Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Monday, 30 July 2012

Guest Post: We're All Going on a Summer Holiday

Last week I asked if anyone fancied a Guest Post spot on Veg Plotting, to cover some of the 52 Week Salad Challenge topics I'd identified for this year's posts.

Cally over at Country Gate Gardens has kindly and quickly penned the first, on the subject of holiday watering...

Grouping pots together in bowls of water is one option to keep your plants happy whilst you're away on holiday

When Cliff Richard boarded that red London bus and started singing, it was all too apparent that here was no gardener. Anyone who has more than a pot of tomatoes to worry about at this time of year would not have been able to head off to Greece with such abandon. I remember only one extended holiday when I was growing up. Every sunny day on the beach or sightseeing was punctuated with mutterings from my mother about whether Aunty Betty had remembered to water the greenhouse.

In contrast I am relatively relaxed about the holiday watering regime. With a bit of planning and organisation most gardens will survive quite happily in your absence. Here are my top tips...

  • Get your plants in training. Giving them a good soak every few days is SO much better than little and often. It encourages the roots to push down deep and become well-developed. Then they’ll stand a much better chance of finding water in a dry spell. 
  • Try to ensure that all your plants are well established before you go away so no sowing ten days before you’re jetting off. Seedlings are not going to survive a fortnight’s neglect. I know - thanks to years of dealing with the burgeoning school garden during the Easter break. 
  • Soak your plants thoroughly just before you go away and mulch to ensure that the soil holds onto the moisture for longer. Use well-rotted manure, compost, bark chippings, leaf mould, shredded comfrey leaves, straw or newspaper. Don’t worry about drought-tolerant plants. They’ll be fine. And don’t bother about the lawn. Grass will recover from even the most severe drought once the rain falls. 
  • Heat sensitive plants like salads, which are prone to bolting will benefit from shading. Use green netting. Container grown plants can be moved into the shade. 
  • Dig out that old paddling pool, put it in the shade, fill with a few inches of water and leave your containers in it for the duration of your holiday. Houseplants can be placed in the bath. 
  • You can rig up a homemade irrigation system. I sink porous pots next to big plants and fill them with water. This allows water to seep slowly to the roots. Plastic bottles with a pinhole pricked in the bottom are less aesthetically pleasing but do the job just as well. Or invest in a soaker hose like this one
  • Quadgrow’s self-watering pots get the thumbs up from a friend of mine keeping thirsty tomato plants healthy for a fortnight. [NB there's lots of suppliers, so Google quadgrow and look for the best deal - Ed]
  • For the really upmarket option check out Rainwater Gardening

Or you could just rely on your Aunty Betty.

Thanks Cally for a great post! Our neighbours have kindly agreed to substitute for Aunty Betty this year ;)

Do you have any top tips to add? Leave them in the Comments below. I also have guest post spots available on growing salads using hydroponics or the hotbox technique. Drop me an email on vegplotting at gmail dot com if you can help.

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Let the Games Begin!

Part of the floral Olympic rings display at Kew Gardens in May. I believe the early pansies shown have now been replaced for the summer
I love the Olympics. There, I've confessed it. NAH said I was jumping up and down with excitement like it was my birthday yesterday. Every little bit I've been involved in this year - seeing the floral rings at Kew in early May, the Illuminate Bath display at the start of the year, the torch relay coming through Chippenham and merrily ringing in the Games using our doorbell at 08:12 yesterday morning have all served to build my excitement.

Why do I love it so? I love the idea of nations coming together in celebration. This was done so perfectly in last night's wonderful opening ceremony with the 'copper petals' seen with each country marching into the Olympic stadium then uniting to form the Olympic flame.

I love that 'my' sport - swimming - for once takes centre stage, as does cycling in which my cousins competed at national level. NAH and I will have the TV on in the background throughout the Games, so we can cheer at the TV whenever the moment takes us.

I've been lucky to have had contact with one of Team GB's swimmers this year as part of my part time work. So today I'll be cheering Michael Jamieson on in the 100m breaststroke, the first of his events. Next month we're off to the Paralympics to cheer on Stephanie Millward who NAH used to train with. She has serious chances of gold :)

NAH was in London on Wednesday and said the place was buzzing. When he arrived back in Chippenham at midnight, an Olympics volunteer got off the train at the same time. To anyone who says the Olympics is too London centric, the fact that someone is prepared to commute 100 miles to volunteer in the games tells me differently. As does the estimated 14 million people around the UK who turned out - often in the pouring rain - to see the torch relay.

