Sunday 29 May 2016

Quince watch 2016: May

Is this the year when I will finally have my first, edible fruits, from my Quince tree? Now that it has finally flowered, Quince watch has officially begun.

My Cydonia oblonga 'Serbian' (also known as 'Leskovac') is now about 6 years old. Last year it managed one solid hard golf-ball sized fruit. When I say solid, I mean granite solid. It was solid.

Like Alison over at The Blackberry Garden, I have hopes for non-solid fruit this year. Even, dare I suggest it, edible (jam-ible) fruit?

Is this a potential quincelet?

I live in hope. And with a watchful eye.

Monday 23 May 2016

Spoonie Veg: Sorrel

Spoonie Veg rating: 1

Ok, my hands are up, I admit this isn't the most obvious first choice for an individual Spoonie Veg blogpost. Bear with me, and see if I cannot convince you that Sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is one of the best and easiest veg to grow when you are low on spoons.

In my post introducing Spoonie Veg, I gave Sorrel a rating of 1. That being: 1-2 requires few spoons, 3-4 moderate spoons, and 5 hard, lots of spoons needed in order to grow that fruit, veg or herb.

Sorrel is one of my favourite vegetables. It's a hardy perennial vegetable, which means in hard winters it will still will come back the following spring, and in mild winters as the one past has been, you can continue to harvest, though less often, throughout. It can be used just like spinach or chard, but I think it's even yummier than those, with it's lemony tang. A lot of people forage for sorrel at this time of year, when it's new leaves are fresh. If you grow it yourself you can continue to harvest most, if not all, year long.

Sorrel is very easy to grow. It needs a bit of space as the roots can grow deeper into the soil and each year the patch can get larger. My current patch (see pics) has trebled its size in just one year. It is in light shade between October and March, so it doesn't need the sunniest spot in the garden. This one plant is enough for two people to regularly use it in cooking. Just three weeks ago I cut it almost back to just a few young stems, and you can see how much it has already grown.

Next year I will be able to divide this patch and create a second. On top of all this, I've found non-flowering sorrel to be pest-free. What a plant!

Sorrel can also be grown in containers, but as sorrel can have deep roots, it does need to be a large pot (either plastic or terracotta). With sorrel in the ground or raised beds, I don't worry about watering it unless we go through a really dry period. Container grown sorrel will need watering more often, so you need to plan a few spoons for that task too.

I purchased my young non-flowering sorrel (garden sorrel) plant from Alison Tindale of The Backyard Larder. Alison has written an excellent blogpost going into depth about the different types of perennial sorrels worth eating, which is well worth a read.

Sorrel tastes like a lemony spinach. I've come to prefer it to spinach as being a perennial there is no annual sowing, it just comes up every year with few spoons needed, maybe just give the patch a mulch each autumn. And I find the lemony tang delicious, and even the older leaves, if you cut out the stalks, still taste fresh and crunchy and haven't gone over into bitterness.

Now cooking sorrel, how many spoons does that take? To some degree it will depend on the recipe, but in general I feel it still fits into the 1-2 Spoonie Veg rating.

It's pretty easy to pick sorrel. I tend to grab a section of the clump and cut with my pruners, though you can use scissors too. A lot of gardeners will say they love to pick the veg and cook and eat it within a short space of time, to enjoy the food as fresh as possible. However, as Spoonies will know, you have to break down your tasks into micro-tasks in order to have the energy to do anything.

Sorrel and Mushroom Pasta

I find sorrel keeps it's freshness quite well, so I pick it earlier in the day. Preparing it is straight forward, but requires slightly more spoons as you need to give it a wash and cut off the older stalks. To healthy people this might not seem like much, but for Spoonies washing vegetables (or anything else for that matter) etc can be very tiring. So here is how I break down the tasks*:

1. Put the Sorrel in the sink and soak it for 30 minutes or so, and rest.
2. Shake it in the water to make sure you have got off any residual soil etc, then rest.
3. Tear off the stalks of the older leaves in the clump, then rest.
4. Next up is putting it in the salad spinner to get rid of the excess water. There, your sorrel is prepared and ready for cooking.

As sorrel can be used like spinach or chard, you can use it as a substitute for these in recipes. Specific sorrel recipes can be found searching the web. I've adapted Alison's Sorrel and Potato Gratin, swapping the onions for garlic (I'm allergic to onions), and sometimes adding some cheese on top towards the end of the bake. From a spoonie perspective, this dish is great as it is enough for two people, with a bit of salad, for 3 nights. It remains just as tasty each evening, just needing 2 minutes in the microwave to heat it up.

