Seen at the Festival of the Tree

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

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day: Persicaria 'Fat Domino'

This plant always makes me smile at this time of the year: it's a reminder of a wonderful afternoon at Knoll Gardens in the company of owner Neil Lucas's enthusiasm a few years ago. He had many Persicaria to show us that day, and it was 'Fat Domino' that stole my heart with its large flower heads waving to me from the nursery area.

It's proved to be an easy care perennial since I placed it in the lower terrace bed; it only needs cutting down at the end of winter and then given a topping of mulch to see it through the year. It's rewarded me with over 60 flower heads from one plant, and when I peered below the leaves yesterday, it looks like I have a plant ripe for division into two. This is earmarked for behind the white phlox you can see in the background as there's a hidden gap there which needs to be filled.

I've also cleared a space in front of the phlox, which is thick with alliums in spring, but now needs something added there for later interest. I've been pondering this space for a while and luckily a wonderful visit to Ulting Wick last week supplied some much needed inspiration.

My photo doesn't do justice to Philippa Burrough's deft combination of Persicaria with Miscanthus sinensis 'Ferner Osten', but it's sufficient as a visual reminder to have something similar here at VP Gardens. Her Miscanthus is too tall for the place earmarked as it'll go in front of my Persicaria. A quick search of Knoll's website shows several other possibilities at around one metre in height, with similar pinky blooms which look perfect.

It's just a matter of deciding which one.

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

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Are you looking at me?

A frog gives me a stern look on my garden steps

I don't know who leapt the furthest, me or the frog I found in the garden on Sunday. I was tidying a quiet corner of the garden and this beautiful sight was my reward, once I'd got over the surprise! It got me thinking, I don't have a pond at VP Gardens, but frogs do seem to like it here. There's a stream nearby which helps, so what am I doing right to encourage them?

This article from The Guardian has some pointers. Apparently frogs spend two years on land before they breed and they love lots of leaf litter and log piles to hide in. These places are also a good source of favourite food such as slugs. I have plenty of leaf litter courtesy of the trees nearby and my 'compost direct' policy, plus I've hidden a number of small log piles in quiet corners. Shady areas and the clay soil probably help as parts of the garden remain damp even in exceptionally dry weather.

I've since realised I had an improvised pond in the shape of a small tub trug tucked away and forgotten behind the pergola in my side garden. I decided to tidy this away on Sunday and the frog leapt up when I tipped the water out. It seems this was an ideal pond, at over 2 feet in depth and with a few discarded pots within to help the frog out if needed.

To rephrase a well-known film quotation, it seems that 'if you leave it they will come'. My frog soon dived into the shelter of the ivy at the side of the garden after I took this photo. I've returned the tub trug back to its hiding place in the hope it'll return to it in time.

What wildlife encounters have you had lately?

Saturday, 5 August 2017

Weekend Wandering: Countryfile Live

Robinson's shire horses strutting their stuff

I've just got back from an amazing day at Countryfile Live at Blenheim Palace, the mother of all country shows packed with show rings, displays, talks, things to make and do, plus plenty of shopping for good measure. I particularly enjoyed the pictured display in the Equine Arena, where I also learned there are only 200 grey shire horses in the world. I'm sure the handsome 19 hands high stallion I saw there is doing his best to bring those numbers up!

The show map and exhibitors/talks listing
It would be useful if handy guides like this one are available at RHS shows

The map extract above gives you an idea of how vast the show is and the variety of what's on offer. As well as the handy map, it also lists the 500 or so exhibitors, plus it gives the timetable for the various talks and displays on offer at the 10 theatres, stages and arenas throughout the show. There are also plenty of things to do such as canoeing, and off-road driving, plus all kinds of hands-on activities for you to try.

If you are going tomorrow, do grab one of these maps on your way in as the online map is woefully inadequate, though the accessibility map is a much better bet if you miss out on one. If you're more mobile, be prepared for plenty of walking, both from the car park and around the show. If you're trying to walk 10,000 steps per day, this is easily achievable within the 100 acre site.

Lunchtime along one of the main avenues
There is location and direction signage throughout the show, though more could be done to make the direction signs clearer and each zone more distinctive. You'll need that map to get around!

Despite Wednesday's miserable weather, on the whole the going underfoot wasn't that bad when I was there on Thursday. There are plenty of places to sit down throughout the show, mainly of the straw bale variety. I also saw plenty of bales stacked up on the way in, possibly to patch up any boggy areas that developed later, or to bring in as extra seating.

Whilst there was quite a long queue to get in when I arrived at 9.30am (relatively fast moving), the show itself didn't feel overcrowded. Visitors were spoilt for choice for eating and shopping possibilities without much queueing, though I did see some long lines waiting for the loos around lunchtime. Despite those niggles, there's a relaxed vibe and everyone I met was thoroughly enjoying themselves.

