Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Friday, 31 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 week means further spread will be thwarted (it doesn't like temperatures above 16 oC). According to Wikipedia, I need to keep the tree well-watered and with a good supply of nitrogen over the summer to minimize stress.

I was going to plant the tree out in a large pot in the centre of the patio. I'm now reconsidering that decision, as I'd like to build a shelter for it to overwinter under, so I don't need to spray with a copper-based fungicide in the autumn. I'm also interested in what the tree's supplier has to say...

Have you had any unexpected arrivals this spring?

* = waiting for me to shift a moribund box out of the designated pot first ;)

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

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 form as well as flower.

Update 16th June: Spot the parent? ;)

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Chelsea Fringe: The Bloggers' Cut

What goes with gardens and gardening? Why, cake of course!

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 scones.

Then what?

You write a blog post about your chosen activity. Veg Plotting forms the hub of the event, so you'll also need to add the link to your blog post into the Mr Linky I'll publish here on the 2nd. We (and other Fringe goers) can then sit down with a nice cuppa and another slice of cake for a fantastic virtual garden and cake tour around the world wide web.

But I won't have time to publish my post if I'm eating my cake in a fab garden somewhere

That's OK. You have until June 9th - the last day of the Chelsea Fringe - to publish and link into the post I'll publish on June 2nd. I'll also put a badge linking to this post up in my right sidebar, so you can find it easily. Ideally, I'd like as many posts linked into as possible on the 2nd, so there's plenty of time for everyone to visit your blogs.

NB Your post needn't be that long if you're pushed for time. Just a picture plus enough to explain where you were and what you were doing garden(ing) and cake-wise would be great :)

What if it rains, or if I'm doing something else on June 2nd?

Rainy garden visits are perfect for cake! Or, you could think about your favourite, funniest or grumpiest garden cake moment from the past and write about that. Perhaps you have a favourite way of using your garden or allotment's produce in cake form - people love recipes! Or how about telling us about some of your favourite cakes and the gardens where you've eaten them? Perhaps you've opened your garden for charity in the past - I'm sure there's a cake-related story you could tell us from that, or maybe you could put together a top 5 or 10 cake 'pop chart', depending on what sold well. You can write about anything, as long as it involves cake, plus your garden, or a garden visit, or a gardening activity.

How many are taking part?

I don't know yet! I'm doing a massive email and twitter campaign this week and anything you can do to help spread the word would be great. We had 30 people attend the bloggers' meet up at Malvern in 2010 and 100 take part in The 52 Week Salad Challenge last year. Anything like those figures would be marvellous :)

I don't have a blog, can I still participate?

Yes. If you're on Twitter, I'm using the hashtag #bloggerscut to collect together all the news and pictures everyone tweets on the day. You could also join in that way, or you could write and post a pic on my Veg Plotting Facebook page (you'll need to Like the page first, though).

Alternatively, you're welcome to email me (vegplotting at gmail dot com) with your picture, plus brief details of your garden cake moment (make sure I have your name and location) and I'll add them to my post in some way.

What are you going to do?

I haven't made my mind up yet as I have a few ideas! Also, when you tell us about your garden cake moment (in whatever way), please make sure I know its location. I'd like to put a map together, so everyone can see how far across the world our virtual tour has reached.

I'm still not clear on what I need to do

Email me (vegplotting at gmail dot com) and I'll reply to you directly as well as amending this post to make sure things are clear to everyone.

So, let's grab some cake and a garden, then have lots of fun on the 2nd!

Thanks to Jane Perrone for naming this event :)

* = for those of you who don't know what the Chelsea Fringe is, here's the introduction from the website's home page:

"The first Chelsea Fringe took place in 2012 and is a new festival for everyone who’s interested in gardens and gardening. With its emphasis on participation (most events are free), the Fringe is also about pushing the boundaries – its inguaural programme included a peripatetic bicycling beer garden, a floating forest installation in Portobello dock, an aromatic ‘garden of disorientation’ as well as pop-up community gardens and horticultural happenings of all hues. Anyone can enter a project – as long as it’s interesting, legal and about gardens, flowers, veg-growing or landscape.

