OxGrow Monthly – July 2016


Murmuring by miriads in the shimmering trees…’

TV presenters tell us we’ve been having a ‘heat wave’, but it is such a poor expression. What actually happens is infinitely more complex and interesting than what is conveyed by that dry (ekhm) phrase.

For those lucky enough to be enjoying their summer break, hot days mean a wonderfully lazy time: having ice cream, cooling off in the river or Hinksey Lake, listening to bees humming in the garden (and neighbours blasting summer hits through their windows)… Wilfred Owen captures the heat-infused summer mood perfectly in his poem ‘From My Diary, July 1914’, which I enclose below this post – enjoy!

For gardeners, hot days mean hard work: we’ve been spending lots of our time watering all our crops, both in the polytunnels and outside, but even so the earth got so dry in some patches that it started to crack (to the point where it reminded me of that scene from the Lion King when Timon and Pumba find Simba – scary!)

But the garden seems to be doing well regardless. It is so abundant right now, with a lush green backdrop against which the wild flowers are swaying their vividly multi-coloured heads, and a glorious gala of leaves and tops which come in a huge variety of shapes and sizes: the feathery crowns of fennel, cumin and coriander; the regal parsnip and carrot tops, the lazily sprawling beet and turnip leaves, and the huge, exotic looking leaves of horseradish, squash and courgettes. Bees and butterflies visit often, attracted by the wildflowers. We’ve also spotted some pond skaters skimming along the pond surface and we wonder what other creatures are living in it which we can’t even see…

We have been harvesting loads. Some plants only give us a little bit, just enough to gather a handful and stuff it in our mouths, which we have been doing with raspberries, wild strawberries, and sweet peas. Others come in batches big enough to cook or preserve, and so we’ve been making sauerkraut with our cabbages, ratatouille with our courgettes, side dishes of fried, steamed and cooked beans (dwarf, French, speckled…), and an infinite assortment of salads (made with rocket, mustard, mizuna, turnip tops, amaranth leaves, and herbs such as sage, mint, fennel, and dill). An absolutely incredible discovery of this month was, for me, fried tiny turnips: after I’ve thinned them to make room for the remaining ones to get bigger, I took the tiny ones home, removed the tops, scrubbed them clean, and fried them for a few minutes in a little rapeseed oil. They were delicious – tender, sweet, and packed with a kind of nutty, rich flavour.

The most satisfying thing about cooking OxGrow stuff is that you know it is so special – not only was it grown together by a bunch of lovely, dedicated people, but it is often stuff you would not get anywhere else. No shops sell thinned tiny turnips. Not many sell heritage varieties such as achochas, which we planted last month and which will soon be ready to eat. And none of the stuff from the shop will ever be as fresh or tasty as that bit of kale I picked yesterday afternoon and steamed later that same evening.

Despite all the work we had to do – the incessant and relentless drill of weeding, watering, sowing, harvesting, thinning, planting, trimming, cutting, weeding, watering, sowing, thinning, planting, trimming, weeding… you get the idea – we still found a little bit of time to enjoy the space, have some of those delicious Hogacre Café treats on Sundays and share a bit of food on Wednesday evenings.

And we found some time to plot and plan a little… We have some exciting ideas for the coming months. Keep your eyes peeled for updates – we are looking to have quite a few events in the garden in late summer and early autumn (workshops, courses, and arts and crafts evenings). We’ll be spreading the word via our newsletter, social media, and the wider Oxford networks, so stay tuned.

If ever you feel like you need a bit of space just to catch your breath and escape the pressures of the modern world for a little bit, feel free to come down and join us on any Sunday afternoon or Wednesday evening. There’s no other place like this in Oxford – our very own secret garden.



July Newsletters:

(And here’s the poem I mentioned earlier:)

Wilfred Owen
From My Diary, July 1914

Murmuring by miriads in the shimmering trees.
Wakening with wonder in the Pyrenees.
Cheerily chirping in the early day.
Singing of summer, scything thro’ the hay.
Shaking the heavy dews from bloom and frond.
Bursting the surface of the ebony pond.
Of swimmers carving thro’ the sparkling cold.
Gleaming with wetness to the morning gold.
A mead
Bordered about with warbling water brooks.
A maid
Laughing the love-laugh with me; proud of looks.
The heat
Throbbing between the upland and the peak.
Her heart
Quivering with passion to my pressed cheek.
Of floating flames across the mountain brow.
Of stillness; and a sighing of the bough.
Of leaflets in the gloom; soft petal-showers;
Expanding with the starr’d nocturnal flowers.