The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies. Gertrude Jekyll

Annie's Little Plot

Annie's Little Plot

Monday 20 February 2017

Boothby's blond anyone?

Sounds like a character from The Great Gatsby or Charles Dickens. Or maybe a real ale! There is also 'Red Elephant', 'Wild pigeon bean', Mr Fearn's Purple flowered' or 'Peewit', these are some of the unusual names in this years Heritage Seed Library (HSL) catalogue. I joined the scheme, which is run by Garden Organic, last year. I thought it would be a good opportunity to try some new varieties and also support a really important cause. If you are an avid reader of seed catalogues you will know that new varieties come along all the time, promising wonderful things and whilst some do live up to that many others will get dropped and will get lost along the way. Some because they are just not good enough but many get dropped as they might not yield that perfect shaped carrot. These seeds will then not be commercially viable in the world we live in where all vegetables need to be uniform shape and blemish free even if they have no flavour.
HSL not only save seeds that have been lost from commercial seed catalogues, the HSL also saves seeds that have been grown year after year on allotment sites across the country. These may have been passed down from generation to generation in little brown envelopes. They may be fantastic for growing in the cool, cloudy north of the UK, or may be tolerant of particular conditions. Its vital to keep a wide selection of varieties to boost genetic variation. Many will have proven pest and disease resistance in line with organic growing. OK and may be a little of me wanted to grow some vegetables with bonkers names!!
If they are dropped from the list of approved vegetable varieties then by law they cannot be sold. To get round this the HSL is set up as a charity and you join as a member and they give you the seeds for free. Its not a seed bank and all the seed is grown by the team at Garden Organic and a group of Seed Guardians across the country and then distributed to the members. You get the catalogue in December and can choose 6 varieties and you get a lucky dip extra variety, it costs £18 to be a member. Its basically a big seed swapping exercise. If you want to join and place an order you will have to be quick as the deadline for seed orders is this Friday 24th Feb.
Varieties that I grew in 2016 included the Pea 'Chibby's Wonders' it was described in the catalogue as being strong and pest and disease free and so it proved. I sowed the seed in small black square pots, two seeds per pot ( you get about 10 seeds) as I don't have much success with sowing peas direct and didn't want to risk losing them. They all germinated quickly and then were planted out at the allotment in early May and they grew well. They had white flowers and developed into good long pods with around 6-7 peas per pod. Towards the end of the cropping I left some to dry for seeds and I managed to save some nice seeds for next year.
I grew a really attractive leek called 'Walton Mammoth', it was described as a variety with long white stems which is a good show variety and the key thing for me is that it said it was resistant to rust. You get plenty of seed of this variety and these I sowed in early March, pricked out and then grew on a bit before planting at the allotment in June. I really liked this variety, it truly was resistant to rust and it was a lovely bluey green colour.
I grew a variety of Beetroot called 'Long Blood Red' which as you might imagine from the name has long roots and said to be sweet and flavoursome. It is said to stand in the soil well and also good for pickling. This did grow well and was nice and sweet so I will try that again this year. I didn't leave any for seed. I've never tried saving seed of Beetroot before actually.
The climbing french bean 'Blue and White' struggled a bit but I managed to get a couple of plants going and actually saved most of the pods for seed for this year. 
I had poor success with a variety of squash called 'Zapallito de Toscana' as these all got eaten by slugs, my nemesis in 2016.

In 2017 there were 158 varieties to chose from and with some difficulty I narrowed it down to my 6 of choice.
Pea 'Bijou' this is a mangetout variety which I wanted to try again this year, despite its name its a very vigorous variety and said to need good solid supports. It has pretty bicoloured purple and white flowers and succulent pods, sounds great to me.
Cucumber 'Boothby's Blond' which is said to be a early, prolific variety with yellow, warty skin, ok that might sound a bit off-putting but it is said to be a really sweet melon like taste which was a favourite in taste trials.
Squash 'Summer sun' which is a bright yellow patty pan type which will look pretty as well as be productive on the plot.
Celery 'Solid Pink' which is a very old variety from 1894 which produces large pink stems and is said to retain its colour when cooked. It is a trench variety, a technique I've never tried before so this will really be an experimental crop.
Onion 'Batun' which is a Russian variety and is a bunching onion and forms clumps of purple tinged bulbs which have a mild flavour.
Lettuce 'Bronze Arrow' which is a Californian heirloom variety which has arrow-shaped leaves with a broze edge which is also supposed to be drought-tolerant and also very hardy so good for over-wintering and what really caught my eye was that its said to be not as attractive to slugs. Thats what sold it to me.
My lucky dip was a Celeriac variety called 'Tellus' which is supposed to be quick-growing and smoother than usual varieties. 
So I'm really looking forward to seeing how they fair this year. I'm also going to make a proper attempt at saving seed and will think about becoming a Seed Guardian in the future and adopt my own orphan vegetable!

Wednesday 1 February 2017

La La Land mmmm.....

