Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Twenty One Feet By Four Feet

To grow some vegetables. That seems like a lot to me. When I'm digging it over, it seems like even more, to be honest.

So here it is, in it's glory. Mostly.

I have read two highly useful books, listed on the right. Alan Titchmarsh is a regular gardening guru on our screens (who, among UK readers, loved "Ground Force" like I did?) and was the presenter of GW for quite a while. The book is simple, and straightforward, and if you are new to vegetables and fruit, well, there's really no better place to start.

The other one which has become my second bible, by Mr. Harrison, well, it's nicely written, in an easy reading style and simple to understand. I like the "month by month" guide, too.

I've had several gardens over the years. Lots of flowers, shrubs, bulbs, plants, some tomato growing, which my father is good at, and my sister too. She had a fabulous crop last year, in a climate not dissimilar to mine.

(I love those stakes by the way. Very jealous, as I haven't found anything like them here).

So I dug, and added good stuff to the soil. Lots of rocks out. That's when I got my sunburn, I believe!

I hope this was an inspired idea. With the lack of a car, I had no chance to get the "good stuff" (bags of manure from the garden centre, I mean) down in the planned vegetable patch last autumn, which would have been ideal. Plus, I didn't realise I was going to have so much of a patch, but since I'm putting potatoes down at the back it's less of a problem because you wouldn't necessarily manure the potato patch, or so I've read.

But where you see the boards down, above, well I decided a few weeks ago I would drag back some "grow bags" (from the 99p Store. Yes, 99p each!). I would warn you, with a normal shopping trolley and what should be a 10 minute walk, two is too many, although I did make it in the end. Just. Don't try this at home.

Grow bags are full of nutrients, as the whole point of them is to grow vegetables in, certainly tomatoes and the like, where you normally can't. So, I thought I'd dig a couple of grow bags-worth into the soil for this summer!

One full Grow Bag has gone in here

after a lot of forking, de-rocking, thankfully minimal weeding after the work I did a couple of weeks ago (with the cultivator tool). The whole point of the planks is to have a path between, so I don't compact the soil too much by having to walk across it, nor disturb the plants too much, but can get to the plants to weed, feed, tie up the tomatoes, as necessary. Behind the planks, will go the tomatoes. Just in front - at last! - I have planted the onions. 34 "Red Baron" onions are down there, placed 4 inches apart. Just in front of them, with 8 inches between, are 15 shallots. They need to be placed 8 inches apart, because whilst I believe one onion "set" will give one onion, one shallot "set" will give you a bunch of shallots (here's hoping!).

I used one of those boards when I was laying the turf - extra shelving from what we put up in the front room, and they have come in very handy!

In front of that, I shall be growing "cut-and-come-again" lettuce (I've done that before, so that should be okay, in that I at least know what I'm doing). Seeds shall be sown into the ground in a few weeks time and regularly throughout the season for a summer's worth of salad. Yum.

Top right, will be runner beans. In front of that, towards the front of the border, I think some peas ("mangetout"), if I can fit them in. Both on bamboo teepees.

Here's the potato patch, which should have been the new patio. But hey, I'm making use of the space!

All the planting of the onions and the further digging of the potato patch was actually done on Sunday morning, while I waited for the rain to come. It did, eventually, but not before I managed to do all this. So the potatoes are not down yet, but I can't see how a week will be such a bad thing ... all the vegetable planting is so new to me.

Anyway, I need to figure out how to fit those 32 seed potatoes into this space, about 9 ft x 8 ft, given the advised spacing of 15 inches apart.

My back hurt. My shoulders were sore. No blisters, thankfully (cotton gloves). I was more than fragrant. Was it worth it? Oh yes.

Monday, 28 April 2008

My Progress at the Weekend

Ah. That's more like it. A day like that, every weekend, would make me very happy. It was so warm and sunny in the garden, I got mild sunburn! I never even thought to put sunscreen on. Go figure, when two (three?) weeks ago it was snowing.

First up was some serious weeding of the left border. And some admiring of my tulips! They opened darker than I imagined, but I'm very happy with them.

I may possibly consider re-siting them to the back border next year however, as sitting next to the round dalek that is the compost bin doesn't really do them justice. And I'm not sure if that lovely Choisya is being a bit stunted in it's growth surrounded by those lovelies. Or perhaps it just grows slowly. Time will tell!

Apart from the normal weeds, I am plagued by these, which come from these seeds off the tree at the back (not in our garden, just behind). They are everywhere, left, right, centre. I guess that's how forests grow!

