Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Smashing Pumpkins

About 5 miles from here is the village of Bromham where the surrounding fields are currently crammed with leeks, cabbages, parsnips and kale, plus one littered with cushion-like pumpkins. Unlike my clayey lime garden and plot, the soil here is light, reddish in colour and a good loam: just right for growing vegetables. However, the local farm shop in this area (belonging to V & P Collins) has just one thing on its mind at the moment...

NB Hurrah, I have a couple of biscuit (aka cookie) themed guest posts today: the first one is here and the second one is winging its way through the ether at dusk.

Friday, 30 October 2009

YAWA: Your Events Guide for November

We're enjoying an Indian summer during the last days of October here in England, but the heavy weather forecast for Sunday means that we should get out tomorrow to places like Westonbirt Arboretum (pictured above) and enjoy the last of autumn's fiery leaves before they're all blown away. Once the storm's over, you might like to seek out one of the events the You Ask, We Answer team have found to help while away the darker days of November.

All month: A couple of writing events - you can either release your inner novelist by signing up for National Novel Writing Month (aka NaNoWriMo), or if that sounds a bit like too much hard work, you could elect to post something on your blog every day this month instead. It's called National Blog Posting Month, aka NaBloPoMo and you can write about anything and make it as long or short as you like!

2nd-8th November: British Sausage Week. A celebration of all things banger and rather apt in view of the other events scheduled over the next few days.

5th November: Bonfire Night. This event truly reveals our nation's eccentricity. Who else would celebrate not only a treasonable act, but the fact it didn't succeed? I was once trying to explain this event to someone in Mallorca and with my limited Spanish I'd just managed to tell her about the national obsession with bonfires and fireworks (especially bangers and firecrackers) on this day. Ahh, she said thinking the penny had finally dropped, so you have Saints days too?

8th November: Remembrance Sunday. Everything stops for one minute at 11am.

24th November: First mistletoe auction of the season, Tenbury Wells.

28th November: Buy Nothing Day. A chance to get off the consumer rollercoaster for once.

28th November - 6th December: National Tree Week. A very good time to plant a tree - I know because I used to arrange volunteer weekends to plant 1,000 of them on mine spoil heaps in South Wales at this time of the year. We've even planted them in the snow!

Have we missed anything? Let us know in the Comments below...

Thursday, 29 October 2009

VPGGB #11: A Gentle Plea for Bulbs

Unlike last year I was going to be quite restrained with my bulb buying this time, honest guv. But when packets like the one shown above wink at you from the shelf, who am I to say no? Besides, when I went to see Anna Pavord's talk on her new book, Bulb recently, her parting shot was Splurge, it's the only way. It was a bit of a siren call and I now find myself buying them at every opportunity. BTW Jane Perrone went to see her at the Garden Museum recently and has saved me the trouble of translating my notes for you from the ones I wrote in the dark, by publishing a full account here.

It's a good year for bargain bulbs: EmmaT's been potting up some tulips and I've found a further selection at Chippenham's Focus DIY store (including species tulips and Quail daffodils) at 3 fat packs for a fiver. The pictured bumper pack came from a small nursery in Somerset (Rocky Mountain), so it's not just the big chains getting in on the act. It's not too late to plant them and at prices like these it would be madness not to. I can't help thinking that's rather ironic really seeing whole fortunes were won and lost at the height of tulip mania.

It also got me musing about the Dalek-like planters on Chippenham high street I showed you earlier in the year. The summery pretties have been stripped out and (hopefully) composted and they're now awaiting their usual winter selection of bright pansies or Polyanthus. Wouldn't it be great if lashings of bulbs were added to the mix to give us at least an extra month's interest at minimal cost?

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

ABC Wednesday 5: O is for...

... Open Pollinated Seed Varieties

Crumbs - what a mouthful. Do bear with me on this, as I'm trying to make things clear for myself as well as for you. If I'm not succeeding, let me know in the Comments!

This one's also for Karen because she asked which seeds I'd grabbed in the swap at the bloggers get together in Oxford on Saturday. Let's get the non-seed items out of the way first shall we? Ben from Real Seeds gave me a couple of blight resistant Will potatoes he's been growing. From garlic guru Patrick I had a very healthy looking head of Music and who could resist a couple of Tristan's (who has an organic market garden) enormous cloves of elephant garlic? Emma didn't either!

Any saved seed, like the packets you see here from Ben (tomato Tomatito de jalapa and Morton's secret mix of very different lettuces) and Vicki from the Heritage Seed Library (Bean Cherokee Trail of Tears, Leek Colossal and Beetroot Long Blood Red) were from what's called open pollinated varieties. This means they're seeds from plants which have been pollinated in the field by e.g. bees or wind. There are two basic types of open pollinated crops viz:

Plants such as beans, peas, lettuce and tomatoes are self-pollinating i.e. the female flowers are fertilised via pollen from the male flowers on the same plant. As long as the parent variety is stable - it's been produced over many generations of plants - the seeds when grown will produce plants pretty much the same as the parent plant. This is just what most of us want because we like to know what we're getting.

Other plants such as squash, corn, carrots, brassicas and beets are cross-pollinating i.e. the pollen from one plant is used to fertilise the flower of another. This means that a variety must be kept in relative isolation from others of the same crop if the seed produced from the parent plants is to come true rather than produce a hybrid between the two varieties. This hybrid seed is rather unpredictable as it takes on a mixture of characteristics from each parent and it may be nowhere near as good as its parents if and when the seed's grown.

Open pollination is often mentioned at the same time as Heritage or Heirloom varieties. However, these terms aren't mutually inclusive. An open pollinated variety isn't necessarily an heirloom one, for instance the salad and tomato seeds shown in the picture are relatively new varieties. The Heritage Seed Library (HSL) is all about preserving the relatively old seed varieties (usually bred pre-1951), many of which have been dropped from the more popular seed catalogues, especially since the EU rules came into force regarding seed registration. This made it very expensive for a company to retain lots of varieties in one catalogue.

The HSL is preserving as many of these 'dropped' varieties (or 'lines') as possible because they're often excellent crops in their own right (often beating the more commercial varieties hands down in blind taste tests) and who knows when they might be useful for future plant breeding initiatives? HSL doesn't have enough space to grow enough seed for its members, so it relies on Seed Guardians to help out by saving seed to send back to Ryton. This would be extremely difficult for them to do if the varieties weren't open pollinated ones.

For anyone like me wanting to start to save their own seeds - as Ben in particular actively encourages - then the self-pollinating crops are the easiest place to start. Patrick has also started a bloggers' seed saving network - if you're interested in contributing to this, then do have a look here. Those of you living over the pond may also like to have a look at joining The Seed Savers Exchange.

Note that Patrick only accepts open pollinated, stable varieties, so if you've seed saved from commercial F1 varieties it isn't welcome. This is because the seed usually isn't viable and any plants will have (often wildly) different characteristics which will probably crop poorly. Also the network is aiming to get away from the hold exerted by seed companies. For example, as these F1 varieties (i.e. the first generation of seed produced from hybridisation) are unstable, the seed company must keep breeding from the parent varieties in order to keep the seed supply going. Have a look at Ben's website and Patrick's blog if you wish to know more about this issue, they're much better at explaining these things.

