Saturday, 29 December 2012

The year that was.

Spring sprang drily and the soil nurtured not.  Worried weather men warned about water and grumpy gardeners locked away parched hosepipes in their sheds.

The driest spring on record.  Water precious like oil in the unslaked Midlands and South.

"Stop bathing, shower. Don't wash your car. Plan for deserts," they said.

But then it rained.

It rained in sheets, buckets, torrents and floods.  Packs of dogs and herds of cats.  Lashing, pelting, chucking, pouring, tipping and pissing it down from eternally grey skies.

Clods formed claggy platforms as gardeners slithered among slugs in summer.  Brave seedlings strimmed by marauding mollusc hoards.  Soil morphed into marsh and mudflats as it rain, rain, rained.
Baby beetroot shivered and refused to swell in submerged allotments.

The Olympics arrived and brought a glimpse of sunshine and pride to a soggy summer. The tendrils of warmth poked into damp corners and signalled a leap into life for the waiting fleas that pounced on un-sunbathed ankles and feasted in the creases of warm waistbands.

Itching, scratching and swearing our way through the wet remains of summer, we edged back towards school in a frenzy of vacuuming, furniture spraying and rug discarding.  Football crowds of fluffy toys hung by their ears from the washing line like victims.  Diatomaceous earth billowed in sharp particled clouds from every surface in a bid to desiccate uninvited guests.  Banished cats skulked in damp gardens, forbidden to enter the land of soft-furnishings.

Shoe sodden walks and pant-soaked commutes populated autumn.  Manhole covers sprang sprouts of rain.  Rivers rose and widened, rotting footbridges.

Weeds grew unchecked in squelching borders, creeping buttercup spread through new marshland habitats, lustily colonising.  Rose blooms rotted, rain heavy, their glorious crimson scents giving way to brown tennis balls of dismay.

The drumming of rain heralded winter.  Algae smeared windows cast a mouldy glow over the Santa-shrined windowsill.   A forest of umbrellas sheltered carollers at Christmas as they shoe-skiied the once-lawn of the village green before taking food-filled indoor refuge for the festive season.

Poring over seed catalogues in armchair solace, 2012 closes with this UK gardener longing for  polytunnels but hoping for sun in 2013.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Santa's windfalls

On Christmas eve, I returned from carol singing on the green (yes, I do live in a chocolate box) to find that Santa had left me a pack of 100 spring bulbs and 2 persicaria 'Red Mountain Fleece' - courtesy of Spalding Bulbs as a welcome to their blogger club.

Having made a resolution two years ago to plant anything within a week of getting it, I duly shed my sparkly Christmas gear this morning and donned my gardening fleece and clogs.  Feel much better for a an hour or so of fresh air, and for knowing that the empty border where the huge thorny rose was will now sport (with any luck) some potentially 6ft tall plants (the persicaria, according to their label) which will afford cutting flowers for a long season. Spalding say that this variety isn't invasive, so I'm hoping that this is borne out.  I've always hankered after persicaria, but have been put off by its tendency to spread as I  have enough plants hankering after world domination in situ already. Will keep you posted how they get on.

Planted the mixed allium bulbs at the front of the same border - I like to ignore all recommendations for planting distances with bulbs - I just chuck them on the top of the soil and then plant them where they fall as this tends to make them look more naturalistic and unregimented.  I've also long since learned to plant them in single groups rather than dotting them about:  a single bulb here and there not only looks incredibly lonely but is also a pain when it comes to digging the border.

Mixed Darwin tulips went into the patio border amongst the perennials - they should hopefully like the lighter soil in that area and add a bit of colour early on.  I don't usually go for mixed packs as I like to know what colours I'm getting where, so will wait to see what random effect I've created and review my single species policy!

The other small bulbs (grape hyacinths, tete a tete narcissus and mixed irises) have all gone into pots in the greenhouse and cold frame to try to bring them on a bit quicker as they are going in at the very extreme end of their planting period.  Also, it will be nice to have them as a moveable feast or even bring them indoors later on if I want some colour for the house.

I'm in love with my compost scoop which I got for Christmas - might save my scaly gardening hands a little over the next few months.

The strains of AC/DC and lego making are permeating the wall between me and the children, so having grabbed my bit of gardening time, I'd better get the soil out from under my nails and get back to the family.

Update 6th January 2013

Nearly two weeks on, and a muscari  bulb is already pushing through the compost - those boys love to grow...

Friday, 21 December 2012

Roots before the eyes

It didn't rain today and has been pretty mild, so spent the day digging ground elder out of my central flower bed.   Maybe it's just me, but I always find that if I have spent the day battling with an insidious enemy of the spreading root variety (read ground elder (home) or bindweed (allotment)), when I finally close my eyes at night, I vividly see the root to which I have been dealing death all day.  It's more than just thinking about it, I do actually see it in my head when I try to get to sleep.  Does anyone else experience this, or am I just a weirdo?

Planted more anemone corms as I picked them up cheap at the garden centre yesterday - a bit late maybe, but for a pound a packet, it's worth a go.  Judging by the popularity of my anemone coronaria 'Sylphide' pin, lots of people share my love of these cheerful blooms.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Any old iron (or tin)?

Juncus in a watertight tin tub - set up your own mini water garden!

Hello Dolly tub - it's so nice to have you back where you belong - in the garden, filled with tulips.

Don't pack off your old tinware when it starts to spring a leak - plant things in it instead, like I've done with this old dolly (wash tub) which was a legacy from the seller at a previous house.  It's never going to be abandoned by me though, as it sets planting off so well - particularly these gorgeous orange Ballerina tulips and the purpley pink Passionale.

Here are some other herbaceous hairdos the tub has previously sported:

The patina of this tub makes me keep an eye out each and every time I pass a skip, in the hope that I can find more splendid metal containers to employ in the garden.  So far, I've found two zinc mop buckets and the small tub above - love them all.

So keep following the mantra - reduce, reuse, replant it.

For more on tin tubs, try Lead up the garden path.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Parsnip bread and winter digging

Had a quick foray down to the allotment yesterday to do a spot of tidying.

If only creeping buttercup was one of my desired crops, I would be reporting a bumper harvest.  It seems to be the main thing I need to clear out of the beds.  It was good to make a start on the long route to pristine planting spaces. Had to make sure I stood on a plank when digging the beds in order to avoid compacting the soil, rather than turning it.  More regular trips like this and the plot might even start to look more presentable.

Uprooted most of the remaining parsnips in order to make parsnip bread, which was, bizarrely, added to my youngest's recent birthday list.  Never fail to deliver vegetables when they are requested by your children!!    The recipe is based on Hugh Fearnley-Whitingstall's and is more like a scone than a bread. It IS completely delicious:

Parsnip Bread.

1 onion, sliced
175g SR Flour
1 tsp thyme leaves
1 tablespoon oil
50g grated strong flavoured cheese (parmesan or cheddar are good)
175g grated parsnip
1 medium egg, beaten
2-3 tablespoons milk

Fry the onions gently in the oil for about ten minutes. When they are soft and slightly coloured, remove them from the heat and let them cool a little.

Mix flour, thyme, salt, cheese, parsnip and pepper.  Add the onion, then the egg and milk.  Mix to make a soft dough.  If it is too stiff, add a little extra milk.  Be careful not to over mix.  Shape the loaf and put it on an oiled baking tray.

Bake in oven at 180 deg C/Gas Mk4 for 40-45 minutes until golden. To check if the loaf is cooked, tap the underside - if it sounds hollow, it is ready.

Serve warm with soup and slabs of butter.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Dress up your doors (again!)

Ooh - so much fun to be had with this wreath making lark.  Decided after the previous post that I needed something brighter to go with my dark green front door.  A quick peer into my shopping bag of foragements, soon showed me the way to go. Variegated holly for starters - very splashy and bright. Next,  those lovely yellowy green dogwood stems had to figure largely, along with their festive red cousins.  Poked them into the wreath frame and wrapped them around it, wiring them to hold them in place.

For some added texture, pushed some fir cones between the stems (am hoping my children don't slam the door too hard and make them fall out!) and then went a wander round the garden on the hunt for more bright stuff.  All those angular bits of lonicera Baggensen's Gold seem to fit the bill, so spiked them around the inside and outside of the frame to break up the outline.

The only downside to this well-dressed front door is that our visitors will need to be hard-fisted door knockers throughout the festive season as we don't have a bell. Maybe such activity will restore circulation to their frost-bitten fingers?

On a softer and more scented note, played around with twigs and herb leaves to make an indoor wreath.  Made a base of sage, rosemary and lavender sprigs, then added the birch twigs, silvery honesty seed heads and a bit of blue spruce to fill in the gaps. I now get a lovely herby, resiny whiff every time I walk in the dining room.

