Monday, 30 April 2012

End Of Month View ~ April 2012


"Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote
The droghte of March has perced to the roote"
~ from the Prologue To The Canterbury Tales, by Geoffrey Chaucer, c1343 - 1400

This snippet remembered from many moons ago study, has floated through my thoughts almost daily this past month. Luckily we are not in a drought area but still welcomed the rain that arrived after such a dry March but you can have too much of a good thing! No doubt we will be hearing more about the April temperature and rain statistics for 2012 for some time to come. Ironically after yesterday's biblical deluge the month is ending on a sunnier and warmer note - in fact there is a good impersonation of a spring day going on out there.

As far as the allotment progress has been painfully slow as I am a fair weather allotmenteer. Just negotiating the path to my plot and remaining upright whilst doing so involves great skill, as the main path is a slippery quagmire. Himself has put up a membrane around the perimeter fencing which seems to have thwarted the rabbits. I came up with the brilliant idea of putting cut off plastic bottles around the necks of the shallots that had been nibbled in case they suffered any more damage. I then made the error of leaving them on too long so now the new growth got rather squashed to say the least but hopefully will recover. I have got my potatoes in - 'Anya' and 'Lady Christl'. We have been eating sparse but delicious purple sprouting broccoli and rhubarb. The exciting news for our allotment community that I hoped that I might be able to reveal this month is still on hold.

The most pleasing event in the garden has to be the sight of our willow tree slowly sending out new growth. At the start of the month I began to despair that it would grow again, I was almost beside myself when I first saw a sign of green and since then there has been a daily inspection - well apart from yesterday. Regular readers may remember my dismay when this huge old tree had to be severely pruned after a storm at the beginning of the year. 'Thanks to all those who reassured me that it would grow again. The newly planted pear tree has blossomed well but her companion has not sent out any flowers. This together with the difficult conditions for pollinating creatures to be out on the wing is making me wonder whether there will be any pears this year. So now we are tip - toeing into May, my favourite month of the year and along with it some of my favourite flowers ~


The greenhouse is filling up nicely but it has been difficult to start to harden plants off and I'm already behind with sowing and pricking out. The occupants of the greenhouse are mainly destined for the allotment. Tomatoes, peppers, peas, beetroot, red onions are all growing away nicely.The peas and broad beans which have been braving the outdoor world are crying out to get in the ground. I have sown the basils, courgettes, squashes and cucumbers but hope to get more in this week. On the flower side sunflowers, nicotianas, cosmos 'White Purity', dahlia 'Bishops's Children', tithonia 'Torch', cobaea scandens alba have now all germinated whilst there other seeds hopefully still to germinate. Some non germinations - some freebie alpine strawberry seeds and cobaea scandens purpurea - possibly old seed. The other non - show which I am rally peeved about is what looks like a delectable aquilegia 'Miss 'M.I.Huish'. I feel a letter coming on. I still have more annuals to sow - again another job for this week along with sweetcorn, French beans and runner beans. Any surpluses will be heading to the plant sale in May at our local gardening club. A couple of us plot holders are having a plant stall and are hoping to raise funds for the allotment association.

Again with admirable self restraint I've kept plant purchases to a minimum this month. Joining the throngs to be planted in my cold frame are erythronium 'Pagoda', ranunculus ficaria 'Brazen Hussy' and dicentra formosa 'Bacchanal', all purchased from the local Country Market. I was hoping to attend my first plant sale of the year yesterday but the atrocious weather decided that it was a day best spent indoors. Now next month fingers crossed, I'm hoping to report on rather more substantial activity in the retail therapy department!

The end of the month view is most kindly hosted by 'The Patient Gardener's Weblog' - many thanks as usual Helen for encouraging us to press the pause button and "stand and stare".

