30 Dec 2017

Easy risotto with garden grown Squash(kin)


~ Squashkin, butternut and Old Boer White pumpkin ~

Let me tell you about one of the loveliest and tastiest squashes that I grew this year. I'm never without a butternut squash lurking somewhere in my kitchen so wanted to grow my own this year.  But how much better to grow a squash in the shape of a pumpkin! My eyes lit up when I saw seeds of a new hybrid called 'Squashkin' in the Marshall's catalogue last year and I promptly ordered some. But first, another tale.

I was never the child that tore into Easter eggs or birthday presents, instead I teased out the moment, savouring every tuck in the paper or release of tape, trying desperately to avoid a glimpse of what was inside. I could leave my Easter eggs in their cellophane for weeks and know it annoyed my siblings no end that I still had chocolate long after theirs had been eaten. It was my way of eking out the anticipation and choosing the right moment to indulge. Until, that is, a particularly beautiful Easter chocolate sculpture of birds in a nest with their speckled eggs was left too long in the sun and melted. Dismay, disappointment and regret ensued.



Why mention this now? Well, I've been at it again, prolonging the moment to cook the squashes and pumpkins that I grew this year. Harvested in late October, they've sat in my kitchen ever since, where I can admire their rustic beauty. (Does anyone else feel like that about their pumpkins? I'd grow them for looks alone!) I searched through my cook books for inspiration, something delicious that both my son and I would enjoy. I wasn't sure that he'd be too interested in roasted veg, while soup didn't seem to do this beautiful vegetable justice. (Although I've since found a promising recipe in an old Delia book, rescued from my mum's kitchen last year.)



Finally, yesterday, it was time. After all the cooking and eating of indulgent Christmas fare, I wanted to cook something quick, easy and soothing. Risotto ... with the Squashkin. Way back in spring, I'd been tempted by descriptions of this squash being a hybrid with the thin skin and keeping qualities of a butternut and the superior aromatic flavours of a Crown Prince. So I anticpated that the skin would be easy to slice.  It was - as easy, if not easier than a butternut whose skin had hardened on a supermarket shelf. I also hoped that the flesh had ripened enough. Apparently, yes. (It wasn't a huge pumpkin and took ages to appear - in 2018 I'm sowing earlier.) A check round the kitchen gave me onions, garlic, chorizo, herbs and stock. Dinner was served half an hour later with some butter-fried chestnut mushrooms. (Peas and greens added after photo. Oops.)
πŸ˜‹



I always make extra for leftovers lunch the next day. This was so good that the pot was scraped clean for second helpings. Risotto is so easy to make that I feel silly offering this as a recipe - consider it more as inspiration. Sometimes I use leeks or shallots rather than onions, or stir blue cheese rather than parmesan through at the end, or no cheese at all, or perhaps some chicken leftover from a roast with sliced red bell peppers or a sprinkle of chilli flakes. A risotto of frozen peas and parmesan is perfect for small children - although squash added to that makes it very pretty and just as popular. I just love that the base dish is so adaptable. And there's no need for all that stirring and waiting, although that in itself can be very soothing.  My son, being a student with no time for faffing in the kitchen, taught me to throw everything in after sweating off the onions. He puts his in a big Le Creuset pot, gives it a good stir, pops the lid on and leaves it in a medium oven for 40 minutes. It tastes just the same.

The real reason for writing this post is to suggest Squashkin as a good vegetable to grow next year if you have the space. (Allow one square metre per plant.) The flavour was really good - and definitely superior to supermarket butternut squash and big orange pumpkins. Cooked in the stock with the rice, the chunks of squash softened and absorbed the other flavours and the end result was utterly delicious.  Job done!


(Recipe provided for anyone that has never made risotto.)

Easy Squash and Chorizo Risotto for 2-3 people

140g arborio rice
700ml hot stock (I use half home-made chicken stock, half Marigold bouillon)
1 medium onion, chopped finely
2 large garlic cloves, sliced very thinly
Half a large squash, about 600g before peeling
1 teaspoon of dried herbs (or fresh finely chopped thyme/rosemary from the garden)
125g chorizo, chopped into very small pieces (or buy a pack from Waitrose :D )
Olive oil and a half-ounce knob of butter

Add a splash of olive oil to a large casserole pot or non-stick pan. Have the pot over a low flame. Melt the butter in the oil and add the finely chopped onion. Stir to coat and cook on a very low heat until soft and translucent. Don't let the onion pieces burn but a long sweating is good as this sweetens them. Peel, deseed and cube the squash. Add the squash cubes to the onion as you go, stirring in. After 10 minutes or so, add the finely sliced garlic and cook gently for a minute.

Add the rice, stir to coat with the pan juices. Sprinkle with herbs, if using. After a minute, add a good splash of hot stock. Stir. After another minute of stirring, add all the remaining hot stock and stir for a few seconds. Pop a lid on and leave it to simmer, checking every once in a while to give it a stir and make sure nothing is sticking to the pan.

When the rice is soft (I like mine slightly over cooked, rather than 'al dente'), add the chorizo and stir through to heat. (At this stage cheese and/or chopped parsley can be added.) There you go, dish up and it's ready to eat. 



20 Dec 2017

Ways to keep warm while winter gardening


Hands up all those who garden through the winter?  And how many of those hands are currently getting cold while gardening? Or dog walking, foraging, chopping logs? Indeed any outdoor activity during winter. Personally, I find numb fingers very challenging. Well, my lovelies, I've found a solution in the gloves photographed above.

Like many others, I was always told that if you keep your extremities warm (feet, head, hands), the rest of your body would stay warm too.  In the days of coal fires and cold rooms when I was very young, I remember my grandad wore his woolly hat to bed in winter; his head was almost bald so needed the extra protection! My mum made sure that my siblings and I had warm knitted mittens, thick socks, wool coats and hats on before she shooshed us outside - and it worked, we stayed warm and had rosy cheeks from the fresh seaside air ... even if we looked like the Start-Rite kids.

