Horticultural Charities

It seems appropriate as it was Mental Health Awareness day last Tuesday to announce that I have become part of a steering group for setting up a mental health charity that uses gardening for therapy. It is called Space 2 Grow and is set in central Farnham (UK). The charity is in its very early days but we will hopefully be up and running by next spring. For now, I’m preparing the garden with the team and planting lots of bulbs next week (we meet one day a week, the day I’m not at university). We are hoping to get a vegetable patch going which will be amazing.

 

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A photo of some of the team from last week, Space 2 Grow

 

The mental health charity Oakleaf based in Guildford (UK) and I have been communicating lately and I’m happy to say that I am sending them a donation after Mental Health Awareness Day. They are lovely people and focus of gardening as therapy and a way of employability for those who find it difficult to get a job. They are online if anyone wants to take a look.

On the same note, my book ‘A Growing Mind’ is available on kindle now. I’ve been told that it has been really helpful for others who never had a mental health problem and by those who never had an eating disorder too.

 

 

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River Cottage Carrot Walnut Cake adapted

I will admit it – I used to hate carrot cake. The idea of a vegetable in a cake, an orange vegetable at that, was just crazy. But, now I can  literally eat my own words. I’ve had at least three different types of really good carrot cake recently, but the best so far has been a recipe my mum made from the River Cottage Veg Patch handbook.

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Now, she adjusted the recipe a bit. She added more dried fruit, salted butter instead of oil and any extra salt, instead of apple sauce she grated a whole apple and a pear (in a food processor) because our trees have been so generous this year, she ground the walnuts up (because that’s our trick ingredient to a good homemade cake) and she made the mistake of adding the syrup that is meant to go over the top at the end into the actual cake, but it was so much better. It wasn’t sickly sweet or sticky then, it made the cake instead moister and more delicious.

It is a darling of a recipe and very good for you too!

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River Cottage Carrot Walnut Cake 

(Mum’s Version)

(Serves 10)

– 150g sultanas, raisins, currants -220g self-raising flour -1 tsp baking powder -1 tsp ground cinnamon -1 tsp ground ginger -Pinch of ground cloves -220g light brown sugar, plus an extra 3 tbsp for the syrup -116g salted butter -Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange -2 eggs, lightly beaten -225g apple and pear, coarsely grated -270g carrots, peeled and coarsely grated -80g walnuts, ground -1 tbsp lemon juice

  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C. Line a 20–22cm square cake tin, about 8cm deep, with baking paper.
  2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and ground cloves.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the 220g sugar, butter and orange zest until well combined, then whisk in the eggs until the mixture is creamy. Fold in the apple and pear, followed by the flour mixture until just combined. Next fold in the grated carrots and ground walnuts.
  4. While the cake is in the oven, make the syrup. Put the orange juice into a small saucepan with the 3 tbsp light muscovado sugar and 1 tbsp lemon juice. Warm over a low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Fold into the cake with the sultanas.
  5. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake for about 1 1/4 hours, until a fine skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. If the cake appears to be overbrowning before it is done, cover the top loosely with foil.
  6. Stand the cake tin on a wire rack and leave to cool. Serve hot or cold. Store in an air-tight tin.

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My new book: A Growing Mind: the small book of gardening for eating disorders

Ok… so this is the explanation to why I was absent for a while this year.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Growing-Mind-gardening-eating-disorders/dp/1976388740/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1506408661&sr=8-3&keywords=isobel+murphy

I was in hospital for weight recovery for anorexia that I had been hosting for the last few years. I had hit what I call, rock bottom, and was more than desperate to end this nightmare. I saw my doctor and old psychiatrist from 2013 and was sent to hospital.

I went to three different hospitals during that time and learnt different things from each of them. Some experiences were awful and scarring, others made me the person I am right at this moment, a bit of a better person, hopefully.

