Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Front gardens are for the birds (and the bees...)

I don't blog much about my front garden, although I have replanted it recently (more details soon) but today I was able to snatch a couple of minutes for a quick project where the GarlicBaby agreed to play in his travel cot. The Scandis have some very good ideas, chief amongst them swaddling a baby until they can't really lower their arms and then taking them outside for some fresh air. With GarlicBaby distracted by his jingle bunny and teddy bear, I was finally able to put together my birthday present from my lovely in laws last year, a RSPB bird feeder. It had gotten put away during our house renovations so imagine my joy at finding most of it. I replaced the missing stick (which will no doubt turn up when we move) with a couple of canes and hey, presto, bird feeder! I've got it in the back garden for now but will have to see whether or not it needs to be moved to the front. After all, given that our garden is cat-proofed, I don't really want to serve up a bird buffet to our resident felines!

Monday, 9 February 2015

Gardening book review: Adam the Gardener, a pictorial guide to each week's work by Cyril Cowell & Morley Adams

For as long as I can remember, I've always had lots of books. So much so that my mother, when I was about 10, actually went to our local library to put a limit on the number that I could borrow at once. Mr Garlic and I have agreed that whilst we won't spoil the GarlicBaby, we will always allow him to have lots of books. Whilst we were at Hampton Court, I found a new addition to my gardening library, Adam the Gardener

It's a marvellous pictoral week-by-week guide to gardening, made of a collection of cartoons originally published in the Sunday Express in the 1940s. It's a rather lovely depiction of tasks that should be completed on a weekly basis and shows a surprising amount of detail. The grumpy gardener, Adam himself bustles about in what looks like a rather fetching panama hat and (Mr Garlic would approve) is so manly that he doesn't wear a coat even in the depths of winter. It's really quite inspiring (I feel rather chastised by his serious points about strawberries in this week's cartoon).
Not only does the book show you, week by week, what you should be doing in all of the different parts of the garden, but it has a useful index section in the back to help you plan your plot by giving you suggestions for layouts and colour schemes:
Rating: 5/5 - This is a lovely little book that would make a great present (especially stocking filler) for any keen gardener. It's not only an amusing read, it's a useful reference book that you can dip into every week to get ideas about what you should be up to. A really nice little collection. 

Title: Adam the Gardener
Publisher: Chatto and Windus

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Horticultural day out: Hampton Court Palace (including kitchen garden!) review

List of foodstuffs planted in the kitchen garden
My husband and I try to ensure that we have a family day out every weekend. It's usually to somewhere within 90 minutes drive of our home in South West London because the GarlicBaby tends to get a bit squeaky on long car journeys, and we go everywhere from museums, to farms, to gardens, to National Trust properties. I'm going to start going reviewing the horticulturally linked adventures that we have.

A couple of weeks ago, we spent our Saturday at the beautiful Hampton Court Palace. We'd only been there once before, for a magical summer picnic and evening of fireworks and classical music from the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the summer music festival. Go and see it by the way, it was an extraordinary event.

Our most recent trip, however, was to see the marvelous new kitchen garden. Hampton Court Palace once had six separate kitchen gardens, about an acre apiece. And the one that is being rebuilt by their wonderful team is envy-inducing on a ridiculous scale. This is a place where the brassica patch is larger than my entire patio and the kale plants are five times larger than my cats. In short, it made me immediately start scheming and trying to think of football fields that I could steal to grow something similar. You can really believe that the plots could support hundreds of courtiers and servants at the Palace.
The main patches had ruler-straight edges, with perfect vegetable specimens Each vegetable patch had a border of herbs and not a weed could be seen on the perfect gravel paths. This is truly a kitchen garden fit for a king.

The garden that's being reconstructed is based on the plans drawn up in 1736 by John Rocques. The staff at the Palace are replanting the kind of fruits, vegetables and plants that would have been found in the garden before the 1840s. Every inch is being sensibly used, with fan-trained fruit trees and apple and pear cordons lining the edges.
Illustration showing the garden as it will be when finished
The garden is currently free to enter which means that everyone can enjoy this marvellous reconstruction of a piece of horticultural history. Doesn't it just make you want to grab whatever is ready and start cooking? Most of the planting was done in 2014 when the plot was checked for archeological artefacts and so I can't wait to visit again and again over the next few years as the trees mature and the harvest becomes visible. 
Pretty good-looking spring onions, bordered by sage plants

Inspiration: Something I've finally seen in enough kitchen gardens to try is edging beds with herbs. I've decided to try it with hardy herbs in my raised beds this year. 

Child-friendliness: Excellent. Whilst our GarlicBaby is too small to do anything but peer around him as he was wheeled up and down the paths, we saw multiple families there enjoying playing identification games with their children as they looked at the various plants. The Palace itself is a marvellous place for children to explore, with real log fires, appropriately furnished rooms and the characters of the time of Henry VIII wandering about and playing out the seduction of Jane Seymour. The staff there are so knowledgeable and make you feel that nothing is too much trouble. All in all, a lovely day out. We can't wait to return, Hampton Court Palace is going to become a regular haunt. 

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Snow joke when the weather confuses your plants

First it was my poor Brown Turkey fig tree, getting completely confused because I brought it into my warm dining room. Now it's my poor garlic. Stupid weather. There's a lot of pity in me for my poor garden. My garlic, dutifully planted on the shortest day of last year so that it could have a nice long chill in the soil. But then the weather was both mild and warmer than usual in January of this year so it started to sprout at serious speed. And then today, wonder of wonders, snow! In London! The sheer pollution and warmth of the city, combined with our somewhat southerly position, usually mean little, if any snow in the capital. And even when it does fall, it usually doesn't stay. Indeed, the snow that I saw this morning didn't settle because the ground was wet. But I'm worried that it's going to kill off my young garlic shoots. Surely the bulbs should have been frozen, not the actual plant? Oh well, nothing I can do about it now, but I really hope that I'm not going to lose my whole garlic crop. On a more positive note, the snow covered up the mess in my garden and looked pretty so hurrah for snow!
Mess more or less hidden - hurrah!