How Does your Garden Grow?

May 20, 2023

It’s my favourite time of the year: village plant sale season. And fittingly, one of the first things I bought at the first plant sale when we moved here had finally started flowering (it turns out that not only are tree peonies unexpectedly big – although the clue is in the name – they also come in yellow).

yellow tree peony flower

Anyway, regular readers will know that turning up to a village plant sale half way through, or even on the dot of it starting, is a rookie mistake. All the keen gardeners for miles around will have shown up as it was setting up, ostensibly to donate plants, but really to make sure they get first dibs on the good stuff.

brompton basket full of plants

Despite turning up fifteen minutes before kickoff with my Brompton basket full of houseplants – and even with one of the organisers valiantly attempting to hold off from selling anything until the official start time – I swear, I hesitated for 30 seconds, and the only hollyhocks were gone. It was potato day all over again …

Half empty plant stall

Once the polite but ruthless fleece-clad regulars had filled their boxes and the scrum had subsided somewhat there were still a few plants left, particularly if you wanted tomatoes (there are always tomato plants). Mrs Pepperpot and I bagged a few – sungold tomatoes and a nice variegated Brunnera for her, an interesting succulent, and some plants to replace those that didn’t survive the winter frosts for me. The advantage of village plant sales is that whatever you do manage to get your hands on is likely to survive, thrive and even spread in local conditions … that’s more or less why they’re there.

Meanwhile, we’re getting into the swing of things with No Mow May.

long grass with dandelion seedheads

The local wildlife seems to appreciate it at least.

While You Wait

May 8, 2023

I spoke a bit too soon on my last post – I thought the next flood of work had arrived, but it turned out just to be a tiny part of it, accompanied by dire warnings about how quickly the next load will need to be turned around but not, as yet, the actual work. So I found myself going into a long weekend with nothing pressing to do except get on with the gardening backlog.

(I mean, I could have watched the coronation I suppose, but given I haven’t even graduated officially from university because I don’t really like ceremonies, that wasn’t ever realistically going to happen).

So Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday were all spent happily pottering, getting the leeks, beetroot, salad, purple sprouting broccoli and the one pea that had managed to germinate all out into the veg patch.

Vegetable plot with raised beds planted up with seedlings under bottle cloches.

I’m even giving sweet peas another go, in a slightly less wildlife friendly location than last year when all the ones I’d grown and their replacements were ruthlessly munched before they could even climb up their carefully constructed wigwams.

sweet pea seedlings in tubs on the patio

One compost dalek has been emptied and partially refilled, the water butt was almost emptied (and the weather gods have been busy refilling it today), I’ve even planted a succession of salad veg and beetroot and some replacement peas. With the weather unconducive to gardening today, and the work still not here, I even turned to the mending pile in desperation.

If this continues much longer, I might even have to figure out how to relax. Or clean the house or something, but let’s not be ridiculous.

Purple Patch

May 4, 2023

It’s been a while since I blogged, largely because my usual Spring work crunch has arrived with bells on this year, which has left me with no time to do anything of interest, and no time to write about it even if I did – I spent the whole of last weekend working, as well as most of my waking hours during the day. On Tuesday I’d shovelled enough work out the door to afford myself a brief escape to Embra to meet two old school friends (still working on the train there and back, mind you) and today, at lunchtime I found that I had managed to send off everything I had to do, and nobody had yet sent me anything to do next.

Time to venture out and find out if we still had a garden (we do, just) and specifically, whether the potatoes I did manage to plant out some time in March were going to put in an appearance or not. Eventually, after a bit of poking about, I unearthed this:

very small half frosted potato shoot

What can I say, it’s been a very cold and late spring.

Naturally, the bed where the potatoes were last year, and which I thoroughly dug over twice to remove every trace of potato, looks a lot more convincing as a potato patch:

Much larger potato shoots coming through

After an hour I had satisfyingly not just cleared the raised beds of weeds, but got a bonus potato harvest to boot.

unearthed potatoes

Anyway, by the time I’d brought them in, the next batch of work had arrived, so that was that.

