Seen at The Festival of the Tree

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

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Chelsea Sneak Preview: What's Your Plant of the Centenary?


There's plenty of beavering away happening with the special preparations required for this year's RHS Chelsea Centenary Show. These include Roy Lancaster and his crack team of experts pondering and cogitating over their shortlist of nominations for 'Plant of the Centenary'. They have the task of selecting just one plant introduced per decade the show's been running. These will be exhibited in the Great Pavilion in a similar way to 'Plant of the Show' in previous years.

Visitors to Chelsea have the opportunity to vote for their favourite, which will then be named as 'Plant of the Centenary'. It'll be interesting to see which plants have stood the test of time, particularly those from the earlier days of the show. I'd also like to find out which plants launched previously during Chelsea still grace today's RHS Plant Finder, but that's research to do for another day.

It won't just be the show's visitors who'll have the chance to vote. There'll also be the usual 'People's Choice' vote available online to include 'Plant of the Centenary'. I thought we could have a bit of our own fun with this concept and come up with our own shortlist of plants ahead of the publication of Chelsea's list. I wonder how many of our favourites will be in their final 10?

Have a think and either name your plant in the comments below, OR write a blog post about your choice and why it's the one. We had a lot of fun with Shirl's Desert Island Plant Challenge a while ago, so I hope we can have fun with this one too. I'll set up a Mr Linky on Wednesday, 6th of March for you to add the link to your post.

It'll probably be too difficult for us all to restrict our selections to those introduced in 1913 or later, so I won't be discriminating on the age of origin for your choice. NB there may, or may not be a clue to my final selection in the photo chosen for this post ;)

Update: Helen's just commented her mind has 'gone pouff' at the thought of selecting just one. I'll probably have the same problem too. However, I think it'll be a bit of fun to have a ponder on this - especially with the current gloomy weather - and try to decide. I'm happy for your blog posts to say you can't select just one - I'm sure Roy Lancaster and his team have faced the same prospect during their deliberations!

Update 2: In view of Karen and Helen's comments, if you find selecting just one plant is too hard, then I'm also happy for you to select up to 10 plants to blog about instead and for us to choose 1 of them in your comments :)

Update 6th March: The results are now in :)

Monday, 25 February 2013

Garden Tools Giveaway: and the winner is...

My garden tools giveaway proved to be most popular, so I'm trying a different approach to pick the winner this time. Much as I love my terracotta pot for drawing the winner's name, I'm trying to be more scientific in the way things get done.

I've used a random number generator to pick a winner from all those entered.

Before this, everyone's blog comment and/or tweet was logged onto a spreadsheet in the order of when they appeared. It's taken a while to match the blogs, tweets and times to ensure everyone's entry has been treated fairly. So without further ado, who is the mysterious number 7?

It's Jo at The Good Life! Congratulations Jo, I'll be in touch shortly to make arrangements for your prize :)

Many thanks to all of you who entered and better luck for next time. I'll be hosting another fab giveaway soon, so stay tuned!

For the future, what would you prefer? Random numbers and spreadsheets, names drawn out of a terracotta pot, or something else? I'd love your help in deciding how giveaways are run on Veg Plotting going forward :)

Update: I've just found this post about the legal position governing the operation of competitions/ prize draws, which also applies to those run on blogs, twitter and facebook. It's a lot of food for thought and I'm currently questioning whether to have competitions/giveaways at all going forward.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Book Review: Decoding Gardening Advice


This is a timely book to review seeing I've just started my new Breaking the Rules series. I'm pleased to see my planned snippets aren't covered, so everyone can read something new from both reading this book and my future posts :)

Decoding Gardening Advice looks at the top 100 pieces of advice given [in the USA, though most also apply to the UK - Ed] to see whether they're good, questionable or downright bad. Unlike most advice we see in books or on the TV - which have an unwritten or unspoken assumption they're all good - the reasoning behind their categorisation is given.

