Showing posts from October, 2015

Lantern Leftovers

I'm feeding our neighbours' cat this week, so I've had plenty of time to preview their pumpkin lanterns set out in the garden ready for Halloween. That got me thinking: if the nation's lantern innards were gathered together, they'd probably form a small mountain or three.

How timely. World Vision contacted me this week with news of their Carve a Heart campaign, designed to create a gentler, more caring side to this year's Halloween shenanigans. Their pack includes a recipe for Moroccan Pumpkin Soup - a delicious way of using up those lantern leftovers, or in my case the solitary pumpkin harvested from my plot this year.

As Julieanne wisely said on Twitter: "Pumpkins are for eating, not just for lanterns".

Moroccan Pumpkin Soup Ingredients 
These are tweaked slightly from the original recipe to fit with what I had to hand.

60ml olive oil
100g shallots, peeled and sliced thinly (or a small onion, or 1 leek)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 small red c…

A Seaside Walk, Foraged Vegetables and Garden Interlopers

The last day of our holiday saw us walking along St Ouen's Bay close to the site where Monday's Jersey Royals box is located. The tide was out, so there was plenty of beach to explore. I've added NAH to the scene to give a sense of scale.

This view looks back towards the spot atop the cliffs where I took the picture postcard of the bay  shown previously. I was keen to have a closer look at the vegetation to the right of the photo, which stood next to the farmer's fields.

As I suspected, it's sea beet, an edible relative of chard and beetroot that's suitable for foraging. It was a new find for me and I saw plenty growing around the island during our stay. I wonder if it's ever harvested for the vegetable boxes? Young leaves can be used in salads, and it serves as a good substitute for spinach in any recipe.

As you can see, it likes growing along the sea wall and in the shingle of St Ouen's Bay.

However, when I reached the slipway at the end of our walk.…

Jersey Royals

One of my favourite sights on Jersey were these vegetable stalls at the side of the road. We found four of them, and this one was the first we discovered (at L'Etacq at dusk) and is also my favourite. It's the only one perched atop a wall (the rest relied solely on pallets) and I love how you can see the fields behind where the produce is grown, plus the clear light and the thin blue line which shows how close we are to the sea.

Now you can see how the system works. The produce is refreshed at least once a day and relies on an honesty box for payment. The island is famed for its potatoes and the Jersey Royal now has Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, which means only potatoes grown and harvested on the island can be named as such*. There were a few bags of them for sale, alongside cabbage, kale, spinach, sweetcorn, courgettes, green beans and tomatoes. All are grown organically.

The stalls belong to Le Feuvre Farms, a family concern that's been farming on Jerse…

My Favourite Garden Benches of 2015

Some of you may be aware I have a photography blog called Sign of the Times, where I regularly publish photos of benches I've found on my travels.

Here's a selection of 17 my favourite garden-related finds for 2015; some of them have their debut here on the internet for the first time.

Benches from Michelle Chapman
The slideshow has lots of extra information and links to websites where the benches reside. Here's a collage of 16 of the 17 benches if you'd prefer a quick look instead. Click on the picture to enlarge if needed.

Matt kindly nominated his favourite in the Comments, what's yours?

Wordless Wednesday: For Apple Day


VP's VIPs: Clive Nichols

I recently completed Clive Nichols' Masterclass in Flower Photography, so it was great to have the opportunity to nab him for a quick interview at the same time.

Over to you, Clive...

When did you take your first photo? What was it of? 

My first photo was of one of my mates at University – in black and white – that must have been in 1982.

Are you self-taught, or did you study photography in some way?

Totally self taught – I learnt about shutter speeds and things like depth of field from a little book in the 1980’s produced by Kodak called ‘Take better pictures’.

Now you're an acclaimed photographer, what advice would you give to your fledgling photographer self?

Get up early to catch the amazing light at dawn.

[NB Clive has been known to get up early and drive 200 miles to catch that light - Ed]

Who or what inspires you? 

I am inspired by everything and anything – art, landscape, photography, design, fashion, sport.

Getting technical 
How much of your work is indoors …

GBBD: Jersey Lilies and Latin Shenanigans

I couldn't return from holiday and not tell you about Jersey lilies for this month's Blooms Day. They were everywhere on the island, in virtually every garden and hedgerow. When I saw the hand-picked welcome from our cottage owner's garden, I suddenly remembered their common name. How appropriate to find them in profusion on their namesake island, even though they really hail from South Africa.

I've tried growing them before, but without much success. Their strap-like leaves appear every year, but no flowers. I planted them in a sun-baked gravel area which is what they like, but I thought I hadn't buried them deeply enough. Now I've seen how they were growing away in the gardens at Samares Manor with their bulbs exposed for everyone to see, I wonder if I've buried them too deeply.

