The July allotment

In the past two weeks, now there’s some heat, I can see noticeable acceleration in growth – and about bloody time, I might add. The third week of July is late to be seeing the change. Without wishing to be too melodramatic, the allotment this year has driven me to the point of despair. Grass proliferates, and when even courgettes will not grow, what hope is there? So I’ve been looking, properly paying attention, to work out what The Problem is. And in an effort at balance, also take stock of what’s doing alright, actually.

A number of plants appear to thrive in our free-draining, exposed plot. Some are the self-seeders; others are the perennials or shrubs that I put in and leave to it. Of the first lot, the nasturtiums, poppies, marjoram and buttercup are rampant. Foxgloves, lavender, achillea, tansy and mullein have all become whoppers with no assistance from me. The connecting factor with all these is that they like the sun, they like to be free-draining, and they can cope with low nutrient soil. Not that our allotment soil is poor quality (years of manure put paid to that) but these particular plants get no assistance from me.

The lesson: plants that like sun, can tolerate drought and are low-maintenance will do well. Conversely, those that needs tons of water and molly-coddling (sweet peas, squash, beans) struggle.

The allotment on 19 July: broad beans finally thriving, as are nasturtiums, but the courgette and stick beans struggling to get going
Cosmos, sunflower, squash and ammi majus are getting going – plus note the thriving nasturtium and teasel at the rear
Greens and roots are doing OK – chard, beet spinach, carrots, parsnip plus (out of shot) cavolo nero, flower sprout and kale. In the mid-ground, Jill Be Little squash are still tiddly.

The chief disappointment, as has been the case for a few years now, is the stick beans. I recall that last year I sowed at least three times (at home and directly) before getting a crop, and even then it was small. This year is no different. The variety does not seem to matter – I have tried runner, three types of French and borlotti. They germinate well enough, but the plants started at home suffer from lack of sun, and those planted directly usually get knobbled by the pigeons. This year they’re having to fend off the self-seeded nasturtiums too, a plant so prolific that I may have to start culling it. Sweet peas similarly are frustrating, though I think lack of regular watering did for them this year. In an effort to out-fox the pigeons, I have put a final desperate new sowing of beans into the sweet pea netting – the triumph of hope over experience. My ever-sensible mother-in-law Jean suggests that I try growing stick beans at home instead of the allotment, where I can care for the them properly – a suggestion so obvious I wonder why I didn’t think of it earlier.

Climbing beans of all variety are struggling, but the self-seeded nasturtium is romping off
Sweet peas are dead. This is a third sowing – still no joy.

The cold spring has led to inevitable lateness. I would expect the cornflowers to be cropping a month earlier than they actually did, but now they are here, what a joy they are. Coming at the same time as the early cosmos and ammi they are, to me, the epitome of the early English summer. Just a bit later than normal.

Cornflowers are finally coming into their own, plus behind them are my Mum’s early-sown cosmos and ammi

The strange spring impacted the early broad beans of course. The ones I started in February are now scourged in black-fly, whilst the ones direct sown at the end of May are thriving and healthy. The early ones, interestingly, also have patchy pollination – the cold snap in April and May causing havoc to the wildlife.

The broad beans that were direct sown at the end of May are healthy and vibrant…
…but those started under-cover in February have succumbed to black fly and the pods have not been pollinated

Over on the new biennial and perennial patch, the dahlias are thriving. Both the over-wintered and the newly planted tubers are healthy, making me think that next year I should add to the collection. The biennials, on the other hand, were poor – but have potential. I started off new sweet william, sweet rocket and honesty at the end of June, and will plant them out in the autumn to give them chance to bulk up – rather than, as I did this year, in the spring when the weather was too cold.

Dahlias are doing OK, both the ones left in over-winter and the newly planted tubers

A word about teasels. I put these in as tiny plug plants in spring 2020, just as lockdown was coming in, thinking they would be a fun addition to my dried flower collection for the winter. Had I known they would become ten-foot whoppers I might have hesitated – though I can not deny that these green cone-shaped flower heads are a lovely addition to the vase. My chief concern is that they will self-sow all over the place, so I’m started to crop them now (before they fully flower and set seed) and dry them in readiness for winter arrangements.

If I had known these teasels would reach ten feet tall I may not have planted them – majestic though they are
Half a teasel stem, with my foot for scale

I have not pictured the grass, that this year seems worse than ever and has infiltrated the raspberries, blueberries and blackcurrants. The only hope is to strim for now, then in the colder months dig it out as best I can. Well either that or buy myself a gigantic house with a kitchen garden on-site that has no grass attached to it (I can dream).

I also believe a major issue is one of anticipation versus reality. What I want is abundance – and yet of course, too much abundance is stressful, for no-one wants gluts of vegetables and fruit that will go over before they can be eaten. I would like more early veg (broad beans, French beans, small courgettes) but the growing conditions will not allow it; we actually do much better in the late summer and early autumn, when the soft fruit, squash and brassicas come into their own.

Of course much of the allotment is now given up to flowers, and the trick here is to have a regular crop of modest proportions – anything bigger is overwhelming. I’m now getting about 4 or 5 small vases a week, perfect for the mantlepiece and kitchen table, and I can go for either a cool or warm colour palette. The cosmos, cornflower and ammi are the current queen plants, and they will give way in due course to sunflowers, dahlias and chrysanthemums.

Currently we’re getting about five of these vases a week, in cool blue/white/mauve/green and warmer yellow/purple/orange palettes
Achillea, cosmos, ammi, cornflower, poppy heads, teasel, lavender, nasturtium, tansy and calendula are all cropping now
Sufferagette colours: purple, green and white

Lessons to learn, then, are as follows:

  1. Only sow at the allotment what can be realistically watered; keep the fussy beans for home.
  2. Rethink the spring sowing plan, for the seedlings need to have more light and be tougher before they are planted out. Maybe it is time to bring back the greenhouse or, better yet, cobble together a polytunnel.
  3. Brassicas do well, so maybe try a few more of those, in different varieties.
  4. Flowers for nine months of the year are a possibility, but veg isn’t. Within current resources, do not expect much of a veg harvest before late July. Extend the flower season with spring bulbs and biennials, and think about a wider variety of dahlias. Perennials seem to excel, so consider a few more, for cutting.
  5. Over the winter, do something about the grass.

Simple, no?

