Thursday, 29 April 2010

Brandy and Lovage, tis 'ansome, my luvver*

These are the first few shoots of my Lovage coming through in the vegetable garden. Although it's a herb, I wouldn't recommend planting it in a little herb patch, as I did when I first had it, next to parsley and thyme. Little did I know, but like Topsy, it just growed and growed and was soon taller than me, and quite overwhelmed its neighbours. So I moved it to the veg garden where it comes up bigger and stronger every year, a bit like a rhubarb patch.

The young shoots have a strong celery-like flavour and can be used to advantage in a vegetable soup. Or you could try making the famous Lovage cordial with it. I've no idea how you make it, but when I was a pub landlady in Devon some years ago we always had a bottle of  Lovage behind the bar, and it was quite a popular drink for specific occasions. I think it must be a Devon thing, as I'd never heard of it before. But it was especially popular as a remedy for the morning after the night before. Rarely drunk on its own, people would come in lunchtimes and ask for a Brandy and Lovage "to settle my stomach", and then proceed to down another half a dozen in short order,  which did, I think, rather defeat the object. But it seemed like fun. 

*translates as "Brandy and lovage is quite delicious my friend" 

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Rhubarb Crumble

I've picked some rhubarb at last, despite my earlier disparaging remarks, and as there's already quite a lot of it, I feel I should be using some, if only in the interests of seasonality. Crumble is always a winner in our household, and the sourest fruits seem to make the best crumble - Bramley apples, blackcurrants, and of course rhubarb.

I always try to keep a bag of crumble mix in the freezer, - it's just as easy to make a big bagful if you have a food processor, so that provided you have some fruit, frozen or fresh, or even tinned, you always have the makings of a quick pudding, without all the washing up and fiddling about.  
This is my standard crumble mix:

1 lb/500g plain flour
8oz/250g butter
6oz/150g demarara sugar
4oz/125g porridge oats
Whizz the flour and butter in the processor to breadcrumb stage. Add the sugar and oats and pulse minimally to just mix in. Tip into a plastic bag and keep in the freezer.  To use, simply place your chosen fruit in a dish with enough sugar to sweeten, and top with the required amount of  frozen crumble, according to who's eating it. In our house, if  John's coming round, it's hold the fruit, heavy on the crumble for example. 
Bake in a medium oven for about half an hour, depending on the size of your dish of course.
Best with cream, or custard, although some weird people like it with ice cream. There's no accounting for taste.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Clear As Mud...

We have, or rather had, a nice pond in the garden. It's still a pond but it's not really very nice. You can't really see from the picture but it's the colour of pea soup.  I'm afraid I put this down to the ducks, who were allowed to spend quite a lot of last year on the pond, and their somewhat careless personal habits mean that the water has been "enriched" and is now too high in nitrogen which has caused the algae to flourish, hence the green water.

 I've had ducks on the pond before and not had this ill effect, but I think really you do need to have a source of running water such as a stream to make ducks really at home without running the risk of this kind of problem.  At the moment the ducks are in a run and have their own childrens paddling pond, which I can empty and refill at regular intervals. I'd prefer to let them free range, but I know they'd be straight on the pond, if they got the chance so it's not an option, for a while anyway.

So if you have ducks, and you don't want to end up with this

keep them out of your ornamental pond!

Monday, 26 April 2010

And Pretty Maids All In A Row

I planted these tulips along the edge of the drive two or three years ago, as an underplanting to a lavender hedge. Sadly the lavender hedge has been a bit of a disaster, and its remains will have to be dug out and replaced this year, but I was waiting until after the tulips had finished before starting the job.

They are the very ordinary Red Aperdoorn tulips, for me the quintissential Max Bygraves Amsterdam tulip, and I like them for their very tulip-ness, if you know what I mean, and although I wouldn't normally plant things in soldier-like rows, I think tulips lend themselves to this situation and I'm pleased with the effect. Underplanting with forget me nots (rather than dead lavender) would be un-original, but no less enchanting for all that.

