Monthly Archives: May 2011

Our little Chelsea Flower Show

About 6 miles away from us on the road to Pontrieux is a château on the banks of the River Treiux called La Roche-Jagu. Built back in the 15th century, it is the only surviving fortress out of fifteen that once lined the valley.

Today, La Roche-Jagu hosts special exhibitions, concerts, has some fantastic gardens open to the public and every year in May hosts what we call, a small Chelsea Flower Show; La Fete des Jardins.

La Roche-Jagu

Although there are no show gardens here it is more than made up by the numerous stall holders selling their plants, flowers and vegetables covering the whole spectrum. It is never crowded making it a pleasure to stroll round and take in everything that is there. The plants are good value and of good quality too. Oh, and it is free to enter. Even the car park is free. I am going to miss all this free parking when we return to Blighty!

Over the years we have walked, or rather, staggered away with countless plants that have helped us to build up our garden here.

Nearly all of the exhibitors are local making it easy to visit their nurseries at a later date to stock up on even more of their plants. Too tempting for me especially when l am on a strict budget!

So, to the real Chelsea Flower Show. Come on now, be really honest, what did you think of this years show? I will be honest with you;  I am rather disappointed really and l can’t put my finger on it. I have always had mixed feelings about Chelsea; the way most of the plants have either been held back or brought on makes for a totally false planting scheme. Or the fact that, particularly this year, plants like the specimen trees are way off the price scale running into thousands of pounds resulting in gardens that we can only look on and admire for their design and artistic qualities. Is that what Chelsea is all about? But we can all take something from the design can’t we? Look at the trends over the past years ranging from introducing the colour blue into the garden to decking and lighting. Surprisingly this year looks like it is the use of water which, again, shows how off the scale the big gardens are. But this year l have found it hard to find anything that has inspired me. Sure, l love those specimen trees but not at that price!

So what is it? I have watched a lot of the coverage on TV and, as usual, find myself pulled towards the artisan gardens. The Show Gardens have left me cold apart from Bunny Guinness. She should have got a gold.  Perhaps, if l was a lottery winner, l would commission Cleve West to design me a garden, but an intimate one with lots of natural planting, trees, maybe even a suitable water feature oh, and a walled vegetable garden. I would love to own or even work in a walled kitchen garden. It is a long held wish of mine that l hope to achieve one day.

For what it is worth my No 1 garden is……drum roll………A Child’s Garden in Wales. I really like this garden and l suppose in some ways reminds me of my very first memories of being in a garden when l was probably no more than 4 years old when we lived in Surrey with my hands in the soil, playing about more than anything, of course. It was an old Victorian house with a typical small back garden with a yard, shed and some trees and even today l sometimes get taken back to that garden when a certain soily smell appears when l am digging. Strange how smells bring back such strong memories.

Well roll on Hampton Court and Tatton Park. Now these are two shows l would definitely like to visit.


Posted by on May 27, 2011 in Gardens, May


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May-4th Week

Mr Middleton says: Never allow a weed to flower in the garden.

I could do with this lot helping out in my garden!

May-4th WEEK

1. Plant Mid-Season Leeks.- Leeks for use up to Christmas may now be planted. Do not plant many as there is so much other produce available at the time.Their greatest value is from Christmas to May. For ordinary purposes the best method of planting is to make holes with a pole or blunt dibber some 6-in. deep. The distance apart should be 12 in. between the rows and 9 in. between the holes. Use only good plants, the roots trimmed a little and the leaves cut back, and drop them in the holes.A little soil can be pushed in to cover the roots, and this should be followed by watering to settle them into position. The holes should not be filled with soil, but left to give room for the leek stems to swell.

2. Kohl Rabi Instead of Turnips.- Kohl Rabi should now be sown. A fairly rich soil suits it best, and it should not be allowed to grow too large and coarse. Use when of tennis-ball size.

3. Sow for Various Successions.- Successional sowings of radish, short-horn carrots, six-week turnips, lettuce etc., should be made according to family requirements, and the capacity of the garden.

