Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The Making of a Soil Declaration for a city....

For the last 8 Saturdays Bristol has been home to Soil Saturdays, curated by the Soil Sisters. It has seen many people come together to talk about soil and art and it has made me, amongst many others I am sure, aware how powerful art is as a medium to bring other issues to the fore in a safe and inclusive way. 
The joy of Soil Culture at Create for me has been the opening of a space for discussion around soil, it’s true importance in all of our lives and how it is so important for many of us across the city who make livings from or support soils and soil health and wellbeing in everything we do. My career of the last 20 or so years has been based around soil, my life based on the rich brown earth beneath our feet and to be able to meet and converse with people over that is something that is rare and beautiful.
The idea of a city creating a declaration for it’s own soils is at once powerful and brave. To do so says not only do we, as a group of individuals, care deeply about the soil in our city but we also care about food, people, education, agriculture, health and wellbeing, children, community and the city itself and it’s wealth and health. It says we care not just about today, but about a future for our forebears where they can have access to healthy food, outdoor space and recreation land in a city that is becoming more and more intensely populated. It speaks of a wish to create the most resilient city we can, going into a future that is unknown but is certain to be different from the now. 
Many have questioned why we might feel the need to create a declaration for soil, and some have asked why we might think it necessary. My answer is always that as a city we need good housing and transport links, excellent schools and services for all communities across the city, as well as a plan to feed all those people and to keep our local economy thriving. Creating a declaration for our city’s soil creates an opportunity to ensure that food growing and production is factored into the future planning of the city and creates a future of more certain health and wealth.
In order to create this declaration there was a hope that many people from many walks of life within the city would come together to work co-productively to create this document. This type of gathering is rare, but we were fortunate in our wishes and there were a whole mix of people, ranging across city council strategic directors to members, food policy council members, permaculture and growing professionals, members of nationally important organisations and people who are interested and care about the future of food and access to land in our city. At one, very powerful moment, there was a table working together that was made up of a city strategic planner, a university professor and soil activists from Rising Up who spent much time protesting around Bristol’s Blue Finger in February and March this year. To create a space where that is possible is remarkable and to be a part of something so powerful makes the whole event a day to remember.
The Soil Declaration itself is still being brought together by the facilitators of the day but what we came up with was a series of statements around soil’s importance in the city and its hinterlands that focussed on beliefs and actions to be taken around those beliefs. Having openly talked about this on social media it is clear that not only is Bristol the first city to embark on such an important piece of work, but that it is possible, and likely that others will follow suit.
For Bristol it is vital to protect land that is already being put at risk by development and to ensure that various things that have happened on our most precious soils, are stopped from happening again. Our Blue Finger of rich and fertile best and most versatile soil, that manages crops in all extremes, needs protection as does all BMV soil countrywide. By creating this Soil Declaration, Bristol is putting itself, in a citizen led movement, at the forefront of this enormous change in the way we look at our precious resources, and that is a hugely powerful and brave move. It should be applauded.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

I do love cats but.........

