at last…

P1210770…spring has sprung!

P1210766Things are finally happening in the garden: the Amelanchier is now in bloom, the first of the tulips is up — a hanger-on from last year, and the only one in the pot to put in a repeat performance (I thought it worth leaving them by way of an experiment).

P1210759The little clump of violets — which were a freebie, left in a bag attached to a neighbour’s railings — has bulked up and is twice the size it was last year. I am hoping that it will form a mat around the base of the rose, William Lobb, with which it shares bed.


P1210748And in the pop-up green house the rocket and sweet pea seedlings are racing away, with runner beans, climbing courgettes (more of which in a later post), cobea scandens (alba and purple varieties), and coriander not far behind.

I’m sorry posts have been rather thin on the ground. I’ve been tied up with the project I mentioned in an earlier post, and on top of that the Bristol 10K is looming. I have become a slave to running and the 5th of May feels very, very close. The time I had in mind for the race (there is no escaping the fact that it is a race, it seems) is, I fear, woefully optimistic. As with the climbing courgettes, more on running anon.

veg street

veg streetHaving spent the last week with my head in her new book, Veg Street, Grow Your Own Community, I rang Naomi Schillinger this morning in order to check a few things before writing this review. It was meant to be a quick call, just five minutes or so, but forty minutes later when I rang off, I realised that a quick chat is a vain hope once two gardeners, or obsessives of any kind, for that matter, get going. There is always more to discuss.

Naomi is fabulously enthusiastic about gardening, and our not-so-little chat was illuminating in many ways. Not least on the question of how she managed to get so many people in her community, many of whom were strangers to her as well as to each other, to start growing vegetables en masse. But, having spoken to Naomi, although I remain impressed that over 100 households are now involved in her scheme, I’m no longer surprised: her energy and her passion for growing vegetables is infectious. Every neighbourhood could do with a Naomi. Sadly that isn’t possible, but her book is certainly the next best thing to having Naomi at your side.

The book (and the community scheme) is the result of Naomi’s decision to turn her sunny front garden over to growing vegetables having been defeated by the shade in her back garden. And as anyone who has ever spent time pottering in a front garden will know, before long passers by will stop for a chat and a little update on what you’re growing. Naomi’s success with runner beans, leeks and lettuces attracted just this sort of attention, and neighbours began to follow her lead. Fast forward four years to last summer, and the front gardens of Naomi’s neighbourhood were brimming with beans, courgettes, potatoes and sweet corn, along with all the usual front garden fare.

Although Veg Street is, at its heart, the story of Naomi’s neighbourhood gardening scheme (and she’s generous when it comes to information on how to set up something similar), the book is by no means limited to community gardening. In fact the emphasis is really on gardening in small spaces: from front gardens to balconies, grow bags to window boxes.

Organised month by month, with seasonal task lists, detailed directions on planting and propagating, as well as regular ‘simple but brilliant’ ideas (the paddling pool plant watering system is particularly inspired), Veg Street manages to be both down to earth and inspiring. I’d recommend the book to anyone who has ever wanted to grow fruit and vegetables, but has either felt overwhelmed by the prospect, or simply frustrated by lack of space. The list of edible flowers in particular, is fantastic: I had no idea that you could eat hollyhock flowers or daylilies.

wigwamIt’s safe to say that Veg Street has reignited my interest in growing vegetables. After last year’s dismal weather, I’d rather given up on the idea of trying to grow anything to eat in my garden. In the picture above you can see what became known to me as the wigwam of doom — erected last spring in a moment of heady optimism, it remained bare throughout the summer as successive bean seedlings were devoured by slugs.

But Naomi has convinced me to try again, and on her recommendation, I raced out to Wilkinson’s last week and bagged a mini greenhouse. At the weekend I filled it with trays of seeds. And inspired by Naomi’s success with growing potatoes in containers, I’ve ear-marked an old metal dustbin for just this purpose. I shall keep you posted on my progress. And until then I’d suggest that you track down a copy of Naomi’s book and pay a visit to her blog, Out of My Shed (she’s running a giveaway, hurry, hurry, hurry!)

another plot

Whilst work on our garden is suspended, that itch to get out and get digging will be more than satisfied by my mother-in-law’s kind offer of a temporary share in her allotment. The girls have always enjoyed pottering about on Sue’s plot, and this mostly involved digging holes which they filled with water for high summer mud baths. But last year, Sue’s wonderful crop of raspberries (below) opened their eyes to the other pleasures that an allotment holds.

This year, now that they have a section to call their own (and have been reassured that there will still be raspberries), they want to grow flowers. They are not remotely interested in growing vegetables. But I am. My vegetable beds, which were just outside the kitchen, were one of the things I loved most about our old garden in London. I am very excited about the prospect of growing potatoes again, and beetroot, not to mention carrots and courgettes…

So yesterday we went to examine our section of Sue’s allotment. We have two large beds and, once an old strawberry patch is cleared, a third smaller bed which I think the girls are hoping will be theirs. The allotments, surrounded on three sides by old stone walls, were once the kitchen gardens to Ashton Court and our plot looks directly into part of the deer enclosure with views of Clifton beyond.

