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Showing posts from March, 2010

ABC of Weather: Katabatic Winds

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I need you to use your imaginations today and substitute the Antarctic Ice Sheet in the above diagram (courtesy of Hannes Grobe and available for use under Creative Commons Licence via Wikimedia) for the 1 in 10 slope in my garden and the ocean/sea ice to the left for the bottom of the slope complete with fence and hedge. If you do that, you now have the classic conditions for katabatic winds forming in a garden setting, more commonly known as a frost pocket or frost hollow.

As you can see from the diagram, katabatic winds are formed when cold air meets warmer air and the resultant difference in pressure between the two, aided by the downward pressure of gravity forces the cold air down the slope. As well as the Antarctic and my garden, these winds are commonly found in mountain areas and many other places where these kind of conditions occur.

Whilst you're probably not familiar with the name katabatic (from the Greek kata, meaning down) you might know some of the special, region…

The Latest Hippeastrum in the World?

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Hippeastrums (aka Amaryllis) tend to be associated with Christmas in this country: various potted possibilities are usually on sale around November time, which means they'll be in bloom at the end of December and continue to brighten the January gloom. They're the ideal gift for a garden or plant lover starved of gardening activities or flowers around that time.

Mine came into bloom yesterday. Regular readers know I'm pretty poor at planting my bulbs out at the given time and it looks like I might have gone down that road in a spectacular way. However, my giant Hippeastrum 'Vera' bulb wasn't purchased in November: Threadspider and I bought ours in the January sales from our local garden centre - reduced to £1.49 from £6.99 - a bargain. They were also giving out free eco-friendly shopping bags to garden club members that month, so it was only natural to use mine to bring all my other purchases home.

Having emptied the bag of everything but my very large new bulb, …

Elspeth Thompson

I was saddened over the weekend to hear of Elspeth Thompson's untimely death and my heart goes out to her husband Frank and daughter Mary, who must be devastated.

We have so many great gardening writers in this country, but Elspeth was unique in the way her writing brought sunshine to the reader. It was her natural, witty manner and delight in the simple things in life which really brought pleasure to me when reading her columns and books.

She was a generous soul too: she donated to my Open Garden 2 years ago and left a most encouraging comment about my achievement and garden. Soon after that I bumped into her at the RHS Show at The Inner Temple. Once she realised who I was (psst I'm VP!), we had a delightful half hour chatting about the show, my garden and her project to convert two railway carriages into a family home. Her lurcher had just had puppies, the yard was a full of (recyclable) junk, and they were in the middle of converting units from a school chemistry lab into a w…

International Garden Photographer of the Year

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Yesterday Threadspider and I wended our way to Lacock Abbey to view the International Garden Photographer of the Year (IGPOTY*) exhibition currently housed in its grounds until 18th April. I thought you'd particularly like to see the above picture of the award winning 43 gardeners' hands by Paul Debois. James blogged about his sitting for this novel portrait a while ago and amongst the other great and the good of our UK gardening world, you'll find the likes of Plant Mad Nige, EmmaT (twice - many congratulations on the birth of your son Emma!) and Cleve.
Like last year's show the pictures snake through the Botanic Garden, where Fox Talbot grew some of the specimens he used for his book, Pencil of Nature. Lacock is a particularly apt location for this exhibition because it's where 175 years ago he developed the world's first photograph using the positive/negative image technique . With the advent of digital cameras this may seem an outmoded form of photography …

VPGGB #14: Fab Ticket Deals

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Just a quick reminder for those of you interested in joining us at Malvern Spring Show that we have a fantastic half-price ticket deal available for Friday or Saturday 7th and 8th May. In order to qualify you need to write a blog post about Malvern by 31st March. Full details of the offer, some inspiration for you if you need it and what you need to do are here on our rather lovely dedicated Malvernmeet blog.

I've also been contacted by the site editor of the London-based money-saving website, VoucherCodes.co.uk about a free ticket deal for Grand Designs Live at the Excel centre in London for 4-7th May. Unfortunately this means you'll miss both James' and Three Men Went to Mow's appearances there at the weekend, but there should be plenty more to see. I found the series of talks pretty good at the NEC's equivalent last October.

The site has a specially created voucher code which allows you to receive free weekday tickets for the 2010 show. These usually retail at …

ABC of Weather: Jet Stream

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This photograph (courtesy of Solar Views) was taken from the Space Shuttle whilst at around 200 miles (320 kilometers) above the Earth. It shows a band of cirrus clouds produced in this instance by a westerly jet stream stretching across the Red Sea. The clouds are in distinct tube-like structures, created by the way the air currents in our upper atmosphere move.

Jet streams are fast flowing, narrow air currents located near the tropopause. They're called jet streams because pilots flying the early kinds of jet aircraft developed during the 1940s who were flying much higher than usual, noticed that they travelled much more quickly when flying from west to east.

