So you Think you Can Garden?

August 6, 2018

Regular readers may have detected a certain self-satisfaction, not to say smugness, creeping into recent gardening posts of mine. Not only do I have hot and cold running hares in the garden, but we also have been having loads of tasty veg to eat (if slightly limited in variety) and the other half’s greenhouse is looking pretty spiffy too…

 

And then I go and visit a friend whose parents have been gardening at scale in the same spot for almost 30 years and realise that when it comes to growing veg I know nothing …

huge veg garden

For instance, do we have an ancestral grapevine in the greenhouse?

grapevine in greenhouse

Or a marvellously organised polytunnel?

polytunnel

Or enough strawberries to supply Wimbledon?

strawberry bed

And I don’t even like celery, but seeing this, I almost want to grow it…

celery

This is definitely not how my fennel is looking

fennel

And why do I not have TWO compost turners (not to mention two pink wheelbarrows)?

compost turners and wheelbarrows

And while I might have rescued one bee …

bee sign and bee hives

There was more (sheep, chickens, flowerbeds, beautiful wood piles, precisely placed decorative broken pots, an actual box of useful hose parts) but I think I may have to go and have a little lie down…

row of peppers

Having put myself firmly back in the beginners’ class, I shall return home with renewed ambition and hope that by 2048 I too will be beginning to get the hand of this gardening lark.

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July 23, 2018

butterflies on buddleia bushes

Whether it’s the warm weather or my relaxed approach to the many buddleia bushes in the garden, the place is alive with butterflies at the moment. In fact, we’ve had so many peacocks sunning themselves on the paths and elsewhere, I’ve had to be a bit careful where I tread …

peacock butterfly

This one was obliging enough to sit for a portrait and even uncoil its tongue – which I didn’t notice until I was going through the photos later. How cool is that? They’re definitely creatures that just get weirder the closer you look.

peacock tongue coiled

It also helps justify my chemical-free approach to gardening as I’d rather have weeds and butterflies (and hares) than a bowling-green lawn and a pristine gravel drive (although actually what we’ve got (as well as the weeds and the butterflies and hares) is a gravel drive that is closer to lawn than gravel in places). Fortunately, an hour or so mindlessly pulling up weeds in the drive is rather soothing when you’re in the right frame of mind, so one day we might get all the way back to gravel …

Even better, is weeding the raised beds. I have to confess that normally whenever I take a shot of any of my veg growing, I usually have to do a bit of hurried weeding first (I’ve even considered photoshopping the damn things out). But not this time. It may just be because they’re newly created and haven’t had time to get properly weed infested, but it took just half an hour to get those bits of the plot that the hares weren’t sitting on absolutely pristine.

weed free leeks

weed free fennel

I could get used to this …


Lurking

July 20, 2018

Heading to the garden yesterday afternoon to pick some beetroot, I encountered a problem:

hare hiding in the beetroot

Can’t see it? Let me help:

hidden hare with arrow

I did wonder whether I could sneak in and grab a couple of beetroot without disturbing it but it took fright (I say took fright: it didn’t so much run off as saunter so it’s possible they’re aware they would have us wrapped around their little fingers, if hares had little fingers). Fortunately the hares seem fonder of sitting on beetroot than eating it, so there was plenty for the beetroot salad* I had planned for my writers’ group pot luck dinner.

Other things lurking among the veg are, frankly, a bit less welcome:

courgette

I may have to learn to love courgettes. Recipes welcome, preferably ones that don’t end ‘and you can barely taste the courgette’ as that doesn’t really fill me with a sense that it’s worth growing.

Anyway, the salad seemed to go down well and after an evening of good food and great chat, I realised with a bit of shock that it was 10 o’clock and I had better get on my bike and ride home. I do love these long light and warm summer evenings. The heatwave may have left this corner of Scotland (it rained for most of today) but we’re still getting enough warm weather to make riding at night a positive pleasure – especially when there are no cars, and the only other thing moving as I made my way home were the bats dancing above my head.

night sky
*Beetroot, feta cheese and parsley – known as ‘Barbie salad’ because of the colour the feta cheese goes


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?


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