Food collaging: my July harvest

July harvest | Wolves in LondonI’m completely addicted to taking courses.

Photography, blogging, garden design, how to rear alpacas… …you name it, if I’m half interested and there’s a course I could possibly take, chances are I’m going to sign up.

(I often think that if I won the lottery, the best thing of all would just be to take endless courses, learning ever-more-esoteric things, until I pop my clogs and depart this earth. What a heavenly way that would be to spend my days.)

Anyway, when I discovered Skillshare recently, a repository of short (about 30 min) online classes I was immediately hooked. The first thing to catch my eye was a course on food collaging, by Julie Lee of Julie’s Kitchen. (The class is here, if you’re similarly inclined: styling food for instagram.)

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you might recall that I used to do a monthly garden moodboard. I really loved it, but after 18 months or so I felt like I had already photographed every single plant in my garden so many times that I’d run out of ways to come up with anything new. So I stopped.

But I thought I’d resurrect these moodboards for the summer months this year, just to show off the highlights of my veg patch.

Following the tips and hints on the course, I put together my first moodboard: purples and greens from my garden in July. This is the pic I posted to my instagram account:

July food collage | Wolves in LondonI’ve got to say, I’m pretty happy with this photo. I mean, both with the photo and with the foodstuffs contained therein. Something that constantly amazes me is the absolute beauty of fruit and veg you’ve grown yourself. I’m sure it’s just the same as the way you think your own kids are the most gorgeous people ever to have walked this earth, but having sown, watered and cared for these little veggies for the past few months, I can’t help but marvel at their delicacy, the intricate patterns and beautiful colours.

Come, take a closer look with me.

Borlotti pod | Wolves in LondonBorlotti pod open | Wolves in LondonBorlotti beans | Wolves in LondonI’m a huge fan of the borlotti bean, despite the fact I fail, spectactularly, every single year to actually grow enough to make more than one single meal.

You could argue that one meal for months of tending a plant is really crappy pay off. And, I have to say, I’m inclined to agree with you. But no matter how many of these I think I’ve planted every year, I always lose hundreds of the plants to slugs and each plant only produces ten or so beans (at least the way I’m growing them…)

Every time I’ve planted them in the ground I’ve lost the entire crop to the voracious slimy beasts, so I keep them in pots now, with a line of copper tape at the top, but I still somehow managed to lose about a quarter of the crop. In fact, the beans in this photo make up the large majority of my entire yearly harvest.

Ah well, small numbers they might be, but just look at them! Surely the most beautiful bean ever to have been created?

Yin yang beans | Wolves in LondonA first for me this year was the yin yang bean (erm, you can see a pattern here, can’t you? Namely that I like a bean with a pattern…) Black and white mottling on the bean inside a green (turning to yellow) pod. It’s another glorious little thing.

Tomatillo | Wolves in LondonRipe tomatillo | Wolves in LondonTomatillo peeled | Wolves in LondonAlso new for me this year is the tomatillo. Basically, a tomato that grows inside its own casing, just like a Chinese gooseberry. Once the tomatillo inside fills the case and starts to burst out a little then you know it’s ready to eat. (Unlike a tomato, they don’t ever turn red.) You can peel back the papery case (which is covered in the most wonderful purpleish veins) and use the tomato inside. They need to be cooked before you eat them but other than that, they seem to taste pretty much the same as a tomato. Apparently, they’re a staple in Mexican cooking. I’ve got five plants growing and they seem to produce a lot of tomatillos each, so I should have a really decent harvest of these.

Garlic bulb | Wolves in LondonI’m not sure I’ve grown the garlic right — again the first year for me ever growing it. The leaves have gone yellow and started to wilt, which is the sign for pulling them up, but the garlic heads themselves are still very small. Still, I’ve been using the heads whole and they still seem to taste pretty good. I’ve been hugely fascinated by that light sheen of purple iridescence on the papery skins ever since I pulled them out of the ground last week, losing myself in the odd reverie, wondering at their beauty, in the middle of the kids’ tea, or when I’m meant to be making a sandwich. Beetroot | Wolves in London

Finally, and a little more prosaically, the humble beetroot. Root veg to end all root veg. The veg that some people claim tastes of nothing but dirt. Personally, I love it. Love, love, love the sweet taste of a roasted beetroot, the bright purple insides that bleed onto anything they touch and the green and purple veined leaves that taste a little bit overly “healthy” but bulk out a salad in times of need. Another mighty handsome vegetable in my opinion.

