Widgets Blog - Emma the Gardener

Showcasing science with plants: Dark Matter at Chelsea

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Dark Matter garden design for Chelsea 2015
Dark Matter garden design for RHS Chelsea 2015

An ethnobotany superhero by night, my mild-mannered daytime alter ego is a science writer for the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), one of the UK’s research councils. It’s not often that those two worlds collide, although during the early summer the campus I work on is dotted with the blooms of hardy orchids.

This year, though, STFC have sponsored a garden at Chelsea! It’s a lovely garden for the National School’s Observatory (NSO), a website established by Liverpool John Moores University to provide schools in the UK and Ireland with free access to the Liverpool Telescope (the world’s largest fully-robotic telescope).

Two scientists at the NSO, Professors Andrew Newsam and Mike Bode are making it their mission to inspire as wide an audience as possible about astronomy, and getting people into scientifically-themed show gardens is one way they do it.

In 2013, the team (Howard Miller Design Ltd and Landstruction) put together a horticultural representation of a spiral galaxy that won a Gold medal at RHS Tatton, and proved very popular with visitors to the show – where else would you expect to find people queueing to listen to a scientist! Mike took the black hole home, and it now has pride of place next to his greenhouse, but you don’t have to worry, as he says it’s not plugged in ;)

Dark Matter Garden
The Dark Matter garden, before the crowds arrive at RHS Chelsea

Fresh from their Tatton success, they decided to design a show garden for Chelsea, and to give themselves a real challenge – the concept behind this year’s design is Dark Matter, something we can’t see, and can’t (yet) detect in any way. If you’d like to know more about the science then you can read the piece I wrote for the STFC website – Say it with flowers, which has links to even more good sciency stuff for those of you who are really interested.

The really exciting news is that not only did the garden win a Gold medal, but it was also chosen at the Best Fresh Garden, so that is thrilling (and well deserved) and I’m so happy for the team that put together this smashing garden. It has also gone done well with the press, and you can see some of the responses to the garden on the Storify I put together at work: Dark Matter at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015 (and which I am updating all week).

If you’re heading to the show for the last couple of days, then do make sure you stop by and see the Dark Matter garden whilst it’s still fresh ;)

All that remains now is for the public to offer their opinions, and vote in the People’s Choice Award for their favourite Fresh and Artisan gardens (the smaller show gardens) – so do pop over and vote for your favourites :)

Posted in Blog on May 20, 2015 ·

Tag: events

Naked Gardening Day - health and safety tips

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Dancing by Marko, via Flickr

Today, the first Saturday in May, is World Naked Gardening Day. The idea is to pop out and do some gardening in the altogether (‘as nature intended’) to help improve our sense of what is normal and acceptable in terms of body shapes and sizes.

(I did once seriously consider going to a ‘clothes optional’ day at Abbey House Gardens, but found surprisingly few takers for travelling companions.)

We’ve had a health and safety briefing at work this week. We are required to fill in risk assessments for all tasks that are potentially hazardous (i.e. absolutely everything), but if it’s a quick thing you can go through a short ‘on the job’ checklist. I thought it might be fun to put together a bare bones guide to the hazards of naked gardening ;)

The weather
We’re told these days that we’re all vitamin D deficient, and we should expose our torsos to the sun whenever possible, so naked gardening scores some points in that dimension. However, if it’s sunny we do have to be aware of the risks of sunburn, and skin cancer, so protective lotion is almost certainly required.

A hat will protect you from sun stroke, especially if you’re a bit thin on top.

Looking out of the window, a more pressing concern in my garden today would be hypothermia, especially if the forecast rain arrives later. Have a towel, dry clothes and warm drinks on standby for when you retire indoors. From experience (selling university rag mags in Birmingham in November, dressed as a St Trinians girl) I have found that a hot shower is more warming than a hot bath, if you’re very cold.

