Archive for December, 2012

Great Dixter long border in October

As well as starting to peruse catalogues and websites for next year’s seed order, I’m also starting to think about gardening courses that I’d like to attend. My choice of course is normally prompted by my lack of knowledge in a certain area or a horticultural idea/obsession that I want to explore further, and I always come away with gaps of ignorance filled and new ideas aplenty to put into practice.

Kemal Mehdi at Great Dixter

I’ve heard that Great Dixter (top pic) have a series of new monthly talks given by Kemal Mehdi (above), who has taught at Hadlow College for over 20 years. I’m thinking of the May course (at the end of April) as I’ve never seen Great Dixter during Tulip season and I’d love to see more plant combinations involving one of my favourite bulbs.

Head Gardener Fergus Garrett will also be leading study days throughout the year and there are propagation day courses and week-long practical symposium courses dotted throughout 2013. I’ve hugely enjoyed courses at Great Dixter before, always leaving with my head buzzing, full of wonderful new planting ideas, and am really looking forward to my next visit in April.

Chili pepper seedlings. Seeds bought from Sea Spring Seeds

Years ago, to increase my somewhat basic horticultural understanding, I signed up for the RHS level 1 at Regents Park and haven’t looked back since. It was an evening course, held over 18 months and I loved every minute. I see that Capel Manor have a one day a week (Tuesday) level 1 one course starting in January in Regents Park and finishing in July which includes some practical  hands-on learning. They also have Level 2 courses –starting in 2013 for both daytime and evening study and more courses in horticulture and garden design at all levels in other corners of London, including Enfield (their headquarters), Crystal Palace and Gunnersbury Park.

For those not in London, The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) offers level 1-3 courses throughout England and one-off shorter courses on specific horticultural areas such as pruning, planting for wildlife or propagation at Harlow Carr in Yorkshire,  Hyde Hall in Essex, Rosemoor in N. Devon and Wisely in Surrey. Spoilt for choice!

A Verrier fruit tree at West Dean, Feb 2012

Earlier this year, I enjoyed an amazing day out in West Dean College in Chichester, learning about training fruit trees, and their list of courses this year looks very tempting indeed. Many areas are covered, including ‘Planting in the shade garden’, a one day course for creating your own blog and ‘Successional planting in the vegetable garden’ with Charles Dowding. I’m looking at courses during summer, so that I also get to visit their much heralded walled kitchen garden at the same time.

Charles Dowding in Polytunnel

And Charles Dowding is offering ‘no dig’ courses from January at his new farm in Somerset. Really worth the trip as I discovered earlier this year.

Judith Hann amongst the Lovage 3

On a herby theme, Judith Hann is offering courses in May and June in Oxfordshire and Jekka’s Herb Farm will soon be posting dates for next year’s workshops in Alveston, near Bristol.

Dahlia Summer Night in the Exotic Garden at Great Dixter, August 2011

And Sarah Raven is offering both flower and veg growing courses in both her Perch Hill gardens in East Sussex and further afield.

Aya volunteering at 'Food from the sky'

Back in (North) London, and the wonderful ‘Food from the Sky’ (above Budgens supermarket in Crouch End) is starting its ‘seed2seed’ foundation in urban food growing in March and positively encourages volunteering on their roof top on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Miles Irving giving foraging talk

And over the last couple of years, I’ve enjoyed some great urban foraging talks at the fantastic community garden in King Henry’s Walk and look forward to more in 2013.

As ever, I’m slightly ovderwhelmed by the amount of goodies on offer, but I know whatever course I attend, I’ll end up the richer for it. And if you know of other courses for 2013 in your area, do share a link in the comments below, wherever you are!

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Sumptuous curves of Amsterdam

Inspired by Wellywoman’s Golden Welly awards, I thought I’d have a look back over the year and round-up some of my favourite horticultural experiences. So in no particular order (other than what first pops into my head)…..

