Garden Visiting

May 12, 2019

Bike parked by garden

Sometimes everything just comes together and this afternoon was one of those times: glorious May weather, a gap (of sorts; there’s always something I could usefully be doing) in the schedule and not one but two open gardens to visit, both of them, crucially, offering teas.

Sunny view

Of course, this being May, you don’t have to go far to be struck by the beauty of late spring – this is the wood along our road at the moment.

spring woods alongside road

And you don’t have to go far to find bluebells either – even on the short ride down to the first garden, famous for its bluebell wood, I was assailed on all sides by the heady smell of them and shimmers of blue beneath the fresh spring green, but it was worth the visit, and not just because of the chance to catch up with Old Nearest Village gossip (the oldest inhabitant, who sweeps the board at the village show each year, lost her greenhouse over the winter so it’s all to play for in the tomato classes) and the ample tea.

bluebell wood

(We’ll draw a veil over one chap who managed to go from ‘why don’t you wear a helmet?’ to ‘I just drive them off the road anyway, they get in my way and slow me down’ in just three moves, a record, I believe).

Then it was off down more quiet rural roads to the next garden.

road with overhanging trees

(Potholes not shown; some of them were truly spectacular. I particularly liked the stretch where just one of them had been outlined in red, presumably for mending, while the dozen other equally hazardous ones around it had been ignored).

The second garden was also spectacular but more of the ‘just shows what you can do if you’ve got staff’ variety (as observed by the only other cyclist there). Also you had to pay separately for your tea, so I was glad I’d made good at the first. I am gradually learning that the posher the garden, the less generous the tea arrangements.

formal garden

All in all a very splendid day. Although our morning coffee on the bench, enjoying the view, (and my homemade chelsea buns) was possibly just as enjoyable …

coffee and chelsea buns

… Especially as it didn’t come with a side order of cyclist-baiting remarks.

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Piling it on

May 10, 2019

Among our many garden plans to be pursued in the fullness of time, one that’s been brewing for a while now has been establishing a fruit cage next to the greenhouse. This has moved up the agenda a bit, partly due to the hares discovering how tasty blueberry bushes are, and partly due to the fact that some friends of ours inexplicably wanted rid of a compost heap full of well-rotted compost and this seemed like the perfect place to put it to work.

So far, fruit cage progress hadn’t got much further than covering the site with old carpet (checks notes) more than two years ago in an attempt to get the nettles and brambles growing there under control.

old carpet covering fruit cage site

Encouragingly, this turns out to have been reasonably effective, in that the soil underneath the carpet was pretty clear of weeds (or at least visible ones – I have no doubt that there will be nettle roots still in there waiting for a chance to emerge).

soil under the carpet

I can’t say the same of the carpet itself, which demonstrates yet again that what this garden really wants to do is grow grass and it doesn’t mind where it does it. If anyone was looking for a half-way house between astroturf and laying a lawn in the traditional fashion, this could be the answer…

carpet with grass growing on it

We have run out of time this season to get the fruit cage itself up and the beds properly prepared, so we decided to buy some time by lifting the carpet, piling on the donated compost and and re-laying the carpet until we are ready to do the rest. This took a startlingly short amount of time – less than half a day. Given I can easily spend that long trying to weed the dandelions out of a tiny section of the back patio, I’m beginning to contemplate carpeting that too.

piled up compost

Anyway if nothing else, this gave us an opportunity to make use of our pile of pallets in true allotmenteering style.

pallets on the carpet

I’m not 100% convinced by our new decking, to be honest

Now we just have to hope that the blueberry bush survives the hares’ attentions until its new home is ready. All in the fullness of time …