I've posted my Sorrel and Potato Gratin recipe, and I've also created my own recipe, Sorrel and Mushroom Pasta (above), which my partner and I think is rather divine.

So, have I convinced you that sorrel is a spoon-easy vegetable to grow and eat? How about give sorrel a go and let me know what you think.

*I won't explain the preparation process in every individual Spoonie Veg post, but I thought it was worth spelling it out here for the first time.

* * * * *
I welcome your thoughts and comments. And if you blog about gardening with ME/a chronic illness, do link to this post in your blog and leave a comment below with a link to your post, so we can all find each other.

About Spoonie Veg and Gardening with ME.

Twitter hashtags: #SpoonieVeg, #GardeningWithME

Recent Gardening with ME and Spoonie Veg posts...
  Gardening with ME: May garden update
  Spoonie Veg: growing in raised beds and containers

Sorrel and Potato Gratin

This recipe is a based on a mix from Alison Tindale and Martha Stewart. I've swapped the onions/shallots for garlic (I'm allergic to onions and shallots) and added a cheese topping. I converted the measurements to grams etc, and for Spoonies, I have added in good places when you can stop the preparation and have a rest.

Sorrel and Potato Gratin
With a side salad, this serves 6 people, or 2 people over 3 nights.

700g peeled potatoes (i.e. charlottes, something that is happy being boiled)
250g sorrel shredded – make sure tougher stalks are cut out
2-3 large garlic cloves
284ml double cream
100ml milk

Optional topping: cheddar cheese, or a mix of cheddar and Parmesan cheese

1. Turn oven on to 180 degrees
2. Butter the dish
3. Crush the garlic into the buttered dish
4. Slice the potatoes into thin pieces (not wafer thin, but not too thick either), This is a good point for a Spoonie rest, if you haven't had one already.

5. Place ½ of the sliced potatoes on top of the garlic
6. Place ½ of the sorrel over the potatoes
7. Repeat with potatoes and sorrel. When complete, you can put the dish in the fridge and rest, coming back to complete it's cooking later.

8. Place the cream and milk into a pot, add pepper and bring to a gentle boil
9. Pour cream and milk evenly over the sorrel and potatoes in the dish
10. Cover dish (with lid or with tin foil)
11. Cook for 1hr under cover, and of course have another rest.

12. Remove the lid and add the cheese (but skip this step if you don’t want cheese)
13. Bake until potatoes are tender and cream is thick, for about 20 minutes more.
14. Serve with a side salad.

See also my Sorrel and Mushroom Pasta recipe and my post on why sorrel is an easy vegetable to grow for Spoonies.

Monday 16 May 2016

Postcards from Dumfries and Galloway

On our recent holiday we spend a week in Dumfries and Galloway. This is the lowland border area of the South-west of Scotland. I chose this as a holiday destination in part because I've always wanted to visit the sub-tropical Logan Botanic Garden. Our visit there alone made the trip worthwhile, but it's not the only reason to visit the area. From the forest of Galloway Forest Park, the Mull of Galloway, to the lovely town of Kirkcudbright, there is a lot to see and enjoy in this area. Here are some photos (postcards) to give you a taste of Dumfries and Galloway.

Whithorn is the site of the earliest Christian community in Scotland. Though we didn't have time to visit the exhibition and Priory, we did manage a short walk to St Ninian's chapel. Though it might seem remote now, during the early medieaval period it was an important stop off point for pilgrims travelling by sea to and from Ireland, England and the Scottish Isles.

Bruce's Stone and Glentrool
Having a chronic illness means it's not easy to get out and about, especially when it comes to exploring landscape and nature. Thankfully there are some places in Galloway Forest Park that are accessible if you are able to walk short distances. A short careful walk from nearby parking meant I was able to see one of the two Bruce's Stone's (yes, the Robert the Bruce) and some wonderful scenery. The Bruce's Stone at Loch Trool overlooks the site of a violent skirmish between Scots and English troops in 1307.

Kirroughtree visitors centre - red squirrels!
Just up the road from out cottage was the Galloway Forest Park Kirroughtree Visitors Centre, where we saw RED SQUIRRELS. Here is a pic of the squirrel, but you can see more, including a short video I took of the squirrel, in an earlier blogpost just on the squirrel. It was terribly exciting. I mean, RED SQUIRREL.

Broughton House Garden, Kirkcudbright
The pretty town of Kirkudbright (pronounced Kir-coo-bree) is a kind of artists mecca. Broughton House and Garden is the former home of Scottish painter E A Hornel, apparently one of the Glasgow Boys. Whilst Kevin did explore the house, some of which was designed by Rennie Mackintosh, I focused my energy on the garden. Hornel was influenced by his interest in Japan, and this can be particularly found in the part of the garden closer to the house, which had lots of ferns, moss and some acers.


