Friday, 28 October 2011

My Garden School - Fantastic New Online Resource!

I recently received an email from the team at My Garden School: they have just recently launched and wanted me to try one their online gardening courses (one of the perks of having a gardening blog!).

I haven't had time to participate in one of the courses yet due to moving house and starting a new job, but I looked at their site and what they have to offer. I have to say, it’s very original, very useful and it inspired me to write this post - it really is a fantstic online resource that will help budding gardeners everywhere!

Basically, My Garden School offers courses on various topic areas within gardening. Examples include anything from hen farming, growing flowers and building treehouses, to garden design and growing vegetables in your own garden – something I’m very passionate about!

What makes these courses so different is that they are the first and only place to online courses in gardening with acclaimed authors within the areas they are teaching. To name few tutors:

- Michael Marriott – the author of The English Roses.
- David Parfitt - author of Build Your Own Fantasy Treehouse.
- Alex Mitchell – journalist for the Daily Telegraph and author of The Edible Balcony.
- John Brookes – author of Room Outside: A New Approach to Garden Design.
- Francine Raymond – the author of The Big Book of Garden Hens.

The courses are for people at different levels of gardening experience and expertise: beginners, enthusiasts and advanced - so there's something for everyone.

I was looking through their list of courses and was happy to see that they have courses on vegetable gardening. The course which caught my eye was Edible Gardening Made Easy by Alex Mitchell. The course is 4 weeks long and covers quite a few fruits and vegetables that you can grow even if you have small garden or just a balcony in London.

Have a look through the courses and leave a comment to say which course you would choose – this is a fantastic new venture and one that will help all budding gardeners get ahead in their garden.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

London Gardens Visited: Kew Gardens

For those of us who reside in England's capital, exploring the 'great outdoors' is made very possible by the abundance of splendid public parks dotted around London. Those with a penchant for plants however, will find that their passions will be infinitely better served by a visit to London's globally-renowned Kew Gardens.

Within easy reach for Londoners and visitors to the capital alike, the historic Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew offers an authentic escape from the trappings of city life and the opportunity to marvel at trees, plants and flowers from all over the world.

This Sunday (26th June), I went to visit Kew Gardens for an afternoon of walking, talking and photography and wanted to share my experiences with my faithful readers!

The first thing that strikes you about Kew Gardens is its sheer size. I have been to Kew Gardens several times before and yet each time find myself discovering a new grove, garden or area. And of course, visiting at various times of the year provides an unending source of interest, as colours, flowers and plants ebb and flow with the seasons.

Today, I started by entering the gardens at the Lion Gate, which is closest to my house. I walked past the ever-impressive Pagoda, which can be seen from far away outside the gardens! I strolled up through the boiling afternoon to the Japanese Gateway, which always impresses me. I have always found Japanese gardens highly interesting, both visually and philosophically, and the glorious summer weather made the spectacle even more impressive, as I hope this photograph testifies:

My fiancé and I then walked up through the Woodland Glade until we came to the lake, which was veritably teeming with wildlife in the hot afternoon sun. Swans basked in the warmth, preening themselves along with their cygnets; geese pottered around nonchalantly and an army of dragonflies filled the air with a constant array of beautiful blue flashes, including the copulating couple seen below:

We proceeded along various paths, stopping to enjoy a much-needed orange drink and a refreshing ice-cream from one of the many cafes hidden away within the grounds. Further walking afforded us the opportunity to see many of Kew's glorious trees, the greens and golds looking truly spectacular against the backdrop of the bluest sky I've seen this year.

And of course, no visit to Kew is complete without visiting the truly iconic Palm House:

Built back between 1844-48 by Richard Turner, the Palm House has been internationally recognised as the world's most important surviving Victorian glass and steel building – an impressive feat indeed. If one can brave the heat and humidity inside, one will be rewarded with a wide range of tropical plants from all over the world, including the world's largest 'pot plant'!

There's no escaping the fact that Kew Gardens is both a beautiful place to visit and a site of extreme importance. For several hundreds of years, Londoners and botanists from all over the world have striven to make the gardens a centre of excellence in the field of plants and flowers. When one visits Kew, once can't help but be moved by the years and years of passion, skill and care that are evident in each and every one of the plants and trees.

For those of you resident in the capital, an annual season ticket costs £41 (£71 for a joint membership), which, at £3.41 per month, is less than a pint of your favourite ale! I would urge you, if you have never been to Kew, then go – it is a truly magical, timeless place that I hold dear in my heart and its memories will live with anyone who treads its hallowed turf.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Floral Fathers' Day!

Let’s face it; Fathers’ Day is very much like Christmas in the fact that dads everywhere expect a deluge of tired, unoriginal presents – cue copious quantities of socks, aftershave and slippers!

So with Fathers’ Day fast approaching in the UK, what inspiration can one fine in the garden, down on the allotment or even on the balcony? What seasonal shrubbery can create a unique Fathers’ day gift?

