The Hungry Gardener’s Shed ~ Shed hideaways Rhs Tatton

005 006 003The shed has made people curious. “Why are you doing it?” is the question that follows the oohs and aahs. Well let me tell you. I’m ‘doing’ this shed simply because I can. I am indulging in a spot of riotous creativity for the sheer joy of it. At the end of each day, when I glance over my shoulder and see the shed, I feel really proud, I feel I have re-awakened my creative spirit and there’s no way I’m letting it nod off again.

There’s too much of an end product mentality in society, it’s getting better but there’s still a way to go. There’s an expectation that whatever we do it must result in either a step forward in our business or monetary gain. Can you imagine the great artists of old putting down their brushes and refusing to work without a commission? We would be missing some masterpieces!

Sometimes we just need to create, just for ourselves, and chances are, what we do will cause a response in others. I love the smiles, the chats, the exclamations of joy that are already inspired by the shed. If art is there to provoke a response then this shed is art.

The shed has a future after Tatton. I’m not selling it, I’m definitely not giving it away, I have no plans to launch a shed related career (unless George Clark needs me for his Amazing spaces or Gardener’s World need a fresh face then I’m there at the drop of a trowel!). The sheds coming back with me and it’s going on the allotment. I can already imagine myself in the quaint interior, curled up in a chair, nibbling freshly picked peas and writing my blog.

Shed Hideaway

I’ve fallen in love with my shed. Whenever I drive into the show ground, turn the corner and see it standing there, a vision of loveliness, my heart melts a little. Painted in the palest of cream with smidges of dove-grey it reflects the sun and creates the perfect backdrop for the herbs and edible plants that surround it. The roof is adorned with masses of scented thyme; silvery and delicious the bees have discovered it and the air is filled with gentle buzzing. 

I’m a little surprised by the palette I have chosen, I thought I would throw a few hot pink salvias in there to liven it up. I’m glad I didn’t. This little haven doesn’t need to shout out for attention it already captures the imagination.

Inside the shed the atmosphere is divine, warm and bright. Even without a roof light the sun comes flooding in. I’ve put a little chair in there and made a windowsill for the tender basil plants, it smells amazing. When I go in and close the door the outside world is forgotten. I take a deep breath and smile; this is my shed hideaway. 

   

 
                                    A little sneaky peek before its complete

  

Shed Hideaways ~ RHS Flower show Tatton

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This coming saturday a number of flat packed sheds will be deposited on the show ground of the RHS flower show, Tatton. One of them is mine and I will have just over a week to turn it into this mad creation doodled just above the text. What was I thinking!?!?

It’s all well and good dreaming of fantastical sheds (that’s sheds Bob Sweet not fantastical creatures like gnomes, that would be wrong) and doodling with pen and paper is pretty easy only now I have to build the damn thing! Yikes!

I decided it would be fun to put a glass atrium on top of the shed but now I’m not so sure. How the heck am I supposed to make such a thing? I’m a gardener not a joiner!!

I’ve recently spotted a little display stand of roof lights set out on a trailer near the junction of the M60 that would be perfect for the job but I’m not sure this shed is worth going to prison for, although I have got form. No, no you misunderstand me, I haven’t got a teardrop tattoo, and my freedom has never been curtailed but I did spend time nicking stuff from skips under cover of darkness for my first back to back garden. I’ve got a great piece of footage that the BBC filmed of me loading bricks from a skip into the back of my Triumph Herald; the best getaway car ever.

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So far there’s been no begging, borrowing or stealing with regards to the shed. Oh, hang on, that’s not strictly true. I was pottering about in a department store last saturday and spotted something fab. Now I don’t want to spoil the surprise for those who may come and visit said shed but this bit of kit looked like it might just be the answer to my roof light troubles and it was marked down from £30 to £15. I needed two and there they both were calling to me. Armed with my bargains I went to the till and paid. It was only when I  looked at my receipt I realised I’d only been charged for one item. I was still in the car park, I could have gone back but I didn’t. I apologise John Lewis.