So thinking about the advice I've seen or researched recently, on the good side we have...
  • Stop fertilising during very hot weather to reduce plant stress
  • Water deeply and infrequently to encourage a strong root system
  • Do not plant trees too deeply

... and on the debatable side there's...
  • Follow spacing recommendations on plant labels
  • Always stake young trees (Yay! Agreement with Tony Kirkham's talk - I had a some vigorous disagreement in the comments on this one)
  • Plant vegetables in rows

...and then there's just plain wrong...
  • Always add extra nitrogen to the soil when wood mulch is used
  • After pruning, dress tree wounds to inhibit decay and insect infestation
  • Use gravel or rocks at the bottom of containers to improve drainage (how many times do we see that going on?) 

I'm not telling you any more about these, so you'll have to read the book ;)

There's eight sections to peruse:
  • Soil
  • Water
  • Pest, disease and weed control
  • Mulch
  • Annuals, perennials and bulbs
  • Trees and shrubs
  • Vegetables and fruits
  • Lawn care

Some of the advice will seem obvious because it's been dinned into us for years as being good horticultural practice, but I still welcome the explanation of why that's so. I'm sure there's plenty of people out there who won't know it's the right thing to do, just as I'm also certain there's quite a few surprises in there for seasoned gardeners too.

Potential readers should note that this is a text heavy book with little in the way of illustration. On the whole this doesn't detract from the book's readability or clarity - there's a good blend of Jeff Gillman's associate professorship in horticulture and Meleah Maynard's journalistic roots. I found just one exception: I can't tell from the description on the correct pruning of trees and shrubs, whether it agrees or disagrees with the advice Kew's Tony Kirkham gave in the talk I attended last year. In this case, a photo or diagram would have helped.

As time goes on readers will need to start questioning the material in this book, just as the authors have evaluated the advice they've chosen to feature. For example, the use of compost tea and mycorrhizal fungi are debunked or rated as questionable respectively. However, when I went round RHS Wisley last year, I was told they're using both of these extensively and getting good results (RHS's Colin Crosbie via personal communication).

Future research will show who's right on this one and maybe refute some of the authors' other conclusions. I hope this book is revised and updated accordingly, otherwise it in turn will become a source of 'bad' advice like those which the authors are seeking to address.

Overall, I liked this book a lot. The authors have thoroughly reviewed the evidence available for the advice they've featured, and show why some of the 'received wisdom' about gardening is out of date or plain wrong. If we all start thinking about the gardening advice we receive and the reasoning behind why it is given, it'll help us all to become not only well informed gardeners, but better ones too.

Update: Quite a few of you were surprised at the crocks in pots being bad advice. Here's what Harriet Rycroft has to say on the subject. Seeing she spends a lot of her time planting up gorgeous pots at Whichford pottery, she should know what's right and wrong :)

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the publishers.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Salad Days: There Are More Questions...


With most experiments I've ever conducted (either in a professional capacity or my own amateurish potterings), the results often garner more questions than answers*. You may recall I concluded in last month's Salad Days there may be a slight advantage if winter indoor pea shoot growing is started off in a propagator.

However this answer inspired the following additional questions:
  1. Were the results repeatable, or a one-off?
  2. Would later growth or potential cropping times be affected?
  3. Would using a heated propagator make a bigger difference?
  4. Is there a difference in windowsill growing upstairs vs downstairs? (I was speculating the difference in height might have helped January's emergence/growth)
  5. What difference (if any) did soaking the peas first make to germination times? 
  6. What difference does windowsill aspect make? (I'm currently using south facing windowsills; I found last year I had to switch to westerly when the light and heat in March seemed too strong for my shoots)
So this month I've been trying to find answers to questions 2-4 (entirely) and number 1 (in part) and I've put questions 5 and 6 away for later. I've been  measuring the growth of the original peas and also started 3 new identical pea trays (same types of tray, growing media and the same seed variety and numbers used): 2 for upstairs (1 in a heated propagator, the other in the unheated propagator used last month) and 1 for downstairs (in an unheated propagator placed in the equivalent position on the windowsill). The above picture shows the upstairs peas happily growing away post emergence and after they'd reached the height of their respective propagator lids earlier this week.

