Ferry Exciting

July 12, 2018

So, I’m back, and while all part of me really wants to do is get on with the infinite amount of gardening that has been building up in my absence, that will have to wait until next week because I’m off again…

weeds in the drive

Our driveway. The other half may need a machete when he returns with the car …

This next trip is a little bit more my speed than last weekend’s flying visit to America: the gang that brought you #5GoMad in Amsterdam, Seville and, er, Enfield are now heading west for the Five Ferries – something that is variously described as a challenge (for those hardy enough to attempt it in 24 hours) or the much-more-my-speed ‘island hopping adventure‘ for us wusses who are doing it over three days.

This is something that was hatched a while back, when the weather was unfeasibly fine, and I had absolutely nothing planned for the summer except going nowhere and catching up with myself, so a four day jaunt seemed just the ticket. Since then, life has happened, and I’m suddenly too busy again – but then again that was always the way.

And, besides, even though the heat wave has nominally broken, the forecast remains uncharacteristically fine for Scotland (everyone is wandering round Bigtown in shorts and sandals as if we were in the Mediterranean) and I think we’ll be talking about the summer of 2018 for decades to come. I don’t want to be looking back at how I spent it crouched over a laptop and weeding the vegetable beds, when I could have been wheeling round Arran and Bute in the sunshine. The weeding can wait (the laptop, unfortunately, is coming along for the ride).

leeks in raised bed

And besides, it turns out raised beds do make weeding a whole lot easier than it used to be

weeds and flowers in the garden

And we’re all about informal relaxed plantings these days now, right?

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Eating a Rainbow

July 4, 2018

Never mind all that gadding about in the sunshine in France, I hear you cry: what of the garden? How is your veg plot growing?

veg plot in july

Well, funny you should ask that – thanks to the fine weather and a helpful neighbour it’s all looking rather good, at least for now, although the hares have done their best to remove any danger we might have a glut of french beans by nibbling the seedlings as they emerge from the ground. They don’t seem to have quite the same taste for kale and rainbow chard though…

Unfortunately, as we were on our way back from France we had news of a family bereavement which means that rather than spending the next few weeks as we’d planned, going absolutely nowhere, the other half has already had to hot foot it back to the US and I will be following him for the weekend.

rainbow chard

This has left me home alone with no company but the hares, and the feeling that I ought to be at least trying to keep up with the garden’s production before it all starts to get out of hand. As someone who is not one of nature’s vegetable eaters, this is proving a bit of an effort. On the other hand, after a trip during which I struggled to eat even one serving of veg and one of fruit a day, let alone five of them, it will probably be good for me. Even if I’m still yet to find a completely convincing recipe for rainbow chard.

garden veg ready to cook

Perhaps I should invite the hares around for dinner?


Seven Fat Years

June 1, 2018

wheelbarrow full of compost

OK, so I promised you a post about compost and you were all keen so now I’ve actually got to write one. Naturally, this is the point where I realise that I have nothing really very interesting to say about compost except that it turns out to be much harder than it used to be when I had access to our old landlord’s vast composting infrastructure which consisted of seven huge bays, each of which took a year’s worth of garden waste, were topped off with well-rotted cow manure, covered, and left to mature for seven years until they came round again on the calendar. I can confirm that this method makes lovely compost, but is not much use when you only have a small plastic dalek army and don’t have the luxury of seven years to wait for them to get to work because you have raised beds to fill…

So the fantasy version of compost making with these dalek bins is that you put a nicely judged mixture of weeks, lawn clippings, kitchen scraps and additional *ahem* accelerator* in at the top, and then after some time you open the little hatch and scoop lovely crumbly compost out of the bottom:

compost and compost bin

Unfortunately because (a) the little hatch is useless and (b) the contents of the dalek are actually likely to be a mix of lovely crumbly compost, some minging slimy stuff you don’t really want to think about, weeds which are emphatically not dead yet, and clumps of vegetation which has managed to sit in the compost apparently unscathed for months, the reality is more like this:

overturned compost bin

The first picture is of compost that I had previously emptied out of a dalek (and then put back in without all the stuff I should have shredded first) a couple of months ago. The second picture is the dalek that we had been filling undisturbed for almost a year. So it seems that the secret to compost seems to be to periodically dump it out, turn it, and stick it back in the dalek until you need it. Think of it as an excellent upper-body workout. Or just buy another four daleks and wait.

