Slowly does it…

The garden is coming along.  Slowly. With the end of term looming there’s not been much time to get out and stuck into the bigger jobs, leaving just the usual weeding and mowing.  And even those haven’t been done as often as I’d like!  I had hoped to get the main beds laid out by summer but it looks like that won’t happen. There were a few small beds already in the garden and they have become temporary homes for the plants I’m starting to stash away.

Peachy-pink Antirrhinum flowers from the side. Peachy-pink Antirrhinum flowers.

The Antirrhinums which were in the garden already have made it through the mild winter and are starting to flower again.

The veg beds are some consolation – although I’ve mostly thrown seed at them and had only a few minutes here and there to check them over, they seem to be doing fine.  I’ve done a mix of mostly salad veg with lots of annual flowers – many edible themselves – as I really liked how this looked on the RBGE student plots, last year.  The peas, both fancy sweet-peas and edible types, are coming up nicely.  The good weather, alternating sun and drenching rain, has really brought  them on well, despite late sowings and old seed.

Another plant which has benefited from this weather has been the spinach – I’ve never managed to grow spinach well enough to eat – in the old garden it used to bolt as soon as it had two proper leaves.  I think this was due to the sandy-ish soil which drained way too quickly for the spinach’s liking.

Peas growing under a wire frame. Young, furled up spinach leaves.

I’m pleased that the few plants I brought with me from the old garden seem to be managing to survive. The Nymphoides peltata has finally shown up in the ‘pond’.  I hadn’t been sure if it had survived nearly a week of no water during moving but apparently it did and maybe this year I’ll get to see some flowers! Most of the Buddleja cuttings have taken.  I would have been somewhat sad if they hadn’t – whilst it’s easy to get cuttings or plants of Buddleja, these are from plants I grew from seed.   I’ve put one in the ground to preserve against the pot drying out and I’m hoping they’ll all grow well enough to survive the winter next year.

 Nymphoides peltata leaves on the surface of the pond water. Small Buddleja cutting A small flowering single-stem sage plant.

A variegated Hosta. Clematis cutting Chive flower buds

 Sage, Hosta, Clematis and chives also made it over from the old garden and seem to be thriving – especially the chives, which are in a corner of the raised bed which I have designated as the ‘herb’ bed. Elder stems coming back from an old stump. Despite the rather heavy handed reduction of the elder, it seems to be coming back just fine.  Elder really can take a heavy pruning!  Hopefully next year I’ll get some flowers to make elderflower goodies.

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Full Circle

In a few weeks time we’re going to be moving house and so I will be leaving the first garden which has been ‘mine’.  I’ve ‘packed up’ the garden, returning it back to a more ‘low maintenance’ space and digging up a few of the plants I can’t bear to part with – my ‘rescued’ 50p bronze grass which has become two beautiful specimens a couple of feet across, some cuttings of my grown-from-seed buddleja, my hostas and some herb cuttings.

Some pictures charting my few years growing here: (more…)

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It’s All Gone To P(l)ot

pots

It’s been a shamefully long time since I last blogged but here I am again, having been re-enthused by the vagaries of life, much as I’d been drawn away from blogging by same.

I’m now studying Horticulture with Plantsmanship at RBGE and SRUC – a course which combines practical, hands on gardening and how-it-all-works theory.  It’s been a bit of a mad few months getting back into the rhythm of studying – evening time isn’t really your own – there’s essays or projects or idents to be taken care of and just keeping the normal things in life going seems hard enough without adding more writing on top even in the enjoyable form of blogging.  However, now that the first semester is past and Christmas / New Year is fading in the face of slowly increasing daylight, I seem to have begun to get used to everything and can contemplate activities other than eat, sleep, coursework, take care of cat, repeat ad nauseum.

Given both myself and the other half are now in Edinburgh we’re contemplating moving closer to town – travel costs are ridiculous (getting worse every year) and travelling for 2 1/2 hours a day is really eating any spare time we do have.  This means, however, that I’m not likely to have a garden this year – there’s not much point in building up all of the usual annual plants and veg when I might not be here in the summer and, if we move out, we’ll be restoring the garden to its former paved and gravelled ‘glory’ before we go.

On the upside, I do have a plot this year for my course, so I can throw my energies into it without worrying too much about my own garden being left bare.  I’ve started a blog for it over here to chronicle how that goes.

