Tuesday, 30 March 2010


These are my brother's prizewinning onions from last year. He grows proper onions, great big ones, and fantastic leeks as well.

And he's kindly given me some of his seedlings to try. I don't suppose my leeks will approach the size of Superman's biceps like his, but I've potted them on and am hoping for the best. The leeks are Musselborough and Prizetaker, and the onions are Kelsae and Red Baron.
On the subject of onions, or alliums to be exact, I noticed this yesterday in the herbaceous border

around the new growth of the Allium Purple Sensation bulbs that I planted last season. The seedheads of the purple alliums are tall drumstick-like and remain decorative as they fade, so I left them in situ until they more or less fell off at the end of the year. And obviously all the seeds that fell out have germinated into hundreds of tiny new plants.
According to the RHS who have awarded Purple Sensation an Award of Garden Merit, the seedling germinate best after being subjected to winter cold (and there's been plenty of that this year) but they also say that the seedlings may not come true and may have a paler colour than the parents. I hate to waste plants, so I think I will try to move a couple of spadefuls of them to an out of the way spot and see if they make anything.
There are literally hundreds of them though, so the rest will have to go on the compost if I'm not to end up with the Lonely Little Petunia In An Onion Patch, of the old song!

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Spring Gems

There's nothing unusual about this plant, which lots of people have in their garden, Viburnum Bodnentense var Dawn - but it's no less valuable for that. I have three of them in various parts of the garden, they flower on and off all through the winter, even in the snow, but come spring proper, they burst forth with generous amounts of waxy scented flowers on bare branches.
A few stems in a vase will perfume the room and look quite artistic in a japanese-y sort of way. Great if you're not exactly Contance Spry on the flower arranging front. 
It's easy to grow, available in most good garden centres, and fits into most garden schemes. Underplanted with spring bulbs it will make the most of the display. And if you're short of space and want to maximise the space for summer, you could plant one of the less rampant clematises to at the same time to climb through the branches and give you a burst of summer colour. Hagley Hybrid or Miss Bateman spring to mind.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Little Seedling or is it a Scion....?

I hope you'll indulge me a bit here because this post is nothing to do with gardening, cooking, or farming, but I have to show you who came along yesterday, a week early. My new grandson, Oliver. Not that I'm biased or anything, but isn't he just lovely?

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

See I Told You Winter Was Over

The first leaf has unfurled on my rhubarb patch.Hurrah! So have several leaves of ground elder you may observe.  I know forced rhubarb has been in the shops for a while, and you can cover it with an upturned dustbin, or an expensive terracotta cover, and so on, but I rarely bother prefering to just let it arrive when it's ready.

I grew up in Yorkshire, which is probably why I'm not all that enthusiastic about rhubarb, I probably had rather too much of it as a child. I well remember my dad digging up a large root of rhubarb and keeping it under his bed for several weeks in the spring (for forcing purposes), so keen was he on getting an early crop. But it's very much more fashionable nowadays, (eating it, not keeping it under the bed) and I usually get a generous enough crop. So it's good to see the first leaf. Maybe I should look around for some more imaginative recipes this year? Maybe I'll try a nice preserve if I can find a good recipe. Recommendations welcome.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Breaking News - Last Minute Reprieve for A N Rodent

Arthur Norbert Rodent, you have been found guilty of extensive and recidivist burglary of broad beans and peas. However, the court has been informed that it is possible that your death sentance can be commuted to life banishment from the Greenhouse, by courtesy of this device -

This is an electronic rodent scaring device, intended for use in the house and which I have used  when we have had odd mouse incursions, especially in the winter when they seem to come in for a warm. Anyway, it seemed to do the job OK, so I think I will try it in the greenhouse. I don't know why I haven't thought of it before. Luckily I have an electric point in there so I will give it a go and hope that Arthur Norbert Rodent will get his lunch elsewhere and I won't have any corpses to deal with. Will report back on success/failure rate. Has anyone else tried anything like this?

Monday, 22 March 2010

Winter Really is Over, Almost...

As I said yesterday, I'm still thinking longingly of fresh spring salads, and herbs, and I've sown some Basil in my propagator, but as I don't expect to harvest any for quite some time, I've invested in a pot from Tesco.

