GAPS KEEP APPEARING
I feel sorry for David, I really do! He can’t help getting nervous when every time I go into the garden I dig up any plant that displeases me, seemingly on a whim. He reckons if he stands still too long I‘ll get rid of him an’all! I felt so vindicated when, a couple of weeks ago, Monty said that in his opinion it was perfectly acceptable to get rid of a plant if you had “gawn awf” it. Sell it for charity, give it away to friends, compost it, but replace it with something you love. I suppose I have always felt guilty about doing that, as if somehow I had a duty of care to those plants which have fallen out of favour, disloyal in a way. Not so anymore! I have been whipping them out with obscene abandon and thus have ended up with immense new planting possibilities.
Well, obviously (you know me, he who hesitates is lost) by the time you read this those gaps will have been filled, so let me tell you about the provenance of some new additions to the borders:
In early July David and I went on our annual pilgrimage aka The Hampstead Garden Suburb Horticultural Society coach holiday. Based in Kings Lynn for three days, we visited Easton Walled Garden (compost bins spotted on Google Earth) on the way up, Henstead Exotic Garden in Beccles and Bishop’s House Gardens (Diocese of Norwich) to the East, and Cathy Brown’s Garden and the late lamented Geoff Hamilton’s Barnsdale on the way back. Plants to the right of me, plants to the left!
You could be forgiven for thinking you were in the midst of the Burmese jungle at Henstead Exotic Garden, that is until you reached the wire boundary overlooking the neighbouring housing estate. Point of Interest: Compost toilet Throne Room. Souvenirs of visit: Papyrus, Aeonium Schwarzkopf and miniature gunnera magellanica. Amazing host, worth a visit to meet him alone.
Barnsdale. Well, what a walk down Memory Lane! The Gentleman’s Cottage Garden, the Artisan’s Cottage Garden, and as soon as we entered the Paradise Country Garden my head was full of the haunting TV series sound track. I am a sucker for a celebrity so our visit to their nursery (Paradise indeed) was all the more special because of the presence of Nick Hamilton, who even identified a plant for me. Talk about Plant Lust though: Revered (and oft feared for her unlimited knowledge of Latin plant names, most notably vernonia crinita) group leader Diane was on the hunt for a potentilla Gibson’s Scarlet. Oh the dilemma when she found it! I can’t have those flower stems flopping over my edges, but she did succumb in the end. My folly? Moisture loving astilbes Lollipop and chinensis Vision for the driest part of my garden. Solution? Plant them by the irrigation hose. Sorted!
So, (I do so hate this current trend of opening a sentence with So, don’t you) before The Trip there was the small matter of the NGS Hampstead Garden Suburb Horticultural Society Group Gardens Open Day June 25th. What a dream! The sun shone, we welcomed 435 visitors, served 240 helpings of tea and cake, sold over 400 raffle tickets and raised nearly £700 on locally propagated plants and produce alone. Grand Total Donation to NGS £5585.76 (one wonders how the 76p crept in). How about that then, eh! Fab-u-lous!
This week? Well, this coming Sunday 30th July David & I are having our NGS Open Day. The thrice daily visit to the Met Office website for weather forecast updates is in full swing. Not looking great I have to say at the moment. (I have been known to log out then straight back in to the website just in case it’s been updated.) But after so much recent horticultural activity I am feeling quite Zen about the whole thing this time around. Seeing as the garden had to be Band Box perfect last Sunday for the judging of the London Gardens Society competition, it’s been coasting along nicely since then. Yesterday I filled my last remaining gap (yeah right, I can see me not planting another thing until next year.) A rigorous regime of dead heading along with a favorable balance of rain and shine (and several doses of Tomato feed, Mother Nature shan’t take all the credit) has brought the late summer flowers out right on cue. That is, apart from the T&M tree lilies, which of course have gone over! Now comes the real preparation for Open Garden Day: Cakes. New recipe from Cathy Brown’s garden (You will be served tea at 3.55pm precisely) Orange and Almond cake Gluten and Dairy Free amongst other old favourites. Pricing up plants-for-sale, distributing signage, organizing Float money, buying paper plates, plastic cutlery etcetera etcetera etcetera.
