Archive for July, 2009

The other day we went to visit Down House near Orpington in Kent, where Charles Darwin made his family home.  He was an avid nature-watcher and collector, and loved this quiet location in the Kent Downs.  It was apparently ‘relatively cheap’ in its time, which meant he could concentrate on his work as a naturalist, rather than taking on another career.  As I consider taking some time off to look after my little girls, I can really empathise with that philosophy.

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I very rarely get ‘house envy’.  Yes it was a bigger house than mine, but you can only really experience one room at any one time, so I never feel particularly envious of more space.

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Nor garden envy.   My small patch of earth on the allotment gives me all the growing space I need, and the small garden at the back of our house is plenty for us to maintain.

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Having said all this, I have to admit getting greenhouse envy at this place.  It was one of those fabulous Victorian lean-to greenhouses, part brick, part wood.  Painted the most gorgeous turquoise blue colour.  I wonder whether the colour was a twentieth century development, or whether this was the view that Darwin had as he pondered the origins of life on earth.

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Either way, it has stuck in my mind as something that one day I would like to imitate.

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And actually, even a turquoise cold frame would probably satisfy me.

By the way, I am in the running for the dorset cereals blog awards.


There are lots of other fun blogs on there to look at, so it is worth a browse, and you can vote for your favourite.

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Well, what a fantastic day.  Many, many people picking lavender at the Stanley Road site in the name of the local community project, Carshalton Lavender.  It is so spiriting to see how many people came and enjoyed picking Lavender, buying lavender products and generally joining in.

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We even had a few Far Eastern tourists taking photos of the allotment, making us feel a bit like one of the exhibits.  All great fun – as our plot is right next to the bit where most people pick the lavender from, we are used to being a living demonstration plot.  One year we almost had a creche going on in the Wendy House, with lots of children joining in with our girls playing.  It is always so nice to talk to people, who are invariably interested, and if it means people see the possibilities of gardening with children, so much the better.

The lavender day is on tomorrow as well, so it isn’t too late if you fancy stocking your dried lavender supply.  I can vouch for the fact that it is the very finest quality.


As I sit here typing, Jamie has arrived back with some more lavender.  The smell of the lavender is very powerful, almost medicinal, and has already filled the house.  It is supposed to be relaxing, so that bodes well for a chilled out evening.  I can feel the lassitude washing over me – it seems to be willing me to rest.

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Happily, this co-incided with possibly our best harvest ever.  We have an abundance of fresh produce at present, and this is heavily influencing the menu in the Costello household.  We are getting large numbers of extremely tasty potatoes. I have to say that although they make a very boring photo, but they are delicious boiled and coated with butter and a bit of salt.

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Next on the menu is the set of novelty courgettes.  Novelty because there are different varieties, and also because some of them have grown into marrows – oops.  That will teach me to be more vigilant.  How they have soaked up enough water from our soil to get that big, I will never guess?  We did have thunderstorms last week I suppose, but they must have a decent root system.  The round ones look worthy of a new recipe, probably involving rice and parmesan.

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Other elements of today’s harvest are some french beans, delicious with the potatoes and some black-and-redcurrants from Doug’s plot.

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He offered them to us, as they were so small it hardly seemed worth him picking them.  He has got a LOT of fruit bushes.  I am hoping to make this later on, blackcurrant ripple parfait.

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I will take photos if I make it later – that is if the lavender induced lethargy doesn’t get to me too much.

Finally, we have discovered that the plum trees on the new plot yield the most delicious, tiny, fragrant plums.  They taste almost like cherries, only sweeter.  The girls had their fill, and this is what was left.  With a fruit-laden damson tree in the garden and three of these plum trees on the plot, I am looking forward to a glut and to all kinds of plum jams, crumbles and chutneys.  Friends be warned to expect plum related presents this Christmas, especially if I do give up work.

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Well, neglect has turned out to be my friend as well as my enemy.  I have been so busy at work that inevitably everything else has fallen down.  This includes the allotment.  However, this means I have a glut of flowers which made a lovely surprise when we eventually did get there.

As well as the Swan River Daisies that had sprung from nowhere, I found some ragwort that had sneakily flowered while I have been off weeding duty, so I decided they went quite well together.

The sweet peas made the house smell lovely, and somehow the whole thing just reminds me of midsummer – the best time of year for all kinds of reasons.