Results of the growth observations (Question 2)

Although both trays had their lids removed from the first measurement onwards, the increased growth observed with the peas started in the tray with the propagator lid on continued for the rest of the growing period. Whether the increased yield at the time of picking is significant needs further investigation and is probably minimal for my scale of growing. NB some of these shoots were used to make the yummy Sprouted Lentil and Pea Shoot Salad :)

Results of the heated vs unheated propagator and upstairs vs downstairs emergence rates (Questions 3 and 4, plus a little bit of 1)

The peas started in the upstairs non-heated propagator emerged the earliest and have the highest germination rate. There is very little difference to choose between the emergence rates for peas placed in the kitchen (downstairs) non-heated propagator and the upstairs heated propagator. I'm now measuring growth rates and on average so far they're at 85mm (kitchen) and 105mm (upstairs, both propagators). I'll continue with these measurements over the next few weeks.

The pea emergence start day and overall curve for the non-heated propagator is similar to that seen last month, so it looks like the results are repeatable for propagator use at least.

Overall verdict

It's been an interesting few weeks conducting these experiments. It looks like I can save some of my electricity bill by not using heat for my indoor growing**. I like that I managed to pick my pea shoots a week earlier than last year, though whether I've significantly increased the actual crop obtained each time is questionable (though on a commercial scale there should be an advantage, they will be using giant propagators i.e. greenhouses and polytunnels ** after all...).

However for both the upstairs vs downstairs comparison and cropping times, there are too many variables not eliminated from these experiments. This year's earlier pickings could be due to e.g. better light levels this year; the poorer performance downstairs seen so far might not be due to lower light levels as I first pondered, but to lower temperatures (heat does rise after all), or both.

What is certain though at the end of this post, is I still have more questions than answers!

* = A bonus point to everyone who remembers this was a song by Johnny Nash ;)
** = so I've started off my chillis instead
*** = I don't have either of these, hence my windowsill growing and propagator ponderings

One further question: how's your salad progressing this month? Tell all in the comments, or add the link to your blog post in Mr Linky below...

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Garden Bloggers' Five Questions


February can be quite a hard month for blogging, so it's great to see Shirl's had her thinking cap on and come up with a couple of great ideas for us to have some fun :)

We've had lots of bloggity laughs in the past, thanks to Shirl, which she's reminisced about as well as then going on to outline her latest ideas. Today's post is to share 5 questions. These can be answering them or posing them, or a mixture of both. It's an easy theme to adapt to suit one's own purpose.

Previously on Veg Plotting I've had a lot of fun writing some spoof Gardeners' Question Time posts based on googled search terms which have hit my blog. Once again this is my starting point - using some of the top search terms from yesterday.

James Wong wearing wellies pics bought a smile to my face. Sadly I can't oblige, but I'll look out for an opportunity to do so at The Edible Garden Show next month.

I also had Gardeners' Question Time Chris Beardshaw tip for deterring squirrels. I'd love to know the answer to this one too, so if anyone was listening and remembers what it was, please reveal all in the comments below.

This week sees me sowing my salad seeds in earnest because the 10 hour daylight tipping point was reached here in the south-west at the weekend. You can see my latest batches of peas have been revelling in the sunshine and growing away strongly. Therefore it's appropriate that searches for How much light for salad growth and Low light for salad growth have found my blog this week.

If you'd like to find when the magic 10 hours arrives for the start of your indoor sowing season, then you may find my What's the Weather for Salad blog post helpful.

Seeing these search terms and the peas reminds me I'm answering lots of my own questions about windowsill salad growing with some ongoing experiments. There'll be more about this in Friday's Salad Days post. You're also welcome to join in, so stay tuned.

I've also been pondering whether to have a regular #saladchat hour on Twitter to accompany my monthly Salad Days round up. Do you think it would be useful to have a regular question/show and tell/anything else we can think of salad session on there as well? It would be written up on Veg Plotting afterwards for those not on Twitter or who can't make it. What do you think? Would you find it useful? What would you like to see happening on there?

Finally, my fifth question is a search term that's hit my blog which had me stumped - "moroccan cress" growing. What on earth is Moroccan cress? Can anyone enlighten me?

