Introducing Tabitha

thumb_IMG_1791_1024

Lots going on here at The Fig Tree. Figs are busily ripening quietly, courgettes are sending out sunshine yellow flowers and I’ve had my first harvest.

thumb_IMG_1797_1024 thumb_IMG_1793_1024

The stripy one is courgette Piccolo. I was keen to go for more unusual courgettes this year and this one hit the mark. You need to pick them small. The yellow one might well be the Flying Saucer squash Patty Pan.

thumb_IMG_1809_1024

I almost missed these Cobra Climbing beans. They start producing beans when they’re really quite short then they grow a bit and produce another crop and again and perhaps again….will have to see! It means less successional sowing which is a win win in my eyes.

thumb_IMG_1799_1024

I thought this was some kind of sugar snap pea but couldn’t remember planting it. Turns out it’s Blue Shelling Pea. Look….

thumb_IMG_1802_1024

…beautiful little peas snuggled up inside. Funny how they’re green not purple!

thumb_IMG_1804_1024

More delightful royal purple found with the Artichoke Purple de Jesi. I have to admit I’ve never tried to eat these. I love them for the architectural element that they provide and I have used them in a Christmas decoration which I may well do again this year.

thumb_IMG_1807_1024

Another bit of excitement….the greengage tree has fruit! I love this little cousin of the plum. It’s so delicious and after it’s poor harvest last year I was worried it might have had it’s day but it lives on and is thriving!

thumb_IMG_1798_1024

The fennel is flowering heavily right now and each umbrel is full of fennel pollen. I mentioned fennel pollen in this post in March 2014. I have to admit that I haven’t thought much about it since until a meeting with a foodie friend who has started a cool foodie business called My Kitchen Notebook. It was a joy to talk about edible flower, herbs, horseradish and liquorice root and of course fennel pollen! It actually made me inspired to go back to my old blog posts and also to start blogging again about the more unusual things that I grow and what I do with them. More of that to come……

thumb_IMG_1803_1024

This photo shows that even though the coriander has long gone the flowers are still delicious and quite beautiful. So the air is heavy with sheer hard work and abundance right now! I find myself walking quite a lot these days. I go from the vege garden to the flower garden to the herb garden to the nuttery to the wildflower meadow to the flower garden overflow……it’s exhausting!!!! Seed need sowings, seedlings need planting, shrubs and perennials need homes too. Everything needs watering and  of course the weeds are doing their level best to Take Over The World Mwah ha ha (evil laugh of the weeds….). I used to joke to Mr Fig that I’d need a Golf Cart to ride on around the place to save my legs. Oh how we laughed…..! However, I’ve recently found something far better than a golf cart! Introducing….Tabitha!!!

thumb_IMG_1781_1024

Isn’t she a beauty?! Classic moustache bar with leather look grip, 7 speed internal hub gears, full length alloy mudguards, front mount wicker style basket, alloy kickstand…… I had to look all that stuff up you understand. What I really love is THE COLOUR! and the BASKET!! The basket is so handy and not just for looking pretty with flowers! Of course I don’t really cut flowers straight into the basket because flowers should be cut straight into water. Couldn’t resist for the pic though.

thumb_IMG_1778_1024

So there I go…..off into the nuttery careful to avoid the prickly thistles…..

thumb_IMG_1774_1024

Might stop at the herb garden and check if the latest batch of sweet peas need watering (yes not strictly a herb at all but running out of room…)

thumb_IMG_1776_1024

…then a pause to admire the poppies and cornflowers mindful that their short season will be coming to a close soon….

thumb_IMG_1779_1024

….finishing up at the Cutting Garden to check everything is growing well and wondering when I’ll get my first zinnia…. all sounds idyllic right?! Yes well I don’t really do that. It’s more a case of zooming round doing the watering rounds, heaving hoses hither and thither and digging up hard, sun baked soil to plant yet more seedlings! But have to say I loooooove Tabitha! And she reminds me of being little when I used to zoom around on my red bike with Mr Snoopy clamped firmly behind the saddle….

thumb_IMG_1785_1024

Happy gardening!

Step Away from the To Do List…..