I may have to adopt year-round wreath making as it is such a satisfying thing...

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Tis the season to go foraging....

Spent the morning as the weirdo of the woods... or should that be the  mad lady in the park with floristry scissors?  Silver birch twigs, ivy flowers, fallen blue spruce branches, berries and yet more pine cones all got squirrelled away into my capacious Sainsbury's shopper.

On returning home, these were transformed into Christmas wreaths, made on a base of clematis stems that I couldn't resist making into frames when the thick, vine-like stems were felled along with various pear tree branches in February this year.

I love making wreaths. So satisfying and simple. Poke stuff into them, bind with wire, add a bit of this and that, and suddenly you have something so much nicer than the £6.99 holly boredom you can buy from every grocer on the high street.  Especially if you have discovered a brilliant stand of yellow and red dogwoods in the local park.

This is the one I made for my friend Jeanette, to be delivered tomorrow evening along with accompanying bottle of warming red wine....

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Christmas presents for gardeners

Why is it that at this time of year, everything in gardening catalogues goes all jute coloured and wooden? (Either that or pink and covered in a floral print, in a fancy holder that will soon turn sludge coloured). So, if like me you don't want string or flowery nicknackery to feature in your Christmas purchases, here are a few alternative ideas...


and, of course, there are always plants.....

I've just found someone else who seems to feel the same as me (with the exception of my penchant for hemp hand cream however!)

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Ways to use up a sack of pine cones: part two

Christmas is coming, the garden's getting soggy, so it's time to mess around indoors

To make this you'll need:

A dinner plate and a small pillar candle
Pine cones
Orange chillies
Viburnum berries
Rosemary and lavender sprigs
Heather sprigs
Skimmia flowers
Ivy to trail around the plate and sprigs to add to the central foliage.
Tiny individual portion jam jars
Floristry wire.

Step 1: Cut a long length of floristry wire (about twice the circumference of your plate).
Wrap wire around the neck of a jam jar, then position a pine cone next to it and wrap the wire tightly around the lower segments of the cone.  Continue in this way until you have a circle of jars and pine cones that sits neatly in the centre of your plate.  Wire the two ends of your circle together and snip off any excess wire.

Step 2:  With your jar and cone ring positioned on your plate, fill the jars with water.  Add the larger leaved foliage equally to your jars.   Next, add the berries and chillis, making sure they are placed evenly around your circle. (Imagine there's a triangle placed on top of your circle, and dot a berry or chilli at each point).

Step 3:  Add the rosemary, lavender and skimmia flowers to the inner edge of your circle.  Turn the plate around to check if there are any empty sections which need more foliage adding.  Trail the ivy round the edge of the plate until you are happy with its position.  Add a little water to the plate to keep it fresh.

Step 4:  Place your candle in the centre of your arrangement.  If you candle is short, as mine was, you can always raise it by standing it on top of an additional small jam jar.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Ways to use up a sack of pine cones: part one...

My shed has been harbouring a sack of pine cones for some time, so I think it is now the right time to marshall them into service.    (My house may end up looking like a forest floor/disaster zone by Christmas, as the cats will doubtless see all dangling items as playthings).

Here is idea number one: Pine cone garland.


length of bead chain decoration (I got mine from Home Bargains - 6m for 99p)
pine cones (which have been left to dry)
pre-cut lengths of fine floristry wire (or you could use strong thread and a needle)

Wrap a length of wire round the base of the pine cone, weaving it between the segments. Pull it tight and twist.

Twist the ends of the wires around the segments between the beads on the chain to attach the cone.

Snip off any excess wire and tuck sharp ends out of the way.

Attach cones at the desired intervals and use to decorate a mantlepiece, shelf or stair rail.  Secure well with heavy objects,  hooks or tacks to ensure that any accompanying candles or delicate items are not at risk of being knocked over.

My tealight holders are the lids of the tiny jam jars I used for the posies in my last post. A perfect fit!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Recycle your jam jars, Christmas is coming.

Mini jam jars - the kind you get in hotels for your one-person breakfast, are great for individual place setting arrangements or for putting candles in and arranging for the Christmas table.  Make little posies if you can salvage a few hardy blooms from your garden, and arrange them down the centre of the table or in a circle, interspersed with candles.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Personalised plants

A friend has just been round for coffee and has departed with a half-boot full of hardy geraniums, lysimachia, and alchemilla mollis - all clumps resulting from my autumn tidying and overhaul.  It's great being able to recycle plants this way as well as via the compost heap and it made me think about all the bits and pieces in my garden which I have acquired from friends and family.

