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Twinkle Toes

*** On the 7th January (Thursday) I am giving another Zoom broadcast of our talk, ‘Church Gardens, A Family’s Restoration Journey’. If anyone who has already enjoyed the talk, knows of people who might be interested in hearing about the garden, we would be very grateful if you could pass on the details. Thank you everyone for the support and encouragement that you give us in these difficult times.***


30/12/2020

I had a mishap last night. When I got up in the night, I stubbed my toes on one of the random book shelves that had been left alongside our bed. I am very clumsy, with poor spatial awareness at the best of times, but when I am sleepy, in the dark, minus glasses, I am a complete liability. My toes were very sore but I ignored them and returned to bed. This morning, it was clear that my second toe is not ok, it is very bruised and extremely painful to move. I suspect it is broken because I am quite a expert on broken toes, having experienced them quite a few times before. Maybe I’ve got fragile toes and a toe is very vulnerable when attached to a clumsy human. Well I’ve never broken this toe before, so it has novelty value and I’m sure I can suffer a bit of discomfort if it means a decorated bedroom! I strap the injured toe to my big toe and hobble to see grandad! This does rather disrupt my gardening plans but I certainly don’t intend to stay inside for long. I compromise by going to dig up leeks and collect butternut squash for the family’s favourite soup, which I make for lunch.



Today, Aideen received the new business card/compliment cards that she has designed for Church Gardens, these look very professional and will go out with any items sold from the website shop or Etsy, which at the moment, only includes her pressed flower art and the guide books.

One of the huge benefits of all the Church Gardens DIY and therefore, increase in bookshelves, has been that some of my books that were previously difficult to access are now in more convenient spots. This includes my giant cookery books. I have quite a few beautiful, oversized books and several of them are cookery books. They were probably originally devised as ‘coffee table’ books and I’ve acquired them in charity shops over the years, some are quite old and magnificent. I can now sit in my kitchen chair and look at them whilst waiting for something to cook or boil.


Today I was looking at ‘Provence Harvest’, by Louisa Jones, which is a gorgeous book and reminds me of the main ideas that underpin my Kitchen Gardening ethos. French potagers are a fantastic mixture of delicious fruit and vegetables combined with flowers and herbs.


Probably one of my first gardening books that I acquired and gained huge inspiration from was ‘The Art of French Vegetable Gardening’, published in 1995. I took this book out of the shelves to note its details for this blog and discovered by an amazing coincidence, it was written by the same author as ‘Provence Harvest’…Louisa Jones. I hadn’t realised this previously. How many books have a chapter entitled ‘Romantic Vegetable Gardening’! The book alludes to the two opposing styles of gardening in France, ‘Classical’ (more formal and tidy, and ‘Romantic’ (more spontaneous and luxuriant). The writer and famous gardener, Colette, started her garden in Saint-Tropez in 1927, determined to have an ‘exuberant intermingling of vegetables and flowers, vistas and tumbling roses. “No geometry”, she insisted, no even rows!’. However, after Colette had experienced a season of gardening with her old “horticultural gardener”, she comes to understand what she considers to be ‘formal gardening’, is simply a means of attempting, year after year, to come to terms with nature in the most tentative manner, and she is then quoted as saying “The ancient wisdom is not abstract and theoretical, but results from generations of experience”. I feel there is a sensible compromise between the two styles. It is necessary to plan and organise a vegetable garden to get maximum production but the vegetables benefit from their floral companions and the earth is happier if it is covered. Therefore, this is the route I follow which is best described as ‘organised confusion’…thinking about this, I could probably apply that description to most of my life!


