Saturday, 24 November 2012

'Why The Ash Has Black Buds'



It's just over a year ago since I wrote a blog post in which I mentioned a book entitled 'Why Willows Weep And Other Stories'. Little did I know then, that the willow on the edge of our garden would meet with misfortune during wild and windy January storms, nor that the ash at the back would now be potentially facing a worst fate. Luckily the willow damage though severe and unsightly did not kill the tree, but with the ash I can only wait with apprehension to see what happens.

Listening to the mesmeric story of 'Why The Ash Has Black Buds' here on BBC Radio 4 was initially responsible for me purchasing festive copies of 'Why Willows Weep' for myself and for a friend last year. The book proved to be a delightful read. It is an anthology of 'contemporary tales from the woods' and contributors include a number of well known authors including Joanne Harris, Philippa Gregory, Richard Mabey, Kate Mosse and Sally Vickers. Every book sold enables the planting of five native trees by the Woodland Trust, an oganisation which is at the forefront of tree conservation in the UK. There is also a Kindle edition.

This little volume would make a most timely Christmas present for tree or nature loving family and friends. Also recently 'Why the Ash Tree Has Black Buds' has recently been included in the Kindle catalogue as a stand alone tale for the bargain price of £1.59. Do listen to the story first as I'm sure that you will then definitely want to read it and reread it. The author William Fiennes's words are pure magic. Just make sure that you have a hankie or box of tissues at hand.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Almost Wordless Wedneday - 21st November 2012

A pot of early flowering snowdrops

Stopped in my tracks this afternoon by the glimpse of a sliver of white ~ I was so excited to discover the first snowdrop flower of the new season. I did a little silly dance as you do on these occasions, before rushing in to tell himself who was not that impressed. This is galanthus 'Faringdon Double', which is the earliest double snowdrop to flower - usually in time for Christmas but more usually the new year. I am surprised to see it so early along with the snouts of other snowdrops already peering through. You can see by the liverwort and other bits growing through the gravel that I need to do some housekeeping. I wonder how long it will be before the flower opens fully. Any guesses?

Wordless Wednesday ~ 21st November 2012

National Vegetable Society Stand at Southport Flower Show, 2013

As displayed by The National Vegetable Society at the Southport Flower Show, August 2012.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Allotment Veggie Hotpot

A bowlful of vegetarian hotpot

We recently celebrated Halloween at the allotment with some cool rain (most fitting to conclude the season) but some sustaining warm fare. Despite the weather we cosied up round the wood burner in the community hut. There were two sorts of hotpot - the obligatory for this part of the world Scouse, as well as a delicious vegetarian hotpot, ensuring that everybody was catered for. This was washed down with copious amounts of tea or coffee and a desert of a chunky slab of parkin - mmmmmmm! As we have been trying to eat less meat this year I've since cooked the vegetarian hotpot a couple of times at home. Here is the recipe ~

Winter Veggie Hotpot

Oil
A few garlic cloves crushed
A chopped onion
Any winter vegetables (except for swede which is too strong) parsnip, turnip, sweet potato, carrots, squash etc chopped into bite size pieces.
½ tsp ground cinnamon,1 tsp cumin seeds, ½ tsp ground ginger
1 tin chickpeas
1 tin chopped tomatoes
A handful of prunes
A handful of raisins
A glug of tomato ketchup
Water/stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Fry onion & garlic for a few seconds, add chopped up vegetables, fry, add spices, fry, add chickpeas, tomatoes, prunes, raisins, ketchup, salt and pepper, water/stock to cover, bring to boil, simmer until the vegetables are just cooked (20 mins approx)

Serve with cous cous, garlic bread or potatoes.

This is the recipe as it was given to me so I had to work amounts to suit the two off us. I have since cooked a couple of times making some minor adjustments. I'm not that partial to cumin so reduced the amount to just ½ teaspoon. I included a couple of sticks of celery and the second time I tried it I used red kidney beans instead of chick peas. I like these sorts of recipes as you can fine tune according to your own taste, what you have a glut of or to accommodate left - overs. I also found that it took longer than twenty minutes to cook, as I made enough to do us for lunch the following day. It's reasonably cheap to make as well as being nutritious and I think that we will be eating variations on this theme regularly over the coming months.