One of my favourite areas, the Wildlife Zone

There are plenty of activities sprinkled around the show, especially in the National Trust and Go Wild areas, plus around the River Glyne. Some of them - such as canoeing and off-road driving - need to be booked, so I'd recommend heading to these areas first thing to ensure you get a place. You'll also need to book if you want to see the Countryfile presenters at the Countryfile Theatre. All activities and talks are included in the cost of the ticket; the only extras I found were car parking (£5), souvenir brochures (the aforementioned map is free), plus any refreshments and shopping purchases you may wish to make (you're welcome to bring a picnic).

A quiet moment of relaxation available in the National Trust area
One of the more unusual activities is the opportunity to don some headphones and immerse yourself in nature
For those of you more used to my reports from gardening shows, I'd say there is some gardening content for you to find, though you will need to search for it. For me it made a refreshing change to have a much wider scope to explore which is still aligned with my interests.

I was surprised the RHS didn't have their exhibition stand here even though they were listed for a talk on their Greening Grey Britain campaign. A missed opportunity for them perhaps?

A collage of views from the Stihl Timbersports area

A major highlight was the Stihl Timbersports® arena, which is just as well as I was their guest for the day. I saw this for the first time at Westonbirt last year (I wasn't their guest then) and a repeat viewing did not disappoint. I find the Underhand Chop discipline shown in the main picture the most dramatic one to watch as the athletes stand on the log they're chopping in two. I'm always convinced they're going to give themselves a major injury in the process.

I saw how strong the competitors are as they effortlessly lifted some of the huge logs they use into their final positions on stage. These logs are carefully selected according to specific criteria to ensure a fair competition and as I had a backstage pass I could see them all lined up ready for the rest of the event.

A sign that made me giggle - no standing on the tables
There were chainsaw carving demonstrations between the sessions with some beautiful sculptures the result, which were auctioned off for charity. Jane Moore also gave several talks on wildlife gardening which were packed with top tips.

There was a cracking soundtrack too, which got the audience dancing and tapping their feet. No wonder the tables at the back had warning notices on them - click the pic to see what it said ;)

What I didn't know until later was the stage backdrop had blown down earlier owing to the blustery day and the team had their work cut out to make the stage safe enough for the demonstrations to take place. As you can see from the collage picture, despite this hiccup the show well and truly did go on.

Thanks to HROC and Stihl I had a wonderful time. I'm planning on a return visit under my own steam with NAH so we can have a go at some of the activities I didn't have time to do. There's still time for you to do so too - it looks like tomorrow (Sunday 6th August) is the best day weatherwise and tickets are available online or on the door :)

Farm machinery for sale
No wonder there are contractors who hire themselves + harvesting machinery out to farmers

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Plants for butterflies

Small tortoiseshell butterfly on valerian
Small tortoiseshell butterfly on valerian (Centranthus ruber)  

I'm grateful to the company that offered me an expensive designer butterfly feeder recently because it led me to review how many butterfly friendly plants I could grow in my garden for the same money. The answer is loads and I'm happy to say not only do I have most of them already, they also feed a wider range of these delightful visitors.

It was also a timely reminder to grab a cup of coffee and spend a relaxing 15 minutes in the garden counting butterflies for this year's Big Butterfly Count, which runs until this Sunday (6th August 2017).

For this year's count, I paid particular attention to which plants were in the butterflies' favour. They were:

  • Perennial cornflower, Centaurea montana
  • Globe thistle, Echinops ritro
  • Perennial wallflower, Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve'
  • Phlox paniculata (they seem to prefer the white over the pink flowers)
  • Ice plant, Sedum spectabile (NB now renamed as Hylotelephium spectabile)
  • Verbena bonariensis

We'll draw a veil over the various white butterflies which have a liking for the nasturtiums up at my allotment. As NAH doesn't like brassicas, these are the only option for them on my plot.

Butterfly Conservation has a useful page about gardening for butterflies which shows their top plants for summer nectar - buddleia, Verbena bonarienis, Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve', lavender and marjoram. This page links to a much longer, downloadable list so you can ensure your garden is attractive to butterflies from March right through to November. There's also a downloadable list of the key food plants for caterpillars.

Which plants do your butterfly visitors prefer?

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Garden Bloggers' Muse Day: The Rose

Imagine the scene... you're visiting a garden which in the 16th century was home to France's most famous poet, who was a gardener who loved roses and also wrote about them.

You pass by a sheltered courtyard where the first roses of the season are in full bloom, then jump out of your skin as a deep disembodied voice starts intoning in French the poem shown above.

It was a magical moment at Saint-Cosme Priory in May, and seeing I have red roses in bloom in my garden today, the poem has a timely quotation for Muse Day. You can read the full poem here.