You need to get your tulips in the Autumn for planting in the dormant season, but you don't need to rush to plant them early when you put in your other spring flowering bulbs, and they can happily go in any time during the winter months when the ground is reasonable, even as late as January.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Elizabethan Stockings?

These are my Hose in Hose Primulas, which are really just starting to go over, but I thought I would post a couple of pics as they are fairly unusual, and very garden worthy. They are called Hose in Hose, because of a mutation which causes the calyx of the flower to form itself into a second set of petals, so that you have one flower appearing to grow out of another. You can see how ancient the variety is since the name came from the Elizabethan gentleman's habit of wearing two pairs of stockings one over the other, with the outer one folded over, ie hose in hose. The variety was first mentioned in John Gerard's Herbal in 1597 and although it used to be common in gardens it has faded from availability for some reason. It's a good strong grower, and is easily divided to form a large clump giving a lovely display in March and April. Here's a picture showing how the flowers grow one inside the other.

Sorry about the dirty gardener's hands.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Snakes Head Fritillaries

I took some time out today to have a walk just down the road, around North Meadow, Cricklade, which is an ancient Lammas Meadow, a National Nature Reserve, and is home to more than 80% of the nation's population of Snakes Head Fritillary, Fritillaria Meleagris. North Meadow represents a part of England's rural heritage which, once common, in now almost extinct. It is a flood meadow, and although now owned by English Nature it is still largely managed by the ancient Cricklade Court Leat in exactly the way it's been done for hundreds of years.  Most such meadows have been either developed or "improved", by being ploughed up and treated with artificial fertilizers, but North Meadow has the distinction of being "unimproved" and is therefore able to support it's amazing crop of wildflowers.
People come from all over the country, indeed all over the world to see the fritillaries in April, and if you are in the West country at this time of year, it's well worth taking a detour to see them. More information here

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Eco Warrior

The cost of potting compost can be quite prohibitive if you have a large garden like ours. And peat based compost has environmental concerns too. I make my own compost of course, but it's never enough for my needs, and since I have fairly terrible soil, I do tend to need quite a lot of compost to improve the soil when planting out, just to give the plants a decent chance. 
 I shop around for the good deals at garden centres and usually find I can get reasonable compost for around 5p a litre. Lidl is often good value, but currently I'm using Countrywide Stores own brand compost which is available at their stores for 3 x 100 litres for £16.

However, for garden use, as opposed to potting use, I get a cubic metre, which is 1000 litres, of Warrior Compost produced by my local recycling centre here in Wiltshire, Hills, and costs £33 including delivery. It's made from recycled local garden waste and is excellent stuff, weed free and accredited by the Soil Association and at just over 3p a litre great value. When I can make enough room by the gate, I intend to have a bulk delivery which will be even better value then I will be able to use it with abandon as a soil improver and top dressing. And I can  feel good about it because it's not only cheap but it's green as well. 
 If you don't live in Wiltshire, try your local recycling centre to see if they do a similar scheme.

Not That I'm One to Complain About The Weather....

It seems no sooner has the snow and ice gone, than this happens

By the time I got down to the greenhouse this morning, the temperature had risen to almost a hundred degrees! It's not that hot here in April, but it is bright and sunny, and although I have two automatic vents in the greenhouse, it isn't enough to keep the temperature down to reasonable levels when the sun's in full force.

I will have to remember to get down there straight after breakfast if the sunny weather continues, so that I can open the door and all the windows. Amazingly, it's also really dry in the garden nowas we've had no rain for several weeks and I have had to get the hose pipe out on the last few evenings to keep the new plantings sufficiently moist. If it's not one thing it's another! Sometimes it just seems like we gardeners are never satisfied. 

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Trout Lilies, What's in a Name?

I always look forward to seeing my clump of Erythroniums come up in April. Trout Lily or Dog's Tooth Violet is the common name, neither or which do this lovely flower any justice at all. It's not huge, no more than a foot tall, and the colour is delicate rather than flashy, but the form of the flowers is well worth getting down on you knees for a close inspection.

