Sunday 28 June 2020

Badgers, Blackbirds and a Robin

Hello Friends!

Thank you to all who left such uplifting comments on my last blog entry, so encouraging and kind. Heartfelt thanks from me to you.  With my back gone into spasms again, they have carried me through some painful days.

One thing I miss with our current state is friends dropping by for a chat and a cup of tea.  I know it will be a long time before I can invite anyone safely over my threshold again.  This saddens me, for I am of the ilk that as soon as I open the door and see a friendly face, they are beckoned in and, before they have taken off their coat, the kettle is on. When they are able to visit, it seems it will be during fine weather only and we will sit out, two meters apart, in the garden.  I don't even know any more about the safety of offering a cup of refreshing tea and slice of home made cake.  Do you?  Thank goodness for the garden!

Here's a wee visitor, always welcome, no social distancing required.  A Robin goes about gathering bugs to feed the chicks waiting on a nearby nest.

Speaking of sitting in the garden, I have now got a new Public Enemy Number One.  A badger.  My lawn is not the most pristine, it is more pollinator friendly than well manicured, but even so, the last thing I want to see when I throw back the curtains of a morning is a big pile of earth alongside a big hole where a badger has dug in the night.  There's not a lot I can do, and frankly I consider it a privilege to have a visiting badger, but also know this will cause big problems for me down the road when the vegetable plot is back up and running.

And so, I wonder how the rest of the garden grows?  Since I last wrote, the growing list of foes now includes blackbirds who do battle with me over ownership of the soft fruit, especially the raspberries and rstrawberries.  The raspberries are not so easy to protect, but the strawberries are now covered with a horticultural fleece while I search for some old netting.  Horticultural fleece is good but not great. It's great at helping to keep things warm, especially in winter, but it doesn't let the same amount of light, or water, in and has to be removed and replaced after watering which starts to get faffy.

This is the noise outside, all day long, from sun rise to sunset, when the fledglings have left the nest.

Blackbirds Warning Call

I did not expect a lot of strawberries, as the plants are new, but since I started picking a few occasional fruits this seems to have encouraged a whole raft of new flowers!  I can now look forward to more fruit in a few weeks and right now I have the pretty sight of ripening berries and those oh so delightful pink and white flowers!

Fresh picked strawberries camouflaged on a strawberry patterned tray for fun.

I have also picked a few raspberries.  Slow to begin, but once you start picking they come in thick and fast! The more you pick, the quicker the next fruits ripen up!  The more I pick, the more the blackbirds bolden and attack me!

This one didn't even make it into the bowl!

Each evening, around 6:45, everything comes to a halt.  Downton Abbey is being shown, from the very first episode, and even though I have them all on dvd, I still stop to watch.  In these current days of uncertainty, when those first, familiar bars of music from the opening credits begin, it's like coming home to an old friend, and the biggest, warmest hug imaginable.  Just what we need.

After Downton, I go out and water my pots if it is needed, which at the moment is nearly every evening.  I love watering.  Standing, as the evening sun still warms the world and bathes all in a golden light of gloaming, gently pouring the life giving water on plants that will nourish my body and soul, it is a time to reflect on the day as it says "goodnight", and a time for gentle and calming meditation.  Few jobs in the garden bring me such joy as watering.
My favourite Rosa Mundi
I work hard to be water responsible, and only water where it is needed.  I do not water the lawn, if it turns yellow, it turns yellow.  Grass recovers quickly enough with a light sprinkling of rain. I do not water the main borders either.  Most plants have a way of finding what they need, but occasionally, if it has been a particularly prolonged dry spell, or if I have planted something new, or moved things around, I will water just enough. The plants in my raised borders are pretty tolerant of most conditions and hardly ever need watering.  For pots and borders I try to recycle grey water, but sometimes a five gallon watering can full of water is a heavy thing to lug.

A few weeks ago, on Gardener's World, Monty Don said it was not too late to sow some tomato seeds, so I followed his lead.  Mine are not as far along as his, and I think this may be down to not having a green house, and also that we took a serious hit when the temperatures dropped by 20°F overnight.  Still, I am continuing with them, ever hopeful they will pull through and yield some fruit.  Few things are tastier than a fresh picked, sun ripened, still warm tomato in a summer salad.

I also threw caution to the wind and sowed the last few seeds of two varieties, Marquee de Provence pumpkin and Uchiki Kuri squash.  I also sowed an old pack of assorted ornamental gourds.  They have two chances, and cost only a few handfuls of compost, so nothing to lose, and if they grow then I will have some, hard~to~come~by in my area, ornamental gourds for autumn decorating.  I have not had those in years, as no one grows them locally.  I am still waiting for them to germinate, and I fear the fickle weather has not helped any.

