There is always so much I want to write about plants and gardens, herbs and vegetables… but not enough time… this feels a bit like my life this year. I returned from the most a-mazing holiday of a lifetime to Antarctica (Antarctic moss), South Georgia (tussock grass), the Falklands (too much to put in a bracket) and then Argentina (I did manage to write one blog about my stay in Buenos Aires) and a weekend in Rio (still to write about the garden of Roberto Burle Marx), but I will share with you the largest Aristolochia flower I have ever seen. It was in a wonderful bird park – Parque des Aves – just on the Brazil side of the Iguassu Falls (and yes, the Falls are spectacularly amazing).
I think I forgot to say that I wasn’t expecting to be writing about plants on a trip to the Antarctic: it was the snow, ice, glaciers, icebergs, seals, whales and birds that I had on my mind… and they were utterly wonderful… it was a trip of a lifetime.
So why am I going on about this? Well as soon as I returned home to the inevitable pile of post, collection of emails and all that, I was fortunate enough to have the pleasure of starting to write a book with garden photographer friend and colleague Marcus Harpur. I have been able to visit some wonderful gardens… and am still in the process of writing them up.
For me it is almost impossible to do something for pleasure, which this blog is, until I have fulfilled the commissioned work… but I would like to keep in touch with those of you who have been kind enough to subscribe to the blog and maybe feel that it is a bit of a ghost town.
So here are a few of the things I have been enjoying in and out of the garden. Once the book is done and dusted I will be back to the blog and will catch up with all that I have wanted to say!
I have been growing some unusual veg this year including Caucasian spinach (Hablitzia tamnoides), which I bought from Mandy Barber of Incredible Vegetables (firstname.lastname@example.org). I first read about this plant in an article by Alys Fowler in The Guardian. So when I saw that seed was available from Incredible Vegetables I bought some straight away. I have just checked on their website and the person who supplies this seed to them, Stephen Barstow, also known as the ‘Extreme Salad Man’, has just been in the UK… and because of my head down in the book position, I missed hearing him speak! Stephen grows his extreme salads in Malvik, on the north coast of Norway near the Arctic Circle. He is the author of Around the World in 80 Plants.
I think there were four seeds and all of them germinated. Now they are growing in the shade of the archway that Rosa banksiae lutea has made itself at home in and around. I have yet to taste the leaves in a salad but am looking forward to that soon.
A couple of years ago I went on a press visit to gardens in the Loire Valley and enjoyed some wonderful purple potatoes. They kept their purple colour after cooking so make a wonderful colour impact on the plate. I discovered that they have been grown and used in France since the early 19th century. I bought mine from Tuckers Seeds, and just this week I have been enjoying their good looks and good taste.
Garlic and onions
I have also harvested a good haul of garlic and banana shallots from the allotment and my home garden. Unfortunately the foliage was caught by onion rust, so these will not be long keepers. Never mind – they are delicious fresh. The garlic has reminded me of a recently published book by Jenny Linford, Garlic by Jennie Linford (photography Clare Winfield, published by Ryland Peters & Small 978 1 84975 707 2 £14.99).
I have reviewed it for Herbs magazine and I will include it here in a book blog soon (just been editing the next issue of this as well as everything else, not complaining, just saying!).
I haven’t had time to read much… but one publication has caught my eye and this is a new gardening magazine: rakesprogress. Strap-lined the progressive guide to gardens, plants, flowers, it is a return to hard copy magazine publishing… rather than online publishing. The editors, journalists Victoria Gaiger and Tom Loxley, have produced an eclectic mix of articles and photography on heavy matt stock paper. Flimsy it is not… and also not glossy, but certainly stylish, as you would expect since Victoria is a fashion editor, and it is clear that plants and garden accessories are under a catwalk spotlight in this publication. I asked Victoria about the magazine’s arrival on the scene.
“Tom and I both come from a background in magazines. We moved into a house with a large garden in the suburbs of London after living in flats and having never had to tackle a green space. But we were determined and found we loved it!
“After looking for a magazine that appealed to me about gardens, I realised there wasn’t anything on the market that I wanted to buy so we decided to do one of our own! So this our labour of love – an independent magazine with both of us publishing, editing, commissioning and distributing whilst still doing our day jobs.
“The magazine reflects our interests across gardens, people, flowers, architecture interiors and photography and there’s a section at the back that is meant to encourage the new gardener like us to start gardening with the basics and with the hope that with each issue they learn with/alongside us as the magazine develops and grows and we produce more issues.”
Produced quarterly (each issue costs £10), this launch issue offers insights into beekeeping on the Tate’s London rooftop, florists, jam-making, gardening in war zones, who inspires designers such as Luciano Giubbelei and what photographer Martin Parr thinks about rhubarb.
There is a small section that offers a modicum of ‘How to’ advice, but in the main this is a style magazine… and it makes a change to look at the world of plants and gardens from a different perspective.
It will be fascinating to see what progress rakesprogress makes in its second issue… it is available from specialist magazine stores, newsagents, book shops, gardens, garden centres and art galleries now or you can subscribe online (see above).
Blackberry harvests and problems
And of course I have been harvesting my wonderful thornless blackberry ‘Quahito’ like there was no tomorrow. I put a query on Twitter and Facebook since I noticed that many of the fruits had discoloured white parts. I had responses from both platforms suggesting that the reason could be due to blackberry mite damage, but I think the most likely cause was the extreme heat of the second week of July. This gives rise to White Drupelet Syndrome. Thank you, Michelle Chapman, who sent me a link to a US article on the subject.
Now that the weather is a little cooler there are not so many fruit showing this discolouration.
There are so many wonderful dahlias to choose from. Last year I was given rhizomes from a friend’s garden of a dahlia I had not seen before. It is orange and therefore comes into the ‘zingy’ category; even so it is quite restrained in size, but ever so floriferous… It is called ‘’Andries Oranje As’ and was bred in Holland and released in 1936. This is the description of it written up in the online catalogue of a US nursery, Old House Gardens: “Simple yet extraordinary, this charming dahlia became an instant staff favourite when it first bloomed here – and bloomed and bloomed and bloomed. A clear, companionable orange, bright yet never glaring, and with 3-4 inch, semi-cactus flowers on wiry stems, it’s a flower arranger’s delight. Its full Flemish name, ‘Andries Oranje As’, honoured a Jazz Age liqueur from the small Belgian town of As. 3-5′, reintroduced by us from the UK National Collection.”
I am getting on well with the writing (thank you for asking!), just need to keep on keeping on… more from me when I can next take my hands off the keyboard.