Page not found

September is surely one of the most beautiful months. Evenings cooling, grass wet again with dew, but warmth still in the sun. The tiredness that sometimes hangs over August is now refreshed after rains. The meadows flushed with new green and germination happening everywhere. A rash of poppy seedlings seizing the moment to establish themselves before winter and, of course, the sea of dandelions. The very moment I thought about back in May when the airborne seed moved in silken clouds down the valley, but I’d all but forgotten whilst they lay dormant in the dry weeks of summer.

With the change we welcome a new wave of energy in the garden. The first of the asters, the sudden emergence of naked colchicum and smatterings of autumn flowering cyclamen, the harbingers of this shoulder season. Most lovely of all on this particular September day is the Clematis ‘Sundance’ which has been readying itself for autumn. I have it on the edge of the garden close to the milking barn veranda where, if ever we do sit and look, we are inclined to catch the warming, morning rays. The covered veranda is our breakfast place, so it is a moment in the garden which affords close scrutiny and where we need the detail to satisfy the time we take to pause there. In spring we have Paeonia mlokosewitschii, followed by navy blue camassias twinned with the blackest Iris chrysographes.

Backlit for most of the first part of the day, I like to play with the morning light here. The sparkle caught in pale flowers and the potential of shimmer in flexing willows. Thalictrum ‘Splendide White’ and white again with the albino form of the rosebay willow herb. Gone to seed now and disseminating the seed into the air much as the dandelions do in May, the willow herb is now showing that it is done. But not so Clematis ‘Sundance’ which, despite its modesty, is flushed with a countless number of flowers craning on wiry necks and reaching towards the sun. Palest lemon yellow tepals from one parent, Clematis tangutica, and violet anthers and the refined foliage from its second parent, C. ispahanica.

‘Sundance’ is one of several herbaceous clematis that I have growing in my stock beds to test their worthiness, for most need support and have to prove that they deserve it. Though I prefer to use perennials that require little staking, ‘Sundance’ would flounder around on the ground if you didn’t help it, as it reaches as much as eight feet when given support. Cut back to about knee height here in February, it needs a framework of hazel twigs to ascend, as it has lost its climbing parent’s ability in C. tangutica to twine its leaf stems around whatever will provide it with support. An hour or two fashioning twiggy cages in spring will see it top its support and then cascade down over the boundary fence, much as old man’s beard does from a hedge, but with considerably better behaviour. 

During the course of September, the multitude of pale flowers slowly give way to a cumulo nimbus of silken seed heads so that one moment of delight is replaced by yet another as the growing season dwindles. 

We are on holiday for the next two weeks and will return on October 15th –

Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan

Published 24 September 2022

When we arrived here, the milking barn that sits just below the house was marooned in a patchwork of concrete slabs that the farmer before us had poured to hold the slopes around the building. We had plans for the barn to be renovated as my workspace and for the old yard to become a place for the barn. Somewhere to take in the view up the valley and for the planting here to capture the evening light. 

The trough that is now the anchor point in the yard was the catalyst. We hired the largest forklift to lift the trough from the waggon that parked in the layby at the top of the hill, but as we edged down the single-track lane, we quickly saw that maybe we had bitten off more than we could chew. Weighing in at about twenty tonnes all in, the concrete patchwork buckled like a pie crust as we inched the trough down the slope and into the old yard. We were a way off yet from doing the renovations to the buildings, so the trough sat marooned in the remains of the yard and, in the time that followed, the interlopers that found their way into the cracks and gave the yard grace, spawned the idea for the mood for the planting. Herb Robert and hogweed, Timothy grasses and willowherb. Plants that could survive on very little and, whilst we were waiting to make our next move, made the place their own. 

Today the trough strikes a horizontal on the slopes and holds and frames the space with its weight and gravity. Once we scraped the crust of the old yard away, I did very little to improve the ground in the bulk of the yard so that in the centre we are planting mostly into the rubble that underpinned the old concrete. Pockets of soil were introduced around the periphery so that I could rely on a number of placeholders such as the Calamagrostis acutiflora ‘Karl Foerster’ that step through the space and capture the light and the wind that moves through the valley. Bloody Cranesbill and acid yellow Achillea ‘Moonbeam’, giant fennels and Devils Bit Scabious echo the pioneers that took to the concrete yard, but I have been careful not to overplant to retain the old airiness of the place as it once was. 

