Tag Archives: gardening

My signs of Spring

forsythia

For many it’s the snowdrops and the daffodils that kick-start that spring feeling.

For me it’s seeing dull shrubs burst into life.

First it’s the leggy forsythia,(*adopts Brucie voice* “Good show, good show”) so boring and unkempt for most of the year, apart from the soul-lifting yellow splash that suddenly arrives in March.

I don’t like forsythia in my own garden, but I love to se it everyone elses’ front yard to tell me everything is about to get more colourful.

Then it’s the flowering currant, with its bright green textured leaves, just like its edible cousin, and hundreds of dangley clusters of pinky red flowers.

Flowering currant

Now it’s time to be impressed by the magnificent magnolia trees. I have several favourites as I drive across town every morning to drop the kids, and was appalled when a large specimen, probably two decades old, was chopped down in a front garden a couple of years ago.

Magnolia

It possibly blocked some light but would have been leafless for many months and flowers come before the leaves. Shame.
There seem to be lots of new ones being planted though, as small magnolia stellata seem to be everywhere on my school run. Watch it though, because even though they look small now, they will grow to 15 or 20 feet.

Magnolia stellata

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I have moved allotments

After about five years sweat, toil and tears, I have moved allotments. Not completely, but just from one end of a field to another.

I have left my five pole square to move to a 7-8 pole which comes with a small, top-heavy and precariously wobbly shed.

It’s fairly overgrown in places and I feel like I’m starting from scratch.

But it also has loads of fruit bushes and trees – most of which I don’t recognise. I’m actually quite excited about seeing what comes up and plan to invest in a petrol strimmer asap as my cordless one just isn’t up to the job.

 Here’s what it looks like now: (mine is the overgrown one on the right).

Wish me luck and fine weather.

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My own little snowdrop

Galathus Ikariae 'Bonnie Scott'

MY three-year-old daughter Bonnie has already achieved something I probably never will. She’s had a plant named after her. Galanthus Ikariae ‘Bonnie Scott’ to be precise. A snowdrop.

I’m incredibly touched that a local galanthophile (that’s snowdrop collector to you), Jim Leatherland, chose to call this new type of snowdrop after Bonnie.

He told me he intended to name one after her just after she was born in February three years ago, but had to wait to see that the new markings came true for a couple of years before ‘going public.’

We went to Jim’s National Gardens Scheme open day at the weekend and despite the rain there were over 100 people who came to look at over 200 kinds of these tiny flowers. And although Galanthus Ikariae Bonnie Scott has now gone past its flowering best, we have a pot of them ‘in the green’ which can be planted out now to flower next year and hopefully, many years to come.

Two other snowdrops, called Galanthus ‘Helen Louise’ and G. ‘Nicky James’ were also debuted.

Meanwhile, Bonnie seemed fairly nonchalant about the fact she shares a name with a flower and spent her time trying to pull the heads off Jim’s other pretty snowdrops. No green fingers just yet then. . .

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Snowdrop open day

Noted galanthophile Jim Leatherland opens his private garden in Hollowell, north of Northampton (up Church Hill, follow signs) tomorrow, Sunday February 27, between 11am-3pm.
If snowdrops are your passion, there are over 200 different types and you can also buy some ‘in the green’ to plant up at home. All in aid of the National Gardens Scheme (NGS) charity.

A short drive away over at Coton Manor Gardens, you can catch the last Snowdrop and Hellebore open day with admission at £3.

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Christmas veg from the allotment? Snow chance.

Yes, yes, laugh at me if you will. I went to the allotment for the first time in, well, a long while today.
Somehow, stupidly, I’d retained that elusive dream of the gardener that I could have vegetables I’d grown for Christmas dinner.

The spuds ran out a while ago (the ones I’d got around to digging up) and there are about six garlic bulbs left and a string of onions.
However, still in the ground, having had the alleged flavour-enhancing frost on them, sit several rows of fat leeks and a special row of parsnips, just for me (because no-one else will eat them).

Of course, trying to dig them up was impossible. I couldn’t even find the parsnips beneath the foot of snow. A fork got stuck. The spade just hot the surface with a dull thud, sending painful shock waves into my frozen hands (even in gloves).

Meanwhile, two-year-old Bonnie, the only one of my four children to ever volunteer to come to allotment, decided she’d had enough and started moaning. Well, whingeing.
I’m trying to dig frozen leeks from ten inches of rock-solid soil while she’s making that not-quite crying noise. Then she hits me with the killer punch – “I need a wee” – while wearing an all-in-one show suit.

