Thursday, 9 May 2013

The productive plots are back in action

a new canopy over the boardwalk
It's been wonderful to welcome back the beech leaves this past week and nowhere is this more noticeable than when walking up to Gibside along the new raised boardwalk; most of the tall trees on either side are beeches, and their smooth grey-barked trunks have now been joined by an outpouring of fresh green leaf. The limp softness of their downy growth seems as delicate as the wings of an emerging dragonfly, but don't be fooled, these tenacious leaves will be retained by beech trees and hedges long after winter has finished and the leaves of most other deciduous trees have fallen.

The same forces that have been acting on the beech leaves have also been at work in the walled garden and the vegetable plots have seen a flurry of activity over the last week. Air and soil temperatures are rising steadily, light levels are increasing, and suddenly humans and plants alike are ready to make up for time lost to this year's prolonged winter. We've been busy preparing the beds for this year's crops, weeding and forking through some of our fantastic homemade compost and leaf mould. Every year we collect fallen leaves in bays behind the walled garden to rot down, we also compost as much of our plant material as we can (pernicious weeds excepted); these twin processes ensure we have a constant supply of organic matter to work into our soil, improving its structure and releasing nutrients.
baby rocket seedlings

If you venture through the walled garden you'll see a variety of different productive plots, many used by schools, Landshare growers, and volunteers from the local community. Their plots are home to a wide variety of newly planted vegetables including potatoes, onions, peas, beans, cabbages, broccoli, and a myriad salad crops. There's also lots of soft fruit being grown with almost every plot graced with a little strawberry patch; you can find currants, gooseberries and raspberries coming into leaf and flower too. On top of all this we have many perennial herbs scattered about the beds: chives, mint, marjoram, fennel, thyme and sage are all waking up from their winter slumbers and putting out new growth.

Rhubarb 'Timperley Early'
But by saving the best till last we come to the star of the show this week, and that's rhubarb, one of the few remaining truly seasonal treats. It's a fruit (well ... vegetable actually) whose familiar tartness will always be sweetened with nostalgic memories of homemade pies or crumbles and custard. We grow a number of different varieties in the walled garden, and even have our own dedicated rhubarb bed, where 'Timperley Early', 'Raspberry Red' and 'Victoria' are all showing off their tasty stems. 'Valentine' though, with its aesthetically pleasing deep red colouring, and particularly sweet flavour, is one of the most popular modern varieties and is our tip for one to grow should you be inspired. And if the thought of rhubarb and custard is making you feel hungry, why not hop over to Gibside's Potting Shed Café where you can try some of our own organically grown varieties in their freshly baked rhubarb scones.


  1. The rhubarb looks gorgeous. I've never heard of rhubarb scones!

  2. I hadn't either, and I can now confirm that they taste lovely.