Double digging

However, not having a garden won’t mean nothing green at home and nothing for me to have here – my woes with bugs on my indoor plants have subsided (for now, at least) and I finally have flowers on my plants again.  I have broadened my collection, this time around, and now have a few other gesneriads alongside my violets – Sinningia, Streptocarpus, Columnea, Aeschynanthus and Petrocosmea. I’ve also been growing some  carnivorous plants – Drosera spathulata.  It’s apparently one of the easiest to grow from seed and I’ve been quite tickled to sit and feed them bits of crushed up mealworms to help them grow faster!

Sonata-kolchuga african violet

Also, it’s been a while, so obviously it’s time for a silly-cat-picture.   Come hell or high water, Sam must sit on my lap…

samfail

 

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Planning Ahead

I’ve now dragged my garden through the best part of two summer growing seasons and I’ve tried a whole bunch of different crops.  My method for choosing what to grow wasn’t very complex – ‘oh, those look cool, I’ll try them!’ – with the one caveat that I didn’t try to grow anything destined to fail in eastern Scotland (except, perhaps, sweetcorn, but that’s a year-to-year thing).  I’ve now learned that there are a few things that probably aren’t worth the space or effort and a few varieties which grow better for me than others.  There are, of course, a few border cases but I’ve drawn up a provisional list of what’s in and what’s not for next year so I can begin to work on a layout / plan for next year’s gardening adventure.

Not Even Bothering*

  • Onions
  • Tomatoes
  • Sprouts
  • Chillis
  • Coriander (of the type I have, at least)
  • Purple Sprouting Broccoli
  • ‘Mixed Salad’

I’ve not had any luck with onions any time I’ve grown them – no matter when I start them off they never get to be much bigger than ping-pong balls and they take up a fair bit of room in my small garden as well as being relatively cheap to buy anyway.  Tomatoes are just too much to worry about and I’m worried about them attracting bugs which will infect my potatoes.  The shops are starting to sell some really nice tomatoes, so it’s not as big a loss as it might otherwise have been.  Sprouts take up a lot of room for a small crop.  I’m dithering, though, as fresh sprouts are lovely, but also rather cheap to buy.  Chillis (except my small venezuelan ones) have never worked for me.  They either fail to thrive (indoors) or die (outdoors) so after years of trying I’m not going to bother next year.  Coriander grows well, but the variety I’ve got is a seed type and I really want one which emphasizes leaves.  PSB I adore but… it also takes up a lot of room in the garden.  I might allow myself one plant in  a corner, as it is a favourite.

(*probably, I am a sucker for banging my head off of a brick wall, sometimes ;P)

Trying Harder

  • Leeks
  • Parsnip
  • Carrot
  • Peas
  • Beans (pole, bush, & broad)
  • Root Parsley
  • Squash
  • Turnips

All of the above I grew but could have done better at.  I don’t know that the problem is with my beans – everyone else seems to have no trouble with them but they don’t tend to grow that well for me… Perhaps a different support structure or more/less time indoors (I’d love to try direct planting but I’ve never had any germinate that way!).  The root parsley, (second batch) turnips and squash were mainly victims of going into the ground too late.

Certain Bets

  • Beetroot
  • Lettuce
  • Mustard Greens
  • Pak Choi
  • Spring Onions
  • Potatoes

These are all things which have grown well for me each time I’ve grown them.  Even with the troubles I had at times with the potatoes, they’re still something I wouldn’t be without.  Whilst you can get cheap potatoes from the supermarket, Andy and I can never eat a whole bag to ourselves before they go off and so growing our own, where we can harvest a few at a time, works well.  There’s also a stunning variety of potatoes we can grow at home which just aren’t available at the supermarket – as we found out at the Dundee Flower & Food Festival!

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Stormstruck

I feel like I escaped relatively unscathed from the storms, to be honest.  The worst off plants were just a little pushed around – no severe damage, no loss-of-shed-roof or any of that sort of thing.  My smaller, red, velvet queen sunflowers are all looking a little drunken but they’ve not been uprooted.  The taller ones were more of a surprise – I truly expected the two which peeked over the fence to be decapitated by the wind as I had nothing tall enough to stake them all the way up with.  However, as you can see below, they came out fairly unscathed =)

The gladis didn’t fare so well, but I had expected as much – having cut all of the other tall flower spikes which were nearly over yesterday.  These two still had a few flowers on them so I figured I’d give them a chance and see how they stood up to the winds.  Surprisingly, the one on the right hand side was salvageable but the other had to be added to the compost heap.

The sweetcorn, as you can see, was fairly flattened – but again, it was salvageable enough with some heavy soil piled up to give the lower stems a bit more support.  Perhaps most surprisingly of all, the greenhouses are still both intact and didn’t feel the need to fall over!

