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....