At least some people are getting some use out of the garden while I get to watch in jealousy from my desk …

Not Dead Yet …

March 22, 2023

There is, I believe, a saying among those who work in the polar regions that nobody’s dead until they’re warm and dead. Round here, I’ve adapted that approach to my gardening (indoors and out): no plant is dead until it’s spring and it’s dead.

Exhibit A, my citrus plants (I’ve long since lost track of which ones are oranges and which are lemons) at the start of March and now:

Two dead looking plants
The same two plants but the one on the left now has leaves

I’m more or less certain the one on the right is dead but I’ll give it a bit longer to be sure.

Meanwhile, the last couple of weeks of snow, hail, frost, wind, and driving rain have taken their toll on the surviving (and I use the word in its loosest possible sense) purple sprouting broccoli which if anything looks worse than it did at the beginning of the month

But spring does seem to be gracing us with its presence, as evidenced by the arrival of my birthday flowers. I’ve thrown caution to the winds and got the seed potatoes in the ground, as well as getting the first seeds started in the greenhouse (peas, mangetout, leeks and more purple sprouting broccoli, since you didn’t ask) and am beginning to feel almost as if the worst of winter is behind us.

Chionodoxa growing in the grass

It might even be time to put Mostly back on her plinth for the season.

bust of a woman lying on the ground beside a plinth

Good Fedges Make Good Neighbours

February 10, 2023

By popular request (well ok there was one comment…) an update on the fedge …

Line of willows

Regular readers may recall that I attempted to create a willow fedge back in 2019 and while I did things as much as possible by the book, the willow hasn’t exactly played its part – while most of the carefully woven in whips have repeatedly failed to take, the stakes we’d hammered into support them have flourished like the green bay tree. Or the misplaced willow, if you prefer.

willow whips woven together

I’ve resorted to weaving in some of the side shoots, but they too are not behaving themselves – the idea is that by tying them together the branches will fuse into a wonderfully strong and self supporting structure, but these particular willows are having none of it and have either escaped the ties altogether or been damaged by rubbing together. I’m not sure if it’s using the wrong kind of ties (the gardening books suggest using old tights – or if the books are really old, ‘your wife’s old tights’ – but I have neither tights nor a wife so that’s not much help) or that I’ve got a particularly stubborn breed of willow here. I’m a bit reluctant to tie them back in and inflict more damage so for now I’m concentrating on cutting off all but the side shoots and hoping something fedgelike will eventually emerge.

Closer view of the fedge

Meanwhile, having joked about the gardening police, I was immediately rewarded with a visit from the garden inspection committee, fortunately too early in the year to expect anything too impressive from my gardening efforts. At least I was able to show him my pile of cardboard and the other half’s rabbit-proof fence. In February, that counts as progress.

I didn’t show him the other, slightly more macabre feature our garden has developed:

It turns out our neighbour in the farm up the road had shot a couple of deer in the woods and left the heads behind. Something, possibly a badger, had decided to relocate one of the heads to the rhubarb patch and left it there. Unfortunately, after setting up the surveillance for two nights to no avail, I forgot to put the camera out last night and of course this morning the head had disappeared.

Anyway, at we now have a venison hind leg in the freezer – via the neighbour, I hasten to add, not brought in by the badgers. Recipe suggestions welcome …

Call the Gardening Police

February 8, 2023

These days, winter is supposed to be a quiet time in the garden, as we no longer tidy the summer growth up but leave everything for the wildlife to shelter in. However, as spring gets closer and the days lengthen out, this is hard to stick to – especially as March and April are shaping up to be quite busy. With the Weather Gods having declared something of a truce in recent days I have been doing a fair bit out in the garden.

I always go out thinking there’s not much to be done, but one thing leads to another as I realise how much I could usefully be doing, so that by the end of an afternoon’s hard work, I’m somehow further behind than I was when I started. This week’s task started as ‘mulch the gooseberry bushes’ (a task I should probably have done in autumn so no real violation of the ‘no winter gardening’ rule), and somehow morphed into ‘reclaim this patch of brambles and willowherb’.