I say invested as it pains me somewhat to pay over a pound for a small pot of basil. However I gain some satisfaction from potting it into a large pot, and if I water and feed it copiously, I find I can encourage the plant to continue to crop for several weeks, thus offsetting my initial investment. Clearly Tescos don't want you to do this, they would prefer you to buy another pot next week, and so they sell the plant at just short of it's exhaustion point in a tiny pot, and however carefully you water it, if you keep it in this tiny pot it will surely die. So make sure you give the plant plenty of new compost in a decent sized pot, and plenty of water and plant food. Take your crop, and leave it on a light sunny windowsill to produce a new crop of leaves. I made some pesto with mine as it reminds me of summer, and I've also just bought this little chopper gadget from Lidl. 

 It was only £10, and it's really very good. I had one of those little Kenwood mini choppers, but I found it too tiny to be of much use. This one is bigger, solidly built, easier to use, and cheaper.

Ingredients can be very variable depending on what you have in and what you fancy:
Couple of handfuls of basil
2 large cloves garlic
1oz/30g pinenuts or walnuts
100ml/quarter pint olive oil
parmesan cheese, grated to taste around a couple of ounces
salt pepper
Whizz everything in the chopper, or use a processor until blended.

Tip into a jar and keep in the fridge.
Ensure you use a crust of bread to clean the bits you can't get out of the bowl,

and eat it. Cooks treat.

Drizzle on salads, bread, with steaks, almost anything, (not Sherry Trifle obviously) and it will help you start to feel like Winter Really Is Over, Almost.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Winter is Officially Over, Isn't It?

It's around about now that I start to think that Winter Is Officially Over, and I should start eating lovely things like baby leaf salad, asparagus tips, and baby broad beans bursting from the pods. Unfortunately, as you can see from this my broad beans are far from bursting forth a leaf, let alone a pod.
 So I will have quite a wait for my primavera salad, unless it comes courtesy of Waitrose. I always germinate broad beans, (and most other things too) indoors, to help protect them from the wildlife (mice mostly). If you can pick a favourable day to transplant already germinated seeds, I think it gets them off to a really good start. I just keep them in the greenhouse, or anywhere indoors would do fine, in a tray of compost or modules, and as soon as they show signs of germination I tip them gently out

and transplant them to the open ground, if conditions are favourable. Do be careful not to damage the newly emerged root, - the white pointy thing is a root so should be pointing downwards, the shoot comes from the same place a few days later but in an upward direction, obviously.
Broad beans are pretty hardy but if conditions are not favourable for transplanting, if it's freezing or waterlogged, you can certainly grow them on into proper little plants, but for this you will need to have them in 3 inch pots in a good light position. And I would want to get them out into the ground as soon as you reasonably can.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Daphne Odora a Treat for the Postman

No digging today, for no other reason that it's Friday, I've been digging all week, and it's drizzling rain. Sometimes we gardeners have to remind ourselves of the simple pleasure of wandering round the garden, even in the drizzle, and not doing anything except just enjoying it.
And one of the most intense pleasures of the garden at this time of year is Daphne Odora, of which I have a good specimen growing by the front door.  The flowers are small and pale pink, a bit like a viburnum, and not really very significant. But as it's name implies, it casts around itself the most wonderful scent, which  is enjoyed not just by me, but in a public spirited kind of way I hope that everyone who comes to the door enjoys it too, just for these few weeks in March when it's flowering. I feel sure that should a bailiff be calling at your front door,(or do they come to the back door?) intent on distraining your chattels, it would surely soften their heart to stand in a cloud of Daphne Odora for two minutes while they waited for you to come out from behind the sofa.

The variety I have is aureomarginata, named for the delicate pale line around the edges of the foliage. It's evergreen, slow growing, needing little or no pruning, - I've had this one around ten years and it's slowly grown to about four feet across and barely three feet high, perfect for planting by the front door. So go on, treat the postman, and charm the bailiff  with Daphne Odora aureomarginata.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

