Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Friday, 30 January 2015

Puzzle Corner: Answers to What's in a Name Part 2

How did you get on with part 2 of my Latin quiz? Here are the answers with some examples from my garden, as are the items marked *, also pictured above.

Latin Name Meaning Example
nemorosus growing in woods Anemone nemorosa
officinalis used in medicine Salvia officinalis*
pleniflorus double flowers Kerria japonica 'Pleniflora'*
quamash from the native American for sweet Camassia quamash
rigescens rather stiff Diascia rigescens
sativus sown, planted, cultivated Crocus sativus
Tulipa from the Turkish for turban Tulipa tarda
uva-crispa curly grape Ribes uva-crispa*
vulgare common Foeniculum vulgare*
wherryi named after an American scientist
(Edgar Wherry 1885-1982)**
Tiarella wherryi
xanthocarpus with yellow fruit Sorbus aucuparia var. xanthocarpa
yedoensis from Tokyo Prunus X yedoensis
zonalis with a distinct band of a different colour Pelargonium zonale

** = an apt choice in this International Year of Soils as he was a soil scientist and botanist.

I'm crossing my fingers these names and examples don't change. With the advent of DNA analysis to sit alongside the taxonimists' usual tools of a dissection kit, microscope and observational work, many of our garden-worthy plants have been reclassified and renamed lately.

For example, it's taken me years to remember the new name for the Dicentra spectabilis in my garden is Lamprocapnos spectabilis. It doesn't help that many of the other Dicentra have stayed where they are and many of the plant sellers have stuck with the name Dicentra too.

I finally found a way of fixing the name in my brain whilst devising this quiz. Lamprocapnos = a picture in my head of 'our Spanish professional lamp wearing a cap' i.e. nos = Spanish for our, professional = pro and the lamp and cap are self explanatory. Don't ask me how, but it works!

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

"... but it's too cold for salad!"

Steaming away on the stove - a cauldron of bubbling hot salad *. 
"...but it's too cold for salad!" is a regular teatime cry lately at VP Gardens. We eat salad year-round here because it suits our constitution, but when NAH's days involve hat, gloves, thermals and a 28-ton girlfriend, the hours of cold seeping into his bones defeats that intention.

I plan our meals and shopping with salads in mind, but I regularly have to improvise with store cupboard ingredients when the weather demands something piping hot at this time of the year. I then have a problem with what to do with my home-grown and any shop-bought salad ingredients** lurking in the fridge.

As you can see my usual solution is to make soup as this features regularly on our lunch menu. I chanced on The Guardian's "13 recipe ideas for leftover salad" recently which has some different ideas. I must admit I giggled at first as we rarely have any leftover food, but of course in this instance that's exactly what I have.

I'm definitely going to try the recipe for Chinese-style stir-fried lettuce. My Nepalese allotment neighbour told me they use the masses of lettuces she grows in stir-fries, just like we might use spinach. In the past I've rejected the notion of warm salads, but my chats with her have given me a fresh perspective on the foods we have in common, and the markedly different ways in which we use them.

I know many of you don't relish the thought of salad in winter, but seeing The 52 Week Salad Challenge has proved growing salad leaves is a good way of growing something fresh, tasty and year-round which also saves a ton of money compared to shop-bought, then perhaps these ideas and the following discoveries plundered from The Guardian might persuade you to think otherwise.

I've selected links where most of the warm salads featured use seasonal ingredients for this time of the year:

Do you have a favourite winter salad? Tell me about it in the Comments below - ideas for cold or warm salads are welcome.

* = in this instance it was 1 litre vegetable stock, 1 chopped onion, 4 cherry tomatoes, 1 small chopped green bell pepper, 1 chopped pointy red pepper, lots of freshly picked mixed leaves (fill the pot and they soon wilt down), 1 teaspoon mixed herbs and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Simmer for 25 minutes and then mash to a smooth soup with a hand blender. Surprisingly tasty.

