Friday, 28 November 2008


Hurray! It's the end of Friday night GW as we know it, and consequently I saw fit to celebrate by arranging the return of everybody's* favourite substitute gardening feature. 

As some of you who are jolly well-organised may know, it's Stir Up Sunday time, and just the right moment to go to Waitrose and get in one of those special panicky rages when you realise someone else just took the last packet of Atora. Happy days. 

 Anyway, if you have actually managed to lay your hands on a packet, of which you will only ever utilise a tiny fraction leaving the rest to moulder on the kitchen shelf till this time next year, take note from their website that those with a surfeit of allotment spinach in '09 could try also rustling up a "green pudding". Sounds healthy. And disgusting. 

(On a sidenote, I never would have believed that a Frenchman invented suet - I thought it was one of those products you just couldn't buy there. We need Fat Rascal for testimony purposes here. Or maybe we could ask Olives and Artichokes, currently doing a very nice version of winter in the South of France.) 

And if you are actually hoping to pick some early manifestations of Christmas spirit I have to say my advice would be to head to Colleen's where she is cleaning out her recipe book cupboard, making cakes, walking along beaches and generally just being very seasonal. It makes me actually feel calmer just to read her blog. And stir up, everyone, richly bearing the fruit of good works!

*Um, well, one person. 


Why hello there, and top of the morning to ye. Samurai blogger Frank Ronin here again. 

In this particular warrior household, we have some special Christmas traditions I'd like to share with you. As you might know from my recent piece on the RHS I can get pretty angry on occasion. And of course, you'd be unwise to wind up a man who can slice a tree trunk into veneer in under forty-five seconds. That's why it's probably a fine idea to listen when I give you advice about what to get me for Christmas. I'm just not very good at hiding my anger, you know! 

So anyway what us samurai gardeners are after is not wilty old plants, but really, more tools: such as hatchets, slashing blades and that old trusty favourite the samurai sword. I have six different samurai swords and I love them all; you can see a picture of me posing with a couple of them at the top of this article. Although one of them did get lost a couple of winters ago and hasn't been seen since. (You'd think it would be pretty difficult to lose a samurai sword. But no! Actually I do wonder what that one got to. Haven't seen it since the Award-Winning James Alexander-Sinclair came round and started challenging me to a fencing competition. I wonder if he nicked it. He does look like the type.)

My advice if you want to see gleaming smiles coming from your very own samurai this Christmas, is to hold off on the novelty gardening trugs, and instead go for anything which can't legally be sold to the under-18s. (And I don't mean saucy videos! Or solvent-based glue actually, either.)

Yours now,



The Natural History Museum is going to have us celebrating Darwin year by pouring mustard down holes so we can count the number of earthworms that pop up to complain. 

Roll on March.


Normally when we hear people whingeing on about how they are 'hardline Brussels sceptics', what they mean is that they hate the European Union and its cheese-eating, marmalade-standardising ways. This time of year, though, all the sprout haters come out of their moaney bland-vegetables-only woodwork and start going on about how they can't stand this top-class brassica. 

Okay: firstly, you don't have to eat them! No one said you had to eat them! You're a grown-up now! You can just choose not to!

Secondly, what, are our great British vegetables too good for you? Would you rather be nibbling on flea-bitten pak choi? Or so-called "heritage" communist tomatoes? You rummy pinko, what did we fight the war for? 

Thirdly, that just means there's more for us! HA HA HA. And how can you resist when they look as good as Simon's?

Thanks now, 
Matthew Sproutleby


So Trebah Gardens, one of the coolest in Cornwall, just started clearing back some undergrowth and were amazed to find a whole jungley hillside they never knew about. 

They "discovered", according to the Telegraph, some "Chusan and Cordyline Palm Trees". 

Sorry, I'm going to have to stop you there. 

How did this get past the news desk? Why didn't the hardened journalists laugh their heads off and say, "sorry love, we've got literally millions of those in Chiswick"?

"It's like something out of a child's fiction," said the head gardener. Um, yes, you are correct, it does sound like something made-up by a five year old. 


Dear Reader,

After my successful tying up of all the loose ends in the Berryfields case  (Oh, did I forget to tell you? Chris Beardshaw did it) I find I am now commissioned with a new purpose. 