I wrote more about this garden for the Guardian recently, along with another favourite from my recent visit to France, the Abbey of Saint-George de Boscherville.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Seasonal Recipe: Garlic Powder

Garlic powder and bits
The finished product: there are always some larger pieces which refuse to grind down to a fine dust
Garlic is one of my favourite crops to grow because it's so simple and you can easily save some cloves for next year. We use quite a lot of it every week, which makes garlic a must-have for my plot.

However, last year I was rather puzzled to find my harvest wasn't disappearing quite as quickly as expected. Some time later I found the solution to the mystery in our spice cupboard: a jar of garlic powder stood proudly in prime position on the top shelf.

It turns out NAH prefers using the powdered form because it's less fiddly and so quick to use. To say I was a bit cross when I tackled him about it is putting it mildly as I felt all my hard work up at the allotment was being rejected. Later when I'd calmed down and could put myself in 'my customer's shoes' I resolved to have a go at making my own garlic powder.

We both use the green garlic I grow which uses up the smaller cloves from a cropping garlic bulb. It starts the home grown garlic season much earlier and still fits NAH's easy to use criteria. These always yield a small bulb at the end of the green garlic season, so I used these to experiment with last week. My bulk harvest is still a few weeks away yet.

The amount you need isn't fixed, so make as much or as little as you want according to what you have. Make sure the cloves are well dried first, then we'll go straight to the Method...

Garlic pieces being cooked in the oven
My garlic pieces after a couple of hours in the oven

  1. Peel the garlic cloves and compost the peelings
  2. Crush the cloves in a food mixer or blender until you have the smallest pieces possible. Do this in small batches if you have a lot of garlic to process
  3. Spread the small garlic pieces out evenly on oven-proof nonstick trays and place in an cool oven (90°C for a fan assisted oven, 110°C conventional, or Gas Mark ¼). Alternatively use a dehydrator if you have one - cover the trays with greaseproof paper or parchment so the garlic doesn't stick to them
  4. Open all outside doors and windows and close the kitchen door to minimise the garlic smell entering the house and lingering for several days - though NAH liked the smell and it does subside after a couple of hours or so (optional)
  5. Heat the garlic through until fully dried - approx 6-8 hours. Give the trays a shake every hour or so to check on progress and help the process along
  6. Once cooled, grind the garlic (in batches if needed) using a food processor or stick blender until a fine powder is formed for around half the garlic
  7. Taking care not to breathe in any of the fine dust (I didn't and had a quite a coughing session as a result), carefully transfer to jar(s) - a funnel helps to prevent spillage
  8. Make sure each jar lid is screwed on tightly and store in a cupboard 
You'll find the powder is much stronger in taste than shop bought and can be stored for a couple of years.

NAH pointed out this is quite a fiddly and expensive way to make garlic powder. I'd say making a huge batch and the better taste of the final result just about makes it worthwhile.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Summer Showcase

Tower planters at Ball Colegrave
A cheeky welcome awaits visitors from Begonia 'Dragon Wing'  

Regular readers know I'm a sucker for plant trials - my own and other people's - so won't be surprised that at last I've managed to get over to Ball Colegrave's Summer Showcase. This event is aimed at professional horticulturists and the retail trade and shows off more than 50,000 plants at its grounds in Oxfordshire every July. Even on a dull grey day after last week's thunderstorms they made for an eye popping display.

Part of the huge Ball Colegrave site

As well as the chance to see hundreds of annuals and perennials - some completely new to the market - I also enjoyed the opportunity to talk to horticulturists from a wide variety of backgrounds, from nurserymen and local authority gardeners through to fellow garden writers and university gardeners, as well as Ball Colegrave's staff.

The trials beds
Some of the trials beds

One of my most interesting discussions was with a couple of gardeners from South Gloucestershire council who were seriously considering the merits of the Phygelius plants in one of the experimental beds. I'd dismissed these as thugs from my experience of growing them in the early days of VP Gardens, but it was that quality plus their long season of colour which made them an attractive proposition for public planting.

Even on a dull, coolish day these flower beds were alive with bees
Whether dwarf cultivars of usually tall plants like Monarda are OK was a cause for debate on the day

We discussed the need to transition to a perennial 'plant and forget if possible' approach to municipal planting in these budget constrained times, though they also admitted the public still like and react most positively to the more traditional colourful annual bedding schemes.

They were also enjoying the 'kids in a sweetshop' effect of the Showcase, and were keen to home in their choices on 'multi-purpose' plants like the pictured Coreopsis 'Uptick', dwarf Monarda 'Balmy' and Salvia 'Lyrical'™ combinations. These were a riot of colour and were being dive bombed by a multitude of honey and bumble bees.

The dahlia section in one of the greenhouses

There was plenty of space undercover and I was happy to look in the greenhouses during a brief shower.

Retail display and pot planter ideas

There were lots of colour themed retail display ideas and suggestions for planting combinations using striking pots. It's worth arriving in time for the daily talk at 11am, where marketing manager Stuart Lowen highlights some of the new introductions for coming year.

