Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Hello all from a sunny growth spurting Devon!

The potatoes are poking their little heads out so I have heeled these up . The beans are growing up the poles over night ! The peas are doing really well too , I used the early onwards and I must say they are looking great. We have just got our first crop of broad beans and yellow alto beet roots are ready this week to go over to the restaurant
An update from the Elephant Farm

Perpetual Spinach Plants from DobiesEverything has come on in leaps and bounds.

The spinach ( lazio and perpetual ) have given a few crops already. 

I have had to side shoot the tomatoes this week , the tomatillos and cucamelons are coming into their own now , so all those with the cucamelons that look like they are sleeping , hold on ! They just shoot to life .

All is looking good and so is the weather for this week ! , so enjoy and I will catch up with you again soon

Happy growing
the guru gardener x

Monday, 27 May 2013

May Miscellany continued

Stunning location for an allotment - Knucklas, Powys

I am writing this post just one day after the one I posted yesterday, on Sunday 26th May. Only because I am taking a holiday which for me is unusual – working trips away, yes, but time away without a professional slant is something I have not experienced for over two years. Already, before we have even left home, I have a list of activities that in fact impinge on this, and other blogs and magazine features. For one of my favourite allotment sites is located within walking distance of where we stay with our caravan; in fact you can see it from the c’van kitchenette window when I prepare our usual away-from-home salad supper. It will have to be visited for up-to-date photos!

Much to enjoy and observe at Berrington Hall near Leominster
Then, I look at the map, and think of all the places within reasonable distance that I might like to visit, or that we can stop off en route – and would you believe it they relate to what I write about! But that is hardly surprising, for I am fortunate to be able to write about the things I love. So maybe a visit to the National Trust’s Berrington Hall with its manicured orchard and swathes of trees and shrubs will soothe the soul as well as augment my image library. Look for underplanting in shrubberies, ground-hugging plants that suppress weeds.

Quirky wasp trap in the
walled kitchen garden
at Packwood House,
I made a pact with myself earlier this year to make more regular visits to our local National Trust gardens, and others open to the public, not just for the ‘ooh-aah’ factor but to record the seasonal progress therein, obtain ideas, and make notes thereof, and generally build a picture of the vision of head-gardeners to maintain and modify the gardens for which they are responsible. Most are approachable and pleased to offer advice. And if it is vegetables you love, there are many properties that are restoring former kitchen gardens, as at Packwood House near Solihull, Warwickshire.

Runner bean St.George scrambling through my herb bed
Climbing Beans can be transplanted around now, for all danger of a late frost should be past. Sadly, we will run short this year – our first sowing in the greenhouse was a failure, just so cold the beans rotted; whilst the second lot, which were just emerging, have been eaten by mice – even though they were well protected. Hopefully the third batch sown this morning will survive, with double protection. The mice seem to wait until the beans are just germinating and manage to evade mouse traps – such a waste of time, and a diminished harvest will leave us short of produce come the late Summer. 

A mixed bed of brassicas is as decorative as it is useful (Aberglasney, Wales)
Vegetables are not just for eating! Many are highly decorative and warrant a place in the flower border regardless of whether they will find their way into the kitchen. Chard with its brightly coloured red or yellow stems, the almost black crinkled leaves of Cavola Nero kale – which I first saw growing in Italy, the deep crimson of cabbage good for pickling, and purple-leaved pak choi – all have a place beyond the veg plot. I am currently infilling gaps in my new ‘Wilderness’ with bright green perpetual spinach (my husband will not eat this nutritious veg, but the hens will, and thrive on it).

Grandchildren checking 'their' plot (note protective covers on canes)
Encouraging children to help in the garden is useful in many ways. They are less likely to play football over a plot they have helped maintain, particularly if it is a space they have been ‘given’ for their personal planting. Our children helped by clearing stone from our veg plot – though they were bribed (a penny a bucket, back in the early 1970s), and our grandchildren helped to clear a small area of ground in which they planted their choice of veg in two small raised beds. I gave them a selection of plants from which to choose which included strawberries, lettuce, cabbage and beans. Strawberries were the favourite. I showed them how to sow radish seed sparingly and at each subsequent visit, they tidied their ‘square foot’ bed and checked its progress. Gardeners of the future and well worth encouraging, for what you learn in childhood so often becomes a life-time passion, as it has with me.

Don't forget to  visit the Dobies' website for all your gardening needs and requirements. You may particularly like: vegetable seedsvegetable plants, flower seeds, flower plants, herbs, fruit and equipment. And don't forget their regular mailings and special offers online. Just keep visiting so you don't miss anything special. I'll be back again next month.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

May Miscellany

Scrambling through the shrubbery
Sunshine at last here in the north Cotswolds (second day running!) and, according to the Met Office weather chart, it’s pretty much stable over the whole of England and Wales. High pressure of 1024 millibars over the whole country, so not much damaging wind either. The sunshine is much needed to encourage my young seedlings to put on a growth spurt. It’s been far too cold for newly sown veg to thrice, except the lettuce under cloches. And the high winds a couple of days ago have destroyed any chance of a crop of walnuts this year – all the male catkins were blown off before pollinating the female flowers.