Also this week:
Harvesting: At home, lettuce, thyme, oregano. From allotment, broad beans (scant), dwarf beans (scant), chard, beet spinach, cornflower, ammi, cosmos, lavender, teasel, nasturtium, first dahlias, achillea. Sweet william, foxglove, strawberries are now finished. Gift of stick beans, potatoes, fennel, carrots, raspberries and blueberries from my parents.
Garden: The garden is moving from the cool shades of early summer to the hot tones of high-to-late summer. Roses and bronze fennel at their zenith, with helenium and dahlias coming through. Potted on sweet williams that were started in June. Cut back aquilegia and allium heads for drying. Planted out new dahlias, salvia amistad and other orange/yellow palette plants for late summer Рincidentally I thought that most of the garden dahlias had not made it over the winter but on digging around discovered that the slugs had been nibbling the emerging shoots whilst still underground. Serious note taking and thinking about next spring and early summer Рspent a good £200 on spring bulbs for home and allotment, inspired by the trip to Perch Hill.
Cooking and eating: Whole lamb shoulder butterflied and barbecued, flavoured with cumin and harissa. Potato salad using Dad’s potatoes. Chapel Down sparkling bacchus, a joy.
Also: Visited Puzzle Wood. Reading The Mitford Girls biography and Sarah Raven’s A Year Full of Flowers. No time or interest for telly. Am getting up early to be on the allotment at 8am before the heat is unbearable and the working day begins; life feels very full and busy again.

Dream vs reality

It ‘should’ be the season of abundance on the allotment, with buckets of cut-flowers and courgettes coming out of my eyes. But this year – not so much. Many plants are still tiddlers, and others are showing the effect of that cold dry spring.

We spent the midsummer solstice in Kent and Sussex, revisiting two old favourites (Perch Hill and Sissinghust) and discovering new creative inspiration at Dungeness. And whilst we had a lovely time I can’t help but notice the contrast in abundance between the gardens ‘down south’ and ours up in the Midlands. More of that later. For a while, let’s look at the dream gardens/cutting patches/kitchen gardens and see what inspirations can be taken for back home.

Perch Hill & Sissinghurst

Ah Perch Hill, garden of Sarah Raven, and Sissinghurst, home of Vita Sackville-West. Both of them exude femininity and abundance, but the soft edges are prevented from being overwhelmingly sickly by extravagantly expensive landscaping – this is not a criticism, merely an observation.

The oast garden at Perch Hill – crammed with plants, with plenty of structures to give height

Both gardens are massive of course, but because they are made of several garden rooms or areas, they still feel domestic. It’s easy to forget that it takes several full-time gardeners (and multi-million pound investment) to get them this good, so natural is the effect.

What I love about both, but Perch Hill in particular, is the way everything is crammed together. Crammed! Perch Hill has two cutting gardens (one perennial and one annual), a veg patch, trial grounds, rose garden, oast garden, Dutch garden and wild meadow plus glasshouses. I don’t think there is an inch of spare soil anywhere. It’s not all tidy-tidy either – the perennial cutting garden was notably full of self-seeders and weeds, and looks all the better for it.

The perennial cutting garden at Perch Hill, taken 18 June – lupins, poppies, love in a mist, astrantia and peonies predominate

In mid June, peonies, lupins, astrantia and poppies take centre stage for cutting, giving way to the annuals (cosmos, ammi etc) and then later in the year to dahlias and chrysanthemums. The cutting year starts with the narcissi, leading to tulips and alliums, then to biennials of foxglove and sweet william. Succession of colour is the big story here; it’s something I certainly aspire to but have yet to work out how to actually achieve given our limited space for starting plants off.

Love these lupins but also love how jam-packed and actually slightly untidy it all is
Astranita is on the cut flower list for 2022

At Perch Hill they put in a ‘lasagne’ system of growing to make the most of space. Dahlias are in the same bed as spring bulbs (narcissi and tulips), with annuals in the top. So the bulbs coming up in March/April, giving way to June poppies, and then the dahlias take over in late summer. I think this is a fabulous idea but I wonder how well it translates in a cooler climate, where annuals often don’t flower until mid-July.

An abundance of poppies is planted over top of dahlias, supported with impressive grid structures of silver birch
The entrance at Sissinghurst, always full of gorgeous cut flowers

The key take-aways for me are:
– Everything takes SO LONG to get started where we are so I need to plan for this. Include early flowering narcissi such as Pheasants Eye for both the garden and cutting garden – they can go overtop of the dahlias – and more tulips for April colour
– Look at putting more flowers into pots in 2021, particularly early spring bulbs such as Iris reticulata
– Add astrantia, poppies, lupins and gladioli to the cutting patch
– Biennials into the garden as well as cutting patch
– Artichokes can be underplanted with tulips
– If something isn’t working then change it. Sounds obvious, but they talk about ripping out whole sections because the look isn’t right, something I would be shy to do because it would feel so wasteful.

Dungeness

What a contrast from the rolling green hills around Perch Hill and Sissinghurst to the mysterious landscape of Dungeness. We came partly to see Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage, and partly to see the weirdness of this pebble world of shacks and lighthouses framed by a nuclear power station.

Prospect Cottage is a lesson of right plant right place, but actually the planting is secondary in importance to the genius of an artist’s eye. The garden uses plants found all around Dungeness – vipers bugloss, poppies, sea kale – and each is its own miracle for surviving in this strange, barren landscape. But what makes the garden special is the placement of found objects washed in by the sea set inside circles of gravel in contrasting colours. Colour rules are broken with oranges clashing against reds and pinks. It could only have been made by a true artist.

Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage in Dungeness – all the Perch Hill colour rules are broken here, with clashing purple, pink, yellow, red and orange
The joy here is the exquisite placement of found objects and clumps of flowers set against the mysterious gravel landscape of Dungeness

This is not a garden to attempt to recreate – it would be impossible – but one to appreciate for the genius of its creator. Read more in this Guardian article.

The reality of home

Back we headed to Birmingham, and full of optimism, I head to the allotment sort of expecting it to have transformed in my absence into a garden of abundance. This, obviously, was not the case.

Now, there is some life now and we’re cropping vases of biennial foxgloves and sweet william, a few cornflowers plus the early annuals that my Mum grew undercover (cosmos, ammi). There’s also the very first broad beans, mange tout and chard. The few perennials I put in are doing just fine. But on the whole, this years veggies and the cut flowers are TINY. The courgettes have not really done anything since being planted out three weeks ago, and neither have the climbing beans or sweet peas. What’s going on?

And then back to my reality: weeds, disappointing growth and too much brown earth
This cut flower patch is still weeks behind those in Kent and Sussex but note the naturalised perennials and biennials in the background, now at full growth

A snoop around our neighbouring plots says that I can’t blame it all on the cold spring, for they have massive brassicas, dahlias, broad beans – it really is just us. Part of it is might be daily watering, which I am unable to do. Maybe I planted out too soon, when the ground was still cold. But I’m wondering if we need to take another look at how we start our plants off, for they seem to suffer from lack of sun and space in our wee terrace garden. I still have some strawflower, kohl rabi and savoy cabbage in the cold frame at home and they are struggling to get going; perhaps it’s lack of light when young. I don’t mean to moan, I am simply genuinely perplexed!

