Muck spreading

Last week, with the concrete skies and the poorly-but-not-that-poorly baby, I fell into a fug of dis-inspiration. When Matt is working all hours and in contrast my work is quiet, I end up spending long days at home, alone, with little stimulus. The days drag and the evening are long. The radio predicts the end of world (well, Brexit) on an hourly basis. No point doing a nice dinner – who’s going to eat it? No point having a tipple in front of the fire – I’ll just get a bad head and then will be stuck with an entire bottle to get through. No point having my long-planned day off in London. No point doing anything really. So the days lull together into an endless tedium of cleaning and tea and afternoon telly and Instagram and feeling broke and singing chug-a-chug-a-choo-choo.

The thing is, these days of Fug are actually rare, and tend to only last for a week or so until a new creative project comes along. I am so, SO, acutely aware that for women in previous generations, and women in different circumstances today, this was/is their life. The endless drudge of housewifery, with no option of a professional life or a creative life or whatever it is that keeps a person inspired and alive. Don’t misunderstand me – I love my family, of course I do, but the weeks where I am home all the time are hard. So I think of those women who went before me, and pushed for the changes that mean that I have at least got the option of having a different kind of life, and I offer them a little prayer of thanks.

In the meantime, there is muck spreading to be done. 25 sacks of manure have been piled up by the compost bins since February, waiting to have their contents piled up onto the ground where the sunflowers used to be.

25 x 50-litre sacks of manure still do not cover an entire bed

It’s phenomenal just how far these heavy bags of manure don’t go. All that heavy lifting, and there’s still several square metres of land that didn’t get mulched today – just not enough to go around. As I worked, the inquisitive robin hopped around the plot, taking advantage of the feast of snails, slugs and woodlouse that emerged from underneath the plastic sacks. The weather was dry today after days of wet, and the sun was low in the sky but surprisingly warm…enough to thaw out fingers that had grown numb inside sodden gloves.

Both veg beds are now covered in plastic as best I can, to keep the weeds down

If there’s any doubt about the efficacy of covering ground – this patch has been hidden under manure sacks since February and all greenery has gone, leaving a feast of slugs and worms for the robin

I have now covered both of the main vegetable beds in plastic to keep the weeds down, weighed down with more bricks and stones that have been uncovered now that the wilderness area is being cleared. A bit of graft now is much preferable to hours and hours of weeding in the early spring – and sometimes, getting mucky and soggy can be an effective way of removing The Fug.

On Thursday I was drenched…

…but today merely covered in poo

Also this week:

Cooking and eating: Matt’s amazing curry dinner (tandoori chicken, chicken curry, spinach flatbread, Tune’s carrot salad & aloo jeera), profiteroles, Jean’s cider loaf. I have rashly pre-ordered a goose from Mrs Goodman for Christmas, which will live in the freezer at Grove House for a month, and thereby saved myself about £30 by buying early.

Illness update: Harry is now fine but has passed his mouth disease to Matt.

Reading and watching: Winter by Ali Smith; the return of Escape to the Chateau on C4 (once again coveting all things Dick & Angel, including the berets and kimonos).

First frosts and whiskey cake

Our house needs a big red cross on the front door: once again we are diseased. Well actually it’s not that dramatic – potentially a bit of hand, foot and mouth, except Harry’s spots are on his bum, knees and mouth. I haven’t googled “bum, knees and mouth childhood illness” as I’m pretty certain it’s new to science. Whilst Harry’s potentially infectious and therefore off nursery, I’ve been mentally bouncing off the walls at being nearly-housebound. The worst is over so today we even went to Ikea out of desperation.

In the meantime, autumn has taken hold and Birmingham is bathed in golden colour. It’s good to pay attention to these things…the changing light roots me into the passing of the seasons. We’ve had a few frosts now which have finally meant the end of the cosmos – the Cosmos Purity and Dazzler gave me blooms from June to November, which is pretty impressive.