New Years Eve


31/12/2020

After feeding the chicken this morning, I had a sudden impulse to check the crocus terrace. This was mainly to see if they are beginning to put up shoots. Crocus need a cold spell to prompt growth and it has certainly been colder in recent days. Even at this time, there was still quite a heavy frost evident on the earth. First, I noticed our snowdrops putting up some very healthy growth at the start of the terrace, but then I noticed a most unwelcome sight. It was an unearthed, large, crocus bulb lying on its side. As I looked around, I could see several more bulbs in the same vulnerable position. These were mainly the large ‘Jeanne D’Arc’ and ‘Yellow’ crocus bulbs, this is particularly frustrating as we did not have as many of these more ‘showy’ specimens. The bulbs had strong shoots and a healthy root system and did not appear damaged, just pulled out of the soil. Although, there were holes in evidence, so our culprits could be squirrels. However, I suspect the more likely suspect are birds, either pigeons or crows, both of which I’ve seen hopping about on the terrace in the early mornings. I attempt to push a bulb back into the soil and realise I need to be better equipped, so I head to the polytunnel to collect my long trowel/weeder, some gloves and a kneeler. The more I look, the more I see stranded bulbs on the earth’s surface and I realise that a rescue mission is required.

The difficulty, especially for clumsy me with my broken toe, is that I am dealing with a steep terrace, varying in depth from 5-7 metres and the earth is hard with slippery frost! I realise I need to be careful as I start to inch my kneeler gingerly down the slope to reach some of my poor little bulbs. I feel a bit like someone having to make their way down a cliff to rescue somebody on a ledge! I fear at any moment, with my track history, I will slip and roll down the slope. Being frozen, the soil is also not in an ideal state for planting, but luckily, it is reasonably soft below the surface. I scrutinise the whole terrace from the top to bottom and probably replant at least 30 bulbs. Not many in proportion to the 21,000 originally planted but still important to me. I manage my rescue operation unscathed, but I will have to monitor the terrace from now on.

Later on in the day, I go to dig up leeks and collect butternut squash…this may sound like ‘groundhog day’ as I brought in the same vegetables yesterday. However, for whatever reason, probably ‘Covid’ related, it is not easy to get a ‘click and collect’ slot at Waitrose and the earliest slot is Saturday. Our last supermarket was a week before Christmas and we are running low on provisions, our household of 7 adults eats a lot! Therefore, I’m needing to be a little creative, besides, I need to use up my leeks before they are totally destroyed by leek mining beetle!


Tonight, I’ve decided to make my butternut squash lasagne with the potato dauphinoise base and I will include some layers of spinach leaves. I have decided to serve it with ‘Goat’s cheese, onion and potato’ Bread. When Patrick made my new shelves in the kitchen, he included a little cupboard at the bottom for my recipe collection, saved from magazines or the little free booklets you get in newspapers. Very precious, but rather messy looking. It includes space for a red box file that I filled whilst still living in Uxbridge. Whilst investigating this treasure trove of recipes, I found a Comic Relief booklet, ‘Delia’s Red Nose Collection’, Circa 1997, which contained 12 new five minute recipes which includes the ‘goat’s cheese, onion and potato’ bread which sounded delicious and it is made without yeast. I will let everyone know tomorrow if it lives up to its description!


New Years Day


1/1/2021

After a very muted New Year’s Eve, everyone is looking forward to a better New Year! The temperature has risen slightly but in the morning, there was a brief fall of snow. This was noted by Bella who barked at the snow.



We continue to progress inside, making the most of Patrick being off work. Poor Patrick, he will be glad to go back to work for a rest! He continues to finish off the shelves around the bed whilst Diane paints them. I join in trying to remove the large amounts of stuff that has been stacked on top of our wardrobes. Somehow, I manage to find places to store it until it can be settled in its final home. We will not know ourselves if we manage to sort out this room and it is certainly a worthy ambition for 2021.

Before it gets dark, I go out into the kitchen garden to collect more leeks. Tonight, I will use them in a giant quiche, probably with bacon, spinach, mushrooms and peas. I will make a tomato, feta, olive and red onion salad and maybe fried potatoes cooked in turkey dripping. The bread from last night’s dinner was a success, even with Aideen, who doesn’t like goats cheese, but the recipe may need a few tweaks.


Chilli Disaster!