A new anonymous letter-writer has ventured amongst us in St Midsomer de Blogueville, this time using one of those new-fangled formats to deliver their missives. 

All around are people asking "Who is this is 'Executive Gardener' who doesn't dig and who doesn't even have a garden?". "Next you will be telling me," they say, "that this EG planted a load of alliums on their balcony last year and they never came up." 

I would never do such a thing. 

We possess only three true clues to this person's identity. I think all that stuff about the spade is, frankly, huffing and puffing. To my mind, I think we only need to know three things:

1) their favourite drink is a skinny latte
2) their favourite book is Rebecca
3) their favourite film is The Hours

That, my dear friends, is undoubtedly a girl. Only girls would qualify on all those counts at once. 

Unless of course it's a very clever man, saying all the things he knows a girl would say. Oh dear, oh dear, now I am a little confused. It does remind me of the time that the Butler at the Old Hall entered for the Tombola at the village fete. Of course, he didn't know that Mrs Jenkins was determined to win it. Oh dear, oh dear, what things can go on in little villages. 

Yours as ever, 

Miss Maple



My boyfriend William has thoughtfully forwarded the min/max temperatures as reported by the BBC website. I'm sure we are all, as usual, very grateful for the BBC weather website's always stunning attention to meteorological correctness. 
Have a nice weekend! 

Thursday, 27 November 2008


There is a great article about what owning a cow can do for your spiritual health in Slate this morning. Check it out. 

Monday, 24 November 2008


I have just experienced a profound insight into the human condition. I have realised that I am actually way too lazy to dig my entire allotment. 

You may say "that's not the spirit that built the Empire, where would be today if total layabouts like you were in charge, instead of hearty dig -for-Britain types like Joseph Swift Gor Bless 'im?". 

But that is incorrect. For it was of course specifically laziness that drove Bronze Age Person to invent the plough. That way, they'd have more time for chilling out watching shadows on the cave wall / telling stories about the good old hunter-gatherer days before they settled down to cave-dwelling life and became all middle-aged and boring. So in fact laziness is actually a virtue in terms of improving life for us all. If you just look at it my way. 

Anyway I've been looking on the internet to see what is the smallest possible creatures I could plough with. Obviously Clydesdales are out on the old allotment, but what about these Dexters, whose photo I just nicked from the Dexter Soc website? (Don't tell my auntie she is like the treasurer or something.) 

Or maybe teeeny weeny ponies

Thursday, 20 November 2008


Coming to you live and direct from the Garden Media Guild Awards in London this evening, we are delighted to report that James Alexander-Sinclair finally got an award to call his own after literally decades of complaining that he wasn't getting enough attention, after the Guild specially and secretly created a new "Digital Blog" award just for him.*

Well not quite just for him. But anyway. 

However celebrations soon turned to shenanigans as the identity of one of the other shortlisted blog came into question. Whilst Jane Perrone's Horticultural was rightly given plaudits for long service and entertaining debates on how to kill weeds with Coca-Cola, when the name "Gardeners World blog" flashed up in the arena to be applauded by literally thousands of exciteable blog fans, it soon became clear that no one actually knew WHICH Gardeners World blog they meant. 

Blog editors Camilla at one end of the room and Abbie at the other both primed themselves for a scuffle. And in fact we believe here at Baklava Shed that the award was in fact really intended for our very own Slightly Homemade Gardeners World. 

We have therefore demanded an immediate recount, as we suspect the judges of having fixed the results simply because our middle-class hoity-toity veg are too posh for them. We hypothesise that flea-bitten pak choi phobia may have led them to blacklist Slightly Homemade Gardeners World, thus stymying our chances of ever claiming our crown as the "true" Gardeners World website. We'll get them back though! We are going to take our revenge in the best way we know how: by just having really, really good punctuation.

*And they gave him £250 nicker!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008


Is it bad to be blogging about stuff that isn't much to do with gardening? Partly because in my case there hasn't actually been much gardening to do: those of you with large numbers of clematis to tidy etc may have been busy but I have just been enjoying a bit of a winter break and a chance to get stuck into some really concerted writing efforts. However even my idea of hard work looks paltry compared to the ridiculous work rate of one Johann Sebastian Bach.

