Thursday, 11 May 2017

Early May

It's the busiest time of the gardening year. I have pots and trays of seedlings and small plants both indoors and outside. I've hoed and dug more of the vegetable beds, and started clearing the paths around them, and planted more crops - broad beans the latest to go in (which I'd started in cardboard tubes back in March or early April).


Hope.

There's so much more to do. It's not too late to sow many things - especially this far north, and spring here has been slow, with daytime temperatures only picking up into the mid teens since the start of this month. I recently got a book I've wanted since the last time I blogged here a lot - a book on heirloom tomatoes. This has rekindled my love of lycopersicon, so I ordered a few more varieties - it can't hurt, even if they don't eventually fruit. I have the advantage of a greenhouse and polytunnel here, although both need repairing, so I should be able to extend the season somewhat.

I bought a courgette plant from the botanic garden shop - a yellow-fruited variety. I will grow more from seed, but this tiny plant had even tinier embryonic flowers already sprouting. I repotted it on the first day, and in a week it has roughly doubled in size (I've put it out in the sun during the day, brought it in on the chilly nights). It should provide an early crop until the home-down ones get going. I've never grown a yellow variety - they are so pretty, I couldn't resist.

Elsewhere, I've been tackling an area towards the end of the garden near some trees. I've always envisaged a woodland garden there - bulbs and shade-loving perennials with a seating area. So far it's been the hard task of lifting encroaching turf, digging some organic matter into the hard, dry soil, planting (primulas, Trillium, Cardiocrinum, foxgloves), and mulching. It'll need some care, as it's naturally drier there than I'd like, but then it's been a dry spring so far.

Finally, I've been planning ahead in a less glamorous way, making liquid plant feeds from nettles and comfrey, and dock as it seems similar to comfrey in its growing habit. And for the even longer term, I lifted and divided some comfrey, and potted it up - I'll need lots more leaves in the coming months.

The veg plot a couple of days ago, above; and today, below. Progress!

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Beginning again

This bed was as overgrown as the one behind it just a few weeks ago.

I've neglected this blog for a few years, in large part because I stopped doing the two things it was set up to document - growing plants (especially edible ones) and cooking. Not that I lost my love for such pursuits, but changes in my personal circumstances and health meant I was no longer inclined to devote so much time to them. One thing that took the place of these activities was in fact due to this blog - I bought a cheap secondhand DSLR to take better pictures to post here, and it began a passion for photography that has become an essential part of my life.

However, I'm willing to try again, especially with growing vegetables. I had never had enough space where I was based before - I signed on to the waiting list for an allotment, but never heard back from them, and now I live somewhere else. The upside is, the garden here is very much larger, and came with a vegetable and fruit patch. The first spring I got stuck in, but having weeded, dug, enriched the soil, and planted lots of crops, I was forced away for several months, so it was largely wasted.

Three years have passed, and I am in a position to start afresh. So far, I've sown a few seeds, and begun to bring the beds back into cultivation. It'll be a slow process - I can't do a lot at once, but cheeringly the work I did before has made it much easier this time round. The soil and paths were lost under a thick growth of nettles, goldenrod, coltsfoot, and creeping buttercup, amongst others, but the soil beneath is still friable and quite rich. Hoeing the top growth, then forking and removing the roots and runners has been largely successful, and the first crops are now in.

So far I have planted out shallots, garlic, and potatoes, and sown broad beans, more shallots, mixed salad leaves, beetroot, tomatoes, and basil. There's a lot more I want to try - there's no limit but the effort I make, so this year I won't put artificial limits on what I set out to achieve. Conversely, I am very realistic and know that I can't do everything, and unforeseen circumstances tend to rule, so I won't get upset with myself if things are left undone.

I'll try to document the progress that I and the garden make together this year. I can certainly take a lot of pictures, at the very least.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Katana cocktail



This blog was started almost precisely a quarter of my life ago. Quite a lot has changed in my circumstances since then, but mostly I am the same person, with the same tastes and dreams.

I revisit very few of my old blog posts, but a couple are worth sharing occasionally - including the recipe for one of my all-time favourite cocktails. It's one thing to love something for a year or two, but this has stood the test of nearly a decade, so it's worth restating, and expanding on.

This is simply delicious, never failing to bring me great pleasure. It's the most complex of my top three or five cocktails, but its basis is the same as e.g. the caipirinha - sugar, lime, and alcohol in perfect balance.

I tasted this in a cocktail bar I visited at random with a friend in London back in 2009. I recreated the recipe at home, keeping the name, and tweaked it until it was perfect. This is not the easiest cocktail to make as you really need a juicer, but if you have one, it's straightforward and well worth trying. I'll give a few ideas below if you don't have a juicer.