2/1/2021 Today started so well…it was bright, sunny and not especially cold. Having listened to the weather forecast which had warnings of an imminent ‘beast from the East’, we decided to concentrate on the garden. It was so brilliant to be back outside, the combination of Christmas, New Year, DIY and a possibly broken toe, has kept me inside for more than a week. ‘Inside’ is not my natural habitat which is probably why I have a nice garden and an unfinished house and Patrick is even worse than me!

I start by bringing in all the tomatoes that were sitting on the polytunnel bench and all the chillies that had been left on the plants to ripen. It would not be OK to leave them out because if it becomes too cold, the fruit would be destroyed.

The girls take down the pool – a job that has been put off for months and clean it with a hose. Then Patrick organises moving all the old lawn mowers and picnic benches and then they are all covered with a tarpaulin to protect them from the rain.

I set about planting out all of the remaining forest garden plants that were waiting in their pots in the back garden. I think they will be safer in the ground than in their pots if the temperatures become too low.

It is hard to describe how lovely it was to be outside with the earth on my hands. I do really, really want my house to be decorated but a lot of time has to be concentrated on the job and it is so hard to take that time away from the garden. Fortunately, Diane, who is between jobs (a victim of a Covid redundancy) is happy spending this time indoors decorating. This is a once in a life time opportunity for us to have a ‘live in’ decorator for a few months. Diane is an excellent interior designer with very high standards and has an excellent nagging technique to motivate her dad to do DIY in the house! She will receive every encouragement from me, plus assistance from Patrick, building the necessary shelves, wardrobes etc.

I will attempt to describe the plants that went into the bed today, as they may be unfamiliar or their purpose mystifying. The theory behind forest gardening is to create a perennial food forest, that with minimal intervention will provide fruit, leaves, herbs, spices and other benefits such as providing pollinators or a useful product.


I planted…

1. Potentilla Fruticosa - very good for bees

2. Chaste Tree - fruits and seeds are a pepper substitute

3. Drimys winterii (Winters Bark), aromatic bark - used as a peppery spice

4. Mountain Pepper - fruits used as pepper

5. Solomans seal - great edible shoots in Spring, cooked like asparagus, sweet and delicious

6. Swiss, Chocolate and Black Peppermints - all make excellent tea

7. Spoonwort - peppery leaves, high in Vitamin C

8. Marshmallow – medicinal, leaves and roots cooked as veg and used to make marshmallow sweets

9. Creeping Dogwood - small edible fruits

10. Sumach - edible and medicinal

11. Ground cover Raspberries and Japanese Wineberries - edible fruit

12. Arctic Kiwi - edible fruit

13. Black Goji – edible fruit

Gautheria - edible fruit and aspirin type compound

14. Autumn Olive - edible fruit

15. Pineapple Guava – delicious fruit

16. Daisy bushes - for bees

17 & 18 - There was also a Burnt Jelly plant and Wild Ginger.


Having planted all of the above, I planted two replacement yew in the yew hedge (behind the central borders) where we have gaps.


I then headed inside to make a late lunch of quiche, with warm potato salad and a crisp red cabbage, apple, red onion and beetroot salad.




After lunch, I attempted to make chilli jam and that’s when the trouble began. First, I had to de-seed the chillies…a long unpleasant job, for which I wore my visor and surgical gloves…but it got worse. I then mixed my chopped up chillies with grated ginger, lots of malt vinegar, light brown sugar and tomato puree, I WAS following a recipe! I then left it to simmer with regular stirring. After some considerable time, I decided to turn up the heat because there was no sign of the jam thickening. By this time, the fumes from the chillies and vinegar were choking the entire household! I left the pan for a little while and by the time I returned, I had a bubbling, black, choking, glutinous, ‘evil looking’ brew! I make a vague attempt to put some in a jar, then thought better of it, I didn’t want to kill anybody! I then had to salvage my beautiful pan which now had a burnt black bottom! James looked up a cleaning remedy on his phone and we boiled baking soda in water, in the pan and with some elbow grease from James, the pan was saved, thank you James! What a waste of time and effort…I think I’ll stick to chilli powder in future!