IMG_1517

Sometimes I need to remind myself of what I’ve achieved rather than think about what is still on the To Do List. I think to some extent we all do. This blog has been an invaluable resource of how we’ve developed our little slice of Hawke’s Bay. I enjoy re-reading posts of projects that we’ve accomplished and how we’ve chipped away at our little bit of land to mould it and shape it to suit us. We’ve had a fair few projects since we moved here notably the Figs and the Cutting Garden. I sometimes wonder if people think we’re a bit mad to lavish such attention on a garden….but then I have a cup of tea and get my spade out and carry on digging! This post is a bit of a Then and Now post. Looking back and looking forwards.

IMG_1776

One of my most favourite Spring Sights is my Plum Tree. It always has a magnificent covering of blossom and this year it was completely drowning in the honey scented stuff. The bees have been going mad over it.  I stood underneath a little while back and took a good sniff and wished that I could bottle it for it’s scent is fleeting. Here’s my plum tree now after just a week.

IMG_1831

Other Spring Goodies include the bulbs in the Nuttery that I almost broke my back planting!

IMG_1848 IMG_1849

The trees in the nuttery are in bud and looking a little taller than last year. I’ve been raking up all the leaves that the oaks, chestnuts and gladitzias have been dropping steadily over autumn and transporting them to the Nuttery to get a good “woodland feel” and add some leaf mould goodness too. I was so happy to see that the three Hawthorne trees that I thought were dead as doornails last Autumn….

IMG_1519

….are actually well and truly Alive! I love the shape of their leaves and I’m hoping to see some evidence of their berries this coming Autumn. In fact, out of all the 60 odd trees that we planted this time last year only one has turned up it’s roots and joined the great Woodland in the Sky  and that was the Eucalyptus. I thought these trees were indestructible but not this one. Just to recognise the progress from last year this is what the Nuttery looked like in September 2014

IMG_0698

And this is the Nuttery now.

thumb_IMG_1871_1024

It’s difficult to capture everything that’s going on but there are little patches of foxgloves, bluebells, tulips, ornithagalum and narcissi all over the show. The shrubs have been transplanted from the Annoying Bed (it’s never worked in the 6 years years we’ve lived here so it’s going to be grassed over leaving the trees to stand alone in all their glory and to open up the view). The Nut trees are right at the back including a circle of Hazels and some almonds.

IMG_0734

This was the Cutting Garden in September 2014. The Herb Garden didn’t exist until a few months later…..nor did the Wildflower Meadow. The Wildflowers were sown in November 2014.

thumb_IMG_1874_1024

This is the Cutting Garden in September 2015. Definitely more action around the edges, a few biennials that survived and everything nicely mulched ready for the seedlings…

thumb_IMG_1875_1024

The Sweet Pea Walk is new. Mr Fig had a great time putting these posts in (ahem!). However, they look fabulous and they will work as a great support for the Sweetpeas as well as being a gorgeous place in which to linger with a cup of tea.

thumb_IMG_1876_1024

The Herb Garden September 2015. Work in the Herb Garden tailed off as the heat of summer hit us hard in 2014. However, it was full of scented geraniums, mint, fennel and bee balm. You might be able to make out a small square bed in the the top right of the photo….there will be three more of these to create symmetry and provide beds for basil, chives and other culinary herbs. You might also be wondering about the circular mound of something in the middle? That will be a Chamomile Lawn (with a nod to Mary Wesley). Will need to start again as the weeds laughed in the face of my attempts to smother them with Chamomile…. Mwahahahaha they crowed (nasty weeds).

IMG_1832

The Lime bush/tree has had a Severe Pruning and a good mulch and the semi edible beds have been mulched to within an inch of their lives too (I’m so over weeding that this is my attempt to never have to weed again!).

IMG_1833

I’m using mushroom compost which is working well and feeding the soil too.

IMG_1834

The honeysuckle had a massive haircut so that we could actually enter the Vege Garden without being poked in the eye….

I really neglected the veggies last year. I got a few beans and courgettes and toms but the cucumbers were rubbish and the pickles didn’t make it to become pickles. The butternut squash yielded a desultory harvest and the strawberries were all eaten by the feathered folk. Grrrrr….

IMG_0232

This Year will be Different. What’s the difference? Well, I’ve added heaps of goodies to the soil….chicken poo…..compost……coffee grounds…..yum! I’ve also added netting to most of the beds to protect the veggies from prying beaks. I’ve also tweaked the layout a tiny bit (Mr Fig just groaned then….he’s changed the layout of the vege garden numerous times!).

