Tulips, books about compost and the start of Summer.


It’s May Day. How did that happen? I’ll tell you how. In between all those trips to the hospital with the member of the family with the smashed elbow and the frenzy of mothering, writing, teaching and allotmenteering which is my life, the blossom unfurled, tulips blossomed and slugs munched happily on new shoots. I admit to being a little out of kilter when it comes to seasonal preparations this year as a result. My seed sowing was late; the Simnel cake got its marzipan covering on Easter Monday five minutes before tea and a flurry of family birthdays were handled with military precision at the last minute rather than in my usual, relaxed way. And now it’s the start of Summer – at least if you’re a Celt.

Beltane, May Day, Calan Haf – whatever your take on this time of year, know that my ancestors and probably yours were bedecking themselves with flowers and ribbons, dancing round the Maypole and driving their cattle out to Summer pasture through the smoke of bonfires lit to bring health and fertility to their crops and livestock in the coming year. In this house we are celebrating with a working oven which should bring health to the cook in the household as the stress of living in an episode of Butterflies was all too much.

Talking of stress, I can’t recommend enough growing tulips as a crop in trenches as opposed to spending hours placing them in groups in your border, only to see them open, flop and look messy in the blink of an eye. It took me half an hour to plant loads on the allotment. They looked a picture and I have brought bucket loads home to place in vases round the house and to give to friends. We picked up a couple of bags for next to nothing at the Sarah Raven sale and popped them in a trench bed at school (as you see above) and have sold them to parents on our Friday afternoon flower stall. I’ll never plant a tulip any other way again.

My second stress buster has been turning the compost. I’m evangelical about compost as you know and was delighted to find out recently that another Wiltshire resident is equally committed to getting the compost message out to the next generation of gardeners. Ben Raskin is Head of Horticulture for the Soil Association. He’s written a great family friendly book about making great compost. Kids will love the format and parents will find the information useful. If it doesn’t have you getting out your hammer and knocking a bin up from old pallets, nothing will. Ben was kind enough to talk to me about the background to the book and his own experience of gardening as a child and as a father of two. You can read the interview in full here.

Mayday delights


I love Bank Holiday weekends and particularly this one, marking as it does the start of Summer. As a child I remember the May fair and my mother making up a basket of flowers for a neighbour who was housebound. This year it’s been my turn, although the baskets were of herbs not flowers. I was up early on Saturday to pot up a selection of herbs, some for a charity plant sale. I decided on a ‘Scarborough Fair’ selection of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme of varying kinds as the event had a musical theme. 

We  worked sporadically on the allotment  stopping for the boys to play in football matches, visiting Hartley Farm Shop to name their new cockeral, hens and rabbits and admire the beginnings of their herb garden and later to go to a Beltane party complete with impromptu fire ceremony (when an ancient chair gave way and the weather turned chilly.) The apprentices have half filled their beds with sunflowers, strawberries, spinach, sprouts, cauliflower and purple sprouting broccoli.


We rewarded ourselves with a day out on Monday, despite bracing winds and the odd shower and trekked around Dyrham Park near Bath, stopping halfway round for a picnic near this gate. Later on, having visited the house (fabulous kitchen with a vaulted ceiling and large skylight) we emerged into the formal gardens.view-of-dyrham-by-sarah_mayday091

Sarah was delighted to spot several varieties of tulip that she had planted at home looking magnificent in the long borders and ducks on the lake. We’ll go back in the Summer to compare their newly planted veg patch with ours.



Then it was home for hot chocolate and cake in front of another Beltane fire. Yes, it really was that cold. It’s set me up nicely for the work of the week ahead. Maybe next year I’ll try a fire walk.

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