Squash seedlings needing the sun before they can be transplanted
Nothing goes according to plan in our garden. I was going to post some hints today on growing squash vertically where space is at a premium, for left to their own devices they will trail indiscriminately here, there and everywhere. Mine are still at seedling stage and haven’t yet emerged, but so I cannot present a proper step-by-step, but have images that will show you what I mean. It’s not too late to sow seed – one per pot. Press them vertically into the compost and cover with vermiculite. Once two or more true leaves appear, and all danger of frost is over, they can be transplanted. 

Training squash vertically - tied onto canes - in my 'Grow-bag Garden'
Grow them up canes, as here. You will need to tie with soft twine every few inches or sow for if you don’t they will wave weave around in the air like some triffid destined to catch you unawares. And if you are wondering why this plant is emerging from a grow-bag, well that’s perfectly possible out of doors and something I did a few years back when I was clearing new ground of perennials weeds. I simply killed the weed by covering the area with an old tarpaulin and utilising the space as a grow-bag-veg plot.

And another method - peg the trailers circular fashion on the ground
Another tip for training trailing squash came from the National Trust – Upton House near Banbury in north Oxfordshire. They have a magnificent large sloping plot on which they grown vegetables and fantastic fruit. It’s worth a visit if you are in the area. In this instance, the squash were planted on mounds of soil, with an empty plant pot sunk alongside for watering. (do this with the grow-bag method, too; water and liquid fertiliser reach the roots more easily). As the plants start to trail, you peg them down circular-fashion, winding the stems into ever larger circles. We did not go back to see them at this stage, but I sketched the idea recently in my Garden Jotter.

Tiny sketch top right indicates a peg-down squash
Talking of Jotters, Diaries and Notebooks, the theme may be anathema to some readers, but they really do serve a useful purpose. I have just walked up through the orchard from checking the new hens, with jotter in hand and noticed that there is a good set of pears, the first allium is flowering in the ‘wilderness’, and the comfrey is alive with bumblebees, hanging upside down to reach the nectar. I have various comfreys planted around the place. I find them beautiful so full of life, and have just acquired a new variety. Some are invasive but are kept under control by cutting back and feeding the leaves onto the compost heap - ideal as a compost activator between layers of other material.

My latest photo scrapbook page - all the images were taken in the
garden this morning, apart from the Squash plant and flowers
After a month of use, my little Pocket Garden Jotter has only one page left; with its tiny and scrappy sketches, it encapsulates a retarded Spring far more vividly than my words-only notebooks. I will create a Summer jotter for June and hope that it will be filled with productive produce and glorious flowers. My camera is my other means of keeping records, more snapshots than digital art but again, a record that, if kept up-to-date, allows us to compare weather and growth patterns, good and bad years, and the sheer joy of gardening.

Don't forget to  visit the Dobies' website for all your gardening needs and requirements. You may particularly like: vegetable seedsvegetable plants, flower seeds, flower plants, herbs, fruit and equipment. And don't forget their regular mailings and special offers online. Just keep visiting so you don't miss anything special.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Inspiration at the Malvern Spring Gardening Show

Tulips in my Potager - a bright splash of colour in a dull week
Reading Debs' post from Elephant Farm it seems that the weather is good down in sunny Devon, whereas up here in the north Cotswolds, it is dull, dreary and SO cold, as it has been for weeks on end. The early potatoes are looking good in the allotment-plot, and first batch of veg seed now transplanted into the potager. Albeit with cloches over the mixed lettuce. There’s spinach romping away in readiness for my new hens and one sad climbing bean solitary in the bean bed – rest were a failure and I have sown some more in the greenhouse. The joy has been the bed filled with spring bulbs, perfect blooms in various varieties over the last month – how I love the flamboyance of the parrot tulips.

Perfect blooms in the Floral Marquee at Malvern
I have just returned from the Malvern Spring Gardening Show from whence I had planned to publish this post, but had problems with importing images, so am now re-writing. It’s always a pleasure to be in that marvellous location, and – as with any show – inspiration for your own garden is all around you. We certainly cannot grow roses like these, but our micro-climate and soil suit shrub roses - the petals make delicious jam.

Cottage garden flowers
My garden is something of a wilderness right now, having been sadly neglected through force of circumstances, so I was intrigued to see that wild flowers, or flowers that give that impression, are increasingly on offer, and are being used in the show-garden plantings. Certainly they thrive more readily, provide food for wild-life and withstand the blustery winds that blast the garden and orchard from the east. (I deliberately grow weeds that will provide nectar for early bees, and now they have moved onto the pear blossom we already have a good set.)

'Best in Show' and a gold-medal winner at Malvern
The show-gardens at Malvern always attract attention – there were more gold-medals awarded than previously and we learned that many a would-be designer ‘cuts his teeth’ at Malvern. There was an interesting mix of styles and planting – this ‘best in show’ was sp packed with trees and shrubs that you could not see the soil; though that evidently is an important criteria with RHS judges. Seeing it like this, it was hard to believe that but three weeks before it had been a bare plot of grass and that only a week before it had looked more like a building site on which tons of stone had just been delivered!

wicker baskets are practical and attractive for displaying herbs
Wandering around the showground, I was able to pick up many ideas that can be adapted for use in any garden, and particularly those that are too small for all you want to grow. Herbs – or vegetables (or flowers) look quite beautiful when planted in wicker log baskets; either set a pre-planted plastic pot inside, or line the basket with tough rubble sacks in which you have punched holes for drainage. Use a good compost and ensure that what you plant is watered according to type.

Sweet-smelling lavender - but is it fully hardy?
Come the end of the Show, and many show-gardeners sell off their plants, as these beautiful lavenders. How many will still be alive come next spring is a moot point for they are half-hardy in the UK. Sitting in on a talk on plant-hardiness, it was suggested by the speakers that such plants are protected with fleece and the like until all danger of frost is past. I wonder how many gardeners want to see their bed swathed in fleece for most months of the year (we had a sharp frost here in south-Warwickshire two days ago – mid-May!)

Double-click on this scrapbook image to view it at a larger size
For those who live too far away to have visited, this scrapbook-collage gives you an overall feel for what inspired me. Maybe you saw it on BBC Gardener’s World, which I missed, but caught the BBC crew filming my favourite show-garden. There are of course other shows around the country – national, regional and local. I was privileged this year to be able to visit during the build-up and engaged to write the (new) official Malvern Show blog which will give you an insight into much that is involved in running these magnificent events. Shame the organisers can’t control the weather, but that does not deter the intrepid gardener from visiting. Or does it?

Don't forget to  visit the Dobies' website for all your gardening needs and requirements. You may particularly like: vegetable seedsvegetable plants, flower seeds, flower plants, herbs, fruit and equipment. And don't forget their regular mailings and special offers online. Just keep visiting so you don't miss anything special.

Monday, 13 May 2013

On The Elephant Farm - Peas!

Hello fellow gardening folk,

Early Onward Pea SeedsWhat wonderful weather we have had, it has warmed the ground up lovely.

 I  put out my peas this week, "early onward " an easy to grow favourite and " douce Provence " they only
grow about 18" high so twig staking only required also can be sown in October and November for over wintering , my first time with these so will keep you posted.

All my tomatoes and cucumbers are in the tunnels now as are my " tomatillo " ( lime flavoured toms that come in their own Chinese lanterns ) which are growing with great zest, I am quiet excited to see what these little wonders turn out like ! My cucamelons  are just starting to take bite but they do like the warm these are grape sized watermelons that taste of cucumber with a shot of lime... Enjoy the weather ( including the rain!) and catch you all next week.

Debs the guru gardener !

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Latest From The Elephant Farm

Well the weather this week so far is glorious ! So lots has been a happening down on the farm .

I have managed to get the rest of my potatoes in , the general rule for spuds is in by Good Friday but . . . Only you can judge really and just use that as guide line .

Also I have planted kohl rabi . " lanro " a delicate flavour and " kolibri " a  purple skinned one , will let you know how I get on .

Also , leaf beat bright lights , one of my favourite and spinach " reddy " a new one for me but spinach is usually bomb proof . . . Lets hope I haven't spoke too soon !

I popped half of my climbing French bean out ( cobra) and held half back because there is still cold nights but they seem to be doing well and some borlotti beans.

My peas in the tunnels have doubled in size in just a week , everything is jumping on , it's wonderful to see.
Lets hope we have a great summer ahead and I will catch you all next week 


Introducing our Dobies of Devon Food Ambassador and the Elephant Farm Blog posts

The Dobies of Devon gang are very excited to be welcoming Simon Hulstone (Michelin Star chef and all round good egg) as the 'Dobies of Devon Food Ambassador'.

Few chefs in England are as busy as Simon.  Besides being captain of the English Culinary team, he is in charge of the kitchen at Torquay’s Michelin Star restaurant 'The Elephant' and last year, together with Heston Blumenthal, created the menus for British Airways customers during the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

'The Elephant Restaurant' has its own farm which encompasses two acres of land with stunning views of the Devon landscape.  At the farm, Simon and his team rear free range pigs and sheep and grow a range of seasonal fruit, herbs, flowers and vegetables which are expertly prepared and served at the restaurant and brasserie.

Simon is a great advocate of home growing and foraging, Dobies are proud to be joining forces with him in order to help you get the best out of your own home produce.  Each of the new catalogues we will be sending throughout the year will include recipes from Simon.

Each week will will be giving you an update on what is happening on the Farm, from Debbie Barker the resident guru gardener...

Last week, i planted out my early potatoes at last . . these are the . . . Salad, Rocket , Anya  and Vivaldi .
Also my tomatoes have been potted on into 3inch pots and some have been planted out into the tunnel .

The Climbing French Bean’s ( Cobra) are propagating and will go outside in the week or so , I will keep you posted on this .

I have put my carrot seed out ( Purple Haze and Yellowstone and Early Nantes ) also some Chioggia , Golden Burpee and Alto beets in .

I also rotavated the last bit of soil ( yay ) and then my celeriac and red spring onions will be going in.