Thursday, 26 November 2015

A Sheffield Pitstop - part two The Botanic Gardens

After spending a nice time at the Winter Gardens I still needed more garden-therapy to make up for spending the previous day and a half in a work-based conference.  I decided that Sheffield Botanic Gardens would probably do the trick.  I was not wrong.
I arrived at the imposing gates.  This is a great piece of architecture and I could only hope that the gardens inside were equally impressive.  Obviously mid-November is maybe not the best time to visit a garden, but I had high hopes as I wandered in.
The first sight was this wonderful tree.  I was totally struck by it but failed to check what type it was.  How remiss of me.
The glasshouse is awesome.  I can think of no better description.  The history of the gardens have their beginnings in Georgian Sheffield.   A fund of £7,500 was raised by local business men and residents and experts such as Joseph Paxton were used to start the development of the gardens.  The gardens were designed by Robert Marnock and the buildings were designed by Benjamin Broomhead Taylor.  The gardens were finally opened in 1836 and at first were only open to subscribers and share holders.  The general public could only enter on four special days.

The gardens soon hit financial problems and eventually in 1897 they were purchased by Sheffield Town Trust.  They introduced free admission.  During the war the gardens struggled and were badly damaged.  They struggled to recover from this and eventually in 1996, with the help of Lottery money, further restoration began.  The gardens reopened in 2007 and, I have to say, are a real treasure.
The glasshouse is divided into zones and beautifully maintained.
There were some fantastic plants.
I had tree fern envy (again).
I stood in front of agaves and went 'ah'
and 'ooh'.
I don't know what this is, but I liked it.
and I lamented that the protea was not quite in flower.
I looked out of the windows and could see the City centre shining as the sun was starting to go down.  I pondered on whether Curly Watts was correct and that Sheffield is the 'Rome of the North' and built on seven hills. I concluded that Sheffield was built on more than one hill but further exploration would involve going up and down hills and I was not in the mood.
I then went out in the gardens.  I looked up at the magnolias and thought how wonderful they will look when in flower.
I loved this statue of Peter Pan,
the detail on it was amazing though I pondered how welcome real rabbits would be in the gardens.  Around the base of the statue were the lines from a poem carved into the stone.  The lines were:  "Find a circle of stone opened up to the stars, Where huge animals lived in a cage without bars."  The poem was written by Berlie Doherty for the Botanic Garden and formed part of a series of riddles and associated artworks.  More information about this and the text of the whole poem can be found here.

The are good vistas in the gardens, it was clearly well thought out and designed.
There are good broad pathways,
and they take you and and down steps that demand you to explore.
I loved the planting of these birches.
and I wished I'd seen the prairie borders at their peak.
I had a moment of nerine envy, I cannot get these to grow in my garden.
and I admired this bright white birch that was shining.

There is a lot more to the gardens, including a bear pit that I managed to miss (so I will have to go back.)  I am a great fan of botanic gardens and these in Sheffield are a brilliant example of what they should be.  There were lots of people walking dogs, walking themselves and a couple of people jogging.  There is a cafe that had a few visitors and probably more than I expected for fairly late on a November afternoon.  These gardens are a great resource for the residents of Sheffield.  If only other botanic gardens were treasured in such a way.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Book Review: The Half-Hour Allotment by Lia Leendertz

When I was asked if I would like to review this book at first I thought maybe not for a few reasons.  Number 1 has to be that I do not have an allotment or indeed a wish to have one.  I am also not the world's greatest vegetable gardener and lastly and probably most importantly: I have that cynical 'I don't like garden in a hurry/shortcut' type approach.  So why did I decide to review it?  Well, going in reverse order: I think it is useful at times to look at the things I am immediately suspicious of as for all I know it might be making a good point.  I also would like to be a bit better at vegetable gardening, but no, I am still not going to get an allotment.
The book is under the banner of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and published by Frances Lincoln.  RHS books have a reputation for being thorough and spot on with their advice and guidance and this book does not let that reputation down.  This is a revised edition, the original book was published in 2006.  It is written by Lia Leendertz and it tells us early on that the half-hour principle was 'dreamt up' by Will Sibley.  Pretty quickly the book deals with one of the my concerns mentioned above: yes this book is about dealing with your allotment a half-hour at a time; but it is not about only half an hour a month, or even a week.  No, what is being talked about here is keeping your allotment under control in half-hour slots totalling up to around two and half hours a week.  So you could do your half-hour every week day and then have the weekends off, or any other combination that works for you.  In reality how could you do anything of lasting value gardening-wise in just 30 minutes a week never mind a month?

