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Sunday, 1 May 2016

To the hills again - and a Spring Festival

I'm never without a notebook!
Should you be visiting this blog for the first time - forget 'Grandma' in the title. Not quite sure how she crept into the scene ... though a working grandma who by next year will have been writing professionally for fifty years, is perhaps allowed to indicate her experience in her blog title!

It's Spring ... the hills are again calling ... watching benignly over the Three Counties Showground on the outskirts of Malvern, Worcerstershire, and right on the borders of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire. And I cannot wait to be back at a venue that over the last ten years I have come to love, cherishing moments of pure bliss. For me this year's visit comes with new joy and energy (my cancer zapped, though sadly, I will again be without my beloved photographer husband, Ray Quinton, who spent hours with his high-res cameras digitally capturing whatever I asked for).

On the way. It doesn't always rain (truly) - but go equipped with raincoat,
umbrella, and suitable footwear.
Enough. I can see that this year's 'Malvern Spring Festival' will be no exception. The 'RHS Malvern Spring Festival' is the first major RHS event of the year and kicks off the RHS festival season on Thursday 5th May until Sunday 8th May 2016. 


Alan Titchmarch
Mary Berry
I am reliably told that "over 90,000 people are expected to flood to the Three Counties Showground as Godfather of Gardening, Alan Titchmarsh, and National Treasure, Mary Berry, headline the 2016 event."

Each Spring this landmark gardening and food festival brings to the fore the finest from both arenas. Visitors can immerse themselves in stunning show gardens, a floral marquee in full bloom, taste the finest food and drink produce the British isles has to offer, pick up top tips from TV chefs and gardening experts including Valentine Warner, Mark Diacono, BBC Gardeners' World presenters Carol Klein, Christine Walkden, Joe Swift and many more. 

Enjoy a quick cuppa, whilst planning your day.
There is always so much on offer, and there is always the danger that you will amble and miss some of what you actually came for. My recommendation is to head straight for one of the excellent eating places, catalogue and notebook in hand, and work out your personal strategy. I've done this for the last ten years and it really is time well spent.


A previous award winner with experts
James Alexander Sinclair and Joe Swif
t
Show Gardens: Just listening to the conversations of visitors who make a beeline for the stunning show gardens can be revealing, demonstrating that we all have different tastes in what we consider to be "a garden". There are nine show gardens, and three Festival Gardens located at the heart of the Festival by the Festival Green.

I have to admit that one particular garden has a personal relevance to me, so it will be my first port of call. The 'UCARE Garden' is inspired by Broughton Castle, a fortified manor house near Banbury in Oxfordshire, and home to Lord and Lady Saye and Sele, patrons of the charity. It has been designed to display the beautiful pink UCARE tulip, Tulipa 'Caresse', a symbol of hope in the treatment and care of patients with urological cancers. UCARE is an independent charity, at present based at the Churchill Hospital, Oxford, which I had to visit regularly for radiotherapy treatment in my own fight against breast cancer. 

The UCARE garden, inspired by the 'Ladies Garden'
at Broughton Castle.
The garden is inspired by the castle's magnificent oak panelled drawing room, crenellated walls and elaborate 19th century Ladies Garden. The design reflects the structure and setting o this historic family home. Like the Hornton ironstone from which Broughton Castle is built, the heavy oak benches and robust steel water feature were chosen for their strength and longevity. (And Broughton is also significant for me as I currently have work being exhibited there.)

New for 2016 is the Kitchen Garden Theatre, to be hosted by Mark Diacono
Tasting, before making a purchase
in the Festival Food & Drink Pavilion
Food to the Fore: The lively Festival Food & Drink Pavilion is home to a range of local and international food producers. New for 2016 will be live demonstrations at the Kitchen Garden Theatre hosted by Mark Diacono. of Otter's Farm along with top chef, Valentine Warner.  The Theatre is the perfect setting for dedicated foodies to "get their cooking fix" and a place where great food and conversation comes alive. And this year Mark will be joined by special guests.


