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Received Wisdom

The legacy of Miss Beatrix Havergal

 Archives can be helpful when maintaining a garden or planning its future, but the memories of long-serving staff can be even more enlightening. Waterperry Gardens in Oxfordshire is particularly fortunate. It can draw on the knowledge of gardeners who knew and were inspired by its founder, Miss Beatrix Havergal of Waterperry Horticultural School.

 

When Miss Havergal and her friend Avice Sanders moved to the Georgian manor at Waterperry in 1932, their aim was to expand their already popular women’s horticultural training school. For the following 40 years, with great dedication and hard work, they helped many young women to develop their horticultural talents. As Waterperry’s Garden Manager and tutor, Pat Havers, points out, ‘ Miss Havergal paved the way for women gardeners.’

 

Today, features that played an important role in the school’s curriculum continue to attract both students and visitors. The 200-foot long herbaceous border, once an important teaching tool, is now one of the most admired traditional borders in the country. It provides a good example of the way that the Waterperry team continues to use and pass on the traditional skills that keep the garden’s history alive and relevant.

 

According to Mary Spiller, a former student and member of the Waterperry teaching staff, this glorious border, packed with colour, was Miss Havergal’s particular ‘pride and joy’. Archive photographs show Miss H (as she was known to her students) dressed in a green smock, breeches and her panama hat. The images suggest a somewhat formidable woman but the memories of the gardeners who knew her tell a very different story.

 

‘Perfection was always Miss Havergal’s aim’ explains Mary Spiller, ‘but although she expected a lot from us, she was never anything but kind and fair’. As Chris Lanczak, Orchard Manager and a member of Waterperry’s staff for almost 50 years, points out, ‘Miss Havergal treated us as family. Rather than putting us off, her high expectations made us want to please her more.’

 

With these high standards to the fore, Pat Havers and Horticultural Manager Rob Jacobs are responsible for the planning and maintenance of the herbaceous border. It’s an enormous job but both Pat and Rob have been well prepared for the task. Pat has been involved with the garden since her childhood. Waterperry was her playground. She remembers Miss Havergal introducing her to visitors at the age of five as ‘Waterperry’s youngest student.’ In comparison, Rob is a relative new comer. He was trained by Mary Spiller and has been working and teaching in the gardens for more than 30 years.

 

 

‘We have so much knowledge in our heads that looking after the border has almost become instinctive. I wake up in the morning and know exactly what needs to be done’ says Pat. ‘I don’t need a diary to help me work, but I do keep detailed records for whoever takes it on in the future. In Miss Havergal’s day, the Waterperry staff and students kept meticulous records and now we do the same. All this knowledge passed from Miss Havergal to Mary, and then to me. It’s really important to keep handing the skills on.’

Given its spectacular display of colour, it surprises some visitors to learn that the border doesn’t have an overall design. As Pat points out, ‘that has never been its point. It’s a traditional herbaceous border with three ‘seasons’ of interest. Lupins are the main act in May and June. They’re followed by verbascum and delphinium in July.   Phlox are our gentle introduction to the burst of autumn colour when the asters, sedums, helenium and golden rod are at their best.’

 

In the days of Waterperry Horticultural School, students were taught to master the meticulous planning needed to produce four to five months of colour using nothing but herbaceous plants. It was an important part of the practical examination that led to the Waterperry diploma. Early film footage shows students being observed by an external examiner. Marks were given for their deadheading, staking skills and for their choice of plants.

 

‘It isn’t just planning for the three seasons that’s important, placing plants with contrasting flower and leaf shapes is crucial too’ says Rob. ‘The whole border is like a patchwork quilt. Occasionally there’s a plant combination that doesn’t work but by the time the plants have grown big enough for us to notice the problem, it’s too late to do anything about it. The border is south facing. If we had to replace something in mid summer, it would need watering and nurturing. We just don’t have time to do this.’ Pat consoles herself with the knowledge that ‘every Persian carpet contains a mistake. The day we get the border right, we can retire’ she laughs.

