On Your Marks, Get Set, Grow!

Flower Border

July is probably my favourite month in the garden, as it’s when everything seems to burst into action all at once. The flower border is overflowing with annuals as the cornflowers, calendula, poppies and lavatera are all flowering. Every year I tell myself that I’ll broadcast the cornflower seeds sparingly and every year we end up with masses of them.

Meanwhile in the vegetable beds, we’ve harvested some potatoes (Pentland Javelin) and rat-tail radishes, which can be eaten fresh from the plant or fried whole and sprinkled with salt as a side or snack. The sprouts, carrots and winter onions are all still growing, but the kale is ready to harvest and there should be enough to freeze to see us through the winter months.

There is just so much colour and vigour in the garden at this time of year, and it seems to change everyday as one flower dies back and another opens. Have a lovely week! X

May Day Gardening

Tulips

Just tapping out a quick post at the end of another hectic week, but no matter what else is going on in our lives, we always try to find time to spend in the garden. April is usually when we sow the first seeds outside, which means the garden is at an awkward stage in early May when the first intrepid little seedlings start to peek above the soil, but there’s still too much bare earth for my liking – though the tulips are providing a lovely splash of colour.

Back Garden

One of my gardening regrets is that I didn’t take more photos of the garden when we first moved here, though in my defence there wasn’t much to photograph except for four towering, dark fir trees along the back fence, a washing line and a mossy lawn. Since then we’ve cut down the fir trees, built raised beds for vegetables and flowers, planted two little apple trees, clumping bamboo, roses and various perennials.

Seedling shelf

I recently rescued a rickety, old bookcase that has changed hands between various family members more times than I can remember but now resides in our front porch, which has become a makeshift green house to start off some of our tender plants. This year, I’m growing three different varieties of chilli (Banana, Poblano and Cayenne), but only one variety of squash called Honey Bear. My spouse has started off some Sweet Aperitif cherry tomatoes, and I’ve planted a pot of Lollo Rosso lettuce because we had surprise success with it last summer and appreciated being able to snip off a few leaves whenever we wanted to make a fresh salad. Have a lovely week! X

A Garden in Progress

Tulip Ballerina

Winter often seems like the longest season in our part of the world, and it always feels like such a relief to see leaves on the trees again, and tulips and daffodils in full bloom in April. The Easter Bank Holiday coincided with a spell of warm, sunny weather and we’ve spent most of our long weekend in the garden. April is always a busy time of year in the garden, heralding a period of growth and change, but we’ve also enjoyed just sitting out in the sunshine taking it all in and anticipating the growing season ahead.

As much as I enjoy visiting public gardens and flower shows, I often find more inspiration from my fellow garden bloggers and I love seeing real gardens with washing lines, water butts and compost bins, as these are all signs of use and life often missing from landscaped and designed gardens. Our washing line cuts across the garden, and I’m hoping that when our garden is more established it will be less obvious, but in the meantime I’ve create little miniature flowerbeds around the base of the poles. I’ve planted tete-a-tete daffodils that I bought reduced at a local garden center in them, and I’m also hoping to train sweet peas up the trellis.

Fed up battling against the challenging conditions in the border under the hedge, we decided to move part of the L-shaped flowerbed turning it into a T-shape, it’s still in full-sun but plants won’t have to compete with the hedge roots now, and as a bonus we can trim the hedge without all the branches and leaves falling on the bed below.

Our garden will never win any awards, but it’s an eclectic patchwork of our experiments and whimsies, and it brings us an enormous amount of pleasure and fulfillment. Happy Easter and have a lovely week! X

Early Signs of Spring

Early Signs of Spring

The shortest month of the year felt like the longest for us, and it was a relief to turn the page of the calendar and welcome both a new month and a new season. Over the last few days, I’ve enjoyed noticing all the little signs – from the first daffodil about to unfurl in our garden to the light creeping back into our mornings and evenings – that spring is on the way.

The end of February was unseasonably warm across the UK – such a contrast from this time last year when our garden was under a foot of snow, but for the most part we’ve had frosty mornings, sunny afternoons and cooler evenings in our part of the country. It’s been warm enough to resume my lunchtime walks in the park near my office, where I spotted catkins dangling from the trees like party decorations, and in our front garden the little Kilmarnock willow has also started producing furry catkins.

There still isn’t much growing in our garden yet, but we’ve started off a few things inside. In a fit of nostalgia, my spouse and I decided to grow something that reminded of us of our childhoods. My husband often reminisces about growing potatoes with his stepdad on their allotment, and there are now potatoes chitting on one of the windowsills. We’ve also started off some sweat peas, which remind me of happy hours spent playing in my grandparents’ garden. I let my husband pick whichever colours he liked, but insisted he stick to scented varieties.