So, here's a warm welcome to everyone who's come to join our Olympic celebration - spectators, athletes and tourists alike. Let the Games begin and come on Team GB!

Friday, 27 July 2012

Salad Days: Winning Salads

The gold medal winning display by the National Vegetable Society - I particularly like the 2 Olympic torches made  from tomatoes and chillies which are flanking the lettuces

Tonight the eyes of the world will be on London and the opening ceremony of the 30th Olympic Games, so I couldn't resist showing you the above picture from last week's RHS Tatton Park Flower Show.

Keeping with the Olympic theme, what salad ingredients or varieties do you grow which are worthy of winning a gold medal? Or perhaps you have a favourite salad recipe which is a worthy contender? Do tell in the comments below, or compose an answer over at your blog.

Personally I'm awarding mine to the humble pea, whose many shoots have given me leaves for my salad since January and has also been a constant life saver during the wet weather.

Mr Linky is open below for your contribution, whether it's Olympic flavoured or another salad related tale you have for July. Do remember to add the full URL of your blogpost, rather than the overall one to your blog, so we can easily find your contribution when we come a-visiting.

I'm also looking for a couple of guest bloggers to write about using hydroponics or the hotbed technique, especially if you've used them for growing salads. Experience of any DIY solutions you've put together,  your pros and cons, plus hints and tips are welcome. Get in touch by emailing me at vegplotting at gmail dot com - it'd be great to add your knowledge to the 52 Week Salad Challenge :)

Our next Salad Days will be on August 24th.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Guest Post: Mizuna Flowers

Some of you will have seen this post before, because I linked to Marigold's post (originally dated June 4th) in June's Salad Days. Marigold is closing her blog and has kindly let me reproduce her post here, so we can keep her discovery going for the 52 Week Salad Challenge :)

I’ve been growing mizuna as a leaf crop for some years now. In the past I just sighed and sowed another batch when the plants started to bolt, which happens quite quickly in hot weather. But last week some impulse made me decide to nip out the flower shoots to see if I could keep the leaves going a bit longer. And a further impulse made me pop one of the shoots into my mouth just to see what it tasted like…

Then I had to kick myself for all the years I’d just written the plants off as soon as they flowered, because the flower buds are LUSH! And, even better, having nipped out the leading flower shoot, the plants are now producing lots of delicious side shoots, so they’ll be productive for a lot longer. I will make another sowing, but it’s good to know that I’ll be able to keep on harvesting tender young flower shoots until the new batch is ready.

Mizuna a very easy to grow cut-and-come-again Japanese mustard green. Like rocket, it is relatively unattractive to the wretched molluscs which usually devastate any lettuce I try to grow. With successional sowings it has a long season outdoors here in the south of England and would probably grow year-round in a polytunnel. I primarily use mizuna raw in salads, but it’s also good in stir-fries and soup.

I buy mizuna seed from the Organic Gardening Catalogue.

Thanks Marigold for letting me use your post and good luck with whatever you decide to do next. I hope we'll still see you around for a #saladchat on Twitter from time to time.

NB If anyone else would like to write a Guest Post for the 52 Week Salad Challenge, I'm particularly looking for posts on holiday watering (especially homemade/recycled solutions) and posts from anyone who's using hydroponics or hotbed techniques for salad growing. Again, homemade/recycled solutions are especially welcome plus any hints, tips, pros and cons you have about using these techniques.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Win a Fruit Tree and Yummy Goodies!

Regular readers know I'm a big fan of fruit trees and orchards, so I have great pleasure in hosting a giveaway for you to win your very own fruit tree plus a bag of yummy Yeo Valley goodies :)

Today Yeo Valley are launching one of their limited edition yoghurt flavours, Damson and Plum. Therefore, it's sensible that one of the trees on offer is a Victoria plum. If that doesn't float your boat, then a delicious Conference pear or a Discovery apple are the other options for you to choose from, subject to availability.

