May in the kitchen garden

I love May. I love its greenness, vivid and enchanting, and I love the way things are growing practically as you watch them. The force of new life is fountaining up in fronds of fennel and lovage climbing to the sky in the herb garden. In two or three days both are putting on inches, the fennel all feather and frond, the lovage deeply cut and sculptural. All the trees but the walnut are in leaf. The framework of the big oaks in the field below the kitchen garden is disappearing now into the blur of new green and the finely cut foliage of the ashes bursts out of the dark and stumpy buds, unexpectedly delicate.

In the garden it is impossible to keep up. In winter the city lures with its lighted streets and coffee shops. Then the view from the window is of relentless rain and going for wood for the fire requires a fleece, a waterproof and a pair of rigger boots. In spring and summer I can hardly bear to go. I got up early this morning to have an hour or so in the greenhouse, potting up dianthus and butternut squash, inspecting the French beans now easily big enough to go out with a cloche close by in case of late frost.

Then I wander around the kitchen garden. The early potatoes, Winston, are bulking up fast and at the other end of the bed the delicate frill of carrots stands in the stillness. A line of parsnips sown about a month ago is obstinately failing to germinate. Perhaps it has been too dry. I have beetroot and turnips growing in lengths of guttering in the greenhouse ready to go out too and lots of tiny celeriac plants given to me by a friend which I need to separate and grow on a bit before they go into the ground. The combination of poor soil, even though hugely fed with well rotted manure, cold winds and foraging chickens means that things do better if started off under glass and moved outside when they are big enough to fend for themselves, even things that traditionally are sown straight into the soil.

The next raised bed is ready for courgettes and squash. They too are in the greenhouse, muscling up by the day. The bed is deeply manured and lies waiting, like a newly made hotel bed with the covers turned down, chocolate on the pillow, ready for its occupants.

Up another level and the garlic and shallots are sprouting in their neat lines. The red onions too are just starting to show and here and there shoots of bindweed are sneakily twining and twirling. The whole bed needs hand weeding before it takes hold. It is this garden’s most pernicious weed, leaving me tolerating nettles, trying to ignore dandelions and drawing the line at thistles. There is a whole day’s weeding to be done just here in the kitchen garden, never mind out in the field or on the bank by the quince tree. Both of these have had hours of my time but will have to wait their turn when I come back. The kitchen garden needs it most.

Just outside the greenhouse is the bed for peas and beans with broad beans, mangetout and Hurst Greenshaft peas, each with one row transplanted from the greenhouse and a second sown into the soil as an attempt at the Holy Grail of vegetable growing, succession sowing. There are lines of rocket romping away too and a trough with a stir fry mix which is supposed to be harvestable within twenty one days of sowing already showing a fine fuzz of green.

An empty bed, not yet ready for planting in, is waiting for broccoli and curly kale and some leaf spinach which is only just now showing shyly in the guttering bed. And everywhere the fruit is getting ready to perform. The strawberry bed is full of flowers and the apple trees are so thickly covered in blossom it is easy to forget that their crop is hard and sour, good for jellies but not for eating from the tree. There are early signs of a huge gooseberry crop and of redcurrants by the bucket load. The blackcurrants are too young to crop this year and the raspberries are not yet in flower but the rhubarb bed which we supplemented with additional crowns last year is full to overflowing with pale pink stalks under the arching umbrella leaves.

I turn my back on everything reluctantly. I need to pack my bag and shower and put on my city clothes. The cats are sunning themselves on the cobbles and the swallows are swooping in and out of the big pigsty. As I drive away down the hill I try to persuade myself that the needing to leave is part of what keeps my love for the place so keen, like a love affair rather than the steady beat of a marriage, but I am not sure I really believe it.

Comments

  1. Oh wow - I can't believe you planted all those - even trying to think about what to plant sends me into a panic. But I can get a sense of the fulfillment it brings you and the calmness and happiness and how difficult it must be to leave . . . then again teh memory of it waiting for you when you return will help to get you through each day until one day you won't have to leave anymore.

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  2. That is just so beautifully expressed!

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  3. I just love Spring/Summer in the garden. Everything looks so green and fresh, and plants grow as you watch them almost. I'v efianlly put out all my tender little plants raised from seed, the Tomatoes are growing well, potatoes are like yours needing to be earthed up......and so it goes on!

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  4. I can almost see it can you hear the mower going here in Suffolk?
    I should be working rather than perusing for next week I'll be weeding every night and so on through the summer - but at least I can go out and do it when the weather is so lovely and the evening so balmy...

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  5. Your garden sounds so beautiful, Elizabeth. I am trying to start a garden, but just end up getting in a panic about it all.

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  6. I'm with WW. I've invested in some cheating things from the garden centre and am now waylaid battling with weeds (our faves are brambles, nettles, buttercups and silly little pointless ones, and couch grass) and it's all rather daunting. But not as daunting as yours. Your enthusiasm is shaming. Feel lazy. Promise self that TOMORROW I will shift *rse.

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  7. blogger ate my comment!

    Gorgeously put, I can't wait to see it all, will bring three lupin seedlings for you that I have managed to grow, only 3/12 came up.

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  8. Oh that was bliss, pure and utter bliss elizabeth. You have put into words exactly how I feel about May and gardening - the vibrancy of fresh shoots, the speed with which it all moves forward and so much more. Oh I'm going for another read before I head for bed to dream of the allotment (sweetcorn is up, spinach planted, purple broccolli and brussels are out - ahh, I love it!) Thank you!!! xxx

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  9. If you saw the weeds milla (I am teaching myself to turn a blind eye) you would be less impressed. And kitty I am so looking forward to your coming but a bit terrified that you will be disappointed. There are dandelions all over the place and it is not in any way immaculate. Let's hope the sun shines and I can distract you with the view

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  10. Wonderful gardening blog. Such dedication, patience. I'll borrow your tip about growing things in lengths of guttering though. In he greenhouse that is; on the house roof things grow unaided.

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  11. I love the sound of what you do and your obvious enjoyment of it but I'm speechless at all the work you've put in. I think May is the most glorious month too - the hedgerows around here are ravishing at the moment.

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  12. Wow - that was so exuberant and exhilarating - I was caught up in the gallop of growth. I go out in the morning and breathe in the freshness and count seedling.

    Look forward to a peep next week.

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  13. I know exactly how you feel. When I'm in the garden on a sunny day in May or June, I have no desire to be anywhere else. I find it increasingly hard to go to cities. Have not been back to London in over a year now. Maybe one day...

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  14. it's true, it is the leaving that keeps the passion alive! you're right! But with it comes sadness, because you want to spend so much more time there, and you never feel you have enough.

    what a clever analogy.

    Pigx

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  15. I can empathise entirely. When I left the same morning as you the chickens were trying to beguile me into staying to fetch lettuce for them. Now it's Friday afternoon and I'm just about to pack up everything and catch the train north, but I've been seriously yearning to be out of London and in the country since yesterday.

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  16. You are so organised, I've got some planting done, but am still faced with a lot of work to catch up to you. I love May too, always optimistic about what great things I'm going to do in the garden, to find in September I did none!!!

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  17. Another May lover here....I'm sure I can HEAR things growing at the moment...dont know how you can bear to leave it....

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  18. Beautiful blog, Elizabeth - and the one before, too, with the photos of your greenhouse and the tulips. You've been so busy with the planting - I can only imagine how difficult it must be to leave it all. I'll be interested to read about the difference a greenhouse makes to your ultimate harvest.

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  19. I read this and felt slightly guilty, but I know you will understand.

    Hopefully we can meet up before the year is out.

    xx

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