Now is the winter of our discontent

Well yesterday was a bombshell moment wasn’t it? We were awake from 3am, periodically refreshing the news feed on my iPhone, despite knowing that news-checking would only increase the sense of impending doom.

I did expect this outcome, surely we all did: the “cry of the forgotten man” has been a regular refrain in the post-Brexit referendum analysis and in this age of globalisation, it is a cry that is being felt across the Western world. Whilst some people are benefiting from the modern age, so many others feel left behind and the result is an existential crisis that is playing out through society, politics, the media.

My sister-in-law (American but living in London) declared that both countries of which she is a citizen have taken crazy pills. The news today tells us that more people actually voted Clinton than Trump. A nation is divided and it has an impact on the entire globe. On this side of the Pond, we have to watch and wonder what new order awaits.

I have been reading several books lately that were written in the 1930s: some novels, some gardening books, a few memoirs. Yesterday morning, I got to thinking: what must it actually be like to live a time of even greater political uncertainty? Of actual war? With hate speech in the air? What could the ordinary person do to keep themselves sane? And the answer is there in the books*. They got busy. They looked after their own, got their hands dirty, did normal, elemental things to remind themselves of goodness and rightness.

So when there was nothing else to be done, I headed to the allotment and took up the dahlias, now stunted by the first winter frosts. The tubers will go into dormancy, over-winter indoors, and then I’ll plant them out for a new life next spring.

Now it’s grey outside, hailing in fact. But there is always knowledge that spring will come.

Hope must out.

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Dahlia tubers ready for storage

* These books are: Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M.Delafield, which is a much, much funnier book than it sounds and worth a read; various novels and gardening literature by Vita Sackville West; and Country Matters and Four Hedges by the extraordinary Claire Leighton. Books on a similar theme (daily life in a time of political extreme) include Alice B. Toklas’ Murder in the Kitchen, which records her life with Gertrude Stein in France during World War One,  and the masterpiece, Honey from a Weed by Patience Gray, telling of life in some of the poorest villages of post-war Europe.

August National Trust-ing

No summer holidays for us – no cash – but we do have our National Trust membership to fall back on. The past few weeks have taken me to Croome Court, Packwood House, Baddesley Clinton and Biddulph Grange – and each visit has given new ideas for both the allotment and our newly-acquired back garden.

When the National Trust began back in the 1880s, its co-founder Octavia Hill was on a mission to provide green-spaces for put-upon urban dwellers…and as I wandered around the late-summer borders at Baddesley yesterday, I smiled at how her intentions are still coming good, over a century later. I think it’s fair to say however that our pal Octavia wouldn’t have taken Argentinian-style snacks with her on her countryside visits. The Olympics have inspired Matt to do some South American cooking and his pasty-sized empanadas made for great picnic food.

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It’s not a picnic unless there’s a grease-soaked paper bag involved

Today’s post is nothing more than a pinning of ideas that I like so that – hopefully – they can inspire my planting next year. I don’t even know what some of these plants are called so I am hoping that my mum will come to the rescue.

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Packwood House, Warwickshire

At Packwood, the borders were filled to the brim with sky-high hot-colour plants. I spotted lilies, sunflowers, agapanthus and dill, off-set with green foliage and grasses.

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I love the hot red against the acid yellow

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More hot yellow planting

In the veg garden at Packwood, cosmos and calendula were planted en masse with rudbeckia (?) for beds with real wow-factor.

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In the veg garden, cutting flowers are thrown in together for a riot of colour

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Matthew gets in the way of the camera, as usual

Baddesley Clinton is smaller than Packwood but the walled garden felt very, very special yesterday. One edge is given up completely to dahlias, with the surrounding borders filled with swathes of painterly-style bright colours plus tall stands of everlasting sweetpeas. Yes, the grass is traditional, but it’s neatness provided structure to balance out the beds. My photos don’t really do the planting justice; it was verging on garish – but I think it’s marvellous!

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Baddesley Clinton is more pared back – but the drifts of colour feel a bit more achievable

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Love these!

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What feels like a mile of dahlias

One corner at Baddesley is a herb-garden-turned-border. I actually looked at it for several seconds before I even realised that all these plants have a culinary use, so good was the effect. A tarragon had been allowed to grow into a sizeable shrub, the blue hyssop was humming with insects, and the parsley, sage, camomile and thyme gave good ground cover.

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The herb garden is transformed into a border with hyssop, parsley, tarragon and sage

With a few weeks of summer still to run, I’m hoping to get to a few more places to help get the creative sparks buzzing!


October pickings

The proper autumn harvest has begun. I was in Stratford upon Avon last week for work and popped to Charlecote Plants on the way back, which is essentially a wooden shack next to a National Trust property. Don’t be fooled though, for the shack is home to treasure. Charlecote are known for their October display of  squash and visitors are welcomed by mountains of knobbly, gnarly, stripy, weird, wonderful veggies.

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The squash display at Charlecote, Warwickshire

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Custard squash!

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If I’d have known, I’d have flogged my gourds for £6 a basket

Squash aside, the produce here is brilliantly good. I picked up golden beets, local red cabbage, russet spring onions and admired the baskets of princely quince and cobnuts. The carrots, which are the same variety as we “grow”, made me sick with envy.

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Exquisite rainbow carrots at Charlecote…

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…and the less-than-exquisite ones from our allotment

Yesterday marked a momentous day at Veg Patch: the pulling of the first parsnip! What’s more, it actually looked like a parsnip! Nothing can beat that spicy earthy scent of a freshly dug ‘snip, though in truth they need a bit more time in the soil to bulk out.

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First parsnip of the year with all it’s gnarly perfumed glory

The leeks are ready now but they’ve been affected by a rot of some kind, and the outer leaves are beginning to disintegrate. Can leeks be frozen? Something to look up. The onions, meanwhile, have been drying out for the past fortnight, making the most of the unseasonably warm September.

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Onions are drying beautifully

We missed the optimal moment for the hop harvest; they’re no good for beer now. But they are pretty enough so perhaps will have a second life as a decoration somewhere, though preferably not in my kitchen as the papery petals shed everywhere and generally make a right mess.

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Hops: too far gone for beer now, but still pretty enough

The sunflowers are now fading, though the bees are still drinking their fill of nectar.  The prize for October colour goes to the crysanths, now blooming with incredibly long-lived stems. I love the clash of orange, purple and pink: it seems the essence of autumn in a vase.

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Can’t get enough of these fiery shades

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The cosmos is still holding firm

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This beauty has come up out of nowhere

So we have an autumn harvest. No brassicas (yet, but I live in hope), so I’ve taken to stealing cavalo nero from my mother’s veg patch. Blanched then tossed in olive oil and garlic, it lifts a plate of roasted roots to new dimensions. Autumn is definitely here.

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A car boot of booty

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Elegant stems of cavalo nero

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Harvest of season’s change

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Gourds, squash, dahlia, crysanths: autumnal table display

Harvest: Dahlia, cosmos, crysanths, leeks, carrots, parsnip, courgette, chard, spinach, last tomatoes, last chillies