greentapestry : 2013

Monday 30 December 2013

A Puzzling Time

I hope that you had a good Christmas and are feeling suitably refreshed. There has not been much time for gardening here but I was hoping to share a potful of snowdrops with you and relate the tale of some thwarted rather angry squirrels. However my camera is playing up at the moment and the photos are trapped therein. There has been much ruminating on the cause of the problem and then some logical deduction as to what the fault may be. Fingers crossed that it is just a new USB lead that is required so that normal service can be resumed soon.

Instead here is a photo of the fiendishly difficult jigsaw puzzle, 'The Bizarre Bookshop', which has formed part of our festive activities. It is still a work in progress and has required the aid of a magnifying glass to sort out some of the finer details. The second jigsaw which has a horticultural theme remains in its box and I can now confidently say that it will not be started until next year.

We went garden centre shopping yesterday for one or two odds and ends. Not surprisingly some seeds came home with me. If you have a local garden centre belonging to the Garden Centre Group near you it may be worth popping in as they have a sale on. Thompson and Morgan, Suttons and Sarah Raven's seeds are all half price! I was restrained as I've not yet finished sorting out the seed boxes but I did come home with a few packets. One of my favourite catalogues - the Avon Bulbs spring catalogue arrived in the post this morning so I'm heading off to study the contents carefully especially the list of snowdrops. I may be some time!

Monday 23 December 2013

Yuletide Greetings

Well dear blogging friends the drawbridge is nearly up, the Scrabble board is primed and there are books to read and both crossword/jigsaw puzzles to tease and hopefully solve. Oh and we are fortunate to have good food and wine to enjoy over the next few days. Sadly himself is one of those people who has to work over the festive season but as he nobly says somebody has to keep the country going. Safe journey to anybody who is traveling in this inclement weather. Wishing and your loved ones peace and joy at Christmas however you celebrate! xxx❤️
P.S. The illustration is from Sheila Jackson's book 'Blooming Small'.

Saturday 21 December 2013

Sunday 15 December 2013

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day ~ December 2013

Yeeeaaaaaay - can you believe it - it's snowdrop time again! Introducing 'Faringdon Double' which is the earliest double snowdrop to flower. At first glance it's hard to tell it's a double flower and you really have to look underneath to be sure. I was hoping to get a better view of underneath those petticoats but am out out of practise flowering snowdrops and sadly did not have my assistant himself on hand to help. I will have another attempt soon.

'Faringdon Double' gets its name from the Oxfordshire village of Faringdon where it was discovered flowering in a churchyard. I'm not sure how long it is since I had my original bulb but it must be less than five years. For the last two years the flowers have opened this side of Christmas whilst in 2011 it was January before flowering commenced. So far we've had quite a mild autumn with only a few light frosts and some fairly mild daytime temperatures. I've found that 'Faringdon Double' increases well. As regular readers of this blog will know I grow my special snowdrops in pots which is probably not the best way to grow them over long periods of time. It suits me though as I can keep them close to the house and can enjoy seeing them and smelling them at close quarters. As they bulk up though I'm slowly planting surplus bulbs in the ground so that hopefully I can enjoy the best of both worlds in the future. You are unlikely to find this snowdrop for sale at your local garden centre but there are several specialist snowdrop sources where you can purchase bulbs including the excellent Avon Bulbs. At the start of the new year many of these companies will be selling snowdrops in the green. There is a school of thought that recommends buying dormant bulbs only but that's another story. Elsewhere other pots of snowdrops are showing tantalising flashes of white so these should be fully showing for January's GBBD.

Thanks as always to Carol over at May Dreams Gardens who hosts this meme, which gives us the chance to share, wonder and grow our wish lists throughout the year. 

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Wordy Wednesday ~ A Poem For December

"It's verdure trails
The Ivy shoot
Along the ground
From root to root;
Or climbing high
With random maze
O'er elm and ash and elder strays,
And round each trunk
A net-work weaves,
Fantastic and each bough with leaves
Of countless shapes, entwines and studs
With pale green blooms
And half formed buds"

~ extract from a poem by Bishop Richard Mant,1776 -1848

Sunday 8 December 2013

Midwinter Fire

Last week's garden club speaker bought a touch of winter warmth and magic with him as well as providing me with some unexpected but welcome propagation material. The subject was gardening for winter interest and our guest came complete not only with slides but with a wealth of neatly labelled plant material from his garden. If the talk had been in January or February there would have been a wider range for us to see close hand but the examples of trees, shrubs and perennials on display were still considerable.

At the end of the evening our speaker left all the plant material behind and we were invited to take anything we would like home. I left with three samples which I hope to propagate. At the top of this post is the a stem of the multi-coloured cornus sanguinea 'Midwinter Fire'. This throws out attractive stems of red, orange and yellow in the winter border. Now is the time to take hardwood cuttings of cornuses. I also have a red stemmed cornus (name long gone) which I intend to take cuttings off, which hopefully will make their way to the allotment, where we are planting up the area around the composting toilet building. Any surplus prunings will come in handy as plant supports on my own plot.

Also returning with me along with my seasonal mince pie were berries from sorbus 'Joseph Rock'. I've been reading a lot about sorbuses recently in blogland and am tempted to plant one. I've been slightly put off though by mention in one book that the flowers of sorbus trees often smell like rotting meat - uuuuugh! Further investigation is required and feedback from anybody who grows sorbus would be welcome. In the meantime I thought that I would just have some fun to see what might transpire from the seed.

Last but not least a solitary cutting from the attractive evergreen pittosporum tenuifolium 'Irene Paterson'. She is evergreen and forms a shimmering mound about three feet high. I see snowdrops and hellebores at her feet. I'm not really convinced that the snipping I have will root so have decided that I will be on the lookout for a ready made Irene in the near future.

