Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Wonders of the Chilli

Chilli Cherry Bomb
Chillies. I absolutely love them. Not just for their culinary uses but because they are beautiful plants that fruit in a way that makes them look jewel encrusted. You can have really small plants to plants that are up to and over a metre in height, that are variegated, that have deep purple leaves and that have variegated fruit. You can buy seeds of well known varieties such as Joe's Long to really rare varieties that have been bred by folk who are far more obsessed than I to the infamous Chilli that looks like a willy!!. There are a wealth of chilli seeds for sale online-just Google chilli seeds and the world of chilli seed will open up in front of your eyes. I can strongly recommend, and as great chilli people but there are countless folk out there who's lives revolve around the fruits of the plant and what to do with them.

With that in mind, there are lots of chilli festivals around the country each year, with more popping up every year. The biggest festival of the year is the festival at West Dean Gardens which this year is from 27th to 29th July. You can find more info at Here you can see everything from chilli based pickles and sauces to chilli beer and vodka, alongside great chilli growers selling plants, including Michael Michaud of Sea Spring Seeds who has regularly been seen as the River Cottage maestro of chillies.

Chilli Fish-variegated leaf and fruit
So once you've chosen your varieties they are easy to grow as long as you keep on top of them. The seeds need to be sown early in the year-I always sow mine on January 1st, as the plants need a long growing period to ensure fruiting. I put mine into a heated propagator as I've found I achieve a quicker and more even germination rate. However a warm windowsill above a radiator will work too.

Once the seedlings have a true set of leaves they need to be pricked out which I do into 3inch pots and they can then sit on a warm windowsill and grow away. The important thing to remember is that chillies hate to be pot bound so as soon as they appear to have stopped growing, pot them into a larger size pot and watch them start to grow again. Some varieties will end up needing up to a 5ltr pot but they will thank you for this by rewarding you with lots of fruit to do with as you wish.

A quick side note is that they will reward you further if you feed them well!! A good dose of tomato food once a week once the flowers start to be seen will encourage the fruit to set well and keep the plants looking healthy as well as keep them fruiting for longer. The other thing to remember with these plants is that they like to be keep moist so need regular watering. They will thank you for it.

Chillies are, of course, seen as being annual plants that need warmth to grow well. However there are several different types of chilli and some of the South American varieties have been found to cope well overwinter in a cool greenhouse on a heated mat. I am experimenting with Chilli pubescens Rocotto this year to see if they will overwinter here in sunny Bucks. I shall let you know!!
Joe's Long Cayenne

So that's how to grow a chilli plant in one easy lesson. They grow beautifully in pots outside, are a great gift to give to people and you can make fantastic recipes from Chilli con Carne to pickles and oils. Its not too late to get them going now and once you've grown them once, you'll be hooked. to quote one chilli grower I spoke to at Waddesdon Chilli Festival last year, "I started with 30 plants and now grow 3000+ each year"
Why not join in-its a great thing to do!!!!

In other news in the 52 week salad challenge my seeds are germinating away nicely and I'm looking forward to sowing lots more in the next few weeks in the window boxes underneath our kitchen windows, There I shall be planting sorrel. peas for pea shoots which I adore and lots more mixes. And I shall be following the advice of someone from Twitter, who took all her old salad seeds, mixed them together and sowed themas her own mix, using up old seed which usually would have just sat around until thrown away.

In the mean time, we're nearly at the end of January. Roll on Spring.

Monday, 16 January 2012

A Trip To Common Farm

On Saturday morning at 6am we set of for the wilds of Somerset and the wonderful Common Farm, to give a workshop on Orchard Management. As we drove towards Stonehenge the sun began to climb and it became apparent just how hard the frost had been the previous night. Wiltshire was covered in a sheet of sparkling white and looked magical.
Arriving at Common Farm is always like arriving home-big hugs and tea and chat and then the realisation that actually this wasn't a social visit. Fabrizio and I walked the 7 acres of Common Farm, looking at the amazing old fruit trees and all the new ones that he has been so busy planting, and then the crew who were joining us began to arrive.
Before lunch we talked about pruning, pruned some of the younger of Common Farm's trees and discussed with people how a fruit tree should look and why. The concept that people hopefully left with is that the tree should be open enough to throw a hat through, which Fabrizio demonstrated with great aplomb.
Then we had lunch which was an amazing mutton stew, the recipe for which is on the blog at along with amazing local cheeses and a cheese and onion tart and Georgie's world renowned buns.
After lunch we talked about training fruit and planted and began to train a 20m wall of John Downie crab apples into beautiful espaliers. And the lesson I hope everyone took from this is that the secret of success when it comes to training fruit is that you must be in charge of it, not it in charge of you!
Malus John Downie in flower

Malus John Downie in fruit
Finally we burnt a wicker man and had a small wassailling session in the orchard which was a wonderful end to a wonderful day.

