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Showing posts from 2021

Unusual Front Gardens #36: Lollipops

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  These tightly clipped trees have brightened many a lockdown walk as they remind me of lollipops. I've spent so much time smiling to myself when I see them that I've totally neglected to identify them. Sometimes it's good to just go with the flow and enjoy things for what they are. A closer look at what lies beneath reveals more formality in the shape of a traditional urn and circles of clipped hedge. These remind me of a similar sight at West Green House , where apple trees and tulips are planted inside similar circles and other shapes to make a spectacular show. I've wanted to do something similar for our front garden for a while, though my attempts at growing enough box cuttings to make a start were a dismal failure a couple of years ago. I think I'll start again with some Euonymus 'Green Spire' instead to avoid the dreaded box caterpillar or blight. I'm also toying with the idea of some Camassia or alliums within the circles and I await further i

Weekend Wandering: Wildflowers

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It's the May bank holiday and coincidentally peak flowering time for two of our most iconic spring wildflowers; fritillaries and English bluebells .  It's a good year for the fritillaries at North Meadow in nearby Cricklade, so NAH and I headed out yesterday morning to see them. It's hard to show how marvellous this location is in a photograph as the fritillaries are small and there are dire warnings not to leave the marked footpaths so the flowers can get on with doing their thing. We chose the blue route which is the longest walk around the meadow, around two miles in total. It doesn't encompass them all and soon we were walking amongst thousands of fritillaries, with a pale pinky, purple haze on the horizon showing there were thousands more still to see. It's a few years since we were last there, and I'm sure there were more white forms dotted amongst their darker cousins this time. I haven't managed to find what determines the variation: genetics, or en

Gardening is good for you

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It's National Gardening Week and it's timely the RHS have published the results of a recent study they conducted with Sheffield University on gardening and wellbeing. The results and the infographic above speak for themselves. To quote one of the researchers - the RHS's Alistair Griffiths - on Twitter: "The more 'doses' of gardening you get, the better your wellbeing :) " I hope those who discovered gardening as a great stress buster during Lockdown are motivated to continue - I've always said 'Gardening is the answer'. You can read the full published paper here . Happy gardening!

Weekend Wandering: A new sculpture trail

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I returned to one of my regular walks last week and found a delightful surprise along the way. It took me most of Lockdown 1.0 to find Westmead's owl shown above as I usually walk on the lower paths from town instead of those by the car park at the top. I now marvel it took me so long because once you know where it is, you can't miss it! It's been joined recently by lots of other wildlife sculptures to form a trail through the newly planted woodland nearby. Luckily this time I've found them just as they're being installed. The robin was the first one which caught my eye as it's easily seen from the Avon Walkway nearby. I simply had to investigate and find them all, as were a family of four whose children were excitedly running to each new discovery as they found it.  Not all of them are installed yet, so this is something to return to another time so I can snap all eleven. There'll be benches installed for us to rest and ponder the view and perhaps stay a wh

A cowslip survey

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Regular readers know how much I love the cowslips at the entrance to our estate. They usually bloom around now and I'm delighted they've increased in numbers consistently over the years. Here you can see the original roadside bank from which they've spread into the meadow below, and now they've also leapt across the road to the opposite verge. An estate setting like this is more unusual as they're more of a wildflower meadow favourite. I think we're seeing the results of some seed spreading which took place over 20 years ago when the road builders established this mini-meadow and wetland to cope with runoff from the A350 nearby.  Last week I learned the sight I love is becoming increasingly rare owing to habitat loss and the remaining populations may not be as healthy as they could be. As a result, Plantlife is asking for anyone who knows of a local patch of cowslips to conduct a short survey . I've just discovered cowslip plants have two different types; o

Garden Blogger's Blooms Day: E is for...

