Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Other peoples' gardens

In the last few days I have been inspired by two gardens. One I visited in the flesh, so to speak, and the other is a virtual visit.The first one belonged to George, a retired estate gardener, and his wife, Elizabeth. George is a beekeeper, and had agreed to host a few sessions for our beginners class at his apiary. They still live in their estate cottage, outside Edinburgh, and their apiary is in a fenced off corner of their large amazing garden. It was my dream garden - full of little separate areas - like raised beds, but on a grander and more attractive scale. It is hard to describe, so I will let the photographs do the talking - even if my photographs only whisper about the scene.

They also had 2 poly tunnels, a green house, and one or two little plastic structures. The crops in the poly tunnels were incredibly advanced - what a boon they are in this climate.

Everything was great - parsnips in oil drums for showing, vintage compost, the bean supports were a work of art - it was just all great. I think I liked it - can you tell?The second garden was introduced to me by Laura, and the details can be found here.

I like being dangerous:)

The Dervases in California are self sufficient in fruit and vegetables - but I suppose it helps that the first frost is in mid January and the last frost is mid March. Notwithstanding, they are seriously impressive growers, as well as all the other things they do.
Elizabeth from Edinburgh, said she never has to buy vegetables. Now, when the first frost can come in mid - late August, and the last one can still catch you out in early June, that is also seriously impressive. The poly tunnels definitely help though.

High targets to aim for, but I am inspired.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Garden Tool Miles

A while ago, a lovely lady on a forum I frequent asked about our must-have garden items. I must admit I was a bit stumped to come up with an answer, as, apart from the obvious hoe, spade, rake, trowel etc and I was unable to think think of anything else I couldn't live without. Sure there are plenty of other gadgets around, but I can always muddle through with the basics. This year, however, I was seduced by this little beauty - really as I wanted to keep on top of the weeks in my onion and garlic patch. It is a Kirpi weeder, purchased from the Organic Gardening Catalogue, but designed and manufactured in India. When it arrived all wrapped up in the International page of the Sunday Times of India, July 4th 2004 edition, and the blade carefully bandaged in a long strip of stripey cloth, I was amazed to see that it was imported by someone from Biggar - just 20 miles distance from me. It had travelled 3500 miles from India, up to Biggar, 400 miles down to Surrey and 400 miles back up to me. It is supplied by the Jatan Trust in Gujarat, which is inspired by the Gandhian principles of simplicity, respect and manual labour, who and all purchases help to support the trust. I did feel that my organic and fair trade attempts were somewhat negated by it's jaunt down south and back, but nevertheless I would not now be without this wonder tool. It is an excellent weeder, planter, pruner,cultivator, string cutter, seed drill marker and all round indispensable must have friend.
Lots going on in the garden just now as we approach the crescendo, but it means less time blogging about it, so I will catch up soon.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

I never promised you a rose garden.

To save the virtual world from yet another picture of my increasing raised bed toll, I have decided to focus on this little jungly corner. This is my scented rose garden, inspired many years before I even had a garden, by Martha Stewart. Thinking about it, that single article in the 1991(?) Christmas issue of Country Living Magazine had quite a profound influence of my 'style'. It was then that i decided to have hens one day, and I still decorate my Christmas tree with gauze ribbon and faux fruit. Mind you, I have never been convicted of lying to obstruct the course of justice , but I digress.
My vision was of a relaxing hideaway corner, filled with scented plants - roses, geraniums, lavenderand herbs, which would gently waft their sweet aromas while we lounged on the garden seat piled with squashy cushions and flower sprigged quilts enjoying a jug of freshly made lemonade- or- even better Pimms -and homemade, homegrown lunches, as we relished the view of our lush productive garden. That magazine has a lot to answer for!!
Originally, when we arrived here, this was the site of a dilapidated lean-to outbuilding constructed out of corrugated perspex sheets, now brittle and cracked. It was filled with an amazing assortment of plant pots, a huge pile of old bricks, lengths of wood and assorted bric-a-brac. Country Living might call it gardenailia. It was becoming increasingly redundant as a store due to the terminal condition of the perspex and had become home to several furry creatures and an annual wasps' byke.
We demolished it, but used the footprint as a template for the Martha Stewart garden. We erected a flat pack arbour seat and painted it purple with a terracotta red roof to offset the ones in the old brick wall. I perused the David Austin rose website, but chickened out when my 'basket' totalled £263. I discovered decent looking roses at the local garden centre and bought a few every month. A lavender border was planted, scented geraniums filled the corners and sage and thyme varieties were dotted around. Trellis was erected and climbing roses appeared. Cushions and a throw were purchased and a makeshift, but very rustic looking table was constructed from some slates and an old plant stand. The vision was complete.
We wandered down on the first fine evening with our glasses of lightly chilled white.
It didn't work...
The late afternoon and evening sun shone straight into our eyes as we seated ourselves on the lilac checked cushions. We sipped our chardonnay while squinting at each other with a forced cheerfulness. The rest of the day, the rose garden was plunged into murky dankness. A slow leak from next door's pond dripped imperceptibly through the wall into the climbing rose bed. The scent never did come wafting up as I drifted through with my floaty dress and basket arranged attractively on my arm as I had envisaged - it was too damp. The climbing roses that survived tried constantly to escape their bonds and waited to whip the face of an unsuspecting passerby just for revenge at being stuck in such an inhospitable spot. A gigantic lovage plant nearby overpowered the aroma of every scented plant and it was - well really all a bit disappointing.
We tried with it, but our hearts were not really in it after that and it has now fallen into an overgrown wilderness corner only visited occasionally with a fly cup of tea and a pair of strong sunglasses.
There is hope, however, as this sad and forlorn patch is about to be reborn as 'The Apiary'. I've yet to ask my beekeeping teacher to okay it, but from what I've learned so far, it could be the ideal site for a couple of hives. I now have a Bee Blog which I am going to use for such affairs, keeping this one purely for growing matters. Please check it out if you have the time. It's still being constructed and updated, but what else is new here?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Bee's Knees

Well - okay - it is a bit too big, but I'm not the world's best laundress, so it will shrink :) This is me trying on my bee suit the night before my first practical bee handling class. Sadly I forgot to take my camera with me, which is a shame as it was a glorious day and a wonderful setting. Our group visited the apiary at Edinburgh University and our teachers were the marvellously Gothic F and her charming partner M. F and M, who both work at the campus, have only been bee-keeping for a year and they have 5 hives. They have a fantastic set up and we were soon gasping in wonder as we saw the inner workings of a bee colony. We were taught how to light and operate the smoker, open the hive and handle the frames properly and everything we have learned so far in the theory classes suddenly made sense. I felt very secure in my bee suit and hood, despite bees buzzing around and landing on me; I feel that beekeeping will be a very mindful occupation. Next week we are heading off to another apiary, so I will try to take some photographs.
Meanwhile we have been considering the best place to site a couple of hives and have identified the bottom left hand corner of the garden. It faces south east and is sheltered, but not a frost pocket. There is also a high wall which would direct the bee's flight path straight upwards, so they would be less likely to come into contact with anyone on their way in and out of the hive. My only worry was that my neighbours Mr and Mrs Mac would not be keen. I saw them out early on this morning, so took the chance. They are used to me and my schemes, so when I called over the fence - " Er... Hello- can I run something past you?" they looked at each other and shook their heads - "Go on then." Anyway - they were all for it - hip hip hooray!
Realistically it will probably be next year before I get any bees, but we can be working on the site and getting the hives and equipment ready over the Autumn and Winter. That will give me the chance to complete the course attend the EMBA Winter lectures and be in a position to start next spring. Wow!


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