Thursday, 27 August 2009

Orchids in the garden! You can grow them too!

So, you love Orchids? You grow them indoors and give them to friends as gifts?

How about growing hardy Orchids in the garden?

Over the past decade or so orchids have become increasingly popular in the home, orchids including Phalenopsis, Dendrobium, Cymbidium, etc, are widely available in garden centres and supermarkets at very affordable prices. The topic of growing hardy orchids in the garden, however, is still somewhat something of an underused and new development.

As I have dicussed in previous posts: ‘Garden Treasure’ and ‘Cypripedium calceolus. The experiement’, I grow several species of hardy orchids that add so much interest to my small garden. I have also added another species, Bletilla striata ‘Alba’. I did not know that it was the white form until it flowered, however, I love it!
I picked up a few dormant rhizomes of what I thought were the purple flowering Bletilla striata at Gardener’s World Live this year. It is in full flower (just about to go over) at the moment and it really brings a lot of interest to the garden. They are planted next to my half barrel pond along with Epipactis gigantea and appear to be thriving. The bees and insects also adore them.
Bletilla striata originate from temperate areas of China and Japan and as a result they are classed as half-hardy here in the U.K. and can tolerate temperatures down to -7 degrees Celsius. They prefer a position in rich, moist soil and an aspectof semi to light shade. Due to my coastal location I will be leaving them in situ over winter topped with a generous mulch of home made compost, which should be enough to protect them. I find most of my tender plants survive with this generous "Compost Duvet". But I am yet to see if the Bletilla's survive and I promise to keep you updated.
So if you are considering adding that special touch to the garden that visitors are bound to question then why not try a hardy orchid or two?!
Do you grow any hardy orchids yourself? Do you have any tips? I would love to hear your stories!

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Call yourself a writer?

I recently interviewed the fabulous Emma of The Fluffius Muppetus blog and it appears that in turn she is getting her own back by linking me to a Meme. So here goes!

Which words do you use too much in your writing?

I would have to say that the word I use most in writing and in general when talking, commenting, etc, has to be 'Fabulous'. I did it above without realising, which pretty much sums up how much I use it. However, I am looking for alternatives as there are only so many Fab's you can fit in to one article! Suggestions are welcomed.

Which words do you consider overused in stuff you read?

Off the top of my head I can't think of any. There are a lot of words that have been done to death as a means of attracting more hits but I tend not to think about it.

What’s your favourite piece of writing by you?

I have to say that I like my first ever blog. I started writing the blog when recovering from a car crash. I had no idea what a blog was supposed to be but I knew I wanted to start one of my very own. I guess that was my starting point, as rough as it may be, and it also helped me to focus my energy in to something positive in a rather negative time.

What blog post do you wish you’d written?

That's a toughy. There are so many great posts out there that I couldn't possibly pick one.

Regrets, do you have a few? Is there anything you wish you hadn’t written?

I don't really have any regrets to be honest. Of course there will be things that you think could be improved but I always remind myself that I'm still learning and at that time what I produced was the best it could be.

My philosophy is to always look forward to what could be, not back to what was.

How has your writing made a difference?

I can only reflect on comments left on my blog. When someone says that they will try out a tip or technique and then write back to say it worked then I guess that is pretty much the biggest impact my blog has had. I think it has made a lot of people smell nice too (The Bath Bouquet)!

I hope that readers of my blog adopt some of my principles and philosophies towards gardening as I try to aim for sustainability, longevity and individuality. If that is achieved then I will be happy!

Name three favourite words

Fabulous (again), stunning and stonker.

…And three words you’re not so keen on

Bergenia, Cats, and Can't.

Do you have a writing mentor, role model or inspiration?

I don't really have role models or mentors. I tend to write as I think and although this sometimes comes across as raw and unrefined I think it conveys what I want to say.

I find inspiration from some unconventional places really. I read lots and I guess I derive inspiration from that along with everything else I see and do. I'm really not all that conventional.

What’s your writing ambition?

I didn't set out with an ambition in mind when I started the blog, however, I would love to be a regular contributor for a national magazine or newspaper, write a book, and continue to blog.

If I could make a living from writing I would be one very lucky and happy man!

Plug alert! List any work you would like to tell your readers about:

Well, if you follow me on Twitter (@ryansgarden) you will know that I am constantly plugging my articles and guest blogs (sorry), so I would say follow me there for plugs.

