Dorset holiday

Stayed at Burton Bradstock, a little village by the coast in Dorset.  It has a pebbly beach that was great to play on during the day but almost better in the evening when it had a laid back feel as families gathered to fish, play and cook tea over campfires.  And the wonderful Hive Beach café for great seafood, coffee, cake, ice cream and all sorts of tasty temptations. Nearby is Bridport, a  Georgian market town where rural make do and mend meets bohemian.

Dorset holiday

Dorset holidayThe food was fantastic. Memories for me include the sweetest, juiciest scallops cooked perfectly at the Hive beach café for brunch with crisp bacon, egg and rocket, the mackerel we smoked on the beach, and the sweet, sticky chilli crevettes from the wood-fired oven at the wonderful Watch House café at West Bay. Guy would probably say the sausage sandwiches (our own sausage from home) we had on the beach, the freshest squid bought from the fishmonger at West Bay, definitely the mackerel and the pizzas at Town Mill bakery in Lyme Regis. For Ruby it’s the crisps and ice-creams!

But we all loved our beach meals. Really simple but in a fantastic setting, as relaxed as is possible without scoffing in bed, and with the freshest fish. It started when we picked up crab, a loaf of bread and a bag of cherries at Bridport market on the way down and scoffed the lot as soon as we got to the beach. But tea on the beach was even better. Squid just bundled in a bag with a squeeze of lemon, olive oil, chopped garlic and barbecued. With hunks of bread from the wonderful Town Mill Bakery in Lyme Regis and forkfuls of salad. The next night we took the old bread bin that Guy made into a smoker to the beach and did hot-smoked mackerel. Delicious.

Dorset holiday

Foraging wasn’t quite as successful. The fish seemed a bit reluctant to come near Guy’s line . Totally sustainable, our fishing style seemed to be more about feeding the fish than ourselves. So I was pleased to spot sea kale in abundance along the coast path as we did a 3 mile potter to a pub. I’ve never seen Ruby so excited by the prospect of eating cabbage. But when I consulted John Wright’s ‘Edible Seashore’ book I found he described it as having “the flavour and texture of a damp, thick face flannel.” We decided to give it a miss.

Dorset holiday

So we ‘foraged’ in the fishmongers in nearby West Bay, in the brilliant Modbury farmshop (an organic dairy farm with Jersey milk, home-grown veg, locally reared meat etc) and at the fabulous Town Mill Bakery.

We found natural clay on the beach that Ruby loved modelling, loved the playground made of rope at West Bay. And Ruby asked, “At night time, Mummy, does the sea stop?”

Interview with Alex Stevenson

Interview with Alex Stevenson who grows organic, cottage garden flowers at her smallholding in Worcestershire (www.dalecottagefarm.co.uk)

Andrea: What inspired you to plant your Flower Patch?

Alex: Initially, I just wanted to find a way of making a living from our smallholding by using my horticultural skills and experience. I have always been interested in flowers, predominantly wild flowers in the past, but increasingly garden varieties. I realised that there was a way to combine these interests and offer people the chance to have types of flowers which may not be available from conventional sources and which were local, seasonal and environmentally friendly. The weddings have evolved over time to become the core of the business.

Andrea: Which flowers have you had most success in growing for cutting?

Alex: I now have quite an established stock of perennials and shrubs, which keep giving year after year. The most useful of these are Hydrangea, Philadelphus, Viburnum, Veronica, Asters, Delphiniums and Phlox. The annual flowers are also indispensable and are easy to grow, my main performers in the annual patch are: Cosmos, Ammi, Sweetpeas, Larkspur, Statice, Nicotiana and Mollucella.

I experiment with a few new varieties each year but generally I choose those which: have a long life as a cut flower, have good scent, are beneficial to bees and other wildlife and which repeat flower (cut and come again).

flower-patch-photo-flowers

Andrea: What sort of flowers do you have most requests for?

Alex: The phrase I hear most from prospective brides is ‘I want a just picked from the garden look’ this is very much in vogue at present and makes me very happy to hear as it is just what I do!

People are really keen to use traditional cottage garden types of flowers, the current look for weddings is very nostalgic and natural. People are delighted to see old fashioned blooms and the fact that the flowers have such good scent, something sadly absent from a lot of commercially grown cut flowers.

flower-patch-photo-raised

Andrea: How does your cut flowers business fit with other parts of the smallholding?

Alex: It can be difficult in the height of summer, when the wedding work is at its busiest, to keep up with some of the other jobs. It can get a bit frantic fitting in the picking, arranging and delivering with the everyday tasks such as animal care, vegetable growing, harvesting and preserving! But this is only for a short period and most of the time, it is a perfect set up, to be able to be working from the smallholding and divide my time between the flowers, animals and growing fruit and veg. I couldn’t wish for a better way of life!

Andrea: Do you have any tips for people planting their own flowers for cutting?

Alex: Start off with a small patch of annuals. They are easy, cheap and quick to grow and quite a modest patch can keep the house supplied with blooms for many months. People often don’t want to pick too much from their herbaceous borders for fear of leaving gaps, so if space allows, a dedicated cutting patch is fantastic. Growing your own flowers is very rewarding, you are able to choose from a much wider variety than would be available to buy and obviously, it’s much better than buying in flowers which have been grown abroad and flown in!

Andrea: What sort of impact has your ecological background/interests had on the smallholding and flower patch?

Alex: It has been a huge advantage. Understanding the importance of soil health and the role of compost in producing healthy plants has been invaluable to running the business. Also, siting of the flower patch and making use of other habitats within the smallholding, has meant that the flowers are an integrated part of the bigger picture- increased beneficial wildlife from hedges, orchard, woodland and grassland areas surrounding the flowers mean that pest species are kept in balance. Also, the flowers themselves provide a great source of nectar for our own bees and lots of other insect species. It’s great to be out in the patch, listening to the buzzing and humming and knowing that the smallholding is creating a little haven for our native wildlife.

