planting

Green-Fingers (and the beginnings of a garden room)

The Garden Room project

For the two years since we bought our house, the conservatory has stood empty and neglected; a leaking, ill-fitting extension in a glowing candy-floss pink colour that we’d somehow never got around to painting over.  At some point we’ll probably take it down, but until then I decided to breathe a little life into it with a coat of soft grey paint and approximately 156,000 random seedlings.  They weren’t supposed to be random, or quite so numerous, but like many amateur gardening enthusiasts I sprinkled them liberally into soil plugs and then swiftly mixed up the packets, leaving me with little idea of what verdant surprises are in store…

rocket plugs

The conservatory is attached to the snug and the playroom, and is now gradually taking shape as a space we love to be in.  I’ll show some proper photos when we’ve finished moving extraordinarily heavy pieces of furniture in and out of it, but for now a few work-in-progress shots of it taking shape.  A new fig tree is settling in and adding some Mediterranean glamour to one corner, which is also home to Agnes, our rather surly looking statue who previously held court in the downstairs toilet and is now supervising the family sunflower race (I’m winning).

Creating a garden room 1

In another corner an old Ikea worktop has been co-opted as my potting bench, and now proudly displays a rusting old French bottle-dryer that I found in a junk shop last weekend;

duck duck goose

 

Creating a Garden Room 3

We added a patio table and chairs and had Sunday morning coffee in there this past weekend, enjoying the fact that the fusty, stale air of before had been replaced with that buzzy green smell and moistness that you get when everything around you is feverishly growing

peonies and coffee in the conservatory

The peonies, somewhat astonishingly, are from our garden; the schizophrenic weather of early spring means that the borders are a jumble of unseasonal colour as the biological clocks of the plant world try to adjust and work out exactly what they should be doing.

Creating a Garden Room 2

A glossy white sideboard that looked wrong in every other room of our house finds a natural home in this sun-washed space, and hosts some of the more decorative propagation, like these sugar-snap peas who are awaiting new homes with friends as part of a veggie seedling swap…

Garden Room 7

I used wooden skewers topped with beads to form wigwams to keep them happy until they can be transplanted…

Stake small seedlings with BBQ skewers topped with beads

Elsewhere a vintage garden chair takes the weight of my lemon tree which seems to be loving the heat and sunlight; you can smell the lemons from the sofa – a new favourite place to perch with a good book (especially with an olive tree at the other end).  For anyone who is wincing at the thought of a white sofa in a roomful of soil and watering cans, it’s a 15yr-old beauty with washable covers that seems to survive most of what life throws at it.

Creating a Garden Room 6  Creating a Garden Room 4

Against the long wall the really serious growing is underway; pepper plants, tomatoes, strawberries and cucumbers, pumpkins, sweetcorn and courgettes.  Some will remain in the conservatory, others will find a natural home in the garden once the weather is reliably warm.  For fun and pure aesthetics, we’re also growing mouse-melons, globe artichokes and borlotti beans – I find myself checking on them every few hours when i’m home, such is the excitement…

Pepper Bush

Strawberry planter

And now I must go, because watering this mini-jungle is no small feat and cannot be ignored.  In the meantime, I have a small corner left to fill; any ideas for greenhouse-friendly, interesting plants?  To misquote William Morris, if it’s either beautiful or useful – by which I mean edible – then I’m all ears…

Have a great week!

Kate

Let there be bright!

Winter Brights to lift the gloom

It’s been a week where the world at large seems to have been beset by wild and extreme weather, from the deep freeze in the US to the wet and windy ravages across Europe and unpredictable swings of temperature in the Antipodes; few places seem to have escaped.  Our corner of the world is flooded, with water levels rising.  We are fortunately ensconced at the very top of a hill, Noah style, so are quite literally high and dry – for now.  With the general gloom and January grey, I’ve been trying this week to add colour and new life to our home, to encourage thoughts of Spring.  First, an unruly bunch of tulips escaping from an old watering can;

tulips in watering can

Tulips

I trimmed a couple of leftover flowers and tucked them into a folded book on the mantle, having wrapped the stems in soaked kitchen roll; so far they have looked perky and beautiful for 3 days, which is longer than I expected;

tulips in book pages

The most lasting display will be in the kitchen, where I have repurposed our old decorating ladder as a stand for a myriad of Spring bulbs and winter flowers.  Hellebores, hycacinths and snowdrops jostle for space on the treads and lean towards the weak light which manages to flood through the window each morning.  I took this first photo (below) last weekend, and have been gradually overlaying shots as the buds burst into bloom, inspired by David Hockney’s photo montages;

Spring bulbs on a ladder

Hockney style flowers on a ladder

The hyacinths are on the cusp of flowering and the scent is delicious, mixing with the woodsmoke from the hearth;

hyacinths blooming

Back in the depths of November, I planted individual hyacinths bulbs into teacups and individual casserole dishes, and am enjoying them dotted about the house, like this one in my office;

Spring hyacinth adding a pop of colour

 

I’m not naturally green-fingered at all, but one ambition this year is to convert an old and disused conservatory at the side of our house into a place to grow flowers, fruit and vegetables over the year.  A good use for these long winter evenings is to sit, glass of wine and pencil in hand, flicking through seed catalogues and marking out the most beautiful and interesting blooms and crops.  These mouse melons are on my list, just because they are so unique and pretty, and as we live on strawberries and tomatoes through the summer months, I’m sifting through varieties of those too.  For the gardeners amongst you, what would you suggest an amateur with sporadic attention should sow in a conservatory?  Space is plentiful, but colour, interesting plants and lovely scents will all increase the chances of Harry and I remembering to feed, water and prune…  All ideas welcome!

Have a wonderful weekend, and may the weather be kind to you wherever you are.

Kate

First Harvest

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…

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…)