Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Friday, 27 June 2014

Salad Days: Intercropping, Limp Lettuce and Nightshade Tomatoes

My Nepalese allotment neighbour's putting me to shame. Not only is she growing a huge amount of blemish free lettuce, she is cleverly intercropping her onions amongst them. I wonder if the smell of the onions is helping to keep the slugs and snails at bay? Much food for thought here going forward...

We also swapped stories of what we use lettuce for in addition to salad. She uses it as a stir fried vegetable, just for a few seconds so the leaves are wilted a bit like we do with spinach sometimes. I countered with using it for soup, especially with older leaves or at the end of summer.

I've been cropping my lettuce leaves grown outside my back door since we came home and made a great discovery after some hasty harvesting earlier in the week. I put my leaves straight into a bag then popped them in the salad crisper in the fridge, only to find some rather limp and forlorn looking lettuce the next day.

The leaves needed a wash if I was to use them, so I decided to give them a nice long soak in some cool water and hey presto! no more limp lettuce. I suspect I wouldn't have had the same result with supermarket bagged salad. Another plus point for growing your own salad leaves :)

I'm doing a number of tomato trials this year and so far my black tomatoes are proving to be the most exciting. This is Indigo Rose, courtesy of Suttons. I've had fruit on my plants since the beginning of May which is the earliest I've ever seen tomatoes fruiting in my garden.

It can't be long until the all important taste test and I can't wait to try them, despite them resembling black nightshade's big brother. Though it would appear that reports of the latter's toxicity may be overstated.

I'll be back to tell you more about these, after the taste test :)

How's your salad faring this month?

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Things in Unusual Places #13: Torso

I had to do a double take last week when I spotted this young gentleman outside a florist shop in Darlington. The sign reads:

Girlfriends know each other's favourite flower

I'm sure the world would be a much better place if boyfriends knew it too ;)

What's your favourite flower? Mine changes with the season and my mood. Right now I'm particularly enjoying the scent from the petunias in the new hanging basket by our front door. It's a great welcome home.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Postcard from Weardale

We've just come back from a fabulous week in County Durham, where as you can see the weather was kind to us. However, you can't tell from the idyllic looking picture that the wind's breath at the top of Weardale contains a warning that winter's never far away.

30 years ago NAH and I moved away from this kind of scenery to start our married life together down south. Since then we've had good, bad and unexpected times which I wouldn't change for the world, but the pull of the north has always been there at the back of my mind.

So last week was a bit of a test - was my homesickness for the north east simply part of my imagination or for real? I'd say on balance it's for real because I didn't feel like we were on holiday. We'd simply gone home instead.

I'm not from the area, but it's the only place I've ever felt at home. Elizabeth and Mark have blogged much more eloquently on this subject than I can and they've given me much to ponder over the past 18 months. A number of our friends have moved away in the last couple of years and I've become quite unsettled in the process. Is Chippenham my home, or is it somewhere else? And if somewhere else isn't achievable, can I ever make Chippenham feel like it is my home?

NAH wisely says home is where we make it and whilst my head's in agreement with him, my heart's not so sure...

Sunday, 15 June 2014

GBBD: Erigeron karvinskianus

If you were to look for lists of the top garden self-seeders on the internet, Erigeron karvinskianus aka Mexican fleabane would figure highly on most of them.

It's also the first plant I consciously made a design decision to include in our garden 15 years ago, after seeing a magazine picture of it merrily cascading down the steps at Great Dixter.

Since then I've been given a plant (which died) and cast many a packet of seed around to no avail. It seems self-seeders prefer to do it for themselves here and my own use of this characteristic is frowned upon by mother nature.

Therefore, we have plenty of tree seedlings, Cotoneaster horizontalis, Centaurea montana, aquilegias of various ilk, furry lamb's ears, Allium christophii and Eryngiums all squeezing themselves into any space they can find whilst I'm not looking. Any seed scattered by me - such as from the self-sown foxgloves - gets ignored completely.

Imagine my surprise when clearing out the patio pots earlier this year when I found a tiny Erigeron plant amongst the self-sown violas. I quickly transferred it to the top of the central garden steps, where I'd planned for it to be all along, though I thought a conscious intervention on my part was sure to seal its doom.

Perhaps that thought was its salvation, because it's still there. Fingers crossed for the self-seeding down the steps bit and my subsequent post wishing I'd left well alone ;)

But then, having seen it in beautiful profusion at Iford Manor last week, perhaps I won't need to write that follow-up post after all.

Which - if any - self-seeders are welcome in your garden?

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

Friday, 13 June 2014

Shows of Hands Finale

Discussing Shows of Hands with Naomi Slade at the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens in April.
At the same time Lynn Keddie took a similar shot, which illustrated perfectly why she's the
professional photographer and I'm not. The photo is uncropped to maximise the errors on view.

Many thanks to everyone who took part in my Shows of Hands project for this year's Chelsea Fringe. Your response has been amazing with 41 contributions from 33 people and organisations via blogs, email, Facebook and Twitter.

