Salad crops for winter

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Winter Purslane

Apparently that old packet of seeds I discovered down the back of the dresser were viable after all.

Winter purslane (or miner’s lettuce) will grow happily through even the coldest winter and will keep on going into the spring. Delicious even when it flowers in spring – although don’t let the flower stalk get too long before harvesting.

I grew a small bed of this at school once and the gardening club munched on  it voraciously at the end of our sessions.

Full of vitamin C and a delightful splash of green in the winter garden when not much else is growing.

Hunter’s Moon

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Hunter's Moon 2018 spiritual meaning: Full moon

The year is turning.

October Half Term is my favourite holiday.

It’s a chance to put the garden to bed for the winter, hold the odd bonfire, get the chimney swept and restock the woodpile, make chutney, mincemeat, Christmas cake, put away the summer dresses, get out the cosy sweaters from the attic and buy a new pair of boots.

It’s a chance to take stock and  to embrace the change that the colder weather and darker nights brings.

This year, more than ever I am relishing the time spent as a family for we are hurtling towards that time when the eldest of our three children strikes out on his own. This time next year, with a lot of hard work and a bit of luck he’ll be at university. How time slips through your fingers when you are a parent.

I’m determined to savour every moment. Looking up at tonight’s beautiful Hunter’s Moon – coffee mug in hand – it is extraordinary to reflect on how quickly the eighteen years have passed since I took my seven-week-old son outside to show him the Hunter’s Moon.

Bumper crops

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it’s been a good year for elderberries. One of the plants I’m going to miss most on the allotment is the huge elder tree which has provided me with a good crop of flowers in spring and berries in early autumn. Fortunately there are numerous foraging opportunities within a stone’s throw of home as I have no room for an elder in the garden. Since writing about elderberry cordial and pontack I’ve discovered the delights of elderberry tincture, which is – if anything – even easier to make.

Elderberry tincture is a delicious homemade medicine which can be taken when you feel a cold or virus is about to take hold, making use of the plants antioxidant, anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties. Strip the ripe berries off the stalks into a glass jar and cover with  brandy.  Leave for two weeks, shaking every day. Then strain the mixture through a sieve lined with muslin, bottle up and label. Take  1-3ml 3 times daily as required.

Delicious and oh so good for you.

Time to say goodbye

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I can’t remember when I took on my allotment. I know I applied for one when we first moved to Bradford on Avon and I waited nearly three years on the ‘list’ so it must have been ten years ago, judging by these photos of the children with their allotment beds. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After months of clearing brambles, weeds and even mounds of rubbish which had been buried and covered with old carpet I started to grow potatoes to break up the soil and planted some raspberry canes, strawberries, gooseberries, currants and rhubarb. Gradually I laid some wood chip paths, built a double compost bin from recycled wood and installed some raised beds. I collected dozens of green wine bottles which I used to edge the long cut flower bed and planted herbs and foliage plants to add to cut flower bouquets but I never really tamed it.  It was always on the edge of getting out of control as I fought back the encroaching brambles, the council hedge which was rarely trimmed as resources were cut and the huge diseased horse chestnut trees and hedge on the edge of the neighbouring municipal golf course, which never were.

I have spent hundreds of hours on the allotment with the children when they were small and working alone as they got older and gardening became less interesting for them. They even coined the phrase ‘allotment time’ to describe my propensity for nipping over there for half an hour and coming back four hours later. Best of all I have fed my family with homegrown produce and grown hundreds of my favourite flowers for cutting.

In truth I have a difficult relationship with my allotment. I loathe the inaccessibility when it’s time to mulch with compost or manure, the lack of water – no standpipe and regulations preventing putting up a shed from which I could harvest rainwater, the visiting badger who is determined to dig up bulbs as soon as they are planted and knows exactly when the sweetcorn is ripe enough to eat and the occasional thieves who pop in and help themselves to whatever they fancy. I’m not too keen on the person who regularly allows their dog to defecate in front of the gate and doesn’t pick it up. But I love the space to grow, to be alone with my thoughts only two minutes’ walk from home and the memories of the children growing up playing archaeologists and then learning to grow things over ten years.And the herbs grow better on the allotment than in the garden.

I have nurtured this little piece of Bradford on Avon for a long time but everything has its season and returning to the classroom has given me even less time to spend on growing. I need a space i can pop out to for ten minutes before leaving for work or whilst the supper is cooking and , in all honesty, it won’t be long before the children fly the nest and I want to make the most of the years we have left. I’ve put in two potager beds in the garden now that it no longer serves as a football pitch and so the time is right to let the allotment go.

Over the last few months I’ll admit that I have struggled with this. I thought about looking for a partner to share the allotment but that didn’t seem quite right and now that I’ve made the decision to give it up I am at peace. I remain true to my precept of always leaving a place better than I found it. I hope the next keeper of plot 2b has as much joy as I have over there. I’m even a little excited to see how it develops in someone else’s hands.

Hedge Veg

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Whilst holidaying in Guernsey this year we stumbled across Hedge Veg, a relatively informal garden gate market stall arrangement where residents sell veg, flowers, fruit, jams,  chutneys, honey, plants and even second hand books from boxes placed in the hedgerow near their homes. Of course the 35 mph or less speed limit on the island helps you spot goodies as you drive by. Some boxes were well stocked whilst others were empty for the whole week but wouldn’t it be a good thing if Hedge Veg made an appearance in your neighbourhood? Or perhaps it already has. It makes a change from the leaving your glut of runner beans or courgettes on your neighbour’s doorsteps under cover of darkness.