The tree (a young whip), plus the bag of Yeo Valley goodies is worth a total of £48, so it's a nice prize to welcome in the summer. Even if you don't have room for the tree in your garden, do enter and consider donating the tree to your local community orchard/garden or school. You'll still have all those goodies to scoff!

All you need to do is leave a comment below to enter. If you tweet a link to this post or RT my link, that'll double your chances of winning. The closing date is midnight, Sunday, 12th August. Comments and tweets will be allocated a number corresponding with order of entry and then I'll use a random number generator to determine the winner. Good luck!

Note: this giveaway is open to UK residents only.The tree will be delivered in December as this is the best time for fruit tree planting. You can also increase your chances by buying the Damson and Plum yoghurt and checking whether you have a winning pot on the Yeo Valley website. If you have an ice cream maker, I can recommend churning a pot to make delicious ice cream - a nice treat for this spell of warmer weather :)

You may also like to check out my Easy Recipe Finder page, where you'll find lots of tempting ideas for what to do with all that fruit.

NB The picture used for this post is courtesy and copyright of Yeo Valley.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Tatton Tomatoes

I've just arrived back from a delightful (albeit rainy) few days at Karen's. Thankfully the rain held off for our first visit to the RHS Flower Show at Tatton Park on Wednesday and we spent most of the day in warm sunshine which negated the need for all the macs, wellies and umbrellas we'd bought with us. We had a great time, and Elizabeth's blog post is the place for our general impressions of the show.

One of the places I enjoyed the most was the RHS Summer Fruit and Vegetable Competition Pavilion, which also helped to give Tatton a distinct personality from the other RHS shows. Inside were plates of impossibly luscious looking fruit and lettuces without a single trace of a slug :o
I also loved the display from the Mid-Cheshire Gooseberry Association which told the story of gooseberry competitions. Cheshire - where Tatton is located - is a stronghold of this almost lost form of fruit competition and it was a delight to see varieties I'd never heard of and examples of how large these berries might become. Very different to those I showed you on Monday!

The display which really blew me away was the one from the British Tomato Growers Association, which forms my main picture. I loved the idea of displaying tomatoes like a sweet shop and having the opportunity to try some varieties I'd not come across before. Green Tiger was my favourite, which is shown to the right of the top right picture. It was sweet and juicy with just the right hint of sharpness. It was a most refreshing taste after spending a number of very happy hours wandering around all the exhibits.

If you're off to Tatton this weekend whatever you do, don't miss this part of the show.

NB Next Friday is our next Salad Days and I look forward to seeing your latest 52 Week Salad Challenge posts :)

Monday, 16 July 2012

Seasonal Recipes: Gooseberries

These are the last gooseberries from my allotment. Whilst we love their flavour (and resultant jam!) there's just too much pain involved in their harvest and there's also an enormous bramble growing in the middle of their bed which just refuses to go away. A thorough digging over is needed to ensure its demise which can't be done whilst it's surrounded by a thicket of bushes.

As you can see I have a mixture: "Careless" and the smaller, red berried "Whinham's Industry". These have been topped and tailed, washed and then left to stew over a low heat for 10 minutes with just a little sugar added. I ignore the amount of sugar given in recipes, preferring instead to add to taste as I've found the type of gooseberry and timing of picking can radically alter how tart they are.

I've picked enough to make two of my favourite recipes from my trusty Good Housekeeping Cookery Book: a classic gooseberry sauce to accompany NAH's mackerel salad whilst I'm away, plus a scrummy gooseberry fool for desert. As usual I've altered the original recipes to make them my own.

Gooseberry Sauce (serves 4)


12 oz (350g) gooseberries
1 oz (25g) butter or margarine (I used Benecol low fat spread)
1oz (25g) sugar - not much is needed because this is a savoury dish
0.25 level tsp (1.25ml) freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper

  1. Put the gooseberries in a saucepan with a quarter of a pint (150ml) water and cook for 4-5 minutes until tender and pulped. (I just add the gooseberries to the pan after washing them and stir well until the fruit starts to break down)
  2. Drain and rub through a sieve, or puree using a stick blender
  3. Add the butter (Benecol), sugar, nutmeg, plus salt and pepper to taste
  4. Reheat and serve - I often serve it cold with salad
Gooseberry Fool (serves 4)

