Meadow Larks

September 21, 2019

It’s been a bit of a crunch week for me this week, with the Bigtown Bike Breakfast last Thursday (this was a roaring success, helped by half a primary school turning up on bikes (despite the school in question being one of the most difficult to get to by bike in Bigtown, so chapeau to the teachers) and tomorrow’s Fancy Women ride to organise (current status: finely balanced between panicking about nobody turning up and panicking that too many people will turn up and it will be chaos). There’s also the small matter of my Anniversaire which is next Saturday and didn’t even have a route planned until late last night. But it’s also September, and a gorgeously fine one to boot, and gardens wait for nobody, however busy they might be.

As always with my garden I have a lot of half-baked projects on the go and the current one is establishing a bit of a wildflower meadow in the bottom corner which will hopefully function as more hare habitat as well as joining up with the bit of the field that has been left uncut. There’s an easy – or at least quick – way to establish a meadow, which is to remove everything that’s already growing there (“herbicides may be needed to remove perennial weeds”, as the guides say, which seems a bit counterproductive for a wildlife-friendly garden) and then replant with a mix of seed, but anyone who’s been following my gardening adventures for a while will probably guess that’s not the way I’m going about it. As far as I can tell from what I’ve read, the other way to establish a wildflower meadow is to only cut a piece of ground once a year, while being progressively beastly to the grass – removing fertility from the soil and sowing yellow rattle, which parasitises grass – and encouraging other things to grow in its place.

Given that – as I’ve said before – what this garden really wants to do is grow grass, I may be in for an uphill struggle here. But nothing ventured – and at least it will save the other half some strimming.

future meadow

Watch this space …

So far, we’ve let the grass grow long in our chosen corner over the summer, and have now cut and raked it to remove some of the grass. I’ve also transplanted what I’m fairly certain are wood anemone rhizomes – but realistically, could be anything, so a nice surprise for spring – from another part of the garden, and started creating bare patches where I’ll sow yellow rattle seed and maybe some other wildflower seed that we were given at a wedding last year. Then, hopefully, it will just be a question of time, an occasional strim, and sitting back and watching our meadow bloom. Or, possibly more likely, entering into a battle royal with dock, nettles and brambles – and of course grass – until we give up and take it back to lawn …


Buried Treasure

September 15, 2019

This might seem obvious in hindsight, but my top tip for the over fifties is not to spend your first weekend home after a fortnight’s holiday in the US attempting to undo all the overeating by going for your first run in several years, followed by two days of binge gardening in an attempt to undo two weeks’ neglect. Especially when the run in question was a 5km park run that involved a 20 mile* round trip bike ride to get there and the first chore on the gardening list was digging up your potatoes.

Neglected vegetable beds

Still, I’m pleased to report that I actually made it round the course without stopping or injuring myself, and even finished about two-thirds of the way down the pack (admittedly most of the people behind me were either running with a dog or a buggy or both, or started walking almost immediately the whistle blew at the start, but we take our victories where we can find them these days). If I can manage to get up and down the stairs without making a variety of wincing noises by the time next Saturday rolls around, I might even go back and see if I can improve my time.

weed-filled potato beds

There was a potato bed under there, somewhere

The potatoes were also a bit of a bonus. I’d planted five International Kidney seed potatoes (effectively Jersey Royals, but you can only call them that if they’re grown in Jersey so I can only imagine the Jersey Royal Marketing Board spent an entire meeting brainstorming the most offputting potato variety name they could come up with to discourage anyone from growing them elsewhere) in the greenhouse and we’ve had the most delicious potatoes from them, but all good things must come to an end, and the rest of the potato plants had started looking sickly and dying off back in July. Pretty soon they had all gone, and the weeds had taken over so I wasn’t hopeful when I put my fork in the ground but they’ve come up trumps with a reasonable crop:

dug up potatoes

About half the haul

Complete with a bonus florin which, given the speed with which our country appears to be going back to some imagined past, I fully expect to be legal currency some time soon.

two shilling coin

We also have one, count ’em, reasonable looking fennel bulb and a handful of what I will be marketing as ‘baby fennel’ if it doesn’t get a move on in the next couple of weeks.

fennel bulb

On the downside, it would appear that in our absence the mice discovered the beetroot and have spent a blissful undisturbed fortnight while we’ve been away hollowing almost every single one out, the bastards.

mouse-nibbled beetroot

I am now aching in all directions but I have at least made a start at restoring order to the raised beds, and the potatoes have all been sorted and stored, ready for the winter. Bring on your food shortages, Operation Yellowhammer, we’ll be fine. At least for as long as we are happy to survive on potatoes and beetroot-fed mice and whatever a florin will buy you these days …

partly dug potato patch

* I know, I know, but park runs are in kilometres and I still think of distances in miles and I’m not going to start converting either of them just for the sake of consistency.

