Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Shopping, tea and venice

I've visited a couple of  inner-London garden centres on this blog, each very different. If you're in the Portobello/ Westbourne Grove area, looking for a bit of respite from shopping and Notting Hillites with loud, intrusive voices, I can recommend taking a brisk 15 minute walk north-eastwards and heading under the Westway to Little Venice. (You could of course pick up one of the Barclays Bikes - but they weren't operating for casual use the day I went). Whichever means of transport you choose, when you get there, you can escape the crowds of tourists, sample a bit of waterside London (more Amsterdam, I always think than Venice), and stop for tea and cake at Clifton Nurseries.
It's easy to miss, especially at the moment with the entrance disguised by some of London's finest scaffolding. But dart down the alleyway behind two rows of houses and you'll find a gorgeous plant paradise. Stuffed with beautiful specimens (I had to tear myself away from an Angelica gigas, which the assistant told me does better in damp soil - it will never grow in my garden), and seductive garden accessories. It really doesn't feel like a garden centre and you can get quite lost in the aisles. I loved this large resin pot, embedded with small slices of pruned wood - what a great way to use up your trimmings.

I also liked the fact that the plants are labelled when British grown (it's good to see more garden centres doing this); and there are sections for plants to suit different areas of the garden. These are clearly signposted with advice and tips from local gardeners who open for the NGS - so you can visit a garden, see a plant you like, then pop round the corner to Clifton's to buy it. Very canny. But it is a great place for inspiration for the urban gardener, although a bit of a tease if you're on a budget - their price for a 20cm box ball is £24.95 (almost a tenner more than in less salubrious Hammersmith). And the lemon drizzle cake was not the best, but in such lovely surroundings, it was forgiveable.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Big borders and beetroot cake

I visited two gardens this weekend. They couldn't have been more different in style, size and location. The first was Nymans, in Sussex. I have been driving up and down the A23 for years now, seeing the sign and thinking: next time I'll go and visit. Finally, this weekend was that next time. It's a National Trust classic: an Important Garden. The wealthy Messel family collected plants through the late19th century, created a garden over the next 100 years and had several plants named after them, before bequeathing everything to the NT in the 1950s after a dramatic fire burned down the house (cue Daphne du Maurier plot). It ticks lots of boxes in terms of horticulture, garden design and history: sumptuous seasonal borders, gracious lawns, views, yards of clipped hedging and numerous mature trees and walkways through different styles of planting - woodland, bamboo, heather. The late summer borders were a blast of colour, dazzling, even on a grey, drizzly day and impressive not least because they are only watered every 10-20 days...

On Sunday, I cycled to Richmond on my fabulous new bicycle, to the Old Palace Lane Allotments NGS Open Day. Snaking alongside the railway, the plots broke every health and safety regulation I'm sure, and crammed a huge amount of fruit and veg and people in. There was a lot of bindweed too. But apple and damson trees dripped with fruit, pumpkins nestled in corners and there was a lot of love and pride, even if it wasn't perfectly tended. There were some fine cakes on offer too - the beetroot and chocolate brownies were delicious; and I took home an alchemilla mollis and a pot of tarragon for 50p apiece. It was very far removed from the grandeur of Nymans. I know which one I felt more at home in. 

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Home grown dinners

This is my haul from the allotment this week. I don't expect you to be impressed (but please note the size of the onion, which I am quite proud of). We share what we grow at work between at least 6 or 7 of us, and if you add one bulb of garlic, some tomatoes, french beans, rocket, one carrot and the smallest spuds you have ever seen, from the garden at home, I have managed to accumulate enough ingredients for two almost-homegrown meals.
I did allow myself a couple of extras - the baked courgette stuffing, came with breadcrumbs, feta cheese and pine nuts, the stewed rhubarb for pudding definitely needed some sugar plus a dollop of yoghurt, and I supplemented the sort-of-niceoiseian salad with roasted artichoke hearts and mozzarella. I did take photos of the end result, but presentation has never been my strong point, and both dishes tasted much better than they looked. However, there were no other diners, as husband is still in far flung climates surviving on hotel room service meals, so you'll have to take my word for it.

Friday, 6 August 2010

101 ways to cook courgettes

I don't think I'm in for a tomato glut, judging by the rather demure way my Gardeners' Delights are ripening one at a time. But I think that this year, I could be in the running for domestic level EU courgette mountain status. I have five plants that have so far produced approaching 30 beautiful green specimens - of varying dimensions. Five plants is definitely too many for a household of two and a dog. And now, husband is on another work excursion to far flung climes, a job I'm sure he didn't hesitate to accept when I threatened him with more courgette treats. ("Can we grow something else next year?" he pleaded.)
So far, I have done griddled, raw and fried. This blogger's cheesecake recipe is also a winner and my latest favourite is fritters - grated, mixed with eggs, parmesan, nutmeg and seasoning and shallow fried. V. nice with sweet chilli sauce. Of course a ratatouille is imminent- my aubergines are coming on a treat.
But I am wondering how many ways can you cook a courgette?  I feel duty bound to investigate this. Any suggestions?