Saturday, 29 December 2012

Oh The Weather Outside is ......


"Frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we've no place to go,
Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!"

Then I remember that melted snow turns into big puddles of wetness, so I'm not sure that the white stuff would be the answer. The wettest year in England which will no doubt go down in the annals of quiz questions is slowly raining itself out here. We travelled cross country by train, in an easterly direction for the festivities to spend a few days with my mother, before himself had to return to work yesterday.
I made the same journey less than a month ago - it was wet then but has noticeably deteriorated further.  We passed one submerged field after another, submerged shrubs and trees, swollen rivers, underwater sports pitches and playgrounds  - a most bleak and depressing landscape. I have made the same journey regularly over the years and have never seen anything approaching this. It was also more depressing to think that this journey did not take us through the most badly affected regions of the country.

I was on edge whilst we were away as there is a small stream running alongside one of the garden boundaries. I was relieved that nothing untoward had happened in our absence although it was obvious that there had been a good deal of rain whilst we were away. The garden though is sodden and dripping. I have got places to go - I want to get out there to cut away the old foliage from the hellebores, I want to plant the last remaining bulbs and to do some straightening up in the greenhouse. I also want to see my allotment again before I forget what it looks like. However even the inner glow of seasonal chocolate is not fuel enough to get me out there today. Instead I have dabbled with some inside gardening. I have planted a present of a hyacinth bulb up - well planting is an exaggeration. I had to partly fill the vase it came with with water and then place the bulb so that the roots are in contact with the water. It made me feel that I was doing something though however unsubstantial it really was. The hyacinth is 'Aiolos', promising sweetly scented white flowers but initially requiring a spell of at least a couple of months in a cool, dark and airy place according to the instructions.  I'm not sure whether it will need this long, as I can already see a green snout emerging, no doubt prompted by already spending time in a warm environment. I shall hurtle out to the garage soon to find a suitable waiting in the wings place whilst there is still a lull in the rainfall. Then some time to spend flicking through the new Avon Bulbs spring catalogue trying to resist all those enticing snowdrops, before making a start on the annual cull of the contents of the seed boxes this evening. How is your garden faring with the weather and have you managed to do any garden related activities?

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Season's Greetings


Wishing anybody who passes by much peace and joy at Christmas! 

The illlustration id one of Cecily Mary Barker's flower fairies. 

Friday, 21 December 2012

'The Unconquered Sun'



"For this is now our turning point
The shortest day, the longest night
We'll look unto the months to come
When the sun will grow both strong and bright

A vessel crown all decked with green
That tells of winter's tales and mirth
Will bring great gladness and much joy
To all who walk upon this earth

And greater than the will of man
Or want of that which can be done
It falls and shines on where we stand
Beneath the great unconquered sun"


~ lyrics from 'The Unconquered Sun' by Steeleye Span.

The winter solstice in the northern hemisphere occurs today at 11.12am. Some interesting facts and figures about the 2102 winter solstice can be found here.

Monday, 17 December 2012

'Here's One I Made Earlier'


There has been a bit of a production line going on in my greenhouse. I've been busy planting some terracotta pots up as small Christmas presents for family and friends. Each pot contains some narcissus 'Tête -à - téte'. The pots have been topped off with sphagnum moss and a robin sits atop each. I am sure that there is probably enough moss about in the garden to cover the pots, but I wondered about whether it might come with lurking invisible to the eye baby slugs, so decided to play safe.  I was hoping to find smaller robins but these little fellows were all that was available at my local florist. Now all I need is to find some suitable ribbon to wrap round each pot, before adding a little white candle or two or a festive sprig of greenery purely for decoration.

It may be a bit late for this year but if you like making your own presents, Christmas or otherwise, there are plenty of ideas in the recently published 'Gifts From The Garden' by Debora Robertson, who blogs over at love and a licked spoon.  This book has only recently come into my possession and I'm hoping to sit down for a good browse through after Christmas.

Another book which has lived in my bookshelves for even longer, is 'Gifts From Your Garden' by Celia Haddon. The book contains some original ideas to try which would be welcomed by gardening and non- gardening aquaintances alike. It is illustrated with some beautiful wood engravings by Yvonne Skargon. The latter's work used to appear regularly in the quarterly magazine Hortus. She was also commissioned to paint roses which featured on Royal Mail commemerative stamps in 1990. Sadly this book is no longer in print but is possible to obtain second hand copies via booksellers as well as through various online sellers.

The title of my post was inspired by that well known children's television programme 'Blue Peter'. Have you made or grown any homemade Christmas presents this year?

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day ~ December 2012

I initially thought that I would be struggling to find blooms for today after this last week's perishing temperatures which have polished off some stragglers. It is is a degree or two warmer and definitely not as wet as yesterday, so I managed to get out into the garden between the showers. Greeting me when I initially stepped out into the porch with my camera was a glorious rainbow. In the north facing courtyard in front of the house a few erigeron mucronatus plants are still showing flowers. Although not as prolific as they were back in the summer this plant deserves a medal for its sheer length of flowering time. I liked the one above which is shyly tucked in one of the corners of the house walls. Galanthus 'Faringdon Double' is making slow progress - here it is photographed on 21st November. It is an early flowerer and multiplies well. It is difficult to see that the flowers are double unless you tip the pot up but I did not fancy doing that. I bought my pots of special snowdrops into the greenhouse to protect them in the cold snap - now a decision needs to be made whether to keep them in there, or bring them back out. I think that I could be playing a game of yo - yo all winter if I go for the latter option. Out in the garden helleborus 'Angel Glow' has opened another flower but it will be next month before this gets into full flow. There are other hellebores in bud so my to do list includes removing last year's foliage in the very near future.

Finally in the house on a north facing windowsill, an African violet is providing me with pleasure. Now although not worthy of an entry in the Guiness Book Of Records, the very fact that I've kept a houseplant alive for more than three and half years is an EVENT of almost world shattering proportions. The plant was given to me as a leaf cutting in April 2009 by my mother and is still alive to tell the tale. It was smothered with flowers this summer and is now showing a much smaller but equally appreciated show. The leaves are however looking slightly anaemic so it will require repotting before long.

