12 Jul 2018

Five kilos of cherries


July is the month of soft fruit and I absolutely adore the sight of ripe red cherries hanging from the trees in my garden - even knowing that the cherries in question are not sweet cherries. At the time the garden was repurposed for food growing, our group chose sour rather than sweet cherries. I'm not altogether sure that we knew what we were doing; I expect someone recognised the name Morello, perhaps from a delicious jar of store bought jam, and thought that was the cultivar to go for.  As it happens, it was a good decision in terms of location (Morellos don't mind a bit of shade) with the bonus that birds leave the fruit alone ... on the whole.

Once the fruit ripens, it pays to act fast. I noticed the cherries starting to blush in mid June - slightly early this year - and two weeks later they were ripe enough to pick. If left for much longer, the juice attracts ants, and possibly wasps, and the fruit becomes sticky, pockmarked and spoiled.

Right from the start our trees were happy and produced a teeny crop in the first year.  This year I was astounded to discover I'd picked FIVE kilos of ripe fruit from those two little trees.  I'd like to say that the bumper harvest was due to my tender ministrations and be able to dispense advice on how to achieve same but, to be honest, I did nothing other than prune out branches that stuck out at eye level. The late spring and warm sunshine must have given the blossom plenty of opportunities to be pollinated.


So. What exactly do you do when you suddenly have five kilos of cherries in your kitchen and very little time?

As ever with an abundance, it's good to share the bounty with neighbours and friends if you can.  I offloaded two kilos and after that the task ahead wasn't nearly so daunting.

With family away on holiday, I didn't want to make anything that had to be eaten straightaway. Cheesecake topped with cherries is delicious but might cloy when you have to eat the whole thing by yourself; ditto for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's cake with soft fruit recipes in the Guardian. The hunt was on; cookery and preserve books were pulled from the shelves.

Jam crops up a lot when searching for Morello recipes - Sarah Raven's recipe is here - fine if you don't mind putting unhealthy amounts of sugar in your cooking but, as Hugh F-W points out in the above linked article, the flavour of the fruit is somewhat sacrificed in the pursuit of preserving it. Even more relevant is the knowledge that sugar is so bad for our health. He recommends a halfway house of compote - cooking the fruit lightly using just a little sugar.

After reading a lot of recipes (most of which used sweet cherries), I opted to freeze most of my sour cherries - washed, stone left in, spread in a single layer, then bagged up for future use. It took no time to make a dish of compote and was surprisingly delicious.  The remainder I popped into a sterilised jar and covered with a sugar syrup as an alternative method of preserving. (Methods below.)

Only yesterday as I did some food shopping, I was inspired to remember that the Rhubarb and Rosewater Tart that I wrote about last year could easily be converted to a Morello Cherry Tart. The rhubarb is laid on top of a frangipane filling so, just leave out the rosewater and top with fresh Morello cherries instead of rhubarb and bake as instructed.

The same would apply to a rhubarb traybake recipe I found last year on the Tesco website - basically it's a sponge base, then a layer of rhubarb (or cherries), topped with oats and nuts. I remember it being particularly scrumptious. Link here.

Gardener's tip:
I have two Morello cherry trees, both planted nine years ago although one was moved to a north/east facing corner bed two years later to prevent overcrowding. They're shallow rooted so easy to move when small. Morello is the one type of cherry that will thrive in an east facing border; mine get morning sun then are in shade by early afternoon.  By pruning in July/August (after the fruit is picked), I've been able to keep the trees relatively small.  Cherries fruit on stems that grew in the previous year so don't cut back new growth; chopping out older unproductive wood at this time of year will stimulate new growth for fruiting next year. It's also a good idea to mulch around the tree in winter to protect the roots.

Recipes I used:
Morello Cherry compote: 300g of stoned cherries, 80g light brown sugar and 1 tablespoon of water, simmered together in a pan until tender, about ten minutes. Use straightaway or keep in the fridge for a few days.

Bottled cherries:
I used the quantities for heavy syrup from Pam Corbin's 'Preserves' book - 250g sugar and 600ml water. Slowly dissolve the sugar in the water over a gentle heat, then boil for one minute. Put the fruit into sterilised jars; pour the hot syrup over the fruit, lightly close the lids (leaving room for steam to escape).  Put the jars into a tray filled with water and place in the oven at 150C for 30 minutes.  Tighten the lids and allow to cool. 

Other inspiration:

Nigel Slater (Tender / Volume II) uses fresh tart cherries to top a cheesecake; mixes them into a clafoutis; and uses them to make a sharp sauce to pair with gammon. (500g cherries, 50g sugar, 8 juniper berries, 1 bay leaf, 2 tbsps water - stone the cherries, mix all in a saucepan, bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes, cool.)

