Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Monday, 31 March 2008

Franks Plants

For me Spring has really arrived when Franks Plants starts up for their Spring/Summer season. These plant sales alternate each weekend between 2 primary schools on either side of town. They've started a little earlier than usual owing to the early Easter and should continue until mid June. Their second stint will go from August Bank Holiday weekend until the end of October. It's a great place to go for basic annuals (grown locally), perennials and shrubs at much cheaper prices and better quality than the local DIY stores and garden centres. Each week there's usually something a bit more unusual - this time it was large box topiary balls and pyramids, plus standard olive trees. See if you can spot them - you may need to enlarge the picture ;)

This week I bought some sweet peas (having forgotten to sow them last Autumn) to grow up one of the arches on the allotment, 3 Helenium autumnale 'Helena Gold', and 3 Camelot foxgloves - a relatively new perennial variety, for less than a tenner the lot. I resisted all the plants for hanging baskets as my cold frames are still full with overwintering plants, so there's no room to harden anything off at the moment. Sadly the original Frank of Franks Plants retired last year - I wish I'd known as I would have loved to have bought the business instead of the young couple who've taken it on.

The sales are extremely popular, so I was a little surprised at the pictured scene yesterday morning at 10am. I was expecting to queue for half an hour to pay for my plants - I think most people in Chippenham must have forgotten about the clocks going forward and were still having a lie in!

Saturday, 29 March 2008

A Surfeit of Shallots

As reported earlier re my onion worries, I now find that I've gone in the other direction and over ordered my shallots for this year. I usually save my own from the previous year's Pikant crop, but I was so certain they'd all go mouldy before planting time, I ordered some backups. Whilst I was there, a freebie French variety (Pesandor) was on offer, so I thought 'why not?' and added those to my order too.

Of course, this meant my saved Pikant sailed through the winter unscathed (unlike their larger cousins used for cooking), so I have three times the usual number of shallots to grow this year. Ironically Thompson & Morgan had a complete failure of their Pikant crop from their supplier in the Netherlands due to the dreadful summer, so they sent me Springfield instead.

I finally got round to planting them this week - I know, I know I'm a month late, but illness and the rotten weather conspired against me. After dealing with the garlic glut too, my plan is already seriously awry from the perfect plot of my imagination.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Earth Hour

I'm indebted to Anna*, one of my regular Commenters who recently told me about Earth Hour. This WWF event first happened last year in Sydney, where the city was pretty well blacked out when participants switched off their lights for an hour at 8pm. If you look at the link, it has a dramatic satellite shot of Sydney when the big switch off happened - what a difference!

This year the event goes global and you can join in too. Just turn off your lights for an hour at 8pm tomorrow (your local time) - perhaps have a candelight dinner (preferably with beeswax candles), or go to a movie, star gaze in your back garden, have a (ghostly) story telling session with friends and family - it's up to you and you can pat yourself on the back for a) participating in a global event alongside millions b) doing something about your carbon footprint and c) saving some cash off your energy bill.

As NAH is away at the moment, I've decided to have a relaxing candlelit aromatherapy bath. Mmmm - a rare treat! Oh, and if you live in the UK, don't forget that the clocks go forward early on Sunday morning, so we get two hour-linked events this weekend.

* As you know I like to provide a link to people I mention, but Anna doesn't leave one. She always provides an interesting comment often with a snippet of good information (such as the Earth Hour website address I've used in this post), so this is my chance to thank her properly for her contributions.

Update - Simon over at the Plot Thickens has commented there's been problems with the WWF link today. Hopefully it's because they're getting lots of hits. Apparently Google has turned out the lights on their site, but they do give a introduction to Earth Hour too if you're having difficulties with the above link. Thanks for the heads up Simon.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Book Review - New Gardening: How to Garden in a Changing Climate

I was lucky enough to be the first winner in The Garden Monkey's (GM) Big Bash Books a couple of weeks ago and bagged this one as my prize of choice. It caused quite a stir on its publication at the back end of last year and has been on my 'To Read List' ever since.

It sets out to redefine the RHS' best practice and its author Matthew Wilson, has been at the forefront of shaping this during his time as Harlow Carr's Curator. He looks at how we can garden in harmony with nature whilst reducing our impact on the environment. You may think he's preaching to the converted, but believe me there's plenty of gardeners out there who don't have this enlightened way of thinking if Chippenham's anything to go by. Sustainable it ain't.

The book starts with a look at climate and the soil, a refreshing starting point - these vital elements are often overlooked; then the themes of sustainability, wildlife gardening, and gardening in a drier climate are tackled. Trees, shade and container planting are looked at alongside planting styles, design and planting partners. Each chapter is broken down into a series of sumptuously photographed double page spreads, making it a highly 'dippable' book as well as one to read from cover to cover. This dippability was thoroughly put to the test by my blogging buddy Threadspider plus my SUP group recently - the book and several of the projects are now on various 'To Read/Do Lists', including the log pile seat on mine and the rather nattily wood clad shed on another.

