Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Out on the streets in June

VP over at Veg Plotting has her second 'Out on the Streets' meme on at the moment. The first one was in March, and now it's June (actually, very nearly July) and she has been asking for posts on public planting in our local areas.

Chester has recently become a Cycle Demonstration Town. This involves three years of funding to make Chester more cycle friendly and to encourage people onto their bikes. We tend to cycle in to town and down to the allotment anyway (we got used to cycling everywhere when we lived in Cambridge - by far the easiest way to get around that city). I have to say we have yet to see any evidence of the city becoming more cycling friendly!

I had noticed some silver painted bikes on the inner ring road a week or two back, and thought that they may be the sad sight of ghost bikes. But then they were planted up with pelargoniums and ivy. A planted figure in town on Saturday explained that the bikes were to promote the cycling demonstration town project.

Monday, June 29, 2009

5. Sight

The sight of flowers makes my heart race in a way that some people get when they see a pair of Jimmy Choos.

And yet humans can only see some of the beauty of flowers.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

4. Sound

When I was at university, I bought a tape for a botanist friend of the sounds of plants. Not the sounds of wind blowing gently through leaves but the sounds a plant makes as it lives and grows. It was rather strange with small squeaks and pops and the flowing sounds of water and sugar solutions making their way around the plant. I've no idea if it was real or not, but it was certainly interesting.

Rhubarb in the forcing sheds of the 'rhubarb triangle' makes a sound as it grows.

SomeBeans has memories as a child of hearing the popping of broom. This video illustrates it, sounding as though someone is holding a bowl of rice crispies next to the microphone.

But my favourite sound needs a bit of intervention. I'm ashamed to admit that I'm a Fuchsia popper. I love popping the buds. My father used to grow a lot of fuchsias, so I had plenty to pop. It becomes a bit obsessive - you have to carry on popping the buds until you get the perfect 'pop', then you can stop. For a while. It appears that I'm not the only one. It's probably a good thing that I don't have any suitable fuchsias in the garden.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

3. Taste

I got slightly side-tracked with the last post, but back to the senses working overtime in summer.
OK, so technically we only have five tastes that we can recognise on the tongue, but if you'll allow me to include the use of my nose, we can get a riot of flavour in the mouth.

Over 360 compounds have been identified in the aroma of strawberries, with the key ones being methyl and ethyl esters. This link lists some of the chemicals which give strawberries their characteristic flavour. If you found them on the back of a label you'd probably want rant about corporate giants wanting to feed us lots of E-numbers. But fresh off the plant on a summer's afternoon, those methyl butyrates and ethyl hexanoates taste good. Especially with a bit of water, fat, protein, lactose, and a few vitamins and minerals. Or cream as it's sometimes known.

Friday, June 26, 2009

2. Scent

There are some big hitters in the world of scent in winter, trying to get their insignificant flowers noticed in the gloom. Sarcococca is one notable plant - I have one close to the front door just to be able to "glimpse"* the scent of it as we walk by.

In spring, the hyacinths can almost overpower you, but there are also some more subtle surprises - narcissi, tulips and then the stunning smell of an entire wood or field full of bluebells. And I do tend to go on ad nauseum about lilacs (posts passim).
In summer come some very heavy hitters - some of the lilies are strong enough to take your breath away and I find them rather suffocating. But sweet peas and honeysuckle? I could stand for hours and just breathe them in, to become marinated in their scent.

In autumn, it's the smell of slowly decaying vegetation and of woodsmoke.

*I spent several minutes trying to think of the smell equivalent of "glimpse" but failed. Is there a suitable word? (Cue lots of people saying "Of course there is you fool, it's ......."). It seems that the British vocabulary is well able to deal with words relating to sight and sound but less so to the senses which aren't so well developed in humans.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

1, 2, 3, 4, 5 senses working overtime

1. Touch
Is there anything softer than the gentle caress of Stipa tenuissima against your bare legs on a summer evening?

Monday, June 22, 2009

250 amazing years

No, not my age (and thank you to all those who sent me birthday wishes through Blotanical), but the fanastic history of Kew Gardens. A quarter of a millenium of horticulture, botanical science, research, collecting, educating and entertaining.

