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Showing posts from November, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Red Windsor Apples

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For today's other Wordless Wednesday posts, visit here.

Should we Flattr as well as Comment?

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If you can't play the introducing Flattr video embedded above, try this link instead.
Today's been declared Pay a Blogger day by the people at Flattr, a social micropayments scheme designed to reward bloggers via readers and other bloggers who've signed up for it. Each signee decides how much they'd like to pay per month (a small fee, minimum 2 euros ) and bloggers who like the idea can display a button on their blogs.
If someone signed up to the scheme finds a blogger they like who's displaying the button, they can click on it in appreciation. At the end of the month their monthly fee is divided amongst all the sites they've clicked on. The idea is the blogging community can be rewarded for all the sparkling content they provide free of charge.
All this of course is dependent on people signing up and I suspect today's Pay a Blogger designation is to try and gain some publicity and generate awareness. Until last week I'd only found one blog displaying the …

On Assignment With David Perry

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One of the highlights of our trip to Seattle was the photography workshop kindly provided by David Perry. I've followed his blog for a number of years and from that know he's extremely talented and just how passionate he is about his subject. Here he's giving us our initial introduction at the start of our visit to the Bloedel Reserve - in the pouring rain, hence the slightly fuzzy shot.

Guess what's in the paper bag?...No Idea?...
...it was a mirror - chosen to illustrate our first key point of the day: the most important element of taking a picture is ourselves. Each one of us is unique. This affects the way we see the world and ultimately the pictures we choose to take.
I hope David doesn't mind I've scanned his Fling handout into here. Apologies for the state of it, but a wet day in the Reserve, plus travelling thousands of miles hasn't kept it in a pristine condition. You can click to enlarge if necessary - there are some really good points on there whi…

Felco Pruning Saw: Product Review

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Before going to the Seattle Fling I'd heard they were giving away door prizes, but had no idea what that actually meant. It turns out they're items given out at some point in each activity on the Fling's timetable, usually over lunch or when everyone is gathered together for a good natter.

Quite often they were prizes in fun quizzes such as naming flowers in our host's garden or knowing a little something about Washington, such as its State flower*. When Lorene asked the question who's staying the longest in Seattle?, I was surprised to find it was me and even more surprised to find myself the owner of the pictured Felco pruning saw + spare blade, courtesy of David Fishman who'd generously donated it.
I was delighted, but soon began to worry I might not be able to get it home. Having been stopped at customs in Australia in 2003 with a metal kookaburra** in my hand luggage - you might get air rage and attack your neighbour with it madam*** - I had visions of be…

Sites for Sore Eyes? More About Google Search

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Last week I explored blog readability - thanks to all of you for your thoughtful comments :)
This week I'm looking at another change to Google's search capabilities I found out about at BlogCamp which you might not be aware of. Did you know the search result you see might be different to mine even if we enter the same search term at exactly the same time? This is because Google takes your previous searches and what you clicked on, plus the websites you visit through other means (e.g. via your bookmarks) into account when producing the list of sites it presents for you.
Most of the time this has little effect as it's very likely the site you want to look at is in the list. However, there are a couple of situations where it might not give you what you want to know: You may want to assess how your blog performs in a particular search e.g. on your blog's name , or whether e.g. a garden visit you wrote about features highly when that garden is searched for on the webThe artic…

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #28

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Form a company tapping into the increasingly lucrative accident compensation marketRecruit a number of sales people to bring in the business you needProvide them with a mobile advertising unit just right for temporary high street installationWait for a blogger with a camera to spot it has an in-built trip hazardEt voila! Note that the usual blogger with a camera can be seen further down the street on the right. My thanks to NAH for spotting the possibilities and taking the photograph :)

OOTS Extra: Snoqualmie

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Serendipity brought us to this place. Having persuaded NAH to come with me to the Seattle Fling, he then found out one of his friends from Uni days lives in nearby Snoqualmie. I'd also earmarked it as a potential place of interest because it's home to an historic railroad :)

Both factors led us to spend quite a bit of time in the area. Having spent the night at D's lovely home overlooking the mountains, we also spent the last day of our holiday there. Wandering around the centre of this relatively small town, I quickly realised it has much to teach us about creating a sense of place in our public surroundings. In the above photo you can see the chosen paving looks like a silvered boardwalk and a generous decorative iron covering gives the street trees room to breathe.

Snoqualmie is proud of its railroad heritage and this is reflected in the pedestrian crossings on the side streets.
Even the drain covers are decorative and carry an important reminder they don't connect wi…

Wildflower Wednesday: 30 Degrees to Yakima

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This is my final wildflower installment from our American roadtrip around Washington State and the Oregon Trail this summer. Firstly I need you to retrace your steps and imagine yourself on the relatively cool slopes of Mount Rainier, amongst the colourful Alpine meadows and the sweet mountain air...

