Seen at the Festival of the Tree

...if you would be happy all your life, plant a garden ~ Chinese proverb

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Seasonal Recipes: Make Mine Mint

I had such a terrific response in my comments last week when I asked for some ideas for using mint in salads, I just had to follow them up with a post of their own.

As you can see I'm having no problem with growing Tashkent mint - it's self-seeded itself from the pot towards the back of the picture into the much larger pot which is home to one of my apple trees. As this mint likes to spread as well as self-seed, I think it's a good idea to use up this unexpected bounty before it starts affecting the tree.

NevilleB (sorry Neville, I can't link to you) suggested:

Just enjoyed a salad for lunch at a a favourite pub that uses seasonal ingredients - baby broad beans (shelled) with crumbs of fresh sheep's curd and finely chopped mint in a light vinaigrette served with a couple of slices of light and airy focaccia with massive holes! Delicious, I've used goats curd myself which has a a slightly stronger taste, or you could use the mint with small pieces of feta.

Mark Willis suggested Tabbouleh. I've only made this dish using flat leaf parsley before, so I'm hoping this Otto Lenghi recipe is what Mark has in mind.

Regular Salad Days contributor Mel at Ediblethings suggested:

My go-to salad for mint is a Nigel Slater one, with radish, cucumber, spring onion, mint and flat leaved parsley: veg cut chunky, except the spring onions,which are finely sliced; use the whole parsley leaves and roughly torn mint; mix together in a salad bowl; crumble over some good quality feta; then dress roughly with a glug of red wine (or homemade blackberry) vinegar, a larger glug of good ev olive oil, and some pepper. Very, very good. It's always a hit when I serve it at parties. 

Mel has promised me her recipe for blackberry vinegar for Salad Days too :)

Liz, my Salad Days regular recipe contributor from Oz has the following ideas:

Other than tabouleh, which is my favourite salad of all time, try beetroot mint and feta, or pumpkin, orange, mint and quinoa. Luckily she has all her recipes on her fab blog, Suburban Tomato. Liz - your beetroot, mint and feta recipe is on my menu for tonight :)

A quick google of mint and salad resulted in the following delicious sounding recipes:
I also tried to find Nigel Slater's recipe online, as mentioned by Mel. Instead I found his mint recipes article from The Observer which describes a different, more of an eastern influenced salad containing mint, plus lots of ideas for unusual non-salady uses.

I'm pondering a variation on potato salad when my new potatoes are ready on the allotment. Potato and mint go so well together, I'm sure it'll go well in a salad too. If not, then I can always have a side dish of buttered new potatoes and mint to accompany my salad!

My very simple version is to take some newly boiled new potatoes, cube them, then coat with either mayonnaise or salad cream (depending what I have to hand), plus some snipped chives if I have some. I see the mint replacing the chives in this case. However, this more complex version, from The Guardian contains both mint and chives. You may also like to look at this collection of recipes for making potato salad, not necessarily containing mint.

Looks like I have lots of experimenting in the kitchen to come :)

Monday, 25 June 2012

Things in Unusual Places #11: Unicorns

This sign bears a number of intriguing sights to see, but Unicorns really stirs the imagination. Here's the reality from my visit to Capel Manor last week.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Salad Days: Salads for Damp Places

Some fetching lettuce 'Freckles' seen at the rather special  Easton Walled Gardens earlier this week
I thought it would be a good idea to start with the above photo more as an encouragement to me that it IS possible to grow lashings of salad outdoors this year.

It's been so wet over the past few weeks, and once again most of my leaves have been eaten down to their stumps by the hordes of voracious slugs and snails which have invaded my salad area. I know I'm not alone -  I've seen too many moans on Twitter about the problem!

So I'm about to try a different tack with my salad production and turning my attention to those leaves which don't mind wet feet. It probably means we'll get a heatwave now, but hey, that's a win-win situation, right?

