sessions, so tonight I'll be singing Christmas carols for the first time this year. I particularly look forward to these, because they were the first thing I tackled when I joined up 6 years ago. They also mark my transition from "Bah humbug Christmas always starts too early" to "Awwww, peace and goodwill, everyone" ;)

To help celebrate the season we're embarking on our traditional tour of local hostelries in Corsham and Bradford on Avon (BOA) this week, starting with the Christmas lights switch on in Corsham. Here are the details:

  • Friday 6th Dec, 6.20pm singing outside the Town Hall in Corsham
  • Sunday 8th Dec, 3pm carols in Dandy Lion BOA
  • Monday 9th Dec, 7.30 - 8.30pm in Pound Arts Centre, then to the Flemish Weaver pub for singing, beer & mince pies!
  • Sunday 15th Dec, 3pm carols in George BOA
  • Monday 16th Dec, 7.30 - 9.30pm singing, mulled cider & mince pies in the Pound Arts Centre (to be pre-ordered).
  • Sunday 22nd Dec, 3pm carols in Canal Tavern BOA

If you're in the area, come along and join the fun! Here's our set list - note that the familiar ones won't sound familiar as our choir master loves finding the more obscure versions.

  • Hark the Herald Angels Sing
  • Malpas Wassail
  • Diadem
  • While Shepherds Watched *
  • Ding Dong Merrily on High
  • I Hear Along Our Street (The Dunster Carol)
  • Awake & Join the Cheerful Choir (Britford) - a local Wiltshire carol
  • We might also do The Holly & The Ivy as a quick warm-up (it's v easy) and Hail Smiling Morn (only two parts and you'll be carried along with it).

* = for those of you familiar with I'm Sorry I haven't a Clue, this is our version of "one song to the tune of another". NB If you take the link and don't want the sound, the off button is in the top right hand corner.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

GBMD: Roses in December

A quick scoot around my garden this morning showed I don't need my memory this first day of December.

Icy blasts are forecast for later this week, so I shall treasure this fading rose while it lasts.

Friday, 29 November 2013

Gardeners' Question Time Live

Our GQT panel: Matthew Biggs, Christine Walkden and Matthew Wilson

A couple of Monday's ago, I had the hottest ticket in the county when Gardeners' Question Time came to record at the Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradford on Avon. A quick exchange of tweets a couple of months ago meant I was there in the super company of Cally and Sara (of #britishflowers fame), thanks to Cally securing the tickets for us.

We met up beforehand at a local farm shop for coffee and cake to keep us going - doors opened at 5.30pm and recording finished just after 8.30. We puzzled over our individual questions, before gaining all round approval of their worthiness then agreeing that all of them were far too long and we stood no chance of posing them to the panel. Thus we took our seats at the top of the auditorium safe in the knowledge we could sit back, relax and enjoy the show.

How wrong we were.

Eric Robson called out my name, followed swiftly by Sara's, so we had to make our way down to the front row to sit ready to pose our questions. For me this came with the added benefit of a peck on both cheeks from Matthew Wilson! *blushes in front of around 300 people*

The panel don't know the questions beforehand, which means there's a frantic scribbling of notes whilst they're asked. I was really pleased to see this was the case as I had quite an argument with F up at the allotment a few months ago, who swore blind the panel had plenty of time to think of their answers.

Today my question will be broadcast to the nation, so I thought I'd give you a sneak preview of the subject. I'm hoping most of the answers remain in the final edit as I had no means of noting all of the advice given at the time.

Broadcast times are today (Friday 29th November) at 3pm pm on Radio 4, with a shorter repeat on Sunday afternoon at 2pm. I'll put a link into the iPlayer version when it goes up (and here it is - my question is about 7 minutes in).

You may also like

My account of what happened after I asked a question when the show came to Chippenham a few years ago.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Against the Odds: Zauschneria californica

I saw this Zauschneria californica (aka Californian fuchsia or Hummingbird's trumpet) at Bodnant last month, which was working very hard to brighten up a very rainy autumnal day. Judging by the other plants in this wall, I think this specimen must have been self-sown. It's clearly thriving in its chosen home.

