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6 Ways to Create an Ornamental and Productive Garden

When I started gardening I had a small patio and a keen desire follow my father’s footsteps and grow fruit and vegetables, but I also wanted flowers and colour, so I started to learn about ways to combine the two. Now, 20 years on, I’m still exploring ways to create garden spaces which encourage relaxation and an enjoyment of the beauty of nature whilst also providing a harvest for the kitchen. Over the past 6 years we’ve turned our back garden into a family space which includes a willow den and lawn with climbing frame for the kids, a flowerbed, a fruit cage and two vegetable beds. I’ve tried to maximise our space by using both horizontal and vertical structures for plants and also by combining the aesthetic and productive wherever possible.

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My first house had a patio which I covered with pots – many containing herbs and edible flowers

Three years ago we started work on the front, the aim being to create a hidden allotment – a space which would blend with the surrounding suburban front gardens and offer us a secret harvest throughout the year. As the size of modern gardens diminishes and the pressure on our outdoor spaces increases, it will become more important to combine productivity with aesthetic appeal. Here are a few of the ways we’ve been adding edibles to our outdoor spaces within an ornamental framework:

The front garden has changed from a sterile, unappealing lawn to a cheerful gravel garden filled with ornamental and edible plants

1. Eat a Hedge

Hedges are an great way to create separate areas, edge borders, establish boundaries and attract wildlife. They are also often used to add formality to a garden. With so many different functions, hedges are likely to be included in most gardens, creating an ideal opportunity to add an productive element. I have many low hedges in the garden – all evergreen and edible – and they provide a harvest throughout the year.

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My low alternative box hedge of Chilean guava (Ugni molinae)

After discussing Chilean guava as an alternative to box hedging with James Wong a few years ago, I thought I’d try it as the edging to the front garden. It has matured over the past three years and it looks like being a good harvest this autumn despite keeping the hedge at only 50cm high. It hasn’t established as well as box, partly because it is more prone to dieback in cold weather and because I haven’t been as assiduous as I should have with watering and feeding, but it isn’t going to contract box blight and its berries are not only edible – they are truly delicious. The children love snacking on them and they work really well as tiny bursts of flavour in muesli and cupcakes. Best of all, when I am weeding or pruning in the front garden, the scent of the fruit from midsummer onwards saturates the air and makes all the hard work worthwhile.

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Rosemary hedge in the front garden

I also have several rosemary and lavender hedges in the garden. I dry the lavender for scented bouquets in the house and add it to sugar for cakes and biscuits. The rosemary provides an invaluable year round harvest for adding to meat dishes, sprinkling over homemade chips and using in savoury biscuits. I’ve used the rosemary hedge in the front to trisect the garden, helping to disguise the rectangular shape. It almost disappears in summer as the flowers take over and then reappears in winter, adding definition and interest to the garden.

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Summer chaos in the front garden envelops the hedge almost entirely

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By early autumn the tripartite structure is becoming clear again

Lavender is generally used to edge the borders. There’s a hedge of dwarf lavender alongside the back flowerbed and one under the front windows. Hedges offer a wonderful opportunity to explore different varieties of lavender and we’re lucky enough to live close to Hitchin Lavender which has an extensive trial field. Summer often finds me wandering around the rows, learning about the different colours, foliage, habits and scents of this intoxicating plant. I grow ‘Twickel Purple’, ‘Dwarf Blue’, ‘Blue Ice’, ‘Munstead’ and ‘Hidcote’ and wish I had room for more varieties.

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Hitchin Lavender trial fields – a favourite summer haunt

Another way I’ve used hedges in the garden is to create compartments in the herb bed. When we moved to the house, the back garden had a long fence with an ugly concrete base which made the left side of the garden grey and monotonous. We planted alternating rosemary and lavender ‘hedgelets’ along the border to break up the line and create areas for different herbs – sage, mint, chives, oregano and thyme – arranged based on the increasing amount of sun as you go down the garden.

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The alternating hedges before their summer trim

If taller and less formal hedges are required, there are lots of suppliers offering native hedge plants these days, like the collection from the Wiggly Wigglers which I’ve often wished I had the space to plant. This particular collection includes ‘blackthorn (for sloe gin), crab apple (for jelly), damson (for jam and a luscious homemade alternative to Ribena), dog rose (for rosehip syrup), elderberry (for flu-preventing syrups from the berries in autumn and delicious cordial from the flowers in spring), hazel (for cob nuts), cherry plum and wild pear (for jams, liqueurs and syrups)’. (Links in the blog are not sponsored – they are simply from companies that I have used in the past and liked.)

