Tag Archives: gardening

Grow, forage, cook: planning a kitchen garden (part two)

22 Oct

More musings on things to plan now for the kitchen garden of your dreams next year. If you missed the first part, check it out here: Planning a kitchen garden, part one.

Planning a kitchen garden | Wolves in London

Veg and scaffolding planks: two fine ingredients for a kitchen garden…

Positioning your plot

If you’re in the enviable position of having a selection as to where you grow your veg, fruit and herbs, I’m pretty jealous!

In my garden, there is one suitable space only, a bed at the back, on the south side, which used to be full of rhododendrons, but is now empty. My kitchen garden will go there. End of story.

But if you’ve got a choice, either because you’re re-planning your whole garden, or you’ve got a selection of different places you could give over to food, then there are a few things to think about first.

Veg and fruit (generally) requires a lot of sunlight to ripen fully. So pick a sunny spot. This is especially true for fruits like grapes, which need sunlight to produce the sugars that make them taste so nice in the first place. You also want to avoid winds, which could damage the young plants, put off pollinating insects or blow the fruits right off the plants. Frost pockets (areas that are colder than the rest of your garden, for example because they’re in a small dip where cold air settles) should also be avoided. But that’s pretty obvious.

Speaking of pollinating insects, these are pretty essential for anything that produces fruits (this includes beans, peas and so on), which makes sunny sheltered spots the best.

Finally, think about the amenities you’ll need. One of the reasons my watering schedule was so crappy this past year was that the builders pulled out our water pipes that fed the tap at the bottom of the garden. (I only realised this once they’d left and it was a bit late to sort out…) This means I need to fill up the watering can from the tap at the other end of the garden and schlep it down to all the veg. Okay, this is literally a journey of 20ft or so, but it makes a surprisingly huge difference. This year, a water butt is going in to collect rainwater off the greenhouse roof and provide me with a much easier tap to use.

Of course, you don’t have to actually put aside a dedicated bed if you don’t have the space or inclination. Lots of plants can just be grown in regular flower beds, along with your other blooms, and many can look pretty attractive too. Purple kale or rainbow chard makes a good border plant; asparagus tips can pop up in a border before the rest of the plants really get started and a close proximity of flowers and veg helps all those lovely bees come and pollinate for you.

Making a planting plan

Oooh, this is the bit I just love! The expectation, the hopes, the dreams. Yes, I think I’ll put some lovely borlotti beans in there, oooh, let’s have some low growing strawberries there etc etc, as you drool from the mouth in anticipation of the next year’s bounty and imagine how you’ll need to phone your veg box delivery company and cancel the box because you just have so much food to eat…

I tend to draw up a rough plan on the back of envelope before I order my seeds, working out what will go there and how much I can realistically fit in. This (theoretically) prevents you massively over-ordering on the seeds, though I still manage it every year.

Put the tallest plants in the middle of the beds (or the side furthest from the sun) so they don’t overshadow the others. Check the distances needed between the plants (all seed packet info should have this) so you can figure out how many plants per row and how many rows you can fit in.

Think about planting certain things in succession – lettuce can be replanted throughout the year so you always have fresh crops, radishes can be planted in between slower growing crops like cabbage. Maximise your space, but don’t over-ram it. On the whole, plants spaced closer together will grow smaller but potentially more uniformly. This can actually be desirable, if you’re after tiny little baby carrots, for example, but try and make it intentional, rather than a by product of over-planting. (Ha! She says optimistically. I am a terrible one for overplanting because I just want one more little delicious plant in there please…)

Buying seeds

Sure, you could pop down to your local DIY shop and pick up any number of veg seeds these days, but the real specialities tend to be online or in garden centres. I tend to buy a lot from the James Wong selection at Suttons seeds, because I just can’t resist the allure of weird things like cucamelons; a fair bit from Sarah Raven because I just can’t resist the allure of such delightfully styled aspirational gardening and then some heritage seeds from Crocus, which is the online gardening shop I tend to buy most of my plants from. (It’s definitely not the cheapest, but I have never had a duff plant from them and they have some amazing free planting plans for inspiration too…)

There are lots more specialist providers of weird and wonderful things as well, or of course you can use seed you’ve saved yourself (I wrote more about that a few weeks ago: saving seeds) or have blagged from friends.

So, I think that pretty much concludes most of my pearls of wisdom on Autumn planning for a kitchen garden: choose a plot, prep your soil, pore over the seed catalogues, order some things and then feet up until the start of next year when you can begin to stick them in the ground / pots.

I’ve really been enjoying writing some of these gardening posts for the Grow, forage, cook series with Laura. I do hope you’ve been enjoying reading them too! I’d love it if you felt like leaving me a comment and letting me know what you think. It’s a bit of a departure from my usual craft / general life waffle…

Next week, Laura will be rounding up our favourite pics / recipes / blog posts that have been tagged #growforagecook on Twitter or instagram, so do keep on sharing your bakes, makes, preserves, or anything else you’re up to. As the colder weather settles in, my thoughts are turning towards pickling and preserving. But more on that, perhaps, another time…

In the garden: October

10 Oct

Surrounded by cobwebs, the last of the flowers are just clinging on out in the garden at the moment.

Garden cobweb | Wolves in London

A teeny tiny feather caught in a cobweb

Elated by the sunshine, I took a trip out this morning to photograph the few remaining splashes of colour, to try and hold onto them for as long as possible before the garden takes on its winter coat of unbroken green.

Actually, I love all the different shades of green you can find in a verdant garden, but I would like to add a little more colour as well.

I’m currently agonising over whether to cut down a rather large, browning, overgrown conifer that’s moping about next to our pond and planting some dogwood in its place: Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’ (you can see some in my post about trees / shrubs with winter colour from the start of the year). The idea is, the bright red stems in the winter would reflect in the pond and bring a bit of cheer (and contrast) to the otherwise green vistas. (Ha! I’m not sure you can actually use the word “vista” if the total distance you can see is probably about 20ft…)

I had just started to write a lengthy essay explaining to you the pros and cons of the decision, but have deleted the six paragraphs on the grounds that it’s not wildly exciting reading.

Anyway, back to what’s actually there at the moment…

The two pink rose bushes continue to bloom: they deserve an award for outstanding longevity as I think they’ve both been in flower for around six months now.

