8 Delicious Recipes for Surviving a Rhubarb Glut…

It’s June, the weather is warming, there’s been plenty of rain (!) and the rhubarb is looking on top of the world. From the small knuckles of underground potential, huge forests have grown in a few short weeks and now, in a Jurassic corner of the fruit cage, garden or allotment a jungle threatens to swamp any passing gardeners.

If this sounds familiar then maybe you, like me, need some new ways to turn your rhubarb riot into snacks, puddings and store-cupboard treasures. Here’s my old favourites and some new twists to help you turn excess into success…

1. Rhubarb and Ginger Compote

This is one of my favourite ways of cooking rhubarb. It’s so simple and can be used as the basis for many other recipes and meals.

Ingredients:

4/5 stems of rhubarb, washed and chopped

3 pieces of stem ginger and some of the ginger syrup from the jar

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Our utility sink is usually full of some Jurassic vegetable or other… usually with its very own ecosystem!

Method:

Put the chopped rhubarb in an ovenproof dish. Add the stem ginger chopped into small pieces and 1-2 tbsps of syrup (to taste).

Roast in the oven at 180 °C until the rhubarb is soft (usually around 30 minutes).

The compote can be added to porridge, natural yoghurt and used as the base for crumble. We have also been known to add it to heated leftover homemade chocolate birthday cake to make chocolate fudge cake and rhubarb (a particularly fine pudding).

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Compote with natural yoghurt and a little ginger syrup on top

 

2. Rhubarb and Mint Jam

We first made this jam last year for the school plant stall as we were selling food (alongside the plants) with herbs as the theme. The idea was to include herbs in the produce and then for the fete-goers to guess what the herb was (part of my attempt to get people smelling, tasting and growing all things herbal.) The jam was so successful that all the jars went at the beginning of the day, with only the tasting jar left for samples!

Ingredients:

1kg rhubarb, chopped

1kg granulated sugar

Large bunch of mint leaves

2 tbsp finely chopped mint

Method:

Leave chopped rhubarb layered with the sugar in a bowl overnight. Next day, add the rhubarb and sugar mixture to a preserving pan and add the mint leaves tied together in a bunch. Cook gently until the rhubarb is softened (about 30 minutes).

Remove the mint and bring the mixture to the boil. Cook over a high heat until it reaches setting point (105°C). Leave to stand for 10 minutes, stir in the chopped mint, pour into sterilized jars and seal. Enjoy on toast or scones with jam and cream.

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Toast and jam? Don’t mind if I do...

3. Rhubarb Cupcakes with Cinnamon Frosting

I love baking cupcakes for the kids – especially when we can fold treasures from the garden into them, like tiny alpine strawberries, blueberries, Chilean guavas or, in this case, rhubarb.

All the recipes in this blog are gluten free (I live in a Coeliac/gluten free household), but the cake mix would work just as well with ordinary self-raising flour.

Ingredients:

12 pieces of rhubarb, roasted until soft (recipe makes 12 cupcakes)

3 eggs, weighed

Equal weight gluten-free self-raising flour as the eggs

Equal weight golden caster sugar

Equal weight softened butter

A few drops of vanilla extract

250g icing sugar

125g butter at room temperature

2-4 tsp milk

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My little helper carrying half filled cupcakes with rhubarb chunk

Method:

Mix the equal weight of eggs, caster sugar, flour and butter in a blender or with a hand whisk. Spoon into cupcake cases, adding a piece of roasted rhubarb to the centre of each cake. Bake at 180°C for 15-20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the edge comes out clean (rather than the middle as then the skewer will hit the rhubarb.)

Top with swirls of cinnamon buttercream icing (whisk the butter and icing sugar together with 1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon mixed in and add 2-4 tsp of milk to soften to desired consistency) as a sweet contrast with the tart rhubarb in the centre. Sit down with a cup of tea and enjoy!

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It’s cupcake time…

 

4. Rhubarb and Apple Sponge

This one is a family favourite with whatever fruit happens to be in supply from the garden or allotment. (I secretly even prefer it to rhubarb crumble.)

