Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Potting on

Once the first flurry of joyous seed sowing starts, I find that things quickly settle down to a comfortable rhythm of sowing and potting on. So it was with a big smile on my face that I proceeded to move the first of my tiny sprouts into small pots on the weekend. I think that my "Corno di toro rosso" sweet pepper seeds have failed as they've all failed to germinate but thankfully I've got several other varieties I'll be using as backups. Along with the tomatillo seeds, the "bumblebee" and "sweet million" tomatoes are thriving so here they are in their new homes. It's difficult to describe the pleasure that a small tray of seedlings can engender in me but I will admit to a real fondness for them. I have been known to coo over them as I move them into their new cosy soil beds in little pots. I know that it's weird, but I've always felt like I'm tucking them in, in the same way that planting the seeds in the first place feels like I'm almost affectionately helping them to grow. I don't anthropomorphise my plants, although I do tend to natter away at them, but in this one instance, I feel very involved in them! Anyway, hurrah, small pots are finally going into production!

Monday, 30 March 2015

Gardening for the disabled

Last month I mentioned that I've cleverly broken my foot (to be exact, I've sustained a Lisfranc fracture which is a horrible thing that takes months to recover from). This has been difficult enough in terms of looking after the GarlicBaby (who is starting to crawl - eek!) but at least there we've been able to emotionally blackmail various friends and family members into coming over and babysitting the two of us during the initial six weeks post ORIF surgery, after which I'll be put into a walking boot. I've done a little gardening in that time but it's been limited to about half an hour sitting at the garden table with my foot up planting seeds. Today I decided to go out and have a quick weed around the garlic and two things happened:

1. My foot went *poof* and swelled to the size of a respectable melon within about 12 minutes (honestly, there are self-inflating boats which take longer to puff up) which meant that the weeding was cut short and I'm now back on the sofa with my foot raised over my heart and 
2. I discovered that my kneelchair (knee scooter thingy that I use to zip about the house instead of crutches) doesn't fit into our side return. Disaster!

So I sort of manouvered the knee scooter as close to the two big raised beds where I'm growing garlic as I could and hung / leaned precariously off of it whilst I nabbed the biggest weeds before admitting defeat. 

Help! What am I going to do? Not only has my stupid foot meant I had to miss the Edible gardening show and that I'll be in a cast at the Chelsea Flower Show, it's also going to mean that I'll be in a cast until late May at the absolute earliest. Which means I need a knee scooter. Which means my whole side return is inaccesible! Argh! Stupid kerb. Stupid foot. Stupid lisfranc injury!

Saturday, 21 March 2015

The leaning tower of seeds(a)

My tiny front garden has always been a problem, not least because it's been paved over and used as a driveway. Parking in London is a problem, and so having our own driveway does make life much easier. I've planted bulbs and wildflowers in large troughs lining the driveway and finally moved the birdfeeder from the back garden to the front. I'd much rather have it in the back garden but now that it's been cat-proofed so that the cats are stuck in there, I didn't think it'd be fair to lure the birds in to be pounced on. So I've left it in the front garden and I'll just have to cross my fingers that nobody steals it. We have something of an infestation of what Emma the gardener calls "Two-legged rats" in my part of south London. Hopefully nobody will deprive the birds of their seeds by snaffling our feeder. 

Friday, 20 March 2015

Maintaining bush plants in pots (or, a recipe for happy gooseberries)

I have a certain fondness for gooseberries, something that I think is shown by the fact that I've squeezed five bushes (two green hinnomakis, two red hinnomakis and a trusty old invicta) into my tiny space. They're marvelous things, gooseberries, useful for everything from a liquor to liven up fizz through to pies. They're one of those fruits that I think are a brilliant idea to grow in small spaces because they're hardy but also grow an expensive crop so you're maximising what you save on fruit as well as enjoying tastier produce. I grow my gooseberries in containers because of the size of the garden and they've done rather well (even if they were decimated by caterpillars last year). But one of the things that always concerns me about growing soft fruit in pots is the quality of the soil. Although I've got them in nice large and roomy wooden troughs, the soil does start to get that dull, brittle-looking quality to it every so often. So today's job in the garden (wobbling perilously on my knee scooter because of my hateful lisfranc injury) was to prune back the long dangling spiky arms of the gooseberries and to work in some good quality compost to invigorate the plant as it starts to leaf again. Container planting is difficult at times because the soil can get really tired but working in well rotted manure and compost always works for me!

Monday, 16 March 2015

Enthusiasm for seeds must be genetic...

I am a total geek when it comes to seeds. One of the highlights of my shopping year is when the seed catalogues come out and I can sit down in the evening with a glass of wine and a stack of them to pore over and covet. Once they actually arrive (cue much joyous "THE SEEDS HAVE ARRIVED" capering about the place), I get almost as much pleasure sorting the packets into my little seed box, which allows me to sort them by month sown. See? Geek. But I'm delighted to say that this kind of delight in seeds appears to be genetic! I was sorting my seeds near to GarlicBaby when he was playing on the floor and he was absolutely captivated by the packets. Admittedly he's captivated by most new things that he thinks he'll be able to eat (recently this category has included insects, cats tails and our dining room table) but he had an absolute blast sitting in a pile of packets And shaking them about like toys. Get 'em hooked when they're young is what I say! Horticultural brainwashing starts young...

The first seedlings have sprouted!

Last week I was in a rush to take the GarlicBaby to the local aquarium. I was putting the babyseat into the taxi when I turned my ankle on an uneven bit of pavement and broke my foot. Apparently I have a Lisfranc injury, which is pretty appallingly bad when you consider that it happened so quickly. I'm in a hard cast now (and slowly going out of my mind with boredom) so it was with enormous joy that I noticed that my first seedlings are sprouting in the greenhouse! Look at that! Tiny shoots of joy and happiness. I am taking great care of my tomato, pepper, aubergine and tomatillo futures. I've been placed under house arrest too, until my hard cast comes off. So it's with incredible eagerness that I await the warmer and sunnier weather because I'm calling my tiny city garden part of home and going to try to spend as much time out there as possible. Of course, I can't carry anything anywhere because I'm on crutches, but I'll have to demand that Mr Garlic bring me soil and seeds and pots. I'm determined not to miss the sowing season!

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Gift guide: Presents to delight urban gardeners

I have been perusing the internet a lot lately in pursuit of practical (read: boring) things. And so I thought that today, for a change, I'd share a little wishlist of fun presents that any gardener would enjoy. This has absolutely nothing to do with any birthdays that may, or may not be rapidly approaching. This gift guide is completely impartial. See? I'm completely straightfaced. 

The practical gift: You Grow Girl by Gayla Trail 
I'm such a fan of the You Grow Girl blog and I'd love to get my hands on a copy of Trail's book!

The joke gift: Heart and star mould kit
Just because it makes peppers and tomatoes into heart and star shapes. Surely no further explanation is needed?

The equipment gift: Raspberry support and support frame
Canes may not work particularly well but they'll do for now. Proper raspberry supports would be extremely useful!

The social gift: A Big Green Egg Barbecue
Our old barbecue rusted right through and I love the idea of an Egg. They're compact, efficient and would camouflage well!

The innovative gift: Wally pockets
Because when you only have a few square metres, you have to grow up as well as out! 

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Horticultural day out: Butterflies at RHS Wisley 2015 review

RHS Wisley is one of the loveliest gardens with reach of London. And the Butterflies in the Glasshouse exhibition is one of the nicest wildlife exhibits I've ever seen. As per usual, when we reached Wisley and decanted GarlicBaby into his pram, we were surrounded by a sea of other parents with their own prototype humans. The only good thing about being turfed out of bed at 7am by an infant every day is that you generally don't have to queue for attractions because you're there as soon as they open. We managed to get into the glasshouse where a variety of beautiful, exotic and enormous butterflies fluttered about in a jungle-like atmosphere. It was extraordinary. Even very small children like GarlicBaby (at seven months old) were captivated by the lovely and fragile creatures as they pranced and flitted about. The butterflies looked no less the worse for having been shipped to Wisley from a farm on Belize. Indeed, they were jaw-droppingly amazing to see up close. If you haven't been, go now, before they're all gone. 

