Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Wordless Wednesday ~ 30th January 2013

stippled-photo

Monday, 28 January 2013

'Bring Me Sunshine'


"Bring me sunshine!" is what the above clump of snowdrops must have been shrieking out before I rescued them from a mound of leaves yesterday. My fault entirely for not doing this job before now. Changes in the garden last year, including the building of a wall meant that leaves had piled up more than they usually do. I filled two black bin bags yesterday with them so more raw material for making leaf mould, although this clump and two others have suffered. I only hope that they live to tell the tale.

The sunshine was around long enough yesterday for me to spend a little time in the garden although it was on the windy side. The day started off though with me perched on a stool looking out of the living room window for an hour completing the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. As usual on these occasions I'm sure that the birds know that they are being watched and therefore a number of regular customers were reluctant to show their beaks at the open all hours cafe. This year's visitors included blackbirds, long tailed tits, blue tit, coal tit, great tit, wood pigeon, dunnock, wood pigeons, magpies and robin. I live in hope of a parrot or eagle alighting at the bird table but nothing exotic to report this year.

Then outside in the afternoon where I rescued the snowdrops and did some sorting out in the greenhouse. The bite in the wind though made sure that there was no danger of getting carried away and after an hour or so I felt that the warmth of the house was a more attractive proposition. Here the sunny theme continued as we eat our one and only 'Sunshine' red kabocha winter squash for our evening meal. It was cooked in a sort of soupy stew - the other ingredients being onions, cannellini beans, celery, red pepper, herbs, stock and some sliced pork and leek sausage. Some crusty granary bread would have gone down nicely with it but there was none to hand. Having said that it was sufficiently filling without bread. The squash had a most sweet, nutty taste and is a must for this year. Sadly last years sowings which all germinated did not flourish when they were planted. I was fortunate that I had passed a plant along a plant to my allotment neighbour which thrived and that he was generous enough to give me one of the resulting squashes. It had been waiting patiently for just the right moment for consumption. No photo of either squash or stew to illustrate this post but the rest of the evening was filled with the warm glow of summer. Now that we have also consumed the last of the frozen strawberries there are only some shallots remaining from last year's harvest. Time to get sowing again!

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Portrait Of A Snowdrop - 'John Gray'


My small collection of named special snowdrops has enjoyed relatively balmy conditions during this cold snap.  Not only have I moved all the pots undercover in anticipation of the rumoured coldest winter for hundred years, himself also treated me to a heater for the greenhouse. This means fingers crossed that there should be no danger of any plants freezing in the greenhouse during the colder months.

There is much discussion about the whys and wherefores of growing snowdrops in pots. I have grown them this way for several years and have found that there are advantages. It allows you to enjoy the flowers at close quarters, to breath in their scent and also to take photos of them without having to squat or lie down, which I can no longer do so easily. Pot culture also thwarts the squirrels and other creatures who might fancy a tasty nibble, although having said that I don't think that snowdrops feature high up on their favourite bulb snacks. On the minus side though is what long periods of sustained below freezing temperatures can do to bulbs grown in pots and I think that this was a factor behind some of my losses a couple of years ago or so. I wrote about that sad state of affairs here but am pleased to say that since then I've been able to replace some of my losses. I originally thought that that I had lost 'John Gray' so purchased a replacement. Maybe the shock of replacing him spurred him back into growth the following year as I now have two pots which are clumping up nicely. It is one of my favourite snowdrops flowering in January. The long term plan now for him and any other duplicate snowdrops is to split them between pots and the ground. I think that I make a start on this when the bulbs are dormant later on in the year.

As to this year I was anticipating some losses after months and months of rain but I've been pleasantly surprised. The first bulbs opened before Christmas and there are others now either open, about to open or to follow soon in February. In the last couple of days I've been making use of the extra light - a combination of sunshine (today) and the reflection of snow, to take a few photos. I have been experimenting by using black card which has been placed behind the snowdrops. It proved hard to prop up between the slats in the staging - my request for help was turned down by himself in favour of watching an FA Cup fixture on the television. Couldn't quite understand why but there you go. I'm still not satisfied with the results but intend to practise further over the coming month as more of the flowers open. More to come on snowdrops soon.

