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Friday, 28 September 2012

Hidcote Echiums: Status Report

Back in May, I visited the Giant Echium growers at Hidcote so yesterday, I popped along to see how they were doing as Winter approached. I couldn't find the growers themselves but I did find the plants.

Here's the planting just south of the Hydrangea corner: They're under a metre high which isn't as big as I sometimes manage. The site is semi-woodland and what with that and the rainy summer we've just had it's understandable. (I have one plant in a very shaded site and it's only grown a foot this summer.)

I found another one nearer a large west-facing wall in the "Fuchsia Garden". This is a sunnier spot and the plants were more bushy. The location by the wall is a lot better although I'd have planted even closer to the wall - that way you have an even better anti-frost-pocket and you can show off some smaller plants in front of it. However, it's even less tall so I'm not sure if it will flower next summer. I have a "pure" Echium Pininana in my garden that's taken two summers to reach 1.5m without flowering - maybe  we're looking at third year flowering here?

Finally, I found another Echium just along the flower bed. It's about 1.5m high and rather wiry. Oddly, it has small flower buds in the leaf axis and just a tiny bit of pink flower is visible suggesting they are about to burst. As this plant wasn't there back in May, I'm wondering if it's a first-year plant that has bolted?

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Plant Review: Echium vulgare Dwarf Hybrids

Chiltern Seeds who sold me the seed are lyrical about these. Strangely enough they're pretty lyrical about just about all their thousands of seeds so is the praise justified? my answer has to be "Yes, in part". They certainly throw up  a good number of pink, blue and white flowers and some of them change colour as they age.

They get quite bushy although definitely dwarf. If you look carefully, you;ll see a dandelion being smothered.

They are inclined to wander - if you expect your plants to be self-tidy, don't grow this one - it's more a "cottage garden" sort of plant. Here's an example of an escape bid.

 Flowering started in early June and hasn't stopped yet. The flowering "system" is a bit unusual - some plants work on what I call the firework rocket scheme - stems shoot up, explode and quietly fall back to earth. The Echium system is to grow a stem,open a pink flower, change it to blue and then grow a bit more of the same stem leaving the older flowers to die and form seed pods
Typical Echium flowering stem

A minority of the flowers are white
 It's a hairy plant that might irritate the skin but it thrives on neglect, sun and drought. I may grow it again - anything that thrashes dandelions gets my vote!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Tomatoes and the psychology of smoking cessation

A friend was recently telling me about some research done on slimming and smoking cessation that showed that if  people got  an early "win" of some kind, they were more likely to continue (slimming, cessation, etc)

This is just like me and growing tomatoes. I first grew them in 2003, the summer was very hot and sunny and I got a magnificent early and long lasting crop. I've been trying to repeat the success every year since.

  Some of the plants in subsequent years were small and weedy possibly due to my poor sandy soil. Then, last autumn, I dug out an exhausted raspberry bed,  gave it plenty of manure, visited the physiotherapist several times and planted tomatoes in the spring. I got some really leafy plants that tried to take over the garden but the fruit is very late and sparse. It's been a dull wet and not especially warm summer which may be part of the reason.
Sprawling plants on rich soil but fruit is green

Some of the crop, I planted out in an ordinary bed that had just had a bucket of garden compost
Grown on moderate soil, weak plants but ripening fruit
As you can see, somewhat manky plants but fruit that's got on and ripened. The optimum may be moderately well prepared soil - the old raspberry bed really was made into something special. I still think the weather has a lot to answer for though.

Now, in the past, I've made chutney out of green tomatoes but I wondered if I could force some ripening out of the plants? So I removed the supporting bamboo poles, cut the plants down a bit and shoved a cloche on. We'll see!
After some drastic pruning
As for next year, the tomatoes are destined for the 2012 beans bed that had some preparation and did well. Also going to try over wintering some broad beans in the rich bed. It's by a west facing wall - a great anti-frost pocket.

Post Office oddities

Back in the days before mobile phones, the cool way to phone your friends when out and about was called a "telephone box". They were bright red and this picture shows four of the eight that still stand rarely-used on Cheltenham's Promenade near where the Post Office used to be before it became part of WHSmith

This rare "dual" post box got re-branded for the Olympics or something

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Straw Wall

Found this near Hazleton on the Cotswolds

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it

This is sometimes paraphrased as "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it" and I saw this in demonstrated recently at the Bromyard Folk Festival.

What they did was to hire the same polished wooden dance floor they and other festivals used a few years back. So, in one sense you could say they had remembered and even celebrated the past - as you might expect for a folk festival.

What they'd forgotten was how difficult and dangerous this floor is to dance on. Basically it's as slippery as several eels and those who didn't fall over had to curtail their exuberance. Even a fairly sedate North West Morris side who danced in one of the intervals in the ceilidh had several falls.

So, why does this failure to learn from history happen? In some organisations, people turnover may mean that the decision-makers simply don't know about past disasters (or triumphs for that matter). Related to this can be the arrogance of the "new broom" - a determination to get away from the past and do exciting new things even if it turns out that these "new" things are in fact old forgotten things discarded for good reason.

Part of the problem may be a reluctance to pay attention to the "old timers".  Using accumulated expertise is a joint responsibility. Not only must the new broom listen to old timer, the old timer needs to make sure they're interesting to listen to.

I recall being an old timer and having a new broom come to me with a "new" idea. I understood her idea immediately,  "Ah, yes! we used to do that. It worked very well! I don't know why we stopped it". She went away knowing she had a tried and tested idea but it had been stopped in the past. All she had to do now was find out why and see if the reasons were still valid.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Alley Cat

Just round the corner from where I live is my favourite alley - a narrow tunnel under a bed room leads to a pedestrian shortcut between two streets

Today, it was "guarded" by an impossibly fluffy white cat with pink ears

 In the middle of the alley there are two ancient cottages with no road access but a garden full of Japanese Anemones. A tranquil spot less than 1/2 mile from the centre of town.

Sunday, 2 September 2012


You might think this festival involved two-tier beds but the local preserved railway line. in Wallingford is known as "The Bunk" and the festival is intended to raise funds for it.

The festival takes over a large green space called The Kinecroft in the middle of the town

Here there are all manner of stalls and entertainments...
I'm not sure that all these flags are for actual countries.

An interesting challenge for the insurance industry

.. but there are no precautions to address the health needs of the donkeys! 

For a moment, I thought the local buses had entered into the colourful spirit of the occasion

Street entertainer

There was dancing of course or I wouldn't have been there.The local sports centre has quite a decent floor although it's not too large. The organisers cleverly put the better known band on the Friday night and the local hopefuls on Saturday to balance the numbers.  Unfortunately, I didn't get any good pictures except this one of musicians at the late night session. "J²ohn" turned up, cleared away a few chairs and started teaching Mazurkas. We also did a Chapelloise with only three couples which may have been a "first".

The festival also celebrates Beer and I was amused by the offering on the right...

The main bar: </retail> "There's so much choice"</retail>