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Showing posts from 2016

Postcard from 2016

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Some of my favourite highlights of 2016. Here's to a wonderful 2017 for you and yours :)

Seasons Greetings

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Merry Christmas everyone! Here's to a brighter, kinder 2017.

A Quick Update...

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Just popped in for a quick update and to show you some cheerful pictures. Thanks to everyone who commented on my last post; your good wishes have helped me through the past few weeks.

Mum moves down to Wiltshire tomorrow, so cross your fingers it all goes smoothly. There are still a lot of hoops to go through, but we're getting there... slowly.

It'll be a while before I'm back to regular blogging again, but I'll pop in from time to time for a quick update or two.

In the meantime, here's the full story from our local paper on who's behind Chippenham's yarn bombing. Someone even wrote in with a thank you letter :)

A pause for thought

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Sometimes life conspires to take you down a different path to the one expected. It was just such a diversion which led to the start of Veg Plotting nine years ago today, when I realised being a distance carer was more important than my job.

I started this blog on the day I wrote my resignation letter and what a sensible move that's been. It's meant I have at least one happy place in my life and it's allowed me to tell the stories which my head demands be told each time I go to the allotment. It turns out this new path has its own unexpected twists and turns, with plenty of new friends and surprises I've welcomed along the way.

To keep Veg Plotting happy means I choose not to talk much about the most personal aspects of my life. Until today that is.

The path turned again recently as I had to make a tough decision about my mum's continuing care. She suffered a stroke in August, and it's clear she'll not recover well enough to return to her home in Birmingham…

Book Review: Three for Reference

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Autumn is a good time to start plans for next season in the garden, and the following three books are great aids to help gardeners to do so. Over the past few weeks I've had the pleasure of reading:

The mother of all plant reference worksA great boxed set to inspire the budding fruit and veg grower, no matter how small their plotA book on design that's been a regular companion in my garden, whilst I ponder where it's headed next.
All three are review copies, I received courtesy of the publishers.


The RHS A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants
This is no lap book, but a hefty tome weighing in at around four kilos. It merits a read whilst sitting at a table with a cuppa and notebook to hand.

This is the 4th Edition of Christopher Brickell's outstanding work. Around 5,000 plants have been added, to provide a comprehensive reference of over 15,000 garden plants.

I would have preferred the two-volume approach of the previous edition, but welcome the increased focus on plant descr…

Wordless Wednesday: Last of the sun in Morrison's car park

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Music for the Masses

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My head is still stuffed with the most wonderful music today, so it's time to take a break from my usual bloggage.

On Sunday I sang the chorales in Bach's St John Passion at the Wiltshire Music Centre in Bradford on Avon, as part of a project put together by English Touring Opera (ETO). Our performance was reviewed in The Guardian yesterday, which has kept the music in my head and the good feelings going well into today.

I must admit I was a bit daunted at first. I can't read music, it's a challenging piece, and it's not the kind of thing I usually perform or listen to. However, the WMC Choir component was a scratch choir, so there would be plenty of people like me there. It was too good an opportunity to miss.

Can a scratch choir perform to the standards expected by ETO with just four rehearsals? It seems we can, as long as you do your homework. There were practice tracks to sing along to courtesy of Cyberbass and the whole thing is available on YouTube. The latt…

A poem for Apple Day

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I'm not quite as weary as Robert Frost's apple picker, but then I'm not doing it for a living. This year's crop is a good one, and now is the right time for picking most of them here at VP Gardens. It's the perfect way to celebrate today's Apple Day.

This year marks a change in how I'll use some of my harvest. The bulk is for eating fresh or squirreling away in the freezer to extend the time I can add chopped apple to my daily porridge. The difference lies in what I'll be doing with the remainder: in the past windfall cake and apple jelly were our staple fare, but now we're trying to reduce the amount of refined sugar in our diet.