The idea that I came away with from the garden was embrace the moss! I've been fighting with moss in the Bog Garden area of my Long Shady Border. But after seeing it so artistically entrenched in this part of Broughton House Garden, I realised I shouldn't be wasting time getting rid of moss, instead, embrace it. Which is what I plan to do, along with finding some interesting large rocks like below.
Artistically entrenched moss

Elsewhere in the garden, I loved this sunny combination of yellow Erythronium's, yew hedging and ferns.

The rear of the garden backs onto the harbour on the River Dee.

Twisted wisteria growing over an arch. It would be delicious to walk under the arch when in flower.

Pond area, with the house to the right.

We both enjoyed the garden and I'd love to return sometime in the summer to enjoy seeing everything in flower and leaf and to sit amongst the moss in the shade.

Mull of Galloway
The Mull of Galloway is the most Southerly tip of Scotland, a few miles on from Logan Botanic Garden. We were blessed with the most amazing weather that day and the views were quite spectacular. Although you cannot really tell from the photos, we could see the Isle of Man in the distance one direction, and Ireland the other.

The view towards the lighthouse and the Lake District.

Looking towards the Isle of Man.

Sun beginning to set in the West, Ireland in the distance.

To top it off, there is a good cafe, the building above, part built into the cliffs with a green roof. Ice-cream was purchased, we sat in the sun and drank in the views.

Gorse and and wild goats
Throughout Dumfries and Galloway Gorse was in full flower and I've never seen it so en-mass as on during our holiday.

There was also a Wild Goat Park not to far from our cottage, which we had to visit. Why had? Coz I love goats! Apparently these are an ancient breed of goats, though they just looked like cute goats to me.

Do you goat to point that camera at me?

Fluffeh goat!

Goat face-off

Yes, you're a fine looking wild goat.

"High on a hill lived a lonely goatherd..." I swear I couldn't get that song out of my mind for the rest of the day. Darn, I'm singing it again. ...  Are you?!

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Finally, we stayed at Willow Cottage, just inside Galloway Forest Park. Not only was it well situated to explore the area, it was beautifully appointed inside, and just the views from the lounge room were enough to make it worth a second stay. It also had everything you could possibly need, and was all on one level, making it accessible-friendly. The best recommendation I can give you is that we will definitely stay here again when we make a return visit.

View from the lounge room of Willow Cottage, Cairnsmore of Fleet.

This is only a taste of what can be found in Dumfries and Galloway. Because I had to rest up a lot (coz ME), we didn't get to see even a quarter of what we would have liked to have seen. So we will definitely be returning. With the Gulf Stream bringing about good weather, the beauty of the landscape and the many things to see and do (gardens, goats, coastline, gardens), I'd encourage you to visit to Dumfries and Galloway and explore it yourself.

Wednesday 11 May 2016

Garden visiting with ME

An ME Awareness Week blogpost

As this is primarily a gardening blog, I wanted to contribute a post to ME Awareness Week within this context. After some recent experiences visiting some large gardens in Scotland, I wanted to write about how you can enjoy visiting gardens with ME. It means giving yourself permission to be bolshy and not worry about what people think!

If you have mild or moderate ME (I have moderate*), with careful planning you can still go out occasionally. Like many gardeners, I enjoy visiting other peoples gardens, whether small NGS Gardens or large botanic or estate gardens. However, when you have a chronic illness, visiting large gardens can be difficult as you don't have the energy to walk very far, particularly if it is hilly and even if there are plenty of seats to rest on in the gardens.

This was what I was faced with recently, when I wanted to visit Logan Botanic Garden, Threave Garden and Estate and Royal Botanical Gardens Edinburgh. I had limited energy, only a few spoons available to allow me to get out, but not many. Enough for maybe a couple of short gentle walks as long as it was broken up with regular resting. But each of these gardens were large and there was no way I could see each of them in much depth. This is where the bolshy part comes in.

Logan Botanic Garden

One of the big problems people with a chronic illness or disability, is perceptions/stereotypes. One perception is that if you are out and about, doing a bit of shopping, spending a small amount of time gardening, that you 'must be well after all'. So in other words, you have been 'faking' your illness. But chronic illnesses fluctuate, you have many bad days and occasional good ones. And on the good days, why shouldn't you choose to take part in the world like healthy people do?

