14 Aug 2018

Autumn sowing for winter leaves and spring flowers



It's time to get organised again so I'm back to making lists.

Sow, Grow, Eat, Repeat is one of my favourite hashtags as it's a reminder that despite the changing seasons, it's possible to carry on growing food throughout the year.  Yes, really.  There are plenty of hardy vegetables that provide me with a good excuse to get outside in the garden, even in the middle of winter.  And what could be better than freshly picked produce brought back into the kitchen with a clear head and rosy cheeks?

In previous years I've always started off purple sprouting broccoli in pots, to be planted out when I pull up the broad beans.  Then, in the summer months, I sow salad onions, swiss chard and kale ... lots and lots of kale as it's one of my favourite and most used vegetables.  I grow both the dark Tuscany kale (Cavolo Nero) and curly kale. All of those veg will stand through the cold weather and fill the so-called 'hungry gap' before next year's broccoli and asparagus kicks in.  The Cavolo growing in the veg patch at the moment is a seedling from last year's crop; it sprouted in autumn, came through the harsh winter as a tiny plant with no protection and was moved to a new spot in spring where it steadily grew. Kales are fantastic all year round and are great in stir fries, soup, pesto, smoothies - in fact, almost anything! (Maybe not ice-cream and cake.)

At the beginning of the veg patch (almost ten years ago), our group sowed parsley, beetroot and a range of lettuces in early August and had a few harvests in the same year.  The beetroot were rather small but came through the very mild winter and carried on growing. Having said that, beetroot are not known to be winter hardy.  As an alternative, young beetroot leaves are edible. (But we didn't know that at the time!)

Last weekend, while the sky was throwing buckets of the wet stuff at the garden, unable to venture outside, I had a look at the packets in my seed box and made a list of seeds that can be sown in August.  There were one or two surprises on the list (below), but I'm guessing that kohl rabi need to be eaten small and the rest will need protection when the temperatures drop in October/November. These are definitely worth growing, if only just a small row:

  • Kohl Rabi
  • Coriander
  • Pak Choi
  • Cabbage
  • Lamb's Lettuce
  • Sorrel

I'll definitely be growing a variety of salad leaves as the alternative is to go shopping - and it's well known now that supermarket leaves stay fresh by being washed in a cocktail of chemicals. Who needs that when you can grow organically and pick an assortment of leaves fresh! The salad leaves that I'll be sowing this month (and in September and October, with cloche protection) are:

  • Spinach 'Apollo' (Johnsons seeds)
  • Best Winter Salad mix (Sarah Raven seeds)
  • Super Hardy Winter Salad (Ditto)
  • Totally Tasty Tuscan salad leaves (Pennards Plants Heritage seeds) 
  • Swiss Chard (seeds widely available)
  • Endive (free with Grow Your Own mag so nothing to lose)
  • Wild Rocket (Ditto)

Wild rocket is a more intense and hardier version of the leaf generally found in supermarket bags and a winter staple in the veg patch, going right through to spring. I didn't grow it last winter though so I don't know if it would have survived the extreme cold we had then but I'm guessing yes, with some horticultural fleece over it. I like to eat it with poached eggs on toast - it's a delicious combination and a favourite breakfast.

Interestingly (well I think so!), a book* that I found in the library recommends sowing Early Nantes carrots in August along with kohl rabi and turnips.  Being shorter carrots, if thinned to 2" apart and cloched when temperatures fall, there's a good chance of getting an early winter crop. Carrot seeds are best used up so, if space can be found, it will be worth giving this a try.

(*The book is Dorling Kindersley 'Grow Something to Eat Every Day' by Jo Whittingham.)


So that will take care of the savoury, now what about the sweet?  And by that I mean flowers. 

All images © www.chilternseeds.co.uk
Clockwise, top left: Orlaya, Hesperis (sweet rocket), Daucus carota, calendula, Lysimachia, Verbascum

Every year I forget that some flower seeds sown now will get off to an earlier start next year. I've already decided that, somehow, I want to make room for more flowers for both cutting and colour next year - and all, of course, to be bee friendly.  I've deliberately left a white foxglove to self seed in the garden and that gives a clue about what else can be sown - basically, anything that's dropping seeds all over the garden now. So, in the veg patch, that's poppies, Cerinthe (honeywort), Eschscholzia (Californian poppies), hollyhocks, honesty, and calendula.  Also on my list is Nigella, Sweet Rocket (if I sow asap!), the umbellifers Daucus carrota and Orlaya grandiflora, Verbascum, Lysimachia and Viola for edible flowers. 

If I can manage all of this it will be a miracle - not least because my balcony shelves are still stuffed with tomato and chilli plants - but onwards and upwards, heh?

What about everyone else ... 
plans to keep growing or looking forward to giving the plot a rest in a couple of months?






