Wednesday, 30 December 2009

A Review of 2009

The past year has been one of many firsts and writing a blog was no exception.  

It all started with a bang, quite literally, when I crashed my car.  This meant that I could no longer get out in to the garden and as a result of utter boredom and a desperate need to escape intolerable pain Ryan's Garden Blog was born.  You can read the full post here.  It was my first attempt at blogging and although the start was unconventional, and slightly rough, it's development has been organic and extremely enjoyable.

Following on from the initial post 2009 has heralded discoveries of garden treasure, when I successfully grew several species of terrestrial Orchids, and  it also saw the start of my first orchid experiment.  I have attempted to grow on laboratory grown seedlings of Cypripedium calceolus, which is extremely rare in the UK and can only be found on one remaining wild site.

I conducted my first interview, launched my first competition and wrote my first blog series about my visit to Sydney, Australia.

The year has also revealed that on the odd occasion I can be quite creative.  I've made Welsh cakes and compost bins.  I've planted the office, and most recently I've had a go at wreath making.

I have found inspiration from far off lands including the fashion world, in particular the house of Vivienne Westwood, I have found objects at car boot sales which I have later used in the garden and I have utilised the great properties of herbs with the invention of my Bath Bouquet.

All in all the year has been a pretty good one with a wide and varied selection of articles written, much exciting news aired and many more projects agreed and in development.  Now all that is left to do is prepare for the new year, archive the old years posts and wish all my readers a prosperous and happy 2010.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow,
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

Taken from 'Ring Out, Wild Bells' by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, 1850

The main picture is of my faithful weed eating tortoise Trevor who I rescued on Christmas Eve last year from a market.  You will be pleased to know that they no longer sell tropical animals.  He is now a picture of health and is looking forward to a more comfortable year after a touch and go start.  The picture was taken with my new D-SLR.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

I've Frozen my Goldfish

Britain is in the cold grasp of Winter.  This statement is particularly apt at present as many areas have seen quite a bit of snowfall, every area it seems except for West Wales, and temperatures have plummeted in to the minus numbers.  Here on the beautiful coast the snowfall, pictured above, can only be compared to a light dusting of sugar on a Welsh Cake.

Despite our pitiful snowfall it does remain very chilly.  We have taken steps to protect our tender plants and our much loved favourite specimens.  My trio of Tree Ferns (Dicksonia antarctica) have been tucked in for Winter with handfuls of straw protecting their crowns.  The sherbet lemon scented Lemon Verbena (Aloysia triphylla), I couldn't have a bath without it, has been placed under cover as it is ever so delicate and worthy of molly coddling.  And the unidentified succulent which prompted much debate, Aeonium or Sedum?, has been brought in to the house.   

One result of the bitter cold is that the half barrel pond has frozen solid.  The layer of ice, which coats the surface of the pond, is probably around 2cm thick.  It's amazing then how the poor plants and goldfish survive this icy entombment.  The ever bomb proof Elodea crispa pops its head above the crystalised surface in an attempt to escape its claustrophobic catacomb but what about Carol and Geoff the goldfish?  Well, they're fine and of course they're not frozen they're just sleepy.

The secret to ensuring that your fishy friends get through the winter is quite simple really.  Firstly, in Autumn clear the pond of vegetation that is likely to rot down and affect water quality as it decays. Secondly, ensure you complete a partial water change at this time.  Thirdly, feed your fish appropriately.  A wheat-germ based food should be provided as water cools and be aware that fish stop feeding when water temperatures go below 7 degrees C.  Finally, and most importantly, it is essential that your pond does not freeze over completely as to allow natural gaseous exchange can go uninhibited.  

In my pond I always ensure that there is a ball floating on the surface of the pond, although there are many other ways of achieving the same goal.  This does two things.  The ball will bob about in the water stopping it from freezing by producing ripples.  In cooler periods it will also ensure that if the majority of the pond freezes a hole will remain in the ice.  If this does happen, or if you haven't taken such steps you can smash the ice and move, or add, the ball.  Then again you could add whatever item you want.  Many people use plastic ducks and this works just as well.

Winter is essential.  It provides many important functions and don't panic about plants and animals too much.  Most are programmed to survive the cold and many actually require it as dictated by their life cycles.  Winter is a month to observe, to plan and to see the bones of the garden.  Just remember that Spring is on the way and it will all begin again!

Friday, 18 December 2009

Pineapple Owl: Hot or Not?

'Pineapple Owl'

At the moment I am suffering with a bout of the dreaded lurgy, also known as 'Man Flu'.  The wood burner is lit, tea has been brewed and I will shortly be jumping in to a hot aromatic bath.  It's difficult to find a sense of humour when feeling ill but the creation above certainly made me giggle.