The Chelsea Fringe coincides and overlaps with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show but is completely independent of it. The Fringe is entirely powered by volunteers."

If you like what you see, why not become a Friend of the Fringe? It costs a mere tenner to join and will help keep all those volunteers going at full power.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Lost in Chelsea

A development broadcasting its greener credentials

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.

Very early stages of preparing for Chelsea in Bloom

The final stages of preparation nearby combined with a little light window cleaning

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

Elsewhere everything is in place ready for opening...

... and there's also the opportunity to have some fun
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 promoting British grown flowers.

This dead tree was a stark reminder of the importance of Jo Thompson's show garden

Georgie's husband (who was also in the shop window on Monday) was directly involved with Jo Thompson's Stop the Spread show garden as he provided the poignant ash sculpture seen at the entrance.

Here's hoping it's not RIP

Stop the Spread

Friday, 24 May 2013

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 foreground is left with a central core of intact leaves, whilst the cut one to the rear is cut completely across and left to regenerate.

Both methods are deemed to be superior to the whole plant harvesting method because the yield and/or harvesting period can be extended substantially. Cut salads will regenerate leaves about three times and last year I was able to pick 'red salad bowl' leaves from July until the first frosts in November. It was perfect for growing salads in small spaces. However, I've yet to find any references as to which method does indeed have the highest or longest yield, so I'm off experimenting again - using my windowsill grown lettuces this time :)

I also have some oca to experiment with. The tubers are teeny tiny and Thompson & Morgan have seen fit to issue a notice admitting they're small (owing to huge demand this year), but they should still grow OK. Owing to the cool weather I've chitted them first, which showed one of the tubers isn't viable. The rest are now planted into modules with some coir and are awaiting the warmer weather (at the end of the month - in theory) and planting out time. Oca can be used in salads, so I've added it to my Challenge for this year. NB if you're growing oca (or achocha), you might like to help Emma Cooper out with her M.Sc dissertation project by filling out a short questionnaire.

This month I've also learnt:

  • The pictured mustards, pak choi and mizuna were indeed ready as estimated last month. However, they're going straight to seed! Even though the weather is still cool, they're still flowering at their usual time. Luckily the elongated stems and flowers are also delicious in salads. I wonder if this means daylength is the trigger for flowering?
  • The difference between hydroponics and aquaponics. Hydroponics is growing plants in water without soil, or with a vastly reduced amount (like my windowsill planter). Aquaponics is the same, with the introduction of fish into the system. This reduces the amount of nutrients needed as the waste products from the fish provide them instead. More on hydroponics to come...
  • Putting spiky pruned rose twigs on veg beds (as shown in Veg Street) really does stop cats using them (the veg beds that is) as a loo.
How's your salad this month? Add the link to the URL of your salad post in Mr Linky below, or leave a comment...

The 52 Week Salad Challenge is sponsored by Greenhouse Sensation.

Note to readers: sponsorship goes towards my blogging costs and does not affect my independence.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

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

Separated at Birth? Trailfinders waterfalls vs a slate fountain

"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

Actually, this look from the WaterAid garden is very achievable, but Tagetes wasn't available in the selection on offer. A surprising amount of bedding was seen at Chelsea this year - the WaterAid ones symbolise the income Indian women are able to earn from growing and making ceremonial garlands, once there's a reliable source of clean, local water

"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

There were a lot of greenhouses to choose from at Chelsea, but I only saw one of these two. Gnomes are optional.

"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."

#4 Topiary Balls

Now, which one shall I have? Roger Platts' or...

..."Artificial topiary balls are perfect. They are UV and weather resistant, can be used in pots or as a hanging decoration and never need watering."