Cuts, grazes and puncture wounds
There’s plenty of potential for injury in the garden when you’re nude. Feet are especially vulnerable, so it would be best not to let them go au naturel but to continue wearing your normal gardening footwear. Forks and spades will go straight through toes if you let them, so avoid flip flops and go for sturdy shoes or boots instead.

Thorns are a particular hazard for feet, but also for hands, so gloves may continue to be a necessity, depending on what you’re doing. I would leave pruning anything prickly for another day, personally.

Cane toppers. Great for stopping you poking out your eyes on a normal day, you may want to consider popping them on short canes today as well, so you don’t poke anything else while you’re bending over. You know what I mean, stop sniggering at the back!

Impromptu amputations
Sharp objects abound in the garden, and a lot of them are tools. Mind what you’re doing with those secateurs/ loppers/ pruning saws – some pruning cuts cannot be reversed. Anything electric should be protected with a circuit breaker, by which I mean you should protect yourself by using a circuit breaker with any electrical tools.

Lawn mowing… looks like a nice, gentle activity that should be safe enough whilst naked (with boots on, see above), but it does throw up stones. Safety glasses just aren’t going to cut it today.

Fires. Really? You’re choosing to have that bonfire/bbq now? Are you insane? Put your clothes back on! No one likes the smell of burning hair!

Chemical burns
I’m sure you’re all organic gardeners, with no nasties in the shed, but if you’re not then leave them in there until you can wear the proper personal protective equipment (i.e. pants). Watch out for plants that can cause chemical burns if they come into contact with bare skin. It’s bad enough when it’s your arms….

So, once you’re wearing just your hat, boots and gloves, you’re all set for appropriate gardening tasks. Such as light weeding… although do be careful of toxic/ scratchy plants in the vicinity. Or sit back with a nice cup of… better make it iced tea, you don’t want to risk a nasty scald somewhere sensitive. You could maybe do a little potting on, that should be safe enough, if you stay out of the sun.

What’s that? Your garden is overlooked by the neighbours? They have young children? You’re right, perhaps we should confine our naked gardening to sowing seeds indoors ;)

This has been a bit of a giggle for World Naked Gardening Day, but in all honesty safety in the garden is no laughing matter. In 2004, 87000 people in the UK were injured whilst gardening – seriously enough to need emergency medical treatment. After lawn mowers, the thing most likely to cause injury was found to be… flowerpots.

What’s your top tip for gardening safely?

Flowerpots – an accident waiting to happen!

Posted in Blog on May 2, 2015 ·

Tag: events

Edible Garden Show 2015

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Months ago I booked tickets to this year’s Edible Garden Show, which is happening this weekend at Alexandra Palace in London. (I bought them when there was an offer on, and two tickets cost me about £30.) I took yesterday off to go – but as I haven’t been very well this week I wasn’t sure I would make it. Although I went to the first three shows at Stoneleigh Park in Warwickshire, I didn’t go last year (when I was between gardens) and felt miffed that I’d missed out on meeting the liquorice people, so I decided to make the effort.

I hadn’t appreciated how much of an effort it would take. We had to drive to the station and pay for a day’s parking (£6.20) and get two off-peak tickets into London (£50). We then used our Oyster cards to travel to Wood Green, via King’s Cross. I think it’s the longest tube journey I’ve ever had to make.

The website for Alexandra Palace says that Wood Green is the nearest Tube station, so I naively thought it would be close – it isn’t. It’s a 30 minute hike uphill to the venue. There is a shuttle bus, and we waited for a while by its bus stop, but when it didn’t come we decided to move on, as the wind was bitingly cold.

Of course, once we started walking the sun came out and by the time we arrived at Ally Pally we were boiling. Having left the house at 10am, we arrived at 12:45, missing the only talk I really wanted to hear (from James Wong).

We did a circuit of the hall, spotting the Lubera stand, which was attracting quite a lot of attention. (Lubera have been breeding new fruit varieties for cool climates (and edible dahlia roots with a range of flavours). I’m working on a reader discount for you, so watch this space for more about that.)

