I started today by making pumpkin soup. I spotted a recipe in one of my beautiful giant cookery books, ‘The Heritage of French Cooking’ by the Scotto Sisters and Annie Hubert – Bare, first published in 1991. This is a fabulous book which explores the history of French cooking and it is not only full of fascinating recipes, but also packed with photos of beautiful paintings. I bought it years ago in a charity shop for £2.99! The recipe for ‘Potage à la citrouille’ was taken from ‘La Maison Rustique’ published in the first half of the C17th, about the same time as our Arcaded wall was built!
I used the last of our Halloween pumpkins to make this soup – a Connecticut Field – which was just starting to rot. These pumpkins are harder to ‘keep’ when the weather gets cold. I did modify the recipe slightly because this type of pumpkin is quite bland unless you roast it first. The soup was basically a cream of pumpkin soup and was originally created to utilise pumpkins, that were by that time, quite widely grown in Britain, having been brought from the New World in the C16th. Pumpkins arrived considerably before potatoes and tomatoes.
The weather was very bright and sunny today, although, after a heavy morning frost, the temperature remained cold. I spent the next few hours in the polytunnel, which was delightfully warm, accompanied by Tig and Pip sunbathing on opposite ends of the growing bench (they don’t get on!). I definitely think the refurbished tunnel, with its double skinned polycarbonate plastic, is warmer than the old polythene tunnel.
First, I finished planting out the remaining winter salad seedlings in the side bed. These included flat leaved parsley, dill, Chinese mixed salads, Chinese Kale, another 4 varieties of Kale, broccoli and four cabbages. When I had finished, the entire side bed was full. I then potted up some tender bedding plants, like geraniums, that I had removed from outside containers and were lying in a tray awaiting attention.
Then it was time to come in for a late (as usual) lunch of pumpkin soup with bread and cheese. The soup was very nice with a delicate creamy flavour and did a good job at warming everyone up.
Tonight we have another Zoom talk so it will be lovely to see the faces of old friends and some faces of garden enthusiasts who hopefully we might get to meet in person this year!
I wake up today feeling quite anxious. This is a shame because the Zoom talk last night was lovely, it was really nice to have the opportunity to see familiar faces and have a bit of a chat. However, unfortunately, I had to get up to see grandad at 2am – being called over in the night is quite common at the moment and it made me think. What would I do if I caught the virus, who would look after Grandad? I think all the frightening news reports are beginning to get to me. It wasn’t a brilliant day for working outside, but then I had a brainwave…seeds!
At the start of the year the first job to do is the seed order. I decided that would be a very good way to distract myself from depressing thoughts. My annual seed order is a major event…I plant a lot of seeds!
Out come the seed packet boxes, one very large box for vegetable seeds and a slightly small one for flower seeds, all the seeds are stored in alphabetical order. Each vegetable will have quite a number of different varieties and these are held together with a rubber band. I check the packs to see what has run out or gone too far ‘out of date’, and I look through the catalogues for new interesting varieties and sometimes completely new vegetables. For example, this year I am ordering three varieties of patty pan and some asparagus peas. I am mainly ordering from the ‘Organic Catalogue’ and ‘Fothergills’ but also a few things from ‘Marshalls’. I will also be ordering onion and shallot sets, and seed potatoes.
The whole process took all day and that was just the vegetables! I will do the flowers tomorrow! I always start off thinking…”I’ve got loads of seeds, I will barely need anything”, but then I start looking at the catalogues and I remember vegetables that didn’t do so well last season, so maybe a different variety would be better…or maybe…we ate all of that particular vegetables, perhaps I should grow more!
It certainly helped to distract me from my worries…as usual all things horticultural are very therapeutic! Tonight’s dinner involves two tray bakes…sausages on a bed of celery, garlic, red onion and fennel seeds, surrounded by tomatoes, and chicken thighs coated in a chilli, garlic, mango chutney sauce, surrounded by red onion, peppers, mushrooms, carrots and more garlic! The above is accompanied by baked potatoes.
Another reason to be cheerful is my Niwaki snips which I used for the first time yesterday. They are incredible, I’ve never used anything that cuts so beautifully, even the little catch that holds the handles together…sheer poetry!
This morning, I spent a bit of time looking at one of my new Christmas books, ‘Sissinghurst’ by Tim Richardson and I made an interesting discovery. Or at least, I was reminded of a half remembered fact…Sissinghurst has a nuttery, of cobnuts!
Sissinghurst is famous for it’s ‘White Garden’ but what I didn’t know was once upon a time, it was famous for it’s nuttery. Sissinghurst was transformed by the writer, Vita Sackville – West and diplomat, Harold Nicolson from 1930’s-1960’s and is one of the most iconic gardens in the world. In the 1930’s, Vita had an idea to create a ‘Persian Carpet’ of multi-coloured polyanthus and primroses, planted in rough grass below the hazels in the nuttery, to flower from early April to the second week of May. This was one of the few features to be directly inspired by Gertrude Jekyll, who Vita had visited with her mother in 1917 at Munstead wood. Jekyll had made a multi-coloured primrose garden shaded by a nut walk. Vita’s Persian Carpet became one of the most celebrated features of Sissinghurst and one of the main reasons to visit the gardens in the 1950’s. Sadly, the polyanthus sickened in the 60’s and finally, they were removed in 1974. Having read this, I was determined to find a photo of this famous feature which I eventually discovered in one of my original gardening books, ‘Vita’s Other World’, by Jane Brown. It was obviously an old photo but it was in colour and it was a truly astonishing display. I then started to search through my Gertrude Jekyll books and found some black and white photos of her primrose garden at Munstead Wood. By this time, I was feeling very excited by the idea of trying something similar at Church Gardens. The only problem will be producing sufficient polyanthus. I persuade James to look up the cheapest source of polyanthus seed and by the end of the day, an order for 6400 seeds of various varieties was placed. Now I just need to succeed in germinating them and find enough space in the garden to grow them on…
It was a really bright day today, so I went out into the kitchen garden to prepare a bed to plant out the peas. First, I gave it a rough weed, which was mainly pulling out borage and I trimmed back the verbena around the edge, which is part of the perennial companion planting. I then took out six buckets of spent mushroom compost from the mushroom house and spread it on the bed…quite interesting as I had to do this in the dark, (the light in the mushroom house has stopped working) scooping the compost into buckets with my hands. Finally, I removed cornflowers, which have seeded themselves elsewhere in the vegetable garden to add to the companion planting.
By this time, light was fading and I emptied the big green barrow and headed inside. Tonight I’m making a large quiche with bacon, mushroom and broccoli, with warm potato salad and a large mixed salad using our own tomato and a garlic/honey dressing with our own honey. I’m sure all that garlic and honey will be good for everybody!