Saturday, December 27, 2008

People in glass houses.

Today we emerged from our Yuletide bunker (well, we finally finished the washing up anyway) and began the next phase of 'reclaim the plot'. However, the frost was too hard to dig or prune anything, so it seemed a great opportunity to start on the greenhouse - 'A Big Joab, Jimmy', as they say around here. The double greenhouse had been taken over by the hens (sob) and was also the recipient of any junk we didn't have space for in the garage - there was even a tree growing in it, threatening to push off the roof panes! Seed trays full of dusty old compost, the unknown remnants of once hopeful seedlings, harvested garlic from 3 years ago still hung up to dry, hundreds of old compost bags and millions of plastic plant pots - all littered about as if a giant wooden spoon had stirred everything around.
We were accompanied by BJ, keen to try out his new gardening set given to him for Christmas. this comprised a sturdy canvas bag, gloves, and trowel and fork. Once out became apparent we would have to take turns about working or playing with BJ, so I started off clearing the inner end of the green house. This is the area where the seedlings and growing plants are kept, and the tomatoes planted out. It has a connecting door to the outer end, which is (in theory) the working end - potting up, sowing seed etc. It was full of old seed trays and pots of what might have been potential harvest, sadly left to rot and turn to dust. Half a dozen old grow bags, which had been planted up with various salad crops were still sitting on the staging. The dusty old compost from all these receptacles was collected in an old zinc bath and carted off to be added to the compost bin. All the pots were put in a large box, old drinks bottles that I used for either growbag water reservoirs or as eye protection on the ends of canes, were similarly collected up and stored. These will be washed later, and once the front end is cleared out I can implement a storage system for them.
My turn over, I headed indoors with BJ, who, I later discovered had filled his bag with old compost and fallen apples, when he tried to take it into his bath, to make tea for HG, whose job was to cut down this mystery tree. We though it was a spur from the lilac tree which grew just across the path, but without leaves it was too hard to tell. Task accomplished, he then went on with a couple of woodworking jobs he was doing.

All in all a good start was made, and I feel a plan coming on - oh yes! - it even includes plant pots graded and stored by size. Later, I went through last years seeds, which were stored in several plastic carriers, stuffed into one big carrier bag, stuffed down behind the craft drawers in the conservatory. I now have a new system. Two wooden filing drawers from Ikea, and a set of cardboard drawer dividers. Trouble is BJ has now appropriated them to store his toy car collection - now much enlarged by his Father's inability to resist the Woolworth's closing down sale. I have a surprising amount of viable seeds too, so I can now really, seriously, finally work out what I need for next year. Promise I will.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Return of the light.

The shortest day is now past, and the sun has appeared victorious over the horizon. I sneaked out from between sleeping son and husband, slipped on my duffel coat and garden clogs, grabbed the camera and watched the events unfold from the west boundary wall. First it was dark, then a pale gleaming silver and before long rosy hues began to deepen into flame. I felt a bit like a spectator at some heavenly contest of might between the forces of dark and light - which it may very well have been. I think the good guy won, but he needed the darkness to shine through.
Photographs can never do justice to such a spectacle, but here is my paltry homage to the return of the light.

Have a good Yule y'all.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


We've lost two of our hens. They have disappeared. We now only have one - poor Jenny, the old, daft Maran. I came out around lunchtime to give them their scraps and wheat berries, and only saw Jenny - walked round to the hen hut and saw a mass of white feathers on the ground, and straw pushed out of the hut. I bottled it, and rushed in to report to the Head Gardener, who duly went down to view the grisly scene. But there were no hens to be found - a few drops of blood on some of the white feathers, and one or two brown feathers lying around, but no Fiona or surviving Broon Twin. No sign of any bodies or trail of feathers.

