3 years at the allotment

I've been a bit quiet on this blog recently about my allotment. it's 3 years since we got our plot of land with a bit of a fanfare because it was the 1000th NT plot .

Allotment through grass (1 of 1)

That doesn't mean we havn't been doing anything, - although if I'm being honest, we've not spent as much time as i'd like, because i've been busy creating a flower farm.

This allotment is hopefully a long term thing for us, - We look on enviously at the newly retired people who can tend their plots each day, - and by the time we get down there, after work or on a weekend afternoon, we're often the only ones at the plot (except for the wildlife).

Beds and paths (1 of 1)

Over the last couple of weeks, we've worked at edging the allotment with wood to keep out the encroaching grass paths, and laid some black matting down between our no dig beds, so that the weeding of those will be minimal.

Even though we've only been visiting for 1/2 hour at a time, there have been some successes this year, - The kale is the best i've ever grown, and even William will eat it, We're on our 3rd set of potatoes, - and they've been tasty. The fruit has been amazing, - the first Plum & Strawberry jam has been made, and summer pudding with custard was devoured, - we even had 1 meal of asparagus at the beginning of the year.

Garlic chives (1 of 1)

If the blight can hold off for a couple more weeks, i'll have plenty of ripe tomatoes, and at the 3rd attempt I managed to get the Sweet peas to grow. - Here they are flowering their socks off after all my Hill top farm ones have finished long ago. I don't think my pumpkins will be winning any prizes at the Horsley Garden Society show on Saturday the 20th, but i'll have a few things to enter. - Here's to the next 3 years, and lots of allotment meals.

Garlic chives (1 of 1)



3 of the best cut flowers to grow from home collected seed

It's late summer, - The morning air is more chilly, - it's dark as I write this, and it's not even my son's bedtime (the trouble with them growing up!), i've got lots of paper bags sitting on my desk, because for the last few weeks, i've been busy snipping seedheads off lots of plants at the farm (and allotment and my garden, and, if you'll let me, your garden too..)

So as i'm often asked about seed collecting I thought i'd give you my guide to 3 of the best cut flowers to grow from seeds you've collected yourselves.

Blue Nigella in back garden (1 of 1)


I was lucky when I moved into my current house, there was Nigella in the back garden, - it self seeded itself every year, in among my Strawberries, and all I had to do was clear away the weeds so it could fall on bare earth. However the only problem with that is that it is really prolific, and the seeds are too good at germinating. This means that the plants are really tightly packed, and you grow very few flowers that have long enough stems to cut.

now I make sure I take a seed pods and sprinkle the seed very thinly on bare earth, - I just want 3 or 4 big plants to grow in the back garden, so I can cut them for the kitchen vase. - At the farm, I grow them in long rows, but because they go over very quickly, even cutting them every day, I plant lots of succession, and 5 different varieties - 4 different rows this year, - there would have been a 5th, but something is partial to germinating Nigella plants

Nigella montage

So planting the seeds further apart and in succession gets you good flowers, but how do you then collect seed for next year?

The key to all home seed collecting, is knowing when the seeds are ripe.

For Nigella, - this is when the seed heads have turned papery, and the black seeds can be easily peeled out of the 4 quarters of the pod. These pictures show the progression from flowers, to seed heads, through colour changes to dried pods and the seeds.

Nigella seedhead stages montage

this takes about 6 weeks from when the flowers have been at their peak, - so my first row of blue nigella are ready to be harvested, and the white ones, are just turning papery, whereas my late July flowering Nigella, are still at firm coloured pods stage. I'll sow some seeds direct in rows over the next couple of weeks, for early spring flower (late May). - if I left the pods to drop seed naturally, like I did with one of last year's rows, then they will have dropped too late to germinate this Autumn, but will come up in Spring for a mid to end of June flowering season. - Obviously if you keep your harvested seed dry and cool in envelopes at home, you can plant as many or few as you'd like all through next season.

Poppy seed heads (1 of 1)

Poppy seed heads are my next suggested Home collection target. - These poppies are purple in flower, but although I love the colour I don't use the blooms, I'm interested in selling the lovely fresh green seed heads in late June and July. - They've been very popular with florists, so much so, that last year I bought and sowed about 6 packets of poppy seeds, - all different varieties. - Hardly any came up, - whereas the seeds that I shook from the heads that missed my cutting scissors last year, came up in great numbers and gave me lovely pods. This seems back to front to me, as ploughed fields have poppies by the hundreds from seeds that have been sitting in the soil for years, yet fresh seed seems to work just as well. Again, you need to wait until the seed is ripe, which is when the seed pod has "popped" some ventilation holes beneath the cap. 