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day is kindly hosted each month by Carol over at May Dreams Gardens. It is the ideal signpost to a world of gardening blogs where you will linger and no doubt add to your wish list.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

A Wednesday Worisit



A friend recently departed these shores earlier this year to live in Turkey. She has sent me a horticultural poser. This grows in her garden and neighbourhood. Sadly the flower buds on her plants are dropping off without setting flowers but local plants are sporting pink or white flowers. It looks vaguely familiar to me but I am unable to think of a name so any ideas would be welcome. A special thank you to everyone who recently came up with suggestions as the identity of my mother's missing plant - conversations with my mother will continue, hopefully with a conclusion this time.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Déjà Vu


Yes it's that time of year again - I have just realised that Christmas is just over two weeks away and that I have much to do including finishing off my bulb planting. The goal is to have them all in before year's end. It's the same scenario each year, probably not helped by buying too many bulbs and then by being foolishly tempted by bargains. A week or so ago I came across the tail end of the bulbs at Wilkos. From being 3 for 2 bags, prices fell dramatically overnight so much so that I picked up 120 narcissus 'Tête - à- tête'. Resistance was absolutely futile. That must be my bargain of the year. I was also seduced by the  online Sarah Raven bulb sale, which resulted in a bumper bag of tulips arriving in the post a couple of weeks ago.

The writing of Christmas cards was top of the agenda for this afternoon but but I have finally given in and succumbed to the large glazed blue pot, which has been glaring at me reproachingly for some time, whilst I've been looking out of the window from the kitchen sink. It had got to the stage where I could no longer enjoy washing the dishes without acute pangs of guilt.This pot was once planted with a colourful display of tulips which had petered out over the last year or so. This spring's show was absolutely paltry, so I made a mental note at the time to plant anew. I had purchased some 'Spring Green' and 'Mount Tacoma' with this purpose in mind but then had doubts as to whether the colour of the pot would complement them. I decided instead to try to find the same bulbs that had been planted in there - a combination of 'Havran', 'Prinses Irene' and 'Couleur Cardinal'. I had originally purchased these as a collection from Sarah Raven and really liked the colour combination. I dillied and dallied so much so that the net result was that I could not locate this trio from one single source.

Then in the Sarah Raven sale the solution was staring me in the face - another of her collections in similar colours, this time 'Ballerina', 'Doll's Minuet' and 'Black Hero'. Full marks to Sarah Raven for the speed with which the order was despatched and also for the comprehensive booklet of planting instructions that came with the order.  I wrapped myself up in various layers after lunch braving an rather unpleasant blustery wind and did the deed. Himself then obliged with anti - squirrel measures, which hopefully will prevent keep their snouts until the bulbs are well established enough to resist. So the bulb mountain has diminished slightly. I think that it will be a case of little and often over the next few days weather and frozen fingers permitting. Have you got all your bulbs in yet or are you like me racing against an ever ticking clock?

Monday, 3 December 2012

Conversations With My Mother

Wordle: Questions

Subtitled - 'A Worisit?'

I have just returned from a visit to stay with my mother. She will be 88 in a couple of weeks and retains a keen interest in her garden. It was far too cold for her to go out into the garden but we looked out at her raised mainly alpine bed from the kitchen window and chatted. Our conversation went something like this :

Mum - " I lost a plant a couple of years ago from my bed. I'd like to replace it. You knew its name"

Me - "Oh. Give me some clues to jolt my memory"

Mum - "Well I think it had blue and white flowers"

Me  - "When did it flower?"

Mum - "Well it was early enough to get excited"

Me - "Was it before the daffs?

Mum - "I'm not sure"

Me - "Where did you get it from?"

Mum - "Do you expect me to remember that?

Me - "What colour were the leaves?"

Mum - "Grey I think but I couldn't swear to it and if so not very grey"

Me - "What sort of shape was it?"

Mum - "Difficult to describe"

Me - "Was it a bulb?"

Mum - "Possibly but I don't know for definite"

Me - "Did the flowers smell?"

Mum - "Now you are asking too much!"

Me - "Oh"

Mum - "It had a double barreled name"

Me - (clutching at straws at this stage) - "Scilla siberica?"

Mum - "No it wasn't that"

Answers on a postcard please if you can guess the identity of the lost plant!

Saturday, 1 December 2012

A Poem For December


Around the house the flakes fly faster, 
And all the berries now are gone 
From holly and cotoneaster 
Around the house. The flakes fly!--faster 
Shutting indoors that crumb-outcaster 
We used to see upon the lawn 
Around the house. The flakes fly faster, 
And all the berries now are gone! 


'Birds at Winter Nightfall' - Thomas Hardy, 1840 -1928

 The illustration is by Cicely Mary Barker.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

'Why The Ash Has Black Buds'



It's just over a year ago since I wrote a blog post in which I mentioned a book entitled 'Why Willows Weep And Other Stories'. Little did I know then, that the willow on the edge of our garden would meet with misfortune during wild and windy January storms, nor that the ash at the back would now be potentially facing a worst fate. Luckily the willow damage though severe and unsightly did not kill the tree, but with the ash I can only wait with apprehension to see what happens.

Listening to the mesmeric story of 'Why The Ash Has Black Buds' here on BBC Radio 4 was initially responsible for me purchasing festive copies of 'Why Willows Weep' for myself and for a friend last year. The book proved to be a delightful read. It is an anthology of 'contemporary tales from the woods' and contributors include a number of well known authors including Joanne Harris, Philippa Gregory, Richard Mabey, Kate Mosse and Sally Vickers. Every book sold enables the planting of five native trees by the Woodland Trust, an oganisation which is at the forefront of tree conservation in the UK. There is also a Kindle edition.

