Slow painting

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Getting the garlic in

Just in time too, before the frost and snow came this week. I was even later than usual in ordering garlic this year. Somehow I was trying to avoid my order arriving too early and starting to sprout before I could plant it. Too early turned into too late, and my supplier of preference, the Scottish Really Garlicky Company, had sold out. I did the rounds of the Organic Gardening Catalogue, Suttons, Thompson & Morgan, and finally found some at D T Brown's.

Above, my first foray into elephant garlic. And if you look closely, you can see a little triangular shard of glass just to the left of the bulbs. Where does it all come from?

Below, Tuscany Wight, a softneck grown on the Isle of Wight and said to store well. I hope it stores better than the bulbs I was sent, one of which was soft and rotting. Of course I should have sent it back, but life was far too busy for frills like that, so I popped in the good cloves and will hope for the best.

The Chesnock Wight bulbs below were in much better condition. A hardneck bulb, meant to have a distinctive, strong flavour.

I meant to take a photo of the green manure, but it took all the time I had available to dig over the bed where the garlic was to go. Not much change really - the phacelia and white mustard were growing strongly, the grazing rye most definitely was not, and the alfalfa was being taken over by a vigorous crop of shepherd's purse, which seemed to relish its bed of alfalfa seed.

Soon I expect to feel the first stirrings of winter planning fever, when gardening books and catalogues will suddenly become compulsive reading. It hasn't stirred yet, however. Perhaps it's because of our exceptionally mild autumn. Now that the cold has arrived, I'm relishing it, and want to enjoy the season rather than gloss over it and look ahead to Spring. It feels like a physical lifting of the spirits to have frost and snow. A bit of balance has come back into the world.

Saturday 29 October 2011

Greening up

How can it be nearly two months since I've last posted here? Our visits to the plot have been almost as rare, with just a couple of kitchen waste runs and a strimming session. Life has got in the way with a vengeance, including that novelty for us of weekends away. But I don't like the separation of life and growing/gardening. We're planning a foray to the plot this morning so that rain forecast for the weekend doesn't get in the way. I actually feel nervous about what we'll find. What will have been the outcome of Weeds v. Green Manure?

The shots here were mostly taken at the beginning of October. Above, my unique green manure patchwork. From the top, phacelia, alfalfa, grazing rye. Below, a close-up of the phacelia and alfalfa. The latter was slow to come through and germinated sparsely. It was probably sowed too late. The light in late August/early September is really waning, so another year I would sow in July.

My medieval peasant seed-broadcasting technique wasn't up to much in the case of the rye, below. Or perhaps the pigeons got the best of it. The seeds are large and although I raked them in they still seemed to shout 'eat me!'

Most successful of all has been the strip of white mustard. Was that because of early sowing, or the fact that this small strip has the best soil of the whole plot, a rich, leaf-mouldy loam due to the annual dump of leaves from the nearby sycamore trees?

Or at least that was the state of play at the start of the month. Who knows what awaits us today?

As well as posting an update this side of Christmas, I really hope to get round some other allotment blogs. I have a lot of catching to do.

Monday 19 September 2011

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - September 2011

Not a huge amount of change in my garden since the August Bloom Day. Still, the season is moving on, and Autumn is definitely here. There was a day last week when everything that was growing seemed to shrink back slightly. The light is declining, with sunrise nearly at 7 am, and sunset by 7.30 pm. The equinox approaches.

Above, a marigold droops in the rain. Marigolds are a cottage garden favourite that I can't get enough of in Autumn. The sowing I did this year seemed to take reluctantly, and so the blooms are very sparse and all the more precious as a result. I don't know what happened to germination of my seeds this year, either in the garden or at the allotment. I'm going to read up about biodynamics over the winter, although I can't quite get my head round the preparations such a horn silica.

Below, autumn colours are beginning to appear on my blueberry bush.

Still a few fruits appearing on the woodland strawberries, and strangely the slugs don't seem to have found them.

Below, red clover which I sowed in a border as a mini patch of green manure, but which has also failed to germinate well.

Roses are making a brave second showing, although I doubt if the profusion of buds will all flower unless we get a very balmy spell now.

A bit of confusion here: a Spring-flowering polyanthus has decided to bloom, behind the seed pods of 'Love-in-a-Mist'.

A climbing fuchsia is doing well, but has a long way to go before rivalling the hedges we saw in Skye this summer.

Visit Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day at May Dreams Gardens to see what else is blooming this month.