I also list all my guest blogs on the top right of my main blog page.

Tag time:

I hope to pass this meme onto…

James Alexander Sinclair, a fantastic blogger and great guy.

Kim and Victoria, always leaves fantastic comments on my blog!

Emma Townshend, a lovely lady and a great writer.

Billy Goodnick, my Twitter hand-over buddy, blogger, drummer, and gardener extraordinaire.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Guest Blog: The Guardian

I've written a piece for the Guardian Blog on my experience of Freecycle and how you too can use it to your advantage and the good of others.  You can read the full article by clicking on the screenshot above.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

An interview with Emma Cooper. Author of 'The Alternative Kitchen Garden an A-Z'

Emma Cooper's new book arrived on my door step a few weeks ago with a beautiful and profound message on the inside cover:

'To Ryan, Read it and reap! Emma x'

To be honest that was enough of a sign for me that this was quality stuff, but after a good read I soon realised it was an extremely good book.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Emma a few questions about her book and other ventures. All of which I've added below.

For those who have not read the book how would you describe it and what three words would you use to sum it?
'The Alternative Kitchen Garden: An A-Z' isn't a gardening manual. It's more like a conversation, following what I've learned about kitchen gardening over the last few years. A lot of gardening books are quite prescriptive, and give people the idea that if they don't follow the instructions nothing will grow – I have a much more experimental approach that encourages people just to try and see what happens. That's part of where the 'alternative' comes from; I also grow some unusual things, and try to garden in an environmentally friendly way.
Three words I would use to sum it up would be: friendly, inspiring, and fun.

What was your main motivation for writing the book?
I have been blogging about my garden for years now, and became a professional writer in 2007 – concentrating on kitchen gardening and environmental issues. A book seemed the next logical step in getting the message out that you can have fun in the garden and help the planet at the same time.

Mark Diacono wrote the foreword for your book. How did this partnership form?
In the book I mention how important the online gardening community has been to me. I have my blog, and my podcast, to communicate with other gardeners, but I also read lots of gardening blogs and find inspiration in them. Being part of the community brings me into contact with some fabulous people, and Mark is one of them. We have a shared interest in unusual crops (check out his Otter Farm blog) and the effect that Climate Change will have on gardens and food production, and that brought us together. He was so kind to agree to write the foreword, I am eternally grateful.

How long did it take to write the book? Has this been an idea of yours for a long time?
Writing the manuscript took me six months. The process of turning it into a book (editing, choosing the photos, layout, etc) took around another six months. Once I became a writer the thought of writing a book was always present, but it's very intimidating starting a project that involves so much work and time.

You chose to take an “A-Z” approach to the kitchen garden. How did you come up with this idea?
It actually just came to me. I wasn't really thinking of writing a book, but then I had the idea and the rest followed on from there. I wanted to do something different to the usual gardening book structure of following the seasons or grouping the various vegetable families together.

Out of all the A-Z sections which was the most difficult to write?
Q. There are so few gardening topics that begin with Q. I looked through all my gardening books (and I have a lot!) and mostly they just missed Q out completely, which was a luxury I didn't feel I had with an A-Z.

You obviously love the kitchen garden but which crop is your favourite and why?
Every plant has its merits (although for some you have to look hard to find them!) but I have a real soft spot for sweet peppers. They are very beautiful, with glossy green leaves and pretty white flowers, and watching the fruits grow and change colour is endlessly entertaining. You get to eat them at the end, which is a huge bonus, and they can live indoors on a sunny windowsill, so you don't even need a garden.

Are you currently growing any new, weird or wonderful crops?
Of course! This year I am growing quinoa (a grain crop) as part of a Garden Organic experiment, as well as oca, yacon and ulluco – all of those originate in South America. There's also Japanese wineberries and wonderberries, and samphire – which has to be watered with salt water. In the Grow Dome I have sweet potatoes and tomatillos.

On the subject of new crops, how are your Goji berries this year? Do you have any tips for growing this “super-food”?
My goji bushes have been a bit rampant this year, but so far they're not fruiting. I have been doing some research and I can prune them back hard before next season, which will encourage them to stay under control, but beyond that I have to consider them an ongoing experiment.