Hoovering the paths and patio can wait until Sunday morning. Wish us luck, hope to see some of you in our garden on Sunday, come rain or shine, as the saying goes………
- Watering Can – there is something satisfying about watering plants from a watering can. My favourite is an old fashioned aluminium one with a long spout. Ideally the water should be sourced from a water butt in order to recycle the rain, but obviously that’s not always possible. As far as I know new plants should always be well watered when first planted
- Secateurs – the tool I use most in the garden. Cutting back, dead-heading, opening bags of compost. I’ve got a cheap plastic handled one which is fine for now. Don’t leave them out in the rain though…..
- Gloves – brambles hurt whether you have gloves on or not, but they’ll save you from the smaller scratches and scrapes. I also find them invaluable when digging as they stop the blisters which can be a real pain. I tend to buy cheap ones regularly as I either rip them or lose them – for some reason I have several singles of the right hand which aren’t much use. In my limited experience the more expensive gloves don’t wear any better.
- Fork – me and forks generally don’t get on. I must have broken 3 so far – 2 on the shaft and one now has 2 prongs (the pointy bit) rather than 4. I now have a stainless steel and timber one which was a bit more expensive that the plastic ones and is still in one piece
- Spade – again stainless is best as it won’t rust. In an ideal world spades and forks should be washed and dried after each days use. However, its not an ideal world.
- Trowel – this is a garden trowel rather than a builders trowel which is completely different. To be fair I have planted using a builders trowel but I was desperate. I have a cheap plastic handled item which is ok. You don’t put much force through them so they’ll rust before they break. Unless you clean and dry them of course.
- Trowel Fork – its the size of the trowel but has prongs like a fork. Really useful if you need to break up some soil before digging a hole with the trowel. Same rules apply
- Trug – very useful for filling with cuttings / weeds. Different sizes are available and the first thing to go will be the handle – eventually the sunshine turns the plastic brittle so they snap. They’re a bit more structured than a bag so you can just throw weeds into them without missing and clearing up the ensuing mess.
- Hoe – these are good for light weeding if the weed roots are at the surface of the soil. And using them is a lot less back breaking then pulling them up by hand. Simply work over the surface of the soil, pile up the weeds and then throw them in the trugg.
- Wheelbarrow – now I have one of those romantic notions about using a wooden wheelbarrow to cart the new plants around in, but it’s never going to happen. My advice would be to have a plastic container bit and metal chassis, which now seem so be all the rage. It will rot after about ten years unless you keep it indoors, and few of us have enough space for that !
Health and Safety – recently I have become more aware of the importance of H&S when working in the outdoors so please assess the area that you are going to be working in and the tools that you are using. Then imagine with worst thing that could happen and try and mitigate that risk. At the end of the day its not worth doing something that is going to cause injury or worse that means that you won’t be back in the garden for a while
Five years ago our lives were very different. My wife and I were both commuting for at least 2 hours a day whilst using a childminder to look after our young family. We were on a treadmill of long days and early mornings without a great quality of life. Something had to break and unfortunately that was me. From that point we decided to work our way to a different kind of life and now here we are on the Isle of Wight. We have opted to try and simplify our lifestyle.
We recently moved house and I was talking with a neighbour at the weekend whereby he asked me if I was a gardener. I answered negatively – that sounded like a profession to me, but it did get me thinking. I like the idea of gardening, but not being a gardener – to me that means doing it for others and that’s too much responsibility.
Our new garden is much bigger than any we have ever had before and has been neglected for some time. There is an area of raised beds for a vegetable patch, these are overgrown with weeds right now, but I’m using a small corner of one of them to attempt to grow some runner beans. First lesson – use long canes!! This is my first effort. I am also growing some tomatoes (in a grow bag), chilli’s in a pot, and a cucumber plant.
I would like my children to get some appreciation of where food comes from and the effort involved in producing it – that’s really important. I also want to be able to prove to them that it can be done and its cheaper / healthier / tastier / better for the environment to grow your own food if at all possible. As ever, time is the main problem, but now that I have left the rat race behind there is more of a chance that I’ll be able to spend some proper time in the garden.
