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Monday, 30 November -0001

Clemmie Hambro’s gardening week 24th Feb

Stylish, simple, practical, comfortable and not too expensive – that’s the perfect sort of garden furniture, says Clemmie

Written by Clemmie Hambro

It’s funny what one finds difficult to get right in the garden. Sometimes things swim along according to plan, but some things, despite research and a fair amount of determination, just remain in an ongoing state of inertia. As you all know, I suffer from a few blind spots – one being the wretched border in front of my house, which remains unplanted after a whole two years. The other is my inability to buy any garden furniture whatsoever.

We do have one very nice outdoor dining table under the pergola, bought spontaneously at Chelsea Flower Show one year. On the stand was a lovely, smooth, silvery wooden table with big thick sides and generous curvy edges. I
said that I wanted one like that and the man showed me a picture of the same table but in a rather unpleasant orangey colour and swore blind that it would take only six months to age to the lovely silvery patina.

So, down went the husband’s credit card and eventually the table arrived – orange and far too big for the space, which only made the colour seem worse. I waited and waited, staring at it reproachfully for six months while it sat, enormously and resolutely, refusing to change colour. Taking matters into my own hands, I went against his advice of covering it in winter and left it exposed, open and whimpering in the cruel Exmoor weather. And finally, it has
gone silver. But not for a good two years longer than he said it would take.

I think that is the root of my problem with garden furniture. I have an absolute phobia about it until it looks as if it has been there forever. But it is not going to look as if it has been there forever, unless you get on and buy some and leave it there for a few years. But it has always struck me that it is almost impossible to find midrange comfortable furniture that is genuinely, you know, nice. You are stuck between Harrods and Homebase, as it were. I mean, I would love to have a rainbow of bistro tables from Fermob but it is just too expensive for what it is and quite difficult to get hold of.

And I think I would expire with happiness were I ever to get my hands on a bespoke Old Rocker swing seat from Odd Limited. It might be the chicest darned seat you ever saw, but with a starting price of just under £3,000, it is just too much for something that is going to spend its days living under an Exmoor deluge. On the other hand, you seriously don’t want anything too cheap, as in all likelihood it will look it and last five minutes, or will be an ugly, plastic carbuncle and sit in landfill for the next 20,000 years.

Then the clever people at Crocus, the online plant nursery, designed and produced a few corking pieces that even an old fusspot like me couldn’t whinge about. Smart, simple, practical, comfortable and not cheap, but not too expensive – honestly, I think Crocus might have cracked my problem. My favourite piece was a lime green wire chair, which was very comfy and dead stylish.

There are architectural styles, bistrostyle things in funky colours, sleek black metal benches, and a brand-new hardwood furniture range that is made out of Shorea – a tough wood from Indonesia that, miraculously, is already that gorgeous silvery colour. So I don’t have to stare at it for two years, which is always a bonus. 

Crocus: 0844-557 2244, www.crocus.co.uk (the new range is available from April 2012)

www.fermob.com

Odd Limited: 01993-830674, www.oddlimited.com

 


 

Plotlines 

Sarah Langton-Lockton on her allotment

The forecasters said there would be snow at 6pm, and most of us sneered at the misplaced confidence of the prediction. I was on a bus at the time, hurtling home after a matinee at the Donmar (a brilliantly performed Richard II, stirring and absorbing, perfect for a gloomy February afternoon). Glancing out of the murky window at six, I saw the first tentative flakes of snow, and by the time I was dropped off, 30 minutes later, at the bottom of my road, everything had a thick covering of snow.

Next day it was pin-drop quiet – the roads were treacherous and few motorists had ventured out. Today, it’s business as usual at the start of the working week – slush everywhere and the dense silence gone. It’s barely above freezing, so there’s no point in a trip to the allotment, although I need vegetables and am running out of salad leaves and radicchio. The prospect of supermarket-bought produce is unappealing, but I may be forced to buy some purple sprouting broccoli as the least bad option among the mostly tired looking stuff on display. Sprouting broccoli is one of the best of the hungry gap staples – ferrous, crunchy, full of flavour. Children pay lip service to eating it, some in my family willing to eat the stalks while others toy with the florets. On the allotment I grow ‘Rudolph’, described in seed catalogues as ‘extra early’, ready for harvest from November to February. My plants are looking healthy and disease and pest-free, but show no sign of producing those delicious little shoots. Much later in the season I shall sow a broccoli relative, cima di rapa, also known as broccoli rabe or turnip tops. It is probably descended from a wild herb related to the turnip. Cima di rapa has loose florets and tasty small leaves and should be picked when the stalks are still slim rather than thick and woody. You can pick the florets when they are green and still tightly closed, but they are equally good when a few small edible flowers have opened. I just chop the florets and tender stalks and leaves roughly and boil for a very few minutes in salted water. They are at their best reheated in olive oil in which you have sautéd a sliced clove of garlic and a few chilli flakes. In Italy, cima di rapa is a winter vegetable. Here, Simpson’s Seeds – www.simpsonsseeds.co.uk – advises sowing seed from April to September, and picking young shoots from June to October.

Kale is the obvious candidate for harvesting in the depths of winter, but I have decided to give up on its fibrous stalks and bitter taste. I grow ‘Red Russian’ for its grey/green leaves and delicate red veins and stems. Picked when the leaves have barely unfurled, it looks and tastes good in salads. Cavolo nero, alternatively listed as Nero di Toscana, is another AGM Heritage cultivar, a striking sight in a frosty winter bed, with its straplike, almost black leaves. These invariably harbour whitefly and pigeons will peck holes in them when they have demolished all the
tastier brassicas. Next year I shall allow some ‘Red Russian’ kale plants to grow on through the winter. A recent article in the RHS magazine The Garden, an essential read for all serious gardeners, recommended leaving a few kale plants in situ to go to seed. The immature flower shoots, so the article says, are delicious and can be picked and eaten like sprouting broccoli. I wonder what the granddaughters will think.




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