Sunday, 22 November 2009

Famous albino squirrel and other autumn miscellany

Meet the famous albino squirrel of Dorking, which we happened across last month in one of its favourite haunts, the St Martins churchyard in the centre of the town. We were surprised by it, as albino squirrels are quite rare, and it wasn't all that famous when partner captured this image on his phone. But don't go rushing off to Dorking to visit the squirrel, as a couple of weeks later, BBC national TV reported that it had come to an unfortunate end under a car. We heard this sad news from Have I Got News For You, though it was originally covered in the national press. Paul Merton was very entertaining about it in his deadpan way... he's a local boy you know, from Morden, at the south end of Northern line.
Be not downhearted though. In our local paper the following week there was news of two more albino squirrels a few miles away in Carshalton, Surrey. Let's hope they're a bit more wary of the traffic.

Isn't this a gorgeous display of vegetables? I wish I could take the credit for them, but they came from uncle David's allotment. His sweetcorn did marvellously this season (you can see a beautiful pile of them at the back) but I'm also really jealous of that beautiful cabbage in the middle - maybe I'll try growing some next year.
Next, the last of the cornflowers, from the edges of a patch of meadowland, still bravely flowering (if a little the worse for wear) after the strong winds and pelting rain of the last 48 hours. They were quite luminous in the twilight, as only true blue can seem.
We found them up at the top of Cheam recreation ground, which is mostly football and rugby pitches, where it borders Nonsuch Park and has an amazing view across south London to the City and Canary Wharf beyond on a clear afternoon like today. Somebody (London Wildlife Trust? Local council? I've forgotten) planted up a gorgeous plot, about 30 metres square, with meadow and wild flowers, earlier this year and there were notices informing us that this was an experiment, and would be monitored for wild birds and other creatures. I first came across it in September when of course it was past its best, but still beautiful with poppies, cornflowers and sunflowers. l
One Sunday last month we walked past to find a flock of about two dozen bright green parakeets harvesting the sunflower seeds, a gorgeous sight; but I wonder if they were the wild life it was designed to attract? Not much left today to feed the smaller native seed eaters - goldfinches, greenfinches and the like.
Lastly, some English oaks in their autumn finery before the wind blows all the leaves away. Common enough round here, but they seem to be the last to change from green to copper then brown, so hold the final riches of autumn. They looked so warm and bright as the sun set late on Saturday afternoon. Looking at them feels almost like the physical need for summer sunshine, I stare and stare, greedily feeding on the warm bright colours, stoking up my inner fires before the cold grey winter really sets in.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Beetroot brownies and mellow soupfulness

The monthly requirement for chocolate, part of life for more years than I care to remember, has left me this year, but suddenly it was back again last week. Perhaps it was the cold wet weather, but comforting soup and some chocolate brownies were definitely on the family menu.
We had some Jerusalem artichokes, which Jenny had brought to share round at choir practice. In recent high winds the plants had fallen over, bringing many of the tubers up to the surface, so she had dug them all up over the weekend. Together with some cauliflower from our allotment and a 120g piece of organic stilton, a pint of chicken stock and a chopped red onion sweated in butter, all whizzed together after about 40 minutes simmering, we had a gorgeous creamy, savoury soup for lunch.
The recipe for chocolate brownies was from Riverford Farm Cook Book and is a real treat. Start by melting together 250g dark chocolate and 200g unsalted butter in a bowl over hot water. Add 1 tablespoon Tia Maria (I used Camp coffee for a more intense flavour).
Meanwhile puree 250g cooked beetroot in a food processor. Add three eggs (one at a time), a drop of vanilla extract and 200g caster sugar and mix until smooth.
In another bowl, sift together 50g cocoa powder, 50g ground rice, 1 tsp baking powder and 100g ground almonds.
Stir the beetroot mixture into the melted chocolate & butter mix and then fold in the dry ingredients.
Use greaseproof paper to line a rectangular tin about 28 x 18 cm. pour in the mixture and put in oven mark 4 (180C). Bake for 30-35 mins until just firm to the touch; a skewer inserted in the centre should emerge slightly sticky.
Cool in the tin, cut up and serve.
The recipe says this is enough for 9 portions but I cut it into 20 as the chocolate is very intense, plus all the eggs and butter makes for quite a rich texture and flavour. Perhaps I should only have added a couple of teaspoons of the Camp coffee. Anyway, we've been enjoying the brownies all week!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

21st century fruit farming - one man's view.

My mother and I enjoyed a talk and tour round Park Farm in Great Holland with Mr Elsworth, who owns and runs it as a thriving enterprise, a few weekends ago. Having recently planted three fruit trees in our back garden I was interested to learn what I could about looking after them - and encouraging fruitfulness of course.
Along the way he also shed light on changes for small to medium sized fruit producers since he took over the farm from his father, who first established it in 1935. There's no doubt the environment has become very tough for them.
For a start, only about 1/6th of the farm's original 60 hectares of orchards, is now devoted to fruit. Most of what they grow is sold locally, mainly through their own shop - and none through supermarkets or wholesalers, the latter were an important route to market in his father's time. Mr Elsworth related his last experience of delivering Discovery apples, usually the first early variety of the English apple season, up to the London markets one year, when most other UK growers' crops had failed. A peculiarity of the local coastal climate had saved his crop and he sent them up by train, expecting a good price in conditions of scarcity. They didn't sell, and he hadn't sent any away since.
The farm is not organic and I was mildly amused by his brief summary of why not. Apparently people who support organics think you don't use chemicals to sort out pests and yet organic farmers do need to use them. He said the knack to producing good quality fruit was to grow healthy trees, then disease wouldn't take hold. To me that is exactly what organic growing is all about! Using as little chemicals as possible, and those from an approved list of poisons derived from natural substances. Ah well, no one is perfect.
Most of the work of the farm is done by human beings and it's no picnic running a farm of this size, much of the outdoor work with casual labour. Young people don't stay on in permanent employment - he's just got them trained and they move on to something else. He commented wryly that if he needs 16 people to prune or pick apples he has to ask 20 to come in as he knows about a fifth won't turn up. In his experience, migrant labourers are more reliable - partly because they live onsite during the season so he knows where to find them when needed!
Beyond the problems of farming, he also shared some useful information for we gardeners! He showed us the Writtle College method of picking apples - cupping the fruit in your hand and rolling, rather than tugging it off the branch so the stalk stays on and keeps the fruit sealed and whole for storage (if the apples don't roll off easily they aren't ready). And he shared a technique to use alongside pruning for perfectly formed fruit trees - small concrete weights made in egg cartons and hung on individual branches to encourage them to grow outwards rather than up, for better productivity. He also uses calcium foliar feeds as needed, as this nutrient is difficult to administer in any other form.
We were surprised to hear that honey bees are not as useful as they're cracked up to be for pollination of fruit trees! Apparently the lazy things don't come out unless the weather is warm
(not always the case in our British spring). Other insects ( including other types of bee) are hardier, out earlier, and seem to do the job as well. Plus, the more flowers are pollinated, the more tiny fruits have to be removed from the trees in early summer (thus incurring additional labour costs) in order to produce a good crop of evenly spaced healthy apples! Over the last couple of years, the local beekeeper has taken his hives elsewhere and the crop has been more than adequately pollinated in their absence.

Park Farm produces 40 varieties of apple and it's a real treat to visit the farm's shop and choose. This time we brought home George Cave, Blenheim Orange, Egremont Russet and Ashmead's Kernel, all of excellent quality. We also had three litres of their fresh unpasteurised apple juice, which is usually available in at least three different varieties and vastly superior to (even the good) stuff from supermarket chiller cabinets. They supply boxes of fruit - follow the link above for further information. And if you should be somewhere near Clacton, do drop in for local vegetables and other fresh foods - and try their recently opened coffee shop, which does very reasonable lunches and delicious home baked cakes and desserts.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Soil Association director in Sutton

Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, will address the Surrey Organic Gardening Group on 27 November. The event, which marks the 40th anniversary of SOGG, is open to all with an interest in gardening, whether organic or aspiring to it.
His talk, from 7.30 pm, will take place at Milton Hall, Cooper Crescent, Carshalton. To reserve a place call Alastair 020 8669 6692.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Painted lady visits autumn flowers


Glorious sunshine this morning tempted me out to clear the asters, their lavender glory over and gone to seed. The bright warmth brought out Eupatorium's flowers in full white starry fluffiness; the flowers smell astringent, but I had to get quite close to experience this. Still it attracted bumble bees and even a painted lady butterfly paid a prolonged visit to tap its nectar. Click on the photos to look more closely; in the first image, the antennae are very well defined, although the body looks soft and out of focus; in the third, the proboscis can be seen.
In our back garden, Cotinus coggyria is aflame, while the oak trees beyond the garden are just beginning to turn and shed the odd yellow and dry brown leaves. The dry weather continues though there was a little rain after I planted up tulip bulbs in pots last week. Much to my surprise, a self seeded dark pink Cosmos has bravely begun to flower today in the sunny bed. I had a patch of them last summer and this is the sole survivor - I wonder how long it will last?