So there they, all photographed for posterity. A good thing, actually, since I’ve already devoured every last one: turned into a big ratatouille last week. Yum.

Next month I hope to have a huge selection of tomatoes to show you. The six different varieties I’m growing this year all seem to be coming along nicely and the first ones are turning red right now. Hoorah for homegrown.

Feasting on sour cherries: morello cherry compote recipe

It was a bumper harvest from our little morello cherry tree this year.

We planted it two years ago, in the front garden, and – until now – it had spectacularly failed to either grow a lot or produce very much fruit.

But, back in Spring, I was excited to see the branches weighted down with blossom and I had a good hope for enough fruit to do more with than my usual annual bottle of cherry vodka.

Cherry blossom
Photo taken from my instagram account, apologies to those who have seen it before…

I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, so low-slung were the branches from the mountains of cherries that I feared they might never regain their normal shape again.

Picking cherries
I couldn’t resist showing you the perfect match between my nails (in an extremely rare manicured moment) and the cherries…
Sproglet and cherries
“Take a photo of my hands and the cherries too please Mummy”

After a good cherry harvest (with excellent help from the littles) we were left with a giant bowl of cherries, ready to cook up and turn into something fabulous.

Morello cherry bowl
Our fruit bowl piled high with the bounty

Morello cherries, despite looking fabulously glossy, red and biteable, are actually quite sour and can’t be eaten without cooking and / or adding a large dollop of sugar.

I ummed and ahhed with the idea of cherry jam or a cherry pie, but in the end settled for a huge batch of compote since it can be added to so many other things.

Morello cherry compote
Such a spectacular coloured compote…

It’s hardly even a recipe, so simple is it to make, but here it is written down for anyone interested.

  1. Wash and halve cherries and remove pips.
  2. For every 300g of cherries, add 50g of sugar
  3. Place cherries and sugar in a pan, with a tablespoon of water for every 300g.
  4. Cook, over a gentle heat, for about 10 minutes, until the fruit is soft but hasn’t lost its shape.

You could eat the compote hot, with something like a chocolate or rice pudding, or let it cool and keep it in the fridge for a couple of weeks and turn it into any number of other wonderful things.

I used some of mine to make ice cream, by using our ice cream maker to churn a tub of natural yoghurt, then adding a bit more sugar and a few tablespoons of the cherry compote right at the end.

Most delicious though, was this layered pudding, made with a layer of the compote followed by a layer of crème fraiche and then repeated. I didn’t have ay amaretti biscuits, but some crumbled over the top would have made it even more toothsome.

Cherry compote and creme fraiche
Two minutes to make, but beautiful to look at…

And so, until next year, our morello cherry harvest is eaten up and I just have the odd snifter of cherry vodka to remind me of the tastes of early summer. I needn’t feel too sad though, for the plums and apples are ripening on the tree and I have the promise of an equally delicious plum and apple compote soon enough…

A bit of this and a bit of that

June in photos
Bits and pieces from June

These long, drowsy, lethargic days of summer tend to disappear in a bit of a haze, the weeks melding together. June is over before I’d hardly realised it had begun.

Emails back up in my inbox awaiting replies; text messages go unanswered for weeks; my laptop is checked perfunctorily in the evenings. Any spare moments I have are spent, instead, watering the thirsty plants in the greenhouse, trying to fix the puncture in the paddling pool or just gazing out of the window into the cloudless blue sky, daydreaming about this or that.

And so it is, a good few weeks have passed since I last wrote anything on this little blog. I thought it was high time to swing by and tell you a few of the things we’ve been up to since my last post.

