Many thanks to the hardy locals who joined us to plant some new
trees yesterday - 24 x cherry plums (Prunus cerasifera) at
the rear of the Paddies, and 6 silver
birches (Betula pendula) at the foot of the Meadow, to counteract the exposure
caused by Brantwood's recent felling of their
mature woodland on our boundary.
Luckily, the rain only started once we were all safely back indoors consuming our festive lunch.
At Lawson Park garden there are a few valiant plants still flowering through the recent hurricanes, worth listing here because as the saying goes 'if it works here it'll work anywhere'. Unlike the last two Novembers we have yet to see a hard frost:
Caltha palustris (the marsh marigold - one of the first flowers here and determined to be the last), clematis 'Black Prince' (pruned very late hence flowering very late), buddleia weyerania (a yellow globular form of the butterfly bush), prunus subhirtella autumnalis (a cherry), annual marigolds (calendula) and rudbeckia fulgida 'Goldsturm', and irrepressible yellow daisy-like perennial (pictured).
Good autumn colour in the form of bark, berries etc is found in cornus alba (common dogwood), salix alba vitillina (yellow willow), stephanandra tanakae (a Japanese shrub we have grown from seed). Viburnum opulus (our native guelder rose) keeps its beautiful red berries much longer than anything else.
These last few months waiting, getting excited about the new arrivals and now we discover that Octavia our pig is no longer pregnant. It seems likely that she was pregnant as she stopped coming into season after being served by a boar back in July. This would have made her due next week but because her mammary glands never developed, we have had to come to the conclusion that she lost her litter. From talking to Carole Barr, whose boar we borrowed to cover Octavia, she must have re-absorbed her pregnancy. This sounds quite gruesome but actually it makes sense for mammals that produce large numbers of offspring. If there's a problem with say just one embryo, rather than the whole litter being aborted, that one embryo can be reabsorbed into the body and the others can carry on to full-term.
From looking online, it doesn't seem that uncommon for a pig to lose her litter this way, but in proper pig business this translates financially as 'empty days' and the aim is to minimise empty days. This is done by either slaughtering the unproductive animal or taking it back to the boar as soon as the re-absorbtion is discovered. Fortunately we don't have to think in these terms as she's not our cash cow, so I think we will minimise her empty days by getting another grower in to keep her company. We'll take her to the boar soon and aim for a spring litter.
... so make the most of it.
An as-yet-unpublished area of our web site here - and one that would make Kew Gardens even greener with envy - is a plant database designed by Dorian Moore for us, and to wihch I have just added the 342nd plant entry.
It's all very clever, with maintenance info I can update for future LP gardeners, pictures and even notes on edibility. I promise that one day we will publish it. Promise.
I had high hopes this year for my trial of new-to-us Eastern European tomoto varieties. Down at our allotment at Monk Coniston Walled Garden we are trying 'Koralik' outside - watch this space for report - but up at Lawson Park's polytunnel this year we grew 'Father Frost' and the trusty yellow cherry tomato, 'Sungold'.
These pictures tell you all you need to know, and from past experience we will be picking Sungold right up to Christmas time. 'Father Frost' - like other Eastern European variteties - promised hardiness and vigour which I hoped would match our very tomato-unfriendly climate. At first it indeed grew very well and produced many offshoots which one is advised not to pinch out - in other words instead of the traditional cordon you got a rather unwieldy but promising bush. The problem was that by the time of ripening in August, the close foliage was getting mildewy and shading the fruits, and in addition fruit was rather haphazardly shaped and distributed. Eventually a meagre harvest was gleaned of dull-flavoured fruit.
Take in contrast the elegant 'Sungold' - a far sparser plant, almost straggly after its late January sowing. Both varities were deep-plated out in late May with the first 15cm of their stems buried in the enriched soil. Removing side shoots keeps the plant in shape and allows air and light to the fruits, which up here don't even think about ripening till very late August. But boy are they worth the wait.