Note that in this case 'new' can mean:

  • Completely new
  • An improved version of an old favourite
  • New colour options for an old favourite
  • Ball Colegrave has acquired the licence to grow and supply an established variety (possibly with improved genetics as well)

Here's one of the new introductions highlighted, a pink version of Petunia 'Night Sky' called 'BabyDoll'®. Somehow it doesn't do it for me like 'Night Sky' did last year, though I do tend to go more for blues and purples. It was clear from the people I spoke to there's a much wider variety of tastes and requirements to be catered for in addition to my own. From a retail perspective this variety apparently behaves better for growing on for sales.

A selection of flowers and foliage: spot the coleus, coreopsis, osteospermum, diascia, petunia, ipomoea and begonias
A small selection of the flowers and foliage that caught my eye

We were also invited to select one plant we thought particularly of note. The results of this vote are collated over the Summer Showcase season and announced once the show closes. This was quite hard to do as there were so many plants I liked. In the end I plumped for one of the 700 yet-to-be-named experimental varieties on show. I thought it was more worthwhile to highlight something in earlier development rather than a plant already deemed successful enough to be named ready for market.

Can you guess what I went for?

My selected favourite of the day, a single-bloomed, dark leaved dahlia

Yes, for me a single bloomed, dark-leafed dahlia is always going to be hard to beat. Let me introduce you to Dahlia Experimental (V2224).

I also found plenty of scope for my Great Green Wall Hunt in the shape of Ball Colegrave's VertiGarden product, but that's a story for another day...

Alpaca arrival
The arrival of several inquisitive alpacas ready for the one public open evening last Wednesday
"That spotted one is just like an IKEA carpet" has to be the overheard quote of the day ;)

Saturday, 22 July 2017

How Advertising Works in Chippenham #36

Tweet showing Chippenham in the Antiques Roadshow opening credits

  1. Decide to revamp the opening titles to Antiques Roadshow
  2. Use some of the artifacts owned by one of the show's experts
  3. Film close to said expert's home and in the surrounding area
  4. Wait for a blogger with a PrntScr key on their computer to notice a tweet about it
  5. Et voila!
I'd wondered for ages why the opening credits to the Antiques Roadshow looked familiar and finally twigged why on a recent WI treasure hunt around the town. NAH and I watched the opening credits closely the other day and we reckon one of the other locations used (when the garage door is opened) is either on our own estate, or our old one over at Pewsham.

As well as his involvement with the Antiques Roadshow, expert Marc Allum is trying to find the actual location of King Alfred's hunting lodge by hosting a regular archaeological dig in St Mary's Street. He got a little more than he bargained for recently when Roman remains were found in his garden instead. It even made some of the national newspapers, which is another great advert for the town.

Back to the Roadshow, here are the opening credits in full - we need to find out where the other locations are.

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

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Simple Summer Pots

A huge blue pot and Heuchera
A huge pot plus a large-leaved Heuchera makes a striking statement in Linda Hostetler's Viginian garden

I've always been struck by the bold use of pots at the gardens visited on previous Garden Bloggers' Flings and this year was another visual feast. The planting combinations are varied and exceptional, often using plants - such as coleus - I've dismissed previously as not my 'thing'.

Unlike some Fling bloggers*, I have only a few photos to show what I've liked and learned from this year's trip. Instead, I've realised sights like the one above have influenced the simple summer pots I've put together since I got back.

Large trough with three coleus

I've started on a makeover of my front garden and one of the tiny baby steps along that path is to replace the multitude of small pots on the ugly telephone junction box at the very front. I don't usually go for plastic with my pots, but I found this one more attractive to usual. Besides, I need to keep things relatively light in case the telephone engineers need access.

I've planted 3 coleus plectranthus which will fill out and engulf the pot in a few weeks time. I thought about using just one colourway, but I liked the contrast of the middle plant when I put it with the others at the garden centre. I hope these will flower like those I saw in the States, as the spikes also look attractive.

Alpine planter filled with around 100 allium seed heads

This arrangement came together by accident when I was tidying up the garden at the weekend. I was cutting back some of my spent alliums ready for shredding and needed to put the flower heads into something as I worked so they didn't seed themselves everywhere. The pictured pot was to hand, and I liked the look of the few heads in there so much, I decided to put in the whole lot to make a temporary display. There are around 100 of them in there.

I love the way the individual stalks of the flower heads tremble in the breeze a bit like some deely boppers do, which adds another dimension to this pot. What do you think?

My final example is the hanging basket by the front door. I usually stuff this with scented petunias like the striking 'Night Sky' I trialled last year. Sadly, my seedlings got some kind of rot and then I couldn't resist the pictured trailing begonia instead when I went to buy their replacements (full name = Begonia boliviensis 'Bossa Nova White').