Centaureas from mum and dad

Cheng's cerinthe

Aunty Edie's snowdrops

My borders are home to snowdrops and peonies which have followed me from London to Birmingham and originated (via a green-fingered great aunt) from my parent's garden in Derbyshire.  When I look at my eryngiums, I think of them growing like weeds and self-seeding throughout my sister's sandy-soiled, wild garden, and although not prolific breeders in mine,  they still survive my claggier conditions.   The euphorbia amygaloides robbiae which shouts its lime greenness under my trees throughout spring also came to me via the sibling route, along with mourning widow geraniums and feverfews.

Flowerbeds are, in this way,  populated with  people. Walking around the garden, the plants bring to mind the person who gave you those seeds, that snip, or that shoot of something that is now a large character in your garden - it's one of gardening's great pleasures - a kind of herbaceous memory box with different friends and relatives popping up to the fore throughout the seasons.

Another pleasure is being able to share all these with other plant-lovers (especially when it comes to thinning out thugs like dog daisies, hardy geraniums or lysimachia). Nothing is easier than being a generous gardener -  so come round for a coffee and leave with plants!

 Lychnis coronaria from my sister's garden - just gorgeous, but currently sparse after 3 wet years!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Swap shop at the plot

Five gardening days in a row are a sign that it has been slightly less rainy of late here in Birmingham.

The last couple of days have been spent on much needed visits to my allotment - digging couch grass and creeping buttercup out of the paths and beds - a marathon task which is only just starting to show visible results.

Found a pile of slabs up at the top gate, and now I've finally got round to re-inflating my wheelbarrow tyre, it means I have the wherewithall to transport them down the hill to my plot.  Had to follow a very interesting groove incised into the muddy path, and met its maker pushing a very narrow-wheeled barrow back up the slope in his quest to transport a muck heap.

Got chatting to this near-neighbour and ended up trading a promise of globe artichoke offsets in spring for 7 barrow loads of surplus manure (and the labour involved in transporting it) - result!

So now I have some new slab paths,  some fertiliser for my plants, and a new allotment acquaintance.  Most splendid.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Garden on the move

Spent today at The Real Cut Flower Garden in Clifford helping to move plants into crates for their big move to Dorset.

The drive to Herefordshire was a great meander through middle-English market towns and soft green countryside - the autumn sunshine, when it finally arrived, made it hard to resist dreams of a rural life.  So glad I made it to the garden before it is transplanted South, my only regret is not seeing it in full fig in the summer.

Perennials and shrubs aplenty were stacked in crates, root wrapped in hessian and plopped into pots - a major cache of plant material, and also a major job to prepare the ground to rehome it in at the other end.  I wish Charlie Ryrie, the garden owner, the best of British with that task!

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Raking time - repeat

It's raking time again as my lawn is once more blanketed in leaves from the surrounding large trees.
Whilst cursing the futility of this task, remember that you are also removing slug hiding places and letting your plants get some fresh air.

Not only that, you are also collecting great material to return to your soil in six months time.  Put the leaves in black plastic bin bags, tie up, stab them with a fork (strangely therapeutic, worryingly) and then leave the bags somewhere out of sight (behind the shed, in the hedge bottom etc) for six months or so.  In late spring, open a bag and see how your leaf mould is progressing.  If it is dark and crumbly, add it to soil before planting. It doesn't contain a lot of nutrients but will help to bulk up your soil and improve the texture. Repeated addition of organic matter (compost, leaf mould, manure etc) will make your soil much easier to work - so keep on doing this year on year.

Making leaf-mould separately from your compost is better if you have large quantities of leaves because they tend to rot down more slowly than other stuff due to the tannins in them.  If you have the space, you can bash four wooden posts into the ground to form a square and then tie a length of chicken wire fencing around them.  My cubic metre holds an amazing amount of leaves both from my own garden and the school ground I tend - and there are plenty of leaves from both at this time of year. Mine is tucked away behind tall plants at the bottom of the garden, with a little brick path (just bricks laid on top of compacted soil, so it is easily moved/changed/relaid) leading to it. The dog leg path also makes this  wide border more accessible for working and provides a focal point when you get to the bottom of the garden as you want to know where it leads.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Life of leaf

Spent the day entertaining my youngest and trying to tidy up outside whilst building a mini-world for lego men in the garden.  Figure that poking upright sticks into the lawn to form the fence of an encampment would go a small way towards autumn aeration of the sodden grass;  buried crashed aeroplanes on the camp's perimeter in piles of fallen leaves, but my favourite bit of all was building a tiny camp fire with 'flames' of the finely cut red leaves of my Japanese maple 'Palmatum dissectum' poking through the carefully laid twig logs. Recaptured the essence of childhood for one fleeting moment - priceless!!