Sweet pickled cherries from Pam Corbin's River Cottage Handbook No 2:  I won't copy the recipe out, find it here on another blog and replace the damsons with cherries, firm gooseberries or rhubarb.




5 Jul 2018

Some observations from the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

Settle in for a long post, folks - I spent Monday at the third of the four main RHS summer flower shows, held in the best of locations at the rear of Hampton Court Palace.



The show is vast - allegedly the biggest flower show in the world -  and is hosted on a huge site straddling the Long Water canal created by Charles II (1660-85) to welcome his Spanish bride. The different categories of show gardens are dotted throughout the site making it quite a challenge to take it all in. There are show gardens, world gardens, gardens for a changing world, lifestyle gardens, a conceptual garden, flower box gardens, veg box gardens, and feature gardens. That alone would be enough for me but there are also treasure trails for children, a community growing area, an enormous Floral Marquee, the Festival of Roses marquee, talks, workshops, celebrity demonstrations and, thankfully, lots of seating and eating. Comfy footwear is essential if you want to see it all, and more than once I wished I'd taken my hat to combat the day's bright sunlight and heat!

Just one of the celebrity theatres hosting demonstrations.  Celebrated Chef, Raymond Blanc, put together delicious salads on the day I was there.  Click pic to see larger timetable!

It was a lot to take in - and to think about afterwards. Thousands of Busy Lizzies swayed the judges to award a Gold Medal to one show garden; I have to beg to differ on that, they're not my favourite plants although it made a change from seeing the more ubiquitous closely planted achillea, orlaya, rudbeckia, salvia, etc. As I overheard from one onlooker "these gardens all look the same"!  To a certain extent, maybe.

Better, there was a lot more naturalistic planting - Anne Marie Powell's feature garden celebrates the 30th anniversary of BBC television's Countryfile programme with hedgerows, a gnarled willow tree, streams and stepping boulders across a pond.  Good to see the British countryside represented here, albeit in a finely honed, designed version. Hopefully it will encourage a few more ponds and wildlife areas in domestic gardens, although not on this scale!





Water featured in many gardens - from the fountains in the Charleston garden, the hot tub in the Nordic garden, the waterfalls of Oregon, streams, ponds, gushing water features and the beach of Galicia (which I chat about below).  Rocks were a recurring theme too.

Waterfall feature in the Oregon World Garden.
Even if the country wasn't in the middle of a heatwave, a water feature is such a great addition to a garden area, whether in the form of a small wildlife pond, a water fountain, or a more formal water feature. Water ripples on the breeze, trickles to make sounds, hosts wildlife, and provides bathing and drinking for birds. With luck, a small pond might also host a few slug eating frogs. It was brilliant to see water features in both small and large gardens here at Hampton Court.

Also this year the RHS celebrates Iconic Horticultural Heroes with a new feature area. The first of these heroes is Piet Oudolf and he'd planted up a large meadow area in his inimitable style.  With sunshine and an evening breeze, the grasses and perennials swished around to full effect.  A glorious sight with identifiable planting making it easy to copy for a perennial meadow effect at home.

Hoping for some of this in my own garden this year - Monarda fistulosa aka Wild Bergamot

Achillea aka Yarrow

Echinacea pallida

Helenium, Echinacea, Stipa grasses, alliums, flowering wild carrot,  and lots more that I can't remember!
💚



Of all the show gardens, the first garden I saw has remained my absolute favourite - A Garden at the End of the Earth, designed by Rose McMonigall for Galicia tourism. As a yachtswoman, she is well acquainted with the rocky coastline of Finisterre in northern Spain and used that to evoke a calm, secluded fisherman's garden in one of Galicia's sheltered Rías or estuaries.  A boat moored in the shallows, a rock pool, dappled shade, a backdrop of scallop shells, simple planting and the Finisterre coastline combined to conjure the perfect antidote to the scorching hot day.






I love the attention to detail in the garden; not just the authentic lobster pots, rustic bench and nets outside the fisherman's cottage but seaweed, pebbles and razor shells tucked around the rocks on the beach. There was even a tiny crab placed at the edge of the water.



The simple planting is representative of the natural flora of the Finisterre region but is also hardy enough for a coastal or city garden in the UK.  Asters, Euphorbia myrsinites, grasses (Stipa and Carex), Sea Thrift (Armeria maritima),  Eryngiums, Erigeron and Sea Campion kept the palette simple and all would thrive in free draining soil.  Beautiful, I hope you agree?