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day October 2009

Welcome to the highlights of my garden on this sunny autumn day...thanks as always to MayDreams Gardens for hosting this monthly beautiful event, an opportunity to share and enjoy so many gardens around the world.
The front border is flourishing with aster and dark leaved Eupatorium especially joyful this month - the aster a little past their best, some have gone to seed but their cheerful little faces enjoying the sun and continuing to feed local bees and other beneficial insects. Eupatorium has had a tough autumn, it has been very hot and dry, at one point in September I realised it was drooping and slung a can of water over it. It was moved from another part of this bed last spring, I'm hopeful its many flowers are a sign of health not desperation!
Sedum, cyclamen, Euonymus and Euphorbia have all settled in well to their pot at the front door. They were planted out just a couple of weeks ago having hung around since late August - so that's a relief.
In the back garden, spectacular autumn colour from Hamamelis Vesna; the leaves turn rich brown, then take on a deep orange hues, some with red and yellow edges. Well worth the space it occupies at this time of year, it is said to grow up to 8 foot and I'm looking forward to it. (In the left corner, a glimpse of acid yellow Potentilla, still flowering. I mentioned its long season back in July).
Next, a new addition to the sunny border, Malus Gorgeous was completely irresistible with its sunset coloured crab apples, turning to red, from RHS Wisley a couple of weeks ago. We've also put in quince Meech's Prolific and an apple, Adam's Pearmain this week. It has taken eight years to decide which fruit trees to plant (I know, we could have had some decent crops by now!) but we finally agreed on our selection, and looking forward to the spring blossom lighting up the garden. All will need expert pruning in our modest garden in order to produce well and thrive without taking over!
A couple of fresh white cyclamen have lit up this terracotta pot,with its variegated holly and thyme, which thrived in a lightly shaded spot over summer.
Lastly, yellow flowers like this pretty specimen are borne above the Jerusalem artichoke, which was covered with them when we visited the allotment last week to plant out garlic and onions. A welcome veg bloom for October!

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Croquet at Polesden Lacey...

We've spent most of the weekend outdoors enjoying the warm bright autumn weather. No, not in the garden, but in the Surrey Hills of South East England, where we wandered through lovely woodland, catching a glimpse of a small wild deer on our way, to spend Saturday night at Tanners Hatch youth hostel with friends from Making Colliers Wood Happy.
Along the lane from the railway station, hedgerows were full of fruit; blackberries, rosehips, red honeysuckle berries and elderberries (even though many, it seemed, had been recently pruned). As we walked through the fields, we spotted a buzzard lazily circling, a pair of herons flew past, and a small flock of goldfinches.
The hostel is just across the valley from Polesden Lacey, a large 18th century house owned by the National Trust, so in under half an hour we were able to walk up this morning and enjoy a lazy lunchtime picnic on the sunny lawns. They have a new farm shop, so we made our own picnic with fresh bread and deli treats, as the restaurant was very busy with the usual Sunday lunchtime trade, and none of us wanted to be indoors queueing.
The house is set into the hillside, surrounded by landscaped terraced lawns, a walled garden, some less formal meadows, and overlooking a peaceful view of the wooded countryside. there are two croquet pitches laid out on one of the lawns. A game was irresistible; we all enjoyed a couple of rounds in the gorgeous sunshine, although none had a firm grasp of the rules.
As the third round began, I took the opportunity to explore the walled garden. A lovely mixed border along the outside, but what lay within?
I found series of separate small gardens devoted to different plants and layouts, with tall yew hedges dividing them. My first discovery was an historic collection of bearded irises, not that any were in flower, but naturally the beds were neatly laid out and I imagine it will look wonderful from spring next year.
The rose garden was also very striking; the scent was delicious - almost overwhelming - and the beds are planted up with single varieties, great blocks of colour which look absolutely wonderful.
I suppose no autumn posting would be complete without at least one chrysanthemum; in the corner of the rose garden there was a whole bed of them, acid yellows, bright scarlets, oranges and apricots and some dark pinks scattered among them. But they looked garish, rather than colourful, in my picture; so here's a single quite delicious bloom from a quieter bed!
As we started home along the Yew Walk (also a lawn) which constitutes the lowest boundary of Polesden Lacey's gardens, we noticed holly trees heavily laden with fruit, by tradition a sign of a hard winter coming. But there will be plenty here for the birds to eat, with the yew trees also thickly covered in small soft red jewels.

It's still possible to make a donation to WaterAid in support of Sing for Water 2009. And you can now see our performance on Youtube, where there are two ten minute videos of the 650 strong choir which came together from across the UK to the Scoop in London for this special event.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Any ideas for green figs?

Even here in the blessed South East of England, you only get one picking of figs - and that's in a good year.
We picked our first crop of three purple ripe fruits last month from a Brown Turkey fig tree planted some five years ago. They were delicious.
But this week I twisted off 10 small green figs which have no chance of maturing, in the hope that some tiny buds will form, overwinter and ripen next summer.
Really I should have done this earlier in the season, and pruned, but fingers crossed we will have an Indian summer, the buds will form, and we will have a few figs to enjoy again next year.

