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Going back in time

14 MAY 2020

As the weeks pass of lockdown, I have increasingly began to feel like I am the head gardener (in my case the only gardener) of an estate from more than a hundred years ago. This might be because of my admiration for the books of Harry Dodson. Sadly, no longer with us, Harry was one of the last people to remember working in the big gardening estates, using traditional methods. He was then featured in the wonderful BBC series ‘The Victorian Kitchen Garden’, in the 1980’s, which I remember watching avidly. After caring for my dad and aunt, my main job is running this beautiful garden and now I can devote all of my remaining time to this job (still not enough), ideally if it was 100 years ago I would probably have a team of 3 or 4 under-gardeners, just for the kitchen garden! In order to compensate for lack of man/woman power I try to be organised and have a timetable for what needs doing and plan my day accordingly. The things that perpetuate this impression of times past, in my mind is the increasing need/desire to produce food for the table. There are eight of us here, eating three meals a day, and lunch and dinner in particular have become main events in the day. Meave often prepares lunch, because it breaks up her ‘working from home day’ and she is becoming quite inventive with these meals because she wants us to eat well and healthily. Therefore, she will come out to me in the garden and say, “have you got this, this, and this Mum?”. Today it was spinach, fresh garlic, mint, parsley and coriander. I replied, “Yes, I’ve got everything except coriander”, (the coriander are still tiny seedlings) although now I think about it there might be some larger self seeded coriander in the beds I haven’t weeded yet.



Tonight’s dinner, with me cooking was a large quiche with spinach, peas, fresh onions, garlic and bacon accompanied by baked potatoes (not ours yet) and green salad – lettuces are still going strong!

On the subject of garlic, which I have accidentally grown twice as much of than usual – to explain, I grow autumn and spring sown garlic, but I ordered quite a few ‘sowing garlics’, in the spring that I had already grown in the Autumn! Some of the Extra Early Wight is showing signs of going to flower, so we are digging out the whole plant and using most of the plant including the green stem in cooking and salads. I am doing the same with any Autumn onions threatening to flower, I am determined not to waste anything! I now have two of Harry’s books by my chair in the polytunnel, and I am relying heavily on his advice, when it comes to mushrooms for example.

The last well rotted manure arrived today and Diane, Patrick and James barrowed it to the mushroom house, so planting the spawn can now begin. The section next to the mushrooms in Harry’s book was about blanching cardoons to prepare the stems for eating later in the year. I have never properly tried to eat the cardoons in the past, apparently they have always been a more popular vegetable in France – well this might be the year to try them! Today’s work started with cutting back the cardoons whose magnificent growth is already blocking the narrow vegetable garden paths. I always stake them (they grow much taller than me) but Harry recommends tying their leaves together, prior to blanching, I will try this. On the way to the cardoons, I spend a few moments training the climbing roses on the arches. The majority of the day was spent clearing last years’ kale bed (next door to the cardoons). This bed already has its edges planted with poppies and a few calendula as companion planting. I then start on weeding a big bed which grew cabbages last year. This is a tricky bed, because I am trying to avoid pulling up the self seeded Californian poppies whose brilliant orange flowers are so striking at this time of year. I finish the day transplanting some seedlings in the polytunnel.

Unfortunately, Patrick has had to stay in his office for a few days, but I’m glad to see he has escaped by mid afternoon and he is laying slabs on his new path, assisted by Diane and James. He also fits in a table tennis game with Diane on the newly repaired table which is great, until Meave and Aideen lose our only ball in the brambles and nettles! Luckily we have ordered some more, thank goodness for Amazon!

Diane is determined that we walk up to the road this evening to ‘clap for carers’ – she wants to see the people outside their houses, which normally we can only hear from our garden a quarter of a mile away down the track. Sadly, I only make it as far as the church because I am followed by Pip and Minxy (two of our cats) who are equally determined not to let me out of their sight! I am frightened of them going too close to the road so I lead them back home, clapping as I go back past the graveyard, with Aideen assisting me to herd them safely home.

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