Slow painting

Friday 31 December 2010


Evidence of repair work to come - measurements on a pane of my Dad's greenhouse. It suffered in the heavy snow of last January, and again with December's snowfall. Because my Dad was in hospital for the first 6 months of the year and we were more concerned with him and house maintenance when we visited, the greenhouse has not been top of the priority list. Since coming home Dad has enlisted the help of a friend - a youngster in his 70s who now looks after the garden for Dad. He puts in a 6 hour day of digging, and then goes off to help build another friend's house. We're really grateful for all the work he does to help Dad.

He had just measured the panes and gaps for replacements and delivered the glass when the latest snowfall put a stop to the work. So here we are in the aftermath with an even more weather-worn greenhouse.

We're hoping that the weather doesn't turn to gales before the panes are replaced - with the missing panes there's great potential for the pressure of high winds inside the greenhouse to blow the rest of the panes out.

Wednesday 29 December 2010

The taps

Our last fall of snow in Edinburgh was so light that it was like beaten egg white. Flakes stuck to every possible surface, clinging on to the rough surface of the rubber insulation round these allotment taps. Ribbons of snow hung from twigs, like the original Christmas garlands.

The allotment taps are good value as photo subjects. Back in 2009 they provided an ice garden.

Now there's a thaw everywhere. Stepping outside this morning I could smell the earth, which made me immediately long for spring and sowing seeds and working outside. We are still up on Speyside, so there is a lot of earth around - fields of it just outside the garden. But even in Edinburgh today the scent of the earth will be there. The sky is mild and blue, and it's hard to think that we have what are usually the two worst months of the winter to get through yet.

Tuesday 21 December 2010

Winter solstice

Having finished up at work yesterday I had time for a quick dash to the allotment this afternoon, in between Christmas shopping and preparing for our annual Christmas pilgrimage to Speyside. For the past fortnight I've had a horrible cold-with-a-tinge-of-flu, and keeping plugging away at work has left me drained at weekends and only fit to take to bed so that I'm able to go to work on Monday. So no trips to the allotment at weekends, and on weekdays I leave home in the dark and get home in the dark. But with a fresh fall of snow and hard frost I wanted to see how the broccoli cage was faring.

It was mid afternoon by the time I set out, and I caught the brief glow of the solstice sunset. I was relieved to see that the cage was still standing, but it was suffering from the 'wrong' kind of snow, just as Britain's airports and railways have been suffering in the past weeks.

The snow had a woven effect, a bit like the cellular blankets which we keep in the loft for the very occasional warm summer night when duvets are too much.

All this softness was deceptive. As I knocked the snow off the netting, I dislodged one of the supporting poles, and saw that it was bent by the weight of the snow. At this point I was stuck: the ground was frozen hard, so that even if I managed to pull out the pegs holding the netting in place and get underneath to fix the pole, I wouldn't be able to push them back into the soil. So I jiggled and coaxed the pole back in to the balls at either end, and left it all balancing precariously. I fully expect to come back after New Year and find the whole lot on the ground, with pigeons sitting on top gorging on my baby kale.

The kink in the pole in the photo below shows the effect of all those feather-light snowflakes.

Friday 10 December 2010

Same but different

We took a quick walk round the allotment site on Sunday. Things were disconcertingly the same, but different. The fox's tracks were everywhere, and although paths and borders were hidden, in some places it had stuck to the invisible paths. In others, it had set off across raised beds.

It's been quite a while since we've done a tour of our neighbours. We saw several extremely spick and span plots which have obviously had a change of ownership. I resolved to return once the snow has gone and see exactly what they've done by way of plot improvements - and be shamed into action myself, probably.

One of the impressive features was this picnic table and seats, with the prime view of Calton Hill. A permanent seating area is the height of allotment civilisation. Sometimes I aspire to it, and at other times I think I'd rather keep it natural.

And the sheds had an Alpine chalet look.

It's all melting now. A soft west wind, and the sound of dripping and running water everywhere. City pavements are still treacherous, with a film of water over sheet ice. I'm impatient to see what's happening at the plot, but there's going to have to be some bare pavement showing before I risk the walk there.

Monday 6 December 2010


After seeing the state of Mal's brassica netting at his post here, I was anxious to see how ours had fared. Perhaps we have a different type of snow over here at the other side of the city, but the cage was standing up for itself. The broccoli is pretty much buried, but it wasn't any great height to start with. Another note to self - plant it out earlier next season so that it can grow on faster before autumn sets in.

