Monday, 27 September 2010

That Chelsea Chop - and Red Hot Pokers

I visited a beautiful garden yesterday and saw these wonderful Red Hot Pokers.

And this is what happens to Sedum plants when they are not given the Chelsea chop!!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Flowers Fruit and Herbs of the Bible No 3 The Bay Tree

Growing up as a little girl on a farm in Kent, we had a simply enormous Bay tree in our back garden. I was told that this protected us from lightning strike. But I can personally attest to the fact that this is simply not always true!
Nonetheless, Culpeper did write in the 17th century, although on what authority I know not, that:"neither witch nor devil, thunder nor lightening, will hurt a man in the place where a bay-tree is." OK, so we weren't hurt, so perhaps it is true. And we certainly never saw any witches, harmful or otherwise, in our garden!

This picture is of one of two bay trees I bought several years ago and as a pair they stand at the top of the steps leading up to the lawn. Soon, (but then I have been saying this for two long and doing nothing!) I shall start pruning and training them into those spherical blobs on spindly main trunks that you see in posher gardens than mine - ones no doubt where they have a gardener or bought them "ready made" at astronomical cost from a nursery. But i must do my own. I shall start by cutting off their top growing points at the desired height, and trimming all the side shoots to a requisite number of leaves ... and so on ... but that's a story for another day. I hope one day to be able to show you some success with this project.
For now we turn again to my biblical theme.
My tea towel tells me that the Bay Tree is mentioned in Psalm 37 at v. 35. But when I looked this up it refers simply to "a native green tree:"
"I have seen the wicked in great power,
And spreading himself like a native green tree..."
And the trusted commentary in the side margins that I have come to rely on tells me nothing more. So I have had to search further afield. How did the tea towel designer know this verse referred to a bay tree?
I have not yet found the answer, but I have found lots more fascinating facts about the Bay Tree, and will continue these in another post.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Flowers Fruit and Herbs of the Bible No 2 Rue and hypocrisy

"But woe to you Pharisees! (said Jesus to the Pharisees and lawyers as he dined with them) For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done without leaving the others undone."
Luke ch. 11 v. 42

This is my rue in the garden - gone to seed and heavily cut back for the winter.

In Matthew Jesus is reported as saying something very similar to the multitudes and to his disciples:
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law; justice and mercy and faith."
Matthew ch. 23, v. 23 - Jesus is saying that they have lost a sense of proportion in their spirituality, tithing small seeds but forgetting the major principles of morality.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Flowers Fruit and Herbs of the Bible No 1 Figs

Work at the allotment this month is now all about continuing to tidy up, composting all plant waste, and harvesting as necessary. So I thought I would start talking about the flowers, fruit and herbs of the Bible, prompted by a very old and fading tea towel we still have from many years ago.
So let us start, I thought, with that oldest story of all, the reason why the snake crawls on its belly, the reason why women travail in childbirth, and why we all toil in the dust to which we shall all in due course return.
Who hasn't at some stage heard the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden? When the serpent tempted Eve to eat of the forbidden tree, and in her turn she tempted Adam to eat that same fruit, "the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves covering." (Genesis ch. 3 v. 7) And they incurred God's wrath.
I have a fig tree. I only bought it as a young plant a few years ago but in its favoured position against a South facing wall it has more than flourished - it is nearly taking over the whole area. And the crops each year are amazing. I love them just as they are, straight from the tree, but it is not advisable to eat too many in one day (!) and they do not keep well for long, so last year I ended up making loads of fig jam.
The picture here shows immature fruit. I will be taking all these off the plant soon, so as not to weaken the tree, as they have no hope of ripening and will otherwise rot overwinter anyway.

Friday, 17 September 2010


Today was dry and windy with some sunshine - an ideal day for harvesting potatoes. Here is one row; I need to dig up 3 more over the next few days, weather permitting.
I left these on top of the soil to dry a little whilst I did other work on the plot, and now they are spread out on the garage floor to finish off before I store them over winter in special hessian potato sacks, in a cool dry and frost free place (garden shed or garage).
Whilst other plotters have suffered blight on their crops, mine are, so far, blight free, but it can hit overnight and spread very rapidly - I have used blight resistant varieties though and this seems to be effective so far.