My allotment visits look like this now, meaning it’s almost impossible to get anything done

Cosmos have finally been zapped by the frosts

A week or so back I managed to take out the remaining plants from the one veg bed and get some black plastic down, to protect the soil from the worst of the winter weather and limit the weeds. Keeping the plastic in place is always a feat of “that’ll do” – pegs and staples are useless here, so I use any bits of heavy material I can find including, this year, the hopolisk, some discarded fencing and (my favourite) a marrow.

The one veg plot has been covered in plastic, though the brassicas are still going strong

Without really meaning to, I have become the proud owner of a gazillion dahlias – none of which are in the right place. The ones at home have now been dug up so that I can over-winter them indoors and replant in the spring. The allotment ones also need to come up (just need to find the time) and they will get the same treatment.

First crate of dahlia tubers for over-wintering

All this is diversion from what Harry and I spend most of our poorly time doing, which is cooking. Every morning I plonk him in the high chair so he can watch me concoct something – today it was a lentil and vegetable stew, which he later scoffed very happily, and yesterday it was a parsnip and cheddar soda bread. I know that he’s very young to be indoctrinated into Stallard cookery but I like to think that he will learn by osmosis.

One of his favourite treats of recent weeks has been an Irish Whiskey Cake that was leftover from the cake table at our wedding. He (and I) liked it so much that I pumped my friend Felicity for the recipe, which she in turn had to get from Mrs Audrey Flint from Smethwick Old Church. Audrey very kindly came up with the goods, and I discovered that my naive assumption that the whiskey would have been baked into the cake was wrong wrong wrong. It’s actually a tea bread, and the key ingredient is drizzled on after cooking to increase the moisture content…which means that my son has started his boozy life extremely young.

Here is Audrey’s fine typed-up version, which I see no reason to re-type as I can not improve on this excellent piece of food culture. Thank you Mrs Flint for carrying on the fine tradition of simple yet richly fruited, boozy loaves that keep forever.

Irish Whiskey Cake courtesy of Mrs Audrey Flint of Smethwick Old Church

Also this week:

On the allotment: Covered one vegetable bed with plastic. All the cut flowers are now finished, but still harvesting chard, beet spinach and cavolo nero.

Cooking and eating: Chocolate Eve’s pudding, parsnip & cheddar soda bread, banana muffins, lentil and vegetable stew.

Wedding flowers and wedding cake(s)

September began with parties and ended with a wedding! After a summer of growing, my cut flowers were OK (nothing special) but thankfully, I had a squad of growers watching my back. Step forward my Mum and Cousin Sue, who between them grew an entire FARM of blooms for our wedding displays. When I asked Sue to help out, back in April, I thought we’d have some pretty flowers that would be just fine, but what we ended up with was better than some professional florestry I’ve seen. I love that our wedding gave an opportunity for creative friends and family to shine.

Sue’s flowers, picked and conditioned, ready for transport

My offerings – not as impressive but still some colour and variety

Together with my Mum, Sue made up some incredible displays for tables and plinths, all using home-grown stems. Plus she made beautiful bouquets for myself and my two nieces, and some seriously impressive buttonhole work. Note the use of hops and clematis seed heads for a bit of country chic.

Sue fashioned the botton holes and bouquets

These exquisite displays were put together by Sue and my Mum

More table decorations

After the wedding the vases made a welcome addition to my back garden

If someone is thinking of doing their own wedding flowers I would say do it…but only if you have a talented team to do all the work. If I was arranging flowers at the same time as making sure the bar was in order and the caterers were OK and having my hair and make-up done, I would have collapsed in a heap. So all respect to Sue and my Mum for their extraordinary skills – I don’t use those words lightly; I couldn’t have asked for more on the floral front.

As someone who has never wanted a big wedding, let alone a bit formal wedding (ugh), it was important to me that we included as much of our normal life into the day as possible. Normal life in Bearwood means regular trips to Chandigarh sweet centre for samosa – THE best samosa in the region – and it gave us great joy to pile 300 onto MDF boards for after-ceremony snacks. 

The best samosa this side of the Punjab

My favourite picture of the day

Normal life also meant Matt messing about with massive bits of wood – this time by sticking our heads onto temporary exhibition walls – and me organising this event like any other work event that I’ve ever been involved in (cue production schedule, production budget, and various bits of tech).

Tres amusement

I digress. The other noteworthy creative skills were from our bakers, and in particular Helen Annetts (my work sister) with her epic allotment cake. I didn’t want a regular wedding cake so Helen “volunteered” to have a go at making a novelty cake – as it turned out, a brilliant centre piece to our table of cakes, generously brought along by our guests for the best pot-luck dessert table I’ve ever seen.

A room devoted to cake

Helen Annett’s allotment cake

Why have one cake when you can have 30?

So now we’re holed up in a farmhouse in Cornwall, looking forward to life getting back to normal and introducing Harry to the joy of October beaches and cream teas.

Notes for next year

I’ve been spending too much time working (sound familiar?), baby-caring (unavoidable) and wedding organising (least said about that the better) and not enough time sorting out the allotment. I usually spend about an hour there every other day, but this time is completely taken up with harvesting, picking, watering. In my absence, a sea of thistles has grown up, and the disaster zone at the back of the compost bins has reached a whole new level of jungle. So today I bunked off for a few hours and really grafted, trying to get things in order. And whilst I hoed and chopped and strimmed, I made a few mental notes for next year. Think of it as a gift of wisdom from present self to future self. Namely:

Cosmos: Ditch Antiquity, it always grows short and stunted. Purity, Double click cranberry and Dazzler are the ONES. Take care when propagating to do it properly, one plant per pot, with none of my normal slapdash-ness.

Crappy cosmos grown by me at the front, good cosmos grown by my mother at the back. They are late – we’re hoping for a September harvest – and look promising.

Cornflower: Work out why they are always so short and stumpy, and then try to do better. Definitely worth persevering.

Tomatoes: Stick to Costoluto Fiorentino as it’s pretty reliable, but ditch all the other varieties, including Noire de Crimee and Golden boy. Find an eating type (rather than a cooking type) that has bullet-proof resistance to blossom-end rot.

Beans: Find a different runner bean, perhaps one that is less stringy. Plant purple and yellow French climbing beans alongside the usual green ones. Blue Lake was OK but perhaps prefer Cobra.

Kale and greens: The Sarah Raven Nero di Toscana has performed really well. I miss the other types of kale though – can I track down Fills of hex again? Chard luculuss and Spinach Perpetual are unbeatable.

Love love love the chard and the spinach

Sweetpeas: SHOCK HORROR but it may not be worth the bother? Unless I can find ones that are reliably long-stemmed and greenfly-proof.

Parsnips and leeks: Remember to grow some.

Rocket: As above.

Cleome: Fun plant even though it stinks of cannabis. Definitely grow again.

Cleome: definitely related to dope and makes a totally jazzy cut flower

Rudbeckia: Not a great cut flower but will look fab in the back garden for late summer dark colour. Buy as seedlings as I never get them to grow well from seed.

Sunflowers: All the sunflowers have done really well. Get a new packet of the Seeds of Italy sunflower mix, and re-plant the Sarah Raven Magic Roundabout and Valentine.

Sunflowers are late starting this year because of the draught, but coming good now

Blackcurrants and blueberries: Need some attention. Do blackcurrants come to an end of a working life? Perhaps they need some food? Do a bit of research.

Broadbeans: Grow four times as many as you think you need. There are never ever enough.

Strawberries: Maybe time to dig them up and start again with tastier varieties.

The Wilderness: For God’s sake, sort it out over the winter. No excuses.

The wilderness. It’s the garden equivalent of a junk room.

Also this week:

Harvesting: Raspberries, raspberries, more raspberries. Chard, cavolo nero, tomatoes – only the Fiorentino though, the others have all had it. Runner beans, sunflowers, first chrysanthemums, cosmos, cleome.
Not harvesting: Courgettes. I just can’t take it anymore.
Sowing: Red devil kale, rocket, mustard salad mix.
Cooking: Raspberry meringues, chicken and bacon pie, a vat of chicken stock
Reading: According to Yes by Dawn French. Never read any of her novels before as I don’t think of her as a novelist, but my misplaced snobbery needs shaming. It’s brilliant. Plus she has great hair. Nothing not to love.

All the things I’ve messed up

Every so often I bump into someone who’s seen my allotment pictures on Instagram (@helenstallard) and they’ll say something along the lines of ‘wow, your veg is so much better than ours’! And of course I nod and smile but really it’s a big fat lie. Like everyone else I’m guilty of accentuating the positive and forgetting to record all the times that I cock up. So in the spirit of fairness, and as a learning exercise for future allotmenting, here are the Allotment Issues of 2018. There are many.

 

  1. The thicket of brambles and nettles

The area at the back of the plot has always been a bit of a wasteland but this year it has reached new (literal) heights. There are stinging nettles in there that are taller than me, brambles as thick as my arm. Well that is maybe a slight exaggeration….but this is not a good situation. The compost bin is pretty much inaccessible now, and bindweed is strangling the rosemary. It needs a day or two of determined effort to sort it out, but I have neither days nor determination.

The dilapidated greenhouse and compost bin is overrun with grasses, bramble, nettles and bindweed

but at least we’ll get some bonus blackberries this year

2. Tomato rot

I get blossom end rot every year and am resigned to it, but this year we have a new tomato-based calamity. The tiny fruits are shrivelling and turning black whilst still the size of a large pea: rot has set in. I don’t know what’s caused it but suspect it’s the difference between soaring 40c daytime temperatures and overnight chills (I don’t close the greenhouse door at night, don’t have the opportunity). I’ve lost about 50% of the crop to this. Very irritating.

50% of the baby tomatoes have turned shrivelled and black

3. Blackfly infestation

The runner beans have grown, which is in itself a miracle, but are now covered in black fly. These little critters are sucking the plants dry and seriously reducing the crop. There’s too many for predators to keep at bay and I won’t spray a crop that we’re going to eat, so I don’t think much can be done.

Infestation of blackfly on the runner beans

4. Errors of propagation

In fairness this isn’t entirely my fault, but the cosmos and other cut flowers aren’t thriving in this dry hot summer. I’m giving them a weekly water but it’s not enough; in previous years we’d have 5-foot bushes of cosmos by now, humming with butterflies and bees. These were all grown from seed but the first lot were thinned carefully and planted out as sturdy individual plants (my Mum did this, obvs) whilst the second ones – mine – were planted two seeds to a pot, didn’t get thinned (I forgot) and got planted out when still a bit too small. They are beyond crap. Next year I need to try harder.

These cosmos are taking ages and ages to flower…

…but at least they’re healthy, unlike these ones

I also tried some Bells of Ireland this year. Once again they were planted out waaaay too early, and then nearly got hoed as I mistook the seedlings for weeds. So survival is in itself an achievement – but they should be loads taller than this.

The Bells of Ireland should be calf-height, but they’re about the size of my little hand

The cornflowers are also stunted, and the chrysanthemums don’t look especially healthy. I’m not sure what the problem is/was. Maybe all the chi chi English cut flower growers that I follow have these issues too but also choose not to share them on Instagram?

5. Poor fruit harvest

In previous years I’ve filled massive cake-tins with blackcurrants, redcurrants, raspberries and strawberries but this summer the harvest is poor. In particular, I’ve got a mere few hundred grams of blackcurrants. I’m wondering if these old grand dame bushes are nearing the end of their life – they must be at least a decade old. Must look it up. On the plus side, we do have gooseberries for the first time this year.

This year’s blackcurrant harvest is pitiful!

This is by no means the end of the cock-ups. I’ve not even mentioned the back garden that looked good during May and June, and then – paradoxically – seems to shrivel and become a jungle at the same time. But I have come to understand though that it’s in the mistakes that you can actually learn. Planting errors are an opportunity to find creative solutions and new planting schemes. Bug infestations are an opportunity to get a closer look at nature. They all teach you to let go, little by little. Life lessons on the allotment.

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Summer inspiration

An unforeseen pleasure of breeding, currently, is that this is the first summer since 2014 where I’ve not had a festival to organise. Except as I write this I remember that I am actually working on a festival as I speak. So let’s rephrase: it’s the first summer since 2014 where I’ve not been living, eating, sleeping and dreaming brochure deadlines, budget overspends, overwrought colleagues and where to put the sodding feather flags (this year’s Festival works at a gentler pace….so far….).

