Rain and Sunshine

Earlier this week we had a thunderstorm of pretty epic proportions. In fact, I have no shame in admitting that I almost crapped myself a couple of times, thanks to some ear-splitting booms and claps that rolled out of the skies.

Downpours in Bedfordshire

It wasn’t just a show of sound and light though; after a long build up in which the bump and I slowly melted under a fairly oppressive cloud of intense humidity, the heavens opened. The downpours were long and penetrating – just what the veg patches needed – and the Smallest Smallholding has, as expected, gone into overdrive and everything is growing at a rate of knots.

Raspberries, calabrese, parsnips, peas and more in the long patch

Raspberries, calabrese, parsnips, peas and more in the long patch

My onions and perennial wallflowers were the only plant life that took a beating from the storm, whilst everything else has thrived with a heady combination of hot days and squally showers. Another benefit of this mix of sunshine and rain is that the soil is virtually fluffy, so weeds (even the mile-long tap roots of thuggish alkinet) are so easy to pull. This, together with my no dig approach, has meant that keeping on top of the veg patches has been so easy.

Bumble bee enjoying a geranium

So it’s the first week of June and the veg is romping away, the roses are blooming and the Smallest Smallholding is just so full. This time of year is so invigorating. Armies of honey bees and fat bumblebees are jigging and rubbing themselves with tangible glee all over our geraniums, lavender, foxgloves, toadflax and alliums. The fledged blackbirds are out in force, and the hedgehogs are resolutely on slug duty at night. I’m having a battle of wills with an undisclosed feathered or furry critter who keeps pulling out my strawberry plants (two miserable looking plants have survived) and it’s all a bit wild and out of control… and when I stand back and look… there’s still so, so much to do.

But do you know what? It’s totally OK. It’s keeping me busy, occupied, and dare I say it… happy.

Podding peas

And in three weeks I shall be on maternity leave. Yes, we have a list of things as long as my arm to do in the house before my due date, including some significant renovations and decorating, but I can’t keep my mind off my vegetable patches, my borders, my plans for everything.

I should be worried, I should be brimming with anxiety and how the hell I’m going to cope with the weeks and months ahead. The state of the house should have me wringing my hands and raging. But somehow, my garden is taking that energy and channelling it into something positive. Something I can build on in the future, and something I can make good with.

Early pea flowers

Memories of France & a new Bistro set

One of my best childhood holiday memories was from when we were staying at a friend’s house in a small French village in the Vendée in France. Each morning around 8am, my Dad would disappear off to the boulangerie down the street and appear not long after with armfuls of croissants, baguettes, pain au chocolat and fresh orange juice.

We’d sit out together – my whole family and my best friend Laura – under the hot morning sun in the old rambling garden, eating our delicious fresh bakes with lashings of confiture de fraise. Once we’d stuffed ourselves to the gills, we’d pack up and head off to the beach, or take ourselves off for a ride on the old clapped out bikes in the shed. It felt magical at the time, and the memories still do. 

Habitat bistro set

Since then, I’ve always felt that there’s something a bit special about eating al fresco, especially on a sunny morning under a cloudless blue sky, just before everyone else has woken up and gone about their business. Until a couple of weeks ago, to eat breakfast under the morning sun here at The Smallest Smallholding meant perching on the crowded kitchen door step, or faffing around with the big table cover and chairs down by the veg plots.

So when I was contacted to review a Habitat bistro set, of course I leapt at the chance. We’d had a spate of hot, sunny Spring days and I was longing to make the most of the morning light streaming onto the back of the house. I wanted to be able to start my day in the fresh air and listen to the bird song whilst I munch on my (now vegan, no croissants as yet) breakfast. (I’m still a huge fan of confiture de fraise and can also be found chomping down on toast or baguette loaded with blackcurrant jam too).