I still have vague plans to set up a proper composting corner, which at least would make turning the compost easier even if we don’t have room for seven bays. But given my slow gardening progress, it’s likely that by the time that happens I will actually be in possession of seven compost daleks. And an enviably well-defined upper body … or a very bad back.

* If you want to see a discussion escalate quickly over something you thought was innocuous, and are bored about asking cyclist about helmets, it turns out that peeing on the compost heap is a gender issue, and not just because of the practicalities. Who knew?


Green Shoots

May 28, 2018

Now that spring is firmly established, I’ve been going round checking just which of our plants really did die over the winter, and which were just playing dead. Frankly, it was no winter to be a Californian lilac, although ours has got over the fact that it’s not in California any more, Toto, and is struggling back into leaf, if not flower. A small hibiscus that suffers from the fact that it’s one of the hares’ favourite plants has also unexpectedly gone from ‘stick’ to ‘green shoots’ in recent weeks’ albeit still looking pretty nibbled around the edges. Half of the the dianthus plants from Aldi that did so well last year succumbed to the snow, but Homebase were selling them even more cheaply last week – not only could you buy six and get change from a fiver, we could have bought six, plus the entire shop and still had change for a fiver …

But there was one thing on my conscience, and that was our huge willow tree which I had rather cavalierly had re-pollarded in September. I was pretty confident you couldn’t kill a willow, at least not without trying a lot harder than we had done, but as winter passed and spring set in, things were beginning to look less than encouraging. Indeed I was starting to feel rather guilty (while enjoying the extra light in our sunny entrance hall). When a woodpecker started to show some interest in it, we comforted ourselves with the thought that standing deadwood is a valuable ecological resource, and my thoughts began to turn towards suitable flowering vines to scramble over the stump and hide the evidence of my crime.

And then, looking out the window this morning I realised, it really does take a lot to kill a willow. And we were going to have to try harder than merely attacking it with a chainsaw.

willow putting out shoots

Sadly, the same can’t be said for olive trees, at least olive trees in Scotland…

dead olive tree

And then there’s this, which never looked all that much, frankly, and now looks deader than a dead thing. But the hares seem to like nibbling on its fronds so we may be stuck with it until they’re done.

dead spiky plant

Any idea what it might be (& if it’s worth replacing)? Until then, I’m calling it the Hares’ Toothbrush


Stopping to Smell the Flowers

May 27, 2018

After a full on few weeks of work – and a Friday deadline that ended up extending well into Saturday evening – I have finally come out (almost) on the other side.

There is work still to be done (as well as a whole backlog of cycling-related stuff to organise), but today I finally felt able to take some time off and try and catch up with the garden. As the other half was keen to try growing some tomatoes in hanging baskets to maximise the greenhouse space, this first meant a trip to the garden centre which is rapidly (sad to relate) becoming one of our go-to options for an exciting outing like the middle-aged people we are.

more flowers and hedgerows

Normally we’d go by car because garden centre trips usually end up with us buying things like giant bags of compost, which even I don’t think can be sensibly transported by bike* – but I persuaded the other half we’d manage to get a few hanging baskets easily enough with a few creatively deployed bungees, so we took the scenic route.

Stopping only for photos

speedwells and bike

(I was so taken by the banks of speedwell along the cycle path coming into Bigtown, that I just googled how to encourage them to naturalise in the lawn. Ah. Apparently most people spend their time desperately battling to prevent speedwell from taking over their lawns. How strange. But then again, I’ve never understood why people try and eliminate daisies from their lawn either).

