Monday, 29 June 2015

Lessons from a Botanical Garden rediscovered...

On Father's day we ended up walking through Sheffield's Botanical Gardens, probably more of a pleasure for me than Chris:) I haven't been for ages and was happy to find it in absolutely beautiful top flowering form, the sun being out helped too:)

 I remember this place from being very young, it wasn't the garden that it is today. When I was little the glasshouses were in dire need of renovation, I remember vividly that one housed an aquarium whilst the main part was a birdhouse. The aquarium was the stuff of nightmares for me, it was pitch black inside and the fish would loom at you from their various tanks like the creatures of the deep that some of them were, prehistoric and scary. I still remember the sound of the various pumps bubbling away and (worryingly) how the ground was always wet and how I would leave the piranhas until last for that moment of pure, joyous horror that all children seem to love. Fish with teeth, all kinds of wrong surely?..I would run screaming from them into the daylight every dad no doubt following behind me shaking his head.

The birdhouse was pure joy for me, it was full of noise and colour. I was fascinated by the various shades of the raucous budgie flock and trying to get the mynah bird to speak to me (never managed a meaningful conversation with it!). I still don't quite understand whose idea it was to place 2 large macaws on stands on either side of the doors as you entered, they were terrifying and would reach out to peck at you as you tried to pass unless they were distracted by food.

The fish and the birds are long gone...who knows, those macaws could still be around today somewhere else terrorising someone in their old age...I kind of hope so;) Anyway, the glasshouses have been beautifully restored and returned to their former glory to show off plants from around the world. Small boy loved the huge cacti but strangely enough didn't want to try and sit on his evil mother suggested;)

Walking down the main path from the glasshouses, the herbaceous borders were rich with colour, shapes and scents. I got quite lost in the beauty of it all...quite literally, Chris and the kids had to wait ages for me to catch them up;). I've never seen a gypsophila so huge and it looked stunning next to the apricot foxgloves. The allium, I think it's 'Summerbells' looked like little clusters of fairy turrets (yes, it's exactly what they would look like) amongst the backdrop of the seedheads of 'Purple Sensation.' The colour combination was so perfect, it wouldn't have worked as well had they been in flower together but the muted colour of the seedheads made for a perfect mix. Bees were going mad for the catmint...I think it was catmint anyway, it was one of the plants not labeled frustratingly, probably because they expect people to know what it is! There are so many ideas for planting combinations to borrow, and I for one need all the help I can get on that one:) I somehow forgot that that's one of the joys of botanical gardens, it's like walking through the pages of a very lovely gardening book. I have promised myself to visit more regularly from now on even though I still really miss the fish! 

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Magical musical moments...

My sister lives on one of those rare streets where neighbours actually know each other by name and also seem to genuinely like each other too:) They have street parties where the road gets blocked off and the children can come out to play safely without the worry of traffic. Cakes are baked, photos taken, outdoor games and toys are scattered (much to small boys delight) and the musicians of the road play through the smoke machines of the BBQ's. The band that was playing kindly allowed my Chris to play with them even though we were interlopers on the street;) It's not a widely known thing that Chris is a great guitar player (yes I'm biased, but he really is..) he just doesn't get the chance to play and his children have never seen him play properly, plugged in and loud! It was actually quite a special moment watching them watch their dad for the first time. I am a  hormonally driven girl at the best of times (it's an age thing) but it was enough to make anyone was the scene from that film where you know you are being emotionally manipulated but you just can't help yourself;)  

I am in awe of musicians generally, I haven't got a musical bone in my body...I can play a passable rendition of London's Burning on the recorder if pressed (who on earth is going to demand I do that!) but that's about it. I do however know good music when I hear it, music that makes you completely forget what's around you and just stop dead. A man with a violin began to set up quietly as we were still hugging Chris and generally behaving like he was some sort of rock god...ha! Usually when I see a violin my heart sinks, I have memories of my middle son learning to play it at school (why do they torture us parents!)  his rendition of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is still scratched painfully into my subconscious...sorry darling but it was awful, think you're old enough now to face the truth:)   This violin music was so removed from that it might as well have come from another planet. His name is Matt Howden and if you ever get the chance to see him play please, please do he is completely mesmerising. There is something amazing about having a talent that allows you to express yourself so honestly and so beautifully and I felt (embarrassingly enough) compelled to thank him afterwards for being so...well... great.

