New beginnings. A fresh perspective.

This is the first blog on Betsy’s Garden for 2017 and the first after quite a few months with no posts. I have been travelling with work between Edinburgh, Dublin and Paris for the last few months and I’m now back home, just in time for the arrival of Spring and to get stuck in to what is undoubtedly the busiest time in the garden. Quite literally, what I sow now, I will reap later. No sowing…no reaping, so no time to waste!

I didn’t order seeds this year. It’s usually part of my annual gardening calendar and the excitement associated with selecting the seeds and eagerly awaiting their delivery, has been sadly missed. However, I was unsure where I’d be and how much time I’d have to spend on the garden, so it was a sensible, if somewhat out of character, decision. Luckily, I have, in reserve, from previous seed buying sprees, lots of seeds that are still good to use and, if I’m honest, could keep me in seeds for years without having to buy any new ones.

I am lucky that the garden is fairly well established, so it does, to some extent, take care of itself over the winter months. It shuts down, goes into a sort of hibernation. Apart from moving the delicate plants into the greenhouse for over wintering and general tidying and maintenance, if you’re going to be away from your garden, the winter is the time to do that. dsc_0937The hardest job in the winter garden is keeping up with the hungry demands of the birds who seem to empty the feeders a lot quicker than I can fill them up.

I missed the garden when I was away and I found myself craving time outdoors. My apartment was close to the river and was a lovely brisk walk from the centre of town. The Liffey is a compact river as it flows around the city. It seems to breath life into the city, providing a near constant activity and hustle and bustle.

p1090820 p1090828

For me, it was a marker. I knew where I was, in an uncharted city, depending on where I was in relation to the river. It was my compass, my North Star. If in doubt, find the Liffey and go from there. Dublin has plenty of beautiful gardens, in and around the town centre. They became my temporary gardens. I’m not sure if it’s because the gardens are surrounded by buildings on all sides, creating a confusing micro-climate, but the Autumn colours that I’m so used to seeing never really seemed to take hold. I did consider that there might be someone going around painting the autumn colours back to vibrant green, but I think that was probably unlikely. What the Winter season limited in terms of flowers and colour, was made up for in the fresh crispness of the air and the regular community of swans, herons, pigeons and small garden birds that had befriended the local population of office workers whose offices were privileged enough to sit atop these beautiful gardens.

img_6355 img_6903

img_7391 img_7392

I became fascinated by the ways in which people managed to create outdoor space and gardens in the tiniest of spaces and in the most unusual ways, overcoming whatever difficulties the infrastructure or the climate created. In Dublin, they love a balcony. Virtually every apartment in town had a balcony of sorts. Most were put to primarily either functional use, for example drying clothes, or recreational use, like sitting watching the sun cast it’s last rays of winter sun over the Liffey. However, in almost all of them, they had created micro gardens. Pots filled the floor space, a myriad of pots nestled around a table and a couple of chairs and when floor space was full, they moved up and out. Trellis covered walls and pots with hooks that clung on to the edges of the balcony moved the tiny garden upwards and out into the space in front. Bamboo fencing was used to shield the balcony and the people and the precious plants from the harsh prevailing, biting wind. In Paris, balconies were not de rigeur. In their place were window boxes and beautiful french doors and patios that opened out onto a rooftop vista framed by trailing ivy and delicate winter flowers, bolstered by the still warm french winter sun. Roof terraces became wonderful elegant roof gardens, tree lined with clipped box and bay, extending the day further into the night with beautiful lighting, patio heaters and wonderful dining areas. I imagine that Jasmine will fill the air in these roof gardens in the Summer. In Paris, just like Dublin, being without a garden made me realise that there are gardens and green spaces everywhere to be explored and enjoyed. It made me realise how many times I will have passed through or alongside beautiful city gardens using them as nothing more than a route from A to B, or as an all too familiar backdrop. That familiarity masking the true beauty and reality of the freshness of the gardens, taking them for granted, to the point where they become almost invisible. I’d encourage everyone to look for the beauty in the green spaces in and around whatever city they call home and see them with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective. I visited the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh last week and put that to the test, delighting in the indulgent expansive garden set in the very heart of the city.

img_7639 img_7683img_7686 img_7687

Back in the garden, the birds are stocking up, both in terms of building up their own reserves (I feel like I am single handedly keeping the bird nuts and seeds industry in business) and gathering the raw materials to make their nests. When we brush Bud we put the fur from his coat into a feeder and the birds use that to line their nests.

dsc_0914 dsc_0917

Bud loves getting brushed and the birds need the fur, so everyone is a winner. We cleaned and painted the bird boxes and put them back up in what we call bird box alley, so it’s looking spring fresh. The bird realtors have been round already, eyeing up the houses for prospective inhabitants. There’s been a lot of interest, so no doubt, after a few squabbles, residency will be decided soon. The bird boxes used to be home to Blue tits, but they seem to have been pushed out by the Great tits in the last couple of years and it looks like they are the most interested parties again this year. We’ve also got a couple of Robins and Blackbirds living in and around the evergreen bushes at the back fence.