As a result, a smart, shiny new juicer awaits these apples in my kitchen. I agonised for ages over whether to invest in this or a press. In the end I decided I'm not quite ready for a bulk approach to juicing, nor do I have the freezer space or bottles needed to store them. Smaller amounts freshly prepared to accompan…

A Hellebore Convert

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Here's a nice surprise from last week's mail. I wrote the above article for Suffolk Plant Heritage Journal early this year and then promptly forgot about it. Click to enlarge the picture if needed.

Since I wrote the article I've added twenty 'Washfield Doubles' to the shady borders in the front and back gardens. I've planted some of them in the lower terrace bed, so I can admire them without having to bend down to do so.

They rewarded me with a surprise flowering in late spring which shows they must be settling in well. These forms were bred by Elizabeth Strangman, who raised them from double flowers of Helleborus x hybridus she found growing wild in Yugoslavia.

They're beginning to make themselves known again, now that summer's foliage is beginning to die back.  So far I have a couple of creamy speckled ones, and I may find I have white, yellow, light or dark pink ones too. It's good to know I have some new treats and a few surprises in store for …

GBBD: Autumn's Surprise

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Earlier in Blooms Day I talked about the concept of Sleep, Creep, Leap which allows plants to take time - around three years - to establish themselves before they show their full glory. I've also blogged about surprise returns to the garden after a long absence - yes, I'm looking at you, Fuchsia 'Garden News' and you, Anemone 'Hadspen Abundance'.

Little did I know there was an even bigger garden surprise awaiting me, in the shape of the pictured nerine. I planted it in a sunny gravel area at the side of my garden seven years ago; the best spot for it, or so I thought. Most years it's deigned to show a couple of untidy sprawling leaves and this year it's actually flowered for the first time.

My last job often took me to Dublin, where it seemed every front garden hosted a border or two of the more familiar pink nerine at this time of the year. I felt they'd lined up in welcome, with their heads nodding approvingly in the breeze as I made my way into …

Plant Profiles: Daffodils

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One of my first gardening activities when I moved to VP Gardens was to plant hundreds of daffodils on the bank at the side of the house. The effect in my mind's eye was similar to the one above and it was successful, until the trees and shrubs planted by the builders grew taller and shaded them out.

Now there's the opportunity to try again as NAH - in Drastic Gardener guise again - has started to cut back some of the unwanted vegetation (mainly suckering blackthorn and bramble from the public land), thus letting more light onto our patch. The overgrown dogwood still needs taking in hand, but my mind is set on a host of dancing daffodils again.

In the meantime, I've treated myself to some of the daintier ones to cheer next spring. These are mainly in pots, so I can admire them from the patio. I tried this a few years ago and was surprised one evening to find the most amazing scent outside our bedroom window. It was the year of the freakishly warm March and I'd opened t…

Tomato rescue

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I've stuck with Friday's windowsill theme for today's post, but moved upstairs this time. I've just rescued my tomatoes from the patio as I spotted the first signs of blight yesterday. Like most resistant tomatoes, my trial 'Mountain Magic' does eventually succumb to the dreaded disease, though at a much slower pace. It means I've had enough time to harvest the remaining fruit.

I picked 6 large punnets: 2 each of 'ready to eat now' and 'needs a little more ripening', plus 1 each of  'needs a lot more ripening' and 'not sure if they have blight'. I've found tomatoes tend to develop a warning translucence before blight reveals itself. You can see some potential candidates I'm keeping an eye on in the above photo.

At this point, most people would share their favourite recipe for green tomato chutney, but we're not great eaters of it here at VP Gardens. Instead, I spread out my tomatoes on windowsills on the sunny si…

A windowsill makeover

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I knew something was wrong when I found the pictured basket of Aloe vera on my kitchen chair recently, instead of the windowsill where it usually resides...

"... What's that doing on my seat?", I asked NAH.

"It's getting in the way, and I'm fed up. What is it anyway?"

"It's Aloe vera. I keep it there in case we have a burn to treat."

"And how many times have you used it?"

"Er, none," was my shamefaced reply, "that's why it's got rather out of hand."