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Also, I took a photo of the plants I picked up at Hampton Court last week.

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The echinacea has been raided for the flower arrangements, but the hydrangea is just stunning.  The astilbe was inspired by the Enchanting Escape garden.

Off now to the allotment, where we are about to do a plot to plate challenge.  I reckon the potatoes will be in the pot within 15 mins of being dug up, along with some french beans.  I am salivating at the thought of it!

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I know I am milking it now.  I just loved it – there were so many things to see and so many lovely images to capture.

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I think I have saved the best till last, but I guess it is all a matter of taste.

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There is a part of me that understands why this won ‘Best in Show’, but then there is also a mystery, because I had two completely different front runners.

‘Enchanted Escape’, on the Garden Walk, which I felt looked better from the side, when I tried to peep in the sides, trying to avoid the crowds:

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Than it did front on, although it captured something beautiful and somehow of its time:

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The colours and the planting were just sublime, and the overall feel was one of contentment and escape.

The other garden that captured my heart was a small garden ‘A teenager’s escape’.  I could empathise with the innocent heart that it was trying to capture:

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I think the colour combinations are the thing that makes the garden for me.  Not the landscaping or the clever concept, although I also appreciate these things in smaller measure.

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There was something incredibly harmonious about these two gardens, that I think struck a chord with me.  For me, they share something of the romance of gardening.

Finally, a parting shot of a garden whose name I can’t even remember,but it did make that first visual impact where I noticed that they had matched the colours very carefully….

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One of the best things about the flower show is the Floral Marquee, where specialist growers set up displays to exhibit their latest varieties.  What is interesting is that there is a nursery somewhere specialise in every sort of flower you could imagine, from fashionable plants like echinacea to old favourites like chrysanthemums.

I was particularly drawn by a display of lilies.  The frangrance was so strong  that it literally filled the whole marquee, and at each door, there was a strong current of warm, lily scented air coming out.

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There were colours I had never seen anywhere before, and I am determined to get some in the plot for next year.

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One of the great things about gardening is that your garden is never complete – you can always add something else, like a never finished work of art.  If one year doesn’t work out as well as you had hoped, you can always look forward to the next one.

I am already thinking that next year might be a cut flower year, where I try to cultivate enough flowers to keep the flat supplies with gorgeous flowers all year.  Now there is a new challenge.

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WOW.  This is the third year that I have been to Hampton Court, and I just love it more each year.  It’s just so full of inspiration and ideas.

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The growing tastes area was a great mix of exhibition plants and suppliers of seed and edible plants.  The girls really enjoyed the children’s part of it, with sand.

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This picture doesn’t look too impressive unless you know that the cabbages were bigger than beach balls.  Giant veg aside, there were some lovely inspirational allotment gardens.

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All very nice to see what the world would be like if there were no weeds, no insects and no stunted vegetables, but actually I prefer the real world, where there is more challenge.

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I just can’t wait to get back to the plot to see my own little corner of the horticultural world, but with more motivation.

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New ideas to put into the allotment were as follows:

  • Amaranth as an edible and ornamental plant.
  • Growing squash and courgettes over a frame like an archway or pegola.

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Will post more tomorrow on the ornamental and garden theme.

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I have to admit that, as well as being a keen gardener, one of the factors that finally spurred me on to get an allotment was the idea of teaching our children where their food comes from.  I  thought that if they saw how vegetables were grown, they would be tempted to give them a try.  As the proud owner of the book ‘The art of hiding vegetables’, I was desperate to try anything to get them to eat even one portion of fruit and vegetables per day, let alone five.

Well, to some extent, it has worked.  Many times they have eaten or tried things that I just know they would not have eaten if it weren’t for the fact that they had picked it straight from the plant.  Watching them harvest blackberries and eat them straight from the plant was one of those moments.  The squeals of joy when the first strawberries came through was another.

Yesterday, Jamie came home with a bumper crop of peas in yellow, purple and green.  These had actually been supposed to be mange-tout, but in the week of sweltering temperatures we have had they had actually almost made it to maturity.

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The children just loved getting involved, which meant not only help with the task of podding, but when I served the peas with pasta, carrots and cheese, they declared “Thank you mummy for the best food in the world.”  AND the peas were still visible.

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