And, on that note, I'm off to the coast myself to enjoy some of this lovely weather with sea breezes. But there's more to write about from the show - good ideas from the Dig In plot to plate arena, the Floral Marquee, and the tiny Flower Box and Veg Box gardens.  Back soon with this news but, in the meantime, if you can get to the show, it's well worth the effort!


Looking back towards Hampton Court Palace from the bridge across the Long Water


The show is easily reached by train from London with the station just a short walk away from the show grounds along the very scenic river path. (Car parking is also available but expensive.)

2 Jul 2018

Weed, Mulch, Water, Clear



It's been a busy month in the veg patch.  Every year I imagine that I'll reach that dreamed of moment when all that's needed is a little light watering in the evening and a chance to sit and relax.  Hohoho. Well, that's certainly not happening this year! (Does it ever?)

As usual, there's been good and bad, yin and yang, light and shade.  The heatwave continues so watering is sparse but slugs are few; flowers have bloomed then faded much too quickly; aphids have been legion, weeds less so. Hopefully after my efforts in past weeks, the bad will have been nudged to one side. Temporarily, at least.

I've used some of my precious Dalefoot compost on the veg beds - tickling a bit into the soil first, then watering and adding a layer as mulch around the plants. It's made from sheep's wool and bracken so has excellent moisture retention qualities, just what's needed in this hot weather.  Pumpkins, courgettes and squashes will also benefit from the added nutrients and are looking very healthy.

Sugar Snap peas are also looking good. They were sown in mid-May and we've only had one week of wet weather since so I've had to water them from a can when I have time. With no nearby tap, I've filled the water butts and draw water sparingly from there; it's not ideal but it has to do.

My broad beans have been cleared. Module sown in January, then planted into the garden as small plants in early April, they'd become heavily infested with black aphids. I tried the usual squishing a few weeks ago, then squirting as numbers increased (dilute a dollop of eco dish soap with water in a spray bottle). By mid-June I admitted defeat.  The swarms of sap suckers had made their way down to the fattening bean pods; it was the final straw so I pulled up the plants for compost.  I was able to rescue a few pods after a good wash, enough for a couple of salads or a risotto, but that's it. The garden is now too full to start over with another crop (I used the vacated space for my winter broccoli plants) so I'm trying something new; I've sown the last of my Karmazyn broad beans into a pot for salad leaves.  And next time, I'll be sowing my broad beans in October for overwintering.

This idea of having broad bean flavoured salad leaves came from Mark at Vertical Veg
I knew of growing peas for shoots but not broad beans - clever, eh?

Harvests seems to be quite slow this year - or is that just me?  I stopped harvesting rhubarb and asparagus by mid-June. Actually, the asparagus was quite good this year, a steady stream of a small plateful of stems every week from the three remaining crowns -  just enough to get excited about without overwhelm.  They've now grown into towering ferny stalks with bees all over the flowers.

I've also had a few mange tout (so nice of the slugs to leave a few for me) and strawberries but that's it apart from some kale and Komatsuna. Oh, and cherries, so so many cherries. Hopefully it will be a different story in a few weeks - by then, the onions and garlic I planted out late should be ready to lift, I'll have peas, ripe red gooseberries and redcurrants and maybe even some tomatoes and curly kale.

What does everyone else think - are your gardens on track or do you sense some delays?

Grower’s Tip:

Legumes (beans, peas) draw nitrogen from the air and fix it in nodules on their roots to benefit the plant during growth. It was thought that leaving the roots in the soil would then benefit follow on plants but now science says that if you want your soil to benefit, the plants have to be grown as a catch crop and cut down before the flowers turn to pods.

Another tip:
I’ve just read in ‘Our Plot’ by Cleve West that if blackfly persist after pinching out the tips of the plant, he makes a slurry of mud and water to rub into the plant to thwart the aphids.








1 Jul 2018

Dappled Shade



Can you believe this summer weather we're having in the UK? Day after day of cloudless blue skies, hot sunshine and gentle breezes.  Just fabulous; it beats the hell out of sitting indoors complaining about continuous rain which is what we've generally had to contend with in previous summers.

No, this summer is the stuff that childhood memories are made of and we Brits will probably be talking about it for some time.  You know how we do love to chat about our unpredictable weather.  But, and please don't think I'm complaining, I'm not partial to gardening in extreme heat.  It makes me go a bit wobbly so, generally, I try to avoid the midday heat.  Frequently though, I get so involved in what I'm doing that I lose track of time and, as luck would have it, I have a nice little spot of shade to head into for a cool down. The importance of a small corner of dappled shade in a garden can't be overemphasised in my opinion, even in a country that's prone to soggy summers.