I suppose in its widest sense, anything you do in the garden this week could be interpreted as 'getting the Chelsea look'. For instance, any plant you choose to grow is very likely to be in an exhibit or show garden somewhere if you look hard enough. Actually, the easiest transformation you could do is to sweep your patio. They do an awful lot of that at Chelsea ;)

Are you getting the 'Chelsea look' this week?

Update 24/5: 'News' just in from a major supermarket - "W
e have found that the nation have been inspired by the Chelsea Flower Show and decided to get green-fingered with sales of hanging baskets set to flourish by 700%."

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

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 this morning's medals result. I for one am sad to see them go and wish them well for the future.

Update: Since I published this post, there's been the usual furore over the judging at Chelsea. Christopher Bradley-Hole has helped create lots of publicity for his show garden for The Telegraph** by being openly critical of the judges' choice for Best in Show.

It's interesting that his and the Fleming's garden both celebrate native flora, yet in very different ways. Fleming's is exuberant and colourful, whilst Christopher Bradley-Hole's is more restrained and self-contained with a design meant to be viewed from above. If that's the case it's a shame he didn't install a viewing platform similar to the one put in place for the Australian garden.

The Fleming's garden is one of my favourites (Adam Frost's is another), yet The Telegraph's is one I hated. It seems to be a bit of 'marmite' garden, with the designers I've talked to loving it and ordinary gardeners like me having the opposite reaction. I found this garden too controlled, flat and claustrophobic.

Driving into Bath on Wednesday I suddenly realised why that is. I much prefer the beautifully kept hedgerows with the cow parsley, dandelions and grasses of the verges waving at me as I drive by. They have the movement and life which the show garden lacks. I count myself very lucky to be able to see the real thing within a few yards of where I live instead of the controlled pastiche seen at Chelsea. I wonder if I lived in Australia with the landscape of the Fleming's garden as my everyday, would I feel the opposite about these two gardens?

* = I predict lots more show gardens with sound(s) at Chelsea next year. I love that the designer recorded the frogs from his own garden for the show :)
** = and lots of hits on The Telegraph's website presumably - possibly the real intention of the article in the first place methinks

Monday, 20 May 2013

It's Chelsea Showtime :)

Heucheraholics' Sean and Jules demonstrate their cunning plan to beat the showtime weather this year at Malvern  Spring Show recently. For some reason my camera was so shocked, it decided to overexpose Jules' shot ;)
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 of its London home already - hurrah! Blogging buddy-wise there's Naomi serving up a second slice of cake in Finsbury Park and Sarah Salway is hosting an idiosyncratic virtual literary garden tour over on her blog. The latter event means we can say the Fringe is a worldwide event in its second year :)

You may also find the following Apps useful:

  • RHS Chelsea Flower Show (iPhone only)
  • Chelsea Fringe (Apple product users only) - sorry link no longer available

Which gardening events or show(s) are you planning to visit this year?

Friday, 17 May 2013

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 the clothes worn by the exhibitors). We have the alpine societies to thank for today's show gardens. It was they who pioneered taking their 'table top' displays outside the show tent and showcasing their plants in large rock gardens built especially for the RHS' pre-Chelsea Spring shows. That tradition continued into the new Chelsea venue and part of the show garden area today is still called the Rock Garden Embankment even though they've long gone. I wonder what the alpine societies make of their legacy today?

The show has seen other huge changes - the shift from a society event and the start of the 'season', through to a more celebrity-led occasion today. Then there's the rise of the show garden above that of the plantsman (helped enormously by TV coverage, though the two are in better balance when visiting the show). In the early years, an enthusiastic, but knowledgeable amateur could hold his own (it was almost invariably a he) with all the professionals. Today it's all big business and corporate sponsorship, with very little room for the amateur (though you can find them if you look hard enough, particularly if they're a national collection holder or from a school).