This is another planter which has still to reach its full potential. Watch this space for a progress report...

I'm sure huge pots with lots of bold plants - even an obelisk or two - like these I found in downtown Charlottesville - will feature in my garden's future in some way. Until then, I'm enjoying the simple summer pots I've put together for this year.

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Disclosure: I was given the two planters featured in this post by Stewart. They're not being used in the way I'd originally envisaged, but I'm glad they're doing the job I eventually gave them.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Photography on tour - a cautionary tale

The Japanese Garden at Hillwood - my favourite spot
Just to prove I really was there - a lovely photo of Hillwood with me for scale taken by my friend Barbara 

It's taken me a while to get round to writing about the wonders of this year's Garden Bloggers' Fling, primarily because I don't have photos for most of it. It means lots of the coverage I'd planned from all but the last day won't be blogged, or I'll use post-Fling photos instead.

I got home from a wonderful holiday all fired up to tell you all about it, loaded up my SD Cards in readiness... then found all my photos from the first 5 days of our holiday were missing. I know they were there originally because I showed some of them to NAH, but even his prowess with SD recovery programs failed to find even a ghost of an original photo.

This is what I think happened...

On Fling Day 2 I arrived at our first garden (this wonderful one, full of neat little touches and that bench in Pam's blog post was a shoe-in for a Friday Bench on't other blog) only to find my camera battery died after taking the first photo. Luckily Teri had a spare camera, so I was able to load my SD card into it and click happily away. I then recharged my camera's battery that evening and returned to using my own camera for the rest of our holiday.

It looks like either changing cameras or recharging the battery led to my original photos being wiped. Of course I'm kicking myself for making such a basic mistake, especially as I took a spare camera, batteries and SD cards with me to the States. BUT it was so hot in DC, I decided not to take any spares with me, I even left my phone in the hotel, so keen was I to travel light that day.

Garden Bloggers' Fling 2017: Group photo in the Lunar Garden at Hillwood
Spot me in the Fling group photo - photo credit: Wendy Niemi Kremer

So what should I have done?

I should have taken my phone, or my spare lightweight camera, or a spare battery with me that day, despite the heat. Like Helen does when she's on tour, I should have used a fresh SD card too. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

In an ideal world I would have taken a laptop with me to the States and backed up my photos onto it each evening. That's what I did in France earlier this year, and I got extremely grumpy lugging it around with me as it was so heavy. I knew that was a no-no for the States, besides I've never lost any photos before. That smugness was my downfall.

What else could I have done?

I did take my tablet with me, plus an SD card designed to fit in both my camera and the smaller slot of my tablet. I could have used these to backup my photos onto my Google Drive each evening. I have 21 GB of free space there, which is plenty. Why didn't I think of that before?

Tammy Schmitt at Casa Mariposa
At last, one of my photos: Tammy welcomes us to Casa Mariposa on #GBFling2017 Day 3 

Luckily I still have my memories and NAH took some photos when we were together in Washington DC. Plus there are all the blog posts from my Fling friends to make up for the lack of my own photos and posts.

In some ways my photo woes are a blessing as I have far fewer stories to blog about, when the garden and allotment are still calling me for attention.

How do you prevent photo mishaps when you're on the move?

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day: Hemerocallis 'Corky'

'Hemerocallis Corky' daylily

This plant is the sole survivor of the ones I bought home from Tatton Show in 2012. I don't usually go for daylilies but there was something about the clear yellow flower and relatively short stature of this one which caught my eye. When I found out they don't mind clay soils like mine, that clinched the deal.

This year 'Corky' welcomed me home from the States with a much larger display than usual. Either it's decided the front of my lower terrace bed is truly home, or it's enjoying the drier and hotter summer we're having... perhaps both?

Sue asked recently whether the large numbers pollen beetles she's seeing currently are prevalent elsewhere this summer. As you can see a couple of them have strayed into the above photo. It's not surprising as these tiny beetles love the colour yellow, and there's certainly enough pollen for them on my plant.

Germany Valley in the Allegheny Mountains, West Virginia
Roadside ditch lilies overlooking scenic and historic Germany Valley in West Virginia

Corky's abundant daily blooms are helping me keep holiday memories at the front of my mind, as at last I understand why these blooms are commonly called 'ditch lilies' in the States. I spotted them everywhere we went and I naturally assumed I must be looking at a native plant, they were so abundant. Wikipedia has served to put me right since I returned home: not only are they not native, their abundance in some of the relatively remote places we visited now worries me. Sure enough, they're considered invasive in some States, who've banned them from being planted.

My daylily is proving to be much better behaved so far. Besides, if it does start to get out of hand, I can always start adding the spicy tasting flowers to our salads.

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

Thursday, 13 July 2017


My shed at the bottom of the garden
What horrors lie behind those doors? Read on to find out... 