Poppy seed heads and seed (1 of 1)

My 3rd suggestion is Cerinthe Major Purpurescens

This has been part of my Allotment/ Garden / School Gardening club / Farm set up for the last 6 years, all from home collected seeds.

Cerinthe purpurescens

Seeds are very expensive for this, probably because when the plants get to the stage where you can harvest seeds (the foliage goes a glaucus blue and becomes floppy) then only a small percentage of the seeds are ready at a time. First, inside the blue flower heads, the seeds form and are white and shiny. - Then they turn black and shiny. When they are ready to drop, the shiny surface turns dull. - As you can see by the middle picture, if you don't bag them up at this stage, you get LOTS of seedlings, and as these plants need a 30cm spacing that's not so good. If you sow these now, then you can get a wonderful crop of flowers in April, and if you sow fresh seed from those plants, you can get flowers at the end of July (although I find those flowers never last so well as cut blooms) - I even had flowers at the allotment in December last year from a summer June sowing.

When I was putting together this post, I was spoiled for choice as i've picked so many seeds this year, - i'm also reusing Larkspur, Scabious Black Cat, Bulplurum, Ammi (Major and Visnaga), Fennel, Calendula, and Oralya Grandiflora seeds that i've collected. - I'll keep you updated as to how the seed sowing goes.

So I hope i've given you some inspiration to try some collecting seeds, and if you come along to my next open day on September 21st, i'll have some seeds to give away for you to try.


Our First Wedding Fair at Devere Venues Horsley Towers, East Horsley

Last Weekend, on the 6th April- my control freak self had to give way to Paula, as I handed over my Spring flowers, and control of how they were used to her, to create the displays for our first ever Wedding fair table decorations.

Last Autumn, Paula and I had met with Yasmin, the organiser of the weddings at Horsley Towers, our local premier wedding venue in Horsley. - As a large and prestigious Setting, just over 2 miles from our Flower farm, we were really glad when they agreed that we could have a trial as a supplier.

I've hosted Business network events in the rooms at the Towers, and I knew that the very English Style, high ceilinged buildings would work wonderfully with our best of the field flowers. -Last weekend, it was our job, to dress the Great Hall, as we could for a wedding breakfast. Well I say our job,- really it was i'll pick the flowers Paula, and then over to you to be creative, - and she was, - in Spades.

Fireplace wedding fair

The Pastels theme that we'd been given wasn't the easiest with All early April English flowers, - but Paula managed great with a terracotta and apricot themed top table framed by the impressive fireplace.

Wedding fair mixture

Each of the 3 tables were themed differently, with a white/cream theme, a pink theme and a slightly off pastels, but lovely bright yellows and orange theme, - using glassware, Pastel themed tins, decorated with Hessian and hearts, - plus framed by the lovely tea cups from VinTeage

We used, Tulips, Anemones, Narsissus, Willow, Blossom, Hellebores, Choisya, Ranunculus, Honesty, Wallflowers, Cerinthe and lots of other foliage, from our hill, and Ranunculus, Alstroemerias, and Freesias from Cornwall, courtesy of Clowance

Not wanting to be completly outdone by Paula's lovely designs, I put a display of all the best flowers from the field on our table - all colours from whites through to darks

Bottles of flowers

We had a lovely day in the Historic setting of Horsley Towers, we met some other fantastic wedding suppliers, (Chair bow tieing is a real artform!) and we met some lovely Brides to be, and their partners and mums and dads and friends. - We've still got a huge amount of work to do, to encourage people to get married at the time of year that their favourite flower is likely to be available -

Bride, - "I want red roses for my wedding, can you supply them?"

Me, - "when are you getting married, - June, July, September?"

Bride - "End of November"

Me - "Ah, No, Sorry"

And we're yet to get a booking from a bride who will want to use our lovely September/ Early October Blooming Dahlias, but i'm hoping that the lovely displays that Paula made to promote our first entry into the Wedding fair market will have started us on the way.


Winter harvests

I hope you had a great Christmas. I had a week in the Sun arriving back on Christmas eve, so my Festive meal had to be organised in advance. We had a neighbour collect the Turkey (thanks Michelle), Ocado left the groceries in the greenhouse ready for our return, and we went for a walk on Christmas morning to collect the brussel sprouts which we'd been growing on the allotment.

Brussel sprouts for christmas-2

We had to paddle through floods to get to our plot, but the brussel sprouts had survived our week away. The netting had kept off our larger invaders, and the slugs hadn't managed to spoil the tender centres of our great crop. - Even better we've got 3 plants left to harvest next week.


Our starter was accompanied by a lovely tray of salads picked from the greenhouse.

