Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Mixed Medley for a Dark Evening

Wet evenings are perfect for 'indoor' gardening activities

Rain is lashing the windows and it’s blowing half a gale – the first really wintry day we’ve had here in our part of the Cotswolds, though it’s still incredible warm; grass is growing and self-seeded rocket and spring onions accidentally left in the ground all flourish in the potager raised beds. The cold front crossing the UK seems to be affecting all parts of the country; time to snuggle by the fire and think of other things.

A year ago, I was cataloguing and planning; a task for indoors
Darker evenings and daytime inclement weather may be off-putting for gardeners, but perfect for working on garden-related activities indoors. For a start, why not catalogue your seed packets, list those favourites that need replenishing and investigate new varieties that you hope to sow and grow in 2012. And don’t forget to order them!

Some of my journals on display last weekend at a local exhibition
I find the winter months marvellous for catching up on entries in my garden journals, and trialling new illustrative and mixed-media techniques. I’m an avid collector of books that not only instruct, but inspire. Other people’s creations never fail to trigger ideas for different ways of presentation, adapting rather than copying. Not least, the discovery of new materials and how to use them.

Take a look at a couple of my latest book acquisitions – keep a notebook handy and jot down those ideas that particularly appeal. Making Handmade Books arrived this morning and is a revelation for anyone wanting to create something unique from easily found or recycled materials.  Beautifully illustrated, written by Alisa Golden and published in early 2011 by Lark Crafts, you can take your pick from “100 bindings, structures and forms”. Thumbing through it quickly, I particularly liked the very simple ‘Fan Book’ (page 86) or the ingenious ‘Flag Book with Envelope Pages’ (page 75) – either would be perfect for recording gardening activities. Once in my stride (and with a little time to spare), I know I’ll be experimenting like crazy to tackle more complicated structures.

Of course, not everyone is likely to share my enthusiasm for hand-made notebooks and record-keeping, so how about looking at the recently published Delicious Gifts – Tasty Creations to Make and Give, which instantly set my mouth watering with so many truly tempting sweetmeats, preserves and chutneys. Written by Jesse McCloskey, the gifts will be perfect for “chocoholics to chilli obsessives”. And as a bonus, you’ll learn how to present gifts in elegant containers: delectable sweet and savoury delights with clear instructions for both the produce and packaging.
Click on either book title for more details, or to order it from Amazon.

(from time to time, Ann Somerset Miles writes longer reviews on her Book Lovers Blog, and is planning author and publisher interviews in 2012)

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Christmas: a time for giving - and receiving ....

Packed full of perfect gifts
As Christmas fast approaches, catalogues from numerous companies fly through the letterbox, extolling the virtues of products designed to encourage those difficult annual decisions on what to give family, friends and loved ones. Last week, I mentioned the gift section in the main Dobies catalogue, but now one devoted entirely to Christmas gifts has arrived – and it’s also available in an online version. Ignore the 2012 date on the printed edition – just one of those things that can inadvertently slip through at proofing stage! It’s very much for 2011 and any order received before 16th December for over £50.00 will attract a £5.00 discount. You don’t have to spend that much of course; all orders are welcome – and why not note down the reference numbers of items YOU yourself would appreciate, and leave the list lying where your nearest and dearest cannot fail to notice it!

Browsing through my copy, these are the items that particularly struck me for my own  ‘wish list’. First come baskets of spring bulbs – blue ‘muscari’ (X40175) and golden miniature ‘tĂȘte-a-tĂȘte’ (X40176) daffs. Delightful indoors, they can be planted outside afterwards where they will continue to bloom for years to come each Spring and the baskets re-used for any number of things. I’ve abandoned the idea of a traditional Christmas Tree and think I’ll order a dwarf ‘Picea albertiana conica’ (X40165) which can sit on our coffee table and then on the sheltered terrace after the New Year. Supplied in a 3-litre plastic pot, it, too, will give pleasure for years to come.