  • Watercress - you don't need loads of water as commercially available seed can be grown successfully in damp soils. I grow mine in a big pot and make sure the drip tray is kept well topped up. Other #saladchatterers have grown cuttings taken from bagged supermarket watercress in various buckets and bowls. Reported success is variable, but I think it's worth a try until my sown seed starts to produce...
  • Other members of the watercress family, such as land cress are also worth a try and can be grown in the usual way
  • Sorrel - recommended by Cally at Country Gate Gardens
  • Mint - likes to be kept moist. I'd only use a few leaves as a 'garnish' in my salad owing to its strong, distinctive flavour. Does anyone have a good recipe for salad which includes mint for us to try?
  • So far our salad grown this way looks like it's going to have lots of sharp, strong, or peppery flavours. Can you add to the list?

Chatting to Carl Legge this week confirmed that foraging in damp places (assuming you have somewhere suitable) might be a better prospect than trying to grow your own and keeping things damp. He offers up a new (to me anyway) edible plant: golden saxifrage - the opposite leaved version, or this one, which has alternate leaves. Both inhabit the same kind of damp places.

Others to find:

  • Dandelions - not really a plant specifically from damp places, but it still seems to be thriving everywhere despite the rain. I could start a new campaign called Eat Your Lawn with mine ;)
  • Samphire - as well as a salad ingredient it's also delicious cooked like asparagus and dripping with butter :)
  • Comfrey doesn't mind it damp and can be substituted for spinach as well as making your comfrey tea!
  • Water mint - as a substitute for the garden mint noted above
  • Wintercress - a wild substitute for cultivated land cress
  • Ribwort plantain - young leaves only, so it's really only a candidate for spring foraging. It tolerates damp rather than liking absolutely waterlogged conditions and is another candidate for Eat Your Lawn
  • Can you add to the list?

Now it's your turn. How's your salad progressing this month? Write a post on your blog and leave a link  in Mr Linky below (NB to the post itself, not to just your blog name, so we can find it easily)

Monday, 18 June 2012

Giveaway Results: Sarah Raven Salad Seeds

I've delved into my favourite terracotta pot to see who's won the pairs of packets of salad seeds I have to give away, courtesy of Sarah Raven's Kitchen & Garden.

And the winners are...
It's a nice mix of giveaway post Commenters, Retweeters, Salad Days contributors and Saladchatterers :)

Thanks very much to all of you who took part - it was a bumper crop! The winners have been informed - I'm away for a couple of days, so I'll send you your seeds when I return.

Talking of Salad Days, our next get together is this Friday, 22nd June. Stand by with your blog posts!

Sunday, 17 June 2012

An Update on Grafted Tomatoes

A couple of months ago I had the opportunity to see how grafted tomatoes (and other grafted plants) are produced courtesy of Suttons Seeds. As my previous post about them is in my all time top 10, I couldn't resist going along. As you can see it's a mind boggling operation - horticulture on an industrial scale. 

There's millions of plants at various stages of growth in the greenhouses, all growing under their most suitable conditions and the ever watchful sensors of the computers. Conditions vary (light, temperature, watering) from germination through to when the plant is dispatched to customers. I was pleased to hear a biofuel boiler is onsite to generate some of the heating required.

Before I got to see these plants, I had to undertake a fair amount of plant hygiene measures: not handling tomatoes for a couple of days before my visit, plus washing my hands when I first got onsite and also going through disinfection mats so I didn't bring in anything of concern on my shoes. 

Next year, I'll probably have to suit up and wear a fetching cap over my hair as the hygiene measures are set to be increased. Such measures are understandable when producing plants on this scale, especially as they're supplying commercial ventures in the UK and abroad and so cannot afford to be blamed for any crop failures if and when they occur.

Here's the start of the grafting process. Those fingers are lightning fast at picking off the tops of the plants! These trays contain rootstock. Just like for apple grafting (and elsewhere where this technique is used), the angle of the rootstock and plant top stems have to be just right for the graft to take.