 

For Pat, work on the border begins in February when she goes down to the river to cut hazel for staking. Mary Spiller taught her to stake and now those same skills are handed on to the students on Waterperry’s staking courses. ‘It’s a wonderful way to keep the old skills alive. They’re always very popular and quickly sell out’ she adds.

 

Before growth begins in earnest, the border is fed and weeded, and irrigation pipes are put in place. Any necessary adjustments and additions are made while there’s still space for staff to move around. Watering, weeding and deadheading continue through April and May until it’s impossible to work without damaging the border.

 

Staking begins in April. Canes are put behind the delphiniums when they are about one foot high. By the time they flower, they will have been secured to the stakes three or four times. ‘ We stake the asters when they’re two thirds of their expected height’ says Pat. ‘If the weather in early summer isn’t as we hoped then the plants don’t grow high enough and it doesn’t looks so good’. But as Pat admits ‘although we notice, the visitors might not. We have to be our own worst critics’.

 

As plant varieties improve, so the choices that Pat and Rob make when planning the border change. They keep Miss Havergal and Mary Spiller in mind when they make alterations. Mary’s advice to them has always been ‘to keep the border full of incident.’ But they have no qualms about introducing varieties that need less intervention. As Mary confirms, ‘Miss Havergal was very forward thinking and was always investigating new and better plants.’ This knowledge gives today’s garden team the confidence to do the same and allows the planting in the border to change and evolve in a very healthy manner.

 

There has been one very noticeable change since the days of the horticultural school: when Miss Havergal and Avice Sanders were at the helm, there were relatively few external visitors. Today, the herbaceous border is on view to the public every day of its growing season. ‘The pressure is constant’ says Pat. ‘I don’t have a holiday until Michaelmas Daisy Weekend. I can’t just go away and leave it’. It would seem that Miss Havergal’s dedication to high standards lives on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Horatio’s Garden

The charity, Horatio’s Garden, has opened the second of its beautiful and life-affirming gardens at NHS Spinal Injury Centres. With the help of designer James Alexander-Sinclair, a peaceful haven has been created for patients at the Scottish National Spinal Unit at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

 

These gardens are not just life changing for patients with spinal cord injuries, they’re also helpful for the future of healthcare. Every Horatio’s Garden that opens demonstrates the remarkable benefits that can result when high quality design is used to provide easy access to nature on an NHS site.

 

The initial idea of a garden for patients with spinal injuries began at Salisbury District Hospital’s spinal unit. It belongs to a special young man, Horatio Chapple, who died in 2011. The charity, Horatio’s Garden was set up and continues to develop in his memory.

 

With the help of top garden designers and using the best evidence-based research available, patients who would otherwise spend many months inside a hospital ward can now begin to rebuild their lives with the help of the natural environment.

 

As Roger Ulrich’s 1984 research demonstrated, merely viewing a garden through a hospital window can be very beneficial. Glass sided garden-rooms at Glasgow and at the Cleve West designed Salisbury garden give patients the opportunity to escape the ward, whatever the weather.

 

At Salisbury, the adjacent road and car park disappear behind native hedging as the eye is drawn to the distant hills. In a very different setting, butterfly friendly planting and bird tables outside the ward windows in the Glasgow garden ensure there’s always an opportunity to be in contact with the wildlife outside.

 

But these gardens offer far more than a good view. Greenhouses provide space for head gardeners to organise regular garden therapy sessions with patients and occupational therapists. All the produce grown is either eaten or sold – helping to re-establish a sense of purpose and success.

 

At Salisbury, clever use of space allows patients and their families to find privacy in plant-filled alcoves. Low limestone walls that echo the form of the spine, offer additional seating when necessary. Large, stylish sunshades and a long wisteria arch provide areas of shade – particularly important for those whose injury makes it difficult to regulate body temperature.

 

Plants in the gardens have been chosen for their multi-sensory qualities. They’re also easy to maintain rather than being ‘low maintenance’ in its traditional and often rather drab sense. A vibrant mix of pollinator attracting plants has been deliberately used to be as stimulating and fun for the volunteer gardeners to work with, as it is for the patients to enjoy.

