Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Sunday, 31 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, plus the guidance on flower arranging would have worked better as separate chapters instead of being divided across various months.

I particularly liked the monthly projects especially May's spring globe and December's simple wreath.

The details for the flowers and foliage featured include suitable named varieties, plus cultivation and conditioning notes where needed. A wide range of bulbs, annuals, perennials and shrubs suitable for flower arrangements are all considered.

There is an assumption that all the flowers and foliage are obtained from the fairly large dedicated patch (10ft by 15ft) shown in the design sections, without offering much guidance on how to adapt the suggested plan to suit the reader's own circumstances. This is probably because Sarah Raven wrote about her extensive experience of her patch at Perch Hill, so adaptation and other potential sources such as hedgerow foraging aren't needed.

There are plenty of inspirational photographs and the book is a handy size suitable to sit alongside any practical work being carried out by the reader.

Most allotment histories I've read are confined to the past couple of hundred years (the birth of our modern day allotments), or to a particular aspect such as the wartime Dig for Victory campaigns.

Caroline Foley's Of Cabbages and Kings differs because she has traced their history much further back to show how they're rooted in the feudal system developed after the Norman conquest in 1066.

It's a fascinating account, which shows how events such as the Black Death and the resultant enclosure of land which started in medieval times affected the majority of the population's ability to feed themselves.

I was surprised to learn that Elizabeth I passed a law which decreed a cottage must have a minimum amount of land attached to it so that its inhabitants could be self sufficient. This is the root of our current allotment laws and was designed to counteract poverty. Sadly it wasn't really acted upon until centuries later - perhaps developments such as the dreaded workhouse and the Riot Act wouldn't have happened if it had.

I gave up history at school when it became a list of parliamentary acts and wars to memorise rather than showing the way people lived. Caroline Foley brings those same acts and wars to life by providing the context of their social history.

I was amazed to learn that Lord Salisbury's government was brought down in 1886 over the allotment question. With so many allotment sites under threat today and at least 3 court battles being fought currently, it shows our passion for the need for land has some very deep roots indeed.

This is a very readable account which gives much food for thought. People have died so that I might enjoy my allotment today. That's quite humbling.
Reader Offers:

Sarah Raven's Cutting Garden Journal is on offer to Veg Plotting readers at the discounted price of £11.99 (RRP: £14.99), and Of Cabbages and Kings at the discounted price of £16 (RRP: £20)

Both offers include p&p for the UK; please add £2.50 per book if ordering from overseas.

To order, telephone 01903 828503 or email and quote the offer code APG200 for Sarah Raven's Cutting Garden Journal, and APG209 for Of Cabbages and Kings.

Both books are officially released on September 4th and are published by Frances Lincoln. Either or both would make great presents for the gardener or allotmenteer in your life.

Friday, 29 August 2014

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 rain chains. I think the chains he's chosen are great when it's raining and are attractive when it's not.

I'm now eyeing up the guttering around our house. I know NAH won't let me disconnect our downpipes,** but perhaps I can persuade him it solves our problem with a couple of places where the gutters overflow during heavy downpours. I just need to check they'll bear the additional weight and the rain will be directed away from the walls.

I'll return to Scott's garden again in future posts; in the meantime here's what my fellow Flingers said about their visit to this delightful garden.

* = I did create a version with a music soundtrack, but thought the featured version where you can hear the rain is much better. In future I need to remember to shoot video in landscape, not portrait - thank goodness you can turn uploaded videos around in YouTube.

** = he's refused to let me put a green roof on our shed, so he has 'form' with these kinds of initiatives.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Plant Profile: Echinacea purpurea

Gatekeeper butterfly on Echinacea purpurea in my sunny single terrace bed

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 together.

I've gone for E. 'Little Magnus' this time, 2 foot high instead of the more usual 3-4 feet which I've planted under a massive Salvia 'Hadspen'. This means it's in semi-shade instead of the full sun available across the way. No matter, it's thriving in its new home and has found plenty of ways to peep out through the Salvia's leaves. It's been in flower since the end of June and I expect it to keep going until late September, possibly October if I'm lucky.

Echinacea originates from the USA and is a classic component of prairie planting alongside the likes of Rudbeckia, Veronicastrum and various grasses. However, it's a versatile plant and fits in nicely with all kinds of styles and blooms. I've combined it with Salvia 'Caradonna', Monarda 'Fireball', Knautia 'Red Knight' and Erigeron. They're knitting quite together quite nicely after just 3 months.
Further cultivation notes:

Other colours are available - the most well-known is E. 'White Swan', which unfortunately didn't thrive in my garden. This was probably me putting it in the wrong place (too shady), rather than the plant being at fault.