They do well in shade, mine are under deciduous trees, and once established will come up every year, increasing gradually as  the years go by. To encourage the clump to increase, take off the flowers as soon as they are over, before the plant sets seed. I think there are other varieties and colours available, mine is called Pagoda, and is widely available.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Late Spring Frosts - Belt and Braces

"When the wind is in the East, 'Tis neither good for man nor beast"
I've just read in the paper that there has been longer periods of East winds this Spring than we would normally expect. This partly explains why, even though recent days have looked nice and sunny, the wind still nips, and when the sun goes behind a cloud it feels like January. Winds that blow across the North Sea before arriving in the UK tend to bring cold damp weather, and traditionally were said to make people depressed. Voltaire said the  " le vent d'est" blew in England in March and November and that during his visit in 1727 it affected everyone so much that suicides were commonplace, and in fact the entire country became miserable and grumpy. Must have felt like home from home for Monsieur V then.

Anyway, back in the veg garden, and for once the Met Office got it right yesterday and, as predicted, the the remains of a ground frost was in evidence as I peered out of the bedroom curtains this morning. So I was glad that I had taken a few minutes to cover my new plantings of salad leaves and peas with  horticultural fleece held down with a few stones. And as another cold night is likely tonight, I'd suggest keeping an eye on the weather forecast and investing in a bit of fleece, or plastic or whatever you have that will just keep the frost away from the new and tender leaves, if you've planted anything out.  Not that I'm alway so careful, mind you, but I always think it's worth taking a gamble with early plantings, as long as you adopt a belt and braces attitude - putting a few out early and saving the rest for later - if the worst happens and frost (or slugs/chickens/rabbits) get your plants you've still got some left for a second go, but if you get away with it, you've got nice early pickings. Go on, live dangerously.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Allotment Recycling Syndrome

I like to think I do my bit on the recycling front. Green as the next woman, that's me. I keep a compost bucket in the kitchen, diligently sort all the bottles, tins, and newspapers for collection, and all that. But when it comes to the garden I find I have developed a disease. In medical circles it's known as Allotment Recycling Syndrome, and you can see common symptoms of it on any local allotments you might care to walk through, ie  you will see all manner of bits and pieces of flotsam pressed into service long after they would otherwise have ended up in the bin. There must be somthing about gardening that makes you not want to waste things, and to put old things to a new use wherever possible. This is great, but it does rather lead to an accumulation of stuff that might just be of some use at some undefined future time.... I'm thinking of  the tin labelled "Pieces of String Too Short To Be Of Any Possible Use" kind of thing.

Anyway, the other day I spotted some fruit trees in Tescos. Yes, I know they're not known for the choicest varieties, but they were selling them off for £3.50 each, and as they seemed to be still alive I couldn't resist. There's no indication of the rootstock, but an estimation of the eventual expected height makes it look like a  fairly dwarfing rootstock, and the varietal name is given, so it seemed like worth a go. I will probably put them in the chicken run/mini orchard. There is an Egremont Russet apple, a Williams Bon Chretian pear, a Sunburst cherry, an Oullin's Golden Gage, and an Arthur Turner apple (what a lovely name for an apple tree, sounds like a northern bloke in a flat cap ay-up). Of course being a supermarket everything has to be packed in plastic, (it's the law you know) and as I was un packing them, I realised if I kept the plastic sleeving it would be perfect for sliding onto the branches of my existing Stella cherry tree to protect the ripening fruit from birds, later on in the summer.  So as I say, stuff that would have gone to waste is now cluttering up the shed waiting to be put to good use in June. I hope it works this year, last year I got no cherries at all, because the birds were quicker than I was. Sounds like a result to me, so far anyway.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Violets Are Blue..