 

2. Look up – Walls and Fences

In a small space it is important to use the vertical as well as horizontal plane. We’ve covered the fences around the whole garden with a mixture of soft fruit and trained fruit trees to expand our growing space and hide unpleasant concrete and overlooking windows.

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The apple espaliers went in as a priority

I’ve enjoyed growing our three apple espaliers (‘Bountiful’, ‘Egremont Russet and ‘James Grieve’) as they provide such structure and style along the boundaries. We also have a pink seedless grape ‘Reliance’ trained up the end espalier wire next to a fig ‘White Marseille’. There’s a thornless blackberry ‘Apache’ trained up wires at the back of the garden with a plum ‘Opal’ and greengage ‘Cambridge Gage’ in front, helping to screen the windows of the overlooking houses. The fruit cage has two rows of summer and autumn raspberries at the back, screening next door’s shed and we’ve covered a blank section of wall at the front with a cordon apple ‘Fiesta’.

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Fruit trees have the added advantage of fabulous spring blossom

With the foliage, blossom and fruits, trained fruit trees and bushes should be grown more in our gardens. Requiring little maintenance, except at pruning and feeding times, they form the backbone of our relatively small garden and bring us much pleasure throughout the spring, summer and autumn months.

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Now the espaliers have covered the fence with foliage and are providing us with crumbles, cakes and preserves

 

Cordons, fans and espaliers are all suitable for growing against walls and fences

 

3. Build a Green Roof

In the same spirit of using vertical spaces, I’ve tried to use horizontal spaces even when they are off the ground. When I got tired of ugly bins of the driveway, I designed a binstore with a local carpenter and included a green roof to create more growing space. This is now filled with a mix of edibles and ornamentals – sedum, dianthus, thrift, sempervivums (which although not edible, have a juice with herbal properties similar to Aloe vera and are hardy into the bargain), chillies, herbs and nasturtiums.

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The green roof brimming with herbs, edible flowers and chillies

The herbs (thyme, lemon thyme, summer savoury, golden marjoram and French tarragon) are thriving, as are the succulents, thrift and dianthus. The chillies have suffered from lack of water at times, so if I plant them in the roof again I’ll need to keep more of an eye on them if we want a larger crop. I’m also intending to try alpine strawberries (Fragraria vesca ‘White Soul’) in the roof next year to develop the edible theme.

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My first ever Habanero (Habanero Red) in the green roof

 

4. Spread Scented Ground Cover

Many herbs provide great ground cover, adding attractive foliage, flowers and scent to a garden, whilst also being extremely useful in the kitchen. Our front garden had a muddy path to which we’ve added paving and gravel, leaving plenty of space to plant ground cover herbs. There is a range of thymes, including woolly thyme (Thymus pseudolanuginosus), creeping white thyme (Thymus serpyllum var. albus) and creeping lemon thyme (Thymus citriodorus ‘Aurea’), alongside pennyroyal mint (Mentha pulegium) and chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile ‘Flore Pleno’). They create an aromatic effect as you wander along the path (along with the oregano which has self-seeded down the side passage and releases the most lovely scent when we put the bins out). They are enjoying the location, in full sun, and have rewarded us by increasing in size, creating plenty of ground cover even when they’ve just been harvested.

We turned the weedy muddy area into a path with room for ground cover herbs

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The woolly thyme is doing a good job colonising the water meter cover

 

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The herbs also have beautiful flowers in the summer – an extra bonus

 

 

5. Munch on Edible Flowers and Colourful Veg

Many vegetable patches are visible from the house these days rather than hidden at the bottom of a long plot, so it’s important to consider how the productive area will add to the aesthetics of the garden. Including annuals and perennials with edible flowers in the vegetable patch is an easy way to engage children with gardening and create a visually appealing, vibrant space.

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The kids love picking petals from the garden to adorn their salads

We grow calendula, borage, bergamot, marigolds, nasturtiums, viola, dianthus, primroses and lavender either in the veg beds or elsewhere in the garden. Although they don’t add a great amount of bulk to meals, they can be used to brighten up salads, cakes, biscuits and ice-cubes, adding a bit of creative fun to family meals.