Although our visit was really nothing more than a recce, the girls wanted to attack a few weeds and have fun with the wheel barrow. Sybil, who is tolerated on the site as long as she is well behaved (which I think translates as tied up, or in the car), sat in the sun and eyed up the bare earth around her, clearly all too aware of the fun to be had if she could only get free and get digging.

Next weekend we’re going back to get stuck into the weeding and perhaps even plant out the potatoes I’ve been chitting.

wish list

Along with avoiding New Year’s Eve, I’ve resolved to do away with resolutions. Instead, I will make a list of things I’ll aim to do this year and not get too hung up on whether or not I manage to tick them off. It will be positive rather than negative. I am a great list maker, so this suits me well. I am also, rather tragically, a great retrospective list maker too – if a list is failing to get smaller, I’ll add stuff that I have done (made a bed, bought some loo roll, nothing major) just to tick it off. Pathetic really.

So, the 2011 list. I have always had a bit of a blind spot when it comes to house plants. I love having flowers in the house, but beyond spring bulbs, and cut flowers through the summer, I never seem to get around to cultivating proper house plants – Spider plants, Begonias, Aspidistras and so on. Probably because I don’t really like them much, I find them a little bit triffid-like and creepy. But I do like the plant above, and below (not necessarily a house plant, but happy enough to be one), in fact I covet these particular plants, which grow on a friend’s mother’s window sill. I love the rosettes of glaucous leaves, and the peculiar flowers that look so much like sweets. This is on my list, I will grow one this year…

only I am not entirely sure what it is*. I assumed that it was some form of house leek (Sempervivum) but when I searched online I found that the flowers don’t really conform. Luckily, the RHS course starts again next week, and I am sure that someone at the Botanical gardens will be able to identify it for me. I will post details when I know.

Other items on the gardening section of my list include: taking out the hazel tree and finding a suitable replacement; drawing up a scale plan of the garden in order to plot the terracing, which I hope to have completed in time to start planting in April; remembering to find out about potato days, and actually getting to one; getting on track with my section of allotment. I will also write at least one post a week on the garden. I found out today that my blog has been accepted by Blotanical, a fantastic online community of garden bloggers. I am really, really pleased – especially as most of the last month’s posts have been entirely garden-free and I thought I might not make the grade.

Other things for my list include: make a quilt, learn to crochet, make at least one dress or skirt for myself, curtains for Matilda’s room and some cushions. I’d also like to have a go at screen printing and take a short photography course in order to get to grips with my very exciting new camera, a Lumix GF 1. The photos here were taken with the old camera, just after a terrible downpour and the whole thing steamed up – hence the soft focus glow.

I want to do more walking, and of course the arrival of Sybil in our household will mean that I will have no trouble at all in ticking that one off the list at the end of the year. Cue gratuitous shot of fluffy puppy…

Some of the things on the list fall into the slightly retrospective category in that they are things I would do this year anyway: make marmalade, make a simnel cake and so on. And knitting falls firmly into this category as this year I will certainly knit. So I think I’ll formalize my knitting plans by saying that I want to knit a jumper for each of the girls and also for Joe (the last is very dangerously close to being a retrospective addition in that I have only a sleeve to go, and Joe’s jumper will be complete). As well as a tea cosy, and more socks, I want to complete at least one Fair Isle or stranded colourwork project – maybe the tea cosy, or perhaps a hat inspired by simplicity and charm of this.

I want to read more – more Elizabeth Taylor especially. I have just finished The Soul of Kindness, which, like all her novels is wonderfully subtle and understated, and lives on in the mind long after reading. I should probably work out a list of books, but I prefer to not to plan ahead too much with my reading, I like to be guided by my mood at that moment. Besides, Joe has challenged me to read Master and Commander, so for the next week or so I will be on the high seas.

I think that’s it for the list, for now. Better start getting on with it.

* I do now, thanks to atomiclulu, who kindly identified it – Echeveria Glauca

my old plot

My frustration at not being able to forge ahead with the garden is compounded by my discovery of some photographs of our old garden. Sadly not decent shots. The one above was taken at the end of the hose-pipe ban summer of 2006, just before we left London for Bristol. You can see  two of  my three vegetable beds looking bare and rather sorry for themselves – though they did provide a fair selection of vegetables throughout the summer months. The previous year I had grown runner beans (Scarlet Emperor), courgettes, beetroot, tomatoes (cherries, beefsteak and plums), lots and lots of cut and come again salad leaves, rocket, basil and potatoes.

But 2006 was really hard. I decided to try my hand at onions and garlic as well as broad beans and various climbing beans (these were grown in pots in order to leave more room in the beds for potatoes). However, the lack of water was a real problem. From April until September we were limited to using what water we could siphon from the bath and the water butt . The onions and garlic failed as did all the crops I was growing in pots. Pretty depressing but lots of lessons were learned. 

What I loved most about my garden was being able to walk out of the kitchen to pick what I needed when I needed it. And this is something I plan to do again, albeit on a rather smaller scale. And although this picture and the one below don’t show the garden at its best (none of those pics are digital), they do remind me that growing vegetables in an urban garden is easily done and that I will be doing it all again soon enough. And perhaps this delay is no bad thing as it gives me time to really plan what I want to squeeze into what is a much smaller space. This weekend we will measure up and I will draw up some designs.