 

It’s easy to imagine that a project in a hospital setting might be stifled by health and safety concerns. Instead, at Horatio’s Garden in Salisbury, compassionate common sense has ensured that the needs and enjoyment of the patients remain paramount.   Water flows gently into a rill, while a crop of apples dangle from the arch they share with Wisteria floribunda ‘Alba’. All accompanied by the gentle buzz of the garden’s many bees. It’s a healthy reminder of life beyond the sterility of a hospital ward.

 

Many projects that bring people into close contact with nature have welcome but unexpected consequences. Horatio’s Garden is no exception. It’s important for the rehabilitation of patients in the spinal unit that they begin to create a narrative about their life-changing experience. For many reasons, it can be difficult for them to feel comfortable about starting this process on a ward.

 

In the garden on the other hand, conversations between patients and volunteers flow quite naturally. There’s no pressure on patients to talk or to continue with a conversation that might be uncomfortable, and yet they do. Horatio’s Garden volunteers are playing an important but unexpected role in the rehabilitation process.

 

Horatio’s Garden charity is creating gardens that really work – for patients, staff, and for the volunteers on which they rely. Fundraising is now underway to develop a third garden at the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville.

BBC Gardeners’ World presenter, Joe Swift is its designer.

 

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Silent Space

How often do we allow ourselves the time to be silent in a green place – to really connect with Nature? It can be difficult, particularly if we live in an urban area, to find five minutes when we know we won’t be disturbed by the human voice. But how different might the world be if enjoying brief spells of silence in Nature was an accepted part of every day life?

 

The wonderful Quiet Garden Trust has been providing opportunities for contemplation for many years. Under its umbrella, more than 300 gardens around the world offer peace and solace. But for some people, the idea of deliberately choosing to be silent is still alien – even alarming. Perhaps there’s a need for a ‘bite-sized’ introduction to the benefits of spending quiet time in Nature?

This summer I’ve been running a pilot study called Silent Space. A handful of forward thinking gardens that open to the public have been happy to give the project a go – to reserve an area where people can be silent. For a couple of hours each week, visitors to the quiet areas are invited to switch off their phones and to stop talking.

 

There are no other rules. People can spend as little as two minutes or as much as two hours in the Silent Space. They also have the option to avoid it all together. And yet they don’t. I watched as one man studied the blackboard announcing the Silent Space in The Formal Garden at Waterperry Gardens in Oxfordshire. I introduced myself and explained the project. “That’s a bit different’ he said and then he went in.

 

The plan was to run the pilot for a month. The month came and went. The feedback was so positive and the project so easy to run that five of the gardens decided to extend until the end of August – a good two months longer than I’d dared to hope.

 

Now and again, following the example of Nature Sacred in the US, I’ve attached a notebook and pen to a bench in a Silent Space. With the exception of a few rather eccentric jottings, the comments have been remarkably supportive. The overwhelming response has been one of gratitude for the opportunity to be silent in a beautiful green place. It’s clear that the project can’t stop here.

 

As the summer draws to a close, I’ll collect any remaining feedback and start to prepare for 2017. A Silent Space website is in the making. The next stage is to talk to other gardens and parks in the UK and, using the knowledge I’ve gained, to help them create their own Silent Space next year.

 

If this project is to make a difference to the way we relate to the world around us, it needs to build slowly. All we need to do is to take the time to be silent. Nature will do the rest.

 

 

Further information about the project can be found on the website of the Landscape, Gardens and Health Network. www.lghn.org.uk

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lady Ryder Memorial Garden

Lady Ryder Memorial Garden

 

The words of Margaret Mead are often quoted when groups come together and get something done. The Lady Ryder Memorial Garden near Henley on Thames illustrates the great anthropologists point perfectly – we should ‘never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can make a difference’.

 

The peaceful walled garden adjoining St Katherines Parmoor, home to the Sue Ryder Prayer Fellowship, supports a flourishing gardening project that helps young people to cope with the problems that homelessness, unemployment or learning difficulties can bring. It’s a role that fits well with the ideals of the Fellowship’s founder.

 

The garden was built in the late 19th century and provided the large adjoining house with fresh produce. It was well cultivated until the 1940s and then lack of time and resources led to a gentle decline. The house has been run as a retreat centre since Sue Ryder took it over in 1996. While the garden continued to be used by visitors after her death, it wasn’t until 2010 that its journey back to full production began.

 

As so often happens when the idea for a new project is emerging, several residents of the hamlets that surround St Katherines were considering restoring the garden. At about the same time, Jo Pearce, the chef at St Katherine’s, realised that, sitting on her doorstep was a space that could produce food for the retreat centre’s many visitors. Not only that, but it could be the kind of carefully grown food that they would really appreciate.

 

All it took was a fortuitous seating plan at a village cricket club dinner to bring all the interested parties together and the project began. It was quickly agreed that the garden should be restored with the help of and for the benefit of local homeless and unemployed young people.

 

During the following two years, planning permission to replace the garden’s glasshouses was obtained and volunteers from the YMCA, the Old Tea Warehouse, Green Gym and the Watford Hope Trust were recruited. Without the help of these volunteers and the support of the organisations they represented, the restoration could not have progressed as it did.

 

In 2012, after many hours of hard physical work and enormous fundraising efforts, the garden was opened by Sir Terry Wogan. An education centre and a kitchen were added in 2015.

 

The Lady Ryder Memorial Garden is now linked to Berkshire College of Agriculture and is able to offer its young people the City and Guilds Level 1 Diploma in Horticulture. During 2015, all eight candidates were presented with their diploma – one student completing his in a record-beating three months.

 

 

 

Of course, the diploma isn’t the only benefit of the project. As Anne Parmoor, a leader in garden work, explains, ‘the walls generate a sense of security. In this safe environment the students are given responsibility, many for the first time. They’re also away from corrosive peer pressure for a good stretch of time every week’.

 

‘We sell the produce we grow in ‘Veg boxes’ and at local events. The young people are brilliant at selling and are very good with the public. Quite apart from the wonder of growing, the confidence they gain from knowing that someone else is wiling to buy something they have grown is enormous’.

 

‘There’s plenty of laughter and banter here. Of course, we have a policy of no recreational drugs or alcohol in the garden but the only other thing we will not tolerate is unkind or disruptive behaviour. It’s so important that we maintain a warm and friendly group atmosphere’.

 

It’s remarkable to realise that everyone involved with running this project is a volunteer. Anne suggests that the fact that they have chosen to spend time with these young people makes a big difference.

 

For volunteering opportunities or for information about the garden visit –www.lrmg.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

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Shumei Natural Agriculture

Shumei Natural Agriculture Farm, Wiltshire

 

 

However loudly we voice our respect for Nature’s intelligence, when it comes to growing food, whether on a commercial or an amateur basis, we’re reluctant to rely on it. Instead we act as if the soil had little life of its own. The worldwide and slowly expanding network of Shumei Natural Agriculture farmers believe that it is time to let Nature show us the way. The simplicity of their methods may challenge our deeply entrenched ideas but their results are impressive. Perhaps trusting in the power of the soil could be of greater help to us than we imagine?

 

The ideas behind the Shumei approach to agriculture began with Japanese philosopher and naturalist, Mokichi Okada. They were part of a wider vision he developed during the 1930s, of a world transformed through our collective effort, into one of truth, virtue and beauty. An important element in this transformation was the restoration of our relationship with nature. The best way to do this, he advised, was to learn, through our food growing and consuming, to partner rather than to control the soil.

 

One way to approach Shumei Natural Agriculture is to see it as an extension of the ideas behind permaculture and organic growing. It takes respect for the soil one step further. Unlike the organic method, it encourages growers to avoid crop rotation. Unlike permaculture, it advises them not to fertilise their soil, no matter how sustainable the process.

 

There are no rules about watering, weeding or tilling. It’s believed that every piece of land is different and that each grower will develop a unique understanding of what is needed based on his or her own observations.

However, if the soil is dry, mulching with leaves and grass clippings from around the planting area is encouraged. The thinking behind this mulching is important. The grower’s intention is to keep the soil moist and soft rather than to feed it. Practitioners demonstrate in their thoughts and actions that the soil is capable of feeding itself.

 

Shinya Imahashi runs a small demonstration farm in Wiltshire that follows the Shumei method. After five years of trusting the Wiltshire soil to grow his crops, he sent a soil sample from his potato patch to NRM Laboratories for analysis. Rather than losing vitality, continuous cropping with potatoes had improved the health and the microbial activity of the soil. Not only that, but the potato harvest had increased during every one of those five years. Why were the results so contrary to those we’ve been taught to expect?

 

Mokichi Okada’s answer might have been that it is because we’ve forgotten the power of the soil. He advised his students that any initial success with feeding the soil is temporary. In the long term, fertiliser weakens the soil, damages seeds, plants and our health. If, on the other hand, we recognise that the soil has everything it needs and allow it to build a relationship with the same crop year after year, it is revitalised. The seeds collected grow healthier with each generation and develop into plants better able to resist disease and extremes of climate.

 

Experiments in Japan suggest that growing crops by this method may also improve their shelf life. Photographic evidence shows that after two weeks of storage in sealed containers, vegetables grown without fertiliser of any kind lasted far longer than those grown by organic or non-organic methods.

 

However intriguing this may sound, switching from our current way of growing to Shumei Natural Agriculture can take a season or two. The Japanese philosopher’s warning was that crops grown from seeds weakened by years of soil feeding take time to recover their inherent ability. The soil also needs to free itself of dependence on fertilisers.

 

In Japan, consumers of Shumei produce volunteer in the fields where their food is grown. They ‘ve begun to appreciate the complex role of Nature in the food growing process and a relationship based on cooperation and understanding has built up between them and their farmer.

 

As we might expect, since reconnecting with the soil and the food they eat, these consumers report an improvement in their quality of life. It’s rather more surprising to learn of the many testimonials the Shumei organisation has received about reductions in food allergies. This alone makes trusting in the power of the soil worthy of investigation.

 

 

For more information on Shumei Natural Agriculture and the Yatesbury model visit: shumei-na.org and shumei.eu/yatesbury

 

A longer version of this article can be found in Resurgence Magazine Jan/Feb 2016

 

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Giant vegetables

It’s mid September and the autumn gardening shows are under way.   For most of us, the Harrogate and the Malvern Autumn Shows signal a move towards the end of the growing season but for growers of giant vegetables they mean much more.  In fact, they’re the high point of the gardening year.

Henley allotmenteer, Carl Lambourne has been showing his giant veg at the Malvern Autumn Show for the last six or seven years. This year is no exception.   He’ll be heading for Malvern this week with the biggest and best of his crop.

When he was a child, Carl helped his father and his grandfather with their allotments but it wasn’t until he took on one of his own in Henley 15 years ago that he began to grow vegetables for himself. He started small but soon moved on to the giants.

I visited Carl’s plot during the worst of last week’s rainstorms. As we sheltered in his polytunnel, surrounded by giant carrots and cucumbers, and peered through the torrents at enormous leeks and extra long runner beans outside, I had the slightly strange feeling that I must have shrunk in the rain. Giant vegetables distort our sense of scale and proportion.  Perhaps that’s why we find them so fascinating?

We often imagine that growing produce for showing is fiercely competitive and fuelled by longstanding rivalries. Carl says that, as far as giant veg growing is concerned, this couldn’t be further from the truth. ‘We all know each other. We’re almost like a big family. Malvern is the show that everyone goes to and we all help each other out when we’re there’.

It’s even more heartening to hear that these enthusiasts don’t just help each other out at shows. Carl explained that ‘growing takes up a lot of our time in the spring and summer. It’s in the winter that we all communicate. We swap seeds and stories. We always learn a lot from each other’.