Phew - I've given you loads of relatively complicated stuff today! However, if you'd like to know more about open pollination or hybridisation, then this well written article I've found from the National Gardening Association has a lot more information.

For more articles bought to you by the letter O, do hop on over to the ABC Wednesday Blog.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Product Test: Air-Pot Results

here on Veg Plotting, I've told you about how I got involved in trialling a new method of growing vegetables using an Air-Pot, a rather strange looking planter riddled with holes. I also updated you a while ago on how well things were going and also told you about how I was comparing them alongside using old compost bags.

Today it's time to reveal the final results and the photo shows the total number of potatoes from both trials. From left to right we have Edzel Blue potatoes from the compost bag, followed by the Air-Pot, then Yukon Gold potatoes from the compost bag and finally the same potato variety from the Air-Pot. As you can see the results aren't that spectacular for pot or bag, nor for each potato variety. In terms of weight the pots yielded 575 grammes of potatoes and the compost bags 950 grammes. So the bags have yielded nearly twice as many potatoes in terms of weight, from a slightly smaller number of them.

I've been asked by the company who gave me the pots to trial to rate a number of factors on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 = terrible, and 5 = good. These are shown below and I've also rated the compost bag method using the same criteria:

Air Pot
Received in good condition = 5
Assembly & initial instructions clear & helpful = 2
Assembly of the pot / bag = 3
Initial filling and planting = 4
Watering/feeding = 4
Rate of growth = 5
Volume and quality of crop = 1
Overall satisfaction = 1
Total Score (% maximum score available) = 25/40 (62.5%)

Compost Bag
Received in good condition = N/A
Assembly & initial instructions clear & helpful = N/A
Assembly of the pot / bag = 5
Initial filling and planting = 5
Watering/feeding = 5
Rate of growth = 5
Volume and quality of crop = 1.5
Overall satisfaction = 1.5
Total score (% maximum score available) = 23/30 (77%)

I've rated the pot lower than the bag in most of the categories because I had to suggest a number of changes to the assembly instructions provided; I managed to assemble the pot incorrectly a couple of times before I got it right (though this was in the space of 10 minutes); I needed to use more compost to fill the pot as instructed; and it required more watering. As you can see the quality of the potatoes is high - both are pest and disease free - it's the woefully small crop volumes that's led to my low ratings.

I don't know yet if my experience is a typical one as I haven't seen any results from the other nine growers taking part in the potato part of the trial. However, the people who chose the tomato/tender crops option do seem to have had a better experience from what I've seen on Gardeners' Click as they've reported earlier and more productive crops.

For me, the only real advantage of the pot for potato production was the reduction of effort in both planting and harvesting. The pot wall could be peeled away easily leaving a rigid pile of compost to dive in to find the potatoes. Therefore minimal lifting or digging was needed, unlike with the compost bag and particularly with growing spuds on my allotment.

I'm wondering if the air pruning of the plant's roots which the Air-Pot promotes might have a detrimental effect on tuber production, especially as my 'spare' solid walled compost bin on the allotment - which was half full of random dumpings of old rabbit bedding + poo, kitchen scraps and large bags of coffee grounds - had a volunteer potato growing in it (probably from the kitchen scraps) which yielded 3kg of potatoes with absolutely no effort at all.

Even if these results had occurred with the Air-Pot (which might have happened if I'd chosen another potato variety or grown them in a sunnier spot), using the same no-cost method of accumulating a growing medium (using peat-free multi-purpose compost would cost around £4-5), I wouldn't be able to recommend them as a viable method for growing your own spuds as the biggest drawback is their cost - currently £35.25 for 2 x 50 litre pots.

From my experience this product is better suited to its existing purpose: the production of healthy container-grown trees. However, I am thinking of adapting my pots - by placing the bottom of the pot higher up the wall - to see how I fare with growing cucumbers next year.

Update: Since writing this, I've now found a couple of people who've posted pictures of their results in the photo gallery on Gardeners' Click. One of them is showing similar looking yields (and reporting higher where artificial fertiliser's been added) compared to his plot grown Desiree spuds.

I've also had a full response to this article from the Air-Pot's manufacturer, including fullsome praise quoted from Terry Walton - see the Comments for full details. Their observation re lateness of planting possibly affecting yield also applies to me as I didn't receive my pots until late May. However, that doesn't cancel out the slightly better results I had via the compost bag method.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Food Growing Bloggers Get Together '09

I thought last year's inaugural event couldn't be topped, but once again Pat and Steph (aided by Juleanne of INASP) did us proud and laid on a packed programme for our get together in Oxford on Saturday. The venue was most apt for us - a tranquil garden in the heart of Oxford at Restore. This project helps people with mental health issues learn life skills, including horticultural ones. The result is two productive allotments, plus the pictured garden. It's looking good despite the pouring rain.

Our meeting's even made YouTube as Soilman filmed Emma giving a Q&A session on her Alternative Kitchen Garden. Thank goodness he didn't choose me giving a preview of the post I've planned for later on this week on the results of my airpot product test! Vicki gave a talk on the work of the Heritage Seed Library, Ben from Real Seeds illustrated very succinctly some of the issues surrounding GM, Dr Simon Platten introduced us to the anthropological side to allotmenteering in Kent and Tom Wagner gave us a quick tour of a mere fraction of the tens of thousands of tomato and potato seeds he's developed over 56 years of plant breeding.

If that wasn't enough excitement, there was a seed swap, a bring and share lunch, plus plenty of time to chinwag to blogging friends old and new. I'll be telling you a little more about some of the talks over the next few weeks, but in the meantime Emma has much better pictures of everyone who attended if you're feeling nosey and want to see what we all look like ;)

It was a packed, informative and fun day. I hope to see you there next year!

Friday, 23 October 2009

A Slice of (Big) Apple Pie

I'm indebted to Daryl for sending me this image from her marvellous blog about life in New York, which in turn she got from a friend. I often return to it, even after 18 months or so as it still makes me giggle and ponder a little. That bottom section's painfully true - I managed to lose an entire packet of autumn onion sets up at the allotment the other day within minutes of putting them down 'somewhere' *. I also wonder what to replace Working with - Blogging in the winter and Gardening in the summer perhaps?

If you were to sum up your life in a pie chart, what would it look like?

I'm off to Oxford tomorrow for the Food Growing Bloggers get together (yippee and hopefully another slice of Cat's delicious marmalade topped apple pie will be available just like last year), followed by a workshop on potatoes on Sunday. Have a great weekend everyone and see you on Monday :)

Oh, and UK bloggers don't forget: there's the possibility of an extra hour's lie-in on Sunday as the clocks go back in the wee small hours. What's the betting seeing NAH's away that I'll forget, rush around like a lunatic and arrive in Oxford way before the workshop starts?