Here you can see the plant top being joined with its rootstock and how tiny the plants are when it's done. And yes, that is a moving conveyor belt you can see, so there's several other people waiting down the line out of my camera shot to deal with the rest of the plants speeding past.

And here's a grafted plant ready for potting up. Note the darker colour of the rootstock. That little plastic clip holds the 2 parts in place until the graft has taken. Different rootstocks are used depending on the tomato used on top. Until recently only varieties suitable for greenhouse growing were available.

However, experiments with less vigorous rootstocks mean some varieties suitable for outdoor growing e.g. 'Gardeners' Delight' are now available. Problems such as fruit splitting had to be overcome, showing the original rootstocks being used were too vigorous for the variety being supported. Trials with less vigorous rootstocks eventually led to successful pairings which resulted in good crops of the desired fruit without losing the benefits of the grafting.

Here's a few 'Elegance' ready for sending out. Andy McIndoe from Hilliers mentioned this variety at Bath University Gardening Club when he came to talk earlier in the year. He's had it fruiting into December in his conservatory. Elsewhere on #saladchat, the results reported from growing grafted tomatoes - of unknown variety - have been mixed. 

I've been lucky enough to have some grafted tomatoes to trial this year. I chose 'Lizzano' as it's suitable for outdoor growing and is a bush variety. However, my plants arrived in late March, way before I would be able to plant them out as I don't have a greenhouse.

They've been residing in my kitchen ever since, with the odd foray outside. Whilst this means we're eating home grown tomatoes now (about 6 weeks earlier than usual), I haven't been able to keep on potting them up for them to reach their maximum potential, as I don't have the room. Pollination's also been a bit hit and miss too, so my crop will be just a few handfuls. Therefore my trial hasn't been that successful because of when I received my plants and my keeping the plants indoors owing to the dreadful weather we've been having.

We were introduced to 'Juanita' (see above) during our visit, which came out top in Suttons' taste trials of 70 varieties last year. We were given a small bagful to take home, which NAH and I thoroughly enjoyed with our salad :)

I've since received some of these plants to trial. Their arrival was much better timed and they're now shivering in the garden awaiting better weather. The day after I planted them out I received my first Full Smiths Period warning email from Blightwatch. I despair of ever giving grafted tomatoes a decent trial this year!

NB Suttons have some open days coming up at their site where you'll have the opportunity of taking part in this year's taste trials as well as gaining an insight into what happens at Suttons. Could be worth building into a break down in Devon? The dates for your diary are 10-12th August.

If you're tempted to give grafted plants a go, do bear in mind the soil should not go above the graft union when you plant them out. If you do, the fruiting part of the plant will root and you'll lose the benefit of the stronger rootstock. This is against the usual advice to bury your tomato plants deeply when planting them in their final positions. You may also find this growing guide and video useful.

You can see in the above picture the fruiting part of the plant also had some tiny rootlets when my 'Juanita' plants arrived, so I had to be most careful when potting them up. These rootlets disappeared after a couple of days in the fresh air.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

GBBD: Self Sown

When I first started to garden seriously, I felt most uncomfortable about having plants in my borders that are well-known for their self-seeding capabilities. It was a feeling of lack of control which unsettled me. However, nature has a way of presenting unplanned planting combinations which are so much better than my own. This has helped me to feel a bit more relaxed about the whole thing.

Here we have this year's foxgloves. They've leapt from the bottom border into the gravel path, which means I'm also confessing I've not cleared up that part of the path for 2 years. I'm intrigued by the variety of colours and heights of the plants. Those with the darkest pink flowers are closest to their parents, but there's a rather pleasing array of softer pinks, light mauves and even a few white in the mix.

I don't know whether the height variation is due to local conditions or genetic variability. I suspect the latter seeing they're all in a similar place. No matter, the bees love to visit them all, irrespective of colour and height.

