Wednesday, 26 November 2008

I Think I know The Problem

Something's been vexing me a bit lately and that is the question of how I'm able to do all the things you're supposed to do at the correct time at the gardening club but am totally unable to do this at the allotment.

I've been wracking my brains to fnd out what the magic ingredient is at the club and so far have only come up with the fact that I'd be letting people down if I was as flaky at school as I am at the allotment.

So, could it be the weather? No, as far as I can tell the climate is not balmy at school. It is just as wet and cold there as here. Perhaps it just feels warmer, being surrounded by children chattering and other adults rather than the sound of silence, pheasants and my own thoughts.

Perhaps it's the inconvenience? Nope (again). I have to get in the car to go to both places. And lug stuff. And climb slippery steps.

Could it be the time factor as it's sometimes easier to get things done when you only have a small window of time to do them in? For me, it concentrates the mind and I'm better with a deadline. Hmmm, I don't think so, I don't have hours and hours to while away at the allotment. It is not a parrallel universe there where time stands still. I have as little time to spare there as I have everywhere.

GOT IT! I think I have the answer.......but I need to do some "research" first. No good knowing what the problem is if I don't know how to fix it....

Monday, 24 November 2008

Winter Gardening Club

 It's mighty chilly out there but my merry band of green-fingered imps rose to the challenge of coming to today's gardening club. They are all so enthusiastic and it's joy to be with them.

Here's a recap of what we've done this term. We started two-three weeks late and one session was cancelled due to weather and another because of a poorly toddler (mine).

 But we've got lots done, everything, in fact, that I had planned. Oh, ok, maybe not the broad beans but that's because I wasn't entirely sure where to put them. And I must be getting better because I didn't refer to my bible once!

So here's what we did:
  • Sowed sweet peas in loo rolls and when those ran out into coir pots that someone kindly donated. We got through at least two packets which are now all coming up in the grow house. The children were very enthusiastic about this activity.
  • Cleared the beds, weeded and sowed green manure on one and covered another in well rotted horse manure. They weren't so keen on the latter task, I have to say.
  • Sowed garlic, one packet in our "winter veg bed" and one head I bought at a supermarket. We sowed those ones in little pots as a kind of experiment to see which do the best.
  • Sowed shallots in the ground. These are already shooting up. We followed this up another week by planting another two rows, mainly to fill the bed. It also contains a couple of cabbages, leeks and garlic.
  • We planted hyacinth bulbs in individual pots and these are now housed in the cold, dark boiler room. We also planted some paperwhites and other narcissi in pots and green shoots are emerging in the grow house. Gotta love that grow house!
  • We made a new flower bed and planted daffs and lillies in these. Some red and white striped tulips went into a pot.
  • The free Morrison salad seeds were planted in a large pot and they are all coming up. 

Today we concentrated on looking after the wildlife so we went for a short hunt around the school grounds (it's a small school) for logs to pile up on one side of the garden to make a home for any hedgehogs or toads. I'm not sure if any will check into our critter hotel but it was a nice thing to do, a thank you if you like to the wildlife.

I also whizzed into a local diy centre before the session started and bought some peanuts, fat balls and other bird seed which we strung around the trees and fence bordering the garden. The children were delighted by a curious robin who will hopefully be joined by other feathered friends.

Have to say, feel a litttle bit anxious about the new term as I'm not entirely sure what we're going to do. As ever, I'm always open to (cheap) suggestions. I've asked for Alys' book for Christmas so maybe I'll get a few ideas from there. I'm also (really, just thought of this) going to send off for lots of seed catalogues and get them to do some cutting and sticking on the first session to give me an idea of flowers and veggies they may like to plant.........hmmm it's hard to say who enjoys this club more!

Friday, 14 November 2008


I always thought, before I really got into gardening, that all gardeners did in the darker months was huddle with seed catalogues and dream.

Now I know differently. I'm still planning and dreaming but there's a fair bit to do. And this weekend looks (touch wood and whistle) as though it's going to be dry!

My first job is to get out into the front garden and plant my tulips which I succumbed to at Chelsea. They arrived a while ago but....y'know how it is at Carrots. However, as ever, nothing is quite as simple as just popping in some bulbs. Nope. I have plans to redesign this very boring, uninspiring space but that involves a fair bit of Hubby's time and some money (naturally).

I shall probably get shot for writing this, there is probably an unwritten gardening law that I'm about to break, but I want to replace our hedge with.......a fence. There, said it. The hedge is really awful, it bows out, is not straight and despite regular trims just grows up and up and I don't want something that high.

I'd like a rustic type fence, something quite low and which I could grow things up on both sides. We're also going to move the gate so you enter the garden from the other side. I know we could replace the hedge with another one but I have little people and a dog that need to be kept in a secure garden from the get go.

There is probably another solution that involves less work and less money but I have neither the imagination or knowledge to come up with it!

But what has this got to do with my tulips? I'm going to make a big, curvy border on one side of the new path and the tulips shall go in there. Or rather, will once the work's done. My plan is currently languishing at number 32 on my Top 40 of Things That We Need To Do Now. So until it occupies the number one slot I shall just plant the bulbs in tubs and containers.