The earth's rotation means that the major jet streams are westerly winds (i.e. flowing west to east). They're formed by the action of atmospheric heating and appear near the boundaries of adjacent air masses with significant differences in temperature, such as at the poles or the equator. Their paths typically have…

Special Plants: A Final Winter's View

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Back in February when Derry Watkins was my VIP, I promised you a return to Special Plants to show the garden and nursery during winter time. As the world is currently turning golden yellow with the arrival of the daffodils and there's the suspicion of a fuzzy green appearing on some trees, I think today's my last chance to show you before all this becomes history for another year.

When I visited last September, it coincided with an article appearing in The English Garden. Just like this winter view from the back door of the house, the magazine's photos looked completely different to the one on view. That's because the garden was photographed the previous year so pictures relevant to the month of publication could be used. As Derry likes to change things around each year, the garden will look different again when you make your own visit.

A winter's visit not only meant I got the chance to see the garden at a time not usually seen by visitors, I was also able to appre…

Postcard from Stratford

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Saturday saw a very early start for the latest Wiltshire Wailers venture: a trip to the Community Choir Festival at Stratford upon Avon. The venue was where William Shakespeare is believed to have attended school, though we were in the more modern buildings a couple of hundred yards down the road rather than the 'Old School' more familiar to him and today's tourists.

650 singers gathered for a day workshop learning 4 new songs, followed by a quick rehearsal during afternoon tea for the end of day concert where each choir (all 21 of them) was given an opportunity to really show their stuff. Our piece was Delilah, but sung in the style of Welsh rugby fans gathered at the Millennium stadium in Cardiff prior to a game. We'd found it almost impossible to stop giggling during rehearsals as this version calls for lots of drama. Our choirmaster Chris also added some Tom Jones style audience participation as he distributed a number of comedy pants and other underwear to be thr…

Donate to NGS and Win a Yellow Book!

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A post synchronised with the Meet @ Malvern blog :)


It's Malvern Show's Silver Jubilee this year and as part of their celebrations they're supporting the marvellous National Gardens Scheme (NGS). There'll be fundraising events such as an auction during the show and I thought it would be great if Meet @ Malvern also supported their efforts. Anna is working out how a plant/seed/book swap can be fitted into our get together and I've put up a Just Giving button up on the Meet @ Malvern sidebar for anyone who'd like to donate to the cause. If you can't make Malvern this time, it would be a good way of wishing us well.

Joe Swift (whom many of you know already as one of the Three Men Went to Mow) is NGS President and has kindly sent us this message explaining what it's all about:

The National Garden scheme is simply the most wonderful charity for garden lovers. It's so simple - The NGS annual publication 'The Yellow book' contains around 3,600 garden…

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #14

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Decide on your company's special offers for MarchProduce a swanky large leaflet for all your potential customersDeliver to all the homes in your projected catchment areaWait for a blogger with a camera to notice the nearest branch is in FromeEt voila!They may have been touting for internet business seeing they're 22 miles away and Countrywide (a company selling pretty much the same kind of products, to a similar set of customers) is a mere 6.5 miles away in Melksham. However, many of the items in the leaflet aren't available online :/For the full set in this occasional series, click here.

ABC of Weather: Isobars

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The above picture (courtesy of Meteorologica) shows the British Isles complete with mapped isobars. These are the many blue lines shown on the map and denote lines of equal air pressure. The term isobar is derived from iso, from the Greek meaning equal and bar, one of the unit names given for air pressure measurement. We have High pressure (aka an anticyclone) over the UK at the moment: Tuesday's map* showed it was to the south-east with the pressure well over 1000 millibars (1027 in fact). High pressure means a period of calmer weather, which we've actually been enjoying over the past couple of weeks or so. You can tell the weather is calmer from the map if the space between the isobars is relatively wide. However, whilst the weather has been quiet and sunny, the winds on the whole have been bitterly cold because they've been from the north or east. As air circulates in a clockwise direction around an anticyclone in the northern hemisphere, you can tell which way the wi…

Seed Sharing and Chitting

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Threadspider and I are sharing our seed order again and met up for coffee recently to divide the spoils. Our allotment society is using Dobies as the discount supplier of choice this year, though we did find ourselves putting in a sly side order with the previous supplier DT Brown in order to have all the varieties we want to grow.

We're trying a new parsnip variety (to us anyway): elegant Cobham Improved Marrow which tapers neatly, is resistant to canker and reputed to not grow too big. In our clay soil the massive champion style varieties would only twist and fork themselves into something resembling a sea monster and so would be hell to prepare for cooking.

