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Showing posts from April, 2013

Re-editing the Plot

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I've been spending quite a lot of time at the allotment lately and already the above view is looking quite different. Much tidier! I've been meaning to write about my plans for the plot since I gave up half of it just over a year ago, but last year's dreadful season meant I never got around to it.

The thicket you can see are my raspberries 'Autumn Bliss'. These of course are remaining because they're prize winning. Last year I experimented with not cutting the canes down in February* and as a result obtained an earlier crop and a heavier yield. Definitely worth repeating this year.

Behind the raspberries is a mess of gooseberries from which I'm currently trying to extract a vigorous bramble. So far the bramble (aided and abetted by the gooseberries) is winning...


My major project at the moment (apart from plot clearing) is the installation of some raised beds. After the task of emptying out the compost bins to fill them up (who needs gym membership?!), the…

April is the Blog Love Month IV

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I'm veering off-topic - as I frequently do here on Veg Plotting - with some non-gardening blogs which have caught my eye this week. Don't worry, there are a couple of gardening ones by way of a finale too :)
First up is my beloved NAH. After years of teasing me about Veg Plotting, he finally started his own blog a couple of years ago. He's putting a steam engine back together without the manual - or many of the parts! Have a look at how he's progressing on Sentinel 7109I've just found out about the fascinating neolithic houses project at Stonehenge. It's something I hope to investigate personally next month.It's a small hop, skip and a jump to my Local Vocal Janice's new blog Immaterial Practicedocumenting her progress and discoveries in the 30 days up to her Fine Art degree show.Found via my friend Mark's blog, I love Perpetua's way of roving in retirement.Not a blog, but I couldn't resist telling you about the Darwin Correspondence Project

Salad Days: Windowsill Lettuces

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What a difference a few weeks makes! Spring has sprung at last and those leggy seedlings I showed you last month are transforming themselves into something rather tasty looking.

I've now planted out all my lettuce seedlings into the coldframes and cloches outside, except the pictured 'Amaze'. As you can see from the above picture they're romping away on our bedroom windowsill.

The initial 22 varieties I sowed are now down to 18 - 2 failed to germinate as reported last month and a further two - Mordore and Musson melted away in the overcrowded legginess that was the initial tray of seedlings. I'll catch up with these and some further varieties I've acquired later on in the year.

This month I've taken delivery of several exciting looking items of kit to trial courtesy of Greenhouse Sensation. My initial efforts have focused on the simplest item they've sent: the small Saladgrow planter, which is suitable for windowsill as well as greenhouse growing.


As y…

Wordless Wednesday: Union Flag With Goose

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Plant of the Centenary: The Official Shortlist

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We had a lot of fun choosing our ownPlant of the Centenary, and now we get to do it all over again with the RHS's official shortlist :)

There are some truly landmark plants: Russell hybrid lupins; a Heuchera,  and Geranium 'Rozanne' - how many plants can claim to be the subject of a court case? There's also a nod to the gardening legacy shaped by the plant hunters, in the form of Pieris formosa var. forrestii

My congratulations goes to Shirl, whose chosen favourite is amongst the shortlist of 10: the pictured Erysimum. Sadly I can't find my picture with a hummingbird hawk moth dancing attendance one summer, so I've had to make do with a snap taken yesterday.

Each plant has its champion, matched by their decade of birth as well as the plant's Chelsea debut. It's worth looking at them on the RHS's site, purely for the wonderfully named Chelsea Pensioner who champions the Saxifraga 'Tumbling waters': Sergeant Stan Pepper :)

All that remains is…

What Spam Looks Like

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No, not that tinned pink meat of a dubious nature, the other spam...

It's clear there's been a LOT of spam around lately. By a lot, it's meant up to 50-80 extra comments for my blog on some days. This is what a spam attack looks like via my stats on Blogger. I'd often wondered why there were sudden spikes shown, but it took a rash of notification emails with attendant spam comments, all coinciding with 08:22 one morning for me to twig what was going on. On bad days, those spikes are happening every half an hour or so.

It's not just Blogger with the problem. I see Wordpress has also warned of increased levels of spam and hacking attempts recently.

I've noticed various types of spam comment along the lines of:
Nice blog, I'll be back for more - really funny if it also compliments your writing on a Wordless Wednesday post ;)Asking advice on theme, hacking, plagiarism etc.Advising you of a problem with your blog or how you could do betterComplete gobbledegook w…

April is the Blog Love Month III

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Week three of my version of Emma Cooper's Blog Love Challenge sees me discovering blogs which are celebrating gardens - especially theirs - as my homage to National Gardening Week.
Firstly there's Pauline from Lead Up the Garden Path, who celebrates the return of her St Patrick.We gardeners love talking about the weather, so here's a blog which keeps tabs on gardening and the weather in Ossett, Yorkshire.Helene has been a regular, thoughtful commenter here over the past few months, so it was lovely to discover her multiple-collage celebration of her garden this week.Not a garden, nor a new blog (though sadly I haven't visited in ages, so it feels like a new blog again), but I had to share Val Littlewood's willow sketches from Pencil and Leaf.A Blooms Day discovery this week is Mario and Hortus | 5 - thoughtful posts and good presentation of  his beautiful imagesRosie at Leavesnbloom has some lovely, dreamlike photos of her garden in Perthshire this weekAnd finally,…

Blackbird Singing in the Middle of the Day

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It's not just the flowers which have woken up to spring this week at VP Gardens: at last the birds are singing strongly. I couldn't resist taking a short video of this male blackbird singing its heart out on the public land next to our house. He seems to be responding to another blackbird further away, which suggests he's probably proclaiming his territory or fitness to breed to the other males in the area.