This wonder of cruise ship-esque sculpture was a buffet centrepiece and requires no further explanation.   In fact I cannot even fathom one.  I can only think that recent festivities have had some influence on the "artist".  Of course, I have used the word "festivities" in place of the word alcohol.  

In true Jane Perrone style, I want to ask you if the Pineapple Owl is Hot or Not?

Have you come across any food art?  Do you have any views on such creations? Or are you in fact a fruit artist?  I would love to hear from you.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Old Man's Beard found in my Christmas Centrepiece

You may have read about my recent trouble, not too dissimilar to self flagellation, when making a Holly Wreath and later the Arctic chill I endured when creating an Ivy Wreath for my Nan.   It appears that all of this frenzied and sometimes painful wreath making has turned me in to a crazed home decorator à la Kirsty Allsop.

When walking the dogs in a local park I came across another County Council masterpiece.   A different Council this time but one that operates the same policy on pruning it appears.  A large Yew had been felled and several other shrubs had also been heavily pruned.  In the style that you have become accustomed to I collected several sprigs of Yew, Holly, Skimmia, and a length of Old man's beard (Clematis vitalba).  These were bunched up and stuffed under my arm for the walk home.  I received some strange looks along the way, that's to be expected, but Christmas allows such scenes.  When I got home I arranged what I had collected, including some Pine cones, to create a rather nice table display (pictured above).  

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Return to Wreath Making: The Holly and (now) the Ivy.

Pictured above is my second attempt at wreath making.  It was a rushed and rough effort that saw me shaking in the Arctic cold of my Nan's (grandmother's) back garden, however, it was a much more pleasurable affair than the first attempt which resulted in my hands turning in to pin cushions.  On this occasion my hands only turned to ice.  For my first and highly painful attempt please click here.  

When out walking I came across masses of Ivy romping over a wall, as Ivy tends to enjoy, on a piece of unused land.  The area is a sad, derelict site which has not seen care for many a year.  I thought no one would object to me pruning a little vegetation from the messy and ugly landscape, actually I may have even improved it.

This Ivy wreath was made for my Nan, as promised, and she is going to add more decoration to it at a later time.  It appears that I am a purist when it comes to the art of crafting wreaths as I have used a single plant species again.   I love the two different coloured Ivies and the way the flowers sit like sparkling mini baubles.  I would be happy to leave the wreath as it is but I think a Poinsettia flower, or two, and some Holly will make an appearance if my Nan has anything to do with it. 

Again this wreath has been created for next to nothing and I urge you to give it a go if you haven't already.  A great craft project which can easily be given as gifts to friends and family who are sure to enjoy the sentiment and seasons greetings. 

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Wreath Making, Massacres and Electric Leaves

I have merely missed my deadline by one year.  That said I'm quite happy with the finished article.  I'm pleased with it not just because it looks good, but because it was practically cost free.  Around this time last year I decided that I would try to make my own wreaths.  I bought five wire frames from a floristry shop for under £2.00 ($3.25) and I intended to make a wreath for myself and another four as gifts for family members.  As with many great ideas this one was shelved.  Until now that is.

The desire to craft my own wreath was invoked once more when the Christmas period started to advance.  Images in glossy magazines, shops with wreath laden shelves and the ever nagging wire wreath frames above my kitchen cabinet all begged for me to find an ounce of motivation.  This appeared insufficient until I was forced to take action.  

Every day for the past year I have walked past a beautiful variegated Holly.   This specimen was at least eight foot high and stood out from its neighbours, all of whom had solid green leaves of various shades.  I write about these plants in the past tense as the County Council has decided to go ahead and massacre anything that stood above three foot in height.  Mighty shrubs have been brought down to ground level and the area now resembles a petrified forest as there are only stumps of what preceded the cull.  The resulting mass of unwanted foliage was piled in a corner, screened from public view, and left alone to compost.  Naturally I seized the opportunity to make good use of this material and my creative juices flowed once again.  Aided by two friends, and armed with my jute bag, I collected an ample quantity of the electric vegetation.

Once home I set about wiring the the stems to the frame.  This was done with little trouble, except for the damage inflicted as prickly Holly fought to turn my hands in to pin cushions, and for a first attempt I am extremely pleased with the outcome.  I chose to keep the wreath simple as I feel variegated leaves provide enough of a statement to warrant restraint on my behalf.  Also, as the wreath is to be placed on my black high gloss front door I felt there was enough contrast there.

I urge you to create your own wreath.  My wreath cost next to nothing and I'm sure you can do the same too.  Demonstrate your individuality, let those creative juices flow and take pride in your craft.  Next year I will be sure to replicate the process and only pray that the County Council take an equally harsh line on its annual pruning regime.

