Archive for the ‘Courses’ Category

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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Shame led me onto a very enjoyable herb course recently, run by Judith Hann of Hann’s Herbs Gloucestershire. Shame that I didn’t know what Lovage looked like and also the fact that I had no idea how to use it even if I did get hold of a bunch or two. Although proficient at growing many of the better known herbs such as mint, marjoram, sage and thyme, Judith’s course offered an introduction into some unknown (to me) herbs, with plenty of cookery ideas as part of the day too.

After a warming Lemon verbena tea (much-needed after driving 3 hours in a never-ending downpour!), we started the course by tasting, and discussing, the uses of various herbs and salad leaves. Here’s a quick ID of the perennial herbs above for those of you who may be in the same boat as myself.

Top left is the beautifully airy Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis oderata). I was wondering why there was a fern nestling amongst the other herbs until I tasted its gentle aniseed flavour. Leaves are delicious in salads, but we were  informed that the stems are also a great natural sweetener. The next day I cooked up some Rhubarb with the Sweet Cicely stems, with no added sugar, and it certainly took the tartness out of the rhubarb. I did add sugar to the crumble top, but with half the amount of sugar for the whole dish, calorie-wise, this can only be a good thing!

Top right is Buckler leaf Sorrel (Rumex scatatus, AKA French Sorrel). Smaller and shaplier than it’s larger Sorrel relative, but with the same tart lemon taste and an almost succulent crunch to the leaf. Great for sauces and cooking with fish, as well as citrusy leaves for salads. I have a rather decorative red-veined Sorrel happily growing away in my front garden, but wasn’t sure if this indeed was a Sorrel as it has no distinguishing taste to it at all. Judith confirmed its tasteless credentials, thus clearing up one of my many herby misconceptions.

Bottom left is Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor). Leaves do grow a little bigger and they add a refreshing hint of cucumber  to the salad bowl. Slightly metalic aftertaste, but very pleasing non-the-less and a very decorative plant for the garden too, growing in a bushy habit to about 60cm with pinky-red small pompom like flowers in summer.

And finally, bottom right. The Lovage itself. Eaten raw, it has an intense celery flavour and can be used in salads, sauces, soups and to flavour cheese. Judith gave us an intriguing recipe for roasted guinea fowl with lime, vermouth and cream, which I cooked soon afterwards. Very easy to make and truly delicious. A recipe I’ll be using again and again -that is if I can get hold of a few handfuls of lovage.

As we chomped and chatted, Judith imparted many useful bits of herb knowledge, including the fact that Sorrel, Mint and Chervil will grow better in a shadier spot in the garden and that in Marks and Spencer’s trials, ‘Miss Jessop’s Upright’ was found to be the tastiest Rosemary out of 30 different varieties! Lovely upright plant, as the name suggests, growing to about 1m high.

As we moved onto salad leaves and started nibbling at Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus-henricus), above left, armed with a Jekka’s Herb Farm catalogue, the anorak in me couldn’t help realising that Fat Hen (C. album), above , bottom right, is a near relative. Fat Hen is now seen as a weed, but on a foraging course last year, I learnt that it was the European precursor to spinach and is a highly edible leaf. Top right is Tree Spinach (C. giganteum), a delighfully decorative form of the genus, with amazing bright pink powdery colouring at the bottom of the leaves. It’s a whopper of a plant too, growing up to 2 metres and a prolific self-seeder,  so once bought, you’ll never have to buy a pack of seeds again!

Sorry, I digress. Back to the course, and next on the agenda was the serious and highly enjoyable business of tasting various pestos made from different herbs and having a go ourselves at preparing our own herby starters in the kitchen. At this point, during sunnier summers, we would have started to wander around the gardens, but the rain during the whole day was relentless, so we happily settled down to lunch, an enjoyable feast of fresh produce from the garden.

Finally, it was time to brave the elements. Wellies and waterproofs were donned and we were expertly guided around the herb garden.

It is so useful to see the herbs growing in situ to gather an understanding of the growing conditions each herb will need and to see how big they can grow too. Judith has been growing Lovage in the same spot for 18 years and as it’s a tall herb (can grow up to 2m), uses it to create shade on one side of her greenhouse.

Many of the herbs, such as Sweet Cicely above, and Sorrel, are just going to seed now, and will be cut down to encourage fresh new growth for the rest of the summer.

Seeds of annual herbs, such as Coriander (above) and Chervil, are sown in July and August, providing flavours for autumn and happily overwintering outside in the garden. Something I plan to do now, along with sowing mustard leaves in late summer for winter salads too.

Sages were abundant in a number of forms, from grey green sage (S. officinalis) to purple sage (Salvia officinalis ‘Purpurescens’),

a delicate small-leaved white-flowered sage (S.x sylvestris ‘Schneehugel’?)

and an impressively huge clump of a large-leaved sage (sorry, variety unknown), which would happily fill up most of my front garden!

Edging paths with Winter Savory was discussed  as it’s a semi evergreen herb (with an intense Thyme flavour) and I loved seeing wild strawberries (above) edging the beds too.

Judith encouraged us to take away cuttings of all of the herbs in her garden, along with handfuls of seeds, and I left brimming with enthusiasm for both growing and cooking with a larger palette of herbs than I was aware of before the day had started.

Lovage, Sweet Cicely and Sorrel are top on my list, and I can’t wait to get planting, as all 3 herbs are nigh on impossible to find in most local green grocers or supermarkets, but make a great addition even when cooking the simplest of dishes. A day certainly well spent and now planning future trips to expand my herbal horizons.

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