Shrewsbury Flower Show 2014

Shrewsbury Flower Show took place on 8 and 9 August.  I had the privilege of being invited to be part of a new venture – the “Our Futures” marquee.  Most of the show consists of very traditional things –  floral displays, vegetable competitions, traders’ stalls, show jumping, cookery demonstrations, brass bands, horticultural talks, musical events, fireworks and a commemoration of the events of 100 years ago when the show did not happen because the first world war had just begun.

Alongside all this traditional content the organisers wanted to look towards the future and invited a selection of local people and organisations to participate.  There were the organic gardeners, Friends of the Earth, Boningales’ Nursery (green roofs), me and Emma Lawrence (illustrator of my book).  Emma did a fantastic job keeping small children busy with a colouring competition and craft activities and I had a stand focussed on perennial vegetables.

I have never been at an event like this before and it was very interesting to observe how people reacted to things they were (in all probability) unfamiliar with – such as perennial vegetables.  One lady spoke to my partner and was insistent that the very large oca plant I had on display was clover; even after being told what it was she did not seem able to absorb that and went on her way saying “I never knew you could eat clover”.  On the other hand I chatted to a man who uses the wild edibles and flowers in his garden to put in his lunch time sandwich and is growing all sorts of very interesting things.

The plants I had on display were not in any way forced into being something they were not, they were in pots of course, but otherwise they were as natural as they would be in the garden.  This was in stark contrast to the magnificent floral displays and show gardens which were obviously designed and put together so as to be eye catching and magnificent.  I am not knocking that at all, those gardens and displays were beautiful; however they conformed to what is expected at these events and it seemed to me that my less extravagant and less showy plants just did not register on many people’s radar as they walked past.  Of course many people go to a show like that for a good family day out and with so much else going on the horticultural side may not be interesting to them.

photo (59) show

My three pots (and me!) outside the marquee.  The organisers asked for them to be at the doorway, but even though we later rearranged them they did not have the impact they might have done had they been in a more enclosed space.

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A rather more showy display!

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A show garden

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Another show garden (both of these had Great War themes), this one harks back to the use of horses and dogs (out of sight) in that war.

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Having said that, there were a significant minority who did stop to look, to read the displays and to ask questions.  I came away with a list of people interested in more information and the possibility of collaborating with other local organisations on joint gardening projects.  If I am asked to go back next year, and I hope I am, it will be with a slightly sharper sense of how to attract the attention of the general public and some focussed ideas that they may be able to relate to a little more easily.

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Woolly thyme and other creeping things

Whilst I am custodian of the edible perennials my partner quite rightly craves flowers in the garden.  In the spring we took up a patch of sloping difficult-to-mow lawn and used the upturned turf to create a new polyculture patch.  The ex-lawn area is in the process of becoming a flower bed.  I have sown herb and flower seeds so it is becoming an odd mix of flat leafed parsley, dill, love in a mist, calendula with some bought herbs and flowers – various thymes, sage, savory, pansies, day lilies, roses (transferred from the other garden).  Flower bed or no, it is being cultivated, if that is the word, along the same lines as the vegetable parts of the garden.  That is to say:

No digging

This is self explanatory; and impossible anyway as this bed, like the rest of the main part of the garden, is very hard clay with lots of stones very firmly embedded.  I am trusting to time and in due course lots of mulching on the surface to change this.

Allowing anything rather than nothing to grow ……

that is until something more useful comes along.  Therefore when the bed was new and bare there were quite a few “weeds” that germinated.  I left them in place whilst the scattered seeds began to grow and then gradually removed them when the adjacent flower plants were a reasonable size.

Why do this?  Because some of the microscopic life forms that will eventually thrive in this hard and barren soil need living beings (plants) to feed them via the exudates from their roots.  They don’t mind what the plant above ground is as long as its roots are alive.

Observing what happens over time

This is how I learn things.  What I have seen today is various plants racing to cover the soil.  At the bottom of this photograph there is the very pretty tiny leafed woolly thyme.  Now it has established it is trying very hard to spread in all directions.  To the right there is a deep burgundy coloured bugle taken from another flower bed and on the left a white clover.  The clover just appeared in the bed, but may have come from the lawn that was removed.  I will watch and wait to see which plant overcomes the others first and then choose what to do.  But perhaps the main lesson is that nature does not like bare soil and has plants eminently suited to making sure it doesn’t stay that way for long.

DSCN6533 woolly thyme


DSCN6540 flower bed


DSCN6532 flower bed


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Summer in the garden

After my post a few weeks ago about a lack of bees, there are more about in both gardens than there were.  The Borderland garden is now absolutely buzzing with both bees and other insects.  The Telford garden has less, but more than a few weeks ago.  They are particularly attracted to a narrow border that was created last year on the edge of the lawn.  Amongst other things it was sown with saved carrot and fennel seed (from the other garden).  Both the fennel and carrots are now flowering and have made what I am referring to either as my fennel and carrot hedge or fennel and carrot forest.  Most of the fennels are above my head height and many of the carrots are up to my shoulder height.

photo (58) carrot and fennel hedge

We ate some of the carrots over the winter, but they were the product of carrots saved over successive years and had either reverted to something a bit wilder or crossed with a wild carrot and many were not very good.  So I left the remainder in place to flower this year for the insects.  They have produced multiples of large globe shaped heads each one containing however many hundreds (or thousands?) of very, very tiny individual flowers.  I think they are very lovely viewed individually or en masse.

