Friday, 22 July 2011


Echinacea laevigata growing in the prairie planting at Wisley.

(This was originally posted as Rudbeckia laevigata - thanks to Arabellsa Sock for spotting my stupid mistake.  Sorry!)

(Which, as JAS has kindly pointed out below, was also wrong.  The plants are actually Echinacea pallida.  And it's time I abandoned all pretences of being anything of a plantsman.)

As ever - click on pix for larger view.

What a sad, sad day, with news that the mighty Lucian Freud has died.  

I love his work.  And it's great that he generally gave contemporary artists, including Picasso, the metaphorical two finger salute.  And that he didn't give monkey's about publicity or the drekkily precious and self-loving contemporary 'Arts' scene.  No nasty, kitsch, cheap-looking, Woolworth-like diamond encrusted skulls for him!

When I was being treated to lunch, once, in a relatively posh Kensington restaurant, he sat at the next table.  I longed to kidnap him for a couple of hour's chat on how he manages to make his paintings so terrifyingly real - you can almost smell the models -  when his technique seems so brash and so un-laboured.

Stanley Spencer, Francis Bacon and now Freud.  Gone, gone, gone - like the art of painting? Or is that unfair?  We've still got Hockney, but he's decamped to the wrong side of the Atlantic.  Lord, I'm rambling!
A nice piece on Lucian Freud here.

Reisetomate - not a pretty sight.

SOME of my early tomatoes are a disgrace and I blame Twitter.  I had planned to grow only 'Sungold' which we love for its cheery sweetness and monster yields. Also  'Gardeners Delight' which was - note the 'was' - a beauty for taste and 'Striped Stuffer' purely for size. 

Then a tweetie friend - @simiansuter -  suggested I should try a couple more: 'Latah' - a bush type which I'm growing outdoors - and 'Reisetomate' which is remarkable for its strange shape.  He kindly sent seeds and I duly sowed them and grew the plants on.

The first 'Latah' ripened a week or so ago, outside, and is quite tasty and pleasingly firm-fleshed.  I like its habit - a comfortable sprawl, but not so prostrate as to dump the fruit on the ground - and would grow it again.

The less said about 'Reisetomate' the better.  It looks like an uncomfortable medical condition which is a pity because the flavour is not at all bad.  Sharp, I'd say, with a good initial bite, but I didn't detect enought of that sought-after tom-cat-tomato muskiness that makes home-grown fruits so much more desirable than those tarted up things that occupy supermarket shelves.

I wrote 'was' about 'Gardener's Delight' because I'm convinced that the variety has changed profoundly since I last grew it about 20 years ago.  I remember the fruits being smaller, firmer, greenish in seed long after ripening and having an amazing tang, acidity and musk.  The ones I'm harvesting now are nice, but really, you couldn't say anything stronger than that.  But perhaps I'm being harsh, since the first few I picked were well down below the leaves, and therefore shaded.  But seed strains drift, over time, unless they are rigorously maintained.  Beware your seed source, therefore!

THE PICTURES. (All but the tomato shots taken by the PG - the talented half of N&R Colborn.)

Helenium 'Moerheim Beauty' brings the first autumn colour to our late border.  Cardoons and globe thistles give background height.  You can see the buds of things to come.

After the hideous drought, our garden weeds are all perking up nicely.  The autumn border, of which I was so ashamed last year, promises to deliver beauty in spades, for the coming season.  Heleniums already bloom but there are rudbeckias, asters, posh salvias, chrysanthemums and what not all waiting in the wings.

I love that deliciously melancholy season from about mid-September onwards, when soft sun and lacy mists lull us into a relaxed state of composure.  I listen repeatedly to Richard Stauss's Four Last Songs, gorge on ripe plums, wallow in the moist warmth of the early autumn and try not to think of the coming winter fuel bills.

A gaggle of mini-rants.

Butterflies are more scarce than usual this year, in our neck of the woods.  Could that be in any way linked to the local obsession with mowing all nettles down, with cutting verges right back to the hedge bottoms and with spraying of the remaining nettles that can't be reached with a mower?   I wonder.  

When will people learn that the countryside is NOT something that needs to be gardened.  That its richness lies in the wild exuberance of growth wherever the landscape is not farmed.  Even wildlife conservation experts need a lesson or ten in how to be less heavy handed with their  management.  And the rest of us should stop being so bloody prissy about it all.  LET IT BE!  Even the mouldering carcase of an abandoned car can become a life-rich refuge. Go figure, as the Americans are sometimes wont to say!

A peacock butterfly on Inula hookeri - we haven't had many this year, yet.

I heard on Farming Today, on BBC Radio 4, that the acreage of oilseed rape is so large, this year, that the surplus will be exported to Germany where it will be converted to bio-fuel.  Well bully for us! And nice to have something to export, now that we don't manufacture very much and export far less of what we make than we should.