And don't get me started on the back garden........

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Just Who Am I Running the Gardening Club For?

I am quite lazy. Oh yes I am. I know it looks as though I'm not - five children! Runs a gardening club! - but one quick look at my home (messy and chaotic), the allotment (shallot sets still not in) or even this blog (sparodic posting) will confirm that fact.

But come Monday lunchtime there I am with 17 children, loads of loo rolls and various sweet pea seeds and vroom! I'm off.

Take a quick peek back at home and the saved newspaper sits forlornly on the side, still not transformed into paper pots, the tulips are not in and all my plans remain just that - ideas in my head and not brought to fruition.

Which makes me think - who am I running this gardening club for exactly? Because, unless there is a reason why I absolutely have to, there is no other gardening going on in my life at the moment. So it's a jolly good job that I have the club. Bless 'em, my little gardeners think I am doing them a favour when all along it's the other way round....

~ I am thinking of moving this blog to Typepad. Well, when I say move, what I mean is start blogging at Typepad and have a link from here to there because I'm not sure how to move lock, stock and barrel (I've looked into it but it looks complicated). I know it's a pain, having to update links etc so that's why I'm thinking about it ~

Monday, 3 November 2008

Growing Your Own - Possible But Stupid?!

Cards on the table - I'm not a great fan of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. He's okay, I've got a couple of his cookbooks (Hubby likes the game recipes, I like his family cookbook) but I do find him a bit annoying.

He annoys me in the same way that Jamie Oliver does, who I actually like more than Hugh. I get tired of being hectored about expensive (and it is invariably more expensive than not) organic food by a couple of blokes who, though well intentioned, have no idea what it means to live as most ordinary people do; within the confines of tight budgets.

Sometimes, depending on my mood, I get fed up seeing their wonderful gardens, perfect set-ups and their license to print more money by extolling us to live as they do. Goodness, I could probably have a kitchen garden to rival Jamie's if I had such an expert gardener tending it.

I realise it's probably unusual in the gardening world not to love HFW, after all he's very enthusiastic about getting us to grow our own. I caught a bit of his River Cottage Autumn programme on Thursday night and was intrigued by the scheme allowing people to grow veggies in others' gardens for a share of the produce. It is, I think, something my very green village is in the process of setting up (that and apparently more allotments!) but was less enamoured with the squirrel stew, amongst other dishes, he was preparing.

By some coincidence I was also surfing at the same time (oh, I'm good at multi-tasking) and stumbled upon this article by critic AA Gill about River Cottage Autumn. I don't agree with everything he wrote but I did have a chuckle at this:
"His shows rely on the cosy repetition, the absence of surprises, the huggable sense that bad things happen only in cities, and that somewhere just off the M25 is a never-never happy valley where Hugh lives, surrounded by smiley, monosyllabic peasants who knit those appalling jerseys and turn slugs and stinging nettles into delicious fizzy pop."
Mr Gill also seems very anti-self sufficiency. I think he feels we should be concentrating on helping each other and not on helping ourselves. He even goes as far as to call it "small-minded, selfish, mean and ultimately fascist". Goodness, who knew trying to rely on big multi-nationals less and eschewing the rampant consumerism found today would engender such vitriol?

"Growing your own vegetables is a bit like making your own fridge or whittling a car. Possible, but stupid," according to Mr Gill.

Which doesn't make me angry but does make me sad. For poor old Mr Gill who looks likely never to feel the magic of growing plants from seed, never feed his family from his own hard graft instead of someone else's and will never experience that special feeling gardening, particularly veggies, can give you - empowerment.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Simple Weekends=Happinesss

WEEKENDS are supposed to leave you feeling refreshed and revitalised. Only mine don't. There is so much to do that by the time they roll round the dream of cooking lovely meals, country walks and reconnecting usually remains just that. A dream.

Now though, it is all about to change thanks to Elspeth Thompson's new book The Wonderful Weekend Book, Reclaim Life's Simple Pleasures. Although it is about the good, simple things in life it is not about do nothing, quiet, boring weekends.

It's not a gardening book either but it is interspersed with gardening ideas, some of which will not be new to gardeners. But it's not those that I loved in this book, it's the attitude.

Elspeth encourages us to think outside the box in order to get to grips with our gardens and allotments, to make them a pleasure and not a chore. I especially like the idea of building a shelter out of willow if you're not allowed sheds at your allotment. Now, why didn't I think of that?

Elspeth is a persuasive advocate of getting back to the simple pleasures and eschewing the supermarkets, DIY centres and fast food in order to reconnect with ourselves and each other.

"Recent research on the nature of happiness suggests that what most people need in order to feel content is not big cars nor fancy clothes but the straightforward stuff: a good walk, watching the sunset, time with family and friends and some wholesome, home-baked food." she writes.

A chapter is also given to reinstating Sundays as a tradional day of calm and relaxation with ideas for the perfect breakfast followed by various activities. It's not a book stuck in a time-warp though, there are plenty of suggested websites scattered throughout. I'm even thinking of copying the computer/mobile Sunday detox (I said thinking. I'm not entirely sure I'd be able to).