Much more recently, there was a conversation thread on the Facebook Garden Bloggers group about what gardeners wore to keep warm.  It was generally agreed that layers was the way to go, with thermal vests and tights under t-shirts and trousers, and jumpers or fleeces under protective gardening garb. Woolly hats were recommended, thick socks under gardening boots helpful.  A flask of hot water for tea or coffee, essential. Tea, toast, cake and a warming fire something to look forward to at the end of the day; several mentioned the hypnotic allure of a good bonfire in the garden at this time of year.  It became apparent that many gardeners don't stop in winter but wrap up warm and get on with it. Those fruit trees and shrubs are not going to prune themselves.

As for me, I like to be able to move freely so use a lightweight fleece lined jacket over wool jumper and vest, and that does the trick for me. I'm also lucky to have a pair of very warm wellies. Once I get moving, I heat up very quickly. But my hands sometimes get cold, even with leather gardening gloves to take the edge off.  Recently, I was delighted to spot these thermal gardening gloves on the Briers website then saw that they were out of stock. I phoned to ask if they were getting any more in and was told that they'd restocked the day before and would I like a pair?  Ooh, yes please! I wore them for the first time yesterday in the garden and they exceeded all expectations. I emptied trugs of icy water, dug weeds from soggy soil, lifted cold pots and gathered wet leaves with my hands. My usual gloves would have been wet, cold and my hands the same; with these Ultimate Thermal gloves, my hands were toasty warm, dry and comfortable. Need I say more? (Except perhaps that they're washable.)

My opinion? Essential kit for all winter gardening.


Disclosure: Briers gifted me a pair without asking for a review but they work so well that I wanted everyone to know about them.

Here are the details:
Briers Ultimate Thermal gloves. Now £5.99. Flexible down to -30ΒΊC; double insulated with brushed fleece inner liner for added warmth; foam coated palm for added grip. (The coating also makes the fingers and palm water resistant.) Sizes: Medium, Large, Extra Large. (I have small hands; the gloves were slightly loose but not overly so, and worth it for the warmth they gave.)  Washable.



9 Dec 2017

Gardeners' gifts and a really lovely and useful GIVEAWAY

Thank you to everyone who took part in this giveaway.  The winner's name drawn from the bucket last week is Karen Gimson. Congratulations, Karen - enjoy your fabulous prize!




I'm feeling very pleased with myself as christmas is usually a last minute thing in my home but, yesterday, a real Nordman fir tree was purchased and the first flutters of christmas excitement began. The box of decorations has been retrieved from up high, candles will be lit, cakes made and snowglobes brought out.

The twinkle of indoor lights is especially welcome this winter as I've lost most of the light coming into my home thanks to scaffolding boards sitting just above the window lintels. Add in short days and grey skies and the room is in more or less permanent deep gloom. Never have I needed a deep dose of hygge more.  So to brighten my day, let's have a look back at a cornucopia of lovely things that have come my way this year and might give some inspiration to fellow gardeners - and, if you read (or skip) to the end, there's news of a very generous and lovely giveaway.

↓ πŸ˜ƒ ↓

5 Dec 2017

Early December in the Veg Patch

How many people are currently hunkering down inside, away from plummeting temperatures and relishing the warmth and cosiness of being tucked away from the cold?  I know the temptation to stay indoors on a dreary, possibly drizzly, day gets me every time. Grey skies do not motivate me. But I always surprise myself with how good it feels to get outside, wrapped up against the cold, for a walk or an hour's work in the garden.  There are always jobs to do, even (or especially?) at this time of year.  I still have leaves to rake and store, bulbs to plant and mulching to finish. Trees need pruning and a few perennials need to be relocated. I admit I enjoy the peace of working outside in winter, it clears my mind and gives me the headspace to think.

Last weekend Michelle at Vegplotting blog hosted another of her #mygardenrightnow challenges, inviting gardeners to get together on social media with a snap of themselves in their winter gardens.  We've had such a good warm autumn (and by that I mean temperatures still in the mid to high 50F range (10-15C) with occasional sun) that many of those gardeners were able to show plants in bloom.  Could I match that with anything in the veg patch? Let's have a look.


22 Nov 2017

Soupe du jour

Brrrr! Ooh, I'm feeling the chill today - probably because I've not been darting around outdoors.  Instead, I've been sitting indoors trying to write this morning but thoughts of a bowl of tasty warming soup kept popping into my head. And then I thought, why not share?



20 Nov 2017

Magnificent muck and a happy pig



I was going to call this post 'Shovelling Shit in Sunshine' but thought better of it. Both post titles give a flavour of my happy day yesterday but the memory of the happy pig is still making me smile. (I didn't realise that, like dogs, pigs wag their tails when happy. How cute!) I have to admit I wasn't looking forward to wading into the manure piles at the local city farm, especially with the weather being so chilly and damp recently. I've been putting it off for several weeks now but when a thought niggles me for long enough, I just have to get on with it.  I need the manure to mulch beds both in my own veg patch and at the allotment and the weather won't stay this mild for much longer!

4 Nov 2017

Sunshine gardening in November

With great timing, the weather this Saturday is dull.  It's damp, it's grey, it's been raining all night and I'll probably find that it's a bit chilly when I go out. Hoorah. No, I mean it, I'm not being cynical. Today's dank weather provides the perfect antidote to the week as I can clear my day to write.

I spent as much time as I could in the veg patch on Friday. Dry crisp weather was promised. I expected chilliness and instead got warm sunshine. Mmmm, so good. The weather gods were smiling and I made the most of it.

