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Archive for March, 2012

Photo: Sarah Cuttle

Gorgeous weather, delicious cake and a fine array of seeds and plants to give away made ‘Cake Sunday’ a really enjoyable get-together for neighbours participating in our community veg growing scheme. Over 100 households have now joined up to grow flowers and veg in their front gardens (and tree pits on the streets) and it was great to see lots of familiar faces as well as some new ones too.

Photo: Sarah Cuttle

This year we gave away purple French Beans, Swiss Chard, especially good for the less sunny garden, and wildflower seeds for tree pits all around our neighbourhood.

We also had masses of Hollyhock seeds, collected from Lindsey’s front garden to share, as these do surprisingly well in the inhospitable area around tree bases too.

Photo: Sarah Cuttle

Now in our fourth growing season, our green growbags and large planters are proliferating in front gardens, as neighbours are eager to grow a large selection of veg, including potatoes (as above), courgettes, tomatoes, Jerusalem artichokes and some very decorative rhubarb plants.

Photo: Sarah Cuttle

Front gardens are a great place to meet up with nieghbours on ‘Cake Sundays’, chat about all things horticultural and indeed anything else!

As part of the Chelsea Fringe this year, we’re inviting visitors to join us on Sunday May 27th 2013 for another bumper Cake Sunday, with all the trimmings. Amongst many metres of bunting, visitors can come sup tea and cake, and find out more about our community veg growing project. Our beans won’t be at the top of the poles by then, but we’ll  be holding edible window box workshops,

a topiary demonstration by Tim Bushe and hopefully a few heats of the Chelsea Fringe Edible Olympics. Cucumber javelin anyone?

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Today our crack team of neighbours delivered growbags to front gardens for our community veg growing project in Finsbury Park -huge thanks to David, Bernd, Matt, Graham and Liesbet.

Next weekend we’ve organised another Cake Sunday , so that participants can meet up over tea and home-made cake and collect seeds for veg growing this year.

We’ve found that both Runner and French beans grow really well in the free municipal compost (thanks North London Waste and Islington council),

and this year we’re giving away purple French beans, ‘Cosse Violette’, and Swiss chard ‘Bright Lights’ for those who have extra space to grow in too.

There’ll also be packets of wildflower seeds for tree pits as these really brighten up our neighbourhood along with the veg and flowers grown in front gardens.

Whilst on our travels we came across this fab suitcase which will make a great mini raised bed. Perfect for some Swiss chard I think! We quickly drilled some holes in the bottom and filled it up with compost ready for planting. It may not last many years, but should see us through this growing season at least.

For more durable (and more storable ) mini raised beds, you could look at these gro-beds from Marshalls. Both suitcase and gro-bed are a great solution if you have no soil, but want to grow veg in your garden, and they’re deep and wide enough to grow a large choice of fruit and veg.

Growing in containers and growbags is going to be a challenge this year as the hosepipe ban starts in the South of England at the beginning of April, but planting in larger pots and containers should reduce the amount of watering that’ll need to be done. If you have the room and the money, it would be worth investing in a water butt which can be situated near your veg and this should make watering somewhat easier if no taps are near to hand. Thames Water have some reasonably priced plastic water butts which they’ll deliver to your door too. (I know this is slightly ironic as they’re one of the companies introducing a water ban-come on Thames Water-get those leaky pipes fixed!)

However, despite this potential extra work, I still think that nothing can beat the sheer delight of growing your own fruit and veg and there’s nothing better than leaning out of your window or popping into the front (or back) garden to collect your dinner too.

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Foraging talk given by Miles Irving at King Henry's Walk last summer

The more I know about gardening, the more I want to know. Gardening courses are a wonderful way to increase your knowledge and as the growing season starts, there’s a plethora to book onto. Locally to me in North London, King Henry’s Walk Garden has a whole series of great courses and talks running throughout the year.

Photo: Vertical Veg 2011

Last night I went to hear Mark Ridsdill-Smith, of Vertical Veg, talk about growing food in small spaces. All were wowed by the image above and Mark was very generous in sharing his extensive knowledge with all who came to the event. More photos inspired us all to experiment with growing some unusual veg such as Wasabi (as in the beans) for their tasty leaves and flowers, and herbs such as Vietnamese Coriander, Lovage and Sorrel which you’d be hard pressed to buy in the shops.

Mark discussed why you don’t see every balcony and windowsill in urban areas overflowing with tasty produce, and what barriers might stop others from also ‘growing their own’. Probably a combination of not enough time, not being aware what can be grown in such small areas, knowledge of where to start when growing food and also the cost of buying pots, soil and seeds. A really interesting debate and he concluded that beginning with small quick projects might be a good way to encourage others to have a go.

If you sign up to Mark’s Vertical Veg blog, he’ll send you free monthly newsletter full of growing tips and also a his ‘Art of growing food leaflet’ which lists ten very useful steps to enable you to grow your own. If you fancy something more hands-on, Mark will be back at King Henry’s Walk on 21-22 April, for a full on weekend course on ‘everything you need to know about designing and maintaining a highly productive vegetable garden in containers on your balcony, patio and window sills.’  For a very reasonable £95.00,  and cuttings to take away to start you off, this should be a very informative and enjoyable weekend.

Staying in London, The Garden Museum in Lambeth, now lists a whole heap of events, talks, exhibitions and workshops, and I’m very excited to have booked to hear Joy Larkcom, queen of veg growing, talk on June 13th.

And another more hands-on course in London is the Seed2seed monthly foundation course in urban food growing at Food from the Sky on the rooftop of Budgens in Crouch End. Starting next week with a free taster course on March 17th 2012, 2-4pm,  the course continues on the third Saturday of each month from 10-3pm and takes you right the way through the growing season up until November, with a comprehensive study programme aimed at beginners and those with some gardening knowledge too.

photo: Bloomsbury. Laetitia Maklouf talking about making a garden in a year

A little further afield, The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival, running from 24th March-1st April, has six, one hour talks from garden writers talking about  their new books (and many other talks from non-gardening authors too!). Above is Laetitia Maklouf who will be talking about  ‘Sweetpeas for Summer: How to create a Garden in A Year’ on March 28th and other talks include: Sararh Raven on wildflowers, Sunday 25th March (which sadly I’ll have to miss due to eating cake at our next ‘Cake Sunday’), Toby Musgrove on heritage fruit and Veg, Jennifer Potter on the History of Roses, Val Bourne on colour in the garden and Andy Hamilton on making wine and beer from fruit veg and foraged plants. All talks last for an hour and cost £10. Certainly worth finding out which talks and courses could inspire and enlighten you throughout 2012.

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