Back in the Saddle. Wellies. Whatever

November 14, 2021

So for a blissful two days between Transport Day at COP26 and the arrival of my next last-minute job with an insane deadline I had … some actual spare time. Or at least what was left over of my waking hours after I’d started to tackle the massive list of admin tasks that had been filed under ‘after COP’ over the last couple of weeks. Naturally, the garden beckoned.

roses in pots

These days the gardening people advise you to do a lot less in autumn – digging, cutting back and tidying away for the winter is all somewhat frowned upon, and who am I to argue with that? But I did have one thing I wanted to get sorted ready for spring and that was preparing a permanent home for my instant rose garden, which I had been gifted in the summer.

Rose in bloom

With the little rose I’d moved earlier this year still flowering away happily, and November be damned, I decided it could do with some pals so I spent a nice afternoon clearing out the worst of the weeds (even as the podcast of Gardeners’ Question Time I was listening to was telling me that exposing soil to the air was a complete no-no in carbon terms). The next step will be to cover it in manure and compost for a bit, and hopefully I can move the roses in the new year.

New rosebed

As so often with the garden, as soon as I was out there to do one job I started to realise all the other tasks that needed doing. Like raking the cut grass off my ‘meadow’ (which I probably should have done two months ago, but hey ho), and emptying my potato bags. For yes, despite deciding not to grow potatoes this year after getting a bit of trouble with blight, I did inherit a couple of bags for growing potatoes in from some friends who were downsizing. I filled them with the soil that was left over from excavating the sitooterie bed, and then added a few volunteer potatoes that showed up in the greenhouse over spring, and then pretty much left them to get out of it.

Potato bags being emptied

From this minimal amount of effort, I have harvested a fairly minimal amount of potatoes, but it is at least an amount larger than none. In what has been a neglectful gardening year, I’m taking that as a win.


For Mary

October 9, 2021

After my friend Mary wrote this about her cancer, we have all been out planting spring bulbs, myself included.

Bulb planter

We none of us know where we will be in a week’s time, let alone next spring. But sometimes it’s a necessary act of resistance to plant something for our future selves to enjoy.

chionodoxa flowering

I hope Mary will enjoy hers too.


Good Enough Gardening

September 17, 2021

Looking back through the blog this past year, there does seem to be a bit of a theme of garden neglect (interspersed with frantic catch up efforts from time to time). Despite this neglect (or perhaps because of it?), although the garden looks pretty shaggy from most angles, it does actually seem to be producing a surprising amount of veg, which is the main point after all.

vegetable plot in September

It may just be the good summer weather we’ve had but we’ve got French beans – usually a tricky crop – coming out of our ears, as well as continuing mangetout supplies and all the chard we’d care to eat, and then some. And the fennel, which has always been a bit marginal and tend to bolt, clearly enjoys being planted at the last minute and left to get on with things. I even threw a few random carrots into their midst, also at the last minute, which appear to be doing well. Perhaps it’s actually true that planting them amidst a strong smelling crop like fennel protects them from the carrot fly.

fennel growing

Even the gardeny bit which has been even more neglected looks almost, well, like a garden from the right angle. Crucially, this is the angle from which you view it from the kitchen window, which is often the only angle I get to see it at on many days. That, and when dashing out to the veg plot to desperately try and keep on top of the bean output…

Garden in September

Indeed, it was while glancing out of the kitchen window that I noticed a new flower blooming. My hibiscus, which was a moving in gift when we bought the house, and which has spend the subsequent five years either being eaten by hares or sulking, has produced its first bloom. I can’t take any credit for it, other than not actually giving up on it and grubbing it out. Maybe a bit of benign neglect does have its gardening merits after all.

Hibiscus flower

Meanwhile any good bean recipes you might have would be gratefully received …


Gardens with Benefits

July 29, 2021

If you ignore the fact that the magnificent towering pink flower spikes to the left of this picture are, in fact, willowherb and hence, technically (but who decides these things anyway?), weeds, the garden is looking almost … gardenish from certain angles.

