Several Firsts & Second Helpings

This little, lonesome purple flower is my first sweetpea flower, ever! My grandfather used to grow them every year and I was allowed to ‘help’ but I’ve never actually grown them from seed to flower myself before now.  This poor plant is a little bedraggled – I put it out a little early and it was caught by the bad storms we had.  I found it prostrate and languishing when I came back from hospital, helped it up onto the netting and now it’s starting to eagerly scramble its way up!  The comfrey tea I was attempting to brew looks well steeped now.  I’m not sure whether to be worried or happy about the fact that it doesn’t really smell much – maybe I’ve done it wrong?  Is it missing the vital feeding ingredient which gives it it’s usual horrible smell?  I’ll need to do some research.

Another first – tomato flowers.  These are another thing I’ve never grown by myself before.  My plants are doing well in their new pot which has a reservoir of water in the bottom, growing at a fair pace and flowering away happily.

These strawberries are ‘Cambridge Favourite’ and after producing masses of flowers are now living up to their promise with screeds of huge strawberries.  It’s a bit of a challenge to get them before the slugs, but there are at least plenty to go around – I’m picking two or three strawberries around this size each evening.  Now that the nasturtiums are in full bloom they, too, are adding vibrant colour to lunch – the flowers and leaves have a lovely peppery taste and worked really well with chickpeas, pineapple and feta cheese for a lovely summery salad.

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June

June

2011  // 2010

This year has been an odd one – a warm spring and, so far, a wet and windy start to summer.  Last year at this time we had weather so hot I had thought  I’d find my garden dead or dying when we came back from a trip to Yorkshire.  This year, although some things got off to a head start, a lot of other things have been delayed for me.  Part of that was the long hospital stay as it meant I’ve been a bit slow about getting some of my brassicas out into the ground. The few I did plant out early are not nearly as progressed as last year’s batch, though, so I’m not sure whether it was too much early heat / lack of water, or not enough sun.

I can’t complain too much, though – the cool weather has meant my lettuces, pak choi and spinach have all lasted a lot longer than they did this time last year – where they were bolting almost as soon as they got two true leaves!

One thing I have in profusion is self-sown marigolds – a bucketful.  These aren’t even all of them as some were left in by virtue of being pretty and prolific growers.  Reminder to self: deadhead flowers, this year!

The peas sown in the bags on the wall are doing not-too-bad.  In fact, they’re doing better than their peers in the ground, hmph.  I’ve never had much luck with peas – they should, by all accounts, be easy to grow but mine never seem to take off as strongly as I see others’ plants doing.

A few more flowers have poked up, breaking the purple hegemony: the black and yellow petunia – which was supposed to be an all black variety – and this year’s first nasturtium flower.  Both the nasturtium plant and blossom are much bigger than any I managed to grow last year – I’ll be continuing to start them inside from now on!

 

 

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Gardening Scotland & Purple Profusion

Last Friday I got to go to Gardening Scotland – with the whole gallbladder saga it was a close thing but I was determined not to miss the ‘big event’ I’d been looking forward to for months.  We took it easy, sauntering around at a very gentle pace, but managed to see most of the show before we had to head off.  It was a great day in terms of both enjoyment and weather – almost too hot outside for Scotland!  I managed to restrain myself and only picked up a few african violets and a beautiful tile by Helen Michie.  You should check out her work, it’s gorgeous.  I fear I may have been a bit of a fanboy, gushing over her tiles.  I really do love pottery, I’ve discovered.  I left Andy to ponder over the food stalls whilst I went to look at the plants and he managed to pick up, I think, at least three types of cheese, some bacon and a nice chilli jam.  The cheeses included a really tasty smoked brie – I’ve never tried smoked brie before and could only have a wee nibble, but it really did seem a wonderful combination of flavours.  Started me thinking how well smoked paprika and brie might go together.  There were some other funky things there but since we bought them for presents I’ll have to keep them to myself ;)

I’ve got a wee gallery of photos from Gardening Scotland – I was too busy gawping to take as many as I would have liked – which are at the end of this post.  They’re the same ones as on my facebook, so if you’ve seen them there there’s nothing new here.

I had a few down days when I first came home feeling a bit lost – I couldn’t garden, couldn’t cook more than basics and my creativity was being busted by the heavy painkillers + boredom making me fall asleep.  It was because of that and finally getting back out into the garden that I realised just how sane my garden keeps me! Despite being barred from heavy lifting I’ve been out with camera in hand doing small jobs, picking salads and, of course, snapping some pictures.

The ‘season’ at the moment seems to include a lot of purple – this totally has nothing to do with my preference for that colour.  Honestly!  Most of the purple flowers are either from mixed colour seed, things which I had no idea they flowered purple or which I knew they did but it was nothing to do with choosing them.

