Friday, March 30, 2007

Flower Power

This year I'm tiptoeing further into the hitherto unbeknownst territory (to me anyway) of flower growing. Apart from a few perennials - Aquilegia, Echinops and Iris - and some self seeding Nigellas, I've always stuck to vegetables. Last year I grew a row of Marigold harlequin and while not the most beautiful or fragrant flowers they are decidedly jolly and bloomed from June through to October.
My plan this year is to stud my greensward with blossoms creating a flowery mead such as you see in medieval tapestries. To that end I have just sown seeds of Cornflower Polka dot ("a dwarf strain with an outstanding colour range"), Eschscholzia Mission Bells ("Californian poppies in a range of bright colours") and Chamomile in trays in the window. Very exciting!
'Ful gay was al the ground, and quaint,
And powdred, as men had it peint,
With many a fressh and sundry flowr,
That casten up ful good savour.'

(as Chaucer put it)
I am hoping that if we time the semi-annual lawn mow to just prior to planting out, the flowers may have a chance to establish themselves. Later in the summer any grass cutting will have to be done with scissors I guess.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Give Peas a chance

Hip, hip and huzza! Little green things are seeing the light of day now in the potting shed, full of promise for the season ahead. Tender, unblemished innocents unfurling, stretching up and fluffing out. Little do they know of the dangers that are lurking in ... The Great Outdoors! Squadrons of pigeons have fixed their beady eyes on the garden and the SAS (slugs and snails) are licking their lips(?) in anticipation of the salad days ahead. The overwintering eggs of assorted hostile forces have been incubating in record warm temperatures this year. For my brassicas - cabbage whites, whitefly and the cabbage mealy aphid form the axis of evil (axis of weevil?). And last year they took it in turns attacking my brussels sprouts. The RHS advice page on the cabbage mealy aphid warns that "the heaviest infestations occur from mid-spring until mid-autumn". Er... so, that would be all summer long then? I think that the mistake I made last year was to put a mesh around the sprouts early on to keep out the birds & butterflies (an exclusion zone), and all it did was keep the natural predators from feasting on the aphids. By the time I noticed them the first of the invasion force had already raised several generations and retired to condos down the stem. Trying to squish them all at that point without damaging the leaves is tiresome and not very effective. Is there any natural deterrent for these beasts? I don't buy into chemical warfare or scorched earth tactics.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A Regal Breakfast

The Plain Cookery Book for the Working Classes contains the following recipe: 'Oatmeal Porridge for Six Persons'
To five pints of skim or buttermilk, add a couple of onions chopped fine, and set them to boil on the fire; meanwhile, mix six table-spoonfuls of oatmeal with a pint of water or milk very smoothly, pour into the boiling milk and onions, and stir the porridge on the fire for ten minutes; season with salt to taste. It will be apparent to all good housewives that, with a little trouble and good management, a savoury and substantial meal may thus be prepared for a mere trifle.'
I cook my porridge in 1/2 measure milk and 1/2 water and I soak the (pinhead) oatmeal overnight in the water to reduce the cooking time. But at this time of year I add a chopped, (gloved) handful of fresh young nettle tops for a gruel that might not win the Golden Spurtle but is guaranteed to put hair on your chest.

Nettles aplenty in the back corner of the garden.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Hounds of Spring

The genius of James Thurber.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Saline Solution

I've been doing battle with a sore throat now for over a week, dousing it with honey, pots of tea, lashings of chicken soup and gargling with salt water. What I don't want to do is go to the doctor, have her glance at it and promptly write up a penicillin prescription, all within the 7 minutes allocated for an appointment. Does anyone know of a doctor who will take up his or her quill-pen, and scrawl out in spidery but legible longhand that 'the patient must take the waters in this or that spa town and not return until fully restored to health'? Send me details.
Over Christmas we visited Bad Rothefelde where generations of delicate Germans have been sent for their rest cures. The most amazing feature there is the 'Gradierwerk' or saline. This is a 30 foot high, 1/2 a kilometre long thatched wall built in the 18th century. The salt spring water is pumped up to the top and trickles down the blackthorn thatch, allowing evaporation and increasing the salt content from 4% to about 25%. Finally it is boiled down to extract the salt. There is a chamber inside the wall (very like a sauna, only cold so you leave your clothes on). It is filled with a dense fog of salt vapour which you inhale through your nose and exhale out of your mouth for 15 minutes at a time. And over time you will become the very picture of gesundheit.

If you click on the picture, you'll see the water trickling over the thatch and also some thatch encrusted with minerals which will get replaced in time. The longshot doesn't really do justice to it's size.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Hard Graft

I'm just back from Suffolk where I've taken a class in 'The Ancient Art of Grafting'. We employed the 'Side Veneer Graft' but could as well have used the old 'Whip and Tongue'. I brought home the fruit of my labours - Malus domestica 'William Crump' on MM106 and M26 rootstock - on the back of the motorcycle. They seem to have survived and hopefully in the next few weeks will give me a sign that they're willing to grow. I'm now eyeballing our neighbour's very tasty old apple tree and getting all sorts of mad ideas on how to transform the garden à la Axel Erlandson.

Oh, and talking about fruit trees, here's where you can petition our government to plant more fruit and other edible plants in public spaces.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Root of all Evil?

Platéarius writes in his 'Book of Simple Medicines' that "raw or cooked it [parsnip] is recommended for those who have just recovered from illness or melancholy". And goes on "with this herb one can make a kind of ginger candy which rouses lustful desires and aids digestion". Well, I only recently learned to like them and I think it was with good reason that a parsnip won the 'Ugliest Vegetable Competition' last year. I went to the allotment yesterday and dug up this quadrupedal specimen - the last of the 6 that made it to maturity. I don't know if the cause of the poor turnout was slugs or non viable seed but that's why I've decided to pre-germinate indoors and possibly even give them a start in modules this year. So I've just scattered some seeds on damp blotting paper today and we'll see how it goes.