Aloe vera is a tough succulent suitable for growing indoors in the UK. That pictured little lot goes back well over nine years, as I was given an offshoot to pot up by my GNO friend H well before I left my last permanent job. The only care I've taken since then was to pot up the pictured three pots of them grown from the original offshoot, and to trim the dead ends and leaves from time to time.

I'm shocked by my own neglect, yet pleased NAH in his D…

Seasonal Recipe: Shallot Marmalade

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I had the first rummage through my stored shallots recently and found some had started to sprout or were on the verge of going soft. Quick action was needed to save this part of my crop.

I separated out the suspect shallots, plus the teeny tiny ones which are always fiddly to deal with and found I had half a kilo to play with. Onion jam or marmalade is quite trendy, so I decided to have a go at making the equivalent using my shallots.

I've kept the ingredients list quite simple, using some oil for the initial softening, sugar for the middle cameralisation, then balsamic vinegar for the final preservation. A little water is needed at the final stage to give the flavours enough time to combine together nicely.

I struck lucky with my chosen ingredients and amounts, thank goodness. I'm confident it'll work just as well with onions, though I'd probably add a touch more sugar to the recipe as shallots are quite sweet in the first place.

NAH's verdict: Cor, that's rea…

GBMD: Sing a song of seasons

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This is the last verse from 'Autumn Fires' published in A Child's Garden of Verses in 1885.

It's good to be reminded there's a positive side to the dying of the light that autumn brings. As a result I've resolved to plant lots of daffodils this month and to think sunshiny thoughts centred around the promise of their yellow cheerfulness in spring. I'm also focusing on plans, projects and experiments for 2017, accompanied by toasted marshmallows from a suitable bonfire.

What are your thoughts and plans for October?

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Last week I came across Poetry for the Autumn Equinox on Radio 4's website. What a treat to have readings of some of our most famous autumnal poems.

Gardeners Question Time: In which "Dog's bottom" may be said

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My third visit to a recording of Gardeners' Question Time last week didn't disappoint. Eric Robson was in the chair (hurrah!), with Matthew Biggs, Anne Swithinbank and Chris Beardshaw ready to answer our questions.

I went on my own this time, but that didn't matter as there were plenty of people to chat to during coffee beforehand and whilst we took our seats. I met a mother and daughter celebrating their birthdays that day, plus I sat next to a couple who were at the same recording I went to three years ago.

All manner of plants and photographs were clutched by prospective questioners, all hoping to be called down to the front row of seats reserved for those chosen to pose their query. Producer Dan reassured everyone,  'If you're not chosen, it doesn't mean you're a bad gardener'.

Our powers of clapping were tested, and a few gardening jokes told to make sure we were in good humour, whilst Hester posed with her enormous recording boom, and Pete and Pe…

Review: Stihl Compact Cordless Blower BGA 56

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With autumn comes new seasonal tasks, especially the collection and disposal of leaves. This usually causes a moderately tense time here at VP Gardens as NAH likes things to be neat and tidy with not a fallen leaf in sight. I prefer the leaves to gather over time, so the task is completed in one go.

It doesn't help that our neighbour puts us to shame most weekends by blowing the fallen leaves at the front of our properties onto the public land next door. I used to have a blower-come-collector-come-shredder for gathering the leaves up ready to make leaf mould, but I found it far too heavy to use.

Since those days I've adopted a Compost Direct approach to autumn leaves, where I sweep them up into useful piles and then apply them directly to borders. It's easier, yet still hard work, best left for a cooler day when I need a good work out to keep warm.


This year is different, as I'm now the proud owner of a battery powered leaf blower courtesy of the kind people at STIHL.…

Unusual Front Gardens #25: Keep it simple

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I don't usually go for coleus, but these three simple pots round the corner catch my eye every time I go past them.

They're placed below a window at the end of a drab drive, with colours that blend with each other well and also complement the brickwork of the house. This photo was taken on a dreary day and their fieriness helps to lift the gloom.

I think they're fabulous, how about you?

