Thursday, 23 February 2012

Bees, Butterflies and interpreting the theme

Well it has occurred to me that perhaps I have been a little hasty. A forest garden is a great idea but where will all the flowers be? Once the fruit blossom is over there will be very few and excited as I am about the forest garden concept, I love to have colour all through the season. So, having been entranced by Sarah Raven's series about attracting pollinators to the garden, I have decided that I am going to reinterpret the forest garden theme in order to bring in the insects to the garden and in the long term, help good fruit set!

So what does this mean? Well actually its really good news I think. It means I can still have Dahlias as long as they are single blossoms that have plenty of nectar like the one above, taken at Oxford Botanic Garden last summer, along with its visiting bee. I can also have zinnias, sunflowers, cornflowers, and ammi to name but a few along side pots of annual meadow mixes which I shall trial to see which attracts most of the good guys that we want.

Now I genuinely know this will help to pollinate the fruit I am also going to grow. At work we have bee hives. looked after by a great guy by the name of Arnold who is utterly adorable. Pre bees we grew fruit on the nursery and we had a reasonable amount of fruit each year. However, since the bees something little short of miraculous has taken place. The apples, pears and nectarines have all fruited like crazy as have the grapevines and kiwis. Plus we have seen an increase in birds, with all 9 of our small bird boxes used last year and several nests in heating ducts and trees and last year we found Great Crested Newts in one of our glasshouses. Already this year we've seen birds looking at the boxes and today the bees were flying around and we had hoverflies dancing around in the Daphnes which I have realised, smell like lemon sherberts.

So by growing the right plants to attract in the good guys I'll have great fruit set and hopefully a garden that has enough biodiversity to look after itself and see of any bad guys that might try to come in. I will, of course, report back!!

A bee!! And a happy one!!

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Bath, soil, an exciting exhibition and the reborn artist

Last Saturday, before the onset of the snow, I visited the wonderful Emma Bond and her lovely husband Tom in the beautiful city of Bath. Bath is an amazing place with lots of independent shops and restaurants, not to mention the amazing Botanical Gardens, Bath Abbey and the Roman Baths.  However it was at the Victoria Art Gallery that I found the most amazing sculpture exhibition.
A long time ago, in almost another lifetime, I graduated with a degree in Fine Art. I've never lost my interest in art and I consider what I do, growing plants, to be just as creative as making art. Quietly I've watched to art world from afar and have always loved the colour and textures created by artists of all disciplines. So I was extremely excited when Emma dragged me out of the snow and into the Victoria Art Gallery to see an exhibition by the sculptor, Peter Burke. And it was incredible. The sculptures are made from soil from the area surrounding Peter's home in Bradford-upon-Avon in Somerset, bonded so it can be used as a medium for artwork. The first thing and the most amazing to me, was the  difference in the colour of the soil from different places.
The Cup Series

The above three images are identical in terms of the image and the only difference is the colour of the soil.
Radius in Chalk
The above image is made of chalk  from the Bradford-upon-Avon area. 
Whereas this image which is exactly the same in terms of it's design, is made from an iron rich clay type soil from a different part of the Bradford-upon-Avon area. Both are stunning images and yet they are quite different although the same, and this difference is created, essentially, by colour. 

But this set me to thinking. It isn't colour that changes these images, but soil. Soil, the most important thing that as gardeners we can have. Its the absolutely most important thing to us and we spend our days trying to improve what we have, adding organic matter, feed, minerals, to ensure that we have the best growing media for our plants. But what this exhibition showed me was that essentially, soil will always return to its natural state and that is the state it was in before man tried to change it for his own needs.

This intrigued the artist in me and made me think about how I could add on to this with a work or works of my own and this is what I came up with. I would like a soil sample from as many people as possible, enough to fill a 3"pot would be ideal. Just soil, as pure as you can find it. Each pot will have a seed placed into it and photographed every day and it will become an installation work, recorded photographically and documented here.

If you'd like to contribute or take part please feel free to contact me.

In other news I officially dislike snow immensely, particularly when all the leaves that had started to germinate for the 52 Week Salad Challenge turn to mush because of it! Enough said on that matter I feel but I promise my next post will be plant/gardening related!!

Friday, 3 February 2012

Something to warm the cockles.

A peacock at Rousham strutting his stuff in the sunshine.

I know. Its freezing. You can't get a fork into the frozen ground. Lots of plants have gone all flaccid in the cold. And we are due snow over the weekend. But if the urge to garden is there you can still sow broad beans, peas and onion seed in trays in doors. You can get chilli seeds planted and early tomatoes as long as you have somewhere to put them once they need potting on that is covered. You can trawl the seed catalogues or order dahlias from The National Dahlia Collection! And here are some pictures I took in the heat of last summer to cheer you  up and warm you.

An unidentified Dahlia at Oxford Botanical Gardens

An unidentified Salvia at Oxford Botanics

And if that doesn't help let me suggest some more ideas to tickle your horticultural tastebuds!! There is the glasshouse at RHS Wisley to visit which at the moment will be full of exotic butterflies-an amazing spectacle but beware as it will be busy. Kew Gardens will be opening their annual Orchid exhibition soon in the Princess of Wales Conservatory which is always worth a visit.

Echinacea in the new Rose Garden at RHS Wisley designed by the wonderful Robert Myers for whom I have grown plants in the not so distant past!

The Annual Borders at Wisley where the Ricinus must have reached 12 feet tall.

And remember dear gardening folk, by mid February the daylight hours will have reached more than 10 a day and your garden will be springing into action. Buds will be bursting, leaves will be appearing and the world will start to turn from winter brown to spring green one more. Your garden will be screaming for you to jump into action, secateurs at the ready so use this cold snap to prepare. Sharpen your secateurs, and your spade if you see fit, sort out your seeds, and clean your seedtrays and pots ready for the day when you hear your garden screaming for attention.

So hears to the season ahead!!