The War on Terra

Ah, what a great headline what with the news about Osama bin Laden – wish I could take credit for it! I must pass the credit on to the clever folks at Kabloom, who have just celebrated the 5th International Sunflower Guerrilla Gardening Day on May 1st and recently teamed up with Selfridges to create a pop-up shop instore. They produce these witty Guerrilla Gardening ‘Seedboms’.A great gift idea for those of use who would like to see a few flowers in neglected corners of the world.

First 2011 sowings, and some very late parsnips

I have woefully neglected the blog, but determined to get back on track. 2010′s patch was, well, patchy, mostly due to a phenomenally busy year. Now, as we count down the last days before our first baby arrives, we have more time to devote to the patch once again.

So today we have started sowing. RB cleverly spread well rotted manure and all our home compost on our 20 raised beds over the winter, so we were delighted to see how easily the beds forked over and how dark the soil looked today.

I’ll get to what we’re growing this year later, but in the meantime we were surprised to find some abandoned parsnips that had started to resprout. With great trepidation, we dug them up expecting a cankerous mess, and were rewarded with some of the nicest looking parsnips ever. And big!

late harvesting parsnips

Supper tonight will be our favourite spicy parsnip soup recipe by Jamie Oliver.

First harvest of 2010: radishes

This year RB and I decided to try our hand at inter-cropping and catch-cropping in order to make the most of the space in our vegetable patch, and radishes were the perfect easy and quick choice. We planted our first catch crop of two rows about 6 weeks ago in what will be the sweetcorn bed, and they quickly reached maturity. We have harvested 16 and will pull up the rest for a dinner party we are having later.

I must confess I have never purchased radishes in my entire life, so I was a little bemused as to what we were going to do with them at maturity. In practice, they barely had the chance to make it back into the house! The crunchy texture and sweet-yet-peppery taste are wonderful and make a great addition to a salad or as a snack with hummus.

We have already planted the seeds for the next catch crop in a bean bed, and later we will inter crop in the runner bean bed. We are aiming to have radishes all summer long.

Street art: makeshift vase and tulips

I was walking from a meeting to a London Underground station this afternoon, and just as I passed the Ritz I spotted this bit of guerrilla gardening. Made me smile!

Mulching gooseberry and currant bushes

Last year our gooseberry bushes suffered serious American gooseberry mildew, but I made a plan to tackle it. This February, RB and I each took our masakuni shears and cut back all the old wood in both our currant and gooseberry bushes. The result was nice, open, goblet shaped bushes, ready for production.

With spring here, the area has suddenly burst to life with grass and perennial weeds, which reminded me it was time to mulch. You can barely see the bushes in these photos!

The competition from the grass and weeds is no good, as the bushes will be fighting a losing battle for water – in the image above the gooseberry bush is totally obscured by weeds.

So we gave the area a good trim, and then mulched with our big heap of composted leaves. Mulching provides 3 key functions: it suppresses weeds, helps retain moisture, and provides a dose of nutrients to the plants.

I am hopeful that this will help give us an abundant currant and gooseberry crop this year. And if the American gooseberry mildew comes back, then I will resort to pulling them all up and planting more resistant varieties.

Can daffodils ever be modern?

As I’ve mentioned before, daffodils aren’t my favourite flower. In fact, for me they really only belong in cottage gardens. They are cheery though, and zillions spring up in our garden every year. I religiously go around cutting them all, preferring them in a big arrangement in the house than peppering our garden.

This year I got to asking myself, can daffodils ever be modern? To meet that challenge I turned to one of my favourite flower arrangement books, Flowers By Design by Jeff Leatham, who arranges for the fabulous George V hotel in Paris.

I was very lucky to receive this signed copy from my dear friends Arabella and Kouky, and it provides me with regular inspiration. Here was the image I needed to get me excited about my daffodils:

And here is my interpretation below. Okay, so I may have cheated a little by not using fully opened daffs, but I think I have achieved my goal – they look smart and crisp, and I’m actually looking forward to seeing them open.

Vertical gardens: DIY panels

Vertical gardens have been around for decades in Modernist landscaping. Now you can bring them to your own home with these vertical garden DIY panels by Flora Grubb. I love succulents, and these installations are modern and beautiful.

You would have to ensure you have the right plants for your climate, and the right wall, but given a bit of thought I am sure different plants would be very successful.

And if you’re very crafty, you may be able to build the wall system at home from scratch.

Window farms: allotments for city dwellers

I just caught wind of this brilliant new movement, started by a very cool chick in Brooklyn, New York. By combining recycled 1.5l water bottles, clay pellets, plastic tubing, a fish-tank air pump, and a dash of hydroponic know-how, this clever gal has developed a vertical window system for growing greens in the city. Watch her film here:

The project has become an international collaboration, and window farms are popping up in different and improved iterations across the globe. It looks like these farm ‘curtains’ will also soon be available to purchase off-the shelf, although there are clearly extra green points for using the recycled elements.

Loved seeing this modern micro-farming idea – very clever!

Kitchen garden economics for all

Last June I decided to be very geeky and track the effective profit/loss of our kitchen garden. It was ultimately a rewarding exercise, if sometimes tedious (when you want to sink your teeth into a tomato, the last thing you want to do is bother weighing it first). We were delighted to know that we were well into the black at the end of our first year, even having built pricey beds.

This year, with our patch nearly double the size and our seedlings already well on their way, I decided to beef up the spreadsheet – and to share it with anyone who might also have a geeky gene.

This spreadsheet is very easy to use and requires NO mathematical understanding. All you have to do is:
— insert your vegetable/fruit names
— insert the cost of the seeds/plants
— track the costs of your overheads (beds, compost, etc)
— track the weight and units of harvesting per item
— once a month, find a comparable shop cost

The spreadsheet will do all the whizzy adding up, multiplying, and will tell you how you are getting along with your ‘profitability’ relative to what you would have spent at a shop.

You can download the spreadsheet here and start tracking your kitchen garden plot’s productivity straight away.

Good luck, and don’t forget to report back your progress!

Winter flower arrangement: dried hydrangeas

When the garden is at it’s least showy, we need to get creative with flower arranging. I like winter, and I think it is important to find beauty in what is traditionally considered a bleak season. I like to celebrate the time that nature takes to shut down and have a rest, and that’s why I’m enjoying these brown, dried hydrangeas. Having survived outside through months of rain and snow, they have understandably faded from their vivid blue. Their delicate skeletons and frail anemic petals beautifully represent the end of nature’s last cycle.

I am not normally a fan of dried flowers, as they seem a close relative of those other dust-collecting ornaments, the silk flower. But in this case, I think the wintry look is right for the time of year, and will provide a fantastic contrast for when we can finally pick spring flowers.

The white vase is an Alvar Aalto design, produced by Iittala. The clear vase is actually a tumbler!