GM asked me a couple of weeks ago how I was enjoying the book. My initial reaction back then was it's a brave book for the stuffy old RHS to tackle. Having thought about it further (and finished the book), I believe it's exactly the kind of publication they should be doing. After all, their other books and website are often my first ports of call when I want to find out something. That's also why I use their website as a good source of links for my posts. Perhaps they're not so stuffy after all!

It's not a perfect book - there's concrete alongside rammed-earth raised beds and the planting lists aren't that extensive. However, I believe this makes the book much more approachable for anyone wanting to start to garden in this way who also needs a helping hand to begin. It covers a wide range of topics so I'm also sure there's something in there for all of us.

It's the final week of GM's Big Bash Books - you have a day to get over there and tell him what's your favourite plant and why.

Oh, and it seems to be the day for book reviews today - Bean Sprouts reviews Compost and The Big Sofa looks at Worms Eat My Garbage.

Yes, there really is a use for couch grass!

Hot on the heels of my snail tip earlier, I have solved a major gardening mystery and finally found a use for couch grass today:
  1. Dig over plot extracting every scrap of couch grass, until back hurts
  2. Collapse in a heap by side of plot
  3. Notice lots of slugs dug up during couch removal exercise
  4. Select a really pointy bit of couch root
  5. Skewer slug with couch (no actual slug handling is required - phew!)
  6. Remove couch and leave slugs for Mr and Mrs Robin to find
  7. Dispose of couch grass in the usual way (choose your preferred method)

A surprisingly satisfying experience. Thankfully my homicidal tendencies extend only to couch grass, bindweed, slugs, snails, aphids, ants and vine weevils - so there's no need to be alarmed, you're quite safe ;)

What to do with all those snails

Ha ha ha - revenge is total and it is mine! Exit VP stage left, laughing evilly...

The plant is Clematis viticella 'Polish Spirit', having a good think about whether to start sprouting its buds this year. The snail shells are from all parts of the garden. My niece is particularly good at finding more empty ones to add to the pot.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

How to Give a Cat a Pill

Skimble on top of the fridge

Since adding our purrfect felines to the sidebar, a number of you have said how much you like them. So, receiving the joke below from my friend Linda gives me the perfect excuse to post another picture of Skimble - in one of his favourite spots. I'll be giving the lowdown on both of them next week...

How To Give A Cat A Pill

  1. Pick up cat and cradle it in the crook of your left arm as if holding a baby. Position right forefinger and thumb on either side of cat's mouth and gently apply pressure to cheeks while holding pill in right hand. As cat opens mouth, pop pill into mouth. Allow cat to close mouth and swallow.
  2. Retrieve pill from floor and cat from behind sofa. Cradle cat in left arm and repeat process.
  3. Retrieve cat from bedroom, and throw soggy pill away.
  4. Take new pill from foil wrap, cradle cat in left arm, holding rear paws tightly with left hand. Force jaws open and push pill to back of mouth with right forefinger. Hold mouth shut for a count of ten.
  5. Retrieve pill from goldfish bowl and cat from top of wardrobe. Call spouse from garden.
  6. Kneel on floor with cat wedged firmly between knees, hold front and rear paws. Ignore low growls emitted by cat. Get spouse to hold head firmly with one hand while forcing wooden ruler into mouth. Drop pill down ruler and rub cat's throat vigorously.
  7. Retrieve cat from curtain rail, get another pill from foil wrap. Make note to buy new ruler and repair curtains.Carefully sweep shattered figurines and vases from hearth and set to one side for gluing later.
  8. Wrap cat in large towel and get spouse to lie on cat with head just visible from below armpit. Put pill in end of drinking straw, force mouth open with pencil and blow down drinking straw
  9. Check label to make sure pill not harmful to humans, drink 1 beer to take taste away. Apply Band-Aid to spouse's forearm and remove blood from carpet with cold water and soap.
  10. Retrieve cat from neighbour's shed. Get another pill. Open another beer. Place cat in cupboard, and close door on to neck, to leave head showing. Force mouth open with dessert spoon. Flick pill down throat with elastic band.
  11. Fetch screwdriver from garage and put cupboard door back on hinges. Drink beer. Fetch bottle of scotch. Pour shot, drink. Apply cold compress to cheek and check records for date of last tetanus shot. Apply whisky compress to cheek to disinfect. Toss back another shot. Throw Tee shirt away and fetch new one from bedroom.
  12. Call fire department to retrieve the damn cat from across the road. Apologise to neighbour who crashed into fence while swerving to avoid cat. Take last pill from foil wrap.
  13. Tie the little b******'s front paws to rear paws with garden twine and bind tightly to leg of dining table, find heavy-duty pruning gloves from shed. Push pill into mouth followed by large piece of fillet steak. Be rough about it. Hold head vertically and pour 2 pints of water down throat to wash pill down.
  14. Consume remainder of scotch. Get spouse to drive you to the emergency room, sit quietly while doctor stitches fingers and forearm and removes pill remnants from right eye. Call furniture shop on way home to order new table.
  15. Arrange for RSPCA to collect mutant cat from hell and call local pet shop to see if they have any hamsters.
How To Give A Dog A Pill
1. Wrap it in bacon.
2. Toss it in the air.