Christmas salad tray-2
Clockwise from the top - Coriander, Mibuna, Mizuna, Red mustard, Purple frills mustard, and winter density lettuce leaves. plus a bit of chervil (note to self, - plant in August not September next year!)

it's a tradition that I always have a tray of salad leaves home grown on Christmas day, (you can see my 2010 selection here)- For the last couple of years i've not bought any supermarket salad at all, - and this year i've even managed coriander to harvest all season long. A lot of mine is grown in pots in the greenhouse, but today I did a session at Grace and Flavour (our community garden) and I picked a large trug of outside grown salad leaves. Purslane, Chervil, (see they planted theirs early enough!) Mizuna, Mibuna and Mustard, were all growing happily and needing to be cropped even though we've had huge amounts of rain and frosty conditions in the last few weeks.

At a time of year when fresh vegetable are sometimes not quite as "fresh" as you'd like them to be, - home grown salad leaves are a present that all gardeners need to treat themselves to.


Runner beans, - pretty flowers before the food

When I was child, my parents grew fruit and vegetables. Some like the Raspberries and Apples, I was happy to help them with. Some like the Runner beans seemed to come in such abundance, that I remember with a shudder the huge sessions as a teenager of slicing and blanching beans. (to the point where my sister still can't eat them).

I love them fresh and recently picked from the plant, so I just grow a small tepee of them for end of summer Sunday veg. But now I have a dilemma

Runner beans montage for web
because instead of the plain red flowers that my father always had. There are now fantastic tasting beans with different colour flowers, that make your tepees pretty as well as productive.

The 2 tone flowers on the left are in the School garden, and are from seeds given to me by Thompson and Morgan for getting the answers right in a competition. They have the name of EXP09 (experimental?) and  they were sown by children age 5-8. Only one pot out of 45 failed to germinate. Luckily lots of them wanted to take their beans home, so it was only gardening club children that planted them out.

i'll let you know the results of the taste test next week. I'm hoping they fail abysmally. Otherwise they are so pretty that next year i'll end up growing 2 tepees of runner beans, and my son will also grow to shudder at the thought of blanching them for the freezer.

Romance doesn't have to cover lots of miles

My Hubby and I have been together 20 years. The love is still there, but the Romance is often hidden under family life. We even forgot our anniversary in January. (until our friends and family reminded us with cards).

But one of the main reasons I don't get flowers on a regualar basis, is because I moan incessantly about the air miles they travel. So when this arrived on Friday I was truly grateful


This is a bunch of UK grown flowers from Wiggly Wigglers.

I Luurve the fact that it has very few greenhouse grown blooms, and is mostly hardy shrub foliage. The best early spring foliage and hardy blooms collected together to make a great bouquet. Eucalyptus. Ferns, Skimmia, Hebe and Hypericum all make for beautiful bunch in very romantic green and reds.

Wiggly Wigglers in Hereford aren't the only ones growing cut flowers for sale in England, I also know of Ben at the Higgledy Garden (Cambridge) , Georgie at Common Farm Flowers (Somerset) and Jane from Snapdragon Garden (Loch Lomand Scotland). I've yet to find anyone in Surrey, although i'll be growing my own supplies this year, at both the Allotment and the School garden for this summer.

Please let me know if you find more UK based cut flower suppliers, - we grow so many wonderful plants for cutting in the UK, I'd love it if I could just encourage one or two more people to think twice before they pick up that bunch of roses that have been flown halfway round the globe.

When Spring is a long time coming

It may be light after five o'clock now, but i've been feeling a bit bereft the last few days. - Not only has it been too frozen and snowy to do much gardening, but my beloved Mac computer gave up the ghost on me last week.

I've got a new one now, and i'm gradually moving everything across. Today i've been going through some of my thousands of photos.

Obviously looking at summer flowers and baskets of colourful fruit and vegetables could have the ability to make me even more blue, - but then I found this photo

This was taken 2 years ago this week, and it shows my Vegetable plot looking very, - well Februaryish

The good thing is that I also found these


taken at the beginning of July 2010


taken the 1st week of April 2010 and


taken the 1st week of July

and they prove that within a couple of months, I will be harvesting new season's salads, and my vegetable patch will be groaning with the weight of growing crops, rather than shivering under a layer of snow and frost.

Roll on Spring

More space to grow in

When we moved to our current house 3 1/2 years ago, one of the reasons was because we wanted a bigger garden. Now, i've filled all the space i'm allowed (apparently my 7 yr old does need to have a climbing frame and some football/ cricket space) i've been looking at other areas to cultivate.

