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Showing posts from January, 2011

Requiem for Cadbury's

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On Friday NAH and I visited the recently closed Cadbury's factory in Keynsham to see an exhibition about the history of the site which was on for one week only. The factory opened in the 1920s when Fry's moved out of central Bristol to a roomy country site perched next to the River Avon.
Fry's and Cadbury's are rooted deep in both NAH's and my psyche, not only for the amount of their chocolate we've eaten over the years. Peter Cadbury was in NAH's form at school and I've spent most of my life going past a Cadbury's factory every weekday. It was Bournville during my schooldays (and we could smell the chocolate roasting from there when the wind was in the right direction) and then over 20 years of commuting past the pictured factory on my way to Bristol.

We'd gone to the exhibition with that heritage in mind, but also because we find any insight into the way things work or are made is fascinating. We were expecting to be two of a handful people th…

The Birdwatcher's Garden

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This is the weekend where we all dust off our binoculars, top up the bird feeders and complete our RSPB Garden Birdwatch survey. I'll be doing mine as soon as I've finished this post: I couldn't yesterday as I was in Oxford and I do seem to have picked the better day because it's beautifully bright and sunny :)
Many of us will probably need to consult one of the many identification books available today. However, I've also been enjoying reading my copy of The Birdwatcher's Garden this week, which I won in a Twitter competition (courtesy of @GardenAnswers) just before Christmas.
It's a very timely book for me because my thoughts are turning towards how I can make my garden more attractive to wildlife as I'm redesigning a couple of my borders. This book is perfect for this as it contains lots of information on which trees, shrubs and other plants are the most attractive to the widest variety of birds. Not only that, the tables of information are broken…

Replotting the Plot

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Replotting the plot for 2011, not 2010 as the picture suggests! Click to enlarge if needed
So here's the plan for 2011: a new bed for wildflowers (previously the nettle bed underneath which lurked dozens of bags of soot) and the previous fire area (in reality a massive pile of weeds and grass clippings) will house this year's crop of autumn onions, shallots and all my saved garlic.
The right handside used to have the same layout as the left, but instead this year it will have larger plots and two edible hedges: one using the Fuchsia 'Genii' cuttings I took last autumn and the other some Japanese Quince including the bargain C. 'Crimson and Gold' I found last year.

Other projects include planting a wineberry plus a couple of bushes each of honeyberry and blackcurrant. The installation of the edible hedges plus the wineberry and honeyberry are due to the inspirational 'A Taste of the Unexpected' and herald the redoubling of my efforts to do something for my…

ABC of Chippenham: Buttercross

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When we moved to Chippenham in 1988, the Buttercross was not in its current home, but a few miles away in the village of Castle Combe. Its rediscovery led to a campaign to bring it back to form a focal point in the market square. Here's what's written about it on the stone bench beneath:

The Chippenham Buttercross was built c. 1570 in the position where Barclays Bank now stands today. The centre of the "Butchers Shambles" it was used for the sale of meat and dairy produce. In 1889 it was sold for £6 to Mr. E. C. Lowndes, who erected it as a gazebo in the kitchen garden of the Manor House Castle Combe. The design of the building in its new setting was by NWDC [the then local District Council] architects Jack Konynenburg and Teresa Surawy.

The Chippenham Buttercross was re-erected in this position in 1995 by Chippenham Civic Society, paid for by donations...
...there then follows a long list of everyone who donated to the cause.
The building you can just see (with 2 window…

Is 'Solar Farming' the Way Forward?

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Sometimes a local issue comes along which serves to make my brain hurt very badly as it raises so many others and I simply don't have the answers. The news last week that a Chippenham farmer nearby is proposing to convert 35 acres of his land to solar panels falls firmly into this category. That's 'solar farming' on the scale of around 15,000 moveable panels, each the size of a door and arranged in rows in a field(s) to maximise their capture of the sun's energy.

There was quite a lot of talk about it on Saturday at our local resident's association quiz evening which NAH and I attended*. We're now expecting a 'call for action' email any day now and naturally the main point of concern raised so far is what this means from an aesthetics viewpoint.

