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?


2 Apr 2017

Ransoms, rhubarb + rosemary beetles - My March Garden



The garden has really come alive in the past few weeks so this End of Month look-back makes for a really useful record for future years. March is the first month of spring in the gardening calendar but I don't remember seeing spring unfurl quite this quickly before. By mid-March, February's hellebores, snowdrops and crocuses had given way to primroses and daffodils. The little violets that I look forward to each year have been and gone but primulas, muscari, wood anemones and forget-me-nots have opened in their place. I breathed a sigh of relief that winter was over and spring beginning with all the anticipation for getting the garden started again.

~ Some of the tulips in the spring border ... All from a £5 supermarket bag
except, top left, 'Exotic Emperor' from Sarah Raven ~


But that rapid turnover wasn't the end of it. By 20th March, I was posting photos of open tulips on my Instagram feed. The crocuses in the sieve planter had been replaced by bright red dwarf tulips, the borders were brightened by purple wallflowers, honesty, cerinthe, cowslips, primulas and lungwort (a name that does no justice to pretty Pulmonaria) - even the pear tree had buds about to blossom.

Main pic pear blossom
Right row from top: blueberries, honeyberries, strawberries
Bottom row from left: quince, gooseberries, apple, plum

In the last week of March tulips were in full swing, beautiful white daffodils had bloomed and died (so quick!), petal confetti from fruit tree blossom covered the garden and regular pickings could be taken from rhubarb stems and purple sprouting broccoli.  (As well as overwintered kale and chard.)



The weather of course has been all over the place which explains the early arrival of so many flowers. Temperatures up and down like yoyos, clear blue skies tempting us outside into bitingly cold winds only to be followed by mild cloudy days. We've even had a couple of days when it felt hot like early summer. No wonder spring is rushing by! Hopefully April will be a steadying influence on the garden - I've already had to get the hosepipe out for the plants in the middle garden waiting to go into the soil. I'm also on a daily watch for rosemary beetle - there have been nibblings on my lavender (I can't grow rosemary here anymore thanks to these brutes) and I must have squished 30+ beetles in the past few weeks, with bonus points for the ones getting busy with the baby making.




I was curious to see whether spring was this early last year and checked back on photos.  The first tulip opened on the 2nd April but it took until the 11th before the display had any impact. A similar story is repeated throughout the garden - asparagus shoots, ransom buds, cherry and apple blossom are all a good two weeks ahead of last year as is the rhubarb (first pickings were on 16th April last year).

Spring has definitely come a good two to three weeks early here in the South of England. Mild winter? Climate change? All I know is that four years ago settling snow fell in the run up to a bloggers meet up at Great Dixter on the 28th March. I remember it clearly because the meet up was two days after my birthday and it was my first visit to Dixter. I was desperate to go and, serendipitously, the snow melted away on the day.  This year, I'd have driven down to Sussex in warm sunshine. It will be very interesting to see what effect this has on the garden in weeks to come. Let's hope that it doesn't mean we'll get autumn in July!

Linking to 
Helen's End of Month View for March at the Patient Gardener
and to Sarah's Through the Garden Gate at Down by the Sea

and looking forward to reading how everyone else's plots and gardens are faring.




22 Mar 2017

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday - Spring Harvest

~ Just add rice ~

Walking through the veg patch yesterday evening, I could see that strong winds had, yet again, done for my purple sprouting broccoli so I had to nip in and try to prop it up without having any string on me.  (Note to gardening self - always have a bit of twine in your pockets.)

There were a number of PSB stalks ready for cutting (luckily I had a pocket knife in my garden bag) to which I quickly added some yellow chard, Cavalo Nero kale, pink stems of Red Champagne rhubarb, plus a few salad leaves of wild rocket, sorrel, baby chard and baby beetroot.  And, just like that, I had the makings of a nice supper.  I just added some Camargue and Wild Rice to the cooked veg, and some stem ginger and yogurt to the rhubarb.  My first (almost) all veg patch supper* of the year.

Can I just say what good value the wild rocket has been this winter? I eat salad with everything, even breakfast if I'm having eggs, and these leaves have stood over winter as a really good cut and come again crop.



* Leaves of chard and kale were finely sliced and stir fried in olive oil with shallots, garlic, chilli and grated ginger; the stems were steamed with the broccoli stalks while the rice cooked. I usually add a dressing of tamari soy sauce to spice things up a bit as well.  The rhubarb stems were roasted for a short time in the oven then mixed with chopped stem ginger and plonked on top of yogurt.  I'm no chef but I like tasty fresh food!