ABC Wednesday – J is for…

…Jars of Jam

Or Jelly for those of you reading this across the Pond. 2005 was rather a good year for soft fruit in VP’s family and we’re still eating the produce. I made the gooseberry and rhubarb & ginger; NAH’s mum gave us the raspberry and blackcurrant ones. We’ve also done a rather nice line in recycled jars don’t you think? The rhubarb & ginger was made on the hottest day of the year – temperatures were well in the nineties. I was ready to melt by the end of it all.

Click here for raspberry, blackcurrant and gooseberry jam recipes; or here for the rhubarb & ginger one. In my usual style I don’t bother with the crystallised ginger but use a little more root ginger instead. Taste any of these for an instant summer.

ABC Wednesday is bought to you courtesy of the letter J and Mrs Nesbitt’s Place.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Environmentally Friendly Easter Eggs?

On Sunday, we went to Poole to visit NAH's aunt. We had a lovely time, were spoilt rotten and given an Easter Egg each on our departure. Naughty Bunnies - Us? We chomped our way through the first set of goodies yesterday, yum yum. Whilst making breakfast this morning, I idly glanced at the back of the packaging: A better choice for you and the environment? Let's examine this claim:

The box is made from 75% recycled cardboard and can be recycled again - pretty good
The egg and sweets are made in the UK - that's good for me, less food miles
Great care's been taken concerning nuts, ensuring no artificial colours & flavours, plus there's lots of information about the ingredients - all good information for allergy sufferers and vegetarians

BUT hang on:
The contents are held in clear plastic & it doesn't tell me what type of plastic it is - no chance of recycling it & it's not really reusable
The egg and sweets are made in the UK - no good for those naughty bunnies in Oz
The sweets contain beef gelatin, milk, soya and sulphites - no good for vegetarians and some allergy sufferers then

Hmm Kinnerton, I think you must do far better than that before making your better choice claim.

Blogger Word Verification – A New Feature ;)

Warning - unlike my usual posts this one contains rude words, no matter how misspelled. If you object, then please move swiftly on...

Bob T Bear (esq.) is currently having a Word Verification competition as it seems that a context sensitive feature is in random beta test in Blogger at the moment. Bob has had Arsul in response to the quality of his typing. As he says so eloquently:

I try me best! But wiv ownly pors to type wiv it aint always eezy! Onnistly! Wat a cheek!

Yesterday, when replying to a couple of Comments re my losing a key posting I want to link to, I received the extremely rude opinion below on my Save as Favourite skills:
Well! I trust Blogger will amend this feature to provide more constructive criticism before implementing it on a wider, more permanent basis…

Monday, 24 March 2008

Help Wanted - Garden Blog Types Article

I'm putting a post together introducing my blog to new readers and want to link to a piece on Garden Blog types and styles I read recently via Blotanical. This was the post that talked about Single theme blogs, multi-theme blogs etc. etc. I thought I'd bookmarked it at the time, but sadly I didn't - more fool me :(

It was a great article that generated a lot of comments. Can you help me track it down please? I haven't managed to using the usual search facilities...

Update - from the couple of Comments I've had so far, I think I need to describe the Posting I have in mind in a bit more detail, so here's a summary of my Comment reply:

I've already got Jodi's recent articles on Blogging lined up as Links for another part of my piece. Nor is it to do with The Powerguides. The Post I'm looking for is from about a month ago when someone wrote an amusing article on the different types of bloggers e.g. single theme - does what it says on the tin, but you may not get to know the person behind the blog that well; double theme - you may get to know the person a bit better, but you might not be interested in 1 of the themes etc etc.

Update 2 - Hurrah I've Remembered! It's by Sue Swift.

Holding Back the Spuds

Easter's meant to be the time to get yer spuds in - on Good Friday and with your earlies to be exact. However, I don't think the advice applies this year due to the very early Easter combined with the snow/frosts we've had (and still forecast to get) the past few days. Any road up I don't think my cold clay soil would pass the 'bare bottom sitting test' advocated by Bunny Guiness on Gardeners' Question Time a few weeks ago! Therefore, I'm leaving my spuds to continue chitting away in the dining room for now. They've got much more in the way of shoots today as the picture was taken just under a month ago when my freebie spuds arrived. They're are a relatively new early variety called Vales Emerald. I suspect I'll have to rub some of the shoots off before I plant them, leaving just 3 strong ones - you can have too much of a good thing. I'll also be planting Ulster Sceptre (another freebie - bred in the 1960s and meant to be high yielding), Anya (a cross between the delicious Desiree and the knobbly Pink Fir Apple), Harlequin (absolutely delicious last year) and Sarpo Axona. All except the Sarpo are earlies to try and beat the blight and the Sarpo one is a maincrop blight resistant variety I've grown before.

If you've planted your spuds already, I do hope you've got plenty of fleece to hand to tuck them up nicely on those chilly nights. However, my allotment neighbour Brian eschews all of this advice - plants his spuds in late February, doesn't use fleece, earths them up straight away and still gets a decent crop. Just shows that rules are made to be broken...

