Sycamore

sycamore-leaves

A few metres away from my house there was a sycamore tree. At a guess, I’d say it was 80 to 100 years old. Its branches were home to squirrels, lichens and legions of insects.

I would often sit in my garden on summer evenings and listen to the pigeons cooing and settling down to roost beneath its  leaves. My children loved to throw the seeds – double samaras – high into the air and watch them spin down like helicopters. In late October there would be a carpet of its shiny slippery leaves in shades of auburn, green, gold-yellow, and deep red.

Yesterday my neighbour chopped down this beautiful and healthy tree. I know how pleased my other neighbour will be that her garden will finally see some sun.

Sycamore’s are not a native species here in the UK, though they have been here hundreds of years, and I know trees don’t last forever. But, I can’t help feeling a little sad at the loss of this mini ecosystem that overlooked a corner of my garden. It will be missed.

The Beauty of the Earth

“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.”

~ Rachel Carson, Silent Spring

My second quote in this challenge is from the inspiring writer and conservationist Rachel Carson.

It is that time of year when the garden starts to become unruly, the profusion of growth which looked so lush and tidy in the spring becomes a race to keep up with weeds and bugs. Without near daily attention it would all get out of control. And in a garden, a certain amount of control is necessary so the weaker plants are not consumed by the strong.

So, I’ve been weeding and tidying in-between rainstorms and rushing in and out with the laundry. Why does the blue sky change to grey the minute I’ve pegged it all out? I’ve harvested blackcurrants to have with yoghurt and granola, and broad beans which are delicious mashed with cream cheese on toast.

The sweet peas are flowering at last. I have a pot of them growing up a bamboo wigwam right next to the back door so that I can inhale their scent every time I walk past. Snipping a few to put in a jam jar on the windowsill will encourage the plants to produce more blooms.

If you would like to take part in the challenge just post three consecutive quotes to your blog and nominate 3 other bloggers to join you, if you wish. x

In the Garden

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P1030344Sunshine at last! We’ve been outside making the most of it, and I have been weeding and tidying and all the usual stuff that never seems to end when you have a garden to look after.

We allowed our cat Bo a brief foray outside for the first time. She’s had her vaccinations but is due to be spayed soon, and I do not want to risk a pregnancy (delightful as a litter of sweet kittens would be). She sits indoors by the window when it is ajar and looks longingly out, launching herself at the slightest fly, bird or spider that dares to zip past or dangle in front of her nose. So I relented. Here she is taking a few careful steps, her senses hyper-aware, stopping to sniff the flowers and chew on the odd blade of grass.

Our garden is a funny shape. A triangle at the back which gets a good amount of sunshine and a little rectangle on the side of the house which is shaded. About 23m by 14m on the longest and shortest sides. Not huge but enough for just little old me to look after and grow a few vegetables. Most of it is lawn because the children love to play ball-games and camp out. But each year we dig up another small section and turn it to vegetable beds. This is hard work… luckily I have a handy helper – my son Jay – to give me a hand 🙂 Please ignore the state of the grass, it’s in a terrible condition. Dry here and mossy there with hundreds of daisies and dandelions. It gets quite a pounding from the children, but I’m really past caring about that and learning to love it for what it is.

On the dark side of the house I have planted mostly wildflowers for the butterflies and bees. It’s a perfect spot for that. The edibles are coming along nicely. The blackcurrant bushes are bowing under the weight of all the berries they carry. The most we’ve had I think. I must put a net over them soon, or we’ll lose them all to the blackbirds and I will be cross.

We’re harvesting the greens and broad beans and there are more apples ripening on our small tree this year. The radishes are almost ready and lots of leeks. And of course herbs to make tea and flavour salads and iced water.

We’ve had many a bird come visiting. A family of great tits have been fighting over the feeder for days. Robins, wrens, and blackbirds stop by, and we even had a Jay come and land on the washing line a couple of days ago. I rushed to get my camera but it was gone by the time I turned back. At least I managed to take a picture of the peony before the heavy rains flattened them all to the ground.

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Saving Plants from Certain Death

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I picked up these begonia plants from a local Tesco a couple of weeks ago. 12 plants for 40p! Though admittedly, at the time they did not look like the begonias in the photo, they looked dried up and flowerless and almost dead. Goes to show what a bit of tender loving care can do to even the most bedraggled plants.

I don’t know why they don’t take better care of the plants they are selling in some of these shops. Several years ago I bought a fuchsia for 25p on a reduced stand. It didn’t look like it would make it and now it’s fully hardy and creates a cascade of flowers every summer.

I don’t have a lot of money to spare for expensive plants, especially the annuals that will die after the season. So now I always look out for the forgotten specimens, maybe the occasional one won’t make it, but they nearly always do.