This little volume would make a most timely Christmas present for tree or nature loving family and friends. Also recently 'Why the Ash Tree Has Black Buds' has recently been included in the Kindle catalogue as a stand alone tale for the bargain price of £1.59. Do listen to the story first as I'm sure that you will then definitely want to read it and reread it. The author William Fiennes's words are pure magic. Just make sure that you have a hankie or box of tissues at hand.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Almost Wordless Wedneday - 21st November 2012

A pot of early flowering snowdrops

Stopped in my tracks this afternoon by the glimpse of a sliver of white ~ I was so excited to discover the first snowdrop flower of the new season. I did a little silly dance as you do on these occasions, before rushing in to tell himself who was not that impressed. This is galanthus 'Faringdon Double', which is the earliest double snowdrop to flower - usually in time for Christmas but more usually the new year. I am surprised to see it so early along with the snouts of other snowdrops already peering through. You can see by the liverwort and other bits growing through the gravel that I need to do some housekeeping. I wonder how long it will be before the flower opens fully. Any guesses?

Wordless Wednesday ~ 21st November 2012

National Vegetable Society Stand at Southport Flower Show, 2013

As displayed by The National Vegetable Society at the Southport Flower Show, August 2012.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Allotment Veggie Hotpot

A bowlful of vegetarian hotpot

We recently celebrated Halloween at the allotment with some cool rain (most fitting to conclude the season) but some sustaining warm fare. Despite the weather we cosied up round the wood burner in the community hut. There were two sorts of hotpot - the obligatory for this part of the world Scouse, as well as a delicious vegetarian hotpot, ensuring that everybody was catered for. This was washed down with copious amounts of tea or coffee and a desert of a chunky slab of parkin - mmmmmmm! As we have been trying to eat less meat this year I've since cooked the vegetarian hotpot a couple of times at home. Here is the recipe ~

Winter Veggie Hotpot

Oil
A few garlic cloves crushed
A chopped onion
Any winter vegetables (except for swede which is too strong) parsnip, turnip, sweet potato, carrots, squash etc chopped into bite size pieces.
½ tsp ground cinnamon,1 tsp cumin seeds, ½ tsp ground ginger
1 tin chickpeas
1 tin chopped tomatoes
A handful of prunes
A handful of raisins
A glug of tomato ketchup
Water/stock
Salt and pepper to taste
Fry onion & garlic for a few seconds, add chopped up vegetables, fry, add spices, fry, add chickpeas, tomatoes, prunes, raisins, ketchup, salt and pepper, water/stock to cover, bring to boil, simmer until the vegetables are just cooked (20 mins approx)

Serve with cous cous, garlic bread or potatoes.

This is the recipe as it was given to me so I had to work amounts to suit the two off us. I have since cooked a couple of times making some minor adjustments. I'm not that partial to cumin so reduced the amount to just ½ teaspoon. I included a couple of sticks of celery and the second time I tried it I used red kidney beans instead of chick peas. I like these sorts of recipes as you can fine tune according to your own taste, what you have a glut of or to accommodate left - overs. I also found that it took longer than twenty minutes to cook, as I made enough to do us for lunch the following day. It's reasonably cheap to make as well as being nutritious and I think that we will be eating variations on this theme regularly over the coming months.

Monday, 12 November 2012

'My Secret Garden'



Some time ago whilst browsing the forthcoming new arrivals on our local library website my eyes were drawn to Alan Titchmarsh's latest book 'My Secret Garden'. I clicked the magical place a hold on this book button and before long a letter arrived advising me that the book was ready for collection. I have just read this volume and here for what it's worth is my two pen'north :

The book comes in at 192 pages, of which some there are some 90 full page photos plus many other half and quarter page photos, so it's is very much photo heavy and text light. Having said the photos are of an extremely high standard throughout and are in my opinion the best feature of the book. The photos are all the work of award winning photographer Jonathan Buckley, who has collaborated with other garden writers including Christopher Lloyd, Carol Klein and Sarah Raven and whose work has also featured in various magazines and newspapers.  

The book itself is described by the author as "a personal tour of my own private plot". He moved from 'Barleywood' to the plot in question in 2002. Unlike 'Barleywood' which he shared with the nation, through the television programme 'Gardener's World', his new garden is strictly private - television cameras have not ventured in and the garden does not open to the public. Yet Alan says "not letting see what we have created is rather like an actor learning a part and then performing without an audience - the experience is meant to be shared ; so are gardens". Hence he struck a deal with his wife that Jonathan Buckley would record the progress of the new garden that he was creating and that it would be shared by way of a book. Alan writes that "It will give you an idea of my taste and predilections, my whims and fancies as well as being a soapbox for me to expound a modest amount of my garden philosophy'.

The book follows the progress of the garden as the year unfolds. It is divided into seasonal headings under which the book focuses on distinct areas of the garden eg the drive, the meadow, the greenhouse, the west garden, the south terrace and the dolphin pond etc. Most of these areas are revisited throughout the year. The book also includes extracts which reflect on prominent seasonal planting.There is a plan of the garden at the back which helps put it all into context. On perusing this though I was disappointed that the veggie beds did not feature in the book at all as far as I can see and was left wondering why. There is an index at the back where references to specific plants and people mentioned in the book are listed with appropriate page numbers.

So my overall impressions of the book? I sadly found this book left me wanting. I usually scribble away when reading gardening books jotting down names of plants, ideas for planting combinations and perhaps suggestions for future reading . I sometimes copy sentences or paragraphs, that have made me stop in my tracks and linger, where the beauty of the writing is such that I know that I would like to return to the sentence or paragraph in the future. Other scribbling down the name of a rose and a dahlia that took my eye my notepad stayed unopened.

I would have liked to have seen detailed descriptions or diagrams of planting combinations but the book does not contain these. Sometimes there were tantalising hints. In one instance Alan mentions an area where he has planted a mixture of grasses to 'create a long and feathery ribbon that allows the garden to fray into the landscape. In late summer and autumn this grassy ribbon comes into its own when the feathery plumes turn to light catching silver and gold". Now I would like to know what grasses Alan has used but no names are mentioned - instead he names grasses to avoid, which to me is a wasted opportunity. Again a photo of a purple and gold border has a teasing caption naming the varieties of some of its occupants but not all of them.

There were several occasions when I was mildly irritated by references to expensive equipment, pots and statues etc. which he uses or which feature in the garden - maybe a touch of the green - eyed monster within me?