The Swiss Chard (Bright Lights) is doing extremely well.
This is lovely chopped up, leaves and stalks, and steamed for a short while. The leaves are pulled off the plants from the base, from the outside inwards.The biggest surprise is the way the carrots and spring cabbages that I sowed recently are thriving. I hope we have enough autumn left for the carrots to produce some sort of crop for me. It's looking promising for now!
I finished off my work up there by picking some more runner beans and carting two more loads of manure on to the plot.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

old garden artefacts

It's been far too cold, wet and windy the last couple of days to do anything serious in the garden or at the allotment, so I thought I would reminisce on some things that caught my eye in other people's gardens this summer.
I particularly like the cold-frame on wheels!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

squash and marrows

I spent a happy afternoon visiting a garden today in the lee of the South Downs in Sussex under the National Gardens Scheme. It was a beautiful setting in lovely autumnal sunshine. But what really caught my attention were the marrow and squash plants!
I have never ever before seen any squash, marrow or any other cucurbit plants for that matter grow to the size of these, photographed below. These are trailing out of a huge compost bin, and the distance from the nearest point to the furthest in this photo I measured as 15 of my strides, pretty much 15 yards!! And the crop was abundant.
I have tried myself to grow these plants on my own compost heaps but without such success. Perhaps the abundant supply of horse manure from the neighbouring stables was giving a helping hand to those in the photo!
Anyway if mine grew to that size they'd take over my allotment!!

Saturday, 11 September 2010


These are two of my compost bins. One is closed off with an insulated cover, held down with wooden strips and bricks. The cover enables the composting material to warm up and decompose into compost very quickly. It is basically made of bubble wrap within a black breathable type plastic material. The nearer of the two boxes is nearly full. I put grass clippings on it, as you can see, and this is OK to do as long as there is also plenty of other materials to mix with it. Otherwise it tends to go slimy.

Both bins will be ready to "harvest" sometime over the winter and the compost will be spread across the allotment, returning lots of humus and goodness to the soil.

I like these particular bins because the sides are slatted, and this makes the compost easy to get to when it is ready. Plastic bins are much more awkward to deal with. Although they usually have a "door" at the base, I have never been able to satisfactorily get the compost out through that. I usually end up tipping the whole bin over to get at its contents - a messy business. Does any one know a better way?

Friday, 10 September 2010


Every year at this time we have an epidemic of fungi on our front lawn, underneath the big oak tree. These are a variety of Boletus, identified by the tubes opening into pores on the underneath of the cap, where the spores develop. These are in contrast to the gills with which most people are familiar - as seen in the common field mushroom.

This particular Boletus is distinguished by the way the flesh turns a shade of bluish purple almost as soon as it is broken

Many of the Boletus are edible, most famously the Cep, Boletus Edulis, but some are poisonous or are simply unpalatable. Accurate identification is essential before cooking!

Thursday, 9 September 2010

A Mutated Brussel Sprout!

I know I didn't plant any cabbage seedlings alongside the brussel sprouts when I put them out on the allotment this spring. But gradually over the summer I have watched this perfect cabbage shaping up amongst the sprout plants. The other day it looked ready enough for harvesting so I cut it to bring home.

And I was right. It wasn't a cabbage! It is a brussel sprout that has mutated! In all the leaf nodes there are baby sprouts! Any one else ever seen anything like this?

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness"

... so begins John Keats' poem, To Autumn 1820.

I was up at the allotment early today, by 7 o'clock, and spent a couple of hours generally tidying before torrential rain brought me home again.

At this time of year this is often the best part of the day. There is a feel of autumn, a gentle nip in the air without being too cold, and it is often misty, before the sun finds enough strength in its rising to burn the moisture away. Today was no exception, and it was very pleasant up on the plot before that rain came.

First I picked all the runner beans that I could find. It was a good haul; I had not been up there for a couple of days. They will store for quite a while in the bottom of the fridge and it is important to keep picking them to encourage more flowers to set. I also picked the yellow courgettes. These make a wonderful soup, with a beautiful flavour, a lovely colour (as long as white onions are used, definitely not red ones!) and it has an extremely pleasant "gloopy" consistency to it. It also freezes well for winter use, when a hot soup is most welcome, with "tear and share" type breads.
There is also plenty of fresh green spinach and I brought an armful of that back with me which I have cooked and again frozen for my winter store.

