Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The Comeback Gardener

One of the many wonderful things about gardeners is that when a crop fails or a plant turns up its roots, we dust ourselves down, work out what happened, and look forward to next year when conditions will be better. We might be in this optimistic state of waiting for an improvement for several years until we reluctantly call time on that crop or plant and move on to a more reliable substitute. This happened to me with a whole group of plants: the brassicas. Sick of slugs, snails, pigeons, caterpillars, greedy hens, ugly netting and dangling CDs, I ruled out pretty much every brassica known to gardenerkind and welcomed other edible lovelies onto my veg plot. 

Broccoli Harvest Circa 2008
This year I have reneged on my anti-brassica stance and depending on the outcome, I have The Blogosphere to thank or blame for this. After all, there is a limit to the number of seasons that a gardener can sit back and watch glistening white cauliflower curds and beautiful broccoli florets paraded across a computer screen before a toe is tentatively dipped back into the brassica pond. So far this gentle return to brassicas has involved seventy broccoli raab plants, more red cabbage than there is the spirit to braise, four varieties of brussels sprouts and a whole bed dedicated to swede or rutabega. I say so far because turnips are waiting in the wings along with kale, cauliflowers and winter cabbages. 
Red Cabbage and Scarlet Kale
I am embracing nets in a manner I had never previously thought possible - not physically obviously, that would make for a rare sight in rural Norfolk, or anywhere else for that matter. The chickens have been given a stern talking to and the slug pubs are stocked and ready to welcome their first guests. 

In the unlikely event that these brassicas should make it to harvest, there will be a glut to manage so I have been scouting around for delicious recipes. Love Your Greens is a site dedicated to brassicas and I am salivating in an unseemly manner at the prospect of swede cake and swede ice cream (not necessarily together, but I am happy to give it a go). 

Perhaps it's time to sow another bed of swede... or three.


Love Your Greens may be found at: http://www.loveyourgreens.co.uk/recipes/#top


Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Kitchen Gardening and Mingling Springs

At last! The propagators are fired up and churning out seedlings on a daily basis; the cold frames, reassembled and reglazed after Storm Doris took them for a spin around the orchard, are stuffed to the gunnels; and the soil is warming up and looking as welcoming as it can, given its history. 
Living on a former farm in rural Norfolk means that I have land on which to grow food, but the soil is riddled with flint, chalk and hulking lumps of clay muddled with detritus from centuries of building and farming. Last winter, the notion of a flowerbed was redefined when I unearthed a bundle of bedsprings. Every time I pulled at a spring, it either stretched and refused to budge from the soil, or it attached itself to a fellow spring. Knitted together they were lethal and I found myself under attack from all sides as springs already exposed and languishing on the soil rose up and propelled themselves towards me. They made untangling a hosepipe look like child's play and the never-ending spaghetti of bindweed roots seem benign. I will never complain about weeding again (at least not this year). Whoever thought that it would be a good idea to bury a bed? 
The Good Old Days... a barrowload of stones circa 2011.
I thought this was bad at the time (little did I know)
It is a few weeks since my last run-in with mingling springs. The pile of masonry dug from the soil continues to grow, but progress is being made and every so often I am treated to the delights of sowing into something akin to friable.
Hyacinth enjoying some better soil
- that really is her happy face
My favourite gardening task for a rainy day is the allocation of crops to their place in the kitchen garden. I stick to a basic rotation plan, but I like to mix things up in each bed because the kitchen garden is the one place where I feel free to experiment with different plant combinations every year. Of course, I could do that elsewhere in the garden, but an annual shift of perennial ornamentals is beyond me and I suspect that the plants would vote against the whole shenanigans by turning up their roots.
Aubrieta is definitely not rotating anywhere
In a sense, there is a secondary rotation happening on my veggie plot because it is circular. Although there may be an argument for maximising light to individual beds, I arrange them in this way because I like the idea of sitting in the middle, surrounded by food. That said, the crop circles have been there for over half a decade and I have never sat down in the kitchen garden.
The area is bordered by fruit and nut hedging with views through the food to various focal points. One focal point is an oak, another is the pear tree under which I plan to put a seat on which I will probably never sit, but I do like to have a selection of benches to not sit on. Is this complicated arrangement of crops necessary? Of course not! It just amuses me to grow them in this way. Gardening should be fun. Crop circles make me smile.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Fruit Blossom, Seed Sowing and the Joys of Spring