Overgrown patch of garden

No wait, officer, I can explain – I started off by deciding to fill the barrow for the return trip from the gooseberry patch with the leaves that had gathered under the corkscrew hazel and take them down to our leaf-mould bin, which is next to the pile of shreddings I was using for the gooseberries. While gathering the leaves, I thought I’d just snip off the straight shoots that come out of the rootstock every year, to stop them taking over. While I had the secateurs in my hand, it seemed like a good opportunity to cut back the brambles that had started to encroach on the gardened bit of the garden, as opposed to the reverted-to-hedgerow bit of the garden. And while snipping off bramble shoots is all very well, you know that as soon as summer gets going it will put on about a foot a week, so it’s better to root out as much as you can while things are died down and easier to deal with. And then once you’ve got the fork out, well, there’s nothing so satisfying as generating a huge pile of assorted weed roots even though you know that in the end the effort is probably futile.

Cleared out patch

If I do have a plan for this garden, it’s to reclaim one small patch of it from the wilderness per year, while trying, with greater or lesser success, to defend the territory that I have already taken (I do feel a bit bad at removing what is probably quite good wildlife habitat but there remain a LOT of similar bramble patches in other parts of the garden and I doubt I’ll ever get all of it under control, even if I wanted to). So having started the job, I decided to finish it with a spot of lasagne gardening – piling the ground with cardboard and organic matter to exclude the light and keep the weeds down, without killing the organisms that keep the soil healthy underneath. Supposedly you don’t even need to fork out the roots first, but I was pulling dock roots out the size of a baby’s arm and somehow I think that it will take a bit more than some flattened cardboard boxes to keep those under control.

Patch piled with compost and covered in cardboard

(Before anyone asks, yes I did weigh the cardboard down with some stones after taking this photo).

And besides, it’s not as if the garden reads the books or follows the advice either (case in point – my ‘fedge‘ which has managed to do precisely nothing it was supposed to do and everything it wasn’t over the past few years). So we’ll see what happens after a year or so of the treatment. If the snowdrops I found at the bottom of our manure pile are anything to go by, which were looking very sorry for themselves a fortnight ago, it takes more than a spell in darkness to keep a good plant down…

snowdrops poking through manure


January 5, 2023

So I gave the other half a tasty gift this Christmas:

According to the instructions, what we were supposed to be getting was a sawdust like substance which needed to be soaked in a bucket of water, misted daily and generally carefully tended until the shiitake mushrooms appeared. I think on the whole, this would have been a bit less alarming than opening the box and being confronted with something that looked quite so, well, fungal – the last time we had mushrooms that looked like that in our kitchen, they were growing out of the ceiling joists and it cost a fair bit to get rid of them.

However, the other half is made of stern stuff and resisted the temptation to just shoot the lot into the compost heap. After ten days of cultivation they began to look a bit more like food and less like wet rot and were duly harvested.

shiitake growing in a mushroom growing kit

At this point, I should remind readers that I don’t really like mushrooms, and it seems I last ate any in (checks notes) 2012, when I got a sticker for being brave about it. There was no sticker this time but I did overcome my extreme dubiousness about the whole thing and have successfully stir fried our first harvest. This was, we agreed, pretty tasty although the recipe had enough going on that the mushrooms didn’t exactly stand out. There’s still half the harvest left so perhaps I’ll have to be even braver and try something more mushroomy.

Mushrooms being harvested

Meanwhile the kit has gone to the garage for a fortnight’s rest, and then the soaking and misting process will resume. Supposedly we can get half a dozen crops out of it, something I’m not sure whether I’m looking forward to or dreading … but just in case, suggestions for tasty shiitake recipes in the comments would be appreciated.

Thaw Point

December 20, 2022

As predicted, the sparkly freeze of recent weeks has given way to something milder, greyer – and windier.