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... Epimedium aka barrenwort, bishop's hat or fairy wings. Here's another example of Sleep Creep Leap .  I planted my Epimediums two years ago and this is their first flowering. It was worth the wait. Whilst the blooms are tiny, they're plentiful and add grace to my revamped border at the bottom of the garden, where they thrive in the partial shade there. I really should have got down on my tummy for a better photo, thank goodness they also look pretty from above! The one pictured is 'Amber Queen'. I bought a bargain collection of 9 plants with three examples of each cultivar in the pack. 'Pink Elf' is just coming into bloom and therefore it's not quite ready to take a bow on Blooms Day.   Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum' has yet to make its flowering debut; its name tells of yellow blooms to come. The heart shaped leaves turn bronze with age and thus makes this a year-round plant of interest. They're plentiful too, so I don't need

Unusual front gardens #35 Scissors

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I've passed these on many a walk and thought they must be plastic, but a closer inspection revealed our local high street barber uses topiarised plants to advertise his services. They always make me smile and it's a neat modernisation of the traditional red striped pole which showed barbers used to offer additional services as surgeons. I wonder which tools are used to keep these in trim - garden or barber's clippers? 😉 Hairdressers are set to reopen today in England and I'm looking forward to a haircut later this week. Sadly my hairdresser isn't quite so inventive with their display; they usually opt for one of the burgeoning hanging baskets set to grace the town in a month or so's time. I'm looking forward to both haircut and hanging baskets. Have a great week!

The seed tin of happiness

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Like many gardeners, Easter is my starting gun for major gardening activities and also like many of them, I always feel a pang of guilt at starting seed sowing now. Everyone else seems to have lots of healthy seedlings and it's easy to be a little envious of their bounty. However, it's best if I ignore that and crack on now instead. I don't have a greenhouse and only a limited windowsill capacity so I've found a later start works better for me. That way everything should be at peak perfection for planting out in VP Gardens at the end of May.  Having culled all the old or unwanted packets of seeds, my seed tin really is full of happiness with the promise of colour and harvests to come. It's looking a little different in there this year as there are as many packets of flower seeds as well as my usual vegetables.  Some of these are earmarked for the newish border at the bottom of the garden. I'm being a little cautious with the revamp here because there's plen

Easter chicks

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At least one Knatty Knitter has been at it again in Chippenham with a seasonal postbox covering, just like what happened at Christmas 😍  They really do help to bring a smile to the town and I'll be on the look out for more over the weekend. Have a great Easter everyone x

Sometimes 'wrong place' can be right

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I've seen quite a lot of online chat about this striking plant lately. Firstly asking for an ID - it's Arum italicum subsp. italicum 'Marmoratum' by the way - quite a mouthful, eh? With the ID duly confirmed, the conversation then turns to its renowned thugish qualities, with many a resolution made for it to never darken the commenter's garden ever again. I can offer an alternative viewpoint. It's never been a problem here at VP Gardens . Its marbled foliage brightens many a winter's walk here and then it quietly starts to fade away into summer oblivion around about now.  I reckon the key to my success and higher regard is I've planted it in the wrong place. The commenters' dire warnings centre around the plant's spathe replete with tempting red berries poised ready for the birds to eat and distribute its seeds elsewhere. Mine has never done that and a quick check of the plant's requirements shows its preference for sand or loam soils. Mi

Weekend Wandering: The hunt for Lanhill Longbarrow

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Last weekend's walk was a new-to-me-route from home and full of surprises. The quest was to find Lanhill Longbarrow, something I've known about for a while and probably Chippenham's oldest feature, as it dates back to between 3,500 and 2,500 BC i.e. Neolithic times.  The first surprise I found was the pictured intriguing stone at the side of the road... it looked ancient - especially as my head was full of images of standing stones at the time - but what looks like a mason's mark towards the bottom made me think it's not quite as old as it might be.   Then I found the footpath to the barrow, which was surprisingly not at the top of the hill where I thought it would be, especially as there's a tell-tale clump of trees, but I liked the view over the surrounding countryside anyway.   As I walked down the hill, I suddenly saw a low-ish mound with a gaping black hole. I had found the barrow! The chamber is one of three the mound is reported to contain, but this is th