Other jobs that I’d like to be sorting in the garden sooner rather than later (but I’ve got to get used to the fact that the seasons affect what grows and when so I’m not sure when the best times will be yet) include:
Weeding, digging over, and planting up the front garden so that it has a cottage garden feel (I’m investigating what this actually means)
Encourage the front hedge to be consistent (fill in gaps, grow higher). Its brambles, ivy, and bind weed right now
Sort the lawn out so that its actually more grass than weeds
Clear out the pond, relining and refilling it, re-bedding slabs, and restoring the waterfall that used to run into it many years ago
Behind the pond is a shady area – I’d like to try and see what kind of “woodland” planting I can do here – I’m thinking ferns, moss and so on
Establish a hedge along the side of the garden for privacy
Recommission the raised beds for a vegetable patch and then work out what needs to go where
Have a wild meadow patch to encourage the bees and butterflies
Build a greenhouse or similar – something to keep the plants warmish in the winter
Replace the dilapidated shed before it falls down – this will require proper money
So my problem is that, other than watching Gardeners World on a Friday and having a bit of enthusiasm, I have zero gardening knowledge. I can dig a hole and that’s about it. I’ve tried learning some plant names but then promptly forget. I generally describe plants as red flower, purple flower, long grass, dead twigs, so I really need to get my head around this and work out a strategy for remembering the names.
However, armed with the internet and the team at Gardeners World (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006mw1h/episodes/guide) I’m sure I can make a pretty good go at this. I just need to fit it in along with everything else. I’ll be keeping you updated with what I’m doing and how it’s going – please let me know how you think I’m getting on and if you have any advice!
The Three C’s
Every time I offer some knowledge with regards to growing crops for your business, the first question is always, so how long have you been growing the beard?
It’s not really the first, it’s about the 5th question!
They actually want to know the easiest Vegetable/Fruit they can grow and that’s where the three c’s come in.
Courgettes are by far the easiest in terms of germination, care, maintenance and yield!
But I’m not talking about your average green bog standard courgette.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good standard courgette, sliced and cooking in butter on a BBQ but if you’re trying to get people excited when visiting your restaurant, pub or cafe you want something a little different.
At the Pub I only grow a variety called One Ball/Summer Ball. The courgettes are bright yellow and grow to the size of a large tennis ball. They are perfect for hollowing out, stuffing and roasting in the oven.
Other unusual varieties I’d recommend are Eclipse(round), Parador(yellow) and Safari(stripped).
I’ve always preferred the taste of a home grow Cucumber, fresh from my Fathers greenhouse. Shop imported cucumbers are just rather tasteless!
So last winter I went on a cucumber internet safari and was blown away with different cucumbers varieties you can actually grow!!
Two I’ve chosen to grow this year are Poona Kherra, which is an Indian cucumber with a brown/orange skin. It’s really refreshing to eat but you must remove the skin as its super bitter.
The other is called Crystal Lemon/Apple which I’m sure some of you have already tried. They are very vigorous and produce large amounts of round cucumbers. I pick them when slightly green in colour as the skin becomes slightly tough when yellow.
Slice them like a lemon and pop them in your favourite alcoholic/non-alcoholic beverage.
I’ve also grown three high yielding varieties which are Carmen, Louisa and Bella. The reason for this is I wanted to try and get the pub to no longer buy in cucumbers throughout the year. That way we don’t have to buy them from abroad, save money and it’s just generally better for the environment.
I’ve grown nearly 100 plants in a new poly tunnel and they’ve produced over 500 cucumbers to date.
It’s safe to say they no longer buy in cucumbers and we’ve even had enough excess to sell them inside the pub!
It used to be just Two C’s but then I discovered Cucamelons! These little beauties were said to be the ‘next big thing’ but I’m yet to see them catch on.
I love them; they originate from Mexico which makes them drought resistant. They grow like crazy and produce copious amounts of grape sized fruits which taste like cucumber with a zesty kick.
They are very simple to germinate but can be a little tricky to get going as they can suffer from damping off and drying out but once they are off you can’t stop them.
As you can see from the pictures I tend to grow them up string and let them ramble everywhere.
What can you use them in I hear you ask??
Well, now I’m more than happy to eat them as they are but if someone “forced” a large gin and tonic in front of me I’d chop a couple down the length and throw them in for good measure! They are also lovely in a salad or any fish dish.
You’re not growing them?
If you’d like any more info or tips about the varieties listed here, just pop a comment below!
Now where did a leave my gin and tonic…..!