IMG_1835

All I’ve done is extend the Squash bed because I want to grow these gorgeous little spaceship squash that are essentially courgettes but packaged in a fancier shape. I also want more pumpkins too especially one called Turks Turban that I saw growing at Kew Gardens three years ago and Pumpkin ‘Kent’ which will just remind me of where I used to live.

IMG_1837

Just need to add some compost and other goodies and it’ll be good to go. Must prune those feijoas too and let more light in…..

IMG_1836

I’ve also added a path behind the Shadowy Bed (good for lettuces and coriander that need shade in the heat of summer) for easier harvesting. I often have to wrestle with the honeysuckle to harvest this bed. The semi edible bed has been reduced because the back of the bed is just a Weed Party in the summer. Yep take your Glastonbury Weed Party somewhere else this year thank you very much.

IMG_1536

The old Florence Fennel bed has been weeded and a little path has been started by the green house. Hopefully this will stop weeds growing through the green house and means that I can walk all the way round to harvest this little bed underneath the Greengage tree. Quite shady so, again, a good lettuce/herb bed.

IMG_1839

I’d like to store my pots here in a more organised fashion…..work in progress…..I have faith….I can just see garden tools hung up on nails in an orderly fashion on the side of the compost bins (it’s good to have imagination!).

IMG_1841

I have some peas busily making themselves at home against these home made circular towers. I started the pea seeds in proper pea root trainer pots. Not sure if it’s made much difference but I love the look of the pearly white roots….

IMG_1785

IMG_1784

I have also planted out kale and rocket. Inside the house tucked up warm and cosy are some baby tomato seedlings and some rather healthy and rather butch looking beans. The squash and pumpkins are also germinating very, very quietly shhhhh….

IMG_1770

And what about flowers? I’ve been sowing seeds. Quite a lot of them. I felt optimistic enough to sow Zinnia yesterday. They love the warmth so I bring them inside overnight. I planted out my March sown seeds into beds last week. Things like scabious, Clary sage and Nigella. I have a few biennials like Foxgloves, sweet william, larkspur, achillea and Clarkia/Godetia. I totally failed on the biennial front because I left the sowing Too Late. It just felt so hot last February I thought I could leave it till March – No You Can’t. Grrrrr…. However, there’s no point beating myself up about this. You live and learn and next year I will know.

thumb_IMG_1881_1024

As well as seeing to the green part of my business I’ve also been busily working away at the admin side too. I have a very talented friend who is not only a Graphic Designer but who also paints the most beautiful portraits of children and animals. Have a look at her website (and in particular at her latest work of Mud the gorgeous Labrador) on her FB page Zoe Reid Portraits. Zoe has been creating my flower cart business cards and generally being a Very Useful and Wise Sounding Board for my little flower business. In return I have been helping her with her Social Media and hopefully also being a Good Sounding Board for her Portrait business! I am so thrilled with the business cards. We (read me) spent ages humming and ah-ing over which type of card to use and I just love the textured card that we plumped for. It has that vintage, timeless quality to it that I love.

Enjoy your garden this Spring/Autumn (wherever you are in the world). If you have a Plum Tree in bloom stand beneath and sniff deeply – it will feed your soul. Happy Gardening!

IMG_1526

 

A Sweet Idea and a Bird Seed Slice

IMG_1556

Although we are now plunged into the deep, dark depths of winter (probably being  a bit over dramatic here but you get my drift) there is still some new, fresh green growth going on in my garden. I have various little pots of cuttings and seeds that I just managed to germinate before the Cold Snap that had us all reaching for the thermals, but the ones I’m most excited about are the Sweet Peas. I’m growing the solstice variety at the moment because these guys are tough. They are the SAS of the Flower World. They laugh in the face of short, dark days and they not only accept the challenge to Flower In Winter, they relish it! Yes! A sweet pea in winter! This is the first time that I’ve tried this variety so I’ll report back. But whether Solstice variety or Spencer variety all sweet peas need good support. Over the years I have always suffered from saggy nets (eek!) dragged down by the tenacious, snaking stems of my sweet peas. This year it’s going to be very different because I had a Lightbulb Moment. Now, these don’t come around very often so I just had to share it. I was toying with the idea of using wire to thread along the top of the netting but I didn’t have any. Rats! As I started mumbling at the dog I noticed a pile of bamboo canes that we harvest frequently because the bamboo is a complete delinquent and threatens to take over not just our garden but the whole world. They looked very light but also very solid and long. Long enough to thread through the netting and balance on top of the posts!

