20 Apr 2011


What a difference 10 days of hot weather has made to my herb bed!  One Sunday afternoon recently, I was strolling around the veg patch with my camera in hand. There's a little wall built around it, the kind that small children like to climb onto and walk round with a hand held ... and which provides a nice perch to rest on for weary gardeners. Seeing how untidy the herb bed looked, I jumped up onto the wall to take the photo below so I could have an aerial view of how to reorganise these plants.

I hadn't got round to doing anything to this bed (it largely looks after itself) but the herbs had survived the winter and started re-growing.  Parsley had appeared, I think from seeds shaken from last year's (bolted) parsley, and birds pecking at the dried sunflower heads had dislodged seeds which are now growing.  Mint cut back in February has bulked up nicely, thyme and golden oregano have spread since being planted last year, the monarda has come back (originally just one tiny shoot bought from a plant sale), the fennel is getting wonderfully fluffy and strawberries have rooted from runners escaping from the nearby pot.  But it's all a bit higgledy-piggledy and, well, messy.  In need of re-think. So, while I prepared other nearby beds for sowing, that's what I did. I thought, but I didn't actually do.

And this is what the same bed looked like today, just 10 hot and drought filled days later:
I think any hopes that I may have had of rearranging my herbs have to be abandoned for this year!  The horseradish is beginning to grow tall and looks (at least from the side view) more like sweetcorn!  It's all starting to grow like Topsy with several plants threatening to crowd each other out.

From the back:  horseradish, monarda (bee balm), fennel, parsley, sunflowers - with a sprig of rosemary peeking in from the right!

So, organised?  I don't think so!  My dilemma now is whether to try and move the larger plants (monarda and fennel) to give them more space but I suspect they wouldn't survive the move at this stage. It's still early enough to start again with the fennel and, perhaps, also the parsley. I'd be glad of any suggestions from anyone who's dealt with similar.

Back at home, the window-boxes on my balcony are prepared and ready to sow. I've removed perennial plants and put in fresh compost so that I can grow lettuce, radishes and herbs upstairs, near to the kitchen, where they'll be handy.  I read somewhere that viola flowers are edible so I've treated myself to a tray of violas to grow amongst the lettuce, but mainly because I think they're very pretty.

I'm having a little break for a few days as I'm off to visit relatives over the forthcoming weekend. Hope this lovely weather continues (although I wouldn't mind some rain!) and wish you all happy gardening and a relaxing bank holiday weekend!  Caro xx

14 Apr 2011

Utter ...

... as in utter-ly entertaining and utter-ly enlightening;  I thoroughly enjoy the conversations that I have with the children here.  Gardening in a community space, with anyone and everyone free to join in, means that stepping out with my spade and fork under my arm is a flag for the kids in our community to approach.  They're getting quite animated about the prospect of growing more fruit and vegetables this summer.  Here's a recent exchange:

Carolyn d'ya know when you're next goin' gard'nin'?
Yes. Why?
Can I grow some stuff?
Yes. What would you like to grow?
Good choice.  What sort of lettuce: pointy, round, crispy, soft?
Y'know, the sort what we grew last year.
(Next child, joining in: We grew 5 types last year. Me: Well remembered, yes we did.)
Well what I'm talking about is the one what's green and got spiky bits.
Umm, leaves?
Yeah, I 'fink.
Hmmm.  Shall we look at some pictures, just to be sure?

Believe me, this is progress.  Last year the same child asked me to identify a round, brown vegetable:
Carolyn, what is this?
It's a potato. We'll cover it with soil, wait a couple of months and it will make lots more potatoes.
Oh. (pause) What's a potato make then?
Umm, it makes chips.
Ohhh, yeah! (Bing! lightbulb moment).

Ah, so endearing.  It's the little chats like this that make it all worthwhile.  I swear that kid will grow up to love vegetables! never mind the huge benefits of being outdoors, getting closer to nature and experiencing the seasons through sowing, growing, nurturing and eating.

