Saturday 30 April 2016

Planting Lettuce

Mark's Veg Plot is back on home territory today, after the little jaunt in Kent...

My Lettuce plants have been growing ever so slowly in the cold conditions, but I finally judged that some of them were big enough to leave their pots and be planted out in the "Salads Bed".

Planting is a fairly quick job - water the plant in its pot so that it comes out easily; dig a hole; tip plant out of pot into hole; backfill with soil; water in well to settle; finish!

Actually, there were two more stages - sprinkle around a few slug pellets, and then cover each plant with a cloche. With weather conditions as they are at present (rain, sleet, hail, wind, low temperatures), the Lettuces will really welcome the protection afforded by those cloches. Fortunately I have quite a lot of those things, in various sizes. They are inexpensive and very good value for money.

My Salads Bed is beginning to fill up quite nicely now. You can see some other Lettuces in the foreground. There are two which are from last year (!) and four of the little Tom Thumb ones that I planted out a couple of weeks ago.

"Tom Thumb", a small Butterhead variety
 The patch of "Daddy Salad" aka Baby Leaf Salad is showing a fair bit of green and purple now:

When you look closely, you see that it is only the Brassicas (identifiable by their distinctive double-kidney shaped cotyledons) that have germinated so far. No sign of any Lettuces yet.

Under the tunnel cloche seen at the right of this next photo are three rows of Radishes, and in the open space behind are three rows of Spring Onions (yet to germinate). The patch with the Spring Onion seeds in it was unprotected at the time I took this photo simply because I wanted to water it. After that it was covered again with another tunnel cloche.

In pots in the garage I have some Land Cress (aka American Cress) and some Lamb's Lettuce (aka Corn Salad), but neither of them is showing any sign of germination. I think it's just too cold in there. When space allows I will bring them indoors for a while to kick-start them.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Lettuces - the ones that won't get planted - will provide a couple of servings of Baby Leaf Salad very soon. It would be a shame to waste them!

Friday 29 April 2016

A weekend in Kent, part 3 - Sissinghurst Castle

Sorry if I'm boring you with more stuff about places in Kent! I'll be back to matters closer to home tomorrow...

Sissinghurst Castle is one of those places I have wanted to visit for years. It is one that everyone has heard of, and one that gets mentioned a lot in the Gardening community as a place that everyone should visit. As it happens (not a complete coincidence), the place where we stayed was only about 10 miles from Sissinghurst, so a visit there was a Must. Being so close, we were able to get there early on Sunday morning, before it got crowded. Actually, it was not crowded at all by most standards, and I'm sure that this was partly because the weather was again bloomin' 'orrible! The temperature that morning was 5C, under dramatically leaden skies:

Sissinghurst is not really a castle any more. There was a castle there at one stage, but little of it remains. Mostly it is a very long low brick house, with all the attendant elements of a country estate - farmhouse, barns, stables, etc. (including Oast-houses of course!)

The big house, with the main entrance through the archway. The view of the tower is here obscured by the trees.

This is the tower, part of the former castle

Barn, exterior view

This barn was full of the chirping of little birds. I saw several nests up in the eaves - House Martins, I think.

Barn, interior view.

At this time of year it is necessary to look pretty carefully at the gardens to appreciate their contents, because most of them are still dormant or only just beginning to grow, but I'm afraid that the weather was so cold that we didn't linger very long at any point. In the Summer it would be very different. In April it is Tulip time, and the Sissinghurst gardens were full of Tulips of every imaginable shape size and colour:

Under the archway of the main entrance was this little selection of perfect specimens of some very special Tulips:

In normal (warmer) circumstances, we might have been tempted to go up to the viewing platform at the top of the tower, because this is where the best views of the gardens can be obtained, but we decided to leave that pleasure to some hardier souls...

Perhaps the most notable feature of the Sissinghurst gardens is that although they are fairly big, they are divided into a number of smaller, more intimate "Garden Rooms", each with its own theme. This very beautiful Salmon-pink coloured Quince definitely grabbed my attention.

I also particularly liked the many huge containers full of bulbs, such this old lead water-trough. My photo is over-exposed and doesn't capture the white of those Narcissi properly, but there's no denying the dramatic effect that such a feature can contribute to a garden.

