Be the first to read any new posts by joining A Growing Obsession’s mailing list - email me at or find me on Facebook.
Custom Search

Thursday, 5 November 2009

A Change of Pace

Hi folks,

Sorry for the long gap between posts, the change in season rather unsettled me so I’ve been neglecting the garden almost as much as I’ve been neglecting the blog.

So, summer’s over, the toms are all but gone, the leaves have turned golden and all is quiet on the terrace. I think until Spring I’ll take the blog fortnightly. We’ll see.

Anyway, here’s what I’ve been up to since I last wrote:

1) Planted too much spinach again – not entirely sure what I was thinking as I did exactly the same thing last year. There are eight huge tubs of it, all thriving and growing at quite a pace. Unfortunately I don’t like spinach all that much. I was consoling myself with the thought that I’d just make lots of wholesome soups over the winter but then I attempted to make a leak and potato one and I can assure you I won’t be trying that again in a hurry. I always seem to fail at the easy things.

2) For anyone who managed to miss my unrelenting moaning about the nonexistent lettuce, it failed to materialise this spring so I’m trying again for winter lettuce. I’ve got a few in pots under cover but am also trying a couple in hanging baskets where the tumbling tomatoes were. I doubt that it’ll work but just imagine how delicious it will look if it does.

3) The cauliflowers were doing well at first but have since started to look a little sad. I think I’ll repot them and see what happens.

4) Up to old tricks again and have stubbornly decided that I will beat the change of season by just bringing everything inside. Mixed success so far. As usual the sodding basil is refusing to grow. Do you know, I have never managed to successfully grow basil from seed? It’s supposed to be the easiest sodding one. Whatever.

5) Struggling a little with my Mimosa. I got it in memory of my dog who died earlier this year. I chose it in part because its beautiful waiflike scraggly appearance reminded me of our beautiful waiflike scraggly Smiff, but also because the card promised an abundance of yellow flowers over the winter that would make me smile.

It seemed to do well at first but as the weather began to change its main stalk started to bald, and it just kept growing and growing and growing - much like Jack’s beanstalk. So I nipped out its growing tip, and still it grew. I pulled it out again, continued to grow. Much to my despair this pattern continued for a good few weeks until eventually I gave up and left it alone. It’s since stopped growing up and started to grow out as I had hoped and I can now see little buds waiting to burst open. Sometimes non-interference really is the best method.

I was worried about trying to grow something in memory. I worried that I would be too invested in it and that it would just bring the sadness back if it failed. Then I realised that whilst that may be true and may still happen (I’ll keep you posted), well, there’s nowt wrong with being invested in your garden.

When we were kids my mum bought our family house because she “liked the purple flowering plant in the garden”. It was a good house. Good decision.

Click here to go to first post
Click here to go to the top

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

From me to you to Mexico...

Oh dear, I’m in a highly obnoxious mood and I've just drained ten cups of coffee. I’m afraid I really can’t vouch for the quality of this post so perhaps we should begin with an apology: sorry. To be honest, given the Latino theme, you should just be grateful that I didn’t start off with an “hola” or perhaps an equally cliché “olé”.

Back to the point. I’ve been planning to write something about other people’s gardens for a while, and now I’ve started, I’m finding that the strongest offerings are all coming straight out of Mexico.

I’m slowly becoming my friends' “gardening friend”. People talk to their mothers about me. Although, I think that may be part of a wider attempt to drag them kicking and screaming into the brave new digital era. In my head the conversations go a little like this: “come on Mum, turn off Radio 4, don’t worry, it’ll still be there when you come back. That’s right, now turn on the computer… yep, the big ‘on’ button. No, no, don’t worry there’s far less hardcore porn and inappropriate imagery than the Daily Mail would have you believe. Come on now Mum, if you do it, you’ll get to read Rachel’s blog. You know Rachel, my gardening friend.”

Although this has all come slightly out of the blue, there are a lot worse things to have your name associated with and the up side is I get invited into other people’s gardening spaces. It turns out this is a surprisingly personal space, I’m starting to realise that the way people garden is often fairly representative of who they are.

Let’s start with Mr Mundo, my favourite person in all of Mexico. He’s always been surprisingly supportive of my gardening writing. I’m not suggesting that it’s surprising that he’s been supportive, I just didn’t realise that he had any interest in gardening. Then a couple of months ago he started talking about his own Mexican medley of a garden. I’m not entirely sure if I had anything to do with it, but can we just pretend I did? Mundo’s Mexican Medley makes me jealous. It makes me want to leave London behind and spend the rest of forever chasing the sun. He started with a coconut palm, followed by rosemary and sage all grown in old peach tins bought for 3 pesos from his local bakery. He’s also been busy growing fruit that tastes like “sour mud”… I'm not entirely sure why.