A little while ago Beryl 'fessed up about the sorry state of a corner of her allotment and challenged others to do the same. I told her I would soon reveal the horror that is my garden shed instead. As you can see, now's the time to do so.

My shed stuffed to the gills with all sorts
BEFORE: the view inside - I could only just about squeeze in to start sorting things out

How did my beloved shed get into this sorry state of affairs? Well, it's been too easy just to dump and store stuff in there when we've had any major clearing up to do. After a while it got so bad, I felt too overwhelmed to go down there and sort it out.

This spring I found the constant bending over pots for seed sowing and potting up wasn't a comfortable way of doing things any more. At this point the potting bench in the corner of my shed started to send out subliminal messages reminding me I have the solution ready and waiting.

Time to get cracking with that clearout now the weather's decent enough to do so...

The garden strewn with items unearthed from my shed
Starting to sort out what lies within

As well as providing a major appartment block for spiders, I was amazed at how much I'd managed to cram inside the TARDIS-like interior of my shed AND forget it was there...

  • Not one, but two tub trugs. NAH bought another two earlier this year because he thought I needed them
  • A compost bin - now added to the collection up at the allotment
  • A bag of citrus compost for the kaffir lime I had (RIP, probably because I never repotted it with said special compost), I hope it'll prove of good service to a friend's moribund citrus tree instead
  • Four cheap ready to assemble garden arches - now proven to be too cheap as they've rusted through
  • A whole mini-greenhouse - bought originally for use at peak sowing time, but that idea was abandoned when I realised the proposed location was too shady from the trees nearby. Now I'm working out how to use it up at the allotment without it blowing away
  • Lots of garden ornaments brought in for the winter
  • Enough protective fleece to cover the entire garden
  • The geological hammer I thought I'd lost
  • The usual flotsam of pots, trays, baskets, empty compost bags, supports and bits of 'useful wood for later'
  • A carload of various items for recycling or dumping - broken garden ornaments, those garden arches, empty cardboard boxes, rotted through garden bench covers, some of that 'useful wood' etc etc

The shed after its tidy up - part one
AFTER: It's not perfect, a repair to that shelf and some more storage boxes will help improve things further

A quick day's work and now I know where everything is and my potting bench can be used again. It's just as well as I potted up 180 box cuttings earlier this week. It was lovely not to have an aching back after dealing with that little lot.

Now to decide just how many 'useful pots and trays' I need to keep for later, then recycle the rest at my local garden centre.

Do you have a horror corner somewhere in your garden or allotment? Beryl and I are eager to hear your confessions...

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by The Big Yellow Self Storage Company.

Note that sponsorship goes towards my blogging costs; the words and pictures are mine. There are no cookies or affiliate links associated with this post.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Postcard from Washington DC

I'm back from an amazing couple of weeks in the USA and the Garden Bloggers Fling, which this year was based in the Washington DC area, taking in gardens in Maryland and Virginia along the way. NAH came with me, so we spent a few days exploring the States' capital before I headed off for the Fling.

I'd always wanted to see the Lincoln Memorial, and it was an emotional time for me there, despite the hordes of tourists all vying to take their photographs and selfies. To the side of Lincoln's statue are some of his iconic speeches, which give great cause for thought.

Post-Fling we had a week exploring what Virginia and West Virginia have to offer, particularly in the mountains of Shenandoah National Park and the George Washington/Monongahela National Forests. We discovered some early US national history too, including sites from the Civil War.

A visit to Monticello - Thomas Jefferson's Virginia plantation home - was especially timely as we were there on the 241st anniversary of his presentation of the Declaration of Independence on 28th June. It was only later the 4th of July was declared the nation's birthday.

There are more posts to follow...

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Monday, 26 June 2017

Bonsai: care tips from the experts

Bonsai trees exhibited by the Federation of British Bonsai Societies at Chelsea Flower Show
Part of the Federation of British Bonsai Societies gold medal exhibit
at this year's Chelsea Flower Show, including some from Swindon.  
I have a confession. I usually leave the bonsai exhibits at flower shows alone. They're quite difficult to photograph and until recently this is a branch of gardening which was a mystery to me ('scuse pun).

However, I was given a bonsai tree in March and it's clear I need some help to look after it properly. I'd read they should be kept outdoors, which was fine until April's hard frosts. My poor tree ended up with lots of leaves sporting an unhealthy bleached look.

So this year for once I made a beeline for the Federation of British Bonsai Societies' exhibit at Chelsea Flower Show, where a friendly expert was more than happy to give me a few tips.

My bonsai tree
My tree is probably Ligustrum sinense and is approximately 9 years old 

As you can see, my tree is quite small, even by bonsai standards and my first piece of advice was to bring it in for the winter for quite some time to come. Here you can see it in the final spot I've chosen for it for the summer, on the table on our patio.