There is cropping to be had though – foxglove, sweet william, first dahlias, first cosmos, parsnip flower, first ammi, mange tout, broad beans and strawberries
Foxgloves, parsnip and ammi give heigh, sweet william, cornflowers and cosmos a hint of country romance

When we took on our allotment I was told it was a millennium project – never finished – and that is of course both the challenge and the joy. Always we can go back to the drawing board.

Also this week:
Harvesting: First broad beans, mange tout, first chard, lettuce, strawberries, redcurrants, foxgloves, sweet william, first cosmos, first cornflower, parsnip flower, ammi.
Eating and cooking: Far too much wine at Hema’s house (well it has been a year of no social life) but Patrick’s Trinidadian stew chicken is always a joy. Strawberries, nectarines, peaches and raspberries, eaten neat with yoghurt, ice cream or cream. So lovely to have the first spring veg, even if it is July. At Sissinghurst, a beautiful starter of potted shrimp with fennel – light and crunchy.
Also: We’re both working hard again now, as we exit lockdown. Talk of schools and reflection on how these early choices made for children profoundly affect lives.

Chocolate almond macaroons

Sun shining, a day out to the nearest edge of the Cotswolds for a first posh lunch out as a trio since 2019, then an ice cream in the shadow of Broadway Tower. Cow parsley, buttercups, long long grass, hawthorn blossom and stinging nettles.

Broadway Tower

Back home, the foxgloves are in flower, majestic spikes of pink, peach and white, marked with spots of purple and orange. Foxgloves are absolutely in my top 5 flowers – so architectural and plain weird – and even better, these all self-sowed so cost not a penny. Here I’ve placed them with alliums and sweet william for an interesting mix of height and form.

Foxgloves, sweet william and allium now cropping

I made a big batch of chocolate gelato at the weekend, overcome by the hot weather. It was good – very good – but even better are these chocolate almond macaroons that use up the left-over egg whites. They’re now my go-to recipe whenever we have egg whites hanging around, say after a carbonara or custard, and – unlike meringues, which never get eaten – they’re a firm favourite for both pre-schoolers and early-middle-agers. I found the recipe from a blog about living in a vicarage, so this is recipe is also known as Church Biscuit No.70.

Chocolate almond macaroons

Chocolate almond macaroons

2 egg whites
200g ground almonds
30g cocoa powder
175g icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 180c and line a baking sheet with parchment. Sift the almonds, cocoa and icing sugar into a bowl and using a wooden spoon, mix in the unbeaten egg whites to a firm dough. Simple.

With wet hands, roll out walnut-size balls of mixture and place on the baking sheet, flattening each one slightly as you go. Bake for 11-15 minutes, until dry on top and slightly cracked. You want to keep a certain squishiness in the middle. Cool before serving.

These last several days in the tin and are good on their own or as an accompaniment to ice-cream.

Also this week:
Harvesting: sweet william, foxgloves, last of the spring rocket, last of the chervil.
Allotment and garden: Watering twice a week (it’s not enough, no rain for two weeks now) but the veg are still small despite the warm weather. Admiring the roses, now at their peak. Delphiniums just coming out whilst the aquilegia go over.
Eating and cooking: Lunch at The Fish of asparagus with brown shrimp followed by Fowey mussels. Rhubarb ice cream at Broadway Tower. Cost a fortune but a joy to be out at last. Made chocolate gelato from the Rick Stein Venice to Istanbul book. Eating more Greek salads than most Greeks at present.
Also: Reading Under a Mackerel Sky, Rick Stein’s memoir.

Allotmenting for wildlife

Well what a difference a fortnight can make. Two weeks ago I was lamenting the cold, wet, windy spring, and then – overnight – we switched to summer. Warm dry days are followed by warm dry nights, the cold a distant memory. I fall into this warm weather in the same way that one might sink into a hot bath. How easy it is to succumb! What is a coat again? What are socks again? I can not remember ever having had a need or a use for them.

The plants of course are tumbling over themselves in joy. In my garden, the beds are an eruption of pinks, purples and whites as the roses, aquilegia and allium vie for attention. The warmth has brought into life a massive population of aphids; they cover the roses with thousands of tiny green bumps, leaving their sticky mess everywhere. I’m fascinated by them and wander out each morning and evening to take a closer look, conscious that my garden isn’t mine at all, but a shared space for hundreds of species. The air literally hums with insects. The fledgling magpies hop around the trees and chimney tops, testing their wings.

On the allotment, it’s not full steam ahead just yet, but there are signs of things preparing for proper action. The peas, which two weeks ago I had written off as dead, are fighting back and have grown at least a foot in the last ten days. The broad beans too are reviving, and whilst I won’t be winning any prizes for best beans anytime soon, I think we’ll still get a crop.

Finally, finally, the peas have taken off in the warmer weather

Last weekend we planted out the climbing and dwarf beans – several varieties are jumbled up together – and once again, whilst they’re not quite thriving, they’re hanging on which I take as a victory. The same goes for baby chard, beet spinach, cavolo nero and flower sprouts. Everything is netted against the pigeons of course.

Meanwhile the climbing and dwarf beans are bedding themselves in
Chard and beet spinach sits undercover to protect from pigeons

I’ve not mentioned the hops yet this year. Two of our old plants are zipping up the hop twine, but Matt has replaced the others with new baby plants that will take a year or two to get going.

We will have two substantial hop plants this year, plus two babies

We also have fruit set. The green swelling of baby strawberries, blueberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants and gooseberries can all be seen, though I think it will be a small crop this year as a result of the April cold affecting the blossom.

A surviving strawberry finally bears fruit

As for the cut flowers, I took a tiny first cut of foxgloves and sweet william today. The latter all self-seeded last year and I made the effort to move them to their own block in the autumn, for which I will be richly rewarded over the next month as all 30 or so plants are thriving. The sweet william I had actually given up on but this few weeks of warm has revived them, their sweet scent a welcome reminder of summer.

I had given up on the Sweet William but they too look ready to put on a show
About 30 foxgloves are waiting in the wings for their moment

Back to wildlife. For the first five years or so I didn’t give much thought to the wildlife on our allotment, other than to be irritated by slugs and birds. (Lately the slugs seem to have moved elsewhere and I’ve learnt to net everything, which has solved the bird problem.) I certainly didn’t hate the insects and invertebrates but I had a sure sense of ‘This is my dance space, that is your dance space, let’s not get too close’. But over time my view has completely changed and I’ve come to relish being in close quarters with wild creatures going about their business – hence wandering out to look at what the greenfly are up to on the roses.