We enjoyed at allotment sunset at 2.50 p.m.

Sunday 5 December 2010

Snow, with pimples

The strangest thing about our unsually early, heavy snowfall is that the leaves are still falling. We are used to seeing snow on top of leaves, not the other way round. I can't tell you how surprising I find this. At every turn I come across patches of leaves lying on top of the snow. Above, the allotment site this afternoon, with distinction between the roadway and adjacent plot buried under the snow.

At one point on the Water of Leith walkway the leaves under a clump of birch trees by the path light up the snow as if touched by a shaft of summer sun.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Plot in the snow

Since this photo was taken on Sunday it has snowed, and snowed and snowed. Goodness knows what state the brassica cage is in now, even after being tightened up and the snow knocked off.

Perhaps the snow will stop whatever mollusc has been chomping on this broccoli plant.

I'm concerned about the fox in this weather. Last night we parted the living room curtains to look out at the falling snow and saw a fox trotting down the pavement a few yards from us. I don't know if it was 'our' allotment fox, but it certainly looked very thin.

Saturday 27 November 2010

First snowfall 2010

Normally we don't expect snow until after Christmas, but this is apparently Britain's earliest snowfall for 17 years. Blizzards to the north and south of us, but Edinburgh has had a genteel dusting of snow overnight.

This is my for-the-record photo, taken this morning, of the new fence going up in our back garden. It's now finished, but it was too cold for the landscaper to build a section of brick wall - the cement wouldn't harden - so that is left over for warmer days.

I have no scenic shots of Edinburgh to show you. I WAS in town today, taken on a Christmas shopping expedition by my daughter. The castle looked beautiful in the snow, but we were too busy trying to keep our feet on the slippy, icy, untreated pavements to take photos. I imagine we'll be getting less clearing and sanding of pavements from now on as the funding cuts bite.

So all I can offer is this shot of a bus shelter roof and sign, taken from the top deck of the number 11 bus. The snow plastered on the sign shows that the snow came from the east, always our coldest quarter. The huddle of sheds beyond is the back of the Christmas market, which I can reassure you does look more attractive from the front. Beyond that, against the sky, is the outline of the castle.

My mind is less on snow just now tho than what climbers I'm going to train against my new fence. All suggestions for a small garden welcome.

See more of the white stuff at the 2010 First Snowfall Project.

Sunday 21 November 2010

French fungal delights

Mushrooms in profusion yesterday at a Saturday morning street market in Lyon, France. I was there for a conference, and just had a short time to walk through the market. I wish now I'd taken more photos, as the local produce was heaped up in profusion. But my colleague and I were pretending that we were residents, out shopping for ingredients for the gourmet meal we were going to cook later. Snapping away with the camera would have ruined our disguise.

Wednesday 17 November 2010

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day November

A little patch of colour at the allotment site, amid the prevailing dun colours of bare earth and fallen leaves. A strip of woodland borders the road in to the site. The trees are mature ash, sycamore and chestnut for the most part, with a light under-canopy where volunteers maintain little patches of flowers. The rest is left as natural habitat, complete with decaying logs and nettles and all that good stuff. Rather a blurry shot - if I can remember as far back as Sunday, after a hectic start to the week, it was breezy.

By contrast, all I could muster from my own garden yesterday morning was this stalwart fuchsia, which has now decided to bloom after sulking all summer. Normally I bring out my big camera to photograph flowers, but this shot was snatched in the brief moment I had before leaving the house for work. Rubbish exposure - I was in a tearing hurry! Since it's dark by the time I return home it was the best I could do. Note the frosty edging to the leaves.

More blooms are at Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day at May Dreams Gardens.

Sunday 14 November 2010

Essence of November

Since childhood this illustration has been the essence of November for me. It's the weather we woke up to this morning, and it's this dark, dripping chill of November days that would prevent me ever emigrating to year-round sunshine.

Charles Tunnicliffe's illustrations for the Ladybird series 'What to Look For' (in Autumn, Winter, Spring and Summer) are a double delight for me today. They're a link with the turning seasons, from which I feel cut off in the city. They also show British farming as I remember it as a child - open tractors with metal seats, potatoes picked by hand, stooks of oats and barley dotting the fields rather than huge circular bales encased in black polythene.

