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Showing posts from October, 2016

Book Review: Three for Reference

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Autumn is a good time to start plans for next season in the garden, and the following three books are great aids to help gardeners to do so. Over the past few weeks I've had the pleasure of reading:

The mother of all plant reference worksA great boxed set to inspire the budding fruit and veg grower, no matter how small their plotA book on design that's been a regular companion in my garden, whilst I ponder where it's headed next.
All three are review copies, I received courtesy of the publishers.


The RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants
This is no lap book, but a hefty tome weighing in at around four kilos. It merits a read whilst sitting at a table with a cuppa and notebook to hand.

This is the 4th Edition of Christopher Brickell's outstanding work. Around 5,000 plants have been added, to provide a comprehensive reference of over 15,000 garden plants.

I would have preferred the two-volume approach of the previous edition, but welcome the increased focus on plant descr…

Wordless Wednesday: Last of the sun in Morrison's car park

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Music for the Masses

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My head is still stuffed with the most wonderful music today, so it's time to take a break from my usual bloggage.

On Sunday I sang the chorales in Bach's St John Passion at the Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradford on Avon, as part of a project put together by English Touring Opera (ETO). Our performance was reviewed in The Guardian yesterday, which has kept the music in my head and the good feelings going well into today.

I must admit I was a bit daunted at first. I can't read music, it's a challenging piece, and it's not the kind of thing I usually perform or listen to. However, the WMC Choir component was a scratch choir, so there would be plenty of people like me there. It was too good an opportunity to miss.

Can a scratch choir perform to the standards expected by ETO with just four rehearsals? It seems we can, as long as you do your homework. There were practice tracks to sing along to courtesy of Cyberbass and the whole thing is available on YouTube. The latt…

A poem for Apple Day

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I'm not quite as weary as Robert Frost's apple picker, but then I'm not doing it for a living. This year's crop is a good one, and now is the right time for picking most of them here at VP Gardens. It's the perfect way to celebrate today's Apple Day.

This year marks a change in how I'll use some of my harvest. The bulk is for eating fresh or squirreling away in the freezer to extend the time I can add chopped apple to my daily porridge. The difference lies in what I'll be doing with the remainder: in the past windfall cake and apple jelly were our staple fare, but now we're trying to reduce the amount of refined sugar in our diet.

As a result, a smart, shiny new juicer awaits these apples in my kitchen. I agonised for ages over whether to invest in this or a press. In the end I decided I'm not quite ready for a bulk approach to juicing, nor do I have the freezer space or bottles needed to store them. Smaller amounts freshly prepared to accompan…

A Hellebore Convert

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Here's a nice surprise from last week's mail. I wrote the above article for Suffolk Plant Heritage Journal early this year and then promptly forgot about it. Click to enlarge the picture if needed.

Since I wrote the article I've added twenty 'Washfield Doubles' to the shady borders in the front and back gardens. I've planted some of them in the lower terrace bed, so I can admire them without having to bend down to do so.

They rewarded me with a surprise flowering in late spring which shows they must be settling in well. These forms were bred by Elizabeth Strangman, who raised them from double flowers of Helleborus x hybridus she found growing wild in Yugoslavia.

They're beginning to make themselves known again, now that summer's foliage is beginning to die back.  So far I have a couple of creamy speckled ones, and I may find I have white, yellow, light or dark pink ones too. It's good to know I have some new treats and a few surprises in store for …

GBBD: Autumn's Surprise

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Earlier in Blooms Day I talked about the concept of Sleep, Creep, Leap which allows plants to take time - around three years - to establish themselves before they show their full glory. I've also blogged about surprise returns to the garden after a long absence - yes, I'm looking at you, Fuchsia 'Garden News' and you, Anemone 'Hadspen Abundance'.

Little did I know there was an even bigger garden surprise awaiting me, in the shape of the pictured nerine. I planted it in a sunny gravel area at the side of my garden seven years ago; the best spot for it, or so I thought. Most years it's deigned to show a couple of untidy sprawling leaves and this year it's actually flowered for the first time.

