Category Archives: Gardening leave

In which there is some gardening

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I have to admit, my enthusiasm for home improvements is pretty low at the moment and still recovering from the epic work we did on the house. But the itch for DIY never completely goes away if there is still stuff to be completed, and boy are there definitely things to be done on the garden.

This is what the garden looked like when we bought the house in September 2013:

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After being neglected for a year, and used as a building site for balcony construction, by this spring it was running a little wild. We cut down the insanely tall and light-blocking leylandii and a hell of a lot of shrubs earlier this year, having a mad chipping and burning session. We then did nothing over the summer and it ended up looking like this.

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In order to create what we wanted, we decided that the best course of action was to start afresh, strip everything back to nothing and have a blank space to work with. Although it doesn’t look like it, there are some great plants in there that are well worth keeping and destroying these would have been a real shame, so we hired a gardener I’d met at the allotment in order to dig them up and pot them. Best decision ever, I have to say. I could have done this, but crucially I didn’t want to, plus this guy has way more knowledge than me and made sure the plants made a happy transition from ground to pot. After four days of his hard work and a session with his rotivator when the ground was clear, this is what we’re left with:

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Unlike the house, there’s no deadline with this so we can take our time over what happens next. We’ve got drawings, we’ve got ideas, all that needs to happen now is for me to get more enthusiastic about actually doing the work!

Oh, and in line with the rest of the country, it’s been a great year for our apple tree. Eight bags picked and still so many on there!

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Reverb 10, day 4 – wonder

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December 4Wonder.

How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?

For me, it has to be gardening.

I’ve written before about my new love affair with all things green, and how surprised I was to join the ranks of people prepared to be outside in all weathers, digging and weeding and watering.

There’s nothing better than planting a tiny, wizened brown seed, only to find in three months’ time that it’s a leafy plant providing food to eat.  I love the fact that if you put a bulb in the earth in Winter, by Spring it will be a mass of beautiful flowers.  I still find it amazing that if you prune back a bush in February, come June it will be flourishing even more than before – it defies logic in so many ways, but it’s true.

My garden is a continual source of wonder, and the more knowledge I accrue and the more time I spend learning plants’ secrets, the more wonderous it will become.

In which my thumbs turn green

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When I was growing up, my parents always had beautiful gardens.  My mother invested a lot of time into making them look lovely, an activity she really enjoyed.  But whilst I could appreciate the flowers and having a well-kept lawn to play on, I didn’t get the appeal myself.  The idea of spending time outside, often in the cold and drizzle, weeding, planting, watering, tidying – I could never understand where the enjoyment in that was.

Fast forward to my first shared house post-university.  Suddenly gardens became important to us, and instead of being just something that we stole things from on drunken nights out, we realised their worth as an extension of the house and a place we wanted to look good.  I remember spending ages making the back garden look half decent for our housemate’s 21st birthday party, although Charlie Dimmock we weren’t; none of us could lift the bags of gravel we bought to cover up the bare earth, so we had to enlist the help of an unwilling boyfriend.

When S and I bought our current house, the garden hadn’t been touched in years and was simply a bare concrete square, with an empty flowerbed in one corner and a rose that was alive despite the previous owner’s best efforts to kill it by allowing the stems to be choked by a metal grille.  All we had to make it look a little better were plants inherited from my parents’ house move.

Our bare garden with all my parents' hand-me-down plants!

As the house was in such bad condition we had to concentrate on that first, but once it had been licked into shape, we were able to turn our efforts to the outdoors and hopefully stop our neighbours from awarding us the Worst Kept Garden trophy for the third year in a row.

I wrote last year about our first efforts with becoming proper gardeners.   As well as caring for the lovely plants and flowers we inherited, I also had a yen to grow things that could be eaten.  My approach was rather haphazard a “suck it and see” mentality, but there were some triumphs along the way.

This year I have tried to be more methodical and do things by the book, although I am still very much a rookie, which is why my squash seedlings died when I moved them outside without first hardening them off.  I also need to be more cunning in the war against slugs and snails and other timorous beasties, and start saving my plants from total massacre by putting coffee grounds or eggshells around the soil.  But the courgettes are flourishing, the rocket and lettuce have yielded us an actual bowl of salad, and the mint I grew from seed is going to be able to provide good juleps very, very soon.

As well as the thrill I get from producing food, I now enjoy the mundane things like weeding the beds, deadheading the flowers, tying up the climber.  Watering the plants in the evening gives me time to look around, see how they’re  doing, make sure they don’t need more sun or shade or fertiliser.

Now, finally, I get it; I understand why my mother spent so much time outdoors, why she would read through gardening books and the gardening section of the Saturday paper, why we visited garden centres so regularly.  Your garden is another room in the house, and if you care about the rooms inside and how they look, the same applies to outside.  I’m not suggesting that we all aim to be Capability Brown or Rachel de Thame.   A garden doesn’t need perfect lawns, flowers that bloom impressively all the time or water features.  All you need is a little effort, some love and a willingness to give things a go.  A clump of rosemary in a pot is enough to turn the most boring outdoor space into one that you want to spend time in.

