Tag Archives: vegetable garden

On March and losing my mojo

I suppose it happens to all of us gardeners, except the most dedicated and professional, at some point over the winter: we lose it. I lost it, big time, plus I’ve been busy working. So I managed to ignore the beast outside (fortunately P. didn’t) while simultaneously feeling very guilty about it (can you feel guilty about something you can also ignore?) and about the fact that I hadn’t blogged for ages and ages and ages.

It ends now, with some daffodils for Dewi Sant (St David, whose day it is today, and no, I am not wearing a leek in my hat. Oh, please).


I haven’t been completely idle – well, in gardening terms, that is, and though I have yet to get my seed order in I am intending to do it today. The seed potatoes are chitting and the shallots had better not be sprouting, or else. This year I saved my own garlic,


(which went in on the traditional date, the shortest day) instead of getting it from outside, so we’ll see how that works out. It’s Germidour, which usually does well round here though it never wins anything at the garden club show. I find it more reliable than the other varieties, but that might just be my garden…

…which this year has been really, really worked on. By loads of this stuff:

yum yum bigs bum

No, not Levington’s compost, but what the bags now contain: organic horse shit. Lots of it. And it is fantastic stuff: the worm population exploded last year, and I was quite conservative with the magic gunk. This needs to rot down a bit more but it will soon be ready. Yay!

Through the winter the veg patch has been busy, I do have to say. Celeriac and kale,

and there’ll soon be purple and white sprouting broccoli, too, and – by the look of it – it won’t be long before the first of the globe artichokes brakes cover.


This is one of the baby plants from last year; the parents are enormous. Everything suffered in the storms, but the artichokes just bounced straight back. There had to be an upside to developing onion white rot… oh, that’s not a non sequitur; I got the vileness that is OWR in this bed. That means that I can’t, at the most conservative estimate, plant any of the onion family in it for at least eight ears (some say thirty). The only answer – I love my alliums and would doubtless forget – was to stick perennial veg in. I can’t buy globe artichokes round here easily, so the obvious thing to do was plant the beasts. And this means I can enjoy them when they are small and tender and yummy and wonderful in a risotto.

Better go and check them, then… I’m back!


Season of mellow whatsits

Fruitfulness, I think. Fruitfulness at flipping last – or fruitfulness which has been either overwhelming (rare: artichokes – so theatrical, and the abundance is why they are now feeding bees instead of me),


or surprising (pears). And fruitfulness on the work front too, which is why I’ve been a bad blogger. Anyway, back to the garden.

I have an ancient pear tree; gnarled and twisted, it generally doesn’t produce much in the way of fruit but it is a gorgeous shape and has such presence in the bottom garden that removing it would leave a huge gap. It also likes to hide what pears it does produce, generally about four, sometimes as many as seven, until they either rot and fall off or are pecked off by birds. Each year we have a pear hunt (though I have finally been dissuaded from dancing down the garden singing ‘we’re going on a pear hunt’ after a certain children’s book). This year I was altered to the fact that there were pears ready by one which bounced lightly off my head as I hoed the bed beneath part of the tree.

And this year we didn’t need to hunt that much…


One year the tree went mad and produced 44. This year we have reached the giddy heights of 57, only a few of which were damaged. They’re cookers, and I’ve already made my first batch of compote.

And I have squashes. They’re not enormous (yet),

uchi kuri squash

but they’re getting there, and there is some way to go in terms of time. I was recommended this variety – uchi kuri – by a fellow addict as one which does well round here, and I shall certainly be growing it again. Though the mildew on the plants is now something else.

The obsession with food today even got itself transferred to the flowers. As he was going out P stopped to smell one of the huge pots of lilies (mind you, you don’t really need to stop; you can probably smell them in the village when the wind is in the right direction). Oh look, he says, it’s like the chocolate on a cappuccino…

lily choc

And it is.