Whether you've needed to water your garden this week or not, please support WaterAid this week and help them provide clean water supplies and sanitation for poor communities in Africa.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Sing for Water at Thames Festival 2pm Sunday 13 September

If you're in London next weekend, 12/13 September, why not join the Thames festival, there will be lots of great activities along the capital's river
Scattered Gardener will be taking part in Sing for Water at the Scoop, outside City Hall and close by Tower Bridge, along with friends from the Colliers Wood Community Choir and around 800 voices from choirs across the country.
We are raising funds for WaterAid, which brings clean water supplies, essential for health, to communities in developing countries. This year support is directed to Ghana and Malawi, both countries where life expectancy is low ( under 40 in Malawi) and infant mortality frighteningly high. Small amounts of money can do great things, so please give generously! You can sponsor me here

Many thanks to gardenblogger VP for reminding me to post about this - she took part last year and I followed her lead to the justgiving site! Have a gander at her list of events for gardenlovers while you're there...
For a report of last year's Sing for Water event, see here
The WaterAid website also gives lots of info about the countries they're working in and how the money is spent.

Did they fall - or were they pushed?

My runner beans fell over today. Or were they pushed? It was very windy this morning even in our sheltered allotment plot, and gusting strongly directly at the long side of the frame of bean poles which I so confidently predicted when I built it, would stand for the season! Ah well, back to the drawing board...
To be fair, this year's frame has lasted longer than usual, and we had some very windy weather earlier in the season. This time the cross bars snapped - perhaps we should have used some newer bamboo poles, or a sturdier wood may stand up to the weather better next year.
Despite lots of rain yesterday the deeper soil is very dry; we were away over the Bank Holiday, camping in drizzle in Dorset all day on Sunday and hoping the weather here in London would be the same, but evidently it wasn't! The Three Sisters bed (planted with corn, squash and beans) is not doingiving as much as expected, partly because of lack of water. I had a couple of weeks immobilised by a bad back, perhaps they fell behind then. And yet the beans in other areas are still yielding well, and they are also a thirsty crop. Perhaps I overcrowded the bed with plants too close together. It is also overlooked at one end by the sunflowers, at the other by Jerusalem artichokes (now about seven foot tall, still no flowers) leaning over it towards the main source of sunshine through the day.
Anyway, still picking enough veg to sustain us week to week. Today I harvested the second bunch of celery - first last week - it's very well flavoured, except the outer stalks very bitter, and has been good added to salads, veggie medleys, sauces for pasta and chicken stock. Very pleased with it as the slugs and snails don't seem to have made inroads, and this is my first crop of this vegetable. Looks as if we might be able to harvest every week through October.
The tomatoes are nearly finished and courgettes so over - I wish that I'd brought on some young plants in pots back in June in order to have a second crop. Next year...
Today I made sure the rocket seed was scattered in hope of a late autumn crop. There were one or two new plants in the bed already. I should have put turnip greens in as well, but left the seeds at home. I cleared most of the sunflowers and dug over their bed, the plan is to follow them with winter leeks, these are crowded in a row and should have been planted out by now. The autumn leeks which I planted out in late July are looking good, and the winter greens growing away strongly.
This evening we enjoyed runner beans, carrots, shallots (now dried out nicely after five weeks laid out in the garage), garlic, tomatoes and squash with pork chops and mashed potato. All except the last two from our allotment.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Mooching around the garden centre

Had a lovely day out on Tuesday - went for coffee with friends in the National Trust cafe over at Morden Hall Park, a favourite place in summer ever since we used to picnic by the River Wandle when the children were small.
After a pleasant couple of hours chatting over our coffee cups, Jenny and I meandered around the lovely garden centre next door. Now I was hoping to find a few rudbeckias and other autumn plants to jazz up my borders, but the end of August seems to be between seasons - the summer plants (as in my garden) all looked a bit tired and none of the few plants available to renew my sad pots had any colours at all - golden yellow leaves here, silver cineraria there, a tiny sedum of reddish hue, but it was all very subdued. And there weren't even any new season winter pansies yet (not due in until next month, they told me).
But there was a good range of bulbs, so rather unexpectedly I brought home three different varieties of daffodil, some delicious looking crocus, mainly white, with fine purple stripes up the sides, and gorgeous tulips - deep red Uncle Tom and fragrant Orange Princess. And hyacinths for forcing, which will be ready by Christmas if I plant them soon. And 15% off everything! Well, that will cheer up the pots in the New year...
After all that we were hungry, so we headed back into the cafe for some lunch...
Isn't it great to be thinking of spring already, when summer is hardly done? The anticipation of pleasures to come, looking forward to a new season while still enjoying the fruits of the last.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Heavens! It's all about food this month...