Everyday there is something else to pick, cook and preserve. If Gooseberries are your thing this year’s harvest has given you something to shout about. So many in the freezer, given away and eaten it has to be a record year.
That goes for all the harvest of the other soft fruits we shall be eating blueberries for months, no hardship as they are my favourite along with cherries.
Despite my best efforts at netting the tree a dear little squirrel has managed to get inside and eat all the flesh just leaving the stalk and stones hanging there. Tell tale teeth marks on the stones!
While I was away my husband kept everything watered and was giving veg boxes to neighbours and family. I don’t think they want any more courgettes for a while. Growing both yellow Parador and green Defender at least makes the dish look a bit different. While away I was eating a Cretan dish made with potatoes, courgettes and cheese which I shall attempt this week as my vegetarian granddaughter is with us for the school holidays.
All the shallots are now dried off and stored, have hung them and the garlic in the nets that covered the garden ready plants from Thompson and Morgan this year. Anyone else found a use for them?
The rain has boosted the growth on the squashes and carrots and the cabbages look spectacular. I am continuing to sow lettuce and spring onions and radish to go with the bumper crop of tomatoes and cucumbers we are getting.
The flower garden took a bit of a battering again with the heavy rain but a bit of prudent trimming and dead heading has brought it back round.
With the summer holidays about to start, it’s not always easy to get children away from their toys and out into the fresh air. However, inspired by the youngsters in our family, here is the A-Z of things to do right now!
A – Acting a play. Let their imagination run wild, will they be Ballerinas or Pirates? Get them to put their teddies on a blanket to be the audience as well as the grown ups and pay admission with chocolate coins.
B – Bug Hunting. Print off the names (or pictures) or write a list or of popular Insects and see how many you can find. Older children might like to build a bee hotel using old bamboo canes and a tin can.
C – Camping. Children love to make dens and pretend to be a lost princesses or explorers. A beach tent, Wendy house or a material gazebo make great places to hide. If you don’t have any of these, a sheet spread across two dining chairs are just as effective.
D – Digging. This can be in a sandpit,or even in a Trug. Give older children a border of their own an encourage them to grow easy plants such as sunflowers, beans, and peas. Let them choose the seeds to make it their own. Or let them dig up the potatoes.
E – Eating. There’s nothing like fresh produce, get them to pick things you/they have grown and design their own menus. Strawberries, raspberries and a crushed biscuit with a dollop of ice cream, yoghurt or cream makes for a tasty treat, Or use tomatoes and peppers from the greenhouse to make pizza toppings. Alternatively, just eat outside. Either on the patio table or a blanket on the grass.
F – Flower Pressing. Children like to learn, so help them identify trees, plants and flowers in the garden, parks or nature walks, by collecting leaves and flowers. Flower presses can be bought online or in shops, but a cheaper alternative is to put the foliage in between two sheets of tracing/baking paper and put it in the centre of a heavy book for a few weeks to dry out fully. Don’t forget to write the names of what you have found on the paper first!
G -Games. Hold a sports day. Simple games like how far can you throw a frisbee, jump a skipping rope, or run a race can get them moving. Invite their friends and have a football match, play rounders or tug of war. Hide and Seek too. Award small prizes such as stickers or badges, and let the overall winner choose what the next outing or evening meal will be.
H – Hopscotch. Although an old fashioned thing, youngsters love to jump around so by playing hopscotch it can help them to learn their numbers as well as have fun. Get the older children to draw the grid on the patio with chalk. Alternatively, think of other games that can be drawn on the ground such as hangman or noughts and crosses. A bucket of water will soon get rid of the drawings, or just wait for the rain!
I – Inside out. Don’t let rain stop play. If it’s too wet to go out why not create an indoor garden? Use Lego bricks to build paths to lead you to a pretend garden. Draw flowers and trees on an old cereal box, colour and cut them out. Use loo rolls and kitchen rolls to make people working in the garden.
J – Jewel Hunt. Use pretty glass stones or pebbles as treasure and hide them in the garden. Draw a map and and tell your children to follow the route on the map to find all the treasure. Or ask the children to hide the treasure and draw you the map.
K – Kicking a ball on the grass is fun for girls and boys. Set out an area safe from buildings and windows.