Turning to gifts for the older grandchildren, I’m attracted to ‘The Beginners Seed Collection’ (X40195), not least because of its ingenious ruler with correctly-spaced holes (dibber also included) for sowing the easy-to-grow seeds supplied – six packets: French Mix leaf salad, White Lisbon salad onion, Jolly radish, Pancho leek, Ideal carrot and Ferrari dwarf French bean. Our own grandchildren are past the playing stage, but younger little ones will love the section devoted specifically to their needs – junior Bulldog tools useful for small adults, too), paper-pot-maker, colourful took kit, bug house and even wellies to decorate themselves.

For myself, I wouldn’t mind the ‘Garden Vegetables Hamper Gift Set’ (X40133) – equally ideal for any elderly relative who want to stay active. With its wicker hamper to keep everything together, this contains all anyone would need to start growing vegetables: stainless steel trowel and fork set, windowsill propagator, jiffy modules and labels, bio-degradable pots, garden twine, ten packets of seed and a vegetable planner. Alternative hampers have been put together for growing vegetables on the patio (X40134) or one featuring annual and perennial flowers rather than vegetables (X40132); there's even a children's version (X40131).

Oh, and how about this ingenious little device? The 'Nutscene Snippet Twine Set' (X40146) clips onto your clothing and allows you to snip twine without the need to carry scissors or knife. British, too, as are many of the tools in the Dobies Christmas Gift catalogue.

There’s a whole lot more on offer in the 48-page catalogue, but if you’re still stuck for ideas, don’t forget you can order personalized gift vouchers (X40214) which can be sent direct with your personal message.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Getting to know your 2012 catalogue

Ever since I received my 2012 Dobies catalogue, I've been dipping in and out of it, marking the items I plan to order, and marveling at all that this bumper annual edition contains. It’s a triumph of forethought and ingenuity, so carefully thought through, to offer real gardening value and as much easily accessible information as can be crammed into its 144 pages. It’s thick – 5mm (3/16th in) – and ‘perfect-bound’ rather than stapled, which allows the pages to open easily and lie flat. Even the cover photograph is delicious, painterly and yet enticing: grow purple artichokes for the kitchen or in the decorative or cutting garden.

So much detail given
as soon as you open your copy
Open the front cover and you’ll instantly discover Dobies garden heritage – supplying gardeners with seeds since 1881. There’s a message from the Dobies team, an explanation of the cost-saving seed packets, seed counts, quality guarantee, environmental pledge, contacts, and of course a guide  to what the catalogue contains. A full index is provided on page 142 to assist your search for something specific. If  for some reason you haven’t received your catalogue copy (or are reading this blog for the first time), you can request a printed copy here.

Not to be missed
Sections are as follows: special offers and new varieties, a-z vegetable seeds, vegetable plants, fruit bushes and trees, garden equipment, flower seeds, summer bulbs, flower plants, an impressive special offer, and the all-important order form. Alongside on page one is a guide to when season-related items will be dispatched. Most seeds and garden equipment items are available for immediate dispatch all year round.

An example of the extra information panels
Be-devilled by so much choice? Much help and advice is offered throughout the catalogue to ensure you can select what will best suit your needs. A clever innovation provides information on additional seed varieties (those that are more specialist, choice or older) but which still warrant inclusion, though space precludes illustrations. Full details and pictures of these varieties can still be found on the Dobies website. An excellent solution to provide the keen gardener with as much choice as possible.

A gift to treasure - and use
Christmas is coming – what better gift for family or special a gardening friend than seeds or plants? Either select something from the catalogue you know they would like, or purchase a Dobies Gift Voucher; equally ideal for birthdays or other special occasions. Gift vouchers can be sent direct to the recipient, with your personal message, and a copy of the 2012 catalogue. Turn to the back cover for the gift voucher order form. There’s also an online Christmas Gift section on the Dobies website: click here to access it.

This post written by Ann Somerset Miles (with apologies for the image quality – all were scanned on a domestic machine from the actual catalogue; all printed text is perfectly legible, and the photos are superb).