The hubby and I spent a few childfree days in Wiltshire last week, while we did a little bit of house-hunting. We’ve long had ambitions to move to the country and start a smallholding, and – with the sproglet starting school next September – it seems like something we should probably try and sort out in the next year.

We checked out a few areas and are probably honing in towards somewhere close to Malmesbury. But I think we’ll return, with kids, in a few weeks to really check everything out en famille.

We also visited an alpaca breeding farm and found out all about the logistics of having alpacas, another dream of mine. I’ve got to say, they were outrageously fluffy and adorable and just so incredibly soft up close. Once we have a bit of space for them, a little family herd of alpacas will definitely be lolloping into our lives.

The sproglet, especially, is very excited about the prospect of having alpacas and pigs and goats in his garden, and I am planning a vegetable garden with glee. There’s really nothing like summer to make you yearn for a bit of country air.

We popped into Bath one afternoon too and I finally managed to get in a visit to the Foodie Bugle, where I mostly splurged on wooden-handled kitchen brushes. I think I could have quite happily bought up the entire shop though.

Back at home, the current “vegetable garden” (AKA small bed and part of the greenhouse) is prolific at the moment. I’ve been picking rondo carrots almost every day: a gorgeous fat little round carrot (as the name suggests), that’s perfect for growing in pots. This is my first year trying them. The verdict so far: simple to grow and they look gorgeous, but I have to say they don’t have the best ever carrot flavour that I’ve ever tasted. Anyone else tried them and have thoughts on that?

The borlotti beans are also starting to swell, but I lost a big collection of yin yang beans to slugs, so I’ve copper taped the top of the pots in the hope that might help.

The greenhouse is pretty much completely taken over with tomatoes; all five varieties going great guns now. I think I’ve probably got something like 50 individual plants. I have great plans for enough passata to last us through the winter…

And finally, a few weeks ago now, I made my way up to Hampstead to visit the Grow London fair. I somehow managed to win tickets from Gardens Illustrated, which was an unexpected pleasure, so I set off there for the charity preview on the Thursday evening.

It was good fun, but I was glad I hadn’t expected to spend an entire day there, since my sister and I had wandered the stalls within about an hour. Lots of aspirational / inspirational gardening items for sale. I was very taken with all of the teeny weeny succulents in tiny concrete pots. Very OTM as Grazia would say, no doubt.

Perhaps the most fun thing, though, was just chatting with all the stallholders and saying, “oh yes, I’m training to be a garden designer at the moment”… It made me feel, for the first time, as if I really might be about to properly change career and actually do it.

So, there we have it, a bit of this and a bit of that. Proper, structured, specific posts to follow again at some point soon, I promise. Just not until this glorious heat has passed.

PS photos above all from my instagram feed, so apologies if you’ve seen them before.

Bishop’s palace and gardens

Perhaps this is a terrible indictment on the state of education in the UK, but the extent of my knowledge about the bishop of Bath and Wells (of whom, presumably, there have been many) is his appearance in Blackadder.

You know the one, the “baby-eating Bishop of Bath and Wells” who turns up and demands money owed to him by Blackadder, but is instead painted in a compromising position with Percy. Ah classic Blackadder, how I used to love that show when I was younger.

Wells Cathedral | Wolves in London
No babies consumed here

Anyway, I’d love to tell you that my recent trip to the Bishop’s Palace and Gardens, right next to Wells Cathedral, gave me the chance to learn loads of factually accurate non baby-eating information, but actually I just spent a lovely morning there wandering round the gardens and looking at trees and plants.

Ah well, I’m clearly just not up for edukashun on a brilliantly sunny day.

We have lots of family in Wells, so we go down there fairly frequently, yet I’d never spent much time before wandering round the town. It’s a truly beautiful place; a lovely old market town with some glorious views and, of course, there’s the famous cathedral and the adjacent palace and gardens.