Leaving the mountains and heading eastwards, the landscape soon changes most dramatically. The hills are more rolling in nature, brown in colour and sparsely vegetated. As we headed along the scenic route along the Tieton river valley, I looked up and realised we were travelling through the ancient beds of immense lava flows, hundreds of feet thick. The columnar structure of the rhyolite rock reminded me of basalt columns of the Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland. I learned later these ancient lava flows are also hundreds of miles across. Imagine how active the volcanoes were at that time!

We're now in the rain shadow of the mountain where the annual rainfall drops dramatically from th…

Arne Maynard on Garden Design

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Threadspider, T and I attended another great Bath University Gardening Club talk recently, this time courtesy of top garden designer Arne Maynard.

I'm showing a picture of Rousham, because Arne told us this is the one garden he constantly returns to for inspiration, as a point of reference and is the place he always learns from or visits if he has a problem to solve. He loves its pared back simplicity and explained there's no guidebook or signage for visitors. Instead, there's an 'invisible thread' William Kent (the designer) used to draw the visitor through the garden.
Arne likes the garden's subtle contrasts such as uncut vs. cut areas of grass, flowing vs. still water and perhaps most important of all, sun vs. shade. It's this latter contrast in particular which helps to draw visitors through the garden. He reckons most of them take the same route as they are constantly beckoned on to find what's around the corner or to see what lies beyond the next …

A Simple Garden Checklist

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I've always considered VP Gardens as my first true garden even though we've lived in several places previously. It's the first time I've felt truly inspired by a space and wanting to do the best for it.
I wasn't that knowledgeable about gardening when we moved here and having a completely blank canvas I was worried I wouldn't manage to design the planting to have something of interest in every month.
So I came up with the pictured simple garden checklist (click to enlarge it if you want to see the detail) and put my provisional plant list down the side and the months of the year across the top. What you see is just one of several pages and this one covers the shrub side of things.
The blue crosses show the flowering season and the red writing any leaf colour or berry season. It was then an easy task to look down each month and identify the gaps. I'd also marked each plant with its height (in silver by its name, plus whether it's deciduous or evergreen in g…

Two From Timber Press: Book Review

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I'm writing two reviews for the price of one today because the second follows on naturally from the first, even though they're by different authors.

High Impact Low-Carbon Gardening by Alice Bowe is the first time I've seen design and environmentally friendly gardening in one volume*. I have quite a few books on this topic re planting, but virtually nothing on the hardscaping side of things**. The combination of the two here results in a much more holistic approach to gardening.

This isn't just about designing a whole garden from scratch. You may choose to focus on a chapter or two to give your garden a mini-makeover, such as deciding which plants to use (and their supplier) for a particularly challenging part of the garden or to attract more wildlife.

Since reading this book, I've started to think differently about the changes I'd like to make to my garden. Bowe writes about 'designing for disassembly' i.e. using materials which can be reused or recycl…

How Readable is Your Blog?

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One of the things we discussed at the Writing for the Web course I attended recently was the readability of various media. I was surprised to learn the average reading age in the UK is 10 years. The reading ages of The Sun, The Guardian and The Financial Times are 8, 14 and undergraduate level respectively. Whilst many people sneer at The Sun's content, it's the only paper we looked at on the course which has a chance of being read and understood by the majority of the UK's population. This may help to explain why The Sun has relatively high sales.
We then turned our attention to our web writing and a simple tool available on Google Search which can be used to gauge the simplicity of the language we use. You'll see in the image above I've put my blog's address into Google. As usual various pages from my blog are returned together with some examples of where it's mentioned elsewhere on the web.
I've then gone down the various options in Google Search…

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #27

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Times are hard, so come up with a new initiative to bring life back to your town's high streetGive it the snazzy title Chippenham Alive!Advertise the key businesses involved in the initiativeWait for a blogger with a camera to notice the sole advertisement in the town centre is in the window of an empty shopEt voila!Chippenham Alive! is the new monthly late night opening initiative, designed to counteract the effects of recent high street closures and massively hiked parking charges. The reaction to the first opening last month was mixed. There was quite a lot of publicity in the local paper, but it would appear not so much on the streets and participating shops themselves. Here's hoping tonight's late night opening which includes the Christmas lights switch on fares much better.

Allotment Experiments: Echalote Grise

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Having given up half of my allotment, I was worried I wouldn't have the space any more for the kind of growing experiments I love to do. Thank goodness for the discovery of Echalote Grise, the strongly flavoured gourmet shallot (aka echalions or banana shallots, a variety I've always wanted to grow) which is planted in the autumn. Isn't it great to find something which can be planted out now?

