23 May 2010

I'm a recent fan of My Tiny Plot, a blog written by Gillian Carson.  She's written today about seed packet design, having received some beauties (if you like Liberty print fabric) in the post.  I've got to agree with her.  Most seed packets have become D-U-double L.  I recently wrote about the vintage designs mysteriously bequeathed to the Veg Patch and the changes wrought on seed packets in the Sixties, my gosh - fifty years ago!  I confess that I personally need a visual to make sure that what I'm about to grow is what I think it is but, really, beyond that there's very little to get excited about and I'm beginning to spot a Gap In The Market.

Seeds intended for children are made obvious by their 'Ronald McDonald' fast food colours and cartoon characters. Just a tad patronising, in my view.  How about some vintage Ladybird book-type illustrations instead?

There's also plenty of inspiration to be found in children's books; how about this one from illustrator Vivien French - as seen here in 'Oliver's Vegetables':

No prizes for guessing what would be found in that packet!

I've also been known to buy magazines for the free beautiful seed packet… oh, alright then, the mag was fab as well: Gardens Illustrated. They use the work of illustrator Hannah McVicar, daughter of Jekka-the-Herb-Lady, within the mag and also to adorn their free seeds:

Gorgeous or what?  Even Boden have got in on the act, in cahoots with Sarah Raven a couple of years ago:

Perhaps looking a bit dated now.

And, may I (ahem) modestly offer my own illustration of Agapanthus made for my seed gathering envelopes from one of my photos:

Yes? No? Maybe? On the other hand, maybe that one should be saved for fabric prints.  Might make a nice cushion cover?

Have you discovered any lovely seed packet designs or got any favourites lurking? I'd love to know!

14 May 2010

South to Kensington…

At last I have a day free, the weather is fine and dry, slightly breezy but not too chilly - and I haven't posted for a few days so forgive this quick pictorial catch up because I had such a lovely day yesterday… but I must get into the Patch and do some digging!

I had to go to Kensington and I treated myself to a leisurely walk back through the park (rather than rushing home on the underground).  So, up Kensington Church Street I went, passing the topiary in York Way:

Round past the palace… (er, yes, that is me in the 'Enchanted Palace' mirror, couldn't resist)

Kensington Palace is currently garbed up for the 'Enchanted' exhibition but my destination was not the buildings but the sunken garden, which is always a joy… (and free to look!)

Despite the overcast skies, the first glimpse of the garden was a riot of vibrant colour - squeeze your eyes together and you could almost believe you were in a Monet painting:

Moving over towards the South East corner, we have the purple/orange border:

Some cut ironwork art from illustrator-du-jour, Rob Ryan (hmm, coffee pots and keys?):

And we come to the Pepperpot Walk, leading to the palace café:

At York Rise, we are visited about once a month by a team of maintenance gardeners who insist on trimming the hedges and shrubs into cuboid shapes…  an action which meets with scorn and resistance every time.  Now if we could get them to grow into pepper pots

I'd planned to go on next to recce the Diana Memorial Playground (a short walk to the north, and still en route for home) but it was temporarily closed for maintenance (reopening Saturday).  Still, there was the very magical Elfin Oak to revisit, which I show here for the benefit of my little nieces who I hope will come to see this one day soon…

(Can you see the bunny?)
(The sleeping gate keeper with his giant key.)
Just in case anyone doesn't know about this tree, Ivor Innes was an illustrator, commissioned in 1928 to carve and paint fairies and elves into the tree stump.  The venerable stump is thought to be around 900 years old and was relocated from Richmond Park for this purpose.  Sadly, the Elfin Oak is now caged for its own preservation, which is a shame as it prevents the children getting in close to see the detail.  So here's just one more fairy photo:

(All photos can be seen larger size if you click on the image.)
I managed to get a few 'Peter-Pan-Playground' photos while circumnavigating the perimeter fence of the Princess Di playground but I'll leave you with just one - a tantalising glimpse of a Totem Tree Ent (I'll save the wigwams, crocodiles and pirate ships for my other blog):

Have a good weekend everyone.  I hope the weather stays good for us all!

