Sunshine, seeds, and a smack in the face

Saturday 4th March – a morning of bright sunshine and brief, sharp showers lured me and MrOG into the garden this morning. Lots of garden prep to do, tidying and shaping.

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Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’

We raised the crown of an old photinia so that it now just skims the top of the fence. It’s about 14 feet tall (who knew they could get so big?) and I’ve been trying to do a kind of Portuguese laurel thing with it – you know, shaping it into a dome with a flat bottom and the trunk exposed. It’s looking ok, though I say it myself. This week it has started to get its spring buds – a promise of beautiful rich red against the shiny evergreen leaves.

 

We also finished clearing the space where I plan to put the raised veg beds. Several plants have been moved – a Euonymus, a Buddleia, a ground cover rose, two or three Hebe, a surprise rhubarb, and a horrible Kerria that I keep meaning to throw out (now’s the chance!).

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The veg bed space, cleared and waiting to be levelled.

It’s a good, big space considering the overall size of the garden and will get all the late morning and afternoon sun so I’m hoping the veg will do well there. It needs levelling though and we couldn’t do that this morning – moving and temporarily potting up the shrubs was plenty of work for two ageing gardeners! Little and often is the best way. I also found two opportunist verbena bonariensis seedlings so they’ve gone into small pots and will be dotted in the borders later on. They are great for providing a bit of height and they have a lovely branching-stemmed, open habit so they don’t block your view of other plants. I think it’s hard to have too many of these.

You’ll see on the left of that patch there is a fig attached to the fence. I made the stupid mistake of thinking it would be ok without restricting it’s roots. It grows feet in a season, it does have fruit but they don’t really have enough time to ripen, and it’s taking over. Another day it will have to come out and go into a big pot. To be honest I think it will do better and at least it will be easier to control!

Monday 6th March – classic gardening accident today. I trod on the rake and it smacked me straight in the face. Ouch! Gave me such a shock I burst into tears! Luckily no lasting damage and no bruise. Spent the rest of the day feeling very sorry for myself.

Wednesday 7th March – fence painting. Well, MrOG has been fence painting, and there’s a lot of fence. We’ve gone for black to give a good background for the plants and the bit that’s already finished is looking pretty good. Saw the first bumblebee in the garden today too – a queen white-tail. It was making the most of a few flowers on the Berberis.

Thursday 8th March – a lovely sunny day with real warmth in the sun. Sat in the summer house for a while dreaming about how the garden will look later in the year. Sowed the first seeds: tomato, kale, purple sprouting broccoli, celery and peas. They’ll be indoors on a sunny window sill for now. Also sowed some Echinacea and dwarf Cosmos. The season’s started.

The Optimistic Gardener

 

June’s Special Baked Spuds

A quick food tip on the blog this week. Back to the garden after Christmas!

The Optimistic Gardener

I posted a picture of what I call ‘Special Baked Potatoes’ on my Twitter timeline today. They’re cheesy and fluffy and make great quick meals with cold meat, turkey curry/ragout/chilli/ over the holidays. I make them the week before Christmas and keep lots in the freezer so there’s always something for unexpected visitors who stay to eat, or for me when I’m too stuffed with chocolate to want to cook a meal. Made the first batch of eight today, eight more tomorrow. Lots of you asked about them, so here’s how I make them.

You need as many large baking potatoes as you think you might need and you can reasonably fit in your freezer. I do a minimum of sixteen. I also do them in batches of eight  otherwise there’s just too many to cope with in one go. For each batch of eight you’ll need butter, grated mature…

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June’s Special Baked Spuds

I posted a picture of what I call ‘Special Baked Potatoes’ on my Twitter timeline today. They’re cheesy and fluffy and make great quick meals with cold meat, turkey curry/ragout/chilli/ over the holidays. I make them the week before Christmas and keep lots in the freezer so there’s always something for unexpected visitors who stay to eat, or for me when I’m too stuffed with chocolate to want to cook a meal. Made the first batch of eight today, eight more tomorrow. Lots of you asked about them, so here’s how I make them.

You need as many large baking potatoes as you think you might need and you can reasonably fit in your freezer. I do a minimum of sixteen. I also do them in batches of eight  otherwise there’s just too many to cope with in one go. For each batch of eight you’ll need butter, grated mature cheddar cheese, and a minimum of two egg yolks – you can add one more if you want but be careful not to make your mix too moist. Salt and pepper to season. I also use an electric mixer and have a wire cooling rack handy.

Bake the potatoes in the oven as usual, 170 deg C (fan oven) for an hour and a half should do it. I also prick them with a fork before they go in – it’s a pain if you get exploded potato all over the inside of the oven. If you like softer skins you can rub them with a little vegetable oil, but I prefer the skins crispy.

As soon as they are cool enough to handle ( and I mean only just cool enough to handle), slice them in half, keeping the halves in pairs, if you see what I mean. Carefully scoop out the cooked potato from the jackets straight into the mixing bowl. Take care not to damage the empty shells, placing them in their pairs onto the cooling rack. Add as much butter as it takes to make not-too-moist mash, and mix until it’s fairly smooth. I use the food mixer for this because it’s quick and easy. Next add the grated cheese – I use the ready grated packs from the supermarket (about 280g per pack) and mix in one whole pack; taste and add a bit more if it’s not cheesy enough for you. Then add the two egg yolks, mixing all the time. Add plenty of salt and black pepper to taste. The mixture should still be warm so all the ingredients will combine easily. At this stage if you want to add other flavouring, you can. I sometimes add chopped chives, or a pinch of mixed herbs.

Now transfer the mixture back into the empty potato jackets. Tidy them up, maybe fork over the tops, just make sure each one is nice and full. Let them cool and when they are cold open freeze them for about two hours, or until they are firm to touch. I clear the top drawer in my freezer and freeze them open on a baking tray. Once they are firm, put each half back with its pair and pack them into freezer bags. I pack them in twos – one potato each for me and Mr Optimistic Garden. Once they’re in the freezer bags you can pack them into the freezer wherever you have a space.

When you want to use them, heat the oven to 170 deg C, place each half potato-side up on a pre-heated baking tray and cook for about 25mins or until they look cooked through and the potato is beginning to brown at the edges. You’ll soon get the hang of how long they need, depending on the size of the spud. I cook them from frozen, but you can defrost them a little first if you want to. (If you have frozen them with the open sides together then you may need to defrost them a little to get them apart!!) Serve them piping hot with whatever you want. The double cooking makes the skins really crispy, which I love. They are really great for over the holidays, I do them every Christmas – June’s Special Bakers are something of a tradition!  img_0110

Hope you enjoy them!

This gardening life

Welcome to my blog. It’s about my garden. And my plans for it. I’ve worked full-time without a break for 44 years. I’ve loved my career and the life it has given me but it’s time to do the things I want to do, when I want to do them and how I want to do them. In December I stop working for someone else and start a different sort of life. A gardening life.

I live on a modern housing estate. It’s no rural idyll but it has a larger than average garden for an estate – maybe 35 feet deep by 90 feet wide. It’s fenced all around and faces south opposite the house. It has typical housing estate soil – poor, hardly any of it, and heavy clay – but I’ve managed to keep a lawn and a border with shrubs and herbaceous perennials. Over the years I’ve grown a few vegetables, but they need time and I didn’t have it. There’s a very badly laid patio near the house and on the east side it slopes away into a nice little frost pocket. But I love it. And now I’m going to turn it into paradise.

It’s going to be pretty and productive. I’ve got plans. If you’d like to join me in creating my little patch of paradise – drop in on the blog!

The optimistic gardener