Sunday, 12 September 2010

It’s a jungle out there.

I have had mixed success with my gardening this year. The herb garden has kept me provided with a range of fresh herbs from spring onwards. I was amazed that so much had survived the rigours of an exceptionally cold winter. Sage, rosemary, bay, mint, oregano, lemon thyme, sorrel, chives all flourished anew. At one point I thought my bay tree was dying but once I had plucked off the decrepit looking leaves it perked up again. The Partridge’s brother, who I had looked after earlier in the year, gave me some wild garlic to plant. I found the leaves distinctly moreish and am hoping that my one plant will produce many more next spring. It seems the season for wild garlic is very limited so I must ensure I make some soups from it as soon as I can and freeze it. I had hoped to do just that with fresh leaves and serve them to my guests. Unfortunately they were past their best by the time I got around to using it but I was able to make a soup of home grown sorrel and shop bought spinach leaves to serve in its stead.
This year I added a curry plant, pineapple sage, lemon balm, Swiss chard, parsley and basil to my herb collection. My potted French tarragon grew fresh shoots and I bought further plants to place outside. I was also able to harvest and dry a small amount of camomile and sweet fennel which I intend to use for teas, perhaps placed in pretty little boxes and given to friends.

Indoors I had fresh flowers cut from the garden for most of the summer. The Sweet Williams seemed to have two growing seasons having lain dormant through the winter months. I subdivided the plants around the garden to encourage more growth and had a constant supply of red, pink, white and pale pink flowers. My sweet-peas bloomed in abundance too thanks to the fact that I regularly plucked the flowers. Last year I failed to do so and the plant quickly turned to seed.

I bought three different rose bushes online. Only two produced a rose a piece: a white rose and a red rose which seems very appropriate for someone as keen on English history as I am. Both the red rose and white rose had a wonderful fragrance, the white rose in particular having citrus undertones.

The feverfew did very well as did a potted Margarita plant which I bought in remembrance of my mother who loved them. One of my Swiss alpine plants has now provided total cover for the bedding by the side of the path and produced a pretty purple flower to boot which unfortunately I failed to capture on camera in time. I did photograph the foxglove which flowered again this year which, if the books are to be believed, is somewhat unusual. I had mixed fortunes with lilies and had to move them around to encourage growth. One hollyhock from last year finally bloomed but fell down after a particularly strong storm as did my gladioli. I have now realised that the only flowers that will flourish by the garden path are hardy annuals like the alpine plants or else primroses. I suspect the latter flourish before the cherry tree canopy is dense enough to cut off most of the light.    

My hydrangea blossomed this year as did my buddleia, both being cuttings I bought back with me last year after my prolonged stay in Highgate as the resident Florence Nightingale. I was disappointed to discover that buddleia is virtually a weed. Wherever I look I see it growing on derelict ground or else high up in cracks in wall. Still the bees seem to love it. Bumble bees particularly like my lavender. I had about half a dozen bumble bees as well as other bees coming everyday for its flowers. I need to harvest the lavender to make a herbal pillow. I should have done it ages ago but with the serious decline in bees worldwide I was reluctant to add to their problems by depriving them of a valuable food source.

My vegetables and fruits have had a bad year. I actually managed to grow a baby pumpkin until the OF unilaterally moved the trough it was growing in when he decided to cut the lawn. He somehow managed to detach the vegetable from its plant in so doing. After that the plant flowered but failed to fruit. Mind you a butternut squash vegetable withered on the vine for some reason. Last year the leaves of a pumpkin plant flourished under the old cherry tree but no fruit was produced, probably because I had left planting so late. A potted melon flowered but produced no fruit either. I had high hopes for my courgettes but their vegetables never amounted to much. However I did frequently harvest the flowers to stuff with feta cheese, French tarragon and honey, which I then lightly fried in olive oil.  My strawberry plants did produce a very limited amount of fruit which I gave to friends but not sufficient to fill a single punnet. I gathered a number of rosehips but too little to be able to use. Perhaps next year I will have enough to make some rosehip syrup.

To my great regret only a single gooseberry survived the predations of the local wildlife. Next year I must seriously consider planting the gooseberry bushes elsewhere and covering any fruit with netting. There was an abundance of gooseberries growing at Highgate and I took the opportunity to bring home a large container full which I have subsequently frozen to enjoy in a fool or perhaps a gooseberry and sorrel pie.

Indoors I have had greater success with my fruit and vegetables. My hot chilli plant looks as if it will keep me supplied in chillies for the year and my four tomato plants have fruited. I may well use Nigel Slater's Green Tomato recipes, having made two jarfuls of his excellent green and red tomato chutney last year. I opened the remaining jar this year and found ir made an excellent accompaniment to roasted meats like chicken.

This month I plan to get the garden ready for its winter slumbers. I have noticed that an unidentified plant has grown in the compost heap and is now threatening to overwhelm the rest of the flower patch. I will try and determine what it is before I pull it up. The Partridge thinks it is a potato plant but I am prefer to think otherwise. IMy imagination had been gripped by the account of one English household, who discovered that the equally intriguing plant growing on their compost heap was a rare and extremely potent hallucinogenic plant native to the tropics. Apparently Amazonian tribes use the plant to poison the tips of their spears and Hindu monks use it in their religious ceremonies to hallucinate. It sounds like it would make the perfect present for the man or woman who has everything.   

The Dressmaker, who bough the flat from off the Couple claims to have ambitious plans for the garden but it seems she wants me to do the donkey work such as creating a flower patch in the middle of the lawn. As she has both a middle-aged boyfriend and a 20 something son I am not enlisting as her unpaid labourer. But it would be nice to think that whatever happens to me the garden will no longer return to the forlorn state it suffered for so many years until I took it firmly in hand.