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Happy Easter Everyone

I don’t have pictures of the Easter Eggs I’ll be consuming, nor fluffy chicks, bunnies or a religious symbol associated with Easter. There’s plenty of that around already to make you smile. Instead, I Googled ‘Easter Poems’ yesterday and found Easter 1916 by W. B. Yeats. I feel I should be more familiar with this Nobel laureate, and I fell in love with this poem immediately. You may think it’s a sombre and perhaps controversial choice for an English woman as it deals with the Easter Uprising in Ireland (though I have visited the General Post Office on O'Connell Street in Dublin and seen the bullet holes), but to me now it’s a reminder that not everyone will be having a great time today whilst we're all feasting away, and just one day can make a real difference to the way our world turns. It’s also made me think about valuing my friends, family and the comforts I have at the moment. I’ll also try not to be the woman in the poem whose voice has grown shrill!

I have met them at close of day
Coming with vivid faces
From counter or desk among grey
Eighteenth-century houses.
I have passed with a nod of the head
Or polite meaningless words,
Or have lingered awhile and said
Polite meaningless words,
And thought before I had done
Of a mocking tale or a gibe
To please a companion
Around the fire at the club,
Being certain that they and I
But lived where motley is worn:
All changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

That woman's days were spent
In ignorant good-will,
Her nights in argument
Until her voice grew shrill.
What voice more sweet than hers
When, young and beautiful,
She rode to harriers?
This man had kept a school
And rode our winged horse;
This other his helper and friend
Was coming into his force;
He might have won fame in the end,
So sensitive his nature seemed,
So daring and sweet his thought.
This other man I had dreamed
A drunken, vainglorious lout.
He had done most bitter wrong
To some who are near my heart,
Yet I number him in the song;
He, too, has resigned his part
In the casual comedy;
He, too, has been changed in his turn,
Transformed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Hearts with one purpose alone
Through summer and winter seem
Enchanted to a stone
To trouble the living stream.
The horse that comes from the road.
The rider, the birds that range
From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;
A horse-hoof slides on the brim,
And a horse plashes within it;
The long-legged moor-hens dive,
And hens to moor-cocks call;
Minute by minute they live:
The stone's in the midst of all.

Too long a sacrifice
Can make a stone of the heart.
O when may it suffice?
That is Heaven's part, our part
To murmur name upon name,
As a mother names her child
When sleep at last has come
On limbs that had run wild.
What is it but nightfall?
No, no, not night but death;
Was it needless death after all?
For England may keep faith
For all that is done and said.
We know their dream; enough
To know they dreamed and are dead;
And what if excess of love
Bewildered them till they died?
I write it out in a verse -
MacDonagh and MacBride
And Connolly and Pearse
Now and in time to be,
Wherever green is worn,
Are changed, changed utterly:
A terrible beauty is born.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

World Water Day

It's World Water Day today - designated every 22nd March to raise awareness of the issues concerning water supply across the world and to gain commitment from people like ourselves to reduce our own impact on this precious resource. I could write a post suggesting 5, 10 or even 50 ways you could use less water, but I'm sure you know already about turning the tap off when brushing your teeth, installing a water hippo in your loo's tank, blah, blah, blah. That's been done many times before and by people far more eloquent and persuasive than me.

However, there's a way to save water in the garden I've not seen in many places and it's one I've been using in my garden and allotment for a while now. Based on the principle 'a pint of water at the roots is worth the same as a gallon at the soil's surface', I install water pipes like the one shown in the picture whenever I plant a tree or large shrub. The pipe is cut to the length of the planting hole plus a couple of inches to stand proud of the soil, so I can easily reach it with my watering can. I try not to water the garden during periods of drought - I'm a great believer in encouraging plants to make deep roots and find their own water, but sometimes (especially the summer of 2006) my larger plants have needed a helping hand, particularly during their first year. By employing this technique I can ensure the water gets to exactly where it is needed, using a minimal amount. I 'acquired' my pipe as there was a long length of drainage pipe abandoned amongst brambles on the public land next to my house - a find from my early guerilla gardening. You may have to resort to your local builders' supplier for something similar - it won't break the bank.

I've employed the same technique for my allotment trees and grape vines. I've also adapted it for water hungry crops such as courgettes, squashes and tomatoes. For these I use plastic pop bottles donated by my neighbours. I recycle the bottle tops and the cut off bottoms of each bottle, so I'm left with what looks like a giant straight sided funnel. I 'plant' one of these alongside each thirsty plant and water once a week during dry spells (about half a watering can per plant) - you may need to do this more frequently if your soil is sandy. This method also prevents the spread of fungal diseases such as blight, which aerial watering may encourage. I can also deliver my organic liquid feeds straight to where it'll make the most difference using this method.

If you're concerned about it being a tad unsightly, well it doesn't matter on the allotment and I've put the garden ones to the side or around the back of each plant so they're tucked out of the way. Besides, a healthy looking specimen with a pipe next to it is a much better sight than a sickly looking pipe absent one :)

Friday, 21 March 2008

Allotment Petition - Sign up NOW!

