‘Vegging out’ is good for you!

It’s been a very mild, wet winter here in Devon and I haven’t been able to get out in the garden much at all as the ground has been so saturated. My lovely raised beds that Richard constructed for me last Autumn are sitting empty and calling to me to be planted. So far, I have had to keep my green fingers occupied by leafing through seed catalogues and Googling different varieties of veggies… but very soon it will be time for me to make a start!

I find Sutton Seeds (coincidentally, Suttons are based just down the road from me near Paignton) Facebook page and blogs very useful for ideas and for advising when to get on and do things. I was interested to see that they have designed a special range of vegetable and flower seeds with 25p from the sale of each promotional pack going to Cancer Research UK. Not only is this a vary commendable idea, it also links in to the fact that the actual act of gardening is good for us – in so many ways.

Here are some interesting facts from the Cancer Research UK website:

  • Around 3,400 cases of cancer in the UK each year could be prevented by keeping active.
  • Heavy gardening counts as moderate activity
  • Healthier diets could help prevent 1 in 10 cancers.
  • Fruit and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet and can affect the risk of some cancer types, like mouth and throat cancers.
  • Choose fruit and vegetables with a variety of colours to help you include a broad range of vitamins and minerals in your diet. The chemicals that give these foods their colour are often the same ones that are good for you.

So gardening and growing plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables can play their part in keeping us healthy. And let’s face it, being outside in the fresh air is always an uplifting experience. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere with plenty of wild birds, they can really enhance your gardening experience too!

Sigh… no, not my veg beds, but the most perfect veg garden ever at RHS Rosemoor in North Devon. They even have Peter Rabbit!A total of 15 different packets make up Sutton’s special range. Each packet contains 2 varieties. This helps to broaden the range of vitamins and minerals and also the range of colours. For example, the Mangetout Pea packet contains both Shiraz and Oregon varieties and so will produce both deep purple and vibrant green pods. Attractive, tasty and healthy!

I really enjoy my veg, so being able to grow my own will be thrilling and the flavours really are so much more intense than shop bought examples. I don’t have a great deal of space, so I will think carefully about what I grow and there’s lots of excellent advice online. If you don’t have a garden, or only a very small one, you can still grow all sorts of vegetables in tubs and window boxes.

To view the Cancer Research UK Vegetable Seed Range in full, please click here.

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Growing up fast…

My partner in crime writing, Julia, got a new puppy back in March last year and we introduced you to her the following month – Moss, a Wirehaired German Pointer. Well, Moss is now one year old and has grown up into quite a character! She has her own Facebook page and also ‘writes’ reviews for a local business ‘Dartmoor Accommodation’ about dog-friendly places to visit. We thought we’d let her bring you up to date with her life so far…

Hello! I am Moss, the Dartmoor Dog Blogger. I have grown up a lot since you last saw me and I no longer look like a Spaniel. My lovely wirehaired coat has grown, and I am generally regarded as rather gorgeous with a fine moustache and beard. I also have pale greeny gold eyes which, I am told, are one of my best features.

I am lucky (so she keeps telling me) as I live on a farm on Dartmoor so I get lots of nice walks by the river, on the moor or just around the fields on the farm. I am especially fond of puddles, and I like to lie in them, but I am not a very good swimmer yet, I am still learning. I enjoy being in the waves in the sea when we go on holiday and I did swim a bit in Cornwall last summer.

A few of my favourite things! Top to bottom: The watering can incident, puddle bathing, mulching, erm… cushion chewing, relaxing on the sofa.I am, apparently, quite naughty and not very obedient (whatever that is!) and I do like a good chew. I have chewed all sorts of things – from my bed, to the aerial cable and part of a watering can, to name but a few. Different things have different textures and I like to try them out.

I have also tried different types of food such as raw spaghetti and garlic (euw!). Every day, as well as my proper food, I have natural yogurt, raw carrots and some pumpkin seeds – which are very yummy and I would like to eat them all the time. I am a very healthy dog! I also like to recycle things, like paper and cardboard and chew them up ready for the bin men. I am also good at mulching in the garden, chewing everything up and then spreading it around and sometimes bringing it into the house… which she doesn’t appreciate.

Sometimes, we go and visit nice places like hotels or pubs where they welcome dogs, some have water bowls and dog biscuits and special towels for me to wipe my feet on. I have to sit and watch her chomp her way through free meals and afternoon tea and I get given titbits. She then writes about it and I get even more famous! I think she probably get a better deal out of it than I do, but I do get to meet lots of new people, who are always very nice to me.

All in all, it’s not a bad life. I get to sleep a lot and relax on the sofa, it is quite tiring being famous and it is hard work training her to do what I want, but I am getting there… I reckon she’ll be well-trained by the end of this year.

Licks, Moss.

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For evergreen…

Top to bottom: Pieris, Daphne, Fatsia japonica, Mahonia, Photinia.Where would we be without evergreens at this time of year? Glossy holly and its red berries, spiky scented pine, or delicate trailing ivy – the reliable backbones of so many Christmas decorations! But there are so many more lovely evergreens out there that could not only be cut to add to your Christmas decorations, but also provide interest in your garden for you and your local wildlife!

Evergreen shrubs provide permanent structure in the garden and all-year-round interest. Some have beautiful flower displays or are highly scented in winter when little else is growing, while others have variegated or colourful foliage – a real treat during the deepest winter days.

Here are a few suggestions for interesting evergreens:

Pieris
Pieris ‘Forest Flame’ is an absolute favourite of mine as it seems to keep itself busy doing something gorgeous throughout the year! Pieris are compact evergreen shrubs with leathery, dark green leaves. ‘Forest Flame’ is a large variety and the young foliage is bright red, becoming pink and cream and finally green. It has beautiful small cream bell-shaped flowers in large branched clusters.

Daphne
I love Daphne for their small but incredibly fragrant flowers which appear in winter and early spring, when little else in the garden is growing. There are both plain-leaved and variegated varieties available. Daphne is fairly slow-growing making it a great little evergreen shrub for the garden. Grow Daphne in sunny or partially-shaded mixed borders, woodland gardens and rock gardens.

Fatsia
Fatsia japonica is exotic-looking but surprisingly hardy and copes well with coastal conditions and tricky shady areas of the garden. Large stems of creamy white flowers, appear in the autumn, which are attractive to bees and a great source of late season nectar. Fatsia plants are very architectural and striking and can be grown in borders or large patio containers – they certainly make a statement!

Mahonia
Like Fatsia japonica, Mahonia plants have an architectural form, while their glossy, spiny leaves are similar to holly. They produce late winter and spring flowers that are bright yellow and have a wonderfully strong fragrance. They are also a fantastic early source of pollen and nectar for bees. Coping well with coastal conditions, clay soils and heavy shade Mahonia makes an unbeatable, low-maintenance addition to shrub borders and woodland gardens. You will find several in my garden.

Photinia
Photinias are tough, versatile shrubs, the most popular variety being ‘Red Robin’, whose glossy leaves are bright red when young, gradually changing to bronze-green through to deep green. Photinias light up shrub borders in the spring and make a good foil for summer-flowering plants.

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Salad Days

Well this is an experiment that worked well… I really don’t have the room for a big vegetable patch and I certainly don’t have the time or inclination to take on an allotment! So we have bought a few little raised bed kits. They measure one metre square and I am putting them on the patio where they are close to hand and the kitchen.

Now the next question was what should we grow? I think very sensibly (me, sensible?) no seriously, very sensibly we sat and wrote a list of which vegetables we eat a lot and made a careful plan. I then trotted off to the garden centre and made my purchases… but was a little careless perhaps in checking the quantities!

I really thought we had only bought a handful of lettuce plants – hmm as you can see from the pictures, we now have two beds full of lettuce – anyone for lettuce soup or lettuce smoothies? Does lettuce freeze? Nope… anyway we chose lettuce/salad leaves as we do have a salad every day. Then I added four beetroot plants, four carrots, four spinach, four cabbage and four broccoli.

Everything is currently thriving, which is excellent. I have tried the baby spinach leaves (I have them in green smoothies) and they are yummy – the lettuce and salad leaves are gorgeous and currently being shared around the family and neighbours!

So if you think you can’t grow any veg – maybe you could try a 1m square raised bed, it’s fairly small. Or, in fact, you can get even smaller crates for growing salad greens – why not give it a try?

Our photos show the work in progress… and how quickly everything grew into lovely, healthy and cost-effective veg!

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The wonder of herbs!

There’s no denying it, I am a bit of a herb fanatic. They tick so many boxes – they can transform your cooking, save you lots of money over shop-bought herbs and they often look wonderful too!

At the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2015 growers were asked to highlight some of their favourite ornamental herbs that offer attractive foliage and/or flowers. Here are some of their suggestions 

Angelica (Angelica archangelica)
This architectural plant, which can exceed 2m in height, is equally at home in the border or the herb garden. Its stems and roots are edible 

Australian mint bush (Prosanthera rotundifolia)
In late spring, this tender shrub is smothered in bell-shaped, purple flowers. Its foliage has a very strong menthol smell, and the leaves can be used in oils and infusions.

Creeping pennyroyal (Mentha pulegium)
This tiny, low-growing mint looks lovely planted in cracks in a pathway, and is said to repel ants and mice. It’s similar to spearmint and has purple-lilac flowers in summer.

Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium yezoense var. hidakanum ‘Purple Rain’)
Jacob’s Ladder used to be used for all kinds of medicinal purposes but today, it’s mostly grown as an ornamental. This variety has unusual bronze leaves and bright blue flowers and makes an excellent border plant. 

Pygmy borage (Borage pygmaea)
Borage can reach a quite a size in the garden, so if space is at a premium, try this dwarf variety. The star-shaped blue or white flowers have a cucumber taste and can be added to summer drinks and salads. Bees adore it.

Salad burnet (Sanguisorba minor)
This semi-evergreen perennial has small, red, globe-shaped flowers and leaves that have a cucumber flavour – I use it in salads. It does best in sun or partial shade and makes a great border filler.

Pictured from the top: Angelica, Australian mint bush, creeping pennyroyal, pygmy borage and salad burnet. 

 

 

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