We're getting there... this was taken last year before the wall was painted white and the plants had taken over the fence

I realised that I am now, inexorably, a gardener when an email  from a friend with the subject line “I have lavender plants for you” popped into my inbox  yesterday and my heart lifted.  The die is cast.  The (gardening) gloves are on.  Bring on the compost.

In which I make people look like lions and tigers and bears, oh my

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Another weekend, another first birthday party.  This one was in the park as the weather has decided to become sunny, and despite liberal applications on factor 15, I still managed to burn the back of my neck.  It sucks being pale.

I had spent the morning at a fundraising event, helping out by face painting, and then when we got to the party, my brush came out again, as the birthday boy’s parents had bought some paints that morning.  I really enjoy it though – the look on a child’s face when you show them in the mirror that they now resemble a lion, or a rabbit, or a green monster with curved fangs (very popular yesterday) is great.  S was impressed, as he’s never seen me in action before, and was very tempted to have a tiger done, although he eventually concluded that he would look a bit foolish once we’d left the confines of the park.

(Whenever I do a tiger all I can think of is Phoenix Nights, and all these children wandering around Chorley with permanently striped faces.  Luckily Snazaroo paints are washable.)

The good weather has also persuaded my reluctant sweetcorn to come and say hello, and the tomatoes on my windowsill also put on a massive growth spurt this weekend.  The courgettes are coming along nicely, with some of the seedlings actually getting to the four leaf stage.  We’re still a long way off eating anything, but we’re getting there.

I made the mistake of getting carried away in Wilkinsons again, and came back with strawberry plants, thinking that at least they have a head start and already have leaves, and a stem, and the potential to bear fruit.  With only three plants, though, I sincerely doubt we’ll be harvesting enough fruit to make anything more than a single bowl of strawberries and cream.

The combination of gardening and amusing small children (and, probably, the glass of cava in the park at 4pm) had us knackered by 7pm, so we spent the evening lounging on the couch watching Thelma and Louise.  Part of my 2009 resolutions is to watch a “classic” film each month, so this is May’s.  I already sort of knew the plotline – mostly from watching the Simpsons’ parody – but I still really enjoyed it.  Any film where the heroines accidentally manage to blow up a massive truck with one well-placed bullet is fine with me.

This week will be spent reminding myself of dance moves for our show on Saturday and Sunday.  Despite the non inclusion of jazz hands, it’s a great routine, and I think – even though we only learnt the ending two weeks ago – we’ll manage to make a good job of it.  We finally managed to get hold of Bunty tights, which are a magical type of hosiery that hold you in and support your legs and manage to make people look like actual dancers.  The only snag is that they’re a complete bugger to put on as they’re so thick, requiring you not to be hot and sweaty at all, which is somewhat difficult when you’re getting changed in a crowded dressing room and are  becoming nervous about your forthcoming stage debut.  I might just keep them on from Thursday to Sunday and save the hassle.

In which I get a bit Alan Titchmarsh

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Last weekend was a Weekend of Gigs –  in twenty four hours I managed to attend three separate live music events.  Considering that I normally average about one per year, this was pretty good going.  All of them were very different too – from a legendary bhangra star to bands just starting out – but the contrast made me enjoy them all the more.

The one thing they did all had in common was that I couldn’t understand most of the words in the songs (although one gig was entirely in Punjabi, which probably accounts for it) – is this a sign that I’m getting old?  Am I now going to start complaining the my legs ache and what I’d really like is a sit down, a nice cup of tea and a look at the television?

This trend is continuing with the interest I’m taking in our garden.  Gardening, let’s face it, tends to be an activity that your parents and grandparents are into, whereas hip young trendy things like S and me should be out sipping Cosmopolitans in bars and staying out til 6am.  Yet I can feel my garden exerting an irresistible pull.  Come and tend me, it’s saying, I’m just as important as installing a free standing bath and painting your front door a vibrant shade of blue! You know you want to come out her and create a veg patch and become one of those annoying, smug people who claim that they never need to buy salad leaves in the supermarket!

Now that the house is finished, S and I do seem to be at a bit of a loose end and so have turned our attentions to what is in essence a concrete blank canvas.  We’re lucky in that we inherited a shed load (boom boom!) of plants in pots when my parents moved from a house to a flat, which have been doing a sterling job of brightening it up in the summer and providing some interest, but there’s a lot more that can be done.

We’ve started by painting the walls white, which makes a huge difference – suddely our little patch in the West Country looks all Mediterranean!  Well, as continental as you’re going to get in Knowle.  I also got a bit carried away in Wilkinson’s garden section and ended up buying rocket, courgette and sweetcorn seeds.  I enthusiastically (yet probably lacking horticultural expertise) planted these in some pots a fortnight ago, and have been eagerly monitoring their progress out of the kitchen window.  I never thought that I would get so into the whole garden thing, but it’s incredibly satisfying to plant seeds and watch them develop – I am really in awe of the fact that you get a shrivelled up little brown thing, you poke into some earth, and then, by some miracle of nature, it sprouts and grows and becomes a thing that you can actually eat!  Basic stuff, I know, Biology 101, but there’s something magical about it when it’s happening in your own back garden.

I am pleased to report that the rocket has sprung up very nicely, with lots of little seedlings all vying for attention.  The courgettes are giving it their best, but the sweetcorn has yet to make an appearance.  Maybe it’s worried about swine flu.