Wednesday 31 March 2010

A Thought for the Future

If nature was left to its own devices in our garden we would have a carpet of grass under a forest of sycamore trees. There are literally hundreds of sycamore seeds rooting into our raised beds so while we have been weeding we have been removing vast areas of early forest from our garden. If we were to go travelling for a few years I wonder how many true trees would actally survive. How many years would we need to be gone before the new trees would uproot the foundations of our house? If our town were to be evacuated and left to become a ghost town I wonder how many years it would take before tree branches broke through the windows and wrapped themselves around walls. How long before the town would be buried beneath nature and our time period hidden and confined to an archaeological layer to be excavated by future generations? And when our house and garden become archaeological remains what will be the remnants of our short time here? Will future archaeologists be able to peice together a fuller picture of the lives we lead today than we can today of those that have been before? I hope that some of our giggles and fun will survive in the soil for future discovery.

Sunday 28 March 2010

A Winning Bonnet

Yesterday while Garden Dad cleared out the garage so we could actually access the garden tools, our Little Garden Helpers and I were taking a break from the garden. We had to bake cakes and make Easter hats for the Playgroup Easter Fun Day which we attended today. We spent the day getting thoroughly messy with a combination of flour, glue and paint, but it was all worth it to watch Garden Girl and Garden Boy standing proudly and holding hands with fabulous Easter hats on their heads today.

The original plan had been to make a rabbit hat for Garden boy and a chicken hat for Garden Girl, but Garden Girl insisted that she make a pretty hat with flowers so she made a traditional bonnet, painted with a rainbow and decorated with tissue paper flowers and lace. She obviously knows something about hat design as her beautiful bonnet won the girls hat competition. And proud though I was that she won the competition, it was the fact that she dragged Garden Boy with her to claim and share her chocolate egg prize, that left me glowing. Well done Garden Girl for looking after your little brother and well done both of you for all your hard work yesterday creating these works of art.

Saturday 27 March 2010

A Little Grumble

I love strawberries. I hate spiders. So why, oh why, do spiders have to make my strawberry patch their playground?  There are more spiders running and crawling amongst my strawberry plants than there are in the rest of the garden put together. I know it needs weeding and the dead leaves need cutting back but it is very hard to do this when there are hundreds of the eight legged creatures rampaging all over the most important part of our garden.

Grumble over.

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Busy Fingers

It might appear that, whilst I have not been typing, my fingers have been idle. But no... they have been very, very busy fingers; busy in the garden, pulling up weeds, sowing seeds and generally tidying up. The day we spent cleaning the greenhouse motivated me to continue pushing forward with the garden and whenever the sun has been shining my Little Garden Helpers have been bundled into their dungarees and wellies with a trowel in hand.

We have been helped along the way by Garden Dad taking a long weekend to finish the painting in the house once and for all. He was joined by Grandad South, whose help meant that Garden Dad was free to use some of his time off to build some greenhouse staging. This isn't entirely finished yet but he assures me he will have it completed at the weekend and I am certain he will write a post about his design and workmanship when he has finished.

We were also joined on Monday by our friend who has regularly come along to get stuck into the hard garden graft and I doubt she was surprised to find herself faced with an overgrown patch of weeds filled with big roots. The task was too tough for me at just 7 weeks away from due date, so I was incredibly grateful to have someone offer help and create a lovely patch of ground out of the wilderness for our three fruit bushes (Gooseberry, redcurrant and whitecurrant).

With the fruit bushes settling into their new home, and some greenhouse staging available for seed pots, our Little Garden Helpers and I have been pulling up weeds, removing large stones and sowing seeds. So far, half the garden is weeded and ready for planting and we have planted our onion and shallot sets, interspersed with beetroot (Boltardy and Pronto). Garden Boy made a good attempt at sowing beetroot seeds in a straight line, very carefully picking up one seed, slowly moving his hand to the exact position and then, at the last minute, throwing the seed in the air to land anywhere but where it should have been. He was ever so proud of his attempts though and as our pathways are just mud, who knows, some of them might actually grow into fully formed beetroots. We did have quite a few spring onions and spindly leeks growing in the pathways last year!

