Monday, 30 January 2012

Calendar Girls ~ January 2012


Although there is no doubt that the autumn and winter months have their serious downsides they do have their silver linings. One of these is more leisurely internet browsing time which can yield new blogs to explore. Here are one or two that I have come across in recent months which are now becoming regular ports of call ~

The first is a blog with a delightful name which just rolls off your tongue ~ 'Wellywoman'. Hailing from wet South Wales, where wellies are often needed to wade through all the puddles, Wellywoman is a keen gardener and a fairly new allotmenteer who writes thought provoking, humorous and informative posts She grows from seed without the luxury of a greenhouse, has highlighted a few more books for me to read as well as sharing some tasty recipes. I am now addicted to butter beans and leeks! Recent posts have included observations on gardening as a career, hints and tips on growing sweet peas and a fascinating post on seaweed and its uses/benefits in our gardens and allotment plots.


My second calendar girl for January is Urban Veg Patch. Caro is one of The York Rise Growers from North London, whose "vision is to create a beautiful community space for growing herbs, veg and fruit". Again she is keen on growing from seed and shares some beautiful photography on her blog. Caro may well yet be responsible for leading me in the direction of another addition - that of Pinterest which she described in a most tempting fashion in a recent post.

If you have not already come across these blogs I urge you to visit as soon as you. I intend to make 'Calendar Girls' (or boys) a regular fixture from now on perhaps nearer to the start of the month. Have you come across any new to you blogs recently?

Friday, 27 January 2012

The 52 Week Salad Challenge ~ January 2012

I could not resist when Veg Plotting laid down the gauntlet of growing and or/foraging "some salad leaves to to eat every week this year"Yet although it's still only January I can already hear that school report phrase "Could do better" ringing in my ears! I am somewhat slow at rising to the challenge. I think that some of this is down to the general January lethargy that strikes me most years so I can only presume that as the year wakes up so will I.

I'm rather conservative in some ways when it comes to food. I don't do hot and spicy or bitter. I also have an innate suspicion of anything with serrated leaves or sharp stalks. For some reason such greenery often gets stuck in my craw as I eat so violent coughing and sometimes choking ensues. I have nightmares of being carted off to hospital in need of surgery a la Queen Mother after her encounters with fishbones. I don't know if this peculiarity is just a family trait as my mother also suffers from it or whether other people have a similar affliction. So alas delights such as dandelions and hairy bittercress are strictly off the menu for me.

So what have I been up to? In the greenhouse my main activity some winter salad leaves have been sown. The greenhouse is unheated. The leaves shown were sown in a small unheated propagator on the 8th January. The lid has remained on throughout so far but I shake off any surplus moisture and open the ventilation shaft (not sure if this is the correct phrase) each day. I have not watered the compost but spray it with my trusty water mister when I think necessary. I do this regularly with small seedlings as I they are delicate and do not appreciate a deluge from a watering can. There is also more risk of things getting too wet at this time of year and using a mister makes it so much easier to control the volume of water seedlings get. I hope to be munching from this sowing in February and will be sowing again this weekend.

My brief flirtation with sprouting seeds back in the 1970s is about to be re-ignited. Buying the equipment locally was a challenge in itself but I now have a sprouting germinator jar and a small selection of sprouting seeds so am set to go. I will hopefully report on some harvestings next month.


What I have been enjoying this month is some finely chopped snippets of Babington's Leek (allium ampeloprasum var babingtonii) on salads and also as a chive substitute with scrambled eggs. You can see a photo above of some plants waiting for me to transport them to the allotment to join those already in residence. I took the photo in the greenhouse for convenience - the plants though have been outside all winter. This plant is native to Britain and can be found growing mainly near the coast. The leaves have a garlicy taste and although all parts can be eaten I have only munched young leaves up to now. The foliage disappears over the summer months. I grew my plants from seed obtained from Chiltern Seeds. I have a few spare seeds or to be more accurate bulbils to spare if anybody is interested.


