Finally, the warm months

My last entry included a snowscape of cold and daffodils shivering in the breeze. Not so any longer. The chill has finally lifted and with it, life has returned to business (should that say busy-ness?).

This last month we’ve had what feels like a thousand bank holidays, which on the one hand is opportunity for fun, but on the other means not enough time to get the work that needs to be done, done. But putting that to one side – the Coronation saw my husband invent the Coronation Scone (picture below) but more importantly for me, the first proper flower harvest of the year, with appropriately regal purple alium, lilac, the deepest dark tulips and frothy cow parsley. It is a fleeting vase, but a good one.

The Coronation Scone – jam, cream, chocolate mini roll
Picked on coronation day – cow parsley, lilac, allium, tulip

And then we had a birthday, where aforementioned husband finally turned 40 (I am older and therefore always waiting for him to catch up). We headed down to Dorset for a glamping weekend, which was lovely, but was also way too busy. In the rush to crack on and see/do it all, I think I’ve forgotten how important it is to slow down.

Matt turned 40!
Luxury camping in Dorset
The return of golden sunsets

The great thing about camping/glamping is that you are so immersed in nature, it is like breathing in life-force energy. I could admire this oak, just outside our tent door, for hours. The woodland was richly carpeted in wild garlic, its scent carrying for miles, and mornings were dotted with the sound of newborn lambs pestering their mothers.

A particularly magnificent oak, just coming into leaf
The woodland still abounds with wild garlic

But let’s get down to business. It’s a mixed start to the year. The propogation area in my loftily-titled sun room is very, very slow to get going. Many of these veg and flower seeds were sown well over a month ago now, and germination has been slow, and then growth miniscule. March and April have been chilly, which didn’t help, but I do wonder if the peat-free compost is yet to deliver the goods?

The propagation room – slow to get started this year

Outside, I had to move some tender seedlings outside to the cold frame WAY too early in order to make space, and have paid the price. Slugs have been at the courgettes (I’ve since made a repeat sow) and the sunflowers are far from thriving. Dahlias and Iris in posts are very, very slow to get going; I hope this current warm spell with encourage them into life. I’ve not used any slug pellets this year, which is a bold move for Bearwood (we are heavily slug-prone), but I can no longer justify the amount of death I was causing. So instead I am keeping the most munchable seedlings away from where the slugs hide, and doing twice-daily slug hunts.

On the plus side, the January-sown sweet peas are now romping away in their pots. I had a brilliant veg-trug harvest of winter-sown rocket, mustard and spinach, and have now replaced them with more baby spinach and ‘red russian’ kale. Beetroot has gone into the oak planter. The two pots of Sarah Raven tulips were magnificent but their time has now gone; if the dahlias ever grow, I’ll swap them into the big ceramic tulip posts for a late summer display.

Sweet peas are starting to romp away in the pots. The plugs in front are on hard standing to keep them away from the slugs.

And the back garden is booming with allium and foxgloves, and wonderfully healthy roses. The whitebells that introduced themselves are happily echoed by the white of the self-sown Orlaya grandiflora, plus there are quite a few unknowns; I’m leaving most of the self-sowers in to see what happens.

The garden coming into late May fullness
This rose – its name forgotten but it’s a David Austen – is now taller than me

On the allotment, the soil has been uncovered but is mostly still unplanted, waiting until the bulk of the annual cut flowers, dwarf beans, courgettes and squash are ready to go out. The broad beans are coming along slowly, and the stick beans are out and so far have avoided a complete decimation by slugs and pigeons. I always keep a few plants back now for the inevitable re-planting that happens every year.

Broad beans were all planted out at the start of May
Stick beans are also out, with extravagant pigeon-defence netting

These peas were planted out this week, with the most elaborate pigeon-defence system I have ever made – pea sticks, fleece, dried brambles. So far, so good.

Peas are hidden in a shroud of fleece
I also sneaked dried brambles in amongst the pea sticks to deter winged visitors

As for the allotment harvest, it has been a slow start to the year. I didn’t put in any new tulip bulbs last autumn, and the wild rocket didn’t take too well (I only now have one plant coming into flower). None of the Honesty made it, and the Sweet Williams are sort-of-maybe thinking about flowering. So thank goodness for the purple sprouting, which finally came good a good three weeks after I had completely given up on it. So far I’ve had three massive colander-fulls; it may even have replaced asparagus as my favourite May veg (and that is saying something).

The harvest I had given up on – purple sprouting broccoli is delivering at last

For the most delicious, easy and economical pasta, the Italian classic Oriechette with PSB is as good as any. Traditionally, the Italians would use Cime di rapa for this, but that’s hard to come by in the UK, and PSB makes a fine substitute. Cook a good portion of purple sprouting with oriechette in heavily salted water until the pasta is al dente – the greens will collapse a little, which is all to the good. Meanwhile, sizzle sliced garlic, red chilli and a few anchovies in good olive oil until the anchovy has collapsed and the garlic is aromatic. It is essential that it does not burn. Drain the pasta and greens, add to the garlicky oil, and toss the lot together – add a little of the pasta cooking water to make a smooth emulsion, though this isn’t really a ‘saucy’ dish. Season with pepper but probably no salt, due to the anchovies. Serve at once, with grated pecorino or, even better, crisply fried pangrattato (bread crumbs). I like a little squeeze of lemon as well.

Also this month:
Harvesting: PSB, spinach, rocket, oregano, thyme, rosemary, alliums, lilac, last of the tulips, cow parsley, sweet rocket
Sowing: Everything has been sown or repeat sown by now. Maincrop potatoes went in at the start of May, as did a direct sowing of parsnips and carrots (more in hope rather than expectation).
Cooking and eating: First barbecue of the year with steak, sausages and lamb kebabs. Bulghar wheat salad with rocket and peppers. Foccacia. Many, many dishes pulled from the freezer because life is busy now.
Also: Reading Cracking the Menopause by Mariella Frostrup, for it is good to be prepared, and Sophie Grigson’s fab memoir of moving to Puglia, A Curious Absence of Chickens? Too much work to do in too little time, life is a bit stressful again.

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