Thursday, 1 December 2011

Take it inside...

Its been a while.

But there is only so much inspiration one can get from cutting up endless amounts of Russian Vine and watching blueberry plants grow in winter.

The seasoned gardener will tell you that there is plenty to be getting on with in winter. The rest of us know that Christmas is coming. Bright lights, parties, sickies...I mean genuine winter illnesses that knock you out the day after the aforementioned parties.

And with Christmas in mind I would like to take you to a new and exciting place. You see, in my quest to prove to myself at least that I'm grown up I've offered to host Christmas at my place. My family all live on the other side of the country in the flatlands of Cambridge, and they are kindly making the trek. All eight of them, (partners/newphew included).

This will be the first year I've ever cooked at Christmas. Now if you shudder at my garden expertise perhaps you should just stop right here.

However, if you have enjoyed this blog then I'd love you to step over to

Before you gasp. I'm not even yummy let alone a mummy. But my good friend Ruth is and in just four weeks plans to kick me up the giblets and get me cooking the meanest turkey with all the trimmings. I'm dreading this.

And as an added bonus, she'll be setting cooking challenges for friends and readers and generally inspiring some decent cooking. Her heart lies in foraging for, or growing her own food, using every last scrap and making meals to fill a garden army.

I shan't let up on the gardening either and maybe one day the fruits of the garden will make an enviable meal in my kitchen...

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Music to watch the birds by (1)

As regular readers will be aware, I've just slowly tortured a Russian vine, taking it apart limb by limb, bagging it up in heavy duty bin liners and burying it at the tip (in the garden waste container of course. And no, not the plastic bags).

Ordinarily this would be the task from hell, but I enjoyed pretty much all of it. The reason? 


I have a DAB radio and I probably play it loud enough to keep half of Bristol awake, even though to me it's broadcasting just for me and my space. The garden feels very private, despite being overlooked by four floors of flats along a terrace of townhouses. So private I wouldn't have thought twice about a spot of carefree sunbathing had we had a summer...lucky lucky neighbours. This year at least.

The other Sunday, it dawned on me just how pleasurable the experience was. And just how often I do it; gardening to music I mean. Putting the radio on before my boots and gloves, whistling to tracks I don't know. But I only realised this when I was hauled out of a Cerys-Matthews-induced hypnotic trance by a song that just struck a (yes, pun on its way) chord.

Even if you skip my writing, listen to this song. And again. And again. An uplifting sound, slightly raw and brash in places, and all the better for it. 

The thing about Cerys (10am Sundays BBC 6music or Iplayer) is that she plays a stunning array of music, some old some new, some world, some blue(s), country, indie, the obscure, the gorgeous, the humble. Then in between all these unearthed gems her quiet passion makes you feel like it's all new. Freshly discovered and recorded only yesterday. And because of that, you feel alive. It's the same with my experience in the garden. It's still all new. Learning every time I'm out there, discovering the world in a way you only do when you're 5.

After years of being swept along by the pace of others, spending my time like this is hugely refreshing and a chance to selfishly indulge myself (in a somewhat wholesome way - bet you don't feel that after a bit of Gaga...)

So it got me thinking. What do other gardeners listen to and does it keep them fresh, or just comforted? (hmmm, that line was a bit too Sex and the City. I apologise). The Archers? The natural sounds of the garden? Gardener's question time? The stereotypes can't be true surely?

I sounded out other gardeners on Twitter and Facebook and I have to say you surprised me! @SWilson's French lessons in particular! Gardening en Francais is a whole 'nother world I'm not ready for. I'm struggling with the English version.

Some of the boys of course upheld the 'man and his garden shed movement' including @Matt_the_wolf and @allotment7b putting on the football and / or cricket. Pure escapism. 

One or two went to greater lengths to escape the noise of the wider world. 21st century gardening from @horshamgardener, with his trusty ipod. Chris (@Levensgardener) upped the bar though listening to tech podcasts and radio4 underneath noise defenders whilst, get this, operating machinery. Now, Chris, I'm no expert on safe operation of dangerous equipment but..!

However, I'm going to leave the last word to my good friend Kris who gave me a list of what he listens to when he gardens:

Jasper Carrot,
the Smashing Pumpkins,
the Cranberries,
Sara Cox!,
P(ea) Diddy, 

Sweet nanny goat indeed...

(you need to listen to the song I posted to appreciate the above line. If you didn't, go back and listen. I don't write this blog just so you can ignore my tenuous music links thank you very much.)

Inspired by Kris, I'll be holding a #rockgarden competition on Twitter and Facebook so keep an eye out, comment on this post, or email me

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Acid pain

Well, it turns out that our dear friend the blueberry is a bit of a diva.

If you mention to a gardener that you are growing blueberries, they will without fail say 'have you got some ericaceous compost?' Got myself some what now?

Apparently blueberries will only leave their dressing room if given acidic soil, which is what this specially formulated blueberry juice is. However, having tasted the good stuff, blueberries appear to have spread the word that they will only perform with said compost. So we all have to fork out some extra to fill our containers with the Evian of compost just to get some sweet notes at a point of their choosing. And they're twice the price of blackcurrants just to get them in the first place.

