Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

OOTS: Where's Our Public Planting Legacy?

The Olympic Park last year, which is now called the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Part of the northern parkland has now re-opened with the rest due to open in spring 2014
This week sees us wallowing in nostalgia. It's a year since London 2012 and all kinds of sporting activities - such as The Anniversary Games - are being held to recapture that feel-good factor. Much has been made by the media recently about the Games' legacy: it seems we're playing more sport these days, as well as watching it. Hooray for us!

Roadsides got the "Olympic" treatment as well as the more frequently photographed
pedestrian only areas

Since my visit to the Olympic Park last year, I've been thinking about a different legacy; one concerning our public open space. Whilst there I heard "Look at those flowers!", many a time and then, "Wow, that's amazing!". I wandered around the Park with a huge grin, simply listening to everyone's incredulous reaction to their surroundings.

Green roofs and walls were also in abundance - this wall protected one of the transformer
areas in the heart of the Olympic Park

Back home, isn't that the kind of reaction we should all have to our own public space? Surely it's not just about the legacy embodied in the Olympic Park? Looking at Wikipedia and the Olympic Legacy websites, it seems that so far it is. Now, if the reaction I saw last year could be made nationally, wouldn't THAT be an Olympic legacy to be proud of?

A country scene? No, it's Castle Park in Bristol two weeks ago, right in the heart of the city

Sadly it's an opportunity which has largely been missed. Sure, I've noticed an increase in Pictorial Meadows style roundabouts and suchlike locally, but there was much more than that on show at the Olympic Park. Besides, planting a Pictorial Meadow isn't the only answer. Thousands of trees plus tens of thousands of perennials also formed key components of the planting scheme in London.

Nigel Dunnett's RBC 'Blue Water Rooftop Garden' at RHS Chelsea 2013
I had a long chat with Nigel Dunnett at Chelsea back in May. He told me the Olympic Park's Pictorial Meadows won't be a permanent feature as those in charge of the Park consider them not sustainable enough in the longer term. Instead, he advocates the kind of planting as seen in his Chelsea Show Garden this year, which made use of a more perennial planting palette (NB the picture link has much more details and you might also like to look at my report on Nigel's workshop on Rain Gardens).

Nigel's in much demand for talks and workshops about the Olympic Park, so hopefully his knowledge and experience is being passed on to those who can make this a reality in our public space. I thought immediately this kind of thing should be offered as a masterclass under the Britain in Bloom umbrella, but when I contacted the RHS, it isn't yet. Shame.

A vision of the re-styled athletes' Olympic village - presented by Delancy (the company
converting the village  into residential housing) at this year's RHS Chelsea. Much more
shrubbery and an echo of the Pictorial Meadows via the Zantedeschia

Speaking to various nurserymen at Chelsea, they haven't seen much of an "Olympic effect", even amongst those who supplied the Games. A further thought was offered by Palmstead Nurseries last week (via email) which may help to explain why. They've raised an issue ahead of their workshop in September re whether the Building Research Establishment's BREEAM sustainability point system might limit the public planting palette too much. Perhaps this system was modified or not used for the Olympic Park's planting? It'll be interesting to see if and how it has changed when the Park fully reopens next year.

Another common issue raised whilst I've been researching this post is just how difficult it is for the public to effect change. Far too often Britain in Bloom and numerous other community schemes succeed through the sheer will and determination of a handful of people, often against the odds. Perhaps we've missed a golden opportunity to assess how and why the Olympic Park succeeded and then to modify e.g. planning laws so that 2012's success can be built into all our communities with far less hassle.

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore. Another public space with the wow factor, which was
 designed by the British architects Grant Associates               Photo credit: Darren Chinn

We all deserve the wow factor in our public spaces, wherever we may be. It improves our health and keeps the feel-good factor going. You may think that the above example is way too costly as it cost hundreds of millions of pounds. However, it's already close to covering its costs through increased tourism in Singapore and its far higher than predicted visitors. That's in less than two years since it opened. Good public space can be cost-effective :)

A final thought. There's been much concern lately about the future of horticulture in this country. Maybe if there were more places like the Olympic Park across the UK, perhaps we might not only inspire a generation to enjoy sport, but also inspire a new generation into horticulture too?*

* = or as NAH put it down the pub last night, "Inspire a germination" ;)

Monday, 29 July 2013

Of Flying Ants and Citizen Science


Last Thursday our patio was heaving with hundreds of flying ants as they made their getaway to mate and find pastures new. I'd seen the odd ant around previously, but hadn't quite realised how many we actually have. They were pouring out of around 10 places between the slabs, plus both large containers outside the back door were transformed into writhing black from their usual terracotta.