I am not complaining! I live in the centre of Bristol and I have a garden, albeit smaller than the average hankie and with zero soil, but I have a garden!! But.....
In my last garden I had spent 10 years working on the biodiversity of the space, introducing bird feeders, bug hotels and the like and of course pests appeared from time to time, but they were kept to the minimum by the natural balance of the garden. We had blackbirds who sang from the trees, a mix of birds that included dunnocks and beautiful gold finches, toads, frogs, and even a hedgehog called Barry who regularly visited. So between all of this we had few issues with slugs or snails and certainly never was worried by anything any larger.
So as I have said I am very lucky to have a garden living, as I do, in the centre, (almost literally as we are a three and a half minute walk from the shopping centre of the city), but I didn't realise I ws going to have to share it with what appears to be every mollusc in the south west and I certainly wasn't aware that I was planting a space that would be seen as the best place to defacate by every single cat in Bristol. Yes-every single cat.*
The slugs and snails have been worked on with dawn and dusk raids on their slimey selves. Do not ask what they're fate has been-suffice to say they have been despatched thoroughly. They keep coming but they are lessened in their quantity and the ongoing raids are, I think, making them understand that they are not welcome. I have also adjusted my planting slightly so that there isn't quite as much that is irresistable to them and am considering buying some scarificial lambs in the name of Hostas in the spring in the hope that they might leave other stuff alone. 
But the cats...... What really galls is that they like to do their business in a raised bed that is opposite my bedroom window, so often my first sight in the morning as I open the curtains is of a cat doing it's business and seemingly grinning at me whilst doing so. Do I sound paranoid? Well perhaps but they have ignored everything. I bought one of the Coleus' that cats are supposed to detest and before we could see if it might work it had been munched during slugmaggedon. I chopped up bamboo canes and stood them upright in patches that had no plants to keep the cats off and they just breathed in and stood in between them. I asked them politely to please go away and I chased them off. I even got to the point of persuading the dog to growl in a butch manner at them and that failed too.
So when I was obviously ranting on Twitter and was asked by STVPest Free Living if I would like to trial their Dog and Cat Repellent Granules, I screamed yes, if somewhat cynically. They arrived just as a cat had left its calling card on a newly germinated tray of lettuce seedlings and I may have stood in the garden brandishing it, hoping that the neighbourhood cats and the rest, were listening and taking heed.
I have been using the granules for 3 weeks and, much to my amazement, they appear to be keeping the feline felons at bay, particularly the one who lives upstairs and I believe was inviting the others in, as she won't actually come into the garden at all. The granules don't smell offensive and are made of natural ingredients so I'm only too pleased to use them. If only they could make a product that was as gentle but as persuasive to the mollusc millions.....
So far, this is keeping those feline friends at bay...

A corner of the garden.

*Perhaps not every one although.....

I have received a free trial of the granules but no monies have exchanged hands so althought sponsored, not enough that I wouldn't be honest!!

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Last week I visited Jimmy's Farm near Ipswich, where Thompson and Morgan have their new trial garden for a Press Day that they were organising for bloggers and tweeters. Michael Perry, Thompson and Morgan's New Product Development Manager had invited me and a group of other bloggers and so we set off from Bristol to the other side of the country to explore the new trial garden and talk with the product team about the plants that were being trialled in the garden. I'm well aware that I'm known more for vegetables these days but having been in the ornamental sector for a long time in my career, it's always interesting to see what's new in the ornamental world, and I knew there would be some vegetables too.
The gardens re-ignited something that I have often been heard to say and that is that bedding done well is a really effective way of filling in spaces in a garden, keeping the garden full of colour at times when other plants have either gone over or aren't quite at their best yet. For someone like me, a total plantholic as well as a hoticulturist, I cannot help but be impressed by the way the garden was set out, creating what actually could be a real garden whilst showing off new plants and different ways of growing.
So here are some photos of the plants.....
 A quite exceptional Amaranths, called Molten Lava, is definitely something I shall grow next year!
 Dianthus Tropical Butterfly, not just a great garden plant but also a fabulous cut flower with a long vase life.
 Petunia Starry Night is a beautiful plant that is still undegoing some trial work to ensure that the markings on it are stable but one to look out for in the future as it is quite extraordinary and would be fabulous in hanging baskets or pots on a patio.
 I am a huge fan of Zinnias and love them both as a garden plant and as a cut flower. This strain is really a garden variety as I'm not sure the blooms are big enough to be cut, but it looked spectacular in a huge swathe in one of the trial beds.
                                                Who can resisit a bee on a scabious plant?
 This photo shows the trial vegetable beds which unfortunately I didn't have the time to reaaly investigate as there was a wedding going on! But they looked amaxing in the distance.....
I'm well known for my love of marigolds both as a companion plant and in their own rights as very beautiful flowers. This is Jester-what's not to love?

If you're in the area I'd strongly suggest a visit to the gardens as they are open for all to visit. I think the best thing about this trial garden is that it is at an attraction that isn't at all linked to horticulture so for both Thompson and Morgan and the industry in general, it opens up the possibility of people visiting this garden and being inspired who generally aren't gardeners. There were also a fair few children and young people walking around the beds and to see these youngsters engaging with the garden was wonderful.

We left with a huge amount of goodies that included a massive bag of seeds, plants, biscuits and Thompson and Morgan's new feeds. There will be more on these in blog posts to come!!

Finally thank you to all at Thompson and Morgan for a great day.