Our Little Kitchen Garden

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I love this time of year when the sun is still warm, there is a slight chill in the air and the leaves are just starting to turn but the evenings are still light enough to tend the garden after work.

Our attempts at growing some of our own fruit and vegetables have been somewhat less successful than our wildflower garden, yet this year was very much an experiment and we have learned some valuable lessons that we’ll be able to apply in the years ahead.

My husband and I are both novice gardeners so we chose what we hoped would be simple vegetables, though we decided against onions, carrots and potatoes as our garden is fairly small. As we weren’t expecting anything to grow, we took a gung-ho approach, planting all our seeds in April and ignoring the advice to start the courgettes and squash off inside.

We were both surprised and delighted by how many seedlings appeared and we’ve had a respectable yield of radish, spinach and broad beans, all of which we plan to grow again next year. Despite not being started inside, three little courgette plants appeared and produced a modest crop, though the squash never surfaced. My dad gave us two little pumpkin plants that we planted in the same bed as the courgettes hoping that they would fertilize each other’s flowers, and two little pumpkins reached the size of tennis balls before the slugs got them. By far the biggest disappointments were the chard, beetroot and peas, none of which got past the seedling stage, and I suspect that overcrowding and a cool, wet summer were to blame.

In the herb bed, the sage and rosemary we bought have done really well, as has the little thyme my green-thumbed friend started off for us. The chives got leek rust but have bounced back after we hacked them back to the soil.

The tayberry, blueberry and strawberries have all done relatively well, and I’ve pegged down a few new runners from the strawberries. We struggled to find a suitable home for the rhubarb my mum gave us before settling for the partially shaded bed with the strawberries.

Over the winter, we’ll plant green compost to replenish the nitrogen and nourish the soil. We’ve started our own compost bin at the bottom of the garden, it makes me feel a little less guilty about the food we waste, but it’ll be a while before the compost breaks down enough to spread over the raised beds. My husband is also planning to build a glass box out of salvaged glass shelves because he wants to try growing tomatoes next year.

Even though our harvest was modest this year and our garden is too small for us to be ever be self-sufficient, it has been so rewarding to grow some of our own food, and we’re both excited to start all over again next year. Have a lovely week!

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Flora and fauna in the garden

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This was the first year that we’ve had a proper garden of our own and we’ve thoroughly enjoyed tending it. My husband and I weren’t really expecting many (or any) of the seeds we sowed to appear and vastly over-seeded all of our beds, next year we will be a bit more sparing with the seeds and also more selective about what we plant. This year, we scattered wildflower mixes and particularly loved the cheerful marigolds, poppies, corncockles, cornflowers and the striking mallow flower that appears to have self-seeded.

In June, we took part in the Great British Bee Count and enjoyed identifying all the different varieties of bee that visit our garden, such as early bumblebees, honeybees, tree bees, banded white-tailed bumblebees and red-tailed black bumblebees, all of which loved our very wild and colourful wildflowers. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen many butterflies, just a few cabbage whites now and again.

Although we suspect our rescue cat, Mara, has always been a house-cat she also loves sitting on the windowsill watching all the wildlife in our garden from the insects flying around the flowers to the sparrows nesting in the hedge, the odd cheeky grey squirrel that visits and the little family of fieldmice we spotted when the wildflowers started to die back. We’ve tried taking Mara out into the garden wearing a harness a couple of times but she seemed quite overwhelmed by all the strange smells and sounds, and seems to prefer the safety and shelter of the house; though that doesn’t stop her becoming territorial when other cats decide to pass through our garden, and it always gives us a fright when our gentle girl starts making angry whale noises at the trespassers.

This weekend, I put on the gardening gloves and spent some time tackling the weeds that have also flourished in the garden over the summer. Although we have a lot of dandelions and other weeds to deal with, my priority is halting the progress of the horsetail invading our garden; I fear we are fighting a losing battle as it grows prolifically in our neighbourhood but if any readers have advice on how to get rid of it or at least keep it under control I’d be very grateful.

Yesterday, we also spent a few hours with my parents in their gardens, admiring dad’s pumpkins – that are the size of footballs now – and helping mum pick white currants, we even spotted a little frog near the marjoram.

Gardening is a rewarding and mindful pastime, and now as summer falls into autumn we’re already making plans for next year, planting the bulbs for spring and making the most of the last of the light evenings in our little garden. Have a lovely week.

A Postcard from Argyll

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Over the last few years as part of our effort to simplify our lives and downsize our possessions, my husband and I have eschewed buying gifts for each other in favour of treating each other to experiences instead. This year for my birthday, my husband whisked me off to the Argyll coast for a little adventure together.

We traveled to the Isle of Seil about 20 miles south of Oban as my husband had booked a wildlife spotting trip by speedboat for us. We were provided with waterproof trousers and jackets, as well as a life-jacket and binoculars by our guides before boarding our vessel. Skimming along the waves in a speedboat turned out to be a thrilling albeit turbulent way to travel, and we were very grateful for our waterproofs by the end!

