Tag Archives: sweetpeas

Flowers in October

flowers-in-oct_cropped

It was time for the autumn tidy-up this weekend as I’ll be busy for the next few weekends. Despite mixed weather – sunshine and showers – I managed to tick practically everything off my to-do list and can turn my back on the allotment with a relatively clear conscience now!

Despite it being mid October, the dahlias and the sweet peas are still going strong, and will no doubt carry on until the first frosts. Admittedly, the sweet peas were extremely slow to get going this year, but I don’t think I’ve ever picked such healthy bouquets this late in the year! There’s no doubt that having a cutting garden at the allotment makes for one of the most cost-effective – and delightful – crops, from May right through ’til November. Bliss. I’d extended my flower production to two raised beds this year and it’s worked better than I could have hoped: more dahlias, armfuls of ammi majus and a surprising star in the form of Achillea Summer Berries, sown from seed earlier this year and excellent for picking in a range of soft pinks and creams. The plants I planted out in the garden at home were devoured by slugs the minute they went in, but the allotment ones escaped unscathed and I’m hoping for an even better display next year. The bupleurum and euphorbia were disappointing, but more than compensated by the self-sown dill flowers (and alchemilla mollis from home) which provide that yellow or green zing for arrangements. I currently have no less than 11 vases of blooms dotted around the house, some admittedly just single stem posies, but for mid-autumn that really isn’t bad going…

As well as harvesting yet more glorious flowers, courgettes (also still coming aplenty!), leeks and the last of the main stems of calabrese, I also picked all my apples on Sunday to pre-empt the frosts. I thought there wouldn’t be as many this year, but as I filled bag after bag, I see I was mistaken! All now safely hanging in the garage, but I suspect I’ll have to give some away – far too many for one. As it was, I left two bags of windfalls on the allotment sharing table and there are quite a number of prime specimens still on the trees, out of reach without a long ladder. I may leave those for the birds…. Oh, and this is where I’m glad I pay 40p for the privilege of having my fortnightly online shopping delivered in bags! I’m all for saving on plastic bag use (and re-use canvas bags/bags for life wherever I can), but short of investing in an old-fashioned apple store, I’m not sure how I’d store apples without my good, old, sturdy Waitrose bags.

red-apples-2016

Other tasks crossed off my list included taking out the spent sweetcorn haulms and shrivelled squash plants for the compost. The squash have been a complete write-off this year, one of the few crops that haven’t done well. I can only assume it was the late, cold spring and not a long enough growing season. In their place I sowed next year’s broad bean seeds, Aquadulce as usual. Such a lovely thought that they will start growing now, while the soil is still warm, hibernate through the winter, and then produce their delicious bounty as one of the first crops of next spring/summer, with very little interference from me. I also planted some Oriental salad leaves under an Enviromesh tunnel, more as an experiment than anything else. I had intended to plant them at the end of September along with the rocket and hardy lettuce, but time ran away with me. We’ll see. When I’ve tried planting salad crops under fleece at this time of year before, I had a great crop of early salad leaves the following spring – definitely worth a go!

 

exotic-emperor-tulip

I’d ordered my new-season tulips from Sarah Raven (my annual treat!) a few weeks ago and most of the varieties bar one have arrived, so I finished planting up my spring barrels, taking out the old tuberous begonias (far too top-heavy this late in the year) and storing the dinner plate-sized tubers in brown paper bags in the shed for next year. I’ve tried to opt for earlier varieties in this year’s selection, so that I get more of a splash of colour at the same time: Vanilla Cream and soft pink Design Impression for my pair of tubs by the front arch, pale lemon lily-flowered Sapporo near the front door and Spring Green and Exotic Emperor, both white with green, in the back garden. I can hardly wait!

tulip-sapporo

I also lifted some of the wallflowers (peachy-pink Aurora) I’d sown from seed in May and planted some of the sturdy little plants in the barrels too – hoping for an impressive display next April/May. Blue pansies bought en masse (and on offer) from my local garden centre, Tête-à-Tête daffodils and Cream Beauty crocus complete the mix. Now to stop the dog digging up the pansies in search of the deliciously-scented (to him at any rate) chicken pellet fertiliser I’ve obviously used far too liberally!

leo-at-richmond

 

 

 

Advertisements

Flowers for the house?