Despite hailing from the warmth of California, this is a pretty hardy plant (H4), which can be evergreen or deciduous depending on where it finds itself. I first encountered it leaning over the garden wall of the Methodist chapel in Chippenham a couple of years ago, and since then its been on my list of plants destined for the terraced beds.

I'm now kicking myself for not picking up the 2 plants I saw on sale in Bodnant's plant centre. The garden has its own propagation unit and the staff there are producing lots of healthy plants at very reasonable prices. I'll just have to go back when I visit Karen again :)

Monday, 25 November 2013

The Great British Elm Experiment

Happy National Tree Week!

I can't think of a better way of celebrating than by planting a tree as part of The Great British Elm Experiment. This Conservation Foundation project aims to find out why some elms survived the Dutch elm disease epidemic during the 1960s and 70s which killed 25 million trees (around 90%) in the UK. If the why can be explained, it also paves the way for this iconic tree to grace our landscape once more.

Over two thousand trees have been planted so far and height, girth, wildlife, signs of disease and other data are being recorded as part of this long-term experiment. The disease usually strikes when the tree is around 15 years old, so this is a long-term project.

Trees are free for schools and community projects/non-profit organisations and there's a small charge for private individuals and businesses. Note: these trees grow very tall, so they need lots of space.

A fab elm fact:

Terry at The Botanic Nursery has surviving elms in his nursery garden in Atworth. He told me he keeps them below 4 feet in height as the beetle which acts as the disease carrier lands and feeds on taller trees.

NB A date for your diaries...

As part of National Tree Week, there's a 10-hour tweet-a-thon on Wednesday 27th November, from 9am until 7pm. You can pose your tree questions to a panel of experts who have a unique insight into trees and woods within the UK.

Find out more on the Tree Council's website and for details of which twitter names to use and when. The hashtag to use/follow is #NationalTreeWeek

NB The picture used to illustrate this post is the poster available to download on the Great British Elm Experiment website.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Salad Days: Hunkered Down for Winter

It's been a long, slow autumn this year, which means I'm still picking plenty of salad leaves - enough for a couple of meals a week. Here's a 'warts and all' view of my allotment salad. It's also overrun with salsify which has self seeded itself into my raised beds. Time to get weeding!

This week's colder weather means re-growth at the plot and in my home based cold frames has slowed right down. As I have plenty snuggled under protection, I'll still be able to pick lots of salad for a few more weeks, but now is the time to start my indoor sowings of pea shoots in readiness for leaner times.

I've been really pleased with this new lettuce variety 'Intred', which is providing a colourful addition to the salad bowl. It's thriving under a cloche, producing plenty of tasty leaves beneath a protective layer of tougher outer ones. My lettuce 'Marveille de Quatre Saisons' and chicory 'Treviso Rosso' seed tape leaves sown in August are also standing well beneath their fleece and cloche protection respectively.

Soon it'll be time to switch to sprouted seed and microgreen production and my 52 Week Salad Challenge cycle will start all over again.

How's your salad faring? What steps are you taking to keep your crops going this winter? Add your news in the comments, or add the URL of your salad related blog post in Mr Linky below. NB there are some great comments as well as the links :)

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

In Horatio's Garden

Horatio's Garden has just released a short film which explains what the garden is all about. It's beautiful and I guarantee you won't fail to be moved.

Horatio's Garden isn't just the wonderful garden in Salisbury any more. It's all about having similar gardens at every spinal unit in the country.

One down, eleven more to go...

 If the embedded film doesn't work, try this link instead.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Seasonal Recipe: For the Love of Quinces

Last week I received just the kind of email I like from my friend M:

Are you going to choir tonight? it read, because I have a bag of quince for you.

And so it came to pass, a large bag of golden treasure was handed to me later that evening :)

For me, quince summons up happy memories of long leisurely lunches taken outdoors on my project in Mallorca. Manchego cheese topped with membrillo was an extra special treat for us to have before we cleared the table to examine the invertebrate samples we'd caught in the morning.

There were no freshly caught invertebrates yesterday, but freshly made membrillo - aka quince cheese or quince paste - is definitely on the menu along with the poached quince and cake I mentioned yesterday.