This week I bought 2 trays of violas and 1 of marigolds from the sale stand – 18 plants for 90p. I have picked off all the decaying material and deadheaded the flowers, gave them a good watering and placed them on the kitchen windowsill. In a week or so when they’re stronger I will acclimatise them to the outdoors, and they will be as good as new, maybe even stronger than the ones which didn’t have to fight for their lives. 🙂

In the Garden

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The past few days have been satisfying. Time spent away from the Internet has been nourishing to my frazzled soul. The weather has also been kind and enabled me to weed and dig, and spread manure and sow a few early seeds.

I forget how much I need to be outside. Winter creeps surreptitiously into my life and I don’t realise it has been months since I spent more than a few short minutes in the garden. My body needs to be outside and my brain needs it too. Like water. Like air. I need to feel the sun and the breeze on my face and the earth between my fingers. I need to trim dead branches and gather old leaves because this process is a like a life ritual for me. As I prune and clear the garden I am also purging the dead and the dying and the useless thoughts from my mind. And the growing of vegetables, herbs and fruits nourishes me just as much as the eating of them does.

“The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.”

~ Michael Pollan

The compost crumbles to a fine tilth between my fingers  as I scatter it over the seeds and dampen the soil with water where it is parched. The rosemary in her pot was a thirsty soul and the potted rose has doubled in size in a week, I swear.

I transplanted half a clump of campanula that grew out of nowhere between a crack in the paving and the wall of the house, and replanted it in a pot to put on the garden table. Now I can look forward to purple bells in the summertime. I sowed everlasting sunflowers – the tiny seeds were so different to the usual varieties – and I am still deciding where to put the sweet peas I bought from the garden centre. In a pot or in the garden bed?

From time to time I stop to sit and bask in the sunshine and habitually squeeze the leaves of my new thyme plant between my fingers and inhale the lemony fresh scent.

I sowed radish and beetroot and inspected the spring greens and the tight clusters of white violet-hearted petals on my two broad bean plants. An experiment to see how well they grow and if it is worth allocating them more garden space next year. Lots of leeks look ready for eating – I must remember to use more leeks in the kitchen and look up recipes for their use. I dig and break up the thick clods of clay soil and it breaks my heart when I inadvertently slice a poor earthworm.

And please do tell me where all the dandelions come from? I remove their long tap roots every year, and every year they return. I shall make a salad of them or tea perhaps.

I love being outside and tending the Earth – just my small part of it –  I even begin to feel like a new person 🙂

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Black and White Photo Challenge ~ Day 2

Here is my second photograph for the 5 Day Black and White Photo Challenge.

DSCF4567This is a sunflower from my garden, taken last year. I love the way the petals look like they are made of paper and how they catch the light.

Today I would like to nominate Kerstin, Elisabeth, and Gabrielle from A Homespun Country Life to join in with the challenge (info here). There is no pressure – only participate if and when you can, if you would like to, of course.

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In the Garden

Hello there, back again. I knew I couldn’t stay away for long… there’s something a bit addictive about this blogging thing isn’t there? 
The end of a wonderfully long summer is upon us, though we are still enjoying these last warm days. There has been camping, growing, playing, cycling, walking, weeding, reading, birdwatching (those adorable fledgling blackbirds were so exhausted after their first flight they sat on the lawn for ages. We were quite worried for their welfare!). That rabbit was spotted over the hedge munching away at our neighbours vegetables.
Right now, it is so quiet here. Aside from the occasional whir of the washing machine, I can’t hear a sound. There is no wind, not even a breeze and the sky is a pale grey. I wonder if it’ll rain? I hope not as I want to get out and do some more gardening later. 
Most of the vegetables I planted this year grew well (for a change). Lots of potatoes and courgettes. The sweetcorn and leeks will also soon be on our plates. I have decided to stick with growing just a few varieties that I can rely on. Too often I have put in a lot of effort, only to have a crop decimated by disease, slugs or some other pest. I’m also not going to bother with potatoes next year. They grow well, but they’re just not a good trade for the amount of room on the plot, time spent growing, tending and harvesting they require. Okay, if you’ve got the space for a large potato bed, but here they are very cheap to buy and I think, in my smallish garden, the effort would be better spent with something else. 
I need to cover the kale next time too, it got devoured by the cabbage white caterpillars. Though I did get several meals out of it before the pests arrived – cooked on the hob with a little butter and garlic – delicious. Next year, I might try growing some squash. Butternut maybe? I think it’s habit is fairly similar to the courgettes which seem to like the conditions here. I will stay away from the more delicate salad vegetables – cucumber, lettuce and tomatoes for now. Without a greenhouse and with me not being the most reliable of waterers, ahem, I think it for the best.
The work in the garden is winding down now in preparation for the cooler months. A lot of weeding, cutting back and tidying to be done. I like this time of year though as thoughts turn to more indoor activities. 
I am definitely of the hibernating type. Reading, writing, sewing, knitting, watching films, cooking. If I had a real log fire I would probably never leave the house!  I have resolved to be a little braver this winter though and make myself go outside regularly no matter how cold it gets. Do you have any cosy plans for the cooler months?
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In the Garden

A great-spotted woodpecker has been visiting the garden, though I’m not sure if it is the same one we had last year. I think this one is younger. You can always tell when it’s here by the characteristic  shriek announcing its presence. There is no mistaking it. And it attacks the poor peanut feeder with a great force and determination – as if it were the neighbouring oak.

