"... She bid me take life easy, as the grass grows on the weirs; But I was young and foolish, and now am full of tears ..."

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Heather in the Garden

I join Heather the Gardener as she is planting out peas in soil rich with manure from the organic estate farm. She tells me she is working the garden with as little spraying as possible and will be using netting rather than insecticide to protect her crops. Heather (and Jasmine her dog) started at Pythouse in September and since then she has done a huge amount of work clearing weeds, moving rubble and rubbish and preparing the ground. One of the constant hazards when weeding are fragment of glass from the greenhouses that once stood at the top of this 18th century kitchen garden.
The ancient greenhouses are gone, but Heather has many plans for adding to the structure of the garden as well as the planting. A new shed is coming soon and she hopes one day to be able to renovate the wall at the bottom of the garden. She explains she would like to grow varieties of buddleia and ceanothus against the wall to attract butterflies; part of encouraging conservation in the area. But all of this will take time. As someone who started with just a wheelbarrow and a spade as her only equipment, she realises these things get added to gradually.
Heather's main work is within the walls of the kitchen garden where she is introducing a no dig system. This will help maintain good soil structure, and by keeping paths between the rows of planting she will be able to keep on top of the weeding. When this year's crop is over another load of manure will be delivered from the estate farm to build up the beds. Heather already has an order in for another 30 tons! Beyond the garden wall are the orchard and beehives which Heather hopes to incorporate into the garden soon - although the gate will have to be kept firmly shut in the evening to keep the local badgers out.
In previous years there has been rather a glut of some particular crops; last autumn they couldn't give marrows away and the parsnip and beetroot plagues certainly tested the ingenuity of the chef. Heather plans a larger number of crops, each with 2 or 3 varieties to bring more texture and colour to the menus and to the shelves of the kitchen garden shop.
Her current planting list reads like racing form, with wonderful names such as Oarsman, Bunyards Exhibition, January King, Freckles, Red Brunswick, Golden Bear and Solent Wight. So far, the garlic is in, as are the leaks, chard, spinach, cabbages, mustard, broad beans (my favourite) celeriac, onions and lettuces. And Heather is also chitting her potatoes. This is where I have to make a confession. I am a very poor gardener, so poor that I did not know that letting your seed potatoes sprout before planting is called chitting. So I might as well be honest now, I am going to write about gardening in this blog (bit difficult not to!) but it will be as a complete beginner. A beginner who is really keen to garden vicariously and learn all she can over the year.
One thing I do know a little about are flowers and I am delighted to hear that Heather has plans for growing perennials which can be picked for the shop and will be a fabulous source of flowers for people planning celebrations and parties in the garden. So far the sweet peas are in, but there will be many more varieties to come. I wonder if she will be planting any heather?

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Three Friends

Three friends, a birthday to celebrate, and a sensational spring day.
What more could you ask for.
We are not the only ones enjoying the sunshine. As we head to a table by the wall I can see three small girls chasing each other around the vegetable beds.
It is so much more fun with three.
I know I shouldn't ... I'm not supposed to...
but I really want to feel what the earth feels like between my toes ...
Older (but not necessarily wiser) I really want to sip Champagne in the sunshine with my friends.
And then it is back to work, but not before my friend Jane has bought some skimmia plants for her garden.
As Jane and Michelle are browsing amongst the plants I sit on a low stone wall and stare out over the garden. My daydream is interrupted by a man sitting in the orchard answering his mobile phone. His conversation is not quiet, he paces to and fro as he speaks, his voice rises above the gentle murmur of the garden. Am I cross? Do I want to have a sharp word with him? (well, perhaps not a sharp word ... I am too English for that) Do I want to tut meaningfully? Well, not really, he is speaking Italian. I have no idea what he is saying, but it sounds magnificent.
Before we finally drag ourselves back to work I introduce myself to Heather the gardener who has been industriously hoeing beds whilst we have been playing. I am coming back to have coffee with Heather on Friday to find out more about her plans for the garden.
I can't wait.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Flowers for Flora & Blossom for Blossom

