Showing posts from August, 2013

A Taste of the Good Life Revisited: Luton Hoo

Last week I treated myself to a road trip and visited a couple of gardens slightly further afield. I'd been tempted by a tour around the gardens at Luton Hoo courtesy of their PR people, and it seemed churlish not take them up on their offer ;)

Never heard of Luton Hoo? Neither had I until a few weeks ago...

... as you can see the drive up to the hotel is lined with mature trees. This creates a tunnel-like approach and a sense of anticipation...

... until the draw dropping reveal of a huge and imposing property designed and built by Robert Adam in 1767. In its hey day that whole area in front of the house was loose gravel, which the gardening staff raked every day. Now it's a bonded surface, much to the relief of Keith, the Head Gardener!

Skirting around the Grade I listed mansion to the right, I found the formal gardens and this view back towards the hotel's terrace. Lots of people were there sipping tea, coffee and cocktails. It's also where I found my guide for the…

My Crazy Petunias

My summer pots usually feature a petunia somewhere, so I was pleased to have the opportunity to trial a new variety called 'Crazytunia Pulse' this year. As you can see their growth is more upright than usual, which I'm very pleased with. I've found their sturdier nature means I'm not seeing the usual dieback I have with other petunias.

However, I was a little nonplussed by the flowers. I've been nurturing these plants indoors since early April and the flowers I'd had before planting out at the end of June were a gorgeously velvety wine red. Whilst these blooms are still acceptable, that dark red had spoiled me. I thought the paler blooms might be due to lack of feed, but as you can see they've continued flowering in the same way after I'd fed them.

Here's a closer look at that lower bloom in the top picture, so you get a good idea of what my flowers look like... hold that thought...

... because this is how they look in the catalogue I rediscove…

Pesky Pests: Rose Sawfly

It's been a good year for the roses here at VP Gardens, so I suppose it's no surprise to find rose sawflies have made their first ever visit too. Grrr. They're quite hard to spot, but what usually gives them away is the skeleton leaves left after they've munched their way through the softer parts. Look closely at the picture just above the flowers to the left and right (click to enlarge if needed) and you'll see what I mean. Double Grrr.

Even when you know they're there, it can take a while to get your eye in and spot them, especially when they're lined up nose to tail on a leaf's edge. I've found shaking the leaves gently can help - they then tend to curl outwards away from the leaf, as you can see some of them have done in the above photo.

A mass squishing and re-inspection session ensued to rid my roses of these pesky blighters. I've added regular inspections of my roses to my early morning walk around the garden with coffee mug in hand. The…

Salad Days: Getting It Taped

I've cleared the alliums from the raised beds and whilst I'm waiting for them to dry - so I can finally assess the results of my biochar experiment - I've started off some new leaves for our autumn salads.

To keep the spirit of experimentation going, I'm using some of the seed tapes which Simple Sowing have kindly given me to try. I've tried some seed tapes before and been quite critical of the limited range on offer, so it's great to have a much wider range to play with.

I used my trusty onion hoe* to mark out the rows and then watered them as I usually do when sowing seed. This turned out to be a wise move as the damp soil prevented the tape from blowing away when I laid it on top. Each tape is 1.67 metres long, so I had to trim it to size. I quickly learnt I need to keep my hands dry for this part of the operation, and for putting the tape back into its bag.

I've sown four types of lettuce ('Little Gem', 'Lollo Rosso', 'Marveille de …

Tah dah! Success :)

It's been a very satisfying week as I've managed to make a success of two things: one I've never tried before, the other where I've failed previously. I hope you don't mind while I bang on my drum a little bit...

Firstly, I've managed to get the moth orchid I posted about here to bloom again. This is despite my completely destroying its leaves because I left it outside whilst the nights were really too cold to do so safely. According to an aside in a fab book I'm reading at the moment (The Flower of Empire), the key to orchid success is not to let the roots die. Seeing they're in rude health, perhaps that's why I have a positive result.

Now, I've got to achieve the same with the Cymbidium mentioned in the same post. It's enjoying its summer holiday on the patio very much and is currently throwing out a couple of new shoots. Perhaps that's why it's not flowering...

And here's my 'Basket of Fire' chilli plant. I've neve…

A Purple Patch - At Cotswold Lavender

Lavender is for lovers true, Which evermore be faine; Desiring always for to have Some pleasure for their paine: And when that they obtained Have the love that they require, Then have they all their perfect joie, And quenched is the fire. 

Clement Robinson in: A Handefull of Pleasant Delites, 1584 (possibly 1566)

Just when you think you've got lost, your nose tells you you're still on the right track and you're very close to where you want to be. Our visit may not have been perfectly timed (the lavender harvest had just finished), but there was still plenty for Victoria and I to discover when we visited Cotswold Lavender last Friday.

Note this is a farm not a garden, so there are plenty of farm buildings around and the lavender is cultivated as a crop, probably (I think) as part of a farm diversification scheme. The lavender was planted in 2000 and the precious oil is extracted via steam distillation on site.

Much has been said about the plight of bees this year, so it was…

Gromit Unleashed

I've had lots of fun going to Bristol lately because of all the decorated Gromit Unleashed models found around the city. There's been other trails before - such as the Wow Gorillas in Bristol 2 years ago, plus the pigs and lions in Bath, but there's nothing quite like Gromit is there?

There are 80 to find, so it's a good way of seeing Bristol. As you can see, they're not just outdoors - the bottom centre one in the collage above is at the cinema at Cabot Circus - can you tell who it is? There are two wonderful ones at Temple Meads station - have a look at Isambark Kingdog Brunel in the centre of the collage.

