Monday, 30 July 2012

The "allotment" at four months

Yesterday was bright but breezy, the sky full of all sorts of clouds, but enough blue to coax me out. Still, it's felt rather autumnal this weekend, with disconcertingly little heat behind the sun. I went over to my friends' garden, to revamp the raised bed, harvest the carrots and onions, and sow root and leaf crops for the next few months.

It was a great few hours - chatting to my friend as we picked blackcurrants, sorted and tied up onions, weeded and raked, fed and sowed the bed with turnips, perpetual spinach, beetroot and more carrots.

My friends had success with runner beans last year. This year, they are growing a pretty, buttery-flowered variety, fading to white, but it's been wet, dull, cool, and the plants have been covered in slugs - the biggest I've ever seen. Nonetheless, they survived, and have started producing pods. Small pots of sweet peas, on either side, gave a modest posy of cut flowers - large, white, the edges tinged with lilac.

Blackcurrants! There are two patches in this garden, both many years old. I did some remedial pruning in the spring, but otherwise they've been left alone - still they have produced a large, healthy crop. It took a couple of hours for us to pick them all - sticky work, but worth it. Before I left, we made a bottle of cassis - simply breaking down a small bowlful of fruit in a pan with a dash of water, passing through a sieve, adding sugar and alcohol (white rum as it was to hand) to taste. The rest were frozen on trays, so they can be bagged up and kept for later use.

When I tested the carrot crop two or three weeks ago, I was not impressed - they seemed small, forked, and some were nibbled (slugs had taken off the exposed tops). I left them in the ground, since we had nothing to lose, and I hoped they might swell a little more, but by yesterday I was anxious to get the ground resown with something I hoped would be more successful. What a surprise - the bed was full of carrots, many straight(ish), reasonably thick, unblemished, and fragrant. I took a bagful, and my friends got even more. So this is my first true carrot crop, after years of failing. Not as regular in appearance as supermarket examples, but they have an intense aroma that is unbeatable.

You may recall I sowed some red basil back in the spring. My friends have diligently potted them on and kept them watered, and now they are in full bloom - so they are at the end of their productive life (although there's still time to sow a fresh crop), but they filled the greenhouse with scent, and were beautiful enough to have been used as bedding plants. The foliage has gone an interesting two-tone purple and lime green combination, and they are topped by tall spikes of pale purple flowers, which would attract pollinators if they were outdoors. I took some leaves, which should be tender and fragrant enough to eat.

The onions were a reasonable success too. For £1, we got around 40 sets, and most have swollen into medium-sized bulbs. One or two had flowered, reducing their size, but the best were hung up to dry in my friends' shed. It's a good idea to 'cure' them like this, somewhere airy and out of the rain, if you want to keep them for a long time. The leaves with shrivel, the outer skin will go papery, and they should enter dormancy. They are perfectly edible now, of course. Note, the onions I planted in the shadier raised bed (below) are still growing, so I've left them in for now.

My friends' garden has some old fruit trees, which tend to produce a harvest only every other year at best. The smaller apple tree is currently laden with blushed fruits (above), while the larger tree, which yielded a very tasty if bone-dry cider two years ago is having an identity crisis, producing spurs of blossom in July, while a generous crop of fruits swells around them (below).

Finally, there are crops still to come, like blackberries. The brambles above are very well behaved, arching over a boundary wall, and gave a handful of ripe fruits yesterday - the first to ripen is always the one at the tip of the spur. There should be a good-sized crop, so long as it doesn't rain too much over the next few weeks.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

A time of flowers: July part II

Continued from part one...

An unusual source of reliable plants has turned out to be the local greengrocer. He has a range on a couple of small tables out on the pavement in front of the shop, depending on the time of year. I got some lavender from there last year, which has thrived. Recently I saw a pot of mixed Achillea (yarrow), and I had to get it - they were in shades of faded pink and white, and huge (two-three feet tall) for not much money. I popped them into the front garden, in a gap left by the foxglove that had reached its end, and here they are - a lovely hint of cottage garden, and great for pollinating insects.

I have two large Buddleia davidii forming part of the 'hedge' between my small front garden and the road. This year, the deep purple one has grown to its largest size yet - from street level, around ten feet tall. I pruned it quite hard a couple of months ago, but left the tallest stems, as I wanted it to form a sort-of tree - I've seen them trained in this way elsewhere. It's just coming into bloom now, with its unmistakable bready scent, beckoning bees and butterflies.