* = I did find them and they're planted now - they were on the little plot next to the one I was going to put them in. I 'hid' them by a pile of weeds, but I had to go back to the car and retrace all my steps on the plot before I found them again. No wonder I'm terrified dementia's a mere brain cell away ;)

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The YAWA Dictionary: Butt Updated

Early readers of this blog might recall the confusion I caused over the pond when referring to my butt. It led to my publishing the above picture and explaining how I use it to store water on my plot - you can have a look here if you'd like to see the original post.

However, sometimes the different meanings are deliciously combined and the word becomes completely irresistible to the You Ask, We Answer team ;)

You can see this and the other YAWA dictionary entries here. NB Mr. McGregor's Daughter and Gail @ Clay and Limestone, I've added Marmite to the list after your comments last week :)

If you have something which you think the YAWA Dictionary team should be investigating to improve international garden blogging understanding and fun, do add your suggestions in the Comments below.

The YAWA Dictionary: adding meaning to your garden blogging

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

ABC Wednesday 5: N is for...

...Niggling Nuisance

How apt we're at N this week and I can use the words Niggling Nuisance to sum up my blogging situation at the moment. Last Friday the graphics card on my PC gave up the ghost: it's incredibly hard to blog anything when you're staring at a blank screen :(

NAH's come to my rescue and rigged up the spare laptop, so I can continue talking to you. It belonged to my late father-in-law, is at least 6 years old and limps along. The internet grinds to a halt every time the fan switches on, which is every few minutes. That's just about bearable if I don't spend too long online, so my apologies for not getting around and visiting you all as often as I usually do.

The most frustrating thing for me is the complete lack of access to my pictures, so various posts I've planned are stuck in limbo for the foreseeable future. Luckily, I had some articles pencilled in for the winter months which I've pressed into service this week because I'd either uploaded the image already or I could re-use some of my published photos: I try not to do the latter if possible, but right now needs must. I also have some photos in my emails, like the one kindly sent by Mark which I used for Monday's post. These will help to keep things going for a little longer.

So apologies for not taking you back to Westonbirt for more glorious autumn colour; or telling you about various garden visits I've made recently; or walking you past more public planting and some of the quirky things I've found over the summer. The results of my air-pot potato trial and showing off my apple and pear harvest will also have to wait. However, I'll still be endeavouring to write something for you daily and hopefully it won't be as picture-lite as this post!

But really in the scheme of things my woes are pretty minor, hence why I'm calling my situation a niggling nuisance rather than a disaster. Please bear with me whilst I try to resume normal service ASAP :)

Breaking News: And Now for something Nice! I have a guest post on that marvellous new blog today, which concerns something very close to our hearts: Encounters With Remarkable Biscuits, telling you all about A Bit On The Side ;)

For more Narratives on the subject of N (and more than likely with lots of pictures too), do consult the ABC Wednesday blog.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

From The Editor's Post Bag...

It's been a while since we've had a Question Time here on Veg Plotting, mainly due to the majority of the search hits I've had the past few months being from people obsessed with making preserves. My jam recipes are so popular, I've been wondering whether I've chosen the right subjects to blog about. However, now the darker evenings are here, a much wider range of queries are finding their way into the editor's postbag my site statistics.

Unfortunately for everyone seeking the Orange advert, they've had to make do with a view of Bristol's public planting instead. Whilst that fair city is host to said telephone company's HQ, I'm sure I haven't provided what they're seeking. I'm also sure that the query Everyone has these on their faces isn't looking for my Red Nose Day jokes either, but hopefully they left here in a better mood than when they arrived.

Unlike these examples, most of the searches hitting my blog seem to have had an appropriate page returned for them - hurrah! However, there are a few more which are highlighting gaps in the advice on offer within these pages, which need addressing without any further delay :)

Q. Cosmos overwinter

A. I'm assuming we're talking Cosmos atrosanguineus (like 'Chocamocha', or the chocolate Cosmos), as the other kinds grown in this country are annuals. They're a tender perennial and should be treated like Dahlias i.e. in more sheltered areas such as here in southern England they can be given a Dahlia duvet. In colder areas or wet, clayey soils they should be lifted and stored in a cool place, such as a shed. As mine are in pots, I'll be cutting them back after the first frosts have got to them and storing them in my shed until the spring.

Q. Use for parsnip tops/ Are parsnip tops edible?

A. I have used young, blanched tops like those pictured above when making parsnip soup without affecting the result. However, I've not served them as a vegetable in their own right, nor have I used the more usual green tops. I think the latter would be too tough to eat. Parsnips are in the same family as carrots, whose young green tops I've used in salads, so perhaps they are edible. Has anyone tried them? What's your favourite way of serving them if you have? In the absence of any other answers, I'd either compost the older tops like I do at the moment, or I'd feed them to pets such as rabbits or guinea pigs if I had one.

Q. Bramley or Granny Smith for apple pie?

A. It's got to be Bramleys every time as Granny Smiths are an eating apple. However, Bramley apples cook down to a mush, so if you prefer your pie with more of a bite to it, you might want to try another type of cooking apple - this website will give you plenty of ideas.

Q. When do you pick Nasturtium seeds for pickling?

A. After flowering! Thanks to Plant Mad Nige, I now know this has to be when the seeds are quite small, otherwise they'll taste like cardboard.

Q. Steps to take to draw a Nasturtium flower picture

A. Sorry, this topic is worth a blog to itself and I'm not up to it, even though I'm quite pleased with the Callistemon picture I drew a while back. Whilst she might not have a guide to drawing Nasturtiums per se, Val at the inspirational Pencil and Leaf blog provides a great insight into the art of botanical painting and drawing.

That's it for now - but until next time you may like to have a look at all entries under the Question Time label, or for something a little different, do try my sister publication, the You Ask, We Answer Dictionary ;)

Monday, 19 October 2009

Unusual Front Gardens #4: Llanychaer

I'm indebted to Mark for the above picture - plus another - which he took on one of his frequent visits to Wales. In the accompanying email he said:

These pictures were taken at Llanychaer in the Gwaun Valley, Pembrokeshire.

The garden also has a kitchen range built into the wall, but I forgot to photograph it. If you look carefully at the shot of the wall you will see it has tools built into it - a coal grid? as well as the millstones. But it is the loo and the sculpture that I like best - I think it might be a farmer / rat catcher - or is it a miner?

My money's on it being a farmer as Pembrokeshire's not in Welsh coal country - what do you think? I'm particularly grateful to Mark for this picture as I set out to take a photo of the alternative 'bog garden' round the corner from me a couple of months ago, only to find the owners had moved and taken it with them! Mark's version of this particular garden genre is much more spectacular, so out of my disaster his triumph is born :)

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Out on the Streets: Wrap-up for September

Oops, September's been and gone for nearly three weeks and I've only just got round to my wrap-up post for Out on the Streets. However, it has resulted in a bumper crop of posts and many of you have taken the time to revisit the topic, which is simply brilliant.