4. Outdoor Tomatoes, Marrows and Cucumbers.- In sheltered gardens of the south outdoor tomatoes can be planted. Elsewhere it is better to wait a week. There are many places where they will thrive in the open garden, but the position should not be windswept. In more difficult areas they should be grown against a wall or fence facing south. Vegetable marrows, too, can be planted out of doors when frost is passed. Cucumbers can be planted in a cold frame or in a cold house.

5. Look to Grapes.- Bunches of grapes, which will be developing rapidly, should be thinned out before the fruits become crowded. Use long, thin scissors and hold up the fruits with a stick. Do not use the fingers.

6. General Work.- Autumn-fruiting raspberries cut down earlier will have produced growths long enough to need tying to the wire supports. Clean sea-kale beds, and dress with agricultural salt. Mulch peas and other crops on light soil. Earth-up potatoes.

I planted my early leeks a couple of weeks ago. The method Mr Middleton describes for planting leeks is the same today. Some people say it is not necessary to trim the roots and the tops of each plant but l find, by doing so, they are easier to put in the holes and they are not top heavy helping them to stay snug in the soil. They never seem worse off for it.

Although l don’t have many raspberry canes in my garden those l do are laden with fruits. Along with most other cane fruit it really pays to have a few plants in the garden especially out here where soft fruit is incredibly expensive.

I have been hardening off the tomatoes over the past few weeks and have transplanted them into large pots situated by the side of the greenhouse where it is reasonably sheltered. Just as well as we have had really strong winds blowing in overnight accompanied by a few showers.

There is still so much to do out there and the weeds still keep appearing. Don’t turn your back for a second!

Sorry, my original post was published before it was completed. I can’t get the staff!


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Chicken Tagine

Now l know this has nothing really to do with Mr Middleton’s gardening advice but this is for anyone interested in cooking chicken, tagine style influenced by Tanya over on chickandaluzia. We drove down to Morocco about 4 years ago in our camper van and spent 10 weeks away. We met up with some amazing people, drove through the Atlas Mountains and into the Sahara desert. It was hell of an experience and one l recommend to anyone with a van.The people were great, if not a bit demanding at times, and the scenery was stunning while driving through the mountains.

It was while we were on these travels that we came across a village where a guy made tagines; tagines of all shapes and sizes along with the base for burning charcoal. The charcoal was available from the guy next door who made his own on the premises. I recorded it all on my Camcorder and when we look back at it now we can hardly believe we did it.

The recipe is made up from a mixture of what we experienced from restaurants and friends along the way so no exact measurements and please feel free to experiment.

Recipe: Chicken Tagine.

  • 1 chicken.We always buy Free Range Chicken. Cut into breasts, legs and wings.
  • Lge onion, chopped
  • 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, chopped.
  • Red pepper, chopped.
  • A few new potatoes.
  • A few tinned artichoke hearts.
  • Carrot, sliced.
  • Half an Aubergine, chopped.
  • Tomatoes, chopped.
  • Some preserved lemon slices.
  • Olives.
  • Spices. We bought a large bag of special tagine spice while we were there but this has long gone so this is about as close as l can get. Mix of ground coriander, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, paprika, garam masala, cardamom and turmeric.
  • Salt & Pepper to taste.

The Burn

So, get your tagine. Sorry, l can’t remember the name of the village in Morocco! I can’t believe ours has survived all these years as we used to take it with us everywhere we went.

Get a good bed of charcoal going, put a good dollop of olive oil in the base and fry the onions and garlic for a few minutes.

Fry the chicken pieces for a while and add the spices frying a few more minutes.

Add all the other ingredients along with a goog glug of veg or chicken stock. Place the lid on with a spoon under it to allow the steam to escape.

Cook slowly

Cook for 30-40 mins or so. Add some chopped coriander and parsley.

Traditionally served with cous cous but rice is nice or just as it is. I’m not a fan of mint tea either so a nice cold beer or glass of red wine goes well.

There is something really nice about cooking outdoors like this. Its not the same as a barbecue. This takes longer, the preparation is all done outside, as is the cooking and the eating. Don’t rush this. It takes time but is well worth it. Do you have a recipe you want to share?

PS. This version was delicious!

Ready to serve


Posted by on May 23, 2011 in Cooking


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How Is Your Plan Working?

Mr Middleton says: Thin out surplus seedlings early,before the roots get tangled, or you may injure those left behind.


