Sunday, 30 September 2012

Good living at the Malvern Autumn Show

Happy crowds enjoying activities at the Malvern Autumn Show

We are here again on the Three Counties Showground in the lee of the Malvern Hills, enjoying a day of sunshine. The occasion? The Malvern Autumn Show. So much to see, but I make a beeline for the 'edible display gardens' in the Good Life Pavilion. As the catalogue explains: ‘The Good life is all about sowing, growing and cooking, with fresh wholesome food harvested from the garden, for a healthier, happier lifestyle. It’s about enjoying and preserving a year-round, regular supply of fruit, vegetables and herbs, or keeping chickens and rearing livestock on a small scale.”

Voted best edible garden
Judged as the ‘best edible garden’ was ‘A la Mode Dining’ designed by Caspian Robertson of Surrey Gardens. It portrayed a section of a retired couple’s garden – reflecting their passion for cooking and love of beautiful flowers; raised beds made gardening easier, herbs grew in abundance, and the scent of roses and edible pelargoniums would allow any owners the opportunity to relax on the terrace with a glass or two of wine. Added to which, they could happily entertain friends to join them for ‘Scallops and piperade’ – a culinary delight created by this year’s ‘Good Life Kitchen Garden Chef’, Jean Christophe Novelli, using produce from the garden.

So much winter colour in the cabbage patch
Love your greens: very different was ‘Discovering Brassicas’ which portrayed a small backyard garden showing the joys of growing winter brassicas such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and purple sprouting. A painterly display (forget green, there were so many shades which bring colour to the veg plot in the colder months of the year. Menu suggestions were included, prepared by award-winning chefs within the Blue Diamond group – one of whose companies, 3 Shires Garden Centre, designed the garden.

Image a woodland clearing and an edible garden therein
Inspirational in its design, David-Neate-Stidson’s  (Avantgardens) ‘Harvest in Harmony’ combined the efficiency of permaculture with the beautify of nature in a symbolic garden which balances human involvement, harvest and habitat. Imagine an open clearing (or a very small backyard garden between tall buildings): step into the circle towards a central pyramid up which vines flourish with high-level raised-planters between the uprights. At ground level are salads in small raised bed, herbs, a clipped circular edge of dwarf box and a perimeter of 12” ash-poles along beside which are trained step-over apples.

Such a clever concept; which struck a cord with older visitors
Nostalgia was one of the themes apparent at this year’s Autumn Show in many areas of the showground. Reflected in the edible gardens within the Good Life Pavilion was Mark Walker’s ‘Dig for Victory’ – a sensitive and theatrical portrayal in a rural setting within north Somerset, it epitomised the time from the mid-1940s – 1950s; from VE day to the Queen’s coronation. Here is its imaginary story: during World War II, the garden had been home to an anti-aircraft gun-emplacement which suffered bomb-damage in a Luftwaffe strike in 1942. Complete with sandbag walls and an Anderson shelter, it was lovingly cared for after the war by a ration-starved family who formed the garden using bomb-damaged materials, creating raised bed in which were grown vegetables, fruit and herbs.

Although Dobies were not exhibiting this year, don't forget to check the Dobies website for plants and seeds. For a start, look at Vegetables, Salads, Herbs, Planters, Raised Beds, Equipment, and so on. In other words, time to plan for the coming season. 

And a date for your diary: the Malvern 2013 Spring Garden Show - a feast for the eyes, with more stunning Show Gardens.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Autumn arrives ...

Only wood that cannot be recycled is burned - but not wasted
for the wood-ash is full of beneficial potash

We expect equinoctial gales to accompany the onset of Autumn, but it arrived here in the north Cotswolds with glorious sunshine and time to hack back some of the wilderness; for I have for one reason and another been unable to do much in the garden over the last few months. 

“Now is the time for the burning of the leaves. 
They go to the fire; the nostril pricks with smoke 
Wandering slowly into a weeping mist.” 

So wrote poet, Laurence Binyon’, just after the second world war. Burning leaves is a waste of future nourishment – far better to turn them into leaf mould by creating a leaf-bin from wood or four posts surrounded by wire netting. Or simply stuff them into a biodegradable leaf sack and store behind the shed. We recycle all we can - shredding branches to cover paths; logs go into the grate for household warmth. The rest is composted or burned.

Actually, the poem was in a way allegorical; new beginnings. And isn’t that what gardening is all about? Clearing away what is spent – recycling wherever possible, and planning for the year ahead. Of all the blog-posts written since I began this ‘Gardening Companion’ in January 2011, the post that has attracted the most ‘hits’ as been the one on crop rotation. Take a look at it again HERE and begin your plans for 2013 in time for ordering from the forthcoming Dobies catalogue which will shortly be available.

Planted now, these bulbs will bring fragrance and joy in early Spring
My Dobies bulbs have just arrived and I am busily planting them in pots to sit by our back door, where they will bring continual joy. There is no need to use bulb-fibre if your pot has drainage holes, but crock them well, use an all-purpose compost, adding some over the crocks, and plant the bulbs to twice their own depth; cover with more compost and top with a plentiful supply of grit to protect them from slugs and blackbirds who love to ferret and will uproot them. No need to place in the dark unless the pots are to be forced for indoor use.

Grit helps to protect the emerging bulbs from slugs and snails
September was always the time when I booked into some sort of weekly workshop to extend my skill and knowledge on a particular subject. This was invariably on art and today, with the rain streaming down the window, I plan to start a self-study course without even leaving the house! ‘Draw Flowers’ by Anne Pieper provides step-by-step instructions to drawing not only flowers but seedheads and leaves, using very simple tools – pencils and watercolour crayons. Published in 2010 by Search Press, it also offers an ingenious technique for assessing shapes as the starting point for a sketch. Perfect for anyone wanting to keep a garden journal. Click on the link above for more details, and to buy it from Amazon.

'Somerset Pride' - inspiring show garden at the 2011 Malvern Autumn Show
(image copyright TCAS)
More inspiration on what we can do in and with our garden is always likely from visits to gardens and gardening shows. I posted details last week of the Malvern Autumn Show which takes place in a few days time (Sat 29th and Sun 30th September). I directed readers to the Show website – here it is again, and also added more details on my Traveller’s Tales blog. This has since been updated with more Show delights. And this coming weekend, I’ll be at the Malvern Show, blogging live from the Press Office, seeking out intriguing gardens and activities for all those readers who are unable to visit themselves.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

September delights

Spectacular rose hips provide Autumn colour - and food for birds
Such a wonderful time of year is September, when the fruits of our labours are increasingly apparent, and we can turn to thoughts of the months ahead. The farming year always runs from harvest to harvest; as soon as the grain is in, ploughing and re-sowing. It coincides with the educational year and new beginnings (and that was always related to farming and post-harvest). Right now in our garden, I am pleased that shrub rose hips are in bright abundance; although I might pick a few sprays to display indoors in a pewter jug, most will be left for the wild birds to forage seeds in the coming winter. The shrub itself will not be pruned other than to remove straggly growth – and that not until just before new bud burst.

Long-lived Iceberg flowers even on Christmas Day
Floribunda roses are a different matter, and my Iceberg (planted in memory of a dear friend back in the early-70s) has flourished for 40 years with little attention. It flowers almost continuously if dead-headed as each flush of bloom fades; once the petals fall from these – photographed this morning – a spot of light Autumn pruning will mean fresh growth and new flower buds so that we can pluck a flower of two on Christmas Day. Roses indeed are a continual joy; and species and shrub roses do not suffer from the problems so often encountered with hybrid teas.

Bulbs in pots fill odd corners of the garden with Spring fragrance and colour
And so to thinking about early Spring colour, and particularly bulbs, planted now direct in the ground, either formally in borders or naturalised in grass. Tulips and taller daffs look spectacular when massed in groups – select varieties that will flower early, from February, through mid-season (March and April) to late, right through until the end of May: take a look at this four-month daffodil/narcissi mix, or the colour-themed mix of tulips. For naturalising, or where space is at a premium, select species – miniature narcissi and daffs, crocuses and multi-headed or dwarf tulips which are delicate and quite spectacular. Alternatively, plant in pots which can be moved once the bulbs have flowered, allowing them to dry our and ‘ripen’ before re-planting. My potted bulbs are replanted between shrubs and continue for years. Money well-spent. If planting in pots for outdoor use, use a deep pot with drainage holes, crock with stone, pebbles or broken flower pots. Then add a layer of potting compost and position the bulbs so they are almost touching and fill to the brim with more compost. If birds or squirrels are likely to be a problem, cover with clippings from holly or thorn, or an upended hanging basket.

Consider protecting vegetable and salad crops before heavy frosts
In the veg plot, it’s time to think of protection to keep crops from frost or excess wet – and to extend sowing and growing time. Frames are always useful, but as I garden in raised beds, I tend to favour ‘layering’. Cloches over which I position fleece and even mesh which is easy to remove on warmer days. It’s hard to find frames which fit standard-sized raised beds, but it is easy enough to construct formers which hold the fleece  - just a cross-bar nailed to two uprights, pressed into the soil at regular intervals. Failing that – if you are not handy with saw and hammer, pop a flower pot over each post and stretch the fleece over those.

An award-winning Malvern show-garden within sight of the spectacular hills
Inspiration: people travel from far and wide every year to the Malvern Autumn Show which gets better and better and is a continual source of information and challenging ideas – or just a grand day out, for all the family. Organised by TCAS (Three Counties Agricultural Society) on Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th September, 2012, at the showground in the lee of the beautiful Malvern Hills, there is still time to obtain tickets. Click here for tickets and more showground details, or to read a longer account of what’s on, go to my Traveller’s Tales blog