21 Mar 2017

Working together at the allotment

~ What I took on last year. Not bad as plots go ... ! ~

A shared allotment can be a complicated business if y'all do your own thing.  This seemed to be the arrangement when I was asked to jump in and help Doreen, a local octagenarian, keep her allotment plot last autumn. I was offered a large 5ft by 20ft overgrown bed to maintain while three other helpers kept up the rest of the plot. The others had a baby (now there are two) so plot visits were infrequent, if not impossible, whereas Doreen and I would regularly pop up, drink tea and hatch plans before pottering off to dig (in my case) or visit plot friends (in hers). We rarely saw the other helpers and their beds remained untouched through the winter, to the point that weeds built up, veg was ignored - except by me, hah! - and bean wigwams (with old pods) were left standing. It was a frustrating vision, particularly as Doreen (the 80 year old) and I like a nice tidy plot. But it was hands off - for now - as the others had, in fairness, managed the plot for the past few years when Doreen couldn't.

Fast forward to early March and a pleasant surprise awaited. In the days since my last visit, the bean wigwams had been dismantled and the beds hoed. Apparently the others had sprung into action! Then I had a message to say that mulch had been ordered and did I need anything? No, but it did make me think. Wouldn't it be nicer if we managed the plot together rather than individually? I pictured a plot filled with three lots of the same veg and little room for anything else. Bonkers. I decided to resolve the situation.

Last weekend, we met up and agreed very amicably to work as a team. Hoorah! Now we could start to plan properly. The first thing was to make the plot child safe for the toddlers. Rusting metal poles used for holding fencing in place had to go, as did sharp edged metal cages used as cloches. Rotting bed edges were remade with new wood. Nettle patches have been removed. The huge pile of raw edged chicken wire, tangled netting and fencing stakes have been neatly stashed out of the way and a broken cold frame has been dumped. The others brought a friend along on Sunday afternoon to dig up a grass path between the beds ready for mulching with bark chips while we tidied, cleared, weeded, raked, mulched and chatted.  It was windy and a bit chilly but so so good to be busy working together. I do love a bit of community action - we achieved so much in just a few hours! And once the plot was empty and tidy, I felt motivated to stay on after the others had left and strim the long grass.

~ Team work = progress! ~


Working together as team, when it works, is fantastic - each plays to their own strengths and everyone goes home with the rewarding feeling of having got things done without being too knackered! On a practical level, compromise may be needed. We won't always be working alongside each other as I can get to the plot more easily than the others so the work won't be evenly shared, but I accept that. I'll be going little and often while the others can pick up the slack at the weekends. Expectations have to be realistic but as long as there's also good communication, a little diplomacy and a lot of enjoyment, it looks like being a fun year ahead - I just hope there will be enough veg to go round in the summer!


I do like to chat so a bonus to taking the rubbish to my car meant that I got to meet other allotmenteers as I went back and forth. (I like to recycle rubbish where I can.) On my walk, I noticed that Geranium phaeum was in bloom and growing massively on one of the plots so I asked if I could help myself to a bit. Within minutes the gardener had cheerfully dug up a large clump for me, saying it grows wild on the plots, and accepted a pile of sturdy metal grids in exchange. Allotment life at its best!



15 Mar 2017

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday: Pink

~ Flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum)
Never mind yellow - Spring is also full of pink.
Although I'm not sure that tulip should be in bud in mid-March.

11 Mar 2017

Stumped! And a bittersweet solution



Sometimes (actually, with increasing regularity) I despair at the culture we live in, where statistical results and budget take precedence over common sense and communication.  This past week I've seen tree works carried out by undertrained and badly equipped contractors acting on the orders of disinterested landlords and I've also had a conversation with a lad on our estate who is struggling to keep going with his chosen career of horticulture. In both instances, I believe budget played a part.

My alarm bells starting ringing a couple of months back about the tree works when notices were posted about which trees would be affected. We're in a conservation area so permission has to be sought from the local council for any tree works - yes, even when I want to prune my fruit trees in spring apparently!  I checked the online planning application and map and was satisfied that my fruit trees were unaffected by this cull but, stupidly, missed the threat to the cherry plum tree growing next to our playground area.


