Archive for August, 2009

Recipe of the Month – August 2009

28th August 2009

BBQ Cooking Tip

If you missed our BBQ demonstrations at the Gillingham & Shaftesbury Show, try this idea to round off your meal:

Pineapple chunks dipped in rum, sugar and cinnamon then cooked straight on the grill – absolutely delicious!

Plant of the Month, September

27th August 2009

Imagine the archetypal Japanese garden, characterised by simplicity, refinement and calm. The garden is an idealised representation of nature arranged to create a sense of well-being and to serve as a refuge from the stresses of the world. An Acer throws gentle shade onto the house, helping to keep it comfortable through the heat of the day and provides delightful colour effects through spring summer and autumn. A decorative bridge crosses running water and bamboo screens provide sympathetic divisions between the different sections of the garden. Don’t you just wish you were there? With the right plants you could achieve a similar feel in many British gardens.

Perhaps your most important ally in achieving this is the Japanese maple or Acer palmatum. A deciduous tree with a history of cultivation well in excess of 300 years, Japanese maples have been grown in temperate areas outside Japan since the 1800’s. They are well suited to garden conditions because of their compact root systems which are unlikely to undermine paths, structures or compete with other plants. Many Acers have characteristics that are striking through the different seasons, including intense autumn colour, brightly coloured winter bark and fresh new growth in spring. Their style and compactness makes them ideally suited to courtyard gardens, so much so that Acer palmatum ‘Red Pygmy’ ranks second on Channel 4’s ‘10 plants for courtyard gardens’.
Garden centres offer an exciting selection, with many having dedicated shade houses to show off Acers to their best advantage and protect them from too-strong sun which may scorch leaves. Some Acers will grow into small-medium sized trees at maturity. ‘Osakazuki’ (brilliant red autumn colours), for example, may reach a height and spread of 6m. ‘Bloodgood’ (height and spread up to 5m) is always popular and the dark red-purple leaves take on a fantastic vivid red in autumn. For very finely cut leaves as well as colour, look to ‘Garnet’, ‘Burgundy Lace’ or ‘Dissectum’ (leaves turn gold in autumn). These are also on the bigger side for Acers. For very confined spaces or containers, look out for ‘Red Pygmy’, ‘Corallinum’ or ‘Crimson Queen’.
Acers are adaptable plants, but are unhappy in wet or dry conditions and find very alkaline soils difficult to cope with. Some shade is an advantage for green-leaved or variegated varieties, but red leaves do need sun to develop deep reds to their full.

As we move into September, the next event in the natural calendar is the turning of the leaves, prior to their fall. This selection of Acers, plus many others that can be found at retail outlets, can provide a wonderful reflection of autumn right by your doorstep. Couple this will some Far Eastern flavour and you can create some garden magic to come home to!

Something in the air!

27th August 2009

I feel we are on the cusp; we are after all approaching the autumnal equinox [September the 22nd] and the start of autumn. But as you read this we still have the joys of summer with the pleasures of autumn to come. Take today for example; it’s been a nice day, not too hot not too cold just a nice day. I finished my work, came home, and pulled nettles for an hour. I had spent a lot of time earlier in the year pulling them out and spraying them with glyphosate weed killer but still they come. The skin on my forearms is tingling where my gloves failed to protect me. I do try and leave a few nettles here and there; they provide food and a home to up to 40 different species of insect including several species of butterfly which include the Small Tortoiseshell, the Comma, the Red Admiral, and the Peacock. Not only do butterflies feed on the flowers but they also lay their eggs on them. The young nettle leaves make a nutritious soup [apparently – only time I ever tried it smelt like boiled wee] and a tea that will ease a host of complaints from arthritis to hemorrhoids. Apparently.

