Monday, 29 August 2011

Guest post: Frustration (by Leslie - @MissilePanda)

Its Not All a Bed of Roses

For many people gardening sums up old people pottering around a well tendered, mature garden or perhaps the idea of people having a “good life” moment and growing their own veg. For me gardening tends to fill me with rage, frustration and annoyance. ( I still love it- sort of)

When I moved into my current home my front garden was mainly chip stones and one flower bed and in the last year I have spent much time toiling over removing them and trying to replace them with plants. So far so good you might think-not so and this is where the frustration comes in. I am utterly impatient and I want things to grow to their full height and glory yesterday, I hate the waiting on things to grow. I planted some gladioli bulbs last year and only now in the second week of August have they flowered, every day since the spring I have watched the them grow taller and taller but with no sign of flowers, just the ultimate in teasing and frustration for me. JUST GROW ALREADY!!! *sigh* even the mere thought of these bloody flowers sends me into a rage and my blood pressure sky high.

The first signs of a green shoot poking through the dark earth is a sight of joy for many, the first signs of life, a sign of things to come. Whenever I see green shoots, dark clouds come over head and my mood changes, as usually it is a sign “The Enemy” has returned, the enemy in question being, nasty, spreading, vile super weed the field horsetail. This weed is the absolute bane of my life, weed killer doesn't touch it and digging it up doesn't help as it only returns to haunt me. Normal everyday weeds don't bother me quite so much, some of them even have pretty flowers or can be good for bees and other wildlife, the field horsetail has no such redeeming qualities, it is just and ugly horrible weed whose main purpose appears to be annoying me.

Another thing that winds me up about gardening is plants dying or just not thriving in general. Ever since I started thinking about having something slightly prettier in the garden other than chip stones I have wanted a parottia persica or the Persian Ironwood, its leaves turn all shades of pink, orange and red in the autumn. Perfect I thought for a nice bit of autumn colour, having ordered and received my lovely (if tiddly) tree a few months back and planted it in a nice sunny spot in the garden it has been less than happy to say the least. It's leaves are turning brown and it generally looks a bit sad and drab and I have no idea how to help it. It's just another irritating bit of stress I don't need.

If anything it just goes to show that gardening is not all about giant marrows, neatly trimmed lawns and pretty flowers and that sometimes it is just a pain in the backside and you wonder why you even bothered starting it in the first place. Anyway, all this talk of gardening has me all stressed, maybe  I will go into the garden to calm down, there again best not.


This is the third in a collection of guest posts about a true gardener's emotions. None of this Monty Don perfection nonsense. The full collection is over on The Guest Bed page, so to get Sophie (@tastebudgardens) take on Love and share in Linnie's Disappointment, click here and keep an eye out for the next installment...

Do also visit their blogs and webpages:

Sophie -
Linnie -
Leslie -

Friday, 26 August 2011

Guest post: Disappointment (by LinnieW - @westerntrillium)

Tom says I can write for you today. (And you thought Tom liked you.) I’ve chosen for my topic the feeling we call disappointment, which, I have noticed, is much-neglected in the Gardening Literature.

You simply won’t find chapters called “Begonia Varieties That Never Fail to Fail” or “Try This Utterly Hopeless Border Plan.” But while books and magazines do not mention the feeling of garden disappointment it is jolly well there in our experiences, and I would bet a cookie it’s there at least once a season or --in places-- once a day.

We all have truly lovely visionary ideas about our garden efforts. And small wonder, with all the gorgeous magazines and seed catalogs and books and rich relatives and liars out there. Not that I am bitter! I am simply laying out the terrain we must travel as gardeners, now and then.

Let us just, for a random example, delve into another as yet unprinted chapter, “Sunflowers for Dazzling Summer Disappointment.” Boy could I write that one.

Because the truth is, as a serious and devoted gardener you can knock yourself out to do everything right… You can buy fresh seeds, you can germinate them in the greenhouse, you can plant them out BEFORE they have secondary leaves which is to say BEFORE the miserable tap root has shot down 20 feet to the water supply, you can put them in the only sunny exposure left in the garden, you can water, mulch, pray (isn’t that a book title: Water Mulch Pray?) and STILL end up with short, deformed, one-bloomed, bird-eaten, bent-over sunflowers. It is at that point when you experience at least a minor feeling of Disappointment.