If I'm in the veg patch, I can take refuge in the shade of the fruit trees. They're in an east facing walled border so by early afternoon when the heat is starting to get to me, the height of the trees throws some welcome dappled shade. The low wall at the front of the border is the perfect height for sitting and watching the garden while catching a cool breeze. I highly recommend everyone makes the most of any shade in their gardens; it's a chance to enjoy the garden and watch the wildlife. Care to join me?

Lots of fruit on the Braeburn apple trees, but it's the cool shade under the leaves that I'm after.


Long stems of Scabious atropurpurea 'Kudos' dancing in the breeze. Bees love the flowers.
These were dug up and brought home from the allotment a few weeks ago. Being transplanted doesn't seem to have bothered them and they're still in the green recycling tub that I used to transport them.

I've never managed to get this Crocosmia to flower but it was from Mum's garden so it stays.
A useful plant for wafting in the breeze, bringing motion to the garden. I love the way it catches the light.


I took ages to get this shot on a breezy day but fair play to this ladybird, she hung on during her roller coaster ride.


Dappled shade under the cherry trees. Ten days ago, this fruit was only just starting to ripen; now it needs picking before it's discovered by birds and the juice found swiftly thereafter by wasps and ants!


How are you coping with this summer heat?

12 Jun 2018

Four rhubarbs and a recipe for homemade rhubarb gin

~ Homemade pink gin ... perfect for summer! ~

~ Glaskin's Perpetual in July 2013 - its second year of growth ~
Well, I've done it. The Glaskins' Perpetual rhubarb is perpetual no more.  You may wonder why as I nurtured it from a seed but there were various reasons why it had to go and now the deed is done. The whole thing has been dug up and composted. 

~ If you dig up rhubarb, be warned, it's ugly work. ~
I have fond memories but no regrets for this magnificent plant; every time I removed an elephantine leaf, more quickly grew. In recent years, I swear it was conspiring with the raspberry canes to block my access into the garden. It made the garden look lush and full but practicality has to dominate in a small veg garden and this year, selfishly, I need the space for my pole beans and luffahs.



There's no denying that rhubarb is a lovely plant to have in a food garden because new leaves can be the first signs of a new season of growth.  But while gardeners showed first stems of forced pink rhubarb and, later, tender new red stems, my rhubarb would remain resolutely green with an occasional angry rash of red at the base. Not delightful.  And certainly not attractive when cooked.  No, for that you need red rhubarb.

I cast my eyes longingly at the forced pink rhubarb at the local greengrocers and lusted after a red stemmed variety of my own. Two Red Champagne crowns were duly planted in the fruit tree border a few years ago but have never done well, to the point of sending up distress flares by way of flower stems.  Right plant, wrong place. Needs to be moved, but that's a thought for another day.  So then I had three rhubarb plants, none of which came close to realising the dream. I even tried forcing the Glaskin's Perpetual this spring but it just sulked; to be fair, it was a bit snowy at the time.

~ New rhubarb on the block; Siruparber Canada Red ~

And then along came 'Siruparber Canada Red®'. I'd spoken to plant breeder, Lubera, at the Garden Press Event in February who agreed to end my rhubarb woes and sent me a Siruparber in a pot, which I quickly planted into the garden - a sunny spot with room to grow and plenty of muck dug into the hole first. And a bonus layer of wool pellets to protect against hungry slugs.

I have high hopes that this rhubarb is the dream - stems that are red from inside to out, mild tasting, never fibrous, doesn't need peeling (who has time for that anyway?), appears in March and can be harvested until late June. Three months of glorious deep pink rhubarb for compotes, crumbles, pies, cakes, jam, syrup (hence the name) and ... gin!

My imagination was recently fired by a recipe online for quick, no-wait, rhubarb and strawberry gin; then, while clearing the allotment plot last week, I pulled weeds and bindweed from the end bed and discovered rhubarb plants flourishing underneath. A handful of the reddest stems came home with me and I treated myself to a few Siruparber stems for colour (even though it's not advisable to harvest in the first year of planting), plus a handful of strawberries from the garden. A short while later, after some simmering and straining, I had a bottle of sensationally pink gin, a jug of deep pink syrup and a bowl of delicious pink compote. The results exceeded expectations but, traditionally, rhubarb and sugar are steeped in gin for several days before straining; I can't help wondering which method is best. Maybe the flavour will be slightly stronger? Certainly the colour of mine can't be bettered but I'm curious to find out.