Things are coming along nicely on the left. The Delphiniumhas a lovely big flower coming already, the Geraniums are about to pop, and although the Lady's Mantle (alchemilla mollis) isn't as large and spreading as I had hoped in it's second year, (having grown them before), I'm sure with some sunshine it will grow, and hopefully spread.

And my gorgeous rose has some buds! The Euphorbia looks fantastic as well. The support you see was an absolute find. If it did not have that, the whole think would be sprawled on the ground like it was last year. Perhaps that's how it managed to self-seed so much (do you see? I haven't had the heart to take all of those out. I'd kind of like to see how that pans out) but it was something of a mess. I am all for plant supports like this. The delphinium has one as well. All of these can be moved up as the plant grows taller. I'm sold!

Left border duly weeded, it was time to tackle the next big but satisfying job - cutting the grass.

There's my baby there (the lawnmower, I mean), having just done it's job.

In the meantime, though, I went off to the garden centre to get that job done. But no! Bad news, no seed potatoes left! Now, when I was watching GW on Friday evening, Joe Swift, one of the presenters had just put his maincrop potatoes down this week. The lady at the garden centre was a bit sniffy and said "well, it's a bit late..." Hmph. Alan Titchmarsh in the brilliant The Kitchen Gardener says April is fine for maincrop.

I bought my few bits a pieces there (more supports!) and was making the trek home. First, I passed an outdoor flower stall, which also sells plants - oh, very naughty, I bought two peonies (two for a fiver!).

I love peonies! The problem is I have no place to put them yet as they are intended for the back. Yikes. I think I shall put them in some large-ish pots for the time being until such time as the ground is ready for them.

If I'm realistic I'm not going to be planting up the back now until October. I mean, look at it. And summer is not the time to be laying a border, in my experience. No, October is the target.

Then I thought perhaps I'd just pop into my 99p Store. Do not ignore your local 99p Store. Result! Four bags of seed potatoes, 8 in each, for 99 pence each, I think I went a bit nuts as that's 32 seed potatoes each producing a bunch (this is my first time growing potatoes so I'm not sure about the results of a crop); I could be having a right glut in the autumn ... that's if I can manage fit them all in! We'll see.

Grass cut, smell to die for. If next weekend is fair, I believe the lawn needs some TLC in the form of a "weed and feed", but that's not looking too bad for the first cut after a winter with no sun.

I tackled the much-talked-about vegetable patch too, but I believe I will save that for the next post. Too much to share all at once!

I'm pretty happy with what I did, though. I shall enlighten you very soon!

Friday, 25 April 2008

My hopes for the weekend

I think I can safely say now, given the weather forecasts on the radio, television and internet over the last couple of days, that the weekend will be fair, at least tomorrow. A proper, sunny, spring day. Yahoo!

So what I mean to do is the following:

Cut the grass. Mmmmm, can you smell it now? I can't wait for that. I think I will be hearing quite a few lawnmowers tomorrow!

Weed the borders. The plants are doing wonderfully well, and the tulips are about to pop. And the weeds are copious!

The tulips worried me a bit to be honest, as they were coming above ground since January. That surprised me very much, as that seemed so early. But true to what was promised on the packet, they seem to be ready to bloom, with no snow damage, thankfully. I thought it should be April/May, and it seems that is correct. I love the fact that the heads turn the colour before the actual bloom. Tulip bulbs are new to me.

This was the idea, so I don't think we're to far off. There were about 20 bulbs down, and some of the plants got a little bit trampled when husband was repairing that fence panel. Hey, it happens. Can't be too precious about these plants, and they are very hardy souls after all. Surprisingly so!

I have actually seen other people's tulips blooming (who else ogles other people's front gardens on a regular basis?) but I do realise now, the sun's traverse of my garden.

There is no denying, I have a north-facing garden. Now that I have had a chance to track the sun over a year, I know that we lose the sun almost completely in October, and it comes back late February, at least at the back. The right border, with the herbs (and soon to be vegetables) does get at least an hour of sun down the side through the year which was good planning, even if it wasn't intentional! I wanted the herbs to be close to the house so I could pop out and clip them for cooking. Well thank goodness, that worked out well.

The left border has recently begun to get the morning sun, as it's high enough over the houses to do what it does all summer long - half the day for the left, half the day for the right. But in the corner on the left border, it has taken a long time, and only recently has really had some proper sun (when there is sun!). It's quite sodden there, and also that is where the compost bin sits (and hello, there's Blackie on top).

I'm seriously thinking of re-siting the bin to get more sun as it needs the warmth to generate all that lovely, lovely compost I so dearly want to use when it is finally generated. A re-think there is needed, and I shall keep you posted.

Third thing will be to finally, finally, turn over the vegetable patch and plant onions (which I have), potatoes (which I have yet to buy, but will do Saturday morning from my local garden centre - goodness what a busy day that is going to be!) and the blackberries.

I've just had an inspirational, hour-long "Gardener's World" on the BBC to get me motivated. During which, of course, I took notes!

I shall be back with you all on Sunday, when it's supposed to rain, again ... but maybe that's a good thing for all I plan to do on Saturday!

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Surprise, in a nice way

Spring, perhaps, has actually sprung!

I read a report last Saturday saying that the weather was going to turn around this week, and by the weekend, way hey, we might actually have some decent weather. Like, spring. And today, yes on the radio, they said, 20C (that's 70F) degrees for the weekend. Fingers crossed!

Well, long about 3:00 in the afternoon on Sunday, there was a sudden turn. Sure it was warmer than Saturday out there, but I still felt a chill in the am. I thought, right, I'll do something else, whilst I'm waiting. Washing, for one.

I do love the smell and overall cleanliness of washing hung out on the line. Maybe an old fashioned thing, but here in the UK, a dryer is not a given. So mostly, my washing is hung over radiators during the winter, but in the spring, summer, autumn ... it's out there in the sun! I haven't had this much fun with my washing for a long time!

Gosh I'm sorry, how ... uninteresting.

What I did manage to do, in the end, was a major cleanup of the soon-to-be beautiful (hah) back border. This took much more time than expected, as I don't think I was aware of how much stuff there was back there.

One of the big problems was, that behind the old fence, and now the new fence, someone, or several someones over time, had dumped a load of junk. (And well you may ask, where on earth did that large Cornetto thing come from??).

There is a path from the side road leading up behind all our gardens. One good reason to install a much better fence. I'm not saying that someone actually came up the path to dump all that, stuff (for lack of a more choice word I might use). But all that junk, it used to push on the old fence, at the right, so husband in his wisdom decided that we must get that stuff out of there, bring it out, and cut it up. All well and good. And we had an old fence to cut up too. All good. And he chopped down some of the tree on the left side, which overhangs the part of the fence we didn't actually replace.

This "tree" is actually a Buddleja. Now, I like Buddleja, it has a lovely flower and a lovely smell, and attracts butterflies. But I won't have one in my own garden, because I find them a bit, well, messy. Gosh they grow big, and I've never encountered one quite on this scale. So I'm happy it's there, but not actually in my garden.

There is a lot of stuff lying around there there in that back border.

If I'm completely honest? I was really tired of looking at this out of my kitchen window every morning.

So what I managed to do, by the end of the day, was make this

become this,

with a pile of this

by the side, which we must get rid of, at some point, however we do it. A Hippo Bag is a much more cost effective way of getting rid of this kind of thing than a skip, and that is what we are looking to do. We used to do this, before the lawn was down

But that is out of the question now! And fairly dubious anyway, I realise. Still, the guys loved it ...

By the way, as a side note, the tarpaulin you see has done a brilliant job of keeping the weeds down over the winter. Just a thought should you have a patch you don't quite know what to do with yet, but don't want it to become overgrown again, having spent so much effort rotovating.

In any case, onwards and upwards, I believe!

To any English readers, I would like to wish you all a Happy St. George's Day. It's something I think is right to say, and I wish we could all fly the St. George's Cross without impunity. It's like, Thanksgiving Day for Americans, or Canada Day for, um, Canadians! I'm proud of my own English heritage.

Cheers all!

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Lets Talk Turf

If I'm completely honest with you, this was scary. Now, you buy a plant from the garden centre, and if it dies on you, okay it's a bit sad, perhaps as much as £10 wasted, but these things happen. I had that Skimmia die on me last year (left), still not sure why, and one of the lavenders. No use crying over spilt milk.

But turf? The size I was looking for was 40 square metres. I found a very good price on the internet. I can't remember if it was turf online, or online turf (both of them .co.uk). I'm sure they were equally good in quality, it's just that one came in a bit cheaper (if anyone would like to know I can dig out the bill and confirm which I used). But "cheap" means £3.15 a roll, so something like a total of £126, plus delivery of course. This was to be divided between us and the neighbours, so really, in the end, I couldn't mess this up.

Here you have the patch, and I worked and worked it, but to lay some turf and have it all go brown in the end? Nightmare.

Let me make three things completely clear, to save you any hassle if you are laying a new lawn yourself.