Having retreated to the shelter of the tearoom for a warming cup of tea, Jane decided to leave me to explore the vegetable garden on my own, an understandable decision.

I was very struck by the precision and orderliness of the veg-plot. Just like mine, but on a far grander scale, I thought! Look at these lovely neat rows of Garlic.

Notice that for management and record-keeping purposes, each bed is uniquely numbered.

And a 50-metre row of Rhubarb!

Signage informs the visitor that with the aid of 12,000 wheelbarrow-loads of "home-made" compost, the Sissinghurst veg garden produced 3300 kilograms of produce last year, most of which was used in the property's own restaurant. There was ample evidence to suggest the truth of this:

Most of the veg here is grown from seed and is therefore currently at a very early stage of its life, but this meant that there was plenty of opportunity for me to observe very clearly some of the plant-support methods being used, like the wooden poles here supporting strings up which pea plants are beginning to climb:

The shorter varieties of pea were supported by flexible Hazel pea-sticks and covered by netting to keep the birds off.

This enclosure made of fine mesh supported on wooden stakes is aimed at keeping Carrot Root Fly away from the carrots. The board in the foreground informs visitors that Carrot Root Fly are low-flying insects and won't be able to get over that barrier. I just hope that Carrot Root Flies can read...

Right, now there is one more photo I want to show you. It is of a "flower arrangement" suspended from the ceiling in the exhibition centre that gives people information about Vita Sackville-West, the founder of the garden in its current form:

Impressive, eh?

My verdict on Sissinghurst: very nice indeed, but I want to see it again, in the Summer-time.

Thursday 28 April 2016

A weekend in Kent, part 2 - Scotney Castle

Following on from yesterday's post, in which I described Ightham Mote...

Later in the same day, after lunch in the "tearoom" at Ightham, we drove on to another National Trust property - Scotney Castle, near Lamberhurst. As it had been earlier, the weather was far from inviting - black clouds intermittently dumped upon us heavy drops of rain and a scattering of hail. Our first sight of Scotney Castle was a bit forbidding...

As we found out soon afterwards, Scotney Castle is effectively two castles, one ancient (and ruined) and one mid-19th Century. It is the latter of course that you see above - and not its best face either (check out that monstrosity of a metal fire-escape tacked onto the side wall!). This is the main entrance:

We were not unduly impressed with the new "castle". It seemed dark, sombre, unattractive - though there were one or two elements of light relief, such as this model of Noah's Ark.

A lot of the rooms in the house were furnished / equipped with relatively modern (and often mundane) fittings which held little interest for me. I was more interested in seeing this...

The new house is built at the top of a hill, overlooking the old castle down below. To get to the old castle you make your way through gardens full of enormous rhododendrons, azaleas and kalmia, for which the property is justly famous.

As you approach the old castle you realise that it is a ruin - just a shell.

The castle (or bits of it) date back to the late 14th Century. It was at one time a strongly fortified building, probably with a tower at each of four corners, though only one remains today.

The castle is surrounded by a wide moat. I love castles with moats! They somehow seem much more romantic.

Most of the building was demolished and deliberately "distressed" in the early 19th Century, when the new house was built. I suppose that at that time it would have been considered the height of sophistication to have a genuine ruin in your back garden! Apparently, the owner felt that the old castle was too uncomfortable and inappropriate to the needs of his family in the modern industrialised environment of the day. Quite true, I would say, but isn't it still a shame that the old place should have been knocked down? Today of course it is a Listed building and such "vandalism" would not be permitted!

There's no denying that the old ruin has a lot of attractive features. Even in the rain, this was a lovely tranquil spot. It will be nicer in the Summer when the reeds and ferns are taller.

Before leaving the property we had a quick look at the walled garden, which would (in its day) have been used to provide supplies of fruit and veg to the big house. At present it is rather stark, though it is apparent that efforts are being made to restore it to its former glory - for instance by planting more fruit trees along the walls, many of which are currently bare. I wasn't very enamoured of these enormous deep but very plain planters / raised beds. If you wanted to grow Parsnips they would probably be ideal, but I felt that the Tulips (whilst undoubtedly impressive in themselves) were out of place in them.