For those who don't know, besides all the famous Passions and concertos that we love by Bach, the great man also wrote sets of church music for orchestra and choir called 'cantatas', one for each Sunday of the liturgical year. He set appropriate texts and wrote exquisite music. But here's the amazing thing: he didn't just do this once. He did it almost three times!

But when today I went to look for the right cantata for this weekend in the Lutheran calendar, I found something funny. Remember how early Easter was this year? And have you also noticed how many Sundays there are this November? Well basically in most liturgical years the church would only make it to 24th Sunday after Trinity before Advent would come around. Or perhaps 25th at a push. This year, though, we are on 26th! And next weekend will be 27th!

So obviously in most normal years you would never get to 26, let alone 27. So quite wisely, Bach only composed one set of cantatas for the 26th and 27th Sundays. He may have been a hard worker, but he wasn't going to go over the top. 

But for those interested, next weekend's is "Watch! Pray! Pray! Watch!" BWV70 (which has loads of trumpets and is lovely and Crimbley); and the 30th's is "Wake up, cries the watchman's voice", BWV 140. Waiting and watchful seems like a good description of what we have to be in the garden this time of year. So maybe my post was a little bit more to do with gardening than I thought.

Monday, 17 November 2008


"Wild Turkeys in Paradise"

Just down the slope from my own deck,
two apple trees I planted years ago,
now fully grown, stretch out their arms
as if they were enjoying the late warmth
of the November sun.
They bore so many apples that
I let them ripen unplucked on the branch
and fall, according to the rhythm of the year.
Such bounty piled up on the ground
the grazing deer could not
consume them as they rotted and turned brown,
and I could smell their pungency
when the wind blew from the east
until the first snow came and covered them.
Last Sunday, strutting stupid from the woods -- as if
no hunters stalked Vermont --
six turkeys gathered by the trees,
bobbing their jowly heads beneath the snow
to slurp the apple nectar, so fermented that
just twenty minutes later
they were reeling, and their eyes
blazed with amazing knowledge that transported them,
within their bodies, into paradise.
Despite their drunkness,
despite the ice that kept them shifting one foot
to the frozen next,
they kept their balance in a dance
of bumping lightly up against each other,
circling, brushing wings, and then --
as if their inner music paused --
they'd dip their heads back underneath the snow
and lift them up so high
their necks stretched out to twice their length
to let the trickling juice prolong their ecstacy.
And thus unfolds a moral tale:
To be plain stupid is
to be divinely blessed, and lacking that
transcendent gift, an animal as advanced as I
requires a holiday
to cultivate stupidity, to choose
one Sunday morning to know
nothing of ongoing hunger but
my body trembling in the sun,
drunk on itself, so that right here on earth,
right now, I tasted paradise --
as, so to speak, in talking turkey, I now do.
My pilgrim mind has taken flight
and then returned to join
my body stomping in the snow; and so
I raise a toast to say:
I give thanks in behalf of six dazed, drunken birds
that grace the icy view
beneath my apple trees today!

--Robert Pack

Saturday, 15 November 2008


cat n box

But this article about Obama's possible puppy choice restores your faith in humanity, no? Or check out this nice doggie cartoon from the Washington Post. 

Friday, 14 November 2008


My Dearest Americans,

I don't want to seem like a nag, but I am concerned that you are missing out on what could be your most rewarding gardening experience ever by failing to reply to our once-in-a-lifetime offer of lessons in English Gardening. So I've decided to send you Lesson One completely free of charge - yes - completely gratis - to show exactly what you will be missing.

With kind regards,

Most historians agree that English gardening was invented back in the middle ages by St Rosemary Verey of Cirencester. She is still worshipped at the site of her famous laburnum arch, said to be the site of many miracles and conversions.

However, as is so often the case, a breakaway contingent questioned the articles of faith put forward by Saint Rosemary, including the juxtaposition of bright blue and yellow, and the transubstantiation of alliums. Most particularly they put much greater emphasis on the meaningful presence in the garden of the tender tropicals, a heretical tendency which the mainstream thought had been happily stamped out since the Council of Tintinhull, 1948.