Pink rose | Wolves in London

This rose must surely be one of the last?

Rose | Wolves in London

I prefer these, less formal, roses…

Meanwhile, my new Rosa rugosa hedge has been making the most glorious red hips.

Rosehip | Wolves in London

Peekaboo

In an equally impressive display, my perennial sweetpea is still (still!) putting out flowers. For the last month or so, I’ve been thinking every bloom I see is the last, only for another to appear a few days later…

Sweet pea | Wolves in London

Incidentally, if anyone knows by looking what type of sweet pea this is, do let me know. I no longer remember what I sowed…

In the back garden, there are lots of bright Hesperantha coccinea by the pond. (More usual name? Not a clue, I’m afraid…) I’ve mentioned before that I’m not a huge fan of red flowers in the garden, but somehow, once the main summer has passed and we’re into autumn, my opinion changes completely and I am delighted to see such rich colours.

Hesperantha coccinea | Wolves in London

So cheerful

Behind them, my Japanese maple is still looking a little unhealthy, but has managed to put out lots of lovely purpley/red seed pods. What glorious colours!

Acer | Wolves in London

Ignore the brown, curling leaves and just look at the seeds…

And my lovely pink daisies have just put out a second bloom…

Erigeron | Wolves in London

I thought these were over, but some more just appeared

Finally, I just can’t resist sharing this photo of my little photographic assistant. He’s been given use of Daddy’s old camera and has spent much of the past few weeks in poses fairly similar to this one.

I asked him, “Are you taking a photo of Mummy?” and he looked at me quizzically, as if that would be a very odd thing to do, and said, “No! Taking photo of dis plant…” The apples don’t fall far from the tree, eh…

Toddler photographing | Wolves in London

Gardener, cleaner, photographer extraordinaire…

Grow, forage, cook: saving seeds (and free seed envelope template)

19 Sep
Vintage style seed envelopes: free download | Wolves in London

Seed collecting: like foraging in your own garden…

Far be it from me to deny the joys of veg gardening (of which there are many, even in years of disappointing harvest) but I have to confess that one of my absolute favourite benefits of growing your own is the chance to get something for nothing.

Yes, it is just quite possible I am a massive skinflint, but it makes me very happy to spend a pound or two on a packet of seeds and then enjoy fresh tomatoes for the entire summer months.

And saving and storing some seeds from said tomatoes to grow a full summer’s worth the following year entirely for free is enough to put a beam on your face throughout the whole of a miserable dark winter…

So it is, around this time of year, I head out into the garden and collect seeds from anything I’d like to grow again.

Honesty seed cases |Wolves in London

Honesty seed cases; remove seeds and stick in a vase for winter. Heaven

Of course, at the same time as I’m collecting seeds, I should be taking the opportunity to do a bit of weeding, sweep down the paths, get the greenhouse ready for the winter and so on and so on. But no, I find these maintenance tasks a little boring, so instead I’ve been square-eyed in front of the laptop, making some rather attractive seed envelopes to store all my seeds in.  (Even if I do say so myself.)

Free seed packet download | Wolves in London

Envelopes wot I made mesself

There’s one for fruit, one for veg and one for flowers. The images, as ever, are from the wonderful Graphics Fairy website (check it out if you’re a fan of vintage pictures). I’ve used a botanical rose illustration (of course, you’d be highly unlikely to actually harvest rose seeds, I should point out, but I just really liked the picture), this botanical pea illustration for the veg and this botanical apple illustration for fruit (again, don’t actually go collecting apple pips, not only would it take you years to get a tree, but they wouldn’t be the same as the original tree anyway).

If you’d like to make some envelopes of your own, by all means go ahead! Just click on the image below to download a pdf that contains all three templates.

[NB, On my laptop, when I click on the link it shows me the document with all the Ss missing. If yours is the same, just download and save it to your computer first and you’ll see it in all its glory. How these things happen, I do not know. Before printing, check the settings are for “actual size” and landscape…]

Free printable seed envelopes | Wolves in London

Once you’ve got the envelopes, you’ll need something to put inside them. Here’s a few pointers if you’re trying seed collecting for the first time:

Poppy seeds | Wolves in London

Poppies: the easiest seeds to collect.

  • Different plants produce seeds in different ways, requiring different harvesting techniques. The easiest to collect are those flowers that store their seeds in something akin to a salt cellar, in order to shake them out once they’re ready. Flowers like poppies, snapdragons or love-in-a-mist all do this. To collect the seeds, just shake the seedhead onto a piece of paper, or straight into the envelope, and your seeds are ready.
  • Peas and beans (including sweet peas) are also very easy to harvest. Make sure you leave a few on the plant long enough for the seed to ripen. The outer bean part will turn brown, the seeds will start to dry and shrivel up and, once ready, should be easily removed. Dry for a day or two longer on some kitchen paper to be sure they’re completely dehydrated and then store til next year.
  • For soft fruit and veg, like tomatoes, you need to wait until the fruit is ripe, which means the seed will be ready, then just mash up the fruit a bit and remove the seeds. The easiest way to do this is to put the fruit and some water into a bottle or jar and shake it well until it has separated. If necessary, leave for a few days or up to a week. Remove the seeds, dry them completely on a piece of kitchen paper and store.
  • Almost all seed should be stored in a cool and dry environment. Wrap in clingfilm to keep out the moisture, then put inside an envelope (or, of course, my lovely new seed packets!)
  • Different seeds are viable (ie capable of germination) for different amounts of time. On the whole, most seeds will do well to be used within a few years. Label the date of your seed collections so you can try and use them as soon as possible.
  • Lots of fruit / veg nowadays is grown from seeds known as F1 hybrids. I won’t go into the science of this as it’s a bit complicated, but it basically means that the resultant plant is likely to be stronger, healthier, less prone to pests and diseases and will crop uniformly and heavily. All sounds great, right? The only thing is, seeds collected from the plants grown from F1 hybrids won’t grow true to their parent. So, when you’re buying seeds, check whether it says F1 hybrid on the pack. If so, it’s probably not worth bothering collecting the seed from these plants, but better to just buy them again the following year.
  • Finally, a word of warning, certain seeds have what’s known as an inbuilt dormancy, that means they won’t germinate until certain environmental external conditions have been met. The most common of which is a drop in temperature. (In the wild, this means the seed doesn’t grow at the wrong time of year – it waits for winter to be over, for example…) It’s best to do a double check online for seeds before planting them, just to make sure you won’t need to fake the necessary environmental conditions before planting. (If you’ve stored the seed inside your centrally heated house, it won’t know that winter has been and gone, so you might need to put it into the fridge for a week or two to trick it into thinking it has…) Don’t be put off by this though, most seeds are fine to chuck straight into the ground – or a nicely prepared seed tray – but it’s definitely worth checking in advance to avoid disappointment if they don’t grow…

I hope you enjoy the seed packets. Please do share photos of any seed collecting you’re up to, or any other growing, foraging or cooking by using the hashtag #growforagecook on instagram or twitter, or just leave a comment here!