1lb (450g) gooseberries
4oz (100g) sugar - I rarely use as much as this
Quarter pint (150 ml) milk (I use semi skimmed, use whatever you prefer)
1 level tbsp (15ml) custard powder
5oz (150ml) whipping cream (I use half-fat creme fraiche)
A few drops green food colouring (I don't bother)
Chopped nuts, to decorate (only if I have any to hand)

  1. Put the gooseberries and sugar in a saucepan with 2tbsp (30ml) water, cover and cook for about 20 minutes (I just add the gooseberries to the pan after washing them and don't add extra water)
  2. Sieve or puree the fruit with a stick blender
  3. Blend the custard powder with a little milk and heat the remaining milk. Pour the hot milk onto the blended custard powder, stirring, then return to the pan and stir over a gentle heat until thickened. (I find it easier to pour cold milk onto the blended powder in a glass jug, then heat in a microwave, stirring a couple of times until it's thickened)
  4. Add the fruit to the custard and allow to cool. Add the food colouring if using.
  5. Whip the cream until stiff, then fold into the puree (or just fold in the creme fraiche)
  6. Chill in the fridge
  7. Decorate with nuts for serving

Sunday, 15 July 2012

GBBD: Rosa 'Kew Gardens'

Rosa 'Kew Gardens' is a new addition to my garden. So new it hasn't been planted yet. I obtained it as a gift from David Austin Roses when I visited Easton Walled Gardens recently. I hadn't intended to have a new rose, but somehow it ended up in my arms.

It seems right to have a rose which has a resonance with happy times at Kew (meeting David Attenborough and organising volunteer weekends there) and has a simple flower which echoes the rugosa roses which are planted around the estate. My nose crinkled with pleasure many times on the way home as its scent wafted from the back seat over to me in the front. It's thornless, has tiny red hips for the winter, grows to about 5 feet in height and repeat flowers. The perfect rose for my garden.

It'll form the centrepiece to the revamping of my terraced beds. Since we had the sentinel conifers chopped down earlier in the year, I've been pondering what to do with the space they've left. Slowly I'm removing much that was around them: the self-sown Cotoneaster to the left and the sword-like Crocosmia to the right are both due to go and the space currently has some temporary Dahlias for late summer colour this year.

I haven't really decided what will go there, but some thoughts are taking shape. I was pondering having an arch (which was in the original design), but I'm currently favouring a 'basket' like the ones I saw at Easton Walled Gardens to show off my new rose.

I also like this contrast between the silvery Stachys and the dark leaved Dahlias (click to enlarge to see more clearly!). I also like the architectural form of the Crocosmia and the way the morning light shines through the leaves. Could be a good spot for the right kind of grass perhaps? I want some scent down the pathway to replace the potted lavenders which aren't that happy in their current home and I'm favouring reds and blues for a colour combination.

I'm also thinking about Salvias. I've already taken the plunge and bought S 'Hot Lips' (which I've since planted in the wrong place) and I fell in love with S 'Amistad' when I saw it at Capel Manor last month. I also like S 'Caradonna' very much, despite it being used pretty much in every show garden I've seen recently.

Today I'm off to see Karen for a few days and then on to Elizabeth's and the delights of Tatton Park flower show. These Blooms Day notes aren't just so I have my current thinking about the garden in order, I hope they'll help my discussions with Karen and Elizabeth. Talking through planting opportunities with gardening pals will be such a treat over the next few days :)

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Salads for July

The start of my new salad area - more to come in a later post
At last my salad leaves aren't just feeding my national collection of slugs and there's enough for us as well -  we're picking various lettuce, coriander, greek basil, parsley, rocket, pea shoots and flowers, plus nasturtium leaves and flowers. The latter have ignored all the wet weather and scrambled themselves all over my potatoes up at the allotment.

A few tomatoes are also making their way onto our plates, but the daily blightwatch emails mean I fear for their future.

Whilst summer production is in full swing, as ever I need to keep an eye on the future. It's time to think about salads suitable for late autumn and into winter.

Up at the allotment I've sown bulb fennel and late carrots. NAH and I love the aniseed taste of fennel: early on we'll add some feathery fronds and the thinnings to our plates, then switch to bulbs for the autumn. Here in the south west we can normally enjoy them well into November.

