Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Friday, 30 July 2010

The Big Butterfly Count

Here's the perfect excuse to chill out in your garden or any outdoor space this week. Butterfly Conservation have organised the Big Butterfly Count and are looking for everyone to spend just 15 minutes on a sunny day counting the butterflies seen in that time. The website's great for helping you with identification and is the ideal place to record your results.

Like the RSPB garden birdwatch held every January I hope this will become a regular event. Many of our butterflies are endangered so anything which helps to gather masses of information about what's where is going to be most useful for conservationists.

I've already spent my 15 minutes in the garden and spotted:
  • 2 large white
  • 5 small white
  • 1 peacock
  • 3 meadow brown
  • 1 wall
Sadly the myriad of small tortoiseshells and the odd red admiral didn't make their usual appearance. Nor did the comma I see from time to time and we're not having the mass invasion of painted ladies like we did last year. But that's what happens with snapshots: it's the mass recording by as many people as possible that gives the full picture.
The count continues until 1st August, so why not make it part of your weekend's activities? You then have until the end of August to send in your findings.

The picture is of a small tortoiseshell butterfly and is courtesy of Uwe Horst Friese via Wikimedia.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

OOTS: Love Parks Week

It's Love Parks Week at the moment (until August 1st), so what better excuse is there to briefly introduce you to John Coles Park, Chippenham's main public open space. You can see it's laid mainly to grass with lots of grand specimen trees. Elsewhere there's a large playground, a sensory garden, a bowling green, floral bedding, tennis courts and that all important cafe for drinks and ice creams. On Sunday afternoons in the summer various bands are scheduled to play on the bandstand: I can hear them playing up at the allotment when the wind's in the right direction. When I took this picture the park was being well used (it is the school holidays after all): it's just that it's rather large, so the two hundred people or so there at the time were spread out a bit.

Love Parks Week is sponsored by Green Space, a charity which aims to raise awareness of the value of our open spaces and campaigns for better provision. I'm rather concerned that the current economic and political climate will put even more pressure on the funding of our open spaces, so anything which raises awareness of their value and aims to get everyone using our parks more has to be a good thing. The Love Parks link at the top of this post takes you to the page where you can search for events at an open space near you.

This also provides me with the perfect excuse to remind you that the next edition of Out on the Streets (OOTS) is almost upon us. I'll be writing the kick-off post next Monday (August 2nd) and I look forward to seeing your neighbourhood (or holiday destination) wearing its summery planting finest :)

Monday, 26 July 2010

Wasp Woes

I said it was the Year of the Wasp last August, but this year seems to be going the same way if events up at my allotment are anything to go by. Whilst clearing some weeds at the top of the plot I was stung again: this time because I'd strayed too close to their nest which they've decided to set up in my manure heap. Apologies for the blurry picture - here they are flying into their nest entrance located under the flap of the black plastic I'm using to cover my heap.

Once again my woes didn't stop there as I reacted quite badly to the sting with my right hand swelling up like a balloon. I don't really want to repeat the experience again to see if I gradually become immune like my allotment neighbour says has happened to him because he's been stung so many times. I try not to use any chemicals on my garden or allotment wherever possible, but this time I've decided to make an exception. Besides, the nest is very close to the communal path and quite a few children wander along there when they're up the plot with their parents.

So off I set yesterday to get me some wasp killer. You'd think that would be an easy task, but it appears that Chippenham must be awash with them at the moment because all the shelves in the gardening section of the local DIY stores had a neat empty space where the wasp killer should be. I bumped into Mr Allotment Warden at Homebase, whose advice was to pour petrol down the hole, leave it overnight and then strike a match this morning. Knowing my luck I'd probably destroy myself rather than the wasps using that method, so I politely declined his advice and finally tracked down some killer at my local garden centre this morning.

The container says to dust the nest liberally in the evening when wasp activity is at its lowest and they're tucked up for the night, so I've just come back from the allotment having done the deed. Time will tell if I've been successful...