The other perception is that if you use a wheelchair (or mobility scooter), you are 'wheelchair bound'. Whilst this might be true for some people, in most cases, wheelchairs and other mobility aids are there to help you get about. If a wheelchair user gets out of their chair in a supermarket to pick out some grocery items, some people will think they they aren't really disabled, that they are faking it. But the wheelchair is there to enable the user to be able to take part in the world, from picking up so groceries to being able have a job. This includes enabling you to enjoy getting outside to visit a garden.

The good thing about large gardens like Edinburgh and Logan, and National Trust properties like Threave, is that they tend to have a couple of mobility scooters and wheelchairs on site that visitors can use.**

However. Yes, there is a but. Many people, including those with chronic illnesses, often don't like to take advantage of these opportunities. They probably think things like what I used to think, 'I'm not ill enough', 'really ill people need these more than I', or the 'but if I get out of the scooter/chair, people will think I'm faking it'. Trying to define 'ill enough' and 'really ill people' is like how long is a piece of string. And would you judge other people so harshly? Of course not. But it's the latter, the 'faking it' worry, that often is the strongest reason that stops us from using the on-site scooters.

Do you know what? WHO CARES what others think! You know what you can or cannot do. It's not up to others to decide this for you. In fact, it's none of their goddamn business. Don't let worries about their perceptions impact on you being able to take part in the world. You know if you only have enough energy to see a small part of a large garden by walking, and if using a scooter would enable you see and enjoy much more of the garden. It's time to get bolshy and not let worries about what other people might think stop you from enjoying yourself.

And this is what I did recently at these three gardens. I confess, it wasn't easy. I did worry about other people thinking I was faking it. But I made the decision to challenge these worries and to tell them to bugger off. I hired the scooters, got in and out of them, and bloody damn well enjoyed myself at all three gardens. I've even blogged about Logan and Edinburgh gardens, so you can see what I got up to.

What this comes down to, is that the three gardens I wished to see appeared inaccessible to me, became accessible. Don't let worrying use up your limited spoons, use those spoons to have a bit of fun instead. Beam up the bolshiness Scotty, and go garden visiting with ME.

The Rock Garden at Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

*On the ME Associations Disability Rating Scale, 2016, I'm around 50%.

**Often for free, though a donation to help with the upkeep is always welcome. You can call up and book in advance, which I did for the Edinburgh garden, or just rock up and hope one is free The latter more likely during weekdays or if you get there earlier in the day, hence booking for busy sites like Edinburgh is a good idea.

About ME Awareness Week
9th to 15th May is ME Awareness Week, with 12th May being ME Awareness Day. The idea is to raise awareness of the impact of ME (and other chronic illnesses) has on people's lives, in the hope that friends, colleagues and family can better understand how this illness impacts on everyday experiences.

I'm joining in with the #May12BlogBomb, organised by Sally Burch, linking up with bloggers and others on social media to connect and share our experiences. If you would like to know more about ME, both the ME Association and Action for ME provide good introductory information.

ME Awareness week hashtags: #May12BlogBomb#MEawarenessweek, #dontignoreME

Recent Gardening with ME posts...
  Gardening with ME: May garden update
  Gardening with ME: an introduction to Spoonie Veg

Wordless Wednesday 11th May 2016: Tulip love (T. Ballerina)

Monday 9 May 2016

Gardening with ME: May garden update

In recent posts I've mainly been blogging about gardens to visit and Spoonie Veg, so I thought it was time to do a general update of the garden.

Kitchen garden
In my small kitchen garden I've kept to my decision last October to reduce what vegetables I'm growing this year. I'm growing more garlic, as it's so damn easy and I want more to choose from when it comes to saving 'seed' when they are harvested. I have 8 different varieties, all less usual Hardneck varieties (more info on the varieties from a 2013 garlic post), with different levels of strength in taste. I'm also experimenting with growing garlic in pots, to see what the optimum number of cloves is for getting decent sized bulbs when growing in containers. Here are my three pots and they are all looking healthy. I'll do a full garlic report when I harvest, late July-ish.

I'm growing broad beans, because I adore them and there is just nothing like eating freshly picked broad beans. Nothing else compares. I sowed late (early April) as that's when I finally had the ME spoons to prepare the bed then sow. I've pinched out the tips so they develop more stems, which of course means more beans. Yum.

My first carrot and parsnip seedlings are up. Carrots can be a bit of a faff with the way I seem to be unable to beat the darned Carrot Fly. Last year, including sowing & immediately putting on horticultural mesh and keeping them covered the whole growing cycle, I STILL got carrot fly. So this year I'm growing more parsnips, which crop well with little hassle. I sowed them each side of the bed, with some carrots in between. I thought since parsnips are so much taller they might give the carrots some protection and confuse the Carrot Fly. I'm not covering the carrots, they either do well or not. I am planning on sowing some smaller varieties in pots to see how they go.