One odd little thing I found was that there was a wee lupin which had decided to flower rather late – a bit of a bad time for it to poke its head up, to be honest!  The few casualties that did occur – a few sunflowers and the gladis which weren’t wrecked, were brought inside to give a nice display out of the wind.

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End of Summer Garden Roundup

This is the slightly sorry state of the garden at the moment:

 

This summer hasn’t been a particularly kind one – early hot weather followed by sullen, dull cloudy days have meant that, whilst spring was fairly bountiful and I managed to get good early crops, the summer harvest has been a little mean.  The striking gladioli are now nearly done, except for one late-planted container, most of the red sunflowers are starting to droop, lose their petals and set seed and the marigolds are starting to look a bit tatty.  The lettuce, left from early summer, has bolted.  It looks pretty, though, so I’ve left it to do it’s thing. The poor sweetcorn is trying its best – one of them even has the start of a tassel!  It’s a baby corn variety, so you never know – I might yet get a small crop and, if nothing else, they have pretty hefty root systems so they’ll have helped to break up the soil a little =)

Slugs have been a big problem this year because of the wet summer weather – I was pretty vigilant about getting the eggs and caterpillars off my brassicas but I needn’t have bothered as the slimy little buggers came in and demolished them anyway.  I had to give up on two big cabbages, the tail end of my purple sprouting broccoli and some cauliflowers which they’d devoured into oblivion.  I decided to plant a last set of lettuce under cover as well as some winter veg.  The very next morning I came out to find my baby lettuces gone.  Not a stump, nor leaf.  Nothing.  Eaten to the ground. Cue slugmageddon – I went out one night, in the rain, to collect and dispose of a huge pile of them.  Hopefully the reduction in numbers will give my other little plants a better chance to establish – I really grudge paying for bags of salad now.

The side garden has also suffered a little from slug damage – mostly the violas which they seem to like eating the flowers of, oddly.  I need something to fill out the back region until the hebes grow a little bigger, though, as it looks a little bare.

As I mentioned, I’ve put in some seedlings under cover.  It took a little wrangling to get the cloche in place – squeezing it between the sunflowers, cauliflowers and marigolds – but I finally got it in there, with some plants (such as the almost-completely-eaten bush beans) now enjoying some extra cover and giving me a space to start off some kale, chard, mustard greens and whatever I put where the lettuce was.

The other pic above was taken just before we went on holiday, earlier in August – I’ve never grown anything other than small nanus or butterfly type gladioli before so the height of a full-size one was something of an eye-opener.  Even discounting the tub the ‘White Prosperity’ gladis were taller than me.  The others didn’t grow quite as tall, with ‘Espresso’ being the second tallest and ‘Green Star’ the third.  You can see the tiny little ‘Laguna’ butterfly gladioli right at the front of the tub for comparison – not even half the height and much smaller flowers.

 

This was a little harvest I picked last week – some beetroot, ‘Yetholm Gypsy’ potatoes, nasturtiums, alpine strawberries (which are still flowering and fruiting and have been since spring), various beans and one very small onion.  I’ve also harvested my first ever home-grown tomatoes!  This variety is ‘Yellow Scotland’.  The odd markings are likely due to them not being watered for ten days due to the holiday but it shouldn’t make any difference in taste.  There are quite a few left on the plant to ripen, but I’m not sure how many will make it before it gets too cold – might need to make some green tomato chutney or let them cuddle up to a banana in a dark place for a few days.

The ‘Cherokee Trail of Tears’ bean in the hanging planters is actually managing to produce beans!  I didn’t think it would be wet enough in the bags to keep them going but it seems that they are one beneficiary of the dull summer and are really enjoying all of this damp weather – the peas, too, which are doing better now than they had in the last three months.  The squash, below, is ‘Boston’ and has started rather late in the season – I’m not sure it’ll make it to any sort of maturity but at least I actually managed to get a squash to grow, flower and set fruit which is a fairly big improvement over last year’s no-shows.

Next on my list is bulb planting, clearing out anything else which is ‘done’ to make way for autumn planting, taking cuttings, and finally getting around to removing more patio slabs around the outer edge to increase my growing area ;)

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Italy

After a gruelling two-day journey due to delayed flights we’re finally back in Scotland.  I think we were all glad to be back home and the trip already seems like a far-away warm memory, especially with the weather being nearly a full 20 degrees cooler, but I can say for myself that Italy, its people, way of living and food have all left a big impression on me.  Sadly, I didn’t take pictures of any of the food we ate with the exception of one pizza on our last evening – we were simply too busy greedily munching it.  I still can’t believe the sheer volume we ate and the amount of meat and cheese that seem to be the common ingredients of so many Italian dishes – my stomach was having a little trouble with digesting all of it, given that I’m used to far less of both at home.