[Grow, forage, cook is a series I run with Laura at Circle of Pine Trees, where we share some of our successes (and failures) with homegrown, foraged (or just bought!) seasonal food. We’d love it if you’d join in too. Every month we publish a round-up of our favourite Grow, forage, cook captures. Check out last month’s over on Circle of Pine Trees: August round up.]

 

Ode to a broad bean

12 Sep

unappetising broad bean | Wolves in London

Oh green broad bean, oh green broad bean, you’re really rather small.
Oh green broad bean, oh green broad bean, you’re hardly there at all.
Oh solitary green broad bean, I still like you a lot(ty),
Though you hardly bear comparison to last year’s fine borlotti.

Your skin is wan, your colour’s dull, your seeds just number three,
Your black and speckled blotches are as ugly as can be -
And if I, famished from the day, and ready for to sup,
Picked you to feast upon, why bean, you wouldn’t fill me up!

Yet even with these many faults, upon you I heap praise
And I sing about your glory til the ending of your days.
For in one aspect you stand tall: a bean above all others
And so it is you still remain, far longer than your brothers.
Yes, beany, you’ve escaped the fate their sad short lives curtails;
You haven’t yet been eaten by our many slugs and snails.

Single broad bean | Wolves in London

P.S. Yes, I probably should get out more…

Garden moodboard: September

8 Sep

It’s quite possible, looking at this month’s moodboard, that my love for white flowers might be getting a little out-of-hand. But what white flowers they are!

September garden moodboard | Wolves in London

September delights from the garden

Along the bottom row there is a white cosmos (‘Purity’), with a small daisyish flower next to it, followed by Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus, a current obsession of mine). Above them in the top left is a glorious anemone, just below that is a nicotiana and to the right and slightly above, a self-seeded snapdragon.

Oh yeah, there are some other non-white flowers too, but really, who cares so much about them???

Anemone Honorine Jobert | Wolves in London

Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’

I think this stunning anemone is my favourite of all. I planted it a few years ago in the front garden, back when we removed the giant cactus. It has a little struggle at the start of the summer each year, when I think it’s not going to make it against its battle with the slugs and snails, and I see everyone else’s anemones in full flower, while mine looks a little sickly but then, a few weeks later, tentative little shoots and buds appear and around now the flowers are looking wonderful.

Hesperantha coccinea | Wolves in London

Same flower, new name

I’ve shown you this Hesperantha coccinea before, but it’s changed its name since then. It used to be called Schizostylis coccinea, but for some reason unknown to me, that changed. A rose by any other name, etc etc… I’ve only had a few of these by the pond so far this year, last year there was a veritable forest of them, so we’ll wait and see what happens later in the season.

Rosa rugosa rose hips | Wolves in London

Hip to be a rose…

Also autumnally-coloured, these are the rose hips from my new Rosa rugosa hedge. I think rugosa hips are good for eating, so I shall definitely be trying some culinary experimentations with these later on this year. (Not these actual hips in the photograph, of course. I don’t think they would last that long…)

Nigella | Wolves in London

So frothy!

Along with a mass of seed heads (on the bottom right of the main picture) my nigella has also put out a few more tiny little flowers in the last week. It’s nice to have a little bit more blue out there. On the left of this photo is some campanula, which has struggled on throughout the summer, producing the odd flower here and there. I really need to figure out something else to plant alongside it to cover up its rather unattractive leggy stems. (And, be still my beating heart, the lovely Erigeron is on the right of this pic again…)

Nicotiana | Wolves in London

Yeah, okay, it’s a looking a little blotchy

This photo doesn’t do my nicotiana any real favours (especially with those odd brown blotchy bits on the flower) but I’ve not photographed it yet this summer, despite its almost constant flowering. It wilts almost immediately after being picked (and often throughout the day on hot days) but looks and smells utterly wonderful around twilight. I don’t know what type of nicotiana this is (it looks just like ‘Lime green’ except for the fact it’s not, obviously, lime green) so if anyone knows, do drop me a comment. I bought five plants from the garden centre back at the start of the summer and they’ve just kept on going ever since…

Salvia seascape | Wolves in London

Salvia seascape

Finally, woohooo, a little bit of new colour. I grew some of these salvia seascapes from seed this year. They’re mixed colours and actually all the other plants are white, but this one is just starting to put out some blue flowers. In retrospect, I slightly regret cutting it down just to take its photo — but I think there were a few more flower spikes coming up on the same plant.

So there we have it, the joys of September. I’m thinking this might be one of my last monthly garden moodboards; for the time being at least. I feel as if I might be reaching the end of my range-of-plants-photographed-against-white-background capabilities. I’ve been joining in with Karin and Asa for just over a year now and have thoroughly enjoyed watching my little garden progress, but, at least until I do a major planting session anyway, I feel as if I’m now getting to a point of repetition in plant photography… Anyway, I’m not making any definite decisions, but we’ll see how the mood takes me in October. It may well be time for pastures new though. (Pastures such as Grow, forage, cook for example!)

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Grow, forage, cook: a disappointing harvest

4 Sep

As August has bid us farewell and summer has melted into the season of mellow fruitfulness, I’ve started to feel a little bit of a fraud.

It’s been great to see so many of you joining in with our Grow, forage, cook series; Laura posted what we hope will be the first of many round ups of some of your mouth-watering photos and recipes last week: August round up.