The old concrete from there yard was crushed into a fine enough aggregate and pulled over the whole surface to bring everything together and into the rubbly ground I planted two late season grasses which would capture the light in late summer. Sporobolus heterolepis, the breathy Prairie Dropseed and, amongst its delicate cloud, Bouteloua gracilis, the eyebrow grass from the Great Plains of North America. Arvensis Perennials had kindly gifted me three plants of the cultivar ‘Blonde Ambition’ with the assurance that it would grow well in the UK if given free-draining ground. 

I have been using the eyebrow grass in plantings in California where water is scarce and where every move we make has to be water-wise. Until the gift encouraged me to think of it being viable here, I’d thought our summers wouldn’t be long enough and the winters too wet for a plant that I’d only seen growing in desert. So, put to the test in the knowledge that they would get all the light I could offer and ground that drained freely, I am pleased to report that three years later, they have rather made the yard. 

Late to emerge in May, but coming into their own in the second half of summer, ‘Blonde Ambition’ is nicely clump-forming and slightly shorter than the straight species that I’ve been drifting amongst chapparal natives in California. The inflorescence, which is tilted at right angles to the stem, is the eyebrow of the name and the distinctive horizontal accent that sets this grass apart from all others. Distinctive, but not so out of place that it feels wrong here, it has proved itself in this year’s heatwaves and drought. I chose not to water to put it to the test and they have rejoiced in the conditions and rather opened my eyes to the possibilities of how we might need to garden in the future. Punching through the light-capturing fleet of eyebrows I have added the soaring Liatris pycnostachya and the late and delicately flowering Allium carinatum var pulchellum for highlights in the tawny blond. 

Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan

Published 17 September 2022

Another summer of tomato growing brings another summer of learning. Now three years in to growing tomatoes under cover I have learnt from my previous mistakes. Having started to feed the plants very late in the first year, I now have a firm grip on watering and feeding regimes. After overcrowding the polytunnel with too many plants last year and risking blight, I reduced the number of plants and increased the spacing, which has resulted in much better air flow and more light reaching the fruits. Perhaps feeling a little smug I was preparing myself for our biggest harvest yet. However, this year’s impediment to a bumper crop has been largely out of my control. 

When the first heatwave came in July we covered the polytunnel with two spare lengths of bird netting from the fruit cages to create enough light shade to keep the temperature down somewhat. Yet, on the hottest day, when it reached 37 degrees here, the temperature inside the polytunnel was 46, despite having both doors open and regularly hosing down the floor (which rapidly reduced the temperature by 4 or 5 degrees). About a week later it became apparent that the last fruits on the first trusses and nearly all of the second trusses had aborted due to stress. So I kept up the watering and feeding and trusted that there was still all of August for them to produce plenty more fruit. 

After less than a month’s respite, however, and the same thing happened in mid-August which, although not as serious as the first, still affected the setting of the third trusses. So, as the nights now draw in and the temperature drops, we are faced with a larger crop of green tomatoes than we have ever had before, which will now likely not ripen.

I first heard of fried green tomatoes when the film of that title was released in 1991. Although I was working in film at the time I did not see it, as it had the whiff of Oscar-worthy schmaltz about it, but something about the title fired my imagination. (What were fried green tomatoes? How did you make them? What did they taste like?) It seems the same thing happened in the States. Having long been the preserve of thrifty gardeners in the deep southern states (a recipe for them first appeared in print in the late 1880’s) the majority of the American population were similarly unfamiliar and equally intrigued by them. As the film won plaudits and became a sleeper hit, fried green tomatoes quickly became fashionable and they are now a menu staple of restaurants up and down the country. 

