Sunday, December 30, 2007

Review of the Year

As it´s the end of the year, I thought a look back at what 2007 brought might be timely. So here goes ...

January : We started the year in Germany, with an ice storm, but apart from that it was a fairly quiet month, the highlight being reading what was probably the best book I came across in 2007 - Curious Incidents in the Garden at Nighttime.

February : February brought us the coldest weather of an exceptionally mild winter. For the first time the temperature dropped below zero, and it was time to cover up all the plants - something I usually need to do in early December.

March : The cold weather didn´t last long though, and in March spring was back. The plum tree outside the balcony was in full bloom, and I saw both the first butterfly and the first caterpillar - little did I know at the time what a plague they would be this year, and that I´d be finding them right up to December.

April : April started with a visit to the annual Easter Monday flower market in Milan. By now, all my spring flowers were in full bloom, and on the 15th I joined in for the first time to Gardener´s Bloom Day.

May : Only three posts in May - we had visitors and it was a busy time. I continued with my monthly posts on the calendar I´d been given for Christmas, which focused each month on a different plant and its medicinal uses. This month´s plant was calendula - recommended for the treatment of skin complaints.

June : By June the caterpillar plague was really under way and I was losing plants right left and centre. As I don´t like killing anything, I was picking them off several times a day and trying to persuade them to stay in my caterpillarium - but they still kept coming.

July : July started with a weekend in Liguria, where the climate - and thus the vegetation - is quite different from here. I also started posting regularly again after being ill for a while. Unfortunately it wasn´t only the blog that had been neglected but also the balcony, with predictable results. I also posted about this year´s failures - so numerous it ended up as a two-part post. I suspect late planting was the reason for the pitiful growth and lack of flowers on plants like my hollyhocks but it didn´t explain the lack of flowers on the mandevilla, which grew happily all year but failed to produce a single bloom.

August : In August I was back at my house in london - and spent nearly the whole of the month clearing the garden and fighting against the borage which had completely taken over. By the time I left it was looking tidy, if a bit bare. I planted as much as I could at that time of year - who knows if it´s come up?

September : Most of my September posts were still about the garden, as I had no internet access while I was away. Although I think I manage to grow quite a lot on the balcony, a garden certainly provides more to write about. As well as the plants, there are also the birds and other wildlife that visit. Back on the balcony, the only wildlife I was meeting were the caterpillars, which were again wreaking havoc and destruction.

October : October brought the first autumn flowers, though as it was still warm the summer flowers kept goin too. I also posted for the first time on my Crassula Ovalis - whose name at the time I didn´t know - and which I shall post about again in the next week or so.

November : November started with th the four days of the Garden Blogger´s Carnival - which linked to posts from other blogs. Day One focused on the theme of wildlife in the garden, Day Two on vegetable gardening, Day Three on winter gardening, while Day Four was - well a bit of a hotchpotch. Thanks again to everyone who took part. There´ll be news of a new carnival posted in early January - this time with a difference.

December : And that brings us almost up to date. December saw a visit to the annual Craft Fair in Milan to buy bulbs, where amonst the daffodils and tulips I also found the "Monster from the Deep", Eremurus. Then thoughts turned to Christmas with the Christmas Quiz, and a few days ago, as well as celebrating Christmas itself, we celebrated the 100th post on the Balcony Garden.

And that´s the review of the year. If you´d like to do one of your own, just leave a comment once you´ve posted, so that we know where to find you. And in the meantime ...

Have a Very Happy New Year!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Crack the champagne ...

Crack the champagne! Not only is it Christmas, but the Balcony Garden is 100 today. One hundred posts that is. We've been going for 17 months, so that's an average of 5-6 posts per month. But recently it's been more, with eight posts in November and nine, so far, this month. My goal is at least two posts a week, to get to 200 by Christmas next year. We shall see ...

Happy Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 21, 2007

My 2007 Calendar - December

We've finally arrived at December, and at the last page of my 2007 calendar. This month's plant is hedera helix - English ivy.

I hadn't heard of it as a medicinal plant before, but checking on the web found that it's a common remedy in Germany for dry coughs. As this is a German calendar, it's not surprising that that was one of the uses mentioned. However, the use that interested me most was as a remedy for cellulite. In case like me you belong to the orange peel thighs group, here's the recipe:

Take a handful of ivy leaves (carefully - the sap can irritate the skin), 10g of rosemary leaves, 10 grams of fennel seeds, half a ginger tuber, 15g of juniper berrries, and the finely chopped peel of one lemon. Put everything into a glass container together with half a litre of cold-pressed olive oil or sunflower oil. leave it in a warm place and shake daily for 3 weeks. Then drain and store in a dark bottle. The massage oil will be ready in 3-6 months and should be rubbed in vigourously daily. Well, that's what the calendar says ...

