Preparing Preston Circus planters for winter

PCP 16.11.13 2 PCP 16.11.13 3 PCP 16.11.13

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Shaftesbury Place tree down

CIMG4365Just got the photos from Phillipa of the Rowan tree which came down in the high winds two weeks ago.

CIMG4367We’ve been wondering why it came down. It was clear by the end of the summer that it was sickly in some way. The leaves went brown and shrivelled well before its twin on the opposite side of the station. I wondered whether it had suffered in this summer’s drought: the right side gets the full heat of the midday sun. But the tree didn’t uproot: the base seems to have snapped. It’s difficult to tell from the photos what was wrong, but we’re sad it’s gone.

Tree down and bike

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November seedlings

Basil seedlings 11.13I wasn’t expecting to be potting up seedlings in November but the basil, parsley and lettuce seeds we planted in August are growing strongly in the greenhouse. Along with the basil, we have some spiky leaved plants: did we get oriental mustard mixed in with our basil seed?

I potted up the basil this afternoon and have brought the seedlings indoors. By 3.30, as the sun fell behind the roofs, the temperature was dropping sharply. In the greenhouse, it was 12C; outside, it felt as if we could well have the first overnight frost of the autumn .

I’m hoping inside on a sunny south-facing windowsill, the basil seedlings will grow steadily until light and warmth pick up in the spring. We still have the lettuce and flat-leaf parsley to deal with. Lettuce and parsely 11.13I’ve covered them with fleece and propagator lids in the cold greenhouse. It’s a juggling act at the moment: with the door and roof lights closed, the seedlings and cuttings risk dampening off and mildew. If we keep the door and lights open, the risk is from the cold, the wind and that old familiar pest, the squirrels.

Squirrels just love to have fun. They are the merry delinquents of the urban animal world. They run around daubing everything in graffiti and chucking their fag ends and lager cans over their shoulders: digging up cuttings, upturning pots, scratching up the compost, sinking their teeth into uprooted bulbs, which they then discard, hanging upside down from the roof lights in the greenhouse. Yes, even with the door closed, they still get in.

They’ve clawed up several of the geranium cuttings and the alchemila mollis plantlets. I’m growing resigned to their damage, though I still shout at them like a banshee. We’ve still got a good stock of pinks, rosemary and hanging geraniums – the cuttings we made at the end of August have rooted and are growing on: it’s a magical process.

Cuttings 11.13 Pinks geraniums verbena b cuttings 11.13

We’ve also got three lavender cuttings which have rooted well and quite a few red/bronze heuchera. There are also around 20 verbena bonariensis – small self-seeded plants I dug up and potted on at the end of the summer – which will be great for the Preston Circus planters, along with the propagated pinks, geraniums and sedums. Unfortunately, they’ve picked up mildew – they always do – so I’ve sprayed with an organic fungicide.

I think we might manage a gardening session on Tuesday. No rain is forecast but the temperature will barely be 10C for the afternoon, falling potentially to 3C overnight. Feels like it’s time to put the heating (and the kettle) on in the conservatory and do some potting up inside. We need to get the lettuce and parsely into our large window boxes; they should be OK overwintering in the greenhouse. And with luck, we’ll have a good supply next season of the herbs which proved most popular in our public herb planters: parsley and basil.

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Bulbs before the storm

As part of the RHS’s Wild Gardens week, we’ve planted around 400  crocus bulbs in the shady triangle.

Bulb planting p di 10.13 Bulb planting eb di 10.13Unfortunately, Wild Gardens week at the end of October was, well, wild with exceptionally strong winds. We did our planting on Friday 25th October. Already the winds were starting and the heavy showers threatening. It was hard to do much more than just get as many of the crocus bulbs, donated by the RHS to community gardens, planted as quickly as possible before the rain started again.

By Monday, gale-force winds were battering Brighton. Trains were cancelled and in our patch, one of the Rowan trees in front of the station building was blown down. We had been going to plant crocuses around that tree pit, but hadn’t been able to fit that in on Friday before it got dark. Just as well ….

We were also going to try to install a bird box as part of Wild Gardens week, but again given the subsequent high winds, it’s probably good we didn’t. However, Tuesday’s forecast looks reasonable, so maybe 5th November is a good time to get out and take stock, as we start to close the gardens down for the winter.

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Our third harvest supper

LRSP Harvest supper 2013




We’ve just celebrated the end of our third growing season with our annual harvest supper: this year, the menu was onion soup, three leaf-four cheese lasagne, herby cassoulet, spinach-leaf salad, apple and pear crumble, and Irish cheeses complemented by figs, Ditchling Rise grapes and the last Tinsley Quince apple from this year’s harvest.

The harvest had actually come much earlier this year so our tomatoes, beans and courgettes were finished in early September, our lettuces had bolted and the cabbage whites had got to several of our cavalo nero plants. Raspberries were harvested mid-September and made into Angie’s rich chocolate and raspberry brownies for Big Dig Day. Our onions and garlic were lifted back in June to make way for other crops, but they have been stored ready for our onion soup.

LRSP Harvest basket 2013

Our harvest supper basket 2013

In the LRSP ‘extension garden’, we still had cavalo nero and chard. The challenge, though, was to create something really palatable: some of our number are not completely convinced by these leafy but fibrous vegetables. They are already wary, given my predeliction for bitter frisee lettuces and tough leaves.

Madeleine and I therefore set out to create a really appetising autumn leaf lasagne, along the classic Italian ‘spinach and ricotta’ model, with help from Delia and the BBC and Mad’s sister, who made a flawless béchamel.

