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Tulips

What was I saying about older tulip bulbs not doing me proud? Well I’ve been more than happy with how both old and new bulbs have flowered this year. The older ones, in the main borders, have done just fine and I can see how the bulbs must have been multiplying under there. The stems and flowers have been strong.

Some of the colour has actually been outstanding and I’ve had lots of lovely comments from customers about the tulips.

In the kitchen garden the Morello Cherry is in full flower. This is really exciting - we had enough cherries last year, the tree’s first year in our garden, to make some jam which was used in a Cherry and Almond Tart. The number of flowers this year will hopefully lead to a bounty of cherries. I just can’t wait.

At home the summer broccoli seedlings and radishes have been seriously munched by pigeons. Not happy! I thought it was slugs but then caught a fat pigeon red handed sitting on the seed bed just ripping bits off. Need to construct some sort of protection.

I’ve got tomato seedlings doing well on the kitchen windowsill and the chilli seeds have germinated and we’ve got maybe 15 young seedlings. I’ve also sown some seeds for cut flowers, which I’ll plant out in the bed that currently houses the potatoes, once we’ve dug them up in June.

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The Spuds are in!

I’ve decided to grow just one potato this year. The very unromantically named International Kidney is otherwise known as Jersey Royal - when grown in Jersey. So our Milford Royals were planted today. I dug manure into the soil over the winter, and have planted a whole bed of them. They’ve been chitting at home for the past few weeks and had strong green shoots starting to poke through. This just gives them a headstart once they’re in the ground. I added some grass clippings to the trenches I’d dug. I read it somewhere and thought it couldn’t hurt! They look really snug.

Also in the back garden (The Kitchen Garden) the Broad Beans are really showing some promise - loads of flowers forming. We should have these in a dish on the specials board by mid June. 

In other parts of the garden:

The colour succession in the front garden starts now that the Snowdrops and Daffodils have had their day. Although we have foliage all year round which fits the colour scheme the Fritillaries are the first flowers to bloom in the ‘right’ tones. You can see why they’re called ‘Snakeshead’.

The Tulips will follow, and then the Aquilegia, then the Geraniums and the Lupins… hopefully…The Aquilegia is just showing some flower buds now.

It’s not all good news though. The Lavatera which I had three of in the front garden, and which gave huge value for money with loads of pink trumpet flowers late into Autumn, has gone and got rust spots. It’s a spore I think - lives in the soil and is easily spread in damp and windy conditions. I tried just chopping out all the infected bits but a few days later more was showing. So I’ve bitten the bullet and dug them out, bin bagging them and putting them in the general waste, not the compost heap. Because the front garden is all about maintaining a pretty place for people to sit I have to be quite brutal in the choices of keeping and getting rid of plants. At home I might take more time and effort in trying to keep plants and restore their health. Having removed the Lavatera though I’m trying and see it as an opportunity to choose a new plant to fill the gap…

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Spring!

Just as with the pots by the front door the borders in the beer garden are planted to provide successive colour from spring to autumn. Bulbs are planted under and between the perennials, and there's the odd shrub and a few potted Japanese Maples to provide structure and height.

We've had the snowdrops now and the daffs are in their element. Daffodils don’t really sit with the colour scheme of the borders but I can't have a spring garden without daffs. They mean spring to me, are utterly cheerful and sunshiny, and I did live in Wales for 17 years…

I've also got tulips planted in the borders but will pull them up this year and replant new bulbs ready for next spring. I never want to believe Monty Don when he says to treat them as annuals but I've given in. They don't come back anything like as strong the second or third years, so new bulbs it is.

One of my favourite late spring/early summer flowers is Aquilegia. The little nodding bonnets of flowers are so pretty and I do like the way they spread themselves about without shame. My friend Maz, who helped me design and plant the garden before we opened the pub, digs them out of her garden and gives them to me. She considers them weeds! One persons trash is another persons treasure… at the moment they're just showing their promise with the foliage growing into soft mounds, helping the borders look less bare and suppressing weeds.

Finally I've got some seeds sown. I've waited and waited because I get ahead of myself every year. Peas have been sown for pea shoots, not pea plants - they're sprinkled thickly on top of compost and tend to germinate pretty fast. The pea shoots we grow are thicker and crunchier and are used, amongst other things, on our home made black pudding starter.

I've also planted chilli seeds, hoping to get a strong crop to contribute to our next batch of Standley Jerk Marinade. I don't use a propagator and chilli needs a steady warm temp to germinate so am just hoping a corner of our centrally heated house will do. Fingers crossed.

Lastly I've sown some summer broccoli. I've created seeds beds in deep plastic crates (actually unused recycling bins) and will sow successively in April and May. Should be able to plant out in this year's brassica bed in about 5 weeks and if I keep to the sowing plan, and things grow well, we’ll have fresh broccoli spears from July to October.

 

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Hello Blossom

annie_02.jpg

The past couple of weeks have seen me developing back twinges from clearing overwintered vegetables such as kale and spinach, digging in muck and turning the compost heaps.

Of course the flowers cheer you up with every dig though, and the pots outside the front door have multiplied in number.


We inherited an almond tree in the back garden and although we haven't used the nuts yet (shelling them takes so long it's not yet worth our while investing the time) the early pink blossom is so welcome.

 


A couple of years ago I planted a few blackthorn bushes in order to get my own crop of sloes. If you pick sloes you’ll know how competitive it gets - people don't leave them enough time to benefit from the first frost for fear of missing out on a harvest and everyone is so secretive about where they grow… Grow your own I say! The blackthorn blossom is now making a promising show, although last year we didn't get a successful crop. Fingers crossed for this year because I'm running out of sloe gin…


We pulled up the turnips this weekend and they'll be on a special dish this week, lightly pickled. I'm waiting for chef to confirm the whole dish. They are brassicas, which surprised me as I assumed they'd be roots and you'd grow them in the same rotation as carrots. But nope, they’ve been planted in this year’s brassica bed, following last year's year's peas and beans. It's was good to have something growing over winter and I might plant turnips again this late Summer/Autumn to keep production going during those cold months.


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Sunny Impatience

When the weather tricks us like this, with warm sunshine through the window, it’s hard not to get sowing seeds - but I know it’s too early. It’s still February for goodness sake! 

I’m already thinking of getting the potatoes chitted and have ordered some International Kidney (Jersey Royal) seed potatoes. They are early/second early potatoes and let’s face it, the best new potatoes for a potato salad. They should arrive in the next couple of weeks and I’ll get them into the ground mid March for starting to harvest early June I hope. 

photo from Thompson-Morgan.com

photo from Thompson-Morgan.com

If you don’t know about chitting potatoes - it’s all about giving the shoots a head start before they go in the ground. You place the seed potatoes in a light place with the eyes facing up and let them shoot. You then plant them shoot up in the ground and they charge up toward the light. You only need do this for earlier varieties. later ones have enough time in the warmer ground to sort themselves out.

The garden plan I wrote last Autumn was always going to be open to change. I’ve still got an area of turf I haven’t lifted yet so some of the things I planned will either have to move or be grown in pots. There were some real successes last year which chef wants us to repeat such as the spinach, the runner beans and the lovage, but the one thing I will be able to get started on before the end of February is the pea shoots. These sweet shoots, bursting with pea flavour, are great garnish for some of our dishes and particularly the home-made Black Pudding served with poached egg and bacon sprinkles. I also plan to grow rocket to be harvested young, and micro radish.

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What a glorious day for some winter gardening.

I didn't feel like getting up and cleaning the pub today, but once that chore was over and I got outside my heart and mood immediately lifted. Sunshine. Flowers. The combination is such a winner.

Outside the front door of the pub I've aimed to have welcoming colour all year round and I plan my pots and their rotation with as much precision as the unpredictable weather allows.

The cyclamen have given colour through winter with the hellebores coming to flower in January. Foliage is the back up for colour when I can't rely on flowers to provide it.

And now we have the early crocus colour and the promise of the scented hyacinths. I'm starting to get excited about Spring! 

I have tulips, daffodils and fritillaries waiting in the wings, and they'll be followed by lupins and cammassia, and so on… 

Snowdrops are, of course, the most romantic and gentle of February flowers and who doesn't love to see them poke their way out into the cold? They cheer me up no end. We have them dotted all over the place here: front, back, planted, naturalised. 

I try and provide potted and cut flowers inside too and for the past week we've had narcissus daffodils on the dining tables. The warmth of inside always means they go a bit leggy so today I've harvested the remaining good flowers for vases and will leave the leaves to die back and feed the bulbs, ready for next year. 

Other jobs for today, while it’s warm enough: mulch the front borders to keep the weeds down (I'll be using a mix of bought and home made compost), turn the heaps, harvest some spinach that's successfully over wintered (for the new Black Bream dish) and check the worms are happy. 

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Worms In The Post

We've a couple of unused wheelie bins that need putting to use so I'm going to set up a wormery. I had one a few years ago that produced the most potent liquid fertiliser I've ever known. Things shot up, big and strong.

I've to make the worms comfy first with warm bedding and protection from water and frost, but if happy they plough through kitchen waste and produce both the liquid fertiliser and a great compost. 

Keeping worms happy is a pretty weird concept - but I adore the things. Always delighted to see them in the compost heap or when I’m turning the soil. It’s a sign your garden is healthy. They like it damp, warm and away from sunlight. 

I’ve ordered 350g of worms from YorkshireWorms on Ebay. They arrive next week. I can’t wait!

 

picture from RHS.org.uk

picture from RHS.org.uk

SETTING UP THE WORMERY

  • I’ve put water a water butt tap at the bottom of the wheelie bin, ready to siphon off the liquid fertilizer, then a layer of gravel to allow drainage and stop the worm’s habitat getting water logged.
  • For comfort and warmth I’ve added a bed of straw and shredded newspaper, ready for the worms’ arrival next week.
  • The kitchen constantly provide peelings and greenery to feed to the worms - they won’t be going hungry, that’s for sure.

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I love gardening...

Although I came to it relatively late, in my 30’s, it’s fair to say I feel it’s now in my blood. It gives me so much pleasure, satisfaction and calm sanity.

Having planned to become a full time gardener a few years ago, part of the deal in changing that plan and opening the pub together was that I got my hands on a garden I could build from scratch. At The Queen o’ t’ owd Thatch I had two blank canvasses - the beer garden at the front and the kitchen garden at the back of the pub.

I like having plans and ambitions and set an aim of being able to say that everyday there would be something on the food or drink menus that came from our own garden, whether fresh or preserved, and now, just into our third year of trading I’m getting close to being able to say just that. I love the seasons and seasonality of food. 

Our broad bean standing up to the frost. 

Our broad bean standing up to the frost. 

When you’re faced with a lawn and want to create a garden to grow things in then you know that you’ve got hard work ahead. Lifting the turf began in earnest in Autumn 2013 to create beds for vegetables, herbs and cut flowers. It revealed compacted clay - unsurprising for this area - but turning the soil in Autumn means the winter frosts can help break down the clods, making it easier to turn in the compost and other organic matter that, between yours and the worms’ hard work, will eventually create a soil that roots and shoots can work their way through. 

I knew I wanted to make compost from the vegetable kitchen waste we’d produce - so much better than throwing it away - and so built 3 large bins to get the compost going from day one. There’s been some trial and error in getting the mix right but now, 2 years on, we have an almost continuous supply of garden compost to enrich and open up the soil in the beds. 

Our kale also coming through January's weather.

Our kale also coming through January's weather.

It’s now mid January and the 3rd winter of these gardens. I don’t think the gardening year ever really ends or starts but at this time of year I love getting all the preparation work done in anticipation of things to come. Tidying up the edges and paths, digging over the beds, turning the compost heap and sorting out the shed. It sounds so boring on paper! 

Things are still growing and producing though - today I harvested black kale which accompanied the pork loin dish on our menu, the turnips are fattening up and we’ve still got perpetual spinach being, well, perpetual, and providing some vivid green leaves for the sea bass dish. Most exciting for me is the neat double row of broad beans we sowed early November which give so much promise for the harvest to come.

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