The flowerbeds are just turning to their most wildest tangle – I shall need to get out there and start cutting back before some of the larger plants take over.

Many of the vegetables are growing very well this year… in part because I resorted to the use of a modest sprinkling of slug pellets now and again. I feel very guilty about using them, but I tried everything else I could in past years. It was that or give up trying to grow anything all together.

It is my first year growing leeks and sweetcorn… so far, so good. The kale is growing very well indeed, I shall pick a few leaves tomorrow. And the courgettes already have several fruit on them. Two of my three cucumbers died a very sudden and unexplained death. I didn’t think they would last to be honest, not without a greenhouse or some other kind of protection. I shall be harvesting potatoes and blackcurrants later in the week.

The peony in the picture above was from a plant transplanted from my mum’s garden over ten years ago. She gave me two – one double flowered and one single. The double blooms year after year without fail, the other one however, had never flowered… until this year that is, so I’m glad to get a picture of this little pink bud emerging.

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Tales from the Garden

A weekend spent mostly in the garden 🙂 I have the sorest of fingers where my gloves have worn holes. I must buy some more, they are not much use at all. Thorns and twigs scratch and I don’t notice until the next day when I wake up with scarlet weals along the inside of my forearms, right where the skin is white and most sensitive from never seeing the the sun.

I pulled bunches of the mint which is outgrowing its designated area, as it is wont to do. The white roots are tough as rope and weave in and out of each other beneath the surface. I uncover slick sienna brown slugs hiding tight against the wall where it’s dark and damp.

I try to work at least an hour in the garden each day. There is so much to do, and I’m still learning… like the more often I weed, the less work it is. We haven’t had much rain lately and the ground is dry and cracked on the surface like chapped lips under a mediterranean heat. Though when I dig down the soil there is soft and crumbly. I build it up around the new Virginia stock plants and press firmly before watering in. I imagine their thirsty roots free from the confines of the pot, tendrils unfurling and lengthening into the limitless soil. What a relief it must be to grow unfettered and free.

Elsewhere in the garden the courgette plants are flowering, yellow bulbous sacs, some opening, some still yet closed tight. Emily has been practicing hurdles, jumping over obstacles placed at random all over the lawn. There is a huge patch of dying grass where the tent was last week. It has afforded a feast to a blackbird who has been collecting worms to take back to her young nesting in the hedge. A baby robin came visiting too, very brave he hopped right up to us in his quest for worms. So agile, he bounded around the grass on legs so thin they looked like they might snap in two.

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Charles Dowding’s Vegetable Course

Charles Dowding produces veg all year round at his Lower Farm in Somerset, UK as well as running courses on gardening for all levels. When I saw this book in my local library, I was attracted by his method of minimal effort that results in abundant and healthy harvests.
This book advocates the ‘no-dig’ method, which, to be honest, I had never heard of before. I well recall the back-breaking work it took to convert sections of my lawn into vegetable beds by using the trench-digging method, so I am more than happy to hear of an alternative. Everybody I know who grows vegetables digs the soil deep and incorporates compost/manure into it, rather than laying it on top of the undisturbed earth as this gardener recommends. 
The advantages of this method are many including:
  •  new weed seeds are less likely to be brought to the surface where they might sprout 
  • less manual labour
  • the soil structure remains intact supporting growth
  • over time the soil becomes more nutrient rich and productive.
There is a good chapter on the basic tools you will need – no fancy gadgets or unnecessary expense here. He just recommends buying the essentials – the best you can afford. There are some useful chapters on accessories, weed identification, pests and diseases, tips on growing the most common vegetables, seed-saving, and a monthly gardening calendar.
Overall Charles is a minimalist gardener, minimal intervention, minimal unnecessary work and tools, which I like. This is a good book for the beginner gardener or someone who is still trying to find a system that works. 
He calls for a greater understanding of the natural processes at work: 
“A healthy and happy garden comes from a balanced approach: from tolerating some pests and diseases, while at the same time keeping their causes to a minimum.”
From the beautiful photographs in the book this method clearly works for him. I will definitely be putting a lot of his advice to use in my own garden.
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