Delia reckons the secret to this veggie recipie is the four Italian cheeses: ricotta, mozzarella, gorgonzola and parmesan. We reckon the star ingredient in our version was our carefully steamed mix of cavalo nero, chard and rocket, together with onion, chopped chard stalks, raisins and walnut pieces tossed in olive oil, and enhanced by some freshly grated nutmeg … It worked.

We also really enjoyed Diane’s red onion soup (red wine and red onions), Mark’s hearty pig n’beans cassoulet, featuring LRSP oregano, onions and garlic (OK – a key ingredient was really the deliciously spicy chorizo, but it was definitely complemented by the local herbs) and Sue’s crumble made from our Tinsley Quince and Mannington’s Pearmain apples and a Beurre Hardy pear. The fruit was perfumed, rather than sharp – a lovely English autumn smell/taste. Then tasty Irish cheeses (hard, soft and blue) and local bread, complemented by the rather tart grapes from my garden and our last apple. Oh yes, and some red wine.

We toasted our unexpected successes this year: a good RHS inspection score, the Southern Tsars and Stars (try saying that after a glass or two of red) ‘Best Community Station’ award, and the Ed Furey Community Spirit cup. Maire told us a bit more about Ed Furey – who had been a Labour councillor and very active in promoting community activities in Kemptown, including Kemptown in Bloom. We drank to his memory.






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We’ve won Ed Furey cup 2013!

20139927_City_in_Bloom_091 compWe were taken aback … We were awarded the Edward Furey cup for our ‘community spirit’ at Brighton & Hove City in Bloom award ceremony last Thursday.

We also were awarded second place for ‘Best Community Garden’, with a very well deserved first place going to the Moulescoomb Forest Garden.

So it really is time for celebration. We were awarded Southern Railway’s Best Community Station back at the end of August, and now the Community Spirit cup. Our RHS inspection confirmed again that we were ‘thriving’. Yay!

And to top it all, we have harvested our first lot of apples from our cordoned trees, and they are absolutely delicious. Things are coming to fruition … it’s funny to think that we started off two years ago imagining we’d just be getting together every now and then to do a bit of gardening at the station.

I bumped into a friend on my way to the City in Bloom award ceremony at one of the Brighton seafront hotels. ‘You’re clearly not in gardening mode’, she said, observing my navy dress, shoes with heels and (relatively) clean nails. ‘Ah, but I am’, I replied.

Daphne at CiB 2013We regularly find ourselves bemused by the diversity of settings we end up in, as a result of our community garden at London Road Station: the Town Hall or the Amex Stadium for the Brighton to Seaford Rail Partnership Steering Group, the Grand Hotel for the Southern Stakeholder Day, the Jubilee Library for the City in Bloom launch, the Bevendean community garden at the edge of the Downs for an evening picnic. There’s no doubting that all these networking events spur our motivation and our sense of engagement.

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Big Dig Day: apples and raspberries



It was dull and oddly humid last Saturday, but a number of very interested visitors and helpers came to see our edible growing garden as part of Big Dig Day. Our total tally was probably only about 20, as compared with 50 on some previous occasions.

Big Dig Open gateWe didn’t publicise widely, and our usual procedures of putting up laminated A4 posters around the area and leaving lots of leaflets for people to pick up at the plot as they leave the station, were undermined this year by the heavy rains and winds during the preceding week. But we particularly enjoyed welcoming young children to the garden. We were also able to have some long conversations with some visitors, and with each other, and we got some gardening work done. The climbing beans are cleared; we’ve propagated rosemary and pinks.

Big Dig Day produceWe picked some of our apples (Tinsley Quince and Mannington’s Pearmain) for the occasion and set up samples of these varieties to taste, along with Emily’s Dad’s orchard apples from Horsted Keynes and Elspeth’s cocktail Discovery apples. Rather surprisingly, the Discovery apples (‘cocktail’ because they are very small from my minaret tree) seemed to be the most popular, perhaps because they were sweetest.

2013-09-21-1018Although our Sussex apples are dessert apples, we have picked a few early, so they may be a bit (refreshingly?) tart. What is certain is that they are very large but also very crisp – a lovely combination. And intriguingly different in taste: several of us described the pleasant ‘quincey’ after-taste of the Tinsley Quince as rather like a chardonnay wine. We still have quite a few ripening for our Harvest supper (crumble?) in mid-October.

2013-09-21-1021Our other attraction on Saturday was the raspberries. Harvest’s canes have established themselves very happily, so much so that we have had to spend time trying to keep them in order. Our crop has been so productive that each of us thought we must be the only person picking. We still had raspberries on Saturday for visitors to pick. Perhaps the biggest attraction of all to sample, AFTER the tart apples: Angie’s raspberry and chocolate brownies, for which our squashy autumn raspberries were perfect (recipe to follow).

The raspberry cane growing in a large pot with the base cut out seems to be doing particularly well, and – true to Harvest’s original aim for these canes – it is growing out to the ‘public’ side of the fencing so that passers-by can pick raspberries. Given that our space is at a premium, we thought it might be a good idea to move all the canes from the back raised bed into containers (with base cut out), which could be placed along the fencing. Canes could then grow out along the fencing – and we could use the raised bed for more delicate planting such as spinach and rhubarb (not happy in competition with the raspberries) which will tolerate a little shade in the afternoon.

I think this may have been be our last official Big Dig Open Day. It’s been great being part of the project, giving us motivation to focus on opening up the garden and thinking about how to share it with our neighbours and visitors. I’m sure we will continue with open events: seed sowing in the spring, clearing and produce-tasting in the autumn.

Big Dig Day table

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