Fresh green leaves are unfurling on the gooseberries and mirabelles. The pluot has burst into flower and I am screaming "No! Not Yet! Get a grip on yourselves and wait a while!"
Pluot
I might be filled with the joys of spring were it not for an all-pervading fear that Jack Frost will sneak into the garden and teach these precocious blooms a lesson or two in timing. 
Pyrus calleryana 'Chanticleer'
If, like me, you garden without a greenhouse in the UK, you are probably exercising more patience than you ever thought possible. Every year I exceed my own expectations in the self-control department and with gargantuan effort, I usually manage to put off sowing vegetable seeds until late March. Even so, my office window has already disappeared from view thanks to a handful of ornamentals.
The table I use for seedlings has been backed by reflective foil and moved to a window. It is ready for action, and where am I? Still in the throes of bare root hedge planting. Meanwhile the weeds are having a field day hurling their seeds willy-nilly and the Wisteria is strangling a drainpipe. All of this activity means that while half of me is hoping that temperatures will not plummet, particularly as I am excited to try my first homegrown pluot, the other half is wishing that winter could last another week or three to give me a chance to catch up with long overdue gardening tasks. 
Unfurling Ribes
The answer, of course, lies in a cloak of fleece for the pluot to snuggle under should the weather turn, and for me to tackle the weeds and Wisteria. The fleece is a must, but if spring turns wintry, I shall be holed up in the potting shed with my seed collection and, joy of joys, a packet of pristine plastic plant labels. After all, it would be folly to climb a ladder to deal with a wayward Wisteria in bad weather, and as for the weeds, well, they can wait. They are, after all, a never-ending task.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

#My Garden Right Now


Here is a rarity: the Lesser Spotted Sitting Gardener. Brimming with to do lists and incapable of controlling the urge to weed, deadhead, sow and mow (not necessarily in that order or all at the same time), the Lesser Spotted Sitting Gardener is apt to instantaneously metamorphose into the Greater Spotted Sidetracked Gardener. 
Please don't let the turquoise mac fool you. It is machine washable and sees more non-bio action than your average coat. Shortly after this photo was taken, the Lesser Spotted Sitting Gardener scurried off to plant a yew hedge, and tested the mac's trench coat credentials to their gardening limits. Now the mac is resigned to spending yet another Saturday night dancing around a drum on a 30 degree wash.


This photo was taken today for the #MyGardenNow project. Details are here. Go on... join in. We all want to see your garden right now! 
http://vegplotting.blogspot.co.uk/2017/02/introducing-mygardenrightnow-project.html

And if, like me, you have trouble sitting in your garden and doing nothing, why not try one of these?
 http://thegardeningshoe.blogspot.co.uk/2013_03_01_archive.html

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

February Flowers for Bees

While weeding a border yesterday, I was dragged from my winter torpor by a passing bee. Without a second thought for the hot drink I had been promising myself, I pursued the bee to see where it might be heading. 
There is plenty on the menu for early bees. Sitting prettily just above the surface of the soil are snowdrops, Crocus and Iris reticulataHellebores hang their heads shyly, as if scared to be noticed. Who can blame them when they are towered over by winter flowering shrubs pumping out great nostril-loads of scent and screaming for attention?
Snowdrops growing through Ivy. A match made in heaven

