Thursday, 27 April 2017

Today's favourite.....Alliums

I love alliums. The ornamentals with their white, blue, pink and purple flowers, Allium moly with its yellow blooms and all the edible alliums out there, which are both beautiful, fascinating and the mainstay of so many recipes.
I've grown millions of them over the years.....
Well perhaps millions is a bit much but we grew houses full of them for early planting schemes and often for gardens at the Chelsea Flower Show where they are often seen in multiple gardens. They're fairly easy to grow in the ground or a container, just needing regular watering if they are in pots or containers. 

And I'm particularly loving them today as they start to burst their buds in many of the Incredible Edible Bristol gardens across the city, including the Bearpit Garden.
I do have favourites. Globemaster has an extraordinary flower and grows up to 4ft tall so amazing planted in drifts. 
I'm also a big fan of Allium christophii with its enormous purple blooms with their individual star bursts. Growing to 2ft tall it's great for the front of a border.
But the edibles are also just as useful as ornamentals as they are as edibles. Chives flowering make a wonderful clump of purple globes, or white if you use garlic chives and although they can be a bit prolific in terms of self seeding, they're great to dig up and move around or give away.

I'm also a big fan of the Egyptian Walking Onion, for their fascinating way of deciding where they're going next, adding interest to any edible garden.
And of course not only are they all great garden plants, they're also vital for our pollinators, and support a really biodiverse garden.
So hooray for the alliums!!


Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Stop, Take A Look and Listen......

Apologies for the title of this blog and that you will now have an ear worm from Vanilla Ice for the rest of the day but I couldn't help it. Sorry.......
A while ago now I was contacted by an organisation who are running an event called Somerset Garden Day asking if I would like to be an ambassador for them. Of course I jumped at the opportunity to work with a new organisation who aim to begin their celebrations of gardening in my neighbouring county of Somerset. But I also love the fact that the aim is to become countrywide, and I felt in some ways it followed on well from my post about #mygardenrightnow.

My garden is a constant stress to me and I often wonder why I spend so much time on it, when I never feel it really performs for me. I am constantly thinking about what people must think, expecting them to be expecting perfection when in reality they have little or no expectation at all. there's no doubt I can make a garden or grow a plant as the 39 Incredible Edible Bristol gardens show, but I never feel my own garden mirrors that success. Of course that is because my time in my own garden is extremely limited, Mr V has been laid up with a very bad back for a year and although is recovering I am terrified to ask him to do much in case all the good work is undone, and I am pretty gardened out most days and the last thing i can face is a weeding session when I walk through the door at 8pm. That mixed with the fact there is a show garden being grown in the garden, all leads to me feeling pretty deflated overtime I walk out of the back door. That said in comparison to the space it was when we moved in less than 2 years ago, there is now colour, the beginning of some borders and a whole array of pots and plants that are beginning to change the space into one that looks like a garden rather than just a lawn with a washing line in the middle. But you see what I mean in that we always say what's wrong before we say what's right!!

Somerset Garden Day is about recognising all the hard work you put into your garden and celebrating that. It isn't about having a show garden standard garden, or about worrying about what hasn't been done. It isn't even about hiding the plant in the border that looks like it's dying or making sure the garden is weeded but rather celebrating the fact that you have a garden, it's beautiful and you have worked extremely hard to get it where it is today, weeds and all.
As humans, and particularly in todays hurried and wanting to be perfect society, with Instagram and other platforms focusing on perfection over reality, we seem to spend more and more time looking at what we haven't done rather than celebrating our successes. In part this is down to a natural will to get things done and move things along, but sometimes we need to sit and look at our achievements and what we have managed to succeed to do in our all too busy lives. Somerset Garden Day is all about doing just that.
I could of course go on and on about this but in reality you'd be better off reading the information about the day on the brand new and shiny website that has been published but please do follow the Somerset Garden Day social media and see how this might take off across the UK. Imagine a day when the whole of the UK spends one day celebrating their gardens and sharing those celebrations with friends and family. What better way to get others into a garden?
On Twitter look for @gardendayuk
On Facebook Somerset Garden Day
On instagram @somersetgardenday

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Sow How-A Gardening Book With A Difference

