30 Apr 2010

Carrot Stick

After the international excitement of the kids' drawings, thanks to Archie's mum,  (K- would you like  a job in PR for the blog?  Might help pay for your phone bill!)  I must at least show you the drawings in situ:

The purple stick was chosen (after a quick zoom round the gardens with a hair-raising display of light-sabre skills) (by Archie, not me) (although the idea is quite appealing) and knocked into place.  I held the hammer… you know, just in case.   And, lest you think that I've got my seed packets in a muddle, the carrot seeds were sprinkled in between the onions.  I'm testing to see if the smell will confuse the carrot fly.

So two celebrity tips there - stick idea a là Sarah Raven (as seen at Perch Hill); companion planting as mentioned by Alys Fowler in The Edible Garden (Wed, 8.00 p.m. BBC).

And for the blog's newest international fan, Archie digging holes with his mum's bulb planter (there's no curbing that boy's enthusiasm!):

27 Apr 2010

Veg Patch Kids!

I have to confess that, for a few years, I ran the after school Art Club when my son was at primary school.  My background is in illustration, design and crafting and yesterday evening I mentioned, briefly, to one of my friends that I'd quite like some drawn labels for my raised beds.

In no time, I had three eager faces ready for action and, fifteen minutes later, armed with crayons and home-made sketchbooks, I was sitting by the Veg Patch talking to the kids about what we were going to draw.  (This was completely impromptu, I'd meant to be sowing carrots!)  The kids were completely absorbed, asking questions and talking about the veg (and the colours!).  Even the youngest wild child, a boy aged just 7, sat calmly drawing and colouring and was the last to leave.  Not bad, huh?

Not only that but they then wanted to help me plant some more seeds, which we managed just before they were called in to their respective suppers. 

I was going to give you my (rave) review of 'Organic Gardening, the no dig way' today but have spent the morning scanning the drawings, laminating them and painting wood to attach them to in the Veg Patch.  Children place such importance on their work, I think it's vital that adults respond to this.  Thus, the drawings will be ready for the kids to put up in the Veg Patch when they return from school today.

As I have a wealth of craft ideas for kids in the garden, the other thing that I've started work on is another blog which I've called 'Veg Patch Kids'.  I'll let you know when it's up (gotta make it look snazzy first!)

23 Apr 2010

Companion(able) planting…

As a family, we're having a week of gardening: horticultural heaven for me (being outdoors in the Veg Patch), horticultural hell for my son who is doing pre-GCSE work experience with the Gardening Guru. There was a suggestion that he'd go to the Ecology Centre (at a nature reserve in Islington) and I fondly imagined that he'd learn about bio-diversity, planting schemes, local wildlife, sustainability and environmental engineering.  They even have a wind turbine there!  and an education centre!  Sounds great, huh?  The truth is somewhat different…  he's been digging holes and potting on plants in a public park for five days now.  For free.  In the heat.  Breathing the traffic fumes of the Holloway Road. He tells me he's never doing gardening ever again.  Which is a shame because it was the one thing that we did together, quite companionably.  (Seeing as I don't 'do' Xbox or football.)

My week, on the other hand, has been delightful.  Out in the sunshine, digging out ivy roots, preparing raised beds for planting, organising my seeds and what should go where, painting plant markers and sitting outdoors to eat my lunch. (Oh, and being passed bars of chocolate by the very lovely Myra to keep me going! Myra and her husband Fred overlook the Veg Patch from their balcony and have lived here in York Rise for many decades.)

And the cherry on the top of my Cupcake of Life? Rather excitingly, I've been sent three lovely gardening books to review by Green Books, a publishing company in Devon, more of which later.

19 Apr 2010

One Potato, Two Potato? More!

We have a gardening competition here at York Rise and, in past years, I've entered the Best Balcony category - not, I must say, because I believe my balcony is worthy of the title but because I feel the need to counter the entrants who buy swathes of bedding plants with which to impress the judges.  I feel that the competition should be about more than just the ice cream at the end of the pier.

Last year I grew an eclectic, edible mix of herbs, lavender, peppers, tomatoes and a few flowers among the ivy and mesembryanthemum (it took me months to learn that name!). It didn't quite do it for the judges (they actually commented on the muted colours of my planting! - What's wrong with green?) so no rosettes for me.