The Germander Hedge

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It’s time to clip back our rampant germander hedges again so that the road bike, which is in almost constant use, can get down the garden path. This is a carefully timed operation because it is such a bee magnet and I want to wait until there are oodles of other feeding stations for them in the garden before it gets a haircut. Wall germander is one of those old-fashioned plants that does not get much of a mention nowadays but with many gardeners worried about declining bee populations it comes highly recommended from the physic garden.

It was Catherine from  Pepperpot Herbs who first suggested it to me. I was looking for some box plants to edge a new cutting bed in the garden and she mentioned germander. I took her advice and ordered a batch. It grew so well that I went back the following year when I was making a second bed for more.

If you’re looking for a low-maintenance plant for edging and keeping the soil inside a potager bed rather than spilling over the path, one which is great for bees and butterflies, which will grow low and dense, which smells good and is useful then germander is the one for you. (I use the dried stems in pot pourri and wreath projects.) It is drought-tolerant (handy this summer), not overly fussy about its soil and looks good all year round. What’s not to love? I think it was used to treat gout in days gone by, despite a suggestion that it can cause liver problems. Fortunately we have no need for its herbal properties but it’s here to stay. A stalwart of the physic garden.

 

 

 

Summertime …and the living is easy.

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Sunset at Cobo Bay

It’s been another busy year. Hence the radio silence on the blog over the last few months. Unexpectedly full-time at school and seemingly part-time at home as the children have reached important milestones. The eldest started his A levels and the long-haul of applying for a medical degree and passed his driving test; the middlest completed his GCSEs and grew about a foot in the space of a couple of months and the youngest has become a poised and independent young woman overnight. The start of the school holidays saw my long-planned production of ‘Goodnight Mister Tom’ at the Tithe Barn in Bradford on Avon and then a couple of weeks of attempting to tame the garden and allotment followed alongside some of the home jobs which are neglected during term time. Time spent with all three children at home, out and about, exploring and connecting is truly slipping through my fingers. and I never intended or wanted that to happen,

And so it has been a delight to spend a family week away in Guernsey relaxing on the beach, exploring the island’s Occupation history, playing tennis, walking the coastal paths, cycling around the island and watching episodes of Foyle’s War together in the evening. Precious moments when you are the mother of teenage children. Making memories for the times when they have flown the nest.

Quiet but beautiful beaches – one of the best things about Guernsey

Les Piques Country Cottages St Saviour – the perfect base for us

When rain stops play…

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When you want to spend the day in the garden digging a new herb bed, weeding and potting up the last of the box of dahlia tubers (did I really order that many?) and the nearest you’ll get to it is this brave host of daffs under the trees glimpsed through a rainy car windscreen, I find it hard to rejig my plans. I have a script to work on, rehearsal schedules to organise and schemes of work to finalise for next term. I won’t be idle but I REALLY would prefer to be outside planting these under the hazel near the compost bin.

After weeks of being cooped up in classrooms for the daylight hours getting outside, even for half an hour every day is essential. My heart and mind tell me it’s spring despite the view through the kitchen window. My great grandfather and mother planted potatoes on Good Friday every year. The former was of the generation of farmers who advocated dropping your trousers and placing your bare backside on the ground to test the soil temperature in Spring. I don’t grow potatoes and prefer to use the germination of annual weeds as a reliable indicator that all is warm enough to get sowing but I have oodles of work to do.I guess today is not the day to start in earnest.

 

The pros and cons of being listless

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I am a reluctant list maker. For years i kicked against the notion of any kind of list. Make a shopping list? *rolls eyes. I prefer to decide what to buy in an impromptu fashion. I loathe the necessity of deciding what a family of five will eat for a week ahead.

My husband however is an avid listmaker. He has one for the packing of what we need when we visit the outlaws, one for the ‘jobs’ that need doing around the house. He is SO different from me but the older I get the more I realise that a list is essential. If it isn’t written down, it simply doesn’t happen any more.

Some time ago I started making ‘to do’ lists and, as I have an unhealthy stationery fetish, I keep them in a range of smart notebooks which I find a fascinating read to document our family life over the period of a year. And I am not alone. Comedienne Jenny Eclair went listless for a day of Radio 4 recently. It was a fascinating listen about how and why people make lists, how they cross off what they’ve done, where they record their lists, how they prioritise the items on their lists, individual v communal lists and the essential differences in the lists of men and women.

It seems the handwritten list is still favourite. This pleases me. As an English teacher I am not a fan of the comparatively little amount of handwriting that takes place. There has been interesting research recently about the links between handwriting and language learning. There have been others about writing before bedtime to promote better sleep and about handwriting and cognitive development. Handwriting matters. I don’t want a list app of any kind. Give me a lovely pen and a hard-backed book with an artistic cover. I cover mine with photos or wrapping paper,just as I did with my exercise books at school.

Look closely and you’ll see that my list today is heavily garden and home-based with a bit of drama thrown in for good measure. School holidays. I love them and I am not in the least listless.

Monday musings

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Blue skies, a box of seeds and the morning stretching out ahead to potter on the allotment. These are the best Mondays. My school holidays have begun and although I have oodles of schoolwork to do, I am mistress of my time whilst the others are still at school and work for a few days. The daffs and tulips are up in the cutting patch on the allotment; the weeds are more or less under control;I have a bin of homemade compost to spread (….and the bin to repair with some new planks of wood after the ravages of the winter and the visiting badger)

Last Monday the middle of town looked like this. I slid at 15 mph across country to work, leaving the  the family at home as their school was closed or work from home was suggested and the eldest rather glum that his driving test had been cancelled. I had references to write for members of my tutor group who are leaving at the end of the school year; marking to do, lessons to teach and a sixth form parent conference to prepare for.

What a difference a week makes. In 2013 I was ahead of the game. Here were my sweet peas in February. I am sowing 2018’s today.