My last job often took me to Dublin, where it seemed every front garden hosted a border or two of the more familiar pink nerine at this time of the year. I felt they'd lined up in welcome, with their heads nodding approvingly in the breeze as I made my way into …

Plant Profiles: Daffodils

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One of my first gardening activities when I moved to VP Gardens was to plant hundreds of daffodils on the bank at the side of the house. The effect in my mind's eye was similar to the one above and it was successful, until the trees and shrubs planted by the builders grew taller and shaded them out.

Now there's the opportunity to try again as NAH - in Drastic Gardener guise again - has started to cut back some of the unwanted vegetation (mainly suckering blackthorn and bramble from the public land), thus letting more light onto our patch. The overgrown dogwood still needs taking in hand, but my mind is set on a host of dancing daffodils again.

In the meantime, I've treated myself to some of the daintier ones to cheer next spring. These are mainly in pots, so I can admire them from the patio. I tried this a few years ago and was surprised one evening to find the most amazing scent outside our bedroom window. It was the year of the freakishly warm March and I'd opened t…

Tomato rescue

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I've stuck with Friday's windowsill theme for today's post, but moved upstairs this time. I've just rescued my tomatoes from the patio as I spotted the first signs of blight yesterday. Like most resistant tomatoes, my trial 'Mountain Magic' does eventually succumb to the dreaded disease, though at a much slower pace. It means I've had enough time to harvest the remaining fruit.

I picked 6 large punnets: 2 each of 'ready to eat now' and 'needs a little more ripening', plus 1 each of  'needs a lot more ripening' and 'not sure if they have blight'. I've found tomatoes tend to develop a warning translucence before blight reveals itself. You can see some potential candidates I'm keeping an eye on in the above photo.

At this point, most people would share their favourite recipe for green tomato chutney, but we're not great eaters of it here at VP Gardens. Instead, I spread out my tomatoes on windowsills on the sunny si…

A windowsill makeover

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I knew something was wrong when I found the pictured basket of Aloe vera on my kitchen chair recently, instead of the windowsill where it usually resides...

"... What's that doing on my seat?", I asked NAH.

"It's getting in the way, and I'm fed up. What is it anyway?"

"It's Aloe vera. I keep it there in case we have a burn to treat."

"And how many times have you used it?"

"Er, none," was my shamefaced reply, "that's why it's got rather out of hand."

Aloe vera is a tough succulent suitable for growing indoors in the UK. That pictured little lot goes back well over nine years, as I was given an offshoot to pot up by my GNO friend H well before I left my last permanent job. The only care I've taken since then was to pot up the pictured three pots of them grown from the original offshoot, and to trim the dead ends and leaves from time to time.

I'm shocked by my own neglect, yet pleased NAH in his D…

Seasonal Recipe: Shallot Marmalade

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I had the first rummage through my stored shallots recently and found some had started to sprout or were on the verge of going soft. Quick action was needed to save this part of my crop.

I separated out the suspect shallots, plus the teeny tiny ones which are always fiddly to deal with and found I had half a kilo to play with. Onion jam or marmalade is quite trendy, so I decided to have a go at making the equivalent using my shallots.

I've kept the ingredients list quite simple, using some oil for the initial softening, sugar for the middle cameralisation, then balsamic vinegar for the final preservation. A little water is needed at the final stage to give the flavours enough time to combine together nicely.

I struck lucky with my chosen ingredients and amounts, thank goodness. I'm confident it'll work just as well with onions, though I'd probably add a touch more sugar to the recipe as shallots are quite sweet in the first place.

NAH's verdict: Cor, that's rea…

GBMD: Sing a song of seasons

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This is the last verse from 'Autumn Fires' published in A Child's Garden of Verses in 1885.

It's good to be reminded there's a positive side to the dying of the light that autumn brings. As a result I've resolved to plant lots of daffodils this month and to think sunshiny thoughts centred around the promise of their yellow cheerfulness in spring. I'm also focusing on plans, projects and experiments for 2017, accompanied by toasted marshmallows from a suitable bonfire.

What are your thoughts and plans for October?

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Last week I came across Poetry for the Autumn Equinox on Radio 4's website. What a treat to have readings of some of our most famous autumnal poems.