Have you made your own wreath?  Do you have any tips?  Or has this post inspired you?  Either way I'd love to hear your thoughts, stories and comments.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Borders, Books and Bargains

After a hard day at work I thought it only right to indulge in some hardcore shopping to relieve stress.  I'm not really all that stressed if truth be told but it was the only excuse I could create in my mind which would enable me to justify spending even more cash.  I managed to buy a great gift for my mother, some smaller stocking fillers and then my mind turned to wrapping paper.  This need led me to Borders bookstore and a rather sorry site.  As many of us already know Borders book shop has gone in to administration, another victim of the bitter chill that is the recession.  Borders has always been a favourite shop of mine. It also houses a Paperchase concession, a Starbucks and a Game store. 

On entering it became immediately obvious that everything had to go.  In the same vain as Woolworths, which recently sold its last pick'n'mix, prices have been slashed by an initial 20% and I assume this percentage is set to increase leading to incredible savings as we get closer to Christmas.  However, there was one discrepancy.  For no obvious reason certain genres had larger reductions, hence the reason I'm writing about this now,  and it's just our luck that the whole gardening section has a 50% off sale.  Most books had been taken from the shelves and none of my Christmas wish list could be seen.  I did however, manage to pick up a copy of Amy Stewart's 'Gilding the Lily' and Gabrielle Hatfield's 'Hatfield's Herbal: The Curious Stories of Britain's Wild Plants' (Both pictured above under my Christmas tree).  

On a recent trip to Australia I read Amy's latest book 'Wicked Plants: The Weed that Killed Lincoln's Mother & Other Botanical Atrocities' which I thoroughly enjoyed. The book is divided in to small chunks which makes it very accessible and easy to read when you have other things going on around you.  It is also jam packed with information that I have attempted to crystalise in the old memory bank.   The other book purchased, 'Hatfield's Herbal: The Curious Stories of Britain's Wild Plants', intrigued me and I could only find one small comment on Amazon from 'The Guardian': 'a wonderful celebration of the nation's flora ... the perfect companion for a walk in the country'.  Well that will do nicely. 

The plight of Borders is bittersweet.  It reminds us that the recession continues to loom and pluck victims from the commercial Savannah leaving us devoid of much loved stores.  It also opens up the opportunity for us to take advantage in a time of year when cash is strapped and gifts are bought in readiness for the holiday's.

Have you read either book?  Have you any particular views on Borders bookstore going in to administration? Or will you be taking advantage of it's plight?

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Ryan's Garden Christmas Competition: Did you win?

Thanks to all who entered the Christmas Competition.  It was interesting to see what trees topped your favourites list.  There was a lot of call for the ever so flashy and large artificial snowtime baltic spruce with led lights.  I think one Gardener in particular was getting a bit too excited at the prospect of winning one.  Of course I'm referring to the garden fashionista Martyn Cox who tells me that moustaches are in for the festive season.  You heard it first here!  Martyn's amazing moustache was photographed by the beautiful VP of Veg Plotting, recently nominated for 'Best Blog' at the GMGA's, who won a pair of Felco secateurs/snips in my last competition.   Reassuringly the demand for real trees (my preference) was well represented too.  I'm actually off out today to buy my tree and I think I will be going for the Noble Fir (Abies procera).  

Anyway, I digress.  All who entered in to the running were placed in to a vase, well their names were.  Physically placing all who entered the competition in to a vase would be a logistical nightmare, not too dissimilar to the nightmare female National Trust staff had in 'pee-gate' which I blogged about here.  I've gone off the boil again haven't I?  Back to the competition.  All entries were placed in to a vase, again it was too cold and wet to find a plant pot and this time a new and grumpy half asleep assistant was enlisted to select the winner.  The lucky 'Chosen One' is an anonymous entry, who later came forward in an email to tell me her name was Sarah, and she left this message:

"Hey Ryan, I was musing over the snowtime Himalayan before I decided it scarily resembled Wizbit and I'd be worried that I'd come downstairs one morning and find Paul Daniels making himself a cuppa... with that in mind, though I'd love a real tree (and plant it out after but I don't know where) I thought I'd save on digging one up and go artificial again. and so a 6ft snowtime Glenshee for me please. x"

Congratulations to Sarah.  Please can you email me your desired postal address and we can arrange delivery in time for Christmas!

Wait a minute!  Could this anonymous individual be of the Raven clan?  I doubt it very much but could you imagine my delight if Sarah Raven did indeed decorate an artificial tree that she won in a competition?  I would like to think that this would be possible.

And that concludes my 2009 competitions.  Yes, there were only two, however, the New Year will bring much cheer as there are many more exciting competitions in the pipeline.  So that you don't miss out on those please subscribe to posts by adding your email address in the 'Updates in your Inbox' box on the top right of this page.

Merry Christmas everyone and please keep reading for my festive blog series!

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