Through the Willow Arch

Susan Barker, Community Gardens ManagerWelcome to our new 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

Winter January/February 2017

Through the willow arch this winter….. a wonderful range of flowers have brightened up the gardens. With the startling yellow of the Witch Hazel and Mahonia, the white and pink froth of the Viburnum (Viburnum x bodnanatense ‘Dawn’) and Winter flowering cherry, and the pink of the Daphne (Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’), the winter flowering shrubs have fed the winter pollinators and cheered the gardeners. Step in close and the scent is lovely.

Mahonia x media looks stately in the borderWinter flowering cherry
‘Prunus x subhirtella’ hangs delicately over the farmyard
Witch hazel ‘Hamemelis x intermedia’ brightens up the
front garden

The beautiful frosts have been adding sparkle amongst the winter gloom too. There is something reassuring about a good hard frost in these times of uncanny mildness.

Coloured chard leaves glow through the frostFrosty sage in the herb borderFrosted Vibernum flowers ‘Viburnum x bodnanatense Dawn’ look sugar coated

The start of the year is a time for reflection in the garden, for calm after the festive storm. Apart from these valiant flowers the garden has been dormant, resting, tucked away. The skeleton of the garden emerges: the bare bones of the trees, the brittle brown stems are all that remains of the summer’s flowers.

Brittle brown stems are all that remains of the summer’s flowers

Yet even in the depths of winter we’ve been hatching plans for this year’s harvest. The new garden workroom is going up at the far end of the greenhouse: nothing fancy mind, but it will make all the difference for potting on the tomatoes, washing the veg and sorting the fruit for the café. We’re excited about the new café building too (even with the building site trundling on outside the window) with more space for the farm shop for our pickings of everything from cucumbers to jostaberries, rhubarb to runner beans.

The café are still cooking up a feast in their temporary home with plenty of soup (they really do nail the soup!) Jerusalem artichokes and celeriac have come in from the gardens and make an easy soup – do try the recipe below.

Jerusalem artichokes are a very easy-to-grow perennial vegetable that is harvested as a winter root with some tubers re-planted for another crop next year.

Jerusalem Artichoke and Celeriac Soup

1 medium onion, diced

1 small celeriac, about 300g, peeled and diced

450g Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and diced

Half a teaspoon ground coriander

Quarter teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Half a teaspoon sea salt

Black pepper

25g butter

1 tbsp olive oil

1) Heat the butter and oil in a large saucepan. Fry the onion gently for a couple of minutes, then add the spices and other vegetables.

2) Stir-fry these over a medium heat until you start to see the vegetables browning a little and softening.

3) Add one litre of water/stock and bring to the boil

4) Lower the heat and allow this to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender

5) Puree the soup with a blender wand or liquidiser and season to taste. 


Download the recipe (pdf)

Meanwhile back in the gardens we have:

  • restructured the willow arch itself: tying in this year’s growth so that it keeps its shape and provides a green and vibrant entrance to the Community Gardens for another growing season
  • left all the seed heads and flower stalks in the perennial borders to keep our minibeast friends cosy until the spring
  • got a head start sowing our tomatoes in heated propagators in the greenhouse and sowing more sweetpea and pea seeds in pots to get a constant supply through the summer
  • planted five fruit trees to make a small orchard: three apple Beauty of Bath, Worcester Permain and Ashnead’s Kernal as well as two plum Rivers Early Prolific and Victoria. We’re planning more trees in the farmyard too for when the café is finished – cherry and crab apple. This time next year, when the winter is back, those crab apples will be full of berries to brighten up the cold days once more.
Through the willow arch in
the early morning winter sun
Frosty stalks and seed headsCrab apple “Red Sentinal”


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