Not only did Anna revisit OOTS twice, she also revisited her subject for June, one of Liverpool's public parks. It was interesting to see how this area had changed in just 3 short months. She also got out her holiday snaps and showed us just how good French public planting (here and here) is in the process. Carrie carried on this theme by telling us about her trip to Brittany.

Chicago also featured strongly: Alice was most taken with the on-street planters she found. I was pleased she did as several Spring Flingers have commented on how good they were and here at last is the evidence. Frances reminded us just how marvellous The Lurie is, as well as telling us about her favourite local nursery which also makes up lush planters for their neighbourhood. She also found a fantastic corn maze to get lost in.

We had a strong showing from our friends in Canada. Crafty Gardener took us to Ottawa and also posed the question whether public planting is the only solution for our open spaces by showing some great sculpture as an alternative. Helen carried on this theme by revealing some innovative work in downtown Toronto, which I believe should be considered for many of our cities.

Ryan took us on a trip to the other Hyde Park - in Sydney, whilst Joanne found a colourful shop front on her visit to Bath. Meanwhile, Rothschild's Orchid enjoyed her time in Ely and at one of the more innovative of her local garden centres. I guarantee it'll make you smile!

True to her blog, Shirl found some cheerful wildflowers to show us as well as what's happening in Edinburgh. Susan reported on an excellent public space revamp close to her home in Texas, but in her usual thoughtful way is asking whether the sense of community there has been lost at the expense of having a safer neighbourhood.

James has carried on the tradition started by Rothschild's Orchid in June by showing a location which I was planning on showing you. This time it's the petrol station forecourt at the top of our road and he also threw in examples from a university and an airport for good measure.

Thanks everyone for such a good crop of posts this quarter. If I've missed your contribution, then do leave a comment with your OOTS post's URL below and I'll make sure it gets added to the list! Otherwise, I look forward to seeing you for a festive Out on the Streets in December :)

Friday, 16 October 2009

'Garden' Visit: Westonbirt Arboretum

Many thanks to those of you who were so complimentary about the autumnal scene outside my back window yesterday. However, it's a mere trifle compared to the trip NAH and I made to Westonbirt Arboretum a couple of days ago. Our timing was perfect: blue skies and plenty of sunshine allowed the trees to show off at their best. I took loads of photos, but I feel nothing comes close to the atmosphere of the above shot. No doubt the best of the rest will find their way over to Sign of the Times over the next few days. In the meantime, you can have a quick tour via the Westonbirt website if you look here.

After a picnic in the warm sunshine, we started our walk in Silk Wood as we rarely go there. We were too late for the spindles' display (various deciduous Euonymus species, just their bright orange seeds were left), but timed it just right for the Acers. Silk Wood houses the national collection of maples, so I wandered around happily exclaiming over the richness of their leaf colour and trying to find the best views I could. Even NAH was impressed by the display. We also found a katsura tree which was just beginning to release its delicious candyfloss-like scent from its leaves: the light overnight frosts we've been having recently have helped and the smell was most noticeable when I bent my head towards the fallen leaves. Yum.

We also walked over to the Old Arboretum because I wanted to see the Acer Glade. This has featured on the news recently as scientists are worried that the effects of climate change will affect these trees. Sadly we didn't see them at work, but everyone was stopping in amazement when they saw the vine (Vitis coignetiae) pictured on the left. That leaf is the size of my head and thousands of them were completely clothing a stand of extremely tall trees. Being a temporary feature it didn't have a label (unlike everything else), so I made a point of finding out. This proved to be a little tricky but eventually a more helpful volunteer found one of the Forestry Commission staff who could tell me. Apparently they'd only spotted it a few days before and had had quite a long search to track down the ID themselves.

It was a satisfying ending to a grand afternoon. If you're planning on visiting Westonbirt this autumn, you must go soon as the trees are at their peak. NB to RHS members: your free entry doesn't apply during October, so you'll have to cough up the £8 entry fee like everyone else. It's worth every penny.

NB Dave at The Home Garden is hosting the Fall Colour Project again this year. You might like to visit to get your fill of autumnal hues from all over the northern hemisphere :)

Thursday, 15 October 2009

GBBD - Fiery October

Autumn's well and truly upon us and this scene is the one I'm seeing from the back windows for most of the day. It's the ash tree by the side of the house, perfectly poised to eat up most of the sun's rays at this time of the season. Last year, oranges were the main autumnal hue, this one seems more fiery. Perhaps September's sun and drought have made it thus. Now we've had over an inch of rain in the past week, so we not only have the tints of Autumn, the earth now has that characteristic smell of decay about it.

I found a red admiral in the kitchen yesterday, angrily trying to fly out of the closed patio door. It was dangerously close to the cobwebs by the cat baskets and it was only a matter of time before they captured it, or Jess alerted by its mad fluttering would come and play catch. I hastily opened the door and gently cupped the butterfly in my hands so I could set it free. It may have had the most ragged of wings, but it flew away strongly up into the blue sky, then across the garden and over the ash tree.

My flowers this month are also ragged, but still going strong and most welcome even if they're sliding gently into decay. Whilst we've had the first of the ground frosts and an air frost is probably only a few days away, the daytime sun is still warm and it's a good time to be out in the garden. Besides, when looking at the overall picture I see their cheerful colours dotted around me, rather than noticing they're past their best. Let's enjoy them while we can, starting with my favourite plant this year, Cosmos 'Chocamocha' pictured above.

Now for the best of the rest...
Smaller pictures on left: Doorstep greeting with Cyclamen, then Dahlia 'Moonfire';
Larger pictures top to bottom: Terrace bed jumble - Centaurea montana, Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve', Helianthoides 'Summer Sun' and a tiny showing of pink Fuchsia 'Garden News', a plant which struggled initially after last winter's cold, but thankfully has fully recovered; Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' and Dahlia 'Arabian Night', my new and favourite combination this year;
Smaller pictures on right: Unknown pink Dahlia - I'm sure I didn't order that one! and Fuchsia 'Hawkshead'

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

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

ABC Wednesday 5: M is For...


I know I've used this for the letter M previously, but it's high time I responded to Carrie's invitation from aaaaaaages ago to tell you 10 things you don't know about me already. I've been tagged in this way before, so you might want to catch up with the story so far by looking here and here, whilst not forgetting here. BTW I've seen a number of people wonder recently what a meme is, speculating it's all about me and the navel gazing egos we sometimes display whilst blogging. That may be so, but it does have an academic meaning too, coined by Richard Dawkins no less, which you can read about here.

Without any further ado, here's my pick of 10 things you might not know about me:
  • I love crunchy peanut butter
  • I hate marmite
  • I can do tricks with a diabolo
  • I can't juggle with more than 2 objects
  • The sweet smell of freesias knocks my socks off
  • The vile smell of tea makes me feel sick
  • I've eaten a whole lemon
  • I've yet to try an ugli fruit
  • I haven't caught a trout using a rod and line
  • I've netted hundreds of them (legally) using an electrode

Thanks Carrie for your kind compliment by choosing me and I hope you enjoy my response. Now, I'm supposed to pass this award along to a few people. However, I've seen at least 2 similar versions of this meme doing the rounds at the moment, so I expect the majority of people I know have either done this already, or are the kind of folk who would prefer to pass on the invitation. If you're reading this and would like to take part, feel free to do so. Please let me know if you do, because I'm nosey and would like to see the result!

