"... 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, 22 May 2011

Heather's Helpers

This is a time for weeding and watering. To help her, Heather has a band of supporters; Simon, Christopher and Bridget are regulars, as are Heather's dad, Sam, and her step-mum, Shirley.Sam, is busy building up the canes for the 400 bean plants that are waiting to be settled in, but he takes time to chat as I pass. It is clear he is very proud of Heather - he also lets slip he is not only proud of what she is achieving at Pythouse but also her skill with horses and motorcycles!
Shirley is a particularly welcome visitor to the garden as she brings a vast knowledge of vegetables with her - which is especially useful as Heather battles with the warm weather and lack of rain. The herbs and carrots continue to do well, not minding the dry conditions, but Heather is starting to worry about whether other root vegetables and fruit are going to plump up in the dry conditions, particularly the cherry, kiwi, pear and apricot trees that grow against the garden walls near to other much larger and thirstier trees. One bonuses though is some winter varieties of cabbage and spinach which she planted on a whim, are doing well in the balmy sunshine.
A few weeks ago this patch at the North edge of the garden was an expanse of bare chocolaty-coloured earth. Now the new crop of potatoes is bursting through. There are some early varieties that should be ready by June, with others to come on in the late summer. Heather has talked to chef, Matt, about the planting, so she has made sure he has some that will be good for baking, some for mash and others which make great chips.
With the continued sunshine the fruit is about a month ahead of normal. The blackcurrants are already beginning to turn and the gooseberry bushes are putting on vibrant fresh growth. I have a birthday to celebrate in the summer (and my daughter's 21st) and I start to wonder whether I could persuade Matt to make me some gooseberry fool (my favorite) for the party.
Under the leaves and in amongst the straw I can spot some early strawberries ...perhaps some strawberry fool too? Most of the fruit is netted to keep the butterflies and birds at bay, but some trees and bushes are left uncovered so they are allowed a treat too.
The espalier apple trees are starting to put fruit on, which will soon need to be thinned out. And in the greenhouse there are a mass of seedlings in boxes waiting to be planted. There are many varieties of peppers and chillies - the hot Jalapano capsicum, the juicy, bright red Beauty Bell and the long thin red pepper, Thor. Heather is also keen to grow snack sized cucumbers up against the inside of the glass but is waiting for dad, Sam, to help build a frame.
In the garden beds there are rows of beetroot and salsify - a thin parsnip like plant that is supposed to taste like a mix of asparagus and oysters - which will be ready later in the year. There are also carrots and onions that are now growing where the greedy cabbages were planted last year. By switching the varieties around, Heather is aiming to rebalance the nutrients in the soil. This week, the broad beans are being picked, as are the white and red radishes. Matt has already used a few in his recipe for radish soup.
The flower garden has not been forgotten; the sweetpeas are emerging by the side of their bamboo wigwams, dahlias have been tucked in the borders and sunflowers are almost ready to be planted out. These should all be available for people to pick later in the year (which I am pleased about as I have just offered to help a young friend with her wedding - and I think sweetpeas would be perfect mixed with stock, scabious and love in the mist). Heather also has foxgloves and delphiniums on the go (but they will not flower until next year) and is going to plant marigolds between the beans to encourage hoverflies which she hopes will eat the aphids.
In the poly tunnel Heather is about to take out the last of the mustard and lettuces and bring on the tomatoes (Beef Master, Golden Sunrise and Gardener's Delight) and aubergines. She starts talking about framing for the tomatoes and I can immediately see another job for Sam!
I once read an Australian book about men and their sheds. It seems girls need sheds too and Heather is delighted to show me the new addition to her garden.
I take a very quick picture as the bees are starting swarm from the hives in the orchards just below it. I am told when this happened before the lady who looks after the bees had to make a run for it, quickly removing her bee covered shirt as she went. I am also told the manager Mitch, very chivalrously, braved the bees and ran after her helping to cover her modesty.
Where was my camera then?!

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Thursday with Friends

It is an evening of long shadows and slanting golden light. I am at Pythouse to meet up with friends for supper. The Potting Shed Cafe is open on Thursday evenings for a 3 course set menu, at £20 a head.
A real bargain.
Before I head inside for supper by the wood burning stove (there is a real nip in the air) I spend some time happily wandering around the garden on my own.
On the dresser opposite the stove there are vases and jugs of flowers recently cut from the herbaceous border.
It is not long before the wine and conversation are flowing.
I am very much hoping that Matt will share some of these recipes with us - there was Carrot and Cumin soup, served with Chive Oil, followed by Confit Duck Leg, Cider Fondant Potato, Cream Cabbage and Sticky Thyme Jus.
And a treat of homemade Treacle Tart and Strawberry Ice Cream.
Thank you Matt.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Waiting for Rain, Hoping for Cake

I have spent the week with farmers - it was in Rwanda, but that is another story (see www.flowershopstories.blogspot.com) and they have me convinced we need rain. This afternoon in Pythouse garden I think we are going to get it.
My farmer (and gardening friends) have assured me we need the rain now or we will be in for a very wet summer.
But before the rain descends, I selfishly hope that I can sit outside, chat to my friend Sonja and eat cake.
The chives edge the borders in puffs of purple
and the herbaceous border is starting to fill with salmon poppies.
And luckily for us, waitress Ali, is starting to fill our plates with cake.
The cakes are baked by a lady called Glenda.
This is a woman I need to meet.
Sonja goes for the rhubarb and ginger, I opt for the plum and orange.
The garden and shop are quiet today and I ask where everyone is.
It seems most of the staff and manager, Mitch, have headed to nearby Shaftesbury for a food festival.
So Sonja and I head there too and are soon walking between the packed stalls that are groaning with local produce, cider, more cider
and flower pots full of brightly painted flowers.
We don't manage to find the Pythouse crew. But we do find more cake.
And we are safely home before the rain pours down.

The Road to Pythouse Garden

A reeling road, a rolling road, that rambles round the shire,
And after him the parson ran, the sexton and the squire;
A merry road, a mazy road, and such as we did tread
The night we went to Birmingham by way of Beachy Head.
I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunken made,

Where you and I went down the lane with ale-mugs in our hands,

The night we went to Glastonbury by way of Goodwin Sands

GK Chesterton