August was a great month for your veggies

Baskets of vegetables at Howick Show.
Baskets of vegetables at Howick Show.

Recent weeks have brought good growing and ripening weather that sent fruit and vegetable produce streaming towards the kitchen and freezer.

The ornamental plants have performed well too. If only we could bottle these precious weeks and pop the cork in deepest winter when there is much less to shout about and spirits are low.

But don’t get the idea that I’m a complete plant-a-holic, there are other interests in this life that are occasionally given priority over demands of the garden, and last week was typical.

With the greenhouse shouting for attention, a potato crop to dig, brassicas to plant out, lawns to mow and weeds to zap, I was on the A19 to Teesside for a Northumbria in Bloom judging visit.

Eston is an urban community with a similar population to Alnwick and Morpeth but without the same advantage of situation. It is close to Middlesbrough, and within the industrial belt.

Mining brought a prosperity to the town that vanished with its demise.

But what a brilliant job the Eston Residents Group has done in regaining their pride of place, brightening up the environment and celebrating their heritage.

I’ve seen so many examples of this throughout the north region in recent years and volunteers are at the heart of it, coordinating commercial and administrative bodies to the benefit of all.

What better way to round off the day than check the horses on the way home, do something useful in the greenhouse and enjoy quiz night at the old Sun Inn.

Next day was spent closer to home, removing spent fruiting canes from raspberries and leaving new stems for next year. Next on the list was hedge clippings, disposal of. With both composting facilities and garden waste bins full, there was also a trip to the waste recycling facility to fit in.

The afternoon was booked for Lionheart Radio Station in Alnwick (107.3 FM), teaming up with Carl Stiansen for our fortnightly Weekending Show.

A mixture of chat, music and gardening talk makes four hours fly by, and I love the spontaneity of responding to gardening queries on air.

The final Saturday in July is a date the lady of the house and I look forward to – judging at Howick Village Show. Last year the entries were slightly down, as were spirits at the relatively poor public response but not this time.

We had good entries in the vegetable and floral sections. Friends Pat and Sally who judged the cookery, photography and children’s sections, had their hands full too. With more competition in the various classes, this was so reminiscent of village shows of yore and a delight to be involved in.

Next morning brought Burgham Horse trials so we joined the crowd. The event has improved year-on-year in the short time it has existed, and no rain this time, just a brilliant sunny day for what is now an international event.

Exciting as it is to see the dressage, cross-country and show jumping, I was equally happy to have a gentle hack along a local bridleway that afternoon with our own horses. They have brought years of enjoyable commitment, demanding regular grooming, care and exercise for all. Best of all they offer a different experience of the countryside to that we enjoy when walking, and the endless supply of organic matter is a bonus.

Attention focused on The Alnwick Garden next day, when our regular group of volunteers met for the weekly session.

There has always been a social element in this, working with like-minded people to do something worthwhile, and interacting with visitors who love to ask questions.

The tasks do vary as the year progresses but we are working through the rose beds at present, removing spent blooms to encourage more.

It’s a job akin to painting the Forth Road Bridge but essential for all summer flowering plants if you wish to keep them blooming.

A long volunteering session was demanded in our own garden the following day. It began with lawn mowing which, unlike that in our cash-strapped public places, has to be picked and disposed of thoughtfully. Small amounts added to the composting facility are acceptable because, being green and nitrogen-rich, they boost the decomposition process. Overdo this and you have a gooey mess.

A long weeding session followed because away days do the garden no favours. Then to the greenhouse removing side shoots from tomatoes and the grape vine before they take over.

How best to round off the week? An invitation to a Friends of the Alnwick Garden event solved the problem. The evening began with drinks and a simple orienteering exercise, map in hand, in search of kinetic sculptures produced by Leeds-based David Watkinson,, who was present and approachable.

It continued with an informal Pavilion gathering with light buffet, live music and good company.

What an enjoyable week!