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Eating disorders are odd problems. When I was younger, I was taught that an eating disorder was someone who wanted to be thin so much that they starved themselves. I remember thinking ‘that’s vain’. I never ever considered that I would have one. I didn’t know that it could become an obsession, almost a religion, that it involved punishing yourself, feeling so guilty you want to rip your insides out, a way of distracting yourself from the rest of the world you don’t understand, a way of blocking out other pain because living in your head and body trumps all other external suffering.

It is very hard for people who have not had an eating disorder, or had to live with someone close with one, to actually be able to understand how difficult life can be with this illness.

I realised while I was in hospital that funnily enough, gardening had prepared me for the struggles I had ahead. It might sound odd, but it is true. I have explained it in more detail in the very short book.

My hope is that whoever is struggling with and eating disorder will read this book and will get something out of it. It might cure you, it might not, it might be somewhere in the middle. But when we have these illnesses, isn’t it great to try anything to see if it helps, just a little? I think any ease in the internal and physical pain is a relief once you actually have it.

Let me tell you, I was terrified of recovery. I still have ups and downs, but the difference is that the downs don’t destroy me anymore, I can still eat and not over-exercises and keep sane. It is always better once you are there. The climb of the mountain is rough, but the view is exquisite.

This book tackles other issues that come with the package with eating disorders but might be good for anyone else struggling with depression, control issues, anxiety, being sociable, insomnia or sleep issues, and people who just need to feel calm.

If you know anyone who this book might help, please offer it to them. I really want it to help someone like it helped me.

Here is the link again to the book on Amazon (I self-published it so made it as cheap as I could) :

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Growing-Mind-gardening-eating-disorders/dp/1976388740/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&qid=1506321159&sr=8-6&keywords=isobel+murphy

Keep yourselves well. Lots of love.

Books: Fiction for outdoor lovers

It might be difficult to tell from my writing on this blog (I make far too many grammatical errors and cannot excuse myself for my bad proof reading enough) but I am and always have been a book-worm. I pretty much devour books. I read a lot of varieties but I do love old-fashioned fiction written in the style of the Brontes, Hardy, George Elliot, Jane Austen, Thackery – and I must add, I have ready every novel by Daphne Du Maurier, ‘The Hunger Games’ series a few years back and grew up adoring Enid Blyton, ‘The Butterfly Lion’ and when I was twelve, my favourite book was ‘The Book Thief’. Book-worm.

It is even more exciting when the character suddenly finds his/herself in the most gorgeous scenery or working on the land. I relate to it immediately. I have compiled a list of fictional books for the outdoors, old-fashioned, farm labour lovers on the internet, as well as recommending some outstanding reads worth trying…

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THE SECRET GARDEN – Frances Hodgson-Burnett

“There’s naught as nice as th’ smell o’ good clean earth, except th’ smell o’ fresh growin’ things when th’ rain falls on ’em.”

‘After losing her parents, young Mary Lennox is sent from India to live in her uncle’s gloomy mansion on the wild English moors. She is lonely and has no one to play with, but one day she learns of a secret garden somewhere in the grounds that no one is allowed to enter. Then Mary uncovers an old key in a flowerbed – and a gust of magic leads her to the hidden door. Slowly she turns the key and enters a world she could never have imagined.’ Penguin Books

This is a lovely book sold as a children’s book but it will be a delight to all adults too. It deals with grown-up situations – poorly children, orphaned children, loneliness, charity, father and son love, the wonders of the outdoors, gardening and wildlife and finding life again – but is written in a tone that makes it gentle enough for a child to read it. This is a wonderful technique as it makes a book about serious subjects actually happy. I felt so joyous whilst reading this book. I wanted to go to Yorkshire, run on the moors and play in the secret garden behind a stone wall, weeding in the peace and quiet, be Dickon, the kind-hearted animal and plant whisperer. It is a beautiful read and will make you happy and want to live.

“Sometimes since I’ve been in the garden I’ve looked up through the trees at the sky and I have had a strange feeling of being happy as if something was pushing and drawing in my chest and making me breathe fast. Magic is always pushing and drawing and making things out of nothing. Everything is made out of magic, leaves and trees, flowers and birds, badgers and foxes and squirrels and people. So it must be all around us. In this garden – in all the places.”

