This time last year, we launched our inaugural Great Sunflower Race, pitting our horticultural skills against family, friends, neighbours – and you. We painted our pots, googled top tips, and Harry and I then watched in glee as our seeds germinated seemingly overnight, sending out perky shoots and promising great things. We tut-tutted over my husband’s barren soil - his seedling eventually grew about a foot before peaking and retiring – whilst watching our stems shoot heavenward.
…They were eaten as an appetiser by a passing deer the following week.
But there’s something about the British spirit of perseverance against all odds; a relentless optimism combined with a constitutional patience that causes us to quietly join queues and wait in line even if we have no idea what we are waiting for. Some argue that it is this spirit which has won wars; it’s certainly the same dogged optimism that compels us to try again this year – and with such passion and fervour!
Once more Harry and I have had a fun time packaging up seeds into tiny envelopes to give away to old friends and new, so that the race can begin in earnest;
And once again we’d love you to join us, if you have a patch of soil or even just a doorstep – the beauty of sunflowers is that they need very little space. Choose your seeds, fill a pot and throw your virtual hat into the ring via the comments below, and we’ll have regular progress checks on sunflower growth spurts around the world. Let the great sunflower race begin!
I wrote here about the moment in April when Harry and I caught Spring Fever and had an exuberant flurry of planting fruit and vegetables, before collapsing exhausted on the lawn with a stiff drink (of milk, naturally). We are complete amateurs, seduced by the adverts in the garden centre which promise abundant produce from phoenix-like plants which thrive on neglect and rise from the dead every time. Harry’s selection process involved choosing the brightest coloured packets which were reachable at knee-height, and that seemed as good a plan as any to me. It’s fair to say we put our feisty seedlings and their hardiness to the test, as did the British weather – the amount of floods and hailstorms we’ve had in recent weeks would suggest to the Biblically-minded that eternal damnation is quite possibly just around the corner.
Still, today we harvested our first crops and have held a small judging ceremony to score our efforts. We have been generally tough on ourselves but start with the stand-out winners, our beautiful, abundant sugar snap peas. Or perhaps I should just say peas; they grew way beyond sugar-snapping size and are now cheery fat pods bursting with perky peas. We’re very proud.
Our second crop was courgettes. Everyone warned me that courgettes grow in the blink of an eye and that gardeners the world over will roll their eyes and tell you of the glut they always experience, and their weariness of having to cook courgette 50 different ways to try to run down their stocks. It is thus with some embarassment that I confess we have managed to grow just one courgette. One, Uno, Solo. And that one is approximately the length of Harry’s finger, and only slightly wider. It is perfectly formed, but insufficient for a meal, unless perhaps Gwyneth Paltrow was coming for dinner. We give ourselves 6 out of 10.
Chantenay carrots were my secret favourite crop; I pictured rustling up a bowl of them for Sunday lunch en famille, where they would glint under a knob of melting butter and look radiant and perfectly formed, yet just earthy and organic enough for it to be clear they were not from a supermarket. Well, of all these goals we seem to have achieved only the latter; there aint no doubt that our carrots are not shop-bought….
Still, who needs to eat carrots when you can give them false eyes and name them individually? (this one above is The Lobster, by the way…). We may not be close to winning any beauty prizes for our efforts, but we’re having a lot of fun growing them…
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…