29 May 2013

The Last Word on Slugs and Snails. Ever.

Last week began with the big bean-o that is Chelsea Press Day and ended on the edge of Wales at the Hay Festival. Both events were punctuated with the pitter patter of rain drops on canvas. The latter event was a talk between Monty Don and Lucy Boyd, daughter of the late chef Rose Gray, of River Cafe fame. She is head gardener at Petersham Nurseries and has an enviable knowledge of vegetable varieties: what to grow and how to cook.

Questions from the audience inevitably focused on Monty and had nothing to do with the guest whom he was interviewing. What do you think of the Chelsea judging row? What row. Would you like to know about my vegetable company? No I would not. What about slugs, Monty?

"I've never been anywhere without someone asking me about slugs," said Monty, not without humour. But the question did not go away. What about Lucy, what does she do about slugs, he asked?

"Me? Slugs? Nothing really..." she trailed off.

Monty filled in the gaps briskly: "My intention is to run an organic garden that's balanced, with prey as well as predators. If you get rid of slugs then there is less for their predators to eat and you upset the balance," he explained. "Slugs prefer to attack very young, diseased, damaged or stressed plants. Over-fed plants, by the way, are stressed." Monty does not have a slug problem because he has a healthy garden. "Healthy plants are not bothered by slugs." End of.

A national collection of hostas is held at Prince Charles' organic garden, Highgrove, by way of slight digression. They are proud specimens, as are Monty's.

"Now can we move on from slugs please," said Monty, ever the pro. "It's almost time for lunch."

18 May 2013

A Pocketful of Rye

I spent four days in Rye when the weather was magical a few weeks ago. Presenting Gina from Folk at Home with a hot list of places to go we set off, leaving families far behind. It wasn't exactly a holiday but there was definitely an element of the spree about it.

On the least research-heavy day we found ourselves at Hendy's Home Store in Hastings, eating whelks with wild garlic. Alastair Hendy was playing maitre d', head chef and head waiter to a full house and he was quite gracious about my uncontrollable urge to walk into his kitchen with a camera. This part of England is clapboard heaven with flint. Unlike the New England version which is more familiar to me, a lot of the wood here is painted black.

We motored through the wooded lanes of Sussex with their hedgerows of wild flowers, featuring the anemone and cuckoo flower (above).

Next stop: Great Dixter, where we were greeted with a "When I said 4.30 I meant 4.30!" bellowing from the medieval porch. Drinks were being served on the terrace but since this was a research trip I wandered around the deserted gardens. The terrace itself has so many green things growing out of the cracks that if you squint your eyes it could look almost semi-derelict. Except that all the green things are precious. "Don't step on the flowers love," I was told as I clomped over a primrose on the way to the steps which lead down to the meadow.

The Exotic Garden (above) was still under wraps, looking peculiarly Wealdean and medieval, with some exotic promise. As we left, the dachshund Conifer was scampering down the front path to the house; such a joyous image. Aaron our host writes a succinct blog by the way on the progress of the kitchen garden at Dixter.

Next day, Sissinghurst. We landed back to earth with a thump as we joined the coaches in the car park and a sign on the camomile seat bore the legend: "Please do not sit here."