Perhaps the friendliness of this kind of competition has something to do with the straightforward nature of the judging. The biggest or the heaviest wins. That’s it. There’s little room for bad feelings. As Carl says ‘there’s no arguing with the tape measure or the scales’. They take pride in each other’s achievements too. Carl was quick to tell me about the record breaking efforts of his friends. Last year, one of them beat the world records for the largest beetroot and longest parsnip.

I asked him whether he sacrifices flavour for size. He says not. They taste just as good as average size vegetables.  And their size makes them ideal for mass catering.  Carl gives a lot of his excess produce to Allotment Site Manager and chef, Doug Richards, who uses them for community lunches in Henley.

What are the essentials for growing giant vegetables? What do we need to get started? Carl says that the best way to get growing is to use seeds that are bred for the job. He’s happy to point anyone who is interested in the right direction. He and his friends often say that all they need are ‘good soil, good weather and good luck’. They’re obviously an unassuming bunch. I suspect we should also add patience, perseverance and an excellent knowledge of vegetable growing to their list.

Come along and meet Carl and his vegetables this Saturday, 26th September at the Henley Produce Sale, Henley Market Square, 9.30 – 12.30 where Henley allotment holders are joining with  Greenshoots to bring you the best of our September harvests.  Beans, beetroot, potatoes, chillies, courgettes, tomatoes, carrots, squashes and spinach are just some of the average size but equally delicious vegetables we hope to have for sale.  There’ll be fruit, flowers, cakes, chutneys, pickles and jams too. If you are lucky enough to win the big vegetable ‘Guess the Weight’ competition, you could be taking a giant home with you.

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Decision time

It’s decision time.  Last year, the Garden History Society and the Association of Gardens Trusts voted in principle, to a merger of the two organisations. The final decision will be made during the AGMs of the two organisations at Newcastle University on Friday 24 July.Members of a Transitional Committee have been working on the documentation needed before a decision can be made and the next step taken.  All the material can be viewed on a temporary website
http://www.agt-ghstogether.org/

Congratulations and a welcome are due in both organisations.  Congratulations to Dominic Cole (Chairman of the Garden History Society) for the OBE he received for services to garden conservation.  The big welcome goes to Caroline Ikin, the Association of Gardens Trusts’ new Historic Landscape Officer.

You can find information about the counties in which Caroline is working at http://www.gardenstrusts.org.uk/hlp.html.  At the same time, catch up on the latest material available at the Historic Landscape Project Resource Hub.  It’s easy to access and there’s a mass of information to help County Gardens Trusts with their conservation work – everything from recruiting volunteers to understanding and preparing conservation management plans.

Equally easy to access is the recently created County Gardens Trust email discussion group.  Thank you Linden and Caroline for giving members a simple way to converse and to share news.  59 members and growing…

There’s an unusual exhibition to enjoy at the Garden Museum this summer –Gnome and Away: Secrets of the Collection.  It marks both an ending and a beginning in the life of the Museum. The builders move in on 2nd November and its transformation into an even more exciting exhibition and education space will begin. This latest exhibition gives us a taste of what is to come.

Gnome and Away’ will include over 100 artefacts never displayed before.  As Christopher Woodward writes in the latest Garden Museum Journal, ‘It gives a first glimpse of the collection that will go on display in the five new galleries that will open to the public early in 2017’.

From William Robinson’s cloak to a slide box belonging to nurseryman and plant hunter, Peter Veitch, there’s plenty to intrigue any gardener – and might even entice a non-gardener. http://www.gardenmuseum.org.uk/page/gnome-away-secrets-of-the-collection

Slightly further north, Compton Verney’s summer 2015 exhibition ‘The Arts and Craft House, is running until 13 September, 2015.  Part of the project is a recent commission by landscape designer Dan Pearson – to transform the West Lawn into a wild-flower meadow mown with a William Morris design.  It’s a design that will develop and diversify in the years to come.

The commission is important for many reasons, not least because Dan is the first garden designer to have worked on the grounds at Compton Verney since Capability Brown.  Gary Webb, Compton Verney’s Head of Landscape and Gardens, includes a video clip in his latest blog showing the way in which the clever design has been brought to life.  https://comptonverneylandscapegarden.wordpress.com/

Is a prize-winning photograph the result of technical know-how? Or does it also depend on a deep understanding of the subject matter? Many County Gardens Trust members will certainly have the latter when it comes to Capability Brown and his landscapes.  As part of the tercentenary Festival, International Garden Photographer of the Year has joined forces with the National Trust to present a special award – Capability Brown Today.  Keen photographers, whether amateur or professional will find details here http://www.capabilitybrown.org/news/international-garden-photographer-year-capability-brown-special-award

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Keep sowing the seeds

One of the biggest pleasures for anyone who grows their own fruit and veg is being able to eat them while they’re still full of flavour. We’ve been enjoying the deliciously delicate taste of young broad beans this week. Broad bean 2015 won’t be the biggest or best crop I’ve ever grown so we’re making the most of what we have. Unfortunately the black flies are doing the same.

Black fly love the tender shoots at the top of broad bean plants so it’s a good idea to remove these tasty tips as soon the first bean pods start to form. I missed the crucial shoot removing period while I was on holiday and it’s very noticeable that my neighbours have far less black fly. As if I need reminding – this is not a good time of year to be away from the allotment!

One of the other wonderful things about growing fruit and vegetables is the company of like-minded people – sharing ideas and learning from each other. It was both fun and useful to meet plot holders from the two allotment sites for coffee and cake on Sunday. It’s clear from the stories of successes and failures that every year is different and that we never stop learning.

One piece of advice I’ll be following next season is not to sow parsnip too thinly. Apparently ‘parsnips like to have company’ – perhaps that’s why mine didn’t germinate? Next season I’ll be more generous with my sowing.

Our sweetcorn seedlings were planted out on the allotment before we went away. The seeds were sown at home – one seed to a pot as they don’t like their roots being disturbed – and then planted out in blocks rather than rows. Sweetcorn is wind rather than insect pollinated and planting in blocks is said to increase the chances of a good crop. Time will tell whether my blocks are blocky enough.

There’s still enough rhubarb for a meal or so despite our over zealous picking for the Allotment Association Plant Sale. This is the last chance to enjoy it. It needs to be left in peace after the end June so that it can recover for next season.

It’s so easy to get carried away with the excitement of picking and eating at this time of year that we forget to sow more seeds. Now’s the time to sow the next lot of French beans, salad leaves, chard and spinach beet so that there’s still plenty to enjoy in the early autumn.

Tips from the allotments:

– Keep busy with the hoe

– Pick off and get rid of asparagus beetle

Sow for cropping in early autumn

  • Beetroot
  • Carrots
  • French beans
  • Salad leaves
  • Chard
  • Spinach beet
  • Runner beans
  • Salad leaves
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Chelsea Fringe, healthy gardens, Capability Brown Festival and a new banknote

This year’s Chelsea Fringe may be drawing to a close but there are still plenty of events to enjoy – and not just in London.  http://www.chelseafringe.com/tag/chelsea-fringe-2015/   The fun started for Chelsea Fringe Henley almost three weeks ago with a gloriously sunny Floral Flotilla along the Thames.  If the forecast is to be believed, we’ll finish with an equally sunny family and community day at Bosley Patch.                        http://www.chelseafringe.com/events/category/uk/henley-on-thames/

As always, the start of the Chelsea Fringe coincided with the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. It was encouraging to see the link between gardening and health being explored even more this year.  Garden designer and member of the Landscape, Gardens and Health Network, Juliet Sargeant, did a brilliant job working with the teams at Gardeners World and at Chelsea to publicise the importance of nature and gardens for our health.

It’s crucial for the future of our parks and green spaces that both policy makers and members of the public grasp the message. It’s easy for those of us who are immersed in the gardening world to think that it’s common sense, but there are still plenty of people who don’t spend much time outside. It’s far more difficult for them to appreciate the link. The more media coverage the subject gets, the better.