Pheasant’s Revolt

May 8, 2019

While I’ve been busy, spring has been springing and things have been sprouting. As the leaves have unfurled on most of the trees I was reassured to see some green shoots emerging on my new fedge – although not as vigorously as on the bigger stakes we knocked in to support it …

leaves sprouting on willow stakes

Indeed, there are similar sprouts showing on the hazel sticks I used to provide some temporary hare defences for my new asparagus bed, suggesting that they may prove more permanent than I was intending, if I don’t watch out. Unfortunately, it turns out that it’s not the hares that are proving the problem (they seem keener on eating our new blueberry bush) but the pheasants, which of course can mount an aerial attack, and have been merrily nipping off the new shoots as they appear.

nipped off asparagus shoot

Irritatingly, they aren’t even eating them all, although that did at least give us a chance to taste two of the shoots – if the crowns don’t survive their first shoots being cruelly cut short, these may prove to have been the most expensive asparagus ever eaten (naturally, it was delicious).

protected asparagus bed

So I’ve reinforced my sticks with a bit of netting and added bottle cloches for now, although that is still likely to prove a temporary measure as some of the survivors are already taller than my biggest bottles. I’ve had reasonable success keeping pheasants at bay with string and strategically deployed spoke reflectors in the past, although that was defending brassicas rather than asparagus, which might prove a bit more tempting to the discerning pheasant. It’s a slightly more ethical approach than our old landlord, who just used to call in the shoot when the pheasants got too rambunctious. I may have lived in the country for over a decade, but my townie sensibilities still draw the line at that.

asparagus shoot in bottle clocheBut then again, just think how delicious an asparagus-fed pheasant might be…


Springiness

April 16, 2019

April seems to have been a month of easterlies up to now – bringing dry, cold weather rather than the traditional showers and – in my case at least – a welcome tailwind when climbing the hill to home. Indeed yesterday, in a boisterous hat-snatching gale, I could actually feel it like a hand on my back and my legs were suddenly very very good indeed. This made the fact that I’d had to pedal downhill on the way in worth it.

Even a withering east wind hasn’t quite managed to hold back spring, though. There’s a sudden surge of greenness everywhere (except on the big trees, which will hang on a while yet, I imagine). And today the wind relented and it got more mild (complete with the return of the April showers, possibly a good thing given our water butt is almost empty*). I even managed an hour or two in the greenhouse, potting on seedlings. I was pleased to note that my greenhouse potatoes were finally putting in an appearance after over a month

potato shoots

As, er, are the last of the stored potatoes, which I’m going to have to summon up the courage to investigate and deal with before we end up with a thriving, if cannibalistic, potato patch in our utility room.

potato shoots

And another green shoot popped up in the post this morning. This year’s PoP t-shirt is a zinger and you should definitely buy one.

Pedal on Parliament t-shirt

In other news, it’s harder to make a cow costume than you might think.

* Note to the Weather Gods – you didn’t hear me say that, OK?


Let them Eat Broccoli

April 11, 2019

Well, I hope you’re all enjoying the fine spring weather (at least for viewers in Scotland) – it is pretty much inevitable that when I’ve got a tight work deadline and a looming cycle protest (or protests – we’ve now got 17 different events planned and more in the works) to organise, that (a) everything will start to happen at once (laptop: would now be a good time to tell that you I need an update?) and (b) the sun will come out.* While I’ve been largely chained to my desk, the other half has been taking advantage of the lengthening evenings to go out and do some gardening pottering and the hares have been taking advantage of the rising sap to, er, hare around the field next door pausing only to make more hares, and it’s beginning to get on my goat. Expect it to start raining at the weekend, when at last the deadline will be over, even if the PoP preparations can only get more frantic from here.

All of which means I’m also falling behind on the gardening, although at least it’s chilly enough at night to mean spring is not yet completely in full flow. And I’m pleased to report that I was wrong about one thing – our leeks may be almost finished and last year’s potatoes sprouted beyond all hope but, had the worst predictions of the pundits over Brexit come to pass, we wouldn’t be completely starving after all. Despite the best efforts of the local cabbage white population and Moo-I-5 we’ve got broccoli coming out of our ears at the moment. Here’s hoping that’s not the only doom-laden prediction about the whole fiasco that will fail to come to pass …

Purple sprouting broccoli

* It’s possible that there are meteorological forces at work as well, but I prefer to blame the weather gods and sod’s law.


