Friday, 28 November 2014

Singing Parasols at the Chelsea Art College

We went to see the Turner Prize exhibition, which I do tend to want to do; there's often good ideas to take back to the garden. But, not this year really. Lots of crabby video art cowering in the dark, just one room of something non-video, which was quite lively but nothing that would really work outside. But across the road as we left the gallery, we saw lights, and heard some musical noises. On closer inspection this was coming from a group of four garden parasols installed in the neon-lined courtyard of the UAL. The gate was open, so we went for a look:

The pots contained speakers, concealed with cheerful greenery. The thickened parasol posts had little contacts on them, and when touched together, these made music, while the parasol tops flashed multi-colours in time to the music.

It was lovely, interactive, engaging and an excellent response to the local environment. I'd take the Turner Prize straight across the road to this, to be honest. And I'm newly inspired to get some noisemakers into the garden, next year maybe, for a summer party.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Half an hour in the garden

One of the joys of working from home at this time of year is that I get to see the garden during daylight. Otherwise, I leave in the gloom of dawn, and return way after dark, and my interactions with the garden are confined to hoping I don't slip on unseen catshit when I go to cut rosemary for the evening potatoes, and being slapped in the face by unseen vines as I got to empty the compost in the dark.

November gardening has a lot to do with time management; looking at the most urgent jobs on the list, calculating how long there is until night or rain falls, like fat wet grey duvet smothering the space you would do work in, and fitting in whatever you can until you have to retreat, cold, wet, muddy and shivering. Half an hour between an online meeting and a library appointment? Time to hoik out the last of the peppers and squashes from the greenhouse, and put in the tender shrubs.

The last remaining Nosferatu chilli at first glance looked OK, but on second showed grey mould on the flower tips, where the first cold nights had bit at the tender growths. I pinched out the damaged tips, picked off slugs and popped it onto my bedroom windowsill. Hopefully it'll do better than the one I brought in two weeks ago (and brought out again and put in the compost last weekend). Still, out with the old, in with the new; I picked up a fancy Amaryllis in a bulb sale, and that's now sat in the space on the windowsill vacated by the Chilli. It looked a bit end-of-season at first, but then the centre started rising, and now it has a breath of green on it, and I have high hopes.

Back in the garden, OMG Nectarine and Crimson Bonfire and the Languishing Olive and the two Abutilons (Poppy and Trad) are tucked into the greenhouse, along with all but two of the Pelargoniums* and Froggy the fancy Chrysanthemum, Tweedia and a couple of soft fuschias. I popped the new South African heather and a couple of Alpine pots in there, too, as though they're probably tough enough to take the cold, the wet is a different matter.

I'll pick up any stragglers at the weekend (that new passion vine, for example) and make a decision about the Agapanthus. Normally it goes in, but this year there's less space in the greenhouse and its outside space is newly sheltered by a water planter.

Out in the garden, the frost is already shattering the delicate and tender, Nasturtiums hanging down like rain-smashed party decorations and Germaniums** flumped across the soil, leaves turning to transparent slime. Winter is coming.

* There's two just outside the back door I can't bring myself to move yet.
** Household name for New Guinea Busy Lizzies.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Freak of the season

... and here it is. The sun has dipped below the horizon, so you can't fully apprecaite the strangeness of seeing pale pink blossom and bright yellow leaves. But here is the proof: 2014 was the year that trees blossomed as their leaves were falling.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

November in the garden

My own little microclimate is doing me proud. The last of the Blueberry leaves are bright red, the geraniums and nastertiums are in full flush and the passionflower is tossing off blossoms daily. It's also the time of year that Cyclamen follow me home, if I let them.

Friday, 14 November 2014

November Posy

Back in 2011, startled by the numbers of flowers I saw going for a second time on a regular November commute walk, I started photographing November flowers. Because the days are short and the light is low, November flowers often go unremarked and unnoticed. But not this year. This year, Monty Don was on Gardeners World gesturing at a trees showing autumn leaves and blossom at the same time (it's in the intro - you won't have to watch for long) and when I went out to garden last weekend, I came back in with a bunch of flowers:

There are more, much more this year than there usually are. The garden is warm. I've seen the trees doing blossom and autumn leaves. The winter jasmine is already out, while my nasturtiums and the passion vine are still flowering away with enthusiasm, the geraniums are having another go, and there are also fuschias, ornamental sage, penstemon, erigeron and veronica in flower, along with the plants you'd expect, like the chrysanthemums. The seasons feel tilted, as if they're not quite sure who should be here, as if they're jostling together.