I am practically salivating onto my keyboard at the sight of all the wonderful jams, pies, salads and other delights, made from homegrown or foraged foods.

I, on the other hand, a founder of this wonderful series have not, I confess, been out day after day picking the bounty of my garden.

Despite Laura’s kind words about my gardening prowess, back when we launched this series a month ago, this year has been my least successful when it comes to growing food.

Homegrown apples | Wolves in London

Apples from my tree: about the only edible thing in my garden right now

There was the excellent plum bounty, to be sure, and the apple trees have produced a small but steady supply of really delicious apples (though nowhere near the apple glut we had the first year we moved in). The brambles at the bottom of the garden by the greenhouse have been nothing if not prolific.

But, to the production of these delicious fruits I have assisted but a little. Yes, I did prune and thin the apple and plum trees earlier in the year (I recall the rather worrying incident of a heavily pregnant lady swaying atop a rickety ladder fairly well). And when it comes to the brambles, well, I have actually spent quite a lot of time and effort trying to eradicate them, so far completely unsuccessfully.

But everything that I have actually tried to grow has been an unmitigated failure.

Come take a stroll with me, if you will, and see if you can spot the problem…

Horrible courgette | Wolves in London

Erm, what can I say, this looks utterly vile

Now, I hope you’re not eating anything when you take a look at the photo of my single courgette. Yes, this limp (I am restraining from using the word “flaccid”) nibbled, part yellow specimen is the solitary courgette produced from my courgette plant. Appetiising? Not so much. Everyone, but everyone growing courgettes has the September “what the hell am I going to do with all these courgettes?” quandary. Everyone, that is, but me, who knows perfectly well that this sad looking specimen is headed straight for the wormery. The slug damage inflicted is just too great for any recovery now.

A few steps over and you find this glorious prize winning aubergine.

aubergine flower | Wolves in London

Yes, it’s really pretty, but can you turn into into baba ganoush?

What’s that you say? Just a tiny little flower? Oh. Yes. So it is.

Though the plant has put out about 30 flowers this year, not a single one has produced a fruit. I don’t know whether it’s lack of germination, or lack of water at a crucial time or just lack of luck, but this is the best I’ve got from the aubergine plant…

I can’t even show you a photo of my purple sprouting broccoli plants, veg that I have grown in previous years and eaten with delight for the whole of the winter months. I lost them all a few months ago to caterpillars. Overnight.

The broad beans are certainly more successful because they have, gasp, produced one whole entire almost certainly edible bean. Hurrah! This is he.

Broad bean | Wolves in London

Granted, the slugs might have a harder time if I actually weeded around my poor bean plant

Hot on the success of my lovely borlottis last year, I planted half borlottis and half broad beans. I cared for them, nurtured them from seed, watered and loved them in the greenhouse and, in May, certain the last frost was over, I planted them out into a specially prepared patch in the garden. There were 24 plants in total.

Two weeks later there were three.

Now, there is just the one, with this single bean hanging from its stem.

Slugs. Bloody slugs again.

Even the cucamelons, something I declared both prolific and fail-safe after my first attempt growing them last year, are struggling on, pitifully, producing a few fruits but mostly dying down.

Cucamelon | Wolves in London

Awww, I never tire of their cuteness!

The problem with it all, of course, is lack of time. I never use chemical bug killers or computerised sprinkling systems because of environmental / sustainability issues. But hand slug-removal and hand watering are only good if you actually *get out into the garden and do it*. This summer, what with one thing or another (thing one: a toddler, thing two: a baby) free time has been slightly on the rare side and the poor garden has rather suffered as a result.

The one hope for any sort of real harvest I have are my beetroot, which succumbed in a big way to some sort of fungal disease a month back (the result, I am certain, of letting the sproglet be in charge of watering them, which will have bounced the fungal spores all over the place. Never water from above in the middle of the day, I know that, of course, but the sproglet loves watering the garden so much that I feel exceedingly mean to deny his enjoyment…) At one point they had not a single green healthy leaf among them. Now, amazingly, a pleasing resurgence and they look as if they might yet produce some decent roots for eating.

 

Beetroot | Wolves in London

Sunkissed and, astonishingly, still alive, hurrah!

So the verdict from my garden this year. Pests: 1; Sabrina: 0.

I’d love to end on a deep philosophical note about how gardening isn’t just about the end result, but also the pleasure of time outdoors, taking a moment out of your life, yadda yadda yadda < insert appropriate homily here> but, you know what, I really wanted to actually grow something to eat this year and I am pretty miffed at the sorry show.

So please, keep your pictures coming so I can live vicariously through your gardening successes! Tag your photos #growforagecook on instagram, tweet us your blog posts (to @circleofpines or @wolvesinlondon) or just leave a comment below.

Meanwhile, over here in slug city, my love of stocking the larder won’t be thwarted (Autumn time to me = permanent eye-watering vinegar aromas in the house as I pickle / chutnify everything I can get my hands on…) But if it’s not made from plums, apples or blackberries, it’ll be from the veg box this year, not the fruits of manual labour.

Ah well, seed catalogues have been circled and next year’s planning has already begun…

A peek in the garden

7 Aug

I thought it was high time to take you for another little stroll round my garden and a photographic browse of what’s going on outside in August.

I’m thinking about my garden pretty much non-stop at the moment, planning what changes I want to make for next year. Which plants need to be dug up and moved. Which new plants I want to buy. Which of the beds should be dedicated to what.

So – amongst all the looking forward – it’s nice to take a little break to remember what’s there right now.

In the front garden, everything is looking pretty happy at the moment. The verbena, as I have mentioned perhaps a million times before, is putting on as good a show this year as the last two. I’ve read that you need to replace these after about three years, so I’ll have to check on its performance next year. It flowers for months on end, but best of all the bees love it.

Bee on verbena | Wolves in London

Bzzz bzzzz bzzzz, I loooove verbena

The new wild rose hedge that we planted earlier in the year is very perky. The roses are stunning and smell delightful, but I’m equally fascinated by the way the leaves unfurl from a tightly-packed whorl…

Rosa rugosa | Wolves in London

They only last for a day or two, but the scent is just stunning…

Rose leaves unfurling | Wolves in London

Wouldn’t this be great in time lapse?