Call me cynical but I have a feeling that although the photos were taken over seven years, I think that the book might have been rushed to meet a publication date geared very much to the Christmas market. The recommended retail price is £25 although of course it can be purchased at a cheaper price if you look round. However although I will not be buying a copy for my bookshelf or asking Santa for a copy, it made for a pleasant enough quick read on a dark autumnal evening and has certainly answered my curiosity about what Alan's new garden looks like.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Random Acts Of Blogging Kindness


This week I've been the recipient of a couple of thoughtful gestures from garden bloggers. The first was when I recieved an offer of seeds from Caro who blogs over at Urban Veg Patch. Earlier in the year Caro wrote a post about the intriguing sounding Perennial Nine Star Broccoli (Cauliflower). The thought of growing this vegetable really appealed to me. Not only did it sound tasty but the thought of a vegetable that has the potential to crop for up to five years was a most positive recommendation. Caro's post contained details of a nursery where she bought her plants from as plugs. However when I visited their website I was disappointed to find out that they would not be available until 2013. I commented on this sad state of affairs on Caro's blog. Searches round other nurseries and seed companies for plants or seeds met with a blank, so I thought that I could be waiting for some time to try this out. Then sometime last week Caro sent me a tweet, asking me if I would like some seeds which she had collected from her own plants. Of course I answered in the affirmative. A couple of days ago an imaginatively decorated seed packet arrived in the post complete with a generous amount of seeds and most comprehensive growing instructions. I had to smile at her advice "Best grown on allotment unless you want your garden to smell of boiled cabbage'. Don't worry Caro the seedlings will definitely head in the direction of the allotment. She also advised that if you let the plants flower that bees love the white flowers that the plant produces. So not only a thanks from me Caro but also from our allotment bees. I will post about the progress of these plants next year.

The other act of kindness was from Michelle over at Veg Plotting, who tactfully pointed out to me that I have been using the dreadful word CAPTCHA word verification on my blog comments and offering help if needed in remedying this situation. Michelle knew that this verification process was something that I had found frustrating to use when commenting on other blogs. I was seriously thinking that either my eyesight or sanity were in need of urgent review as I've struggled to comment on some blogs and only succeeded after four or five attempts. I was completely unaware that I have been inflicting this process on visitors who may have been trying to make a comment here, as you are unable to see it at your end. I think that it may well be something that Blogger has forced upon its users without their knowledge or consent.

HUGE apologies to those of you who have succeeded in commenting (your persistence is to be admired) as well as to anybody who has wanted to but who has given up (I'm not at all surprised). Hopefully the situation is now remedied. I have now removed word verification. I imagine that this leaves me more vulnerable to spam comments but I will see how it goes. At some point in the future I may have to moderate comments but I would rather that your comments appeared instantaneously.

So a virtual bouquet or in this case a potted cyclamen to Caro and Michelle in thanks as well as to all readers by way of apology. Gardening bloggers are lovely folk as this week has proved.

PS - Please let me know - if you can whether you have have any problems leaving a comment. I sincerely hope not!

Monday, 5 November 2012

Armchair Travels


Planting spring flowering bulbs is very much in the thoughts and posts of many gardening bloggers just now - some have already made light work of it whilst others like me are still ruminating. However the goodies have been purchased so making a start on planting is at the top of my gardening to do list. I have vowed not to delay this what should be a gentle occupation until the dark cold days of January, when your fingers risk severe frost bite and the ground is not always obligingly yielding. So I was all geared up to bulb planting yesterday when I met with a major obstacle. Virtually all my bulbs were resident in the cool but dry garage, only himself had departed in the direction of Cornwall at the crack of dawn, with the key in his pocket and will not be home again until some point today. The garage is very much his domain as I do not drive and consequently do not venture into its realms on a regular basis. For some reason I no longer have a key on my key ring so my plans went out of the window along with a few choice words.

I did have one bag of crocus bulbs to plant which I had fortunately left in the house - yes I know that the books say that they should already be planted but they will soon catch up. However it did not take me all day to plant some 25 bulbs so I was left with time on my hands to idle away. The bulbs in case were crocus 'Yalta' which I have not grown before but which had been on my wish list for a couple of years or so since I first read about them. I was pleased to see them for sale in the current Avon Bulbs catalogue so decided to try some out in a container. They are described most beguilingly as "a hybrid form resembling a large tommasinianus with silvery blue outer petals and darker purple inners petals. Gorgeous even in bud."

I'm always intrigued to find out more about the name behind any bulb or plant that comes my way, so once planting was done and squirrel proofing measures were in place, I set out on an armchair voyage of discovery, with the aid of the all knowing and all seeing Google, to find out more about my little bulbs. The catalogue obligingly provided the information that the bulb was raised from seed harvested from a botanical collection in the Crimea by Janis Ruskans, (a Latvian nurseryman). Now did it follow that 'Yalta' was also in the Crimea and if so whereabouts, or was it a girl's name, or did 'Yalta' refer to something else altogether? It turned out that Yalta is indeed in the Crimea being a seaside resort on the north coast of the Black Sea. The city itself is said to have been 'founded by Greek sailors who were looking for a safe shore (γιαλός –yalos in Greek) on which to land. The city is situated on south facing bay and is surrounded by wooded mountains.'(source - Wikipedia) The climate of the area is described as sub tropical so vineyards and orchards flourish.The city has its own botanical gardens - The Nikitsky Botanical Gardens, which may well be the source of the seed that gave rise to the bulb. A most pleasant interlude, which saw me finding out about a far away city in both words and photos, which I might have never otherwise discovered.

I will hopefully report back in the spring on how these bulbs fared. Meanwhile the major bulb planting marathon awaits.

Note : For those of you who like finding out more about the names behind your plants you may well enjoy Alex Pankhurst's book 'Who Does Your Garden Grow?'.

Friday, 2 November 2012

A Poem For November













"It's not that every leaf must finally fall . . .
it's just that we can never catch them all."

'Autumn Conumdrum'
~  Michael R. Burch, b.1958


Illustration - Ida Rentoul Outhwaite, 1888 - 1960

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

End Of Month View ~ October 2012


A repeat of last October's weather was sadly not on the cards but on the whole the month passed with less rainfall than we have had for several months. In fact we even managed the odd consecutive couple of days without any of the wet stuff! It would be premature to celebrate as with winter not far away the garden and allotment are both absolutely sodden.