'Lifestyle Events': there are excellent opportunities for shopping around the Showground. Whether it's related to plants and gardening equipment, or clothing and household goods, one cannot fail to be impressed by so much on offer in such a convenient location. The 'Country Living Pavilion' has much to intrigue and tempt, from designer clothes to household furnishings.

Never forget the children: An opportunity to be conducted around a school garden by a knowledgeable primary school pupil is a privilege. Participating can bring its own rewards in years to come - so often, what inspires in childhood becomes a lifeline passion - gardeners of the future need our encouragement. There's plenty for families too of course in various sections of the Showground.



Family Fun
In just a few days time, I will be at the Showground sampling all the delights of the 2016 RHS Malvern Spring Festival. And particularly fortunate this year, as I am able to spend two whole days there. I have my shopping list, which grows by the minute, and camera and notebook ready so as to be able to write of my time away post-Festival.

The Malvern Hills at sunset (taken on a previous visit) on a lovely evening after an exhilarating day doing what I love.

(With thanks to the Three Counties Showground Press Office for supplying all the photos, apart from the hills in rain and at sunset. Ann Somerset Miles, author and photo-journalist.)

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

The hills were alive ...


Part of an amazing theatrical show garden - I just loved it
Grandma’s Eco Gardening Notes is the new home for most things ‘Malvern’; and this particular post was begun direct from the Autumn Show, sitting in the luxury of the Press Room, drinking coffee and contemplating the hills at the same time as sorting images and writing. And the weather - unusual for the Showground in the lee of the whaleback - was warm, still, and peaceably benign. 

Apples galore in the
Orchard Pavilion
The weekend for me was one of pure delight, reinforcing friendships whilst exchanging information with old acquaintances, and discovering new joys. I followed my usual pattern at any Show: check quickly right through the catalogue, mark up what I want to see and plan the most sensible route to avoid a continual and un-necessary criss-crossing. As was not here on my usual work assignments, I was able to please myself - the weekend was my own! 

Only one half of the theatrical Show Garden with stage - designed by
Caroline Tatham who runs The Cotswold Gardening School
I usually make a beeline for the show gardens, of which this Autumn there were only a few. The loveliest to my mind was actually the stage setting in the Good Life Pavilion and Theatre - ‘A Brave New World of Beauty’. So clever with its clear glass panels on which appeared wintery snow-encrusted seed heads and lacy plant material which contrasted with bright Autumnal plants in raised beds and feathery grasses. Through these swam the ethereal fish shown in my first photo. The background to the Pavilion ‘constituents’ was described in the preview blog post I wrote for the Showground on Ann’s Malvern Jotter:  on 12th September. By the time you read this, it will be too late to visit! 

Building an image library for a new venture that I am launching
The rest of my time was spent enjoying myself - building a new image library of photos taken entirely with an iPhone - a revelation in what can be achieved and actually perfect for the way my world is shaping (I have plans!) Hundreds of plant closeups, nostalgic shots of vintage ephemera and a mixture of the sort of eclectic photos that I can use in the mini zigzag books I now make and exhibit at various galleries. 

You cannot visit Malvern without buying plants
and as usual, I 
succumbed!
I went shopping: a new ‘must-have’ hydrangea, the flower heads of which are a strange shade of deep amethyst tinged with slate blue, bulbs of the perennial Babbington Leek for which I have been searching for years, and two small leather shoulder bags - price unbelievably inexpensive. One is to be used as a travelling art satchel - Moleskin sketch book and pre-cut pieces of watercolour paper, tiny scissors, a gluestick, mini-sized cosmetic bottle for water and my on-the-go paintbox. The second exactly similar bag was only bought because there was a ten-pound credit card minimum purchase. Ideal I thought for me to carry samples of the little zig-zag books I cannot stop making (the ones I am now invited to exhibit).

My 'postcard from Malvern' - created from some of the images I took at the Show
Actually even being there over the weekend was a personal milestone: a goal to which I have been working for many weeks as I recover from two ops for unexpected breast cancer - the second less than a fortnight ago. “I have to be fit for Malvern,” I told the surgeon. And fortunately I was; the sun shone and the hills were smiling - and I walked around with a great big grin on my face.