After that I settled into the book and what a wealth of knowledge it is.  The book talks about vegetables worth the space and those not so worth the space.  Having said at the start of this that I am not a brilliant vegetable gardener, I do like to grow some.  I have struggled with thoughts about what I grow as my space is limited and so is the amount of time I want to spend on vegetables.  I was fascinated by the discussion about potatoes as the book does say that they are relatively cheap to buy and also take up a lot of space to grow.  Two good reasons not to waste space on them, however, Lia goes on to say that nothing can beat the taste of home-grown new potatoes.  This I cannot disagree with, so Lia says that growing new potatoes is very worthwhile and if you are short of space then maybe think twice about main crop.  This is great advice.  There is also a discussion about purple sprouting broccoli.  This is one of my favourite vegetables to grow as I think it is well-mannered, not too expensive in space and tastes wonderful.  Lia pretty much agrees though she does see it as expensive in time, it is something you have to keep in the ground quite a long time and if you are limited in space then this might not be a good thing.  This is all worth considering.

The book discusses seeds vs plugs, seeing some things as good to grow from seeds but others when time and space is short as reasonable to grow from plugs.  Again this struck a chord with conclusions I have reached that growing lots from seed is not always the best thing for me to do.  This year I have grown cabbages, calabrese and purple sprouting broccoli from plugs.  I know I could have grown them from seed but I end up with usually too many or not enough and it is a faff.  To have my plug buying habits verified through the book was rather comforting.

We then have a large section on the best varieties to buy.  If not persuaded already that this book has merit, this section alone makes the book buyable.  For vegetable growers like myself, who are not that good and not that knowledgeable, it would have saved me a lot of trial and error if I had had this book.

The book talks us through basic jobs and it does mean basic.  It talks of digging and hoeing.  There is advice on getting organised and what needs to be done what time of year.  There is also advice on pest control from biological controls to companion planting.  I liked the section on wildlife gardening and also the chapter on allotment gardening for children.

This is not the biggest book you will ever buy and yet it covers a huge amount of information.  I can happily recommend it and not just to people who either have or who are thinking about having an allotment.  If you are the slightly rubbish half-hearted vegetable gardener that I am, then this book will help.  It might not make you any less half-hearted but you might feel happier about some of the choices you make when deciding what to grow.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

The Coronation Street Gardens

Pardon I hear you say, Coronation Street gardens?  Yes indeedy, I recently went on the Coronation Street tour and part of what made this exciting was the chance to wander around the gardens.  I have been watching Corrie since before I can remember, it has always been there in my life from when I was very small to now where it is now an ingrained habit.  I do not watch any other soaps (though I have flirted with others in the past), Corrie is the one I will not miss.
Hang on though, you say, are there a lot of gardens?  Well, it turned out to be more interesting than I expected in that regard.
The yard behind the Rovers contains a few scratty looking containers.  It is November and this specific set has not been used since 2013 so a bit of scratty is allowed.  I thought it was realistic scratty really.
Emily has her hanging basket.
and Sally's hedge needs cutting.
Sally has a few real plants, but, horror of horrors!  fake grass!  Yes, who would have thought it that on a television set where people probably walk all over these things all the time they would use fake grass.
The back yards behind the houses are tiny and most do not really contain any plants, but do not under-estimate how bright this cladding is.  You almost do not need flowers when you have something this bright (almost...).
On our wanderings we decided we had never really seen this part of the set, these are the houses behind Coronation Street, the ones that back on to the pub, the Barlows etc; the other side of the ginnel behind the houses.
We paused to admire Denis Tanner's graffiti.
and we stood in front of the Nuttall's Brewery gates, used a couple of times in the story but not seen recently.  They are impressive gates and we wondered where the gate posts had originally come from.
This planter was beside the gates, a little unloved but it is November and they are demolishing all this soon.
We then wandered behind Sally's house and the other 'newer' houses on the other side of the street.  The abandonment of the houses was clear.
The Platts have artificial grass, but next door where the Nazirs now live has a real garden.  It has grass and a pond.  I remembered the pond from a brief story line.  There is good planting around the pond, it has a rather nice gunnera.
Sally however wins the best garden plant.  Look at this mahonia - isn't it fantastic?  It's wonderful what a couple of years of neglect can do and this is a great plant.  On saying that I've neglected the one at the top of my garden since 2007 and it looks nothing like this.