To the left are some I bought from my local supermarket. Now most books warn about using shop bought edibles as seed. I'd certainly agree with them about garlic and potatoes*, but these British grown shallots look pretty healthy to me. On the right are some sets I bought from Edwin Tucker, a new supplier for me to try** and theirs was by far the cheapest I could find. However, they're still about twice the price of my supermarket ones for around the same number and weight.
Will I get what I pay for? Will proper seed triumph over shop bought? Will I be able to save any of my c…

Wordless Wednesday: Spot the Real Plant

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GBBD: Fine Fuchsias

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This spring, I was surprised to find some of my hardy fuchsias hadn't survived the harsh winter, even though some of the more tender plants like my in-ground dahlias and potted olive tree had.

Usually when I lose a plant, I treat it as an opportunity to try something else. After all, there are so many more I'd like to grow than there's room for. However, my Fuchsia 'Garden News' worked so well in my lower terrace bed I decided to replace it with one I found at the Malvern Spring Show. There's not that many hardy fuchsias with a double form and this one flounces its skirts so prettily. It's also good at arching itself over the wall which makes it particularly noticeable when taking the side path down into the garden.


On the upper terrace bedFuchsia magellanica 'Versicolor' has grown particularly tall this year, despite its slow start after the winter. The flowers of magellanica type fuchsias always remind me of earrings. These are also providing a wel…

Chestnut and Mushroom Soup: Seasonal Recipe

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Our local supermarket was selling off tins of chestnut puree very cheaply recently, so it can introduce slightly smaller ones of the same brand at the previous price. Naturally I was very happy to score quite a few of the larger cans for my store cupboard :)

Last week, I decided to make chestnut and mushroom soup for lunch and devised this very quick and simple recipe.
Ingredients 1x 435g can unsweetened chestnut puree 250g well flavoured mushrooms e.g. chestnut (!)1 tbsp oil (I used olive oil for its fruity flavour)1 litre vegetable stock (or 1 stock cube made up to this amount)Salt and black pepper to tasteMethod Empty the tin of chestnut puree into a large pan, swilling it out with stock to ensure all the puree is obtainedAdd the remaining stock to the panBring the liquid slowly to the boil, stirring well at the beginning to ensure the puree is dispersed into the stockMeanwhile thinly slice the mushroomsAdd the oil to a frying pan and add the mushroomsFry the mushrooms - you're aim…

Remember Them

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I found this poppy in the meadow at The Organic Garden at Holt Farm back in August. It seemed appropriate to revisit it today.

Using the Alt Attribute With Your Photos

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Update March 2012: Blogger have now added the ability to add the alt attribute directly onto images. Only read on if you'd like to know more about why it's a good thing to use in blogs.


When I wrote about Bristol BlogCamp recently, we had quite a conversation in the Comments on whether using the Alt Attribute for our photos is worth the extra trouble when writing our blog posts.

Colleen and Esther asked for a better explanation than the link to Wikipedia I gave at the time, so I'm giving it a go...
What is the alt attribute?
It's an HTML command which can be used to display some descriptive text when you use your mouse to hover over the image. The author decides what that text should be.
But I'm showing everyone lovely photos on my blog, why should I be bothered with adding some extra text?
There's many different ways people are accessing your blog - lots of browsers, different PCs, laptops, mobile phones etc etc. It's impossible for you to test every combinatio…

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #26

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Set up your dental practiceDecide to raise awareness of a particular health initiativeCreate a simple poster for your windowWait for a blogger with a camera to notice the second poster is definitely needed after displaying the first oneEt Voila!Joking aside, please do get checked out.
Whilst we're on the subject of adverts, you may have noticed a new bit of blog bling at the top of the right hand sidebar. My thanks to whoever nominated me for TheHorticultural Channel's inaugural awards. I'm really chuffed, amongst some very fine company and I wish the best of luck to my fellow nominees. You can go along and vote here - there's lots of your other gardening favourites nominated in the other categories too :)

Fascination of Plants Day

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I ignore most Press Releases, but the one I received yesterday is too good too miss, especially is it allows me to share the kind of plant picture I can't take myself...

As you can see May 18th next year has been designated as the first international Fascination of Plants day.
Many of our tippety top plant organisations in the UK are involved, such as the Eden Project, lots of botanical gardens like Kew, the Natural History Museum, plus various research and educational organisations. The full list of participating UK organisations will be here*.
In the run up to next year's special day, Kew Gardens have selected ten of their most fascinating plants, from the giant titan arum rising three metres high to the smallest water lily in the world, with pads as little as 1cm across. The myriad of plants that has shaped history, and continues to affect our lives, is showcased by the John Innes Centre.
Here's the amazing plant picture as promised, taken by Olivier Leroux of the Natio…

Wordless Wednesday: Leaves and Mulch

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Have a look at my fellow Wordless Wednesday bloggers here.

My Key Resources for Wildflowers

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This post's for Nutty Gnome, who recently reviewed a 'sample' of Sarah Raven's latest opus on wildflowers. I said in her Comments my copy of The Wild Flower Key by Francis Rose takes a lot of beating when it comes to the art of identifying our wild flora.

It's small enough to take into the field and allows me to identify both flowering and non-flowering plants. Much of the text is abbreviated so you need to decode it first, but this allows a lot of detail to be crammed into a relatively small volume.
As you can see from the cover it's also beautifully illustrated. An updated version was recently published, so it's better than ever.

I'm also a big fan of the laminated guides produced by the Field Studies Council such as those shown on the left and right of this picture. I have quite a few of these, but the ones on grass identification and the structure of flowers are particularly good.
I have a few of the AIDGAP* guides too - these are for knottier subje…

An Evening With Bob Brown Part II

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Last week I summarised Bob Brown's reasons why perennials often don't propagate well via seed. This time I'm summarising the remaining top tips from his recent talk at Bath University Gardening Club.

Bob took us through a month by month tour of some of his favourite plants and the best way he's found to propagate them. Sadly we only had time to get to May!
Propagation January: Sarcococca confusa - an example of a perennial which can be propagated from seed - found in the plant's black berries. Sow fresh after cleaning them, on top of compost and top dress with grit (the latter prevents algal growth)February: Miscanthus x Giganteus - divide plants when they're just about to start to grow. This allows the plants to grow out of the stress from divisionFebruary: Snowdrops - divide clumps of bulbs into smaller ones and replant. This can be done pretty much at any time, but avoid dry bulbs. Another recommended propagation method is twin-scaling, but this is best when t…

Contemporary Colour in the Garden: Book Review

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I've quite a few books left in the booklog for this year, so I expect to be writing quite a few reviews over the next few weeks as I make my way through them all.

First up is Andrew Wilson's Contemporary Colour in the Garden. This lavishly illustrated volume looks at how colour can be used today. There's plenty of inspiration drawn from top designers like Piet Oudolf and Christopher Bradley-Hole; many examples chosen from Chelsea show gardens and other shows such as Chaumont; plus lots of real gardens, both private and those open to the public.
I read a number of books and articles before writing about Colour Theory in Garden Design earlier this year, so I found the first few chapters didn't say much that was new to me. However, that doesn't mean they should be omitted as they give a thorough introduction to the subject. The later chapters on The Restricted Palette, Breaking Colour Rules (especially) and Inspired by Nature spoke to me much more. Andrew also has lots…

Getting to Grips With QR Codes

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Have you spotted how common QR codes have become lately? On seat reservations on the train; on food packaging; in magazines. Pretty much anywhere with a bit of spare white space seems to have them these days.

QR means Quick Response and is a two dimensional version of the bar code we're more familiar with. It can carry lots more information than its bar code cousin and was first used by car manufacturers. When I went round the Nissan car factory in Sunderland in the early 1990s, they were using bar codes to track progress through the production line, so I'm not surprised QR codes hail from this industry.

If you took a picture of the above code on your smart phone (or on a laptop camera or suchlike), you'd be directed right back to Veg Plotting's Home Page. Pretty cool eh? NAH and I are very excited about their potential, even though neither of us have a smart enough phone to read them. Indeed NAH has set up a QR code for his blog and consequently put up a couple of la…

Dessert Apple Jelly: Seasonal Recipe

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This year has seen a bumper apple harvest, possibly the biggest in decades, so like many of you I've had my work cut out keeping up with the crates of apples piling into my kitchen. NAH has been most happy for me to convert a fair portion of the spoils into the pictured jars of his favourite apple jelly. As you can see all kinds of jars have been pressed into service.
My apple jelly is a little different to the usual kind. Neither NAH or I are particularly big on jellies or chutneys accompanying our meat, fish or cheese*, which is the traditional way of eating them. Also when I chose my apple trees, I went for the dessert varieties as that's what we like to eat. So my apple jelly is used like jam: on bread and often accompanying peanut butter.
All the recipes I have are for a savoury jelly, often flavoured with herbs such as mint or rosemary. They usually call for cooking or crab apples and so need quite a lot of sugar to sweeten them and to counteract the recipe's vinegar.
T…