Sunday, 30 September 2012

End Of Month View ~ September 2012


The end of September has been celebrated here today with shades of 'Black Cherry' - not autumnal foliage but the colour of my hair, as himself has applied lotions and potions to disguise the advancing grey. I sometimes wish that there was an off the shelf product which could send the month back on itself. I usually appreciate the serene days of September but this one with the exception of some glorious and oh most welcome French sunshine, is probably best put to bed.

At the allotment I am a wanted person - the allotment police have finally caught up with me and my weeds which have been a problem all year. I came home from holiday earlier this month to find one of those innocuous looking brown window envelopes which contained unpleasant news. I had failed the September allotment inspection and have some twenty eight days to remedy matters. Now that sounds a generous amount of time but not when you have been away for a portion of it, nor when it seems to have poured down for almost the rest of it. When I say rain this last week was more or less swallowed up by the mother of all slow moving rain clouds. However between the seemingly never ending torrents there has been a battle royal to hack down the weedy jungle. I am really hoping that the plot will pass when reviewed sometime in the next few days. I am taking some perverse comfort in the fact that there are a number of other plot holders in the same position. It seems that many of us gave up for the season earlier this year. With me I think that the breaking point was when my third lot of climbing French beans were ravaged by molluscs. Will report back next month on whether I still have an allotment plot or not !

As a result of all the frenzied time spent on advanced weed killing, building bonfires and trips to the tip with green waste I have seen very little of the garden. The gabion project is more or less finished bar some finishing touches. We are thinking of making the area over to planting some fruit trees - there are a couple of pear trees planted there already. I also want to plant at least two ornamental trees - nothing exotic but much longed for trees - one being a malus and the other an alemanchier. I am looking forward to choosing them and planting them this autumn. The stars of the garden this month for me have been the astrantias which have sent forth a second burst of flowering - it would seem that the wet stuff has been to their liking.

The new season's catalogues have been dropping through the letter box with regularity for the last couple of weeks. I have been quite disciplined squirreling them away  in readiness for the longer evenings. The stock of to be read gardening magazines and books is also gaining in height. I have made one or two new plant purchases and will post about them in the next few days.

Meanwhile I am sure that other bloggers will have more uplifting tales of September to recount as Helen kindly invites us to share our end of month views, over at 'The Patient Gardener's Weblog'. Hopefully come October I will feel less out of sorts.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Salad Days ~ Totally Tomatoes


Back in the heady days of early May, when misplaced optimism about the coming summer still prevailed, I posted about my hopes to be munching on a veritable rainbow of tomatoes this year. I was inspired by the '52 Week Salad Challenge', laid down by Veg Plotting. The seeds germinated profusely forming fine sturdy specimens though I say so myself. After the initial positive start my tomato growing year went downhill. Things went haywire - cold spring nights saw me lugging crates of plants in at night and back out in the morning, labels went missing, plants were given away or sold at the garden club plant sale without me checking what I was left with etc., etc.........

The final straw was a nesting blackbird in the lean- to greenhouse at the allotment where my plants were headed for. I hung on and hung on but there was no sign of the last fledgling leaving home and I was about to go on holiday. A last minute rush to plant the majority of them in the community greenhouse ensued. So all in all a challenging start but matters improved when I eventually started munching. I have just stripped the vines down except for a few fruits, which were too high up for me to reach. So sadly not as accurate or as scientific as I would have liked is my verdict on the 2012 rainbow crop :

Tried and Tested (grown before)
'Sungold' - sown on 24/02/12, first picked on 21/07/12. Grown on in greenhouse.
'Gardener's Delight' -  sown on 17/03/12. Grown on in greenhouse. First harvest date not recorded but is was sometime in August.
Both these varieties fared well and produced lots of tasty fruits. A definite case of 'small is beautiful'.
'Losetto' - a low growing bush type tomato. This did really well gown in containers outdoors at the allotment last year. The plants were grown outdoors again and despite the odds being against them they set a plentiful supply of fruit. This is an expensive tomato to grow from seed but on balance worth the extra pennies if you are keen to grow a basket type trailing tomato.
On balance I have decided that taste wise I prefer 'Gardener's Delight and 'Sungold'. Also 'Losetto' has a thicker skin.

Beefsteak - 
'Super Marmande' - if somebody could enlighten me as to the difference between this and 'Marmande' (which I have grown before) I would appreciate it.
I am not sure what happened to these. I did not end up with any mature plants!