Roses are red
Violets are blue
Sugar is sweet
And so are you

I planted a little clump of sweet violets (viola odorata) a few years ago, and at last it seems to have taken off, and is flowering and spreading well. This morning was fine and sunny, perfect for enjoying the sweet scent of this low growing native plant. There are lots of dog violets growing wild around here, but as they are unscented  (viola riviniana) they are, at least to me, much less attractive to grow. The plant grows low to the ground, throwing out runners, and making a dense weed suppressing mat (eventually), if it's happy. The flowers, although tiny are beautifully scented, and are of course, the violets beloved of elderly aunts and have been used extensively in the production of perfumes and toiletries as far back as Ancient Greece. 
There is a myth that you can only smell violets once but the fragrance is strangely short-lived. Apparently one of the chemicals, ionine, which makes up the violet’s scent, has the ability to deaden the smell receptors that detect it (according to Flora Britannica by Richard Mabey).  I used to live in Torquay in Devon where the Lownds Pateman company produced the famous Devon Violets perfume so beloved of the above mentioned aunts, and I well remember visiting their offices and being almost overcome by the smell of the perfume, only to be informed by the owner that he couldn't smell anything and nor could anyone who worked there either!

Violets are steeped in folklore and myth, the Victorians associated them with fidelity and love, and they were traditionally placed on the graves of children. They feature in many lovely poems, including this one by D H Lawrence, - it's a bit impenetrable written down especially if you're not from Yorkshire,(or is that Nottinghamshire?) and much better spoken as here by Kenneth Branagh in the film "Coming Through"


Sister, tha knows while we was on the planks
Aside o' th' grave, while th' coffin wor lyin' yet
On th' yaller clay, an' th' white flowers top of it
Tryin' to keep off'n him a bit o' th' wet,

 An' parson makin' haste, an' a' the black
Huddlin' close together a cause o' th' rain,
Did t''appen ter notice a bit of a lass away back
By a head-stun, sobbin' an' sobbin' again!

How should I be lookin' round
An' me standin' on the plank
Beside the open ground,
Where our Ted 'ud soon be sank ?

Yi, an' 'im that young,
Snapped sudden out of all
His wickedness, among
Pals worse n'r ony name as you could call.

Let be that; there's some o' th' bad as we
Like better nor all your good, an' 'e was one.
--An' cos I liked him best, yi, bett'r nor thee,
I canna bide to think where he is gone.

Ah know tha liked 'im bett'r nor me. But let
Me tell thee about this lass. When you had gone
Ah stopped behind on t' pad i' th' drippin' wet
An' watched what'er 'ad on.

Tha should ha' seed her slive up when we'd gone,
Tha should ha' seed her kneel an' look in
At th' sloppy wet grave--an' 'er little neck shone
That white, an''er shook that much, I'd like to begin

Scraightin' my-sen as well. 'Er undid her black
Jacket at th' bosom, an' took from out of it
Over a double 'andful of violets, all in a pack
Ravelled blue and white--warm, for a bit

O' th' smell come waftin' to me. 'Er put 'er face
Right intil 'em and scraighted out again,
Then after a bit 'er dropped 'em down that place,
An' I come away, because o' the teemin' rain.

D.H. Lawrence

Both the flowers and leaves are edible, and can be used in salads, and the flowers can be candied and used as edible cake decorations.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Greenhouse Seed Sowing, update

Just a note about what I'm sowing in the greenhouse. It's the busiest time for seed sowing, and this year I feel I'm quite late with everything because the weather has been so poor, and after the recent spell of reasonably warm days, as I speak it's back to freezing cold nights and stormy days again. Let's hope we get some more decent weather next week, so we gardeners can get on with outdoor preparations, but for now, in the shelter of my greenhouse I have sown lots of things in modules, this Rhubarb Chard, for example.
And a few globe artichokes, these are small ones designed to be eaten young and whole, Violetto Precoce.

A supply of baby salad leaves grown in modules, to make little plug plants which I will put out when they're big enough

and several drain pipes full of peas.
I like tall peas, because you get more peas per square foot of garden, and last year I grew Alderman and Telephone. One of them was ok and the other was superb in both flavour and production. Trouble is I lost the labels so I couldn't tell which was the good one so I'm having to grow both again this year. I will make doubly sure I don't lose the labels this time. If anyone has any experience of these varieties and can make recommendations  I'd be grateful for any guidance.

And some first early potatoes, ready to be planted out this weekend, varieties Rocket, and International Kidney
So plenty to be going on with then.


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