For other Marvellous M's do Meander over to the ABC Wednesday blog.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Harvest Home

We had the first ground frost of the season forecast for last night, so in spite of an already packed schedule*, I scurried up the allotment early yesterday morning to harvest the rest of the squash, pumpkins and courgettes before they turned to mush. The pictured crate is the results of my labours and includes some windfall apples and pears as well as the aforementioned cucurbits.

My discovery of the year comes courtesy of Threadspider. She gave me some plants she had spare in the summer to replace my failed squash and pumpkin sowing. It turned out they included the marvellously curled Tromba di Albenga on the right of the picture. Picked young they're the most delicious courgette, left to mature they're more like a squash. I value them not only for their taste and productivity, but also for making me giggle every time I find one under the rampant leaves of their mother plant. In their early days they curl right round on themselves, reminding me of rather chunky bracelets. Vegetables you can wear as well as eat.

I believe we need more giggling with our gardening, don't you?

* = Threadspider came down the hill for coffee yesterday morning, followed by an afternoon trip to Cheltenham Literature festival to hear Anna Pavord speak about her new book, Bulb :)

Monday, 12 October 2009

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #9

  1. Start a very successful farm shop and cafe business on the outskirts of Chippenham
  2. Ensure you have a wide range of organic goods with which to tempt your customers
  3. Constantly change your stock so that only the freshest of items are on display
  4. Wait for a blogger with a camera to notice you've not been quite so good at changing your signage
  5. Et voila!

I think the squirrels must have taken them, just like they have from the hazel trees at the side of the house ;)

Sunday, 11 October 2009

HA - I've Been MORI-ed

Do you find yourself shouting at the telly or radio when the results of the latest opinion poll are revealed? NAH and I do - it's usually something along the lines of who on earth do they use in these polls? or that's nothing like me!

Well, on Friday evening the phone rang. As usual, I answered it suspiciously and steeled myself to hear some sort of salesman on the line, probably phoning from India. Instead I got a rather polite American woman.

Polite woman: Good evening ma'am, I'm from Ipsos MORI and I'm working on the latest opinion poll, would you mind sparing about 10 minutes of your time to give me the benefit of your thoughts?

Me (still suspicious - it could be one of those telephone scams you hear about, but taken by surprise as well): Errrrr yes, that's fine.

MORI: Firstly I need to ask you some preliminary questions, so I don't ask you irrelevant ones later. Tell me, are you pregnant?

Me (wishing for once I had a video phone): No

MORI: Would you say you're in good health, with no ongoing medical problems?

Me (aha she is trying to sell me something!): Yes

MORI: OK, The first part of the survey's about swine 'flu. Have you heard anything about swine 'flu in the last week?

Me: Well, someone I know has got it, I read it on their blog

MORI (obviously wondering what on earth a blog is): Their blog?

Me: Yes their web diary. They've been ill for quite a while. Oh, and my husband had a 'flu jab this week and we were wondering if it was a swine 'flu one

MORI (trying to place me in the correct pigeonholes): that's the... Internet and... Word of Mouth as your sources. Now, how well do you think the goverment are prepared for a swine 'flu pandemic?

Me (laughing): I've absolutely no idea - I don't know anyone involved with the preparations.

MORI: That's a Don't Know then. Can you tell me if you agree or disagree with the following statements. The swine 'flu pandemic has been hyped up by the media...

And so it went on, me answering the questions and she putting them into some sort of category. Because I could only answer yes or no, or strongly/tend to agree/disagree, the conversation felt a little unreal. Even when I was invited to expand on something, she was still putting my answers into whichever tick box seemed the most appropriate. Square pegs into round holes sprang to mind.

I also had lots of questions on the financial crisis - 2 absolutely massive topics covered in just one phonecall. So sometime soon when you're shouting at the newsreader telling you x percentage believe the financial crisis was partly caused by people borrowing too much, do remember it's me who said that.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Showtime: Grand Designs Live

At the last place I worked, one of the TV programmes bound to set tongues wagging the next day was Grand Designs. It's perfect viewing - and discussion - fodder: hosted by an intelligent, thoughtful presenter with jaw dropping projects (self-build homes or major refurbishments) and lots of high drama along the way. Each episode follows a project over a number months - sometimes years - from inception through (usually) to completion with Kevin McLeod's concluding analysis of the result.

So when James mentioned he was to feature at the show version of the programme at the NEC (aka National Exhibition Centre - you can also read about our first ever meeting there), I needed no further incentive to go and see for myself.

However, I was Mrs Grumpy by the time I arrived at the above view of the NEC. Note to the organisers: please do not put on your event at the same time as The Horse of the Year Show. It took me an hour to drive the last 3 miles, only then to be herded into the car park furthest away from the show hall. The public planting above which greeted me at the end of my long walk didn't help either. Nor did the design of the 'show' garden housing the day's gardening events. Half of the space was wasted (in my view) with a rather forlorn looking garden and the other half was extremely 'intimate' - as described on the show's website - housing a beekeeping area, a space for consultations with designers, plus a small presentation theatre.

I soon met up with James - who cheered me up instantly - swiftly followed by unexpectedly bumping into Claire and her partner Mark. They then introduced me to Nina, who organises the Malvern shows. Three delightful companions for a good natter and a quick review of the show. Soon it was time for James to strut his stuff on stage on the subject of Design Your Garden in 10 Easy Steps. This is a well-worn topic in our gardening magazines, but thankfully he came up with a fresh set of ideas and was much appreciated by the audience from what I overheard.

Later on I stopped by to listen to Maren Hallenga and Hugo Bugg. They did a whistlestop tour of garden design through the ages and then showed how both formal and informal elements from these were used in their design at Future Gardens. I'm always fascinated to see these glimpses of design in action and their show garden, Narratives of Nature, was good one. As James said, a couple of designers to watch out for in the future. Incidentally, Future Gardens won't be showcasing a fresh set of gardens next year and it looks like you'll have a chance to see some of this year's crop in 2010 too. It'll be interesting to see how they fare over the winter.

I also managed a rushed tour around the exhibits. If you've been to the Ideal Home Show, you'll know what this was like. There's a lot of tat and it's very much like being trapped in a home shopping channel. This feeling was heightened at the end as the way out wasn't that clear and I wasn't the only one going round in circles trying to find the exit. However there were occasional gems thrown in - it's just a matter of finding them - like the exhibits about the Hab project, a new sustainable housing community in Swindon. Actually, the best part of the show was the talks and not just the garden ones.

My product of the show is the Veg-Table, despite the dreadful pun. It's a raised bed on legs for vegetable growing which at first glance I dismissed as being too niche. However, I quickly realised this is just what NAH's aunt would love to have. She gave up her allotment a couple of years ago at the age of 82, having broken her hip whilst out with her local rambling club and she really misses growing her own vegetables. I think this solution will be perfect for her. My they're having a laugh product of the show - and boy the competition for this award was tough - is the pictured living fence. I've managed to do the same in my garden at a fraction of the price, simply by letting nature take over my fence panels.

