Friday, 30 November 2007

A Nice Green Leaf: French women don't wear fleeces


Sorry to sound like one of those drive-you-mad francaises, but British gardening outfits don't really do much for the figure, do they? It has occurred to me in the past that fleeces may have been invented by English men to drain English women of the last vestigial ounce of sex appeal, as a preventive measure against infidelity. And I have always avoided buying them. Like the plague. And by this I mean I panic and run home to stock up provisions and probably also Tamiflu if I even think I might have to try one on.

But now I finally have a fleece of my own, due to the verging-on-compulsory workwear I have to put on to volunteer a morning a week at Kew Gardens.

My god! Now I understand why ze English woman want to walk around making ze tit of herself.
Previously I thought all those mums standing outside the local primary school were simply participating in a project to look as unattractive as possible. But it's like the warmest thing I've ever put on! C'est chaud, hein? Et confortable, non? Plus it's made of such thick industrial navy blue synthetic fibres, zat ze Engleesh rain, ah, it's just a distant memory.

Anyway, basically, I haven't taken it off for about a week. But I bet French women have got some equivalent invention, but just more stylish, which they won't share with us. Someone out there spill the beans, why don't you? Post the link for the site where us fools can purchase sexy
French outfits for digging and pruning. Or maybe I've just finally got to the bottom of why they don't like gardening as much as we do.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

A Nice Green Leaf: We wish you a smelly Christmas

Icerinkv10100341_3By Emma Townshend

The lengths horticulturalists have to go to keep their gardens going…

You’d hope that we lived in a world where people visited the Eden Project or Kew Gardens because it was a good cause 'n all that. But over the winter, we have to be tempted out of our toasty little houses by promises of Santa, mince pies, dramatic evening openings, ice-skating, fondues, festive shopping, roast chestnuts, gingerbread making, Bedouin tents, the Salvation army, wreath making, pumpkin soup, angel choirs, kissing bowers, carolling Cornish choirs and lantern processions.

This winter there’s been another draw though – with not a whiff of Boots Christmas pot-pourri about it. Amorphophallus titanum has flowered this November in both Kew and Eden.

Why’s that exciting? Well because it’s the world’s stinkiest plant. (Unexpectedly, this is not just of interest to small boys.)



Pollen was taken from the Kew plant, which flowered first, to the Eden project to pollinate theirs.

And on the Kew website you can see timelapse footage of the 6ft flower spike opening. Though sadly not in smell-o-rama.

The only problem with the titan arum is that while you can gawp at
the flower for a good fortnight, it only actually smells really bad for
48 hours. I guess you could look at this either as a disadvantage or an
advantage, but it certainly leaves keen visitors only a small window of
opportunity to get down there and have a look. Otherwise, you'll just
have to make do with boring old Santa. Sigh.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

A Nice Green Leaf: Possible co-stranglers for Alan Titchmarsh required - enthusiasm more important than experience


I am not strong enough for real news on the weekend. I just read magazines on Sunday. I only get to the actual Sunday paper over Tuesday lunch. Somehow this seems to be the first point in a week where I can face all the bad news about global warming, the fall of the dollar and the pathetic wreck of Northern Rock.

Once I get through all the real news, though, I can always be deeply entertained by Hermione Eyre’s column. A few weeks ago she nicely described Alan Titchmarsh as currently “spreading across the TV schedules like Japanese knotweed”. Cutting back the BBC middle management is all very well, says Hermione, but while we’re there “can we also do something about Titchmarsh”?

I've always had a real problem with Alan Titchmarsh, especially since
Geoff Hamilton died suddenly of a heart attack in a charity bike race,
and Alan came back to present Gardeners' World. Feelings of irritation
started as, within weeks of taking over, AT urged us to plant seeds and
cuttings in peat-based compost. Geoff Hamilton was a one-man peat-bog
conservation campaign; it summed up Alan Titchmarsh as far as I was
concerned that he couldn’t even be bothered to preserve that little bit
of Geoff’s legacy.

On the other hand, I have dithered about whether to like Alan Titchmarsh
at times. I mean – what has he ever really done to hurt anybody? And
he’s so professional, and can verge on charming. Watching him calmly
talk his way through the complicated choreography of cameras at the
Chelsea Flower Show, as if he were just having a chat with his mum, I
was really impressed.

