Monday 22 December 2008


I found a cool website showing how Stonehenge looks with the sun coming through it. And it's always fun to read about New Grange too. 

I also read Simon Barnes at the weekend talking about hearing owls from his bed and talking about the solstice as "the year's handbrake turn" which I'm afraid is my new favourite poetic description of this wonderful event...

Sending you all many paganish greetings, happiness, and wishing all your plants a wonderful growing season ahead. 

Emma xxx

Saturday 20 December 2008


After some Friday night shednagging we are delighted to be able to offer immediate response  shedbloggery from Vincent Square. Snow made out of felt, with real christmas greenery too. And no less than two santas one of whom I think was a girl. Or maybe an elf. These days, you never can tell. 

Friday 19 December 2008


Yes, even Strictly Homemade Gardeners' Worlds can sometimes fill column inches with boring celebrity/ornament-driven show reports!  So here are my photos from this week's show at Vincent Square for those feeling too peaky / living too far away to make it:

You may not know quite how much I enjoy it when a banned article makes it into an RHS show. I can't help it, I just love it when I see a gnome gracing a show stand. As a result, this sight made me beam with joy at this week's Winter wonderland at Vincent Square. (We were actually asked to vote for our favourite stand and I was about to write down Trevor Wood's incredibly tasteful, beautiful, evocative willow display, and then I revealed my inner cheap and nastiness and just went for the illegal gnomes/succulents instead.)

Here is Trevor "Gandalf" Wood's lovely mouse assistant. And look at those incredibly tasteful, beautiful teazels and catkins in the background though.... mmmm....

There were some other purely beautiful things on display, so don't worry if you prefer your taste "good", I'm not going to make you look at tons of pictures of gnomes. Like this gorgeous white amaryllis, "Christmas Gift":

and this fantastic green and burgundy striped 'skinny' amaryllis which looks more like a weird orchid to me, except for those long stamens, and the colours reminding me of species gladioli I saw this spring at Wisley:

I think this is the Wizard of Ye Botanic Nursery. He looks slightly harried. I think Snow White might have been hassling him a bit to be honest. 

A very pretty businesslady negotiating to corner the world market in Poinsettia futures ("Buy, buy!" she's yelling down the phone to Tokyo.)

Trehane Camellias had hung little glass ornaments in some of the camellias, so there were these jewelled colours, however the owner surpassed herself by adding this amazing emerald outfit. What a colour combination, i just loved it:

The rock upon which my blog is founded, Sir Joseph Swift: he is having a little chat to the reindeer who runs Pennard Plants about their rare veg seeds. (I bought a packet of cold-proof lettuce called "Winter Density" from them, it has a picture of a polar bear in a deckchair on the front.) 

My award for the best outfit: Mike Park, botanical and horticultural bookseller, with his terribly pretty sister.

And finally here's one more Richard and Sheena's brilliant Snow White and the seven dwarfs, with seven different kinds of cactus playing the dwarves. Strangely American.... Now can you see why I felt it was worth my vote????


The chocolatier has been on the phone as a new scientific study reveals that eating a chocolate truffle makes you want... to eat another one! 


However my favourite part of the findings is the bit where apparently, giving in to your desire for luxury chocolate can unleash your inner desires for other high-end goods like Louis Vuitton handbags. My, but chocolate is bad for you in so very many ways....


This was in the Telegraph last week, just in case you don't take that paper (ahem). A family from Yeovil in Somerset have spent five years growing two conifers together to make this giant Christmas pudding, which they've then sprayed with paint for the cream and added some plywood berries. 

Best of all, they are only called Mr and Mrs Holley!


I have already written elsewhere of my tender feelings for BA's new ad campaign. William sent me this a few days ago which just added to my sense of mirth. He made it specially, like. 

Wednesday 17 December 2008


This may be a bit of a mish-mash blog, perhaps because it's one o'clock in the morning! But as we approach the shortest day (much to my relief and that of my fellow S.A.D.-ers), my sleep patterns are now just nonsense.

One of my favourite poems in the entire language is John Donne's poem about St Lucie's Day, 13 December: the shortest day of the year in the old calendar. I just started looking some little things about St Lucy on Wikipedia, which is completely fascinating: a day very much still celebrated in Scandinavian countries with lots of little girls in white and candles, hence the picture.