Purple Venezuelan chilli, Salad Blue potato, Sage, Petunia, ‘Bijou Mix’ foxglove

In more productive garden news, I’ve been eating at least 4 salads a week which are majoritarily  from the garden – tonnes of salad leaves, potatoes, chives, herbs, radishes.  To mix things up a little I decided to pull up the makings of a stir-fry.  Now, my beans and peas are weeks behind schedule and I haven’t got many things in the garden which are typical stir-fry ingredients but I figured I’d ‘make do’ and it turned out  just fine.

Salad leaves, matchstick-cut potatoes (boil them for ~5 minutes before adding to the pan), pak choi, radishes, young turnips and turnip leaves.  The turnips, which were plump thinnings, tasted absolutely sweet and delicious – ‘Navet De Nancy’ is the variety and I had decided to give eating turnip leaf  a go when I heard this variety’s leaves were a good cooked green – waste not, want not, eh? Tempted to sow more just to have them as ‘baby’ veg.  I’ve also been fairly impressed by the vigour of my Forellenschloss and Really Red Deer’s Tongue lettuces – I’ve now chopped their crowns off 3 times and they’re still coming back!  I’d sown another couple of rows of them as I’d worried about keeping myself in salad leaves but if they’re all this happy then I might well end up with a fair glut at some point.

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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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Veggie Quinoa Laksa + Garden Salad

Although I call this Laksa it’s really for want of a better term.  The recipe I based it on called it ‘Laksa’ but I’m not sure if it can really count as such with quinoa in place of noodles.  It’s also usually served with shellfish of some sort and this is vegetarian and anyone who’s been around me knows what I think of giving vegetarian foods the same names as non-veggie ones.  However, it’s neither truly a soup nor a curry so I’ll use the name to distinguish the style of it – if someone knows a more generic name I’d be happy to learn and use it! =)

This recipe was inspired by a somewhat lacklustre one from BBC GoodFood.  Most of their recipes are really good but sometimes you come across ones which are so-so and it was that so-so-ness of it that sent me looking for improvements!

 

Veggie Quinoa Laksa

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 thumb of ginger
  • 1/2 a red chilli
  • 4 tbsp thai green curry paste
  • 400ml can of coconut milk (low-fat is fine)
  • 600ml milk
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 175g quinoa
  • ~450g of fresh vegetables (I used: fine green beans, sprouting broccoli, red pepper, sugar snap peas).
  • 10cm piece of cucumber
  • Handful of coriander

Directions

  • Chop and add the onion, garlic, ginger, chilli and curry paste to a deep wok or saucepan, cooking over a gentle heat for a few minutes until the curry paste is warmed through and the onions just beginning to soften.
  • Mix the coconut milk and milk, add to the wok with the lime juice.
  • Stir well and bring the heat up until the mix is simmering.
  • Add the quinoa and cook until the seed coats just start to crack (should take ~5-10 mins)
  • Add the fresh veg and cook for a further 5 minutes or until the quinoa is fully cooked (you should see the tiny translucent spirals around the white part).
  • Split into bowls and top with finely chopped sticks of cucumber and a generous handful of shredded coriander.

Extra Notes

  • I learned recently quinoa is pronounced ‘keen-wah’.  Having never heard anyone say the word I had no clue, hehe.
  • Apparently this recipe also tastes really nice the day after (Andy took leftovers for lunch) – though if you leave it sitting the quinoa will continue to absorb water and it will thicken.

I’ve been trying to find all sorts of ways to cook quinoa so that Andy likes it and this is, so far, the only thing he’s eaten all of (and gone back for more, too!).

Unfortunately the rain has meant I’ve not been out in the garden as much as I’d like and when I have managed to get out it’s mostly been to pick salads for the kitchen so that’s all I have to show for the outdoors world this week.

Two types of lettuce, chives, pea tips, nasturtium with a few sage  and mint leaves.


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Gratuitous Raindrop Photos

As the deluge continued this week I couldn’t help taking a pile of photos of all of the dripping garden – it looks so pretty, afterall.

The shady side garden was also looking pretty nice in the rain – it’s starting to settle in now and an addition of wood chips has helped  to both blend it a little better with the surroundings and keep moisture in for some of the plants which were struggling a little in the heat.  The bluebells are all out in force now, too – though the ones which were trampled on, at the front, have yet to bloom.  I may well give up on them and dig them out, as I want to get that front piece tidied up!

 

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Drip Drip Drop Little April Shower

April’s weather seems to have finally caught up with us – the last few days have brought some much needed rain to the garden. As if to make up for being a bit late, we’ve had great deluges sometimes even accompanied by thunder and lightning.   I’ve had to keep the greenhouses shut to keep out the driving rain and wind and there’s not much can be planted into the now-sodden ground but, in a gap between downpours, I nipped outside to fill some of the hanging baskets and decorative pots I had.

