Monday, 15 August 2011

The heat of the moment

A riot of colours is the perfect antidote to the colour of rioting. London has been a strange place this past week. For the the first time in some 20 or so years of living here, I felt unsafe in my own home, just a few miles down the road from Ealing. But with no decent local shops worth looting, we seem to have escaped trouble, for now.
A flipside to the dark destruction, Kew gardens on Tuesday was a surreally peaceful haven in West London, the Duke's garden borders joyously exuberant with agapanthus, heleniums and other late summer flowers. People were strolling in the sunshine, as if nothing untoward was in the air.
At the end of the week I went to deepest South London to the lavender fields just south of Croydon, with my friend Dan. Who would have thought this picture, worthy of a provencal perfume-makers' field would be sitting on the outskirts of a burning borough? Mayfield Lavender is definitely worth a visit and again, picnickers and pleasure-seekers made all those troubles seem far away.
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And on Sunday I dodged Surrey road closures (due to the Olympic bike trial) and went to take a look at the late summer exuberance of the borders at Wisley. Now is a great time to see them in their full glory. 

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Summer harvest

It's not ideal, growing vegetables and fruit in a north-facing garden. But, against the odds (and the south facing back wall) our pear tree is dripping with fruit again, for the second summer. I know I should remove a few to allow it to concentrate its efforts, but I haven't got the heart to - I would prefer many, but smaller fruits. The fig tree is also looking quite abundant, probably thanks to the early heat of the summer - hopefully this latest blast of hot weather will finish them off nicely. Fig and pear tart, I'm thinking?
But I'm glad I'm not trying to be self-sufficient. My summer cropping so far totals about four courgettes, a smattering of blueberries, a few bowls of salad, a handful of chard leaves and a few stalks of rhubarb.
I left the work allotment behind when I opted for redundancy and I miss collecting lunch and dinner ingredients before heading home. For such an inhospitable location with everything against it, we used to do quite well - the onions and garlic were a revelation. But I had to let it go. My co-founder Linda has also left now, so it's in the capable hands of Tamsin and @katebradbury.  This is the photo that Paul Debois took last winter as part of his Land Girls project, which is a nice tribute. 

But luckily I have a new allotment project to tap into while I wait for a plot of my own (there's at least another 6 years to go on the waiting list...). The People's Plot is a local community allotment, which we're just clearing and getting ship-shape. 
At home I can't quite get the balance between growing food and purely ornamental flowers in my tiny space. I am greedy for both and the flowers seem to be winning this year. I didn't weed out all the self-sown sunflowers, so I have been harvesting bunches of the gorgeous ones in the picture for a few weeks now. But they take up a lot of room and nutrients in my limited soil space. I also let my sole artichoke bud flower - I did contemplate eating it, but the bees are loving it, so it feels like a noble sacrifice. And I'm delighted to see some blue agapanthus making a rare appearance, having only flowered once before in the past five years. Also, particularly gratifying in the floral department, my lovely climbing rose is having a second flush of blooms.
But my tomatoes, even the grafted ones I am trialling, are still resolutely green and small. I have heard about other tomatoes ripening outdoors elsewhere in London, but mine aren't evening deigning to blush.
Still, there are potatoes yet to be unearthed from their growing bags and the climbing french beans are on their way. It's only the first days of August, so there are a few edible things are yet to come. Perhaps even a ripe tomato or two; if I am patient.