Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day: A new clematis on the blog

Clematis urophylla 'Winter Beauty' on my pergola
From a large pot nearby and now clothing my side garden's pergola, this Clematis brings a welcome to my garden 

My new clematis on the blog C. urophylla 'Winter Beauty' has bucked the Sleep Creep Leap trend by flowering within a mere 18 months instead of 3 years. I love its white simplicity and vigorous growth.

The flowers are quite small (like most at this time of the year - see this Garden Bloggers' Muse Day offering), but they're still welcome. Who can resist those cheekily upturned petals? The flowers are reputed to be scented - I need a few more blooms before I can confirm that. The evergreen leaves resemble those of Clematis armandii, though I'm having more success with 'Winter Beauty' than the latter, as I've managed to kill two of them already.

Most of the flowers dropped off before I could photograph them, which makes me wonder whether the catalogue blurb "Plant Clematis 'Winter Beauty' against a warm house wall so that you can appreciate its winter flowers from your window. This sought after variety will appreciate a sheltered site with some winter protection", means my chosen site is not quite protected enough.

However, these latest flowers are still going strong after the past few days of cold weather and a sprinkling of snow. In time, I hope this clematis will prove a good alternative winter white.

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

Update 17/2: We've had ding-dong temperatures and some quite long dry spells this winter, so this tweet from Gardeners' Question Time today may point to the reason for my fallen flowers rather than my speculation re its site, especially as mine is in a pot. Great choice of clematis featured in the photo!

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Be my Valentine

A simple woven heart with snowdrop kokedama makes a cute Valentine

I spotted this cute vignette at the snowdrop press preview at Easton Walled Gardens last week and decided it was perfect for a secret Valentine today.  Easton's snowdrops are on fine form throughout the garden and you have until Sunday (19th February 2017) to see them with or without your beloved.

It's worthwhile combining your visit with Hodsock Priory like I did. Their massed snowdrops are available to view until 5th March and there's lots of other winter garden inspiration to be found there. Look out for plentiful ideas to add flowers, colour and scent to your plot at this tricky time of the year.

Allow around 50 minutes for travel between the gardens, which makes for a nicely full, yet relaxed day out. Both gardens have plenty of options for yummy treats and hot drinks to fuel your day.

Witch hazel at Hodsock Priory
Witch hazel sparkles against the blue sky at Hodsock Priory

Friday, 10 February 2017

Of lawnmowers, snow and cake

Snowy mountains and traditional Tyrolean buildings as seen from the coach in Kufstein
The journey to work: no wonder everyone we met was so happy 

Warmth, hospitality, passion - three words which sum up my recent visit to the Viking factory in Austria. Oh, and let's not forget lawnmowers, snow and cake ;)

I've always found factory visits fascinating and this one was exceptional. It was also enough to make NAH green with envy - more on that later.

The view from the Viking factory car park - pretty Tyrolean scenery
The view from the Viking factory car park - a 'pinch me, I'm really here' moment 

You may wonder why anyone would want to work in a factory in the midst of such beauty. Well, it turns out peak production time (January, February) coincides with when the locals can't work on their farms.

It means an extra income for them which also helps preserve the traditional Tyrolean way of life. Besides seeing the passion for their work, pride for their region also shone through during our visit.

View of the Viking factory in Kufstein, Austria
The factory in Kufstein, with a couple of products undergoing extreme testing in the -14oC temperature ;) 

Sadly I couldn't take photos inside the factory and I probably would have forgotten anyway as the process was so absorbing. It's probably the cleanest and quietest factory I've ever visited; even the many forklift trucks dancing their way along the factory floor were quiet. The drivers' sideways position in the cab meant they could keep a good eye out and easily avoid any collisions.

We were shown the assembly line where components from all over Europe and beyond come together to make the final product. They were assembling some of the 4 Series mowers whilst we were there i.e. the mid-range ones, plus STIHL's compact cordless blowers like the one I reviewed last year.

There are 4 stages in the process with quality checks made before the work is accepted by the next person in line. Final tests at the end of assembly include a final check once the product is inside its delivery box, where any discrepancy in weight means something e.g. the instruction booklet has been left out.

We learned there are some quirky regional differences. In Scandinavia they go for mulching in a big way, the Germans like to scarify, and the French like tilling. And we Brits? We prefer a much closer shave finish, so our mowers have the ability to cut to 18mm instead of the standard 22mm. We are the only folk who like stripey lawns, so some of the range destined to come our way includes the all important roller for that quintessential finish.

Some of the Viking lawnmowersavailable
Part of the Viking range we saw on show at the factory

Engineering in action

I used to love testing to destruction in my previous IT jobs and it was good to see this concept also in action at Viking in a more physical form. Their engineers conduct around 60 different product tests and we were shown three of them.