I still had fruit to spare, so I decided to roast a couple. We had roast chicken for dinner and there was just enough room in the oven to slide in a dish of quince for NAH and me to have for dessert.


2 small quinces, washed well so all the fuzzy stuff on the outside is removed
250 ml water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Juice of 1 lime (or you could use half a lemon)
2 star anise


  1. Pour the water into a large (ish) pan, add the sugar, lime juice and star anise and bring slowly to the boil
  2. Just before the water comes to the boil, quickly slice the quince in half and add to the syrupy liquid - the cut half of the quince should placed face down in the pan so they don't go brown
  3. Turn the heat down to a simmer and poach the quince until soft (approx 20 minutes)
  4. Place the quince cut side up in a small ovenproof dish and pour over the syrup
  5. Roast in a moderately hot oven for about 25 minutes (gas mark 5, 190oC electric or 170oC for a fan assisted oven) until the quince are pinky brown in colour
  6. Serve warm with a large dollop of natural yoghurt or half fat creme fraiche
Note that I haven't removed the skin - it can be removed whilst transferring to the dish (if lucky), or just eat them, or simply scoop the roasted quince out of their skins when eating. You'll also need to remove the core. I didn't remove the skin or core the quince as they are so hard to cut - it's a much easier task to do later.

Oh and make sure you also serve the poaching juices - they should be jelly-like and utterly delicious.

You may also like:

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Book Review: Two for Vegetable Growers

Do not judge this book by its cover, well the front one at least. For once I'm showing you the back as well as it's much more representative of the overall content.

What lies inside is a charming pictorial tale of life on Caroline Deput's allotment in colour drawings. Quite a lot of the narrative is in colour too.

This is a very inventive and humorous account from 2010 through to early 2012, packed with the trials and triumphs of allotment owner 'Floss'.

Amongst the usual allotment plans, lists of things to do and harvests achieved, there are exquisitely drawn details, such as the badger who's trashed the tayberries*. I particularly enjoyed the tale of 2010 told via a snakes and ladders board and the bindweed wars cartoon, which reminded me so much of Karen's comics**.

This is a positive allotment tale, which doesn't shy away from when things go wrong. In the process of drawing Plot 19, life is depicted in a much more realistic way than most allotment manuals manage using photographs.

* = my sympathy as we have badgers on our allotment site too - ours loves sweetcorn.
** = a much missed labour of love

As hinted in its title, Grow Harvest Cook is a gardening book hybrid which covers both the growing and cooking of a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. It reflects the blog of the same name which hails from Australia.

It has a bit of a retro feel as the covers are very thick board, but what lies inside is a very thorough and modern list of 90 fruits and vegetables to grow, harvest and cook from the plot.

We can't grow all of them in the UK - macadamia nuts for instance - but all of the produce is obtainable here for us to take advantage of the inventive recipes. Today I'll be using both the poached quince and paste recipes and some of the results of the former will be used to make the quince cake tomorrow :)

The produce is listed in alphabetical order, so fruit and vegetables rub shoulders with each other, along with a hefty sprinkling of herbs, nuts and the odd edible flower or two. The treatment of each is broadly the same: a brief outline of how to grow, followed by a harvest section which covers basic freezing and other ways of storage and preservation as appropriate. There are plenty of good photographs for illustration.

The cook section has at least one beautifully photographed main recipe with plenty of variations and short recipes included for good measure - 90 different crops metamorphoses into 280 recipes.

For me this book works better as a cookbook, especially for seasonal inspiration. I believe the grow and harvest sections are a bit too rudimentary to be useful, but cooks wishing to grow more of their own produce may think the opposite.

Disclosure: I received review copies of both books, but the words are my own. The links aren't affiliate ones, so I won't make a bean if you decide to click and buy.

Friday, 15 November 2013

GBBD: Cute Cyclamen

Can you spot which are the cyclamen leaves and those of the ivy they're named after?

Each year I'm pleased to see the return of my Cyclamen hederifolium in the front side garden. It's a bit of a miracle they survive really as my neighbour always covers them with several thick layers of leaves with his leaf blower. There were about triple the number of blooms on view, until the leaf blower made its first annual appearance at the weekend...

