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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.

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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...

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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…

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Monday, 13 July 2009

Allow me to introduce...

I’ve been getting complaints that I’ve been hiding the rabbits from the world, so here we go… Louis and Marley (as in Armstrong and Bob), this one’s for you.

We got the rabbits entirely by mistake one day whilst waiting for the optician to finish preparing the boyfriend’s new glasses. We’d wandered across the road to the pet shop opposite and there they were, little bundles of cuteness, and 30 minutes later, there they were, sitting on my terrace. Now before you reach for your phones to call the RSPCA, yes I am aware that pets aren’t toys. I could attempt to reassure by explaining that I had rabbits when I was younger so know what I’m doing but to be honest that didn’t end so well so perhaps it would be best not to mention. Seriously, I am a responsible pet owner.

The one thing I didn’t anticipate was the impact the rabbits would have on the garden. It genuinely was a battle. On the one hand I’ve worked hard on my garden. I spend a disproportionate amount of my waking hours thinking about it and get upset when my plants and plans fail. So, when two overgrown rodents start gnawing on my pride and joys I think it is understandable that I get a little uptight.

On the other hand, no matter how much you love your garden, you can’t ever love it more than you do a pet. After all, the point of a green space isn’t so much to care for it for its own sake, but rather for your own.


Here are the highs and lows of my readjustment period:

1) High: watching the rabbits jumping for joy across the terrace, noses a-twitching and generally being rabbity.
Low: chasing Marley around the terrace three hours later whilst he jumped for joy and dived behind the bath tub whenever I got a little too close.

2) High: seeing the potato plants growing stronger day by day.
Low: seeing Louis eating his way through the aforementioned potato plants.

3) High / Low: Louis jumping face first off the upper level of the terrace straight into the lettuce and then bouncing off. Responsible pet owner.

4) High: deciding that it was probably about time to have my first home grown beetroot salad of the year.
Low: finding one pot of beetroot surrounded by 20 fungi… these things always seem to creep up on me over night. Finding the other pot of beetroot covered in two month old rabbit poo.

5) High: watching my wonderful rabbits enjoying my garden just as much as I do.

I only wish we’d called them Armstrong and Bob.

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Thursday, 2 July 2009

The grass isn't always greener...

The first “we’re going to lose our deposit” moment came around about the time I installed the bath on the terrace. I was convinced that the weight of the soil would cause the roof to cave in… fingers crossed but so far so good.

The second “we’re going to lose our deposit” moment was a lot less hypothetical and a little more serious. The rabbits outgrew the first hutch we bought them within a matter of minutes… ok it was a fortnight but it felt like minutes to my wallet. Their new hutch is the granddaddy of all hutches. There’s an upstairs where they live, eat and sleep, and a downstairs where they frolic and play. The downstairs goes directly onto the decking. It took me a while to realise what they were doing… as if chewing their hutch up wasn’t enough for them, the cheeky things had started chewing the terrace up as well. A small part of me believes that I’ll be able to cover it up with some wood stain; a large part of me knows that that this is false belief.

The last “we’re going to lose our deposit” moment was four days ago and went along these lines: “Oh f$%k”.

I was knelt on the top level of the terrace gazing fondly at the new tomatoes that are starting to appear and then I saw it. It’s a fairly common sight so it took me a while to take it in.

Saw it, registered it, brain starts to process it, brain trips up, brain reports back that something is a little unusual, saw it. Four blades of grass, boldly standing there on my terrace.

What’s wrong with grass? I’ll tell you what’s wrong with grass shall I? My garden is a roof terrace with WOODEN DECKING, and wooden decking my dear friends is no place for grass.

I pulled one blade up. Got temporarily distracted by the grass seed… it really was amazing. The blade made a satisfying “pop” sound as it came up and still attached to one end was a wonderful, succulent grass seed.

Now I always remember grass seed to be quite seed-y, whereas this, well this was positively pip-y. I pulled the next blade up and the next and the next, and with a “pop” each one told the same story. Lush green stem, approximately 20 centimetres long, each attached to a juicy pip like seed.

