You can’t beat homegrown garlic

Garlic on drying rack

I’ve been banging this drum for years; you simply cannot beat the flavour of homegrown garlic. That’s why every year we plant some bulbs, grow them organically before harvesting enough to get us through a few months without having to resort to sub-standard supermarket fare that’s been flown halfway across the world.

This year we tried two varieties; Cristo (one of our favourites) and Solent Wight. We did have a pretty bad case of rust, but it just seemed to affect the leaves and not the bulbs (and it means we won’t be able to grow any allium on that patch for a few seasons). The Cristo definitely outperformed the Solent Wight in terms of bulb size, but I feel like we didn’t have enough of a cold snap at the beginning of the year to promote bulb growth and division.

Regardless, we’ve seen got a few decent sized bulbs, and crucially, they smell just amazing. Last year I lost a lot of bulbs as I harvested them during a prolonged spell of rain and damp weather, and they went soft and mildewy very quickly. This year, we’ve had the intense heat and lots of sun, so the bulbs have been drying out nicely on a rack in the greenhouse. I’ll wait until the outer layers of the bulbs are papery and crisp before transferring them indoors to store somewhere cooler but with plenty of air circulation.

Garlic growing in spring

Garlic growing earlier in the Spring

One of my simple pleasures in life is to make homemade vegetable soup from homegrown ingredients. The addition of homegrown garlic and onions brings a new level of flavour and fragrance to my cooking and just takes it into a realm of its own. Rich is more of a fan of homemade garlic bread, and we both enjoy the zingy fresh flavour in homemade pasta sauces too.

After eating slightly disappointing shop-bought garlic for a few months, I really don’t realise what I’m missing until I take that first taste of homegrown. Next time, we’ll grow even more to get us through the year. And if you haven’t tried it, you should. You’ll never look back.

Little Harvests

harvesting pea pods

The harvesting has begun – we’ve already got a fridge full of calabrese and during the last fortnight I’ve been picking fat pods of peas every other night. I only put in a handful of plants, but they’ve thrived, carefully planted at the back of the veg patch so as not to overshadow other crops and happily scrambling up some old metal grilles that were used to protect the old chicken ark from Mr Fox.

I love podding peas – it’s intensely satisfying, opening up pods of neatly packed chubby green globes of goodness and popping them out. I hope that next year I’ll be able to feed my daughter freshly podded peas to encourage her to enjoy tender homegrown, organically produced fruit and veggies.

freshly podded peas

The calabrese has taken on a life of its own, and where I harvested big florets off the top of the plants, smaller shoots of tender stems have sprung up, willing to give us just that little bit more before the plants go over.

The garlic hasn’t been so virulent; with lots of rain this year we’ve had our worst bout of rust, so not sure how the bulbs have fared. We’ll see… as long as we have something to use I won’t mind too much as homegrown garlic is just unbeatable. The downside though is that we won’t be able to grow any kind of alum in that same patch for three years.

And on my two tiny apple trees, we have some fruits appearing. The Blenheim Orange must be on a dwarf slow-growing rootstock, but it’s managed to produce a few fruits this year. The Charless Ross is much more vigorous and the offerings are looking so much better than the lone fruit produced last year. I’m already thinking about apple crumble!

There is a definite kind of peace in wandering about the veg patch before dinnertime, picking and harvesting fresh, homegrown food before preparing it for dinner. It’s like a piece of life’s puzzle that just slots in and makes you feel a little bit more satisfied, a little bit more complete. I might not be the world’s best food grower, but it doesn’t matter. Because next year, I can always try again.

growing peas

Roses for a cottage garden

Harkness Chandos Beauty

Harkness Chandos Beauty

After reading The Rose Girls by Victoria Connelly, I’ve experienced a renewed interest in roses. Growing up, we always had the odd rose planted here and there, and Nannie, Pappa and Mum definitely had their favourites. But reading such descriptive narrative that brought the rose scents, colours and blooms to life really got me thinking, wondering and wishing I had more of this classic cottage garden plant to enjoy.

Lark Ascending rose

Lark Ascending rose

One of my favourite roses is my Lark Ascending rose, aptly named after my absolute favourite classical piece of musical by Vaughan Williams.

Lark Ascending rose bush

Lark Ascending rose bush

When they first open, the blooms look as though they are almost illuminated from within, with a warm glow that pales and brightens as the petals age.

Lark Ascending rose in bloom

Lark Ascending rose in bloom

The Smallest Smallholding is also home to Ena Harkness, Golden Showers, New Dawn, Paul’s Himalayan Musk and a Buff Beauty amongst a few other hidden gems in the rambling patchwork that makes up my garden borders.

Golden Showers

Golden Showers

And I confess, I know next to nothing about roses, and apart from the Lark Ascending I’ve let my roses go leggy over the years owing to the fact that I haven’t the foggiest about proper pruning techniques. But I’m willing to learn.

Unknown variety - any suggestions?

Unknown variety – any suggestions?

After visiting RHS Chelsea earlier this year and being thoroughly impressed by the Harkness stand, I discovered that this famed rose producer is actually located just a 25 minute drive from home. A couple of visits later and I’m now the proud owner of a Harkness Chandos Beauty, with my eye on the pollinator-friendly Simple Life and Simple Gold, as well as Penny Lane (couldn’t resist a Beatles reference, and a beautiful rose). I also love the fact that Eve Harkness rose has been bred especially for The Eve Project… definitely one for the shopping list when I’ve got a few pennies together.

I’m now looking to explore a few English gardens to get some ideas together for planting schemes and designs – Sissinghurst is on the list and with Rich’s family based in Kent, we could easily make a day of it. Got any must-visit rose gardens you think I should head to? Let me know in the comments :)