Saturday, 27 September 2014

In praise of September colour

Some things are fading in our hard dry September. That fuchsia has just been shed by the plant, a fat flower bud it can't afford. The Sunflowers and Rudbeckia are already looking tattered. In the greenhouse, my Nosferatu Chillis are healthy and in full flower - but they get a regular water. The tender climbers (blue Tweedia and orange Nasturtium) and the Sweet Williams are having a second flush. The Begonias and New Guinea Busy Lizzies are still going, they say it's not too cold yet.

Thursday, 25 September 2014


I'm on the mailing list of a series of iconic buildings (partly because I've been to events at them and partly because I like the idea of communication with the built/grown environment) and the Barbican mailed to tell me about Tent/Superbrands which well the name's not promising but it was something we hadn't done before, and the cost was low and the possibility of seeing something we had not seen before was high.

And although about interiors (mostly) there were items there for the gardener:

The vase cover (above) makes a wine-bottle flower vase into something altogether more DESIGNER. It was also from a social enterprise of some and therefore one of the few items on sale for £cheep. Mostly things were in the 1000s, or unpriceable, like the beautiful abalone-covered boulders, which would look amazing on your Ballardian terrace but which I suspect would delaminate spectacularly if exposed to anything resembling damp.

The aspirational (read: unaffordable) balcony furniture in chilli hot colours and curvy shapes and the gorgeous polished concrete were both very tactile and human - silky-smooth surfaces and containable sizes. Things you could fit into a modern (read: small) space. The cooling-tower storage tables were a particular hit. You could probably dump the lid, screw it to the floor and make a tall planter of it. Kniphofia maybe, in one of the acid pop colours.

There were design projects from various different countries, too - Korea was on a pleasingly domestic scale, objects of use centred around ordinary activities (tea making, gardening, accessories). The seed markers and planting kits inspired by the Sotdae which guard dwellings and villages were especially pleasing, as was an intensely desirable blue and white ceramic cold tea diffuser designed to go on top of your plastic water bottle. The angular bar furniture (above, right) had been rapid welded and topped with vinyl floor tiles. For rugs, stitched floor tiles edged with a job lot of tassels. Quick build, but with attention to detail, and for sale at normal garden furniture prices. Pretty!

But it was in the Old Truman Brewery so nothing was following us home unless it could be carried in an exhibition bag.

Friday, 19 September 2014

In praise of strangely coloured vegetables

The tomato glut is not insane this year. I planted the seeds too late, too close together and didn't feed and water enough. But it's here! Purple Cherokees, Black Krims, Chocolate Cherries and apricot-coloured garden peaches are all ripening successfully. Green Zebras and Silver Fir Apples are doing less well. It seems I have a fondness for strangely coloured vegetables (there are white strawberries and golden raspberries in the garden) and am one of those outlier consumers who pick them up when they appear in the supermarket for two weeks before disappearing, never to be seen again.

Look at that aubergine! We went to an unfamiliar supermarket in another town (Morrisons in Gosport) and found it sat there next to the regular aubergines. The opalescent beauty of that white doesn't quite come across in the shot. It glimmers. The flavour is good. But am I looking at a Snowy, a Clara, an Ivory or  a Raja? Time to experiment! The White Eggs may be an easier grow than the full-length fruits (my garden is shaded and the growing season accordingly is short). Hmm... customers who bought this also bought: Strawberry Spinach, Goji Berry, Golden Beet, Wonderberry and Brazilian Oval Orange.

Brazilian Oval what? Is that an Aubergine? Yes, yes, it is. And Nicky's also have the orange aubergine.

Oh dear, now I have a dilemma.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

A wander through the parks of Gosport

I've been heading down to the South cost at the weekends recently for family reasons, and though you wouldn't think that a hour or two's drive would make such a difference, Gosport is deep in a sheltered bay, shaded from the channel by the Isle of Wight and the gardens are teeming with palm trees, tender flowers, and shrubs which have clearly never suffered a hard winter die-back.

There's also quite a lot of garden history - we found ourselves wandering through Crescent Garden on the Saturday, though I was without camera, phone or any other recording device. The trees were largely original, each one a vast trunk and decorative branchery managed to within an inch of its life. Rambling roses jutted up through the canopy and a huge myrtle the size of a small caravan hinted at what my tiny bush could become, given rootspace and an endless supply of warm bright winters.

Tim remembered Privett Gardens as a place of fancy planting, but any flower beds had long since grassed over. Two fancy tree arches hinted at past glory, while a decorative mound of trees had been co-opted into a crazy-play area, with bikescar paths and a swinging rope. There were ancient native Hawthorns trained carefully into smart little trees, a hint at austere raw materials made grand by great care at some point in the past.

Suburban back gardens have their own glory, of course. These two items (a peachy Alstromeira and a fine wildlife access port) are both things I want for my own back garden. Though I was offered some of the clump of the Alstromeira, there was ground elder in the bed and I currently have none. The wildlife door will have to wait until I see my back neighbour again. This seems to happen once every four-five years.

Stanley Park was closer to the sea and accordingly the planting was HOT. Look at those Red Bananas, what beauties. They were as tall as us. The dark red Nicotiana had a delicious scent, and looks worth pursuing, a very pretty plant. Those fancy echinacea were planted in a fishpond turned long bed. Too hot and dry for fishponds nowadays? Or are they just too high maintenance?