Katana

to make a medium-sized jug (about 800ml).
2-4 apples (2 very large, 4 small, etc)
1/2 a cucumber (Long green English-style, as sold in the salad section of supermarkets)
1 1/2 large, or 2 1/2 small limes
A small bunch of mint
Gin
Sugar syrup (buy or make at home by combining equal volumes of white sugar and water)

  • Juice the apples, cucumber, limes, and mint. Not all juicers will process mint well - ideally you need a masticating (augur/screw) juicer, rather than a centrifugal one, but check the device's manual for details. If you can't juice the mint, then see below.
  • Strain the juice through a fine sieve - if you want really clear juice, then one or two layers of kitchen paper will help, although it may take a while, and this can lead to the juice discolouring due to oxidation.
  • Add gin and sugar syrup to taste - approximately 300ml and 100ml respectively. The aim is, as with all good cocktails, a balance between sourness, sweetness, and alcohol. Stir.
  • This mix can be refrigerated for a few hours, though it may settle and separate. Otherwise, shake each serving over ice. Serve in a martini glass or large champagne coupe.

Note - there are a few options for the mint other than juicing. You can purée in a blender with the sugar syrup or gin, then strain. Or you can steep crushed or "muddled" mint in the sugar syrup for a few hours or overnight, before making the cocktail. It might be possible to substitute ready-made mint cordial, but I've never tried this.

Shop-bought cucumbers tend to be very bland. If you use homegrown, they should be much more fragrant, in which case reduce the quantity. This should not taste strongly of any one ingredient, but rather be a fresh, bright-tasting combination of them all.

The variety of apple or mint you use will affect the finished cocktail, so experiment. I've used garden mint (I guess peppermint) and apple mint to good effect. Sour apples may require more sugar/less lime, and vice versa. Crisp apples juice more easily than soft or floury ones.


Freshly made, this cocktail is a vibrant green. However, with time and air, it will turn brownish, the one downside to using such fresh ingredients. It will still taste great, either way. There are many options for a garnish, if you're so inclined. Something with a contrasting colour (red or pink) has visual impact - a strawberry (plain or skewered with mint), a rose or peony petal; or simply a slice of cucumber.

Delicious at any time, this is especially good in spring and summer, served outdoors on a sunny day - it tastes of that season, fresh, bright, and juicy.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

The garden in July 1

Another month has slipped past, barely making an impression. Fortunately, I took photographs here and there, when I happened to have my camera in the garden, or when something caught my interest in particular. So here's another photoblog of the garden. This first part covers flowers - the early summer stalwarts passed away, and were replaced by tender annuals I sowed back in spring, finally reaching maturity (part 2 will be vegetables and fruit).

The peony had its best-ever year, with two or three dozen huge pale pink flowers. When they opened, the plant flopped over, despite having a metal support - the stems are just too flimsy for the huge, blowsy heads (photographed here after sunset, hence the odd tone).



 I got a tray of petunias from the greengrocer. They turned out to be a mix of red, salmon pink, deep burgundy (that I didn't plant in time, so I lost them), and these awesome magenta and white stripes (another after-dark photograph). The ones I put in containers have done well, and are producing fresh blooms almost daily.

 





Roses! The top two photographs are New Dawn, which has produced dozens of bouquets on the end of long rambling stems (it's supported on a freestanding cane structure). All these have had their best season ever, with no aphids or disease, and lots of healthy growth, and plentiful flowers. The bottom one is Redouté.






Cosmos and sweet peas have thrived - although not all the cosmos have flowered, some taking a long time, and one just producing lots of foliage. I've picked bunches of sweet peas every few days - they are richly fragrant. Elsewhere, lavender is bringing in bees, Eschscholzia (Californian poppy) produced a bright but brief splash of colour, and the last alliums (A. sphaerocephalon) provided continuity from the early summer garden.

Monday, 24 June 2013

A June miscellany 2

Most of these are of fruit and vegetable progress in the garden, but there are some flowers too.


These aren't sweet peas, but culinary ones. The purple-podded varieties, which are generally not differentiated, but differ a bit, tend to have pretty purple and pink flowers. They grow to full size - they're approaching 6' now - and provide interest with these flowers, and the pods. The peas inside are no different, but in a small garden, everything has to look good, even the vegetables (and many do).

These are sweet peas - still small, but healthy. A mix of colours, and hopefully nicely fragrant.

Perhaps not every vegetable is strictly good looking. These shallots are starting to look a little straggly, but the bulbs are swelling, and they'll be ready to harvest next month. A second batch, planted later, will take a little longer.

 
The pond has settled in. In the top photo, you can see the plants, which have grown well, although the marsh marigold's leaves have been eaten by something - I assume not slugs or snails, which can't cross the water, so what could it be? In the lower picture you can see two of the newest residents, a water beetle and the larva of a nonbiting midge. It's been fascinating to watch an ecosystem develop so quickly.

Fruit season is nearly here. Actually, I've seen some ripening strawberries on plants that have scattered themselves around the garden, but they tend to fall prey to blackbirds, slugs, and woodlice before they ripen properly. The raspberries are late this year - I picked them in mid-June two years ago - but they seem healthy and abundant. The cherries have not provided much cheer, though. Yet again, most of the fruit never swelled (see the tiny ones next to the full-sized fruit in the middle picture above). Still, both trees have some fruit. Finally, the quince has held on to its embryonic fruits longer than last year, so perhaps I stand a chance - but the weather turned nasty after the solstice, so it's not certain.