Monday, 12 November 2012

'My Secret Garden'



Some time ago whilst browsing the forthcoming new arrivals on our local library website my eyes were drawn to Alan Titchmarsh's latest book 'My Secret Garden'. I clicked the magical place a hold on this book button and before long a letter arrived advising me that the book was ready for collection. I have just read this volume and here for what it's worth is my two pen'north :

The book comes in at 192 pages, of which some there are some 90 full page photos plus many other half and quarter page photos, so it's is very much photo heavy and text light. Having said the photos are of an extremely high standard throughout and are in my opinion the best feature of the book. The photos are all the work of award winning photographer Jonathan Buckley, who has collaborated with other garden writers including Christopher Lloyd, Carol Klein and Sarah Raven and whose work has also featured in various magazines and newspapers.  

The book itself is described by the author as "a personal tour of my own private plot". He moved from 'Barleywood' to the plot in question in 2002. Unlike 'Barleywood' which he shared with the nation, through the television programme 'Gardener's World', his new garden is strictly private - television cameras have not ventured in and the garden does not open to the public. Yet Alan says "not letting see what we have created is rather like an actor learning a part and then performing without an audience - the experience is meant to be shared ; so are gardens". Hence he struck a deal with his wife that Jonathan Buckley would record the progress of the new garden that he was creating and that it would be shared by way of a book. Alan writes that "It will give you an idea of my taste and predilections, my whims and fancies as well as being a soapbox for me to expound a modest amount of my garden philosophy'.

The book follows the progress of the garden as the year unfolds. It is divided into seasonal headings under which the book focuses on distinct areas of the garden eg the drive, the meadow, the greenhouse, the west garden, the south terrace and the dolphin pond etc. Most of these areas are revisited throughout the year. The book also includes extracts which reflect on prominent seasonal planting.There is a plan of the garden at the back which helps put it all into context. On perusing this though I was disappointed that the veggie beds did not feature in the book at all as far as I can see and was left wondering why. There is an index at the back where references to specific plants and people mentioned in the book are listed with appropriate page numbers.

So my overall impressions of the book? I sadly found this book left me wanting. I usually scribble away when reading gardening books jotting down names of plants, ideas for planting combinations and perhaps suggestions for future reading . I sometimes copy sentences or paragraphs, that have made me stop in my tracks and linger, where the beauty of the writing is such that I know that I would like to return to the sentence or paragraph in the future. Other scribbling down the name of a rose and a dahlia that took my eye my notepad stayed unopened.

I would have liked to have seen detailed descriptions or diagrams of planting combinations but the book does not contain these. Sometimes there were tantalising hints. In one instance Alan mentions an area where he has planted a mixture of grasses to 'create a long and feathery ribbon that allows the garden to fray into the landscape. In late summer and autumn this grassy ribbon comes into its own when the feathery plumes turn to light catching silver and gold". Now I would like to know what grasses Alan has used but no names are mentioned - instead he names grasses to avoid, which to me is a wasted opportunity. Again a photo of a purple and gold border has a teasing caption naming the varieties of some of its occupants but not all of them.

There were several occasions when I was mildly irritated by references to expensive equipment, pots and statues etc. which he uses or which feature in the garden - maybe a touch of the green - eyed monster within me?

Call me cynical but I have a feeling that although the photos were taken over seven years, I think that the book might have been rushed to meet a publication date geared very much to the Christmas market. The recommended retail price is £25 although of course it can be purchased at a cheaper price if you look round. However although I will not be buying a copy for my bookshelf or asking Santa for a copy, it made for a pleasant enough quick read on a dark autumnal evening and has certainly answered my curiosity about what Alan's new garden looks like.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Random Acts Of Blogging Kindness


This week I've been the recipient of a couple of thoughtful gestures from garden bloggers. The first was when I recieved an offer of seeds from Caro who blogs over at Urban Veg Patch. Earlier in the year Caro wrote a post about the intriguing sounding Perennial Nine Star Broccoli (Cauliflower). The thought of growing this vegetable really appealed to me. Not only did it sound tasty but the thought of a vegetable that has the potential to crop for up to five years was a most positive recommendation. Caro's post contained details of a nursery where she bought her plants from as plugs. However when I visited their website I was disappointed to find out that they would not be available until 2013. I commented on this sad state of affairs on Caro's blog. Searches round other nurseries and seed companies for plants or seeds met with a blank, so I thought that I could be waiting for some time to try this out. Then sometime last week Caro sent me a tweet, asking me if I would like some seeds which she had collected from her own plants. Of course I answered in the affirmative. A couple of days ago an imaginatively decorated seed packet arrived in the post complete with a generous amount of seeds and most comprehensive growing instructions. I had to smile at her advice "Best grown on allotment unless you want your garden to smell of boiled cabbage'. Don't worry Caro the seedlings will definitely head in the direction of the allotment. She also advised that if you let the plants flower that bees love the white flowers that the plant produces. So not only a thanks from me Caro but also from our allotment bees. I will post about the progress of these plants next year.