When Shows of Hands was announced I promised you a final collage, or something. As your response was so big and because I've used plenty of collages throughout the project, I've decided the finale should be or something. I hope you enjoy the following selection of images.

Shows of Hands for Chelsea Fringe 2014 (Click on the link if the embedded version doesn't work - this will open in a new window. There's 39 slides for you to click through at your own leisure)

Not only was this year's response larger in terms of participants, it was bigger in terms of global reach too, with Canada joining us here in the UK. Then Emma Cooper trumped that distance with her post about growing salad on the International Space Station. That did give me a minor problem in finding the right spot to pin her post to the Google map summary ;)

An overview of the Shows of Hands Google map - Click here to go the clickable version
to explore further and read the stories each contributor wove around their chosen image(s)

It's worth taking a look at the map as you can easily see the spread of the contributions and there are a couple of extra links to contributions I didn't get permission to use for the slideshow.

I've also been using the map to conduct a sly completely unscientific survey on the popularity of gardening gloves based on your photos. Can you guess which won? Flighty and Welly Woman got it right when they mentioned their preferences.

Shows of Hands also managed to link with around 10 of the physical Fringe projects in Bristol and London, plus another of the online ones. Not bad going!

Do you like what you've seen in this post? Raise and show your hand if you do...

Update 21/6/2014: A flurry of extra activity on Twitter, Facebook and blogs means we now have 44 contributions from 36 people and organisations. The clickable map shows the updated picture of everyone's Shows of Hands :)

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Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Grow Hope and Win Tickets to RHS Hampton Court Show

The garden has landed!
Thanks to World Vision for the photo, because mine were rubbish. Credit: Ellis O'Brien

One of my highlights of the Chelsea Flower Show this year was World Vision's Fresh Garden. You may have missed it because it wasn't located with the others.

The design needed a rather large tree for it to work, because its concept was an aid crate crashing into the show, packed full of plants ready to help grow a productive garden. A site amongst the trade stands provided the perfect spot.

And that's not all, this concept will be revisited at Gardeners' World Live from tomorrow, with John Warland's larger show garden denoting the planting of thousands of trees, and culminates in an even bigger finale by him at RHS Hampton Court. I think it's a fresh, bold move to develop the idea over three shows.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the 1984 Ethiopian famine, the worst in living memory. Thanks to World Vision and the generosity of supporters, the Antsokia Valley which was hardest hit by drought, is now a lush, green oasis. Hope of a future free from hunger has grown into a reality.

The three show gardens neatly illustrate these past 30 years and a good news story for once about Ethiopia; from humanitarian aid through to a region able to stand tall again.

Of course they're also designed to raise awareness of World Vision's work and their latest campaign, Grow Hope. World Vision's work isn't done and this campaign is designed to help extend it in other vulnerable regions of Africa.

This is where you come in, plus there's also the enticing chance for you to win two tickets to see the final garden at RHS Hampton Court Flower Show next month.

All you need to do is visit the competition website and sign up for a Grow Hope pack like the one shown above and below.

For every person who signs up, World Vision will give vulnerable families in Zambia orange maize seeds, rich in Vitamin A, to ensure children can live a life free from the fear of hunger. As well as information about the campaign, there's also some Ethiopian coffee plus a packet of Calendula seeds to say thank you for your support.

These packs are designed to encourage people to reflect on the progress made and spread the word about the help that is still needed – to grow hope and share hope.

So as I see it it's win win all round. You and an Zambian family get seeds to help transform your garden and their lives, World Vision raises awareness, and you might just find yourself bound for RHS Hampton Court Flower Show next month.

Here's the link to the competition website again. Good luck!

Monday, 9 June 2014

Tree Following With Lucy: June

If the embedded video doesn't work, try this link instead.

The ash tree is fully clothed now, so I thought a short video would make a nice change from the usual still photo taken from our bedroom window. There's no visual sign of Mr and Mrs pigeon this month, though at least one of them can be heard.

Sue Garrett from Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments neatly anticipated today's post last month when she commented:

Do you get lots of debris from the ash and lots of self sown tree seedlings? My sister's garden is plagued with one that overhangs her garden.

I think this photo answers Sue's question! I'm forever finding seedlings from the ash tree plus its neighbouring birch and maples. As you can see, some of them still manage to get through and make a substantial seedling before I spot them. 

As for debris, yes we do get quite a lot of small branches and twigs dropping off the ash tree. It does seem to be one of those trees which tends to lose minor limbs quite often as well as having the major incident we had last December.

I've also spotted what looks like a major scar in one of the branches towards the top of the tree, so who knows what might land in our garden next...

Here's another picture of that seedling - with its parent lurking in the backgound. How on earth did I miss it until now?

Have a look at Lucy's blog over at Loose and Leafy to see what my fellow Tree Followers are up to this month.

Friday, 6 June 2014

Shows of Hands: Pondering Slug Damage

Veronica's photo for Shows of Hands chimes with the hot topic of discussion this week. She says:

My hand is pointing to very heavily nibbled courgette plant. Bloody slugs.