I first blogged about threats to allotments in January, but Simon at The Plot Thickens' recent posting about a proposed development in Hungerford reminds me that the deadline for an online petition to the Government is nearly upon us. It's about giving the same protection to non-statutory sites (can go at any time) as statutory ones (needs ministerial approval for development), so is a vital step forward in my view. Many of our allotment sites are threatened, even the well cared for ones as Simon has shown. The deadline for your signature (assuming you're a GB resident or ex-pat, dear reader) is 27th March, so why not follow this link and simply sign up NOW? Tell all your friends and family about it too...

Thursday, 20 March 2008

New Camera - First Results

I'm a child with a new toy as my birthday present from NAH arrived today. We've been fighting over the digital camera lately as I'm out most days taking snaps for Veg Plotting and other projects. My lovely NAH has responded with a stylish new camera complete with macro facility, so I can now do all those close ups I've been dying to show you. First up is this backlit daffodil from the vase on my kitchen windowsill bagged just after lunch today.

BTW - that's the shot as it was taken, I've not cropped or enlarged it post uploading to the computer. My philosophy is to try and get the shot I want with the camera, preferably without using flash - it looks more natural in my view and less work that way!

Shhh! Robins Nesting...

I've had to move out of my allotment shed for the next few months as the robins have returned for the third year and built their nest over the shed door. I think you can guess from the picture how they got in there. I popped in to grab the essentials I'll need over the next few weeks and moved them to my extra large compost bin a few yards away. Luckily Mr and Mrs Robin were out when I did this. Have a look at the unusual 'padlock'. The real one disappeared as a result of the last allotment break-in (nothing was stolen from the shed except for a pair of gloves I'd gained from the break-in before!). Mr Allotment Warden improvised with a piece of dogwood twig and I haven't got round to getting a new lock yet. I think the dogwood rather effectively says 'There's nothing in here of value to nick', don't you?

It felt so good to be out on the allotment yesterday. An absence of nearly 3 weeks due to various illnesses means I'm rather behind in my digging and planting.

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

ABC Wednesday - I is for...

...Icons of Britain

I couldn't resist showing you two of our most iconic pieces of street furniture, the post and telephone box. These examples are lurking outside the recently refurbished Chippenham's train station. You'll see that the post box is a relatively recent example as it has Queen Elizabeth's monogram. Even though the majority of us now have mobile phones, there was a public outcry when British Telecom began to remove these phoneboxes from our streets. There's a really good website dedicated to these and other icons of the British way of life e.g. cricket, our weather, routemaster buses etc. etc.

See Mrs Nesbitt's Place for more ABC pictures.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008


I snook this picture of NAH hard at work this morning, finally getting to grips with the new roof for the shed. Unfortunately I've not been able to persuade him a living roof is the way to go in spite of you all lobbying for this option the last time. This is probably a never to be repeated photograph as we've taken the decision not to post pictures of ourselves or family on here. However, I hope I can get away with this one...

Update - Alex over at Shedworking has put a version of this post on his website. Do go and have a look at the goodies there - it's guaranteed to induce shed envy!

Our New Water Feature

The 2 inches of rain we had over the weekend has turned the gravel path from yesterday's Plot Views into a garden stream. The Lesser Celandines growing in the path (how did they get there?) don't seem to mind though.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Happy St Patrick's Day!

No, I haven't got the date wrong - it is indeed St Patrick's Day today. At least according to the Catholic Church it is. They've moved St Patrick's Day as it's regular slot on Monday is in Holy Week - so secular feasts need to give way to the big one. I'm sure this won't faze my ex-Irish colleagues at all - it'll be an excuse for 2 enormous parties (or even a continuous one) instead. It's all because Easter's so early this year (the earliest since 1913 to be precise), thus proving as far as national saints go, there is such a thing as a moveable feast. The last time it happened was in 1940, when the day also coincided with Palm Sunday. The next time will be 2160, so enjoy the Craic whilst you can!

Signs of Spring 7

This Kerria japonica 'Pleniflora' (aka Japanese Rose, Jew's Mallow, Batchelor's Buttons) is exploding into a mass of acid yellow blooms. It picks up where the daffodils leave off further down the side garden bank. This is a real workhorse shrub for me - I usually have a few blooms from December onwards, followed by a mass of yellow from March through to May. It brightens a gloomy part of the garden most effectively!

Friday, 14 March 2008

Signs of Spring 6

The Pulmonaria had a bit of a hard time with slugs, so has taken a while to recover and start blooming this year. As a result it's managed to combine itself well with these daffodils in the woodland area.

I'd like some feedback on my new slideshow please. After the first day I put it on there and got it working to my satisfaction, I'm getting a blank space now when I go into my blog and wondered if it's the same for you?

Pass the Parcel

I've been on tenterhooks about this for so long. I signed up to Jeannine's Pass the Parcel on Allotments4All (A4A) at the start of the year and yesterday it was my turn to receive the goodies. As a confirmed seedaholic, receiving a parcel containing hundreds of packets of seeds to choose from is heaven!

As Jeannine's originally from Canada, the parcel's strong on unusual squashes and beans she's sourced from over the pond. Also a number of people have put in Franchi and Seeds of Italy varieties in their swapsies. Jeannine's also started off an Okra growing challenge on A4A this year (also mentioned in the AG letter I blogged about yesterday), so there's a couple of packets in there for those wishing to participate that haven't got their Okra seeds yet.