There are gardeners out there who will tell you that their gardens bring them joy, great joy, and only joy, always always always. But those people are, as the politicians say, disingenuous. Because every garden eventually suffers “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…”

We just have to tell ourselves not to care that the cantaloupe vine had no fruit, or that the deer ate the roses down to sticks while the raccoon took the one ripe tomato. Or even that the “mixed-color” asters grown from seed ALL produced blooms that were hot pink. Just breathe in the fresh outdoor air (what is that farmer across there spraying, it smells terrible --is it herbicide? is it drifting toward my beautiful lettuce?) and be thankful that you have that one bed full of mint plants growing, bigger every year, but very dependable and probably they won’t reach the house for maybe two more summers…

Then be comforted that soon it will be lovely fall, and time to collect seeds and cut away the dead stems and divide some of the perennials, and then to watch for the beautiful new garden catalogs in the mail. I am honestly getting excited about planning for next year’s beds. Why is that? Because, for better or worse, disappointment is nowhere near as powerful as a gardener’s creative, happy hope.  


I've started a collection of these posts over on The Guest Bed page, so to get Sophie (@tastebudgardens) take on Love, click here and keep an eye out for the next installment...

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

"Just because you're paranoid...

"...don't mean they're not after you..." (K. Cobain)

Woah Black Berry (bam ba lam)

Like youth with instant mobile messaging, birds have managed to upset the order of things and deposit seeds where they don't belong.

Most of the time this can be a pain, with weeds popping up where they really shouldn't and trees taking root whilst your back is turned.

However, every now and again you can get lucky ( although I think the chances probably increase the closer you live to hedgerows and rural lanes).  The other day I was admiring my lovely apples when I something caught my eye, partially hidden out of reach on the top of the wall. If you look just to the right of centre in this photo you should spot a blurry patch of black and red up against the wall at the back.

It was like a glistening jewel and I was like a naughty magpie. Fruit that I did not plant but which I would be more than happy to plunder!  And I bet these weren't deposited by a bloody pigeon. More like a giving robin I reckon. And further along the wall are more! But there is a problem...

I can't actually reach them.

Maybe I should give up my gardening and just turn it in to a rock venue like these guys

Sunday, 21 August 2011

In the night(mare) garden

Never did I think that gardening would seep into my nocturnal mind and, like the worst bindweed, take hold in the middle of the night.

I woke up from a vivid dream during the week, feeling sad. Bad dreams have that ability, as if it should make no difference that its your imagination at play. May as well be real.

Just why do nightmares exist? They're just not fair really, are they? There's plenty else troubling us. Daily stresses from work, responsibilities and well, having to deal with bad people. If journalists are to be believed these are politicians, rioters, bankers, civil servants, the police, Rupert and James Murdoch, Joey Barton, immigrants and the grey squirrel. 

But you should never believe what you read in the papers probably because they hide the fact that bad people are in fact the usual culprits estate agents, traffic wardens, the Dragons from Dragons Den (all those broken dreams), wasps (just evil) and, er, journalists. 

And as if to make things worse, good dreams are amazing but there appears to be only one BFG in this world to deliver them. As I live on the ground floor I think he keeps missing me.

I have a lovely, if rampant bay tree in my garden. After a year of not being touched bar the odd few leaves picked here and there I decided to give it a trim and use the leaves. Since then it has spawned shoots, fresh leaves and is reaching for the high heavens. I love it.

My roast chicken is now the finest in Bristol, thanks to this treat of a tree; my vegetable lasagne the envy of all those who have never tried it. My freezer is overflowing too, so prolific is its crop, and I do wonder if I should offer to supply the greengrocer?

Now, our true selves are revealed only when drunk or dreaming. (Although I might have been drunk when I heard that. Or dreaming).

Well, if it's true then my greatest fear is the loss of my bay tree. Yes, my heavy heart was caused by the playing out of a story in my sleep, where I was extolling the virtues of this hardy herb to a visitor. Eager to show off its wonder I took my guest outside where all I saw was a tree, dying, it's bark rotting and a handful of leaves to its once proud crown.

I wish I could say I jumped out of bed to reassure myself that it was indeed all a dream. But I was stuck in Holiday Inn Preston. Not a bay tree in sight. Just a bus station.

Bet you never thought you'd see this on a garden blog. I think it's a striking building, but you may not agree...

For all I know this dream could have been a premonition, a call for help from the garden, the sign of a now unbreakable bond - a bit like twins...12 hours later and I was back on home turf and finally got to rush out to the garden and inspect the damage. And no, I'm no mystic Tom. My bay tree was laughing at me, with more leaves than ever and harbouring this beast:

A reassuring sigh later, I was picking its leaves for the pot wondering quite what the horrors that forthcoming night would bring...