(1) You will never get all the rocks out.

(2) You will never get all the weeds up.

(3) You will not get the ground completely flat.

So stop trying. Just do the best you can, and you too will be rewarded with a gorgeous new lawn.

I had advice from an acquaintance of mine, who is a professional gardener.

Firstly I will say, I have read several books on the subject of vegetable growing, with two of them advising against the rotovation method of preparing ground. Well, I'm sorry Mr. Titchmarsh and Mr. Harrison, if you are faced with a derelict plot as large as ours at the back of your house outside your kitchen door, there is no way you can convince me that getting out there with a spade and cutting off what meagre turf existed, and dealing with the huge number of weeds there, when you have only weekends, is going to give any satisfaction in a short space of time. I say if you need to, rotovate.

So as you know, we did the do with "the beast". We were left with this.

A lot of forking over, to get actual rocks out, not just the little stones. A lot of regular weeding, every weekend, to pick out by hand those that kept coming up. And then my acquaintance said, "stop weeding". And get yourself some systemic weed killer.

I would like to be organic, and hope to in the near future, but this to me was the best thing since sliced bread. Spray it on? The weeds die and it doesn't hurt the ground? Bring it on!! We had used some path weedkiller in the front, where it is all cement except for a small patch at the right where we can grow things. It worked, but I knew it wasn't something I'd use at the back. Systemic weedkiller? Revelation!

For the purpose of clearing as much as possible, and 40 square metres is a lot of ground, it was an absolute necessity. For which I am eternally grateful to Rob John for telling me about. And lots, and lots, and lots of raking. The Rake was the most important implement in this venture (and a fantastic workout to boot - bonus!).

Okay, we were ready to go, it's just that May in terms of weather was not the best, and June was getting worse ... I bit the bullet and ordered the turf for the last weekend in June. Scary, but fingers were crossed.

Forty rolls of turf is a lot of turf (each roll is approximately one square metre). It was delivered on Saturday. Left at the front by the nice delivery man, but we had to transport it all round to the back and pile it up. It started to rain (not good, but covered by a tarpaulin or five, we were fine).

Sunday. Me, and some turf. First and most importantly, I fertilised the ground. I did order some "pre-turf" fertiliser from the turf company, but unfortunately they left that out. No matter, when I popped out to get the extra tarps I picked up some Blood Fish & Bone. Just as good. Sprinkled it over and raked one last time.

Both the websites I mentioned above have very good advice about turf laying. Take your time. You need a sharp knife, and a board, or plank, of wood. I had some leftover shelving, which I used.

I laid the first row, three turves less a bit cut off at the end (which I used in the next row). Then to lay the second row, I laid the board down on top of the row I had just completed, which presses it nicely into the ground. For the third row, I laid the board on the "join" between the first and second row, to press that down too. I really butted the rows together, almost trying to overlap the turves. And I ended up with no discernable join. It took a long time. I think there are seven rows here, or was it eight?

They do say that you should order 5% more than what you need. And they are right, so don't skimp on that. I needed 38 square metres and ordered 40. It was still, just a little bit short ... We ended up getting a couple of more turves from the local garden centre, at £3.99 a go. And husband had to carry them back - not easy without a car! But we did eventually complete this final row.

And now, after a season, I think it looks pretty good, if I do say so myself.

Just a few facts about myself, and I'm not good at blowing my own trumpet. But here goes:

I have a PhD.

I have run a marathon.

Laying this lawn gave me almost, almost as much satisfaction as those two achievements.

I look forward so much to the first cut of the year! Ah, that smell of freshly mown grass.

Monday, 14 April 2008

Cat Central

I have never encountered so many cats in one small space. Okay, it's not that small of a garden, but really, there's a lot of cats out there.

For the sake of clarity, I shall call "our" cat Ginger. Yes he is often called just "Cat", but I am no Audrey Hepburn, looking unbelievably glamourous and beautiful in the pouring rain running down an alley calling "Cat! Cat!"

At times he is Cattums, Kitty Boy, Scoodgums, Furry Purry Boy, Schnookie-wookums. But let's stick with Ginger.

Or just Cat.

Big Ginger, his brother, has a new name too. He is Bagpuss. UK (and possibly other?) readers will know what I mean. He looks like Bagpuss (now that I've seen him close-up). So, Bagpuss he is.

Saturday morning, before the rains came, was indeed Cat Central out there.

That's little Blackie on the right, of course. Mr Black-and-White (could be Ms, who knows) is new to me, a new addition to this fine, cat-filled garden. They merely all kind of looked at each other for a bit, then spread out, doing their own thing.

