Patmos in Bloom

It’s been a magical week in Patmos. We’ve experienced the warmest hospitality, discovered Easter traditions, walked for miles surrounded by wild lavender on the trails.

I even managed to visit a garden centre in Kambos. Everywhere we looked were beautiful gardens, full of lillies, petunias, beaurganvilla and hippeastratum in blooms. I bought some aubergine seeds from a lovely English lady who married a local and now runs a florist and plant shop in Skala. It’s an island full of garden plots and vegetable growers. I’ll be back Patmos.

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A time for patience

The week is flying by and what this means for the seedlings is that a whole load of jostling for space and attention is happening in the ‘germination station’ – aka the kitchen windowsill. The complementary concepts of planning and patience have definitely been at the forefront of my mind in the past week. We seem to have found it so commonplace to have a daily obsession with time – ‘too busy’ ‘no time for myself’ and it most often manifests in negative feelings towards time. The garden is a place with an acute sense of time but not a place to rush or be consumed with timekeeping. I am learning to have patience and wait for these rewards as I wait for the seedlings to show.

There has been big progress with the Witkiem Broad beans which got so tall with 5 weeks I had no choice but to get them planted out on the veggie patch – this was early but I am hoping i have good luck and they are hardy enough to settle. I gave the patch a good digging over first, sprinkled with blood, fish and bone powder and covered in bin bags to help the soil warm up a week before. I’ve staked all 8 plants and positioned them to maximise the sun.

Slugs are a major worry – they seem to have even managed to get into the two mini-plastic green houses I have outside. The past weekend I built the second one – and meticulously wrapping copper tape round the outside!

On the flowers front, the sweet peas had been one of the reasons I needed the second plastic greenhouse as I have got the sweet peas taking over one -getting leggier every week so I’ve ruthlessly pinched them out in the hope this will stunt their growth but encourage bushier sideshoots. I am making steady progress with Sweet Williams and Aster which are out in the ‘greenhouse – although again slugs have been snacking on leaves…

Last year I stuck to some quickly gratifying seeds, like cosmos, marigold and nasturtium. It’s more than likely I will grow these again as they are great gap fillers, but I wanted to set a challenge to grow some longer lasting perennials and a wider variety of annuals,  I have found that even some annuals can be much slower to germinate; Ageratum, Heliotrope and Verbena Bonariensis are painfully slow…4 weeks and barely two or three seedlings in each tray. The temperature fluctuations are probably not helping in the kitchen, cold overnight and on the rarity of a sunny day they will be getting very warm. But I’m determined to not give up…

I have also been germinating a few more unusual seeds from the RHS collection; geranium pratense (meadow cranesbill) which I hope will be a good shade loving plant for the front garden challenge (more on this soon!) . I have put a pot with Armeria Maritima (thrift) seeds into the central heating boiler cupboard in the vain hope that dark, warm conditions will set that off. I have two types of agastache; rugosa (korean mint) and mexicana which can take up to 30 days to germinate. But that might be easy compared with the cold stratification I am attempting with a couple of varieties; so for those not in the horticultural know, like me a week ago! cold stratification is basically faking winter to get the seeds back into life, ideally achieved by letting the seeds hang out in moist compost in a cold fridge! Clearly labelled and in protective tupperware was definitely the order – so the Camassia leichtlinii (californian white quamash) has been spending a week sidling up to the yogurts and cheese before it awakens to Spring or when i take it out and see what happens in a warm sunny propagator. Also in the fridge stratification station is Lavender seeds who might need up to 4 weeks and Chiastophyllum oppositifolium (lamb’s tail) after a 2 week chill out. I am finding this rather exciting as it the first time i have ever tried anything so ‘scientific’ so it’s feeling like a big deal for me! Berkheya purpurea takes 90 days to germinate….as does Aquilegia. They are perennials so i guess that’s why you have to play the waiting game

In terms of the veggie seeds – I am patiently watching the Aubergine seeds and willing them into life! The same goes for the chilli pepper seeds we salvaged from last years crops. One of which is from a Romanian pepper…exciting to see if this harvesting method gives us rewards. This waiting game is making me feel quite stubborn and testing my patience to get these to be a success from seeds rather than buying plug plants. Yes, the tomatoes have germinated efficiently -there is method to setting them off this early as I want to take some Tigerella, Red Pear, Roma and Cherry Tomato seedling plants to my Dad at Easter. Just to start off the inagral North versus South climate challenge. I’m feeling confident that what I lack in experience over his years of tomato growing, the sunny SE Kent weather will make up for!