My other activity has been the oh so most important and pleasurable business of perusing the seed catalogues for various salad ingredients. Some sowing is on the schedule this weekend Finally last night I came home from my local garden club meeting clutching two bags of seed potatoes - Belle de Fontenay and Ratte, both of which are delicious salad potatoes. I realise that the challenge is about mainly about leaves but you do need something to bulk them up. Mmmmmmmmm - my mouth is already watering at the thought.
Do visit the monthly round up of The 52 Week Salad Challenge over at Veg Plotting if you have not already signed up consider joining in the fun!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

January Sales

Going about my business about this morning, hood well over head to protect myself from the incessant drizzle, I was still not sufficiently incognito to be recognised by a fellow garden club member. We stopped for a brief chat, during which I was shown her purchase from the local high street florist. The word sale was mentioned so I just had to pop in to the shop for a reccie. I was delighted that I did. I came out clutching a maidenhair fern for 50p - my first horticultural bargain of the year. My track record with houseplants is slowly improving. I have now managed to keep an African violet alive for almost three years so I am keen to have a few more indoor specimens. Where it is going to go I'm not quite sure but at the price I simply had no choice but to liberate it from the shelf. Once in the shop I was captivated and had to have a good look round. I could not resist a pot of instant spring colour. This oh most prettily wrapped pot of 'Tete a Tete' daffodils will be a perfect replacement for the hyacinths that occupied my blue pot over the festive season.

Have you snaffled up a bargain in the January sales? Do confess - they say it's good for the soul.

Friday, 20 January 2012

"Avon Calling"

The arrival of the postie with a parcel in his hands has cheered up an otherwise dismal and most wet January morning. The delivery contained three snowdrops from the excellent Avon Bulbs. If you have been visiting my blog for a while you will know that I am rather partial to these early flowering beauties. I would not call myself a galanthophile but given the financial wherewithal I could slide down that slippery route.  I am very slowly trying to build up my small collection which was decimated over the last couple of years. I wrote about them in their glory days here and then about the travesty that befell them here.

Inside the package were 'drops to replace ones that I had before but lost in the big freeze ~ 'Robin Hood', the definitely different 'Blewbury Tart' and the Greatorex double 'Ophelia'. I shall be heading to the greenhouse later to pot them up. However my long term intentions are to move away from keeping them in pots to planting them in the ground. I was initially reluctant to do this because of our squirrel population, but my losses were due to the fact that the bulbs in pots could not cope with two long and hard consecutive winters. I knew that I was taking a risk by planting them in pots but still I got a good few years innings from them before winter stopped play.

As you can see Avon Bulb's packaging is excellent. I have ordered from them several times before and have always been impressed by the quality of plants, packaging and also by the lovely lady in their office, who I have spoken to on the telephone several times over the years. Tucked into the box was a sample of one of their snowdrop greetings cards ~ I feel myself going weak at the knees.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Ten ~ Minute Diaries


I came across this trio of little books quite by chance late last year whilst I was deciding upon my festive seasonal treat to myself. The title I finally decided on was 'Colour In The Garden' by Val Bourne. I noticed though that three other books had been published by this author at the same time. Intrigued I kept my eyes open for these in the bookshops and eventually a quick peek resulted the conclusion that I would like to read them. If you have not come across this author before do look out for her books. Not only does she write knowledgeably and from personal experience, furthermore she gardens organically - a principle which is reflected throughout these books. Val Bourne's work appears regularly in the press including the gardening supplement which is located in Saturday's 'Daily Telegraph'. I already have her 'The Winter Garden' and 'The Natural Gardener' on my bookshelves whilst my seasonal treat is now upwardly mobile in the to be read pile.


I had intended to wait to see if the books appeared in my local library as I thought that the price for each volume was rather steep for my book buying budget (£9.99 for each in hardback) They are not particularly long books and the few illustrations that appear are rather old fashioned sketches. The lack of illustrations does not however detract from the content.  However when I noticed that that they were available in softback for £4.99 for the trio from The Bookpeople, I decided to send off for them and am now dipping into them ~ 

Although I have been concentrating on the vegetable volume up to now the format of each book appears  to be similar. There are up to six suggested monthly tasks, solutions for common problems, did you know facts, organic tips and information where appropriate on varieties. The diaries revolve round Val's attractive premise "Whenever there's a spare 10 minutes, use them. Some tasks inevitably take longer but much can be achieved in short bursts of activity on a regular basis." I like it! 