When life feels overwhelming, there is something incredibly steadying about nature and the familiar cycle of the seasons; again and again, nature somehow finds a way to endure the harshest winters, scorching summers, and everything in between. Have a lovely week. X

End of the Gardening Year

Winter Preparations

Things are steadily winding down in the garden as temperatures drop, the weather worsens and the daylight decreases, and we’re preparing ourselves for another long, dark and cold winter. I always start to feel a bit reflective in December and as there’s not much to do in the garden, it’s a good time to look back on all the changes we’ve made in our front and back gardens this year.

It’s been a year of stark contrasts weather-wise as it snowed all through January and right into March, so we got off to a late start in the garden, then had to contend with scorching sunshine during the summer heatwave. Yet despite the vagaries of the weather, we’ve still accomplished a lot: cutting down three tall, dark fir trees and replacing them with clumping bamboo along the back fence, planting two apple trees, as well as filling our flower borders with hardy perennials and roses. We’ve also had seasonal successes growing lettuce, rat-tailed radish, courgettes, squashes, rhubarb and various soft fruits.

The growing season is almost over, but we still have winter kale in the raised beds, as well as a few stubborn calendula flowering in the border. Improving the heavy clay soil is one of our longer term aims, but we left it too late to sow green manure seeds in the raised beds and instead we’ve covered them with fallen leaves we gathered that will hopefully mulch down over the winter.

As the garden prepares to hibernate, we’re making plans for 2019, planting spring bulbs, collecting seeds, daydreaming about flowers tumbling out of the borders and harvesting organic vegetables. Our garden may be a work in progress – and very hard work at times – but it gives us a real sense of achievement and joy, and we’re very grateful for it. Have a lovely week! X

On the Cusp of Autumn

On the Cusp of Autumn

It’s still warm in the sunshine, but there’s a crisp coolness creeping into the mornings and evenings, and it feels like summer is waning and we are on the cusp of another autumn. The British have a reputation for being obsessed with the weather, but I love living somewhere with such distinct seasons and changeable weather, and noticing all the subtle signs of one season flowing into the next.

In our garden, the kale and chard seeds I sowed have sprouted and we’ve harvested the first squashes. I planted four varieties as an experiment, and so far the Spaghetti and Uchiki Kuri are doing better than the Hunter or Sweet Dumpling, but it’s fun to grow vegetables that aren’t always available in the shops.

We’ve tried to create a bee-friendly garden full of plants that flower at different times to provide food for the bees (and butterflies) all year round but our bumbling visitors have been slowing down lately, and we had to revive one exhausted bee we found on the garden path with a spoon dipped in honey. The surest sign that the temperatures have dropped and autumn has arrived occurred inside our home though when our cat Mara decided to burrow under the duvet for a snuggle to warm up her cold little ears and paws for the first time in a long time.

This week we’ve had the chimney swept and stacked logs in the porch in preparation for the colder weather ahead. During the heatwave this summer it was hard to remember it being cold enough to light the fire, but as the daylight gradually shortens and the weather cools, I’m looking forward to savouring all the beauty and cosiness of autumn inside and out. Have a lovely week! X

Summer Abundance

Summer Abundance

We woke up this morning to the first grey clouds and light rain in our part of the country for several weeks, but this has easily been one of the best summers we’ve had for several years and we’ve been reaping the rewards of all the good weather up to now in our little kitchen garden.

As we’ve only devoted a small part of the garden to growing fruit and vegetables and we have a relatively short growing season here (the last frost is usually in April and the first is in October with fairly unpredictable “summer” weather in between), we’re always trying to make the best use of the space with fairly low-maintenance and reliable crops.

We’ve been enjoying lots of salads with our own lettuce and radishes, and we’ve had steady crops of broad beans, as well as yellow and green courgettes. This year I’ve also been growing Hunter, Uchiki Kuri (also known as Orange Hokkaido), Sweet Dumpling and Spaghetti squashes to find out which grows best in our climate and soil. Meanwhile, my husband has planted his own experimental crop of rat-tail radishes, which have been allowed to bolt so we can harvest the edible seed pods.

Unfortunately, our little acer and ornamental cherry blossom didn’t survive the harsh winter, but after careful consideration we’ve replaced them with two little apple trees, Grenadier for cooking and Fiesta for eating. It may be a few years until we get any apples from either of them, but in the mean time we’ve been baking pies and crumbles made with our own rhubarb, which is thriving in a partially shaded bed with the strawberries.

While we’ve had a fairly successful growing season so far, there have been a few failures as well, the birds devoured the spinach before we could pick any of it, and the cayenne pepper plant has only produced five little chilli peppers. I sometimes think it’s the risk of disappointment and failure that makes growing some of our own fruit and vegetables so rewarding.

