Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Monday, 31 March 2014

Chelsea Fringe 2014: Shows of Hands

The craft of skep making - as demonstrated at the Edible Garden Show on Saturday

After the success of The Bloggers Cut for last year's Chelsea Fringe, I've just registered my exciting new project for 2014.

43 gardeners' hands as seen at Lacock
Roll up, roll up for... Shows of Hands!

This is another simple idea which I hope you'll like. It was sparked by Paul Debois' award winning 43 gardeners' hands I saw at Lacock Abbey in 2010. Paul's given his blessing to his work forming the inspiration for my event.

This year I'm asking you to submit a picture of hand(s) in a garden, or in the act of gardening or some sort of garden-related activity.

This could be a close-up like the above picture, or of someone working in a garden - especially if their hands are mucky! Or perhaps you'd like to take a group shot of your community gardening project with everyone waving their hands in the air. The hand(s) can be human, or not - it's entirely up to you.

Like last year, I'll create a map of everyone's participation with links to your posts and tweets. I'd also like to create a visual group summary - perhaps a collage of some sort. Your ideas for this are also welcome.

Wot no cake? I hear you cry... Pictures of friends, family etc in the garden with cake in their hand are very welcome. They'd be a neat way of linking last year's Fringe event with this one too :)

I'll write a kick-off post with more details when the Fringe starts in mid-May. I've started posting a bit earlier this year (it helps that I've come up with an idea earlier this time), so the Fringe website has something to link to. We'll also be chatting on Twitter with the hashtag #showsofhands. It's worth keeping an eye on #chelseafringe too.

Paul Debois also has a Fringe event this year, called Wildlings. You can find out more about his collaboration with Lynn Keddie and Alys Fowler here and here. Scrolling down Lynn's blog (the second link just now), I found a couple of great Shows of Hands examples in her post on picture composition. Worth a look for some further inspiration.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Salad Days: Easy Art Print Review

A little while ago I was offered a print from the Easy Art collection for review purposes. With the 52 Week Salad Challenge still making a regular contribution to this blog, it was almost inevitable my selection would be the pictured Salad Greens by Alan Baker from the Guardian Wallchart collection.

I now have pictures of over 30 individual leaves to remind me we can eat salad every week of year whenever I sit down to eat the real thing.

Here's the finished product on our kitchen wall. As well as the print, I had a great time playing with the frame and mount options until I found a combination to my liking to fit with our decor.

I selected an ash frame partly in homage to the ash tree I'm Tree Following this year. The mount is a moss green which fits well with the poster and is greener than the photo suggests. As our kitchen is pretty bright - even in winter - I selected the non-reflective glass option.

If salads aren't your thing, there are hundreds of botanical prints available to select from, many of them from the RHS's collection in the Lindley Library. Choice isn't limited to the garden world either, so I think there's plenty to suit every kind of taste and interest, from fine art through photography to vintage posters. Prints usually come in a variety of sizes and you can opt to buy just the print, or to add a frame etc to your liking like I did.

I think they'd make a great house warming present.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Postcard From London: The Salads at Harrods

NAH was most surprised to hear I'd never been to Harrods, so we rectified that little hole in my education last week and had a gigglesome time. The Food Hall is a magnificent emporium of all things edible, but I was a bit surprised to find some plastic in evidence amongst the salad display.

This link takes you to 150 pictures to drool over (not mine) which are much more as expected. Here's a little taster I took of the chocolate hall...

Until its takeover in 2010, Harrods had a dress code and I fear the doorman would not have allowed us to enter in those days. Still, it was rather fun to check out my latest post had gone up on Veg Plotting in the Apple store and to freely admit to the assistant that was what I was doing. Then blog away was the cheerful reply.

Standards might possibly be slipping... ;)

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Postcard from London: Purple Pansies

Just like in real-life, my blogging postcard arrives after Monday's more weighty tale about London's Surprises ;)

I've been getting to know the South Bank area of London quite well over the past couple of years and I really enjoy going there. However, last week was the first time I'd ventured to the back of the South Bank Centre. It's worth keeping an eye on from an Out on the Streets perspective - I think these bold planters sit well with the concrete and brutalist architecture of their surroundings.