Early morning veg garden
8.00 a.m. veg patch


30 Oct 2017

Having the best time at the RHS London Autumn Show


I spent two days at the RHS Autumn Garden Show in London this past week and what a lovely, friendly, bumper show it was! Entry is by ticket, even for RHS members now, and proceeds are put towards funding garden apprenticeships at the RHS gardens, so who could complain at that?

As I've been many times before I almost didn't go, but looking at the online programme a few days before, it seemed interesting enough to draw me away from my garden tasks on a clear blue-sky day. At that stage, there was a talk or two that I was interested in and I thought I'd also pick up some onions and garlic for planting now in the veg patch. By the end of the first day, there was so much that I still wanted to see, do and hear that I knew I'd go back, complete with a timetable to try and fit everything in!

Third biggest pumpkin, same weight as a baby elephant!

The RHS have balanced out the entry charge by boosting the content of the show; there were talks, free workshops, library tours, foraging walks, flower arranging, and nature installations in addition to the usual retail fare of plants, bulbs, seeds, and associated garden ephemera.  Hungry tummies were satisfied with delicious fare available throughout the day from food sellers. My brie and red berries toasted sandwich from Elephant Kitchen will live on in my memory as possibly the most delicious snack ever! The cakes (gluten free) looked good too but I regretfully resisted.

The most delicious cheese toastie in the world. Official.

The Talks
The RHS use both their halls for this show but a crowd-pulling programme of hour-long talks throughout both days kept me in the smaller Lindley Hall for most of my time. Roy Lancaster spoke of his lifetime's work with plants, Anne Swithinbank talked of foraging in our gardens, Mark Diacono brought us inspiration for growing unusual tastes and Bill Oddie held forth on wildlife. With such an array of well known speakers, I quickly learned to get there early for a seat! For me, there were two stand out talks - Nick Bailey (tv presenter, author, designer) talked about the why's and wherefore's of growing unusual edibles in a city environment and Emily Rae (owner of Sussex based Plants4Presents) gave us the inside scoop on how to successfully grow spices such as ginger, turmeric, lemongrass and more.  Look out for my follow up posts on Nick, Emily and Anne's talks!

The Forest
In the middle of the room, an autumn forager's forest had been created by Jon Davies. Jon is incredibly passionate about gardening and food growing in a sustainable way (forest gardening) and has won awards for his garden designs.  I signed up for one of his mini tours of the forest and had all sorts of edible plants and shrubs pointed out to me. Every plant in the forest had edible or medicinal uses although, as passionate as Jon is about foraging, he admitted that some flavours, such as pine needles, take a bit of adjusting to!

Forager's forest ... or fairy kingdom?

In the forest extraordinary stacks of mushrooms grew on logs surrounded by ferns, hops and kiwis clambered up through the tree canopy, a small pond hid behind birch logs, and herbs, strawberries and alliums grew on the forest floor - the whole thing was beautifully lit, stunning and magical.  I loved it (can you tell?) and was surprised to see how many of the ornamental plants growing in my gardens are edible in some way. Liriope roots, Ajuga and Alchemilla shoots, wild strawberries, hips, haws and sloes are a few of the foodstuffs people would have survived on in pre-civilisation - plus a lot of plants that we now regard as weeds (dandelion, plantain, clover). I'm fascinated by all this and while I'm not about to turn my back on lettuces, squashes and the like, I love the potential for incorporating edibles into a perennial garden.

Sustainability
Continuing with the foraging theme, I found myself chatting to Croydon based enterprise Wild in the City. They offer outdoor experiences to reconnect city dwellers with nature, something which has been proven to offer so many health benefits. I know how much better I feel after being outdoors so I applaud this initiative.  Some of their courses are free (woodland walks, bushcraft, foraging) and some fund their work, such as basket making, spoon carving and charcoal making. I'm going to be looking out for those for next year. I hope this is the start of an idea that will spread - it could be a life changer for future generations.

Foraged finds from Wild in the City

I also had an interesting chat with Indie Farmer, Nigel Akehurst. He told me that he left the city a few years ago, returning to Sussex to help on his parents' farm and has no regrets. These days he both helps on the family farm and has set up The Indie Farmer online magazine and newsletter, an intelligent read about small scale farming and food culture. I looked it up when I got home and found it a very informative and thought provoking read. I like to know what's happening in the David and Goliath world of commercial food retailing and wouldn't have known of this resource if Nigel hadn't brought his enthusiasm and vision to share with visitors at the show.

The Workshops
Flower ball arrangements, herb seed sowing and learning to forage were on offer but I regretfully gave them a miss in favour of 'how to grow an avocado tree' and 'printmaking with leaves and flowers'. After packing in so much during the day, I felt the need for something soothing and creative. The avocado workshop promised 'guaranteed germination' so naturally I was interested - especially as the 80's trend of having an avocado growing indoors is back in fashion. (I'm not trendy but I confess I haven't succeeded with indoor plants since those halcyon eighties days.)  I have to wait to see if the method works, (post to follow if so!) but suffice to say that as the last participant on the last day, I came home with two potted up avocado pits plus a bag of leftover avocados to eat.


And the printmaking workshop? This, I loved. I'd been intrigued by the sound of hammering during the previous day and wandered past to see what was going on. What I discovered was a way to imprint fabric (or paper) with the delicate colours of the garden. We used heuchera leaves and viola flowers to create tiny works of plant art and I'm inspired to take this forward with plants from my own garden. Our tutor, Judith Baehner, is a advocate for green living, stylist, author, lecturer and awesome maker of terrariums. At the moment her books are written in Dutch, her native language, but I'm hoping a publisher will be found soon for her latest work 'The Plant Lab', named after her blog.  I had time to talk to her about her work and discovered a wonderful and gentle kindred spirit with a passion for plants and living a greener life.