So I'm often heard banging on about how important it is that we ensure we have future generations of gardeners, both professional and hobbyists. Our horticulture industry already is struggling to bring young people into it, due mainly to schools really not engaging with it as a serious career option, and many assuming it just involves grass cutting. 
Anyway I digress somewhat. Where, if you're interested in growing something, do you start?
Where's a simple, step by step instruction manual on growing from seed, that's modern, appeals to the urban and is led by design, rather than lots of words and someone your parents age in the photos?! So many gardening books written by experts are complex and quite hard as a beginner to work out what the basics are. Now I'm not deriding experts as my name is not Gove and personally I love a book written by someone who has spent 20 years studying one genus for example, but sometimes simple is what's needed. 
So a good couple of years ago I met Paul Matson, who at that point had just released a range of seeds called Sow How, each of which came with a beautifully designed card with all the instructions you might need, designed in an infographic type style. I thought they were brilliant, said so, and regularly pointed new gardeners to the range, which were mainly available in Bristol. When I met Paul he said the idea had come from being a beginner himself and wanting a seed packet that focussed on the beginner, in a way that was modern, designed and more infographic than words, but that also was affordable in case it all went wrong. 
In the time between then and now, Sow How has gone on to become a book, and for me it's one of the most exciting to hit the market this year. Now it's not exciting particularly because I need it, but it's exciting because it's somewhere I can send people, a resource that is not just beautiful and attractive to that younger audience, but is also completely trust worthy as Paul brought a grower in to the project to make sure the advice is right.
Many people make assumptions that there are no new hobbyist gardeners out there, but a new generation of garden bloggers and vloggers are proving that to be wrong. The average age of our Incredible Edible Bristol volunteers right now is around 26 and these are all people who want to learn, share and practice horticultural skills. Young people are gardening and this is a book for them, and anyone just setting out. I'm trying to decide who I'm buying it for at Christmas already!!

I received a copy of  Sow How but in no way did that influence my opinions-I am always going to love anything that supports young people to learn good horticultural skills!!

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Today's favourite is........

Sometimes it's a struggle to find things to write about so I thought a good plan might be a series of weekly posts about my favourite......

And then I thought, my favourite what?

And then I pulled myself together and thought as it's my blog it can be my favourite whatever I like!! So I will try to stick to garden and food related stuff but just sometimes I might go just a tad off piste and I hope you'll forgive me for that.

Frothy Cow Parsley

But this week's favourite is most definitely of the horticultural type, although of course some folk would call the plant I am loving right now a weed rather than something they might want in their garden! But I love it because it is the start of the flowering of the umbellifers, those white, floaty beauties that we all know hold a few nasties within their family, but that mainly just make wafty white billowing clouds of loveliness along the roadsides and in fields across the countryside. I am of course talking about cow parsley, which will soon here at least, be followed by wild carrot, wild angelica and sweet cicely. In the gardens soon we'll see Anthriscus sylvestris cultivars appearing soon along with Astrantias, Orlayas and fennel, dill and my absolute favourite Angelica archangelic, which here in one of our Incredible Edible Bristol beds is already in full bloom, wowing people walking past and feeding the bees which are busy buzzing around looking for that early nectar.
So I guess my favourite thing this week is the Apiaceae family, with it's more than 300 genera and more than 2,500 species.
Angelica archangelica


Sunday, 16 April 2017

Garden Visits!! Truffles.

This afternoon, having spent the morning potting on plants, we toodled off to Bishop Stanton, a hop, skip and a jump away, to see a garden called Truffles. We always try to see as many gardens that are open for the National Gardens Scheme as possible, but with Mr V's back being so poorly last year we visited almost none, so there's some catching up to do.  
I don't have to go on about why I love the NGS as I've spoken of it often and the statistics in terms of their fundraising speaks far more than I ever could. I do think it's worth saying though that having worked with various people who have opened their gardens, it is akin to opening your soul for all to peer in, and not at all an easy thing to do, so I applaud each and every person who does so.
Anyway, here's a walk through the garden via photos. I'm going to do more blogs like this over the year; less words and more garden beauty!! So I'll shut up and give you Truffles.....
Arriving and seeing the yellow welcome signs always makes me smile.

A beautiful pond greets you, surrounded by marsh marigolds and this quite magnificent Gunnera. 

These 3 Silver Birch lead the visitor from the pond out into an expanse of lawn planted with beautiful raised beds of tulips. The predominant colours used are yellows and blues with forget me nots and stunning yellow tulips everywhere. 

This is a wildflower area and the photo really doesn't do it justice! Primroses, fritillaries and camassia which were on the verge of opening, jostled with clovers and vetches. A true labour of love I would think and I would love to see it in late Spring to see how it progresses.

And the veg garden. This was a superb use of space, as it is really in a hidden dell that I suspect gets wet and sodden in the rain, but the raised beds will counteract that. The beds are quite high and even now had some crops in them.
The veg garden from another angle. The garden is full of slopes and twists and turns which lead you from one area to the next, with no clue as to what is coming. Little did we know that the best was yet to come.....

A beautiful woodland glade meanders through the garden at the same level as the sunken veg patch. Filled with ferns, hellebores, bluebells and a carpet of wild garlic it is a stunning space.

Whilst this area looks quite wild in the first instance, it is quite obviously managed tightly to stop the weeds from creeping in. 
This is both the beginning and end of the woodland glade. To the left the visitor goes around a corner to the sunken veg patch and to the right back up to the lawn area at the back of the house. 
A circular herb garden welcomes the visitor back to the area behind the house with the silver birches across the lawn. Not spectacular now but I do like this design for herbs and will be a thing of beauty in a few weeks.

Heading into the front garden here is a much better view of the magnificent veg garden with its great compost bins. I think these are cleverly placed as it would be possible to drop compostable material in from the top as well as in front of them.

And finally Tulip Burnt Sugar is placed in several areas in the garden and the scent is extraordinary!! 
This garden has been made, as in designed, built and planted, by its owners over a 20 year period as they have added to their plot with land surrounding it. I think it's a wonderful garden, and one well worth a visit. Plus, the cake was magnificent.....

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

It's Pumpkin Sowing Day!!

A short while ago I received an email from Thompson and Morgan saying that they had decided to instigate a national pumpkin sowing day and of course, with my known love of all things squash my ears perked up and I got a little bit excited. That date was set for April 12th, during National Gardening Week and so I decided to get on board.

Now I am well known for my love of squash and my annoyance every year at Halloween around the amount of perfectly edible pumpkin flesh that is binned rather than used to make soup, pies, risotto etc and therefore used to feed people rather than bins. It is shocking that around 80,000 tons of pumpkin flesh goes to landfill but I think there are various reasons for this and the main one is that the traditionally grown for carving varieties really aren't that tasty and so might be tried once and then never again. I think that all pumpkin flesh is delicious but even I agree that there are some that need quite a lot of additions to get really tasty results.

Lots of people of course will have already sown their squares and pumpkins but I think that setting the date at 12th April means that probably the whole of the UK is safe to sow their squash seeds, albeit indoors on a sunny windowsill or under frost free glass, knowing that they will be ready to plant out in early June when late frosts although possible are not really that likely. I say that with baited breath knowing that a light frost as late as June 2nd has been recorded in Somerset. I guess though that there is a point where we just have to hold our breath and plant and I would think early June should be it.

There are several things to remember when sowing squashes and pumpkins. The whole sow the seeds on their sides to stop rot, and putting them somewhere warm is of course important, but for me there is another thing, particularly for those of us with small and urban gardens and allotments.
Squashes take up space. Often quite huge amounts of space and often too a lot of space for very limited amounts of fruit. This can be super frustrating if you are limited by the amount of space you have, but I would say there are some great ways of growing squashes that minimise the amount of space they use. Lots of squashes will quite happily climb up tripods or frames, making really beautiful, green and productive areas of added height to the garden. Grown this way they can be a great addition to an ornamental border as well as a vegetable plot. The Japanese varieties such as Black Futsu and the small pumpkin varieties such as Baby Bear, will grow beautifully like this and be super productive. And of course will save on space.