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Drunken damson Christmas cake

Have finally decanted my damson gin into bottles, but couldn't bear to just throw out the fruit and almonds which had been steeping in the alcohol, so stoned the prunelike remains and substituted them for raisins/sultanas in my Christmas cake recipe.  The recipe demands almonds to, so no need for substitions there.  Am looking forward to sampling it a couple of months from now.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Groundworks continue

Finished paths (or should I be less grand and say 'filled in the gaps'?) around my raised bed this weekend.  Next phase is to fill it with the tulips I've just had delivered from Parkers Wholesale (  This could be a dangerously addictive new find of a website!

Nicked the idea of paviours and bricks from my sister's garden - very pleased with my new addition. It's also a great way of using up just a few of the blue bricks which I dug up when putting down slabs to unify/level the paved area around the side of the house.

So many jobs still to do - and the days are getting shorter...

Pricked out my dianthus 'Sooty' seedlings in the greenhouse today, so hopefully they will overwinter successfully in a cold greenhouse or in the coldframe.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Revamping the border

Time to get to work on the newly emptied border.

October is a great time to think about what works and what doesn't, and what you want to achieve next year.  Getting in there with a spade and the contents of a compost bin will help your soil get a boost for next year, and will give the inevitable frosts time to break up any heavy soil over the winter.

I'm going to set to work in a moment to dig out more ground elder and other weeds and really get my 'new' thorn free border ready for planting.  I've been looking at smaller, repeat flowering roses to put into it on t'internet and have earmarked a few possibilities on www.cants - 'Susan', a white rose which is reputed to repeat well and have a really good vase life and also the beautiful pink Queen of Sweden rose.

The only thing to remember with roses is not to plant them in soil which has previously been home to roses or they will not thrive due to 'rose replant' problems, so will have to put them in a slightly different patch.

Am very excited about my new area though, so better get to it while the rain holds off.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Being brutal...

I've finally done it - chopped down the huge, vicious rambling rose which took up most of a border.  Thorny work.  (The man who helped me with the prunings at the recycling centre doubtless still bears the scars).

Not only have I regained the vast space it took up, I'll now be able to pick my damsons without getting stabbed by its thorns, and also my eyes are no longer at risk of a spiky poking when putting compost in the bin. There's a lot more light getting in to the whole area so should be able to grow a whole new array of plant in that patch and extend my cutting flower area.

Whilst I had my loppers and pruning saw out, I took out the viburnum tinus which thought it was a tree rather than a shrub.  I inherited it with the house, and have let it be til now, but now that the damson tree at the end of the hedge is much taller, I don't really need it as a privacy screen, so off with its head!
Finished off cutting the hawthorn hedge and reduced its height a bit as well, so all in all, a very good (but prickly) day.  When I took my jeans off last night, my legs looked like they'd had a run in with a fleet of hedgehogs.

A bit sparse now, but I've rediscovered my dogwoods!  Looking forward to my 'new' planting space next spring.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Bee friendly

Flicking through Ryton's Organic Gardening magazine the other day, and out plopped a packet of  seeds full of a mixture supposed to attract bees.  Thought it would be rude not to plant them, so sprinkled them into two butler sinks which flank the french doors to the patio.  Will be interested to see what pops up as the seeds develop.  I can remember that field scabious was listed in the ingredients, so can add that to my collection of that genus...

My lavender hedge (sorely in need of a clip at present) at the front of the house is a magnet for bees, as is the angelica in the back garden.  Don't use chemicals, so bees are in no danger from those in my garden, but my two cats are quite another matter.  Often to be found stalking bees in the flowerbed -  most annoying.  Domestic moggies are a bit of a disaster zone for garden wildlife in general. The only pity is that slugs are far to slow moving to interest the cats - maybe I could start a slug and snail gym to try to get them to be a bit zippier to transform them into cat playthings. Anything that falls into this category (frogs, mice, bees, flies, wasps, rats, moths, butterflies etc) seems to have their population in my garden very strictly controlled.  Or maybe I should just grow lots of tall bee plants to keep them out of feline reach!

