Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Looking Back at the Year and the Malvern County Show

It has been over two months since my last update, and how has the time gone. It seems just yesterday that I was admiring the hot summer displays of Hemerocallis, Clematis and Dahlias. Now the weather seems to be gradually sliding towards winter, with heavy showers becoming increasingly more common. However, there is still plenty of warmth in the soil, and whilst there are no frosts, the Dahlias are continuing to flourish. This edition will look back at the year, and also include my trip to the Malvern County Show at the end of September.

In the time I have been gardening, the summer that we have had this year has been comfortably the best. Yes, we may have had hotter spells, but the general nature and consistency has meant that plants have grown  and grown, whilst fruit and vegetables have flourished. Earlier in the year, we had the show of spring bulbs including Daffodils, which had been painstakingly planted last autumn. As the weather improved, the bulbs were replaced by Lupins and Oriental Poppies, which were replaced by the English Roses, which themselves were replaced by the Dahlias, Sunflowers and Cosmos. However, possibly my favourite plant at this time of year is the Sedum. I love them because they perform no matter the weather, bring autumn beauty and provide rich sources of food for insects and bees. They are also extremely easy to divide with a spade in early spring, and I have managed to increase my stock from one plant given to me by a neighbour to eight in the space of two years. The pictures below show some of my favourite plants and how the garden has progressed from season to the next.

Spring Blossom is one of the greats of the gardening year. Whether it is from Apples, Pears, Plums or Hedgerows, it all helps to brighten up our landscapes coming out of winter.

As previously highlighted, one of my favourite summer plants has to be Hemerocallis, with the array of different colours meaning that there is one out there for everyone. I like the sharp contrasts that they provide from the sword-like leaves to the more expansive petals.

Sedums, for their colour and what they bring to the garden have to be in my top ten garden plants. In this picture alone are hoverflies and bumblebees, with plenty of butterflies also present in sunnier weather.

Malvern County Show

At the end of September, I had the pleasure of attending the Malvern Autumn County Show for the first time. Having not been before, I was unsure what would be there, but I was amazed as soon as I entered the first marquee. Some of the displays and entries in the fruit and vegetables competition were extraordinary as the pictures below hopefully show.

I will definitely be trying to get my carrots and parsnips this long next year, although I may have to adapt my growing techniques.

Although the produce is very impressive, I could not begin to imagine the amount of time and money that has been spent caring for them. Im not sure how I feel about it, but credit has to go to anybody who can produce such amazing fruit and veg.

I will leave it here this time and as always look forward to hearing your comments and suggestions. In the next post, I will look at the various jams and chutneys that I have made this year, as well as how I will turn my apple harvest into something much more important, cider. Take care and happy cottage gardening.


Thursday, 25 July 2013

Incredible Weather, Empty Waterbutts and Lots of Flowers

In the time since my last post, the weather has got better and better and hotter and hotter. For the first time in a few years, the vegetable harvest is making it all seem worthwhile. From early crops such as Asparagus and Rhubarb, to later ones such as Strawberries and Raspberries, the combination of rain followed by hot sun has meant that quantities are the highest ever. In the last few weeks, I have harvested 1.5kg gooseberries, 2kg first early potatoes and 2kg of strawberries alone. This edition will include more about the allotment, my favourite flowers of the moment and future plans for wildflower meadows.

In my last post I discussed my two favourite plants at that time, Lupins and Oriental Poppies, chosen for their injections of colour in early borders dominated by lush green growth. However, my favourite time of the year has to be summer, when soft pastel colours are replaced by dominant reds, oranges and yellows. In the garden at the moment, I have lots of Hemerocallis growing in a variety of colours as highlighted by the pictures below. As well as these, the mid season Clematis are flowering, attracting lots of bees and hoverflies.

These are Hemerocallis 'Crimson Pirate', H. 'Pink Damask' and Monarda 'Fireball'.

Whilst I try to be as wildlife friendly as I can, one area where I know I can definitely improve is increasing diversity by introducing wildflower meadows. I have been visiting local gardens to get an idea of what other people are doing and looking at ways in which I can introduce areas into my garden. This is an area where I don't want to rush and make mistakes so will take some time. I will keep you updated over the coming months about how this progresses.

The Allotment
Since last time, the allotment has been baked by consistent temperatures that haven't been seen for at least a few years. This has meant that warm loving plants such as tomatoes and courgettes have grown incredibly well, whilst some of my lettuce has been quick to bolt. I have been harvesting the courgettes regularly, when the fruits are around 10cm long and cook them simply with green pesto (recipe below). As well as the courgettes, my beetroot has been going crazy and I have been struggling with what to do with them. One thing that I have made recently is Gooseberry jam and chutney, which although tasting good at the moment, should improve and mature over time. However, despite the positives, I have to admit failure with carrots this year. I have tried 4 seperate sowings and each time they have appeared only to be eaten by a combination of chickens
and slugs. I refuse to use pesticides and although disappointing, I have moved onto new crops such as Pak Choi and Kailaan Brocolli. The hot weather and lack of rain has led to regular waterings of my raised beds, which are free draining, meaning my water butts were emptied very quickly. I think that you can never have too many water butts and this is an area which I am looking to improve on.

Recipe Idea
As mentioned above, one of my favourite summer recipes is sliced courgettes with green pesto. If using a jar of pesto, the whole meal takes around 10 minutes to make, and even less to eat and can be adapted to suit numbers. I start by peeling ribbons from the courgettes using a peeler, which creates pasta-like sheets. Whilst doing this, I have a pan on a medium heat with a little oil (rapeseed is my personal preference but use what you like). Once you have enough ribbons, add them to the pan and fry for around 5 minutes just to soften and colour the strips. Once this is done, drain the courgette onto kitchen paper and heat the pesto in the empty pan. Once warm, add the courgettes, season and enjoy. I would love to hear your own recipes for courgettes as soon enough I will have run out of ideas to deal with my glut.

I will leave it here this time and as always look forward to hearing your comments and suggestions. Take care and happy cottage gardening.


Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Big Projects, Good Weather and Signs of a Good Crop

It has been two months since my last update and how the weather has changed since then. Back in April my garden was struggling to get going after what seemed like rain storm after rain storm. Since then however, the weather has been much better and has allowed me to get on with some jobs that needed doing. In addition to this, a big project emerged from a discussion with family. As well as this project, this time I will be discussing my allotment area, and herbaceous/cottage garden border.

We have had a child's playhouse in the garden for over ten years, located at the back of the chicken run. However, having decided to get more chickens and possible some ducks, it was time for it to move. 

As the picture shows, the playhouse has now moved into the orchard, with the various assortment of fruit trees now being home to small children playing. Although a bit of a shock when first moved there, we have painted it a more natural colour, using Cuprinol Garden Shades Seagrass and Pale Jasmine paint and it is beginning to blend into its new home. As the fruit trees grow up around the house, I think it will look perfect, and may in fact become an office in future years.  Also, with the playhouse now near the allotment, the family will now be able to pick fresh fruit and veg to eat with friends.

Elsewhere in the garden, the combination of long days, warm weather and plenty of rain has meant that the plants in the herbaceous/cottage garden border have put on plenty of new growth. As the pictures below show, the plants seem to be thriving and are putting on a fantastic display of colour for us.

Although they only last for a short period of time, I find the show that both Oriental Poppies and Lupins put on, means that they fully deserve their places within the garden. These are Lupin 'Gallery Red' and Papaver Orientale 'Princess Victoria Louise' (right). Unfortunately I do not know the name of the Oriental Poppy pictured above, so if anyone can help me that would be appreciated.

The Allotment
Things have changing very quickly in the allotment, with the warmer weather allowing plenty of crops to be planted out. Things like onions, cauliflower and cabbage should have gone in much sooner, but with the changeable weather we had at the end of March/beginning of April, I did not want to risk losing plants. As a result, plants have probably been held back a month, although I do not mind having a smaller yield. In addition, I have planted out three types of Courgette 'Soleil', 'Black Beauty' and 'Tondo di Piacenza', Tomato 'Costoluto Fiorentino' and 'Gardener's Delight' and Sweetcorn 'Swift'.

As well as Courgettes, Tomatoes and Sweetcorn, I have also planted plenty of Potatoes including 'Red Duke of York', 'Rocket' and 'Rooster'. Rocket gets a bad press due to its (supposedly) poor taste, but in the three years I have been growing it, I have found it good. I tend to grow the same two varieties as the previous year, but experiment with the third. This way I find that my year is not wasted if I do not like the new variety. This year the new Potato was 'Rooster'. In addition to Potatoes, I have been harvesting my first spears from my Asparagus crowns ('Backlim' and 'Ginjlim') planted in Autumn 2010. I took the strongest spears from the plants, before stopping on the 1st June to allow the crowns to build strength for next year. In following years, I will be able to crop more and more, something I cannot wait for.

One final point from myself. For the first time this year, I have made use of the RHS National Garden Scheme, where over 3000 gardens are open for members of the public to visit. I have found this a brilliant way of getting inspiration and also talking to and learning from other gardeners about the plants that they grow and advice that they have. I would recommend it to anyone, and who knows, it may be your garden that we are visiting next time. I shall leave it there this time and hope that like me, you will be enjoying this good weather and getting gardening. As always I look forward to hearing your own experiences about gardening and any suggestions that you have. I would love to hear from you if you are starting your own gardening journey. Take care and happy cottage gardening.


Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Spring. Summer. Autumn. Winter. Do we actually have four seasons?

Hello again and how the weather has changed from my last post, where I mentioned signs of spring and how the garden was starting to stir. That progress has well and truly been halted over the past two weeks as a combination of snow, rain and frost have all battered the garden. Although we have had a couple of days where the wind has dropped and it has been relatively warm, the garden is still waiting for some consistent weather before properly starting.

I recently bought some new plants to add to the long border, which providing they get through the snow should help to fill the border and add seasonal interest across the early and late summer. I have  planted Papavaer Orientale 'Royal Wedding' and 'Princess Victoria Louise' and also Lupin 'Red Rum' in the white, pink and red part of the border along with the peonies planted last year. I had been meaning to plant more, but I am glad that I have not as im not sure they would have got through the prolonged winter. Now that there seems to be some more consistent weather on the horizon, it is an ideal time to plant perennials that you didn't get chance to last autumn as providing we get the weather, they should establish quickly.

In my last post I started to discuss the spring border and the types of plants that are there. I shall discuss my thinking behind the border including its location and why I want a border dedicated to spring colour and bulbs. The spring bulbs provide hope. Hope that the winter is drawing to an end and that summer is not far away. In addition, spring bulbs provide the first real colour of the year, whether snowdrops in January, daffodils in March or tulips in May. Although only six months old, it is starting to take shape and I intend to add Hellebores, mainly dark and white to contrast with the daffodils and crocus.

The following pictures show what the border looked like before and how it has changed and developed.

The border was expanded from behind the dogwoods, and the water pump added. I will plant a range of Hosta's around the base of it, which should compliment the spring bulbs. I would also like to plant a crabapple 'red sentinel' in the middle (where the chimney pot is), which will extend the seasonal interest in the autumn.

I confess to not being a huge fan of growing brassicas, mainly due to the length of time that they occupy ground and their draw to pigeons, which we seem to have a lot of. However, I picked up a pack of red cabbage seed and decided to give them a go. Whilst the crop was not your typical oversized supermarket veg, I was happy with the outcome. I turned the cabbage into a spiced red cabbage chutney which is great with sandwiches, cheese boards or as a flavour enhancer to gravies.

1kg Red Cabbage (Shredded)
2 medium sized onions
2 apples
2 tsp mixed spice
50-100g brown sugar (depending on sweetness of apples)
3 tbsp cider vinegar
250 ml cider
25g butter

(recipe adapted from BBC GoodFood)

Friday, 8 March 2013

Signs of Spring and Looking Ahead

This blog has been going a few months now and I feel as though it is time to reintroduce aspects of the garden  that I have already talked about. In this post I will discuss the pond area, what I have been up to and some future plans that I have.

The first shoots of spring bulbs are always welcomed in my garden as a sign that (hopefully) better weather is around the corner. In my garden I have daffodils, crocus, tulips and many others coming up all over the garden, both in borders and in the grass. This has been a main focus of mine since I started gardening as the sight of hundreds of bulbs in flower is truly amazing. To achieve this, I have planted hundreds in the grass to create a wave of daffodils which lead people down towards the spring border and pond area. This week, I have also been working in the pond, clearing away old plants, and planting up new pots. Below are pictures from a couple of angles, which should help you picture it better. This part of the garden is one of my favourite bits and I enjoy sitting by the pond in the summer watching the fish catch bugs and dragonflies swooping around.

This picture is taken from the top of the garden, looking down towards the pond. The border in the centre of the screen is the spring border, which will be discussed over the next few posts as the bulbs start to flower.
This picture is taken from the orchard, looking across towards the pond. As already highlighted, I have a selection of fruit trees including Pears, Apples, Cherries and Plums.

This picture is taken from next to the pond, looking across towards the orchard, allotment and greenhouse areas. In spring the pond is surrounded by daffodils, snowdrops and crocus. In the summer, the grass around the pond is allowed to grow long and forms a meadow edging.

This week has seen the first real sunshine of the year which has enabled me to finish a few jobs left over from last year. In addition to this, I have been able to prepare my allotment area ready to receive the hundreds of plants I hope to grow. My main aim for this year is to increase the amount of sweet peas I grow, both from a visual aspect and also from the scents they have. I have purchased 9 different types, 7 from Roger Parsons Sweet Peas ( The site has a large variety of heritage and newer species and I will keep you updated regarding how they go. The varieties are listed below:

Black Knight
Monty Don
Zorija Rose
Border Beauty
Brook Hall
Pips Maroon

Recipe Idea
Although you cannot beat the taste of fresh fruit and veg and I am an advocate of seasonal cooking, sometimes I give in. This is one of those recipes which I struggle to refuse, although I do use frozen rhubarb and raspberries from my garden. My favourite pudding has to be rhubarb crumble and I always make sure I have some frozen ready for this time of year. I find this can almost fill the time until the forced rhubarb is ready.