The greenfinches have started 'zooming', a woodpecker is tapping away and the resident song thrush in our garden is my current alarm call in the morning. I've also seen reports of the first swallows arriving to these shores. As soon as I hear the chiff chaff, then my spring will be complete.

Which birds have you heard in your garden lately?

Breaking the Rules: Sprouted Lentils

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I've learnt recently lentils have a strong urge to keep on growing. I sprouted some as usual for my Salad Challenge, but last month's exceptionally cold weather turned our appetites away from salad.

So this batch got shoved in the fridge for a couple of days until the weather warmed up. Except it didn't and a few days turned into a fewweeks :o

I knew beansprouts of the shop bought variety are grown in the dark (weighted down to keep them stumpy), but I thought the cool temperature of our fridge would stop the lentils growing. After all, the text books say a minimum temperature of around 5oC is needed for plant growth. That puts them firmly into my Against the Odds series too ;)

The shoots are etioliated as expected, but I'm surprised the tiny leaves are green rather than the chlorotic yellow usually seen when plants grow in the dark. Perhaps the occasional burst of light as we go to the fridge for milk or whatever is sufficient for chlorophyll production?

This isn'…

GBBD: Blackthorn Winter

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We've just emerged, blinking and rather wan, from the coldest March in over 50 years. Much of the garden is only just beginning to stir into life and after a day's warmth the blackthorn - which has remained tightly in bud throughout the cold spell - has rather ironically burst into bloom.

I say ironically, because a blackthorn winter usually refers to a late cold snap in late March or early April. Had it bloomed when it seemingly wanted to last month, then I'm sure we would have seen the phrase touted regularly around the weather reports. As it is, its blossoming now serves as a warning. We may at last have some longed-for warmth, but winter could just as easily return.

The blossom gives away its Prunus heritage (it's Prunus spinosa- an apt name): such starry flowers on bare branches. A simple flower, but beautiful nonetheless. Soon the petals will be strewn across my front garden like confetti. This year the blossom is prolific, which will be good for this effect and…

April is the Blog Love Month II

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Week 2 of my version of Emma Cooper's April Blog Love challenge has led me to the following new discoveries:
Peonies and Polaroids- a discovery thanks to Out of My Shed as Cara was on the list for the bloggers get together at Great Dixter. Sadly we didn't get to meet, but I've enjoyed getting acquainted with her beautifully written and photographed blog instead.The joys of the headlines from Brighton's The Argus. My favourite (not included in the link) is Bearded Woman Attacked At Crucifixion, though many seen via the link also had me crying with laughter.Rusty Duck - I love the cheeky robin on the header photo.Amy at Get Busy Gardening - another discovery via Gayla Trail's Grow Write Guild :)Missing Henry Mitchell - an intriguing blog name, which is succeeding in being as observant in its nature as the writer Henry Mitchell apparently was. I particularly enjoyed this week's encounter with an opossum.The Smithsonian's science blog  - I could spend days read…

Google Reader: The Hunt for an Alternative

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So, farewell Google Reader.

It's served me well for over 5 years. I've kept up with around 300 blogs without going insane. I've even filed away long-gone favourites in there in the hope they'd be revived some day - and to my delight some are from time to time.

So like many others in the blogosphere I've started the work this week to see the potential impact and what needs to be done ahead of Google Reader's demise in July.

Looking at my subscription rates*, around 700 of my subscribers might go. Thanks for subscribing if you're reading this via your Google Reader BTW! So what are the options for you going forward?

I've come up with the following possibilities so far:

1. Use one of the other facilities you have to hand

I already use the Google Follow facility (as shown in my left sidebar) to read lots of blogs. It isn't just confined to Blogger blogs either as I've successfully added my WordPress and Typepad faves. This means I see the latest fro…

In the Footsteps of Plant Hunters: Borde Hill

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I must confess that until a few weeks ago Borde Hill hadn't featured on my garden visiting radar. Now having gone there last week on a blowy, snowy day, I'm pleased to say it now very firmly is.

Even on a winter's day in April, Borde Hill is special. Why? Because just over a century ago, the then owner Colonel Stephenson R. Clarke was one of the major sponsors of plant hunters. The likes of Ernest Wilson, George Forrest, Reginald Farrer and Frank Kingdon Ward were despatched to bring back as  many wild treasures as they could muster; particularly rhododendrons, azaleas, camellias and exotic trees.

