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Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Kings and Queens of Chickendon

Much cockadoodle-doo-ing from this handsome bird
We're chicken sitting - not literally; it's a bit like baby-sitting though I never baby-sat so many babies at once. Three cockerels, four hens, three ducks (drakes actually) and my own two newly 'rescued' hens. Apart from the last two, they all belong to our grandson away on holiday somewhere in Europe. We only knew we ere to look after them the day before they arrived with them - all in a huge crate, except for two of the cockerels which were sitting on the knees of grandson and his younger sister.

We had the large brick-built shed all ready for their arrival (see my Dobies blog post on keeping chickens). D. casually said, "you'll need to keep the two Barnavelder cockerels separated. They fight." And they did within a half hour whilst we all ate lunch, one had nearly slaughtered the other; D. was distraught, I thought it had lost an eye - there was an awful lot of blood. We bathed the wounds (all on his magnificent comb and put in his a separate coop, keeping him quiet for a couple of days. I acquired the magnificent coop and run for writing about keeping chickens in forthcoming blogs and articles - it came from Heritage & Sons who deliver all over the UK and is really easy to keep clean. It's very eco-friendly as it is made from recycled plastic materials sourced from farms. 'Big Cockerel', as D. calls him, is fully recovered and has been joined by two of the hens to keep him company.

And all the birds are enjoying the spent beetroot tops and spinach that went to seed before we could eat it all.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Written at Tatton, Posted from Home

I could have sat for hours within this peaceful meadow garden, oblivious of all that was going on around me
Here, at Tatton, we are a world away from our normal forays into show territory. Spacious, and set within open parkland, even the show gardens have a different feel about them. Less emphasis on vegetables, and maybe – because of the set themes – a glimpse into the future.

Quite a few exhibitors were displaying their plants in hessian bags - or rather disguising the pots: what a good idea for the garden, though I would cut open the bottom of the sack or it would quickly rot. And when the whole sack starts to decompose, onto the compost heap it would go.

Perhaps it is the sponsors of the gardens, but there seems to be a greater emphasis on supporting charities – all worthy causes, all portraying a message (sometimes somewhat hidden), but - mostly - the gardens do not feel like gardens, I do not feel comfortable looking at them. I begin to feel guilty, saying to myself that I really SHOULD like this one, because of what it is trying to convey. But it makes no difference, I either like something or I don’t. And maybe that is the way for all of us.

I particularly loved this cottage garden display, with the backdrop setting the scene

Of the three RHS Shows we have attended this year – Malvern, Hampton Court and Tatton, I cannot say which I most enjoyed .. the ambience and welcome afforded the press makes such a difference, when one is working. We’d have liked to do Harrogate, but the RHS would not cooperate; instead – no way would we miss it – Malvern Autumn beckons (Sept 24th and 25th) with its ‘splendid mix for food and garden lovers’. It will feel like coming home.

Of the many nurseries displaying and selling plants, this was my favourite, just in the mix of plants and the way they had been displayed

I will be posting some gardening books later in the week on my 'Book Lover's Blog' - do please visit; it's a mixture of this and that, all surrounding the printed word.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Bumblebees under threat

bumblebee on agapanthus in an Essex nursery

I've been researching and writing about bumblebees wearing my 'professional' hat (for the 'Dobies of Devon' e-newsletter and blog), encouraging readers to create nesting sites and grow flowers that will tempt bees into their garden. We've actually been watching bees here in our Cotswold garden for a long time, ever since one very hot summer a few years back when we were visited by a bee we had never seen before - large and totally black. I bought, at great expense, 'Collins Field Guide Insects of Britain and Northern Europe'; over 300 pages of extremely detailed information and colour plates.

We discovered that not all bumbles have recognisable names (like the white-tailed bumblebee), and when we finally thought we had identified it, discovered that it normally resides on the continent. We only ever saw the one, but it stayed with us whilst our annual flower border was at its most prolific (in terms of providing nectar). We had a visitation again the following summer, this time there were more large males - the females are much smaller - we hoped they were here to stay.

