Showing posts from August, 2015

Back to School

It was most timely when My Garden School contacted me recently with an offer to review one of their 4-week long courses. I'm disappointed with the range of evening classes at my local college this year and decided not to take one this autumn.

In contrast, My Garden School's list of options is quite extensive, and I swithered for quite a while between Toby Musgrave's Garden History, Michael King's Perennial Planting with Nature, and Noel Kingsbury's Planting Design With Perennials. However, the clincher for me was finding Clive Nichols' Flower Photography Masterclass. I missed out on a day with him and the Garden Media Guild last year as I was ill. I couldn't possibly miss out again, albeit in the virtual world this time.

Each course's listing comes with a little introductory video, so there's an opportunity to get an idea of each course and lecturer to see which one appeals the most. One little niggle to report here - I found the jaunty jangly back…

Tomato Trials

Forget your 5 a day, how about eating dozens of tomatoes in a few hours? This sight greeted me at Thompson & Morgan's (T&M) trials ground on Tuesday, ready for 15 or so of us to sample these tomatoes. At the front you can see 8 'traditional' varieties ready for our assessment, with bowls of 9 each of 'coloured' and 'cherry' tomatoes lined up for later.

As with wine tasting, the bottles of water and crackers you can see were much needed accessories to stop our palates becoming jaded, though thankfully we were allowed to swallow our efforts rather than using a spittoon.

Much chewing and thought ensued, with us assessing each variety for its appearance, skin thickness, initial taste, juiciness and flavour. I ignored a plea from a fellow assessor for us all to add salt to our tomatoes; I haven't cooked with salt for decades, so I knew his assertion it improves the flavour wouldn't apply to me.

At the end of each round we had to announce our own…

The Art of Swimming *

Take a wander around the rapidly changing King's Cross area and you can't help but notice this intriguing sign in several places.

Further on, a fence and a planted mound obscure the view towards the newly minted apartment and office blocks.

A doorway invites you in, so you climb the stairs...

... and the mound's purpose is revealed.

My place was booked, so after checking-in I was pointed in the direction of the red and white cabins to make my preparations...

... and ponder the view.

Then I noted the temperature and...

... ignored the Frenchman still shivering on the side, and plunged straight in.

For a while I had the entire pond to myself.

King's Cross Pond is the UK's first natural swimming pond and the latest in a series of art installations in the Lewis Cubitt Park area of the shiny new King's Cross development. The design uses plants to filter the water, so no chlorine or other chemicals are added for cleaning.

It makes for a different, most surreal swimmi…

Seasonal Recipe: Apricot Tart

It's Great British Bake-Off time on the telly, where the contestants vie for the top prize with increasingly ambitious bakes and not a soggy bottom in sight. I was gifted a tray of tomcot apricots when I went on a blogger day at the Thompson & Morgan garden recently, so my thoughts also turned to baking and the art of producing a simple-to-goodness tart.

If memory serves, dessert tarts require a sweet pastry, a baked custard made with cream, and a sugar-glazed coating. I wanted to produce something lighter and less sugary which allowed the flavour of the fresh apricots to shine through. This resulted in the following version, which judging by NAH's reaction was a success... "Will you marry me?", said he after taking his first taste.

Of course I had to refuse. I'm a happily married woman.

Butter for greasing 200g ready-made shortcrust pastry* A little plain flour for rolling out the pastry 9 apricots 1 tablespoon sugar, plus a further 50g** 2 tabl…

Things in Unusual Places #16: A Shed

Castle Combe Circuit isn't the first place which springs to mind for a shed, but this is the view NAH captured last Saturday. He was immediately behind the pictured shed when he arrived at the race track and after they'd both entered the event, it hung around near the entrance.

It was getting in the way of parking, so NAH wound down his window and shouted: "Oi, would you mind moving your shed?", much to the amusement to everyone else at the time.

We call my car "the shed on wheels" as it's usually crammed with things I need up at the allotment as my actual shed up there is too insecure to store anything of value. I never thought I'd see a proper shed on wheels though.

It belongs to Kevin Nicks from Oxfordshire and as of Sunday, he can now claim to have the fastest shed in the world. It achieved an average speed of 70.8mph at Elvington airfield near York, beating the previous record of 58.4 mph set by Edd China on April 1st (really??? - Ed), 2011. It…

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: What the Rudbeckia are Thinking


Plants for Bugs

In May 2012 I wrote in my Secret Wisley entry:

"... I was taken on a tour of one of the Plants for Bugs trials sites: it was so fascinating I'm saving the details for another post."