Monday 5 September 2011

Shades of green

Some things are flourishing this year. The 56 leeks, minus 2 or 3, are looking more leek-like by the week. Grass seems to be our best crop, helped along by a stream of busy weekends and darker evenings. Even the emerging green manure, to the left of the lush central path, can't compete.

Grass apart, however, this has been a mean summer. Of my first sowing of lettuce, chard and beetroot, only a few seedlings emerged. The second sowing made a couple of weeks ago is marked by the faint lines of sawdust in the shot below. There are some healthy weeds, but not much else.

The close-up below reveals what might be some carrots pushing through. 'Grudging' is the best description I can come up with for this season. In my more fanciful moments I imagine that the plot knows that our attention has been elsewhere.

We have to face the fact that we are likely to be just as busy through the next year, and so we've been making plans for an ongoing regime of green manure that will take us through this winter, then next spring and summer. We'll keep smaller areas under cultivation but we won't try to be productive on a scale that we can't maintain. In the end the soil will benefit, and we'll arrive at this point next year with both children away at university and the plot serving as therapy for the empty nest syndrome that we can see looming.

Monday 15 August 2011

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - August 2011

This summer hasn't been the kindest for flowers. Plentiful rain, yes, but grudging sun and even more grudging temperatures. So it was a surprise when I set about taking photos for this month's GBBD to find just how much was in bloom.

Above, my container clematis, Anna-Louise. Below, a nameless fuchsia that I nurtured from a sad, dried out stick of a plant thrust at me by a friend.

Cheerful daisies beside the front door.

This fuchsia did have a name, but of course I've forgotten it. It came as part of an order of 12 mini plug plants from Thompson and Morgan, in a plastic container with letters beside each plant, and a key to the letters in the accompanying instructions. Mail order plants always arrive when I have minimal time to deal with them, so inevitably after the initial potting up and then the potting on and finally the planting out the identity of 'A' or 'F' has long been mislaid.

A sweetly scented sweet pea beside the front door. The packet was a freebie from Gardeners' World, about four years ago, and I took a chance that the seeds would germinate.

My stalwart hydrangea, nameless of course, but I do remember that I got it from Burncoose Nurseries in Cornwall. Quite a transition to make, from the south western tip of Britain to the east coast of Scotland, but it's hung on through the worst of our winter weather.

This year's surprise: a self-seeded hollyhock.

Cheerful violas, somewhat eaten round the edges by our ever-present snails.

For real snail damage, this is what remains of some busy lizzies. They were untouched until a couple of weeks ago, when overnight they were reduced to bare stems.

Below, the crocosmia is still blooming - the latest it's been in flower since I planted it in 2004.

Climbing courgette 'Black Hawk' is doing well in a flower border, producing just enough but not yet at glut stage.

Jasmine 'Clotted Cream' has had its flush of blooms. With the light declining now I doubt there will be a second flush, but it has been a lovely addition to the patio.

Chives are still blooming and appreciated by the bees. In the background is what has turned out to be a total thug - lemon balm. It has taken over a border to the extent that I may take it out in the autumn.

Finally, two more nameless mail order beauties.

More blooms, many of them with names, are at Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day at May Dreams Garden.

Sunday 14 August 2011

Marking time

A summer of marking time and clearing the decks at the allotment. We're having the raised beds debate, and so to give us a blank canvas we've opted not to fill up ground as it's vacated by crops. We're using the opportunity to improve the soil structure by sowing swathes of green manure. Above is the first sowing, of alfalfa. Last weekend I sowed phacelia in the empty area at the top of this large bed, and white mustard in a strip beside the blackcurrants at the other side.

We've also been concentrating energies elsewhere, enjoying the company of our children, one home from university, the other going into her last year at home before university, visitors, holidays, home improvements. Sometimes when I've gone along to the plot I've done half an hour's work and then sat and taken in the way the light falls on the plot and the bliss of being outside in summer. I should feel some Calvinist guilt, but I don't. It's been good to have a pause.

Meantime the fox has been enjoying marching through the alfalfa.

Friday 8 July 2011

24 raspberries or 56 leeks?

Not 24 raspberry canes, but 24 raspberry berries. That was the harvest from our 'one more chance' canes this week, so the decision was made that they'd had their chance and were coming out. There was bushy new growth coming from the base of some of them, but this has been the case from the beginning, and the canes then fail and die as they get taller. Most of them had died off completely. Some heavy digging by my husband was needed to get them out - they were firmly rooted despite their feebleness. Luckily this part of the plot was in shade by that point. It was the hottest weekend of the year, when Scotland was plunged into sudden, startling heat. All over the city people were getting that peculiarly Scottish type of one-sided sunburn, sitting outside bars and pubs. We chose to sweat it out at our green gym.