This year, the battle continues and I'd already ordered some potatoes from Dobies ("The Keen Gardener's Choice") to grow in planters on the balcony, when the Gardening Guru pitched up with a few seed potatoes for us.  This turned out to number about 120.  So, my order to Dobies was cancelled as no longer needed and my money refunded.  Spool forward a few days and my Postie hands me a large box labelled: 'Live Plants'.  Ah.  Let's open the box, shall we?

Oh, what joy!  More potatoes!  from Dobies!

I rang them to put them in the picture and they have generously donated them to the Veg Patch.  For which, I thank you.

So… Voilà my bedroom chitters - Swift (floury), Charlotte (salad), Vivaldi (creamy, smooth, yum) :

And this is (half of) our greenhouse chitters:

… all labelled up so that we know what we're growing and when they'll be ready.  (A process which made me feel tremendously organised and with the bonus that I've learned an awful lot about spuds.)

Dobies: Have been awarded Best Seed Supplier by Which? magazine and I found them to be very nice people to do business with - friendly, efficient, quick to answer the phone and a real person to speak to! Recommended. (The link under their name will take you through to their website which has a fantastic range of plants, seeds and special offers.)

15 Apr 2010

The Im-Patient Gardener…

"I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty." - Georgia O'Keeffe

I've been eyeing up the seemingly empty pots of soil on my balcony for weeks wondering if the tulips and squills planted to herald the Spring season would ever flower.  The bulbs were bought from Morrison's for a quid (£1) so I didn't entirely trust their provenance.  More than once in my haste, I've considered repotting the bulbs (yes, even at this late stage) into the ground below and getting my balcony salads into the vacant pots. At last, yesterday, I was rewarded with the flowering of the first of my white tulips, the sun was shining and so,  you'll have to excuse me, but I did have a tiny Georgia O'Keeffe moment.

I'm off to the Hampshire coast for a nice long weekend, enjoying the last few (hopefully, sunny) days of the school holidays and meandering through the little public garden which is maintained by the community in my parents' village.  Hoping the weather stays good for us all!

13 Apr 2010

Can ya Dig it?

Some while ago, I signed up to that "Stop sending me piles of Junk which I then have to recycle" service, which means that when my lovely postie knocks at the door, he's usually delivering something nice.  Yesterday, at last, I received this envelope of joyfulness from the BBC:

I'm particularly looking forward to the Black Beauty Courgettes and Blue Lake French Beans if I can figure out where to squeeze them in.  The mixed Salad Leaves (Lettuce, Chard, Spinach, Mizuna), Chantenay Carrots and Sweet Genovese Basil will be grown in pots on my balcony (again, a few space issues) with a few seedlings heading over to my Mum and Dad's garden in Hampshire (along with Sweet Peas, Broad Beans and Peas). 

If you haven't received yours yet, don't panic.  I signed up to their newsletter last year and so put in my request in mid-March as soon as it was announced.  Unfortunately, the Dig In website now shows that the offer has closed as all the free seeds have gone…  which, I suppose, is good news as it would seem that lots of people are interested in growing their own grub - let's hope they actually sow the seeds!

If you didn't get round to signing up for the seeds, you can still follow along and get gardening advice and recipes, or track down the Dig It roadshow and claim your free packs there - but I'm guessing that y'all know that already as the Dig It thingy has been mentioned on all BBC gardening progs.

The Dig In website is here (opens in new tab)
The tour starts in Swansea this weekend.  Tour dates here. (opens in new tab)

8 Apr 2010

Visiting Prospect…

It seems, quite justifiably, that the garden at Prospect Cottage is a dream destination for many gardeners but likely to remain on many wish-lists because of the distance involved in travelling and the logistics of overnight accommodation.  I can possibly offer a solution.

By chance, I mentioned to my sister (who lives in the Midlands) that I was going to Dungeness.  "Oh! I've been there; that's the place with those funny little cottages at the end of the railway line."  Er, yep.  That's the one.  You need to know that my sister is not interested in gardens, neither is she likely to suddenly take off to the south coast on a whim, so I asked how she came to be in Dungeness.  She had wanted to find a means of enabling our extensive family to visit my lovely niece who lives in Kent and had booked a Sun Holiday (the cheap £9.50 per person variety) at a holiday park in Dymchurch.  As a means to an end, she thought the weekend spent in a seaside holiday caravan (self-catering) was not too arduous, despite the weather being typically out-of-season dreadful.  She hadn't known about the existence of Prospect Cottage but took a trip on the Dymchurch to Dungeness steam railway as a treat for her little grandson.

