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………
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.
Firstly may I apologise for the lack of a May blog, I’ve been busy in the garden, but I also had a major setback. As some of my regular readers would know for the past year I’ve been fighting ovarian cancer, but many of you might not know I was born with a life limiting condition known as Fallots Tretology. It basically means I have four things wrong with my heart and although I had surgery as a child, I was still left with two heart murmurs and some dodgy heart valves.
Whilst the chemotherapy did its job in killing my cancer sadly it severely damaged my heart. Two and a half weeks ago a blood clot formed in one of the heart chambers causing long term dysfunctional heart failure and temporary kidney failure. To say I’m lucky to be here is an understatement. I’ve never felt so rough in my life. But I’m back home and I’m in the garden, and I’ve got an awful lot to be thankful for. My cardiologist says I have to rest and take things easy, but with the gorgeous weather we are having this week, I find it way to difficult to sit around, so I’m doing lots of supervising and planning and possibly nagging poor Mark to do stuff as well as and talking to the plants, setting of new seeds, transplanting, misting and pollinating.
The greenhouses have gone mad, I have absolutely no idea what Mark did, but when I came out of hospital the plants had gone ballistic- maybe they were just happy to see me – because within two weeks they had grown a hundredfold. I asked Mark had he given them liquid feed – he said no, apparently his secret is to open all the doors and vents, hang the sock airer or small clothes horse in there, with lavender scented conditioner on the clothes to attract pollinating insects, (poor things being tricked like this) water just before dusk, as he still has to do all the housework, eat, have a shower, visit the patient and do everything else that needs doing, and that’s it – simple! I think he deserves a medal, or a holiday poor man.
So in May the little greenhouse was full to the brim with seedlings, and baby flowers, I had also ordered Lucky Dip annual plug plants, and dahlia plug plants from T&M as well as Gardeners World perennial plug plants. There were close to 500 things growing on the shelves. Not to mention new pots of germinating grasses, veg, flowers and fruit. I was in my element, I was getting ready to return to work and I was really excited about the plant sale I would be holding the second week in June.
Then it went all went a bit wrong….. Mark had no option but to plant the bigger flowers outside, move them to the cold frame or sheltered positions – However, he doesn’t know a Phlox from a Nepeta, or a Carrot from a Cornflower, so my plants for sale were planted in our garden by mistake. I gave mum about 144 plug plants for her garden, as well as tomatoes, aubergine, and pepper. What’s left are pot bound and in dire need of planting but there’s not enough left for a good sale and I don’t feel like I can charge people for something that I know will grow perfectly but looks past it’s best. My lovely friend Trisha from work has said she would deliver any plants to my other colleagues if need be so maybe there’s a solution after all.
This month in the little greenhouse I have pots of germinating grass seeds, English Marigolds, Liatris plus mixed grass seedlings, geranium, phlox and begonia plug plants left to move to the cold frame or plant out. I have spinach beet, and cornflowers that need transplanting, as well as a very slow T&M aubergine, hollyhocks and hyssop. The greenhouse border is full of Aloe Vera flowers, the cacti is growing slowly and the money tree is bigger too. There are a number of seeds that I can start off in June, but I think I have enough for the moment. The only thing I will continue sowing are my Radish – they are delicious – they have a mild peppery flavour and we have recently been using them with our new potatoes and a red onion to make potato salad. I also want to try my hand at Beetroot, but I appear to have lost the seeds. I am wondering if I gave them to my niece, but I don’t think I have.
The big greenhouse has turned into one of the best and interesting places I can get to at the moment. But it misbehaves when I’m not at home, the watermelons are trying to get into bed with the tomatoes, and the peppers think it’s fun to push up amaranthus seeds. I’ve never grown amaranthus in the big greenhouse so the peppers must have decided to do some gardening for themselves.
There is equal growth between the yellow stuffer and sweet aperitif tomatoes. They are only about two and a half feet at present, but they are exceptionally strong. Although tied to a framework they appear to have better roots than the ones I grew last year. The tomatoes are situated on the left border and under planted with French Marigolds to deter whitefly.
The back border is filled with aubergines; I am doing an experiment to see which grows best, a normal purple skinned type, a green and white type and a pale purple type. Unfortunately the one from T&M is still in its three centimetre pot as it’s extremely slow growing – I think it’s gone dormant as the temperature soared.
