30 Sep 2012

Capel Manor: Naming of names

Ricinis communis
My favourite image from last Friday's course:  The Castor Oil plant (Ricinis communis).
(Not to be confused with Fatsia Japonica, the false Castor Oil plant!)
So, back to Capel last Friday and this week we got going with the good stuff.  Plant identification builds week on week so that, with practise and a well-exercised memory, my fellow students and I should be able to confidently - and correctly - identify at least 150 plants with their Latin names by the end of the year.  Sounds quite a task to me but I imagine that most of us gardening folk know quite a few plant names already without realising it.  Or maybe that's just me being a bit of a plant geek and having a penchant for being able to spout the Latin names of my favourites;  I find it helps to monitor how many of my brain cells have apparently died; I frequently find a complete void in my memory where peoples' (and plant) names and significant events used to reside.

This week another 8 plants have to be instilled in my memory bank before next Friday.  It's said that the best way to learn is to use several senses at once: students get walked (in all weathers) through the maze of gardens to the relevant plant, told all about it (type, aspect, soil, habit, role in the garden, features, etc), have a quick line sketch and/or photo, touch the plant (well, I do) and - whoosh! - onto the next one.  I was so absorbed in sketching the Sedums that I momentarily got left behind and lost the group, thereby missing out on fascinating titbits about Japanese windflowers.

The rest of the morning was spent having our eyes opened as to the meaning of plant names, how and why they're constructed (grouped) and a short potted history of the Binomial naming system.  The tutor is excellent - and, believe me, I've sat through some real duffers.  She's friendly, passionate, interesting and interested; pretty much what's needed to get the message across.

So, if you'll just bear with me while I get my visual reminders in place, these are the plants that I have to remember for next week:

Sedum 'Herbstfreude' aka Ice Plant. (You either love them or hate them. I'm with the first lot.)
Sedum 'Herbstfreude'  Sedum

Abelia x grandiflora (a bit of a misnomer as the flowers are tiny!). Domed shrub.
Abelia  Abelia x grandiflora

Dahlia 'Bishop of Llandaff'
Dahlia

Anemone x hybrida 'Honorine Jobert'
Anemone x hybrida  Anemone x hybrida flower

Macleaya microcarpa 'Kelway's Coral Plume'. Large perennial.
Macleaya microcarpus  Macleaya plume

Ricinis communis (Castor Oil plant; fab leaves, highly poisonous, large)
Ricinis leaf  Ricinis communis

Stipa gigantea ... as the name suggests, a large grass with golden oaty plumes.
Stipa gigantea  Stipa oat plume

Stipa tenuissima ... a short grass with fluffy plumes
Stipa tenuissima  Stipa T plume

I'm a visual learner so looking at the information on paper then matching it with my photos seems to be working ... so far. (I'm putting more information about the plants with the photos on my Flickr page for those that may be interested.)

The afternoon was equally absorbing; we spent much of it drawing upside down! (Not the students, the image. I had a sudden mental image of 15 students hanging, bat-like, from the rafters with pencils in hand!) It's a creative technique to get the right side of the brain to dominate during sketching activities - or, as I would call it, walking before you can run. It's taken from the book "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain" which has spawned a decade of workshops in New York.  I had a quick look at their website and, especially, the 'before and after' gallery, from line sketch to tonal sketch with most of the self-portraits seemingly of desperados from a John Wayne Western!   Luckily, for homework, we can have a go at doing our line drawings the right way up!

It's another dry day here in London so I'm going to spend a couple of hours in the veg patch - my spaghetti squash has formed another 2 fruits, only 4 inches long at the moment, and growing among the branches of the plum tree. If these grow to maturity that will make FIVE spaghetti squashes!  I've had another Sicilian courgette from my balcony plant but the peppers are struggling - I'm likely to bring those indoors to ripen up. I keep having to remind myself that the green pepper on my balcony is really an Orange Bell pepper!

If I have time, I also need to remember that NOW is the time to be planting bulbs for spring, as well as broad beans, onions and spring onions, and a host of flowers for an early display next spring (marigold, cornflower, nigella, nasturtium).  I've had the first of my seed catalogues (Thompson and Morgan) so I should be thinking about what to grow next year;  how about everyone else?  Keen to put this year behind you and plan for next year?

27 Sep 2012

Grab n Go breakfast!

