20 Sep 2020

A Tale of Too Many Tomatoes

One constant of my food growing year are the tomato seeds I sow in March. We gardeners like to wax lyrical about the superior taste of home-grown but - let me be honest, here - farmers' markets, supermarkets and local shops are catching up fast, and the road to successful home grown is fraught with pitfalls and disappointments. I'm just telling it like it is. 

Having said that, this year has been fantastic, thanks mainly to three varieties: all prolific, one colourful, one very unusual and one perfect for container growing. 

Ripe red bush cherry tomatoes growing in a raised bed
Cherry Falls - indeed they do!

My star plant this year has to be Cherry Falls. It's a bush type tomato from Mr Fothergills 'David Domoney Get Growing' range. I've grown this for the past three years on my balcony with good enough results.  There were two seeds left in the pack, I wasn't sure they would still be viable but, with nothing to lose, I sowed them. It was a good decision; this plant exceeded all my expectations.

I gave one plant away and popped the other into a sunny corner of my Veg Trug ... and then, apart from watering, ignored it until green fruits started to blush red in mid-July.  


Within a couple of weeks, handfuls of sweet juicy fruit were there for the taking on almost a daily basis. This despite some very un-summerlike weather. By August's end, with the tsunami of tomatoes still coming, I started to weigh the harvests. From that point on I picked over a 1½ kilos so, in all, this one plant produced around two kilos of delicious ripe tomatoes.  Or to put it another way, over 4 lbs of tomatoes. I don't know about you but I was certainly impressed and will be growing this variety again next year. A bush tomato that can be grown in a large pot or raised bed? What's not to love!

It's now the end of the season with just a few more green tomatoes left. They may or may not ripen but I'll leave them on the plant.  Meanwhile, I've made 6 jars of Tomato and Apple Chutney - a neat way of reducing the numbers of tomatoes and apples accumulating in my kitchen.  There's been a fair amount of windfall apples recently and the freezer has already been replenished with apple chunks ready for winter pies. Chutney seemed the logical solution. 

But what of the other two tomatoes?  (Actually, I grew 8 varieties but the three mentioned here came out tops this year.)

Reissen, given to me as a plant, and Yellow Pear grown from seed - both indeterminate types - the ones that need more tending and faffing over. (see below) A greenhouse is also a good idea but I had a hot sunny corner outside so thought that would do. And it did.

So, Reissen you say? Yep. I'd never heard of it either but was given a small plant in March and grew it for its novelty value.  Each segment is a separate tomato that can be torn from the rest of the fruit without damaging the whole. Very nifty. And of course I forgot to take out the sideshoots in time (one of my better mistakes) so successfully replanted the larger shoots to get a few more plants. I love how tomatoes can root themselves so easily.

Reisse apparently translates as 'travel' so this is the traveller's tomato. I'm not a connoisseur of taste, but can tell you that I've very happily eaten these both freshly picked and fried over toast, both utterly delicious.  So, yes, I will try to save some seed from these for next year. 

Ripe bulbous tomato on the vine


And, lastly, Yellow Pear which gets a mention here because although it was slow to start fruiting, the fruits just kept on coming, individual clusters ripening at nicely timed intervals. There was still rather a lot of them though. And the colour, ripening from a pale yellow to a deep gold brightened up the borders. 

The last few Yellow Pears

So there it is, my top tomatoes for this year.  Cherry Falls has definitely earned a place on next year's list, as has Reissen, but the lesson learned is that I need to be growing more bush tomatoes as they're so much easier than the vine types!

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The Faff Factor: Indeterminate type tomatoes need to be grown as a single stem up a supportive cane or string; sideshoots need to be removed before they take over; the leader stem needs to be stopped when a certain number of fruit trusses have formed - all this in addition to feeding and watering. Determinate or bush types only need feeding and watering. 

20 Jun 2020

Fifty Shades of Red

So this is it ... the start of summer proper as heralded by sixteen plus hours of daylight, a solar eclipse and the summer solstice - all happening today.  But in the Veg Patch, the lead up to this momentous day has been all about berries and cherries. Especially the cherries.