Unfortunately, there has still been no interest in the bird box that we put up amongst the trailing ivy. It’s set low to attract the likes of robins (and hopefully wrens) and the ivy has rather obligingly grown thick around the box, providing shelter and protection,dsc_0912but it still doesn’t seem to be piquing the interest of any prospective home owners. I think it might be facing the wrong direction and by that I mean as per the compass, as opposed to the entrance hole facing inwards towards the fence rather than outwards ;-). I saw an unusual robin; unusual in that it had a yellow/orange beak as opposed to the usual brown/grey beak. I looked it up and it seems to be an American Robin. Maybe their taste in houses will be different to the local Robins. Hopefully they’ll see merit in the ivy clad house and move in. I do suspect, however, that he might just be passing through and is unlikely to hang around long enough to look for a house. An unusual addition to the bird feeders this year is the chaffinch. They have never fed from the feeders here before, but they are here in numbers this year, adding to the already overwhelming demand on the feeders from the blue, great and coal tits. Then, to top it all off….this morning I noticed what I thought was the Robin who has become a frequent visitor at the patio doors, darting around the edge of the doors, picking up small nuts. Wrong! It was a mouse. Now, for all intents and purposes, a mouse is just like a cute ground dwelling bird, right?…wrong! I can’t explain why, but having a cute little robin bob around your patio doors is one thing but having a “cute” little mouse, scurrying around your patio doors is quite something else. I can’t explain it, but one I like and the other, I don’t. As if that isn’t bad enough, I thought he looked unusual. He had big ears, like Jerry from Tom and Jerry. He was a cartoon mouse. I looked him up…..eewww…..he’s a house mouse. Not a field mouse. A house mouse! (This is a picture from a pest control site). I’m hoping that he’s interested in the ivy clad house, outside on the fence. I don’t fancy the idea that he’s free-loading here in the house with us. I might paint a little arch doorway on the ivy clad house – just like the one in the skirting board in the Tom and Jerry cartoons, to lure him in.

All of this has got me thinking and planning for the garden. I’d like to make more use of the fence space that we have and I’d like to make or create more space for planting more vegetables. I’m going to try to come up with some ideas to create space where there is none and to creatively use existing space better. That’s one of my challenges for the garden for this year. I’ll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, I’ll finish off with a couple of pictures of the first glimpses of spring in the garden which provide more than enough inspiration to get out into the garden and to make the most of it.

dsc_0908 dsc_0911

Posted in betsysgarden, birds, dublin, edinburgh, garden, gardening, greenhouse, journey, learning, mindfulness, outdoors, paris, planting, seeds, spring, Uncategorized, winter | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

So happy to be asked to be a guest blogger for Gardeningknowhow

I love #gardeningknowhow and I am just so pleased to have been asked to be a guest blogger. Check it out if you get a chance and please feel free to like or leave a comment. B x

http://blog.gardeningknowhow.com/guest-blogg…/betsys-garden/

Posted in betsysgarden, blog, gardeningknowhow | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Someone tell the weather the clocks have gone forward

Fall back, Spring forward. That’s how I remember it. In Spring, we turn the clocks forward an hour. We lose an hour in our bed and for a few weeks it’s a little darker again in the mornings, but the big upside is the lighter nights. It’s the start of that magical journey, the unfurling of summer, where our days lengthen and our nights shorten. It invites memories of summer barbecues and picnics. You start to feel the hint of heat, to dream of warm balmy evenings in the garden, the pop or hiss of a bottle and the click woosh of that incredible invention, the widget. However, it hasn’t panned out like that. I think someone forgot to tell the weather that we put the clocks forward. We have caught the odd, fleeting glimpse of summer but mostly we have remained in the dark, cold, wet and even snowy clutches of winter. The winds have howled and snow, sleet and rain have played a rather bleak soundtrack in the garden.

DSC_0869 DSC_0864

Whilst the weather may not be playing the tunes of impending summer, the birds and the plants in the garden most definitely are and we even had a very early first bee sighting. Apparently they are warm blooded so the feisty Queen can get an early start on the Spring flowers. DSC_0167We’ve also had the first bee save of the year. They fly into the greenhouse when the doors are open or in through the vents and can’t find their way back out. I discovered a very good use for the fly swat – the tired bee climbs onto it and you can gently transport her out into the open air. As the Summer heats up that becomes a fairly regular job in the greenhouse, especially when the pumpkin and cucumber flowers open up. The bees go crazy for them.
DSC_0690

DSC_0898It’s March/April in the garden now. The spring bulbs are hardy creatures, almost thug like in their disregard for the weather. Pushing their way through hard, frost cracked ground, bringing light and cheer and colour to the garden.

IMG_4390 IMG_4392

New shoots and new growth are appearing everywhere and there’s even a flash of delicate rhubarb pink as the crown tentatively emerges from the earth. I’m never very sure exactly where it is during it’s hibernation stage when it retreats fully beneath the surface, invisible except as a memory so when I’m planting bulbs, it’s inevitable that some of them will come up in and around the rhubarb. DSC_0904I speculate that’s how rhubarb and custard was inspired because the beautiful pink of the rhubarb goes so well with the bright yellow of the daffodils.

I toyed with the idea of taking the overwintering plants out of the greenhouse and into their place in the garden but I thought it probably needed to warm up a little more first. However, whilst breaking that news to the globe artichokeDSC_0157 I spotted some rather plumpcious greenfly free-loading on it’s stalks. The heat in the greenhouse alone (it’s heated to around 5 – 7 degrees just to take the chill off and prevent frost damage) wouldn’t be enough for them to hatch but combined with a couple of days of (albeit weak and cool sun) streaming through the windows, it was enough to kickstart the hungry monsters. The decision thereafter was easy – the globe artichoke was moved outside and given a thorough soaking of garlic solution and the Gunnera, Mexican orange, lemon plant and fig were all taken outside and given a similar dousing. The Gunnera was moved into it’s outside position, the Mexican orange was given a slightly sheltered position near to the side of the greenhouse and the lemon and fig were fully inspected for signs of insect life and once given the all clear, allowed back inside the greenhouse. Thankfully, the greenfly were spotted early and dealt with but all surfaces in the greenhouse were washed down with a soapy solution and any greenhouse plants or seedlings were given a delicate skoosh of garlic solution as a preventative measure.

Talking of seeds and seedlings, the greenhouse is already a hive of activity with the first planting of seeds having sprouted very well and most of them have been potted on as seedlings. Once they get a true pair of leaves (rather than just the seedling leaves) I’ll sow the next batch of seeds to ensure a good, steady succession of plants. The idea is to avoid a glut through over sowing and to avoid a famine due to under sowing. You’re just never sure how many of the seeds are going to sprout so it’s best to wait until they have moved onto the seedling stage before sowing some more. The potatoes have also chitted so they’ll be ready for planting into the potato bags very soon.

DSC_0328DSC_0149

Revisiting this blog a few weeks later, we’re now in late April and the tentacles of winter are still reaching out and reigning in the full promise of summer. Snow on the 30th April!?? What’s that all about?

There have been a few casualties – the Gunnera in particular has not taken well to the cold, the wind, the rain and the snow. His leaves have been frosted. They are tinged brown and have all but dried up and fallen off. The stems, however, are still plump and fresh looking and the corm looks pink and healthy, so hopefully he’ll recover from this setback and will bloom bright again once he gets a bit of heat in him. Unfortunately, he was too big to move back into the greenhouse and, to be honest, the damage was done at the first overnight drop in temperature, so there wasn’t much point in moving him back in, after Jack Frost had already bitten him.

Pink and red are becoming the predominant colours as the yellow from the daffodils and primulas begin to fade. The rhubarb is looking great – the pink and red really stand out against the brown earth and he’s taking back ownership of his spot in the garden. He’s got a lovely relationship with the daffodils. Having shared the space with them, letting them showcase the space as he quietly and slowly emerged from under the ground, as they start to die back, he unfolds in all his glory, filling the space where the daffodils once were.

DSC_0903The tulips have burst open too. They’re a beautiful translucent pink tinged with a hint of red and they contrast beautifully with the last flush of daffodils and complement the candy pink of the mossy saxifrage. Little speckles of blue from the forget me nots and white from the candytuft offer a cool vista along the edges or borders and under the Willow a little pocket of blue and white has emerged in the shape of hyacinth and the delicate and striking striped squill.