It’s feeling quite autumnal now. It’s chilly in the mornings and some of the local chestnuts have started to turn. My Rosa rugosa hedges are full of big fat juicy hips,

rugosa hips

though the same cannot be said for my allegedly autumn-fruiting raspberry canes. Am going out to speak to them roughly.

(And for anyone wondering how the open garden went, it went brilliantly. The weather started iffy but by the time I opened it was so sunny that everyone congregated in the shadowed part of the garden once they’d had a good nose look round. Needless to say I was so busy that I forgot to take any pics. The plant which garnered the most enquiries was this penstemon, Raven.


It was looking good. Now, of course, it’s reduced to a couple of sticks, but hey ho. And I was glad it wasn’t a month later as the heleniums looked decent; now they look terrible. And slugs and snails have eaten all the dahlias bar one in the bottom garden. They are four-star bastards this year. We even found one way up in the pear tree. But for the vital day, everything looked perfect.)

How to wreck yourself in a single day

I know I shouldn’t have. But I’ve had so much work on, and the weather’s been a bit iffy / cold / wet / abominable / windy, and what with one thing and another… ow. Ow. Ouch.

Enough, already. I’ve been a bad gardener (I’ve been a bad blogger too, but that’s because I can’t face spending any more time in front of a screen when there’s gardening complaining about the weather to be done). But now things are different. Things are changing. Things are – shhhhh – flowering.


It’s warming up nicely; the seedlings have decided they’ll grow anyway; the rain has stopped and I didn’t get a manuscript when I was expecting it, so I had a day to garden. A whole day! A day with no rain / snow / high wind / sleet. OK, it was possibly too sunny, but I am most emphatically not complaining about that. Though I did end up slathered in sunscreen and wearing a ridiculous hat.

So what have I got to show for it? Er, apart from strange lopsided sunburn and a curious hunched posture, due to bending so much in one day and not exercising enough the rest of the time, you know, the times when it’s rainy / windy / sleeting / generally vile. Perhaps that should be ‘what did I do’, instead. I:

  • Tied in all the broad beans (Leidse Hangdown), hoed between the rows, removed any volunteer spuds on the way and pinched out the tops of those plants where the beans were already setting.

broad beans

  • Planted 32 climbing beans (Cosse Violette) up the teepees P had put up the day before.
  • Dug out the rest of the veg bed and planted 12 squashes (Uchi Kuri and Sibley), four of which are in huge pots instead, pending repositioning after pulling out broad beans / shallots.

veg bed - full

  • Finished digging out another bed and planted 4 anonymous celeriac plants.
  • Moved courgettes into the cold frame (they’ve been a bit slow, bit like me in cold weather).
  • Excavated the greenhouse, planted up the last of the tomatoes (Irish Gardener’s Delight), potted up the sweet basil and sowed some more radishes (Cherry Belle) in a trough.

tidy greenhouse

  • Sorted the geraniums from the greenhouse ready for repotting and/or consolidation.
  • Sorted out the pot store – an old dustbin – and evicted a whole nest of woodlice.
  • Attacked the middle bed of the bottom garden.

bottom garden

Went a bit mad. Dug out and chucked a huge pulmonaria which has kindly donated many, many, many, many children to the entire garden. Removed many of said children. Removed huge Echinops ritro which has overgrown its spot but also infested the bed with couch grass (which was lurking in the Echinops when I moved it last time); split some off, cleaned it up and replanted it elsewhere because the bees love it. Weeded part of bed but so much more to be done. Planted wonderful Thalictrum (Elin). Transplanted not so wonderful score of Verbena bonarensis seedlings, plus several verbascums. Planted up a beautiful Dierama (Blackbird) and accidentally evicted a whole ant’s nest which had been constructed in the pot. Spent some time watching the ants sorting themselves out (not at all because I couldn’t stand up due to my foot going to sleep, but actually because I am such a keen naturalist).

  • Trimmed the old man’s beard off the boundary wall and threw it back into the wildy bit whence it came, ditto bloody bracken.
  • Found gin.
  • Drank gin while admiring effect of sun on acquilegias.