That clay soil and parsnip seed's notoriety for being more than a bit reluctant to germinate means I chit them in addition to my seed potatoes. For parsnips this means keeping them spread out on some damp kitchen towel in my seed sprouter. As soon as their tiny roots appear (and before they drill those roots through the …

GBBD: Crocus Carnival

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I was sorely tempted to post the same collage as my last Blooms Day because the flowering kaleidoscope is essentially the same this month. However, that wouldn't do justice to the proliferation of crocus flowers which have exploded onto the scene over the past 10 days or so. So far they've not really had much of a look-in on previous Blooms Days: snowdrops and daffodils have tended to take the limelight for February's and March's posts respectively, but this year the daffodils have yet to bloom. It's the latest they've been in my time a-gardening and even the earliest ones (on February 9th a couple of years ago no less) are nowhere near trumpeting forth. I've also noticed the tips of some of their leaves are brown, probably a sign of frost damage and something I've not seen before.

So it's the crocuses which are cheering up my garden this March time and thus deserving the spotlight. Like my snowdrops I have massive clumps of them dotted around my fr…

A Refreshed Blog

There's a new look to Veg Plotting today because I've been having a bit of a spring clean and a play with the new templates and designer available in Blogger Draft. What you see was very quick to implement (around 10 minutes) and the adjustments made (such as sidebar widths) have not required me to do any fiddling around with HTML. That's so different to when I set up my 3 column template originally :)

I've tried to replace the old format with a similar looking one from the new templates so you're not taken too much by surprise by the new look. There were a couple of glitches: each of my sidebar contents were swapped to the other side (so needed to be dragged and dropped back to their old positions) and the Link Within widget insisted on showing itself in the sidebar as well as giving you the usual 3 further posts to select from at the bottom of each post. I've not quite overcome the latter problem, so it's been moved to the bottom of the blog for the moment…

Postcard from Dublin

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A wedding anniversary, birthday and an all-day workshop in Oxford with Dan Hinkley today means things are a touch hectic here at VP Gardens this week. So here's a photo of the Spire of Dublin on O'Connell Street from our trip on Wednesday (for £10!) to keep you going. In order to fit in all 390 feet you either have to go very far away (and therefore find there's all kinds of clutter in the way), or right up close and personal and look skywards. Guess which option I went for...

I've been to Dublin many times with work and also as a volunteer on the Special Olympics in 2003. This was the first occasion I was there as a tourist and accompanied by NAH. We had a fab time :)

There's more of our visit to come at Sign of the Times over the next week or so.

Unusual Front Gardens #8: Sculpture

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Here's a garden spotted by Juliet from The Clockwork Dodo, who quite rightly said in her recent post she thought this garden deserved a place in my Unusual Front Garden series. It's in South Cambridgeshire and the owner has eschewed gardening for the chance to display the many and varied sculptures he makes in his spare time. It's well worth a trip to Juliet's blog to see the full story [not just this one - why not have a good look around whilst you're there? - Ed] and lots more pictures.

ABC of Weather: Hair

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Have you spent ages getting your hair looking just so, then gone out only to find it's gone into an unsightly frizz (curly hair) or limp and lanky (straight hair)? If you have, then you've observed the effect humidity can have on your body. Hair is shorter when the air is dry and stretches when it's moist by up to 2.5 percent.
This phenomenon didn't go unnoticed by the early inventors of humidity recorders (aka hygrometers): In the 15th Century Nicolas de Cousa observed changing humidity levels by recording the amount of moisture absorbed by wool. Others used human hair, string, intestines or wild oats before the standard wet/dry bulb thermometer method and today's electronic wizardry were developed.
If any of you have one of those little weather houses, where a man or woman comes out of a door depending on whether it's going to rain or shine, then you're using hair to tell you what the weather's doing. If you don't have one, then here's how you …

Painswick Yews

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Until I started blogging I didn't really have much time for Yew trees. They seemed rather dark green and dreary and were mainly to be found in churchyards. My discovery of places like The Courts and them gossiping on the lawn has helped to change my mind, as did the marvellously shaped ones at Powis Castle. I now love them for their structural and medicinal qualities. I usually can't help giggling when I see them and I'm all for a touch of garden humour.

