Monday, 24 March 2008

Lovely Easter weather...

What an Easter weekend! There were forecasts of heavy snow in the North of England although the most we ever had at Chesters were flurries of snow showers, large soft feathery flakes that swept over the garden from time to time. Actually, Sunday was really quite a nice day though cold but this picture was taken today, Easter Monday, and shows the espalier apples through a veil of snow.
Working through the snow showers, we got quite a bit of garden work done - last Friday night's Gardeners' World had an interview with Fergus Garrett who has the garden team at Great Dixter steadily working through the rain regardless, with waterproofs and hats on, clearing the March leaves from under hedges and topiary. A little bit of strange weather doesn't stop us gardeners!

The pair of long tailed tits are still busy on the nut feeder, the female blackbird still following me closely round the garden. She is so tame that she came into the shop on Saturday and had to be lured out with some breadcrumbs (I told her they were particularly good being from biodynamically grown wheat from Gilchesters Organics but I think she liked them anyway). But visitors were probably amused to see me running round the garden, chasing the male pheasants out, because they are less wanted as they will scratch in the pots for sale. They stop doing it once there are lots of people about so .... roll on Spring!

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Rhubarb, the first tarragon and cleaning out the pond

The crowns of rhubarb are erupting with new, crinkled leaves, looking like some kind of alien life form, mysterious and rather sinister in close-up! But I am looking forward to eating the young, pink stems when we take up the old, terracotta rhubarb forcer. Rhubarb is delicious flavoured with sweet cicely, Myrrhis odorata, which is luckily in leaf at the same time. Its aniseed flavour helps to naturally sweeten sharp fruits (rhubarb is technically a vegetable) and means you don't have to add so much sugar.

We have just eaten the first tarragon of the season! Wonderful. The plant is grown in the greenhouse soil under a gravel mulch and is now some six inches high and full of flavour. We had it with chicken - the sauce made of creme fraiche, vermouth, a little mustard, garlic and finely chopped onion. Of course, I'm talking French tarragon here - the inferior Russian tarragon, though hardy, is really not worth cooking with. It is coarse and lacking in flavour and, spreading like mint, is a bit of a pest.

Yesterday I cleaned out the pond in the greenhouse, a rather smelly job! It is there to provide a haven for the frogs, our natural predators that patrol the plants for sale - a splash pool that they take advantage of in particular in summer when their heads are just visible above the surface. Using a bucket, I scooped out all the water and murk, running it through a sieve so I could rescue all the newts, frogs, snails and dragonfly larvae. Whilst these waited in another bucket, I washed all the gravel and empty water snail shells from the bottom by running a hosepipe into the sieve to clean it all. Then the pond weed was washed and I could refill the little pond - the water at the garden comes from a spring so there was no problem in using it. Lastly, I could release all the wildlife back into the pond and today the newts are lazily swimming about in their nice clean pond.