That's the least of my concerns and I'm having a major tussle with myself over whether this is a good thing or not. My greener living head says it is because it means we're making more use of a …

Book Review: Organic Vegetable and Fruit Growing and Preserving

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As you can see it's a rather long title to fit into the one for my post! Organic Vegetable and Fruit Growing and Preserving Month by Month is probably the longest title of any book in my collection and hints at its comprehensiveness. The authors' pedigree is faultless: they were at Garden Organic (HDRA in their day) for many years and with a science background to boot they're very well placed to write this volume.

The title doesn't quite tell you everything this book contains. There's herbs and nutritional information too: the latter is the first time I've seen the subject tackled in the context of growing your own.

The book is divided into four main parts. It starts with a brief chapter on the basics which is divided into gardening and nutrition sections. Then follows a detailed month by month guide (grouped by season and starting with winter) of the key tasks. At the end of each season there's a 'project' section of major tasks which are appropri…

Urban Fox

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On Monday we had to go up to Birmingham to see my mum. This is the sight NAH and I espied out of the kitchen window whilst making lunch. I've known about urban foxes for years, but this was the first really up close and personal daylight sighting of old Reynard (as mum calls him) I've had. Even NAH was excited at the time and we were able to watch our visitor for a good 5 minutes or so.

Back home in Chippenham the urban fox's presence has been in sound only. We often hear them barking at night at the moment as it's mating time. It can quite unsettling until you realise what's actually going on. I wonder whether we might have the return of Skimble the Bold sometime soon?
When I lived at home mumble mumble years ago, we found evidence of foxes in the garden, but had no actual sightings back then. A fascinating documentary was shown on the TV around this time highlighting the research carried out by Bristol University which showed just how well the fox has adapted to …

ABC of Chippenham: Avon

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Today dawned frosty, misty and sunny: a perfect time to go downtown and take pictures of the River Avon. It's one of several rivers in England with the name Avon: This one is called the Bristol Avon because there's actually two River Avons in Wiltshire. The other is in the south of the county - we're in the north - and is called the Hampshire Avon.
Our River Avon arises near Old Sodbury in Gloucestershire and finally drains into the Severn Estuary at Avonmouth, near Bristol. It flows south from Gloucestershire into Wiltshire, where it joins with the Tetbury Avon at Malmesbury, not far north of Chippenham.
It then meanders around in a generally westwards direction forming the lifeblood of many Wiltshire towns and villages such as Lacock, Melksham and Bradford-on-Avon - in addition to Chippenham - before flowing into Somerset, and the city of Bath. If you take the train from Bath to the south coast, the line follows the Avon valley for many miles and is one of the finest r…

Wassail! *

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Wassail! wassail! all over the town,
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown;
Our bowl it is made of the white maple tree;
With the wassailing bowl, we'll drink to thee.


Gloucester Wassail - believed to date back to the middle ages and also sung at traditional wassailing times in North Wiltshire.

Tonight is the old Twelfth Night**, one of the traditional times to hold a wassailing ceremony. Wassails are sung from around Christmas time until today's date and are centuries old.
The purpose of a wassailing ceremony - apart from a good excuse to cheer up the winter blues - is to awaken the apple trees from their slumbers, give thanks for the apple harvest and to drive away evil spirits to ensure the next is a good one.
Our choirmaster is very keen on wassail songs, which we've always sung as a 'Happy New Year' welcome to the January term, but Saturday was the first time we'd been invited to perform at a proper Wassailing ceremony. This was held at The Courts, one…

Digging for Victory: Book Review

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Digging for Victory by Twigs Way and Mike Brown is a fascinating blend of gardening, history and social history. It tells the story of the government's WWII Dig for Victory campaign, richly illustrated by the stories of the people (or their offspring) who took up the call to grow more food, together with examples from the masses of ministry advisory leaflets, advertisements and articles from gardening magazines and books published at the time.