Thanks to Shirl for coming up with such a great idea. Feel free to join in over on your blog or add something in the comments below. She's also hosting The Garden Blog Prequel on the 26th February. The idea is to say something about your pre-blogging garden and how blogging has (or hasn't) affected it. There's more details here - everyone is welcome to join in!

Monday, 18 February 2013

Chelsea 2013 Sneak Preview: Gnomes


It's Chelsea Flower Show's centenary, so things are going to be done a little bit differently this year. I was at the press launch a few weeks ago and couldn't hide my glee that not only are gnomes going to be allowed in, they're a central component of the celebrations.

Previously Jekka McVicar has impishly smuggled Borage  onto her exhibit (see left - he was in party mode at the GMG Awards) and even taken him on tour round the site. This time he'll have plenty of play mates, each decorated by a celebrity* and auctioned off to raise pots of cash for the RHS's Campaign for School Gardening**. Jekka has already told me Borage will be very much on display this time, though I've yet to confirm with her the design of his jaunty new jacket as a result of this rash behaviour.

Whilst the RHS has relaxed some of its rules for this year, it seems the celebrations won't include balloons or flags as the ban on these items is still holding fast. I hope the exclusion won't extend to a spot of bubbly and some birthday cake ;)

* = like those flower pots were last year.

** = good news - it was reported last week that horticulture is set to be included in the new national curriculum due for publication in August 2013.

Sneak preview extra! Here's what the gnomes will look like before they're decorated.

Friday, 15 February 2013

GBBD: The Ideal Iris


Why ideal? I planted these Iris reticulata 'Katharine Hodgkin' in the gravel at the side of the house when I bought them at the RHS London Show sell-off 4 years ago and they've come up every year since. I have quite a few of the purple sort elsewhere in the garden, but I love the more unusual pale blue and yellow of these.

Elsewhere I've been replanting the snowdrops which some pesky squirrels or birds dug up recently, plus some self-sown crocus I found in the back garden's gravel path. These gave me the opportunity to fill some of the gaps in the guerrilla garden at the front of the house. Whilst there, I've been admiring the first flowering of the hellebores J from choir gave me last year :)

The winter aconites have just started to appear, and the daffodils are showing much promise for the weeks to come. Indoors, the paperwhites which I potted up when disregarding the rules are doing rather well.

The floral year most definitely has begun :)

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

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Seasonal Recipe: Sprouted Lentil and Pea Shoot Salad

Sprouted lentils ready to go
Inspired by Mark's recent recipe, I decided to use my sprouted lentils plus some of my propagated pea shoots and devise my own version. As it's winter, I thought something along Indian influenced lines would be good, with a spicy dressing to warm things up a bit.

This salad could also be served warm, if desired. Use a little oil to quickly stir fry the ingredients (starting with the carrot first), adding the cheese and the dressing right at the end.

The chopped and snipped ingredients

Ingredients


For the salad:
  • 125g lentils (sprouted weight, used fresh), mine were puy lentils, but any variety of sprouted lentil will do. Sprouted chick peas would also work well
  • 35g cheese, cubed - paneer to keep with the Indian influence or whatever hard cheese you have to hand. I used a mature cheddar
  • 15g pea shoots (approx 10-15 stems), freshly picked then roughly snipped with scissors into shorter lengths
  • 1 large carrot, cubed

For the dressing (adapted from this vinaigrette recipe):
  • 2 tablespoons (tbsp) vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp white wine vinegar
  • Generous 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • Pinch of salt
Method
  • Assemble the salad ingredients in a bowl
  • Place the dressing ingredients in a clean jar, fit the lid firmly and shake vigorously to blend
  • Add dressing to taste to the salad
  • Stir through so all the ingredients are evenly combined and coated with the dressing
  • Unused dressing can be stored in the fridge
The final assemblage
Serves 1 as a substantial lunch, or 2 as a side salad. The lentils give the salad an earthiness, but as they're sprouted they also have a sweetness which combines well with the pea shoots and carrot. 