I'm wondering if we have lots of nests in our garden all co-ordinating themselves in some way, or was I witnessing an emergence from some vast subterranean network beneath our feet?

Thanks to @BrotchieLight (who hails from Canada), I was alerted to this fantastic blog, contrasting Lisa Smith's experience this year with an account of 'flying ant day' written in 1707. Her post also links to the Society of Biology's flying ant survey which invites everyone to send in details of their experiences.

An earlier survey of 6,000 'citizen scientists' has already dispelled the myth there is just one day each year when this phenomenon occurs. The results show it happening over a number of days in July and August with two peaks of especially high sightings either side of a low pressure system moving across the UK.

It also showed emergence tends to occur between 4 and 6pm. I took my photograph at 3.57pm after watching my ants for around 5 minutes, so they were slightly on the early side. We had rain on Tuesday, so that fits in with last year's low pressure system observation.

Whilst last year's results dispelled a myth and made new discoveries, the Society of Biology is repeating the survey again to see if the results show that this is the usual kind of ant activity, and to discover fresh insights. I've already filled in my survey which took less than 5 minutes. Here's the form, so you can join in too.

Update 1st August: I had a second flying ant day today at 12.45pm. Not as massive as the first one, but on a very hot day after rain on Monday (lots + an all-day storm) and Tuesday.

And whilst you're outside, why not take part in The Big Butterfly Count too? It's the perfect excuse to sit and enjoy your garden for 15 minutes :)

Friday, 26 July 2013

Salad Days: A Quick Look at Hydroponics

Separated at Birth? Hydroponic-ish grown tomatoes (left) vs those grown in containers as usual
We're taking a break from our usual Salad Days broadcast re salad leaves to have a look at how my tomato crop is faring and to see some preliminary results from trialling a self-watering container.

NB These planters strictly speaking aren't hydroponics ones because they're using compost as the growing media: with hydroponics an inert material such as a mineral wool or clay pebbles are used. However, I believe the kit I'm using utilises many of the principles of hydroponics and can be used to explain what this growing method is about.

As you can see the self-watering container on shown on the left (aka Quadgrow) consists of four planters which sit above a large tank of water. Inside, a strip of absorbent material is fed through a hole in the bottom of each planter and the material acts as a wick to transfer the water into the compost. Far less compost is needed than with the usual kind of containers; just enough to hold the plant in place and allow it to take up water and nutrients successfully. So far the above photos show what a difference that can make.

The tomatoes are Gardeners Delight and Black Krim: planted out at the same time with 3 plants going into my usual containers and four into the Quadgrow. Some further points to note:

  • Fresh peat-free compost was used for all the pots
  • Both sets of plants are next to each other on the sunniest part of the patio (I've reversed their positions above)
  • I bought plants on special offer from my local garden centre as I had no room to grow my own from seed and I have a dismal track record in starting my own tomatoes anyway. I needed to start this trial with plants as similar as possible, so I thought it wise to use my Cheat's Guide ;)
  • All tomatoes were planted outside at the end of June after the last frosts, though at that time temperatures were still inclined to dip quite a bit at night
  • Water has been topped up in the Quadgrow every 10 days and the container tomatoes watered every other day
  • I haven't been using the feed supplied with the Quadgrow, nor have I fed the container plants (baaaaad VP!). Note to self: must start feeding them this weekend

A look under the covers at the roots dangling in the water
As you can see, the Quadgrow plants are faring much better. As I've not fed them yet, I believe this is down to a couple of factors:
  • The black plastic is absorbing the heat and keeping the plants at the kind of temperatures they like for much longer. This was probably particularly important at the beginning when temperatures were dipping into the cool side of things overnight
  • Having a constant supply of water at the root zone ensures the plants never go short of water

Here's a quick look at me setting up the Quadgrow back in June, so you can see what's involved:

Note that the water chamber underneath holds 30 litres of water and is fully covered


NB The kit I'm testing is marketed for use in a greenhouse. However, it seems to be performing OK outside. I'm not sure how much difference a summer like last year would make to the results though! The water compartment is well covered, but rain would be able to get in via each of the planters and possibly make it overflow.