Like this? You may also enjoy:

Roll out the Barrows
Garden Bloggers' Muse Day: Places To...
... and other photos tagged as South Bank (via Sign of the Times - link opens in a new window)

Monday, 17 March 2014

London Surprises

Surprise #1 - sunshine, warmth and a host of golden daffodils at the Tower of London

We've just got back from a few days 'in the big smoke' celebrating those special days I mentioned in I Love March.

We'd organised plenty of eye popping activities such as celebratory feasting, seeing War Horse at the theatre, Gravity at the IMAX and exploring Tower Bridge. The burst of good weather meant we ate outdoors on our wedding anniversary - quite a contrast to the hot water bottles we found in the vintage transport on our wedding day.

We confined ourselves mainly to a broad area around our hotel and so found plenty to surprise us as well as our anticipated treats. The riches of Spitalfields and the areas around Liverpool Street* and Aldgate stations were three such discoveries, though blog exploration of these is more suited to Sign of the Times.

* = which also had resonance for our celebrations as we departed from there on the boat train to Harwich for our honeymoon.

Surprise #2 - Christ Church Greyfriars - a rose garden in the heart of The City

A few discoveries stand out from a garden blogging perspective - a couple of tiny gardens and a pop-up one to contrast with our walk through Hyde Park on the way back to Paddington station and home.

Wren's church remains - now Grade I Listed
& host to residents plus a dental practice
The area around St Paul's cathedral was devastated in the Blitz of 1940. Consequently, it's been the scene of much development with the high-rise buildings of many finance companies arising phoenix-like to engulf the cathedral once more.

The offices of Merrill Lynch along Newgate Street mask a hidden gem. The remains of one of Wren's bombed-out churches - Christ Church Greyfriars - was left and the original footprint of the building used subsequently as the layout for a rose garden. The huge pillars in the photo mark the location of those originally in the church and play host to roses, clematis and secreted bird boxes.

Our visit marked the promise of all this to come, but the emerging fresh growth and bare soil was still a welcome contrast to the surrounding concrete and bustle. The planting was revamped in 2011, with the garden receiving bronze (2012) and silver (2013) awards in the Small Public Square category of the London Garden Squares Competition. Here's to gold in 2014.

Surprise #3 - The quirkiness that is Postman's Park

A stone's throw away from Christ Church Greyfriars is Postman's Park. Again it's surrounded by offices as denotes our presence in The City, but again it provides an oasis of calm. Planting such as tree ferns - seen in the distance in the above photo - plus a banana visually demonstrate London's heat island effect.

This garden is hidden away but we had a map to find it - well, 2 actually as it appears on both of the  architecture and film location self-guided walks available. The park's name originates from its usage by the staff working at the old central general post office (GPO) nearby.

There's also a link with surprise #2 as the graveyard of Christ Church Greyfriars was relocated to St Botolph's Aldersgate - which forms a boundary helping to hide away the Park - after the Park opened in 1880.

My abiding memory of the 2004 film Closer is a rather quirky loggia decorated with tiles and it turns out that Postmark's Park was the location used. The loggia dates from 1899 [1900 in the online references seen - Ed] and shelters G F Watts's Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice.

Each decorated tile in the memorial describes the untimely, yet brave deaths of those who died whilst saving others. It's all rather theatrical and in a style evocative of the music hall that only the late Victorians/ Edwardians could muster.

The memorial  is Grade II listed - as a curiosity rather than of architectural merit

The memorial is incomplete and that's because G F Watts died in 1904 and his wife lost interest in completing the task. It means that most of the commemorations date from the late 1800s and early 1900s. There is just one exception - dated 2007 - and it transpires that the Diocese of London is again considering incidents worthy of marking in this way.

Surprise #4 - the Georgeobelisk, a pop-up park at the British Library
It seems I'm destined to find pop-up parks whilst I'm on holiday. Unlike Dublin's Granby Park, which I loved, I felt more ho-hum about the Georgeobelisk. Perhaps it was because we made the discovery at the end of a very tiring day, when the weather had turned dull and cold; or maybe it was because we discovered it on its penultimate day, when it was feeling a bit tired. Who knows?

