Wednesday, 23 April 2014

VP's VIPs: Tom Mitchell and Evolution Plants Part II

I'm following Tom Mitchell and his exciting nursery, Evolution Plants in its first year of trading. Now read on...

Unlike my previous visits, at last I've managed to visit Evolution Plants in bright sunshine. First impressions of the nursery are how much everything has stirred into life since my last visit. I'm a little early, so I take the opportunity to have a quick peek in some of the polytunnels and take some photos. The Trilliums are doing particularly well.

I find Tom in the large potting shed cum office where his staff are busy propagating plants. We walk up to the other office and I start by asking about how things have progressed since my last visit. "We've been to lots more shows and these on the whole have been very successful, though I really need to clone myself, so that I can attend more of them and make sure customers' questions are answered. This can only get better as  time goes on as my staff are increasing their knowledge of the plants and the seeds I've collected."

The shows have been a success, though I'm concerned Tom is having to travel a lot more than planned. There's been a lull for a couple of weeks, though his next one is soon, on the 27th April at the RHS's new Alpine Garden Show in London.

A delightful discovery in one of the top polytunnels - the label says Tulipa butkow

As a result of Tom's travels, progress on the website has been slow and the plants listed on there now stands at 170 items. "As a result, I'm now changing my strategy with my Open Day" admits Tom, "Everyone is welcome not only to hear Dan Hinkley's talk and tour Belcombe Court, but to also come here and have a thoroughly good look at the full range of plants on offer." NB there will also be cake :)

This seems a sound move to me, but knowing the narrow lane leading to the nursery and the lack of parking there gives me some concern. "It's OK", Tom reassures me, "The golf club next door has agreed we can use their car park on the day." Phew. He's also been busy fashioning display stands from pallets found on site. "The idea is we'll have lots of these to show off what's looking really great on the day. I'm also going to have a massive pricing session as I've realised that when people visit by appointment, having no prices on display puts people off buying."

It's great to hear Tom putting his learning into practice and finding new strategies which will help - I hope - to increase sales going forward. He's also becoming a better nurseryman - seed germination and propagation success are on the up, which also augers well for the future.

Just 2 of the Epimediums on offer - delicate flowers poised above attractive foliage

Our talk turns to what's looking good now as we take a walk around the nursery. "You must photograph the Epimediums, they're looking great." Sadly my camera doesn't do them justice and some much better photos taken by Tom appear on the nursery's Facebook page later that day. I do like their delicate, spidery appearance and from above they look more like stars.

It's good to hear Tom enthusing about his stock. Here is a man who loves what's in season now, rather than being passionate about just one or two types of plant. I joke that having collected all the seed himself, he's the father of many babies. Tom laughs at this and also concedes that the ultimate honour would be if one of his discoveries was named after him. "I can't think of a better lasting legacy" he says.

Tom leaves me to wander around at this point and a I can't resist looking in the polytunnel again with the choice peonies. Isn't that Paronia tenuifolia completely fab?

My next visit to Evolution Plants will be different as I'm going to the Open Day on May 10th. I believe tickets are sold out now, so if you haven't bought one, you'll have to make do with my coverage.

You'll also find Evolution Plants is listed in the new RHS Plant Finder out this month - hurrah.

If you're coming to the Open Day your first view of the nursery will be similar to this

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Thursday, 17 April 2014


It's not often that mine and NAH's interests collide, but I had to show you this amazing picture of the bee Halictus ligatus from his car magazine of all things.

The bee is 7-10mm and the picture is a composite of many photos taken with a macro lens which are then stitched together as only part of the bee is in focus at any one time at this magnification.

The photographer is Sam Droege, an American biologist. He used a camera system originally devised by the US army to help soldiers identify biting insects such as mosquitoes.

This picture forms part of the Bee Inventory and Monitoring Program at the US Geological Survey. The link takes you through to more of Droege's amazing images. You'll find the above picture on Page 2 of the appropriately named Eye Candy set of photos.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

GBBD: Batchelor's Buttons

The most striking feature of the front garden side border at this time of the year is Kerria japonica 'Pleniflora' aka Batchelor's buttons, Jew's mallow or Japanese rose. As you can see it's definitely living up to the 'Pleniflora' part of its name.

I chose this shrub because it's tough as old boots and to brighten up a heavily shaded area. It's repelled footballs with aplomb and flowers for a long period. If it flowered later in the year, it would be too yellow as the harsher light of summer - even in shade - would make it too strident. It's classed as spring flowering, though I have known it to start to bloom as early as December.

Kerria is described as a vigorous shrub and whilst it does sucker, the relatively poor land I've planted it into keeps it in check. The younger stems remain green for quite some time, which helps to retain some interest for most of the year. It reminds me a little of bamboo as the stems stand relatively straight post flowering and I've selectively pruned back some of them so the shrub forms more of a curtain-like screen to form a border with the public land next door.

The RHS description (take the above link) says Kerria's good for a woodland setting. I've placed it right next to the line of trees bordering our property, so for once I've got it right!

What's your most striking plant in your garden this April?

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Book Launch Party: Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs

Welcome everyone!

I'm delighted to be the latest stop on Emma Cooper's tour for her new book, Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs. Lots of authors have book tours, so why not Emma? I'm glad she's not allowed the publication of an ebook to get in the way of having a party :)

Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs is a guide to the world of unusual edible plants. Depending on your experiences some may already be familiar to you like oca or achocha, others will be completely new.

If you've read Mark Diacono's A Taste of the Unexpected or James Wong's Homegrown Revolution, Emma's book makes a superb companion to these volumes. It also stands in its own right as she delves deeper into the history of unusual edibles, the plant hunters who moved them around the world, and today's enthusiasts who are ensuring these crops aren't forgotten.

Pray silence for the author reading *tinks spoon against glass*

It's traditional at these things for the author to give a reading, so this was the element I chose for Veg Plotting. Sit back with a glass of something chilled and a few nibbles to hand and listen to Emma, safe in the knowledge you're having the full book launch experience in the safety of your own home.

Emma's extract ties in neatly with my 52 Week Salad Challenge as her chosen reading is about some unusual salads (take this link for the reading - it opens in a new window, so you won't miss your place here).

Emma mentions Owen Smith - I can thoroughly recommend his blog Radix, which is all about root crop research and ruminations. Like many of the other people we meet in the book, Owen is passionate about his subject and writes a well-informed and witty blog. He even sent me some mashua to try a couple of years ago. I preferred it as a salad leaf rather than a root ;)

Elsewhere at the launch

Traditional book launches usually include reviews and interviews and you'll find these aplenty in the other blogs taking part. Feel free to visit these blogs - this is the mingling bit of the party :)
I'll add the other blogs taking part as and when they happen.

Congratulations Emma, you've written the book I'd love to write. You've inspired me (also tempted by a not-to-be-resisted special offer) to create an edible hedge of chilean guava - one of the Victorian favourites due for revival - on my allotment. Six very healthy plants arrived yesterday :)

Getting hold of your copy

Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs is available from Smashwords, where there is another author interview plus a book preview for you to read prior to purchase. It's available in several formats, including a PDF version if you don't have an e-reader. The price is $2.99 USD, which rises to $3.99 after publication on May 1st.

Readers can pre-order from Nook, or those of you with an iPad or similar shiny stuff can pre-order from the iTunes store (USA or UK).

The Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs story is poised to continue via Emma's blog. Another recommended read.
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