I couldn't resist some of the beans and squashes. I was also pleased to see a few Tomatillo seeds in there - something I've read about lately and want to try. An intriguingly named Dragon Fruit packet also caught my eye. The parcel was short of chillis and tomatoes, so I've put plenty of those in to replace my share of the booty. I've also got lots of green manure seeds, so I've put in a couple of packets in case anyone would like to try this technique for the first time.

Pass the Parcel's been a fun way of finding new varieties to try without the outlay. My hat's off to Jeannine for organising this one - I know it's not been easy due to the vagaries of the post. She's even put together cryptic clues for us to guess where the parcel's off to next - the clue for my turn was French Fries and Bacon. If you fancy joining in sometime, or finding a great community of allotmenteers out there, why not give Allotments4All a try?

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Signs of Spring 5

The fresh growth of Dicentra spectabilis has really started to show through this week. It's a perennial that at first unfurls itself in a similar fashion to a fern, and the new growth is tinged with purple. I have this in my woodland garden, where it hides the unsightly strap-like leaves of the daffodils whilst they die down.

I'll post a picture of the flowers around April/May time - to me they look like strings of pink lockets that make me smile. Dicentra has some wonderful common names such as Lady in the Bath and Bleeding Heart.

Amateur Gardening Magazine

I had a nice surprise when I opened the post a couple of days ago to find a National Garden Gift Voucher from Amateur Gardening magazine. I've had a letter printed in there this week - I responded a couple of months ago to their article on garden bloggers by enthusing about my experiences of the blogosphere. Unfortunately they've not heeded my suggestion for a regular column featuring the gardening internet, but hopefully the promised revamping of their own website highlighted after my letter may feature something of the kind.

Wednesday, 12 March 2008

Signs of Spring 4

These are always the first Tulips to flower in my garden. I planted them 9 years ago before I really got into gardening, so I don't know the variety.

ABC Wednesday – H is for…

...Happy Days

This week’s just the best as far as I’m concerned – wedding anniversary, birthday, GNO*, my work leaving do, plus our award winning Global Village Film Festival all week. NAH’s been hard at work making sure the technical side of things is top notch for taking the films out to various local venues. It started off with the film Once on Saturday (lovely) at The Pound Arts Centre, and will culminate with Nosferatu at St Bartholomew’s Church on Saturday – quite the venue for a horror film!

So for me, this week is a celebration of Happy Days. If you were expecting me to talk about the TV programme of the same name, you may want to look here instead.

Click here for other ABC pictures bought to you by the letter H - not forgetting Mrs Nesbitt of course.

* = Girls’ Night Out – Mexican meal followed by The Other Boleyn Girl, some of which was filmed locally at Lacock and Great Chalfield Manor.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Just How Long is a Week These Days?

On Breakfast News last Friday, Robert Winston managed to keep a straight face when he announced it's National Science Week for 10 days. I thought about blogging about it then, but as I've organised events to link in with this before, I was just pleased it was getting some national publicity for a change and chuckled to myself that even scientists seem to have problems with their maths.

However, I opened my local paper at the weekend to find our national tourist board has a similar problem with the space-time continuum. British Tourism Week started yesterday and continues until 18th March. Kennet District (west Wiltshire) has taken it a step further and extended their week out until March 22nd - nearly a fortnight by my calculations...

Signs of Spring 3

I have 3 large Mayan pots filled to the brim with these lovely Primroses. They're earmarked to go into the Guerilla Garden in a couple of months time.

Monday, 10 March 2008

Magnetic Poetry - March

A very simple poem for this month. I was a bit miffed* I wasn't allowed to take my birthday off as holiday at the time...

BTW, today isn't my birthday and I'm not miffed either :)

* = ooh, ever so slightly annoyed

Signs of Spring 2

Cowslips amongst the Euonymus. These are gradually spreading themselves down the side garden bank towards the Guerilla Garden - just as I'd hoped they'd do.

If you'd like to find out more about the Euonymus, I wrote about it here.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Seed Stash Sunday

Our Allotment & Garden Society gets 45% off seeds from DT Brown. I put my order in last December and it was time to collect my booty at the Lordsmead site this morning. Let the sowing commence!

Signs of Spring 1

OK, so it was raining and we're expecting the mother of all storms tonight/tomorrow, but the sight of the Blackthorn in bloom at the side of the house still stopped me in my tracks yesterday.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Chippenham Against Plastic - Update

Following my recent blogging about the possibility of Chippenham banning the plastic bag, I have a letter published in the local paper this week.

NAH thinks I have far too much time on my hands - it's the second letter I've had in there this year.

Rhubarb, rhubarb

Whenever we visit my Brother-in-law, we enter a part of Britain mysteriously known as The Rhubarb Triangle. Luckily, this area of Yorkshire doesn't have the same characteristics as the Bermuda variety, so we usually emerge relatively unscathed at the end of our visits to wend our way back to Wiltshire again.