Seed packets extracted from my seed tin ready for sowing include:
  • Beetroot 'Bull's Blood' - just for their colourful leaves
  • Winter lettuce - I'm trying 'Valdor' for the first time this year
  • Lamb's lettuce - for a mild, bulk leaf for our winter plates
  • Endive - to add a sharper taste
  • Mizuna - another good, productive leaf
  • Pak choi - new for me this year
  • Land cress - a reliable winter producer and a great peppery taste
  • Various mustards - 'Green Frills' and 'Giant Red' for some fiery heat
  • Winter purslane - this was doing really well when I visited Charles Dowding earlier this year
  • Chervil - I went to Wisley on Wednesday and picked up a packet to try. It's interesting reading the backs of the packets from the various seed companies - some say it can be harvested year round, others just a few months. It'll be interesting to see how I fare.
Anything else you'd like to add to the list?

NB I'm compiling a 'Top bloggers and tweeters recommend' list of favourite lettuce varieties for a future 52 Week Salad Challenge blog post. I'd love to hear what your favourites are and why - just leave me a comment and I'll add your faves to the list :)

Friday, 6 July 2012

Hampton Salad

The RHS Hampton Court Flower Show is always a safe bet for plenty of Grow Your Own ideas because it's at just the right time when our plots are reaching their peak production. This year it was slightly harder to find because the RHS chose not to have a GYO theme for its large, central exhibit but to promote their community gardening campaigns (Britain in Bloom and It's Your Neighbourhood) instead.

However, there was still plenty of good, food based planting to be found in Chris Beardshaw's Urban Oasis. Along with The Edible Bus Stop (which I featured in this week's Wordless Wednesday) I thought this exhibit was just the shot in the arm community gardening needs. It's presented in conjunction with Groundwork UK, who will ensure much of what I saw will be used in several of their projects after the show.

The Constant Gardener and I had a bit of a debate about the bronze coloured lettuce in the third picture down. Is it 'Relic' which she grows (and rates highly) or the Heritage Seed Library's 'Bronze Arrow' so beloved by Gwenfar? There's only one way to find out - grow some of the 'Relic' seed I've just found lurking in my seed tin :)

The Growing For Taste marquee was the place to be for all things edible. Pennard Plants always give good value with their display (see also last year's Showing the Sheds) and I took particular note of their raised bed scheme. I've just taken the plunge and invested in several raised beds for the allotment - more on this soon.

Elsewhere Dobies mixed colourful salad leaves with a companion planting of marigolds - I particularly liked the contrasting Pak Choi in the top right example. I've just sown some of the darker leaved 'Rubi' and it was very tempting to pick off a leaf to see if my choice tastes as good as it looks.

The middle picture is just a taster of Otter Farm's forest garden display, showing there's a place for edible leaves such as red veined sorrel in this kind of scheme. Sara Venn shows you the full extent of this exhibit in her blog of her visit. She also spotted an excellent display by Herbs and Beans which had a useful  list of salad leaves suitable for sowing now to keep you well supplied until Christmas. How come I missed that?

Finally, I fell in love with The Garlic Farm's twist on a green roof and their exquisitely planted Allium al Fresco display. Theirs is always a great exhibit (which deservedly won gold) and just squeaks into my blog about salads because we love to use garlic in our salad dressing!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

GBMD: What Has Happened to Summer?

What has happened to summer,
That's what I want to know.
Is she on a vacation -
Who knows where did she go?
Tell, what was she wearing;
A zephyr breeze and rosebud
Or grass and wild berry?
Could she be honeymooning
With spring or early fall
Or has she gone so far away
She'll not return at all?

Dorothy Ardelle Merriam, One July Summer

For the past few weeks I've been joking we seem to be having the longest spring ever. I had snowdrops in December and now we go into July with my Allium christophii still in full bloom. Usually by now they're well on their way to the seedhead stage.

BTW NAH announced last week he really likes these flowers because they look almost alien in the border. My jaw dropped as I think this must be a first: NAH saying he particularly likes a flower. I'd better find a favourite steam train fast ;)

We've had the wettest (and probably gloomiest) 3 months on record, with more set to come. When I went to Capel Manor a couple of weeks ago, they reckoned our season is 4-5 weeks behind now. Therefore, my chosen poem for Muse Day seems pretty appropriate :/

How's your summer?
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