(breakaway turncoat rebel leader Christopher "naughty" Lloyd)

Eventually the breakaway contingent had enough adherents to form a substantial congregation in its own right. This event became known as the “Northiam Schism”.

Essay title for this week:
“In St Daniel Pearson’s work, we see the possibility of reconciliation between the schismatic tendencies for the first time since the dawn of horticulture.”
To what extent is it possible to agree with this tendentious statement?

Please post your notes, queries and essays here for further attention by the Dixter College faculty.

Thursday, 13 November 2008


Dixter College, Oxford, November 2008

Dear American/ Welsh reader

Being from the New World, you probably stand outside the horticultural paradise that is our green and pleasant land - this royal throne of Titchmarsh, this sceptred isle, this England - like a small child rubbing your greasy nose up against the window of a cake shop.

But do not fear, gentle reader: I am here to guide you through the alleys and byways of the English horticultural scene, providing you with all you need to understand the admittedly sometimes arcane language and customs of our gardening culture: enabling you in just six short weeks to graduate proudly from Dixter College, Oxford summa cum laude with the title Master Gardener UK (certificate, gown and sweatshirts now on sale from the university online shop).

Using the combined power of English gardening’s finest minds, we have devised a multi-media introduction for you across many blog platforms, utilising the latest RSS technology. For just $199 in five easy instalments, we can offer you a unique insight into the world of the English garden – making you the envy of all your friends!

Sign up now for your first lesson – and wishing you great success in your studies,

Dulcibella Ffforsten-Hyde
Dixter College, OXONIENSIS

Tuesday, 11 November 2008


Written by John Clare November 11th 1841.

Tis Martinmas from rig to rig
Ploughed fields and meadow lands are blea
In hedge and field each restless twig
Is dancing on the naked tree
Flags in the dykes are bleached and brown
Docks by its side are dry and dead
All but the ivy - boughs are brown
Upon each leaning dotterel's head

Crimsoned with awes the awthorns bend
O'er meadow - dykes and rising floods
The wild geese seek the reedy fen
And dark the storm comes o'er the woods
The crowds of lapwings load the air
With buzes of a thousand wings
There flocks of starnels too repair
When morning o'er the valley springs

Rig: ridge
blea: bleak
flags: reeds
dykes: ditches
docks: weeds(cf.burdocks)
dotterel: pollard tree
awes: hawes
awthorns: hawthorns
starnels: starlings.

Monday, 10 November 2008


So the season is upon once more, where we look mournfully through Sarah Raven's Christmas book and wish we'd started preparing earlier. The Narcissi Paperwhites remain in their bags comme toujours, and in what seems like a flash, it will be too late to order presents from anywhere except Amazon. Sigh, what a lovely time it is. 

I spent a few happy minutes the other day perusing what they were chucking out half price at B&Q, though, and came up with some fab ideas for credit-crunch-appropriate presents for all my gardening friends. (Don't you love it when journalists do this? Its like, you've just given away what you're buying your wife! Don't you think she or anyone she knows might read this paper?

Firstly I spotted these great little novelty Bills and Bens, that's for Arabella Sock, as I know how much she loves that kind of thing. Plus I'm sure she'll be able to put some funny faces on them and make an entertainment both beauteous and tasteful for all of us here in in blogoland. 

Next I was looking for something for Garden Monkey, and eventually I trumped even myself with this absolutely gorgeous Solar Fairy light. But it's not like some crappy old candle thing! It's a real light shaped like a fairy! Praying!* I think maybe American & Dutch readers of this blog should just stop reading now as I imagine they are probably feeling pretty jealous, and the feeling is only going to get worse as this featurette progresses. 

*it's also hand-painted! By Chinese orphans! 

The next relatively unique gift I was able to ferret from the depths of the B&Q gift bag is this fantastic Power Rock. I'm giving this to James, for he is the Rock upon which our blogsphere is founded. It looks just like a rock, but actually it's a plug socket into which you can plug all kinds of noise-making devices for the garden. (Perhaps a leaf-blower, hedge-trimmer, or even that natty i-phone James is always bragging about!) How much more could you actually want, nay receive, in a gift? 

There's two more special people who deserve a christmas gift from the Baklava. (Actually, there are three, because there's also Alex, but unfortunately shed-related gifts were at a surprising ebb during my visit and I'll have to get something for him another day.)

