Through the Willow Arch: Summer

Susan Barker, Community Gardens ManagerWelcome to the third edition of our garden blog “Through the Willow Arch” so called because the willow arch forms the entrance to our lovely community gardens. Regularly through the year I will be using the blog to talk about the plants in our gardens, the food we grow for our café and the tasks we’re working on. I want to celebrate and share this beautiful urban oasis. Hope you enjoy.

Susan Barker, Community Gardens Manager

Summer – May/June 2017

Through the willow arch this summer…. people have been growing: everything from celeriac and broad beans to cuca-melons and chillies are filling up the vegetable plots and polytunnels, in between an abundance of fruit, herbs and flowers. So out in the community gardens it’s all about the harvesting. After the boost of heat recently last autumn’s plantings of garlic and onions are ready to be pulled. Armfuls of “Red Russian” and “Nero de Toscana” kale, along with “Bright Lights” chard and “Chioggia” and “Bolivar” beetroot are heading for the café kitchen and the farm shop. The hot temperatures have also sent the lettuce and salad leaves bolting for the sky so those are being cleared out to go to the chickens and we are re-sowing lettuce, mizuna, mibuna and rocket. There is one patch of bolted lettuce that looks so stunning though that the chickens will have to wait.

Shona, Carl, Jason, Richard and SusanOnions drying
Shona, Carl, Jason, Richard and Susan with some of the harvestOnions drying in the greenhouse
Beth, Annie and ElizabethClare, Mair, David and Craig
Beth, Annie and Elizabeth with freshly picked salad from the gardensClare, Mair, David and Craig, part of the team getting wonderful results in the gardens
Lettuce Biscia Rossa
Lettuce 'Biscia Rossa' with its stunning bolted flower stems

It’s hard to think of a vegetable you can’t make a salad from whether it is a combination of fresh leaves, some warm new potatoes, slices of tomatoes, steamed green beans, grated carrot and courgette or any combination you come up with – they can all be given that extra boost with  some tasty salad dressing. Here’s two we like:

Roasted Tomato Dressing

  • 2 medium or 8 cherry roasted tomatoes
  • 2 cloves roasted garlic (or half a clove of fresh garlic)
  • 100ml sherry vinegar
  • 400ml olive oil
  • half a teaspoon of salt
  • black pepper to taste
  • a pinch of chilli flakes (optional)

Blitz all the ingredients in a jug blender until completely smooth.

Dill Dressing

(dill is easy to grow from seed on a windowsill or patio container)

  • 3 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 medium clove garlic, finely minced
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ½ cup sunflower oil, or other mild flavoured oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill

Whisk together the lemon juice, mustard, honey, garlic, salt and pepper until completely blended.

Add oil in a slow steady stream, whisking continuously until thick and creamy.

Add dill and stir well.

Download the recipes (pdf)

Meanwhile over in a different corner of the gardens, people have been creating a new seating area and planting where mature trees have made it too shady and dry to grow vegetables. A bunch of folks from Earth Champions, The Prince’s Trust and Knowle Day Centre, with volunteers from the farm, have been planting to create a peaceful sitting area for contemplation and reflection. The all-white planting of shade-happy plants will be at the forefront of a view over the gardens

Lee, Adele and Jack cutting turf
Lee, Adele and Jack cutting the turf for the new seating areaTiarella cordifolia - one of the shade-happy plants in the new peace garden
Danny and Jane planting the peace gardenKashif wateringDicentra spectabilis 'Alba'
Danny and Jane starting to plant up the new peace gardenKashif waters in the grass seed under the cherry treeDicentra spectabilis 'Alba'

People working to renovate the old orchard have done wonders. The soil was very poor quality and rubble-filled: the farm-wide legacy of having been a brown-field site. Over the last couple of years it has been mulched high with organic matter from the compost heaps. Now we have three apple trees – Ashmead’s Kernel, Beauty of Bath and Worcester Permain and two plums – Victoria and River’s Early Prolific – interplanted with vegetables and flowers.

Garden placements teamNew kitchen garden
The garden placements team before planting up the new kitchen gardenThe new kitchen garden two months later

Other tasks in the gardens have included…..

  • Squeezing in some extra sowings of beans, cucumbers and squash to add to what we have – if we get lucky with a warm autumn we will see the benefit of this.
  • Supporting our tomatoes and pinching out side shoots and lower leaves so the plant can focus on ripening the fruit.
  • Sieving last autumn’s leaf mould which makes a fantastic addition to our seed compost.
  • Cutting back perennials that have finished flowering to encourage a second flush of growth in late summer.
  • Picking cherries, gooseberries and currants. It has been a fantastic year for cherries – even the wild cherries are good to eat.
  • Keeping our plant stall topped up with veg seedlings, fruit and flowers so you can take a little bit of our gardens home with you.
  • Appreciating all the shady spots in the garden, including the willow arch in all its luxuriant mid-summer glory.

The wonderful gardens at the farms are what they are because of all the people who come and tend them. So thank you so much to all the volunteers who look after the gardens so well. Some of them are pictured here and there are many more who give their time and energy every week to create such a haven. The gardens would not be so beautiful without you all.

Watering the greenhouse and plant stallCherries ripening in the sunWheelbarrow of flowers by the willow arch
Watering in the greenhouse and plant stallCherries ripening in the gardens. You know they're ripe when the birds eat them all so we pick them a little early!The willow arch in full throttle


If you would like to view larger versions of the photos featured in this blog, please click on a thumbnail below: