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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!)