A little street party with drizzling rain and an hysterical broken tug of war rope (there are few funnier sights than lots of people falling over at the same time!) and music to make you cry... turned out to be a very special Sunday, just a shame I was too busy enjoying the moment to take any decent photos!...sorry.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Murder and empty trugs...

I've only been able to grab a very few short moments on the allotment recently due to work, children, dog commitments (in no particular order). Happy to see that the grass and weeds are still partying...actually not that happy about that at all, it's about time they got the black bin bags out and cleared themselves up! I've got a long summer holiday coming up soon (hooray!) so their days are numbered.

There had been a terrible murder at the plot (can you tell I've been reading Agatha Christie) though the only sign of the body was the piles of feathers blowing around my cabbages, I don't think any pigeon could have survived losing quite so many feathers. I'm wondering if it was a hawk, we see quite a few flying over. I once watched as a hawk took a pigeon right in front of my car when I was stuck in traffic on a busy main road. It was horribly fascinating how it held the doomed bird down with its claws, sheltered it with its wings and plucked the feathers from its dinner as a queue of traffic passed it by, it was so focused it just didn't seem to care...a BBC camera crew couldn't have got as close as I was! I'll put the feathers onto the compost heap, I listened to a sow,grow,repeat gardening podcast on composting and I'm sure someone said feathers were fine to add, poor pigeon was probably hoping to eat the cabbages not end up feeding them!

I'm getting a bit envious...ok if I'm truly honest...I'm completely consumed with jealously at all the posts and photos of heaving trugs and harvests that people are having now. My trug remains pathetically empty, I did harvest some broad beans but when I opened them there wasn't so much of a bean as an insignificant pimple inside. I have quite a few more coming on the plants but I'm a bit wary of harvesting them too young as I obviously have done or perhaps I just need to find a recipe that uses the whole pod (any suggestions, gratefully received).

My asparagus peas are making me very happy scrambling along the ground, and they are starting to flower with the most beautiful deep red flowers (if only I could find that colour lipstick!). I had put twiggy stems around them thinking they would eventually head upwards but apparently they hug the soil...I should remove the twigs so I don't look so glaringly naïve!

My strawberries are coming on too, should I whisper this, but I'm one of those strange creatures that loves the look and smell of strawberries and strawberry jam but have never actually liked them as a fruit to eat. All the children love them though and if I get enough I can always make myself some jam (ha...I am the only person I know that has managed to make 'black' Seville orange not to ask) I will try one when they are ready though just to double check, I'm hoping that my theory of growing things I'm not so fond of might encourage me to like them, and if not it just means there will be more purple sprouts for Chris come Christmas!

I have heaps of black currants coming at the moment but they aren't protected from the birds so we shall see who wins that particular race (yes, I know, unless that hawk is still about). I don't mind sharing but I'd appreciate being left a few of them at least:)

The onions I planted that the mole duly unplanted have all started to sprout up seemingly no worst for their rude interruption so we shall see what they will produce eventually (hopefully...onions...).  

I'm very proud of my cabbages too at the moment, (after I had cleared the feathers from them) they are all looking quite...well cabbage like, the colour of the purple ones is quite lovely. So I may not yet have the trug of plenty but I'm ever hopeful that I will soon:)

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Allotment revisited...

