Archives for August 2011

Kew at the British Museum

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Tim Entwistle Tim Entwistle | 07:00 UK time, Sunday, 28 August 2011

Imagine a country 30 times larger than the UK, with seven times as many different kinds of plants. A country with deserts, snow capped mountains, tropical rainforests and the tallest flowering plants on earth. Hang on, you don't need to imagine this country, it's Australia!

In the 1980s there was a comedy sketch show on the BBC's distant cousin, the ABC, called 'Australia You're Standing In It'. One of the regular skits had two university students philosophising with great ignorance about the world around them, ending each pronouncement with 'Amaaazing'.

RBG Kew Australian Landscape at The British Museum

RBG Kew Australian Landscape at The British Museum

In front of the British Museum, today, you can not only stand in a little bit of what we like to call Oz, but you can be truly amazed at its bizarre and beautiful flora. Over 80% of the 20,000 plants species native to Australia grow nowhere else in the world - well, other than outside the BM and in a garden or two.

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Garden news

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Sally Nex Sally Nex | 07:00 UK time, Saturday, 27 August 2011

In the news...

A call to arms this week from conservationists battling a ruthless alien invader: Himalayan balsam, currently choking the Norfolk Broads. A deceptively pretty Victorian introduction, it's now threatening timid little native plants like marsh lousewort (Pedicularis palustris).

The plant was already on the Environment Agency's hit list of the top ten threats to Britain's waterways, currently costing us £1.7 billion annually in flood damage, ruined riverbanks and devastated native wildlife. Volunteer foot soldiers can join the 'Broad Sweep' survey aimed at rooting out the enemy once and for all.

 A species rich meadow at Beech Estate, East Sussex

A species rich meadow at Beech Estate, East Sussex

On the side of the natives: the Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place in Sussex this week launched its UK Native Seed Hub. Over the next four years their store of native wildflower seeds will repopulate the UK's fragmented grasslands, over 98% of which have disappeared since the 1930s. First on the list are the Weald Meadows in West Sussex, adding dyer's greenweed (Genista tinctoria), flatweed (Hypochaeris radicata) and autumn hawkbit (Lontodon autumnalis) to a revitalised landscape.

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Foraging

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Alys Fowler Alys Fowler | 11:25 UK time, Wednesday, 24 August 2011

For more than two years now I’ve been working with wayside plants. Those plants that we don’t tend to take much notice of.

We don’t often think to give plants a narrative because we don’t often recognise them as important players. In fact some scientists have suggested that we have plant blindness that is we have an inability to see the green world around us.

Our media, education and zoochauvinism (all those cuddly toys as I child I guess) have socially constructed a world in which many of us can’t tell one green thing from another. A simple test of this is to ask a non-gardener how many plants they can differentiate between on the way to work. Sadly, most will come up with just trees and grass.

What I think we need is more stories, relevant stories, some old, but more importantly some new. The folklore tradition of foraging is often these days seen as written in stone but I wonder how relevant is to the next generation?

Mint at the Green Man Festival

Mint growing wildly at the Green Man Festival (Photo: Clare Savage)

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The weeds are having a tough time of it too

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Rowan Blaik Rowan Blaik | 07:00 UK time, Friday, 19 August 2011

Charles Darwin

Charles Robert Darwin (Photo: HO/AFP/Getty Images)

I was asked recently if gardening at Down House, Charles Darwin's home of 40 years, gave me a "more philosophical outlook on weeds". As strange as it sounds, some parts of the garden wouldn't be complete without them.

Darwin's 1857 'weed garden' or'seedling mortality' experiment as it is also known, was one of the many garden experiments he carried out at Down. In particular, it helped illustrate an important point in the third chapter of On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection.

In introducing the world to his theory of evolution by Natural Selection, Darwin had to demonstrate the pressures that plants are under, and how these pressures - a universal 'struggle for existence' - were an essential part of the ongoing process that eventually gave rise to the wide diversity of life on earth.

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The brilliance of a self-watering polytunnel

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Alys Fowler Alys Fowler | 13:30 UK time, Tuesday, 16 August 2011

My self-watering polytunnel doesn’t self-water. It doesn’t do it’s job because we have had NO RAIN FOR AGES (all that shouting? That’s just in case the rain gods are listening). So, I have to slurp buckets of water up and down path and pretend to be rain. Thankfully, the waterproof membrane bit of the polytunnel with its many holes works very well. It slowly let’s the water trickle out so that I can go away for a four or five days and, as long as I soaked the insides, all is well.

There are ripe tomatoes, papalo, chillies, peppers and to my great joy lots of carrots. I can’t remember sowing carrots but I clearly did and now there are lots and lots of chantenay carrots fattening up. It is not quite the summer I expected harvest wise, but it has had some lovely surprise.

The self-watering polytunnel has allowed me the one thing I wanted - weekends away camping. Last weekend I headed off to Wilderness (not the wilderness, instead a hedonistic festival in a very posh field). There was lake swimming and cedar wood hot tubs where, if you wanted, you could sit naked, whilst chamber orchestra played to you as you sipped champagne. And people did.