Are there other gardening issues bothering City Kids?  Sure.  Will worms bite me? Are they poisonous?  Do ladybirds sting? Will they bite? What about wasps, do you have lots of those? Should we like wasps? Will there be bugs? Only I don't like bugs. (5 minutes later this 9 year old asked if she could hold a worm.)  I expect there'll be mosquitos, they bite. Me: No, our weather isn't hot enough. (thinks:  and not if you drink enough gin and tonic.)

I bet we've all got stories to tell of gardening conversations with children, especially if you start them off young. What have your children recently said in the garden that's made you smile?  I'd love to know!

Slightly warmer weather is promised for the weekend - hasn't it been chilly over the past few days? - so I wish you all good gardening at the weekend! Caro xx

Next post:  Keeping children amused while you garden, sun and general safety, and the benefits of being outdoors!

Plus!  I'm currently reviewing (and thoroughly enjoying) a soon-to-be-published book called 'Grow your Food for Free (well almost)'  by Dave Hamilton.  It's shaping up to be one for the bookshelf and particularly relevant if you're starting out as a food grower.  More news very soon...

13 Apr 2011

Lush ...

I shouldn't be pleased with this photo because this plant should have been dug up and regrown from a new bare root. This is my horseradish in it's second year. I bought this as a teeny, tiny (and wonderfully verdant) plant last spring from the herb section of a well-known home and garden store. I plonked it into a corner of my herb bed thinking only of the lovely culinary treats to come in the autumn.  Belatedly I read the label: "grows up to 60 cm". Oh. And it did. Putting the rest of the herbs in the shade. Whoops.  

Now the smart thing would have been to lift the plant after first frosts, divide the root (replanting a few for this year) and pop the big root - which apparently looks like a parsnip - into a plastic bag in the fridge for food use.  I can't quite remember what went wrong there, except that last year was Not Good in the garden and, sidetracked by a new job, by the winter my gardening willpower had turned into gardening won'tpower.

Best intentions to get on with the job in the spring were foiled by downpours on my days off.  Strangely, digging in very wet mud in the cold and rain is not high on my list of favourite activities.  By early March it was all too late.  Little curls of green leaves were sprouting and after an experimental dig around it's base, I found out why the plant has a reputation of taking over the garden. Spreading roots.

Five weeks on and it's looking very lush, here it is behind the fennel - it's going to be another good year for horseradish!  It is a very magnificent sight when fully grown but I had planned to move the herb bed to the other end of the veg patch and grow sweet corn in the space left behind.  Time for a rethink?  I'm pottering around today in the garden, which is the best place I know of to reformulate my plans.

12 Apr 2011


Take a gardening conversation out of context and it takes on a completely new meaning:  I've got worms.  Pardon.  Yes, lots of them.  Pardon. Pardon?  You heard.

See what I mean? Not your standard socially acceptable dialogue, is it?  However, I'm actually very pleased to reveal that I have got worms. Earthworms. Annelids. Lots of them.  Whole families - at least little ones and large ones. (At this point, I was going to offer more info via Wikipedia but, trust me, it's not what you want to be reading before dinnertime.  Let's just say they're not your typical nuclear family.)

Two years ago, we set up the veg patch with raised beds (guessing that the soil underneath would be fairly rubbish after a couple of decades of growing rose bushes and cotoneaster), but one patch was left as bare earth and I tipped my emptied potato sacks on there last autumn.  Digging it over ready to relocate my strawberries and (hopefully) put in some melons, I had to be very careful where I was spiking the soil with my fork.  Every clod revealed wiggling worms which, as we all know, is very good news indeed.  Unless you're a worm.  Perhaps it's no surprise that, in the quiet of the early morning, I had plenty of company in the shape of sparrows, coal tits and starlings!  (At least, I think that's what they were; I'm certainly no ornithologist.)

I'm lucky as I can hear birdsong most of the day. There are several trees near my windows and, throughout the day, I can listen to - and see - robins, coal and blue tits and wood pigeons (as well as normal city pigeons, but let's not go there).