I gave up on the veg. Took her back to the car where the emergency potty lives and went home. With just one frozen leek with a heavy, solid cube of frozen mud stuck to the bottom. Bloke laughed.

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I’m allergic to cheap roofing felt

Bloke and I actually did something together last weekend. We re-felted the roof of the garden shed.
The shed was inherited with the house, and while I’d love to say I use it solely for gardening, it’s inevitably become a dumping ground for anything we don’t want in the house. Lawnmower, kids bikes, portable loo bucket for camping, several paddling pools and various sports equipment. In short, it’s a tip. It’s also warped at the back, but as we can’t see it, we don’t worry about it.

Yes, this is the 'After' shot

It’s also, most inconveniently, in the sunniest spot in our north-facing spot. Really, we need to replace it, but sheds are expensive and Bloke and I are not really shed-putting-together-types. He scoffed when I said we could sell the old one on Ebay and the buyer would come and dismantle it and take it away. “People don’t do that, do they? What a pain.”
So when the roofing felt finally came adrift and was flapping around, letting water in, I bought the cheapest roofing felt (still £17) and we made time to put it on. It was ridiculous. The felt ripped like paper every time you tried to move it, the nails ran out, and I hadn’t had the intelligence to buy the can of £10 roofing felt adhesive that I had seen but had ignored.
Still, it’s better than before, for now anyway. I’m pretty sure the first heavy rain and windy conditions will have the whole lot off again.

Oh, and if you end up having to do the same yourself, wear gloves. Bloke and I both had swollen sore hands afterwards, which we think was something to do with the toxic coating. Yuk.

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Would your absence be noticed?

I’D love to show you a photo of the first ever tomato to make it to full redness at the allotment, but Baby Bonnie picked it and took a bite before I got to her.

Rather disconcertingly, she then spat it out and handed it to me. And she LOVES tomatoes.

A little worried, I tried it, and couldn’t find anything wrong. Perhaps it tasted too much of tomato. There are loads more just changing colour on my solitary bush tomato, and it just proves that despite previously killing toms at the allotment, they can actually grow there, with even having to be netted.

Apart from the tomatoes, It was lovely to visit the allotment last week, because on my previous visit I was concerned the season was over for me, bar the shouting.

Suddenly everything is ready to eat, despite what certainly feels like the driest summer in years.

A gap of three days since my last potter and the courgettes have turned from tiny half-finger-long veg-lets into marrows. Lots of them.

The kids were digging carrots that were the longest we’ve ever managed in our solid clay soil. Yet more beetroot, spring onions, potatoes, raspberries, far too many beans (they still came through) and onions. The sweetcorn is coming along nicely, and I have a pumpkin plant starting to fruit. At home, there are more tomatoes and the first of a promising-looking mini-cucumber crop.

Now the problem is keeping it going when we go away on our holidays. My attendance is somewhat random at the best of times. How will the plot, and home garden, survive?

In recent years it hasn’t been a problem: it rains.

Usually the problem is coming home to find the weeds have taken over. This year, we desperately NEED rain. And this is coming from someone who is going camping!

What I’d really like is for it to rain heavily every night, just over Northampton, while we’re away. But more realistically, I’ll water and water as much as possible and cover the planting holes of the courgettes and tomatoes with muck and straw to try and hold in moisture while we’re away. Alternatively, you may be able to persuade a friend or relative to water every other day, or fit a drip irrigation scheme with a timer on the tap. I’m too disorganised to have done either.

It was also a pleasure to visit the allotment with all the kids. Our eldest doesn’t have to come after school by virtue of being on the other side of town. It was nice to see how chuffed he was to find the seeds he’d sown in a raised bed back in May had turned into carrots, beetroot, spring onions, coriander and dwarf sunflowers.

He’s also a good forager (scrumping is banned). He came back with blackberries, plums and gooseberries, all growing along the hedgerows (I made him show me).

Foraging is a neglected art. There’s plenty of fruit growing along hedges, footpaths and on derelict land, as long as you’re sure you aren’t trespassing and you know what you’re picking!

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Eat my pretties! Eat!

blackfly on runner beans. Grr!

FINALLY, some rain. Stop moaning, it had to happen, since I spent a morning in the drizzle at the allotment lugging watering cans about. It was virtually a rain-dance.

The plot looks rather sorry for itself. After a disappointing start with many plant simply dying off, I have managed to get a few runner bean plants into flower but they are covered in blackfly.