Habitat bistro set

We decided that the Habitat PARC Bistro Set would be perfect for our needs – just two chairs and a bijou table that worked well in the small space we had set aside. The PARC Bistro set is priced at £85.00 and we opted for the slate blue (but I think now the PARC set is available in black, yellow or red for extra zing). We have a little patch of mostly untended gravel outside the conservatory, that has up until now been somewhat of a redundant space, and this is where we decided to set up our new little eating area.

As I was at work, and Rich works from home, he was responsible for setting up the table and chairs, and assures me they all went up together with relative ease. The metal frames are sturdy and solid, and seem fine under Rich’s rugby-like build and 6’3″ frame, and my ever-increasing 7 month-pregnancy weight too! The colour is perfect and really lifts the area, and having a small eating space outside the back door before you get to the garden gate really gives a once sad looking space some real purpose. And with it being outside the kitchen, it makes popping out with a sandwich at lunch time or, in Rich’s case, his 7th cup of tea in the morning, easy. Just being able to get out and take a moment in the fresh area is great.

Even though I am yet to finish planting up this new eating area I’m excited about being able to use a new sizeable space. I’ve got a shelf of lettuces and herbs growing there, but I know now I need to rethink what could be a really productive and pretty space. I’m picturing rows of potted flowering herbs on the sunny side to accompany the bistro set, and on the shady side maybe some majestic hostas with a refreshed and revived gravel area for shade-loving herbs like sweet woodruff, angelica and parsley.

And in winter, when the northerly winds return and the frosts start to bite, we can fold away our little bistro set and store in the shed until Spring comes around again and we’re able to sit out, with our new daughter, and enjoy lashings of fresh bakes and confiture de fraise under the bright morning sun.

Habitat bistro set

 

RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2016 visit

botanic garden

Part of the Botanic Garden

This week I headed down to Sloane Square with my mum for this year’s RHS Chelsea Flower Show. The weather was a bit crap – overcast and pretty chilly for a late May day – but given the crowds I was actually quite pleased not to be in the glare of a hot sun!

First off we headed for the show gardens, and although at times given the volume of people it was hard to stop and ponder the planting, I really enjoyed the flowing, naturalistic planting schemes that seemed to prevail in the vast majority of the gardens. Wildflowers have definitely made a comeback, with ragged robin a popular choice, and it seemed most gardens were going for purples, whites and a variance on rusty orange or rusty pink.

I suppose just like fashion, preferences for planting are subject to trends. But I like this recent trend. Pollinating flowers like alliums and salvias were in evidence everywhere, as was a certain type of almost milk chocolate-coloured California Iris.

I think my favourite garden had to be the Botanic garden – not for its main feature, a glass house, but for one side of the garden that was planted up in a style that nodded to permaculture, with salvias, lupins, wild carrot, hyssop, beetroot, rhubarb, blackcurrant, gooseberry, french beans, nasturtiums, and all manner of fruit and veg crammed in together to create a bustling, thriving growing space. It definitely gave me lots of ideas for my own patch of the good life.

A close up from the Greening Grey Britain garden

A close up from the Greening Grey Britain garden

The Greening Grey Britain garden was also an inspiration, with some almost prairie-like planting with swathes of plants that are perfect for pollinators, wildflowers including ragged robin and aquilegia (another popular feature in many gardens this year), grasses, and some gorgeous rusty metal bird seed cups that I haven’t been able to locate anywhere! I love the idea of ‘Greening Grey Britain‘, an RHS scheme launched last year in a bid to overcome the paving over of front gardens, driveways and what could be thriving spaces for flora and fauna to reduce flooding, combat localised temperature rises and even subsidence. Want to make a contribution and bring colour and vitality back to the streets of Britain? Then visit the RHS site to make your promise.

So lots of ideas and inspiration, and armed with three new packets of seed (two types of pollinator-friendly Astrantia, and some white ragged robin), I’ve come away determined to make the Smallest Smallholding a living, breathing and productive oasis in my part of suburbia.

Natural planting schemes were everywhere!

Naturalistic planting schemes were everywhere!