Community Garden Trail – August 14th

We’re delighted to be part of the Central and East Brighton Community Garden Trail organised by Albion Community Garden. We will be around to talk to visitors on SATURDAY AUGUST 14th from 10am to 3.30am at London Rd Station, BN1 4QS. Drop by and see us!

There are seven other gardens participating, quite a few in the Kemptown area. The Albion Community Garden in Albion Street (BN2 9PP) is a fantastic example of what can be done to create a beautiful space in an unexpected area. It’s only three years old but it’s a real haven of creativity and commitment.

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What’s been happening?

Things are gradually getting going again in the London Rd Station Partnership garden. We’ve planted a variety of crops in the edible garden: potatoes (Sarpo Mira), runner beans, climbing beans, courgettes (Defender), chard and cavalo nero. We had some good lettuces – and then they bolted. Our rhubarb is doing well, the feral raspberries are starting to fruit and after initial invasions of aphids, our fruit trees seem to have recovered. Unfortunately our apples and crab apple have still got woolly aphid infestations. It’s a case of rubbing off the strange woolly ‘fluff’ that the aphids produce. There are some good looking apples appearing and lots of pears on our ‘Beurre Hardy’ tree.

We’ve tried to renew the herbs in the herb planters but they are getting pretty solid use – particularly the rosemary, which we’ve had to renew twice this year.

We’ve planted annuals in the tree pits. The far tree pit is looking good with a nasturtium growing up the tree trunk and orange busy lizzies tuning in with pink cosmos. There are what I suspect are nicotiana silvestris – huge white perfumed tobacco plants – coming on at the back.

It’s been a horrible year for growing seeds: warm weather, wet weather, windy weather, cold weather all came at the wrong time. It’s taken until now for quite a few flower seeds to develop, such was the impact of cold rainy weather back in May. We’ve planted the flowers that have survived the onslaught of slugs and snails in the right hand tree pit: there’s a mixture of carnations, lemon cosmos, some tobacco plants and some verbascum. We’ll see what develops.

And we’ve tried to coax all kinds of colourful plants to flourish in the platform planters: lobelia and fuchsia appear to be doing well, all our petunia were devoured by slugs, osteospermum are growing but not flowering so much and quite a few plants were squashed by people sitting on them. Oh dear … we’ll keep trying to fill gaps but it is sad to see plants damaged.

In the shady plot, we’ve tried to renew some of the planting with more purple heuchera (easy to propagate), bergenias (also very easy to propagate) and some apricot foxglove seedlings which – fingers crossed – will bloom next year. There are some purple and pink begonias at the top of the triangle. The shady area has benefitted from all the rain this year but that has brought with it huge invasions of slugs and snails. Ho hum … I keep repeating the mantra: “if your plants aren’t eaten by something, they are not contributing to the ecosystem”. The strong plants – the fatsia japonica and aucuba japonica – are not bothered by snails: they just keep growing …

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Happy Birthday, LRSP!

We’ve just finished our 10th birthday celebrations. Gardening with six for real in the morning, a socially distanced lunch and then a Zoom celebration with a wider group. It’s been a great day! We had current members and former members come together, along with staff from Southern and the Sussex Community Rail Partnership. To celebrate, we planted a crab apple, which will attract pollinators for our mini-orchard, and a daphne odora, which should waft lovely perfume when it’s grown on a bit, just at a moment of the year when little is growing.

It’s been such a wonderful group, bringing neighbours together, and ten years seems nothing. We’ve had so many lovely people get involved – thank you to all of you!

We made a video to celebrate 10 years of a very special community partnership at a railway station. You can find it here.

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We’re almost 10 years old

The London Rd Station Partnership was created on 15th April 2011 – that’s ten years of community gardening at London Rd Station, Brighton. The group of neighbours who set up the partnership has become a group of friends. We’ve created two gardens, launched a community composting scheme, set up five planters and planted up the tree pits at the front of the station. We’ve organised all kinds of events for our community at the station; we’ve done a lot of digging, sawing, planting and chatting and we’ve drunk lots of cups of tea! The photo below was taken in May 2011 when the edible plot was nothing but compacted rubble.

Below is what that area has become … a beautiful lush growing area with a mini-orchard of seven fruit trees, several of them local varieties. The photo was taken in the summer of 2019. Because of the pandemic, we couldn’t work on the station gardens for most of 2020. The 2021 growing season is just starting up now. Thankfully, we’ve been able to meet outdoors in groups of maximum six people since 30th March. We’re hoping we can get back to creating beautiful and productive spaces at London Rd Station.

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Keeping together in lockdown

We certainly didn’t expect to be in lockdown again in 2021. It was only in July 2020 that we were able to get back in to work on the London Rd Station plots after the first lockdown from March 2020 and by that time, the growing year was turning to what should have been harvesting, not planting. For the first time, in Autumn 2020, we weren’t able to get the group together for a Harvest Supper. It would have been our tenth.

