Showing posts from May, 2013

New Tree, New Disease: Peach Leaf Curl

I've taken the plunge recently and treated myself to a dwarf nectarine tree. It arrived nicely wrapped and in bloom earlier this month and is currently sitting just outside the patio doors awaiting its new home.*

Thus the tree gets a daily inspection when I step outside into the back garden. Yesterday I spotted some of the leaves have taken on a distorted, blistered appearance with some areas showing a pinky, reddish hue. My initial fears have been confirmed via the internet: it's peach leaf curl :(

Having read the above link re the biology of this fungal disease, it looks like the tree arrived with the infection in place. The cold spring and sometimes damp weather has helped the fungus show its hand. As the tree is in its first year, I'm not intending on letting it fruit, so at least I won't suffer a reduction in the crop.

I've picked off and destroyed the leaves before the whitish fungal spores develop. With a bit of luck, the warmer weather forecast  for next w…

Wordless Wednesday: First Quince


Against the Odds: Aquilegia

Aquilegias are notorious for sowing themselves about with gay abandon, so you might be surprised at my including them in my Against the Odds series. However, this one is growing in one of our sets of steps. It's in the tiniest of cracks and I didn't have the heart to pull it out when it started growing there last year. I haven't the foggiest on how it's found enough soil for anchorage and nutrients for growth.

The aquilegias I did plant in the garden nearby are 'McKana Hybrid's, a purple form, plus a yellow tipped with red. So this one is demonstrating the usual not coming true from seed and its flowers are a fair bit smaller than its parent(s). I rather like this blue with white-tipped flower - it's much nicer than the usual muddy purple or pinks found with the next generation of flowers.

I hadn't noticed until now that aquilegias have 2 types of leaves. Walking past an isolated plant every day makes this gardener for one pay much more attention to fo…

Chelsea Fringe: The Bloggers' Cut

On the way to Chelsea Flower Show, I was pondering the Chelsea Fringe* and how we garden bloggers could participate. Most of us live a fair way from the events, but why should that stop us from joining the fun?

I then thought about Naomi's Cake Sunday event on June 2nd and voila! The idea of us supporting a real event in a virtual way was born.

I bumped into Tim Richardson (Fringe organiser) at Chelsea and quickly got his go-ahead. We now have our very own entry on the official Fringe website :)

So what are we going to do?

Pretty much whatever takes your fancy, as long as it involves a garden (or allotment) and cake on June 2nd. You could have some cake in your garden (with or without friends and family); visit a garden for your cake fix (such as any open for the NGS on the 2nd, or even attend Naomi's event in Finsbury Park - it would be great to have the real and virtual Fringe events coinciding!), or maybe you'd like to investigate the merits of jam or cream first on sco…

Lost in Chelsea

Migraines are funny things. As well as the headache, I've spent most of this week with a runny nose, not being able to speak or remember properly and fingers insisting on typing dyslexic looking words instead of what my thoughts are telling them to do.

On Monday morning I discovered a new feature of this condition when I lost my ability to get somewhere directly. Thus I eventually found myself at Kensington tube station instead of the Chelsea Flower Show as expected.

It did however, give me an opportunity to explore Chelsea in Bloom and life outside of the show instead of afterwards as planned.

Chelsea in Bloom officially starts on the first members' day of the flower show (i.e. Tuesday), so I hadn't realised not everyone gets ready in time for Press Day.

If I'd gone after the show, then I would have missed seeing Georgie putting the final touches to her display in the Peter Jones window. A wonderful coup for her and the work being done by everyone involved in promoti…

Salad Days: Off Experimenting Again

As you can see the windowsill grown lettuces have come on in leaps and bounds over the past month and I've been harvesting them over the past couple of weeks. It's just as well I've been growing these, as the lettuces outside - whilst under various cloches and cold frames - are still shivering away and haven't put on much growth.

The one exception to that is 'Black Seeded Simpson'. Bren said it's a hardy variety and she's right! I'll be starting to harvest those leaves sometime next week, after I've finished with the pictured batch of 'Amaze' for the time being.

Just before I started harvesting, I realised I have the ideal conditions for a little experimenting. There are at least 3 different methods of harvesting: whole plant, cut and come again and picking. It wasn't until last year  that I realised cut and come again and picking are different harvesting methods. The above picture shows you the difference: the picked lettuce in the…

The PR Files: Getting the Chelsea 'Look'

My inbox is currently flooded with press releases exhorting me to 'get the Chelsea look' by choosing from a set of products they've put together to cash in on present alongside this week's coverage of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show.

Here's my shortlist of 'must haves', chosen from various emails ;)

#1 Water Features

"A key element [in the Trailfinders garden - Ed] was waterfalls and natural stone to create a tranquil and relaxing garden. These slate monoliths (from £139) are undrilled from quarries and each one is unique, standing from 2ft to 8ft." 

