Showing posts from August, 2014

Book Review: Out This Week

I've been lucky to receive 2 books from Frances Lincoln ahead of their release this week. They cover two completely different subjects; one is a practical volume and the other reviews an aspect of garden history which is often overlooked. Scroll down to the end for a couple of great reader offers.

Sarah Raven's Cutting Garden Journal is a reworking of her previous book Sarah Raven's Cutting Garden. Inside is a month by month guide to growing cut flowers, with a few pages for the reader to jot down their own notes and observations.

Each chapter has flowers of the month and a monthly project as well as the space for notes. Particular jobs and techniques plus consideration of the equipment required are sprinkled into the months where they are most likely to be needed. On the whole this is successful, but I thought the planning, design and stocking of the cutting patch/garden, …

Portland Inspiration: Raindrops on Rhone Street

If the embedded video doesn't work, you can view it here (opens in a new window).

One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Portland was to find out more about their pioneering rain gardens I'd heard about on Nigel Dunnet's study day a few years ago.

I didn't dream I'd actually get to see a rain garden in action. The high 90s weather we had on our visit broke on the final day to give us some much needed respite from the heat. Luckily the thunderstorm delivered itself in 15-30 minute chunks with long pauses in between, so we still had plenty of time to explore the gardens on our itinerary.

The exception was when the storm first broke whilst we were visiting Fling organiser Scott at his Rhone Street Gardens. Here's Scott and Galloping Gardener Charlotte taking refuge from the rain. They're the people you can hear talking in the above video.*

As you can see, Scott has woven a lush garden around his property, which also nicely screens the barrels fed by the ra…

Plant Profile: Echinacea purpurea

I've been growing Echinacea - aka coneflower - almost as long as I've been at VP Gardens. It replaced the Pyrethrum I grew from seed when it gave up the ghost a couple of years into the garden. I still wanted a dusky, daisy-like flower for that spot and finding Echinacea is loved by bees clinched the deal.

As I was on a tight budget, I bought a couple of those basic bare rooted Echinacea found at various stores and garden centres in the spring. This is usually marked up as Echinacea purpurea, though some outlets offer the more select E 'Magnus' instead. I fully expected my plants to come to nothing, but to confound me they're still going strong nearly 15 years later.

This year I've replaced a lot of the planting in the double terrace beds across from the single terrace bed where I have my Echinacea. I like to repeat a texture, colour or bloom if I can across various spots in the garden, so I thought a different cultivar would be a good way to link these beds t…

Seasonal Recipe: Spicy Chicken and Peanut Soup

Last week the weather turned a little cooler so NAH and I had the following conversation:

Me: I think I'll make some soup for lunch - I can use up that chicken carcass for starters.

NAH: (Pulling a face) Er, not for me please, I like the homemade bread we've been having lately.

Me: Why that face?

NAH: Well, haven't you noticed I give you most of the carrots when we have it? I'm not that keen. (The soup he's referring to is similar to the turkey leftovers soup I blogged about years ago)

Me: (Surprised face) So I've been making this soup for 30 years and it's only now you tell me you don't really like it?

NAH: (trying hard to make me feel better) It's OK if it's got leeks in it...

Me: I'll see what I can do...

I then dredged up a memory of a meal I cooked as a student about 35 years ago. It was a spicy dish called West African chicken and peanut stew where most of the vegetables were disguised in some way. I didn't have some of the remembered in…

Salad Days: Tomato 'Indigo Rose'

It's a couple of months since I introduced you to the black tomato I'm trialling this year, so I've put aside my salad leaves this month to bring you a full report on how they're doing.

'Indigo Rose' hails from Oregon State University in the USA and has been available there for a couple of years. We had a spontaneous exchange of experiences on the coach on the last day of the Portland Fling, so I'm not alone in the observations I'm about to tell you about.

This tomato was bred as a healthier option by crossing cultivated tomatoes with wild species from Chile and the Galapagos Islands. It's higher in anthocyanin (hence the purple/black colour), which are naturally occurring antioxidants in plants which may help to protect our nervous system, plus they may have have anti-cancer, antidepressant and pain killing properties.

Whilst some fruits such as blueberries and blackberries contain higher levels, they tend not to be eaten that often. Tomatoes are …

A Sneaky Peek at Thompson and Morgan

Someone must know me very well. As an experimental kinda gardener, any invitation with the word trials in it is bound to get my attention, even if the location is many, many miles away. And so one blustery day last week I found myself at a secret location* with the pictured bunch of like minded 'online media' folk - virtual friends both old and new - at Thompson and Morgan's (T&M's) trials ground just outside Ipswich.

The site is divided into several key areas which we were taken through in turn. We'll move swiftly past the car park/admin area - leaving the remains of our coffee and cookies to one side - into the pots and hanging basket trials. Make sure you have your sunglasses to hand!

Michael Perry, our main host for the day took us through many of the plants T&M are trialling this year ready for introduction In 2015. Expect plenty of new developments in petunias, begonias, pelargoniums and New Guinea impatiens. There were also lots of climbers suitable…

Onion White Rot

I've had a bumper crop of shallots this year, which I managed to get dried off thoroughly during the hot weather we had at the end of last month.

However, despite their soundness when I put them into store, some are now showing signs of onion white rot like the one in the above picture. I've not seen it so early in the season before and indeed the fungus on my shallots hasn't been reading its official entry on the RHS website:

" the UK the problem is more severe in cool, wet summers; in warmer climates the disease is only a problem over the winter months."