If the weather warms up enough tomorrow as forecast, I will be tackling one of Val's suggested tasks for mid January, which is to start preparing for seed sowing by washing those pots and seed trays. She suggests that a radio helps to ease the pain of the task. Her organic tip for this task is to "resist the urge to to use Jeyes Fluid, bleach or any other chemical cleaner. They are damaging to the environment and will harm many of your overwintering friendly predators." Excellent advice - unfortunately many other publications recommend doing quite the opposite. By the way if you have asthma do not go anywhere near Jeyes Fluid - I did once many years ago - it was an experience I will not forget in a hurry!

In conclusion, I think that these little books contain some most valuable advice and information, for both beginners and those who may have gardened or had an allotment for some time. Another set is on order as a little present for a friend.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day ~ January 2012

The start of January saw roses still in bloom but a couple of  overdue but seasonal sharp frosts have finally put paid to such curious goings on. I am somewhat relieved - it was all most confusing.  A quick reccie earlier this afternoon revealed a scene similar to the middle of January 2009. There are clusters of snowdrops about to fully open, one or two hellebores already out with other buds in various stages of unfurling whilst the red flowers of the rather camera shy pulmonaria rubra 'Redstart' have been doing their stuff for some time ~


Near the house I have planted a sarcococca confusa in a pot - its little white flowers are insignificant unlike its scent which is packed with intoxicating punch . I have another older plant which is straggly and still to flower. Maybe time for the chop. There are primroses too and winter flowering heathers (himself's  choice). Before I succumbed to frostbite I spotted a pot of crocus 'Firefly' close to opening. Now that does seem early but I am going to disappear into my photographic archives to investigate - much more reliable than my memory. Then time for a warming drink whilst I visit other January blooms thanks to May Dreams Gardens.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Wordless Wednesday ~ 11th January 2012

Well almost ~ only to say that I did not grow these prize winning  veg ~ something to aspire to though :)

Monday, 9 January 2012

Nipping It In The Bud

Yesterday looked as if it was going to be one of those January days ~ the morning dawned cool, dull and the fine drizzle developed into full scale rain. Definitely a write off for any outdoor activities or so I thought but it eventually brightened up. After lunch I decided to potter in the greenhouse and to make a quick inspection of the estate. In the greenhouse the sweet peas I sowed almost in the middle of November have made a fair bit of growth. These were sown much later than normal as I had such poor germination with the first batch. These second sowings have germinated well (not all of them but enough). I was worried that it may be too late to get them going but apart from the one snowfall in December, we have had hardly any really cold nights so far. Time then to nip off the growing points as recommended to make for more sturdy and floriferous plants.

My small tray of cuttings looks happy and healthy so far - the above photo was taken in the third week of November.  I did not take many cuttings last autumn - perhaps I had visions of another extremely cold winter which would involve wrapping myself and cuttings with infinite swathes of horticultural fleece. In the event I wish I taken more. However there are a few penstemons, a pretty little purple Swan River daisy, some pinks from my Mum's garden, lemon verbena which I delighted in stroking to release a whiff of delicious scent and some physocarpus opulifolius 'Diablo'There are also a few cuttings of an edible plant which will briefly remain a mystery as it merits a blog post of its own.

I got caught up with some general tidying up in the greenhouse and sowed some seed for Veg Plotting's 'The 52 Week Salad Challenge', so in the end not much time to look at what was happening in the garden. It was exciting though to  see that another three of my little named snowdrop collection may open this week - 'Wendys Gold', 'John Gray' and 'Faringdon Double'. No doubt I will be running out every day whatever the weather to check on their progress.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Challenging Behaviour


