Friday, 24 June 2011

Are You Sitting Comfortably?

We will be very soon!  Finally after more than twelve months of planning, saving and pondering we've taken the plunge and ordered a large table and eight reclining chairs for the party patio.

It has taken us ages to commit to a style and material as it is such a large investment both financially and aesthetically.  As it's such a large piece of garden furniture and hopefully will be with us for many years it was important that we get it right...right size (not too big or small for the space available), right material (we considered wood and metal, both have their pluses and minuses), style of chair (traditional or contemporary), colour of cushions and parasol...the list went on.

photo from Cyan Teak
Eventually we just had to make a decision and so we've opted for an extending table to seat up to eight with reclining chairs (for those long and lazy summer days when we have family and friends to enjoy Holly Grove) in teak (relatively maintenance free and lovely to look at and touch) with navy blue cushions and parasol...and it's due to be delivered today!!!  At the moment the sun is shining, so you never know we may be able to make use of it straight away.

I'm so excited and a little anxious - will it be all that we expect?  I'll update later with initial impressions and photos from the party patio.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Hubble, Bubble (VFTA No 3)

I've been away from the garden for a few days due to very inclement weather and a trip to the theatre.  So I thought I'd continue an occasional series on my blog called 'A View from the Audience'; this gives my impressions of any events gardening or otherwise that I attend over the year.  it is occasional as I don't get away from Holly Grove very often!  The views expressed are only my opinions, so here we go:

In what feels like a previous life I lived in various villages and towns in Warwickshire; initially in Stratford-on-Avon, then in the village of Bidford-on-Avon and finally in the small town of Alcester (pronounced ALL-STER). Both my sons were born in Leamington Spa and we spent our first formative family years in the lovely Warwickshire countryside.

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Stratford-on-Avon again with two friends for the prospect of an evening at the newly opened Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) theatre. We had booked a pre-theatre dinner in the rooftop restaurant and then had tickets for Macbeth (or should I say 'the Scottish play').

We arrived in Stratford in the early afternoon and had a wander around before taking afternoon tea in a small teashop at the top of Henley Street. And how the town has changed – though it is over 20 years since my boys and I left Warwickshire - why was I so surprised! The main shopping streets look like any other town in the UK with all the usual suspects – shame! However the river walks, the canal basin and the Old Town remain very attractive and the tourists (me amongst them now) continue as a constant feature.

It was strange to be in place so familiar and yet unfamiliar at the same time. Memories of my twenties came flooding back, almost all really good reminiscences; paying my first salary into my first cheque account from my first teaching job, buying my first kitchen wares for my first flat, my Mum visiting and sleeping on the sofa as we had no spare bedroom and she refused to take our room, The Windmill Inn – our local hostelry, bringing home my first son from the hospital to our little flat and then wondering how I was going to get him and the pram down 3 flights of stairs, walking down to the river and the swing park with the boys and their grandparents, boats and ice-creams on the river etc, etc.

So how was the theatre? Well the restaurant had lovely views across the river and the table settings and linen were as you would expect from a good quality restaurant, the service was pleasant and the food was fine but not great.

From the fixed price menu we all had the same starter: chicken and black pudding terrine (black pudding is appearing on menus everywhere – why?); then I had sea trout with samphire and my companions had Old Spot pork loin with crushed potatoes – any other vegetables were extra; for dessert, two opted for the cheeseboard and I had strawberries and clotted cream (or as described on the menu - Evesham strawberries with honey and curd).

The portions seemed quite small but the meal was filling and the prices were what I would expect to pay in a theatre restaurant for a fixed price menu. The layout of the restaurant meant that most tables were quite a route march from the 'ladies' so I would suggest a trip prior to taking your seat in the restaurant.

With a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc the meal came to £94 for the three of us - the food was a pleasant affair but nothing to rave about. The conversation during the meal however was superb!

The rebuilt theatre is interesting, the auditorium resembling a modern version of the Globe theatre. It feels surprisingly small and intimate with the stage projecting out into the audience. This makes life more difficult for the staging of the production as the actors have audience on three sides and sometimes when the actors had their backs to us it was difficult to hear what they were saying. There are also LED screens on both sides of the theatre just below the circle seats. During the performance we attended these scrolled the dialogue continually and were quite distracting. The corridors at the back of the auditorium are incredibly narrow and getting out to the bars etc in the interval was a squash; I wouldn't want to try this in any kind of emergency

Then the play: well, this was the fifth production of Macbeth that I have seen, the first being nearly 40 years ago at the Citizens' Theatre in Glasgow as part of my studies for my English O level qualification. I have to say that this was the poorest of the five.

Jonathan Slinger was not my idea of Macbeth, he was more whinging politician than bloodied warrior and Lady Macbeth was equally disappointing as the 'power behind the man' turning very quickly into an emotional wreck. In the banquet scene where she dissolves into hysterical laughter I thought she more resembled Queenie from Black Adder than the manipulative Queen of Scotland.

And where were the witches? Replaced by three children lowered from the ceiling on wires and hooks…not very atmospheric or prophetic for that matter. Banquo was big on physical presence but lacked charisma and it was difficult to feel for him when he was betrayed by his comrade in arms, Macbeth.