Stephenson R. Clarke was influenced hugely by the wild gardening approach advocated by William Robinson and was also an early pioneer of 'right plant, right place'. He took great care in selecting sites on his estate which closely matched the conditions under which the plants and their seed were growing at the time of collection.

For the plants this means they've oft…

Learning to Scythe

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Those of you watching The Village on Sunday evenings will have seen quite a bit of scything lately courtesy of John Simm. So, it was with great timing Beth Tilston had kindly offered to teach me to scythe on Saturday. The picture shows Beth in action in the sunshine. Yay, sunshine!

I'd always thought scything must be a difficult thing to do. Well, it's not difficult, but to do it well takes some practice. After Beth's lesson I'm confident I'll get there. The key is to keep the blade low on the ground and to keep the arms relatively close to the body (as you can see in the photo) when making the cutting swing. This conserves energy (and muscles!) and makes it easier to keep the blade in the right position. Hacking away isn't the right thing to do!

The scythe is easy to assemble and much lighter than I was expecting. Though of course a light scythe makes sense when you've got a meadow to mow. We scythed in three main areas. The first was newly emergent grass…

April is the Blog Love Month

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Emma Cooper, that all-round good egg of garden blogging has come up with a great challenge for April: spread a little blog love. I found out on Monday, because I was one of the first recipients :)

In her kick-off post Emma says:

It has been a bit of a gloomy old start to the year. The sun won’t come out and play, the NHS is being dismantled and anyone with a blog has been battling spam comments every day [too right - Ed]. Now we can’t do anything about the first, and it feels like we can’t do much about the second, but we can bring some love to bloggers everywhere (because we do love them, don’t we?) and so I am starting the April Blog Love Challenge.

Emma is commenting on 5 blogs a day, then sharing those posts back over at her blog. Hers will be a combination of old favourites and new discoveries. I've modified her challenge for my purposes because I've been trying to comment on 5 blogs a day since last November (it was my NaBloPoMo replacement). Instead, I'll be comment…

Against the Odds: Lichen

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Here's one of my school geography lessons in action: lichens colonising our bedroom windowsill. In this context they're known as a pioneer species and as the windowsill has had no vegetation previously, this is known as a primary succession.

At school we studied this kind of colonisation on rocks and lava flows. I never expected to find it so close to home, nor happening on plastic! I wonder what kind of food the lichen is gleaning from its unusual home?

In the long term this probably isn't doing the windowsill much good, but I haven't the heart to clear it off as it's far too interesting. Many lichens are an indicator of clean air - I must look these up to see if they fall into that category.

You may also like to look at OPAL's Air Survey and the role lichens play as an indicator of clean air. Looking briefly at their lichen guide, I see the yellow lichen is a leafy Xanthoria, which is a nitrogen-loving type.

Against the Odds: an occasional series on Veg Plott…

Great Dixter - A Pause for Thought

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Is it possible to have a memory of a place without going there?

This is the central question posed by a book called Losing Site, which I tried to review for Green Places magazine last year. I gave up in frustration because a) I found the book unreadable and more importantly b) I heartily disagreed with its premise that a place can have resonance through artifacts such as postcards.

But I'd forgotten about Great Dixter.


Visiting Great Dixter last week was like going home. Christopher Lloyd was the first garden writer who 'spoke' to me. His words made sense and for the first time I 'got' how magical gardening can be.

His words also form a golden thread sown through very dark times. Some years ago NAH's father died just before we went on holiday to Derbyshire. Much of that time was spent to-ing and fro-ing between our holiday cottage and Darlington;  making arrangements, attending the funeral, dealing with the final part of growing up losing a parent brings.

In t…

Writing News

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A very warm welcome to Garlic and Sapphire readers :)

I'm burbling on about growing salad leaves in a guest post over at Sarah Raven's blog today. For those of you contemplating joining the 52 Week Salad Challenge, this is the perfect guide to get growing now.

In other writing news, I've also started to blog for Gabriel Ash, with a quick review of last month's Edible Garden Show. It'll be interesting to see where this regular feature goes over the next few months.

Now, I must settle down and write my latest article for Wiltshire magazine; edible insect anyone?

GBMD: Lettuce is Like...

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Lettuce is like conversation, it must be fresh and crisp, and so sparkling that you scarcely notice the bitter in it.

Charles Dudley Warner (1829-1900)

It might not be the 16 different leaf salad Sarah Raven enjoyed with Christopher Lloyd one February*, but I'm proud of last month's 8-leaf version grown by my own fair hand.

In the picture we have: lettuce 'Amaze', lamb's lettuce, 'Bull's Blood' beetroot, Komatsuna (leaf and flower), hairy bittercress (foraged from the patio), mustard 'Giant Red' (picked small to keep the heat in proportion), pea shoots and sprouted lentils.

I've read recently lettuce is better if left to plump up in cold water for a couple of hours before serving**. I pick ours just 5 minutes before tea and just give it a quick wash and spin dry. I don't think it's had time to wilt which is what I believe the advice is about. I feel the need for a little experimentation coming on...

I can confirm that like today'…