Thanks to this book I am planning a whole host of creative, wonderful projects which will, I am sure, spill over from the weekend into the whole of my life. It will sit on my bookshelf and remind me, inspire me and refresh me, like an old friend whose outlook chimes with my own.

Now if only I could manage to persuade the children to do in one of the most enticing suggestions - spending the day in bed....

* Part of this book review is reproduced on my other blog *

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

One For My Christmas List

I have started to think about Christmas. I know, I'm sorry. But it is genetic and in previous years, while I have thought about it I haven't actually done anything and so November and December finds me scurrying round the shops, along with everyone else, like a headless chicken.

I have also started thinking about what I would like. This is good. It is not as self-centred as it would seem. Honestly. Because when I stand in the bookshop thumbing yet another gardening book, instead of reaching for my purse I am now reaching for the shelf AND PUTTING IT BACK while thinking "Hmmm, I'll ask for that for Christmas". Yay! See how good I'm being.

The above book is one that is top of my list. Alys Fowler is growing on me and I like what little I've seen of her book. When I first started watching Gardeners' World back in the spring she would, well, annoy me. Just a little.

"Is it because she's on telly and you're not?" teased Hubby. Well, doh! Of course, I'd retort, because being "on telly" has always been my ambition. ~ Sigh ~ (for those of you wondering, I'm being sarcastic).

But since GW gave us a peek at some of the presenters' gardens (did we see Joe Swift's? Did I miss that?) I have warmed to her. Her garden was lovely but normal. And small! But look what she's done with it!

So now her book, which I will have probably read while leaning up against the bookshelves at Waterstones by the time Santa visits, is on my list. Along with this one, which is not really about gardening but a bit.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Now That's More Like It

I like reading gardening and house magazines, supplements and blogs but not very many of these tell it like it is. And that is for families with young children, gardens mostly are not the peaceful, beautiful havens everybody else seems to have.

When I think of my friends' gardens, the ones with children, I see that my reality is theirs' too. They have goalposts, swings, climbing frames, washing lines, bare patches on their lawns, bikes abadoned anywhere. And when I read about family homes and gardens I see none of this.

What I want to see is how ordinary families (those with ordinary budgets and not the services of garden designers on hand) manage to incorporate not a child-friendly space but a child loving one while keeping it looking reasonably good and eeking out a bit of area for an adult who loves to garden.

I've written about this before and Sharon Lovejoy, author of one of my favourite books, kindly commented that washing lines will feature in her latest book, which I plan on checking out.

And, lo!, in this week's Sunday Times' Home supplement there was an article on creating family homes, and no, they weren't perfect in design but perfect for family life.

"Remember, your mini-Versailles, complete with topiary, nymph statuettes and colourful flowerbeds, will also have to accommodate the unstylish - trampoline, tyre swing, paddling pool, guinea-pig hutch and crumbling shed. Don't be precious."

Oh, music to my ears! Don't be precious indeed! Perhaps it's a result of the impending recession, but such a down-to-earth attitude is so refreshing.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

October at the Gardening Club

Gardening Club's started back - yay! - with 15 new children and two old hands who are going to be my helpers (only they don't know that yet).

The first session was on Monday (which strictly speaking was September) and it went really well. Sometimes I try to work out why and this is what I came up with today - I was not tired (must remember to go to bed early on Sunday evenings), my head feels clearer with my youngest at playgroup two mornings a week (such luxury, time) and I just feel more confident.

So what's new this term? A flower bed Hubby very kindly dug for me. I had to get him to bring a very heavy bag of well rotted manure for me at the weekend so I thought while he was there....I was supervising (of course).

A new herb bed is also under way. More work needs to be done here but there's no rush. And we have a grow house (hooray!). This will make a huge difference.

I'm particularly pleased with this because I managed to find a replacement cover for less than a tenner to go over my old frame. What I would really like is a polytunnel like Dominic Murphy who manages to squeeze his club in when it's wet but we don't have the space or funds and they look quite ugly. As it stands during wet weather we can't do anything because the whole school is inside and there's no room for us. So pray for a dry autumn, winter and spring.

My plans for the coming weeks include planting daffodil bulbs (in the new flower bed) along with some bulbs I picked up for ten pence, sowing sweet pea seeds, starting off hyacinth bulbs, planting garlic and some overwintering shallots, clearing the runner bean bed, laying the manure and covering with newspaper and cardboard and, I think, sowing some green manure in the other bed. The third one will contain all our winter stuff.

And while that sounds a lot I know from experience that 15 children can whip through the planned activities rather quickly. Still, it is all looking good.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Allotment Tips for the Time Poor (that's everyone, right) # 1

Really, I feel a bit presumptuous giving others tips. I mean, have you seen my allotment lately? Well, no you haven't, because it's too awful to photograph, and neither have I, for which there is no excuse.

It is rather a case of feast or famine where the allotment is concerned; I'm either up there all the time or not at all. So it was with some trepidation that I dragged the whole family up there yesterday. Yes, there were a few howls of protest but as far as I can see unless 12-year-old boys are eating, on the Playstation or riding their bikes there are always howls, so I ignored them.

While pulling at the weeds and ordering others about I did think "oh, I must remember this for next year" but as my memory is appalling I'm writing it here.