What happened to Summer? Just as things should be warming up, and they did for a few days, we saw the unexpected return of winter with very unseasonably cold and windy weather.  This set back all of our plants and seedlings again, not just mine.  It rained, light and steady, all day and into the night, so the ground has had a gentle soaking, thankfully, and that may save the water for a day or two!  This year, everything was coming along well, and I had started to put things outside when that drop in temperature came , and now my front porch, as well as my back porch, is full of things I am trying to save!  Gardening is nothing if not a constant challenge of wits!  Today and tomorrow we have 45mph winds, and when I went out to pick a salad selection of leaves I couldn't keep them in the bowl the wind was so keen and strong!

Repurposed old freezer baskets to help move things in and out for hardening off when the weather is fine.

I do not have a greenhouse, so all my indoor sowing and growing on of plants happens in my utility room.  It has a lovely big, sturdy shelf and a big window that should let in plenty of light, but neighbouring tall Sycamore trees in full leaf lessen the light by some considerable degree and my plants are often leggy until I can put them safely outside.  Still, it is all I have, so I work with it.  I am grateful to have it.  Now, though, it has to be cleared away every couple of weeks as it doubles up as my grocery sanitising area.  Who would ever have thought we would be talking like this?  All the more reason to focus on getting a small greenhouse, or garden shed with a suitable shelf for potting up, protection, and growing on!

I sent to Suttons for some more seeds, all things that can still be sown, and which will harvest this year.  I read here, Marks Veg Plot, that he grew carrots in pots.  I have a lot of these Long Tom style pots sitting around {it's the consummate Pack Rat in me}so I am giving it a go.  Nothing to lose.  I have some fresh carrot seeds, along with two more types of lettuce, Little Gem and All Year Round, which should provide lettuce into October; parsley; dill; garlic chives; and borage.  I am replenishing all my out~of~date seeds.  There is low availability right now, I guess lockdown has got people out in their gardens, which is no bad thing at all!

I will be looking like a lettuce, but then I do love, and enjoy, a delicious salad bowl every day.  I love to make a main meal salad, with a couple cups of leaves as the base, then add whatever I have: parsley, spinach, tomatoes, diced onion, spring onion, shredded carrot, shredded courgette, diced cucumber, beetroot, a handful of thawed frozen peas, kidney beans, cheese, home made croutons, some seeds, and a home made dressing.  Yum!  It's a favourite meal in the cottage.

Do you have a favourite vegetable or fruit you love to grow and could not do without?  It's hard to pick just one, isn't it?  The superlative flavour of home grown, plot to plate in minutes, how do you pick just one?

Until next time
Stay safe. Stay well.
Deborah xo

Tuesday 9 June 2020

Gardening to Nourish and Feed Both Body and Soul

Hello Friends!

I don't know if anyone else found this, and it's probably just because we had such lovely, summery weather following on from such a summery merry month of May but yesterday morning, when I was watering my pots, there was that old, familiar smell in the air, quite unexpected, hinting that autumn is slowly creeping around the corner.  Like I say, probably all to do with how fickle the weather has been, very hot then plummeting by ten degrees Celsius overnight to feeling very cold, and nothing more than that, but when you find yourself putting your vest back on and turning the heating on in June, you begin to wonder whether or not you imagined it.

A garden is a source of nourishment.  The very act of gardening nourishes the soul as you care for, tend, and nurture seeds and plants to maturity and their intended purpose.  Then, if you grow an edible garden of any kind, even just a few simple salad vegetables on a windowsill, you are not only nourishing your soul but also your body with produce you know you can trust to be the best it possibly can be.  What can be better?

If you garden, you do not need a gym, or a therapist, and you get flowers, fruit and vegetables.

One of the things I used to do several years ago, working alongside my father, was to grow most of the household food for about eight months of the year, I did my best to continue after he passed away, but in recent times I have been overwhelmed and I had to stop.  As a full time care giver, it was as much as I could do to keep up with the mowing, never mind weeding, digging, sowing, growing on and maintaining a vegetable garden.  Something had to give, and we all know it takes no time at all for nature to regain a foothold and turn even the most well tended garden into a wilderness.

This year, I had planned to get on top of things, beginning by hiring someone to come in and help with the heavy digging and moving of trees and shrubs, and to generally help get things sorted to a point where I can manage, but we all know what happened next, and it put a whole tool box full of spanners in the works for everyone.  Now that the only gardening company in my village is able to work within very strict guidelines, he's up to his eyes with seasonal mowing and won't be available for many months for the kind of work I need doing.  So, I am puttering along, doing what I can until he is available at the end of mowing season.

