The beginnings of the perennial garden

Today is an incredibly exciting day for me. Yesterday I received my order from Poyntzfield Herb Nursery which signals the beginning of my perennial garden.

Poyntzfield Herb Nursery have an incredible range of plants and seeds available at incredibly competitive prices. I was hard pressed to choose only the few(ish) plants that I did!

The plants arrived spot on the day that the Nursery had agreed with me when I phoned them some weeks ago – I wasn’t able to receive the plants till now. -The cardboard box they arrived in was stuffed with shredded paper, and the plants had clearly been inserted with care to keep them protected on their journey. Each plant is individually wrapped in moss and black plastic, tied with an elastic band and labeled with a handwritten cocktail stick which adds a lovely personal touch.

I thought that my seed order had been forgotten initially, along with my Jerusalem artichokes; however a quick email to the Nursery illicited a very prompt response informing me that the seeds were in an envelope in the box along with a note that the Jeruselam artichokes would be sent in November. I dashed to the box and sure enough I’d overlooked the seeds and order summery with the note. Doofus.

The seeds are in cute little brown envelopes, again handwritten and although they don’t come with growing instructions there is a growing code on the back from which I assume I can find instructions on the Nursery website.
So, onto the good bit, what did I get? (Man, I have been looking forward to this delivery for so long!)

  • Dwarf Lemon Balm – I am a sucker for anything lemon flavoured and Mark Diacono finally convinced me to try lemon balm for teas and lemon syrup. With limited space this dwarfing variety seemed the perfect choice.
  • Wild Garlic – Another fantastic flavour, garlic! With the building of the pizza oven in full swing I wanted a perennial garlic flavour that could easily be added last minute, strait from the garden, to pizza and this shade loving plant kills two of our biggest birds with one plant!
  • Red Tree Onion – The perfect marriage of my love for the unusual and my need for Onions’ oft underrated ‘base’ flavour.

  • Udo – Whilst I distinctly recall reading about this plant on Martin Crawfords website and in Mark Diacono’s New Kitchen Garden book, I can’t remember much about it. I shall research it and dedicate a whole post to it once I know what it is! (I must have bought it for some reason…)
  • Sweet Cicily – Another plant that I have been convinced into growing by Mark Diacono and Martin Crawford. Slightly anise in flavour, shade loving and allegedly excellent in crumble; I’m sold.
  • Profusion Sorrel – This is one that Emma from the Alternative Kitchen Garden put me onto I think. (Either that or it was Backyard Larder, I forget.) I’ve been interested in Sorrel for some time, but could never find one that sounded quite right for me. Profusion Sorrel with its less frequent flowering tendencies seemed to fit the bill for me. Another plant which can take some shade.
  • African Blue Basil – The Boyfriend and I are incredibly excited to see how this perennial Basil fares indoors in winter and outdoors during the warmer months! Pesto for everyone!!

  • Babington Leek – Another staple flavour perennialised. This may take time to establish and crop in any great quantity, but it’s a small price to pay if it proves successful and tasty.
  • Kiwi Tree Onion – I couldn’t find a single scrap of information about this particular tree onion outside of Poyntzfield Nursery’s website; naturally this means I bought it…
  • Potato Onion – Otherwise known as multiplier onion. These babies divide into sets much like shallots and can be grown as a replant perennial. I’m intrigued to see how these babies do.
  • Chinese Artichokes – James Wongs Homegrown Revolution put me onto these bad boys. I’m a water chestnut fanatic and these allegedly have a very similar texture (and seem way less hassle).

So, exciting times ahead, and Jeruselam Artichokes to follow in November!

I would highly recommend Poyntzfield Herb Nursery to anyone in the UK; their customer service and depth of knowledge are equally excellent.
Hope you’re having a good day wherever you are,
The Girlfriend Gardener

X

Gutted!

Today I had grand plans for posting my first recipe – czech mince stuffed peppers -adapted from a blog Id stumbled across a few weeks ago. 

I had earmarked the three beautiful peppers from Dads polytunnel for this recipe and gleefully anticipated it, one of my many favourites my grandmother makes.

  
I prepared the ingredients, taking care to quarter the amounts in the recipe.

  
Then I judiciously stuffed the peppers, neither overstuffing nor understuffing:

  
I rammed them into the pan (so they don’t flip) and popped the lids on. They looked adorable. I was delighted.

  
Then for a brief boil followed by two hours of simmering. The smell that permeated my teeny tiny flat tantalised my taste buds.

When my alarm rang to signal the end of cooking time I zoomed downstairs and ladled a pepper into my bowl, drooling with anticipation. 

  
Then I took a bite. Ow! Waaaay too hot. I pottered for a minute or so before returning for round two. Ding Ding! It didn’t look like the peppers my grandmother makes, the inside was darker then usual, but I pressed on, trying to ignor the slightly weird smell floating to greet my nostrils. The second bite was not as hot as the first, but it was not as tasty as if anticipated either. I tried again, surely I’d just tasted wrong. Nope. Defiantly not an appealing taste. I tasted the skin alone; maybe the peppers had something wrong with them? The pepper skins were melting and delicious. I tried the meat – surely the meat couldn’t taste bad! -But it did. It was vile. I tried a bite with toast and even THAT didn’t improve the flavour.
In the end I had a piece of toast. 😦

So no yummy recipe, no cheerful blog post. Gutted.
Tomorrow I’m making sloe gin. You simply can’t go wrong with fruity alcohol. Shame I’ll have to wait till Christmas to drown my sorrows.