August is all about the food from the garden, I find...I can wax lyrical about sedum, lilies, lobelia cardinalis, and enjoy the long evenings ruminating on the patio with a glass of wine, but really it's the food that's most enjoyable.
The first three days home from holidays, all I wanted for lunch was a tomato sandwich; fresh wholemeal bread, some olive or flax oil and a couple of leaves of lemon basil, plus a couple of homegrown tomatoes and a few grains of salt. Mm, heaven.
Breakfast these past few days has been a handful of Avalon plums, meltingly soft, the juice all honeyed sweetness, skins sunset colours as they ripen from yellow tinged pink to reddish purple. Another taste of heaven, handpicked from Park Farm in Great Holland, while I was staying in Frinton, Essex last week, they are in the nearest bowl in the picture.
We brought home two more plum varieties: Mistaka, deep purple and too sharp to eat raw, but delicious baked in a pudding yesterday evening; and the traditional favourite Victoria, which were not really ripe enough to pick but will be ready to eat later this week. Mum swears by the latter, but they are not my favourite; I think they probably suffer by comparison as they aren't the first in season (which always taste best to me). But in any case, for me the whole point of picking direct is to try varieties and flavours which are not on offer in our local supermarkets. I suspect Avalon, being soft and easily bruised, would be unlikely to travel well.
The farm shop, which is in Pork Lane was full of goodies. We stopped in their recently opened coffee shop and were delighted by the plum dessert cake- a seasonal treat. Local honey, and early season apples including James Grieve, Beauty of Bath as well as thewidely available Discovery, were on offer. We brought home some of each, plus fresh pressed apple juice and Grenadier cooking apples, which will be wonderful with our local blackberries, which are cropping well, with large sweet fruit this season.
From the allotment, squash is particularly good and plentiful at present. We're eating two varieties and as I was expecting them to be rather like courgettes, I've been pleasantly surprised to find them so different from one another and flavoursome. Burgess Buttercup grows like a small orange football, and tastes sweet, quite like butternut squash. It roasted well with fresh sage and sliced onion, spuds and chicken for Sunday dinner yesterday. The dark green Waltham is more like a mildly sweet potato, and was good with onions, garlic, thyme, french beans and tomatoes in a pasta sauce. More heaven on a plate!

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

New challenge for the pigeons and some splendiferous sunflowers

Today the two of us spent a very useful and pleasurable day at the allotment.
Paul made a huge new cage to keep the woodpigeons away from the new brussels sprouts bed.
The cage I made last year wasn't tall or wide enough for plants to develop fully. This new model is taller than me, which is possibly a little too far in the other direction! Let's see if the brussels plants take advantage of their luxurious new height allowance; now that would be a good crop!
If the cage should prove overcapacious, perhaps we could plant some fruit bushes next year; blackcurrant redcurrant and raspberry would be good.

Meanwhile I thinned out the autumn cauliflowers, cutting down a couple of sunflowers as I went; transplanted winter leeks and brussels sprouts into two beds, dug over after the broad beans were pulled out; harvested potatoes and picked french beans and runners; found the first couple of sweetcorn cobs starting to swell; put elastic bands around the celery; and enjoyed a quiet cup of coffee sitting next to the Jerusalem artichokes and looking over the lush three sisters bed. It's looking good!
Lastly I watered everything, as despite frequent showers this week, the soil was really dry and thirsty by this afternoon.
I know I look as if I'm trying to hide behind the beanpole in this picture - this would be futile at the best of times. But I was actually just picking runner beans.
Have I mentioned how splendiferous the sunflowers are this season? Here are a few for your pleasure.
The tallest are now about 7 feet high. Bill has the highest plant on our site - one bloom must be at least eight foot tall - but I have the most prolifically flowering.
I have picked nearly forty blooms over the past three weeks, not including today's dozen (after these photos were taken). They are a delight and a pleasure.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Space and light a fine judgement

I was surprised to find that my first harvest of parsnips was in September last year, since we dug up the first three of the season last weekend.
The large one was wonderful with roast beef on Sunday, the others we enjoyed boiled with grilled noisettes of lamb on Monday evening. All accompanied by the first carrots, some French beans and potatoes gathered from the allotment.
Last year's first row of parsnips was planted too closely with Jerusalem artichokes, and had to compete for their light and water. But I wouldn't have expected it to make two months difference to their growth. I only put the seeds in at the end of April, and the packet said harvest from October! But the flavour of these young roots was really good.
The Cherokee climbing French beans are producing really well - long slender pods (up to 6 inches), also of delicious flavour. I made two sowings of them, the second in a three sisters bed with sweetcorn and squash, so we should have a continuous crop through August and September. I feel uncertain about this as I may have overcrowded the second sowing. I thought as it was a deep bed I could plant more intensely but nearly all the seeds and beans which I planted directly, came up. The Burgess Buttercup squash plants are also taking up much more space than other varieties planted in different beds, so I hope they will fruit well. It is a fine judgement to make best use of limited space in order to generate the maximum crop from the light water and soil nutrients available!
The dwarf French beans, Black Valentine and May Bean have been picked over the past couple of weeks. As I mixed them together in the bed I can't tell which is which unless I allow them to mature, when the beans will be different colours. We compared them for flavour with the Cherokees immediately after picking and found all very similar -delicious, but nothing to choose between them.
I'm pleased to report that the runner beans have staged a recovery, the few plants that grew well initially are being caught up by the stragglers, so perhaps we will have worthwhile amounts of my favourite crop after all.
Still waiting for our first ripe tomato with keen anticipation. We have already enjoyed a few courgette Tondo di Piacenza - a wonderful variety that produces rotund fruits like little tennis balls, good sauteed or mixed into paellas and pasta sauces.
July is such a lovely month for gardening here - the hard work of the early season gives way to more leisurely watering and weeding, sitting and looking and of course the rewards of eating freshest produce. It almost seems a shame to go on holiday!

