Small acts of kindness

Small acts of kindness and appreciation have an enormous impact. Today such and act made my summer. An envelope was popped through my letter box, inside, a beautiful card saying how much they had enjoyed the ‘Produce from the garden’ honesty stall and blog. To receive such appreciation has in itself made the honesty stall worthwhile and the money raised insignificant, however, not for my three boys who have enjoyed a fun filled summer of trips and activities thanks to the stalls proceeds.Honesty stall

For this year my £1 honesty stall is closed. I have a very long list of autumn jobs which I must focus on and I need to start filling the freezer and bottling the produce ready for the lean winter months. My beach hut looking stall, constructed from random wood off cuts and painted with the left over front door paint will be stored in the garage until I dust in down next May ready for the Rhubarb harvest.

Thank you to everyone who’s supported the stall. I have met so many lovely people, filling the stall each morning with produce from the garden and seeing it empty by evening has been hugely satisfying. I will of course still be cutting flowers until the frosts so if you’d like a bunch of dahlias or a little posy just email me I look forward to opening again next year. In the meantime the blog will keep you updated with many plans I have for the kitchen garden.

Honesty stall closed

Autumn and mulching

Yesterday was the first day of autumn. The gardens tone has changed in the last week, from the rich opulence of late summer to a slightly darker, damp garden with a not unpleasant decomposing aroma, evoking the need for wellies and jumper. I love the transition of seasons; they herald progression and development, whilst generating nostalgia for the different seasonal routines. Autumn is a time of hard work often in dank conditions; it’s rewarded with the cosy satisfaction of a hot bath followed by a cup of tea snuggled on the sofa in front of a fire. I yearn for this contented autumn serenity as much as I look forward to dining outside on a warm summers evening with a chilled glass of white, enjoying the intoxicating, heady scent of nicotiana, stock and petunias wafting across the patio. I love England for its variety in seasons, it stops gardening life becoming boring and mundane, perpetuating a gardens development in a subtle and gentle way.

I once read an article by a head gardener in the The Daily Telegraph gardening pages, describing how people thought that autumn must be his time to relax, reflect and catch his breath, ‘on the contrary’, he would reply,’ it is my busiest most hard working time of year’. I can’t agree more, it’s the time for the most important horticultural task of the year, the secret key to any successful garden, mulching. It does take some time and effort but the pay back is enormous. If you do one thing to transform the performance of your garden it should be mulching.

Five reasons why mulching is essential:

  1. Minimise your weeds. A thick layer of mulch smoothers most annual weed seeds, preventing germination.
  2. An instant garden make over. A mulch lifts the presentation of the plants in your border and tidies up a bed up. The effect is comparable to cutting the lawn and edging the borders.
  3. Improves the structure of your soil. The key to organic and I think logical gardening, is to look after your soil and in turn the soil will look after your plants. As your mulch breaks down it loosens up heavy clay or binds together sandy thin soil.
  4. Helps retains moisture in the ground, reducing evaporation. On a day like today retaining moisture in my soil is not high on the priority list, but it’s right up there in June /July!
  5. The combined mulching benefits will mean, your plants thrive

Mulching is the answer. There’s just one rule:

Don’t skimp! For mulching to work you need at least a 5 cm covering.

I’m a target orientated person, there’s nothing like a deadline to spur me on to finish a job, so I aim to have all the borders mulched by Christmas. The biggest issue is sourcing sufficient mulching medium without spending too much money. There are many types of mulch you can use:

Leafmould – my favourite mulch, it looks good, is free and gives good structure to the soil. Collect up all your fallen leaves and store them until next autumn. I put the fallen leaves in a simple square chicken wire enclosure with four posts. Alternatively for smaller quantities pop them in bin-liners, water and poke breathing holes in the sides, they can then be left until the following year.

Garden compost – Home made is the best and free, try to prevent perennial weed roots and annual weed seeds getting in it, otherwise they may re-introduce themselves to your garden. You can buy compost from most councils who re-cycle garden and food waste.

compost mulchCompost as a mulch

Bark chippings – a great mulch, but can be expensive

Wood mulch – I never have enough compost or leafmould, so I’m forced to buy in mulch. My favourite in wood mulch, cheap (I pay £20 per cubic metre) and sometimes free from tree surgeons. Wood mulch can take up nitrogen from the soil during its decomposing process, once rotted down it goes back into the soil, to compensate I just sprinkle a bit of fish meal or fish blood and bone before laying the mulch.

Wood chip mulchWood chip as a mulch on a newly planted border

Mushroom compost – Spent mushroom compost can be bought in from mushroom farms. It is alkaline so not to be used if your plants demand a neutral or acidic soil.

Straw – I used this one year on my vegetable patch, the slugs moved in and loved it, come spring/summer my crops were in a sorry state. Never again!

Sunflowers an essential cut flower

Sunflowers are fabulous cut and come again flowers. Every time you cut a sunflower, its main stem will produce off shoots with more flowers. This year I’ve grown two of my favourites, ‘Red Sun’ and ‘Earth Walker’. Both have been producing flowers from July and will continue until the first frosts. I sow the sunflowers under glass in April in larger 13cm pots, this gives them space to grow and their stems to develop and thicken, making them a less appealing slug victim . I’ve lost too many young succulent sunflowers to slugs in the past. It’s heart breaking to see their stems chopped in half after a slugs night time assault. I plant them out after the frosts, and keep them well fed and watered. They’re an essential in my cut flower border, my little rays of sunshine of a very wet and dank Kent day.Sunflowers


You’ll be shocked to hear that 15 years ago or so I considered dahlias to be gaudy, garish and distasteful flowers, until this year I thought the same of the fuchsia. I’m not sure if it’s been a knock on the head, or middle age looming closer (maybe even here!), but, I am falling for fuchsias. They are delicate, elegant ballerinas dressed in the most exquisite costumes. I now just need to work out how they should be presented and planted in the garden.