The Rhubarb Triangle is an area bounded by Leeds, Wakefield and Bradford. It's the ideal area for rhubarb growing as it lies in a frost pocket east of the Pennines. This ensures plenty of frosty nights to break the rhubarb's dormancy in time for digging the crowns up and placing them in large forcing sheds in November/December. In complete darkness, the plant produces lashings of tender pink sticks ready for eating from January through to March. Radio 4's The Food Programme did a piece on this a few years ago and I was surprised by the frequent popping noises when the presenter entered the forcing shed - you can hear the rhubarb growing! Many generations of producers were involved in commercial rhubarb growing. Sadly, lots of these fell by the wayside after WWII as our tastes became more wider ranging and thus rhubarb's popularity declined. The most prominent survivor is Olroyd's, who have a terrific website taking you through their traditions, including harvesting the rhubarb by candlelight. Today, it's becoming popular again, thanks to our celebrity chefs and initiatives such as the annual Wakefield Festival of Food, Drink and Rhubarb - last day today.

Rhubarb was one of the first things I planted on my allotment 4 years ago. By planting it, I felt I was paying homage to the generations of allotment holders before me and also reviving my childhood memories of being given a stick of rhubarb to eat with a small bag of sugar to dip it in. This was considered a treat! I've learnt that the forcing experiment I started in January, isn't strictly speaking forcing. I'm actually blanching my rhubarb as unlike the beetroot, I didn't dig it up. The variety I grow is Victoria - as it's a late variety, this may explain why my blanching's not going that well at the moment (see picture - the crown being blanched is under the straw. It's slightly pinker, taller and fresher looking than the unblanched area). Next time, I'll try something like Timperley Early or Stockbridge Arrow. Fittingly, the RHS Garden at Harlow Carr in Yorkshire holds the Rhubarb National Collection with 130 taxa.

If all of this rhubarb talk has made you a little peckish, you may like to hop along over here for some recipes. Personally, I like my rhubarb simple - stewed with a little brown sugar, served with lots of creamy organic natural yoghurt.

This is my latest Celebrating Regionality article - click on the Regionality Label below to see the full range.

Update: Philip Voice over at Landscape Juice also wrote about rhubarb yesterday. I covet the traditional forcers shown in his Forcing Rhubarb link.

2nd Update: I picked the first rhubarb on 16th March (25th April last year) and it was utterly delicious with custard :D

Friday, 7 March 2008

Friday Freebies

I'd quite forgotten I'd sent off for this little lot - A Grow Your Own Veg pack from the Royal Horticultural Society. It's the Society's follow up to last year's TV series of the same name. The rather smart box shown middle back contained the following goodies - 4 packets of seeds; leaflets on 10 easy veg to grow, container veg gardening and getting started; recipe cards; a glossary of terms and a list of RHS veggie events for this year. There's also a website packed with information and more freebies to support the campaign. Not bad eh!

It's also the monthly Garden Club day at the local garden centre, so I went along and claimed my free bunch of daffodils and chose my half price plant :)

Not a bad ending to a week I'd rather forget healthwise. Here's to a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Is Chippenham Really a Fairtrade Town?

Fairtrade goodies on Fairtrade cotton shopping bag - March 2008

I was surprised by the claim by Laurie Bell - Chippenham's Town Clerk, that Chippenham has Fairtrade Town status when researching my recent article on banning plastic bags. As it's Fairtrade Fortnight at the moment, I decided to investigate this claim a little further.

So, what's Fairtrade?
According to the Faitrade Foundation's website it's:
Fairtrade is about better prices, decent working conditions, local sustainability, and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. By requiring companies to pay sustainable prices (which must never fall lower than the market price), Fairtrade addresses the injustices of conventional trade, which traditionally discriminates against the poorest, weakest producers. It enables them to improve their position and have more control over their lives.

The FAIRTRADE Mark is an independent consumer label which appears on UK products as a guarantee that they have been certified against internationally agreed Fairtrade standards. It shares internationally recognised Fairtrade standards with initiatives in 20 other countries, working together globally with producer networks as Fairtrade Labelling Organisations International (FLO). The Mark indicates that the product has been certified to give a better deal to the producers involved – it does not act as an endorsement of an entire company’s business practices.

Fairtrade standards comprise both minimum social, economic and environmental requirements, which producers must meet to be certified, plus progress requirements that encourage continuous improvement to develop farmers’ organisations or the situation of estate workers.

So as you can see I currently have 4 products with the Fairtrade Mark in my kitchen - only 2,996 more to go!

OK, what's Fairtrade Fortnight?
It's an annual event, where the Fairtrade Foundation, local groups and other organisations promoting Fairtrade (such as the Church and various charities) ramp up their efforts to put Fairtrade firmly in the focus of the general public. As a result, there's all sorts of events going on UK wide. A diary of events can be found here. However, it's not just about this time of the year, so the Fairtrade Foundation has set up a number of other initiatives, including Fairtrade Town Status.

