Reclaiming Paradise awards 2018

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As the old year rolls on and we venture into 2019, it’s award season at Reclaiming Paradise. In a year of weather extremes and personal complications, we celebrate all that is great, good or frankly unsuccessful in my garden and allotment. This year I  cracked a bone in my arm, helped my mother move house, acquired a second cat and was overcome with day job commitments. But the garden, the allotment and the blog bring me joy, and the Reclaiming Paradise awards help me to celebrate that with you. Here are the award categories:

Most impressive garden developments; Most unlikely collection of sporting equipment found in a hedge; Most extreme weather; Most successful vegetables; Most unsuccessful vegetables; Most promising, but ultimately disappointing, fruit; Most unsuccessful recipe; Best use of garden produce; Most colourful vegetable;  Most awe-inspiring wildlife; Best cats.

Scroll down to find the winners:

Most impressive garden developments

This was the year that I finally got round to having the conifers and the giant sycamore removed from the garden. This was done, not by me, but by professional tree surgeons and a professional stump remover. It was expensive but necessary. The space left behind enabled me to have a go at creating a garden bench and several raised beds:

of which the bench was fun at best and hopeless at worst while the raised beds produced bumper cucumber and tomato crops. I still have plans to do more with the space left by the conifers but they were thwarted by the broken bone and other commitments.

The winner in this category, however, is the allotment, for which I got a key in February, moved my wellies and gardening gloves into the shed, observed flooding in April, found a use for my 25 year old hoe and entered a bumper crop of vegetables into the allotment show, winning a few prizes but it was the growing that mattered, not the winning:

Most unlikely collection of sporting equipment found in a hedge

This award goes to the footballs and other useful items which emerged during the giant conifer hedge removal:

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Most extreme weather

For 2018 we must reinstate the most extreme weather award, with the Beast from the East providing Bella with many photo opportunities:

and an unexpected use for a cow shaped boot scraper as a ‘cowometer’ to allow me to see the increasing depth of snow on the pond:

The impressive snow was followed by equally impressive ice on the pond in early April:

Most successful vegetables

Reclaiming Paradise is all about growing vegetables. As always there were several contenders, including courgettes and marrows:

which were very impressive, even though not enough to win any prizes at the allotment show. The peas were beautiful and very productive both in the garden and the allotment:

but they will qualify for another award, as we will see.

The amazingly hot summer certainly helped the cucumbers to flourish in their newly built raised bed/cucumber frame:

But the outright winners have to be the tomatoes:

which started slowly but then flourished in the hot sun and continued into November. They provided enough surplus to make soup which we were still enjoying in December.

Most unsuccessful vegetables

You may be beginning to believe that my fingers are so green that everything flourishes in my garden. Not so. My biggest disappointments this year were the onions, which I sowed in newspaper tubes in early spring and transported to the allotment:

They succumbed to the drought. A few of them made it but most did not. These, I admit, were meant to be autumn sown and I was taking a chance with them. We were compensated by a very successful crop of ordinary spring sown onions in the bed beside them. I learned something about how not to sow onions.

Most promising, but ultimately disappointing, fruit

The fig tree produced some fruit for the first time ever:

WP_20180804_09_42_56_Pro[1]I suppose I knew they would never get any bigger than peas but a gardener is ever hopeful. A close contender for this award was the cherry, of which there was only one, and it got snaffled by a passing bird between this photograph and going back to pick it:

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Most unsuccessful recipe

While dwelling on the year’s failures, I think the rhubarb curry was probably the least successful of my cooking experiments. On the other hand, the rhubarb did win a prize at the allotment show, and was very successful in cakes, crumbles and jam:

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Best use of garden produce

The summer gluts nearly overwhelmed us but we were assisted by visiting musicians, who moved in for the summer and helped to cook and eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. We made cakes and stews, soups, jam, chutney, pickle:

We made a wonderful Christmas Day smoothie, lemon curd (although not from the garden), a very successful summer pudding:

but the winner, out of these many, has to be the musicians’ giant stuffed marrow, so huge that it overflowed the serving dish and had to go in the oven at an angle :

giant marrow

Most colourful vegetables

The Reclaiming Paradise awards always include a most colourful vegetable prize. The purple radishes again produced lovely flowers but no radishes and the Swiss chard continued to provide rainbows:

For the third year running, however, the award goes to the peas:

with which I am now so besotted that I have saved the seed of the salmon pink and may need to venture into other varieties as well next year.