Our speaker also came with a list of all the plants of winter interest in his garden plus his collection of books on the subject, which included some familiar friends from my bookshelf. I will share these books in a future post.

Saturday 30 November 2013

End Of Month View - November 2013

November has ended here on a beautifully sunny albeit cold day. Darkness was already descending though when I came home from the allotment, where unfortunately we've had a meeting. On such a day I would have preferred to have been moving about and doing jobs on the plot but it was not to be. I've been trying to think how the month started weather wise but the brain refuses to co - operate.

There are already signs and stirrings of seemingly far off spring days. One of the snowdrops in the greenhouse is tantalisingly close to opening - in fact another day of slightly warmer temperatures might do the trick. It's rather frustrating as the label has walked so it's keep me guessing to the very last minute. The first to open last year was 'Faringdon Double' but I remained to be convinced that this one is a double. I moved my small collection of named snowdrops in pots under cover a couple of weeks ago. The pots were saturated and with colder weather being forecast I decided to bring them into the greenhouse again this winter. The greenhouse is ventilated on all but the coldest day but at the moment the recent appearance of an adventurous young cat has seen me err on the side of caution. There is a heater which should keep the greenhouse frost free. I will water the pots sparingly over the winter. Already a few pots are showing little green snouts which is most exciting.

In another corner of the garden a hellebore is budding up nicely which you can see in the above photo. Cathy over at 'Rambling In The Garden' recently mentioned her 'Moonbeam' hellebore which prompted me to check on mine. On doing so I remember that I think that it might be 'Angel Glow' rather than 'Moonbeam', but whatever the identity it's great to see promise of soon to be opening flowers.

On the subject of bulbs I have amazed myself and have only a few remaining bulbs to find homes for. I've surprised myself as my bulb planting activities often extend into the new year when the risk of severe frostbite can lend an element of an extreme sport to the procedure. I've tended to stick with already tried and tested bulbs but I'm looking forward to the eventual flowering of two newcomers. These are allium 'Purple Rain' and narcissus 'Elka'. As well as being newcomers to me they are both recent bulb introductions, so it will be really exciting to see whether they live up to the catalogue hype surrounding them. I still have one or two more bits and bobs to sort out with which hopefully will be done by the end of the December.

I'm afraid that I've somewhat neglected the allotment and must get down to some work in the colder months. I have to confess to being somewhat of a fair weather gardener. I can do cold and dry but when the weather is wet I'm too much of a wimp to relish being out there.

New to me plants in November are a hardy geranium 'Blushing Turtle', which promises to be a prolific and long flowerer and a pink hesperantha kindly given to me by a friend who read this post.

Another marker pen has entered the grand experiment. This late contender is an 'Artline Garden Marker' as mentioned by Annette over at 'Annette's Garden'. It one cost me £2.50p including postage from an Ebay seller. It's much too early to report on the state of the labels yet and I will not do so in any detail for a few months.

Thanks as always to Helen over at 'The Patient Gardener's Weblog' for enabling us to share our end of month views. Do pop over to visit her and the links to other gardeners who are recording their end of the month views.

P.S. I've been having problems on accessing and commenting on Wordpress blogs for a couple of days. I mentioned this on Twitter yesterday and believe that there are some issues. Some Wordpress bloggers are unable even to access their own blogs. I have had success though with changing my normal browser from Chrome to Safari. Just thought I would mention it in case anybody else is being thwarted in their blog visiting and commenting.

Sunday 24 November 2013


Watering cans in Le Jardin De Marie Ange, Pas- De-Calais, France.

Somewhere in cyberspace greentapestry celebrated its fifth birthday yesterday. I wonder if it floated past that famous Doctor and waved as both celebrated auspicious occasions on the same day. Actually the very first words on this blog were back in 2005, but it was only in 2008 when I was brave enough to enter the public domain. I can still remember the excitement of receiving my very first comment from the lovely Michelle over at Veg Plotting. Many thanks to everyone who has commented or contacted me by email over the last five years. I've learned so much from your comments and observations, laughed a good deal and have been the recipient of some lovely acts of kindness.

I've been mulling over the blog recently and feel that it's time for some out of season 'spring cleaning'. So I'm going to use the winter months to get on with this and hope to re-emerge with a new look. I'm even considering going over to the other side ie Wordpress so would be grateful for any comments or advice on doing that. I also want to get to grips with the pages element of the blog. These were constructed an oh so embarrassingly long time ago but I've never completed them.

So if I disappear off the radar for a while or if appearance of the blog looks a bit iffy you will know what's happening. I intend to be around for the memes that I participate in and I will of course still be visiting other blogs. Many thanks again and a humungous virtual bouquet of fabulous flowers to anybody who reads this post.

PS Many apologies to those of you who have problems commenting recently and thanks for your persistence. I've changed my comment settings to see if that makes any difference and am keeping fingers crossed.

Friday 15 November 2013

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - November 2013

Probably just like me, looking better in October than November, but still showing some colour on a November day is leycesteria formosa aka the Himalayan honeysuckle. It is a deciduous shrub, which has attractive stems and pendulous flowers with bracts, which eventually give way to deep purple berries. It is particularly recommended for partial shade or woodland gardens and seems to be one of those unsung easygoing shrubs that apart from pruning just gets on and does it own thing. My shrub is a good few years old and I can no longer remember how I came by it. It does have a tendency to self seed but it can be also propagated either by softwood cuttings. If you try sowing seed from your own shrub be prepared for really sticky fingers as you open up the ripened berries and try to extract the seed. It's great fun. Just to give more of a picture of leycesteria formosa here are a couple of photos I took last month ~

Meantime great excitement here as the first of my special snowdrops is showing white - not sure which one it is as the label has gone walkabout. Hopefully I will be able to share it come December.

Thanks as always to Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for giving us the opportunity to share our November blooms.

Monday 11 November 2013

Making Your Mark

An experiment was launched last week - I shall be reporting back at odd intervals. The results will not have a breathtaking impact on the shape of the world to come but you may still wish to read on. It has come about as I've been doing some tasks in readiness for colder weather. I've bought some dahlias in pots into the greenhouse for winter. I've also finished top dressing my special snowdrops in pots with fresh alpine horticultural grit. What have these tasks have in common you may well ask. The answer is labels and MARKER PENS. I have been checking the labels on each pot of snowdrops and also want to be able to easily identify the dahlias.

Now for more years than I care to remember I've used the same permanent marker pen ie a Pilot Super Colour Marker Extra Fine - permanent type. I first came across them at meetings of the Cheshire and Friends group of the  Hardy Plant Society, where members sell their plants at meetings. One of the members sold alpines and also conveniently sold the pens that he used and recommended them. So I tried a pen and was most impressed - it certainly seemed to stand up to the vagaries of the elements, remaining legible for several years. In fact usually the labels snapped well before the ink faded. However the pens have not been as effective recently. Have there been any subtle changes to the formula of the ink? Must contact the manufacturer to ask. Is it because we have had such a copious amount of wet stuff falling from the sky in the last year? Has the local squirrel population developed an anti social habit of label licking? Could there be any other reasons? I must also ask my good friend D. who uses the same pens to see if she has any observations to make.

Matters came to a head when I was top dressing the snowdrops. I noticed that some cryptic notes on labels that I had made using the pen in late winter 2013 were already fading. Bad enough that they my notes were cryptic but cryptic and fading does not inspire much confidence. So the marker experiment was born. As you can see I'm testing out five different writing implements and will be comparing the writing on the labels at regular intervals to see which comes out best. Details are as follows :

  1. Sharpie fine point permanent marker - I must say that this pen has already failed the test as far as I'm concerned. It does not match up to my definition of a fine point. However it is going to stay in the experiment to test out its permanence factor. Sharpie pens are available quite readily from most stationers. I have just found out that there is an ultra fine point too which is maybe the one I should have gone for. 
  2. Artline 444XF Paint Marker (0.8mm nib)- I'm uncertain how available these are on the high street having bought mine at the Malvern Show. I would like to use the white ink version (black ink is also available) on black labels in all my pots of special snowdrops. I want something that it is designed to last. I do have a Brother garden labeller which would do the trick but it takes more time to set up and print than writing by hand does. Another factor which puts me off going down this road for my snowdrop labels is that the tape used in the labeller is quite expensive especially if you make any mistakes. 
  3. Pilot Super Colour Marker Ultra Fine  - I have not managed to find these on the Pilot Pens website but will continue looking and will update the link if I have any joy. I used to be able to buy these pens from a local art shop but they stopped stocking them. My last couple of pens were ordered online from Cult Pens who delivered them most quickly. 
  4. Chinagraph pencil - these have been around for a long time but I've not had any experience of using them. I have however bought plants with labels that have been completed using them and they seem to last well. They can be easily purchased from high street stationers.
  5. Edding 140 S ohp marker permanent - I first came across mention of this pen on Derry Watkins's Special Plants Nursery website. Derry writes that 'Which? Gardening' did a one year trial in which this came out as the best and most permanent labelling pen. I'm not sure how easy it is to find these pens on the high street. Funnily enough I bought mine from the art shop where I used to get the Pilot pens. They can be ordered online from Derry's website and from other online sources.
The plan to issue a bulletin on the state of each labels health after a suitable period of time. I shall insert them into the same pot as close to each other as possible. In the meantime I would love to hear how you make your mark and what experiences you have had. It might be possible to include some late entries at this stage.

PS The cheapest writing implement is the Chinagraph pencil whilst the pens all came in under £4 at the time of purchase.

Sunday 3 November 2013

A Poem For November

Today I think
Only with scents, - scents dead leaves yield,
And bracken, and wild carrot's seed,
And the square mustard field;

Odours that rise
When the spade wounds the roots of tree,
Rose, currant, raspberry, or goutweed,
Rhubarb or celery;

The smoke's smell too,
Flowing from where a bonfire burns
The dead, the waste, the dangerous,
And all to sweetness turns.

It is enough
To smell, to crumble the dark earth,
While the robin sings over again
Sad songs of Autumn mirth.

- 'Digging' by Edward Thomas (1878 -1917).

Illustration - Vincent Van Gogh (1853 -1890).

Thursday 31 October 2013

End Of Month View - October 2013

Whilst September slithered out of reach I am struggling to find a word that sums up October. I think that 'sogged' would be it if there was such a word. October 2013 has felt exceptionally wet and mild. It be interesting to read the statistics when they are available. Although the nights have been noticeably colder of late our first frost is still on the cards.

My stars of the month flower wise have been a trio of hardy geraniums especially 'Dilys' (above photo) who deserves to be better known than she is. She is extremely long flowering and has enjoyed this year's weather. I think that she that she may have attracted more attention if she had been given another name. The other two geraniums that have shone through October are 'Bob's Blunder' and 'Salome', which both have most distinctive foliage too over a long season. 'Dilys' and 'Bob' are both still in flower on this last day of October but 'Salome' has given up the ghost.

I've made some inroads on bulb planting in the garden but at the same time have bought some more bulbs so funnily enough the to be planted pile remains more or less the same size. The special snowdrops have received an autumn clean as I've tried to check over each pot and remove any stray little seedlings that have germinated as well as scrape away liverwort. In some cases I've replenished the top dressing of alpine horticultural grit. I've not been able to resist the odd naughty rummage beneath the surface and have been so excited to discover little green snouts. Leaf sweeping has now started in earnest and will be the order of dry days to come for a while longer.

The main path to my allotment plot is a swamp once more so my trips are getting fewer and further between. The main edible attraction is the autumn flowering raspberries 'Polka'. The plants are having their most bountiful year ever. I have probably said before that not only are the fruits bigger than my summer fruiting raspberries but they are also superior taste wise. They certainly live up to any description of them that you might read in a catalogue or in a book.

Last weekend saw some garlic planting. I'm not quite sure what I've planted though. I was pleased to come across 'The Garlic Farm' at the Malvern Autumn Show and came home with four bulbs of garlic to plant. I sought advice as to what would be suitable for planting here in north west England. Unfortunately the otherwise helpful young man did not write the names down on the paper bag they went in to but it was equally my fault for not asking him to. I've been in that situation before so should have learned my lesson by now. I'm fairly sure though that one of them is 'Early Purple Wight' whilst whilst the other is destined to be anonymous. The two bulbs that will be planted later are definitely 'Solent Wight' which I've grown before. I'm still debating whether to plant the 'Jermor' shallots that I bought at the show or wait until spring. They are suitable for autumn planting but if we are in for a wet winter they may be better planted in the spring. Either way I will have to decide very soon.

The last of the climbing French beans have been eaten and the beanpole wigwams have now been dismantled. I've picked my one and only 'Black Futsu' winter squash and am patiently waiting for its skin to turn colour from dark green to a rich chestnut. I fear that this may never happen but will post more about it at some stage in the future as it's a born survivor. Still much tidying up to do before thoughts can turn to next year's crops.

In the greenhouse the sweet pea seeds have germinated and are making sturdy growth. Most of the penstemon cuttings I took have rooted so can just tick over during the next few months. I will pot them up individually in spring. I also have some seedlings of annuals to get through the winter. Some plants have now migrated inside the greenhouse for winter protection. They will be joined by the dahlias once their leaves or what remains of them receive their first frosting. The spider plant babies that came home with me from the Chester Cathedral open garden plant stall have now come inside the house. They all rooted and I hope to grow them in containers next year.

New plant additions have been minimal. I confessed to the hesperantha earlier this month here and have managed to commit the new name to memory. I bought a tray of smiling faced purple and white violas from our local market. Finally I've been given a well established melianthus major from one of my allotment friends. I've had this plant before but lost it so am delighted to have the chance to grow it again.

Thanks as always to Helen over at 'The Patient Gardener's Weblog' for enabling us to share our end of month views.

PS Blogger seems to have a touch of the gremlins as my post published minus its top and tail ie post header and a link to Helen's website which I've now remedied - I think that the bits in between are still intact.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Glut,Wot Glut?

The last courgette of the year has been consumed this week and the battered, mildewy plant dispatched to the glories of the compost heap. It was an unsatisfactory year for courgettes for me as although the harvest lasted over a long spell, output was far from prolific - the word 'glut' never entered the equation. I've attributed this to the fact that they were not sown and subsequently planted out until quite late and were then abandoned in that hot spell in July. They had set fruits before we went on holiday but I removed all the immature fruits before we went on holiday. My lovely plot neighbour kept things ticking over providing welcome liquid refreshment at intervals but I think that that the courgettes stuttered somewhat to establish themselves. Back home the above photo was taken on the 21st July but there were also sadly a number of courgettes looking like this ~ 

A bit of a horror show!

For the record I planted 3 different varieties and a total of 4 plants :

'Romanesco' (sown 15/04/13 - a variety which I've grown for a number of years, it produces long green small to medium sized ridged courgettes and has a pleasing shape when sliced. It's often described as having a 'nutty' taste but I can't say that I've noticed this when eating it. This performed satisfactorily but has done better in previous years.

I was prompted to grow the other two varieties after reading an article on courgettes in the RHS magazine 'The Garden'. In an in depth article 32 different varieties were grown and in conclusion observations were made on the basis of yield and appearance. I experimented with :

'Brice'  (sown either 18 or 19/04/13) - I liked the look of this round green courgette and the taste but I picked far few courgettes from this than the other varieties. I still have some of the rather expensive seeds left, so will have another go next year but may try another round green courgette for comparison.

'Floridor' (sown - 15/04/13)  - this produced the most attractive sunshine yellow round courgettes. It seemed to set plenty of fruit but unfortunately some did not mature. Definitely a contender for next year's sowing plans. Again there is left over seed.

You can see full details of all 32 courgette varieties here in a useful chart format.

What I have decided to do next year is to stagger seed sowing. How did you fare with courgette growing in 2013, what did you grow and what would you recommend? 

Friday 25 October 2013

A Sprinkle Of Glitter

Inspired by a friend's birthday present of a book entitled 'The Edible Flower Garden' and by Veg Plotting's  52 Week Salad Challenge, I've been on a mission to be more adventurous this year. I started eating flowers at an early age. In the summer months lightly fried courgette flowers dipped in a herby batter appeared quite regularly on the menu. Little did I know how unusual it was to eat such fare in England at that time. My Mum is Italian so bought she this dish with her persuading my Dad to grow zucchini, as we grew up calling them, on his allotment plot. Dad was the first person to grow them on his allotment site yet now these are staple plants on most plots. As I got older I think that perhaps I became more cautious about what I ate especially when I started to cook for myself. It's only in the last few years since I've had my own plot that I've been munching flowers again. This year I've eaten some flowers that I have tasted before such as roses, calendula, nasturtiums, violas, chive, borage and lavender but have also made a conscious effort to try out one or two new to me tastes :

The first of these were tulip petals. It's that long ago that I can't remember what they actually tasted like. I think that they were quite innocuous though. My book advised that a few people are allergic to tulips so that "all new diners should proceed with caution" which is exactly what I did. They obviously did not make much of an impact though so there was no danger of spoiling the aesthetic appeal of my pots of spring flowering bulbs.

Then in early summer there were pea flowers - yes the flowers of the garden pea. If you asked me what they tasted like I would have to say of pea. Nothing special but not at all unpleasant. My book suggests that "flowers of some varieties have a "grassy flavour" ; others have a mild, sweet, floral taste". I can imagine a few scattered in a salad but given that a pea flower turns into a pea pod I would rather enjoy the final product on my plate.

Day lily or hemerocallis flowers were also munched in 2013. Apparently the taste of the petals can range from "sweet floral to slightly metallic". Advice is given that you should taste them before using them in a recipe. Fortunately I came across "sweet floral" only. I was pleased that I was able to tempt himself into having a little taste of them when we were on holiday. The suspicious look on his face was priceless. When he realised that he was still living we had a conversation as to whether the colour of the petal might produce different tastes but we were unable to put this to the test at the time. Must try this out next year.

Moving on to pinks or dianthus. I have a most strongly scented bright pink pink growing at the allotment and it was petals from this plant that I tried. Taste wise the experience was pleasantly warm and clovelike. Definitely more memorable than pea or day lily.

Finally the revelation of the year were the petals of anise hyssop or agastache. A lot of taste is packed into these quite tiny petals. Aniseedy and reminiscent of a childhood sweet these are most refreshing and moreish. I had the odd nibble most days when I passed by the plant and was worried that I might eventually pluck the flower heads bald.

There are comprehensive lists of edible flowers over at Derry Watkin's Special Plants Nursery website (see list entitled 'Edibles In The Border') as well at over at Thompson and Morgan where there are also some recipe suggestions. Another list of suggestions can be found in Alys Fowler's book 'The Edible Garden'.  Mark Diacono's book 'A Taste Of The Unexpected' includes a chapter on on 'Leaves and Flowers'. I particularly liked his advice "I'll also urge you to eat a few flowers. Although they may not be enough to keep body and soul together, edible flowers do add a little glitter to what otherwise be a plainer parade".

It goes without saying that you need to make sure that you need to do some careful research and have your facts right before you taste any flowers or come to think of it any other part of a plant. Expectant mothers and anybody with a medical condition needs to be extra careful. Some flowers may be eaten whole whilst with others just the petals are edible.

Meanwhile if you grow chrysanthemums in your garden and see an intruder leaning over them in the next few weeks to have a nibble it could well be me!

Sunday 20 October 2013

"To market, to market"

Not to buy a fat pig in this instance but it was to to market I headed late last week, after perusing Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day posts. Invariably GBBD posts remind me of plants that I'm hankering for, are responsible for additions to the wish list or jog the recesses of my memory, as happened this month after reading Jessica's post over at rusty duck. Whatever happened to my schizostylis coccinea plants? At various points over the years I've planted red, pink and white flowering versions of this autumn flowering perennial, yet they have all vamooshed without a trace. Why and exactly when I am unable to pinpoint.

Hoping to find a replacement sooner than later I called in at our local Country Market. If you've not come across Country Markets before they are well worth a visit. Formerly known as Women's Institute Markets they changed their name several years ago now. There is a network of markets across across England and Wales - you can see exactly where here. They are usually open for a few hours each week on a specific day. On sale you will find a range of baked goods, jams, preserves, honey, eggs, fruit, vegetables, plants and crafts. All items must be home produced or home grown. I've bought a number of excellent perennials and shrubs over the years from our local market at most reasonable prices and at one stage was a plant producer for a few years.

The plants on sale usually reflect what is currently in flower so I was pleased to find that there was actually more than one schizostylis plant for sale. I agonised over which to purchase eventually opting for the one you can see above rather than a pale pink flower. It was definitely a case of "Home again, home again jiggety- jig".

PS It took me a long time to get my head round not only spelling the name of this plant but also pronouncing it. Guess what? After reading the information label that comes with each plant, I discovered that it has changed its name and is now hesperantha coccinea. I'm not sure when this happened but I'm getting too old for this name change game!

Tuesday 15 October 2013

GBBD ~ October 2013

A blue and yellow combination for October. I've decided that I will never win my long standing battle to completely eradicate the dreaded 'Yellow Peril', so I am letting the odd one have its head, allowing it to wander through the scutelleria. Meanwhile I'm convinced that I recently read about a scutelleria with deep purple foliage which looked absolutely bewitching but am unable to find the relevant gardening magazine to make a note of its name. Typical!

Thanks to Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for enabling us to share our blooms each month.

Friday 11 October 2013

Pride Becomes Before A Fall

Smug satisfaction about my bumper 2013 apple harvest has rapidly gone out of the window, or it might be more appropriate to say out of the garage door in this case. There has been much gnashing and gnawing of teeth. Venturing in to the garage earlier this week to store some spring flowering bulbs until I was ready to plant them, I thought to have a quick look at my apples. What apples? Some of them had totally disappeared without a trace whilst others had been nibbled. Result - some 60 or so apples totally ruined. I could have wept.

The Crime Scene 
The garage, the doors of which have been left open all day for most of the past week, as himself is engaged in a major diy project so there has been much coming and going.