#2 Bedding

"Why not add some Chelsea style with xxxxxxxxx’s Geranium. Alternatively choose from a Begonia, Impatiens New Guinea, Dahlia, Petunia or Osteospermum."

#3 A Greenhouse

"Every budding garden expert needs a greenhouse to maximise the protection for their plants throughout the year. This large walk-in greenhouse is simple to build and doesn’t require any tools to assemble."…

Wordless Wednesday: Electric Chelsea


A Fond Farewell to the Australians

Having the Australians in the shape of Fleming's at Chelsea has always been a highlight for me because my visits to Oz have been some of the happiest times of my life. The team's professional yet friendly attitude at Chelsea is impressive, especially yesterday when Wes Fleming still managed to chat to me amiably whilst juggling the last minute frustrations of lack of frogs* and trying to get his mother into the showground.

This year's move to the embankment site from their usual one has worked well by allowing them to build high rather than the usual digging down towards their homeland. I also loved the decision to favour Australia's native flora above their usual approach of showing off their enviable outdoor lifestyle. It reminded me of NAH's and my last trip to Oz ten years ago when we chanced upon similar vistas (though without the building in the shape of a Waratah) on our travels.

So Fleming's depart on a high having scooped gold and best show garden in …

It's Chelsea Showtime :)

It's off to Chelsea Flower Show I go today for the excitement that is Press Day. I have so much to do and see for this year's centenary show, that I'm not sure how I'm going to fit it in before we get chucked out at 3pm when the Queen arrives. However, leaving early means there's time to check out Chelsea in Bloom on the way back to the Tube. Every cloud, as they say.

I'm equally uncertain how I'm going to fit it all into this blog this week, but it's going to be a pleasure to try.

For those of you in London for a bit longer, there's also the fab Chelsea Fringe to take in. I'm really pleased they've put a week by week schedule up on their website (here's the first week) as it makes it much easier to find an event to suit both day and location. Arabella Sock went to the press launch on Friday if you'd like to see a taster of what's going on. I'm hoping to go to the Fringe events in Bristol later - yes it's grown outside o…

Chelsea Sneak Preview: A Centenary Celebration

Amongst all the discussion of Chelsea's centenary show this year, I'm pleased the opportunity's been taken to produce a suitably celebratory book.

Brent Elliott is the author and as he's historian to the RHS, this is the best possible choice. I've heard him speak on a couple of occasions and really appreciate how his dry sense of humour brings his subject to life, particularly when detailing with relish the stormy arguments and mass resignations of the committee during the RHS's early years. Happily his humour (and details of arguments!) shine through in this account.

I found it best to tackle this volume twice. Once for all the plentiful pictures and good captioning, then reading the detailed text at my second sitting. Both are excellent, but trying to read both together was a bit much for me.

Chelsea has changed immensely over the years, except for one thing: the picture of 1932's Sundries Avenue on page 42 looks almost exactly the same today (apart from…

GBBD: Apple Blossom Time

Most years, my garden's apple blossom falls between April and May's Blooms Days. This year its timing is perfect and I was relieved to find the bees buzzing amongst the blooms despite the cooler weather we're having lately.

March's extreme cold means it's a bumper year for apple blossom*. Now I'm crossing my fingers for a bumper pollination and harvest. Don't mention to the weather gods I've said that, will you?

* = most apple varieties require lots of hours - between 400 and 1,000 - of cooler temperatures (just above freezing) to break winter dormancy and for good blossom formation = minimum chill requirement. There are some varieties which require substantially less than that (100-200 hours e.g. Anna). It will be these varieties we may need to look to plant in the future if longer term climate change means our winters get warmer.

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

Seasonal Recipe: Perch Hill Rhubarb Cordial

I first tasted this delicious cordial at Sarah Raven's Grow Cook Eat day in aid of Horatio's Garden in March. Sarah has kindly given me permission to reproduce the recipe here on Veg Plotting. I'll be adding my own notes from the day and from making my own, though you can also view the original recipe on Sarah's website.

As you can see the result is a pearlescent cordial with just a hint of pink from the original rhubarb. The taste is subtle, yet you can easily discern the recipe's main ingredients. I've used about half the sugar given in the recipe and for me that hasn't spoiled the flavour when diluted. I'm also going to experiment with using the sweet cicely from my herb planter to reduce the sugar content still further.

It's also a timely recipe if you're getting a bit fed up of rhubarb by now, yet your patch is still producing copious quantities. I've made a batch of rhubarb and ginger jam as usual and this is another suitable glutbust…

Waving Goodbye to the Pleiones

I had a great day at Malvern Show yesterday - it's officially a vintage year. Instead of giving you the full tour (which will be on TV tonight at 8pm), I'll be focusing on a snippet or three from time to time.