It was a good day overall, but the people I met and listened to were the main reason for that, rather than what I saw.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Autumn: Reasons to be Cheerful Part 1

Last year I moaned about Autumn and was roundly told off by Emmat for doing so. This year I'm endeavouring to be a better person and to appreciate all the good things on offer this season. After all it's all too easy to do so in the spring or summer, not like now when there are darker days ahead.

So here's my guide to what I'm loving about autumn this year:

  • Leaf colour, naturally. Apparently they're due to peak at Westonbirt this week, so I'm off there on Sunday with my SUP pals D and S. It seems to be a little earlier this year - what do you think?
  • Kicking my way through enormous piles of leaves. I've done this since ever I was a small child, in spite of NAH's dire warnings nowadays of finding dog poo in there. I never have, but it must have traumatised him somewhat because he warns me about it every flipping year
  • Hot, buttered crumpets after all that leaf kicking
  • Giant firework displays - this post is rapidly exposing how much of the small child is still left in me. By way of variation, our choir will be accompanied by them [fireworks that is, not small children - Ed] up on Solsbury Hill on November 7th
  • Sausages, jacket potatoes (i.e. baked whole in their skin) and beans - the traditional accompaniment to bonfire parties held on Guy Fawkes night (November 5th). Even better if the jacket potatoes are baked in the dying embers of the fire
  • Somerset carnivals - a more local tradition, also associated with Guy Fawkes. Bridgewater is the one to go to - it's the largest illuminated carnival in Europe
  • Traditional mop fairs - a hiring fair for general labour held around 'old' Michaelmas Day (10th October), though usually more of a funfair nowadays. I always used to go to the one in King's Norton with my friends; the one in Marlborough's my nearest one nowadays
  • Longer evenings - more time to snuggle up and read the stack of books that's been piling up steadily over the summer and for blogging of course!
Do I hear you asking when's Part 2? Right now - do start things off in the Comments section below :)

Thursday, 8 October 2009

National Poetry Day: Heroes and Heroines

You're simply the best,
Better than all the rest,
Better than anyone,
Anyone I've ever met!

I'm stuck on your heart,
I hang on every word you say
Tear us apart, baby
I would rather be dead

OK, I've chosen lyrics rather than a conventional poem for National Poetry Day, but they're relevant for the heroes and heroines story I'm going to tell you about. I'm showing you a picture from the Special Olympics opening ceremony in Dublin in 2003 and that's world hero Nelson Mandela, in the white top, officially opening the proceedings just after being led onto the stage by Bono from U2. Imagine how I felt to be there experiencing that for real!

I was one of 30,000 volunteers helping 7,000 athletes with special needs from around the world to realise their full potential and focus on the things they could do for once. The Irish nation took every one of them to their hearts and I had the privilege of looking after Bahrain's ladies basketball team. It was 10 days of competition in various venues, with the finals day being held in the Irish National Basketball Centre. Everyone was considered a hero and as each team was called forward for their awards ceremony, we volunteers linked arms around the basketball court and sang and danced our hearts out as the strains of Tina Turner's Simply the Best, the above words in particular, were belted out over the loud speakers.

The company I worked for at the time sponsored me and I was also invited to write a daily diary for publication on their intranet (i.e. private internet): it was my first experience of something close to blogging I suppose. You can read my diary in full and see further pictures if you visit here.

Flighty is compiling the blogger's response to National Poetry Day today, so you'll find many more Heroes and Heroines there. And here's my piece from last year's National Poetry Day - one of my notoriously bad poems, but also with a discussion of a far better one ;)

Update: I've just heard on the news that T.S. Eliot's been voted the nation's favourite poet and I have to agree. We studied The Wasteland in the sixth form (those of us studying science still had to continue with English Literature), but my first encounter with him was much earlier. It's a poem I chose to read out loud in my second year at secondary school, which I still love reading today because it's such an evocative piece.

Preludes (I)

The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o'clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.


Wednesday, 7 October 2009

ABC Wednesday 5/ Garden Visit: L is For...

... Lackham Country Park
On the surface Lackham Country Park has a lot to offer. It's just a five minute journey from where I live, the entrance fee is relatively inexpensive and there's a leaflet available to take you on an historical journey around the gardens. It has large grounds with small rural life museum housing both traditional buildings like the one shown above and also farming implements...

... plus an historic house built on a site which has had a manor house on there in various shapes and forms for 1,000 years. It was the headquarters of General Patton and American troops just before the WWII D-Day landings and today often plays host to weddings.

There's views across the large lawn to Lackham Farm and the countryside beyond leading down to the meandering River Avon...

... plus an orchard and a walled kitchen garden with pear trees waiting for their partridges...

... whilst not forgetting colourful flowers...

... and productive beds including a display of wartime vegetable growing over the old air raid shelter.

There's also a large greenhouse containing a citron tree (Citrus medica) which once bore the world's largest lemon - 10lb 9.5oz in 1989.

However, a lot of the garden looked rather tired and scruffy round the edges and the museum is poorly curated. I visited early last month and there was a distinct lack of colour in most parts plus a lot of bare earth. It seemed like a number of projects had been undertaken at various times, which possibly aren't being looked after that well nowadays.

There were also signs of projects to come, probably as part of the practical work component of the courses on offer at the agricultural college housed on the same site.

I'm quite disappointed and mystified. The college offers courses in both garden design and amenity horticulture and whilst funding will be relatively low for a county hall financed operation, I was expecting the grounds to be a showcase of the horticultural talent which does so well at local shows. I wonder if the focus is mainly on the farming operations side, as this will provide a greater income.

Looking at the website, I'm surprised there only seems to be opportunities for volunteers to 'meet and greet' visitors. Perhaps they need to follow the example of places like the National Trust and also offer garden maintenance positions? This would also go some way to help over the vacation periods when students aren't around to look after the gardens.

Just like last week's ABC Wednesday entry, I'll be sending a link to the college for comment.

For further posts on the subject of L, do Look at the Lovely ABC Wednesday blog.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

OOTS: Public Planting Gets Political

It appears I'm not alone in my campaign for better public planting - hurrah! The Human Shrub will be taking the Conservative Party Conference by storm tomorrow morning with a bit of light container gardening outside the conference centre in Manchester to highlight poor open space provision in new developments. This is a joint event with the Greening the UK campaign, who have compiled a report recently on the subject. I hope to obtain my own copy soon to see if I can add anything to my notes from the Public Space workshop.

I first came across the Human Shrub during the summer and I've been waiting for an opportune moment to tell you all about him. He's been highlighting Colchester's public spending cuts which led to the town's tubs and baskets being left bare this year. He planted them up himself and also demonstrated outside the Town Hall whilst wearing an antihero style costume. He's also rather concerned that the Blue Peter Garden may be lost when the programme moves to new studios in Manchester in 2011. Unfortunately his proposed e-petition on the government's website was rejected as being too 'frivolous'. As usual, our local and national press have written up these events in their uniquely wonderful style. It also appears there is a Mrs Shrub.