Over the next few posts, I will be discussing how I go about deciding what to do in the garden including how I plan various areas. However, I will leave it there for this time and will speak again soon. As always I look forward to hearing your thoughts and own gardening stories. I would love to hear from you if you are starting on your own journey or have started. Take care and happy gardening.


Saturday, 19 January 2013

New Year, New Plans, Same Old Weather

I should start this post with a belated Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I would love to have already posted my first post of the new year, but due to the weather, not much has changed from last time. I have therefore decided that this post will try and outline my plans for increasing wildlife in garden in the next year and in particular the next three months of so. 

Future Plans for 2013
Since my last post, I have started to try and increase the number of birds that we get into the garden. In order to achieve this, I have bought a variety of bird feeders to offer a variety of seeds and nuts, including peanuts, nyjer seed and sunflower hearts. Since doing this, the number of birds visiting has increased dramatically and I now receive dozens of different birds each day. These include robins, blue tits, great tits, coal tits as well as a variety of finches. We have also received regular daily visits from a Great Spotted Woodpecker (picture below). 

In addition to supplying seeds and nuts, I would like to increase the amount of berries that are available to birds in the garden. I currently have dogwoods, hollys and a number of other plants that were here before I started.  

To increase the berries and fruit, I would like to add a crabapple tree and some hawthorns. If you have any other suggestions then I would love to hear them.

Recipe Idea
Purple Sprouting Broccoli is one of the underrated vegetables in the UK, mainly because of the time it takes to produce the spears. However, if you have grown it yourself, you will know how good it is when just lightly steamed and mixed with butter and a little pepper. 

I shall leave it here this time and hope that I will have had chance to actually do some gardening and have something other than plans to talk about. Until next time, take care and happy gardening.


Thursday, 29 November 2012

Crazy Weather, Floods and a Broken Plum

What a couple of weeks it has been for weather. I hope everyone has avoided the serious weather we have been having and if not, that the damage is not too bad.

Over the past month, I have been kept busy with work and studying and the lack of light of an evening has meant my gardening has been restricted to the weekend. However, not even this has happened with the amount of rain that we have had recently. As previously mentioned, I have created a large pond in a natural run off area of the garden, and have designed an overflow which feeds the bog garden. Over the past week or so the pond has flooded almost on a daily basis, meaning that the bog garden is well and truly boggy, which is fine for the plants (although I am worried about the water freezing around their roots). 

This picture was taken last yesterday on a walk near my house. I have never seen the water so close to the top of the bridge and it had flooded the road. It floods often, but only normally onto the fields, not the road. In my last post, I finished talking about what I had already done within the garden, so from now on I will talk about what I am currently doing and what I want to do in the future.

In the last post, I started to talk about a new border that I was extending to add a spring aspect to the winter border. Since then, I have added hundreds of bulbs including daffodils, crocus, fritillaria meleagris and chiondoxa fobesii and luciliae. These are planted within the winter border, which includes a range of Japanese Dogwoods "flaviramea, alba sibirica". These are planted in full sun, which means that the stems are able to be at their brightest. 

I have also been looking at increasing the number of plants and trees within the garden that provide winter berries. I have a number of different plants that were planted before I came to the garden so I do not know their species, but have always liked them due to the bright colours on frosty mornings. 

The Allotment
The wet weather seems to be affected this years winter crops, with my brassicas taking a battering and really struggling to survive. I have staked my sprouts, but the strong winds seem to have 'blown' the sprout heads. This wind was also responsible for snapping my 10 year old plum tree in half, which was upsetting as I remember planting the tree when it was a small sapling. However, the other half of the tree is still going strong, so hopefully the tree will just come back stronger than ever next year. I have harvested my first leeks grown this year, and I am very happy with the results. They may not be the same size as those in the shops, but like most things, they taste so much better. I would recommend anyone who doesn't grow their own to give it a go. For the cost of a packet of seeds, and a small amount of your time, you can get hundreds of plants. 

Apologies for the poor picture quality, but I dropped my camera so am using an old one until I get it fixed. They were sown in march, left to grow until a reasonable size, then pricked out into their growing place. I found that this method was most effective as I did not waste time potting on.

Recipe Idea
Leeks are one of my favourite vegetables and I miss them when they are out of season. They are great with a bit of cream and baked or even spiced with cinnamon, cumin, coriander and turmeric. These can then be made into patties and fried. They are great served with natural yoghurt and offer a healthy alternative to meat for burgers. 

I will leave it there this week and will speak soon. If you have any plants or trees which have good winter berries, then please get in touch and I would love to see some of your pictures. As always I look forward to hearing your thoughts and own gardening tales. Take care and happy gardening.