Edited to add: if you want to find the Elfin Oak, or the Princess Di playground, the nearest tube station is Queensway on the Central Line. Exit the station and turn right down Queensway (street). Black Lion Gate is more or less opposite and, coming into the park from that direction, the playground entrance (just beyond the café) is about 100 metres on your right. For more information, with a link to a map, click here.

9 May 2010

Vintage seeds…

I have to confess to having been on a bit of a 'go-slow' in the Veg Patch this last week. The weather has not been so conducive to being outside (chill winds, drizzle and cold evenings) and this, combined with a painful shoulder (caused by 3 ribs out of alignment and bad posture at the computer, according to my osteopath friend), has led to me getting a bit behind. The next stage involves lugging bags of compost over to fill another raised bed and digging a trench in heavy soil before planting out my peas. This because, according to a little book I own, peas do extremely well if planted into a trench lined with rabbit/guinea pig straw and their droppings.  (What have I got to lose?)

However, it's not all gloom - in the days before it rained, I spotted a tiny package which had been left among the empty flowerpots.  Tucked into a biscuit wrapper from 2004 (love the repurposing!), over a dozen packets of (vintage) flower seeds.

I had to smile when I saw what it was as I'd been reading several blog accounts of seed packets being left unopened and unsowed beyond the sell-by date.  It would appear that the anonymous donor of my seeds had an unproductive year in 1984, although there is also a packet of Suttons Calendula from 1973 and Cornflowers from 1979!

The  Suttons and Fothergill's packets are no different to the ones found in garden centres today, although I suspect the wording may have changed - here it's delightfully old-fashioned: "This accommodating plant will flourish in the poorest soils, but does appreciate a sunny spot" is the charming advice for Calendula.

I have Nasturtium and Candytuft from Hurst Garden Pride ('A Riot of Bloom at Little Cost'), a firm which established in Essex in 1894 but had disappeared by 1999.  They held the royal warrant as seedsmen to H.M. the Queen and donations from seed sales went to The London Children's Flower Society.  

For pure nostalgia, though,  how about the Cottage Garden mix above and Night-Scented Stock, below, from Cuthbert?  The drawings evoke the kind of seed marketing used from 1930s until replaced by photos in the swinging sixties. (These days, though, as Carly Simon would sing: "Coming around again…")  Cuthbert have this to say of the seeds below: 'No garden is complete without a patch of Night Scented Stock.  It is a universal favourite.' Slightly bossy, but how to resist?

Cuthbert is another company now sadly lost to the nation after 200 years of trading.  James Cuthbert walked (as legend would have it) from Scotland to London in 1797, seeking his fortune and settling in Southgate - then just a village outside London, now the site of Southgate tube station.  If the logo seems familiar, it's because Cuthbert seeds were sold exclusively on the high-street through branches of Woolworths since 1937, back then costing tuppence a packet.  I like to think that some of the original York Rise gardeners might have used this brand - in fact, it's highly likely as there used to be a Woollies nearby in Kentish Town.  (Now, as with so many shops, a supermarket.)

So, the question remains - will the seeds still germinate after 35 years?  Heartened by news of a 2,000 year old palm tree seed germinating in Israel, I'm prepared to give it a go!

1 May 2010

The Secret Garden…

The word 'estate' (when used for city communities) has such hostile connotations these days that I hesitate to use it when describing where I live. I thought to redress the balance by showing you a little corner of the 'estate' at York Rise:

Opening the little iron gate and squeezing through an arch of leaves, you'll discover an enclosed garden, one of several for the tenants to enjoy.  It's what I see beneath my balcony windows.  Hidden on three sides: from the driveway by three London Plane trees thickly covered with ivy, from the paths by high hedges and lush planting, this is a tranquil space enjoyed by nesting blue tits and robins who make their presence known by singing throughout the day.  My friend and neighbour, Leigh, has ensured that this remains a lovely place to sit - if we're lucky, the sun streams in during the morning and, again, in the evening as it sets.

