Thursday, 24 February 2011

Oxford's Seedy Saturday

Over the winter I've been very busy planning events for the coming season at Barracks Lane Community Garden. We have exciting plans for a variety of workshops over the coming months, such as making willow plant supports, plant swaps, foraging workshops, as well as our annual Harvest Festival in September. First up though, is the reopening for the season on 5th March, and we are starting the year with what is now the 6th annual seed swap at the garden.

Ours is a 'Seedy Saturday', rather than a traditional Seedy Sunday, but the idea is the same. People can bring along their spare seeds, or seeds they have saved themselves, and swap them for other varieties. I'm bringing along a few packets of my favourite pea, 'Latvian' to swap.

We are also running free basic gardening workshops on seed sowing. I frequently met people at the garden last year who were keen to get growing, but expressed an interest in learning more about some of the most basic things, like how deep do you sow a seed, how often do you water, etc. So that sparked an idea that I should include some gardening basics workshops when I organise the seed swap this year. We are going to also be having a plant swap in May, and I've also planned some follow-on workshops on potting up and planting out for that event.

On top of all this, we also have Vicki Cooke from the Heritage Seed Library coming along to give people an intro talk on seed-saving. Having heard Vicki speak on the subject a couple of times, she speaks accessibly and with enthusiasm, and along with her wealth of knowledge I'm hoping it will encourage a more people to start saving seeds. It will be both a skill and necessity in the coming years as climate change really kicks in and effects the growing seasons, and what we grow, more and more.*

So if you happen to be in the Oxford area on 5th March, do drop by the garden and come and pick up some new seed varieties to try!

*If you want to know more about why saving your own seeds and having local seed networks is important, Patrick over at Bifurcated Carrots is the place to go... it's the place I go for my' seedy news'.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Flowering: Galanthus Bagpuize Virginia

I must confess a slight galanthophile tendency. I'm not sure if it's because snowdrops are the first flowers of the year after a long cold winter, or the fact there are so many and they are so delicate and beautiful to look at, yet tough as old nails and can survive any weather thrown at them. Ahh, perhaps all three.

I love seeing new ones that I haven't seen before. Each one more exquisite than the last, each one a 'must have'. However, I don't have the budget for being a true galanthophile and have to pass at £75 for a single bulb.

A favourite snowdrop place to visit is Kingston Bagpuize gardens, about 20 miles or so west of Oxford. They have lovely grounds and a great snowdrop collection. They also sell some 'in the green' each year, from galanthus nivalis, surely one of the most beautiful 'bog standard' bulbs there is, to one of their own, Galanthus Bagpuize Virginia.

Two years ago Kevin and I visited Kingston Bagpuize at snowdrop time. It was also a snowy time, so the flowers were a bit of work to find, but find we did. I was admiring the garden's own flower, the aforementioned 'Bagpuize Virginia', but they didn't have any for sale. However, the wonderful owner said no problem, and promptly dug up a few for me!

Snowdrops can take a little time to settle and last year I got the greenery but no flowers. But this year...

Gardeners are so generous. I think if the world was run by gardeners it would be a much nicer place. Muddier, but nicer.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Success with reticulata irises!

Iris reticulata 'Purple Gem'

I'm so excited! After many years of trying and failing, and killing many plans in the process, I have finally managed to plant a reticulata iris in the right place for it to then come up and bloom the following year.

When we lived in Witney (c. 14 miles west of Oxford) our soil was very heavy clay and despite trying several varieties of reticulata irises in several places, I found after planting they never returned the following year. My garden in Oxford, though clay-ey, has been frequently worked and mulched and as a result is a much lighter soil. I planted this iris last February under the damson tree, an area that lower down is in part-shade, though the branches of the tree (higher up) get sun for longer periods of the year.

Kevin and I were doing some end of winter tidying up on Sunday, when I discovered that my reticulata iris was flowering again. I'm so chuffed. Here it is again, where you can see the lovely markings on the underside a little better.

What a beauty!

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Garden visit: Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens

During our Dorset holiday, Kevin and I visited Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens. It may seem like an odd thing to do in the middle of winter. However, I often find winter a great time to visit a garden to see the structure and appreciate some of the less obvious features that drown in Spring, Summer and Autumn's floral displays.

As you can see from the view below, Abbotsbury gardens is nestled in between several hills. This gives it a specific microclimate that allows them to grow more exotic plants than can be grown just over the hill.
Looking down from the top of the Magnolia avenue

I don't think my photo actually gives the view justice, as it was really quite lovely with all the naked trees and their twisting branches, and the hills in the background.

view of St Catherine's Chapel from the gardens

As the picture above alludes, lush tropical palms are planted alongside Australian gum trees (eucalyptus) and English birch. Being the dead middle of winter, many plants had died back, such as the enormous Gunera, of which below you can see the orangey-brown remains. Leaving the dead foliage until spring helps protect the plant from frosts and heavy snow.

