Category Archives: Growing

A celebration with an uninvited guest

It’s a whole year since I started my blog. By way of celebration I thought it better to treat myself to some flowers rather than yet another slice of cake. It’s dahlia time again, so I got myself out early to the local farmer’s market where they always have the biggest bunches and wildest colour combinations. The stems dripped on my feet as I hastened home to put them in my favourite big cream jug.

I seem to have become much greedier over the past year. Take a look at this picture and you’ll see what I mean. Not only have I now got an outrageous number of stems stuffed into my vase, I also have a second mini display sharing the same occasional table. I’ve turned poacher and have been sneaking around the abandoned allotment next to my plot, the lure of nasturtiums run riot proving too tempting for me.

Pleased with the blazing colours lighting up the corner of the living room, I took a quick snap. I try to be casual when I arrange things but can’t help a bit of tweaking. I couldn’t figure out why one nasturtium flower was proving so droopy. Turned out it was because it was supporting the wait of an invited guest; a teeny tiny snail. Not my first choice for a house guest so I gently escorted him off the premises but sent him home with a lettuce leaf party bag.

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The prince of raspberries

This little fella kindly shared his raspberry-blowing prowess at our family lunch yesterday. (It wasn’t him, it was the toy lion apparently.) Later the same afternoon my lovely nephew Ben had become an old hand with the real thing. I took him for his first trip to my allotment and tried to explain what would happen in ‘Auntie Jenny’s garden’. Clearly an overgrown patch is no bar to a three-year-old’s imagination but he wasn’t completely on board with the whole idea until I helped him pick a raspberry from the abandoned plot next to mine. The taste of the newly-picked fruit and the promise of more had him disappearing into the canes. Still, he says he’ll bring his spade next time he comes. Good man.

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A very lucky number

Is it weird that I’ve always had feelings about particular numbers? Some just seem friendlier than others. Perhaps it’s associations with family birthdays or old house numbers but I always know when a number feels good. I get a very warm and fuzzy feeling about this number. I could tell you it’s because it has a lucky digital route of 7, but then you’d really begin to worry about me. It would make much more sense to tell you that 124 is the plot number of my new allotment. In this case probably any number would have felt good as you know my sad tales of gardening on the bathroom floor.

On Tuesday this week I visited the local council offices to confirm that this is my little patch of earth. Actually the first that’s ever been mine, unless you count the little bed behind an apple tree when I was about six years old. A stylish little area, home to sunflowers and my design triumph of an upturned section of a drain which served as a raised bed, ideal  for trailing plants. My Dad was always fond of gardening, though a Sunday afternoon often meant the bold approach of cutting a new 1970s-style curvy rose bed in preference to doing anything very earnest like weeding. I was daddy’s little helper. I still can’t smell tomatoes without picturing a hot summer with a greenhouse filled with such a glut that we let our guinea pigs feast on the ripest fruits.

So what can I tell you about plot 124? As you can see, it hasn’t been cultivated for some time and all the rainy days have produced what’s best described as a jungle of weeds. On my first evening of tenancy I was so excited to visit my plot that I ran up to the site straight from work, so my dress and ‘lady’ shoes weren’t quite the right attire. It was so overgrown that I could only stalk the perimeter  of 125m square of chest-high weeds, pondering what might be within. I just stood and looked at it with a silly smile on my face for quite some time.

The next evening I was better prepared. I strode forth purposefully in jeans and wellies and prepared to enter. I had to be quite careful, placing each foot down gingerly to discover what might be under the weeds. After a while I’d stumbled (literally) over a small tool store, a compost container, a bottle of slug pellets and several wild raspberry canes (thankfully thornless). Several other lot holders passed by during my expedition into the unknown, uttering helpful phrases like “you’ve got a bit of a project there”, and “if you find treasure buried in there, it’s mine!”. They’re a great bunch of people. Already I’ve been loaned tools, given heaps of advice and even presented with a bunch of the most beautifully scented sweet peas and honeysuckle.

As a new tenant, I get a helping hand to start me off. The council take an industrial strimmer to the plot. I was lucky enough to get this done last Friday, which meant I could spend all Saturday playing. It took just over four hours to clear two square metres properly – only 123 square metres to go. It’s no coincidence that the first thing I did when I woke up this morning was google ‘rotavator hire’. I had hoped to be heroic and enjoy the process of hand digging the whole plot but I fear the weeds may be back in force before I can achieve anything meaningful.

