Archive for the 'Garden Visits' Category

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.


The Organic Garden at Holt Farm

Yesterday I was invited over to see Holt Farm, the organic garden that was created by Sarah Mead near the idyllic Chew Valley lake. It was a perfect day. Rain then bright sunshine which made the colours and the view just come alive.

The garden may be in an idyllic setting but the family business (Yeo Valley dairy) sits right next door. I expected an amount of noise to come from a dairy of this size shipping products to every supermarket in the country but its 600 employees were seemingly silent and double-deck lorries crept slowly up the hills and out of sight.

I hardly knew the cows were there while sitting on the deck of the tearoom, eating home-made chocolate brownies and watching the hoverflies flitting from one flowering Broccoli to the next.

The view from the tearoom is largely the ornamental kitchen garden. Set out in raised beds (some with box hedging running diagonally through them) this part of the garden is neat and structured with brick pathways. Next door trained Apple trees line the borders, a cutting garden produces Narcissus at this time of year and fruit cages are home to ornamentally trained Raspberries. There are decorative forcing pots dotted around the garden too.

Broccoli has been allowed to flower and adds a bright yellow interest to what is an otherwise green kitchen garden at this time of year. The bees love it!

And brightly coloured colanders are lined with horticultural fleece and are busy growing herbs to furnish the tearoom tables on the deck.

The colours are a great contrast to the green backdrop.

But even the Lettuces and Cabbage at Holt Farm are victim to slug attack. Being a certified organic garden they need to find environmentally kind ways to eject our slimy friends. At the moment they are using pelleted sheep’s wool to protect Kale…

…and oyster shells around their Broadbeans. Both with, ‘some success’, according to Sarah.

The garden is so much more than a kitchen garden. There is a beautiful tulip garden, wild flower meadow, shade garden, and reflecting pool. All pieced together with wiggling walkways and a view of the lake. But by this time the brightly painted sea-sidey chairs were calling me again and it was time for more coffee and biscuits.

If you’d like to visit the garden it’s open Thursdays 10.00 – 5.00pm from the 12th April to the end of September, and the first Sunday of the month 2.00-5.00pm May-September. There are also courses running throughout the summer. The garden is also open as part of the National Garden Scheme for charity.


Babington Kitchen Garden

It’s been oooh roughly three and half years since myself and my husband have been away without the children. And while we love the little blighters to pieces we thought it was high time we had a break. So we booked ourselves into Babington Houe for the weekend – a rather nice country house hotel near where we live.

While we were there I took some photos of the gorgeous old walled kitchen garden that they have there.

As you walk in you’re greeted by a row of pyramids that have Sweetpeas growing around them. They are very interesting as apart from the upright canes that hold them together the gardeners have bent smaller, more pliable canes, through each one to make an arch. Putting several of them side by side makes a wonderfully decorative introduction to the garden. It’s a great idea and I might try it next year in my own garden.

I soon realised that there were lots of great ideas in this kitchen garden that I could steal borrow. Take this little patch of Thyme that has been planted in a block and left to grow into each other. It makes a lovely, undulating and visually interesting herb bed.

I also liked how there were impromptu seating areas everywhere. Kitchen gardens can be very work-a-day and often there is no invitation to sit down. I can imagine sitting underneath this climbing rose with my latte and good book – after all the work is done, you understand!

I was heartened to see some winter Lettuce doing very well in the garden. Mine is somewhat smaller but I’m hoping the forthcoming good weather will help it attain this size before the cold weather sets in. The mesh, I think is more to keep the bunnies out than to protect them from weather. I’m sure I saw a cotton tail disappear behind an espalier.

While some of the planting is evidently new, others were maybe as old as the walls themselves. The garden was filled with espalier Apples and Pears. They didn’t, as in some kitchen gardens, relegate them to the wall either. Most of the older trees where in the middle of the garden and used to mark out pathways or edge the beds.

The sheer numbers of Apples was clearly proving too much, even for a busy hotel. And many of the trees where happily feeding the wasps.

But it’s the wall that gives the kitchen garden its soul. Its deep orange hue gives the garden an almost Mediterranean feel and once within its confines you can feel the temperature climb up a notch or two and the wind disappears. For me there is nothing that compares to the tranquility of a walled kitchen garden.

It’s so nice too to see an old garden being so well looked after.


Denver Botanical Gardens

I recently visited the Denver Botanical Gardens and somewhere in the depths of the gorgeous, lush gardens, and ponds full of lilies there is a kitchen garden, quietly growing in the heat.

It’s compact but packed full of kitchen favourites, plus an abundance of the heat-loving fruits like Tomatillos (or are they Physalis, I can never remember)…

…and Kohl Rabi that is way, way bigger than it would have been in my garden back home!

The Calvolo Nero looks great with a backdrop of espaliered Apple trees.

And a terracotta forcing pot makes a decorative centre-piece to this purple Basil.

And… while digging around in the Pumpkin patch (as you do!) I found this perfect little custard Squash.


My Local Community Garden

I often think that I’m giving Jackson, my eldest boy, a great and varied experience in the garden. I grow a bit of everything and so he can see where most vegetables come from. What I failed to understand is that he gets to see my garden and the way I have laid it out every day, but as a small boy he wants to explore new gardens and see how they look from his perspective.

He wants to water sunflowers until they’ll never need water again. Heck, even the hosepipe with its ‘different’ nozzle was a hit.

He wants to wash veg in a bucket – not in the sink like mummy does it.

He wants to scrummage around for Potatoes under plants that are taller than he is!

And rummage for Broadbeans…

…with someone who will happily carry his harvest in her skirt.

What a lovely morning we spent at our local community garden in the park. An enchanting place that is completely different to my garden and that’s why I love it.


Kilver Court Gardens

I went to Kilver Court Gardens recently. I had been to the gorgeous farm shop many times for coffee and cake in the wood panelled room with the open wood fire but I’d never been to the gardens.

It was smaller than I expected, very tranquil with a huge disused viaduct running through the middle. Not usual for your average garden huh? Although the main planting is a little bit 70s style (think rockeries, heathers, and conifers of every shape) it’s totally mesmerising with its tiny pathways bridges and water features – and for kids nothing short of garden heaven.

There was also a hidden kitchen garden, tucked away behind some impressively old wooden gates. Although a bit sparse at the time it did sport some Martock Bean seedlings.

The Martock Bean, first mentioned in the middle ages, is a type of small broad bean from Martock in Somerset. It was rediscovered in the Bishop of Bath & Wells’ vegetable garden. The owner of Kilver Court was given six beans and has since grown over 6000 plants. Quite impressive. I just wish they had sold some of the seed in the shop – I would have bought some!

The small herb garden had, I counted, four different types of Chives, including this flat leaf, small flowered version (I don’t know the variety).

I recently visited The Courts garden in Holt, Wiltshire. It’s a beautiful but compact garden and part of it is given over to a small kitchen garden surrounded by box bushes. The garden has a very ‘natural’ feel with most of the pathways blending in with the backdrops. Here they have used natural materials to denote pathways.

The gardener has used branches (maybe prunings from the fruit orchard?) as borders from this small herb bed. They have used thick branches to form the main pathway and smaller, thin branches to mark out the beds. Informal but very effective.


Perry Pears at Dyrham Park

I have to confess I hadn’t much idea what a Perry Pear was before I went to Dyrham Park’s Perry Pear Day yesterday. I was lured in by the promise of a tour around the ‘old orchard’ and turned up with hopes of being let into a secret garden full of perfectly manicured fruit trees.

In reality the trees were a little, erm, larger than I imagined. But hey-ho you can’t have everything.

Having only attended an hour’s talk I won’t pretend I know everything. But there are some great resources (Gloucestershire Orchard Group) online that can tell you everything you need to know about how to choose, plant, and even juice Perry Pears in detail. But I will share some of the facts that I found interesting.

To harvest the Pears someone must climb a ladder next to the tree and shake the fruit out with a very long stick! And be sure to stand clear because Perry Pears are rock hard and totally inedible. You can’t eat them, nope, not even if you cook them for three hours first. Sheesh!

What you can do with them is make Perry, a fruity, and as it turns out very nice, alcoholic drink (it’s alright, I didn’t drink much in my state of impending motherhood). So like Cider Apples, Perry Pears are grown just to be made into Perry. In its hey-day Dryham had a vast Perry Pear orchard and in-house brewery. They produced flagons of the stuff, presumably to keep the servants and estate workers drunk very happy.

And the National Trust guide let us into the old orchard through this wonderful old gate in the orchard wall. It was like stepping into Narnia through the wardrobe.

I’m always amazed at how my childish fascination with walled gardens excites me anew every time I find one. There is something magical about the secret garden, locked away from view, quietly overgrowing itself until someone who cares comes along to reinvent it.

Anyway, if you’re inspired to get out into some secret orchards near you then this handy guide to the UK’s local orchard groups is a good place to start. Many orchards will let you ‘sponsor’ a tree and take home the lion’s share of the fruit each year. Maybe I’ll sponsor a Perry Pear tree and take home the lion’s share of the Perry – no, wait, bad idea.


Roses at Sissinghurst

I went to Sissinghurst last week, one-time home of Vita Sackville-West, gardener, writer, Virginia Woolf’s lover – the norm. I actually went to see the vegetable garden but it was closed. I’m assuming there’s not much to see yet, like in my own garden. So I contented myself with looking at the beautifully trained roses.

They’re everywhere. Short little stubby ones, tall tower-like ones. And all trained in this beautiful fluffy clouds formation. It’s very striking.

They even have them climbing the walls in the same pattern. I have two climbing roses here at mtp. One is doing very well next to my Apple tree and the other is well, doing not so good in a pot on my deck. I’m determined to train them a la Sissinghurst. I’ve missed the boat this year since the best time to prune them is November. But I found a handy guide written by Sarah Raven on this very technique that I’ll be using in Autumn.

Meanwhile, here’s a photo of the craziest bench I’ve ever seen.

I’m always intrigued to see what other people grow in their kitchen gardens. So, when we went to visit my sister-in-law, Kristin, I went straight out into her back garden to inspect her ‘square-foot gardening’. I was amazed (and I must admit slightly jealous) by what she was growing in such a small space. 

Practically, everything Kristin was growing was bigger than the plants I had in the UK. Her corn was nearly 7 or 8 foot high, and her Basil plant was huge and very healthy (we got a bucket-load of leaves from it to make fresh Pesto). She was also growing a ton of Jalapeno peppers that were already fruiting, a Watermelon and lots of Cherry Tomatoes.

I had assumed that since Colorado is so dry that it wouldn’t be the ideal place for growing vegetables. However, it is sunny; over 300 days of sunshine per year. And the bottom line is that you can provide water, but you can’t provide sunshine, especially in the UK where I live. 

For me it’s always touch and go with veg like Sweetcorn, Tomatoes, Melons, Basil and Chili Pepper – will they ripen in time, will they get enough sunshine? In Colorado they certainly don’t have to worry about that.

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