Showing posts from September, 2015

Michaelmas, Blackberries and the Devil's Spit

Today is Michaelmas Day, one of the quarter days which mark the year in our traditional calendar. It's the feast day of Saint Michael the Archangel (not the shop), who is said to have hurled the devil from heaven for his treachery.

It's the time for the final gathering in from the fields, and harvest festival celebrations. I remember this period referred to as "blackberry week" when I lived in the north east during the late 1970s. Schools gave pupils a week off in early October so they could help their families with the harvest and gather blackberries from the hedgerows.

Michaelmas, blackberries and the devil are connected in our folklore as it's said the devil landed in a bramble bush when he fell from heaven. He then spat and stamped on the bramble's blackberries, cursed them, and scorched them with his fiery breath. This rendered the fruit inedible, so tradition says blackberries shouldn't be eaten after Michaelmas Day.

My research shows the actual da…

Back to School: Getting Niggly With It

Sometimes you need to go backwards in order to move forwards. And so it was with this week's lesson and assignment which looked at working indoors and outdoors in not-so-perfect conditions.

I've taken lots of pictures in the rain and frost this year, so I decided to concentrate on indoor work using natural light from a window. The results highlighted deficiencies in my technique, equipment and improvisation. That's no bad thing in my view.

Here's my latest collage - the brief said plants or flowers, so you'll see I've taken that to quite an extreme by my decision to use apples as my subject.

The three images I selected for submission are included in the collage this time. Which ones do you think they are?

This assignment got me quite niggly and dissatisfied with my photos. Studio work slows things right down which in turn tried my patience and I could see many faults in each image. Then there's the selection of the right fruit, their preparation (mine were…

Potatoes: Heart Over Head

Way back in February I told you about the potatoes I was going to grow this year. We're still munching our way through the overall results, but today I can bring you those from my grow-in-a-bag 'Jazzy' trial.

I find growing potatoes is a triumph of my heart over my head. If you look at it purely from an economic point of view, it simply doesn't make sense as spuds are as cheap as chips [actually, they're cheaper - Ed] in the shops.

Yet there's nothing that brings me greater pleasure than my first dig of the year for the treasure buried in my potato patch. Then there's the warmth I felt from bringing home these particular spuds from a mere feet and seconds away, plus I usually choose varieties unavailable in the shops.

In the blurb 'Jazzy' potatoes are touted as yielding up to 80 potatoes from just 8 litres of compost. So how did my trial pack do? My little bag produced 25 potatoes with a total weight of 503 grammes - enough for two dinners each for…

Separated at Birth? Orchids

AOL's sign-on screen rotates through a number of pictures and now my moth orchid's back in bloom this month, it's the ideal time to have a play with the pictures to bring you this post.

Hat Tip to Private Eye, who always label their pictures the wrong way round for their Lookalikes feature.
Could they be related? I think we should be told.

Back to School: Throwing Some Shapes

This week's photography lesson was all about composition. I regularly run round VP Gardens with my camera to see what's of interest, so this was an enjoyable lesson and assignment. Again, it took me about 4 hours to complete.

Here's my collage of some of the pictures I rejected for assessment. Let's just say that smaller pictures hide a multitude of sins. Most of my learning on this course so far is centred around the simple art of looking (during the lesson, whilst taking the pictures and afterwards), plus the self-critique I go through during my picture selection.

 I kept the following in mind for my compositions:

Shapes and repeating shapesPatternsMirroringVertical and diagonal linesRule of thirdsAbstracts 
Here are the three photos I submitted for assessment. I thought some of them could possibly fit into more than one category - do you agree?

1. Vertical and diagonal lines - Salvia 'Amistad'

2. Shapes and repeating shapes - Eryngium mislabelledanthicus

3. …

GBBD: Good to be Back

A garden is a dynamic thing, which changes with the day, season, light and a host of other variables. Within this framework most plants thrive at VP Gardens and some quietly leave when I'm not looking. This month it's been good to welcome back two of the latter, both of which were part of the original planting I made 15 years ago this month.

The picture above is Fuchsia 'Garden News', one of the few hardy double cultivars available. Last year I thought it wasn't hardy enough as I saw not one peep out of it for the entire season. I've realised the real problem must have been shade rather than temperature, as it's bounced back for 2015. It's in the part of the garden which has much more light this year owing to last November's drama with the ash tree.

