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Blog posts tagged with 'Claire Sutton'

Summer Berries

Last Spring I finally decided to plant some new berry bushes against the brick wall that runs alongside our vegetable beds.

Redcurrants we already have, as they were left here by the last owner. We used to grow blackcurrants, but we decided to take them out as they were getting old and took up too much space. Wild blackberries we have in abundance, they sneak over the fence from the fields beyond. I also seemed to remember that blueberries are fussy about the sort of soil that they have so I discounted them too.
We love raspberries so that was one in the bag. Loganberries remind me of my Dad as he grew a thornless loganberry plant in the garden when I was a child and we loved it's halfway house between blackberry and raspberry, so I chose one of those. I then remembered a post on My Tiny Plot that spoke of fragrant Tayberries, so I thought I would give those a go too.
Last year we had a mere handful of fruit off each plant, but I didn't expect too much of them in their first year. This Spring we made sure that we covered them well with netting to stop the blackbirds stealing the fruits of our labour and we have been blessed with berries aplenty.
We have had bowls of berries with cream and made several fruit fools with them as well as adding them to cakes and puddings.
The Tayberries are the least productive, they have very spiky stalks and the fruits are so soft that they tend to come apart when you pick them. The loganberries are nice, but you must leave them until they are very dark in colour before picking. The raspberries are the best cropping, seem to get least attacked by insects and are so easy to pick and prepare as the husk gets left behind on the plant.
Soon I must get out there and get tying in and pruning to make sure we have a good crop next year.

-- Claire Sutton

Laidback gardening...

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the information that there is about gardening. I can wind myself into a knot trying to work out which things I should be pruning and which I should be tying in.
I am gradually coming to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you do something. Even a brief wander around the garden when you get in from work can pay dividends. Just to pull up a few weeds before they take hold, or to pick a few fresh berries before anyone else gets to them can be as useful or pleasurable as a planned day of gardening.

Some of the best things that happen in our garden happen by accident anyway. Flowers that you didn’t cut down can self-seed in the prettiest of places, late sowings can provide some unexpected autumn colour, even an unkempt lawn can provide a beautiful blanket of flowers.


I have spent some time searching around the internet to find out what these purple lawn ‘weeds’ are. I think they are called ‘Selfheal’ (prunella vulgaris) due to their medicinal uses. I don’t quite know how our small front lawn became quite so invaded with the amazing violet flowers, but I guess it is mainly due to our laziness about mowing the front lawn.
It’s a bit of a pain to get the lawn mower down the side of the house, as en route you trip over spare decking planks and graze your knuckles on the textured render on the wall. So more often than not the discussion will go “Does the front lawn need doing?” then “No I did it last time it will be ok” So it lasts another week and gradually turns into a meadow filled with clover, selfheal, buttercups and daisies.
From what I read they are quite difficult to get rid of...so I won’t. They are pretty so they can stay.

Another happy accident.  Here is another accident that occurred in our garden this week. involving a baby greenfinch: http://thingswemake.wordpress.com/2011/06/23/a-teeny-pond-ray-the-bird/

-- Claire Sutton

Bean shoots vs bean sprouts...

With all the news about E.coli being linked to bean sprouts I think I shall be avoiding them for a while. We sometimes grow our own alfalfa or mung bean shoots in a jar, but even when I grow them myself I worry about them harbouring bacteria in their warm moist environment perched on the windowsill. We did once have an evening where we felt quite strange after heating handfuls of alfalfa sprouts and wondered if they might have hallucinogenic properties!


Bean shoots are a different thing entirely. Broad beans are one of my favourite vegetables to grow. You can just stick a hole in the ground, drop a bean in and away they go. The smell of the flowers is beautiful too, on a warm evening it wafts across the garden like jasmine.
One of the unexpected delights that broad beans offer is the taste of the new shoots. When the plants grow to their full height and the flowers are starting to show, which in my garden is happening right about now, you can pinch out the growing shoots at the top. This gives a number of benefits, firstly it allows the plant to put its efforts into growing beans, secondly it puts off the black fly, who love to make a home on the tender new shoots, damaging the plants growth. But the best benefit of all is that bean shoots taste delicious.
The 3” shoots are a collection of young folded leaves with the occasional glimpse of a new flower bud, which are white with a black spot. A row of beans yields enough for a healthy lunch. They just need a light steam and plenty of black pepper and butter and they are also very good served on top of risotto. The closest thing I can liken them to is asparagus, but they are softer and taste, understandably, more broad bean-y. I’m off to pick myself some now...