Leaves do well in most conditions. Grapevines on the terrace are stronger than ever - I will harvest some of the leaves to make dolmas - and apple mint has provided a massive crop.

I haven't forgotten the tomatoes. This is one of the first flowers, on a plant already in a raised bed outdoors. I don't expect ripe fruit until August, though.

Finally, more flowers! First, a wild rose that originated as the rootstock of one of the cultivated roses in the garden when we moved here more than a quarter of a century ago. I spent many years trying to kill it off, but a couple of years ago it flowered, and I changed my attitude. It has grown as a column about 7 feet tall, which I have kept pruned, providing height and somewhere for birds to perch occasionally. It is covered in buds, which have started opening into these blush pink, fragrant single flowers. The white rose (middle) was the first to open, and will flower on and off for months. The bottom photo is Californian poppies (Escscholzia californica), just broadcast sown under the quince, among the alliums. The orange ones zing, but don't really fit with the rest of the garden, while these cream ones are lovely.

Here's a rare wider view. This is across the lower part of the back garden, across the central flower bed, with roses thriving, and alliums fading. The pond is in the background on the right. Behind is the crumbling wall (which I need to replace) holding back the slope, above which is the terrace.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

A June miscellany 1

I've finally gone through all the photographs I took in June, many of which I never got round to posting here. So these aren't on a theme, except they show the garden, and some are from up to two or three weeks ago, while others are more recent.


Two geraniums - one wild, self-sown (Geranium robertianum, above), one cultivated, with larger blooms (unknown variety). The latter is very attractive to bees.


Cosmos! A favourite of mine. Easily grown from seed - I've raised over 40 plants with no difficulty this year - and in three months already starting to flower. They also have lovely feathery leaves, as seen in the upper photograph above. This flower is the variety 'Picotee'. I also have plain pink and white ones - though only a white one is flowering otherwise, so far.

Roses are my top summer flower, and I have quite a few dotted around the garden. The top two photographs show the same flowers, a few days apart. I don't know the variety, but it is a lovely rich burgundy, quite small. The lower one has massive magenta blooms with a strong perfume. It might be 'Fragrant cloud'.

The first alliums are done - 'Purple Sensation', I believe (the top photo is from over a week ago; the back garden ones flowered around a week later than those in the sunnier front). But other varieties are coming into bloom to replace them. The lower pictures show A. cristophii, which has striking metallic lilac star-shaped flowers on large, low, open heads.

The peonies started opening a couple of days ago - the buds have been developing all month, ants harmlessly gathering sweet secretions from their surface.

Foxgloves have come back nearly every year I've lived here. This time, they were smaller but more numerous.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Long days

We're approaching midsummer - astronomically speaking. The whole of June is light here, with 16 3/4 hours between sunrise and sunset at the start of the month, and twenty minutes more around the solstice. You can easily get up and go to bed and see no darkness - and it's wonderful.

And the weather has been wonderful too. For the first time since late September 2011, there's been real heat in the air, and day after day of languorous sunshine. Heavy soil virtually covered by plants holds its moisture well, but even so I've needed to water a bit in the last couple of days - and the greenhouse has needed attention daily, although that's no hardship when it gets to over 30ºC in there (I love heat).

Last night I popped out after Gardeners' World - 9pm! - and still did some planting. It doesn't get fully dark until around ten thirty, so you feel there is always enough time to do everything. I'll do a post on vegetables shortly, but here I'll share some photographs I took at dusk. The garden has a particular character after the sun has set - fragrant, poised, almost sighing in relief from the day's heat. Hopefully these capture some of that feeling.

Red valerian (Centranthus ruber) growing round the base of the house is now coming into full bloom. There are two forms here, a paler magenta, and a richer red.

These blue geraniums were a gift many years ago. They form massive clumps, and I tried to remove them, but they have returned. They look perfect for a short time, which I intend to enjoy.

Self-sown foxgloves return nearly every year. These ones are stunted, but still welcome.

 Purple-podded peas are now in full bloom, looking as good as the sweet peas that will come later - and still growing strong.

 Allium 'Purple Sensation' is still holding on. Beneath them, other varieties, planted at the same time, are starting to show buds.

 And underneath the alliums, the self-sown forget-me-nots I transplanted from a raised vegetable bed are showing no signs of going over.

 The dwarf lilacs have super-sized blooms this year. They will soon turn brown, and need to be removed. The sky here is still bright - even at 9.45pm.

A hint of the future - the garden's first roses are opening. This is a low-growing white floribunda type, with a gentle fragrance.

 The other, years-established alliums - I forget the variety - are looking better than I expected.

This part of the garden has run over into a meadow - couch grass seemingly losing to Geum urbanum and creeping buttercup. They complement each other, but I will clear them once their insect-friendly blooms have finished - they are simply too invasive to keep.