We have looked for them each year since, and whereas we are attracting many species of bumble, have never seen these black ones again. Perhaps the exceptionally cold winters two years in a row have killed them off. We spent hours trying to photograph it and realised how difficult it is to capture a bumblebee in its entirety, for they curl there body into the flower on which they are feeding. 

this wasn't meant to be a red-white-and-blue border; it's just the way it happened, the important bee plant is the exhium

We joined the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and now regularly receive their interesting newsletter; we garden for wildlife, creating habitats attractive to all manner of creatures; we leave the best bee-plant of all - Echium - to self-seed (it has taken over the whole border!) and we are still trying for the perfect photograph. 

one of our better pics - you can actually see the whole bee!

As to whether we will ever see the black one again, well it's a bit like the summer of the spotted flycatcher and chiffchaff - and we did manage good pics of those.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

First pickings from the potager

our first 'little gem' lettuce of the season - delicious with a home-made olive oil and balsam vinegar dressing

It's hard to believe that in six weeks we are eating our first salads of the year from the new potager hacked out of the wilderness that was our front garden (actually, it abuts the road but is at the side of the house). I described what I was doing in my post of 30th April, and since then am amazed at it's progress. It's surrounded by shrubs and it is those that shelter the plot from the easterly wind that's bedevils the rest of the garden.

four square-metre beds will clearly provide all the salads we need this year

You may have been following the creation of this potager on the blog I write for Dobies of Devon - I devised it to demonstrate just how much you can actually pack into four beds, each a metre square. And in fact, even with the short rows or blocks of veg and salads, I've sown far too much for just the two of us; we'd be eating salads for breakfast, lunch, tea and supper every day if we are to consume all the produce before it runs to seed! And sadly I no longer have my hens to eat unwanted greens, for they were all killed by the next-door neighbour's dog. I'll replace them but they will have to be totally enclosed, not wander freely around the orchard, for the wretched spaniel keeps escaping.

smaller pots of herbs surround the old iron boiler - and even the roses behind are edible (the petals will be used for   conserve)

I'm also trialling veg in pots and planters - potatoes, dwarf beans, runner beans, aubergines, peppers and squash. These are tucked into corners for a continental feast - they remind me of past visits to France and Italy, or will do once they come into production. And I have pumpkin in the greenhouse, awaiting a pot in which to plant it out; that and the squash are to be grown upwards on hazel sticks coppiced from the orchard, rather than be allowed to trail everywhere (there isn't room). The herb tub is flourishing - planted in the old washing boiler we dug out of an outhouse when we were re-building 40 years ago. Tall fennel plants are supported by a welded metal tripod my husband made for me; runner bean plants are already climbing the legs.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Final Day at Malvern

a very simple group of cottage garden flowers in the 'Garden in Harmony Theatre'
The sun has shone, my feet are weary, there have been problems with 'Blogger' and yet I'm on the last lap my my self-imposed Blogathon. It's all been so enjoyable; and I've had the privilege of being here for all four days. Exceptional here this year has been the Garden in Harmony Theatre programme of talks and discussions, with an emphasis on bio-diversity. My WiFi time has almost elapsed, and I still have another post to write, but the pic that follows demonstrates how popular these talks were.

many of the talks were interactive; with aspects from the show appearing on screen

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Exhausted !

Who's been on a plant-buying spree?

Friday at Malvern was equally frenetic, forever dashing from one end of the Showground to another, to interview various people, chat to others, and endeavour to be in more than one place simultaneously. I was VERY GOOD and only succumbed to one plant – a pure white Ragged Robin. Others had clearly come plant hunting; Malvern has always been a plant-lovers Show, a paradise for searching out the unusual. My garden of recent years has of necessity become vegetable-orientated (because that is where my writing commissions lie). But I miss the massed flourish of my flowers and managed to sneak one mixed bed into my ‘eco-garden’, on the basis that you need flowers to attract beneficial insects. So the shrub rose scents the evening air, and the foxglove co-habits – at last I really do have foxgloves actually in flower, taking me back to childhood when we fitted the bells like gloves over our fingers.