On the whole I don't mind my neighbour's antics as my border is benefiting from some more Compost Direct as outlined last week. However, I did worry at first my cyclamen wouldn't survive owing to the timing of their cover up. Now I see I can relax as I've spotted at last they're beginning to spread out from the spot where I planted them 10 years ago.

I don't usually go that much for pink flowers, but these are a delicate sugar pink which looks just right and helps to light up the shady spot I've given them. This morning's low slanting sunlight suits them rather well too.

We've enjoyed a mild autumn so far, but today that's set to change as the wind is due to move round to the north to reveal its more wintry side. Next week's tasks looks like they'll include cutting down the dahlia stems to make the mulch for their duvet.

How's your garden faring this Blooms Day?

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

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Unusual Front Gardens #16: Derelict

Whilst on holiday in Ireland, it took me a while to realise these 'houses' were derelict. The brightly painted windows and doors plus the flowers in front with the lush vegetation behind had disguised them. This was right in the middle of the village close to where we were staying, so it was a very prominent spot just a few yards from the entrance to Mount Usher gardens.

Quite a few derelict buildings in County Wicklow sported the painted treatment, but I saw no others with flowers.

Monday, 11 November 2013

I Love My Job

Last year I attended the RHS seminar Horticulture a Career to be Proud Of which looked at the skills gap crisis in horticulture and why it's rarely highlighted as a viable careers option in schools.

As a follow-up they produced a very good report earlier this year called Horticulture Matters. However, I think their latest offering of 10 short videos from young people working in horticulture under the #ilovemyjob banner is far more powerful. Watch John talk about his own business as a nurseryman and you can't fail to be won over.

If the above embedded video doesn't work, try this link instead.

NB if there are any teachers reading this, students currently studying horticulture at my local college have their pick of 5-6 jobs when they qualify. Not all of them are on low pay either. Here's a link to the Grow website which has lots of information about the wide variety of careers available in horticulture.

Here's the full playlist of 10 videos:


Thursday, 7 November 2013

Breaking the Rules: Compost Direct

Look at any list of gardening jobs published for this month and I bet most of them - if not all - will have 'make leaf mould' on there. Now leaf mould is a very good thing, but the problem is I have more leaves than my leaf mould bin can take. And like many urban gardeners with a modest plot, I've run out of space to build another one. Besides, when I come to empty it next year, there'd only be a thimble full* of lovely crumbly stuff to use.

This year I've decided to learn from my shady borders in my front and back garden. They're beneath the trees on the public land, so they quickly get covered with a thick layer of  leaves in autumn. It means I never have to mulch these borders and all the plants get snuggled down for winter with very little effort on my part.

So I've decided to extend this principle of 'compost direct' to other areas of the garden. Many of my plants - like my dahlias - need mulching in the autumn to protect them from winter's worst and it's allowed them to survive without lifting**. Therefore, the leaves you can see in the above picture will form the start of my dahlia duvet this year.

This isn't so much breaking the rules as ignoring one and placing greater emphasis on another by focusing on the mulching side of things. It also means less effort as I won't have to take the leaves all the way down to the bottom of the garden. Most of them will go on the terrace beds in the middle instead, which are handily placed right by the patio where most of the leaves have accumulated.

My only regret is I haven't thought of this before.

Is there anything you're doing differently this autumn?

* = I might be exaggerating a little for effect ;)

** = don't try this if you garden further north - remember I'm in the softy south. Leaving dahlias to overwinter under a thick layer of protective mulch can be tried south of a line drawn between the Wash and the Severn estuary, but success also depends on your garden's aspect, soil and height above sea level.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

A Bargain Offer and a Book Giveaway: Counting Steps

This is a very fine book written by Mark, my fellow Chippenham blogging buddy. I'm proud to have a signed copy with the message "in friendship" written inside.

If you like your reading thoughtful, funny, sad, memoir, raw, landscape, family, nature and a whole host of other things, then this is the book for you. This is writing which defies a single classification and stays with you for a long time afterwards.