Ingredients:

4 stems of rhubarb, chopped

2 cooking apples, cored, peeled and chopped

A handful of raisins or sultanas

Splash of water

2 eggs

115g unsalted butter

115g golden caster sugar

115g ground almonds

 

Stewing the fruit

Method:

Gently stew the apples, rhubarb and raisins in a little water, stirring as they cook (takes abut 30 minutes). I don’t tend to add sugar as the topping is sweet, but additional sugar can be added to the stewing fruit to taste.

Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Fold in the ground almonds. When the fruit is soft, put it in an ovenproof dish and cover gently with the sponge mix. Cook at 170°C for 35 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Serve with yoghurt, cream or ice cream.

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The way to my family’s hearts – a good pudding

 

5. Rhubarb, Strawberry and Elderflower Sorbet

I love recipes which celebrate seasonal produce. This one uses produce from the garden, allotment and hedgerows, and epitomises the taste of summer.

Ingredients:

200g strawberries, halved

500g rhubarb

5 tbsp. elderflower cordial (I used my homemade cordial, but any undiluted elderflower cordial would work well)

50g sugar (could add more if preferred – we like fairly sharp sorbets)

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Homegrown rhubarb and strawberries ready for roasting

Method:

Roast the rhubarb and strawberries in the cordial at 180°C until the fruit is soft (about 30 minutes). Remove from the oven, cool and blend to a smooth paste. Put in the freezer for at least 2 hours (until the mix has partly frozen). Take out and mash the sorbet with a fork to break it up or mix in a food processor. Repeat process 2/3 times and then the sorbet is ready to serve in a gluten-free cone, on its own or as an accompaniment to other desserts.

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A refreshing summer treat

 

6. Green Rhubarb Salsa with Mackerel Paté on Toast

This is a lovely summery lunch or snack, packed full of omega 3. The tartness of the salsa complements the salty fish paté perfectly.

Ingredients:

4 smoked mackerel fillets

250 cream cheese

1 tbsp lemon juice

50g rhubarb (1/2 stem)

50g cucumber

1/2 shallot

1 chilli (I used the first chilli of the season – a ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’ which has a medium heat, but any chilli or amount of chilli can be used depending on tastes)

2 tsp lime juice

1/2 tsp sugar

pinch salt and pepper

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Green rhubarb salsa

Method:

Mix the finely diced rhubarb, cucumber, shallot and chilli. Add the sugar, lime juice, salt and black pepper. Mix together. Leave for an hour to marinate.

Put the flaked mackerel, cream cheese and lemon juice in a food processor and mix until smooth.

Serve the pate on toast with salsa on the side.

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Tasty lunchtime treat

 

7. Spicy Rhubarb Relish

Cheese and crackers with relish or pickles is a favourite supper of mine. So I’m always after tasty recipes to liven up pre-bedtime snacks.

Ingredients:

200g rhubarb (about 2 stems)

1 small onion

1 chilli

1 clove garlic

50g muscavado sugar

50ml white wine vinegar

1 tbsp sunflower oil

1 tsp fenugreek seeds

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground black pepper

½ tsp turmeric

Large pinch salt

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Small jar: big taste

Method:

Fry spices in oil, stirring well until the mustard seeds begin to pop. Add crushed garlic and chopped chilli and fry gently for a few minutes.

Add chopped rhubarb, diced onion, vinegar, salt and sugar to a pan with the fried spices. Cook over a low heat until the rhubarb is soft and the relish thickens (about 30 minutes). Bottle in sterilized jar (makes one small jar.) Store in the fridge for up to a month.

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Going to bed happy tonight…

 

8. Rhubarb and Banana Smoothie

The kids love smoothies and they are a great way to use up left over fruit and old bananas. I use our rhubarb ‘Champagne’ rather than our ‘Timperley Early’ for this recipe as the stems tend to be thinner, less fibrous and sweeter.

Ingredients:

3 very ripe bananas

1 large stalk of young rhubarb, with the skin peeled off

4 dessertspoons of natural yoghurt (we used our homemade yoghurt which we’ve been making for a year or so, but any natural yoghurt would be fine)

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A great way to use up excess and over ripe fruit

Method:

Chop the rhubarb into 5cm pieces and add to a blender with the yoghurt and bananas broken into 2/3 pieces. Blend until smooth. We didn’t need to strain ours, but if there are any fibrous strands in the mix then strain before serving.

