Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Product Review: A Photo Book from Saal Digital

Sign of the Times photo book work in progress
Work in progress on my photo book's creation

I'm usually blind to internet adverts, so I was quite surprised when Saal Digital's offer of a £40 voucher towards a photobook (via my newbie Instagram account) managed to filter through.

You may remember my ABC of Chippenham, which I made using Blurb's software a few years ago. I've wanted to do something similar with my Sign of the Times photography blog for a while, so the offer was timely.

It's not an automatic voucher; I had to apply for one, and as you can see from the above picture I was successful. Once Saal's application software is downloaded, you have two weeks in which to create your book and redeem your voucher at the checkout.

This short timeframe wasn't a problem as I managed to create the book I wanted over a couple of intensive days. However, I did spend quite a lot of time reviewing, shortlisting and sourcing the photos, plus sorting them into broad categories beforehand.This reduced the time needed within the application considerably.

My shortlist came to 400 photos (out of 850), so I decided to spend some extra to produce the book I really wanted. I chose the A4 landscape option as most of my photos are in that format and it also gave me slightly more space to play with for the price.

Initial photo book options
The photo book options presented at the start
Once the software is downloaded and the product and format selected, you are presented with some overall options. I chose a glossy cover (as it says a matte cover doesn't work well with dark pictures) and matte pages.

Don't worry about the number of pages option (like I was) as it's easy to add or delete pages later. However, it's good to be aware of what implications those decisions have on cost and you can see this on the screen throughout the book's creation.

Photo book layout options
Layout options
Next comes the mind boggling layout options selection. I would have liked more help at this point as it was difficult to know whether the simple or all-rounders layouts would be best for my book. I plumped for the all-rounder one, then found later on it was easy to add in page templates from the other layouts as and when needed.

I see another reviewer opted to use external software they're more familiar with to design and layout the book they wanted. As long as that software can export a pdf version, then that's no problem.

Page layout screen
Most of the page layout screen
This is the main working screen. Depending on the layout option and number of pages chosen, the pages are pre-loaded with a variety of page templates, with more available to select under the Design heading on the right.

To the left you'll see the application has loaded in the images I wanted to use, which I'd pre-sorted into sub folders. I went through each folder in turn and chose a page template or two appropriate for the number of images there. It's then a simple matter of dragging and dropping each image into the container(s) on each page. The application also tells you whether the selected image is of sufficient quality for the book's image size selected.

My major quibble at this point is I found it quite difficult to use the crop function to get the image looking exactly how I wanted it when using the touch pad on my laptop. It's probably assumed a mouse is used with this application.

I'd also like more online help - what's available is woeful, especially when compared to Blurb. Click on the help option at the top of the page and there's a one page introduction to the book creation process. Hovering over the highlighted text on this page shows the small amount of additional help isn't translated from German.

Overall I found the application easy to use once I'd got use to it. After a bit of juggling over the two days, I ended up with a 70 page layout I really liked using 225 images from my initial shortlist of 400. NB I only added a minimal amount of text as this application is really geared towards images.
Pdf preview
Part of the pdf preview document showing some of the different page templates chosen

I then quickly previewed my book using the pdf option as shown above. I'd recommend doing this as reviewing online doesn't always pick things up. I spotted a few corrections needed from the problems I'd had - I managed to misalign some of my images rather than crop them.

Then it was time to upload my book ready for printing and pay for it. Note that upload time can be quite long; my 70 pages took 35 minutes and we have superfast broadband.

Delivery time was quick - I uploaded my book on Tuesday evening and it arrived on Saturday morning from Germany, with plenty of tracking messages along the way to tell me about printing, dispatch and postal progress.

The final result
The finished result - Skimble wanted to read it too
I'm thrilled with the result. Colour reproduction is excellent and didn't need any adjustment during the book's creation. The pages are thick and stiff - more like photographic paper - and they lay flat, so the pictures across two pages still look good. The thickness of the pages explains why this is an expensive option compared to others - like Blurb - on the market.

Note that the first and last pages are glued onto the cover, but the images still look good - as you can see with my red shoes. There's also an unobtrusive QR code on the back cover; you can pay to remove it if needed.
This is a good product for a physical memento of a special occasion or for professional photographers wanting to present their portfolio in a tangible way. Those looking to produce something that's more of a mixture of image and text beyond just captions, will probably need to look elsewhere.

This was a fun project to do and I've thoroughly enjoyed revisiting my photos from Sign of the Times.