But bio-fuel? That is obscene! I realise that it will help to reduce burning fossil fuels but have you considered what the real carbon footprint is, of producing so intense a crop, of shipping the whole seed which contains about 40% oil overseas, and then of doctoring the stuff so it won't muck up diesel engines?

And have you considered the horrible contrast, between Europe turning such a precious, high energy food into something for feeding Audis, BMWs and Volkswagens while one of the century's largest famines is happening, right now, in East Africa?  

The badger cull.  Lord Krebs, the scientist who carried out the original experimental cull on badgers demonstrated that it doesn't work.  Survivors of the cull, including infected animals, moved away and took TB to new areas.  

I don't think the cull will work.  TB will continue to spread among livestock until faster, more accurate, on the spot testing can be carried out on cattle and the necessary action taken at once.  

And if it becomes necessary to step up farm biosecurity, to keep badgers away from cattle and vice-versa - so be it.  Better to spend the money on grants for doing that, rather than carrying out a vain and ineffectual cull.  Trained 'marksmen,' they say, smugly;  shooting the badgers and night. Gawd help us! 

Would allow your wife or your servants to grow this tomato?
(Name the origin of the misquote for an eBouquet.)

I'm listening to Berlioz - Symphonie Fantastique

This day in 1990  I was in Padstow and my diary reads thus: 'We walked to Tregirls Beach, equipped with Dickens, sandwiches and beach wear. Sounds dull but it was heaven.  We rested, played 'catch,' paddled, swam, watched other people and scorched our skins.'  

Later that evening I wrote: 'A cold salad evening with the children all wilting infuriatingly while we ate. Their stamina is pretty lacking'  Of course, the poor loves were all adolescents.

This weeks film was  Ingmar Bergman's The Passions of Anna.  Swedish desperation on a claustrophobic island made worse by sheep killing, arson and a man driven to suicide by a vigilante mob.  Nice.  I'd go into a more analytical summary but I think you've had more than enough.

Bless you for reading this far,
Bye bye!


  1. The Lady Chatterley's Lover Trial m'lud!

    The tomatoes do not look attractive!

  2. ozhene - spot on! And no, they don't.

  3. I have stopped growing Gardeners Delight as I have found them rather bland that last couple of years. Trying Red Alert which arent too bad. Will make a note of Latah for the allotment next year

  4. Good read.

    I don't have Gardeners' Delight this year. Over the last few years, though, I'd assumed the lack of flavour was because I was growing them outside instead of in a greenhouse. Grew Sungold for the first time last year and can't say I was impressed. The first fruits tasted ok but they grew bland as the season went on.

    Lucien Freud - never been attracted by his paintings because I wouldn't know where to put them but the boy smoking is an exception. I'd disagree with the person who wrote the article - it seems a very 'real' picture. The Queen portrait amuses me and I might even like it if the chin weren't mudged. The top half of the face and the crown is great.

    Point 10 on the list. I identify with that.

    Glad to see your artichoke. Some people are a bit sniffy about them but I find them impressive (until they get infested by horrid little creatures).


  5. The Lucien Freud painting I love best was the one I saw in the paper last (?) year of his wife/lover ..warts and all, but even so, sympathetic and loving. Beautiful.

    Rants- agreed! I remember the farmer, surrounded by TB stricken farms who put out mineral licks for his badgers AND his cattle. Result, all healthy. Perhaps we are overworking our cattle, and stressed out mammals catch diseases...after all they do call it "Bovine" TB....

  6. Isn't that Rudbeckia laevigata actually echinacea?

    I would never be able to eat the reisetomate after your description.

    I once joined a protest about the proposed killing of badgers which were spoiling gardens on a housing estate backing onto the countryside. There were about 30 of us - a bunch of facepainted kids, mums and dads and myself, at that time, in a wheelchair - such an obvious threat to society that they had one of the many present policemen film us!

  7. Thanks, all, for comments.

    Arabella - Rudbeckia-Echinacea. Whoops! Gosh, what a stupid bish! Though they are closely related. I shall re-edit and correct pronto!

  8. Just to stir it up a bit more....
    Is that Echinacea not E.pallida? Too many petals for laevigata which always looks a bit depressed: like a stranded Jellyfish.

    Although I would enjoy being corrected

  9. Thank you, James.

    Oh what a pillock I am!

    Yes, you're right. I think it's time I retired from refained horticulture and just stuck to growing tomatoes - except I can't even do that properly, these days.

    "And the JAS said 'Let them be R. pallida!' And behold, it was so. And the JAS saw that it was good."

    And this is positively the last edit I'm going to do on this post! Still, at least the cock-up is not on printed paper and therefore indelible - like the 13 metre chrysanthemum in one of my books.