Ground breaking parsnips

Parsnips are not usually thought of as ground breaking vegetables in any sense of the word; but these may be.

DSCN6795 where grown

I scattered a few parsnip seeds, with flowers and herbs in a bed (above) and this monster (below) is one of the products of that scattering.

DSCN6792 parsnip

The soil it was growing in is very hard clay with stones in.  It is difficult to get a trowel or fork into (I have not tried with a spade).  But this lovely parsnip has forged a path deep into the soil and it was relatively easy to gently lever it out with a garden fork.  The old adage is that potatoes are good to break up ground and I would definitely add both carrots (from past experience) and parsnips to this list.

I trimmed the leaves and cut off the top couple of centimetres.  This part was replanted and mulched with the leaves.  I will wait to see if it will continue to grow and hopefully flower next year to give me seed for the year afterwards.

DSCN6796 top cut off


DSCN6798 replanted


DSCN6799 mulched with leaves

Together with courgettes and wild kale leaves from our garden and beetroot and apple from the neighbours it will form part of tonight’s meal – wild salmon (not caught by us), roasted vegetables and greens.


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Catalysis – my new blog

I have started a new blog called ‘catalysis’ which is about looking positively towards the future and can be found here.

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With kindness and care

We are at the end of summer, heading in to autumn and it feels a bit in-between-ish in the garden today.  Too early to harvest my perennial root vegetables, too soon to do much tidying up (not that I ever do a lot of that), but a lovely mellow feeling nonetheless.

I had a couple of hours to spare, which is rare, and went in to the garden to see what needed doing.  I spent some time picking my way carefully along a couple of beds cutting back and taking out plants no longer needed.  In the gaps that were created I sowed various seeds to tide the garden over until next spring – field beans, forage peas and a green manure mix including clover, rye grass and mustard.

Because many of my plants are perennial and those that are not are always left in while they have a function to perform I never clear a bed or border in the traditional manner of gardeners.  This means that to some extent I am always picking my way carefully between plants doing the minimum of intervention.  The down side of this is that it can be seen as being a bit fiddly, but today I decided to think of it as treating the garden with kindness and care.

As an example here are some photos from the border that has been home to what I called the ‘fennel and carrot forest’ this summer.  As well as the aforementioned I grew earth nut pea (lathyrus tuberosus) and I am collecting seed as it matures which is entwined with the carrot and fennel plants.

DSCN6725 enp seeds 2up close

DSCN6726 enp seeds contextand further out.

I carefully (and kindly) cut out the seed heads I wanted leaving the carrot and fennel plants in tact for the time being with the earth nut peas scrambling up them.

Elsewhere I cut the carrot plants down to ground level as they have flowered and I am not saving their seed this year.  The fennel is still in place as the seeds are maturing and feeding a flock of blue tits in the mornings as well.  This is what it looks like on the ground.

DSCN6736 ground levelThis is my new(ish) garden, nearly two years old.  It has a long way to go to improve the soil.  At the moment this is clay, with lots of stones and not much life.  Hence the grey colour and the brown coloured carrot  flower heads that I cut off months ago visible below today’s pile of stems.  There is as yet little soil life to decompose the material I am laying on the surface but it will come in time.

By contrast the bed with most of my perennial vegetables in is constructed largely of organic material and it is bursting with life.

DSCN6692 bursting with life

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This year’s batch of blackberry chilli syrup

The blackberry chilli syrup I made last October was so good – mellow and fruity with a bit of a kick – that I just had to make another batch for the forthcoming year.   We have been using it in small amounts, mainly on top of fresh fruit and natural yogurt which we often have with a cup of tea in the afternoon and we are on the last bottle now.

My partner collected some blackberries yesterday evening and I made some syrup this afternoon.  I had more blackberries than last year but we were running low on sugar; so (based on the same ratios as before) I calculated how many blackberries I needed to use up the sugar.

I varied the method a little by adding the lightly cooked and sieved blackberries to the syrup, lemon and chilli mixture as it boiled rather than at the end of reducing the syrup.  The chilli was the same variety as last year, in fact the same harvest – it has been in the freezer since then.

I don’t know if it was the change to the method or some effect of freezing the chilli but the taste is very different, explosive you might say, but tasty nonetheless!

DSCN6618 blackberry chilli syrupAnyone for a cup of tea and some fruit?

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September reflections

DSCN6601 late summer flowers

I asked my partner what she liked best about the garden.  Her reply – she likes the “general unpredictability” of it – how there is often a harvest of the unexpected arriving in the kitchen.  She also likes the way it is so attractive to wild things – bees and insects – and more recently blue tits that have been eating something in the fennel early in the morning.

I particularly love the way it yields tasty vegetables for very little work.  I have just added up the produce (from the Borderland garden) so far this year; it amounts to 15.3 kg:

  • 7 kg roots
  • 3 kg green leafy vegetables
  • 5 kg onion-y things
  • 8 kg fruiting and podding vegetables
  • 1 kg others

I also love ‘just being’ in the garden.  This afternoon we needed to dig out some of an earthen bank to make space for a storage chest for garden tools etc.  I did some of the work but Pat valiantly did most of it.  I needed a break and went to sit by the polyculture patch just taking time to look at it, to lazily pull some ripe radish pods (to save the seeds) and watch the bees humming on the toadflax and fennel.  After a very wet August it was so peaceful enjoying spending some time with the late summer flowers and their accompanying insects.


DSCN6603 late summer flowers


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Shrewsbury Flower Show 2014

Shrewsbury Flower Show took place on 8 and 9 August.  I had the privilege of being invited to be part of a new venture – the “Our Futures” marquee.  Most of the show consists of very traditional things –  floral displays, vegetable competitions, traders’ stalls, show jumping, cookery demonstrations, brass bands, horticultural talks, musical events, fireworks and a commemoration of the events of 100 years ago when the show did not happen because the first world war had just begun.

Alongside all this traditional content the organisers wanted to look towards the future and invited a selection of local people and organisations to participate.  There were the organic gardeners, Friends of the Earth, Boningales’ Nursery (green roofs), me and Emma Lawrence (illustrator of my book).  Emma did a fantastic job keeping small children busy with a colouring competition and craft activities and I had a stand focussed on perennial vegetables.

I have never been at an event like this before and it was very interesting to observe how people reacted to things they were (in all probability) unfamiliar with – such as perennial vegetables.  One lady spoke to my partner and was insistent that the very large oca plant I had on display was clover; even after being told what it was she did not seem able to absorb that and went on her way saying “I never knew you could eat clover”.  On the other hand I chatted to a man who uses the wild edibles and flowers in his garden to put in his lunch time sandwich and is growing all sorts of very interesting things.

The plants I had on display were not in any way forced into being something they were not, they were in pots of course, but otherwise they were as natural as they would be in the garden.  This was in stark contrast to the magnificent floral displays and show gardens which were obviously designed and put together so as to be eye catching and magnificent.  I am not knocking that at all, those gardens and displays were beautiful; however they conformed to what is expected at these events and it seemed to me that my less extravagant and less showy plants just did not register on many people’s radar as they walked past.  Of course many people go to a show like that for a good family day out and with so much else going on the horticultural side may not be interesting to them.

photo (59) show

My three pots (and me!) outside the marquee.  The organisers asked for them to be at the doorway, but even though we later rearranged them they did not have the impact they might have done had they been in a more enclosed space.

Shropshire-20140808-00426 show

A rather more showy display!

photo (63) show

A show garden

photo (60) show

Another show garden (both of these had Great War themes), this one harks back to the use of horses and dogs (out of sight) in that war.

photo (61) show

Having said that, there were a significant minority who did stop to look, to read the displays and to ask questions.  I came away with a list of people interested in more information and the possibility of collaborating with other local organisations on joint gardening projects.  If I am asked to go back next year, and I hope I am, it will be with a slightly sharper sense of how to attract the attention of the general public and some focussed ideas that they may be able to relate to a little more easily.

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Woolly thyme and other creeping things

Whilst I am custodian of the edible perennials my partner quite rightly craves flowers in the garden.  In the spring we took up a patch of sloping difficult-to-mow lawn and used the upturned turf to create a new polyculture patch.  The ex-lawn area is in the process of becoming a flower bed.  I have sown herb and flower seeds so it is becoming an odd mix of flat leafed parsley, dill, love in a mist, calendula with some bought herbs and flowers – various thymes, sage, savory, pansies, day lilies, roses (transferred from the other garden).  Flower bed or no, it is being cultivated, if that is the word, along the same lines as the vegetable parts of the garden.  That is to say:

No digging

This is self explanatory; and impossible anyway as this bed, like the rest of the main part of the garden, is very hard clay with lots of stones very firmly embedded.  I am trusting to time and in due course lots of mulching on the surface to change this.

Allowing anything rather than nothing to grow ……

that is until something more useful comes along.  Therefore when the bed was new and bare there were quite a few “weeds” that germinated.  I left them in place whilst the scattered seeds began to grow and then gradually removed them when the adjacent flower plants were a reasonable size.

Why do this?  Because some of the microscopic life forms that will eventually thrive in this hard and barren soil need living beings (plants) to feed them via the exudates from their roots.  They don’t mind what the plant above ground is as long as its roots are alive.

Observing what happens over time

This is how I learn things.  What I have seen today is various plants racing to cover the soil.  At the bottom of this photograph there is the very pretty tiny leafed woolly thyme.  Now it has established it is trying very hard to spread in all directions.  To the right there is a deep burgundy coloured bugle taken from another flower bed and on the left a white clover.  The clover just appeared in the bed, but may have come from the lawn that was removed.  I will watch and wait to see which plant overcomes the others first and then choose what to do.  But perhaps the main lesson is that nature does not like bare soil and has plants eminently suited to making sure it doesn’t stay that way for long.

DSCN6533 woolly thyme


DSCN6540 flower bed


DSCN6532 flower bed


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