Sunday, 31 May 2015

Holiday walks and wellies...

The half term holiday is nearly over, far too quickly for my liking:( Small boy, daft dog and I have being doing plenty of walking in all weathers, luckily (for the dog) small boy is a happy walker as long as there is the promise of a treat (bribe) at the end of it, preferably some form of chocolate...oh, he is so my boy!:) Plenty of baking has been done during the holiday too, this mornings indulgence was chocolate and banana muffins. I am fooling myself in thinking that the fruit balances the chocolate out and that they are actually good for you aren't I?...hum...

The blossom was falling from the hawthorns today and small boy thought it was snowing, so we've walked in sun, rain, wind and...snow, certainly felt cold enough! We've just come in from a walk to visit the allotments near where I used to live when my two big boys were younger. I'll have to sort through the photos I've taken and get something written about it soon. It's a beautiful old established site and as much as I love my allotment, I did have allotment envy.

Chris has been away for quite a lot of the holiday (hence the walking, he's also got the car!) and I've been able to take advantage of his absence in the evenings, when small boy is in bed to indulge in another of my favourite things, old films. It can't get much better for me than Cary Grant in To Catch a one could wear a cravat quite like Cary Grant (and get away with it!) I used to love watching the Sunday afternoon film with my dad when I was little, it was always a Western or a war film, perhaps I was a bit of an odd child but I'd be perfectly happy watching Zulu or The Good the Bad and the Ugly and still am! Wonder if I can get small boy to watch The Philadelphia Story with me now?...

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Celebrating the weeds...

A little while ago I added a comment on blog post I was reading because she was saying that her allotment was getting too much for her...weeds do not wait for a busy working mum...and the only thing that kept her going was her little boy who was sweetly enthusiastic about growing things. I added a comment as many others did to offer support and to let her know she wasn't alone. That's one lovely thing about the blogging world which I am gives you the opportunity to be nice to strangers, and hopefully make them feel a little better if they sound like they need it (and sometimes even if they don't).

Anyway, my words of support to her came back to slap me across the face when I got the chance to spend a day on my own allotment this week, my heart sank as low as the weeds were high when I saw it...small boy was not with me to make me smile. I haven't had the chance to get to it as much as I would like/need to recently and the weeds have had a party in my absence, invited all their friends and generally behaved like teenagers in an empty house...badly!
I sat and stared at it for along time trying to find my love for it and the energy to start to tackle it. Then I noticed that the grasses that had grown were actually quite pretty, not unlike the ones I'm growing from seed at home. There were buttercups in flower that the bees were going mad for...purple flowers which I must look up in my wildflower book amongst the nettles, bindweed, docks and thistles (oh yes I have a lovely full range). My kale and purple sprouting broccoli have gone to flower and the butterflies were lining up, I'm loath to pull it up yet, I will wait til the butterflies are finished. It looks wild and untamed in parts and the more I looked the more I actually started to like what I saw.

I have the perfect allotment neighbours on one side of me, their plot is immaculate I have no idea how they do it..perhaps sneaky night time weeding when no one is around. I was deeply envious of their perfect raised beds (allotments can bring out the strangest things in you!) I was really concerned that my plot would be a worry to them, though I do try to keep the edges clear so there is a 'weed' barrier. Whilst I was looking at my plot...I looked across to theirs and for once I didn't feel that usual envy (or guilt), or the childish feeling of 'they are better at this than me'...I just saw a different idea. They obviously like a very ordered space...I like gentle chaos and I am going to stop beating myself up for it! I will never have a completely weed free allotment, I don't want one...if weeds are only flowers in the wrong place then my weeds will be in the right place and not be considered to be weeds at all:)  I would rather a patch of nettles than bare soil probably as much as nature does, as long as I don't accidentally touch them!

My raised beds will be weeded, my veg and fruit cared for as best I can, but around them I will let the buttercups flower. I'm doing it for the bees and quite honestly for myself too, waging war against nature is not why I got an allotment in the first place there is room for all of us I think. I need to learn to think differently in order for it not to feel too overwhelming, remember that I am not in any part of my life a perfection freak (friends and family are now crying with laughter at the thought) and my allotment is no exception. I am quite new to this allotment game and have a lot to learn, perhaps I am being naive and it will come back to bite me, perhaps not:) I know I must keep on top of the bindweed at least and that my asparagus will not live happily with anything sprouting up around its delicate roots, but as for the long grass that has magically appeared everywhere, well I'm hoping that the toads and frogs from the nearby ponds will thank me for it and in return will deal with the slugs and snails for me;) Perhaps I can get nature to help me a bit, if I help it...that's the theory anyway, it's called, 'It will all be fine, even if you let the weeds live!'