As you can see there are zingy yellow and orange colours available; other colours include light-ish greens and a tomato red.

Echinacea purpurea is generally trouble free here in the UK, though I did find this rather nice example of fasciation recently.

Hardiness ratings are RHS 7 (very hardy); USDA Zones 3-9. It thrives in most soils.

It can be grown from seed, or from root cuttings taken in the spring. I've not tried dividing it as it bulks up slowly. Some sites say the best time for this is autumn or spring, though others don't recommend it as they say this is a plant which doesn't like to be disturbed.

Bees and butterflies love Echinacea, as long as it's the single flower version. Double flowers are sterile or keep their nectar out of reach.

It's not edible, but is available as a preventative for colds and 'flu (though it's not clinically proven re its effectiveness). It's a safe plant for the garden if you have pets.

I've heard it makes a great cut flower as long as it's placed into water straight away. I like drying the cones in the autumn for arrangements with e.g. scabious and allium seedheads.

Further references:
  • Plants for a Future database entry
  • Wikipedia general entry for Echinacea (sadly no general reference found on the RHS website)
  • This article from The Telegraph suggests Echinacea are a short-lived perennial and summarises the best way to ensure yours keep going. Perhaps my 13 year-old plant is the exception that proves the rule?
There is a national collection of Echinacea held near Ludlow.
Plant Profiles is sponsored by Whitehall Garden Centre.

Note to readers:
Sponsorship goes towards my blogging costs; the words are my own :)
There are no cookies or affiliate links associated with this post.

Monday, 25 August 2014

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 ingredients to hand, so I devised a soup using some of the glut vegetables we have hanging around.

The result? A huge thumbs up from NAH :)
Cook's notes:

I started this recipe the night before we were going to eat the result by making the chicken stock.

If you don't have a chicken carcass, then use a chicken stock cube made up to 1 litre, or fresh/frozen chicken stock if you have it. If you start with any of these, then this recipe can be made on the day of eating. However, you'll miss the pleasure of finding pieces of chunky chicken in your soup.

Vegetarians can use a vegetable stock cube or stock instead, omit the chicken and substitute some shelled, chopped unsalted peanuts to taste.

Serves 4 people generously. If you want to make the stew version for a main meal, then this is the closest online recipe I can find to my memory of the meal I created as a student. NB the linked recipe serves 8 and you can serve it with rice or couscous.

I also like the idea of using coconut milk as a variation to this recipe. Let the experimentation continue!
  • 1 small chicken carcass (the size that's provided 4 portions for previous meals)
  • Water - approx 1 litre
  • 1 large onion - roughly chopped
  • 1 medium to large potato - cubed (or sweet potato if you have it - this is more like the original recipe)
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • A half inch square cube of fresh ginger - peeled and chopped
  • Enough fresh red chill to give the amount of heat you like - in my case this is one chilli of medium heat, with the seeds removed and the rest chopped
  • 10 medium sized fresh tomatoes (or a 14 oz tin of plum tomatoes) - I leave the skins on when using fresh tomatoes, but you don't have to
  • Half a cucumber, sliced (or the equivalent amount of courgette, squash, carrots or greens depending on what's available and in season)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • One heaped tablespoon of peanut butter - smooth or crunchy. I prefer crunchy as this gives a nice texture to the finished soup
  • A handful of chopped, fresh coriander (optional)

For the chicken stock:
  1. Place the chicken carcass in a large pan and add enough water to just about cover the bones
  2. Cover the pan and bring to the boil on the stove, then turn the heat down to simmer for around half an hour
  3. Turn off the heat and leave to cool
  4. When cool, or the next day, skim the stock's surface to remove the fat. If the chicken has lived a good life, there won't be that much to remove
  5. Strip the chicken from the carcass's bones and leave to one side, Dispose of the bones in your usual way
  6. The stock and chicken can be cooled and kept in the fridge for a couple of days at this point if making the soup later
Alternatively, if you are using a stock cube, make this up to a litre with boiling water, add to a large pan and then continue to the next stage.