I’m looking forward to doing this shed; it’s very different from doing a garden at Tatton and feels more arty. I like arty. Alan Gardner builds gardens that I consider arty; kind’ve makes me question what is a garden anyway. Alan’s on the tele tonight ‘The Autistic Gardener’ C4 8pm and it’ll definitely be worth a watch.

Doing this shed is me stepping away from ‘gardening’ and into garden art; I’ m excited! Whatever I end up creating chances are, it’ll lean towards the edible because those plants are my passion, my pallet, my plate.

my pallett

Native British herbs: Part 1

Anxious thoughts and shivers of excitement are simultaneously nipping at my subconscious, if don’t give them the attention they crave soon, they will run me ragged. This harrying of my mind is not unreasonable, in just under seven weeks time the RHS flowershow, Tatton will commence.

After a couple of years break I am returning as an exhibitor…with a shed! This is a bit of a change from my usual creations which have always been edible gardens. My first was a small garden (6×4 m) called Eat my garden and featured a whole raft of edible plants. Then followed The Herbal Tea Party (a name I nicked from an excellent Manchester nightclub I used to dance the night away at; the garden was a little more demure). Then came The Cider House Rules, a design that called for a lot of research and consequently a lot of cider drinking, all in the name of art you understand.

Then I did some edible exhibits in the Prize Vegetable Pavillion (ah the jokes just make themselves!). I remember the last time I was there. I was titivating the herbs, adding the finishing touches, when who should come careering into the tent on a motorised scooter than the Queen of herbs herself, Jekka McVicar. Had I not had my nose in the blooms and my backside in the air I would have spotted the incoming and exited fast.

After circling my stall, no more than once, she came to an abrupt halt.

“What British natives do you have here? ” she quizzed me.

Hmmm British natives? I remember thinking, well there’s me. No, she means the herbs, of course she means the herbs, Oh bugger I’ve no idea.

It was at that exact moment that the frothy, creamy blooms of Achillea ageratum, tickled by a welcome breeze, shimmied into my line of vision.

“English mace” I declared, resisting the urge to whoop victoriously. English mace, one of my favourite herbs, now even more so, Oh how I adore this fine plant. And now, the Queen of herbs, this font of knowledge of all things herbal will look upon me fondly as her prodigy and bestow her favour upon me.

My elation was short lived my daydream dashed. This fraudulent herb is an interloper, it’ a Swiss native! Why oh why is it not called Swiss mace?!?!

Realising I was on a very sticky wicket I glanced at my watch, muttered the immortal words “Oooh is that the time” and hightailed it out of the marquee. She never saw me again.

I hadn’t given this episode much thought until recentlywhen I found myself tripping through a Cretan gorge where sage and thyme grow madly. The air is fragrant and filled with the sound of bees that buzz across the valleys. Hillsides are peppered with bee hives and the sticky, golden honey is available to buy from berry brown locals who sit and dream in the sun. These herbs are happy here, they grow well, a perfect example of right plant right place.

I don’t mind where my plants come from, after all I’ve no time for UKIP and my borders are open to all. It was seeing how the Mediterranean herbs flourished in their native habitats that got me thinking. So often the herbs we want to grow here in the UK struggle because of the climate yet our British natives thrive. I’ve decided to explore our homegrowns and introduce a few more into my own garden not just to satisfy my own curiosity but to ensure that if I bump into ‘you know who’ again, I’ll be much better prepared!
Wild Angelica

Legend has it that the beautiful characteristics of Angelica were revealed by an angel, hence the name. It is,   without doubt a delightful, architectural plant that can grow to 2 metres tall. Stiff, slender stems bear fresh green leaves and large umbels of white flowers are produced in summer. Angelica thrives in moist soil and is often found growing wild on riverbanks.

Cultivation

Grow in rich, moist soil in partial shade. Very attractive to bees.

Culinary uses

Young shoots taste similar to celery and can be added to salads and soup. Angelica seeds are traditionally used to flavour gin, vermouth and chartreuse. We bought a bottle of something fiendishly alcoholic in France a few years ago. It was a delightful green colour but alas, we cannot quite remember what it was other than something potent with Angelica.

