Friday 27 May 2011

Chelsea 2011: my visit - the Great Pavillion

The show gardens and the designers get a lot of attention at Chelsea, but of course they would be nothing without the plants. I always enjoy visiting the Great Pavillion, where nurseries display their plants in some very creative ways. I also have a tendancy to salivate and there is lots of I want, I want's...

As mentioned in the previous blog about the gardens, Salvia nemorosa caradona was a big hit in many of the gardens, and it was a big hit with me. I love Salvia's, I love purple, and this is a salvia and it's purple.

on my shopping list

There was Anchusa 'Loddon Royalist', which yes, has been around for ages, seeing it again reminded me how pretty it was, so another 'must have'.

There is a new Astrantia to go on my list, 'Burgundy Manor' from Hardy's, which I will get when it becomes available.

A plant clearly named after me...

See, pretty flower, great name, and goes perfectly with Salvia nemorosa Caradona. It's meant to be.

Lavender, lavender, lavender, from Downderry Nurseries. More wanting... 

Actually, I picked up some seed from them for the Spanish Lavender, pedunculata, which I look forward to growing.

The elegant Iris Laevigata.
 Iris laevigata (from the Literary Garden)

Besides all the wants, I also generally enjoyed some of the displays. Here is an excellent one from the Heucheraholics...
How many Heuchera's can one have? Lots!

And vegetables get a look in too...
W. Robinson vegetable stand. Such fun!

Then there was the totally LOOK AT ME displays, such as this one from Thailand...


So Chelsea 2011 gave me lots of enjoyment and many ideas to add to my [plant] pot.

Chelsea 2011: my visit - the gardens

New Wild Garden, Nigel Dunnett. My favourite show garden

Yes, yet another blog about Chelsea. Yes, there are millions out there by now. And no, my blog won't say anything remarkable or different to anyone else. It's just my record of my visit to Chelsea 2011.

I don't go to Chelsea Flower Show every year. It's too expensive and I like to get visit other flower shows. And part of me thinks (um, ok, knows) that Chelsea is pretty unethical; I mean, all that waste of resources; it couldn't be less Permaculture if it tried. But somehow I'm attracted by the pretty plants and all the pizzazz and I get caught up in the excitment of the plants and show gardens. So I went, dragging poor Kevin along as I need someone to carry all the crap I pick up about gardens and plants.

So, what stood out? The two things that hit me was a) Salvia nemorosa Caradona (above, the spikey purple one) was everywhere, and b) bug hotels were very 'in'.

and another...
It's always amusing to see things that have been running around in the permaculture, green, organic gardening scene for years suddenly become a Chelsea hit. Um, der - we were there years ago...  *smug*

But overall, what did I think of the show gardens. Well, there were a few surprises for me this time. Having seen the Cleve West garden (sponsored by bloody Torygraph) on tv and heard all the raves, I think it went over the top as though I liked the garden, I didn't love it as I expected to.


I loved much of the planting, and some of the viewing perspectives, but altogether it didn't quite work. I don't know why. I usually love Cleve West's designs. Not that it wasn't good, but for me, it just wasn't great.

Torygraph garden, perspective

On the other hand, I went along not expecting to like M&G Garden by Bunny Guinness because I'm not that keen on Ms Guinness. I find her comments on GQT rather snobbish at times, like everyone has thousands of pounds to spend on their gardens, and she made a very derogative comment about Guerilla Gardening once, she suggested it was like vandalism - rather missing the point! But prejudices aside, I really liked her potager design.

However, my favourite garden was Nigel Dunnett's New Wild Garden, a picture of which appears at the top of this blog as well as here. For me it brought nature's and human's needs together beautifully, with effusive planting to top it off.

The building is an old shipping container, modified so it could be used as an studio/office in a garden, with green roof added. There is a place to sit in the garden, a place to capture water, and a place for nature to do it's thing. Bug hotels, plants for bees, plants to enjoy, a sustainable design.

Such lovely planting, and great for polinators too.

It got a Silver-Gilt award by RHS standards. It gets a Gold-Star-Plus by mine.

For the smaller gardens, I really loved the artisan gardens over the urban gardens, and my favouite small garden was Jihae Hwang's Hae-woo-so Korean garden. Hae-woo-so is the traditional Korean word for toilet and means 'emptying one's mind'. I love the play on words too!


Other gardens I enjoyed were...

Irish Sky Garden

Diarmuid Gavin's Irish Sky garden, minus the silly Wonkavator that went up and down...

Gavin is apparently the 'bad boy of Chelsea' because he always does something 'unconventional'. Seems more like boys and their toys and egos, if you ask me. But taking away the 'wonkavator' as it has apparently been called, the garden was a cool relaxing space and you could imagine it really bing somone's garden. Not mine, too controlled, but I appreciated it all the same.