They're not just in just in Bristol either - places like Cheddar and Westonbirt have the odd one and Chippenham Town Hall has the smaller size which were sent to schools and community groups to decorate - by Sheldon in this case. I was delighted to find the one pictured at Paddington, which invites passengers to come to Bristol. The GWR train managers have…

GBBD: Mellow Yellow and Crocosmia Glow

There is one universal prediction which holds true for gardening - no matter what - every year will be different :)

2013 is proof in action. After the longer, colder winter and spring's delay, who'd have thought July would be so hot and dry? For the first time in years it means my courgettes, squashes and cucumbers are all flowering in profusion up at the allotment.

In fact they're assuming triffid-like tendencies. They've already overrun the oca (see my 2013 plot plan) and are heading off into Compost City and my new raised beds. I've also had to stop them sneaking off into the plots next door, so one of them has decided to climb up the grapevine instead. It's a delight to see them doing what they're meant to do and I'm enjoying their mellow yellow flowers, as are loads of pollen beetles.

My Nepalese allotment neighbour is very excited by my plants and plans to grow the same varieties next year. When I said I was worried they were beginning to overrun…

Wordless Wednesday: Every Garden Centre Should Have One


Do You Have the Best Blog?

The RHS have launched a competition to find the best garden blog for 2013 :)

Sounds interesting, tell me more

All you need to do is select one blog post about gardening you've published between the launch date (Monday 8th July) and the competition's closing date (September 30th). There's no need to offer any more posts, or your entire blog as the judges will only consider the post you've entered.

What are the judges looking for?

Your post can be about any subject as long as it's about gardening in some way. It's the quality of the writing that matters, and it should be unique to your blog, not published elsewhere. Any images used in the post must also be yours. The selected post must be from your own personal blog, not part of a group blog which publishes from a number of authors.

The judges will select a shortlist of 10 finalists, which will then be opened up for a public vote, just like the 'People's Choice' used at the RHS's garden shows.

OK, s…

For Seed

I sneaked over and took this picture on my neighbour's allotment earlier this week as it's a timely reminder to start saving my own. Coriander is notorious for running to seed quickly (though 'Confetti' is meant to stay in leaf longer than most varieties) and whilst I can always do with more leaves, I also welcome and value its seed. Home saving is so easy to do with this plant (just leave it to dry) and when it's ground up it adds a wonderfully warming, citrussy quality to winter soups.

I've also been pondering whether my lettuces could be saved for seed as they're so keen to bolt this year. My 'Black Seeded Simpson' and 'Marveille de Quatre Saisons' look to be good bets as they're described as 'old' varieties and 'Relic' is sold as an heirloom variety. This suggests their seed lines are stable and they're not F1 varieties - key as the latter won't come true from seed. 'Dazzle', 'Little Gem' and …

Roll Out the Barrows

The outdoor space surrounding the Southbank Centre in London has plenty of growing on show at the moment as part of its Festival of Neighbourhood :)

I'd gone especially to see the Edible Bus Stop's latest incarnation which is called Roll Out the Barrows. As you can see it's a lot of fun. Volunteers are looking after the barrows over the summer and they have the chance to take theirs home when the festival ends for their own community growing project.

What I didn't know before I got there, was that Roll Out the Barrows is just one part of the wider festival. To my delight I also found...

... a mobile orchard with benches - this is  a joint initiative with the National Trust called Octavia's Orchard. Each tree is also 'twinned' with a National Trust property and is available for adoption. Round the corner there was...

... a giant herbal greenhouse ready for a Herbfest with the Company of Cooks. It was a bit of a surprise to hear John and Yoko Lennon's vo…

Plot Plan 2013 Style

Happy National Allotments Week! It's a while since we had an overview of my plot, so I thought now is the ideal time to do so. I do love this time of the year when the plot is full and there's loads of harvesting to be done :)
When I gave up half of my plot 2 years ago, I speculated I might be more productive as I wouldn't be constantly battling to keep everything up to scratch. After last year's false start (all that rain), it's proving to be true, especially after I installed some raised beds earlier in the year.

I was sad I might not have the space to experiment any more. I'm glad to say this fear was unfounded as I currently have 4 of them on the go: growing onions, shallots and garlic with or without biochar; a new variety of sunflower; using various seed tapes; and growing potatoes the no-dig way. The latter is a failure so far (compost not deep enough) and I'll say more about the others at a later date.

The pictures above don't show everything, …

Gardening Against the Odds

When Elspeth Thompson died a few years ago, one of the positive things to emerge from that tragedy was the Gardening Against the OddsAwards. Unbelievably it's now in its fourth year - how time flies - and entries for this year's Awards are now being sought.

It's been a privilege to meet Annie Maw, a person with such a positive outlook on life who is also one of the Award's previous winners. As well as her own gardening activities, her work as a trustee for the Southern Spinal Injuries Trust means she's been instrumental in ensuring Horatio's Garden is as fabulous as it is.

The press release for this year's award says about the previous winners:

"They include people with psychological or physical problems who find gardening empowers rather than restricts, where health, space and location are no barriers."  - the underlining is mine because these words sum up how I feel gardening should be for everyone.

There's no doubt in my mind Annie was a …

GBMD: The Wise Gardener...

The wise gardener... is one who makes his gardening a joy and not a chore
From a sign seen in the garden at the Garden Museum in June. I'm trying to heed that advice and looking at my first-time grown tree lilies® is helping enormously :)