Around the same time I was lucky enough to have a number of friends who were professional cooks and chefs in London. Many of them were from New Zealand and Australia and, whereas I had been reading and cooking from Delia Smith, Elizabeth David, Jane Grigson,  Elizabeth Luard and Claudia Roden in my 20’s, they had a completely different and unfamiliar set of references, many of them American. One of these was Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant, a collection of recipes assembled by the collective of chefs who worked at this influential vegetarian restaurant founded in Ithaca, New York in 1973 by Mollie Katzen (author of The Moosewood Cookbook and The Enchanted Broccoli Forest), her brother, Josh and and a group of friends. Here, alongside recipes for Jambalaya, Okra Gumbo Soup and Cheese Grits, was a recipe for Fried Green Tomatoes. 

This is slightly adapted from that one, where the tomatoes are simply dipped straight into seasoned flour and cornmeal after salting. Here a secondary coating of buttermilk (the tang of kefir, which now seems easier to come by, is a very good substitute) helps the flour and cornmeal adhere to the tomato slices and provides a sturdy coating which is still as light and crisp as tempura. Other ground spices can be added to season the flour if you wish. Coriander seed or cumin would be my first ports of call. The tomatoes should be completely green and firm, but not hard.

Although these can be served as they are, a piquant or creamy sauce heightens or contrasts with the sharpness of the tomatoes. With the last of the sweetcorn in the garden begging to be eaten and a glut of coriander, this salsa perks up the soft, juicy tomatoes no end, but a punchy aioli, herb-laden whipped ricotta or chunky salsa verde with parsley, capers and green olives would all be equally good.             

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

Tomatoes

4 medium green tomatoes

100ml buttermilk or kefir

50g plain flour or rice flour

50g medium cornmeal or polenta

½ teaspoon salt plus more for salting the tomatoes

Ground black pepper

½ teaspoon sweet chilli powder or paprika

Salsa

2 cobs of sweetcorn, to give about 250g of kernels

1 red chilli 

1 shallot

1 lime, the finely grated zest and juice

A small bunch of fresh coriander

1 tablespoon rapeseed or other flavourless oil plus more to fry with

METHOD

Cut the tops and bottoms from the tomatoes and discard. Slice what remains horizontally into just less than 1cm thick slices. You should aim to get three slices from each tomato. Place them in a single layer on a platter or baking tray. Sprinkle generously with salt, turn them over and salt the other side. Leave to stand for 30 minutes. 

To make the salsa h­­eat a cast iron griddle until smoking. Remove the husks and silks from the sweetcorn. Brush the cobs lightly with oil and put onto the griddle. Brush the chilli with oil and put on the griddle. 

Leave the corn for three minutes or so until lightly charred and the kernels change colour from pale, milky yellow to a darker, translucent yellow. Keep rotating the cobs until they are completely cooked and lightly charred all over. At the same time keep turning the chilli until blackened all over.  If cooking on gas, at this point you can hold the cobs over the flame using tongs to achieve a more charred appearance and flavour, if desired.

Remove the corn and chilli to a plate and leave to cool for five minutes. Then slice the kernels from the cobs into a bowl, skin and deseed the chilli, chop finely and add to the corn. Slice the shallot very finely and add to the bowl. Add the lime zest and juice, the oil and a good pinch of salt. Pick the leaves from the coriander, chop them finely, add to the salsa and stir well. Taste for seasoning and adjust as desired.

Using a piece of paper towel firmly press the tomato slices between your hands to remove as much liquid as possible. Put the buttermilk (or kefir) into a shallow bowl. Put the flour and cornmeal into another and season with salt, pepper, add the sweet chilli powder and stir.

Put two tablespoons of oil into a cast iron skillet and heat until it shimmers, but not so that it smokes. Take each tomato slice and put firstly into the bowl of flour and cornmeal, coating it all over, then into the buttermilk and then into the flour mixture again. Place the slices into the hot oil and fry on each side for three to four minutes until they are crisp and brown. 

Remove them to a warm plate on which you have put a piece of paper towel to absorb any oil. Cook the remaining tomatoes and then place three on each of four plates with a generous spoonful of salsa. Serve hot.  

Recipe and photographs: Huw Morgan

Published 10 September 2022

The Agapanthus inapertus, which are kept in pots for their late summer display, are slow. They take time to decide when they want to flower, making you wait until they are settled in, sometimes a year or more after planting, producing nothing but foliage in the meantime. They are sluggish when breaking dormancy, keeping you on edge as the spring burgeons around them whilst they wait for the warmth. Once they get away I start a weekly seaweed feed to encourage flower and impatiently part their strappy foliage to see if they are going to reward me, for it’s not until the longest day or so that they let you in on their plans. 