1. Thinning and Planting.- There will be much thinning and planting out of seedlings in May from sowings made in April. This operation is most important and should be done before the young plants get too crowded with their roots tangled together, and by their competition with each other weaken those which are left. Plant out crops from the seed bed and frames as necessary.

2. How is Your Plan Working?-  The garden should be getting nice and full, but there should still be room for some later crops. To speak of the necessity for planting and sowing at different times is to emphasise the need for a plan.

3. Plant Out Lettuce.- Cos lettuce raised under glass may now be planted out. Allow 12 in. from plant to plant. A few seeds can be sown out of doors also to provide a succession to the others. Never allow lettuce seedlings to become crowded, as they grow soft and decay early.

4. Sow Maincrop Carrots and Beet.- An intermediate or long variety of carrot is usually sown for the maincrop and storage, while small sowings of stump-rooted forms are sown at intervals until July to provide a regular supply of tender young roots.

5. More Sowing of Spinach.- Further sowings of ordinary spinach can be made and New Zealand spinach can now be sown out of doors.

6. Fertilize and Hoe.- A light sprinkling of  general fertilizer may be given to crops now well established, particularly the early onions. Hoe frequently amongst the crops to work in the fertilizer and to keep down weeds which begin to grow apace at this time of the year.

7. Sow Peas.- The final sowing of tall peas should be made now to get full benefit from them.

8. Attend to Fruit.- In the fruit garden suckers may be showing at the base of fruit trees. They should be cut out immediately, as they rob the tree of food. If the season is dry many of the trees and bushes may need watering particularly on light soils.

How is my plan working? Sorry Mr Middleton l don’t have a plan this year. It is really just a case of filling in the spaces mostly with salad, potatoes, peas, beans and squash.

Happy to say l have kept up to date with the sowing and planting of salad crops.

Lettuce transplants

I have been busy fitting the irrigation system on some of my beds to ease the chore of watering. It certainly works when it is fitted to a timer. Just make sure you have the water turned on!


My hopes have been raised now l have seen the first of the tomatoes, peppers and aubergines. I have to admit l have not been that successful in the past with peppers and aubergines but this hot spring should help along with a hot summer? Today it is blowing a gale. Just hope those tall flowers and grasses don’t get battered!

Young tomatoes

First of the Aubergines

A Peeking Pepper


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Time for Tea

I can’t believe the weekend is upon us again already! It makes me realise how important it is for us to stop, take a breather and have a look around with a nice cup of tea. Better still, get out that sun lounger and take a few well earned minutes to listen to the radio…with a nice cup of tea , of course! Whatever you’re doing, have a great weekend and enjoy this sunshine.

Time for Tea


Posted by on May 20, 2011 in May, The garden


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May – 2nd Week

Mr Middleton says: Little and often is the golden rule with fertilizers: a little less rather than a little more.

1. Plant Out Celery and Celeriac.- Celery is normally planted in trenches in single or double rows. Set the plants out 9 in. apart. Water with liquid manure. Dust with old soot often, to keep the celery fly away. Celeriac, which is grown for its turnip-like root, requires a rich soil and much feeding to get really good roots. It is a fine vegetable for soup, and is excellent boiled.

2. Thin Out Seedlings.- Many rows of seedlings will need thinning out from time to time. This can be done at one stage, though normal practice is to do it twice. \the first time the rows are reduced and specimens left about twice as thick as is necessary. This leaves plenty to cover failures. The alternate plants are removed at the final thinning. With carrots the disturbance of the roots of the row loosens the soil and permits the carrot fly to lay its eggs near the roots of the plants, and the pungent smell attracts the pest. Where the fly has proved a nuisance in the past it is better to sow the seeds sparingly and to leave the rows unthinned.

3. Onions and Their Enemies.- The same sort of thing applies to onions which, when sown out of doors and thinned, attract the onion fly where fly is prevalent. It is better to leave them unthinned and take a crop of smaller onions.

4. Plant Cucumbers.-
Cucumbers can now be planted in frames.

5. Sow Swedes and Turnips.- swede and turnips should be sown now in the north if they are to achieve full development.

6. Sow and Plant.- Sow maincrop beet and haricot beans. Plant out late cauliflowers and New Zealand spinach. Apply mulches to any fruit trees that need it. Protect beans outside if weather is unseasonable.