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Gardeners Bloom Day July 2009

First up from my garden for today is Black-eyed Susan, a delightful flowering climber here in the UK. I don't know the Latin name for ours, do you? Apparently, Black-eyed Susan is a different plant, Rudbeckia hirta, in the US. Have a look at Carol's May Dreams Garden to see her version, and find out how you can join in with GBD and connect with other gardeners around the world.

I've posted my pics from a different programme this time and don't seem to be able to mix in words and pictures in the same way as usual. Still I hope you will enjoy this edited selection from my garden this morning.

HPNX6122 HPNX6126 HPNX6130 HPNX6136 HPNX6148 HPNX6152 HPNX6154

Friday, 10 July 2009

First summer pudding

My sister Annie is throwing a party to celebrate her fortieth brithday this weekend, so I offered to make a summer pudding - her favourite dessert at this time of year. I'm afraid we've eaten all the raspberries from the garden. The blackberries in Nonsuch Park aren't quite ripe, and those on the border of the allotment too few, so I had to buy soft fruit in the supermarket, adding in ripe cherries and strawberries left over from earlier this week. But I did make the white loaf to line the bowl!
The fruit smelled delicious as it was poaching this evening in a few tablespoons of brandy and sugar, with the juice of half a lemon to sharpen it and keep the colours of the fruit bright. Teh purple red juice soaked into the bread in no time, and I pressed it down in the bowl with a close fitting lid, to help it all conglomerate together. When we eat it with cream tomorrow evening, it really will feel as if summer is here - no matter what the weather!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Fantastic first earlies

Earlier this season I confessed that I couldn't understand why my fellow gardeners devote so much allotment space to the humble spud. They're just potatoes, for goodness sake and they don't cost very much in the shops. And I proudly announced that I'd only planted about six as I had other, pricier veg in mind.
And then, this week, I've harvested the first early potatoes, and god they're delicious. Also much easier to prepare than those I've been buying; the skins are very thin and scrubbed off almost as soon as I looked at them in the sink!
I served them boiled with mint for the Bad Girls Book Club on Saturday evening, we had some leftovers cold for Sunday lunch, then fried the rest with onions, some sweet potato, garlic and tarragon for Monday dinner. We've boiled the remaining few for dinner again tonight and tomorrow.
We aren't a family who normally eat spuds every day, and we dislike boiled spuds the rest of the year, but these are so well flavoured, so moist and soft textured, just needing a little butter to feel like a real treat enjoyed by us all. And absolutely amazing value - I only harvested two plants, getting about 5lbs in all. It is little short of a miracle that six or seven weeks in the ground can turn one potato into so much nutritious and tasty food!
We've also had the first dwarf French beans this weekend and handfuls of peas, from the Kent Blue variety as well as Victorian Purple. The VPs tasted better 10 days ago; the KBs, which podded later, are sweeter now. Completely different in their growth habits, the KBs are only about three foot tall while the VPs have shot above six. KBs have very nobbly little pods, moulding the peas tightly within like rows of baby teeth about to erupt, while VP pods are more classically crescent shaped, with just the suggestion of curvaceous peas within.
Our climbing French beans are just beginning to flower, so I expect some for our table by the end of the week, especially after the cooler nights and plentiful showers of rain overnight and today. The first sowing of Black Cherokee look particularly promising. We need them to be good. The runners are struggling this year thanks to blackfly, which seem completely uninterested in the nasturtiums in the presence of juicy sweet runner bean stems!
Lastly our salads are continuing to yield well, a couple of the plants have followed the rocket into seed but the others, which we've kept picking regularly, are developing more flavour as the season progresses. Bronze Arrowhead is picking particularly well. And we have lots of green tomatoes, so lets hope the weather warms up again to ripen them off!

Tragic demise of an organic allotment...

