Archive for May, 2012


Gorgeous Seakale

I wanted to show you how gorgeous my Seakale is at the moment. As a rule I generally don’t let things flower in the vegetable garden unless I’m planning to collect seed from them. And this would have applied to my Seakale too but it ran to seed so fast and the flowers just popped open overnight in the recent heat wave that I literally couldn’t stop it.

I’m glad that I didn’t because the display of flowers is just lovely. They are bold, extremely white and look like, I think, tiny fried eggs. They’re quirky and at the moment brighten up the gloomiest part of the garden.

The downside is that because the plant ran to see so quickly I didn’t get chance to harvest the forced Seakale under the pot. Now that I know its foibles next year I’ll keep a sharper eye on it!

I got back from Chelsea on Saturday and to be honest I’ve needed these last few days to recover and process all the wonderful things that I saw there. The whole experience has served to deepen my respect for gardeners and growers and helped me fall in love with kitchen gardening all over again.

The stand at Chelsea that absolutely lit my fire was the Jersey Farmers’ Union display of vegetables. They had grown these vegetables, transported them via refrigerated vans from Jersey (not an insignificant task in itself) and then designed and executed this intricate and perfect display. When I saw it from the other side of the pavilion nothing could stop me finding the quickest route there, camera at the ready.

A celebration of sumptuous vegetables was all over it. The colours of the peppers lay on their side and packed into place with Parsley to create these luminescent rainbow-coloured stain glass windows were out of this world. I could hardly believe that, yes, I was looking at Peppers!

The hairy Radish balls were truly alien-like but so much fun. Just as a Radish ought to be!

Tomato pyramids popping up from all angles looked for all the world like red wedding cakes waiting to be eaten.

And the baskets of Pak Choi were the freshest, greenest, leaves that I’ve ever seen. And made me want to rush home and sow some seed now before it’s too late.

The whole stand made my year I think. And the people behind it were hugely modest and very thankful for their gold medal. They also said that they never wanted to see a piece of Parsley again. Understandable – until next year that is.


I’m At Chelsea Flower Show

I’m at Chelsea Flower Show, normal service will resume shortly. Pimms anyone?


Pros and Cons of Box Edging

I planted some Box edging around one of my vegetable beds in April last year. It was really a test to see what it would look like and how I could manage it. If all went well then I would consider putting edging around the other beds to make it a feature of the garden.

I find that vegetable gardens can become a little stark in the Winter when nothing is growing and box edging was traditionally used to create interest all year round and to keep the soil from leeching out of the beds during the rainy season.

Well, a year on and overall I’m happy with it. The best thing about it is that it is green all year round. And in Spring it puts on a growth spurt and sends out wonderfully, fresh, floppy new growth. It’s also a great little barrier to keep boisterous boys off my Lettuce. I think the Box edging has saved many a seedling. The other good thing (which may also be a bad thing) is that it grows very quickly. In just one year the bushes have closed ranks and now form almost a solid barrier.

Now the downsides – and there are some. The bushes harbour snails and slugs. They sit inside the bushes and wait for it to rain, then at night when I’m asleep they come out and eat my seedlings. It got so bad that I resorted to scattering slug pellets through the branches into the middle of the bushes. I don’t normally use pellets but this seemed like a neat way to get rid of my nemeses without exposing everyone to slug pellets. It worked.

The other downside is that I have to trim the bushes to keep them neat and then I have to brush up the clippings because if you don’t they just sit there, looking green, forever.

So, in short, I can see why the Victorian head kitchen gardener loved his Box bushes. I can also see why you’d need an army of men to trim them.


Mixing Some Salad Seed

In an attempt to use up some of the seed that has been slowly expiring at the bottom of my seed box I spent the morning making my own Salad Leaf seed mix. I don’t know about you but I always end up with a bunch of seed packets that don’t contain quite enough seed for a full row. I can’t bear to throw seed away (I’ll carry on sowing it at least three times before I’ll admit it’s totally dead). So a bespoke seed mix seemed just the thing to clear things out.

As you can see from the photo I’ve included Spinach, Rocket, Mizuna, English Mustard (so they will be a spicy little bunch). But I’ve also added three types of Lettuce; All the Year Round, Salad Bowl and Drunken Woman (it has red flecks on the leaves). And I also threw in some Beetroot for their leaves and a nice earthy taste.

Predictably, I’ve called it My Tiny Salad Mix. And have already sowed a huge swathe of it next to my Strawberry patch. We’ll see how it tastes.


Feature: How to Grow Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a pure delight to grow. Watching your own plants swell to produce sweet, aromatic fruits is one of the true pleasures in life and one that many people repeat year after year. The Tomato is one of the only vegetables that you can grow in a diverse range of shapes, colours and sizes. With around 7500 varieties to choose from you can grow virtually any kind from bulging Beefsteak Tomatoes, to a cascade of sweet cherry Tomatoes or pear-shaped yellow ones to, this year’s fashion, teeny-tiny, pea-sized ones.

