Friday, 23 March 2012

March Miscellany

The perfect spot for soaking up the sun and writing garden notes
I’ve been out and about in the last seven days, as well as venturing into the garden. The square-metre plot moving forwards. This time last year, it was not even created, and now flourishes. Sitting on my favourite faux-French sea-blue chairs, under a canopy of sweet-scented golden mahonia, alive with honey-bees, I soak up the sun and make notes. The buzz if bees is everywhere. On the flowering box-balls, and the red-deadnettle weed, deliberately left to provide early pollen.

I am suddenly aware of the sweet violets purpling the shrubbery. They have spread and invaded the path – a happy accident, so I plan to crystalise some. The blue hyssop, which I had thought was dead, is sprouting new growth; good for bees come summer. This morning, the flower buds on my Redlove® Circe apple are about to open, so sheltered is this little courtyard garden, bordered by shrubbery.  A couple more trees would be perfect to aid pollination – maybe Redlove® Era which fruits slightly later than Circe. As Dobies currently have a special offer running, saving 79% on a second tree, now would seem to be a sensible time to purchase this delicious red-fleshed apple.

Double-click on this beautiful National Trust plan if you want to see it in more detail
Two weeks ago, I was blogging about the value of visiting gardens for inspiration and tips for our readers’ plots. I marveled at the restoration work occurring at Knighthayes Court in Devon. Yesterday was even more special: the discovery at Packwood House, near Solihull, Warwickshire, of another remarkable project: to reclaim the walled ‘gentleman farmer’s garden’ of the early 1700s. using historical documents, National Trust gardeners will recreate what was a vital part of one family’s self-sufficient home. 

Much is already emerging in here at Packwood House - progress will be reported in coming months
The documentation was fascinating – “the eighteenth century larder: kitchen gardens provided abundant resources, focusing on variety not quantity. Less familiar herbs and flowers grew amongst vegetables, with uses stretching far beyond cooking: from flavourings to dyes, sedatives to disinfectants, perfumes to poisons, and also medicines for people and animals alike.” Fruit in abundance, with step-over apples as bed edging; wide borders of flowers for cutting (some medicinal), herbs and vegetables already well-advanced, and quite a few quirky additions. Central to the garden is the ‘dipping pool’ which is currently being lovingly relined and will no doubt be returned to its traditional use of can-dipping for watering plants.

I came home full of enthusiasm for our own mini-plots – for we have gardened here in the north Cotswolds over the last 40-odd years very much along similar eco-friendly principles; and this year, despite increasing age (and health willing), will see further attempts at bio-diversity. I plan to make a Bug Barn from reclaimed materials, and will at some later stage provide readers with my notes.

Massed wild daffodils at Packwood (I rush home an pick an armful
of my own from within our orchard)
Tomorrow night (Sat 24th Match) the clocks go back: more time of an evening to enjoy the garden after work. And time I always think to reflect on the past winter and new beginnings for the months ahead. With this in mind, our forthcoming April e-newsletter will bring some exciting changes – same format, shift in topics. And of course, we hope you like our Blog posts – please spread the word! And to make your search on Dobies website for seeds (quick - special offer until mid-day Monday 26th March), plants, vegetables and flowers, fruit and herbs, plus sundries and equipment, that much easier, click on any of the highlighted links to speed you on your way to a productive garden.

Friday, 16 March 2012

The remarkable 'Edible Garden Show'

Stall holders were busy selling throughout the Show
I'm just back home after spending the day at ‘The Edible Garden Show’ at Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire, just outside Leamington Spa. Before I enthuse about the exhibitors, there are still two days when you can visit, if you are in the area, and grab a slice of the ‘Good Life’. Just click on this link for more details. High quality plants, seeds, equipment and advice were in evidence throughout the two halls and a marquee – all undercover, so no problems if the weather turns wet over the weekend. The Show focused on more than just edible plants: livestock and food stalls, plus plenty of gardening advice, given by individual exhibitors or in the Experts Theatre.

Demonstrating the making of a traditional bee skep
Particularly fascinating, as ever, was the BBKS stand (British Beekeepers Association). Not everyone has the time or knowledge to keep bees, but they are essential pollinators of our food crops. Clive Joyce, manager of the BBKA’s apiary at Stoneleigh, said that “even if you don’t want to become a beekeeper, you can still do your bit to help keep bees healthy by signing up to the BBKA’s ‘Adopt a Beehive’ scheme. And a new initiative was launched at the Show: the first pollination dating service bringing together beekeepers and fruit and vegetable growers: will match a local beekeeper with farmers, smallholders, allotment holders and even people with good-sized gardens or office roof, so that a hive can be set up in a specific area.

Discussing the merits of Stevia rebaudiana
Unusual herbs are becoming increasingly popular and there were many unusual planters available – as well as herbs themselves. One much in demand was Stevia rebaudiana, commonly known as sweet leaf, sugarleaf, or simply stevia, and widely grown for its sweet leaves. I have to admit I had only recently heard of this plant but botanist and broadcaster, James Wong, was extolling its virtues, for “it has anti-bacterial properties, and due to its fluoride content, the plant is good for your teeth.” Evidently good for diabetics, too, and shortly to be available online through Dobies.

Robert Longstaff discusses The Oxford Garden Project
I then met Robert Longstaff and his wife Yvonne who, after 20 years of running a busy workshop, in 2000 developed The Oxford Garden Project  to share with others their 35 years’ experience of organic gardening. Having achieved gold awards designing and building show gardens at Chelsea, Hampton Court and other major shows – and being ‘master composters’ for Oxfordshire – they now offer talks, demonstrations, exhibitions. group visits and courses both at their home base of Longworth and at venues around the country. Subjects include growing, cooking, preserving, bee- and poultry-keeping, and woodworking. They are happy to help with land-share, community allotments and composting schemes.

Lush salads inspire you to get out into the garden and 'grow your own'
Which brings me full-circle and back to further planning in my own acre of orchard, veg plot and mini ‘magazine’ gardens. Out with the Dobies catalogue to pour once more over fruit and vegsalads and herbs, plus the flowers that will add colour and joy, and be beneficial to the productivity of any garden or allotment.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Garden Visits and E-News/Blog Plans

Winter sunshine in the walled vegetable garden at Knightshayes Court, Devon

Having just returned from a business trip to Devon in the last couple of days, I want to share the usefulness of visiting gardens for inspiration, ideas and even growing tips. This was not the purpose of my visit down to the southwest, but with a few hours to spare, I was able to enjoy the spectacular National Trust kitchen garden at Knightshayes Court, just outside Tiverton. I had read that “the restored and fully productive kitchen garden is a treat for everyone who enjoys local produce.” Yes indeed, but so much more, even in winter – and this was a good example of what can be gained from many of the National Trust properties that are presently bringing their former kitchen gardens back into use. This one just happens to be more developed than most.

Ideas abound in the herb borders at Knightshayes Court
Kitchen gardening on a grand scale is no different to what we can be attempting in our own, much smaller plots. Stately homes may well have the advantage of space, and perhaps a walled garden, but otherwise, as at Knightshayes, a four year rotation plan is as important as it is to us more modest gardeners. Herbaceous borders, too, are clearly important for providing a continual supply of cut flowers and foliage to decorate the house. Culinary herbs flourish; and already salads and sweet peas are planted out, with some protection - against the wind I guess, for the milder Devon climate, and well-manured and composted soil, pays dividends.

New garden initiatives inspire and inform, as here at Knighthayes with the new 'Outside In' polytunnel plantings.
To get the most out of any garden visit, ensure you first read the background to the place; and take with you a notebook, pen and camera. If so inclined, a sketchbook and paints will help you to record atmosphere, which is just as important as what is actually growing. Note garden layouts, and varieties grown, and any innovative aspect that catches your fancy. At Knighthayes, it was their latest project that captivated me,  the ‘Outside In’ garden is in fact a series of very deep raised beds positioned inside a large polytunnel, and home to heritage vegetables – it will be stunning come mid-summer. Replicating the idea at home? Just use your ingenuity!

The topics in this planning chart
are not set in concrete, but give
an idea of plans for April-June
(double click to read)
From Knightshayes, forty miles south to the offices of Dobies, and a team-meeting to forward e-newsletter and blog plans for the coming months. We do not meet in person that often, though content is formulated in three-monthly blocks. What we offer you is continually evolving; we are committed to bringing you an increasing number of topics, all interlinked with Dobies seeds, plants and equipment (this week's email direct from Devon focussed on strawberries and the ‘top ten veg’ recommended by Dobies vegetable specialist Peter Moreton). Plus a storyline that will take you through the reclamation, planning and productive stages of three mini-gardens that were created originally for gardening magazine features. Watch this space – all will gradually be revealed over the next few weeks.

N.B. This virtual tour of Knightshayes may well inspire you to think about your own gardening needs. Clicking on the links will take you to relevant sections of the Dobies website.