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!

Thrifty meals: Instant Pot Spicy Stew

Black bean and sweet potato spicy stew

Black bean and sweet potato spicy stew

I recently bought JL Fields’ Vegan Pressure Cooking – Delicious beans, grains and one-pot meals in minutes, because I needed to experiment a bit more with my Instant Pot. Pressure cooking is great for one-pot meals, and – being someone who happily could eat out of a bowl with a spoon for almost every meal – stews, soups, chillies and curries made in the Instant Pot are definitely my thing.

And as my due date creeps ever-closer, my mind is turning to maternity leave (finally booked!) and surviving on statutory maternity pay. I have squirrelled some savings away, but it’s still going to be tough going. So pressure cooking for me will help keep the bills down and the nutrition up when it comes to making my meals.

Vegan Pressure Cooking - JL Fields

I adapted JL Fields’ sweet potato and black bean stew recipe to my own tastes, and according to what I had in the cupboard. And it turned out great (see top pic)! I only had half a sweet potato in wrapped in foil in the fridge, so I used some maris piper potatoes* instead of one full sweet potato, and swapped out the chopped tomatoes for some leftover passata I had hanging about. Thankfully all the other simple ingredients I already had to hand – celery, carrots, onions, garlic, veg stock, garam masala, ground cinnamon and a tin of black beans. I have a feeling it’s one of those recipes that can easily be adapted, depending on what you have available in your store cupboards. For instance, I didn’t have bay leaves so I just left them out… it was fine!

The recipe calls for dried black beans – and although I’ll be having a go with these in the future (dried pulses are inordinately more frugal than tinned) – I used pre-cooked beans and just adjusted the water/stock ratio and tweaked the cooking time to roughly half. It all worked out really well… although initially a bit watery, the floury potatoes broke down to thicken the sauce. I also find with pressure cooked food, I need to at least triple the amount of spice, especially if it’s aromatic. So I did just that, and added in a generous kick of cayenne pepper, because I like a nice spicy bite to my food.

Served with rice cooked in a steamer, I’d say all in all this double large portion of food probably cost well under £2.50 altogether. I could have easily made it into two hearty meals and added some green veggies (cheap!) for extra healthy eating points. When the growing season gets going I’ll also be able to cut costs with my own homegrown veggies.

Here’s the original black bean and sweet potato recipe – I’m looking forward to developing my own frugal but oh-so-tasty recipes and sharing them with you in the future :)

*pressure cooked floury potatoes are just the best – creamy, crumbly and full of flavour!

Interplanting

Beetroot interplanting
I’m now on week 25 of my pregnancy and boy, have I grown. I have been more determined to keep on growing despite having to take pretty much everything so much more slowly! So I’m quite pleased that despite all this, so far I’ve managed to plant in the onions, shallots, sow carrots, get the potatoes in (albeit it a little late), plant gooseberry bushes, and with my mum’s help last month we got the early peas in, and planted the parnsips and calabrese too.

Whilst this is most definitely progress, with everything yet to mature there’s still a lot of spare space in between the main crops in the big veg plot. So I’ve decided to have a go at interplanting – using smaller, quick-to-mature plants that utilise the spaces between the slower growers like the calabrese and parsnips.

Space between parsnips for interplanting

The beetroot went in about three weeks ago and is doing well. I’m not hugely keen on boiled beetroot so I’m think I might have a go at pickling it myself! And this recent bout of hot, sunny days followed by damp and muggy days has seen an explosion in growing speed. Everything is taking off at great speed so there’s definitely time to get some more lettuces and radishes in as well.

Interplanting can also include thrifty companion plants – complementary flowers or plants that help to create a plant community that can improve pollination or deter pests and diseases. For instance, marigolds are often planted around tomatoes to deter aphids, and nasturtiums are used to attract blackfly away from beans. Calendula are said to help improve the pollination of courgette flowers and mint (keep it planted in the ground in a pot or it’ll grow rampantly) or alliums help keep carrotfly at bay.

I love the idea of planting sweet peas around my legumes to encourage bean flower pollination – I picked up a couple of cheap plants at my local nursery and will plant them close to my early peas. Hopefully they’ll also add some colour and scent to the veg patch too. I might be a practical soul, but I can’t deny I like to see a little bit of pretty in the vegetable garden too…

Munchkin pumpkins

Munchkin pumpkins growing up the arch