Monday, 26 August 2013

Led Astray


We all love receiving compliments and I'm no exception. I was delighted when an email arrived in my inbox recently from DotComGiftShop to notify me that my blog had been included in their pick of '20 Gorgeous Gardening Blogs'. The nominated blogs included some familiar faces but also one or two new to me blogs. I was pleased to be in such good company. The email also extended an invitation to become a member of the company's blog network, which offers me the opportunity of occasionally receiving complimentary products to review. The company sells a wide range of gifts but I decided that I was not interested in reviewing items other than those which would tie in with the theme of this blog.

Now it just so happens that I was sent a 'Garden Roses Wooden Produce Tray' from DotComGiftShop's home and garden section to to review which was a most opportune choice. This pretty tray has given me the perfect excuse to bring out some of my small collection of china cups and saucers and to indulge in afternoon tea or in my case coffee. I've been led astray sitting supping and reading in the afternoons instead of getting on top of the weeding. Please note that only one teacake was consumed in the production of this particular post:)

The tray is made of wood, is well finished, sturdy and has well placed handles. Carrying it is most comfortable and more important the load feels secure. Its dimensions are as follows : length 48 centimetres, width 300 centimetres and depth 80 centimetres.

The same tray is also available with alternative illustrations including apples, vegetables, strawberries and raspberries. The apple design would be perfect for storing those soon to be picked apples in a suitable place whilst the others would be ideal receptacles for collecting produce. I would be wary though of putting soft fruit into them directly though without some protective covering over the wood, otherwise you could be left with some nasty permanent stains.

Although described as a garden produce tray you could use it just as effectively in the home to store craft materials etc. I'm just wondering whether my latest jigsaw would fit in it so will be checking later.

DotComGiftShop's home and garden section includes a variety of other gardening related gifts. Some of them are practical e.g. kneelers, children's gardening sets, a garden tidy whilst others are decorative e.g. paper lanterns, tealight holders and bunting. At present the company does not sell either seeds or plants. I would imagine that as with most other similar companies that the stock will change according to the seasons. The company was established in 2005 and sells a wide range of gifts other than those related to the garden. I could well be tempted to make some purchases in the future.

The only part of the experience that could have been improved was on what I considered excessive packaging. I could have made myself a dress from the layers of bubble wrap that wrapped the tray! No need for it.

Disclosure : I received the tray from DotComGiftShop for review purposes but this has not influenced my opinions on the product. I have not been paid to write this post or will be paid if readers subsequently visit the company's website and make purchases.


Wednesday, 21 August 2013

A Carrot By Any Other Name



                `
However this 'umble umbel is definitely one for the cutting patch rather than the cooking pot. This summer I've been pleased to make the acquaintance of daucus carota 'Black Knight'. Well I think that it's him although his behaviour and mannerisms have deviated slightly from what the blurb says on the seed packet.

Initially seed was sown in 2012, germination occured but then the seedlings seemed to linger in a forever state of soggy suspended animation during that summer that never was. In the end I gave up on them and lobbed them unceremoniously on the compost heap. A decision was made to give them another go this year. Seed was sown on 21st April and this time round the seedlings flourished, producing flowers since around the middle of last month with still lots more to come. The plants have reached about three foot in height bur flop about albeit quite gracefully. They would benefit from some unobtrusive twiggy support but there's no suitable material to hand just now. The foliage is fine and feathery. The flowers last well in water - the one you can see is still going strong after eleven days. The seed packet describes the flowers as crimson - now here I beg to differ as to my eye they are a dusky old rose.

I confess to being slightly puzzle as the seed packet advises that the plant is a biennial but obviously this is not the case as far as the seeds sown this year are concerned. I've been asking myself whether the long, hot dry spell in July affected their normal growth pattern. I wish that I had not so ruthlessly chucked last year's seedlings away as it would have been interesting to see if they had come good this summer. So I can only wonder what will happen when I sow them again next year as they are already on the definite must sow list for 2014. Has anyone else grown this plant and if so what has been your experience?

Friday, 16 August 2013

Reading Matters


The sheer excitement of choosing holiday reading as a child still comes to mind whenever I select which books to take on holiday. Armed with my well earned pocket money I usually had saved enough to purchase 2 or 3 Armada paperbacks to read whilst we were away. These cost 2/6 each each - a vast sum in those days. I remember reading my way through a lot of Enid Blyton books as a child - the Famous Five, the Secret Seven, Mr Galliano's Circus, the Malory Towers series etc., etc. Although her work was to come in for much criticism in later years I think that Enid Blyton's writing was responsible for my lifelong love of reading. Now many moons later the thought of what to read on holiday still keeps me pleasantly occupied some time before we go. Our recent holiday provided me with some enjoyable reading although only one title was gardening related.

For the long train journey down to Portsmouth I read my way through James Runcie's 'Sidney Chambers and the Peril of Death'. This is the first of an anticipated series of six books featuring clergyman and detective Sidney Chambers. The first book is set in 1953 and follows Sidney as he unravels several mysteries. There are several moral dilemmas for this gentle character and some in the background hints of ensuing romance. The book consisted of several short stories which took me by surprise as it was not obvious at first but several characters featured throughout. A very gentle and very English read I enjoyed it enough to have ordered the next title in the series from my local library. 

Over the sea to France where I had chosen a French related theme for the remainder of my reading. I started with Gregoire Delacort's 'The List Of My Desires'. This book has been a best seller in France since its publication in 2012 and has now been translated into English. The main character is Jocelyn. At the age of 47 she is running a haberdashery shop and spends some of her spare time running a sewing blog. She is reasonably content with her lot in life until an event of life changing implications comes her way. I'm not going to divulge any spoilers but there's an unexpected twist or two as the tale unravels. My only gripe about this book was that it was not long enough.

Next was Claire King's debut novel 'The Night Rainbow', the paperback version of which has landed on the bookshelves here very recently. Set in southern France its narrator is a five year old little girl Pea whose world has been turned upside down. It is revealed very early in the book that her father has died and this event coupled with another tragedy has a devastating effect on Peas's mother as she is left on her own to raise her family. There is much sadness in this book but the overriding emotions are of joy as Pea and her sister make a most unlikely friend who helps their mother to move forward. Pea has a great love of the outdoors and there are many references to the natural world seen through the eyes of a child. The fact that we briefly visited Provence last year helped to give this book a real sense of place. I thought that this was a beguiling read and was one of those books that I did not want to put down.

Finally my last holiday read which is still a work in progress. This is 'The Road to Le Tholonet: A French Garden Journey' by Monty Don.  It came out not long after the BBC series 'Monty Don's French Gardens' but its scope is wider than gardens and it explores what makes France unique. The author visits gardens along the way but as well as describing these gardens he makes many references to French culture. This is not a glossy book and some reviews have come down on the lack of photos in the book. There is no attempt to provide comprehensive illustrations or plans of the the gardens which might disappoint some people. Instead there is but a handful of black and white photos in the book some of these featuring a youthful Monty and friends. I found that this did not detract from the book in the least. It made me perhaps concentrate harder on the author's words as I developed a mental image of what the gardens looked like. I recently struggled to find a photo to illustrate a blog post and ended up including a photo that wasn't really relevant. The book reminded that words can paint pictures too, so perhaps if I'm brave I might post one or two photo free blog posts in the future. This is an ideal book for reading in bite sized chunks so perfect for a holiday.

All my books were on my faithful Kindle which has made transporting books on holiday so much easier and has put an end to the debate whether there is enough room in the suitcase to slip in an extra one. Now back at home I'm looking for more reading matter especially as the evenings seem to be getting shorter already. What have you read or will be reading on your holidays or if you are staying at home this year? All recommendations welcome.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Conundrum


The old grey matter has been struggling this week trying to solve a mystery. I'm now well into French bean harvesting and consumption. What I am unable to fathom is the different growing patterns of the beans. I planted a trio of climbing beans at the allotment this year. The 'Borlotti' turned out to be a non climber so I will leave them out of the equation. The others are old favourites, the green 'Cobra' and 'Blauhilde' which has purple pods which turn slowly green as the water in the pan comes to boiling point. Great fun to watch.

The beans were both sown on the same day. 'Cobra' was the first to produce beans where they appeared from the bottom of the plants upwards, whilst 'Blauhilde' was about ten days behind and has been cropping from the top of the plants downwards. Now I wonder why that should be and whether it is a regular happening or just a one off. I will have to wait a whole year before I can put this to the test but perhaps somebody out there might have a scientific explanation as to this particular phenomenon. 

Meanwhile if you are wondering why there is a photograph of some sweet peas accompanying this post it's because I do not have any to illustrate my point :)  However my sweet peas are giving me great pleasure this year. The above bunch was picked earlier this week after cutting some for my allotment plot neighbour. They were the biggest bunch I have possibly ever picked on a single day so I thought that they deserved a special mention. Another option would be to post without a photo but more on this subject later this week. 

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

More From 'Dig The City'


Following on from today's earlier post a few words about our visit yesterday to 'Dig The City'  in Manchester. Described as an urban garden festival this is on from the 3rd - 11th August offering visitors the opportunity to enjoy some special one off events, talks, workshops as well as shopping. The majority of what is on offer is free although some of the talks have been priced at a modest £5. Considering that speakers have included such well known figures such as Monty Don, Rachel de Tame and Matt James this is excellent value.

I must admit that I rarely venture into Manchester as I find the city city so busy and overwhelming, but the festival hub and most of the activities were situated in the relatively tranquil area around Manchester Cathedral. If my memory serves me there was a smaller event under 'The Dig City' banner last year but I think it was mainly focused on flower arranging and it was staged in the cathedral. The cathedral is closed at the moment as a green heating system is being installed but there was plenty going on outside.

We stood and looked up at the specially created forest in Exchange Square ~


Here some 70 trees formed what is described as a 'pop up woodland'. They are destined to be planted permanently in a regeneration project taking place in the heart of the city.

Manchester City Council's entry into the bedding class competition at July's RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park had been recreated in front of the cathedral ~


Shame about the left out railings which were slightly distracting. The entry won a gold medal at Tatton and best in its class.


We liked these figures ~




Just round the corner local projects including children and young people's groups had planted up these large containers ~



Whilst there was some more unusual container planting too ~


There were a few show gardens including this most clever optical illusion ~


The planting is real but the lower part of the cityscape including the canal is a huge photograph.


Here I liked the planting but was not so sure about the chairs ~



Craning our necks to admire the giant latex balloons, the work of American artist Jason Hackenwerth. I think that these were giant bees buzzing high in the skies ~



If you are in striking distance of Manchester this week it's certainly worth a visit. There are still some great speakers and workshops to come. Unfortunately these were thin on the ground yesterday so our we were left with time on our hands to do other things. There are various activities for children too - we did not get to see her but Peppa Pig was around yesterday. The social media coverage of the festival both in the lead up and now that the festival is on has been great with regular input from @digthecity on Twitter. In fact some of the established garden shows and festivals could benefit from looking at both the 'Dig The City' Twitter feed and website. I was also most impressed with the almost instant email response after making an enquiry.

A couple of suggestions where there is room for improvement :
It would have been great if the event had a presence at the railway station i.e. in our case Manchester Picaddilly handing out information especially that vital map. This was an ideal chance to catch people coming into the city who may not have known about the festival.
Secondly and a source of major disappointment to me - there was only one outlet in the horticultural market that sold plants! 

Congratulations to all those involved in putting this festival together and hoping that it becomes a fixed date in the calendar. 

PS Despite the grey skies and Manchester's well know reputation for the wet stuff there was no rain during the day.

Almost Wordless Wednesday ~ 'Dig The City'

'Dig The City' is an urban garden festival which is taking place this week in Manchester.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

An International Garden Festival in France

Before we departed for our recent holiday it dawned on me that some creative map reading could lead us in the direction of the International Garden Festival at Chaumont -sur -Loire.
Having made such a visit in the summer of 2010, I positively purred at the thought and waited for an opportune moment to suggest the idea to himself. No objections were raised from that department so on a tremendously hot and sunny Bastille Day we found ourselves at the entrance of the festival. Perhaps our timing could have been better but although a public holiday there was never any sense of overcrowding. The festival in fact was open until 8.00pm and if we had realised that before we set off we would have visited later in the day. Not only would it have been marginally cooler it would have been a better time for taking photos.

The festival now in its 22nd year is notably different to the garden shows and festivals held in the U.K. Gardener designers from all over the world are invited to submit their designs from which a panel selects those which appear at the show. The gardens are not five day show garden wonders but remain in place from April - October each year. There is a distinct theme each year - the theme for 2013 being 'Gardens of Sensations'. The setting for the festival takes some beating. Perched up above the river Loire the château and its grounds are a part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The entrance we took takes you up a set of terraced steps probably about half a mile in length. When you get to the top the chateau faces you in front of which are well manicured flower beds of annuals. This year's displays included grasses, nictonias, petunias, salvias and gauras which were shimmering in the heat. I did take some photos but the sun was so strong at this point that the colours are all bleached. There are also many areas of attractive permanent planting as you walk round. There are no floral marquees, garden sundries etc., etc but simply one retail outlet on the perimeter of the festival area. All this for the excellent admission price of 11 euros!

I will not do a garden by garden tour but here are some of the images that struck me as we slowly meandered around ~ 

The gardens that made the biggest impression on us where those which made people of all ages smile and in some cases laugh aloud with joy. They were not all full of superb planting combinations but were interactive and great fun. These included what I can only describe as 'The Ringing Singing Tree' (above bottom left), which was a suspension of twiginess that chimed and sang as you made your way through it. Another was the 'Jardin d'amour' (below middle centre and bottom left) where recorded voices floated through the air as you walked round proclaiming " I love you" in 32 languages including 'bird' ~
The garden that I could not bring myself to say anything positive about was "The Outside In' Garden. I just saw dirty sheets with holes in them and was not tall enough to peer through many of the holes to see the woodland planting below ~

There were probably two gardens that were our favourites. Below was the only garden which bought the "Wow!" reaction from both of us. Difficult to photograph on such a bright day but there was so much sparkle and light that it took my breath away ~
Finishing with the very last garden which was the' Jardin de rizières' - a miniature paddy field complete with its very own frogs. Two small boys were full of themselves with excitement as they realised that there was one more than one frog in the water. I can still hear their voices in my head as they ran past me eager to convey this information to their mother. If this was their first introduction to a garden festival what a brilliant way to start a potentially lifelong experience ~ 
 On exiting the festival there was still the ornamental kitchen garden to peruse before we headed for well earned refreshments. History was made when for the first time ever in almost 30 years I downed the cold beer whilst himself had the ice cream ~
Finally there was just enough energy left in our weary legs for the long walk back down the terraced steps to our campsite, which almost on the banks of the Loire, is perfectly positioned for anybody wanting to visit the festival.

If you would like more detailed information on any of the 26 gardens you can find descriptions, planting lists as well as the low down on all the designers here. It was only when I found this link that I realised that we had managed to miss out on three gardens! I'm blaming it on the heat.