My budding blackcurrant
"But blueberries are a superfood" i hear you warble. Yeah and they seem to know it. Some of us feel you can get a much richer rewarding experience from growing your humble blackcurrant in normal compost, a more giving fruit, sincere and honest.

It worries me, that I've gone and bought a blueberry plant and just followed the instructions of others. Granted, one shouldn't reinvent the fruit tree but there has to be scope to experiment I feel, and from that experimenting comes new knowledge.

So I've planted up the blueberry as advised, but on one condition. I'm going to buy a second plant.

I'll use normal compost and place it somewhere different in the garden to see what the conditions will do to it. To some this may appear like fruit tree cruelty, to others pure stubbornness (and you'd be right), foolish in these straightened times.

But I also do it for a greater purpose - to either come to a common understanding with the blueberry that if I am to invest in its outlandish demands it must flourish my breakfast bowl with twice the juicy blue sweet bombs of the other.  Or failing that I will have to expose it for the manipulative berry that I suspect it is

For now, all you get is leaves...

I'm not even sure I like them.

Sunday, 13 November 2011


Is the only reason for this post so I can get Beyonce on my blog? Lets see shall we...

Fruit. As I've taken up the grow your own challenge it's the sweet nature of these crops that have caught my eye, and of course taste buds.

Nectar, juice, sugar. Reds, oranges and blues. You don't get that with brassicas, all dark green and serious.

Last year I kicked off with raspberries, and earlier this year I invested in blackcurrants. My breakfasts have been transformed ever since, porridge laden with sweet yet sharp bursts in each mouthful. Today I took another step towards getting my superfruit on every morning, with a new blueberry plant.

Oh yeah, the mumma of all fruits this baby can apparently protect cells from 'free radical damage'. If only the Church of England knew this before the campers arrived at St Pauls Cathedral...

Having managed a small blackcurrant yield and evidence suggests I've managed not to kill the plant, I'm moving it on to a bigger container so that the plant itself grows for more fruit, freeing up the nursery container for the blueberry. The blackcurrant plant has shed most of its leaves and has left me with enticing buds harbouring the secrets to next years fruit.

And there is something about the promise of the soft fruit that makes it so appealing. The potential treasure trove, jewels on every branch.

For once, I decided to ask from help at the garden centre. I had a great chat with the man there, who wasn't even the resident fruit expert. He bascially said...'with all your plants, aim to recreate the conditions that they naturally grow in.' Sounds obvious doesn't it. But I have no idea where they blueberries and blackcurrants normally grow. According to my fruit sage, North America for blueberries, in open fields away from shade. But, crucially, in wet conditions. One of the rare plants that like it hot and wet... (no, this is not where Beyonce comes in)

So, for a container blueberry, that means water a lot and let it sunbathe without the factor 20. Well, my utter inability to keep plants watered this year will need to change. if I'm going to get my hands on the plump fruits. Yes, it's a challenge. The rewards could be wonderful, for my skills as a gardener, my tastebuds at breakfast and my inner self. But...

...Hapless, can you handle this?

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Vine Evil

Picture the scene...smouldering wreckage, scattered debris of leaves, branches and stalks but as the mist clears the focus becomes clear. Vine. metres and metres twisted around itself many times over, like the wrought steel of a half demolished building reeling from an incendiary blast.

That has been the task facing me all week. How to clear, when to clear. Particularly with the end of British Summer Time, robbing me of daylight at the work day's end. "Burn It" said the girl who owns the coffee shop. Yet no incinerators in stock at the garden centre, and the garden closely enclosed by houses that despite the cloak of bonfire night it didn't feel like a fair option.

"Fire up the wood chipper" cried @kateginty on Twitter, plotting her own assault on a vine with college comrades. 'Oooo, there's an idea' I thought. But the nature of this vine is such that even then it would need chopping apart to feed in. I took a sneak peak at the hire options, however with christmas fast approaching and no wood chipper to my name I had to take my opportunity in the fresh air and warm sun.

And 3 hours later, it may look not much the same but trust me, I've broken the back off this mountain...

If you peer closely enough, the pile of darker twigs are all the tough stems which even my brand new pair of shears struggled with. These are the real menaces; the ones at the top of the spy chain, calling the shots. Chop these and you stand a chance, but they don't give up without a fight. They have stray vines on them that when you pull them out, lash you in the face, aiming for the eyes but thankfully for me only  my cheeks are marked.

Make no mistake, if you have a big vine to take out it will take all your tactical nous, strength and training in the art of aggressive pruning to take out this enemy. But go without fear and you will give your garden a new lease of life...

Cold war kid

As I write, I'm taking a break from dealing with collateral damage; the clean up from a brutal fight last Friday that was the culmination of a two year stand off.

Upon moving in I was faced with a vine that although lush with white flowers decorated the back wall, it was strangling the mature pear tree and the buddleia that had leant their shoulders on the brickwork. Like a spy befriending these hard working warhorses of the garden, with only one intent - to intimately understand the very workings of the trees and then deny them their existence. Espionage of the highest order.