Hedera helix is of course only one species of ivy, and every species has loads of varieties. Click here to see some of them. Ivy generally prefers slightly alkaline soils - if you're trying to grow it in an acid soil area, add lime. most types are hardy, but some canariensis varieties will succumb to frost. Dark leaved types are fine for growing up exposed northern facing walls, while yellow and silver leaved varieties prefer full sun.

There are various myths associated with ivy. In Greek and roman mythology it is associated with the god Dionysus/Bacchus - the god of wine. When Dionysus was born his stepmother Hera tried to kill him. So his nurses, the Nymphai Nysiades, covered his cradle with ivy-leaves to keep him hidden and safe. Later, when once he had been kidnapped and was being taken to Egypt to be sold as a slave, Dionysus made ivy grow around the oars and sails of the boat he was on, clogging them and preventing the boat from making progress.

Dionysus is often portrayed wearing a wreath of ivy and the association of the plant with the god of wine led to the plant being seen as a cure for intoxication. Greek and Roman drinkers would wear ivy wreaths to protect them from the effects of alcohol - you could give it a try at Christmas I suppose.

The trouble with ivy of course is that its aerial roots can damage brickwork when growing up walls and houses, and can gradually smother trees. In this context, my favourite ivy poem is Hardy's The Ivy Wife. But who knows if he was really talking about the plant ..

I LONGED to love a full-boughed beech
And be as high as he:

I stretched an arm within his reach,

And signalled unity.

But with his drip he forced a breach,

And tried to poison me.

I gave the grasp of partnership

To one of other race--

A plane: he barked him strip by strip

From upper bough to base;

And me therewith; for gone my grip,

My arms could not enlace.

In new affection next I strove
To coll an ash I saw,

And he in trust received my love;

Till with my soft green claw

I cramped and bound him as I wove...

Such was my love: ha-ha!

By this I gained his strength and height
Without his rivalry.

But in my triumph I lost sight

Of afterhaps. Soon he,

Being bark-bound, flagged, snapped, fell outright,

And in his fall felled me!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The 2007 Christmas Quiz

Christmas is getting close, and for a couple of weeks now Milan has been full of Christmas trees and Christmas lights. This year's Christmas tree in the centre of town is said to be the largest in Italy, so it's a good starting place for this year's quiz. Not sure if this one is tougher than last year's or not. I thought it would be, but when I looked back last year wasn't so easy either. You decide. You'll find the answers below the questions - but no cheating.

1. Like most Christmas trees, the Milan tree is a fir. But what's the genus name of the various species of fir tree?

a) Picea b) Pinus c) Abies d) Taxus

2. Did you get a poinsettia this year? I tend to avoid them as they're far too fussy about temperature for my liking. What temperature range can they stand (approximately)?

a) 10-21° b) 6-25° c) 3-30° d) 12-30°

OK, OK - I'll repeat that in Fahrenheit ...

a) 50-70° b) 43-77° c) 38-86° d) 54-86°

3. Harry Potter's wand has a connection with Christmas plants. Why ?

a) He found it under a Christmas tree. b) It's made of wood from the holly tree. c) It derives its magical properties from the sap of the Poinsettia. d) It contains a mistletoe berry.

4. The use of holly as a Christmas decoration derives from its use in the celebrations surrounding the winter solstice by ...

a) The ancient Sumerians b) The ancient Greeks c) The Celts d) The Romans

5. There are many species of mistletoe and a different species is used in the US at Christmas to the species used in the UK. Which is which?

a) Viscum album b) Phoradendrum serotinum

6. Brussel sprouts, a traditional part of Christmas dinner, are very good for you. Why?

a) They're high in Vitamin C.
b) They contain folic acid.
c) They contain vitamin D.
d) They're low in fat and are only about 10 calories each.

How did you get on ? Scroll down and you'll find the answers. While you're doing it I ought to say that the photo was taken by my son - he seems to get a lot more out of the camera than I can. Thanks sweetheart.

Keep going ...

A bit more ...

OK- here you are.

1c, 2a, 3b, 4b, 5 a - UK, b - US, 6 - all of them!

How did you do ?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Giant waterlilies and smelly flowers

This is really old news but I've only just caught up with it. The BBC has teamed up with YouTube and now has a site dedicated to showing short clips of its own programmes. Browsing through them the other day I came across a collection of clips, each 2-4 minutes long, from documentaries by David Attenborough, many of them from his series The Private Life of Plants. Two particularly caught my attention - one about the Giant Waterlilies of the River Amazon (with super time-lapse photography), and another about the Titan Arum. The photo above shows the water lily leaves, and was taken by my son on holiday at Lake Maggiore some years ago.

