Dahlia ‘Emory Paul’
A cold, wet and windy day, not very August!
I’ve been waiting for my first bloom of Dahlia ‘Emory Paul’ to fully open, todays weather put pay to that. I saved this poor savaged bloom from the elements and she’s a stunner, a flower fit for Richard Chamberlain in ‘The Thorn Birds’.
We’re nearing the end of August and savouring the last few weeks of summer. We’ve had several days of rain in the last couple of weeks, sandwiched between lovely summer sunshine. It feels as though the lower vegetable patch has doubled in size during this time, the gravel paths have been engulfed with luscious vegetable crops making access tricky. Every time I pass the pumpkin patch I discover new ones nestled under their canopy of leaves, it looks like we’ll be having a good Halloween display. We’re cropping a good daily handful of courgettes and the butternut squash is defying all boundaries and crossing not only its borders, but weaving itself through the bean and pumpkin beds as well. The squash are tricky to spot as they’re light green camouflage is yet to turn an autumnal yellow.
The bottom vegetable beds in full swing
Back in March the husband and I coppiced one of our cobnut trees, counting the rings on the branches we cut back it had been a good twenty years since it’s last cut. Our plan is to coppice a tree every year on a 5 year rotation, the resulting stakes are kitchen garden treasures; they make beautiful structures for beans to ramble up or to keep the dahlias upright on a windy day. Rustic arches give height, interest and something for the sweet peas to climb up. I banned boring, ugly, utilitarian bamboo canes from the kitchen garden years ago replacing them with charming, irregular, characterful chestnut and hazel stakes. To me the aesthetics of the kitchen garden are as important as its produce. After toil, bad language, and a terrible cobnut branch tangle, our first tree was coppiced and cleared; it seemed such a brutal operation that the chance of its survival was slim. I’m relieved and delighted to say it’s thriving, putting up a great selection of shoots that will no doubt become beautiful, straight, long stakes in 5 years time.
Coppiced cobnut in March 2015
Coppiced cobnut in August 2015
I usually sow shallots in my green house from seed in early spring (I’m yet to be convinced of the benefits of growing onions and shallots from sets).When they’re big enough to handle I separate the individual seedlings from the seed tray and plant them in to the vegetable bed, a fiddly, tedious job that irritates me so much I’m lucky to get half of them planted before giving in and throwing the left overs on the compost heap. This winter I was drawn to a tip in a seed catalogue suggesting you sow the shallots seeds in modules, once germinated and large enough you plant the modules as a whole in the vegetable bed. The shallots should find their own space. A great time saving scheme with little faff. Sadly, this short cut was a disappointment, the shallot crop was not great, and I think they do need to be planted with space. All is not lost, I did have an allium triumph, I couldn’t resist some 39p red onion seeds from Lidl, I thinly sowed two rows directly into the vegetable bed, germination was quick and very successful so I thinned the seedlings and then left them to it. We’ve had a superb crop. Not only will all our shallots and onions be sown directly in future I’ll also be getting myself down to Lidl at seed time to get first pick of their seed bargains next year.My disappointing shallot cropMy fabulous Lidl red onion seed crop
A lovely old friend popped in for lunch the other day, whilst pottering round the kitchen garden she was telling me how she’d started ‘juicing’, her kids loved it, she got to use up all her left over fruit and veg, it’s healthy and a lot cheaper than ‘innocent smoothies’. She explained that all her friends were doing it, and they all hit the same problem, some of the tastiest and most healthy recipes require raw beetroot which is frustratingly hard to find in a supermarket, or your local shops. Beetroot is low in fat, full of vitamins and minerals and packed with powerful antioxidants.
The solution is easy, grow your own. It’s simple to grow, takes up little space, and has attractive leaves so can even be sown in a flower bed. Just pop in a seed 1 cm deep every 6 cm and you’ll have a crop of beetroot in weeks, keep sowing little and often and you’ll never be out of stock. As an extra bonus the leaves are delicious cooked like spinach.
Beetroot growing with a few rocket seeds in front
Beetroot just pulled from the veg patch, tied and ready to pop on my honesty stall
Many years ago I tried growing basil from seed, for some reason it never germinated, I gave in and put it down as ‘one of those things I can’t grow’. Every once in a while I’d buy a basil plant from the supermarket, when nibbled raw I’d always be hit with disappointment that the bland faint flavour never matched it’s tempting smell, when cooked any morsel of flavour would vanish, so I just viewed basil as a waste of time and never understood its hype.
This year I was given a selection of herb seeds, one of which was basil. Not being one to neglect a packet of seeds I sprinkled them in compost and to my surprise they all quickly germinated.
I planted the baby basil out under the tomato plants in the green house, using the companion planting theory. Tomatoes and basil share nutrients enhancing each others flavour, the smell from the basil also helps confuse insects seeking tomatoes to eat. Well it worked a treat; we’ve had an enormous and delicious crop of tomatoes. The basil aroma is divine and to my amazement surpassed by the incredible full flavour it has raw and cooked. It’s a herb revelation; I finally understand why the Italians can’t cook without it and friends who have grown it for years are evangelical when discussing their basil crop. The essential key is to grow your own basil, never waste your money on the fake imitation supermarket plants.
Basil under a tomato plant
Home grown tomato and basil salad, a fabulous combination
Regular readers and friends have no doubt guessed the title of this posting is the husbands wit; sometimes he needs to be humoured!
Corr…I love a dahlia! Here’s this evenings crop ready for my £1 honesty stall tomorrow. Shame it was a grey overcast evening, they look so much better in evening sunshine. They’re my desert island disc flower and luxury!
