Conversations became letters via email, which gradually seemed to turn themselves into a book. Jo would find herself one day panicking about what to cook for Easter lunch: a couple of conversations with Mary Jane and the fear subsided, and sure enough, a delicious lunch appeared on the table. Mary Jane, meanwhile, seemed to have a totally irrational fear of planting bulbs. After a couple of sessions staring at flowerbeds with Jo, the mystery evaporated and the whole thing revealed itself as a fairly simple process. The whole book is full of similar question and answers, and musings on life in general. It's sometimes self-deprecating, sometimes hilarious, and always enlightening.
What makes this book different to other cookery and gardening books is that it comes with a big slice of real life: it gives simple recipes for cooking, which real people can make without being overwhelmed. The gardening tips are interesting (yes really), quick, innovative and helpful to the virgin gardener. Jo’s expertise in beautiful planting enables the reader to have a go at some simple schemes with delightful results. Mary Jane, never phased by a the prospect of an occasion, shares her secrets and knowledge gathered from a lifetime of providing fabulous food for friends and family.
It has been described as 84 Charing Cross Road meets The Kitchen Diaries with a bit of Delia and Gardener’s World thrown in for good measure, and it's for 'middle aged middle England', as well as young people setting up home and all British Bake Off watchers. It is aimed at being a good read for both the cookery and the gardening market, trying to encourage everyone to ‘have a go’.
This book will make you laugh, empathise, and stir up a bit of enthusiasm in those who are feeling hesitant in the face of wooden spoon or trowel. At the same time, it has an appeal to those more seasoned cooks and gardeners. If you ever have had the urge to write to a cook or a gardener with a pressing question, here's your chance to read how they might reply. Have fun, read our book: both your table and your garden will be eternally grateful.
Tulips and lemon cake
As you know I LOVE tulips. Tulips are my favourite flower. The planting of them, however, terrifies me. You see, as a virgin gardener, the thought of digging holes in my flower bed is simply scary. I just don't understand how you avoid all the other bulbs and roots in your flower bed. Thanks to you I've got hundreds of bulbs to plant, and I am grateful for them, especially at the promise of a wonderful spring morning with ramrod-straight tulips staring up at a blue sky from their pots. I want to plant them myself but am scared of going wrong. I know I sound idiotic but I just need some planting advice and to know if you think they are better in pots or scattered over the garden. I feel they are more formal than that. Advice? And should we peruse the history of the noble tulip? Do you know the Dutch story in detail, you know how tulips were worth a fortune etc etc...
Borders and beds, pots and planters - wherever there's a nook. I pack 'em much in the style of the passengers on those buses your mother wrote about.
The most important thing is not to allow tulip bulbs to get soggy. It's common sense if you think about it: look at the bulb and imagine it sitting in our Wealden clay for five months. Disaster. So, if it's been raining for weeks, as it has been for what seems like weeks here, just be patient and wait a while. They won't come to any harm by going in a few weeks late, as long as they have been stored somewhere cool and dry. I confess to planting in January a couple of years ago, just because up till then I couldn't find a nice enough day to go outside. Bulb planters really take the hard work out of the job: and bulb planters with long handles (I reckon devised for the infirm) are actually a stroke of genius - no bending down, no muddy knees and the bulbs get planted to the right depth. As for the other plants, I've been telling you for ever: just plant the bulbs where there aren't plants - it is that simple, I promise you. I know you're worried about existing bulbs, but if you take a photo of them when they're flowering, you'll have a pretty good idea. I know it's a bit of a faff but it will save you the irritation of slicing a happy bulb in two.
Anna Pavord wrote the seminal work on the tulip, called, you guessed it, The Tulip. She described how when it arrived from Turkey, it took Western Europe by storm, and almost drove people crazy in their anguish and desperation to collect prize specimens. You can imagine this: such an exotic, sturdy yet delicate flower, with stems taking their own shape in vases. My favourite combination of the moment is Jimmy, Cairo and Ronaldo: toffee-coloured Cairo seems weird, but when you put it with purple and burgundy and deep red – sumptuous.
However, the best of the best of the best has to be La Belle Epoque – think damask and Colefax and Fowler circa 1983. I promise I’ll remind you in a few months when it’s bulb ordering time.
Just a quick update on our progress. Jo has won a gold at Chelsea today for her Wedgewood garden so if you are going to Chelsea this week don't forget to visit her beautiful garden. We are one third of the way to funding our book so please tell your friends to pledge for our book if they haven't already - we need support to reach our target. May is such an amazing time of year - everything is looking…
These people are helping to fund Rhubarb Rhubarb.