Saturday, 28 April 2012

BlogCamp


Last Saturday saw me head off to Birmingham where I spent a day at 'BlogCamp'. You may well ask what 'BlogCamp' is. Much to my relief it did not involve canvas of any description. Some hundred plus bloggers from all over the country were gathered under one roof, to attend a one day free workshop for independent bloggers designed to hone our blogging skills. BlogCamp is run by journalist Sally Whittle and the team that runs Tots 100, the largest community of active parent bloggers in the country. Fortunately it is not a prerequisite to have your own tot to be able to attend. There were other sections of the blogging community there including crafters and foodies, although gardeners were perhaps thin on the ground. It was a pleasure to catch up with 'Michelle from 'Vegplotting' again and to briefly meet Emma Cooper. The venue for the day'The Studio' was central, less than a five minute walk from New Street Station and a most comfortable learning environment. The day started with registration and a welcome hot drink plus croissants for those who had not breakfasted. After a lively introductory session from Muireann who blogs at 'Bangs and a Bun', there were three workshops to attend from the menu on offer, a break to enjoy lunch in between, before we all got together again for a plenary session. It was difficult to choose the workshops but after some wavering I attended the following sessions :

Setting Up Your Own Self - Hosted Wordpress Blog - this session covered buying a new domain, setting up hosting, installing a theme and everything else you need to know about this topic. It covered both the pros and possible cons of doing this. I came away with the impression that the process was neither as expensive or as complicated as I thought it might be. It was well delivered by Phil Szomszor in non - teccie language. You can see the slide presentation we saw and some explanatory notes over at Phil's blog 'The Red Rocket'. Whether I will go self- hosted at some stage in the future remains to be decided.


E courses - photographer and writer Susannah Conway shared with us her experiences of developing e - courses. I must admit that from what I had read about the session beforehand I thought it was going to be aimed at people wanting to write e - books but this turned out not to be the case. Still Susannah's experiences were fascinating to listen to and she was generous with the information she shared.

Using photo editing software - up to now I've not done much in the way of editing photos than the odd bit of cropping but this is one area that I would like to develop skills in. I would especially like to learn to use colour palettes to frame and compliment photos as so exquisitely done by Rosie over at 'Leaves N'Bloom' and Liz at 'Gwirrel's Garden'. The session was delivered with humour by professional photographer and lecturer  John Arnold who had stood in at short notice as the original speaker was ill. John's session covered 'Picmonkey' the free photo editor which replaced 'Picnik' earlier this month. Like 'Picnik', 'PicMonkey' can do all photo editing jobs including rotate, crop, edit, apply effects, adjust light, colours, add frames, text, objects, watermarks, etc, etc. I had used 'Picnik' once or twice in the dim and distant past so it it was most useful to be reminded of 'Picmonkey's' similar features and to see practical demonstrations of these features applied to photos generously shared on the day by other attendees.

'Picmonkey' is still in the developmental stage and there are other features waiting in the wings to come online soon such as collages. Since getting home to my own computer I've had fun playing with photos and hope to put some of what I learned into regular practice so watch this space. What is frustrating though unless I have missed the obvious, is that I seem to be unable to save my altered images in 'Iphoto' and also that there does not seem to a simple one step method of uploading them directly to 'Blogger'. I do not think that 'Picmonkey' will be enable me to introduce colour palettes so that is something that requires further research. 


Write ups of these sessions as well as the others are due to appear here soon. Topics included how to be a snark (not sure what one of those is), creating video blogs using Windows Movie Maker and a beginner's guide to search engine optimization to increase your blog traffic. I will be keeping a look out for these write ups as I'm sure I missed a lot of useful information.


There are more blogcamps at other venues in the pipeline for later this year. If you are not already on the mailing list you can get yourself on it here and you will receive information about new BlogCamp dates as soon as they are firmed up. As far as I am concerned the day turned out to be a pleasant learning experience, which took place in a most friendly atmosphere. Although I didn't partake of the cake on offer at the last coffee break of the day, it certainly looked delicious - just wish that I had remembered to slip my camera into my bag to take photos for you. Thanks to Sally and team for such an enjoyable day. 

Monday, 23 April 2012

'Not Waving But Drowning'


Himself has suggested to me that the title of this blog should be 'The Theoretical Gardener' before quickly ducking for cover. There may well be something in this. I will read avidly about gardens and gardening, visit gardens and nurseries until my feet give up and take great satisfaction in growing fruit and vegetables and propagating new plants. However when it comes to putting it all together, the design side and maintenance I think that I will never progress beyond wearing 'L- plates'.