Starting with the allotment the good news is that I think that my plot passed muster when it was reviewed - I say think because you do not actually get formal notification to inform you. Anyway no more letters have come my way so I am highly relieved. Hopefully the elements will be kinder to us in the next growing year. I've tidied up bar from removing the debris of the courgettes and sweet corn, which will soon be assigned to the compost heap. I have garlic ready to plant which I'm hoping to get in this weekend. I also plan to sow some broad beans in pots and overwinter them at home before taking them up to plant at the allotment come spring. The two strawberry beds which we cleared are already sprouting forth fresh couch grass growth, so will need to be watched over with an eagle eye. We have decided that two strawberry beds is one too many so will be downsizing. I've been pouring over the catalogues and books making notes of varieties that I would like to grow. I am now at the stage of shortlisting the candidates.

The main jobs to do on the to do list overwinter is to clean and tidy the shed as well as to do more laying down of membrane and wood bark as the original stuff we put down has worn thin. We also plan to some more rabbit proofing - one of the local factories fills skips with surplus plywood boards which are kindly left for the public to help themselves to free of charge. Just right for what we want to do. 

Back to the garden where I'm still debating which trees to plant in the newly created gabion garden area. No orders have been placed yet though so I will need to move sharply to get them planted this autumn. I also need to plant the bulbs which have been arriving in the post as well as occasionally coming home with me. I am determined to get them all in by the end of November. On day last last week I went through all the pots in the cold frames and inspected everything which will overwinter there. I am so glad that I did as in doing so I discovered a myriad not only of slugs but also their beady glistening eggs, which would have morphed into trouble in the spring. Now the plan is to move round the corner and tackle the greenhouse which is a job that I would prefer to do on a dry day. 

If I stand at the back of the greenhouse in one direction I look out at the ash tree, which you can see part of in the above photo. We inherited it when we moved here and reckon that it is probably at least 60 years old and and at least a good 60 feet tall. As well as providing shelter for birds and other wildlife it provides us with a good degree of privacy from the neighbours behind and above us. Both Veg Plotting and Wellywoman have recently written excellent posts about the ash tree fungus disease, which already present in Europe, has now been identified affecting ash trees in East Anglia and which could potentially threaten up to eighty million ash trees in the U.K. I am sure that there will be many people keeping a close vigil over their ash trees in the coming months. I will report back here on the state of our tree.

On a happier note I am sure that there is much good news to share, plans in the making and great new plantings in over at other 'End Of The Month Views', kindly hosted each month by Helen over at ''The Patient Gardener's Weblog'.

Monday, 29 October 2012

All Booked Up


'Fashionable gardens bore me', Henry says patiently, 'with their stranglehold on growth and natural beauty. Fashionable gardens are everything about order and symmetry and nothing about plants. They are hard, measured battlegrounds against nature, as though it was the enemy. Sometimes it is even enough for whole areas to be eradicated of foliage and filled with coloured sand or gravel, and triumphal gaudy flags, and emblems set about the site, as markers of the inexorable march of civilization eating up the wilderness.' - Jane Borodale.

The to be read pile runneth away from me at the moment, not only a veritable toppling mountain of magazines but several books too. Somehow or other, it seems that the majority of novels that I reserved via the local library have conspired to be ready for collection at the same time. There is a but a three week window to read most of these, as other library users are in the queue, so it's going to be a case of some serious concentration plus a touch of speed reading. The onset of colder days and longer nights will no doubt help. As a consequence though gardening related reading material, has for the time being drifted towards the bottom of the pile but there are goodies lying in store, once I have cleared the library books. Earlier this year I wrote "I am going to resist buying any more books until I have read those already in my possession. The bookshelves are groaning and are in need of a good prune". Well I have risen well on the whole to this challenge but I must confess that temptation reared its ugly head. Himself spoilt me with some Amazon gift vouchers last Christmas so during the course of the year I have treated myself to the odd booky treat including a recent purchase of ~

Jane Borodale's recent historical novel 'The Knot',which is currently most favourably priced at £6.00 for a hardback edition through Amazon. The book's central character is the botanist Henry Lyte, of Lytes Carey Manor in Somerset. The year is 1565 and Henry is occupied with not only translating a Dutch herbal, but also in planning and planting an intricate herb garden, which will feature a knot at its heart. It is against this background that "old family troubles start to worm their way up towards the light, potentially threatening everything that Henry holds dear.

Of course I've had to have a quick peek. At some four hundred or so pages long my initial flicking through impressions are most positive so I can't wait to make inroads into this book. 'The Knot' is also available in paperback, surprisingly at a higher price as well as in Kindle format - again at a slightly higher price than the current price for the hardback. I will try to return with my thoughts on the book once I have read it but it may not be for a while. I have already made a note to purchase this as a seasonal gift for at least one friend who like me is interested in both plants and history. What are you reading at the moment or plan to read to read over the coming months? All suggestions gardening related or otherwise are welcome.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

'The Magic Apple Tree'


"I love the wild days of autumn, the west winds that rock the apple tree and bring down the leaves and fruit and nuts in showers ............. Soon perhaps over one wild night, the last of the leaves on the magic apple tree will be sent swirling away, and on the bare branches will hang here and there the last few, shrivelling fruits. and finally those, too, will thud to the ground and burst open and rot gradually into the soil, or else be taken by the birds, getting hungrier, now that the cold has come, and on that morning whenever it comes, the autumn will be over" ~ Susan Hill.

Today as many of you know is Apple Day. This event which is celebrated mainly in the UK was the idea of the organisation Common Ground. The first Apple Day was celebrated in 1990 in Covent Garden, London but since then has spread so that events celebrating the apple are held across the country. The day not only celebrates the wonderful variety of apples that grow in this country - over 2,000 varieties but also the richness of locality and regional identity.

