the garden in May



Smelling: lilac

Sowing: runner beans, French beans, carrots, beetroot and salad leaves

Harvesting: asparagus and rhubarb

Watching: parsley and chard go to seed

vegetable garden in May

Some years our vegetable planting is planned in January, seeds are bought in good time and diligently sown in gutters in the greenhouse or in well prepared seed beds in the garden. But some years, there are so many distractions that planning and forethought go out of the window. 2015 is proving to be one of those years.


We sketched out the planting plan on the back of the envelope back in January but the envelope inadvertently disappeared into the recycling bin so everything has been sown a little haphazardly. Then the guinea fowl decided that Bill’s beautifully prepared seedbeds were perfect for dust baths and decimated the newly emerged carrots and beetroot. Words were spoken. Guinea fowl and shooting were mentioned in the same sentence. Netting has since been erected.


under the apple trees

The flower border consists mainly of perennials and self-sown flowers and weeds. I’m not much of a flower gardener and often mistakenly pull out the flower seedlings while nurturing what turns out to be a massive weed. That’s fine if the weed is pretty, but alas they rarely are. Each May is a surprise as the border erupts into colour, while under the apple trees the forget-me-not and cow parsley push through the long grass.

All with very little effort on my part. My sort of gardening.

cow parsley

Simple pleasures for May

1 Take a walk outside.

public bridleway Slamseys Farm, Great Notley


In May, the English countryside is at its best. Everywhere is lush and verdant so that looking across the fields it seems that every shade of green is featured. Cow parsley fills the verges, the birds are singing and some days the sun shines too.

2 Smell the blossom.

apple blossom

The crab apple tree is so smothered in blossom that it looks like a bride on her wedding day but my favourite blossom in the garden is this pink blossom on the apple tree.

3 Visit the seaside.

Slamseys Rose Gin

The seaside out of season is a very different place to the seaside in the middle of summer being less crowded and quieter. And colder. This week, we dragged an Australian teenager to the Essex seaside at Mersea Island and I fear she was less than impressed. The tide was out so the view from the beach hut was of grassy sand, an expanse of mud leading to the water and a decommissioned power station and a wind farm across the estuary. Not quite Forty Baskets Beach. But we still dug holes and made sand castles on the beach, ate fish & chips and took home a pint of the tastiest prawns for supper.

Please excuse the product placement. We took the opportunity to take some photos of Beth’s gin and seem to have taken none of the sea.

4 Make

washing line bowl

Photograph courtesy of Elizabeth at

Make a basket like Elizabeth’s beautiful washing line baskets. At last I’ve found a way of using up all those pesky scraps of fabric that are stuffed into bags. I hoped that one day I’d find a use for the little fabric cords I made last year and finally I’ve found it by using Elizabeth’s technique to make a miniature basket.

miniature basket made with fabric cords

Naturally, the tiny basket is of little more use than the bare cords but I tell myself, it’s all about the process, rather than the finished object. Next on the list is a full sized version using washing line.

5 Spend time with family and friends.

Because, honestly, isn’t that the best pleasure in life?



taking the slow road

West Highland Way, Devils Staircase

We’ve recently taken a little time out to walk The West Highland Way in Scotland. We packed our waterproofs, woolly hats and gloves but the weather was so glorious that we walked in shirt sleeves every day. The route took us ninety-six miles from Milngavie (just north of Glasgow) along the banks of Loch Lomond, across the wilderness of Rannoch Moor, up the Devil’s Staircase and into Fort William at the foot of Ben Nevis.

West Highland Way Glen Nevis

Sometimes the path was broad.

West Highland Way

Sometimes we had to scramble up a few rocks.

West Highland Way Loch Lomond

But wherever we walked, the views were amazing and very different from home. Somehow, walking makes me feel part of the landscape as opposed to driving, when everything flashes by and I feel I’m just watching it.

mossy stones on West Highland Way

It was a great chance to get away from everything; to stretch out on a rock in the sunshine and do nothing at all for ten minutes; to dip toes in the pool at the bottom of a waterfall (very quickly because the water was very cold); to eat enormous breakfasts; to wonder when we’d next see a fresh vegetable on our plates; to slow down and simply enjoy “being”.

And after seven days of walking, we jumped on a train that took just four hours to return us to the start. Suddenly life was back at full speed. Bother.

There are some brief walking notes here, should you be thinking about making this walk.

Lately …

blackthorn blossom behind oilseed rape


Lately, we’ve been out in the fields. I walk the dog, admiring the wildflowers that splash the verges of the fields with colour and the brilliant yellow of the oilseed rape flowers against the white of the blackthorn blossom in the hedgerows, while


tractor and sprayer


Bill rushes around on the tractor. There’s spraying to do, fertiliser to spread (the big bags by the barn contain fertiliser), rabbit fencing to put up …




Recently, we’ve found a different use for rabbits. We have a problem with rabbits on the farm, especially on the corner of the field next to the Country Park where they breed like … rabbits. Normally we give away or eat most of the trapped rabbits, but last weekend they were used for a taxidermy course in The Barley Barn. Unfortunately, I was delegated to kitchen duties but I managed to sneak in to see what was happening. The rabbits were carefully skinned (there was some complicated manoeuvring with the paws that I missed because I was taking the huffers out of the oven) and after a wash and blow dry (there may have been more to it than that, but you can guess where I was) the rabbits were rebuilt and sewn up. I considered serving rabbit for lunch, but one of the course participants was a vegetarian and I wasn’t sure how hygienic some of the dissecting might be, so I gave it a miss.


green leaves from the garden


As the days lengthen and warm, hearty soups and rib sticking puddings aren’t quite as appealing as they were on dark, cold winter days. After months of peeling and chopping root vegetables, it’s good to grab the scissors and wander out to the garden and hedgerows to cut fresh green leaves for salads.


elderflower gin and tonic jellies


Lately, there has been jelly to eat. Slamseys Elderflower Gin & Tonic Jelly to be precise. If you’re interested, you can find the recipe here.


elderflower gin and tonic jelly


If you wanted a non-alcoholic version, you could replace the Elderflower Gin with elderflower cordial and reduce the amount of sugar, but quite honestly, where’s the fun in that?