The Georgeobelisk was designed to complement the library's Georgians Revealed: Life, Style and the Making of Modern Britain exhibition. It was playful and kitsch, but I found it hard to warm to the idea. If we'd had time to see the exhibition and the context in which the design was made, I might have changed my mind.

However, despite being Mrs Grumpy, I did enjoy this piece of whimsy inside the Georgeobelisk

Despite that one blip of an afternoon, we were blessed with warm spring sunshine during the rest of our stay in London. So what better way to round things off than to take the Tube to Green Park, then stroll through Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens for a couple of hours before catching the train home from Paddington station?

Our final discovery - the restored 'The Arch' by Henry Moore in Kensington Gardens

Saturday, 15 March 2014

GBBD: Guerrilla Tactics

The warm weather of the past week or so has brought real changes to VP Gardens and the rest of Chippenham. The picture shows part of the area at the end of our narrow side garden where I've planted bunches of daffodils to greet walkers coming off the public land onto our part of the estate.

At their feet you can just about make out the fresh green of the Pulmonaria my friend L gave me, which is beginning to spread itself out nicely. Peer a bit more closely and you can just about make out the pink flowers which the local bees love at this time of the year. Soon some grape hyacinths will join these flowers; for once their spreading habit is welcome and I can leave this area to look after itself.

I haven't done much more in the way of guerrilla gardening, apart from these touches plus the bank of snowdrops started across the way. To make it into a 'proper' garden would look out of place because we have the old hedgerows close by. But to my mind the area does need some enhancement to prevent it from looking too utilitarian and to soften the progression from countryside to urban estate.

So I've instinctively adopted a more Robinsonian approach and as there's plenty of shade, it's been mainly a spring enhancement. Since visiting Mount Usher last September - my first visit to a garden where Robinson's ideas are actively pursued - my mind is turning to other times of the year.

One of the plantings I particularly liked at Mount Usher is the pictured combination with Crocosmia forming a pool of colour beneath each tree. Their grassy, strap-like leaves look good when young too, so I think this is useful inspiration to bring home for late summer here.

It just so happens I have some Crocosmia 'Emberglow' planted in the wrong place in the back garden. It should be a minor job to transfer their affections to the front, where I can employ my guerrilla tactics to great(er) effect. I always thought these corms needed the bright sunshine and dry conditions of the large terrace bed, so it was good to see them working well in a woodland setting too.

Do you have any plans for guerrilla gardening this year?

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

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Unusual Front Gardens #18: Music

Thanks to my mate Mark for spotting a most unusual front garden on the main road in Machynllech last year and sending me this photo.

We're speculating the music style in this garden might be bluegrass.

What do you think?

North Wales is proving to be a rich seam for this series of posts. As well as last year's find for Halloween, I still have to go back to Karen's sometime and photograph a garden we found which was set out as a cricket match.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

VP's VIPs: Tom Mitchell and Evolution Plants

It seems my visits to Evolution Plants are destined to be wet and windy if October and last month are anything to go by. However, the lure of a new nursery, a plant hunter cum owner in the shape of Tom Mitchell, and all happening less than 10 miles away means I can't keep away.

I'm delighted Tom's agreed to let me follow him and Evolution Plants in its first year of trading. You're welcome to join me too and you can add your questions (via comments, Twitter etc) to those I'll be asking over the following months.

So, how has the nursery been faring over the wettest winter on record? Follow me...

First impressions are that everything's remarkably intact. "We're reasonably sheltered here", Tom reassures me. Don't worry, this is the normal look to a nursery in February. For some reason I love seeing them at this time of year; their stripped down readiness for the coming season makes me excited about the months to come.

Our talk turns to 'that' snowdrop, Tom's initiative which resulted in the world's most expensive bulb being sold on eBay. "I had a lot of very detailed enquiries about that, from people who were obviously weighing up it's merit and whether it was worth adding to their collection. But in the end, I think it went to the right person. Its timing was with Valentine's Day and the winning reason for bidding was the embodiment of love across the generations. It's a lovely story and I know they're very happy with the bulb's new name."