All the while I watched on, intrigued at this relatively attractive specimen, but suspicious at its insidious young shoots. Still, I let it grow. A kid in the art of cold wars...

So my tactic has been to allow it to be, but keep it trimmed well away from the pear tree. The height of the buddleia meant that it had to fend for itself. For a year or so it seemed to work, but this winter I realised something was up. Faced with what appeared to be a dormant, and therefore vulnerable beast, I took advantage of the lack of distracting leaves to really cut this thing back.

And it was on cutting through the really tough established dark vine that it revealed life within it. Dormant it may be. But it was plotting.

I was doing well this spring, out there most weekends keeping it within its own territory of the wall, or so I thought. Then, bam, it went Cuban! It started not just encroaching but setting up its own base right where I couldn't reach and far too close to the pear tree for comfort. And as you may be aware, my gardening time has been limited this summer and I've struggled to look after simple veg beds let alone handle this fundamental territorial battle.

Then last Friday General Sarah Coombes came in. No Dove she. Landscape architect with the skills and tactical knowledge to handle this formidable foe. Not so much Shock and Awe but Go Nuclear. And so we hit the red button.

The buddleia took the biggest hit, and all that remains are remnants of a once proud flower nation. But tough in character we left it healthy at the base and are confident it will return happy and healthy, even if it will take time to reach its former glory.

In the meantime the clear up operation continues at a pace. Hampered by a landlocked garden there is no side alley to take the waste straight through to the car. So saw, shears and secateurs in hand I've been gradually filling the heavy duty bags ready to take to the garden waste tip. But this truely is a mammoth task. And I've already filled 12 bags...

So, whilst I crack on I'll let another creative outcome of the Cold War entertain you

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Silly chilli

Nuggets, gems, pearls...these are all words to describe small things, and ones that help conjure up glistening images; a sense of intense perfection held within something wonderous which would be lost if it were twice the size.

Sadly, none of these words apply to my chillis, which I forgot to regularly water. Just try not to laugh at them, their pride is at stake. And you know what some men say...

It's how you use it...

Sunday, 30 October 2011

This little piggy...

Two comments I often get when I mention this blog to friends:

"I never had you down as a gardener," (even my mum said that)

"I just don't get Twitter"

Gardening began as a way to keep me and my mind occupied in the months after a relationship ended. My motivation was the anticipation and intrinsic pleasure of eating something I'd grown. It didn't need sharing or talking about because it gave a very personal, very private happiness.

But when I began writing, and got a bit carried away with the joy of this particular craft a Twitter presence was recommended by the friend who got me writing in the first place.

I have just this evening polished off quite possibly the best meal I have ever cooked. Now, I'm about as creative in the kitchen as I am skilled in the garden but tonight I got so excited I got my whizzer out to get all sorts of ingredients singing together in honour of one prime piece of pork belly. However, the real story lies behind the supporting cast which I hope will become clear

I love crackling. It's a vice of mine, but I haven't often cooked my own. The other day I wrote about fennel seeds (sowing the aniseed of love) that were a present from my friend Ruth. I originally met Ruth through Twitter and we have found a shared passion for growing your own, and she has been trying her hardest to inspire me to get into the kitchen.

After writing, I asked followers on Twitter whether they loved or loathed the fragrant/pungent seed of the fennel plant. Two of the responses tickled my tastebuds with passionate responses. @Grajeras and @AKentishKitchen both professed their love of the seed and over the course of a conversation persuaded me to crush the fennel into pork skin and accompany with caramelised apples.

You only have to say the word caramlised to start drooling

So this evening I donned the apron and got crackling...

I followed @grajeras' advice and mixed crushed fennel seed, crushed garlic and salt together.

I rubbed the mix into my pork belly, which I had the butcher score for me given the lack of anything but blunt kitchen knives in my home. On this occasion I went to a butchers (Ruby and White, newly opened in Bristol) for my meat. I thought, my  accompaniments are of the highest quality, so should the star be.

Because it's the accompaniments that meant I've treated this meal as if I was eating at a Michelin quality restaurant. The garlic was planted in my soil as a clove in February and when I pulled up my first one I was thrilled (Clove Tuesday) has treated me on several occasions now. This was my last bulb.

To roast with the meat went apples and onions. Sadly I'd run out of home-grown onions, but for apples I have plenty because I made it my ambition this year to cajole, coax and convince the tree to bear fruit, which it had almost failed to do last year (Ripe for a tart). So three were cut into chunks and laid in a roasting dish with onion and some olive oil, meat rested on top.

I decided to go with a comfort of my childhood and roast some potatoes. My potatoes have been long eaten, but in with the ones I bought went more garlic, and some rosemary. Now I've not written about my rosemary because I forgot about it. But a year ago a friend gave me a cutting from hers and said 'see if it takes'. For a long time it didn't, but the other day I noticed it had started to spread. So torch in hand I went out and cut myself a stalk.