Uncharted Waters - (not grown previously)
Here there was the most disappointment as both plants and labels walked. Of the dark purple/black varieties listed below, I ended up with one variety which I grew indoors. My suspicion is that it 'Black Sea Man' but I would not testify to this in a court of law.

'Prudens Purple' - a potato leaf variety producing pinky- purple beefsteak fruits. 
'Black Sea Man' - a potato leaf variety which hails from Russia. The fruits are described as mahogany to brown in colour with green to olive shoulders.
'Noire de Crimée' - another Russian tomato with reddish brown fruits.

'Matt's Wild Cherry' - hailing from Mexico this apparently bears a multitude of very sweet small red tomatoes. I planted my plants outside on a tripod of canes. The plants did not thrive at all. I picked but a handful of tomatoes and was not that impressed but then it could be that there was never enough sunshine to give them much taste.

Again with the varieties below it is case of either or but I think it was the Polish variety that came through. Both these were grown under cover.

'Zloty Ozarowski' - a golden orange tomato from Poland.
'Jaune Flammé' - originating from France, this is an early ripening apricot coloured tomato.
Both the above were grown under cover.

Taste wise none of the larger tomatoes have been that impressive - himself replied with the word 'musty' when I asked for a verdict on the one I have down for 'Black Sea Man'. Not exactly the response I hoped for.

In conclusion I have decided that :
  • I will try again next year to grow some varieties that I have not grown before.
  • I will not sow so early.
  • I will sow fewer seeds.
  • I must be more disciplined when it comes to labels.
  • I must not give away/sell plants before checking whether I've set at least one of each variety aside for myself.
How's your tomato growing gone this year and what has been your favourite variety? 

Do visit Veg Plotting today for more September salad pickings.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Homeless


"A really long day of weeding is a restful experience, and quite changes the current thought. For some people it is more efficient than a rest cure. It is pleasantest to take a nine - hour day of such work when the earth is wet, or even in rain, because weeds come up more easily, root and branch, from wet earth. I never want an hour at noon for dinner like the hired man, but would prefer to lunch like horses from a nosebag. It would save time, and especially the necessity of cleaning oneself. After such a day my fingers are bleeding, knees tottering, back bent, dress muddy and soaking, and shoes an offence to my tidy maid : but I have attained the most profound inward peace, and the blessed belief of having uprooted my enemies." ~ Anna Lea Merritt, 1884 - 1930

I celebrated the arrival of the autumn equinox with a marathon weeding session at the allotment, prompted by the not welcome news that my plot failed a recent allotment inspection. Although the weather was glorious, I could not quite manage nine hours of graft and did not wear a dress for the occasion. The knees and back certainly felt it but I was still fortunately mobile enough to return yesterday for another stint.


One of the problem areas were my overcrowded and overcrowded strawberry beds which had become plagued with couch grass and horsetail. The strawberry plants had reached optimum production, so I had already planned to empty the beds later this year. However there is now more urgency so after himself had nobly cleared one bed, I made clearing the other a priority this weekend. In doing so I upset the little chappie above by removing his ready made sun canopy. Those eyes stared at me most reproachfully and I am still feeling guilty.

Today's relentless rain has temporarily stopped play. I did consider spending some time researching strawberry varieties as possible replacements but thought that this might be rather premature. Please keep your fingers crossed that all the hard labour results in my plot being up to scratch when it is reviewed early next month.

The extract at the top of the post is from the chapter entitled 'Weeders and Diggers' in 'The Virago Book of Women Gardeners' edited by Deborah Kellaway. A prefect book for dipping in and out of especially on days such as this.

Monday, 17 September 2012

'Unusual Edibles'


'Unusual Edibles' was the title of a talk that I recently enjoyed at this year's Southport Flower Show. The speaker was Alys Fowler, gardening writer and television presenter, who started her talk by informing us that there are some 15,000 edible species of plants. I worked out that it might take a lifetime to get through them all especially as some do not appear in the supemarket shelves. I scribbled furiously throughout resulting in a list of plants that I would like to introduce into the garden or the allotment at some point in the future including ~ 

Allium cernuum ~ also known as the nodding onion or lady's leek. The bulbs need full sun. Tasting of onions they can be used like spring or bunching onions. Chandelier like flower heads carry nodding pink flowers which are also edible. I have lingered over this particular allium in various catalogues before now completely unaware of their edible qualities. I think that I have been put off by the words "will seed around in the right conditions". This year I am putting caution to the wind and have already ordered some bulbs. They will look perfectly at home in a flower border and I think that they will be planted somewhere in the garden.

