June 17, 2013
At this time of year, the hedgerows and verges are a mass of flowers as the cow parsley, hawthorn and, er, pink flowers run riot along the side of the road.
And so too are my own borders – about three weeks later than normal – as the columbines, snow-in-summer, poppies, solomon’s seal and mystery purple things also get into their stride.
The difference is that in a couple of weeks, most of the flowers in my beds will be more or less over – everything pretty much peaks in June and then spends the rest of the summer sitting around looking green and lumpy – whereas the verges just go on and on and on, with the cow parsley giving way to meadowsweet and then to foxgloves and willowherb (and a few outbreaks of Himalayan Balsam, but let’s draw a veil over that one). It makes me wonder why I bother – my beds involve much weeding, mulching and trips to village plant sales, while Mother Nature somehow manages to arrange a whole succession of flowers right through until September aided by nothing but rain and a going over with what looks like a lawnmower on a stick courtesy of a man from the council on a tractor once or twice a year.
It’s enough to make you take up growing carrots…
June 14, 2013
When you’ve boasted within earshot of the weather gods of the magnificence of your broad beans while noting their vulnerability to the faintest of breezes due to your having neglected to stake them, would it be a good idea to go up immediately and stake them before it’s too late?
And if you’ve failed to do so immediately would it behove you to then take more than an academic interest in the weather man announcing that today would be unusually windy for June and sprint up and stake them then before the wind got up and your broad beans ended up looking like this?
And would it, on the whole, be easier to tie up broad beans on a nice still calm-before-the-storm sort of morning rather than at the point when the storm is roaring in on a north wind?
And is this what a stable bolted after the horse has gone looks like, interpreted in the medium of string, stakes and battered-looking broad bean plants?
When will I learn?
June 7, 2013
The plot in June
Astoundingly (and I will undoubtedly live to regret this), despite mega busyness these last few months, I seem to be vaguely on schedule with the vegetable growing this year. This is partly down to a late spring, and partly down to the recent glorious weather which has meant that, despite the fact that I’m really too busy to be gardening, I’ve just had to grant myself at least an hour a day on the days when I’m not gadding about too much.
Things are all a bit weedy (and by ‘a bit’ I mean ‘really quite a lot’, obviously) but the potatoes are looking good, onions are in, my leeks are – for once – bigger than my spring onions which is only partly down to the fact that the pheasant has nipped all the spring onions’ heads off, the peas and broadbeans are flourishing although I’ll definitely regret saying that because I haven’t staked my broadbeans yet and it will only take a mild breeze to knock them over, the french beans, parsnips, kale, perpetual spinach, purple sprouting broccoli and garlic are all in, and the only thing so far that’s looking a bit miserable are the mangetouts which the slugs have discovered you can definitely mange tout of them, and have. I’ve even managed to get some sweetcorn germinating directly in the ground, it’s been so warm. If this is our summer, and I suspect it is, then everything’s going to bolt like mad in July but for now I’m just going to enjoy it, while touching wood and crossing my fingers and sending up a prayer to the weather gods not to ruin absolutely everything…
You know this was intended to show my magnificent broad beans but it turned out to be also of my magnificent weeds…
Just concentrate on the magnificence of those beans, eh?
June 6, 2013
chickens in the mist…
The landlord’s hens are settling in well, it seems, as we’ve just been offered a regular supply of eggs – £1 a half-dozen which is a bit more expensive, but also possibly more practical, (and definitely more ethical) than the other half’s plan of luring one of the chickens into our yard and training her to lay eggs somewhere handy. By way of a bonus, it also means we’ve found a good home for our tower of egg boxes which have been waiting a suitable recycling opportunity for months.
This means that as soon as the vegetable garden decides to start producing something other than weeds and the odd handful of purple sprouting broccoli, we’ll be able to sit down to entire meals where the ingredients have been produced within yards of our door, at least as long as we’re prepared to subsist mainly on what I’ve dubbed ‘random veg frittata’, the last refuge of the desperate home-grower…
May 13, 2013
I’ll admit it – I’m a sucker for the village plant sale. Any village plant sale, to be honest. While I can walk round a garden centre quite easily with my hands in my pockets and remain untempted by all the glories on display, there’s nothing like a trestle table full of miscellaneously potted plants, some labelled, some not, to get me forking out the cash. Throw in a tea and some home baking and it’s an afternoon made in heaven as far as I’m concerned. Last year the village plant sale didn’t happen, so this year as soon as it was announced I had it in the diary and yesterday afternoon I set off in the teeming rain on the Brompton to get there before the vultures descended.*
It was a miserable afternoon but the turnout was pretty good and the plant selection was wide if a little random. There was a very knowledgeable gardener manning the stall which was helpful as nothing was in flower and despite working for over a decade at Kew Gardens, my plant identification skills have not advanced much beyond ‘legume’ and ‘not a legume’. As the prices ranged the gamut from 50p to £1.50 it didn’t really matter what I bought anyway. The good thing about these sales is that people mostly donate plants that have grown well and spread themselves in their gardens so you know that most things will do well in the prevailing conditions. This is also the bad thing about these sales – one punter did sail off with a tray full of Lady’s Mantle which spreads itself like wildfire, despite even the woman manning the stall trying to dissuade her. Still, one person’s invasive nightmare is another person’s useful ground cover and as long as there isn’t too much ground elder and bindweed root lurking in the pots I should end up ahead on points.