Pizza Oven Foundations

We’ve finally finished the foundation of the plinth for the pizza oven! (Essentially a big concrete square).
The plinth base is 154cm x 154cm with a height of about 10cm at the front and 15 – 20cm at the back. (The garden is on a hill). The Boyfriend almost broke his back digging the garden to level the foundations, squaring them and making them level.
In a way, this is the most important part of the oven build, as without a stable, level base that doesn’t move over time the oven would crack worse than is usual for this sort of oven, and it could even slide off the plinth and smash! The key parts of the foundation build is ensuring it’s square and ensuring it’s level. In my opinion it’s best to ensure it’s square, then ensure it’s level, then double check that it’s square and take it from there; checking and double checking as you go.
Tools we used:
– Spirit Level
– Hammer
– Wheelbarrow and / or cement mixer
– Saw
– Ruler
– Pencil
– Scrap pieces of wood, one small one long
– Spade / Shovel
– Trowel
– Bucket
– Tarp to cover

Materials:
– 4 pieces of wood 4 inches high and 154 cm long
– 8 nails
– 31 bags ballast
– 10 and 1/3 bags cement

Building the Shuttering:
The first thing you need to do when building the foundations for your oven plinth is build the shuttering ‘form’ into which you’ll pour your concrete:
• Decide how large it needs to be. (About 5cm either side larger than the outer edge of your plinth – presumably square – and about 4 inches thick at its lowest point to hold the weight of the oven.)
• Buy rough sawn / rough cut wood x 4 of the appropriate height and cut to length.
• Nail the wood into a square using two nails per corner. (You hammer the nails into the flat ‘side’ of the wood through to the blunt ‘end’ of the neighbouring piece.)
• Lay the square out where you want to put the oven and check that it’s square by measuring diagonally in an X shape from corner to corner of the square, ensuring that both figures are the same.
• Next check that the lengths are level by placing a spirit level along each length. Check the ‘bubble’ is centred on the level.
• If the lengths are not level then you have a few options: either dig the higher end into the ground and settle it in (this may require a hammer), or build up the lower end with something (we used soil sods and spare compost I had to hand.
• Check it’s level again and check it’s square. Keep adjusting till it’s correct.
• Make yourself a cup of tea, have a biscuit and stretch your back out!
If I’m honest I didn’t make our shuttering entirely square, there was a 2cm difference between lengths of the X. Not being too enamoured with the idea of re-adjusting EVERYTHING again, I took my railway sleepers, placed them in a square inside the shuttering and, happy that they fit with plenty of space to spare, I left the squaring be.
We’re complete novices and this took about 8 hours in total + lots of frustration and a bad back.
On the plus side I’m sure that my foundation will be level and therefore the oven isn’t going to slide off the back end of the plinth any time soon. Hopefully.

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Laying the concrete:
Once you’re happy that the shuttering is square and level you can make your concrete and pour it in. Making concrete is (in my father’s words) a doddle. Or at least, it is if you have a cement mixer or a very small amount of cement to make. We mixed our cement by hand and I would highly recommend that if you are requiring the same dimensions of slab you hire a cement mixer. It took us three days to concrete the area within the shuttering, and a few weeks of very sore backs. The cost of hiring a cement mixer will repay itself in your non-aching back many times.
How to make concrete:
• Mix ballast and cement in a 3:1 ratio either by hand in a wheelbarrow with a shovel or in a cement mixer.
• Once the mixture is an even colour throughout (a dull mid-grey), add water a little at a time and mix it in until the mixture resembles a thickish sloppy cake mix.
• Taking care not to disturb the shuttering, pour the concrete into one corner of the form. (We found it easiest to work from side to side, building up in layers as we went.)
• With a scrap piece of wood, tamp down the poured concrete to knock out any air bubbles. The surface should form a ‘butter’, (a water that rises to the top and makes it look shiny).
• If you’re building it up slowly, it’s advisable to ‘rough up’ the surface of the concrete, so subsequent layers have something to bind to.
• When building the final layer, cover the whole of the top to just above the lip of the shuttering. Tamp the entire thing with a length of wood longer then the width of the shuttering (this will take two of you). Next, use the same length of wood to scrape across the surface of the concrete to level it in line with the top of the shuttering using a ‘to me, to you’ see-saw motion. (You can use the excess as rubble once it’s dry for the inside of the oven).
• You can now re-check the levels if you particularly like. (I did).
• Leave the concrete to dry for a minimum of 3 days.

I have since been told that it is possible to part fill the shuttering with rubble (hardcore) and pour a sloppy cement mixture over this to save money on cement. Live and learn, eh?

Tada! Can you spot the handprinted signatures of the builders?
Tada! Can you spot the handprinted signatures of the builders?

Nature is amazing!

Picking runner beans, beetroot and leek with dad in his veg patch we stumbled upon this magnificent beauty!  

This is the Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar; apparently common throughout England and Scotland, it’s a chunky monkey of a caterpillar! (UK Moths Website)

I’ve never seen one of these beauties before. I’m assuming the snake-like pattern is to deter predators. Either way, I almost wet myself with excitement when I saw it.
What have you spotted recently in the garden?