7 Apr 2011


Sensible, moi?  Not usually, but this year I'm going to give it a go.  This year, I've got A Plan.

In the first year we pretty much chucked in whatever we thought would grow from August onwards.  (There was a lot of clearing to do first.)  So that year was what we shall call our Salad Days.  Year Two was the Year of the Fox ... and the Aphid ... and the Cat.  So although we planted plenty, not much was harvested (okay, beetroot, beans, the odd radish, tomato or strawberry.)

But this year it's going to be better!  For a start, I'm growing what I want to eat so I spend less at the veg shops.  Kale, broad beans, runner beans - these are all out of the window. Nothing wrong with them, they're just not my favourite veg.  Broccoli, spinach, cauliflower are all in.  I've tried to be realistic about what I can grow in the time available. (Only time will tell on that one!) Even so, the list is surprisingly long:

I've emptied out my basket of seed packets (no, that's not all of them above - if only!), written down the veg I like, chucked out any out of date seeds, offered the unwanted as freebies, resolved to grow salad and herbs on my balcony where I can pick it when needed and, finally, drawn up a plan of where I can try to fit all this in (not yet in colour, although may get round to it soon!):

(The smaller plan is last year's thoughts on where to put the children's raised beds.  This year's is in pencil underneath.)

Amazingly, it's the first time I've done this and it's been a very useful process. I've now got a good grip on what needs to be done (scary but realistic).  I actually thought about putting the tall stuff (like sweetcorn, french beans and artichokes) at the Northern end of the plot, so any sun we may have can get to the veg that need it.  The beds drawn at the bottom of the plan get early morning sun and the plot is in full sun by about 9.30 a.m. in midsummer.  By 2 p.m. the shade is gradually taking over, starting with the beds at the bottom.  I'm hoping that the taller plants may act as slight buffers for the wind. There's a lot to consider when you're trying to grow between two long 4-storey blocks of flats!

Last night I managed to dig over one bed, move it to a better position so I can plant bug-lovin' flowers behind it and start sowing.  Tomorrow, the same for the next bed, also herbs and strawberries will have to be gently relocated.  Here's hoping for continued good weather ...  if not, I'll be balcony gardening with this lot:

2 Apr 2011

Eventide ...

Sometimes it pays to look up from your keyboard:

:: 7.35 p.m. Sunset over Hampstead Heath, across the rooftops ::

Typing away this evening (talking about wildlife ponds with Flighty), glanced out of the window to see this most extraordinary Caribbean-like sunset.  Within 15 minutes, the sun had slipped over the horizon into night.  What a totally marvellous end to the day - hope it bodes well for some good Sunday gardening tomorrow!

Buddies ...

I'm well behind in the sowing stakes and the weather has been very mild for March (at least in London) so whereas fellow gardeners have got off to a flying start, I'm still drawing up plans of what I can grow in the available space.

I don't have a greenhouse so all my sowing has to be on the kitchen windowsill (not much room), on the balcony (until recently, a pigeon roost) or outside (still a few frosty nights).  So I'm going to unashamedly  show off* some more blossoming fruit:  these are a few of the many fruit buds on my blueberries.  We've got four blueberry bushes in total, growing in huge pots as they like acid soil.

These are second year bushes, and we had a small quantity of fruit last year (briefly seen, before the children swooped) so this year, the nets are out and the hopes are high!

You might like to know...

  • Blueberry bushes are very easy to grow, needing only to be planted in ericaceous soil.
  • Fertilise in the spring, after the leaves have emerged from the buds, with an ericaceous fertiliser, such as used for azaleas or rhododendrons. 
  • Net in the summer as the fruit forms.
  • Prune when the plant is dormant in the winter months.  Fruit grows on second year wood so to encourage a bushy habit and more fruit, some pruning is needed.

(*Please excuse the split infinitive, it just doesn't read well when grammatically correct!)
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