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Showing posts from March, 2011

ABC of Chippenham: King Alfred

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The building in front of you is the Chippenham Museum, not far from the Buttercross which we looked at for the letter B. What makes this of interest for the letter K is the plaque on the wall, which you can just see to the top left of the lady walking past.

You see the legendary King Alfred was here: he of burnt cakes fame. He was king of Wessex - one of the realms of England during the Dark Ages - and one of the more famous ones of those times.

During these times Chippenham was a villa regia aka a royal estate with a hunting lodge. The king would bring his court here to stay for hunting in the surrounding rich forest and also preside over matters of justice. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle states that the Anglo Saxon Witan, or parliament was held in Chippenham in 933.
During the ninth century, the kingdom of Wessex was under threat from Danish Vikings, who'd already captured the other three Anglo Saxon kingdoms. In 878, the Anglo Saxon Chronicle says:
This year, about midwinter, after Tw…

Psst! Fancy Some Nasturtium Seeds?

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As you can see I have rather a lot of packets of nasturtium seeds, which I acquired in the process of telling you about Nick Hamilton's Twitterchat last year.

They're the perfect thing for a giveaway as they can be used by both gardeners and food growers alike. I started growing nasturtiums up at the allotment a few years ago, where they've made a regular appearance ever since. Gardeners concerned about their self-seeding tendencies may like to restrict them to their summer pots, where they can be kept under total control ;)

They flower prolifically and all parts apart from the stems are edible. NAH is usually quite conservative when it comes to vegetables, so it's pretty surprising that he happily munches away on the flowers as well as their peppery leaves in salads. I also make delicious nasturtium capers and have been known to give my plants an allotment version of the Chelsea Chop.

The variety I have on offer is Jewel Mix, which grows to around 9-12 inches in heig…

It's Census Day

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Tonight's the official night to record who's present in your household for this year's census return. Don't be put off by the form, most of you won't have to fill out every page as it's designed to cover households with up to 6 people living there.
As you can see, this year you can do it online, or you can pop your return in the post. Online Help is available or you can call 0300 02101 101 (or 18001 0300 0201 160 if you need the Text Relay service). Do please complete yours and return within the next 10 days, else someone like me * will be calling round to see if we can help.
The census has been taken every decade since 1801, apart from 1941 when we were a little preoccupied with WWII. This might be the last one, so it's history in the making perhaps?
* = I've taken the Collector role for an area around here, which means next month I'll be following up on questionnaires which haven't been returned.

Love is in the Air

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The really warm weather the past few days has brought many noticeable changes to my garden and plot. We've succumbed to the first grass mowing of the year and the weeds are starting to make their bid for the sky. The birds have turned up the volume, the bees are buzzing and previously slow and sleepy ladybirds* are getting a little more racy in their activities. Love is most definitely in the air ;)

Has anyone else noticed there's lots of ladybirds around at the moment? I'm having to rehome loads of them as I work my way through all this spring's pruning and shredding activities. It's probably just as well they're here: I'm sure the sunshine will also wake those pesky aphids from their slumbers...

* aka ladybug for those of you from across the Pond

PS don't forget the clocks go forward tonight here in the UK. Sweet dreams and from tomorrow we can garden in the evening - yay!

When I am Queen

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RHS London - I wonder what lies within? When I am Queen, I will sit in my stately chamber and demand books be brought to me by the dozen, served on golden platters. I had this fantasy in my mind when I visited the RHS Lindley Library recently.

I'd been wanting to visit for a while as there's several strands of research which couldn't be satisfied by my usual sources of information. I had to go to London last week, so here was the excuse I needed to spend a few hours in every garden book lover's idea of heaven. It's so heavenly I'd like to live there.

The ground floor has the reception plus a general library stuffed with books and every garden publication imaginable. However my pre-visit enquiries showed I would need to visit the research archives in the basement instead, where an appointment had been made for me. Beforehand, the good folk of the library would see what they could find in the archives to meet my needs.

When I got there I had to lock away my coat and …

ABC of Chippenham: John Coles

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I've often wondered who exactly John Coles was and now have the answer courtesy of my research for today's post. He was a pharmacist who owned a pharmacy and general grocer's store at the top of the town where Coates' flower shop is now. There he made medicines, invalid wines and other products such as garish dyes, furniture polish, insect powder and 'Chippenham Scour Mixture', a cattle remedy. He was a keen supporter of secondary education and was Chippenham's Lord Mayor three times in 1891, 1898 and 1914, so he must have been well respected during his lifetime.
On his death in 1916 he left a legacy to the then Chippenham Borough which they used to purchase a suitable plot of land for the provision of a public park. When I was researching D for Donkey Field, the purchase of this land was also documented in the papers I was looking at: just over £4,000 for 15 acres of former farm land.
John Coles Park opened in 1923, which I believe makes it one of the you…

Showtime Preview

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Friday had an air of Buy One Get One Free for me last week courtesy of the RHS. Thanks to Jekka McVicar when I visited her last month for VP's VIPs, I was invited to London for a sneak preview of all this year's outdoor shows, plus what's afoot at the RHS gardens.
This was held at the Lawrence Hall, where the second sneak preview was on offer as all the exhibitors were quietly getting ready for the weekend's Orchid and Botanical Art Show. I wish this blog had smello-vision because the scent whacked you smack between the eyes on entering the Hall's reception area. The above picture shows you the scene from our briefing eyrie and later on I was able to get a much closer look with a most civilised glass of wine in my hand :)
What did I learn on Friday? Well, if you're planning on going to Chelsea on either Tuesday or Saturday you'd better get in there quick as tickets for these days have almost sold out. Thankfully all the Japanese crew involved with Kazuyki…

Channel Hopping

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I have a guest post over at the BBC Gardening Blog today, so do press the Red Button to see what I have to say on the subject of colour :)
If any of you have hopped channels to here from the BBC, then hello and welcome!

Book Offer: Kids in the Wild Garden

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Jess from Blackdog Publishing has been in touch with me again, this time to offer you 40% off their latest publication, Kids in the Wild Garden.
It's a project based book, aimed at encouraging children out into the garden to find out about the world around them. Projects include making a bird box, growing a tadpole tank, creating a butterfly garden and making warm winter habitats for bugs.
I haven't got a copy of the book, but the photos I've seen in the Press Release (PR) are clear and cheerful and if my days as an environmental education officer are to go by, anything involving creepy crawlies or making stuff is an instant hit with most children. I can send you the PR if you wish to know more before making your order.

This 96 page paperback is available for £5.97 instead of the usual £9.95 - and cheaper than at Amazon! To obtain your copy send an email to jess at blackdogonline dot com with Veg Plotting Book Offer in the subject line and your delivery address details.…

Red Nose Day 2011

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If you have, put her back immediately!

We had loads of gardening jokes for Red Nose Day in 2009, which has been my most read post for the past month. Do add some more in the Comments below ;)

ABC of Chippenham: Isambard Kingdom Brunel

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Thanks to the engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, Chippenham is a railway town. He decided that his Great Western Railway line from London to Bristol - nicknamed 'Brunel's billiard table' at the time because the line is relatively flat compared to others in the UK - would be routed through the town and was also based here for a while whilst it was being built. When you visit many of our towns and cities, places of heritage are often marked with a blue plaque like the one above. The temporary presence of one of our greatest Britons ever was deemed to be of significance by the Civic Society.

The plaque is placed on a small building to the side of the railway station. This was Brunel's office which he used whilst supervising the works in Chippenham and the surrounding area. He left quite a mark on the town in 1841, but you'll have to wait until a later letter to see exactly what that was...

This is for ABC Wednesday and is the ninth in my themed round of posts about Ch…

GBBD: Not So Mellow Yellow

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March of course is unashamedly yellow. There's lots of daffodils nod, nod, nodding in the breeze, their cheerfulness reassuring us that spring is truly here, even if things might go out with one last wintry roar at the end of the month. Until now, I've always chosen them to showcase March in my garden. However, 2011 already is turning out to be an untypical year: if there is such a thing as typical in the world of gardening.