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Where the wild things are

I’ve gone rogue, feral, off piste as far as gardening is concerned, I’ve taken to walking on the wild side and fear I may not return. Tangle-woods carpeted with bluebells and peppered with the glistening, white globes of wild garlic flowers have turned my head. Hedgerows, awash with frothy mayflower, have lead me to secret places where birds sing, creatures creep and nature revels in springtime splendour.

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                                                Wild garlic flower

In my own garden the lawn is looking radiant. I love the golden yellow dandelions that are scattered throughout the long, lush grass. Shining like miniature suns they’re such merry little things I don’t want to cut them down.

The forget-me-nots that flourish in my garden will not be forgotten. Dainty flowers in the most captivating blue, arch gracefully on fine stems setting their seed far and wide. Not content with filling the border with their exuberance, they are running amok in my neighbours garden. I’m looking forward to seeing how far their journey takes them!

These self-seeders are amongst my favourites, asking nothing from me they give everything in return. Popping up here, there and  everywhere they are like natures whisper, her gentle reminder to relax, loosen life’s reins a little and live free.

The borage will be up next, another blue beauty. The bees love these starry blooms as much as I do and the whole garden will be buzzing. I’ll just pick a few flowers to freeze in ice cubes, where their simple beauty will be momentarily captured and enjoyed in the summer sunshine.

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Borage flower

Dandelions, wild garlic, forget-me-nots and borage are all edible. Every part of the dandelion can be enjoyed leaves, stems, flowers and roots and trust me, you won’t wet the bed!  The young leaves are the sweetest and are delicious fried up with bacon and served on a potato cake. For a more exotic dish why not dip the flowers in batter and serve as dandelion fritters.

I use wild garlic leaves to make a pesto. Pick a large bunch of leaves and rinse them well before placing in a food processor with 130 mls of olive oil, 50g of toasted pine nuts and 50g of grated parmesan cheese. Whizz it all up until it looks like a green paste, adding salt to taste, resulting in a pesto with one heck of a kick!

Forget-me-not flowers are edible and can be crystallised in sugar and used to decorate cakes. Borage flowers too can be used as cake decorations but I prefer them frozen in ice, bobbing around a cool glass of Pimm’s.

 

I’ve got thyme

Ah I do love a good pun! This title was inspired by a facebook conversation I was having with some of my arty friends. The conversation centred around this beautiful watercolour painted by or own Karl Fletcher.

 

 

karls peter pan

Copyright Karl Fletcher 2015                            www.facebook.com/watercolourjournal

Karl loves to paint on old books, letters, envelopes, sheet music, ledgers, any suitable ephemera that has history.

This piece, painted in an old edition of Peter Pan, is all about time. Hook is forcing the lost boys to walk the plank when suddenly the sound of ticking stops him in his tracks. Tick- Tock Tick-Tock Crocodile has arrived and Hook falls in a heap. Time is catching up with him like it catches up with us all.

I spent three days this week giving myself time, it wasn’t easy.

Harping back to my injured eye I was told to ‘take it easy’ for a couple of weeks. I managed a week. Then the guilt, the lack of self-worth, the anxiety came rushing in. I even asked my lovely GP friend for advice. “Two weeks, really? Do you think a week is enough?”

“Take the  two weeks off ” he said “with a bottle of Scotch!”

Bloomin’ heck that was Doctors Orders! And still I baulked. What’s happened to me?

Am I baulking now? No. Have I got a bottle of Scotch by my side as I write? No. Have I got a bottle of Bourbon next to me? Yes. Jim Beam infused with cherry, it’s very delicious, and there’s a fire burning in the grate.

My three days were a life saver (actually the following two days were too, I passed my Forest school first aid training). For the first few days I decided to take time. I walked for miles looking at trees, flowers, blossom, rivers and hedgerows, in absolute wonder. Walks that should have taken an hour took three. I sank into nature, like you would a comforting bed. I didn’t want to garden it, change it, make it my own, I revelled in the freedom of the natural world and I loved it!

So where does this leave me as a gardener? In my job I’m constantly battling. I’m battling the weeds, I’m trying to keep shrubs under control, I’m trying to maintain order in the garden, I’m always trying to gain the upper hand.