This week there are two ways in which you can enjoy Mark's book for free...

The first way

... for those of you who have a Kindle or the Kindle App and it's available for the next four days only on Amazon. 

There are no catches - just a free download instead of the usual £4.49. There's even an extract to read online. 

Giving away free copies might seem counter intuitive, but it's an established technique publishers use to rise up the rankings - and the impact on later sales is evidently positive. It costs publishers a lot to do this... 

... the word is getting out there on how we need to support our small, independent British nurseries and British grown plants to keep these businesses thriving. The same applies to our small independent publishers like Cinnamon Press, the publishers of Mark's book. 

If you can, please take the time to download Counting Steps - and send on the link, email your friends, tweet it, Facebook it,  mention it on your blog - any way in which you can help to get the word out there is appreciated. 

The second way

Mark's generously given me four copies for a blog giveaway. So if possible, why not download the book in support of Cinnamon Press and enter your name for a copy of the book too? All you need to do is leave a comment below saying you'd like to take part.

This is open to UK readers only - I'll be posting these to you at my own expense and the cost of sending books abroad is pretty pricey. This giveaway closes at midnight GMT on Sunday, November 10th and I'll need to be able to contact you via your comment.

Monday, 4 November 2013

And the Winners Are...

Many thanks to everyone who took part in my socks giveaway. NAH has delved into my special terracotta pot to reveal the winners as follows:

Heat Holders wellie socks

Anna (Green Tapestry)
Esther (Esther's Boring Garden Blog)

Workforce socks

Colleen (Rus in Urbis)
Flighty (Flighty's plot)
Katie Skeoch via Facebook

Congratulations! I'll be in touch shortly to make arrangements to send your prize to you :)

Stay tuned for my next exciting giveaway...

Saturday, 2 November 2013

I Love November For...

... this Blog

Today I can quote A.A. Milne and say 'Now we are six' as it's my blog's birthday. However, unlike the poem, Veg Plotting won't be staying six for ever and ever, and the more I learn, the less I think I'm clever.

Thank you for your continued readership and thoughtful comments - it's like having my own team of cheerleaders :)

The picture is of me reading my blog in a new way  - to me anyway - in the garden. More on that to come...

Friday, 1 November 2013

GBMD - The Best Time to Plant a Tree

Near the entrance to Devil's Glen, County Wicklow, Ireland

National Tree Week is 23rd November to 1st December this year.

20 years ago I and around 30 other volunteers celebrated National Tree Week by helping Professor Martin Haigh plant 1,000 trees directly into a coal spoil heap in south Wales. This is a land reclamation technique pioneered in Bulgaria, which they found is more successful in stabilising the land and kick-starting soil formation than the grassing over we're more familiar with.

Martin was trying to find the right combination of native trees for the UK which would replicate the Bulgarian results. We planted alder and willow which could withstand the soggy, claggy material, plus Scots pine and oak. The idea was the first three species were sacrificial and would help protect the oak; this would then grow on to form the mature woodland.

In 1993 we planted in the snow - as well as having the odd snowball fight - and these trees went on to grow more rapidly than those planted in previous years. I like to think the harsher conditions - and the usual ones were pretty bad - helped them make better use of the summer warmth which followed. Martin always named his research plots after key people involved in the project, such as his Bulgarian colleagues. I'm proud to say part of that 1993 plot - situated on a very bleak hillside near Big Pit - is named after me.

What tree planting plans - if any - do you have this month?

NB The Woodland Trust has packs of free trees for schools, universities and community groups to apply for now ready for planting in spring 2014. Packs of 30, 105 and 420 trees are available in a variety of themes to include short hedge and small copse for the small pack; and wild harvest, wildlife, year-round colour, working wood, wetland and wild wood for the medium and large packs.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Unusual Front Gardens #15: Halloween

The Lle Hari restaurant in Llanrwst has had a lot of fun decorating its windowboxes along seasonal lines. They've also made a haunted hotel video to really get you in the mood!

Across the road they've continued with the Halloween theme by creating a pumpkin graveyard. I particularly like the wellies. It would be great to go back to see if the pumpkins are lit up at night - spooky.