Do you have any pesky pests at the moment?

Thursday, 15 July 2010

GBBD: Musing on White

Whilst looking around for Blooms Day this month, I've be struck by how I've been choosing the colour white for many of my new plants for my garden without realising it. I've already introduced you to one of them for my Muse Day and elsewhere I can see white Osteospermum and Impatiens bedded down in their summer planters. A new Trachelospermum jaminoides is just beginning to show its scented blooms and as you can see from the above photo I've had a marvellous display of Philadelphus 'Virginal' this year. It's the first time it's really bloomed properly since I planted it 9 years ago and I believe that's down to a combination of our harsher winter (everything seems to have gone bloom-ing crazy since then) and my mental note to remove it and plant something a bit more interesting last spring.

Having pondered and mused a little on this need for white, I believe it's my subconscious telling me to calm down and chill out more as real life has been rather hectic so far this year. Having realised this, I'll be trying to follow my brain's advice a bit better from now on...

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

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

ABC of Weather: Zephyr

A zephyr is just the kind of wind we'd like to have in the garden: a gentle, refreshing breeze. The word comes from the Greek and particularly refers to light winds from the west. Here, our prevailing wind comes from the south-west, but is usually anything but light as it brings in storms from the Atlantic.

Sadly we're at the end of my Weather ABC and I haven't had the chance to tell you all kinds of things particularly in the wind related sphere, such as the Beaufort Scale, why wind speed is measured in knots rather than miles per hour, and how the UK has the highest concentration of tornadoes in the world (when land area is taken into account but they're not anywhere near as destructive as those found in e.g. the USA). And seeing we're at Z, there's also the news that the Zone system (and its RHS equivalent) are currently under review - Transatlantic Plantsman is keeping a weather eye open for when the revised systems are announced.

I do hope you've enjoyed this themed ABC Wednesday. It's been a lot of fun to put together, so much so I'm contemplating another theme for the next round. Watch this space...

And where does the picture fit into this Z? It's Zephyranthes candida: a new plant to me and one which I probably wouldn't be aware of unless I'd embarked on this particular round of posts. As you can see its name is rooted in our lovely gentle breeze. It's fragrant and can be grown in Zones 7-10.

How's the weather with you today?

The picture is courtesy of Stan Shebs via Wiki Media

Friday, 9 July 2010

Showtime: Hampton Court's Conceptual Gardens

Hampton Court has more categories of garden than at Chelsea and I've found the Conceptual one to be the most challenging and thought provoking in the past. The work of Tony Smith has been the most memorable to date. However, he's not exhibiting at Hampton Court this year, having had a garden at Chelsea already and is now girding his loins for Tatton Park at the end of the month. So what is this category all about and what is there to see this year?

The show programme describes this category as:

The conceptual gardens question and redefine existing design boundaries and express a level of innovation and creativity that is not always possible within other garden categories. The brief requires horticultural knowledge to be finely balanced with artistic licence and an understanding of the principles of design.

To my mind conceptual gardens capture the essence of a strong idea or theme using horticulture and design stripped down to just a few key elements. It's not necessarily what I'd call a garden per se because they're really about capturing a moment or thought and it would be difficult to continue to practise my gardening with them. But they do require the onlooker to think, which I believe is a good thing. There's 6 conceptual gardens this year (from an entry list of 25) and I was surprised to find on my first viewing of this kind of garden 'in the flesh' (rather than via my TV or other media) that I had a very strong reaction to three of them.

This is Journey to Awakening. I overlooked this garden at first, but I was soon captivated by it on trying to take a photograph. For me it has a message about small mindedness: I think of the black slats as holding in my thoughts and opinions with the pathway through to the tree on the other side showing how I should strive to be objective and fair minded.

The (Japanese) designer has a different message as his design is influenced by Buddhism: the slats represent our human desires which cause suffering and it's only by journeying to within ourselves that we can break free of them and reach enlightenment. The use of Elodea on the water outside the circle is important as it masks the meaning of the words placed on the slats. Only by taking the journey into the circle are the actual words revealed by looking down at the dark pebbles and the reflection in the water. It's simple and very clever, but I think my interpretation is just as valuable (even if it 's only to me) as the designer's own intentions.