Regular readers might recall that the cherry variety chosen for our little veg garden is Morello, the sour cherry. In hindsight, I suspect we knew very little about the Morello except that the name was familiar.  I'm fairly certain we had little idea that the flavour would be similar to sucking lemons. Harsh but frequently true.

On the plus side, the fresh fruit is impossible to buy in the shops which puts it in the category of unattainable and, possibly, desirable. (It's this cherry that the well known American cherry pie is baked with.) But, here in the UK, it's unavailable for no other reason than that they are of limited commercial value, as they are definitely not a snacking cherry, something I regret every year.  But, let's face it, if they were sweet cherries, the birds would get there before me.

Last year I lost almost the entire crop thanks to waiting patiently for the fruit to ripen to a slightly more palatable deep dark red. Big mistake. By the time I picked them, they had been discovered by fruit flies for the purpose of laying an egg in each which swiftly becomes a tiny white maggot. Don't ask me how I know this;  it was a special moment.

Needless to say, this year I am vigilant. I will not be taken by surprise by the sudden ripening of said fruit and have been patrolling up and down, sampling and noting the various hues of red, ready to pounce and pick.  A small punnet has already been brought indoors.



I would have, and could have, picked a lot more but I haven't quite sorted out what to do with them yet. These trees have always fruited generously which means there's ample scope for being creative in the kitchen.

The cherries are best used fresh (compote? pie? clafoutie? I haven't tried that yet.) but will keep for a few days in the fridge, more in the freezer and probably forever pickled in alcohol. At the risk of being repetitive, I'll probably make some more cherry chutney - it stores well and I'm partial to a lump of cheese with a side of chutney, preferably on freshly baked bread. And as I'm trying to avoid using sugar, I'm sweetening the compote with strawberries and maybe just a little honey.


Continuing this week's red theme ...

Huge luscious strawberries - I would say bowl after tempting bowl but most got eaten fresh from the stalk.



Ditto radishes. A quick wash in the water butt and breakfast is ready!


The first raspberries. None have made it to the kitchen yet. (And, bizarrely, they are autumn fruiting Polka berries. I'm not complaining.)



Nasturtiums.  These are the same plants that flowered last year, came through the winter months intact and have been flowering again since early spring. Just lovely.



And poppies, The big poppies have dropped their petals but little wild poppies keep cropping up - and very welcome they are too.



Last but very definitely not least... the ladybirds are back! A big cheer for all the ladybirds in my garden, heroically munching their way through hordes of aphids. This year seems to have brought pests in plague proportions so I have been very careful to rescue any ladybird larvae when pruning and tidying and relocate them to safety.



Wishing everyone a very happy summer solstice; we're unlikely to see much of the sun through grey skies but it's still a good day for making flower crowns, lighting a candle, acknowledging the season's passing, and gathering (in a safe and socially distanced way, of course!)


12 Jun 2020

Core Blimey! It's apple thinning time

One job that I almost can't bear to do every year (and frequently neglect) is to thin out the small apple fruit. It always seems a shame to remove healthy applets when the tree has put effort into making them. But the wise gardener knows that doing this is a kindness to the tree.

June fruitlet on Core Blimey apple tree
After thinning, all on its own

I have three apple trees to look after - one Core Blimey and two Braeburns.  Part of the original veg patch fruit planting in late 2009, the Braeburns have been fruiting well for a number of years.

The Core Blimey tree (yes, that is its real name) came a couple of years later (January 2013), being one of the original 100 trees developed by the (then London, now Urban) Orchard Project in conjunction with the Scottish conservation charity Trees for Life and Frank P Matthews nursery.  It was 10 years in the making, being developed from a single seed which makes it a very special tree in my book.

The tree was the first new apple tree to be developed specifically for London in over sixty years and a competition was run to name it.  I tip my virtual hat to whoever thought up the name; it's apt, amusing and befitting of a tree bred for its resilience and ability to withstand the rigours of an urban life.

Most of the trees went into parks within London's boroughs but community groups could also apply for a trees, so I did.  And was thrilled to be allocated one.

