calendula, chorizo, tea on the beach and plans for 2013

Inspired by Flora’s Posts and MyCustardPie, I decided to look back over the last year. Looking at Joy Larkcom’s The Organic Salad Garden, I couldn’t resist making a few plans for 2013 too.

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It’s lovely on a grey day when the ground is too muddy to tackle, to look back at the pictures of summer abundance in the garden. Images of gigantic lovage, rampaging calendula (thank goodness you can eat the petals in salads and decorate cakes with them), and other flowers, salad, herbs and veggies growing in crazy chaos make me feel better about the neglected tomatoes and pathetic potato harvest.

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I blame Dorset for the neglected tomatoes. We went on holiday just when they needed me. And had a great time, cooking tea on the beach, using our home-made smoker to hot-smoke delicious mackerel, loving the playground entirely made from rope at West Bay. The brunch at the wonderful Hive Beach Cafe and baked goodies from Town Mill Bakery in Lyme Regis were fab too.

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The Three Little Pigs were great fun to have in the garden, did a brilliant job of clearing a thistle-strewn area. They were well-fed, grew slowly in plenty of space and well looked after. And now they’re feeding us very well. Once the temperature dropped, I loved making salami and chorizo and the air dried ham is still slowly drying (I hope! Better wait until I unwrap it before I start planning how to use my ‘proscuito’) while our sausages and bacon are proving to be the new jam when it comes to thanking friends for favours.

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I’ve loved seeing Ruby become more interested in cooking. Even if she is messier than her Mum (quite some feat), who often needs a spot of dusk gardening or a squirt of magic spray to recover afterwards. Decorating with violets, making wild garlic pesto, and gathering elderflowers then making them into elderflower cordial with her has all been great fun.

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As usual there’s been plenty of preserving in the kitchen too, with more exotic bottled and jarred goodies inspired by Diana Henry’s Salt Sugar Smoke.

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It all makes me very excited about attempting the following during 2013:

planting more fruit trees soon, while they’re still dormant. apples, pears, damson and greengage are planned and I’d like a morello cherry growing in the shady spot behind Guy’s workshop. Mark Diacono’s great book a taste of the unexpected, which inspires you to think again about the edible delights it’s possible to grow in a British garden has got me enthusiastic about a mulberry tree too.

camping – just the fairweather sort for me. As soon as we have sunny weather in the Spring and Summer I’d like to have a few weekends where we head off to the sort of basic but beautiful campsites where you can have campfires, paddle and cook sausages outdoors for breakfast. Ruby has her sleeping bag ready. Having read Daniel Start’s Wild Swimming, I particularly fancy a campsite near Ross on Wye that allows campfires, is by a great paddling river. There happens to be a good pub very handy too. And there’s the place by the River Windrush in Oxfordshire where you can catch crayfish and swim below a ruined abbey. Will report on these during the year hopefully…

very inspired by Joy Larkcom (I had her The Organic Salad Garden book for Christmas) to be more creative about my planting. I love her defence of planting vegetables in the front garden:

“…what was more beautiful than the “‘Purple Giant” mustard, feathery fennel, deeply curled red “Lollo” lettuce or the glossy, serrated leaves of mizuna greens? What could be more productive and vibrant-looking than a small patch of pak choi, dill or golden purslane? Vegetable plots, I was convinced, can feed the soul as well as the body.”

I’m already a fan of red orache for its striking looks in the garden – it adds height and structure to planting as well as supplying salad leaves – but I like the idea of the purple-hued giant spinach ‘Magentaspreen’ reaching theatrical heights for a salad crop too. And leaving a few clumps of chicory to run to seed in their second season, seeing them grow over 6ft high with flushes of sky-blue (edible) flowers sounds great too. Different coloured beetroot, more types of hardy Chinese mustards, more edible flowers and stepover apples are on my wish-list.

taking Ruby to the Natural History Museum would be great fun – for all of us, I think.

re-visiting the Leyn peninsular in Wales would be great. Friends very generously let us use their beach chalet (very basic but in a quite remote, absolutely stunning spot) last year. Steps lead down to a wonderful horse-shoe bay, rock-pools entice Ruby (and me!), the bay is famous for its crab and nearby ‘Whistling Sands’ beach has brilliant caves and yet more rock-pools.

I do fancy keeping bees, chickens and am very tempted to have a few lambs.

cook more Scandinavian recipes and lots from ‘Jerusalem’ by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. using plenty of home-grown and Cotswold ingredients of course!

but most importantly, I also really want to try not to fit too much in. I know I’m often guilty of trying to add a few too many things to my to-do lists. Always a tad optimistic about how much time I have, I always think I have time to cram in more than is realistic (realistic if I’m not going to have a totally chaotic home anyway). And I do think it’s important that we all have time to sit, relax and not do very much at all – it’s just sometimes tricky to fit in isn’t it? This is my 2013 way of making myself do this:

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Will let you know how it goes.

Just Vegetating: A Memoir by Joy Larkcom

When Joy Larkcom began writing about gardening in the 1970s, the traditional way was still to grow a limited amount of brassicas, potatoes and root veg, all in regimented rows.

With both an insatiable curiosity and an obsession with vegetables, Joy drew inspiration instead from European peasant gardeners with their wonderful ortos, allotments and gardens. Always thorough in her research, she set off in a caravan across Europe with her family, cycling off to talk to people about their veg growing.

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As someone who struggles with the concept of a ‘vegetable patch’ (I’m too obsessed by food to have an area that doesn’t contain something edible, so the whole garden is a patchwork of vegetables and flowers) Joy’s ideas about growing edible plants in a more creative way are right up my garden path. And her style, which mixes down to earth common sense with wit, makes her writing my ideal evening-by-the-woodburner reading. While daydreaming about next years’ planting (and tasty harvests!) I find reading about using wild plants in Italy or “slugduggery” on a Suffolk market garden just the thing.

In ‘Just Vegetating’ Joy brings together articles from four decades of writing about vegetable gardening, covering subjects ranging from her 1970s ‘Grand Vegetable Tour’ to Europe, her travels to Japan and China in search of unusual Asian vegetables that would suit our British climate (adding to her favourite hardy cut and come again salad crops) to “two-timing” potatoes by sowing quick growing rocket or cress on top of them when first planted.

I was surprised to discover how much of the things we take for granted these days in vegetable growing (planting cut and come again salad leaves, growing European favourites such as rocket, purslane, endives and chicories, intersowing) were introduced to us by Joy Larkcom. But I also picked up lots of new ideas: I’ll be rubbing a lovage leaf around a bowl of salad to add a celery flavour now and chopping lemon balm finely to add a lemon taste to salads.

And I loved her scholarly findings that, “Vegetables and flowers were grown together indiscriminately in these functional medieval gardens. Even the flowers were grown for practical purposes: medicinal, culinary or for distilling.” Nice to know there have been crazy planters like me for years!

Just Vegetating  A Memoir by Joy Larkcom, published 2012 by Frances Lincoln.

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