8 Aug 2018

Timely tips for a heatwave garden



This summer has not been without its challenges for gardeners but I confess I'm enjoying the novelty of having a proper English summer, it's so nice to sit outdoors in the shade.  Daily watering of balcony plants in pots (tomatoes, chillies, salad leaves) has become a nightly ritual but I have to admit that watering pots downstairs in the garden is a hit and miss affair depending on the time available. But I have a few tricks up my sleeve for holding moisture in the garden for longer.

But I don't always get it right. Just today, before heading out for a lunch meeting, I noticed a pot grown Hebe looking more than a bit thirsty. I chucked a can of water over it and hoped for the best. On the train I read this amazing tip:

Pots that have dried out need to be rehydrated slowly rather than deluged with water. (Plants need air as well as water and light.) Ice cubes allowed to melt on the surface of the compost are perfect for this as the compost absorbs the water while they melt. This tip is particularly useful for hanging baskets. Well! I never knew that before. So clever.

I would love to have a seep hose to keep plants watered but that, for me, is out of the question. An alternative is to plant a bottomless plastic bottle next to thirsty plants to direct water to the roots. Plants such as tomatoes, courgettes, squashes and pumpkins will thank you for it!  Bottles with sports caps left on and open before planting will leach water more slowly into the soil. I used to do this but, being mostly plastic free these days, I’d forgotten about it. Time to raid the community recycling bin!

Whatever you do, don't water in the middle of the day unless your plants are seriously wilting. Heat will cause the water to evaporate before it reaches the roots of the plant and you'll only encourage roots to grow towards the surface.  Much better is to water the soil (not the plant!) in early morning or, best, after sundown when the plant can soak it up and rehydrate it's cells.

Mulch around your plants with pebbles, bark chippings or a thick layer of compost over damp soil; the mulch layer will help to retain moisture.  At the Garden Press Event in February, I noticed that a retailer of garden planters used clay pebbles both in the soil and on top.  They're more usually associated with hydroponic growing but, used with soil, they'll improve drainage and aeration; used as a mulch, the pebbles hold water and help to reduce water evaporation. I've mulched my hanging basket tomatoes with them.

Wind at any time of year is damaging to plants but in hot weather doubly so. We had some strong winds recently and my first thought was to move my plants into the shelter of my balcony floor. A stiff breeze will wick moisture away from the leaves, leaving them vulnerable to scorching. The plant will try to replace moisture by moving water up the stem from the roots (transpiration) but if the soil is dry, your plant will quickly, and possibly permanently, dehydrate.  The solution? Up the watering in windy weather, stake your plants so they don't topple and, if possible, move pots into shelter away from strong wind.

Right plant, right place.
Know your plants.  I might have to eat my words later but there's a real possibility that heatwave summers might become a regular thing so it might be prudent to rethink what to grow in the garden.  Annual plants (most veg) don't have time to establish deep root systems so should go to the top of the list for watering in a heatwave. Tender plants can be protected from the heat with horticultural fleece which will create a bit of shade. Perennials, on the other hand, are a bit tougher.  My neighbour waters his perennial cabbage leaves deeply once a week, even in this heat.  Cardoons and artichokes, once established, are also okay in the heat as are the South American Achocha peppers that seem to have self-seeded across the veg patch and are growing steadily on practically no water. Sweet corn also likes a bit of heat and can get really tall in a hot summer. And, of course, don't forget herbs - sage, thyme, oregano - all the Mediterranean herbs! - are loving this heatwave, as are the bees flocking to their flowers.

And speaking of flowers, any plants with silvery leaves will be fine - this has been a really good year for lavender, perovskia (Russian sage), Limonium latifolium (sea lavender), Lynchis, Stachys byzantina (bunny's ears) and grasses. Agapanthus, Eucomis, Salvia and sedums all love the sun and, being perennial, just pop up and do their thing with minimum human interference.  Although I'd hate a summer without sweet peas and sunflowers, wouldn't you?


2 Aug 2018

30 degrees in the shade (July in the garden)

So... July; how was it for you?  Here, like most of the UK, it was hot and dry. For most of the month I despaired as seeds failed to germinate, pea and bean crops failed, and garden pests abounded.  I considered the very real possibility of making the veg patch into a perennial drought garden next year. It would be pretty and not much work. I still haven't booted that thought out but the month ended on a happier note.  I now have a garden tap. Not exactly nearby but only two hosepipes away round the back of the flats that overlook the garden. After a heatwave summer, it was an exhilarating moment to turn that tap on and soak the garden.



The tap was connected on Thursday. On Friday a small dark thunderstorm heralded 24 hours of on/off drippy weather - enough to thoroughly wet parched soil and perk up plants.  And to soak the onions that I'd lifted the day before and left out to dry in the hot sun. Yes, I know. *rolls eyes* I'd got a bit too complacent with the endless days of clear blue skies. They're still out there (and well washed) but should be okay as it seems the rain was but a blip in an otherwise balmy summer.