The National Federation of Parks and Green Spaces now has over 5,000 Friends Groups registered – groups of people who want their local green spaces to be appreciated and protected.  The Federation’s goal is to have a Friends Group for every one of our 27,000 urban green spaces. Do you know a park with a Friends Group who have yet to sign up?  http://www.natfedparks.org.uk/membership-1.html

Does Capability Brown deserve a place on the back of the new £20 note?  We have a few weeks left to consider – the deadline for nominations is 19th July.  There’s a link on the Capability Brown Festival website and plenty of other Brown related news and events to catch up on too. http://www.capabilitybrown.org/news/capability-brown-next-ps20-note

Masses of opportunities for being outside and making the most of the good weather. A few dates for your diary:

 6 – 7 June, Bristol’s Clifton and Hotwells’ 2nd Open Gardens Weekend  http://www.cliftonhotwells.org.uk/greensquare.html

13-14 June, Open Garden Squares http://www.opensquares.org/

24 July – 2 August, Love Parks Week http://www.loveparks.org/home/1816

22 September, The AGT and Avon Gardens Trust Study Day, in conjunction with the GHS

‘Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown at Kings Weston: A Re-assessment Exploring his Legacy of Comfort and Elegance’

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Carrots back on the menu

After an unavoidable week away from the allotment, the weeds are back and the grass needs cutting. But there are also plenty of positives. The beetroot and potatoes are growing well. The onions and garlic are looking good – or at least they did until I sliced through the top of some of them with over enthusiastic grass strimming. Next year I won’t plant them quite so close to the path!

There’s no sign of the slow-to-germinate parsnips yet but the radish I planted alongside to mark the row are starting to appear. Most exciting of all are the tiny carrot seedlings. Cause for celebration after last year’s disastrous sowings.

One of the most helpful tips I’ve ever been given is sow far fewer seeds at a time than I’m tempted to. And then to repeat the exercise a few weeks later. I’m better at sowing sparingly than I used to be but I often forget to sow a second or third batch. For some reason, I’m particularly bad at repeat sowing lettuce. This year I’m better organised and, with any luck, there will be enough to see us through the summer – or at least until we have a very hot spell and they bolt (run to seed).

The loose-leaf variety ‘Salad Bowl’ is a particular favourite. It’s useful to be able to pick a few leaves or to harvest a whole lettuce, depending on the number of people we’re feeding. This year, I’ll be growing them in a new raised bed in the garden, along with a few other vegetables for those days when we’re back too late to dash over the bridge to the allotment to pick something.

Pea and bean weevils have been busy nibbling the edges of the broad beans. All the plots seem to have been affected. Apparently they don’t harm the plants or the crop but the damage doesn’t make the plants look particularly healthy. I’d never come across them until I started growing my veg on an allotment rather than in my garden.  Why is that?

Before I went away, I planted out some peas and supported them with hazel ‘pea sticks’. The twiggy, finely branched ends of coppiced hazel are perfect for the job. I bought mine from Steve Randall in Stoke Row. He coppices hazel in a copse near Woodcote. He’s sold out of bean poles but still had tomato stakes and sweet pea sticks when I last emailed him. stephenmrandall@aol.com

It was good to hear about the Allotment Association’s fascinating visit to Bosley Patch and the amazing variety of crops that they grow. I was really sorry to miss it. I’m a big fan of Tamsin’s bags of green salad leaves. I can’t quite believe the number of incredible textures and tastes she manages to combine in a bag.  There’s a chance to see for yourselves at the Chelsea Fringe Community Garden Day on 6th June. www.bosleypatch.com

Tips from the Allotment:

  • Plot holders are planting out dahlias, chrysanthemums, purple sprouting  broccoli, celeriac, zinnias, cosmos
  • Keep on top of the weeds and hoe whenever dry weather is forecast
  • Don’t forget to save some young plants for the Plant Sale on Saturday 30th May

And lastly, keep your fingers crossed for a sunny day on Saturday 16th May and The Floral Flotilla – the first event of the first ever Chelsea Fringe Henley.  www.facebook/chelseafringehenley/