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

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 -





Tomatoes and How to Grow Them -


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. and

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

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.

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.

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


Grow, Cook, Eat

Coming up soon – the Grow, Cook, Eat event at West Dean on the 5th and 6th October. This is a new venture by West Dean and sort of replaces the Apple Affair they have run for years. It promises to be a great weekend so put it in your diaries now. The lovely Mary Berry will be there on the 5th and Brendan Lynch on the 6th. Plus lots of great local produce stands, music and above all a lovely atmosphere to welcome in the autumn.

and of course I will be there with my books so I hope to see you.

for more info go to, see their face book page ‘West Dean College and Gardens’  or follow them on twitter @westdeanejf

National Allotment Week

There seems to be a week for everything and this week is National Allotment Week celebrating the Great British tradition that is the Allotment.

In 2013 they have decided to theme the week with a ‘fruity’ feel in celebration of the variety of sweet and succulent crops you can grow on a UK allotments. Too often allotments are thought of as places that only grow the humble potato or everyday carrot, but in truth they offer a cornucopia of delicious treats – from sumptuous strawberries, ravishing raspberries and glorious gooseberries through to beautiful blackberries, precious plums and appetising apples.

Allotments need protecting from development plans and budget cuts, so now is the time to act. If you think your site is under threat then there are several things you can do.

Interested in finding out more?