Lubera's fruit stand
Lubera’s new fruit varieties were popular

Once we finished out circuit we stopped, and tried to work out what we were missing. Because the show was tiny. At Stoneleigh it took up more than one hall, there was an outdoor section on the way in, and there was a smallholder marquee with lots of animals. This year there was one hall, with a small city farm outside.

There were a few stalls with seeds and plants, but mostly it was gardening kit. There were a handful of foodie stalls, and not much on offer in the way of actual food.

There were lots of visiting school children, but no buzz.

I was disappointed.

We sat and ate ‘gourmet’ sausage rolls at the edge of the hall, and then tried another circuit. I bought some herbs, from Urban Herbs, who are based in the Midlands. They had a lovely selection, but unfortunately don’t do mail order, so you have to catch them at a market or at a show. I bought Indian Mint (Satureja douglasii), Blackcurrant sage, Pineapple sage and an Aztec sweet herb (Lippia dulcis). Since it was 5 for £10 I offered Ryan the final choice and he picked out Lemon verbena.

Urban Herbs stand
A good selection of herb plants from Urban Herbs

Discussing how this show was much smaller than the last one we’d been to, and how much more fun that one had been, Ryan remembered we’d seen Joy from Sea Spring Seeds in 2013. Having seen her tweet about coming to the show, we made a special effort to find her stand (we were not given a show programme, and the one on the web was woeful). Eventually we did, and as usual she was deep in conversation with chilli addicts:

Joy at the Sea Spring Seeds stand
Joy Michaud from Sea Spring Seeds

And so we left, and started the long slog home. According to Ryan’s FitBit we walked 9.6 km and climbed the equivalent of 46 flights of stairs during the day. As the day weighed in at about £100, it was an expensive way to get some exercise.

It’s such a shame, because I really enjoyed the event when it was at Stoneleigh, and felt it had something different to offer than the run-of-the-mill garden shows that I avoid. I won’t be going again, I will save my money next year and spend it on plants instead.

What do you think – is a trip to the Edible Garden Show worth the money?

Posted in Blog on Mar 21, 2015 ·

Tag: events

Hampton Court Flower Show: The Jordans Wildlife Garden

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If you’re off to the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show next week, keep an eye out for the Jordans Wildlife Garden. Jordans, famous for their cereals and cereal bars, are using their first show garden at the event to showcase their long-term commitment to the British countryside. They believe that good food comes from working with nature, and the show garden features food that can be foraged from the countryside, creating a natural ‘larder’ that doubles as a shelter for birds, bees and butterflies. It should provide plenty of inspiration to gardeners who want to support British wildlife.

Oat fields outline the sides of the garden, and there are swathes of species-rich meadow curving through the space. A cut log wall and grassy banks surround the garden, forming a wildlife-friendly edge. A reflective pool in the centre of the garden is surrounded by a nut terrace, feeding both human and non-human visitors. Mixed native hedgerow and fruit trees surround one side of the garden. The local wildlife will benefit from insect hotels, bird houses and feeding stations.

The garden was designed by Sheila Botham, who offers up her tips for designing a wildlife-friendly garden on the Jordans website. Ed Kimber (winner of the first series of the Great British Bake Off) has also contributed a series of recipes to complement the garden, the planting plan for which includes the following edible species:

Corylus avellana (hazel)
Malus Golden hornet (crab apple)
Prunus cerasifera (cherry plum)
Amelanchier lamarchii (Juneberry)
Crataegus monogyna (Hawthorn)
Prunus spinosa (Blackthorn (Sloe))
Rosa pimpinella
Lonicera japonica
Rosa rugosa
Wild carrot
Wild rocket
Alpine strawberry
Foeniculum vulgare ‘purpureum’
Origanum laevigatum ‘Hopleys’
Monarda ‘Prarienacht’
Common daisy
Wild thyme
Cats ears

I’m not going to Hampton Court this year, so if you go – please come back and let me know what you thought of the garden!