Generally the smoothie is sweet enough to please the kids because of the ripe bananas, but if it needs further sweetening, runny honey can be added to taste.

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Smoothie never lasts long in our house

 

These recipes will hopefully help you deal with some surplus rhubarb and then, when you’ve given so much away that your friends hide when they see you coming, maybe it’s time to line up the jam, relish and smoothie in the fridge and admit defeat until next year 😉

I really enjoy trying out new recipes and inventing meals with ingredients from the garden, allotment and from foraging trips. If you have enjoyed reading this post, please subscribe to get more recipes in later posts. If you have other lovely ways to use lots of rhubarb do leave me a comment. My rhubarb just keeps on coming, so I need as many recipes as possible!

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After all that cooking, I’m off for a cup of tea and a cupcake

 

Dogwooddays does not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

 

Allotment 96B: New Beginnings

Ten years ago I went on the allotment waiting list. Local sites are heavily oversubscribed and I was expecting a substantial wait. Five years later, with one small child and another on the way I decided to come off the list as allotmenteering seemed unfeasible in the blur of family life. Instead we worked on our new garden, trying to include as much space for growing as possible.

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The mini-potager in our back garden

Put off but not forgotten

But I still had a secret hankering for more space – for growing brassicas, potatoes and other crops which aren’t really worth the space in our small raised beds, for experimenting with new plants, for a cutting garden, for oca trials, for experiencing gluts … the list went on and on! Then, this year, with school for my youngest on the horizon, I decided it was time to rejoin the list. Perhaps in a mere six years we would have our own allotment waiting for us… Three months later I received a phone call and within a week we took over Plot 98B with a certain amount of trepidation.

Initial plans for the allotment – the 3 central beds have now been made into 4

The plot in early April… then dug over ready for potatoes

Plot 98B

We chose 98B out of 3 possibilities. Plus points included 4 established rhubarb plants, 2 long rows of autumn raspberries, 3 blackcurrants (or some may be reds), 2 compost bins, a shed, a strawberry raised bed and resident celeriac and broad beans. Also one of the other plots had swede and leeks – ours didn’t (another plus point).

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Our handy little shed

Our weeds

The shed needs some sorting (tidying, water butt fitting, minor repairs), but overall is in pretty good nick. The plot does have quite a lot of perennial weeds, mostly couch grass and poppies with some bindweed thrown in for good measure, but the poppies look stunning and were covered in bees this morning, so at least we’re doing our bit for pollinators!

Poppies smothered in bees

Our crops

The celeriac was swiftly despatched into several batches of soup and I’ve been harvesting the broad beans with the kids to be eaten young, barely parboiled in salads. The broad beans and poppies seem to be harmoniously sharing the same space – we’ll have a go at digging out the poppies and their long tap roots when the beans are over. The rhubarb has already manfully supplied several crumbles, pots of stewed fruit and 4 or 5 rhubarb sponges (my favourite). It’s now destined for cordial and jam.

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The poppies and broad beans happily coexisting

The plot is split up into 6 beds and the fruit takes up 1 1/2, leaving 4 1/2 beds to play with. Today I’ve dug over the 1/2 bed between the rhubarb and Jerusalem artichokes and planted 2 courgette ‘Tricolor’ and one Fuchsia berry which we’re trying this year for its fruits. We have four more to plant but this one is the guinea pig (I didn’t tell it) to see if anything eats the plant (slugs, snails, birds, deer…) If so, I’ll need to protect the others when I plant them out.

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Courgettes and fuchsia berry planted out

One bed has already been planted with potatoes ‘Lady Christl’, shallots ‘Picasso’ and onions ‘Red Baron’. That leaves 2 more beds to dig over and plant – with my trial oca plants (all 14 of them!), a runner bean, cucamelon and trombocino wigwam, brassicas (Brussel sprouts ‘Rubine’ and Kohlrabi ‘Olivia F1’) and root crops (Celeriac ‘Monarch’ and a mix of rainbow carrots and beetroot). I feel very behind where I’d like to be, but having only taken on the plot in April and with a small family in tow most of the time I guess I should be pleased with any progress we make!

