Tag Archives: gardening

Mr Mac has a new toy!

My attention was caught recently by a magazine flyer advertising a lightweight garden tiller. If the marketing was to be believed, this piece of equipment would revolutionise gardening life. It would do everything except bring you a chilled glass of wine while you lay in a hammock watching it do all the work.

I waved it under Mr Mac’s nose and after some humming and hawing and Google research he decided that it might not be such a bad idea given the state of our soil, the number of vegetable beds and borders (soon to be increased) and the amount of landscaping in this year’s garden plan.

But for Mr Mac it was to be none of this namby pamby lightweight nonsense. Oh no! Off he went to the agricultural machinery shop (I’m sure there is another name for it!) and on Friday last week, our garden saviour was delivered.

Life changing!

Life changing!

So despite the single figure, coldest Easter weekend on record temperatures, we set about seeing just how life changing this piece of kit was going to be. First of all the empty veg bed……

This is the veg bed before.

This is the veg bed before.

An action shot!

An action shot!

The result after 25 minutes!

The result after 25 minutes!

Impressive I think you’ll agree. Mr Mac was now a man on a mission to rotivate anything that did not move but as there was not anything else ready, he decided to try it on the compost.

Now I am ashamed to admit that our compost bins have been badly neglected since last summer and all three bays were full and needing turned. Mr Mac attacked them with the tiller, churned it all up and I (because Mr Mac had put his back out by this point) turned it all to be left with one bay of finest useable compost, one bay “in progress” and one empty. All in all this took us a couple of hours but mainly due to the fact that (a) there was so much and (b) I’m a girl!

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Now while this was also very successful, Mr Mac has decided that to make the compost break down even faster (and hence transform our lives beyond recognition!) he really needs to get a shredder.

Boys and their toys!

And we’re off……

For some reason this year I have been putting off getting started with anything, mainly due to the weather but partly because I know once it starts it is going to be non-stop until next winter! However, I had a word with myself and took a big deep breath……

Last Sunday I planted some flower seeds and sat them on a tray in the dining room covered with a plastic cloche (for paw protection!). Within 2 days the Malva seeds have germinated, closely followed by the Cosmos Purity.

Cosmos Purity seeds

Out in the greenhouse, the lettuce leaf seeds I planted two weeks ago have now germinated but no sign of the peas yet. The garlic is now ready to be planted outside but it will probably be a few weeks before we will be able to do that as the ground is still covered in snow and will be too hard to plant.

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Today we finally planted the First Early potatoes. We bought them weeks ago and they have been lying in the garage in the dark, not on a sunny windowsill to chit! However, no harm done and plenty of growth on each seed potato.

We decided to go for the same variety as last year called “Foremost”. Last year we grew them in tubs inside the greenhouse and the yield was superb. They were perfect for salads and we were eating them between June and August. Due to the main crop potatoes suffering from blight last year, these were the only potatoes we had!

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We have planted some in tubs again but also put some in compost bags. Enough soil to bury the seed potatoes and then just wait for them start growing and keep covering them with soil.

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A few weeks ago our garden got trashed by sheep that escaped from the field next door. They took a fancy to my winter flowering pansies and ate the lot. I had grown them from seed since June 2012 so I was devastated. It also left me with lots of empty pots, too late to plant spring bulbs and too early for summer bedding.

However, a trip to the garden centre to see what I could replace them with led me to the bargain of the year so far. In a quiet little corner where the bargain bucket is we found trays of primulas reduced to 75p for six. So we bought all of them.

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Then we saw a pile of terracotta pots, originally £15 but reduced, then reduced again to only £2.99! So we bought nine of them!

So after a little bit of dead-heading we now have three little pots of sunshine on our doorstep. Bah humbug and mint sauce!

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Jobs for March

The more alert among you may have noticed that we are approximately two-thirds of the way through March. However, I have two excuses. The first is that the Central belt of Scotland is at least a fortnight behind the south of England when it comes to all matters of the garden variety and the second is…..IT IS STILL SNOWING!!!!!!

The snowdrops have now “dropped” and the daffodils, tulips, crocus and hellebores are thinking WTF? I did manage to tidy my brassicas and start planting some seeds  but other than wandering aimlessly around the garden, wrapped up like the Michelin man and leaning at a jaunty angle into the wind….not much has been happening.

So here is what should be happening this month…

  • Spread compost thinly over soil as a mulch to give it a kick start. We actually managed to do this, the reason being Mr Mac needed to turn the compost and we had to get rid of the stuff that was ready to use. Needless to say, Mr Mac still has not turned the rest!
  • Sow fast salad leaves. I have also managed to do this in a pot in the greenhouse, although the seeds took 10 days to germinate rather than the two or three days in the summer.
  • Deadhead pansies and primroses. I have a 100% failure rate on this. The pesky sheep that got into the garden ate all the pansies and the primroses I bought as plugs last summer have yet to flower!
  • Start to sow hardy annuals outdoors.…no chance.
  • Move summer flowering shrubs that are in the wrong place and lift and divide border perennials. We would but we can’t find them yet!
  • Start warming the soil for vegetables by covering with a cloche or polythene.
  • Start chitting seed potatoes. Almost. We have been to the garden centre and bought seed potatoes but they are still in the garage.
  • Rake up leaves, spike the lawn, clean troughs and containers, clean greenhouse glass to maximise sunlight, sharpen tools, stock up on compost and tidy, tidy, tidy and weed, weed, weed.
  • Plant onions, shallots, summer cauliflowers and jerusalem artichokes and sow parsnips.
  • Force rhubarb and prune gooseberries and blueberries.

Last year for the first time I planted purple sprouting brocolli and I believe it should be ready about now. However, while they have started to grow, they are still only about 15-20cm high. I am not sure what to expect so if anyone can enlighten me it would be greatly appreciated.

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My leeks are doing well. They have taken a growth spurt in the last few weeks and should be on their way to the soup pot very soon!

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Today happens to be the Spring Equinox, the day when day and night are equal and from here on we will be bathed in sunlight. I can’t help but be an optimist and sense that all this late snow means we are in for a long, hot summer…..bring it on!

 

Ficus carica…..or figs to you and me!

When we built the conservatory greenhouse, Mr Mac wanted to plant some form of permanent fruit tree inside it that would be able to grow up the wall. He wanted something unusual that would not grow outside but would thrive in the Mediterranean type climate created inside. For a year now we have hummed and hawed about what would be best, the three main contenders being grapes, peaches and figs.

We ruled out peaches because our next door neighbour has a peach tree in his greenhouse and we can always snaffle some of his peaches when he is out playing golf or on a golfing holiday (John likes golf…..can you tell?). So it was down to grapes and figs and another winter of procrastination. Mr Mac and I are not quick at making decisions.

However, when we were on holiday in Italy last year we discovered just how fantastic fresh figs picked from a tree could be and so the decision was made….a fig tree would be purchased.

A few weeks ago I started to do some research. It appears that there are two types of fig which will do well in the UK climate. The one we decided to purchase was Brown Turkey, being heralded as the most reliable fig for the UK climate which produces a heavy crop of purple-brown fruits from late August to mid-September…perfect!

Thinking we would have to order it online can you imagine our delight when a chance remark at the garden centre led us to being shown two specimens of Brown Turkey and a deal was done. We chose the more established plant which was also fan trained, exactly what we needed for training it up the wall and it had two shrivelled up figs….proof that it had a track record of producing fruit.

Fig treet Fig tree

Planting it was easy, we just watered it well, dug a hole to accommodate it, added some compost and fertiliser and popped it in. So far so good.

Fig tree Fig tree Fig tree

Mr Mac has also done his sums and on the basis that Sainsbury’s sell figs at £1.99 for three, he has calculated that once we have had 60 figs from our tree it will have paid for itself!

Hopefully it should not require much maintenance, simply a spring feed, mulch and regular watering throughout the growing season. I read a lot about needing to restrict root growth to make sure it fruits well rather than growing large and leafy. It is recommended to plant it in a container or line the planting hole with bricks, rubble or concrete slabs. The alternative is to train it it on a wall and prune it to fit the required space….this is our plan so fingers crossed!

The helpful lady at the garden centre also suggested that in order to help the fruits ripen, put a heater in the greenhouse. Watch this space.

 

 

 

Happy new gardening year!

Happy new year everyone. I’m looking forward to another year of gardening, implementing lessons learned last year and starting with a nice blank canvas….at least that is what it looks like at the moment!

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Believe it or not it was so mild and dry yesterday that I found myself in the garden tidying up the brassicas, chopping down the verbena that was still flowering well into December and emptying dead plants into the compost bins. Not what I would have expected to be doing in the first weekend in January!

So what are we supposed to be doing in January?

  • Start drawing up plans for the coming year, crop rotation and what is going to go where, order seeds and plants.
  • Tidy, tidy, tidy…cut back perennials, clear away plant debris, continue weeding, sort out the shed / greenhouse, clean pots and labels, check and maintain tools and garden furniture
  • Clay soils can be dug over and left. Apparently the frost helps to break up the soil so when it is time to plant, the soil should just need raked over. Light, sandy soils should be left to the spring.
  • Add compost and well-rotted manure to the vegetable beds.
  • Established apple and pear trees should be pruned. Young trees and trees that are cropping well should be left alone. Gooseberry and currant bushes should also be pruned if they have not already been.
  • Check cages, stakes, nets and ties and replace where necessary.
  • Harvest any crops such as parsnips, brassicas and leeks.
  • Warm up seedbeds by covering them with cardboard, carpet or polythene.
  • Vegetable seeds that can be sown indoors include broad beans, early summer cauliflower, leeks, onions, peas, radish, salad leaves and spinach.
  • Plant new sets or divide and re-plant old crowns of rhubarb. It likes the cold but not to be waterlogged.

So what am I going to do? Put the kettle on…….now where did I put that seed catalogue?

 

The highs, lows and lessons learned in 2012

Well what a year it has been. Officially the wettest ever in the UK! However, even though I am relatively new to this gardening lark I have a sneaky feeling that it would not matter what the year brought, gardeners are a fickle breed and there will always be something to complain about…..too dry, too wet, wrong kind of sunshine etc etc.

As regards my own experience, this is how I would sum it up…..

The low points

  • Most recent has to be Christmas dinner. Brussel sprout seeds were planted on 24 February and the plants produced barely enough for me, Mr Mac and little sis for our Christmas dinner. As for the parsnips, the seeds never even germinated due to the rain.
  • The crazy weather in the spring resulted in me losing all my tomato plants and set me back 7 weeks.
  • Okra was something new I decided to try this year, along with aubergines. It was too cold for the okra and although the aubergine plants did eventually produce two fruits, it was not until October and the cold killed them before they had the chance to mature.
  • Other than the Earlies grown in tubs in the greenhouse, the potatoes were a total disaster – if the slugs did not get them, the blight did!
  • The early frost got the blossom and so there were virtually no plums, pears or apples. Only one apple crumble has been made and NO cider at all!
  • Losing all the tulips in one night. This was particularly upsetting as we had planted up loads of pots and protected them all winter. Then one night, just as they were all about to flower, something came along and ate them. The jury is still out on whether it was the deer, pigeons, pheasants or squirrels.
  • Slugs – they just ate everything.
  • I am going to be predictable here….the weather! It was just pants.

The high points

  • Some of the flowers were exceptional this year, especially the acquilegia, echinacea, alliums, lillies and sunflowers.
  • Growing things in pots – early peas, carrots, butternut squash, spring onions and sunflowers.
  • The start of the hard landscaping at the bottom of the garden and the beautiful new paths Mr Mac started to build.
  • The greenhouse made from a conservatory rescued from a skip in Edinburgh.
  • Mr Mac’s portable fruit cage (although the netting needs some fine tuning!).
  • Having tried for 3 years, finally getting a bumper crop of chillies.
  • It was a brilliant year for soft fruits which obviously loved the rain.
  • Free seeds courtesy of Amateur Gardening magazine. I grew things I would not have thought of growing before…so thank you AG!
  • Starting my Blog….and thank you for reading and keeping me company!

Ten Lessons learned

  1. Label, label, label! Even though when you plant something in the ground it is obvious where it is (and what it is) YOU WON’T REMEMBER! Stick a label in the ground.
  2. Don’t be in a hurry to get all seeds sown as early as you can. Seeds sown later will catch up and there is less risk of losing them to frost.
  3. Keep a note of what is annual, perennial, bi-annual etc. To my cost I discovered I had pulled out a whole load of plants I thought were annuals when they finished flowering and it turns out they were perennials…oops!
  4. A lesson learned from 2011 was to put lots of drainage in the bottom of tomatoes. I filled my specially made troughs with lots of stones but now we can’t move the troughs to get rid of the spent soil as they are too heavy. All the soil will have to be scooped out by hand!
  5. Take out subscriptions to gardening magazines. Look out for deals like 5 issues for £5 (to see you over the summer) or my best find was half price Amateur Gardening magazine with free seeds every week from March to September.
  6. Bubble wrap is excellent to stop pots cracking from frost.
  7. Use Freecycle to get rid of plants or gardening items you no longer want or to acquire things you need.
  8. There is no point being a control freak and fighting mother nature…you will only lose!
  9. Don’t be lazy. If it is dry and you have weeds to hoe or plants to get in the ground DO IT NOW. You don’t know when you will get another chance.
  10. Plant little and often. I am constantly tormented by the thought that nothing will germinate and then it will be too late to start again. I end up with gluts of everything that have to be used within a short period of time. There are only so many vegetables you can force upon your neighbours!