So, while it may not be to everyone's taste,  if you want a cheap way of visiting Prospect Cottage, it may be worth your while to book a weekend caravan at Park Holidays New Beach and let the train take the strain. Once you arrive in Dungeness, the Britannia Inn serves delicious fish and chips and there are other local attractions such as the 'acoustic ears' and lighthouse to visit.

I think the Sun Holidays offer comes round about three times a year but is cheapest in the Spring and Autumn - I'm not a Sun reader but I know a man who is!

(Not drowning, but waving…)  
One of Derek Jarman's stone circles in front of Prospect  Cottage.

1 Apr 2010

Prospect Cottage … (part 2 of my Perch and Prospect Day)

I had a long held wish to see the seaside garden created by film-maker and artist, Derek Jarman, on the shingle at Dungeness in Kent.  A short(ish) drive south-east from Perch Hill via Rye would bring us to Prospect Cottage and, with great excitement, that was added to the plan.  Strangely, given the fame of its creator, on arrival (through wind and rain) we found that the cottage and garden is now a private residence - I half expected that it would be kept open as a place of interest - a handwritten note on the door asks that visitors refrain from peering in the windows and taking photos without prior written permission. Oops, I hastily backed away.

The cottage boundaries are not marked by fences so it is possible to walk around without trespassing.  After a reviving thimble of tea (I forgot the mugs and we had to drink from the lid of the flask), - and a delicious cream slice thoughtfully provided by my co-conspirator, Leigh - I circumnavigated the black hub of the cottage from a distance, spiralling my way inwards as it seemed that (with great good fortune) nobody was at home.  I didn't want to get too close but every angle of the garden revealed fantastic treasures, even at this time of year and in this harsh windswept environment.

Derek Jarman wrote about the evolution of the garden in his book 'derek jarman's garden', worth looking at for Howard Sooley's photographs and packed with wonderful stories.  I empathise when Derek Jarman writes, "I can look at one plant for an hour, this brings me great peace."

In his lifetime, the garden was filled with vegetables and herbs - grown in raised beds so that the roots wouldn't absorb any waste from the nearby power station.  Plants were tested for survival with poppies, sweet peas, sea-kale, viper's bugloss (native to Dungeness), pinks, night-scented stock,  nasturtiums and wild flowers like Nottingham catchfly and pea vetch doing well.  Lavender also thrived.  Sea-ephemera was added between the plants,  brought back after long dawn walks along the beach, especially when storms (frequent) had shifted the shingle.

The corkscrew poles supporting sweet-peas were originally fence posts driven into the shingle during the war to support anti-tank fencing when it was thought England might be invaded.  I must go back in the summer to see if sweet peas still grow there.  For now, in its winter guise, the garden is silver-green and brown; the santolinas (cotton lavender) flourish, as does the gorse, but little else has sprung into life - which makes the sudden sight of lime-green euphorbia or a lone daffodil (surprisingly!) so stunning.

This garden for me was the cherry on the cake of my day of garden visiting; Perch Hill was inspirational but, before I lived in London, I mostly lived by the sea and am a beach-comber at heart.  I have driftwood art and boxes of hag-stones, glass jars of sea-washed glass and sweetshop jars of shells and beach stones, matchboxes filled with fossils of shark's teeth and an old sailor's chest filled with the flotsam and jetsam of beach walks (rope, driftwood, crab shells).  I quite simply fell in love with Prospect Cottage and Dungeness.  Life on the beach (even in the shadow of Europe's biggest nuclear power station) must be very uplifting, if slightly surreal and solitary. Eventually the weather clamped down again over Dungeness,  hiding the enormous power station and, buffeted by strong winds, we drove off through the drizzling mist.  As they say in the movies: I'll be back. 

Here, though, are a couple more of my favourite photos from the day:

And, finally, perhaps more apt now than ever, John Donne's poem fixed to the West wall of the cottage:

The Sunne Rising
Busie old foole, unruly Sunne,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windowes, and through curtaines call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
Sawcy pedantique wretch, goe chide
Late schoole boyes and sowre prentices,
Goe tell Court-huntsmen, that the King will ride,
Call countrey ants to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knowes, nor clyme,
Nor houres, dayes, moneths, which are the rags of time…
Thou sunne art half as happy as wee,
In that the world's contracted thus.
Thine age askes ease, and since thy duties bee
to warme the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy centre is, these walls thy spheare.


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