The sun is once again shining here today which always lifts both mood and motivation.  Just before heading down to the garden, and thinking about the early start to college tomorrow, I've just made a batch of these oat and honey pancakes. I'm not ready to eat breakfast for at least an hour after waking up/cup of tea which posed a problem last Friday as I have to leave home by 7.30 a.m. on college days in order to avoid heavy traffic.  This means that I have to be on the road at the same time as I'm ready for my breakfast. (I suppose I could always get up at 6 a.m. but where's the fun in that when it's cold and dark?)

Oaty pancakes

I read the recipe for these pancakes on the Lavender and Lovage blog a few days ago and immediately thought that a batch of these, warmed through before leaving, sandwiched together with honey and eaten with fruit, might be an ideal portable breakfast.  I've just made a batch (10 pancakes) and can report that they're easily made and delicious! Because I'm currently watching my weight (so I really shouldn't be eating these at all!), I made these with skimmed milk and used a spray oil in the pan rather than butter; both worked well.

The batter is mixed with oats (for energy)and Manuka honey (immune system booster). Eaten plain, there's a hint of sweetness from the Manuka honey; eaten with crème fraîche or Greek yogurt and fresh fruit, they're both tasty and filling.  With more time to spare, I bet they'd be just awesome with bacon and a poached egg (and the latest gardening mag to read).

The test will be how well these re-heat tomorrow morning (even I can't make pancakes at 6.30 a.m.). Undoubtedly they'll be better freshly made but needs must.  Hopefully this post will strike a chord with others having to dash off first thing in the morning, not least my teenager.  My thanks to Karen for sharing her recipes with the internet!

Here's the link (scroll to bottom of page for printable recipe):

Karen's Fluffy Porridge Pancakes

Now, at last, for some gardening!

26 Sep 2012

What a week for a holiday at home!

Veg Patch view Sept 2012
Before the stormy weather, a view of my little veg patch garden taken ten days ago. 
Top left, under the tree, is one single Striped Pyjamas spaghetti squash plant. ~ 
I've taken a few days off work this week, mainly to give myself the time to have a tidy round the veg garden, clearing, pruning, sowing (broad beans, flowers) and planting bulbs (tulips, daffs, onions). I'd anticipated pottering in warm sunshine.  Well, that didn't happen, did it?  Not that I'm complaining: I've seen news reports of floods in the North and photos of the terrible damage all these storms have wreaked.  I hope that gardening friends across the UK have made it through without the trauma of having their homes and gardens damaged - the worst I've experienced here in London is the loss of tall sunflowers (literally snapped in half) and 48 hours of rain which started last Sunday.

Sept basket harvest
~ Rainbow veg:
Purple potatoes, green achocha, orange bell pepper (tiny), yellow cucumber, red chillies ~ 

Luckily, the day before the deluge, I decided to start digging up the spuds growing under the fruit trees. These potatoes prove that there is such a thing as a free lunch: I didn't plant even one of these, they're all left over from the first batch popped in the soil in 2010! It seems there will always be one little tuber left behind to grow on next year.

There were no markers but they're easy to identify: these are Blue Danube, a maincrop potato with good blight resistance, vigorous and with pretty purple flowers. Last year the potatoes were small and I boiled them.  Not good as they fell apart in cooking.  Apparently, they're best roasted! Or sautéed. Or baked, which is just as well because this year, having left them in the ground for a good while, I've had some whoppers.

Blue Danube spuds

I'm hoping for some better weather later in the week as I really want to get my bulbs in.  There's also a good post over at Garlic and Sapphire about which flower seeds can be sown now in order to get a head start on the flower cutting garden next spring.

But, if the weather doesn't cheer up, I can practise my plant sketching. My garden design course requires that I learn four plant idents by this Friday; the rest of the first day was all introductions, student handbooks, library visits, cups of tea and where are the toilets! So far, my heart is still in the kitchen garden and I was glad to get back to my veg patch for some thinking space at the end of the day.  

I think we were started off gently as the plants to remember are all fairly common: Rudbeckia fulgida (Black-eyed Susan), Echinacea purpurea (coneflower), Verbena bonariensis (Vervain; a favourite at Chelsea last year) and Penstemon 'Firebird'. The first task on Friday morning will be to collect a pre-cut sample flower and sketch it.  It's been a while since I wielded a pencil so I'm getting some practise in beforehand and the rainy weather is perfect for that!