I don’t really mind how long it takes to sort things out, it’s my little(!) patch of escapist heaven and I shall fall asleep dreaming of sheds and raised beds for many weeks to come.

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The indoor gardener

Bath City Council is silent and there’s been no response to my breathlessly enthusiastic emails. It’s more than two months since they let me know I was top of the allotment waiting list but have still sent no news of progress. So I’ve had to keep my green fingers indoors and satisfy my gardening urge by sorting out my window boxes. (I’ve shamefully neglected them this year as I kept holding out for my own patch of earth.)

Finding some affordable box balls – and a friend willing to help me carry them home – has spurred me on the get the window boxes looking good again.  A Saturday afternoon of potting up old plants and adding the new has done just that. As you know, all this activity takes place on the bathroom floor, which is just as well as it was raining hard yesterday. Reaching through the windows to bring in pots was my only risk of getting wet.

I have four big window ledges to enjoy. Each belongs to a different room, and without a conscious decision, I’ve formed a very different scheme for each. Let me take you on a tour:

The living room boasts The Formal Garden, a scheme of box balls in two different sizes. They stand like a row of soldiers in their zinc containers. Some deep purple salvias have joined in too but it’s still a pretty regimented arrangement. (Sadly the golden days of my topiary hare are long gone, it proved a little windy for him and he had to be retired to my mum’s garden.)

Things get more casual by the time you reach the bedroom window. This is my Cottage Garden. I have a protective outer ‘hedge’ of lavender which shelters an insane number of tiny specimens arranged in no order whatsoever, each earning its place by its ability to fit into a teeny space. There’s even a little garden sculpture tucked in here, a clay head with house leeks for hair. My baby oak tree lives here too.

And then there’s the bathroom, very possibly my favourite. I laughingly refer to it as ‘The Derek Jarman Tribute Garden’, as I’ve gone for a seaside feel with pink thrift and gravel and shells. Well, it makes me smile to have a little piece of Dungeness in the middle of Bath. (And the urban gulls do decorate it for me every so often to keep up the seaside feeling!)

The fourth window ledge belongs to the kitchen, it’s my nursery bed and retirement area for plants that have seen better days and need a rest. I dream of a luscious herb collection for me to lean out and snip with ease as I cook but I fear the lead content would be too high as I live next to a main road. (No picture of this, I’m sure you’ll understand.)

I won’t be appearing in the Yellow Book any time soon and I’m afraid I don’t have space to serve you a cream tea but thank you for coming on my mini garden tour. I’m off to empty the dust and compost out of my  vacuum cleaner – or is that the indoor gardener’s compost heap?

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The nature table

I’ve always been a bit of collector. I like to return home with something to remind me of where I’ve been. It’s rarely anything very special, just something simple but lovely. I hardly dare admit to the glass jar of pebbles which adorns the hearth of my living room fireplace, lest the conservation police come after me. I know I shouldn’t really take pebbles and shells from their habitat but I don’t think I can stop it. I do find myself looking both ways in a rather shifty manner before I pocket a pebble.

You’ll be pleased to know that I draw the line at popping large cuttings into my handbag when visiting a lovely public garden, but if some seeds or a pine cone present themselves on the ground in front of me, I’m afraid they are meant to be mine. I go mad when it’s conker season. On an autumn walk last year my best friend threatened to disown me if I didn’t stop scrabbling around on the ground like an excited child. He also denied me the use of his pockets when I couldn’t hold any more conkers, which I found very unsporting.

And so it was when I visited Portmeirion in North Wales last year. I loved the woodland walks with bright leaves to collect and press and wandering the cliff paths down to the beach to collect a few shells. (I don’t feel like I’m properly established in a holiday cottage unless there are a few shells sat on the edge of the basic and sand around the plughole that doesn’t seem to rinse away.)

Then I stumbled on real treasure. Acorns. I’d never seen so many on the ground, especially acorns that were starting to sprout. Surely it couldn’t be wrong to wrap a few in a tissue and take them home when there were so many would-be oak trees just lying there? I kept them damp for the few days of my stay and lovingly potted them up when I got home. But their initial enthusiastic sprouting didn’t lead to anything more, despite attentive daily inspections while I wait for my portion of porridge to cook. (The potted acorns live in what I think of as my nursery garden on the ledge outside the kitchen window.) I considered this lack of activity a fair punishment for removing them from their native soil.

A week ago, the morning inspection revealed a small miracle. I tiny nub of fresh new green at the end of one acorn. Every day since there have been huge strides and yesterday my tiny little oak tree revealed it’s first identifiable leaves, perfect replicas of the distinctive full-size scalloped shape everyone recognises. (Interesting that trees don’t seem to sprout ‘seed leaves’ the way other plants do, they just skip straight to the real thing.)

I found my oak tree a larger pot and set him to grow next the horse chestnut tree I grew from a conker two years ago, to give him a bit of inspiration. I’m not quite sure what to do when my windowledge forest gets any larger but for now I shall enjoy observing their progress. I also like the thought that oak is a symbol of strength and promise. I shall take it as a sign.

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Top of the list

Do you ever get the feeling you’ve talked that bit too much about something? My passion for getting an allotment has become such an obsession that I really need to limit the number of times I mention it. Witness to my obsession is how my nearest and dearest put up with it. The reading matter above is just part of the precious haul chosen for me as Christmas gifts and for my recent birthday. Even my cards almost all displayed a horticultural theme. My relatives are probably deeply worried what I’ll be like when I actually get an allotment, never mind just dreaming about it as I do now.

I’m one step closer. After several unanswered emails, I decided to pay the ‘green spaces’ department of Bath council a personal call. Face-to-face they were very helpful and let me know I’m now at the very top of the waiting list. (Not bad as I started at 125th two years ago.) Surpressing a very giddy, smiley feeling I managed to stay composed enough to ask how long it might be before I would be offered a plot. One to two months came the reply.

I can feel the growing season slipping away. I know, I’ve studied all the volumes above with their charts and planting plans. I’m staying calm and thinking about shed building and soil quality. So what if my first crop has to be sprouts and not salads? I’ll just have to spend one more spring gardening on the bathroom floor and swooning over Alicia Paulson’s riveting posts about planting up her own little patch of heaven.

Huge thanks to all those who humour me with such patience. To the givers of beautiful books, garden tokens and a particularly handsome stainless steel garden fork, I promise to bring you the cream of my future crops.

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In praise of the daffodil

I’ve always underrated the humble daffodil, pushing it aside for its posh springtime cousin the tulip, or even the positively exotic hyacinth. I was so misguided. There’s nothing so cheery as these bright yellow blooms in the days when spring sunshine is still a novelty. Now I love them and am in awe of how a bunch of supermarket-bought, dull green, elastic-banded stems can open into such flamboyant flowers.

Maybe I just took daffodils for granted as they seemed to grow like wild flowers in the garden of my childhood home. Clearly the previous owner had worked very hard but my trusting childhood view was that they were just natural. We had the most amazing garden. Every child should be so lucky to have the quarter of a acre we had for adventures. Near the house was the formal, grown up stuff like a patio and rose beds but if you kept walking (or galloping if you were on your imaginary pony) things got much more interesting.

There was a very small hill half way down the garden, always covered in a huge number of daffodils in early spring. Brought up with a healthy imagination for buried treasure and smugglers’ caves, this mound was always the subject of much speculation. What could possibly lie beneath? At the very least it might have been an old air raid shelter. Eventually curiosity got the better of my dad and he borrowed a metal detector to find out more. My brother and I looked on, breath held and hearts beating fast. The machine beeped! And then beeped several times more. Out came the spade and an exploratory hole was dug between the daffodils. (This operation must have been carried out my mum wasn’t looking as she had a passion for the daffs and always filled the house with beautiful arrangements). And there it was, a pile of old metal guttering, several down pipes and two disappointed children. I expect my dad was disappointed too but probably relieved that he didn’t have two over-excited children squealing for daddy to make an old shelter into a den for them. The mystery mound must have been a heap of builders’ rubbish that was too much trouble to take away. My family moved away from that house over 25 years ago, so I wonder if the garden is still the same. I hope other children have enjoyed wondering about buried treasure.

This year the daffodils seem more welcome than ever. I’ve bought a few bunches in the last couple of weeks and even enjoyed admiring banks of them in nearby Victoria Park. (How lucky can a girl get, living so close to the Royal Crescent in Bath?) I got carried away with the quantity I bought  yesterday. So much so that I had enough tightly budded booms to set aside for a second vase. Flowers for the bedroom, the ultimate luxury! I may be imagining things but I think they actually make a small popping sound as they unfurl. I heard the unfamiliar sound twice in the night and sure enough two of the buds were starting to open when I woke up this morning. Even if I have imagined it, I love the idea that flowers make a sound with the effort of opening.

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