** = I may be able to produce leaves year-round, but NAH's tastes salad-wise demand we still have lots of tomatoes, cucumber and peppers at this time of the year, despite my best efforts to provide something totally seasonal :(

*** = I had a fab Vietnamese meal with Naomi and Veronica in Finsbury Park late last year, so I intend to explore this cuisine further in 2015. Recipe or book recommendations on this topic are welcome!

Monday, 26 January 2015

Hoary Morning

Collage of hoar frost in my garden, January 2015

You may have noticed my sidebar says I'm looking forward to some magical hoar frost.
I'm pleased to say it arrived.

A second collage of hoar frost pictures from my garden

Friday, 23 January 2015

Puzzle Corner: What's in a Name? Part 2

Here's part 2 of my Latin quiz, which covers the letters N to Z. Can you match the meanings with their correct Latin names? There are some culinary examples this time to sit alongside last week's floral and shrubby ones.

Latin Name Meaning
nemorosus with a distinct band of a different colour
officinalis from the Turkish for turban
pleniflorus common
quamash growing in woods
rigescens from Tokyo
sativus curly grape
Tulipa used in medicine
uva-crispa double flowers
vulgare with yellow fruit
wherryi rather stiff
xanthocarpus from the native American for sweet
yedoensis sown, planted, cultivated
zonalis named after an American scientist

Have fun and I'll publish the answers next week! If you'd also like to have a go with A to M and missed them previously, here's Part 1.

If you're looking for some more fun to help while away the winter blues, last year's Puzzle Corner strand included a wordsearch, a cryptic word grid and a garden scramble.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Monday, 19 January 2015

Book Review: Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds

Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds book cover
This isn't a conventional book review as I have to declare an interest. Victoria - one of the authors - is a very good friend of mine, so I've witnessed snippets of this book's birth for nearly 2 years. Not only that, she's generously mentioned me in her Acknowledgements - squeeeeeeee!

When Victoria told me about her commission and the title, I giggled as I thought there are very few gardens in the Cotswolds which are secret. Indeed it's one of the most well-known areas in the world gardens-wise.

The next time we met up I presented her with another book about Cotswold gardens. "Please make sure it's better than this one", I begged her, "this effort is little better than what you can find online".

I needn't have worried, this book is far, far better. Victoria has done her research thoroughly and I've visited just one of the gardens. Most are only open one or two days per year and some not at all, so these are gardens awaiting discovery. There's a useful listing at the back of the book, so I suspect they're poised to become more familiar to many of us this year.

Like the famous gardens such as Hidcote and Barnsley House, these have the characteristic mellow honeyed stone the Cotswolds bestows. Many also have the usual box and yew to give them structure and topiary often features, but there the similarity ends. Victoria and Hugo Rittson-Thomas have cleverly got beneath that familiar veneer and teased out the individuality of each of the 20 gardens featured.

This is partly due to the current makers being featured in most cases - including Hugo and his wife Silka at Walcot House. This is a good move because we not only have the owners as our guide, the thinking behind each garden's incarnation is revealed. We find that many of these are a work in progress, so this approach helps them feel more of a living, developing entity rather than set in aspic.

Victoria's essays are revealing and deftly written, and Hugo's photography is superb. I particularly like the one page pictorial summaries containing both broad views and tiny details. These help to provide a sense of movement through each garden.

Bravo Hugo and Victoria - I look forward to seeing you at the launch!

Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds is due for publication on February 5th 2015 by Frances Lincoln.

NB The Anxious Gardener has a competition for you to win a copy, though you'll need to be quick as the closing date is January 23rd.

If you're too late or unlucky, fear not. I have a special offer for you:

To order Secret Gardens of the Cotswolds at the discounted price of £16.00 including p&p* (RRP: £20.00), telephone 01903 828503 or email and quote the offer code APG281. 

*= UK ONLY - Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.

Friday, 16 January 2015

Puzzle Corner: What's in a Name? The Answers

How did you get on last week? Here are the answers with some examples from my garden. The items marked * are shown above.