For 2013 I am creating a sister blog….ayearinmygarden2013…where I plan to photograph the garden transforming over the year. I’ll still be here though and hope you will join me for another gardening year.

For now though I would like to wish you all a very happy, dry, sunny new year!

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il giardinaggio per gli avvocati italiani (or gardening for Italian lawyers – I think!)

After our disastrous summer, Mr Mac and I took ourselves off to Italy last month to catch some late summer sun……and we were not disappointed. This was our third trip to Italy, our second to Ravello and my first as a gardener.

 
From previous holidays my lasting memory was tomatoes. Big fat ripe juicy sweet tasty tomatoes everywhere. When I think about it, that is probably why tomatoes are my most precious crop. But our wishy washy Scottish summers cannot compete with the sunshine and heat of Naples and the intensity and sweetness of flavour they bring. A simple insalata pomodoro can make you smile all day!

This time, having spent all year scrutinising my own garden, I was immediately draw to all things green and vegetative. What struck me the most was how every square inch of ground is given up to growing fruit and vegetables.

 

These vegetables were being grown in the ground at a hairpin bend in the road!

 

 

Ravello sits 375 metres above sea level. Check the view from town down to the sea. Almost vertical but look at all the terraces filled with produce.

Even the hotels were getting in on the act and making a big deal about growing their own fruit and veg. This is the garden for the Hotel Villa Maria.

This did backfire on us though. On our first day we were treated to a delicious antipasti of figs with parma ham. Every day after that when we asked for figs we were told, “figgies finish”. The hotel’s fig tree was empty. However, on our last evening our waiter gave a conspiratorial wink when we gave our order, he disappeared for ten minutes and then returned with a plate full of juicy ripe figs. He nicked them from a neighbour’s garden!

As so much ground is given over to growing fruit and vegetables there are not many flowers in gardens. Other than Villa Rufulo and Villa Cimbrone where there are cultivated beds of roses and dahlias, most of the flowers we saw were wild. A perfect example can be seen in this bush growing wild.

And remember my blue wall project I tried this year? A trellis full of blue sweet peas and morning glory…well these morning glory climbers at the side of a road were slightly more successful than mine!

One feature of almost every garden was these trumpet flowers in yellow and peach….absolutely stunning.

Cyclamen were also growing in abundance under every tree. A far cry from the potted up versions currently being sold in our supermarkets and garden centres.

Finally, it would appear to be law that to be eligible to collect olives you must have a minimum age of 80! It was scary how many old couples with a combined age of 160 we saw climbing trees.

Arrivaderci!

Finally, the 2012 inaugural tomato eating ceremony!

On the evening of Thursday 16th August 2012, Mr Mac and I were finally able to  pick our first tomato of 2012. It was one of the sungold variety and despite the appalling growing conditions it had, it did not disappoint.

It has become tradition that we share the first tomato each year. So the tomato was picked from the vine, taken to the kitchen, washed, sliced in half and sprinkled with a little salt. This year we contemplated some black pepper (I know – we are just crazy) but quickly changed our minds.

On the count of three we both ate our little half tomato. It was so sweet and delicious it probably did not even need salt.

Sungold really are the sweetest tomatoes I have ever come across and I have a challenge with fellow blogger  Carrot Tops that they are sweeter than his favourites, gardeners delight.

Unfortunately, I had to wait another 4 days before any more were ripe enough to eat and finally, in the middle of August, I was able to go down to the greenhouse and pick my first salad!

My blue wall seems to be orange and purple!

My little sister emailed me yesterday and pointed out I had not posted anything for a while. I realise this is true but there is a reason. Every time I sat down to write something all I could think about was the awful weather, nothing is growing and how the garden is being eaten alive by slugs.

I am one of life’s positive people – irritatingly so sometimes. My glass is always half full etc etc etc but when midsummer night came and we were sitting in the dark with the fire on – normally we would be sitting outside until after 11pm – even I found it too hard to think of something positive.

Since then, the temperature has risen to a level that is still below average for this time of year but slightly warmer than the record breaking coldest June on record levels experienced recently. And there has been the odd sunny spell. It is still very wet, that combination of heat and damp that conspires against straight, shiny hair (ladies, you’ll know what I mean), but that is why scrunchies were invented.

So last night when I got home I wandered round the garden looking for something positive to tell you all and, despite recent adverse conditions, there is some good news.