Common Ground

July 30, 2019

I am currently recovering from an unaccustomed bout of sociability; no sooner had I waved off one old friend on her train south, than I myself was heading north to visit two more old friends for our (now traditional – three times is a tradition, right?) annual reunion, this year hosted by my pal in Auchtermuchty.

Too often, when you connect with old school friends in later life, you find you no longer have much in common, but that’s not the case with these two who share many of my own eccentricities such as a fondness for truffling out secondhand bargains, getting outside, eating cake, gardening, and talking the hind legs off any passing donkeys.

This year the Brompton came too and we ventured out along the back roads of Fife, encouraged by the prospect of cake (as we approached the final hill, my friend announced ominously that the food at our intended destination was ‘rather worthy’ but fortunately this didn’t extend as far as the cake selection).

cycling the back roads

On the way back, we just had to stop at the local auction house although it was, perhaps fortunately, too early to put a bid on the giant pig …

giant papier mache pig

My friend helps to manage the local common, which was excelling itself when we walked round it yesterday – I have a particular fondness for harebells and they were in flower absolutely everywhere, along with apparently everything else. We often struggle to keep our gardens blooming in July but it seems that with the proper application of sheep, scything at the right time of the year and otherwise leaving things alone, nature has no difficulty at all.

meadow flowers

Not to be outdone, the local woods were pretty spectacular too.

floral woodland

The rest of the time was spent catching up, putting the world to rights, and inducting my friends into the mysteries of sourdough bread making, having brought a couple of offshoots of Jimmy Carter the Starter along.

jimmy shand statue

You cannot visit Auchtermuchty and not play homage to the other Jimmy

The only tiny fly in the ointment (apart from having to hole away from time to time on the laptop to get some work done) was visiting our hosts’ neighbours’ vegetable patch and associated polytunnel. My asparagus bed has started to perk up in the last couple of weeks and I’d been feeling quite pleased with it, until I realised that this is what it was supposed to look like at this time of year:

asparagus in polytunnel

I think we’ve got a ways to go.


July 10, 2019

Yesterday’s roundup of my vegetable blues failed to include the asparagus bed – not because it’s all ticking along nicely, but because it had got so weed-ridden the one photo I took of it didn’t really look like an asparagus bed at all.

weed-ridden asparagus bed

This may go part of the way to explaining why it’s not doing so well, although to be fair the not going well part preceded the weed-ridden part. The fact is, only one or two of the crowns I’ve planted have produced even one decent looking shoot. The rest have tended to shrivel away as soon as they’ve emerged, although more are still coming up in places.

small asparagus shoot

I’m not sure what the problem is (I can’t blame the pheasants this time). I did think it might be the dry weather we have had (regular readers of the blog may be surprised to read this but we have actually had some longish spells of no rain). It’s all a bit unsatisfactory given I spent actual money on these plants from an actual garden centre rather than sourcing them in my usual fashion, a mixture of scrounging, growing from seed* and village plant sales.

cow watching

“I wouldn’t do it like that, if I were you”

Anyway, under the watchful eyes of Moo-I-5 I have now given them a good soaking – and the weather gods are busy rectifying the ‘too little rain’ part as I speak – and mulched the survivors with a good layer of compost, which felt like the sort of thing a proper gardener might do. Hopefully that will do the trick but either way it looks as if my hopes for an abundant asparagus bounty will have to wait a few more years. I’m beginning to understand why the main reaction to my asparagus-growing plans has been shaken heads, cynical laughter, and reminiscences about sitting down to an asparagus spear each after four years of anxious care.

mulched asparagus bed

Any tips from the more successful? Other than ‘move out of Scotland’, of course …

* I did actually, many moons ago, grow some asparagus from seed in our first ever vegetable garden. By the time we sold the house, several years later, the tiny little fronds were just about visible to the naked eye, but only if you looked very closely.