~ Click on the picture to see it larger ~
😋

By the way ...
The longest day is just 9 days away! on the 21st June and tradition says to stop pulling rhubarb after that. (Unless you grow Glaskin's Perpetual in which case harvest away until autumn.) I guess that's to do with the oxalic acid migrating back down the stem and increasing the chances of tummy ache. It's quite unsettling to know that the days will slowly be getting shorter again; it's a good reminder to seize the day and appreciate our gardens and plots.



I want to thank Lubera for gifting me the Siruparber plant; as usual all opinions are my own and I wouldn't endorse something I didn't believe in.  The trial will continue next year by which time the plant will be well established and should grow a lot bigger. More updates then.
Also ...
I notice that Lubera are selling their rhubarb plants at half price at the moment and free of shipping costs. Just saying.


7 Jun 2018

Good ideas from the allotments

Vintage, cobbled together, upcycled or just plain eccentric -there's lots to inspire on an English allotment!


By the end of the week I'll no longer be going to the allotments as the lady I help has decided to call it a day and give up her plot. So, after three full on days of clearing the plot and shed ready for the incoming tenant, I treated myself to a wander around this gorgeous site.  The allotments are on an incline looking down over the treetops of Hampstead Heath, giving the space a fantastic view.  I'll miss it, especially at the height of the summer when it's so peaceful to sit and watch the sun set beyond the trees after a day's gardening.

Walking on to the plot, I'd regularly see something that would make me stop and think, "Oh, that's clever" or "Ooh, I like that" or "Hmmm, ingenious".  Even sometimes, "What the ... ?!" but let's not dwell on that.

I find the plots really inspiring.  Sometimes it's deliberate creativity, as in building a greenhouse out of windows, sometimes it's a happy accident of allowing self seeded plants to grow companionably alongside other crops.  Occasionally, it's stumbling across a favourite but forgotten plant that's seeded itself into a crack between bricks or on a grass verge or, as happened last year, in the middle of one of the veg beds when mullein (wanted) appeared to replace the swathes of Good King Henry (unwanted).

I'm hoping that I'll be able to go back occasionally as a friend has just been given a new plot there and has said she would welcome my help.  For now, here are just a few of the good ideas that I saw there over the past few days.


Making the most of even the smallest space with companion planting.  This verge-side bed is on the boundary of the plot, behind a rosemary hedge.  This year it's filled with carrots, nasturtiums and a few marigolds (Tagetes).  If the marigolds survive the slugs, the bed will look so colourful when the nasturtiums flower plus there'll be two edible crops - three if the marigold's petals are added to salad.



Pigeons are a real problem but seem to be even more voracious this year; possibly the slow spring has left them very hungry to feed their chicks. Whatever.  Gardeners need to protect their crops and I liked this idea of using plastic balls (meant for a toddler's ball pit) to top canes under netting. Usually small plastic bottles are used and I've used discarded tennis balls before now but this is another colourful option that reuses plastic otherwise destined for the tip.



I'm not sure if this is an old security gate, window guard or bed frame. However, how many people would look at it and think, "perfect frame for my grape vine!"? A bit of lateral thinking goes a long way. Looks pretty good too, I think.



It's in the nature of things that certain objects in a garden are going to be untidy - canes, bottle cloches, for example.  This, though, is treated, tongue in cheek, as an art installation by the plotholders who fondly refer to it as 'The Turner Prize'.  I seriously doubt this is one for the private garden but think the use of an old bicycle wheel to keep canes in place ingenious.



Dotted throughout the plots, vintage and cobbled together pieces add charm and interest to a plot. I love the old coal scuttle used to grow herbs and this tiny wooden stool.  I was given an old galvanised metal watering can from the plot; it already had holes drilled in the bottom for drainage so I plan to plant it with nasturtiums or strawberries or, hmmm, maybe some dwarf cosmos, and it will look gorgeous!



It would take a very determined slug or snail to reach that mint. You don't see many old chimney pots being thrown out these days, more's the pity. You're far more likely to have to buy one from a salvage yard or vintage sale. And remember white china Butler sinks? They were always a good bet for a free planter ... until they became popular again in modern kitchens.  Worth keeping a look out though, you never know your luck!


And this I so admire ...


Over the past couple of years these apple trees have been painstakingly trained along wires to create a boundary fence for this plot.  It's not unusual to grow fruit along the edge of a plot but this plot is always immaculately maintained and this fence of espaliered apples suits it perfectly.  So much patience required! Why have just a fence when you can have an edible boundary?

What about your plot or garden - have you drawn inspiration from something creative you've seen?




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