I've written before about my concerns about how we might grow our own food in the future and pondered whether a similar campaign might be successful today. So it's been fantastic to have a review copy of this book to give me a better insight into the harsh reality of the 1940s. The campaign was judged to be a success, but Digging for Victory shows it wasn't without hardship along the way.
The story is told more or less in chronological order with varied side trips taken to view the role of the media, the changing role of women, t…

GBBD: Green and White Shoots

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I had quite a surprise a few days ago when I found these wonderful snowdrops in my front garden. They're much earlier this year - by a good two weeks - which I'm amazed at seeing December 2010 is officially the coldest since 1890 in this area. I know many of our spring bulbs need a period of cold to perform at their best, but didn't think that extended to early flowering.
Going out to photograph them for Blooms Day made me realise I have a little job to do today - if I can dodge the rain - to keep their hundreds of cousins happy in the front side garden. This area partly belongs to us and merges seamlessly into an area owned by the local council. Needless to say this was the scene of my first spot of guerrilla gardening (though I wasn't aware of the phrase then) as I quickly realised it wouldn't be looked after.
This is very much a shade garden owing to the many trees at the side of the house and it narrows to a tiny strip of just a few inches wide at its furthest…

Pink, Pink Sunshine

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The dank, grey miserable weather the past few days has removed my New Year's optimism and sent me into my usual January Slough of Despond. So it was a rather nice surprise - even if in truth I'd completely forgotten, despite marking it up on the calendar in the kitchen to remind me - to find Threadspider on the doorstep yesterday morning ready to whisk me away to our local garden centre for a look round, a cup of coffee and a good old chinwag :)
It's at these times you really get to appreciate your friends. Threadspider loves the newness and endless possibilities of January with an infectious enthusiasm. She insisted we visit the Hamamelis on display to give them a cheering sniff. The day's drizzle may have drained their spicy scent away, but at least the rain I got up my nose in a vain attempt to obtain any last vestige of perfume meant my grumpiness changed into fits of giggles.
Then yesterday evening I realised to my surprise that what these desperate times really nee…

Postcard from Yorkshire

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We've just got back from a long weekend with my brother-in-law and family where we had the bit of Christmas we failed to have in December owing to the snow. On Sunday we visited the National Coal Mining Museum for England where I liked this view of the old pithead with a tiny sliver of moon in the distance.
It's a fascinating place to visit. We took the underground tour led by an ex-miner who worked at the nearby Grimethorpe colliery for 26 years. He gave a fascinating insight into life 450 feet below and delighted the children on the tour with tales of his gory injuries; various mining accidents through the ages; and how to prevent the many rats and mice down the mine from eating your lunch. We learnt how reliant the miners were on keeping a good airflow through the mine and how a simple sheet to divert the air could be used to disperse any dangerous gases detected via a Davy Lamp.
If you get the chance to visit, please do as the museum needs all the support it can get owing t…

VPGGB #16: Poundland

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A trip into town last week revealed a surprising slew of gardening bargains to be found at my local branch of Poundland*, where I picked up this packet of 8 seed potatoes for, erm... a pound.
A couple of years ago Threadspider and I selected a potato variety each in fond memory of the ones grown by our dads and the pictured Pentland Javelin is now a firm favourite with us both owing to its great taste and good yields. As it's a first early, it usually doesn't have problems with blight either. Other varieties available are Charlotte, Maris Peer and Rocket: all are good sized and appear to be good quality.
There were large packets of reasonably sized onion and shallot sets too, though these were of variable quality. Look out for signs of softness or mould and avoid. In my case Red Baron was the best bet in my shop, the rest were to be avoided**.
Elsewhere small summer fruiting raspberry, blackcurrant and redcurrant bushes were on display. I couldn't see if they were a parti…

A Very Early Chelsea Preview

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The Thrive garden at last year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show
It may only be early January, but already the well-oiled machine that is the RHS Chelsea Flower Show has rumbled into life enough for me to give a preview of what's in store for 2011.