How did this happen? Evidently fairly easily. My hunch is that every time I cleaned the first hutch out, a small amount of old bedding (hay) and rabbit droppings (poo) had fallen between the gaps in the decking. Now I’m a little hazy on the science bit but my assumption is that the hay we were using wasn’t thoroughly “cleaned” of its spores, and the dark, damp environment underneath the decking was the perfect condition for the rabbit droppings to decay into manure. Chuck in a bit of warm weather and rain, and lo and behold, four blades of grass appear.

Short of tearing up the terrace I now have no idea how I’m going to clear the rest of the hay out from underneath it. If I’m really unlucky, I may end up with a lawn to rival Wimbledon’s….

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Friday, 19 June 2009

Rooting around

It was around 4.30pm on my last day in my previous job when upon seeing the post arriving, one of my colleagues (or rather ex-colleagues) leapt up shouting “They’re here! They’re here!”. Now the post doesn’t normally provoke such a strong reaction so I looked passed the 4 envelopes now lying in the post tray to the lifts in time to see two portly gentlemen emerging. Nope, not them. Eyes back to my ex-colleague. “My ladybirds are here! My ladybirds have arrived”. Eyes back to the 4 envelopes. Nope, not them. Eyes back to my ex-colleague.

It was them though. Apparently this is the latest craze. Ordering desirable wildlife online to stave off the advances of less desirable wildlife in your own garden. The ex-colleague was having problems with aphids (greenfly to you and me) on her roses, so had ordered a test tube of ladybirds to let loose in her garden and let nature take care of the rest.

One of the joys of having a roof terrace is that you don’t have quite as many problems with the normal garden pests. The slugs and snails can’t be bothered to make the climb, and the flies… well I’m not entirely sure why we don’t get as many flying pests but we don’t. Until now that is. This year, my roses have been plagued with greenfly and my beloved rosemary is full of beetles - I just googled “beetle in rosemary” to try and bring a little detail to my story and turns out that they’re the imaginatively named “rosemary leaf beetle”. Call a spade a spade…

I digress. Whilst living in France my mum kept a vegetable patch that allowed her to be almost self-sufficient. One year, for the first time, she decided to grow potatoes. The entire crop was destroyed by a particularly nasty beetle - "the Colorado beetle" - drawn to the potato plants. It also destroyed all of the other vegetables that were coming to fruit. The old farmer next door had 70 years worth of experience of the hazards that living off your own land will sometimes bring. He quietly told Mum that she would have to burn the land in order to ensure that all of the larvae had been destroyed. His crop had suffered the same fate and he had lost his entire harvest. It was the year after the devastating forest fires and the second year of draught in France. Losing an entire harvest in rural France in the middle of a draught is no laughing matter.

It is perhaps not surprising then that I attributed this year’s increase of bugs and slugs to the three innocuous looking pots of potato plants. “I know we haven’t eaten any of the potatoes yet but I’m never growing potatoes again!” I announced about a fortnight ago whilst desperately spritzing the rosemary with over priced “vegetable friendly” organic pesticide.

About a week ago the potato plants seemed to be on their way out so we decided to dig them up and see how we’d done. Sadly my bright idea of keeping a vegetable diary hadn’t quite happened so I think they’d been in the ground for about 12 weeks. I hesitantly stuck my hand into the soil, felt around, felt something, grabbed it and pulled. It was a potato alright. It was also the size of a large pea. Disheartened I roughly pulled the rest of the plant out of the pot and there they were. Potato after potato after potato sweetly nestled in the soil little nuggets of gold. I can genuinely say that that was my best moment as a vegetable gardener.

One hundred and twenty two potatoes later I realised we’d have to store them somehow. Google to the rescue. One website told me to store them in plastic, another offered strong warnings against plastic and demanded that I store them in paper. The more professional sites go into detail about the ideal temperature that the root cellar should be kept at to keep them fresh. Deeply unhelpful advice for the inexperienced, flat-bound, urban gardener. I cut my losses and put them in old paper envelopes and wrapped them in plastic. Perforated both bag and envelope to allow some air and put them under the plate drawer with all of the pots and pans. So far so fresh.

I’ve never eaten home grown potatoes before. Simply divine. Perfectly creamy, perfectly sized, perfectly peelable, perfectly potatoey.