In about March, when that vile, dark, cold winter ended and 6-month-old Harry became more of an actual human (tiny babies still terrify me), I decided that I was going to really try and make the most of this summer. There would be barbecues! Days out! Allotmenting! Paddling pools! Ice-cream! And reader, I am keeping to that pledge.

In the last ten days I’ve taken my ever-patient child around two world-class gardens for some veg-patch and herbaceous-border inspiration. Last weekend it was Kew, and last week was Hidcote. Veg-patch visiting with a baby in tow does complicate matters slightly – Hidcote in particular is not very accessible, though they are doing their best. Of course Victorian (male) gardeners did not design with 4×4 buggies in mind. And at Kew, we were able to get into the newly-restored Temperate House but obviously did not explore the upper balconies, especially not in 30c heat.

The newly restored Temperate House at Kew Gardens

Inside…I should say something profound and academic but our main experience was that it was flipping hot

Aside from the Temperate House, I was keen to see the Hive installation. Earlier in the year I worked with a producer who had planned the opening of this artwork-come-engineering project, for which I have a streak of professional envy. I have no idea how the science works, but the structure hums and lights up in sync with an actual bee hive.

The Hive Installation at Kew

But actually the star of the day was the Marianne North gallery. I had heard of this Victorian artist as a woman who succeeded in her chosen field despite the (patriarchal) odds being against her, but actually it’s the impact of the hang that takes the breath away. You can not help but say ‘wow’ when walking into this space, packed close with hundreds of finely worked botanical paintings, created in the field in Java, South Africa, the Americas, you name it. She painted all these whilst wearing ridiculous skirts and a corset. She told the men where she wanted her gallery to be built and how they were to display her paintings. What a woman.

The Marianne North Gallery

Obviously there was still time for veg patch gongoozling, particularly of the trend for adding cut-flowers to the beans and tomatoes. My cornflowers never look as good as this.

Matt admires the brassica netting

Get ready for veg patch envy…

Excellent veg patching, in particular this bush of 4 foot-tall cornflowers

Inspiration at Hidcote was of a more sedate order, not least because I was unable to get close to the planting with the buggy. The roses are over now, with border gaps filled with plenty of grasses and…..lots of other things that I can’t identify. Next time I need to take my Mother to tell me what everything is.

Herbaceous border at Hidcote, alas not pushchair friendly so this is the closest I could get

Parched fields of Gloucestershire

Back home, once I’d finished daydreaming about having a Cotswolds cottage with an arts-and-crafts garden attached, or giving it all up to do a three year course at Kew and indulging in writing a dissertation about veg-patching, I got busy. I’ve replanted the back garden with plants for late summer – dahlia, helenium, scabious, aster, salvia, rudbeckia. On the veg patch we’re harvesting beans and courgettes, dahlia and sweet peas. The land is parched with this never-ending summer heat.

My humble efforts

Harvesting: French beans, runner beans, courgette, summer squash, blueberries, blackcurrants, chard, lettuce, spinach, oregano, basil, sweet peas, sunflowers, borage, dill, dahlia, zinnia, cleome. Cosmos are thinking about flowering but are stunted by this dry weather.

Cooking: Spanakopita with chard and courgette, blueberry and nectarine cobbler, blueberry and cinnamon buns, roast chicken with oregano, focaccia

Reading: One woman’s truth about speaking the truth by Jess Philips MP (LOVE HER); A House Full of Daughters by Juliet Nicolson; a biography of Marianne North bought from Amazon for about £3

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Heading to drought?

When did it last rain? A month ago? We’re into a second week of hot weather – too hot for me, I’m desperate for some drizzle and a cagoule – and the ground is rock hard. Well, the bit that I manured is; the non-manured bit resembles sand. But actually, given the searing temperatures and dry wind, things are holding up pretty well.

We had a reasonable crop of strawberries and loads of redcurrants, enough to make a good few pots of my favourite jam. Both fruits have finished now and attention will soon turn to the blackcurrants and blueberries, and thence to the masses of raspberries (we’re on a glut warning).

