Monday, 5 December 2011

December In Bloom

Agapanthus africanus
Ah, the sound of Christmas carols are merrily wafting around the shops and out of the radio at home. People are looking a bit frantic and clutching armfuls of brightly coloured wrapping paper and oodles of bags in Cambridge as they set about their quest for the perfect Christmas present; have to say, my little stall on Cambridge market is doing very good trade as everyone really likes the range of unique and different gardening and home items I have there. As well as every Wednesday and Thursday, I'm also doing Saturdays before Christmas (but not Christmas Eve), so do pop in and say hello if you are in town.
Helenium 'Sahin's Early'
Salvia 'Mainacht'
We may very well be getting into our 'deep and crisp and even' period, but as I walked around my garden last Friday (2nd December, the day before my birthday), blow me down with a feather - there's a lot of flowers blooming happily here! We've had a couple of frosts in this rural corner of Cambridgeshire but plants are standing up well to the weather and the battering winds (the joys of an exposed garden). I haven't even put winter bedding into my hanging baskets yet which are still looking dazzling, but slightly subdued, with trailing pelargoinums: the dahlias are now black in the borders so must lift them before any snow arrives, ensuring they dry out well and are stored in a place where the frost won't touch them. There's even a bit of autumn colour still clinging to almost bare branches from a couple of sheltered Acer griseum trees and a new Parrotia persica, which I put in about a month ago, is looking rather glorious. This large shrub/small tree is something I have coveted for some time and I was really pleased to track one down recently at Crocus.
Salvia 'Indigo'
Gaura lindheimeri
Blairi no. 2 rose
It will be interesting to see how the borders maintain, or not, their flowering as December progresses. I'll keep you posted!
Pelargoinums in pots

Friday, 18 November 2011

Christmas tree de-lights

An early Thursday morning start in Cambridge this week to set up my market stall in the city centre and I'm not the only early bird around. People on the delightful veg stalls on the market are already setting out tempting displays of lovely fresh fruit and vegetables, with many items sourced locally; there is a nose twitching waft of freshly baked bread from that stall, mingling with freshly cooked bacon from the market cafe. The pavements are being thoroughly cleaned outside the Guildhall which overlooks the historic market and as I begin to unload my gardening and home products for my own stall, the fish van from Lowestoft has just turned up with an amazing selection of fresh and smoked seafood, including Brancaster mussels and the best smoked kippers I've ever had - and it's not even seven o'clock yet!

But wait, there's someone else turning up in vans and ooh look, a big Christmas tree has appeared overnight next to the Guildhall! Excitement mounts as market traders get into a festive mood, looking up in glee as we set out our stalls, as we realise what the men in the vans are doing - putting the lights on the Christmas tree.

Now, this can be a tricky project, especially with a tree that big so if you find yourself wondering how the lights go on a large Christmas tree and you want to be as accomplished as the team from Cambridge City Council who put them on today, here is my easy eight point plan to follow:

1. Arrive early to get the best parking spot next to the tree and also helpful if shops are closed and no one is shopping

2. Lay the lights out and check all the bulbs are working, replacing any that are not before you put the lights on the tree

3. Starting at the bottom, wind the string of lights all the way around the tree. [This is obviously where I go wrong at home with a somewhat smaller tree, as I start putting the lights on at the top!]

4. Get lots of help to put the lights on, it's a big tree remember

5. For those tricky places where you can't reach the tree, stand on something solid and stable to position the lights. Don't forget to wear a hard hat and a dashing hi-viz jacket as this will not only make you look very important, it will keep the Health & Safety people happy, too

6. Then get someone else to do this on the other side of the tree

7. Or even do both sides together as it saves time

8. Make sure you get all the tree covered in lights, even the top bit

Et voila - sorted, one Christmas tree with lights!

The big switch on in Cambridge is this Sunday, 20th November, with apparently a 'packed programme of entertainement' expected on the day (according to the local media) in the market square: the Christmas tree will sparkle with its beautifully positioned lights when all the Christmas lights get switched on from the Guildhall at 4pm.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Market daze

Well, knuckles have been well and truly rapped as I haven't done a blog post since last November (or around seven months, if you want to be pedantic). 2011 is a year off show garden duties* for me which has meant I have had the chance to concentrate more on my business, my own garden and even my family. All are doing very nicely and benefiting from the vastly improved input into their well being. I could use the excuse that I had 'blogger's blackout' in my attempt to make amends for my blog absence, but I have in fact been rather busy.

As well as armfuls of exciting garden design projects, I started a new venture this year. Every Wednesday since February I have had a stall on Cambridge Market, a delightful and historic market in the centre of Cambridge within earshot of King's College Chapel and many other Cambridge specialities. My lovely little stall (ah, the joys of being a market trader - it deserves a blog post all to itself!) has an eclectic mix of rather nice gardening products like unusual trugs, plant labels, containers and gardening paraphernalia plus pretties for the home. There is also a range of vegetable plants, all grown from seed by my own fair hands. I've got an amazing selection of Franchi Seeds of Italy, about 30 different varieties at the last count with more being added to. Now I'm getting established, locals are making a bee-line for the seeds and only yesterday I had an Italian living in Cambridge come to the market specifically to see my stand and buy some Franchi seeds. He told me he'd just planted out that morning 94 tomato plants, 12 different varieties, and was looking for a particular Italian climbing bean and an unusual courgette and squash. With the help of the charming Paolo Arrigo from Franchi to identify the varieties, I have ordered the seeds in for the Italian gardener to pick up next week.

Vintage gardening and a few choice home items is another aspect of my market stall. I have great fun sourcing bygones from auction houses in East Anglia - old terracotta pots, gardening tools, old gardening books (love them!), old baskets and other bits and pieces, including ceramics with a tenuous link to horticulture like a floral patterned plates, or whatever. I've just got some lovely old wooden chitting trays from Norfolk which will not only make a good display prop but should also be tempting to passing trade, gardeners or not.

If the opportunity arises, which it quite often does, I like to have a good chat with customers about gardening and plants and advice is freely dished out. If you happen to be in Cambridge on a Wednesday, pop to the market and say hello!

* Although not participating in RHS shows this year, I am putting in an application for a show garden at Chelsea Flower Show next year. Interesting sponsor/subject matter...