Friday, 22 May 2015

Chelsea wanderings...

There is so much on the Chelsea Flower show at the moment that I hardly dare throw in my little ruminations on it but I've never been before and I felt like my small boy does when he gets a present, over come with the giddiness of it all:)

You are first hit by the vastness of it, I've done trade fairs in my past for various things and I probably won't be very popular for comparing parts of Chelsea to a glorified trade fair (but with Champagne and Pimms). Don't get me wrong I love a trade fair but they are tiring and the numbers of people never fail to amaze me. It was very, very busy, though a lady we talked to who had been many times said it wasn't at all! Someone should have told that to the woman who took exception to my friends rucksack, hitting it with her cane and getting very irate. I being very British didn't say a word to her, but really you're in a beautiful place surrounded by (at the time) vast swathes of heavily scented roses, if you can't be relaxed and happy there then where? Don't bother going to Chelsea Flower show if people and rucksacks annoy you!

Everything you could ever want for your garden was there...and lets be honest a few things you really wouldn't/shouldn't  want as well;) Spinning summer houses in lovely subtle shades, the greenhouses dreams are made of...oh what I could sow and grow in some of those! Massive sculptures of driftwood animals...they took your breath away with the amount of work and talent involved but realistically not something someone like me in a typical terrace would ever driftwood horse madam? no thank you, do you have anything smaller...a sparrow perhaps? I'm much more a simple and practical kind of girl, I wish I had bought the wire hoops for a plant tunnel from Plant Belles (thank goodness for the internet!) and I loved Lois Anderson's stone carving...ok, she's a friend but her work is truly lovely and i'm not just saying that;) 

The gardens were all beautiful of course, some more so than others. White foxtail lilies were everywhere which I was quite pleased about as I planted some in my garden at home last year and if they end up looking anything like the ones we saw I'll be ecstatic! (and slightly surprised) Lupins, iris and foxgloves all seemed to be very popular too. I'm not a plant expert so I'm not even going to try to sound like I know what I'm talking about, other people do that so much better than I...and they were all at Chelsea. Another fun game we played, spot the celebrity gardener, designer, chef...the huge cameras usually gave the game away;)

The Chatsworth garden that has won the Chelsea Best in Show award is quite spectacular and as Chatsworth house is just up the road from me and I'm very familiar with it, it felt like a little piece of home. I overheard someone say, 'but it's not a garden is it?' Well no I'd have to agree, unless you are the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire who do have something similar in their garden:) I'm pretty sure not many of us have gardens on a scale to take the huge stones that formed the backbone of the design...or for that matter the quarry from which to source them:) It doesn't have anywhere that you could image your patio could go but it's spectacular and it makes you happy to see it there in it's enormity...and if I learnt anything from my first trip to's all about the show!

The gardens that made me really smile and could potentially take ideas home from were in the Artisan Gardens. A Trugmaker's garden designed by Serena Fremantle and Tina Vallis, was like seeing a real life photo from the past in full glorious colour, gentle and dare I say it...sweet. I think I might be a girl who loves a cottage garden but with a bit of formal and Piet Oudolf thrown in for good measure. If you take ideas for planting from all the gardens at Chelsea you would have something quite special. It's made me re think my negative view of lupins anyway, they look great with climbing beans:)

In the end we couldn't wait to leave...not because we didn't enjoy it (I couldn't stop smiling the whole time I was there!) but because we were itching to get home to our own gardens and to my allotment and use the inspiration that the day at Chelsea had given us.

 Even on the way home the flower and plant assault continued as many of the  shops in the area had elaborate displays spilling out onto the pavements, and just look at that building I took a very quick photo of as we went passed on the bus! I so wish more designers would try to use vertical planting on their new buildings, it just makes everything look...better? Perhaps I'm just a little biased...  

Friday, 15 May 2015

A short excited Chelsea squeak...

I've always wanted to go to the Chelsea Flower Show, just once, just to see if it really is as great as it looks. Cameras on TV programmes always turn away from the avenues I want to wander down, photos are never enough and I'm really not interested in what hat the Queen is wearing (sorry probably treason). 

Gardens/plants/flowers are sensory things to me, I need to be able to touch and smell them, I want to be able to stop and stare and discover it all for myself. For so many reasons I've never been able to go and this year wasn't going to be any different, until...