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This is a summer plateful which we harvested and added to a crisp Caesar salad

Colourful vegetables are also a valuable addition to an ornamental vegetable patch as they create visual interest. From pea ‘Blauschokker’ with its delicate purple flowers and deep purple pods, rainbow chard with its thick stems shining like jewels in the sun to purple kohl rabi with UFO shaped swollen stems, there are so many interesting coloured vegetables from which to choose.

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Fabulous rainbow chard with vibrant stems

 

6. Pot it up

If you don’t have a fruit and vegetable patch, but want to grow ornamental crops, containers could be the answer. Several years ago I bought a great book called ‘Crop in Pots’ by  Bob Purnell. I loved the illustrations which pay as much attention to creating attractive displays as they do to providing food for the table.

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The redcurrants and dianthus work so well together here

I’ve tried several of the combinations over the years and made up some of my own, like the fruit salad hanging baskets for the school fete with alpine strawberries (we used Fragraria vesca ‘Baron Solemacher’) and chocolate mint (Mentha x piperita ‘Chocolate Mint’) with its deep brown stems and bronze flush to the leaves.

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This lovely combination is right up my street as a I love growing chillies and herbs for curries

Even with a small patio, windowbox or windowsill, it’s possible to grow beautiful plants which taste good too. My chilli collection includes some really ornamental plants like ‘Numex Twilight’ and ‘Purple Gusto’. I also love edible houseplants like Vanilla Grass (Pandanus amaryllifolius) and Kaffir Lime (Citrus hystrix) which can bring a little productive beauty into any house, whether or not it has a garden.

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My chilli ‘Numex Twilight’ looks great surrounded by mint and lemon verbena

Growing edibles is in the garden is great fun and connects us with the origins of our food, reminding us of the fundamental yet often overlooked role plants play in our busy, modern lives. Best of all, in an ornamental edible garden, a feast for the eyes can be transformed into a feast for the table and that’s a truly beautiful thing.

What are your favourite ornamental and edible combinations? Do leave me a comment and let me know what you are growing and how it’s going. What would you advise me to try next in the colourful veggie patch and what new varieties are on your wish list?

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Plot to Plate: Apple and Cinnamon Butter

If you have a glut of windfall apples and have already made a sticky apple traybake with this irresistible recipe from A Bookish Baker (for a gluten free version I just substituted gluten free self raising flour for ordinary flour), I would heartily recommend turning the rest into apple and cinnamon butter. You can then enjoy your harvest on toast, pancakes and in porridge throughout the rest of the year and into 2017…

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Teatime this week has been a nice cup of assam with a slice of sticky apple traybake 😁

Ingredients

450g cooking apples, peeled, cored and sliced

450g eating apples, peeled, cored and sliced

Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon

675g granulated sugar

475ml dry cider

1 tsp ground cinnamon

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Apples ready to go…

Method

Boil cider and continue heating until volume is reduced by half, then add apples, lemon rind and juice

Cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes. Uncover and cook for 20-30 minutes until apples are soft

Once mixture has cooled a little, blend to a puree. Press through a fine sieve into a bowl

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This shiny puree is ready for the sugar

Measure puree into into large pan, add 275g for every 600ml of puree. Add cinnamon and stir well to combine

Gently heat the mixture, stirring continuously, until sugar had completely disappeared. Increase hear and boil steadily for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until mixture forms a thick puree that holds its shape when spooned on a cold plate

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Decanting the butter…

Spoon the apple and cinnamon butter into warmed sterilised jars. Seal and label, then store in a cool, dark place for 2 days for flavours to develop

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This little lot will keep us happy for months

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Apple and cinnamon butter on gluten free buttermilk pancakes 😁

This recipe is based on one in a great book called Preserves and Pickles, by Catherine Atkinson and Maggie Mayhem which we use for many of our preserves, especially in the autumn.

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Allotment 96B: The Unusual, the Innovative and the Just Plain Weird…

Five months into allotment life and we’re hooked and starting to plan for next year. I’ve really enjoyed having more space to experiment, especially with some more unusual crops, and now it’s time to take stock. Here’s my conclusions so far on which have impressed and definitely made it into the seed list for next year and which are all show and no substance…

Fat Baby Achocha

My fat baby achocha (Cyclanthera pedata or possibly Cyclanthera brachyastacha – see Real Seeds website for further information) has been slow to start this year. Having grown other achocha before, I expected the allotment to be covered with rampaging vines, but until a couple of weeks ago there wasn’t that much growth and only a few fruit. Some other UK growers seemed to having similar experiences, so I guess the weather might have been to blame. However, my fat babies have been making up for lost time recently and I don’t think I’m going to need to buy green peppers for the foreseeable future.

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A snuggle of fat babies (or any other appropriate collective noun)

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This is where my fat babies live, next to my black-eyed susans

If you haven’t grown achocha, I would classify them in the ‘unusual’ category. They haven’t revolutionised the way I grow or cook, but they are easier to grow in bulk than standard peppers and can be used in much the same way. They work well when small as a raw addition to salads and are great in stir fried or on pizza when they get bigger.

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Mushroom and achocha pizza for tea

 

Trombocino

This climbing courgette (Cucurbita pepo) is a sweet tasting variety of butternut squash which can be eaten fresh or ripened and stored as a winter squash. This little baby trombocino is destined for courgette and chilli cornbread, but the daddy trombocino is still lurking in the undergrowth ready for harvest and measuring for the end of September for the Sutton’s Cup. I’m sure it won’t be the winning specimen, but it’ll be fun finding out.

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Ta da da da da da daaaaaa….

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Big Daddy trombocino

I like trombocinos for their versatility, ornamental value and productivity. I’d definitely grow them again and they fall into my ‘unusual’ category.

Oca

Oca or New Zealand yam (Oxalis tuberosa) originates from the Andes. I first grew it several years ago because, unlike potatoes, the foliage isn’t poisonous and is not susceptible to blight. Now the children are a little older it’s not so important to avoid poisonous plants, but the oca has thrived and become a family favourite.

Who could resist planting these little aliens?

Here’s my top 5 reasons why I’d place oca in the ‘innovative’ category…

  1. It is harvested around November when there is little else of interest in the vegetable garden. My kids and I love winter forays into the frosty garden (oca is best harvested after a hard frost has killed the foliage), returning with piles of red and yellow jewels – enough to brighten everyone’s day.
  2. They are very easy to grow, require no specialist knowledge and can be used in a range of ways – mashed, roasted or even raw in salads.
  3. You can save large tubers in paper bags in a dark place over winter and bring into the light to chit in early spring, which means unless you want to try new varieties, this is a very cheap crop to grow.
  4. The foliage is edible – with a lemony tang rather like sorrel. As with rhubarb, spinach and sorrel, oca leaves and tubers contain oxalic acid and therefore should only be eaten in small amounts and avoided by people who suffer from arthritis, gout and certain other ailments (for further information see the Plants For a Future Database). Tubers can be left in the light for a week or two after harvest to reduce the oxalic acid context and sweeten the taste.
  5. They are at the forefront of a movement to democratise the plant breeding process by the Guild of Oca Breeders – a group of gardeners, farmers and horticulturalists who are working to create an ‘open source and genetically diverse, day neutral oca’. This should help to improve yields, making the crop more successful in northern latitudes. I’m enjoying being part of this experiment, trying different varieties, studying growth habits and dissecting the beautiful yellow flowers to learn about how they are structured.

Planting and labelling duties

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Hoping we get another harvest like this in November…

 

Fuchsiaberry

My husband loves fuchsias and we’ve amassed a small collection of hardy fuchsias in pots and in the front garden. I can’t resist anything which purports to be edible, so I’ve tried the berries of our fuchsias with increasing reluctance as I encountered increasingly watery, insipid fruits with a most unpleasant astringency in the mouth afterwards. So when I read about the new Fuchsiaberry fuchsia from Thompson and Morgan, bred to be a heavy cropper and to have ‘large sweet fruits packed with vitamin C and nutrients’, I was intrigued.

Beautiful flowers and large berries

I planted the 5 plugs in pots, grew them on and then planted them in the allotment earlier in the season. They have grown moderately well, although a couple are suffering from the hot conditions and they have some dieback. The remaining 3 plants have plenty of attractive flowers and this week the fruits started to appear. They are a rich burgundy and promise juicy pickings, so I was disappointed when the taste was reminiscent of my hardy fuchsia berries, but with perhaps a slightly less astringent after effect. Maybe it’s something about the growing conditions or when I harvested them (they were plump and juicy), but I can’t see the Fuchsiaberry fulfilling its promise to ‘change allotments and flower borders in the UK’ if everyone else’s berries taste like mine do. I’m afraid, in my allotment at least, this experiment has been relegated to the ‘just plain weird’ category!

Some other unusual favourites

That’s it for the more unusual in the allotment this year, but I’m still experimenting in the garden with cucamelons, lemon grass, tree chillies, honeyberries, inca berries, Chilean guava, coffee and tea. Now I have the allotment space, my plans for next year include earth chestnuts, yacon, ulluco (two more South American tubers), perennial kale – possibly sea kale and/or Daubenton’s kale and my tomatillos will be reappearing after failing to germinate twice this year. I’ll still be growing beetroot, sprouts, tomatoes, potatoes, raspberries, carrots and many more ordinary staples, but I wouldn’t be without the wacky, weird and wonderful for all the tubers in the Andes.

Have unusual crops done well in your allotments this year? I’d love to hear about what you’re growing and how it’s going (especially if anyone’s had good experiences with Fuchsiaberry and can convince me to give it another go!) Thanks.

If you’d like to know how my unusual and more regular crops are getting on throughout the year, do follow my blog:

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Plot to plate: stuffed summer squash

I’ve sometimes grown fruit and veg in the garden and then had insufficient time, in the whirl of hectic family life, to harvest and/or cook it, which rather defeats the object of growing it in the first place. Now my youngest is at school I’m resolved to make more time to enjoy the fruits (and veg) of my labours and to share some of the recipes that have proved popular on the blog.

So here’s one I made last week with summer squashes I swapped locally for some of my excess chilli peppers…

Stuffed Summer Squash

Ingredients

1 summer squash

Approx. 50g soft goat’s cheese

1/2 red pepper

Handful of mint leaves

Method

Cut out the top of the squash and scoop out the seeds and membrane, discard

Roast the squash in the oven at 180ºc until just soft – around 40 minutes depending on size

Cut the pepper and cheese into chunks

Finely cut the mint

Mix pepper, cheese and mint together

When the squash is soft, stuff the centre with the pepper, cheese and mint mixture (the amounts will depend on the size of the squash) and put back in the oven for around 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and the peppers are soft

Serve as a vegetarian supper for 2 with buttered crusty bread or a vegetable accompaniment to a meal for 4

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Like a cake, it looked rather too good to eat

 

We’ve also enjoyed a tasty alternative squash supper where we stuffed the cooked squash with chopped, fried chorizo and mushrooms mixed with cooked quinoa. Great for a complete gluten free supper in one delicious vegetable bowl.

Bon appetite🙂

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Chilli Harvest 2016

Earlier this year I brought my overwintered chillies out of the spare room and sowed a range of new seeds in the hope that I would be knee-deep in chillies by the end of the summer. I’ve been pleased with the results of what has ended up as a collection of 39 plants with 17 different varieties.

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Chilli nursery in early spring

 

Our Favourite Chillies

We’ve enjoyed endless suppers of ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’ chillies stuffed with cream cheese. Despite ‘Hot’ in the title, HHW is actually a mild 2000-8000 on the Scoville heat scale. I sowed an entire seed packet because the seeds were out of date and was amused and surprised when they all germinated. Even after selling many of them at the school fete plant stall I have had enough HHW chillies to dine royally throughout the summer.

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One of my trays of Hungarian Hot Wax

 

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HHW maturing nicely

‘Purple Gusto’ has been another favourite, with good production rates and a spicy Scoville rating of around 10,000. The fruits mature to a beautiful deep purple, creating an attractive display.

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Gloriously shiny ‘Purple Gusto’

‘Cayenne’ did well as usual and produced lots of long, spicy fruits (30,000-50,000 SHU) and I also grew ‘Cheyenne’ which at first I thought might be the same variety with a different spelling, but actually turns out to be a fatter chilli which matures to an attractive orange colour and has a SHU of around 40,000.

‘Cayenne’ and ‘Cheyenne’

Another favourite which overwintered successfully and has produced a good crop is ‘Aji Crystal’ which has a spicy citrus tang and scores around 50,000 SHU.

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‘Aji Crystal’ with its beautiful light green fruit

I’ve grown ‘Apache’ for years – it was the first chilli I grew from seed and I love the spicy fruit (70,000-80,000 SHU) which mature to a vibrant red. I only have one ‘Apache’ this year, rescued from a nursery where it was in a sorry state and retailing for an attractive 50p. I refused cake with my cup of tea and bought the chilli and a couple of its spicy neighbours instead.

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After some TLC this ‘Apache’ looks much more cheerful

 

Underperforming Chillies

Several varieties have been disappointing this year including some of my favourites – ‘Numex Twilight’ (30,000-50,000 SHU) with its tiny upright multi-coloured fruit, ‘Jalapeno’ (2,500-5,000 SHU) normally a prolific fruiter and the sultry heirloom ‘Hungarian Black’ (around 5,000 SHU). None of these have been heavy croppers this year and seem to have taken a long while to recover from their winter hibernation.

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The only ‘Jalapeno’ fruit – although being in the green roof hasn’t helped. An unsuccessful experiment as the plants have suffered from the dry environment. Worth trying, but not to be repeated

 

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‘Numex Twilight’ with its meagre crop in August

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‘Numex Twilight’ had recovered a little by this week

 

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‘Hungarian Black’ has sulked all summer. Its foliage is naturally variegated, but has been stunted and slow to develop

My tree chillies ‘Alberto’s Locoto’ have also been disappointing so far, with lush foliage and a branching habit, but no flowers at all until the past couple of weeks. I’m not sure what I’m doing wrong – maybe they need feeding more than other varieties – my feeding regime has been rather haphazard this year. They are recommended to be particularly suitable as perennials, so if I can be bothered with the palaver of spare room chillies again this winter maybe they’ll do better for me next year.

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Healthy foliage, but no fruit on my ‘Alberto’s Locoto’

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Deep purple flower buds are just appearing on the tree chillies…

 

New Chillies on the Block

Some of my new chillies new this year were ‘Almapaprika’, ‘Peruvian Lemon Drop’, ‘Joe’s Super Long’  (its chillies are currently super non-existent), ‘Piri Piri’, ‘Habanero Red, ‘Habanero Big Sun’ and ‘Prairie Fire’. ‘Prairie Fire’ (70,000-80,000 SHU) has lovely little upright fruits which start the softest cream and then mature through yellow, orange and purple to red.

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‘Prairie Fire’ starts off a really pale cream…

‘Almapaprika’ is another Hungarian heirloom variety which has unusually shaped rounded cherry fruits and is very mild (1-1,000 SHU). It is also known as Hungarian apple pepper. The chillies start as a pale yellow and mature through orange to a rich red colour. Apparently you need lots of plants if you are going to dry it for paprika which I don’t have, but it tastes good stuffed like Hungarian Hot Wax and is an interesting novelty.

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A sweet little Hungarian apple pepper

‘Peruvian Lemon Drop’ is an aji type like ‘Aji Crystal’ and has a rating of 30,000-50,000 SHU. The long, hanging fruits start a pale green and then mature to a light yellow. They are great in curries and good to stuff if you fancy a hot lemony treat.

These ‘Lemon Drop’ chillies will get lighter as they mature

I haven’t had fruit to try on the other varieties yet as some arrived a little late as plug plants. But they all have either flowers or ripening fruit, so I’m looking forward to a late tastebud tingling harvest of ‘Joe’s Super Long’ (15,000-20,000 SHU), ‘Piri Piri’ (175,000-250,000 SHU), ‘Habanero Red’ (150,000-325,000 SHU) and ‘Habanero Big Sun’ (250,000-350,000 SHU)!

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Some of the chillies in the greenhouse before the tomatoes took over and obscured the view

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My crazy chilli display

An amazing array of different colours, shapes and sizes – I love chillies as they tick both my boxes – ornamental AND delicious…

So all that remains is to hope for more warm weather so all the chillies will continue to grow and ripen, and start concocting more devilish chilli plans for next year. In the meantime there will be more roasted chilli suppers, Thai curries and still chillies left over to freeze for winter curries, soups and stews. What better way to remember a long, hot summer than with steaming Thai tom kha soup on dark December evenings?