A sure sign that the seasons are changing is the mix of things on sale in the garden centres. We now have our bulbs on sale with the full range of spring flowering daffodils, narcissi, tulips hyacinths and all the less common sorts. And if you want to know the difference between daffodils and narcissi I will let you into the secret…….there is no difference at all! Narcissus [plural= narcissi] is the botanical term and daffodil is the common name. In practice we use the first for special varieties and the species and daffodils to describe the everyday garden daffs with large golden or mixed colour trumpets. Gardeners and horticulturists have their own language, not jargon, but language but it adds to the whole growing experience to know what things are really called.

The other question so often asked is why have you got bulbs in the middle of summer? It’s all in the timing. The bulbs are actually lifted when the foliage dies down in May, then they are sorted and graded and prepared for sale. We could probably have them on sale in July but that really would be too early. The planting time extends up to the end of November for daffodils and the end of December for tulips, but these are the very latest dates and I certainly recommend buying your bulbs as early as possible if you want a good choice rather than the leftovers.

This is a wonderful time in the natural year. Hedgerows and orchards are heavy with fruit and the wild creatures are busy all around us, getting ready for the harder days to come. But for now, summer’s finale is there to be enjoyed.

Now is a good time for a sort out after the lazy days of summer. Pots and baskets will be looking tired and the lawn may be patchy, so there are plenty of excuses to be in the garden. We’re also coming into prime time for planting, from bulbs to perennials, shrubs and trees.

And September means ‘back to school’… If you haven’t got children this makes it a great time to get out and about, to visit gardens or go on plant-buying trips, away from the crowds of summer holidays. If your family is still at home, make the most of after school to get them outside, blackberrying and letting off steam after being cooped up all day.

Plant of the Month – August

14th August 2009

Mid to late summer can still produce stunning plants. I know a lot of your summer favourites are finished or having a rest before the autumn flush, but there are lots of good hardy perennials to choose from.

If you’re looking for a plant with architectural qualities, a hint of the exotic and very low requirements for care, then ornamental grasses could be your answer. Flowering grasses provide a spectacle in the garden that far outweighs their demands for care, or their initial investment. Many, including Imperata, Pennisetum and Miscanthus are said to be ‘trouble free’ and they can bring pleasure year after year. They’re also fantastic for softening up hard landscaping, perhaps on a new-build site.

The range of ornamental grasses available these days means that you can find something for every situation. In even the smallest garden you should be able to plant specimens of several different species/varieties. The taller species and varieties offer the promise of sensory reward from the movement and sound as breezes sough through the leaves. Shorter grasses are suitable for container planting.

Here is a flavour of the wide variety of shapes and sizes on offer. Miscanthus sinensis ‘Silberfeder’ (silver feather) can develop stems as long as 2.5m that remain as an attractive garden feature through winter. The leaves of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Zebrinus’ are shorter (reaching about 1.2m), but the creamy horizontal banding they exhibit can make them appear stippled in sunshine on cloudy days. Imperata cylindrica ‘Rubra’, also known as the ‘Red Baron’, is another spectacular grass. It’s a clump-forming plant and the leaves are shorter, at about 40cm, but they turn red from the tips of the stems downwards, almost as far as the base. Penisetum villosum (also known as feathertop) is an example of a wonderful perennial grass that produces soft, feathery heads in late summer and early autumn.
Ornamental grasses combine well with other plants. Autumn flowering plants, for example, asters, helianthus or chrysanthemums make good partners, but foliage plants can also be effective alongside more subtle grasses. For example a side-by-side blend of the foliage of Miscanthus sinensis ‘Variegatus’ and Elaeagnus ‘Quicksilver’ can be a delightful and understated combination.

