Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Oh my goodness ...

I am, as a close friend of mine would say, gobstruck. Now I know what they feel like on Oscar night. You know, they're sat there at their tables trying to look as if they're really enjoying themselves while someone a lot more famous jokes around and fumbles with the envelope. Smiles are fixed on with Bostik and they're all ready to applaud and make gracious comments when they lose. And then come the words And the winner is ... and suddenly they're up on the stage looking dazed and stuttering out something about being sure they'd lose and not having even thought about an acceptance speech.

No, I've never believed it either, but in this case it's true. When The Balcony Garden was nominated for Best Container Gardening Blog in the Blotanical awards, I looked at the competition and thought Well, you can forget about that then .... I knew three of the other blogs nominated well - Soliloquy, Flowergardengirl, and Plants are the Strangest People - and when I toddled over to have a look at the fourth - Garden Geek - the depression just deepened.

I was sure I knew the order we'd all come in. I'd even got this post mentally written out, congratulating the winner, talking about how chuffed I was even to get into the final five and thanking the people who did vote for me.

But that's where I don't have to change anything in the planned post. Because I was over the moon to think that enough people liked the BG enough to get me into the final five, and I do want to say a huge thank you to all of you who voted the blog into first place - OK, OK and even to those who just thought about voting for me, Mania.

Because, for all the categories, voting was enormously difficult. Time after time there were at least two blogs nominated which I thought were equally good. How do you choose ? I tied myself in knots trying to be fair, looking carefully at all the blogs in the categories I was voting for and mentally awarding points for all sorts of things to see who came out top. And I'm still not sure that I got it right.

As for the winners - well, all of them are obviously excellent blogs and well deserving. And in general, a blog which I thought missed out in one category won in another. But there are a few results which, personally, I found surprising - blogs which I thought would walk away with an award but "only" came third or fourth. "Only". It's a word which doesn't make sense given just how strong the competition was in many of the categories. And as I said, it was certainly true in mine. So if you've never come across any of the other four blogs which were nominated, do yourself a favour and go visit them. But only, of course, if you promise not to vote for them next year :)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Wow! I've been nominated ..

OK, well - I was going to ignore it. I mean play it cool and not make a big deal of it. But then I go into other sites and see they're all yelling VOTE FOR ME! Well, if the competition is going to be brash about it, then perhaps I should say something ...

I've been nominated for the 2009 Blotanical Awards, for the Best Container Gardening Blog. I don't know who nominated me but thank you, thank you, thank you. I honestly didn't expect it, and just making it into the top five makes me feel great, regardless of the final result. A big hug to all of you ...

But for those of you who haven't been here much before, and who aren't sure why I've been nominated - here are a couple of links to some of the posts that I've enjoyed writing the most. Decide for yourselves, and may the best container gardening blog win!

Growing Cotton on the Balcony

Tulips - The Second Year

Balcony Gardening - Or Just Exterior Decorating?

Form and Colour, Colour and Form

or, try this collection of posts with the label
Working on the Balcony

Best Container Gardening Blog is only one category though and there are a lot of others to vote for. In fact, I admit to being a bit bemused. There are 75 all together (mainly because each US state has its own) and in some categories I'd happily vote for any of the finalists. How do you choose ?

Voting is open for another couple of days (and not 285 as Stuart's delightfully idiosyncratic counter is telling us), so if you're a Blotanical member but have not yet cast your vote, do nip over to the site and have a look.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Skywatch Friday : Buzzard

While we were at Eraclea Mare, we went on a lot of long bike rides - through the fields, around the lagoon, and along the river path. On one of them I spotted a buzzard (buteo buteo) circling far overhead. It was a perfect day : bright blue skies with patches of fluffy cloud, and as he circled he passed from one to the other.