Karen, Dobby and I had a lot of fun exploring all the features of these unusual front gardens on our way back from Bodnant a couple of weeks ago. But the biggest smile of all was on the face of the elderly lady we saw in a wheelchair, who was totally captivated by the scene.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

A Bird Feeder Make for Wild About Gardens Week

Inspired by my recent foray into the world of Sugru and to celebrate Wild About Gardens week, I made a couple of simple bird feeders on Sunday. This used up my second little packet of yellow, plus a couple of left over posh pudding glass dishes and some spare tapestry wool.

The above pictures should give you an idea of how I went about it. I used a metal skewer to make the holes through which I threaded the tapestry wool - allowing a day for the sugru to harden before the threading.

These feeders won't withstand the kind of weather we had over the weekend and yesterday, but they make an attractive addition to the garden on calmer days like today. I'm considering replacing the wool with some garden wire to make a more robust feeder.

The apples you can see in the top picture are Herefordshire russet, a variety with a superb flavour. They're late to pick this year and I'll be leaving those on the hard-to-reach branches as a tithe for the birds. They seem to like their flavour too.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Giveaway Time: Socks Appeal

The outdoor footwear of the season is boots or wellies, so today's giveaway complements them perfectly.

I have 4 pairs each of Heat Holders wellie socks and Workforce Ultimate Comfort socks available. The wellie socks are for women (boot size 4-8) and Workforce for men (boot size 9-11), but those of you with small or large feet may like to choose accordingly. I could have done with a pair of these to keep my toes all toasty up at the allotment today!

All you need to do to enter is to leave a comment below saying which socks you'd prefer. Please make sure I can contact you, should you be a winner. You can also make extra entries if you tweet a link to this blog post (please mention @malvernmeet so I can pick up your entry), or write on my facebook wall.

I'll draw the winners next Monday morning (November 4th), so good luck!

Giveaway T&Cs

  1. Sorry, this prize draw is only available in the UK.
  2. Entries close at midnight GMT on Sunday, November 3rd.
  3. Up to three entries are allowed, 1 each via this blog, twitter and facebook. Update: There are extra bonus entries available if you Like Workforce on facebook, or Follow them via twitter. You will also need to tweet or leave a message on their facebook wall, so your entry can be identified.
  4. Entrants who aren't contactable will invalidate their entry. If you cannot leave a link to an online presence via blog comments, you are welcome to make your blog entry via the contact form available at the foot of this page instead. I will add a comment to this post to acknowledge any entries made in this way.
  5. The prize is one pair of socks per winner. No cash alternative is on offer.
NB - 4th  Nov 2013: This competition is now closed

Friday, 25 October 2013

Salad Days: Lattughino verde

As my salad challenge is Mastering Lettuce this year, I was surprised to find a completely new form (to me anyway) at the Yeo Valley Organic Garden recently. This is 'Lattughino verde', which looks more like a giant wild rocket than a lettuce. Its flavour is mild, so it's one for adding bulk and visual appeal to a salad.

Most of the online information - unsurprisingly - is in Italian, but I have managed to find it in the Organic Gardening catalogue. They've put it in the loose leaf category and describe it as 'an Italian finger lettuce'. They have another of this type which looks tempting called 'Catalogna'. It's described as 'slow to bolt, hardy and quick regrowing' - sounds like an excellent candidate for the picking method.

I've added both varieties to my list of new leaves to try for next year along with the 'easy watercress' (aka Cardamine raphanifoliaEmma Cooper found at the Edulis nursery last weekend. She says it's a good alternative to the American land cress I usually grow. It's a shade loving perennial which starts back into leaf around now - I have just the spot in my garden calling out for this. Let's not forget the Siberian purslane Mark Diacono also mentioned in his talk recently.

It's reassuring to find there's still lots to learn and try after nearly two years of my 52 Week Salad Challenge. What salad plans are you making for next year?

If you've written a salad-related post this month, then add the URL of your post (not your blog) to Mr Linky below.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Breaking the Rules: Apple Pruning

Back in Waterperry's orchard with Horticultural Manager Rob Jacobs - a very fine place to be

In honour of today's Apple Day, I'm returning to last month's study day at Waterperry Gardens, where we learnt lots about the summer pruning of trained apple trees such as cordons and espaliers. Note this pruning does not apply to apples grown as bush or standard trees; their pruning is confined to the winter period.

