Thursday, 17 April 2014

Bumblicious


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.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Paint the Town Red... or Gold... or Wild

Our nation's streets are set to look very different this year with 3 key initiatives helping to make it so...

A single red poppy at the Yeo Valley Organic Garden

Anniversary of the start of World War I

Perhaps the most moving display of them all will be the bright red poppies many places will sow (or have sown) to mark the centenary of the start of WWI. Expect to see the most poignant outbreak of them all timed to flower on the exact anniversary, August 4th.

WWI will also be one of the main themes for this year's RHS Chelsea Flower Show, where Birmingham City Council - famed for their innovative displays in the Great Pavilion - will feature 4 foot high poppies.

I'm not expecting to see many of them in and around Chippenham. Our proximity to farmland and the flower's plentiful supply of seeds ready to self-sow themselves are not a match made in heaven. However, a Google search shows many towns and cities will have poppies at the heart of their displays this year - Swansea, Blandford Forum and Maidenhead to name but three.

The Royal British Legion (RBL) has linked with B&Q for the real poppy campaign with £1 donated to RBL for each packet sold. According to their website (take the link), poppies can be sown now for a summer display.

Sunflowers aren't always annuals - here are some Helianthus 'Lemon Queen' from my garden 

50 Years of Britain in Bloom

A host of sunflowers are set to celebrate Britain in Bloom's golden anniversary this year and the RHS has given away 500,000 sunflower seeds to help make it so. There are lots of 'Growing for Gold' events as part of next week's National Gardening Week (14th to 20th April). The link takes you to the website where you can find out what's happening near you - gold or otherwise.

I'll be keeping an eye out for celebratory sunflowers over the summer as part of Out on the Streets and I hope to have my own little celebratory patch of gold up at the allotment as well as the H. 'Lemon Queen' in my garden.

The  cowslips at the entrance to our estate get better and better every year :)

Grow Wild

If you watched Countryfile on Sunday you're aware they had 230,000 packet of wildflower seeds up for grabs courtesy of Grow Wild. Yes, had - they've gone already.

So plenty of our gardens and open spaces are set to Grow Wild later in the year. This 4-year lottery funded project - also supported by Kew - is designed to get more of us growing native wild flowers. In 2014 they're also looking for 107 community spaces in need of transformation. Alongside 4 flagship sites - 1 each for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland - these are set to turn unloved sites into inspirational spaces.

However, it's not just about scattering a few seeds from a packet as they need looking after too. If you're lucky enough to have acquired one of the 230,000 packets of seeds (or some seed via other means), the Grow Wild website has plenty of information to help your new wildflower area thrive.

I have some wildflower mats to trial... and I think I've found the ideal spot. I'll keep you posted.

Is your neighbourhood set to turn red, gold or wild this year? Or perhaps there's something else planned - do let me know in the Comments below.
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