Wednesday, April 26, 2017

My First Floral Competition

I entered my first garden competition last week. 

I was given a small booklet to read a while ago from the Gardening Society in Derry who run a Spring Show every year. The show is mainly to highlight the natural beauty of daffodils but thankfully there were other categories, which for me was just as well as I don’t have any daffodils.

I do have a few tulips though so I thought why not?

There were certain stipulations to adhere to. The plants put into the show must have been grown by the entrant or looked after for at least three months before the show. No problems there as I haven’t bought a new plant of bulb for years.

There was a small admission of 30p for every entry but there was prize money to be won. The princely sum of £1, 80p and 50p were up for grabs for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places, exciting stuff I hear you say. And you would be right.

Preparations for the show took me three weeks and it included all of the things I have either grown or made over the last three years in my quieter moments. I collected up some old hypertufa pots from the garden which has been covered with moss. I then dug up a tiny fern and potted up some choice tulips that have been nurtured over the last few years and some homemade Japanese moss balls (Kokedama) were also put into the mix. Added to that I cleaned up my self-propagated air plants, wiped the dust off some old driftwood stands to fix the plants onto and I was all set for the show. I was really pleased with the finished items, one of which also included some old rusty letters and a piece of torn cloth.  

I took the entries in the evening before. I looked through the brochure at the categories but couldn’t really find any to fit my creations.  There were a lot of possibilities, ranging from loads of daffodil classes, miniature, double, colours but like I say, I had no daffs. Then there were craft sections and floral displays and a massive table of silver cups to win, I didn’t realise it was that serious!
There was a fantastic show of colour throughout the hall. Each immaculate, blemish free flower was put into a small tube vase for display. 

When I got to the admission desk I asked the group members if they could put my things into categories. It was a bit like turning up to a ski resort with a snowboard, they just didn’t know what to do with rusty letters and old moss, driftwood and concrete. 
The organizer was very kind to me and put my work in categories with little or no competition.
The following day was judging day. The judges had a free run of the exhibits before the public were allowed in later in the day (probably something to do with tampering and sabotage, I told you it was exciting stuff) By the time I go through the doors the judges decisions had been written on the small cards in front of the displays.

One of my pieces got put into the arts and crafts section where there was a lot of competition from patchwork quilts, felting, wood turned bowls and crochet clothing, so no prizes there for my rust and driftwood old cloth display.  

The other displays were different. 

Fern Category: For my fern display mounted in hypertufa I got 2nd place. There were two entrants for this.

Foliage Plant other than Fern Category: I got 1st and 2nd place. I was the only entrant in this category so it was a clean sweep with my air plants stuck on old roots and broken ceramic holder. I didn’t win a silver cup but that’ll give me something to aim for next year.
I’m playing my cards close to my chest for the next Spring Show but I can tell you this, two days after the event I was on a plane to Amsterdam and sifting through all of the fabulous bulbs in the flower markets to find something really special. It sounds a bit obsessive I know, but the weekend break away had been booked since the beginning of the year but I’m not telling the Gardening Society that. I want them to know there’s going to be a big shake up next year. Moss balls and rare bulbs at the ready.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Burning Bay Leaves

 Burning bay leaves

I’ve an overgrown bay tree (Lauris Nobilis) in the garden. Every week I take a few leaves off to throw into the spaghetti bolognaise but recently it’s getting a bit large for the area its growing in.
With a tree such as this I think it’s a waste to throw away the cut branches so I have been looking at alternative uses for the leaves.  They can easily be nipped off and then dried, which is something I will be doing straight away, but there are other uses.

For thousands of years bay wreaths were popular on doorways and adorning the heads of the educated. The word "laureate" in 'poet laureate' refers to the laurel wreath and Apollo wears a horseshoe shaped one in Greek Mythology. 

Bay Leaves
Going back just as far into history we also see that bay leaf burning in ceremonies was a popular pursuit.  Ancient temples routinely burned bay leaves to clear the space and heighten one’s intuitive powers. Now I must confess to burning the occasional incense stick in the room and even to wearing a dab of patchouli oil occasionally (it’s supposed to have a calming effect) so I thought maybe I could burn a few leaves in the house to see if there is any truth in all of the health claims. And there are a lot of health claims.

The Burning
Burning bay leaves are used in much the same way that sage sticks are wafted around in cleansing processes. 

Like all health claims we are told about every day which is mostly advertising and sales driven, it’s pretty hard to find any real facts. I can find a lot of articles on the ‘beneficial’ uses of bay leaves but very little research has been done on the burning of herbs in the house and if they pose a health hazard. So in this instance I have been asking around to see what people think. Not surprisingly I got mixed results.

Comments ranged from “All combustible items are carcinogenic (even burnt toast) so should be avoided at all cost” to a more liberal view of “I burn a leaf every day when no-one is in the room and I find the people in my house are a lot calmer and relaxed”.  I was even told that bay leaves in any form are toxic but that myth comes from a bit of confusion with Mountain Laurel (Kalmia Latifolia), which is related to bay but a lot different.

