brimstoneThere are a number of freshly emerged peacock butterflies around but a  more unusual visitor to the garden today was a brimstone. This pale yellow species, often the first to emerge in spring, is the one that gave its name to the group as a whole.

Last of the Leeks

last of the leeksIt’s been a beautiful day, sunny and settled; perfect for making progress with the veg beds. We’re concentrating on getting our failsafe regular crops in. Broads beans last week, Vivaldi potatoes, beetroot and perpetual spinach today. We also sowed a row of radishes but I wouldn’t describe them as failsafe, perhaps because if they do take and don’t get perforated by flea beetle we invariably miss them at their best.

We’ve cleared all three of our raised beds including the one with the leeks in. The freezer is now full to capacity after Barbara managed to fit in several bags of chopped leeks. It’s hardly the time of year for leek soup so hopefully we’ll find something else that we can make with them.

Powdery Pigeon

pigeonA wood pigeon flies in to perch on a branch of the ivy-covered ash. A few seconds later there a puff of ‘smoke’ two or three feet across which drifts off to the right.

When I remember the powdery silhouettes that wood pigeons make when they fly into our patio windows, the most likely explanation is that it this was part of preening routine. Side-lit by the pigeonmidday sun, the powdery wisp showed up against the dark background of the ivy.

This happened again a couple of times over the next few minutes.

Song Post

blackbirdThe blackbird that I heard practicing its phrases in the dawn chorus mid-March has added grace notes and decorations to its basic song. At lunchtime today he was giving a burst of song from a perch on top of the telegraph pole next door.

Storrs Hill Seed-bank

Storrs Hill, summer 2012
Storrs Hill, summer 2012

gorseOn Storrs Hill, between Horbury and Ossett the gorse is at its best, yellow against an intensely blue sky.

pigThe pigs that have been grazing on the hill have recently been removed, no doubt to fill a freezer or two.

They haven’t made inroads into the gorse but, according to a smallholder friend of mine, they’ve cleared away rank vegetation exposing the ground beneath. He thinks that if the hill isn’t intensively grazed from now on, the original ground layer of vegetation will be able to re-establish itself from seeds that have been lying dormant in the soil.

Storrs Hill c.1890 by Frank C.J. Cockburn, from 'Cockburn's Ossett Alamanac'.
Storrs Hill c.1890 by Frank C.J. Cockburn, from ‘Cockburn’s Ossett Alamanac’.
Sketches while visiting Barbara’s brother in Ossett today.


potshardsThese three fragments of pottery which we found while digging the lower veg bed must date from well before our house was built in the late 1930s. Perhaps they were mixed in with a wagonload of night-soil (contents of a privy) that was dumped on the field in Victorian times.

Cross section of  edge of a blue and white platter?

The blue and white design was the first to catch my eye. It was only when I took a macro photograph of the crazed white potshard that I spotted that it too has spots of blue glaze on it. A cross section reveals that both shards are made of the same kind of clay and are the same thickness. Both are very slightly curved so I think these are both pieces of a semi-rectangular, tray-like platter.

potshardThe earthenware has an almost imperceptible curve on it too. Perhaps it was part of a large jar or bottle.

A view of the cross-section appears to show that it was made of two distinct layers of clay but in close-up you can see that the outer, darker layer fades towards the lighter inner layer. Is this an differential effect due to the way it was fired in the kiln?

It appears to have a light grey glaze on its outer surface. Perhaps it was slip-coated.


summerhousebrushpen branchI’ve got another chance this morning to sit and draw my mum’s leafy garden. The summerhouse was built in the 1930s. I remember meeting Enid Baines who had lived at Smeath House before the Second World War and she told us that they’d built it. A neighbour across the road, John Haller, engineer, keen golfer and founder member of Horbury Pageant Players, told me that he remembered playing tennis in the back garden at Smeath. When we moved in we found the net stored in one of the outhouses but by then a large rectangular rose bed had been cut out of the middle of the back lawn.

fir top limeWe’re going back to the era when ‘who’s for tennis?!’, garden parties, Agatha Christie and Jeeves and Wooster.

As boys, my brother and I adopted the summerhouse as our clubhouse. Don’t think William and the Outlaws; this was the headquarters of the ambitiously named Horbury Junior Naturalists’ Club, modelled on the British Junior Naturalists’ Association.

A great garden to grow up with.

Sparrowhawk in the Fir Tree

sparrowhawklimesA sparrowhawk swoops down across my mum’s leafy back garden and perches in a tall fir, its head hidden amongst the branches as I draw it. In a neighbouring garden the tall lime trees have yet to start springing into leaf.

Dipper at Riverlife

dipperHeading back from a book delivery, leaving motorway and ring-roads behind us we once again use the Peak District as the perfect escape route from everyday routine. We’ve called at the Riverlife Cafe at Bamford many times before but today we’re in luck and we spot new bird for our Riverlife Cafe list. A dipper flits downstream to perch on a fallen bough at the edge of the river. It flies a short way back upstream to a partially submerged bough then launches itself into the fast-flowing water. I don’t see it again until it pops up near the fallen bough, five or six metres downstream.

As we wait for our cinnamon toast and lattes, I draw siskin and coal tit.

Grow for Flavour

Grow for Flavour, James WongAt this time of year everything seems possible in the garden. There’s still time to plant whatever we want to grow. Perhaps if I spent as much time gardening as I do getting myself inspired by reading about it and watching Gardener’s World, I’d get a bit further.

Veg beds as they were in 2012, which, as that's 3 years ago, is the way they will be this year.
Veg beds as they were in 2009 and 2012, which, as we try to keep to a three year rotation, is pretty much what we’re aiming for this year.

I’ve enjoyed two recent books which offer different approaches to which varieties of vegetables to grow and how to grow them. Kew on a Plate takes the view that for taste we might try going back to the heritage fruit and vegetables that predate the standardised, high-yield varieties required by the supermarkets. There’s been a tendency to go for varieties with a long shelf life, which are tough enough to survive transportation, but that doesn’t always go hand in hand with improved taste. But things are changing and most supermarkets are now making efforts to offer a range of locally grown produce.

leeksThe book tells the story of the project to reestablish the Royal kitchen garden at Kew. One problem that the gardeners had was with the heritage soft fruits which attracted the attention of grey squirrels, foxes and probably even a few human visitors who found them just too tempting.

Raymond Blanc devised the recipes, often inspired by his memories of the kitchen garden of his childhood in a village in Franche-Comté, eastern France.

barrowIn Grow for Flavour, James Wong takes a rather different view. For instance he reminds us that it’s not always true that heritage varieties are the tastiest.

He looks at simple ways to boost flavour, for instance by cutting down on watering. Overwatering results in bigger fruits and vegetables but often at the cost of diluting the flavour.

Trials have demonstrated that it’s possible to get improved results by deliberately putting a plant under a modest amount of stress, by tricking it, for instance, into thinking that it should start producing more fruit or into protecting itself from attack by pests, sometimes producing bitter-tasting compounds which result in a more complex flavour.


Pizzabox from Sutton's Seeds
Pizzabox from Sutton’s Seeds

James Wong, Grow for Flavour

Grow for Flavour seeds are available from Sutton’s who also produce a Stacks of Flavour Crate Collection with all you need to grow salad leaves in three weeks, or if you’re more patient, a Pizzabox Crate in which you can grow the entire topping for a pizza in 8 to 10 weeks – blight resistant tomato, basil and oregano (pepperoni not included). You can even have your crate personalised with a message.

The Kew on a Plate garden