Gardening with children

I have brassicas (purple-sprouting broccoli, cavolo nero, cauliflower, kale, the splendid red ruben Brussels sprout and cabbages) that I’ve grown from seed and been keen to plant out for a while as they’re desperate to leave the confines of their pots. Having dutifully munched our way through two rows of charlotte potatoes, their time had come. I added some extra compost from the heap to the newly cleared ground, forked it in and just needed to compact the area to suit the brassicas. I found the perfect tool. Just as Ruby’s fingers are ideal for squashing into focaccia dough, making little hollows for olive oil, her feet in wellies are ideal for compacting soil.

gardening with children

She thought it was brilliant that jumping all over the ground was going to help plants grow. Her yellow wellies were soon trampling happily, flattening the area nicely.

While my daughter was in ‘gardening’ mood, I thought I’d get the leeks out. Grown from seed in little modules (I have to admit they were sown quietly one evening by myself), again they were desperately in need of transplanting.

Ruby loved snipping the leeks shorter with her scissors, hopefully meaning we’ll get more of the tender white end, rather than all the growth being green. Using a dibber to make holes for the leeks and dropping them in, proved a good enough game to keep her interested. And watering the holes, seeing the soil cave in around the little leek plants, is nicely akin to mud pie making for both of us.

gardening with children

Of course our leeks are planted out too late, some have already been trampled over and we definitely won’t win any gold medals for our cabbages. I’ll be amazed if Ruby remembers that the instruction to, “jump all over the cabbage area, they’ll love it, it’ll help them grow” applies only before the brassicas are planted out. But we had good fun on a relatively sunny afternoon, and having been involved in planting them, you never know, Ruby may feel a little more favourably towards her greens.

Cake decorating with flowers

With several girls coming round to play and lots of edible flowers in the garden, I couldn’t resist having another go at cake decorating with petals.

I picked the first courgette of the year and the first purple carrot (Ruby and I are both quite partial to unusual coloured veg) to grate into the cupcakes. Well, if they’re going to be covered by a sweet, pretty topping, I may as well sneak some extra goodness in.

cake decorating

For the icing, I mixed some icing sugar and a squeeze of lemon into cream cheese until it was a spreadable consistency and tasted nice. Then we all picked calendula, little blue borage flowers, lavender, nasturtium and umbels of tiny yellow dill flowers. Pulling the petals off calendula onto pretty plates ready to be reassembled on the cakes seemed to go down well.

As did the decorating. Icing was spread, petals scattered, sometimes even carefully placed and the results started to look very attractive. I was amazed that nobody remembered the 100s and 1000s in the drawer or the lurid icing colourings stashed in a cupboard.

cake decorating

Obviously it didn’t last long, the less is more decorating techniques soon descended into scattering a whole saucer of petals onto a heap on the cakes. The girls ran off with sticky fingers around the house and I was left with the calendula strewn cushions on the pew they’d sat on.  But I was also left with a few cakes, a bit of the cream cheese icing and quite a lot of flowers to have a go myself in peace. Very satisfying and really quite tasty!

foraging in the garden

I know that foraging is meant to be in the wild, hunting around to find delicious ingredients. But that’s what it feels like in our garden at the moment. The calendula, nasturtiums and borage are so pretty but rampant, that you have to look hard before stumbling across some garlic. Handfuls of rocket would take a novice a bit longer, but they may strike lucky with a few blueberries on the way. When I say a few, the honest truth is three or four a day – I know, what should I do with them all?

Foraging in the garden

Like foraging in the wild, it’s very rewarding though to head off into the wild tangle of pretty plants that’s my garden at the moment and return to the kitchen with the ingredients for a tasty pesto or curry. And plenty of flowers to fill a jug.

Some things are actually in rows – I’m very happy with the mass of lime green chard that looks so vibrant and healthy. Particularly as it’s next to the peas that aren’t exactly in abundance at the moment. The pea shoots are delicious in salads though.

But with so much of our money going on pig food and vets fees these days (immunisations for Mog and Tiger this week plus microchips so we don’t have unwelcome visitors through the catflap) I’m loving the frugal meals that the garden is providing.

Foraging in the garden

Some may wonder where the veg plot is, but I know where to look for the bright yellow courgettes that are just finger sized and at their tastiest. Or for a bunch of coriander to add to the pink fir apple potatoes (yes, they’re in rows, even Guy knows where they are), garlic and chard for a curry. If you rummage around below the quince tree, the scarlet little wild strawberries are evident, great sprinkled on yoghurt with a little honey.

I’ve decided to plant some of the rapidly spreading wild strawberries just in front of the line of lavender that I look out on from the kitchen window. Hopefully they’ll trail over the low wall, providing easy pickings as well as looking pretty. And I plan to plant up the runners from the normal strawberries in a big area around the plum tree, edging it with more lavender. Hope this doesn’t mean I’m moving towards too much order.

Because I was looking at Ruby and a friend amusing themselves in the garden today and it reminded me how much pleasure there’s to be had in feeling we’re uncovering things. Ruby had spotted Tiger playing with a potato the other day and she decided to ‘hunt’ for a few more for him. The two scamps ‘found’ a trowel I’d abandoned in a corner of the garden, but judging by the muddy hands later, tools hadn’t been needed in unearthing the tubers. Keeping my distance so I didn’t disturb their fun, I only discovered later that they’d trampled on the leeks I’d recently planted. But they were feeble leeks anyway, I have lots more, and who cares when it was because of a bit of muddy foraging.

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