Flower Shows – A Community Day


Last Saturday morning saw me balancing vases of herbs and flowers, a loaf of bread and a basket of cherry tomatoes, beans, onions and apples. I was off to the Arundel Flower and Produce Show.

I also have the fun of being on the team that organise it which means that the run up has been a bit frantic what with booking entries, finding spare tables, making sure the judges know where to go and when. Luckily as a team our group spreads the load of pre-show jobs so we all do our bit and no-one has too much to do.

But on the day it is all hands to the deck as entrants arrive with their precious loads of fruit flowers, veg and produce. 

Ours is a small community show and we have resisted the urge to expand it into an all-singing all-dancing marquee sized event, I think it has benefited from that as well, sometimes small is better. Our show has an atmosphere of ‘friendly competition’ and although the exhibits are judged against RHS rules people tend to enter for the crack rather than as serious competition goers. Having said that there are a couple of entrants for whom this is a major hobby and who spend the year raising perfect specimens, and their entries do raise the standard of the show and give the rest of us a target to beat.

It seems me that television programmes show flower and vegetable shows as full of obsessives and that we all have to plan for months, measuring our carrots and standing watch over our prize exhibits. In truth most small shows are full of people who jusr want a bit of fun, and yes, to show off a bit the lovely things they have grown. As I said, friendly competition is it, one family compete to win the Victoria sponge section of our show and the old gardeners versus the new growers has everyone discussing how the year has been, giving everyone a chance to moan about the weather, what has worked, which varieties are best and what has been a failure this year.

Perhaps I am swayed by the small thrill I get when I see a coloured card by my efforts, this year the bread, redcurrant jelly, cherry tomatoes and apples and the community feeling grown along with the fruit and veg.

In Praise of Giving – Home Made Stuff

Yesterday I was given a posy of flowers from my friend’s garden, beautiful pink roses and lady’s mantle to be precise. I can’t tell you how good that made me feel.

I wrongly tend to think that giving flowers from my garden or something I have cooked is the cheat’s way out of giving a present or that I am a bit of a cheapskate. I took a bottle of rhubarb and elderflower cordial that I had made to a party last week rather than wine and questioned myself all the way there.

Wrong! wrong! wrong! Time to have a rethink.

Giving hand made presents seem to have been replaced by the need to show how much you care by how much you spend. Are we measured by how much we spend on each other? I know that those people who I call friends are not in any way like that, so why do I still so often suffer under the illusion that I need to prove my affection by spending money rather than time on them. I love receiving hand made or second hand gifts, chosen because the giver knows it is something I would love rather than consider where it came from or how much it cost. So why do I not practice more of what I appreciate from others?

True the same person who gave me the flowers gets a jar of my chutney every Christmas and my brother would rather have a jar of my Marmalade than the bought variety.

So, in future I intend to give more to friends and family in the way of time through something I have made or grown as a first option rather than a second choice.

and follow my own mantra – Every day give something away.


What’s in a name?

One of the side pleasures of gardening are the fabulous names of flower and vegetable varieties. I am captivated by flower variety names especially roses. Who could resist Spirit of Freedom, Dizzy Heights or Teasing Georgia, all climbers, or Tess of the D’Urbervilles (sigh) or Eglantyne (was she a Borrower?) or Snow Goose (a rambler reaching for the skies) or for your lover, Thinking of You. Reading rose catalogues is a trip through a garden of imagination. And while we are on roses how about Pretty Lady (a showy floribunda) or with a scone Lady of Shalott (a spiced tea rose). My advice, if ever you feel a little lacking in romance read a rose catalogue.







Vegetables on the other hand have some weird and wonderful names. I am a bit of a tomato freak (I have nine varieties on the go this year) and have found some great varieties at seed swaps where you find the best names. I couldn’t resist Bloody Butcher and Jazz Fever even though I have no idea what they are like. Livingstone’s Favourite and Mrs Fortune went straight into the basket as well with the aptly named Green Zebra and Yellow Headlights. What about Sub Arctic Plenty, which was allegedly developed in the 1940′s for U.S. military to provide tomatoes to their troops in Greenland or Ivory Egg, a great plum tomato that looks a bit like a duck’s egg and tastes lovely.