Garden Boy did much better with the shallots and onions, as I made very obvious holes for him to drop them in and he really loved doing this, counting the holes as he filled them. He had to start counting again when he reached the number three but he tried his best to count a full row of eight.  Garden Girl was at playgroup when we doing this but has since joined in enthusiastically with all the pot sown seeds, taking great care to place the right amount of seeds in each pot, equally spaced and well watered. She really is an expert now and it hasn't taken much for her to remember everything she learned last year. She also delights in passing her knowledge on to Garden Boy, who receives the instruction eagerly at first, but eventually, after too much telling, will start to shake his head, shouting a loud 'no, no, no, nooooooo' before walking away till Garden Girl apologises and agrees to let him do what he wants.

In amongst all these fun and games we have managed to sow;

Aubergine; Black Beauty
Cucumber; Conqueror and Telegraph
Chilli Peppers; Hot Caribbean Blend
Sweet Peppers; Sweet Tamar Mix
Tomato Seeds; Gardener's Delight, Saint Pierre, Tigerella, Mirabelle Bianche, Tumbling Tom, Totem
Brussels Sprout; Noisette
Lettuce; Roxy, All Year Round

All these need slightly higher temperatures than our unheated greenhouse will be providing, so are currently sitting by the loft window enjoying the sunshine until they germinate, when they will then be put into the greenhouse.

In the greenhouse already, however, we now have

Coriander, Santos
Sweet Basil
Dwarf French Beans; Cannellino
Courgette; Gold Rush

And we even managed to sow a selection of oriental salad leaves in the ground including a 'stir fry mix', Choy Sum Hon Tsai Tai and Mizuna Japanese Greens, although I fear the wood pigeons have already found the seeds. Last year we didn't manage to successfully produce a single salad leaf so when they are not busy sowing seeds or pulling up weeds our fingers are firmly crossed for some salad this year.

Garden Reads from Ebury Publishing

Spring is all about looking forward to the gardening year ahead, making plans and, if the weather holds, actually getting your finger nails dirty. However, when the weather is not kind or, like me a couple of weeks ago, you have sick children to tend before you finally get a week in the garden, reading about garden techniques, browsing the colourful and enviable photos of healthy crops and flowers and seeking inspiration from the great and knowledgable gardeners of our time, is a great time filler.

Thanks to Ebury Publishing, during my confinement indoors with an ill Garden Boy, I had a selection of new gardening publications to delve into and incase you are looking to satisfy your garden itch on a rainy day with a good book, here is what I thought of them all.

The Edible Garden by Alys Fowler

Last year I really enjoyed watching Alys Fowler on Gardener's World. She has an enthusiasm for gardening which is evident in her presenting and some quirky ideas that add character to her projects. She also has a relaxed attitude to sowing and planting which enables her to 'just give things a go and see if it works'. This attitude to gardening is apparent in her book and if you are looking for inspiration this year then I would really recommend The Edible Garden. It is easy to read. Just open it on any page and before long you will be flicking about for more snippets and ideas. The idea behind the book is that you can 'grow your own' without sacrificing colour and ornamentation. Alys has ideas for companion planting with non-edibles and recommendations for choosing edibles that offer colour and style, as well as great flavour. There are also sections on edible flowers, growing your own in containers and some delicious sounding recipes to round off. It is a coffee table book to be savoured and be inspired by, rather than one to really teach you about growing the various produce she discusses. It is not a garden manual, but a great read and will fill you with ideas for planning your garden and entice you to be a bit more adventurous.

Grow Your Own Garden (How to Propagate all Your Own Plants) by Carol Klein

As the subtitle tells us Carol Klein's latest publication is filled with everything you need to know about propagating your own plants. When we first started our vegetable patch I browsed the book shelves for books that would guide me on the specifics of sowing, caring for and harvesting each vegetable and I found Carol Klein's 'Grow Your Own Vegetables' to be very accessible for a beginner. This accessibility carries through to this publication and she makes propagation sound easy. Her practical explanations and clear enthusiasm make Grow Your Own Garden an ideal manual for those of you making your first attempts at propagation. I will certainly be referring to it this year in an attempt to have more of my own seeds and cuttings for next year. There are sections on collecting and storing seeds and bulbs, taking stem cuttings, layering, lifting and dividing plants, taking offsets and root cuttings and a really interesting chapter of propagating leaves, something I never even knew was possible. A very useful manual, I will making good use of this book and before long the pages are likely to be marked with mucky finger prints and scatterings of soil.