I've only just sown my courgettes, pumpkins/squash and dwarf french beans, which is why there are some empty patches of soil. With this warm weather they should germinate quickly. And with the threat of it turning cooler again, I'm in no rush to plant them out until the end of May or early June.

I've been harvesting Sorrel since April, making dishes like Sorrel and Mushroom Pasta and Sorrel and Potato Gratin. And I can now start harvesting Ramsons (below), wild garlic. Thanks to Alison at Backyard Larder I discovered that the leaf, stem and flower are all edible. I'm looking forward to tasting them.

Having reduced the amount of vegetables I'm growing, I've added some grasses and bulbs to the middle of each long veg bed. Already flowered has been Narcissus Rijnvelds Early Sensation and currently flowering is the slightly outrageous Tulip Garvota. I'm in love with this tulip. I can see it from the kitchen and boy does it brighten up a dull day.

Next up will be Allium Christophii and Allium Sphaerocephalon, then by late Summer as the bulbs have all died down, Pennisetum alopecuroides 'Hameln' and Stipa gigantea will take the stage and carry through until late winter. I've sown some annuals in one bed, and am very happy with this, sown from seed last year, Erysimum cheiri 'Vulcan'. It goes rather well with T. Garvota too.

I've also planted Trachelospermum jasminoides 'Majus' to grow up the garage wall. It's been an eyesore for too long. I got it from Colin at Swines Meadow Farm Nursery, and though its only been in the ground since early April, it's already got lots a growth to show for it.The flowers, which unfold in Summer, are white and fragrant. I'm looking forward weeding next to it in flower!

Ornamental Garden
I was delighted to discover last week that the Mertensia virginica that I planted two years ago, then disappeared and thought dead, suddenly popped its head up and is flowering again. Yay, I didn't kill it after all, it just needed a long think.

It's next to the blue pulmonaria, under the Damson tree, which is probably why I didn't see it until it got bigger. I rather like the woodland effect here. Should I say, tiny woodland effect, it's only about 1 metre square...

Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood' has put on another beautiful late Spring display. I love the way the sun catches the young leaves, it kind of shimmers.

In general the top end of the Long Shady Border is looking good and the Morello Cherry growing on the fence is branching out and flowering - maybe I'll get some cherries this year?

There are a lot more flowers and new leaves on Epimedium x perralchicum 'Frohnleiten'.

As well as on Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum'.

In general I'm happy with this end of the border, I just need to move Dryopteris erythrosora which is getting a bit big for its boots and over shadowing some smaller plants like Primula Guinevere. I'm not happy with the other end of the Long Shady Border, which includes the Bog Garden, and that is why there is no picture here. I've realised what I need to do to improve that end, but I'll leave that for another post.

Conversely, I'm happier with the greengage border, next to the compost bins. Kevin helped me dig out more of the heavy acid clay (ok, he dug it out, I directed) and I've added a 2nd Stipa gigantea to this border, an along with those in other borders, I'm hoping this will bring a bit more cohesion to the garden as a whole. I've have a purple Geranium pratense Midnight Reiter to add, and I've put down woodchips to mulch and help it look less like heavy clay whilst the plants fill out. The Greengage itself if looking healthy and growing. Will I finally get some blossom on it this year?

To the right, growing up the pergola, is Lonicera similis var. delavayi. It's taking off with a bang this year, so I need to do some tying in to train it, both on the pergola and along the back fence. This year, by late Summer, I'm hoping that it will finally mean that the back of the garden has more green and less fence.

On the whole, I'm pretty happy where there garden is at this stage in the season. I'm taking a much more relaxed approach this year, not feeling I have to do everything, in order to continue to get better at managing how I garden with ME. For some reason my sweet peas didn't germinate (I think they rotted in their pots when I was on holiday in Scotland for 2 weeks), so I've just gone and bought some from the garden centre rather than try again myself. The world won't fall apart if I don't do everything myself.

The garden is in a good place, and I'm enjoying it. I hope you are enjoying your gardens and allotments too.

Herb border to the left, and the purchased sweet peas will be placed to grow up the obelisk.

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I welcome your thoughts and comments. And if you blog about gardening with ME/a chronic illness, do link to this post in your blog and leave a comment below with a link to your post, so we can all find each other.

About Gardening with ME

Twitter hashtags: #GardeningWithME, #SpoonieVeg

Recent Gardening with ME posts...
  Gardening with ME: an introduction to Spoonie Veg
  Gardening with ME: a gentle start to the year with Cornus pruning