DSCN6509 carrots in flower

DSCN6514 fennel and carrot

The new polyculture patch is coming on well.  It is full of perennials retrieved from the other garden (oca, mashua, scorzonera, skirret, ground nut, Jerusalem artichoke, yacon, Welsh onions) plus wild rocket, kales daikon radish, peas and beans, shallots, herbs, potatoes, squash, courgette and some flowers.


DSCN6528 polyculture patch 1

DSCN6519 polypatch 1

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and finally – some biodiversity found under a burdock leaf (our cat Fleur)

DSCN6531 fleur under burdockPS I will be at Shrewsbury Flower Show on 8 and 9 August in the “Our Futures” Marquee with a feature on edible perennial gardening.

Posted in Borderland Garden, Edible Perennial Gardening, Perennial Vegetables, Polycultures | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Emma Lawrence – the best illustrator

While I was writing Edible Perennial Gardening I knew it needed some very clear illustrations to help make certain points.  I was therefore incredibly fortunate to have a friend with an amazing talent for drawing who took my very rough and scrappy diagrams and utterly transformed them into lovely illustrations.

Emma is a freelance illustrator who adores drawing the natural world and she would love the opportunity to work on other similar (or different) projects.  Her website with details of her work and her contact details are here:

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Unintentional emails

I don’t know if this will reach all the people who had spam emails that came from my email today, but I hope that it gets to quite a few of you.  I think it was probably caused by two messages that came via WordPress (ie this blog) with spam content.  Such messages have never before come into my email and I used email to delete them.  I think that must have been the action that allowed something to take hold.  I am always very careful with emails, but this got past me.  I am wiser now.


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Holiday time…..

We have just been on holiday in the north east of England, close by Newcastle upon Tyne.  The sights that have caught my eye whilst up there include:

Northumberlandia – The Lady of the North

This is a wonderful sculpture in the landscape adjacent to the site of a working open cast coal mine.   You can walk round gently curving paths with grasses and wild flowers sweeping in the wind.  The paths are on a landform shaped to be a woman’s body and they gently envelope pools.  It is hard to imagine without seeing it and even the pictures on the website don’t really do it justice.  If you are ever in the Cramlington area do go.  The history and purpose are described on the website:

This project is known as restoration first – taking an extra piece of land donated by the landowner, the Blagdon Estate, adjacent to the mine and providing a new landscape for the community to enjoy while the mine is still operational. ……..The inspiration for the landform comes from the distant Cheviot Hills, which are pulled into the foreground by the curves and shapes of the female form used for Northumberlandia.  We naturally look for patterns and shapes in the landscape around us and the scale of the landform means the female form is not seen as a figure all of the time. As you walk around the paths you have to use this natural recognition of the human form to pick out the shape of the figure. For much of the time it appears just as a series of graceful sweeping curves and interlocking shapes.

When I am on holiday I love to see other people’s gardens.  They don’t have to be fancy or large gardens, I like to just discover little bits and pieces that attract my attention.  I particularly enjoyed coming across these two:

St Mary’s Lighthouse, Whitley Bay

In the very small patch of ground around the base of the lighthouse is a small garden with raised beds.  They are packed with herbs and flowers in a very windy and exposed position, but look great nevertheless.

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DSCN6435 lighthouse garden DSCN6438 lighthouse garden DSCN6440 lighthouse garden

This lovely sea kale caught my eye – I think it is probably the variety ‘Lily White’.  It made me want to try growing sea kale again – when I tried before it always died, but I would love one like this.

DSCN6441 sea kale

Bede’s World Herb Garden

Bede’s World is primarily a museum about the ‘Venerable’ Bede – a 7th century British monk and scholar.  It is shows a fascinating account of his life and times which includes a herb garden – unfortunately it was a bit windy and my photos of the garden were blurred.  There is also a fascinating reconstruction of a farm and buildings from that time.

DSCN6451 bw farmDSCN6452 bw farm

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Where are the bees?

How are the  bees (and other insects) doing where you are this year?

As I have been watching my Telford garden this year I have noticed that there seem to be far fewer bees than in previous years.  I have all the same flowers (towers of foxgloves, calendula, toad flax, chives, land cress) that bees have loved and could not get enough of, and in some cases even more of them than before.

The Borderland garden is faring a bit better and has some bees and other insects – fewer butterflies than last year, and I think, less bees but more than in Telford.

It would be good to see what other people’s experience is so far this summer.

Posted in Relationship with nature, Telford Garden, Uncategorized | Tagged | 11 Comments