Friday, 26 August 2016

Weekend Wandering: The Other Chippenham

Road sign on the way into Chippenham, Cambridgeshire

Do not adjust your blog, this really is Chippenham. It's simply different to the one you're used to seeing here on Veg Plotting.

I found myself just a few miles from Chippenham, Cambridgeshire recently, with an hour to spare before I was needed. It was the ideal opportunity to have a look at my home town's little brother*.

Chippenham, Cambridgeshire's village sign
Both Chippenhams have distinctive identifying signage - find out about Wiltshire's Unity and Loyalty here

According to Wikipedia, both Chippenhams have their names via the same Saxon roots; "Cippa's Hamm", aka "Cippa's enclosure in a river meadow", though Wiltshire's entry also suggests there may be a market connection instead via the Ango-Saxon word ceap. Both are listed in the Domesday book, Chipeham for Cambridgeshire, and Cepen for Wiltshire.

Entrance to Chippenham Park at the top of the High Street
The entrance to Chippenham Park which adds a 'full stop' to one end of the High Street

My approach to this Chippenham was dominated by a roadside wall, marking the boundary of Chippenham Park, a vast estate enclosed by Edward Russell, the first Earl of Orford in the late 17th Century.

Looking down the High Street one way
Half way down the High Street, looking towards the entrance to Chippenham Park
Looking down the High Street t'other way
Looking down the High Street the other way with the village pub, The Tharp Arms on the right
The 'rhubarb and custard' cottages

Many of the buildings along the High Street show evidence of their connection with the Chippenham Park estate. My favourites were the William and Mary cottages, known locally as the 'rhubarbs and custards', due to their external appearance. These are former estate workers cottages, with long front gardens which look like they may be burgage plots like the ones we last looked at in Helmsley.

Collage of Chippenham's church, pub, old schoolroom and signage
A last look round the village - St Margaret's Church, the Old Schoolhouse, and The Tharp Arms
Sadly, I didn't have time to find Chippenham Fen, one of the best examples of an undrained fen we have in Britain, and a National Nature Reserve. But then I would have needed a permit to visit, so perhaps it's just as well.

However, I did find time for a Friday Bench to display over at Sign of the Times.

* = I love the opening sentence on the village website:

This is the website for the village of Chippenham in Cambridgeshire. If you were looking for our big brother in Wiltshire, then we are afraid you are in the wrong place.

For me it was a case of right place, right time. I hope you've enjoyed coming for a wander around the other Chippenham with me.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Things in Unusual Places #19: Cricket

A cricket on our bedroom wall

Do you find August is the grasshopper and cricket month? They're the musical accompaniment to my allotment visits, with plenty of buzzing but not seeing going on. I even heard a familiar buzz at our bedroom window one morning last week, but thought no more about it.

Then a couple of days later I found this little chap on our way to bed. He seemed quite content, simply gently waving his antennae from time to time.

I haven't quite nailed the ID, but the long antennae shows it's a cricket rather than a grasshopper. I'm favouring the oak bush-cricket from Orthoptera's online ID sheet, as it says they can be nocturnal and may be attracted to light and found indoors.

I've also submitted my sighting to their recording scheme as they are looking to see how the populations of grasshoppers and related insects are changing in the UK. It seems my dahlia's earwig populations are also useful for this scheme!

Have you found anything unusual or unexpected lately?

Update 25th August: I felt something odd crawling up my leg last night. I switched on the light to find the cricket was gently waving its antennae at me. It's been returned outside.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Allotment Folk: Suffolk Style

The Great Escape scarecrow at Mr Fothergill's - apologies if I've given you an earworm

Here's my favourite scarecrow from the fun staff competition held at Mr Fothergill's trials field* last week. I've spared you the picture of Incy, the huge spider lurking in the opposite corner of the field, as I know some of you are of a nervous disposition. It couldn't be missed no matter where you were standing at the time.

When I posted my first Allotment Folk from Chippenham in early June, I had no idea I'd find some more in Yorkshire whilst we were on holiday. I'm on the look out for more now, as this is developing into a fun series.

* = OK, I know I'm stretching the concept of allotment by including a trials field, but you'll spot the similarities in a later post.

Friday, 19 August 2016

Salad Days: This summer's salad hits

It's a while since I've blogged about salad, so I've jotted down a quick post about some of our favourite discoveries this year for future reference.

