Posts tagged ‘RHS Harlow Carr’

December 20, 2013

Becoming a cyclist.

Last Sunday, I did my first ‘proper’ bike ride on my new road bike. I’ve done shorter bits of riding around Leeds before, but nothing above about 20 miles. On Sunday, we did 35. And most of them seemed to be uphill. Leaving North Leeds towards Harewood, then onwards to Harrogate and RHS Harlow Carr, we made our way along little side roads where possible, keeping away from traffic. Not always possible, of course, and on a couple of occasions I got a little nervous about the closeness and speed of some vehicles passing us. It felt a bit like some of the people driving massive Range Rover type vehicles really didn’t seem to know how wide their car was.

Having said that, the main way I was likely to end up having an accident was from too much nosiness! Lots of terribly nice properties, gardens, allotments and field of ponies to be stared at. None of which I should have been looking at when on a bike, so I had to keep reminding myself to concentrate and look at the road. Whenever we started climbing, I had no difficulty in keeping my eyes firmly fixed ahead of me, as I concentrated on my breathing and making my slow and steady way up the hills. I even managed my first Category 4 climb and did so without stopping, thanks to the support from my fabulous boyfriend. I had a little cry at the top of one of the particularly gruelling hills; cycling uphill into a head wind is not a lot of fun.

But despite the tears, the pain and the jelly legs, I loved the ride. Not least because we had a halfway stop at the poshest cycle cafe in Yorkshire, the famous Betty’s tearoom at RHS Harlow Carr. Not a cycle cafe at all, obviously, but they were as gracious to us in our cycling gear as they were to everyone else in their rather smarter attire. And, despite a bit of stiffness getting going again after a stop, it certainly helped on the way back.

Looking back it seems such a long time ago that I was terrified of cycling. I’d not ridden since a childhood accident, until I was caught up in the idea of trying my hand at completing a Cycletta, which I did on a hired bike. Then came my beloved, but ultimately ill-judged Pashley and now, I’m committed to the idea of being a road cyclist. Not someone who rides for speed, togged up in logo-emblazoned lycra, but someone who rides for fun. Maybe for a bit of touring over longer distances with a pannier and a youth hostel to sleep in. I’m not sure yet, but I’m definitely well on my way towards losing that fear. I’m excited to see the Tour De France come to Yorkshire next year, planning to learn more bike maintenance, booking my ticket for the Festival of Cycling, and fingers crossed, entering the longer distanced Cycletta at Tatton Park.

I feel like a cyclist now. Really and truly. And to have faced my fear feels brilliant. I recommend it!

Female cyclist

December 13, 2013

Bringing The Garden Indoors.

Now that I’ve moved to a third floor flat, I am without a garden of my own. This is offset somewhat by my allotment and we have a shared garden, but it’s overlooked by several large trees. This makes for wonderful bird watching – I appear to have become an accidental twitcher – but means that the garden is darkened, covered in leaves, and any plants would need to compete with lots of tree roots so it doesn’t bode well for much growing.

So, to satisfy my green fingers,  I want to bring some of the outdoors into our home.

The first thing I did was plant ‘Paperwhite’ bulbs into little terracotta pots. I have a handful of these around the flat and they’ve brought a bit of cheer and a heady fragrance into our home. Although you can force these in the dark, I just left them in my mother’s greenhouse for a few weeks and they’ve flowered quite quickly. I love that the bright green shoots are mirrored in the green that has grown on the old terracotta and they look wonderful against the pale walls; a touch of next Spring in the early days of Winter.

Paperwhites in pots

I’m currently reading through ‘The Virgin Gardener’ by Laetitia Maklouf again, which has some great ideas for gardening without a garden. I’m going to have a go at growing succulents, as I was really inspired by the Alpine House at RHS Harlow Carr earlier this year. The structure of these little plants fascinates me, and they’ll be a great way to add greenery to our home.

Alpines at RHS Harlow Carr

There will of course be herbs in the kitchen, but I’m on the lookout for the best plants we can have in the rest of our home too. I’m after plants that will last well, help clean the air, cope with the temperatures and look great too.  I’ll be doing a spot of research over the next couple of months, but if you’ve any fabulous suggestions, do let me know!

October 18, 2013

Apple Day and Countryside Live.