The Hype
If we believe the hype then burning bay leaves can relieve anxiety, give respiratory relief, help digestion, fatigue, tension, fight against cancer, diabetes, heart conditions, dandruff, kidney stones , insomnia and of course you can wish with the leaves too.  Burn the leaf and throw the ashes to the wind as you make a wish in much the same way you would with a dandelion seed head.

The Experiment
I left leaves to dry on the radiator for a few days and I am now ready for my experiment.
It’s recommended to burn the leaves in an ashtray but as I don’t have any to hand, one of the best dessert bowls from our dining collection will have to do. I have another 5 of them in the set of 6 so if anything goes wrong and it cracks then there's no great loss. 

I put a couple in the bowl and put the lighter flame to the end tip.  Within a second the leaf has burst into flames, crackled, glowed and gives off a plume of smoke.  I’m going to sit here for a few minutes to see if I get any calmer.

The Oil
The leaves burst into flames because if their high oil content. Bay leaf oil is widely used in essential oil preparations and seems to have different warnings about it compared to either burning or cooking with it. The oil contains eugenol, an antiseptic and may irritate the skin and mucus membranes. There are hundreds of health claims from using the essential oils but I won’t be extracting any of it from my leaves as it is a long process and I am not a chemist. So burning it will have to do for now.

The Conclusion
After 20 minutes, all I have managed to do is turn off the three smoke alarms that activated when the burning happened and removed most of the carbon and oil deposits from the ceramic bowl (apparently they were very expensive). There is still a faint, sweet smell of burning in the house.
At the moment then I can safely say I am not feeling any more relaxed. But give me a couple of weeks to get a new bowl and I will let you know. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Spring Growth Bark and Gravel - A One Stop Landscape Shop

Spring Growth Bark and Gravel

I’m busy dividing my chamomile and replanting it in raised beds this week.  I’m anticipating a lot of demand for the small plantlets this year as more and more people appear to be opting for something that bit different in the garden. I’ve found small areas suit chamomile better as the plants only have to come within a foot of a weed and they bow down and surrender. Invasive it’s not. 

For a square metre of chamomile lawn you’d need nearly 100 plants. Good for me selling them but not so good for the buyer. That’s why I stress to customers to be patient and plan ahead, that way only a few plants are needed and offshoots can be taken and potted on. After a couple of years the customers can then set up in direct competition to me. I’m not much of a business person but my best “Get Rich Quick Scheme” is the one I haven’t started yet, so I’d be happy going on to pastures new.

Bags of compost
I wanted a couple of bags of weed free compost to put the chamomile into so thought I’d pop into the bargain shops to see what they had to offer. The bit of sunshine we had last week must have started a mass panic for the stuff. The only shop with some was Lidl in Derry, which was just for ericaceous plants like rhododendrons; pity anyone sowing seeds into that. 

I remembered a great farm shop on the Springtown industrial estate and they had loads of really good local compost in 80 litre bags and it worked out cheaper than buying the discounted bags in the bargain shops. 

On coming out of the farm shop I noticed a new place selling gardening products. Through the railings I saw a very familiar face; it was Cyril Quinn who used to work for Buncrana Council and was jointly responsible for the fantastic floral shows the town has enjoyed over the years. I had to pop in and say hello.

It turns out Cyril has also moved to pastures new as well and set up his own business on the industrial estate. 

Spring Growth Bark and Gravel
His business is called Spring Growth Bark and Gravel and supplies all types of gardening and horticultural supplies. Cyril likes to keep things local too sourcing products from as near as he can to keep the carbon footprint to a minimum. 

As well as paving slabs of all shapes and sizes there are small concrete figures and plaques suitable for presents and gravesides. He also has some bedding plants, some really 10kg bags of “priced to sell” seaweed feed chicken manure and compost. I didn’t need compost but couldn’t resist buying some “barbed wire”plants (Tylecodon reticulatus) native to Australia and really drought tolerant. Cyril was thinking of putting them into hanging baskets as they will put up with neglect but as they grow upright don’t really work although they are looking very smart in my old enamel milk jugs in the garden. Cyril likes to experiment and it’s great to come across a bedding plant I have never seen before.

As well as bedding plants, there are hardy shrubs and Cyril will know better than most what grows well on our blustery coastline having worked on it for years.
Cyril has built large concrete bays and has a full range of loose gravel and stones on offer as well as different sized woodchip. If shovelling into a trailer isn’t your thing you can get them bagged up too and it works out so much cheaper.  

I particularly like the large hopper on the site. It’s full of a dry sand and cement mix and as you pull the lever it is mixed with water to give you an instant mortar mix. It’s so popular and it’s particularly good for builders and landscapers who just need a bucketful for a small job. You can have as much or as little as you need at the pull of a lever. 

What initially caught my attention from the roadside were the paving slabs. I’m looking for some to put on top of the lawn that’s being taken over with algae. Cyril’s will be a one stop shop for the purpose. I can get the gravel base, sand and mortar to go with the slabs

You can find Spring Growth Bark and Gravel on Facebook or you could give Cyril a ring on (0044) 07725 460262. He says if he hasn’t got it, he will source it for you. Friendly and professional service doesn’t get any better than that.

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