The book

Leon Happy Salads book cover
It's a treat when I go to London to eat at Leon as their salads and wraps are fantastic. It's been great to bring their salad ideas closer to home via their latest book. I'm particularly pleased to see their superfood salad featured as it's one of my regular choices.

There are five chapters which feature classic recipes, fast, lunchbox (recipes for 1), friends, and family; plus sections for adding crunch to your salad, and ideas for dressings.

Most of the ingredients are readily available, but be prepared to improvise if some of the more unusual ingredients - I'm looking at you sumac and pomegranate molasses - aren't for you.

Our regular favourite this summer is Chicken Caesar Salad (without the anchovies or bacon) from the classic recipes chapter, which brings me on to...

Making it crunchy

Crispy croutons
Good croutons are a vital ingredient for a great Caesar salad. My approach is to use a non-stick frying pan to make them instead of the usual oven method. It's a great alternative for making a small batch of fresh croutons as and when needed, and much quicker too.

I drizzle over some olive oil over the chopped up bread in the pan, then add a few twists of freshly ground black pepper, whack the heat up high and then keep the bread pieces moving until they're browned and crispy.

Then I take them off the heat and sprinkle over freshly grated parmesan to taste. The knack here is to keep the croutons moving so they're kept separate whilst taking on their cheesy coating.

My regular variations are to add dried herbs to taste, and/or a few garlic leaves snipped small to the mix, along with the freshly ground pepper.

Food yards, not miles

Lemon balm running riot on my patio
One of our favourite lunches currently is a classic Greek Salad (this recipe is the closest to my ad hoc assemblage, minus the red onion).

The patio is awash with self-seeded lemon balm, which I use chopped up finely instead of lemon juice for a quick salad dressing.

As you can see, there's still plenty left over for the bees to love!

My simple salad dressing consists of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, around a tablespoon of finely chopped lemon balm leaves, plus a few snipped green garlic leaves (when available) also sourced from my 'food yard' patio.

What are your summer favourites this year?

You may also like: My 52 Week Salad Challenge Page with plenty of GYO salad inspiration, including my simple 4-Step Salad Guide to help you make lots of different salads.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Stamps with Capabilities

Capability Brown commemorative stamps issued by Royal Mail on 16th August 2016

It's great when my interests collide, as happened with my gardening and stamp collecting obsessions yesterday. This is the Landscape Gardens First Day Cover I received, which commemorates the tercentenary of Capability Brown's birth.

I know I've admitted to doing something a bit nerdy, but in my defence I've been collecting them since I was 11 years old. To fuel my inner nerd even further, I've opted for the special handstamp to go with my cover; in this instance it's Kirkharle, Northumberland, where Capability Brown was born.

The eight gardens featured were selected for their different ways in which they illustrate Brown's work (summarised from the descriptions in the accompanying card):

  • Blenheim Palace: where Brown decided to half-submerge Vanbrugh's 'Bridge in the air'
  • Longleat: where he re-engineered the canals and serpentine into a mile-long series of lakes
  • Compton Verney: working alongside Robert Adam, Brown softened and remodelled the existing wilderness and pools into the type of parkscape he's noted for
  • Highclere Castle: a lake created from marshy ground, a new hill, smoothed-out valleys, avenues removed and trees brought together... Brown's design approach in a nutshell
  • Alnwick Castle:  another joint venture with Robert Adam, rescuing a castle in ruins this time (I wonder how much of Brown's vision remains after the current Duchess of Northumberland's remodelling? Must revisit again and ask that question to those who know...)
  • Berrington Hall: Brown's final landscape design
  • Stowe: where Brown learned his trade before striking out on his own
  • Croome Park: a 10-year long project (most of Brown's work was in this kind of timeframe) which includes a Gothic church used as an eye-catcher
The Royal Mail always has plenty of anniversaries to choose to celebrate, so it's great to see a garden related one's been chosen for this year. Garden lovers should also note: one of our favourite garden insects and benefactors - the ladybird - is featured on the Post and Go stamps due for release on 14th September.