Posted in Blog on Jul 4, 2014 ·

Tags: events & wildlife.

Swapping Seeds

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Seedy Penpal package

This is the parcel of seeds I received from my Seedy Penpal this week – it includes tree spinach (Chenopodium giganteum), Potimarron squash, Courgette de Nice, Hamburg (root) parsley and scorzonera as well as Tithonia flowers and tree paeonies. The Seedy Penpal exchange, organised by Carl Legge, isn’t a straight swap – I sent a parcel of seeds to a different individual last month. If you fancy becoming a Seedy Penpal yourself, then you can register your interest now; the next swap will take place in August.

Swapping seeds on a one-to-one basis, whether the exchange is mediated by the internet or not, is an entirely different experience than attending a seed swap. It’s seed swap season, with local events springing up all over the country, often in tandem with potato days, where you can buy your seed potatoes for the year.

The Seedy Sunday seed swap in Brighton is arguably the most famous (and potentially the largest) in the UK. I’d always wanted to see it, and so this year I made the trip down to Brighton to have a look… and was bitterly disappointed.

To begin with, there was a queue to buy tickets. Now I don’t have any objection to paying an entrance fee for an event like this, but I hadn’t been expecting one – because it wasn’t mentioned in any of the promotional materials that I saw when I was doing my pre-swap homework.

I couldn’t find much guidance, either, on how the swap itself worked – which kinds of seeds were allowed and which were not, and so on. There was a mention that you could swap seeds for a 50p donation per packet, if you didn’t have any seeds to swap yourself. It wasn’t until I was in the swap and standing by the tables that the rules were explained.

Seedy Sunday

Getting to the seed swap tables was an epic adventure – the hall was heaving. There was no room to move, and nowhere to stand, you simply had to go with the flow and hope it took you where you wanted to go. People were rude (as they often are), shoving and barging.

At the seed swap tables, the seeds were organised into small boxes according to plant family. You have to have some method of organisation, as otherwise the seeds go all over the place and you can’t keep an eye on what’s going on. But as soon as you put the seeds in boxes you limit access to one or two people at a time; the larger the boxes, the longer people take to flip through, make their selections, and move on.

People were impatient. There was more barging and shoving. And when I finally did get a chance to browse, there was nothing of interest left in the boxes. Although I am assured that they began the day with a more interesting selection, but lunch time you would have been hard pressed to find anything other than tomatoes and runner beans.

Moving on from the swap itself, there were some interesting stalls – but again it was hard to get close to them. The Thomas Etty seed stall was tiny, and the queue several people deep. Edulis had a larger table on which to display their plants, and I managed to buy a Cha Cha Chive so that I didn’t leave with nothing. But in less than half an hour I had given up and left.

I don’t have all the answers on how to run a better seed swap – I’ve tried it myself, and it’s difficult to handle crowds. At least the Seedy Sunday helpers probably didn’t have to cope with the constant demands for explanations of “how it works” that you get when you run a seed swap as part of a larger event, or hoards of people turning up who weren’t expecting a seed swap and have nothing to exchange.

If you’re the kind of person who likes hunting through bargain bins and doesn’t mind crowds, then Seedy Sunday might be for you – it runs in February every year. If not, then I’d suggest looking for something a little smaller and closer to home – or swapping on a more individual basis with the online gardening community. And if you’re looking for something in particular, then just ask – many people are happy to swap, or to send out surplus seeds for just the cost of the postage.

How do you swap your seeds?

Posted in Blog on Feb 17, 2014 ·

Last modified on Aug 31, 2014

Tags: events & seeds.

World AIDS day

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Ribbon tree

Ribbon Tree, by Mark Turner

Today is world AIDS day, an opportunity for us to unite in the fight against HIV, to show our support for people living with HIV and to commemorate people who have died. The event has been running every year since 1988.

I came across the image above on Flickr, and it made me wonder why we adorn trees in this way. We have Christmas trees and yule logs, wishing trees and prayer trees – obviously there’s something universal in the human psyche that finds trees moving or meaningful, long-lived or even eternal.