Let's hear it for the self-sowns

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Over the past couple of years it's interesting to see what has chosen to appear in the gravel path in the back garden. Some are plants which have hopped over from the borders where I planted them and others have reappeared many years after I last had them here at VP Gardens . I think most of them are from my own activities rather than blow-ins or bird distribution from elsewhere. They give me a neat dilemma: do I treat them like weeds and get rid, or should I do something with them? Luckily most of the plants that have appeared so far are either low growing, or not enough to prevent our use of the path for what it was designed for. They could stay put if I so desired. The warmer weather over the past week or so has signalled it's time - at last - to clear away the over wintering stems and the rest of the debris I left in the garden to shelter overwintering insects and to feed the birds. It's also decision time on what to do with those self-sown plants. I've decided to m

For World Poetry Day

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I spent some time this morning looking for a suitable poem about spring or blossom to mark today's World Poetry Day and the first day of spring. For some reason nothing seemed quite right, so I set off on my daily walk to help clear my head and come back refreshed. Little did I know I'd find some quite different inspiration towards the end of my walk. We must have a Dylan Thomas fan amongst our midst, who has hung up various covers of his works along the path by Hardenhuish Brook. A quick look at the pictured work online, and at last I have my poem - albeit nothing to do with spring or blossom - in the form of the extract below. It's the line about seeing the best side of people, not their worst which stands out for me. I readily admit I don't always manage that, but I do strive to see the best in a situation, and that resonates particularly in these strange times... "Every morning when I wake, Dear Lord, a little prayer I make, O please do keep Thy lovely eye On

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day: Hellebore Bowl

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  I confess I find it difficult to cut flowers from the garden and bring them indoors, but after hearing Jonathan Moseley's inspirational talk at Malvern last year, I'm striving to change my ways. My first attempt is this bowl of floating hellebore flowers from the back garden. I'm so new to this game you can see I've pressed one of my cooking bowls into service in the absence of something more special. It doesn't really matter as what really counts is the result, where the beauty of the flowers is brought sharply into focus. I have a selection of unnamed doubles in the back garden, plus a couple of H. ericsmithii 'Winter Moonbeam'. The latter are a little past their best, but show hellebores can continue to look good after then. I have some single flowered ones in the front garden too, but because that's north facing, they've yet to bloom. I don't know what they are either; they were given to me by a friend from choir, so they're probably

A banner for bees

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One of my personal Lockdown challenges last month was to create a banner for International Women's Day (today) to illustrate a WI campaign which has meaning. Naturally, the most garden related one was the one I picked, especially as the 2009 campaign SOS for Honeybees originates from a Wiltshire WI. I've only recently come across the term craftivism , a gentler, more mindful way of making a point about an issue or to raise awareness of it. I'm particularly struck by the work of Sarah Corbett and her Craftivist Collective  and it was a couple of her talks plus the recent BBC4 documentary on the subject which inspired my own banner making. I was keen to show something more practical which anyone could go away and do, hence the central message about growing pollen-rich flowers in the garden. But which flowers are pollen-rich? This is a subject I plan to return to from time to time this year here on the blog as I look into the subject more. I made a good start last week for Mu

Garden Bloggers' Muse Day: Bees do have...

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  I love how looking for a suitable quotation for a photo and Muse Day can lead on to further investigation... "Bees do have a smell"... do they? Indeed they do, honeybees at least. It's all down to the pheromones they release. According to this article the alarm pheromone which prompts honeybees to attack and sting - sometimes en masse - when threatened is strong enough to be smelt by humans and is similar to bananas. I had to read this quote twice because I'd mentally added 'sense of' before smell. Another quick googling and I've learned their  sense of smell is far better than taste. According to the North Shropshire Beekeepers Association their sense of smell is far greater than dogs and some bees are used to detect landmines. Under normal circumstances this highly tuned sense is needed for pheromone detection and they have smell sensors in their mouths, antennae and the tips of their legs. Back to my photo... I had a wonderful time on Saturday wat

Spot says...