July 9, 2019

‘Looking on the bright side’, the other half said as I surveyed the ruin of what had been only the day before, a bed of French beans, ‘at least you now have a camera so you can blog about it.’

chewed beans

‘I wonder how my beans are getting … oh’

This is true – due to the kindness (and awesome organisedness) of a local cyclist on Twitter I am now the proud custodian of an actual camera for the first time in about five years. Despite being over 10 years old, it’s in immaculate condition and came complete with box, cables, spare battery and manual (ah, remember the old days when things came with instruction manuals instead of a sheet of paper saying ‘Do not stick this in your eyes or feed the batteries to your children. Google everything else’ in every known European language?).

It’s nice to be able to take a proper closeup again, even if it is of the devastation a peckish hare can wreak when it puts its mind to it.

close up of beans

Otherwise, the veg patch is the usual mixed bag of things which are dying in new and horrible ways (potatoes: liable to die at a moment’s notice when you plant them deliberately, but completely impossible to eradicate from the bed where they were once grown three years before)

dying plants in potato bed

and things which have grown in overwhelmingly enormous quantities (it is apparently a myth that rabbits – and, indeed hares – eat lettuce).

giant lettuce plants

The garden remains a work in progress and I suspect it always will be – I shall never be the owner of the equivalent of a garden that still has its box, cables, spare battery and manual. But on a sunny Sunday afternoon when you’ve got visitors coming – it does occasionally scrub up rather well.

garden with parasol

I’m mostly joking when I call this corner ‘the Mediterranean garden’ but occasionally it comes close …

Garden Assistance

June 16, 2019

After a week of gadding about, today felt like a day for hunkering down and getting on with the gardening. Undoubtedly there were more productive things I could have been doing, but sometimes you get stuck into a task and find it hard to stop.

Which is why our back patio now looks like this:

weed-free patio slabs

Oh, okay, that was a carefully selected camera angle and a tight crop; the true picture looks like this (please excuse the pile of stones which are awaiting a project that needs a load of stones (we’re not bringing any more gravel into this garden if we can help it), various random stumps which have been sitting there so long I’ve stopped seeing them, the mystery giant’s chair that was left by the previous owners and has proved a good place to harden off seedlings out of reach of slugs, the equally mysterious spare flagpole (we already have a main flagpole) found in the garage, and the overgrown mass of vegetation which is currently smothering a collapsing trellis and wood store which will be sorted out in the fullness of time):

back patio

I did leave one ‘weed’ – a little patch of speedwell. I’ve always thought of it as growing in lawns but it seemed happy among the stones so I’ve transplanted some more around the edges of the patio. With any luck it will spread along the gaps between the paving stones and at least give the dandelions and other weeds a run for their money. Something has to, as I know that my efforts this afternoon have largely amounted to giving them a nice radical pruning, rather than actually eradicating them.

speedwell flowers

It was also satisfying to discover many ex-snails (last seen doing their bit for science) among the weeds – we have a resident thrush whose intermittent hammering forms a soothing soundtrack to any gardening task. While I am now a little fonder of the stripey snails than I was before, I’m fonder of thrushes, which have had a tough time of it due to our farming habits. It’s good to know that our garden functions as a thrush habitat as well as a hare one, especially if it makes the garden a bit less of a snail habitat.

Meanwhile, the young hare is no gardening help at all, having decided that my (allegedly fenced off) asparagus bed is a handy place to chill out – unless ‘contemptuously demonstrating the uselessness of my hare defences’ counts as helping…

hare in asparagus bed

Damn it’s cute though.

Blooming Marvellous

June 14, 2019

Returning from Edinburgh yesterday afternoon, and doing the garden round to see what if anything had changed in the two days I’d been away, I noticed that something had been nipping the flowers off my geum and leaving them scattered on the ground.

This morning, the culprit was revealed.

hare eating flowers

It appears that the stems of geums are very delicious if you’re a young hare.

hare and flowers

Fortunately we’ve long since decided that when it comes down to flowers versus hares, the hares win every time. This one in particular takes cuteness to an advanced level, as I think you’ll agree …

hare cleaning whiskers

(Photos courtesy of the other half and his much more capable camera)

This went some way towards cheering me up after our MSPs made entirely the wrong decision in Parliament yesterday.