Lastly
One tiny gripe, I found the marketplace exhibitors a bit sprawled and confusing.  Looking back through the programme this morning, I'm frustrated to see how much I missed, even though I went on both days! I would have liked to see The Salutation garden's display of flower skeletons and seedheads;  Wardian cases and terrariums; sanguisorbas from the Botanical Nursery; eco prints and natural textiles from Flextiles ... the list goes on.

How gorgeous are these? Succulents from Forest London

Although I seem to have missed quite a bit, I hunted down the houseplants from Forest London - and walked away with a tiny Pilea to care for. That was a good compromise because there was so much more to see, do and learn and, being me, I wanted it all.

So, did I get my onions and garlic? Yes! I was Pennard's last customer of the day; I love talking to those guys, they're so knowledgeable - and, very kindly, I was given an extra bumper bag of white onion sets to bring home.

Find out more about edible or medicinal plants from the PFAF (Plants for a future) database here.


Apologies for the absence of my first Wishlist Wednesday posts; the RHS show was just too tempting a prospect!  Not a good start but there's now lots more to add to my wishlist. 😍

17 Oct 2017

Reasons to be GLEE-ful

Last month I went to the fabulous GLEE exhibition in Birmingham's NEC centre and saw so many beautiful, useful and desirable products that made the (very) early start to the day worthwhile. The exhibition is an annual trade show held over three days so that new and existing garden related products can be showcased to buyers for the retail market. Journalists and, more recently, bloggers are also welcome but it's not open to the public. Looking at the map on the GLEE website, I guessed there would be a lot to see but the reality exceeded all expectations! I did my homework the day before and noted the exhibitors I wanted to talk to but even with a game plan, map, and very quick scurrying around, I suspect that I missed seeing a lot of what was on show as there was so much to be pleasantly diverted by.


9 Oct 2017

Easy grass and hedge tidying with Stihl

Ooh, I love a tidy edge.

While I enjoy a good 'green gym' workout in the garden, there are all too frequent times when the more energetic tasks on the To Do List are a stretch too far at the wrong end of a tiring day.  Thus the shears are put away in favour of a cup of tea and a sit down while the hedge surrounding the middle garden is allowed to slowly thicken once again and the allotment grass is left "for another day".

So it was with great anticipation (not to mention joy, relief and some trepidation) that I gladly accepted Stihl's opportunity to review a few products in their compact cordless range.


1 Oct 2017

Strulch: Another weapon against slugs?

Lovely healthy courgette plant growing soil mulched with Strulch

Since last May I've been trialling a product called Strulch. (Just to satisfy my own curiosity, nothing sponsored.) Have you heard of it? Maybe, maybe not. I hadn't until another allotment holder recommended it as a summer mulch. I wrote the name down and then looked it up when I got home.


10 Sep 2017

And then it was September

Is that it? Is summer over?  You'd better believe it.  Leaves are falling from the fruit trees, children are back at school (hello again peaceful days!), seed catalogues are thumping onto the doormat and apples are blushing up nicely.  Unlike previous years, I'm feeling strangely calm about it all. Que sera sera, and all that.

The weather's been a bit tricky these past few weeks - hot one day, wet and mild the next. Luckily I'm no longer obliged to be outside putting my waterproofs through their paces; instead, as summer slips away, it's been the perfect chance to pop the kettle on and take stock.


13 Aug 2017

Deconstructing

Readers of this blog may have noticed that I haven't been around for a couple of months. I've written this post by way of explanation and will then return to writing regular garden related content. 



I hadn't realised that becoming an orphan later in life could be so exhausting. Emotionally, creatively, productively.  It's something that I'm learning to come to terms with.


28 Jun 2017

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Plot poppies


Yesterday I dashed up to the allotment. With the threat of rain from heavy grey clouds, I thought to tidy up the plants on my balcony but couldn't find my trowel. I've had a lot on my mind recently and have noticed a tendency to forget things or flit from one thing to another. To be honest, I do that even when I haven't got a lot on my mind. It's not good.

My trowel is a particularly beautiful copper one that I've had for years & love; I would be distraught to lose it so I racked my brains as to where I might have used it last.  I have a very good visual memory and could picture it in my hand as I weeded at the plot last weekend. I had to know if my vision was correct so a quick visit to the plot ensued as the first tiny drops of rain started.

It's such a magical place though (I must do a video one day) that, once there, time stood still & the rain stopped, briefly. I found my trowel, still buried in the soil where I'd been removing weeds from around the broad beans. I dug out a few more weeds, wandered a little, munching raspberries as I went, sat awhile on the bench and then slowly walked back along the paths to the gate.

These self sown poppies were battered by winds last week but more flowers had opened in the sunshine. The metre long strip of tissue paper thin flowers and seed heads lit up the path on an otherwise rather monochrome day, adding to the magic of the place.

I'll be keeping an eye on those seedheads & gathering a few to sprinkle around next year - 
which flowers are brightening your life at the moment?




28 May 2017

Round up (no, not the weedkiller)

My plan to be more organised has been completely blown out of the water in the past couple of weeks so my apologies for the delay in posting here. Not only is this an incredibly busy time for planting out all the veg that I've been hardening off but I managed to squeeze in three garden visits in three days after a day down on the Hampshire coast.

I was in Hampshire with my brother to sort out the funeral arrangements for my mother who died peacefully almost three weeks ago on 9th May.  When she went, I felt it was a release for her.  Long time readers of this blog may remember that my mum suffered from dementia, a cruel disease of the brain which slowly builds over years to impede normal life, conversation and memories. I like to think that her spirit is now back to how I knew her - smiling, chatty, interested in everything and everyone, hopefully reunited with my dad and free. Tiny spaces gave her claustrophobia and she loved being outdoors. It's a huge relief that she is no longer cooped up in the (albeit very good) care home where she spent the last year, just sitting with strangers and well meaning staff but not entirely confident that her visitors were, in fact, her beloved children and grandchildren. In my heart I know that she would be glad it's over. She had a great life, lived to the full, loved by all and loving. Here's to you, Mum.