Most awe-inspiring wildlife

The annual awards cannot pass without an award for wildlife in the garden and allotment. This year we have outright winners. As well as the bees, robins, snails, foxes, ladybirds and other creatures, we had a multitude of frogs, congregating in the pond during the heatwave:

and bringing us joy.

Best cats

Finally, 2018 brought a second cat into the garden. Chelsea helped to build a pond in my mother’s garden but then moved in with us, leaving the pond to new owners and new cats. I won’t let her and Bella compete for this award as they have enough to fight about already. So the best cats award goes to them both for being awesome and in the hope that they will learn to share in 2019:

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So that’s the awards for this year. Much has been missed off but it is nice to look back and see what has happened in the garden and allotment over the year. Happy and productive gardening and best wishes for peace and happiness to all my followers for 2019.

Solstice soup

Today’s the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year but the one where we can start looking again for light and the promise of spring. It’s rained for most of the day but I went into the garden in the rain and hauled out masses of overgrown stuff from round the pond. The frogs like the overgrown weeds but I know that there are spring bulbs underneath it all and so worth hauling some of it out. It felt quite therapeutic.  I was called away from this task by a horde of musicians who have returned to take over the back room, having not quite finished the recording they started in the summer – for more on the musicians see here. The musicians are lovely, but hungry. We raided the freezer and found soup, made when the summer vegetables were in full production. Here is the courgette and pea (and are there any marrows in this? – well maybe). It doesn’t look very green in this photo but that’s because I photographed the steam.

20181221_130010[1]The courgette and pea was consumed rather quickly and then more musicians appeared so we had to unearth a tomato soup from the freezer as well, this one looking a little more festive:

20181221_131155[1]There are still no festive decorations up here at Reclaiming Paradise but a house full of young people eating their way through the summer’s vegetables feels like a good way to celebrate the Solstice.

November sunshine

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Earlier this year I had some monstrous conifers removed from the back of the garden – here in mid-removal:

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Behind them the privet hedge is  recovering slowly but surely. This photo is from June:

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I had this idea that I would make a place to sit in the sun as this is the sunniest part of the garden but that plan was foiled somewhat by three things: the arm injury in early July (now almost fully recovered); life and work being even busier than usual and the amazing tomato and cucumber harvest in what I planned to be temporary new raised beds where the conifers used to be:

These beds have produced the most bountiful tomato and cucumber harvest that I have ever had (helped of course by the hot summer) but still:

So I’m tempted to the leave the raised beds where they are to catch the sun at its height. Today I went out to the garden to clear the beds and cover them with cardboard (to keep the multiplying cats off) and think about what to do with the space. I was struck by the beauty of the oak tree in the corner:

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It has been there, growing slowly, for about five years, after several years in a pot. It is my millennium oak, grown from an acorn collected by two very small boys in 2000 – you’ll find that story here 

Today I sat on a garden chair, bathed in the oak tree’s autumn glory, and remembered that the real value of this part of the garden is that the sun reaches it in November.

Another bouquet of vegetables

I had a mad dash into the garden today to harvest the last of the tomatoes before tonight’s threatened dive into zero temperatures:

WP_20181026_12_31_08_ProThis is the last of an incredible tomato harvest this year and these are lovely fat juicy San Marzano plum tomatoes which will probably now ripen indoors.  The tomato bed still has a couple of rather beautiful rainbow chard plants and some nasturtiums, which I hope will survive the deep freeze:

It was another dash into the garden as I’m still busy with my mother’s house move. So all the overgrown weedy stuff will just have to stay where it is, overgrowing happily. My mother is staying with us for a few days over the moving period and I thought it would be nice to put some flowers in her room to cheer the process. I’m not a great flower grower, and certainly not a flower arranger, but there were some lovely sweet peas, and I added some radish flowers for extra zing:

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Yet another apple cake recipe

Thanks to the tomato, apple and courgettes gluts, there have been mutterings lately about ‘too many vegetables’ and that ‘vegetables with vegetables and vegetable sauce is not a proper meal’  at Reclaiming Paradise. So, when it came to making a start on the annual birthday cake marathon (everyone here except me has birthdays in October), I had to think of a way of making a cake that would help to use up the glut without being too obvious.  The result was Chocolate Apple Cake*:

WP_20181014_13_00_43_Pro[1](Pictured, partly hogged, complete with some birthday music)