As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said ‘Time is a game played beautifully by children’. This gardener is happy to play a waiting game and time is on my side.

Inspired Greek Cuisine from the islands

As a committed Grecophile and taverna cuisine aficionado – ha! who am I kidding! In all reality I love Greek cooking, it has a basic premise that is heartfelt seasonal simplicity and I love cooking up a storm (translate = chaos!) in the kitchen. This weekend I had a friend over for dinner so decided to get stuck in and prepare a meze menu for sharing.

I read through Belinda Harley’s ‘Roast Lamb in the Olive Groves‘ for inspiration . I have struggled to find many Greek cookbooks – so let me know if you come across any treasures. It’s a very skilful modern take on some of the wonderful and traditional recipes she found during her time spent on Paxos. The island is a true jewel in the Ionian sea – we visited Paxos a couple of years ago and had enjoyed two weeks of pure bliss, walking, swimming in deserted beaches and enjoying some of the finest local cuisine. The island is a treasure – recommended to me by my parents who have only visited it in 1976, it was their first taste of what turned into a long term love for Greece. I have inherited their adoration of helios and retsina, and convinced myself in the 30 odd intervening years Paxos had changed only a little, with just the modern conveniences of wifi and imported gin as the real markers of time. But I do want to get round to writing a longer post on Paxos as it is a small island that deserves a full exploration. Watch this space

But in terms of my menu plan, the island inspired me to cook Spanakopita – a deliciously buttery feta and spinach pie.

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Spanakopita

Using Harley’s recipe for a colourful panzarosalata (beetoot salad with radish and feta) with it’s peppery taste to liven up the palate and offer a colourful visual for the meal. In my humble opinion any Greek menu is incomplete without a good basic tzatziki, served with bread and olives drizzled with lemon oil and thyme.

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almost ready – midia saganaki
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My love of olives

To add a little texture and taste I cooked midia saganaki – which is mussels in a winey tomato sauce, with an added shot of ouzo, sprinkled with herbs and feta. It’s a perfect sharing dish with the sauce just crying out for soaking up with bread.

I also grilled some simple pork kebabs seasoned with herbs and lemon,  a Greek salad – drizzled generously with wine vinegar and topped with feta. There is a love of cheese throughout this menu, so I went all out and grilled halloumi to serve drizzled in honey and sesame seeds.

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Just like a taverna

All served with a bottle of Retsina salvaged from Sainsbury’s and chilled to perfection. It may have been February in Kent, but we all agreed it was a Greek summer in our bellies…

No sweat sweet peas!

Sweet peas are a favourite of many gardeners for their scent and early colour. I found growing them from seed last year was a surprisingly rewarding experience. So this year I am branching out with some Cupani and Skylark as annual and sowing some of the Everlasting perennial variety which will flower next year.

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‘Hello little guy!’
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sweet pea sowings in cells

I started them off from seed on the windowsill in a plastic propagator – they tend to germinate quickly usually 7-10 days and you’ll see a bright green shoot. There are many opinions on whether you should soak the seeds overnight or chip a small cut with a knife into the ‘eye’ on the seed – I’ve tried both and am unconvinced either speed things up! Take off the cover when they are a couple of cm’s tall and just keep them watered. If you are starting them in cells –  But sweet peas grow quick, I started this years first batch on Jan 23rd and they are already 15-10cms tall. Last year i just did one sowing, but this year I am doing 2 sowings 4 weeks apart to prolong the flowing season

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reading for pinching out

The trick is to pinch out the stems before they get too tall and leggy, so pinch off the tops with a knife when the second set of leaves appear. This will help them grow side shoots so they produce more flowers. Keep them on a windowsill and acclimatise them to outside temps gradually. Last year I planted mine outside in mid march and they survived fine – so i think half of the battle is luck with the weather!