Wishing trees are very interesting. People spontaneously begin to hammer coins into the bark of fallen trees, as a wish – usually for health. The belief is that hammering in the coin removes disease; anyone who subsequently removes the coin would bring the disease on themself. It happens all around the UK and there’s some lovely pictures of these coin trees on the Daily Mail website (sorry!).

The Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney has a wishing tree, and special instructions on how to use it make a wish, which involves being “as quiet as a tawny frogmouth” at one stage.

Wishing trees are sometimes associated with clootie wells (spelling is region-dependent), again with a reference to the removal of disease. There may be parallels with wassailing, a winter tradition of toasting apple orchards, and apparently in America (and other places) there is a tradition of tossing shoes into trees.

I prefer Tibetan/ Buddhist prayer flags myself, sometimes strung between trees and far more attractive fluttering around in the breeze than an old boot (you can also make your own prayer flag tree from a branch). Hindu mythology also has a wishing tree – the banyan.

I tucked a wish, written onto a paper leaf, into a wishing tree display at the Natural History Museum earlier this year, in their extinction exhibit. Of course none of this explains why we do it….

How about you, have you used a wishing tree?

Posted in Blog on Dec 1, 2013 ·

Last modified on Nov 30, 2013

Tags: ethnobotany & events.

Postcard from: Canterbury

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Friday 22nd November 2013 was the day of my graduation, which was held in Canterbury Cathedral. As you can see, my parents are very proud.

I am now officially an ethnobotanist. Ethnobotany is the study of how people make use of plants. It’s a multidisciplinary subject, encompassing aspects of botany, anthropology, chemistry, forestry and agriculture, horticulture, medicine, geography, conservation, history…. It’s hard to find relevant books in the library, they could be anywhere!

Economic botany is the same subject. Which term you use depends a bit on where you are in the world, but there are also some historical connotations to both that some people dislike. Britain has a long history of economic botany, but as it is tied up with our colonial past and our exploitation of other people’s natural resources, the term is a little out of favour here at the moment. There’s also plenty of anti-commercial feeling that objects to the use of ‘economic’ for natural resources, as to some people it smacks of commercialization (and, again, exploitation).

Ethnobotany can also be problematic, as it has its roots in the study of what anthropologists refer to as ‘other’ – people who aren’t like us. The use of plants by tribal and “primitive” groups. We understand now that “primitive” is not an appropriate word to describe people whose lifestyles are very different from our own and don’t rely on modern technology.

My personal preference is to think of its more as a difference in focus. For me, economic botany is about the what and the how of plant use, whereas ethnobotany looks at the who and the why.

These are both valuable areas of study, but my interest lies in the concrete facts of which plants are edible or otherwise useful, and how that can be done. I prefer to think of the ‘economic’ in economic botany in its original sense, the idea of how people make their living from plants – household economy rather than commercial economy.

I like this quote from Wickens (1990:24), in which he reminds us that the small and local are just as important as the large and global, and that economic botany is as much a science for the future as it is a a study of the past:

“No use is regarded as too insignificant that it should remain unrecorded, for economic botany is never static. Some uses may be superseded by synthetics; others may lie dormant for want of the appropriate technology for their development, or a better economic climate. Still other uses have yet to be identified; the economic botanist must always be alert for new alternatives.”

My certificate may say ‘ethnobotany’, but I’m an economic botanist at heart :)

Wickens, G.E. (1990). What is economic botany? Economic botany, 44(1), 12-28.

Posted in Blog on Nov 27, 2013 ·

Last modified on Nov 26, 2013

Tags: events & ethnobotany.

Remembrance Sunday

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Field Poppy

Today is Remembrance Sunday, when we honour our war dead. It is held on the Sunday closest to 11th November, the anniversary of the end of hostilities in World War 1 in 1918.