Annoyed? Think I’m being rather smug? Well, I may be, but remember I am a smug person with one side of their face bright red and so achy that every move has to be preceded by what we used to call a ‘Grandpa grunt’ (until Grandpa caught us saying that, of course; then it became the ‘Dad grunt’ – not so alliterative, and not true either, but more entertaining in its effects).

And now, natch, we are back to normal: socks, boots and thick cardigans.


Summer summary

What a summer – not that the weather’s been spectacular, because it hasn’t, but because I’ve been very busy indeed. When you freelance, you’re used to being busy in the summer because in-house publishers and journalists go on holiday like anyone else, and work doesn’t stop. Now I’m much better (thanks to intensive physio), I’m back working like a loony during summer. It pays for the Maxicrop, that’s what I say.

But all this means the garden has been somewhat neglected. I’ve tried to make sure I got out there for an hour a day, just to try and stay on top of the weeding as well as keeping sane, but It’s not always possible. So It’s great to have whole areas which look after themselves, like the meadow:

meadow July

which has been very good indeed this year. It will soon be time to mow it – mow it, what am I saying? Strim it. Using a big strimmer and a big strong man (flattery will get you everywhere). But the tendency to be about three weeks later than normal this year is still the case – usually by now everything has set seed, but I still have some meadow flowers in bloom.

One of my highlights this year has been the ‘random seed’ bed. Last year it was a little disappointing, and this year I thought I was in for the same – and then I realised that even disappointing plants self-seed:


and it’s been lovely.

The nigellas have come up in two marked clumps, white and pale blue, and I have tried to perpetuate this when scattering seed as the heads ripen – but I’m sure I won’t have managed it. One thing this has taught me, big time, is the value of autumn sowing – so give it a couple more weeks, and I’ll be out there with my seed packets. The things which I sowed in seed trays in the spring have just not cut the mustard. Some of them – cosmos, are you listening? – have still to flower.

I’ve added some new plants, though I have been quite restrained… this is my Salvia Amistad (I do like to keep up with trends, even if I’m a couple of years late):

Salvia amistad

and my penstemons have been consistently good:


This one is a mystery, and if anyone knows what it is, I wouldn’t mind knowing too. At least I wrote it down this time; the only problem is that I’ve written ‘mystery penstemon’. That, Kate, is not the point of keeping records. Must remember this.

On the veg front – meh. Some things have been good – I’m regularly picking a kilo of beans at a time, and I actually reduced the number of plants this year – and some things have been terrible. (Courgettes. Again. Thought I’d cracked it. Wrong.) The spuds have not been good but I do seem to be setting a good number of squashes. My artichokes have also finally been in full production, and one of them won the ‘any other veg’ class at the village show:


And, and, and I have finally managed to grow aubergines – or perhaps that should be ‘I have finally managed to grow aubergines without having the whole greenhouse infested with white fly’. That’s thanks to Green Gardener and their Encarsia, which I strongly recommend (and which I bought and have not been paid to push – used it before; this time it really, really worked). Evidently, because I have this

aubergine vincent

instead of a load of plants in the compost bin.

On the fruit front, a lot of apples are dropping but my new pear tree looks promising. Unlike the plum, which is coming out. Not in the sense of revealing to all that it’s a gay plum, but in the sense of being dug up and put on the bonfire. Terrible infestation of plum mites and though it’s laden with fruit now, they are manky and nasty inside. Plus, it’s wasp central. Who cares when you can have Japanese wineberries instead?

Japanese wineberries

Ok, there aren’t enough for a crumble, but who’d want to eat them any other way than off the bush, warmed by the sun? Not moi…

The wildlife has been much in evidence, and that includes Next Door’s Cat who has been a fairly constant companion, at least until feeding time when he vanishes completely, or until I trip over him for the sixth time. It’s also been a great year for the spider population:

spider web

though I realise not everyone will consider this a good thing, and I’ve even heard plenty of crickets which is amazing given the weather.