(Friendly Robin, looking for a meal as the compost is turned.)

30 Apr 2010

Carrot Stick

After the international excitement of the kids' drawings, thanks to Archie's mum,  (K- would you like  a job in PR for the blog?  Might help pay for your phone bill!)  I must at least show you the drawings in situ:

The purple stick was chosen (after a quick zoom round the gardens with a hair-raising display of light-sabre skills) (by Archie, not me) (although the idea is quite appealing) and knocked into place.  I held the hammer… you know, just in case.   And, lest you think that I've got my seed packets in a muddle, the carrot seeds were sprinkled in between the onions.  I'm testing to see if the smell will confuse the carrot fly.

So two celebrity tips there - stick idea a là Sarah Raven (as seen at Perch Hill); companion planting as mentioned by Alys Fowler in The Edible Garden (Wed, 8.00 p.m. BBC).

And for the blog's newest international fan, Archie digging holes with his mum's bulb planter (there's no curbing that boy's enthusiasm!):

27 Apr 2010

Veg Patch Kids!

I have to confess that, for a few years, I ran the after school Art Club when my son was at primary school.  My background is in illustration, design and crafting and yesterday evening I mentioned, briefly, to one of my friends that I'd quite like some drawn labels for my raised beds.

In no time, I had three eager faces ready for action and, fifteen minutes later, armed with crayons and home-made sketchbooks, I was sitting by the Veg Patch talking to the kids about what we were going to draw.  (This was completely impromptu, I'd meant to be sowing carrots!)  The kids were completely absorbed, asking questions and talking about the veg (and the colours!).  Even the youngest wild child, a boy aged just 7, sat calmly drawing and colouring and was the last to leave.  Not bad, huh?

Not only that but they then wanted to help me plant some more seeds, which we managed just before they were called in to their respective suppers. 

I was going to give you my (rave) review of 'Organic Gardening, the no dig way' today but have spent the morning scanning the drawings, laminating them and painting wood to attach them to in the Veg Patch.  Children place such importance on their work, I think it's vital that adults respond to this.  Thus, the drawings will be ready for the kids to put up in the Veg Patch when they return from school today.

As I have a wealth of craft ideas for kids in the garden, the other thing that I've started work on is another blog which I've called 'Veg Patch Kids'.  I'll let you know when it's up (gotta make it look snazzy first!)

23 Apr 2010

Companion(able) planting…

As a family, we're having a week of gardening: horticultural heaven for me (being outdoors in the Veg Patch), horticultural hell for my son who is doing pre-GCSE work experience with the Gardening Guru. There was a suggestion that he'd go to the Ecology Centre (at a nature reserve in Islington) and I fondly imagined that he'd learn about bio-diversity, planting schemes, local wildlife, sustainability and environmental engineering.  They even have a wind turbine there!  and an education centre!  Sounds great, huh?  The truth is somewhat different…  he's been digging holes and potting on plants in a public park for five days now.  For free.  In the heat.  Breathing the traffic fumes of the Holloway Road. He tells me he's never doing gardening ever again.  Which is a shame because it was the one thing that we did together, quite companionably.  (Seeing as I don't 'do' Xbox or football.)

My week, on the other hand, has been delightful.  Out in the sunshine, digging out ivy roots, preparing raised beds for planting, organising my seeds and what should go where, painting plant markers and sitting outdoors to eat my lunch. (Oh, and being passed bars of chocolate by the very lovely Myra to keep me going! Myra and her husband Fred overlook the Veg Patch from their balcony and have lived here in York Rise for many decades.)

And the cherry on the top of my Cupcake of Life? Rather excitingly, I've been sent three lovely gardening books to review by Green Books, a publishing company in Devon, more of which later.

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