Neither of the two are exactly the sort of flower I could put on the balcony - the waterlilies have leaves six foot across and the Titan Arum a flower which is nine feet high - with a smell that I think the neighbours might well complain about. Luckily for us, if not for David Attenborough, smell doesn't come over on video. Happy viewing.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Gardener's Bloom Day - December

What have I got blooming on the balcony at the moment? A lot more than I should have - geraniums, pansies, marigolds, alyssum, antirrhinums and campanula. Crazy. Plus a few chrysanthemums hanging on in there, and some cyclamen. Despite the fact that the temperature has dropped radically, they don't seem to have noticed. It's been down to about -2° every night this week, though back up to around ten in the daytime.

Because of that, I have started covering things up. And by the end of this week it will be complete, with everything put to bed for at least a month. The first week in January is usually the coldest week of the year here, so better safe than sorry.

Monday, December 10, 2007

I've been tagged ...

Leslie of Growing a Garden in Davis has tagged me to write eight things that I'm make me happy. So here goes. I've decided to leave out the personal stuff - if I gushed too much my son would die of embarassment; if I didn't my husband would divorce me. I'll concentrate instead on gardening.

1. Early mornings in spring when I rush out on the balcony and find that my seeds have germinated overnight and are poking their little heads through the soil.

2. Finding new plants that I've never seen before - like my monster from the last post.

3. Sitting on the balcony eating cornflakes at about five in the morning in the middle of summer, the only time of the whole day when the temperature and the humidity are bearable, listening to the dawn chorus and looking at my plants with no-one to disturb me.

4. That day in June when suddenly everything is in flower and looking its best.

5. Neighbours saying "How do you manage to have such a lovely balcony?" (OK, not the most noble of the things on the list, but a least you know I'm being honest.)

6. The fact that when I've seen seed pods or plants I'd like a cutting of in other people's gardens, and asked if I can take them, no-one has ever, ever said no or been in any way offended. On the contrary, it's usually meant spending the next twenty minutes having a guided tour of the garden chatting about where they got the plant, how it's performed for them, what else they've got in their garden - and being offered four or five more things that I'd not even seen from the road.

7. Seeing plants which I've brought from my London garden, either as seeds or cuttings, growing on the balcony. And, when I go to London, taking seeds and cuttings from the balcony to plant there. It makes me feel constantly connected to both places.

8. Sunday mornings, which is the time I work on most of the "maintenance" jobs - deadheading, repotting and so on. After I've been out on the balcony about half an hour, I'm suddenly relaxed, destressed and yet concentrated to an extent that doesn't happen much at other times.

9. In winter, looking back through my photos at flowers from previous years and seeing ones I'd forgotten about - like the one in the photo above

Wow - that's nine and it was only supposed to be eight. When I started writing I'd only come up with three, and thought I'd probably be giving up before the end. But now the part I don't like which is having to tag other people. Perhaps we should all put a section in our sidebar saying I love (or hate) being tagged. So I'm not going to - instead, if as you've been reading through this you've thought Yes, me too, then consider yourself tagged. You can start with the common feature and then add seven more - we'll turn it into a chain meme. If you decide to, leave me a comment and I'll come and find out what we have in common.

And now I'm heading over to
May Dreams Gardens. Carol posted on this theme several days ago, but I've purposely been putting off reading the post so that I wouldn't be influenced by her ideas when I finally got round to writing this. We shall see if there's anything we share...

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Monster from the deep...

Every year, for the first ten days or so of December there's a huge craft fair in Milan, with exhibitors from all over the world. And I mean huge - it already fills nine exhibition halls and this year they had to turn down so many applications that next year it's moving to the new Trade Fair Centre that's recently been built on the outskirts of the city. It's a great place for Christmas presents, and if you ever need to come to Milan, it's worth trying to coincide. But apart from the general fun of shopping, I go there every year for one stand - a Dutch bulb stand.

Yes, I know it might seem a bit late for bulbs, with half the blogs you click on reporting snow by now. But here, though were not exactly in T-shirts, the really cold weather hasn't usually hit by December, and I can get away with it as long as I get everything in immediately - as my daffodils from last year show. This year I got some dwarf tulips, alium and fritillaria imperialis. And the monster in the top photo.

In case you don't recognise it, it's Eremurus or foxtail lily. When I saw it I had no idea what it was but couldn't resist asking about it. And once I did, I was hooked. Tall pink flower spikes from April to August, loves sun but needs cold winters. Should be just right for the balcony. Apparently though it doesn't like being moved, so I shall have to decide on a permanent container from the beginning - and then just try and plant other things around it. I seem to have a mental block on the name though, and keep having to go and look it up. So as far as I'm concerned, from now on it's just the Octopus Plant.

