Showing posts from April, 2014

Shedding the Shed

After 11 years of sterling service my allotment shed's decided it's time to quit the plot.

Looking at the picture you're probably thinking it doesn't look that different to usual and is fairly presentable. Compared to its relatively new neighbour on the left I think it's making a much better job of blending in with its surroundings and I love its rustic simplicity. However, the view from the side reveals there's a bit of a problem...

... it's probably been like that for a while, but the winter wet kept me from squelching my way down to the bottom of my plot and discovering what happened.

If truth be told, I've been anticipating its demise ever since I took on my allotment in late 2003, though in the intervening years I've come to love its presence on my plot. After all, it was a key factor in my decision to keep this half of the allotment when I gave up having a whole one.

Mr and Mrs Robin have decided to make my shed their home again this year, so …

Chelsea Sneak Preview: An Interview with Cleve West

Cleve West returns to RHS Chelsea this year and luckily I've had the opportunity to interview him before the build starts later this week. Cleve is well-known for his bold and successful designs and this year he's chosen to present a contemporary paradise garden for M&G, the show's sponsor. So no pressure then ;)

In the introductory blurb I was given, Cleve says:

"I was inspired by the idea that the ancient gardens of Persia, Greece and Italystill influence the way we create gardens today and I wanted to celebrate that in the M&GGarden. I also enjoy weaving a contemporary dynamic within what might be seen as a traditional context, it can bring a great energy to a garden. Paradise to me is any place where you can lose yourself and where, for a moment at least, time stands still, hopefully this garden will allow people the opportunity to do that.”

Now, let's see what Cleve has to say in response to my questions...

How long will it take from M&G commissio…

Book Review: Two From Hillier and a Glimpse of the Garden

I had the good fortune recently to be invited to the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in Hampshire to help them celebrate Hillier's 150th birthday. This took the form of a double book launch, a scrummy lunch and a tour of the gardens, plus a side trip to one of the nurseries.

The latter will feature as part of my Chelsea Sneak Previews in a week or so. Today, it's time to have a look at what I brought home in my goody bag...

This is a completely updated (paberback) edition of a garden book classic. 1,500 new plants have been added and apparently the authors (John Hillier, Roy Lancaster, plus James Armitage and the botany team at the RHS) had plenty of debate about which new plants merited inclusion.

The original manual was based on Hillier's catalogue and this edition retains that feel because there are no pictures. If you are used to using the RHS Plant Finder, this shouldn't be a problem.

This is the manual to research likely trees and shrubs for the garden, but gardeners l…

Salad Days: New Perennials, Winter Survivors and Early Flowers

New perennials

This year, I've decided to have more perennial salads in the garden/allotment. This is partly inspired by Martin Crawford's book which I reviewed last year and partly though donations I've had from Naomi.

I went to stay with her in early February and she kindly let me loose in her polytunnel to come away with some welsh onions (left), mitsuba aka Japanese parsley (the reddish leaves at the top) and Cardamine raphanifolia(the cressy looking plant on the right, which Naomi describes as 'totally bombproof'). She tells me the latter two came from Edulis if you're interested. I see they both like moist, shady areas, so I'll be locating them next to my wasabi* up at the allotment.

These were plonked in the pictured 'holding bed' at the side of our house awaiting space in one of the raised beds up at the allotment. Their transfer is imminent and whilst I've left them to bulk up ready for their new home over the past 3 months, there's…

VP's VIPs: Tom Mitchell and Evolution Plants Part II

I'm following Tom Mitchell and his exciting nursery, Evolution Plants in its first year of trading. Now read on...

Unlike my previous visits, at last I've managed to visit Evolution Plants in bright sunshine. First impressions of the nursery are how much everything has stirred into life since my last visit. I'm a little early, so I take the opportunity to have a quick peek in some of the polytunnels and take some photos. The Trilliums are doing particularly well.

I find Tom in the large potting shed cum office where his staff are busy propagating plants. We walk up to the other office and I start by asking about how things have progressed since my last visit. "We've been to lots more shows and these on the whole have been very successful, though I really need to clone myself, so that I can attend more of them and make sure customers' questions are answered. This can only get better as  time goes on as my staff are increasing their knowledge of the plants and t…


It's not often that mine and NAH's interests collide, but I had to show you this amazing picture of the bee Halictus ligatus from his car magazine of all things.

The bee is 7-10mm and the picture is a composite of many photos taken with a macro lens which are then stitched together as only part of the bee is in focus at any one time at this magnification.

The photographer is Sam Droege, an American biologist. He used a camera system originally devised by the US army to help soldiers identify biting insects such as mosquitoes.

This picture forms part of the Bee Inventory and Monitoring Program at the US Geological Survey. The link takes you through to more of Droege's amazing images. You'll find the above picture on Page 2 of the appropriately named Eye Candy set of photos.

GBBD: Batchelor's Buttons

The most striking feature of the front garden side border at this time of the year is Kerria japonica 'Pleniflora' aka Batchelor's buttons, Jew's mallow or Japanese rose. As you can see it's definitely living up to the 'Pleniflora' part of its name.

I chose this shrub because it's tough as old boots and to brighten up a heavily shaded area. It's repelled footballs with aplomb and flowers for a long period. If it flowered later in the year, it would be too yellow as the harsher light of summer - even in shade - would make it too strident. It's classed as spring flowering, though I have known it to start to bloom as early as December.

