Saturday, 18 December 2010

Weird experience of the week...

Looking over snowy gardens from my bedroom window this morning, I saw a dolphin sail past on the roof of a car below. Looked again and realised it was a Christmas tree!

Go on, have a look next time someone drives past with a tree tied to their roof. Surely not a unique Christmas experience?

Wednesday, 1 December 2010


London has snow again, the dry white powder that whips in from the north east with a chill and bitter wind. Our gardens and suburban streets are transformed, trees and plants dressed with iced blossom, roofs reflecting brilliance back to grey and overcast skies. Trudging back from the park, while we carefully negotiate the crunchy treacherous paths, the children newly released from school laugh, slide and catch an icy breath of air. Little ones play Santa in their bright toboggans, their parents reindeer pulling them home for hot drinks and cosy nights in.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Sweetcorn fungus?

Back to the allotment yesterday - my first visit for weeks and weeks - and after all the recent rain, everything looking lush and green. Alas, most of it is weeds, one bed in particular which I planted up with beans at the end of August was also covered with flowering chickweed and speedwell (delicately pretty) to nearly a foot high., Fortunately these were also interspersed with self seeded sorrel and rocket, which will be lovely in autumn salads until the first frosts. Every cloud...

P picked runner beans and sweetcorn on Monday - the beans looked promising but as they'd been on the vine so long, were very stringy, so we'll eat the rest in soups and stews without the sweet pods.

All the sunflowers are now well past their best; one had spread over a whole bed, I've never seen so many flowerheads on one plant before. The rest have gone to seed, which I've left in hope of feeding some goldfinches once they arrive here in the south later this month on their winter migration from northern Scandinavia.

Now here's a puzzle for you - what on earth happened to this sweetcorn cob? I've looked for similar pics of sweetcorn diseases but not been able to find any free information on a quick trawl of websites. The growths appear to be full of soil or compost, it doesn't smell, it just looks gross close up. I couldn't see any bugs in it either, so assume it must be a fungus. Any ideas anyone?

Doorstep gravel garden

Unless you're excited by shrubs, cyclamen or early Christmas shopping, UK garden centres can be less than inspiring at this time of year. So it was great to visit RHS Wisley the other week and find some small but delightful plants to create a small gravel garden for our front doorstep.
From centre back clockwise, we found: Helleborus x Sternii; Iris Setosa; Cyclamen Coum; Oxalis Lobata; and Gentiana (which looks a
little like rosemary in this picture). Alas, I've lost the label for the last pf these plants, so not sure what variety; since planting up, it has developed the deepest blue flowers, quite heavenly in contrast to the golden oxalis.
There should be something of interest in the pot in every season as it matures, though it is quite hard to judge at this stage... I'm hoping that there will be at least three plants either in leaf or flower at any one time.
I may have missed a trick by not including a small mirror as a "pond " next to the iris... but perhaps it would have looked too much like something off Blue Peter!
Isn't the yellow rose lovely? It's been flowering vigorously on our west facing patio since late August, when my mother brought it home for us.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Garden Party to Make a Difference: review

Up to the beating heart of royal London today, for a rare opportunity to visit the historic gardens at Clarence House, Lancaster House and Marlborough House, and experience the "Garden Party to Make a Difference", a unique festival devoted to ways of living more sustainably, as part of the Start campaign fronted by the Prince of Wales.
P & I had fun - we spent the morning helping with Garden Organic's contribution to the show, then were free to tour the whole site. We were giving away rocket and chard plants to people who made the One Pot Pledge, thus supporting GO's campaign to encourage more of us to start growing our own food.
GO have a very good deal on offer at the show - if you become a member (minimum £28 or £2.50 per month by direct debit) you get to choose three free packets of Duchy Original Seeds and take home a £5 Thompson and Morgan voucher - plus £5 off Heritage Seed Library membership, which entitles you to seeds of old or rare varieties to grow on your plot, save the next generation, and share with others.
As gardeners, our favourite exhibit was the Future City Garden, in a series of raised beds along the wall of Clarence House, which gave us some great ideas for recycling and saving space while growing veg. For instance, there was an attractive display of lettuces, flourishing in large yoghurt pots, set into an old door which could be leaned against a wall, shed or fence. We also liked the giant tepee-style tripods set in large buckets, supporting a good crop of golden yellow and red tomatoes. We could imagine being able to cover them with plastic sheeting early in the season to protect from rain and the dreaded blight and encourage sooner cropping.
The show has an eclectic mix of exhibitors, including independent (plant) nurseries and food and drink producers. Some of these were lined up opposite the Asda marquee, with slogans on the side about buying local that seemed somewhat... insensitive? untrue? Perhaps I've missed something about Asda's buying policies.
In any case, M&S appeared to have won the supermarkets' visual PR battle at the event. Everyone - even me - was carrying one of their striking "Twiggy" organic cotton bags. Now I know they are following Plan A (because there is no plan B in relation to climate change) but it is hard to find any organic food in their Colliers Wood or Sutton branches.
We were surprised to see how busy the Red Cross stand was - loads of people, mainly women, taking part in sewing. Brought back memories of knitting squares for charity blankets when I was young, so I'm afraid I rushed past that one. (Maybe that's why I haven't joined the great contemporary craft revival which seems so popular and much blogged about by others).
It was a shame that although we could have purchased a well known (bog standard, national brand, bottled) lager to drink for £3.50 from the onsite caterers, the independent Hogs Back Brewery was only allowed to give away small samples of their delicious real ale.
There were also entertainments (comedy and music) and talks on offer, and we especially liked the Commonwealth exhibit, a beautiful tie-dyed canopy with musical and visual presentations from around the world of people working together for a sustainable future. This was the only focus for the importance of community that we noticed at the festival; I would have liked also to see something about how communities, such as the Transition Towns movement, come together in this country, to support one another living greener lives. Doing things individually can feel demoralising sometimes.
My other disappointment, in an overall stimulating, imaginative and enjoyable event, was the lack of anything about complementary healthcare. Perhaps this was due to the closure earlier this year of the Prince's Foundation for Integrated Health? Given the growing problems of capitalism and of Western conventional medicine (eg antibiotic resistance and iatrogenic disease) - we all need to be looking after ourselves and each other with the support of traditional human knowledge, skills and methods such as herbal medicine and homeopathy, osteopathy and massage. I hope this important element of living sustainably can be included in any future event. It has always been an enjoyable part of our local Environmental Fair, organised annually by EcoLocal in Carshalton Park.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Aquatic snake at RHS Hyde Hall

Great excitement by the lily pond at RHS Hyde Hall near Chelmsford, Essex last month when P spotted, and was able to photograph, a swimming snake.
It was a gorgeous hot June Saturday in Hyde Hall's Rose Weekend, which we were visiting with Surrey Organic Gardening Group.
In the first photo you can just see the snake on the left; it seems to be having a snooze in the shade of Gunnera at the edge of the pond. A few moments after this pic, the coot spotted the snake and made a huge fuss, waking it up and chasing it off. Perhaps its chicks are prey to snakes.
The rest of the photos show the snake moving through the water and finally disappearing away under the lilies.
It appears to be a grass snake; they are known to be good swimmers. This one was about three foot long, apparently the fully grown female can be 4 foot and, exceptionally, up to 6 foot long.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Gardeners Bloom Day May 2010

Welcome to my spring garden - everything is late this year as the season has been colder than usual - but all the more welcome for the wait!
From the front border, black tulips, red and orange wallflowers and bluebells. The colours are more vibrant in life, and have worked well together for three weeks now thanks to the cooler temperatures, which have neared frost, unusual in London in April and May.
In the back garden, the new quince tree has surprised and pleased us; the blossom buds unfurl
like palest pink icecream cones, small swirls of delicacy. At its foot, Jenny's geraniums mixed with bluebells have been covered with bees these last few days.
Opposite, on the cool side of the garden, Solomon's seal provides an elegant screen for the compost bin; at its best now, after flowering the fresh green leaves will soon be laced by feasting snails. It doesn't seem to hurt the plants as they return better every year.
Down by the pond wilderness proliferates; periwinkle overcoming all before it, a glimpse of fig beginning to develop its overwintered fruits under bright green leaves, grasses creeping their way through everything and on the right, a clump of silvery green glistening iris leaves, still to bring forth their white flowers.

Last of the double daffs for the moment (some are still developing as I only potted them up in mid February. They need twelve weeks y'know). And finally, sneak preview of a new orange iris which I had hoped would be out in time for this month's bloom day (and will probably be done before June's). Just now the buds look like some strange water bird stretching its head above the rushes, with aquilegia flowers weird fairies gathering round.

Thanks as ever to Carol of May Dreams Gardens for hosting Gardeners Bloom Day every month, year round. Hop over there to find links to others' gardens from around the world.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Ledum to the rescue for puncture wounds