This is because I need to see it from our kitchen so I'm reminded to water it daily - my second piece of advice, the tree should not be allowed to dry out. Ideally it should be fed daily too, with a dilute solution of the plant food I usually use. I was told there is no need to buy the special feeds available. I'm currently trialling some seaweed feeds, and my tree's looking much happier... it did go through an alarming period of the bleached leaves turning yellow and then dropping off. Now there's a lot of new growth - phew.

I was concerned about my tree's exposed roots and I was reassured to hear these are fine. If there are any exposed ends, then these can simply be snipped off. I spotted that most of the bonsai on display at Chelsea showed even more exposed roots than mine, with many sporting moss between them which looked quite decorative.

Now my tree has recovered from its frosty shock and has started to grow it's time to think about thinning out the foliage and training it further into shape. For this I will need some wire and I was surprised that training can also involve anchoring some of the wires into the soil. Mine is vaguely growing in an s-shape (not one of the traditional forms I was told) and this gave my expert a clue to my tree's origin:

'Aha', he said, 'you've got one of those trees imported from China via Holland.' I don't think he was that impressed.

Bonsai tree with ladybird larva

I'll persist with my tree, though going on holiday may prove a challenge. My neighbour's kindly agreed to water it every day, thank goodness. If you think a bonsai tree is an ideal gift for a keen gardener, do give it some thought. You're giving them something which requires daily attention. Will they be up for that?

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Blightwatch revisited

Good looking potato foliage and flowers

Once upon a time I wrote about potatoes and the excellent service called Blightwatch which warns when weather conditions become ripe for an outbreak of potato blight.

Back then the service looked out for a Smith Period i.e. a time during the potato/tomato crop season when the weather served up 90% humidity over an 11 hour period in temperatures above 10°C for 24 hours, and for both conditions to exist over a period of two days. If this occurred for my postcode area, then I'd get an email warning me that a Smith Period had happened, or one saying there was a near miss if the conditions only occurred for a day.

These emails usually started around July/August time and I always received them with a sense of impending doom.

Now since May this year I've had several emails called a Hutton Alert from the same service instead. This is much earlier to receive a blight warning and slightly worrying. Is my practise of growing early spuds to avoid late blight in danger now?

It seems the Smith criteria are no longer performing well, so the James Hutton Institute conducted some research to see if the system could be improved. All aspects of the criteria were tested and their results showed lowering the humidity factor to a mere six hours improved blight prediction significantly.

From what I've seen so far, it means pretty much any period of rain or damp weather results in a warning email and as a consequence I've become more blasé about the future health of my crop. I'm sure the farmers for whom this service is really designed take it much more seriously than I.

I do remember an incredibly early blight year a couple of years ago (in June) so I do have anecdotal evidence of the need for a different system, perhaps in response to a change in the way the blight fungus performs. However, my allotment is on a windy site, which I'm sure helps keep the blight at bay.

In the meantime, I'm watching my potato leaves for signs of an earlier blight than usual. All's well so far *crosses fingers*.

How's your potato crop faring this year? Do you subscribe to the Blightwatch alert system?

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Colour from the garden

Nettie Edwards in her temporary studio at Lacock Abbey

Sometimes even the most familiar things in life can offer a surprise which sets you off in a completely different direction. This is exactly what happened to me at Lacock Abbey recently - the garden I visit the most - in the form of Nettie Edwards, pictured above.

She was based in the botanic garden showing her work with anthotypes, a technique which uses plants as the light sensitive material to produce a photographic print. The technique itself is well over a century old, and until Nettie's demonstration I hadn't realised it's easy to do at home.

Nettie's view of her outdoor studio
The studio on the day I did pop by - Twitter screen grab courtesy of Nettie Edwards

All that's needed is some suitable plant material, a means to extract its juices, a paper and frame for printing, a positive image for reproduction, a source of light, and plenty of time. The combination of two of my favourite things - photography and gardens - got me fired up and itching to get started. Nettie's enthusiasm for her work also helped :)

The start of my colour notebook for VP Gardens
Click to enlarge if needed.
Note the scan hasn't quite reproduced the
actual colours, but you get the idea
I was taken with Nettie's notebook, where she documents the colours found on her travels, so I've started one of my own for VP Gardens. You'll see I've taken a simple approach of picking some likely looking material, squishing it directly onto the paper and letting it dry. Quite a few of the colours look entirely different when dry, and some of them went through quite a range of colours in front of my eyes.

From this I can instantly see which plants look the most likely candidates to play with - Centaurea montana, Clematis 'Arabella', buttercup, red berberis leaf, Rosa 'The Fairy' and Geranium psilostemon. The Monarda leaf result looks far better in real life (a lovely light green), so I've added it to my list.

Nettie's currently experimenting with 'Bull's Blood' beetroot and Allium christophii heads, though the latter came out a little disappointing in my test. Sue Carter - Lacock's Head Gardener - is growing a range of other plants for her to try and a tweet on June 13th, shows foraged wild garlic paste, and another on June 12th some gorgeous deep flower colours. Berries and other juicy produce are other possibilities to try.

My next consideration is which of my shortlisted plants can produce enough extract to coat the paper I'm going to use. I've reluctantly discarded the electric colours of the Centaurea and geranium as these currently only have a few flowers. The rest are up for grabs - watch this space!

Notes about the process for my future experiments

Pestle and mortar with Berberis thunbergii 'Gold Ring' leaves
New growth on Berberis thunbergii 'Gold Ring' - compare the colour obtained with old growth extract?


Use a pestle and mortar or a small blender. Need to filter the liquid out from the rest of the material e.g. use a tea strainer, coffee filter paper, or a clean cloth such as muslin. May need to add a few drops of water (what effect does our hard water have?) or clear alcohol (Nettie held up a bottle of vodka!) to thin down thicker extracts such as the Bull's Blood beetroot she was demonstrating.

As the material is sensitive to light, I guess it has to be used quickly. How to store to preserve its 'shelf life'... possibly in the fridge?


Don't use shiny paper, use matte so the liquid doesn't 'pool' on top of the paper. Note that chemicals in the paper can affect the final colours, depending on the chemicals used in the production process. Adding chemicals such as a few drops of lemon juice (acid), or bicarbonate of soda (alkaline) is a great way of playing around with the colours obtained. Even gently touching the damp paper with a finger can change the colour.

Several coats of plant extract may be needed to produce a colour deep enough for printing (hence the need to think about possible storage).


The paper needs to be dried in darkness before applying the next coat, or going onto printing. I'm going to use our airing cupboard.

Recent feet on the lawn image converted to black and white
I love the idea of linking my recent #mygardenrightnow project with anthotypes in some way

Image selection for printing

This is a positive:positive process, so an object or a transparency is needed for the final image. Leaves e.g. ferns would be a great way of connecting my experiments with the early photographers celebrated at Lacock Abbey, especially Fox Talbot himself.

Transparencies need to have a high contrast, preferably with lots of black & white. These can be made easily by converting a digital photo into a black & white one, upping the contrast if needed, then printing it out onto acetate. An inkjet printer like we have should be fine.

Printing frame

Nettie had some lovely vintage contact printing frames, but I found later these are expensive to buy. Improvisation with various picture frames is the name of the game and I'm going to try some cheap clip frames. Nettie suggested I use masking tape to attach the image I use to the print paper. How the print is progressing needs to be checked from time to time and the masking tape prevents the image from going out of alignment.

Producing the print

The print frame + paper/positive image needs to be left for some time to develop. The sun is used as the light source needed to bleach out the white/lighter parts of the image onto the paper, so I've earmarked my south facing windowsill upstairs for the job. How long the print takes to develop depends on where in the world and the time of year. In Italy it'll probably take just a couple of hours; here at this time of year we're looking at a couple of weeks or so, depending on the weather (hence the need to check progress).

Rosa 'The Fairy'
Or how about a plant portrait using the flower as the photographic material? I have so many ideas I want to try!

After care

Unlike most photographic prints, these can't be fixed so they deteriorate when lit as the light continues the bleaching process. Prints need to be stored in darkness and brought out on special occasions for viewing (it'd be like having a secret garden!). Alternatively prints can be mounted behind museum quality glass which reduces the UV light levels.

Nettie takes photos of her finished prints, but for her it's nothing like looking at the real print itself. The ephemeral nature of the process (just like a garden is too) and the gradual decay of the print is part of the continuing life of the image.

There are anthotype images around which are over 100 years old, so it is possible to limit the loss to a slow decline. Just like there's a slow flower movement, there should be a slow photography one too.

Other notes

I love the element of unpredictability in this process. The colours obtained from a plant will vary depending on time of picking, location, climate, weather, soil type etc etc. Then there's the potential of added variation with the paper used, the extraction process, the number of coats applied to the paper, the addition of other chemicals, and a host of other things I haven't thought of, even my mood perhaps?

I'm going to enjoy lots of experimentation with this process, by playing around with it and my garden, perhaps even linking Lacock Abbey to the project in some way. In view of the time needed, please grant me the patience to carry it through...

You may also enjoy 

Nettie's demonstrations continue on weekdays until the end of June. Highly recommended.

Read Nettie's description of the anthotype process and the production of her first print on her blog. Note the improvised equipment she used from what's to hand at the time. It's something I'm going to enjoy doing with my own experiments.

Read about some of my other visits to Lacock Abbey on my Garden Visits Page (or visit!). NB the curators at Lacock have a great way of linking the garden and photography together using various art and photography exhibitions, plus different installations in the garden - both temporary and permanent. It befits the place where modern analogue photography began.
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