And an hour later, out the oven, a meal in which I, friends and acquaintances have created. Sadly for the others the distances between Bristol and Poole, Kent and Andalucia respectively have meant that the pleasure, including the best crackling I have ever tasted, is all mine this time. Although naturally I burnt the potatoes...

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Everything happens for a season

It's the heart of Autumn in Bristol. I love autumn and when I felt bold enough to share my feelings on the matter they revolved around how it offered a time to reflect in the calm after the summer growth storm, whilst you bask in the golden hues reflecting on the last of the ripening apples...

So yesterday afternoon my good friend Sarah came over for lunch. On the table were said apples to accompany good soup, bread and cheeses. Sarah is a landscape architect and before lunch had concocted a plan to encourage me to do a spot of pruning. This came about purely by chance having taken her out to help identify one of my shrubs. The shrubs do admittedly need a bit of a trim, their locks flowing uncontrollably in the winds of the south west.

And so we sat down for lunch and lined our stomachs for what I imagined would be gentle afternoon's chopping of unruly stems and wayward branches. My body was recovering from a rather late night too so, y'know, nothing a spot of handiwork in the fresh air couldn't help resolve.

Except before you ever embark on anything with a landscape architect, make sure you read that obscure title of 'The Oxford Landscape Architect's dictionary', no doubt available at all good garden centres? No? Well it bloody well should be. Because if it was then I would have had a chance to discover that the definition of 'pruning' is something along the lines of:

'the act of taking a hacking saw to all 5 trunks of the 12 ft buddleia forcibly detatching it from the rampant Russian vine that has weaved its way through every branch, whilst simultanously ripping the vine, complete with rotting trellis away from the back wall, and then piling it all on the 'lawn' whilst considering how to remove the waste over the next two days carrying it through the flat, the communal hallway and into the car without making any mess whatsoever'

Yes, where the amateur gardener tinkers about at the edges, the pro gets stuck in. Luckily for me Sarah was more than happy to charge in with the saw as we set about dealing with the heart of the problem in my garden - the evil Russian Vine. More on that another time as the point of this post is that by encouraging me to tackle the problem whole heartedly, despite creating more work for me in the garden, Sarah has opened up a whole world of potential and excitement.

Gone is the dark canopy of branches and vines that had put the garden into shadow and sterilised half the growing beds. The solid, if not particularly striking wall at the back provides structure and a chance to draw my eyes to happily through the garden.

In there I'm sure is a lesson for life. If something is taking over, darkening your world and you either ignore it, fear it or play around at the edges trying to keep it in control then what is the best you can hope for? If you're bold, however, then the rewards will be handsome.

Yesterday we were bold and all of a sudden, the winter season is filled with the promise of excitement as I can take time to explore just what to do with all this new found space, light and soil. Just the small matter of clearing the carnage...

Friday, 28 October 2011

Guest post: "Oh What the hell!" - by Jilly Harrison

Well, here I am in Tom's guest bed (hope it's king size as I do move around a lot), you may be asking yourself what the heck is she going to write about with a title 'What the Hell'!

Let me explain, I have a lovely farmhouse in Southern Brittany, France, typical chocolate box type, really pretty, just the type of place where people want to come for their holidays, it would be ideal to have part of it as a Gite to let out for people to come and stay and enjoy, sigh, but hey hang on, I do have a Gite I let it out for people to come and stay and enjoy LOL.

So, I have 10 hanging baskets along the front, really pretty with trailing petunias (surfinias), geraniums everywhere, including upstairs in my 'Mary Poppins' style window boxes, a decorated bicycle with hanging geraniums etc., really lovely, and lots of other lovely flowers dotted around, and of course a veggie patch to the rear.
I hear you saying 'she's showing off now' but it's damned hard work as you know, and I do not have a perfect garden, I would if I was out there 24/7 but of course who could! I suppose you could say I am a fair weather gardener, when it was so hot, my hanging baskets needed watering twice a day, as they are a bit too high to be comfortable to water easily, I use a footstool, but often I was too hot and couldn't be bothered to find the stool, so watered them haphazardly as couldn't reach properly, so of course water didn't reach the plants properly and just ran out WHAT THE HELL!

Needless to say I was too hot to dead head my flowers so would try and do them in the evening, but Keith my partner would say lets have a glass of wine about 6ish outside, lovely and relaxing, so of course never did them WHAT THE HELL!  Consequently, some of my plants died, tried to revive them with water when I realised it was probably too late, note to myself must try harder next time.

Our veggie patch at the back is rather open to the elements unfortunately, and more often then not I could not be bothered to weed as either it was too hot or too windy, also watering was a pain as had to open the barn door to get to the hose, so some of the time I didn't bother whoops, lost some veggies this way WHAT THE HELL!

NOW it's getting so much colder, it's going the other way, too cold to do much out there, I really cannot garden when there is no sun, I really can't! the garden is crying out for my attention, so decided to try my best and last week dead headed a lot of my tagetes as I thought this is silly not to as there are so many lovely buds still to come! but when I went out there to start I found the dreaded mole had done it's deed, there were these large mounds around them and everywhere else in the garden,! so I thought WHAT THE HELL can't be bothered, but I did dead head them, felt so proud of myself LOL, (please someone tell me I was good will inspire me to do more dead heading)!