Chilli Seeds and Plants

I save seeds from my chillies as well as overwintering some plants and growing new varieties each year. I’ve particularly enjoyed the chillies I’ve either bought as plants or sown from seeds from these sources (these links are not sponsored, but based purely on my own experiences and recommendations):

Pennard Plants – Pennards have a fabulous collection of heirloom vegetables, fruit and herbs, including many chilli pepper seeds which I’ve been sampling and growing for several years. This year I visited their stand at Chelsea and bought a chilli trio recommended by Chris at Pennards. Can’t wait for January so I can sow the seeds and start a whole new chilli journey…

Real Seeds – really unusual varieties with excellent information about the required growing conditions, histories of the cultivars and customer recommendations. I love Real Seeds because every time I visit the website there’s more to learn and new varieties to try…

Suttons Seeds – wide selection of chilli seeds and plants, with some excellent offers later in the year which enabled me to get a set of 10 chilli plug plants this year for £4.99. Suttons have been exploring more unusual vegetables, fruit and herbs over the past few years working with James Wong. I’ve enjoyed sowing their seeds and have now established several plants I’d not be without, such as cucamelons, Chilean guavas and my particular favourite this year… the trombocino (more on my soon-to-be prize winning trombo later in the month)😉

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The chilli trio from Pennard Plants that is getting my pulse racing…

 

Has the weather been kind to your chillies this year? What varieties have performed well and have there been any disappointments? I’d love to hear your chilli stories, so please do leave me a comment. Thanks🙂

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Banish the September blues with my top 10 tulips

It’s been a dreamy summer holiday. We’ve been swimming in the sea, learned to ride without stabilisers, lost baby teeth, wandered around maize mazes, explored woodland dens and returned from the allotment stained with raspberry and blackberry juice. Now, in the first week of September, there’s school on the horizon for both my 7 year old and my reception baby – how can 4½ years go so quickly? Tonight I watered the garden in the dark for the first time for months, the first James Grieve fell off the apple espalier and my Rosa ‘Jacqueline Du Pré’ dropped her final petal. There’s still plenty to celebrate in the garden – the never-ending greenhouse chilli, tomato and cucamelon harvest, the thriving purple Brussel sprout plants in the allotment and the quinces maturing under their furry down in the side garden. But there’s been a subtle shift in both my family and my gardening life, and I can’t help feeling that it will never be quite the same again.

When the September blues strike, I am grateful that the cycles of life draw me forwards, planning, reading and shaping the new year in my mind. As the autumn catalogues arrive on the doormat, my thoughts turn, squirrel-like, to bulbs which can be buried over the next few months ready to herald the arrival of the new spring. Over the past few years I’ve spent countless hours on my knees with a trowel in the back and front gardens planting  daffodils, fritillaries, hyacinths, grape hyacinths, alliums and tulips – hundreds of massed tulips. Mostly this furtive activity takes place at dusk, in the snatched half hours after the children are asleep, with evening life going on all around me, unaware that I’m crouched in the shadows, preparing for spring.

 

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My favourite spot for relaxing – not that that happens much!

 

Planning my tulip display involves remembering old friends and opening the door to new acquaintances. I do browse catalogues with a cup of tea in hand, but I also revisit old photos – reminding myself of displays which lit up my garden in the past and also combinations in other gardens which I’d like to get to know better in the future. Over the years my love of tulips (the thrill of seeing such vivid colours and delicate forms so early in the year) has grown as I’ve explored their use in public and private gardens. Now I’d like to share my favourites in the hope that they might help and inspire others in turn.

1. ‘Ballerina’

One of my favourite tulips for its perennial nature, its zingy colour and the way its shape and hue changes as it matures. Initially almost red, it matures to a bright orange with red stripes down the middle of each petal. It looks stunning on its own, for example as an edging plant in these images taken at Capel Manor gardens…

It thrives in my gravel garden despite clay soil, although I do plant all of my tulips with a handful of gravel beneath each bulb. I combine ‘Ballerina’ with ‘Queen of Night’ in the front gravel garden. In the back flowerbed it blooms alongside ‘Purple Prince’, ‘Queen of Night’ and blue forget-me-nots and never fails to lift my spirits when I see it emerging in the spring.