Despite being bred to withstand harsh urban conditions, my little tree steadfastly refused to blossom or fruit for the next six years.  But in 2019, well, that was a different story.  Finally the tree was covered in blossom in springtime and went on to produce at least three (three!) huge and very delicious blushed red apples.

Large apple in palm of hand
Last year's Core Blimey fruit. I may have eaten the other straight from the tree.

This year I've watched the blossom being pollinated by bees in the warm and dry early spring weather and counted the fruitlets as they formed. It looks like being a good year; I lost track after counting fifty apples on this little tree. But some of this bounty has to be culled.  I've picked my way through the branches, pocketing a couple of handfuls of tiny apples.

Cluster of small apples on the tree
One of us must go ... 

By removing all but one of the baby apples from each cluster (leaving one apple every three to four inches along the branch), the tree can direct its energy towards the remaining fruit. And, bonus, will have enough va-va-voom leftover to be productive in future years.

Some fruitlets will inevitably be shed during the 'June drop'.  This used to worry me as I stared at hordes of tiny apples and cherries on the ground, but there's no cause for alarm. I've since learned that this is just the tree's moment of self-care. And very helpful it is too, as the Braeburns are now too tall for me to reach the top branches.

In theory, Core Blimey fruit will ripen in October and can be stored until January. I'll have to take their word for it as I've fat chance of finding out if this true - the Cox-like fruit will tempt many people I'm sure, which is right and proper in a community garden. I'll keep my fingers crossed that I get to taste at least one.


7 Jun 2020

Crisp and Dry - End of month review for May

What can I say about this year's marvellous month of May? It's been a throwback to that glorious summer of 2018, with blue skies most days, hot sun and the occasional crispy plant if I didn't water every day. I'm wondering whether this is a seasonal blip or a transition reflecting climate change. All I know is that it has been rather lovely to have some wonderful bright weather to coincide with the coronavirus lockdown, and gardens full of colour.

At the beginning of the month, most of my food growing efforts for this year were still being hardened off on the often windy cliff face of my balcony, in training for the rigours of the great outdoors.  But the veg garden wasn't quite ready for them - rotting wooden raised beds had to be removed, seedlings cleared, plants relocated.  But it really wasn't as bad as I make it sound.

To be honest, this warm weather has caught me slightly off guard.  I usually sow mid spring and plant out when safe rather than having to see my beans munched by slugs and my corn flattened by strong winds funnelling between the buildings.  Playing it safe will result in later harvests than expected, but the plants will soon catch up. And the hot, dry weather has meant slugs are less adventurous.


The Veg Patch In May

Wild garlic leaves and elderflowers in a wooden tray

Outside in the veg patch, over the course of the month, broad bean flowers turned into fat pods, black aphids moved in, chamomile bloomed, wild garlic was made into delicious pesto and elderflowers were made into cordial and ice cream. (Yes! Elderflower ice cream - who knew? Thanks Instagram!)


A couple of purple sprouting broccoli plants, sown in June last year, should have sprouted in March and April. The plants are as confused as I am by the changing weather. One is huge (as expected) but budless, the other barely a foot high and had just started to sprout in the month's final week.  The harvest will be minimal but appreciated.  That's if the caterpillars don't get there first; there have been sightings, it's time to be vigilant.


But the really exciting news is that I've seen not just one but two fat little plums on the plum trees. Truly, a thrilling moment as it looks like these may actually ripen as the tree enters its second decade. And (please, please) might there be more if I look hard enough?  Could this be the year that the tree realises its purpose?

Failing that, there's always apples.  Both Braeburns and the Core Blimey apple trees are laden with tiny fruitlets. I must remember to thin them this year. (After the June drop.)


The quince, on the other hand, is confused. I last mentioned the swirls of blossom at the end of March; at the end of May, there appears to be very little fruit forming ... and, bizarrely, the tree has blossom on it once again.  Ten out of ten for trying.


The Salad Garden

Reflected evening sunlight on elderflower

My work in this garden has been scented by the flowers of a very mature elder tree all month.  These flowers are particularly sweet smelling and many evenings there have been accompanied by the song of a wren sitting in the branches high above me. I recorded the song one sunny evening and played it back, leading to a duet between the bird and my phone - and several others in the trees across the railway tracks. Such a rare treat in an urban setting. (And if, like me, you're unsure of which birds you're listening to, I have found the Chirp-o-matic app very helpful in identifying the song!)