Monday, 1 October 2012

October jobs

Time to plan ahead for next year and maximising cutting garden space. So.... the short-lived beauty of my rambling rose does not make it worth the vast (and lethally thorny) space it takes up.  It is on my list of things to axe but not until I have found the best spike-proof gloves.

Am also going to cull the large patches of hardy geraniums, but at least now I have control of the school garden, I can donate them to the bare borders there and get divisions of them in future, should I want them back.  The same goes for the ferns which have got HUGE and for the lysimachia  which has outspread its welcome.

Anemone corms are soaking on my worktop ready for planting tomorrow, and Parkers bulb catalogue is awaiting my next decisive moment...  Looking forward to a better growing year next year - weather permitting.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Raised, filled and ready for action.

A sludgy day of wheelbarrowing is now complete and my raised bed sits proudly on what used to be a concrete desert.  Am looking forward to planting it up but will leave it to settle for a a week or so before doing so.  Had fun making a soil, bonemeal and compost layer cake effect when filling it.

Still have enough free topsoil left to create another bed, but have no other space earmarked at present, so the soil heap will just have to wait for spaces to arrive in the border.  I'm sure it can all be used - the soil in the greenhouse border can be renewed for starters - if the wild rocket ever stops providing me with salad that is...

Most of my September sown seeds in the greenhouse are now sprouting, so have a fuzzy little crop of Ammi majus, dianthus 'Sooty' (thanks for the seeds Cheng Jing!)  and hollyhocks are also starting to sprout.  Very excited to see the scabious seeds starting to push through - a scabious was the first containerised plant I ever bought as an adult, so its partially responsible for my gardening obsession...  I have a real soft spot for it in all its wild and cultivated forms.  Roll on next year!!

Don't be tidy - leave your seedheads for the  birds and the frosts... Better than a bald garden, any day.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Sledgehammer wielding maniac

The discussion on the Guardian Gardens forum about building raised beds galvanised me into action yesterday.  Managed to winkle out planks from dad's neatly stacked, and devilishly impenetrable wood salvage pile and sawed them to size ready to make raised beds.

On inspecting the patch where I planned to put them, I decided to have a go at breaking up the concrete area which they'd sit on, just to improve the drainage.  However, once I had a sledgehammer in my hand and even the thickest sections were quaking under its blows, I found myself possessed by a powerful urge to demolish and now have a respectable pile of rubble awaiting more trips to the local recycling centre to get rid of it.  I must have been a peculiar sight in my purple mini skirt and leggings, sporting goggles and belting ten bells out of poured concrete...

My labours mean that my raised beds now can just be one plank high as I can breakup the subsoil, put down a bed of the topsoil I recently inherited and put the frame straight onto that, then fill it with more soil.  24 square feet of flowerbed to the good!  I'm now inspired to keep on going and get all the poured concrete in that area up - it really would be a significant addition to the flower border and also will be much better for water run off if there is less impermeable surfacing in the garden.

A good afternoon's work! 

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Unexpected project - raised beds

Couldn't resist the offer of free topsoil from a friend who is building a patio and the resulting heap is now sitting muddily on the drive.

Next job is to build raised beds to put it in.  Any tips on what height to go for?

I think I'm going to let the size of my tunnel cloche or metal cold frame windows dictate the width of the bed, but can't decide how tall to make it.  I think it needs to be at least 15 -20cm high as it is going to be put on top of a solid, rather than soil base, so I'll need to allow room for a decent root run in the plants which go in it.

What do you reckon?

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Site goes live(ish!)

The website is now up

and the first flower arranging 'how to' video is done.

Any feedback, ideas and comments welcome.

This means of course, that I've spent this sunny morning fiddling with the computer instead of getting my seeds set - so now I'll get to it...

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Bloody badgers ate my sweetcorn

A scene of devastation in the sweetcorn patch today.  All laid low, chewed and strewn all over the place - not that there was, as yet, a great deal to them as the cobs were only just starting to fill out.  My dreams of home grown corn will now have to wait until 2013.

Looks like my main crop this year will be... parsnips.  Still doing well - at least something is.