The auction's success has given Tom a few things to ponder. For instance what to do next? "If I repeated the auction, its novelty would soon be lost, so that's not a long term plan", he explained. It also means some thought needs to be given to the pricing of subsequent sales - how much of the bulb's value was in its naming versus the worth of the bulb itself? That question's still being considered...

At October's launch, I remarked it was a strange time to get going. I remind Tom of this and he grins. "Actually it's been a good thing. I've been able to pay great attention to getting the sales process working properly without the stress of lots of customers ordering plants. I'm prepared to ship all over the world, so working through the subtleties of various import regulations and establishing a good relationship with FERA are important to get right. There's been strong interest in Japan too, so I've had to look at getting a multilingual website working properly."

Tom freely admits there have been some teething problems. "I now have a new web developer on board and we've moved the site onto a new web platform which is more robust and better suited for handling multiple currencies. We've also had delays with a few of the plants at their destination customs, but I'm confident we now have the right paperwork needed for each location."

Have there been any other surprises in the first few months? Another grin. "I thought I'd be spending my time over the winter writing the detailed descriptions I want for the plants coming up for sale. Instead, I've found myself giving a lot more talks. We were very busy over the weekend [mid February] as I was in Ireland and we also had the specialist snowdrop fair in Shaftesbury to attend. Then there was a talk at the Hardy Plant Society, I had surprisingly few plants left to bring back after that." [see the above photo for the few crates he brought back] So has he been invited to the University of Bath Gardening Club yet? "Yes, I'm booked in for 2015." Hurrah :)

Most nurseries start a good proportion of their stock from seed, but there aren't that many who've collected theirs from the wild. This is what fascinates me and Tom has 5,000 different new plants to introduce to us in the coming years. So how can we be sure they'll be viable for our gardens? "That's why I'm writing detailed notes for each plant and I've also set up lots of trial beds (see above) to see how they perform in the UK. I have a few hellebores in there at the moment, but these are coming out soon and it'll be looking very different here when you come back."

So, how many of the 5,000 are on sale? "We started with 120 at the launch and we're up to 140 now. The aim is to reach 500 this season." Quite a way to go then and it highlights how last year's launch wasn't an overnight thing, "It's taken 5 years to get this point", agrees Tom.

At this point it's time for us to go our separate ways. I'm given a free rein to look around and take photos whilst Tom attends to his day to day tasks. The nursery may have been left relatively unscathed by winter's weather, but its mildness has brought the threat of disease to the polytunnels. "We're constantly on the lookout for Botrytis, especially as the fans keep stopping." Our tour has highlighted the latest stoppage, so Tom hastens away to get them going again.

Note that Evolution Plants isn't usually open to the public (though of course its website is) so you'll only be able to see how it changes and progresses via my subsequent posts. There is an inaugural open day on May 10th, with an exciting lecture set up with the fab Dan Hinkley at nearby Belcombe Court, which rarely opens to the public. All for a mere fiver! Redeemable against plants on the day! What are you waiting for... head over here to sign up!

In the meantime I'll be returning at the end of March, so watch this space...

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Book Review: The Cut Flower Patch

Since attending the British flower growers gathering last year, I've been keeping a weather eye on what they've been up to. This and talking to Cally and Sara about their exciting ideas for Our Flower Patch* has formed a steady drip, drip of influence on my plans for the plot this year.

So it's very timely that I have a review copy of Louise Curley's debut book, The Cut Flower Patch. Many of you will know Louise as wellywoman and that growing cut flowers is a passion of hers.

Louise's easy writing style shines through in this book and Jason Ingram's stylish photographs form an accompaniment which I'm sure will encourage lots of other readers to get growing immediately.

Louise provides a good argument for why growing our own flowers is an enjoyable and sustainable task. She shows how a surprisingly small area can be used to provide buckets of the freshest possible flowers for a good proportion of each year. There's an in-depth guide to around 35 of the best flowers to grow from seed or bulb and she's not averse to a spot of foraging either.