If there are several varieties you want to grow in limited space you could make a squash tunnel, using ready made arches that are available in most good garden shops and reinforced with Bamboo canes to hold the plants once they begin to climb. This will of course take more room than one tripod but it will be both productive and beautiful and will give everyone visiting your garden something to talk about for sure. Rob Smith of @Robsallotment on both Twitter and Instagram is making one of these as I type so follow him for more info on how he gets on with this method of squash growing.

I think the other and most important thing to remember is that the larger the pumpkin the less tasty the flesh in most cases. Once they begin to be proper giants they are really not suitable for eating so therein lies a bit of a quandary. Do I grow it huge and risk the flesh being a bit on the watery side or do I keep them smaller for carving? Well what I can say is that I have carved the tiniest of pumpkins very successfully but also that the more medium sized fruits, those of about a kilo in weight, are still perfectly useable albeit with some added chilli or sweet potato, for soup and that although it might make a huge pot, it will freeze and give you plenty for the winter months.....

So with all that in mind, get sowing those pumpkin and squash seeds and start to look forward to harvesting them in the autumn and using them predominantly for food!!

Monday, 10 April 2017

It's National Gardening Week!

It's National Gardening Week, but what does that mean? To my mind it ought to be all about amplification of the things us gardeners, rich or poor, urban or rural, young or old, are doing across the UK in this week. The world of gardening is so rich and so diverse there is absolutely something in it for everyone and I would hope that this week gives us the opportunity to really get that out across the channels of social media through our blogs, our photos and by asking people to join in, to get involved and get excited about gardening. After all we are known as a nation of gardeners so let's make it clear that that is exactly what we are and that we are proud of that title.

So Sara, I hear folk ask, what are you doing this week to support National Gardening Week?

Well, aware as I am that I haven't blogged for a while firstly I am going to be a bit better at that. I often find I have so much to write about that I end up writing nothing so this week I am going to concentrate on catching up with all of that, so watch out for book reviews, some pieces about favourite plants and lots and lots of social media engagement around those blogs and more. I hope you don't all get bored with me...

But I am also going to be doing some gardening that I will take you all with me to do. Firstly I will be leading a session in the Incredible Edible Bristol Bearpit Garden with a group of volunteers from the horticulture team at Bristol University. We'll be planting climbers and hops and vines and a perennial meadow whilst having a great time and drinking a whole lot of tea. I am super excited to be linking with Bristol University as it's a direct link with Bristol Botanic Garden, which without doubt is one of my favourite places in the city as well as becoming a botanical masterpiece. If you haven't been then please try to get there-it's well worth a journey. I will be there on Friday with some students taking in not just the beauty of the garden, but also the extraordinary plant collection which I absolutely adore.

Then I will be leading 2 smaller sessions on Thursday where I will be supporting groups in their gardening journey. One of these groups is taking over a space from a volunteer who very sadly lot her fight with cancer just before Christmas. Jackie's Garden as we are now calling the space, will be a memorial to a lady who was passionate about Incredible Edible and about getting people outside and into the fresh air, talking about food and growing to anyone and everyone as she went about her days. I miss Jackie at every session;she was a fierce friend both personally and to Incredible Edible and I hope this group can make her vision reality.

For Jackie, for my own mum and for all the other people involved in our world who have lost their fight with or are fighting with cancer, I will be supporting the National Gardens Scheme this week in any way I can. I hope to find a garden or two to visit over the long weekend and I will be sharing their social media posts like a crazy woman. For those of you who don't know the NGS supports cancer charities and also Perennial, the gardeners benevolence charity amongst others. Last year they had their best year ever, supporting more and more people through those amazing people who both open and visit their gardens for them. Those who open their gardens do so completely voluntarily and the funds made go directly to these important causes. Why not get involved?

Then on Saturday I will be again in an Incredible Edible Bristol garden, this time in Redcliffe on the Urban Food Trail, gardening in a park that we are now looking after. There will be the inevitable weeding and clearing, along with some compost turning and lots more, as well as an Easter Egg Hunt and games for kids of all ages!

So a busy week ahead but also one that will be filled with love, laughter, tea and amazing people, all of whom will be gardening and at the same time working at creating social change by supporting a change in the way the public realm looks. The fact that all these folk come along, in all weathers and despite the issues in their own lives, never fails to humble me and make me realise that I am the luckiest gardener alive.