Thursday, 30 May 2013

Bay-dream believer

I can be a bit of a dreamer. 

This character trait has led me into all manner of weird and wonderful situations throughout my life. In the past, I tended to get embarrassed, but now I think (hope) it simply gives my friends endless crazy stories on which to gorge and be relieved at their own sanity.

In the garden, however, being a dreamer is definitely a good quality. It may lead you to experiment and try things no other sane / experienced gardener would, or it may simply force you into action.

I know a lot of people who either don't have a garden, have a very small sun-denied patio or like me rent their home and have limited motivation to invest time and money. With that in mind, I've been plotting (ha) my next move and what I would like to take with me.

The other day, I decided to grow my own bay tree. At £30 a pop, or an eyewatering £7.13 + £2.88 for 4g of 'organic' leaves, there is no way I'm going to succumb to that particular scam. I'm lucky enough to have two established bay trees in the garden here and use the leaves constantly in cooking. 

Having no clue on where to start, I took the lazy option and found this video:

How to take a Bay Tree cutting (click me) 

Bay cuttings in the round pots
Normally I'd experiment but I wanted a bit more certainty, as this could be my only chance. 

Having followed the video instructions, I put my cuttings in the cold frame. I didn't use any potions to encourage the root growth, nor any special compost. Just standard compost in a pot.

Two weeks on and they still look alive if not necessarily growing yet. I'm guessing it might take a while for roots to form, if they ever do. Fingers crossed.

Next up, the apple and pear tree, to start my future orchard...

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Pigeon's treat

For too long now, the pigeons of Clifton have been gorging on food meant for the less well off. 

Too many treats!

My first ever post on this blog, two years ago, lamented the presence of these guzzle guts, evolving into all-out bird war in the Battle of Bristol posts

Basically, I'd lacked the foresight to purchase a fancy bird table, plumping for the basic model to save a bob or two. There was nothing to stop the big birds taking over. Two years and 20 pips up the heart rate scale later and 'pigeon rage' was starting to become a concern.

Then, walking through the nearby communal garden I chanced upon a wonderfully amateur piece of handiwork. A hand constructed shelter to make sure only the little ones got fed. Four bent sticks and a piece of card, an urgent solution to, lets face it an urgent problem. I just don't think anyone is dealing with the ticking timebomb that is avian obesity among the more developed species. Rant over, back to the garden...

Buzzing from my coldframe endeavours and with a pile of sticks at home, I realised I too could go all A-team on the those pigeons' backsides. So this morning I got to work with the string and sticks, secateurs and mini saw to get the pieces I needed to construct a shelter. Something that could withstand those heavy beating wings, prevent the big beaks but still let in the mini ones.


Yes, it's a bit wonky, and perhaps the materials aren't as matching as they could be. But they locally sourced and recycled!

There is very little in my gardening career to date that has filled me with such pride and satisfaction as this construction project.

 For anyone interested in the construction process, I used left over bits of bay, russian vine and some random shrub, and basically experimented with a main structure until I came up with a sturdy frame sunk into four very handy drainage holes in the bird-table.

I considered horizontal sticks on the sides, but it was easier to go vertical, so I just tied them tightly to the main 'beam' (are you paying attention McLoud?)

The strangest thing, is that I actually found myself thinking about aesthetics, practicalities and effectivenesss. Would the pigeons find a way around this, would they land on it leading to a collapse. And, as has just been pointed out to me, having filled the drainage holes, will this simply turn into a fancy bird bath?

No matter, I'd love to know if anyone else has attempted the same and to see some pics. Let me know

Friday, 24 May 2013

Shoots, the Runners!

In the hands of a child, a bucket and spade is a source of endless fun. Well, until the little rascal gets hungry.

In my hands, however, it seems the spade should never be allowed near the bucket. When I first moved here I was loaned a couple of very handy giant-sized plastic buckets. My ex used them for runner beans and suggested I could do the same.

To this day I have no idea why I used a full size spade in the bucket; no idea why I forcefully dug into the soil it once housed, but I do know that my aim was way off and the bucket bears the scars.

On the plus size, it was one of the items left to me and this year I thought it worth trying to restore it to its former glory. Well, ok, brought back into use. This is no St Pancras (I wish we could do that with all our stations).

A couple of weeks ago, I constructed my tripod, took two types of runner - one with red and one with white flowers, and planted 3 seeds around each cane. 
I realise I'm actually really impatient with seeds, I was checking them everyday from the day of planting, hopeful but always disappointed. Until yesterday! Came home from work and 'boom'! Shoots. Yeah.

More from these babies in coming weeks. For now, Kasabian.

Monday, 20 May 2013

I've been framed

From the hand built work of art below that is my new cold frame, can you guess the cult film..?

 You may recall that recently the kind and brave folk at Waltons garden centre asked me to review one of their cold frames. Kind because they offered it free, brave because I'm as hapless with my DIY skills as I am my planting.

But I was thrilled and agreed. However, it's taken a little longer than hoped as the courier managed to make a mess of the first cold frame. I wondered what I'd got myself into, whether indeed this was a set up?! 