The very warm weather we had in spring and summer and the fact that we couldn’t get in to water consistently did have a negative effect on our fruit trees, and sadly, we had nothing like the crops of apples and pears we’ve had in previous years. But even fruit trees are fairly resilient – I’m hoping we can manage to get some pruning done before they spring into leaf again in April-May. The very cold weather this January should kill off some of the bugs that are prone to attack them.

We managed some distanced meet-ups around the platform planters at the front of the station up until November, and tried to keep these stocked with flowers. We’ve planted them for the winter with polyanthus and pansies, and hopefully the bulbs from previous years will soon surface.

And now we’re back to keeping in touch through Zoom because it’s the social contact amid the gardening that is probably the most important aspect of the London Rd Station partnership. We’ve discussed seeds for next year, giggled at enforced focus on household tasks, and swapped stories about overlength hair. It’s not quite the same as being outside, and nattering while weeding and dead-heading, but it brings us together.

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Winter pruning

Last Sunday (January 19th) we did some winter pruning on our cordoned apple and pear trees. We’re gradually getting the hang of this, and they’ve certainly fruited well these last two years, but they have had spurts of very strong growth and I was worried they would be blown off the wall in high winds.

The principles of winter pruning are fairly straightforward (see below); reality requires a bit of interpretation and approximation as you can see from the video of our efforts.

The wisdom is to prune the leader (the main upwards growing shoot) in the winter when it reaches the top wire. Our problem has been that getting to the top wire requires a ladder and tricky positioning, so I’ve avoided it.

However, with leader stems now coming away from the wire, it was definitely time … Mark and I worked together: never go on a high ladder alone! Balancing loppers, secateurs, pruning sealant as well as yourself is very risky! Our aim was to try to re-shape the six cordons, cutting back the leaders but also unbalanced side growth and forward side growth. So here are the key principles

1. Always prune to a bud – and in the case of our cordons, prune to slightly backward or sidewise facing buds, NOT forward facing ones.

2. Make a clean diagonal cut away from the bud so that moisture doesn’t collect around the bud.

3. Prune out any dead, diseased or damaged (DDD) branches.

4. In winter, prune the leader down to the top wire and tidy any front facing shoots.

5. In summer, prune to reduce growth and ensure air gets to the fruit.

6. Paint over larger pruning cuts with sealant – it’s like a thick glue which covers the ‘wound’ and protects it from nasties – bacteria, insects, fungal infections.

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Our ninth harvest supper – back in October

We held our ninth harvest supper back on October 17th, but I’ve only just got around to resurrecting our blog! It was a good harvest in 2019 but again quite an early one: the climbing beans were well over by the time we had our supper, the tomatoes had finished, the cavalo nero had been invaded by beasties but we did have onions (harvested earlier in the summer), courgettes and chard! And our apple and pear trees yet again produced lovely fruit from September, with pears ripening off the tree in October. So our menu was as follows:

Elspeth’s Anglo-French onion soup (it uses white wine and marmite)

Jenny’s delicious pear and Wensleydale soup

Madeleine’s courgette and puy lentil moussaka

Linden’s fantastic cavalo nero, chard, apple, pear, raisin salad

Elspeth’s French Chard Tart

Linda’s fabulous crunchy apple crumble with ice-cream from Estey

Can’t believe this is our 9th harvest supper!

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End of season and autumn ornamentals

 

Suddenly last week, the cold weather hit us with temperatures falling to 3C. The previous week or two, leaves had already begun to fall in earnest with some strong winds. Then the clocks went back, the nights now come earlier and tonight it’s Bonfire Night – all signs we’re into Autumn for real. It has felt a little unreal up till now … and even today, the temperatures were back up to double figures.

LRSP 2018 crazy cosmosWe’ve had very little rain and warm days with – relatively – lots of sunshine and blue skies. We even had to water the London Rd Station gardens from a hosepipe last week while two of our three water butts are out of action: one leaking, another needing serious cleaning. Watering in November? That’s unheard of … by now in the year, we are often trying to save plants from over-soggy soil and putting up warning signs in the compost area about slippery steps. And our pretty pink cosmos has been blooming in the tree pit, having refused to flower earlier in the summer because of the drought.

With this year’s harvest more or less complete – amazingly there are still beans and bright orange flowers on our runner bean plants – we turned our attention to the neglected shady triangle. This area at the south end of the station is really tricky; it’s dry shade. Much of the year it’s under a thick leaf canopy from the sycamore trees alongside, and their roots have clearly grown under the tarmac path into the garden we’ve been trying to develop. We worked hard on the soil there back in 2011 – I say ‘soil’, much of it was originally rubble and sand. We’ve deposited years and years of compost on the garden, but still it has a tendency to dry out. With hot weather this year, we concentrated our attention on keeping the edible crops watered and left the shady area to fend for itself. Up until now –  when we tried to dig in cyclamen and pansies, we found the soil very hard to break through.