The tour lasted two hours and took us from Easdale, past the lighthouse on Fladda, before passing round Luing and Scarba.

We saw grey and common seals on Luing and Scarba. I’d only ever seen seals in sea-life centres or aquariums before this so it was lovely to see them wild and in their natural habitat, and they were not at all bothered by our presence. The seals were one of the highlights of the trip for me and I could happily have spent the whole day watching them laze on the rocks and splashing in the water.

The porpoises that sometimes visit the area were too shy to show themselves on the day we visited, but there were wild goats, as well as red and fallow deer grazing on Luing. Our sharp-eyed guides also pointed out a female hen harrier among the trees on Scarba, though she was a bit too far away for me to snap a photo of, but it was still wonderful to see such a rare bird of prey.

The final part of our speedboat journey took us to the Corryvreckan whirlpool which lies between Scarba and the tip of Jura. Local legends state that it was an old witch washing her plaid that created the whirlpool. This part of the experience probably wasn’t much fun for anyone prone to seasickness but it definitely impressed upon me the raw power of the Atlantic Ocean, and the skill of our skipper.

Back on dry land, we stopped to admire the Clachan Bridge, also known as the Bridge over the Atlantic, which connects the Isle of Seil to mainland Scotland. At first glance, it looks like a bridge over a river, but closer inspection reveals seaweed clinging to the rocks at the water’s edge and a narrow section of the Atlantic Ocean flowing between the two banks.

The nearby pub is called the Tigh na Truish Inn (or the House of Trousers) because defiant islanders used the inn to change out of their kilts into trousers before travelling over the bridge to Scotland, where the wearing of kilts and clan tartans had been outlawed following the Jackobite’s defeat at Culloden.

We stopped in Oban for something to eat, and as it’s been several years since we last visited, wandered up to McCaig’s Tower, which offers a view (Scottish weather permitting!) of the harbour below and the islands of Kerrara, Lismore and Mull in the distance.

I often lament that I live in a beautiful country with fascinating landscapes, wildlife and history but have explored so little of it, so it was a lovely birthday adventure and an experience that already stands out in my memory. Have a lovely week.

Sun, Sea and Starfish

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There have been a slightly disappointing number of cool, overcast and rainy days in our part of the country this summer, but there have also been some lovely days with clear blue skies and warm sunshine, and we recently took advantage of one such day to visit our favourite beach.

Croy Shore is not the closest beach to us, but it is lovely in any weather and every season, and always worth travelling the extra distance. Despite the nearby caravan park, the beach is rarely busy and we usually only have to share it with a few dog-walkers, the odd family picnicking and children building castles in the sand.

I have so many happy memories of time spent at this beach, from sharing a flask of hot coffee with my husband on a bracingly cold New Year’s Day walk, to relaxing strolls watching the sun set together in the weeks before our wedding, and picnicking with friends last summer.

We often walk south towards the castle perched on the cliff (that always reminds me of Manderley from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca) but on this visit we decided to walk north towards the rocky outcrops so that my husband could explore the rock pools for starfish, crabs and sea urchins.

Carefully picking our way across the slippery rocks, it was lovely to pause and notice the salty tang in the air, the sound of the waves lapping against the beach, the sunlight sparkling on the water and a clear view of the Isle of Arran across the sea.

I feel very lucky to live in such a beautiful country and there have been many times over the years when the sight of towering, snow-capped mountains, the sound of the wind rustling through the leaves of wise, old trees or waves crashing against the shore have given me a sense of perspective and reminded me how transient most of my worries and stresses are.

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Isle of Arran

It’s been a while since we’ve had a holiday, and though we’re hoping to have a few days away around our anniversary in the autumn, spending a leisurely day together meandering along our favourite beach was so refreshing and restorative. Have a lovely week.

Little Home Comforts

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It was six months ago today that my husband and I received the keys to our house (though we delayed spending our first night here until the 30th of December when we were ready to move our cat Mara across) and with our downstairs renovations finally nearing completion, we are all feeling very settled in our new home.

As much as I have fond memories of the little flat we rented, which was the first home my then boyfriend (now husband) and I shared together, after three and a half years we had outgrown it and were ready to move on. Over the last six months in our little house, it has often been the simplest things – easily overlooked and taken for granted – which I’ve noticed and appreciated the most.

The novelty of being able to park the car outside our house every day instead of circling round our old street searching for a space to squeeze into has not yet worn off. It has been a relief to watch Mara adjust her old routines to the new location without any fuss or distress, and she seems to enjoy having more space to play and explore. The washing line in the garden and the pulley we fitted above the stairs seem like luxuries after so many years of trying to dry clothes on radiators and clothes airers in rented flats. I enjoy drawing the curtains open every morning to check the weather outside and watch the seasons unfolding in our garden. I love the sunlight streaming through the South-West facing windows, bathing our home in warmth and light from dawn until dusk. Our little garden is a constant source of delight, from al fresco breakfasts in our pyjamas at the weekends to weeding and watering our raised beds, making salads with the lettuce, spinach and radishes we’ve grown, and sipping refreshing gin and tonics with friends on warm summer evenings.