The Nectaroscordum siculum seedheads have been all but fully eaten by birds. All that is left are these spiky fronds. I plan to leave these in place all winter, I really love them. (You can see a photo of the full flower here and the seed heads pre-eating here.)

Seedhead | Wolves in London

Just one of the seed containers remaining…

The flowers are almost over on my amazing sea holly (Eryngium ‘Jos Eijking’) but its striking blue stems haven’t lost any of their colour. This is one of the plants that I’d like to move – it’s overshadowed by all the verbena and the electric blue doesn’t go well with their more mellow purple — so I think it’d look better in a bigger bed out the back. But reading up, it doesn’t like disturbance, apparently. Hmmm, might have to just see how it goes.

Eryngium 'Jos Eijking' | Wolves in London

Eryngium ‘Jos Eijking’

Moving round to the back garden…

Do you remember my obsession with Mexican fleabane (Erigeron karvinskianus)? The good news is, the three plants I put into the back garden are all growing well and flowering. Hoorah! I hope they’ll colonise this stone wall nicely.

Erigeron karvinskianus | Wolves in London

Whoop whoop, welcome to my garden little daisy-like flowers

Close by, in what is to be my mixed border once I’ve planted it up this summer, the last remaining cosmos (which should have been planted at the back of the border, but for some reason I put at the front and it looks rather gigantic there next to the smaller plants.) I feel I should apologise for yet another cosmos photo, but really, how could you ever tire of photos of this lovely flower?!

Cosmos | Wolves in London

Beautiful cosmos

Just as there is a pink rose bush in the front garden that I claim as my own, but in fact belongs to a neighbour, so too in the back garden. These roses have been blooming since the spring, now, and the bush, though technically originating next door, takes up a substantial space in one of my beds. They’re unscented, but I really like the loose natural petal arrangement. So much more attractive than the traditional tightly-packed roses, in my opinion.

Pink rose | Wolves in London

Anybody know what sort of rose this is?

Over on the other side of the garden, the apples are ripening nicely on the trees, though I fear many are filled with caterpillars.

Apples | Wolves in London

Almost ready for picking, I would say

Also ripening, shockingly early, are the blackberries. The same neighbour with the lovely pink rose also has a garden that is basically 80% bramble bushes. I spend a lot of time trying to stop them taking over our garden too, but it’s something of a losing battle. Which I mind less when I am greeted by a sight such as this.

Blackberries | Wolves in London

Ready to be turned into jam…

Meanwhile, the actually intended veg is doing less well. My courgette has put out lots of male flowers, but just the one female so far. I don’t think it got pollinated, either, so I’m afraid this solo courgette is just likely to drop off sometime soon without growing further. Fingers crossed I’m wrong…

Courgette | Wolves in London

Please don’t fall off, little baby courgette

In the greenhouse, I’ve just treated myself to some gigantic trays and some capillary matting, in a quest to overcome my crappy watering schedule. My plants are consequently neatly lined up and looking rather smart despite the hot weather.

Tray of seedlings | Wolves in London

Lovingly grown from seed and not yet dead, hurrah!

On the right of the photo are Penstemon ‘Husker Red’ with lavender and Aubrieta deltoidea ‘Purple cascade’ in the front. I’ve grown far too many of the last two, I think I counted about 35 little lavender seedlings. If I grew these all to adult size and planted them out, that would pretty much take over my whole garden, ha ha. I plan a nice little lavender line to go down the side of my path in the front garden but I suspect I won’t need more than five plants to complete that. So if anyone in SE London wants some lavender, give me a shout!

Ditto for the aubrieta, which will one day soon have lovely purple flowers all over, but currently just looks like this:

Aubrieta seedling | Wolves in London

Aubrieta seedling

Also in the greenhouse, for now, are two jasmine plants: an evergreen (Trachelospermum jasminoides) and the standard jasmine (Jasminum officinale). I’d planned to grow them up a certain wall, but completely changed my mind once I got them home. They’ve been sitting here, gently baking in the summer sun for the past few months and I really must decide where I want them. In the meantime, though, the greenhouse smells amazing…

Star jasmine | Wolves in London

Lovely star jasmine

And finally, a few photos of my kalanchoe. I normally have this indoors, but I moved it outside this summer, for no real reason other than the fact we were decorating inside.

The sunlight has done it the world of good though, tinting the edges of its fat leaves a wonderful red colour. I think it’s looking more glorious than it ever has before in the ten years I’ve owned it…

Kalanchoe | Wolves in London

I love its chubby little leaves

Kalanchoe | Wolves in London

Beautiful red outlines

Phew, well that was quite a long stroll, wasn’t it? Thanks for joining me. Perhaps time for a nice cuppa and a biscuit now. Have a lovely afternoon.

Related articles:

Grow, forage, cook

1 Aug

It’s the bucolic dream: cooking with produce fresh from your veg patch, or plucked from the hedgerow with your own fair hands.

A lamb bleats contentedly in the background, the birds cheep overhead, the sun shines down through the trees, the dappled shade ripples over your wheelbarrow and far away up a hill, a shepherdess tends to her flock…

…okay, it’s possible I’m getting just a little carried away, but this new series, Grow, forage, cook, aims to celebrate the very best of at least the first part of that lovely scene: cooking with fresh seasonal produce.

Together with my friend Laura (of the frequently bucolic Circle of Pine Trees) we plan to bring you our favourite recipes, foraging ideas and gardening tips for growing and eating seasonal produce.

I’ll be sharing some of the bits and pieces I’ve learnt (and am still learning) on my horticulture  courses to help grow the finest veg, fruit and herbs in the land. Plus, of course, some recipes that use said incredible produce, most likely booze or chutney related as I have something of an addiction to both. (Note to self: perhaps don’t admit to an “addiction to booze” on the internet…)

Laura, meanwhile, (as well as being the best photographer I’ve ever met in my life) is the world’s finest baker, so expect a range of cakes so delicious-looking you’ll be drooling over your computer keyboard. She is also a mighty fine forager, who can spot a sloe in the hedgerow at a hundred paces, and who loves to use foraged finds in her cooking.