Then I checked all the protective netting around the brassicas to make sure the pigeons couldn't get at the leaves - otherwise the pesky birds are quite capable of stripping the leaves down to bare midribs given half a chance. Whilst doing this something caught my eye and looking up I saw a beautiful heron gliding overhead, slowly and elegantly.

and Keats' poem?:

"Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells"

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Sunflowers in the Dordogne

Driving through the Dordogne in South West France on holiday recently we saw field after field of sunflowers. Of course in June they are beautiful - bright yellow in the sunshine, all turned towards its warmth and light. But now the flowers have gone and instead the seed heads are dry and ready for harvesting. I assume that these are for food, whether for human or animal I am not sure. This was about the biggest sunflower head we saw.

Whilst in the region we went to the Monbazillac vineyards. The views from the terrace of the chateaux were wonderful and the wine was pretty good too!

Most fascinating of all were the fields of wildflowers - we saw these in several places as we toured around. It looked for all the world as if the landowners had all bought the same wildflower seed mix!

The effect was certainly very pretty.

Tomorrow I shall be back on the allotment after the well earned break and shall get this blog back on track!

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Fuschias and Sedum

I love Fuschias. To me they always appear to be perfect wax models, and they come I so many shapes, sizes, colours. And many are hardy. My really tough ones (the red ones below) even survived last winter and this year's drought. I have several bushes that are just in front of my kitchen window so they make a magnificent display at this time of year. And the bees also love them.

And they are really so easy to look after. Every spring I simply cut them down quite hard, as the flowers all appear on the year's new branches, so it is very easy to keep them as compact and shapely as you want.

There are also many varieties available now that are superb in hanging baskets.

Yesterday I spoke of the Chelsea Chop on my Sedums, and feared I had been a little too over enthusiastic this year with the secateurs. Their flowering has certainly been delayed perhaps longer than I intended, but you can see here that the flowers are now beginning to open, and they will make a super display very soon. Because of the "chop" they will not splay out from the middle as Sedum plants otherwise have a tendency to do, keeping them neat and compact in the border. do And again, the bees love them, so a bonus for biodiversity.

Friday, 3 September 2010

The Chelsea Chop revisited

Up at the allotment today after 10 days away from it I managed to cut the grass around the plot and trimmed the edges to make it look neat and tidy. I know that doesn't add to the productivity of the plot but I do like it to look manicured (a shame, I can hear my husband muttering, that I do not direct as much effort to house work!)

One thing I noticed is that the Sedum I Chelsea Chopped, (see May posting - named after the Chelsea Flower Show held in London every May, when the chop should be done) is still not in flower. I think I must have chopped them back a little too enthusiastically - but they will surely be brilliant when they do finally flower.

Here are the photos before and after the chop in May. I meant to take a photo of how they look now, but forgot! I will post one up soon.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Time Out from the Allotment

Look at these strawberries! They are being grown in containers raised three or so feet off the ground, and beneath plastic tunnels. Obviously these fruit are well protected from slugs, mice, birds, are at a decent height for picking without breaking the back, and will ripen happily in all weathers in the warmth of the tunnel. I assume that irrigation and feeding is laid on through tubes running along the rows.

I spotted these whilst driving in the Dordogne, where I have been on holiday for 10 days.

One of the problems with going away is that plants continue to grow in your absence. Even though I spent some time making sure all work on my plot was completely up to date before I went on holiday, when I went back to it today it was, to put it mildly, overgrown.

We obviously had rain here during the last ten days. Whilst I was enjoying temperatures in the top thirties for much of the holiday in the Dordogne, with absolutely no rain, it is apparent that they were not so lucky back here at home. The grass in the strips around my plot is really tall. Tomorrow I shall take my lawn mower up there and cut it all. And also, of course, the weeds have grown in my absence, but I mostly cleared those today and added them to the compost, which seems to be rotting away nicely.

But the most rewarding part of my trip there to the allotment today was that I came back home laden with marrows, courgettes, runner beans, swiss chard, spinach, beetroot, and broccoli. Enough vegetables to feed us well for a week!