Four and 20 Campaigners Came Down from Inverness…

January 13, 2018

… and found someone had left a load of excrement on their doorstep.

bags full of horse manure

Fortunately it was the well-rotted horse kind and I was expecting it. We’ve been trying to sort out a delivery of a friend’s horse poo for ages, somewhat hampered by the lack of a trailer, so before Christmas I gave her a load of empty feed sacks* and she filled them with the end result by way of a new year gift.

It’s lovely stuff, too.

manure in greenhouse beds

This afternoon I topped up one greenhouse bed with some of the contents and did a bit of garden pottering which has filled my head with things that need and could and should be done with it. I’ve still not quite got to grips with it all but now that the greenhouse is almost ready to go, plans are afoot.

Electric trike in Inverness

Big beast and little beast: the Brompton meets the Beast of Inverness

Inverness was fun, if a bit too much of a fleeting visit. Just time to try out the local GP’s electric trike, nicknamed the beast (she started off applying to get some bike racks installed at her practice and it seems to have escalated from there. It’s easily done), meet some local campaigners, rummage through Leakey’s book stocks, and hatch plans for a proper return trip one of these days.

* Top tip if you live in a rural community – don’t ask your local freecycle list for empty feed sacks. You will end up beating them off with a stick.


Those Who Dig in Glass Houses

November 7, 2017

The weather seems to have made a decisive shift from ‘variable’ to ‘downright bonkers’ in recent days – yesterday started with a sharp frost, then turned into a stinging cold drizzle (as a passing neighbour commented as she overtook me, “it’s wet and cold and miserable, what are you DOING?”), and then, as I reached the outskirts of Bigtown with the sun struggling to come out, the wind suddenly turned almost warm: not exactly an oven door opening, but maybe something like a tumble dryer. Today we woke to blustery wind and rain and overnight temperatures of 11 degrees, while tonight – having cycled back from the community council meeting wondering if I should have put my magical ice tyres on – it is once more officially effing bloody cold.

frosty morning

Still, whatever the weather, at the moment it doesn’t matter because our main outdoor project is effectively indoors: digging out where the greenhouse beds. The idea is to replace the current mixture of (inevitably) gravel and rather compacted clay soil with whatever will grow us lots of tomatoes and chillies. Following my usual technique I have googled various gardening sites to find one which agrees with what I was thinking of doing anyway, and decided we’ll probably go with a mixture of one third soil, one third sand and one third peat-free compost.*

greenhouse progress

So this afternoon I spent a happy few hours out of the wind and the wildly variable weather, shovelling the soil and gravel into our ever growing heap, removing an encouraging number of worms (some slightly shorter than they might have been originally, sorry worms) to safety, and remembering not to chuck the bigger stones too carelessly towards the open door…

* It appears that the whole peat vs peat-free compost question is as controversial in a gardening forum as helmets are on a cycling forum; having stumbled upon some entertainingly bonkers but very heated ‘debates’ on the subject, I decided to stick to lurking.

The Grass is Always Greener

November 2, 2017

Today the various planets aligned to produce not just a gloriously sunny and calm November day, but one in which I had no pressing work to do indoors – so a chance to get to grips with some of the garden.

garden in November

Normally I’m a bit of a potterer in the garden – I’ll start doing half a dozen different jobs and flit from one to the other (normally based on keeping in the sunny patches) but today I knuckled down and got one bed in order – the worst of the weeds removed, leaf mould around the shrubs, topped off with a mulch of woodchips; it’s almost as if I know what I’m doing.

tidied flowerbed

As I start to understand a bit more about how this garden works, I’m also beginning to understand my predecessors’ obsession with gravel and landscaping fabric, because what this garden really wants to do is grow grass. It’s hardly surprising, I suppose, as this garden was clearly made out of the corner of the field, which seems to grow grass like nobody’s business. There’s and awful lot of spraying, slurrying, cutting and tending goes into it, but maybe just leaving it would work just as well. Or, indeed, covering it in landscaping fabric and several inches of gravel, as in our drive …

grass in the gravel

Even inside the greenhouse, which was just the beaten earth and gravel that had been under the chicken shed and then roughly levelled and used as a building site for the foundations is now in need of a good mow …

greenhouse and grass

Please admire our lovely path, which pleasingly is made entirely out of slabs and bricks we found lying around in the garden, in some cases buried in the grass

Meanwhile, the parts of the veg patch that I’d cleared barely a month ago is already looking like you could get a decent cut of silage off it. You leave things lying around at your peril here – the turf can close over it while you go in for lunch. This may explain the large number of bricks, and blocks, as well as the odd pile of coal and bag of gravel and even a whole rake that have emerged as we’ve cultivated the ground a bit more.

veg plot

Hopefully, with time, we will be able to persuade the garden to turn its hand to growing other things. Or maybe we should just get a sheep.


October 28, 2017

So, we’re home again – leaving an Ireland bathed in sunshine and arriving back in Bigtownshire to the massed and looming clouds…

clouds over scotland

This morning, checking to see what was still standing in the garden (pretty much everything thanks for asking, including the greenhouse – and the daleks kept their heads screwed on as well), I was admiring these flowers which seem to be unstoppable. My mother picked them up in Aldi for five quid as a garden-warming gift when we first moved in, and they’ve been pretty much flowering ever since.