Hmm, that's wrong on both counts, but before I declare I have a new strain of Sclerotium cepivorum, I wonder if my saved sets from last year could be the source of the problem. Some of these did indeed develop onion white rot over the winter and were thrown away*. Perhaps the sound ones I saved to plant out in the spring weren't so sound after all.

Anyhoo, I can't do anything about it now, exce…

GBBD: Scent

I've been working a bit harder to ensure there's plenty of scent in my garden this year and the pictured Freesia is part of the result. In the spring I added a few mixed bulbs to one of the large pots by the kitchen patio door and their heady scent has greeted my entrance to the garden for the past few weeks.

Freesias formed part of my childhood as they were the bouquet of choice when buying flowers for anyone in my family. They're powerfully scented, so were considered to have double the value. The bulbs are quite tender, so I'll be lifting them in a few weeks time to store them over winter and see whether I can bring them to life again next year.

Other scented plants around my kitchen door are lavender, vanilla-scented perennial Nemesia 'Wisley Vanilla' plus various herbs. Their smells don't seem to clash and I've been enjoying them whenever I've had a break for coffee in the garden.

I'm also working on creating a better entrance to the back …

Wordless Wednesday: Rudbeckia in Posterize


Portland Inspiration: Between the Paving

We have a large patio which I've spent ages keeping free of weeds and moss over the years. Since coming back from the Portland Fling I've been pondering some of the ways gardeners there use the spaces between their paving and how their ideas might add an extra dimension to my garden.

Japanese gardens are big on moss and the Portland Japanese Garden was no exception. I've tried to be more relaxed about moss since I saw a similar feature at The Bloedel Reserve in Seattle 3 years ago, but I've come to the conclusion that whilst it looks good in this kind of setting, it doesn't translate that well onto my patio.

This is more like my garden's setting and I liked the way Omphiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' is used to separate different parts of the hardscaping at the John Kuzma garden, even though I'm not that keen on the particular plant used.

I preferred this 'woollier' approach seen at the Ernst Fuller gardens, though this time the plants are …

Make Use of Mildew

On my garden patrol this morning I spotted some powdery mildew on a couple of my new Verbena bonariensis plants. I suppose it was almost inevitable as I prefer to grow my plants hard - this means no water for them unless they look absolutely desperate.

This approach means plants root themselves more deeply and have a better chance of survival during spells of dry weather like we've had lately. However, it also means I run the risk of problems like today's, especially with any garden newbies planted late in the season.

We've had a good drop of rain overnight, so this should help my plants survive. I'll mulch them later today to help lock in the moisture as it's water stress which encourages the mildew to take hold. I've also removed the infected leaves and sprayed the rest with a milky drink.*

I'm also pleased to find there's a use for my infected leaves. Oliver Ellingham at Reading University has started a PhD - sponsored by the RHS - researching the v…

Mission 1101

100 years ago today, the world went mad when Britain declared war on Germany and so the 'war to end all wars' began.

One of the most thought provoking moments of our recent holiday up north was when we found 'Eleven '0' One', a nine and a half feet tall statue which graces the seafront at Seaham in County Durham. He depicts a lone soldier - nicknamed 'Tommy' by the locals who've taken them to their hearts - who's finally sat down to rest one minute after WW1 finished at 11am on 11th November 1918.

The detail in this corten steel statue is incredible. It was also amazing to see the response people had on seeing it - they were positively drawn to it. It shows the value we place on the peace we enjoy today and is a visible argument for the need to have great art in all communities. The residents of Seaham are now actively seeking to raise the £85,000 needed to keep Tommy on - via their Mission 1101 campaign - after his scheduled 3 month stay.


I Love August For...

... garden wildlife

I once referred to August as a drowsling month, where the air is slow moving and the garden is taking an afternoon nap, lulled by the background hum of bees, hoverflies and suchlike. When I look through my photographs from previous years, there's a definite increase in my attempts to capture my garden's wildlife on camera in August. Perhaps this reflects more time I spend in the garden rather than gardening?

It usually ends in frustration as my point and shoot camera simply isn't up to the job - as far as the pictures formed in my mind's eye are concerned anyway. The wildlife I want to capture is either too small (the insects), or too far away (mainly birds, but the odd squirrel and badger is known to frequent these parts) to be anything but a small dot in the final result.

I hope this is about to change as I have a shiny new camera. For years I've argued with myself about getting a DSLR as I already have 2 bulky film SLRs plus a compact digital…

GBMD: The Bloedel Reserve

Pre-Portland Fling, it was an absolute delight to have the chance to return to the Bloedel Reserve, my personal highlight of the Seattle Fling in 2011.

I felt very privileged as I walked through the Reserve again on a not-open-to-the-public day with board member Stacie Crooks as our guide. I believe the above quote is very much at the heart of Prentice Bloedel's lasting legacy there and it also helps to convey its sense of place. It also sums up neatly the biophilia hypothesis, proposed by E.O. Wilson, which I often come across in my public planting researches.

It was great to return... in sunshine rather than rain this time. You'll find a summary with links to all my yummy 2011 posts here, but in the meantime, here's a small selection of this year's photos below.

I'm always blown away by the height of the trees in the Pacific North-West, even though most of what we saw was secondary growth forest.

Here, Stacie (left) and our pre-Fling trip organiser Marty Wingate …