A few other things I've learnt about self-watering containers and hydroponics
  • The Saladgrow I've been using for my windowsill lettuces is another example of a self-watering container. I'll also be trialling another type of self-watering pot I have for my chilli plant later
  • Hydroponics is a way of growing plants without using soil. Aquaponics is where fish are added into the system. Their waste is used to feed the plants growing above them. The aquaponics system I saw at the Edible Garden Show costs quite a bit more than the kit I'm testing here
  • There are two types of hydroponics - active and passive. The Quadgrow and Saladgrow are using the same principles as a passive hydroponic system where water and nutrients are transferred into the growing medium by capillary action. Active is where a pump is used to constantly wash water and nutrients across the root zone. A simple guide to hydroponics can be found here.
  • Active systems usually out perform their passive cousins because the former maximise the availability of oxygen to the plants. However, the use of a pump means there are extra running costs involved with this type of system
  • There's also aeroponics, where plant roots are suspended in a misting chamber rather than a growing medium. The misting system delivers a constant supply of oxygen, water and nutrients. This is claimed to deliver the highest yields, but it looks like it's relatively complex compared to hydroponics
  • So far I've only found examples of non-organic feeding with this kind of kit. I'm going to start trialling using some shop bought organic feeds to see if these can be used successfully
  • There's a lot more to learn and I have yet to visit Bill and Ben ;)

Disclosure: I received various self-watering planters plus a simple active hydroponics system to trial courtesy of the manufacturer. I'm under no obligation to provide a favourable review and I've already given them some ideas to improve the instructions they supply with their kit.

How's your salad faring this month? Add your salad blog post URL to Mr Linky below, or leave a Comment...

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Garden Visit: National Botanic Garden of Wales


If you were watching The One Show last Thursday, you may have spotted Gyles Brandreth and Cerys Matthews reporting from the National Botanic Garden of Wales, near Carmarthen. As we were also there a couple of weeks ago, I thought today is a good time to show it off some more :)

After walking through a tree-lined path from the garden's entrance, you'll find the above fountain and a wonderful winding rill inviting you to take the walk up the hill towards the world's largest single-span glasshouse aka The Great Glasshouse. We arrived just before 11am and found there was a guided tour about to start, so naturally that's where we headed first.


Stepping into the glasshouse is a jaw dropping moment. Even NAH was impressed! As it was a hot, sunny day there was lots of sound as the glasshouse windows were opening automatically to control the temperature. This glasshouse specialises in Mediterranean climate plants and as you can see from the various coloured kangaroo paws to the left of this picture, I've taken it from the Australian area.

Everywhere there was masses of colour, but the thing which impressed us most was the smell. One sniff and I was instantly back in Mallorca. NAH also remarked on how the smell changed as we roamed from Australia, into Chile, over to South Africa and then on to the Mediterranean region itself. Each region's flora was distinctive in both character and aroma.


After our tour, we lunched at the glasshouse cafe. This is the place to choose for a decent cup of coffee and a light bite to eat. Other cafes in the garden offer a wider range of meals, but not such good coffee (tea drinkers can safely partake anywhere). We received this charming visitor, who proceeded to pick up our crumbs (and NAH's sly offerings!). The sparrows living in the glasshouse are being researched by the University of Aberystwyth to see if the change in their usual diet, results in them adapting genetically to the different environment. As they can also fly outside when the vents are open, I'm wondering how much this will affect their results.

As well as our touch of the Mediterranean,  the glasshouse was also home to an interesting temporary exhibition on fungi (From Another Kingdom - available until the end of February 2014), courtesy of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh. The time lapse photography of rotting bread and vegetation was an eye-opener! There were other good temporary exhibitions elsewhere: a selection of prints from the International Garden Photographer of the Year and a look at garden makers based in Wales, both contemporary and historical.