DSC_0884DSC_0886DSC_0876DSC_0186

In the Greenhouse, there is a hive of activity. The sunflowers, peas, sweet peas, cucumbers, basil and mint have all been potted on and are thriving. More seeds have been planted to ensure good succession. I would have started to harden some of them off by now but can’t take the risk of another overnight frost. I’ll need to wait for more settled temperatures before I start to move them out. DSC_0878As a result, the greenhouse is looking a little crowded but that’s okay. DSC_0882It’s only temporary. The fig has put on a beautiful early show of flamboyant leaves and some early fruit. It’s the best he’s ever looked. I gave him a top dressing of blood fish and bone at the
beginning of the growing season and it seems to have done the trick. The lemon plant, on the other hand, has lots of nice new growth but any fruits that form quickly drop off. I suspect I’m over watering him and he probably didn’t take too kindly to his garlic bath designed to rid him of any sign of greenfly. I’ll keep an eye on him and hopefully as the weather warms up he’ll settle down and can hang on to some of his fruit. The tea plant is looking lush with lots of new growth.

DSC_0901

 

Finally, the birds have settled their property differences and have moved in – great tits into the long birdhouse and blue tits into the short birdhouse. Still no residents in the small birdhouses (I think they are just too small and the roof style doesn’t offer as much protection as the other houses). They have been collecting Bud’s fur from the fat cake feeder and from the little clump of fur I tucked into the willow tree, DSC_0702to line their nests, having cleaned out the old fur and tumble dryer lint that they used last year. DSC_0147

 

 

 

 

Bud loves getting his coat brushed and the birds love the fur so everyone’s a winner. We’ve noticed a blackbird flying backwards and forwards with next building materials. We’re not sure exactly where the nest is being built but we suspect it’s in the ivy that covers the fence at the front of the house. It’s a nice dense thicket and a quiet spot. We also suspect that the great tits have moved back into the chinese pot at the front door, that they used last year.
We haven’t seen them in it yet, but we’ve almost been caught in the flightpath as we’ve come out of the front door as a bird is coming in to land. In one swift move it pulls the throttle up and rises up into the air again, a collision averted. One last comment in relation to birds. The wood pigeons, who are the rabbits of the bird world – they seem forever to be engaged in mating rituals, chasing each other relentlessly around the garden, displayed some bizarre behaviour when they were caught in a particularly harsh hail storm. DSC_0273At first they puffed themselves up, as you’d probably expect them to, but then they lifted their wings at right angles to their bodies so that the hail drilled down onto the exposed underside of their wings and bodies. I can only speculate as to why (I’ve searched and can’t find an explanation) – maybe they liked the sensation of the hail on them, the equivalent of a wood pigeon massage? Or maybe it was a chance to get a good old deep clean in areas usually hard to reach? If anyone has any thoughts or ideas, I’d love to hear them.

I’d like to leave you by wishing you Happy Beltane! It’s the 1st of May and there is a heady hint of Hawthorn in the air. The May trees are late to blossom here this year, but that perfume on the wind tells you the blossom is coming and hopefully that means Summer is not far off.

 

 

 

Posted in basil, bee, bees, beltane, betsysgarden, bird box, birds, bulbs, butterflies, chitting, crocus, crystal apple, cucumber, daffodils, displays, fig, flowers, foundation, foundations, garden, gardening, garlic, greenhouse, gunnera, harvest, hawthorn, imagination, insects, inspiration, journey, learning, may, mindful, mindfulness, mossy saxifrage, outdoors, perfume, pests, planting, pollinate, potatoes, produce, pumpkin, rain, rhubarb, scented, seasonal, seeds, spring, squill, summer, sunflower, tea, tea pant, tea plant, tulips, Uncategorized, vegetables, winter | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Wishing you all happy Imbolc. Hope Springs eternal