The versatile ‘Ballerina’ thrives in the back garden, front garden and in pots

2. ‘Swan Wings’

Generally I favour simple shapes and colours with my tulips, but I photographed ‘Swan Wings’ years ago at RHS Wisley and have always wanted to grow it. I think this year it’s time to try it out and I might pair it with red Bellis perennis as in my image, to create contrast and impact.

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3. ‘Queen of Night’

I love deep purple/black flowers and foliage, and I use them in my garden and my work as often as I can. I’ve been growing ‘Queen of Night’ for years and find it reliably perennial. It combines well with lighter purple and orange tulips, but also looks stunning with white or off-white bedding plants. I’ve combined it this year with the wallflower ‘Ivory White’ which I grew from seed and was very pleased with the result.

 

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I can’t resist getting up close and personal with plants and ‘Queen of Night’ has the most glorious interior

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‘Queen of Night’ standing proud

 

4. ‘Monte Carlo’

As a general rule I’m not that keen on bright yellow flowers and only have this tulip because it was sent as a part of a mixed set. However, when it emerged this spring I was surprised to find myself making detours past its pot in order to get another blast of its exuberant power.

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I’d never have chosen this tulip, but now I’ve watched it bloom it’s staying on my list

 

5. ‘Prinses Irene’

Possibly one of the most beautiful tulips I’ve ever grown, ‘Prinses Irene’ is a subtle, understated winner. I love the Sarah Raven ‘Venetian Tulip’ collection and have grown it for several years both in pots and in the ground. I’ve never had much luck in the border beneath the apple espaliers as the bark mulch seems to attract the slugs early in the year which then eat holes in the tulip leaves and flowers, twisting them as they emerge. This year, in pots at the front, they have thrived and I’ve been impressed by the new addition to the collection – ‘National Velvet’ in place of ‘Couleur Cardinal’ – which has a superb colour and sheen.

‘Prinses Irene’ and ‘National Velvet’

 

6. ‘Purissima’

Another favourite (perhaps I should admit they’re all favourites!) is ‘Purissima’ with its white/cream flowers which open up to a dinner plate size in the sun. It is another good perennial tulip and has lasted several years in big pots in the garden.

In pots with wild strawberries at the back and with mixed muscari at the front

7. ‘Shirley’

‘Shirley’ was the only tulip in the first garden I owned, although I didn’t know its name at the time. I loved its soft markings and photographed it in wonder. I think it’s about time I grew it again…

‘Shirley’ in my first ever garden

It looks great in a pot (here at Capel Manor with ‘Jackpot’) or in borders (here with ‘Paul Scherer’ at the back)

8. ‘Purple Prince’

I grew ‘Purple Prince’ a few years ago to create a purple accent against the orange of ‘Ballerina’ and dark purple of ‘Queen of Night’. Then I decided I preferred the orange and dark purple on their own and marked the ‘Purple Prince’ tulips so I could remove the bulbs after flowering. Two years on they are still appearing en masse in the flowerbed and I’ve decided they can stay. Instead I grow ‘Ballerina’ and ‘Queen of Night’ on their own in the front. Then a serendipitous combination this spring pleased me very much – ‘Purple Prince’ emerged in front of the foliage of my Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’. Try taking my ‘Purple Prince’ out of the border after that and I’d have something to say about it!

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9. ‘Zurel’

When we moved into my current house 6 years ago there was a purple and white rembrandt tulip in a border we had to remove to make room for the apple espaliers. I replaced it the next year with ‘Zurel’ – a striking, upbeat tulip. Unfortunately the bulbs didn’t reappear this year – probably because I overwintered the pineapple sage which was sharing the same pot in the greenhouse and they dried out. The area at the end of the vegetable beds hasn’t looked the same and we definitely need to get our stripes back next year.

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 10. ‘Paul Scherer’

This tall, almost black tulip creates maximum impact paired with white tulips like ‘White Triumphator’ or ‘Snowstar’, or with other white flowers. Here the underplanted white forget-me-nots (Mysotis sylvatica ‘Snowsylva’) make the tulips look like little black holes floating above the ground, absorbing all the light.

 

More tulip images from my albums which have me reaching for the catalogues…

Which tulips can’t you be without and which new ones have bewitched you? Leave me a comment so I can make my wish list even longer  ;)

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