After the glasshouse, I was concerned we may have seen the garden's major highlight first. I needn't have worried, as there are a number of other innovative and interesting sections to the garden. This is a view of the Wallace Garden, which looks at the role of genetics in the plant world. The beds are arranged in a double helix; the wigwams you can see in the picture are for the peas illustrating Mendel's original work and hostas are used to illustrate how genetic mutation gives rise to different varieties.


There is a massive double walled garden, a quarter of which is used for its original purpose as a kitchen garden. The rest is used to show the 'family' history and development of flowering plants, with each bed illustrating a 'branch' of the family tree. It also houses the tropical greenhouse towards the back of the photo, which gives you an idea of how vast this particular walled garden is.


Here's a view from (and including) The Apothecaries Garden. This garden looks at medicinal plants and includes a section on those of particular value to Wales. The line of trees you can see leads to the inner wall of the walled garden to the right (out of shot) and you can see the outer wall behind them. You can also see that the roof of the glasshouse sits above quite a substantial mound.


Tracing the rill back down the hill, there's a vast border on one side which is next to the walled garden. On the other is one of my favourite sections of the garden: the Rock of Ages exhibit. This traces the geological succession of rocks in Wales and so millions of years of time can be travelled in just a few yards. The interpretation board by each rock  type also tells the story of the pioneer lichens and mosses which colonise these rocks first to kick-start the vegetation succession. Many of the rocks also have some of the lichens and mosses mentioned growing on them.


On our way out we took a slight detour to walk by the ponds towards the bottom of the site (there are hundreds of acres to explore, so we couldn't see everything of this area!). On our way down, I was admiring the meadows, contrasting them with the little pictorial meadow which was in the middle of the Wallace Garden. On closer inspection, I realised that at least part of the area wasn't a wild meadow at all, but a 'wild garden' instead, where cultivated plants had been blended in with native vegetation. The pink flower on the right is a peony!

Both NAH and I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to the National Botanic Garden of Wales. I think it's a fine place for learning, with some truly innovative exhibits. It's surprisingly mature for such a 'young' garden and well worth a visit. NB It's included in the Gardeners' World 2 for 1 entry scheme this year and if you visit before the end of September, your ticket allows you to return as often as you want for the next seven days. That's a great offer - we didn't manage to see everything in one day!

Monday, 22 July 2013

Seasonal Recipe: Gooseberry Meringue Nests


It's a fabulous year for gooseberries isn't it? They flowered up at the allotment in profusion, so the bees were very busy around them earlier this year. Their hard work paid off and I have the best crop ever.

I'm growing an older variety called 'Whinham's Industry', which delivers smaller, sweeter berries that are deep red in colour. They cook into a lovely rich, jewel-like sauce, which I've used to make this very simple recipe.

Ingredients (serves 4)

  • 12oz gooseberries, topped and tailed
  • 4 meringue nests (or you could make your own using half of this recipe)
  • A good dollop of half-fat creme fraiche per person - mine came courtesy of winning the fab competition Mark and Gaz hosted recently :)
  • Brown granulated sugar to taste (or whatever you have to hand)
  • A splash of water

Method
  1. Place the gooseberries in a pan with a splash of water - you need just enough to make sure the gooseberries don't stick to the pan before they release their juices
  2. Slowly bring the gooseberries to the boil, stirring until the juices are released
  3. Turn down the heat to a simmer
  4. Add sugar to taste - enough to take the edge of any tartness present without masking the rich flavour of the gooseberries. Remember the meringue will add some further sweetness, so you don't need to be too heavy handed
  5. Simmer the gooseberries for about 5 minutes - until they're thoroughly pulped and you have a sauce that's about as thick as a coulis (there's no need to sieve out the skins and seeds though)
  6. Leave the gooseberries to cool and then refrigerate for at least a couple of hours, preferably overnight
  7. To serve, place the meringue nests in the bottom of 4 bowls, add a quarter of the gooseberry sauce to the top of each nest and allow to ooze attractively over the side. Top with a generous dollop of creme fraiche and enjoy!

