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Posts Tagged ‘SHARON HOCKENHULL’

It’s been long time I know. Months have passed without a whisper from me. Even the Tweets have been minimal. It has not been down to a lack of intent, goodness no. Or a lack of ideas of what to say. Instead, every second of my free time during the summer has been spent frantically working or being with my family. Time passes and some things just don’t seem to get done. It’s catch up time now and in an attempt to get back up-to-date with it all I’ve decided to do a sort of summer highlights of what I’ve been up to.

So much has happened. My attempt at growing vegetables in my new plot [found via Landshare] has kept me busy. I still pinch myself at how lucky I am to have access to this growing patch, it has been a tranquil place of escape for a few moments each day during watering/picking visits.

It has proved to be very productive despite the wet summer [but we always have wet summers here in Bolton]. I have loved the challenge of making sure we use all the produce from the plot [especially the gluts] and have bought very little veg from the shops. And it is true; everything just tastes so much better. I’m now looking forward to making the most of the plot during autumn/winter and have already set in motion an attempt to grow some veg for our massive family Christmas feast. I have rows of sprouts! Not the usual smooth green ones but the red and the pretty flower varieties. If I can catch all the Cabbage White caterpillars, then there will be hope.

I have also grown Sweetpeas at the plot. They we’re my choice of flowers for my wedding bouquet many moons ago and have since become rather special. They have been so easy to grow and have filled the house all summer, even now I’m bringing back small bunches. Inspired by all this Sweetpea picking, I’m now on a mission digging up a mini field to create a proper cutting garden. Fingers crossed, it will be something to write about at a later date.

IronMan UK [ridiculously long distance triathlon that has to be completed in no more than one second over 17 hours…or you don’t get the medal] has also been a major event for us this year. Not so much the actual IronMan D-day but the year and a half build-up of constant, full on training. I’ve now had a glimpse at what being a one parent family would be like; very, very hard work. The event itself was incredible [the mass swim awesome] and I rose to the challenge of chief cowbell ringer and ‘come on’ screamer. Yes, I was the dutiful IronWife spectator with IronKids and IronDog in tow. I loved it. It was one of those moments that puts your faith back into humanity, people’s strength of mind, body and spirit to get through the IronMan hell makes anything possible. Truly inspiring. My crazy IronMan husband crossed the finishing line in under 14 hours [he’ll be cringing once he’s found out he’s been mentioned here]. Very proud of him and all done for UNICEF.

I’ve also been finding inspiration from simply going on walkies with the dog. Ever since getting Ollie, two year’s ago now, my eyes have been opened to the flora in the fields nearby. I can’t help myself, I have a frenzy of picture taking, attempting to capture the delicate weaving mass of wildflowers and grasses.

It’s that en-mass presence that makes me swoon; similar to, but much more subtle than, the jaw-dropping prairie planting style I also love. My excitement at flora spotting in my local area was then taken to new heights when I was commissioned to do a piece on the Olympic Parkland. I had no idea what to expect and was bowled over when I visited. It is a parkland like no other and what strikes you is the way how the designers have worked in harmony with the natural, historic landscape of the area.

Instead of coming up with a randomly plucked spatial design and imposing it on the landscape, the concept has stripped the very industrialised site back to its original wetlands, reed beds, wet and dry woodlands and perennial wildflower meadows. Not a rose garden in sight. These wilder areas are cleverly blended into tamer areas of expansive spectator lawns and promenades; inspired by the Victorian and post-war pleasure gardens.

Bioswales [image above] and rain gardens are some of the features that help this blending; doubling up as a functional, innovative solution to excess run-off water.

Even the Great British garden has a contemporary, nature-inspired spin on the traditional with much more relaxed planting schemes [image above]. If you want to read more about the Olympic Parkland design, the article is still live and can be viewed here.

In terms of my gardening business, I have to be honest, this year has been a struggle. I had a devastatingly quiet winter, a barely survivable trickle of jobs through spring and a summer that’s just been crackers. I’m happy to be flat out with work now, but it’s been frustrating and I need to find balance. Plan A was to go back to graphic design [freelance] during the winter.  A sensible option but one that disheartened me; it would not give me professional development in the landscape industry. Instead, serendipity intercepted in the form of a heads up on a part-time experienced gardener position at a private residence 13 minutes drive from where I live. Walled vegetable and cutting garden. Herbaceous borders and heathland beds. Meadows, grassy wildflower bunds [man-made mounds from on-site excavations that are planted up] and areas in need of conservation. Native woodland. Possibilities of introducing prairie style plantings.