Kerria is described as a vigorous shrub and whilst it does sucker, the relatively poor land I've planted it into keeps it in check. The younger stems remain green for quite some time, which helps to retain some interest for most of the year. It reminds me a little of bamboo as the stems stand relatively straight …

Book Launch Party: Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs

Welcome everyone!

I'm delighted to be the latest stop on Emma Cooper's tour for her new book, Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs. Lots of authors have book tours, so why not Emma? I'm glad she's not allowed the publication of an ebook to get in the way of having a party :)

Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs is a guide to the world of unusual edible plants. Depending on your experiences some may already be familiar to you like oca or achocha, others will be completely new.

If you've read Mark Diacono's A Taste of the Unexpected or James Wong's Homegrown Revolution, Emma's book makes a superb companion to these volumes. It also stands in its own right as she delves deeper into the history of unusual edibles, the plant hunters who moved them around the world, and today's enthusiasts who are ensuring these crops aren't forgotten.

Pray silence for the author reading *tinks spoon against glass*

It's traditional at these things for the author to give a readi…

Paint the Town Red... or Gold... or Wild

Our nation's streets are set to look very different this year with 3 key initiatives helping to make it so...

Anniversary of the start of World War I

Perhaps the most moving display of them all will be the bright red poppies many places will sow (or have sown) to mark the centenary of the start of WWI. Expect to see the most poignant outbreak of them all timed to flower on the exact anniversary, August 4th.

WWI will also be one of the main themes for this year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show, where Birmingham City Council - famed for their innovative displays in the Great Pavilion - will feature 4 foot high poppies.

I'm not expecting to see many of them in and around Chippenham. Our proximity to farmland and the flower's plentiful supply of seeds ready to self-sow themselves are not a match made in heaven. However, a Google search shows many towns and cities will have poppies at the heart of their displays this year - Swansea, Blandford Forum and Maidenhead to name but three.

Edible Masterpieces

There's often a heated debate about whether gardens are art, so today I'm pleased to present a new twist on this theme via Art Fund's Edible Masterpiecesinitiative.

I was particularly taken by their version of Van Gogh's self-portrait, especially as the ploughman's design recipe calls for some salad leaves. I feel I need to issue a further challenge for the 52 Week Salad Challenge - let's create some art with all those leaves! My Tiny Plot has a head start on us already as she's designed a new sunburst layout for her salad garden this year.

Edible Masterpieces is a new fund raising initiative from the Art Fund to encourage art lovers to create edible masterpieces inspired by art. All funds raised go towards helping UK museums and galleries.

Much of our arts heritage has taken a battering in the various rounds of funding cuts over the past few years. Some local authorities have cut their budget entirely.

The Art Fund helps to plug this gap with a host of initi…

Tree Following With Lucy: April

My photo is a little out of synch with Lucy's Tree Following day as I take mine on the 23rd of the month, the day anniversary of when the rest of the tree came crashing down in our garden last December. However, I went out in the rain to inspect my ash tree yesterday and can confirm nothing's changed in the intervening time. Whether the same can be said for April/May remains to be seen.

This time Mr and Mrs pigeon have indeed paired up for the season as I thought they might last month. It's unusual to see them acting as kind of bookends on the tree as they're usually much closer. We've observed pigeon pairs being quite devoted to each other and these two are proving to be no different.

The tree's also been host to some rare visitors to our garden since last month. We don't usually see bullfinches,* but we've had four of them parading around the garden lately - one proud and very fat male plus 3 females. I've tried to find out if bullfinch males hav…

Separated at Birth? Birches

Compare and contrast the birches outside Tate Modern (left) and those close to Regent's Park in St Andrew's Place (next to the Royal College of Physicians).

The idea behind the Tate's birches could be due to the greater footfall this area gets, or to echo the sparseness of the architecture behind it and the modern art the building holds. Or perhaps both?

Apparently there'll be foxgloves and alliums beneath the birches in St Andrew's Place later in the year. A change of scene is something to look forward to.

We also have a line of birches at the entrance to our estate at the top of the hill. Initially it was underplanted with lavender, but these were replaced with grass once they'd become woody. I suppose it's cheaper for the council to look after, but perhaps it's time for an estate-led makeover...

I Love April For...

... growing

I love the shift from inside to outside April brings. Seeds can be sown in situ and there's enough light after tea to be in the garden. There's lots of fresh green growth showing the promise of the months to come.

It's a short post from me today because I need to be outside to get growing :)

What do you love April for?

GBMD Butterflies Are...

The recent warm weather has awoken the hibernating butterflies from their slumbers and it's been great to see them a-fluttering by in the garden :)

Those of you who like me wish to encourage more butterflies into your garden will like Butterfly Conservation's great offer for this month:

Half price membershipA great new book* added to the membership pack (see below)Free seeds to the first 100 who sign up - a random selection from cornflower, pot marigold or phlox. These plants are known to attract butterflies and moths into the garden (including Common Blues, Small Tortoiseshells, Humming-bird Hawk-moths and Painted Ladies)
The book was inspired by Butterfly Conservation's popular gardening tips section in their e-newsletter and shows how to create a butterfly friendly garden. Those of you who've read Kate Bradbury's The Wildlife Gardener will be delighted to see she's the author.

To take advantage of this offer, simply take the link to the Join page on Butterfl…