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Keeping the Brakes On

February 4, 2016

I always make the mistake at this time of year of sowing too much too early. That’s then followed by a crazy juggling act to keep seedlings in limited space in the light and warm till March.  They end up getting leggy or succumb to damping off so this year I am trying to be more restrained. I’ve bought a pop up greenhouse for the allotment but it has yet to be assembled and the plan is to use it to grow tomatoes in the ground.  This will be from soil at the base on one side and supported with canes pushed firmly into the allotment earth. On the other side there will be shelving for cuttings and new seedlings. It’s 2 m x 2.5 m so big enough for my needs and combined with my new potting shed here at home I should be able to fill the allotment to bursting.

pop up greenhouse

The Cupani sweet peas have been sown in the root trainers and are in the heated propagator to germinate. I followed Julie’s instructions in her latest blog Peonies and Posies and I also bought the Jute netting that she recommends for support. This will do too for the peas and mange tout and should avoid me swearing at the plastic stuff that gets tangled up in cardigan buttons and in anything else it can snare on.

The allotment raspberries after ten years gave a poor crop last season so Autumn Bliss and summer fruiting Mailing Minerva, which produces large crops from early June, are waiting to be planted.  These were bought at the garden centre and rather than bare root they were bundled together in a  deep pot of soil so I haven’t had to worry about getting them planted. The Autumn bliss is showing new growth.


The Mailing isn’t showing any green shoots so these will probably skip fruiting this summer but I’m happy to wait and I may be surprised.


Clearing the old raspberry beds will allow room for the walk-in greenhouse and give me a lot more growing space on either side. With this in mind and in an attempt to beat the badger I have also purchased these Micromesh Wind Barriers.  They are designed to protect carrots and other crops against flying insects and ‘other pests’ -the badger fits that description in my view.

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The cut flowers this week are the usual suspects: arum, euphorbia, vinca, sweet box and hellebores.  The latter have performed really badly this year with many of the flowers being nibbled by something.


Pea Shoots

January 28, 2016




These were sown about three weeks ago from a packet of supermarket dried marrowfat peas and kept indoors in front of the only accessible window. And whilst a bit leggy the tops are refreshingly delicious and there are more to come planted in containers outside…


They germinated slowly outside but burst into leaf prompted by the frosty weather last week. They are filling up the pots containing the scented tulips the idea being that by the time the tulips emerge the pea shoots will be eaten and over. Full of vitamin C and with a lovely fresh pea flavour they make a great salad added to other leaves or stirred into a risotto towards the end of cooking.


Broad beans sown at the same time have germinated too but not all of them.  There are signs of emerging green shoots in the gaps and all will be planted out in mid-February and another batch sown this weekend. And the potatoes are chitting in the warmth of the kitchen: Charlotte (lovely waxy flesh and great in salads), Cara (splendid roasted as wedges), Lady Christi (1st early that can be left to grow on) and Pentland (a maincrop and good for mashing).

There’s been stop start progress on the shed but with the windows cleaned it looks tons better and I’m about to apply the second coat of creosote.


We’ve had one conversation which stopped progress for half a day and it went: ‘What are those doing there’? (5 rusty Cow & Gate powdered milk tins vintage 1950’s full of rusty screws). Me ‘Waiting for my next trip to the city dump’. Husband ‘But I want them’. Me ‘They came from my dad’s shed and I definitely don’t want them-in fact here are four even larger tins also full of rusty items that came from your dad’s shed.  Would you like to keep those?’ Silence.

I put mine out on the pavement and an hour later they’d gone. My guess is they are now happily resting in some other garden shed.


The Sarcococca hookeriana is blooming and filling the terrace with its heavenly scent. And more wallflowers have emerged on the allotment.


A Frosty Morning

January 20, 2016

The beautiful frosted leaves on the Euphorbia robbiae…


And on the arums and lamiums…


And on the foxgloves…


And even the tiny primrose …


So nothing for it-we need to think about spring and ordering seeds.

A list at the front of my gardening journal is growing a pace based on new varieties and rave reviews from other growers.  Thus far it contains:

Tall Purple Podded Peas from Pennard Plants



La Diva cucumber a climber

Oregon Sugar Pod peas

White Silver 2 AGM chard

Munchkin climbing squash from Sarah Raven

Spinach ‘Tetona’

Burpees Golden beetroot

Beetroot Mixture to include Chioggia, Detroit, Egyptian Flat and others found in Poundland


Any recommendations would be gratefully received.

I was moaning to a friend how much I’d love a potting shed last week and he said ‘but you already have one don’t you, that huge garden shed with windows down one side?’ I’d considered it once before but was daunted by the quantities of old paint tins and ancient DIY items that tend to get shoved in and ignored.  But thinking about it there’s probably just about enough sun on the window side and there’s a huge bench along the length there for potting up seedlings protected from the elements. So highly motivated I plan to clean the windows and to drastically reduce the contents over the next few weeks.