Bishops Palace | Wolves in London
Wall of the Great Hall

Parts of the palace are still intact and inhabited, though the Great Hall is just a rather picturesque wall. An enthusiastic guide told us, as we came in, that the Victorians pulled the hall down intentionally as they thought it would look better as a ruin. Gung-ho, to be sure, but I agree with them that it did look rather spectacular; the cathedral beyond framed in the windows…

Bishops Palace and Gardens | Wolves in London Bishops Palace WellsWe wandered round the gardens, the sproglet and his cousin having a lovely time examining the flowers and bees.

Wells cathedral | Wolves in LondonBishops Palace and Gardens | Wolves in LondonFlowers | Wolves in LondonThe planting was really lovely, and I’m rather regretting now that I didn’t take a few notes about some of the things that were there.

Oh but I could cheerfully spend every sunny day wandering round a garden and looking at flowers. Here’s to plenty more this summer, please.

You call this June?

June eh? I’ve got to confess, I’ve had the heating on these past two evenings. And looking out of the window, I can see that one of my tomato plants has been blown over in the winds. Sigh. Good old English summers…

Moaning aside, I dashed out of the back door the other evening, and took a few shots of the garden in between the showers. It’s been a while since I’ve taken any photos out there, but everything has been growing quite well recently, especially the veg. Anyway, come and see:

Flower bed
This is by far the worst photo in the post, so please keep reading. Why, in fact, am I even putting it at the top?!

Only one of my flower beds is even a little bit planted up. (We’re contemplating moving house this year (I know, I know! It seems a bit insane, but there we go…) and if not, then I plan to re-design the entire garden next year, once I’ve finished my garden design training. So, it seemed a bit silly to spend lots of time putting plants into beds only to either leave or have to dig them all out in a year.) This is that bed. On the left is the wallflower (Erysimum ‘Bowles mauve’) that I bought last year.

Allium christophii going to seed
The last of the flowers just clinging on

The alliums have been amazing (Allium giganteum) but by the time we got back from holiday, they were starting to go to seed. I do love the seed heads too, so they will stay in situ as long as they don’t get too windswept.

White allium
Can anyone identify?

And I think these are white allium, just about to bloom. I remember, vaguely, planting them last Autumn, but not exactly what they were.

Erigeron karvinskianus
Undoubtedly one of my all time favourite flowers

At the bottom, are lots of wonderful Mexican fleabane, aka daisies, aka Erigeron karvinskianus. I planted it all last year and it’s doing really well now. I just adore the way they turn pink as they get older.

Stachys byzantina and raindrop
Look at the amazing fine hairs

Also at the front of the bed, I procured some lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina) on my recent trip to Painshill Park. I say “procured” which sounds as if I stole it, but I’m not that much of a rule-breaker and I just bought it from the shop. It’s one of my favourite plants ever (so very very very soft!) so I am pleased to finally have some in the garden. Of course, I will need to divide and increase the solitary plant I’ve put in and try to make a proper little clump of them at the front.

Pink geranium
I have the name of this kicking around somewhere, but it’s not to hand

Also recently purchased (from Eltham Palace, this time), this rather delicate looking pink geranium is currently in my window box, but I’m planning on moving it into this bed eventually too.

Campanula and forget-me-nots
You can leave this well alone and it will just keep on coming up, year after year, perfectly happy

There’s also a fair bit of campanula with the odd forget-me-not still going strong. Some say these are weeds, but as far as I am concerned, any plant that produces gorgeous flowers and is just happy looking after itself is very welcome in my garden.

Raindrop on sweet pea leaves
I wish now I had an even-more-macro lens

Elsewhere, I’m hardening my sweet peas off outside and found these little rain drops sitting in the leaves. Rather lovely.

Tomato Super Marmande
Just starting to unfurl…

The tomatoes are all just starting to flower. I can’t remember if I said before, but I’m growing many different varieties this year (Super Marmande, Gardener’s Delight, Tigerella, Tumbling Tom Yellow and some tomatilloes as well…) The one above is a Super Marmande, which I’ve not grown before. The flowers appear in the most amazing way: what seems to be a gigantic flower bud comes out at the very top of the stem, then slowly, it peels back and separates to reveal several individual flowers all on tiny stalks. Rather fascinating to watch.

