Green Fingers

Feathered Afternoon tea

The sun is shining at last and the birds are chirping gaily in the trees, the Biblical torrents of rain a distant memory.  Let’s draw a veil around the fact that the chirping tends to begin at around 5am in the particularly large tree right next to our bedroom window, and be grateful for small things.  Still, action is called for; Harry tends to make the most noise when he is hungry, so applying the same logic to our dawn chorus I have set about constructing these tea cup feeders (below).

I saw a version of this idea here and fell in love; ever since I’ve been scooping up random bits of china from charity shops (I also use them in cake stands like my one here, and to make pretty filled candles).  Leftover spindles and paint from our house restoration provided the other parts – though old broom handles or curtain poles would work great too, particularly for larger cups.  Paint the spindles, glue cup to saucer and saucer to spindle and hey-presto! a bird feeder.  Not just any feeder at that, but a chic and tasteful one that can be painted to contrast with (or coordinate with) your garden.  A happy consequence of the small saucers and the petite scale of these is that squirrels find them particularly challenging…. I mounted mine by our pond (below) and have watched a small army of them attempt – and fail – to hustle some seed.

A few tips… if your spindle has a particularly pointy end, use that one to dig into the ground (obvious I know, but worth evaluating carefully before you set about glueing on tea cups…).  Shallow cups and saucers work best so that the birds can access the seed very easily and without having to hop into the cup and risk missing a sighting of the local cat / fox / toddler who is stealthily heading their way.  For location, try a few ideas out – I found they look best in groups, and when spaced at different heights.  Moving them around in this bucket of sand allowed me to decide on their final position without too much exertion.  Not least because my long suffering husband was the one who lugged the pot around behind me, as I waltzed around the lawn crying ‘left a bit! No, not there!’, until steam rose gently from his brow.  Hmmm, some marital brownie points to be re-earned, I think…

Seedlings, soil and a spot of light toil…

I’m feeling all green-fingered again. I’ve been swept away by a tidal wave of good intention and the recurrent vision of becoming a self-sufficient, kaftan-wearing earth mother who harvests dinner every night from her Kitchen Garden and whose offspring can name every variety of tomato under the sun. Like most fantasies, alas, this is impossibly far from the truth.  The kaftan-wearing bit in particular is just never going to happen.

Still, a well-lived life is one of constant reinvention, as I’m sure someone must have said as it sounds very profound.  Harry and I have duly cracked open the Dorling Kindersley Guide to Gardening for Complete Amateurs, and begun sowing in earnest.  Initially we’ve just planted lettuce, carrots, radishes and salad onions. The DK guide warns me ominously that carrots are plagued by the psila rosae Carrot Fly and must always be planted alongside onions, which will, it promises, have the same effect as Kryptonite on Superman or garlic to Dracula, thus ensuring that the evil weevils keep a flight exclusion zone around our precious harvest.  This is just as well, as I wouldn’t be able to identify a psila rosae if it fell into my gin and tonic.  Especially then, in fact.

I found this rather cool and slightly more macho planter for Harry (below), and once he’d wedged himself into it a couple of times and ascertained that it achieved a max speed of about 2km/hour when pushed along, he was happy to plant it up instead, bashing each tender seedling heavily with the spade for good measure.

And finally, what I’m hoping will be the most verdant and productive of all; this grafted tomato, which the garden centre has led me to believe is the genetic equivalent of Usain Bolt and will deliver such a bountiful harvest that even the sight of a tomato, come September, will make us feel a little queasy.