To make the soup:
  1. Heat the stock in a large pan and add the onion, potato, garlic, ginger, chilli, tomatoes and cucumber
  2. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste. It's best to err on the cautious side with the salt at this stage as there will be some added later via the peanut butter. Note the soup will taste spicier at this stage than the finished result, so don't panic!
  3. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer for 15 minutes
  4. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly
  5. With a stick blender, blend the soup into a smooth, non-lumpy liquid
  6. Start to reheat the soup, then stir in the peanut butter. Ensure this is thoroughly incorporated into the liquid - there should be no lumps except for the crunchy bits if using crunchy peanut butter
  7. Add the reserved chicken
  8. Add half the fresh coriander and simmer for 5 minutes to ensure the chicken is heated through thoroughly
  9. Taste and adjust the seasoning and serve immediately with the rest of the coriander scattered over to garnish
Bon appetit!

Friday, 22 August 2014

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.

Anthocyanins aren't confined to the fruit, they're in the leaves and stems too. This picture also shows the
tendency of the leaves to curl slightly. Unlike other tomatoes this isn't usually a sign of a problem.
Whilst some fruits such as blueberries and blackberries contain higher levels, they tend not to be eaten that often. Tomatoes are the fourth most popular vegetable in the States so the team went for breeding anthocyanin-rich tomatoes instead. Whether the tomato's properties have a significant contribution to our health has yet to be seen.

Flowers and fruit - fairly large trusses of medium sized fruit are produced. You can also see
the fruit's tendency to stay green underneath where they're not getting sufficient light. 
I'm growing these grafted tomatoes outdoors in my self-watering container and they were planted out during a warm spell on May 17th. Of course we then had a cold spell the week after, but this didn't seem to hold them back. They were in flower in late April and I ate my first tomato on July 19th (see the picture at the top of this post).

However, I think this may have been too early as the tomato was almost tasteless. The university's website says the fruit take around 90 days to ripen (which is fairly slow) and I've found that leaving the tomatoes as long as possible before eating does give them a better flavour.

Part of the problem is knowing when the tomatoes are actually ripe as there aren't the usual visual clues. A completely black tomato doesn't necessarily mean it's ripe. I've found if the fruit also has a slight give where it joins the stem, then it's time to pick. You also need to eat them quickly at this point, or if they've gone the colour shown in the picture as they don't keep that well.

Some do go completely red (and will be ripe) like the usual tomato. This is probably due to the anthocyanins varying in colour with pH. In the lab they're green-yellow in alkaline, purple in neutral and pink in acidic conditions. I've also noticed the red or browny-red tomatoes are much juicier than their more fleshy, black cousins.

NB the tomato size on this plate isn't representative - they're not cherry tomatoes.
Most 'Indigo Rose' are 2-4 times the size of 'Sungold'

Inevitably some tomatoes do fall off before they're ripe. These take a long time to ripen compared to their pictured 'Sungold' relatives. Note that 'Indigo Rose' is an open pollinated variety, so it's possible to save their seed. The jury is still out on blight resistance; I haven't had blight yet on any of my tomatoes, but then we've had a pretty dry summer thus far.*

* = and I'm also trying blight prevention using an aspirin spray which James Wong mentioned earlier this year.

The stems are more brittle than the other tomatoes I'm growing this year (Sungold and Moneymaker). When the remains of Hurricane 'Bertha' swept through the garden a couple of weeks ago, all my tomato plants fell like ninepins and some of the 'Indigo Rose' stems snapped (the other varieties just bent over). I've put the stems in vase on the patio making the most unusual bouquet I've ever had and to give the tomatoes a chance to ripen.

My final verdict? 

Early to flower, yet longer to ripen; sturdy yet brittle plants; attractive fruit, yet difficult to know when ripe, this is a tomato with good and bad points which scores strongly on novelty value.

So far as a salad tomato it's rather lacking in flavour, though it has been improving with age. Perhaps late season is when it comes into its own? However, its fleshier fruiting habit means I've had a tastier success with salsa and sauce making, so perhaps this is where this tomato's true forte lies.

I've also heard there are further developments in this breeding line which are an improvement in the flavour department. So watch this space!

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

A Sneaky Peek at Thompson and Morgan

The happy visiting crew + Kris Collins (front right) from Thompson & Morgan.
Picture courtesy of Michael Perry
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 for growing in pots, including improvements to the 'Lady Boothby' fuchsia I have already. Michael is pointing to Lady Boothby; compare it to the new introduction 'Pink Fizz' to its left.