Well it’s blowing a hooly outside today as storm Gertrude blows us towards the end of what has been a challenging month for the garden and for many of us too. Mild temperatures at the beginning of the month fooled us, the plants and the birds into thinking that Spring had arrived early. As we consigned big coats and jackets to the attic in favour of lighter windbreaks, the bulbs planted at the end of November and early December started to spring up through the warm earth and the birds started to squabble early over residency of the bird boxes.DSC_0111DSC_0238However, by mid-month, the temperatures had plummeted and brought traditional winter scenes of fresh crisp snow, followed by icy rain and biting winds. Coats, hats, gloves and snow boots were rescued from the murky depths of the attic ready to brave the elements and to make the first snowmen and snow angels of the season. I’m sure if it had been possible, the poor early shoots would have ducked back under the earth for cover. But they are hardy little blighters those early spring bulbs. I actually think a little nip of frost does them good – seems to embolden them to become stronger and more vibrant. It’s also good for the rhododendrons and azaleas to get a frosty bite. It makes them develop flowers as opposed to just putting on lots of new leaf growth, so long as they don’t get too wet in the early months of the year. In some parts of the country, terrible floods have ravished homes never mind gardens so we should be thankful that when we think conditions are tricky, someone somewhere is having to contend with an awful lot worse. Hopefully as we approach the beginning of February, the whiff of Spring will not be too far off. Other than clearing and weeding and general maintenance around the garden, January is a quiet time for the gardener. A time to ponder, reminisce and to plan ahead. It is that magical time in the garden calendar when seeds are bought or delivered and plans are hatched and virtual pots and beds are sown in the heads of every gardener. There is genuine excitement when the seed packets arrive. They are like little packets of hope and aspiration, they represent a journey that can lead to success and abundance, surprise and joy. Yes, there will be failures and disappointment but with those little packets of jewels as yet unopened, anything and everything is still possible.

DSC_0143I’m continuing the theme of quality over quantity again this year with heritage varieties high on the agenda. I’m also planning to make the greenhouse more productive with more regular succession sowing and to make room for flowers in the greenhouse to add some variety of colour and scent. Companion planting is another theme, so I’ll be growing herbs like basil and mint and marigolds alongside tomatoes and cucumber to naturally deter aphids.  Given the success and the joy of the sprouts at Christmas, I’m planning to grow the potatoes, sprouts and parsnips for Christmas Dinner 2016. I’m also looking forward to the challenges (and rewards) that the likes of the lemon tree and my exciting gift of a tea plant, that I got for Christmas, will bring.DSC_0240 DSC_0246

A final theme for this year will be to record and catalogue the variety of bees that visit the garden. I’m hoping to photograph each variety and record their numbers, habits and their preferences. I read that bees are warm blooded so they can venture out fairly early in the year, so I need to get organised for their arrival. I’m excited to see which variety is first to wake from it’s winter slumber.

Finally, I wanted to share a picture that suggests I’ve successfully grown cotton. However, whilst the photo on the left is in fact a cotton plant (photographed at Gardening Scotland in summer 2015), the one on the right is actually little blobs of snow atop the seed heads of a dill plant, taken at night in the garden. I’ll maybe need to try that one for real?

DSC_0450IMG_1995

Well, as we speak, we find ourselves having passed through January and in the 1st of February. The 1st of February is Imbolc. Originally a Pagan festival to honour the Goddess Brigid. It falls roughly half way between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. Folklore has it that if the weather is fine on Imbolc the remainder of winter will be long. If it’s a foul day then winter will be shorter. Fingers crossed for a foul day. To mark the day you can make a Brigid cross or a Brigid doll (called a Brideog). Candles and fires are lit to represent the return of warmth and the increasing power of the sun.Well, today is the 1st of February and the weather is indeed foul. Here’s to a short run into Spring.

Posted in bees, betsysgarden, bird box, birds, brida, bulbs, butterflies, cotton, faeries, february, festival, flowers, foundation, foundations, foxgloves, garden, gardening, gardening scotland, goddess, greenhouse, harvest, imbolc, inspiration, January, journey, learning, mindfulness, moment, music, nature, orchestra, outdoors, pagan, planting, potatoes, preserves, produce, seeds, spices, spring, squirrels, tea, tea pant, tea plant, toad, veg, vegetables, winter | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

That’s a wrap!

What a wonderful year in the garden 2015 turned out to be. There’s a simple pleasure in every flower that blooms, every bird, animal or insect that takes the time to visit and in the beauty of nature as the seasons wind their way through the unfolding year. It’s hard work trying to create the right conditions and to provide the correct nutrients for your plants, and all gardens are, to some degree, at the mercy of the weather and nature to provide the right amounts of natural light, heat and water. But the hard work is repaid with rewards that exceed the opulence of the produce or the beauty of the blooms. Bearing witness to the creation and unfolding of life in the garden is amazing and mesmerising. It was great to be able to give the pumpkins a helping hand. DSC_0345In some cases, the results are none the less sweet when nature has been left to her own devices and produces something surprising or unexpected. For example, the beautiful wild varieties of foxglove that appeared as a result of self sewn seeds and the ranunculus that weren’t planned but simply appeared one day as if by magic. I had no idea what they were until they flowered.