All this and more is documented meticulously in words and pictures and is very readable. I also loved the inclusion of the 'My Chelsea' features scattered throughout the book. Here many of Chelsea's great 'personalities' - many of them from behind the scenes - say why the show is so special to them. I particularly enjoyed Jerry Harpur recalling how few photographers were in attendance when he first started. Now there's over 60 of them, all competing in a diminishing market for their pictures. It's just as well for them that Chelsea is one of the few times when gardening becomes mainstream media.

You've probably guessed I've enjoyed this book immensely, but might be wondering where it fits in my Chelsea sneak preview series, seeing it reflects very much on the past. That's because some of the photographs from the RHS's archive have been made into poster-sized exhibits for display throughout the showground. I'm very much looking forward to seeing them on Monday and hope my favourite one (see pages 32-33) is there.

If you like the look of this book, you can possibly get your hands on a copy as Karen is kindly giving hers away. She may not appreciate I've told you this as she's rather hoping she can keep it for herself ;)

Disclosure: I was given a copy of this book for review purposes.

Previous Sneak Previews for Chelsea 2013:

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

GBBD: Apple Blossom Time

Herefordshire Russet & Red Windsor - I'm rather liking the apple, Pulmonaria and Dicentra combo at the bottom left

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.

Monday, 13 May 2013

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 glutbuster idea :)

  • 2kg rhubarb stems (trimmed weight), roughly chopped (as you probably don't have the means to weigh your plunder up at the plot, this equates to a huge armful)
  • 2 large oranges
  • 8-10 whole star anise
  • 1.2 kg granulated sugar (though method later says 600-800g)
  • Citric acid or juice of 3 lemons (both optional)

  1. Put all the rhubarb into a large pan (a very large pan actually!) and add 1.5 litres cold water (you don't want to cover it completely with water as this dilutes the flavour of the cordial). Using a potato peeler take four or so strips of skin from each orange, add this to the pan with the juice of both oranges (zapped in the microwave first on full for 30 seconds to maximise the amount of juice obtained) and add the star anise.
  2. Bring the rhubarb up to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer gently until the rhubarb is soft (it may look like mush at this stage). Take off the heat and allow to cool for an hour (or overnight in my case).
  3. Pour the rhubarb and juice into a large jelly bag and allow the juice to drip through overnight (if you don't have a jelly bag, a large piece of muslin tied to the legs of an upside down stool makes a great improvised one). 
  4. Now pour the collected juice into a pan (and compost the unwanted rhubarb solids) and on a low heat add the sugar (about 600-800g, but do taste as you go, so you get the sweetness you want, remember it will get diluted with water). Stir until the sugar has dissolved.
  5. You can add 2 teaspoons of citric acid at this stage if you want to store this for several months, but this is not necessary if the cordial is going to be used straight away. The citric acid does give the cordial a good tart kick, or you can add the juice of 3 lemons for a sharper flavour (I've used neither and I'm still very pleased with the flavour. I'm not intending this cordial to stay around very long, so no citric acid for me)
  6. Allow the cordial to cool.
  7. Pour into sterilised bottles (I warm them in the oven at 100oC for a few minutes beforehand) and store in the fridge. Makes approximately 1.5 litres.
  8. Dilute to taste and add ice cubes and/or a mint leaf if so desired
Other Notes
  • This cordial can be made from March to May depending on the rhubarb varieties you have available: Timperley Early in March, Stockbridge Arrow in April and Victoria for May. I grow Victoria, hence this recipe appearing on the blog this month :)
  • Some finely chopped fresh ginger could be used instead of the star anise. NAH reckons cinnamon would also work well.
  • Seasonal variations include elderflower in May/June, then red or white currants, followed by scented leaf pelargoniums, plum (or back to rhubarb again) in August and finally quince in the autumn. You might also like to try making my Easy Apple Juice in the autumn.
  • Rhubarb is used as a marker by archaeologists to indicate habited areas
  • Rhubarb can last 100 years - divide every 3 years in July/August and don't harvest for 3 years to allow the divided rhubarb to establish itself again
  • It's a hungry crop, so feed well in late winter - in Yorkshire (where the rhubarb triangle is) they use shoddy (waste from the woollen industry) as a feed
  • Keep picking rhubarb from spring to late summer, then allow the plant some recovery time for next year's crop
  • NB citric acid can be hard to get hold of - try health food or brewing shops
Related Post

For lots more seasonal recipes - not just for rhubarb - have a look at my Easy Recipe Finder. Oh, and the recipes are pretty easy too :)

Friday, 10 May 2013

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 sprightly as he is when I get to his age :)

This photo illustrates Ian's total confidence and experience as an exhibitor. This is his entire stock of P 'Sabatini', just 5 plants (there's one hidden behind the label). I'd be scared to death of losing them, but I'm sure Ian gives them the utmost of care.

I hope pleiones continue to be exhibited by other growers. I've found the shows are a great way of discovering and learning about new plants. I might have eventually come across them by other means, but it wouldn't have been half as much fun. And what could be better than talking 1:1 with the expert on them?

What plant discoveries have you made at garden shows?

PS here's a couple of extra snippets from me elsewhere on the blogosphere: a suitable Friday Bench plus the Best in Show from the Floral Marquee. And Patient Gardener made her show debut :)

PPS What does the curator of RHS Wisley do on his day off? Why, attend Malvern of course! I caught up with Colin Crosbie in the Floral Marquee,  where he enthused about the display of Primula sieboldii we had in front of us. It was he who told me it was Ian Butterfield's last show.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

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 there's no thinning needed. So, there's quite a bit of time and bending over saved during the growing season.

Lately I've seen another benefit. I'm suffering from RSI at the moment (and typing this isn't helping!) and as well as the pain, I'm finding fine finger control quite difficult. It means sowing larger seeds like cucumber is trickier than usual and quite often the seed pops out of my fingers before I can get it into the compost. So whilst I'd initially dismissed the cucumber seed mat as not really needed because larger seeds are so easy to handle, it's actually been a godsend this year.

Seed mats and tapes seen at the Edible Garden Show in March
Seed Developments is a British company (hurrah!) based in Somerset and is the top manufacturer of these products in the world. You won't find them named as such in the shops because they tend to 'badge produce' for companies like Chiltern Seeds, ProVeg, Suttons and DT Brown. I also see there's a new option available: a new online retailer (supplied by Seed Developments) is selling seed tapes, discs and carpets with lots more varieties on offer. I'm heartened by this as there's an opportunity for them to offer a wider variety of seeds to usual.

Georgie over at Common Farm Flowers is also trialling some seed tray sized flower mats. As a commercial grower, she sees possible advantages in terms of sowing time and optimum seed spacing. I was also going to blog about the production process (as it's the kind of thing I find fascinating), but I see I've been beaten to it already :)
    The 52 Week Salad Challenge is sponsored by Greenhouse Sensation.

    Note to readers: sponsorship goes towards my blogging costs and does not affect my independence.

    Tuesday, 7 May 2013

    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 like last year's post on Talking Compost at Holt Farm about how they make their own organic compost mixes.

    Update: Head Gardener James is doing his "Slugs, Bugs, Trug and a Pug" talk this Friday at Holt Farm in support of Horatio's Garden for SSIT. So now's your chance to find out how they do it first hand AND for a good cause :)

    Sunday, 5 May 2013

    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 resentment. I hadn't realised that two government ministries were involved (Food and Agriculture) and they didn't always pull together. I also hadn't realised that Mr Middleton, the nation's first celebrity gardener, wasn't that keen on growing vegetables!

    It's interesting to see the government calculated that just under half a man's daily calorie intake (1,200 out of 2,500 calories, up from 900 at the war's outbreak) was provided via domestic production. Seeing most of this was mainly via vegetables (relatively low in calories compared to meat), it's an impressive increase.