Michael wasn't afraid to show us plants that failed their trials and thus won't be introduced next year. My inner imp was tempted to choose one of these when we were invited to place a flag in the pot of the plant we liked the most. However, my sensible head took over and I chose a dainty Euphorbia similar to the pictured one which caught my eye at the Portland Fling. Quite a few of the others went for a fab white flowered Hydrangea, which came a close second for me.

Picture courtesy of Michael Perry
Here we are hard at work in the next area - the demonstration beds designed to simulate garden borders. Again, there was a huge mixture of plants of all shapes, sizes and colours available to examine.

I was particularly struck by a mauve coloured carrot flower - I've let some of my carrots bloom and I love how they're a magnet for lots of different insects on my plot. To me, it makes sense to make them an ornamental feature in the garden.

Dahlias never went out of fashion in my book, so I also liked the look of the improved strains of bedding dahlias grown from seed. One of them looked very much like the unnamed variety of dahlia I have in one of my garden pots this year and I was pleased to see its stems are taller than the ones I have currently - sadly they're tending to get lost amongst the leaves.

Poor Kris had the job at this point of showing the potted trials of vegetables well past their best - definitely a case of 'you should have been here last week'. However, all was not lost as there were plenty of healthy looking vegetables to ogle at later.

Here's a view of the trials field looking back at the bed and potted trials areas. You can also see the greenhouses we explored to look at some of the potential developments for 2016. The fields were very muddy, so we were glad we'd been told to bring our wellies! That and a very blustery wind coming off the surrounding flat fields via the north sea showed these plants aren't mollycoddled.

Here's a shot of part of the vegetable trials field area, to prove you can take the girl away from her 52 Week Salad Challenge for the day, but you can't take the 52 Week Salad Challenge out of the girl. There were plenty of lettuces and other salad leaves on trial, including those supplied by other companies to see how they perform, as well as current T&M stalwarts alongside potential new introductions.

Back at base we had tomatoes to taste test and huge blowsy begonias to sniff test, all rounded off by a welcome round of coffee and cake plus a huge goody bag to take away. It all made for a fascinating day, so thank you Michael, Kris and everyone else at T&M who worked hard to make us welcome.

* = requiring detailed instructions on how to find it ;)

Other write-ups from the day:

  • Jane at Hoe Hoe Grow - I love her Roald Dahl analogy!
  • Claire at Plantpassion gives her flower farmer's take on the day, including that carrot flower
  • Alison at The Blackberry Garden who also thought we'd been given a golden ticket :)
  • Andy at gardenerinnit has chosen to review T&M as his blogging debut :) So do go and say hello so he'll write more blog posts as he is HG at a stonkingly good garden near here that's not usually open to the public

I'll add more as and when I find them.

Monday, 18 August 2014

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, except declare one of my raised beds closed to members of the allium family for a few years. I did ponder replacing the compost in this bed, but I have no idea how far down in the soil the spores from this fungus can survive. That's a question for the RHS's advisory service to tackle methinks.

In the meantime, we'll be eating the rest up super quickly before they too go off, so we get some of the benefit from the fruits of my labours. They're looking pretty sound for now, so fingers crossed my regular inspections don't find any more shallots rotting away.

I won't be saving any of them for seed either, but will start anew with some bought from a reliable source. These were Pessandor, which produces a good crop of very large, longish sweet tasting shallots which positively melt themselves into casseroles. Are there any other varieties you'd recommend?

* = binned not composted so I don't spread the disease even further.

Friday, 15 August 2014

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 garden. There's a pergola there which was draped with a Rosa 'Zéphirine Drouhin' until a couple of weeks ago. It's scent is beautiful and as it's a thornless rose, it seemed ideal for the job when I bought it. However, it has suffered dreadfully from blackspot and consequently only produces about 5 blooms per year.

The rose is no more and I'm in the process of adding a Trachelospermum jasminoides in its place. The pergola's trellis had to be replaced first and I'm looking forward to putting this plant into its new home. It's already scenting the holding area in the side garden, so I'm sure this is going to be a vast improvement on my tired old rose.

What have you done to add scent to your garden?

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

Monday, 11 August 2014

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 being used along a path rather than separating particular areas of the garden. Note also the contrasting gravel containing pieces of tumbled coloured glass. I saw this at a couple of other gardens and liked how this addition would add a different dimension in wet weather, especially when the sun shines on it afterwards.

At Floramagoria the owners had made a grass feature within their patio, which is set to fill out further over the season. We did have similar planting pockets in our patio's original design, but decided they wouldn't be that practical. Seeing this did make me regret that decision, but my practical head still says no.