The Veg Trugs in the salad garden have proved to be an excellent addition and so useful in providing slug free, easily picked ‘rabbit food’. I've been eating a selection of richly vibrant lettuce and other leaves throughout the month; it's my lunchtime treat.

The rocket is now starting to bolt (I may leave a few plants for their peppery flowers) but I failed to scale up realistically from my balcony salad trays and definitely sowed seeds too thickly here. I’m thinning the plants out now that they’re well past the micro leaf stage and leaving a few lettuces to get to full size.

I sowed with a lighter hand in Veg Trug #2 so leaves there are more manageable.  I've had to remove the fleece covers (too hot) and ordered mesh covers to keep bugs off. Too late it seems. Frustratingly, the mesh still hasn't arrived but will be in place for successional sowings.  And it's surprising how many bugs come out in the wash.

The third Veg Trug has been set up and now houses a few of my very many tomato plants. I'm using the spaces in between the plants for basil and borage, both of which are helpful companion plants for tomatoes. And I might add another row of carrots because, really, is there such a thing as too many carrots? (And, again, the height of the Veg Trugs is handy for this because the carrot root fly can't zoom up high enough to invade my crop when thinning.)

The few potatoes I'm growing this year are really just to test the Root Pouch planter which I was given at the Garden Press Event pre-lockdown. All seems to be growing well but the proof will be in the unearthing.  The spuds aren't ready yet but the pouch is alleged to produce better roots - and therefore more spuds? We shall see.


The Lime Tree Garden


My aim with this garden was to create another haven for pollinators.  I'm not quite there yet but I'm beginning to see a greater variety of bees visiting the garden, especially on the yellow flowers of the bolted broccoli. This plant, in the seasonal way of things, has now been pulled out. It’s done its work.

I've left the Geranium phaeum to flower as long as possible as a food source for bees but, by the end of the month, I'd chopped it right down - more buzz cut than Chelsea chop - necessary for relocating it to a shadier spot.  Hollyhocks will replace it, growing next to white foxgloves and Verbena bonariensis.

Further down this same bed, the flowers of Iris Susan Bliss came and went.

My lovely ranunculus flowers were over in what seemed like days.  I certainly didn't have the weeks of display of last year; I blame the weather. Anyhow, their day is done and I'm going to start over next year so have pulled up all the corms. 

Dahlia pots have come out of storage - i.e. dragged out from under the hedge.  I must admit that I'm being lazy and not planting them into the soil this year. I'll probably get less flowers but I'm taking my cue from The Pottery Gardener who grows everything in tubs or pots. Watering and feeding will be key.


Although this garden was set up as a space for flowers, herbs and relaxing, inevitably some food growing has crept in with blueberries, gooseberries, strawberries and even Chilean Guava all doing well.  They’re making the most of the extra light  while the pollarded lime trees remain as leafless pillars.


And while there’s light, I've planted a squash, a butternut and a courgette into a large corner that in a couple of years will be, once again, in deep shade under the lime trees.  For now though, I just want to see how the plants perform.  And, as a precaution, those plants have been temporarily caged - this garden is a favourite haunt of night time fox cubs!

And, finally, there was tea ...



An Australian permaculture channel posted a video for what they call 'Immune-i-Tea' ... a delicious immune boosting drink made from garden herbs.  To my delight, I found that I had all of the necessaries in my herb garden.

Just five herbs needed in roughly equal quantities, a small handful of each of yarrow (achillea), calendula flowers, mint, thyme and lemon balm.  Put into a large teapot, cover with boiling water and put the lid on.  Leave for at least 10 minutes and then pour.  It was surprisingly thirst quenching, tasty and uplifting and, I imagine, would also be lovely chilled. I think I may never buy another herbal tea bag.