It’s a bitterly cold day at the beginning of February, we've seen hardly any sun the last few days and the temperature has barely got above a few degrees but I'm not complaining too loudly. Its winter, this is how it should be. I wouldn't change the seasons. This was brought to home to me after a recent visit to my local cinema to watch the much-hyped new film La-La Land. In the film they marked the passing of the year by telling you the seasons in big letters on the screen! They had to tell you as you would never know from looking at the clear blue sky and wall to wall sunshine! Everyone in 'summer' clothes all the time and out walking the beach and eating outside. Bliss? Sometimes I think it might be nice, but I wonder if I would really like that all the time, would I get a bit bored?
I love the rhythm of the year as we cycle through the seasons. The seasonality of plants adds to that joy. The excitement of the first snowdrops, followed by tulips, strawberries, roses, raspberries, all the flowers and fruits that mark the seasons. We all have our favourites in our garden and plots which signpost the passing of the gardening year. Another reason why I've not been too bothered about the so-called 'courgette crisis' who wants to eat courgettes much at this time of year. Ok maybe I'll get some in to have in stirfrys or veg chilli but I usually have my fill of courgettes in the summer. Now its all about the root vegetables, the leeks and cabbages.
Having said that as we get to the end of a season I start to look forward to the next, always looking ahead but you must take the time to enjoy the season that you are in. I know by the end of February I'll be itching to get going again in the garden but at the moment while its still cold I'm enjoying the garden dreaming, planning and perusing of seed catalogues. If I had to garden all year like I do in the Spring I would be exhausted! I need the break over the winter to recharge my batteries and reinvigorate my love of gardening. I'm not saying that my love goes away but sometimes by the end of the summer I'm ready to have a break. I often have a second wind in Autumn, a season which I love, and like being busy again but its always at a much slower pace then anyway. There isn't that mad fervour that seems to happen in Spring. Then by the end of autumn I'm quite happy to come inside, snuggle down by the fire and shut the dark out and relish the family time of Christmas and just slow down.
This is when I catch up with reading. Armchair gardening. I've recently bought a set of books edited by Melissa Harrison published in association with The Wildlife Trusts.  It is an anthology of writing by gardeners, naturalists, travel and wildlife writers, plus excerpts from fiction but overall short pieces of writing highlighting each season of the year. It is a joy and this will be my seasonal reading for the year. They are by my bed to dip in and out of according to the season.  
I've also been spending some time going through my garden photos, trying to catalogue some of the better pictures. I take so many but I've never really looked back at them very often so its been nice  to revisit old gardens. 

All is quiet in the garden at the moment, its poised you might say, but even in this bitterly cold weather it seems like there signs of life, new green shoots poking out of the soil. The garden is more monochrome at this time of year but this is where evergreens in your garden really come into their own adding that dark green background. My garden remains quite green throughout the year as in my back garden I have an evergreen privet hedge, a big rhododendron which is green all year and a small circular lawn. I now have a few box balls dotted around the garden which add some nice structure. I also admire the Japanese Maples at this time of year, the shapes they make and way they get covered in little droplets of water in the damp. 
In the front garden apart from a sleek glossy leaved Camellia most of my shrubs are deciduous but actually on the whole they have nice silhouettes. The Magnolia stellata has started to puff out its silver soft hairy buds at the tips of its stems. I have a Witch Hazel which is just getting to a nice size now and sizzles with orange spidery flowers and a Viburnum x bodnantense which is also getting a good size for flowering now and has been covered in blossom for a month or so already. This cool weather will be good to keep these flowering for longer. Still hanging onto its jewel like berries is a Cotoneaster horizontalis which is sprawling over a small wall most of the way along the side of my front garden. So there is still a lot to see and take pleasure in and soon there will be snowdrops and hellebores.
Where you might feel more despair at this time of year is on your allotment plot as it can look quite bleak and bare but if you can look back at your photos through the year so much happens in that yearly cycle. It will soon start again. I've been up to my plot briefly today and the rhubarb is starting to sprout. There are bits of green around but all is a sleep and I don't feel guilty for not spending much time there!  Anyway take the time to enjoy the cold frosty days. We'll soon be running around like mad things. 
Going back to the film, my local cinema is fab, its an independent cinema in Elland called the Rex which is one of the oldest cinemas in the country. When we arrived this week there was a man playing the organ at the front, you can get a mug of tea or coffee to drink while you watch. They still have an intermission where you can get more refreshments or some local ice cream. The drinks, sweets and snacks are not over-priced and are normal shop-sized not the ridiculous super-sized packets you get at the big chain cinemas. It can be a bit chilly inside but that would be its only fault. Plus they don't always have the films on straight away as they are released so you may have to wait for your film to come on but the most popular ones usually do and they also choose some of the better independent films. They have family films on in matinees at the weekend and have a thursday morning special for seniors with an organ concert and tea and biscuits. Its fabulous and actually well used which is great. One advantage is that perhaps not super trendy so usually a good crowd watching who love films. Anyway thats an aside. So what of the film, I did enjoy it and definitely recommend people to see it, but because of the all the hype I kept waiting for something amazing to happen which it never quite did. It was entertaining but worthy of all the fuss and Oscar nominations I'm not completely sure.

Hope you've enjoyed some of my pictures of flowers through the seasons.