We’ll be taking it in turns to publish a piece once a fortnight, so do check in and find out what we’re up to…

We’d also love you to join in as well. If you’re growing, foraging or cooking with seasonal produce, please do take a photo and tag it with #growforagecook on instagram; or tweet us with the same hashtag, or go the whole hog and join in with your own blog posts!

The story so far:

As we go, I’ll gather together all our articles here, so you can have a really good look through them all if you wish…

On Wolves in London:

A Christmas hamper

Homemade Christmas hamper from Wolves in London

Christmas hamper

If there’s a better present in the world than a hamper at Christmas, I’ve yet to come across it.

Oh, wait, I do know of a better one: a homemade hamper, stuffed to bursting with delicious goodies made over the previous 12 months. (Note to readers: please do feel free to read this as a hint, if you’ve been umming and ahhing about what to get me for Christmas, ha ha…)

Read more >>>


Planning a kitchen garden (part two)

Planning a kitchen garden | Wolves in London

Kitchen garden

If you’re in the enviable position of having a selection as to where you grow your veg, fruit and herbs, I’m pretty jealous!

In my garden, there is one suitable space only, a bed at the back, on the south side, which used to be full of rhododendrons, but is now empty. My kitchen garden will go there. End of story.

But if you’ve got a choice, either because you’re re-planning your whole garden, or you’ve got a selection of different places you could give over to food, then there are a few things to think about first…

Read more >>>


Planning a kitchen garden

Planning a kitchen garden

Kitchen garden

When I took my first horticulture course last year, one of the modules I was looking forward to the least was called “Growing fruit and veg”…

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m not interested in doing just that. It’s that I was already doing just that. Really, I thought, what more could I need to know?

Of course, the answer turned out to be, a helluva lot…

Read more >>>


September round-up

Grow, forage, cook September roundup

September roundup

Ah, September, always one of my favourite months of the year.

I say this not just because it is the auspicious month of my birth. (Actually, my birthday was a rather muted affair this year; the sproglet choosing the day to give me two full-on hour-long tantrums and my birthday cake not lovingly made by the hubby, but purchased from the Dulwich Picture Gallery. Not that I’m complaining, as my Mum came up for the day and was the one who bought me the cake, but the hub could do well to take a leaf from Laura’s book, who made this fantastically toothsome looking creation for her husband D’s birthday: Ginger and pear cake.)

Read more >>>


Saving seeds (and free seed envelope template)

Vintage style seed envelopes: free download | Wolves in London

Saving seeds

Far be it from me to deny the joys of veg gardening (of which there are many, even in years of disappointing harvest) but I have to confess that one of my absolute favourite benefits of growing your own is the chance to get something for nothing.

Yes, it is just quite possible I am a massive skinflint, but it makes me very happy to spend a pound or two on a packet of seeds and then enjoy fresh tomatoes for the entire summer months. And saving and storing some seeds from said tomatoes to grow a full summer’s worth the following year entirely for free is enough to put a beam on your face throughout the whole of a miserable dark winter…

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A disappointing harvest

Homegrown apples | Wolves in London

Apples from my tree: about the only edible thing in my garden right now

As August has bid us farewell and summer has melted into the season of mellow fruitfulness, I’ve started to feel a little bit of a fraud.

It’s been great to see so many of you joining in with our Grow, forage, cook series; Laura posted what we hope will be the first of many round ups of some of your mouth-watering photos and recipes last week: August round up.

I am practically salivating onto my keyboard at the sight of all the wonderful jams, pies, salads and other delights, made from homegrown or foraged foods…

Read more >>>


Spicy plum chutney

Spicy plum chutney recipe | Wolves in London

Spicy plum chutney

There’s been a definite chill in the air this week and I have to keep reminding myself that, yes, it is still officially August and still officially summer. For one more week at least…

I’m sure I can feel the days shortening imperceptibly each evening and my summer duvet is wrapped more tightly around me each night.

I’m trying not to moan because, after all, we did have a glorious July, but there is something a little depressing about an August that already feels as if autumn has hit…

Read more >>>


Morello cherry vodka

Cherry vodka| Wolves in London

Morello cherry vodka

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while now, you might know that the wonderfully talented Laura at Circle of Pine Trees is a good friend of mine.

Laura and I met back in our student days at Bristol Uni, both of us studying English Literature and then taking a masters in poetry (otherwise known as wasting a year in a rather enjoyable but completely pointless pursuit…)

It wasn’t over our mutual love of 20th century poetry though, that we really bonded, but through our mutual love of cooking (and perhaps more specifically a love of cakes, now I think about it…)…

Read more >>>


 

On Circle of Pine Trees

October round-up

Grow, forage, cook October round-up

October roundup

October, for me, is resplendent with hedgerow pickings- hips and sloes, and with the bounty of the fruit trees, apple in particular. Thanks to a generous friend with an apple tree, and a ever-replenishing basket of free windfalls up the road from our house, there have been windfall apples in my kitchen every day this month. Whilst they sometimes get stewed, or added to a crumble, most of them end up in Windfall Apple Cakes, the cake tin being refilled with a fresh one each weekend. I’ve written a little about this cake, and shared the recipe, over at Leonie Wise’s gorgeous site Weekends Collected….

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A foraged feast with Fore/Adventure

Fore/Adventure feast: grow, forage, cook

Fore/Adventure feast

Since starting the #growforagecook project with Sabrina, it’s been so exciting to to connect with others who share our enthusiasm for growing, foraging and cooking! Over on Instagram, I got chatting to Rachel, who works by the coast in Dorset for Fore/Adventure. She posts the most fabulous images of foraged goodness. I discovered that Fore/Adventure provide all sorts of adventuring opportunities, from kayaking to coasteering, bushcraft to beach school, all of which look amazing. I was particularly interested, however, to learn more about their thoughts on and experiences of wild food and foraging.