28 May 2020

Digging up the daisies

A swathe of ox-eye daisies


Shall we just for a moment talk about flowers in the veg garden? Every day this week I’ve been working in the veg plot as plants raised in pots need to be planted out round about now.  As usual this task takes at least three times as long as anticipated  There’s always something to add to the list and this year it’s the removal of self seeded flowers.  I hope that doesn’t shock you. Of course I won’t be taking them all out, just the tiny ones that are in the wrong place.

It’s safe to say that I love that so many of my plants hurl their progeny across the plot - who doesn’t love a free plant! But there comes a time when it can be too much of a good thing.  I’m looking at you Feverfew and Linaria. (And, please, can we not mention forget-me-nots?)

Cerinthe flower, also known as honeywort
The honeywort has been particularly upstanding this year.

And then there’s Verbena bonariensis, foxgloves, honeywort... wonderful additions to any garden, especially as they provide a warm welcome for visiting pollinators. But why do the tall ones always seed into the side of the path? In a large garden the sight of tall flowers spilling over might have a certain je ne sais quoi appeal but in a small plot my experience has taught me otherwise.

I had already decided to give over a chunk of the plot to flowers, envisaging tall opium poppies, cosmos, rudbeckia and sunflowers. But, as we know, nature abhors a vacuum and the soil has now  been populated by calendula, antirrhinums and even a rather beautiful white campanula. None of them sown by me. When the wind blows ...

View of the veg garden and it's self sown wildflowers

But the star self seeder this year has been Leucanthemum vulgare, otherwise known as the Ox Eye daisy. Oh, how I wanted this plant when I saw it growing on the verges of country lanes! Imagine my delight at finding a tiny plant for sale locally!  Roll forward a couple of years and it has become yet another of those ‘be careful what you wish for’ plants in my garden.

This one tiny plant has seeded its way under the quince tree, over the asparagus bed, along the path, between the strawberries, under the redcurrant bush and even snuggled between the capping stones of the low wall.  Overkill? Certainly.

I’d already dug up the stragglers and several clumps before I read that this is an edible plant. Oops. Although, would I eat it? Probably not. Before flowering, the plant grows as a basal rosette of dark succulent leaves.  If picked young, they are alleged to be a worthy addition to a salad, albeit not exactly leaping into the ‘delicious’ or ‘essential’ categories of salad creation.

Carder bee sitting on ox eye daisy flower

I still have two large clumps under the quince tree.  One has flopped, I suspect helped on its horizontal trajectory by fox cubs; its fate is still in the balance. They’re quite easy to dig up, being relatively shallow rooted but for today it has a reprieve, helped by this common carder bee.  Until this sighting, I’d only seen garden flies on the flowers; in fact, I’d never noticed carder bees in the garden at all. I’ve since seen many more, easily recognisable by their stylish red fox fur jackets.

So will there still be Leucanthemum seedlings next year? Probably. And hopefully joined by those other self seeding daisies in the garden - Erigeron and chamomile.

a clump of tall while chamomile flowers over feathery foliage





18 May 2020

A delicious deluge to end the month

(Oops, this post should have been out at the end of April! What can I say?! I've been busy tending to my veg babies, amongst other stuff. Here it is to note what April was all about in the gardens.)


Purple asparagus spear waiting to be cut.
The appearance of the first asparagus in April. 

I feel slightly ungrateful saying this but wasn't April a bit too hot? April is known as a gentle month of moderate temperatures - frosts even - and certainly not known for the baking heat that chilli peppers enjoy. I, on the other hand, am not a chilli pepper so do not enjoy extreme heat and have had to limit my gardening to stay out of the midday sun.  Gratifyingly, April obliged by a return to form in the last week of the month with three whole days of solid rain, gently soaking into the parched and cracked earth. Such a treat for gardener and garden alike, I could almost hear the plants sighing with relief.

I had a wander round in a rare dry interlude; I love how perky seventy two hours of intermittent rain has made the garden. Like Jack’s beans, plants seem to have magically doubled in size overnight. Care to join me for a little garden tour?

The Balcony

April started with minnow daffodils flowering in pots and ended with overwintered cape gooseberries (physalis) starting to flower.

A collage of 3 pictures showing balcony plants in April.

Like every other gardener, trays of tomatoes, brassicas, courgettes and squash seedlings have been coaxed into surviving and thriving despite heat and wind. Unusually, by mid-month I was leaving all seedlings - including tomatoes, but not chillis - outside overnight in warm still air.  They’re not quite big enough to be planted out yet but it will be good to reclaim my balcony when the weather settles down.

The chilli pepper seedlings have been very slow this year.  Should I have sown in the chillier winter months? Probably. But, as the saying goes, I'll just keep calm and carry on.

The best thing though - and I highly recommend this - is having a tray of baby salad leaves nearby. Only three weeks after sowing (and with regular watering) I had baby leaves to eat. Earlier from this same tray, I snipped micro greens for salad toppings and to thin out the tray; then came the baby leaves; now I have cut and come again plants that I could plant out to grow on to full size. This supply of fresh salad leaves has been much appreciated while I wait for the salad garden to grow.

The Salad Garden

This secluded sheltered corner adjacent to the railway line is rapidly becoming my happy place; it would only be made more perfect by seeing one of the old steam trains puffing past while I’m there. (I once saw the Hogwarts Express on this line; I was waiting with my then 7 year old son for our regular train when the Harry Potter train puffed towards us. I almost spontaneously combusted with excitement.)

Raised bed filled with different types of lettuce and other salad ingredients

Anyway, one month in and No.1 Veg Trug is filling up nicely. I’m aiming for a mini salad bar where I can pick all the necessaries for a lunchtime salad - a choice of lettuce leaves plus chives, spring onions, radishes, mini carrots, rocket and lamb's lettuce. (Tomatoes will eventually go in a third Veg Trug, hopefully before the end of May.)

And, in case you're wondering, I'm not going to eat the marigolds but they make very good companion plants (supposedly deterring pests such as whitefly) plus they brighten things up. And they were cheap from the supermarket - as if I needed a reason to buy plants!

No 2 Veg Trug was sown three weeks after the first, roughly the third week of the month. Seed choices differ slightly from No 1 trug; this time I’ve sown endive, beetroot (for leaves. roots and colour), pink chard, purple carrots, and herbs - basil, flat leaf parsley and, I hope, chervil. Is chervil slow to germinate? It’s yet to put in an appearance, unlike the parsley seedlings which are known to be very slow off the mark but are shyly poking up above soil level.

Hotbin composter - yes, I have recently acquired one of those, having despaired of the wooden composter in the veg patch that was looking a little too rustic after ten years service. The Hotbin is supposed to make compost in just one or two months; I’ll do a full post once the first batch is done.

The Veg Patch garden

The month started with wild garlic, tulips, honeywort and blossom. Strong winds blew the pear blossom to the ground, cherry blossom clung on and apple blossom came after - in the heat.

Pink blossom on the Core Blimey apple tree

By mid month the nasturtiums, comfrey and sweet woodruff were flowering, peony stems popped up, and every branch of the Core Blimey apple was smothered in blossom. The garden soundtrack was of bees happily pollinating and birds singing. I'm quietly optimistic of a good year for this tree.

Flowering comfrey

The month closed with alliums, elderflowers, broad bean tops and sweet cicely flowers turning to delicious seeds.

Broad been tops

Plants for this year's veg garden are still in pots on my balcony until conditions are right for planting them out, but a walk around the veg patch gives thinking space for planning how to fit it all in - and what needs to come out. The wooden raised beds have done sterling work for ten years but are now falling apart. That’s the main reason they’re coming out but also because they provide a nice hiding place for snails; once they’ve gone, I can be more flexible with the space.

This year I've succumbed to growing Brussels sprouts having discovered how utterly delicious they are cooked with bacon. And what would I do in winter without broccoli, leeks and kales of various hues and textures? Late autumn will see butternuts, pumpkins, and squashes ripening. At a gardening event in February I was given seeds for two new squashes that will supposedly taste of potato when cooked - one mashed, the other baked.  I remain sceptical but I have to try, don't I?