Then, of course, there’s Bella and the legal eagles who are all busy getting Chilli in the City. The lovely Bella and her lovely flatmate clearly thought Mother Nature could do with a bit of accessorising and have added a pair of Anne Klein’s to the mix… I’ve come to expect nothing less from these ladies.

They’re not alone though, apparently the whole legal team has formed a kind of chilli growers’ support network. I suppose one added benefit is that they could be offered as an antidote to work. Someone could stand at the lifts handing out chillies as people leave. Red for a bad day, green for a ‘gouge your own eyes out’ kind of a day... the eye-watering burning sensation might just take some of the pain away. Then again, maybe not.

Oddly enough, last week I met a friend who’s just got back from Mexico. She came home, promptly got fed up with London, ran straight to Wahaca for some solace and remerged with two packets of Serrano chilli seeds that she thought would be just perfect for Rachel, her gardening friend. I’m gonna get me some of my very own chilli in the city...

Click here to go to first post
Click here to go to most recent post

Monday, 14 September 2009

A Change of Season

With autumn coming and all of the colours starting to fade out of the garden I was worried that I wouldn’t have anything to write about anymore. Then, this weekend, something amazing happened… I actually did some gardening. Crazy eh?

I’ve been so busy eating tomatoes and staring lovingly at my roses that I stopped doing any of the hard work bit. Fair enough really, you need a period to enjoy the fruits of your labour so to speak. It did however feel great to get my hands dirty again.

I had to bid the spiders a fond farewell. I know, I know, I felt bad too but they were taking over. The other day I tried to have lunch outside and found that I’d been beaten to it by a particularly large spider who was merrily snacking on a wasp that he’d caught in his web that spanned the length and breadth of the patio table. So I ended up sitting on the floor with the earwigs. The final straw came when I found a bee struggling to free itself from a well placed spider trap. They can eat all the flies and wasps they like, but I draw the line at bees. I didn’t kill them. I just pushed a brush through some of their webs.

Watering, sweeping, weeding, deadheading, pruning, harvesting, wonderful. I also started planning all of my winter veg. Turns out I’m too late for the sprouts. Again. Apparently they have to be planted in mid-spring. Who the hell remembers to plant sprouts in spring?

I’m going to start sowing tomorrow and just can’t wait: winter lettuce; cauliflowers; spring onions; cabbage; spinach; garlic; leeks. I could go on. Actually I can’t as I don’t think I have enough room for anything else.

I’m also looking for an inexpensive way of heating the terrace so that we can still “entertain” outside through the winter.

One Christmas our central heating broke, come to think of it, this happened on more than one occasion. Always on Christmas day. Anyway, on this particular occasion, my eldest brother and grandmother formed a bit of a tag team moaning at mum about how cold it was. Perhaps they thought that she had secretly trained as a plumber in order to be prepared for exactly this kind of situation. She hadn’t.

I digress. My wonderful mum has a limited amount of patience; as long as you don't wind up on the wrong end of it it’s great to watch. So, they pushed pushed pushed and then she snapped. Without saying a word she threw down the Christmas pudding, stormed outside and reappeared moments later dragging a bag of logs behind her. Then, right there, in the middle of our pine floored living room, she proceeded to try and set the logs alight. My grandmother and eldest brother meanwhile, rather than leaping up in horror, started cheering and helping to fan the flames.

All of this is a long winded way of saying that for once in my life I will not be taking the DIY route on this one, and I would love suggestions of cost effective, heat efficient, space saving, green solutions of warming our cockles on a cold night out of the terrace. COME ON READERS, HELP ME.

Click here to go to first post
Click here to go to most recent post

Monday, 24 August 2009

Summer Update

I thought that this week I would give you an update on all of the recent ups and downs of garden life…

Where there’s a will there’s a wormery: I’ll be honest with you, it’s not going well. I killed most of the worms on the first evening. Not my fault. Well actually it was entirely my fault but it wasn’t intentional.

