Flower Power

The flowers at the allotment continue to amaze. When we arrive the first vision is that of a field of poppies, growing in a neighbour’s lower allotment plot.

Field of self-seeded poppies at lower level. 2 July 2021.

We were treated to flowers appearing on the Christmas cactus that we saved from the the side of the road. The plant I left outside all winter is now in flower. The cossetted plant that I kept indoors at the flat is doing well but isn’t in flower. Hhhmmnnnn….

The red rose arbour is – once again – absolutely dripping in flowers.

The damask rose is also doing well but we need to continue to treat it for black spot.

And most exciting of all, the sea holly has finally – after three long years – finally come into flower! How spectacular!

Sea Holly in flower (2 July 2021)

It’s all looking rather magical.

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The Woods

The local Community Woods group kept up our work parties through most of the worst of all this pandemic malarkey. After all, it’s all outdoors. And we keep well apart one from the other. So except for the first six weeks from late March 2020 we’ve been meeting and doing short stints in the open woods park area.

California poppy (already flowered and showing seed heads), lungwort and feverfew in flower.

The cool wet spring has kept plants at their best when usually these parts of the woods dry out under light shade. The lungwort have benefitted from the cool wet, and the feverfew seems to stay in flower for weeks and weeks!

The Echium in the old leaf compost area is thriving and starting to stand tall amidst the lower growing edible calendula. We also have hollyhock seeded in this patch.

The acanthus we planted into the middle of the woods bed last summer have settled in and set flower this year.

A month ago a local resident and sometimes woods volunteer gifted us a selection of potted plants, including a large potted Australian bottle brush. I’d not had much to do with this plant but said ‘yes!!’ anyway.

The bottle brush plant looked gangly and pretty hopeless, but it has repaid the kindness we paid it to remove it from the constriction of years in a plastic pot to put it into the cool moist earth, because it has exploded into wonderful red pom-poms of bloom. Behind the bottle brush you can see the tall flower stalks of the acanthus patch – all of which set against the background of dense branches of bird cherry.

And yes, that’s a healthy patch of nettles in the front – left to promote the life cycle of butterflies and other friendly bug life. We also leave lots of leaves and twigs on the ground for the other woodland inhabitants. At the allotment snails and slugs are the enemy, but in the woods they are part of the tapestry and mainly tolerated.

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June’s been hot & cold

June 2021 has been hot but mostly cold. Growth seems about a month behind. So last year’s May strawberries were a feast of the month of June in 2021. Despite not bothering with putting up bird netting we had a good harvest of strawberries this year – with a three kilo harvest at one point which culminated in some jam making.

Jam making in June.

The clematis planted at the back of our seating area (at the top near the path to the pond) has done well and is in glorious flower. Malink is delighted.

Clematis in bloom 21 June 2021.

By the third week of June we were able to harvest one of our plots of garlic. After digging up it needs to sit in the open air to ‘cure’ the outer skin. There are still two small plots of garlic at the allotment which have to be dug up, but since harvesting this first batch the weather has been cold, wet and rainy. We’ll have to wait for fair weather and the ground to dry again a little before we can lift the rest of our garlic crop. What a year!!!

But despite the poor summer weather, we were able to squeeze in a nice picnic dinner on the allotment one night after work. Smoked salmon, salad, crisps and wine. Yum!

Other good news includes the appearance – after 3 long years of patient growth – of flower heads on the beast’s beloved sea holly. There are fourteen flower heads all bursting into blossom…

Sea Holly (June 2021)
Self-seeded poppy with Gertrude Jekyll pink roses behind. (June 2021)
Hot chili pepper in flower and setting fruit (21 June 2021)
Damsel fly (June 2021)

Yeah, we’ve been up at the allotment a lot less this year than last – and though we’re happy there’s no more furlough, and a lessening of the global pandemic, we do miss being up there every day! But it’s all thriving and growing and blooming and fruiting and all that jazz. Even the foxes are happy!

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Cold slow spring at the allotment

It’s been a cold slow spring. Windy. Wet. Fairly yucky all told. The plot grows on, but in a slow steady kind of way. This time last year we were gorging on strawberries. This year they’re forming more slowly and with the exception of one large fruit turning pale pink most are dark hard green nubs – far from the table for now!

Strawberries (23 May 2021)

Malink has his selection of hot and sweet peppers safely ensconced in the shed.

Bees just love Jekka’s White flowering borage. (23 May 2021)
Our front allotment neighbour’s plot which borders the communal stairs. (23 May 2021)
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Backpatch Blossom

Peony with lungwort, forget-me-not and artemesia in the back (20 May 2021)

Late May sees an explosion of growth, expansion, bloom. Dark blood red blooming peony along the railway path have shown themselves – a memory of Brenda and Jim.

