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.

Binge Gardening

June 22, 2016
garden after

Yes this is the ‘after’ shot, not the ‘before’

I’ve finally had time this week to try and catch up with the garden – just in time to leave it next month, but never mind. In among the weeds that were threatening to take over the courtyard completely I found not only this rather creepy zombie rabbit statue but a couple of spots in the flowerbed where chilled hare has obviously been hanging out (its ‘form’ apparently). I tell myself that this shows we have a wildlife-friendly approach to gardening, rather than something approaching a wilderness in the flowerbeds.

dead bunny statue

The garden may not look too much better, at least to the naked eye, but I have carted away two barrowloads of vegetation which has to represent progress in some measure.

barrowload of weeds

And I was happy to see that at least some of my random perennials have survived beneath all of the weeds.

random perennial

I heard on the radio as I weeded that purposeful work out among nature has a powerful effect on the mood. Radio 4 did its best counteract that by then following up with wall-to-wall EU referendum coverage. But even so, I feel I’ve spent a worthwhile day and am now ready to face whatever Thursday’s vote may bring.

Don’t forget to vote, those of you who can.


August 5, 2015

After digging myself out from under a huge pile of work, and then partially out from under a slightly smaller pile of things put off until after I’d done the work,* there was only one thing to do this afternoon – some therapeutic weeding of the gravel drive. It’s a pointless task but oddly satisfying, and suitably mindless when your brain is feeling a bit fried.

fork, radio, gloves

There was just one problem. I only need three vital bits of equipment to weed the gravel drive: my trusty hand fork, my excellent Showa gardening gloves (nice small fit but no pointless pink polka dots), and Radio 4. Unfortunately the fork had gone missing yet again and no amount of standing around willing it into existence, looking in unlikely places or sifting through the compost heap had turned it up so we were forced to implement the last-ditch emergency fork-finding procedure: buying a new one. Again. And then the other half came in from the pouring rain carrying my radio which had been left outside all night, leaving it looking rather sorry for itself and with a detached aerial to boot

Obviously the internet knows what to do with sodden items of electronics – you pop it in a bag of rice (although thrifty bloggers wait until their other halves have returned from Tescos with a bag of value rice, and don’t stick it straight in with the basmati we were planning on having for supper) so that the rice absorbs the water. I think this may work better with fairly simple objects like phones and less so with radios that have grilles that are just about wide enough to let rice in, and then ever so slightly too narrow to let the rice out again. Still, it’s added a certain grainy quality to the sound.

The aerial reattached by means of a handy paperclip, I gathered all my stuff and prepared for a happy couple of hours reclaiming the gravel from the forces of weediness and restoring my brain after the onslaughts of the forces of stressedness.

Whereupon it began to rain.

So I put on a hat and weeded anyway. After all, I’d already drowned the radio once, and now it has an inbuilt rice-grain desiccant to soak up the rest.

weeded gravel

Hmm. This project is doomed, isn’t it? Perhaps I should face facts and start to do something creative with it, like a map of the world outlined in weeds…

In other news, the random perennials are flowering and some of them are looking rather spiffy.

random perennials flowering

Anyone recognise them?

random perennials close up

* and if you’re waiting for a response from me to an email you’ve sent in the last few weeks, now would be an excellent time to send a nudge.

Project Management

December 3, 2014

I’ve come to the conclusion that, when it comes to gardening, it’s actually much more rewarding to let something get totally out of hand and then rescue it, than it is to do the regular weeding and maintaining needed to keep something looking nice; even if the latter is less work, the work that it is just feels a bit like housework whereas completely renovating a bit of garden feels more like making something. At least that’s my excuse for the state of the bed behind the house.

back flower bed

I’ve done the odd bit of weeding and tidying and planting in it, but it’s enormous and – apart from a few keepers like a couple of rhubarb crowns and a huge astilbe and a fantastic dark red rose that some idiot (possibly even this idiot, thinking about it) has planted a shrub too close to – consists mainly of those sort of plants which have all the characteristics of weeds in that they don’t look very nice and they grow whether you want them to or not but which society has decided are garden plants (I’m looking at you lady’s mantle and St John’s wort), plants which I quite like but have quite a lot of elsewhere (pulmonaria, hardy geraniums), plants which could be weeds or could be plants depending on your point of view (columbines, foxgloves) and those plants which even I can’t pretend aren’t weeds (hello creeping buttercup).

Anyway, I’ve long been thinking I should do something about it and as I can’t be doing the gardening I ought to be doing at the moment (shifting barrow loads of muck around is not recommended for the recently de-herniated) and as today is Wednesday and hence Ear Defender day (‘surely there can’t be anything else left to lay waste to?’ asked the other half as the strimmer fired up at 8:30 this morning), meaning the walled garden would be hideous with the sound of petrol-driven machinery, I made a start (as a bonus, this also means that I’m pulling ahead of the new neighbours in the tenant-gardening competition again, because they haven’t got their hedge trimmers out to lay waste to their half of the back bed. It’s just a matter of time, though).