After the cold of December, January saw my snowdrops blooming far earlier than usual by around 10 days. They're just beginning to go over and now my daffodils are taking their place. But what's this? We have a usurper in our midst: my Forsythia has decided to bloom ahead of its far daintier cousins. This is a first for my garden and is just plain wrong.

I'm sure it's because I've decided to get rid of it this year, so it's decided to play by the rules of Houdini Plants I devised a while ago. As you can see it's flowering its socks…

Look Out Flingers, We're Coming to Seattle!

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I'm not one for New Year's Resolutions anymore, but I did make a couple of promises to myself at the beginning of the year which started to come together last week. The first of these was to go to the Seattle Fling in July.
That sounds a pretty easy promise, but I gave myself a couple of hurdles to make it a tad more tricky. I didn't feel I could go all that way without NAH coming along and I couldn't really justify splurging out on a mega holiday from our savings without getting some paid work beforehand.
It's time for our Census this year, so our going to Seattle hinged on me getting one of the 35,000 temporary jobs on offer. We'll draw a veil over the frustrating and long winded process this has been: suffice to say at last a provisional job offer came through last Monday, subject to the necessary security checks, references, training etc. etc. all being satisfactory.
In the meantime I've been emailing NAH with links to various things we could do and see i…

How to Keep a Naturalist's Notebook

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If the name Susan Tomlinson is familiar to you, it might be because you read her great blog, TheBike Garden. Susan arranged for me to have a review copy of her fab book last year and I'm feeling a little guilty it's taken me so long to write my review.
I wish I'd had a copy of this a few years back when I started my Designing with Plants course with KLC. The course requires quite a bit of drawing, particularly for the 50 plant profiles element, showing how each chosen plant plus 3 selected companions fit together. I bought a couple of botanical illustration books at the time as I haven't done much in the way of artwork since I was 14, but found them to be way above the level I needed and gave up the course soon after.
Whilst Susan's book is aimed at nature journaling, the guidance within is equally suited to someone wanting to keep a visual diary of their garden, garden visits, wildflowers or whatever takes a gardener's fancy. We all take many photos to accomp…

Fish Trap Gardening

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It's not often the worlds of two of my passions, freshwater biology and gardening coincide, but they did last week when Threadspider and I took one of our regular trips to our local garden centre. Here we are at the Garden Bygones section where all kinds of items are for sale. This is the place where I bought my vintage potato fork a few years back and I'm always tempted to buy some of the old apple boxes.

The strange looking contraption you can see in the photo is a salmon fish trap used on the River Severn during the 1950s. I was rather surprised to find a couple of metal ones on display as I've only seen ones woven from willow before. You can see the more traditional structure and an explanation of the fishing here. I felt rather sad to see them as it probably means someone has stopped fishing the Severn in the traditional way: it's a technique that's dying out as and when the fishermen retire. However, looking on the bright side using them for a different purpos…

ABC of Chippenham: History Centre

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It's been really hard choosing this week's H because there are quite a few good ones to choose from as far as Chippenham's concerned. In the end I plumped for the History Centre because I went there for the first time whilst researching D for Donkey Field.

As you can see the centre is for the whole of Wiltshire and is one of the latest (and largest) public buildings to be built in the town. It's built on part of the old cattle market (which closed in 2004) close to the railway station and opened to the public in October 2007. The move of the various records held at Trowbridge (our county town) and Salisbury to Chippenham was quite controversial at the time because whilst Chippenham has relatively good transport links, it's neither in the centre of Wiltshire, nor is it the largest (which is Swindon) or the county town.

The History Centre is the focal point for all heritage services relating to Wiltshire and Swindon which includes the collections of the county's lo…

VP's VIPs: The Fat Gardener

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Following my observations in last Friday's post about garden bloggers rarely writing about their garden tools, it's rather good timing today that my VIP is The Fat Gardener who blogs for Quality Garden Tools. When I started out with VPs VIPs last year, I said I was aiming to get at the nuts and bolts of the gardening industry. Today I'm doing just that, albeit a little more literally than usual!
How did you become the 'voice' of Quality Garden Tools?