Summer pruning is carried out on the shoots growing out from the main branches. This is to increase the number of fruiting spurs on the tree for the following year and to let the sunlight through to ripen the current year's crop. The RHS guidance says that this pruning is best carried out in the third week in August in the south and around 10 days later in the north.

This guidance also says the pruning should be done when the bottom third of the new shoot is firm and woody. This timing is judged according to the tree's vigour, its location and the weather conditions at the time.

We found out this latter guidance is more important, rather than the August timing. If pruning is carried out too early, then the pruned shoot will continue to grow, rather than forming the stubby fruiting spur required. Therefore if the tree is pruned too early, there will be little or no fruit next year.

Thus, it's better to watch out for the tree itself to tell you when it's ready to be pruned. The key is to look at the tip of the shoot. If there's a tight bud as shown above, then it's time to prune.

Here's the same picture with a large purple arrow helpfully pointing to the tightly formed bud. This shows the tree has started to hunker down ready for winter and the pruning of this shoot will produce the desired fruiting spur for next year.

At Waterperry they've found this is usually mid September, rather than the August mentioned in the RHS guidance. This year it was even later - we were there late September and the tighter buds were only just beginning to form.

The pictured shoot is usually pruned down to 'three leaves'. This involves finding where the shoot joins the main branch, ignoring the basal rosette of leaves found at this join, then counting up past three leaves along the branch.

At Waterperry they've found counting along four leaves works better for their soil conditions and aspect. The pruning cut is angled so that the minimum of rainwater hits the wound whilst it's healing.

I was concerned this later pruning wouldn't give the fruit enough sunlight to ripen, but as you can see from the above photo, it isn't a problem.

So by ignoring the guidance re timing and paying attention to what the tree is telling you instead, your apple tree has a much better chance of fruiting well next year.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

In the Footsteps of Plant Hunters: Evolution Plants

Yesterday was extraordinary. A new plant nursery was launched right here in Wiltshire and after a tough couple of years for the garden industry, it's great to have some unexpectedly good news to tell you. On a personal note, I'm pleased to have another quality specialist nursery so close to home.

Evolution Plants is owned by Tom Mitchell. He's a plant biologist by training, who like me languished in the world of banking until he woke up and saw sense. Well, he did admit his 'waking up' was whilst suffering from clinical depression, and all the people he consulted along the way to help make his business work said 'DON'T'.

But when a passion takes hold and no matter what the head may tell you, sometimes you have to follow your heart.

So, Tom became a plant hunter and travelled the world for 5 years collecting seeds from 3,000 plant species, some of which - including at least one new Genus - have yet to be named. Those precious seeds are now being grown on, ready for customers to place their first orders.

Tom's aim is to discover and introduce the widest possible range of plants, so if you want to grow something unusual, then Evolution Plants is for you. Tom's interest is more in the species line rather than hybrids, though he admitted he will be conducting some hybridisation work with the Hellebores he's so passionate about.

The nursery is open by appointment, with the bulk of business conducted over the internet. The aim is to embrace new media and the website is a treasure trove, not just for the plants on offer. Tom writes extensively about the plants and his travels (he wants to evangelise and inspire, and there's also evidence of a dry sense of humour at play), so it's a place to ponder and learn as well as to buy.

There are currently 500 species on the website, with a high proportion of them unique to Evolution Plants. Plans are in place to increase this number substantially, with part of the nursery dedicated to growing the 'pipeline' plants earmarked for introduction over the next year or two.

There's also a fine supporting blog called A Tangled Bank, which is a rather neat quotation from Charles Darwin connecting the new nursery with Tom's former professional life. Here tales of the nursery rub shoulders with musings about taxonomy and traveller's tales about the plants he's found.

So on a blustery, unpromising day in October, a new evolution in plants was launched. I hope the sunshine we saw after the rain bodes well for this bold new venture.

Other plant hunters' footsteps:

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