DSC_0443DSC_0289

There were three themes for the garden for 2015. One was quality not quantity, favouring heritage varieties over bulk producing or “guaranteed” varieties, looking for fulsomeness of flavour and scent, showcasing the unusual and tackling the difficult, the tricky and the fickle. The second theme was a desire to create a wildlife haven – a place where the birds, bees, insects and pond creatures would want to either take up full-time residency or simply pay a fleeting visit and the third theme was to create a garden that was a delight to be in, that caught your interest, that made you want to visit again, that raised questions and piqued your curiosity, regardless of the season or the weather. Looking back over the pictures and the memories from 2015, there’s lots to suggest that the garden has lived up to its ambitious brief; bees and butterflies in abundance (so many different varieties of bees – I am so fascinated with this after my observations in 2015 that in 2016 I’m going to catalogue the different varieties of bees that visit the garden), the lovely frogs and toads that have had the good grace to live in a pond that is rather too small to fit the brief of pond but it seems to have done the trick despite its size, DSC_0505 DSC_0470

DSC_0841

the incredible and dazzling display of birds: from the excitement of catching a glimpse of the shy wren that looks like a mouse darting around the garden, the familiarity of the incessant and cheeky chirping of the blue tits and great tits as they bicker over residency of the bird boxes and feeding rights at the bird feeders and the brazen confidence of the Robin sitting stubbornly outside the patio doors to highlight the need for seeds. They are all wonderful DSC_0365and along with the mafiesque wood pigeons in their buttoned up starched collars and ties, are familiar figures in the garden, but the most exotic (and unexpected) feathered visitor of 2015 was the blue eared starling who had escaped from an aviary. DSC_0096He shone like a rare jewel and coveted interest from passers by, initially drawn in by his unusual clipped call as he tried to find the mate he’d left behind at the aviary. He was the talk of the dog walk. Finally, a highlight of the year was the sharing of the garden and the fantastic response from people and the shared learning and understanding and swapping of stories and tips. In 2015 I entered a photo competition run by #Gardeningknowhow (photo of a heritage cucumber called Crystal Apple). I won! DSC_0209It wasn’t the winning that was the best bit – the best bit was the opportunity it gave me to interact with other gardeners, to find myself in amongst gardeners gardening in different conditions and with different challenges and triumphs but with a shared passion and interest. I also entered the West Lothian Gardens Competition and won a bronze award. The plaque hangs proud on the back fence and glints in the sun. IMG_3377It’s a nod and testament to hard work but again, that’s not the best bit; the best bit was becoming part of a family of local gardeners, each working hard and succeeding in their own way, each sharing their successes and failures, trials and errors, being able to share their gardens, to learn and grow through their knowledge and experience.

The tail end of 2015 was a busy time in the garden – clearing, cleaning and preparing. Bulb planting, over-wintering of delicate plants, the sheer delight of ordering the seeds for 2016, and the simple pleasure of providing the sprouts for Christmas Dinner.
DSC_0080

A great end to a great year in the garden. I’m full of anticipation as we start 2016.

 

Posted in bees, berries, betsysgarden, bird box, birds, bulbs, butterflies, crystal apple, cucumber, discovery, flowers, foundation, foundations, foxgloves, frog, garden, gardening, greenhouse, harvest, ideas, imagination, insects, inspiration, journey, learning, mindfulness, outdoors, planting, pond, produce, pumpkin, ranunculus, seeds, toad, winter | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nature’s warm spice blanket

DSC_0835I always feel that Spring flows gracefully into Summer. The plants emerge, grow and develop into a beautiful bounty over a number of months, but Autumn seems to arrive suddenly, almost overnight. The changes are not subtle, they are dramatic. Fresh greens and bright pops of colour are replaced by beautiful autumnal hues glowing rich and vibrant everywhere you look.

DSC_0889 DSC_0891

The trees are swathed in bronze, gold and red canopies and a matching carpet covers the ground, cushioning your feet and muffling the sound as you go.IMG_3007

Although there’s a definite drop in temperature in October, (the nights can even get a touch frosty), the autumn colours give off a warmth and in the low October sunlight, the leaves sparkle and dazzle like opulent byzantine jewels, deep ochres reminiscent of exotic moroccan spices. Halloween at the end of October also gives the month a magical, mystical air, with flickering candles dancing eerily behind pumpkin faces. I’m going to use my homegrown pumpkins as a display at the front door. They’re not big but they’re ideal for a display.