In place of the raspberries I planted 56 'Mussleburgh' leeks, thinking ahead as I did so to winter and realising how quickly the growing year goes round.

It was an onion family stint at the plot, as I weeded the onions and shallots. This year's crop of shallots has been disappointing - small bulbs and a sparse crop.

The weeds liked their spot between the rows of onions. The thick, strappy onion stems kept catching me unawares and jabbing into my face as I focused on the next weed. I envisaged turning up at Casualty and explaning that I was there because an onion had poked me in the eye.

Sunday 19 June 2011

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - June

Glimpses of blue sky are precious this year. We've had rain and low grey clouds for weeks, it seems. The weather forecast in my sidebar is reasonably upbeat for the next couple of days, tho it's drizzling at the moment rather than the perky mix of sun and fluffy cloud that it's meant to be. Then we take a mid-week dive into rain and cool(er) temperatures, and then just cool temperatures. I have started a regime of Vitamin D tablets for myself and my daughter, to compensate for this summer's lack of sunshine. The male members of the family either don't believe in this nonsense, or are currently lying in the sun in the Canary Islands.

So even if it's a weed, if there's blue sky behind it - it merits a photo. This is our charming garden weed - red valerian. It's entirely self-seeded. My Reader's Digest 'Guide to Creative Gardening' describes it as being easy to grow, and that 'the fierce red flowers of this valerian brighten ancient walls and cliff faces all over the south of England.' I'm gratified that the wall at the back of our garden, which is all that remains of a old railway siding wall (late 19th century/early 20th?), could be classified as ancient. The Reader's Digest goes on to say 'its seedlings shoot up all over the place, though usually not in sufficient numbers to be a nuisance'. Well, it seems to love our cool, damp climate. From its lofty perch it rains down seeds which sprout merrily all over our garden. I would classify it as a lovable nuisance. And here it's got blue sky behind it.

My fragrant Alba rose is blooming, although not in such profusion as past years. The hard winter gave it quite a knock, and it's been slow to pull away in this grudging weather of the past 6 weeks.

The honeysuckle by contrast is rampant. The frosts seem to have killed off the aphids which normally plague it, clustering blackly round the emerging flower spurs and sucking the life out of them. It's busy with bees from early morning until late into the evenings.

I do have a few more blooms - just a few, however. This year I've decided to take stock and think about what will really thrive in our difficult back garden, and to dig wider beds and enrich the soil with green manure. So I'm off to Garden Bloggers Bloom Day for inspiration from around the gardening world.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Gadget time

Will it work? Or is it just another gadget promising the earth (forgive the pun) from a piece of plastic? Eventually, I got my French beans planted out at the weekend. The slight saving grace is that with the delay I missed the tearing winds that have stripped leaves from trees. Still, they haven't been happy beans lately, constrained even in their root-trainer modules. And they're my precious French French beans, brought back from last summer's holiday.

The idea is that molluscs' tiny brains and impressive gmynastic powers will be flummoxed by having to turn that sharp corner underneath the rim. I suspect that big snails might find it too much, but that slugs will just pop up happily in the middle of the ring and munch away, but I'll find out if we manage to get to the plot one evening this week.

And they're expensive pieces of plastic, so of course I have more beans than barriers. These defenceless beans will just have to take their chances. I'm trying to look on it as a controlled experiment, but I feel a pang at having abandoned this lot at the end of the row.

One lot of plants in, another lot earmarked for coming out. We have to face it that the raspberries have had it. Even though new canes came through in the spring and began to put out leaves, they're withering. Fruit that has already formed is just shrivelling up. The canes have been fed, watered, mulched and watered again, but we have to face reality. I don't know if they have a disease, or if they just don't like their location, but I don't have time and energy to embark on a research and treatment programme. I am puzzled, because I come from a family for whom raspberries are an annual surfeit, to be given away to passers-by. My father has a rota of friends whom he invites to pick his berries, and happily receives home baking and jam in return. I thought raspberries just grew, so it's quite a blow to discover that I haven't inherited the family raspberry gene.

Sunday 29 May 2011

Still life or real life

How do you prefer your foxes? As art, or the real thing?

Whoever painted the fox in the picture below has obviously had a real life encounter. I couldn't believe how similar it was to the photo I'd taken a few days earlier at the allotment.

As we arrived at the plot today the fox was trotting up the far side, just a bed's width away. It seemed to be grinning. I felt a bit less well disposed towards it when I discovered a neat little calling card of fox's poo in the grass.