The red poppy (Papaver rhoeas, the field poppy) has become the symbol of remembrance, as great swathes flowered in the disturbed earth of battlefields across Belgium, France and Gallipoli in the spring of 1915 and every spring throughout the war.

Every year in the UK, the poppy appeal raises money for the Royal British Legion, helping them to support those who have served, or are serving, in the armed forces, and their dependents. You can donate to the poppy appeal online.

2014 is the 100th anniversary of the start of World War 1, and there will be various events next year to mark it. Some are being funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, but the Royal British Legion’s 2014 Real Poppy project, which aims to plant millions of commemorative poppies, was not. It has been rescued by B&Q, who will be selling Flanders poppy seeds, with a donation made to the Royal British Legion for each packet sold.

If you wanted to get involved in the project and sow your own Flanders poppies to bloom next spring, you could also buy them elsewhere and make your own donation to the Real Poppy project. Other seed suppliers include:

The field poppy’s ephemeral flowers are completely at odds with its survival nature – as evidenced by the churning of the battlefields, it can lie dormant under the soil for many years before germinating once it is brought back up to the light. A single sowing may well be enough to give you a lifetime of poppies! Should you not wish them to self-seed you will either have to be brutal with the dead-heading, or collect the seed for culinary use – it can be added to breads and cakes. PFAF lists other uses for the plant, but does not that it contains some potentially toxic alkaloids, so some caution is advised (the seeds are safe).


Posted in Blog on Nov 10, 2013 ·

Tags: events & flowers.

An Evening with Ray Mears

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An Evening with Ray Mears

Whilst I was a student I, like many others, had no money. I managed to fit in enough paid writing work to keep the wolf from the door, and that was about it. Fortunately things are a little different now, and to celebrate the arrival of my first pay cheque in forever, I splashed out on a treat – tickets to “An Evening with Ray Mears” in Malvern.

I’ve always enjoyed watching Ray Mears when he’s been on the telly, although the only series I went out of my way to watch was the wonderful Wild Food. Ryan feels the same way, but I knew that it would be something we would both enjoy.

And so, last Saturday, we paid a visit to my parents in Malvern, and in the evening we popped along to the Forum theatre.

Birch bark canoe

The thing I like about Ray Mears is that he seems like a no-nonsense kind of guy. He knows what he’s talking about. If I were to be lost in the Arctic I would rather be lost with him than some of the other tv presenters who claim to be experts on ‘survival skills’. The canoe you can see on the stage was made in the UK from birch bark imported from the boreal forest of Canada. It was made, under the supervision of a canoe-making expert, by inexperienced volunteers. Isn’t it beautiful?

Ray talked for an hour and a half before the intermission, about life in the boreal forest. He had a beautiful slideshow, with some videos and some music, but he was the main draw. He has spent his life walking the walk, talking to native peoples all over the world and learning their stories and their way of life. His knowledge is encyclopedic, and yet he makes it both accessible and entertaining.


I loved the section on the correct way to approach an encounter with a bear. Don’t stare, it’s a sign of aggression. Apparently it’s difficult not to do though, as bears have surprisingly beautiful eyes. Turn your back and edge away. If things go sideways, spray it in the face with pepper spray. Use your pepper spray correctly – it is not a bear repellent (indeed, as it is made from a food product, it could attract bears!), it is only for use in close encounters.

This black bear is a young male, in his first season without his mum. He’s fishing for salmon. You probably can’t see in my photo, but the riverbank is littered with salmon – he’s pulling out more than he can eat. This apparently wasteful behaviour is a key part of the ecosystem, though. Canadian scientists have discovered that the nutrients that soak into the riverbank from the decaying salmon are vital to the whole system.

Other memorable moments include the one where Ray explained that it’s the female reindeer that keep their antlers. After the rut the males lose theirs, so that they are a more attractive target to wolves than the pregnant females. So all those Christmas photos of ‘Rudolf’ are almost certainly of ‘Rudolfa’.

And there’s a wrong way to strike matches. Particularly when you’re cold, which is when it’s most important to get it right. So make sure you know the difference before heading out to the Arctic.