Apple Day is one of my favourite annual events, first launched by Common Ground back in 1990. Celebrating the rich variety of apples we have in this country, ‘local distinctiveness’, landscape, ecology and the importance of provenance and traceability in food, this is a day that I absolutely love. Apple Day itself is on 21st October, but you’re likely to find events over most of October up and down the country, including cookery demonstrations, apple identification for those of you with unknown varieties in your garden, games for children to have fun with, growing tips and orchard tours. Common Ground no longer manage an Apple Day calendar, because their original intent was always that it took on a life of its own and became part of the seasonal calendar as much as any Harvest Festival might; a naturally occuring part of every October.  I, for one, will always celebrate Apple Day in some way or another.

I quite often go to RHS Harlow Carr on Apple Day. They don’t seem to have an Apple Day event this year, but they’re doing  a week of ‘Sensational Autumn’ activities for half term which look great fun. Other Apple Day events across the country include those run at several National Trust properties, such as apple pressing and other activities at Beningbrough Hall in Yorkshire.

This weekend is also Countryside Live, at the Harrogate Show Ground on Sunday. As well as  a display of apples and apple variety identification, there will be lots of other seasonal goodness, show-jumping and other equine classes for me to reminisce over, a myriad of other activities from sheepdog trials to chainsaw carving and the addition of tractors and animals will ensure that my kids have a great day out, so we’re going to spend Sunday there. Do come and say hello if you’re visiting too!

Many apple varieties remain unfamiliar to most of us because we’re presented with a pitiful selection in the supermarkets. Apple Day is a chance for us to redress that balance, find a bit about our local area, and the amazing heritage of fruit growing that we have. Do have a look to see if there’s an event near you!

Apple Varieties

September 3, 2012

RHS Harlow Carr: a guest blog

I love RHS Harlow Carr in Harrogate, it’s a absolute joy, but I’ve not had the chance to visit for a while. Happily, my wonderful friend Dawn Jackson has just been and she’s agreed to be my very first Guest Blogger! Hurrah!

So, on that note, and with a little drumroll, I’ll hand you over to Dawn…

We visited Harlow Carr gardens on Sunday and took some photos of the flowers.   I’d love to tell you what plants these are but I didn’t make a note of the names.  I took the photo because I liked the vivid colours and the variety of insects that buzzed around them.   The picture is taken from the view that my four year old had as he rambled about fiddling with flower heads and looking for spiders.  Like most parents of young children I spend a lot of time on my knees or crouching down at kid’s eye level.  It’s the best view of herbaceous borders because I feel like I’m amongst the plants.

There’s a lot to see in these gardens.  We generally stroll around the veggie gardens in the summer and sniff the sweetpeas.  My son nibbles on a few raspberries.   I like the structure of the veggie patch.  The gardeners use hazel and willow to support the climbers which creates a homely, organic look.  The shapes of the veg beds are charming.  For anyone who grew up with a parent or grandparent who kept a garden, or who grows their own, wandering amongst them is like a favourite story gradually unfolding.  Cheery rhubarb, sunny sunflowers, spiky gooseberries, runner-beans, beetroot and scrambling peas amongst many others jostling for space, light and room and doing their very best.

Then we like to re-fuel at Betty’s in the centre of the garden.  Pink lemonade, ginger beer and cakes or ice-cream.  On Sunday the RHS had laid on a brass band.  We sat and ate and drank and listened to the cheerful ‘ Floral Dance’ (my mum used to have the 45 of Terry Wogan’s version).  I wondered if I could be anywhere that was more ‘English’, and then it rained.

Our next stop is usually at the play area under the trees, which is lovely if it’s a hot day, and a long stop at the log maze to run round and round and clamber up onto the platform and wave and jump.

We came across two new elements to the garden this year.  The introduction of a tree house and a collection of oversized outdoor instruments in the woodland garden. Both are magical.  The tree house is like something from a fairy tale or Robin Hood.  It’s only possible to conclude that every garden should have a tree house.  Discovering the musical instruments was exciting.  They blend beautifully into their setting in the woods and even when played tunelessly they are placed in such a big space it feels and sounds fitting amongst the natural rustling of the trees.

These gardens are not attached to a house or a home.  I found that odd initially.  I imagine they are designed as a demonstration of what planting can achieve in a variety of settings.  They achieve that magnificently and gloriously.  All of the elements of a domestic garden are present however (admittedly on a grander scale) and the space is well loved and well cared for.  It’s a pleasure to visit, relax and enjoy the whole sensory experience.  One day I’d like to take more photos and learn the names of the plants…

February 1, 2012

Three Square Foot of Garden.

On Sunday we ventured to the allotment for a short while and spent the time creating a small raised bed for each of the kids to have as their own space. They’re roughly three foot square each, based on the amazing kitchen garden at RHS Harlow Carr which is one of my favourite places to draw inspiration from. I wanted the kids to both have a decent piece of the plot so that they can grow something of their own. It has to be said that one of the plots will probably just end up being used to drive toy tractors on, but Eve has already decided that she wants flowers, strawberries and carrots on hers!

