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Additions to Alys' Garden

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Production team | 16:11 UK time, Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Alys FowlerI've got chickens - two lovely chooks that cluck and scratch! They have turned my garden from being a predictable suburban stretch to something far more exciting. I can't help but skip down every hour or so to look at them. They are called Gertrude and Alice B. after Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas.

Gertrude is a fine looking bird, but difficult and slightly stroppy. Alice B. is hard working, less elegant and has a winsome personality. She also goes to bed first and does more housework in that she finds a lot more things to eat. Gertrude has tried to escape twice. Isabel is not sure what to make of them. She has decided that she likes their food, but as Gertrude is almost the same size as her, she hangs back and then barks rather too excitedly if they come near. I think they think she's stupid.

I'm so enamoured with them that I spend half my day pulling up various weeds and leaves to see what they like to eat best. Alice B: Geum urbanum in great quantities, slugs of all sizes, but only small snails or ones you've stood on first. Wild strawberries and asparagus pea foliage, but not so keen on the pods (which is a shame as I don't care much for them either). Rose petals but not geranium flowers and some lettuce.
Gertrude: some lettuce, Geum urbanum, rocket flowers and leaves, kale and then anything Alice B has gone to the trouble to break up.

When I'm not cooing over the chooks, I've been busy experimenting with growing patterns, spacing and other sorts of boundaries that I've often wondered about. None more so than my minuscule forest garden that centres on the 'discovery' apple tree (heavily laden with lovely red apples). The rhubarb is happy and the raspberries are romping away but my desire to get cultivated strawberries into the same patch has not worked. Although they are happy enough, each plant has a few fruits and I think the lack of baking sun will mean insipid fruit in the end. Still it's fun to experiment and it looks lovely with the geranium peeping through here and there and all that fruit.

I didn't come home from Gardeners World Live last week empty handed and for the first time in a long while splashed out left, right and centre on plants. I bought some horehound, Marribium vulgare, as it makes a good tea for coughs and I have read somewhere that the Japanese use it as a companion plant for tomatoes. It is supposed to, if planted nearby, make them, crop for longer and produce more fruit. I thought I'd give it a go and I like its furry silver leaves.

I also bought some winter savoury as I missed being able to cook with it (we had a fairly large plant at Berryfields). It does exactly what it is supposed to and makes beans and Jerusalem artichokes oh so much easier to digest. Plus it adds a spicy note to broad beans (which are beginning to be heavy with pods). I also picked up enough mints to turn my garden into the national mint collection. More black stemmed peppermint, some Swiss mint to add to the forest garden and lemon and basil mint for pots on the patio. I finally got round to get some French tarragon which I'll put in a corner of the patio that gets baked and has a good free draining soil. I love French tarragon white wine vinegar. You need just a few sprigs per bottle and it makes the best vinaigrette.

Lastly I bought a little lemon verbena, which I transplanted the minute I got home on Friday night into a big, richer home in hope that it might put on oodles of growth and I can make plenty of tea this summer.

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