Since Karen came to stay almost 2 years ago I've been pondering sacrificing some or all of our lawn for more plants. Unfortunately NAH and I continue to differ in our opinions. He wants to keep the lawn even though it means he still keeps the job of cutting it. I thought the foxgloves might show him the possibilities, but no. Can you clear the weeds from the path? has been his unprompted cry over the past few weeks.

I rather like the effect as they're providing a much needed jolt of colour in that part of the garden at the moment. However, they do block the 'journey' which NAH and I agreed was needed when we first planned the garden together. I shall collect the seed and scatter it elsewhere. I wonder if the next generation will be as variable as their parents?

Garden Bloggers' Blooms Day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. I'm sure she won't mind I've posted this a day early because of my regular Friday salad slot this year - they'll look the same tomorrow only wetter!

Friday, 8 June 2012

Salad Giveaway: Sarah Raven Seeds

As promised on Tuesday, I have an extra salad related offer courtesy of Sarah Raven's Kitchen and Garden to tie in with The 52 Week Salad Challenge :)

I have 5 packets each of her Summer Salad and Winter Salad leaf mixes to give away, so the winners will have plenty of leaves to pick in the coming months.

The Summer Salad mix comprises:

  • Wild Rocket
  • Amsterdam Carrot Leaf
  • Sorrel
  • Mustard
  • Lettuces - Red Cos, Little Gem and Green Batavian
and the winter one:
  • Mustards - Red Frills and Golden Streaks
  • Mizuna
  • Cress
  • Salad Rocket
  • Lettuces - Cocarde and Green Oak Leaf
There are 500 seeds per packet.

As a special thank you to all the Salad Challengers who've posted Salad Days blog posts already and to Salad Chatterers who've been active on Twitter, I've already included your names in the draw for a packet of each mix.

If you would like your name to be entered (including Challengers and Chatterers), please leave a comment below. Anyone who RTs the link to this blog post on Twitter will also be entered into the draw.

Therefore, there's a maximum of 3 chances for each person entering the draw.

Sorry, only UK peeps are eligible as I'm covering postage and the closing date is midnight, 17th June, so I can draw the winners' names out of my special terracotta pot and announce them before our next Salad Days on June 22nd.

Don't forget, Tuesday's 10% discount voucher is also available until midnight 17th June so all Veg Plotting readers can be a winner :)

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Horatio's Garden

Last week I had the opportunity to catch up with Cleve West post-Chelsea to find out more about his involvement with Horatio's Garden, a project which has excited me ever since I found out about it earlier this year. You can probably guess from the background in the photo above that development is still at the hardscaping stage.

The garden is being built at the Duke of Cornwall Spinal Treatment Centre at Salisbury hospital. Anyone in Southern England who suffers a major spinal injury will be transferred here for their treatment, so the area served by Salisbury's facilities is huge.

The garden is named after Horatio Chapple, the son of David Chapple, a consultant spinal surgeon at the hospital. Horatio volunteered at the spinal unit and planned to study medicine when he left school. Unfortunately he was killed in a tragic accident before he could fulfil his ambition to transform people's lives. His voluntary work identified the need for a patients' garden, so the one in his name will form a most fitting memorial.

Imagine being in a place for a year (on average) having suffered a life changing injury and having nowhere to go but inside the hospital or just a small space outside the front doors. So you can see how Horatio's Garden is going to greatly improve the quality of life for those patients and help their healing process. The above picture shows Cleve's vision for the finished garden.

Little did the project team know that Cleve already knew of the spinal unit and had visited a number of times before he was asked to be involved. A close friend, now married to his cousin, had a serious accident a while ago and was treated there for a year. It's another example of how the project has become so personal and passionate to the people involved.

Already the garden's making a difference to those patients able to look down onto the site from the hospital window on the first floor as shown in the above picture. You can also see some of the challenges the site has - the ugly car park to the front and a hotch potch of buildings. The sign on the building opposite the entrance to the garden (just behind the people in the picture) says 'Bereavement Centre', it doesn't help to create the peace and tranquillity patients are needing does it?