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Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Evolving creativity

I’d love to be able to say that I’ve watched my garden evolve over the years as I’ve matured as a gardener. Sadly that would be lying. An evolution implies a process of gradual change - what happens in my garden is more akin to the half crazed actions of a teenager lurching from teeny-bop pop princess to goth queen galore and then finally back to human.

What I’m yet to work out is: is my garden an expression of me or am I an expression of my garden? Oh dear, how hideous, I can practically see the pretention oozing out of the keyboard as I type.

Let’s try again shall I? We moved into this flat two years ago, almost to the day. The terrace began its transformation from “outdoor space” to “garden” the very next day. For the first 2 or 3 months everything was about keeping things ordered and clean. Neat rows of plants; matching pots; only white and purple flowers need apply. I’ve always seen myself as being a bit of a chaotic person, so no one was more surprised by this new found sense of order than me.

Then the local cheapy shop ran out of the aforementioned patching pots. Disaster. You may think I’m joking, I’m not. DISASTER. I was crippled. The boyfriend made valiant attempts to find me look-a-likes but none were quite similar enough. And then suddenly, just like that, the blinkers were lifted and I realised it just didn’t matter. The freedom.

The next moment of liberation felt a little like being slapped in the face with a wet fish. It went a little something like this...

Me: “Mum, come round for lunch and see what I’ve done with the garden! It’s looks so lovely!”

Mum: “Hmm, I’ve got to say, it looks a little like an old lady’s front garden on the morning that the WI was coming to tea. The lunch is nice though.”

Out with the pansies, in with the lobelias and wayfaring stragglers.

Then along came the bath tub. That really opened my thinking and made me realise that there needn’t be any rules. I could plant anything, anywhere in whatever I liked. And so I do. Old vases, wicker baskets, even a bright orange champagne case found at the recycling banks. What I’d really like is a toilet, just to complete the bathroom set…

I can’t help but feel that this new found sense of freedom and creativity has spilled over into other aspects of my life. Perhaps that’s not surprising. Having the space to create and nurture a living, functional, beautiful environment really is pretty special isn’t it?

The most recent transformation has come about because the terrace has two new inhabitants who have posed a serious challenge for the time, space and attention previously reserved for the vegetables… we now have two baby rabbits

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Tuesday, 24 February 2009

The writing's on the wall...

I’m back! And have had an eventful couple of weeks resulting in me handing in my notice at work in what can only be described as a moment of whimsy. Given the ‘current climate’ my family are of the opinion that I’ve taken leave of my senses, I on the other hand feel immensely free. Like a spring flower tentatively poking its head above the soil after a long and cold winter. Whatever.

So, in three months’ time I will be unemployed and I’m seriously toying with the idea of committing wholeheartedly to being a freelance writer. The inevitable consequence of this will also mean committing to a life of poverty (at least for the foreseeable future), in which case the garden will begin to play a far more pivotal role in my existence. Self-sufficiency used to be the dream, it may soon be the necessity. That said, you’ll be glad to hear I haven’t neglected the garden quite as woefully as I have neglected this blog. Here’s an update on the latter half of 2008:

1) Acquisitioned an abandoned bath from the builders next door and filled it with two wonderful bushes whose sizes I desperately misjudged when first planting. I would love to tell you what they are but I’m afraid I can’t remember. My mum tells me that one is a Hebe but I remain unconvinced. Sounds odd, looks great.

2) Decided to grow all of the vegetables for Christmas dinner. I unfortunately only decided in October so now five months on I have nine brussels sprout plants and six cauliflowers... all look ostensibly healthy but still no sign of anything edible.

3) When pulling up last year’s bulbs I decided to mix them all together in one bag so I’d be surprised when I replanted them this year. The shoots are up and survived the snow so fingers crossed that it will be a pleasant surprise.

4) Attempted to replant our Christmas tree outside but failed to notice the block of clay smothering its roots. We kept it out there for a good six weeks and took turns convincing ourselves that the needles were supposed to turn brown. Then Mum came to visit bringing a saw with her. I must say, the surprising guilt I felt was not made any easier by having to hack the poor thing into pieces.

Anyway, the potato, parsnip and tomato seeds are all in, the cauliflowers and brussels sprouts will no doubt continue to survive until I run out of pots, and everything is generally starting to look more hopeful as the sky and soil begin to warm up.

I have a good feeling about 2009.

Over and out until next week.

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