The above glimpse is a case in point where I have crammed in too much for the space to cope with. Just how do you strike the balance between unsightly patches of bare earth and being cramped in too close together for comfort and optimum growth? I am unable to gauge how much plants will grow, how long this will take and to adjust accordingly. This back to front spring can take some of the blame this year  - growth got off the starting block at phenomenal pace in March, with the perennials sprinting away faster than Usain Bolt. I was away for a short time during that warm spell, when it would have been a great time to get in there to move and divide. Since then it seems to have done little else but rain, so time to spend outdoors has been at a premium - in fact taking up permanent residence in the greenhouse seems a more attractive option. Somewhere in the space between the dicentra specatablis (yes I know it has a new name) and the lamium orvala is a most attractive 'Pacific Coast' iris - you can see the strappy grey leaves as well as plant with a real tongue twister of a name - Mathiasella bupleuroides 'Green Dream'.

I bought the iris many years ago on a visit to a NGS garden on the outskirts of Liverpool. It was in flower at the time which is the very reason why I bought it. It flowers in May sadly but briefly and is a most bewitching colour. I will try and post a photo when and if it flowers this year, providing that flowers are visible underneath the canopy. The mathiasiella is a more recent purchase - 2010 vintage I think. It did nothing last year - in fact it looked very poorly after the cold winter and I was resigned to its loss. However it slowly and miraculously perked up so I was looking forward to seeing its subtle flowers this spring. Now I'm not sure how well it will do - it certainly could have done with moving away from the dicentra and allowed some breathing space. I'm sure that plants like us quiver if somebody invades their personal space.

Hopefully somebody will sooner will invent an app which will solve my dilemma. In the meantime perhaps I should be ruthless and divide/move even if it is not the ideal time. Is it just me or do other people find this aspect of gardening the most challenging? Answers on a postcard please!

The title of the post is borrowed from the poem 'Not Waving But Drowning' - by Stevie Smith - not the most cheerful of poems but I thought it an appropriate description for how my plants must feel.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Is There Room On The Shelves For .....


A couple of new magazines? Browsing through the gardening mags last weekend at our local  branch of a well known high street newsagents, I came across two new titles - 'Landlove' and 'Landscape'. Neither are gardening magazines as such but are a potpourri of items on gardening, cookery, nature and wildlife, country heritage and crafts as well as regional perspectives. Both publications apparently are aimed predominately at women over the age of 35 and are starting off as bi - monthly publications. Pricing is very similar - a difference of five pence between the two. Both contain introductory subscription offers. It will be interesting to see if either of them gives the well established 'Country Living' a run for its money.



Did I buy them after flicking through the pages? 
Yes - well the weather forecast was abysmal so little in the way of outdoor activity in on the cards and besides I've always had a weakness for magazines.

What I liked?
  • I greatly appreciated the fact that neither showered out a deluge of papers advertising all sorts of no interest to me, which go straight into the recycling bin.
  • The relative lack of adverts. I suppose though that this and the above point may well change in time.
  • The range of articles from wood crafting to owls from the Jurassic Coast to May Day festivals. Although I enjoy reading gardening magazines some of them become very repetitive, especially if you have read them over a number of years. Both these titles still delivered my gardening fix but it was supplemented with a welcome variety of other topics. 
  • Excellent photography in both magazines.


      What I didn't like?
      • There was some duplication - both magazines had features on bluebells and lilacs - not that I have got anything against either plant but I didn't really want to read about them twice. I suppose that some duplication though is inevitable with magazines that have a seasonal focus. 
      • The reader's letters in 'Landscape' - how can a brand new magazine have established readers? The postbag contained some rather contrived correspondence.
      • 'The Village Shop' in 'Landlove' - featured products with prices but did not have full details of stockists on the same page, or any direction to the glossary at the back of the magazine which contained this information.
      Will I buy them again? 
      A definite maybe occasionally on this score particularly if they remain bi - monthly but only one title at a time. Of the two I preferred 'Landlove' but why I find it hard to pinpoint. Has anybody else come across these magazines yet and if so did you enjoy them?

      Wednesday, 18 April 2012

      'Beauty And The Beast'


      subtitled 'A Tale Of Two Lamiums.'

      The beauty of this tale the subtle but oh most pleasing lamium orvala which is a source of much pleasure at the moment. This is a plant that I have never seen in a nursery or garden centre. I bought it a couple of years ago at our local Country Market which over the years has been an excellent source of plants at most reasonable prices. I bought it with some trepidation after my experiences with its relative aka 'The Beast'. However I was reassured by its seller that it does not spread but self seeds in a most considerate manner. Now two years on this plant has filled out and is giving me much pleasure this spring. It seems easy to grow and its hooded dusky pink flowers have fascinating markings ~


      In her book 'Plant Personalities' Carol Klein describes it so ~ "Lamium orvala is devastatingly gorgeous, a must have plant. Those seeing this dead nettle for the first time are invariably enraptured. Again, it does not thrust itself forward, but relies on its inherent grace and its dark good looks to attract admirers. Each flower consists of a deep bowl into which pollinating insects are invited via a broad landing pad, spotted and marked like the lights on a runway to guide them in". Apparently it grows easily from seed but I still have to find any self - sown seedlings which I would welcome with open arms. It is also possible to take stem cuttings so I will test this out later this year. Lamium orvala's native habitat is woodland margins so it prefers some partial shade. I grow it in an east facing border.

      Its not so desirable relative is one of those plants that should come complete with a government health warning. Bewitched by the writing of Margery Fish I was delighted when I originally came across lamium galeobodon variegatum. Its most innocent sounding common name of yellow archangel could not be more misleading. I wrote about it here and now some two years on I am still trying to eradicate it from the garden. This plant creeps and spreads itself about with guile. I have come to the conclusion that digging it out by hand may never work. It's an absolute thug and one that despite its enchanting appearance that you should stay well clear of!


      I have noticed this spring to my horror, that this plant is making an attempt at world domination, as it is now creeping up the lane from our house to the main road - time for drastic action methinks. 

      Sunday, 15 April 2012

      Garden Bloggers Bloom Day ~ April 2012


      A spring time cameo featuring geranium phaeum, bluebells, dicentra specatablis (I refuse to use the new name), primrose, brunnera macrophylla, apple blossom, chaerophyllum hirsutum roseum, 'Solomon's Seal' and rhubarb flowers. The edibles are flowering at the allotment.

      Garden Bloggers Bloom Day comes to us thanks to Carol over at May Dreams Gardens . I am recovering with a cup of coffee after a stint at the allotment, before heading out to the greenhouse for an hour or so. Hopefully later this evening there will be time to visit other gardeners to see what is blooming in their neck of the woods.

      Tuesday, 10 April 2012

      Spitting Feathers!



      Now that all the Easter chocolatey sweetness has finished coursing through my veins I'm ready to have a rant. I am by nature quite an easygoing creature but in this instance my feathers are well and truly ruffled - in fact I am spitting feathers to put it mildly. What has got me so annoyed? Well I recently noticed the appearance of a non gardening/allotment related post into my all time top six blog posts (see left hand sidebar). Furthermore this was an old post going back to October 2010. I know that I do occasionally stray off topic but by and large I stick to the garden and allotment and would expect the tops six posts to be relevant. Further research and detective work led me here. The seventh photo down is one of my holiday photos, as featured second photo down in my post here. If you look at the bottom of the website the term 'tagged with' appears. Underneath this are are all but one of the words that make up my blog title and the title of that particular post, listed individually. There is also a cheeky reference to copyright dated 2008 so I am dealing with rather a cunning time traveller.

      This photo has been used without consent and placed on a website which features some rather dubious advertising content. I have a hunch that none of the photos are the property of the compiler (s) of the site. I am not sure what to do next other than contact Wordpress, as it is the publishing platform for this site. There does not seem to be a named individual or a group behind the site or any email address to contact. I am also cross with myself for being rather naive. Obviously disclaimers and watermarks on photos are not a foolproof obstacle (two other photos that feature on this site had been watermarked) but I will be doing more in this department from now onwards. Thanks to Diana over at 'Elephant's Eye' who prompted me to share this experience. I will report back if there any developments. I will also be attending a blogging workshop soon, where I hope to get the chance to bring this issue up. In the meantime I wonder if anybody else has had similar incidents happen to them and if so how did you deal with them?

      I do not have any photos of ruffled feathers and thought that spitting feathers might be a rather unpleasant image. The above photo, complete with watermark, is of a goldcrest which visited the garden regularly during the winter of 2011 - the first and so far only time we have had the pleasure of its company.

      Sunday, 8 April 2012

      "Wearing White For Eastertide"



      "Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
      Is hung with bloom along the bough,
      And stands about the woodland ride
      Wearing white for Eastertide.


      Now, of my three score years and ten,
      Twenty will not come again,
      And take from seventy springs a score,
      It only leaves me fifty more.


      And since to look at things in bloom,
      Fifty springs are little room,
      About the woodlands I will go,
      To see the cherry hung with snow."