Read more >>>


Pear and ginger cake

Pear ginger cake: grow, forage, cook

Pear ginger cake

My love’s birthday is in September (in actual fact, he and Sabrina are cosmic twins!). Whilst we are rarely short of cake in our house, this is always his opportunity to choose his favourite. He’s a fan of chocolate cake, but it’s sticky pear and ginger upside-down cake which has made the most appearances on his birthday table over the years. The pears for this year’s incarnation were carefully selected from one of the ‘pick and mix’ fruit stalls at the farmer’s market, at their juicy best…

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Damson gin

Damson gin: grow, forage, cook

Damson gin

On Saturday, we took a trip to the farmers market in the sweet September sunshine. The stalls were laden down with glorious late summer bounty: crisp local apples, plump purple plums, ears of golden corn and bunches of cosmos and dahlias. I couldn’t resist a paper bag full of homegrown damsons: small and firm with an ebony gloss. I toyed with the idea of jamming them, but I have some already stashed away in my freezer, from my mother-in-law’s tree. This fresh bag called out to the bottle of gin in my cupboard-  time to make a fruit liqueur for sipping when the cold winter evenings make their inevitable appearance….

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August round-up

Grow, forage, cook August round-up

August round-up

Late summer is such a wonderful time for growing, foraging and cooking. My kitchen is brimming with fabulous produce and the only limit to my baking, preserving and bottling endeavours is my lack of time! Of all the delights that this season has to offer, it’s blackberries which are my favourites, and there seem to have been a particularly plump and juicy crop of them this year. As a child, we picked blackberries every summer, and now I do the same with my own children, returning from our rambles carrying a groaning basket, with bruise coloured fingers and purple-stained mouths…

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A basket of plums

Plums; grow, forage, cook

Plums

In my last post, I introduced a brand new collaborative blog series: grow, forage cook, which I’m starting with my friend Sabrina.  I’m going to begin my #growforagecook adventures with the large basket of plums which was has been gracing my kitchen table…

At our local PYO farm, there is a row of slightly neglected Victoria plum trees, straggling down the edge of the field between the rhubarb and the strawberries. We picked (and jammed) more than our fair share of strawberries at the start of the summer. Now that late summer is upon us with its warm, languorous abundance, plums are our fruit of choice, and a far cheaper option than the last of the berries…

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Garden moodboard: August 2014

1 Aug

Oh the joys of an English summer!

July was gloriously sunny for the most part and my garden has been putting forth some of my favourite flowers as a result.

Garden moodboard August 2014 | Wolves in London

Pinks, whites, purples and blues: my favourite colours in the garden

If last month was a little bare, this month has surely been making up for it, with snapdragons, pink roses, white cosmos, frothy nigellas and a profusion of sweet peas. Hurrah for cottage garden flowers!

Cottage garden flowers | Wolves in London

No month will be prettier than this, in my book

I grew five cosmos flowers from seed this year but — as is frequently my wont — left them too long in the greenhouse and four of them went horribly leggy as a result. They bloomed on top of their spindly legs, stuck out a mere two or so flowers and then collapsed groundwards, never to recover.

Cosmos bipinnatus Purity | Wolves in London

Lovely white cosmos ‘Purity’

The one stunted runt of the litter, however, has turned into a lovely bushy shape and has been putting out a profusion of blooms over the last few weeks. I absolutely love white cosmos, so I’ve been very happy to see this plant colonising its patch of the flowerbed.

I also grew some annual sweet peas from seed, the cultivar ‘Matucana’ — said to be one of the best scented. I’m not actually that crazy on the purple and blue colours of the flowers, but they certainly do smell wonderful.

Sweet pea Matucana | Wolves in London

If only this was real life and you could smell this…

Luckily, unexpectedly, a gloriously attractive pink sweet pea stuck its head above ground in my front garden. I’d completely forgotten that last year I had planted a few annual varieties but also a perennial, so was most pleased to see this reappear. It has absolutely no scent at all, but it does look stunning. So a little jug full of the two varieties together gives me good looks and good smells, ha ha.

Perennial sweet pea | Wolves in London

I don’t know what this pink version is. Anyone have any ideas?

Pink sweet pea | Wolves in London

I love the grading from white to pink…

Another unexpected but warmly welcomed visitor was this white snapdragon, self-seeded in the front garden from a whole window box full that I grew last year. (They were meant to be used as wedding table flowers, in fact, but bloomed too soon for our September wedding.)

Snapdragon | Wolves in London

We used to make these “talk” when I was a child

Also in the front garden, we pulled out our diseased box hedge earlier in the springtime and planted a new hedge of rosa rugosa instead. I wasn’t expecting it to flower this year, so was ecstatically happy to see a few flowers this past week. Again, one with a phenomenal smell, redolent of an English park in summertime.

Rosa rugosa alba | Wolves in London

I bought 12 of these glorious plants for a mere £2 each…

The nigellas I sowed in the flower bed in front of our kitchen put on a brilliant display for about, oooh, two weeks tops. Has anyone else had better luck at getting them to stay around for longer? Yes, they looked beautiful when they were in flower, yes, I love their little blue heads appearing over all the feathery leaves, but it felt like an awful lot of time with nothing but bare soil, then tiny seedlings, then a little froth of green, only to have a fortnight of the lovely flowers.

Nigella damascena | Wolves in London

Such a crazy looking flower…

I do like their seed heads as well (despite their fairly strong resemblance to green testicles) and have even harvested enough for a whole display on their own (see this pic on instagram) but I definitely would rather have a bit more usage of the flower itself. Any tips?

Nigella seedhead | Wolves in London

What does this look like to you?!

My coriander all bolted while we were on holiday a few weeks back in the hot weather. Useless for eating, but I guess I’ll try and harvest the seeds instead. The white frothy flowers are rather attractive as well.

Flowering coriander | Wolves in London

No good for eating but rather pretty…

And the hot weather seems to be bringing out plants far more quickly than in usual years. I pulled my first crop of blackberries the other week, not normally this plump and juicy til September.

Blackberry | Wolves in London

Yum yum yum

In the greenhouse, I also spotted my first ready-to-eat cucamelon. I’ve been growing these for a few years now. They’re a cross between a watermelon and a cucumber (as if you couldn’t tell that from the name) and I really like them in salads because, well, they look super cute.

You can see the beauty of them here:

Cucamelon | Wolves in London

This could be a normal sized melon, couldn’t it?

But this gives you an idea of the size:

Cucamelon and blackberry

But actually, it’s just teeny tiny!

The Erysimum ‘Bowles Mauve’ that I bought a few months back is the plant that just keeps on giving. When I first got it there was one little purple flower spike. Over the past few months, a steady succession have pushed on through, heading higher and higher for the sky and putting out more and more tiny purple flowers with every day. I cut some of the tallest spikes back as they were starting to look a little straggly at the bottom and plenty more have taken their place.