Here the day has dawned with some appropriate misty murkiness lurking in the air, which promises to give rise to autumnal sunshine later. We will be celebrating Apple Day with an apple dish of some description tonight, using up a kind gift of a bag of apples from our neighbours. I'm slightly under the weather at the moment with the dreaded lurgy, so do not think that we will be attending any events. Instead I think that I will curl up later and revisit one of my favourite books 'The Magic Apple Tree - A Country Year' by Susan Hill. From her home Moon Cottage she sets out to record "the sights and smells, the people, gardens, animals, births, festivals and deaths that the changing seasons in the small Oxfordshire community". The book follows the seasons, describing not only the yearly journey of the gnarled old apple tree that grows in the garden but also observations and musings on what is happening elsewhere in the garden and the village beyond. There are several seasonal recipes, including one for a delicious sounding walnut and apple tea- bread - maybe that is one that I should try out later if I have all the ingredients to hand.

Throughout the book there are exquisite black and white engravings by John Lawrence.

The book was published by Penguin Books in 1982. Sadly as far as I can gather is no longer in print but it is possible to pick up second hand copies - well worth tracking one down if you do not already have this in your bookshelves.

The illustration from the cover of the book is Samuel Palmer's  work entitled 'The Magic Apple Tree'.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day ~ October 2012


Just the odd photo from me today to celebrate the October blooms in my garden. This morning was peppered with shopping and drizzle and looking at the just photographed sky there could be more of the wet stuff on the horizon. Everything is looking decidedly bedraggled now although there are still flowers about amongst them astrantias, various hardy geraniums, penstemons, the deadly 'Yellow Peril', nicotiana 'Lime Green', Swan River daisies, cosmos bippanatus 'Purity', verbena bonariensis, dahlia 'Bishop's Children', scutellaria and a couple of pale yellow daisy type flowers whose names escape me at present. Nothing is at its peak but they are winding down slowly as autumn progresses but one or two are still in full flow ~ 


Above an old favourite  - erigeron karvinskianus or Mexican fleabane which is dotted about the north facing courtyard in front of the house. The white flowers age to pink. This is the subject of contention ever year as himself sees it as a weed and I am convinced that he has tried to kill it off, luckily without success. It is one of the longest lasting flowers in the garden and will go on until the first really sharp frosts. There is some question about its tenderness but here in the north west of England it has survived for years, even coming through the harsh winter that we had a couple of years ago. Maybe it picks up on heat thrown out from the house or it self seeds each year - whatever I'm not complaining.


I don't know the name of this hardy fuschia which is the palest of pinks. I plucked a few cuttings years ago from a bush that was overhanging onto a pavement . Since then it has grown into a monster and is in line for some serious pruning. 


Finally I'm going to cheat with one that I took earlier  a couple of years earlier in fact - aster 'Little Carlow' which is bearing a myriad of little flowers at the allotment just now. It has come into flower later than usual but other than that it does not seem to be affected by the wet summer. It attracts both bees and butterflies and a couple of divisions  headed to the bee keeping area earlier this year. Must see how they are doing next time I'm at the plot. 

I will be putting the kettle on later for a cuppa before heading over to
May Dreams Gardens, where Carol kindly hosts Garden Bloggers Bloom Day each month. A most pleasant way to while away some time which invariably sees my wish list growing and growing.

Monday, 8 October 2012

From The Confessional


A fanfare of trumpets, a roll of drums, a celebration was called for. What for you may well ask, to which the answer was to mark a rare event this year - a weekend without rain! I set about to make the most of it spending as much time I possibly could outdoors. Sunday was especially productive as I had no other demands on my time. It was a day that really reflected '"the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness" - swirls of morning fog slowly giving way to a still and sunny afternoon. The mercury did not rise to any great heights but it was the ideal weather for pottering. I spent some time in the 'Not Waving But Drowning' border dividing a too big for its space 'Solomon's Seal', thinning out a boisterous clump of geranium phaeum and contemplating other moves. Then on to the greenhouse and the area behind it where I made a start on clearing away some of the debris before it can haunt me in the spring. The day was punctuated by one or two discoveries which made me hang my head in shame, namely ;

  • A tray of stunted, overcrowded nicotiana mutablis seedlings which had never got pricked out. The fact that they still survived is a testament to the amount of rain we have had this summer. If you have not come across this before it is a most attractive half hardy annual with lightly scented flowers, that subtly change colour. The flowers are initially white, then change to a dusty rose before morphing into a deeper magenta, so that with time the plant bears flowers of all three colours. Now this has survived overwinter here before, although not last winter, so I have prised the seedlings apart and planted a dozen of the sturdiest ones into individual pots. They will overwinter in an unheated greenhouse so may survive my neglect.
  • A clump of brunnera which was lying on the ground behind the greenhouse. This had been dug up in early spring but for some reason had never been potted up. Again the abundant wet stuff must have kept it going. It is now has its roots in a pot - whether that will be too much of a shock to the system remains to be seen.
  • Perhaps the worst horticultural crime of the year was the pot containing a physocarpus opulifolius 'Lady In Red', which I had tried for size in the 'Not Waving But Drowning' border. You know what it is like when you are not sure whether a plant is the right place or not. Well I took so long in deciding that the poor plant has rooted into the ground. A careful extraction is now required. 
Finally I have to finish by admitting that those happy and healthy looking squashes you can see at the top of this post did not come from the allotment plot. Much as I would like to take credit I must be truthful - they were bought from a supermarket this morning ~

 
Give credit to our local branch of Morrisons - they stock a good variety of British grown squashes most autumns. As the season progresses I'm sure that they will have other varieties in store. I did grow squashes from seed and planted them but whilst mine festered the plants that I gave to my allotment neighbour thrived. He has taken great pleasure in regularly showing me their progress but has told me that at least one squash has my name on it.

What about you - have you got any guilty horticultural secrets that you would like to share with the rest of us? 
      