By accident! Quality Garden Tools was a new company and were looking for someone who both loved garden tools and could write (a heady combination!) to put together a blog for them. I just happened to be in the right place at the 'write' time.

Over 130 posts on a niche gardening topic is impressive going, where do you get your ideas?

The first thing to say is that you have to love what you're blogging about. Garden tools and gadgets are constantly being invented, improved and redesigned which makes life much ea…

Competition Time: Win a Cloche :)

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In a change from my usual Sunday review slot, I thought it was time for something different and to have a competition instead. I've found just the thing with PochCloche, who are offering you the chance to win one of five AcryliCloche® Low Barn Garden Cloches in their ‘Cloche and Grow’ Competition.

Everyone who enters the competition will receive a 10% Discount Code to spend on AcryliCloche® Garden Cloches on the PoshCloche website, so we're all winners in one way or another :)
For your chance to win one of these fantastic garden cloches Enter Here.
The AcryliCloche® is made in the UK from rigid plastic which is resistant to UV and frost damage and comes with a 5-year guarantee. It doesn’t require any assembly so you can begin to use it as soon as it arrives.
The Low Barn Garden Cloche can be used for:
Growing your own fruit and vegetablesProtection from frost, wind and rain Protection against pest damage Warming up the soil before sowing or plantingExtending the growing seas…

Garden Bloggers Under the Microscope

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Here's some evidence that garden bloggers are being taken very seriously by the garden industry these days in the shape of the 68 page Global Garden Report, a study commissioned by Husqvarna and Gardena. These are two of our major garden tools and sundries providers, whose range of products is substantial.
Mr BrownThumb had a look at this report over at GardenBloggers.com a few days ago, which prompted me to go and see for myself. Over 1.4 million blog posts from 2009 were analysed from garden bloggers in 13 countries: Australia, Brazil, China, Denmark, France, Germany, Norway, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Sweden, UK and USA.
Naturally a lot of automation was used to analyse that many posts (plus internet searches), but a manual analysis of blogs and forums, plus a questionnaire were also used to compile the results. In general they found garden bloggers to be non-competitive, who strive for personal fulfilment through the creation of their own personal 'Eden'.
Each gardener…

ABC of Chippenham: Goldiggers

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I have a confession to make: what you're looking at isn't Goldiggers at all. It's 'son of Goldiggers', the development which replaced it in 2005. When we moved to Chippenham in 1984, Goldiggers was the place to be at weekends. You might have 'been' there too as it was frequently where
Sight and Sound In Concert was recorded for BBC TV in the 1980s.
Goldiggers started life as the Gaumont cinema, an Art Deco building designed by the cinema architect W E Trent which opened in 1936. It was then was converted to a popular nightclub/concert venue in the 1970s and was owned by Sir Richard Branson in the 1980s.
It also housed The Bit on the Side, a bar which had a trompe l'oeile painting on the outside wall. Inside was a place which drew thousands of clubbers from around the country plus very well-known bands to perform there such as The Smiths, The Boomtown Rats and The Style Council (here's a longer list for your perusal). This video shows the late Gary Moo…

GBMD: Dear March, Come In!

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Primrose 'Cottage Cream' - in flower since July last year Dear March, come in!
How glad I am!
I looked for you before.
Put down your hat–
You must have walked–
How out of breath you are!
Dear March, how are you?
And the rest?
Did you leave Nature well?
Oh, March, come right upstairs with me,
I have so much to tell!

I got your letter, and the birds’;
The maples never knew
That you were coming,–I declare,
How red their faces grew!
But, March, forgive me–
And all those hills
You left for me to hue;
There was no purple suitable,
You took it all with you.

Who knocks? That April!
Lock the door!
I will not be pursued!
He stayed away a year, to call
When I am occupied.
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come,
That blame is just as dear as praise
And praise as mere as blame.

Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) Garden Bloggers' Muse Day is hosted by Carolyn Choi at Sweet Home and Garden Chicago.