--Claire Sutton

Pest Patrol


When we moved into this house the garden had overgrown ponds, a fake stream and even parts of a model railway wending around the borders. It had been unloved for several years and it took a lot of work to get it under control. At first we used all means necessary to tackle the pests and weeds, but over the years we have started to allow nature to take over some tasks.
We found a hosta that the previous owners had left behind, but it looked like lace when the snails got to it. We used slug pellets to try and salvage it and our newly planted salad leaves. We bought cloches to protect young plants and grew as much as we could in pots. I even went out with a torch at night to pick off the biggest snails. It didn’t seem to help. One morning I was mortified to find a dead blackbird on the lawn. Although the pellets said they were ‘wildlife friendly’ I felt so guilty.
Soon afterwards we got a puppy and had to stop using anything in the garden that would harm him. We also put chicken wire around the fences to stop him escaping. I expected the slugs to get worse but they didn’t. As our garden is now cat and chemical free it has become a haven to birds and toads. Our slug and snail problem has all but vanished over the last two years. The hosta is huge now and we grow more salad leaves than we can eat. Each morning all sorts of birds flock to the garden, hopping around the vegetable beds picking off any pests and in the evening we often come across fat toads eating grubs.
Now we just need to find a way of dealing with the cute resident mice that eat my french bean seedlings.

-- Claire Sutton

Easy Peasy First Vegetable Growing

When it comes to growing vegetables, I am sometimes way ahead of the game but more often than not a little behind with my plans when the season starts.


We built raised beds last year. So keen was I to get filling those lovely beds that I drew out my planting design in Photoshop and set seeds everywhere. We had chard germinating in the workshop window, cucumbers growing in old profiterole containers and beans growing in toilet roll tubes all over the house. I ended up with too many of some things, which I ended up giving away, plus I had lots of seedlings ready to plant out before the conditions were right.

This year I have taken a more leisurely approach, so we still have empty vegetable beds waiting to be filled. Salad leaves and beetroot are already happily sprouting and the courgettes and french beans that Mr Mouse hasn’t snacked on are growing well too. At this time of year it can be difficult to know where best to aim your efforts to ensure that you get a good return throughout the season. If you are new to ‘growing your own’ here are some favourites that anyone can get planting.



Kale is such an easy plant to grow. It is happy with most soils and doesn’t get too bothered by pests. The only thing they are not keen on is warm weather as it tends to send them to seed too soon. Cut out the central stalk and use the leaves like cabbage, in pasta dishes or turn them into kale crisps. Cavalo Nero is a variety that looks as good as it tastes and survives right into the winter. Plant them in a seed tray then prick them out when they are a couple of inches tall. Don’t grow too many at a time or they will fill your borders.

Lettuce is a great money saving crop as bags of leaves from the supermarket are costly and they only last days. It’s worth sowing a few seeds every few weeks so that you have a constant supply of baby leaves. I tend to prefer the cut-and-come-again style as they are less likely to run to seed and you don’t have to wait for them to get very big before you can start enjoying them. Salad leaves are great for sowing in pots as then you can keep them right outside your door.

Peas are an essential crop for us. There is nothing to beat the taste of fresh peas straight from the pod as you walk around the garden on a Summer’s evening. If you aren’t able to tend your garden as much as you’d like, a good option might be mangetout. As you don’t need to leave them to fatten up; you can pick a few as and when you need them. They are at their best when young and very tender.

Beans are my absolute favourite thing to grow, especially broad beans which are so tasty. To plant just drop a bean into a toilet roll tube filled with compost. They are ready to plant out when they reach about 10cm and then you will just need a few canes to support them. They are good for the soil as they take nitrogen from the air and plough it back into the soil through their roots. The borlotti beans above are worth growing just for their beautiful flowers and mottled pods.

--Claire Sutton