Thursday, December 31, 2009

New Year

Here's to a happy, healthy, hopeful New Year to everyone in Blogland. Thank you all for your comments, thank you all for visiting, and thank you all for your brilliant blogs, which have cheered me up, made me laugh, made me think, and sometimes made me cry.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The aiming of the shrew

There was a small news article in the Royal Horticultural Society's The Plantsman journal about a novel way in which a particular pitcher plant gains its nitrogen requirements. This got me thinking about 'carnivourous' plants.

Plants need nitrogen to live, thrive and survive. However, some environments are a little lacking in this nutrient - for example peat bogs and rock outcrops. So, what is a plant to do? They have to find an alternative source of nutrients.

In nutrient poor habitats in the UK, we have the beautiful but deadly sundews. In some areas of the Lake District, you can't move for these deadly (at least to tiny invertebrates) plants. But they are hardly the stuff of nightmares.
Incidentally, Charles Darwin experimented on sundews to find what type of foods caused the greatest reaction. He found that his urine (rich in nitrogen) caused the plant to react very rapidly. Presumably anyone else's urine would do just as well.

The Venus Fly Trap is a bit more active in its capturing of small insects but is still rather small. Not very Triffid-like.

It's the pitcher plants which have really taken to alternative sources of nitrogen-rich materials.

Most rely on insects as a source of nutrients. Some, however, have become rather more ambitious...

(brilliant use of the word 'flange' by David Attenborough).

The pitcher plant which inspired this post, however, wasn't aiming for insects, rodents or other such prey. No. This plant has taken a more prosaic route to improving its nutrition. Nepenthes lowii has evolved to act as a toilet to a shrew. Droppings are full of nutrients, and the pitcher design has evolved into a shape "manoeuvring the animal to sit astride the pitcher orifice". The droppings can then be broken down in the pitcher's liquid, to provide much needed nutrients for the plant.
Nature, isn't it beautiful?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Who's that in the trees?

Is Santa related to this chap? The Santa/Bigfoot conspiracy has been hushed up by the FBI and MI5 for too long!

Merry Christmas. from the Inelegant Gardener and SomeBeans, the under-gardener. And no, I haven't been on the sherry. Yet.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Out on the Streets - December

VP over at Veg Plotting has been running a series of posts about public planting this year, with both her and other contributors showing what's been growing out on the streets in March, June and October. Now it's time for December's OOTS. VP beat me to showing you all the Christmas lights in Chester, but I can give an update on the public planting I looked at in June.

Chester has been nominated as a Cycle Demonstration Town, and so cycles have featured heavily in the planting this year. The planting scheme has been changed to winter plants recently, and these cycles in the grounds of Chester cathedral show a range of hardy plants.

They also have baskets planted up with some evergreens, and supplemented by cut branches.

Finally, something which technically wasn't Out on the street, but can currently be found at Ness Gardens. In 2008, Liverpool went Superlambananas as part of its celebrations as the City of Culture. Currently, Liverpool and the surrounding areas are hosting a colony of penguins. This horticultural chap was found at Ness Botanic Gardens.

With celery and sweetcorn cobs for feet, isn't the Grow Your Own penguin handsome!

Please visit VP's blog for links to many more December OOTS

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ephemeral garden art

Lawns as temporary art.

Chris Parsons creates vast geometric patterns by sweeping the dew that has settled on close-cut lawns. The art lasts a few hours before the dew evaporates.
A photograph of a dew garden (page 16 of link)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Fine words butter no...

Parsnips. A very seasonal veg. And with the cold weather that the UK is currently enjoying, the parsnips will be much tastier.

The one fact that everyone seems to know about parsnips is that they taste better after they have had a frost through them. The starches turn to sugar, making them sweeter, that's what all the web pages say. But why? With sweetcorn, it's the opposite. You have to run to the pan of boiling water to throw them in before the sugars turn to starch. Vegetables are contrary things.

According to this website (which describes the parsnip as "slightly mucilagenous" - not a great marketing slogan), at low temperatures starches are converted to sugars. This has been known for quite some time, as this textbook from 1867 mentions the change.

This paper from the 1940s looks at how these changes occur in potatoes, but the physiological reason behind the changes from starch to sugar is best explained by this article. Again it looks at potatoes but the reason must be the same - the change of starch to sugar lowers the freezing point of the fluid in the plant cells. This makes the vegetable cells less likely to be damaged by the cold weather (if you want to do an experiment, water with sugar or salt added to it will freeze at a lower temeprature than pure water).