Kew are celebrating this milestone in a whole host of ways, but one way in which you can become involved is to visit and to join one of the Kew 250th Anniversary walking Tours. From a history of the Gardens, to the science of conservation; from tours of the labs and the herbarium to the importance of plants in everyday life. The tours are led by volunteer guides who are just waiting to pass on their knowledge to you about the fascinating history and work of Kew Gardens.

One volunteer is Award Winning Blogger Emma Townshend, who also (I hope she doesn't mind me mentioning) has a book out soon. What a year for those with an interest in nature - Kew at 250 and 200 years since the birth of Charles Darwin.

To commemorate these anniversaries, how about planting Rosa Kew Gardens or the absolutely gorgeous scented Rosa Charles Darwin. I saw this rose on the David Austin stand at Gardeners' World Live and it has a fantastic fragrance - recommended!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The plants wot I bought

As I've mentioned in a previous post, Gardeners' World Live doesn't have the charm of some other garden shows, but what a shopping opportunity! Lots of useful tools, lots of tat, and lots and lots of plants.

Sanguisorba obtusa 'Alba'

I went a bit crazy for species pelargoniums, including...

Pelargonium sidoides

Pelargonium 'Renate Parsley'

Pelargonium ardens

Polygonatum curvistylum, which I'm hoping to hide from the hoardes of Solomon's Seal sawfly which are currently devastating my Polygonatum x hybridum. I spent half an hour picking the little blighters off them this morning. The birds don't seem keen on eating the ones I left on the bird table.

Trollius chinensis 'Golden Queen'

The Sanguisorba have now got a home in part of the front garden which had a major tidy up and replant this morning - hoards of self sown Love-in-a-Mist were ruthlessly removed, some rather 'anaerobic' (i.e. pongy) homemade compost added and I even 'tickled' the soil after, to remove footprints - thanks, Toby! Normally, SomeBeans complains that I leave planted areas like the Somme. If I keep this up, I'll have to rename the blog to The Almost Tidy Gardener.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Celebrity midriff

Whilst at Gardeners' World Live, I saw many celebrity gardeners but only took one paparazzi photo. And pretty much missed. My excuse is that I'd borrowed SomeBeans' small camera for the weekend and was rather incompetent in its use.

So whose midriff is this? Quite an easy one.
Answers on a postcard to: Freepost "Did she really mean to take that photo?"

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Gardeners' World Live - flowers and gardens

(Please excuse me whislt I fume at BT wireless routers - I have been trying to upload photos to this post since Monday. Grrrr).

So, whilst mostly cooped up in a box the size of a small chicken coop, I did manage to go and investigate the floral marquee and most of the gardens.
Hostas featured large. Unfortunately, the hostas on display weren't the rare "lace hostas" that I cultivate, which have the unusual habit of having leaves liberally peppered with holes ;-)

These Iris ensata from Kelways were beautifully staged.

Carnivorous plants were popular - quite a few people seemed to be buying Sarracenia, such as this Sarracenia purpurea.

David Austin's stage was a delight for several senses (with only touch and taste missing out). This particular rose ('Mary Rose') had a fantastic scent.

The colours of the grasses in this display complemented the coppery water feature.

So many herbaceous perennials...

Poppy 'Ladybird'

The spikes of this Veronica reminded me of the way that cats and ring-tailed lemurs communicate with their tails - gentle kinks and subtle waving telling you exactly what they think of you.

Gardens, then...

The Gardeners' World shed and veg plot was reconstructed at the show, and there were talks throughout the week by presenters at the greenhouse there. My utmost respect to all the celebrities doing talks all week. Carol Klein, for example, went from one talk to another, and also took the time to answer people's questions as she went. JA-S was another busy soul, introducing all the celebrities on stage.