A pot of lovely Daffodil Tete a Tete is cheering up the kitchen. These were emerging through a hydrangea and hardly visible so I lifted them as a clump to remind me that spring was not too far away. Oh and the ornithologist from next door called in…


Winter Walks

January 14, 2016

I had an urge to get some fresh air and exercise mid-week so a circuitous walk via the city centre to Reg the Veg in Clifton for some Seville oranges was a great incentive…


I love winter and I particularly love bare trees knowing that whilst dormant there’s a steady build up of resources that will ensure a burst into leaf in spring. The grounds of bombed-out Temple Church in the heart of the city of Bristol is a quiet contemplative spot for busy office workers and provides a stunning contrast to the huge office blocks surrounding it. The rich colours of fallen leaves and the bare outline of these huge trees, highlighted by winter sun and blue skies, more than make up for this leafless season. And in the heart of Georgian Clifton village how lovely to have left the flaky paint on this old door…


Back home and the marmalade making flooded the house with the scent of oranges and produced these pots of glowing fruit…



Boil 2 k of whole fruit in 2 L of water for 1 1/2 hours,. When cool cut in half and scoop out the pith and pips to add back to the cooking liquid which then gets boiled again for 5 minutes to release the pectin from the pips. Slice the orange peel and place in a preserving pan. Add 4 k of warmed granulated sugar plus the strained liquid and stir till the sugar has completely dissolved. Boil rapidly for 10 minutes and test for setting.

I was in despair about finding anything to cut for the house and then found this pretty collection of arums, hellebores, vincas and Euphorbia robbiae…


Pomegranates and Quinces

January 6, 2016


We were recently given a great gift (bought from the Cypriot greengrocer) of fat waxy quinces and pomegranates both looking as if they’d tumbled out of a C18 oil painting.


I love pomegranate and added the juicy, ruby-red jewels to a dish of Camargue red rice mixed with flat-leaf parsley and a French dressing.


The quince are such a sensuous fruit I would happily carry one round in my pocket in order to take in the subtle scent of Bramley apples and to stroke the waxy skin. But waste not want not is my 2016 mantra so I converted two of them into Quince Pickle from Diana Henry’s Salt, Sugar and Smoke.


600ml of cider vinegar, 225g of granulated sugar, 6 cloves, 6 juniper berries, 12 black peppercorns, 4 strips of unwaxed lemon rind, 1kg quinces.

Put all ingredients except the quinces in a pan and bring to the boil and simmer till the sugar has dissolved. Peel the quinces and core before cutting into eights. Heat the vinegar again and drop the quince segments in and cook until tender about 30 minutes. Transfer the segments into sterilised jars then boil the vinegar to reduce. Pour over the fruit and include the spices but omit the lemon strips. The pickle will store for a year and can be served with hot and cold meat dishes and terrines.


The other two fruit were stewed in a syrup of sugar, water, cloves and lemon juice for 45 minutes to store in the freezer. They can be added to stewed apples or served chilled with a good vanilla ice-cream.


In despair about finding anything to pick for the house I suddenly spotted a small self-seeded Euphorbia wulfennii with acid green flowers emerging on the tips of the primitive stems. It seemed a bit mean to pick the only flowers but I have several clumps on the allotment so will replace the plant forthwith.DSCN6050

Cabin Fever

December 31, 2015

With rain on and off for most of the week, and more forecast for next, a speedy gardening project was needed. So a neat little box from the Christmas clementines was commandeered and filled with fresh compost.  Dried peas were scattered over the surface and more compost added to cover. It may provoke a change in the warm weather but if it remains mild then green pea shoots should be ready for picking in a week or two.DSCN6005

Whilst I was out there and dressed for the weather I started off the Sutton Dwarf broad beans.  These are good for exposed sites and require no staking. The plants can be added to by sowing directly in the ground in rows in March every two weeks.


Rainbow chard is still looking good and I am determined to prevent any flowers forming by nipping them out in the centre of the plant as soon as they start to form. The same should be done with Swiss chard and then both these plants can be considered perennials and will produce leaves for up to three years.


There’s very little in flower but two rosebuds from the recently planted Bourbon rose Madame Isaac Pereire appeared and were added to a vase of prostrate Rosemary in full bloom and pineapple sage flowers and leaves.


Christmas Decorations

December 18, 2015

Decked for Christmas the marble fire surround is looking very cool and is now draped the entire length in silver plants.  Two pairs of tall candlesticks and a pair of metal Secretary birds were added to give some height…


By chance the head feathers of the birds repeat the spikes of the agapanthus flowers rather neatly…


The Sarcococca confusa with its black berries and elegant pointed leaves took the silver spray really well transforming the berries into clusters of silver beads…


And the Agapanthus africanus heads (I left the seeds on some) have also survived their transformation into silver fireworks…


The flowers of Fatsia japonica drooped a bit after picking but once sprayed they perked up again. Their contrasting form works well with the form of the other two plants. These will be used as table decorations…DSCN5711

So altogether a collection of pretty, silver, horticultural Christmas decorations and one I shall repeat again next year adding runner beans and globe artichokes !!

Wishing you all A Very Happy Christmas and a great gardening New Year.



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