Julieanne on the bridge of the Bog Garden

Yet there was plenty of lush movement from the bamboo, that even in the middle of winter gave you a hint of the subtropical delights that would be found once spring would emerge.

One of my favourite 'discoveries' was this lovely tree trunk, sculptured with animals and seating places. On it, grew this beautiful orange fungus (below) amongst the wood and moss. I love that rather than just chopping it all up, it was turned in to something both beautiful and functional, and that also had created another habitat.

Abbotsbury is not necessarily a winter garden, and they did not have much in the way of bulbs or early flowering shrubs to give it 'interest' and colour. I will definitely return sometime to visit in late spring/early summer, when growth will have exploded and you would feel more like you are in a subtropical garden. However, I'm glad I visited in winter. Kevin and I pretty much had the place to ourselves and it was lovely wandering around and enjoying these quieter beauty's.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Potato day 2011

Yep, it was the annual trip up to Ryton for Potato Day last Saturday.

This years choices are:
Lord Roseberry
Red Duke of York*
Shetland Black
Ulster Sovereign
Mayan Gold
Mayan Twilight
Pink Fir Apple
Ryecroft Purple*
Highland Burgundy Red*
Arran Victory*
Blue Danbue*
Those with * are old favourites. The rest are experiments. I love trying out new taties.

You can see them above now chitting. Apparently other people chit their taties in sheds and greenhouses. I like to keep a careful watch, so mine are on the book shelves in the lounge room... It's not sad, it's cute, ok!.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

errant blogger finally returns to talk about holiday...

Ugh. It's been an age since I've blogged. I did start the year promising myself that I'd try to blog at least once per week. How quickly that promise was broken! Somehow January got away from me and good grief Charlie Brown, it's already February. So here is a quick catch up, in particular, about our short holiday to Dorset.

Kevin and I finally got over our respective bugs in time to be able to go on our short break to Dorset mid-Jan. We had a very relaxing time staying in a cottage a couple of miles away from the coast. We visited places such as the Tolpuddle Martyrs Museum, Chesil beach and Abbotsbury Sub-Tropical gardens. I'll write about Abbotsbury in a separate blog.

On our way down we stopped at Shaftsbury for a few hours. It has a particularly lovely ye olde quaint cobble-stone bit:

Visiting Tolpuddle, what I found most interesting, or is it depressing(?) about the story is that how many issues the martyrs faced that we still face today. Ok, we don't get transported to Australia for 7 years for being in a union these days. (I wonder if Australian unionists were threatened with being transported to England?!) But workers have been facing increasing anti-union activity from the current and previous governments, as well as some companies bringing in US union-busters to dissuade workers from joining a union (Kettle Chips did this in 2007). True, in the UK we don't (yet) have to fear being shot for being in a union, as Colombian workers have experienced. We only have to worry about the constant attack on our wages and conditions... Visiting Tolpuddle was a good reminder that solidarity and working together to defend our rights and working conditions is as important today as it was in 1834.

Chesil beach (Abbotsbury end) was both beautiful...

And fun. Where's my foot gone?!
Did you know, if you run along Chesil beach, the pebbles make the most fantastic sound that sounds just like Cybermen marching? So cool. Also, really hard work. Running along pebbles is quite hard work and we quickly disabused ourselves of the idea of doing much of a walk along the beach. For every two steps forward you take a step back if you are going up the sides, and along the top the pebbles make every step drag. Chesil beach and the surrounding area was very beautiful, and it's an amazing natural phenomena. Amazing, not in the least, because humans have managed not to screw it up...

Kevin... On Chesil Beach...

We managed a short visit to Lyme Regis.

Once again, I walked the steps where Louisa Musgrove fell. You cannot see the Cobb that well from this photo (it's at the far end). I just liked my pic. And you cannot mention Lyme and not mention Louisa Musgrove!

On our way home we stopped at Sailsbury to see the catherdral. It was one of the first places I saw when I first came to England in 1988 and I recalled being quite impressed by it. Before arriving, I wondered if I would still be impressed, having seen so many beautiful catherdrals and ruined monasteries since. No worry, it still was very impressive.

My favourite part of the catherdral was actually the amazing medieval clock (right). Made c.1386, it is one of the oldest clocks in the world. It certainly doesn't look digital, or even clock tower like! In fact, you might find it hard to believe it is a clock. It worked with weights and balances and struck a bell on the hour. Apparently when working it's time-keeping is still quite accurate. We wanted to see and hear it work but it turns out that they stop it from ringing it off as it would disturb church services. *sad face*

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The Dorset countryside is very beautiful. Classic English chocolate box cottage in many parts. The view from our cottage was lovely.

Even in mid-winter, it's moody and ethereal and it was a lovely place to zen out for a few days.