  • Tip 1: Plant nasturtiums between rows to suppress weeds. These plants are so easy to grow, look pretty and (best of all) seem to thrive on neglect, which is just as well.

  • Tip 2: Butternut squash (and I'm assuming pumpkins) are also easy to grow, are tasty and make a lovely alternative to courgettes, which are also great and prolific but sometimes a bit too prolific.

  • Tip 3: Paving slabs are wonderful laid onto bare earth between beds as they don't rot and suppress the weeds wonderfully. I've tried all sorts of paths - bark chippings (messy and expensive) and carpet (great hidey holes for slugs, rots and doesn't suppress weeds) and slabs have been the best. I recycled mine which were no longer needed from our garden but if you had to buy I guess this would be the most expensive option.

  • Tip 4: Raised beds are ideal for allotments, allowing you to work your plot in bite sized chunks, reduce digging, and easily improve the soil but (yes, there is a but) they also make superb homes for slugs and snails. The wood also eventually rots and then you have to start again which can make it a bit expensive. I loved my beds but have removed the rotting wood and just kept them as beds, edged with my paving paths. This, I think, is the perfect solution. Well, I hope.
Now I have a bit more free time and I've broken my allotment visiting drought, I plan to spend more time at the plot. At least I'll be getting fresh air and not spending money so it's all good. I just have to dig out the flask as I can't be too far away from coffee (even if it is decaf, sigh).

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Oh Okay, Now I Get It

Oh my. I think next week I shall watch "Gardeners' World" with a notebook. At least it'll save me having to rewatch it on iPlayer later.

As a newbie gardener I've steered clear of discussions about the presenters, who should take over and what needs to be changed. I didn't watch it when Geoff Hamilton hosted it, nor Alan Titchmarsh and just started tuning in when Monty Don became ill.

I read the reams of opinions found on others' blogs but it was with a bemused air. What does it matter, I thought, the programme's ok, all the presenters are ok, whoever takes over will be ok.

Oh how wrong I was. Obviously I was missing something - and that was how good the programme can be. I watched the first one with the new presenter Toby Buckland, who I didn't really know (should I admit that?), and I enjoyed it immensly but I did wonder what experienced gardeners would make of it. Would they find all those tips patronising? Wouldn't he be offering people anything new?

But watching last night, within minutes, I knew that I suddenly loved this programme, and I loved Toby (only don't tell Hubby). He managed to share his enthusiasm, impart lots handy tips and inspire me to ditch my plans for an expensive potting shed and track down a secondhand greenhouse, complete with a home-made bench made out of breeze blocks and scaffold planks.

And really, anyone who can make me feel I can garden and do it cheaply wins my vote every time.

Friday, 26 September 2008

No, I'm Alright Thanks. Really.

September is drawing to a close and the gardening club still hasn't started up. It was supposed to this week but thanks to an administrative error by the school it has been postponed until next week.

I am eager to get going. I purposefully haven't done anything to the beds because I want the children to get stuck in. They need to own it, tend to it, remove the dying plants, earth up the leeks, weed, think about what they want to grow, feed the soil, prepare for winter.

Of course, I've got plans so will guide them, gently, towards the garlic bulbs and sweet pea seeds and will cut open the bags of manure (I've heard scarey things about well-rotted stuff from farms so am Playing Safe).

But while it is theirs' it is also mine. Which I think may cause me some problems.

I mean, I'm not a gardener, really. I'm rubbish at it. I don't much like gardening when it's cold or raining so that poses a few problems living here, in the UK. I cannot claim to know the correct name of any plant and when I read those names on others' blogs I switch off. Composting scares me. Will I need two bins for the school? Will I have to turn it and if so how do you do that with those plastic ones that look like wheely bins? Will I single handedly introduce a rat population to the school? See - I know, well, not much.

My enthusiasm did wane toward the end of last term and I'm not sure why. The forgetting to water was dispiriting and sometimes it was hard coming up with things to do. But I am recapturing the old tingle of enthusiasm and I'm looking forward to the new year with new children, hopefully as keen as the last lot.

This project has become more important to me than I perhaps realised. It is doing something special, at least that's how I feel, that is not connected to my everyday life and which is purely (I hope) done for the love of it, which I'm eager to share with the children. And while motherhood is rewarding, it is a bit like baking a cake; you never know the result of your efforts until it's done. Not so with the club. The results of my efforts, via the children's work, can be seen swaying in the breeze or being chomped by slugs.

The sense of achievement is wonderful. I've put a lot of work into the club (not to mention money); I designed the layout and Hubby built it, I redesigned the layout and he moved it; I ran a competition and bought the prizes, gave any child with a birthday a small box of chocolates, produced two newsletters, took numerous photos, set up a display for the open day and updated the club's scrapbook.

And so, really, I don't want to share. I really don't. And now, after writing this, I don't care if I sound like some weird, possessive person with not much going on in her life (I mean how important is any of this, it's only a school gardening club after all). I shall practice my assertiveness instead of stuttering and blustering that I don't need any assistance when told a new mother is going to help (did her friend tell me she is "going" to? Did I imagine that?). I shall smile calmly when told she is - gasp!- a gardener.