I also liked the RNIB garden. Lovely planting, and felt like a welcoming space to sit down and chat with friends.

My 'celebrity' spotting for the day was Carol Klein, being interviewed probably for that evenings tv in the B&Q garden. I love Carol's enthusiasm for growing and got my cheap thrills (as we say in Oz) seeing someone I admire.

So that was my Chelsea. Actually, that's just half, there is still the Great Pavillion to come!

Monday 23 May 2011

Tasty winning

Asparagus Tart

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to win VP's cook book giveaway. I was excited not just because I won - though that was very exciting - but because this book was the kind of thing I've been looking for, for a couple of years.

The Garden to Kitchen Expert (yes, part of the very useful 'expert' series, if you ignore their suggestions to use chemicals) has over 680 recipes, covering vegetables, fruit and herbs, plus some jams, preserves and pickles, and some 'toolbox' recipes such as how to make a simple shortcrust pastry or white sauce. Each section is in an A-Z arrangement. Helpful for someone like me who likes her vegetable recipes alphabetically. Must be a hangover from working in the OED for nearly 5 years, several years ago... The recipes are also fairly simple, not long complicated instructions with a zillion ingredients, with half a zillion you've never heard of. Simple recipes suit because I like good food but don't always have time to spend a lot of time cooking.

Basically, a gardener has a heap of one veg bursting the beds, say courgette/zucchini, and needs some recipe inspiration for interesting and yummy ways to cook it. For years I've been looking for vegetable cookbooks that would have a range of recipes for that one bountiful veg (or fruit etc) glut. This does exactly what it says on the tin.

This isn't a broad review of the book - I've only tried 3 recipes so far. But I like what I've tried and I'm keen to try more. Given it is asparagus season it seemed appropriate to start there, hence the picture of my first attempt at asparagus tart. It was also my first attempt at making my own shortcrust pastry, one of the convenient 'toolbox recipes'.

I have to say it was a great success. It took a bit of mucking around to get the pastry right, but that's my lack of skill rather than the book I think. But the end result was delicious. Fresh asparagus from nearby Rectory Farm, some eggs, cream and cheese, and voila! And the pastry wasn't too bad. Maybe wouldn't pass muster in France, but it was light and crumbly when you bit into it, and the asparagus was still slightly crisp and wrapped lovingly in the egg, cream and cheese.

The other asparagus recipe was Asparagus Risotto. Up until now I've used the Abel and Cole recipe, so I was interested to try a different version. I think I like this new version better, though the other is delicious too, as this one has no cream and not so heavy.* I very lightly steamed the asparagus and it was crunchy and mixed well with the white wine, stock and butter. Ok, butter is heavy, but not as heavy as cream to me!

This cookbook gets the big thumbs up and I look forward to trying more recipes as the growing and harvesting season goes on. Thanks to VP for my very tasty winning.

*The Abel and Cole Pumpkin Risotto recipe in the same book is amazingly stunning, the cream and pumpkin were meant for each other.

Sunday 15 May 2011

New lottie pic

I thought it was about time to update my Lottie picture on my blog. That's the one to the right above 'about me'. It used to be this...
 29th November 2008
And now it's this...

15th May 2011

But oh - not with the clothing. That's the same top...

Thursday 12 May 2011

I ran my first gardening workshop today

I ran my first gardening workshop today. Yes, someone actually paid me to show others how to grow!

The workshop was at BarracksLane Community Garden, where I'm the freelance coordinator a couple of days a week. In that role I do everything from organising events like seed and plant swaps to the annual harvest festival, to organising the volunteers, managing the website and doing interviews on BBC Radio Oxford. My work for Barracks Lanes doesn't usually involve gardening itself. However, the opportunity came up to run a women's-only basic gardening workshop.

My work at the garden is funded by the Local Food Programme, and the aim is to encourage more people to grow and buy local food, hence the plant swaps and harvest festivals. We also want to reach people in the Black Minority Ethnic (BME) community in Oxford. After all, the community garden is everyone's garden and we want people from every part of Oxford and every social and cultural group to use it.

So when the Women’s Interfaith Network and Refugee Resource got in touch about maybe doing something together, it seemed like a golden opportunity to give something to a particularly disadvantaged group, refugees, and help the garden reach out to the BME community. The idea was to run some basic gardening workshops, showing women how they could sow and grow herbs and some vegetables on their window sills. The ‘women-only’ element was in respect for some of the religious and cultural needs. Some women who came today would not have been able to attend if it was mixed-sex. So this meant the garden needed to find a woman to run the workshops. Would I like to do this? You bet!