The pale yellow columbine have come into their own under the far pergola – kept company by Dalmatian foxglove – also a creamy yellow flower with darker burgundy patches in the inner cone of the flower head.

The orange-yellow rambling roses are out in the woods at the corner, and all the rose bushes along the railway path in the woods and in the back patch are starting to swell with blossom.

Yellow flowering columbine with foxglove under the far pergola. (20 May 2021)

The purple rose donated by Jo will be a veritable explosion – there are a huge amount of sturdy multi-bloomed candelabras forming and just waiting for it to warm enough to burst from bud to blossom.

But saying that, the white flowering simple flowered ‘shrub rose’ at the far corner has already flowered and gone over. I should dead-head immediately! (That whole corner needs a thorough weeding in point of fact.)

We’ve been eating rhubarb crumble for at least a month, and the lovage has also burst into life. As a long-lived perennial herb a clump of lovage gets stronger and bigger every year – this year it stands a good three feet high and is robustly healthy.

The red currant bush in the corner where we keep our water is starting to set fruit – little cascades of swelling green nubs. And in the terracotta pot that I filled with soil and grit and but in four currant stem cuttings in the autumn, they all seem to have set and look to be growing.

At the corner near the gate the iris this year are spectacular.

In the autumn I transplanted a large clump of sedum to give the iris more room and light.

And I must say, the iris sure are repaying the favour with a forest of flower stalks and very healthy expanded growth. This summer I can ‘thin’ this patch of iris out to further encourage new healthy growth – and will move the root sections I dig out to a new area further down the railway path.

Having repeating clumps of flowers helps lead the eye through a garden and creates calming continuity. You don’t necessarily want to repeat all your perennial flowers – but iris give a great structural and architectural touch with their cheerful spears and the explosion of purple flowers in spring is a joy to enjoy year on year.

Iris in bloom, with emergin very tall spears of asiatic lily in the background (20 May 2021)

Another hero in the back patch is the anchor plant which continues to thrive – and survived a hard cold, wet winter unlike the tender fuschia and salvia amistad.

Anchor plant showing flower buds setting (20 May 2021)
A little patch of lily of the valley in the woods half circle bed. (20 May 2021)
Bumblebee in California poppy (20 May 2021)

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A cold, slow spring…

It’s been a slow start. A very slow start. Cold and quite wet. Cold. And windy – or ‘blowy’ as the British weather forecasters are wont to say. (It’s been warmer in Ontario than London this April and May).

We have some tomato and peppers purchased at the local garden centre – but most still safely ensconsced in the garden shed.

Spring shed with peppers and tomatoes. (early May 2021)
Bottom of the strawberry stairs. (May 2021)
Strawberries across from raspberry bed, and new brick path. (May 2021)
New lettuce & broccoli beds, with over-wintered garlic beds going strong & Felicity Fiacra keeping watch.
Pea bed planted up at top of the stairs. (Early May 2021)

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Enfin!

Spring is coming to London and we’re getting into the spirit of things again. It’s been a long dark winter during the covid pandemic. But the plots have survived the darkest months – the garlic beds sprout with growth, and the strawberry beds hover in suspension ready to explode back into growth.

The potted citrus survived and are growing well in the shed. Feb 2021.
Felicity survived the winter with her hat intact! Feb 2021
Photo by G late Feb 2021.

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Happy St Fiacre Day

The weather’s been pretty rotten lately – cold, windy, overcast with plenty of intermittent rain.  We were busy in the flat – the painting marathon continues.  But we should be done soon.  Here’s hoping Felicity Fiacre, our garden watch woman, is keeping a good eye on things.

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celebrating sunflowers & stuff to do with willow boughs

SunflowerTrio

Trio of sunflowers at the top of the strawberry stairs. (Aug 2020)

Our sunflowers have finally come into bloom. Yippee! Despite the slugs and snails devastating many of my early sunflower seedlings, a few managed to brave it out and are finally in full bloom.

We’ve got sunflowers sprinkled just about everywhere on our plot – at the top terrace at the top of the stairs, at ‘ground’ level near the boundary to H’s plot which is the level of the raspberry patch and main path, and also down at the bottom of plot, paired close to the sweet corn and little zucchino squashes – native American styled.

SunflowersOnTopPlot

Two varieties of sunflower at the top of the strawberry stairs.

The bottom patch has corn, sunflowers and squash, which the natives called the ‘three sisters‘. We hope the corn comes good, but this year our squash are all leaf and flower and not much fruit, alas. Nevermind!  The little squashes that have formed are all greedily enjoyed as an absolute delicacy. Yum!)

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Sunflowers at bottom of the patch, with corn in flower. (August 2020)

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Spectacular sunflowers at ground level on the boundary to H’s.

Our excitement is second only to the bees, who are pollen covered and ecstatic.  Check out this guy.  Go bees go!