Latin Name Meaning Example
aquifolius pointed leaves Ilex aquifolium*
balearicus from a group of islands in the Mediterranean sea (The Balearics) Clematis cirrhosa var. balearica*
cirrhosus with tendrils As above
dioicus having male and female organs on separate plants Carex dioica
Echinops/Echinacea from the Greek word for hedgehog Echinacea purpurea
floridus flowering abundantly Miscanthus floridus
Galanthus from the Greek for milk and flower Galanthus nivalis*
hirsuta hairy Primula hirsuta
involucratus having a circle of bracts around the flowers Astrantia major subsp. involucrata*
jonquilla like a rush (i.e. Juncus) Narcissus jonquilla
kermisinus carmine or purplish red Clematis 'Kermesina'
lanatus woolly Lavandula lanata
mollis soft Alchemilla mollis

 Tune in next week for N to Z!

Thursday, 15 January 2015

GBBD: Helleborus 'Anna's Red'

I fell in love with this hellebore 2 years ago when I visited Great Dixter, but I only realised later my love was a tad on the expensive side to acquire. Since then, her price has come down slightly and she finally came to stay with me last year.

I've started to choose plants with more meaning for my garden. Ideally they need to be a reminder of something; good times - a visit to a fantastic garden perhaps, or good friends, or maybe something else. Helleborus 'Anna's Red' encompasses all three: the aforementioned visit, my friend Naomi who organised it, plus the couple of times I've met Anna Pavord, who is delightful and for whom this hellebore is named.

I agonised for ages where my plant should go and finally decided a pot on the patio is the best spot. There I see it frequently whilst I'm pottering outside, plus the veined and marbled deep green leaves continue to provide interest and architecture after the flowers have long gone.

I went to Tom Mitchell's interesting talk called 'Where the Wild Things Are' on Monday at Bath University Gardening Club. Regular readers will know him already as I followed his nursery in its first year, but even with that close scrutiny I hadn't really twigged Tom's passion is for species plants and their diversity - hellebores included - rather than hybrids.

Through Tom's eyes, I've begun to reconsider my position. I've had difficulties with this genus in the past because I've felt their downward facing flowers are too much faff and effort to view properly. My conversion started with the larger, more upright flowering Helleborus x ericsmithii 'Winter Moonbeam' and continued with H. 'Anna's Red'.

On Monday he showed photos of species hellebores with finely divided leaves and some whose leaves melt away before flowering time, rather than the grower having to cut them back as the 'gardening rules' advise. I'll be visiting the nursery at the end of the month and I have a feeling some of Tom's hellebores will be leaping into my car to grace the shaded area of the garden.

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


Latin Without Tears

Thanks for your positive reaction to last week's Latin Quiz - I'll publish the answers tomorrow as promised. As a result I've decided to feature some botanical Latin and its meaning on a regular basis on the blog - it'll help me in my quest to understand it too! Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day and my Plant Profiles series are the ideal posts for this, so here goes... 

Helleborus - my A to Z of Plant Names says it's from the Greek name for a poisonous medicinal plant. As well as this explanation, the Online Etymology Dictionary suggests it might mean a 'plant eaten by fawns', also derived from Greek and that it was reputed to cure madness.

H. 'Anna's Red' is classified in the Rodney Davey Marbled Group - the name of the breeder, whose story is told in the Anna Pavord link in the main post above.

ericsmithii - according to my Plant Names Explained, Eric Smith (1917-1986) was a plantsman and gardener at Hadspen House, Somerset. My fab H. 'Winter Moonbeam' was purchased from the breeder, Harveys Garden Plants. I also have a friend called Eric Smith - he and his wife are directly responsible for NAH and I meeting each other :)

Monday, 12 January 2015

The PR Files: Call Me 'April'

me in my garden wearing a scarf I'd knitted
The only time I've featured an 'outfit' on the blog - the scarf I knitted for Kathryn's project 

It appears we're all badly mistaken. According to a number of emails I've received lately...
  • My name isn't VP, Veep or Michelle; it's April
  • My blog has nothing to do with vegetables or gardening. Instead I have a 'fashion forward sense of style' which allows me to rock various outfits
  • After careful scrutiny of my website which is called tuscanymotorcyclerentals -  not Veg Plotting - I could also do with some help from an 'ethical internet marketer'... whatever that is
I kid you not - here's some of the evidence with their exclamation and quotation marks retained to prove authenticity. The first piece is from November - I binned the one I received in October, before I realised 'April' was going to have quite an extensive correspondence...