So - great for the plant as it can cope with lower temperatures without its precious storage organ being damaged over winter, and great for us as we get a sweet, tasty veg for our Christmas dinner table.

Just don't try and make parsnip cake.

Friday, December 18, 2009

A huge sigh of relief

I've just about worked the last few days of my current job. A job which has, for the past two years, taken over most of my life, driven me nuts, given me huge lows and (one or two) wonderful highs.

Instead, I get a new job, three days a week. No weekends, no evenings, no 12 hour days. No managing, no budgets, no income targets. Same employer. It's only a 13 month contract, so at the end of Jan 2011, I may well be out of a job, but I will be (relatively) sane, having had a year or so of a 'breather'. More time to blog, to garden, to be what I want to be, rather than see myself becoming something I don't like, something hard. A weight is slipping off my shoulders.

So here's to 2010.

I might now even have a chance to visit other people's blogs again.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Famous five

I was asked a very difficult question last week. If I had to choose just five perennials to grow in my currently over-planted, unstructured front garden, which five would I choose? That's hard.

I can still have shrubs, trees, bulbs, even annuals, but just five herbaceous perennials.

Some of what I have in there at the moment (for details see GBBDs passim)

Aster x frikartii 'Monch' - a delight;

Penstemons from pink, through blue to deep purple. I like the fact that they flower forever, but am beginning to find them a bit 'twee';

Verbena bonariensis - hmmm, bit of a pain

Verbena hastata - nice but not something you can plant a drift of;

Sedum - several. Worth it just for the butterflies and bees.

Alchemilla mollis. Love the acid green colour of the new growth but never get round to dead heading it before it sets seed. Consequently everywhere;

Dierama - delicate flowers with hidden depths but scruffy (probably my fault);

Self sown poppies - fun and flouncy for a while;

Asters - nice and bright late autumn colour but they die ugly;

Nepeta - appreciated by the cats, who splat it;

Perovskia - hmmm.

Japanese anemones - lovely flowers but rather frisky. I've grown them in clumps but better off as individual plants, I think.

Geraniums - the ones I have are too low growing and just sprawl on the floor, like a drunken student, but there are others which would do a better job;

Ooohhhh, my beautiful, beautiful peony. Gorgeous but a bit like a firework - anticipation followed by a brief spectacular bang, then the equivalent of the stick left in the milk bottle for the rest of the year. Actually that's a bit harsh, as the foliage is nice if rather nondescript;

Aquilegias - always a surprise what they'll flower like as they're more promiscuous than [insert appropriate bawdy comment here];

Solomon's Seal (at least until the sawflies get to it);

There are lots more individuals, shoehorned in. So, a real rag-tag mix. No "unity". I'm rather attached to many of the above list, but would any make it to a list of five? I think I would have to save Aster 'Monch', as it flowers for ever and would look good with a lot of plants. The sedums make it onto the list, too, for their butterfly attracting abilities, their nice shape and I love the way their new growth peaks through in the spring. As for the others? I'm not so sure, so there are three gaps in my list. A grass such as Stipa? It would add movement, and it feels so nice.

What is your 'must have' perennial?

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Happy Anniversary

To SomeBeans

I love you x

Monday, November 16, 2009

Post, interrupted

I have been going through my blog posts and noticed this post, which I never got around to actually posting. I wrote the following on 6th May. What I failed to do at the time (probably due to Mr BT's broadband playing up) was upload the photo to go with it. And now I have no idea what flower I had in mind.

So, please help me! What flower springs to mind when you read the short post below? A gold star to the best answer.

"If this flower was a song, its soundtrack would be the wonderful, cheesy "Can't Take My Eyes Off You", sung by Andy Williams. Love it."

Sunday, November 15, 2009

GBBD - November 09

Looking back at last year's blog, I didn't get around to posting on GBBD. This year, it was almost sunny, so out into the garden I went with the camera. There are still plenty of flowers about, but most look rather bedraggled and damaged by the heavy rain we've had over the past couple of days. Besides, these flowers featured in September's and October's GBBD.

Instead, here's a flower which has only just come out, and is crawling with bees, wasps and hoverflies making the most of the late autumn nectar.

Thanks, as always, to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Check out her blog for many, many more GBBD posts :)

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Zen and the art of garden pottering

I twitter intermittently. There, it's out in the open, and I've admitted it. For those garden bloggers who twitter, you may have come across links to ThinkinGardens, a website that encourages a more critical analysis of gardens.