This weekend we sowed swiss chard and kale seeds, which will hopefully give us some fresh greens through the autumn and winter months. Have a lovely week! X

A Little Spring in My Step

A Little Spring in My Step

We’re just home from a wonderful holiday in Iceland (which deserves a separate post) feeling thoroughly refreshed and inspired, and enjoying a few days at home before we return to work.

This weekend it was warm enough to sit outside sipping our morning coffee for the first time this year, and it was lovely to notice all the changes that have occurred in the garden while we’ve been away.

Before we left the tulips were still green with only the tips hinting at the colours hidden within, and just a week later the first petals are starting to unfurl. Unfortunately, I’m a bit of a haphazard gardener so I forgot to write down the varieties of bulbs I planted, and the only tulip I can identify with any certainty is ‘red riding hood’ because of its distinctive leaves.

Elsewhere in the garden, the primroses are appearing, and I’ve cut some of the hyacinths that were toppling under their own weight and put them in a vase on the mantelpiece.

Of course, the best part of coming home is being reunited with our cat, Mara, who stays with my dad whenever we go on holiday. As much as we love travelling, Mara is such a big part of our little family and so many of our daily routines revolve around her that we miss her terribly while we’re away. For her part, Mara is very much a family cat who loves nothing more than the three of us being snuggled up on the couch or in bed together. Luckily, Mara is such a sweetheart that she never holds a grudge and is always full of purrs and affection when we return.

It’s good to be home again after a lovely holiday, enjoying the sunshine and preparing for the week ahead with a little spring in my step. Have a lovely week. X

Spring bulbs and seedlings

 

BulbsSeedlings1

Our windowsills have been even more crowded with plant pots than normal as the chili, courgette and squash seedlings jostle our houseplants for space. I never know when to start sowing seeds as it’s not unusual to have frosts in April here, and there’s a risk of seedlings outgrowing their pots before it’s warm enough to plant them outside, but I sowed the courgette and squash seeds on the Spring Equinox. All the green and yellow courgettes have surfaced, but unfortunately only one each of the hunter and uchiki kuri squash seeds germinated.

It’s an awkward time of year in the garden, as we’ve been hard at work but there’s little to show for it yet, except for a few daffodils and hyacinths providing a welcome splash of colour.

In a rare week without snow in February, we hired a tree surgeon to cut down the three fir trees at the back of the garden. Part of me thinks cutting down healthy trees is heinous but having spent an exhausting afternoon digging up their shallow but tough and far-reaching roots, I’m glad to be rid of them, and we’re planning to replace with them with apple and willow trees.

We’ve turned the compost, and moved the compost bins to a location that gets more sunlight as they were in the shade before, it was a messy job but less smelly than expected.

Over the Easter weekend, my husband built a fruit cage to prevent our feathered friends from stealing all our berries. He’s recently added a Japanese wineberry, a blackcurrant and another blueberry to his fruit bush collection. We’ve also planted two more crowns of rhubarb (holstein blood red and champagne) to keep the mystery rhubarb my mum gave us company.

BulbsSeedlings5
Mara surveying our efforts in the garden

When I first started my blog, we didn’t have a garden (though it was something we both dreamed of), and I had no idea how much writing inspiration I would find in our little garden, nor how much I would enjoy reading about other people’s gardens. Our garden is very much a work in progress, constantly evolving, and although it’s been hard work at times, gardening has brought us so much pleasure and a real sense of achievement. Have a lovely weekend. X

Pottering around with houseplants

Pottering1

Winter still hasn’t given way to spring yet in our part of the country, and another snowfall at the weekend prevented us from making a start in the garden, but I’ve been pottering around the house tending my little collection of houseplants instead.

Our house is a long way from becoming one of the lush urban jungles to be found on Instagram, and I’ve killed more plants than I’d like to admit but I’ve gradually collected and nurtured a little selection of succulents, ferns, fittonia and, of course, a seemingly infallible spider-plant. Decorating the plant pots was a rainy day project – though like all my crafts they’re a bit rough around the edges.

As our cat, Mara, is a nibbler, we only have plants that are safe for pets, and the ASPCA provide helpful lists of toxic and non-toxic plants.

I’ve had no luck at all propagating succulents, but I’ve had much more success propagating spiderettes from the spider-plant. I’ve already given one to my dad, another to my best friend, and I’ve just potted up a few more to give to a couple of friends and my husband, who wants one for his desk at work.

Determined not to repeat some of the rookie mistakes we made last year, I’ve started our courgettes and squash plants off inside. I’m also attempting to grow chilli peppers from seed; the cayenne seedlings have already surfaced, and I’m hoping the poblano will sprout soon too.

Meanwhile in the garden…

Pottering6

Have a lovely week! X