More nasturtiums - this time mustard yellow. I've never seen this colour before, and although in principle I should hate it, I don't - it's another splash of brightness.

The dominant colour is red, however. Towards the bottom of the picture above, you can see the fluorescent orange that is for me the quintessential variety, but most are a deeper scarlet or blood red. These are all self-sown offspring of last year's carmine variety.

Two plants I sowed into modules were Nigella and Ammi majus (I also sowed them direct into the back garden flower bed). I planted some out under the tomatoes that went straight into the ground in the front, and though small, they are now flowering. What delicate patterns and colours - seen here amongst the leaves of a Cordyline that grew of its own accord a couple of years ago. There are mixed blue Nigella too.

My favourite rose of all time - Rosa gallica versicolor (syn. R. mundi). As with 'Albertine' in part one, this single-flush flowerer has lasted much longer this year, even producing more buds as the first flowers faded. The bright, striped pink flowers are heavily scented - a good, old fashioned rose smell. Perfect for liqueurs, syrups, and crystallising.

A landmark of the year - the first tomato truss! Yes, they're late this year - I planted them later and the weather has been even worse than in 2011. Still, they are growing fast now, and fruit is on the horizon.

Finally, my greatest sense of achievement this month derives from the sweet peas. Grown from seed, in pots in the greenhouse, sown in April. Three 19th century varieties, 'America' (the red and white striped ones), 'Beaujolais' (not pictured), and 'Senator' (probably the lilac ones) have all thrived and are romping up cane pyramids. They have all the scent you could hope for, and seem to embody the English summer - delicate, short-lived, fragrant, bright. I will pick them to prolong flowering - here they are in a shot glass that makes a good small vase.

A time of flowers: July part I

Time for my lazy monthly update, mostly in the form of pictures again - split into two this time, as there's lots of pretty things in the garden this month. We've had another very wet few weeks, and the jet stream finally shifting from an unusually southerly to more normal northerly track hasn't helped at all - being in the middle of the country, we've had the worst of both situations. Still, it's been mild, and the plants have thrived - even if the molluscs have too.

I have to say, I think the single-flowering roses (i.e. those that have just one flush of blooms, rather than repeat flowering when pruned back) like R. 'Albertine', above, have benefitted from the subdued conditions. They seem to have flowered much more slowly, over weeks rather than days. Of course, lots of flowers have been lost due to rotting before they opened, but most have survived. This old climber was bought for 10p a few years ago - a dead-looking twig in a pot. I have pruned it back hard many times, as it has a tendency to grow in the wrong directions (and is very thorny), but it still flowers well. It has little scent, but carries these lovely pink blossoms, starting deeper and fading through peach to almost white. A gem.

I did sow Calendula this year - both the mixed variety I grew last year, and a bronze-coloured variety. However, they did not germinate well, so I've relied on self-sown plants - and here they are. I don't normally favour yellow flowers, but I think I prefer the foreground bloom to the more typical orange one behind. They sing out on a dull day.

My other climbing rose (R. 'New dawn') is planted rather awkwardly in an island bed I devote to flowers - but in early spring, I constructed a sturdy tripod of canes, and tied in all the bare stems, pruning out anything weak. The result has been a big success - a six-foot column of flowers, which has been favoured by birds, waiting their turn at the nearby feeders.  Slightly paler than 'Albertine', and slightly more open blooms - with lovely golden stamens - which fade from pink to white.

In the same flower bed, I had nasturtiums last year - and they returned with no help from me (though I did plant some anyway). They don't come true from seed, and this year have split into almost every colour possible. This peach-blushed one is particularly striking, especially with the dark centres.

I did sow lots of annuals into the bed, to ensure it was stuffed with colour this year. Several kinds of poppies have finally got round to flowering - and this is the first. What a beauty. Incidentally, if you're thinking this must be a very garish display, you're right - I have no colour scheme, nor do I want one. It's a tiny garden, and mostly green due to my preference for fruit and vegetables, so this patch is where I let loose - although the bright oranges, pinks, red, purples, and white all seem to work together fine. It's a celebration of summer excess, brief and exuberant.

Finally, here's another rose, which I've photographed before. The varietal name is lost - this is easily 15 years old, rescued from a bucket by the side of the house. I seem to recall my parents buying it on holiday somewhere, and it has proved itself resilient. Bouncing back after going in the ground, it's flowered for a couple of months this year already. Not so showy as some of the other flowers, but a reliable beauty nonetheless.

More in part two...