I got the job and I’m over the moon. I can now concentrate on developing one garden rather then hurtling down the motorways to spend a couple of hours here and there. Just think of the amount of diesel I’ll save. It has also focused my attentions on my garden design business, how it can be developed to attract clients that desire more nature-inspired and innovative spaces. I’m actually looking forward to the winter months now, with a sense of security, I can plan for next year…and peruse the vegetable seed catalogues.

Moving away from work, there is one more thing I just have to quickly mention… my chickens! They are such a highlight to our busy lives. Every day they put a smile on my face with their odd habits, little quirks and beautiful eggs. They are simple little pleasures, no trouble to look after and have become the soul of our garden…so thank you chickens. [I just need to re-think that planting.]

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Here we are hurtling through November, the October blues are over and I have my fairy lights pinned around the outside of my greenhouse. Everything is sparkly again. You would think that as an Autumn baby I would be happy at this time of the year. Instead it’s all gloomy as summer has slipped away at break neck speed and it’s dark outside. Oh, and I always get some weird virus and the snot monster attacks. C’est la vie but at least I know I’m not alone.

So sparkly lights and pots full of winter bedding plants have cheered me up. I still have loads of apples, some are being stored, some are destined for the chickens [yes I have fruit-loving poots too] and some will be used to make even more of River Cottage’s irresistible Bramley Lemon Curd. Fruitshare has been bigger than ever this year, thanks to Twitter and the lovely people out there that have supported it. But there is a long way to go yet before it becomes a truly successful initiative.

The Newsround feature didn’t come off. The move to Salford and a change of heart with the producer meant that the cameras didn’t roll. I was disappointed. I felt awful that I had lined up a small team of willing children and fruit sharing mums to have to call it all off. The idea was to follow a fruit sharing journey, where apples would be collected from the garden of one family and given to another. Then, the fruit seeking family would get stuck in, aprons on, scales out, to transform the free apples into lovely puddings and jams.

Well, as it happened, it was decided that the fruit sharing journey would be recorded anyway! Not quite by a camera crew but by my trusty old camera instead. Kim Carmyllie [Mum, baker of fabulous cakes, Cub leader and IT Manager] was [and is] my Fruitshare star from sunny old Bolton who was still up for doing a fruit sharing rendezvous. I had recently discovered an untouched crop of the most delicious apples too and desperately needed someone to pass them on to!

The meeting took place over half term so I could get the kids to help out. Our first mission was to pick the apples. The tree is in the midst of a construction site for a self-build project [potential client] so the picking became more of an adventure. Mud and diggers everywhere. The son was in his element. After sliding down an embankment of excavated soil…we all fell silent; spell bound. No, not with more construction machinery, we had disturbed a young Roe deer who had been hiding in nearby undergrowth. We watched for a while before it bounded off across the fields. Magic. I have to point out that this plot of land is surrounded by busy roads just on the outskirts of Bury!

On with the apple picking, nettle stinging and embankment sliding we went and filled all our baskets. I am not sure what variety of apple it is but they are good eaters [and cookers as we later found out]. The tree has a beautiful shape and the branches fall all the way down to the ground; I have never seen one like it. The area used to be a small orchard and this is one of two trees that remain. I hope they decide to plant more.

With kids prepped to be on their best behaviour, off to Kim’s kitchen we went with our bounty. You can tell Kim enjoys her baking; a kitchen table full of baking goodies; home-made jams; chutneys; an apple jelly in the making; cupboards crammed with flours, sugars and spices. What would we make? This important decision was left to the kids…apple cake followed by apple and ginger jam. We all got stuck in; weighing, mixing, peeling, beating, pouring, sprinkling and the inevitable spoon licking!