Garden in July

Much of my gardening activity in recent weeks has been in the form of making piles, moving piles and occasionally removing things from piles and putting them in their final home. It’s hard to tell whether any of this is ultimately going to be productive or not, but it gets me outside and keeps me happy and that’s the main thing. Today was the turn of the large pile of weed roots outside the fruit cage, some of which have rotted down sufficiently to be put in the compost (or would be, if all three compost daleks weren’t full) and some of which have sprouted and had to be pulled up anew.

raspberry canes outside fruit cate

In doing so, I noted that we actually have more fruit outside the fruit cage than within it, as the top half of our garden is rampant with wild raspberries, while I’ve just excavated the wild strawberries out from under some more rampant plants in the flowerbed beside it and they have been producing a steady trickle of delicious little berries. None of these have troubled the kitchen at all, as they tend to go straight into the gardener. There have got to be some perks to the job, after all.

wild strawberries

In other news, our neighbours report that they have had rabbits in their veg plot. This is bad news for the neighbours and turned out to be quite bad news for the rabbits, once they’d been caught. It will ultimately be bad news for us once the rabbits work out that there is another garden down the hill a bit with some southern townie softies who are unlikely to be as free with the shotgun but for now it is good news as it turns out that the rabbits ate their pea plants. The neighbours have been generously leaving surplus eggs on our doorstep at regular intervals, which is extremely welcome but has created an imbalance in the rural favours calculus. However, as we have a massive surplus of both peas and mangetout, I’ve finally been able to tip the scales back a little in our favour (as well as keep on top of the picking which has been getting away from me somewhat in recent weeks).

peas

In other news, the Hare’s Toothbrush, given up for dead for the second winter in three years, is … not.

Cordyline

This would be better news if I hadn’t just planted what will be a massive cardoon right next to it.


A Rose between Two Thorns

July 17, 2021

As I may have mentioned, after double booking myself with work in the first half of the year, I’ve taken July as gardening-and-cycle-campaigning leave (and I can only marvel at the breakdown of the Weather Gods’ system for detecting when I’ve got time off and coming at me with all the rain and hope that they don’t notice for at least another fortnight).

So far the gardening side has been all about tackling some neglected corner of the garden, realising guiltily how overrun with weeds the plants I’d actually planted were, spending all afternoon clearing out the weeds around the survivors and then moving on to the next victim. So far I’ve managed to bring some sort of order to the gooseberry bushes (unsurprisingly gooseberry-less), one flowerbed where I discovered that a tiny plant bought at a plant sale years back and then somewhat given up on had grown into a bit of a monster (I suppose the name ‘tree peony’ might have given me a clue there), and excavated one rose I only have the vaguest memory of planting but which has been valiantly flowering away among the brambles.

Rose bush that had been submerged by brambles

I’ve also filled one compost dalek completely from a standing start, and have been reduced to leaving piles of weeds dotted around the garden to be wait until the magic of composting makes some room for them. Hopefully this will happen before the piles have grown a new crop of weeds of their own, as appears to have happened on the patio where the chunkiest bits of root and tangled stem from clearing around the sitooterie have taken on a bit of life of their own.

Weeds growing through piles of roots and sticks

Despite all this neglect, there are some corners of the garden that occasionally look – well, almost garden like. Occasionally my tactic of throwing plants at random in wherever there’s a space in the hope that they’ll outcompete the weeds does sort of work.

mallow and lychnis flowering together

And the little rose rescued from the sitooterie site is flowering away in its new spot; it was obviously quite used to being overwhelmed by way more vigorous neighbours and wasn’t going to let a little sticky Willie get in its way.

rose flowering

I’ve been inspired by this to plant some more roses, as I do love them, and the more highly scented the better. This might be a fool’s errand; when Gardeners’ Question Time last came this way and the panel were asked for their suggestions on growing roses in this climate; their advice (after much sucking of teeth) amounted to ‘why not embrace the inevitable and grow Himalayan poppies instead’. But, nothing daunted, I asked Twitter instead and got something much better than a list of possible varieties:

… A whole rose garden that needed rehoming. You don’t get that on GQT

Meanwhile, with the Weather Gods’ backs turned, we actually had to put up our garden umbrella to shade us from the sun for the first time ever this afternoon (it’s rescued a couple of barbecues in the past from passing rain showers).

garden umbrella and bench

I’ve been calling this corner of the garden the Mediterranean garden largely as a joke, but if this weather continues, it might stop sounding quite so ridiculous an idea.


Visiting Committee

July 8, 2021

Looks like my attempt to catch up with a six month gardening backlog this month is going to happen under supervision …

cows watching over the garden fence

Apart from the return of MooI5 (possibly temporarily – the farmer sometimes puts them onto the field for a few days after cutting it for silage, presumably so they can hoover up anything left around the edges), I’ve also had my annual visit from the garden inspection committee, aka my gardening pal from Old Nearest Village who likes to keep an eye on my progress and make sure I’m not getting too fancy with my notions. This time he did ring ahead so I was forewarned, although not by enough time to actually make a difference.

vegetable beds

A week of time off work has borne some fruit, and fortunately for me, he’s mainly interested in growing food rather than the decorative aspects of gardening, so I did squeak through by the skin of my teeth, bolstered by the fruit cage and the other half’s custodianship of the greenhouse (although it’s rather chastening to look back at last year’s inspection and see how far I am behind even by my own low standards – and I thought I was doing badly last year).