There also seemed to be a lot of running on and off stage, not clear what that was supposed to suggest?

I really didn't engage with any of the characters, who seemed to be very two-dimensional, until late in the play when Macduff receives the news of the murders of his wife and children; the emotion with which this scene was played stood out as the high point in the play for me and my companions. I've no idea who played this part as I can't find a cast list on the RSC website – but it raised the stakes in what, to that point, was a very pedestrian version of the Scottish play.

All in all a missed opportunity in the production of a great play. So a good day for memories, lovely to spend some time with friends, plenty of conversation around the experience in the car on the way home; just a pity the play didn't live up to expectations. Will we go back for another experience? Absolutely – who can resist the prospect of the theatre!

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Experience and Education

It occurred to me in a quiet moment this week that I've been gardening for about 30 years - unbelievable! - since I had my first garden in my early twenties. I was brought up in the centre of Glasgow in a fantastic Victorian tenement building with turreted windows but no garden. My earliest experience of gardening was my paternal grandfather's plot and the strongest memories I have are of roses and sweetpeas – a garden filled with scent and colour and an image of my Granda B with his shirt sleeves rolled up and a garden fork in his hands. He also grew vegetables but I have little or no memory of the gardening activities associated with these. I do, however, remember my Granny B's preserves and cakes – an influencing factor on my other blogging activity.

HG kitchen
So although I had no day to day access to a garden as I was growing up it was obviously 'in my blood'. I have learned an awful lot over my 30 gardening years: all the way from my first garden with a couple of rows of potatoes, copious amounts of parsley, a long thin row of gladioli and a flurry of godetia – oh, and the tremendous excitement at the sight of a haze of green shoots from a seeded area of grass (definitely couldn't call it a lawn) all the way through five other small/medium-sized gardens (including a mobile one) to our latest garden here at Holly Grove: almost an acre of ground containing a woodland border, several lawns, a kitchen garden and greenhouse, a myriad of herbaceous perennials, roses, clematis, trees, conifers, shrubs, top and soft fruit, hedgerows etc. etc.

previous productive plot
Recently I've been inspired to learn more about the art and science of horticulture and to confirm what I think I already know; how to do this?  It seemed the place to start the search for appropriate learning was the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS).

Two years ago my elder son and DIL kindly arranged membership of the RHS for my birthday and although I took advantage of the reduced admission prices to gardens and RHS shows I didn't take advantage of other facilities but it did give me cause to visit the RHS website – a well put together and informative site - so when thinking about horticultural education where better to begin.

The site provides excellent information on all of the RHS qualifications including past examination papers and details on training providers in your area. So I've printed the details of the Level 2 Certificate in Horticulture and contacted a local college to see if they offer part-time courses and I'm seriously considering taking the plunge. Interestingly when I looked at the recommended reading list for the course I already own about two-thirds of the books, so now I'll just have to read them!

just a sample of gardening books in my library
I'll let you know what I decide to do when I've taken a bit more time to assess the information and work out whether formal training really is for me, and how much of my precious gardening (and baking) time it will take up, but at the moment I'm quite keen to pursue. If anyone has experience of the RHS qualifications and the commitment required I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Wild About Gardening

The Handyman has recently taken an interest in cultivating plants for the garden - don't get me wrong, he's always appreciated the lovely borders and garden views but his gardening focus has been on the grass, lawns and hedgerows. The planting of the borders, pots, baskets and the kitchen garden has for the most part been left to me; no hardship there!

beginnings of the wild garden 2010 on the right hand side of the arbour
Just over a year ago he expressed an interest in creating a more wild aspect to the garden and purchased some meadow mix and wildflower seed. I think it's fair to say that minimum preparation was made to an area of grassy weeds/weedy grass alongside a hedgerow and the seed scattered, the results were pretty poor, so a second attempt was made by sowing the mix in one of the raised beds in the kitchen garden which produced a weed-free seedling mini meadow. The Handyman then transplanted this in clumps to a more weeded and de-grassed hedgerow border. Last year we had quite a few flowers; this year the area has provided some lovely colour and contrast in style to the nearby cultivated borders. So far we've had red and white campion, lots of ox-eye daisies, field and opium poppies, buttercups, a few dandelions and the odd thistle amongst some lovely light and flowing grasses – oh and the odd potato plant from a seed potato or two transported with the soil from another part of the garden.

ox-eye daisies and red campion 2011

by Valentine's gate lovely grasses and the occasional poppy

Inspired by this success the Handyman has freed up another weedy area leading from the current 'meadow' patch to Valentine's Gate and has sown several packets of wild flowers mixed with some columbine (aquilegia) and foxglove seedlings taken from the woodland garden. Some nasturtium and California poppy seedlings from the hot border have also been incorporated…so we have our fingers crossed and are hopeful of a bit more wild garden.

view from Valentine's gate with wild border on the left
Although I have to admit that I wasn't too keen on the 'wild' idea at first I now think that it adds a lovely dimension to Holly Grove. We love to sit in the little arbour at Valentine's Gate and enjoy the view through the wild flowers and grasses to the lawns, trees, shrubs, and perennial borders beyond. As a further incentive for the Handyman I've bought him (us) a copy of William Robinson's Wild Garden to provide inspiration…more on William Robinson in a later post when I've read a bit more of the book.  For now I'm enjoying sharing with the Handyman the joys of seeing your planted seeds sprouting into small plants!