How time flies... I've kept some secrets for a little longer than planned. Tucked away in a not-so-much-visited corner of Wisley I saw this:

The RHS released the first news of their research results last week, so at last it's time to tell you more. The key message for gardeners here in the UK is:

 "Don't get too hung up on keeping to solely native plants; choose from a wider planting palette - particularly species from the northern hemisphere - to encourage more insects and other invertebrates into your garden."

From the thousands of invertebrates collected during the study, around 300 different species were identified. The research also showed pollinators may not choose native plants as their first-choice to visit. In addition, growing a wide mix of plants originating …

GBBD: Persicaria 'Fat Domino'

Like Wednesday's hydrangeas, I've dismissed Persicaria as a plant of value to VP Gardens for far too long. How glad I am I succumbed to the charms of Persicaria amplexicaulis 'Fat Domino'.

Why the initial resistance? I don't really like the candy-pink version which crops up in so many planting schemes... though I've also started to re-evaluate that notion.

Why the change of mind? Well consider this...

Isn't that glorious? It's part of the masterful planting Neil Lucas put together at Knoll Gardens in Dorset, which I saw last September. Dark red flowers have a habit of speaking loudly to me and I could see the spot where this plant would fit nicely into my garden.

So two plants followed me home, one for me and one for Karen.

As you can see it's settling in very well here and I hope to see it doing the same when I visit Karen soon. I rather like how it echoes the form of Agastache 'Blackadder' in the terrace bed above it. I'd love to clai…

Plant Profiles: Hydrangeas, especially H. paniculata

The first plant gifted to VP Gardens was this Hydrangea macrophylla from one of our neighbours, who'd proudly propagated lots of them and passed on his surplus to us and the other newcomers to our part of the estate.

That was 15 years ago and I'm sorry to admit I've neglected our gift by relegating it to one of the garden's most shady corners. It's a good filler plant, but like many people, I'm not that keen on the mophead hydrangeas, especially when they're sugar pink from an alkaline soil.

Last year saw a sea-change in my general dismissal of hydrangeas. I was with Victoria and Charlotte on our post-Fling road-trip around Oregon and a friend suggested we visit Dancing Oaks nursery, close to the farmstead where we were staying. Amongst their many treasures were a number of fine-looking hydrangeas of various species and hue, with Hydrangea quercifolia 'Pee Wee' looking particularly perky to me.

Then I visited Aberglasney in Wales early this year wh…

Seasonal Recipe: Courgettes with Lemon and Thyme

Our courgettes went from zero to glut within a week and our continuing trips away means I'm not keeping to my pick small and often philosophy. Faced with yet more courgettes reaching for marrowdom, I came up with this simple recipe which can be used in a number of ways.

It's inspired by my memories of holidays in Greece where walks to the beach were scented with wild thyme crushed underfoot and us brushing past lemon trees. It makes a change from the Italian twist I usually add to my courgette glut. You can adjust this flexible recipe to suit your circumstances.

1 large courgetteHalf a tablespoon good olive oilLeaves stripped from 3-4 large sprigs of freshly picked thymeJuice of 1 small unwaxed lemon ('cooked' on high for 20 seconds in a microwave to release the juices)Freshly ground black pepper
MethodCut the courgette in half lengthways, then halve each half again. Cut each quarter into small slices and place in a bowlAdd the olive oil, thyme, lemon juice a…

Tree Following With Lucy: Late Summer Update

It's late summer and three months since my last update on the ash tree I'm following. As you can see, May's Green Shoots of Recovery have grown both in length and profusion. Nine months on from November's Drama, it's clear my tree has indeed survived and grows stronger by the day.

The form of its recovery is intriguing. My tree stands in the small clearing which marks the extent of its former canopy and as a result is lit pretty evenly all round. Yet all of the new shoots are coming out of just one side, which is the location of one of the two 'prongs' the tree surgeons left last November (see right).

Could it be only one part of the tree survived? What role (if any) does the ivy we can see curling around the other 'prong' play in the tree's regeneration?

A closer inspection is required...

Visit Loose and Leafyto see what the other Tree Followers found this month.

In the Night Garden at West Green House

There's an opera season every summer at West Green House and it was a lovely surprise to have an invitation to see Ariadne auf Naxos on Sunday. To celebrate the season, the grounds are transformed into a magical night garden.

I thought you'd enjoy some of the views from my post performance walk, especially the fleeting appearance of the moon above the moon gate. One minute later it had disappeared beneath those clouds.

GBMD: Grasshopper Green