Unfortunately, a lot of this weeks advice is not relevant to me as l am not planting up winter veg due to our house being for sale and l foresee a move back to Blighty before the year is out. However, l will heed his advice regarding the thinning of seedlings and will not be thinning my carrots just yet. I like to grow them on until they are of edible size and then have a few meals of baby carrots. I will be putting a frame over them with a fleece to keep the carrot fly at bay.

Like every gardener/cook, l love onions and garlic but my garden here won’t allow me to grow them. They suffer first with rust, and worst of all, onion white rot. There is no cure for this disease and can stay in the soil for up to 8 years. So rather than live in hope l use the space to grow other crops.

Roger, my friend & assistant!

I sowed spinach and Swiss Chard a couple of weeks ago and both are doing well. I like to make curries and use the leaves to do a mean Spinach and Potato Curry or, later on, a Green Curry that is one of the best l have ever tasted. I will share the recipe nearer the time.

I have planted out my cucumber plants in the open and training them up a willow wigwam. They seem to be doing okay at the moment. Fingers crossed there will not be a late frost!


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Under attack!

As some of you already know, we have three hens, we did have five but the fox got two last year. I let them out into our field to roam free everyday and they take their chance. I hate to see them cooped up. Our field adjoins my veg patch and once or twice they have managed to get in and scratch about a bit but we have always been about to shoo them back out. Not this time!

What a mess!

The ironic thing was before we went out l had cut a beautiful lettuce to take to friends. That was the last one l would see for a while! They must have had about 5 hours in there to scratch, eat and peck at everything. The salad took the worst of the attack. Lettuce leaves everywhere. Potatoes ripped out. Squash plants pecked to bits.

Spuds blitzed!

This is too much to allow so now they are off to pastures new. My veg plot means more to me than those hens. My brother-in-law has said he will have them as he already has hens out here and it is one less thing for us to have to worry about when we come to leave here. A big clear-up operation will be under way this morning. Mind over matter!

Let-us prey!

I have a small idea of how people felt back in the war when their veg plots were damaged by bombs or covered in broken glass and they couldn’t eat anything or the allotment has been hit by vandals. The feeling is horrible but as the war-time poster says: Stay Calm and Carry On! I will be able to replace most of it and worst things are happening out there right now. I will put it down to me being too blasé and regard it as another lesson in life! Anyone for a half eaten lettuce?


Posted by on May 16, 2011 in The garden


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Roses & Fruit

First of all l have a small confession to make. Strictly speaking these are not my roses. I bought them in England from David Austin, brought them back to France, planted them, fed, watered and pruned them BUT not in my garden! They are in a client’s garden who just happens to have a love of English roses, especially David Austin, oh and only in Pink, so who am l to argue. They live in Switzerland and only visit a couple of times a year but, fortunately for her, had timed one of her visits the other week so was able to enjoy the first of the blooms.

Constance Spry

The first one here is Constance Spry, it has a strong myrrh fragrance, almost like the smell of a bar of Camay soap of dream like quality. It can grow 12ft or more as a climber. A full flowered rose. Great as a cut flower.

Gertrude Jekyll

Next up is my all time favourite, and the nation’s as well by all accounts, Gertrude Jekyll. This has the most amazing fragrance. I wish we had smellinet and l could share it with you! David Austin describes it as having ‘the quintessential old rose fragrance’. I fully agree. I could get high off this fragrance! A real ‘must have’ in any garden, but beware, this lady is quite prickly.

Paul's Himalyan Musk

Paul's Himalyan Musk

Another rose l planted was in the corner of their house as it has a reputation of being quite a rampant, vigorous rambler, Paul’s Himalayan Musk. This boy can reach up to 30ft and is ideal for a pergola or to cover a building. This, too, has a great fragrance. The flowers are quite delicate and only flower once but wow, what a display.

James Galway

I also planted two ‘James Galway’ either side of their front door. These have done really well and make a wonderful entrance. the flowers are full and, again, have a beautiful old rose fragrance. Some people say it is a shame roses cannot be in flower all summer long but l think this is what makes them so special. For most of them to be in flower in the months of May and June, this is what makes an English Summer.