       ~ extract from 'A Shropshire Lad' ~ A.E. Houseman, 1859 -1936. The fairy is one of Cecily May Barker's 'Flower Fairies'.

      Wishing peace and joy at Easter to anybody who kindly visits at this most special time of year.

      Friday, 6 April 2012

      Flowering Now

      Flowering now and most welcome is the above clematis which I think might be clematis alpina 'Columbine'. I can't be sure as it is a case of the label/memory has long since gone. I have been looking at the excellent clematis resource 'Clematis On The Web' for a positive id but I am still not sure. It it is one of those quiet understated and undemanding plants, which in a short spell of time turns from a tangled twiggy mass to fresh green leaves and softly coloured flowers. Some years the flowers are more prolific than others - this year sadly they are sparse. I wonder if it's a consequence of last year's dry April. It considerately produces a second flush in some years but this is not always guaranteed. Sorting through my seeds recently I came across a little brown envelope full of fluffy seedheads so will be sowing these imminently. I may have a wait to see what the offspring produce but worth having a go. You can also take semi ripe cuttings from these plants later in the year. They originate from the mountains of Europe and north Asia and as their home and as the name suggests they are very hardy. Best of all as far as I'm concerned they do not need pruning. I'm hoping to fit another alpina (different colour) into the garden, so any recommendations would be more than welcome.

      Tuesday, 3 April 2012

      End Of Month View ~ March 2012


      Just as I was about to turn the bedside light off  and drift off to sleep last night himself observed that he thought that there was a spider on the ceiling directly above my head. Now he should know that it would have been wiser for him to keep silent but his comment saw us swapping places, in case the spider should could dangle down in my direction overnight. Swapping places is what the months seem to have done, with March being unseasonably warm whilst April has got off to a chilly start.

      The main news of the month from the allotment is that bunnies have got on to my plot! I knew that they were in the vicinity but up to now had not noticed any tell tale signs of their presence until a couple of weeks ago. The tell tale evidence -  the green shoots of garlic and shallots had been seriously nibbled around the edges. Having grown both crops for some time with no problems I ruled out the usual suspects and after speaking to my allotment neighbours, the verdict is that the interloper is a rabbit. Needless to say efforts will now need to be made to thwart this creature from doing any further damage. Elsewhere on the plot work has been going on preparing the raised beds and ground for this years crops. There is not much in the way of edible pickings although great excitement when towards the end of the month I noticed that the purple sprouting broccoli is doing its stuff. There is some potentially most exciting news affecting our allotment community but for now my lips are sworn to secrecy. Maybe I will be able to divulge all next month.

      The warm weather resulted in a sudden rather than imperceptible launch into from winter into spring. I prefer the latter option but the weather gods decided otherwise this year. There are flowerings ahead of their time including bluebells which I always associate with May. Giving me most excitement at the moment is the pear tree we planted last month. It is always so exciting watching leafless branches morphing into growing and green. Hopefully there may be the first fruits later this year but thereby hangs another tale.

      The greenhouse continues to fill so no doubt soon the fun and games of moving an ever increasing numbers of plants to fit in the same space will begin. I am trying to keep track of my sowings on the blog using the pages facility but have already fallen behind in recording. Will have to remedy this situation soon. March was remarkable in that I did not bring the fleece out once to give the greenhouse residents overnight protection although the tomato and sweet pepper seedlings have come into the house for the hours of darkness.

      Finally I can congratulate myself on my self restraint this month as I have only one new plant purchase to report - a chaenomeles speciosa 'Geisha Girl'. April might prove to be a different proposition with at least one tempting plant sale on the horizon.

      Thanks as always to Helen over at 'The Patient Gardener's Weblog', who came up with the excellent idea of the end of month view.

      Sunday, 1 April 2012

      A Poem For April

      "A song of forget - me - nots I sing!
      Forget - me - nots are my favourite flowers,
      Love, because they are like your eyes.
      Blue, as the wild, blue butterflies
      They stare and dream through the singing hours,
      Under the turquoise and silver skies,
      Under the fickle eyes of spring"

      ~ an extract from 'Rainbows - Forget - me - nots' by Olive Custance, 1874 - 1944

      The illustration is one of Cecily Mary Barker's 'Flower Fairies'. I was surprised to come across two versions of 'The Forget- Me- Not Fairy'. I thought that this one conveyed more of a feeling of the mirth which these little flowers bring with them.