Slow painting

Thursday 29 January 2009

My weeds - creeping buttercup

An extremely vigorous specimen of creeping buttercup - one of my biggest 'weed headaches'. The Garden Organic website describes it as 'an efficient colonist of areas disturbed by man' and 'it can tolerate both waterlogging and a moderate drought'. Obviously built for survival, it's surviving just fine on our plot. If this were a vegetable I'd grown I'd be delighted with it. As it is, I'm waging war.

I went to the plot on Sunday not intending to dig. My back was giving me trouble - see why here. As I went out of the door my daughter said, 'No digging. Do you hear?'. And of course I meekly agreed. She's a pretty forceful young lady. But when I got to the plot and saw the gains that the buttercup had made around one of my one year old blackcurrant bushes I couldn't help myself. It was painful work. But so satisfying to fork up these long strands of roots.

When I got home I was rumbled immediately. 'You've been digging, haven't you?' I don't know how she knew. I've got off with a warning this time, but I still think it was worth it.

Afterthought: look how GREEN the grass is in this photo - and the frill of creeping buttercup round the base of the compost bin. It's January, but from this you might say April.

Sunday 25 January 2009

Wish list - a greenhouse

With thoughts turning towards the new growing season, a certain amount of wishful thinking creeps in. My wish list isn't huge. More time is an intangible that I struggled to find a photo to fit. A summer without constant rain is outwith my control, but I'm aware that some parts of the world would gladly have our downpours: Arija, for example, in Australia, has just seen her garden die after 6 consecutive years of drought.

Top of my realistic wish list would be a greenhouse. I grew up taking the existence of a greenhouse for granted. Until I was five I lived in a big house in the country, that not only had a greenhouse but also a workshop and woodstore, a wash house with copper kettle for boiling linen in and a ferocious hand-cranked mangle, stables that had become garages, and a hen house. The greenhouse I remember as a tropical world apart, complete with a rampant grape vine. When we moved to a house in a nearby village the greenhouse was a place of warmth in chill spring days, as I watched my father sow seeds into trays of fragrant compost. When my parents moved to a new house just as I left home for university my mother very swiftly bought my father a greenhouse, as he was suffering severe withdrawal from his greenhouse habit.

Now with a pocket handkerchief city front-and-back garden I have little room for a greenhouse without unbalancing things. A greenhouse at the allotment is perhaps a better option, but as will be obvious I don't manage to get along to the plot every day, and greater heat also means greater need for watering. So I'm still working out what to do, but meantime I long for more room for seeds, indoor tomatoes, perhaps peppers and cucumbers which don't tolerate the Scottish climate. And most of all that unique smell of a warm greenhouse on a cold, bright spring day.

The photo is my father's current greenhouse, all whitened with frost last Christmas Day. I think my daughter took this photo - I'm not sure why. Perhaps so that the greenhouse didn't feel left out of the festivities. Perhaps it was the russet glow of the larches on the hillside as the Christmas Day sun rose. Anyway - Happy Christmas, greenhouse.

Tuesday 20 January 2009

Wind power

A glimpse of my father's garden in the North, from our Christmas visit. He'd told us over the phone that a gale one night had brought down a section of the clematis montana on the south facing garden wall. In the busy couple of days between our arrival and Christmas Day we looked out at the mass of fallen clematis from the living room window and planned to clear it up once the festivities were past. The tangle was so huge that we had no inkling that the wall had been affected. When we at last went out to the other side of the wall we were shocked to find this whole section broken clean away.

The clematis was growing over a strong wire netting frame attached to the wall at intervals by iron posts. Over 30 years the clematis had become like a flexible extension to the wall, one with just enough give to exert pressure on it through the iron posts and take out a whole section of concrete blocks.

I say 'was' because after our departure my Dad, never one to do things by halves, has had the whole plant removed. It took the garden contractors 3 lorry loads to clear it. It will be very strange this spring not to see the glorious display of flowers. The best of the display was always unseen by us, as it was on the south facing side which borders a farm track down to the river. This is a popular walk for inhabitants of the village, and people would stand and admire the mass of pink flowers.

Understandably it's not going to be replaced by another strong-growing clematis, and I'm now researching gentler options. I think I'll wait a while to suggest any, however, as the collapse of the wall gave my Dad quite a shock.

Sunday 18 January 2009

Quick foray

Busy busy weekend, so again just time for a quick foray. Ghastly photo quality here, but perhaps just enough to see that the broccoli is recovering from pigeon attack and putting forth new leaves.

The Pink Fir Apple potatoes which we are all spurning are still in the ground, but amazingly resisting the frost. I dug four shaws to give to a work colleague who will appreciate them. In doing so I turned up some slug eggs, which I took a guilty pleasure in squashing. A few less of the little blighters for next summer. The macro setting on my wee camera has decided not to be available, so the detail in this photo is poor. But the general idea of lurking threat is there.

The weeds are still growing, imperceptibly but strongly. Oh for some snow to cover the ground. We may have a mild Gulf Stream-influenced climate, but it's definitely milder than it was, and winter mildness = carpets of weeds. Yet it's not mild enough to start indoor sowing.

Friday 16 January 2009

Allotment sky

This is the first Skywatch post I've done on this blog, tho I've done a few at Occasional Scotland. But the skies at the allotment site have been beautiful lately (last Sunday excepted). It's one of the few places I'm at as a matter of course in the city where buildings aren't the main backdrop. However historic Edinburgh's buildings may be, it's refreshing to have a more natural horizon. Another reason to love coming along to the site.

Other Skywatch posts for this week can be found here.

Sunday 11 January 2009

Destroy if found

Apologies - photo quality in today's post is even hazier than usual. I had to brace myself against the gale to take these shots. However much I tried I couldn't get this first shot centred. But after reading Rafael's post about earthworms at Un jardin potager en Languedoc, this notice in the glass case at the entrance to the site struck me afresh today. It was such a dismal, dark day that I felt sure I would encounter the dreaded flatworm, and even worse, have to deal with it. However, no worms at all, not even benign ones. Have they all gone deeper into the soil with the recent cold weather, or is our plot sadly lacking in nutrients?

Despite the weather, I dug. We have so much to get weed-free before sowing and planting start in the spring that I thought even a little ground cleared would be better than nothing. The part I was digging is nearest to the sycamore trees just over the access road, and the soil was full of the keys.

I know I should have picked them out, one by one, but I didn't have the energy. The rain was coming down more and more heavily, until I had to admit that it was too wet to dig. By that time everything I touched was covered in glaur (pronounced 'glor': sticky, semi-liquid mud, a feature of Scottish farmyards). Still, it was a small gain, and my feeling of virtue was increased by the fact that I was the only person mad enough to be out allotmenteering in that weather.

Sunday 4 January 2009

Plumbing problems

Today's visit to the plot, the first of the New Year, was really just to check things over and to take along the kitchen waste for the compost bin. The site was deserted, and the sound of a running tap carried so clearly and persistently that I had to investigate. The water to the site is turned off in the winter months (danger of burst pipes/plenty of wet falling from the sky anyway), but this standpipe tap was gushing away and making a swamp of the nearby plot. I couldn't budge it to turn it off, so the man with the strimmer graciously left his kitchen re-tiling work at home and came along with a spanner (tho I'm told that the correct technical term is a 'mole wrench'). He managed to reduce the flow to a faint trickle, which will have to do until the Allotments Division of the city council opens tomorrow and can send someone round.

Otherwise the ground was too frosty to dig, but I could see what the books mean when they talk about the earth being made 'friable' by frost. We stood and looked at the encroaching weeds and made lots of resolutions about spring digging.

Happy New Year

Outside it's grey and wet - a change from the sparkling hoar frost we enjoyed up North over Christmas and New Year (and which I'll be showing over at Occasional Scotland in the next while) - so my New Year wishes come with the cheerfulness of one of my Christmas cacti. This plant is one of several descendants of 'Great Aunt Betty', a plant given to us on our wedding by the eponymous aunt. Twenty-four years later, cuttings from the original plant are now flowering. I love love LOVE Christmas cacti. They lift my heart in the gloomy days of January.