In this garden they are lucky enough to have several fruit trees. My favourite is the Quince so l was really pleased to see the fruit had set on the tree. Nothing can stop us now from having a good crop come September and October. A late frost got last year’s blossom and there wasn’t a single fruit to be had. It should be a good year for all fruit, both in the garden and the hedgerow. Can’t wait!



Posted by on May 15, 2011 in Flowers, May, The garden


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Happy Chappy!

Yes, l am a happy chappy because the book l won on ebay was delivered yesterday. Not just any book mind but an original 1945 copy of Middleton’s All The Year Round Gardening Guide.

This is the book that Arum Press published a few years ago under the title of ‘Dig On For Victory’. I had seen a picture of the book but didn’t think l would ever find a copy so thank you ebay! I have been using the Dig for Victory book for my weekly updates on what to do in your garden but now l will be able to refer to the original book as well, not that there is any difference but l love to pick an old book up like this and imagine who else had read it all those years ago. It is not a well worn copy so l doubt it has been used on a daily basis fro reference but it is still 66 years old!

It has a different introduction to the Aurum Press copy and l think is much better, more personal, and as this was written in 1945 it could well have been his last work. In his introduction he talks of ‘my sincere hope that we shall soon be digging for a lasting peace’. I am unsure as to the exact date he died in 1945 but l do hope he did see peace before he went.

I love the last paragraph, ‘Step on the spade rather than the accelerator, and you will reach the end of the journey quicker’.


It is full of wonderful adverts ranging from Dettol, Cuprinol, Carters Seeds, Dobbies Seeds, Fisons, Unwins and Qualcast all of which are still going strong today. But l’m not sure about Carters Seeds. Were they the seeds that Woolworths used to stock? Or was it Bees?

On the back page is a Boots the Chemist advert advertising Compost, Insecticides etc all ‘approved and recommended by Mr C. H. Middleton Horticultural Consultant to Boots the Chemist’. This man got about what with working for the BBC on radio and television, writing books and making films he really was the first celebrity gardener.

On that note, there has been an awful lot of debate on who is the best person to front Gardeners World. Firstly, l think it is a shame there is only one gardening programme on the TV, especially when you see so many Home programmes, antiques, relocations, etc. So who is my favourite, well, l love Monty. He is down to earth, energetic, and just gets on with the matter in hand. Toby and Alys were just awful. No wonder the viewing figures plummeted. Carole Klein is nice but l wish she would stop laughing when she is talking!

Who is your favourite TV gardening celeb?


Posted by on May 14, 2011 in May, Mr Middleton


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Elderflower Cordial

Coming back from work yesterday l noticed the hedgerows were starting to fill with Elder flowers so l had to stop and pick some and make my all time favourite non-alcoholic drink, Elderflower Cordial.

Did you know?:

        • that animals find the smell of elder leaves so awful that even rabbits won’t eat them.
        • in years gone by people use to gather elder leaves on the last day of April and place them on their doors and windows to keep the witches away;
        • gardeners used to place the bruised leaves around tender plants to deter aphids and put a sprig in their hat to keep away midges;
        • cutting the tree for firewood will bring bad luck;
        • elderberry cordial helps relieve a sore throat;
        • elder flowers can be dipped in batter and eaten as fritters;

I use a recipe from Sarah Raven and l think it’s the best one around. This is easy, really easy and probably takes about 20 mins from start to finish, with 24 hours in between.

So first, go and pick your flowers…

Elder flower

Try not to pick flowers close to a busy road and take a sniff of the flower. Ideally they will smell of bananas but probably will have a faint whiff of cat. Don’t worry as the real fragrance comes out during the process of making the cordial. Try not to pick flowers that have started to turn brown as this will taint the drink. I trim as much of the stem off as possible before plunging them into the syrup.

Elder flowers in the syrup solution

Chop up your fruit and add to the elder flowers. Give it a good stir and leave for 24 hours.

Mixed fruits

Next, strain and pour into warmed bottles. I use old Lemonade bottles with the rubber stopper.

Straining the syrup

It’s delicious with chilled fizzy mineral water and loads of ice and lemon on a hot summer’s afternoon.

The finished product

Go on, give it a go!


Posted by on May 11, 2011 in Cooking, May


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