I'm reminded that of course 'Sungold' has the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) and more the fool me for not choosing other varieties that share this most trustworthy of endorsements - note to self, to refer to the list of all AGM tomatoes before browsing next year's seed catalogues....
There are only so many jars of traditional British pickle you can consume in a year, and my annual pickling has in recent harvests expanded to include a number of Asian varieties. This recipe book, The Perfect Pickle is a well thumbed and stained inspiration, as was our visit to Japan in 2006. One of the most magical Japanese pickles I tasted, and sadly the nost hopeless to replicate at home, was one made with rice wine lees (the stuff leftover from saki brewing) - an unforgettable, ancient flavour with all the complexity and more besides of any European fermented food. At Lawson Park we regularly make kimchi (a fiery and restorative Korean short-term pickle) for which use the legendary Madhur Jaffrey's recipe, and my nuka box (a paste of fermented rice bran into which vegetables are buried) is now in its third year, having even had to travel to Germany to help cater a Myvillages seminar.
Just now, we have a great many vegetables still in the ground that are fast deteriorating in the stormy weather. Purple shiso is a stunning-looking plant most often grown here in the UK in bedding schemes. We grow it in the polytunnel (as well as the green variety) and now is the time to harvest the large fragrant leaves for winter use. This year I'm again simply layering them flat in a glass jar with miso paste, using a flat knife as if I'm buttering a whole load of sandwiches. It'll last the whole winter, and the mix makes all sorts of delicious soup bases and dressings.
Experienced gardeners know the quiet satisfaction of doing something at this time of year specifically to look great next year. In fact I'm lookig forward to the next NGS Open Garden Day (Sept 3rd) being over so I can rip into some other jobs that would be too carnage-inducting to attempt before a public viewing.
Like so many, we have fallen for the delights of meadows and pseudo-meadows at Lawson Park. For the last few years we have used Pictorial Meadows seed mixes in some very poor areas in front of the hostel, to magnificent effect (see pic). Until this year. Despite sowing it twice (not cheap) and weeding it very avidly we have an abismal show of mainly weeds and a few corn cockles. Perhaps duff seed, erratic weather, slugs or all of the above.
Partly based on this, and on my observations of how few native annual plants flower in a single season at this altitude / climate, I've decided to try sowing a hardy annual seed mix now (in fact it would have been better a few weeks ago but fingers crossed for a sunny September). The idea is that these seeds germinate and grow to a few inches before holding out the winter and resuming growth in spring. This would be nature's way, of course. Beautiful natives thriving here such as angelica sylvestris and arctium lappa do just this.
The area we hope to transform is the 3m curtiledge of the building on its east side (the Lake side) at the top of our lawn / meadow. A total of about 100 sq metres of mainly gravel, poor but sunny (for here) and well-drained. If our plan works we will have a Disney-esque technicolour band of colour round our grey walls for most of summer 2012. Adam has flame burned it of its worse weeds (again, this in some way mimics nature's rejuvenations) and I followed this with a rough forkover. The species we have chosed to sow were based on the most successful from our Pictorial Meadows experiments, plus I threw in some Phacelia for its insect-attractiveness. I mixed some 200g of phacelia, cornflower, corn cockle and corn marigold from Moles Seeds with coir and a little seed compost to make it handle easier. We have in the past tried to handsow at the recommended 2-3g per sq metre and it's very hard to be mean enough with the seed. I then took the unusual step of brushing the seed / coir vigorously into the gravel to bed it in. I now hope for just the right amount of sun and rain to get these wee seeds ahead before what may be a 3rd apocalypic winter in a row at Lawson Park!
And the pig fodder seed mix is taking off. Our gilt Octavia should be pregnant by now. The boar we borrowed from local Lop breeder Carole Barr (www.pigsandpoultry.co.uk) doesn't seem to be interested in our girl any more, so job done, hopefully. The gestation period is 3 months, 3 weeks and 3 days, and the piglets weaned around 4 or 5 weeks. This field will be ready for them by then so they will have lots of excellent rooting and nutrition before we sell them on.