(More information: click this link to access the website for The Cotswold Gardening School. The Three Counties Showground website is also worth a visit for future shows.)

Thursday, 11 September 2014

A new lease of life!

Taken with my new iPhone:
I just love the pattern of
the seeds-to-be.
It's been quite a summer, for one reason and another (and that's a story all of its own). It's definitely now time for change; and for Grandma's Garden Notes to take on a new lease of life. First: a twist to the Blog title - as from this post, it has become "Grandma's Eco Gardening Notes". For I realise that in all that I have ever written about gardening and landscape, whether here in our own garden or during my travels, it's the environment about which I am the most passionate. Environmental concerns have always played a major part in what I think and do. Not to the point of immoderation; fanatics can become so boring!

Statuesque teasels attract
butterflies and bees.
Second: a major restructuring in our Cotswold Acre is required, because time is running out. increasing infirmity means we cannot care for our beloved plot in the way we once could when we came here in 1969 - and with changes to the pattern of other aspects of our life, now seems as good a time as any to set about a reappraisal. In fact our acre, on an easterly gentle slope of the north-east Cotswolds, has been continually evolving - with a number of mini-gardens that were each created for various magazine articles. They are no longer relevant. In fact, in the year since I was a finalist in the 2013 RHS Blog Writer's Competition - my entry outlined the creation of our acre -  nostalgia has been to the fore. 

Only a week ago, I was writing about this very topic of restructuring, taking advantage of adversity, in the Dobies of Devon blog. My four-year stint of writing their blogposts comes to an end at the end of this month; and rather than direct you elsewhere, here are the most salient points that are relevant to "taking advantage of adversity". (My apologies to those of you who follow both blogs!)

Early Summer, and a new flower patch so crammed with plants,
the weeds just did not stand a chance!
Gardening opportunities without number have presented themselves this year. Enforced inactivity in our acre as old-age manifested itself has meant that the wilderness took over  - the state of our vegetable plot particularly upset my husband, whose sole province this is; potatoes were doing fine, as were the broad beans, carrots and beetroot. But, as he succumbed to yet another bout of illness, I determined to surprise him. Over a week in June, I cleared the second half of the plot and laid out two flower beds - there was an ulterior motive in all this, as I had ordered so many herbaceous plants and young seedlings from the Dobies website and had not had time to clear space in my eco-plots to accommodate them. Here was the perfect space.

The bright stems of rhubarb
chard are a delight.
I had already decided that the ground was too wet and cold to sow vegetable seed (all that winter rain!) so ordered seedlings, again from Dobies. Rhubarb Chard is a must - the stem colours glow and are worthy of planting in a flower plot. It does not worry me that my husband will not eat it (nor will he touch spinach!) as I feed it to the hens in their shed when it’s too wet for them to be let out. How it improves the eggs - yolks as golden as the sun! So the little seedlings arrived; I was busy and simply pressed the plugs into compost in trays on the kitchen window-cill. Eventually they went into the ground - what could be easier? The same with beetroot; not the variety that I usually grow, but long rooted ones that subsequently graced many a lunch when boiled, skinned, cubed small and topped with a balsamic vinegar dressing.

Not long after planting - these Kabocha winter squash were soon clambering
every-which-way (grow vertically to save 
space)
There was still some considerable ground to be planted. I could not be forever hoeing and weeding so decided to add a quantity of Kabocha squash plants and grow them vertically up frames that were easily slotted together and not so high as to obscure other parts of the garden. Whether we ate the squash was a moot point (husband has very conservative tastes!) - but I rather fancied that when ripe, the small but bright marmalade-orange fruit would make a marvellous still life (the photographer in me took over). They are a deep bottle green right now, tied into the supports, whilst the remaining part of the plot has been close-planted with courgettes and dwarf runner beans - the colour combination is glorious.