Variations
  • Add a quarter of a pint of custard to the cooled gooseberries and the creme fraiche and mix together thoroughly to make a gooseberry fool. This can be served on its own or with the nests
  • Substitute any other seasonal fruit you have to hand, such as raspberries
  • Use the gooseberries, creme fraiche and meringues with strawberries to make a variation of Eton Mess

Related Posts

Saturday, 20 July 2013

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #34


  1. Decide your local company needs to get out and about a bit more
  2. Take a pitch at Chippenham's Art in the Park event
  3. Set up your informative display
  4. Wait for a blogger with a camera to notice your product isn't quite needed on the day in question
  5. Et voila!
It was definitely ultra-warm in Monkton Park last Saturday; the hottest day of the year at that point!

Friday, 19 July 2013

The Fling Comes to VP Gardens


I so wanted to go to the Garden Bloggers' Fling in San Francisco last month, but events conspired against me and thus it was left to Helen, Victoria and Lottie to represent the British bloggers this year. Judging by all the posts I've seen by the Flingers, a high old time was had by all :)

Last weekend a fat envelope arrived on our doormat. It was from Helen and stuffed full of the vegetable seeds from her Fling swag bag; it was so thoughtful of her to share her stash. As you can see there's plenty for my 52 Week Salad Challenge and I've always loved the designs used by Botanical Interests on their packets. I'm also a sucker for trying out new varieties of squash, so I'm looking forward to growing 'Sweet Meat' next year.

Thanks for a fabulous haul Helen, you've helped me feel included in this year's event :)

Monday, 15 July 2013

GBBD: The Gentle Art of Laissez-Faire


Our shady side garden currently isn't looking quite as shady as usual owing to the combination of Rosa 'Rambling Rector' and Philadelphus 'Virginal'.  They've merged together into a wall of seamless white, where from a distance it's hard to tell them apart.

I wish I could claim some merit for this combination. Well, I suppose I did plant them where I did, but they've been left to do their own thing, the Rambling Rector in particular. I'm finding it quite hard to keep him in check lower down in the garden as he's threaded himself behind the other shrubs. These are now acting as supports for the cascades of white flowers almost reaching the ground.

This year my plants are also merging with the shrubs and trees on the public land as they reach out to join them. The frothy flowers of the elderflower are late this year and form an echo of creamy white beneath the ash tree.

If only my laissez-faire attitude was working elsewhere in the garden!

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

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Bolting Lettuces

It's time to ditch my windowsill grown lettuces
I returned from holiday to find lots of my lettuces have started to bolt. It's due to a combination of the recent heat, the longer daylength and my having too many lettuces growing to keep them thoroughly picked to their central core.

It's too late to save my pictured 'Amaze' lettuces. A quick nibble on a leaf showed they're too bitter for eating. As these are windowsill grown, I'm not going to save their seed - NAH has been most tolerant of my growing activities, but I think seeding lettuces in the bedroom might be beyond his limit!

Outside I'm keeping my non-bolted lettuces well picked and well watered and I've moved the potted ones to a much shadier part of the garden*. These measures should help prevent my remaining lettuces from doing what comes naturally. As soon as they start growing upwards then I'll have to decide which are going straight to the compost bin and if any are worth saving for seed. So far, Black Seeded Simpson, Freckles, Marveille de Quatre Saisons and the iceberg varieties are resisting the urge to bolt the most.

It's really too hot at the moment to sow their replacements (lettuce doesn't germinate well if soil temperatures are above 25oC), but I'm going to have a go at sowing some later in the day and keeping the seed trays in the coolest, shadiest part of the garden to let the seeds take advantage of the cooler nights. If this doesn't work, then I'll simply wait until next month to get my next batch of lettuces going. NB it's also time to sow a variety of non-lettuce leaves ready for late summer/autumn picking.

Have you found any particular lettuce varieties which are less reluctant to bolt? It would be great to compile a list of them for future reference :)

* = or you could use some netting to shade them if moving's not an option.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

I Heart Raised Beds

Some of my new raised beds - with alliums, peas, lettuces and the globe shaped kind of carrots

My biggest and best project of the year so far has been converting part of my allotment to a no dig, raised bed system. A few sources of inspiration all converged last year to persuade me to finally take the plunge:
  • My visit to Charles Dowding and seeing no dig in action
  • Listening to Alys Fowler talk about her Edible Garden at a study day at Holt Farm last year and then reading her book. Inspirational stuff which has got me thinking very hard about the way in which I garden and keep my allotment
  • Finally getting around to using the raised bed kit I received as a giveaway from Garden Answers a couple of years ago and realising that little patch is soooooo much easier to maintain
So I invested in another six raised bed kits last summer. Unfortunately the bad weather meant I didn't get round to setting them up until late spring this year. I roughly cleared the allotted space of weeds and then laid a thick layer of cardboard with wetted newspaper on top to suppress any further weeds from coming through. I assembled each raised bed and then emptied out the contents of one compost bin into it. Luckily I have plenty of compost bins on the allotment. Unluckily the emptying bit was very hard work, but thankfully no worse than digging over my heavy clay.