Mum and Dad up in a hot air balloon, Australia 1994. 

But back to gardens. My visit to Hampshire was originally planned to coincide with a visit to a rather fabulous private garden near Petersfield, courtesy of the Garden Media Guild. The garden belongs to Rosemary Alexander, a landscape architect and gardener who founded The English Gardening School at the Chelsea Physic Garden.  I was slightly in awe of her before I went but the beauty of these visits is to meet the owners; Rosemary is warm, welcoming and an engaging talker - and readily prepared to point out all the mistakes in her garden. (Although we really wouldn't have noticed!) Her garden is full of inspiration, including topiary, an inherited dwarf apple tree, fabulous plants and a cool green woodland area that would be just heavenly in this week's heat.

~ Rosemary talking to the GMG crowd; the woodland area of her garden ~


The next day my tiny car wound its way to the RHS Malvern Spring Show in Worcestershire. As I missed the deadline to apply for Press Day at the Chelsea Flower Show, I thought I'd head up to Malvern as I'd not been before. The drive through countryside was lovely - and quite exciting to suddenly spot the Malvern Hills in the distance! - but, once there, I felt that the show itself over-emphasised food, sitting areas and trade stands and, unless I missed the obvious, only a tiny handful of show gardens. The Floral Marquee, usually a highlight of the shows for me, was so packed with people (it being a Saturday when I went) that I didn't linger and saw very little of interest apart from one gorgeous striped Lily of the Valley. I would have bought it but was told, "they're all gone" by the sour little man running the display. Perhaps he'd had enough of the crowds too.

There were a few highlights: Buckfast Abbey's Millenium Show garden was popular and I thought it rather lovely, once I'd been able to squeeze myself through the surrounding throng. As a keen herb grower I wanted to see the herb-based 'Health and Wellbeing' garden designed by Jekka McVicar and the Edible Gardens, raised beds which showcased what can be achieved in spare ground and small corners. It was here that I found fellow blogger Sara Venn, she of Incredible Edible Bristol among many other gardening exploits, and her friendly team. This hashtag board sums up the feel good vibe in that area!





I broke my journey home with a short visit to my niece in Oxfordshire. Sunday dawned bright and clear and as the family live a short drive away from Waterperry Gardens in Thame, we headed over there to give everyone a good run around. I haven't visited Waterperry often but it's always a delight to be there. The garden has a very special history and atmosphere, especially the river walk and the long borders which are dazzling now. With small children in tow, and having been totally distracted by the beautiful meadows, there wasn't time on this visit to linger over the rows of espalier and cordon pears and apples - I last saw them bare branched in February and they're definitely a sight worth seeing!



I'll write more about all of these garden visits in future posts but in the meantime I'm having to focus on what I'm growing at home - the windowsills and balcony are all full up, I have more seeds to sow and a ton of planting out to do.  And, despite all the fabulous advice given to me about growing pea shoots, trial #2 produced one shoot and trial #3 is yet to produce anything.  I think I might have found my gardening nemesis.


14 May 2017

Salad Challenge: Mushy Peas

~ Successful pea shoots (for growing on) in previous years ~


I have to confess to my first major fail of the season. As part of my all year round salad bar, I thought I'd grow some pea shoots as they're reputed to be quick and incredibly easy to grow.

The first time I became aware of pea shoots was while watching Alys Fowler rave about them in her 2012 series 'The Edible Garden'. As I recall, she made pea shoot cocktails out of her harvest.  I remember thinking "Eeeuww, really?" (These days I'd probably think it was delicious.)  A bit of googling reveals that the Pea-tini cocktail (as it was) is the brainchild of chef Mark Hix who created it during a campaign to promote pea shoots to diners. At that time, I don't remember pea shoots being very mainstream as a salad leaf but I've read that they were available in M+S and Sainsbury's (big UK supermarkets) in 2008. How far have we come since then! These days they're much more readily available - but, as with all salad leaves, why not grow your own and avoid eating a cocktail of chemicals? Supermarket salads are washed with chemicals to prolong the shelf life of the leaves.

My opinion of pea shoots was changed for the better a couple of years ago when the meal served for supper at a friend's house was pea shoots with pulled ham hock, peas, watercress and a dressing. There might have been mint in there as well; what was memorable was it's tastiness.  But still I didn't grow pea shoots as a salad leaf, even though I grew peas in the veg patch.

Striving for a full year of salad leaves, I hope to change all that but I'm having to start again.  As far as I can tell, pea shoots can be grown from any pea seeds whether they're the remnants of last year's packets or supermarket dried peas.  I had some leftover seeds so filled a box with compost, pushed pea seeds into the compost and watered them.  A week later the lettuce leaves that I'd sown had all germinated but there was a complete lack of action from the pea seeds.  I gave them a few more days. Nothing. So I poked around a bit which was when I discovered ... mushy peas. There were no signs of germination, just globules of pale mush.

I've now started again but this time using supermarket dried marrowfat peas and watering slightly less. And there will be NO poking around as I've since learned that pea shoots can take a bit longer to germinate. Let's see how that goes.

What I'd like to know, though, from anyone that has successfully grown pea shoots, did I do anything wrong?  Do the pea seeds need less watering; are they prone to going mushy; has anyone else found that they've had mushy peas rather than pea shoots?  A couple of things that might be to blame is perhaps I didn't sow the seeds deep enough; I gave them a light covering of soil rather than pushing them down about an inch. Also, I used multi-purpose compost rather than lighter seed compost and watered them in well; perhaps that was it?  If there's any light to be shed on this mystery, please do tell.