I’m not sure on the exact recipe Kim used but I have located one that is similar here [we didn’t add the toffee]. Once the cakes were poured into their cases the kids piled on an extra ingredient, demerara sugar, to give it a lovely sweet and crunchy crust. We popped them in the oven for around 40 minutes and boy those baking aromas were delicious!

Next, the apple and ginger jam. I have found a recipe, again similar to the one Kim used, on another blog here. Kim used stem ginger though and added in the syrup too. We chopped the apples and put them in a pan with the water and waited… and waited… and waited for them to turn into the pulpy texture we were expecting. The mystery apple seems to hold on to its texture when cooked…so a ‘chunky’ apple and ginger jam it was to be!

We were with Kim for a good few hours and enjoyed every minute; so a big thank you goes out to her 🙂 We even got to take home some jars of jam and one of the apple cakes…both utterly delicious!

The harvest season is practically over, although I know there will still be thousands of trees out there hanging on to their fruits. The Fruitshare website will have some new features added for next year and I’m hoping for bigger and better publicity too. No doubt I will keep you all posted. Thank you again to all those that have supported this very new initiative x

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You may have noticed my persistent Fruitshare.net plugging on Twitter has lapsed for a little while over the past week or so. Proper work [preparing borders for new planting] has been responsible for the mini break. But, despite the Twitter quietness, pretty incredible things have been developing for Fruitshare’s ‘spread the word’ campaign.

It began with an article about Fruitshare in my local newspaper the Bolton News, [thankfully the online version doesn’t have the cheesy photo]. The article miraculously instigated two further publicity leads, a stint on BBC Radio Manchester with Heather Stott and, the cherry on top…an email from CBBC’s Newsround producer to say they’d like to feature Fruitshare! Obviously I said ‘yeah’!

I’m now in the process of gathering some ideas… potential gardens, Fruitsharers and Fruitseekers that would be up for a bit of stardom. I think I have sussed the first two…but just need someone from around Bolton or Manchester, preferably with kids [age 6 to 12], with a bit of a passion for baking [or jam making or whatever] to be our featured Fruitseeker. I shall thus be approaching those already registered on the Fruitshare website to see if I can find that special star…filming will take place over the next couple of weeks.

I’m very much excited about this little bit of national coverage for Fruitshare and keep my fingers crossed that it might just, maybe, possibly lead to a little bit more…I need to keep that publicity ball rolling. This week I will be around in the office a bit more so will continue the Fruitshare.net tweeting. If you happen to spot one, please do continue to retweet…it all really helps.

The number of registrations on the Fruitshare website keep rising, especially on the ‘Fruit Wanted’ list. My next mission is to try and up the numbers on the ‘Fruit Available’ list. Any Fruitseekers reading this, if you know of anyone living nearby that has a fruit tree growing in their garden please let them know about Fruitshare. This poster could be used in local shops or even posted through letterboxes to help spread the word in your area.

I will keep you all posted on how the Newsround feature develops and who will be the Fruitseeker star!

Thanks all and happy fruitsharing x

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After a roller coaster RHS Tatton show, birthday/anniversary strewn summer holiday [one every week and consequently far too many cakes] and finally a peaceful week away in Cornwall, life is now getting back to a comfortable humdrum of a routine. The September version of the BL Magazine article is all about ornamental grasses, well, more like a pick of my absolute favourites… to be fair…

Ornamental grasses have become increasingly popular in recent years and I am one amongst the gardening fraternity that has also fallen hook, line and sinker for them. I think my love for them started with discovering the wispy fluffy plumes of Stipa tenuissima many moons ago. The slightest breeze will make them billow and sway, giving planting schemes movement and depth, especially when repeat planted.

Using grasses in perennial schemes is a style that was brought to the forefront of the planting design world by the Dutch plantsman Piet Oudolf. His planting schemes are jaw-droppingly sublime, magical and somehow manage to epitomise nature. This ‘naturalistic style’ of planting evolved through observing how grasses and perennials grew in the wild, concentrating on structure and the textural qualities of each plant. It is this link to nature that appeals to many [including me] and is probably the reason why grasses have become enormously popular today.