Choosing the colour and shape of your home-grown Tomatoes is all well and good but what’s really important is the taste. Nothing beats the intense flavour of a Tomato that tastes like a Tomato. And nothing can really match that Tomatoey aroma that you only get from a vine. Twist a fully-ripe, sun-warmed fruit off the vine and bite into it. You’ll be overcome by the rich and sweet, juiciness of it. It tastes amazing.

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I don’t know about you but I get hacked off with all the plastic that is used in gardens. I have a mountain of plastic pots from the garden centre, and have been given many plastic seed trays. I also go through so many plant tags that I resorted to buying plastic ones that crumble over the winter and leave tiny bits of plastic in the soil that I can never get rid of!

Other types of plant tags work for a bit but then some flaw is revealed – wooden tags look great but tend to rot after about two or three years. Slate can work but if you snap it the points are lethal. I even tried a label maker and I also tried copper but it was too hard to read.

I decided I’d had enough. I’ve invested in a plant tag making system that uses aluminium tags and these cool-looking metal punches that you use with a, very heavy, jig.

You place your blank plant tag in the jig, line up the guides, select your letter punch, put it in place and whack it really hard with a hammer. In this way you spell out your plant name. I’ve made tags for all my permanent planting such as my ‘APPLE – Queen Cox, planted 2008′. And ‘PEACH – Peregrine, planted 2008′.

The system works perfectly for trees and other permanent additions to the garden, like Roses, or Wisteria. You can even buy those ‘cloud-shaped’ tags that the Victorians were fond of and you can see in just about every walled kitchen garden you’ll ever visit. I have also bought a stock of stand alone plant tags that stick in the ground and bend slightly so that you can read them.

For other, non-permanent plants I’m planning to stamp out the type of plant ie. ‘Carrot’ but then add the variety in pen (which can be wiped off next year). I haven’t tried this yet but I’m hoping that it works.

So…the plan is never to buy another plant tag but to continue making my own until I have every type of plant covered. I’ll let you know how that goes. But for now I’m just going to sit back and admire my handy work!


Heirloom Tomatoes

I went to the Spring Gardening Show in Malvern this weekend. It’s always lovely to see so many gardeners walking around with basketfuls of plants. This year there seemed to me to be more than the average number of nurseries selling unusual plants and flowers. I even thought about buying a Clematis! Still thinking.

One stand caught my eye though, it was chock full of heirloom Tomatoes. The Tomatoes were beautifully displayed in coconut shells and miniature gardens and made me want to plough my whole plot and plant nothing but Tomatoes! Very inspiring. The ones pictured above are Green Zebra (on the left) and Striped Stuffer (right).

I forgot to make a note of the name of this Tomato but it could be Green Sausage.

I love the shape of this huge Tomato. It’s called Pearson and looks to me like it might need the protection of a greenhouse. Large Tomatoes normally do.

These little apple-shaped Tomatoes are Ceylon. I might give them a try outdoors this year. I bet they’re prolific and mouth-wateringly sweet.

I like to grow at least one Tomato that isn’t red. This one looks amazing. It’s called Tangella and is unusual enough to spice up any plate.

I do find that some Heirloom Tomatoes are not very appetising to look at. Some of them are, well, just ugly. Some of the black ones even make me wince a bit. Anyone with me on that one?

Finally, this is a photo of the whole stand. I really love the passion here. Heck. I know they’re trying to sell Tomato seed and it’s their business but from the effort that has gone into this you just know that they breathe Tomatoes. I’m grateful that someone is so passionate about it to make this wonderful display that really made my day.

Although my garden is mostly about fruit and vegetables I do occasionally make a foray into flowers. I recently decided it was time to brighten up my deck area. However, I have a one year old little boy who loves nothing better than to ‘check out’ mummy’s pots. The only thing I have on my deck is a large galvanised tub housing a climbing rose. It’s prickly enough to deter him but that doesn’t stop him providing a soil removal service on a daily basis.

If I were to go down the flower route, I would need to think about protecting them in some way. The anti-child planter started life as a basket for toiletries, and then graduated to a ‘not very successful‘ mouse deterrent. In its new guise it provides basic protection for white pansies and in turn doubles as a useful coffee cup rest. Everyone’s happy, as they say. Well, not everyone.


This Year’s 1st Real Harvest

I count this as my first real harvest of the season. It’s my over wintering coldframe Lettuce Reine des Glaces, with a little bunch of ‘this season’ herbs and a clutch of early Radish called Rainbow mixed from Plants of Distinction. The colander is a vintage enamel one that I bought at a flea market at the weekend in my attempt to ape the colanders at Holt Farm. I think I’ll use it for salad harvest for now until the salads get too big and then I’ll plant it up with some Basil maybe.

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