Lovely spring day here, front garden looking very pretty in the sunshine with lemon primroses and pale daffs finally out, and a few purple anemones scattered along the bed. The daphne is now in full bloom - quite late this year, it's been putting out the odd flower since late February but the full "pompom effect" -and delicious scent - of the collective flowers has only flourished in the last ten days. The laurel berries have been slowly ripening from green to yellow since the snow went and are now bright scarlet. I expect they're poisonous; the birds don't eat them from this bush and you would think they would welcome fresh pickings at this time of year.
I should be on the allotment, but in the midst of clearing the strawberry bed I knelt on a rusty nail earlier this week. It went in about an inch, didn't bleed very much but I had to do a quick clean-up with some antiseptic wipes and a loose dressing, and come home.
Ledum and Hypericum are the indicated homeopathic remedies for this kind of deep puncture wound. I took 3 doses of Ledum 30 daily for 2 days. I also dabbed a bit of Calendula cream on the wound on the first day; this is a traditional antiseptic and it doesn't allow the wound to close up too quickly. This is important where there is the risk of tetanus (we use stable manure on the allotment and horse pee is the most likely source of Clostridium tetanii in the UK). The bug thrives in a sealed, oxygen free environment, hence the need for care when a wound is deep.
From the second day, when the wound felt a little warm and inflamed, I took three doses of Hypericum 30 daily, stopping after the sixth dose as the inflammation seemed to have gone.
My knee is still painful, but a mix of Arnica, Rhus Tox and Ruta 30 ( especially the latter) eases this considerably.
I spent most of the first two days in bed; grateful for the Garden magazine and Gardeners World which both popped through the letterbox for entertainment while I was laid up, but I also slept a lot - a shock reaction perhaps? I feel very fortunate that P is at home and was able to bring frequent cups of tea and food, in between groundwork for decorating the living room which we started on the day before my accident, planning to complete before the Easter break. Now I just have to be patient with myself, moving carefully between positions so I don't twist or strain the knee, while the process of healing takes its course.
The good news is that the first lettuce was coming through, planted under a cloche 2 weeks ago; and the first carrots, only put in one week before! Time to get some seedlings under way at home I think for later in the season...

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Witch hazel blooms at Pembroke Lodge

To Pembroke Lodge in Richmond Park yesterday for lunch - hearty food designed to satisfy after a long walk on a cold day. Mum and I enjoyed jacket potatoes smothered with toasted cheese and red onion, P & W had pasta with a delicious tomato and veg sauce. Then a few turns round the gardens in the bitter cold; snowdrops carpeted a slope near the house, and gorgeous camellias flowering already, delicate pinks, creams and whites, one already carpeting the path below in fallen petals. Lastly we found three small hamamelis trees clustered together under the bare winter oaks and in full blossom; two golden yellow and one red, sweetly scenting the air.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

A little unseasonal piece...

I really shouldn't be here...gardening season doesn't start until March. But this afternoon I spent a couple of hours planting up strawberries.
Let me explain. I ordered 25 strawberry plants (plus rhubarb, raspberries and a blueberry bush) last autumn, expecting delivery in the first couple of weeks of November. But there was a postal strike here in the UK, so they weren't delivered until early December. By then I was busy with clinic, arrangements for 50th birthday party plus the usual Crimbo stuff.
I did eventually manage to open the box after about a fortnight and store it in the garage. I took out some of the plants so they weren't all squashed in the dark box, crossed my fingers and hoped everything would be cool enough over the next few weeks to remain in hibernation and alive.
It has been pretty cold. Not compared to the north of Britain perhaps, but still colder than usual for the balmy south east of England. We had a week of snow in December, which just about disappeared before the Christmas holiday, but the temperatures still were frosty every night and lower than we're used to. On New Year's Day we took a beautiful walk in the Surrey Hills, clear blue skies and bitter cold, so I wasn't worried about my plants then.
A few days later snow set in again, together with biting cold winds from the north.
The oak trees looked fabulous with their frosty outlines; blackthorn, curiously, as if it was in blossom; and the pine trees like fireworks, an effect we hadn't noticed before (I was planning to post some photos but Blogger won't let me this evening - maybe another day).
As always, it thawed, leaving the kids' giant snowballs looking like arty installations, or ancient monoliths. I was kept indoors for a few days by an illness, and then the weather turned cold and grey and rainy. So today is the first of the year when the plants in the garage have finally beckoned me out again, with the guilty feeling that if I don't do them this week, they may not survive.
I only got to them late this afternoon, because I was singing with Colliers Wood Chorus at Royal Festival Hall earlier on. (That was a lovely experience!) I needed some fresh, cold air and it was beautiful outside, still plenty of light as the sun went down, though it was dark by the time I finished my task around 5.30.
It was only about 3 degrees C outside, so possibly not the best of days to plant up anything.
I was surprised as I unrolled the plants from their plastic package, how large and well developed the roots were, and had to swap the three inch pots I'd planned for some twice the size, even then feeling that there wasn't quite enough room for the plants to develop. They were all very dry, but I hope that at least potting them up will keep enough alive to yield a reasonable crop in July this coming year.
Later this week, I plan to heel in the raspberry canes and plant out the rhubarb - if the weather is good enough to get down to the allotment.