Monday, 21 January 2013

January Reading


Although this time of year has it minuses it offers a welcome opportunity spend some time visiting fellow bloggers. Here are a couple of blogs  that I have come across in the last few months which are now becoming regular ports of call. Both of them are relatively new to the garden blogging community, so if you have not already discovered them do pay them a visit.

Firstly an introduction to Cathy over at Rambling In The Garden. Cathy started blogging in March last year although it was later on in the year before I made her acquaintance. Cathy blogs regularly about her garden, writes her own poetry and it seems that we share a love of similar flowers including snowdrops. I am looking forward to reading about Cathy's garden as it emerges from its winter's rest. 


It's also been a pleasure to meet another Anna who blogs at 'dig the outside'. Anna is a keen gardener and allotmenteer who began blogging in October 2012. Last autumn her post about gardening in the dark conjured up all sorts of images. Now that we are in a new year Anna is planning to grow giant leeks amongst other crops and has already got her sweet peas, tomatoes and broad beans off the starting block.

Are there any new to you blogs that you have come across recently? If so please let me know or perhaps you could do an introduction on your blog.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Learning To Stipple

stippled-photo  

Well everyone else is posting photos of snow so I thought it was time to get the sunglasses out and sit in the garden awhile. No seriously whilst it's been snowing I've been learning more about Stipple - not an Eskimo term for snow or new handicraft in case you are wondering. Stippling is a method of protecting photographic image identity as well as making photos more interactive. This post will be the test of whether my first attempt at stippling one of my images has actually worked. If it has been successful when you hover you cursor over the image you should see a link to this website and also some details about the photo itself. Please let me know if you can't see them. If that happens something has gone amiss and I will need to go back to the drawing board. Wherever this photo might travel on the internet in the future it will hopefully be linked back to this website. Even if somebody was to crop the watermark at the bottom of the photo the links will still be there.

I have not got brilliant photographic skills and do not make an income from photos or this website but it does annoy me when one of my photographs has been used on another website without my permission. I think that in most cases, that if somebody asked permission to use one of my photographs on their site, I would be so flattered that the answer would be affirmative. This especially applies to the garden blogging community. The incident that incensed me was that one of my photos appeared on a non gardening website which contained some adverts and links to rather dubious products and sites that I would not want to be associated with. Since then I have been trying to put a watermark on my photos even though this does not prevent other people from using them if they are determined to. I am reluctant to spoil the photo by placing the watermark in the centre, so it would still be relatively simple for somebody to crop the photo, therefore removing any association with me.

I came across mention of Stipple when I read this article on detering image theft by Rosie over at leavesnbloom. If you have not visited Rosie's blog before you are missing out. Her posts regularly include her absolutely exquisite plant photos which make me realise that I have got a long way to go. Rosies' article here covers the why and how tos of Stipple in depth and provides an excellent tutorial should you want to try it out. She explains what is involved clearly and with excellent step by step photographic illustrations. She has also written a follow up article here which tells you more about how you can make your images more interactive via Stipple. For instance I could have included some information about the Southport Flower Show i.e. dates of 2013 show, which is where I took the above photo but thought that it might be too ambitious for my first attempt at using Stipple.

At the moment you can sign up to Stipple free. The process of using it seems relatively straightforward and not too time consuming. For professional photographers like Rosie this development will help to protect their livelihoods. Garden bloggers can use it to enhance their  photos with much more information. Do let me know if you have a go and a big thanks to Rosie for sharing her knowledge and  her great instructions. There are of course instructions on the Stipple website, a community forum and you can also get in touch @Stipple

Now here goes - I'm about to press the publish button to see if it works!


Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day ~ January 2013


The unexpected noise of what turned out to be a butterfly's wings opening and closing was a welcome reminder that warmer days are on the horizon. The said butterfly - a peacock was perched high up in the garage roof this morning. I'm not sure whether this was just part of an early morning T'ai- chi routine but do I hope that the creature was not lured outside by the winter sunshine. It looks inviting out there but it's cold and will be for a few more days according to the forecast.