It's possibly the worst picture I've ever taken but it's the spirit of the event that counts!

Aren't slugs and snails a real pain this year? I'm on my second sowing of courgettes and squashes as mine got nibbled to death when I put them outside to harden off. The jury's out on whether my wasabi up at the plot will ever recover. I'm also keeping a close eye on my dahlias which are just beginning to push their noses out of the soil - they're usually the slug dinner of choice if I'm not careful.

As "Mad-Eye" Moody would say, "Constant vigilance!" is required.

Thanks Veronica for capturing the mood of the moment with your photo. There's still a couple of days left for anyone else wanting to contribute to Shows of Hands. There's been a terrific response so far, so you'll be in very good company :)

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Gardening Leave

Deep in the heart of the Royal Hospital Chelsea lies a very special garden. It's relatively small compared to the manicured lawns, borders and vast greenhouses used by the Chelsea Pensioners, but it's just as precious to the ex-services personnel who tend it.

This was my second visit to the garden, which has been relocated since I was there a few years ago. Back then it was in a deeply shaded spot and quite gloomy, but now...

... it's in a totally different place, full of light and promise.

Around 20% of service veterans develop a mental-health problem, often many years after rejoining civilian life. Gardening Leave was formed to provide a much needed lifeline and a way to help them work through their problems via horticultural therapy. It is a place of healing.

The design brief for this kind of garden is totally different to what you or I would choose for ourselves. It's based on need rather than aesthetics, though I still find it beautiful in its own right, especially now I understand more about it.

Enclosure is important because it provides a place of safety and sanctuary. The beds are raised ultra high so veterans with balance problems or bad backs/knees can work comfortably, or they can duck down during traumatic moments if they feel they need to.

The beds are relatively narrow, to encourage chatting amongst the comrades, their therapist and other staff or volunteers. Likewise the spacing isn't wide, so they can get used to someone behind them moving around. It's quite an eye-opener to realise how an everyday occurrence like someone behind you is perceived as very dangerous when you're suffering from hyper-vigilance or having a flashback.

Many garden design briefs have low maintenance as a high priority. Gardening Leave gardens are the opposite, so there's always plenty for everyone to do. Annuals and roses are good plants for this situation, as are plenty of vegetables, with the added benefit they can be eaten. Here Zisky Stovell, the Assistant Horticultural Therapist at the Chelsea garden shows how growing broad beans is the perfect task.

Note the Gardening Leave logo on Zisky's shirt. Its colours represent the earth, plants and the sky i.e. the charity's gardens and methodology used. The surrounding box represents the enclosed nature of the gardens and the typeface was chosen because it looks like fencing and symbolises the safety provided by working in an enclosed space.

Zisky also found the season's first crop of blackfly on the beans, so I expect squishing duties were put on the task list for the next day! I was bowled over by my welcome and humbled by everyone's enthusiasm for my Shows of Hands project for the Chelsea Fringe. As well as Zisky's hand modelling above, Gardening Leave have tweeted lots of pictures from their gardens in Scotland as well as from Chelsea. Thank you :)

The NHS five steps to mental wellbeing are also enshrined in Gardening Leave's approach:

  1. Connect with the people around you and spend time developing these relationships
  2. Be active and make it part of your life
  3. Keep learning, as learning new skills can give a sense of achievement and a new confidence
  4. Give to others - whether its a smile, a thank you or larger acts
  5. Take notice and be more aware of the present moment, including feelings and thoughts, your body and the world around you
It's not a bad philosophy to keep in mind.

My thanks to Gardening Leave for their hospitality and a much-needed cup of coffee after press day at Chelsea Flower Show. All of their Shows of Hands contributions are on my clickable map, which I'll be sharing with everyone next week :)

You may also like to read this recent article about Gardening Leave in The Telegraph.

Update - December 4th 2015: Sadly Gardening Leave have announced that owing to difficulties in raising sufficient funds, they will cease to exist at the end of the year. I hope that some way can be found to continue their vital work with one of the other forces or mental health charities. With the recent news I fear their work will be needed more than ever.

Monday, 2 June 2014

I Love June For...

Last year's Postcard from Ceredigion  - at Mwnt Bay

... holidays

There's something special about the word holiday isn't there? In my view it's much more enticing than the word vacation. It's a word to be savoured and grinned at.

NAH and I have a regular habit - when I come home the day before a holiday, it gets announced with a great deal of attention. If I had the skills - and the ability to host an appropriate number of trumpets - I would mount a full blown fanfare to mark the occasion. Instead we make do with it sung out loud, accompanied by a skip and a grin from me :)

Much as I love my summery garden, allotment and home, holidays in June are the most precious and special of times of all.

What do you love about June?

PS I haven't quite gone on holiday yet, but will be soon...

Sunday, 1 June 2014

GBMD: Time is the Glue

I spotted this at Chelsea Flower Show last month. I love its mixture of philosophy and stark reality - the stand was empty at the time ;)
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