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

And so it begins...the first of the seeds are sown!

Bring on the spring, that's what I say. This past weekend was gloriously...well, grey. But on Friday afternoon the sun shone strongly and the cold, crisp air inspired me to get out into the garden with a sponge to clean up the greenhouse. I find that boring chores are much more likely to get done if I hold off on something I really want to do. In this instance, the chore was scrubbing out the greenhouse and the fun task was the planting of the first seeds of the year. They look a bit puny sitting all alone in the greenhouse but it was lovely to feel that the planting year has officially started. Bring on the sun of 2015. My peppers, aubergines and tomatoes need to grow. Last year I planted everything far too late which, coupled with the fact that I abandoned the plot when my own little bean arrived, means that I didn't get much of a harvest. So I'm starting everything off as early as possible this year to give it as much time to grow as possible. Winter tasks like pruning are never laced with excitement like the planting of seeds that you can watch for germinating shoots!

Monday, 2 March 2015

Horticultural day out: Kingston Lacy (including kitchen garden!) review

Winter is so depressing. If you live in the countryside you can wax lyrical about crisp air and frost on the grass and similar. If you live in London, everything just seems greyer than usual, and covered in a light film of oily sheen. It's so depressing. So we generally flee the old metrop. every year. This year we went back to Dorset with the GarlicBaby for a long weekend so that we could combine our escape with a trip to see the beautiful and legendary snowdrops at the National Trust's Kingston Lacy. It was a fantastic day out.

Although the house was closed for winter, we had a lovely long frosty walk amongst the swaying fields of snowdrops through to the kitchen gardens which are being regenerated.  They're a way off from being the six acres tended by twenty gardeners that they were in their heyday, but they're coming along apace and it's lovely to see such an important historical kitchen garden  being restored. Apparently even Queen Victoria sent her gardeners there to hone their skills. We're already looking forward to returning to see their pond once it's finished. 

But in the meantime, we fell in love with the variety of other attractions in the grounds. We enjoyed buying pig nuts to feed to the lovely squat little Kune Kune pigs and watching the nest box cameras before wandering around the community growing spaces which have some of the most inventive scarecrows I've seen in years. Superscarecrow is cool beyond words! 
Kune Kune pigs
"Nest cam" in the birdwatching room
First prize for scarecrow inventiveness
Inspiration: I must say, when I finally have enough space to have a scarecrow, he will be dressed like a king. Or a hero. Or a clown. Something interesting though. 
Wonderful playground tractors

Child-friendliness: Wonderful. GarlicBaby seemed fixated by the birds in the little nest box camera viewing room and he giggled like mad at the lovely little Kune Kune pigs as they scrabbled for the pig nuts we threw them. There was a sweet little playground for the children next to the kitchen garden where there were wonderful toys like push-along tractors for older children to play on. The only possible improvement could perhaps have been the changing table in the main loos by the cafe and restaurant. Placed as it is, anyone entering the door is treated to an eyeful of baby bottom so moving it somewhere less obvious might be an idea. But overall Kingston Lacy was an absolutely lovely place to visit as a family and we can't wait to return. The National Trust is one of the best things about this country and we're so proud to be members. 

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Front garden remodel

I have decided to be charitable. Even though the caterpillars decimated my gooseberries and kiwi last year, I am continuing with my attempts to lure butterflies and bees to the garden. The small trellis pots that I had last year were broken by the gales that we experienced this winter and so I've replaced them with long, low raised beds that are much sturdier. They've been planted with various bulbs (daffodils and tulips) and wildflower seeds but at the moment they look really rather depressing. Fingers crossed that they sprout soon. The neighbour's cat has been spotted in the vicinity eyeing my large beds of earth with a gleam in his eye that I don't like at all...