Greenhouse
No longer such a beast

And finally, do you remember how, last year, I planned to spruce up my greenhouse? It’s not yet a finished result (I plan to artfully string some more bits and pieces from the outside, and hopefully give it a paint job as well) but here’s a little “in progress” shot for you. It’s definitely improving from the monstrosity it was before. Maybe next week I’ll take you a little tour inside…

Painshill Park: the weirdness of landscape gardens

Hot on the heels of my trip to Eltham Palace to check out the 1930s planting, yesterday saw me visiting Painshill Park in Surrey, this time to visit an 18th century landscape garden.

Painshill Park | Wolves in London
The lake at Painshill Park

A bit of potted garden history for anyone interested. The “landscape” style of gardening became popular in the UK around the 1700s; its best known designer Capability Brown.

It’s a style of gardening that essentially aims to “improve” the natural landscape, intending the results to look like a beautiful spot of English countryside (though, in fact, huge chunks of money were likely spent on creating these effects, and vast swathes of land dug up and moved around to make “natural” lakes and hills and woodland areas…)

Painshill Park | Wolves in London
View of the estate

Nestled within the bucolic scenery were (in my opinion) completely lunatic buildings, designed to become a focal point and draw your eye to the horizon, across the sweeping vistas. Gothic follies, “ruined” abbeys, temples, towers, arches, bridges… …nothing was considered too grand or too weird for the aristocrats who owned and built these gardens.

At Painshill, close to Cobham in Surrey, all these features are apparent. Designed by its owner, the Honorable Charles Hamilton, an aristocrat with good connections but little actual money, the park was extensively re-designed and re-built to adhere to the 18th century ideas of a beautiful landscape.

Among other great ventures, the oxbow lake was re-dug to form a more appealing shape; a tumble-down ruined abbey was built to hide some actual modern-day brickworks; a grotto was bejeweled inside with crystals; and, most bizarrely, a Turkish tent was erected on the top of a hill at one side of the estate.

Grotto at Painshill Park
The outside of the crystal grotto. Think this looks weird, then take a look…
Crystal grotto at Painshill Park
…at this! Every single crystal was stuck onto the ceiling by hand.
Crystal grotto at Painshill Park
And this was one of the views from the grotto’s many peepholes
Gothic temple ceiling at Painshill Park
This is the ceiling of the gothic temple
Hermitage at Painshill Park
Naturally, there was a hermitage (!) – this was the rather beautiful view from its window

I’ve got to admit, it’s not my favourite era of garden styles. A little bit too much effort and artifice to create something “natural” – and a serious lack of things that, to a modern eye, are desirable. Such as, you know, flowers or non-evergreen trees and shrubs.

But a morning wandering around (in rather cold May drizzle) was a good way to blow away the cobwebs of the week. And I did very much enjoy the (non-original) watermill and the glorious walled kitchen garden on the way in.

Kitchen garden at Painshill Park
The walled kitchen garden
Water wheel at Painshill Park
The waterwheel building was gorgeous
Waterwheel at Painshill Park
As were the views behind

Incidentally, if you’re thinking of visiting a landscape garden close to London, I would recommend, instead, a trip to Stowe (where I was lucky enough to spend two years in the sixth form at the school there). Designed by Capability Brown himself, this is landscape gardening at its absolute finest.

Next week, we’re off on holiday to Somerset and I’m hoping to visit Hestercombe while we’re there. With a garden designed by Lutyens and Jekyll, I’ve got high hopes of some serious inspiration there…

Grow, forage, cook: stickyweed salsa verde

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: I am just absolutely bloody loving this good weather. Oh, the sun! Oh, the warm temperatures! Oh, the chance to potter around the garden, smelling the fabulous springtime smells of new growth out there!

Actually, though, not a huge amount of pottering has been done in the garden as much of the new growth is in the form of weeds. While I turned my back for a week or so, the weeds took over, until our main flower bed was basically one mass of weeds with the odd desultory flower poking through.

Cleavers weed botanical imageSo, rather than potter, I have been weeding at every spare second I get.