And what would happen if I stopped? If I stopped fighting? What would happen? The weeds would creep in, I would probably do less ‘work’, I may drink more bourbon. Is this such a bad thing? My favourite gardens are, after all, the wildest ones, my favourite haunts, the woods. My favourite past-times are open fires and stories about faeries and elves.

The natural world grows, develops and changes over time. It doesn’t twist and turn fighting against it. It flows, like I once flowed, like a lolly-stick on the river of life.

There’s lessons to be learned here. The thyme in my garden creeps slowly, unnoticed across pathways. Then suddenly, gloriously, in summer it blossoms and blooms into a carpet of blooms; providing sweet nectar for insects and a wonderful surprise for me.

There’s a wildness to nature that isn’t reflected in my life; and I want it to be. I want to change like the seasons, blow like the wind and live a life that is truly free.

 

 

 

A shady sanctuary

I am suffering from iritis. I have not, as the name may suggest, suddenly developed an irrational desire to avoid the Iridaceae family at all costs, nor do I break out in an itchy rash when faced with the species. On the contrary I am enchanted by the depth of colour and intricate markings that nearly all iris flowers display. It’s my own iris that’s the problem; not the ones in the garden, I trust they are behaving themselves, it’s the one in my eye that’s not.

I won’t bore you with the details but, needless to say, getting smacked in the eye by the branch of a large, established climbing rose bloody hurts. My battered iris is taking time out to recover and, thanks to the twice daily dose of pupil dilating drops, looks like its been out partying all night.

Like a stuck shutter on a camera my eye is letting in too much light and the glare of this glorious spring sunshine is proving too much. I spent a few days whingeing, scriking and moaning then realised it wasn’t helping and decided instead to make a few alterations to my daily day.

A recent extension to our house has increased the amount of shade in an already shady, north facing back garden and it’s been making me fractious. Now I have discovered this neglected gravel courtyard, that sits in the permanent shadow of the house, is the perfect place to escape the glare of the midday sun; it has become a calm and peaceful sanctuary.

Recent musings, whilst perched on a shady step sipping tea, have resulted in a decision to fill this space with all sorts of plants; plants that wont just tolerate shade, they will positively thrive in it. Already mentha requienii, more commonly Corsican mint, is creeping in. This tiniest of mint loves a damp shady spot and soon spreads across pathways and over stones, releasing its fresh, cool-mint fragrance when trodden underfoot. Soon it will be joined by plantings of ferns, ivy, tiarella and alchemilla mollis; I adore alchemilla especially after it has rained; droplets form in the dips of the leaves making tiny mirrors for the faerie-folk that will surely dwell in this part of the garden.

Soon I will be visiting another place of enchantment when I go to my favourite bluebell woods. These are not listed in the Saturday supplements under ’10 Best bluebell walks’, they are not advertised to all and sundry and I’m glad. Go on an organised walk through the woods with a group of perfect strangers and you’ve lost the magic, killed it stone dead. Instead I urge you to run from the hurly-burly, mercantile world of nature tourism and find your own secret place; a place where the trees whisper to one another and a silver ribbon of water trickles and trips across the forest floor.

For now my crepucsular activities continue down on the plot; beetroot and parsnip seeds are sown as day fades to dusk. In the half-light the rhubarb looms large and I pick several juicy stalks. Sweet Cicely, growing nearby looks lush and flavoursome.  Squeeze the leaves and you will release the unmistakeable scent of aniseed, a flavour that turns to sweetness during cooking.These two plants are best friends; add a handful of leaves to stewed rhubarb and you can halve the amount of sugar needed in a delicious crumble.

Sweet Cicely can be found growing wild in hedgerows but try and propagate it at home and it’s a different story unless, of course you don’t want it and then it will self-seed prolifically all over your plot. The young leaves look very similar to cow parsley and, more worryingly, hog-weed which is deadly. My advice is to cultivate a Sweet Cicely in your garden, it’ll last for years and may, if your lucky, set seed.

I have been lucky ( not with the Sweet Cicely I still only have one plant) I haven’t suffered any permanent damage to my eye and in a week or two it will be just fine. Until then I will wander about in the half light, enjoying the peacefulness of the evenings, engulfed by nature that never fails to fill me with an extraordinary sense of well-being.

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