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Category Archives: Mr Middleton

A Quiet Holiday

Mr Middleton on Holiday

It seems fitting at this time of the year to share another extract from one of Mr Middleton’s books ‘Village Memories’, this time on holidays:

Choosing a holiday is always something of a problem; in most cases the family opinions and desires have to be taken into account, but in my case economic considerations narrow down the choice somewhat, and this year l found it more difficult than usual to make up my mind. Should l go abroad? I could probably find a cheap ten-day tour to some uninteresting place or other, get a number of impressive looking labels stuck on my suitcase, and come back worn out and kidding myself l had had a marvellous time; but somehow the idea didn’t appeal to me. I stood on the main road and saw and smelt the roaring procession of cars making for the sea; l watched the stream of sweating cyclists with their heads bent low and their coat-tails flying; l pictured the crowded beach, shimmering in the glare of the sun, and smelt the cockle stalls and the peppermint rock; and a feeling of laziness came over me. Any kind of travel seemed to demand a greater measure of energy than l possessed, so why, l reasoned with myself, should l do anything at all?

I possess a pleasant garden, complete with shady trees, a hammock and comfortable chairs, and rarely do l get the opportunity to enjoy them for more than an hour or so at a time; and the more l pondered the more the garden called me, until at last l decided to stay at home and rest- to enjoy a good book or two in the company of my beloved roses; perhaps to work or play a little as the spirit moved me. To forget the clock and be absolutely free- free to follow my own immediate impulses; free from the daily grind and the restraining hand of time and convention- and thus it came to pass.

Mr Middleton goes on to tell us about how he enjoys sitting back and watching two gardeners that come to help him in his garden share banter between themselves and how the day slowly slips by:

Later in the day the good Mrs Osborn appears on the scene with the tea trolley, and we all down tools, or books, for another social half hour. Towards evening a friend looks in, and we discuss matters over a bottle of something or other. Then a walk round the garden to gather a bunch of sweet peas, a round of clock golf, and back to the seat again to watch the twilight fall, and hear the blackbird sing vespers from the top of my wire-less pole. Finally to bed, with the windows wide open, and the breath of jasmine, night-scented stocks and tobacco flowers as a sweet sleeping-draught, and so ends a typical day of my holiday.

I thought at first l might soon get tired of it, but not a bit of it; the less l do the lazier l get, and the more l enjoy it. I had planned one day to go to the Test Match, but the day was hot and the honeysuckle smelt extra sweet. It seemed a pity to leave it and mingle with a sweating crowd, so l read about it instead. I have a loud speaker in the garden for special items, but it annoys Henry intensely, so it doesn’t get overworked. Cracker seems to think it ought to be in the kitchen garden to scare away the birds.

The holiday is nearly over now, but l have no regrets. Soon l must be back in the hurly-burly again, but never mind, l have learned how to know and to love my garden better than ever before. Among the roses and the robins l have found rest for body and soul, which no amount of excitement could have given me, and the cost has been practically nil.

For a fortnight l have not worn a collar, and have entered neither tram nor bus. My car is silent in its garage. I have not greased it nor washed it, as l solemnly resolved to do. But never mind. I’m not sure that l haven’t enjoyed my garden holiday than any other. There is only one snag about it. I feel rather less inclined to work than l did before.

I remember several years ago now when l was in a highly stressful job having several short holidays at home, just because l could. It was wonderful wandering out into the garden and taking my time to just flit from one area to another, some pruning here, cutting of flowers and gathering some vegetables. To be able to sit with a coffee in the garden with the sun on your face and know that l didn’t have to leave it all behind in a minute to face another days madness was so calming.

We sometimes have a habit of forgetting what is on our own back doorstep in a desperate rush to ‘have a great holiday’. For those of us fortunate enough to have our own gardens l say, take your time this weekend to sit and enjoy what you have got. I have been looking at some pictures on here of other people’s gardens and they are amazing. Other people would pay good money to go and sit there so enjoy it yourselves.

Soon, just a matter of weeks, l will be leaving my garden for the last time. I am proud of what we have achieved here over the years, but more on that another time. Have a great weekend everyone…and enjoy your gardens. I’ll leave you with some pictures of the past week…..

Perks of the job...having the use of a client's swimming pool!

Lovely runner beans...averaging 3lbs every 2 or 3 days.

Cheers everyone!

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2011 in August, Mr Middleton

 

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Middleton’s Village Memories

I often browse ebay on the look out for some memorabilia on the Dig for Victory campaign or other and always find myself tapping in the name of ‘Mr Middleton’ to see what comes up.

He wrote several books and some were made up from the numerous talks he gave on the BBC radio. One of those books is called ‘Village Memories’ written 70 years ago in 1941. Again, it is a compilation of talks but this is about his experiences of life in a English village. I found the book on ebay for the princely sum of £2.00 and it is what it says, a really enjoyable account of village life during the Second World War. It arrived minus its dust jacket but on the inside front cover is glued an illustration that appears to be the front of the dust jacket. Back in the 30’s and 40’s it was common practice, from all accounts, to throw away the dust-jacket before adding it to your shelf. But someone has taken the time and trouble to paste this on the inside front cover?