Unfortunately I can't bring you any pictures of the Human Shrub as all the images I've found are subject to copyright. The photo of my garden's conifers are the closest likeness I have to hand, but the links I've provided will reveal both him and Mrs Shrub in their full glory.
How about down your way? Has anyone protested about public planting or your open spaces in a similar fashion? I'm particularly interested if anyone from over the pond can tell me anything about the day when gardens were created in car parking spaces recently.

Thanks to Emma Cooper for bringing this event to my attention in her post yesterday.

Monday, 5 October 2009

OOTS: Public Space Workshop: Management

At the end of last week we looked at some of the things to bear in mind during the design stage. Of course that's not the whole story: once a scheme is planted up, its aftercare needs to be addressed. Budgetary constraints often means this is minimal and it was interesting to see this was a painful issue for the event's host. After all, if I'd spent a great deal of time making sure my nursery's plants are of the best quality, I'd be upset if I then saw them being poorly looked after or dying on the streets.

For example, on the way back from our nursery visit in the afternoon we passed a long row of multi-stemmed Prunus serrula, no more than 2 years old. They were dying because the design had them perched on the top of low mounds and surrounded by grass. This was taking all the available moisture and so the trees hadn't been able to get their roots down to the now relatively lower water table than if they'd been planted at street level. It was painful to see and I was shocked when I was told the total cost of planting a tree is around £500 when taking design costs etc. into account.

Apparently this isn't an isolated incident. The main killer of our street's trees is drought stress through a combination of one or more of: poor design decisions, incorrect planting or lack of follow-up care. They suggest using the bag watering system shown above, which delivers water through a couple of holes in the bottom of the bag. Whilst it's relatively cheap (£25), I'm to be convinced it has a real place on our streets. I'm sure they'd be relatively easy to vandalise or steal.

Climate Change was mentioned, but was dismissed by Richard Bisgrove as an issue for most current/ proposed schemes as plants are much more resilient than credited. This also assumes the scheme gets refreshed in the 15-20 year timescale mentioned previously. However, extreme weather events are a different matter: an increase in soft, green, absorbant plantings should help to reduce their impact. [Here's Richard's very good article about the impact of
climate change, plus his advice to gardeners from the RHS website] John Tweddle added he needs to keep Westminster's grass green for as long as possible as that helps to reduce London's temperature by 2 degrees centigrade.

Last winter was seen as a 20-year weather event which impacted on commonly used plants such as Geranium 'Rozanne' (died) and Cornus alba (bark eaten by mice). Richard Bisgrove also said sugar maples could become a more viable planting option as our autumnal weather seems to becoming much more like that of the States and Canada.

The rapid spread of horse chestnut leaf miner means they probably won't be used in future planting schemes. Limes (Tilia sp.) and Dutch elm disease resistant Princeton Elm (Ulmus americana) were suggested as possible alternatives. I finally got to speak to our county arborist on Friday about this issue, which I'll tell you about in a future post.

Westminster council has 1 million visitors/commuters passing through their parks every day, so the management of the grassed areas is 'interesting'. Grass mixes suited to dry conditions [thus less irrigation needed] and wear and tear are used, plus mixes for shade where appropriate. In the winter, all grass area are hollow tined and the holes filled with recycled rubber crumb. [this approach might be appropriate for e.g. National Trust's most popular historic gardens - they often cordon off lawned areas to allow them time to recover, though I wasn't sure about the use of the rubber crumb]

Other management strategies adopted by John Tweddle at Westminster council include:

  • There's a tree canopy issue in London as these, particularly the London Plane, are shading out much of the planting below. A programme of crown lifting is being carried out [also needed on the public land next to our house!]
  • Increased use of drought tolerant planting
  • Replacement of annual bedding schemes with herbaceous and shrub plantings to reduce upkeep costs
  • Recycling of green waste as mulch - reduces the need for watering and reduces pests. This also includes the replacement of lawn mowers with ones which return the clippings instead of collecting them
  • Reduced usage of drinking water [i.e. expensive] for watering e.g use of grey water. Also a borehole is being sunk at Lords cricket ground, so hanging baskets will be spot watered via water bowsers filled from there. They've also found no irrigation often leads to better displays when combined with mulching, especially with herbaceous and shrub plantings
  • Use of organic seaweed extracts sprayed on plants leads to hardier plants with increased vigour and disease resistance
A number of these measures [plus a number of other non-plant related ones he mentioned] means reduced upkeep costs. A win-win all round :)
Brita von Schoenaich said that the implementation and maintenance of the design is usually outside of a designer's control and 'creating something beautiful on public land is against all the odds'. I asked her later what the main criteria were in a design brief - budget's the main one, far above anything else. I wonder if this might lead to inappropriate plant choices sometimes i.e. cheaper ones to buy and plant which may need more maintenance. I also got the impression on the day there's not much interaction between the major stakeholders in public planting, which might have a hand in some of the issues mentioned as well as those I've seen Out on the Streets?
I did originally plan another post on planting ideas, but I see I've mentioned most of them in this piece. Lots of inspirational parks and landscape architect's work were shown during the day, which I'll be researching further during the winter months so I can compile a resource guide. It seems more appropriate to do a post on planting ideas once I've completed that work.
I have a post on the afternoon's nursery visit still to do - though you can have a preview via the link and they've got a cash and carry promotion on this week, well worth the effort if you're in the area - but that can be covered outside of Out on the Streets. It was a tremendous day and I came back enthused and inspired. I still don't really understand the end to end process from design brief to maintenance, but perhaps that was too ambitious for the day. If anyone out there has anything that'll help me, do please get in touch!

As well as being my last article on my workshop attendance, it's also my last one for Out on the Streets this quarter. Thanks to those of you who've contributed thus far. If you'd like to contribute, then there's still a few days left for you to do so before I compose my wrap-up post at the end of the week :)

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Chippenham's Reel Deal

There's some good news this week about Chippenham's cinema, the Astoria. It may not look up to much, but it is independent, manages to show a variety of films every week on its 2 screens and is one of just five in Wiltshire. It's also extremely central, so most of the town's population is within a 20 minute walk away. We prefer to go there over the multiplexes in Swindon, though we've also been going to the Palace cinema in Devizes quite a bit lately.

For a number of years there's been rumours of a multiplex opening on one of our outer industrial estates. This would mean most people would have to drive there. It would also bring the relative freedom of our young people to an end, who go there regularly without the need of being taken there by their parents. A retrograde step in our view.

Three weeks ago the adjacent Bingo Hall closed at short notice and it now appears the cinema owners have plans to convert it back to show films again - on a further 3 screens. Instead of the reel to reel films shown upstairs, these will be showing digital ones, something NAH's been enthusing about ever since he went to a seminar at the Watershed in Bristol a few months ago*.