What amazed me was how fast the paving slabs dried after the first downpour – it wasn’t the heaviest we’ve had but it was chucking it down only an hour or so before the above picture was taken – the bag I took out to sit on, to protect against a wet rump, was totally unnecessary.

Knowing how badly my baskets suffered last year (I never got around to hanging them up, for one, whoops) I thought I’d add a little water channel – a bottomless yoghurt pot with stones in it which I can use later in the season to water directly into the roots with.  I think I remember seeing a tip about something similar on Gardeners World at some point.  Once the baskets were filled up I added some decorative wood chips on top to cover everything up and which can be lifted aside whilst watering.  If this summer is as sweltering as the last then having a way to get past a parched surface will be a boon.

Unfortunately the rain came on before I could take photos of the results and I had to run back inside.  I bravely ventured back out to get some for this post, though, and ended up grabbing some pictures of the other containers which I had already planted up a week or two back.

A little sparse, as yet, but most of these plants should grow a fair bit and I didn’t want to overcrowd them.

I’ve got high hopes for my hanging planters – they’ve allowed me to ‘take charge’ of the big wall o’ sunshine that is the left hand side garden fence.   It’s not easy to grow things in the small edge of soil that’s below it as the grass and weeds from next door try to take it over.  It had seemed a shame not to grow anything up onto the fence, though.  When Andy got me these hanging bags for my birthday I knew they’d be the answer.   Each one has a different mix of plants and I’m trying out both beans and sweetpeas to see if they’ll take to being grown in this way.  At a guess I’d say the peas will do ok, but the beans might be fussy since they won’t have much soil and they prefer to grow straight up rather than sideways but assumptions get us nowhere and as these are ‘unknown’ beans from the big greenhouse accident  I’m not losing much by using them here since I’ve replanted another batch to replace that whole lot.  At worse, they won’t thrive, as best I might find a nice way to up my veggie growing space!

Plants in Baskets:

Silver ragwort, red & white pelargoniums, nasturtiums, dianthus (white dove)

Plants in Hanging Bags:

Nasturtiums, sweet peas (Bijou mixed), beans (who knows what type), trailing ivy geranium (Mexican girl), pelargonium (Vancouver Centennial), petunias (Fanfare Dark Blue, Black Velvet), more silver ragwort, really red deer’s tongue lettuce.

The nasturtiums and red pelargoniums are seeds / cuttings from last year – I’m quite proud of both and was surprised that the nasturtium seed actually had a good germination rate.  It was a ‘Tutti Frutti’ mix packet that I grew last year, but since they were open pollinated who knows what they are now.   The white pelargoniums were something I was searching for – I’d tried a few places but most only had red or pink as single-colour boxes – the rest are all mixed shade boxes.  I wanted some nice, bright white colours to contrast with the deep red fence and ruddy paving we have.  It was only in, of all places, Morrisons that I found my pack of plain white pelargoniums!

 

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May Miscellany

Having hayfever is a real pain when you love gardening – especially this year where we seem to have a record number of big, heavy blossoms all over the place and even earlier than usual to.  It hasn’t stopped me getting out there, antihistamines in hand, and doing the many things the garden seems to want at the moment – like watering!  I can’t believe I had to take the hose to the garden twice a week in April! This doesn’t feel like the Scotland I grew up in – where April meant sudden downpours several times a day for a whole, long, miserable month.  I suppose that may be coloured by my coming from the wet and windy west coast, but surely this is still unseasonably dry for the east, too?

Now that we’re into May, we’re beginning to hit the peak of the seed and seedling season – although there are many things planted before and after May, I’ve found that I have the most seeds and seedlings on the go in this month – many of the warmth loving varieties can be started and the cooler one are getting ready to go outside but are not quite there yet.  The mini greenhouses are packed with life!  The cat is sulking, because the windowsill where he likes to sit has also been taken over in the name of gardening and is currently the home for my tomatoes and chilli plants as they still need to come inside at night.

A new addition has sprouted in the garden as a result of my war against the ants.  I pulled up all of the edging slabs to expose their nest and hoed the soil for a few days until they just gave up and went elsewhere – a nice organic way of getting rid of a pest which isn’t directly bad for the garden.  Once the soil was exposed, however, I couldn’t help but think ‘oooh more growing space!’ ;) I also remembered something I’d seen on Beechgrove Garden – that long-thin gardens often look better when split into sections and figured I could take advantage of the space created to grow a living screen.  The poles on the right side are split in the middle so that I still have access to the veggie bed on that side and, because of the way the sun comes into the garden, there will be very little of the garden shaded by these despite them being as tall as the surrounding fence.