Food

I lost count of the number of pizzas and bowls of pasta we ate, as well as bruschetta.  Bruschetta may be my new favourite food – we tried many variations but the plain tomato ones were my favourites as all Italian tomatoes I tasted seemed to all burst with flavour.  The rows upon rows in the grocers of types we’d normally only see in ‘supermarket premium brand’ boxes were being offered there in big open boxes.  The other variations I tried (and liked) were ones which had finely chopped artichoke over them, some kind of sausage meat spread, and salted bread with plain mozzarella.  Yum.  The other food we tried and that I fell in love with is arrosticini. A regional food from Abruzzo (where Pescara is), consisting of small cubes of mutton on skewers cooked over a fairly hot charcoal brazier and salted just as they finish cooking. I’m determined to see if I can replicate these in Scotland – it may require a trip to the butcher as mutton is something I’ve rarely come across in a supermarket.

Salt was something I noticed being used a lot more in native Italian cooking (compared to ‘Italian’ food we get here) – it really brings out a lot of the natural flavours of mozzarella and tomatoes and gave what might have otherwise been bland dishes a flavour which was mouthwatering.  None of the food we found on offer had spices in it, either – salt seemed to be the main flavour enhancer beside the simple high quality ingredients used.

On that note, I can’t wait until my greenhouse tomatoes have ripened! One is very slowly turning yellow for me and is being checked every morning and evening with longing hope.  The first one to ripen will be quickly bruschetta-ized!

Plants

When it came to plants Italy was a strange mix of wildly exotic and oddly lacking. There were massive ‘hot-house’ plants on almost every street and trailing plants taking over housefronts as well as little bits of greenery just everywhere but, other the other hand, it was so dry in Rome that the ground was parched – having that odd ‘dots of green in a sandy landscape’ look.  I guess I’m just too used to verdant Scotland where every scrap of bare land tends to be colonised by one weed or another and grass rarely dries out even in a sunny summer.

It was amazing, though, to see plants I’d only ever seen in glasshouses (or at least, ones of that size) out in the street doing well – fruiting and flowering.  Thriving.  Grass didn’t seem to be as common in the areas we were in – it had mostly been overtaken by low carpeting weeds and I wonder if that had anything to do with the much drier climate.  One of our hosts was telling us that they get hot, dry weather from May through to October! Wow.  Of course, both the places we were in were near the sea and the mountains, when we drove through them, looked a lot more lush.

Whilst we were away I kept a little diary so that I wouldn’t forget all of the ‘little things’ as well as the big, so I’m going to mark down what I’ve written for posterity.

Rome

Sunday night – arrived, went out to grab a quick drink.  Andy was overcharged for a half-litre of beer (~9€).  We sank into bed in an un-air-conditioned room near the centre of Rome in temperatures hitting the 30s.  We’d been travelling since around 12midday and arrived about 10pm local time.

Monday – Had a small lie in to shrug off the effects of travel and then headed out into Rome.  We pounded the streets for hours – taking in the Trevi fountain, Pantheon, the riverside, a tonne of small piazzas and had lunch in a lovely area where many artists had set up stalls to sell paintings and do artwork on the spot.  We loved this place as it had an air-con composed of a fan with a water mister which periodically sprayed the whole area.  Delightfully refreshing.  That was out first pizza in Italy!  We also had our first Italian gelato on our way between monuments – incredibbly yummy.  For dinner we went to a place near the hotel – it had lovely lasagne (which almost all of us had) and we might have had a few bottles of wine after which everyone else (there were six of us travelling together) attempted to teach me poker.

Tuesday – Possibly my favourite day in Rome – we visited the Colosseum and did an audio tour, Forum Romano, and Palatine Hill all before lunch.  We’d gotten up early as we knew the queues would be bad.  We had gelato outside the Colosseum from a Metro station!  All around Rome there are tonnes of water spigots with fresh, cold water in them.  Andy tried these and found them to be more than a little refreshing so we filled up our bottles (and hats) several times whilst wandering around.  This was great as it meant we didn’t have to carry so much water with us.