Unlike the butterfly my few January blooms are refusing to oblige to open up today. I was surprised that the snowdrops that you can see above taken for GBBD in  January 2012 look like this today :

Snowdrops in the garden

We have had what was a very mild start to the year so I thought that they would be as far on if not further than last year. I can't be sure that this is the exact same clump but if not it is in very close proximity. As you can see just a hint of of white here and there. I wonder if this is a legacy of the extreme wet conditions of last year. I also think that I must nip in there and do some leaf removal as a matter of some urgency.

Likewise my special snowdrops in pots are not playing either despite having taken up temporary residence in the greenhouse. The early flowering 'Faringdon's Double' has now gone over, whilst 'Mrs Macnamara' and 'John Gray' are teasingly close to opening.

Back in the garden the same with my hellebores including this old favourite :


apart from helleborus 'Angel Glow' ~ 


However in the warmth of the house this African violet is still showing some flowers and has done so now for the best part of six months or so ~

African Violet In Flower

As always thanks to Carol over at May Dreams Gardens for hosting GBBD. I know that I will be sitting down later with a cup of coffee garden visiting, poised with pen and paper ready to add to my wish list.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

'Blooming Small'


Why does a new year always bring out the urge to spring clean and sort in me? Most scary.This year the bookshelves are getting some long overdue attention - there are some rather alarming sags and it is definitely time for a serious pruning. However I'm being seriously sidetracked by old favourites, so before I know it just a quick flick through has turned into an hour or two of revisiting them. I have some books that sit untouched for months but which are still most precious to me. I thought that this year I would share a few of them here instead of my usual Wordless Wednesday posts - well probably not every week but as and when. I know it's Thursday today but I was too busy reading yesterday. I think that this task could take some considerable time.

So here is the first title which is 'Blooming Small' by Sheila Jackson was published in association with The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in 1994. Sheila was a most talented woman - an artist, author and costume designer. Her achievements including designing costumes for the television series 'Upstairs, Downstairs'.  If my memory serves me well I read a review of the book in a gardening magazine and then as you do scoured bookshops for it. On initial viewing I was hooked by the beautiful water colour illustrations and so the book just had to come home with me. The book was inspired by the author's own tiny garden (approximately 24ft x16ft) in Camden Town, London which overlooked the main railway line into Euston station. Her garden used to open under the National Garden Scheme and also featured in a number of magazines and books including Lucy Gent's 'Great Planting'.

Sheila relished the idea of a small garden writing that "the small size of the garden suited and pleased me. As an illustrator of books I am used to the small page and have been trained to have a seeing eye; to be inventive with colour and shape is part of my trade, and that important quality - a sense of scale - has developed with the years.

The book chronicles Sheila's gem of a garden throughout the course of a year - recording successes, failures, garden visitors and garden visiting, her delight in horticultural shows, plant buying advice as well as seasonal maintenance and propagation techniques. There is a lot of valuable information which can be applied no matter what size your garden is e.g "to achieve unity in a small area, colour needs to be both restricted and restrained so that the eye can wander gently from place to place without experiencing sudden jumps from one bright colour to another. It is important to avoid the fussiness of too many small- leaved plants and to include large and dramatic leaves". Sheila relied a lot on growing many plants in containers including even a plastic kitchen bowl, as these could be moved around to provide focus points and different combinations as the year unfolded. She answered her need for growing at different levels incorporating tall chimney pots, shelves, a Victorian saucepan - stand as well as the cracks in the concrete. I was fascinated by the skill and the ingenuity she displayed in creating her 'pot banks', the range of plants she grew, her planting combinations and by the sheer dedication she showed in maintaining this garden space to such a high standard.

Looking at this book again has made me think about the north - facing courtyard space in front of our house. I have neglected the area of late but intend to make more of it this year.

Sadly Sheila died in 2011 at the age of 89 .'Blooming Small' does not appear to be still in print but copies can be found via the usual internet sources and also through second hand booksellers. It might take some time and effort to track down but that's all part of the fun.

N.B. The above illustration is from the book and shows some of the plants that featured in Sheila's garden in the month of January.