Bridget's arrangementOne of the things I love most about having an allotment is that it enables you to grow masses of flowers to cut for the house. With only a small rear courtyard garden and a not much bigger front garden at home, I can only really pick small seasonal posies without spoiling the display in the garden, which of course lasts for much longer if not picked! I love to see colour all year round, so the garden at home is planned for a succession of colour, but I get so much pleasure from that when I’m working from home, or coming in and out, that it seems criminal to snip more than a few flowers here or there. It’s lovely, too, to have bunches to give away when visiting friends for dinner – a hand-tied arrangement is often far nicer than anything you could buy and people are always thrilled that you’ve grown them yourself.

dahlias in situDown on the plot, however, I have a whole bed dedicated to flowers: mainly dahlias that stay in the ground year after year and have now reached monster proportions! So much so, that I really need to think about lifting and dividing them this autumn to make room for new varieties. I’ve also squeezed in some gladioli, which don’t take up much room and are far more effective used for picking than standing awkwardly in a flowerbed, and a couple of cosmos plants. I have a framework of blue-hued sweet peas (Singing the Blues from Mr Fothergill’s seeds) alongside my mangetouts and have been picking huge bunches every couple of days since the beginning of July – heaven!

sweet peas in situNext year, I’m planning on growing even more flowers by sacrificing a potato bed. I used to grow three beds of potatoes, 20 tubers in each, covering early, salad and maincrop varieties, but I cut back to two last year, when my boys left home, and I’ve realised that even two beds is far too many for one, even if I give them away to visitors! Wireworms and slugs tend to get there before I can with the later crops, and then there’s blight at the end of the season, inevitable on a large allotment site. Far better, I’ve decided, to devote another bed to flowers, preferably earlier-flowering varieties so I can extend the cutting season.

Sweet peasI already grow sweet William and wallflowers as decorative edging to some of my vegetable beds, and I have daffodils under my apple trees and tulips in the asparagus beds, along with beautiful lilac opium poppies. Yet I’m craving peonies for lavish armfuls in early summer, plus those useful early annuals such as Ammi and Bupleureum for adding white and lime green froth respectively to spring and summer arrangements. Alchemilla mollis I already have in abundance at home, and a visiting friend this weekend had the inspired idea of using golden yellow dill flowers to accompany my deep red, pink and white dahlias – a stunning combination, as you can see above! Our local florist at one of my favourite local tearooms, Beal’s Barn, often has fabulously decadent double ranunculus in her spring arrangements and that’s another bulb I’d like to try in my new bed, possibly with freesias too, on a friend’s recommendation. Hardiness may be a concern, but if the dahlias survive the winter, there’s every reason to suppose these might too.

Glorious gladioliAt this time of year my house is already full of flower arrangements – I counted as many as 14 in one go, from tiny posies of sweet peas or roses in my office, to statuesque vases of gladioli and big, blowsy bunches of old-fashioned dahlias. I love it!

Dahlia Sugar Diamond July 2015

Sowing the seeds of summer

Gerrie Hoek

Despite the chill winds of mid-March, now is the time to start off those early seeds for summer crops. I sowed my chillis (Apache), aubergines (Bonica) and sweet peas and lobelia just over a week ago before escaping to the Alps for a sunny ski break. The lobelia (dark blue Crystal Palace) are up already, but no sign of the chillis and aubergines – not that I expected there to be! They can take up to 3 weeks, even in a heated propagator, so all the more reason to get them in early. You can, of course, buy young plants later on, but that’s much more expensive and I find they are more prone to disease and aphids if you buy them in, presumably because they are hot-housed in great numbers…. The sweet peas (Singing the Blues) are sitting 5 to a pot on the sunny conservatory windowsill and usually take around a fortnight to germinate. I soaked the seeds in warm water overnight this time before sowing; this used to be recommended practice, but advice seems to have changed in recent years, resulting in much worse germination in my experience – so back to the old tried and trusted methods! I usually sow another batch of seed straight out in the open in April too, and they invariably catch up by mid-summer, and extend the picking season too.

Today I’ve planted parsley (Champion) and basil (British Basil), both in small pots in the propagator, and also three kinds of leeks : Nipper for early baby leeks from September onwards, Pandora for mid-season leeks and the blue-green Bandit for late winter leeks. Last year’s plantings are still going strong; in fact, I’m probably going to have to lift and store them in the next couple of weeks to make room for the new-season crops! Yes, they are in the ground a long time, but such a good-value crop for very little outlay and effort…. I would hate to be without my leeks! Each packet of seed usually contains plenty for two years of sowing – watch out for parsley, though, as fresh seed usually gives best results.

I’ve also potted up some new dahlias from Sarah Raven, ordered a few weeks ago: I love browsing through her catalogue (www.sarahraven.com) and try and experiment with new ones each year, if I can find room! I jettisoned some single yellow dahlias I’d grown from seed last year, which didn’t go with my deep red, white and pink colour scheme down on the allotment, so just room to shoe-horn in a couple more! I’ve gone for a white and purple bicolour collection: Edge of Joy and Alauna Clair Obscur, as well as two pinks: a spikey cactus type, Sugar Diamond, and Gerrie Hoek, a pale salmon pink waterlily type – can’t wait! I find it’s best to start them in pots in my grow rack, allowing them to get going away from the harmful effects of slugs, then transfer them out when the shoots are growing well. Once they’re established, I usually leave them out to overwinter as they’re planted deep enough in the raised beds to withstand the worst of the winter weather, even when we had sustained periods of ice and snow a few years back.