Friday, 3 June 2011

Herbs by Post

Yesterday's blog post focused on the planting of a herb border but what I failed to mention was this planting inspired me to search the internet for some more herbs for the garden, so much for saving money by using existing plants for the new herb border!  I wanted some old favourites and some new variieties and I didn't want to pay for fully grown plants.

The solution was to find some decent plug plants.  I have tried buying plugs by mail order before with varying dgrees of success, so I ventured forth with some trepidation.

in their packaging

I found a lovely site with such a range of herbs that I had real trouble choosing what to try; the herbs are listed alphabetically with good photos.  The site is Home Scent Herbs based in Norfolk.

It's possible to buy either small plants or plug plants - I went for the plugs as I am a great believer that small things grow more quickly than larger plants which take some time to settle down when transplanted.  I bought 18 assorted plugs for just over £16 including P&P...not bad, depending on the quality.  So I placed my order just after 6am on Tuesday and unbelievably the parcel arrived on Wednesday morning!

The herbs were delivered in a tiered carboard box and I couldn't wait to open it up and see the treasures inside - three plastic trays of six plugs each complete with labels.

lavender Hidcote fresh plugs
So straight into the potting shed to get these little beauties potted up and growing on.  As you can see they are good sized plants and all looking very healthy.  I'll grow them on for about four weeks before checking to see the root development (by gently tipping them out of their pots) before planting them in the garden, though a couple may end up in pots near the kitchen door.

all potted on
I almost forgot to let you know what I bought - three types of thyme; two creeping lemon thyme, two lemon thyme and two thyme Wine and Roses; six lavender Hidcote; two lavender Madrid Purple, one cotton lavender; one pineapple sage; one Moroccan mint; and one rosemary Miss Jessop's Upright...and that makes eighteen!

I'd heartily recommend Home Scent Herbs; the quality of the plugs, reasonable prices, the variety of the herbs available, a useful website and amazing delivery - what's not to like?

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Scented Border

So how long does it take to create a herb border? 

I have wanted to join two borders together between the party patio and Valentine's gate border for some time but as it will be a narrow strip the question remained what to plant.

viola yellow rebecca
As it would be sited right beside the party patio some scented plants would be good; then the Handyman suggested lavender.  He'd been inspired as he brushed past the small lavender hedge planted three years ago and the scent floated up to him.  As we discussed this possiblity we thought of the herb border in the kitchen garden and the two thoughts combined - as we use the party patio as our main BBQ location the thought of herbs on hand to add to the cooking and the lovely scent as they are cropped convinced us that this was the solution.

very ittle lemon balm in the foreground
So next question - how to stock the border? 

With the miriad of herbs available we were spoiled for choice however to do it on a budget we mostly gathered plants from our existing stock by relocating a couple from less favourable spots in the garden and lifting and dividing some herbs from the kitchen garden.  The result is that we have a lovely new border with lavender, chives, lemon thyme, sage, lemon verbena, parsley, rosemary, golden marjoram, lemon balm, sweet violas, lemon scented geranium...hmm, seems to be a bit of a lemon theme going on!

And to answer the original question: with the Handyman's help in clearing the grass and digging over the ground; two and a half hours from grass to growing!

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

The Scent of Roses

With the prospect of a few days holiday to spend in the garden I decided to make my annual trip to a local rose nursery.  The plant centre is in the midst of the Shropshire countryside, tucked away down country lanes.  I've had quite a number of roses from there over the years and always take visiting friends for a trip out and a cup of tea and a scone from their tearoom.  Everyone loves it whether they are gardeners or not - who wouldn't love the site of hundreds of roses in bloom!

All the roses I have had from Country Garden Roses have faired well, including a climbing Iceberg and Rosa Evening Light planted on the pergola only last year. 

Lush growth of Iceberg

Evening Light
On this trip I came home with four roses: Boy, Oh Boy - a lovely red ground cover rose; Erfurt - a beautifully scented, deep pink shrub rose; Flower Carpet White - I have two other flower carpet roses, pink and coral and both are such easy roses to care for and flower profusely throughout the summer; Kiftsgate - a very large rambling white rose, this will go into the bottom hedge to scramle through alongside the wild dogroses - at least that's the theory!

I'm fortunate to live close enough to the nursery to visit in person, although they do a mail order service the roses are a lot dearer this way and despite the very informative website with lovely photographs you don't get to try the scent.  For me a rose isn't a rose without a scent. 

It was unbelievably difficult to choose from the miriad of plants available and to be honest I'm amazed that I managed to restrict myself to only four.  But there's always next year's trip to look forward to, unless of course I have any visiting friends who'd like to see and smell the lovely display during the summer!