For more information about courses and workshops at Common Farm please visit their website at

Thursday, 12 January 2012

WTF and the smallest forest garden in the land!

So the last year or so has been quite amazing. First the lovely Kristi talked me into starting The Physic Garden. Then I joined Twitter and started to talk to the very wonderful @EmmmaB of Bath Garden Design fame, who I have subsequently met several times and has become a true friend.
Between us we have decided that there appear to be an awful lot of folk about who take gardening so seriously that they seem to have forgotten to enjoy it. Its ok to be serious about plants and about good design, but life is short enough and along side that seriousness we would like to see people having some fun. So we have decided to do something about all this but starting the WTF Gardening blog and Twitter page with the idea that if people are having problems, want help or information, they can tweet us and we will blog the answer. Eventually the blog will end up being a sensible yet fun and down to earth guide to how to garden, along with some things that will make you(hopefully)laugh!!
 The blog can be found at and we will tweet all new posts. I really hope you look forward to reading it and that it makes you laugh. Our theory is that gardening should make you smile all year round.
For Christmas I received Martin Crawford's book on creating a forest garden. This is something that makes me smile and so I thought, seeing as how The Physic Garden is concentrating on growing perennial veg and herbs and fruit, that it was really time for me to overhaul the garden. Now my garden is tiny- literally 3m by 3m, and I have had to remove a whole load of stuff, and in doing so accidentally removed half a wall, and there is still more removal to go, but I have worked out that in that space I can get at least 4 espaliers, some step-overs and some dwarf fruit as well as loads of herbs and some vegetables. But watch this space as I shall blog about it regularly(!). The above photo of an espalier was taken at Rousham last summer, a garden which I could, and probably will, go on about at length. However that is for another time.
And while we're talking about WTF, why are there daffodils flowering in my garden already. Lord help us if we have a bad frost!!

Sunday, 8 January 2012

This will never do!!

Ok folks its been a while and for that I apologise. Why? Who knows but this year I shall blog more. Above is a photo of the polytunnel at work this time last year. It seems hard to believe that we are in an equivalent season when there are daffodils flowering in the garden now and snowdrops showing their heads through the soil.
Today was the first big sowing day for The Physic Garden. Chillies, Stevia, Goji berries, Strawberry guava and wild strawberries have all been sown, alongside 2 trays of salad leaves for the 365 Day Salad Challenge, as instigated by @Malvernmeet.
The idea is that you grow enough salad leaves, of varying varieties of course, to be self sufficient in them every day of the year. Not such an easy task to begin at this time of year as things may be slow to germinate but we will see. To date I have sown 2 varieties of mixed leaf from Thompson and Morgan, one which is crunchy and one which is spicy. They say they will germinate undercover all year round so we will see how long they take.
Lots has changed at The Physic Garden, the main thing being that Kristi has decided to concentrate on motherhood and her amazing newborn. So then there was only one-a slightly scary proposition but one which I am just getting on with. For the first time this year I am offering garden consultations as well as doing a series of workshops with the lovely Georgie at The first one is next weekend and will concentrate on pruning and training fruit. For more info visit The Common Farm website or see garden consultations are based around the basic premise of The Physic Garden, which is that productive and beautiful should go hand in hand in the garden and are not mutually exclusive.
With this in mind I am setting about redesigning my own garden within the concept of a forest garden, but on a very small scale. So far I have taken quite a lot out and am concentrating improving the soil in a particularly difficult area, before planting. The challenges I face are firstly the fact that the space is approx 3m by 3m but also that one border is south facing and struggles with drought and the other, which is the one I am working on now, is north west facing and quite deeply shaded by a very large plum tree. Just as well I like a challenge then! I shall take photos as we go and blog regularly about how its going.
I'll leave you with this picture of midsummer at RHS Wisley. Here's to the start of the new season.