We spent a good while looking for a cash machine for one of our group as his card seemed to have limited acceptance and found a little place to have dinner on the way back to the hotel – my first Italian carbonara.  I think I prefer the British style, I guess I’m a bit of a philistine =(  It was lovely, though, all the same!  Andy had an amazing gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce, though, that I absolutely adored. The beer we had here was judged to be ‘one of the best ever’ simply by the merit of being frosty cold when we were incredibly thirsty and tired from walking around.

We also had pizza for dinner that night in a very small, busy place.  It was really good, but I was still a bit full from lunch.  To our detriment, probably, we found that that local ‘wee shop’ had bottles of drinkable wine for 99 cent.

Wednesday – Our last day in Rome was spent having a long lie in, doing some quick souvenir shopping, grabbing some very tasty pastries from a local shop and then heading to go see Vatican City.  Our first Metro trip was a squeeze but fun.  It was a very, very hot day but we found some relief inside at the basilica etc.  I think I got a sore neck from craning up at all of the amazing artwork / sculptures.

After the basilica we went for a ‘wander’.  Our map showed us that there were some viewpoints nearby and we figured that we’d go past them on our way to the place we’d been recommended for dinner.  There were, indeed, spectacular views of the city and, as we climbed up, there were also more monuments and statues – including rows of busts – commemorating the (I think) wars of Unification.  It was a beautiful, peaceful walk which took you out of the way of that constant ‘city’ feel and into something a bit gentler.  I really enjoyed it, and by the time we were done was totally ready for dinner ;)

We had a really big meal for our last night in Rome – in a place where our friends had been before and even being served by the same waiter.  We had to, at least one, try a ‘large beer’ – one litre!  It was nice and light and actually not badly priced.  Dinner, for me, was a pasta with a white sauce, langoustines and courgettes which was lovely and which I’d like to try to replicate.  The white sauce seemed like it might be ricotta / oil based but I’m still not 100% sure. I had a greek salad, too, and was so glad to be able to get some greenery in me.  At home I eat salad nearly every day so my stomach, by this point, was really starting to complain a little at me overworking it =(

We walked back from south of the river to our hotel – a good hour and a half walk – and whilst it was hot, it was nice to walk through Rome in the dark, get some pictures, and have one last look before we headed off to Pescara.

Pescara

Pescara is on the opposite coast of Italy – almost directly across from Rome – and is the epitome of a seaside resort.  It was sunny, hot (hotter than Rome!) and fairly busy at nights but generally friendly and a nice place to relax.  To get there we took a bus through the mountains – there was beautiful scenery but I was feeling a little under the weather so I missed most of it whilst curled up around my kindle.  The hotel we stayed at there was beautiful – and had aircon which was instantly put down to 15C.

Thursday – Arrived in Pescara in early evening, unpacked, and generally revelled in the air-con.  Went out for dinner to a nearby shore-side restuarant (and there were hundreds of these) and had some seafood – Pescara’s ‘speciality’.  Andy’s dish was many small fish and bits of seafood fried whole.  It looked amazing – as did the calamari which was the best I’ve yet tried.  There were tonnes of palms with fruits on them.

Friday – We spent the day by the seaside.  I threw some seaweed on Andy which he responded to by shrieking like a wee girl ;D Got to use my Irn Bru beach towels for the first time (spot the Scottish tourist), read my kindle all day under a sunshade on the beach.  It was so nice and relaxing.  At some point Andy disappeared and returned with a quarter watermelon.  This was in season, I think, and being sold everywhere at ridiculously cheap prices.  It was so wonderfully sweet that even I liked it – I pretty much refuse to eat watermelon in the UK because I find it watery and tasteless.  He also had his eye out for the granita man – a vendor on the beach selling shaved ice slushies.  These were delicious and bought at nearly every point available to help with keeping temperatures down.

That evening, an Italian friend of our friends came to take us to a place where they eat arrosticini. It was amazingly tasty and a great night – we explained scottish dialect and what garlic bread was to some of them and they told us how we should eat arrosticini and a bit about the region and why it was popular.  They were all lovely and friendly people =)

 Saturday – Chilled start to the day followed by more beach time.  I went swimming for what must have been the first time in over ten years.  I forgot how much I missed it – especially swimming under water. Andy got a random, tiny hermit crab in his shoe whilst we played volleyball (badly).

We discovered ‘Nutella & Go’ in the local supermarket – a choc-dip with built in iced tea.  Brilliant idea!  Dinner was in the hotel.  It was expensive but really nice and, because we were the first to eat, we had about six waiters for our table for the first little while.