As for the others, I've never been particularly keen on tulips and this is really the first time I've tried. With limited space available, some things have to go - and I usually prefer daffodils. But my son talked me into these, and I must admit I was quite attracted. The fritillaria I've been wanting for a while, and the allium I tried a couple of years ago but managed to drown. Note to myself, water sparingly this time.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

You've been googled ...

A couple of weeks ago, Robin of A Bumble Bee Garden suggested that people post about the weird and wonderful queries that people enter into Google to end up on their blogs. I've had a look at mine and most of them are a bit predictable - balcony garden or balcony gardening obviously tops the list, with balkony plants as a variation. On Google that would have merited a snooty Do you mean ...? but in fact it came from Yahoo! who have obviously just given up on expecting the world to spell correctly and simply sigh resignedly as they tell you We have included balcony plants results ...

Some of the queries did link straight to posts I could identify. A lot of people seem to be searching for the book
Curious Incidents in the Garden at Night-Time at the moment, which I wrote about last January. (A super book - put it on your wish list for Christmas if you've not already read it.) I was also pleased to be able to help the person who googled What would bury a chicken egg in my garden? I know that one - it's a fox.

Not surprisingly, given the time of year, a lot of people are currently searching for Christmas Quiz, and ending up at
the quiz I did last year. I was slightly puzzled by the person who wanted a Christmas Quiz for Older People. Since then I've been racking my brains to try and think of suitable Christmas questions for the over fifties. What's the worst weather for Father Christmas' arthritis? perhaps. Rain, dear. ... And talking of Christmas Quizzes, I've decided that the Balcony Garden Christmas Quiz should become a tradition, so watch this space. But don't think you're going to get away with the easy-peasey questions we had last year. I've got some goodies up my sleeve for this one ...

Back to the search engines. Without doubt the best query of all was from someone who wanted Sex in the beatiful grden (sic). Whaat? if you tried having sex on my balcony you'd find yourself performing to an audience of the three hundred or so people who live in the block directly opposite. I puzzled about this one for a bit - but yes, I then realised I had written about sex. I wonder if the person who googled was really interested in
the mating habits of the leopard slug ...

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Weird weather we've been having...

As I said in my last post, marigolds blooming in December is a sure sign that the weather must be mild, though it's hard to be sure as I can't find a complete list of temperatures for this month so that I can compare them with official averages. It's not been all warm weather though - there was one day when it plunged about ten degrees overnight - just the sort of drop that plants don't like. And we also had three days of torrential rain - not unusual for Milan in November. It never drizzles here. We go for months without a drop, and then when it does come it just pours and pours, so that roads flood, cellars flood and occasionally so does the underground, causing chaos everywhere.

But the strangest event this month was towards the middle of the month when the foehn suddenly hit. The foehn is a warm wind that comes across the mountains - warm because as the air drops down the side of the mountain, the increasing atmospheric pressure heats it up. It produces gusts of wind than can get quite strong. this time it got up to around 90km per hour in some places, and was about 80 when it hit Milan.

It had been fine when I went to work in the morning - but when I came out at lunchtime I had to fight my way through it to get home to my son, who was home from school sick that day. The wind had blown away all the smog, so there was a bright blue sky, warm sunshine and in the background you could see the Alps - something which only happens when it's windy enough to clear the pollution. The strongest of the winds happened just after I got home. The trees in the garden had just reached the peak of their autumn colours, so of course the leaves were ready to come off, and there was what would have been a wonderful photo of trees bent double and the air full of a stream of leaves blowing from left to right across the garden. Needless to say, the batteries in my camera were dead.

When I next went out on the balcony it was ankle deep in leaves, and I'm still finding them tucked behind the occasional pot.

Will the warm weather go on? The forecasts say no and that we're not going to have a mild winter again like last year. We'll see. The temperature has dropped, but it was still nine degrees out there this morning. If we do get normal temperatures, I should need to cover everything with fleece in about ten days. last year I didn't really need to at all, and although I did cover things as a precaution while I was away for Christmas, the fleece came off pretty soon afterwards. This year who knows. We shall see.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Happy Belated GBD

This is probably the latest Gardener's Bloom Day post ever. It's only just made it into the right month. But I've just been busy. So here's what's been blooming on the balcony since the 15th.

Cyclamen probably aren't much of a surprise, and nor will these little pansies be. Babies of course, but they're already putting out their fair share of blooms.

The rest is slightly less believable, but I promise they've all been taken over the last week - just look at the trees behind and the leaves on the ground. First the pelargoniums. All but one have come back into bloom with a vengeance, and the salmon pink plant has now been blooming for over eighteen months without a break.