Hi April,

Spoof image of me wearing a little black dress
Me and my LBD
My name is Korrie, I'm the Outreach Coordinator at Here at DailyLook we believe the "little black dress" is essential to every stylish wardrobe. It's easy to dress down for a daytime look or glam up for an evening out on the town! We admire your creative sense of style and would love to invite you to participate in our "LBD from Day to Night challenge!"

We'd love for you to put together the perfect "day to night" look by using one of our little black dresses as your inspiration. Take the image from our website and pair it with the perfect pieces to complete both look. You can create your outfit by using our Style Sets ( or any of your favorite styling platforms, from there simply share it on your blog! We are looking forward to sharing our favorite posts each week on our social media platforms!

Then last December...

Question for April! (in the subject line)

Photo of my eco-friendly watch which stops and therefore needs a sunshine top up in the winter
My eco-friendly watch
basking on our windowsill
so it starts working again

My name is Sam and I'm from Invaluable, the world's premiere online marketplace. We feature all sorts of jewelry, watches, antiques, collectibles, and even entire estate sales. I'm emailing you because I think you would be a perfect fit for a project we're running.

Watches are still a fashion statement and many people value them more for their elaborate craftsmanship, aesthetic appeal and glamorous design than for simple timekeeping. Whether it is for a night out, a professional meeting, or a just a small get together the watch is something that cannot be neglected. However, it takes quite the eye to put these looks together; this is where we need your help.

We are looking for bloggers like yourself to showcase some of the amazing timepieces on our site and style a look that is sure to turn heads no matter what the occasion. From what I have seen on your blog you seem like the perfect candidate for this.

Finally, only last week...

Hi April!

Photo of me mucking around with a football sized dahlia
Here's a dahlia selfie...
...because I've never
been a bridesmaid 
My name is Alex and I am the Community Coordinator at Weddington Way! For the month of January, we are virtually hosting our very own style challenge. We noticed your fashion-forward sense of style from reading your blog and would love for you to participate!

There's something irresistible about saying "I dos" with a romantic wintry setting. We're asking bloggers to help us create the perfect bridesmaid ensemble for a winter wonderland wedding using an image from our Weddington Way dress collection. The challenge is this: If you were the Maid of Honor and the bride asked you to style the bridesmaid look for her big day, what would you suggest? Feel free to set the tone for this frost-covered fete with festive details such as color recommendations, hair ideas, makeup looks, jewelry, clutch/purses, shoes, etc!

You will be entered into the style challenge as soon as you publish your look on April's Creative Corner. We will adding our favorites to our January Style Challenge Pinterest board as well as our Facebook page for our 200,000+ followers to see!

Simply respond to this email if you're interested and we would love to provide you with more details and exclusive bridesmaid dress images!


All I need to do next is take these 'outfits' off to Tuscany, hire a motorcycle and my blog is sorted ;)

Needless to say, if 'April' receives any more correspondence, I now have the perfect reply. I wonder if April's Creative Corner mentioned in the last example is a clue. It looks like Veg Plotting could be mixed up with her blog and I'm on some kind of master list somewhere, destined forever to receive these emails on a regular basis.

If you're a PR person who's stumbled across this post, it's nice to see you're here to do your homework and ensure your email isn't the next one featured in The PR Files. No wait... forget what I've just said - that means I couldn't have any more fun!

Have you had any amusing PR gaffes? Tell all in the comments below.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Puzzle Corner: What's in a Name?

Just before I started blogging, I began a distance learning planting design/RHS course. The facilities included a discussion room so we students could interact with each other no matter where we were.