Before the impetus of a new year ebbs away I am setting myself a few personal challenges for 2012. I don't do resolutions since the inevitable disappointments of deciding to give up smoking on previous New Years Days. Waking up with too little sleep and probably alcohol still coursing through my veins was not a recipe for success. I invariably congratulated myself on lasting out a few hours, once it was a whole day, before succumbing again to the evil weed. Resolutions eventually went out of the window but the very word 'challenge' has a different ring about it. So here's what I would like to do :
  • Loose weight ~ yes wouldn't we all like to but I am seriously overweight - hence no photos of me on this blog. My family, friends and those  bloggers who have met me in the flesh as it were, would if they were being kind describe me as voluptuous. I would use different terminology and fully realise the risks to my health and happiness if the present state of affairs continues. I would love to have more energy for physical activities and garden and allotment would both benefit from it. What I have to loose is a secret between me in the scales. I am going to try in think of it in terms of bite sized chunks otherwise it is simply too daunting.
  • As part of the above I plan to eat less meat. As a former vegetarian I should be able to manage this one. It was only the lure of the aroma of bacon butties that diverted me from the straight and narrow. I will be leafing through 'River Cottage Veg Every Day' this weekend for new recipes to experiment with.
  • Take up tai chi again lessons. I started tai chi last year but sadly when my father was seriously ill last year had to put up it to one side. It's a gentle form of a physical exercise and a excellent for warming up before gardening or hitting the allotment.
  • I am going to resist buying any more books until I have read those already in my possession. The bookshelves are groaning and eventually in need of a good prune.
  • This year is going to be the year that I come up with a master plan for the allotment on paper before there has been too much sowing and growing. No more last minute panic as to where certain crops are going to reside or trying to remember what grew where last year.
  • Finally I am going to crack successional sowing, catch cropping etc etc. I will be participating in Veg Plotting's The 52 Week Salad Challenge. Feeling full of enthusiasm I called in at Wilkos this morning whilst shopping making one or two purchases to get me focused. I resisted the urge to purchase this season's blue seed cell trays. 
I will report back next year as to how I fared with these challenges but on and around the 27th of each month as far as the last challenge is concerned.
P.S. I did give up smoking eventually starting on a National No Smoking Day (14th March this year) and never looking back. 

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

The Wind In The Willow

Part of what garden writers refer to as "the borrowed landscape', this willow, which is just outside the boundary of our garden took a nasty battering in yesterday's storms. It looks even worse in the flesh than on the photo and part of the larger damaged branch is dangling ominously near to our shed. It was still dark and lashing it down when I heard a dreadful ominous cracking noise. My first thought was that a tree may have come down across the main road but as I peered out I could see that the traffic was still moving so ruled this out. It was only later in the day when the wind abated that I could get out that this most sad state of affairs met my eyes. A salutary reminder of the power of nature. Now major surgery awaits and as it has proved difficult to establish just who the  the landowner is, I have a feeling that this may be an expensive start to our new year. The lovely Karen from 'An Artist's Garden' tweeted of damage to her polytunnel yesterday and I wonder whether any other UK blogger's gardens were victims of the extreme weather. I do hope that your your good selves, properties and gardens escaped unscathed. This was not our only damage of the day - the force of the wind knocked over himself's parked motorbike which seems a large beast to me. Minor damage done but I was just so mightily relieved that he was not on it as the time.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

A Poem For A New Year

"You think I am dead"
The apple tree said
Because I have never a leaf to show-
Because I stoop,
And my branches droop,
And the dull gray mosses over me grow!

But I'm still alive in trunk and shoot;
The buds of next May
I fold away-
But I pity the withered grass at my root."
"You think I am dead,"
The quick grass said,
"Because I have parted with stem and blade!
But under the ground,
I am safe and sound
With the snow's thick blanket over me laid.
I'm all alive, and ready to shoot,
Should the spring of the year
Come dancing here-
But I pity the flower without branch or root."
"You think I am dead,"
A soft voice said,
"Because not a branch or root I own.
I never have died, but close I hide
In a plumy seed that the wind has sown.
Patient I wait through the long winter hours;
You will see me again-
I shall laugh at you then,
Out of the eyes of a hundred flowers."


~   Edith M. Thomas, 1854 - 1925

Wishing anybody who passes by a Happy and healthy New Year and hundreds of flowers!
P.S. The photos were all taken by me last year ~ one for each month but alas they did not come out in chronological order or the size I wanted. Must do more collages more often!