My experiment growing early carrots and peas inside the greenhouse has paid off and I now have lots of the sweetest petit pois and Autumn King and Purple Haze carrots to eat. The spinach and pak choi are also ready for eating.

The tomatoes, lettuce, rocket, basil, coriander, peppers and chillies are all making progress, the aubergines are in the bed in the greenhouse and I have flowers on my melons (ok how many of you are hearing Kenneth Williams saying “ooh matron!”).

Outside, the brassicas are happy and there is beetroot, fennel, beans, peas and mangetout. The strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries and blackcurrants should be ready for picking soon and the potato bags have already been filled up to cover the shaws.

On the flower front, I have still not finished planting all my seedlings, but most of what I have planted has been eaten by slugs.  I have turned my focus to the winter flowering pansies and perennial flowers for next year which are all germinating nicely inside.

Finally, my biggest surprise came when the flowers on my blue wall started to come out. I dedicated a trellis and the border in front of it to be only blue flowers to see if I could create a wall of blue flowers. For the climbers I picked blue sweet peas and a variety of morning glory called Grandpa Otts – a lovely royal blue flower. In the border I have planted blue and white anemones, white cosmos, silver dust, salvia, catnip (not that there is much left after Dennis has eaten it) and, when they are a bit bigger, my lavender that I have grown from seed.

Well the monring glory flowers have started to come out. What colour would you say this is?

In my book this is purple!

However, at least purple is closer in the colour spectrum to blue than this anemone!

My blue and white anemones appear to be orange!!!!!

But after the season we’ve had so far I am just delighted to have any flowers.

Happy gardening!

What a difference a day makes……

What a difference a day makes                                                                                                       Twenty-four little hours                                                                                                                     Brought the sun and the flowers                                                                                                    Where there used to be rain.*                                                                                                                                                                                                            

So sang Dinah Washington, The Temptations, Jamie Cullum, Tony Bennett and all day yesterday, me!

Yes the sun was shining and I embarked on my flower planting marathon which will continue all weekend and probably well into next week. I am keeping a note of how many of each flower I am planting and I think you will all be truly impressed!

However, the reason I am blogging about a day making a difference is that my Jekyll and Hyde personalities (ie my legal brain and my common sense brain) have been wrestling with each other this week about, would you believe, the timing of sowing seeds.

I was passing the garden centre on Wednesday (30 May) and popped in to check there was nothing else I could grow this summer and also to pick up some winter flowering pansy seeds which I read should be sown around now.

I have been reading lots of other gardening blogs and recently many people were talking about harvesting purple sprouting broccoli which had been over-wintered. I thought I would give it a try and looked for the seeds. There were lots to choose from but when reading the instructions a common theme was developing… “sow April to May”. That only left me one more day!

You see this is where my mental tussle began. To my legal brain, used to 20 years of sticking to time limits and deadlines, I only had until midnight on 31 May to sow these seeds.

Thursday 31 May dawned.  It was so wet, even the slugs had umbrellas. I checked the weather forecast. It was due to dry up around 4pm. Perfect, still plenty of time. 4pm came and went and it was still torrential, getting even heavier.  The fire, the lights and the television went on. I kept wandering over to the window and gazing out. No change.

Eventually, Mr Mac asked what was wrong with me. I told him I only had until midnight to sow my purple sprouting broccoli seeds. As soon as the words were out of my mouth I realised how totally stupid they sounded. My legal brain had clocked off for the evening and common sense brain was on the backshift – they just hadn’t told me.

Anyway, I can’t publish Mr Mac’s response but it was along the lines of “don’t be so silly, darling, one more day won’t make a difference”. This is from the man who believes sell by dates are a conspiracy and is often heard muttering at an open fridge, “it says ‘best before’, not ‘will kill you’ after”.

So yesterday, Friday 1 June was a beautiful sunny day and guess what? I still didn’t sow my purple sprouting broccoli seeds. I was so busy trying to catch up with flower planting I did not get round to it. Why do today what you can put off until tomorrow? (That’s the Irish side of my family!).

Then this morning my copy of Amateur Gardening magazine arrived and I eagerly ripped it open to see what free seeds were included (schizanthus, in case you’re interested) and what I should be doing this week. I turned to page 40 to read all about the free seeds and was horrified to read the following:

“Plants from a March sowing can be in flower as early as late May, but, of course, we’re into June now and we’ve missed the sowing deadline for summer flowers this year”.

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

*Lyrics by Stanley Adams; Maria Grever