When the tapered sheaths – pointed like skyward arrows – begin to ascend, I move them to the front of the house from the holding ground by the cold frames before the stems are long enough to be damaged. Anticipation continues throughout July, as the flowering growth slowly draws itself out well into August and up to the teetering point between the seasons.

Their height and poise is what is so miraculous about Agapanthus inapertus and the fact that they wait until the very last of summer to reward you. Through growing them I now find it hard to say quite why I avoided growing agapanthus until moving here. I had not had the luxury of uninterrupted light in the London garden, for they hate competition or overshadowing and as a family they are perhaps tainted for me by association. The sorry plants that you see in the dust of municipal parks on holiday, not exactly thriving, but soldiering on. Or the Fawlty Towers seaside feeling they conjure here in the UK. Being bathed in sun on our open, south-facing hillside, makes you ask questions of your palette and, indeed, your prejudices, so the agapanthus are something of a welcome reset.

Agapanthus inapertus subsp. hollandii ‘Sky’

I have a rule to be sensible and only grow what works here. Nothing so tender that it needs more than cursory attention to get it through a winter, plants that like the conditions and do not make me fight for their survival and a self-imposed restriction to not having too many pots. However, the steadiness of agapanthus makes them very good for pots and they will last for many years before showing you that they need division by throwing less flower. The time to divide A. inapertus is in the spring, as soon as they show new growth. New divisions are slow to settle, but a year or two will see them return to flower. 

The evergreen species of agapanthus, the A. campanulatus of the Victorian conservatory are rarely cold-tolerant, but the deciduous species tend to be more so and it is selections of A. campanulatus or A. inapertus that do better here where we freeze in winter.  In their native habitat, where the deciduous species grow in open grassland or on forest margins, the climate is winter dry and summer wet, so I emulate this and move my pots into the barn where they are watered maybe twice over the winter and where they are protected from the worst of winter. If planted in the ground, I would choose free draining soil with plenty of humus and cover the crowns in winter with a layer of straw or compost, as I might a dahlia that was being overwintered in situ

Agapanthus inapertus ‘Midnight Cascade’

Agapanthus inapertus are the only agapanthus I grow here. I favour them over the more rounded heads of A. campanulatus, their slenderness, height and the tubular flowers which accentuate their elegance. The first to flower here in the middle of August is A. inapertus subsp. hollandii ‘Sky’ (main image). It had just come into flower when I left for a fortnight in America and I thought I was sure to miss it in the extreme heat, but not at all. Well-named for its pure, sky-blue flowers, this selection has an RHS Award of Garden Merit with good reason. Now in its fourth week of flower and standing at shoulder height, it was joined last week by A.i. ‘Midnight Cascade’, the darkest of those I have. It is described as pure black if you are hunting it down, but it is actually the darkest reddish-blue which, in bright sunshine, registers darker. All agapanthus hate their foliage to be overshadowed and this is a plant that you need to have on its own and against a pale backdrop to appreciate its architecture. 

Agapanthus inapertus ‘Icicle’

Towering above them all and coming into flower latest over the bank holiday weekend is A.i.‘Icicle’, the most elegant of all, perhaps, with the slenderest and tallest of stems. As the flowerheads expand you see that each pale flower is a cool, dark blue at the tip, as if dipped in ink. All of these are very attractive to several species of bumble bee which, contrary to expectation, squeeze their way in and out of the flowers.

I have several more, basking in sunlight up by the cold frames and filling out their pots before they come to flower. ‘Black Magic’ and the indigo-blue and slightly shorter A. inapertus subsp. pendulus ‘Graskop’, which is set to rise to just 90cm. I guess this is the beginning of a collection and the ignition of a desire to now see them in the wild and truly understand where they like to live. 

Words: Dan Pearson | Photographs: Huw Morgan

Published 3 September 2022

We are sorry but the page you are looking for does not exist. You could return to the homepage