IMG_1555

And lo! The first Bamboo Curtain Support for Sweet Peas was created (as far as I know anyway!!) All looking very neat and tidy and Well Supported!

IMG_1558

It’s just a case of threading the cane through the squares…..

IMG_1557

Mr Fig banged in a couple of nails to stop the bamboo from sliding off the posts and making me really cross. He’s thoughtful like that 🙂

IMG_1560

We also constructed a support outside in the vege garden for more sweet peas and planted spinach, silver beet and beetroot in front.

IMG_1553

From the greenhouse to the kitchen….. Not sure if anyone else is doing Junk Free June but I’ve been quite keen to Have A Go. I always feel really guilty buying up processed snacks for the Figlets. I always seem to succumb to the pressure though. I’m always really shocked at the cost of them too (especially as they’re gone in a flash as soon as the Figlets find them). I do quite a bit of baking anyway so I’ve decided to up the baking and try a few new snack ideas to keep the wolves from the door and the Figlets from lynching me 🙂 Now, I’m interpreting Junk Free as not buying processed foods so the baking ideas I’ll be using do contain sugar (we’re not saints you know). First up is this gorgeous recipe from a fabulous cookery book called Ripe named after the author’s Auckland cafe. Their philosophy is… “simple, fresh, quality, seasonal, healthy food that’s good value for money.” Couldn’t have said it better myself and here’s one of my favourite recipes.

Bird Seed Slice

150g raisins
120g unsalted butter
1/2 cup golden syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
90g smooth peanut butter
150g rolled oats
150g pumpkin seeds
150g sunflower seeds
150g sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 170c. Grease and line a 20 x 30cm tin. In a small bowl cover the raisins with water and leave for 20 minutes to soak and plump up. This helps prevent them from burning.

IMG_1550

Place a small saucepan over a medium heat. Melt together the butter, golden syrup, brown sugar and peanut butter stirring constantly until thick. Remove from the heat. Drain the raisins.

IMG_1551

In a large bowl combine the raisins with the oats and seeds.

IMG_1552

Pour the melted butter mixture over and stir to combine.

IMG_1554

Press the mixture into the tin and cover with baking parchment or foil. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove the paper or foil and bake for another 15 minutes or until golden. Cut while still warm and in the tin. Place in fridge and allow to set.

Other snack substitutes that I’m hoping will become the norm include:

Toast with honey
Yoghurts and Suckies
Home made hummus with veg sticks
Sunflower seed pate
Four Seed Crackers
Pizza Crackers
Pistachios, cashews, macadamia, brazil nut mix
Freshly popped popcorn
Fruit

Some of these we have as snacks anyway but I’m looking forward to trying the sunflower seed pate, the crackers and making my own hummus again. Always good to have a challenge. If you have any healthy snack ideas to share please do! I’ll post up the new snack recipes when I’ve tried them out. Happy gardening and baking!

 

A Seedy Situation

IMG_1191

Papery trumpets of Bells of Ireland

One of the best things about Autumn is it’s incredible bounty. I spend most of my time here at The Fig Tree harvesting from the fig orchard and pootling down to Te Mata Figs to drop off the produce. I also spend a lot of time harvesting from the other trees around the place; walnut, persimmon, quince, feijoa and lime. It feels never ending as I scoop up a glut one day only to find a heap more the next. I’ve lived in this property long enough now to have my Go To chutney and preserving recipes and I will start sharing some of these as I make them. However, the other job I want to share is one that I’ve only just recently got into and that is seed saving.

image

The architectural seed head of Scabiosa Starball

Saving seed makes economic sense (especially if you’re gardening on a large scale) but it also makes horticultural sense. I have found that the seed I have saved has a very high germination rate because it’s fresher. I save seed in the autumn and use it the following spring. This is a real plus point for saving your own. It’s also really easy. All you need are some paper bags, pen, scissors and a bit of time on a warm, dry day and you’re good to go.

IMG_1194

So how do you save seed? Some plants will make a seed pod, some will contain seed within the dying part of the flower and others will have seeds within fruit or berries. The key is to leave the flower on the plant until it goes brown and a bit crunchy. If you harvest too soon the seeds will be immature and won’t germinate. If you’re really organised you can tie a piece of string or ribbon  to particularly strong looking specimens so ensure strong seeds. However, I find that I collect and sow so much seed that I tend not to worry about this too much. Instinctively I tend to go for the larger heads anyway. Some flowers make it really easy-peasy and obvious where their seed is stored like poppies, calendular and nigella.