Sunday –  We were getting really fatigued by this point (too much good fun!) but were invited to the home of one of the Italians friends.  It was the most amazing evening of the whole holiday.  They treated us to home-made pizza (someone’s Mama brought it over freshly baked), home-made pasta with home-made sauce from home-made tomatoes.  There was more arrosticini – cooked over an arrosticini ‘barbecue’ – a long, thin, charcoal brazier made to hold the skewers which had a larger piece on the end for grilling your bruschetta.  Then there was singing.  My goodness.  You’d have thought they were a proper choir – two guitars were brought out and a violin and we were treated to Wild Rover & Sweet Molly Malone, some (silly) Italian songs which they helped us learn and then some beautiful Alpini songs.  Whisky, cigars (not for me) and dark chocolate, a beautiful terrace under dark, countryside night-time skies, with crickets and cicadas all around and with people singing in the background.  Indescribable, really.

Monday – We slept in until ~1 after having such a great, but late night.  Andy had managed to get a little sunburnt over the last few days and (we now reckon) a bit of dermatitis from the suncream of all things!  We packed, lazed around and then went out for one last Italian dinner.  I had a ‘white pizza’ – which has no tomato paste – and we all tried to think what we could do for when one of the Italians comes to visit us.  We think we’re going to be hard pushed to show him as good a time.

Tuesday – We knew today would be ‘travel day’ but we didn’t expect quite how it’d turn out.  We got on a bus directly to the airport from Pescara – a four hour journey in which I did actually manage to see the countryside, thankfully.  When we got to the airport we were a little early, but there were no other busses which would have gotten us there at the right time so we knew we’d have to wait a bit. When we went to the ticket desk, however, we were told our flight was delayed by an hour.  Knowing we had a connection flight which was 45 minutes after landing we were understandably concerned.  This being BA, however, we were told we’d be looked after – which would, given our late entry into the UK, mean a night in London.  Once we’d resigned ourselves to that fact we waited.  And waited.  And Waited.  It ended up being nearly 1hr 45 minutes late  due to unforseen weather conditions on the way but once we got on the plane he made it back to the UK in pretty good time (cutting off about 30 minutes).  Once in London we were whisked away to a Premiere in and given vouchers for dinner and breakfast.  It was 10pm by now and we had left Pescara around 10am.  Oh and our flight the next morning had a check-in time of ~6.50.  to say we were knackered is an understatement but it was a nice dinner, a good bed, and we made it back into Scotland at around 8am.  I love BA, by the way.

I do note that I’m utterly terrified of flying, but I managed to struggle through four flights and I’m glad I did as it was a fantastic holiday =)

Unfortunately I’ve been pretty ill since I came back, so I’ve not had much of a will to write things until now.  Hopefully things will be going back to ‘schedule’, though.

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Now /That/ is Green!

I really like green flowers – not sure why, to be honest, perhaps it’s just the novelty.  I was a little disappointed with my ‘Laguna’ gladioli last year (and this) in that they were really more of a pale yellow once open and had a lot of pink to them, too.  This variety, though, ‘Green Star’ is absolutely and positively green.  Four of this year’s gladis have come up so far – ‘Green Star’, ‘Espresso’, ‘White Prosperity’ and ‘Laguna’.  Of them, I admit both Green star and White Prosperity are favourites – though the ‘Laguna’ are rather sweet simply by contrast as they’re a small variety planted amongst giants.  I’d never grown large or even standard sized gladioli before – always little butterfly or nanus varieties – so I wasn’t entirely prepared for the spectacular spikes on some of these plants.

‘White Prosperity’ in particular has given me some spectacularly tall spikes – around 7 and 1/2 feet tall!  Both it and ‘Green Star’ have also given well spaced flowers and, unlike ‘Espresso’ (which didn’t turn out nearly as dark as the packaging suggested) the blooms last a while so that the spike isn’t completely bare and ugly at the bottom by the time the top flowers are emerging.  ‘Espresso’ flowers died very quickly, were too closely spaces on the spike.  So far, I’ve somehow managed to be quite lucky and haven’t seen signs of any thrips damage.  I have, however, spied quite a few pollen beetles.  They seem to be really common this year, though I suspect I’m simply seeing more because I have more flowers growing.

 Also looking very green at the moment are the couple of cabbages which were members of the ‘misc brassica’ section until recently.  They’re hearting up, but also attracting a lot of attention from small, white, fluttering menaces and their spawn… Next year I really, really need to get some netting for my brassicas.

