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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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