We've all been spending, so ... shall we phone  for a taxi?
P.S. Other Malvern posts on each of my other blogs - please click as you wish (see the list on the right)

Friday, 13 May 2011

Learning Something New

meeting other garden bloggers - writers and publishers

Press Day (Thursday) at the Show and a question of trying to double-book myself – there is so much to do here, so much to see, so much to photograph. And people to talk too – blogging friends and acquaintances, other journalists, book publishers. All here on their own trail of  enjoyment and experience.

I listened to a fascinating talk by Jekka McVicar on herbs that were once wildlings (my term not hers): she as trying to encourage her audience to grow more native species, saying that there are “a plethora of native wild flowers which are edible and beneficial to our native insects” – bees and hoverflies etc. If they grow well in the wild in your area, they should flourish in the garden. From her truncated list (the theatre programme was cut short), there are only two that I do not grow (sea fennel and seakale) for the simple reason that we do not live near the sea!). She explained that you can allow a herb to grow that you consider to be a weed, simply by clearing space around it.

herbs in Jekka's circular display bed at the Show - there's still time to visit and purchase
Here is her list – you’ll have to purchase a copy of  her new book to read about how to use them: thyme, oregano, fennel, comfrey, wild garlic, hedge garlic, cleavers (goosegrass), meadowsweet, salad burnet, caraway, yarrow, chamomile, feverfew, marsh mallow, musk mallow, angelica, field poppy, flax, chicory, dandelion, sea fenel, sea kale, red valerian, ground ivy, ivy-leaved toadflax, horseradish.

Blogger was offline on Thursday evening, hence this late post; written but not published immediately.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Three down and one to go

Malvern again: the 2011 'RHS Spring Gardening Show' - the point last year that 'Grandma's Garden' came into being. With this blog updated in name, I am back here, even though the Show does not open until tomorrow. And what a Show it will be: so many new features; such show gardens, and this year spread all around the Showground - no single focus. It's a 'green' show; more so than ever. And even though we (Raymond and I) will be here for all four days, I do not know how I can possibly cover or report on it all. Today is just a taster.

So what I plan to do is to blog every day of the Show - on all four of my blogs: quite a 'blogathon' in fact. (I've already posted on three of them this evening, hence this post's title). I only hope the showground WiFi is cooperative; it was a bit tricky earlier on. Each blog post (there should be sixteen in all) will be different, no duplication; my blogs all interact, so if you want to follow my 'Malvern Trail', please click from one blog to another. Until tomorrow ...

Photos: Above left - quirky bird-feeders along the pathway leading to the rustic stage within the 'Garden in Harmony' theatre. There are two paths, both garden borders are different, though each with flowers, herbs, vegetables and trees. Above right - the 'Shepherd's Garden' in the Eco-Living area: a shepherd's hut in the background, a wild-garden adjacent, and in front an enclosed vegetable patch (the enclosure a living wall, clad in fleece of many colours.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Grandma returns!

a new area of my garden in need of reclamation: it's to be a mini-potager surrounded by an eco-friendly shrubbery with  lots of pots containing herbs and flowers as well
You may notice that the title of this blog has changed; that's the doing of Grandma (me), the better to reflect what I want to write about. I had better explain: somewhere whilst meandering within my workspace, my garden, and with numerous garden and travel features to write, I lost the plot (figuratively) and Grandma's Garden went into hibernation. Meanwhile, the 'Gardening Companion' blog I was engaged to write professionally for Dobies of Devon came into being, and is flourishing - over 8,000 visits since the beginning of the year, over 600 to one post alone.

these looked so cheerful on the roadside - not the sort of image you'd add to a professional blog, unless you wanted to demonstrate how prolific they are
But I have missed the freedom and wild creativity of 'Grandma's Garden', and have decided to open the garden gate once more, and invite you to potter with me through new posts. Now I have to admit that I began the original Grandma's Garden in a huge rush, almost exactly a year ago, when arranging to meet with other Garden bloggers at the 2010 Malvern Spring Gardening Show. At the time, I had two blogs 'Wild Somerset Child' and 'Journaling the Journal' but not one specifically devoted to gardening and related pursuits. I did not really think it through, nor what I really wanted to cover.

Taking the description of Grandma's Garden Notes may bring enlightenment: 'Reality' - my garden as is; and other gardens that I visit from time to time. 'Fantasy' - my many journals and stitched pieces.  'Imagination' - a twist on the books I review, putting them into context; outlining some of the activities and projects I come across when researching my commissioned features (I can't always include all that I discover). I suppose what I really want to do is to bring to others the joy of gardens, of natural history, of produce that inspires appetising meals - though you will never know quite what I will draw together in any onepost. I am thinking 'compendium' - somewhere into which you can dip from time to time, which I hope will bring you joy.

I've been back at Malvern within the last ten days in hot sunshine. So many new features for this year's 'Spring Gardening Show', I cannot wait to see them all, and will be spending all four days at the Show, blogging live I hope if the WiFi plays ball. Only twelve days to go (dates are 12th-15th May). I never know which aspect I like the most, but am never disappointed, even when the weather is not at its best.

an olive grove in the making; it's sure to be transformed by the time I return 

It's a beautiful evening, though exceedingly blustery, but my little garden shown at the top of this post is sheltered and inviting. I have seeds to sow and plants to add to my collection of old pots; and maybe a glass of wine to enjoy sitting observing it all (though you cannot see the inviting sea-blue table and chairs in the pic above).

I do hope you will join me from time to time and visit my revised blog; I've also just dragged myself into the 21st century - I've discovered Facebook! Not quite sure what to do with it as yet, or how it works; but no-one is ever too old to learn (I'll just have to find the time.)

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

New Year : New Blog - an invitation to view

In June 2010, I was engaged professionally to write a monthly on-line newsletter for the long-established seed company, Dobies of Devon: for 'keen and dedicated gardeners. Last month, I was asked to extend what I have been doing and write a weekly blog as well. covering a mix of gardening topics, along with recipes from my Cotswold kitchen, inspirational gardens to visit, book reviews, and much else. I am really excited about all this, for they are such a lovely, friendly company to work with, and this new blog will in no way be a 'hard sell'. Other team members will be contributing as well, so it should be a fascinating mix of topics and information.

The 'Dobies of Devon Gardening Companion' went 'live' for the first time last week; please click on the link - it would be wonderful if you would leave a comment. The layout isn't perfect yet, it's the first time I've contributed to a team blog, so there may be unintentional hiccups at my end. And if you'd like to learn more about the company itself and what they offer, please click here - you can access my newsletter (a 'helping hand') lower left of screen on the Dobies website under Useful Information.

creating a new bit of garden with two of the grandchildren, nearly seven years ago
I am passionate about so many things, and one is to pass on to future generations the joy of gardening, wildlife, food, history, literature, and creating with one's hands. And in case you are wondering: no, I haven't been asked to promulgate this new blog; I just truly love what I do and want to share it with others.

A very happy new year to all 'bloggers' and all the best for 2011 - and my apolgies to those who follow THIS blog and have already seen the 'announcement' on my others blogs!

P.S. I'll be taking a break from "Grandma's Garden" for the time being, though I'll still be reading the blogs I love to follow. As for me: I haven't put in the necessary effort to make this blog work; so much to actually do in the garden (the reality side), and the fantasy and imagination aspect needs much time in the studio, too (draft work still in progress with paper, fabric, photo and stitch). Topics on all my blogs are interlinked, so you can keep up-to-date with my endeavours on one or other of them. Meanwhile, thankyou for following 'GG' and hope to see you elsewhere.