Redcurrants and strawberries for jamming

There’s fruit set on the tomatoes although a few of these tiny green swellings have already succumbed to rot, turning black and shrivelled. I’m hoping that it’s normal blossom end rot rather than blight and have trimmed back a few dodgy looking leaves to be on the safe side.

Fruit set on the tomatoes

Meanwhile the beans are at the top of the poles – success for the first time in YEARS! – and there’s tons of lettuce, chard and spinach to be had. We’ve got the first of the courgettes and loads of edible flowers: borage, nasturtium, violas. Beautiful fresh, healthy, goodness-giving food.

Beautiful blooms on the beans

The chard, lettuce and cavolo nero are abundant

Sweet williams and borage

An arch of hops

The long view

Also this week:

Harvesting: First courgette, chard, lettuce, spinach, rocket, borage, nasturtium, viola, last broad beans, last strawberries, sweet william, first dahlia

Cooking: Redcurrant & strawberry jam

Reading: Good Good Food by Sarah Raven. Inspired, I popped to Holland & Barratt to stock up on whole nuts, buckwheat flour and flax seeds and left with…..some normal bulgar wheat. It’s fascinating to read some of the science behind healthy eating but the price of her recommended super-foods is madness. £5 for a tiny pack of coconut oil?  It’s a serious issue: healthy eating can not just be for the super elite. For now I’m going to stick to my allotment veg and Malvern water.

Days out: Too damn hot to do much at all but headed to Alexander Stadium yesterday for the British Athletics Champions. A great family friendly day-out which, paradoxically and pleasingly, involves a lot of sitting.

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After the flood

What a stonker of a May it’s been. A May of sundresses, chilled rose wine on the terrace, abundant blossom and verdant green leaf. It was a long time coming of course – only 10 or so weeks ago we were still in deep snow – and now we pay the price with thunder storms and torrential rain. On Sunday Harborne experienced 58mm of rain in 1 hour – that apparently is what would normally be expected in a month – so you could say that it got a little soggy. I should not be glib about this as parts of the city have experienced genuinely devastating floods, and a man had to be rescued from his car on the Hagley Road, about half a mile from our house. The lightening above Birmingham was epic, from a Hammer horror film. But the worst damage I can claim is that five of my (leggy) sunflowers got snapped clean off from their pots.

Sunflowers snapped off by the torrents of rain

Down on the allotment I think we’ve been incredibly lucky. The Chad Brook runs down the bottom end of our plot: normally a babbling stream it turned into a raging river for a few hours, destroying entire beds and leaving metres of debris. We got off incredibly lightly but plots on the other side of the brook to us have been devastated. Harborne Road remains closed as the tarmac was smashed up by the flash flooding.

The plots feel as wet as sand on the Mawgan Porth shoreline but the plants actually seem to be thriving in the warm humid weather. Most remarkable is that the sweet william, which were planted a full two years ago but failed to flower last year, then got practically destroyed by the Beast from the East, are now on the brink of coming into bloom – and what a mass of flowers there will be when that day finally comes.

The cut flower patch is as wet as shoreline sand

But the sweet william are heading towards flower

Planted out: Sunflowers, dahlia, cleome, heartsease viola, spinach, cavolo nero, rocket, lettuce. Also this week I’ll get the cosmos, cornflower, dill, salvia and cornflower out.

Cooking & eating: A very disappointing brick-like cornbread, redcurrant & peach cobbler, Patrick’s stew chicken, Dad’s roast beef (though Mum actually did all the work). After years and years of not touching the stuff, have got back into coffee….my liver must be improving. Got the first of the season’s cherries from the markets.

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Back to life

Now that it’s sunny and WARM, it feels as if the entire world has sprung back to life. Lightwoods Park is teeming with families at the weekends, the tinkling ice cream van decorates the streets and the back garden is lush green and dappled with light. After such a hard winter – particularly so with a newborn – I drink in the spring. It’s time for a party! We had a welcome-to-the-family gathering for Harry, which was a good excuse to make a huge party cake and bake a batch of Matt’s favourite sausage rolls.

Party fridge!

Party buffet!

Party boy!