Campanula. these have recovered from some slight ill-treatment in the early autumn - they got shoved behind something, and I forgot about watering. They lost all their flowers but are now doing well again.

Alyssum. I sometimes curse my alyssum because it takes over the containers. But it's worth it to have it still going at this time of year.

And now - the pièce de résistance - marigolds. In December, give or take about five hours. They'd stopped blooming and I was about to throw them away when I saw they were covered in buds. And since the middle of the month more and more have been coming out.

Needless to say we've had an unusually mild November - but that can be the topic of the next post.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Invasion of the Giants

Last year I posted to the effect that my wild asparagus was growing at a rate of knots. Had I but known. Look at it then ...

... and look at it now.

And the pictures don't even do justice to the change. The first photo is of the plant in an 8" pot. The second is of a tub 50" x 18" x 30", more or less. Nothing seems to keep it in check. I even replanted it in the corner just in front of the bedroom where nothing grows. I don't know why that corner's a problem - but I suspect there's not enough light for most plants, but it gets too hot for shade lovers. I can't even grow spider plants there - something else that I usually have no trouble getting to giant proportions.

But the wild asparagus flourished even there. Then I saw it was getting attacked by the plague of green caterpillars that we had (still have, come to that) this year. So I cheerfully transferred all the caterpillars which I found decimating my other plants, onto it. It hardly looks chewed.

So what do I do with it? I suppose after my recent post on the 20 foot agave, I shouldn't even bother about it. And I'm not the only one. I've been planning this post for about a month, but just after the Carnival closed the other day, La Gringa sent me a link to a post called Why do they have to get so big? on exactly the same theme. (I've always said that garden bloggers were telepathic.) And her stuff makes mine look like dwarf varieties. But then she's not gardening on a balcony ...

It does of course solve the problem of what to put in that corner. But if I leave it there, will it be invading the bedroom by this time next year? The only other solution which comes to mind is digging it up, splitting and repotting it, and giving it to people as Christmas presents. The ones I don't like, obviously.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

November - a puzzle

This month's calendar is a bit confusing. It's supposed to feature matricaria recutita, or camomile. Well that's what the heading says, but the picture is quite different and the text describes a variety of plants, presumably all of the same family. There is a small picture inserted in the text, and that does have the typical daisy like flowers of camomile. However, the big picture is chamaemelum nobile, and, after a bit of detective work on Google, I think I've identified it as chamaemelum nobile 'ligulosum' - although on another site, the same plant seems to have a yellow centre. The yellow centred variety is similar to what I grew as matricaria nana last year (see the picture below). In any case, it's quite unlike what I would normally think of as camomile, and according to the text, more likely to cause allergies.

So - sticking to traditional camomile, what's it good for? Camomile has been used medicinally since the time of the ancient Egyptians, who - because of its bright yellow centre - associated it with the sun god Ra and considered it to be sacred. It's also mentioned by Hippocrates, Galen and Pliny the Elder. The most important active ingredient, found in the flower heads, is the essential oil chamazulene. Camomile tea is well known as an "unwinder", useful as a pre-bedtime drink to help you sleep. This extract is from a poem by Katherine Mansfield called Camomile Tea :

How little I thought, a year ago,
In the horrible cottage upon the Lee
That he and I should be sitting so
And sipping a cup of camomile tea.

Here in Italy, it's frequently given to children just before they're put to bed. It's also used widely to lighten fair hair - even in commercially produced shampoos and hair treatments. The calendar suggests using it for a variety of other things including stomach problems.

And if you remember Beatrice Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit, when Peter had stomach ache after gorging himself on the lettuces in Mr McGregor's garden, his mother gave him "a teaspoonful of camomile tea", and put him to bed.

The name matiricaria apparently derives from the Latin for womb, and was given to the plant because of its widespread use in treating women's gynacological complaints, in particular menstrual cramps. This is also the basis of its common German name Mutterkraut - mother's herb.

But that's not all. The calendar says it's also useful for a load of things that I can't find a translation for, while on the web it's suggested for everything from arthritis to healing wounds. And according to one site it's a carminative, cholagogue, diaphoretic, and emmenagogue. Well, now you know. And I thought I was having problems with the German ...

But according to some research carried out in Britain and
reported by the BBC, there's sound scientific evidence for many of the traditional uses. Five cups a days for a fortnight will apparently also ward off cold symptoms (should you ever have a cold that lasts a fortnight, that is).

Even if, like me, you loathe camomile tea, it seems that matricaria recutuita is well worth growing in the garden. It is said to keep neighbouring plants free of pests and diseases, and to have a curative effect on sick plants around it. It's especially useful if grown in the company of other herbs containing essential oils - basil, marjoram, thyme and so on.