I say this in no way as form of complaint. I rather enjoy weeding. There is something quite pleasing about crouching down in the grass, in front of the flower bed, carefully tracing a weed flower back to its roots and plucking them out of the ground, taking care not to disturb all the bulb foliage alongside.

It’s quite therapeutic, weeding away in 15 minute stints, while the sproglets are sleeping, or happily engaged playing with their water table. (That is, a table filled with water, not the water table below ground. I’m not such a lax parent that I let them dig deep holes and leave them to flounder around in the underground water… Though I have no doubt that is exactly the sort of way they would both deeply enjoy spending a sunny afternoon.)

Of all the weeds in the garden, it’s cleavers, or stickyweed, sticky willy, goosegrass (Latin name: Galium aparine) (botanical illustration above) of which we have by far the most. It spreads and spreads and spreads. In fact, in the time it’s taken me to write this, it’s almost certainly taken over a good square metre of garden.

And while I knew that there were certain weeds you could eat (nettles spring to mind as one of the better known), it never occurred to me in a million years that I could actually put cleavers to use by, shock, consuming them.

But, reading a recent post on the wonderful Seeds and Stitches blog, by  Fore Adventure, I discovered you can do exactly that. I know! I nearly fell off my chair too.

This recipe for salsa verde uses whatever green herbs you can get your hands on. Including nettles and cleavers.

So on Sunday, I decided to do a bit of weeding and make myself my own salsa verde.

Stickyweed salsa verde | Wolves in LondonI adjusted the recipe a bit, to use what I had on hand. My greens of choice were a big old bunch of cleavers, fresh from the flower bed, along with some carrot, beetroot and radish thinnings.

Rather than the cornichons in the recipe, I used some pickled cucamelon that I made last year (never blogged, because I wasn’t really convinced that it was a particularly good way of eating cucamelons once I’d made it). I also omitted the anchovies as the hubby has had a recent fish allergy develop, which means he vomits whenever he eats any. Not the response I want to anything I’ve cooked, really…

salsa verde ingredients | Wolves in LondonAlong with a few capers, as in the original recipe, and some olive oil, I roughly chopped the greens and then just blitzed the whole lot in my hand held blender. In fact, the only thing about the recipe that took any time was washing all the greens in the first place.

I have to say, I was rather sceptical about just how tasty cleavers was going to be to eat. It’s so dratted sticky I could imagine it being rather unpleasant to swallow. But I was more than pleasantly surprised to discover that the salsa verde I made was actually bloody delicious. I’m not sure you really taste much of anything beyond the vinegar and pickled vegetables, but there is a definite spring freshness to it, provided by the cleavers, though I couldn’t give you any specific identifiable flavour they have.

I only made a small jar, in case it hadn’t turned out too nice, but I will definitely be making it again.

I might even experiment with a few other weeds this time. Now, if only bindweed was truly palatable, my garden would be a place of great productivity at all times.

P.S. On finding the rather lovely botanic illustration above on Wikipedia, I then read the article and discovered that it’s not just the leaves that are edible, but that:

“Cleavers are in the same family as coffee. The fruits of cleavers have often been dried and roasted, and then used as a coffee substitute which contains less caffeine.”

Astonishing, no! And there was I thinking it was just a pesky weed all this time…

Plant it now: lavender

I thought it might be nice to start up a(nother) little gardening series, taking a look at some of my favourite plants at the perfect time for planting them in the garden (or sowing seeds).

Too often, when I read about plants that I decide I simply must have in my little patch, it’s at a time when they’re in full bloom and by the time it’s the perfect occasion to plant or grow them, I’ve completely forgotten about all my wonderful plans…

Lavender lined path
© Ashridge Nurseries

First up then, a plant that I would argue is an absolute essential in any garden, the quintessential cottage garden stalwart: lavender.

I adore lavender. I love the look of the silvery foliage; I love it clipped into neat balls (so much more interesting than the ubiquitous box!), I love the fluffy purple and blue flowers and, of course, I love the gorgeous scent, redolent of lazy summer days spent lounging on picnic blankets and watching clouds drifting overhead in blue skies.