Now one of our cats always wants to poo right by my tomatoes as were (pulled them all up now), the area is half gravel and half weeds, and above is one of my hanging baskets, I usually pick it up with a spade and throw it across the road in the land of someone who is really nasty and uncoperative, (got to get my own back) but that's another story. But it was rather cold one day last week and I couldn't be bothered to do it, I was giving my plants a water as they were desperate, when yes you guessed it....I trod on the crot! (French for poo/shit) and I though bugger WHAT THE HELL!

I grew some red cabbages, I love red cabbage my mum is Dutch and they always use red cabbage for so many recipes, was so proud of my home grown cabbage plants, took them round to the veggie patch to plant them, when I realised it was too weedy to plant, thought right I will do some weeding tonight and plant them (it was hot then) did I heck, yesterday I went round there, they were still sitting in their trays as weedy as anything half starved, too late now 2 months on to plant so chucked them in the farmers field (don't like him either - yet another story) WHAT THE HELL!

I have just over an acre of land a lot of it is grass and I have my sit on mower, I absolutely love going round cutting my grass, the sound and smell of cut grass is so relaxing, problem is the battery is dead (needs a new one but too expensive at the mo) and I need someone to jump start it from a large battery charger I have, you have to sit on the tractor otherwise it will cut out, can't do this by myself, so the other afternoon it was dry enough to give it it's last cut of the year, but there was no one there to help me start it, so of course I didn't do it and now the grass is too wet and horrible to cut WHAT THE HELL!

Today is chilly but beautiful with the sun out, so I am going to try my best and plant my spring bulbs I so proudly bought a few weeks ago in time, (not like me), but I can feel a WHAT THE HELL coming up as the clouds are gathering and I might just not do them!!

A friend dropped me off some strawberry plants yesterday, that's really nice of him, but even though I want and like them, I don't think I will get them planted as I'm beginning to lose interest in gardening due to it being colder, WHAT THE HELL but I must try!

It's getting really cold now as I said, and this morning there was ice on the windscreen aagghh hermit time coming up! once my plants have become culprits of the frost then THAT'S IT I will then become a GARDEN HERMIT and I lose total interest in the garden 100%!  I then turn to the computer and all my favourite gardening sites, and look at what I can do different next year, cheers me up when I look at my flower photos as well!

Well I've ranted on rather a lot, hope you weren't too bored, I wonder how many of you are similar to me would love to know!  I really do love my garden, but as mentioned before, I really am a fair weathered gardener, and if the temperature is just right and no rain or wind and there is sunshine, you wouldn't get me out of my garden for anything!


As Jilly was keen to assure me and all readers that despite her evident s love of the fine sunshine, finer French countryside and finest wine, at heart her number 1 love is gardening. This is evident by the fact that she brings gardeners together through her passionate writing on her website, and by hosting a bustling Facebook page.

Click here for Jilly's Facebook page and once you've joined that, take time to indulge in her website, which can be found here

Jilly is the latest my distinguished company of guest writers to pour forth and share instinctive gardening emotions with us all. Head over to my guest bed to wallow in sorrow, immerse yourself in love, feel the heart wrenching but happy pain of hopeless romance and more...

Monday, 24 October 2011

Sowing the aniseed of love...

...or hate. There is no middle ground with the sharp, liquourish stain. For detesters it gets right up your nose, forcing an instinctive recoil. In the garden, it's tarragon and fennel seeds where you can find the scent lingering, and for some people there is just no point planting either. 

Now, I'm possibly one of those rare people on a steady path to being converted from recoiling to embracing this flavour.For reasons I shall reveal, I'd really like some fennel in my garden.  And as luck would have it my friend Ruth kindly gave me a bagful of fennel heads the other day, with the instructions to shake all the seeds off and then scatter some in the ground for my own annual supply...but beware, it spreads.

And I can see why! The seeds get absolutely everywhere with the slightest touch - delicate little things.

So, the first challenge was to capture these seeds without getting them all over the floor. It's a fiddly task believe me, and if you're not good with fiddly things then just relax think logically and be firm but gentle (note to ex-girlfriends - really no need to comment here, as I've always said bra straps just seem to have it in for me), 

And if you follow my advice (on the fennel at least) then before you know it you'll have hit the jackpot

Now, for those of you who found it pure embarrassing hell to gather your seed and have buried your head in shame at finding more seeds on the floor than where you intended, worry not. I have the perfect pick-me-up...

A burger. That staple of satisfaction.

Adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Everyday, this is the source of my conversion to fennel seeds. Take 750g of minced beef, add 50 ml of red wine, a couple of teaspoons of smoked paprika, 2 of salt, 1/4 of cayenne pepper and 1.5 of fennel seeds, a clove or 2 of chopped garlic, get your hands stuck in and mix like you never have to fiddle again.