How to Garden by Alan Titchmarsh

This is a series of 11 books rather than one volume and Ebury sent me 'Flowering Shrubs', 'Perennial Garden Plants', 'Greenhouse Gardening' and 'Climbers and Wall Shrubs', but there are volumes on Lawns, Paths and Patios, Fruit, Vegetables and Herbs, Container Gardening, Pruning and Training, Garden Design and Gardening in the Shade as well. They are sold as practical guides to gardening and follow the typical garden manual layout. Of the ones I was sent to look at the 'Greenhouse Gardening' volume was the most relevant to my own needs and I have certainly picked up some useful tips from the book but I can't help thinking that these books do not offer much that is new in their approach. If you already have a selection of gardening books, chances are you already have something similar. The photos are lovely, the information useful and practical and for the beginner there are useful sections on how to choose appropriate plants for your garden, so if you are just building your garden library or you are developing a new area of interest they are definitely worth a look. But otherwise, they are unlikely to offer you anything you can't already find on your shelves. Having said that, I will be seeking out the volume devoted to Gardening in the Shade as I find this a particularly difficult area to find information on and with Alan's expertise and the easy instruction and familiar approach to these books I am sure it will be a good addition to my 'gardening book shelf'.

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Jumping in Muddy Puddles

There are some days when no matter how hard I try, I acheive absolutely nothing. While on others I get so much done I wonder if someone has stretched the hours to last a bit longer. We had one of the latter days today and I feel very chuffed with myself. With the help of Garden Girl and Garden Boy, I managed to change and wash the bedding, sweep the floors, remove all weeds and unwanted bugs from the greenhouse, clean the entire greenhouse on the inside, jump in a big muddy puddle, clean up two very muddy children, bake cakes for the playgroup bake sale, fill the dishwasher and clean the children's wellies. And somewhere, in the middle of all that, I drove our Little Garden Helpers to the swimming pool so they could swim with Garden Dad in his lunch hour.

The biggest acheivement for me however, was not the amount of things we got done, but the fact that, having discovered the huge quantity of spiders, snails, baby slugs, centipedes, earwigs, peabugs and unidentified insects squatting in our greenhouse, I actually did manage to clean it. It must have been the amount of fun our Little Garden Helpers were having that distracted me enough not to run away, batting my head with flailing arms, every time a drip of water landed on my head.

I feel certain that would have been my behaviour had they not been there. The fear that something crawly or wriggly might land on my head, or fall down my neck, was alleviated by the intense scrutiny Garden Boy was giving each and every insect he found. The total delight he had on his face when he shouted 'Look' and pointed to an insect, just could not be ignored. For the first time, I really watched some of these creatures going about their business, instead of flicking them away as quickly as possible and somehow it made them a little bit more bearable to be around. I managed not to jump away when, with each weed, I disturbed yet another family of insects. (The baby slugs did get a knock on the head with a stone though and the snails were all removed after being admired.)

And by the time we came to washing the windows, we were having too much fun getting wet to worry about the drips not being drips. The 'greenhouse clean' ended with Garden Girl scooping up a lot of soil into the bucket of water, sloshing it about and then tipping it up to create a muddy puddle Peppa Pig would give her tail to jump in. The most mundane of garden tasks was turned into a fun, giggle-filled morning and once again I am grateful for the huge rewards I get back from my children.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

Frogs, Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

The old rhyme that distinguishes girls and boys seems to bear some truth in our household. Yesterday when we were weeding the herb bed I observed in Garden Boy a very different approach to gardening than that of his sister. Garden Girl concentrates on her task with a furrowed brow. She listens carefully as we explain to her the processes of sowing, planting and growing and asks relevant questions which reveal how much she is trying to understand what we are telling her. She will intently watch what other people do and when she feels ready will have a go herself but is cautious and will not be cajoled into starting a task until she is confident she knows what she is doing.

Garden Boy on the other hand will listen only for a short period before trying to make us giggle. He won't allow too much serious business and when he thinks he has listened long enough he will do anything to make us laugh. He will watch quietly for a short time, but as soon as he thinks he will get away with it he gets stuck into a task without a second thought and without a worry for the consequences of getting it wrong. He is more likely to get injured, although his sister worries about getting injured more.

When Garden Girl helps me weed the garden she asks me which things she should dig up and she carefully digs round the actual plants so they won't get damaged. She digs deeper to get the roots because she knows if she doesn't it will grow back. She carefully places the weeds in the bucket so they don't blow around the garden and re-root elsewhere. If she comes across a worm or ladybird or spider she is startled and a little fearful. She steps back with worry and waits till it has gone before she carries on. She is equally worried that the creature will sit on her arm which would be scary and that she will accidentally hurt the creature with her garden fork, because she likes them when they don't come too close. She will look at a frog until it jumps, when she will jump as far as possible as in the opposite direction to the frog. She will look at the lovely patterns on a snail shell but will not pick one up to move it away from our vegetables.

Yesterday however, Garden Boy helped me weed by digging anywhere he felt like. Nothing he dug up went into the bucket, but rather it was moved to another part of the garden from where he toddled proudly back. He concentrated for a while, but as soon as he spotted a ladybird his attention was focused on bugs for the rest of morning. He watched the ladybird with great interest. He shouted at it to wake up and it did. He grinned at me as he told me the ladybird was walking. He showed the ladybird a picture of primroses and told the ladybird all the primrose colours. He tried to pick the ladybird up and shouted for it to come back when it flew away. He got excited when he saw a worm and eagerly tried to hold it, disappointed when it burrowed into the soil to hide. The snails we found were a bit more accommodating and they didn't seem to mind being held by little hands. 'Look Mummy, snail' he gleefully announced as he held out snail after snail for me to inspect. He had found a little stash of them underneath the lavender, all of which now reside in our green bin waiting to be taken away by the bin men. He wanted to try and eat one till I stopped him. If he sees a frog he wants to chase it, not jump away.

And puppy dog tails, you ask? Well Grandma and Grandad North have a lovely energetic border terrier which Garden Girl approaches with caution. She likes him and will stroke him gently when he is calm but if he gets excited she clambers on the sofa out of the way and tells him to leave her alone. Garden Boy meanwhile will happily grab a handful fur and try to catch the tail.

They are so different. Perhaps its boys versus girls, perhaps its just personality. But it definitely makes the world a more interesting place and I wouldn't change either of them. I just can't help but wonder how Garden Bump will approach all these things and the anticipation of discovering a third personality makes me smile.

Monday 15 March 2010

Homemade Lemonade, A Late Harvest and a Sunday Stroll

I have dirt in my finger nails, scratches on my hands and a small bruise on the end of my nose, all evidence of time finally spent in the garden. The bruise, you ask? Oh, just Garden Boy trying to make me smell a sprig of lavender, holding it up to my nose with a little bit too much energy and a little bit too close!

The weekend started with more talk than action in the garden as Garden Dad was indoors painting, while our Little Garden Helpers and I were baking a long desired Queen of Puddings and making homemade lemonade. The latter was at the insistence of Garden Girl who insisted that if we were going to do some gardening we absolutely must have some homemade lemonade to drink outside because Fifi the Flowertot always drinks homemade lemonade when she is gardening. And who am I to argue with the wisdom of a Flowertot?

The fact that we had drunk every last drop before we had even stepped into the garden early on Sunday morning is neither here nor there. It was so delicious and so easy to make I might just have to buy a lemon grove. I'm guessing an unheated greenhouse won't be hot enough to grow our own. All I had to do was grate the rind of six lemons then hand the lemons over to Garden Girl  and Garden Boy to squeeze out all the juice. Then we measured out 8oz of sugar and mixed it with the grated lemon rind. We poured 3 pints of boiling water over the sugar and rind and stirred it till the sugar dissolved. Then, all you need to do is leave it to cool, add the lemon juice, strain and drink. Quickly, before someone else drinks it all.

But back to the garden. On Sunday we spent a lovely day outdoors, harvesting the last of the vegetables we had left to overwinter. There was a massive plant pot full, which we started to cook up on Sunday evening. We had a lovely winter veg and lentil soup on Sunday night and there are now tubs of cooked vegetables in the freezer waiting to be added to various dishes over the coming weeks, but there is still more to prepare and cook; a task for the week ahead.

I also managed to finish cutting back all the herbs on Sunday. Feeling pleased with our acheivements we ended Mothering Sunday with a gentle family stroll. Garden Girl roller skated, while Garden Boy pushed his Teddy Bear in the push chair, stopping to show his teddy all the important sights; aeroplanes, trees, twigs, stones, cats, birds, squirrels, other people, leaves and his roller skating sister.

And with a warm sunshine this morning we were once again in the garden, this time pulling up the weeds which have appeared suddenly over the last week. Garden Boy and I weeded half the herb bed while Garden Girl was a playgroup and with fingers crossed for more sunshine tomorrow we hope to do the other half tomorrow morning.

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Sickness, Cuddles and an Emerging Manager

Perhaps it is a good thing that spring is appearing late this year. For the past week we have had some lovely sunshine begging us to get outdoors and start work in the garden, but hot on the heels of chest infections, Garden Boy chose the nicest week of the year to fall ill with a sickness and diarrhea bug. On the plus side, the sunshine did provide Garden Girl with a means of distraction from all the attention Garden Boy was getting and she must have cycled a marathon in circles on our patio while I changed Garden Boy's nappies and clothes, cleaned him up, carpet shampooed the rug repeatedly, washed bedding, pillows, duvets and cushions and sat pinned to the sofa by a sick boy who could only find comfort in cuddles. 

On the occassions Garden Boy managed to sleep soundly in his bed or on the sofa I would join Garden Girl on the patio and try to pull up some weeds in the cracks between the paving the stones. I soon gave up on this task however, when I started to fear for the safety of my fingers which were in danger of being squashed beneath bicycle wheels. Instead I made a start at cutting back the herbs and have managed to tidy up about half of the bed. Beneath all the 'old wood' it was heartening to see the beginnings of new growth. I was ruthless with the rosemary and sage. I took cuttings of the rosemary last year so I knew I could replace it if I overdid the cutting back, but these big herbs were suffocating the oregano and marjoram and as these are amongst our favourite herbs I would like to encourage them to spread some more this year.

Other than that the only progress made in our garden during this lovely weather was at the weekend and not by myself but by Grandma South, who tirelessy hacked away at the ground behind the greenhouse which was filled with large rocks and stones, so that we could plant our raspberry canes there. Garden Girl was initially going to help but when she saw the size of the rocks buried in the soil, announced that it was 'too hard work' and went back to riding her bicycle before deciding it was too cold to be outdoors. She would occassionally visit Grandma South with words of encouragement along the lines of 'Keep up the hard work Little Digger', returning to tell me Grandma South was doing a good job.

So once again little progress has been made but I have enjoyed an abundance of cuddles from a little boy who is usually too busy to stop for cuddly moments and I have confirmed my suspicions that Garden Girl has management potential. When her playgroup leader asked her who was boss in her house she did say 'Mummy' but I feel that this is a precarious position and I must hold on tight as long as I can!

Monday 1 March 2010

Is Spring finally here?

I am so pleased the sun has finally decided to shine. It was beautiful this morning. We had the patio doors wide open and the sun was shining into the living room making everything seem brighter. Garden Girl was at playgroup but Garden Boy was able to come and go from the garden as he wished and I could actually put my washing out and leave it there all day. I even sat outside to drink a mug of coffee while I watched Garden Boy run around and enjoy the slide. I hope we have many more days like this to come. A little bit of sun does wonders for my motivation and now that I am feeling a bit more awkward with the bump, dry, sunny weather is very welcome.