What They Don't Show You On Gardener's World

My husband always wonders why I insist on watching Gardener's World on BBC tv, since I spend  the whole programme moaning about it! Well of course, it's a must view prog for gardeners, but I do wish they could manage to be a bit more, well, normal. Normal gardens have weeds, you never see buttercups or dandelions on Gardeners World, and the soil is like a bag of potting compost, nothing like the claggy lumps of earth most of us have to deal with in the real world. Last year when Joe Swift took on a new allotment, it was miraculously "dug over" in the blink of an eye,which allowed dear old Joe to concentrate on designing the peculiar triangle shape of his veg beds. I know they have to show "progress" but they could have kept at least a part of it hand cultivated if only to show how it works in reality
There are always bits of the garden that get neglected and weedy. Well at least in my garden there is. Last year for example, I used weed suppressing fabric on the pathways in the veg garden, topped with wood chippings, but I found that although this is very useful for keeping down annual weeds in the summer, the tough perennial weeds like couch grass, mare's tail, and bindweed seem to just run along under the fabric and sprout up in the beds. When I lifted the fabric this week, I found a veritable spaghetti of roots underneath, so I may re think my use of this method of weed suppression this year.  These are the kinds of things real gardeners are interested in, - I think the programme spends too much time trying to entice novice gardeners, when in reality, most of their core viewers are keen gardeners already, and don't need or appreciate the "this is how to open a seed packet" approach.
My son and I were discussing our ideal Gardeners World "dream team" recently - he wanted Rachel de Thame for eye candy, and Alan Titchmarsh for the main presenter. I would bring back the spririt of Geoff Hamilton as a proper gardener, Alan for eye candy, and Carol Klein as the mad old woman, just to make me feel at home!
I apologize to people who don't get BBCtv  by the way,as this whole item will be of pretty much no interest whatsoever.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Getting organised in the veg garden

Just a quick look at the developments in the veg garden. The weather's been excellent for the past week, and I've taken the opportunity to get on with a bit of digging, well quite a lot of digging in fact. So I thought I'd just show you a picture of how it's going. You're probably thinking it all looks a bit higgledy piggledy, but there is a Plan, no really there is, and I'm quite pleased with progress so far. I've got most of the beds organised, and have dug out a ton of perennial weeds, couch grass, bindweed, and buttercups to name but three.
Note the grey plastic bins I have reclaimed from a local sausage skin manufacturer which will serve as water butts, - the green thing that looks like an overweight Dalek is a compost bin. The greenhouse looks quite clean and sparkly  from this distance, - unfortunately it isn't, and I will have to get on with that job pretty soon too. It's quite a lot of glass to clean Oh it's all go in the garden in March and April.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

The Case for the Prosecution

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury, I place before you Exhibit A in the case of Doyle versus Arthur Norbert Rodent of  Greenhouse Footings, Carters Barn, Wiltshire.
Every year I lose a proportion of seeds to mice. They are particularly partial to pea and bean seeds, and since I know this, I should really take precautionary measures to prevent my early sowing of broad bean seeds ending up like this. I always sow peas and beans in trays or pots, as they are just devoured if I sow them outside. You will note, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the way the defendant has chewed his way through the skin and devoured the inside of the seed, leaving behind the discarded skin as DNA evidence.

There is a fairly healthy population of wood mice around here, and frankly I don't like killing them, but they come into my greenhouse at their peril. So it's mouse traps, and/or poison. I wish there was a way of scaring them away, but if I don't take steps now, I will be overrun by summer.
So, donning my black cap, I find in favour of the plaintiff Doyle in this case and do prounounce the sentence of this court that A N Rodent be summarily despatched to the Great Mouse Cemetary in the Sky.

Monday, 15 March 2010

New Gadget

I've invested in a new garden gadget. It's one of these -
it's a little cordless hedge trimmer and grass shear. It has two blades, one like a mini hedge trimmer, and another like grass shears. And it's cordless. We already have an ordinary electric hedge trimmer, and of course a lawn mower, but I find the problem with garden machinery is it's a pain to get it out, get it going, and put it away again, especially just for a small job.  So I'm thinking this little cordless thing will be just the ticket for all those small jobs that get overlooked, until, before you can say Jack Robinson they've turned into half a day's work . And before all you proper Tool Time blokey gardeners start telling me it's too dinky, it's got no power, no grrr, well I know that, but I'm hoping it will help me save the time I spend doing jobs that could have been done in half the time had I just tackled them quickly in the beginning. A sort of Stitch in Time Machine, if you see what I mean.
I plan to keep it on charge, so it's ready to grab for any emergency trimming scenarios that occur. If anyone has experience of using one I'd be glad to hear how you've got on with it.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Pruning - Being Cruel to Be Kind