Late last month the RHS announced the main Show Gardens, swiftly followed by the Artisan and Urban Garden categories. The Artisan Gardens replace the Courtyard ones (the smallest) and is meant to emphasise designs which 'use natural, sustainably resourced materials in an artistic manner'. Quite where a Korean toilet fits into all of this (click on the link to find out more) escapes me ;)

The RHS Chelsea website already has a video previewing the design by Laurie Chetwood and Patrick Collins, the progress of which will be updated monthly. You'll see it also shows a return to Chelsea by Bunny Guinness, Luciano Giubbilei and Sarah Eberle.

Nigel Dunnett makes a most welcome return - by me at least - with the New Wild Garden, which takes…

Making a Difference?

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I was girding my loins to have one of my regular rants about plastic packaging when spotting the above message stopped me in my tracks. You can't see why that is? Have a look at the right hand bag in the picture below taken this time last year...
... it (the bag in the top picture) has the magic letters LDPE. Still none the wiser? Well, my Mixed Messages post about plastic packaging last year suggested the information on the lower bag would be much more helpful if it told us the type of plastic it was so I'd have the information needed to decide whether I could in fact recycle it.
So LDPE tells me I can recycle via the collection bin for plastic bags at my local supermarket :) The change has also got me wondering if my rant last year made a difference: I did email both Morrison's and Recycle Now about it, but sadly neither have bothered to reply except for the standard 'thank you for your enquiry' :(
However, I'm still going to think that I have, just so I can …

Allotment Dreams

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It's that time of the year when gardens and allotments are viewed through misty, rose tinted spectacles and anything and everything seems possible. All will be perfect in the coming year and the slate showing the mistakes and trials of 2010 is wiped clean.
The miserable weather of the past few weeks has given me plenty of time to think about my allotment in the coming year. I have new beds to plant up, inspiration to try new things courtesy of Mark Diacono's book, A Taste of the Unexpected, plus a stern reminder from myself that I hardly managed to do anything on my Incredible Edibles project last year, having only added Fuchsia fruit to my list of new tastes (yum) and nothing to my grown first time (groan more like).
All the seeds are on order (Threadspider and I have decided to share again this year) and already a couple of boxes of promise have arrived with more due to arrive any day now. I was also given the happy task of spending £50 on whatever I wanted to trial from th…

Public Planting Resources: People and Blogs

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This is the second of my posts designed to provide the content for my Page on Public Planting. I've reused this blog's header picture as a reminder that my posts grouped under the Public Planting label plus the Out on the Streets meme I host puts Veg Plotting firmly in this category ;)
So what else is out there? There's loads in my bookmarks folder, but in order to keep this post relatively brief I've selected the people and blogs which have lots of information on this topic. I'll compile a list of the interesting odd post or two I've found in various blogs later.
The Sheffield connection

I'm a big fan of the Department of Landscape at Sheffield University. Their work which fuses ecology with horticulture is first rate and encompasses research on rain gardens, green roofs, colour preferences, plant associations and the development of Pictorial Meadows to name but five.

The leading lights are Nigel Dunnett (whose show garden was my favourite at Chelsea in …

GBMD: A Poem for Hogmanay

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Great good luck to the house,
Good luck to the family,
Good luck to every rafter of it,
And to every worldly thing in it.
Good luck to horses and cattle,
Good luck to the sheep,
Good luck to everything,
And good luck to all of your means.
Luck to the good-wife,
Good luck to the children,
Good luck to every friend,
Great fortune and health to all.

Extracted from The Folklore of the Scottish Highlands, by Ann Ross.

In Scotland, the last day of the year or Hogmanay has been a more important festival than Christmas for many centuries; indeed it wasn't until 1974, when the rest of the UK also adopted January 1st as a Bank Holiday that Scotland took Boxing Day as one of theirs.

Everyone is familiar with Robert Burns' Auld Lang Syne as the song to sing when the clock strikes midnight, but I rather like the sentiment of the poem I've chosen for today.

You can find out more about Scotland's first footing traditions, which is where this poem forms a central part of the celebrations at Woolgath…