I'm not sure how I can convey this to people, without looking strange. Perhaps instead I shall just say a polite no thanks, smile and slip them a piece of paper with this blog address scribbled on it.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Why My Blog is Like a Spiderplant

That's how I'm currently thinking about "Carrots" at the moment.

Is it because it's common? Ordinary? A bit naff? Often neglected?

Well, I guess I could say yes to all of the above but it's not the original reason I thought of (those others came to me while writing this post). No, the reason is because this blog has spawned a baby one.

Yup, as if  there isn't enough to do, I've decided to have another blog. Called The Ecstasy of Being Ordinary, it can be found HERE.

Now let's see what else I can add to my plate. Chairperson of the Parents Teacher Association perhaps? Playgroup committee member maybe?

Monday, 15 September 2008

The Flower No Garden Should Be Without

Oh sunflower! How I love you! Let me count the ways -
you are easy to grow, you are bright and cheerful
and you are fun!
What more could anyone ask of a flower? (Except, perhaps, next year
a whole lot more of you....).

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Why I Love My Blog #1

Not sure I'm allowed to say or admit that. I mean, it's a bit big headed isn't it?

But stop!

This isn't a Carrots and Kids Blow Your Own Trumpet Day. Good heavens, no.

One of the reasons I love my blog is because it's made me take photos, tons more photos than I ever would have done without it.

Pictures of flowers, weeds, birds, my allotment, my children, watering cans, packets of seeds. Obviously I would've taken photographs of my children but perhaps more posed, less of the ordinary mucking around at the allotment and back garden kind of stuff. The every day things that usually go unrecorded.

And my blog has enabled me, pushed me to do that. It's given room in a very crowded life for a love of photography. And for that I'm grateful. Thank you 'Carrots'.

Friday, 5 September 2008

So Life Returns to Normal

That was it. Summer. I think I may have blinked. Lots of times because I certainly feel like I missed it.

But let's forget about that and MOVE ON to Autumn. Ah, how I love you Autumn. The mellowness. The golden leaves, crunchy underfoot (in hopefully new shoes. Autumn always calls for new shoes. Sadly not on my feet these days. How can they charge so much for children's shoes?).

Well it would feel mellow and everything would seem golden and leaves would be crunchy if only this rain would stop.

Yep. Children are back at school. And it's raining. Life is back to normal.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

I Think I May Have Bought The Ugliest Bunch of Flowers. Ever.

Is that even possible?

I mean, that's a bit like saying "that bar of chocolate is inedible". I don't have much experience of either of these two things. Until today. 

They don't smell, my disappointed three-year-old informed me, they feel papery and well, I don't really like them. They don't even have a name. "Mixed filler" is on the label.

In my defence all I can say is that we were rushing (what a surprise) and I'm on a budget (ditto) but wanted a bunch of flowers to make my yoghurt encrusted, dart pock-marked forty-year-old inherited wooden table pretty. Bit of a tough order, seemingly.

What I did the manage to do was choose the ugliest bunch of flowers in the supermarket (serves me right, hey, for shopping there). Still, it was a close call. My daughter wanted some bright yellow chrysanthemums. Thinking about it maybe I chose the second ugliest bunch of flowers. At least mine are purple.

Do you think I'm being unnecessarily harsh? Is there such a thing as an ugly flower?


Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Delightful Dahlias

One of the lovely things about being such an unknowledgeable, cash-strapped gardener is that trends for the most part pass me by.
I'm not saying that those who know more (that'll be everybody then) slavishly follow the fashion in gardens but someone must I guess otherwise there wouldn't be trends.
In my case, ignorance really is bliss. Thanks to my wonderful trip to Chelsea earlier this year I could probably name a couple of things/plants/colour schemes that are "in" but it's only because of Chelsea that I could.
I haven't bought any gardening magazines for ages - mostly because I've been concentrating on the interior and boy! there's a lot to concentrate on and partly because when I'm neglecting my gardening side (yes, it's happened before and no doubt it'll happen again) I feel so unbelievably guilty reading about all the jobs I should be doing and all the veg I should be picking. So I don't bother to read them. For a while.
But something must have seeped in (maybe via the tv and Gardener's World) because I have it lodged in my brain that dahlias were "out" but are now making a comeback. Who knew? Well, everybody obviously. But not me, clearly.
I love 'em. You just plonk them in the ground and before you know it the plants are growing really well and - wow! - you have flowers in your front garden, making it look like you're not a complete no-hoper on the gardening front after all. Phew! What's not to love? 
My dahlias were rescued, I vaugely recall, from another part of the garden, although I can't for the life of me remember where. Other parts of the garden that could be home to flowers are non-existent. Anyway, I planted them a year ago last Easter when it was hot and I decided I would tackle our two sorely neglected borders at the front. I say I but if I'm honest I think it was number one son who actually did the plantings. I was faffing with some stocks I think that never, ever reappeared after that first year. Are they meant to?  See, totally ignorant.
I'm not sure if you're supposed to pull up the dahlia bulbs in the winter and store them somewhere. I'm afraid to report that for me, lazy as well as ignorant and poor, this is a step too far. I haven't anywhere to store them anyway (seems I can add "shed deprived" to the ever growing list too). Still, they seem to have done okay this year as they did last summer. Next year, I shall be back lamenting, no doubt, their disappearance. So I'm enjoying them while I can.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Sunshine and Flowers

Well, the birthday didn't turn out too bad. I mean, I didn't get to sit on the swingseat with a Pimms but I did (briefly) sit on it because - ta! da! - IT DIDN'T RAIN!

