Potager Garden: June 2020

The heatwave of spring has made way for rolling thunder storms.

A bright lit early evening was swallowed by a swirling mass of darkening clouds gathered directly above our garden. It was one of those heart racing moments when my count between the lightning and thunder is zero. (The photograph below is not monochrome.)

After one of June’s many sudden downpours had slowed to a drizzle, I spotted this fellow crossing the path. From my normal perspective, snails can be something of a greyish-brown nuisance. We often find ourselves having to collect them at dusk from our vulnerable seedlings, or otherwise sigh as we spot tell tale trails across our raised beds. Up close, they can be fascinating to watch as they carefully choose their route and their shells have tinges of shiny gold. A little biodiversity goes a long way, so I let this chap, who was a fair distance away from the veg plot, continue on his journey.

My onions are equally puzzled by the drastic changes in weather and have started to bolt, putting forth long flower stems before they have had time to fully fatten the bulb. They are therefore a touch smaller than last year but we do not mind. There are always changes from one summer to the next, depending on the weather. I am just so glad they made it through a winter of constant flooding and the unrelenting dry heat of early spring.

I spend an afternoon going through recipes and counting how many glass jars I have free. On Sunday the kitchen will smell like the ocean, whilst half of the onions sit in brine before pickling. The remainder are destined for salads and large batches of sauce.

As the weather clears, we start to prep what was the over-wintered onion bed for what will become our pumpkin patch. The sudden bolt of the onions is good timing after all, as the Jack o Lantern and squash seedlings, spurred on by the soggy conditions, are starting to outgrow their cardboard egg boxes.

Artichokes are included in our local vegetable box delivery this week. I love my veggies – how have I never tried them from fresh before? I soon discover that raw artichokes do not want to be eaten. These pangolin-like oddities have armour plating and spikes. A curious crowd gathers in the kitchen to watch. De-barbed and steamed, the leaves are then snapped off and dipped into garlic mayonnaise.* Later, when I peel the carrots for dinner, it feels as quick and easy as a ready meal.

A much simpler kitchen experiment this week was our first attempt at making our own bird feeders, complete with little perches of homegrown bamboo. We saved the coconut shells from shop-bought versions and refilled them with mixed seeds and melted vegetable suet.

After a few wary days of hopping gradually closer, the local wild bird population and our resident pigeon family give them a seal of approval.

The sunshine is due return next week and the forest pathways have reopened after the lockdown. Early morning woodland walks through the dawn mist? Soon it will really feel like summer.

*All artichoke recipe and preparation suggestions very much welcomed 🙂


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Potager Garden: April 2020

If summer brings to mind old English roses, then springtime must be the month of apple blossom. By the first week of April we glimpse the bright red buds starting to unfurl.

I have never been so glad of our small patch of green space, for in this national lock-down it allows us to spend an unlimited amount of hours outside, together as a family, under the ceiling-less sky. At this time of year, the garden changes constantly and brings a natural rhythm to each day.

Encouraged by the sun, soon every plant starts to awaken. One morning we are greeted by bursts of tiny flowers in every corner, and the once-still air is starting to fill with insects and the occasional orange tip butterfly. We eagerly await a sighting of our first bumble bee.

On Good Friday, my second son plants the chitted potatoes into the vegetable garden. Everyone is able to help. My two autistic sons love playing with water so the elder fills a watering can and tends to the raised beds each morning, whilst our littlest son likes to top up the stream with the hose.

On Easter Weekend, we hide tiny chocolate bunnies and eggs around the garden. It is so beautifully warm that we have to hurry to find them and keep the discovered ones clustered in the shade before they melt.

By mid-April, the apple blossoms have opened and our house martins return to their nests in the eaves of our roof. We plant sunflower, nasturtium and cabbage seeds in the raised beds amongst the red onions. The garlic is thriving and its scent rises to greet me every time I enter the vegetable plot through the little gate.

Then, one morning, whilst I sip my tea from the Ponder Chair (a comfy old high back chair, covered in blankets, with the best vantage point for pondering the garden) a large bumble bee flies in through the open door and rests beside me on the windowsill. A very welcome sight.

Within days others follow, until there are countless bees darting in and out of the apple tree branches. My second son, the keeper of the tree, is so excited: “This means we will have apples in the autumn!”

Late April and the bluebells arrive. I am happier than ever to see them this year, when we cannot spend as much time in the ancient woodland as we normally would due to the national quarantine. A small part of the old English spring is here with us.

As the weather warms, the stream becomes irresistible to the children. Our one year old daughter loves to change the sound of the water by piling up different combinations of pebbles. Sometimes little channels start to overflow into the borders and the plants look glad of it.

I am now able to walk barefoot along the paths each morning and we keep the doors open, so that we can step out into the garden with a cuppa in hand. The children run in and out. I actually like it when the occasional bee loses its way and buzzes through the kitchen to inspect whatever am baking, before catching the scent of flowers again and returning to the garden. I welcome the occasional burst of light rain.

I leave the window above the sink open, so that I can hear birdsong throughout day and watch the pigeons, robins, sparrows and blackbirds bathe in the stream as I work in the kitchen.

Now the apple blossom looks more fragile, and is occasionally starting to drift away on the breeze. As the delicate watercolour-like spring petals fade, we prepare to welcome the fresh greens of May.

Keep safe and well everyone. With heartfelt thanks to all those who are working to keep us safe, especially those on the frontline in the NHS and hospitals around the world.

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Potager Garden: Seedlings, hidden veggies and finding a calm, centred place

I found an old camping table in the garage that looked like the perfect size for our youngest gardener. She was delighted and immediately set up a shop and started attempting to sell my pots onto her older siblings.

Our second son has been watching his seedlings grow on the windowsill. Every morning he eagerly opens the kitchen blinds up so that they get plenty of light. The micro greens are not too far away from being ready now.

The potatoes are chitting happily in the early spring sunshine. From far away tiny bumps are becoming visible, but close-up there are leaves and nodules to marvel at. We are learning about botanical drawings as one of our homeschool projects, and next week I plan to give the children magnifying glasses and watercolour paints so that they can draw them.

Our children have very different approaches to gardening. Our fourth son has sensory autism and does not like to get compost on his hands. He is cautious with the tools and uses two together, to carefully lift the soil into the pot.

It is brilliant when I can give him a practical task that takes all of his attention because he can then hear me talking to him, without all of the thousands of thoughts that rush through his mind getting in the way. He is able to fetch me the red pot when I ask, and then, when I make another request of him, he takes it over to the table. Perfect. It shows me that he does understand the words I say, and it is about patience and helping him to find a calm centred place.

Our daughter has long given up on using my improvised potting table. The compost is far too inviting and the tiny indoor gardening trowel I have given her does take an awful lot of time. She simply climbs in and uses her hands.

I have lately been working on improving the palette of our two youngest sons, who, if given the choice, would eat a very limited selection of foods and both instinctively shun the taste of vegetables. After many years of negotiation I have convinced them that cheese on toast is “pizza” … and I have since managed to sneak chopped onions and pureed veg into my homemade tomato sauce. Today I added butter-sauteed leeks into the cheese mix and was delighted when they cleaned their plates. Another vegetable conquered!

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