But personally I could live without the dead rat that NDC gave me last week. Nice. That’s what your real owners are for, Fluffybum.

Hopefully the arrival of autumn heralds a rather more organised and less frantic pace, and I’ll be able to blog more regularly. I haven’t even been taking lots of photographs – a real indicator of just how busy I’ve been. Right, let’s break out the camera!

Garlic Day

Today is garlic day. Well, it should have been yesterday, what with it being the solstice / shortest day and all, but by the time I got back it was dark. It’s tradition: plant your garlic on the shortest day, harvest it on the longest*:

garlic harvest

Except for certain suppliers, that is. Grrrrrr.

Ordered shallots, garlic, spuds from Marshalls this year, well in time. Time passes. No sign garlic. Ring Marshalls. Oh no, not despatching this particular garlic until the spring (they sent it in winter, and in time, before). Useless for me. Ring round others. Organic Catalogue, bless ’em, have exactly the same garlic, available now. Have already paid for Marshall’s garlic – they’ve taken the money from my card, of course, on order not despatch – so have not cancelled as chaos will doubtless ensue and will end up with no shallots or spuds either. So now I am going to have a garlic mountain, and an interesting test.


This also meant, a little late in the day, that I had to think quickly about the veg garden plan for next year. And that meant that I had, in all the pre-Christmas chaos, to get out my seed tin and work out what I am intending to grow in 2015. Displacement activity? Oh, surely not.

I do love my garlic. I find it satisfying to grow (except this year, when half of it succumbed to onion white rot and fell over, signalling the problem which now means that for the next eight years at least I will be growing artichokes on that particular bed) and even more satisfying to eat. I’m down to my last clove of this year’s crop, which means that I had enough even with half of it collapsing. And next year I’ll have double. Oh well…

garlic drying

So what will I do with all that garlic, apart from ensuring that my house is avoided by every vampire for miles around?  There’s a saying in France that you should never go a day without garlic, and I’m going with it. I will probably not follow the Ancient Egyptian practice of hanging a necklace made from garlic cloves around my neck to deter internal worms, nor will I fasten a similar necklace round the necks of my livestock (only because I haven’t got any) to keep Swedish trolls at bay.

garlic again

I will, however, cook it in absolutely everything, from having it raw in tsatsiki to roasting chicken with forty cloves. Then there are remedies. I’m going to be free of tension (‘macerate a clove in water overnight and drink it in the morning’), won’t have a single head cold and will have perfect digestion. I won’t be troubled by voice loss, whooping cough, dropsy, bronchial catarrh or bubonic plague. And chewing a few raw cloves will give me the same strength and courage it imparted to ancient athletes. Honest.

Nobody will be able to come near me, but that’s OK: I’ll chew fresh parsley, a raw green bean, an apple or some aniseed. And if there’s any left, I’ll make my famous anti-bug spray for my plants by soaking cloves in water for a week, then diluting the liquid and spraying it on. Not on me, on the plants. There are limits.

Right, here goes – let’s get the first lot in!

Organic Catalogue garlic

* Quick tip for harvesting garlic, apart from the longest day: when six leaves yellow. I’ve found that much more reliable, and less dependent on the vagaries of the summer. Or, of course, when it falls over because there’s onion white rot.

Beans, herbs, a dubious marrow and shallot wars

Otherwise known as ‘it’s village show time, folks!’…


When I was a child, our village show was great fun and enormous (I may have mentioned the time I won a piglet by guessing its weight, then my father not allowing me to take it home – some things can scar you for life). I blithely entered classes like the moss garden and the painting by someone under 10 without a care in the world. Oh, I vaguely remember muttering among the adults, and in one case a fight breaking out, but I think they may have drink taken.

Or maybe not… maybe they showed some perfect long shallots and had them spurned for some imperfect round ones.

shallot evidence

Not that I’m taking anything that happened on Wednesday remotely personally, you understand. But let me just say that the two best vegetable gardeners in the whole area thought my shallots would win, and were quite shocked on discovering they had not. I did assure them in advance that they wouldn’t even be placed, because I’ve been here before but flatly refuse to give up. Personally, I’m ascribing it to anti-French bias. Aux barricades!

Shallots aside, it was a lovely show with some great produce even given that it has not been the easiest year for veg growing. Or growing fruit either, come to that, or shrubs, or flowers, especially dahlias (been a smasher for earwigs, though). Amazingly I won a second with the Unwanted Masquerading-as-a-Courgette-when-Young Yellow Marrow,

marrow and the rest

which is just visible in the middle there, diagonally down from the person explaining that he’d grown one but his was THIS big (though he could have been talking about the heaviest potato – it was a marrow-sized misshapen horror). OK, there were only three marrows in the class, but hey (last year there was a single entry in one class and it only got a second – not good enough for a first, apparently). Now, though, I have a problem – what do I do with the marrow? Apart from throw it away, that is? I’ve found a potential stuffing recipe involving cous-cous and chorizo, but this still sounds suspiciously like an ‘eat the stuffing and chuck the marrow in the bin’ experience.

I also managed to win a second with my ‘six named herbs in a jam jar’ (grown-up ousin of the moss garden of my childhood),


seen here during set up. And – astonishingly, given that they were a) purple and b) foreign, Italian things – also got a second for my Cosse Violette beans.

I did OK in produce (chutney, marmalade and blackberry whisky all placed), but the win which warmed my cockles most wasn’t my first-and-third double in the potted geraniums. It was my second in the french marigolds:


I’ve been so snobby about these in the past, and I know I’ve sung their praises on here before following my conversion, but they have been fab – and they are still going strong. I could have entered three bright yellow ones, three brick red ones, three deep red and bordered in yellow – the packs were called ‘Durango Mixed’, by the way, and I strongly recommend them. In the end I went for the marmalade orange, probably because it was drizzling when I picked them and they lit the place up. They still are – little smashers. They do stink, mind you…


I don’t care for marrows. I find them watery and best suited to, perhaps, cattle food. I am an inveterate Frog, when it comes down to it. I do like courgettes, and while some people consider them as essentially immature marrows which, strictly speaking, I suppose they are, I do not.

That’s because I like courgettes. I also like Magritte:

Magritte's pipe

‘This is not a pipe’, when it clearly is.



n’est pas une courge (which is the nearest I could get to a translation of ‘marrow’; I can honestly say I’ve never seen a marrow in France but I may have had a sheltered life). It ******* is.

It’s supposed to be a perfectly normal courgette plant, obtained at the Green Fair’s plant swap earlier in the year. It’s trailed everywhere and produced this swelling beast, revealing itself, I think as the Long Green Trailing variety – I do like accuracy in a plant name, but would have preferred accuracy in the marrow/courgette domain. So now what do I do?

Actually, I know. There’s a class for marrows in the Garden Show (of course there is, nous sommes ici) so I plan on growing it on to a monstrous size. I’m sure there are ancestral marrow-feeding secrets, perhaps preserved in ancient leather-bound tomes and sealed with mighty iron clasps, possibly even guarded by dragons*, which will give me some advice. But on the other hand, I could just ask one of my neighbours. He doesn’t grow marrows any more himself but – villages being what they are – I’m sure he’d be delighted if I challenged the long-standing marrow-growing supremacy of X, Y and Z…

*Or I could just have been watching Game of Thrones too much.

PS: Have just received first tip. Collect dirty wool from sheep fleece – sheep poo gets everywhere, but some areas are more blessed than others – and suspend in bucket of water using old onion bag. Allow to mature. Water with resulting liquid. I’m a spinner, so this would be possible – if I hadn’t just skirted a fleece and put the skanky bits in the brown bin, where they have now been joined by half a ton of grass clippings and a dead rat (thanks, Next Door’s Cat. Again). Seaweed feed instead, methinks.