If this is your first year growing runner beans, don’t despair and write yourself off. It’s not you.

Runners are usually one of the easiest crops and they look lovely in the flower border too, climbing clematis and other plants whose flowers may have finished. They (usually) produce lots of beans with virtually no effort from you, other than a nice trench of muck or kitchen waste when you plant them out and plenty of water in dry weather.

I’ve never had problems with beans before. I’m hoping it’s just been the dry weather. I don’t use insecticides and there are too many to rub off with finger tips. However, just as I was going to write off this year’s crop, I spotted a ladybird, then another. Closer inspection showed there were 14 ladybirds on one wigwam alone. Hurrah!

Ladybirds love aphids of any kind. They scoff them and lay their larvae on them who scoff even more. I’m leaving it all in their capable jaws.

If you spot a funny-looking bug on your plants that is black with front arms and yellow stripes on its sides, which looks absolutely nothing like a ladybird, DON’T kill it. This is what a baby ladybird looks like, and it will be your ally in the fight against aphids of all colours.

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Why keeping a lawn ‘for the kids’ is a lie

THE lawn looks an absolute mess, mostly due to the lack of rain. I haven’t had to mow for weeks, as there are so many bare patches, and the soil is so hard and compacted, it hardly grows.

The kids don’t help. They insist on daily games of “honestly Mum it’s not football” and have worn huge bald patches into a not-very-big-in-the-first-place lawn. The paddling pool has added circular yellow patterns to the mix.

I refuse to get stressed about it. The damn couch grass at the allotment is so persistent it would survive a nuclear bomb. The more civilised lawn at home just needs a few regular nights of rain and some patching with a rake, compost and some seed. It will be rampant by autumn, you’ll see. . .

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She’s disappointed by the quality of rainfall

Made my first-ever jar of blackcurrant jam. I feel guiltily domesticated.

RIGHT, enough now. This is England and it’s summer so it should rain. Properly rain. Chuck it down. Not this pathetic drizzle that does nothing more than make girls’ hair go fluffy.

It’s been weeks since we had more than a smattering of a shower and the garden is struggling to cope.

I’m getting some sort of workout lugging watering cans up and down the allotment but the clay soil is set rock hard. Much of the water isn’t penetrating very deeply, even when the planting hole is slightly bowl-shaped to hold it in place and stop it just running away.

After last year’s wet weather we had stunning fruit and vegetable harvests. This year the fruit is looking small. My apple tree dropped all its applets, the raspberries are tiny. Strawberries gave up quickly and the beans aren’t producing as quickly as they should. They might need misting with a hand sprayer to help them along.

My early spuds are ready, and the first lot I dug were horrible, all pock marked, part rotten and holey. Very disappointing. It could be slugs or scab (where the skin is, well, scabby, but the spud is still edible underneath) is common where watering is erratic.

I’ve never had to water potatoes or raspberries before and I think it might be too late to start. Thankfully the third potato plant I dug had some healthy tubers. Not as many as I’d have expected but at least we’re eating something.

The garlic has been picked and hung up to dry at home, the red, autumn-sown onions look fat and ready and the shallots have had a bumper year. I suspect I planted some too deep though, because as they expand, they poke up towards the sun and swell near the surface, whereas mine have become trapped and squashed by the rock-hard soil. When you do water, do it early or leave it until the evening. If you use a hose, use a spray attachment or the force of the water will just make deep holes around your beds and expose the roots. When you think you’ve given a plant enough, give it some more. Shallow watering is no good.

Fill watering cans from water butts, empty paddling pools, washing-up and even bathwater, the plants won’t mind. I’m hoping for a massive downpour and a heavy shower every night next week.

Last week’s appeal about how to harvest blackcurrants furnished me with lots of advice, thanks very much.

This week I cut all the stems heavy with ripe black fruit and carefully removed the bunches of berries. Once home, I plonked them in water, separated off the leaves and stems, and then put the berries into plastic boxes and stuck them in the freezer. Once solid, its much easier to remove those fiddly flower ends (preferably while watching telly with a glass of something alcoholic to hand). Another wash, stick them in a big pan with a drop of water and preserving sugar and soon you have gooey, sweet blackcurrant jam (or jelly of you strain it). I’ve produced my first ever jars of blackcurrant jam. It’s so nice with scones, or swirled into cream and poured over meringues. Shame I’m supposed to be on a diet.. . .

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