The bamboo canes went in at the weekend, but today I got around to planting a few beans in them – namely the Mrs Fortunes climbing beans kindly given to me by matron.  Four of them have been added to the left hand side, along with some cosmos and calendula I’ve grown from seed for some visual interest below the beans.

I mentioned last time I talked about my potatoes that they were growing a mile a minute – the picture on the left was taken two weeks ago and the right one today.  The other earlies are growing just as fast – though the maincrop tatties are still mostly just peeping up over the soil, still.

Elsewhere around the garden things are growing pretty well – below are strawberries (comparison of standard type with an alpine flower), chives, boston squash, forellenschloss and really red deer’s tongue lettuces.

 

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Garden Palette



A little bit of ‘picture spam’ but I wanted to share with you the colours in my garden at the moment.  This time last year everything was green.  Lush, but a little dull.  This year there are so many colours in the garden already – even if they’re still only dotted around, rather than parading through it.  The forget-me-nots are a particular favourite, as I love those purple-blue flowers with bright yellow centres. The tiny little plants which battled through winter in the plastic greenhouse are now mature flowering plants which are welcoming the early bees and drawing them into my garden!

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Tatties & Squash

The unseasonably good weather has given my little early tattie experiment a good start.  Although only one of the pair of extras I planted sprouted the one which has come up is becoming quite a monster – growing another inch or two every time I look away from it!  I think the one which hasn’t come up might have been a greenhouse casualty – perhaps it had it’s buds knocked off when everything came tumbling down.  Either way, I’m hoping this helps spread the ‘glut’ of new potatoes out a bit – I love them but there’s only so many two people can eat at a time.

The others, planted earlier this month, are just starting to poke their heads up – with the second lot of epicure and the salad blues ahead of the yetholm gypsy which is barely peeking above the soil line.  The salad blue plants are particularly pretty – most of their sprouting leaves are a deep purple-blue but some are green tinged with purple.

Something else I planted early this year was squash.  I didn’t want to leave it until the last minute again as I had very little luck getting any form of squash to sprout last year and the few that did died when quite small.  The germination rate was terrible from the seeds I got – even when I decided to pre-germinate them on wet paper for my last batch – I think I got three tiny plants from ~14 seed!  This year, however, I’ve been pleasantly surprised.  I’d picked up a cheap packet of ‘Sweet Dumpling’ from Homebase to practice on and ‘Boston’ with my seeds from the Real Seed Catalogue.

The ‘Sweet Dumpling’, unsurprisingly, gave me only one sprout from two seeds but the addition of bottom heat managed to get that one little plant to come up and it’s being nursed on the living room window.  It has a few leaves now but it’s still very small and not that healthy looking – much like my courgettes and butternut squash last year. The ‘Boston’ squash couldn’t be more different – it had the exact same conditions as the sweet dumpling but both seeds germinated (fast!) and they are very vigorous little monsters:

Even just the seed leaves are almost as long as my thumb!  I’m hoping the difference in size is simply because the ‘Sweet Dumpling’ variety is a smaller fruit and that I get to try some of them as they’re supposed to be a very nice variety.  I have been very impressed in general, though, with the germination rates and vigour of the seeds/seedlings that have come via the Real Seed Catalogue – whatever their methods they seem to work well and I’ve had great luck with all of their plants.  It’s not just learning, either – I’ve still some seed left over from last year and, on the whole, the commercial seed has not impressed me much.  I’m not against hybrid or ‘agricultural’ seed overall – both sides have many good points – but when I get better results from organic, non-hybrid seed growers then that’s where I’ll buy my seed. Hybrid vigour doesn’t go for much if half the seed never germinates in the first place!

The greenhouses are doing a lot better now – we’ve had no accidents since the second one was tied and they’re getting to be quite full.  Eventually a lot of their ‘inhabitants’ will need to move out for the tomatoes, but we’re not quite there yet.  Quite a few of the plants in there will hopefully be going into hanging planters which Andy got me for my birthday back in February – I’m hoping to hang them on  the fences to add yet more colour into the garden.  Veggies are great, and I’ve even got a few colourful varieties this year, but I am looking forward to some flowers in amongst them.  Last year I’d say the marigolds really stole the show in the garden, despite being there mostly to help ward off some pests and add the occasional petals to a salad. They were so bright and cheerful in a sea of green that you couldn’t help but be drawn to looking at them.  Given the number of self-sown ones I don’t think I’ll be lacking for their colour this year either and they should be joined by a mix of fuchsias, begonias, petunias, trailing pelargoniums, cosmos, sunflowers and nasturtiums as well as a few tubs of one of my favourite outdoor flowers – gladioli.

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