Note the amazing dry stone walls in the picture, such craftsmanship - David Wilson talks about their creation in this video. Two 'broken walls' represent a fractured spine and a complete one represents a healed one. Note also the low hills and the line of trees behind the building and car park. Cleve is aiming to use these views whilst disguising the car park and buildings in the foreground to help give a sense of place to the garden.

There's also a number of different areas in the design for the different needs the patients, their families and staff will have for the garden. Quiet areas for people wanting to be alone; communal spaces for people to get together and for a host of events and exhibitions already being lined up; plus a growing space complete with a greenhouse (represented by the outline in the above picture) for patients wanting to be more active and start growing plants.

Here you can see another of the site's challenges, the tennis court boundary. Cleve took the difficult decision to remove the assorted trees which were originally there (see this video). Whilst they helped to block the view of the tennis court, they were of varying heights and colours.

Thank goodness Cleve's Best in Show design for Chelsea this year included a wonderful beech hedge. Brewin Dolphin, the garden's sponsors who are based in Wiltshire agreed to donate the hedge plus a number of plants and some stonework, proving there is life for a show garden after Chelsea. The hedge arrived last Friday and you can see in the picture where it will go. The main planting is due to start in July and there's already a number of volunteers lined up to help :)

I'll leave you with a picture of some of the key people closely involved with the garden: Olivia Chapple - Horatio's mother; Martin Gomm of Wycliffe Landscapes - the main contractor; Cleve; Camilla Hiley - a Salisbury based garden designer who's project manager and Sue Hall, the person I've been dealing with from the Southern Spinal Injuries Trust, the organisation ensuring all the funds are in place for the garden.

If you remember my trip to see Alys Fowler at The Organic Garden at Holt Farm, this is just one of the many imaginative fundraisers they've lined up for this year. Have a look at this page to see what's coming up and other ways in which you can help.

My thanks to Sue and Cleve for letting me visit and to them plus Olivia, Martin and Camilla who made me so welcome on the day and who spoke with such passion about their involvement in the project. I hope to see you all again soon!

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

VPGGB: Save 10% at Sarah Raven's Kitchen and Garden

Here's a delicious offer to brighten up a wet Bank Holiday Tuesday! I've teamed up with Sarah Raven's Kitchen and Garden website to offer you a 10% discount on your online purchases.

Simply visit the website (linked to above), load up your shopping basket and make sure you enter SARAHVP in the Offer Codes box on your Shopping Basket page BEFORE you hit the Proceed to Checkout button.

Note: Offer applies to online purchases only made from now until 17th June 2012 inclusive. Previous purchases aren't eligible and the discount can't be used in conjunction with other offers.

There's more - I'll be back on Friday with an extra little special something for the 52 Week Salad Challenge, so in the meantime enjoy your shopping :)

BTW this isn't an affiliate offer, so you can go ahead safe in the knowledge I'm not making a bean from your purchases.

VPGGB = VP's Guide to Gardening Bargains

Update: This offer is now closed.

Monday, 4 June 2012


The country's awash with patriotic flags and bunting and I've been thoroughly enjoying their welcome as I've travelled through many towns and villages in Wiltshire, Devon and Cornwall over the past few days.

Someone's got into the action up at the allotment too, with this display designed (I think) to keep those pesky pigeons at bay. They make me smile whenever I look up from my weeding and also ponder a little - is this a patriotic allotmenteer or someone with easy access to all those flags and bunting?

No matter - have a wonderful Diamond Jubilee - the first we've had in over a century!

Friday, 1 June 2012

GBMD: To Make a Good Salad

Jersey Farmers Union gold medal awarded exhibit - RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2012

To make a good salad is to be a brilliant diplomatist - the problem is entirely the same in both cases. To know exactly how much oil one must put with one's vinegar.

Oscar Wilde (1854- 1900)

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