What we think has happened is this. (Stay with me at the back please.) There is a mad wee terrier who lives round the corner called Sash (this is Central Scotland, mind). He normally never gets out, but when he does he goes crazy and thinks he can take on all the traffic that thunders past our road - he normally does too, as huge articulated lorries have been slowed down to a crawl whilst this tiny beige scrap barks at them in the middle of the road. Anyway, a couple of times Sash has gained entry to our garden and had a go at Fiona. She is white, and she is slow, so normally she is the fall guy, while the rest run for cover. He has had her down and feathers have gone flying, before she escapes his jaws and hot foots it out of there. The first time it happened, we were away in the camper, and No 2 daughter who was at home telephoned to say one of the hens had been killed. Again. no body, just loads of feathers. About a month later, a man knocked at the door asking if I had lost a hen. It was herself, and she had been living in his garden all that time, being fed by his granddaughter. Now this was a fair distance away and across a road (Ha! Now we know!), so he was unaware of our hen keeping activities, until his granddaughter's friend's mum had mentioned us. Well, she settled back in and then last year, around Samhain, we were relaxing, enjoying the extra end of Summertime hour, and the Head Gardener went to make a cup of tea. He came rushing back in to the bedroom, pulling on joggers and fleece, shouting - there's a dog dressed as Superman teaing lumps our of the white hen! Well - what can you say? Sure enough there was a dog wearing a blue cape being chased out of the garden by a man in a navy fleece, grey joggers and a pair of brown deck shoes. Really - the sights you see when you don't have your gun! Anyway, this episode solved the mystery of Fiona's summer holiday (she was OK, just a bit spooked - the dog had attended his owner's fancy dress party the night before - they were still hungover, and obviously Sash had drunk all the leftovers) Another time he got in - same thing - went straight for the fat white one - she escaped again to another neighbour's garden, and a merry hour was spent trying to catch her. Anyway - to finally get to the point - what we think has happened is that Sash has got in again - had a go at Fiona who has scarpered - tried to get into the hen hut where surviving Broon Twin was in the nest box dragged her out and she too has escaped.

Jenny, the daft old maran, who may not be so daft after all, is now living a solitary life in the greenhouse. The hen hut obviously has painful memories for her. She reminds me of the Will Smith character in I am Legend. How weird it must be for her - her whole community wiped out in an instant. No stone has been left unturned in the search for the missing . The neighbours are all on alert for signs of hens squatting in their gazebos etc, but i fear the worst for them in this weather. It is very sad.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pruning interrupted

Well, the next day, the other blackcurrant did not get it, and can still be seen in it's unshorn state as I type this. The gooseberries got a real going over - vindictive little minxes that they are - one managed to pierce my heavy duty gauntlet - quite sore actually. The flowering cherry was given a blast - really because it was so overgrown that we couldn't use what we term the 'back door' (it's the furthest away conservatory door, which leads out to an area of mossy tarmac that I fondly hoped would be an outdoor eating area - you know, me in a floral print tea dress serving Provencal type lunches to my sparkling happy family, drinking rose wine and admiring my wonderful dahlia displays, but it doesn't get any sun, is surrounded by buildings, and it's in a former mining village in the Scottish Central Belt). Then two of the fruit trees, 1 plum and 1 apple got a half hearted swipe, as it was freezing cold and beginning to rain. Retreat to the fire and later on pulled out the seed catalogues, but BJ decided I had had enough 'me time' and didn't go to bed until 11 o'clock.
So - still on the pruning list - blackcurrants still to finish, plums and apples need a hard prune, but may need a pair of loppers, roses to be cut back and moved to front of house. Maybe a job for January now.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Cutting through.

The ground has been frozen hard now for almost two weeks, so things have been very quiet at the back of the yellow cottage. Baby James has not been very well, so we have not ventured out much at all. In the last few days, however, he has perked up at lot, and has found his lost appetite, so, a frosty, cold but sunny morning encouraged us out of our hibernation. The Head Gardener, now recovering from his slipped disc, was keen to clear out the garage (again) with a view to getting the Camper Van inside for the Winter. This is a job much like the painting of the Forth Bridge used to be (the garage is even the same colour), as so much stuff accumulates, and the space is too handy as a dumping ground. Anyway, HG, with BJ in tow set about the garage - filling the car up with 'stuff for the dump', so I wandered down the garden, secateurs in hand, with the idea of doing 'a little light pruning'. I love pruning, it is so satisfying cutting away the dead wood and twisted branches. Have been doing pruning indoors too this week - clearing away the piles of - stuff. I know I have used that word three times already, but there is no other word to describe it. Loaded car trip up to the Debra Charity shop - chosen because I could park right outside it, leave BJ in the car, while I lugged boxes of books, clothes and...stuff into the quite small shop.
So - pruning then. I wanted to prune the blackcurrants, which have been left to grow out of control a bit. Two bushes, in particular, were in need of a severe short back and sides. Lawrence D Hills recommends cutting half the bushes right down, and putting up with a reduced crop the following year, but then being able to manage them better. Same again with the rest, so in theory a fantastic crop should be enjoyed in two years time. Trouble is, the bushes most in need of shearing were the best cropping ones. In true interrupted style, however, I was just finishing massacring - sorry- manicuring the first bush, when HG appeared with a very tearful and cold looking BJ who wanted his Mummy. The other one gets it tomorrow.

