Monday, 21 July 2008

Summer Week

Every once in a while in this country, we get a week of summer. :-)

Kidding. I love it here really. Just, I grew up in some hot, hot summers in the Midwest of America. And to be honest, apart from last year, summers in my memory over the last 19 years here haven't been too bad. I love when people complain about the heat here (me: "you ain't seen nothin"). And when they complain about the cold (me: guess what I say!).

Did I mention that about two weeks ago, we had one month's worth of rain in one day? That was fun. Uh huh.

But this week, it's going to be summer. Yippee! No need for a coat/cardigan/cover "just in case". No need for anything else but the clothes on your back when you leave the house in the morning. Just, really, nice, weather.

And lots of watering.

Even when I came home tonight, the first day of a week of warm, sunny weather (but it ain't hot, yet), I felt the need to water. Now, it's been odd (and here we go with me obsessing about the weather again), but even if we are promised rain, it sprinkles somewhat but I realise, it's not enough. A few spits and spots is not going to actually water the garden. Don't forget the tomatoes - "little and often". I musn't!

And I feel the left is suffering too, including the newly planted (or re-planted) plants. Anytime one plants something, one waters in well, and keeps watering until established. That includes the plants I dug up and then re-planted on the left, when improving the soil.

I think that worked, by the way. The whole exercise needs to be spread to the rest of the border, come autumn, when everything else dies down. I think it will be well worth it.

So! Maintenance this week, includes a careful eye on the water need situation.

Tomatoes - going wonderfully mad.

Lettuce - being enjoyed by one and all, after the two bags I cut, cleaned and shared.

Onions - I'm keeping an eye because I think they might be ready soon - must consult Mr. Titchmarsh about harvesting.

Dahlia in the left border (on the right here) about to pop - nice.

Summer - yes, bring it on! As long as it lasts ...

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Maintenance and ... Cats

I find that at this time of year, it's all about maintenance. Weeding. Pruning. Tie-ing up. Feeding.


Big pat on the back for me, when last year was a kind of wilderness!

Herbs growing beautifully on the sill. Basil of course, and a new pot of dill. Both won't last through the frost so I will make the most of them as I can.

And also, cutting and using. I am up to my eyes in salad, and so have just cut, cleaned, and spun two large bags of salad, which I'm taking in to work tomorrow for the general delectation of my colleagues, many of whom seem to be salad eaters. Yum!

Well, then I had a bit of a thing with little Ginger.

I decided, since it is obvious he has fleas, that I would use a potion I purchased back in the States, when I was at my parents last Christmas. A "Hartz" thing, whereby you squeeze this little tube in between the shoulder blades ... seemed like a good idea at the time, considering I've been bitten to buggery and he clearly has the pesky predators. He bites and scratches himself all the time.

No. Not a good idea after all - Ginger was very mad at me! I think he's forgiven me now, but it took some doing.

Firstly, big brother, Big Ginger, is now a regular visitor, and doesn't just want food, but also wants some kitty lovin' - yikes. I think he's still "their" cat, and not ours, but he does come round on a regular basis (like, every night). So Little Ginger was off his food, having licked himself and spread the stuff all over him, and was seeming a bit sickly. He was curled up, back by the back fence. Big Ginger was in my kitchen, eating food out of my hand. Don't ask.

I decided to fetch Ginger in, as it was near bedtime, and so went to get him, and also offer some of the treats Big Ginger was getting. I picked him up, and he hissed. I took him in, plonked him on the bed, and for the first time in ages, he decided to curl up on me.

After several minutes, when I realised I couldn't move and it was time to ready my own self for bed, when I tried to disengage, he gave that low, gutteral cat-growl. Like, don't even try it, because I'm really, really pissed off.


I did disengage, both myself and husband watching in fear, and he did sleep for a while. He woke up middle of the night as usual, went and had a bite, then I soothed him and brought him back to bed, for a bit.

He woke up again, I refilled his bowl, he had another bite, barfed it up, and then asked to go outside. I let him.

We seem to be okay now, and it was meant well! Cats. Fleas. Bites. Hope that's over, for a bit!

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Well hello

I have been lax, in this interim period, between the old life and the new. I started my new job today, and I can tell you now, I am very happy. But my apologies for letting the side down - not in the garden, I can tell you, but in letting you know what I'm doing.

I had a weekend, and two days off. The weather gods have been most kind. SUN! I cut the grass on Monday, I planted some of the things I purchased on Saturday ...

Back up. My local council has a "People's Day" every year, in the local park which is five minutes down the road from us. The best thing about this for me, is the herb stall.

I bought plants. Oh yes. I can tell you that pretty much all of the plants in my madly growing herb border came from this stall last year (and here's my plug for them, as they grow some gorgeous stuff - Now, all I really wanted, which I didn't have much success with seed-wise, was a Lovage. Beautiful plant, with a celery like flavour and smell, and which I use liberally in making my home-made chicken stock. That was my want, and of course it was there. (check those cat feet too!).

But no, I didn't stop there. I bought another parsley, a Myrtle, an Amaranth (more on that later), and found a "semi-hardy, perennial" basil which is gorgeous.

I love the Amaranth for it's purple leaves, and apparently it gets quite tall and wide, too (5 feet tall?). So as the herb border is absolutely mad, I'm not sure where to put the beautiful thing now.

I'm having a think.

The other thing I did was, mix up the soil on the left, with some gritty sand. Yes, I've finally tried to improve the left soil problem. I pulled out the Choisya and the Blueberry and put them to one side whilst I dug the sand in, also digging in some Ericaceous compost for the Blueberry, and then planted them back in. They seem happy enough, although there are no berries on the Blueberry yet this year. It wanted much more well-drained soil, and I hope it will thrive now.