A selection of my posts about Capability Brown, or gardens connected with his work

  • The lost world of Capability Brown - a special exhibition at Lacock Abbey earlier this year, and a show garden at Malvern Spring Festival
  • Events with Capabilities - an introduction to this year's tercentenary events, illustrated with some of the Capability Brown gardens and landscapes I've visited. Includes a list of Wiltshire gardens associated with his work
  • A taste of the good life at Luton Hoo - another Brown/Adam masterpiece with the original vast estate only second in size to Blenheim
  • Dunham Massey - I visited the (then) new winter garden, but there's plenty more to see at this National Trust property just outside Manchester
  • Perry pear day at Dyrham Park - another garden local to me with a Brownian connection

Monday, 15 August 2016

GBBD: What the Dahlias are saying

Guess what Dahlia 'Spartacus' is saying

I couldn't resist a quite different Blooms Day post this month as this dahlia gave Alison and I a giggle at Mr Fothergill's trials site last week. It really is called 'Spartacus' and was my favourite from the hundred and three on display.

According to the National Dahlia Society it's classified in the Decorative Group and Large flower categories. They go on to say it was raised by M. Senior in the USA (where most of its suppliers appear to be), introduced in 1992, and suitable for exhibition purposes.

I'm going through a red phase at the moment, so a giant 4-5 foot high dahlia with a deep red blooms almost the size of my head fits my mood admirably. According to the RHS Plant Finder, this dahlia is only available from a couple of suppliers in the UK, so I hope it passes the trial and is listed in the next Woolmans catalogue.

There's more from the trials day to come, once I've stopped giggling ;)

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

Bees playing on Dahlia 'Happy Single Party'
The appropriately named D. 'Happy Single Party' - a fantastic dark-leaved dahlia I've grown before

You may also enjoy: What the butterfly and rudbeckia are thinking.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Weekend Wandering: Glasshouse envy at Helmsley Walled Garden

The Orchid House at Helmsley Walled Garden
Helmsley Walled Garden - a wonderful place we visited whilst on holiday earlier this year

Weekend Wandering: a new strand where I'll bring you some of my best articles away from the blog, or we'll stay here and look at a special place to go for a stroll. The restored glasshouses at Helmsley Walled Garden deserve a story of their own.

If you'd prefer to stay on Veg Plotting, here are a few more pictures to show Helmsley Walled Garden has more than just glasshouses. Nestled below Helmsley Castle, it's a garden with a strong story, great beauty and atmosphere. NAH didn't mind me wandering off to take oodles of photos. "I'll just sit here" he said, "Take your time, it's peaceful". Can you spot him in the collage?

A selection of pictures from Helmsley Walled Garden
We visited in June and there was plenty of promise of more to come

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Plant Profiles: Japanese Anemones

Japanese anemone and Clematis jackmanii
Japanese anemones look great in bud, in full bloom, after the petals have fallen, and from all angles

Last year, one of my Japanese anemones confounded me by reappearing in my border after a leave of absence of many years. This year it's confounded me again, by flowering much earlier than advertised. Most sources say this is a plant of August/September in the border; mine's been in flower since early July. Judging by the number of buds left, it'll still perform its regular flowering duties.

Having cleared some of the surrounding ground, it's repaid my care by coming back even stronger. The Clematis jackmanii nearby has bent downwards, and its single flower plus plentiful buds gives notice of a charming combination to come.

Last year I was wondering why my plant bore no resemblance to the deep pink Anemone 'Hadspen Abundance' my garden scrapbook says should be there. The ever reliable Val Bourne in The Telegraph suggests my plant may be one of the pink doubles which are quite often mis-sold under the name.

I now have a dilemma. Do I leave my thriving plant as it is, or should I replace it with a more choice cultivar? I'm planning a revamp of this part of the garden, and it's tempting to have one of the white forms to sing out of the shade instead. However, I'm well aware this is a plant with a strong survival instinct, so I may well just leave it be.

Val Bourne's article suggests the aster 'Little Carlow' as a planting companion. This is on my must-have list for the garden as it originates from nearby Devizes. It looks like I've found its future location for VP Gardens. She also suggests fuchsias, which I already have nearby.

Cultivation Notes

Back lighting emphasises the delicacy of Japanese anemone blooms
Owners of small gardens should note Japanese anemones like to spread themselves out a bit, if given conditions they like. I seem to have given mine less than ideal ones (very soggy clay at the bottom of a slope and in fairly deep shade), which helps to keep it in check. They don't really like the winter wet and prefer fertile soils in light or shade.

As my anemone has proved, they can be quite hard to eradicate once established in the garden (the latter can take a little while - they're another example of Sleep, Creep, Leap plants). It means they'll still thrive if neglected - there's always a silver lining. Plants grow to around 3 feet in height, so are generally grown as middle to back border plants.

This year's mass of anemone blooms
Propagation is by division in spring, or via root cuttings in late autumn or winter. Note that if you grow several cultivars together, you may find some seedling offspring in your borders.