Empty compost dalek rolled against a fence

It turns out hungry daleks go for a wander (I had unwisely emptied one without redistributing the contents of the other two as ballast). Fortunately, it also turns out that fences prove as formidable an obstacle to wandering daleks as stairs do so the errant exterminator was easily retrieved and put to work digesting the contents of the compost tumbler. I get the feeling that gardening is no longer my primary hobby; rather it’s become a by product of my composting habit.

four small harvested leeks

When it comes to actual gardening – or at least, harvesting some leeks – it’s a sign of how frozen things have been that two whole days of temperatures reaching double figures, I could only get the fork easily into the first two inches of the raised bed, before hitting what felt like concrete. It took some work to get the tines through the layer of frozen earth and then some careful prying to liberate enough leeks for tonight’s supper without damaging them. They say the recent cold snap hasn’t been anything particularly out of the ordinary, but I don’t know when we last had a layer of permafrost (oh, OK, tempafrost) in December. But at least the ‘glacier’ that guards our road is beginning to retreat somewhat. This has been fun to negotiate for the past week – even If I had put my ice tyres on, I wouldn’t fancy it on the bike, and even walking past it has been a bit of an adventure.

Stretch of ice along a country road

And how’s your winter weather shaping up?

Muck Raking

December 9, 2022

Now that we’re supposed to leave our gardens untidy over winter for the wildlife, there’s not that much to be doing outside on a day in December – especially one as bone chillingly cold as it’s been lately. But the sun was shining and I had a bit of time to spare – and there is one task best done when it’s as cold as possible, which is shifting manure.

Barrow full of pig manure next to an almost empty compost bay

Our smallholding neighbours up the hill have pigs and having been offered some of their output (the muck, that is – we’ve also had their pork and it is delicious), I decided now was the time to take advantage and spent an hour and a half attempting to fill the spare compost bay with pig poo (I realise on writing this that ‘filling a bay with crap’ sounds more like something privatised water companies do these days than gardeners, but hey ho). An hour and a half – and a full body workout later – and I’d managed six(ish) barrowloads. I’d barely made a dent in the pile, or filled a fifth of the space – but I was done in. Fortunately we have many more such days still in the forecast to ferry a bit more down.

slightly more filled bay with manure

Although, there probably is no need to wait for the cold weather – this is wonderfully mature muck, and didn’t smell at all. And if the beetroot I got from the neighbour is anything to go by, it’s powerful stuff.

very large beetroot with secateurs for scale

Next step will be getting it up to the veg beds, greenhouse and fruit cage … but I think that will wait until my arms and shoulders have recovered from today’s exertions. Monster beetroot aside, I do wonder how anyone manages to grow enough vegetables to replace the calories expended in raising them…

Counting one’s Carrots

November 22, 2022

With Twitter apparently on the way out (or at least increasingly full of people announcing they’re moving over to Mastodon) I have been making vague plans to fill the gap by going old school – blogging more, at least a bit more than the current once a week, and spending more time commenting directly on other people’s blogs, as we used to do back in the old days of 10 years ago. As you can see from my posting history (and, indeed, my Twitter timeline), this has gone exactly as well as most of my other vague plans – mainly due to a massive and unreasonable work crunch. Still it remains on the agenda, but we’ll see.

The downside of less frequent blogging is that I keep finding I’ve not blogged about something I meant to refer to, merely frittered the material away on Twitter. So I never mentioned on here the fact that I’d had to dig up all my beetroot early in October after the mice discovered had discovered them

We’ve now eaten our way through the resulting beetroot stockpile, but it somehow never occurred to me that the mice, having been robbed of one highly-coloured root vegetable feast, would turn their attention to my carrots instead.

Mouse chewed and muddy carrots

A shame because some of them were beginning to look pretty impressive. Send carrot recipes please, bearing in mind that I don’t actually really like carrots …

I shall try to do better on the blogging front. Work and life are shaping up to be busy but that’s no excuse. Even if it’s just a matter of celebrating the occasional escape and respite in the November weather.

Sunlight catching the water on the river

And how has your week been?