10 Feb 2021

And the garden slowly wakes

clump of snowdrops lit from behind

Regardless of the number of years that I’ve been gardening, I still thrill to the sight of the garden starting to emerge from its winter inertia. Psychotherapist Sue Stuart-Smith (wife of garden designer Tom) has written (*see below) of how pathways in the human brain respond to green nature by releasing feel good hormones such as endorphins (pain and stress relief), serotonins (happiness) and the love hormone, oxytocin. It’s not too strong a claim to say that the sight of a clump of newly opened snowdrops will literally lift my heart. 

The cycle of the seasons, nature waking and seeds sprouting gives us hope for the future; we feel grounded, safe and calmed. Our connectivity to nature is fundamental for our health and wellbeing which is why gardens provide such effective therapy for mental and physical trauma. 

I find walking across the untamed nearby heath stimulating but it’s the smaller signs, pictured below, of nature waking in my garden last week (before the snow came!) that I find so reassuring.

1 Feb 2021

Gardenwatch: January in my garden

Potatoes being chatted on windowsill

There’s a pair of very muddy boots in my hallway, evidence of my gardening efforts over the past week. Helped by a couple of afternoons of warm winter sunshine, I’ve had a productive week which has been mostly about getting prepared. What have I been up to? Even  in January there are  plenty of garden tasks to tick off the list.

26 Jan 2021

Ice cold in veg land

Pink and green kale growing in snow
It was a snowy day in the London veg patch

It’s winter here in the northern hemisphere so I shouldn’t be surprised when it snows ... or should I? Over the past few years London has experienced only the kindest of winters but, last Sunday morning, a couple of hours of persistent snowfall settled thickly over the gardens.  Very pretty, certainly, but it was a timely reminder not to get too complacent about the weather and to see which of my veg had coped best with the sudden freeze.

9 Jan 2021

Sowing seeds in January

A jumble of seed packets
The cull. Most are only just 'out of date' .. but perhaps good enough for micro leaves?

With the start of a new year heralding a third lockdown, the arrival of seed catalogues is especially welcome, steering my thoughts away from grey sleet-filled skies towards the colourful harvests of spring and summer. And with the itch to hurtle towards spring and embrace the new growing year, it’s exciting to discover a number of crops that can be started off this month. 

20 Sept 2020

A Tale of Too Many Tomatoes

Ripe red bush cherry tomatoes growing in a raised bed
Cherry Falls - indeed they do!

One constant of my food growing year are the tomato seeds I sow in March. We gardeners like to wax lyrical about the superior taste of home-grown but - let me be honest, here - farmers' markets, supermarkets and local shops are catching up fast, and the road to successful home grown is fraught with pitfalls and disappointments. I'm just telling it like it is. 

Having said that, this year has been fantastic, thanks mainly to three varieties: all prolific, one colourful, one very unusual and one perfect for container growing. Let me tell you more ...

20 Jun 2020

Fifty Shades of Red

So this is it ... the start of summer proper as heralded by sixteen plus hours of daylight, a solar eclipse and the summer solstice - all happening today.  But in the Veg Patch, the lead up to this momentous day has been all about berries and cherries. Especially the cherries.

12 Jun 2020

Core Blimey! It's apple thinning time

One job that I almost can't bear to do every year (and frequently neglect) is to thin out the small apple fruit. It always seems a shame to remove healthy applets when the tree has put effort into making them. But the wise gardener knows that doing this is a kindness to the tree.

June fruitlet on Core Blimey apple tree
After thinning, all on its own

I have three apple trees to look after - one Core Blimey and two Braeburns.  Part of the original veg patch fruit planting in late 2009, the Braeburns have been fruiting well for a number of years.

The Core Blimey tree (yes, that is its real name) came a couple of years later (January 2013), being one of the original 100 trees developed by the (then London, now Urban) Orchard Project in conjunction with the Scottish conservation charity Trees for Life and Frank P Matthews nursery.  It was 10 years in the making, being developed from a single seed which makes it a very special tree in my book.

The tree was the first new apple tree to be developed specifically for London in over sixty years and a competition was run to name it.  I tip my virtual hat to whoever thought up the name; it's apt, amusing and befitting of a tree bred for its resilience and ability to withstand the rigours of an urban life.

Most of the trees went into parks within London's boroughs but community groups could also apply for a trees, so I did.  And was thrilled to be allocated one.

Despite being bred to withstand harsh urban conditions, my little tree steadfastly refused to blossom or fruit for the next six years.  But in 2019, well, that was a different story.  Finally the tree was covered in blossom in springtime and went on to produce at least three (three!) huge and very delicious blushed red apples.

Large apple in palm of hand
Last year's Core Blimey fruit. I may have eaten the other straight from the tree.

This year I've watched the blossom being pollinated by bees in the warm and dry early spring weather and counted the fruitlets as they formed. It looks like being a good year; I lost track after counting fifty apples on this little tree. But some of this bounty has to be culled.  I've picked my way through the branches, pocketing a couple of handfuls of tiny apples.

Cluster of small apples on the tree
One of us must go ... 

By removing all but one of the baby apples from each cluster (leaving one apple every three to four inches along the branch), the tree can direct its energy towards the remaining fruit. And, bonus, will have enough va-va-voom leftover to be productive in future years.

Some fruitlets will inevitably be shed during the 'June drop'.  This used to worry me as I stared at hordes of tiny apples and cherries on the ground, but there's no cause for alarm. I've since learned that this is just the tree's moment of self-care. And very helpful it is too, as the Braeburns are now too tall for me to reach the top branches.

In theory, Core Blimey fruit will ripen in October and can be stored until January. I'll have to take their word for it as I've fat chance of finding out if this true - the Cox-like fruit will tempt many people I'm sure, which is right and proper in a community garden. I'll keep my fingers crossed that I get to taste at least one.

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