You have to ask questions about climate change. I'm a sporadic recorder on Nature's Calendar, and they say with the confidence that comes of having a vast dataset; spring is coming earlier and autumn is coming later, It's good for my autumn flower arrangements, but what about the pests and the harvests and the planning and the seasonal tasks?

Time will tell. But in the meantime I'm letting the garden have a last few glorious weeks. We've had our first frost, but it didn't get down to the ground. So the Peaches and the Tweedia and the alpines and the Abutilons can have a last few days outside before going to greenhouse. 

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Casa Freelands 2014 : Supernumary Snail

Last year I made wine for the first time, half improvising, half following the instructions that came with a £30 winemaking kit off the internet, a few suitable instructables, some forums and the opinions of several winemakers. The result was Casa Freelands 2013 : Earwig Dreaming, named for the most startling bit of wildlife to emerge from the grape bag. Barbie Pink, sharp bordering on acidic, but nevertheless a potable brew. We drank all six bottles, the last one in late summer. It probably peaked in May, although I had treated all the bottles differently, so it might just have been that June and July were in sterilised bottles (the best flavour came from the completely untreated bottles, then the boiled bottles, then the chemically sterilised bottles). It was strong, not something to drink half a bottle of. I made my original batch when I found that the juice I'd made by boiling the fruit for ten minutes had started to ferment in the fridge. Look at the bloom on those grapes! That yeast is good to 10%, and ferments fast and hard.


Of course, there is a problem with those grapes. Not very ripe. This year, I thought the entire harvest would rot ere it was ripe, shocked by cold and drenched by wet. It didn't, but you can see the brown here and there. It was a close run thing. Here's my home-vinting kit:

casa freelands 2014

That muslin turns into a punch bag, and provides a yeast reservoir and the outrageous barbie pink colour. The pegs are an innovation for this year - helping with the straining of the must. The juice from the harvest bag looks a bit brown, but that's because the taint concentrates at the bottom of the bag; you can see the actual colour on the muslin. I wasn't sure I had ferment till the following morning, but there it was, going like the clappers, on its own yeast.

It was slowing yesterday, so I adjusted the sugar up and inoculated it with a sachet of tame yeast, to top up the wild. The flavour's holding so far, the colour steady on pink. But the ferment is already fading. I'll rack it at the weekend, unless the yeast finds a second wind.

And we shall have wine.

Friday, 7 November 2014

they won summer: garden peach tomatoes

The last of the garden peaches is waiting to be eaten downstairs. A fuzzy, yellow, species tomato from Central America, I picked up for a laugh in a handfull of packs of crazy tomato seeds. It germinated well, grew strongly and it can take a lackadaisical attitude toward food and water. The plants are sturdy, the leaves shrug off loopers and the tomato fuzz over the skin of the fruit keeps the nibbling slugs and snails at bay. Those are all good things, but they are nothing compared to the best thing.

The best thing is the flavour, sweet and rich. The best thing is the texture, melting and soft. Cut raw slices are extremely good, like a proper posh canape - but gently cooked and served with something savoury (it really doesn't matter what) it becomes the sort of flavour you exclaim over.

I can't think why it's not grown commercially. Maybe that fuzz doesn't store well.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

International Garden Festival 1984 Liverpool

I was in Liverpool for reasons of art and music but in the four open hours between the two the Museum of Liverpool beckoned. There, in the 80s section, I found evidence that something extraordinary had happened in the docklands, cartoon liverbirds, dragons, teddy bears and all:

Liverpool Garden Festival

Down on the ground floor I hit paydirt: a scale model of Liverpool's International Garden Festival which hinted at a truly bonkers showgarden bonanza, complete with Pagodas, atomic glasshouses, big tops, floral liverbirds, giant logos made of flowers, and of course a yellow submarine:

Liverpool Garden Festival Liverpool Garden festival
Liverpool Garden Festival Liverpool Garden Festival
Liverpool Garden Festival Liverpool Garden Festival

It seems almost designed to be enjoyed from above, which is how it is displayed in the museum, angled to face the camera eyes of the visitors in a dimly lit case (to avoid the model fading?) and the label suggests a story of long years of feisty campaigning, demolition and neglect before a final flourishing:

Liverpool Garden Festival

We didn't have time for a visit to the renewed gardens, which still seem quite Utopian, though they lack the garish artworks and sculpts of the original. Maybe next time; and remember to ask, "where's the Blue Peter ship?".