This is a close up of The Pansy Project Garden, another design which is simple, perfectly executed and had me wondering how on earth did they do that? as the planting emerges from the cracked concrete with barely a seam showing. It has a very strong and powerful message about the unacceptability of homophobia. Lia has written far better than I can about it's importance here and I will certainly take note should I come across pink pansies planted in the street in the future. Of course I would prefer not to see them just as I would prefer not to see the poignant reminders at the side of the road marking where a fatal accident has occurred. This was awarded Best Conceptual Garden.

I was drawn to Falmouth University's A Fable For Tomorrow because it tells the story of plant succession which I remember so well from geography lessons at school: from the pioneer marram grass at the foot of the dune, through to the denser more mature vegetation at the top. It's also a precautionary tale of how many of our plant species are threatened by extinction with their preservation in seed banks seen as the solution to preserving biodiversity. Here the seed bank has been broken open and I see that as both a warning and a triumph. In the future our seed bank solution might fail, but given half a chance plants are great survivors.

There's been quite a bit of chat on Twitter this week about the relevance of themed gardens and having seen these examples, I believe they're a strong argument in favour. However, they also demonstrate that these kinds of gardens still require a strong idea and excellence in execution to have that relevance and resonance. BTW these three designs all achieved a gold medal. Lia's report in The Guardian on The Pansy Project Garden demonstrates that gardens can break free from their natural 'pigeonhole' in society and make the World News pages. That's got to be a good thing in my view.

It's a shame that many of Hampton's visitors won't have the opportunity to go into the centre of the Journey to Awakening garden like I did because that experience did take the people I saw doing it (and me) from Huh? to That's amazing! That's also food for thought: I had a very strong reaction to both this garden and A Fable for Tomorrow, even before I'd read the designers' information about their intentions (I can't say the same about The Pansy Project Garden because I'd read quite a bit about it beforehand). Would I have reacted so strongly to all 3 gardens if I'd just seen them on the TV? I think not: just like with art, I've found I need to be physically there to really feel what these gardens are about.

Goodness, I see I've reached an important blogging milestone today - my 1,000th post :0 Many thanks to all of you who've stuck with me thus far - I couldn't have done it without you :)

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Showtime: Plant Heritage at Hampton Court

If I could have spent the whole day in one place at Hampton Court show on Monday, I would have chosen the Plant Heritage marquee. This organisation wasn't really on my radar until Victoria mentioned a couple of years ago she usually volunteers at their cloakroom at Chelsea and then more recently I've found myself in places where some of the national collections are held (Digitalis, Miscanthus and Lavandula since you're asking).

One of the joys of Hampton Court is the sheer variety of displays and tents to look round because the show has such a vast space to fill. Naturally, Victoria wanted to visit the Plant Heritage marquee being such a keen supporter of their work. This year there are displays from 18 national collection holders and it turned out to be absolutely fascinating stuff. On arrival I was immediately accosted by an enthusiastic lady who was very keen to know where I'd obtained my Dierama. It turned out she had 15 cultivars herself (Oh no my dear, it's not a Collection) and was scenting the possibility of adding a 16th. We quickly established I had a rather nice couple of specimens of normal D. pulcherrimum, so she could rest easy, but she predicted having just bought some I'd soon be starting a collection of my own*. Thankfully she also reassured me they're relatively easy to grow as my confidence had been rather dented an hour earlier by Helen Yemm's Good luck over at the Gardens Illustrated pavilion.

James Wong investigates the versatility of Cannas with Christine and Kenneth Hart
We arrived for the opening and so were treated to James Wong's enthusiastic speech followed by Alan Titchmarsh's stately presidential approval. Drinks and nibbles were also available, but these did little to dent the main attraction: the displays from the plant collections**. Our first port of call was Hart Cannas where Victoria was instantly attracted to a very fine specimen (see her I got one of those post for more details). The Harts turned out to be wonderfully enthusiastic about their plants and sported matching polo shorts with the logo Canna help you? Who would have guessed that Canna tubers are edible? Not I, but there was the recipe for all to see on their stand, adapted from a Delia one for artichoke soup. Christine Hart also took pity on me and offered to look after my Dierama whilst we looked round the rest of the show***, what a star she is.

Joanna Jones of Plant Heritage with the organisation's president, a certain Alan Titchmarsh

I was completely fascinated by the Milkweed display (Asclepias and Gomphocarpus). These plants have a variety of uses for native Indians including treating warts, as a source of latex and nectar, or as a poison to tip arrows. USA readers will also recognise it as the sole food source for Monarch butterflies.

Whilst I was learning all about these plants, Victoria was discovering the work of Bristol Zoo who were showing plants from their collection of Hedychiums and details about the research they're undertaking re which cultivars are best for growing in the UK. There's plenty about zoo gardening which hadn't struck us before: how long it is before the lions are due to re-enter their enclosure; which plants are toxic to which animals (thus affecting where particular animals can be housed); how much animal feed can be grown on site or sourced locally (less food miles = food that is better nutritionally); and how to present food as close as possible to how it would be found in the wild (e.g. Gorillas are happier stripping blackcurrants off a plant rather than being presented with a bowl of fruit). Following her chat Victoria's come up with a great idea for a new TV gardening programme: Dangerous Gardening - inspired by the notion that the zoo's gardeners might be attacked by lions at any moment. Anyone know of any other forms of extreme gardening? I'm sure there's someone who includes abseiling down cliffs as part of their gardening activities...

That's just 3 of the displays that were available on the day, each with such great stories to tell. I must go now and find out about the other 15...

* Little did we know how soon that would be, as only 2 days later I found myself buying a couple of D. pulcherrimum 'Guinevere' at Wildside and I would have cheerfully hoovered up any other cultivars had they been available

** Though it would have been rather churlish to turn down a nice glass of Buck's Fizz, so I didn't :)

*** Note to self: do not buy plants with 3 foot long wavy flower stalks at 9am ever again when the plant creche hasn't opened yet and you've still got another 7-8 hours of wandering around to do

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

ABC of Weather: Years

This year is already proving to be an exceptional one in terms of our weather. We've already had the coldest winter for 30 years and now we're experiencing the driest period since 1929 with a hosepipe ban due to start in the north west of England this Friday. Of course the weather statisticians can usually find something record breaking for most of our years, such as the wet summers we had in both 2008 and 2009 and all that rain in the Lake District last November.

Whether or not all those exceptional weather events add up to climate change or just the traditional 'noise' of variation remains to be seen: how things average out over many years (a minimum of 30) is what makes up our climate rather than our day to day weather. My local weather station statistics has two of these averages available online: 1961-1990 and 1971-2000, which presumably will soon be joined by 1981-2010. By comparing the two sets of data, I can see on average our years have become slightly wetter with a few extra days of rainfall. They've also become warmer, sunnier with slightly fewer frost days and a weaker wind. However, what I can't tell is whether these changes are significant or long term enough to say our climate is truly changing. I'll leave that one to the experts...

How's the weather with you today? I've had a damp day down in Devon exploring the delights of The Garden House and Wildside, though here there's not been one drop of rain.

As usual there's lots more to be found over at the ABC Wednesday blog.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Showtime: Press Day at Hampton Court

I consider myself to be a very lucky girl indeed having visited Hampton Court Flower Show yesterday. It was not only my first visit to this particular venue, but I'd also managed to acquire a coveted (by me anyway) press pass to the show. Victoria kindly agreed to show me the ropes and we duly presented ourselves at the gates at 8am. So what's different about being at a major flower show on press day?

Well, for starters you have to wear your pass at all times, plus a hi-vis vest if you're there before 9.30 am as the show is still in Build mode. On a day like yesterday, this soon makes you quite hot and bothered and it's a relief to be able to take it off at last.

When you've found your first set of show gardens to have a look at (the Shakespeare ones in our case), a young woman leading a gang of assorted people brandishing clipboards comes up to you and says: Sorry, we're about to judge this garden which is a polite way of saying Clear off we're busy! You then realise James is one of the judges*, who waves at you apologetically and mouths: See you later. Thrilled I loiter with intent nearby to hear assorted mutterings followed by Are we agreed on silver then? A show of hands ensues with more assorted mutterings accompanied by frantic scribblings on clipboards. And then they move on pretty sharpish to the next one to start all over again. I'm really no wiser on either the medal actually awarded or how the judging process works after that, so luckily here's James' timely insight into what actually happens...

Next we seek out the Press Tent via the above view to sign-in and find out what's what. The Constant Gardener is there and it's lovely catching up with her because she's been around so little since we met up at Malvern: she's now told us all the reasons why here. Press packs, PR releases and show programme to hand, Victoria and I take a few moments over a cup of coffee to see if there's anything we'd particularly like to see amongst the various 'photo opportunities' listed. There's a few: more about a couple of them later, though I have to say it's such a whirlwind day if you're trying to see everything at the show that most of these sadly remain on the 'To do' list.

Unlike Chelsea, you can buy plants at Hampton Court. However, Victoria knows from previous experience this can be difficult to achieve as most exhibitors tend to clear off once judging has started. So having run past several most tempting exhibits along the way, we finally hit the Floral Marquee. Here there's a scene of quiet concentration as most of the exhibits are still being kitted out. Miracles are being performed with tweezers and brushes in some places to ensure that everything is in tip top condition ready for judging, whilst others still seem to be at the early build stage. Victoria manages to buy some Heuchera in between Chris Beardshaw's filming on the Heucheraholics stand and we chat with Sean and Jooles about the layout of this year's marquee and possible colour themes for their exhibit next year.

I'd set my heart on some Dierama when I was at Cottesbrooke Plant Finders Fair but they were rather expensive, so I'm delighted to find an exhibit accompanied by 2 fine looking specimens on their sales area:
Me: How much are your Dierama?
Exhibitor (Looking rather startled at the possibility of making a sale on press day): I think they're £15, I'll just check... Ahhh, they're £6
Me (rather relieved): Could I have both of those please?
Exhibitor: Ooh no, I can't sell you those, we haven't been judged yet
Me: Oh. So your sales area's included in the judging criteria then?
Exhibitor: Well, we always make sure our stand has is full of the best quality plants as well as our exhibit... (seeing my crestfallen face)... come with me and we'll see what we've got round the back, no promises mind...
So I followed her round the back of the tent and... well, you'll have to wait and see if I did get my Dierama...
Then it was time to do our garden tarting bit. I'd been invited to the champagne breakfast at the Gardens Illustrated Pavilion, which was wonderful and Victoria was keen to go to the opening of the Plant Heritage one. The latter merits a post to itself because I could have stayed there all day as do the Conceptual Gardens which we went to see next. Posts on these to follow on Thursday and Friday respectively.

Now it was the turn of the show gardens, where we spent ages at the Tyrell's one because they'd put together a vegetable orchestra of student musicians from the Royal Academy to entertain us. It was lunchtime by now, so it was good to have some crisps to hand to stave off our hunger pangs for a while. The maker of the instruments turned out be purveyor of handsomely made recorders to the music world and was fascinating to talk to. We both agreed that this would be fertile ground for Three Men Went to Mow to tackle**.

Then we exchanged pirate jokes next door with the inhabitants of the Legoland garden:
Me: Where do pirates do their shopping?... Arrrrrgos
Them: Why do pirates bury their treasure a foot down?... Because booty is only shin deep

We tried to ignore this garden, but failed dismally. It's purpose is to raise awareness about bladder problems: luckily by the time we saw it, some of the public loos had finally been opened.