For a summery Mediterranean influenced salad later in the year, substitute e.g. feta for the paneer/cheddar cheese; a mix of halved cherry tomatoes, chopped red pepper and diced cucumber for the carrot; and flat-leaf parsley for the pea shoots. Make the vinaigrette dressing as shown in the original recipe.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Against the Odds: Snowdrops


Today's new blog series Against the Odds was inspired by the reaction to my recent Wordless Wednesday post Tenacity Required. Jane Powers remarked she loves seeing 'all those roof and wall opportunists' and I realised I've been subconsciously collecting (and sometimes blogging) pictures of them for quite a while.

Today's picture is from Painswick Rococo garden which Helen*, Victoria and I visited last week. The snowdrops there are on top form at the moment, so it's well worth a visit if you're in the area. We were all intrigued how the pictured snowdrops had managed to self seed themselves (I'm assuming this is the case) into a wall several feet below their more conventionally growing cousins.

There's also been some very good news involving snowdrops reported recently. Research shows galanthine extracted from two snowdrops species (G. caucasicus and G. woronowii) can help to improve the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Now that's one snowdrop story I'm sure everyone is happy to see at any time of the year :)

* = You can read Helen's post about our visit here, as well as my post about a previous visit to Painswick in the snow. In contrast to today's tiny snapshot on this post, both give a grand tour of the garden, its history and gazillions of snowdrops

Update: Esther has written a delightful post with a wonderful picture of her Scruffiest Snowdrop :)

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Win a Set of Gardening Tools!


Here's something to cheer up the winter blues! 

Today I'm teaming up with Gardens Galore to bring you the first super competition for this year. 
The prize is a Draper fork, spade and mini trowel and fork kit valued at over £50 :) 

The weather forecast may be dire, but before you know it, the evenings will be light again and we'll getting outside to prepare for the coming season. A new kit of tools could be the very thing to help you get cracking!


If you can't make use of the prize, why not enter anyway? I'm sure there's a community project, school or something similar in your neighbourhood who'd welcome your donation.

All you need to do is leave a comment below to enter. If you tweet a link to this post or RT my link, that'll double your chances of winning. The closing date is midnight, Sunday, 24th February. Comments and tweets will be allocated a number corresponding with the order of entry and then I'll use a random number generator to determine the winner. 


Note
: this giveaway is open to UK residents only. Please ensure your comment or tweet gives me the means to contact you if you're the winner, otherwise your entry won't be valid.


Good luck!

Friday, 8 February 2013

Winter Twigs


I've been inspired by Elizabeth's walk around her Trees on the Boundary to finally get around to downloading the Woodland Trust's guide to Winter Twigs. Whilst I'm already familiar with a number of the common hedgerow species, there's still a few others I'd like to identify when I'm out walking.

The picture shows just half of the guide: I decided to fold my printed A4 sheet in half and laminate it so it'll last longer. The resultant A5 size makes it handier for keeping in my jacket's map pocket too. You'll see from the picture I've picked up a twig from our garden, to show you how the guide makes it really easy to identify our most common deciduous trees.

The Woodland Trust do a number of useful guides in their Nature Detectives series, including one which helps to look for the early signs of spring. Both this and the twigs guide could be useful activities for next week's half term holiday, if the weather permits :)

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Preparing for Green Garlic


This week I'm sorting through last year's crop of garlic, to make sure what's left is still sound. It's about now that stored garlic remembers its previous life out on the plot and prepares for the next growing season by starting to sprout.

As the growing weather was poor last year, many of my bulbs are smaller than usual and quite a few of the cloves have been fiddly to deal with for cooking. I still have plenty of bulbs left, so I had a bit of a 'why on earth am I putting up with this?' moment and decided to separate out the larger cloves. As you can see, there's some smaller cloves left over.

I remembered my 'accidental' green garlic from way back and so I've sown these into various pots. The idea is I'll have 'clumps' of green garlic in a few weeks time which can be used for stir fries, stews and flavouring salad dressings. They're too small for bulb growing as little cloves in turn beget little bulbs. This approach means we'll have some fresh garlic stems to use ahead of the main crop of bulbs.