But Alan’s latest blatherings (re global warming) just make me fray beyond the point of no return.

“Now, I'm not one of those who believes Armageddon is on the way. It may be
something to do with my innate optimism, but I don't think I have my
head in the sand. Of course, we must do our bit to reduce carbon
dioxide emissions and control the number of gases we pump out into the
atmosphere, but our planet has warmed up before. There were warm
tropical periods between the Earth's many ice ages and mini-ice ages,
and they happened quite quickly. This is due, in part, to the fact that
the earth wobbles on its axis, and when it wobbles nearer the sun we
get warmer, when it wobbles away we get cooler. In short, climate
change is natural. The real news would be if our climatic conditions
remained static, but that wouldn't sell newspapers.”

Shouldn’t the man currently making his living telling us about “the natural
world” be taking a slightly more responsible position than this? I can
see that Alan Titchmarsh in private should be allowed to hold whatever
wacky opinions he likes. But he’s being paid by the licence payer to
talk about the beauty of Britain’s wild places and at the same time
contradicting (Oh it’s just Yorkshire commonsense) all scientific
consensus on the subject of looking after the planet.

The other day, he even went so far as to allege that nature would sort it all out in the end. 'We'll lose some, we'll gain others,' he says. ‘Wildlife is remarkably tenacious. Nature always copes.' Am I the only one who ends up wanting to strangle him?

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

A Nice Green Leaf: Grow Your Own Surfboard

UntitledBy Emma Townshend

In the past year there's been more discussion than I've ever seen before about how to produce sustainable surfboards. While most amateurs are happy to flump about in the sea on a bit of foamy plastic they get out of the attic once a year, more serious surfers break boards all the time, leaving a fairly unrecyclable mess behind. In 2005 the messiness was brought home when Clark Foam, which produced about 65% of the world's surfboard "blanks", closed down after California introduced stringent new environmental regulations.

Surfers who felt discomfort about all this (especially when they spend so much time going on about being against sewage) looked back into the history of the sport. When surfboards were first invented, those yucky resins weren't even a twinkle in Mr Clark's eye. The original surfboards were made from the wood of the local Hawaiian trees: depending on your status within society, you might end up with a board made of koa or the cutely-named wili-wili. Today, Paulownia is the favoured timber of choice, producing a wood a little bit like balsa - light and floaty - but with more strength.

The wooden boards produce a completely different ride, much lower in the water, and can be difficult to handle. So the Eden Project in Cornwall (possibly no surprise there) has taken on the challenge of devising a mass market option. The Eden Eco Surfboard is entirely made of plant materials, including balsa and hemp.

And if you'd like to check out the balsa tree in person, you can see one at Eden. Those who fancy growing their own Paulownia surfboard, on the other hand, should try tree-shop. But if you're really keen on the genuine wili-wili article, you might have to hurry - a parasitic wasp is causing big trouble for this Hawaiian tree.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

A Nice Green Leaf: Coughton Court Warwickshire

Coughton_court_01By Emma Townshend


Last Sunday I talked about a visit to Coughton Court - here are a

couple of the pics from the trip, to whet your appetite. Unfortunately now it's not open till spring. But make a mental note!

Monday, 5 November 2007

A Nice Green Leaf: Spring bulb planting

Emma_1_2By Emma Townshend

While writing the piece about cheering up your spring garden I went off to Hillier’s garden centre where they were offering a day of container planting. They provided free compost and planting advice, if you brought your own pots along and then paid for bulbs.

We spent ages choosing – in fact it would have been brainy to have decided a colour scheme in advance, really. But eventually went for quite tasteful whites (tulips) and also blue muscari and dwarf narcissi, with white hellebore plants in the pots to give a bit of winter colour and shape.

You build the pot up in layers. Bulbs can tolerate not being at exactly the right depth, and you need the layers to fit everything you want into the pot – for colour from January until May. Start with a layer of the biggest bulbs you have - probably hyacinths or tulips. Then add another layer, fitting in your plants at the right level.

Put the smallest bulbs in the very top layEmma_4_2
er, and don’t forget some
plant food for best performance. Very satisfying! Look out for similar
offers near you – we made all the mess at the nursery, not at home; and
didn’t haven’t to carry any bags of soil, as well as saving the cost of
the potting compost itself.