Broad beans are still flowering and black aphid free (for now) so I’ve been taking the tops for steaming with butter - a useful side vegetable and delicious. The Russian kale has started to flower, bumble bees are having a feast and I’ve decided to leave one plant to grow on for seeds. This kale is not only beautiful but very good to eat, with sweet young leaves.

Yellow flower of Russian kale with purple stems


But what to do about the asparagus bed? The (few) purple spears are so delicious when freshly picked but, in such a tiny plot, is giving over the space justified? I plan to companion plant basil and tomatoes into the gaps (staying clear of the fragile asparagus crowns) but the debate rages on. Have any readers tried moving asparagus crowns? Please, let me know if you have and whether it was successful.

The Washing Line Border


Lavender about to bloom

This is my low maintenance drought area, bordering the circular drying lines. It’s low maintenance because it gets no attention beyond having horsetail and herb robert pulled out and 'drought garden' as the hosepipe won’t reach. And it gets full sun in the summer months.

So it changes, year on year, depending which plants can survive such harsh conditions. This year’s star plants for April are the lavender and erigeron. I swear they weren’t looking so lush a couple of days ago - all that rain must have given them the boost they need. I’m now thinking I should throw a bucket of water over this patch from time to time.

Erigeron (aka Fleabane) flowering between two clumps of Carex grass


The Lime Tree Garden

(aka the Car Park Garden)
So many lovely things happening here - what a month! This time last year I was still laying out the structure of the garden. Most plants were still in pots as I played with where to home them so this year I’m watching carefully to see what works and what might need moving.

Garden filled with shrubs and perennials.


This will take some thought as the garden is usually shaded, but there's more light this summer as a result of the three mature lime trees being pollarded into leafless pillars at the end of last year.

Evening view of herbaceous border in the garden

A few plants kept the borders green over winter but in April the border came alive with crocosmia leaves waving, and white campanula flowering very prettily next to an unknown brassica that I was given. The lychnis coronaria (rose campion) has trebled in size. I so loved this plant growing wild at the allotment plots that I bought one for the garden; I don't remember it being this big at the plots. This border is another area that needs adjusting; there's a new peony in there as well lavender, scabious and who knows what else that may have thrived or died over winter!

The next border along was earmarked for soft fruit, with maybe a few veg tucked in. I'm not rigid in my rules and sprinkled some old flowers seeds around last autumn. This was done with very little expectation but those seeds have produced a sea of white and blue nigella. Very pretty growing around the gooseberries.

White nigella flower against a background of green foliage


Ah, the aquilegia! This predates my custody of the garden has reliably bloomed mid-month. So pretty; I wish it would seed around a bit like they're supposed to.

pink aquilegia flowering in the garden


Blueberries - I have three plants but never get a heavy crop from these as they are, of necessity, kept in large pots. But that's the joy of gardening, you never know what to expect. Maybe this year I'll harvest more than a bowlful.

A clutch of flower buds on a blueberry shrub

Gooseberries, yum. I never liked gooseberries until I discovered the red ones. Now this is a crop to look forward to.  Don't be fooled by the green berries - these will soon turn a sweet, deep red to let me know I can start picking.

Gooseberry shrub with green fruit.

I won't mention the chilean guava or jostaberry this month as they're showing no signs of fruiting. Hmm. Hopefully more to report next month on those.

Likewise the ranunculus. Yes, they did bloom again from last year's corms but were over very quickly this year. I blame the heat. Again.

Let me finish with a quick look at the spring border. Gorgeous in February and March but now it has quite lost it's charm and become overrun with hellebores and honesty seedlings. I pulled out a lot of those seedlings but stopped before it all became too drastic.  The saving grace in April was the too brief appearance of the lily-of-the-valley that I brought back from my mother's garden and the bleeding heart plants. I need to give this a lot of thought; strong coffee might help.


1 May 2020

Bottling summer with homemade elderflower cordial

There's a massive elder tree next to the salad garden cul-de-sac, whose branches droop invitingly over the fence towards me.  Those branches are covered in umbels of flowers about to open so, naturally, I'm about to retrieve and wash my cordial bottles, ready to replenish my stocks of delicious home made elderflower cordial.




I've borrowed from my previous posts (2019 and 2015) about making elderflower cordial to keep things simple because, well, what more is there to say?  Except, maybe, elderflower fritters which I haven't tried but have heard are very good.

My recipe below is an easy one that I've found works well. I keep this to hand as I got very confused when I first tried to make elderflower cordial. Mine is an adaptation of several that I've used and tweaked year on year. (Originally I used limes, following Sarah Raven's recipe; it was not a happy outcome.)

Also, the sugar - it's a lot, but very necessary to extract the essence of the flowers and fruit. A couple of years ago I'd become concerned about the amount of sugar needed for the recipe so didn't make any cordial. It was a decision I came to regret during the extreme heat of the summer - a glass of iced water sweetened with a slug of citrus infused cordial hits the spot nicely on a hot day. So I now (try to) think of this cordial as a treat.  It's also very good added to an iced gin+tonic, and delicious in cake. (Note to me: I must look out those recipes.)



So, onto the recipe. It is, after all, why you're here.  But first, a few tips.

Tip one: Most recipes will include citric acid as a preservative - I don't bother. As I found it hard to get hold of at first, I now keep one bottle of cordial in the fridge and freeze the rest in small washed plastic bottles saved from the smoothies I buy when out. I think that the addition of citric acid may alter the flavour and the cordial might not taste as nice. Also, thanks to the sugar content, the cordial freezes really well; I've defrosted cordial after a year with perfect results.

Tip Two: Look carefully for aphids before you pick the flowers. I found some stems covered in the sort of black aphids usually found on broad beans and left those blooms well alone. Even so, when I got home, I made sure to gently shake the blooms over the sink to dislodge any other critters. (A few black aphids, greenfly and a couple of small spiders, thanks.) Having done that, I then held the blooms over a white tea towel for a second look; it was needed.

Tip Three: There may be some tempting plate sized blooms below knee level just begging to be picked. Don't. Wherever you live, there will be creatures that wee. In my case, dogs and foxes. (I hope that's all but let's not go there.) My advice is to pick the blooms that you have to stretch up high for, just to be on the safe side.

Tip Four: Make sure that you're picking the right flowers. Always important when foraging for any edibles but here the unmistakeable smell of elderflowers should ensure you pick wisely. If in doubt, here's some visual help.

Collage of 3 elderflowers and one that isn't!
Spot the difference! Bottom right is NOT elderflower - look at the leaves!

So now all we need is for the sunshine to return ... !



My simple but trusted recipe for Elderflower Cordial


Large bowl filled with elderflower heads and citrus fruit


3 unwaxed lemons
1 or 2 oranges
1 kg (2.2 lbs) granulated sugar (in the US: ordinary sugar not powdered sugar)
15-20 medium to large elderflower heads
1.5 litres tap water (50 US fluid ounces)

First stage:
In a large pot on the stove, make a sugar syrup by slowly dissolving the sugar in the water over a gently heat. Stir occasionally and once dissolved (no more sugar grains to be seen), bring the syrup to the boil for about 5 minutes.
While that's doing, peel the oranges and lemons. The white pith is bitter so try to leave that on the fruit. (Or just slice the fruit in ½ cm chunks.)
Cut the big stems off the cleaned/shaken elderflowers and put the flowers in a large pot or saucepan with the citrus peel.
Pour the hot syrup over when it's ready. Put a lid on the pan and leave to infuse for 24 - 36 hours. (The timing is very forgiving; life is unpredictable.)

Next day/stage:
Sterilise bottles or jars ready to decant the mixture into. Giving plastic bottles a good hot wash will suffice if they're going into the freezer. Glass bottles can be washed and then dried on a low temperature in the oven for 10 minutes. As a time saver before now, I've washed and then microwaved glass jars to sterilise (but not the metal lids - please!) Lids should be boiled in a pan of water for a few minutes.
Sieve the infused cordial through a muslin cloth or tea towel, placed in a sieve over a bowl or large jug. I now use a jelly bag held securely in it's frame, so much easier! (Here, for info.)
Pour the cordial into the bottles, and store as appropriate.

... Or drink straightaway!  And enjoy!

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