Now, some people go to great lengths to deter cats from their gardens, and I can understand to a certain extent. Cats will poo in the borders. There are all sorts of products out there on the market. Before Ginger came resoundingly into our lives, I toyed with the idea of possibly keeping the hoardes at bay by using lemon, which I had heard cats don't like. In all fairness I would never use anything stronger, chemicals or sounds, but to each his own. Then, of course, with the advent of Ginger, deterrent was no longer an option. So, I put up with shovelling up some cat poop from the borders as necessary. But even without Ginger, I wouldn't trade the delight and fascination these guys give me almost every day!

Morning, or early evening in the summer if the weather is fair, seems to be a popular time. I was late for work in the week, because there is yet another newbie, in the shape of a grey tabby. Ginger doesn't like him. There was a cat face-off on the fence which had me enthralled, until I realised the time, and the fact that they could sit there like that for hours, making that wailing noise! I'm am fascinated by a good cat face-off. This was one last year.

I am learning (or re-learning?) cat speak. I think I can tell when he wants more food, or wants to go out (but that's always a bit fuzzy for me at 5 in the morning. One time I put him out, only to have him hiss at me because what he really wanted was food. Fair enough, can't blame him). So that wail, if I hear it and can't see Ginger, I've stopped getting all uptight thinking he's in trouble - he's just encountering some or other cat.

As he did later on Saturday morning; Black&White again. I heard the wail, rushed out, only to see both on the right fence, towards the front.

In the end Ginger opted for a dignified retreat. He's no fool.

And then there was Bagpuss Saturday morning as well - Oh, Bagpuss. More on him soon ...

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Here We Go Again

That's not snow, it's just hail. Again. Never in my twenty years here have I experienced so many hailstorms in one season.

The day started promising, but we were forecasted sunshine and showers - fair enough. I woke up early, well, earlier than I normally do on the weekend (I do like my weekend lie-ins). As the day progressed and I was expecting those showers, which weren't forthcoming, I thought, well heck, I'll get out there. I forked over perhaps 1/5th of the vegetable plot, and pulled up a lot of stones, cement, pieces of glass, in the process. This is going to take a while.

I know I'm not going to make it perfect this year. I will be happy with a crop of onions and shallots (which I've already bought,ready to stick them in the ground), tomatoes, which I won't plant until June anyway, lettuce ditto, and potatoes, must be in soon. And of course the fruit. Raspberries in, blackberries next, but I do want to dig in that good stuff before they go down. I'm just ... flummoxed by the weather. Will the weather gods smile on me? Has global warming reared it's ugly head, again? (We are in danger of losing the Gulf Stream here, which is bad news).

On a lighter note! I decided to play around with my seedlings from the trays on my dining table, and the first thing I did was plant my Lobelia seedlings into their pot, outside. Ive had great sucess with trailing Lobelia in this same pot over the years, so I hope for more of the same.

Then, for lack of anything better to do, after seeing what was coming weather-wise, I thought it might be prudent to just go and do my shopping. That's when the hailstorm came, followed by sunshine. I did my shopping, and still got caught by a shower. Sometimes I think I really would like a car in London, after all. For the most part, it doesn't bother me, but gardening without a car can be no fun when you need to transport plants, bags of soil, fertlizer, etc. However, my trusty shopper has stood the test of time, and at least my local garden centre is close!

That said, I ended up buying several things without visiting the garden centre - I'm saving that for when I really mean to buy some serious plants and the necessary to plant them soundly. No, I managed to find, without meaning to, a Viburnum Tinus "Eve Price"and a Pieris, both of which I've been meaning to get, for the back border. They will keep, I hope.

I also finally bought something I've had my eye one for a couple of weeks now, from Aldi.

You could probably consider me a bit "A.R". sometimes. I like order. I like making order out of chaos, which is what I'm doing here in this garden. So, I finally bought the tool organiser for the shed. A few bits of plastic, and way hey.

What was chaos is now order. The first sad thing is that, I bought it. The second sad thing is, I put it together as soon as possible, and took it out to the shed to organise my tools. And I tell you, they are organised. The third, and possibly saddest thing, is that I took a picture to share with you all!

Is that cool or what? I actually swept the shed floor before I put it down - but then, the shed topic is one to come and we are all very proud of it. The boys did it. But the tools were all just hanging around at the back corner there, and now they have a home.

I know. It's seriously sad, but I'm seriously happy ...

Uh, give me some good weather, please!!! I'll stop messing around with my shed and my tools!!