8pm on Tuesdays soon became the favoured slot for those of us who'd started the course around the same time. The only topic I remember we talked about at length was getting to grips with Latin names. We all found it very difficult, but as we hailed from Spain, Sweden, Italy and France - as well as Britain - we agreed we needed to persevere so we all could understand exactly which plants we were talking about.

I soon dropped the course in favour of blogging (as I was learning more and having fun), but I've continued to persevere with Latin as it's so fascinating. There are a whole host of clues waiting to be unravelled, a bit like a jigsaw puzzle and cryptic crossword combined. Solve the puzzle and you gain all kinds of insight about what the plant looks like, its origin, or even who discovered it.

I've had lots of fun putting together a botanical Latin quiz for the latest Puzzle Corner. It's in 2 parts, with this week's quiz covering A to M. Can you match the names with their meanings? I'll give you the answers next Friday - the pictures at the top of this post are examples from my garden to give you some clues.

Latin Name Meaning
aquifolius soft
balearicus flowering abundantly
cirrhosus hairy
dioicus from the Greek for milk and flower
Echinops/Echinacea with pointed leaves
floridus woolly
Galanthus like a rush
hirsuta from a group of islands in the Mediterranean Sea
involucratus with tendrils
jonquilla having male and female organs on separate plants
kermisinus from the Greek word for hedgehog
lanatus having a circle of bracts around the flowers
mollis carmine or purplish red

Have fun and see you next week!

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Tree Following with Lucy: A New Year Dawns

Collage of photographs of the ash tree at the side of our garden in 2014
With a dramatic start and a stately tree in the middle, who could have foretold 2014's dramatic ending? 
Who said trees are boring? When I started Lucy's meme last year, I did wonder how I could say something different about my ash tree every month. However, seasonal changes, plus dramatic bookends to 2014's posts, meant my anticipated struggle never materialised.

Mr and Mrs pigeon have moved to another tree along the hedgerow at the side of the house to continue their canoodling and my tree's stump currently forms the favoured spot for a song thrush to sing the day's darkness. It's a pleasure to hear its bubbling calls and whistles ringing out at the end of the day.

Thanks to those of you who commented last month with some reassurance the stump will most probably regenerate. Until that happens or the rot visibly sets in, I'll be calling time on my tree following posts. I feel I've invested too much in this particular tree to follow another one for 2015.

In the meantime, I have a shady-no-more-border project to plan and plant up :)

Have a look at Loose and Leafy to see how the other Tree Followers are faring this month.

Monday, 5 January 2015

My Chilly Chilli Challenge

A chilli plant posing on our bedroom windowsill
I love how the red of this pot matches my fiery chillis. They brighten up the New Year gloom too. 

My first gardening project of 2015 is to try and overwinter this chilli plant. I tried in vain last year with the 'Basket of Fire' plants I grew, but unlike the one owned by my friend Lu in Totnes, sadly they didn't make it into 2014. As you can see, this year's attempt is faring better *crosses fingers*.

Our milder October may have been a factor in this plant's survival. It started flowering again and some of the resultant fruits are now slowly turning a fiery red. I also started with a shop bought specimen of unknown variety which I fully expected to keel over. It's lost plenty of leaves, but when I inspected and trimmed it last month, I noticed there were still plenty of healthy looking clusters of leaves on the lower part of the plant.

My ongoing care regime is to water occasionally and move the plant off the windowsill when particularly icy nights are forecast. Although we have double glazing, night time temperatures can still plummet to chilly depths behind the curtains.

Around March/April time my plan is to pick off any remaining fruits, trim the plant back to the healthiest clusters of leaves, re-fresh the compost (or re-pot if necessary), give it a good feed and start regular watering *crosses fingers again*.

Have you successfully overwintered any chilli plants? Please share your top tips for success in the comments, or tell me about your first project of 2015.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

GBMD: The White Snow Falls

Extract from the White Snow Falls by E Nesbit with picture of Emily Moor, Yorkshire in snow
On Emley Moor, Yorkshire - late December 2014
It's a time for family, quiet reflection and garden catalogues. Happy New Year everyone.
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