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Showing posts from April, 2011

Testing Times

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Here's some of the items I've been lucky enough to receive for testing this year. These all need a bit of time to evaluate, so this post forms a taster of things to come over the next few months in my regular review slot.
I'm nearing the end of my evaluation of Fiskars' secateurs and loppers, so you can expect my review shortly. The universal rake component of their interchangeable tools has been used up at the allotment lately, though as you can see, the hoe is yet to make itself felt up there.
I also have a new hosereel courtesy of Hozelock*. This is a most timely replacement as my current one developed into a porous pipe over the winter months. It just needs to be connected and we'll be evaluating away pretty soon :)
Inside the plastic bag is an innovative grow bag frame courtesy of Fuel my Blog and Crown. The past few years I've used pots for my tomato growing, so it'll be interesting to see how this fares in comparison.
The plant is a globe artichoke…

Chippenham's Royal Wedding

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London isn't the only place for a royal wedding, oh no. In 853 Chippenham was the place to be when King Alfred's sister Aethelwithsa married Burgred, King of Mercia. Unlike today's royal event, which is modern and for love, Chippenham's royal wedding was a strategic alliance between 2 kingdoms.
The wedding didn't take place in the pictured St Andrews church as this is a much younger building dating from Norman times. However, it is believed this is the site of an older, wooden built Saxon church which would have housed the happy event.
Chippenham also has a more contemporary association with royal weddings too. When it was announced that Prince Charles would marry Camilla Parker-Bowles, she lived in nearby Reybridge. As Chippenham has the nearest registry office to there, it posted the official paperwork for the forthcoming nuptials. I was most amused to see that she is older than he, and his occupation listed as 'Prince of the United Kingdom'! 
Enjoy today…

ABC of Chippenham: The Olympiad

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I've spent quite a bit of time delving into Chippenham's ancient past, but today I'm looking at something much more recent: The Olympiad sports centre.
When we moved to Chippenham in 1984, this place was yet to come into existence. Instead we had a wonderful 55 yard long outdoor pool in Monkton Park to lounge around in the centre of Chippenham. Around this time NAH also took up competitive swimming again - initially swimming for nearby Corsham - but then switching his allegiance to Chippenham soon afterwards*.
I quite often joined him on training sessions too (we did meet in a swimming pool after all) and in the summer some of these were held at the outdoor pool. This was fine most of the time, but backstroke was always a little tricky. Following a cloud isn't quite the same as following the lines usually found on the ceilings of indoor pools and I usually ended up in tangled mess with a lane rope ;)
However, in the mid 1980s it was announced the outdoor pool would c…

And the Winners Are...

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The winners in my bird care competition are:
Bilbo Waggins - first prize: deluxe bird table, bird feed and 2 nest boxes Juliet and Paul & Melanie - runner's up prize: 2 nest boxes
Congratulations! I'll be in touch with Argos as soon as I have your address details to sort out getting your prizes to you :)
My thanks to everyone who entered - there were loads of top tips on how to look after our feathered friends.

The Garden to Kitchen Expert: A Fab Easter Giveaway

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To celebrate Easter in a much healthier way than eating loads of chocolate* I have three copies of The Garden to Kitchen Expert book to giveaway :)
We're about to enter that wonderful time of the year when our plots and gardens really start to produce big time and we look towards our cookbooks for inspiration for getting the most out of our crops, particularly those gluts. Whilst this book is a little more unusual to its companions in the Expert stable, the style and layout are in the same tradition and is designed to be a companion to the Vegetable & Herb, Fruit and Greenhouse Expert volumes.
There's over 680 recipes to tempt you, arranged broadly into Vegetable and Fruit sections with a brief nod towards Herbs, Ornamentals and Weeds too. There's advice on storage, preserving and good basic recipes for jams, chutneys and other preserves. None of the recipes are complicated, so it's ideal for someone in the Can't Cook Won't Cook mould, especially as there&…

Goosegrass

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Goosegrass may be a common weed, but it's the first time its shown up on my plot and it's making up for lost time. Here it is trying to consume one of my larger compost bins. I'm always amazed at how much of the stuff can be traced back to one tiny stem in the soil. Thankfully it's doing a good job of suppressing most of the other weeds around it and is relatively easy to clear.

It's well known for it's velcro-like properties as the leaves and stems are full of tiny teeth-like hooks which stick to anything they touch. No wonder one of its other common names is sticky weed. When my niece comes to visit, she loves to find pieces of it to cling on the backs of our clothes. She then goes around giggling a lot until we twig what's happening and tear it off in disgust. This makes her giggle even more!