Talking of displays, as the summer blooms fade, there are still some real treats in the garden. At this time of the year, some flowers and plants provide striking architectural seed or flower heads that can be dried and used in displays or in home-made pot pouri. The globe artichoke, eryngium and alliums are very beautiful and stunning when dried.

DSC_0594 DSC_0829 DSC_0888 DSC_0759

DSC_0957DSC_0904

We put the clocks back at the weekend, officially heralding the end of British Summer Time. That’s the signal to the gardener that it’s time to begin to ready for winter and to start planning for next year. At this time of year,  it feels as if there’s a lot more work to be done than there really is, but I think that has something to do with the shorter days and longer nights – there just isn’t enough daylight hours to get everything done so jobs tend to carry over into another day. October is a time of reaping, preserving, clearing and preparing. Any final harvests should be picked and eaten or preserved now.

DSC_0803I had a very successful bounty of red peppers, pardon peppers and chilli peppers this year. I dried some, preserved some in oil and I also made chilli pepper (ground down into a powder for sprinkling). Whoof! the chilli pepper is definitely red hot chilli pepper – it’s proper blow your socks off hot!!

To dry the chilli peppers, just lay them on a baking tray, turn the oven to “cool” – that’s anything from 100 degrees C to 130 degrees C, put the chilli peppers in and leave them for a few hours until they go dry, but don’t let them burn. Don’t take your eyes off them for too long – keep checking them. It can take 3, maybe even more hours, so be patient. When they are dried enough, turn the oven off, leaving the chilli peppers in there until they go cold. Once cold, put them into sterilised jars and label. To preserve the peppers in oil, just take a sterilised jar and push the cleaned and dried peppers (whole) into the jar. Pack them tightly. Fill the jar up with good olive oil, seal and label. Not only does this preserve the peppers, but you can also use the oil as a flavoured oil in cooking. To make the chilli pepper, grind some of the dried chilli peppers in a spice grinder (you can use a coffee grinder, just don’t use it for coffee afterwards!!). Grind to a fine powder, put in a sterilised jar and label. Use sparingly as it is really hot. *Note of caution* – try not to breath in the fumes/dust from the mixture as you’re grinding it as it catches the back of your throat and can be painful. Also, don’t touch your eyes or your mouth without really washing your hands after touching the chilli peppers as it burns and stings.DSC_0809

DSC_0820

Plants and flowers that have finished for the year need to be cut down, cut back or dug up. Any damaged or diseased plants should be removed and disposed off. *Don’t put diseased plants in your compost bin. The disease can make its way into the compost and infect healthy plants. Best to burn them if you can.

The ground should be cleared of weeds and prepared for bulb planting. DSC_0898I take the opportunity to dig up and split clumps and re-position them now, while they’re dormant, allowing them to re-establish themselves in their new site ready for next year. Works brilliantly with the likes of primulas and foxglove.
Delicate plants that don’t like frost should be either wrapped or moved into a sheltered spot. I move them into the greenhouse which I heat just enough to take the edge off the cold and to stop anything getting frosted.

It’s a good time to clean out the greenhouse in readiness for over-wintering plants. Wash everything with a mild soapy solution to get rid of any dirt, grime and disease. You can also burn a garlic bomb/candle which acts as a purifier.

I want to share a funny story with you just to end this post. My mum was looking after the house and the garden for us while we were on holiday. We’d had a leak from the water tank just before we left on holiday and, despite it having been repaired before we left, there was a repeat episode while we were away. Thankfully my mum was here so although the damage was significant, it could have been a whole lot worse….So, understandably, my mum was a little on edge. Workmen were upstairs working on the emergency repairs and suddenly my mum, who is downstairs, gets hit on the head with what she thinks is a little pebble. Couple of minutes later, it happens again. She assumes it’s coming from upstairs and tells the workmen there are pebbles falling from the ceiling. Turns out, it wasn’t pebbles and they weren’t coming from the ceiling. I had put some borlotti bean pods in a bowl to dry off (I thought they’d look pretty dried). The bowl was sitting on the window sill and as they dried, the heat from the sun caused them to pop open and to project the beans, almost with explosive force, across the kitchen. It was the beans that were hitting my mum on the head. The brilliance of nature and with a sense of humour to boot. My mum was just relieved that it wasn’t raining pebbles from the ceiling!