Possibly the only thing to love lavender more than I do is bees, and, hey, waddya know, I also love a wildlife garden too, so this is pretty perfect.

Lavender spikeEvery year, I also cut some stalks, to dry, use in craft projects, put in pots and just generally festoon wherever possible. Actually, now I think of it, I even used lavender in the buttonholes we made for our wedding party.

I’m working on putting more lavender plants into my own garden. At the moment, I’ve got a very old, leggy, woody shrub in the back garden that we inherited when we moved in (you can see it here from last summer) and which really needs replacing. And I’ve got about, hmmm, 25 small plug plants in the greenhouse that I grew from seed last year.

My plan is to replace the old shrub with a healthy new one and also to plant a row of lavender balls running down the pathway to the front door. (Incidentally, please don’t imagine I have a gigantic front path – it will take approximately five balls to fill that space adequately. The rest will have to find a home elsewhere.)

And now is the perfect time to plant lavender: get it in the right situation for the glorious blue haze of flowers in the summer. Incidentally, spring and autumn are generally the best times to plant any shrubs, so they can get their roots nice and settled into the ground at a time when they’re not also concentrating energy into making flowers.

If you’re tempted to plant some in your garden, after all this rhapsodising, do take a look at Ashridge Nurseries, a really excellent online seller of trees, shrubs and hedging. They’ve got my two favourite varieties of lavender for sale: Munstead and Hidcote. (Named after Gertrude Jekyll’s garden at Munstead and Hidcote Manor, respectively…)

Lavender from Ashridge

Plugs start at £2.95 and you can also find loads more information about using lavender in the garden along with advice on planting and pruning. (Plus a little selection of lavender trivia; what’s not to love?!)

Disclaimer: this is a collaborative post with, hey you guessed it, Ashridge Nurseries. Regular and wildly attentive readers might notice this is the first collaborative piece I’ve run on Wolves in London. Though I’m approached fairly frequently, I tend to know nothing about the companies or don’t think they’re a great fit for the blog. Ashridge, on the other hand, is a website I’ve been using myself for about eight years now whenever I want to buy any trees or shrubs. I’ve always found them to provide an absolutely excellent service, amazing value, brilliant trees, as well as a fantastically informative website. If you remember the rosa rugosa hedge I put in last year, that was bought from Ashridge. So, I’m happy to sing their praises to you all! (And, of course, I’m always happy to sing the praises of lovely old lavender…)

Lavender

All quiet on the blogging front

I’ve been a little quieter than normal on the blog recently. But don’t worry, I’m not stuck in the same lethargic funk as I was all over the winter

In fact, quite the opposite. Chez Wolves in London has been a crazy hive of activity recently.

The littlest is going to be one in just over a week, which has meant (yet another) renewed effort to get the house finally finally finished before his birthday. (Spoiler alert: we won’t manage to get it finished before then. I’ve been setting deadlines for us for the past two years and we’re still trucking on…)

But there has been lots of wall and door-painting going on, and even a bit of, shock, putting-up-of-pictures on newly painted walls. This is a pretty huge step, I have to say, to actually have something hanging on the walls (instead of tatters of ancient wallpaper…)

Botanical wall artThat’s a pretty shabby photo, but I am very pleased with my botanical wall art in real life. The frames, of course, aren’t actually warped, as they seem in the photo. I used a Cavallini calendar and then framed my favourite pictures in some of Ikea’s bog standard (but rather nice) RIBBA white frames. They’re sitting on a chimney breast, but I couldn’t get far enough back with my camera to show you any more of the view…

Everywhere you turn, there are various parts of the house waiting for another coat of paint:

Doors being paintedThis morning, scaffolding was set up against the front of the house so the pebble dash can be removed (we’re not trying to do that ourselves) and a handyman has been in all day putting on door knobs, hanging doors in different directions and re-wiring our doorbell back into the mains, a mere 1.5 years after it was first unwired.

I’ve also been spending loads of time outside in the garden, sowing endless successions of seeds with the sproglet and admiring all the new growth.