~ Last week ... ~

It's too late now, of course, but I'm wondering why on earth anyone would want to destroy a healthy, prolific and beautiful fruit tree. It was small, as trees go, the perfect urban tree - covered in bridal confetti blossom during late February and March and hundreds of sweet yellow plums in July. The problem here is that there is no programme for regularly maintaining the trees and shrubs on the estate - the budget conscious powers-that-be ignore the situation until it becomes a problem.  The tree was allowed to grow unchecked until it reached the first floor and the lower branches stretched out across the pathway next to the border.  Pruning the lower branches back would have resolved any hazard to pedestrians and left tenants with a beautiful tree and delicious fruit to eat. But, no. What we have now is less than a stump.  It was the only tree marked out to be 'felled and poisoned', despite there being several over-tall conifers blocking the light to flats on the second floor. Even the contractors were perplexed at the loss of this beautiful tree.  It might seem overly sensitive to some but I have felt truly saddened by this all week.

~ Why would anyone not want this outside their window? ~


To be fair, the contractors were pleasant young men working to a job sheet and, worryingly, their employers had sent them in with incomplete safety measures. No ladders, no safety gloves; at least these lads sported hard hats with face shields but stood on walls to reach tree canopies, with one steadying the other by the ankles. They even showed me scarred arms from wearing thin fabric gloves to operate chainsaws and hedge trimmers! They were unable to identify the trees that they were chopping at; one of them explained that he was new to this work and still learning. The surveyor who had visited before them should surely have known what he was looking at?  I mean, how hard is it to identify a Viburnum x bodnantense in December? The pink scented flowers should provide a big clue but these shrubs were labelled as cotoneaster trees. Elsewhere in the grounds, a Hebe and Elaeagnus were marked on the map as 'unidentified trees'. *rolls eyes heavenwards and shakes head*

The contractors were careful of my newly raked soil when pruning out the epicormic stems of the limes in the middle garden. (In fact, even there these stems weren't pruned correctly, being chopped off half way.) By some miracle the ivy on the limes, currently housing several nesting birds, was left alone. The council planning department had deferred to a member of the local Conservation Area Committee to verify that they had no objections to the tree works requested and the woman consulted (not a tenant here) actually asked for the ivy on the lime trees to be pulled off!!! Words fail me!!  (I know I dislike ivy when it's spreading on the ground, but ... my little birds!!) AND, it's absolutely no business of hers if I, as caretaker of the garden, am happy for ivy to grow up the trees as it has done for years.  Flippin' cheek!

*Takes a deep breath and calms down*   There was a silver lining to this cloud as I asked the lads what would happen to the wood chippings of their morning's work and was told that I could have them.  So it seems that a decision has been made as to what to line the circle of the middle garden with.  Not grass, fake or real, nor gravel but bark chippings.

And what about the young man I mentioned who desperately wants to be a gardener?  He was ten months into his training at the same college I attended when he was asked to leave. This allegedly was due to his being late on half a dozen occasions in that ten month period. Colleges have to keep records on attendance for their funded programmes and lateness lowers the statistics, and statistics are numbers, not reasons. I get it, lateness is not acceptable but let's put this in perspective - it used to take me 40 minutes to an hour to drive there; he used public transport where the overcrowded trains would frequently be cancelled creating a domino effect on the rest of his 'walk-train-walk-train-walk' journey.  Did he give up and go home? No; he persevered and got there.  Was he offered help and advice?  No ... leaving him floundering, working indoors and disillusioned. He's a pleasant, polite and bright lad (and, yes, I am biased because he's one of my son's friends) and I hate to see enthusiasm and a passion for doing what you love thwarted in any young person.  Hopefully my on the spot careers advice will have given him a few avenues to pursue with potential for a job, voluntary work at Kew and a possible apprenticeship in his future. And he offered to volunteer for the community gardens here. :o)

What a week!

~ You can't even buy these plums in the shops ~
PS.  I've just discovered that Thompson and Morgan sell cherry plum trees as bare root hedging plants ... and I was considering replacing the Euonymus hedge in the middle garden. Maybe another problem solved?
PPS. Please forgive my ranting. I sometimes forget how much I learned during my garden design training which included a lot of horticulture and focus on plants. I certainly wouldn't expect everyone to know a Viburnum from a Cotoneaster but would have thought that someone practising arboriculture would be trained to know the difference! 

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