But in fact Donne's poem is a bit more physical, earthly, even garden-ish, than these little girls might suggest. His "sap is sunk" and "life is shrunk", he says; "I am every dead thing". The world awaits renewal, Donne tells us, in the most fabulous seventeenth century poetry known to humanity. We are on the very brink of turning back towards the sun, he says, towards lust, sun and festival, from a dead, absent darkness. 

This wilder side of this time of year I found reflected in another Wikipedia article, entitled quite wonderfully "Wild Hunt". Had you ever heard of the Devil and his Dandy Dogs? Man, I really want to see them? (Or do I?)

(Most bizarrely of all, as we were nattering about Schoenberg earlier in the week, I just found out that there's a bit of his massive oratorio Gurrelieder that's based on a wild hunt. Cor, you never heard of something before and suddenly it's all over the place.)

Anyway I am going to go and try and calm my brain for sleep now, but check out Donne's beautiful poem when you have a quiet moment and a cup of tea. Tis the year's midnight, you know, and we now have only four days to go till the Solstice, which has a kind of wonder to it.

Monday 15 December 2008


I got really excited when i read this headline! Then I realised it just related to boring old Joe Biden, and not to our beloved Miss of Chippenham. 

On the other hand, the dog is nonetheless almost as cute as Yolanda's. Which is saying something. 

Friday 12 December 2008


Maybe it's all this talk of Christmas Carols but I felt a musical theme coming on when I thought about SHGW this week. I have (still) been singing "I'm a Lonely Pup in a Christmas Shop", no more so than when I belatedly caught onto America's newest internet viral craze, the Puppycam!

My illustration is from the award-winning Alex Ross's "The Rest is Noise", a history of twentieth century music. It's the fabulously austere Arnold Schoenberg doing a bit of watering in his garden in California, just after Schoenberg fled Nazi Germany. Which just goes to show. Well, I don't know quite what, but certainly, something. 


That dude with the beard is Jerry Garcia! The guiding light of the Grateful Dead. I couldn't find a photo of him actually gardening, but just listen to this snippet on Jerry's near-death experience, excerpted from Dennis McNally's fine 2002 social history of the band, "A Long Strange Trip", which sets a discussion of their work and music into a vivid consideration of the wider landscape of American culture at the time:

"The summer of 1986 was meltingly hot, especially in Washington DC. It was a standard-issue DC summer day, with the temperature over one hundred and the humidity nearly that high. Garcia was only outside his air-conditioned dressing room for three hours, but he was intensely dehydrated when he left the stage. He flew home the next day, July 8, and once there complained of thirst. 

He began to slip into a coma. 'I started feeling like the vegetable kingdom was speaking to me. It was communicating in comic dialect with iambic pentameter. So there were these Italian accents and German accents and it got to be this vast gabbling. Potatoes and radishes and trees were all speaking to me,' he said, laughing. 'It was really strange. It finally just reached hysteria and that's when I passed out.'

In a deep coma of initially unknown origin, he resisted the doctors' efforts to give him a CAT scan, so they injected him with liquid Valium. Unfortunately, he was allergic to it, and his heart stopped. The doctors zapped him back to life in a Code Blue response, and placed him on a respirator for forty-eight hours before he was able to breathe on his own."

The vegetable kingdom were speaking to him! Trust him to even have a more exciting coma than anyone else. 


Musicians and creative artists from all genres have been known throughout history for a more-than-average willingness to abuse the fruits of the garden in pursuit of what they call "higher seeing", and what we all call "seeing if you can get high". 

However recent news from China suggests this tradition is even older than hitherto suspected. 


When you saw the title of my post you may have imagined I was going to be talking about Mutt Lange, producer of Def Leppard's classic "Animal", or perhaps long-time collaborator of Metallica and "the Crue", Bob Rock. 

The truth is that I actually refer to a famous speech given by Metal's man of Iron, Joseph Stalin, during 1934. Here's a quick excerpt:

"We must cherish every capable and intelligent worker, we must cherish and cultivate him. People must be cultivated as tenderly and carefully as a gardener cultivates a favourite fruit tree. We must train, help to grow, offer prospects, promote at the proper time, transfer to to other work at the proper time when a man is not equal to his job, and not wait until he has finally come to grief."

That's what Koba really meant! He intended for people "not equal" to their jobs to be transferred! Retrained! Helped! Cherished like a favourite fruit tree!

Not murdered with ice picks! Honestly, I don't know how those guys got it so wrong. 

Monday 8 December 2008


Look I am someone who likes high art literature; but in downtime my favourite thing in the entire world is detective fiction. And detective TV programmes. So obviously I was very pleased when they decided to make a TV programme of Wallander. But honestly! It's rubbish! They get a super Shakespearean actor to play my best Scandinavian cop... It doesn't work! Wallander is Swedish! He doesn't look like Kenneth Branagh! To be honest, in my head he looks more like Ken Stott. Well, all the cops look like Ken Stott, don't they?

But also it's just a bad adaptation. I don't like it. It's beautifully shot, and of course Svenska is so gorgeous to look at. But to me the books give a strong sense of Swedish society, which the TV programme utterly fails to do. Anyway, a big thumbs down. but I'm still watching it on I-Player. I'm just not giving it my full attention....


(Billbergia vittata, Brazil)

If you are one of the regular devotees of Baklava you will know that I am one of Kew Gardens' massive team of volunteers, providing everything from weeding to (in my case) free guided tours to the general public. 

Every so often, we guides have to update what we know, so that we are right "on message"*. So today I spent the morning with a load of my colleagues in the Princess of Wales Conservatory, swotting up on bromeliads, orchids and carnivorous plants for the upcoming Tropical Extravaganza. 

(Neoregelia seideliana)

My findings: Everything just looks so lovely. And huge. And crazy. And colourful...

And lots of other bloggers have been saying how there's no colour in the garden at the moment... 
make your way to Kew Gardens ladies and gentlemen... 
you will not be disappointed...

(Another Bromeliad whose name I forgot to ask)

(Sarracenias: increasing popular with flower arrangers, and thus threatened in the wild)

(Masdevallia the weirdest looking orchid, showing off its three fused sepals)

(Arid landscape bromeliads, top walk, POW)

*Speak to the marketing department about this, not me. 

Thursday 4 December 2008


Yum yum yum. It's been a bumper week for nice garden print arriving. 

First Hortus, the wickedest gardening magazine there is. Then Garden History, the journal of the Garden History Society, and today the Hardy Plant Society seed list. 

It's a very staying-in time of year, and it's rather staying-weather as well, so it's very nice to have something good to read. 

I always find myself almost unable to read it because the paper's so creamy, the spine is so pristine; but I really enjoyed David Wheeler's musings on crocosmias and day-lilies; and Hugh Johnson's account of judging Bulb of the Year made me smile because I was there, championing the Camassia. (I didn't win though.) I also loved the sweet piece about hybrid teas and their fans, because they remind me of my childhood. 

I am going to be rude, though, about the "Eros toi Sofia" article, telling the history of a great Ukrainian garden. The garden bit was great. But after twenty pages I was slightly bored of Felix and Sophie, and utterly horrified to read at the end:  "Parts Two, Three and Four will appear over the next three issues." YAWN! I am tempted to ask for a refund...

Garden History
It smells soooo good. 

Three really interesting things in here this quarter:

Johnny Phibbs on "the viewpoint" in eighteenth century gardens. Love him, love his viewpoints

Anne Helmreich on Edwardian gardens for health. She wrote a really intriguing book a few years ago about English national identity and gardens; this is all about fresh air and boisterous exercise to keep body and mind in good shape. Very interesting. 

Scott Zona on the horticultural history of the date palm. Brilliant. And dates are very christmassy. 

Lastly then: 

HPS Seed list
Okay, here's the thing. If you aren't a member, you need to be a member. Firstly, it has the best magazine ever. Really really good. Not like the slightly random mags you get from the Fuchsia Soc et al. 


Come on fill in your application form right now
Let me give you some highlights:
  • six different species of Angelica, including gigas, taiwaniana, and ursina. 
  • five weird and tempting sounding Bupleurums
  • twenty different Dieramas (don't bother: they will take forever, but that's not the point)
  • A gazillion hardy geraniums
is your mouth watering yet? 

Only disappointing thing? Nine euphorbias, a bit weak, I thought. Never forget the euphorbias, my friends. Maybe I will have to send some of my seed in, next year. 

Wednesday 3 December 2008


Okay that's it, no more jokes about BBC weather online, now I just hate them. I checked their temps before I went to bed last night and the whole of London was a zero. NORMALLY this would mean that where I live (a little warm microclimate just the other side of the river from Kew Gardens) there was no hard frost. 

However when I woke up this morning all my echiums were frosted. Sigh. I know they can get through this kind of a punch because it's happened before, but honestly, I'm just infuriated with the website. 

I think I should have an air thermometer on the window really. But then the plants nearest the house haven't been touched by frost at all - a bottlebrush, a Euphorbia mellifera, so obviously the air nearest the house isn't freezing. 

So I would like to know - how do you know if frost is going to be hard, or just a dusting? What equipment do you use and trust? Or are you just out there on cold nights, sniffing the air and saying "Aha" like a Johnny Deppish sort of gardener-pirate? All tips gratefully received. 


As all top executives know, there's always someone in human resources keeping an eye on what you're up to: ticking the appropriate boxes, recommending large bonuses  (or, in my case, scribbling "has again been told not to sit down during shop opening hours" on my third formal warning).

The Executive Gardener was a little tardy delivering this weekend's promised newspaper review, which seems a bit lax given it's only the first week this feature has run. Mind you, "tired and emotional" we can all be, so we won't let that affect our assessment.  

After a brief skip through the Telegraph, the EG showed taste in tipping the executive (presumably) bowler hat to Helen "we are not worthy" Yemm and highlighting the M Wilson snaps (anybody got a copy they can send me they haven't used for mopping up cat pee?). 

I'm glad to hear that someone has written about Thrive but a bit annoyed I didn't get around to it sooner because a friend was going about it months and months ago and I'm an idiot. 

I love Carol Klein, so I don't mind if she recommends Annabelle. I'm not sure that the general gardening punter would know Annabelle off by heart just yet - I know that Pete Free was saying it's a plant that visitors to Lytes C often ask about... Surely there have to be some gardening columns that cater for the more general reader who doesn't know everything, and for whom nice simple stuff is where they want to be? 

The EG might like to note that at present s/he does not have to say goodbye to Cheeky Cleve, as he appears every week, Pavord-independent. I was inspired to look up the thing about ladybirds on the indy website. It's so cute! How come the EG didn't mention that? Cleve is so good he is like the St Francis of the allotments. 

And finally to Sunday's papers: I feel the EG doesn't really have to do any more now, surely that's enough for one week, poor thing is exhausted, have another glass of wine and why not just skip Sunday right out? 
Honestly, we realllllllyyyyy don't mind at all! Oh no, no particular reason....

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! 

Friday 31 October 2008


In more irrelevant news passing through the Baklava front desk this morning, some hedge-funded ladies reveal just how they balance up monetary concerns with deeper more long-lasting values like family. 

"She COPIED ME!": I seem to remember last having that argument with my sister, hmmm, when I was about seven. Luckily the American courts saw fit to try this case as a serious legal matter, rather than yelling "Well you can both go to your room until you sort this out, because I'm sick of both of you." 

Wednesday 29 October 2008


I know this isn't about gardening, but it's the best piece of scientific research I've read about ALL year! 

Tuesday 28 October 2008


Introducing Celebrity Samurai Guest Blogger, Frank Ronin

Why hello regular Baklava readers, I'm going to be standing in for a few days as Emma is a little bit too can't-be-arsed.

Sometimes I find myself standing, silent, in the garden, I do, saying to myself "Frank, what on earth is that swishing noise?". Turns out of course it's the sound of a samurai sword, gently, tumblingly, making its way through the artichoke patch. 

Gardeners often talk about their preference for certain tools, but I can assure you a samurai sword is like having Felcos, long-handled pruners and a Flymo rolled into one. There's simply no substitute. 

But it's not easy to learn to use the samurai sword in the garden. It's a subtle weapon, and must be used with great thought. Mastering it means applying yourself to the ultimate discipline: the way of the warrior. You must transcend your own limitations. Only then is the circle completed. 

