Fact of the Week

Forced rhubarb in season now. Don't miss out!

Monday, 31 October 2011

Winter greens or winter blues?

Autumn has been superlative. The garden is looking far less sepulchral than usual at this time of year. The dahlias are still flowering (a small nod to the mighty Great Dixter), the winter dianthus are offering an unexpected show of pink and many of the perennials are yet to shed their leaves.

Despite this late flurry of summer, I have been busily preparing for the long winter months ahead: mulching; moving tender plants inside; and planting row upon row of cavolo nero, kale and purple and white sprouting broccoli. These keystones of my winter larder are not constrained, like the summer produce, to my raised beds but are planted liberally throughout the garden, in the space vacated by the summer show stoppers.

These seedlings will breathe new life into my winter garden, as well as providing a rich source of food through to spring.  The sprouting broccoli will stand green and tall, its thick glossy leaves defying winter's harsh yoke. The cavolo nero will fringe the garden with palms, each single stem supporting a bunched canopy of leaves overhead, as if laughing in winter's face. The kale will grow wiry and strong, flourishing despite winter's bad grace.

So as the days shorten and I am robbed, from Monday to Friday, of daylight hours by work, the garden will provide an excuse to breathe winter's crisp air, to feel its watery sun on my back, a reminder that all is not lost, dead or hibernating, and a source of hearty winter food. Its vibrants winter greens are the perfect defence against winter blues.

My blueberry bush ablaze with autum reds

The beautiful red spires of dogwood

The smiling faces of winter pansies

The warm brilliance of autumn

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Time waits for no woman

I have not written for a while.  Or tended to my garden.  Or cooked any new recipes.  Or run (or done any other form of exercise).  Or taken any photographs that I am proud of.  Or baked.  Or spent time with my naughty little sister who matters more to me than anyone else in the world (but don't tell her).

I have however spent a weekend in Bristol with my university girlfriends to celebrate my wonderful friend Anna's birthday; window shopped my way around the annual Great Dixter Plant Fair (save for one giant pale lavender blue Scabiosa, a Penstemmon Digitalis and a Echinacea Pink Double Delight- given the selection of plants on offer, this was an exercise of the utmost restraint); sampled the wonderful Kentish produce being offered, cooked and quickly sold at the Broadstairs Food Festival; crunched through the rusty leaves in the grounds of Rousham House; eaten a chocolate and almond croissant sitting on the pavement in the sunshine at Columbia Road Flower Market; been on several bad dates; and done my first day's training to be a mentor for Kids Company.

So I have not been idle.  I am however, suffering from a shortage of time to do the things that are important to me, the things that add colour to my working week and make the weekends so irresistible.

So why, you may ask, am I taking on something new?

I first heard of Kids Company the day after the riots that swept through large parts of London (including the usually leafy streets of Peckham Rye) in August in an article written by Camila Batmanghelidjh, the charity's founder.  Sitting reading at my kitchen table over a cup of cafetiere coffee, the article made volumes of sense and touched a nerve (one not yet awoken by the coffee) that I, who am lucky enough to spend my weekends cooking, gardening and escaping the crowded London streets to the countryside beyond and still have time to write about it, can and will fit something else in if it is important.

I have one more day's training in two weeks time and then Kids Company will pair me with a child or young adult who has asked for a mentor.  We will spend a couple of hours together on Saturday mornings having fun and learning from each other.

Saturday mornings will become sacred and something else may have to give.  It seems a small sacrifice amongst the other highlights of my week.  And it will, I hope, in its own way become a highlight for me and more importantly for the child who will become the focus of the beginning of my weekend.

The Plant Fair at Great Dixter


The tropical garden at Great Dixter

The last of summer flowers against a summer sky

Ipomea lobata or Spanish flag, curling up verbena bonariensis

Early morning sunshine at Viking Bay, Broadstairs

Cannoli at the Broadstairs Food Festival

Midsummer, 2 October 2011: Viking Bay, Broadstairs

Autumn at Rousham House