Saturday, 26 October 2013

Autumn is here – and with it a Catalogue Trawl

I've spent more time in the garden recently than I have all summer
I’m now back from my travels and busy in the garden whenever I can, taking advantage of the warm weather despite blustery showers. And with impending gale force winds over the next few days, I’ve been checking structures to ensure they aren’t uprooted and sent bowling down the garden or over the neighbour’s fence. The willow wigwam that had supported my honeysuckle had finally disintegrated – it was a question of pruning, and supporting temporarily with iron stakes.

These grapes for wine making have colonised our holly tree
Apples have been gathered in, or left in heaps for visiting fieldfares if the weather turns really cold, and if I don’t take steps down to the farm hedgerow, I will not be able to enjoy the fattest quince I have ever grown. It will scent the living room for weeks to come; a fruit that is reminiscent of times past. Then there’s a magnificent crop of grapes this year. Most of our vines were grubbed out this spring as the varieties I had selected years ago are not suited to our high location in the north Cotswolds, but one has really come into its own. We can either make grape juice, or wine, or leave the fruit for wild-life that is now sadly lacking from our garden as the surrounding properties become ever more suburbanised.

Knowing it would be wet whilst we were away last week in Shropshire, I took with me a copy of the latest Dobies catalogue and spent some happy hours trawling through its 114 pages. It covers Flower and Vegetable Seeds for 2014 – and a whole lot more – and is subtitled “A-Z Flower and Vegetable Seeds, Fruit, Flower Plants & Garden Equipment”. And you have to remember that Dobies seed prices show a massive saving over other major seed suppliers as the packets do not have to carry the costs of printing pretty pictures. Flower seeds are up to 42% cheaper, and you will save up to 49% on vegetable seeds – based on 2013 prices.

Before I guide you through some aspects of the catalogue, meet Dobies’ Vegetable Specialist, Peter Moreton. He is part of the team working for you, developing a range of seeds and plants which involves selections from field trials, testing of seeds for purity and germination, plus planning and quality checking plant production. A huge team effort.

Just to give you an idea - read in conjunction with the catalogue
Particularly useful are two charts provided to help you get the most from your vegetable plot. The first will assist you in planning cropping rotation – not just vegetable groupings but advice on fertilising, and growing veg all year round without shortage or gluts.

Again, this is best read alongside the Dobies 2014 catalogue
For which the seasonal Vegetable Growing Chart will be invaluable, for it tells you when to sow or transplant, harvesting times and distances between plants and rows. These charts are followed by six new ‘harvest selections’ – seed varieties that mean you can be harvesting something every month of the year.

'Hunter' Butternut Squash - tasty right now
Looking through what I might have been harvesting now, I wish I had thought to plant some Butternut Squash, for we have family joining us for lunch tomorrow and I know they love my dish of mixed vegetables roasted in olive oil. I have potatoes and parsnips but the lovely soft orangey flesh of  ‘Hunter’ would really appeal to the youngsters, as well as us adults!

Makes my mouth water - and my tree is flourishing
And thinking ‘orange’ made me think of oranges and lemons! I am so pleased with my large potted lemon – still in flower and with an increasing number of baby fruit – that I have also acquired an orange tree. It’s catalogued (ref 231365) as a strong-growing variety which produces a compact, round-shaped tree that will bear large fruits of a delicious flavour. A superb plant arrived, complete with protective shroud for the winter months – all I really need now is for my husband to complete the covered porch. Or else I need to clear over-wintering space in the greenhouse. Weekly feeding throughout the year is advised and Dobies also offer a summer and winter citrus feed (ref 581868 & 581874).

Really useful on the potting bench
Now that I can plan my 2014 productive garden with ease, I turned my attention to the equipment section of the catalogue. Always fascinating, I selected three items that will prove particularly useful. The first is a ‘2-in-1 Sieve’ measuring 35x35x12.5cm (or 14x14x5” in proper measurements!) with two interchangeable and tough woven wire screens – with 6mm and 12mm square holes. Perfect in the potting shed or greenhouse if, like me, you like to mix your own compost according to whether you are sowing seed or potting on. (Ref: 578750).