Monday, 7 January 2013

'If I Knew Then What I Know Now'


Himself and I have been shopping yesterday - the first garden centre trip of 2013. I had a vague shopping list in my mind before we set off. Whenever I visit Pauline's blog over at 'Lead up the Garden Path', I have to smile when I see the following phrase above her header ; "If I knew then what I know now". It is a wry smile as I am finally getting round to planting some of the shrubs and trees which I should have done almost 30 years ago or so, when I suppose not only lack of knowledge but also lack of time and money prevented me from doing so. Having self built we moved into our new house in summer. The land around the house was uncultivated and overgrown and we were anxious for it to look less derelict and more of a garden space as soon as possible. However there was no distinct plan and no budget set aside. It was a matter of filling it up with what we could afford and what we were given by friends and family. Now if I could go back in time I would have done the research and planning first and taken more time but then we've all probably been there at some point or other. Over the years though there has always been those '"I wish had planted .....  thoughts" nagging at the back of my mind.

With the recent creation of the gabion garden last year, I was hoping to have some new planting space but there have been some heated discussions since, as himself insists that some of the space is needed for manoeuvring the car. As a non driver this never entered my considerations but after much childish sulking I have had to concede, so although I am left with less than I initially hoped for there is still going to be enough room to plant a couple of small trees. We also decided that we can fit in a third tree in another area of the garden.

Ideally this should have happened in the autumn but the wet and other matters got in the way so went tree hunting today. I came away with an early birthday present from himself - a beautiful Himalayan white - barked silver birch - Betula utilis var. jacquemontii 'Snow Queen'. This is a tree that I have read about in books and on blogs time and time again and observed close hand in gardens, as well as in some local municipal plantings. I'm afraid that the above photo does not do it justice. 'Silver Queen' is now at the back of the house, near the cold frame waiting for us to plant it. I will no doubt photo it again when it is in its dwelling place. We had no luck with the other trees on the wanted list but will have to make a determined effort to track them down. I see some regular garden centre/nursery visiting coming up during the next few weeks as I'm now a woman on a mission. Are there any plants especially trees and shrubs that you wish you had planted years ago?

Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Memory Keeper


I've been scrabbling about in the back of kitchen cupboards today in search of jars. Not a case of efficient forward planning for marmalade making or potential jammy goodness or even the perfect pickle, but in search of just one suitable jar for a new project. I eventually came across a jar that has been decorated by either my mother or my sister - as well as the butterfly, a dragonfly and a bee are flying round its periphery. I'm not sure yet whether this jar will be big enough but I am hoping to use it to collect a year's worth of written reminders of what has made me feel happy - not necessarily big events but the little everyday happenings, that make you smile at the time. The idea comes from a friend who empties her jar out at the end of the year and reflects on all the positive things that have happened even in bleak years. I've already got one or two snippets to put in - a rainbow on New Year's Day, two robins feeding together at the bird feeding station again on the same day, as well as the fact that  yesterday afternoon I solved the identity of whodunit in Susan Hill's latest book 'A Question Of Identity', a hundred pages or so before the end! Time now to find some paper to jot these down before they slip away like dreams into the forgotten zone. How will you be recording 2013?

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

A Poem For January


"Joy to You
I have bought some snowdrops ; only just a few,
But quite enough to prove the world awake,
Cheerful and hopeful in the frosty dew
And for the pale sun's sake' 

~ Christina Rosetti, 1830 -1894

As a new year unfolds I wish joy to anybody who visits here. May 2013 treat you and your patch of earth whether garden or allotment kindly. A huge big thanks to everyone who has called in during 2012 - your comments and support have been much appreciated and have often bought smiles to my face. Blogging would not be the same without you.

The above collage is composed of photos taken in the garden or on our travels during 2012. It was difficult to put one together, as having suffered major computer woes earlier this year most of my photos are floating about in limbo. I know where there are but accessing them in chronological order and then sorting them out, is going to be a major challenge for me to sort out this year. April and May when I usually take a lot of photos are especially elusive.

From left to right starting in the top left hand corner ~
January - snowdrops in my garden, February - snowdrops and irises at Abbeywood Gardens, March - in the greenhouse.
April - spring arrives, May - brunnera , June - on the street planting in Le Bec Helloin, Normandy.
July - my favourite geranium, August - wildlife in the garden, September - a window box in Arles.
October - cotoneaster foliage, November - smiling violas, December - sunshine on a rainy day.

Please click on the mosaic if you would like to see a larger version.