The Tyrany of Geometry

I was amused yesterday when I read India Knight’s article in the Sunday Times about the British and gardening. I do like her articles but this one particularly struck a chord and when India remarked ‘ I’m keener on higgledy-piggledy hollyhocks and courgette flowers than on perfect geometry, I laughed out loud.

I love gardening, my garden isn’t perfect and often stretches the balance between random and completely disorganised. But I love it I don’t want Little Miss Neat or Mr Tidy out there with me. I love the fact that the flowers bulge out of every corner in a riot of clashing colours and the raspberries are taking over the salad bed. What appear to be weeds are actually deliberate – sweet cicely, Jack-in-the-hedge and dandelions are all great in salads, although my neighbour thinks that is just an excuse.

However things are different on the allotment. Why? I don’t know but when growing veg on a larger scale I can’t seem to stop myself growing things in rows. The carrots, radishes and other roots are perfect in their lines and the sweetcorn marches in a set square. The runner beans supports are a marvel of symmetry.  A recent newcomer to the allotment plot remarked ‘gosh how organised you are, I wish I was like that’ – well I don’t. I don’t want to be a control freak.

That is until we have filled the gaps and still have plants to put in when my true untidy nature comes out and why I laughed at India’s comment, because one of the’allotment sayings’ that Terry and I have is ‘ we must rid ourselves of the tyrany of geometry’ as we stuff spare plants in any old corner. 

and I feel much better for it.

Packets of magic – never underestimate the power of seeds

Remember the story of Jack and the beanstalk where Jack foolishly sold his cow for 5 magic beans? He wasn’t undersold, his beans were the passage to a store of treasure in the sky. And it’s true – seeds are natures treasures.

I have just received a parcel of seeds for this season and I can’t tell you how excited I was when the postman dropped them off. Along with the store of seeds saved from last year this promises to be my food for the coming year, the provide the colour and scent of my garden, the taste of fresh sprouting seeds in my salads and a year’s fun sowing planting and harvesting. Who needs a gym when you have access to a garden or allotment a few packets of seeds and a few tools.

Seeds may be tiny, but they’re packed with nutrients like protein, fibre, iron, vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. A seed is life. It is a living food. Seeds also provide most cooking oils, many beverages and spices and some important food additives. In fact food from seeds, beans, nuts and grains (all seeds) forms the majority of human calories.

To get the most out of them remember the golden rule – raw food provides the highest sources of vitamins and cooked food helps the body extract the highest amounts of minerals so vary the way you eat them. Salads, raw seed and nut dips for vitamins and added to bread, biscuits or toasted for minerals.

Eating sprouted seeds adds another dimension of flavour and texture as well either raw in salads or cooked in stir fries.

Reading the stock – Gardener’s Folklore

One of my New Years resolution, one that I actually stuck to, was to put time aside to actually read more of the books in my stock. After all, the reason I set up the shop was because I loved cooking and gardening (and drinking) and the books on the subjects.

So armed with a glass of wine I sat down to read a likely book, newly in – The Gardener’s Folklore by Margaret Baker. After all this is the time of year when I need all the help I can get in the garden and on the allotment.

One of the exciting things I came across was the Seed Planting Clock sold by W. Atlee Burpee Co of Warminster, Penn in the 1970-80s. What a brilliant thing! Made to show at a glance the time of day, day of the week, month of the year, phase of the moon, days of first and last frost and proper days for planting. I need one of these!

Anyway back to the book.

The author collected and sorted a vast number of old garden beliefs from Britain and North America, from 1973 to 1976 she appealed for instances of gardening traditions and received a raft of letters which she used, along with her research, to look at customs that were still observed and from the past.

The first chapter looks at influences of the moon, sun and stars and reminds us of just how ingrained planting, caring and harvesting has depended on the influences of the moon and sun since man began to practice horticulture. Something that has been lost with our gradual distance from the soil and our connection with where food comes from. Biodynamic horticulture has made a comeback over the past few decades and is now more popular than ever, no surprise as some of us try to reconnect with the earth.

Interesting too are the instances of ‘growing magic’ the next chapter. Some sound quite strange such as ‘whipping  and shooting idle trees’ and some are quite rightly damned to the distance past, I’m talking of sacrifices here! But many of these superstitions have a very practical basis however strange it may seem to us now. As Margaret Baker comments, ‘whipping and shooting trees would undoubtedly knock off surplus fruit spurs and by reducing the number a tree must support, improve the crop’

This is a truly readable and absorbing book. If you are in anyway looking at improving your growing, it wouldn’t hurt to look a little closer at how our forefather (and of course mothers) brought a little magic into the garden or orchard.

I know I will be.

Like this book click here

Seasonal thoughts

One of the things I love about the allotment, and there are many, is that it really links me to the seasons.

I love the fact that in the spring that taste of the first asparagus reminds me that it is getting warmer even if it isn’t. But it isn’t just the foods, although moving from the summer glut of runner beans, courgettes tomatoes and salads to the first thoughts of roast roots and baked potatoes and warming comfort soups is permanently linked in my mind to the lighting of fires and walks in the frosty woods.

The summer brings the watering and weeding along with the fantastic glut of peas, beans, summer carrot and new potatoes and the long warm evenings (if we’re lucky) and the smells of cut grass and roses.

The preserving of the summer foods, making jams and chutneys, pickles and bottled fruit, leads nicely into fleeces and jumpers and the Community Apple Day and tidying the plot for winter.

So I’m just about to plant the broad bean seeds before it gets too cold and the planting of seeds makes me feel optimistic at any time, then I’ll eat the squashes and celeriac that are just coming ready with stewed apple and custard to follow. And it all feels so right.

So even though the winter evenings aren’t far away, a glass of mulled wine makes up for digging the frosty ground for the carrots and parsnips and there are always the plans for next years crops when Christmas is over.

 

 

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.

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!

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

 

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

Cutting it fine

With the wet weather I haven’t been able to get out there and really get to grips with the pruning. OK I didn’t want to get wet! So the last week or so has seen me frantically pruning things. This weekend was the turn of the rambling rose Phillip Kiftsgate. It is twenty foot along the fence and about eight foot high so this was no mean job. Well I’m not sure it is copy book pruning but it is a very forgiving plant, although it did put up a bit of a fight and I now look like I have gone ten rounds with a nest of kittens! It is now 4ft high by 10ft long. Hopefully it will be back to its usual glory in the summer.

 

 

 

 

 

So if you want to do it properly here are some suggestions.

Simple Pruning by N. Catchpole, Pruning and Planting Guide by Mollie Thompson and Select List of Roses and Instructions on Pruning