The blckbirds nesting among the vine in the Courtyard Garden at Old School Garden- picture by Gabbie Joyce and Paul Hill

The blackbirds nesting among the vine in the Courtyard Garden at Old School Garden- picture by Gabbie Joyce and Paul Young

To Walter Degrasse

Dear Walter,

It’s coming to the end of one of the driest and hottest July’s we’ve had in nearly 10 years. Today looks like it will be the hottest of the year to date – somewhere in the upper 20s if not low 30s Celsius in our corner of England (and higher elsewhere)! Having spent a couple of hours this morning planting out the last of my summer annuals, thinning and transplanting wallflowers and planting some leeks, I’ve escaped the worst of the heat and come inside to drop you a line!

As you can imagine, the last few weeks have been very busy on several gardening fronts. I guess the most significant event was our first garden opening last week, which I’ve done a separate article about. This was great fun and I was very pleased with the way the garden looked and the many positive comments from the 70+ visitors. We raised over £300 too which will be going to three local ‘good causes’.

One of these is ‘Master Gardener’, where I continue to offer my voluntary advice and help to those starting  to grow their own food. Gabbie, the local co-ordinator, has come up with the idea of using the money we raised as a special fund to be tapped into by Norfolk Master Gardeners to purchase small items to help their households, groups and other new growers- I’ll tell you more about this in due course. I’ve attended a few events recently and had fun talking with a range of people about their food growing experiences and maybe even helped to recruit a few new households. The latest event was the ‘Destination Aylsham’ Fun Day yesterday, which I helped out at with fellow Master Composter Sally Wilson- Town and co-ordinator David Hawkyard. Well over 70 people came over to discuss composting and ‘growing your own’, though my period at the stall seemed to coincide with the quieter, ‘wind down’ phase towards the end. Still,  no matter, we seem to have promoted composting and food growing to a few more people – and I managed to sell some plants and produce too!

I’ve done my last session this academic year at Cawston Primary School, where we had great fun harvesting potatoes, broad beans and a few onions. In truth, with the exception of the Broad Beans, these were harvested a little too soon, because this was the last opportunity for the children to garden before their holidays which begin on Thursday. Still, the potatoes were of a good size and a reasonable quantity and will be used in the school kitchen this week along with the beans and some of my donated home grown produce (we’ve had some enormous Calabrese and Cauliflowers lately). The children also continued to dig out the old compost bins so that we can make a new start there in the Autumn. However, it’s disappointing that we’ve not been able to keep on top of the weeding in the bog garden around  the wildlife pond (which is also looking extremely dry), as many weeds have now set seed, so that will be an added problem for us in the Autumn, when  hopefully the soil will be damper and weeding easier. However, the Outdoor Learning Co-ordinator , Sharon, tells me that the pond has been a real winner with the children and has yielded examples of a wide range of insect and other wildlife.

The gardens at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum are struggling in the sun and heat, but the planting and care taken earlier in the year by myself and other volunteer gardeners seem to be paying off. The rambling rose ‘Rambling Rector’ in the Wildife Garden looks particularly splendid as it covers the arbour and adjoining wall, where I and my friend Steve spent an hour or two pruning and tying in last autumn.

 

At home, Old School Garden is also struggling in the heat, and evening watering sessions of hand held spray and sprinkler have lasted a good few hours in recent weeks – and still many new plantings are wilting! Anyway, the long borders are looking great, though with a few gaps after shearing back the oriental poppies. I’m hoping that my strategically placed pots of tender perennials and plantings of annuals will soon plug these and the overall show will reach a crescendo in a few weeks time. The kitchen garden has proved to be very productive to date, though we  continue to get problems with pests such as pigeons and to a lesser extent blackbirds and aphids. I’ve noticed a few Cabbage White butterflies recently, but hopefully with my planting of Nasturtiums and netting of my Brassicas, we’ll not be too badly affected by their hungry green caterpillars! So far we’ve had crops of :

  • Potatoes – though I had to lift many of these a bit early as blight had started to affect them

  • Calabrese  -huge heads from the F1 variety ‘Beaumont’

  • Cauiliflowers- though a few heads were ‘blown’ as we couldn’t keep up with the supply!

  • Mange Tout – despite early pigeon attacks!

  • Celery – too much to cope with!

  • Carrots – a reasonable first crop though many were twisted and misshapen, possibly a combination of too rich and stony soil

  • Lettucs – a few varieties from the garden have tasted good along with some ‘cut and come again’ varieties in pots.

  • Tomatoes – just a few of the smaller, golden variety to date, but plenty on the plants in the greenhouse, ready for swelling and ripening.

  • Courgettes – the start of what promises to be a bumper year, especially as my friend Steve has given me four ‘Patty Pan’ plants to go with the two green varieties he’d already supplied!

  • Strawberries-  you remember I’d started the process of relocating the strawberry bed? Well the new plants seem to have taken well, though, as youd’ expect I didn’t let them flower or fruit this first year, but the old plants I left hoping for ‘one more year’ of fruit were a disaster. Very few fruits and what there were the blackbirds, slugs and mould seem to have taken. So for the first time in many years I actually bought two punnets of strawberries!

  • Raspberries – these are coming on well and we’ve enjoyed a few days supply so far, though the pigeons, despite my various ‘bird scarers’, seem to be enjoying themselves and breaking off the fruiting stems as they use them like ladder to go up and down the canes!

  • Garlic – most now harvested but some along with the onions are just drying  out before storing

  • Broad Beans – a good crop of a rosy pink variety, though when cooked their attractive colour seems to turn a rather dull grey, but they taste just fine!

  • Gooseberries- first bush harvested , two red varieties to come this weekend

  • Blackcurrants- two bushes harvested and a lot frozen, with one more to come shortly

Later today, I’ll be sowing some further crops of Lettuce, Mange Tout, Carrots and Cabbage as well as some Pansies I got from the Royal Norfolk Show and which  should provide us with some autumn and winter colour. That’s if it is not too hot of course.

Well, old friend, I see that it’s about time for lunch, so I’ll close for now and wish you and your good wifeFerdy’ well. By the way, would she mind terribly if I called her by her second name, which I find so much more attractive? Lise seems to capture her elegant beauty a lot more than that  nickname she got all those years ago at University! We’re looking forward to seeing you both here at Old School Garden in a week or two’s time – hopefully the garden will still look good and the weather will mean we can enjoy some warm summer evenings on the terrace with some good food, and even better wine!

all the best

Old School Gardener

Other posts in this series:

Dear Walter…. letter from Old School Garden 21st June 2013

Dear Walter….letter from Old School Garden, 20th May 2013

Dear Walter….letter from Old School Garden, 18th April May 2013

Dear Walter….letter from Old School Garden, 11th March 2013

Dear Walter… letter from Old School Garden: 15th February 2013

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