Main suspect is squirrels .We have a plague of the creatures which are up to seasonal mischief at the moment hiding conkers away for their winter larder. They usually appear to forget about them and leave me to pull out chestnut seedlings in the spring.

There is about an acre of uncultivated land behind the garden which has a stream running through it, so over the years we've seen the odd rat or two but I can't see a rat making off with a whole apple.

Any other suggestions to add to the wanted poster which will be going up shortly?

The Verdict
Apart from giving every squirrel I see a dirty look for the foreseeable future, the decision has been made to store next years crop in the harder to access shed. As for apples I still have a few left in the house so I am going to savour those with even greater delight.

PS What I forgot to say was that there was also a nasty present from the culprit in the form of some droppings. Maybe other unsavoury doings went on. That decided me on not attempting any rescue as far as the remains were concerned.

Monday 7 October 2013

All Sown Up

- well not quite. This weekend was blessed with ideal weather for outdoor work. A full day out at the allotment on Saturday whilst yesterday was devoted to the garden. On a blissfully sunny October afternoon it is hard to get your head around how much earlier darkness falls and to realise that that you have not got that seemingly eternity of a June evening stretching ahead of you. There seems to be a mad rush to try to accomplish all you want to. I was however intent on sowing some sweet peas this weekend which I have done using my discovery of the year - root trainers! I ordered a couple of these earlier in the year from Sara Raven, making use of a free packing and post offer. They were used to sow sweet peas in the spring as well as for climbing French bean and pea seeds. When you get to the stage of releasing them from their cells to plant each plant has such sturdy, well developed root balls so planting them out is so much easier and with far less risk of root damage. I'm kicking myself for not trying them sooner. Although they are not made of the most sturdy of materials and will probably will not last much more than a couple of seasons, I'm so pleased with them that I will be ordering a couple more packs before next spring.  My spring sown sweet peas flourished and I'm still picking small bunches now.

So far lathyrus 'Fire and Ice' and lathyrus odaratus 'Almost Black' have been sown. I never soak my sweet peas seeds as is sometimes recommended but have rarely had any problems with germination. I've sown them one to a cell with the hope of seeing some green shoots later this month. Plans to also sow my favourite lathyrus 'Matucana' were thwarted as I could not find the seed packet that I thought I had. Will have to have a thorough search today. If unable to find them I will just have about enough time to locate another packet to sow by the middle of the month, which is the latest time recommended for sowing in the north of the country.

I've also spent some time preparing for the colder nights that are predicted for later this week. I doubt that we will have frost but just in case tender plants, that have been sitting out for the summer, are now near to the greenhouse in readiness for a quick move indoors. I also made a start on the task of sorting out plants that will be overwintering in the cold frames - pots have been emptied of their contents which have in turn been throughly inspected before being popped back in. I discovered a number of glistening slug eggs in the process so was pleased to nip these in the bud before they had the chance to become fully grown molluscs. Have you finished putting the garden to bed yet or are you like me still dashing round to fit it all in? I've still got perennials to plant and as for planting bulbs there's another story ......

P.S The bulbs were conveniently out of sight therefore out of mind but a box of bulbs from Peter Nyssen has just arrived this morning - the pressure is on!

Thursday 3 October 2013

A Poem For October

Today is National Poetry Day. This year's theme is "water, water everywhere" and after much searching, I found a poem which I think reflects the month and includes a passing reference to water:

"O suns and skies and clouds of June,
And flowers of June together,
Ye cannot rival for one hour
October's bright blue weather; 
When loud the bumble-bee makes haste,
Belated, thriftless vagrant,
And goldenrod is dying fast,
And lanes with grapes are fragrant; 
When gentians roll their fringes tight
To save them for the morning,
And chestnuts fall from satin burrs
Without a sound of warning; 
When on the ground red apples lie
In piles like jewels shining,
And redder still on old stone walls
Are leaves of woodbine twining; 
When all the lovely wayside things
Their white-winged seeds are sowing,
And in the fields, still green and fair,
Late aftermaths are growing; 
When springs run low, and on the brooks,
In idle golden freighting,
Bright leaves sink noiseless in the hush
Of woods, for winter waiting; 
When comrades seek sweet country haunts,
By twos and twos together,
And count like misers, hour by hour,
October's bright blue weather. 
O suns and skies and flowers of June,
Count all your boasts together,
Love loveth best of all the year
October's bright blue weather."

'October's Bright Blue Skies' is by Helen Hunt Jackson, 1830 - 1835.

I have to confess and you've probably guessed that the bright blue sky in the above photo was snapped much nearer to June than October. October blue skies are so much softer than those of June, not usually as warming but just as welcome and perhaps more appreciated.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

End Of Month View ~ September 2013

Making his entrance stage left is our water feature who was mentioned in August's EOMV. Huck has sat outside to the left of our front door for many years now. His body parts are concrete but we thought he would look better painted and he has in fact just been made presentable again. His poor hands were showing signs of severe wear and tear and the paint disguises a couple of partially missing fingers. His head had been in receipt of more recent tlc and we were both in accord that the green deposits are in keeping with his character. In theory the barrel should have disintegrated some years ago. At various stages it has had rubber ducks and artificial water lilies floating in it, been home to a dim night light, has spouted flourescent coloured water and at one point a misty like spray floated above the water. For now though he is unadorned. The trickle of water makes a comforting noise by day but is an absolute xxxxxx when we have got into bed at night and have realised that we have left him on.

Anyway I digress - September has slithered out of reach and what has been going on? Not much on the gardening front. The earlier part of the month was rather grotty weather wise and progress has been hampered by the fact that I've been away for three weekends in a row (a most unsusual scenario. I seem to have stalled somewhat so will need to fit a lot into October to catch up with what I would like to do.