Bed partially cleared

Of course, digging stuff up is only the beginning; all that space needs to be filled but fortunately I have a plan for that which is well under way. These are the contents of the free seed packet of mixed perennials I bought last time I ventured into a garden centre unchaperoned. I wasn’t expecting them all to come up, or indeed to thrive, but it seems they all have, and in fact are climbing out of their modules (aren’t things supposed to stop growing over winter?). Hey presto, enough plants to fill all the space that I have the energy to clear, and all for the very gratifying sum of £0.00p.

assorted perennials

Stand by for a series of appeals for identification of this little lot…

The only tiny flaw in the plan is that I have absolutely no idea what 90% of it is (and the stuff I do recognise is because I already have it in the garden). So the chances are that nothing will survive the weather, the rabbits or the less than free-draining soil, and those that do will be hideous and/or clashing because I have planted them at random.

Obviously, instead of thinking ‘Wahey, free stuff! Let’s plant it and see what happens’, it would have been more sensible to make a shortlist of plants suitable for South West Scotland, bought them from a reputable garden centre, and planted them out when the bed was ready, creating a picture of subtle loveliness that delights from May to October. One day I’ll be grown up enough to actually do such things (possibly when I have a garden that I actually own). But where would be the fun in that?

Down an Actual Rabbithole

June 20, 2014

A week of fine weather, limited gadding and a light work schedule has meant that I’ve managed to … well, catch up with the gardening would be putting it strongly, but almost everything that was climbing out of its pots to be planted has been planted, the weeds are now in most cases lower than the plants they are engulfing, and I’m beginning to see how the year might not be a complete disaster, veg wise.

cleared gravel

This afternoon it was almost too hot to be up in the walled garden – yes, really (or perhaps I’ve lived in Scotland too long). So I switched to my other obsession which is reclaiming the cobbles and gravel from the encroaching vegetation, which is rapidly making the transition from ‘very Chelsea‘ to ‘second growth forest’. It’s one of those jobs which, when I’m in the right frame of mind and there’s something good on the radio, I can do pretty much indefinitely. If you want to know how indefinitely, and you’re familiar with the Radio 4 schedule, I ended up weeding from the start of Gardener’s Question time to the end of the News Quiz. It doesn’t seem to have cleared much gravel, but I’m now incredibly well informed about everything from splitting herbaceous perennials to the superpowers of Susan Calman. Fortunately, I don’t think it’s possible to overdose on Radio 4 but I’ve certainly got some interesting aches developing in my weeding arm…

The cleared cobbles are being planted with creeping thyme, something I first mooted three years ago, bought the seeds for a year ago, and am now actually getting round to doing, which is about normal for my schedule. Whether it will work or not, only time will tell. In my head, of course, it’s already forming a gorgeous scented weed-suppressing carpet underfoot.

creeping thyme seedlings

In other news, a rabbit has been spotted in the walled garden, and an exploration with a friend’s dogs this morning discovered this going in under the fence on the south side:

rabbit hole under fence

I may have to get all Jeanette Winterson on their arses. Or more likely find a humane way of blocking it up while apologising to the rabbits.*

*not because I’m against killing rabbits, just because I’m a bit of a wuss

Take That…

May 24, 2014

So, we have lovely new neighbours as I have already mentioned – but they turn out to have one tiny little flaw. They garden. Worse than that, they’re diligent about it and it’s beginning to show. People in the village are commenting. We’ve gone from being the good tenants, the ones who keep our flower beds more or less under control, to the ones who are beginning to let the side down. I tell people we’re being wildlife friendly, but the excuse is wearing thin

So I was very pleased this afternoon when I was being dropped off after a hard day’s graft at our pop-up bookshop to be told by my fellow writer and, more importantly, someone who was just back from having a fabulous time at the Chelsea Flower Show – that our flower bed was ‘very Chelsea’. ‘Oh yes, all the show gardens have got these grasses woven through them and cow parsley and columbine and informal planting …’


Very Chelsea. Apparently. Note the grasses artfully woven through the gravel at the front

I’m just hoping the landlords have seen the same show

Gardening Leave

March 10, 2014

There was much I could have been doing at my computer this afternoon but the sun was out and, while we haven’t had the glorious weather in the past couple of days that the rest of twitter was banging on about, we have had – well, calling it dry weather would be pushing it but it hasn’t been raining all that much since, ooh, the last yellow warning of heavy rain on Friday morning. As a result, most of the garden has gone from squelchy to squidgy making it possible to contemplate catching up with the winter’s backlog. As an added incentive, I was suffering from a baking-related back injury having tweaked something while bending down to put a cake in the oven and sitting at the computer wasn’t making it any better, so an afternoon’s binge gardening definitely beckoned.