Until today when my phone rings whilst I'm on the bus on my way home from work. My heart hear so many inane phone conversations you wished you hadn't whilst trapped on a bus...I don't want to be another phone bore. I see it's a call from a really good friend so I sink down in my seat and answer it...

'You need to get the day off work...I've got tickets to Chelsea...' 

What can I say? I have a great friend, a nice boss who would rather let me have the day off than listen any more to my pleading;) and Chris who I am leaving with all the lovely children to sort out on a school day. So I can go to Chelsea...just once...wonder if I should wear a hat?

Monday, 11 May 2015

From bluebells to asparagus...

Just daft dog and me this weekend on a sneaky afternoon up to the allotment, thanks Chris for taking small boy to the library;) The woods were beautiful on the walk there. I tried to take an 'arty' photo of daft dog, a blue Beddlington in a sea of bluebells...he being a very fast, typical terrier with a complete lack of understanding for my poetic nonsense had a different idea...not a chance, hence the blurry Beddlington shot! (nothing at all to do with having a terrible camera phone and no photography talent)

When we got to the plot, I finally had to admit to myself that the sticks I'd been lovingly watering were going to stay sticks and not miraculously spring into life, willing them to live just wasn't going to be enough. So, sadly but without any great surprise I pulled up over half of the raspberry canes that I had planted in autumn. I had planted them with snow on the ground, small boy had built a snowman next to me as I had scrapped the snow back with frozen fingers to put them in. I had made the fatal mistake of thinking just because there wasn't any snow in my garden at home that a 5 minute drive to the allotment up a hill it would be the same, it wasn't. I'd had them planted temporarily at home in a container with a straw mulch and made the decision that it would be worst to take them home to have to dig them up a second time, so I scrapped the snow away and risked it. There is a reason why you never see Monty Don planting raspberries in kills them! I suppose the actual miracle is the 2 plants that have survived, both Joan J's. Obviously tough little plants, I like to think that it's because they share a name with my aunt, she wouldn't let a bit of snow stop her...talking at least;) (pretty sure she'll never read this!)They even have the beginnings of little flower buds on them.

I've also lost my borlotti beans to frost and my inexperience. I was lulled by the beautiful spring weather into a false sense of security completely forgetting I live in the north! The sun beat down as I happily built them a twiggy wigwam, the birds sang...lambs were definitely skipping about somewhere, there was a scent of BBQs in the air. That night the temperature plunged, the BBQs were quickly put away and my poor borlottis keeled over immediately. A bit like that great Peter Kay sketch when he's impersonating a rich tea biscuit dipped into tea, 'it's too hot, it's too hot' borlottis were crying, 'it's too cold, it's too cold!' (please try an watch that sketch it's a classic!)

So I've learnt a few lessons the hard not plant raspberries in the snow and last frost dates must be learnt and abided by even if the lambs are dancing the Tango!

But there were things that made me smile too. The broad beans I planted last year are looking very happy the flowers are just so pretty and I've noticed that they are scented as well, so hopefully we'll get some beans from them. I had to take a photo of the snails I found near my compost bin too, I know they are a gardeners nemesis but these are particularly well dressed snails...snail fashionistas who'd have thought? they match the broad bean flowers perfectly;) but as much as I could admire the atheistic of that I wouldn't be too impressed if I found them there!

The peas I planted, Early Onward and Douce Provence, at the same time as the borlottis thankfully didn't go all Mediterranean on me and just brushed the frost off. I noticed they are getting flowers on them already...woo hoo!

My most exciting moment though was seeing the first spears of my asparagus coming through. My excitement was tempered a bit when I looked up and saw  that the plot directly behind me (that has just been taken over) is slowly turning yellow, which I'm guessing means they've just put weed killer on the whole lot. Oh please, please, please let my asparagus be ok, its right next to the tide of yellow that is descending. I have no idea what they've used, they weren't about to ask. Bit cross if I'm honest, I have a sea of weeds to battle but I fight with them fair and square with a fork and the occasional bad back...using chemicals just seems like cheating, not to mention using chemicals so close to someone who just wants her asparagus to survive seems a bit cruel! I guess that's one of the drawbacks of an allotment, you really have no control over what people right next to you can do.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

A Spring green Monday...

What's not to love about a 3 day weekend? On our bonus day we ended up walking somewhere I used to walk a lot when my big boys were small, I thought I knew it quite well, but we turned off the main path and I realised that I didn't know it at all. We had always followed the main path all those years ago and I would have to not look whilst the boys clambered over the rocks in the river with their dad, they would be having a great time...I would be having the minor heart palpitations of an hysterical mother!