This has influenced how I keep the plot. There are plenty of weeds around the perimeter of our allotment which I purposefully keep in, as they are great food source for winged insects. An entire strip is dense with pollinator-friendly plants, some of which I have put in (alliums, lavender, sorrel) but others that have self-seeded (buttercup, foxglove, oregano, tansy) and I have either let them be or I’ve moved them to a slightly more convenient location. Take the mullein, for example, that seems to love our patch of ground and seeds itself everywhere. I have let four stay, and each is now home to the mullein caterpillar, a pretty little thing that will absolutely decimate the plant before it becomes a moth in a few weeks time, but is also a useful food source for birds.

The insect-friendly strip with sorrel, foxglove, mullein, buttercups, tansy, allium and lavender
Common mullein plant – my foot is there for an idea of size
The mullein moth has been busy: caterpillars can decimate the mullein plant

Elsewhere a few minor interventions can make for interesting rewards. Last spring I planted a few teasels, thinking they would be a lovely dried flower, but I hadn’t realised what an incredibly majestic plant this is when allowed to thrive. (I’ll share pictures when it flowers in a few weeks.) And this parsnip was left in the ground over the winter and is now ready to flower, so another food source for insects plus I’ll get to save the seeds. But what a whopper of a plant! It’s already reaching my chin and will be covered with pretty yellow umbellifers.

I left two of last year’s parsnips in the ground, and they are now preparing to flower
Parsnips are an umbellifer and part of the carrot family

Elsewhere by the brook there are nettles, cow parsley and brambles and no, it’s not tidy, but what a relief it is to let go of all those old ideas as to what constitutes beauty and worth, and instead think of oneself as inhibitor of a shared natural space. As long the allotment is productive – not just in veg, fruit and flowers but also in wildlife and yes in providing joy – that is how I measure success these days.

Also this week:
Planting out: Dahlias, chrysanthemums, sweet peas, ammi, peas, red kale, chard, spinach, cavolo nero, flower sprouts, echinacea, climbing beans, dwarf beans, courgette, fennel, tomatoes.
In the garden: Roses are at their best, plus aquilegia, allium, fennel all looking good. Planted out sunflowers. Cut back forsythia.
Harvesting: Start of the foxgloves and sweet william, ammi, cow parsley.
Cooking and eating: Strawberries, first cherries, first barbecue of the year. Inspired by Rick Stein’s Venice to Istanbul book (which I borrowed from the library via a Covid-safe appointment system straight from a Victoria Wood sketch) made Kisir, a bulgur wheat salad from Turkey, and now want to cook the entire book.
Also: Visited Chatsworth, our first proper family day out since September. We could really do with a holiday.

Dealing with disappointment

I am writing in mid-May, wearing two jumpers, whilst outside it is raining for the 20th (?) day in a row, with the added delight of gale-force wind. This week we’ve had serious torrential downpours – the kind that cause flash-flooding – as well as hard bouts of hail. March was warm and sunny, April turned cold and unusually dry, May is a complete wash-out, and the combined strange weather of this spring is spelling disaster for my flowers and veg.

In one of the very few rain-free and child-free hours that I’ve had for the last month, I managed to get to the allotment on Monday to assess the damage. The grass, of course, is loving the rain – maybe I should just grow grass and be done with it – as is the creeping buttercup. And on the plus side, the wild cow parsley that lives near the shed is looking lovely against the dull grey sky; I put some into a vase with several stems of lilac plucked from the tree. Neither last long as cut flowers, but they are a welcome reminder that summer IS a thing and DOES exist.

Lilac and cow parsley, one of my favourite vases of the year

But the disappointments are many. The ancient rosemary that we inherited when we took over the plot eight years ago has not made it through the winter. I am uncertain if the cold got it, if the brambles choked it, if it got too dry, or if it simply reached the end of its life. I’m really sad about losing this gnarly beast and can’t help but feel responsible for its demise; we should have paid more attention to it earlier in the winter and now it’s too late.

The rosemary is no more

The peas and broad beans are an abject disaster. Awful. They were planted out as healthy seedlings one month ago and not only have failed to thrive but I think have actually shrunk – a bug has nibbled them obviously but I think the lack of water in April is what did for them. I was hoping the last few weeks of rain would perk them up but no; I think we have proper crop failure on our hands.

Pea plants should be lush, dense and green by now – not like this
The broad beans remain tiddly and many are blackened around the edges. My hand is for scale.

I do have replacements ready to go in, but whilst the weather remains so cold, wet and wild (and I remain with very few child-free hours to get any serious work done), the next set of young plants remain next to the cold-frame, marking time. And whilst they are fine, few of them are brilliantly healthy – can anything really thrive in this strange weather, with so little sunshine and warmth? This week’s storms have sent the climbing beans horizontal, even though they were in as sheltered a place as I could find for them.

This year’s seedlings are ready for planting out, but the weather is not ready for them
There must be a few hundred plants here, waiting for some warm dry weather
The climbing beans really need something to climb up

To complete my complaining, the few tender and baby plants that are left in the sun room are yearning for, well, sun. My tomatoes have shot away in the last ten days, as have the sunflowers, straining themselves taller and taller to find light that just isn’t there.

The tomatoes have grown leggy in the gloom
And the sunflowers have the same issue.

It’s not a complete disaster just yet. My sunflower seedlings are ALWAYS leggy but always recover, and we’ll still get a good summer’s crop of flowers and veg if only the weather warms a little. But these little set-backs together add up to a general feeling of disappointment and frustration: after what has been a challenging winter, I think we all hoped for a repeat of last year’s glorious warm spring.

I notice that there’s a bedraggled pigeon perched on the garden fence, braving the inclement weather to preen itself whilst standing in perfect balance on one foot. I remind myself of the Buddhist teaching which says that unhappiness is caused by expecting things to be anything other than what they are. Acceptance is key. Instead of raging against the weather, I need to be more like the pigeon.

Also this week:
Cooking and eating: Asparagus, Jersey Royals, A lovely Greek dish of a leg of lamb slow-cooked with tomatoes, wine and oregano until meltingly tender, served with Greek chips and feta. The best almond cake. Chicken baked with chorizo and peppers.
Harvesting: Nothing, is that a joke?
Also: Loving the BBC’s adaptation of The Pursuit of Love, in particular the glorious set and costume design. Reading City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert.

Hop twine bean poles

We have strange weather to match the strange times. April started like a lamb, with warm sunshine and ice lollies all round, only to give way to weeks of dry frost; now as we tip into May we are hit with rain and blustery winds – I think of it as Cornish weather. All is confusion: one part of me trips trying to keep up with the changing season (the trees are vividly green now and the garden has grown lush in the space of one week), but then I’m also frustrated at the lack of progress as the cold keeps my veg seedlings small.