Before small boy (and Chris) when my 2 older boys were younger we lived in a house near these beautiful allotments. I would walk the dog we had then at ungodly hours trying desperately not to meet anyone because he was a rescue dog with serious issues. There would be owls in the branches above me (I wasn't joking about the hours, the dog was a nightmare) and it was a truly magical place to be all on my own, just as the sun was coming up (or going down). It was and still is the most lovely allotment site, a tiny patch of countryside in the middle of the city. Unlike my own allotment site it is well established and the plots have huge mature hedges around them, making them more into private gardens. I was always quite envious of them as the hell hound dragged me round, there was one in particular I couldn't resist peeping at through the hedge (I know it was wrong...sorry) to have a moment dreaming of what it would be like to have a space like it. It had a mature tree with a bench round it set in a small patch of lawn, the rest given to a wild mix of flowers, fruit and vegetables. It was for me, the secret garden I had read about as a child, completely perfect and probably what I'm striving to achieve subconsciously with my own plot now.

I took small boy and daft dog there the other day, in broad daylight (daft dog quite likes his own species thankfully) and it was lovely to see not much has changed, that's one of the things I love about allotments, a sense of time standing still. I didn't peek through any hedges so missed a chance to see my dream secret garden but was really happy to see the eclectic mix of gates was still very much there, they add an certain eccentric originality to the place that I really like. I can only dream that one day my plot might be established enough to warrant it's own gate, wonder if I should get one now, it'll need a good few years of wear to look right;)

Friday, 5 June 2015

Mole magic...

I had a couple of stolen hours on the allotment last night after work, it was such a beautiful evening and having been stuck indoors all day it was such a relief to be outside rather than just staring at it through the window over the top of a computer screen...

I'd planted a few rows of shallots the other day, I know it was a bit late for them but they were one of those bargains from B&Q (a whole £1!)I couldn't resist and as my onion seed planting this year hasn't quite worked out for me, as in failed completely (such an amateur), I thought I'd risk them. The allotment mole had other ideas though, he doesn't like them at all, at least that's what I understand by the massive mountain he's managed to erupt right in the middle of the rows scattering the shallots all over the place! I'm afraid it just made laugh, he's so random in his appearances that he's never done any real harm (well I could blame him for the demise of the rhubarb but secretly I know that was more down to me) and even if he did I hope I'd be understanding. We are surrounded by golf courses and they are seriously not mole friendly places so where else is he (could be a she I guess) suppose to hide out, and he/she was definitely here before me. I've also read that Sarah Raven goes out with a bucket and collects molehill soil on purpose because it is so good...well my mole makes sure I don't need to worry about the extra work he puts them right where I need them usually in the middle of a bed:)

I'd watched an episode of Monty Don's French Gardens the other day on gourmet gardens and there was a man with an amazing garden that he grew for the café/restaurant he ran, he had put snail shells on the tops of all his canes, it looked quite lovely. I guess if you're a snail it would look more like a scene that Vlad the Impaler would dream of, but as I (luckily...hum) seem to have so many empty snail shells scattered around the allotment I thought I might borrow his idea...sorry snails.

My pea plants are looking quite good with pods already forming on them and lovely white flowers. I'm quite excited about my asparagus pea plants as well, I've never grown or eaten them before but they look really healthy...perhaps whatever is having a bit of a go at my pea plants (leaf miner?) has never seen an asparagus pea either so daren't touch them:)

Must admit I spent most of my time last night just being happy to be there, I was pulling up the bindweed by the bucketful. I swear that stuff grows back as soon as you turn your back, I can imagine it popping up like comedy rabbits defiantly behind you as you go along, laughing down to its roots at your inadequacy.

I took a photo of a massive winged beast that sat watching me battle the bindweed, I noticed it because it had ridiculously huge eyes. I have no idea what it was but it intrigued me, there is so much of this world that we are totally unaware of, creatures and plants that exist without us ever knowing of their presence. In a couple of hours at the allotment I spot so many of these little things (some scarily not so little!) that crawl, fly, creep about me that it's quite an eye opener to quite how much I don't know. Something else my allotment has given me... a desire to learn more about these creatures, if only to learn which ones are friendly! There is a lovely blog I follow called  wildlife on our allotment They have some great photos and it's a really useful site too:)