The other act of kindness was from Michelle over at Veg Plotting, who tactfully pointed out to me that I have been using the dreadful word CAPTCHA word verification on my blog comments and offering help if needed in remedying this situation. Michelle knew that this verification process was something that I had found frustrating to use when commenting on other blogs. I was seriously thinking that either my eyesight or sanity were in need of urgent review as I've struggled to comment on some blogs and only succeeded after four or five attempts. I was completely unaware that I have been inflicting this process on visitors who may have been trying to make a comment here, as you are unable to see it at your end. I think that it may well be something that Blogger has forced upon its users without their knowledge or consent.

HUGE apologies to those of you who have succeeded in commenting (your persistence is to be admired) as well as to anybody who has wanted to but who has given up (I'm not at all surprised). Hopefully the situation is now remedied. I have now removed word verification. I imagine that this leaves me more vulnerable to spam comments but I will see how it goes. At some point in the future I may have to moderate comments but I would rather that your comments appeared instantaneously.

So a virtual bouquet or in this case a potted cyclamen to Caro and Michelle in thanks as well as to all readers by way of apology. Gardening bloggers are lovely folk as this week has proved.

PS - Please let me know - if you can whether you have have any problems leaving a comment. I sincerely hope not!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Armchair Travels


Planting spring flowering bulbs is very much in the thoughts and posts of many gardening bloggers just now - some have already made light work of it whilst others like me are still ruminating. However the goodies have been purchased so making a start on planting is at the top of my gardening to do list. I have vowed not to delay this what should be a gentle occupation until the dark cold days of January, when your fingers risk severe frost bite and the ground is not always obligingly yielding. So I was all geared up to bulb planting yesterday when I met with a major obstacle. Virtually all my bulbs were resident in the cool but dry garage, only himself had departed in the direction of Cornwall at the crack of dawn, with the key in his pocket and will not be home again until some point today. The garage is very much his domain as I do not drive and consequently do not venture into its realms on a regular basis. For some reason I no longer have a key on my key ring so my plans went out of the window along with a few choice words.

I did have one bag of crocus bulbs to plant which I had fortunately left in the house - yes I know that the books say that they should already be planted but they will soon catch up. However it did not take me all day to plant some 25 bulbs so I was left with time on my hands to idle away. The bulbs in case were crocus 'Yalta' which I have not grown before but which had been on my wish list for a couple of years or so since I first read about them. I was pleased to see them for sale in the current Avon Bulbs catalogue so decided to try some out in a container. They are described most beguilingly as "a hybrid form resembling a large tommasinianus with silvery blue outer petals and darker purple inners petals. Gorgeous even in bud."

I'm always intrigued to find out more about the name behind any bulb or plant that comes my way, so once planting was done and squirrel proofing measures were in place, I set out on an armchair voyage of discovery, with the aid of the all knowing and all seeing Google, to find out more about my little bulbs. The catalogue obligingly provided the information that the bulb was raised from seed harvested from a botanical collection in the Crimea by Janis Ruskans, (a Latvian nurseryman). Now did it follow that 'Yalta' was also in the Crimea and if so whereabouts, or was it a girl's name, or did 'Yalta' refer to something else altogether? It turned out that Yalta is indeed in the Crimea being a seaside resort on the north coast of the Black Sea. The city itself is said to have been 'founded by Greek sailors who were looking for a safe shore (γιαλός –yalos in Greek) on which to land. The city is situated on south facing bay and is surrounded by wooded mountains.'(source - Wikipedia) The climate of the area is described as sub tropical so vineyards and orchards flourish.The city has its own botanical gardens - The Nikitsky Botanical Gardens, which may well be the source of the seed that gave rise to the bulb. A most pleasant interlude, which saw me finding out about a far away city in both words and photos, which I might have never otherwise discovered.

I will hopefully report back in the spring on how these bulbs fared. Meanwhile the major bulb planting marathon awaits.

Note : For those of you who like finding out more about the names behind your plants you may well enjoy Alex Pankhurst's book 'Who Does Your Garden Grow?'.

Friday, 2 November 2012

A Poem For November













"It's not that every leaf must finally fall . . .
it's just that we can never catch them all."

'Autumn Conumdrum'
~  Michael R. Burch, b.1958


Illustration - Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, 1888 - 1960