A wigwam of runner (pole) beans in one
corner of the flower patch added height,
and a regular supply of young produce.
Gardening opportunities cannot be passed over; I decided not to plant runner (pole) beans in the usual long 20ft row - how many beans can one elderly couple really require? No matter how well staked are the supports, a heavy crop means they usually reach a state of partial-collapse when the Autumn equinoctial gales arrive at the end of September. In any case, I wanted to trial some different varieties, so positioned four different sorts around a wigwam of bamboo canes. Raised from seed in poly-cups on our kitchen window cill, I do not plant them out until early June as our garden - 450ft amsl in the north Cotswolds - is often beset be late frosts. And I also remembered to identify the varieties, actually wiring plant labels onto the supports! Trials of purple-podded ‘French’ beans were treated in a similar manner; and how tasty they were, lightly steamed and tossed in a little vinaigrette when cooled to top a dish of pasta.

I cannot live without this!
There has to be borage … being passionate about encouraging bees and other insects to assist in crop pollination - and just to help them survive - I have to have this versatile herb. Not only is it a heavenly blue (and can be seen decorating the pages of medieval manuscripts, it is a haven for bees. It self-seeds freely - RQ (my husband) cannot stand it, I do not know why. I replanted some self-set seedlings from elsewhere into the flower patch I had created. The moment they flowered, the bees came; indeed it has been alive with honey bees for weeks, and still is.

A floriferous and edible delight - for us, and for our flying garden 'visitors'.
How pleased I am that I grasped these gardening opportunities and did not let adversity hold back an idea that took hold back in early summer. The flower-patch has flourished, the buzz of insects reminding me just how easy it is to encourage beneficial wild-life. Crops have been higher than anticipated. Soon I’ll be planning what to put into the space where the squash and runners have been - maybe a winter cutting garden (with wallflowers and spring bulbs), or early over-wintering garlic, or …. who knows? Out with the latest catalogues; for more gardening opportunities will surely present themselves. The possibilities are endless.



Saturday, 10 May 2014

Ann's Journal on GGN

A 'festival' show garden: 'The Journey supporting RAF Benevolent Fund'
designed by Martyn Wilson

This is the first appearance of Ann's Journal on Grandma's Gardening Notes. it's a weekly two-page diary that jumps from blog to blog, depending on content. Once 'live', I always provide a link on Facebook, so you never need miss a week. The diary pages that follow we're written at the RHS Malvern Spring Festival, hence their appearance on GGN. (Click on each page to view it at a larger size.)



I do hope you have enjoyed reading my journal pages, created whilst at Malvern (and the WiFi has behaved itself!)

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Falling in Love ...


With my grandfather (1944)
My love affair with plants and gardens, and the landscape in which they find themselves, sprang from occurances very early in childhood. Going for walks with my grandparents in Surrey; sometimes helping in their Edwardian garden – dead-heading love-in-a-mist and pulling weeds (the scent of crushed ground-ivy still rolls back the years; it’s a plant I have to have). Watching my parents grow fruit and vegetables in north London for survival during the second-world war - and pinching red-currants when they weren’t looking! A gift from my great-grandfather - a treatise on the history of plants (at a time when books were almost unobtainable); and another from my godmother: a book of poetry from whence sprang a passion for words. 

“At the top of the house the apples are laid in rows,
And the skylight lets the moonlight in, and those
Apples are deep-sea apples of green. …..”  

(John Drinkwater,  ‘Moonlit Apples', c. 1900 
- click on the link to read the whole poem)

Somewhere to create a garden, though we didn't realise the size of it (1969)
- 2013 and we're still here
Ignoring my own childish attempts at growing green things in a sooty northern city, and subsequently in adulthood in the first garden we, my new husband and I, acquired when we married in 1958 – me so ignorant of what would do well in suburbia in heavy clay soil on the site of a former brickfield (though I became besotted by eucalypts, and still am). I never thought that those moonlit apples would become reality, with space under the eaves in which to store them. Quite by chance, in 1969, we bought at auction an almost derelict 1600s farmhouse in the Cotswolds, with a bit of ground.