ANNA KARENINA – Leo Tolstoy

‘… taking long, regular strides, and with a precise and regular action which seemed to cost him no more effort than swinging one’s arms in walking, as though it were in play, he laid down the high, even row of grass. It was as though it were not he but the sharp scythe of itself swishing through the juicy grass.’

‘‘I must have physical exercise, or my temper’ll certainly be ruined,’ he thought, and he determined he would go mowing, however awkward he might feel about it with his brother or the peasants.’

 ‘He thought of nothing, wished for nothing, but not to be left behind the peasants, and to do his work as well as possible. He heard nothing but the swish of the scythes, and saw before him Tit’s upright figure mowing away, the crescent- shaped curve of the cut grass, the grass and flower heads slowly and rhythmically falling before the blade of his scythe, and ahead of him the end of the row, where would come the rest.’

‘Leo Tolstoy’s classic story of doomed love is one of the most admired novels in world literature. Generations of readers have been enthralled by his magnificent heroine, the unhappily married Anna Karenina, and her tragic affair with dashing Count Vronsky. In their world frivolous liaisons are commonplace, but Anna and Vronsky’s consuming passion makes them a target for scorn and leads to Anna’s increasing isolation. The heartbreaking trajectory of their relationship contrasts sharply with the colorful swirl of friends and family members who surround them, especially the newlyweds Kitty and Levin, who forge a touching bond as they struggle to make a life together. Anna Karenina is a masterpiece not only because of the unforgettable woman at its core and the stark drama of her fate, but also because it explores and illuminates the deepest questions about how to live a fulfilled life.’ www.goodreads.com

It is a BIG read. Not quite as long as ‘War and Peace’ but still a chunky book. The film of ‘Anna Karenina’ focuses mostly on the relationship of Anna and Vronksy, overlooking Levin who actually takes up most of the book. He is a really interesting character. Some people say that the chapters where he is scything and working alongside his fellow farmers is the most boring part of the book. To me, it was the best. I felt a glowing excitement while I was reading it and that was the day I decided I wanted to one day get a scythe. That dream came true a couple of weeks ago. I am sure that anyone who loves farming, being outdoors, physical labour, old-fashioned tools etc. will adore this part of the book. If you don’t, then still read it as the rest of the book is exciting, dramatic, filled with deceit, death, love and hatred, family affairs, success and failure. A typical good old-fashioned read.

 ‘The longer Levin mowed, the oftener he felt the moments of unconsciousness in which it seemed not his hands that swung the scythe, but the scythe mowing of itself, a body full of life and consciousness of its own, and as though by magic, without thinking of it, the work turned out regular and well-finished of itself. These were the most blissful moments.’

FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD – Thomas Hardy

“To persons standing alone on a hill during a clear midnight such as this, the roll of the world is almost a palpable movement. To enjoy the epic form of that gratification it is necessary to stand on a hill at a small hour of the night, and, having first expanded with a sense of difference from the mass of civilized mankind, who are diregardful of all such proceedings at this time, long and quietly watch your stately progress through the stars.”

‘Independent and spirited Bathsheba Everdene has come to Weatherbury to take up her position as a farmer on the largest estate in the area. Her bold presence draws three very different suitors: the gentleman-farmer Boldwood, soldier-seducer Sergeant Troy and the devoted shepherd Gabriel Oak. Each, in contrasting ways, unsettles her decisions and complicates her life, and tragedy ensues, threatening the stability of the whole community. The first of his works set in Wessex, Hardy’s novel of swift passion and slow courtship is imbued with his evocative descriptions of rural life and landscapes, and with unflinching honesty about sexual relationships.’ goodreads.com

One cannot write a list of country-worshiping fictional novels and not include Thomas Hardy in it. ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’ is probably my favourite but I love ‘Tess of D’Urbevilles’ (read the description of the green hills surrounding Tess and her fellow milkmaids – I wanted to be an old-fashioned milk maid living in Dorset straightaway and that was before I had even been or heard of Dorset) and I have read ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’, slightly less country but an exciting read and still set in Hardy’s Wessex. Dramatic, romantic, honest, tragic and sad (Hardy’s style I am afraid), I urge everyone to pick up a famous copy. Trust me, I know people who have studied his poetry at school and thought they hated Hardy’s melancholy writing, have then read ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ and realised that he is a brilliant story teller.