~ Mushy pea seeds on the left after a bit of poking around.  Definitely not a thing of beauty. ~



A little bit about my 52 week challenge
I'm sowing a range of salad leaves into small window boxes (above photo). Some of these seedlings will be pricked out to be grown into bigger plants and the rest left for cut and come again leaves on my balcony.

First salad leaves were sown on 30th April.
Salad Rocket appeared within a couple of days (it's not called 'Rocket' for nothing!);
Komatsuna was up by day 3 after sowing;
Mr Fothergill's mixed leaves appeared on day 4 after sowing.
Lollo Rosso leaves had poor germination rates but were from an older packet.

Second sowing on 14th May.
Lamb's Lettuce
Viola's (edible flowers)
Nasturtium
Drunken Woman Lettuce
Mizuna


10 May 2017

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: It's all about the alliums

May is ...

all about the alliums.  I first wanted more alliums in the veg garden when some end of season white onions flowered and were subsequently smothered in bees busily harvesting pollen in the summer sunshine.

If you don't mind the smell of onions, alliums are such a great flower to have in the garden. They're usually out by the end of May* providing a valuable source of food to lure bees in to the veg patch to pollinate crops; they lightly self seed so are brilliant value for money; they're unfussy, needing only a sunny spot and relatively free draining soil; they're great in containers, superb as a cut flower and they're (mostly) purple - my favourite colour!

Some alliums, such as garlic, chives, leeks and onions are edible while ornamental alliums are not. Those are for show and, after the flowers fade, leave gorgeous seed heads that look fab in the garden (or indoors at Christmas). Did you know that leeks that have become too woody to eat at the end of winter can do double duty as flowers? Alan Titchmarsh advises to dig them up, trim back the foliage and plant them in the flower border; they'll soon produce towering blooms.

I bought my first ornamental alliums (A. sphaerocephalon and A. hollandicum) at RHS Hampton Court flower show a couple of years ago and was advised to plant the bulbs by August to get them off to a good start. They'll start to form roots and be more able to survive winter.  This year they're back on my shopping list as I want more; they'll look fantastic growing near my mum's agapanthus and Iris in the middle garden. I might go for the showstopping huge alliums, Globemaster, but there's a huge range these days, I just have to remain calm in the face of all those beautiful choices.




Ornamental tiny white allium growing next to Verbena bonariensis

Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) among Ajuga reptans, strawberries, foxgloves and day lilies



 * (My ornamental alliums are slightly early this year, as with everything else.)

RHS Hampton Court Flower Show is on from 4th - 9th July this year.

6 May 2017

April in the Veg Patch - End of Month




May already!  It's a time I subconsciously look forward to every year.  In my head it symbolises the turning of a corner weather wise, putting a first foot on the path to summer's lush colourful gardens and prodigious (or not) amounts of home grown food. It should be the start of being able to plant out. Did I mention that I was an optimist?

Back in the real world, the weather has been very disappointing this past week. I've unpacked my winter coat and pressed it into service. And my gloves. If I used an umbrella, that would have seen action this week too. I'm not complaining about the rain (after a dry spell, rainfall always makes me feel like dancing about) but I'd like the sort that's followed by sunshine (and rainbows, please).

I've remained resolute in the face of warm weather earlier in the month and sown seeds indoors only. No rushing around flinging protective fleece over plants for me. I'm trusting that plants catch up and have therefore only sown inside. (Broad beans being the exception as they're made of sterner stuff.)

Windowsills are now filling up with seedlings - I get almost giddy with excitement at seeing seeds germinate and check on my little babies daily. A few of the seedlings are almost ready to pot on before being planted out mid to end of May and I've started a cut and come again salad bar which will live on my balcony for ease of access. (There will be bigger salad leaves in the garden.) I'll be doing Facebook updates on the salad bar as I fully intend to embrace the Veg Plotting 52 week salad challenge this year. The original salad challenge took place in 2012 but I eat a lot of salad so I want to try and keep it going throughout the year and will be looking to Veg Plotting for guidance.



The veg patch garden is looking pretty lush with all the perennials that were transplanted last year.  I had meant to have a cut flower patch but that space was quickly taken up with several pollinator friendly perennial or biennial plants that I moved. A year on and I'm having second thoughts. As pretty as Centaurea montana is, I'd rather have swathes of California poppies ... and I'll have room in the middle garden for the Centaurea. It's essential to keep a few bee-friendly plants in the veg garden so I need to find a balance between annuals and evergreen perennials.  I'll park that thought until the autumn as both the bees and I are enjoying the colour fest of Cerinthe, Erysimum Bowles' Mauve, alliums and Honesty. Foxgloves will soon be flowering and achilleas, antirrhinums and geums are also already in flower.

On the veg front, kale, chard, wild rocket and purple sprouting are still providing supper ingredients; I've also shared a total of eight asparagus spears (with 3 more being cut tomorrow for a tart). I don't think they're entirely happy where they are as I expected to have more spears than that! I suspect regular watering is fairly crucial. Hopefully by next month I can add broad beans, peas and yellow podded mange tout to the list as I've been nurturing some very healthy plants on my balcony.


What I'm most excited about this month though is the appearance of fruitlets on the pear trees!  It won't be a huge amount (no surprises there, then) but I counted at least 12 pears just standing in one spot.  I'm not sure that the plum trees will rise to the challenge but soft fruit is looking very promising. The gooseberry bush is teeming with fruit (first time on a 4 year old bush!!) and the strawberries are covered in flowers so hopefully there'll be a happy tale to tell there in a few weeks. Blossom on strawberry plants is a good indication that it's time to mulch around the plants. I'm going to try Strulch this year; I'm told it's a mineralised straw mulch with a texture that helps to deter slugs and snails. Might be good around beans and other veg too.  It's not available everywhere but luckily there's a garden centre, fairly local to me, that stocks it.