garden before

Four hours later, I’m not entirely sure that weeding and wheelbarrowing was exactly what the doctor would have ordered for a dodgy back although it was still better than crouching over my laptop all day. Nor am I entirely sure that I’ve made any progress – in my experience, the more you garden, the more you discover there is to be done.

garden after

But I did achieve my main objectives: I found some of my spring flowers lurking under all the died back plants and liberated them, I managed not to then promptly tread on any of them, and I’ve added several barrowloads of plant material to the compost heap. In truth ‘adding material to the compost heap’ is pretty much the only achievement I’ve found I can rely on when gardening. Everything else is just in the lap of the slugs. If slugs have laps.

emerging anenome

And the cake? Well truly, revenge is a dish best served cold. Accompanied by a steaming hot fresh cup of coffee.

cake and coffee

raspberry and lemon yoghurt cake – nom nom nom. Please try not to look at the the weeds behind…

Work in Progress

October 1, 2013

OK, so I have for once been sticking to my well-laid plan of working on the garden for an hour a day.* And in the spirit of keeping myself honest, here is the result of the first week

veg plot progress veg plot progress

I feel that my imaginary allotment committee – while still averting their eyes from the painful sight every time they pass – will be conceding over an imaginary cup of tea in their imaginary shed that the lass is at least putting in an effort, although time will tell whether she’ll keep it up and really she should have done the work in July not waited until everything was dying back in October.

It is slightly cheating because half of the cleared beds you can see was me digging up my spuds but I have also weeded the paths around them and done as thorough a job on the assorted couch grass, creeping buttercup, nettles and bindweed roots as I could. But at least when I was asked in the village this morning if I had lifted my tatties I could honestly say that I had done it over the weekend, as if I were some sort of organised gardener who does things at the right time and knows what she’s doing.

Maybe after another 5 years practice, I will be…

* the hour between 5 and 6 because I have an unhealthy attachment to PM on Radio 4 and yes I do arrange my entire life around the Radio 4 schedule (to the point of never cooking on Wednesdays or Fridays because of the Moral Maze and/or Any Questions) and your point is?

A Single Step…

September 24, 2013

Oh dear, a month has passed since I blogged about the state my garden is in, and it’s not looking that much better now. Which isn’t very surprising because I’ve not been doing all that much about it. I’ve just had too much to do and I’ve allowed the garden to be the thing that slips. And if I’m honest, it’s felt like I have got so behind with things that there was no point spending the time I did have up in the garden. It had gone from being a pleasant escape from the computer and a chance to do something productive out in the fresh air, to this big looming thing that needed to be done along with all the other THINGS that needed to be done with the end result that if my veg plot was an allotment I’d probably be getting one of those stiff letters from the committee by now.

veg_plot_september veg_plot mess

Fortunately it’s not, although I am there at the indulgence of the landlord, so there’s a limit to how far I can let things slip. So this week I’ve actually been following my own advice and putting in a regular hour a day getting on with what needs to be done (when I haven’t been harassing hard-working vole families). So far without much visible results, but I hope by the end of the week I can at least put up an ‘after’ shot that will look measurably different from these ones.

Watch this space

Plenty more

August 26, 2013

veg plot

I think it’s safe to say that my veg plot is a bit of a disgrace this year. Not just the bolted lettuce – that could happen to anyone – or the fact that my onions, which have never given me a moment’s trouble in the past few growing seasons, decided this year to just fall over, those that didn’t bolt. No, it’s the fact that everywhere is practically knee deep in weeds and I don’t even have the excuse that we’ve been away – just busy. I did have a bit of a blitz yesterday after taking this picture but it didn’t make much of an impression. What the garden needs is a regular hour a day most days and what with one thing an another it hasn’t really been getting it.

Despite that, it’s been the sort of summer where the stuff just keeps coming out of the ground anyway – in fact, one of the things I’m getting behind on is keeping on top of the picking. Normally I get precisely half a meal of French beans but because it’s been warm we’ve had masses; I’ve already had to freeze some of them and I know there’s loads more up there growing enormous. The mangetout doesn’t seem inclined to stop at all, there are at least ten rather large gem squashes coming through, the leeks are looking pretty good, although I really must space them out a bit more, there’s garlic lurking somewhere that I must dig up before it disappears, and we haven’t even got half way through our first early potatoes, let alone the seconds. There’s more kale than even the caterpillars can manage and even the sweetcorn has finally decided to develop some cobs, although it’s cutting things rather fine. Even the mice haven’t (yet) discovered the beetroot.

In short, what my garden is trying to tell me is that what I produce has got very little to do with my skill and diligence as a gardener – and everything to do with the weather. Ah well. At least we get some delicious veg out of it, along with my helping of humble pie…