Also NAH will be pleased as there's no more fiddly cloves to deal with when he makes our regular Thursday night curry. Harvesting trendy green garlic and a happy NAH - that's win-win all round :)

Monday, 4 February 2013

Breaking the Rules: Bulbs


This is the first post in my new series called Breaking the Rules, in which I'll be looking at some of the gardening advice available to see if it can be bent or even completely broken. I'm not an expert, but I know there's some advice I followed at first, then found doesn't need following slavishly.

First up are spring flowering bulbs.

The picture shows a packet of tulips last Saturday. You may have come across something similar recently going for a song at your local DIY store or garden centre. Did you buy them too? I hope so. According to the advice, I should have planted them last December at the latest. But there's nothing wrong with these tulips. The bulbs aren't soft and soggy or mouldy, the sprouted tips are showing a relatively healthy colour and they aren't long and straggly. Planted now, they should still do well, though they'll probably flower a couple of weeks later than if I'd planted them at the 'right' time.

Why can I get away with planting them late?

The key to success is to select firm bulbs with no traces of mould. I did have one shrivelled up bulb in my pack (which I've since composted), but seeing I only paid 10p for them, that's not bad. Tulips don't start to root until the weather gets colder, so if we have plenty of that to come (and Saturday was pretty chilly!), my bulbs should still perform well.

As we've had so much rain lately and I garden on clay, I decided to plant them into some large black plastic pots. Tulips don't like their feet in water, so I don't currently have the right conditions for them in my garden. I've previously found they don't particularly like soiless compost either because it can dry out, so I used a 50:50 mix of that plus the last of some John Innes number 3 I had to hand.

The pots are now on the patio, just outside the kitchen doors. They might stay there to brighten up the view come April, or I may decide to move them into a garden border later, to help plug a gap.

I've previously had some success planting daffodils at this time of the year, which is even later than advised! I believe like these tulips, the keys to success are ensuring the bulbs are still sound, using a good quality compost and having some luck with the weather. I've found a cold spell is definitely needed for either daffodils or tulips to thrive. I've yet to see whether I can plant late and then get them to come back every year, but when a pack is a late winter bargain, that doesn't really matter.

Whether this rule bending can be applied to bulbs planted at other times remains to be seen...

I see I'm in good company as James Alexander-Sinclair has also owned up to planting some of his tulips late this year. So grab that bargain (or bag you'd forgotten about) and get planting now :)

Update: Helen Gazeley has kindly been in touch with her posts on what happened when she planted tulips and daffodils in March. Unlike me, she had disappointing results (though the tulips did come up fine the following year), probably because March is just a tad too late and too warm for bending this rule.

Conclusion: A rule which can be bent if timing and the right conditions allow, but it can't be completely broken.

Have you successfully bent or broken a gardening rule? Tell me about it in the comments below...

Friday, 1 February 2013

GBMD: Subversive Bees


Previously on Veg Plotting, I told you about Everything in the Garden is Lovely. Everyone at choir fell in love with this set of wirework bee 'formations'.


Like them, I initially thought they represented the bees' 'waggle dance' or other messages they communicate to each other. But I then looked closer (click on the pics to enlarge if needed) and found...


... that even in art, there's an opportunity to be a tad subversive and get the viewer thinking just that little bit more :)


I've been trying to decide which one is my favourite...


... this one has resonance because I was in a similar situation when I left university in 1980 - though at least I was lucky enough to have a university grant during my studies - and I had to take a job I didn't really want (civil service) instead of one related to what I'd actually studied (Agricultural and Environmental Science).


This is a slightly different post for Garden Bloggers' Muse Day, but I hope you don't mind not having a poem this month, especially as...


... there was good news yesterday re two of our major DIY store chains pledging to withdraw products harmful to bees.

Update: How remiss of me - I haven't credited the artist :( It's Cathy Miles - the exhibition also has her dragonflies, plus wirework watering cans and garden tools, which are all rather fun. However, it's the juxtaposition of these wirework bees and the text which have stayed with me the most since visiting the exhibition.
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