In the meantime, I bought this probably very ecological spaghnum moss for Britain's Greenest Horticultural Sexpot, Matthew Wilson : there you go Mateus, you don't have to have dull old plantings to be green...

and this for VP, because I've seen inside her car! 
(Er, casteth not the mote from the eye of your neighbour, etc. Ed.)

Well anyway, there we go, I think I've got all those presents pretty much sorted! Phew, now I can sit down with a nice mince pie and relax. 

Although I am still on the lookout for a) a little froggie sitting on a lily pad, fishing with a fishing rod, for Victoria's pond, and b) a lovely little calendar of probably something like "the Funny Things Dogs Say" for Yolanda. 

Thursday, 6 November 2008


I was intrigued to see that Garden Monkey had signed up to Sarah Salway's November writing program. There is marathon writing in the air during November with National Novel Writing Month now also under way, as well as NaBloPoMo which I think is about committing to blogging daily for a month. 

I have started NaNoWriMo three years in a row now and every year I just lose steam and stop. This year I am determined in a steely, Obama-type way, to get to the end. The purpose of the exercise is to get to 50,000 words, but I think secretly I'd happily just get to "The End", as in, something where the story reaches some sort of resolution. 

The two people I've tried to explain it to so far have both responded "So you write just like what, whatever? It doesn't have to be any good?" Yes, my friends, exactly. The purpose of the exercise is to get you to stop being so critical about your own writing and just get on with doing it. So far I'm doing okay. 

Anyway there we go. Another project sapping my good blogging energies, not to mention the common cold, the book proposals and the new asparagus beds. Sheeeeesshshh.

But listen - as I know there are a few readers of this blog who a) like writing and b) do sometimes maybe a teeny weeny bit put it off, you have to try a Berilliant discovery I have made from fellow NaNoWriMo-ers. It's Doctor Wicked's Writing Lab. If you stop writing for too long... it will punish you... Click here to see how...

Monday, 3 November 2008


After so many years of being pretty much a gardening guru to you all, I've decided to set down my idea of eleven ways that you can become a better gardener, so you can become like maybe a bit more like me. (This has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that mine and your favourite gardening work-out expert Bunny Guinness is in the Telegraph today telling us Twenty Ways to Be a Better Gardener. She copied me and I am in fact sueing her later.)

1. Don't leave the bulbs in the packet again.
I don't know how many times I have to tell you! Naughty, naughty.

2. Actually go and put all that garden waste on the compost heap.
Honestly, having a big pile of stagnating stuff in your kitchen is, apart from anything else, disgusting.

3. Go to other lovely gardens to see how they do it.
Remember to take the handbag-sized secateurs with you, though, ha ha.

4. When choosing a hedge, choose something really thorny so that the neighbours get eye injuries if they try to be nosy.
Serve them right, frankly.

5. If you see a big pile of honey fungus growing in your front garden, don't just leave it, dig it up there and then.
Rotten honey fungus is really yurck. It looks like the devil's nose mucus.

6. The Wisteria.
Look if I've told you once, I've told you a million times: it won't flower if you don't prune it. It's not rocket science!

7. If there's nature living in your garden, get rid of it!
Oooh, nasty, spiders give me the shivers. Pour some boiling water on it, I learnt that trick from my cousin who is president of Uzbehkistan.

8. If you don't have room in your potager for all the vegetables you want to grow, take over the garden of one of the staff.
This is a simple trick I learned from my aunt (god rest her soul). Simply write a letter giving the member of staff notice, and then within the month take over their garden, for increased vegetable-growing capacity without pain.

9. A lack of colour in the winter garden is easily remedied.
Send out a plant-collecting expedition to the Himalayas or China where they have many plants highly suitable to growing in English climates, but with lovely colours. And if you fund the expedition, you will have the commercial rights to exploit everything they discover!

10. Feeling cold? Do some star jumps!
It's easy to feel a bit chilly in the garden in winter, but there's no better cure for that than doing a few star jumps. As long as you make sure you have good posture before starting and warm up and cool-down properly. See my former close friend Bunny's book for details.

11. If you see weasels, shoot them.
That's what my father used to say anyway.

That's all for now. Bye!