(illustration copyright Ladybird Books. I requested permission from Ladybird to reproduce the illustration but haven't had a reply.)

Getting the garlic in

I surprised myself by planting garlic within a week of its arrival from The Really Garlicky Company. Normally it lies around in the garage for a few weeks and begins to sprout. The individual cloves were plump, only four to a bulb. We'll see how they do in our soil. On the day I planted them, the soil was pretty heavy. The planting instructions did say that if you had heavy soil you should plant them in a ridge, but I was out of time for ridge construction, so just pushed them straight in.

Next on the agenda is digging in the green manure.

By this time the leaves from the ash tree nearby will all have fallen, and a good number of them will be on the green manure. Perhaps we'll end up with a leaf mould/phacelia cross.

It's raining again today, making this afternoon's planned digging session unlikely. But I think I'll go along with the household green waste, if only for the pleasure of a walk in the chill rain and fallen leaves.

Saturday 6 November 2010

12 photos - October and November 2010

October's photo got lost in the general pace of life. The things I notice looking at it now are the lush, bright green grass, and the hazy blue of the phacelia between the blackcurrent bushes and the raspberries.

By last weekend, in the shot below, all growth is shrinking back. The phacelia has been cut back again, this time with a hand-held sickle. The raspberry canes have been thinned out to 7 canes per plant. Not much sign of growth in the broccoli and kale within the brassica cage. I planted them far too late, so all I'm hoping for is that they make it through the winter and then put on a spurt in the spring.

The one thing that doesn't seem to be shrinking is the central path. These 12 photos will be our best motivator for tackling it. Unlikely to be this weekend, tho. Another golden morning has turned into a wet afternoon. From the living room window I can see the white trunk and yellow leaves of a birch tree glowing against the dark sky. We have the lights on at 3.30, and I'm blissfully happy with one eye on Australia beating Wales at rugby, which my husband and son are watching, the latter home from university for the weekend. The path will wait.

Wednesday 3 November 2010

Golden day

Sunday made up for being the day that British Summer Time ended by putting on a glorious, golden afternoon. It was hard to tear ourselves away from the plot, but we had to get home to work in the garden - a big pruning exercise of the 'Albertine' rambling rose. By the time my husband was cutting up the last stems to fit them into the recycling bin it was dark. How quickly the golden light faded.

Saturday 23 October 2010

Saturday morning in the kitchen

Finally I'm getting round to ordering for next season. On a damp, chill Saturday morning yesterday it was a comforting thing to do, especially with that leisurely weekend mug of tea at hand.

From Suttons, I've ordered onion and shallot sets. Sturon and Hercules in onions, Jermor and Delvad, both French varieties, in shallots. Although I grew overwintering onions last year and they came up well, I ended up harvesting them at the same time as the spring-sown ones. With no advantage in terms of early cropping, at least up here, I didn't want to take up ground over the winter when we plan to make headway on the central path and general structure of the plot.

And I gave in at the last minute and ordered a small bag of second early salad potatoes - Anya. We'll see how they do. I hope they'll be the waxy, nutty-tasting salad potato that they claim to be.

Since my garlic this year was a miserable failure, I've gone for Scottish-bred varieties from The Really Garlicky Company near Nairn. Various people have recommended 'Music' as doing well in Scottish conditions, so we'll give it a go.

If you're noticing the castles and thistles on my mug, it's a commemorative Emma Bridgewater design celebrating 200 years of Johnston's of Elgin woollen mill. I'll post some photos of the mill on Occasional Scotland soon.

Saturday 16 October 2010

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day October

Getting a bit tattered now, but still blooming in the absence of frost, the dwarf hollyhocks that were part of my bargain buy of plug plants at the beginning of the summer. It seems a very long time ago that I was cosseting them in individual pots.

The nameless hydrangea is into its dusky, burgundy phase, before turning copper and russet later in the autumn.

The second flush of roses has been very strong this year, but with very little scent.

And the Jackmanii clematis goes on blooming.

Self-seeded nasturtiums from a couple of years ago are still popping up. I leave them each year because they provide late food for the bees.

A last summery hydrangea flowerhead. All the rest are now the colour of lace dipped in tea.

In this warm October, this is what's blooming in my garden. But change is on the way, with the BBC weather map tonight showing winds straight from the Arctic by the middle of the week.