I'm amazed that anything has survived the lack of water in the garden but it seems my 'two sisters' experiment has paid off.  I direct sowed sweetcorn on 11th May, mulched the bed with Dalefoot compost (peat free, nutrient rich and water retentive thanks to wool content), and waited for the seeds to germinate.  Once the plants were about six inches tall, I plonked a Baby Boo squash plant inbetween the corn so that as it grew, the leaves protected the soil around the corn from heat and weeds.  It worked. Woohoo.  Squash are thirsty plants so I watered when I could but for most of July (pre-tap) the water butts were dry.  The plants look healthy enough though - and last weekend's windy weather was perfect for shaking corn pollen onto the silks beneath - plus the squash plant is huge and has the sweetest little baby fruits just setting. Probably time to pinch out the growing tips so the fruit gets bigger.

Baby Boo - a pumpkin made for two (when it's grown!)


I've also dabbled with 'square foot' gardening this year.  I had asparagus spears from only three crowns this year  (no complaints there, I had a plateful of delicious purple spears every week) but it occurred to me that the rest of the bed could be put to good use next to the asparagus ferns.  Have I mentioned my tomatoes?  I bought three plants as a back up plan to home grown. I needn't have bothered; I had 100% germination from seeds.  So with my tiny balcony crammed with plants, each of the last four tomato plants were tucked in to one of the nine squares in my asparagus bed, with a space at the front for a chilli plant.  The bed was heavily mulched before planting, both to feed the asparagus, improve the soil and protect the tomatoes - and they've all thrived. Apart from the chilli; he's looking a bit small. Possibly shaded by the redcurrant standard next door.  I'll move him and sow some lettuce there instead.



In other news, July harvests were not huge but it's all about tiny tastes, right? I've had blueberries, redcurrants and sweet red gooseberries; kale, komatsuna and sorrel have provided green leaves.  I even had a big dish of sugar snap peas (as well as snacks) before the heat did for the plants.  All gone now, sadly, until next year - although I might sow a few more peas. Worth a shot, I reckon.

Achocha has fruit like softly spined pepper/cucumber cross. 

What is it with achocha and orache?  They seem to have seeded themselves all over the garden; I've weeded out numerous plants but keep discovering more.  I've let one achocha grow (and a few orache) but think it needs more regular watering.  No problem now I've got my tap!




The tiny balcony - with daily watering plus #feedonfriday - has kept me in daily tomatoes and salad leaves for the past few weeks.  My favourites have been the Bush Cherry tomatoes, grown in a hanging basket; so prolific, bursting with flavour and, best of all, right outside my door! Yum!



And the autumn raspberries are just starting to ripen.  
What does that say about summer?





More on achocha - growing and preserving:
I've been eating Fat Babies
The Downfall of Achocha
How to Preserve an Abundance of Achocha

25 Jul 2018

Café au Lait and a new book on Dahlias

For the first time, this year I've introduced dahlias to the garden. I've always liked the look of them but a childhood dread has deterred me before now.

In the past I've resisted growing dahlias as I thought they attracted earwigs.  As a teenager living in the Yorkshire countryside, I regularly found earwigs in my bed in the summer. (All part of life's rich tapestry at the time.) I've no idea how they got there but my bed was by the open window in our large old house so perhaps that was it. (An alternative option involving my siblings has not been ruled out.) The upshot was that I developed a lifelong aversion to the fleet footed, pincer tailed beasties.

Dahlias and upturned flowerpot
Upturned flowerpots are a ploy to keep the dahlias in top condition - stuff them with straw and the story goes that earwigs will nest in there during the day and are thus easily despatched moved away from your prize blooms.

And I was right, earwigs are drawn to dahlias as well as other flowers; they like to nibble on the leaves and flowers. Even so they (dahlias) remain a gardener's favourite - a brilliant cut flower for the house and a stunning plant in the border. Apparently they were considered rather vulgar and not fit for the curated border until recently. Now every garden worth its salt has borders jazzed up by a few blooms in summer.

Cheerful dahlias in the walled gardens at West Dean near Chichester, Sussex. 

Inspired by Instagram, this year I caved in at the sight of a box of 'Café au Lait' tubers at the supermarket. They weren't expensive and I knew nothing about growing them but I put them in large-ish tubs with bulb compost and they've done well, although not yet flowering.  They're still in the tubs and should have been need to be planted out, but I wasn't sure how tall Café au Lait grows ... a problem quickly solved by a very beautiful book I was recently asked to review.