After having had a few Twitter discussions with Anne Wareham, I came across a book to which she contributed - Vista - the Culture and Politics of Gardens. It's a challenging book, and unlike many books on gardens, has no pretty pictures. I'm still ploughing through it. It has made me think, it has made me shout. Some of the essays seem like utter tripe.

One, however, has made me think about the importance of my garden. It's called 'Zen and the art of Tea Gardening' by Charles Chesshire. The essay talks about the importance of the 'roji', the tea garden where you leave behind the concerns of the real world and enter into a world where you purify the mind before entering the tea house. Traditionally, this is a pathway to the teahouse, where you stop along the way to contemplate views and statues which help clear your mind of everyday concerns.
Few gardens have a roji and a tea house, but how many of us take a walk around the garden after a hard day at work, in an attempt to calm the mind and take you out of yourself? Each small change in the plants, each view, helps to calm us, to purify the mind. We don't need a Japanese tea garden, just a little time to slowly walk and observe the small changes that take place in our gardens.

Take time to potter.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Ghosties & pumpkins

A bit of childish excitement today - I carved my first ever pumpkin. When I was little, we used to try and carve swedes. Don't bother trying - hard, smelly in the way that only brassicas can be, and too small to put a candle in. Complete waste of time.

So today, I took advice from friends on Twitter on the best way to carve a pumpkin without removing a limb in the process, and then I carved. He might not be as scary or as complex as some of the pumpkins on websites such as Zombie Pumpkins but I'm as proud as punch.

I was so excited by the result that I couldn't wait for it to get dark and shut myself in the garage with him, a candle and a box of matches.
Hopefully he'll impress the hordes of small children who will no doubt come knocking. I hope some turn up, otherwise SomeBeans and I will have a mountain of chocolatey treats to eat.

Happy Hallowe'en!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wordless Wednesday - Tyrone

Sunday, October 25, 2009

No imagination

I do like our front garden. When we first moved here around five years ago, part of the front garden was overgrown with shrubs and trees sculpted into lollipops in an attempt to stifle their growth and keep them under control. The other part was covered in chippings, with a couple of half barrels plonked there; both barrels contained rather sick looking rhododendrons. And there were hydrangeas - they had to go. So did the lollipop shrubs. And the crazy paving path.

A skip was hired and filled. Nice men came and took out overgrown shrubs and their stumps. A blank canvas. And no real idea of what to fill the space with except that I wanted lots of plants, lots of flowers, no lawn. Limited funds meant that a few shrubs (pittosporums, viburnum, smoke bushes) and a few herbaceous perennials (achillea, penstemons, japanese anemones and so on) were supplemented with a load of self seeding annuals (candytuft - I have an absolute love for this plant, with memories of simpler times many years ago when the time taken for these seeds to germinate seemed an entire lifetime, love-ina-a-mist, cerinthe, cosmos, bedding dahlias, californian poppies).

Visits to gardening shows helped fill the gaps. Even when there weren't gaps. What we have now is loved by butterflies and bees. And I enjoy it. The postman enjoys it rather less, as he gets thwacked in the legs by wet foliage as he walks to the door. But it seems like it is missing something, and that something is structure. There is nothing that captures the eye - it slides from plant to plant. No bad thing, maybe - I love plants. But I am starting to feel it needs something more. A little less chaos. A little less variety. A little more order. SomeBeans will barely be able to believe I've just written that - my middle names are Chaos and Disorder.

And so I took myself off to evening classes on designing your own garden, and have been learning. And practicing. And thinking. It's difficult - the other (mostly) ladies in the class all seem to have extremely large gardens, where there is room to experiment with different styles, have different 'rooms' which perform at different times of the year. Some of them seem to have room for landforming, like at the Garden of Cosmic Speculation. I need something that looks good (or at least reasonable) all the year round. And I have discovered a problem. My imagination - or rather lack of it.

I find it difficult to come up with ideas, or at least ideas which will work in the space provided, and with the backdrop of our rather ugly house. I drool over pictures in books - whilst the ladies above exclaim over photos of traditional gardens with sweeping lawns and large ponds looking over open countryside, echoing their own gardens, I find myself drawn to more modern plantings. Clipped trees to give structure, but still with abundant but perhaps more controlled planting with fewer types of plant.

Does anyone have any tips on how to develop an imagination - is it like a muscle, developing the more you use it, or am I doomed?

Just added this - Leee John certainly had some Imagination. Just look at the sequins on that!