Shape your burgers, fry, put in bun, sauce of choice, devour, kick back and enjoy satisfaction of a seed well sown in your belly.

Friday, 21 October 2011

Guest post: Wonder by Kath Haddrell

What emotions do gardens conjure up for me? Mixed I guess. I am the owner of a tiny garden - front and back - which although within a rather splendid conversion of a Grade II listed building (workhouse cum asylum) consist of rubbish turf laid on top of poor soil. And given that I commute to work some 20 miles away, I rarely seem to be there to mow the lawn in the daylight, or when I am there, its raining….so I end up strimming it when it's knee high. Mind you, the clover and poppies added to the biodiversity value this year. Although the neighbours cat "litter" I can do without.  So, for my garden, it's mostly guilt - though it looked lovely in the snow, and is a good place for reading the papers at the weekend or sitting out with a glass of something warming and looking at the stars. And just maybe, I will recreate the haven I had in tiny courtyard garden in Truro, with lots of herbs to use and beautiful flowers, arum lilies, white foxgloves, daffodils, nasturtiums and scabious. 

But if I think back to my childhood home, then the garden was a place of wonder, fun, food and hard work. There were trees and sheds to climb and hide in or behind. A rockery that could become a theatre with a pond to see frogs and newts in as well as Dad's beloved koi carp. The old beech to laze under in the dappled sunlight, avoiding the beech mast, and then the apple trees to pick a Cox's Orange Pippin before school or the veg plot to plunder before dinner. Nothing beats home-grown runner beans, or tomatoes that are still warm and smell so tomato-y. Although I think the folks were less impressed with the igloo heated by the paraffin heater "borrowed" from the greenhouse. And the anatomically correct snowmen and snowwomen that my brothers made one year.

I may be a useless gardener, for the time being, but I can recall the perfect evenings in my garden in Truro - sitting out in the sun for breakfast, or candlelit for dinner in the summer, or wrapped up listening to the Cathedral bells and smelling the coal fires and looking forward to the nights to come, with my own log fire….where there is a garden there a connectivity with the seasons that most of us seem to lack these days. And then there is always hope, that next season, it will be better or bigger....

So, guilt, wonder and hope. Not even a pair of shoes can beat that! 
Luckily for me, and my colleagues at work Kath channels her garden wonder into some serious foraging and baking. And quite often for no other reason than it was the weekend - Mondays are our cake days.

This is the latest in the series on what this gardening malarky really does to our insides beyond filling our bellies with fresh fruit and veg. For more emotions, head over to the happily crowded guest bed...

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Want it. Can't have it.

So, I toiled in February. I gave this tree my all.

Love, care, attention all because I'm easily seduced by the flesh. And yet the best most juiciest delights remain off limits, out of reach. This is mightily unfair. Just what is a guy to do to get his hands on these ripe beauties?

Like all good hunter-gatherers, I have a plan...

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

I've got wood

Yes, I'm afraid it's one of those posts...

Look, no garden is complete without furniture, accompaniments and ornaments. Some of us opt for plastic - cheap, easy to clean, light to move; others for marble and stone because we perhaps delude ourselves that we will stay here forever and never have to lift these durable pieces.

And then there is wood, the choice that screams to our inner forest dweller. Choosing a piece of wooden outdoor furniture is like showing respect to mother nature.

However, making a piece of furniture out of wood is like laying prostrate at her altar and saying I'm not worthy but by God I'm trying. Love me. Almost like a child seeking praise, approval and belonging from the smallest creative endeavour we like to show we appreciate just what wonder Mother Nature creates and in our own endearing way seek to emulate, copy and contribute.

And thankfully, whether we intend it or not, it works as the enjoyment of a garden is surely enhanced by kicking back on a bench sculpted from old oak rather than one snuck embarrassingly out of B&Q.

I've had the screams of a carpenter residing in me for years, but am hamstrung by pure cack-handedness. Aged 18 I found some scrap wood in the garden, some wood glue and made a spice rack. I was so proud at my resourcefulness I showed my best friend. He bought me a metal one.

So I'm looking for your projects, your handiwork and your woodwork wonders to inspire me. You see, recently I came into ownership of an unloved pallet. I've had several false starts in plans to turn it into a table or a bench. I'll get there though.

And my friends very kindly gave me a lovely iron and wood bench which I have yet to replace the wood on because it has such character, but which is in need of sprucing up as it's old and ready to snap.

I have these burning desires to unleash some creativity with wood to enhance my garden. Returning to that childlike passion to create and show what I'm made of; to show mother nature that yes I really can reach my potential...

But of course, not all children behave themselves, isn't that right Lucy, sister in law..?

Get in touch, let me know what you've made, how you made it and how easy or hard it was to do. Email me or post a comment/tweet...



