Chillies & strawberries this year!

I don’t have much space in the garden for growing vegetables (nor the time!) as pretty much all the growing space is taken up with flowers and shrubs. However I have got round this by planting some veggies in mid air this year!

I have an old feed basket from the days when Victoria Farm still had cattle, back in the 1960s I believe. There were actually quite a few feed baskets left in the stables and barns that are now the studios. There is one just outside my kitchen window which I lined with moss and plastic and then filled with compost. Now I have a mix, as you can see, of foodie and decorative plants growing together.

The chillies (Aurora (Capsicum annuum)) are just an annual but if I dry all the chillies that come from this plant I reckon I should have enough for months. I am fascinated by the colours of the chillies – the purple ones are beautiful and then they change to reds and oranges – just gorgeous.

I planted some strawberries next to them, partly for the fruit but I also loved the bright and colourful hot pink flowers, which make a nice change from the normal white flowers.

I don’t think I’m going to save any money on the grocery bill, but I am getting a lot of pleasure looking at the plants hanging half way up the wall just outside my kitchen!

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A summer soup…

My foraging friend Julia Horton-Powdrill is always introducing new seasonal recipes for either things she’s grown in her veg garden or foraged from some passing hedgerow, beach or field margin.

She currently has an excellent pea crop and, while they are delicious cooked and cooled and added to a green salad, she has also used them in a lovely soup that can be enjoyed hot or cold. It combines the sweetness of the peas with the zing of wild mint! As you will know, mint is a terribly over-enthusiastic plant, so either grow in a pot to try and contain it, or find some growing wild, as Julia has done here.

Wild mint & pea soup

Ingredients: 

  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil + extra for serving
  • 25g butter
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced or/and wild garlic leaves
  • 750g fresh peas, shelled (frozen peas are great!!)
  • 75g wild mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preparation:

Gently heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan, add the chopped onion and cook on a gentle heat for 10 minutes or until the onion is soft but not brown. Add the garlic (if using) and cook for a further 3 minutes.

Add 3/4 of the peas, the chopped mint leaves, the wild garlic leaves (if using) and 3/4 stock. Cover the saucepan with a tight fitting lid and cook on a medium boil for 10 minutes.

Blend the soup in a food processor; you will have a thick purée. Return the purée to the pan, season with salt and pepper and add the remaining peas and stock. Cook for a further 5 minutes.

Serve with crusty, fresh bread.

This soup is absolutely delicious hot or cold.

You can find out more about Julia’s foraging courses here.

 

 

 

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Peonies & clematis… a little bit different!

Much as I love looking at my flowers in the garden, it seems a shame that so many of them are out of sight when you are in the house and so I really enjoy bringing them indoors even if they are likely to be short lived.

I have this arrangement on my desk and it brings me huge pleasure every time I look at it. Peonies are such an amazing flower – and the stems of clematis wrapped around the arrangement just bring a careless country feel to it.

Start with a glass cube vase – they’re endlessly useful and can be bought from garden centres, Ikea and numerous other household type places. Soak some green Oasis in water for an hour or so while you are picking the flowers. Then place the well soaked Oasis in the cube and top up with a couple of inches of water. Take a large wide leaf – it could be a fern, an exotic plant in the garden like a banana leaf or a palm. We are lucky down here and the temperate climate (sometimes!) allows these plants to flourish.  Fix it with a folded hairpin of wire. Then place the peonies low and spread across the vase – in this arrangement I used six. I would usually stick to an odd number but I just couldn’t fit the seventh one in so put it in a bud vase!

The freesias in the arrangement were not from the garden, I cheated as I saw a small bunch in the supermarket and couldn’t resist! Finally cut some long strands of clematis and wind around the vase, again holding in place with wire. I made the clematis into a sort of mini wreath and then lowered it over the flowers and tucked just one long wire hairpin into the oasis to make sure it didn’t slip.

Just something pretty and a little bit different!

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Go on – get out there!

The garden is a riot of colour at last! It’s been a funny year with some plants doing incredibly well (poppies, lupins) and others hardly getting started before they are over (alliums and dicentra).