This is such a busy time but I absolutely love seeing it all coming together and throwing off the winter drabness - it seems that the garden knows we're heading towards summer even if the weather can't make up its mind.

Apologies if I've got behind in reading other blogs - 
I often read but am too tired to comment! I hope to have a big catch up this weekend.



3 May 2017

Red Valerian at the allotment



Red Valerian aka Centranthus ruber.  I was excited to read recently that this plant is edible - some say gorgeous flavour, others that the taste is bitter. I've just treated myself to Mark Diacono's latest tome The New Kitchen Garden (an excellent informative read, by the way) and he reckons that the leaves have a taste reminiscent of broad beans.  In my opinion that would make them rather yummy.

It's a perennial that is happy to self seed itself around and can be evergreen in a mild climate.  This one was photographed on a path near to my shared allotment and has come into flower in the last week. Butterflies are attracted to the flowers which might make them a good sacrificial plant to grow near brassicas but, if you want fresh greens for salads, etc, you'll have to cut the flowers off to stimulate new growth.  (Or perhaps have some for flowers and more for eating?)

Mark writes that while the new shoots are good to eat in spring and young leaves can be picked throughout the year, it's best to keep the plant watered in a dry spell to prevent leaves becoming bitter. As we've had some good rain in the past couple of days, I feel I'll be tempted to have a nibble next time I'm at the allotment and will definitely be encouraging a few of these plants to grow on the plot. I noticed that a few white ones seem to have made their way into the veg patch borders as well. Very serendipitous!

I'd be interested to know if anyone has tried (or would try) eating this plant
or do you prefer to leave it as a flower?  
Or perhaps are not fussed about valerian at all?


1 May 2017

What's what at the Plot - end of month review



Last month's lesson in plot sharing was, well, sharing.  Working as a team. Happy to be there and chipping in together.

A month on and, with a few tweaks, that's still working - just about. I'm so used to gardening on my own terms that I've had to rein in my natural tendency to be the boss. I'm also a perfectionist. Quite a tricky combination for shared working!

I thought it best to crack on and get the plot cleared and prepped before sowing anything. The others took the alternative view and were keen to start sowing. Warnings of late frosts went unheeded. What to do? Plot holder Doreen agreed with me so my visits were all about tidying. I disposed of unwanted metal, wood and tangled netting, strimmed the grass and paths, pruned shrubs and trees, dug, mulched and weeded, weeded, weeded. (Yes, the bindweed has put in an appearance - with a vengeance. And don't even get me started on dandelions.) The other helpers took a more relaxed approach ... and sowed seeds. (I've since asked the others to at least do a bit of weeding every time they go. *rolls eyes*)

The compost bins have been a bone of contention. Yes, really - compost, who'd have thought?  Last year, while Doreen was away, a couple of 'Swiss bins' were installed. Swiss bins are round wire cages with heavy black plastic liners, supposedly able to make compost within six months. However, the essential liners weren't used last year so the bins resembled two hayricks bursting with weeds. The sight was a constant annoyance to Doreen, particularly as these two huge bins were taking up good growing space in a bed. She'd previously had her own compost bins by the shed but they'd been replaced and the area cleared to make an entrance for prams and buggies.  Doreen's favourite saying is currently "This is an ALLOTMENT not a nursery!" which always makes me laugh. It's a sentiment I agreed with - but diplomacy was needed as one of the Other Helper/mums is a jolly good worker when she puts her mind to it.



So what was the solution?  Communication ... and compromise. I started a green compost bin on the old site by the shed and asked for the two Swiss bins to be sorted out with liners. (Job done, see above photo!) Doreen has agreed to wait until the autumn for the Swiss bins to be emptied before moving them. Problem solved. (I hope.)

I've realised that there will always be something that grates as we adjust to each other's presence on the plot but at least there's a big chunk ticked off the to do list. Last month's cleared path has been heavily mulched (by me) with bark chips from the recent tree work on my estate, the rubbish is all cleared, wooden beds have been shored up and salad seeds have been sown.


The plot looks good so it's where we should be at this time of year. A quick look round after watering at the weekend has given me fruit envy - there seems to be loads of fruitlets on the plum, apple and sweet cherry trees and the espaliered pear is also dripping with tiny fruits. (I wish I could say the same for the fruit trees at home.) Blackcurrants and blueberries tell a similar tale - there are even wild strawberries to supplement the cultivated ones - and the tulips and anemones are still going strong. Potatoes planted a month ago aren't appearing yet - is that usual? - although self-seeded borage and nasturtiums are popping up among the spud trenches!

Love these bright pink tulips on lovely long straight stems.


In the coming weeks I'll be sowing flower seeds (I won't say what yet, let's see what germinates) and salad seeds will have been thinned out, maybe even with a few early cut-and-come again pickings. Other crops of sweet corn, courgettes and pumpkins should be ready for planting out (seeds sown into modules today) - and I might even get time to paint the shed!



19 Apr 2017

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Perennial tulips

There's a corner of the veg patch garden where, in late 2013, I planted tulips that I'd bought during a visit to Sarah Raven's Perch Hill Farm.  Her shop is unbelievably tempting so I was very restrained in coming away with just two bags of bulbs.  One set didn't do at all well but these, her 'Apricot Beauty' set have come back and flowered every year since - now in their fourth year of flowering.  That's very good value.

The Exotic Emperor's are aptly named - they open in the form that we'd expect from a tulip but, as the flowers age the petals widen fully to resemble Chinese water lilies. It's quite spectacular and they seem to last for a good month.  The other two varieties in the set let the Emperor have his day then Apricot Beauty opens to support the now open-petalled show before Spring Green thrusts up to counterpoint the final lily-like days of the Emperor.  It's a great display, subtle but showstopping. The Emperor still rules but there are a few less of the other two.  Reinforcements will be acquired this autumn. I'll put it in my garden diary now in case that thought slips away over the summer.