Alauna Clair Obscur dahlia Sugar Diamond Edge of Joy

My final task of the day was to pot up the tuberous begonia corms I bought last year and had overwintered, well-wrapped in brown paper bags, in the shed. The corms had tripled in size since last spring and seem firm enough, so I’ve potted them up in large pots and put them in the grow rack with the dahlias – just hope we don’t get any severe cold spells now!

Just time after all that for a brisk walk down to the allotment with the dogs to bring back some leeks and purple sprouting broccoli to accompany my duck breast and parsnip purée for dinner. Sublime…

Season of plenty

The problem with writing an allotment blog is that there’s so much to do in the summer months that you don’t have time to write! Hence the lack of updates recently…

In a brief bid to remedy the situation, and thanks to my son taking some lovely photos of my burgeoning allotment this month, I thought I’d add a quick photomontage to keep things up-to-date.

Allotment with me July 2014

Despite the soggy start to the year, the mild spring and the recent spell of hot weather have meant it’s been a great season for most things so far. Raspberries and soft fruit came earlier than usual and went over quickly, but my well-stocked freezer bears witness to the plentiful pickings! I managed to harvest enough redcurrants to make my annual redcurrant jelly (indispensable with roast lamb: mix with grated orange rind and fresh mint from the garden for a delectable sauce), but then the blackbirds managed to get underneath my netting and stripped the lot overnight. Note to self: make sure netting goes to the ground ALL the way round next time. Gooseberries were equally prolific and in fact there are still some of the dark red dessert variety (Pax) left on for one more pie (see below). The early plums have just started and the autumn raspberries too…

plums and dahlias

The flowers are heavenly as ever: for me, one of the huge boons of having an allotment is being able to keep the house filled with vases of flowers from the first daffodils of spring, through wallflowers, sweet williams and poppies to the joys of sweet peas and dahlias in the summer months right up to the end of autumn. Bliss.

Asparagus, broad beans, peas – mangetout and sugar snap – and far more salad than I could ever eat have ensured a wealth of produce to choose from on the vegetable front. Courgettes are coming on stream too now and the beetroot are doing well as ever.

Allotment produce beetroot carrots

In a bid to halt the badgers that decimated my sweetcorn crop last year, I’ve erected a sturdy (I hope) chickenwire fence around the sweetcorn. I’m hoping the butternut squash underplanting the corn will manage to grow through and beneath the wire and not be constrained – so far so good. Let’s just hope the badgers aren’t sufficiently determined this year to flatten and trample the lot…

sweetcorn barricade

The onions don’t look as plump as they have in previous years, which makes me wonder whether I didn’t keep them sufficiently well watered earlier on. Garlic was a complete failure again, succumbing to black rot despite being planted in autumn in a bed which had never grown alliums before. The only saving grace was the elephant garlic I planted just as an experiment, which seems to have escaped the mould, as I had been promised it would. In future, I might just give up on the normal garlic, which obviously doesn’t like my heavy soil, and concentrate on the elephantine variety. Leeks always do well, thank goodness.

Leeks July 2014

Today I’m going to make a start on summer-pruning the fruit trees, which have put tremendous growth on this year, although they aren’t quite as weighed down as they were in last year’s epic fruiting season. Probably just as well! I’m expecting the early red Katy apples at home to be ready any day now – they always make me think of the perfect apple tree a child might draw. Bright red apples, sweet as you like, BUT they don’t store, so have to be eaten straightaway or transformed into a delicious pink juice.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite recipes for using up a glut of gooseberries:

Gooseberry & Crème Fraiche Tart

Sweet pastry:

5oz plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

1oz caster sugar

pinch salt

2 tsp milk

2 1/2 oz butter

1/2 beaten egg

Sift flour, salt and baking powder into a bowl. Stir in sugar, egg and milk until evenly mixed, then work in butter (I find it easier if you grate it from cold) using fingers. Knead lightly to form a smooth dough, then chill in fridge for 30 mins. Do not leave too long, as it will set really hard and be impossible to roll!

When chilled, roll out on a floured surface (it will be very fragile, but can be patched if necessary!). Line a 9″ tart tin, then bake blind at 200°C/Gas 6 for 10 mins, then remove foil and beans and cook for another 5 mins until just set and golden.

Filling:

1lb gooseberries, topped and tailed

1 pot crème fraiche (200 ml)

4 egg yolks

3oz caster sugar

1 tsp balsamic vinegar

Turn oven down to 160°C/Gas 4 and arrange gooseberries in the flan case. Whisk egg yolks, crème fraiche, sugar and balsamic vinegar together and pour over gooseberries. Cook until the custard is set – about 45 minutes depending on your oven. Lovely served warm, or equally delicious chilled the next day. Enjoy!

I often make twice the amount of pastry and freeze half, so I can use a whole egg rather than have half going spare. Similarly, the 4 egg whites you’ll be left with from the custard are perfect for my macaroon recipe (see https://rhubarbandraspberries.wordpress.com/2014/01/06/mouth-meltingly-good-coffee-macaroons/) or for Nigella’s chocolate macaroons in How to be a Domestic Goddess….