Allium victorialis ~ also known as the alpine leek ~ both bulbs and leaves are edible - the leaves having a strong onion flavour whilst the bulbs are apparently more reminiscent of garlic. It needs to be planted in full sun. An extra bonus is that  the spherical greenish cream flower heads attract bees and hoverflies. The leaves are fairly broad and from the photos I have seen are similar to the foliage of lily - of - the - valley. Again these would be happy in a flower border.

Brussels /Flower Sprout 'Petit Posy' ~ this is a fairly new introduction which is a cross between brussel sprouts and curly kale and is more attractive than either of them. Easily grown from seed it produces open frilly florets instead of closed buttons. A fairly ornamental plant in its appearance 'Petit Posy' will look good amidst the flowers and can be grown both for foliage and food value.

Daubentons kale ~ this is a non flowering evergreen perennial kale, which has a 5 -12 year life span. There are two forms - one having pale green leaves whilst the other has attractive variegated foliage. It is not possible to grow from seed but can can be propagated from cuttings which take about 3 months to root. This appeals to me not only because it is perennial but because it also appears to make a fairly substantial clump of foliage.

Hablitzia tamnoides ~ also known as Caucasian spinach or Nordic spinach. From what I can gather the young shoots are eaten in spring. This a shade loving, deciduous scrambling perennial which originates from the Caucasian mountains. It was bought to Scandanavia in the 1870s where it was planted as an ornamental to cover pergolas and porches. The plant bears heart shaped leaves and produces small green flowers. Plants are normally propagated by seed or by careful division of the roots. Alys advised that it has only just been introduced over here and that it could prove hard to get hold of for some time. I'm on the case.

More information about the majority of these edibles as well as much more food for thought can be found in Alys's excellent book 'The Thrifty Forager'.

Friday, 14 September 2012

A Postcard From Provence

Field of rice, drifts of sea lavender, grazing white horses, black bulls and pink flamingos ~ just a few of the fascinating sights that we were treated to when we visited the unique landscape of the Camargue last Sunday. We are just back from a river cruise along the Rhone which started at Lyon (the second largest city in France), sailing in the direction of Arles before returning to Lyon. Chugging on gently through days of glorious weather, we had an excellent vantage point of the surrounding countryside, sitting under the canopy of the sun deck. The boat moored regularly during the cruise, offering passengers the chance to join planned excursions or to wander about doing your own thing. We usually went for the latter option but a trip the Camargue would not have been feasible, unless we had own transport. so we joined the coach excursion. We were lucky to have a most knowledgeable and charming guide, who commented in both French and excellent English as we travelled along.

This was our first experience of river cruising which proved to be most relaxing. We were on a relatively small boat, our fellow passengers (mainly French, British and a good sprinkling of Norwegians) were excellent company and the food was reasonable, especially the continental breakfasts. The only downside for me was a chronic lack of sleep - the sound of the air conditioning at night did not exactly lull me to sleep, neither did the experience of going through some huge locks on the nights we sailed overnight. Still if you have nothing much to do but appreciate the sights, eat, drink, and read you can more than cope. Himself is already contemplating where we might drift along in the future.

Monday, 10 September 2012

A Poem For September

 Autumn

"Now the summer is grown old 
the light long summer 
                                  is grown old.

Leaves change
and the garden is gold
with marigolds and zinnias
tangled and bold
blazing blazing
orange and gold. 
                          The light long summer
                          is grown old."

~ Charlotte Zolotow, b.1915

The illustration is one of Cecily Mary Barker's 'Flower Fairies'.

Monday, 3 September 2012

Slip ~ Sliding Into September


are not just spinning spiders ~ clematis x jouiniana 'Praecox' has been occupying centre stage too ~ 


attracting a bevy of winged creatures on a sunny Sunday afternoon ~ 


This is a herbaceous clematis which forms vigorous and I mean vigorous ground cover ~


In my garden this in flower most years from July onwards until later this month. It is most easy going, needing no special attention. Fully deserving of its AGM (Award Of Garden Merit) from the Royal Horticultural Society  BUT and it is a big but ~  it dies an absolutely disgraceful death!