Now that is a sight you don't see everyday. Weaving through the country lanes near to Pythouse is a big red London bus.
It is taking guests to Flora and Charlie's wedding at St John's in the village of Tisbury. Later, guests will climb aboard to wind their way to the Garden for the wedding celebrations.
Earlier in the day I had popped into Ted Martin Flowers to get a glimpse of Flora's wedding bouquet. It was having a drink of water next to a box of tissue-wrapped rose buttonholes.
A heavenly mix of roses and daisies.
As the bride arrives at the church I spot the bridesmaid, daisies in her hair, carrying the bouquet for her mum.
Then it is a quick pause for a photo, and Flora, her children and her friends all enter the church.
I on the other hand, head up to the Garden to see how Mitch and his team are getting on.
All is ready and waiting and Mitch and his staff are catching a few moments in the sunshine to grab something to eat.
The Champagne glasses are lined up in the orchard.
And the bunting is hung under the awning.
The posies for the tables are displayed in simple tin cans and were delivered from Ted's flower shop yesterday.
I catch the heady scent of hyacinths and stock as I wander between the tables with my camera.
Every place setting is different, and the mixed colours of the vintage china give the tables an eccentric old English feel.
I fall in love with these exotic, turquoise and raspberry birds perched on golden branches.
Say Yes
I Love You
Kiss Me
Lucky Lips
Mitch tells me that Charlie's nickname for Flora is 'Blossom', so he is delighted that the blossom growing on the trees up the side of the Potting Shed has decided to come out in her honour.
Mitch explains that Heather, the gardener, has to help the blossom pollinate as few bees make their way under the awning.
Heather does this by going from flower to flower with a paint brush.
(Mitch is convinced she should buzz as she does this!)
I take one last look around at the place settings, the garden, the glasses and the cake.
You may wonder why I am not waiting to photograph such a beautiful bride in this glorious setting. Well the problem is, England are playing Ireland in the rugby and in my Anglo-Irish household that is sacrosanct!

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The Vicar and The Labradoodle

I am in the garden with my friend, Reverend Anne, and her Labradoodle (such a great name). The garden welcomes well behaved dogs (and children) and leaves a bowl of water out for them - the dogs that is.
Anne last visited Pythouse in January, when she joined us for a lunch in the garden's Potting Shed to celebrate our wedding. At that time the snow was just clearing, but now the daffodils and primroses are beginning to brighten the borders and hedgerows. Anne particularly admires some purple potted primulas in a tray by the wall. She, is retired from the church now, but confesses she always loved Advent and Lent as she had to wear purple - "just my colour'!
It is a day for sipping wine in the surprisingly warm spring sunshine.
I am mesmerised by the image of the upside down garden in the wine glass.
I am also mesmerised by the Spiced Dorset Apple Cake and Ice cream that Anne orders with her coffee. It's good to see Vicars enjoy the odd bit of sin too.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Always Start with Breakfast

That is what my Mum always told me, and who am I to argue?
So on the first day of my new blog I decide to head to Pythouse garden for a Sunday breakfast. It seems a very good place to start.
It is a clear, clean, bright spring day and the garden looks stripped and scrubbed ready for the new gardening year.
Even the paths seem brushed and ready.
Few plants appear to have got wind of the change in the weather, which makes the bobbing hellebores all the more welcome.
But first breakfast.
As I head through the garden shop to the cafe I bump into the Flower family. The children are having a wonderful time feasting on nuts that mum, Sadie, peels for them.
Sadie brings me up to date with the pick-your-own flower farm that she runs nearby in Hatch. The sweet pea trenches are being dug and they hope to see the aliums by April. The wild flower meadow should be blooming in May, with annuals coming on in June.
I head past the wood burning stove to join my friend Jennifer. Some of you will know florist Jennifer from my books and flower shop blog - I have no doubt she will be helping me with this project too.
What to choose? What to choose?
As we chat over a cup of tea, Jennifer cuts up tags for some knitted tea cosies she has made for sale in the cafe.
When the poached eggs and bacon arrive I decide Mothers are always right.
Breakfast is a very good way to start.