Jean messaged me earlier this week to ask what had happened to the blog because she missed it. A kind thing to say, and also a useful reminder for me to sit down and just do it. I think I’ve been wintering since about the end of November – after the noisiness of 2022 (three PMs, two monarchs, one child starting school, a gazillion work projects, climate crisis, cost-of-living crisis, having builders in…) I’ve felt the need for quiet. Plus all my creative/learning brain has been busy on my RHS course, which I will talk about here at some point, but suffice to say is intellectually all-consuming (and wonderful).

The allotment was covered early this year, by mid-November

The allotment got covered slightly earlier than normal this year, by mid-November, though the dahlias were still going strong in that strange, mild autumn that we had. I thought it wise to make the most of the warm days and get the plastic sheeting down early, because normally it’s a job I do with ice for fingers (not fun). There are so many things that need doing on the plot, from digging out the creeping buttercup Ranunculus repens* AGAIN, getting the pesky brambles out of the raspberries AGAIN, removing weeds in the perennial cut flower patch AGAIN, tidying the edges AGAIN, and so on. I’m not ready yet. It can all wait.

*For RHS exam purposes I am having to learn Latin binomial names. Every now and then I’ll yell out Hedera helix or Persicaria orientalis, like I’m casting a spell in Harry Potter.

Instead the focus is home, proper cooking, learning those aforementioned Latin names, and getting a few flower and veg seeds going. Matt’s rather pleased with the waffle maker that we’re baby-sitting for Emma and Chris whilst they’re in Vietnam for a couple of years (they probably won’t get it back). Meanwhile I’ve been keeping an eye on both pennies and health, cooking more with wholegrains, pulses, sturdy winter veg and the like.

Sunday morning waffles
My RHS course includes a spot of garden design, which I love. These are Matt’s watercolour pencils that he bought for A-level art.

The autumn-sown calendula and cornflowers are thriving in our chilly sunroom (it’s never above 10c in there during the winter), despite the odd patch of botrytis caused by lack of ventilation. Once the weather warms up I’ll pop them onto the allotment, hoping for an earlier-than-usual crop of orange and blue flowers.

autumn-sown calendula and cornflowers are doing well despite botrytis

I’ve been getting other early-starters going too. Three trays of broadbean (stereo green longpod, crimson flowered and aquadulce) and also the sweetpeas – ciprani, which is one of the very oldest varieties, dating from the 16th century, plus a lot of seed that I saved from last year’s tubs. I don’t know if they will come true, and that’s the fun – it’s like a no-pressure science experiment, and Harry and I are looking forward to finding the results. Over the spring we’re also going to do some soil pH testing, and have a go at making a mini-wormery.

Sweetpeas sown in mid-January, ingloriously perching on top of the washing machine

A few further experiments for this year – I want to grow more flowers for drying, so I’ll try Briza maxima (greater quaking grass), Lagurus ovatus (Bunny’s tail grass) and Xeranthemum annuum on the allotment, all of which are new to me. And given the success of the sensational White giant snapdragons, I’m trying another one bred for cutting – Antirrhinum majus ‘Potomac Crimson’. Hot magenta pink in colour, it should be a whopper.

Some new flowers that I’ll trial for 2023

So that’s it! Make the most of this quiet wintering time if you can, bringing with it rest and quiet renewal.

Also this month:
Cooking and eating: Lots of things from the River Cottage Good Comfort book, which has all the stuff you want to eat in winter, but made better for you: sticky pork ribs, corn bread, sausages and beans, dal, and so on. I’m doing a lot with wholemeal flour, lentils, carrots, swede, celeriac – sounds worthy and dull but is actually soul food.

Growing: Broad beans, sweetpeas, I’ll start the antirrhinum in a few weeks. Cut back the ivy and pruned the roses. Alliums are up already and narcissi are just poking their heads through.

Also: RHS course work. Enjoying the Sarah Raven podcast and planning for 2023 growing. Reading Expedition by Steve Backshall and Thinking on my feet by Kate Humble (they’re outside so I don’t need to be).

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