It must deliver on its promise, as I have a title to uphold; last year my very undersized efforts scooped the ‘Most Artistic Tomato’ prize in my friend’s annual Tomato Festival (a deliciously drunken garden party where tomatoes feature loosely, and other equally tenuous categories include ‘Best shop-bought tomato’ and ‘Best wine to drink with tomatoes’..).  I strung a handful of dwarf cherry toms together to form a fetching necklace and earring set which I duly wore (below); it did the trick – and works a treat when you get hungry and the canapés are far away – but I think that substance is going to have to trump style this year if I am to retain my title…

And in closing; a gratuitous montage of some of the most distracting spring blooms in the rest of the garden.  One of our great pastimes (having moved into our house in the depths of winter) is watching to see what bursts into bud, then flower, as the weather turns.  All helpful advice on identifying and naming the varieties of beauties below is more than welcome…

The Great Sunflower Race

I have found a new nemesis. He’s called Hans Peter Schiffer, and I’ve never met him. ‘Who??’ I hear you cry. WELL, Herr Schiffer may be a benign, helpful German flight attendant by day, but apparently in his spare time has somehow managed to seize the World Record for the tallest sunflower ever grown, a whopping 8.03m. Lordy. Who knew that the very hands used to highlight emergency exits and demonstrate seatbelt positioning could produce such unfettered glory in the garden?  Eight metres of it no less.  So, competitive juices in full flow, we’ve decided to start a new family tradition; the Great Sunflower Race.

Initially thinking we would just have a Mummy / Daddy / Harry race, we carefully chose 3 pots to sow our seeds, hoping that a short spell indoors would give us a head-start come warmer weather and planting out.  Amidst much jostling and inter-marital suspicion we opted to label the pots with chalkboard paint and pen to ensure no crafty tag swapping once the growing began in earnest.  (Damnit; my master-plan thwarted before germination even occurs…)

We took to the garden for some cavalier tossing of compost; very little landed in the pots themselves but the lawn will, I’m sure, benefit from all the additional nutrients it received.

Sunflower seeds are amongst the most reliable of all so can be sown just one to a pot with confidence.  Or so says the packet.  We’ll see….

With a nearly-full pack of seeds leftover, we decided to ask friends and family to join in the race, so carefully packaged up a sprinkle of seeds into little vellum envelopes (below) and issued the challenge.  Some packets were collected by Harry’s friends at our egg-hunt this weekend, the rest will be mailed to Grandparents and other feverishly keen competitors in the week ahead…

So, without further ado, let the Great Sunflower Race commence!

p.s. Global entries welcome… the Big Measure will take place in July, just as soon as my entry is towering magnificently at an impossible peak (and there I go again; ambition completely outstripping skillset…)

Spring Fever

After a couple of stuttering false starts, it’s clear that Spring is just around the corner and Harry and I are alternating between indoors and outdoors at the drop of a hat.  Thank heaven for wipe-clean wood flooring. When the sap is rising and the buds are bursting into colour, it makes me come over all green-fingered, so this week we’ve been experimenting with growing cress, the ultimate in instant-gratification gardening.  There’s something so bafflingly magical about being able to toss a generous and unfettered handful of seeds onto some damp cotton wool and see them sprout forth overnight. For those with patchy childhood memories, each stage is demonstrated with gusto by Harry, below. Our admittedly rather camp collection of Cressmen are now 5 days old and ready for a first trim…



Step 1: moisten some cotton wool in lukewarm water

Step 2: Insert carefully into your egg cup.  Pause to wipe hands on your jumper.

Step 3: Scatter a small handful of seeds carefully into the cup, covering the cotton wool

Step 4: Abandon this plan; instead, scatter seeds flamboyantly over all surfaces

Step 5: Your work is complete. Retire for a nap whilst Mummy clears up and entertains herself attaching eyes and moustaches to your efforts, in homage to The Village People.

And then… For something a little more grown-up, and to give the impression that great culinary endeavours occur in my kitchen, I also planted up a few wilting supermarket herbs into a variety of different decorative containers (including a copper coffee tin, right), and am diligently watering, trimming and tossing into any dish which may warrant additional greenery… aesthetics may outweigh flavour here, but at least they look pretty. Maybe a little understated compared to the Cressmen, but then there’s only so many things you can attach fake eyes to…