Giving me pleasure in the garden this month has been my newly purchased anemone 'White Swan' which came home with me from the Southport Flower Show. Most unusually the back view of the flowers is just as attractive as the front ~

It's sister 'Dreaming Swan' appeared on the scene this year and plants were for sale at the Malvern Autumn Show ~

I decided that I prefer the single petals of 'White Swan' so my swan will continue to swim solo.

In the greenhouse my early September sowings have germinated so I've now got seedlings of orlaya grandflora, a dianthus (name presently slipping mind), nicotiana mutablis, briza maxima and tragopogan (salsify) and a pale pink foxglove to get through the winter. Persicaria orientalis and a clematis (again name slipping mind) have still to show. The last cucumber has dropped off and there are but a handful of tomatoes left to pick.

At the allotment all the apples bar 'Sunset' have been picked, the beans are finally on their last legs whilst raspberry 'Polka' has been the star of the month. Lots of big, sweet berries to nibble on when I'm working. There have also been a few strawberries on the planted this year 'Albion' plants but I'm still to be convinced about their taste. The courgettes are still going although production has slowed down whilst the' Black Futsu' squashes may still come good. Late last week I lifted the bed of 'Pink Fir Apple' potatoes which have now come home where they are drying out for a few days before going into storage. A much better harvest than 2012. The cold spring delayed me from planting them until early May which had the advantage of not having to worry about frost damaging emerging leaves. By the time the foliage showed there was little risk of frost and if had been predicted it would have been easy to cover the foliage. I think that I will plant late in the future.

Earlier in the month himself provided muscle to clear one of three areas on the plot that was still in need of sorting. Bark was spread, paths laid and three little temporary beds have been created. Now just two more patches to tame.

September plant purchases - one or two plant purchases were made at the Malvern Autumn Show this weekend. I came home with a variegated leaved strawberry which I've had before but lost over the years. It's a great little ground cover plant for shady spots. I also bought three of those little clematis plants that you often come across at shows. My purchases were 'Duchess of Albany', montana 'Warwickshire Rose' and ''Alionushka' - somewhat of a pink theme going on. A small corm of crocosmia 'George Davidson' from Trecanna Nursery came home in a little brown paper bag. A bargain at a £1 it hopefully will bulk up next year. I was also delighted to see 'The Garlic Farm' at the show - garlic for planting duly purchased and Pennard Plants were also present - 'Jermor' shallots for autumn planting purchased. Oh and I bought a grass earlier in the month - panicum virgatum 'Heavy Metal'. The bulb order was sent off in September so it looks as if October will be a busy month.

Thanks as always to Helen over at 'The Patient Gardener's Weblog' who came up with the excellent idea of an EOMV. Off in a few minutes to actually do some gardening but looking forward to lingering over some end of month views later on today at leisure with notebook and pen at hand.

Monday 30 September 2013

A Postcard From Malvern

A misty Saturday morning cleared to give rise to a decent day for visiting the Malvern Autumn Show held at the Three Counties Showground. This show is a celebration of the season and although horticulture and plants feature there are many other attractions. We stood with open mouths looking up at the loop the loop manoeuvres of the aerobatic planes (moving much to fast for me to photo), laughed ourselves silly watching the Lamb Grand National, complete with brilliant commentary and coveted camper vans even more vintage than ours. Thoughts of my dear Dad were never far away during the weekend. If still alive Dad would have been 85 today. He trained as a teacher in Worcester and  one of his teaching practises was at a school in Malvern. As a farmer's son he would have been in his element at the show and would have certainly remembered using some of the old agricultural machinery that was on display. Although tinged with some sadness it was still a most enjoyable and memorable day out.

Sunday 22 September 2013

'What Katy Did' And Other Stories

The first autumn storm of the year was responsible for a disturbing nightmare, in which the allotment apple trees were stripped bare of their fruit, providing a veritable feast for the occupants of the wasp nest lurking nearby. Yes I was away from home so was greatly concerned about their welfare. The crop on our three year old trees had been looking promising so it was with some trepidation that I ventured to my plot on Monday afternoon. Here much to my relief there was the sum total of one apple on the ground. Cupping and gentle tugging of those fruits still on the trees did not produce much, as the majority of the fruit was still clinging to the branches, so a decision was made to leave them be although more unpleasant weather was forecast. I returned to the allotment on Friday when in the space of just a few days apples were coming away easily. Rosy red 'Katy' is still wearing a few fruits but the 'James Grieve' crop has now all been removed.

'Katy' or 'Katya' as she is originally called coming from Sweden should have been ready to pick in late August but was late. Of the three apples varieties we planted she is my least favourite taste wise and does not have a long keeping period. Although she looks great and has had a few compliments on her appearance I now wish that I had chosen another variety.

'James Grieve' is a much older variety (1893) originating from Scotland. The fruits are quite large and will keep for a couple of months. This is a dual purpose apple but I think that this year's crop will form the basis of apple crumbles. This has produced the smallest yield of the three trees but the fruits are much bigger so I suppose it's a case of less is more.

Finally still to yield its fruit is my favourite 'Sunset', which was introduced in 1918. If you enjoy the taste of 'Cox's Orange Pippins' this should appeal to you. It is thought that 'Sunset' may be a seedling of 'Cox's Orange Pippin'. This year it is bearing a lot of fruit although the apples are on the small side. I should have been more ruthless with the thinning out in June instead of being so greedy. I'm hoping that these will soon be ready to pick. I must try to remember to do a head count this year.