The second half of the show was more about the importance of conservation, both of environments and the indigenous knowledge on how to live in them. There was footage from Namibia, and Australia. All in all, we thoroughly enjoyed our evening with Ray Mears, and are now big fans. The good news is that he’s got a a new book out – his autobiography, My Outdoor Life.

Snow Shoes

Posted in Blog on Nov 6, 2013 ·

Last modified on Apr 4, 2014

Tag: events

Uffington White Horse Show

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Over the Bank Holiday weekend, I took a day off from working on my dissertation to visit the Uffington White Horse Show with some friends. It’s a large event, with a display of static steam engines and fairground rides, displays of traditional fencing (the kind with swords, not fence posts) and a large display area. There was a daredevil leaping over things (and on to the top of his lorry) on a motorbike, but to my mind the highlight of the day were the two Chariots of Fire displays. Chariots of Fire are the display team for a charity in Scotland who offer pony and chariot rides to children with special needs.

Amanda Saville heads up the team, and has gone from dressage events to jumping carriages!

Carriage jumping

Which doesn’t look very comfortable at all – she has to wear a safety belt to keep her from flying our of the carriage.

Some of the ponies have been rescued, and nursed back to health and trained up to perform in the display. None of them are forced to do anything they don’t want to to; on the day this pony decided he’d rather not be in the ring:

Uncooperative pony

A runaway pony surrounded by a crowd can’t be a stress-free situation, but Amanda let him have his head and steered him out of the ring, and quickly moved on to the next part of the display.

Ponies aren’t the only animals they use to pull the carriages. This sheep is one of a pair, but his partner wasn’t up to pulling a carriage that day, so he was driving solo:

Driving Sheep

They also have a lovely donkey with the biggest ears, but sadly I didn’t get a photo of her.

The grand finale is where the Chariots of Fire display team get their name – their stunt pony takes the carriage over jumps and through rings of fire. He doesn’t seem to mind a bit. Their ultimate spectacle was new this year – behold the Bridge of Fire!

Bridge of Fire

The display team were on hand to damp down the flames and make sure the pony and Amanda were both safe – the welfare of the animals is her primary concern. She also manages to keep up a running commentary, despite the bumps, so if you get a chance to see Chariots of Fire on one of their tours then I can heartily recommend it.

Another highlight of the show was a WW2 fly past, with a Spitfire, a Hurricane and a Lancaster bomber. Sadly I didn’t have my zoom lens, so I didn’t get any photos of those, but they were very impressive! Someone had also brought along one of the engines that is used in the Lancaster bomber (it has four, iirc) on a trailer, and fired it up at intervals. The sound is makes is unmistakeable, and the wind behind it is immense. It was a fun thing to watch.

Of course, none of this has anything to do with plants and gardening, but there was a garden centre stall by the exit, and as it happened I had just realised I needed autumn-planting onions sets and garlic bulbs to plant on the allotment. And so I came home with Shakespeare onion sets, Golden Gourmet shallots and one bulb each of three different garlic varieties:


I used to grow Thermidrome in the garden, and it’s a reliable and tasty variety with white bulbs and cloves.


I think this one is a misspelling of ‘Germidour’. Although it says it has pure white skin, my bulb (and plenty of the others) has a purple tinge to it.


Casablanca is a bit of a mystery, there doesn’t seem to be much available information on it, so we will have to wait and see how it turns out.

I had intended to get two soft-necked varieties and one hard-necked one, but once I got home I worked out that these are all soft-necked, which isn’t surprising as that’s the standard in the UK. I do like to see those scapes swirling out, though, and a friend has offered to send me a clove or two come planting time, so there will be four varieties of garlic on the allotment this year. Oh, and I ordered an elephant garlic bulb, but that doesn’t count – it’s an overgrown leek ;)

Posted in Blog on Sep 10, 2013 ·

Tags: events & veg.

Unless stated, © copyright Emma Cooper, 2005-2014.