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 Thehaplessgardener@gmail.com

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...

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.