Somewhere to grow food, raise our children, and geese, ducks and hens
We did not realize that beyond the barn lay an acre of ground and an old orchard dating back well over a hundred years. Apples a-plenty, yet I planted more – time-tested varieties of plums and pears, figs and vines, and a nut plat, too, whilst my husband and three young children tackled the task of re-building the house. Reclaiming the garden and house has been an ongoing labour of love; a family affair. Our children grew up here, climbed trees, made dens, reared ducks and hens, and collected bucketsful of stones off the intended vegetable plot in exchange for pocket-money. It became our mini-paradise.

Nostalgia - my potager in its heyday; it's second year (1980)
the year the calendula ran wild and leeks were allowed to seed

(tip: mix flowering annuals with your veg to encourage pollinating insects)
I spent endless hours reading books and magazines and became absorbed by the idea of potagers, ‘square foot gardening’ and raised beds. I wanted to create a garden that was both productive and joyous: vegetables, salads, shrubs, fruit, herbs – and flowers. There have to be flowers! The garden took over all my spare time. I learned how to sow seeds, transplant trees, take cuttings, adopted and adapted a 'no-dig' philosophy, encouraged beneficial wildlife to share our plot, revelled in seasonal exuberance and even came to love the fallow years.

Grandchildren enjoying themselves, flying kites in a local field (2002)
The children grew and left home, married and gave us beautiful grandchildren. It was they who now helped us whenever they visited; though dens were still the order of the day! There was still plenty of clearing and digging, time for running wild and helping to prepare the produce they had helped to grow. 

Digging space in our lower garden in 2004 for their own small raised beds
(tip: let children have their own space and choose what they will grow)
Later that summer, crops are flourishing and Kate weeds her beds
alongside mine (safety tip: cover canes with polythene cups to prevent injury)
Sharing a love of the here-and now, and what has gone before, has always motivated me, ever since my teaching days in the 1960s when I encouraged my  young pupils to open their eyes and look around them (hardly any TV then!), to identify plants, grow beans in pots, collect blackberries and record what they saw in paintings and hand-made notebooks.

A highly productive year when we thought Summer would never end
Our Cotswold acre developed and has been through many phases since we arrived: from initial wilderness to magazine showpiece in a series of mini-gardens each designed to inspire newcomers to gardening to start from scratch. Produce was preserved and potted, edible flowers and herbs dried, fruit bottled and turned into cider and wine. The days of wine and roses. 

A sampler I designed and stitched
for our daughter's 21st birthday -

it 'catalogues' our garden
Gardening does not happen in isolation; it is the catalyst for so much else. I have been fortunate over the years to use our acre as a springboard for so many of my passions – the creative side of me. From journals and samplers to paper-and-fabric stitched books, the garden is always with me. Not a day goes by but I make notes, take photos, sketch, listen to birdsong, observe a multitude of wildlife and am constantly aware of the changing seasons. Hand-made artifacts emerge.
Garden Keepsake: inspired by plants I grow in my garden - paper napkin
overprinted and fused to fabric, stitched and ready for assembly with similar pages


Taking note of the pumpkin trials at
Hidcote, National Trust
Inspiration lies beyond the garden gate, too – ‘refilling the well’, here and abroad. Absorbing ideas, learning from experts, seeking beauty that could, perhaps, be adapted or replicated back home. The tiniest object will trigger an idea. Whether visiting a National Trust garden, an RHS Show, or touring abroad, notebook and camera in hand. Spotting the latest trends, new plants, supplies, tools and equipment. Enjoying the ambience of place, moments in time that live on in my mind. 

'Through Nature' - an amazing show garden based on Peter Rabbit (Beatrix Potter)
as visualised this summer at the RHS Flower Show Tatton Park.
This image shows one half of the garden, the 'cultivated' side ...  


.... 'Through Nature' - the wild end of the garden was equally inspired -
the tree stumps were sourced on the Tatton Park estate

Heartbreak:


Traumatic - two years of neglect  due to ill-health -
the once beautiful and productive potager is nevertheless
about to enter a new phase making it easier to maintain
The bubble burst, old age crept inexorably closer; my husband now over 80 became ill and I eventually succumbed to the stress – resisting for too long the fact I needed help and moral support. I became a stranger to my garden – you would hardly recognize the overgrown and neglected acre, once so productive and beautiful. ....... Now is the time for new beginnings: I make way for gentler things, embracing new techniques, new initiatives, new technology.

My shed, built for me by my husband
in younger days, and faced with
waney elm boards bought at auction
Lower down the garden, and equally neglected, are other raised beds. Oh the weeds, the cow-parlsley, teasels and docks - a haven for wildlife. The teasels attract bees and butterflies and the docks are fed to the hens; the cow-parsley is beautiful, a creamy froth of flower, until it seeds. I hack a path to my shed, therein to store the where-with-all for eco-dyeing – boiling paper wrapped around garden weeds that will become fragile journal pages. 

How to cope? What’s to do? Move? Definitely not; all this space is essential, it's my cloak of many-patterned memories enfolding me as if it were made of gossamer. If I gathered it around me, might time stand still? Might I become invisible to the waking world, could I turn back the clock? Of course not. Instead, I take out my books, assemble seed and plant catalogues; scatter wild-flower seeds, plant a few exotic parrot tulips. I begin to plan.

Gathering apples for making our own cider
Two months pass, I am revitalized: metamorphosis – the garden is changing yet again, acquiring a new lease of life. Quite what and how has yet to be decided – it’s an overwhelming task; but needs must. The love affair has not ended yet … how could it? Once upon a time, long years ago, I danced barefoot over daisies in the orchard on a dewy morning in May; I might still do that next year. Right now, there are apples to gather, though not by moonlight … !

Before I leave:


Seeds for the future
Gardeners are passionate beings, each with their own specific interests and skills. But everyone of us is but a blip on the planet and not immortal, though names may become revered and live on. 

Bare bones of some gardens remain faintly visible, often discernible only from the air, waiting to be discovered and excavated years - even centuries - later. They all tell a story. It matters not if the tale is obscured by the distance of time, so long as we have lived our gardening lives to the full, bring happiness to others, sowing seeds that will inspire those who follow. Our earthly days will not have not been wasted.

'In my Garden' - or rather, the various mini-plots, each created to
develop a different aspect of what I love doing - the eco-garden (top left),

'square-foot' potager in the making (top-right), planting herbs and my quiet
space where sometimes I sit and write (middle right), cider from our orchard apples
and the 'grow-bag' garden, demonstrating that you can grow crops
on ground waiting to be reclaimed.


'Garden Inspirations' from wherever I travel: 
Malvern Shows (so good to see? the excitement of children, there and at other RHS Shows); Aberglasney (Carmarthen, Wales); Rudesheim (on the Rhine, Germany); and Goodwood (Chichester, West Sussex) where spare ground has been converted into a herb garden used every day by the Chefs at The Kennels restaurant. I record all these visits in notebooks and on 'Pinterest' image boards, sharing my joy of gardens and gardening. 
Truly a never-ending love-affair.




This post has been created as my entry for the new 
RHS Gardening Blog competition. 
A panel of judges will shortlist ten finalists, and the winner will be chosen by public vote.

P.S. Today (10.10.2013) I learned that out of 130 entrants, I have been selected as ONE OF TEN FINALISTS. It's now down to PUBLIC VOTE. If you've read this far and enjoyed my entry, PLEASE VOTE FOR ME. Click on the RHS Blogger Finalist Badge on the right, scroll down the page that pops up until you reach the list of finalist blogs (mine is quite a way down: 'Falling in Love') and press the 'VOTE FOR THIS BLOG' button. And thank you. xx

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Interim post - USING BEETROOT

If you have never eaten home-grown beetroot straight from plot to plate (with a little preparation in between) you are missing a real treat. 

Tips for preparation can be found by clicking on the RECIPE page above.