One the ‘other large flowers’ side, we have these ‘Velvet Queen’ sunflowers.  I wasn’t expecting these to be a tall type – I had assumed, since I knew they were multi-headed, that they’d be smaller bush types but apparently not!  Serves me right for not reading the pack more carefully.  Still, I think they’re amazing – they range from deep red to a burnt copper-bronze, each plant has produced a pile of flower heads and they stand 5-6 feet in height – not the tallest, but a fairly good backdrop height.

They also look fabulous in the rain:

A quick update on the ‘Way Back There’ garden – I’ve done some temporary and some ‘semi-permanent’ planting.  The buddleja, hydrangea, dahlias and carex are there to stay (hopefully) and the rest are former denizens of the patio and one of the greenhouses.  The dahlias will, of course, need to be lifted – the ground here is way too cold and wet in winter to leave them in the ground and the rest of the temporary planting are all annuals which won’t survive the winter.  Since a lot of the planting I’m planning on won’t go in until next year anyway it seemed like a good idea to plant these excess, temporary plants.  First off, it’ll let me see quickly if there are nutrient deficiencies that I’ll need to address before next years’ annuals go in, secondly it’ll allow for, hopefully, better growth for the ones which are to make it their permanent home – especially the buddleja and hydrangea.  It will also, hopefully, make it look a little less bare and give a splash of colour into the autumn months.

The tiles have turned out to be really valuable for moving about in the bed – reducing the amount of soil compacted by heavy trudging.  I’m excited to see what colour the buddleja is – it’s a bit of a lottery given I sowed mixed seed.  Given that it has red stems I’m guessing it might be one of the more pink-red stemmed varieties as these are the only ones I can find pictures of which have reddish stems – the rest having silvery or silvery-brown stems.  I’d love a white buddleja but I’m guessing the likelihood of that is slim in a random mixed-seed batch.

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What A Week!

Last week I knew I’d likely not manage a post due to being in for surgery.  That’s fine, I thought, it’s ok to have a week off, I mean they’re taking bits of your insides out!  That’s totally a good excuse.  Little did I know I’d end up in there for a week and end up missing out on two/three posts.  Bah.  But oh well, at least I have plenty to write about now ;)

Even in hospital I managed to have a little bit of greenery as my awesome aunt brought me a beautiful bunch of roses.  Every one of the non-medical staff, when they came into the room, made a bee-line for the roses to give them a wee sniff and comment on how lovely they were =)

Being in for a week rather than one or two days max, though, meant having to try to sort out what to do about the garden and all of my indoor plants.   There were greenhouses which needed opening… but only at the right temperatures, my african violets needed watered but they are sensitive to over-watering and do better with warm water, and the plants in the greenhouses needed to be kept well watered on hot days – especially the tomatoes!

When we had the really bad windy weather last week I’d put some plants into the shed, intending to ask Andy to help me get them back outside once I got out of hospital.

I forgot about them even when I was going through everything that needed taken care of.

Oops.

I didn’t even want to look – my second peas and beans, my biennials, marigolds, purple cauliflowers, a big box of mixed lettuce, nasturtiums, and some extra sunflowers I’d sown were all in there. To my great surprise everything was pretty much fine!  The only real problem was that some had grown a bit leggy trying to stretch to the small shed window!

Less lucky were my outdoor beans, which suffered pretty hefty wind damage – this was especially annoying because they were heirloom ones sent to me by Matron.  The first leaves were all but wilted off and what was left looked peaky so I’ve nipped them off (they just seemed to be dragging the plants down) and I’m now just waiting to see if the rest of the plant will perk up any.  I still have a few seeds left, but I’m hoping these ones will pull through.

One of my big squashes looks to have died – I think the wind snapped the stem or pulled the roots out.  Either way it’s sitting limply on the surface of the ground.   The other one is looking ok though – I banked it up on all sides with earth and that seems to have saved it so far.

The leeks… probably won’t make it.

On the up-side, Andy and I ate garden-fresh potatoes smothered in freshly cut chives the night before last.  I think I finally started getting through to him about the wonderfulness of home veg growing when I asked him to help me dig some out of a bag and when he found one he pulled it up, looked it it and grinned “…it’s a potato!”.  I couldn’t help but laugh, but I knew exactly what he meant – that feeling of ‘wow, I’ve just put my hands into the soil and pulled food from it which was grown right here’ is like no other.  I’ll make a gardener of him yet.  He has a fairly green thumb, I think, given that he managed to keep everything alive and well whilst I’m away – it’s just overlain by drum and guitar callouses, hehe.  The potatoes (epicure) tasted pretty good – though they’re getting to be a fair size for first earlies as this was a bag planted early due to hopefulness with the  good spring weather we had.

The  ‘miscellaneous brassicas’, sweet peas, border plants, gladis, outdoor lettuce, garlic, sage, spring onions, and most of the sunflowers are doing ‘ok’.  A little battered but nothing that probably won’t mend.

The potatoes, strawberries, lupins, radishes, turnips and foxgloves seem to be doing great – almost totally unaffected by the weather and growing strongly.  I was expecting more casualties from the foxgloves and lupins but there’s nary a snapped stem betwixt them.  I can’t believe the colour of the turnips – such a bright, beautiful purple and white just under the surface. Finally, to add to what is becoming a UK-wide exclamation, I think I can say I’m looking at getting a really hefty crop of strawberries this year!

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Ordered Chaos

I like being organised – having lists, charts, diagrams, and plans.  I also have a terrible memory.  Therefore, when it comes to gardening, yes, I really do have a schedule! (and also J to thank for the idea for my blog post this week – thanks! ;D)  I don’t think I’m alone there, either, though I’d suspect more experienced gardeners just ‘know’ or remember many of the things I have to keep track of.  As a beginner gardener there’s a lot to remember and absorb as each plant has personal wants and needs, bedfellows it does not get on with, pests particular to itself or, worse, that it can pass to others, times when it must be repotted, times when the roots must not be disturbed and so forth.  Trying to hold all of this in your mind is not an easy task!

Therefore, I have the Green Folder. What’s in the green folder?  My garden plan, calendar with sowing dates, whatever seed I’m going to sow that day (if any), labels, a marker, a pencil, and “Grow Your Own Vegetables” by Joy Larkcom.  This is my basic tool kit and comes out with me every time I go into the garden – even if I’m weeding – because who knows what might have popped up overnight and which I’ll forget about if I don’t note it down?  Joy Larkcom’s book is a great addition to my kit – it’s not big and flashy, but it is dense, full of quickly absorbable information and tips – much like a manual or almanac for the small-garden and beginner gardener and I thoroughly recommend it.

I did not have the green folder last year and  stupidly made some basic mistakes simply because of the fact I couldn’t be bothered to walk back inside to look something up or didn’t write something down before it frittered out of my mind.  I’m silly like that… but, to be honest, last year was more about eager ‘participation’ in gardening and figuring out the basics so I’ll forgive myself my little mistakes – especially since it’s given me the basis upon which I can build a better system for myself.

The other tool I use is Folia.  This is a social gardening site which allows you to input and track your plants at all stages of their life as well as letting you easily track all the seed, bulbs, etc. you’ve got.  I’ve had a little button on the side of the blog since I started using it, but I don’t know if I’ve really mentioned it before on the blog.  It can be a little overwhelming at first to use but, like most things, once you have a go you quickly get used to its quirks and the gardening community therein is well worth that effort – as is the ever-improving software.  I’ve found fast, friendly advice there from  gardeners around the world – from those who grow a little garden like my own to those who plant and manage acres in self-sufficient farms!  It also has its own journal system, so if you don’t witter on all about your garden on a blog of your own you can do it there ;)

Folia allows you to check back to see which batch of last years seeds didn’t make it because you planted them too early, and which ones seemed to come up fine, it allows you to set tasks and can remind you via email of what you need to do that week.  It has many groups on particular plants or growing styles where you can jump in and get more detailed advice and if you put in your growing zone, can tell you when you can sow many of your seeds.  It has a free and pay-for version, and some of the funkier stuff is behind the pay wall – however it’s relatively cheap and goes towards maintaining the service which is run by a coder-gardener couple who do it all in their spare time.  They’re very good at responding to bugs and suggestions and the last year has seen major revamps to make the site easier to use.

This year, I’ve also taken to labelling things much more.  Last year I figured I could totally remember what I was planting.  Yeah, no idea why I thought that, given my memory, but after a game of ‘is it cauliflower or is it cabbage’ I decided that next time I’d definitely label things much more meticulously (then my greenhouse fell over, knocking all of my carefully placed labels out of their tubs, but I’ll just try to forget that!).

I think having these tools helps me keep a good balance – I have the information at my fingertips if I need it, and it’s not too onerous to jot down little notes about things to do or that I’ve done then transfer them quickly onto Folia when I come indoors, knowing they’re safe there when I need to remember if there was any point in trying to sow peas in March or not to bother!

 

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