As well as a good growing guide, Louise provides top tips for harvesting, conditioning and arranging your flowers to ensure they have the longest time possible in the vase. Sowing and plot maintenance calenders, plus a list of favoured resources at the back of the book rounds things off nicely.

This is a very practical book, written from a personal perspective with lots of eye candy to flip through for inspiration. I'll be looking to transfer Louise's ideas to not one, but a few smaller patches of ground next to the raised beds I built on the allotment last year.

To balance out my review nicely, here's Louise's thoughts on her publication day last Friday.

* = more on this coming soon :)

A special offer for you...

... would you like your own discounted copy, from the publishers Frances Lincoln?

To order The Cut Flower Patch at the discounted price of £16.00 including p&p** (RRP: £20.00), telephone 01903 828503; or email and quote the offer code APG101.

Alternatively, send a cheque made payable to: LBS Mail Order Department,Littlehampton Book Services,Worthing, West Sussex, BN13 3RB. Please quote the offer code APG101 and include your name and address details.

**= UK ONLY - Please add £2.50 if ordering from overseas.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Tree Following with Lucy

I've decided to join Lucy this month for her Tree Following project. This isn't a new-to-me-meme, but I confess I hadn't taken the time previously to think about a particular tree I'd like to get to know better.

However, that all changed on December 23rd 2013, when one of the neighbouring ash trees crashed into VP Gardens, narrowly missing our house. Since then, I've been taking a picture of the remaining parts of the tree on the 23rd of each month, to see how it changes over the year.

An Unexpected Visitor - 'the tree which came for Christmas'

Here's the tree in much happier times...

If the embedded video above doesn't work, try this link instead. The picture quality isn't that great, but I wanted to capture the tree's sound as well as an impression of it ahead of any potential demise due to ash dieback. How ironic!

Here's the tree as it looked on February 23rd from our bedroom window. This was after its trim back in January courtesy of a local tree surgeon. It didn't look that much different to this on January 23rd.

The birds are using the tree a lot lately as a launching pad for their onslaught on the garden in search of moss and other materials for their nests. The most regular occupant is this rather fat pigeon. I'm also looking at the field maple tree nearby to see if Mr and Mrs pigeon return to last year's nest.

Fancy joining Lucy this month? Here's her kick-off post for 2014 complete with links to everyone who's taking part. I'm not sure if I'll be joining in every month on the 7th, but I will be providing some updates during the year.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

I Love March For...

... stirring

Whether March comes in like a lamb or roars like a lion, it's a month which can't be ignored. Everywhere the earth is whispering, plants are stirring and birds are building or spring cleaning their homes. There's an explosion of growth and plants like these crocus open their faces towards the sun.

After weeks of rain, it's good to see the sun again and to have a garden which is warm to work in. This morning sees the garden in steam as the sun sets about adding its warmth to the cold, wet soil. The water vapour escaping into the bright sunshine makes it look like the earth has started to breathe again.

I also have some special days to celebrate soon, so of all the months of the year, March is my favourite.

What do you love about March?

Saturday, 1 March 2014

GBMD: This Rule in Gardens

I saw this in the shop at Mount Usher Gardens last year. I'd never come across this saying before - a little light googling shows its origin goes back centuries.

I must admit I found it a little confusing because water is a vital component of seed sowing as long as the soil is damp, not waterlogged.

The source link above also says this was a traditional adage for March, because it's the month when seed sowing gets going in earnest. My seed tin is in agreement as I have the thickest bulge of packets filed away for this month.

This is a perfect example of how a rule shouldn't be taken at face value, but the meaning behind it needs to be taken into account. I'm pretty sure the "sow dry" isn't about the soil needing to be bone dry, but referring to the land drying out after the winter wet.This would typically happen in March most years, when the other conditions most seeds need - warmth and longer daylength - are also present.

However, as we know from previous years this isn't always the case, making this a rule which is ripe for breaking.

Which seeds do you plan to sow this month, or are your local conditions pointing to a delay?
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