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Comfort me with apples

All over the country, apple days are taking place. These were initiaited by Common Ground in 1990 to celebrate the diversity of apples and the range of local varieties. They are held all over the country at this time of year.
This one is at Reaseheath College all weekend (as advertised by Goodfood Shopper here). The perfume, when you walk into the greenhouses where it is being held, is amazing. Individually, an apple doesn't smell unpleasant but put lots and lots together and the aroma makes your mouth water.
There are lots of varieties to view and to taste, and experts, including Harry Delaney, on hand to identify varieties, and give advice on cultivation and on preventing diseases. There are tours of the fruit gardens. You can also taste and buy cheese made by the students at the College.

The most interesting part of the day is the opportunity to view so many different varieties, many of which have a long history. A wonderful website that I have just discovered fro apple varieties is Orange Pippin.

Greensleeves - been around since the 1960s but with an "unexceptional flavour"

Court of Wick is from Somerset (1790s).

The Bloody Ploughman is a Scottish variety from 1880

How could I not take a photo of Pig's Nose Pippin? It originated in Herefordshire in the 1880s and is very sweet
Another great name, this apple arose in the 1850s.

Who could resist an apple called King of Tomkin's County? It's an American variety from the early 1800s.

Catshead. The person who named this apple had obviously never seen a cat. Either that or cats have evolved rapidly since the 1600s in England, to prevent them being mistaken for apples and put in a sweet pastry case.

Arthur Turner is a variety from 1912, from Berkshire. I'm not sure who Arthur Turner was, but according to the RHS he's prone to mildew.

Talking of diseases (well in this case a deficiency), there are examples of common apple problems on view.

Not just apples - there's the opportunity to stock up on pumpkins before little darlings start knocking on your door at the end of the month.
Common Ground has a list of the Apple Days across the country - go and visit!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

GBBD October 2009

The middle of October already. No frosts just yet, although the temperature has hovered around 2degC on a couple of mornings.
There are still a lot of flowers in the garden, although with the nights drawing in, I leave home for work in the dark, and come home in the dusk. The orange of the calendulas and Heleniums show up beautifully in the growing dusk. Because of the dark evenings, I had to cheat and take these photos on Sunday.

Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' - flowers for ages and looks after herself nicely. She's loved by the bees and hoverflies.

A Penstemon (no idea which one as I failed to make a note of the cultivar when I bought it). A lovely lilac blue.

Japanese anemone 'Pamina' - a lovely looking lady who appears tres elegante but can put up a very good fight in a crowded border. Handbags ahoy!

Fireworks! Unknown aster, given to my father by someone he did some work for. It's around 36" and loaded with flowers. Any suggestions? Its legs are a little bare, so it likes to hide behind a shorter colleague.

The cool blue of Perovskia

The shocking pink of Nerines

The elegant twisted petals of Cyclamen floating up from the darker hoop.

I may have a tendency to put lots of Helenium photos up at this time of year, but I'm not going to apologise because they really are gorgeous.

Schizo stylis coccinea - not doing quite so well this year as last, due to the dry autumn, but they have still been flowering for several months now.

And if I may just extend the remit of GBBD and include some of the stunning colours from foliage at this time of year - as bright as many of the flowers...

Cornus canadensis

Witch Hazel
Thanks, as always, to Carol at May Dreams Gardens for hosting GBBD. Visit her blog which has links to many, many more people taking part in October's GBBD.

Wordless Wednesday - Stipa

Monday, October 12, 2009

Of pussycats and poetry

A whole year since the fantastic fun that was LAPCPADPOUB Day.

Don't worry, it was a one off, never to be repeated event - I wouldn't wish to be responsible for further damaging the delicate sensitivities of James "yes please to lots of kewt kitties and bad rhymes on the internet" Alexander-Sinclair.

However, I couldn't let the date pass without some sort of recognition, so here is something for cat lovers...

And something for lovers of bad poetry....

Enjoy ;-)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

"You can almost see the fire sprites dancing in the flames!"

I came over a bit arty today, after gathering some acer leaves from my father's garden. The tree looked fantastic with the sun on it but I didn't have a camera with me. So, I took some of the leaves away with me and have done a 'Sarah Raven'.

The title of this post is in tribute to Professor Denzil Dexter. SomeBeans and I are probably the only two people to remember the sketch.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Scary harvest...

The mother of all potatoes (I have size 6 feet)...
And does this parsnip remind you of anything?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009