But then do I always feel this way at the start of May? I cling to the idea that the veg plot will be lush and productive with broad beans and salads by now, but the truth (every year) is that there won’t be anything to crop for weeks. Daffodils can still be in bloom in June in these parts, and May is the season not of the bean but of the tulip. It’s a good job we don’t have to live purely off our crops, because we would never make it through the Hungry Gap of late spring. This weekend I visited the Tulip Festival at Morton Hall, near Redditch, and this shot of their super-expensive veg patch rather eloquently proves my point: not a leaf of spinach or rocket in sight, but plenty of very elegant spring bulbs.

The beautifully prepared veg plot at Morton Hall is still sparse in May
Cut tulips at the Morton Hall Tulip Festival

In the meantime, I am obsessed with my seedlings. Obsessed. The trays inhabit three areas depending on the need and size of the plant: The babies begin life near the windows of the sunroom, then some make it to the cold-frame, and when they are big enough the trays are propped outside in rows against a sheltered wall. This is not a foolproof system by any means, but it’s the best I can do with the space I have. The inside seedlings germinate well but risk legginess and sunburn, whilst the outside babies have been battered this week with rain, wind and hail. Every morning and every afternoon I check their progress, give them a turn, move some out, move some back in again, give them water, see who is happy and who is struggling. All is a tentative dance to keep up with the weather. It’s a challenge I love, a way to keep fully engaged with the rapid changes of spring.

Indoor seedlings including beans, sunflowers, fennel, beets, salvia and strawflower
Space remains at a premium
This weekend’s hail and wind have battered the outside seedlings, so back into the cold frame they go to recover
The cold has inhibited the sweet peas and broad beans, so it will be a later harvest than normal

The only crop that thrives currently are the rocket and lettuce seedlings, which I planted into the veg trug under the plastic cover to keep the squirrels and cats off, but of course it’s added weather protection too. We’ll be able to start cropping these in a week or two.

Salad leaves in the veg trug

So whilst I wait for the plants, attention is focused on plot architecture. The hopolisk went up this weekend, ready to take the weight of the four hop plants. Normally we would put in a load of hazel poles at the same time, to support the climbing beans and sunflowers, but this year coppiced hazel is impossible to find. Instead we are trialling a new system of climbing the French, runner and borlotti beans up hop twine, which is then fixed into place with this nifty bit of wood that Matt whizzed up on his CNC machine. It’s all held together with a steel leg pushed deep into the soil. It’s kind of like a May Pole, but using beans rather than ribbons.

This year’s bean supports: hop twine is tied to the holes, supported in place by solid steel legs

These are an experiment really – the hop twine will surely take the weight of a bean plant (especially if I’ve grown it – my beans are always terrible) but the spacing between each plant may be a challenge; they will jump and spread to the neighbouring twine. One thing is certain though, and that is that this device will last loads longer than the hazel poles.

The new bean poles, tied up and in place

Also this week:
Allotment and garden: Bought 12 beetroot plugs only to discover that there were actually 50+ seedlings in there, so I pricked them out and re-potted the lot. We will have Russian levels of beetroot come September. Planted out peas in a burst of seasonal enthusiasm but the lack of rain means they struggle. In the garden, tulips are in bloom and the alliums are on the cusp of glory.
Cooking and eating: Asparagus; Jersey royals; Smoked salmon and spinach tart; Red gooseberry and almond sponge (using up last year’s fruit); Choc chip cookies.
Also: Visited Morton Hall Gardens & Winterbourne House; got hailed on twice in two days; re-reading Brideshead Revisited.

Chocolate-mint semi-freddo

The sun has re-emerged and out we come, like worker bees. In the past week, overtaken by this new solar energy, I have forked over half the vegetable and flower beds, whilst Matt has hacked away at the brambles in the wilderness. The thick manure mulch that I put down back in November has hardened into a sepia-toned cake, flecked with straw, but once the fork goes in the soil beneath is light, open and moist. I am pleased by the investment of both effort and cash. As we work we are accompanied by a symphony of bird song.

Slowly shifting the earth of the veg patch; peas and broad beans have been planted at the rear
Removing the creeping buttercup in the cut flower bed; see the difference once the top cake of mulch is worked in

It’s slim pickings now, of course, and will be for several more weeks. Had I been more organised I could have been picking tulips and sweet fennel at this time; as it is, I have only just got around to planting out the biennial honesty and sweet fennel that I sowed last spring. Last year’s sweet william are showing no sign of flower; for some reason, biennials behave like triennials in this ground – they take two years to get established and then in year three, we are overtaken by blooms. And speaking of biennials – I am leaving a few parsnips in the ground this year, to see what their flower looks like; as part of the carrot family I have high hopes for a whooper umbellifer.

Last of the 2020 parsnips plus a few surprise baby leeks

I come home with dry hands, grubby nails and a head full of plans. The planting map from a few weeks back has been revised, drawn pedantically to scale by Matt using Google maps as a guide. As ever, I am wondering how I will fit it all in – but we will, as we always do.

Revised plan for 2021 allotment – pedantically drawn to scale by Matt using Google maps

The sudden warmth has transformed our kitchen. Asparagus is on the table a few times a week; there’s the salt-kick of anchovy and olive against the sweet onion of a pissaladiere; proper burgers and pink wine. I’m also thinking about ice cream. Is it too early in the year? Not a bit of it.

This recipe for chocolate mint semi-freddo comes from Rachel Roddy’s wonderful book Two Kitchens, which my friend Annette raved about until I felt duty bound to get a copy of my own. Ordinarily I would be excessively snobby about mint ice cream but this has been a revelation; using really good fresh mint is the key. What you get is a bar of frozen mint cream, chocolate and air: predictably enough, we have come to call this Fake Vienetta, which both over- and under-plays its worth.

Even if you don’t like mint make this anyway, because the semi-freddo base is sensational; just leave out the herbs and flavour with citrus zest, or vanilla, or you could leave the mixture plain but stir in chopped nougat before freezing. It can be served straight from the freezer and manages to be rich, light and creamy at the same time.

This makes a massive bar of semi-freddo, enough to fill a 1kg loaf tin; you could halve the recipe to make it more manageable.

Chocolate-mint semi-freddo
From Two Kitchens by Rachel Roddy

The night before, warm up 500ml double cream with five stems of fresh mint, then transfer the lot to the fridge to steep overnight.

The next day, chop 60g good dark chocolate into a rubble along with a few extra leaves of mint.