The first piece of home craftsmanship is from Martin Searle (@MartinDSearle) who has rather impressively created his very own cold frame:

Friday, 14 October 2011

Guest post: Helplessness (by Naomi @NaomiNome)

When Tom first asked me to write a post about an emotion I felt as a gardener I was stumped. The emotions that spring to mind are the negative ones (typical ungrateful human…) but I’d just hate to put anyone off, or risk portraying myself as some kind of masochist or a failure with a useless plot. So after mulling it over for a while I decided on…


Bear with me…

Helplessness comes in many forms in the garden. There’s the kind, which I’ve been suffering lately, when you can’t get to the plot for a while, due to illness, or holiday, or life otherwise getting in the way, and you just wish you knew if everything was all right down there. There’s the kind when a whole tray of seeds refuses to germinate despite all your best efforts. There’s the kind when a favourite plant keels over without warning and for no apparent reason. There’s the kind when an unexpected late frost blackens all your potato plants and strawberry flowers. And there’s the kind when you take every precaution possible to protect against pests but somehow the blighters just keep coming. (These poor seedlings were scoffed by a stowaway snail right there in my living room!)

The fact is, however hard we slave over our garden’s every need - tending and weeding and watering, rigging with nets and fleece and shiny things, picking off pests and applying treatments and fertilisers - we’re always at the mercy of greater forces. Climate, weather, wild plants, wild creatures, the complexities of soil science – not to mention a sizeable measure of pure randomness and luck. Not even the most skilled gardener can force an unwilling seed to grow or fruit to swell. Nothing is predictable. Nothing is guaranteed.

But those forces can be kind too. While we blame other factors for our failures, do we take all the credit for our successes? Is it ours to take?

At a social event at our allotment site recently, a lot of people were grumbling about what a ‘bad year’ it’s been. Leafy veg bolted in the hot spring, squashes are growing terribly slowly, fungal diseases abound… Well yeah, I said, but it’s been an amazing year for berries, broad beans, tree fruit and potatoes, unlike last year. And your tomatoes may have given up the ghost, but across town in my garden, mine are still going strong. Conditions which are bad for one plant can work wonders for another, and yet we always focus on the negative, don’t we?

I choose to feel liberated by my helplessness. After all, it means I never have to take the blame when things go wrong. And it reminds me to aim to work in harmony with nature, because there’s no point trying to work against it. And because it brings as much good fortune as bad.

From the full-on grief I felt when my prize pumpkin was hollowed out by slugs and my Crown Prince squash plants all gave up and died, through the frustration of trying to keep my cucumbers and peppers bitterness-free, the disappointment of miniscule onions or having to throw away a diseased plant that has barely borne fruit, and the humiliation of seeing a jungle of fat-hen and bindweed spring up all over the plot again, to the joy of seeing our tree full of gleaming red apples or pulling up the year’s first pure white parsnip, the awe and wonder provoked by seeing the fresh green shoots of spring or bumblebees tending newly opened pea flowers, the sheer gratitude I feel for the kilos upon kilos of delicious tomatoes we’ve had this year, the laughter that bubbled up when we lifted potatoes bigger than our hands, and the immense satisfaction of sitting down to an entirely home-grown meal – we owe all these things, in part, to forces outside our control; forces which give and take away on their own schedule.

Yup, I feel utterly helpless – a mere and trifling pawn in nature’s crazy game.

And I love it.

Naomi has been with this blog since the very start, and was one of the first to comment helping me identify a harmless mint moth as opposed to a rabid butterfly that I thought it might have been. She writes about her allotment adventures on the other side of the country from me, and one of my favourite regular features is her review of a monthly Wild Food night - perfect for all you foragers! Her blog can be found here or look over to the right and see 'NomeGrown' on the list of recommended blogs.

This is the latest in my attempt to uncover what it's really like to garden; to slowly draw out of gardeners new and experienced one outstanding feeling they get when pruning, digging, protecting, nurturing... For more emotional mayhem head over to my guest bed, and if you'd like to join in the fun please feel free to contact me

And if you're completely new to my blog, then can I recommend the newly published Weeder's digest, for all the best bits in one hit.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Crunch time

Celery. To some it's pointless, others miraculous.

My greengrocer was jumping for joy when I bought a stick the other week, leaves on and all. In her slightly Italian accent she insisted a stick of celery every day would sort you out. Who am I to doubt?

As it happens I love the stuff. But this post isn't about the best thing for peanut butter since flapjacks. This is about celeriac. Fashionable, flavoursome and Fearnley-Whittingstall's favourite, this step-sister to celery is something I unsuccessfully attempted to grow last year, mainly because I planted it too late.

This year I planted it early, failed to mark the pot and subsequently forgot about it. Yes that's right, I just left it out there in the garden on the table among plenty of other pots.

The other week, I was lucky enough to meet Sophie (@tastebudsgarden) who braved my wreck of a garden and took a sneaky peek.  Whilst out there I realised I didn't know what was growing in the pot, and thinking it might be something like coriander, I picked a leaf.

And to my surprise, the pungent signature of celery was on my fingertips. Sophie happily picked and ate the leaf. Eh? You can do that? They don't sell you the leaves in the supermarket. I took her word that I wouldn't keel over after nibbling a leaf and well, yes, it tasted at first of celery. That was before it started to taste bitter. Sophie explained that it could easily be used in cooking just like normal celery. Except of course it's not celery and it's not, as I understand, directly related to celery either.