Veg were everywhere. This is 'New Life at No. 6' by Debbie Cooke.

The Stumpery-Bringing Dead Wood to Life’ – Garden Volunteers Walsall Arboretum

The Send A Cow garden won a silver medal. More details can be found here about the reasons behind their garden.

Detail from the 'Something in the Air' garden
This is the first time I've been to GWL, although as I was working I didn't have to pay (except with my soul). would I go again? Yes - if only for all the beautiful plants you can buy! But that's for another post.

Monday, June 15, 2009

GBBD - June

After even only a few days away from the garden, things move on. Which is good. So, the iris has gone over, as have a couple of clematis. But we have a few new beauties instead...

Rodgersia aesculifolia

Astrantia major 'Star of Billion'

Achillea 'Paprika'

Centaurea montana 'Alba'

Allium 'Hair' - looking like some tentacled deep water beastie. The cats have had fun playing 'catch' with the buds, which are on very long stems.
I would post more, but the broadband is playing up this evening, so it's taken five attempts to post these photos!
GBBD is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens - thank you, Carol. Check out all the other blogs taking part in GBBD this June.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Plastic truck fest!

Just back from the BBC Good Food Show/Gardeners' World Live show at the NEC. My absolute admiration to those who are there for the full five days of the show - I was only there three days and was losing the will to live by 3pm today. Being surrounded by stands selling burgers/bacon baps/buffalo steaks, I've spent the past three days smelling like a barbecue - oh, to have been stood in the floral marquee, to be gradually infused with the scent of sweet peas instead.

Key memories of the show:

1. Flotillas of ladies pulling lilac or pink plastic trucks. They lethally drag them behind them as they walk, occasionally performing emergency stops, so that you fall over them. That's when they're not ramming them into your shins. I expect I have some lovely bruises as a memento.

2. Spending three days in a small cube in which you couldn't swing a midget gerbil, never mind a small cat.

3. Must-have plants (judging by the contents of the pink/lilac trucks): fuchsias (the piece on Gardeners' World did its job), roses (hybrid teas and miniatures seemed more popular than English roses), Primula vialli (very popular), alliums and Clematis (as always).

This is the first time I've visited GW Live, and I have to admit that I prefer Malvern (although admittedly I wasn't working at Malvern, just visiting). GW Live seems a little, well, soulless. The floral marquee is good but there are a lot of stalls in the big sheds which don't have natural light, and quite possibly have their own weather systems as they're so huge.

I took some photos but I'm too tired to download them tonight so I'll post a few over the next few days.

I may have bought a few plants ;-)

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Say cheeeeese!

If any garden bloggers are taking a trip to Gardeners' World Live from 10th - 14th June and get a bit bored of perfect plants and gorgeous gardens (yes, unlikely, I know), have a wander around the Good Food Show (entry included in the price of the Gardeners World Live ticket).

And when you are wandering around the Good Food Show, come to stand F153 and try some of our cheese (which we won't be selling). I'm only there on the Friday/Saturday/Sunday, so you may get some strange looks if you start chatting to my colleagues about blogs, gardens or Mouffetards (Happy or otherwise) but they will be more than happy to give you a bit of cheese and a chat. I'm hoping that I'll be able to sneak out and look at plants, rather than be stuck in one of the huge NEC sheds all weekend, but if the weather is anything like it is today, I may be better off indoors.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The naming of names

If you watched any of the BBC coverage of Chelsea or if you saw Gardener's World last night (Friday), you would have seen Joe Swift clutching his namesake, Dahlia 'Joe Swift'. Elegant, understated, clean and crisp - the obvious name choice, really ;-).

Alan Titchmarsh has a whole garden named after him - a Dianthus, a Fuchsia, a Hosta, a lupin, a sweet pea and a rose. (However, not just plants are named after famous people).

Poor Alys Fowler doesn't yet have a plant named after her. So, what type of plant should be named after the lovely Alys? SomeBeans suggested a hop, perhaps because of this blog entry.