L – Looking. Get up close to nature with a magnifying glass. Insects like ladybirds and caterpillars can look like giant monsters under the glass. Alternatively, look at how a strawberry or other soft fruits look when magnified, as well as leaves and trees.
M – Make Mud Pies. Mix soil (clay soil is good for this,) with water and use your hands to make pretend pies. Leave them dry in the sun for a really authentic look. Older children can make a small pond using an old bucket or washing up bowl sunk into the ground. Don’t forget to put a large stone in it for frogs to have somewhere to sit, and birds have places to land.
N – Name all the birds that visit your garden. Print out a list from the Internet or borrow a book from the library. Keep a diary for one week to see if different birds visit on different days, or different weather conditions. Can you guess which bird will visit you the most, and what is its favourite food.
O – Obstacle Course. Build a course using the toys in your garden. Have you got a swing to climb over, a bike or scooter to get to the end of the garden with? Maybe a hedge tunnel to run through or a stepping stone path to jump across? Who can run up the steps the fastest, around the tree, and back to the start first. Lay hula hoops on the lawn in a pattern and jump from one to another.Put an old blanket in the grass and peg it down with heavy stores then scramble under it as quick as you can. Splash through a paddling pool. The only limit is your imagination.
P – Pop Music in the sun. Create your own dance festival using your iPod or radio. Have a dancing competition or play musical statues. Maybe even make your own band using old saucepans for drums and an old spade for your guitar.
Q – Quizzes. Write down questions for each child and answers on separate pieces of paper, then ask them to go outside to find the answers. You could pin the answers to the questions on the objects outside. For example the question “Where do the bikes go into at night?” And the answer could be pinned to the shed saying ” In here”. Or do it the other way around give your children the answers and pin the questions outside. Older children might just enjoy some quiet time on their own. Maybe give them a space of their own for the summer, like the shed or secluded part of the garden.
R – Royal Queens and Kings. Younger children can pretend to be royalty for the day. Let them pick what to do outside, such as play or make a new garden feature. The grown ups can pretend to be their servant and do everything the children say.
S – Soil Testing and other experiments. Use an old glass for this – mix a tablespoon of your garden soil with some water. Leave it for an hour or so, then look to see what the different layers of sediment are made up or. Is it tiny stones or sand, or clay. Is there still bits floating in the water? Set up a weather station and record which way the wind is blowing, or how hot it is today. Cheap thermometers can be found in 99p shops, or order a more robust one from Thompson and Morgan.
T – Tumbling or rolling down a hill in the garden can be fun. No hill? Then do head over heels or other gymnastics gently on the lawn. Older children can try handstands against a wall or cartwheels on the grass. Playing on an outdoor trampoline can be exciting too.
U – Understanding Rabbits and other pets. Animals make great companions for children, teaching them ownership, responsibility and love. Always consider how much time as a family you have to care for a pet. Cats are more independent than dogs, and caged animals need to be kept clean. If you do have an animal , consider something that can play outside with the children. Encourage the family to grow some pet food for their rabbit or tortoise like dandelions.
V – Visit other gardens, even if it’s just friends next door, Can you borrow ideas from their garden and do the same at home? Perhaps you can make a new feature with the children then ask their friends to visit you and give it marks out of ten. Or get together for a BBQ or hotdogs and drinks outside.
W – Wheelbarrow races, Grown ups can push younger people around the garden in a wheelbarrow for fun. Who is the quickest ? Mum, dad, or grandad? If you don’t have a wheelbarrow do it the old fashioned way, by getting someone to hold onto your ankles raised slightly in the air, while you crawl on your hands. Who can go the furthest or the fastest?
X – X marks the spot. Gently collect some snails for a race, put an X on their shell with different coloured nail varnish for each one, and an X in the ground, (use chalk on the patio to do this.) Next put your snail, on the start line and see which one gets to your X first.
Y – Yellow Up! Yellow is such a happy colour, why not make the most of it by growing sunflowers in pots or borders. Have a competition on who can grow the tallest one. If it’s massive why not enter it in the T&M sunflower competition too!
Z -ZZZ. If all of the fresh air has made you tired, and it’s a nice night, why not set up a tent in your backyard and sleep under the stars. If you don’t fancy that, then just do a bit of star gazing when the sun goes down.
Whatever you do this summer, let me know how you get on, by leaving a comment below.