Elderflower extravaganza!

The hedgerows are filled with creamy elderflowers. It’s time to forage!  Choose elderflower heads that are in full blossom and at their most fragrant to make delicious drinks, skin care and preserves.

I’ve been busy in the kitchen making elderflower champagne, liqueur, vinegar, sugar, oil and dried elderflowers too.  Here are the recipes.

No Dig Allotment November Update

My allotment has been quite neglected recently. All of my travels (Yorkshire for a wedding, then Thailand and Laos, with a work trip to Ireland just 2 days after returning), my work and autumnal weather suddenly arriving after a mild sunny spell – quite a shock after Thailand for me! – has meant that I am not quite where I would like to be for November 22nd. Nevermind though, it will all get done and I have had a lovely time.

Somerset Garden Day

Somerset Garden Day is happening today! I think this is a brilliant idea – of course I don’t need much encouragement to spend time in my garden, but this day is a bit different.

I am writing this in Kent, far from my own garden in Bruton, in the barn of a beautiful flower farm, whilst Charles gives a talk on No Dig gardening. Charles and I were intrigued when we first heard about the idea of Somerset Garden Day and were asked for our help launching the project. We are always keen to help promote ideas that encourage people to enjoy gardens and were delighted to help enthuse people to spend time enjoying their gardens.

The idea of Garden Day is to down tools and spend time celebrating your garden, whatever the size (even a window box!), spending quality time relaxing and consciously taking pleasure from your outdoor space, in whatever way feels good for you. You can spend all day, or just half an hour, enjoying a garden, experiencing the outdoor space and the season with all of your senses.

Garden Day is accessible to everyone – any age, any size of garden. If you have no garden, then spend some time visiting one of the many amazing gardens we have in Somerset – community  gardens, private gardens that are open to the public, National Trust properties, wild spaces, riversides, the coast, country walks: pack a picnic, take family and friends, or enjoy some outdoor solitude, whatever appeals to you!

I love the idea because I am absolutely rubbish at just sitting in and enjoying my garden, especially at this time of year when there is so much to do! It gives an opportunity to look at my garden and allotment from a different perspective, as a space to relax and socialise as well as work and grow food. At first I thought that the date was a bit too early in the year – as a veg grower, most of the plantings are quite small especially as it is just after the (hopefully!) last frost date for Somerset. But as I thought more about it, and looked at everything emerging in my garden last week – and the gardens I have visited this weekend in Sussex and Kent – I came to realise what a great time of year it is to encourage people to be outside and get pleasure from the warmer temperatures, let the spring sunlight clear away winter cobwebs, enjoy the pleasure of gorgeous early flowers and the anticipation of everything that is in bud, about to unfurl into summer glory.

As I am not at home, I’m going to make some time to just sit and enjoy my garden next week – and today, we will be celebrating gardens here in Kent, having lunch outside in the sunshine with the course participants in this lovely flower farm. Yesterday I spent time relaxing at Sissinghurst, enjoying the stunning garden there, where many of these photos are from (not Somerset I know, but this is where I am!)

It isn’t too late to enjoy Somerset Garden Day wherever you are, with an impromptu al fresco lunch or supper, invite neighbours round for an early evening glass of wine, search for insects with children, take a comfy chair outside and relax with a book – how will you celebrate your garden?

 

Front Garden Project

My favourite part of the front garden has three raised beds made four years ago, from timber treated with organic oils from Osmo, because I have grown so much food there. This part of the garden was a weed-infested rockery when I moved here. A few years ago I removed the rockery plants and mulched it, hoping to grow veg but hit two main problems – the soil is very shallow and on top of builders’ rubble (from an extension in the 1970s, it is quite a bit higher than my neighbours’ gardens for this reason) and the most enthusiastic bindweed I have ever experienced, which appears to have roots deep into the centre of the earth!

Wooden sided raised beds are a good solution here as they increase the soil level by 8 inches. I originally filled them with a mixture of well rotted manure and municipal waste compost and now top them up with an inch or so of well rotted compost every year. The paths are mulched with sawdust, a free waste product from a local carpenter.

spreading the compost in 2015
spreading the compost in 2015

Next to these beds is a smaller one made with wooden offcuts where I planted a beautiful little cherry tree and opposite, another growing space  has different enthusiastic weeds:  enchanter’s nightshade and ground ivy. Here I grow teasels for the goldfinches – they self seed like crazy but the seedlings are very recognisable and easy to remove. For me, is worth growing a few plants for the pleasure of watching the feeding finches all winter.

Our pond is old and was overgrown and leaking 14 years ago when we moved here – it still leaks and can be very low in the summer. This doesn’t deter the frogs who return every spring around Valentine’s to lay their frogspawn. They are back a week earlier this year.

Although I don’t want it to be too pristine, the paved area needs a good weeding, particularly around the pond. I hope to encourage more interesting plants in the cracks. I have struggled with keeping on top of the weeds here due to lack of time mostly as I was working part of almost every weekend for the past 3 years. The weeds seem to grow like triffids in my front garden the moment my back is turned, so it is quite a challenge!

The plans for the front garden include:

  • mulch along the hedge with light excluding plastic mulch for a year, to try to get rid of the enchanter’s nightshade
  • make a wildlife area along the front on the garden, next to the pavement
  • grow more up the walls
  • grow some more pond plants (I have bought seeds for this)
  • grow food in pots to make more use of the paved area
  • weed!!
  • sort out the side of the house to make more effective storage and hopefully grow things too
  • see if I can install a water butt so I don’t have to lug watering cans from the back garden
  • paint the shabby bits down the side of the house

I think there is plenty of scope here to make an even more productive growing space which looks colorful and welcoming.