Thursday, 4 October 2012

A Poem For October


Today is National Poetry Day. The theme for 2012 is stars ~
"Well it's a marvelous night for a Moondance, 
 With the stars up above in your eyes
 A fantabulous night to make romance
'Neath the cover of the October skies
And all the leaves on the trees are falling
To the sound of the breezes that blow
And I'm trying to please to the calling
Of your heart-strings that play soft and low
And all the night's magic seems to whisper and hush
And all the soft moonlight seems to shine in your blush"
~ 'Moondance',Van Morrison

Sunday, 30 September 2012

End Of Month View ~ September 2012


The end of September has been celebrated here today with shades of 'Black Cherry' - not autumnal foliage but the colour of my hair, as himself has applied lotions and potions to disguise the advancing grey. I sometimes wish that there was an off the shelf product which could send the month back on itself. I usually appreciate the serene days of September but this one with the exception of some glorious and oh most welcome French sunshine, is probably best put to bed.

At the allotment I am a wanted person - the allotment police have finally caught up with me and my weeds which have been a problem all year. I came home from holiday earlier this month to find one of those innocuous looking brown window envelopes which contained unpleasant news. I had failed the September allotment inspection and have some twenty eight days to remedy matters. Now that sounds a generous amount of time but not when you have been away for a portion of it, nor when it seems to have poured down for almost the rest of it. When I say rain this last week was more or less swallowed up by the mother of all slow moving rain clouds. However between the seemingly never ending torrents there has been a battle royal to hack down the weedy jungle. I am really hoping that the plot will pass when reviewed sometime in the next few days. I am taking some perverse comfort in the fact that there are a number of other plot holders in the same position. It seems that many of us gave up for the season earlier this year. With me I think that the breaking point was when my third lot of climbing French beans were ravaged by molluscs. Will report back next month on whether I still have an allotment plot or not !

As a result of all the frenzied time spent on advanced weed killing, building bonfires and trips to the tip with green waste I have seen very little of the garden. The gabion project is more or less finished bar some finishing touches. We are thinking of making the area over to planting some fruit trees - there are a couple of pear trees planted there already. I also want to plant at least two ornamental trees - nothing exotic but much longed for trees - one being a malus and the other an alemanchier. I am looking forward to choosing them and planting them this autumn. The stars of the garden this month for me have been the astrantias which have sent forth a second burst of flowering - it would seem that the wet stuff has been to their liking.

The new season's catalogues have been dropping through the letter box with regularity for the last couple of weeks. I have been quite disciplined squirreling them away  in readiness for the longer evenings. The stock of to be read gardening magazines and books is also gaining in height. I have made one or two new plant purchases and will post about them in the next few days.

Meanwhile I am sure that other bloggers will have more uplifting tales of September to recount as Helen kindly invites us to share our end of month views, over at 'The Patient Gardener's Weblog'. Hopefully come October I will feel less out of sorts.

Friday, 28 September 2012

Salad Days ~ Totally Tomatoes


Back in the heady days of early May, when misplaced optimism about the coming summer still prevailed, I posted about my hopes to be munching on a veritable rainbow of tomatoes this year. I was inspired by the '52 Week Salad Challenge', laid down by Veg Plotting. The seeds germinated profusely forming fine sturdy specimens though I say so myself. After the initial positive start my tomato growing year went downhill. Things went haywire - cold spring nights saw me lugging crates of plants in at night and back out in the morning, labels went missing, plants were given away or sold at the garden club plant sale without me checking what I was left with etc., etc.........

The final straw was a nesting blackbird in the lean- to greenhouse at the allotment where my plants were headed for. I hung on and hung on but there was no sign of the last fledgling leaving home and I was about to go on holiday. A last minute rush to plant the majority of them in the community greenhouse ensued. So all in all a challenging start but matters improved when I eventually started munching. I have just stripped the vines down except for a few fruits, which were too high up for me to reach. So sadly not as accurate or as scientific as I would have liked is my verdict on the 2012 rainbow crop :

Tried and Tested (grown before)
'Sungold' - sown on 24/02/12, first picked on 21/07/12. Grown on in greenhouse.
'Gardener's Delight' -  sown on 17/03/12. Grown on in greenhouse. First harvest date not recorded but is was sometime in August.
Both these varieties fared well and produced lots of tasty fruits. A definite case of 'small is beautiful'.
'Losetto' - a low growing bush type tomato. This did really well gown in containers outdoors at the allotment last year. The plants were grown outdoors again and despite the odds being against them they set a plentiful supply of fruit. This is an expensive tomato to grow from seed but on balance worth the extra pennies if you are keen to grow a basket type trailing tomato.
On balance I have decided that taste wise I prefer 'Gardener's Delight and 'Sungold'. Also 'Losetto' has a thicker skin.

Beefsteak - 
'Super Marmande' - if somebody could enlighten me as to the difference between this and 'Marmande' (which I have grown before) I would appreciate it.
I am not sure what happened to these. I did not end up with any mature plants!

Uncharted Waters - (not grown previously)
Here there was the most disappointment as both plants and labels walked. Of the dark purple/black varieties listed below, I ended up with one variety which I grew indoors. My suspicion is that it 'Black Sea Man' but I would not testify to this in a court of law.

'Prudens Purple' - a potato leaf variety producing pinky- purple beefsteak fruits. 
'Black Sea Man' - a potato leaf variety which hails from Russia. The fruits are described as mahogany to brown in colour with green to olive shoulders.
'Noire de Crimée' - another Russian tomato with reddish brown fruits.

'Matt's Wild Cherry' - hailing from Mexico this apparently bears a multitude of very sweet small red tomatoes. I planted my plants outside on a tripod of canes. The plants did not thrive at all. I picked but a handful of tomatoes and was not that impressed but then it could be that there was never enough sunshine to give them much taste.

Again with the varieties below it is case of either or but I think it was the Polish variety that came through. Both these were grown under cover.

'Zloty Ozarowski' - a golden orange tomato from Poland.
'Jaune Flammé' - originating from France, this is an early ripening apricot coloured tomato.
Both the above were grown under cover.

Taste wise none of the larger tomatoes have been that impressive - himself replied with the word 'musty' when I asked for a verdict on the one I have down for 'Black Sea Man'. Not exactly the response I hoped for.

In conclusion I have decided that :
  • I will try again next year to grow some varieties that I have not grown before.
  • I will not sow so early.
  • I will sow fewer seeds.
  • I must be more disciplined when it comes to labels.
  • I must not give away/sell plants before checking whether I've set at least one of each variety aside for myself.
How's your tomato growing gone this year and what has been your favourite variety? 