Ne Plus Ultra pea says it all there is no better than this variety which is going great guns on the plot.

But beans seem to have the edge. My favourite, again from a seed swap is the lovely French Bean District Nurse, a rampant, prolific and tasty purple spotted bean, or Good Mother Stallard or Lazy Wife and there is always French Bean Trail of Tears which, so the story goes, were the beans carried in the pockets of Cherokee Indians on their tragic forced relocation from North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains to Oklahoma in 1838-1839. A bean planted for each person who died along the way.

Perhaps one day there will be a rose named after me – Rita’s Romance or  more likely something like Rita’s Red Hot Radish!

It’s National Asparagus Month

Did you know there was a National Asparagus Month? No nor did I. I love, love, love asparagus, it is the first crop on the allotment and the thought of those fresh little shoots just makes my mouth water. This is what seasonal food is all about. Fresh from the ground it is unbeatable, lightly steamed with lashings of butter and a little pepper and salt, eaten with soft boiled eggs or as fresh asparagus soup and because it is one of those crops that has to be constantly picked I can share it with friends and family.

Anyway throughout May it’s National Asparagus Month – the perfect time to try out this delicious vegetable! The UK asparagus season lasts through May and June, so make the most of it.

Native to Europe, asparagus is a great source of fibre and is rich in vitamins A, B and C as well as folic acid – perfect for getting you fit and ready for summer.

If you are not lucky enough to grow asparagus buy as much as you can now while it is in season, choose firm but tender stalks with good colour and closed tips.  Asparagus soon looses its flavour and tenderness, so it is best eaten on the day you buy it

For more information, and all you need to know about asparagus, including events around the UK and great recipes go to the National Asparagus Month website.

So get ready for National Asparagus Month and start eating your greens this May!

Totally Tomatoes

The tomato seeds are coming on. I’m sure yours are further ahead than mine but I am still excited. I think I should be signed up to TA (Tomatoes Anonymous) and I am trying to keep the varieties I plant each year to a reasonable number. This year there are nine varieties, Piccolo (taken from seed from a Tesco tomato many years ago) a lovely sweet cherry tomato, Golden Piccolo which sort of mutated from the ordinary Piccolo and which last year I was still picking in November and eating fresh in January, Sub Arctic Plenty - Allegedly developed in the 1940′s by the U.S. Military to provide fresh tomatoes to their troops in Greenland, Marmande, Black Cherry, Ivory Egg, (a prolific cream coloured plum tomato), Clear Pink Early, Black Seaman (a beef type tomato which is a Russian Heritage tomato), Euro Money (I don’t know what these are like I’ve never tried them before)

Most of my tomato seeds I have got from seed swaps and some are not available anywhere other than swaps. So I keep my seeds going by changing the varieties I grow each year. Do you have a favourite tomato?

Looking forward to a nice bowl of tomatoes.







If you are looking for a bit of inspiration on how to grow tomatoes or what to cook with them here are a couple of suggestions.

In Praise of Tomatoes - http://shop.refriedbooks.co.uk/in-praise-of-tomatoes-11028-p.asp





Tomatoes and How to Grow Them - http://shop.refriedbooks.co.uk/tomatoes-and-how-to-grow-them-12247-p.asp


Swapping is a Growing Habit

It’s that time of year when all of us gardeners are stuck with our noses in the seed catalogues making lists of all those things that are going to grow so successfully this year. The garden or plot is so full of promise.

But before you send off that order check that there isn’t a better and cheaper way to get your seeds.

Seed swapping is really popular, and for a good reason (or several).

Because you have a plant you love and want to grow again. - It could be the perfect blue campanula, the best tasting tomato or a champion pumpkin. You never know when a seed company will discontinue your favourite seed to make way for new varieties. Saving your own seed is the only guarantee.

To help safeguard our genetic heritage. - In the past 100 years we have lost over 90% of our vegetable varieties in the UK. Nowadays, just three corporations control a quarter of the world’s seed market, vying for power over the world’s food production and hybrid seeds (which cannot be seed-saved) are becoming commonplace in seed catalogues.

To save money - Seed from catalogues can be expensive. Saving your seeds means that you get more for less.

To help preserve our right to save seeds. - The industry continues to place more and more restrictions on farmers’ and gardeners’ right to save seeds. Variety patenting, licensing agreements, and restricted lists such as that maintained by the European Union, are industry tools to wrest control of the seed from the commons and keep it for themselves. Thankfully last month MEPs voted against a proposed seed regulation that would further reduce the seed market but we do need to vote with our purses.

To find some thing different – There are lots of seeds that you only find through seed swap. I have found some of my favourites at seed swaps especially tomatoes and my favourite pea, that you can’t buy on the market. So I will be taking my list to the Worthing Transition Town Seed Swap on the 14th Feb to see what exciting things I can find. click here for details

Can’t find a seed swap near you? Don’t worry, you can find seed swap sites on the internet. Here are a couple in the UK but it is a worldwide phenomenon.

http://www.gardenswapshop.co.uk/index.php and http://www.seedswappers.co.uk/

Remember – If you like what you eat, save the seeds.

Don’t know how to save seed?  Back Garden Seed Saving by Sue Strickland is the book for you Click here

Seeds of inspiration

My visit to the Garden Museum to see the Gardens at War exhibition inspired me on the subject of the real benefits of growing and how enthusiastic gardeners have made gardens in whatever conditions they find themselves. Prisoners of war in WWI not only created gardens but held flower shows and produced food under the most dreadful circumstances and gardens in today’s conflicts in Gaza, Israel, Afghanistan and Ukraine provide an escape.

Do visit the exhibition it is on until 05/01/2015 for more info go to Garden Museum


Super Summer Broad Bean dish

A great dish for the summer with the fresh baby broad beans coming through.This comes from In One Pot by Blanche Vaughan, a great book with dish after dish that I want to try.

Broad Bean and Dill Pilaf 







250g basmati rice

20 unsalted butter

1 large onion, finely diced

2 garlic cloves. sliced

1 teaspoon ground allspice

250g broad beans, podded

20g bunch of dill, chopped

salt and freshly ground black pepper


Soak the rice in plenty of water with a pinch of salt while you are preparing the other ingredients.

In a heavy-based pan, melt the butter over a low heat. Add the onion along with a pinch of salt and fry gently for at least 5 minutes. Once the onions are soft and sweet, add the garlic.

Drain the rice.

Turn up the heat and add the allspice and rice the the onion mixture. Fry for a minute, stirring so that the rice is coated with butter. Season well and add the broad beans and dill.

Pour over enough cold water to just about 1cm over the surface and cover with a piece of baking parchment and then the lid.

Turn the heat under the pan to medium and cook for 10 – 15 minutes or until the rice is soft and the water absorbed. Remove from the heat and leave to stand for a few minutes before serving.

this isexpecially good served with tahini yoghurt or cucumber raita. I have also used fennel when I can’t get dill.


It’s all go in the bean patch

The first glut of the year down at the allotment – I love it! The broad beans are going a bit mad and we are having problems keeping up with them while they are small and tasty. Not many black fly this year either.

So tonight’s dinner is Broad bean and dill pilaf. It’s on the cooker now so I will let you know how it goes tomorrow. Smells delicious.


National Gardening Week

Next week 14th – 20th April is National Gardening Week. Just the right time of year, when we are all still enthusiastic and optimistic. The National Gardening Week website has lots of ideas on how to make the most of it. http://www.nationalgardeningweek.org.uk/Things-to-do-list.aspx

I shall be planting some edible flowers, nasturtiums and lemon balm and tidying up round the pond. What will you do?

Whatever it is have a great time and take time to just sit and enjoy your lovely garden.

Need some help? There are books on just about every aspect of gardening, old and new on my shelves. http://shop.refriedbooks.co.uk/gardening-628-c.asp