I then spent the afternoon trying to do a month’s worth of gardening. I didn’t succeed, and the garden doesn’t look noticeably any more gardened, but the chard and beetroot are all planted out, there are slightly fewer weeds – oh and I’ve got sunburn down the back of my arms and legs.

I still have an inbox full of stuff I should be doing that I’ve been putting off while the work has been relentless, and there’s still a pile of work to be done tomorrow and Tuesday. There’s a little voice in my head that says I’ll regret not spending some of today getting on with that (if only because of the sunburn). But actually, a day spent away from the screen and out in the garden was exactly what I needed.

Potatoes in May

* Inevitably, someone’s going to comment here or on Twitter about how it’s perfectly possible to transport compost by bike, and how people move house by bike in the Netherlands etc. etc. Indeed, I have access to a bike trailer that would quite happily fit a 50 litre bag of compost. And I invite anyone who’s keen to point out the evils of our car-driving ways to come and cycle it eight miles uphill from the garden centre to our house.


Supporting Act

May 18, 2018

It’s another iron law of gardening that peas will climb up anything or nothing, rather than make use of the nice supports you may have provided them -something I remembered only after I’d made some nice tripods (actually quadripeds I suppose) in time-honoured allotment fashion from things I found lying around in the shed.

pea supports

Naturally they preferred to cling to each other, like orphans in storm, which is touching but doesn’t help them get out of the way of the slugs.

peas clutching each other

You’re supposed to use old pairs of tights to tie them up, apparently, but I haven’t worn a pair of tights this millennium so I sacrificed an old base layer instead. Yup, you know you’ve gone full cyclist when even your gardening accessories are made out of merino…

merino pea ties

The third iron law of gardening is that when the weather’s nice and your seedlings are climbing out of their pots to be planted, you’ll have too much work to do to devote enough time to all but the bare minimum, but the raised bed project is inching along.

raised beds in may

I have thoughts on compost I’m sure you’re all impatient to share, but they will have to wait.

Meanwhile, speaking of iron laws, look what’s popped up in the propagator long after all hope was lost.

orange and lemon seedlings

Yes, I did colour code the pots, what of it?

Clementine seedlings on the left, lemon (finally!) on the right.


Bottling It

May 7, 2018

Planting out my peas the other day, I realised that my collection of old plastic bottles that I use as mini cloches has become somewhat diminished over the years. A combination of the house move, my disorganisation, and last year’s less-than-convincing gardening efforts means a fair few have gone missing, and others may have simply become too tatty to be used, although some of them must be almost a decade old and pretty much unchanged, which I suppose illustrates the problem with plastic in the first place

We don’t buy that many drinks in plastic bottles any more but that’s not a problem because empty ones apparently grow on trees – or at least in verges, ditches and parks. Anyone who’s cycled with me in recent days has had to put up with me slamming on the brakes and suddenly swerving to the side of the road or doubling back as I spot a particularly fine specimen to add to the pile on the back of my rack. Even being picky and sticking to the freshest-looking new arrivals, I usually run out of room before I run out of bottles.

bottles on bike rack

I feel a little bad only picking up some of the litter but I suppose each one salvaged and put to work for the next ten years in my garden is one more not clogging up the gullet of an albatross chick, so it’s better than nothing. Especially now that summer has arrived even in Bigtown (I actually heard someone say ‘taps aff’ this afternoon) and people are apparently feeling the need to keep themselves well hydrated and then helpfully leaving their bottles out for me to pick up, in some cases just yards from a bin …

summer in Bigtown

“Aye, it’ll no last, mind”

That is, if I’m allowed anywhere near the garden for the next few weeks, as the other half reported he couldn’t complete the strimming round the back because there was a tiny leveret hanging out in the long grass. Fortunately not so tiny that it didn’t have the sense to get out of the way – finding one baby hare in the garden is wonderful, finding half of one, not so much.