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Potatoes and rhubarb

Jerusalem artichoke ambivalence

One happy chance find (or possibly not – I’ll let you know) is the large clump of Jerusalem artichokes in the corner of the plot. I’m ambivalent about their taste and have not really found any super successful recipes, but judging by the amount we will be unearthing in November I’d better get working on a range of delicious ways to cook them! We dug out a large area which had encroached on the path last week and passed a couple of bags of tubers on to other people courtesy of a local facebook gardening swap site (not without the warning that it might be better to plant them in a big pot rather than in the ground).

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The Jerusalem artichokes are big, bold and a little intimidating

Our small allotmenteers

The kids are enjoying their allotment experience. They’ve made new small friends on neighbouring plots, ‘helped’ digging holes, watering and we’ve been working on their own dinosaur garden. They chose the plants (the most yellow form of heuchera they could find – ‘Electra’ as yellow is their favourite colour) and planted them in a tyre which we got from the local garage.

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‘Planting’ trees in the dinosaur garden

They’ve collected stones to put around the edge and we’ve started painting the tyre with acrylic paints (yellow) to live it up a bit. Then the big pot of dinosaurs comes out every visit and they create a Jurassic scene. We’ve also had the bug box out examining the mini-beasts on the plot (snails, snails, snails… and slugs) and they’ve both got grubby and tired – result!

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The dinosaurs have found a new home

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The heuchera in the dinosaur garden

All in all the first few weeks of having an allotment has been fun, we’re already eating the proceeds and I’m looking forward watching it grow, weeds and all.

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I found this little beauty, Tragopogon porrifolius (Purple Salsify), growing wild in the meadow verge adjacent to the allotment path

What hints and tips would you give to newbie allotmenteers like us? Please leave a comment for us – we’d love to hear your thoughts. To see our allotment as it develops, follow the blog here:

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Currants, raspberries, rhubarb and strawberries

Onion/shallot bed and the rest of our, as yet unplanted, growing space

10 Exciting Crops to Grow in a Modern Kitchen Garden

When we first arrived at Chelsea we made a beeline for the Great Pavilion and my favourite kind of display – those which combine beauty and productivity. I really enjoy the Pennard Plants gardens and always come away with ideas for new crops to grow the following year.

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Allotment gardens to let…

This year was no different. The gold medal winning display covered 90 years of growing, exploring how allotments have developed since 1926 and the birth of Queen Elizabeth II. The first allotment plot included a greenhouse from the 1870s and was planted with fruit and vegetables of the period. There was a regimented air to the planting with all the crops standing to attention in military rows. The plot was packed with vibrant, healthy plants and focused largely on producing as many essential vegetables as possible to supply the demand for food after WW1. The allotment contained examples of vegetables grown from Pennard Plants’ heritage seed range and also included a compost area and beehive – valuable resources then as now.

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Neat and productive 1926 allotment plot

The middle plot was a Chelsea Pensioners Allotment and emulated some of the allotment cultivation going on in the Royal Hospital every year. This time the planting was more mixed, with flowers, fruit and vegetables growing together in cheerful harmony. Nasturtium ‘Empress of India’ and ‘Alaska’ provide peppery leaves and petals for salads and young seed pods can be pickled as an alternative to capers. Borage and calendula attract the pollinators and their petals can also be used in salads, whilst in the foreground Moroccan Mint and Creeping Red Thyme provide leaves for tea and add flavour to all manner of soups, stews and salads.

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The Chelsea Pensioners Allotment is both productive and beautiful

The third plot brought the story up to date with the Modern Allotment. Many of the planting was container-based in galvanised troughs allowing plot holders to move their crops between sites and enabling people to grow in the smallest of spaces. This modular and moveable approach to growing works well in rented properties. The ability to maximise growing space by adding extra soil depth to raised beds also allows gardeners with small outdoor spaces the opportunity

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My reflective shed selfie

The mirrored shed designed to merge into the background was a modern take on allotment storage and the plot also housed chickens and bees, suggesting the role of animals in modern self-sufficiency. However, it was the more unusual fruit and vegetables which lured me in – resulting in my spending a long time taking pictures, asking questions and swapping advice.

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The exciting modern allotment – with spiral trained apple tree

Some of these 10 unusual crops I’ve grown before and are now family favourites, some I’ve heard about and wanted to try, and others are exciting new discoveries. Read on to try something new or add your comments to the blog post and let me know what has worked for you, what hasn’t and any tips you’d give the novice grower:

1. Ground nut (Apios americana) – climbing herbaceous vine with edible tubers and seed pods. Mild flavour and 3 times the amount of protein of modern potatoes. Likes moist, well-drained soil in sun or part shade. Would work well in forest gardens as it can be left to climb through shrubs or trees.

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The ground nut vine

2. Earth chestnut (Bunium bulbocastanum) – beautiful umbellifer which would be at home as much in the flower garden as the allotment. Tubers taste of chestnuts and both leaves and seeds can be used as a flavouring or garnish. Easy to grow and hardy. I’ll be trying this one out next year…

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Beautiful earth chestnut flowers

3. Red perilla (Perilla frutescens var. crispa) – a cut and come again salad leaf from Southeast Asia. This half-hardy annual looks stunning for those who like colour in the vegetable plot or who aspire to create a potager garden as an ornamental as well as productive feature. Can be used to give a scarlet colour to pickled dishes and flower buds and seeds can also be eaten. Mild aniseed-mint flavour, milder than green varieties. Grow from seed each year.

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Striking red perilla

4. Chinese celery (Oenanthe javanica ‘Flamingo’) – beautiful variegated leaves with a pink tinge to the outer edge. Distant relative to parsley, the leaves are best steamed or used as a garnish and have a celery-like taste. Needs a moist, semi-shaded spot in the garden. Vigorous grower, hardy down to about -10.

Warning – many members of this genus are extremely poisonous, so if you intend to harvest the plant, ensure it comes clearly labelled with the correct Latin name.

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Chinese celery looks attractive and delicate

5. Wasabi (Wasabia japonica) – the Japanese horseradish root has a spicy heat which livens up all manner of dishes, such as mashed potato, salads (good in salad dressing) and marinades. The plant takes 2 years to reach maturity and needs acid soil with moist, shady conditions. It can be grown in pots of aquatic compost placed in a tray of water or in boggy ground.

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Spicy wasabi

6. Yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius) – a tuber from Peru, closely related to sunflowers and Jerusalem artichokes. They look rather like potatoes and have a taste rather like a pear crossed with mild celery – in Peru they are eaten more as a fruit than a vegetable. The plants are perennial – dig the tubers up to harvest and select several large tubers to overwinter in a frost free place. These can then be planted out the following spring.

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Yacan is another tuber worth trying…

7. Callaloo (Amarathus spp.) – this attractive plant is also known as amaranth or love lies bleeding and is often used as an ornamental specimen. The seeds can be sown direct from late May to early August and will grow into plants for cropping within 6 weeks. Leaves can be used as a cut and come again salad crop and also fried in curries or cooked in soups – basically used in the same way as spinach. My confession is that I sowed two packets of callaloo seed last year at two different times and not a single seed germinated. Any thoughts on what I was doing wrong would be gratefully received!

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Vibrant callaloo – clearly doesn’t like my garden

8. Mexican tree spinach (Chenopodium giganteum) – an annual which will self-seed and is a relative of quinoa and the weed fat hen (Chenopodium album) which is also edible. The young leaves and tips can be harvested continually and used as a leafy green in the same way as spinach and with a similar taste.

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Galvanised troughs with an interesting range of salad leaves – like mexican tree spinach

9. Vietnamese coriander (Persicaria odorata) – a frost tender perennial herb with a lemony coriander taste. It can be grown in a pot and overwintered indoors or simply transplanted from the ground to a pot for overwintering. Grow in a sheltered spot in full sun or partial shade, in rich, fertile soil. Can be eaten fresh in salads and used in soups and stews.

