Tuesday 31 March 2009

Our Garden; A History Part One


A poor indication of how our garden once was

We moved into our home just over two and half years ago. The garden at this point didn't really rate very high on our priorities. Even though I was on maternity leave I was unable to make use of the garden, as the summer was so scorchingly hot. Being in the late stages of pregnancy (my due date was just two weeks after we moved in) just sitting in the sun made me puff up like a hot air balloon.

During those first few months after Garden Girl was born there was barely time to sneeze, let alone get out in the garden. Winter kicked in, Garden Girl grew and the focus remained on the house. The nursery, decorated in lime green by the previous owners, needed to be toned down if Garden Girl was to get any sleep when she moved from our room. The living room also needed work and all the while the garden was getting more and more overgrown.

The potential jungle was kept in check only by Garden Dad's parents who pulled out the underworked lawn mower every time they visited. But gradually we refocused and started to think about what we could do out there. We took some initial small steps to get going but picked up the pace late last year after deciding to grow our own veg. So the bullet pointed version of events goes something like this:

  • Cut back bushes to make them tidy only for them to grow back again
  • Grow tomatoes successfully and to the delight of Garden Girl
  • Begin to think about an edible garden
  • Garden Dad decides that all plants in the garden must be edible
  • Remove everything from the flower bed closest to the house and replant with some herbs
  • Gradually build up herb collection
  • Cut back bushes to almost nothing only for them to grow back again
  • Get frustrated
  • Make serious plans for vegetable garden
  • Cut back bushes and remove roots, chop down huge trees
  • Listen to Garden Dad and friend talk endlessly about the huge trees they chopped down
  • Dig up tree roots
  • Put up new fence and give birth to Garden Boy
  • Smash up paving stones and rubble filled concrete sandpit at bottom of garden
  • Pile rubble next to shed and wonder what to do with it
  • Dig over bottom of garden, removing more rubble to add to the mountain by the shed
  • Build raised beds and take a break over christmas
  • Hire a skip for rubble, give away shed and build greenhouse
  • Start planting


They are devouring my seedlings.

Garden Dad may have to sacrifice his home brew to the armoury, and eggs will now be on the menu for the remainder of the week so I can gather the shells.

The war has started.

Monday 30 March 2009

A jolly afternoon out

We took a trip to the garden centre on Friday. We often do this just for a day out. It really is a great place to go with the children. The Little Garden Helpers enjoy looking at all the plants and flowers in an array of colours and sizes. The stone sculptures, in the shape of all sorts of animals, thrill Garden Girl and there is huge excitement if we take the time to try out the garden benches. If the weather has been nice enough to walk there the cafe provides an opportunity to rejuvenate before the return trip home; and then there are the fish. We really can spend a whole afternoon at the garden centre, or day if we have walked.

On Friday all I really wanted were some cabbage collars but they were out of stock. So how did I manage to spend a huge amount of money? Pots, Pots and Pots and mulch. I picked up some large pots for growing courgettes and squash as well as letting Garden Girl choose her very own pot. No surprises that she chose a blue one. A very nice gentleman helped push the bags of mulch and large pots to our car and we went to say hello to the fish. Garden Girl was concerned about one particular fish which had been placed in quarantine on our last visit; she was happy to see it now had friends to swim with. All in all a jolly afternoon out.

Thursday 26 March 2009

Sunny Saturday

We had a lovely weekend, finally getting back out in the garden. We moved all our plants back into the greenhouse and spent a sunny Saturday repotting everything. Garden Girl watched my sister repot some tomato plants and asked to have a go herself, so we let her get stuck in. I must admit, I expected we might sacrifice a few plants in the spirit of letting her have a go but I was wrong. She very gently pulled the tender plants out and dropped them carefully in the little holes she had made in the soil with her finger.

When she got fed up of this I offered her the option of going to the playground or weeding the front garden with my sister. I imagine I was rather more pleased than my sister when she chose the latter option, as she now had no choice but to get stuck into the weeds. They did a great job though and I am sure our neighbours will also appreciate the work, as I must admit, my front garden can get a little neglected when we are so busy sorting out our vegetable patch.

At the end of the day Garden Girl delighted in laying the seed potatoes out ready to sprout. Many of them had already started to sprout well, so we should be able to get these in the ground at the weekend which Garden Girl is looking forward to. I think the thought of one potato turning into lots of potatoes is an exciting prospect for her and she keeps asking me when we will bury them.