Luckily, I do have client gardens to "play" in, and there's school gardening club, and the grace and flavour community garden, so i'm not short of practise room, but i've had to say no, to requests from hubby for Brussel sprouts, and asparagus, and cabbages, and no to pleas from my son for pumpkin growing, as our back garden raised plots are being kept for salads, and beans and tomatoes and, - well I grow lots, but there isn't room for big things.


Earlier in the year Allotments were created right by the Grace and Flavour community garden and we've been watching with admiration and envy as they've gone from a bare piece of land to productive beauty. (the picture above was taken there, there are lots of wonderful plots, but I love these Sunflowers). My parents have also finally got to the top of their local allotment society waiting list, and have taken on a plot with fantastically productive fruit bushes, As we took yet another jar of jam from them last week (Mara de Bois Strawberry), and admired their onions and Kale and Butternut squash. I was mentally trying to search for extra space to grow more.

We had an allotment when we were in our first flat, (ooh about 18 years ago) and for 2 years we fought marestail and couch grass to grow far too many courgettes, plus some other crops that i've forgotton about now in the mists of time. We know how much work an allotment can be, we know they'll be digging to start with and lots of weeding, and probably disappointment as crops fail the minute you turn your back and don't manage to visit, but yes our name has been on the waiting list for the last few months, and hopefully we should hear this week, as more land is being allocated.

Since our last foray with an allotment, i've read lots of books, blogs and tweets about allotment growing, hopefully learned a huge amount about both growing crops, and about managing them so they take the least amount of work. With an eager family to help me dig and plant and water, and a desire to eat vegetables and fruits i've grown without added chemicals, (plus maybe grow a few flowers, ) i'm hoping more space to grow in will be great for us all, - although i'm going to leave the Jam making to my mum.

Harvest, the end or the beginning?


At this time of year when you're struggling to keep up with a glut of fruit and vegetables from the garden, it's easy to think that this is the beginning of the end for this year. Whereas really, in amongst all the batch baking and freezing and juicing and preserving, you need to be planting to ensure that you have crops in the winter and at the beginning of next year.

If your harvest from the garden this year hasn't amounted to as much as you'd like, don't worry, you havn't left it too late, because you still have a month left at least to get in crops you'll be eating in 2011, and several months to spare if you want to fill the hungry gap of March and April next year. You don't need a large space, or much expertise, just a little enthusiasm and some knowledge of which varieties work well.

Excellent places to order your seeds from include

Sarah Raven don't click on this link if you don't have self discipline, - but the range of winter cropping saladings is the best i've found

Seed Parade A budget seed website, - with excellent germination rates (their Broadbean Aquadulce Claudia) beat Mr Fothergills and T&M in my home trial of germination rates)

Thompson and Morgan (T &M) A giant in the Mail order plant industry, - i'm not always enamoured of their plants, but their range of seeds is unrivalled and their postage service for seeds is excellent


Wiggly Wigglers  - one of my favourite companies, who i've heard good things about their ready grown veg mixes, (no not me, I grow all mine from seed) and who now do some winter salad seeds in their range

so that you can get a Christmas day platter like this


If that doesn't give you food for thought and inspiration to start sowing, so that the end of your harvest is the beginning of your winter crops, then come along to my Workshop

Friday 16th September 2011 - 9.30am Horsley Surrey and find out more about growing Herbs and Salads all year round, in the company of other gardeners.

Harvest for this w/e 7th August 2011

I havn't been telling you about my harvests so far this year. That doesn't mean there havn't been any, - just that i've normally been picking them 2 minutes before they are made into lunch or dinner, and I havn't had time to photograph them.

Yesterday however, thanks to the M25 being more of a nightmare than usual, I was waiting for my sister to come to lunch, so after spending a pleasant morning harvesting, I actually remembered to get the camera out for a reminder.

I've still got a few lettuces, Lollo rosso, and immatture leaves of Merveille de Quatre Saisons, plus Can Can. The rocket was eaten by flea beetles, but luckily the new season spinach is now ready for salads.

The tomatoes were mostly the Red Alert, and although these are not the easiest to grow, they are the tastiest. These havn't grown to as big as last years, I must remember to water more next year.

As well as Marketmore cucumber, which I find the easiest possible to grow, i've tried the lemon cucumber for the first time this year. The seeds were donated to the school gardening club by Seed Parade, but the ones we planted there were eaten by slugs. Luckily the couple of plants I kept for myself are doing very well in the greenhouse, and I think the fruit is delicious (my son dissagrees with me on this) although the skin needs to be removed.

The french beans have been very successful this year, - I planted 3 types, Speedy, an unnamed French variety, and Purple teepee. These look great, but disappointingly loose all their dark colour when steamed, so my plan to serve up 2 colours of beans failed.

We've also harvested, tons of apples, lots of raspberries, and the first fig this week.