Dianthus in the rain

This photo doesn’t do justice to the colour of this flower which is a much deeper red

Certainly in June this year they were flowering their little heads off and kept on going and when they started to fade and look a bit ragged at the end of this summer I almost hesitated to cut them back because I knew it would encourage them to put on a second flush and I was worried it might actually kill them. So far, though, despite the haircut, combined with wind, storms, rain, slugs and hares, nothing seems to dent their enthusiasm. Clearly, wherever Aldi gets its plants from is doing something right.

dianthus in June

the same plants in June – everything else in this photo has realised it’s autumn and gone to ground

The only problem was that for ages I had forgotten what they were actually called (they did have labels but I lost them), making it harder to find out how to look after them – had they needed any looking after which, apparently, they don’t – or, more importantly, to sound as if I knew what I was doing when other gardeners came to visit. A quick Google suggests that they are some kind of Dianthus, possibly Neon Star, which should come in handy when I need to replace them when they inevitably die after I post this. Or I can just keep calling them what I’ve been calling them up to now when pressed – “Oh, those? They’re Fromaldi forafiver”.

pink dianthus


October 13, 2017

What’s that lumbering towards the wall?

dalek invasion

We appear to be having a dalek invasion.

compost daleks

Oh, okay, we have ordered a couple of new compost bins, hopefully more Tardis-like than Dalek-like, given that they are already dwarfed by the pile-o’-stuff waiting to go into them.

When we moved here, we (I) had big plans for a corner where we could do extensive and Proper Composting, and while those plans have been maturing* the pile of grass clippings, strimmings, weeds and other material which will ultimately feed this proper compost has steadily grown as the other half gets on with actual gardening as opposed to dreaming, talking and blogging about it. The original Dalek is full of kitchen and garden waste and although it never actually fills up, nor has it yet turned the bottom layer into compost. Meanwhile, I suspect that towards the bottom of the pile-o’-stuff some good organic matter might lurk but first I need somewhere to put the top of the pile.

Clearly, while a Proper Composting Solution is still ultimately the goal, we were in increasing need of a temporary solution. I’m always reluctant to bring new plastic into the world, but it turns out compost Daleks are generally made of recycled plastic, and besides there was a buy-one get-one-half-price offer on the go.

And obviously, just because we’ve tripled our emergency composting capacity, I won’t now relax and wait until Dalek No. 3 is bulging at the seams before starting work in the Proper Composting Solution. Of course not. What do you take me for?

* they have developed sliding-block-puzzle tendencies in the process, as first we need to check the septic tank is all in good order, then move the pile of woodchips that were left in the wrong place, dig out the very nice soil underneath the woodchips where the old compost heap clearly was and put it to good use, get hold of materials for composting bays, actually build the composting bays, get hold of some more manure, which involves sourcing a trailer that nobody minds us putting horse poo into, build a trellis to hide the composting bays, find something nice to grow on the trellis …

Benign Neglect

October 6, 2017

As I have mentioned, I’ve been some what lacking in gardening mojo recently, but some mornings just invite you to get out there and do what needs to be done.

October morning

(as you can probably guess, the other half is in charge of keeping the grass in check which is why it actually is in check).

Today’s job was clearing out those bits of the veg bed that were clearly done, including the pumpkin patch that had utterly failed to produce any pumpkins.

pumpkin patch

Or had it?

hidden pumpkin

It takes special levels of neglect to produce a vegetable bed you can hide a full-size pumpkin in. I just hope that actually weeding around it doesn’t cause it to give up the ghost altogether, at least before Halloween

pumpkin revealed

It’s not the only thing apparently thriving from neglect. As the rest of the flowers are winding down for autumn, this pink geranium doesn’t appear to have got the memo and is still going strong. This despite no gardening input whatsoever except for not being strimmed. I’d love to move it to a more salubrious part of the garden than its current spot between the compost heap and the septic tank, but I’m worried that that will undo whatever it is that keeps it going so strong…

October geraniums

Maybe I’ll just quit while I’m ahead…



October 2, 2017

So I appear to have lost my gardening mojo somewhat this season – just too much to do in other areas (although some things have been growing anyway, kale crisps, anyone?). I think I’m also a bit daunted by having my own garden and while I’ve been throwing plants at it at random intervals, I haven’t yet quite got the hand of what I want to do to make it mine, as opposed to just maintain someone else’s vision.

Fruit and Vegetables for Scotland

But this should help – bought on the basis of a recommendation in a cycle forum* and wonderfully opinionated (on rhubarb for instance: “Caroline recommends baked rhubarb served with crispy fillets of mackerel. I can’t think of anything worse, myself”) and packed with advice, hopefully useful, it has started to rekindle my enthusiasm again, if only for holding another slug pub massacre after what they did to my potatoes.

It does help that the greenhouse fairy visited last week.

new greenhouse

Now that’s better than a mouldering chicken shed, I think you’ll agree …

chicken shed

I suppose, looking at this picture, that we have made a fair bit of progress with the garden …

* This makes more sense than you might think, for a certain value of cycle forum. After all, if you ask in a gardening forum for book recommendations, you’ll get as many opinions as there are posters and you’ll end up none the wiser, whereas on a cycle forum there’s only likely to be one. Come to think of it, I might sign up to a gardening forum and see if they can help with bike maintenance