Garden Boy, meanwhile, was in his element, happy to while away his time filling pots with compost for me and indulging his appetite for soil. He also treated the lawn to a nice scattering of compost so I think next time I'll set him up filling pots on the raised beds so he can work on improving our soil there. As it was Garden Boy's christening on Sunday we had family and friends visiting, many of whom commented on the poor quality of our soil. There were many mutterings about how we will be lucky to grow anything in the hard clay and rubble that fills our raised beds. Garden Dad protested that he and his Dad had already removed a huge quantity of rubble at the end of last year when they built the beds for us and we have yet to dig compost through it (a little late we know). But I think perhaps everyone was right and we might need to think about removing some of the rubble filled clay and add more compost than we had originally intended. Garden Dad is happier to let the soil improvement take a slower course, gradually improving over the years. We will have to mull this over and take a good look at the weekend.

Although we didn't get the seeds packets out and plant anything new it feels good to be on top of what we have already started and now we are ready to get going with more this weekend. Lets just hope its not too wet.

Thursday 19 March 2009

A break from progress

I have been trawling through our hard drive searching for pictures of our garden as it once was but as yet I have just found thousands of pictures of our little garden helpers. We have been at this house for a little over two and a half years and Garden Girl was born shortly after we moved in. Since then my camera has been in excessive use but unfortunately there is little to show our garden as it was when we moved in. The most you are likely to see is a patch of crushed grass as Garden Girl or Garden Boy disappear from view, or maybe a pretty flower in the hands of a little one, scattering petals. I will keep searching but if I have no joy this weekend I will resort to a rambling description that might just give you an idea of the change our garden has been through.

In the meantime I am waiting for Garden Dad to drill holes in jar lids. The promise of a sprout feast hasn't quite provided the necessary encouragement for him to get stuck in. Maybe I should learn how to use a drill.

This weekend I intend to move my original plants back into the greenhouse. After the frost we decided to keep them indoors a little longer while we solved the problem of unwelcome garden visitors but, fingers crossed, we are now rodent free. (If anyone has any tips on how to prevent them coming back when there will soon be a tempting vegetable feast in the garden please let us know.) And I am excited that we will be getting the seed packets out again. Garden Boy will be delighted with the opportunity to get his hands mucky again and Garden Girl just wants to be allowed back in the greenhouse.

Saturday 14 March 2009

Not getting things done

This week seems to have passed by and I haven't really done anything, much like our sweet peppers. I'm not sure what their germination time is supposed to be but everything else we planted a few weeks back is thriving. The sweet pepper seeds are remaining snugly hidden under the soil, showing no signs of popping up to say hello. I may have to plant the seeds I have saved for next year.

Unlike the sweet peppers I did make an attempt at growing this week; in so far as I opened the garage door to look for glass jars and quickly closed it again when I realised that I would be facing an almightly and possibly life threatening obstacle course to reach them. One wrong step and a garden fork might have plunged into my chest.

A few weeks back, in order to make room for our greenhouse, we sacrificed our shed, giving it a new home through freecycle. The garden tools, plant pots, pieces of wood and children's garden toys found themselves hastily placed in the middle of the garage. Needless to say I did what any Garden Mum would do in this situation; I wrote a note on Garden Dad's task list for the weekend saying 'Tidy Garage', put the kettle on and had a brew.

I am pleased to say that Garden Dad was out there today putting up shelves, throwing out useless rubbish and making a safe path through to the glass jars. When he has finished washing up tonight I'll let him have a beer - he deserves it. And next week my little garden helpers will get started on the sprouting and I'll treat Garden Dad to a healthy feast.

Oh and I haven't forgotton 'Our Garden; a history'. It's on its way', I just wanted to locate some pictures showing the then and now. I can ramble a bit but pictures are to the point!

Tuesday 10 March 2009

Let me out

We were all looking longingly out of the window yesterday.

Garden Boy kept pointing at the patio doors and when that produced no results he banged forcefully on the window to reinforce his desire to go outside. The pull outdoors must be even greater now I have moved our long suffering dracaena out of reach. The steady removal of soil and leaves has left the poor plant somewhat droopy. But I do feel for him because I too wanted to be outdoors preparing the garden for further plantings.

The thing is, a few weeks ago we spotted a couple of rats happily running around at the bottom of our garden. Now anyone who tells you that rats rarely show their faces in daylight are mistaken. The modern rat is perfectly happy to potter about the garden in broad daylight observing the antics of a mother and her two children. Whilst we did spend some time (behind the safety of the double glazing) observing them back; making themselves busy, gathering food and digging in our compost bin (where it turns out they have made their home) we did take immediate action and called out the local council Pest Control.