This is the last ever display of pleiones from Ian Butterfield. I hadn't come across this genus before I started visiting shows and whilst I don't really have the right conditions to grow them (they're a ground orchid which likes to grow on tree trunks and in rock crevices), I do appreciate getting up close and personal to them at the spring shows.

Ian Butterfield is the national collection holder and avid hybridiser. He reassured me his show retirement doesn't mean he'll be stopping his work. "I still haven't managed to breed a green one", he told me, "and I'll still be supplying plants. It's just the effort of staging an exhibition that's getting a bit much now". NB Ian is in his 80s and I hope I'm as spright…

Getting to Grips With Seed Mats et al.

Earlier this year, I spent a fascinating morning at Seed Developments finding out how they go about making biodegradable seed tapes, discs and mats. Naturally, they've given me a few samples to try, which I've supplemented with a few others I've found in various shops :)

This isn't my first venture into this field. You may remember I tried some mixed salad leaves discs for my 52 Week Salad Challenge experiments last year. The mats were ideal for my biochar trial as I didn't have to worry about getting an even number and spread of seed onto my compost. Later on, they also became part of my Travellers' Salad ;)

Prior to then, I'd dismissed seed tapes as a GYO option, partly due to lack of choice as most of the the seeds I like to grow aren't available in this form. The cost per seed compared to packets is quite a bit higher too. However, having trialled the salad mats last year, I'm now seeing their advantages. Sowing is quicker and less fiddly, plus…

Happy Compost Awareness Week!

I potted these up yesterday before I realised it's Compost Awareness Week - how timely :) It's a variety of comfrey called Bocking 14, a strain developed during the 1950s by Lawrence Hills, the founder of Garden Organic. Bocking in Essex was the home of the organisation's HQ at the time.

Bocking 14 is sterile, so it's not as invasive as its parent Russian comfrey, though I'm still going to think carefully where I finally plant these as its root run is pretty extensive. With my new raised beds plus an extra bin to fill, I need to make lots more compost. This comfrey is my first step towards keeping the mouths of my hungry compost bins filled. I'm also planning on making better use of our lawn clippings balanced out with lots of extra shredded paper to stop my compost becoming a green slimy mess.

John Harrison has written an excellent guide to comfrey and its uses - well worth a read.

How do you keep your compost bins well fed?

Additional reading:

You may also li…

Book Review: The Spade as Mighty as the Sword

With the benefit of hindsight it's easy to see how unprepared Britain was for the Second World War. In Daniel Smith's The Spade as Mighty as the Sword we see just how close the nation's reliance on food imports at the war's outbreak nearly cost us dear.

Then the Dig for Victory campaign was born and caught on with the British public big time. A catchy title, inventive posters and the reassuring voice of Mr Middleton all helped to turn the nation into allotmenteers. They had to, it was either grow more food or starve. Around 55-60 per cent of families were involved in the campaign and the WI provided the domestic network which ensured everyone knew what to do with any surplus.

We may look back on the Dig for Victory campaign with fondness, as an example of where state intervention for once really helped and the nation's diet was far healthier than we see today. However, Daniel Smith's clear-sighted tale shows success wasn't gained without controversy and re…

Seasonal Recipe: Universal Pesto

Ever since I learnt to scythe a few weeks ago, I've been hankering after foraging some wild garlic to recreate the delicious pesto Caroline left us for lunch.

Sadly allotment duties lately have kept me away from where the wild garlic grows. However, the bulb garlic which 'melted' away in last year's rain has reappeared up at the plot in the form of lots of juicy green garlic. I harvested it yesterday: some went into a chicken leftovers and leek soup, then some was chopped into last night's curry. Now it's time to make some pesto.

Whilst pondering my surprise bounty up at the plot, I also thought about the recipes various Salad Challengers linked into Salad Days last year. If there's a strongly flavoured bountiful leaf, you can pretty well guarantee it'll find its way into a pesto recipe somewhere.

So, I've devised a recipe for Universal Pesto which is adaptable to whatever you have to hand. Note: I'm currently recommending you choose 1 item fro…

GBMD: Magnolias High Over Head

He told of the Magnolia, spread 
High as a cloud, high over head! 

William Wordsworth (1770–1850), in Ruth; or, The Influences of Nature (l. 61–62) The Poems; Vol. 1 [William Wordsworth]. John O. Hayden, ed. (1977, repr. 1990) Penguin Books.

Magnolias are at their showy best right now and next door's tree is leaning companionably over the fence to give us a closer view. It's also the first thing we noticed when visiting mum last week. Her magnolia is in the back garden, but its candle-like blooms peep out from behind the garage giving everyone a streetside view.

Not all the magnolias I see are high as a cloud, nor high overhead as I have a Magnolia stellata in a large pot. I love its furry buds in the winter and always pray the frost doesn't catch its fleeting whiteness in the spring. Is it this danger which can swiftly turn those blooms to mush that makes them all the more precious?