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

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

The Garden in Autumn

Autumn Anenome

The weather this month has been changeable and it was cold enough to light the fire this evening, but there are still a few plants growing and flowering in the garden as we edge towards winter.

In the back garden, I’ve pulled up the self-seeded nasturtiums, which had been making a nuisance of themselves in the back border sending vines out in every direction, while Salvia, Calendulas and Asters have been providing some colour in the flower borders.

We lost almost a third of our squashes to slugs, but we still harvested a few for ourselves, though I didn’t realise that they could cross-pollinate and we’ve ended up with some slightly bland hybrids, so next year I’ll grow fewer varieties. Wool pellets have protected the kale and chard from the slugs in the adjacent raised bed.

We’ve been filling up the bird feeder every week and watching our feathered friends has been a whole family activity with our cat Mara chittering away while my husband and I try to identify the different birds that visit our garden, and we all enjoy watching the squirrels’ acrobatics.

It amuses me that we’ve somehow become a couple that listens to Gardeners’ Question Time and watches Gardeners World, and we’ll miss Monty and the gang’s advice over the winter months, but we still have a few jobs left to do before the garden starts to hibernate. 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

Spring bulbs and seedlings

 

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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.

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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

Our Little Kitchen Garden

KitchenGarden1

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 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!

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.