Tuesday, 21 April 2009

I sing of brooks, of blossoms, birds, and bowers...

If Spring came but once in a century, instead of once a year,
or burst forth with the sound of an earthquake,
and not in silence, what wonder and expectation there would
be in all hearts to behold the miraculous change!
So says Longfellow. My own heart, however, never fails to lift a little at this time of year, and I am constantly aware of a sense of purpose all around me, the air of full of twitterings and the rushing of wings. It's another bright sunny day, albeit with a chill wind, and I would much rather be out in the garden than working. My plan is spend some time outside this afternoon, if only I can get ahead with everything I need to do - faint hope, I suspect. It will be necessary to do some watering, though - we've had no real rain for some time, and things are getting very dry. That's the downside of growing plants in containers, I suppose.

In the woodland around the farm the gorse is out, and warm evenings are filled with an unexpected aroma of coconut. Around here it isn't too invasive, and can be enjoyed for its rich colour and long-flowering period - I don't think there is any month in the year when there isn't a whinbush flowering somewhere about the place - but I've noticed that on Dartmoor in recent years it is becoming all-pervasive, no doubt because the numbers of grazing sheep have been been reduced since foot-and-mouth.

The woods are full, too, of the delicate blossoms of gean, or bird cherry. Alongside the blowsy cultivated cherries, this native tree has a tendency to pale into insignificance, but it can be un unexpected joy in northern woodlands and, later in the year, the birds enjoy the small fruit. It's one of the native species I want to plant in our paddock.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Thinking vegetables

Choosing a gardening book is a very personal thing, I think. My mother quite often gives me books she thinks I will like, and I now have several very attractive books that lurk, unconsulted, in dark corners. She got it right last birthday, tracking down a copy of Roger Phillips' Roses, which delighted me. The odd thing is, I can't find it, and am now beginning to think I imagined the whole thing! My current favourites, though, focus on vegetables, so it's not surprising that they are both within easy reach at this time of year, as I plan how to amuse the pigeons and deer for another season.

Joy Larkcom's Creative Vegetable Gardening is a visual delight. A large format paperback that will almost lie flat while you browse through it, and written in a chatty tone of voice, it take its inspiration from gardens all over the world to create pretty vegetable gardens and potagers. There is a brief (I want to say, potted) history of growing for the kitchen, before moving on the Elements of Design, with guidance on how to plan your potager, and Dramatic Effects - how to make it even more beautiful. There is a whole chapter on fruit, which is followed by a useful one on Management, with good advice on improving soil fertility and watering. Even this chapter makes me itch to get outside, with its picture of the feathery green manure, phacelia tanacetifolia, glorious in its own right, or a potager bed with brick paths, covered in rich manure for the winter. There are an excellent sections on container gardening and small potagers, making this a book for those with limited space, full of ideas about how to cram in the most you possibly can, while creating interest with texture and colour, contrasting plants with dramatic supports and edgings, or choosing between hedges and fences. Photographs are sumptuous and inspiring. The final section is where I spend most time, especially at this time of year - the A-Z of vegetables, fruit, herbs and edible flowers. This is just as wonderfully illustrated as the rest, with an eye always to looks as well as taste - vegetables as objects of desire.