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Vietnamese coriander with its striking leaf patterns

10. Oca (Oxalis tuberosa) – a favourite tuber in our family, we’ve been growing this Andean tuber crop for several years now and this year I’m also growing 14 trial plants as part of the Guild of Oca Breeders study to develop a genetically diverse, day neutral oca which will crop more heavily in the UK than current varieties. Oca can be a range of bright colours from yellows to whites, reds and pinks. They are harvested around November and nothing makes me happier in the rather drab autumn vegetable garden than digging up a treasure trove of little red gems to roast for tea. The tubers are sweeter if left for a fortnight or so on a sunny windowsill. They have a lemony taste and can also be eaten raw. Leaves can also be eaten, provided they are taken in moderation so as not to disturb the plant’s growth and eaten in moderation as they contain oxalic acid like sorrel, spinach and rhubarb. Leaves should not be consumed if you suffer from rheumatism or arthritis.

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Oca – a family favourite

I also got a lovely collection of new chillies to grow from seed next year, recommended by Chris Smith at Pennard Plants. The rest of my family would probably say I already grow enough different chillies, but I love experimenting with new plants. If you would like to try something new, you can get more information on the Pennard Plants website. Follow my blog for more ideas on growing something a bit different and let me know how you get on…

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Dogwooddays does not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

My Hard-Working Garden: An Ongoing Transformation(Part 1)

Potager gardens, walled gardens and old-fashioned cottage gardens – all styles I love for their eclectic mix of vegetables, fruit and flowers. They can be seen as nostalgic, whimsical, outmoded; gardens which exist in an historical context, from time to time tempting modern gardeners into grand estates or rural open garden shows, but without contemporary relevance. Their visual, almost casual beauty belies the amount of hard graft behind such dual purpose gardens, which needed to create an aesthetic impact whilst also fulfilling a practical role for the household – whether that be a cottage with two occupants or a grand estate of many hundreds.

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My veggie bed with a mix of edible flowers, flowers for cutting and vegetables (plus Billy the Scarecrow!)

Modern gardens don’t have to provide us with medicinal herbs which are unavailable elsewhere, they rarely need to feed large estates, or provide food for families who have no access to other sources of nourishment. But they do have to work as hard as in the past, especially modern small gardens which are required to fulfil a number of purposes. Many have an assortment of children’s toys sprawled untidily across the centre (ours often does), they are required to provide aesthetic appeal with flower borders, containers and other key features. They are intended to attract wildlife, to create space for entertaining, cooking and relaxing,  and some even have to provide fruit and vegetables for the table. As our requirements for our gardens increase and their size diminishes, the pressure on outdoor spaces to cater for many purposes grows. In this way we could be seen as returning to these older styles of gardening where the garden has to work hard to earn its keep. In spaces too small to allow different areas for each function, the potager style works well as each part of the garden can be used in multifunctional ways.

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Our much-loved, but enormous slide and swings

We moved into our current house six years ago and have just finished the major changes on the garden (although I know it will always be changing and evolving and that’s the fun bit). Now there’s no major designing and restructuring to do, I thought it might be good to look back over the past six years at what we’ve achieved and where I hope it might go next.

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Original tidy but rather dull border

Six years ago our back garden was uninspiring, with established shrub borders, a small rotting shed, a lovely little greenhouse and a fair-sized lawn. The garden is about 9m by 13m and is north-east facing, without much shading tree cover and fenced all round. I guess many people would have viewed the garden as low-maintenance, finished and tidy, but I saw it as an opportunity to create a garden which packs as much in as possible without seeming too busy or chaotic.

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This side had an empty gravel border which emphasised the concrete fence base and an overgrown Ceanothus

My first aim was to replicate the semi-wildness of my childhood garden for my kids. I grew up in a 1/3 acre garden in Cheshire with several mature trees, a vegetable and fruit garden and a wild patch at the bottom. The wild patch existed quite happily without having an impact on the rest of the garden as it was unviewed fron the house and therefore an ideal place for secret club meetings, wildlife watching and endless hours of tree climbing with an apple and a book. We have no trees big enough to climb in our current garden, nor much likelihood of growing any, so I decided to create a willow den in the flower border to give the kids an area where they could exist unobserved.

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Behind the shrubs, the border was empty and unused

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The garden had a good-sized lawn

We kept the lawn (although we extended the border area) and the greenhouse, which had been one of the things which had initially attracted me to the garden. I replaced the shed with a larger potting shed, in which I’ve spent many productive, happy hours in the past five years, creating a small plant empire and generally pottering, in teeming storms, muggy afternoons and evenings so dark I’ve needed a headtorch.

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Love my potting shed…

Initially we removed the large Thuja which were blocking light from the garden and then cleared out the back border, giving many of the plants away to local people though Freecycle. My main aim was to get the fruit trees and bushes established first as these would take the longest to become productive. Now, five years on from planting, the plum, apples, greengage, cherry (in a pot) and pear (in a pot) are really getting into their stride and we’ve been harvesting superb crops from the raspberries, currants, blueberries (in pots) and rhubarb for several years. We chose espalier apple trees along the side fence (‘James Grieve’, ‘Egremont Russet’ and ‘Bountiful’), two dessert apples and one cooker/dessert. ‘Bountiful’ went in the shadiest spot near the house, as cookers can tolerate more shade, and we planted short hedges of lavender and rosemary to create areas for herbs between the trees. We now have three modestly productive espaliers, now with four tiers, and a thriving herb border with sage, chives, garlic chives, assorted mints (sunk in pots), thyme (which has been fabulous for the past five years, but didn’t like the wet winter so now needs replacing), majoram, chamomile, lavender and rosemary.

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After planting the espaliers

I’ve also added bulbs with varying levels of success. The snowdrops along the side of the lawn are thriving and the white hyacinths which I planted around the base of each apple tree have increased threefold and look and smell stunning in the spring. Tulips were less successful as the area is mulched with bark and slugs (the latter not intentionally) so I gave up the tulip struggle in this border as they emerged eaten and misshapen year after year. Alliums are more successful and the Allium sphaerocephalon increase each year. This year, however, the stock of larger allium like Allium hollandicum ‘Purple Sensation’ and Allium christophii looks diminished and I wonder if the wet winter is again to blame (we do have quite heavy soil here, but I usually use grit under bulbs when planting which seems to help with longevity.)

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Espaliers, herbs and Lonicera ‘Hall’s Prolific’ on the house wall beginning to get established

 

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The alliums at their best in the herb/espalier border

Winter clematis (‘Freckles’ and ‘Jingle Bells’) thrive up one of the espalier poles and Clematis ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Artic Queen’ up another. The final post supports Vitis vinifera ‘Reliance’, which last year gave us our first harvest of sweet, seedless pink grapes.

Clematis cihhrosa  var. purpurascens 'Freckles'

Clematis ‘Freckles’ flowers non-stop throughout the winter

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Clematis ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Arctic Queen’ twine together up the post

At the back of the garden around the fruit trees I’ve planted several varieties of Narcissus which look and smell lovely in the spring, along with Cornus alba ‘Sibirica’, Cornus sanguinea ‘Midwinter Fire’, Primula vulgaris, Fritillarea meleagris and two Cotoneaster horizontalis which were found in the garden as seedlings and have been trained up the shed wall as coverage for insects and berries for the birds.

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Fruit trees becoming established

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Daffodils at their best this year

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Early dwarf daffodils emerging – the logs are sections from the tree in the front which we removed as it was too large, too close to the house

 

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Plum heaven…

On the back fence, between the dogwoods and primroses we have a blackberry ‘Apache’ which gives us lovely blossom followed by huge, sweet fruit which form the basis of sorbets, stewed apple and blackberry and fruit leathers in late summer. It fits in perfectly with the potager style – combining beauty and utility, covering a boundary with foliage, flowers and fruit.

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This bench catches the afternoon and evening sun – perfect for a late cuppa and a book

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Other pop-up structures the garden has to contend with…

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Our DIY tent

So much for the herb/espalier border and the fruit tree area which I, rather grandly, call the spring garden in reference to the blooming of the daffodils, primroses and fruit blossom from March to May. In the next post I’ll take a look back at the development of the fruit cage, vegetable beds, willow den and flower border. All testament to the fact that you can include much of what you want in a garden, if you are prepared to think a bit outside the box (willow den in a flowerbed), embrace the potager style and let your imagination run wild…

Read about the transformation in the rest of the garden in next week’s blog post…