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After renting for so many years, we also appreciate being able to make changes to our home without having to ask the landlord for permission, and every change we’ve made – from hanging a key rack by the front door to installing a wood burning stove in the living room – has made our house feel more and more like our own.

The first half of 2017 has been turbulent, but whenever world events or personal struggles and upheavals seem overwhelming, I’ve been grateful to close the front door at the end of the day, to enjoy the simple comforts of our home and immerse myself in the easy intimacy of my little family and all our daily routines together.

Happy summer solstice and have a lovely week.

A Little Gratitude List…

A Little Gratitude List…

1. We were in Fife recently visiting my husband’s cousin and his wife who have just moved there. We spent a little time catching up over mugs of coffee in their home as the four of us don’t get to see each other as often as we used to when they lived round the corner from us, but we always enjoy the time we do spend together and it doesn’t usually take long for my husband and his cousin to bring out the mischief in each other. After a tour of their new house, we all piled into the car and drove to a nearby beach where we spent a happy couple of hours strolling along the shore, chatting and exploring rock pools. I’m grateful for time with family and the chance to explore new places together.

2. On Saturday night, we had a house full of friends for a little Eurovision Song Contest Party. The Eurovision is a lot less kitsch than it used to be, and our guests were a disparate group (some of whom had only met once before at our wedding), but laughter and banter resounded round the room all evening. It was the first party we’ve hosted in our house, but it won’t be the last. I’m grateful for good times like these with good friends.

3. My husband is working away this week, something he tries to avoid as he’s a homebody at heart. We miss each other, but I’m grateful for technology (like Skype) that helps us stay in contact when we’re far apart.

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4. Luckily, I have our cat, Mara, to keep me company while he’s away. It’s almost impossible to feel lonely with Mara around, she brings so much life and noise to our home; from the impatient whine at feeding times that sounds more like “now!” than “meow” to the rumbling vocal cords when she runs up or down stairs, paws padding across wooden floors, a slurping tongue as she grooms herself and too many other distinctive chirrups, squeaks and meows to list separately. Lately, Mara has started sleeping on my pillow with her head pressed against my neck, although her whiskers tickle and she sometimes snores in my ear, she’s too cute to shoo away. As always, I’m grateful for Mara’s companionship and affection.

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5. I’ve been adding a few new recipes to my repertoire and realised that most of the food I associated with Mexico (nachos, chilli con carne and burritos) are actually Tex-Mex, so I borrowed Mexico: The Cookbook by Margarita Carillo Arronte from the local library to learn more about authentic Mexican cuisine. First attempts at making corn tortillas failed but the other recipes I’ve tried have all been tasty and I’m looking forward to adapting some of the meat dishes to vegetarian. Some of the ingredients are tricky to find here in Scotland, but I’m grateful to live in a country where food is plentiful. I’m also grateful for public libraries, they’re a valuable resource in the community.

Have a lovely week.

Pottering in the Garden

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Over the last few weeks the weather in our corner of the world has been warm and sunny, and we’ve been spending lots of happy hours working and relaxing in our little garden.

Since my husband and I moved here five months ago, it has been a pleasant surprise whenever flowers planted by the previous occupants have emerged, like snowdrops in January and most recently a cluster of bluebells, but in many ways the back garden was a blank canvas and we’ve been steadily transforming it into our own.

On a blustery day back in February, my husband and dad built three raised beds for us to grow some of our own herbs and vegetables, and another for flowers. While they prepared the ground and built the frames, I rescued earth-worms and relocated topsoil (which is currently sitting at the bottom of the garden in an unsightly mound, but will hopefully mulch down). We had four tonnes of topsoil delivered in March to fill up the raised beds, and we finally started sowing seeds in April, when the risks of late frosts had reduced in our part of the country. It’s so rewarding to see the first shoots and seedlings already peeking up out of the soil.

(Before and after photos of the garden from above)

Both my parents are avid gardeners and when I was growing up they always encouraged me to help in their garden, and I’m so grateful for their help and advice as we cultivate our own little garden. As a child I planted a bed of strawberries in my parents’ garden, that still produces fruit well over a decade later, and I’ve taken runners from those same strawberries to plant in our garden now.

Our garden is too small for us to ever be self-sufficient but my husband and I have longed for a little kitchen garden for years, and it’s lovely to see our ideas becoming reality. We’re both novice gardeners but we’re eager to learn and excited to see what – if anything – grows this year.

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The previous owners of our house planted an ornamental cherry tree that we’ve relocated, we were worried that the roots might have been damaged when we dug it up but we were relieved when delicate white blossoms started to appear. We’ve finally planted our spindly, little Acer, which was surviving in a half-barrel planter until now, and it seems much happier being able to stretch its roots into the soil. I look forward to watching both of these trees change through the seasons and grow over the years.

We treated ourselves to a companion set, and we’re looking forward to spending lots of time in the garden over the next few months, and on days when it’s too cold or wet to sit outside, we can still enjoy the view of our back garden from our living room window. Have a lovely week.