The raised beds work well for me because my allotment's on clay and on a slope which faces in a southerly direction. Thus the soil I have in these beds warms up much more quickly and is easier to work. I planted out my new strawberry plants and onion sets in a matter of minutes this year and my allotment neighbours were so impressed by what they saw, they bought some raised beds too! Later this year I reckon I'll be able to plant out my garlic directly, instead of my usual over wintering in pots.

If life gives you weeds, then let them be useful red oak-leaf lettuces

Weeding the beds has been a revelation. When I mentioned I was converting to raised beds Helen Gazeley left a comment saying she has to question every seedling which pops up very severely. She's right, especially if like me you've used your own cold compost making to supply the bulk of the growing media. However, weeding is like going through butter. I've been reduced to tears some summers when trying to weed my concrete-like limey clay. Now I can whip through all seven beds in a mere afternoon.

Strawberries with their grass clipping mulch

In time I reckon I'll be able to reduce the time taken for weeding still further. I'm experimenting with mulching a couple of the strawberry beds using the grass clippings from mowing my allotment's paths. This was to see if it was a suitable straw substitute (the usual material placed around strawberry plants) and a possible way to reduce the amount of watering needed. It's worked for both of these, and with the added benefit of me finding only a couple of weeds in each bed, when the other 5 were awash with them. As a result I've also started using the clippings to help maintain a weed-free area around each raised bed.

I also believe my crops have been much healthier this year. There's no sign of rust on any of my alliums (though that might be due to all kinds of other factors) and I'm certainly looking at much higher yields even though my crops are spaced much more closely together than is recommended. I'm also trialling biochar + compost bin growing media vs compost bin growing media only on some of the alliums this year. Once they've been harvested in the next couple of weeks or so, then I'll be trialling lots of different quick-growing leaves using seed tapes. I'll keep you posted on the results from both of these trials later.

A moribund set of crops because I used up the dregs from my compost bins - contrast with the
couple of onions you can see in the bed next door which were planted at the same time

It's not been a total success. Here is a visual warning about using up the dregs of all your compost bins to provide the growing media for your final raised bed. It wasn't as crumbly and was much more clayey than the material I'd used for the other ones. As a result the crops in this one aren't growing so well and need much more watering than my other raised beds do. Serves me right for being so impatient to get everything started and too mean to buy something better ;)

Raised beds like these aren't the full solution for my allotment. As you can see they're only six inches deep, so I'd need much deeper ones if I were to include no dig for growing my potatoes and other deep-rooted crops. They're not suitable for the areas where I have couch and bramble either unless I do lots more work to clear them out first (this also applies if you have bindweed, horsetail or Japanese knotweed on your plot). If your plot has a sandy soil, then you'll also need to weigh up the reduced advantages of raised beds (your soil will be far more workable than mine from the outset) plus all the extra watering you'll need to do. 

However, on the whole and especially in my GYO circumstances, raised beds get a huge thumbs up from me.

What's your most successful project so far this year?

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Hampton Court is Hot

Signage for one of the new themed areas - an amusing choice of material in view of the word ;)
After visiting several shows with accompanying cold weather and rain, it was rather a surprise to find this year's RHS Hampton Court show bathed in hot sunshine yesterday. It's decades since I last wore a hat (as I get 'hat hair'), but even I had to succumb to the inevitable and take shelter beneath a brim. Factor 45 sunscreen, plenty of water (with frequent top ups) and seeking shade were the order of the day. I even sneakily had a spray of water from the sprinkler on Chris Beardshaw's beautifully planted show garden in an attempt to keep cool!