Finely chop mint, and reduce the dark chocolate to rubble

Now gather three bowls and an electric whisk.

Separate 4 large eggs, yolks into one bowl and whites into another.

Whisk the egg whites until thick. (If you whisk the whites first you don’t need to wash your beaters as you go along, but work quickly so there’s no risk of egg white collapse).

Strain the flavoured cream into a bowl, remove and discard the herbs. Whisk until thickened.

Add 100g caster sugar to the yolks then whisk until pale and thick – the ribbon stage.

Whisk the egg whites, then the flavoured cream and lastly the egg yolks and sugar

Fold the cream into the egg yolk mixture gently but firmly, then fold in the egg whites – it’s best to do this in two or three stages. Lastly, fold in the chocolate and chopped mint.

Fold into an airy mass then add the chocolate and mint

Line a large (1kg) loaf tin with cling film, ensuring that plenty is left to hang over the sides. Gently tip the semi-freddo into the tin, then fold the clingfilm one the top so that it is entirely covered. Freeze for a good 12 hours until firm.

Freeze in a lined loaf tin until firm, about 12 hours

To serve, slice straight from the freezer. No other accompaniment needed.

Eats straight from the freezer

Also this week:
Sowing and allotment: More broad beans, more peas, sunflowers, and I’ll start the climbing and dwarf beans in the next few days. Direct sowed carrots, parsnips and dill on allotment, and carrots and lettuce at home. Also planting up pots for summer. Dug over much of the flower and veg patches. Planted out broad beans and peas. The first lot of broad beans that we direct sowed a month ago have not come up.
Cooking and eating: Asparagus. Proper burgers. Pissaladiere. Rock cakes and banana flapjack – nursery food, which of course Harry completely rejects. Joy of joy – rose wine!

Sowing the HAs and HHAs

We have three seasons in one weekend, as spring becomes summer becomes winter and then back to spring. March and April are so elemental – any hint of new life is pounced upon with rejoicing (a bee! bud break! bird song!) but the wise know that winter’s cold fingers still have stretch in them. Last week we had sunshine and ice creams, but today there is snow. Still, with Easter, I can feel the sap rising.

Daffodils at Wightwick Manor
Easter baking

It’s a slow start to the spring produce season, perhaps due to lockdown, or maybe it’s Brexit. There is purple sprouting if you know where to look, and very early English strawberries, but the tomatoes are still rubbish (I’d hope for some decent European ones by now). My annual early April pilgrimage to asparagus country – Evesham – did pay dividends however, and as usual, the clutch of suggestive green stems set me back a small fortune.

The annual early April asparagus hunt came up trumps

I’ve spent the last month or so getting back into the horticultural swing of things. Not on the allotment – still too cold – but rather in my ‘potting shed’, the sun room at the back of our house. Over the four springs we have been here I have learnt to refine my system to make the most efficient use of space, heat and light. Instead of sowing everything at once I now move slowly, gradually, starting with the hardiest varieties and responding to what the temperamental spring throws at us.

When I first started the allotment the phrases ‘HA’ and ‘HHA’ on seed packets were just another thing to ignore, but having lost too many French beans to a surprise late frost on our exposed plot, I have finally learnt to pay attention. So I start the sowing season with the toughies such as broad beans and peas, and when they are ready to go into the cold-frame, I start the half-hardies off inside. Then when the hardy baby plants in the cold frame are ready to be planted out, the half-hardy seedlings goes under glass and we sow again with the real softies. And on it goes. At least – that is the plan.

No room for any more seed trays now, hence the new system of timed sowings

Over time I have narrowed down the number of veg I sow, keeping it to the types I can either successfully grow, that we will actually eat or I would feel emotionally bereft without. In contrast the list of flowers for cutting expands and expands. They are a true joy of life that I can no longer do without, and growing them answers my need for nurture, colour, creativity, groundedness, wonder – not to mention the myriad affordability and sustainability issues associated with bought cut flowers. The allotment sowing timetable could, then, be called the Cutting Patch timetable. Which come to think of it means I need to rename the blog too – Notes from the Cutting Patch perhaps. In the meantime, here’s this sowing year’s plan:

The 2021 allotment sowing timetable:

March: Hardy veg and cut-flowers, including sweetpeas, cornflowers, broad beans, peas, kales & chard (plus tomatoes which stay under glass). Once germinated I can put these in the cold frame to make room for….

Early to mid April: Half-hardy annuals, including cosmos, strawflower, zinnia, amaranthus, ammi, cleome, plus courgette. I find that if I start them sooner they get all leggy in the fruitless search for light. I’ll also plant out the first lot of broad beans and peas at this time, which frees up pots for a repeat sowing. Once established the seedlings will go into the coldframe which then creates room for…

Late April to May: Sunflowers, climbing and dwarf beans, cabbages, squash, kohl rabi – the sunlovers and slow-growers, for later summer and autumn pickings. Also the biennials, such as sweet william, sweet rocket and honesty, which will be planted out in the autumn ready for early flowers next spring.

It’s a relief to not start everything at once, like giving oneself permission to take a day off. And in the meantime, there are other projects that are taking up my energies, such as finally sorting out the very back bed of our west-facing garden. Over Easter some bedraggled shrubs were removed, and there’s some remedial work to be done to the fence and retaining wall before I get on with planting. It’s a shady patch, and I’m drawn to the ideas of ever-green ferns and jurassic plants that can be fuel to a young pre-schooler’s dinosaur-loving imagination. Watch this space.

The next project, sorting out the unloved back bed

Also this week:
Sowing and planting: Hardy and half-hardy annuals, as outlined above. Replanted the herbery with new hyssop, mint, thyme, chervil and oregano. Currently planting up summer pots for front and back garden. There are broad beans and peas ready for planting out but the snowy weather will delay matters for a week or so. Garden is filled with narcissus and tulips on the tip of opening, and the forsythia is a golden joy.
Harvesting: Mustard, lettuce and rocket from the veg trug. Not much else.
Cooking and eating: First asparagus of the year, costing a king’s ransom, though purple sprouting is cheap as chips now. Easter biscuits, Easter chocolate cake and hot cross buns, obviously. Lamb kebabs with flatbreads. First bottle of rose wine of the year.
Reading: Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee, and I see for the first time how similar the life captured in this book (1920s rural Cotswolds) is to that of the 1950s Mediterranean peasantry that Patience Gray describes in Honey from a Weed. We’re all the same people, albeit divided by 20 degree celsius.

Chelsea buns

When the world shut down, a year ago this week, I remember going into a retreat of my own making. Home and garden became a sanctuary; I avoided news and social media in an act of self-preservation and focused instead on sowing seeds, being with my family, finding stillness and contentment in the unfolding wonder of spring. Twelve months on I find myself having to do the same thing. Recent events are so deeply distressing, I feel raw. And angry. So do many of my friends.

I do what I can to have a positive impact on the world, both in my professional work and my personal life (for goodness sakes I have even been moved to join the Women’s Equality Party this week), but sometimes it can feel immovable. So this poem, by the writer and thinker L. R. Knost, feels appropriate:

Do not be hardened by the pain and cruelty of this world
Be strong enough to be gentle
To be soft and supple like running water
Gracefully bending around sudden turns
Lithely waving in strong winds
Freely flowing over sharp rocks
All the while quietly sculpting this hard world
Into ever deeper beauty
Gently eroding ridged rock into silken sound
Tenderly transforming human cruelty into human kindness
Remember true strength is found not in the stone 
But in the water that shapes the stone

Meanwhile there is slow progress with the seeds. The sweet peas and broad beans are shoving up their lime green shoots, and I have started sowing the hardy annuals – cornflower, toadflax, honeywort – and a few bush-type tomatoes for the veg trug. It’s all slow and steady, which suits the current mood. I am told by friends in Worcestershire that the blossom there is not only out but almost going over, whilst here, an hour north, the trees are bare. We still wait for daffodils in shady areas. A late spring can feel both a hindrance and a blessing – for although the long winter is hard, when the warmth finally arrives, its presence is doubly appreciated. I distract myself with line drawings of this year’s allotment plan, good intentions of blocks and rows that will inevitably become a jumble when we actually come to plant in May.

The first very rough planting plan for 2021

Onto buns. I was going to write that Lockdown has seen our household become mad about buns but actually, I don’t think the pandemic has anything to do with it….yeasted dough has been a slight obsession since youth. Every few weeks I will make a batch of something or other, Harry and I will snaffle a few, then the rest get bagged in the freezer ready for another day. Once frozen, individual buns can be put straight into our rickety counter-top oven at 150c for a few minutes until they are hot and crisp. Cinnamon buns are my usual, but they can also be simple round fruited buns, Scandi-type twists, apple buns…really I am not fussy.

I first attempted Chelsea buns years ago, only to experience crashing disappointment when they emerged from the oven as solid as rocks. This time around, encouraged by the wonderful fellow bun-obsessive writer Regula Ysewijn, I have success. But there are things to mention.

First, over the years I have realised that the judging criteria of a home-made bun has to be different from the shop bought ones: mine will inevitably be wonkier, stickier and probably a bit heavier (no steam injection ovens in these parts). No matter.

Second, I use the Bertinet method of mixing, working and proving dough. It’s not my place to repeat it all here, but you can look it up at www.thebertinetkitchen.com. In short, the dough begins far wetter than you think it should be. Work it by hand in the right way, and the mess miraculously transforms into dough as pert as a baby’s bottom. I suppose you could use a mixer, but I don’t have one, and in any case I actively enjoy the tactile squelchiness of getting my fingers into dough. Remember to remove any nail varnish first, though, as it will inevitably be ripped off by the dough, which is stickier than a swamp to begin with.

Thirdly, Chelsea buns should never (in my view) be messed about with. There has been a tradition of making Chelsea buns in this country since at least 1711, and as such this is no place for yuzu or chocolate or chilli any of that kind of thing. I want a classic Chelsea of the kind that I sold in Cooks Bakery in the 1990s: they should be square, tightly coiled, studded with more fruit than is perhaps wise, crunchy on top and soft beneath. The trick is to roll the dough as thinly as you can manage, and to ensure the filling is very soft before attempting to spread it on your dough. Finally, be sure to use the correct size tin so that the buns squash together as they rise.

Chelsea buns rolled and proving
Baked, golden and burnished, but also wonky. Such is life.

Chelsea buns
Adapted from Oats in the North Wheat from the South by Regula Ysewijn

Makes 12 buns, using a 39x27cm tin

For the buns:
500g strong white flour
5g fine salt
15g dried yeast
60g caster sugar
300ml milk
70g unsalted butter
1 egg

For the filling:
225g unsalted butter, very soft
145g caster sugar
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
175g currants or raisins

For the sugar syrup:
30g granulated sugar
3 tbsp water
caster sugar, for sprinkling

For the buns, gently warm the butter with the milk until it is melted. Cool a little – it should feel simply wet when you touch it, not hot or cold. Place the salt in the bottom of a large bowl, then put the flour and sugar on top, then yeast in last. Stir to combine using a plastic scraper. Whisk the egg into the milk, add to the flour, then combine using your scraper to a sticky mess. Tip the lot onto a work surface, then work with your hands until it comes together into a springy, worked dough – about 5 to 10 minutes. Do not add extra flour. This video explains the Bertinet technique of working dough. When it is ready, put the dough back into a bowl, cover with a tea towel, then leave to prove in a warm place for at least one hour, until puffed and roughly doubled in size.

In the meantime, prepare the filling by mixing together the butter, sugar and cinnamon until it is very soft and whipped.

When the dough is ready, preheat the oven to 200c and line a roasting tray or baking tin with greaseproof paper.

When the dough is ready, lightly flour your work surface. Gently encourage the dough out of its bowl, and ease it out onto the surface using your finger tips. Do not punch it; treat it firmly but gently. Roll out the dough to a rectangle that is about 2mm thick – basically, as thin as possible. It should be facing you horizontally, with the long edge facing you.

Smear the top half of the dough with a third of the filling, then fold the bottom half over the filling. Roll it again to flatten it out.

Smear the remaining filling over the dough, dot with the dried fruit, then roll up lengthways to make a long roll. Ease and firm it together with your hands so that it is roughly the same size all the way along.

Cut evenly into 12 slices, then place cut-size up in your tray. There should be a small space between each bun. Leave to prove for another 15 minutes or so.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown and fully cooked through.

Whilst the buns are baking, make a syrup by gently melting the sugar into the water then bubbling until this and sticky (do not stir else it will crystallise). When the buns are cooked, immediately brush with the syrup and sprinkle lightly with caster sugar.

Cool before eating. Best eaten on the day they are made, so freeze any leftovers then reheat in a warm oven before eating.

The joy is in ripping apart each sticky caramelised layer

Also this week:
Sowing: Starting the hardy annuals, so toadflax, honeywort, cerinthe, cornflowers, plus tomatoes.
Harvesting, cooking and eating: Last of the cavolo nero and pentland brig kale, salads from the veg trug. Cooking Viennese fingers; Italian sausage rolls spiked with chilli, fennel and oregano; egg fried rice with fat prawns bought in bulk from the Chinese supermarket.