The right border has two Sweet Peppers and a Chilli, plus a watermelon and a cantaloupe melon. The melons, might not be a good idea, not that I don’t want them, because I do, but because they are putting tendrils everywhere. They are climbing and flowering well, but left to their own devices I fear they will take over the ten foot greenhouse no problem. On the shelves of the same greenhouse, I have Zinnia Red Spider that have not germinated as successfully as I hoped, out of forty seeds only ten have popped up. I think the reason for this was the unexpected frost towards the end of April that knocked everything back and caught out lots of gardeners. There are also a few pot bound tomatoes, a spider plant, a Poinsettia, an orchid, two money trees that have successfully rooted, some hyacinth bulbs that still haven’t died off and a massive Begonia. Although I seem to have lost my Banksia Hookerina seeds.
And finally there are pots of dahlia tubers baking in the heat on the path of the greenhouse. I usually bake them until the first flower buds start to appear, then they get put in a sheltered position for a few days, before being moved to their final place. My cold frame is full of pumpkin plants needing a home I have enough for myself and some for the family so I might contact the secretary of the allotmenteers here and see if they want some free plants. I also have tree seedlings from The Woodland Trust, that are putting on strong growth.
Finally, I have six Hyssops that are big enough to be planted in the grassy knoll. Speaking of which, my neighbour’s gave us a lovely blue grass to add to it. It’s a stunning plant, the colour compliments the red Acer and it will look amazing when it seeds. The lady said to Mark that as her and her husband are no longer well enough to garden; they enjoy walking past ours and seeing what’s in flower, or what’s looking good in the greenhouse. It’s such a compliment when someone gives you something for your garden, or says that your garden cheers them up, it’s especially nice to think that we have inadvertently enriched their lives.
I have been banned from growing or buying any more plants until the autumn and I have been asked by Mark to “just grow fruit and veg next year!” The thing is, I’m sort of addicted to the thrill of nurturing seeds and seeing something grow – I can’t promise I won’t buy anything, but I might just stop growing seeds until September. Oh and I definitely need flowers in my life, so I won’t be growing just fruit and vegetables either. Sorry!
Until next time,
Love Amanda xx
FIVE SWEETPEAS AND A CUCUMBER
Like a fine wine I don’t travel well so I have only ventured abroad twice in 20 years (that’s if you don’t count Jersey). However a promise is a promise: We have just returned from a visit to Cyprus, home of my oldest friend Naomi, to celebrate her 60th birthday. (I bet she’ll thank me for that announcement!). I had forgotten how exotic the Mediterranean was. Oh the flowers! So the British have their privet and box hedges, but the Cypriots have oleander, lantana and hibiscus hedges! Cannas growing like weeds at the road side, ipomoea scrambling through wire mesh fences, callistemon in flower now. Little gems (well not literally lettuces but nothing would surprise me) like gentians and eryngium, nestling in shingle on beaches and rock faces. Banana plantations! Cactus flowers 20ft tall! Whether it’s the British ex-pat community over there or just brute adaptability, the roses were magnificent: I have to say though that the species roses growing wild amongst other indigenous shrubs looked more comfortable than the cultivated ones, somehow incongruous, in domestic gardens. And green lawns, hmmm, a sure sign of British ownership methinks.
As well as being in flora heaven, the fauna was highly entertaining too. Opportunist sparrows, more like our robins, silently prospecting our alfresco dining – unnerving if you are not a fan of Hitchcock’s The Birds – quick as a flash, dive bombing for French Fries in formation, the final flourish provided by a hooded crow who swooped down and carried off half of an 8” seeded baguette complete with cream cheese topping. (I wonder if foreign tourists find seagulls quite so entertaining in Southend when they steal your chips; come to think of it, do foreign tourists go to Southend?) As in so many other Mediterranean resorts, the feral cat population is alive and well thank you. By and large they are in good condition due to trapping and neutering programs established by the numerous cat sanctuaries on Cyprus. At Naomi’s apartment complex, her Russian neighbour regularly feeds the resident feral community and it was highly entertaining to see them gathering around at dawn and dusk, staring intently up at her balcony willing her to hurry up with the grub. (Evidently there are Mad Cat Women the world over.) Like a scene out of West Side Story they roamed around in their gangs, lazing arrogantly around the pool in the sunshine, occasionally brushing up against rival factions. Clearly not starving, they barely lifted their heads to register the swifts that were dive bombing the surface of the water for insects.
