30 Mar 2010

For Elspeth Thompson, who will be missed

'Love in A Mist'
(photographed in the Crescent Gardens in Alverstoke, Hampshire Oct 2009)

I was greatly saddened to learn yesterday of the death of Elspeth Thompson.  Although I only knew her through her writing, the news of her death was shocking.  She wrote of a gentle, sunny life that most would envy and yet she suffered from depression and took her own life last Thursday.

Elspeth's columns about gardening (and interiors) appeared in both the Sunday Telegraph and Guardian newspapers and her gardening books inspired many urban gardeners (The London Gardener, Urban Garden, A Tale of Two Gardens, to name just a few).  Her blog, 'Off the Rails', is one of only a handful that I return to regularly; her posts revealed a glimpse into her life by the sea as she converted two railway carriages into an eco-home and created a vegetable garden on the Sussex shingle. 

She set up a new blog at the beginning of March, 'Gardening Against the Odds', which I was very much looking forward to following.  It was to be about gardening in the most unpromising of places.  I had meant to send her my photo of a rowing boat planted up with marrows, drifted up on the putting green of a windy seafront in Hampshire.  Now when I see the boat, it will remind me that no-one's life is perfect and I'll stop, count my blessings, be glad of my friends and family and be grateful. 

Elspeth Thompson's obituary in the Telegraph can be read here.  A full obituary will be published this Sunday, 4th April.

27 Mar 2010

Perch and Prospect - the Perfect Day…

The Perch and Prospect: sounds like a very enticing pub, doesn't it?  Be prepared to be envious, for the truth is much better than that: I refer to the Grand Day Out which I had last weekend.

Using the excuse of my forthcoming birthday, a drive to Sussex was planned in order to check out Sarah Raven's garden farm at Perch Hill.  It's been on my Bucket List for some time as Ms Raven sits on my bookshelf in the guise of two of her books 'The Great Vegetable Plot' and 'Growing your own Cut Flowers'.  The gorgeous photos in these tomes are nothing short of veg-porn if, like me, you love a bit of gardening and cooking, so a visit was long overdue.

 (View of the South Downs through the Euphorbia and Lettuce patch)

Going at the end of March, the weather was bound to be unpredictable. Sure enough, it was an overcast day with skies full of drizzling rain but that was okay.  We weren't there to admire her dahlias; we went to see the layout of the growing beds, have a snoop round and take away lots of ideas and photos (and seeds!).  A long 'Q and A' session with Sarah herself, held in the classroom of her gardening school, was a bonus.  Lots of top tips were gleaned; next time I'm taking a notebook.

Even at this time of year there are a few things growing, an important factor when the garden is open to the public!  The greenhouse cafe overlooked beds of winter salad leaves (mizuna, rocket, mustard) and kale was in plentiful supply in the garden. Many perennials were already starting to grow - lupins, artichokes, poppies, sedums, geraniums, rhubarb - but the most fascinating was to see the bones of the garden and how Sarah keeps her plants upright. Wonderful homemade hazel and willow supports will be completely hidden come midsummer.

 We were very taken with these beautiful willow supports!

 (Lovely views abound - this one through a wall arch to the Oast garden.)

When we got there, the admission price was waived which meant we could justify coffee (or tea) and a slice of home-made cake - actually not expensive at all but particularly good when you factor in the views over the South Downs. We had our coffee in the warmth of the greenhouse café where bright potted flowers were placed on each scrubbed wooden table and, to top it all, mine was poured by Sarah's husband, Adam Nicolson - author, gentleman, grandson of Vita Sackville-West and 5th Baron Carnock. A huge treat, indeed. (You may have seen the 6 part documentary last year where he locked horns with the National Trust to restore the wildness of Vita's garden at Sissinghurst and grow veg in the grounds there, which makes him a bit of a hero in my book.)

(Painted plant markers glimpsed the other side of the stable door.  The jasmine smelled heavenly!)

(Just loving everything about this rhubarb forcing pot! The shape, the moss…)

 After a morning playing Garden Detective at Perch Hill, we took a last stroll around the cuttings garden, admired the golden willow growing at the entrance, said goodbye and thanks to Adam N (walking his dogs in the muddy field/car park) and set off to our next destination (Prospect Cottage) at the seaside.

(Salix Alba Vitellina - Golden Willow - at the entrance to the Farm.)
Most of the willow had been recently coppiced, probably for the willow weaving workshops which are held at the farm.

P.S.  If you're thinking of visiting (well worth a return trip for us in the summer, I think), take your wellies if it's been raining.  And your wallets.  Despite having plenty of seeds already, we succumbed to the temptation of being able to grow fennel bulb, mizuna (green and red), sweetcorn, black velvet Nasturtiums and Cerinthe (Honeywort) for a bit of colour in our flower beds.  Also the cake (coffee for me, banana for Leigh) was given our  'Nice Slice' award.

(Lots of lovely flowers in the Café.)

More information about Sarah Raven's books, seeds can be found on her website; details of Open Days at Perch Hill can be found here.

I like to find out about the places that I've visited, and you may like to know that Adam Nicolson has written a book about the transition from London living to Perch Hill farming (published in 2000).  I'm borrowing my copy from the library but it's also available from Amazon.

More of our Grand Day Out next time with photos of our visit to Prospect Cottage!

