Tag Archives: Modern Garden

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.

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!

The last harvest of 2009

RB and I spent a solid day working in the garden today. Between sowing seeds, clearing beds and pruning back bushes, we’ve been busy!

We pulled up the last of our leeks this morning, the last of our 2009 vegetable garden. It is amazing to think that we planted these guys nearly a year ago – they are extremely tolerant considering this is the coldest winter we’ve had in the UK in over 30 years. These leeks are the ‘Meziers‘ variety, so they are long and thin. For 2010 we are going to try a fatter variety, although we may not be enjoying them as long as we did these.

It is zero degrees here, so we decided to make a leek and potato soup to warm us up when we came in around sunset. It is so easy to make, and really warming. Some crusty homemade bread and a small pile of crunchy toasted chorizo on top gave it an extra kick and turned the modest soup into a treat.

Pruning a mature apple or pear tree

Pruning our mature and neglected pear tree has been on the to do list for ages. Having done a bit of research, we decided now is the time.

I stumbled upon a super fact sheet created by the Ohio State University Extension programme – they allow their material to be copied given appropriate credit. And credit is indeed due! I paraphrase their suggestions here.

—    A good fruit tree should not make a good shade tree!
—    Prune late in the dormant season to minimize cold injury.
—    Prune heavily on neglected/vigorous trees, less so on less vigorous cultivars.
—    Make all heading back cuts just beyond a bud or branch.
—    Make all thinning cuts just beyond the base of the branch being removed.
—    Avoid pruning too close (See Figure 1.)
—    Don’t prune a “shade tree” back to a fruit tree in one year. Do it over a few.
—    Wound dressings are unnecessary for trees pruned in dormant season.
—    Match pruning tools to the size wood being removed. Shears for twigs, loppers for branches, and a saw for larger limbs.

How to prune a mature apple or pear tree

Figure 1. Flesh cuts heal slowly; so leave the collar.

How to prune a mature apple or pear tree

Figure 2. Pictured from above, space scaffold branches to allow access.

How to prune a mature apple or pear tree

Figure 3. The suggested pruning cuts.

And finally they add: backyard trees are rarely over-pruned, but inexperienced growers often procrastinate on pruning for fear of damaging trees. ‘Topping’ or shearing a fruit tree is about the worst thing that can be done, but even that may result in better fruit for a year or two. Ultimately shearing will produce a dense crown that inhibits access for sunlight, sprays, and harvest, and invites weak structure and breakage. As long as pruning cuts are made to remove, head back, or thin as the examples illustrated and discussed, no nightmares are necessary. Don’t use hedge shears. ‘Just do it.’

And with those final words of encouragement, we went for it. Here is the tree first thing in the morning:

Pruning mature pear tree - before and after

And here is the result, a bit obscured by the trees in background.

Pruning mature pear tree - before and after

And now to tidy up the mess we’ve made.

New year, bigger vegetable garden

Hoorah, we have added 8 new raised beds to the vegetable patch! And when I say we, of course I mean RB who built them in December (read about how to build raised beds). Here is a photo of the whole patch of 20 beds in the snow.

We have used our snowy downtime to order seeds, and here is our final tally for the 2010 vegetable garden:

Wild Rocket
Fiorana Spinach
Golden Ball Onions
Potatoes – Mayan Gold, Charlotte, Golden Wonder
Green Globe Artichokes
Beetroot Sanguina
Yellow Carrot Jaune Obtuse de Doube
Fat Leek Monstrueux de Charentan
Burgess Vine Buttercup Squash
Summer Crookneck Squash
Striato di Napoli Courgette
Napia Red Pointy Pepper
King of the North Sweet Pepper
Nigels Outdoors Chilli
Red Top Radish
Double Standard Bicolour Sweetcorn
Garlic (planted in autumn)
Broad Beans
Runner Beans
Asparagus (planted in autumn)
Parsnips
Rhubarb
Calabrese Broccoli
Strawberries Cambridge Favourite (already in situ)
Red Iceberg Lettuce
Tomatoes – Rose de Berne, Gold Medal, Millefleur

Most of the seeds come from The Real Seed Catalogue which stock only non-hybrid seeds. It means you can safely save seeds from the plants which is a sustainable and common sense practice. You can’t seed save with F1 Hybrids. The Real Seed Catalogue urges all growers to seed save, and we like that kind of business ethos.

I am looking forward to a whopping return on this year’s vegetable garden economics!