Salvia Amistad

To end with an uplifting image:  this bed of salvia and lavender signposts the path between the graphics studio and the tea room in the Capel Manor gardens - no getting lost with this bright splash of colour! 

20 Sep 2012

Autumn Bliss

I hardly feel as though summer has been and gone but there's no denying that the end of the year is approaching.  Yesterday evening's chilliness had me wondering whether the winter duvet should be put back and where I left my slippers.  (I have terracotta tiled floors in my hallway and kitchen; lovely underfoot in the heat of summer, not so when temperatures drop.)

I'm noticing conkers lying on the ground, hips ripening in the hedgerows and seed pods forming on perennial sweet peas and orache.  This photo was taken this morning; this is my favourite season for orache as the colours of the seed pods really sing out.

Autumn Orache

I'm about to have another little break from work, a holiday-at-home where I can potter about the veg garden, tidying and mulching and preparing for colder months and, I hope, more regular blogging! Today was the first of those days; I was able to spend some time giving the veg a good watering and noting what needs to be done - quite a lot, as it happens...  who says that spring is the busiest time for gardeners?

The Autumn Bliss raspberries are still fruiting well; if I didn't munch them as I went round, I'd have brought home a small punnet but still have a good handful or two for later.  These are the canes that I chopped back in February, leaving some of them at 40cm to see if they would fruit earlier (a tip gleaned from the internet).  Looking back at photos, I see the first fruits ripened in the third week of June:

First raspberries June 2012
:: June ripening Autumn Bliss raspberries ::
... and are still fruiting today, with more to come.

Raspberries: Autumn Bliss
:: Still fruiting third week in September ::

Three months of raspberries.  Result.  But who can tell whether this is due to my "experiment" or the bizarre weather we've had this year?  Either way, I'm happy.

Elsewhere in the garden, my "Striped Pyjamas" spaghetti squash has stopped sulking and trebled in size, yielding this marrow sized beauty before climbing up and through the plum trees:

Spaghetti Squash

I love spaghetti squash - so simple to prepare and so delicious in a squashy-marrowish way. I like them cut in half, microwaved, seasoned and served with lashings of butter over the forked flesh. Unfortunately for me I started a fat free slimming diet last week so I hope they store well - it will give me something to look forward to!

I won't be posting or gardening tomorrow; rather excitingly, I'm starting a part-time garden design course at Capel Manor.  I'll be studying horticulture in the mornings and drawing and design after lunch. Combine that with a stroll around the college gardens and I couldn't think of a nicer way to spend my Fridays (rush hour traffic excluded).

9 Sep 2012

Enjoying the summer

I'm going to gloss over the rather glaring omission of any recent blog posts... I've had a short holiday at home during which I redecorated my living room and I've been making sloe vodka and rosehip cordial after foraging walks on Hampstead Heath.  I've hardly been in the veg patch other than to pick the still prolific raspberries and beans. In short, I've been enjoying a little bit of belated summer (while it lasts).

Despite nights that are getting chillier, the warm sunshine during the day is acting like a tonic on my plants as they're suddenly doubling in size or flowering madly in an end of season rush. Thus, this morning, I opened my balcony door to see that (finally) my Sicilian White Courgette has a male and female flower open at the same time! The netting presents a challenge for the bees to get through so, small paintbrush in hand, these have been hand-pollinated.

Male courgette flower


Although the flowers are edible, this one will not be sacrified;  I'm already savouring the thought of another courgette like this earlier one:

Sicilian white courgette
~ Sicilian White, a trailing courgette. This one grew to 13 inches.  ~
This is a beautiful pale courgette which is absolutely delicious finely sliced and lightly fried in olive oil, adding a touch of finely chopped chilli and lemon zest in the last few minutes, before tossing into pasta of your choice. (I like pappardelle, the wide ribbon pasta which soaks up all the juices.) I keep it simple but I've seen recipes where pine nuts are added, or a parsley/breadcrumb topping added.  In any case, I always throw a good handful of parmesan onto it before serving, either thinly sliced or grated.

It's another beautiful sunny summer's day here in London so, toodle-loo, I'm off to tackle the weeds in the veg garden and see how big my veg patch spaghetti squash is getting today (and how many fruits it's now bearing! Yum!).

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