More October blooms are at Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day.

Friday 8 October 2010


Crisp homegrown apples. Not ours, but a present from our allotment neighbour. Thank you, Robert!

It's a good year for apples, and so far no thefts. Sadly a bumper crop sometimes attracts that dastardly breed, the allotment thief.

Tuesday 28 September 2010

My weeds - glass

There's enough of it in the soil to count as a weed in my book. We've dug enough up over the years to make a patchwork greenhouse. Which is probably where it came from in the first place. Plotholders with long Edinburgh memories say that the site used to be a market garden with greenhouses, pre polytunnel era. I always work in the soil in gloves, because the shards can be invisible until they're embedded in a finger. This is the biggest one to date, tho.

Monday 20 September 2010

Drowning in onions - and comfrey

While the potatoes may be a write-off, we have almost more onions than we can store. A couple of weekends ago I set up an onion processing station in the sunny corner of the plot, shucking off the loosest outside skins and the excess stalk, and dividing the crop into immediate use and storage. I haven't got as far as the shallots yet, which are also plentiful. Thank goodness some things have just got on with it this year while we've been busy elsewhere. Some crops seem to know when they don't have your full attention, but not onions.

Garlic, however, is obviously one of the prima donnas of the allotment world. Or perhaps I didn't plant it deeply enough? Or the French variety I chose didn't like our coldest winter for however many years it was.

The bulbs hardly formed, or rotted away into nothing. It can't be that they didn't have a long enough period of cold weather for bulb formation. Since garlic adapts quickly to local conditions, I'm going to plant a Scottish-bred variety this year, plant 'em deep, and see what happens.

And the green leaves to the left of the onions below?

It's the return of the dreaded comfrey, which I thought we'd got rid of but has suddenly popped up all over the place. This little lot is in its way to the compost, and shortly, just as soon as we have a moment, it's going to be Operation Seek and Destroy. The biggest mistake I've made on the plot was to believe the description of Bocking 14 comfrey in the Organic Gardening Catalogue as 'non-invasive'. Hah! It had designs on my strawberry bed from the start, and has marched straight across the width of a neighbouring bed and now into the grass path. If humanity disappeared tomorrow (I've just finished reading 'The World Without Us', a recent birthday present which satisfied my post-apocalyptic leanings) the Earth wouldn't be taken over by some tree with waxy pods imported to the US from China and currently blotting out native species, but by my comfrey.

Sunday 12 September 2010


is the correct horticultural term, I believe, to describe the state of my potato crop this year. Nearly every tattie dug up is like this. Wormy, rotting, weevily, cracking leathery skins. The yield per plant is small, thankfully, because I have to dispose of this lot. This is the total from three plants:

The variety is Red Duke of York. I also planted Charlotte as a waxy salad potato, which has been nothing of the sort. The potatoes boil into soup before they're fully cooked.

Right now I'm in the huff with potatoes. Last year we planted Pink Fir Apple, which turned out to be a 'never again' variety. Fine if you have the endless time of the gourmet cook to negotiate the bumps and carbuncles when peeling. Not so fine that very many were rotten at one end, but subtly, below the skin, so that when you took hold of a potato it turned to liquid between your fingers.

So I'm giving myself a potato holiday next year. There's no law of allotment life that says you have to grow potatoes. When we took on the plot we decided at once that we would liberate ourselves from what seems to be an allotment law in these parts: thou shalt grow whopping cabbages that no-one is going to want to eat. Now we're going to enjoy potato freedom for a bit.

On a less curmudgeonly note: good luck to Michelle today in the Federation of Edinburgh and District Allotments and Gardens Associations annual produce show.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Phacelia - the flowering

It is beautiful, isn't it? I would love to let it all flower, and have a carpet of starry blue flowers above the grey-green frond-like leaves. But we strimmed it. Or rather, I let my husband do the dirty deed while I turned my back and dug another part of the plot, unable to watch the carnage.

I know, I need to get a grip. It's only green manure. And it may flower again. I asked for only partial carnage, just taking off most of the flowers so that we don't end up with rampant Phacelia, and leaving a few for the bees to be going on with.

A before and after shot of the whole area would have been good, but there are times when you're working so hard that you forget about anything other than the task in hand. That's what I like about having an allotment - total concentration, even to the extent of forgetting to feed the blog habit.