These are really rather special, and perfect for use on the kitchen windowsill
With the ever-increasing cost of supermarket winter salads that shrivel the moment you open the bag, I am determined this year to sow and grow my own on the kitchen windowsill. So I was pleased to find that the ‘Seed Trays & Propagator Lids’ now have strengthened rims for extra rigidity and improved 2-tier drainage. The lids are available separately if you don’t need both, or at a reduced rate when bought with trays if you do. Four sizes of trays are available, so depending on space, and sill width, you should be able to have a a continual supply of fresh salad snippings. A suitable variety for growing throughout the winter on a windowsill is ‘Winter Mix’ (ref  436589) which looks quite delicious.

So tasty ...
Of course, you will no doubt have other winter veg and may like to benefit from recipes devised by Dobies Food Ambassadeur, Simon Hulstone (Michelin Star award-winning chef of ‘The Elephant’ restaurant in Torquay). I particularly like the sound of his ‘Savoy Cabbage with Smoked Duck and Cumin’ (you will also need a couple of shallots and a clove of garlic. And if it isn’t sacrilegious to say so, I grow extra perpetual spinach and winter cabbage to feed my hens. Green vegetables help to keep them healthy when the grass in the orchard is inaccessible. Include these green-leaved veg into your cropping plan if you keep poultry. Additionally, I grow chard and sorrel, and in the summer the hens also enjoy the tops of harvested beetroot.

I’ve left until last a job for winter evenings: recycling old newspapers into seed containers using an ‘Eco Pot Maker’ – a nifty device from which you can make a limitless supply of sturdy but biodegradable pots for all your seeds, seedlings and young plants. It’s so easy to use and is supplied in three sizes – diameters of 3cm, 4.75cm & 6cm (1.25in, 2in & 2.5in). Perfect when you want to raise a few seedlings at a time in succession, from a pinch of seed. Equally good for flower seeds of course, and I’ll be returning to a catalogue-trawl of flowers next time.

A surprise and an honour
Finally, a little personal trumpet blowing. I reached the finals of the 2013 RHS Garden Blog Competition with my post ‘Falling in Love’ on one of my personal blogs (a condition of entry). Anything I have written for Dobies would not qualify, so I wrote my own gardening story (well a bit of it) and hope you enjoy reading it. Please click here if you would like to do so. And if you were one of the people who kindly voted for me, thankyou so much.

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. 

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Theatre at its best!

Show's over - curtain down, and going home
If you come to think of it, horticultural shows are pure theatre. From the staging of exhibits and displays of flowers, fruit and vegetables, to competition gardens. Some showgrounds are set in idyllic landscapes – the splendour of Hampton Court, the magnificent parkland at Tatton Park and the majestic beauty of the Malvern Hills. I have covered RHS Shows at all three venues on this blog during 2013 and returned to Malvern last weekend for their Autumn Show – a splendid mix of food, gardening and nostalgia; indeed a true celebration of harvest. 

'Grange Cottage' set for the Good Life Pavilion theatre
Malvern always excels itself with their theatre settings where visitors can enjoy a vast range of talks and demonstrations, and this year’s was no exception.  For once I had time to actually sit in on some of the talks as the subjects were all so topical and were of particular interest to me. I particularly admired the setting for the theatre in the ‘Good Life Pavilion’ – a stage set and garden combined. Not for the first time has talented designer Mark Walker been engaged to provide a stage setting at Malvern as designing authentic gardens that tell a story of past and present is a speciality of his. ‘Grange Cottage’ was closely based on his childhood memories of his Mum’s childhood home in Oddingley near Droitwich where his? Grandad grew his own veg, kept chickens and worked the land. Mark takes such care with ‘dressing the set’ with ‘props’ that I returned to take another look more than once to imprint it in my mind.

'Props' are so important when creating a show garden - these were perfect

Liz Knight demonstrating in the super-duper mobile cookery unit
supplied by Wot's Cooking (Katie Johnson hosts)
I went to a demo on foraging, given by Liz Knight of Forage Fine Foods in the ‘Wot’s Cooking’ Food Hall Theatre. Apart from being highly entertaining, she was also concerned that we should play with food, and with food heritage, not just around the lanes but utilising plants we grow in our gardens. There’s an inspirational larder out there. Honeysuckle flowers and rose petals make delicious sorbets, sprinkle clover flowers on salads, don’t eschew the elder – and did you know that common hogweed seeds (Heracleum sphondylium) are edible?

Graze your garden!
Eating weeds seemed to be generally on the agenda as I dashed across the Showground to attend two Plant Demonstration Sessions – fascinating. Two Committees from the RHS - the ‘Fruit Vegetable and Herb’ and ‘Tender Ornamental Plants’ – had joined forces with the National Vegetable Society in the Harvest Pavilion. Particularly intriguing was ‘Amazing Edibles’ given by Jon Wheatley of the RHS Council, the gist of which was to encourage you to graze your garden – “if you can grow weeds, you can grow anything!” We need to transfer information down the ages before we lose it (use it or lose it). He recommended chickweed eaten fresh and available all year round, hedge mustard, salad burnet and even ground elder! 

Petals and hips of this
Rosa rugosa are edible
He moved on to vegetables that can be grown as feature plants in an ornamental garden and suggested broccoli ‘Romanesco’ and winter-keeping squash, and then suggested edible flower petals – calendula, viola and daylily. Rosa rugosa was suggested for syrups, garlic to be planted in succession for leafy snippings, rosemary was the most popular herb (keep it clipped), use ton-building bags for raised beds – runner beans for floral effects as well as food. 

Grow veg in 8 or 10 inch pots - use good quality compost;
water regularly and feed well
Equally fascinating and informative was the demo on Growing Vegetables in Containers given by Mark Hall, Trustee of the NVS and Grounds Manager at Harper-Adams University. He explained that “anything and everything” can be grown in a pot, the advantage being that you could more easily control what you grew and where (greenhouse, moving to outdoors or conservatory etc) and that protecting pots was easier than covering rows of veg.

Back to ‘The Good Life Pavilion’ to enjoy the ‘edible gardens’– show gardens in which a proportion of the plants grown had to be edible. As the catalogue outlined, the GLP is “all about sowing, growing and cooking with fresh wholesome food harvested from the garden. It’s about enjoying and preserving a year-round supply of fruit, vegetables and herbs … and living a sustainable life.” Designers had taken this definition into account, using prepared food and drink as part of their design.

Clipped bay outpaced the tea plant (Camellia) in this tranquil garden
The 'Tregothnan Tea Garden' celebrated the British passion for teas of many types and was set amongst their calm tea plantations in Cornwall – a small space at the Show but one where you instantly felt you could relax, drink tea and think “green thoughts in a green shade.”

I've only shown a section of this garden - the cooking structure was over-dominant
'A Place to Grow, A Place to Dream' was, in my view, somewhat weird – where functionality did not quite work – a central island cooking area that dominated the garden, with sink for washing veg with constantly running water (was this really eco-friendly??) but nevertheless some lovely edible planting, so I have still included it. 

I can recall occasions when my husband and I would picnic in a
garden as magical as this - I wish there was space to show close-ups of
the plants. Truly a bower in which to relax.
'Out of the Red, into the Green' was a sweet garden, subtitled by its designer as ‘The Love Nest’; a gentle space where one could imagine unwinding with one’s partner at the end of a long, hard and busy day working away from home. The analogy of austere times when one should reflect on what really matters in life, and save money by growing one’s own food, was for me overshadowed by the idea of enjoying the plants, nibbling saladings whilst enjoying a glass of wine.

And so our day ended, and we made our way home, captivated by all
we had seen, and inspired to continue reclaiming our own acre of ground.