Welcoming our Compost Overlord

March 29, 2019

I mentioned we had exciting composting news and I can now reveal that the Dalek mothership has landed.

We’ve been curious about compost tumblers ever since visiting my friend’s parents’ amazingly productive plot. It’s fair to say that our own adventures in composting haven’t really been more than partially successful so far.

Enter the compost tumbler (or technically speaking the ComposTumbler), which cost How Much!? and promises speedy compost (as long as your average temperatures are high enough), or at least the opportunity to spend less time emptying and refilling an ever-growing platoon of daleks.

In between shelling out for this behemoth and it arriving, the subject of compost tumblers came up on Gardeners’ Question Time where they were roundly dismissed. All we needed to make compost, Bob Flowerdew opined airily, was four pallets joined together – and to turn it regularly. As it happens we do have four pallets but I also have A Shoulder and that has made turning the compost a bit painful, and probably unwise. And besides – while I’m all for frugal gardening and the creative use of pallets – there’s something about having a great big steampunkish metal contraption that is equally appealing.

The other half assembled it in the garage, and yesterday we carried it out onto its stand in composting corner where we filled it up with a starter load of stuff that had been festering (or, more properly, failing to fester) in one of the daleks all winter. According to the very detailed instructions that came with the beast, we should be taking its temperature daily (disappointingly it did not come with a spreadsheet for recording it, although it did include a few graphs) to ensure the magic is happening, and turning it at least four times a week.

You would think that would be enough, but I’m slowly realising that composting is an exacting science and we are also going to need a decent shredder. Plus, in order to get the right balance of carbon and nitrogen, separate holding areas for things like grass clippings and wood chippings. Not to mention somewhere for kitchen and garden waste while we wait for the tumbler to do its work and somewhere to store the finished compost once it’s completed it. Compost Corner clearly still has a way to go.

I have long suspected that gardening largely comes down to the accumulation of stuff to go into the compost. Now, I am sure of it.


Crowning Glory Part Two

March 17, 2019

With my rhubarb having (so far) survived the winter:…

Rhubarb shoots

NB, this was one of the crowns that got carefully and lovingly planted in a prime location. The one that somehow got unearthed and left for dead at the side of the bed is also sprouting. Yup, they’re basically unkillable.

…It’s time to chance my arm with asparagus in one of the raised beds. Actually, it probably isn’t precisely the right time as we’ve got a bit of groundfrost forecast overnight, but the crowns I had ordered a few weeks ago arrived yesterday and tomorrow we head off to Norn Iron for a bit of R&R so it was plant them now or leave them in the box for over a week.

Asparagus crowns

Unlike rhubarb, asparagus crowns clearly favour a lot of root – if I saw this lot on something growing in the garden, I’d assume it was a pernicious weed, so I’m hopeful that it will prove tougher than its reputation might suggest.

The planting instructions were very detailed and specific. I declined to get a ruler out to determine whether my plants and rows were the prescribed 30cm apart but did go to the effort of raising a little ridge within the planting trench, so here’s hoping.

asparagus crowns planted

The instructions also suggested asparagus needs ‘protection from high winds’ which was good for a hollow laugh in this the most exposed of gardens, especially after yesterday’s adventure. For now I have erected some sticks around them, more more because I had a lot of sticks to hand than because they’re known for being particularly effective windbreaks. I have had some thoughts about how to reinforce them in some way that will let the sun in but keep the wind out but it hasn’t got any further than perhaps using some string.

sticks around the asparagus bed

Now all we have to do is wait, and resist the temptation to harvest any spears for two years. Hopefully the hares will be similarly abstemious.