There was also a very mature woodland full of very fancy trees (including a fairly giant Redwood), teen hangout spots, exciting running around places, and an endearingly creepy pet cemetery.

We broke out of the bottom of the park onto the seaside, and ice cream while we watched the Moths and Lasers zipping across the bay. Sea cabbage and low-growing nightshade colonising the gravel slopes against the promenade. Dogs and children running. Sunshine.

Friday, 12 September 2014

First of the autumn bulbs

It's been dry for three weeks now. Normally this would favour the vine, but a cold/wet snap before the three weeks of dry has stressed the plants in two directions and I now have the holy trinity of moulds (downy, powdery and grey) feasting on the plant. The best solution would be for me to head outside and chop off every infected shoot (right now, that's all of them) and then go through every grape bunch by hand to remove every discoloured, small and imperfect fruit. But it's really too late. I should have been watering, mulching and pampering from a month ago, whisking away all the extra growth and trimming the bunches carefully to the capabilities of the plant. But I look at my limited time and enthusiasm and the task in hand and wonder. Is it really the best use of my time, ferreting through the mass of purple-brown fruit, full of hard rot - botyris, but a decidely non-noble variety - for the few fruits that might come to ripeness? Superficially, it looks like a useful task, but no wine will come of this. Is that much work worth a handful or two of sour grapes?

Which is why I found myself hesitating by the tills at Marks & Spencers and then buying myself some crocus bulbs alongside two loaves of cut-price bread. Crocus Blue Pearl, the first of next year's flowers.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014


Mellow fruitfulness ahoy!!!

Nosferatu Chilli, Black Krim tomato, an enormous marrow and a stunted sunflower. Most of the garden gets eaten by slugs, but this time of year I get some of it!

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Tomatoes too tasty to photograph

As per the Gardener's World jobs of the week, I was reducing my tomato foliage and discarding pests (not too bad on the loopers this year, but a plethora of soft, small slugs). I planted fancy varieties this year and it was a good moment to look at how they had fared.

  • The Krims had done well, of course. A few fruits had doughnutted, creating some very decently sized fruit indeed. Reliable and delicious flavours with a big pop of umami.
  • The Chocolate Cherries managed 3-4 germinations out of twenty, then 3-4 fruits total. What we got tasted amazing. Could have been unlucky or inconsistent care.
  • Silver Fir Apples have pretty, delicate foliage and are tiny. I couldn't water them enough, and they were too thin to support their enthusiastically sized fruit. A bit of a special effect! 
  • Green Zebras are REALLY TALL. Very vigorous, outcompeting and overshading everything else. 100% germination, the overachievers. The fruits taste sweet and zingy. 
  • Cherokee Purple taste good, but not as good as the Krims, probably because the Krims can put up with cooler weather and worse treatment! But very tasty, would grow again.
  • Garden Peach I only discovered when I dug them out from behind the zebras. Prolific fruiter, high pest resistance (not a single fruit had been pested) and the flavour and texture are curious but delicious. More flesh, less seed, sweet with a hint of apricot.   

It's also the moment you find the rotted, the chomped and the holed fruits. One that's been hollowed into a slug cavern, one that's picked up the mould from a dead stem. Alas, poor tomatoes. My care has been (as ever) inconsistent. But it's been interesting.

The last fruits are now ripening on the stems. I've underfruited, overpested and had various bothers and rots, so next year I need fewer plants, less congestion, and more reliable water.

Too bad I've already bought five packets from heritage tomato pusher Pennards. Especially as that number doesn't Krim or the Peach (and I can hardly not grow either of them after they did so well).

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

A walk across town

I had a new route to take this week; heading across town to a hospital unknown. Google maps estimated a forty minute walk, so I slung my course books in a bag (anticipating a significant wait when I got there) and stepped into the streets. This year, water has been somewhat short in supply for full-size trees and the Limes which shade the streets in my area are flushed with yellow and super-heavy with seeds. Already a drop of leaves has left the streets rustling. The front gardens are beginning to pick up a slightly crisp look, as the handsome perennials start to crisp at the edges, clematis stems browning and roses going to drop and spot.

I'm trying to get back into the habits of walking new streets at the moment. Last week I had the chance to take a wood-in-the-city bike/pedestrian route I'd not walked since I lived in that area of town. It felt like Autumn already, all fruit growing out of the back of gardens and berries glowing from the hedges.

But the air was heavy with scent, and I smelt it again today. Late August and early September is Eglantine or Traveller's Joy, more commonly known by its hedgerow name of Old Man's Beard, our native Clematis, scrambling over the hard lines of municipal Robinia, and through the random exclamations of buddleia. This year it has flowered in giddy profusion, creating a drunken mass of flowers buzzing with bees and hoverflies, and the first of the wasps giving up on the summer and turning to nectar in death-driven desperation.

On the route to the hospital is seemed to be growing at every corner, waving cheerfully at the traffic fumes on the A roads, sneaking stealthily into the front gardens, knocking on the windows at the hospital itself. Although that might have been its cultivated cousin, Fragrant Oberon. I have an Oberon in a pot, while I have it. It's been losing a fight against something for months though. Probably weevils.

Wild Clematis en masse smells almost like Oberon. A little wilder.