Once upon a time there was an allotment gardener. He commuted all week to a job he enjoyed, writing about gardening, and he had a lovely young family. He struggled to juggle these responsibilities with maintaining his allotment.
His plot was on a small but beautiful site surrounded on three sides by willows and other large trees. A waiting list was kept as a matter of policy, to help protect it from housing development, which was a great threat to many allotment sites during that time.
The council also had a very strict rule, that all plots on this site must be cultivated. This rule was partly designed to stop people on the waiting list from complaining that they hadn't got an allotment and that some tenants didn't appreciate theirs and look after them properly, and that life wasn't fair. But the rule was also policed to some extent by other tenants on the site, some of whom had gardened there for very many years. They contributed conscientiously to tasks that helped keep the site in good order, such as clearing blackberries from boundaries, trimming paths, pruning back the willow trees and calling the council when there were rats to be got rid of, and they felt much happier when all of the allotments were neat and tidy.
So when this man struggled to maintain his allotment alongside his demanding job and beautiful children, the council was informed. After some discussions, it was agreed to divide his plot in two, so that he had something more manageable in at least one area of his life.
So this is how I was allocated my half plot. I have been very glad that my neighbour reluctantly agreed to accept a half plot all those years ago, so that I too could have a manageable space to enjoy.
My neighbour tenant and I have been amicable, and we have seen several others come and go from the site during our tenancy. There was the woman whose father-in-law came over from Ireland for a week's holiday and cleared and dug her plot over for her. She planted it up and left, returning from the middle of the summer to harvest the food. One season she enjoyed lots of time down there with her new baby and toddler, during her maternity leave. She loved the gardening, but gave up her plot when she returned to work the following year.
An older tenant, who'd had a plot for years, struggled due to health problems over his two last summers, the weeds getting ever more prolific, the digging more of a struggle. Another woman came and enjoyed her plot for a season. The following summer her mother was very ill and her daughter had a baby. That year she couldn't fit in family support, allotment and essential full time job, so she was thrown off. I met her a few months later and she was quite angry that she hadn't been allowed to keep it after so long on the waiting list.
Another tenant, a wonderful veg gardener, had his cataracts done, and he was out of action for a year. He returned to his two full size plots, but voluntarily gave up one of them a couple of years later as he and his wife were no longer able to eat or give away everything he grew. Now he grows lots of evening primrose, a beautiful sight when watering in the evening.
Through all these sagas, my neighbour and I have managed to do sufficient labour to be allowed to stay. We're both quite green minded, organic (as far as we can) and have produced small amounts of delicious veg, which generally keep us motivated. He had a patch of weeds covering a third of the plot with signs, "slow worms live here" and a dustbin lid or two, while I had some old blackcurrant bushes, weedy and overgrown, providing shelter for blackbirds and sparrows, and the occasional resting place for a fox family.
For a couple of seasons, a friend helped him by clearing and gardening the back end of his plot, creating a deep bed and growing runner beans, and this was the point when we actually started to make headway in our annual Battle with the Hop Vine, which grew over leylandii from a neighbouring garden and choked the far end of our two half plots. He would bring free samples of different veg varieties to try, and would usually be found on Sunday mornings with one or two of his boys, pottering about and growing stuff.
But this year I haven't seen my organic neighbour and apart from a cutting down of the weedpatch and a rough trim of the shared path very early in the season, his plot hasn't been cultivated at all. There has been a great crop of parsnip seeds and artichoke flowers, and the bellbine and wild grasses have looked wonderful, but no one on the site appeared to have heard a word from him. And as we've never exchanged phone numbers, I had no way of finding out what was going on.
And then, early last week I arrived to do some watering and his whole plot had been cleared. The deep beds, the compost heap, all made from scavenged and recycled wood gathered over the years - everything had been pulled up or broken down and piled in a heap in one corner, over the formerly flourishing rhubarb patch. It was really shocking.
My neighbour Bill on the other side said a woman had been down with her mother and done it all over the weekend.
I met her on Saturday. She's dynamic, has spare time at present as her photography business is a little quiet, hasn't grown veg before but is full of energy and enthusiasm. "My long term objective is to open a restaurant, so this is a great opportunity for me to start with the food." She lives across the road from my organic neighbour, who has had an operation on his wrist and so can't do anything on his allotment this year. She's offered to help him out, and he's accepted gladly, giving her a free hand to do what she likes with it this year; she has even suggested putting a shed at the far end and having a small lawn.
It must be a great load off his mind that someone will look after his plot for this season, so he can return next year to something cultivated and not lose his tenancy. But I can't help wondering if he really expected her to clear everything off the plot and put down weedkiller? The old slow worm patch is looking very browned off this week, despite the plentiful rain over the weekend.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Everything in bloom on the allotment...

Rocket's pretty four petalled flowers are characteristic of the brassica family. We've been enjoying the leaves in our salad, I'm hopeful that if they run to seed we'll have a fresh crop in a few weeks time.

The first sunflower came out last Friday and more have appeared since. These were self seeded, but seem very happy in the deep bed we built over them!
The tomatoes also started producing flowers last week and so I've begun to feed them weekly with a seaweed feed.
Nasturtium were also self seeded, hopefully they will distract some of the blackfly away from the beans (see previous post, below!) They seem very happy tucked in next to the thriving brassicas.

A few words about wildlife....