They're rated as H3 hardiness, which is borderline for their survival in my garden. They're more suited to the gentler climate Jersey has to offer, though mine haven'…

Plant Profiles: Figs

The weather's finally turned chilly this week, so we're facing proper autumn at last. It's a shame because I'd half-hoped my fig tree's second crop of the year would have time to ripen for once. In my heart I knew it's only a dream, but if I could move my ginormous tree inside for protection I'd increase my chances greatly.

As you can see that's not going to happen, would you believe that whole tree is housed in a pot two feet wide and three feet tall? It proves the guidance on root restriction really does help fig trees to thrive, but alas it's destroyed my chance of enjoying their main crop of the year. It's said they taste even better than the over-wintered breba crop.

The fruit form on the season's new growth, which means it's time to take my tree in hand as much of that was out of reach this year, much to the delight of the local squirrels. I also managed a superb crop of ground touching fruit, so somewhere in the garden there are …

Postcard From Jersey

We've just come back from a last-minute and much needed break in Jersey, our first trip to the island. We stayed right on the north western tip, just a few minutes walk through heathland to find this glorious view. Jersey is a mere 9 by 5 miles, so you're never that far from the sea. We just about had a view of it from our bedroom window, and to my joy I realised the lighthouse winking at us was in France.

We took the ferry over which always feels like we're travelling abroad, and this was heightened by all the French road names and other references on the island. Many islanders - including the owners of our cottage - speak a local patois based on Norman French. William the Conqueror owned the Channel Islands as part of the Duchy of Normandy, hence the strong link with France.

We weren't in the UK either, but a Crown dependency, so it was interesting to see how the island's government works and how this makes daily life familiar, yet subtly different to ours. One …

Raspberry Breeding at East Malling Research

As you can see I've had some more fun playing around with infographics. Lesson learned - images saved as png files are sharper than jpegs.
My thanks to everyone at East Malling Research, Lubera's Markus Kobelt and Fran Suermondt for making this day happen.

A visit to East Malling has been on my wishlist since I was a student. In my mind's eye I could see my 17 year-old self waving at me from my trip to the National Vegetable Research Station (now part of Warwick University) at Wellesbourne. Happy days.

Update: This is blog post number 2,000. It's  fitting it's one which highlights a great day where I crossed something off my wishlist, has lots of information, and where I've been fiddling around to bring something different to the blog.

Many thanks for reading and all your comments over the years. I wouldn't have got this far without you. Now, how shall we celebrate?

Our Wild and Woolly Lawn

If you were an ecologist and placed a number of quadrats in a random fashion on our lawn, you'd consistently find much more than plain old grass. You see, I've been rather relaxed about having a perfect lawn the past few years, and I think we have something far more interesting as a result.

Until the ash tree's demise last year, we had a back lawn which went from deep shade to a positively Mediterranean climate in just a few yards. Now it's merely light shade where all was dark previously, and all kinds of plants are trying to get in amongst the moss. It's an area which really wants to revert back to being a field again, plus it regularly weathers a veritable snowstorm of dandelions and other passing seeds.

Realistically it's never going to win Britain's Best Lawn.

I've decided life's too short and the hard work needed to try and win BBL is best left to one of our neighbours, who seems to enjoy the hours he spends outdoors primping and perfecting h…

Things in Unusual Places #17: Peahen

I was giggling at my local garden centre recently when I found the pictured peahen seemingly admiring herself in the mirror.

In Corsham, peafowl are a regular sight striding down the High Street, where they've walked over from nearby Corsham Court. Sometimes they venture further afield, up to a couple of miles away.

On one memorable occasion when we first moved to Corsham, a peacock took up residence and installed himself for several weeks over a velux window where we were staying. It made for rather a dim but pretty time in the kitchen as the window was the sole source of natural light.

Inspired by the residents of Corsham Court (and its environs), Whitehall Garden Centre - which is only a few miles away - decided to have its own resident population of the birds. I'd heard their eerie sounding calls on a previous visit, but never expected to find one in the ladies loos.

Back to School: Vision On

I've shown you lots of pictures over the past few weeks, hence my choice of title for today's post - I'm reminded of Vision On's Gallery section if you can remember back that far.

The final lesson of the photography course was about developing technique and vision, and Clive Nichols specifically talked about:
Looking at plants from different or unusual angles, especially an insect's viewpointThe colour wheel and finding complementary backgrounds in natureUse of wide and narrow lens apertures to achieve soft or pin-point subject focus respectivelyUsing movement creatively - either naturally (i.e. windy conditions) or man-made (via the camera)Looking out for other creative opportunities, such as shadows, and finding good plant combinations to photograph
There was also a tiny section on simple post photoshoot processing; students looking for in-depth guidance on this topic, or the use of additional lighting should look elsewhere. This course focuses on plant forms and…

GBMD: To Paint a Water Lily