In true Piet Oudolf style, I will go though some classic ornamental grasses that have become my favourites to use in planting schemes by their structural form. Starting with transparent, and there are many in this category, is a form that tends to include the taller grasses that create a see-through screen. Molinia caerulea subsp. arundinacea ‘Transparent’ [ridiculously long Latin name I know] or commonly known as Purple Moor Grass has incredibly elegant feathery spikelets that will catch the slightest breeze. Their fine see-through flowering stems will reach around one meter in height and will contrast beautifully with bolder perennials. It will do well in most soil conditions as long as it is not too dry, will tolerate light shade but does best in full sun.

Stipa gigantea is another transparent grass but instead of a fine fizz of flowerheads this grass has golden oat-like flowers on huge arching stems; once established they can reach 2.5m in height. It is a lovely majestic grass, definitely for the back of a border and will add height and shimmer in the evening summer sunlight. One last transparent must-have grass is Deschampsia cespitosa Goldtau [pictured below]. Another elegant grass with finely textured flowerheads on long slender stems it will give your borders an extraordinarily magical, almost dreamlike quality. Plant as single specimens dotted amongst perennials for maximum sublime effect.

Grasses for foliage texture is another structural form and offers an important contrast to other plants. Carex comans ‘Frosted Curls’ [also pictured below] is a small evergreen grass with silvery leaves that curl at the tips. Its fine, wiry texture looks great next to broader leaf forms like Alchemilla mollis, even the purple sage in the picture, and gives you interest all year round. Also pictured here is another grass Molinia caerulea subsp. caerulea ‘Variegata’ [these Molinia’s like these long Latin names] which has unusual cream and pale green variegated leaves. This particular grass gives you the best of both worlds, textural leaf contrast as well as the transparent qualities from its purple flower spikelets, which reach around 0.6m high.

One last grass in this category is Hakonechloa macra [again pictured below]. I love this grass and first discovered it only a few years ago in a garden I went to visit [I think it was Dunham Massey, near Altrincham]. The specimen I saw was obviously very happy in its position and very mature as it was a substantial hummock of cascading fresh green leaves. If there is one grass that epitomises nature itself, lush green fields and meadows in the spring, it has to be this grass. On a recent garden design project my client wanted to reduce the maintenance of his garden [bad knee] and decided [begrudgingly] to dig up the lawn, in favour of a more practical patio area. I immediately told him about this grass and suggested we should surround the patio area with borders and plant them en masse with Hakonechloa macra. He went for the idea and now, a year on from planting up, reclining on that patio gives you the impression of a lush green field, albeit in the middle of a suburban garden.

The final category is plumes. This form is a soft, fluffy inflorescence that acts as a great companion to the more bold forms of plants. Astilbes and Filipendulas are classic perennial examples of plume flowers, but there are a couple of grasses that also fit the bill. Stipa tenuissima, which I mentioned at the beginning, creates a plume-like shape, great for softening and blending a planting scheme. Another plume grass is Calamagrostis brachytricha which has rather tall [up to 1.5m] fluffy flowerheads tinged silvery grey with a hint of purple. Use in the middle of a border to soften harder structural forms like Echinops ‘Taplow Blue’.

Ornamental grasses offer garden plantings a wealth of additional qualities that traditional plant types like perennials, roses and shrubs just cannot give. From majestic to magical, textural to just plain practical, there is one out there that will convert you; it’s just a matter of time.

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This month’s entry is not a rehash of the BL Magazine column but my chipping away at making the future more fruity!

The term ‘self-sustainability’ has been around for rather a long time and while I suspect many of us continue to aspire to be modern day Tom and Barbaras, the world we live in is still heavily reliant on mass production. We horde to the supermarket temples in our millions every week for the convenience shop, as well as the BOGOF bargains. I too am guilty. But, how do we really change our comfortable habits and move, en masse, to a more self-sustainable way of life? Our lifestyles will have to re-evolve at some point, not necessarily by converting our back gardens into mini productive farms like Tom and Barbara, but by finding simple ways of transforming our own outdoor spaces into more imaginative and resourceful places.