There is a long, narrow section along side the south facing pine end of the cottage.  It gets full sun in the summer for about eight to ten hours a day, so gets very warm and seems to me an ideal spot to grow things in pots and containers.  There was an old shed tucked away in the corner, it had to be dismantled last year for safety's sake, especially with the windy west Wales winters, but the chap who took it away didn't come back to finish the job, so it's quite untidy right now, and even as I work to tidy it up, a lot of the rubbish is of the ilk that can only be taken to the tip {Civic Amenity and Recycling Centre} and right now it's not open to trailers, which is what I need.  I may end up hiring a skip in a few months, when we are able to do such things again.

I digress.  The space is paved, no earth; it isn't big enough for anything other than storage out of sight; it's also a sun trap, so too hot to sit in; it's not visible unless you are standing in it, so I can't see the point in filling it with flowers.  So, I have filled a few recycled containers and pots with compost, sown seeds, tended, watered and weeded, and have had a few small harvests already, turning it into a food producing corner.

I have very basic things, such as mixed leaves, lettuce, beetroot, watercress, salad onions, courgettes, strawberries and hopefully tomatoes.  It's not a lot, I would starve if I was relying on this, but it's something positive and nurturing to do during lockdown, and getting my hand back in to growing food again.

I am keeping these trays as baby leaves, not planning to let them get large.  Successive sowings will be key to keeping them tasty.  I love salads, and a fresh picked bowl of leaves is my idea of heaven.

Radicchio, Chicory, Mixed Leaves
It's made me realise, once I have reclaimed my two former fruit and vegetable areas that I now have a whole new area!  It's so warm I think I may be able to grow peppers, chillies and even aubergines along side the cottage, especially if we continue to get good, warm days.  It will be an excellent spot to put one of those small wooden upright cold frames as a place to bring on seedlings.

Salad Onions
It's also made me think of how to use a similar area, but much bigger, along the north facing side, which although shadier still has good light for five months of the year, plenty enough to grow salad crops in raised beds which then frees up the other areas for all sorts of things, and who knows, maybe I can grow enough to keep me in vegetables for most of the year?  However, if they all germinate as poorly and slowly as the spinach and salad onions I will not have much to show.  I sowed two lots of salad onions, and only one lot germinated.  Only one, single spinach seedling to show so far too.

One thing I have had a problem with is cats.  They seem to think I have kindly put out some nice, new litter trays for them, and I lost my beetroots twice.  I used tent pegs and twine to make a net that I hoped would deter them, but no, it didn't, so what to do?  I went into the garage to search out some chicken wire or old netting, that should do nicely, but I found three old, rather rusty, wire shelves left over from one of those little plastic greenhouses.  Absolutely perfect!  They fit over the two target boxes as if they were made for this purpose alone.  No more cats, and beetroot and watercress now growing nicely.  Sometimes, it pays to be a pack rat hoarder!

I hope those miniscule green specks are the Watercress

Beetroot and repurposed wire shelf to protect from marauding cats
I have three courgette plants that will be ready to put out under cloche cover in a couple of weeks, so I must prepare three large containers.

The fruits are looking as if I will have something to harvest too, naturally I would like a bit more, but anything is better than nothing as I get my hand back in, and I am establishing strong, healthy plants for next year too.

First of the raspberries

Before I go, I have to share with you the small helper.  Treasure loves to help, especially if it means he gets to dig around in the wet earth, the muddier the better; after all, he is a small bear, and if small bears do anything better than anyone else, it's playing in the mud.  We do need to get him some more appropriately sized tools!

Until next time
Stay Safe, Stay Well
Deborah xo

Saturday 6 June 2020

Floral Miscellany with ICAD

Hello Friends!

As lockdown continues, and for some it's still more rigorous than for others, I am still confining myself to my garden, so I apologise for yet another post with little else other than pictures of flowers.  Even so, I do hope you will take a peek at them, for the flowers of my cottage garden are very special to me, and most come with a little history or back story, some of which I share from time to time.

It's beautiful weather for most of us, although I think that nagging thought of two dreaded words to any gardener, "Hosepipe Ban" are looming closer each day.  My water butts are empty!  I will soon be starting to save bath water for the potted plants, but always use fresh for anything that will be eaten. The promised rain in the coming days will be sporadic and localised, so depending on how you look at it, you will be lucky or not lucky.