Other names for Galium aparine include cleavers, catchweed, everlasting friendship, grip grass, loveman, sweethearts, clivers, stickywilly, stickyjack, stickyleaf, …

ABC of Chippenham: Nestlé

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Nestlé is no more in Chippenham, but here's its old factory by the side of the River Avon in the centre of town. It's called Avonbridge House these days and was converted into offices in 1985. If you ever ate condensed milk before 1962 here in the UK (and elsewhere in the world if you bought the Milkmaid or Carnation brand), then it would have been made and canned in this very building. It was the oldest milk condensery in the world and the building dates back to 1873.
Chippenham is often thought of as an old woollen, market or railway town, but until recently it was also a major player in food production. Besides providing the condensed milk for our Saturday night teatime treats, Oxo cubes also hailed from Chippenham until 1975 and if you remember all the furore over whether ham imported from Parma and sliced in this country could be called Parma ham, well it was the former Hygrade factory just over the road which was at the centre of that particular storm.

Putting Parma ha…

OOTS: Planting for the Senses

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Since I took this picture of the planting outside the council offices in Bristol a couple of weeks ago, I've been musing about public planting for the senses. It struck me forcefully back then how often our planting focuses on just one aspect: seeing. There's no harm in our displays being as cheerful and eye catching as possible, after all research has shown people are drawn to colour and it's a good way to ensure most people enjoy what's on offer. 
However, we usually take care to ensure all our senses are well catered for in our own gardens. Plants with delicious scents such as lavender are employed close to where we sit or enter our garden; textural and strokeable plants like grasses are used for touch and hearing; and we all love our herbs and other edibles. So why aren't these aspects catered for in most of our public planting?

And why did this strike me when walking past this particular scene? It wasn't just the unusual use of hyacinths in the display,…

GBBD: Rhubarb and Custard

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I thought it was time to turn away from the garden and show you what's happening on the allotment flower-wise. Here is my rhubarb plant (variety = Victoria), complete with flowers whose colours remind me of rhubarb and custard. We've had several delicious bowls of the stuff lately, so the comparison's foremost in my mind ;)

Just after I took this photo, I cut the flower stems off at the base. Rhubarb flowers are said to weaken the plant, so I don't want to put mine at risk. However, apparently the seeds can be ground into a flour which makes very good pancakes if you don't mind sacrificing a plant or two.

I'm not sure if flowering rhubarb means it's mature and happy or stressed. This is the third year mine has flowered and there's been plenty of discussion on the internet in previous years on why this might be. Overfeeding with nitrogen (forgot to manure mine last winter); a damp summer (last summer was dry, though the two previous ones were very damp); t…

ABC of Chippeham: Maud Heath's Causeway

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I've stepped out of Chippenham today to take you to nearby Kellaways to show you the most dramatic feature of Maud Heath's Causeway as it crosses over the River Avon. The causeway links Wick Hill to Chippenham and was a philanthropic gesture made by Maud Heath in 1474.
The story goes that she was rather fed up of getting her feet wet when travelling to Chippenham Market to sell her eggs. She bequeathed funds upon her death to build and maintain a footpath from her home into town just over three miles away so that future travellers to market might arrive dry shod.
As you can see the raised pathway is much longer than the width of the river at this point, but takes winter flooding into account. The trees in the centre of the main picture are screening a monument erected in Maud Heath's honour in 1698.  It has a sundial on each side and Chippenham Clift and Wick Hill are inscribed on the 2 sides facing each destination. The side to the right of the picture is the Wick Hill …

OOTS: A Host of Golden Dandelions

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The roadsides around here are notable for their masses of wild flowers at the moment. Here's the A350 near home with its host of golden dandelions. The roundabouts nearby have lots of tiny white daisies and elsewhere there are banks of primroses on the way to the allotment and cowslips on the way home just after turning into our estate.
I've also ventured further afield lately and have enjoyed the wonderful blackthorn lining the M5 motorway and sheets of cowslips on the A417 on the way there through Gloucestershire. Later on there'll be ox-eye daisies to enjoy and much later the motorway will have lots of red apples on display, presumably resulting from the many cores discarded by drivers.

It's funny how something so hated in our gardens such as the dandelion can look so wonderful like it does on the pictured verge. I suspect this is nature's own planting, but some of the others such as the cowslips and ox-eye daisies were planted by the Highways Agency as part o…

RSPB Garden Birdwatch and a Competition

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 This year’s RSPB Garden Birdwatch results were announced last week and makes interesting reading as usual.

Over 600,000 took part and the sparrow took the top spot for the eighth year in a row. Surprisingly the harsh winter hasn't seemed to have affected sightings of the smallest, most vulnerable birds as expected. Coal tit, goldcrest and long-tailed tit sightings were all up on the previous year and it's thought they bounced back over last year's summer with an above average breeding season. This is quite different to what I found (scroll down to the end to see my results) in my garden!

Whilst this is indeed good news, the record dry weather we’ve experienced over the past month or so demonstrates how important it still is to look after our feathered friends. I’ve seen plenty of birds in my garden recently foraging for food without much success in my dried out clay soil. So I’ve continued with the supplementary feeding, especially now I can hear hungry mouths cheeping…

VP Now Available in Wiltshire Magazine

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I'm rather chuffed to have my first article in this month's Wiltshire magazine. It's all about Bradford on Avon's river and canal heritage and is called Wool, Tennis Balls and Boats. It all came about in response to a tweet from the editor last December and a fun trip on the Kennet and Avon canal with her plus some of the magazine's other writers in early February.
It's been a fantastic opportunity to write for the magazine and I'll be following up in future months with articles on Wiltshire's villages. This piece was a lot of fun to research and write and is just the kind of thing I'd have on Veg Plotting, though this time I've had to step out from behind VP and write as the real me. It is quite different writing to someone else's brief - no matter how closely it matches your own - and to keep to a word limit though!
The picture is of Abbey Mill, one of the photos which didn't make it into the magazine. The mill was used at first for prod…

April is Go!

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I always feel that March is the prelude and April's the full blown symphony as far as my seed activities go.

I don't have a greenhouse and the coldframes are stuffed with overwintering pretties, so April's my main month for sowing. I hadn't quite realised quite how much there is to do this month until I decided to put all of April's packets into one box, so I can just pick it up and go whenever I need them. The main reasons why there's so many are:
I use lots of different leaves for salads and have a large wodge there at the back ready for successional sowingI've gathered quite a few different packets of various native flowers together during the clear out of my main seed tins ready for some light guerrilla gardeningI've decided to grow my own Nigella seeds for curries and bread making, plus lots of different Basils for pesto and pasta saucesI always have too many different seeds anywayAs well as the massive salad and guerrilla gardening stashes, ther…

ABC of Chippenham: Locally Sourced

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I was really pleased to see this sign outside the station cafe last week. I believe Chippenham to be slightly slower on the uptake re locally sourced produce and food miles than some of the other towns nearby.

There are a few notable exceptions: the farm shop close to where I live for one, plus the greengrocer in town sells produce from our local market gardeners in Bromham whenever possible. Sheldon School has had a March food festival as a pupil led fund raiser the past couple of years.

The Revolutions restaurant uses fresh, seasonal local produce, as does the recently opened Bridge Brasserie across the road. In fact they cheekily tweeted they'd take any spare garlic of mine when I said I had an excess of it recently ;)

Steamers shows just why station cafes should be independent. Thank goodness Chippenham station is too small to have received the attentions of the chains found elsewhere. I love the play on words with the cafe's name; the regularly changed art displays on …

OOTS: Almond Blossom with Bees

If the above YouTube video isn't working you can watch it here.

March 'roared out like a lion' so I'm really pleased I was able to capture the glorious almond blossom hanging over the pavement round the corner from our house before it was turned into confetti. The air was alive with the hum of honey and bumble bees all crowding in to drink their fill of the available nectar. I was happily just standing under there taking it all in when I realised I had my camera with me to capture it to share with you :)

It's also a great way to introduce this month's Out on the Streets, where I invite you to share the plants and flowers which can be seen publicly in your neighbourhood. I'm planning on telling you about the Green Flag scheme for our public parks and perhaps showing you a little of the public planting I found on College Green in Bristol last Saturday. You can choose to share whatever you like, as long as it's in the public domain.

If you'd like to …

A Very Special Offer

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I'm thrilled to be teaming up with Emma Bond of The Orchard Studio - one of my featured Local Vocals on the right - to bring you a very special offer today :)
Emma has been working mega hard to set up the sparkly new The Bath Gardening School and has a fantastic range of courses starting later this month. We've put our heads together and come up with a fab offer to celebrate Mothers' Day: 20% off all bookings taken by 30th April. If you've forgotten to buy your mum something special for today, then this is a perfect way to make it up to her. However, the discount isn't just for your mum, it's available to all Veg Plotting readers - yippee!
If you want to brush up on your garden photography skills, find out more about growing your own, or to learn about garden design, then Emma has the perfect day for you. Or perhaps you're thinking about keeping bees? That's taken care of too.
There's a superb line up of experts as your day's tutors, including Mark…

The Royal Flower-Monic Orchestra

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I don't usually go with press releases, but I received one last week for the re-launch of a certain garden shopping channel which made me giggle and I feel is more suited for today. Here's the Royal Flower Philharmonic Orchestra playing Mozart's 40th Symphony to an audience of flowers, plants and bulbs ;)
If you don't mind looking at an advert (thankfully it's not too much in your face), then here's the full version in sight and sound. Or if you'd prefer just to hear the music without the explanation of what was going on, then you can do that here.
And there's a summary of the research re plants responding to music including the work by Dorothy Retallack referred to in the advert. Keep an open mind if you take the link as the article opens with talking to plants before going on to summarise some of the research on this subject. Is it the carbon dioxide in our breath or the frequency of our voice (or indeed both) which is having the beneficial effect wh…