Anyway, off the main path yesterday, it was all beautifully new to me which was lovely to rediscover with Chris and Small boy, Chris had never been there himself and the sun was shining which made it all the better...and warmer! I would always recommend going off the main path wherever you are...unless on a cliff edge of course:) might just find something you never knew was there.

Small boy discovered the ruins of a giant's castle whilst we were walking. Oh to have the imagination of a 4 year old...that can make a pile of old stones seem so magical! There's Chris and I trying to think what they were once part of in a very grown up (boring) way, Small boy just saw a really exciting climbing frame (the heart palpitations were back in a second...)

 I was really happy to see the same bonkers cafe at the end of our walk where a chip butty and a barking dog are compulsory. You can buy your tea by the pint...honestly...borrow a dog or 3 (make sure they can bark) forget the diet and find the Grindleford station café. It's not fine dining but when you've climbed a few hills who needs salad? It's not a very well kept secret either, so when the sun is shining be prepared to join that great British queue:)

The blue sky made the fresh springtime green even more vivid if that was has to truly be one of natures happiest colours...I thought I was an Autumn season lover but I'm starting to really appreciate the colours of Spring now...perhaps it's an age thing;) 

Saturday, 2 May 2015

A lesson in green manure...

I  have books, magazines, the internet and tv to learn from, seems like a lot to go on but sometimes you read something and think...great I'm going to do do...only to read something later that tells you why you really shouldn't have bothered!

And so it was (in part) with my lesson in green manure last year. I read loads, it all seemed so positive. I researched meticulously about which to plant before which crop, the ones that are from the brassica family, the legumes, the all rounders.

I had my brand new plot marked out and Chris built me raised beds on one side with old decking that we'd taken up from our garden. Eventually though we ran out of decking so I had concentrated the initial planting in the beds that I had. I needed to do something with the side that I wasn't ready to plant quickly before the bindweed realised that I had stopped watching for a second. I hated the idea of covering the whole thing in plastic, beside I couldn't afford the decent weed suppressant fabric, the stuff that doesn't just shred into a thousand pieces at the slightest gust of wind (believe me cheap weed fabric isn't worth it...said in my best EastEnders accent for just ain't worth it). So I did my homework, green manure seemed like a great answer.

 I sowed 4 lots of different green manures in early Autumn dictated by what I was hoping to be able to plant there this year. I grew Phacelia, Italian rye grass, Winter Tares and Mustard all from, who have great information on their site. I grew Mustard on what is now the potato bed, it grew and looked brilliant,  the healthiest thing on my plot. It did battle with the bindweed and seemed to win, the nettles still held a corner though;) It flowered and looked even better,  I know you're not really supposed to let it flower but I was doing it for the bees, the Phacilia was particularly beautiful.

It was the Mustard that I had a bit of an issue with though, it just kept growing...I had no idea it was such a monster plant, nothing beat it, it was quite spectacular. I should have realised when I started to have to hack at it to keep it within my boundaries and not let it thugishly take over my neighbours plot, that I had unleashed a monster. The first frosts came and the Phacilia soon succumbed as I knew it would, it just laid down and gave up, it had done its thing very beautifully, I'd had vases of it in the kitchen, I would miss it. The mustard however wasn't quite ready to give up, it fought on, the gloves were off but eventually a few inches of snow put an end to its nonsense...or so I thought. It was when the snow cleared that I had the first indication of my possible naïve mistake, where the mustard had been I had what looked like a patch of bamboo...rigid hollow stalks like so many fingers put up at me saying, 'take that you idiot'. Now I read Bob Flowerdew's book on companion planting, saying green manures are great...for farmers with acres of land and the tractors and machinery to clear it. I didn't have acres or a tractor, I had a lot of digging to do and god knows if those lovely strong hollow stalks didn't just scream 'slug hotel' come on in!

The jury is still out for me on my green manure experiment. It had to be a good thing for the soil in the long run, but the proof will be in this years planting, which I've only just begun in my new raised beds. I'll probably avoid Mustard this year, it took an awful lot of digging to clear it, but I've already got my Phacilia seeds at the ready;)

I've just seen this article by Alys Fowler on the Guardian website...

I'm going to give Crimson Clover a go too now around my raspberries. It's an on-going experiment in green manure for me but hopefully I will find the right formula eventually:)