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Come to my bed

I've added a new page to the blog - The Guest Bed. I never really 'got' the world of blogging, Twitter and internet chat until starting my own blog. Sure I had a stab at a dodgy music blog years ago but it didn't last. This time however I've come across, I mean discovered all sorts of writers and creative expressions about all manner of garden related things from chickens on Twitter to home foodies and I wanted to tap into that creativity, and at the same time show that gardening is about more than just the perfect patch. 

So I've been asking a handful of people who have been sharing their own garden tales to write a guest post on an emotion of their choice for the blog which I'll collect in the guest bed. 

I'll post them on the main page so please do add comments and follow links to the writers' own blogs for more.

I'm thrilled to introduce my first guest Sophie (@tastebudsgarden). She writes not only about her London garden but throws in recipes and travel tales from the more picturesque parts of the UK. Highly recommended. Thank you Sophie!


The real love that dare not speak its name

Love is not a word usually associated with the garden.  Hobby, pass-time, pleasure, keen, weekend, amateur are all more commonly linked with the acts of sowing and growing, planting and mowing.  However, having been asked by the Hapless Gardener to write a guest post for his blog, Love is what I want to write about.

For the relationship between garden and gardener has taken the Hapless Gardener and me completely (and independently) by surprise.  It has been so overwhelming that we have both chosen to write about it in our blogs.

Let me explain.

The Love between garden and gardener is based on a few simple principles.  First, it is undemanding:  the garden asks nothing of the gardener except that which the gardener knows the gardener can give; light, warmth, water, time.  The garden, in return, rewards the gardener with stunning results year after year. 

Second, the Love between garden and gardener is unconditional.  Only if the gardener fails to nourish the relationship completely and for a prolonged period, will it wither and die.  Otherwise, the relationship is a constant, that survives the many changes life brings.  Once acquainted, the garden and gardener cannot imagine being without each other.

Together the garden and gardener share the miracle of new life.  The perfect combination of nature and nurture.  I know I am not alone in arriving home and rushing to the window sill/propagator/greenhouse to see whether my seeds have germinated.  Or in experiencing that flush of excitement in January when the first green shoots of spring start to appear.  (I fear I may be alone in encouraging my Delicata Cornell squash seeds to germinate by placing them, in their pots, on a hot water bottle topped up with hot water every four hours.)

The relationship between garden and gardener is about the fundamentals in life: light, colour, air, water.  It endows the garden and the gardener with a richness and a sense of harmony, otherwise often lost in the furore of modern life.

So whether you have a window box, a herb patch, a pot of flowers outside the front door: an allotment, a London garden, or a huge, formal garden with sweeping lawns, Love your garden, see the best in it, cherish its strengths and work with its weaknesses.   And when you are lowering your tired muscles into a hot bath at the end of a long day in the garden, or marvelling at a bee sucking from a flower full of nectar, or cooking a simple meal to share from the produce that the garden has provided, celebrate all that the garden gives you.  

Love and Life and Health and Happiness.  

Friday, 12 August 2011

Cherry blossom

If you delve deep into the pages of this blog you’ll find numerous references to those moments of wonder as new flowers, new fruit and I guess new life appears.

I bet you feel the same every time the following happens… you'll be thinking ‘hmmm, I’ll just see how the beans/courgettes/raspberries are doing, probably need a water, feeling lazy, no one will mind if I’m in my sandles, dressing gown, oh, have socks on too never mind, socks, sandles, urban chic and all that, oh can’t find my dressing gown, no one will mind, let it all hang out eh, ooo i say a bit chilly, hmmm, that bush needs a prune, looking all untidy at the back of the garden, oh, cat’s brought a ‘present’, ah still moving, mustn’t forget to buy some milk now, though none for Mr Mouse Mauler for that gift. Where are the beans, oh yes behind me, do de do, oh god last night, oh no did I really say that how embarrassing oh bloody hell, I'm such an idiot, I, ooo love the red flowers on the beans but yeah, need time before I see the goods, hmmm, no-one wanted to see my goods after saying that last night, nevermind I have my garden, and the beans, no, no beans still just leaves and flowers and, wait, is that? Yes, yes, oh wow a bean, that wasn't there a second ago, my first bean of the year, what a buzz, brilliant, oh I can't wait to cook them, are there any more hidden, oh yes fantastic, oh no the neighbour is looking, and not at the beans, wierdo...'

There it is, that thrill of happy surprise. As if the bean materialised from nothing as you blinked. And this buzz is just as powerful every time. Every year, every veg, every fruit. Magic.

Now, cast your mind back to my tomato post. Ignore the joke. Actually don't, I'm still proud of it.

Ok, so you know how I feel about tomatoes. My support structure for them failed and they went a wandering. No tomatoes just lots of exploration. I had pretty much given up on them, no tomato juice to feed them with, my priorities lay elsewhere. Throughout summer there has been the odd flower  and certainly no fruit, but in the last few days I've noticed, rather ominously that a lot more flowers have appeared

And I can assure you that in no way did my heart leap, no visible signs of pleasure when on my usual ramble through the undergrowth suddenly saw...

I am probably the only gardener to have experienced nothing but pure terror at new fruit. The day of cherry tomato dread looms...

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Clove Tuesday

Garlic. The stuff of vampires, the French and pizza express dough balls. When the world moves at breakneck pace, nothing like some old fashioned stereotypes and lack of imagination to bring things to a grinding halt.

Back in March, it was quite something to undress a garden centre bulb, peeling back the delicate layer to reveal a cleavage of promise. I didn't really think about how garlic starts out but it all comes from planting a clove. Apparently, you shouldn't plant supermarket garlic - it's often from abroad and not resistant to our pests. Given that garlic repels everyone from a first date to creatures with fangs, wings and an ability to Count (ha ha ha), it perhaps shows why garden diseases are the hardest things to fight.

I read that the secret to growing good garlic is, ironically, protection. From weeds. It needs nutrients that weeds are only to keen to get their roots into.

And of course, leading a busy fun filled life as I like to think I do but probably don't in the eyes of your average university 'student', I let the weeds take over. As a result, out of my 5 cloves planted this year I only got one bulb. But it did something only onions are supposed to do, it made my eyes water. Well, actually no, but I did get quietly emotional at successfully lifting out this small thing, possibly a little early but its leaves had withered and it had to be rescued from impending weed doom:

I'm sure many of you have got those bunches of garlic tied up, drying out and looking all continental ready for a winter of fragrant warm dishes to banish les bleus, and one day I hope to join you. I know a friend Jess of radish fame is even experimenting with elephant garlic, so these pages may yet reveal more impressive photos than what you see above. But for now, I take mini pride in what I grew and those cloves will undoubtedly make my roast chicken that little bit classier... 

A bientot

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Apple fumble

Oh yes, this year I'll be getting my mits on a bumper crop, provided they don't all fall off the tree first and rot on the ground.

When I was young we had a cooking apple tree, and there was no worse task for pocket money than picking up the rotting diseased apples from the garden. The mouldy brown ones with white speckles that would disintegrate in your hands. We couldn't use gloves either so you had to pick them up by the stalk.

Yet I would devour apples as a child. Possibly the only fruit I would eat. I even ate Granny Smiths, getting a buzz from the moment the bittersweet, almost sherbet like fizz made the inside of your mouth shrivel up until it dissipated and you were left with the satisfying flesh and crisp skin.

Apples capture the imagination. We had a book called 'Apple Pigs' in which there were so many apples, the family had to find creative ways to use them all. Our version was well thumbed. It now goes on Amazon at hardback, used for £99.

But, with the exception of specialists, I wonder if most of us take them for granted? Have you ever eaten a nutty Russet ? Or do you buy Braeburns from the supermarket every week? Braeburns, the sneaky Kiwi fruit;  the grey squirrel of the apple world.

In my back garden I have a mature apple tree. So mature I thought it had given up fruiting last year. I only had two apples from the whole tree. Back in February I got busy and read up on how to reinvigorate this  fruit bearing beauty. I watched YouTube videos on pruning and gave it a healthy dose of zoo poo, which they love apparently.

I got up on the ladder with secateurs and a pruning saw, removed crossing branches, dead wood and got some light into the middle. I assiduously fed the soil, and woohoo, look! My tree has come alive:

And then, last week I was told "trees only fruit every other year"

Saturday, 6 August 2011

A little guessing game...

Before the weekend is out I fully intend to share my awe of the first of a crop I discovered this morning. I planted it along with some of its cousins, so inevitably they've gone a bit Royal family with a bit of intermingling going on. So this could be a red herring with these flowers belonging to another tasty veg, but anyway, can you guess what I found hiding behind these little beauties?

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.