Bella Madrona was fun, quirky and the ultimate party garden. Here I liked the re-use of bottles as paving with spaces left for planting, almost like a gravel garden. I'm not about to rip up my paving to reproduce this idea, but it is filed away for later.

Back at the Ernst Fuller gardens, I did like the way the gravel's been used to provide a neat contrast with the paving and add an extra line. The whole composition - hardscaping, planting, pots and other features is pretty good too.

Going forward, I'm going to create a line of planting to separate the patio from the top of the 3 sets of steps leading to the rest of the garden. I also want to introduce more scent, so I'll be sowing some orange scented thyme along the straight line you can see leading from the pig. A packet of seed costs a mere £1.35, so this is a budget (and bee) friendly way of doing something different.

The plant you can see at the end of the line is the Erigeron I planted a while ago and I don't mind if any seed from this intermingles with that of the thyme. I may also sow some thyme elsewhere - I have plenty of seed - between the cracks of the garden's side path for instance.

I'll also be adding some fine horticultural gravel into the rest of the cracks. This will help to keep the weeds and moss at bay and give the patio a more finished look.

This is the first post I promised about the inspiration I found during this year's Garden Bloggers Fling in Portland. Some will be simple and quick pieces, others may be more lengthy. I'll also explain how I'm taking the inspiration into my garden, where applicable. Whilst these are my personal notes, I hope you'll also find them useful.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

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 various mildew species.** He's launched a powdery mildew survey to help him gather samples from a much wider area over the next couple of years than he can manage on his own. I've bagged up my leaves ready to send to him together with details of their location.

Oliver is using the samples to identify the geographical locations and plant hosts for each mildew species he identifies. Like the flying ant survey I blogged about (which is still on the go), I'm sure this citizen science approach will reveal unexpected insights into the fungus as well as helping him with his anticipated research.

Oliver and his Culham Research Group colleagues have a blog - it gives a fascinating insight into their projects and the methods they use. Having read Oliver's posts about his project, I wonder if the milky drink I sprayed on the asters and lupins close to the Verbena was needed - what if the mildew I have is host specific? I'm keeping an eye on the blog to see if this question's answered.

* = 50ml milk made up to 500ml in a spray bottle and used every 10 days or so - some websites recommend a higher milk concentration, so I'm experimenting. Apparently any milk will do as it's the milk's proteins which are believed to be effective against mildew rather than the fat. It's not a new remedy - researchers in Canada found milk was effective against mildew over 50 years ago.

You can find out more about this approach on the Grow Veg website and the RHS website has a general overview of mildew's treatment and biology.

** = apparently there are over 900 species on 10,000 host plants, so he has his work cut out!

Update - 20/8/2014:

Monday, 4 August 2014

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.

According to the latest online article I can find, they're not that far from meeting their target.

On the back of Tommy's crate, there's a plaque with a poem written by the sculptor:

"Now adrift in the wake of this glorious slaughter,
He'd seen many a soul cleansed in filthy water.

Seen godless souls reach out for the Bible,
As lead tore the flesh from both friend and rival.

Soon home to the joy and celebration of kin,
Drunken slaps on the back at a favourite inn.

But heavy in his pocket lies a small piece of card,
And the note written on it will break a mother's heart."

Eleven 'O' One

I'm sure we'll be seeing much more from this artist

Saturday, 2 August 2014

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 camera. The first 2 are no longer used (and I miss them) and the latter is ideal for slipping into a pocket or bag for taking photos on the move.

Whilst on the whole I'm relatively happy with what it provides for my blog, I frequently find myself gnashing my teeth in frustration, especially when I find myself shooting blind on a sunny day. It's click the shutter and hope I have something decent, especially at shows like Chelsea.

So, I've finally taken the plunge and I LOVE my new camera. It's early days yet re taking the pictures I want, but I'm enjoying the challenge of trying to get there.

The picture is of a dragonfly which took a liking recently to the tallest of 3 rusted metal bulrushes (aka reedmace, cattails or Typha latifolia) I 'planted' as part of my makeover of the double terrace beds. I can see plenty of flaws with the result, but it's 100% better than anything else I've managed so far with my other digital cameras :)

What do you love about August?

Friday, 1 August 2014

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 provide some much needed scale against the trees around them.

However, you should note I couldn't get all of the trees' height in the picture.

The Bloedel Reserve is the most magical of places - in sunshine or rain.

My thanks to Stacie and especially to Marty for everything they did to make our pre-Fling trip so memorable.

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