22 Nov 2013

Capel Moments: Going, Going ....

We've had some really blustery and cold days this week, yesterday being one of them. I did wonder whether it was just too windy to be able to get any good photos at college this week and, frankly, with the skies being overcast, a Capel Moment was not looking promising.  I was happy to be indoors in the morning,  drawing up garden planting plans in the studio, as it was more than a bit chilly outside. When I looked out of the window at lunchtime, though,  the skies had cleared and fresh air beckoned.

I headed round to the walled garden by the manor house with an ulterior motive of collecting fallen 'quince' fruit from a Chaenomeles shrub but it's also useful to see what's still coping with the weather at this time of year.

There are, of course, masses of shrubs covered in plentiful berries but the veg beds have been cleared ready for spring with only a few leaves and some rhubarb under forcers in evidence.  The roses are still blooming (just) and I was very taken with this pink beauty, especially with all the abundant hips on the same bush.  I'm seeing rose petal and rosehip jelly when I look at this! (But will, of course, leave it for the birds.)

I wandered over to the north wall and saw Chinese Lanterns (Physalis alkekengi) with their bright orange skins turning to lace ...

Not long now before these are just bare twigs in the earth.

But, as a gardener, the moment that really caught my eye was the barrow piled with seasonal tools and boxes of bulbs waiting to be planted - the morning's work finished and the afternoon's work still to come.  I didn't see anyone else about so assume the gardener had nipped back into the warm indoors for a spot of lunch. It's a very comforting thought that as one season slips away, the next is being prepared for.  The work goes on. 

17 Nov 2013

A Capel Moment: Autumn gold

I don't want to jinx future Thursdays but I'm tempted to say that we've been very lucky with having dry weather on the day I go up to college!  It makes getting out for a walk round the grounds so much more pleasant - and, of course, the colours are more vivid for taking photos!

Being indoors more at this time of year really highlights the beauty of autumn when I can get out so I had two Capel moments this week.  On the way back to the design studio after lunch, the sun popped out momentarily to highlight the beech walk (actually, the trees may not be beech, I'll find out)  - I had to tell the others I'd catch them up as I whipped out my phone for this photo! (Yes, I do tend to lean to the right!)

Autumn afternoon

The second moment was during the ident walk.  Last year, without fail, the class went out every week for a 'plant ident walk'; this is a quick stroll around the grounds looking at and discussing that week's chosen eight plants.  Doesn't sound much, does it?  But by the end of the year, we knew - and, more importantly, could identify - over a hundred and forty plants.

This year, studying 'plants and planting' for Garden Design, the ident walks have been increased to learn ten new plants each week. I'm finding that many of these are old friends from last year but a few of my classmates studied elsewhere before so aren't so familiar with the Capel grounds. It makes me realise, yet again, how fortunate I am to study with access to 35 acres of planting. 

This week we were told there would be only eight plants to learn;  as our tutor put it "there's not a lot going on out there".  Excuse me?  How about this:

Autumn colour!

The gold leaves are an Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku' - even without the red berries (and I have no  idea which leafless shrub they're growing on!) and the ceanothus flower, the Acer is stunning. Of course, it will all be over in a few weeks but Acers are very slow growing trees so for a small garden this would be ideal for a splash of autumn colour.

The above photo was modified slightly by Instagram, even so here's the tree in situ:

Like having a little bit of sunshine in your garden!

12 Nov 2013

Sticks of potential..

Glaskins Perpetual

In between normal weekend routine stuff and rainfall, I managed to squeeze a couple of hours in the veg patch. There's mainly just clearing and tidying now, including putting away bags of compost until next year, emptying and cleaning pots, chopping back herbs that have flopped (and preserving for winter where possible).  All this in preparation for mulching and bulb planting.

So what's all this to do with the rhubarb?  The top herb bed was tidied a week ago (horseradish, a couple of mints, rosemary, fennel) and I'd planned to do the bottom herb bed yesterday - the pineapple sage and lovage had got blown over in the recent storms.  The sage got a stay of execution thanks to its glorious fuchsia pink flower spikes plus I got distracted on the way down the path by the enormous rhubarb.

It's a Glaskins Perpetual which I grew from seed in 2012, in a pot. It survived so, in early spring, I planted it out into the veg patch.  The patch isn't big so I dithered over where to put it (hence why it stayed in its pot for so long), in the end just plonking it into a large space.  It obviously loves where it is (heavily mulched clay soil) and is now enormous. All those big leaves are just the one plant!  Unfortunately it's overhanging the path so it was tidy up time for the rhubarb.

Just one rhubarb plant ...

I've resisted picking any stalks this past year so that the plant could get established. (Leaves were about 3 inches high when planted out.) I haven't grown rhubarb before so I wasn't sure whether the plant died back in winter or got cut down.  I noticed that a few of the bottom stalks needed removing as they'd become brown and a bit mushy.  They pulled away easily which made me think that the whole plant would eventually die back to this state over the next few weeks.  I needed to take a few stems to clear the path anyway; these were originally destined for the compost but my curiosity got the better of me; I hate waste so I decided to chop just the leaves into the compost. The rest was brought up to the kitchen.

Happily, I've also got Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) growing here; a few chopped leaves added when cooking rhubarb reduces the amount of sugar needed. Although it's coming on for winter, there are new soft leaves on the Cicely so I picked a small bunch of those as well.  I half expected the rhubarb sticks to be inedible, tough, stringy and sour but no, not a bit of it.  Fifteen minutes after getting home, stems washed, chopped, poached with a spoonful of water plus one of sugar and a handful of finely chopped cicely leaves, I had myself a delicious dessert to go with supper.

Now here's the science: All rhubarb has high levels of oxalic acid (poisonous!) in the leaves and roots, less so in the stems; as temperatures become colder, oxalic acid migrates from the leaves back into the stems, making them poisonous to eat. With Glaskin's rhubarb, the oxalic acid levels in the stems stay very low throughout the length of the year so stems can be harvested from early summer through to late autumn.  Thus, it's become known as Glaskin's 'Perpetual'.

I'm not sure it was wise to pick so many stems as a certain amount are needed to build up the root for next year but there are still around half a dozen new little stalks on the plant.  I'll mulch it with well-rotted horse manure over winter (leaving the crown clear).  That should do it.  I may even have to grow another rhubarb plant - I've seen so many yummy sounding recipes!

And a final word of caution:  Never, ever, eat the leaves or root of rhubarb; they're poisonous and will make you feel most unwell!

I bought Glaskins Perpetual seeds from More Veg who supply a range of seeds in small quantities, perfect for the small space grower.

9 Nov 2013

A Capel Moment: Japanese Niwaki Pruning

Cloud pruning in Japanese Garden

There's so much autumn colour around this week but still, on my way to the library, my eye was drawn to the intense red of the Acer japonicum leaves against the red bridge in the Japanese garden.  Moving into the garden for a closer look (and photo!), I was struck by the intense concentration of the gardener carefully pruning and shaping the Juniper into neat layers with one handed shears.

Cloud pruning, as it's become known in the western world. This is when branches of a young tree are trained and cut to resemble cloud layers as it grows. In Japan, pruning (Niwaki) is to enhance the plant and work with nature, often echoing the shapes of the landscape - all traditional Japanese gardens have clipped shrubs or trees but they're not necessarily pruned in cloud layers. It's a style that lends itself very well to English gardens; in my mother's garden, I've pruned and clipped an extremely unruly Forest Flame (Pieris) bush in this style, as well as a Choisya ternata. It's a lovely thing to do and the results are stunning.

I stopped to watch and soon a conversation was struck up. The gardener had initially trained at Capel but then spent time over the years in Kyoto learning the art of Niwaki. In Japan, I was told, it takes years to learn the art of pruning and is taught by having a master gardener as a mentor. We talked a little about Jake Hobson who has mastered this art form and taken it on into 'Ornamental Topiary' to be used in English gardens.  At Capel, small trees in this particular garden are cloud pruned to enhance the Japanese ambience.  Elsewhere in the grounds, ornamental topiary has been used to shape a Cotoneaster lacteus  and Osmanthus x burkwoodii into a mushroom shape. Really eye catching and, of course, small semi-shade loving plants, eg Arum italicum, Geraniums and ferns, can be grown underneath.

But, cloud pruning aside, here's what really caught my eye: the juxtaposition of the brilliantly red Acer leaves next to the glaucous (blue/green) scale needles of the Juniper.  Even on a gloomy, grey skies kind of day, the colour in this planting combination was stunning!

Acer and Juniper

1 Nov 2013

Happy Hallowe'en at Fortnum's

Was it just our area or did anyone else find last night particularly quiet?  In previous years, there have been hordes of children trick-or-treating and teenagers in fancy dress on their way to a party but not last night.  Thank goodness there was a Halloween event at Fortnum's to see October on its way.

I promise I'll get back on track with garden updates soon; meantime, I wanted to share my visit to the annual Fortnum & Mason pumpkin carving event.  After yesterday's marsupial excitement was over, and I'd written the blog post, and the man from ITN had gone, and I'd posted my photos to Flickr for him, finally I was able to slip away to Piccadilly in the West End. Normally I can take or leave the commercial side of London but the Midlands based part of my family make an expedition down to Fortnum's every year for the pumpkin carving event, so I do too.

We're a close-knit family brought up to believe that if you're going bother to do something, then give it your best shot.  It's a good ethic and one that has resulted in one or other member of the family carrying off some Fortnum's booty in previous years. The first year my niece Kate won the competition, dinner for two, a huge hamper and a bespoke besom broom; in subsequent years, the competition was split into two age groups and children in our family came away with a first prize hamper of sweets in both years.

This year, despite a terrific entry from our Eme (age 8), the first prize went elsewhere but she did win the fancy dress competition. I do wonder though because a judge was overheard commenting that my sister's family have won a pumpkin prize in all previous years ... as if that would make a difference to their final decision? Never mind; Eme's 8-eyed spider pumpkin ended up in pride of place in front of the royal crest in The Crypt as decor for a whisky tasting event. (It does have legs but they're a bit lost against the fire grate.)


I do enjoy going to see what everyone else has come up with. It's always an inspiration - I'm amazed at the skill of some of the entries although last night I completely loved this 'Day of the Dead' carved pumpkin - so pretty, and I do like a bit of nice.


I wasn't able to stay for the judging of the adult pumpkins last night (small children only last so long so my family had sensibly moved on to go and eat) so I have no idea who won but I'm hoping that this cleverly sculpted pumpkin was given an award. See the little key in the side? It's locking the creature in its pumpkin cage while at the front the cage bars are being pulled out.  I love the attention to detail!

While waiting for the adult pumpkins to be brought in, I got chatting to the PR staff who were doing a great job of organising the competitors and crowds and was given a pumpkin carving set to bring home with me! Now I have no excuses for not entering next year - and adult entry fees go to The Prince's Trust.

I've just discovered that Fortnum's have a Pinterest page so, if you want to see what the entries were like in previous years, take a look at the boards for 2011 and 2012 - some of them are awesomely mind-boggling!
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