Chocolate Apple Cake

*recipe based on one from Ruth Ward (1988) A Harvest of Apples

  • 450g apples
  • 50g raisins
  • 50g dates or apricots or similar dried fruit
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/tsp mixed spice
  • 1/tsp ground nutmeg
  • 225 g plain flour
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 2tsbp cocoa powder
  • 350g sugar
  • 100g butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 50g chopped walnuts
  1. Peel and chop the apples
  2. Add the spices, and the dried fruit.
  3. Stew in a little water until soft
  4. Mash up with a wooden spoon
  5. Add the butter and mix until melted
  6. Leave to cool slightly
  7. Mix in the flour, cocoa and sugar
  8. Add the beaten eggs
  9. Beat the whole mixture for a couple of minutes
  10. Add the walnuts
  11. Pour into a large greased and lined cake tin
  12. Bake for 50-60 minutes at 180c

To make the chocolate fudge icing

  • 50g butter
  • 150g icing sugar
  • 1tbsp cocoa powder
  1. Melt the butter in a small pan
  2. Add the icing sugar and cocoa powder
  3. Mix well together until smooth
  4. Add a little water to thin and mix well
  5. Spread over the cake

The cake went down well and has just had an additional endorsement from my brother, who dropped in for coffee and insisted on having two pieces. Praise indeed and it used up a few apples – only about two hundred left to go.

I didn’t feel brave enough to put tomatoes in the cake so am contemplating other possible uses. We have had a lot of tomato soup, tomato sauce and tomatoes, with tomatoes and tomatoes (not a proper meal) lately. The freezer is now full so I need to come up with more old fashioned methods of preserving them. As a birthday outing we had a little trip to Dundee. (To do this properly, I should have made Dundee cake but that wouldn’t have used up any of the gluts). We had planned to go to the new V and A exhibition but it was absolutely crammed with visitors intent on learning about design, or possibly just sheltering from the teeming rain. We avoided the crowds and went instead to visit Captain Scott’s ship Discovery, next door. We had been many times when our small people were small and we were happy to have another look. The rain continued to teem, giving the ship a certain maritime authenticity.  I noticed, as we went round the ship, that they took ‘preserved tomatoes’ with them to the Antarctic – I have just noticed that these boxes say preserved potatoes but they did have preserved tomatoes too:

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I may need to check how they did their preserving back in 1901.

 

Tomato rainbow

This year’s tomatoes have probably been the best ever:

WP_20180608_17_20_16_ProHere’s how they looked just planted out in June in their shiny new raised bed 

Since then, what with all the hot weather in the early summer, they have grown massive and have long since caused the canes to collapse:

We’ve had a few red ones but there are now hundreds of fat, juicy green tomatoes, threatening to not ripen before it gets too cold.

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Last night the temperature dropped below 3 degrees – now that is already too cold for tomatoes. They seem to have survived that dip but today I needed to take some drastic action.  I made a big batch of green tomato marmalade – recipe here

WP_20180923_22_50_41_Proand some fresh tomato soup:

WP_20180923_21_36_48_ProBut there are hundreds of tomatoes left – I’ve put some on trays to ripen inside and I’ll race out to get some more tomorrow

In the mean time, we are experimenting with actually cooking with green tomatoes. Along with the fresh tomato soup, we had some green tomato salsa, which was rather good. Last week we tried roasted green tomatoes. One year we tried green tomato mincemeat – it did not go down well with the wider family.  I saw a recipe for green tomato cake and suspect it would be met with similar suspicion. So, mainly, I’m hoping that the tomatoes will ripen on the trays and we can use most of the rest in soup and pasta sauce.  Even if they don’t all ripen, it’s been a wonderful tomato year and I’m already planning what to sow next year. The lovely stripy ones are Tigerella and the long Italian ones are San Marzano.  I think I’ll go for Tigerella again as they are so beautiful. Here’s a close up so that you can seetigerella.jpg

..it’s not just winning, it’s about taking part

..really.  It was the allotment annual show on Saturday.  I thought I’d better enter some of our plentiful produce, although I wasn’t expecting any prizes.  I entered:

courgettes and runner beans, apples and rhubarb, raspberries, some not quite ripe yet tomatoes and a big vase of flowers. I knew the rules were all about perfection and submitting identical specimens. I had checked with the organisers whether unripe tomatoes would count – they said ‘no’ but thought I’d try anyway.  We could have entered our monstrous marrow, if only it hadn’t been carved, stuffed and eaten by musicians a few weeks ago, or possibly some of the stunning peas, but they have all gone now

 

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It was all about joining in though, so I did my best with what we had. I was delighted that we won three prizes!