The enormous cage for soft fruit is an object of envy though! The space it covers is about four times the size of my whole garden.

My verdict of Scotney Castle - like the proverbial Curate's Egg: "Good in parts".

Wednesday 27 April 2016

A weekend in Kent, part 1 - Ightham Mote

This past weekend we stayed two nights in a Bed and Breakfast in the little town of Hawkhurst in the middle of the Kentish Weald, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Having in the past driven several times through Kent without stopping, en route to Dover for a ferry crossing to France, we have been meaning to explore this area more thoroughly for a long time.

The Kentish countryside looked lovely - every wood was full of enormous swathes of Bluebells, every bank was full of Primroses, and the trees were speckled with tiny greenish-yellow leaves.

Unfortunately the weather was far from kind to us. In a sense it was typical April weather - sunshine and showers - but it was also very cold, particularly in the wind. A lot of my photos were taken rather hurriedly because it was too unpleasant to take the time to concentrate on quality! This photo I think summarises quite nicely the sort of weather we had:

If you're wondering what the funny "pointy" building with vents on top are, they are Oasts or Oast-houses. Such things are used for drying hops, a major ingredient of beer. Kent has long been noted for the production  of hops, though a lot fewer are grown there these days, and many of the Oasts have been converted to dwelling-houses.

Our main reason for being in Kent at this time was to pick up something (about which I may write on another occasion), but we took the opportunity to turn duty into pleasure, so we gave out National Trust cards a good outing... The first place we visited was Igtham Mote, not far from Sevenoaks.

Igtham Mote is an early 14th Century mansion, progressively re-modelled over the centuries, and includes not only a Tudor fa├žade and a Jacobean staircase, but also some 20th Century additions. I find this sort of place fascinating, because it enables you to get a much better impression of what life was like in days gone by than any book can do. Igtham Mote's name derives from the fact that it is surrounded by a water-filled ditch called a moat. The word "Mote" is an alternative spelling of "Moat".

During Tudor times, the owners of the property were staunch royalists.

They decided to demonstrate their allegiance to King Henry VIII by decorating the ceiling of their chapel with the heraldic arms of Henry and his first wife Katherine of Aragon. This presumably backfired on them when Henry divorced Katherine against the wishes of the pope, and went his own way by founding the Church of England!

If you want more on the history of this property, follow THIS LINK, but I'm not going to write much about history, I just want to give you an impression of the place through the medium of photography.

This is the first view you get as you approach:

The property is nestled unobtrusively into the countryside, in a place so remote that (allegedly) when Oliver Cromwell sent a troop of soldiers to destroy this "nest of papists" during the Civil War, they couldn't even find it, and the house thus escaped destruction.

This is the main gate-house, access being obtained through the square tower built in the 15th Century:

To the left of the arch (near the drain-pipe) you can see the so-called "Porter's Squint", described as "a narrow (vertical) slit in the wall designed to enable a gatekeeper to examine a visitor's credentials before opening the gate."

This is the old stables block.

The property has extensive grounds that you can explore, as well as the more formal gardens:

There was plenty of wildlife to be seen too, though I suspect that this little chap would not have been welcome in the vegetable garden:

This is another of the three entrances to the courtyard.

This is the courtyard inside. The property is unusual in that most of the "interesting bits" face inwards, to the courtyard that is, instead of outwards towards the gardens.

To the right of the photo above you can see a dog-house,  Britain's only Grade 1 listed dog-house, built in the 19th Century for a St. Bernard dog called Dido.

Almost every part of the property has been "re-modelled" at some stage. This was once a dove-cote, but since doves are no longer kept, the holes in the front face of it have been made smaller, to accommodate wild birds that wish to nest there.

I'm going to leave you with a photo of another curiosity which may not be familiar to readers from some parts of the world - a "Stumpery":

The Stumpery was first formally introduced as a fashionable garden feature in the mid 1850s, and soon became very popular with Victorian gardeners with enough room to justify one! Actually, I reckon that in many cases it was probably just that landowners didn't want to pay money for the removal of what was essentially garden rubbish and did a good PR job in persuading people that even old tree-stumps were attractive!

I'll continue, probably tomorrow, to describe our foray into Kent in another post, because after seeing Ightham Mote we went on to visit two more NT properties!