Confident that the problem would be sorted quickly I wasn't too worried initially but the happy couple have refused to take the bait and as time has passed we have noticed smaller versions pottering about outside. This growing family is obviously now in short supply of food; we have stopped delivering vegetable peelings to their door every evening and they now have more mouths to feed. And this has brought them closer to the house.

A sonic rat repeller now sits on our patio to deter them from coming even closer; I must be younger than my years suggest as I can clearly hear this high pitched noise which 'most people' should not be able to hear. It is a comfortingly irritating noise so should do its job but just incase similar indoor versions now reside in our house and garage, though I have taken to switching them off when we are in hearing vicinity. I figure if I can hear them, the little garden helpers with their younger ears, must get the buzzing loud and clear.

So we have had to resort to rat traps which we would have liked to avoid but with two children we have no choice but to take all measures to prevent a full blown infestation. So while we wait for these clever critters to feast on their peanut butter and treacle, we are locked in and progress in the garden has been halted.

Finding alternative entertainment for the Little Garden Helpers has been easy enough with trips to the local park and lots of baking (Garden Boy is just as happy throwing flour around the kitchen as soil in the garden and at least flour is edible). Luckily there is a comic relief bake sale at Garden Girl's playgroup which means my waist line won't suffer too much. So I am trying to look on the bright side and instead of gazing outside I will use the time to read up about the vegetables we intend to plant and fill you all in on how the garden has changed from its former overgrown state to its current incarnation as a vegetable plot.

The first installment of 'Our Garden: a history' will have to wait till another night though as the ironing basket sits taunting me just within eye shot.

Sunday 8 March 2009

Sprouts and Sprouting

Well the greenhouse did withstand the wind but our neighbours' fence didn't. One panel crashed right into the side of the greenhouse. After all the careful checking on the greenhouse I somehow didn't notice the fallen panel until Garden girl was trying to run around the side and found a 'tunnel'; a great new addition to her green play house. My heart skipped a few beats as I worridly checked for damage but there was not even a scratch so I find myself once again impressed. I can without any doubt now recommend polycarbonate greenhouses to those of you thinking about growing indoors with energetic children.

We didn't progress much with the garden this weekend. A trip to the zoo took precedent and quite rightly too. But we have continued to tend the seeds we started with. The Brussels sprouts are looking very healthy indeed though once again I may have got a little carried away with the number of plants. I know it is something of a tradition to have too many Brussel sprouts on Christmas Day but this might be taking it too far. Garden girl is very impressed though, as there are some real results here for her to see and it has helped to maintain her interest in watering the rest of the seeds now she can see what her care and attention produces.

Talking sprouts, we are going to give sprouting a go this week. We have been collecting old jars and are ready to go. Its not something I have done before but I thought it would be lots of fun for the children. Garden Boy will enjoy splashing in the water and Garden Girl should be impressed with the quick results. The big question is, will growing the bean sprouts themselves be enough incentive to eat them when they have grown?

Garden Dad has just given me some words of wisdom ' Don't sprout too many at once!' He has obviously been counting the number of tomato and brussels sprout plants!

Thursday 5 March 2009

Cold Concern

Following the excitement of sowing the first seeds I am now starting to worry whether I am looking after them well enough; are they getting enough water, are they warm enough? It is like being a new parent all over again. But really, it is cold out there at the moment and I am not sure our unheated greenhouse is sufficiently warm at night to nurture these young seeds now that Jack Frost has decided to visit again. I wonder whether perhaps I got carried away with all the excitement I experienced when those seeds packets arrived on my doorstep. Should I have waited a little longer?

I don't like worrying much though so I have come up with a solution. I might be a little barmy but I have decided to temporarily convert our loft into a mini greenhouse - that being I will put a table in front of the window where I can sit my seed trays in the warm and light until the mild weather returns. Garden Girl is a little disappointed as she likes to go inside the greenhouse so much but she wants the plants to grow and seemed satisfied when I answered that yes, she could keep spraying them with the sprayer, even inside. Garden Boy however has been told that under no circumstances can he redistribute the soil around the house; that job truly is only for the greenhouse!

Tuesday 3 March 2009

Tumbling towards a tomato feast

Well if I had any remaining nagging doubts over the greenhouse the wind thrashing about outside tonight is the final test. Lets hope it's still standing tomorrow.