As you can see, that book is Dahlias, Beautiful Varieties for Home and Garden by Naomi Slade. There are allegedly over 20,000 dahlia cultivars but, thankfully, Naomi has selected just over five dozen to present her readers with a smorgasbord of what's available.  An introduction plus two detailed sections on 'The History and Botany of Dahlias' and 'Growing and Care' sandwich a delicious filling of four categories of dahlias with sumptuous photographs by Georgianna Lane.  I can highly recommend that you read the book with a pad of Post-It notes to hand - you'll need them to mark the pages of your favourites although the book may bear a passing resemblance to a hedgehog when you're done.

Naomi throws her spotlight onto 67 of the most garden-worthy dahlias, grouping them into four categories of 'Romantic', 'Fabulous and Funky', Dramatic and Daring', Classic and Elegant'. Some of these are already familiar - the Bishop series particularly so, but I'm thrilled to now know about the Happy Singles, Karma and Gallery series of smaller dahlias.  Readers may find that their favourite dahlia is missing from this collection, but that's not the point. I learned how to identify the different flower forms of dahlias - pompom, decorative, double, cactus, etc - and how to care for them, with the result that I now feel confident in pursuing dahlia favourites of my own.

Honeybee on red and cream collarette dahlia
Chimborazo, a Collarette dahlia, as seen at Ulting Wick in Essex in 2016.
So dramatic - named after an Ecuadorian volcano, no less - how could you not love this!
Well worth a visit, Ulting Wick is open for the National Gardens Scheme on Bank Holiday Monday, 27th August 2018.


Stunning photographs made me stop and look but it was Naomi's perky prose that kept me absorbed - sometimes a back story to the name, a verbal illustration of the bud, suggestions of pairings or use in the garden, or the character of the flower.  Every named cultivar has a breakdown of its type, height, spread, foliage, flower size, vase life, garden life and alternative varieties.

This book holds a mountain of information in its narrative - as a newbie to dahlia growing I particularly appreciated the 13 pages on growing and care, including pertinent advice on containers, pinching out, propagating, feeding and pests and diseases.  (Dahlias are thirsty and hungry plants, I'll add them to my weekly tomato feeding rota.)


Thanks to the wealth of tips in this book, I now know that my Café au Lait dahlia (a Romantic) will grow to around 4ft tall, hopefully with large 8 inch wide blooms, and will benefit from being staked.  I've also earmarked 'Park Princess' for next year's shopping list because, as Naomi writes, "Not all plants are suited to ultra-urban living, hordes of passing humanity and benign neglect, but Park Princess copes, excels evens, bravely throwing out showy, weather resistant flowers while she may." And it's pink. What could be better?

Not pink but a deep peachy-orange ... Ariko Zsaza in West Dean's kitchen garden last summer.
Looks to me like a Waterlily dahlia.

To summarise: I love this book; it's one to read from cover to cover and then to dip back into when you feel like it - or vice versa.  Every page is a visual delight, it's both entertaining, instructive and rewarding in its clear and accessible information. As a newbie to growing dahlias, I appreciated the clean layout and depth of information (history/botany/care) without being overwhelmed by the science or reams of heavy text. Personally, I feel quite excited about which dahlias to grow next year - short, tall, dinner plate or pompom blooms, cut flower or garden loveliness - as I'm now armed with information without being swamped by too much choice. The top-notch blooms in Naomi's book might just have set me off on a new gardening obsession.

As Naomi writes in the introductory paragraph of 'Growing and Care':
"Given the right conditions, dahlias are easy to grow - the trick is knowing what those conditions are and then choosing the plants that suit you best. There are trials and tribulations in all gardening endeavours; the very best gardeners have plants that get nibbled by pests or snapped by frost. What is important is learning as you go, and enjoying the process every step of the way."
I so agree. 

Dahlias in the kitchen garden at Winston Churchill's home, Chartwell in Kent. Love the colour, forgot to get the name. 


Dahlias, beautiful varieties for home and garden is published by Pavilion Books on 2nd August 2018. Retail price is £25.  The Amazon link is here with a pre-order 22% saving on the cover price.


My thanks to Pavilion Books for gifting me a copy of the book for review. 



12 Jul 2018

Five kilos of cherries


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Other inspiration:

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

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




5 Jul 2018

Some observations from the RHS Hampton Court Flower Show

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



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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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

Achillea aka Yarrow

Echinacea pallida

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



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






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



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



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


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


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

2 Jul 2018

Weed, Mulch, Water, Clear



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grower’s Tip:

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

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








1 Jul 2018

Dappled Shade



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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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


How are you coping with this summer heat?

12 Jun 2018

Four rhubarbs and a recipe for homemade rhubarb gin

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

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

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



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

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

~ New rhubarb on the block; Siruparber Canada Red ~

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

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

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

~ Click on the picture to see it larger ~
😋

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



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


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