However, here we are again in East Finchley. One week since our return and I find myself reflecting upon the joys of travel. Although I appear to be well on the way to conquering yet another phobia, this time flying, I don’t think that I shall be making a habit of it. Holidays are all very well but I won’t be leaving the garden to its own devises again any time soon! Oh the stress of it! Should I leave the irrigation system running or switch it off? Will I return to scorched earth or sodden borders? Two days prior to departure I decided it was prudent to relocate the dozen or so trays of seedlings and annuals from the greenhouse to our spare room. With temperatures so unpredictable and access so hazardous (plants-for-sale, hastily moved into the shade, were blocking the path to the back of the garden) at least this way friend Anne could keep an eye on them when she fed the cats.
After only five days away (trip dates had to work around our local Plant Heritage sale, never mind Naomi’s birthday) the garden had gone berserk! How do other gardeners manage to go away for a fortnight? Having loaded up the washing machine for the ninetieth time in 12 hours (slight exaggeration, but still, yet another reason not to go on holiday) I could at last concentrate on the garden. Once the nursery trays had been returned to the greenhouse (thanks Anne, what’s your secret, they have doubled in size!) and the plants-for-sale had been revived, it was time to plant up the T&M tomatoes, Garnet, Mountain Magic & Indigo Cherry Drops, into their final positions, then turn my attention to the patio.
With the assorted T&M jonquils finally over, I turfed them out of their pots, foliage and all, ready for replanting on the allotment. Not known for my patience or adherence to the six week rule, out came the rest of the spent bulb leaves from the permanent planting schemes. I’ll take my chances! You may remember my concerns regarding my two towering abutilons, well readers, they are well deadski, as my friend Laurie from the Bronx used to say! Quel dommage! ………..And five minutes later I muse that golden hop might look striking combined with blue ipomoea and black eyed Susan. There’s no sentiment in war, or gardening it seems.
So anyway, with Spring Phase One out of the way, next weekend is Hanging Basket and Container Display time. Yippee! Having successfully overwintered several cannas on the patio for the first time, I planted out some additional divisions in April. Hostas and heucheras, suspended in hanging baskets out of harm’s way, are slug (and Fred the cat) free. The piece de resistance will be T&M Begonia Non-Stop Mocca Bright Orange, Begonia Glowing Embers, Petunia Mini Rosebud Peachy combined with coleus Campfire & black and lime green ipomoeas. I love creating the patio displays, and whilst I was reminded by fellow blogger Julie Quinn that gardening is about the process not the finished result (more of that later), summer bedding schemes are like stage sets with a definite beginning and end.
Talking of Julie Quinn, isn’t it a small world. There she is, gardening away no more than 2 miles down the road from me, attending all the same local plant sales, with friends and acquaintances in common, loves cats and has medical connections. Julie made me very welcome for afternoon tea at her house where we shared horticultural experiences, knowledge and opinions in her beautiful paved garden. Thank you Julie, it was a pleasure to meet you and I look forward to seeing you again soon.
Last Saturday we held our Hort. Soc. plant sale in the Hampstead Garden Suburb. My spy tells me that, whilst queuing to get in, visitors were enthusing about this annual event as one of the highlights of the neighbourhood social whirl, not to be missed. I love selling – once a retailer always a retailer; shoppers still stop me in department stores and ask me where the loo is – so I was in my element amongst the trailing lobelia and petunias, “All plants on sale for £1.40 each.” I have however lost the art of adding up in my head and so hastily produced a crib sheet of £1.40 times table. There was a huge selection of veg and salad plugs and of course I couldn’t resist some extras for the greenhouse and allotment. Having guarded my purchases throughout the morning (funny how seemingly civilized locals can turn into marauding rabble when there’s a bargain to be had) I took my eye off the ball, for one minute I tell you, and they were gone! Panic set in; the Great Clear Up had begun, car boots were searched to no avail, fellow committee members were eyeing me with caution as I interrupted conversations to enquire, “Has anyone seem my five sweet peas and a cucumber?” Indeed, ever efficient chairperson Doc Page and the team had tidied them away ready to be returned to the local nursery, so I guiltily retrieved them and beat a hasty retreat! I am happy to report that they are all now happily in situ and growing on well.
So much to do, and without our usual mid-June NGS Open Day deadline it feels strange to be just ambling along with tasks at a leisurely pace. But my new mantra, “Gardening is about the process not the finished result” ringing in my ears, I can finally allow myself to potter gently on. Yeah right, until the next disaster…..