Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Gardens galore

It started off just like any typical Tuesday...
Today seems to be turning out to be a particularly good day. At breakfast-time I managed not to burn my toasted hot cross bun (yes, I know Easter has passed but I still have a stash of them in the freezer). I then logged onto the RHS Qualifications site to find out that not only were the February exam results out a few days early but that I'd passed both of mine with commendation. (Incredibly pleased face). And finally the postman knocked with a parcel that turned out to be a copy of a beautiful book – The Gardens of England: Treasures of the National Gardens Scheme.

This book covers the 86 years that the National Gardens Scheme has been in existence through descriptions and histories of gardens that first opened for the charity from the 1920s through to the millennium. Some of the gardens still open for the NGS, while others are long gone, razed to the ground in times of economic hardship for the families who owned them.

A few of you may know that I am an avid supporter of the NGS and contribute in a voluntary capacity on the publicity side for Hertfordshire. Through this contact I was asked to help out with some early picture research for this book, which entailed searching through NGS-held images at head office as well as spending a few days in a dusty basement trawling through ancient bound copies of Country Life magazine to find photos of the gardens at the time of their first open days. I attended the launch of this book just last week at an event at the Garden Museum, where the chapter contributors along with publishers, NGS colleagues and some of the garden owners came together to celebrate its publication.

It is available through the publisher's own website here and from branches of Waterstones throughout the UK. If you're looking for a new coffee table garden book for yourself or as a gift for a garden enthusiast friend or relative, I can highly recommend it – and as a portion of the profits are being donated to the NGS I hope you don't mind this shameless plug.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The importance of a good plan

I will happily confess to being one of those gardening types with a planting plan. It helps me keep track of where my crops are grown each year, serving as a rough guide for rotating crops the following year. It acts as a historic record of what I've chosen to grow year by year and documents my changing tastes and preferences. Additionally it serves as a space planner, letting me see what crops I have room for each season and what might need to be kept in pots or in the greenhouse. But the most important thing about a planting plan is that you appreciate it is subject to change. And change mine did when in February my brassicas came under attack from the local wood pigeon population. Here's my updated winter plan:

But after annoyance and frustration I came to the view that it has opened up possibilities for the spring season. I have areas of raised bed that are now empty and available for early planting - whereas the brassicas would have remained until June, preventing me from replanting in those areas. Silver linings and all that. It means I can sow more varieties of summer and winter squash than I had first planned – which is good, given the surprise seed packets I found last week...

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Waiting for spring to arrive

A cold, snowy March put a stop to much garden and blogging activity but now that April has arrived, the weather as well as the spirit seems to be lifting. Spring may be late in arriving but that hasn't slowed down the seed sowing that's been going on in the background here at the suburban veg plot.

Hardy plants such as leeks, peas and brussels sprouts were sowed into pots in an unheated greenhouse. They were slow to germinate but have soon emerged with the onset of warmer weather. Broad beans were sown direct into a raised bed in October and were looking good by November (see post here). However, the recurring blankets of snow stunted their growth to a degree and then the attentions of an escaped chicken may have worsened the situation somewhat. A quick flap of her (soon to be clipped) wings and she was over the fence enjoying parts of the veg plot hitherto undiscovered by your average ex-batt. The parsnip tops proved tasty and the broad bean bed offered a veritable feast of digging and scratching opportunities. I shall wait a couple of weeks to see what proportion of the plants have survived before resowing...

Lettuce seeds were sown in trays in February and some have done well enough to be transplanted out to a raised bed though still protected by the Victorian cloche. I have planted out only the red leaved varieties to test out the theory that they are less likely to succumb to the attention of slugs and snails.

The green salad seedlings have been left in their tray and I've already started to harvest some as cut-and-come-again salad. It's tinglingly fresh to the tastebuds and wonderful to have fresh greens so early in the season. I am intending to stick to a plan of successional sowing to keep me in microgreens all year long - watch this space...