‘It was that period in the vernal quarter when we may supposed the Dryads to be waking for the season—The vegetable world begins to move and swell and the saps to rise, till in the completest silence of lone gardens and trackless plantations […] there are bustlings, strainings, united thrusts, and pulls-altogether.’

‘This reminded him that if there was one class of manifestation on this matter that he thoroughly understood, it was the instincts of sheep.’

Powdery Mildew

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Following the posts about courgettes and cucumbers, I need to follow up the depressing facts about powdery mildew with a possible preventative or cure.

Grow For Flavour

I was given ‘Grow for Flavour’ by James Wong as a birthday gift a year ago. In his section about growing cucurbits, James Wong wrote about an interesting concoction he named ‘Supersquash Tonic Spray’ which I was taken by as some of my cucurbits were starting to show signs of that horrid virus, especially my pumpkins. My cucumbers and butternut squashes fortunately escaped unscathed but I was very afraid for the lives of my courgettes (which the disease did eventually slow down to a halt in early autumn) and my pumpkins (that fortunately managed to hang in there until they were ready for harvesting, then the powdery mildew reached the stems and rotted them). James Wong’s spray is for preventing the disease from taking hold of the plants but it was a little late for that last year by the time I got the book. We used it as a way of trying to hold back the disease. We don’t know if it was the tonic or just some strong cucurbits fighting for their lives, but the powdery mildew was kept at bay – it didn’t vanish but it didn’t go out of control and kill of the plants straight away.

This year, we started using the tonic spray on the plants that could possibly suffer from a powdery mildew attack as soon as they were in the ground. The weather has been so odd this year that we really do fear for any plant disease coming along so it is best to be prepared.

If you read the ‘Life’ section that comes with the ‘Telegraph’ paper (my grandma gives them to us for the chicken houses every week), then a slightly recent article written by Bunny Guinness mentioned that she now uses a 50/50 milk and water solution to spray her cucurbits with to cope with powdery mildew too.

Here is the concoction we make to help keep our cucurbits strong and healthy to fight powdery mildew when it attacks, from James Wong’s ‘Grow for Flavour’ instructions (all credit goes to the author):

Supersquash Tonic Spray

Add a splash of seaweed extract to 1 litre (1 3/4 pint) spray can of water along with a 1/4 of 300mg soluble aspirin tablet. Add a splash of full-fat milk for added nutrient content. Spritz the tonic spray over the plants’ leaves whenever you can but at least once a month over the summer. Saturate the leaves as much as you can.

The science:

  • Trials at the US Dept of Agriculture have shown that a foiler spray rich in potassium improved the quality of melons (squash’s close relative) by improving the firmness and sugar content and increasing vitamin C and beta-carotene levels.
  • Trials have demonstrated that chemicals closely related to aspirin can act as a tonic to help boost squash plant defences against drought and cold. Experimental evidence suggests that aspirin spray can improve their resistance to disease such as mildew and mosaic virus.
  • Wong emphasises using full-fat milk, not skimmed or soy. The fatty acids in milk have been shown in some trials to inhibit the growth of mildew.

Wong does point out that neither aspirin or milk are approved formally as registered pesticides or for the treatment or prevention of plant diseases. It is entirely legal though to apply them to boost plant growth and crop flavour.

As I mentioned before, all credit for the recipe and facts goes to James Wong’s published work. Give it a go!