15 Mar 2010

It's been a while…

Hi everyone!  Hope you didn't think that we'd been defeated by winter frosts and given up.  No, no!  not a bit of it; just biding our time in the cold, very much like our little winter plants.

But things are definitely on the move again.  A couple of weekends with skies like this:

…encouraged a Spring tidy up (despite bitterly cold winds!).  For me, it was an awesome Eureka!-type moment to discover that my Raab actually has little broccoli type florets (a feat attributable to nature rather than nurture):

And, if you'll just humour me for a tiny second, allow me to show off a little:


(need to plant more very very soon.  This lot will not be enough!)

(Baby spinach at the moment, yum.)

And, at the end of the day, a few beetroots, spring onions (a bit weather-beaten) and parsley destined for the cooking pot.

So now we have new parsley shooting through with room to breathe, white onions, red onions, garlic, spinach, kale, raab, blue radishes.  Peas, French beans and Broad Beans have been started off indoors.  Sweet Peas (for colour, scent and structure - free from Gardener's World!) likewise.  The mini-orchard will be budding soon - can't wait! - and the blueberries are potted up in lovely Morroccan blue glazed pots which we scooped up at bargain reduced prices Last Winter.  (Haha - said as if it was sooo long ago!)

This time last year I wouldn't have said I was that interested in veg gardening (perhaps a few herbs) but now I think I may be getting a teeny bit obsessed. Seed catalog(ue)s abound and I'm subscribing to the aforementioned Gardeners' World (good old Tesco points) and occasionally treating myself to the entirely gorgeous, inspirational (and aspirational) Gardens Illustrated.

Anyway, if I can tear myself away from thoughts and deeds of planting, I hope to be back with you all on a more regular basis.  See you soon!

6 Jan 2010

What a difference a day makes…

Just yesterday, despite bitter cold, I was drawn to the window by lively birdsong coming from the little enclosed garden below.  Within a very short space of time I spotted sparrows, blue tits, blackbirds, a pair of robins, a wood pigeon and starlings.  They enjoy the camouflage offered by ivy-covered London Plane trees, a privet hedge and other trees in the garden, as well as a choice of bird feeders hanging from the branches. 

Today, though, the little garden and Urban Veg Patch are blanketed by heavy snowfall (we had a mini blizzard in the middle of the day).  The birds are still twittering around and, while adding my veg peelings to the compost, I noticed that the bird feeders were getting low.  So, please can I remind everyone suffering winter weather that birds find it especially hard to find food at this time of year and it's very easy to make a simple bird-feeder.  

The How-To: 
You need an empty, clean, yogurt pot.  Put a string through the base and pack with melted lard or vegetable suet (they need the fat for their feathers) mixed with bird seed (sunflower kernels, safflower seeds, kibbled peanuts, linseed) and raisins (particularly good when soaked in water beforehand to provide the birds with water).  The ratio should be two parts seed/fruit to one part fat.  Pack into pot and chill overnight in fridge to solidify before removing pot and hanging outside in the garden. 

If you're lucky enough to have blue tits in your garden (which we do!), apparently they enjoy peanuts in shells.  String them together and hang from a bird table, tree or somewhere nearby where you can enjoy watching the birds feed.  (This is also a good one to occupy housebound kids! - yes, they've closed the schools here because of snow.  Sigh.)

Looking forward to Spring…  and hoping the veg survive this cold snap!

24 Dec 2009

Happy Holidays!

 Happy Christmas!

The Veg Patch has spent much of the last week under snow and ice so there's little to report. Instead I shall wish all my friends in blogland a very Happy Holidays - see you in the New Year!

19 Dec 2009

Warming Weekend Watercress Soup …

D'ya like the snowfall effect I've added to my page?  We've had flurries of snow for real from midweek here in North London - causing L and I to dash out on a mercy mission and buy horticultural fleece for the VegPatch winter produce - and we've been promised heavy snowfall tonight.  (Oh how the readers in the North must be laughing!  We're lucky if we get 3 inches of snow; they have to find a spade to even leave the house.)

Last weekend, I added a bag of watercress to my shopping and made soup as soon as I got home.  This wonderful emerald soup is so nourishing and just the thing when brrrr-baby-it's-cold-outside.  Gleaned from my tried and trusted Leith's Cookery Bible, why don't you give it a try?

For 2 hearty bowls you will need:

1 bag of watercress (I remove the bigger stalks)
1 medium onion, sliced and chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
1 pint of white stock (or use a bouillon powder)
1 oz butter
Optional: a few sprigs of basil and coriander; 1/2 pint milk

What you do:

Melt the butter and cook the onions over a low heat until soft but  not coloured.  Add the diced potatoes and white stock.  Simmer for 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender.  Let it cool slightly before chucking into a blender with the watercress (and any other herbs) and blitzing.  Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg (if liked).  Reheat in the cooking pot and serve. 

Leith says to add up to half a pint of warmed creamy milk to get the consistency that you want - this would stretch the soup to 4 small bowls.  I didn't do this because to me it was lovely as it was and the addition of milk would detract from the beautiful vibrant green of the soup.

17 Dec 2009

Blueberry buds …

Loving the colours in this photo.

Here's one of our blueberry bushes, waiting to be planted on, but braving the December cold with a few little buds.  Photo snapped on Sunday evening as we put our tools away and an unexpected ray of late afternoon sunshine hit the allotments.
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