Today was the first of two ‘Sow and Grow workshops for Women’, as I’ve named them. I showed the women how to sow herbs like coriander (the most popular!), basil, chives and calendula, along with lettuce and spinach. I demonstrated the process first, then got the women to all have a go.

Because many of the women were refugees, they have a very low, almost no, income, so I also focused on ways of growing with a limited budget in mind. This meant using tetra paks, used juice and milk containers as pots, and used plastic mushroom and bacon containers as saucers. This is actually a great way of reusing before recycling as much as a way of saving money. I’ve had good success germinating seeds with tetra paks. Use a stanley knife to put in a couple of drainage holes and voila! Here is an example with a used juice container.

This was also the reason for focusing on growing on window sills. Most of the women don’t have gardens, so to ensure it was accessible to everyone I focused on window sill gardening.

So for a couple of hours, in the warm spring sun (I think I got sunburn – ooops – forgot the sun screen), about 20 women from a variety of countries and cultures started learning how to grow their own food. It’s only a tiny step, but from acorns....

Being my first workshop, it was very tiring. Lots of emotional and mental energy, let alone the physical; lifting 60 litre compost bags – don’t tell my Chiropractor. But it was also wonderful. Though nervous to start with, once I got going - hey, I was talking about my great love, growing food and gardening – the nerves were forgotton and I was so envolved it was just a joy.

There was a great buzz in the garden, women eagerly sowing their coriander and lettuce, asking questions, chatting, laughing. I think they really enjoyed themselves as much as anything. I admit to receiving some very lovely compliments, such as ‘you should have your own gardening show’ (! move over Monty). But the one that meant the most to me came after I answered a question from one of the women. She said ‘you are a great teacher’. This meant a lot because many of the women didn’t speak much English. Sowing and growing is quite visual, physical, and her comment suggested to me that I managed to get past the language barrier and teach, and that they learned. I’m kind of proud of that.

The next workshop is in early June and I’ll be showing them how to pot on their seedlings, and to take some cuttings to grow new plants. In the meantime, I’ll put up some pictures from todays workshop hopefully in the next week, when I’ve got copies from Sally at ReachAbility, who helped out and was photographer.

Wow. I got paid to show people how to garden. FAB!

Monday 2 May 2011

It's darned windy out there

It's bloody windy out there. So on top of the almost complete lack of rain, we now have high winds drying out the soil. Ugh.

Kevin and I spent a couple of wind-blown hours at the lottie this afternoon. In mid-March we had set up a frame for protecting the brassicas. However, the wind rather ruined that. Like many allotment sites ours is very open with little in the way of trees or hedges to help reduce wind damage on the allotment. In fact I'm quite lucky, as I do have a bit of a hedge half-way down on one side, and this will offer protection to the future beds that are not yet planted... Back to the frame; a week after putting it up we returned to find it had gone! A bit of searching found it several lotties over and caught up on someones shed. So we rescued the frame and cover and decided to rethink our plan for protecting brassicas.

Thanks to Kevin, we have hopefully come up with a solution. If you look carefully (ok, very carefully!) at the picture above, you will see that there is some white rope from the top of the middle frame going down into the ground. Kevin has tied this to a brick, and buried it deep down. But not just that. He has used really large tent pegs at each corner and also tied these into the frame, also burying them deep down. The frame now feels quite solid and in place. The cover has gone on, this time a fine mesh cover so that it stops the horrid white cabbage moth but lets in air and rain, if we ever get any rain again... This is the final result.

We are really hoping that this has solved the problem. I'm hoping to drop by on Wednesday afternoon to check if it's still in place. If it can deal with the current winds, then it should be ok!

Before putting on the mesh I planted out some of my brassicas, including the stakes for things like brussels sprout and calabrese, which get tall and will also need staking to stop wind rock. I have learned from experience that it is better to put in the stakes at the same time as puting in the young seedlings. It makes it easier to tie them to the stake as the grow and keeps them steady (preventing wind rock).

Stakes next to the young brassica seedlings

Because of the dry and windy weather, I'm planting seedings in a bit of a dip. This is to help contain some of the moisture and give a little protection against the wind whilst it is still quite fragile. This, by the way, is a theory of mine I'm trying out. Time will tell if it actually helps or makes a difference!

By the time we got ready to head home, I thought the lottie was looking pretty good. Strawberries, broad beans and garlic all doing well. Some young chard and spinach just coming up, some brassicas in, as well as some carrots, parsnips and beetroot. And Kevin got another bed ready (the one immediately behind (not beside) the brassica frame) - yay Kevin!