Anemone 'Hadspen Abundance' is the popular deep pink form grown in many gardens, and Anemone x hybrida 'Honorine Jobert' is the one if you'd prefer white. I also like the look of the pink double A. huphensis var. japonica 'Bressingham Glow', a shorter cultivar which would be a nice reminder of my past visit to Bressingham Gardens and nursery.

The national collection is held at Hadlow College. See the website for visiting arrangements, as the check collection is in the private garden. Taxa are also incorporated into the gardens surrounding the college garden centre.

See last September's Blooms Day post for Latin Without Tears.

Plant Profiles is sponsored by Whitehall Garden Centre.

Note that sponsorship goes towards my blogging costs; the words and pictures are my own. There are no affiliate links or cookies associated with this post.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Postcard from Devon

View of the Otter Valley at Newton Poppleford
The view from our B&B over the Otter Valley at Newton Poppleford  
We've just come back from an idyllic few days away in Devon near Sidmouth. We had the benefit of local knowledge as Barrie, a fellow volunteer with NAH at at Midsomer Norton lives nearby. He recommended the B&B which not only has the pictured wonderful view, the owners also provided a decanter of sherry in our summerhouse accommodation.

All future B&B stays will be measured against this benchmark.

We wove our time away around Reg Meuross's concert at Sidmouth Folk Festival. Little did we know that when we saw him accompany Jess Vincent at Westonbirt's Tree Fest 3 years ago, we would find ourselves sponsoring the vinyl version of his latest album, which was launched at Sidmouth.

Westonbirt proved to be a pivotal moment in our lives, just as finding the Erigeron steps in my last post was a pivotal moment for my gardening.

The concert was magical, followed by beach side fish and chips and a general soaking up of the festival atmosphere. The next day we discovered the village of Beer, thanks to our B&B hosts and rounded off our stay with a trip on the electric tram at Seaton.

Even better was the lack of internet in our lives for a few days :)

Thursday, 4 August 2016

The Secret of the Erigeron Steps

Steps overlooking the upper moat at Great Dixter
The Erigeron steps of envy plus must-have Papaver glaucum at Great Dixter, late June 2016 

There's a pivotal scene in Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps, when the hard pressed hero Richard Hannay asks the theatre act Mr Memory... "What is the secret of the 39 Steps?" A similar question has teased me ever since I read Christopher Lloyd's Succession Planting for Adventurous Gardeners 12 years ago... "What is the secret of the Erigeron steps?"

They look artfully effortless don't they? And I'm sure the gardeners at Great Dixter have to do quite a lot of editing for their Erigeron steps to look so ravishing. Christopher Lloyd's book was my "lightbulb" moment, when suddenly this gardening lark made sense. It was a picture of those steps in particular which inspired me and became a must-have for the garden.

Erigeron at the top of the central patio steps at Great Dixter

To achieve that aim hasn't proved quite as easy as I'd imagined. I've sown plenty of seed and planted healthy plants, all to no avail. Then a couple of years ago, a small seedling appeared in the spent compost of a tomato pot left to overwinter in the garden. It was tiny, just about large enough to transplant at the top of the central patio steps. As you can see, it's thriving.

My recent trip to Great Dixter gave me Erigeron step envy all over again. My plant is beautiful, but sadly solo... until I went out in the garden last night to take some photos for today's planned post [on a completely different subject - Ed] ... and found another tiny self-sown plant, in one of the box ball pots this time.

Newly transplanted seedling at the top of the patio steps
Newly transplanted seedling... right by an ants nest :(

I've gently teased it out of the pot and transplanted it on the other side of the steps. Fingers crossed it'll thrive just as much as its predecessor across the way. Then as I bent down to take another photo, what should I find? An even tinier Erigeron seedling... self-sown into the patio steps this time.

So what is the secret of the Erigeron steps? My answer is not to try too hard... and to have oodles of patience.

More Erigeron steps at Great Dixter
More Erigeron steps at Great Dixter - I still have a way to go with mine

Monday, 1 August 2016

GBMD: What the butterfly is thinking

Caption inspiration from the Butterfly Dome at Hampton Court last month.

Suggestions so far include:

"Mummy!" from June and "Do you fancy a quick flutter?" from my friend C in Darlington, both via Facebook.

Do you have any further ideas for Muse Day?

This time last year, we had a look at What the Rudbeckia are thinking.
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