I also moved the new red Verbena from where it was, amongst the spreading Euphorbia, (which if you remember I was going to see how that panned out, having self-seeded all around itself), to in front of the Choisya. I think the eye-watering red of the Verbena will be gorgeous against the bright yellow of the Choisya leaves. I'm very excited about this positioning, and I hope this red Verbena does the same mad growing thing as the purple one on the other side. It's actually looking much better than this already! There is some beautiful red coming through!

I shall update you on the vegetable patch next - oh, my, we have some tomatoes coming.

Lots of green tomatoes coming through, on every single tomato plant. Oh joy, joy, joy!

Friday, 4 July 2008

Summer is here

It's what we all wait for, as gardeners. The time when the borders go mad, and flowers, fruit, vegetables, are growing at a rate we can sometimes hardly keep up with.

The rocket (arugula) has bolted. Well, I had a few bags of it in the meantime, so I shall pull it up (it gets bitter if you don't eat it before bolting) but it's difficult sometimes to incorporate rocket into everything, as it has a peppery taste, not to everyone's liking. I shall use the last bag I have, before I plant some more, to make a lovely risotto (with saffron and tomato. Yum).

The lettuce is so close to bolting I need to cut and cut and wash and dry - no big problem, because it is so beautiful and I shall offer some around the building, to those upstairs and even my friends at work! Planting, growing, sharing, what could be better?

Oh, and the potatoes are flowering too!

Apart from the stunning vegetables, the border is truly beautiful (even though the soil still distresses me). I could spend hours just sitting and watching. If I had hours to spend, sitting and watching and doing, I would. But mostly, when I come home from work, I prowl the sides, then I prowl the lawn, then if I'm feeling hearty I prowl the back mess (border) and think. But really, what bliss.

Then I have a sit and just look, smell, and look.

Heaven, eh?

Speaking of tomatoes, the winner so far in the tomato stakes, is the Marmande, in the middle. It's the tallest and most robust of the lot, and putting out lots of flowers.

But then, you might think the one to the right isn't looking all that hearty - I think so too - but it does actually have a tomato forming!! Wow! That one is the Beefsteak. Maybe it's shorter and stockier, in order to produce those big, round, fat, juicy, red tomatoes. Mmm.

Tonight when I got home I did do something practical - I'd tied up the tomatoes, again, and then watered them (little and often, remember!). It is a nice summer, better than last year I think, but still not the hot, sunny summer of the Midwest - still, musn't grumble. We have had a lovely week, with some short sharp showers on and off (well, of course, it is Wimbledon fortnight so what else can one expect?). But nothing that I feel really waters the garden. And so even though it might rain tomorrow, I have put the sprinkler over the vegetable patch for a short but thorough soaking.

And then I sat, and inhaled, again.


And a Hearty, Happy Fourth of July to my American readers!

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

The David Attenborough of my Garden

I have been asked about the cats. Oh yes, they are still there. Not as many, but the Two Gingers are the constant.

They are having a bit of a play here, nothing serious.

Our Ginger boy is always around, of course. In the house when we are here (we still haven't installed the cat flap), in the bed at night.

Big brother, well he seems to stop by every day at least, and pops in for a bite if he's so inclined.

He polished off the food last night, but tonight I guess Chicken and Kidney in gravy today was less of his thing, so he turned his nose up and walked away.

Something about that spot seems to set them off - last night Ginger was chasing his tail there.

The other night, after our dinner, I popped out to see what was going on in the cat world, and the garden. I find big and little crouching on the patio, and batting something.

Have you heard of the stag beetle? Last year, husband and I found one of these crawling on "the ugly front". In our ignorance (is it a cockroach?) we decided that maybe it was a little too close to the house and decided to do away with it.

Lo and behold we discover in our local park there is a whole sign dedicated to the local stag beetle, and how this locale is not only it's habitat of choice, but it is something of an endangered species. Darn. We vowed never to harm one again.

Fast forward to the other night - the "thing" the cats are fascinated with, and batting around, is a stag beetle.

I was much too late to interrupt this game of cat and beetle - but I was rather enthralled by their suddenly feral and rather wild behaviour - until baby Ginger, pounced, chewed and made the most extraordinary noise I have ever heard from a small, seemingly normal cat. Big Ginger could only stand by and watch, and I think was nearly as taken aback as I was.

At the end of the day the stag beetle was alive, just. After cats had abandonded their game, I moved it on to just next to the lawn.

I have no idea what happened to it, but it wasn't there the next morning. I don't think it was anyone's breakfast, because truly it wouldn't be completely palatable for a cat, who would much prefer tuna in jelly.

Last night - it seems the cat action is all in the evening now - I went out to discover Big Ginger, dancing across the lawn chasing I don't know what. Then he watched as Little Ginger suddenly pounced on - Blackie?? I didn't even spot him, it being nearly dark I guess and him being, well, mostly black. But also do understand, I am crouched down on the patio, observing at a low level, so as not to disturb them too much.

Let's just take us through this, in a David Attenborough way.

"Exhibiting some amazing crazy cat behaviour, Big Ginger chases nothing across the yard several times, before reclining in a supine position, perfectly positioned to watch his little brother. Little Ginger pounces on the unsuspecting black cat. After a small chase, all the cats lie down again, and Little Ginger calmly walks towards his chosen human for some kitty scratching, and perhaps some chicken and kidney in gravy inside."