The first started with a demonstration of a computer model of a lawnmower blade which could be modified to see which design is best for minimising damage when the blade hits a solid object. This has the potential to damage not only the blade, but also the central crankshaft and ultimately the engine. It would be costly to repair, if not a complete write-off of the machine.

They've found that by adding a 'wave' to the blade, not only is damage eliminated or minimised, it's also resulted in a quieter machine and increased efficiency so that battery life is extended - three improvements for the price of one. We were then shown an actual machine test - one of hundreds - which also supplies the data needed to refine the computer model.

The second test also involved the blade, and was a resonance test. This reveals the frequencies which put the most stress on the blade and so should be avoided when the machine is running. It was amazing to see a thick metal blade suddenly flap its 'wings' like a bird when the 'right' frequency range was reached.

Inside an anechoic chamber
Anechoic room at the Technical University of Denmark. Credit: Arnaud Dessain via Wikimedia Commons

The sound of silence

Finally, we were led into an anechoic chamber similar to the one pictured. There aren't that many of these around in the world, so to experience a place designed to minimise sound was something special and most striking. NAH tells me they can't be completely silent, but they come close. He's also quite envious I've been in one when he - the engineer and Hi-Fi addict - hasn't.

Viking's anechoic chamber is used to test the noise levels attained by each machine in their range. There are tough noise regulations and standards to adhere to and the aim is to be even quieter than these, then to continually improve on what's been achieved. We also stand to benefit - wouldn't it be bliss on summer Sundays when everyone's mowing their lawns with quiet machines!

One of the members of our group found it quite hard to take in there because they suffer from tinnitus. The sounds of ordinary life can help people cope with the condition and they were removed completely in this room. You can get a good idea of what that's like here.

Note that the dull sound when someone speaks isn't a fault in the recording, that's just what sound without an echo is like. NB this chamber no longer holds the world record as the quietest place on earth as mentioned in the video, that's currently held (at the time of writing) by Microsoft.

In conclusion

It was an impressive couple of days of presentations, factory tour and question/answer sessions which showcased the care Viking take to ensure their models are built to last and continually improved in their design. Of course I can't say how they compare with other manufacturers in this respect, but I came away with a much better understanding of how one company brings their products to market.

The people involved enjoy their work too, which was great to see. I also have a better insight into why NAH believes being an engineer is the best job in the world.

Jolly green Viking cupcake
Disclosure: Viking were my generous hosts, whose attention to detail and pride in both their work and our entertainment shone through the whole of the trip.

Their attention to detail even extended to the cake we were given in our packed lunch on the way to the factory from Munich.

All opinions and views are my own.

You may also like:

  • An hour in Munich: My Weekend Wandering post from the same trip which highlights some of the wonderful sights of central Munich. NAH and I are already planning a trip back there
  • Jay's fun review of the same trip in his blog Gadgety News - he has more details of Viking's product range for you to explore there. He was also much better than me at remembering to take photos in the non-factory bits
  • Stephanie's thoughts on the trip in her Life at 139a blog, and my companion on the plane home. I also enjoyed her post about her return to a snowy Hofgarten in Munich
  • Emma's 3-for-the-price-of-1 blog manages to squeeze in Munich, Kufstein and the Viking factory into one post. Kudos Emma!

And finally...

I was reluctant to mention lawnmower racing when I was there as I thought it might be in bad taste. However, I've since learned Viking currently holds the world record for the fastest lawn tractor... 134mph!

If the embedded link doesn't work, try here.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Garden Bloggers' Muse Day: Life is...

Thorny Zanthoxylum piperitum
A thorny discovery at Chelsea Physic Garden last Saturday: Zanthoxylum piperitum
I don't usually think of plants as a metaphor for life, but when I searched for a quote to match a thorny discovery we made at Chelsea Physic Garden, I found one which reflects how life is currently chez VP Gardens.

My proven remedy for life's thorns is to ensure there are plenty of bright spots inserted along the path. A day spent with jolly garden bloggers and sprinkled with snowdrops was a perfect way to get it right :)

Garden Bloggers and Chelsea Physic Garden collage
Some general views of the garden & blogging pals. Main picture: Jack holds up Lou's sign (pictured bottom right)
Andrew and Sarah are middle right; and Nic is admiring the snowdrop theatre with Jack.

Sarah's post on Facebook nicely shows what else we got up to. Shopping and hedge bothering simply had to be done ;)

I *may* have succumbed to my first yellow snowdrop.

Garden Bloggers Fling folk from Toronto might like to show your approval of my choice of sweatshirt - it means you were also there in spirit.

* = I did!
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