On the third weekend every June, usually hidden Canal Gardens in Amsterdam are open to the public, so I popped over to Holland with fellow blogger Veronica (you can just see her there in the background) to have a look. (In 2013 Open Canal gardens are 14-16 June ).I have to admit, the omnipresent box parterres were slightly overwhelming by the end of the weekend, but I loved the giant curvaceous sculptural box forms in this garden at Kerkstraat 67.

Sumptuously curvy hedging in Amsterdam 2

Impeccably maintained, this garden was the most inspirational by far out of the 25 gardens or so that we packed in over the two days.

pots in Amsterdam 2

I haven’t been to Amsterdam for years, and I’d forgotten what a fantastic place it is just to hang out. And maybe the real horticultural treat for me over the weekend was not so much the canal gardens (although some were stunning), but the great planting that you see in the streets throughout this beautiful city.

pots in Amsterdam_

At every turn, pots were bursting with blooms,

Streets of Amsterdam

and roses adorned all manner of objects, seemingly springing out of deep concrete. Amazing!

De Kas Restaurant in Amsterdam

To complete our horticulturally themed weekend, we dined at De Kas restaurant, a short tram ride just outside the city centre. It’s a fabulous spot. Vegetable beds surround an enormous revamped municipal greenhouse and dining in this open airy structure added to the joy of eating their delicious meals, where fresh produce from the gardens is used as much as possible.

Black Krim tomatoes

Back in Blighty, I know it wasn’t a great year for tomatoes, but Black Krim, a beefsteak variety which I’d tasted the previous summer at Victoriana Nurseries , was another curvaceous delight. It looks wild and tastes great. Really meaty and rich. I’m definitely growing these again next year. (more…)

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Lettuces in the beginning of October

At the beginning of October, I’d been picking leaves from lettuces sown at the end of June and July already for a couple of weeks, and I was hoping to continue this supply of fresh leaves throughout autumn.

Lettuces at  beg December

Eight weeks later, and even after a couple of frosts, some of the lettuces are still going strong, but now I wonder how they’re going to fare as autumn turns into winter.

I know other growers, such as Charles Dowding, produce magnificent leaves all year round, but these are grown in protected environments such as polytunnels and greenhouses. Living in London, with our brick houses packed tightly together, does provide me with an extra few degrees of warmth, so I’m hoping this will give my outdoor crop a fighting chance. You may ask, why not use your own polytunnel? Well, it’s all about space. Space is minimal, so there’s no room for walk in polytunnels, and I’ve found small cloches really fiddly for both picking and watering. I guess large arched metal hoops covered with fleece would give a little more protection whilst not blocking the rain, but that means you have to undo it all and re-attach it each time you want to pick your lettuces and large swathes of fleece are none-too-decorative in a small front garden either.

So I’ve decided to keep my experiments protection free.

Leetuce at the beginning of December

My ‘Merveille de Quatre Saisons’, at the back of the bed, were sown at the end of June, a bit too early I reckon, and have now all gone to seed. My Cos ‘Freckles’ at the bottom left of the pic were sown at the beginning of September. A bit too late for them to really reach a big enough size for my autumn salads. But my ‘Cocarde’ oak-leaf lettuces are a real triumph. Sown at the end of July, I’ve been picking them from late September and although I’m not eating them every night (and sometimes mixing them with bought lettuces), they give me lots of tasty leaves to eat and look fantastic in my front garden too.

I’m not sure how much longer they’ll continue for (will keep you updated), but this year’s experiments are encouraging (and delicious). I think next year I’ll be planting a whole heap of lettuces at the end of July/beginning of August, as that seems the optimum time to get my autumn leaves off to a flying start.

Mustard leaves at  beg December 2

Meanwhile, mustard leaves (and a few more lettuces) sown mid September, but not planted out until November, have just quietly settled in, without putting on any growth. Again, an earlier sowing in mid August and planting out in September or the beginning of October will hopefully give me spicy leaves aplenty next year.

So although my timings were a little out this summer, I’m really pleased that I still do have some tasty leaves to nibble at (including some self seeded baby nasturtium leaves) and hopefully, with some more careful planning, I’ll do better next year. I’m itching to get sowing seeds already!

p.s. All lettuces above available from Sarah Raven

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