I read that worms need darkness so I lined the box with black bags to block out the sunlight… job done. I also read that during the first week of establishing a wormery, the worms will wait until night fall and then try to escape…. So I sealed them in with a bin-bag-lined lid and some bricks… job done. What I neglected to consider is that the worms would need some oxygen. Effectively what I had done is seal the little loves into a plastic box in another plastic box, in a plastic bag, under a plastic lid held down by concrete bricks, just to make really really sure that they couldn’t breathe. Oh dear. The next morning wasn’t a pretty picture… I’ll spare you the gruesome details.

The next dilemma is how much to feed them. The ones that did survive don’t seem to like the tomatoes and bread that I gave them. So, all in all, I’ve been left with a big smelly mess at the end of my garden. I’m not even convinced that there are any worms left. Shame.

Live or Let Die?: Last week I declared a truce on all but the malicious bugs in my garden. This week the spiders are literally trying to take over. You may think this is an exaggeration. It’s not.

I saw it a couple of mornings ago whilst brushing my teeth, propped up against the sink. It was like a scene from a bad 90s horror movie. Stretched across the bathroom door leading to the terrace was the world’s biggest spider, calmly weaving the world’s biggest web. Trapped. It didn’t even flinch when I opened the door. I left it to the boyfriend to decide what to do about it.

I’m not entirely sure why we’re being overrun with spiders now, after all they were never on my hitlist. All I can imagine is that the spiders have taken up where we left off and the increased food supply has made our terrace more attractive than ever. Kind of logical. My entire reality is informed by this kind of homemade logic.

Flowers: Fail. Somehow I am still unable to grow pretty things in the garden. I’ve kind of stopped caring.

Basil: Fail. Somehow I am still unable to grow basil. Yes, yes I know, it’s supposedly the easiest herb to grow. I can’t do it. I still yearn for homemade pesto though so sadly I have not yet stopped caring.

Veggies: Toms still in abundant supply. Beetroots all eaten… delicious. Nearing the end of the onion crop, they did well this year. Mini corns doing well, although this is the first year of growing them so I’m not too sure when they’ll be ready, to be honest, it’s much more fun not knowing.

What else? Ah yes, the first step into fruit growing seems to be going well. The kiwi plant is thriving. I'm still unconvinced by the garden centre man’s insistence that we’ll get fruit this autumn… I’ll keep you posted.

Click here to go to first post
Click here to go to most recent post

Friday, 14 August 2009

Live or Let Die?

I’ve just got back from a long weekend running around Scandinavia with one of my girlfriends. Lots of interesting things happened that weekend. Among the less interesting things was her announcement that she no longer kills insects. She told me this whilst tenderly plucking a blood sucking flying thing from her arm and releasing it back into the wild. When I say less interesting, I mean less interesting for you. There’s no getting around it anymore, I’ve become a fully fledged gardening geek so in fact I find a decision like that fascinating.

For a few weeks now I’ve been studiously ignoring the growing sense of guilt at my brutal approach to any insect that manages to find its way into my garden. I’ve doubtless learnt this behaviour from my mum who positively enjoys the crunch of a snail meeting its doom. She in turn learnt this from her mother who used to throw spiders into jars of bleach. “How cruel!” I hear you cry? And whilst I must agree, “she lived in different times”, I find myself replying, “tougher times when it was difficult to muster sympathy for the Andrex puppy let alone an unwanted spider.”

I digress. I don’t think my guilt comes from the actual killing of bugs and grubs, it’s more that I haven’t taken the time to think about it enough and decide my stance. This has left me in a thoroughly unsatisfactory position. When I choose to ignore a woodlouse scurrying away from me back to the safety of my beetroot pots, I feel a little ball of resentment grow inside of me. By contrast, when I leave them to it, my lettuce end up looking positively polka dotted.

I think it would be a worthy thing to spend the time researching the ecological impact of the insect inhabitants of my terrace and making a valid judgement that way. Unfortunately I am not always a worthy person and I’m hoping that the more ecologically versed among you will comment and let me know what to kill and what to keep.

I think I should qualify here that my ambivalence to insectkind is not wholly unfounded. Some of you may remember that earlier this year my rosemary bush was infested with beetles, though they’re now departed, the rosemary failed to flower this year and has never quite recovered. I have countless similar such stories where my plants have been left battered and bruised by some insect or another.

On the other hand, I do love it when my plants are adorned with butterflies and bees. More than that, gardens depend on a diverse wildlife, and who am I to decide what stays and what goes?

But my rosemary… butterflies… basil… bees… oh the dilemma.

I think I’ve reached a conclusion… I pledge to only kill insects that I’m sure are causing harm to my plants. Oh and mosquitoes. My war on mosquitoes will be waged until my death.