Wallflower ' Bowles Mauve" | Wolves in London

Pretty and endlessly flowering!

Finally, the last delight I’ve cut down in its prime purely to photograph is this lovely pink rose bud.

Pink rose bud | Wolves in London

Glorious

It’s the last to bloom on the rose bush in the neighbour’s garden that leans over our fence to get the best of the sunlight. We’ve had a succession of flowers for the past few months, but I love them the best when they’re still just in bud. Unscented, sadly, but beautiful to look at…

Phewee, that was something of a bumper post, many congratulations if you’ve read the plant chat all the way down to here! It’s been a profusion of prettiness this month but, I fear, nothing is there waiting in the wings to take its place in September. So next month, you might have just a solitary photo of an apple or a plum. Watch this space!

Related articles:

  • Check out the rest of my garden moodboards if you’re so inclined
  • And over on Pinterest, I’ve pulled together my favourite photos from my moodboards and others: Garden moodboard board (or click on the photos below)…

5 ideas from Hampton Court flower show

12 Jul

Last Wednesday I spent a gorgeous sunny day wandering round Hampton Court flower show.

Forgotten Folly summer garden at Hampton Court show | Wolves in London

The Forgotten folly summer garden. One of my favourites from the show

It was an English summer personified: the drowsy song of bees in the air, the sun beating down with occasional white clouds drifting across the blue skies, endless (endless!) stalls selling Pimms and rather a lot of people dressed in striped blazers and Panama hats.

I managed to spot a glimpse of Carol Klein, Joe Swift and Mary Berry, which added to the excitement of course, but I also got lots of inspiration from the gardens and stalls around the show.

I am planning to redesign and replant my own little patch of green this autumn and I came away with lots of ideas I’d love to translate back to my own space.

Here are five pieces of inspiration I took away from the show, in the hope they might also inspire you!

1. Use native planting to attract insects

Macmillan legacy garden and Hampton Court show | Wolves in London

Wonderful naturalistic planting of native flowers

As far as I’m concerned, this is preaching to the converted. Who wouldn’t want lots of colourful butterflies and buzzing bees in their garden, helping pollinate all the fruit and veg?

Lots and lots of gardens featured naturalistic planting and wildflowers, but the Macmillan legacy garden, above and below, was definitely my favourite.

Macmillan legacy garden at Hampton Court show | Wolves in London

I’m pretty sure I need a rusty metal cow in my garden too…

The plants chosen were all native to Somerset (where Douglas Macmillan grew up) and included verbena, alchemilla, ammi majus, anemones, campanula, grasses, foxgloves, geraniums, hostas, sedum and thyme. In short, loads of my very favourite plants!

2. You can still pack a punch with small borders

It’s easy to walk around a show like Hampton Court and think, “sure, this all looks lovely, but I just don’t have space in my own garden to do anything like this…”

Al Fresco summer garden | Wolves in London

Small bed + loads of plants = lovely

The Al Fresco summer garden, though, provided great inspiration for planting in small beds. The majority of the garden was hard landscaping, with a central dining table, covered by a pergola, and built in barbecue.

The area was surrounded by a number of raised beds, of fairly small dimensions, but full of gorgeous flowers, more than making their mark despite the small space they were confined in. Definitely one to provide encouragement to all those who, like me, only have a small space for planting…

3. Use your garden for what you love

Before I started my horticulture and design course last year, I had rather set ideas about what a garden should be.

Surely every garden needed a lawn, a patio, some borders and so on?

Of course, this is complete nonsense. Your garden should contain only the elements you want and will use.

No interest in a lawn but lots of time entertaining outside? Don’t bother including one, just create an amazing dining space like the Al Fresco garden above.

Allitex greenhouse at Hampton Court show | Wolves in London

Sigh, dribble, drool. How I want one of these beauties in my garden

Obsessed with growing tender plants? Forget everything else and just have a greenhouse then! This one from Allitex is surely the greenhouse dream and I loved the way it had been surrounded by flower beds.

Not a show garden, of course, just a display by the company, but I lusted after it nonetheless.

(Perhaps one day I will be able to afford one to replace the beast…)

4. Simplicity is key

I am something of a magpie when it comes to my garden. I want to include every single lovely plant I have ever seen somewhere within its four fences…

Allium stall at Hampton Court show | Wolves in London

Stunning. Just stunning. Love me an allium

But this display on an allium nursery’s stand reminded me of the importance of paring it back with plant choices and with colours. Less range of plants, but growing in profusion, is definitely more in design terms…

Sure, I don’t want to restrict myself to just alliums in my garden, but this was a great reminder of just how striking simplicity can be.

5. Plant up in everything you can…

…but don’t forget a cohesive style

Zinc planters at Hampton Court | Wolves in London

These amazing buckets only cost £25. But I couldn’t carry one home, with the baby in a sling, and the guy said he only sold at shows. Sob, sob. Next year…

I adored this stall which sold lots of zinc planters and buckets and milk urns and a million other wonderful things.

My garden currently has everything planted in the beds, with a few scattered pots here and there.

But planting up all sorts of unusual objects can have a wonderful effect. These zinc buckets, for example, would look fabulous planted as a herb garden.

Remember to match the planters to the style of your garden, however, to ensure you achieve cohesion of ideas. These would look great in a cottage style garden, as would terracotta pots.

A contemporary urban garden might suit aluminium or concrete pots better. Don’t be tempted to mix too many different materials together or the overall look can become a little bitty…

So, plenty of inspiration for me as I start to plan the next phase of my ever-evolving garden. And I’m booking myself a ticket to next year’s show as soon as I can!

Related articles:

  • You can see more photos of all the gardens over on the RHS website: RHS Hampton Court flower show
  • Of course, but of course, I have Pinterest boards for these sorts of things too. If you love a beautiful garden as much as I do, follow my Dream garden plans board for lots of stunning designs. And my board Plants, plants, plants started as a place to save plants we were learning about in my horticulture course and has evolved into a place to save details of every plant I come across that I love. You can see a preview of both below, just click on the photos to go to the full board…

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