The article in  The Telegraph [07/03/11] regarding Prince Charles’ endorsement of how growing organic fruit and veg can save the world is not far from my harpings on about the benefits of growing and sharing fruit. ‘Gardener’s are key to saving the environment’ [he says] and even the smallest plot can ‘make a difference by sucking up carbon, providing food and creating habitat’. Gardeners are doing a very splendid job, they have been for a while, especially those who are wholeheartedly organic and have embraced growing-their-own. The problem is how do we get the busy non-gardeners to embrace this more sustainable grow-your-own activity?


Why do we need to change? The constant barrage of news articles on issues that are detrimental to our existence remind us on a daily basis. Here I mean issues like genetically modified crops; imported food and the associated food miles; depleting resources [like oil and peat products]; intensive farming regimes; and then there’s the big one…climate change; to even obesity and the nation’s unhealthy obsession with cheap and processed foods. Throw in the current economic downturn, rising living costs and the consequent penny pinching… it’s all very depressing.

Our gardens are hugely important spaces, yet a majority simply have no time for them. Front gardens are paved over for our precious cars, borders are left for weeds to flourish and larger areas are grassed for the apparent ease of maintenance; then the Flymos are dusted off for a quick skid over once a month. Then there are the bare-soil gardens with borders completely void of anything remotely green and lush. All this seems shamefully wasteful.

Maybe one answer to getting everyone involved in self-sustainability is to look back at the 1950’s ‘Dig for Victory’ campaign. With food supplies in short supply, people had no choice but to transform and cultivate their gardens into tiny productive plots. Roses were uprooted and our gardens became the trading life force of our communities; eggs, cabbages, potatoes, strawberries, tomatoes and whatever other home grown produce was bartered amongst neighbours. This was the ultimate in local food sustainability.

A more realistic approach for the non-gardening sustainable wannabes with little time would be… to grow fruit! You may laugh, guffaw and roll your eyes but it all makes sense. Fruit is very easy to grow, easier than growing, tending and protecting delicate vegetable seedlings, easier than maintaining a lawn [the proper way and not the aforementioned Flymo regime way]. Fruit is tough and comes in a range of very tolerant forms like perennials, canes, shrubs, climbers and trees. It is also very easy to add a few strawberry plants to a perennial border; replace an overgrown shrub with some raspberry canes; dig out the dead cordylines and plant a robust fruit tree or two instead; or brighten up a dreary corner with some bold leafy rhubarb.

Fruit is also very expensive to buy in the supermarkets…and the varieties grown for mass consumption are usually tasteless…and more often than not flown in from Europe or America. Growing fruit in your own back garden will save you money, will taste so much better and will generally produce such an abundance that you won’t have to worry about getting your five-a-day. The only downside is that buying fruit specimens will be more than the cost of a packet of seeds, but it is a one off purchase that will last many, many years [my father-in-law has a 40-year-old rhubarb that is still growing strong].

Fruit is also beautiful, can be very structural and is beneficial to insects by providing an abundant and rich source of nectar. Growing fruit puts us back in tune with our seasons, is brilliant for our children [they will gobble up a plate of fruit while turning their noses up at veg!] and is packed full of super healthy vitamins. Ok, growing fruit won’t make you entirely self-sufficient, but it’s a huge step in the right direction…and you never know where it will take you.

Prince Charles is right to say that the smallest of plot can ‘make a difference by sucking up carbon, providing food and creating habitat’… but to have significant impact we all need to get on-board and have a go at growing our own. For those of us that already do this, brilliant, a golden star all round [sorry influence of the five-year-old!]; the next challenge is to convert the masses!

Thankfully there are many out there that are trying to persuade more people to embrace a more sustainable life. Startuk.org [set up by The Prince’s Charities]; the Slow Food movement; Soil Association to smaller initiatives like incredible-edible-todmorden.co.uk and fruitshare.net are all trying to chip away at re-evolving the way we live.

To most the idea of being self-sustainable will be either a dream or an impossibility. But by taking a small step and simply growing more fruit in our gardens we are setting into motion a whole list of benefits that will help us to live a more sustainable life. We will re-connect with how and where our food comes from, grow to appreciate the seasons, eat and share more super fruits, educate our children, acquire new skills, refine our tastes for fresher and better food, reduce fruit miles, saves those pennies, we could even start bartering with our neighbours! We just need to find more ways to tantalise, persuade and nudge the non-gardeners to give it a go.

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