Monday, December 1, 2008


First day of Advent ( although, ecclesiastically, I suppose, it would have been yesterday) and we get to open the first door on the advent calendar. This year, ours is a scene from T'was the night before Christmas, with jolly old St. Nicholas dressed up in his best Coca Cola red. Oh well - more seasonal than a Bratz chocolate one (do they eat chocolate? And what have they got to do with Christmas?). Anyway - gardening is the point of this blog, so lets keep the focus -even if it is fairly loose. A picture of our winter display - yes can't deny it any longer - it's December- last night I had to have three blankets and the downie, plus socks, leggings, cardigan, baby and husband to keep me warm. It did work, but it was not a pretty sight.
We have on our table a pot of narcissi bought from Snapdragon at the Country Living magazine fair in Glasgow. It was the wonderful Jane herself who served me. She was so nice, and I am afraid I became very gushy - 'I just love your blog!' I splutterred. like some star struck teenager. But really, I couldn't have been more pleased if it had been Donny Osmond himself LOL. Check out her blog -see links. She also has great links to other blogs, if you want to lose half a day in blogland.

The other plant on the table is a lovely hen shaped basket of cheery faced winter pansies, a present from the lovely Vanessa and her family, who came for lunch yesterday. They wanted to see our hens, with a view to getting their own and we had a very pleasant afternoon. What a great wee team they were too.

Photos are pretty rubbish - I am not a good photographer are the best of times, but worse when I am trying to avoid showing the untidyness of the rest of the house, while taking an artful composition. But you get the idea.

Christmassy/Yule things will no doubt creep onto the table and into the house and blog over the next week or so, and then it will be full blown deck the halls etc. I like that.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Down the garlic path

Garlic - the stinking rose - one of my desert island vegetables. I love it, and use it all the time in cooking. If a recipe calls for 1 clove, I add two, if it only says onion, well, it gets a chopped clove as well. Odd that I had never really eaten the stuff until I was about 17, when my mother began, somewhat daringly, to sprinkle a bit over the Sunday roast, prompting a more unenlightened boyfriend to ask if the meat was off. Anyway, I am so pleased to announce that these beautiful pink pearls have been planted in their freshly dug garlic bed. The variety is Music, a hardneck porcelain garlic, ordered from the Really Garlicky Company
As they grow this commercialy in the North East of Scotland, I am hopeful that in my wee bit off the M8 corridor, we will see more than a few bulbs. All in all about 90 cloves were planted, and they are now snug in bed with a light covering of bubble wrap, just to give them a start. I'll take this off in a few days, when this frost has lifted a bit; it is -6 here tonight and I am a bit clucky with my cloves.
You can see the bed before I started on it almost three weeks ago now. I am only getting a couple of hours at the weekend to work on the plot, so I am pretty pleased that I have something to show off. This was a bit of a nightmare. Couch grass and buttercups had been allowed to make merry here for at least 3 years, and they were enjoying their party. And nettles! How hard are they to dig out? Is every nettle in the world attached to each other, by some sort of nettle internet?
Still, with my own gloved hands I dug this out, removing as much of the white straggly roots as I could. I don't imagine I've got it all out, but hopefully enough to be able to keep it under some control later on. Fiona, the white hen, shows off her good side in this photo, and is not quite so modest in the next one. The surviving Broon Twin also checks out the newly dug garlic patch. They like to get involved when they can - especially if there are worms going. Actually that was one aspect of digging this out that did bother me- the huge amount of worms that die. I know there are loads of them, but they do such great work that I hate to see a single one harmed. Well, the sharp eyed reader may note the amount of digging that still has to be done, so I'll have to get over it. Once these beds are in place, I don't intend digging much, or at all, come to that. Mulching will be my keyword.

Anyway, there is enough space here to fit in another raised bed next to this one, which will be planted up with onions. There is enough room for shallots in the garlic bed, as 90 cloves at 6 inches apart only takes up half the bed. I am hoping to plant the escalote grise from Thompson and Morgan. It is an autumn planted variety, but I reckon it should be ok to start it off in February. Any more good weekends over the next two months will be spent digging out the onion bed, but I also want to give the blackcurrants a prune, move some roses and perennials round to the front garden, and build a herb spiral (see the spiral seed link) Oh - and a few other diversions to be organised in the next month. Better get perusing those seed catalogues and get my letter off to Santa.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The path ahead

Hmmm - don't think I will be able to keep this themed title thing up for long.