After lunch we did a whirlwind tour of the small gardens. These have much more room to breathe than at Chelsea. I was struck by the Bangladeshi Allotment and the pictured Fire Pit garden: the planting of the latter is designed to be particularly tempting for butterflies. We saw loads more, which Victoria has described in detail already, so I'll point you in the direction of her delightful post rather make this post even longer. You might also like to look at her thoughtful (and interesting) piece on gardens as art in today's Independent too...

A couple of final things: you're probably thinking it must have been easier taking photos with far fewer people around than on a public day. The funny thing was, I'm perfectly content to get a photo with about 3 people in it at Chelsea, but I got really frustrated when just one person was getting in the way yesterday. And yes, you can see by the above photo that I did get my Dierama. Here they're on their way home with me after a tiring but most wonderful day, waiting for the platform for my train to come up on the screen at Paddington station :)
* you'll see from the photo he's now officially a sustainable judge, which amused me greatly because he blogged about banning the word sustainable last year
** and the three of them agreed that indeed it would, so watch this space...

Monday, 5 July 2010

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #18

  1. Decide to upgrade the top footpath in the Donkey Field
  2. Stir up a hornet's nest of controversy in the local newspaper about it
  3. Install new signage where the footpath splits into two so people know where they're going
  4. Wait for a blogger with a camera to spot the wrong estate is on there
  5. Et voila!

The footpath actually takes you to Cepen Park North, a mere 5-10 minutes walk away. Cepen Park South is a further couple of miles errr, south of where the footpath ends.

Update 26th July: The sign has been changed and now points to Cepen Park North :)

Friday, 2 July 2010

Pride of Bath

I met up with my friend A for coffee in Bath yesterday afternoon and was surprised to find a pride of lions has invaded the streets. I should have remembered that like Bladud's Pigs two years ago another public art project is taking place this summer. After all, they did appear on the local TV news a few months ago alongside The Lions of Longleat. It was rather funny seeing real lions clambering all over their model counterparts.

100 lions have been decorated by artists and local personalities, such as Amy Williams, GB's lone winter olympics gold medallist [skeleton bob] who hails from Bath. I managed to find 22 of them yesterday: simply by walking up from the railway station to the Royal Crescent, taking in the main shopping area and The Circus (how apt!) on the way. Some of the lions are located outside Bath, in Bradford on Avon and Corsham for instance and maps showing all their locations are available, should you want to find them all rather than see them in the random fashion I did yesterday.

Unfortunately a number of lions have been vandalised since they took to the streets in May, which is probably why I found the Hospital Lion outside Bath Abbey yesterday. I suspect that's why a number of them are on castors instead of stone plinths, so they can be taken inside overnight for protection. It's a shame we didn't actually have the World Cup Lion playing in the England team: we could have done with Wayne Roarney in the side methinks.

The lions are out on the streets until September, then the entire pride of Bath will gather in front of The Royal Crescent in October for a final farewell to the city and the grand auction in aid of local charities. Once they've gone it'll be fun to try and find these lions instead!

Thursday, 1 July 2010

GBMD: Potpourri

No bought potpourri is so pleasant as that made from ones own garden, for the petals of the flowers one has gathered at home hold the sunshine and memories of summer, and of past summers only the sunny days should be remembered.

Eleanour Sinclair-Rohde

I've been pondering on scent in my garden lately and how reliant I've become on the usual stalwarts such as roses, lavender and herbs. Last week I added to this repertoire by buying the pictured Nemesia 'Wisley vanilla' on Threadspider's recommendation. She waxed so lyrical about its wonderful scent that everyone within hearing distance dived in and bought one as well. Then at Cottesbrooke on Friday, Actaea 'Black negligee' was amongst my purchases to bring lots of tall scented white flowers to a shady spot in my late summer garden.

Finding this quote ready for GBMD made me think about my scented garden further and onto home made potpourri...

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day is hosted by Carolyn Choi at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago.
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