No, Thursday August 14 was, for the most part, rain free. Which is, birthday or not, worth celebrating in its own right at the moment. I feel we haven't had a summer and now it feels like Autumn already. Just you wait and see, September will be glorious. Bound to be as the children will be back at school.

I got some wonderful presents, although no gardening stuff to show you, but a theme of flowers did seem to run through some of the goodies, so I thought I'd share those instead.

With some birthday money I did treat myself to a book (what else?) - Joy Larkcom's Creative Vegetable Gardening. So far I've only had chance to look at the wonderful pictures but hopefully it'll be one for the inevitable autumnal evenings that are heading our way. I'll post a review on it later.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Whaddya Think My Chances Are?

Way back, when it was properly summer, I was dragged from my favourite spot in the garden and from the Sunday papers and had to go out.

"When it's my birthday," I proclaimed with all the confidence of someone whose August birthday is always hot and sunny, "I shall spend the whole day on this swing seat, reading and sipping Pimms."

So, what do you think of the chances of that? Yeah, me too. Slim is too optimistic a word for it. How about absolutley no chance at all? Not unless the wind and the rain disappear and the weathermen stick lots of lovely suns on their map. Here's hoping....!

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

In Praise of Other People's Gardens

I love others' gardens. I don't necessarily mean gardens of friends, which can be lovely, but can also be as small and boring as mine with stress-inducing elements like ponds or no fences.

No, the kind of gardens I'm talking about are the ones that are open to the public and therefore usually interesting and large, or at least a lot more interesting and large than mine. Like the secret garden in town or one up the road which is fortuitously maintained by others and not me, meaning I can really enjoy it.

This entails my children and me revelling in the stunning views, wide open spaces, immaculate lawns more or less whenever we like (as long as it coincides with opening hours Sunday to Thursday). And because we have membership it feels like we are doing something wholesome and good for free.

Heeding the weather forecasts, which were predicting rain for the rest of the week, and being in charge of a very energetic two-year-old who'd spent much of the day before strapped in various seats, we set off to "our" garden up the road.

Oh, it was blissful and I'm at a loss as to why we don't do it more often. There was even a place to buy coffee (bliss - coffee and a beautiful garden!). I think the children found it pretty blissful too; chocolate cake and apple juice, plenty of space for cartwheels and headstands, sheep to gaze at, hills to roll down plus various balls and bats to facilitate lots of games.

There was enough to please all of us from the two-year-old through to the 38-year-old which, in my experience, is pretty unusual and the hallmark, for me, of a great place.

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Look! I CAN Grow Something!

These sweetpeas, hurridly shoved into the jam jar used for painting, were picked by Hubby yesterday from the allotment.

He was locked out of the house and thought he'd have a mooch up there to see, I think, how high the weeds now stood. He picked these. There's something so gratifying about sweetpeas. They demand so little but give such a lot.

Bit like the readers of this blog. I don't pretend I have legions or that this is any good but even a itty-bitty blog like this one can generate a feel-good factor, for me at least. I was feeling very down when I last posted and with me what you see is what you get unfortunately. I turned off the comments because I didn't want others to feel obliged to comment.

But then something unexpected happened. I had a few emails and they were all lovely and all shared something. A couple made me chuckle, some made me nod my head in agreement and one made me cry.

So I just wanted to post, not because I have any earth shattering gardening tips to impart (that is never going to happen) nor to show off my Long Border or something (ditto) but just to say thanks. That's it, a simple "thanks". Sometimes there is beauty in simplicity. Like in getting emails from people you don't know (strangers doesn't seem the right word). Or in a bunch of sweet peas in a jam jar.

Friday, 1 August 2008


I love Honesty. It reminds me of my grandparents' garden. Unfortunately none is growing in my garden, yet, because I accidentally left the packet of seeds I had especially bought out in the rain one day.

I also like, and appreciate, honesty. I mean, if I was being honest I'd write about how hard the summer holidays are. I mean, really hard. How the beach, the cinema and now, apparently, our favourite place to visit are now out for the foreseeable because it is just so hard, so stressful taking five children, two of whom are two and three and a mere, stupid, sixteen months apart.

And if I were being honest I would write how I am fed up, more than being very cheesed off, probably verging on depressed. How nothing, not this blog (which I normally love for the creativity it affords me), my container garden nor the allotment are even vaguely interesting to me.

But this is probably not the place for such honesty. Gardening is supposed to be soothing, not another chore. Still, feeling fed up with my ugly, messy garden didn't take away my enjoyment of the secret garden in town today. And that's where, walking around breathing in the scents, enjoying the greenery, I picked up some Honesty. Lovely honesty.

