I had a great time on holidays, but it’s nice being home again too, especially now that spring is in the air!
It has been a busy time since my last blog post and how the garden has changed! The weather has been typically British, from unseasonably warm to icy cold (for Somerset) and back again. Mornings are misty, deciduous trees almost entirely without leaves now and anything frost tender has died.
The polytunnel has frozen a few times now, I love the patterns on the frozen polythene, although it is still reaching 30˚C in there some days. I have electronic thermometers in the greenhouse and polytunnel and it’s so interesting to see the extremes of temperatures undercover, compared with outside in the garden.
The temperature has fallen (again!) and the wind can be so cold, but things are hotting up in my no dig greenhouse and polytunnel. Germination is so rapid it feels as though seeds are popping almost as soon as I plant them, thanks to the heat mats and heated propagating bench.
Less temperature vulnerable larger plants, including the tomatoes, peppers, sweetcorn and aubergines, have been moved to unheated areas in the greenhouse and polytunnel – they are still being protected from the cool wind and cold, and I am ready to cover them with fleece if there is a risk of frost – tonight has been flagged up as a potential problem, so I’m going to check all of my outdoor potatoes and protect with earthing up, cardboard and fleece.
On the heat now are young courgettes, cucumbers, melons, basil, squash, blue butterfly pea and beans, in various stages of growth – some ready to pot on, others just emerging from the compost. The wind last week was so cold I appreciated being able to sow, prick out and pot on in the shelter of my polytunnel.
This year I’ve sown 13 different varieties of basil, including Thai, Indian, Cinnamon, Lemon, Lime and Holy, as well as three different kinds of sweet basil. I use basil widely in cooking, from salads to Thai dishes (for which I also grow lemon grass, special Thai aubergines and Thai chillies). The vibrant spicy flavours available are far more exciting than anything you can buy in a regular grocers, making basil a really worthwhile herb to grow.
There’s still plenty of time to sow basil!
Basil needs warmth and daylight to germinate and thrive. A windowsill propagator is ideal for smaller spaces. Sow the basil in rows in a seed tray to maximise space – you can easily fit 7 or 8 full rows of basil, more if you sow half rows. Remember to label them all! Once they have germinated, prick out into modules for single sturdy plants, to grow on somewhere light and frost free. Alternatively, sow a pinch into modules, or more into pots, for clumps of fragrant leaves for the kitchen windowsill. Most of my basil goes into the polytunnel as individual plants.
After pricking out, I leave the rest of the basil in the seedtray to grow on as microleaves. This provides two or three harvests of extra-early basil for salads, pesto and sauces.
There are seed trays, modules and plants everywhere! On tables in the garden, temporary staging made from upturned crates, anywhere I can find until they are ready to plant out. Growing in modules makes it very easy to put plants in crates and then into the car, to go to work or up to my allotment – they can be stacked in the boot too, an important space and time saving consideration as my car is very small. I bought more herbs and four step over apple trees from Pennard Plants last week and somehow managed to fit them all in my boot!
A spider used one of the crates to make her nest – here are her beautiful babies. I always try to keep spiders safe, they are such great predators in the garden.
I am very much enjoying this wildish area next to the perennial bed (there are potatoes on the other side of the dalek composters). The florence fennel has overwintered somehow and is producing small fennel bulbs from the base where I cut the bulb last autumn – I expect it will bolt quite soon. As well as the annual flowers, here are two euphorbia varieties, a red rose and a wild white rose. This polyculture adds to the biodiversity of my garden, providing a wide range of forage for insects and birds throughout the year. It is a bit of a pain to keep weed free though – both roses are very thorny!
This is one of the two Florence fennel that I sowed in September and overwintered in the polytunnel (on display at Hauser and Wirth with some of my stored squash and garlic; the potatoes were harvested by Charles in July and stored in a sack in his shed all winter). Most of the young fennel plants were killed by the cold temperatures.
Every day there are more flowers! These are all in my back garden, except for the bean flowers which are at work.
It looks as though the greengage blossom was undamaged by frost as the small tree is full of potential baby fruit. At work, I am enjoying the amazing vibrant pink of this chard.
On Bank Holiday Monday, Charles and I had a stall selling our new book, and many of Charles’ other titles. It was a fun day, so many people came, great music, fantastic food and the Morris Men.
A photo blog post
We spent the weekend at West Dean college near Chichester on 4th and 5th February, where Charles was giving two day courses. The estate was owned by the remarkable Edward James, who donated the land, house and an extensive collection of art to create a college.
Although it is not the best time of year to visit the gardens they are still wonderful – so many flowers emerging outside in early February.
Violas in one of the glasshouses.
Some of the new sowings for the glasshouses and vegetable gardens.
I have serious glasshouse envy!
The impressive walled kitchen garden was remarkably empty, just leeks this year. Usually there are brassicas too.
On June 17th, Charles and I Travelled to Ireland to visit Ballymaloe, home of Darina and Tim Allen and the famous cookery school, where Charles was giving a one day workshop the following day. We’d met Darina when she came to Bruton with her brother Rory O’Connell to give a talk at Roths Bar and Grill (fascinating talk, delicious food, my friend Christine and I polished off quite a lot of Roth’s lovely organic red wine, it was a good evening.) Darina and Rory visited Charles’ no dig garden at Homeacres the next day.
Ballymaloe cookery school, situated on a 100 acre organic farm, was started by Darina and Rory in 1983. The 12 week intensive courses look fantastic – they offer many shorter courses too (wish I lived closer as I’d love to do some.) Darina’s belief that chefs should work in and understand kitchen gardens as part of their training is reflected in the extensive organic farm including livestock, vegetable gardens, fruit, wildlife gardens, foraging areas. We stayed in their beautiful home and enjoyed fresh delicious food including gorgeous yellow raw butter made from the milk from their Jersey cows.
The organic kitchen gardens are impressive, full of different vegetables, fruit and herbs which are used by the family, students at the cookery school and in the restaurant.
I had a great time exploring the gardens with Tim Allen and Charles on the Friday evening and by myself on the Saturday. It is an incredible resource for the students, who are able to gain an understanding of how to grow food, how long it takes to reach maturity, the problems that can occur due to weather or pests and, crucially, what actually is in season.
Built by Tim’s father Ivan Allen as a growing space for mushrooms and tomatoes (eventually they become uneconomic to produce), the glasshouse is very impressive.
The glasshouse has been transformed into an extraordinary polyculture of annual and perennial food crops which makes full use of the incredible one acre of glass covered growing space. The huge glass structure creates a microclimate which extends the season considerably. There are ripe apricots and peaches in June!
Around the edges are established fruit and nut trees including pomegranate, almond, fig, apricot, plum, nectarine and peaches. Extensive grape vines are full of swelling grapes (at the same time, my grape vine in the polytunnel is just in flower.)
The rafters provide an ideal drying space for onions.
This sweet corn will be ready to harvest months before my outdoor grown corn.
The glasshouse has a series of large beds, many of which are covered with weed suppressing membrane to save time – it may also have some moisture saving properties, like the compost mulch I use in my garden. They use a small tractor with a kind of rotavating attachment (I lack the necessary technical vocabulary for such equipment, having never used a rotovator or a tractor!) as part of the bed preparation, but are also exploring ways of introducing more no dig methods into the garden. The glasshouse was full of wildlife – bees, butterflies, foraging birds (some were feeding their young on the rafters!)
The glasshouse is also used for propagating:
The outbuildings at Ballymaloe are beautiful. Here I looked through a window of an old potting shed.
Homegrown produce is offered for sale at the shop and also at a local farmer’s market.
Whilst Charles was teaching, I spent some time working on my iPad in the restaurant – this was my view.
The gardens are very beautiful.
Here are some of the self catering cottages for students on the 12 week courses – so pretty!
Inside the shop and restaurant area – I loved the little decorated alcoves, especially the ‘shrine’ to kale!
The lovely shell house folly, created by Blot Kerr-Wilson in 1995, includes some of Darina’s personal shell collection. I tried to capture the intricacy and beauty with my phone camera, not easy! It is gorgeous.
After the day course, I drove us to Kilruddery House near Dublin, a journey of about three hours, where Charles was giving a talk the next day. We had visited here last year, it’s a great place – the have extensive ornamental gardens, a large no dig kitchen garden and organic farms. Fionnuala and Anthony Ardee actively produce and promote good quality organic food. Charles and I enjoyed more amazing, fresh, home produced seasonal cooking. In addition to the walled kitchen gardens they keep livestock including chickens, pigs and sheep. A huge polytunnel is being constructed as part of the preparations for their Totally Terrific Tomato Festival in September, which will prove invaluable for extending the growing season for produce for their farmer’s market and the Kilruddery cafe.