My first ever allotment prizes.  I was a little chuffed. Then I brought all the vegetables that hadn’t won any prizes home and the musicians turned them into an allotment feast:

WP_20180915_13_02_23_ProIt was a very satisfying day.  Really it was about taking part but we will be proud to have those rosettes adorning our shed until next year.

 

Home

Back home from a little break involving much walking and talking and eating lovely things in the far north of Norway.  There wasn’t much gardening to be done but there was lovely scenery and good company. Northern Norway has the northenmost botanic garden in the world and it had some lovely things in flower in September

wp_20180906_19_15_46_pro.jpgI forgot to note down their names but I liked the colours.  We also had a couple of days in Oslo and spotted this unusual creature:

An important reminder to protect our natural world.  It was quite a short trip but now we are home and the garden is abundant.  The musicians have been looking after things at home, making serious inroads into the plum glut.  I felt a need to make some emergency plum jam to use up some more. This is ‘whole plum jam’, one of the easiest jam recipes:

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Whole Plum Jam

  • 2 kg plums
  • 2kg sugar
  • glug of green ginger wine
  1. Wash the plums, cut in half and remove most of the stones – you can leave a few in
  2. Place the plums and the sugar in layers in a large bowl and leave overnight or for a few hours
  3. Tip everything into a large pan (it needs to be very large for this quantity)
  4. Add the glug of green ginger
  5. Heat slowly until all the sugar dissolves
  6. Boil until setting point is reached
  7. Remove any scum that forms
  8. Any stones that you left in will eventually float to the top – remove these. Some stones may remain but that doesn’t matter so long as you warn anybody about to eat the jam!
  9. Pot up into warmed, sterilised jars – makes about 6-7 jarsWP_20180914_20_33_52_Pro

As well as eating plums and creating beautiful music, the musicians have been playing football in the garden (our neighbour noted that ‘they are much better at music than football’ ) and being quite careful with my precious vegetables, though ‘there may have been one or two ‘windfall’ tomatoes’:

WP_20180914_20_31_33_ProThe tomatoes are doing extremely well.  There have been a few ripe ones as well as all these ‘windfalls’ and I’m still hopeful that a few more will ripen before the frosts hit. Now I just need to get along to the allotment to see how it has fared in my absence.

Fig

I have a fig tree in a pot, given to us for our silver wedding by a much loved and much missed cousin. Every year I worry that the winter will finish it off, but every year it has survived:

WP_20180804_12_13_47_Pro[1]It even made it through the snow this year, when we had more snow than I can ever remember in Edinburgh. I think it may be the twiggy things you can see in this picture:

WP_20180301_07_48_59_Pro.jpgBut this summer, what with heatwaves and such, it has not only survived but is producing actual figs:

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How exciting is that? I’m not holding out for a fig glut, but you never know.

Meanwhile we had our first ripe tomato for tea last night:

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We ate it with some chopped garden cucumbers and a little salt and vinegar, to accompany a Friday night Indian takeaway.

We should really be working our way through the courgette and broad bean glut but last night we were all too tired. Today I’ve just harvested the last of the broad beans from last autumn’s cardboard experiment and will do something improving with them:

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Here’s how they looked in the autumn, planted through the smiley cardboard, and in the spring after all that snow:

Hard to believe but the changing seasons and the surprising survivals are what makes it all worth it.

Frog update

There were a few drops of rain today and the frogs came out to play

I counted ten at one point – that’s the most I’ve seen at one time. They range from enormous

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to very tiny

 

WP_20180715_16_21_42_Prosometimes they come in pairs:

WP_20180715_15_50_31_Proand this one was worshipping the great frog goddess:

Frog goddessI could watch them all day.  Meanwhile, in other garden news, we’ve had a little rain and the peas, broad beans, raspberries and strawberries are abundant. This is fairly normal for early July. What is much more unusual is that tomatoes are fully formed:

WP_20180715_16_38_37_Prooutside, and showing tinges of yellow. We also have our first baby marrow:

WP_20180715_16_38_56_ProI’m still doing everything somewhat one-handed but, mostly, the garden is looking after itself.