Winter solstice

The biggest lesson I’ve learned from writing the Cow Parsley diaries is that it is far, far easier to maintain a gardening blog in the winter.  When the soil is cold and the garden dark and sodden, my fingers are itching to get planting and I have a head full of plans for summer and the time to get them onto the page. Then, like a genie out of the bottle, growing season takes hold and every spare moment is taken up racing round trying to keep up. Recording takes a back seat. 
The winter solstice nudged me into action, so here’s a recap of the winners and losers of the 2019 gardening year. 

The cutting garden
Its been a patchy year for the cut flower patch. On the winning side has been staking. Buoyed by the success of my willow supports, I actually got round to staking my ammi and cornflowers this year and felt smug every time I walked past their beautiful tall straight stems. I didn’t picked the cornflowers fast enough and the seed heads attracted flocks of goldfinches (or charm to use the collective noun). A charm of goldfinches must surely bestow good luck on any garden and they whirred up out of the cornflower patch whenever I walk past.

Losers have been sweet peas, which did very little this year. Last year I picked armfuls but this year they barely got beyond 2 feet high then gave up and flowered. I’m not sure whether the cold wet June was to blame, or just a duff batch of seedlings.
Moderately successful have been larkspur (see autumn sowing hardy annuals) which flowered and early due to autumn sowing but succumbed to black sooty mildew in mid summer. In a bit of a shock – I had some pink ones! These are second-generation plants from collected seed so some must have reverted – very pretty but not what I wanted or expected. Also, I gave a lot of seedlings away to friends assuring them of a summer of inky blue-ness. Oops. The cutting garden is on hold for 2020 as I may need to move things around a bit if my exciting plans for a greenhouse get off the ground!

Kale – Cavlero Nero and Redbor
This year I sowed two sorts of kale. First is the old faithful Caverlo Nero. I plant a couple of these in every year. They sit happily in the corner of the garden minding their own business right through to winter and I snap a couple of leaves off whenever needed in the kitchen. They are not bitter at all, and are very nice sliced thinly into minestrone soup.

New for me this year was Kale Redbor. Sarah Raven sells these as part- vegetable, part ornamental and its certainly showy in a frilly purple sort of way.  She also recommends it as the best type for making kale seaweed which proved delicious. I sowed them into individual modules early in the year and had an excellent germination rate. The cabbage white caterpillars had go at the Nero, but butterflies are so rare in the garden these days that they are welcome to their share.

How to make ‘chinese seaweed’ from kale.
I used a mix of both Rebor and Caverlo Nero for this recipe.
Wash and dry the leaves and cut out the central rib, careful to remove any tiny caterpillars.
Cut the leaves into crisp sized pieces and place in a bowl.
Drizzle in sunflower oil and rub so the leaves are coated
Place on a baking tray and sprinkle with salt and brown sugar
Bake in a cool oven (140C) for about 5-10 minutes.
Check every few minutes that they aren’t overdoing. They should feel crispy but not burned.
Serve. There is virtually nothing to them and a huge tray can be eaten in moments!

Turfing over the old pond (see A bit of boring gardening) made me realise how diverse the lawn is.  I don’t use any sort of treatments and it makes for a less uniform but more interesting mix.  Speedwell, heartsease, black medic, and even some tree peony seedlings all crowd in with the white clover and daisies.  I blame grey squirrels for the tree peonies as they bury the shiny black seeds in autumn.  The new turf is lush and greener, but seeing the two side by side (as shown in the pic below) made me realise what a monoculture it is with almost nothing for the bees. I look forward to seeing it sprinkled with flowers.  

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