I probably most of all recommend it this time of year for a spot of hacking back the yew hedge. This is a job which must be done, of course, as autumn presses ever onward. I can also use it skilfully to carve a suitable tulip-sized hole, then toss a bulb in from the clever Japanese-style storage on my back, obviating the need to bend down. 

And if anyone's gardening opinions ever really annoy me, I can just hack them to bits and bury them under a new patio or other outdoor seating area. Say, if someone were to repeatedly go on, and on, and on about how much they didn't understand why anyone read my column? Oopsidaisy, swish slash and there you go. 

Anyway I'll be back again soon with more of my winsome gardening thoughts. Ta-ra! 

Thursday 23 October 2008


Bit mournful here as my grandma's brother died in hospital overnight. He was 93, very jolly, and will be sadly missed. 

But here's one to cheer almost everyone up. Remember the pups? Yup this is the one my mum and my brother kept, in his latest portrait, by mon frère Joe T. 

He's called Cash after Johnny. They now have Cash and Bo, so my god she can start herself a Mississippi spaniel blues band in a minute. 

Tuesday 21 October 2008


Our much-beloved leader in bloggage, Sir James Alexander-Sinclair, has distinguished himself today by posting pictures of his first window box to the BBC GW site. I don't know why he would throw himself into the eye of the storm in this way as I am convinced he will now receive two hundred (at least) mean emails going on about his winter pansies. Well, I've definitely written one.

He also reveals his early love of  nasturtiums. In fact he's posted a whole set of his nasturtium photos to Flickr for us to peruse in more detail. Now not many people go on about nasturtiums, but I agree with the Hat: they are the best. Scorching colour and such beautiful leaves that mostly I don't even care when they get a bit soggy and don't flower. They go in my salads in summer, but even just post-prandially that orangey tang along the edge of a flowerbed will always make me happy. 

However my most important finding after ten minutes on James' Flickr is that I LOVE CORRUGATED IRON PAINTED WHITE. I just got emailed by a publisher today about a book about corrugated iron and I said I wasn't interested. WHAT AN IDIOT! IT'S AMAZING!

Put me down for ten sheets and a tin of quick dry primer, will you?

Friday 10 October 2008


As some of you may know, I don't have a cat of my own. But here, pleasant readers, is my tribute to my very special relationship with the cat who lives just next door to me:

My neighbour’s freaky cat
My neighbour’s freaky cat
He looks about a hundred years old
His coat is warm but his gaze is cold
My neighbour’s evil cat

My neighbour’s evil cat
My neighbour’s evil cat
His miaow sounds like an old man's spit
He can actually sh*t inside my bag of grit
My neighbour’s devious cat

My neighbour’s devious cat
My neighbour’s devious cat
He looks at you with an evil eye
He bullies other cats till they won’t go outside
My neighbour’s frigging cat

My neighbour's frigging cat
my neighbour's frigging cat
He likes to sit in the windowbox
I hope he gets mange or some other pox
my neighbour's top dog cat

My neighbour’s top dog cat
My neighbour’s top dog cat
he eats up birds and frogs and has fleas
he's very, very Siamese
My neighbour’s devious, freaky, evil, totally horrible cat.

i hope you enjoyed my contribution to Happy Mouffetard's special LAPCPADPOUB day

Wednesday 8 October 2008


So they fiiinnnnaaallllyyy fixed the broadband!

However circumstances being what they have been this week, it was hardly uppermost in my mind. My emails with other garden bloggers have not generally tended to concern financial matters, but in the last few days it's been difficult not to fret at least a bit to friends. 

Anyway, especially given la crise financière, I was sorting through my photos trying to find one that would make y'all smile. 

This is from the week I spent in France in mid-September. I meant to go to all the Niçoise gardens like La Mortola and was of course much too lazy. (Feel free to tell me I made a terrible mistake.) 

But we found this sign on an evening coastal walk around the Cap D'Antibes. And can I just say to the French, who had more Agaves in bloom than I've ever seen anywhere else: I do respect your coastal flora, I really do. 

We were also terribly, terribly nosy and had to have a quick peep over the wall at Roman Abramovich's. I don't know whether he was in or not, but what I can tell you: he has absolutely TO-DIE-FOR garden lighting. Really. 

For a moment in the spirit of James, I am listening to a lovely Bach cantata, number 93.