Do visit Veg Plotting today for more September salad pickings.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Homeless


"A really long day of weeding is a restful experience, and quite changes the current thought. For some people it is more efficient than a rest cure. It is pleasantest to take a nine - hour day of such work when the earth is wet, or even in rain, because weeds come up more easily, root and branch, from wet earth. I never want an hour at noon for dinner like the hired man, but would prefer to lunch like horses from a nosebag. It would save time, and especially the necessity of cleaning oneself. After such a day my fingers are bleeding, knees tottering, back bent, dress muddy and soaking, and shoes an offence to my tidy maid : but I have attained the most profound inward peace, and the blessed belief of having uprooted my enemies." ~ Anna Lea Merritt, 1884 - 1930

I celebrated the arrival of the autumn equinox with a marathon weeding session at the allotment, prompted by the not welcome news that my plot failed a recent allotment inspection. Although the weather was glorious, I could not quite manage nine hours of graft and did not wear a dress for the occasion. The knees and back certainly felt it but I was still fortunately mobile enough to return yesterday for another stint.


One of the problem areas were my overcrowded and overcrowded strawberry beds which had become plagued with couch grass and horsetail. The strawberry plants had reached optimum production, so I had already planned to empty the beds later this year. However there is now more urgency so after himself had nobly cleared one bed, I made clearing the other a priority this weekend. In doing so I upset the little chappie above by removing his ready made sun canopy. Those eyes stared at me most reproachfully and I am still feeling guilty.

Today's relentless rain has temporarily stopped play. I did consider spending some time researching strawberry varieties as possible replacements but thought that this might be rather premature. Please keep your fingers crossed that all the hard labour results in my plot being up to scratch when it is reviewed early next month.

The extract at the top of the post is from the chapter entitled 'Weeders and Diggers' in 'The Virago Book of Women Gardeners' edited by Deborah Kellaway. A prefect book for dipping in and out of especially on days such as this.

Monday, 17 September 2012

'Unusual Edibles'


'Unusual Edibles' was the title of a talk that I recently enjoyed at this year's Southport Flower Show. The speaker was Alys Fowler, gardening writer and television presenter, who started her talk by informing us that there are some 15,000 edible species of plants. I worked out that it might take a lifetime to get through them all especially as some do not appear in the supemarket shelves. I scribbled furiously throughout resulting in a list of plants that I would like to introduce into the garden or the allotment at some point in the future including ~ 

Allium cernuum ~ also known as the nodding onion or lady's leek. The bulbs need full sun. Tasting of onions they can be used like spring or bunching onions. Chandelier like flower heads carry nodding pink flowers which are also edible. I have lingered over this particular allium in various catalogues before now completely unaware of their edible qualities. I think that I have been put off by the words "will seed around in the right conditions". This year I am putting caution to the wind and have already ordered some bulbs. They will look perfectly at home in a flower border and I think that they will be planted somewhere in the garden.

Allium victorialis ~ also known as the alpine leek ~ both bulbs and leaves are edible - the leaves having a strong onion flavour whilst the bulbs are apparently more reminiscent of garlic. It needs to be planted in full sun. An extra bonus is that  the spherical greenish cream flower heads attract bees and hoverflies. The leaves are fairly broad and from the photos I have seen are similar to the foliage of lily - of - the - valley. Again these would be happy in a flower border.

Brussels /Flower Sprout 'Petit Posy' ~ this is a fairly new introduction which is a cross between brussel sprouts and curly kale and is more attractive than either of them. Easily grown from seed it produces open frilly florets instead of closed buttons. A fairly ornamental plant in its appearance 'Petit Posy' will look good amidst the flowers and can be grown both for foliage and food value.

Daubentons kale ~ this is a non flowering evergreen perennial kale, which has a 5 -12 year life span. There are two forms - one having pale green leaves whilst the other has attractive variegated foliage. It is not possible to grow from seed but can can be propagated from cuttings which take about 3 months to root. This appeals to me not only because it is perennial but because it also appears to make a fairly substantial clump of foliage.

Hablitzia tamnoides ~ also known as Caucasian spinach or Nordic spinach. From what I can gather the young shoots are eaten in spring. This a shade loving, deciduous scrambling perennial which originates from the Caucasian mountains. It was bought to Scandanavia in the 1870s where it was planted as an ornamental to cover pergolas and porches. The plant bears heart shaped leaves and produces small green flowers. Plants are normally propagated by seed or by careful division of the roots. Alys advised that it has only just been introduced over here and that it could prove hard to get hold of for some time. I'm on the case.

More information about the majority of these edibles as well as much more food for thought can be found in Alys's excellent book 'The Thrifty Forager'.

Friday, 14 September 2012

A Postcard From Provence

Field of rice, drifts of sea lavender, grazing white horses, black bulls and pink flamingos ~ just a few of the fascinating sights that we were treated to when we visited the unique landscape of the Camargue last Sunday. We are just back from a river cruise along the Rhone which started at Lyon (the second largest city in France), sailing in the direction of Arles before returning to Lyon. Chugging on gently through days of glorious weather, we had an excellent vantage point of the surrounding countryside, sitting under the canopy of the sun deck. The boat moored regularly during the cruise, offering passengers the chance to join planned excursions or to wander about doing your own thing. We usually went for the latter option but a trip the Camargue would not have been feasible, unless we had own transport. so we joined the coach excursion. We were lucky to have a most knowledgeable and charming guide, who commented in both French and excellent English as we travelled along.

This was our first experience of river cruising which proved to be most relaxing. We were on a relatively small boat, our fellow passengers (mainly French, British and a good sprinkling of Norwegians) were excellent company and the food was reasonable, especially the continental breakfasts. The only downside for me was a chronic lack of sleep - the sound of the air conditioning at night did not exactly lull me to sleep, neither did the experience of going through some huge locks on the nights we sailed overnight. Still if you have nothing much to do but appreciate the sights, eat, drink, and read you can more than cope. Himself is already contemplating where we might drift along in the future.