The autumn raspberries are having a final hurrah so I managed to pick enough to make a couple of jars of jam - better than the poke in the eye with a sharp stalk I collected yesterday whilst tending the border - no harm done, luckily.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Fresh starts and sort outs

This September sunshine has had me out laying waste to ground elder so that I can get some annual seeds planted today.  I fancy the notion of hollyhocks towering over the boundary so have finally cleared out the strip next to the drive - the ground elder there has been mocking me for the past two years and I've always had better things to do than invest time in revenging myself upon it. Today was that day and now the evil white roots are stacked in bags and buckets, waiting to go to the recycling centre (one reason I never use council waste compost!!).

Also sowed scabious, sweet williams and ragged robin in the greenhouse - am also going to try to get my hands on some larkspur to fling around the place.

Laid waste to the cherry laurel hedge down the left side - chopping the top two feet off has really let some more light in.  Just have to finish the patio end of the hedge now and the bit right down at the bottom. Grrr - there's just so much of the damn stuff to bag up afterwards.  Still - I feel like I've really achieved something today so can enjoy my well earned beer.

Still picking sweet peas!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Damson season

After weeks of being bashed on the head by drooping branches when putting stuff in the compost bin, the damsons are finally ready to harvest.  (Having first cut back the vicious stems of rambling rose which have made their way into the tree...).

Damsons are such picturesque fruits - that bloom their skins get as they ripen is just like nothing else. I only wish I could get a jumper in that colour!

Have made a batch of damson gin with my first pickings, following Sarah Raven's recipe, and it is looking good already.  Tomorrow I'm going to turn a batch into damson jelly as my children seem to devour jam at top speed (a vote of confidence I suppose).

Any other ideas for this marvellous fruit?

Friday, 7 September 2012

You know they're growing up when.....

It's not just the secondary school uniform and the size 8 feet, it's the fact that the gloop mine down the bottom of the garden is now truly overgrown with weeds from lack of regular disturbance.

Once a hive of activity with spades, diggers and contraptions to serve as water delivery systems, the abandoned workings are now home to ground elder, brambles and the odd nettle patch.

But we're having a barbeque this sunny weekend to reunite the rest of the mining crew, also newly dispatched to secondary education establishments across a wide area of Birmingham.  As digging and tunnelling have been inextricably linked with visits to our house, I have today done a preliminary clearing of stingy and scratchy plants,  hoping that fits of fond reminiscence will mean that the remaining ground elder will be laid low by a horde of spade-wielding juveniles.  Here's hoping.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

School term starts and my new gardening  regime begins....

The plan -
  • Finish off hard landscaping.
  • Pick up cheap annual seeds from garden centre to start September sowing
  • Cut back lavender to old wood and save dried flower heads
  • Take cuttings of new penstemons to have some more for next year
  • Clear out the green house
  • Wage war on ground elder
  • Have a general tidy up around the garden - get rid of all the stagnant buckets of rain-stewed weeds which have been sitting around for ages....
  • Take all the remaining patio rubble to the recycling centre
  • Do my first fencing project - replace the section of front fence between us and the neighbours.
  • Meet with school to discuss their gardens and a work schedule...  (Yippeee - I've got the infant school garden back!)
  • Make regular weekly visits to the allotment.
That should be enough for starters.... (that's without all the house painting jobs which are also on the list).

Summer seems to have arrived in September this year, with a whole week of sunny weather forecast for the Midlands at last.  It's come a bit late for my garden, but at least the roses in the main flower bed are putting on a good second flush of flowers.  The yellow rose, 'Absolutely Fabulous' is living up to its name as has been covered in new blooms and they just seem to keep going and going.  My beloved dark red/purple 'Falstaff' has also been having its best year yet, but it's always a race to get its blooms to open fully before the rain clobbers them and turns them into brown dough balls.  The current flower heads seem to be winning the race so am hoping to have a splendiferous show by the weekend.

I'm also delighted to see the herbaceous clematis (c. heracleifolia 'Wyevale') doing so well - it seems to be sprouting new bits every year and as it is the nearest scent to that of Indonesian frangipani blossom (my all time favourite flower smell), I am always happy to see it spread a bit further.  Combines well with the yellow rose (below) at this time of year, don't you think?

Hacked at the hawthorn hedge which is trying to turn into a collection of 20ft hawthorn trees earlier this week - layered a few bits by lacerating my arms and bending springy branches down and threading them into the framework of the hedge, but the really tall escapees just had to be cut down.  Now comes the fun bit of disposing of the malevolent prunings.

Right - back to work IN THE SUNSHINE!

Today's weather will be.....