In his introduction he wonders why ‘a damp, dilapidated, insanitary thatched cottage, with holes in the roof and low doorways which knock corners off your cranium, always thrills the artist and inspires the poet to burst into song, or the novelist to weave a love story around it ?’ He goes on to say ‘However, village life is not all love and romance, and in these short stories and observations l have merely attempted to afford a few brief glimpses of life as it was, and still is, and l hope will always be, in the heart of rural England.’

Under the chapter ‘This Transport Business’ he talks already about the roads not being what they were with too much pleasure driving, despite petrol being rationed! He talks of old ladies and retired colonels hogging the road. And to cap it all, he is only allowed to purchase 6 gallons a month! I wonder what he would make of the roads today?

So in desperation he turns to his bicycle as so many others did in those days…..

I have set up a bicycle. I must get about somehow, and l refuse to be beaten. After all, l used to cycle quite a lot, so it’s not a new experience. True, there was rather less of me then than there is now, and what there was, was of decidedly better quality, but l am persevering, and perhaps in the long run (if l ever have one) it will do me good. It seemed strange at first; l felt rather like a monkey on a stick, but l am making progress. With the aid of a kerb-stone and a wobble or two l can now mount the thing without slipping and scraping the skin off my ankle. I have several methods of getting off, some of them rather spontaneous and not very elegant, perhaps, and it sometimes means collecting the pump and other oddments from the gutter after dismounting; but so far nothing serious has happened.

What annoys me, however, is the attitude of motorists; there are far too many of them on the roads, in spite of petrol restrictions, and they seem to think the proper place for bicycles is in the ditch…..I’ve as much right to be on the road as they have, and l tell them so in no uncertain language. I have hung a tin hat on the back of the bike, and fixed a card on the handlebars with A.R.P. on it, but it commands very little respect. Some people seem to think of nothing but themselves…..

I’m beginning to ache violently in certain quarters, and l’ve a jolly good mind to fill up the tank and blow a whole month’s ration on one glorious mad rush to Brighton and back. But it would be sure to rain if l did.

Some things haven’t changed then. Still the same arrogance shown by some motorists towards cyclists. I have just seen the weather forecast and it looks like we are set to get a real drenching on Sunday. Yippee! Whatever you are doing, cycling or not, have a great weekend.

 
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Posted by on June 10, 2011 in Mr Middleton

 

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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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.


MAY-3rd WEEK

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!

Pumpkins

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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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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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’.

Introduction


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?

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

 

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Watering

I thought this extract from ‘Mr Middleton Talks About Gardening’ seems quite timely advice for a lot of people at the moment:

I expect some of you will wonder what on earth l am going to talk about. “Watering” may seem a strange subject, but it is a very important one, and one which is not very well understood by garden lovers. I venture to say that more mistakes are made in a garden with the watering can and the hose pipe than with anything else.Indeed, l would go a step further, and say that more than half the laborious watering that is done does a good deal more harm than good. Let us consider it in detail for a few minutes.

In the first place, l am convinced that in a well-cultivated garden very little outdoor watering is ever really necessary, even in the driest weather. During a hot, dry spell last year l took a party round a famous Surrey garden, and it was very noticeable that although the natural soil there is almost pure sand, and the surface appeared to be as dry as dust, the various flowers and plants were standing up fresh and well, and appeared to be suffering no ill effects from the dry weather. Someone remarked on the amount of watering that must be necessary on such a soil, and was surprised when the Head Gardener remarked that no watering at all had been done.

Mr Middleton goes on to explain how the ground was dug deeply in the winter leaving the soil in just the right condition for drawing up water below by what is known as capillary attraction, using a cube of sugar with just a corner dipped in a cup of tea to demonstrate how the tea is absorbed.

In solid, unbroken soil, cracks appear and allow the water to evaporate quickly, but a deeply dug and well-cultivated soil not only lifts sufficient water from below but holds it in the surface layers where it is most wanted. Moreover, in such a soil the roots of plants can descend much easier to the lower regions in search of more abundant supplies.

He talks about the virtues of mulching as a means of conserving water explaining that this is done not only to feed the roots but to keep them cool and moist in hot, dry weather. he states not to do this too early in the year and suggests using manure, hay, straw, leaves or lawn mowings.

I think i should be quite safe in saying that there are far more casualties among greenhouse plants through over-watering than from any other cause. It need not be so, because after all, watering is really a question of judgement and common sense.

My deep-beds

For many years now l have grown my vegetables using deep-beds.These are 4ft wide beds, dug deeply with lots of compost. The idea is that you never walk on them hence the soil is not compacted. The plants can be spaced closer together and develop a good root system and you can see exactly what needs mulching, watering, feeding etc. I don’t think l would ever go back to the conventional method of preparing my plot ie. digging the whole lot and then treading all over it!

So, with the watering l have moved on with technology, and last year l invested in a micro-irrigation system connected to a timer. Mr Middleton would have loved this! I place the piping around the beds, in particular, the beans and peas, salad beds, courgettes, squash and pumpkins. The rest have to take their chance. I still like to use the watering can, however. There is something very ‘hands on’ using a can and you can be more selective. What system of watering do you use?

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2011 in May, Mr Middleton, The garden

 

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