Have I mentioned that our allotment site is protected as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSI), because it hosts a colony of slow worms? Here's one we found the other day. Despite the name, they are actually quite quick so we were pleased to get this pic.
They hide under the old carpet on the paths between the beds. So some of them get trodden on I'm afraid. I hope it's not illegal to accidentally tread on a protected creature - I feel guilty enough!
Now here's a painted lady butterfly, one of the hordes that have made their way to our shores on hot winds from the Sahara in recent weeks. They're looking a lot brighter now, the ones we observed earlier in the season were quite faded after their long journey.
And last but not least some rather less welcome visitors - the dreaded blackfly on the broad beans. Stubborn little critturs and I now have no broad bean crop (not one harvested!)
My fellow tenants keep making comments about how I haven't got a crop because I haven't sprayed, but I usually do get a small crop despite lack of spray. And I happen to know that Bill sprayed my beans about three weeks ago "because I had a bit left in me bottle, and it seemed a waste". No he doesn't use organic spray. And now they've moved onto my runner beans as well, which are usually only mildly affected.
I looked at sprays in a DIY store in Dorking yesterday, but as they were marked "dangerous to bees" I bottled out. I know they all think that my blackfly will infect their plants but if their sprays are so effective, why should they worry?
What do you think? Are the blackfly worse this year than last spring in your experience?

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Podding purple peas

We harvested Victorian Purple Pods yesterday- at last there were sufficient big enough to pod and enjoy the peas! Not that we've complained about the young peas, which we've consumed with delight as mangetout in stir fries over the last couple of weeks.
They were delicious simmered for five minutes with a sprig of mint. And were served in a traditional way alongside new potatoes, broad beans, young carrots and lamb chop, with a home made mint sauce. Mmhmm.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Gardeners Bloom Day 15 June

This is my first contribution to Gardeners' Bloom Day, an idea started a couple of years back by Carol of May Dreams Gardens. On the 15th of each month everyone is invited to post about the flowers which are currently blooming in their gardens.

June has to be the best month for English gardens! All sorts of delightful blooms to share. Delicately starry Alliums have followed the dark pink purple pompoms featured earlier in the season, looking good alongside the dark pink Sweet William - a traditional favourite.
The Pink Gerbera were a delightful gift, made on Friday (thank you Shirley) and potted up on Saturday. A nursery must have lit them evenly for the blooms to be so perfectly balanced in the round! The lemon yellow flowers you can see behind are Potentilla, an easy shrub which now it's established, produces a profusion of blooms every morning, and drops them all in the evening. It goes on for months.
Next, a pale lavender Scabious which we planted last summer. It looked very sad earlier this season, but we put a slug pub behind it, the snails dove in and it's flourished ever since!
The pink rose is a Gertrude Jekyll, it generous roses smell delicious all through June and we have enough to enjoy in the garden and the house.

Last but not least, the shopping basket I planted up a month ago, which is proving big enough to only need watering every four days or so!
Thanks to Stevie for the photos - he nipped out to capture them just before it started to rain cats and dogs! Also to Sue Swift of the Balcony Garden whose post today reminded me to take part in Gardener's Bloom Day!

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Advice please on celery - my challenge for this season

Having read that expert gardeners could enjoy celery from June to November, I felt it was time to plant mine out last week. You can probably see from the size of the plants that I started them off too late for an early crop!
I haven't grown celery before. Uncle David had a crack at it on his allotment last year, to commemorate the centenary of my grandfather's birth. Grandad used to bring a beautiful white celery for our family to share at Christmas teatime, so it was a nice way to remember him. Unfortunately David didn't have much success, despite years of veg growing and horticultural experience. Slugs love celery so it was probably a bad season for it, even though there was so much rain, which should be good for such a tender and hungry crop. So what tempted me into growing a veg which seems generally accepted to be extremely fussy?
I confess it was lack of research. I read the very positive write up of Full White Celery by the Real Seed Company. This was designed to sell celery seeds, of course, and make it seem really simple, so I ordered them and didn't actually read up about growing it until the seedlings were well underway. Ah well, challenge is good. I've kept them frost free and well watered and they have done well so far. Let's see how they grow in the new deep bed.
RSC's write-up said that this variety doesn't need earthing up, I can just put an elastic band around the stems, or wrap them in newspaper as they grow. But I would like white celery rather than green, the flavour is milder and less bitter. So I've buried the plants, leaving just a couple of leaves above the ground. I've no idea if this is the right way to do it, but four plants I put into a big pot in the garden at home seem to be doing ok, they've put more leaves and stalks up and I'm earthing up as they grow. We can only wait and see! If anyone's got positive experience, or any advice about this I would be grateful.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Peas - the first treat of late spring

Victorian purple podded peas glory in the most beautiful flowers - dark purple and pale pink, my favourite colours in the garden - and look good enough to eat. Which they probably aren't. But the pods are! Paul and I greedily ate the lot as we found them, about two dozen between us and they were sweet and crunchy and delicious eaten raw on the allotment last week. A treat!

The flowers don't smell as good as they look - in fact they aren't scented at all, so we're still looking forward to enjoying the ornamental ones in the garden to enjoy the luscious scent.