Outside, we’ve been blessed with a few weeks of balmy blue skies. The trees have exploded into blossom, a few days of hot sun encouraging their expansion to fullness. On the allotment, the lilac has grown to encompass our shed and I pick an armful of purple heads for the vase – I know they won’t last, but they are too pretty and too abundant to ignore.

Finally, blue skies and blossom

Perfumed lilac overhanging the shed

An armful of lilac, honesty and wild carrot

Matt’s calmed down a little on the work front so this, coupled with the long sunny days, means we’ve found time for some remedial allotmenting. This weekend I amused myself pulling rhubarb and planting out chard whilst Matt saw to his hops and – fanfare – the hopolisk has risen again! The hop shoots are romping up the string, fat with vigour.

First picking of rhubarb

Hops on 1 May…

…and on 12 May with the hopolisk now erected

Matt’s also had fun erecting the bean poles. Every year I watch Monty Don faff around with his wigwam set-up and I wonder what he’s messing at – why have a wigwam when you can have a top-strengthened line of hazel, complete with geometric shadows?! Happily the cold winter seems to have kept the slug population in check so, unlike last year, I’m pretty confident of growing some healthy plants this summer.

Bean and sweet pea sticks in place

Art shadow

There are more jobs to be done – the cut flower patch still needs digging and manuring – but with the long days, warm air and (best of all) a baby who is currently sleeping 12 hours a night, these feel more like a pleasure than a chore.

Also on the allotment
Sowing: Winter squash
Potting on: Cleome
Hardening off: Zinnia, borage, sunflowers, courgette, second sowing of sweet peas, rudbeckia
Planting out:
Sweet peas, runner beans, French beans, borlotti, chard
Also: Netted redcurrants, hopolisk is up, ‘cage’ for brassicas and leaves in place

Cooking: Party cake with strawberries, mascarpone & chocolate fingers, sausage rolls, chocolate sorbet, redcurrant tea bread, a lot of summery Middle Eastern-style baked chicken, salads & flat breads, daal and squished fruits for Harry

Reading: The Vintage Tea Party by Angel Adoree. I love her and have spent actual money on a vintage-style hair band and kimonos. Alas the skill to style my hair into 1940s ‘victory rolls’ eludes me.

More seeds

Spring came, then summer came for two days, and now we’re back to a chilly east wind. Everything is late. This actually suits my purposes because it turns out that childcare is a full-time job – who knew? – and with Matt busy on work projects and a wedding to organise I haven’t had chance to get on top of many allotmenting tasks.

Harry and I zoomed up the M6 to Liverpool during the warm spell to visit Matt, who was working on a show at the Bluecoat gallery. It felt good to get a taste of a different urban life for 24 hours.

Impromptu trip to Liverpool

I came back to a tulip patch bursting with colour. Just like last year I actually missed the optimum picking time – a day of 24c heat brought the buds unto full bloom – but these feel like a bonus harvest given that tulips are only meant to last for one season. The flowers are definitely smaller this year and look more than a little bashed – but something is better than nothing and I gratefully cut a few handfuls of clashing stems.

Cropping last year’s tulips

Vintage smoked shades

Plus yellows and greens

With Harry distracted in his walker and waving his favourite wooden spoon around, I try to crack on with more seed sowing and potting on. My sunflowers have germinated well but – as ever – resemble wiggly worms in the way they have grown; leggy and at weird angles. This happens every year and they still come good, so I am not too worried. The last few weeks’ and days’ enterprises include:

Sowing: more sweet peas, perpetual spinach, blue and pink clary, pink limonium, bells of Ireland

Potting on: Sunflowers, tomatoes, borage, courgette, squash

Hardening off and planting out: Last year’s chrysanths, broad beans, sweet peas, runner beans, climbing beans, borlotti beans

Coming along: zinnia, cosmos, chard, fennel, dill, heartsease viola, cleome, lettuces, cornflower, nigella

Desperate for attention: the hops, as ever, in need of the hopolisk!

Eating: Asparagus but only that in Worcestershire farmshops; the Birmingham stuff is still from Peru

Also… Wedding food, invites, outfits & flowers, all basically an excuse for spending too much time on Instagram