One of the places on my list to visit is National Botanic Garden of Wales. Our holidays haven't ventured as far as Llanarthne, Carmarthenshire, though. If they ever do, it sounds as if we'll need to schedule more than a day to see it. The main gardens are centred on the wooded valley of Pont Felin Gât but, if you include the attached Waun Las National Nature Reserve, there are 600 acres to get lost in.
Visitors' grumbles that it's too much to see in a day have instigated the return of the "return ticket", which allows visitors back in free for seven days after their initial visit.
Head of marketing David Hardy said: “We trialled this last August after getting lots of feedback. We do say, ‘You won’t be able to see it all in a day,’ but people from out of the area not familiar with the garden are often caught out. This is a good way of ensuring that, if they want to come back and see some more, they can – and for free.”
Nevertheless, doesn't this seem a bit mean, or am I just a real skinflint (answers below, please)? After all, there are plenty of visitor attractions that allow you free returns for a year. If they offered that, it might encourage more return holidays to West Wales. Still, if you want to take advantage of this you'll have to be quick, as it only applies to tickets purchased at full admission price up to September 9th 2012.
Apart from the 600 acres, the gardens are offering a fungi exhibition, a new Green Technologies Trail around the Garden’s various sustainability exemplars, and an archaeological dig to uncover the remains of what they think might be a medieval mansion and garden.
Incidentally, the gardens inspired award-winning, Welsh-based Hannah Davies in her Floral Foray design for Logitech wireless keyboard, mouse and webcam. Won't be getting them myself - my computer's a tool, not a decoration - but if you've been to the gardens you might like them to remind you of your visit. If you buy the keyboard and mouse from John Lewis before September 14th, you'll get a free webcam.
And if you want to see more of her intricate, nature-inspired illustrations for cards, stationery and prints, visit Hannah Davies' website.
Are you just back from holiday? Contemplating the long run-up to Christmas, with weeks of commuting and office politics?
It was at this time, just as much as New Year, when I used to find myself thinking longingly of another career (before I became self-employed, of course. After that, holidays were something of a dream themselves). Even a short break can give you the feeling of infinite possibilities and a desire not to return to your current daily grind.
And if you enjoy the healthy toil and plentiful fresh air when gardening or landscaping, then I'll bet you've thought about setting up as a self-employed gardener and/or landscaper.
It does appeal, doesn't it? Your own boss, your own timetable - no toeing the office line, doing damn silly projects that everyone knows are a waste of time. No frustrating commute, stuck in traffic or waiting for leaves on the line to clear.
Hold on, though, what's it really like?
Going into a new career with your eyes shut is just asking for failure. So where can you find out more?
Many of the readers of this blog will be familiar with Phil Voice who runs the Landscape Juice website and, with over twenty years' experience of the landscaping trade, has seen plenty of people who thought about the good side, but didn't contemplate how they'd actually run their business.
The premise of Landscape Juice is to help the one-man bands and small businesses who had nowhere to turn for support or information. Now we've put together How to Start a Landscaping and Gardening Business. It's a short e-book that poses the tough questions that you should ask yourself before setting up business, and helps you find the answers. (In case you're wondering about my part in it, I did the editing.)
What does it make you think about? Well, you have to ask whether your dream of self-employment will bring you the income you need. What happens when the weather's bad? Can you hack the business side, however good you are at the job itself?
As Phil writes at the beginning of the book: "There are also many other aspects of a garden business that have to be considered at this important stage and the following is designed to put you off. If it doesn't put you off, there's every chance you're, mentally at least, equipped to get started."
Helping with the sums and giving an insight into the realities you’ll have to consider before launching into something that you enjoy only on a casual basis now How to Start a Landscaping or Gardening Business provides a firm foundation on which to make your new career a success.
Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s weird pictures of faces formed from food are well known. If you grow vegetables, these 16th Century Renaissance oddities are particularly memorable.
Philip Haas, the American artist and film-maker has gone a step further and created four 15-foot high "portraits" of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter after Arcimbaldo's paintings, this time in 3D. I can see how they might appeal to Haas, as the pictures have a strange intensity and so do his films, which include Angels and Insects and Up at the Villa.
I'm not sure they're worth a traipse across London but if you're already visiting Dulwich Picture Gallery for one of their other exhibitions, it would be a shame not to go and have a look.
Inspired by the sculptures, Dulwich are running a Foodie Faces competition, which runs until the end of this month. Ideal for parents facing a glut of children and courgettes over the summer, there's actually no age limit, so you don't have to invent a child if the spirit moves you to enter. Just create your self-portrait from fruits, vegetables, homemade meals, pizzas, your favourite sweets or even a full English breakfast and you could win a place on one of the Gallery's art courses, as well as be displayed alongside Andy Warhol's paintings and Philip Haas's fibreglass sculptures.
Slugs are certainly big this year, in more ways than one. Not only have I encountered some of the biggest bruisers I've ever seen in the garden, but this year's population explosion has also featured in national press. In a supreme example of understatement, a spokesman for the National Farmers' Union, even managed, "They're not good news."
No, indeed. Nick Bailey, head gardener at the Chelsea Physic Garden, has reported this as the worst year of his 22-year-long gardening career, with slugs and snails a large part of that, and, helping out at my local horticultural society store recently, I found myself selling more slug pellets than anything else to some very desperate people.
Now, the manufacturer of Nemaslug has announced that it's run out and may not be available until next season. Here's what Nemasys have put on their website:
Sculpture in public places draws controversy. I could list a few pieces that have aroused fierce opinion, but Orbit, Anish Kapoor’s cross between construction debris and a fairground helter-skelter, is currently the most prominent.
Of course, you may be struck by what you see as its (very) peculiar beauty, but I’d argue that it’s a good example of a problem encountered in much garden sculpture: trying to fit the right piece to the right place.
It’s difficult to tell how successfully the pieces sit in their surroundings. The website tells us that many of them are either site specific or created in direct response to their environment (the balancing boxes in the orchard don’t strike me as entirely successful), but on a general point Abbie Jury, who runs Tikorangi The Jury Garden, New Zealand, comments, “A garden setting can enhance sculpture but I have never seen sculpture enhance a garden.” Sculpture, she feels, must always draw attention away from the garden.