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  ... Happy Valentine's Day 🥰😻

Unusual front gardens #34: Terracotta

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This was a local discovery by some of my friends towards the back end of last year. I knew I had to walk over sometime to see this cheerful tableau for myself and a couple of days ago I found the ideal opportunity during my ongoing quest to walk on every street in Chippenham. I hope it cheers you up too. I wonder what happened to Bill and Ben ?

Wildflower Wednesday: A New Year Plant Hunt

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  Since 2012 the BSBI (the Botanical Society of Britain & Ireland) has conducted its New Year Plant Hunt . Wildflower lovers from all over the UK walk round their local patch over the first few days for a few hours at the start of January and record what they see fully in bloom. Overall (and surprisingly), over 500-600 different species may be found depending on the survey year, with around 40 not uncommon on an individual walk. The top 5 finds last year were the dandelion and daisy, plus groundsel, annual meadow-grass, and common chickweed. The counts each year may vary, but the collection of survey information over a number of years helps identify any trends. The project aims to find out how our wildflowers are responding to changes in autumn and winter weather patterns, and over the few years it's been going, changes have been seen already.The use of volunteers as 'citizen scientists', means a much wider area can be covered and in greater numbers than our scientists

Travels in mind

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With our third Lockdown in full swing it's easy to start thinking about the places we can't go and slip into the slough of despond. Once again, I've found walking and the #walk1000miles challenge offers me a way out of this sad state of affairs. We're currently confined much closer to home and my neighbourhood's muddy pathways* have turned my thoughts towards alternatives to get some rest from them. As a result I've revived one of my walking projects, namely to walk on every street in Chippenham aka 'street bashing'**. It's turned what could be seen as boring urban walks into regular treasure troves. It's surprising what discoveries can be made just by being forced to look more closely at the everyday familiar***. Streets with nature names like Primrose Way and Willowbank have proved an avenue of pleasure and it's been fun to try and match the real thing to the names on my travels. This week, I'm walking in an area of town where the stree

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day: Flowers for the New Year

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It's time for the annual flower census, where I pay particular attention to what's in bloom at VP Gardens in the new year. It's the only time I do this; my reasoning is there's plenty of interest at other times of the year, and if January has something, then I must be doing something right. As a result it's the only time I can do an exact comparison between the years and it's good to have that. Of course, the weather has a major role to play in what's actually there. There are always some surprises. The main one this year was daffodils in bloom before Christmas. Even more surprising is they've continued to bloom, despite almost two whole weeks of below average temperatures laced with ice and hoar frost. They actually flowered a few days ahead of the snowdrops and I'm pleased to find the snowdrops are now restoring order to the seasonal world with their delightful display both in the garden and on the public land next door. Here's this year's

Unusual Front Gardens #33: Turning Japanese

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  My frequent walks into town last year revealed Chippenham has its very own Japanese-style rock garden , sometimes also known as a zen garden. It's been covered with leaves most times I've passed by, but just before Christmas the owner had tidied it up and raked the gravel into the desired lines representing water ripples around the rocks. I like its simplicity. I wonder if the owner finds it a calming and meditative experience to maintain it.

A year in cats

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This week we said our final goodbyes to NAH's aunt, who passed away peacefully in early December at the grand age of 94. With her passing we no longer have any distance caring responsibilities, plus the elder Chapman baton has passed to NAH and and his elder brother. I'm finding it quite hard to adjust to these circumstances, as part of what's made me who I am the past 13 years or so is no longer there. In the meantime, I've spent quite a lot of time over the past few weeks thinking about the good times with my aunt-in-law, who was a lot of fun and the source of many of our good times. Part of her lasting legacy is the family's love of cats and the annual cat calendar. For many years a December delight was the Whiskas one plopping onto our doormat; she'd saved many a label from her cat's favourite tinned food to provide this regular event. Whiskas stopped doing their calendar around 10 years ago, and we took on the mantle of providing one, firstly with photo