Monday, 28 July 2008

School Club Harvest (or the Miraculous Never Watered But Still Grew Plants)

Usually when Monday approaches I start thinking about the school gardening club.

Actually, that's a bit of a lie. I used to start thinking about the club and what activities we would be doing on Tuesday. Towards the end of term however, my enthusiasm had started to wane and quite often I wouldn't think about this until Tuesday morning.

It's nothing personal. It seems a general malaise that is currently infecting my life. So last Tuesday I was rather relieved that it was the final one for a few weeks.

Weeding, watering and harvesting had been the main activities for the last two or three sessions, plus a visit from a photographer for the local paper was shoehorned into our busy schedule.

A lot of the produce has been slow to ripen so we've left in the runner beans, courgette and tomatoes with assurances from the members who live in the village that they will harvest them. I will probably pop in too but it does seem a bit cheeky for me to stagger away with armfuls of produce.

Plans for next term include sowing sweet pea seeds, bulbs and working on the herb patch in readiness for next spring. I've also got to look into grants and other funding because I'd like to buy a plastic growhouse (to put goodness knows where) and the bulbs.

The highlights? Definitely the children's enthusiasm and their possessiveness over the plot. It looks good and they should feel proud. The lowlights? Er....lack of working outside tap, the children's inability to remember to water the plants and a general lack of thanks (from adults and children).

For my part I'd mark my report card with a B minus. "Mrs B started the term well but ended a bit flat. She needs to maintain her energy and enthusiasm levels and to remember small but important tasks like entering the plot into gardening competitions, contacting nurseries for sponsorship and burning the photos onto a disc LIKE SHE PROMISED. All in all, could do better."

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

What I'm Enjoying In My Garden

This is what I'm enoying in my garden this evening. A very cold bottle of pear cider (excuse the wine glass, so desperate was I for this liquid gold I just grabbed any one).

It's been sitting in my fridge for nearly a week but I've held off (aren't you impressed with my restraint?) until tonight - the start of the summer holidays.

I did think it was a mini celebration but after the day I've had - four tantrums before 9.30am coupled with three trips to school (take the children, go back for the special assembly and then, blow me, back again to pick them up after lunch) - it's probably a case of drowning my sorrows. Still, this glass has made up for it. It is definitely my most favourite thing in my garden.

Monday, 21 July 2008

A Carrot Family Trip to the Plot

We have, somewhat surprisingly, managed to get up to the allotment. All seven of us. Doesn't often happen but it's nice when it does.

Thankfully we were the only ones up there save for a friend's husband who was morosely staring at their weeds. But I'm always amazed that it isn't full and bustling when we do visit at the weekends. Amazed and thankful this time as our youngest managed to forget the Golden Rule about others' plots (no damage done).

Don't worry, he's on our plot here

I wonder when others do go up there. Maybe they have a secret army of elves who come out of the woods at night and tend to their perfect plots. Or maybe they're retired and so visit during the day when generally I don't. Hmm. I know which theory I prefer.

Anyway, we managed to put in a couple of hours before everyone started to get a bit rebellious and moan about biting red ants, hunger pangs and baby brothers stealing the one strawberry they had been carefully nurturing.

We weeded, Hubby laid some old paving slabs that are my new paths (I've given up on everything else). Weeds will still be able to grow up the sides because they aren't a perfect fit having been salvaged from our back garden but they look nice. I think Hubby gets exasperated about this "looking nice" business but for me it's important.

Mud flower pot castles were made, on the newly laid paths

It also gave me a chance to outline my plans for the raspberry canes ("see like those over there") and to pick and eat a few of the fruit, sow some autumn carrots (which I didn't water) and plant an autumn gourd, oh and make a bit of an entrance to my plot (more of that later, I don't want to spoil you). A bit of work got done and nobody was too miserable or argumentative. Outright success in my book.

Raspberries were munched

Friday, 18 July 2008

Looking Down and Looking Forward

Oh dear.

My veggie container garden has been neglected along with the allotment, this blog and to some extent the school gardening club.

First it was apathy, inertia and just being downright fed up and then it was the Vile Vomiting Bug that had six out of seven of us laid low.

The Cloud of Gloom is still hovering above my head (can you see it? Can you?). Nothing is growing. Well, that's a lie, green things are obviously growing because they're not dead but as for copious "look at the kilos of veggies I've harvested" posts - forget it.

I can't pretend I'm not green with envy at others; well, I could but really, what's the point? And I shan't, as a stand against some of the (non-gardening) blogs I read, pretend life is wonderful and I never get fed up. Life is quite often hard and I am very fed up.

If I start waffling about why then this won't be a gardening blog, so I'll just contain my ire for my Albatross of an Allotment (told you I wasn't happy). I just can't seem to get to grips with it. The weeds are under control, in that they are there but small and easily remedied with two hours work, probably every day.

There are great big patches of dirt where voluptuous veggies should be and I don't know why I haven't filled them. Then there are the veggies that have decided to put in an appearance. Honestly, I don't know why they bothered. It was hardly worth the effort.

But enough! As I cling to the edges in my Pit of Despair, trying to get a toehold so I can haul myself into the fresh air and sun of normal life, I've decided to reach for the rope labelled Looking Forward.