The Wilderness Spa

The Wilderness Spa (Photo: Clare Savage)

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Garden news

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Sally Nex Sally Nex | 07:00 UK time, Saturday, 13 August 2011

In the news...

It's been one big party at the nation's allotments this week – National Allotments Week is our annual chance to celebrate having a patch of land to grow your own. It's also a time for taking stock of this very British institution.

allotment

The latest allotment waiting list figures, compiled for the NSALG, aren't all gloom and doom: a mere 86,787 people are currently hoping for keys to the allotment gate, which at least is fewer than last year (around 100,000). That's still an average of 57 people waiting for every 100 plots. Read the full report here.

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Growing a giant pumpkin - part 2

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Toby Buckland Toby Buckland | 07:00 UK time, Thursday, 11 August 2011

Toby Buckland's giant pumpkin

Growing a giant pumpkin isn't for slackers. I've been kept very busy on my mission to beat my effort last summer - an 18 and a half stone squash which came a respectable 7th in a national pumpkin competition. You have to water every day and feed with a high-concentrate liquid tomato fertilizer at least three times a week to keep it putting on the pounds.

Even the flesh needs care otherwise it can be scarred by its own bristly stems and start bleeding precious sap which inevitably compromises the eventual size.

So when the gourd was about the size of a football I lifted it from the soil and sat it on a deep bed of straw and keep it topped up as she sprawls ever wider.

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The organic principles of good husbandry

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Jim McColl Jim McColl | 07:00 UK time, Sunday, 7 August 2011

Beechgrove presenters, L-R Lesley Watson, George Anderson, Carole Baxter, Jim McColl

Beechgrove presenters, L-R Lesley Watson, George Anderson, Carole Baxter, Jim McColl

The Beechgrove Garden programme on BBC One Scotland was first broadcast in 1978, changing site only once, in 1995/6 when we moved away from the BBC studios in the Rosemount area of Aberdeen to an old council tree nursery due west, 6 miles from the city centre. The area used is 1.5 acres in extent; on a sloping site facing S to SW. One part of the garden was terraced but the rest follows the contours of the site.

We film there on a weekly basis from late March until September highlighting the seasonal work to be done in a garden across the spectrum from intensive glasshouse veg production to fruit and the whole gamut of ornamental gardening styles.

I am often asked if the garden is organic and the answer is 'no'. However, it is run on the organic principles of good husbandry, as is my own garden but I would describe myself as a pragmatic gardener. I don't set myself impossible and embarrassing guidelines because in my mind, I have always been an organic gardener, doing what is best for the soil, the plants and us.

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Garden news

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Sally Nex Sally Nex | 07:00 UK time, Saturday, 6 August 2011

In the news...

It's not often we get to see a whole 18th-century landscape garden rise from the undergrowth and stretch its vistas to the horizon anew: but that's what's happened at Wrest Park, in Bedfordshire, which unveiled the first phase of its restoration this week.

The garden team in the Italian Garden at Wrest Park, Bedfordshire in the 1920s

The garden team in the Italian Garden at Wrest Park, Bedfordshire in the 1920s © English Heritage

The overhaul of the 90-acre, Grade I registered gardens - all but lost to neglect until a few years ago - is on a truly massive scale. With an overall price tag of nearly £4 million, the restoration aims to re-establish the garden as one of England's most important landscapes.

So far they've uncovered the work of such 18th-century luminaries as Capability Brown, Thomas Archer, William 'Rousham' Kent and Batty Langley, as well as an Italian garden laid out in Victorian times and an early 20th-century rose garden. And they're not even finished yet. Comparisons with the French palace of Versailles seem less overblown by the day.

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An unpredictable growing season

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Bob Flowerdew Bob Flowerdew | 07:00 UK time, Thursday, 4 August 2011

What a tough growing season. A long drought from winter through spring, killer frosts the start of May, deluges through June, and cold grey July. Seems all the wrong way round. Still, simply because our gardens have so many different plants, some perform better and some more poorly. Even a range of the same plant can show this.

beetroot

I can pat myself on the back for my brassicas. They've done exceptionally well.

Some years ago I was conducting trials of several dozens of tomatoes. About a third performed average, a third badly and a third really well. The next year gave roughly the same results - though each third was not composed of the same varieties.

Minor variations in conditions each year favoured or handicapped some sufficiently to change the results. If one grows but one variety doesn't  it’s hard to tell whether it’s your method, the variety or the year to blame or bless. With several treated the same you realise what a difference the variety makes.

Currently I’m growing onions from seed and set, although I had to water at first most look pretty good. But the difference between two sets from the same supplier is remarkable, Sturon are magnificent while Jet Set are pathetic, and these cost more. If I only grew Jet Set I’d consider I’d failed, if only Sturon I’d praise my skill. However I can pat myself on the back for my brassicas. They’ve done exceptionally well.

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