BIG NEWS. Our first seeds have started to grow! Our tumbling tom tomatoes have germinated in the airing cupboard (our greenhouse is not heated) so need to be rehomed in the greenhouse very soon. I am so excited I am dancing on the spot (I do that). I wasn't expecting to see growth so soon so I got a surprise when I checked on them just after the little garden helpers had gone to bed. Garden Girl will be very excited in the morning - she will be one seedling closer to her tomato feast. We chose 5 varieties of tomatoes for her to taste, saving money by splitting the packs with my sister, so I hope the other 4 will follow tumbling tom soon.

Monday 2 March 2009

Robustness Test

I was thrilled when Garden Dad, with the help of two brilliant volunteers, erected our brand new greenhouse. We had spent numerous evenings earlier in the year umming and aaahing over various models, with as much attention to detail as we gave to the purchase of our new car last year. Size mattered most, as the most consistent advice we were given was to get the biggest greenhouse our garden would allow. Then we had to consider child safety. Erecting a huge glass structure in the back garden with two young children didn't seem the most sensible option so we weighed the benefits of a polycarbonate glazed greenhouse against those of a polytunnel.

The image of a mega polytunnel filled with strawberries carried me away on a flight of fancy but we only have an average sized family garden and Garden Dad insisted that we must grow a greater variety of crops than Summer Strawberries and Autumn Strawberries. And whilst my little garden helpers might enjoy growing greens I think they would have protested just a little bit if they had lost all their garden play space simply to indulge my love of strawberries. So reverting back to a sensible size we opted for a polycarbonate greenhouse.

We ordered the greenhouse online so when it arrived I was quite astonished at how thin and wibbly the polycarbonate panels were. I had had visions of us staggering about with large pieces of perspex but these thin sheets look much like the plastic windows that let us view toys packaged in their cardboard boxes. I was rather dubious how robust these panels would prove to be.

The first test came just half an hour after the Greenhouse was completed when the snow started to fall. Every morning I would wake and peek out of the window expecting the roof to have collapsed under the weight of the snow but my fears were never realised and in addition the ground inside remained frost free. My confidence grew but I still had nagging doubts about its ability to cope with the force of high winds.

However, my little garden helpers decided that today, with the help of Garden Friend, they would alleviate these worries for me by applying as much force as they could muster to the windows to show me just how robust our new greenhouse really is. Garden Boy had proved at the weekend that the windows could take his weight when he used them for showing off his ability to stand up but this was nothing compared to the force Garden Girl and Garden Friend applied to each window as they ran around the greenhouse chasing each other and banging as loudly and hard as they could on the windows as they went. Anyone with young children will know that the force of two two year old children's drumming is enough to match any gale.

The greenhouse is still standing with all its windows intact so I am once again reassured that it is indeed robust. Whether it will remain so with continued attention from my little garden helpers remains to be seen though I am confident that the plants inside will soon become a more appealing focus for attention than the greenhouse itself. Hmmm?!

Sunday 1 March 2009

Sowing Seeds

This is a landmark weekend for me. I have sown my first seeds of the year in the greenhouse and I have launched my blog. I am relatively new to these adventures and am looking forward to growing in skill and knowledge in both areas. My blog currently looks much like the plant pots now occupying the greenhouse; a little bare and awaiting care and attention. So if I am lucky enough to have someone reading this at such an early stage I promise to tend the blog with as much care and attention as the seeds my little garden helpers and I so eagerly planted yesterday. I just need a little time to figure out what to do next.

My little garden helpers need to be introduced as they are the reason I am writing this now. I currently have two little garden helpers (Garden Girl and Garden Boy) and one big garden helper (Garden Dad) whose general behaviour is much the same as the little ones. Garden Girl (now two and half) has inspired us to 'grow our own'. During Garden Girl's first summer (when she was roughly 10 months old) my sister gave us 6 tomato plants she had nurtured from seed in her greenhouse. These plants produced lots and lots of fruit, none of which made it to the table. It was almost impossible to play in the garden that summer as Garden Girl simply toddled to the tomato plants and ate all and any fruit she could grab. I could only drag her away to pick and smell garden herbs and any visitors to the house that summer were compelled to smell a variety of different pickings Garden Girl wafted in front of their noses. Garden Boy, now slightly younger than Garden Girl was that year, is showing similar enthusiasm for the garden though his interests lie in playing with and eating soil rather than fruit.

As a stay-at-home-mum with a background in archaeology I have taken this as an opportunity to return to the outdoors work I enjoy so much. Gardening will provide me and my children with so many rewards and the best thing is, we will be learning together. We might not be producing prize winning carrots or breaking the record for biggest pumpkin, but hopefully we will have lots of fun together and get a few tasty meals along the way.