This evenings dahlia crop
I have never known a school holiday like it, we (myself, the husband and the three boys) have got a fun packed summer diary, but on the few quieter days I mentally pencil time to weed, cut hedges and generally keep some garden control. So far such plans have been blown out of the water by unexpected surprises. Some lovely surprises, friends coming to stay or popping in for coffee and lunch. Some not so lovely surprises, two emergency doctor visits within four days with my youngest (cutting his head open and being stung by a bee resulting in his hand swelling up too fast for my liking) and todays surprise, coming downstairs to hear the sound of Victoria falls. The husband managed to dash out the house to work without hearing the gushing cascades of our new water feature, which actually transpired to be a burst pipe under the boiler. After a day without water (I did have the sense to turn off the stop cock) I’m told which taps and levers to move, leaving us with cold running water for a few weeks until the issue is resolved. Thank goodness for an electric shower, kettle and summer weather!
Enough of my woes, we had a fabulous Sunday outing to Godinton Gardens near Ashford, Kent. They are beautiful, peaceful and romantic gardens set around a gorgeous Jacobean house. Although they were busy (according to the ticket lady), it felt very quiet, bumping into the odd couple or family.We skipped the house tour, a sensible move with three young boys, and wandered around the tranquil and inspiring setting.
A simple but stunning border of Alchemilla Mollis, Lavender and Grasses
The herbaceous border
The highlight at the end of our visit was an enormous productive walled garden, split into quadrants, intersected by wide gravel paths with a raised circular lily pool in the centre. The well tended cut flower and vegetable planting is all mixed up giving a spectacular display. I particularly liked the concept of Cannas and cabbages (well sprouts but near enough). A large glasshouse backs onto a south facing wall containing a variety of pelargoniums, specimens from warmer climes and delicious mouth watering peaches thriving against the brick wall. There is a second glasshouse which is slightly sunken, filled with alpine treasures. This splendid construction is my dream kitchen garden greenhouse, I’d cultivate two thirds of it and arrange a couple of old rattan chairs in the final third, somewhere to sip a gin and tonic after an evenings watering. This Sunday outing was a real treat, I can heartily recommend it to those visiting or living in Kent.The enormous glasshouse containing peachesA view of the entrance into the walled gardenDahlias at GodintonCanna’s and cabbages (well sprouts) an inspired planting combinationThe bug hotel Beautifully shaped quince treesApricots on a south facing wallPeaches in the glasshouseEspalier apple treesMy dream kitchen garden green house
We are very fortunate to have a beautiful wheat field wrap itself around our home and garden. Last week, to my youngest son’s enormous pleasure the combine harvester was out cutting the crop. It’s a large field and takes two days to complete, this involves the boys hurtling to the bottom of the garden when the combine is close and running upstairs to hang out the top windows when it was further away. Kids blissful summer holiday freedom. This week the Canada geese have chosen the field as their B&B plus supper retreat. They start landing in batches from 7.30pm, the last arrive just before 8pm, a feast of grain spilt by the combine and then off by 6am the next morning. Where they go I’ve not a clue, I like to think they pop down to Hastings for paddle in the sea and spot of lunch, before making their way back to us.The last batch of Canada geese to arrive, sadly they flew too fast to catch them all on cameraSome of our evening guests
Every morning I potter into the Kitchen garden and gather the ripe and ready produce. Today it feels as though the kitchen garden has moved up a gear.
This mornings harvest
Courgettes, mini cucumbers, tomatoes, beetroot, runner beans, French beans, salad leaves, cosmos and dahlias, all producing a hearty crop on a daily basis. Apart from the beetroot, they’re all cut and come again crops, so the more I harvest the more they’ll produce. They just need a good daily water and occasional feed.
The cabbage white butterflies have found my purple sprouting broccoli for the second time this year; sadly the caterpillars have caused far more damage on this occasion, munching their way through several of the plants. They’re all about to be re-homed in the compost heap.
The culprits!The damage!
It’s been a great month, gorgeous weather, armfuls of cut flowers, delicious vegetables and soft fruit. I’m just going to let the pictures tell the tale this month.
Tomato ‘Sungold’, the sweetest and best cherry tomato, ever!Tomato ‘Black Krim’ – a lovely colour, hearty flavour and my favourite beefsteak tomato Tomato ‘Pomodoro’ – another gorgeous beefsteak tomato, growing with basilMini cucumbers, my first year of growing cucumbers, a huge hit with the kidsA tomato jungle!
The Vegetable patchThe courgettes and pumpkin bed is no-where to be seen!Green courgetteYellow courgetteCut and come again salad, a lunch time essentialRunner bean flowers, I forgot to take the picture before picking!A pumpkin, sown from last years halloween pumpkins, I only need three, one for each child. I think we’ll end up with lots more!Onions, seed 39p from Lidl, sown direct. My best crop ever.For some reason we only got one pear last year, the tree is laden this yearBorlotti beans, they’ll be left to dry and saved for winter stews
The cut flower bordersMalope, a lovely long vase life, and when the petals drop you’re left with stunning acid green budsCosmos ‘Purity’ – my top cut flower, long stems and keeps flowering all seasonCosmos ‘Rubenza’ – a stunning colourCalendula – Another must have cut flowerCentaurea cyanus ‘Black Ball’, corn flower, unlike the blue variety this dark colour doesn’t fadeClary, the pink and blue varieties are both very useful in flower arrangementsDahlia – the queens and princesses of the cut flower worldDahlia, one more day and it will be perfect for cutting