Both NAH and I are excited at the prospect, especially as there'll no longer be the sound of the bingo caller downstairs during a film's quieter moments. The facade will also be getting a facelift: I wonder if this will also mean the graffiti art on the side of the cinema will go. The one on the bus shelter** outside has gone already.

This is the latest in my occasional series on Changing Chippenham. Click here for my previous article - on the demise of Woolworths on the High Street.

* = he's the technician for our local film club in Corsham, so got invited there to see what cinema's going to be like in the future.

** = so has Batman at the station as Network Rail repaired and repainted the footbridge earlier this year.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

YAWA: Your Events Diary for October

September's sunshine and lack of rain means the flowers are still going strong - just like my new Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' above - though the trees look like they're suffering from the lack of water. Now October's here, autumn's threatening to kick in properly, so I've had the You Ask, We Answer team hunkered down to find the best seasonal treats on offer this month:

4th: Mangold Hurling Championships, Sherston. Unusual sport with vegetables doesn't get any better than this traditional game from Somerset. The Mangold Hurling website tells you everything you need to know and more. However, Wiltshire is leading the way and the Gazette and Herald reports there's a bumper crop this year. Glutbuster recipes have been devised by the local chutney company (soup) and the pub formerly frequented by Prince Harry has mangold crisps on the menu.

8th: National Poetry Day. As last year, Flighty will be collating blogging contributions. This year's theme is Heroes and Heroines.

9-11th: Grand Designs Live at the NEC. The show of the popular TV programme has an expanded garden section this year, which I'll be investigating :)

11th: World Conker Championships - Ashton, Northamptonshire. Another of our noble sports and traditions gets an official airing this month, assuming the horse chestnut trees have yielded enough good quality conkers in time.

13-14th: RHS Autumn Show, Horticultural Halls, London. This was the first RHS event I ever attended, 2 years ago. It's a mixture of produce show - though the grapes come from places like Blenheim Palace - plant stalls, and art. I saw James for the first time (though not to speak to - I wasn't blogging then, so we hadn't 'met'); had a gentleman recite poetry to me; discovered there were other Heucheraholics out there; got told off by an RHS judge when I remarked to my companion that some potatoes on show looked like they'd been polished; and discovered the incredible work of Niki Simpson, not realising for a while our squeals of delight were being overheard by the artist herself. Great stuff and free if you're an RHS member.

14th: Bath University Gardening Club's monthly talks programme resumes. First up is Fergus Garrett :)

15th: Blog Action Day. This year's theme for your post is climate change.

21st: Apple Day. An event started by Common Ground to raise awareness of our fantastic English apple heritage. Whilst the 21st is the nominated day, events occur from September onwards with many throughout October. Lacock Abbey are having their celebrations on the 18th. It's also the Bramley apple's 200th birthday this year, a double excuse to celebrate all things pomme this month :)

25th: British Summer Time comes to an end and the clocks go back an hour in the UK during the wee early hours of the morning. Don't forget your extra hour in bed!

31st: Halloween. The annual sweetfest for kids and a certain blogger's favourite time of the year!

Friday, 2 October 2009

Public Space Workshop: Approach to Design

This is the third in a series summarising the Public Space workshop I attended on 24th September. I introduced you to the speakers here and gave you an overview on Tuesday. Today I'm looking at the approach to design: my asides to the presenters' comments are shown in [square] brackets.

We had speakers from two very different schools of thought on the day. Richard Bisgrove is firmly rooted in our historical gardens, particularly those of Gertrude Jekyll and William Robinson and has also served on the National Trust's Gardens Panel. As with many English gardeners and designers, Richard's resultant approach is consideration of texture, form and colour groupings.

On the other hand Brita von Schoenaich has grown up with plantings informed by the landscape and nature surrounding her. Piet Oudolf and Noel Kingsbury have made this approach much more familiar to us in the UK. She was involved in the design of the naturalistic planting at Garden Organic which is pictured above.

John Tweddle is using all kinds of approach and designs as part of the 106 gardens plus 3 cemeteries in his remit as Parks manager at Westminster council. Economic necessity has bought this about: there'll be less annual bedding seen there in the future, though it will be retained in key gardens such as Victoria Embankment i.e. where the garden is noted for that particular style.

Approach to Design

  • Take inspiration from the past, but don't follow it slavishly e.g. use Box (Buxus), but not necessarily in the form of 18th Century style parterres
  • Plants need to be related to each other in some way - grouped rather than scattered evenly [ref. Loudon]
  • The cottage style suits our [British] humanity [i.e. our heart or soft side]: contemporary design is a more intellectual approach
  • Very little is new: Gertrude Jekyll used Cannas and Robinson devoted 23 pages to them in one of his books, yet tropical planting is often considered to be a modern invention
  • A design isn't permanent: it needs to be refreshed at least every few years. 15-20 years is the maximum lifespan [excluding trees], but also depends on the type of planting. [Many of the audience thought 5 years was more realistic]
  • Increased use of technology means that previously labour intensive designs and plantings such as carpet bedding are becoming economically feasible again e.g. use of CAD to generate the design and using modules of pre-planted groups at the planting out stage
  • The 'Car park' and 'B&Q' style approach to planting need a major re-think! [I have an example from Garden Organic worth sharing later]
  • Less can be more. The use of simpler plant palettes can be effective and not boring, especially if the plants used within individual groupings are changed around in the design and...
  • plants at all can be a viable option, especially when also considering the use of public art or... [NB Loudon's principles re the siting of plants mentioned above also applies to the placing of public art]
  • ...the design context is important e.g. the need to see clearly at roundabouts [aka sightlines] means a plant height of no greater than 60cms is often specified. Plantings can also be used to direct how people move around
  • Design context also includes looking at the landscape and native plants surrounding the open space, as echoes of these in the design can mean something that's more pleasing to the people using it and it's also easier to look after
  • Evidence of changing seasons is important: people want a connection with nature, even in the urban environment [this has implications for planting schemes solely using evergreens?]
  • Softening the edges might not be the design solution for monuments [like the planting at the back of the viaduct I showed on Wednesday]. See examples by Martha Schwartz for alternative ideas
  • Some designers are experimenting with succession planting [annual or herbaceous] to give 8-9 months of continued interest. This is an improvement on the standard 3-6 months achieved with most annual bedding and herbaceous schemes [the workshop host was most taken with this point and is looking to include a session on this topic for next year]
  • Most schemes include biodiversity in the design brief. Bear in mind that a small planting palette doesn't necessarily mean a corresponding decrease in biodiversity [implication that plant species count is often used as a success criteria during design commissioning?]

A final closing thought from Brita von Schoenaich:

  • Dieter Kienast, designer of the garden at Tate Modern said: ...initially, reduction draws from everything, then makes a selection. If, in the beginning, there is already little, one would not call it reduction, but poverty. [This implies landscape architects need a detailed plant knowledge in order to design successful schemes. I wonder how much of this is included in landscape architecture training?]

There'll now be a brief pause for the weekend and October's Events Diary. The next installment, Management, will be on Monday.

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