Cherry blossomForget-me-notsApple blossom
Borlotti beanTulipsI’ve got carrots in pots, beans rearing their heads above the soil, apple and cherry blossom on the trees, a rather delightful bed of tulip bulbs and some lovely perennials and about 75 tomato plants, at last count. I’m not quite sure what I’ll be doing with 75 tomato plants, but at least it means I won’t worry too much if a few of them die.

I’ve also been thinning the radish and carrot seedlings and decided to eat the mini leaves as a salad, rather than throw them into the compost. Oh, I felt very Masterchef, I can tell you, eating my microgreens. (And also, rather amused by the whole concept of microgreens being a modern way of eating, having also recently grown loads of cress with the sprolgets, which I remember doing in my childhood and is, surely, the origin of the whole microgreen craze?)

Radish microgreensA great find from the weekend was a Birds of Britain book, left outside for collection on someone’s front wall. The sproglet adores bird watching, peering out from the kitchen and saying to me, “oh Mummy, yook, a robin! Yook a blackbird!” so a happy time has already been spent poring through the pages.

Bird bookbird book insidebird bookIt’s incredibly beautiful, I think, with a map in the front cover of the locations of various birds and some lovely illustrations.

Finally, I’ve been beavering away industriously at my garden design diploma. We had two major deadlines just before Easter. One was to design a border for a shady courtyard attached to a bookshop; thinking about year-round interest. Bliss. I loved doing this.

The other, was to draw five different plant associations (eg, groups of plants that look nice together…) Five different drawings! I am terrible at drawing, so this was some sort of special hell for me. Not only am I terrible at drawing, but I really ever so very desperately want to be good at drawing, so every time my pen makes things look weird and not how I imagine them, I get very frustrated and cross. Ah, the rage of a wannabe artist…

Anyway, these were the two I was most pleased with (or, rather, least displeased with). After weeks of getting fed up and stressed out and thinking I would be failed, I managed to pass the assignment. The main feedback from my teacher? “Interesting style.” I’m not entirely sure whether that’s a good thing or not, ha ha.

Plant associations

So, in all, just the right sort of fever of redecorating and gardening to perfectly accompany the Spring weather… As each last job gets completed, I’m starting to believe that at some point we might, we just might actually live in a house that is fully painted and fully functioning. Exciting stuff!

A few flowers

Magnolia stellata | Wolves in LondonChionodoxa | Wolves in LondonPrimrose | Wolves in LondonWe continued with Operation Sort-out-the-garden this weekend.

It’s an ongoing attempt, that’s been running for about, oooh, the 2.5 years we’ve lived in this house.

It’s not that I’m not crazy on gardening or that I’m not actually really quite desperate to have a garden that’s nice to sit in… it’s just that we’re also simultaneously running Operation Finish-decorating-the-darned-house and Operation Look-after-two-small-kids.

Anyway, I’m really starting to see progress now. I might even share some whole garden photos with you soon… (The suspense! I know!)

Yesterday was spent shoveling a big pile of soil into buckets to put onto a new bed. The soil pile has been sitting in front of the greenhouse for more than a year now (intended time of habitation in that location: about one month). There is something wildly satisfying about a bit of physical labour, especially the repetitive thrust of the spade into a big fat pile of earth.

On Saturday, with the sproglet’s help, I sowed a few more seeds, removed the duckweed from the pond and peered at a huge ball of frogspawn, did a bit of weeding around the rhubarb, checked on the new bed that’s been dug out for veg, and went on a snail hunt.

In between all the gardening, I spent lots of time admiring the new flowers that are appearing.

Oh and the hubby got in on the act too, cutting down the gigantic wooden post that was in front of our greenhouse (you can see it in the picture here) that once led a visitor to comment that it was always nice to have some gallows in the garden…

Next weekend, we’re putting up an arch in the same location, planting some honeysuckle and evergreen jasmine round the base, sowing the seeds into the veg bed and doing whatever else I can add to the list in the meantime.

Nowt like Spring, is there?