I have a large Garrya Elliptica, or catkin bush by the back door, growing up against a stone wall, but over the years it had got wider and wider  until last year it was some three feet or more wide, necessitating a detour on every trip along the pathway.  So I cut it back very hard indeed, so hard in fact that there was no foliage left on it at all, only bare branches.  But as you can see from the above picture, it has come back all the more vigorous this year, although I have had to forego most of the catkins for this season as they appear on one year old wood, and so I'm hoping for a good show next year.
This is what the catkins look like, in case you're not familiar with this shrub. Well worth growing for it's toughness, and  shiny evergreen foliage. And the catkins come very early in the year, in the middle of winter really, when you really do appreciate them.  But it's a vigorous plant and you really do have to keep on top of it if it's not to get out of hand. As soon as the catkins have faded get the hedge trimmer out and run over the whole plant, cutting off all the old catkins and a good proportion of foliage. The plant will then have the rest of the year to prepare for another fine show next winter. If you're buying a new plant the variety "James Roof" is recommended for it's extra long catkins.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Plantus Labellus Ikealloides

Plant labels are annoying things. Flimsy bits of plastic that get lost, break, or become illegible, or just blow away. I'd like to have lovely slate ones, or nice pretty wooden painted ones, but like so many other things I'd like, I just never get round to making them and I certainly don't want to be paying out the money charged at fancy garden shops for them. So I was very pleased with myself when I came up with the idea of re-using something which would otherwise have been binned.

I recently installed a new venetian blind**in the bathroom, and since it came from Ikea, where everything is one size, it was miles too long and I had lots of slats leftover. The slats seem to be made of some kind of wood, or mdf, or but are thin enough to be reasonably easy to cut. They are white and about two inches or so wide, so ideal for large, legible, garden labels. I was worried that they might disintegrate in water so I tried cutting one to size, and have soaked it in a glass of water for a few days and so far it looks ok.
So hopefully, this year, no more peering at illegible bits of plastic and wondering whether it was peas or beans I sowed in that bed last week.

**We are very lucky to have views from our windows onto open fields, with nothing more than the odd dog walker passing by. However this applies to our bathroom windows as well, which are clear glazed, not frosted as most modern bathrooms are, I suppose because no one went past the garden hedge when the house was built.  But the village has grown and there are more people about than there used to be, and a not insignificant number of dog walkers pass through the field on the other side of our hedge, especially first thing in the morning.   Anyway, to avoid giving an inadvertent surprise, not to say a heart attack, to Major Fanshawe as he passes a gap in the hedge whilst taking his early morning constitutional, a venetian blind seemed to be the solution.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The Absent Minded Gardener

I was taking advantage of a lovely sunny, if chilly, day today, to do a bit of digging over in the veg garden, and I found this monster lurking there. In case it's not obvious, it's a parsnip, left over from last year, it's over a foot long and weighs over four pounds!  I found several of them, I think I must have just forgotten about them when the bad weather set in, and when the tops withered off it wasn't obvious that they were there.  I doubt whether they will be still edible, as you can see from the pic, they've started sprouting again. When I cut it open, apart from the exposed bit at the top it's undamaged and as clean as a whistle, so I'll try cooking it just out of interest. It's time to be sowing seed for this year's parsnips now, so I will have to get the crow bar and get them out. Parsnip soup anyone? Other ideas or suggestions welcome.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Surprises, and Shocks

The draft text below was to be my next post but circumstances have overtaken me before I had chance to put it online. The foxes have come again and this time taken my two new pullets. Since all the gates were closed this time, they must have come round by the house; I am amazed at their audacity. It seems that once foxes know where the birds are, they will persevere again and again until they get in. I am going to have to be extremely careful if I am to keep them out. The two newcomers were in a quarantine ark, admittedly old and a bit tatty, but one that had housed two or three birds in various parts of the garden most of this year without any sign of trouble. But they simply tore off the wood at the side of the ark to get at the two pullets. I have had a chat with a local gamekeeper who has said he will be coming into the village this week to do some "lamping" which is his method of fox control.

 Thanks to everyone who has taken the time and trouble to post messages of support, it's great to get them, and it helps to know that people sympathize.

Two feathery Surprises!
Our lovely little grandson has come with his mum to stay with us for the weekend, and with all the paraphanalia one needs to have when travelling with small children, Claire still managed to find room in her little car for a large cardboard box containing a surprise gift for me of - guess what? Two beautiful point of lay chickens that she had got for me when she read about the fox attack last week! How sweet is that! And they look like really good birds too, one is a Light Sussex, a lovely old dual purpose breed known for its gentle nature, and the other a very smart Copper Black Maran, which I'm hoping will lay a lovely dark brown egg. I couldn't be more pleased, and I feel blessed to have my kind and thoughtful family always here for me.


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