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Bee busy harvesting pollen on a gorgeous sunflower. Love the psychadelic wings! (Photo by S)

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Busy, busy happy bees.

There’s nothing that makes us happier than seeing bees of all sorts enjoying the flowers we plant.  I’m thinking I’m going to save the sunflower seeds to share with the flock of sparrow and finches who enjoy breakfasting at our back window bird feeders. Once the petals drop off and the seeds mature in the centre, I’ll simply chop the mature flowerheads off and hang them with wire off our balcony – natural styled. That will be sure to spread the enjoyment around. I’m sure there will be happy chirping and twirping when the sunflower heads get hung.

WillowArbour

Willow arbour on raspberry bed. (August 2020)

Last week a fellow allotmenteer trimmed his pollarded willow. He invited us to take some of the cuttings, so guess what? We helped ourselves. The great Malink was at first fairly sceptical: “what are we going to do with all these slips?,” he asked as he pretended to use one as a very long 14 foot bullwhip, playfully snapping at my butt.  But I can’t help but say that just like all the found treasure I’ve scooped out of the neighbourhood rubbish, we soon put those slips to good use.

BirdProofedBasketAnd then we had to go back and get a few more rods.  So useful, these willow boughs!

We made a brand new willow arbour at the end of the raspberry bed – all the better to train the long fruiting vine canes of the super-prolific and awesomely tasty loganberries…  This is shown in the picture above, which used three sturdy willow boughs bent and wired together (two for uprights and a third bent over the top).

Inspired and excited by the possibilities of this flexible willow caning, I then constructed some bird-proofing ‘lobster pot’ cages for my wicker baskets planted up along the edge of the blackberry steps.

The baskets hold crops of tender greens – lettuce and radish – which are often ravaged by birds, so really did need a good protection mechanism. I ‘sewed’ the plastic netting on with cotton garden twine. So simple and elegant!  Once finished I’ll be able to remove the whirling pinwheels – which are admittedly gaudy and a bit disco coloured, but were a good cheap solution to scaring the birds off before this much better willow cane and netting set-up.

BasketsStairs

Stair wicker baskets, half-bird proofed. With radish seedlings sprouting. (Mid-August 2020)

These willow and plastic pea netting constructions are only half-finished. We witnessed a bunting reed fly in and out of the netting that protected our gooseberry patch – which was repurposed to house the potted ericaceous Jersey Blueberries – so we’re now well aware that plastic pea netting just isn’t enough. Sure, it will discourage the bigger of our flying beasts such as wood pigeons and parakeets, but you’ll still lose peas and fruit to the smaller flying thieves.  So in due course we’ll need to hang over these constructs a finer webbed netting around the lobster pots…  (The picture below shows a half-hearted effort on the F&M wicker basket but will have to be finished more properly later.)

Basket1

Basket protected by two layers of netting – the finer bird-proof stuff is almost invisible. Radish seedlings safely ensconced within.

And just in case you’re curious about netting in general, I’m a big fan of the large grid hearty plastic pea netting, but as we already discussed, this doesn’t do it to protect against the feathered fruit raiders (and that’s all birds, from sweet robin-sized buntings and finches to the big bodied beasts of wood pigeons and parakeets).

To properly protect against feathery fruit and tender leaf raiders, you really do need the finer black mesh netting. But on it’s own that finer netting is enough to drive any gardener to rather copiously drink mid-day – I kid you not. The big dude had close to complete meltdowns dealing with the stuff when we tried to set some up in May around the four-poster fruit cage at our bottom boundary to J’s and M’s plot.

However, if you have a better structure to hang the blasted and very fiddly lighter netting onto, well, take it from me – it’s a million times easier to manage. And netting’s just no damed good if it’s so finicky that you can’t get into it to do any harvesting.  Or at least that’s what I decided after letting all of M’s red currant harvest go to rot earlier this summer just because I couldn’t figure an easy way in or out of the netting system over her currant hedges.

BrassicasNetted

Brassicas under a bridal veil of mosquito netting. With potted hyssop within for extra protection.

Following the creating of the loganberry arch at the end of the raspberry bed and the two lobster pot frames over the wicker baskets, we also created a willow frame to protect the sprouting broccoli plants that were started from seed in spring (seeded mid-May) and finally planted-in in early August. I’ve finally come to see the benefit of netting – and now am convinced of the usefulness of mosquito netting to protect brassica plants from the white butterflies that absolutely devour them.  In this we’re copy-catting the mosquito netted ‘tent’ built on the lower plot below us.

WhiteCampanula

White flowering campanula, on the blackberry stairs.

Other general allotment developments include the insertion of a nice clump of white flowering campanula into the clay around the stairs. I adore campanula! If happy it will flower almost continuously through the calendar year, and flowers in late autumn and early February are not unheard of.  Yippee!

The patch on the blackberry stairs was added as a complement to the earlier insertion of a white and a pale blue patch of campanula at the top border to H’s plot – just at the edge of the newt pond.

CIMG0017

Campanula at the top corner near H’s newt pond.

Campanula will spread if in a happy spot and I’m hoping in time we will have patches that cascade down the stairs in the gaps between pots and crop growing spaces.

And even our inanimate pals have company now. Felicity Fiacre – our stalwart semi-retired store manequin-come-scarecrow – has a new pal.

Meet little Alphonse, a sausage-dog shaped watering can I picked up at a chi-chi flower shop on a north side street off Oxford Street last spring. What a cutie. Sure, he’s never put to use, but so what? He stands proudly en guarde. SuperWoof!

AlphonseInBasket

Alphonse in Felicity’s basket. With potted curly parsley – and sweet woodruff at ground level.

FelicitysNewPal

Alphonse on guard, with ever-watchful Felicity Fiacre. What a team!

TopOfStairs

Top of the blackberry stairs, with squash in the pea bed & nasturtium cascading down the steps.

MizunaAugust2020

Success! Self-seeded mizuna growing at the base of the red rose arbour. Self-seeded crops are gardening at it’s easiest. So satisfying!

RadichioBed

Italian Green Raddichio Plot – a gift from our pal S.  All safely under black netting to protect from parrots, pigeons and feathered raiders of all sorts.

FuturePickles

Future pickles in development… Cucumbers forming at long last in mid-August. Enfin!

And lest us not forget. The pandemic’s not over. So many still sick, still in hospital or worse. Health service workers are still at it day and night. Good to see Tate Modern’s done it’s bit to mark their appreciation.

TateThanksKeyWorkers7Aug20

Tate Modern, Bankside London. Early August 2020.

Here’s hoping you’re all staying safe, wherever you may be.

 

 

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thinking ahead – special seasonal tipples

The end of summer approaches.  I’ll be back to work soon – which surely will be a shock to the system.  What?  No outdoor time for six hours a day?  Oh my!  It’s going to be something else this year, on return to school after lockdown.  It’s been a gardener’s delight since late March – despite the quiet apocalypse we’re all experiencing.

Harvest time abounds.  Purple beans, tomatoes galore…  Flying saucer squashes and tons of ratatouille to devour in all manner of ways: on pasta, on mashed potatoes, pan fried and then coddle eggs in it.  You name it, we’re eating our tomatoes and squash in all manner of ways.

Soon it will be sloe season, which is the real mark of the start of autumn proper.  But before then, I thought I’d try to preserve the truly magical taste and scent of lemon verbena.  Who knew?!?  Well, folks, I’m super delighted to let you know that you can make lemon verbena gin in much the same manner as one concocts sloe gin.  Oh my!

It’s so easy! Push a few sprigs of freshly trimmed lemon verbena into an empty gin bottle.  Place a small funnel at the top and then decant a small wine glass’s worth of bog standard white sugar into the bottle.

Why sugar?  Well, sugar is generally speaking a preservative.  As is alcohol.  But the sugar gives a lovely silky viscosity to the resulting gin nectar.

Pouring gin over the sugar helps dissolve it and then continue to fill until your empty bottle is full.  Then you need to vigorously shake the bottle (cap on, yes!) to help dissolve the sugar.  After initial filling simply leave the bottle in your kitchen and give it an encouraging little shake every day for a month, then store away and it should be ready to drink by the time of the mid-winter seasonal festivities (also known as Christmas).

I think I’m going to be heading to Sainsbury’s soon to pick up their monster home brand 1.5 litre bottles of gin.  And guess what everyone in the neighbourhood’s getting this Christmas from me and Malink?  You guessed it – a superb cordial of verbena gin.

The tales of Anne of Green Gables has a great ‘scene’ when Anne gets thoroughly sozzled on her auntie’s fruit cordials.  Yummy and fruity and powerfully alcoholic.  What fun!  There’s an old saying, quoted by many including Hegel himself – in vino veritas – which roughly translates as truth in wine, but more widely is that wisdom can be found in the soft-edged state of mind of that results from the indulgence in a bit of alcohol.

Wine, gin, Campari, Marc de Marc, whiskey, Strega, Jagermeister, ginger wine….  It’s all much of a muchness. (From my list you can see I prefer my alcohol distilled and am no big fan of other yeasty brews such as beer and ale.)

Alcohol, oh alcohol!  It all works to open the mind to a bit of wisdom – helps the mind unfold wider and sideways.  My old philosophy professor and research pal was a big fan of regular moderate consumption of ‘hooch’ as he affectionately called it, and on particularly difficult days in the British Library or Paris’ Bibliotheque Nationale, recommended a very healthy dose to take the rough corners off life.  Needless to say, with German Irish blood mixed in my veins from the start, I can’t say I ever needed much encouragement.

Enjoy!  Hic!

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