Below are a few stems from a fuchsia situated in an overgrown area of the garden which is waiting patiently for my attention. I think they look stunning in a vase, I am now imagining them dripping from a huge autumnal arrangement.

Fuchsia in a vaseFuchsia, perfect as a cut flower

Fuchsia flowerA sophisticated ballerina

Hedge cutting and pumpkins

This weekend has been spent, hedge cutting. I don’t mind the cutting bit, but, clearing up the debris is in my top three worst garden jobs, along with turning compost and cleaning/sharpening my tools. There is a silver lining; tidy hedges are a satisfying end result. I was of course distracted on several occasions during this tedious task, one diversion were my limp and over for this year, pumpkin plants. Clearing them to the compost heap revealed five orange gems, they’ll be stored, ready for my boys to carve at Halloween.


Softwood cuttings

It’s time to pop out and take a few softwood cuttings. My main motivation for this annual task is to hedge my bets. Cold winters can kill off many of my staple plants. Penstemons, rosemary and salvias all tend to be a bit tender if we have a long cold spell. We live in the low weald of Kent which is a flat area sandwiched between the hills of the High Weald and North Downs, a frost pocket, tempretures in the winter of 2009/10 stayed below zero for a couple of weeks. During this time I lost rosemary, penstemons and Hebes, to my delight I only lost one of my heavily mulched dahlias. So since this time I’ve always made an effort to take at least 5 cuttings of each potentially tender plant. This generally results in lots of new plants that can bulk up your own stock as well as new additions for your friends.

Here’s how I take my cuttings:

Good stems for penstemon cuttingsFirst of all select non flowering stems as your cutting material. Cut approx 5-7cm and pop in a plastic freezer bag to reduce moisture loss

Ready to pot up cuttingsFill a 9cm pot with compost and then waterPenstmon cutting, leaves need strippingUsing a very sharp knife or secateurs (to get a clean cut, reducing the chance of rot), remove all but the top 4 leaves and reduce the size of the stemPlanted cuttingI use a chop stick to make a hole at the side of the pot and then pop in your cuttingPenstmon cuttingsYou will fit five or so cuttings to a pot. Always remember to label, I’ve learnt this the hard way!Todays cuttingsTodays cuttings. I’ll pop them in my conservatory. In a few weeks I’ll start to see growth on the cutting, at that stage I’ll know they’ve rooted. After another week or so I’ll them divide them in to individual pots. By next spring they’ll be healthy new plants.

Produce from a friends garden!

SquashI was thrilled to be given this magnificent specimen of a squash as a gift. It looks fabulous on the centre of our table instead of the usual flowers. Memories have flooded back of an autumn trip to the Napa Valley, there was a stunning and very stylish (what I would call rustic chic) display of various varieties of squash in a lovely restaurant in Calistoga. I’m feeling quite inspired, I quite fancy a display of squash next year, there are so many different shapes, colours and textures. Also, a great gift, it definitely makes a change from the usual bunch of flowers. A very sophisticated, earthy beauty of a vegetable. The only slight issue is where to plant them, but, there’s always a way, I’ve never let restricted space constrain me in the past!

The next conundrum, the fate of this wonderful specimen, squash risotto or a Thai curry.

The kitchen garden in August

Gardeners spend much of their time working towards their goal, a productive season where you can sit back and reap the rewards of your work. August is often the pinnacle of that season, huge gluts of produce, too much to be used at once, so shared between the kitchen, freezer and friends. It’s also the month when I throw my arms and trowel in the air and say ‘Sod the weeds’. Whilst indulging in my garden bounty, my mind is drifting off, pondering this year’s successes and disappointments, plotting and planning for next year. This year my courgettes, have not cropped as heavily as I’d expect, it’s been okay, but I’ve not heard the tell tale glut statement ’not courgettes again mum!’ I think the current watering system, which sprinkle from above has not been sufficient. Next year I am going to point the water system directly at the base of the plants, soaking their roots and hopefully this will ensure a larger crop. My bean crops (french, runner and borlotti) have been magnificent and the tomatoes and basil have thrived in the green house. I’m starting to plan which hardy annuals I’m going to sow this autumn in the cutting garden, with the hope of an earlier flower crop next year. I’ve already planted out my Sweet Williams, sown earlier in the summer and will be getting round to planting garlic, broad beans and bulbs in the next month or so.

Below are the pictures telling the story of August in the kitchen garden.

RaspberriesThere’s been a constant steam of raspberriesplumsGrape like bunches of plums have weighed down the treesApples on the treeThe apple trees are also ladden, we’re looking forward to a good harvestPear on the treeLast year we had just one pear, this year the tree is fullSweet williamI’ve planted out my sweet williams in the cutting border reday for early blooms next yearDahlia BedThe dahlia bedDahlia Paul EmoryDahlia Paul EmoryRunner beansThe runner beans have thrived in the gloomly wet weather we’ve had the last few weeksTop Veg patchThe top five vegetable bedsBottom veg bedsThe bottom three vegetable bedsChilli'sChilli’s in the conservatory, once picked we keep a couple fresh and freeze the rest for use over the next year

An Autumn chill in the air

Not all produce from the garden are flowers, fruit or vegetables. This is our collection of wood from the last year. It’s a bit early, but I feel that Autumn chill in the air, so I’ve just gathered up some of our log bounty for our fireplace. I’m looking forward to our first fire of the year tonight, snuggling up to watch Gardeners World with a lovely glass of red.


Our log store