Update October 4th 2016: It looks like the outer coleus are a new cultivar called 'Campfire', spotted amongst 56,000 seedlings at the University of Florida in 2012, or possibly 'Redhead'. It depends whether the orange of 'Campfire' has intensified, like the blurb in this month'sHTA News says it does.

This is a tender perennial of hardiness H1C which means it can be grown outdoors in the summer.

Update same day: Ball Colegrave introduced these onto the UK market this year, so I was able to get their American company to confirm the cultivar via Twitter.





Latin withou…

My garlic's having a bad hair day

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This scene makes me smile every time I step out onto the patio. A couple of the spare trial garlic cloves I planted for green garlic developed a scape, then from these little miniature garlic cloves called bulbils formed.

Now these have started to sprout and they look like they're having a bad hair day. I love them for it. I'm not sure which of the varieties they're from as I planted the spares in a random fashion in their pots.

I suspect the humid weather over the past few weeks has encouraged the bulbils to sprout and their obvious viability means I'm having a go at bulking them up into garlic suitable for cropping. Bulbils are usually dried and stored much earlier in the year, but seeing we're close to autumn garlic planting time, I see no harm in a little experimentation right now.

Usually I'd save some of my garlic from my main crop for next year, but even the resistant varieties eventually succumbed to rust* up at the plot. Therefore it'll be better …

Weekend Wandering: Wyndcliffe Court Sculpture Garden

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There's just over a week left to visit Wyndcliffe Court before it closes to the public for good and I'm pleased NAH and I took some much needed time out to hop over the Severn Bridge to see it earlier this week. I find a trip over water - no matter how brief - always feels like a holiday, especially as we went 'abroad' into Wales this time.

We arrived just as a group of artists were finishing their morning of sketching and painting, and we enjoyed our view of one of them beavering away whilst we relaxed over our lunch.


Much of the summer floral colour had finished and autumn was just beginning to show its hand, but Wyndcliffe Court is an Arts and Crafts house and garden, with plenty of structure and garden rooms to provide lots of interest for our visit. This is the sunken garden and summerhouse.


The garden lived up to its name with plenty of sculpture to admire. I was particularly taken with this one, which provided a viewpoint from a number of vantage points. NAH be…

GBBD: Flower Trials 2016

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I'm pleased with the performance of the Petunia 'Night Sky' plants I've trialled this year. It was my pick of the bunch when I visited Thompson & Morgan in 2015, and that early promise hasn't disappointed up close and personal back at home.

Plants were quick to bloom and they've come back from some gross neglect on my part as I left them to flounder in 9cm pots for far too long. I finally got round to planting up my hanging basket in mid July, cutting back my stringy, yellowing plants to the first leaf (some of which were extremely scrappy) and as you can see, they've revived spectacularly.

Some experts I've spoken to have questioned stability as the flowers are so variable. Graham Rice has tackled this with aplomb in his article linked to above. Apparently temperature is a factor which determines the form the flowers take, and if you look carefully in the above picture I have evidence of the high temperatures he talks about, which turns flowers co…

Wordless Wednesday: What would you ask?

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Weekend Wandering: Georgia O'Keeffe at Tate Modern

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There's an amazing opportunity to see the works of seldom-seen-in-the-UK American artist Georgia O'Keeffe at the Tate Modern until 30th October.

I first came across her work when I studied photography A Level, as she was one of the iconic '291' group who surrounded pioneer photographer Alfred Stieglitz. She became his muse, then his wife. Much of this modernist group's work e.g. Paul Strand and Ansel Adams, as well as Stieglitz himself is on show too, so this is pretty much two exhibitions for the price of one.

That doesn't mean the display of O'Keeffe's work has been stinted, as there are over 100 of her paintings and drawings on show, as well as notebooks, supporting documentation, and even a rare example of her sculpture.

Here's one of Stieglitz's photographs of her. Despite being nearly a century old, it's a striking, modern looking photograph.

She comes across as a fiercely independent woman, who held her own in the (mainly) world of m…