Books: Gardening

Some gardening books I recommend:

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‘Grow your own Eat your own’ and ‘Bob Flowerdew’s Organic Bible’, both by Bob Flowerdew

Grow Your Own, Eat Your Own’ – Bob Flowerdew: Offers advice on harvesting, storing and cooking your homegrown produce throughout the year. He discusses how to grow for your particular kitchen needs, coping with gluts and storing and preserving: drying, jams and jellies, syrups and squashes, salting, brining, fruit cheeses and butters, pickles, chutneys, sauces and ketchups, soaking and sprouting… His recipe includes handy tips of growing techniques, adopting an organic approach to gardening, includes recipes (fruity up and down pancake, cinnamon baked pears, plum sorbet, artichoke pate, stuffed courgette flowers, pickled beetroot…) and adds a little extra page on keeping poultry and bees, underlining the wonderful relationship between keeping an organic garden and livestock.

‘Bob Flowerdew’s Organic Bible’: Gardening organically and how to ‘work with nature’ rather than to fight against it. A good book for organic gardening completely, not just for growing produce. Discusses making own liquid feeds and compost too.

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‘Salad Leaves for All Seasons’ by Charles Dowdling and ‘Gardner Cook’ by Christopher Lloyd

‘Salad Leaves for All Seasons’ – Charles Dowdling: Dowdling first started growing vegetables commercially in 1982 when he set up his first green box scheme, eventually selling about 200 salad bags per week. This book highlights the different salad leaves one can grow, growing hardy varieties outdoors during the winter, growing easy-peasy micro leaves and dealing with the abundant pests salad leaves attract. He is quite keen on planting and the relationship with the moon cycle. He also includes lists of what is best to plant per month, breaking down the extensive list and narrowing the sometimes overwhelming options one can have for planting, making it easier. There are also some recipes for all seasons included from his wife, Susie (e.g. June: Somerset Spelt Risotto with Sugar Peas and Pea Shoots, September: Dark Red Lettuce with Cucumber, Cashew Nuts and Pumpkin Seeds, January/February: Winter Salad with Lettuce, Winter Purslane, Apple and Cheddar …). He also divides the salad leaves into sections and discusses the different varieties and when best to plant them. For example, for lettuce, he writes about how to grow it, when to grow it, growing it outdoors/ in a container, problems, harvesting, watering, types of lettuce (hearting, loose leaf etc.), colours of lettuce (dark lettuce has a slightly bitter flavour, slower to grow than light green and less attractive to slugs, apparently) and then he discusses varieties (e.g. Loose Leaf, he recommends, ‘Lollo Rosso’, ‘Aruba’, ‘Rubens Red’ and plenty more). It is a very useful, detailed book for anyone who wants to be self-sufficient in growing green leaves for themselves or others.

‘Gardener Cook’ – Christopher Lloyd: Lloyd depicts how to grow the best varieties of fruits, vegetables, salads and herbs and how to use them in cooking, including recipes. It is divided into the following sections: Fruit Trees, Soft Fruit, Root Vegetables, Green Vegetables, Salads, Herbs. He writes information on the produce he grew at Dixter and a little history he has with the particular food item, before offering some recipes (Apple Charlotte, Spinach Flan, Potato Salad with Wine and Anchovies, Beetroot Baked with Cream and Parmesan Cheese, Rhubarb and Banana Pie, Leek and Mushroom Tart…). Included lovely photographs, too. As Lloyd writes in the blurb, ‘Growing one’s own food is tremendously rewarding… We have always grown fruit and vegetables in the garden… What could be more natural than to use them effectively in the kitchen?’

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‘RHS Encyclopaedia of Gardening’ and ‘RHS Vegetable & Fruit Gardening’

‘The RHS: Vegetable and Fruit Gardening’: A large book packed with information about growing all types of vegetables and fruit. Discusses types of plants briefly in A-Z order among other advice, such as crop rotation.

‘The RHS Encyclopaedia of Gardening’: Largest saved for last – this is a whopper of a book. It has everything technical you need to know about gardening and is a good one to refer to.