Another plant affected by shade were the Japanese anemones I planted at the bottom of the garden. Here's an example of the right plant in the wrong place; my limestone clay tamed the thuggish tendenc…

Back to School: Hands, Knees and Bumps-a-daisy

I'm 10 days into my online photography masterclass with Clive Nichols and My Garden School and I've had an enjoyable time crawling around my garden in a hands, knees and bumps-a-daisy fashion, in search of photos to illustrate my learning from the first two lessons.

There's been some frustrating technical glitches in getting into the school's classroom, so much so we've been given the option to defer our class until next month, plus an offer of a 25% discount on a further class if it's taken up by the end of the year. I've decided to crack on with things for now, though I may change my mind later if it continues.

In this post I'll look at the first lesson, Lighting for Flower and Plant Photography.

The collage above shows some of the results which didn't make it into the set I submitted for assessment.

Clive's lesson discussed the main types of light used in photography namely:
Soft, diffused lightWindow lightBright sunlightBack lightingSide lig…

A Malaysian Feast

Here's my first attempt at making an infographic as a thank you for the wonderful feast prepared and served at the Tourism Malaysia offices in London recently.

Click on the names of the dishes under the Recipes heading text to take you to the recipes. Note the Pandan cake calls for the leaves or juice of the Pandanus amaryllifolius plant. I'll let you know if I find a UK source - a Chinese supermarket perhaps?

Thanks to Tourism Malaysia for a wonderful meal and presentation on their country's incredible biodiversity - it's definitely one for my travel bucket list now.

Plant Profiles: Heucheras

Regular readers know I like heucheras a lot, a genus I discovered for the first time when I was deciding what to do with the design and planting of VP Gardens 15 years ago.

At that time the choice available had started to explode, mainly due to the breeding developments by Dan Heims in Oregon and Thierry Delabroye in France. Before then, cultivars were mainly darkish green with red flowers - hence their common names 'coral flower' and 'coral bells' - with pink or white flowers by way of variation.

Now the choice embraces the darkest of blacks through to the limiest of greens, with plenty of hints of caramel, ginger and mottling along the way.

The garden's sometimes resembled an archaeological dig this year after my clearing away the shrubbery, with some forgotten heucheras brought blinking back into the light, despite my placing them at the front of the border. It's interesting to see which ones have withstood this treatment - H. 'Licorice', H. 'Ob…

A Royal Welcome

I've been invited back to Buckingham Palace - to see the Royal Welcome exhibition in the State Rooms this time, as part of a bloggers tour guided by the exhibition's curator Anna Reynolds. We were admitted ahead of the day's crowds, much to the surprise to the many people queuing at the gate who tried to get in at the same time. As well as our privileged access, we also had permission to take photographs - huzzah!

Previous visitors to the Palace asked many questions about the preparations for state and other functions such as garden parties, so it was an easy decision to make it this year's theme.

We entered in the same place as invited guests would do, with the Australian state coach placed at the door so we could imagine arriving in such grandeur.

Inside our first stop was at the Grand Staircase, which we then climbed to see the rest of the rooms set aside for the tour.

Unlike my Painting Paradise visit, I managed to meet up with Dave Marsden aka The Anxious Gardene…

Seasonal Recipe: Figgy Cheese Tart

It's a great year for figs here at VP Gardens, though I fear some renovation pruning is required which will affect next year's crop. However, I'm staying in the present for now and the happy fact I have excess figs to deal with.

I'm continuing my experiments with seasonal tarts and quiches, and the thought of combining the sweetness of the figs with a salty blue cheese for a savoury tart for tea appealed. I don't usually go for combining sweet with savoury - ham and pineapple? Yuk. However, fruit with cheese is my exception to the rule, born out of the many cheese and apple sandwiches I had as a child.

It turned out to be a match made in heaven. Even NAH, suspicious at the thought when I suggested it, conceded the reality was very fine indeed.

Butter for greasing
Plain flour for rolling out
200g ready-made shortcrust pastry
2 tablespoons ground almonds
4 large figs, halved
100g blue cheese, crumbled
2 large eggs
150ml semi-skimmed milk
6-8 sprigs thyme…

GBMD: Living Wall

Patrick Blanc's living wall at the Athenaeum Hotel, Piccadilly. Well worth making a detour to gawp at (that's a technical term).