    As food security is poised to become an increasing issue, I wonder whether we could do this again? As an allotmenteer, I get some reassurance from the fact I can ensure NAH and I continue to have enough tasty food on our plates. I also wonder whether our diet would be as dull (though nutritionally adequate) as the wartime diet was. Would we give up growing the more exotic crops such as courgettes and peppers which have become popular in modern times, in favour of more productive potatoes and cabbages?

    This is a well-written, chronologically told story, which has given me lots of food for thought, especially seeing I revisited this book for today's review in a week when Elizabeth has spent a fascinating five days taking part in the Live Below the Line campaign.

    Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher. I also reviewed Twigs Way and Mike Brown's Digging for Victory a while ago. Whilst both cover the same subject, they're both well worth a read.

    Friday, 3 May 2013

    Seasonal Recipe: Universal Pesto

    Preparing green garlic for 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 from each ingredient line in the list where there's a choice. I need to do some experimentation to see whether any of the leaves and/or nuts can be combined successfully. Or you could have a go and let me know how you get on :)

    • 100g leaves - basil (if you're feeling traditional), rocket, wild or green garlic, carrot tops, parsley (curly or flat leaf), nasturtiums, watercress, spinach, coriander, sorrel, lemon balm (excellent with fish), bull's blood beetroot leaves (for a pink result)
    • 150ml oil - olive (any kind), sunflower, rapeseed
    • 50g nuts - pine nuts (toasted or not, I prefer toasted), walnuts, almonds, brazil nuts, cashews - shelled weight
    • 50-60g hard, tasty cheese e.g. pecorino, parmesan, very mature cheddar, crumbly goat's cheese, feta - finely grated (or crumbled in the case of the goat's cheese or feta)
    • 1-2 garlic cloves (if not using wild or green garlic)
    • Squeeze of lemon juice (optional, I'm also pondering the possibilities of adding some lemon balm instead)
    • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste - if the watercress or nasturtiums are on top form, you might not need any pepper
    1. Wash the leaves if needed and discard any damaged leaves or pieces of grass you've inadvertently harvested (the latter particularly applied to my green garlic!)
    2. Put all the ingredients (except the olive oil, salt and pepper) into a food processor and blitz for a couple of minutes until well mixed together
    3. With the machine still running, slowly pour in the oil and mix until it's combined with the rest of the ingredients
    4. Add salt and pepper to taste
    Now all I need is some fresh pasta and we're sorted for tonight's tea :)

    NB 1. We're not planning on going out tonight, which is just as well seeing the garlic pesto has quite a kick to it! If you've chosen garlic as your leaf but wish to have a milder flavour, then firstly sweat it in a little oil for a few minutes. That should do the trick, or you can mix in some natural yoghurt or half fat creme fraiche afterwards to make a milder, creamier alternative for pasta, baked potatoes etc. Oh, and eating some parsley afterwards helps freshen up the breath :)

    NB 2. Tip from Paolo from Seeds of Italy - if making basil pesto use a pestle and mortar instead as contact with metal can turn the leaves a nasty shade of black.

    Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for a few days, or added to a clean jar and topped up with some extra oil, so that it keeps well. Ensure it's completely covered by the layer of oil as this prevents air getting to the pesto below. Alternatively the pesto can be frozen in suitably portion-sized containers for a taste of spring or summer in the depths of winter.

    And if you have a variation to add to the list, do let me know in the comments below :)

    Update - I've had some fab ideas from people in the comments which I've added to the recipe in italics. Thanks everyone! I also made the pictured batch of pesto today using three quarters green garlic to one quarter blander lettuce leaves. I can report that the result still has quite a kick! I'm also told that using parsley in the mix gives a much greener pesto.

    Update 2 - Love and a Licked Spoon has blogged her recipe for chive and lemon pesto. She's used a slightly different ratio of ingredients to those I've given here, but it sounds wonderful.

    Wednesday, 1 May 2013

    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?

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