There are plans to try and fit in a couple more fruit trees on the plot. No definite conclusions yet but here might be at least one other apple variety in the mix. It will have to be dwarf rootstock as large trees are not allowed. I would like to grow a local variety and will be consulting 'The Apple Source Book' for ideas. Whether I can get a local variety in a dwarf rootstock remains to be seen. Although our three little trees will certainly never provide us with all the apples we use, they provide us with much enjoyment and are most rewarding to grow. If you are thinking of adding any apples trees to your plot of earth this autumn, the Orange Pippin site is a most informative resource with detailed descriptions of some six hundred varieties. Not sure which variety to go for no problem as the site allows you to short list varieties, then see an on screen comparison. Do you grow apples and if so what variety or varieties tickle your tastebuds?

Monday 16 September 2013

Know Your Onions

Great excitement this weekend when I spotted an Onion Johnny in the streets of Ludlow. Himself and I were there visiting The Ludlow Food Festival, an event which we have been intending to go to for years but somehow have never managed it. This September though the stars were in alignment and we finally made it. Ageing camper van, or should I say vintage camper van headed for Little Stretton and Small Batch Camping Site, which we would certainly return to. Situated at the foot of the Long Mynd, this is a small picturesque site ideally positioned for serious walkers and for other less energetic visitors like us whose walking on this occasion, was limited to locating the two excellent local pubs.

On Saturday we ditched the camper van in favour of the local bus service into Ludlow where we wiled away a pleasant few hours meandering round the town. The Food and Drink Festival itself is centred in the grounds of Ludlow CastleThere were all sorts of food vendors exhibiting as well as demonstrations and events taking place including a sausage trail and a real ale trail. We were quite restrained though not taking part in the trails but having the odd sample here and there of the various food and drinks that were for sale. I would have liked to have seen more fruit and vegetables in the mix especially considering the time of year. We did come across though the excellent Cottage Herbery stand, with various herbs and plants for sale from which a couple of purchases were made.

Heading back into town was where we came across the onions. I was taking photos of the striking and sometimes wonky black and white buildings that are to be found throughout the town, when I was distracted by a glimpse of onions in the distance. Of course I had to make a beeline in their direction for a closer look and was delighted to see strings of delicious pink Roscoff onions for sale. We have bought these onions on French holidays and love their sweet taste so it was brilliant to see them for sale much nearer to home. A plait was duly purchased and the first onion was used on Saturday night, to accompany the sausages that we bought before leaving town and heading back to the campsite.

In case you are wondering 'Onion Johnny' was the nickname given to the Breton farmers and agricultural labourers who sold Roscoff onions in the United Kingdom. This trade started in the nineteenth century reaching its peak in the 1920s. The onion sellers traveled by bicycle and made door to door sales throughout the country. They often wore distinctive striped shirts and usually wore a beret. There are only a handful of them left now and I suppose events like food festivals are an excellent opportunity for them to promote Brittany. We've visited the Maison des Johnnies and the L'Oignon Rosé museum in Roscoff, which holds a fascinating collection of paraphernalia and a photographs recording the history of the Onion Johnnies. I don't remember though seeing such a young and carefree looking character as this young man gracing the streets of Ludlow.

Friday 13 September 2013

A Cathedral Gardens Visit

The last Saturday of August was an opportunity for me to visit a National Gardens Scheme open garden with a difference. This was the very first opening of the gardens of Chester Cathedral under the scheme and from what I gather the second only cathedral in the country to open under the NGS. Arriving at the entrance I paid the admission fee and was presented with a most comprehensive information leaflet which told visitors what they were about to see. This was a lovely touch and the enclosed map was useful for navigating my way round. The leaflet explained that the majority of the gardens had been planted over the last two years, so it would be take some time for them to "take on their atmosphere and character". In various locations several rare and exotic trees have been planted, which will hopefully flourish in the gardens well into the next century and possibly beyond.

The newness of some of the borders was jarring and in some places I think that recent planting may have struggled to establish itself during the hot, dry summer. This was particularly evident in the 'Forbidden Fern Garden' which looked most forlorn let alone forbidding.

I was beginning to feel slightly disappointed when I reached the Cloister Garth which took my breath away. Deep in the heart of the cathedral this area was planted in 2008 with the aim of year long colour and interest. Coming to the end of summer this spot was a green oasis of tranquility with the most captivating statue at its centre. I walked round the statue for quite a considerable time looking at it from every angle. Created by artist Stephen Broadbent, the 'Water Of Life' portrays a life changing encounter between Jesus and the woman of Samaria, which is told in John's gospel. The statue celebrates the life-giving properties of water. There is a continuous flow of water from the cup, over the hands and into the pool in the dish below which is illuminated. Around the base are these words : "Jesus said 'The water I shall give will be an inner spring always welling up for eternal life" - from John 4:14. Do click on the collage to see the statue in more detail. This part of the garden will remain permanently imprinted in my memory.

Going back into the cathedral there was an exhibition of garden plans and photographs of the gardens at other times of the year. I enjoyed looking at this before resisting having an early lunch in the cathedral refectory and made my way back to the usual busy streets of Chester, filled with shoppers and tourists as it is most Saturdays. Before being swallowed up by this I browsed at the plant sales table outside the entrance which I had clocked on the way in. Purchases of a pot of sempervivums were made, as well as some babies from a gigantic all green spider plant. I fancied the plant but did not rate my chances of getting it home intact on the bus along with all the shopping I still had to do. I'm pleased to say these little babies have already started to root. I hope to use them as outdoor foliage plants next year if I can get them through the winter as indoor house plants. I never have much luck with houseplants.

The plan is that the cathedral gardens will open annually but at different times of year. The next opening is provisionally Saturday 14th June 2014 and if possible I hope to be there, as I would very much like to see how these gardens develop.