Most grasses are easy to grow and will thrive in even poorer soils, though they do tend to need a full sun position. Once established they will perform year after year with the minimum of intervention and have low water requirements, making them perfect for drought-prone areas. However, if you want to do your best by them, feed in spring with a general purpose fertilizer. They’re sufficiently sturdy to survive the odd ball being kicked through them, which makes them the ideal choice for a family garden.
Grasses bring a soft and sympathetic element to the garden and don’t need a lot of water or care. The flowers add colour and contrasting shape and texture. These can all allowed to grow in amongst each other, and the effect gets better each year. Cut them all back at the end of the winter to let the new growth come through, then enjoy the fresh foliage, developing flowers and then the wonderful summer colour. When all is done the grass and flower seed heads provide food for the birds as well a great winter display.

Imperata-cylindrica-Re Stipa-brachytigra

Gardening month by month – Summer Goodies

14th August 2009

I want to make two points. Bear with me, rather than bare with me which is a totally different concept and one which would be out of place in the majority of gardening columns.

Firstly, the weather. Ok, don’t be cross – I know I promised you a good summer this year, and I know July has been wet rather than dry, but look at it this way. We have had some really useful rain which has replenished the soil moisture level and will keep things going longer. So, if, as I fervently hope, we have a cracking August, then the grass, the veg patch, the borders and the shrubberies will all do better than if we were bone dry at this point.

Secondly, your garden produce. This is the exciting bit. I don’t know if it is just that all the cookery writers try and publish books either in the summer to get on your summer reading list or just before Christmas to get on your gift list, but books and especially magazine articles abound with great ideas for summer cooking and using the fruits of your labours.

I like to cook,; I am not a great cook but I have never poisoned anyone with my efforts. I usually fall down on meal timings – blokes do. Veg ready an hour before the meat, that sort of thing. But I’m getting better, and I’m really enjoying outdoor cooking. Gas or charcoal barbeques with lids [that is really important otherwise you are very limited in what you can do just on a hot grill], This is partly tied to the fact that one of the heating elements in the oven packed up a while ago and I haven’t got round to fixing it yet, so the barbeque is the quicker option! I am lucky in having a bit of cover I can cook under and watch the rain from as I sip a cool beer or nice little rose`.

There are so many ways of cooking food and the shorter the distance between the place it was grown and the place it is cooked, the better. Salads picked, washed and served with 30 minutes! The only way to get anything fresher would be to graze it where it grows. We all have our favourite writers and publications. Personally Guardian or Observer foodie bits are usually good, and by that I mean manageable and I do read Nigel Slater. Good unpretentious stuff. And that’s it really, maximum pleasure from actually using the things that you grow. Life does not get any better than that.

Grow your own veg

4th August 2009

The big story this year has been home veg growing. Grow your own has so many real benefits from cost-beating home production to having fresh produce with real home grown flavour and the immense satisfaction of putting something you have grown yourself on the dinner table.

It’s absolutely unbeatable!

Guerrilla Gardening hits Gillingham

4th August 2009

guerrila gardening

Mysteriously, overnight the Orchard Park Roundabout on Shaftesbury Road has sprouted flowers! It happened just in time for the summer visitors and has brightened up a bit of a dead spot.

The roundabout has been sadly neglected and was only mown every now and then so as one of the main entry points to Gillingham it was certainly lacking in pizzazz. The soil here is very poor and the guerrilla gardeners went to the trouble of installing five attractive raised beds made out of treated half round timber.

A mass of locally grown [Mere] geraniums are getting their roots down and with a bit of good weather should put on a show until the autumn. Who knows what will happen then!

The roundabout is at the entrance to Gillingham’s garden centre Orchard Park. Richard Cumming, who runs the business there, said “ I have absolutely no idea how the planters got there but it does make a wonderful difference. We have been in discussion with the local council for some considerable time about landscaping the roundabout but we are still trying to sort out costs with them as apparently we are going to have to pay business rates if we sponsor it.”

So, in the meantime Orchard Park have said that they will gladly look after the flowers and keep the grass cut, and have promised the guerrilla gardeners a bit of help with an autumn or winter display when the time comes.

Want more information?

Contact Richard Cumming, Orchard Park, Shaftesbury Road, Gillingham SP8 5PX