Buzzards are now common throughout Europe and also in various areas of Asia - there are estimated to be over 4m of them. Yet I don't think I'd ever seen a buzzard until a few years ago, when I started to notice them in North Germany. We go there each year for Christmas, and in the winter, when the trees are bare, they can often be seen as you drive down the motorways, perched on tree branches. But seen like that they're small, fleeting silhouettes. You can recognise them by their shape - the plump body and stubby tail (it is when they're perched) are giveaways - but there's no great satisfaction involved.

This time it was different. Despite the height at which the bird was flying, with the aid of my camera zoom it felt almost touchable. Definitely one of the highlights of the holiday.

Check out the other Skywatch Friday posts here. I had to wait a while this evening to find one worth recommending - but I did enjoy this one from Finland.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Hints of Autumn

Summer doesn't want to die this year. I came over to England with a case full of warm clothes, but I've not needed them. It's been warm and sunny. Not too hot - but warm enough to be out in a t-shirt. Perfect gardening weather

But we've reached the autumn equinox and from now on we're heading for winter, whatever the current temperatures are telling us. This is the time of the "transumanza" - when, in Italy, the flocks of sheep and cattle would traditionally be brought back from their summer pastures in the mountains to lower and milder climes. We may be lucky and ease in gently - tradition has it that the weather between the 21st and 23rd of September sets the pattern for the rest of the autumn - but it's time to get ready.

Even while we were at the sea earlier in the month, the clues were there. It still seemed like summer weather, but even when we arrived, the Virginia Creeper was telling a different story. And by the time we left, just over a week later, there was no way of pretending not to notice.

The squirrels in my garden know. They don't play any longer - all day they're back and forth, burying nuts. The warm weather hasn't fooled them. Hard times are coming.

The plants know too. Their blooms have given way to seed pods and berries.

And the trees know. It's already time to get the rake out.

Winter's on the way.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Bright Spots in the Garden

I've been back in England for a week, thinking that we might finally get the finishing touches put to the house and get it ready for letting again. But it seems that every time we do one thing, another ten problems arise - and rather than finish off decorating the bathroom this week, we've had to strip it down to the bricks and start again. So I'm going to be coming back and forth for most of the autumn ..

But if the house is still a disaster, the good weather this week has given me time to get on with the garden, and it is very gradually coming into shape. But despite the jungle that I found in July, it wasn't all doom and gloom, even at the start. There were a number of plants which hadn't completely succumbed to neglect and were bravely flowering on, against the odds. Like the roses which, despite being covered in black spot, continued to put out the odd flower.

Then there was the hebe bush. It was already past its best when I got back in mid-July, but you could still see how glorious it had been. The bush self-seeded several years ago, in another part of the garden where I didn't want it. I transferred it when it was a tiny little twig, not sure if it would take. It's now five foot high and four foot wide, and was covered in blooms, much to the delight of the local butterflies.

Another bush of about the same size was the fuchsia by the front gate. It's been there for as long as I remember - at least thirty years, possibly longer. It's not my favourite fuchsia variety, but what it lacks in the quality of the blooms, it certainly makes up for in quantity.

A number of plants had self-seeded in awkward places, but were doing the best they could. These sweet peas had grabbed hold of the conifer to support them ...

while the cracks in the paths had provided a home for the alyssum.

Add to that the hydrangeas which I've already posted about, and there was at least a bit of relief from the weeds. More colour was provided by the berries, which are now glorious - but I'm going to save that for another post.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Skywatch Friday : Sea and Sky

If you want to go surfing, the Adriatic coast is not the place to be. The wide flat sands mean the water is extremely shallow - in some places you can walk out for a good distance from the shore and still only be up to your knees. Put this together with the relatively enclosed geography of the sea, and if the weather is good you normally get millpond conditions.

The nine days we spent there were nearly all hot and sunny. But there was one day when the wind got up.

The area is famous for a wind known as the Bora, which blows about 40 days a year and affects both the North Italian and Croatian coasts. It's caused by an area of high pressure from the polar regions meeting warmer air from the Adriatic. It frequently gets up to over 120km an hour, and though nothing like that when we were there, was strong enough to force me off my bike.

The winds whipped up a few waves, and I was able to get these photos of the sea and the sky for Skywatch Friday. Enjoy.

If you want to see some other great photos contributed to Skywatch this week, check out this pic of the sky over a lake and mountains in Austria or this sunset over Annapurna. They make mine look feeble.

Dead Man's Lagoon

Have you ever fallen in love with a place at first sight? It happened to me last week. After we'd gone back to Italy, my son and I went back to Eraclea Mare for a week at the sea. We'd been there last year and loved it (see here), but what we didn't realise was that we'd missed the best bit.

Eraclea Mare is situated not far from Venice, along the north west Adriatic coast. You probably know that Venice itself is built on a lagoon, but in fact lagoon areas extend much further up the coast. There is one, for instance at
Caorle, where we used to spend our holidays until we discoved Eraclea, made famous by Hemingway who used to go duck shooting there.

Eraclea's lagoon is different. It's smaller - only two square kilometers, is (thankfully) a nature reserve, and until 1935 didn't exist at all.

La Laguna del Mort (Dead Man's Lagoon) was formed when the River Piave, which used to run parallel to the sea for a couple of kilometers, overflowed its right bank, flooded the strip of land between the river and the sea, and changed course overnight, reaching the sea a couple of kilometers further up. The land between the old mouth of the river (pic above) and the new (below) became a lagoon.

Why didn't we explore it last year? Firstly because we had the rest of the area to get to know, and secondly because I was aching too much after a morning on horseback to contemplate the bike riding or walking necessary to get there. This year all the work in the garden in London must have made me fitter - I managed to do both.

From the village you can either cycle through the fields to the far end of the lagoon, or walk along the paths which lead through the sand dunes and pinewoods which border the wetland area. We did both, several times, and in later posts I'll blog about the plants and the wildlife we saw there. But for now, just enjoy the landscape.

Why the name? Not sure. If the net is to be believed there was once a corpse in the lagoon which every so often would rise to the surface to frighten passersby. Hmm - none of the local people seemed to have heard of that one. They appeared to think the "death" referred to the death of the river (though I've translated the name as Dead Man's Lagoon, a more literal translation would be The Lagoon of the Dead One, so it's not impossible). That seems strange though, as the river didn't actually disappear. I'm keeping an open mind.

We were there at the end of the season, and on a cloudy day. We had the place almost to ourselves. The beach however is well-known for being a naturist beach and (again if the net is to be believed) a rather steamy one at that. Oh well, the beach is separated from the lagoon itself by sand dunes and I guess it's big enough for both naturists and naturalists. I for one shall be going back.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Skywatch Friday : Another London Sunset

Just one photo today, but I loved the layered effect of these clouds over South London at the end of August. The photo was taken at about 8.40 pm.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Oh, my poor balcony ...

Never, ever go away and leave your balcony to the mercy of husbands and plant sitters. Oh my poor pelargoniums, eaten alive by Geranium Bronze Butterfly larvae.

And oh my poor Hebe. Were you scorched to death or did they just forget to water you?

The red spider mite has taken its toll too. Oh my poor Jerusalem artichokes.

And my poor Philadelphus - well, it seems to have turned to paper.

I could go on. The grey-brown mould covered hump which was once a pot of thyme, the dry yellow stalks which I was hoping would produce a mouth-watering crop of tomatoes. I could publish the photos, but I think it would be too upsetting. And children might come in.

With only a few exceptions there's going to be nothing to do but rip everything out and start again. And even the exceptions may not survive as I'm going to be away again for the next few weeks - firstly at the sea for a few days with my son, and then back in England, where we didn't manage to finish doing everything that was necessary to the house, despite working frantically for five weeks. So the balcony is going to be dependent on my husband again - who swears the plants were still "mostly" alive when he came over to London and left them to our plant sitter in mid-August. We shall see ...

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