In the book you discuss that you caught the gardening bug when you started growing herbs. Which herbs would you recommend a beginner gardener start with?
Whichever ones you like to cook with. Most of the culinary herbs are very easy to grow. For perennials like rosemary, thyme, mint and oregano I would buy a small plant at the garden centre. Parsley, basil and coriander are easy to grow from seed, and if you use a lot then you can have as many plants as you need and save a fortune.

How much of an impact has the Grow Dome made on your garden? Is it practical? And how easy was the construction?
The Grow Dome makes it possible to grow plants that are – at best – marginal in our climate. Tomatoes love it, and this year's sweet potatoes look like they're doing well too. And it gives me somewhere to garden when the weather is nasty. But it's not a panacea – I'm lousy at remembering to water, so the Grow Dome can become a desert if I'm not careful.

You are an avid blogger. Do you find that this helped you to write the book? And did reading other blogs inspire you at all?
Absolutely. I would say there's no better training for a writer than keeping a blog. The discipline of updating it regularly is a real motivator and small chunks of writing are so much less intimidating than a big, blank sheet of paper. There are lots of blogs I find inspiring, and I mention some of them in the book, but the online world can be very volatile – blogs and bloggers come and go.

I noticed a sneaky Alstroemeria on the front cover of your book. Do you grow many ornamentals?
The Alstroemerias (well spotted, by the way!) actually came free when I ordered something edible. I considered giving them away, but then decided I would plant them, and they are beautiful. I have no issue with ornamental plants, I just think that there are plenty of plants that are useful and ornamental and I prefer to grow those.

What does the future hold for Emma Cooper?
Now that the book is finished and published, people keep asking me if I'm going to write another – but it is a huge commitment and not one I have made yet. I don't know what the future holds for me, but there are over 7000 plants listed in the PFAF (Plants for a Future) database of edible, medicinal and useful plants so there's plenty to keep me busy!

'An Alternative Kitchen Garden: an A to Z' is published by Permanent Publications and they also publish Permaculture Magazine, which Emma also writes for and which is full of great stuff if you're working towards a more sustainable lifestyle.
You can order the book directly from the Green Shopping Catalogue, or from your favourite bookseller. There's more information on the book, including links to reviews, on Emma's website.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

My latest guest blog: The Real Flower Company.

I was very excited to be asked to write for such a great company and I hope you enjoy the post.  You can read the full text by clicking the above screenshot.

You can leave comments at the bottom of the guest blog too!
This is the bouquet I received that inspired my post.  The scent and beauty of this bouquet cannot be conveyed through this blurry photo taken on my camera 'phone.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Guest Blog: The Real Flower Company

It was a great privilege to write for such a great company.  You can read the full article by clicking on the screenshot above.

Sunday, 2 August 2009

The Bath Bouquet

With the use of herbs and plants from your garden you can create a fantastic, aromatic and beneficial bath bouquet just as I have done. How? I’ll show you how!

Over the last week I’ve been suffering with a bout of flu and I really needed a pick me up (as well as a wash) so I thought I would have a nice relaxing bath with a twist. I wanted something more luxurious than a shower, something pampering and invigorating. Flu has really knocked my motivation along with my immune system and the idea was that this would help somehow.
I looked at several bath products but so many bath products were either full of “nasties” or were not really aimed at the male market. I then looked at various ‘Do It Yourself’ herbal bath recipes but I couldn’t really find anything that appealed to me. So, I walked around my garden and picked out herbs that I love with the particular qualities and scents I was looking for.

I picked a good sprig of Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla), some Chamomile (Matricaria recutita), a little bit of Thyme (Thymus vulgaris), a handful of Purple Sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Purparescens’) and Eucalyptus. Most herbs are safe to be used regularly but please check to see if any are known to have undesirable effects before use.

When added to the bath the scent was absolutely mind blowing. The whole house was filled with the symphony that was my bath bouquet. The Lemon Verbena and Eucalyptus really added a fresh, clean edge, while the other herbs helped to add depth and maturity to the mix. All this coupled with a good CD and the recipe was complete. Mission accomplished.
At the moment I smell pretty good and I'm thinking this will happen again pretty soon. Now, what herbs should I add to my collection?!

Have you tried using your garden herbs and plants in the bath? What are your favourites? I would love to hear your stories!

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