A few weeks ago I shared photos of a Libertina Perigranins here, and later discovered a possible flower bud with alienesque attributes.

~~~ which this week opened, and it is a miniature delight of white!  I bought this little plant two summers ago while on a local open gardens weekend in aid of charity.  I think I paid £1.50, as I was captivated by the leaf shape and colouring.  I had no idea it would give such a sweet flower too!

A few days on and it looks as if it will open up with a succession of flowers up the stem, and I hope to get a better photo when our weather settles, if the poor flowers survive.

In the same blog {link above} I shared images of the fir tree I thought was dead, which surprised me by coming slowly back to life.  I am now pleased to say that the green is increasing daily, and while I don't think it will ever fully recover, it is showing just how resilient nature is under pressure.  There is always hope!

The wonder of nature never fails to amaze me.  Isn't it incredible how it fights back and flourishes?  I don't normally buy potted fir trees, but the year Mum died it was so close to Christmas I didn't feel up to decorating but needed to do something, so I bought this and decorated it with edible garlands and seed baubles for the birds outside my window.

See, I told you many things in my garden have a back story.

The lovely, warm days mean I plan where I work in the garden so that I am in the coolest spots that can be managed.  I find this helps me focus more too, I am less likely to put off a particular job as I know in a few hours it might be too hot in that area.

The other afternoon I found my sun lounger.  I am not one for sitting in the garden for any length of time, so goodness only knows why I bought it in the first place.  I must have bought it five or six summers ago now.   Mum was starting to fail and I had hoped I could use it to encourage her to sit out with me for half an hour of a lovely afternoon or evening, but she did not care to.  I struggled with the lounger, even though it is a very nice one, good and robust, that converts from a sitting position to horizontal, but I could never master the art of doing so.  Eventually, I put it away in the back of the garage.  When I found it last week, I had visions of it having rotted away, but it's fine.  Then I thought I would be giving it away.  I put it on the lawn and set it up to check it over.  As soon as I sat down, something clicked and suddenly it slid easily from sitting to horizontal and back again as I am sure it is meant to do! It's a keeper!   My only problem is I am not one for sitting doing nothing and I feel rather like a fish out of water, but I will adjust to it in time.  It is most pleasant just listening to birdsong, and the other morning I actually heard a cuckoo for the first time in years, which shows how unpolluted the sound quality of the air is now without endless traffic going by.

Still, I am trying harder than you can imagine to enjoy my garden as a beholder rather than a worker. This, I think, will take me some time to perfect.

June is underway, and that brings us around, once more, to the annual Daisy Yellow ICAD art challenge.  I will not be posting on here, just this once to remind anyone who wants to see what I am doing this year, you can follow my daily shares on my Instagram account, @welshdebsart.  I hope you'll check it out, I am not following prompts this year, and here's a little taste of the first card, on day one, to whet your appetite.   Oh! look, more flowers!

I did a pencil sketch of what I wanted, it took ages with endless rubbing out of lines, and then I coloured it in using my new travel box of Inktense paint pans.  I am not sure if I have finished it or not, but sometimes you have to just walk away.

The concept of working on something as disposable as an index card challenges me.  For the record, this does not mean I throw the art cards away, I have boxes of hundreds from previous years.  What I am saying is that it puts into perspective the amount of work that goes into creating something, all the time you may, or may not spend on it only to be using a disposable scrap of card, rather than proper water colour paper, canvas, or other more durable, less disposable type of surface.  It opens up thought and discussion.  This piece took me a good two hours on a piece of paper that cost a penny.

After days and days of glorious sunshine, the weather has taken a turn and it is quite wintry again.  I confess, I am shocked that the evenings have been so cold I have had heating on.  As I look out my window, the lawn is covered in pink, yellow and white were the petals are ripped before their time from the roses and poppies.

Many of you know I grow a Frances E Lester near my front door, and this time of year the wonderful, rich rose fragrance fills my cottage.   The blooms start out a sugary pink before turning white.

Clusters of blooms open in succession, giving big, bold bright white, dinner plate sized and larger bouquets of fragrance.  You can see the bloom yet to open on this cluster

The more that open, the more stunning the plant becomes, both visually and olfactorily.

As gardeners, may of us will be disappointed, not only in the potential undoing of so much of our efforts, but the lack of rainfall.  It's damped the surface and that is all.  Hosepipe ban loom ever nearer!

Yesterday afternoon, I picked my first strawberries. Just five, but I feared they may come to grief if left any longer, especially with the weather coming in bad.

Slim pickings, but a start and more will follow.  They are sweet and juicy, and I wished I had some cream.

I don't have many indoor plants now, but do have a couple of cacti.  I bought them as part of a set, lost one over the winter, but find I particularly like the round, barrel one.  I recently repotted the two survivors and hope they do not need repotting for some time as I am still finding spines in my fingers!

I hope your weekend goes well, and you have fun, whatever you do.  Like many fellow gardeners I shall be fretting over lack of water and wind damage, but calming myself with some art and creative work indoors, and some baking, oh! and copious amounts of tea.

Until next time
Stay safe, stay well
Deborah xoxo