Tuesday, 26 June 2007

A great week for wildlife!

Last Saturday we held an Organic Day at the walled garden, a day which was supported by Northumberland National Park and had a variety of lovely things going on - bird & bumble bee talks, marquees with garden gifts, music from a Northumbrian piper, tours of the organic vegetable garden, composting demonstrations and a signing of my new book A Sense of Herbs. It was a sunny afternoon and the garden was full of people enjoying the flower borders and peering into them to spot bumble bee species after an inspiring talk from one of the Park rangers. He was able to spot, within a few minutes of coming into the garden, all six common species of bumble bees as well as two species of cuckoo bumble bees (which like the bird take over the nests of other bees)
Things were going on in the pond too as several dragonflies emerged and dried their wings in the sun. This photograph is of a hawker, the largest species of dragonfly that frequents the garden ponds, having spent probably two years in its larval stage in the water. And up til now we have had 67 recorded species of birds but on Saturday morning, with opportune timing, Alan, the birder who compiles our list, saw a female cuckoo flying over which brings the total to 68!

Sunday, 10 June 2007

My latest book, entitled A Sense of Herbs, is now in the bookshops and I really love the cover that uses my son, Tom's photograph of chopped parsley cascading down into a blue bowl. The picture was technically quite difficult but has such a fresh, clean look and just makes you want to pick up and open the book. This book is the literary equivalent of low food miles! - commissioned by a local publisher (Ergo Press of Hexham), printed in Hexham, written and illustrated with my own line drawings directly from plants in Chesters Walled Garden and printed on recycled paper.

I've selected 28 of my favourite herbs and written about them from a very personal point of view - how I use them in the garden, enjoy them and cook with them, what stories and histories they have and how easy they are to grow. The book is endorsed by Stephen Anderton, the Times gardening correspondent and is selling well already.

The garden is looking wonderful right now in its summer ease, with painted lady butterflies shimmering over the borders and fledglings trying tentative flights across the lawns. Apart from the floppy Knautia macedonica, not a single plant in the borders is staked, thanks to the policy of growing everything close together, supporting each other and with little water loss from the soil when it doesn't rain. The thymes are in flower earlier than normal (some 3 weeks I reckon), the newly accepted National Collection of Sanguisorba (or burnet) starting to erupt in white, pink and burgundy bottlebrush flowers.

On Saturday June 23rd we are having an Organic Open Day when entry to the garden is FREE OF CHARGE and there are lots of things happening within the walls - talks on organic growing, attracting birds to the garden, bumble bee recognition, compost making demonstrations, music from a Northumbrian piper and a marquee full of garden gifts from social enterprises, local artists and charitable workshops - fairly traded, ethically sourced and environmentally friendly. Added to this will be the official launch of my new book with a book signing. I hope as many of you as can will make it - it should be a lovely day!