Thanks for listening.

Click here to go to first post
Click here to go to most recent post

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Que Será Será

“Wouldn’t it be funny if you wrote loads of posts for The Guardian and then they discovered that you didn’t actually know how to garden?” my brother giggled, spraying red wine over me in the process. Well, no, no that wouldn’t be funny at all. Besides, that’s my “niche” right? The amateur gardener who has more failures than successes but never gives up hope. I’m the “ordinary person’s” gardener because I make other people look good by comparison. Right?

The next day someone commented on one of my posts and asked for tips on growing tomatoes and peppers in pots. Well what should I do? If I reply then she might think I actually know what I’m talking about. I glanced out of the window and saw my lovely little tomato plants bobbing in the wind, straining slightly under the weight of the hundreds of little red tomatoes decorating their stems. Well I suppose it wouldn’t hurt if I gave her my tips on tomato growing. I mean she did ask for my opinion. Right?

That evening I had a dream that I became a prize winning gardener. Then I had to teach myself how to be rubbish again because that’s my niche.

“Well you could slip the odd Latin name into your posts from time to time. You know, in a casual kind of way?” Mum tentatively suggested. I could see by her face that even she didn’t agree with what she was saying herself.

Does it really matter? Does it matter that I have absolutely no interest in learning the Latin derivative of a daisy and have no idea of the correct way to prune a dahlia? Between you and me, it’s actually worse than that: I don’t even know all of the names of the plants in my garden. The thing is I don’t care. Well I do care a little about the last one, but I don’t about the first two.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great learning new tricks and tips about gardening… the other day I read about hydrangeas changing the colour of their petals depending on the acidity of the soil (seriously amazing!)… it’s just I think gardening should be more accessible and I’m not convinced that speaking in Latin is the way to reach out to the masses.

I know that many more traditional gardeners will read this with horror… at least they would if they were actually to read this. And that’s fine. The thing is, when I started I could barely tell a tulip from a tree, but over the last couple of years or so I’ve learnt and grown (ba da boom), and now I’m actually becoming quite good at this gardening malarkey. Although, would you stop reading if I wasn’t?

Click here to go to first post
Click here to go to most recent post

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Where there's a will there's a wormery

I’m making a homemade wormery. Every part of me knows that this is a terrible idea that’s bound to go horribly wrong, and yet somehow I can’t seem to stop myself.

I was going to buy one but turns out they cost 35 quid for the equipment alone. Let’s not be under any illusions here, the “equipment” is a small plastic bin with a hole in the bottom. Perhaps it would be worth doing a quick flashback at this point for the newer readers… a few months ago I decided it would be a good idea to quit my well paying job - mid recession - and "follow my dreams" of being a writer. And follow my dreams I did. I’m now a campaigner for a leading NGO (begins with Ox, ends with fam) three days a week, and a writer the other 2. However, as dreamy as this arrangement is, it doesn’t allow for spending £35 on something that would cost about one thirty fifth of the price at Poundland.

A quick chat with a gardener friend, followed by a fortunate trip to Morrisons and I’m ready to go, armed with: a hasty sketch of how to build a D.I.Y. wormery; a plastic storage box; two plastic buckets; some soil; a drill; a bamboo cane and 3 bricks. What could possibly go wrong?

The boyfriend and my mum appear to be deeply uncertain about why I’m doing this. Their confusion is unwarranted. Allow me to explain:

1) Our flat is in an area that doesn’t even collect our rubbish let alone our recycling so every week we just have to chuck all of our food scraps in the bin. Apparently worms eat pretty much everything, including human hair. Whilst on the one hand this is genuinely disgusting, it’s also fairly cool.

2) The worms mulch up all of the scraps and produce an incredibly potent, completely organic liquid fertiliser that will be great for the garden.

3) I used to love playing with worms when I was younger so I can’t imagine that much will have changed over the years.

The next step is buying the worms. People keep offering me some from their gardens but the internet is telling me that this won’t work… I’m not entirely clear on the logic but have decided to listen to it anyway. I’ve tried sourcing them locally but can only find pots of dead worms that a hopeful shop clerk continued trying to sell to me even after I’d explained what I needed them for. So the only option left is to order them online which will be a bit of a treat for the postman.

At the moment I’m trying to work out how to use the bamboo cane to position one of the plastic buckets above the other one as apparently worms like to "travel upwards to find their food". This all suddenly seems far more complicated than I had anticipated. I’ll keep you posted…

Click here to go to first post
Click here to go to most recent post