Top to bottom:  Spring Green, Apricot Beauty, Exotic Emperor

9 Apr 2017

Thinking pink: Rhubarb, how do you eat yours?

Red champagne, early March


Not only am I surrounded by blossom but there's rhubarb and purple sprouting broccoli to pick too - what's not to love about spring!  The rhubarb season is now well under way here in the south-east of the UK - and hopefully where you are too.

I'm spoilt for choice this year as both my Champagne rhubarb plants have got off to a good start this year with nice long pink tasty stems.  Since the above photo was taken, both plants have produced a flower stalk - swiftly removed by me - which shows they're not entirely happy growing under the fruit trees. I'll be moving both plants next winter into a sunnier spot with good rich soil.

The Glaskin's Perpetual that I grew from seed a few years ago has been a little slower off the mark. I can live with that though because a friend lets me pick from her very vigorous rhubarb growing on one of the allotment gardens in the flats. Lovely long pink stems have been brought into my kitchen since mid-March. Amazingly, this friend doesn't even like rhubarb so never picks it; I think that's why it's so healthy, its strength has never been depleted by regular picking! Until now, of course. ;)  She doesn't know what variety it is, could be Timperley Early going by the timing.

Using an old school crate to keep marauding animals away.


At the shared allotment I counted eight rhubarb plants. Eight!! They're quite small so the team thought a little experiment might be in order. A few weeks ago, we chose the runt of the litter to see if we could force a few stems; a tall black bin was placed over the plant and weighed down with a brick. In just a few weeks the bin was removed to reveal a few pretty stems - tall, bright pink, tender and with beautiful yellow green leaves. The proper time to force rhubarb is when the crown is just beginning to show buds - I must remember that for next winter after I've mulched around the plants.  The RHS advices to stop forcing rhubarb in April and not take any more stems from the forced plant so that it has time to recover, or to not pick at all from that plant for a few years.

With all these stems to choose from, I'm have a grand old time discovering new recipes.  At first I made a compote for yogurt by chopping the stems into 3" lengths, roasting them in the oven, cooling, then chopping stem ginger into this. Simple and tasty.

Then I got a little more adventurous as my niece was coming over for supper. I whipped up meringue for a pavlova, filled with cream and laid roasted rhubarb and chopped stem ginger over the top. Tasty and visually tempting.

Pretty in pink.


The stems kept coming so I turned to Nigel Slater's Tender II - a veritable tome of inspiration for fruit growers.  Sloe Rhubarb grabbed my attention; a simple affair of roasting rhubarb stems in the oven with a bit of sugar and a good slug of sloe gin. (Plus, later, a few blueberries.) Nigel writes that sloe gin can be hard to get hold of - a very good reason to forage for sloes in the autumn and the reason my foraging has produced a well stocked cupboard.  I served the delicious results with some single cream which Mr Slater says is not strictly necessary. Although sometimes it just is.

Loving the sloe life - and pleased to find a use for my grandmother's Victorian sundae glasses


With a team get together at the allotment yesterday, a cake was needed so a traybake recipe on the Tesco website looked appealing.  It was a bit of a faff to make with lots of washing up after but the results were surprisingly very very good. (The recipe calls for walnuts; I had a bag of mixed nuts so my topping also has almonds and pistachios.)

Perhaps not just for tea time?
It was not a cake of beauty but its looks belied the tastiness within. Think sponge cake with a layer of sweetened rhubarb topped with a nutty oaty buttery flapjack topping and you're there. It was very well received at the allotment and I can heartily recommend you give this one a go.  I haven't tried, but imagine this would also be very nice warm with custard.  The recipe is on the Tesco website here: Traybake

And speaking of custard, and with the sun beating down (at least for today), my next foray into rhubarb heaven will have to be rhubarb fool, with cream of course.

How do you eat yours?








6 Apr 2017

Thoughts on a sunny day

For a week forecast to be cloudy but mild, it's turning out rather splendidly.  I've seen bright warm sunshine every day. I was so enjoying the garden yesterday, looking at some of the amazing colour juxtapositions and  making the most of a dry and bright day to get some more gardening done,  that I ran out of time to post these Almost Wordless Wednesday photos. These are just iphone pics, snapped while wandering in the sunshine but I hope they give a flavour of what I enjoyed. I'm loving this spring weather - the perfect climate for me, not too hot!


So worth going out in the cold to plant bulbs in November - although these are the cheap ones planted three years ago and now coming back for their fourth showing. Bargain!


Drought border - so dubbed because the hose won't reach that far.
Lavender is coming back so strongly next to the Erysimum Bowles' Mauve that it's squeezing out a bronze Carex in between the two. Iris 'Edith Wolford' at the back gets a nice baking heat on its rhizomes, Cerinthe (left of pic) self seeded for which I'm always grateful, Euphorbia behind the Cordyline australis (trunk seen) will be interspersed with grasses when they reshoot and there's a curry plant and Stachys byzantina to echo the silvery leaves of the Erysimum just out of shot.  And I found my nemesis, the Rosemary Beetle, sunbathing on the Perovskia (behind the lavender)! 


Nice calm Anemone blanda and Galium odoratum in the shady border.


Mmmm, zingy!
Schiaparelli pink Pineapple sage flowers against euphorbia in the 'washing line' drought border.


Can anyone shed light on what this is? It's a cuckoo in the nest of my Sambucus nigra pot. Looks quite interesting though!


And, of course, frothy blossom everywhere! Cherry blossom (left), apple blossom (right)

How's the week shaping up in your spring garden?


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...