It was also good to catch up with the latest village news. It seems that the coronavirus has mostly passed it by; the oldest inhabitant is still going strong at 101 and undoubtedly getting ready to sweep the board once more at the village show.

With the inspection hurdle out of the way, I can now concentrate on finding the rest of the garden, which I think is in there somewhere. Step one: making room in the compost bins.


A Sight for Sore Eyes

June 27, 2021

You can keep your green list countries and your vaccination passports … if there’s anything I’m excited about as lockdown eases, it’s the return of village plant sales

Sign advertising plant sale

Nearest village has gone all out this year, after having to cancel last year, and although I was held up and couldn’t make it until it was almost over (and it turns out there’s nothing like the fear of being gazumped at the plant stall to give you wings for the climb up to Nearest Village), fortunately there were still plants (and, importantly, cakes) to be had.

Plant stall

With these events I’m limited only by the capacity of my bike basket and the ability of any purchases to withstand a few miles of bumpy roads. This is probably fortunate, given I’m still not caught up with the gardening (and the work I’d hoped was over has returned for a final hurrah).

plants and pots in bike basket


Stand By

June 17, 2021

It’s hard to believe but I have finally found myself out the other side of the enormous pile of work I’ve been buried under for the last three months, and I’ve actually arranged with myself to take the next few weeks off (so apologies now if anyone was hoping for a fine summer …).

There’s now basically a three month backlog of gardening to get through, which I made a start on today. Step one was going to be turning all the compost in the compost daleks and emptying one so that I can fill them again but this was scuppered when I lifted up the bin that was ready to be emptied and discovered a tiny pink baby mouse snuggled up in what had been a cosy den up until that point. I’m generally fairly ruthless about mice but this one was looked too helpless and naked to survive eviction, so I hastily (but carefully) put the bin back down over the compost and had to make do with turning the others. I wonder how long it takes baby mice to grow up?

Vegetable patch in progress

Anyway, there has been gardening done and there will be time to do more, and hopefully there will a few more interesting things to blog about to boot. Starting with a bit of a bike-related adventure…

Watch this space.


Potemkin Garden

May 30, 2021

We had actual visitors to our house on Saturday, the first since (checks calendar – jeeze, can that be right?) August, which meant not only an epic amount of scurryfunging* in the house but some hasty gardening in order to at least find our bench so our guests would have somewhere to sit…

Tidy bench and seating area

I didn’t take a ‘before’ photo but this shot of an epic hailstorm earlier in the month may give you an idea of how much needed to be done.

weedy bench area in the middle of a hailstorm

Respectable as it looks from the right camera angle (thanks largely to the other half’s regular strimming and mowing), an hour an a half’s hasty Friday night gardening can’t do much to salvage your reputation as a gardener when your back garden looks like this.

Very weedy back patio and garden

In my defence, a patio which is ankle deep in dandelions is also often ankle deep in goldfinches, which like the seedheads and regularly shoot up out of the undergrowth when I head out the back door (indeed, as I was standing in the front door admiring my handiwork around the bench, a goldfinch turned up and perched in the little tree by the pot and had some strong things to say in goldfinchish about the devastation I had just wrought to his happy hunting ground). Perhaps we should turn the entire garden over to the hares and the goldfinches and just have a machete to hand to cut a path to the gate as needed.

Anyway, a fine afternoon and the sight of some actual fruit on the fruit bushes in the fruit not-yet-cage was the prompt today to finally finish the job before the wildlife got those too.

fruit cage with netting

Although, if my experience with the landlord’s fruit cage is anything to go by, we’ll probably be spending the summer ushering birds off the premises that have worked out how to get in, but are completely clueless as to how to get out.

* A possibly made up word for the act of hastily cleaning the house when you have visitors coming.


Asparagone

May 22, 2021

At the risk of this becoming less a personal blog about country life and more a garden snuff movie, it’s time to talk about the asparagus bed. Or rather the lack of it.

Having spent actual money buying actual asparagus crowns, I was rather hoping that I’d at least have some actual asparagus by now. I knew I’d have to be patient before we got a real harvest, but I did think that the way it worked was that every year we’d get more and it would build up to a reasonable amount. I was prepared to wait a couple of years while that happened but I had, perhaps foolishly, assumed a certain amount of forward progress during that time. Instead what seems to have happened is that of the 15 crowns I planted two years ago, just two appear to have survived, one producing three miniature shoots which the slugs promptly demolished, and one which appears to have produce one reasonable sized spear with no apparent plans in place to produce any more.

So I did what I’m sure any reasonable gardener would do in my position: I cut my losses.

Reader, it was delicious.