Friday, June 05, 2009

The smell of rain

It has just started raining, for the first time in around ten days. And, standing out in the shower, I can smell the aroma of rain on dry ground. It's not a smell you can describe but it's a smell that makes me remember running out to play once the summer rain had stopped when I was young.

Of course, I could have foreseen the rain - the paeony I bought last year is about to flower for the first time. Its huge, ripe buds are about to burst into a frothy confection of pink petals. Except, if the rain keeps up, all the buds will turn into is a damp ball of mush, looking like a tissue that's been through the washing machine.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Foggie-toddlers - revised repeat!

Having had some small success introducing the word 'fwing' as a term for describing plant growth, and in widening use of the name 'cow mumble' for cow parsley, I thought I'd try again with one more word I'd love to get into more general use.

I posted this last year, and SomeBeans and I now always use the term to refer to the little creatures. So, in attempt to get the term more widely used (and through blatant copying and pasting of a previous post of mine), I introduce to you the foggie-toddler.

"What a great name. Apparently, this is a Scottish name for bumblebees. According to SomeBeans, all bumblebees have the same first name, which is Delius. Why bees would have first names, and if so, why it would be Delius, he is a little hazy about.

Actually, it was only today that he realised that there were different species of bumblebee - until I suggested this, he thought that the different colourations were due to genetic variations similar to those causing different hair colour in humans. He is now in a bit of an existential quandary as to whether different species of bumblebees have different first names. Furthermore, we have been having an ongoing 'discussion' for many years as to whether bumblebees live in nests in burrows or in thick vegetation (my suggestion) or in chalets. Presumably something like this .

The National History Museum has an interactive British bumblebee key which I've been having fun playing with today. Of course, you need to make sure you're not trying to identify a mimic such as the bumblebee hoverfly instead. Hoverflies can generally be distinguished from the insects they mimic by the false wing edge vein (one of the few things I remember from my zoology degree).

Apparently, bumblebees are not doing too well in the UK at the moment, with three species already extinct according to the Bumblebee Conservation Trust. There's a lot we can do to help, by practicing bumblebee friendly gardening. It seems that they like a more 'relaxed'" style of gardening (very much in the ethos of the Inelegant Gardener). The favorite plants of the foggie-toddlers in our garden are the cardoons, which seethe with the insects in summer, but they seem to like pretty much any flower, including dahlias, snapdragons, sedum, and echinacea.

All of the bumblebees in the UK belong to the genus Bombus, (meaning 'booming') although cuckoo bumblebees used to be classified in a separate genus, Psithyrus (meaning 'murmuring'). They have an interesting lifecycle, with workers on average only living for four weeks. Their behaviour is quite complex, with communication by pheremones, which are used to pass on information, including marking which flowers have been visited, so that other bumbles can avoid them.

So, say "Hello, Delius" to the next foggie-toddler you see, and do what you can to help them.

This has been a public information announcement on behalf of the Foggie-toddlers Admiration Society."

Tuesday, June 02, 2009


Daisy Time
by Marjorie Pickthall

See, the grass is full of stars,
Fallen in their brightness;
Hearts they have of shining gold,
Rays of shining whiteness.
Buttercups have honeyed hearts,
Bees they love the clover,
But I love the daisies' dance
All the meadow over.
Blow, O blow, you happy winds,
Singing summer's praises,
Up the field and down the field
A-dancing with the daisies.

Monday, June 01, 2009


Last year, I introduced the word 'fwing' to describe the foliage explosion of certain plants at this time of year. One of the best group of plants for floral fwinging are alliums.

Allium atropurpureum

Allium christophii with their starry spheres.

Unlike Arabella Sock, my Allium schubertii have survived the ravages of cats. Their explosions come in two tiers:

Nectaroscordum siculum has been written about here. The Invasion of the Body Snatchers allusion is spot on. Once the bud breaks, however, the individual flowers snake out of their skin like the lively locks of Medusa.