I do love a scented shrub. At the moment, the sweetest of the fragrance factories are the shrubby honeysuckles, Lonicera fragrantissima and Lonicera x purpusii 'Winter Beauty'. Flowering from January to March in my garden, they are a valuable source of nectar for early bumble bees. Delicate creamy-white flowers hang on almost leafless branches. Their scent is not as heady as Sarcococca which is belting out fragrance at the moment, but Lonicera certainly packs enough of a punch to get attention. 
Lonicera fragrantissima grows to about two metres, so it needs space. It might be big, but it is not a dense shrub and it looks great with winter flowering bulbs and hellebores at its feet. Later in the year, dark green hellebore leaves make a wonderful foil for the lighter leaves of Lonicera
Crocus brightening up the car park border
Happy in sun or part shade, if there isn't room to let it romp, it may be grown as a wall shrub, but take care not to over-prune. I only ever trim a branch if it is encroaching on a path. I certainly wouldn't cut away more than two or three branches in any one year. Pruning should be undertaken straight after flowering. 
Lonicera x purpusii 'Winter Beauty' has purple-red stems in spring and early summer. I can't say that this makes a great deal of difference to me as it like the flowers, foliage and the form of both Lonicera fragrantissima and Lonicera x purpusii 'Winter Beauty'. Best of all, they get the bee seal of approval.

I am joining with other bloggers around the world to celebrate Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Why not pop over to http://www.maydreamsgardens.com and see what is blooming in gardens around the globe?

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Planting for Wildlife

I recently saw a post on social media from a gardener who was worried about overwintering her Pyracantha cuttings. While many replies were supportive, they were littered with calls for the gardener to destroy her plants. My hackles were raised. Pyracantha is hugely valuable to wildlife. Fancying myself as a knight on a charger, I thundered to fair Pyracantha’s defence (only I’m a gardener at a laptop and I’m a little bit scared of thunder). 
My thoughts have been published on the fabulous Guardian Gardening Blog. I know it’s a big cheek, but I would be ever so grateful if you might take the time to pop over there and comment please so that I don’t look like a complete Sarah No-Mates. The link is below. Thank you. 

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/gardening-blog/2017/feb/14/in-praise-of-pyracantha

I'll be back here soon with gorgeous February flowers for bees.

Friday, 27 January 2017

The Life of a Kitchen Gardener

I was introduced to the wonderful world of nurturing, picking and eating homegrown produce when I was a child. I don't remember giving a second thought to growing food during my late teens; then I got my first home with a garden. It will come as no surprise to veggie growers to learn that I swiftly replaced the overgrown low maintenance planting with higher maintenance, but hugely rewarding edibles. An allotment soon followed. It was a neglected plot. Bringing it back into full production was extremely hard work, but every particle of soil reclaimed from the tenacious grip of couch grass meant more space for growing glorious food.
Over the years my love for growing and eating homegrown produce has not diminished, but the assortment of crops I grow has changed. When I became a parent to three children under three years old, I stopped growing anything requiring too much attention in the kitchen. Podding peas became a thing of the past, while strawberries, raspberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, okra and peppers were grown in great numbers. I also embraced potatoes in pots, not because I was short of space, but because rooting around for spuds in a container is far quicker (and safer) than finding a fork and digging up potatoes with three hungry children trailing in your wake. The potatoes also came out cleaner than they did when lifted from the soil, which sped up the whole process of food preparation considerably.
As our children grew older I added their favourite foods to the mix. Shiny aubergines, asparagus, purple beans and sweetcorn were welcomed into the greenhouse and onto the plot. Our strawberry patch expanded and raspberries were given a free rein to walk wherever they pleased, so long as they fruited. At harvest time the children would run excitedly to the kitchen garden with their friends and delight in picking great bowlfuls of juicy tomatoes and succulent strawberries warm from the sun. Harvesting crops was a novelty for some of their friends. I hope that they will remember those sunny days of childhood and try growing food for themselves one day.
Now our children are teenagers with busy lives. For most of the year they barely have the time to notice that their food may have travelled only a matter of metres from the patch to their plate, but then in summer, when school’s out, I see them helping themselves to fruit from the kitchen garden or picking a salad for lunch.
For the past two years one of our children has grown chillies on her bedroom windowsill. She also has an ever-extending collection of cacti. May this be the start of a lifelong love of gardening for her. Our youngest teen likes to see flowers in the house. I am hoping that our new cutting garden will inspire her. As for me, I will be found in the vegetable garden, trying out new crops and looking forward to that point in summer when the school closes its doors and our children remember where their food comes from.