Remembering my rules for allotment gardening with the kids meant that everyone had a lovely time, although Ben did get cold quite quickly so we came home after about an hour. I could have stayed out a lot longer, so I had to remind myself that allotment gardening is a marathon, not a sprint!

September 25, 2011

An apple a day…

The apple might not be the most exciting fruit on the supermarket shelf, but there’s a reason for that. Of all the varieties of apple that are still available today, the supermarkets only sell a handful. So, if you only shopped there, you might think that your only options were these ones, chosen for many reasons, but one of them is without question, their hardiness and suitability to be transported all over the globe. Taste is not at the top of the list, so there is no wonder that other fruit would be more appealing.

However, the humble apple gets more exciting when you realise the truth about it. The truth is that there are ( wait for it) 2,000 varieties of apple still around today, all grown at the National Apple Collection at Brogdale, Kent. Amazing!  They have a huge variety of tastes, shapes, perfumes and textures, not to mention wonderful names. Who could resist a Bloody Ploughman, Peasgood’s Nonsuch, Norfolk Beefing, Cornish Gilliflower or Doctor Harvey? All old English varieties with stories to suit their names. I have yet to see a Catshead variety but when I do I will be looking to see if it lives up to its name (which apparently, in profile, it does!)

I am fortunate enough to have four varieties on my plot:

I planted these myself and chose a combination of old heritage varieties and modern types, because the modern ones tend to be hardier and are more prolific. Often heritage varieties of any fruit or vegetable have something about them that has led to them being commercially  unattractive, but are still of huge value not only for their fruit but to preserve our biodiversity and heritage.

Blenheim Orange

Blenheim Orange – an orange- red flushed variety producing large fruit. This was originally found growing against the boundary wall of the Blenheim Estate by a man called Kempster, and known as Kempster’s Pippin, the Duke Of Marlborough gave his approval for it to be made commercially available under the name of Blenheim Orange. This variety produces beautiful fruit, but is biennial (only fruits every other year) and can be erratic.


Katy – a modern hybrid (James Greive x Worcester Pearmain) which produces bright red fruit with pink tinged flesh. It’s really prolific and has a really sweet variety with strawberry undertones. Once picked, they quickly go soft so need eating up, so it’s a good job they’re so popular with my kids!

Court Pendu Plat

Court Pendu Plat – an ancient variety, with a history across Europe. My tree was originally designed to be a step-over but I wasn’t timely enough with training it so now it’s just a tiny tree with its first equally tiny fruit (and I mean ONE fruit!) growing this year. I am keeping my fingers crossed that it is going to ripen successfully, as the fruit is intensely flavoured with a pineapple acidity which will keep until February. The day I eat it, I will be sitting down and just concentrating on that taste…

Kidd’s Orange Red

Kidd’s Orange Red – another hybrid (Cox’s Orange Pippin x Delicious) produced by an amaateur breeder in New Zealand. Has a lovely flowery taste, stays on the tree longer than Katy ( so I don’t get a glut) and is another prolific fruiter.

I have space for a fifth tree, and will be planting a different old heritage variety this winter. Possibly one that will be good for cooking with – but keep its shape when cooked. I’d like to make my own Tarte Tatin, one of my favourite apple recipes. Luckily these days, a much wider variety of apple trees are available for sale as interest grows in our heritage varieties so my only problem will be choosing which one!

If you’re interested in learning more about apples, or in fact just having a lovely day out, the wonderful organisation that is Common Ground hold Apple Day every October, with a wide variety of events up and down the country. I usually go to the one held at RHS Harlow Carr, which is always a great event, with a room packed with rare varieties to view, bags of different apples to buy and specialists on hand to help you identify the variety of apple tree you might have in your back garden! Plus, lots of activities, the stunning gardens to walk around, Betty’s Tea Rooms and a brilliant bookshop.

More wonderful apple resources:

‘The Apple Source Book’ by Sue Clifford and Angela King at Common Ground (Hodder and Stoughton) has recipes, history and an index of varieties.

‘The New Book of Apples’ by Joan Morgan and Alison Richards (Ebury Press) is a comprehensive history of the fruit and indexes more than 2,000 varieties.

‘Tender Volume II’ Fruit (Fourth Estate) by Nigel Slater. Some of my favorite apple recipes and beautiful writing from my favourite cookery writer.

‘An apple a day keeps the Doctor away’  

J.T. Stinson. Address to the St Louis Expedition, Missouri 1904