When we visited Painswick Rococo Garden recently, I didn't know I was in for a horticultural surprise before we got there. St Mary's church in the middle of the village has around 100 yews of all shapes and sizes in the churchyard. Most of them are paired along the paths and clipped into lollipop shapes, though some have also been allowed to join overhead, particularly at exit and entrance points. Quite a number are proudly sponsored by local businesses with a little plaque nailed to the trunk to say so. Whilst I wa…

VP's Guide to 'Cataloguespeak'

I've warned against this practice before and this year I've found it much easier to resist those catalogues. The descriptions of the plants on offer I've seen so far are so fanciful and excessive, I was almost crying with laughter. However, there's a danger some of you might still be taken in, so here's a quick guide to what some of those descriptions and photos really mean:
Classic = It may be new, but it's really hard to tell because it looks just like any other of its kindEasy to grow = Ha ha ha! We're looking at really good profits at these prices!Exclusive = Nobody will touch this with a bargepole apart from us OR we've bred this ourselves and haven't sold it on to anyone yetF1 = we can sell this to you at a much higher price and hey, because any seeds produced don't come true, we can sell it to you again next yearHurry, this variety has been discontinued = we're flogging a dead horse hereMid season half price sale = we've got more o…

Compost Crisis?

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There's been some concern in the media over the past couple of days about the risks of contracting Legionnaire's disease from growing media (aka compost) bought from garden centres. This isn't new (I saw it first reported in 2008) or proven, but it's re-emerged recently owing to a report published last week in Eurosurveillance. It summarises three cases reported in Scotland in 2008/9 where inhaling the Legionella bacterium via water droplets from wet compost is thought to have been the cause.

Three cases in a couple of years suggests the risk for any of us catching the disease from our compost is extremely low. The most common way people catch it is via the air conditioning or water system in a major building such as an office or hospital. Note it's not contagious as it's transmitted via the inhalation of contaminated water droplets. However, if anyone's still concerned, you might like to have a look here on the NHS website.

What concerns me more is the pre…

Garden Visit: The Courts

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Over the winter months I've reached the conclusion that it's a shame more gardens aren't open to the public. It cheers up the winter gloom to have somewhere to visit and it's a great opportunity to study a garden's structure without all the flowers there. After all, if a garden works well at that time, then the chances are it'll be good if not spectacular the rest of the year. Do click on the collage to see an enlarged view of what there is to see on a February day.

So when The Courts' Head Gardener announced at her talk at Bath University Gardening Club recently it was opening mid-February as an experiment, Threadspider and I thought we'd be mad not to avail ourselves of the opportunity to have a peep at one of our favourite gardens. It rained whilst we were there last week, but we both thought the garden was still looking good.

Until the 1880s the garden at The Courts was a woollen mill, so it would have been an industrial scene at that time rather th…

ABC of Weather: Gulf Stream

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We gardeners here in the UK should thank our lucky stars for the wonder that is the Gulf Stream. Without it our average annual temperatures would be lowered substantially and we'd be 'enjoying' the same kind of climate as that found in Labrador. It also means we have one of the widest choices of plants in the world for our garden palette: from dainty alpines through to lush tropical foliage. It's one of the things that helps to shape us as a nation of gardeners.
What is the Gulf Stream? It's a northerly flowing ocean current which brings warm water to us from the Gulf of Mexico. It's part of the 'conveyor belt' of water flowing between that area and the Arctic. In the latter region, water cools, sinks because it's heavier and starts to flow southwards to replace its warmer, lighter counterpart flowing northwards.
And what has this to do with the miserable looking olive tree in my garden? We all know how bad the last winter has been and my poor unprot…

Book Review: Gardeners’ World Practical Gardening Handbook

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It’s been a while since Gardeners’ World has produced a comprehensive, practical guide to gardening, so with a new lead presenter last year, it was almost inevitable a fresh companion volume to the programme would appear on our gardening bookshelves.

Gardeners’ World Practical Gardening Handbook is aimed at beginner gardeners or those with some experience who would like to fill in the gaps in their knowledge. It’s also designed to be inspirational: for readers to find their ‘inner gardener’ and begin to explore the enjoyment to be found outside their front and back door. In this aspect the book works pretty well: Toby Buckland has a chatty, friendly approach and has plenty of ideas for both fun and practical projects.

The book is divided into three parts: Getting to Know Your Garden, Growing Your Garden and Living in Your Garden.

Getting to Know Your Garden

This chapter assumes the reader is taking over an established garden, rather than a new build plot. Here are the techniques needed …

GBMD: Atlas

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There is a kind of love called maintenance Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it
Which checks the insurance, and doesn’t forget The milkman; which remembers to plant bulbs;
Which answers letters; which knows the way The money goes; which deals with dentists

And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains,
And postcards to the lonely; which upholds

The permanently rickety elaborate
Structures of living, which is Atlas.

And maintenance is the sensible side of love,
Which knows what time and weather are doing To my brickwork; insulates my faulty wiring; Laughs at my dry rotten jokes; remembers My need for gloss and grouting; which keeps My suspect edifice upright in air, As Atlas did the sky.
Following the talk we went to recently, Threadspider and I were keen to renew our acquaintance with The Courts. More on our visit later. At the entrance I found a list of poems called Aspects of Love with suggested garden locations for each of them. I was quite taken by this idea, particularly as I didn't know man…