Mark and Gaz have already thoroughly catalogued many of the show gardens with pictures much better than mine, and Matron has quite a bit to say on the edible side of things. So I thought I'd add some of the other things I spotted on the day which might otherwise get missed out.

A Blue Morpho butterfly and exotic planting in the butterfly dome
A last-minute exhibit was the exotic butterfly dome, put on in conjunction with the Eden Project. This was an indoor area complete with tropical planting and free flying butterflies, some of which had already escaped into the outdoors. There were plenty left to marvel at though and this exhibit was being thoroughly enjoyed by me and the other visitors before moving on to the bee exhibit next door. Be warned if you're visiting the show later this week: you will need to drink plenty of water after walking through this exhibit, it is seriously hot and humid inside!


I spotted these natty little bio-domes in the Floral Marquee courtesy of Borneo Exotics. Each houses 2 baby Nepenthes ready to start your own pitcher plant collection. I can see this being the perfect present for people like my young nephew to get hooked on gardening (he thought garden centres were 'really boring' until I showed him some venus fly traps there).

Not all the hot-house flowers were confined to the Floral Marquee
I found this gentleman and colleagues fairly early on in proceedings. I asked him if he'd still be smiling at the end of the day. He said 'If I'm not, the make-up artist will come along and paint one on'!

New in the Floral Marquee this year
I like the idea of the programme of Potting Bench Demonstrations put on by various exhibitors in the Floral Marquee. It's a real chance to learn from the experts on a whole host of topics - there's a similar programme of goodies available in the Plant Heritage marquee :)


Perhaps the biggest surprise this year was finding this gentleman on holiday and having a rather surreal conversation:

Me: Fancy seeing you here Santa!
Santa: Ho Ho Ho! Well, my dear I needed to find somewhere unusual for my holiday this year and get away from it all.
Me: But you must be rather hot in that suit?
Santa: Yes, though my elves have kindly gone back to the North Pole to fetch some ice to cool me down. Now tell me, have you been a good girl this year?
Me: (chuckling) Of course I have Santa!
Santa: (sternly) Well, that's not what I have down in my book, there's a couple of things I've had to make a note of.
Me: Oh dear, I thought I'd got away with those...
Santa: Well, if you behave yourself for the rest of the year, then I'll see what I can do. No promises, mind.
Me: OK, but I can't make any promises either ;)

Damn, my chances of having an iPad for Christmas this year are thoroughly scuppered!

Monday, 8 July 2013

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #33


  1. Set up a specialist gardening supply company
  2. Hide it away on an industrial estate well away from prying eyes
  3. Decide you really want people to know it's there
  4. Wait for a blogger with a camera to spot your advert on the roundabout by the estate where she lives
  5. Et voila!
I've just started to get to grips with hydroponics, so expect more on this subject and possibly Bill and Ben to come :)

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Postcard From Ceredigion


We've just come back from an idyllic week in sunny South Wales, where the pictured bay is the typical coastal scene. This is Mwnt, where we spent a happy hour watching dolphins just off the rocks to the right of this picture. The lady in the cafe at the top of the 139 steps down to the beach told us the knack for good dolphin spotting. 'Look for where the gannets are diving' she told us, 'that's where the fish are and you can guarantee they won't be far behind.' She was right. Sometimes the gannets flew further out into the bay, and sure enough, that's where the dolphins went too.

Friday, 5 July 2013

VPGGB #17: Potato Bag


I think this potato bag is one of the best £1's I've spent in a very long time. It's a breathable sack which has a black lining, thus minimising the light getting through to the potatoes inside. As a result, the potatoes last at least twice as long as those kept in a sweaty, light filled plastic bag.

It can hold up to 5 kilos of spuds and because NAH and I eat them only 1-2 times a week, anything which helps to keep them for longer is very handy indeed.

I'll also keep on using it when I dig up this year's crop. By keeping a supply close by in the kitchen, it'll save me having to go outside and dive into the large paper sacks I use to store spuds in the garage whenever spuds take our fancy.

What's your favourite bargain at the moment?

Monday, 1 July 2013

GBMD: July


Loud is the summer's busy song
The smallest breeze can find a tongue,
While insects of each tiny size
Grow teasing with their melodies,
Till noon burns with its blistering breath
Around, and day lies still as death.

John Clare (1793-1864), July
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