In among the riot of colour are, of course, large quantities of weeds! I try not to be ‘weedist’ and leave quite a few of them alone as they are attractive in their own right. Everything has its merits after all and, as Monty Don reminded me recently on Gardeners’ World, the stinging nettle is a marvellous thing in so many ways. He demonstrated how you can pick nettles (stout gloves being worn of course), cram them into a bucket, top up with water and, in two weeks’ time, you get a really good nitrogen-rich, liquid plant food.

It’s easy to look at your garden at this time of year and have a feeling of sheer panic as everything suddenly takes off and sprouts in all directions. What do you tackle first? When should you prune? When do you need to feed? But these days, there’s really no need for panic – the internet is full to bursting with useful gardening tips.

I follow both the RHS and Gardeners’ World online and they pop up every week and remind me what I need to be doing in the garden at that time. They even include links to a huge range of ‘how to’ videos on everything from plant propagation to building decking. They also cater for large and small gardens and there’s lots of really interesting tips about container gardening for those of you with small gardens or balconies.

Have a Google around, find a site that you like, and sign up to it. It’s a great way to get new ideas and inspiration and even old hands can pick up lots of useful tips. I still get a rebellious sense of joy when I water my garden whenever I jolly well like, having spent years restricted by the myth that watering in sunshine burns plants’ leaves – it doesn’t! That’s an old wives tale I debunked in a blog last year along with several other gardening myths.

Whether you are new to gardening or an old hand, there’s plenty of advice out there. It really is such a ‘positive’ pastime – there’s lots of evidence that gardening is really good for you – I do recommend you get out there and have a go!

Gardeners’ World

Royal Horticultural Society (RHS)

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My Top 10 days out in the West Country

The West Country is a wonderful area to visit, it combines stunning natural beauty with lots and lots of attractions and interesting places to visit. I have picked just ten of some of the thousands of possibilities – seriously I could have done my top 100 and not run out of ideas! – some are days out that I have done with my family over the years, and there’s one I plan to try this year too!

Morwellham Quay1.  Paignton Zoo 
If you enjoy zoos, I think Paignton tries really hard and has some excellent exhibits – my favourites being the red panda, giraffes and the meerkats!

2. Buckfast Abbey
There’s a monastery shop here that sells products entirely from other monasteries – great Belgian beer and lovely perfumes etc. There’s also the most amazing stained glass window and a great cream tea!

3. Morwellham Quay
Both my girls loved visits here, it really brings history to life – it was a great copper ore port in Victorian times and there’s so much to see.

Cornwall’s Eden Project4. Eden Project
Interesting plant displays and environments, it’s internationally famous for its groundbreaking exhibits and even has concerts down there now!

5. House of Marbles, Bovey Tracey
I am somewhat biased here as this is run by friends of mine, but the glass blowing is fascinating to watch, the restaurant does a great lunch and the shop is very tempting – the marble displays were adored by my daughters and nephews alike!

6. Miniature Pony Centre, Dartmoor  
I just love this place, the ponies are adorable and make you want to take them home and I think I remember Pippa crying just because she couldn’t! Nice picnic area too.

Steaming through the countryside…7. Steam Trains from Buckfastleigh
Travel back in time… and rekindle your memories of steam trains! A lovely few hours reminiscing as you travel close to the River Dart from Buckfastleigh to Totnes – huge thumbs up from me. Have a browse round Totnes while you are there too – a lovely town.

8. Kent’s Cavern, Torquay
I have been here many times with visiting family and the stalactites and stalagmites are always fascinating and the cream tea is fun too!

9. Babbacombe Model Village
The detail in the work is great to see and when the village is illuminated at night it looks very pretty – lots to see including a fire breathing dragon on the model castle!

Kent’s Cavern10. Greenway House
Agatha Christie is one of my heroines and there’s a new trip for 2013 – departing from either Torquay or Brixham and travel on a river boat to her former home Greenway House and then return on Barnaby, a vintage bus. The garden is amazing and I have bought many plants from the nursery section in the past – so I am definitely planning this as a day out this year!

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