It can also be used to make a lawn, as an alternative to grass, which lets out a characteristic fragrance when walked upon or cut. In Mary Wesley's novel, The Camomile Lawn, the lawn becomes a symbol of tradition, permanence, and the youth and innocence of the characters as they meet on holiday in Cornwall, all of which is lost they meet again after the Second World War.

Matricaria recutita is best sown in the autumn or spring, in light sandy soil. It's a sun lover, which needs little fertilisation. And even if you don't want to drink the tea, it's worth collecting the flowers as you can spray it on new seedlings as a fungicide to prevent damping off.

Another good reason for collecting the flower heads is that, if you don't, it will self-seed and before long you'll find it everywhere. As Shakespeare said in Henry IV Part One :

For though the camomile, the more it is trodden on the faster it grows,

Yet youth, the more it is wasted, the sooner it wears.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Garden Bloggers' Carnival : Day Four

It's the last day of the Garden Blogger's Retro Carnival, and the theme is Added Value - or Ten for the Price of One.

Some people don’t have individual pages for their posts so had to link to an entire archive page. Great – we get more value for one click! Lady Luz linked to last February’s posts – she nominated the post for Feb 15th, but I enjoyed lots of the others too. Check out the picture of the chameleon as you scroll down.

Andee, the gardener in Chacala also linked to an archive page. Go down to the bottom to read about Learning to Garden in Chacala – and some small problems in cross-cultural communication. While you’re getting there - enjoy all the photos.

Carol of May Dreams Gardens has only linked to one post, but in it she links to the ten posts which she feels serve best as an introduction to her blog. So ten for the price of one again!

My contribution? This time last year I was having fun taking scanner photos. So here are some of the photos - ten of them, naturally.

And that's it for this edition of the Garden Blogger's Retro Carnival. Except that I have to end with a confession ... I've lost two links. Somebody sent me links to two posts - one about a porcupine and the other about bugs. And I've lost them. They arrived after the first carnival day, which had wildlife for it's theme, but I was going to include them anyway.I checked the posts out, but must have forgotten to save the message before I cancelled it. If it's you, please send them again - they were great posts. My comments box also went peculiar for a while last month, just as people were submitting links. I hope I got everything, but if you were expecting to see your post and it hasn't appeared - Blogger strikes again. Send them again, and we'll have a postcript day.

I hope you've enjoyed the Carnival - I certainly have. I really enjoyed all the posts, and it was specially nice to come across a few blogs which I'd not seen before. Several people have asked if the Carnival is going to be a regular event. Well, I don't know about regular, but I do have an idea for another one - with a difference. Watch this space!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Garden Bloggers' Carnival - Day Three

Welcome to Day Three of the Garden Bloggers' Retro Carnival. If you've been following the Carnival you'll know that people have been sending in links to posts on their blogs which they want to revive, and that every day I'm publishing a lists divided (very roughly!) by theme. Today's theme is gardening in winter.

We're starting with a Hallowe'en post. Hallowe'en was originally a Celtic festival called Samhain (pronounced sow-in), marking the Celtic New Year - which started on November 1st. The festival of Samhain on October 31st marked the end of the old year and the beginning of winter — the “season of cold and darkness.”

If like me your idea of carving a Hallowe'en pumpkin is a gash for a mouth, three holes for the eyes and nose and a left hand covered in sticking plasters, then see what they produced over at
An eclectic garden

I don't know about where you are, but here we're still having bright sunny days and it doesn't seem like winter at all yet. But if you’re in the northern hemisphere and the ever-shorter days and dropping temperatures are starting to depress you, check out this post on Gardening for winter interest by Jessica at
Garden Detective

And if like me you don’t have a greenhouse but still start getting itchy to plant just after Christmas, you’ll love Angie’s post at Gardens-n-Junk.

Winter is the ideal time to rethink your garden design for the following year. What colours predominate in your garden? Do you go for subtle pastels? Cool blues and whites? Bright reds and yellows happily clashing away ? Kris at
Blithewold won’t mind if you break the rules.

And while you're at it, why not get some inspiration from some historic landscaped gardens. Cave Hill Gardens has some suggestions as to where you might look.

You might also want to revamp your gardening wardrobe - throw out some off the stuff that's just too far gone and downgrade those tatty jeans and that old jumper that you're starting to feel conspicuous in at the supermarket. Deciding what to put on your feet when you’re gardening can be a delicate choice too. Here’s a review from Ellis Hollow on the ideal footwear for use when shovelling, mowing – and as a rodent repellent. It’s the smell you see...)

But don't get too depressed by the winter. At least most of us know the long sunny days of summer will soon be back. Anne of the Tundra Garden has no such luck - she even has snow in July, but she still manages to grow things. Check out how at her blog on the northernmost garden of the North American continent.

That's it for today, but the Carnival will be back midweek with more links. And this time the theme will be - well, buy one, get ten free.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Garden Bloggers' Carnival - Day Two

Whoops - I promised the carnival would continue immediately after the last post, and didn't make it. A series of small crises intervened - don't they always? Links are still coming in, incidentally, so you still have time to send yours if you want.

Today's theme is - well, growing things. Seems to be a common interest of gardeners ....

Several people sent posts on vegetable gardening. If you’ve never connected growing potatoes with either poetry or the shipping forecast, Melanie of Bean Sprouts can explain, while Jessica of Garden Detective points out that food from your garden doesn’t always have to be specially planted.

Cauliflowers come in all shapes and colours - round, pointy, white green even orange. Patrick of
Bifurcated Carrots discovered the purple variety.

Next time you put mustard on your hot dog, think of Green Thumb of
India Garden. She's been growing her own.

And while it’s not exactly vegetable gardening, some phallic fungi growing over a
funtimehappygardenexplosion set off some philosophical musings ...

That's it for today. The next theme (probably tomorrow but I'm not promising any more) will be winter gardening - you know, what happens about January when you start getting itchy to DO something ....

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

It's Carnival Time!

Welcome to Day One of the Garden Bloggers' Retro Carnival! If you've been following the blog recently, you'll know I suggested that people should send me links to old posts they'd like to revive. A big thank you to everyone who responded - I've had great fun reading all the posts and I know other people will enjoy them too.

Most of the posts fall into categories, so I shall be publishing the links over four or five days, each day focusing on a specific category. Incidentally, if you haven't yet got round to sending a link, it's not too late. as long as I get it in the next few ddays, there'll be time to include it. Use the comments box.

OK - let the carnival begin. I want to start with a post that just probably sums up what most of us think about gardening - Yvonne of
Country Gardener arguing that gardening without the three C’s – care, commitment and consistency – is nothing but “outdoor decorating”.

It's one that's hard to follow, so we'll change tack and look at some more lighthearted posts. A lot of you linked to posts about wildlife - and other animals - in the garden. And here they are :

Anthony at the Compost Bin had a visit from a Turkey - and it wasn't even Thanksgiving.

Not all the animals in your gardens are uninvited visitors. Down on the Allotment gives a round-up of some of the dogs who keep various garden bloggers company when they’re hard at work.

And still on the subject of dogs, what bulbs smell like a dog with severe problems of indigestion ? Find out at
Garden Detective

Finally today, for some stupendous photos of insect life in the garden, see these two posts from Moe at Iowa Voice :
Flower flies on spiderwort and an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail on a Buttonbush

That's all for now, but there'll be more tomorrow. Not surprisingly, a lot of you wrote about growing things. So tomorrow it's potatoes and the shipping forecast, purple cauliflowers, phallic fungi and much more!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

All Saints Day

Today is All Saints' Day, in Italy the day of the dead. It's the day that everyone visits the cemeteries to take flowers to the graves of relatives who have died. The flower of death here is the chrysanthemums (never give an Italian chrysanthemums as a present!) and by now the cemeteries will be awash with chrysanths of all shapes and sizes.

I have only in-laws to visit here, and they had mostly died before I knew them. I've lost my own parents and grandparents, and that leaves a sense of loss far beyond the two years it is "supposed" to take to get over a bereavement. But, however deep the loss, when older generations die there is a sense of naturalness and inevitability about it which is quite different to the shock of the death of someone younger. This afternoon I started thinking about two friends of mine who died when they were only in their early thirties, both of whom had changed my life in ways they probably never imagined. Their deaths hit me very, very hard. Tom, David - this post and these chrysanthemums are for you.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

A Daisy Chain

The flower which I found on the October page of my calendar came as a surprise - bellis perennis, or the common daisy. It's not a plant I would really associate with autumn, and even the calendar admits that April to August is the best time for collecting the leaves and flowers of the plant for medicinal uses. I suppose calendar compilers are a bit like bloggers - there ar some months when you just can't find anything current to write about ...

Daisies have been used medicinally since the ancient Assyrians, who used it to combat eye problems. It's most common use, in ointment form, has probably been to treat wounds and bruises - hence its common name Bruisewort. Other uses over the ages have included to cure ulcers, arthritis, rheumatism and liver complaints.

The calendar suggests using it for coughs, dry skin and eczema. For coughs make a tea by adding 250ml hot water one to two teaspoonfuls of leaves and flowers, leave it to stand for 10 minutes and then strain. You should drink it three times a day. For dry skin or eczema you can add it to your bath water. Mix up equal quantities of dried pansies (flowers and leaves, daisies (flowers and leaves) and calendula flowers. Steep 30 grams of the mixture in two litres of boiling water for 20 minutes. You then drain it and add the liquid to your bathwater.

There's a lot on the web about daisies - growing them, their medicinal uses throughout history, legends and sayings. They come up a lot in literature too. So here's my "daisy chain" of links....

Four sites discussing the cultivation of daisies; medicinal and other uses throughout history; sayings, legends and symbolism regarding daisies :

Plants for a future

My Garden

Flower and Garden Tips


Daisies in literature

Chaucer on daisies (scroll down)

Shakespeare on daisies

Wordsworth on daisies

Tennyson on daisies

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Gardener's Bloom Day

Tomorrow is GBD, but I know I'm going to be too busy to post. So here goes, five hours early.

My pride and joy this month are my asters. I've had this plant for about three years, but every September it gets hit by white mould, and I end up having to cut it back before it blooms. This year I sprayed preventively and it's given me the best display so far.

Also beautiful are these chrysanths, but I'm less proud of them as they were bought recently. My own seemed to have succumbed to something - the top leaves are still fine, but the majority have browned and died. A watering problem? A fungus? I'm not sure. They have a lot of buds, but the plants as a whole look tatty.

That's the autumn stuff, but we've had a really warm October this year - we were out in T-shirts today and it must have been around 80° at mid-day. So a lot of the summer annuals are still blooming happily. In particular, my white surfinia were really coming on - but as they trail over the balcony, they were badly damaged by a couple of days of monsonic rain which we had about ten days ago. The plumbago was also hit, but it's bounced back.

Everything else though is doing fine, with a lot of things blooming again for the second time. These little antirrhinums, unlike most of their friends, have escaped the caterpillar plague, as has the white alyssum. The purple alyssum was too badly hit to warrant a photo here, though.

The four o'clocks are still blooming, though I'm starting to collect the seeds as well. And I've put in some cyclamen and some pansies for the winter and spring. But I'll save them for future posts.

PS : I've now got a lot of links for the Garden Bloggers' Retro Carnival, and thank you to everyone who's sent them. There's still time if you haven't sent in a link yet. The carnival starts the first week of November.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Hooked on Succulents ...

First of all, thank you to everyone who has sent links for the Garden Bloggers' Retro Carnival. People have sent in some really nice posts, including some with stupendous photos. But don't worry if you're still thinking about it - there's time yet. Just leave me a comment with the link to the post you want to nominate.

The BBC seems to be hooked on succulents at the moment. Every time I go into their Science and nature news site there seems to be an article on some cactus bursting into flower. A couple of days ago I found
this feature about a Hoodia plant, which has flowered for the first time ever at the Eden Project. It's native to South Africa and has always been eaten by bushmen in the Kalahari desert to ward off hunger. Research is currently being done to see if it can be used to fight obesity - hopefully it's not the flowers which they need to use.

But at least at the Eden Project they don't have
the problem caused by an Agave Americana at the University of Wales in Bangor. If you have one yourself, don't plant it in your greenhouse ...

A friend of mine gave me the mother plant of the succulents in the picture (I've forgotten their name). These are cuttings I took a year or so ago. They've grown at a rate of knots, but they haven't flowered yet. Should I be worried?

Monday, October 01, 2007

Let's Have a Garden Bloggers Carnival!

About a month ago, in connection with my other blog, I received an invitation to participate in a "blog carnival". The idea is that bloggers who are writing on the same topic send a link to one of their posts to the carnival organiser, who then publishes them with a brief description of what the post contains.

I thought it was a great idea, and wondered if we could do the same for garden blogs. But given we've got Garden Voices which does the same thing every day (thank you GV!), there didn't seem much point.

Then about a week ago, I was looking for an old photo which I remembered posting last year, and came across a post which I'd completely forgotten writing but which, on rereading, seemed really good. And it occurred to me that we all must have posts sitting in our archives which deserve another outing.

So here's the idea - send me a link to a post you wrote some time ago, which by now everyone will have forgotten about, but which you think is worth re-reading - or which you'd like new readers to see. Use the comments box - I won't publish the messages but will collect up the links. Then, during November when life in the garden calms down (at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere), I'll publish a series of posts including all of them. We'll call it the Garden Bloggers' Retro Carnival. Just to get you in the mood, the photos on today's post are all from 2006 to early 2007 - spring, summer, autumn and winter.

Anyone's welcome to participate, so by all means pass the message on to other bloggers you're in contact with. And if you haven't been blogging long and don't have any old posts, don't worry. Send a link to a recent post and we'll have a newbies section.

If you'd like to see what a blog carnival looks like, have a look at this one which focuses on books and reading .

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