However, we’ve persevered. We’ve planted a lot of brightly coloured cyclamen which seem to do well in dryish shade. The RHS website says they like humus-rich soil (tick – that’s compost and leaves) and should be mulched with leaf mould when the leaves die down (we have plenty of that too). We also planted some tough old perennials with varied foliage which should withstand the difficult conditions: Alchemilla mollis, which self-seeds endlessly in my garden; spreading campanula (I think it’s Campanula porteschlagiana, such a grand name for what around here counts as weed that grows in walls); some pot bound liriope and several hypericum, which had taken up residence in my garden and needed a larger stage. The Fatsia japonica  and Mahonia japonica which we planted back in 2011 have grown solidly, along with the Aucuba japonica which we got as tiny window box plants about five years ago and are now well established. It looks like the ‘japonica’ shrubs are the ones that do well in this difficult plot, but it’s been great to see that the native woodland Pulmonaria, transplanted from mineral-rich soil in Wales, are also doing well and have self-seeded in various places. I’m sure there are all kinds of other plant-bombs in there just waiting for a bit more rain to help them push up through the toughened soil.

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Our eighth harvest supper

 

LRSP Harvest supper 2018Our final harvest this year in mid October included two varieties of pear, four types of apple, plums, yellow courgettes, runner and green beans, tomatoes, onions, an abundance of curly kale, cavalo nero and chard, and lots of different herbs.

Our menu for our harvest supper comprised Wensleydale soup, onion soup, three cheese three leaf lasagne, vegan veggie pie, Lebanese green beans, cheese with plum chutney, apples and pears, blackberry and apple crumble with ice-cream – everything made with at least one ingredient from the LRSP garden.

Our eighth harvest supper was probably our biggest ever with thirteen people sitting round the table, including three new members who joined us two weeks ago, and two of the original members who helped set the garden up in 2011 and remember planting the apple trees. And just to remind ourselves of how it was back in 2011, we watched Madeleine’s first video ….

 

 

 

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Crawley Beauty comes into her own …

Six years ago we planted out mini-orchard of seven fruit trees in our tiny community garden at London Rd Station. Four of the fruit trees were old Sussex varieties of apple: Crawley Beauty, Tinsley Quince, Mannington’s Pearmain and Saltcote Pippin. Our cordoned trees have done really well but Crawley Beauty, the only cooking apple and late fruiting, always seemed the runt of the litter. Slightly more in the shade, it has taken her all this time to fruit confidently. This year, however, she has produced the best apples.

We planted our apple trees in raised beds. They are cordoned to restrain growth but all the same, they’ve required quite a lot of summer pruning in the last few weeks. Crawley Beauty and Tinsley Quince in the first bed seem to be doing best this year. We’re not quite sure why: perhaps because they had a bit of shade in the heat of June and July, perhaps because that’s where we always started our watering, or perhaps because that bed got the benefit of more compost mulch? The next two – Mannington’s Pearmain and Saltcote Pippin – have produced smaller fruit this year and have more evidence of insect damage. It may also be that they had the biggest growth spurt back in the early years, and I haven’t been able to prune the extensive leaders on either of them.

I’ve already harvested some apples as the fruit have started to fall even though they are supposed to be harvested in late September and even early October. Despite insect damage around the core, they make a great apple cake. Just a case of cutting out the damaged bits … My recipe is adapted from Sarah Raven’s Kentish Apple Cake and uses 500g of chopped apple, more than any other ingredient. With whole meal flour and reduced sugar, sweetness provided by raisins and the apples, it’s as near to a ‘healthy’ cake as you can get … served up, of course, with crème fraîche!

This will be one for our 2018 harvest supper. We’ll probably also need to reprise our three leaf, three cheese lasagna as cavalo nero, kale and chard have all done well. Our courgettes and beans didn’t do so well this year, perhaps because of lack of water, and our onion crop was small too, though probably enough to make onion soup. Pears, on the other hand, are looking great – some are already being ripened in a garage – and hopefully, will be work well in a proposed Pear and Stilton soup.

SUSSEX APPLE CAKE

  • 225g unsalted butter
  • 350g whole meal self-raising flour
  • 1-2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • pinch of salt
  • 120g sultanas or raisins soaked for 1-2 hours in water
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 75g toasted hazelnuts roughly chopped
  • 500g apples, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
  • grated zest of lemon
  • 3 large eggs

Pre-heat oven to 180C. Grease a 20cm loose-bottomed cake tin.

Sift together flour, cinnamon and salt. Rub in butter until the mixture looks like fine breadcrumbs. Stir in raisins, sugar and nuts. Add chopped apple together with lemon zest. Lightly beat the eggs and stir into the mixture. You need a large mixing bowl to do this – best done with clean hands and/or wooden spoon. When well mixed together, spoon the mixture into cake tin and bake for around 60 – 75 minutes or until firm to the touch. The mixture is very moist so try to check this middle of the cake with a skewer. You can cover the cake with foil to stop the top getting too brown. Leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack – beware the cake can be crumbly, that’s the risk of lots of apple. It’s delicious, though.

Adapted from Sarah Raven’s recipe for Kentish Apple Cake.

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