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. 

Monday, 9 September 2013

Scrabble


Scrabble - not that most addictive and sometimes frustrating of board games but what my clematis jouiniana x 'Praecox' has done this summer. I've posted about this clematis before which is hardy, easy to care for, seems totally pest and disease free (saying that under my breath and touching wood at the same time) and is also a bee and butterfly magnet. This plant has obviously not read the books as its wingspan has attained about 20 feet this year as opposed to the 6 -10 feet that it is supposed to. It has not been fed but has just got on with it - must be a combination of last year's rain and this year's heat. It is now crawling into and up a conifer ~


Elsewhere the little flowers of geranium 'Dilys' peek their heads quite attractively out of its canopy ~


I came home from garden club last week with some seeds of a perennial lathyrus which fades from a dusky rose pink to a lilac shade and may if they germinate add one to the mix at a future date. This clematis can either be grown as ground cover as I grow it or upright as Cathy over at 'Rambling In The Garden' grows it.

The first two photos were taken last Thursday whilst the last one was taken today and as you can see we have had some rain. Even during such a short span of time the plant is showing more signs of going over but it has shone from July onwards and thoroughly deserves its Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society. I will not linger on the way that it dies down other than say that is its worst trait!

Still on the subject of clematis this plant is giving me pleasure at the moment but I've lost the label ~


I think it might be clematis 'Blekitny Aniol' (Blue Angel) but I'm not sure. Does anybody recognise it?

Two new clematis came home with me last week from the garden centre sales table. They are both Raymond Evison introductions 'Bijou' and 'Filigree'. They are of compact habit and ideal for container growing including hanging baskets. They were not much to look at as the flowers had long since died down, but at a bargain price of £6 for the two of them, they just had to make their way into my basket. Has anyone else snapped up any bargain plants recently clematis or otherwise? It seems the best time of the year to look out for them or accidentally come across them.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Sunflowers For September



This month's muse is Mary Oliver's poem 'The Sunflowers' : 

"Come with me
into the field of sunflowers.
Their faces are burnished disks,
their dry spines
creak like ship masts,
their green leaves,
so heavy and many,
fill all day with the sticky
sugars of the sun.
Come with me
to visit the sunflowers,
they are shy
but want to be friends;
they have wonderful stories
of when they were young -
the important weather,
the wandering crows.
Don't be afraid
to ask them questions!
Their bright faces,
which follow the sun,
will listen, and all
those rows of seeds -
each one a new life!
hope for a deeper acquaintance;
each of them, though it stands
in a crowd of many,
like a separate universe,
is lonely, the long work
of turning their lives
into a celebration
is not easy. Come
and let us talk with those modest faces,
the simple garments of leaves,
the coarse roots in the earth
so uprightly burning."

Sunday, 1 September 2013

End Of Month View ~ August 2013


It seems that there has been much idle bee gazing and sitting supping outdoors this month. I'm blaming this lack of activity on another fairly warm, sunny month which has now slip - slided inevitably to September and nearer to autumn.

Plans for the gabion garden are on on hold whilst I have second thoughts so there's nothing to relate there for now. Some other planting has taken place elsewhere in the last week or so the plants concerned being mightily relieved no doubt to have been liberated from the confines of the cold frame. I've also taken a few penstemon cuttings, have made a start on dividing some day lilies with the aid of brute force from himself and have sown a few seeds. 

I've also been playing around with pots as you can see in the above photo. I used to have a small collection of foliage plants outside in the courtyard just by the front door. This area is north facing so fairly shady although the sun creeps round in the afternoon. I'm not sure what happened but one year the gathering was moved for some reason and never made its way back. These are not the original plants but fairly similar to all intents and purposes. Now all I need to do to complete this arrangement is to buy one or two more permanent containers and  possibly one or two more plants probably hostas. The pots will be situated at the base of an old whisky barrel, which is home to a much loved water feature, parts of which are in need of a lick of paint. Will hopefully reveal it next month.

It's 'The Year Of The Bean' at the allotment - all three varieties especially 'Blauhilde' are positively dripping beans so we are eating and freezing them non stop or so it seems. My courgettes have had a so so year so there's a gentle trickle rather than a steady glut. They were planted not long before we went on holiday at the start of July. I think the really hot weather must have been a struggle for such young plants despite my allotment neighbour's kind ministrations. The 'Black Futsu' squash which I planted at the same time looked on its way out when we returned but is now making a serious attempt for world domination. Small squashes are forming but I'm not sure whether they will mount to much. Shallots, garlic, peas, broad beans have either been lifted or come to an end so work is in progress clearing beds. The new strawberry plants are showing a small but welcome crop, the apples are in fine fettle whilst the delicious autumn fruiting raspberry 'Polka' is early out of the starting blocks. I've decided to remove the summer fruiting raspberries later this year. They taste insipid in comparison to 'Polka' so will not be missed. In the greenhouse the tomatoes have finally just started to blush and the cucumbers are in their stride.

Plant purchases this month are up on July's sad nil return. On the first day of the month I bought a penstemon 'Garnet' from the local Country Market, having fond memories of the same plant in the dim and distant past. A most enjoyable day out at the Southport Flower Show saw me come home with a heucherella 'Redstone Falls', actaea simplex 'Pink Spike' and a plant that has been on my wish list for a couple of years - anemone 'Wild Swan'. The latter has inconsiderately just dropped the petals from the only two flowers on it but there are more to come so should feature in September's end of month view post. Finally on the last day of the month I visited Chester Cathedral for their first National Garden Schemes open day. There was a plant stall outside which yielded a pot of sempervivums and a few babies from a green spider plant. I've potted up some up and put a couple in water. I've also had some snowdrop bulbs arrive in the post from Avon Bulbs - one or two more little gems to add to my specials.

Thanks to Helen over at 'The Patient Gardener's Weblog' whose inspired idea allows us to share our gardening progress each month. I'm heading off to the allotment soon but will put my feet up later, enjoy a cuppa and visits to the other participants in this meme to see what everyone is up to.