DSC_0822 DSC_0824

 

 

Posted in allium, artichoke, autumn, betsysgarden, borlotti, bulbs, chilli pepper, crystal apple, cucumber, displays, dried, erygnium, foxgloves, garden, gardening, greenhouse, harvest, ideas, imagination, inspiration, journey, learning, mindful, mindfulness, moment, nature, orchestra, outdoors, perfume, planting, poetry, preserves, produce, pumpkin, reading, recipes, scented, seasonal, seeds, spices, winter | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mindful Gardening in September

There’s always so much going on in September. It’s a month of new beginnings. Children starting school for the first time, or moving up a year in school, new teachers, new friends, starting or moving on in University or starting a new job, new homes, new locations. Holidays and the easier pace of the holiday months become memories in the hustle and bustle of our suddenly busier, scheduled lives. We share stories in September. Stories about our holidays, how we spent the summer months. We share stories about our aspirations and plans, speculating on what our new beginnings may mean for us in the future. We share stories about our gardens as we watch the carefree, wild abundance of the summer gradually subside and fall into a more sedate rhythm and become more orderly.  It’s a chance to reminisce, give thanks for the many wonderful and amazing stars that have shone in the garden throughout the summer. Remember I was wondering when the Lilies would open up and wondering if they would produce blooms that were worth the wait? Well, I’m delighted to say that they surpassed all expectations. They are gorgeous. Big, bold, and brash and they fill the garden with a musky scent.

DSC_0741 DSC_0786DSC_0748

I didn’t plant many sweet peas this year (I thought they looked straggly and untidy last year) but the ones that I did are beautiful. They’re blousey and have the sweetest of scents.

DSC_0773 DSC_0775

It’s a chance to acknowledge the beauty and wonder of nature. A chance to reap, collect and gather the bounty and produce from the garden.

DSC_0805 DSC_0804 DSC_0803 DSC_0800

It’s easy to get lost in the business of our lives amidst all the planning but the garden can remind us to stop and simply revel in the moment as we capture the essence of the summer and all that’s gone before it to create the garden in this moment. It reminds us that the most important thing in the garden is what you do right now. We can learn from the past and we can plan for the future, but none of that would have been or will be, if it wasn’t for what we do now. The garden invites us to be mindful. To be present. To be grounded. I think perhaps it’s the organic nature of gardening, the physicality of touching the earth and planting something (with innate properties, that if we never planted, would never even have a chance to reach their potential) that helps to ground us, to make us better understand our connection with everything around us.

I recently had the pleasure of spending a weekend at Samye Ling in the beautiful Scottish Borders where I was reminded of the wonder and beauty of nature at every turn and every view. The gardens are testament to the power of mindful gardening. Everything shines bright and bold, the flowers and plants shamelessly radiating beauty through their colours and heady, opulent scents. I’m not sure if it’s the quiet (sometimes enforced silence) that heightens the senses or the lack of distractions that allow you to become more aware of everything around you, but colours seem brighter, more vibrant, smells are more pronounced, crisper, more identifiable and sounds sparkle and tinkle like crystals, like jewels, catching your attention. The birds and wildlife in the gardens seem to know they are safe. They are precocious and blatantly curious. Rabbits simply watch as you walk past within inches of them, none of the usual scurrying and darting to safety that we’re so used to when we happen across a wild animal. The birds watch us just as we’d normally watch them. They seek to get close to get a better look. They sing without a care, as if there’s no one there.

 

IMG_2275 IMG_2247 IMG_2246 IMG_2274 IMG_2273 IMG_2261 IMG_2272 IMG_2265

IMG_2149

I’m trying to bring mindfulness to my gardening. Rather than digging, weeding, pulling up with the sole focus on getting it finished so it’s ready for the next thing, I’m trying to connect with the act of gardening. So really listen as the roots of the plants you’re digging up tear themselves out of the earth, smell the woody, earthy smell of the soil and the roots, notice the colour and the texture of the soil that’s left behind in the ground. Get to know the earth your plants, bulbs and seeds are growing in. When you’re gathering your produce, acknowledge the bounty. Consider how you can best use or store the produce to get the best out of it, considering the effort that went in to produce it. Consider the spoils as a gift, not a commodity, whether one fruit or a whole bag of fruit is produced. Watch and listen to the wildlife and the birds. Can you plant to create a better environment for them, can you create spaces where you can get up close to them, and them to you? It will slow you down. You’ll ultimately get to where you were heading in the first place, but you’ll  remember how you got there, rather than just when you arrived.

 

Posted in art, betsysgarden, birds, discovery, flowers, foundation, foundations, fruit, garden, gardening, gifts, harvest, ideas, imagination, inspiration, journey, learning, lilies, mindful, mindfulness, moment, nature, outdoors, perfume, planting, poetry, produce, scented, seeds, September, spring, summer | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments