Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Cobweb season

Over the last few days we have had some very typical English Autumn weather: chilly, misty mornings followed by bright (occasionally hot) afternoons. One day we had some heavy rain in the evening, and this brought the spiders out "en masse". First thing next morning the garden was absolutely covered with cobwebs.

Trees, shrubs, flowers, herbs: they were all draped in feathery festoons of spider-web, glistening with dew.

Some of the plants were so thickly covered that you could hardly see them.

Here's one of the perpetrators - a Garden spider - one of many such individuals in the garden right now.

You have to admire their industriousness! Break one of their webs and they'll rebuild it by next morning.

I think I would be very scared if I were a flying insect...

This may look like an enticing hammock, but it's a deadly trap for the unwary fly.

For me this is the epitome of Autumn: fallen leaves and cobwebs.

And fungi...

Monday, 22 September 2014

Harvest Monday - 22 Sept 2014

Since we were away from home for much of this last week, gardening has not been my top priority. Nevertheless...

This basketful was collected soon after we got home on Thursday. It includes more lettuce, Runner beans and French beans, one cucumber and one head of Radicchio.

Actually, before we went away I had picked four other cucumbers, which I stored in a Stayfresh bag in the fridge. I put them together with the more recent one for this photo:

The skins of these late-season cucumbers can be a bit tough, so I usually peel them before eating. The ones seen here are of the variety "Iznik F1", which I have successfully grown for the past 3 (or is it 4?) years. However, on a recent visit to my local Garden Centre the other day I saw some packets of cucumber "Diva" at 99p if you purchased them with any two other packs from the same supplier. How could I resist? Since Iznik is an F1 variety, it is expensive to buy (£3.95 for only 5 seeds, if I remember rightly), so these Diva ones represent better value. From the picture on the packet, they look very similar. Anyway, I'll be trying them next year.

On Saturday I lifted one more pot from my rapidly-dwindling supply of potatoes.

This one yielded 861 grams of lovely clean "Pink Fir Apple". I think that's a good result.

At the same time I dug up two more leeks. Two seems to be just the right amount for a 2-person serving.

I have also picked more of the Autumn Bliss raspberries. I've given up photographing them, because every batch looks just like the others! I have been getting two or three batches each week, each one of about 100 or 150 grams.

The best harvest for me this week though was chillis - about which I shall write more soon...

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Herbs revitalised

About a month ago I gave many of my herbs a very severe "haircut" in order to revitalise them and produce a new crop of fresh young leaves before the frosts force them into hibernation. It seems to have worked!

In my photo you can see Mint, Thyme, Oregano and Chives, all of which were given "the treatment".  The Mint is perhaps the most impressive:

The new growth is very soft and delicate, not like the rather tough leaves it replaces. It will be great in a tabbouleh, I reckon, but maybe not so good in a Mint Sauce.

The others are a bit less well-advanced, but still looking good:


Broad-leaved Thyme


Not all of my Oregano got the chop. I'm leaving some of it until the birds have taken the seeds. The Goldfinches particularly love these.

Elsewhere my supply of Parsley is increasing too:

I often have difficulty with maintaining a sufficient supply of Parsley (we use a lot of it when it's available), and I find that it seldom does well in the raised beds. For instance it often gets attacked by ants and by the Carrot Root Fly. However, earlier this year I had some really good Parsley in one of the beds in the Spring, overwintered from last year, so I'm going to try to do that again. The seedlings seen below will be planted out just as soon as the right space becomes available, and then when the weather turns cold I will protect them with cloches.

I'll also keep some of the Parsley in pots so that I can move it around when necessary - for instance I will be able to put the pots in my coldframe when required. Having some herbs in pots is very convenient in the Winter time. It means you can bring the pot indoors and carefully select which leaves you want to cut, rather than just grabbing the first ones you see simply because you don't want to stand around in the cold and dark (and probably rain) for any longer than strictly necessary!

As you can see in my photos, I have Parsley seedlings at three different stages now. These little ones will need thinning out soon.

Yesterday I sowed yet another batch of Parsley seeds. With weather like it has been recently, they will probably do well enough.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Hidcote Manor

Some of you will know that we recently spent a few days on holiday in the picturesque Cotswolds area of England. On one of our days there we visited Hidcote Manor Gardens - a National Trust property. We had actually been there once before, some years ago, but our visit had been rather brief because we were going somewhere else as well that day. This time Hidcote was our specific destination.

Hidcote describes itself as "the place where the National trust learnt to garden". It was established in 1907 by Major Lawrence Johnston, who spent the next 40-odd years scouring the world for plants with which to fill his expanding garden.

The most characteristic aspect of Hidcote is that the garden is sub-divided into a number of smaller sections, equivalent to "rooms", enabling many different design and planting themes to be explored.

 Johnston was an avid plant collector and travelled very extensively in search of new plants, as well as sponsoring plant-finding expeditions, and reputedly would only accept the best specimens. His garden contains an amazing array of plants - most of which are completely unknown to me! OK, there are plenty of the old favourites, like this Marigold:

...this Dahlia:

...and this Astrantia:

...and some well-known but still exotic plants like this Protea from South Africa:

But what is this?

Or this?

Apart from the plants, Hidcote has many other features to attract the visitor. For instance you can see Lawrence Johnston's potting shed:

Can you see the Solar Topee helmet posed above the globe, rather cheesily symbolising his travels around the world?

At present the gardens are featuring an exhibition of modern sculpture, whose elements are liberally scattered throughout the gardens. I'm generally not very keen on sculpture or garden ornaments, and today I passed quickly by some of the more abstract offerings, but I did like some the animal-themed ones, such as this cute little piggy (labelled "Sitting Pretty"):

I also liked this aptly-positioned "Wall Lizard":

And this enormous though rather sinister Dragonfly:

Talking of sinister, what do you think of this "Velociraptor", evidently made from old car parts?

Another part of the property which I was particularly interested to see was the Vegetable Garden. This is a real vegetable garden (some of its produce is used in the property's café, and some of it is offered for sale to visitors), not an ornamental one. Here we see a fine patch of Cavolo Nero:

When you see this massive array of Leeks you probably won't be surprised to hear that "Leek and Cheese Macaroni" is one of the Specials on the café menu at present...

Behind the leeks visible in my photo were many more leeks at various stages of development, so "Leek and Cheese Macaroni" may well be a feature of that menu for some months to come!

Here is one of several "Bug Hotels", providing interesting nesting-places for beneficial insects:

To be honest, the flowers on display at Hidcote at this time were not the main event - many of them were definitely past their prime - but Autumn has much more to offer than flowers, and sometimes the colours of Autumn leaves can out-shine them:

Should it be of interest to any readers, let me end by saying that we had a very nice lunch in one of the property's two cafes, and also a browse around the extensive Plant Sales area (though on this occasion nothing took my fancy, so I didn't make any purchases). A visit to this place is strongly recommended for any keen gardener, though please note that access for disabled or less mobile people is evidently a bit of a challenge!

Friday, 19 September 2014

Daylesford Organic Farm

Recently Jane and I spent a few days away from home, staying in a rented cottage in the town of Stow on the Wold, in rural Gloucestershire. This is the heart of the Cotswolds country, an area renowned for its natural beauty. It is so nice to be away from the pressures of work and the daily grind of household chores and general "admin", for a while. As the saying goes, it was chance to re-charge our batteries...

This is the cottage in which we stayed

As you all know, Jane and I are very interested in food and cooking, so it was inevitable that one of our outings was a trip to Daylesford Organic Farm, just a few miles from Stow.

Daylesford is more than just an organic farm. It is also a cookery school, a restaurant and a shop, all of them thoroughly imbued with the spirit of celebrating the pleasures of good food made from the finest ingredients. We timed our arrival there to coincide with lunchtime (now there's a surprise!). We were very impressed with the restaurant. It was neat, smart and efficiently run, and the food was beautiful - in terms of the taste of course, but also the presentation. Most of the ingredients including meat, fruit, vegetables, bread and dairy products, are from their own farm, so there are very few food-miles involved. The dishes available sounded so attractive that we asked permission to take away a copy of the menu for future inspiration.

Display outside the shop - this is just to get you interested!

Our meals sound basic: Jane had Welsh Rarebit (cheese on toast) with salad, and I had a tomato salad with burrata mozzarella. Writing it like that scarcely does the dishes justice, because they were made with the finest ingredients you could wish for. Jane's cheese, for instance, was their home-made Daylesford Cheddar, and both her baby leaf salad and my tomatoes were from the Daylesford farm. I was particularly pleased that my tomato salad was served with Mint instead of the usual Basil, which gave it a more English feel. The burrata mozzarella was drizzled with olive oil from Daylesford's partner organisation in Provence, France, called Chateau Leoube, who also provided the wonderfully crisp, refreshing (and not too sweet) Rose wine which accompanied our meal. Our desserts both included berries from the Daylesford farm - blackberries, raspberries and redcurrants. Jane had hers left plain, but mine were an accompaniment to a really zesty Lemon Tart, made with those huge and powerful Sicilian lemons.

The meal was not cheap, but we thought it excellent value for money, and the service was good too: attentive and knowledgeable staff, but not too pushy.

After lunch we had a good look round the gardens followed by a comprehensive browse of the shop. Here are a few photos to illustrate what we saw:

Crab Apple tree

Rustic table (not for sale...)

"Indigo Rose" tomatoes

The shop was full of things we wanted to buy, and it was hard to restrain ourselves! One of the most interesting features of the shop is the cheese room, where cheeses are kept under controlled conditions of temperature and humidity.

Nicely aged Daylesford Cheddar cheeses
 Although the range of cheeses in stock was not huge, it contained a good mix of local and imported cheeses. There was (amongst others) Comte and Roquefort and Brie de Meaux from France, Parmesan from Italy and Manchego from Spain, alongside Stichelton (an English blue cheese similar to Stilton) and this Adlestrop, made on the premises:

The shop also had lots of things in it that were not edible, though they were mostly food-related, such as kitchen utensils and pot and pans - and books. We couldn't resist buying this fabulous book about the whole Daylesford concept and its food.

 This lavishly-illustrated volume has loads of recipes and serving suggestions, presented in the house style, which is to make the most of the ingredients and not to disguise them with too much contrived "cheffiness".

This is very much what we like, and how we like to cook and eat, so I'm sure this book will provide a rich source of inspiration for us in the years to come.

If you are ever in the Cotswolds area, I strongly recommend that you put this place on your itinerary!