In the garden…

I remember growing primroses and bunching these up for my mum on Mothers’ Day – and for fathers, the garden provides a veritable wealth of goods. From roses and pot plants to some lovingly-grown vegetables, giving a gift that you’ve laboured over and grown yourself can be an excellent and thoughtful gift - the Asiatic Lilies photographed at the top of the page were grown on a balcony in Hackney - so you can do it to!

Flowers – not just for mums!

That’s right – there’s such a high percentage of male gardeners, yet many people consider flowers feminine – yet this is so far from the truth! Men appreciate flowers too, especially if they are avid gardeners. The shapes, forms, colours, architectural beauty – and there’s plenty of help on hand if your current gardening is lacking a certain oomph at present!

There are some amazing flowers to be had, just check out some of the florists in London for some examples. You could take a look at the other flower gifts available at Interflora, which has an excellent range of flowers and plants in stock especially for Fathers’ Day.

And finally…

And if you’re looking for a little extra to say a big thank you to you dad, you don't have to stop at flowers. Wine, sweet hampers, whiskey or luxury breakfast hampers – there’s a truly fantastic range of Fathers' Day gifts available to purchase online.

Happy present hunting – and Happy Fathers’ Day to all of the London Vegetable Garden’s dads!

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

The Allotment Goes to Bed...

I have clearly been guilty of far more procrastination than planting, since my records indicate my last post to the London Vegetable Garden was on October 11th! Although the winter months are barren, my barren blogging spell has in fact been down to a number of reasons: hectic periods at work and home, coupled with the fact that I had to give up the allotment in November.

Those of you who remember the move to the allotment in April will also remember that I was there under grace and favour. Two kind elderly women allowed me to use part of their huge allotment free of charge, since they were struggling to cope with such a vast plot. Continuing that sentiment, it transpired in November that they were going to reduce the size of their allotment to a piece they could manage, which obviously meant releasing half of it back to the council, through official channels. This, in turn, meant that my enjoyable holiday on the allotment had officially come to an end.

Whilst this was a blow, I always knew that I was enjoying a very lucky situation, as well as knowing my fiancé and I would be moving away from Richmond come the springtime. So in retrospect, what have I learned from 7 months out in the open, gardening and growing vegetables in an allotment? After all, a year ago, I was growing crops in pots on a balcony!


For me, one of the biggest learning curves was the sudden problem of pests and gardening in the exposed outdoors! My initial naivety saw baby seedlings quickly eaten up by pigeons; snails consume great swathes of lettuces; wind knock down runner bean poles. As much as one works 'with' nature when growing vegetables, one is also constantly battling it.


Despite claims that varieties of carrots can be grown in deep pots, I had no success on my balcony. This year, I discovered that carrots are also extremely difficult to cultivate in stony soil. Perhaps it was the variety I used; perhaps the location I planted them. But one thing's for certain – carrots are not good to me!


For me, working the soil was ultimately one of the most eye-opening experiences of having an allotment. The days of filling balcony-sized pots with bags of nicely sieved compost are long gone and hard physical work was needed to till the soil and make it hospitable for plants and seeds. Picking out stones, breaking up clods of dry earth – I'm sure many of you can sympathise.


I lived about 2 miles from my allotment and used to run up there. In the summer this is wonderful – finish work, run up to the allotment and potter about. However, it soon becomes a chore to plan trips of this distance, as well as logistically difficult if one needs to carry / things / take things / forgets things (I'm not a car driver)! I would say that being close to your allotment is vital for ease of access and motivation. The summer months are hectic and a few days without visiting results in a messy allotment and a lot of work.


I was lucky enough to regularly see some lovely chaps on the allotments around mine. Their experience and advice was greatly experienced – it's this passing down of knowledge that not only makes gardening such a social pastime, but also makes one think about the wider social picture. I learnt a lot of tips from these chaps, Colum especially, so allotments are a gold-mine of friendly and experienced people – make sure you pick their brains!


If you can be bothered to trawl through this blog's archives, you can see that I managed to produce lots of tomatoes, runner beans and lettuce leaves on my balcony. An allotment is a different ball game however. The room, space and depth of soil allows you to really plant things that will grow fantastically and at some stages in the summer, I was coming home with regular loads of booty. And this was only on a patch of a shared allotment – if carefully planned, a whole allotment really could feed a family fro several weeks.


There's no doubt that the placidity, calm and enjoyment from allotment gardening is immense. I plan to write a post soon entitled 'Why I Dig', explaining the various forms of enjoyment one gets through gardening. But it really is fantastically enjoyable, as well as rewarding.


It's been a wonderful experience and I know that 2011 holds even more exciting treats in store. There is a possible relocation up north to happen, which would involve looking at a house with a garden. The London Vegetable Garden will be on the move once again – and the name may have to be re-thought a little! But the determination to garden, grow and cultivate remains stronger than ever.



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