So, why celeriac? I wanted to grow it because it just tastes superb. I've not had it for so long it's hard to describe but there's something about it that hits the g-spot between sweet and savoury. A place words just can't describe. So I keep being told.

It also looks wonderfully weird and could be something to be proud of growing when dicing up for a christmas stuffing.

But, alas, mine are but tiny wee things in a pot with no space to grow.

So, gardeners, I need your advice:

- Is it too late to carry them from their cosy pot to a grown up bed?
- If I stir them will they be irreparably damaged?
- If I leave them, will I get tasty mini 'leriacs?
- Should I just make do with the leaves?

Monday, 10 October 2011

The sting

If you go-a apple pickin', best not follow me
Wear some gloves and proper boots
Climb a stable ladder

Don't wear wellies
Don't be bold

I clasped my hand, yes I took hold

Of a wasp.


Friday, 7 October 2011

Guest post: Enthusiasm (by Ruth @MummaRuth)

Gardening, whether good, bad, small  large allotment scale or window box style can all be summed up by one emotion - enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm is what has us eagerly planting seeds in all manor of pots, trays and tubs in spring, This year, when we ran out of those, one of my boys was despatched to our recycling bin where he searched, with relish,  for toilet roll innards (cut in half you get great little bean pots), and margarine tubs work well instead of flower pots. Our best discovery tho was to use old tin cans, with a hole hammered into the bottom the metal acts as an extra heater and encourages the seeds to sprout. They wanted to join in and help because enthusiasm is infectious.

Enthusiasm is what has us all avidly checking our seed trays (probably more often than we'd admit) for signs of life. The rush of seeing each bean shoot reaching for the sky is enough to make even the most unemotional gardener smile!

Enthusiasm is what gets us up early, fills up our weekends and keeps us digging in compost, even when our backs are creaking and tiredness is trying to get the better of us.

The fervour of picking fresh raspberries, the excitement of the first runner bean, watching the bees dance in a frenzy over our flowers, even the vigorous weeding (mostly because it sneaks up on us), it can all be found under the banner of enthusiasm.

Being enthusiastic can also help when your gardening doesn't exactly go according to plan too. The rain flattened my lavender a few weeks ago, so I picked the damaged stalks and put them into a vase enthusiastically so that I could continue to enjoy them, just indoors instead of outside. If your lovingly tendered tomatoes fall foul of the dreaded blight, then you just channel your enthusiasm into making green tomato chutney instead.

However, here is where enthusiasm can also be a negative thing too. Not wanting any of my seedlings go to waste I found myself planting every single one, even the weedy looking ones, and now not wanting any produce to go to waste and my freezer door barely able to close, I have been overly enthusiastically cooking up all manner of chutneys, and really there is only so much chutney one can get through (especially since a similar thing happened last year!) My preserving pan, or cauldron as the boys call it, is often on the go and I now have so many jars of chutney, jam and raspberry vinegar that I could open a shop.

This year the boys have really been swept along on the tide of enthusiasm too, their sunflowers splendid, their sweetcorn brilliant and their pumpkins are looking wonderful.

Plants themselves can be enthusiastic too, even if neglected, like courgettes that grow whatever you do to them and runner beans that keep on running. Then there is the good old fashioned rhubarb, even the snails don't challenge that. Some of this years most successful plants have been self seeded from nit quite rotted enough compost!

Then there are the plants that I fervently crave but have no room to grow, and that us where foraging comes into it's own. Using natures own gardens to fill your plate. Who can resist blackberries (mine now fruit leather), apples (mine now dried apple rings) or Hazel nuts. This morning my 2 yr old and I went foraging for sweet chestnuts and found quite a few.

But here comes winter and somewhere between the last of the potatoes and squashes and the first of the spring bulbs my enthusiasm fades like fallen leaves from an autumn tree, if anyone has any tips on rekindling the enthusiasm in this bare patch I would love to hear them.


Ruth is a prolific forager and does an awesome line in garden rhymes - quick witty and meaningful. Leave a garden word below and I'll try and convince her to write some for you... 

This is the latest in my burgeoning basket of guest posts, where each guest writes about the emotion of their choice. Head over to the Guest Bed to find out more about:

Sophie's Love
Linnie's Disappointment
Leslie's Frustration
Claire's Sorrow
Catriona's Hopeless Romance
Kat's Anticipation
Ellie's Guilt and
Dave's Surprise...

There are more lined up and being worked on by friends and aspiring garden writers. If you're interested in jumping into bed with us email me

The Hapless Kitchen Gardener

My photo
I only feel hapless because some people make it look easy to grow 10 ft marrows or a banquet of greens whereas my courgettes got nabbed by killer slugs and I only got one raspberry. So tips and stories from people less hapless than I are more than welcome. As a disclaimer though, none of my comments should be taken as expert advice on which you can rely! © Unless stated otherwise, and with the exception of guest content where that guest retains copyright, all photos and posts are the copyright of Tom Carpen and may not be used without permission.