So - it begins.... What to do first?

It is obvious from the photos that things have gone way out of control, and I could easily find myself rushing around like a headless chicken doing - well - not very much, and achieving even less. Let's focus here! Thinking about it from a Feng Sui perspective - clearing the path seemed to be a good thing to do, maybe get some chi flowing. Yes - even the path was overgrown, and trips to the henhouse, compost bins and coal box were fraught with danger. (An imminent visit from the coal man with the first of the year's delivery (£12 a bag!!!!), with the accompanying anxiety of a lawsuit to follow if he slipped en route was also an incentive here.) The first hurdle to be overcome was a huge clump of Kniphofia which had spread out over the path, barring entry to the garden itself. Next, the unwary voyager must negotiate a carpet of mud, fallen leaves, rotten plums and hen droppings. Finally a huge cotoneaster which has already taken over part of the greenhouse lay in wait to trip up any who survived thus far. Under this, the long hidden paving slabs were covered in thick grass and weeds which had grown between the cracks. This sorry state of affairs continued the length of the path, down to the bottom of the garden, where it merged, like one of those infinity pools into the weed infested morass.
Two weeks ago, then (blogging is also interrupted here), I waved goodbye to my dear husband and younger son, as they set off for a walk along the cycle track. I should point out here that my DH began the path clearing some six weeks previously, but as the spade skimmed beneath the first sod, it hit against a slab which was sticking up, and he put his back out. He was signed off work for 3 weeks, and things are still a bit fragile in the lumbar region - hence my foray into the fray armed with spade, hoe, brush and spring-tined rake. Anyway, I looked neither left nor right, but dilligently focussed on the way ahead. Reader, I worked my little socks off and three hours later....
We have a path - yay! Well, only halfway down. A trip by husband and BJ to the Grandparents the following day allowed another couple of hours sustained effort to take us down to the bottom.

Not all the way - still round the corner bit to do, but small acorns and all that...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The path less travelled

I've started this blog really to inspire me to get to grips with this plot. We moved into our bungalow almost ten years ago now - the garden, greenhouse and outbuildings did it for us. The house itself was always a bit too small for our family of - then 4, occassionaly 5, but we reasoned that in a few years, the chicks would be starting to fly the nest. How wrong! One left, two have stayed and another one arrived.
The house sits on a plot of just under 1/3 of an acre, and the garden is mostly to the rear of the property (as estate agents would say). Nearest the house is a drying green with an ornamental border. In the central area there is a fruit garden, with blackcurrants, rasps, gooseberries, rhubarb, plums and apples. There is also a large greenhouse. The furthest away third is the veg garden. Initially this was a small bed off to the right of the path, and the rest was a huge lawn. In our new gardener euphoric state, we dug beds into this lawn, planted potatoes, onions, shallots, beans, sweetcorn, squashes - in fact -the entire Organic Gardening catalogue went in there somewhere, and for a few years we had great success. Wandering down the garden just before starting dinner and snipping a few choice bits here and there was fantastic. Then we got carried away. Ideas of polytunnels - all year round growing - self sufficiency - giving away surplus to the neighbourhood - stall at the farmer's market .... we dug up the whole back lawn!
It was a reasonable success the first year, but, full time working and part time gardening did not work for this particular dream (and this particular climate) - we let the weeds get out of hand - we left produce in the ground as we had no plans for storage - we lost heart. Then a miracle happened. I became pregnant at the age of 45! It was a difficult pregnancy, which meant I spent the spring and summer of 2006 cooped up indoors, being sick, lethargic, and unable to lift even a packet of seeds.
Baby James was born in the November, and so, with visions of self and babe strapped to my back, tilling away happily, I sent off my usual small fortune to the seed companies. Well, of course BJ had other ideas - "Tie me up in a sling, mother? Noooo way!" , and so another year, another seven years of weed seeds.

This year, BJ was toddling, but not safely enough in the now thistle and nettle infested plot, and I could not spend more than ten minutes at a time in the garden before he needed rescuing and diverting. We also by this time had a lovely VW Camper van, and so weekends were spent listening to the drum of rain on the canvas pop top in some west coast campsite, rather than on our conservatory roof.

Despite this, we did have a moderately passable harvest of peas, broad and runner beans, turnip and chard, but it is not good enough. In fact it is a dampt disgrace and I am going to do something about it now - this minute - oh no, the baby's awake. I have to go. But I'll be back.


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