Recycling


3/1/2021

The downstairs of the house still smells strongly of chillies! Today is a beautiful day, sunny and quite warm, giving humans and animals a false sense of security before the really cold weather blows in. I would like to be outside but the really ‘pressing’ jobs (planting out the forest garden plants) are done and I am needed inside.

Today, Patrick wants to start on the double wardrobe that he intends to build into the corner of our bedroom. I am up bright and early removing the remaining books and old shelves that are in his way. This is a very tricky room to work in because so much stuff has accumulated in it over the years. My job is to sort out the detritus, either to find somewhere for it to be stored or to take it away for some form of recycling.

Recycling is an ongoing process at Church Gardens. Three small shelf units, all originally recycled from somewhere else, go out into the polytunnel to slot under the bench to improve organisation in the tunnel. Two larger units wait downstairs to be repurposed (at least temporarily) up in the loft room to help Aideen with the storage of her craft materials. The final piece of shelving goes out into Patricks workshop. The new wardrobe (under construction), utilises two small drawer units which have come in from the workshop. We are on an endless merry-go-round of recycling! All wardrobes that Patrick builds incorporate a set of drawers salvaged from other furniture and it works very well! Our existing bedroom furniture (including two old wardrobes) came with us from Bridge Road, where we had inherited it from the previous tenant, and now we will store it until Meave can use it when she manages to buy a house! There were also beautiful brocade curtains when we moved into Bridge Road in 1988 which I have saved and I intend to alter them to fit our present bedroom windows, perhaps using the surplus material to make a quilt. Patrick, assisted by Diane, works incredibly hard all day and makes tremendous progress. It reminds me of a house makeover TV programme, it will be a similar transformation. From rubbish tip, to calm, serene, book-filled paradise! I spend a lot of the day sorting out books and transporting them around the house, which includes gathering up all of Patricks books and organising the on his side of the bed…maybe he might even have time to read them! He certainly deserves some time off!


Surprise Potatoes!


4/1/2021

Unfortunately, today started very early with Grandad pressing his buzzer before 6:30am…he wanted to make a phone-call, tricky as he doesn’t have a phone. After gently reminding him of this fact, he agreed it would be best to go back to sleep.

I’ve decided to go back outside today or at least back into the polytunnel. The weather isn’t very nice, cold and drizzly but that is not an issue in my lovely polytunnel.

My intention is to start with some tidying up under the side bench in order to insert my three, small, salvaged shelf units.



I start under the propagator, beside the front door, where I made a surprising discovery. When I pull everything out and remove some compost bags, I find a pile of red potatoes lying on the soil surface! I had been aware of a very healthy potato plant growing up behind my work bench and propagator during the summer months. I didn’t take much notice because this corner is already inhabited by an ancient grape vine. This is one of two vines which were the only proper plants surviving in the Kitchen Garden undergrowth when we moved in. we ended up building the polytunnel around one of the vines and it has lived, and thrived, in less than ideal conditions under the bench ever since. It is very vigorous and I just cut bits off that get too ‘out of hand’. This year it was joined by a potato plant, presumably grown from a stray potato that fell under the bench. I had completely forgotten about it until I removed the compost bags and found a decent pile of good sized potatoes…enough to fill a large bowl. They will provide an unexpected addition to one of this week’s dinners.

The shelves fit in very well and it helps to tidy up all the gardening paraphernalia that lives under the bench…root trainers, module trays, pots, wooden labels, trays and …. string!

After my ‘spring cleaning’, I decide to clear the side bed of any dead and finishing plants (aubergines, pepper, basil and chillies) in preparation for planting the Winter salads and greens. Before finishing for the day, I manage to plant out a tray of lettuce and a tray of spinach. Hopefully, it won’t get too cold for these little plants that were sown in the Autumn and they will soon (hopefully) provide us with a source of fresh salad.



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