I must say, credit where it's due - to Yasmin and her team at Waltons for the customer service, and so a exciting replacement package arrived for me the other day. 

Now, this is not Top Gear. You won't find me road testing this to destruction, hauling it across the North Sea to see if it still manages to work in the extremes of Norway. That's what Clarkson and company do isn't it? Crazy Stunts.

Instead, over the coming weeks I'll be seeing if I've found the antidote to the typical June weather, a haven for my plants.

But first let's deal with the construction.

I've found gardening addictive beyond simply weeding, potting and admiring. I've discovered an inner urge to shape, create and build. But as I mentioned, this is far from my forte. I barely own a decent saw let alone a drill.

For those of us raised on an Ikea, flat pack diet this cold frame is one step above. Now, if you're the type to shirk at such a challenge then it's time to 'man up' and get a drill. 

So I roped in the lovely Susie and her drill.

We started to construct it indoors on a wet Sunday afternoon. The wood itself is good quality and looks smart (although I've not checked whether it's sustainably sourced). The instructions are straightforward and in no time we had the first storey up.

However, unforeseen circumstances put the project on hold for a week. Kevin McCloud would have been concerned.

This weekend though, we finished the job. Tip to those new to construction, electric screwdriver. God's gift.

There have been bumps and one lump (blister) along the way. We were a few screws short, (rather than loose) and we had to watch for splinters. But it was fun to construct and nothing beats triumphantly placing the finished work out there in the sun. 

Naturally the triumph was delayed by disagreements about where to put it, but now it's all about the growing!

You may recall I planted chillis recently. Well, they failed to germinate, so I've planted some new ones up, hoping the heat will give them a kick start. I'm also trying a Bay tree experiment which I'll be writing about shortly, so let's see what this baby is made of.

If you're tempted already, then you can find more cold frames, wooden greenhouses and other goodies here:


Waltons Cold Frames

Meanwhile, I'll be on Chilli and Bay watch...

Sunday, 19 May 2013

The joy of secateurs (part 1)

When you fall out of love with your garden, what's the first thing to go? That's right, the secs:

And if that goes rusty, then you're in trouble. 

I may be hapless but there's no excuse for neglect. Yet, I've found it harder and harder to stay on top of the garden, to give it my attention, time and care. 

Gradually, fuelled by the rain and gloomy weather the weeds have assumed control, and all manner of crops have failed. Rubbish has collected, the garden left overgrown, tired and defeated.

Even the cat looks at me with disappointment

I realised this couldn't go on. Intervention was needed.

I took time off work, to co-incide with 4 days of forecast sunshine (otherwise known as The British Summer).

We started slowly, the garden and me. We flitted around the edges, I cleared some weeds here and there, without making much difference. I tackled the 'lawn' and planted some radish and started to notice a difference; the trust was returning.

Then, I went for it. I took a saw to the bloated bay tree, and hacked my way through the invasive bushes. 

Herb corner, raspberries and the remains of the Buddleia!
The garden felt light, fresh and revived, as did I. I kicked back with a beer, chips and a bacon sandwich, and had that quiet moment of satisfaction we all know and love...still got it!

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Book review - Reflections of a Solitary Hamster

Overwhelmed by the burgeoning collection of 'how to garden' books, I've been in search of something a little more creative.

Despite a small number of christmas gifts guiding me to grow in small spaces, forage, perfect an allotment and perfect my herbs, I can't help but shy away from celebrity writers both established and rising. 

So I'm off in search of something more creative; where the garden is the inspiration beyond itself. 

My first discovery is an illustrated book called Reflections of a Solitary Hamster by Astrid Desbordes and Pauline Martin. 

Now, this is no everyday hamster...

Hamster is thoughtful. He asks profound questions about the world around and beyond him, like 'are there walnuts on the moon?'

But, as is a hamster's way, he soon enlightens us with his hamster-centric insights ("must be, otherwise what would moon hamsters eat?")

On to the story, our protagonist has a birthday party to organise. We're treated to his everyday moral dilemas such as who is privileged enough to attend, and how can he ensure that each present meets his expectations. 

And so we get to glimpse the lives of those garden creatures who orbit Hamster's world. Mole, snail and hedgehog all grappling with Hamster's whims and charm, often over a hot cup of smoked tea or through a conversation on the rocks.

It's as a prelude to the party that Mole invites Hamster to his garden. Kitted out in his finest gardener's straw hat, we get to see Mole's wonderful peas. Hamster is then treated to cabbage tea and a recital of 'a little masterpiece - The Reflections of a Garden Snail'.

Hamster yawns.

Mole remains determined and plunders his garden to create the kind of garden present which only parents of children making their first recipe in the kitchen can be proud... you'll have to read the book to find out just what.


This is a beautifully illustrated, subtly hilarious and thoughtful story, in which Mole stars as a wholesome and earnest gardener always keen to share the fruits of his work. I couldn't recommend it more highly.

Published by Gecko press, you can find it at Amazon here

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.