The seed list, 2021

I’m still struggling to break through the chill factor. I see people walk past our window wearing cute little canvas trainers, cropped trousers, no socks, and I am staggered at their bravery. Do people just not feel the cold?! For whilst the days might be lengthening (there’s now a dim silvery light at our daily 6.25am wake-up, which is preferable to pitch black) the wind penetrates to the bone. After a trip to the park it takes a good thirty minutes to defrost. On Instagram I see people sowing their seeds, berating themselves for being late, but I think, hold on, slow it down, winter’s not through with us just yet.

In the kitchen, a few feta-stewn salads are making their way into the late winter/early spring repertoire, but for everyone of those I make there’s still at least three items of stodge. Chelsea buns, crisply caramelised around their swirly square tops, and rhubarb crumble cake are sustenance for the winter body and the Lockdown mind.

Chelsea buns
Rhubarb crumble cake

Meanwhile thoughts have turned to the garden and allotment. The buds on the hydrangea seem to fatten in time with the government’s promise of lockdown easing – we’re nearly there, nearly there, but not quite yet. Until the weather turns, we have to be patient. And instead, do some planning: What can fill that tricky area of dry shade at the back (I’m trying out some ferns)? What can we add to the front garden to make it look slightly more loved (answer, persicaria and erigeron daisies)? Have any of the perennials made it through? Already I see bronze fennel shoving its feathery fronds up through the mulch, and there’s hints of the nepeta returning, but of course it’s too early to say. I’m distracted by pictures of staggeringly expensive shallow bowls of muscari flogged by posh florists and buy up a pack of bulbs for a fiver, so that Harry and I can make our own.

Potting up muscari bulbs

One thing that I HAVE decided this March is that starting off annuals in October then over-wintering them is a total waste of effort and money. Last autumn I started broad beans, sweet peas, cosmos, delphinium, lace flower and ammi, leaving them in the cold frame or a window sill over the winter, and only the sweet peas have made it through. (To be fair to the broad beans, they would have been OK but the slugs got them.) The rest are a complete, abject failure. I think it was the lack of light in our overlooked terrace that got them, so until I have the glasshouse of my dreams, I won’t bother again.

The sum total of attempting to sow annuals in autumn. Lesson: don’t bother unless you have a light-filled greenhouse.

Yesterday we prepared the sun room for its spring-time temporary role as a propagation centre. Out went the bags of plaster and cement (hurray) and in came the dinky wobbly tables, the heat mat and the cobweb-matted pots and trays from the shed. I’ll hold off sowing most of my seeds for a few weeks yet but the broad beans and sweet peas should be OK if I begin a few trays now. It feels good to be starting again: to paraphrase Vita Sackville West, to plant something is an act of hope.

The sowing room is set up and ready for action

Planning is key. I prefer to sow undercover and then transplant to the allotment, but I am mindful that we’re seriously limited on space for pots and trays. As if to remind myself of what to do and when to do it, I’ve listed all the seeds that I have accumulated for this year’s planting, noting when they need to be started off, so that I can have some kind of sowing plan. Then at some point in the next week or so I’ll draw up a plan of where they will all be planted on the allotment. There’s lots of old stalwarts in here but also a few new additions for 2021: flower sprouts, a lovely ugly bumpy yellow courgette, toadflax, scabious and honeywort. For those who like such things I list the seed list for 2021 here:

Edibles                                 
Broad bean – Aquadulce
Basil – Bush
Basil – Thai
Lettuce – Alpine mix
Lettuce – Salad bowl
Lettuce – Oakleaf
Lettuce – Merveille de quatre saisons
Rocket – Apollo
Carrots – Touchon
Courgette – Rugosa Friulana
Courgette – Genovese
Kale – Pentland brig
Kale – Cavolo nero
Pea – Blauwschokker
Flower sprouts               
Tomato – Red cherry
Parsnip – Dugi Bijeli
Spinach -Perpetual
Watercress                      
Chard – bionda di lione
Chard – Bright lights
Borlotti – Lingua di Fuoco
Climbing french bean – Anna
Climbing french bean – Cosse violette
Climbing french bean – Cobra
Dwarf French bean – Rocquencourt
Dwarf French bean – Vanguard
Dwarf French bean – Tendercrop
Runner bean – Scarlet empire
Pumpkin – Jill be little
Squash – Hokkaido
Squash – Golden butternut
Chicory – Variagata di Castelfranco
Kohl rabi – Vienna blanco
Cabbage – Savoy
Plus already in the ground: Blueberry, raspberry, redcurrant, blackcurrant, strawberries, oregano, sage, rosemary.

Flowers for cutting                             
Sweet pea – Lady salisbury
Sweet pea – Mixed selection
Sweet pea – Elegant ladies
Sweet pea – Almost black
Dill                                    
Strawflower – Mixed
Strawflower – Salmon rose
Cornflower – Classic magic
Cornflower – Double blue
Cornflower – White
Cosmos – Dazzler
Cosmos – Purity
Cosmos – Velouette
Cosmos – Pied piper blush white
Amaranthus – Red army
Calendula – Nova
Calendula – Indian Prince 
Honeywort – Purpurascens
Scabiosa – Tall double mix
Toadflax – Licilia Violet
Delphinium – White king
Delphinium – Blue spire
Sunflower – Red sun
Sunflower – Oriental mix
Sunflower – Magic roundabout
Nigella – Persian jewels
Cleome – Colour fountain
Ammi visnaga – White
Zinnia – Early wonder
Digitalis – Suttons apricot
Sweet rocket                   
Verbena bonariensis    
Honesty                            
Echinacea                        
Sweet william                
Achillea – Cerise queen
Achillea – yellow

Plus already in the ground: Foxgloves (self-sown then transplanted into rows), dahlia (about 8-10 varieties), teasels, sweet william, lavender, allium, chrysanthemum.

So now we wait, hoping for the mercury to rise and lockdown to end. And in the meantime, there’s rhubarb cake to be had.

Also this week:
Allotment/Garden: Matt removed the big blackberry from the raspberry patch using all kinds of hacking equipment. Prepped the sun room for seed sowing. Started off broad beans and sweet peas.
Harvesting: PSB, pentland brig kale, cavolo nero, rosemary.
Cooking & eating: Rhubarb crumble cake with Herefordshire forced rhubarb found in Aldi; chelsea buns; I’ve got skilled at making dinners in the morning that can be easily finished or reheated in 5 minutes after Harry’s in bed….sausage and fennel pasta bake; stir fried pork noodles; chocolate pear pudding, that kind of thing.
Reading: The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, such a relief to read an intelligent book that isn’t weighted with identity politics / genocide / disease / disaster after my reading materials for the last few months. Watching This Country on iPlayer, which is deliciously observant of real life in the sticks.