Sounds good - what does a town need to do to get this status?
They have to meet 5 goals:
  1. The local council must pass a resolution supporting Fairtrade, and serve Fairtrade coffee and tea at its meetings and in offices and canteens. From my research it would appear that the intention to apply for Fairtrade Town status was discussed only last October at the District Council and November by the Town Council.
  2. A range of Fairtrade products must be readily available in the area’s shops and served in local caf├ęs and catering establishments. Yes, this is already being done and the choice and spread throughout the town has increased noticeably in the last year.
  3. Fairtrade products must be used by a number of local work places educational establishments, faith communities and other community organisations. Yes at the faith community level, not sure about the others.
  4. Attract media coverage and organise events to gain popular support for the campaign. I've not seen any evidence of this. Also, I've found just 3 Fairtrade Fortnight events for Chippenham!
  5. A local Fairtrade steering group must meet regularly to ensure continued commitment to Fairtrade Town status. The composition of your steering group should be representative of your community overall. I don't know if it's in place formally, but there's evidence of local Church and Wildlife Trust initiatives which may go some way to meet this.

    So is Chippenham a Fairtrade Town? I believe not yet officially, but hopefully this time next year, I'll be able to report more positively - both on my town and my shopping habits.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Mmm, Tasty?

I picked up a copy of this freebie magazine a couple of weeks ago, but didn't sit down to read it until yesterday. I don't think I'll be trying the recipe on the right though...

Update: Yes the picture on the right doesn't help either - just look a bit more carefully at the recipe's title... ;)

ABC Wednesday – G is for…

Green Walls at Market Quarter
Green rooves are now a familiar sight to most UK gardeners. They’re very hip and trendy following their featuring in major garden events like Chelsea plus TV programmes such as Gardeners' World. Why, I’m even contemplating having one built onto my shed. Green walls are a more obscure version of the same concept. I don’t mean just growing climbers up the wall, like many of us already do, but actually putting a structure in place into which plants are used to clothe the wall. It helps to insulate the house – keeping it cool in the summer and warm in the winter.

The pictured green wall is from the new ‘Eco Development’ in Chippenham. This is currently replacing part of the old Cattle Market site. The development’s controversial - because of what it’s replacing, it’s location (within what local residents call the largest cul de sac in Europe, thus major traffic chaos is predicted) and also because the homes are built higher than that specified during the local Planning process. I feel ambivalent to the development as this is part of my ‘Changing Chippenham’ series, but at least the buildings are better than the usual fare – both aesthetically and environmentally.

I’ve tried to find out what’s been planted in the walls – it looked like Sedum when I took the photograph. Perusal of the building company’s website doesn’t shed any light on the matter. I also asked my hairdresser last week as she’s bought one of the homes. She wasn’t even aware of their existence (she’s bought a house – the green walls are clothing the flats in a different part of the development), but she told me she does have a green roof as part of her balcony, which is used to filter the rainwater draining into her water butt.

Click here for the last photograph in my Changing Chippenham series.

ABC Wednesday is bought to you courtesy of Mrs Nesbitt's Place.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Just Chilling

I've started to try and make sense of what I need to do with my seed stash from the RHS today. The upshot is:

3 varieties are relatively straight forward and can be sown straight away - Fatsia, Hyssopus, and Leucojum. As they're from such precious places, I'm going to treat them to some proper seed compost instead of my usual peat-free :)

11 varieties need to be pre-chilled first as a minimum - so they've been put in the fridge today as pictured.

I have a list of questions to be answered before I can get on with anything else. Research will commence as soon as I can stand being logged onto the internet for longer than half an hour...

Feeding My Mind

In my current befuddled state I've been trying to reduce the size of my Booklog. Luckily I have the pictured lovely gardening book, ripe for dipping in and out of. I have the attention span of a gnat at the moment, so it's an ideal volume to cuddle up to, together with a hot toddy or two - that may of course further explain the state I'm in :o!

My favourite quote so far:
Don't wear perfume in the garden - unless you want to be pollinated by bees
Anne Raver (1949- )

Update: I must be getting better - the apostrophe's position's beginning to irritate me ;)

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Chippenham’s Banksy – Update

Since my last posting on the subject, 3 more examples of Graffiti Art have appeared in Chippenham. This one is on the side of Chippenham station and it looks like it’s been signed, alas not by Banksy.

A few yards away, Batman has appeared on the side of the footbridge over the railway line. It has a ‘how did they manage to do that?’ quality about it. Perhaps he/she/they flew up there like batman!

Here's a closer view of the actual piece.

The last one is on the side of the local cinema, just a few yards from the bus stop where the first one appeared. Perhaps it's a self portrait of the artist in action.

The question now is – are they all by the same artist?

I chose today to post this update because The City Daily Photo Movement (CDPB) are due to be blogging about Street Art today. Click here for an explanation of what CDPB is and a gateway into a world of daily photos. My thanks to Gerald England from ABC Wednesday for alerting me to this blogging event.

Bunches of Daffodils

A happy St David’s Day to you, especially if you hail from Wales. The Daffodil isn’t the only Welsh national symbol. It’s even more traditional to wear the Leek – Daffodil wearing was introduced by Lloyd George just under a century ago. Both the Leek and the Daffodil share the same Welsh name Ceninen, hence the dual symbolism.

Be of cheer today - it’s the first day of early spring according to the gardening calendar :)

Update - March 'Roared in like a lion' here last night. Many items were tossed around the garden like toys, but thankfully it looks like there's no major damage. If the rest of this weather lore is true, then we can look forward to a lovely end to the month - 'Going out like a lamb'.
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