They need support and ties initially, but they produce little tendrils that twirl and grab onto any support (and each other) and they will support themselves after an initial leg up.  We made a frame from bamboo canes and pea netting that worked a treat, although they got so tall we had to extend it! But this year I will space them out more and try them against walls and trellis to intersperse their sent around the garden.

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spaced and supported

Once they start flowering by May, I found that cutting the flowers and deadheading (feels a bit endless!) continues to encourage the plant to keep producing flowers, rather then letting them grow the seed pods (which do look like peas – the same genus. I often pottered out there on a weekend and filled jam jars, pots and vases in every room with the lovely flowers.
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As a rewarding annual flower you can’t get better than sweet peas – but they do need ripping out when they start to die back and stop producing flowers – a sad sight! Let hope it wasn’t just beginners luck and this year the sweet peas are as stunning…12716326_10153748619351273_6919332439115505308_o

 

Setting off the seeds

In an effort to give the garden a chance to come into its own this summer, without having to rely on buying in too many annuals, I am starting off some flowers from seed earlier this year. I also like to complement the flowers with the challenge of growing herbs and veg from seed too. I’m learning lessons along the way – but here is an update on my first seedlings of the year:

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Herbs
The first action I took in January was to sow sage, rosemary and oregano for the windowsill – last years oregano and parsley has just finished. So it’s a good investment to start them off now and have plentiful fresh herbs to enjoy throughout the year. Supermarket pots of herbs are disastrous – they are overfilled seedlings in tiny pots which the only way to make them last longer than a week or is to separate them out into 5 or 6 pots and give them extra soil and space. Once I realised how rewarding it was to grow my own herbs I promised never to buy supermarket herbs again…(I’ve relinquished on this on occasion when a whole batch of coriander was needed for a recipe, but as a rule..)  I will start off basil, coriander, parsley and thyme in the coming few weeks. But space is a premium in the propagation station (aka kitchen windowsill) this all needs a careful rotation plan. 

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Sweetpea – from seedling…..
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to 12cm tall in 14 days

Flowers
The first seed (and my favourite) flowers to get sowing in the 3rd week in January were the heady scented Lathyrus odoratus (sweet peas!). This year I’m trialling a couple of varieties; ‘singing the blues’ ‘skylark’ and ‘cupani’ which is one of the oldest heritage varieties found in the wild Italian hedgerows apparently. All will liven up the fence space and walls from May onwards. But I also plan to sow perennial ‘everlasting’ varieties later in the year which should flower next year.

The first week in February I started with some more traditional sowings of summer annuals that are new to me. Sweet Williams should work well as gap fillers in baskets and borders, (to add to my self seeding ones springing up over the winter), likewise the fluffy flowers of ageratum will work well for cutting in borders and I’m trying out Aster duchess for late season colour and height. To add some structure I’m adding some verbena bonariensis for added purple colour and spiky height which should be hardy enough to stay through to autumn. Im also trying out some heliotrope dwarf marine, which is a half hardy perennial and given its nickname as ‘cherry pie’ it’s a scented attractor for bees. Most have set off quite well the ageratum seems to be struggling in the propagators so I’ve given its tray the special treatment (a sealed sandwich bag!)

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Broad beans – reliable germinators

Veg
The broad beans went in pairs into each pot without a cover and all 8 sprouted within a week. In my experience (from last year!) they are the easy wins of the veg plot. I’ve started off a couple of pots of heirloom tomatoes ‘tigerella’ and ‘red pear’ – less is more this year and will concentrate my efforts on quality tomatoes rather than an over abundance! I’ve also started aubergines from seed. It’s a new one for me so I’m looking forward to see how challenging and fruitful they are in containers. In the next few weeks I will start to plan out the veg beds in detail – looking at best places for carrots and parsnips, runner beans and sweetcorn.

Until the weather improves I am only admiring the garden from afar but the daffodils are cheering everything up. It seems like the 2016 season starting off rather well. Long may it continue.