IMG_1241

The captivating seed head of Nigella

Nigella has the most stunning seed head that brings real interest and texture to posies. It’s well worth growing either the blue or the white variety because it’s flower is just as pretty with it’s feathery fronds as the seed pod. You effectively get two plants in one.

IMG_1242

Inside a Nigella seed pod

Split open the papery casing and you will find hundreds of tiny seeds just ready to be saved for next year. I often sow Nigella directly in autumn after harvesting seed. It’s very hardy and can withstand a bit of cold.

image

Unripe seeds within an Honesty seed pod

Honesty is another fascinating seed pod. With the light behind it you can clearly see the large round seeds within. Like a little alien life force – it’s really beautiful.

IMG_1234

Honesty seeds ready to be collected

Wait a bit longer and the seed pod fades from bright green to brown and separates so the seeds can slip innocuously out.

IMG_1238

Iridescent moons

Once the seeds have slipped away it continues to fade to a silvery, gossamer thin disc – an iridescent moon –  perfect in an autumnal arrangement.

Other flowers like snapdragons, scabious and amaranthus are easy too – it’s just a case of waiting for the seed to dry off. Just pop them in a paper bag to dry and all the seed will be caught within the bag.

IMG_1199

Amaranthus Love Lies Bleeding with long tendrils of seed

Once you’ve grown amaranthus once you will never have to buy seed ever again. The long tail like catkins are packed with millions of tiny seed. These just crumble away when rubbed gently between finger and thumb. If seed doesn’t fall away easily then it’s not ready to harvest.

IMG_1200

Tiny amaranthus seed

Make sure you harvest the amaranthus or you will have a jungle next spring!

IMG_1213

Scabious Deep Waters seed pod

The beautiful seed pods of scabious Deep Waters are almost other worldly. As well as saving the seed you can also get another flush of flowers by giving the whole plant a haircut after it has flowered. Scabious is a hardy little trouper!

IMG_1193

Dried Bells of Ireland

There are some flowers who hide their seeds a little bit more than others; namely Bells of Ireland and Zinnia. I love both of these flowers but am often frustrated at the poor germination rates. This year I thought I’d up my chances by saving fresh seed to see if this helps. So grab yourself a handful of Bells and I’ll show you how easy it is to save.

IMG_1192

Dark circle of seed of Bells of Ireland

Once the bracts have turned papery you can see the dark centre. This circle makes up four seeds each of which is a triangle – like a piece of pie.

IMG_1198

Ouch!

Peel bag the papery skin and watch out for the spike behind the bract and tip the seed out into a bag.

IMG_1230

Perfect triangular seeds of Bells of Ireland

 

I am always fascinated by the perfect triangular shape of the seed and the neat way it forms a complete circle until broken apart – very clever.

IMG_1217

Zinnia Lime Green with crispy petals

With zinnia you might think that the centre contains the seeds but in actual fact it’s the dried up petals. Simply snip the petals leaving just a tiny bit to hold onto. Then pull gently and you have seeds.

Top seed Saving Tips

Never collect seed on a rainy day or when the dew is still on the grass

If seed doesn’t fall away easily either snip the whole flower and store in a bag to catch the seed or leave a bit longer

Always use a paper bag to store your seed and keep them away from moisture

Don’t forget to label the bag with the variety and the date. You’ll think that you’ll remember but you won’t!

If you have a glut of seeds try swapping them for other varieties with friends or google Seed Swapping Forums for one local to you

So have a go at saving seed. You’ll find yourself noticing that the fading beauty of flowers is just enchanting and save a bit of cash too.

Up and running again…..

My laptop blew up a few weeks ago and in true Fig Family style it took us ages to get round to replacing it. However, it’s been well worth the wait as we decided to plump for an Apple Mac. It’s all shiny and sleek and light as air. Rather flash in other words and I’m a little bit intimidated by it! However, turns out its full of fab features including iMovie. So, now I’m up and running again I thought I’d try my hand at compiling a little snippet of a movie featuring some of the jobs that I’ve been getting on with this Autumn. It’s not perfect and is quite possibly a bit cheesy and I’ve learnt a lot (video in landscape in particular). It was a lot of fun though and my eldest figlet really enjoyed laughing at me and telling me that I walk like a zombie and to put more energy into it!

So just a short post today but I’ve got lots to write about (especially collecting seeds) and quite possibly video too. So watch this space!