So here’s my booty – whatever it is. I’d have bought a lot more but the Brompton basket was getting quite full and I had to leave room for the home baking. Plant stall lady did tell me what most of them were but my brain refused to retain the information – it can’t remember people’s names, why on earth would it manage with plants? One of them is a shrub with berries that blackbirds like. Two of them are ‘special’ foxgloves, reason for specialness not entirely clear. One flowers in July, which is useful and was described as a ‘really good doer’. One had other sterling qualities that seemed enticing at the time but which I have now forgotten. And one of them was a mystery both to me and Plant stall lady, but at 50p was worth a punt. Waiting to see what emerges is half the fun…
* you’ve got to be quick: theoretically it started at 2:30 but I knew all too well that the people bringing plants arrive earlier and get first dibs of the good stuff, so I was there by 2:15 and it was already heaving. They just don’t do fashionably late around here.
May 3, 2013
… I can combine gardening and cycle campaigning but this week townmouse is proud to present:
101 uses for a dead spoke reflector
How to protect your kale from marauding pheasants, while also promoting cycling. Seems to work a treat too …
May 1, 2013
We had my parents to stay last night and I was just wondering what we might do for pudding when I came across this in the flowerbed at the back and remembered it was rhubarb season…
When it comes to growing your own, rhubarb – at least our rhubarb – feels a bit like cheating. It was already in the garden when we arrived and it just seems to magically come up every year without me doing anything. According to the RHS, the main thing when growing rhubarb is to make sure it gets plenty of water in the summer which, frankly, is not a problem around here. Apart from that, all you have to do is go out whenever you want some rhubarb and pull as many stems as you need. It’s not so much being a rhubarb grower, as being some sort of specialised rhubarb pest.
The only problem is that I’ve gone from not really liking rhubarb on the grounds that it sounded a bit school-dinnerish to discovering it’s rather yummy. The other half makes rhubarb pickle which he’s quite keen on, and last night we had rhubarb and ginger crumble which was delicious and now we’ve realised we are going to need more of it. Possibly my policy of benign neglect may have to be revised – I have even been letting it flower because it’s in the flowerbed and it’s quite spectacular when it does, but a quick google suggests I’m dicing with disaster there and that any real gardeners out there will have just had a sharp intake of breath on reading that. Clearly I’m going to have to do this properly: digging it up, splitting the crown, manuring, mulching well, and then discovering next spring that I’ve got no rhubarb at all …
April 17, 2013
… frog, presumably. I was just rinsing off my boots in the permapuddle that stretches across our drive after some last-minute what-the-hell-was-I-thinking-agreeing-to-a-week-away-in-April gardening* when I noticed that it had taken on a certain pond-like aspect
Either mama frog has faith in our having another wet summer, or her babies had all been washed out of the top pond during the recent rain. I didn’t want them run over (boy would that take ages to report to the Splatter Project – 479 individually squashed tadpoles) so I decided to transport them back up to the pond. As there genuinely is a hole in my main gardening bucket, dear Henry, I used a 5-litre ice cream tub instead, and each blob there pretty much filled it, so that’s a lot of frogspawn. I can tell you now, persuading it into the ice cream tub without – ewww – touching it, is not child’s play (actually, come to think of it, for a certain value of child, that’s *exactly* what it is. It’s not adult friendly though). Put it this way, it put me in mind of the old joke about the spittoon, which is too revolting to recount here.
Anyway, I managed it, the frogspawn have been moved where they may undoubtedly end up being eaten but at least won’t be run over. And hopefully when we get back there will be developments to report…
*tatties, onions, garlic, parsnips and broad beans all planted out…
April 10, 2013
I’ve been looking forward to the return of hens to the garden after the old lot were ruthlessly done away with by the landlord last winter. Today, spotting signs of activity at the hen run I was hopeful that my slug disposal systems would be returning, but no: they are getting new hens but they aren’t going to live up in the walled garden any more, they are moving down to the big house (not IN the big house, obviously, that would be silly). Junior landlord, who lives mainly in London, was a little worried that they might be picked off by foxes but I reminded him that you never actually see foxes in daylight in the country – it’s only in London that you find them loitering around the Elephant and Castle at noon or wandering into a takeaway for a lunchtime kebab – although I should perhaps have warned him about the traffic, after the latest casualty.
Anyway, I’ll miss their company – especially their mad dash to be first to the fence when there were marinaded slugs on offer – but I can see the logic of having them closer to hand. And – although I was briefly tempted – I turned down the offer of the old hen run area to extend my vegetable empire. I know my limits. Well, sometimes.
April 5, 2013
This represents not just the last of the winter leeks – but probably 50% of the entire harvest… Riddle me this: why is it my leeks come out looking like spring onions, while everyone else here seems to be able to effortlessly grow enormous sturdy looking leeks – while my parsnips, which nobody else seems to be able to grow at all here, come out looking like this?
This year, it will be different…