 It was a cold damp November day when we visited and we loved every minute of it, if you get the chance to go do.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

A Sheffield Pitstop - part one

This time of year I have to go to a conference that is work related.  I am lucky that it has so far been in nice interesting places that always have a good garden or two to stop off at on the way home.  It has been rumoured that I might leave a little early sometimes to ensure I get to visit a garden but this is just a myth.  Once I arrived at the conference I started thinking about what garden could I visit that was on the way home.  After some consideration and a twitter discussion about where I might go, I plumped for a pitstop in Sheffield.  It was on the way home and broke the journey up neatly in half.

First on the list was to go to the Winter Gardens.  These are in the City Centre and so I found my way there, parked up and wandered off to find them.  I wandered a little bit too much but eventually realised I was closer than I thought.  I might (did) walk in rather a large circle.
The Winter Gardens are a fantastic structure.  Inside there are plants(derr) and some cafes and shops.
Some of the planting is wonderfully colourful.  It is a much used cliche to liken bright flowers to fireworks, but I think it is apt for these.
I had a moment of tree-fern envy.  I bought a little tree fern the other month, but I am seriously considering getting a larger one as well.  It is time I replaced my dead tree fern, it has been dead for a good six years now and it is time the mourning should end.  I say mourning, it is more like an unrealistic hope that it might magically spring back into life.  I really have to let go of this hope.
There was also a nice bit of palmage as well.
Plus other plants like this that I do not know the name of, nice though isn't it?
Finally there was this terrifying puppet hiding in a tree waiting to jump out at me.  It is terrifying, not that  I am not completely automatonphobic, (some of my best friends are not puppets but....) it has to be considered that puppets and dolls that magically come to life do have the capacity to give me a little fright.

I enjoyed my stop-off in the city, but thought I would move on as my desire for garden-based recharging was not yet complete.  After a day and a half stuck in a conference room I needed more fresh air to clear my head.  I moved on to the Botanic Gardens which will be the subject of part two.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Book Reviews: Terrariums, Gardens Under Glass by Maria Colletti

I was recently asked if I would like to review Maria Colletti's book "Terrariums: Gardens Under Glass".  I did not have to think long and hard about saying yes as I have wanted a terrarium for many years.  I can remember when the large bottle terrariums were all the rage but the bottles were expensive and my parents kept saying they were a lot of work.  Years pass but the memory of thinking they were quite cool did not diminish.
The book is published by Cool Spring Press.  and is comprehensive in its coverage of this subject.  Maria talks us through the core things we need to know before setting us off into how to start to put a terrarium together.  We learn about different designs, the ingredients needed, the tools and of course, the glass vessels.

There is a very useful section on inspiration as there is more to terrariums than just stuffing plants into a bottle.   The type of vessel chosen will help shape the look you are trying to achieve and consequently the type of plants that you will choose.  Terrariums have moved on from being just a large glass bottle, you can use almost any (usually glass) container; they can be hanging or in over-large wine glasses.  The joy of the terrarium is that it is a no-fuss way of growing something beautiful.

There is discussion about the growing mediums and various gravels and mosses that complete the look.  I soon realised that reading the book was one thing, but what I really still wanted to do, most of all, was make a terrarium.  This made me read the book even more carefully.

I found a large globe that was is meant to be a candle lantern, but I had never used it.  It seemed to me to be perfect for what I was looking for.  A quick trip to the local garden centre later and I had a handful of small cheap plants and some gravel.  Not just any gravel, multi-coloured gravel as they did not have any plain black gravel.

I re-read the parts of the book that I needed to and proceeded to put my terrarium together.
and here it is, all done.  Even though the opening of the neck is not that narrow it was quite fiddly getting the plants in place.  The book talks of using chopsticks and other stick like implements to help and this is good advice.
I tried to choose plants of different leaf textures but that would be sort of complementary to each other.  I was pleased with how it turned out.  The more observant of you might think that the multi-coloured gravel is rather black.
This is because I picked out all the coloured bits.  Having waited this long to make my own terrarium I was not going to spoil it by having gravel I did not like.

Having now made a terrarium, that is sitting proudly on my kitchen table at the moment, I can thoroughly recommend this book.  It told me what I needed to know and it inspired me to give it a go.