At the end of this is the box marked Seeds I Can Plant Soon For Next Year, thanks to Sarah Raven's website which I was browsing for a friend's birthday present. I've often wondered why she can't make do with Suttons seeds but she is into the pretty pretty version of country living (think Cath Kidston, Emma Bridgwater) so click away I did.

I read a couple of articles and discovered seeds you can sow in August for next year and - oops - accidentally put two packets of ammi majus Bishops Flower into my basket, y'know, one each. Apparently they make a lovely cut flower although I haven't a clue where they'll go in my garden. I'll worry about that later. I also bought some sweepeas to sow next month and a couple of other things for my friend.

It was a bit of a relief, frankly, to find these articles. I had thought that, in my usual way, my interest in gardening and this blog has run it's course and they were just another entry on the long list of Things I Never Stick At.

But it is nice to have a goal, even if it is to see how hopeless I shall be in growing these flowers. Hopefully my potting shed, built by Hubby, will be up by then and that will help. Oh yes, ever the optimist me.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

It's All Change In the Carrots Garden

I'm really indecisive. The subject of how many times the kitchen and Aga have been moved gets brought up far too often if you ask me.

Unfortunately, I'm just the same with the outside. We are Not Happy with our garden. Basically, it's not big enough (and neither is the house) but it's all we're ever likely to have so we, I, need a way to come to terms with it and lurve it.

Gardening books, mags, programmes and shows have been scrutinised, nay obsessed over, in a bid to find Ideas. But some changes are happening and some have been thrust upon us. And all without a plan being agreed.

Take, for instance, the shed at the bottom of the garden. All forlorn, unloved and leaking it stood, forgotten. Until Hubby decided he needed it for His Stuff. So it's been spruced up, made water-tight (funny how that happens when he needs it) and moved.

Actually, I quite like its new home, near the house, at the top of the garden. I'm thinking a lick of paint, something lovely growing up the sides, room inside perhaps for a fork or two. He's thinking Hands Off!

The bottom of the garden, also neglected, is now crying out for attention. "Do something with me before the neighbours complain" it shouts at me every time I look out the window. Sometimes it cries "Look at all this wasted space. Space! Wasted! How could you, ye of such small home crammed with lots of kids!"

But for once I know what to do. The climbing frame is earmarked for where the chicken pen is, nicely hidden by the willow tree. Next to it will be the hammock strung between two more trees. And that space opposite, recently vacated by Small Shed will be home to my Potting Shed! Hurrah! I did voice concern that my shed was a little too close to the Children's Corner to be anything remotely retreat-like but Hubby, with his shed no where near the children, assured me it would be fine.

We, of course, have done nothing yet. There's the rubble waiting to be used as a base. And the overgrown jungle hill has been flattened and is waiting for....well, not sure really. What we really need is a remote control to freeze frame the children for, um, two months to give us a chance to catch up with everything. Either that or a nanny. Alas we have neither so this weekend we will be cracking on.

And the motivation? The chicken pen has now been vacated, thanks to Mr Fox, who rather ironically made good use of the space made by Hubby's shed removal to spy the chickens and make off with them. We've had hens for years and never had any trouble.

I shall miss the Bossy one, who kept laying in my herb bed. Really I feel quite sad about them both. And the partridge eggs Broody (who was always broody) was incubating. Still, I'm trying to look on the bright side, in an irritating Pollyanna-ish way, because I guess it means the garden plans might, finally, come to fruition. If I don't change my mind.

Friday, 11 July 2008

My Happy Accident

To say that I'm clumsy is probably something of an understatement. This becomes too glaringly obvious when I'm gardening.

In my own garden I'm mostly fine. It's when I have to go to the allotment or the school garden. My biggest trouble is trying to do Too Much and Rushing, oh and Having Eyes Bigger Than My Arms.

Matters are not helped because I never seem to get everything planted. Either because I'm slow or time-poor. Or a combination of both. So mostly I'm scurrying about with plants perched precariously on buggies or trugs or, worse, in my arms.

Unfortunately I don't really have storage in either place. Nor a greenhouse. So, because I'm not rich, I grow a lot from seed and transport them. And this is where my problem lies. Usually on the floor, in a compost-and-seeds-all-mixed-up-mess. Or a crushed-seedling-mess.

Ages ago, on one of my too infrequent visits to the allotment, I dropped half a tray of purple sprouting broccoli. Rushing because it was getting dark and I'm a scaredy cat, I cursed and scooped the lot up before running to my car.

At my "potting table" at home I hurriedly filled some pots and planted, none too carefully, the seedlings I could salvage. And there they've sat for about six weeks.

And how wonderful and healthy they now look! All that benign neglect has worked wonders. I'm actually putting off planting them at the allotment because of those pesky slugs. I need to read up on how other people protect theirs because y'know how the ones I did manage to plant are faring don't you? Yep, they're a lovely row of chomped-to-the-stump of nothingness.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

All Right Aubergine?

I think I may have posted before about how much I love aubergine plant and how I'm really looking forward to picking the handful of the vegetables that it will hopefully produce.

But I don't think it's very happy chez Carrots. I don't think I'm proving to be very adept at aubergine growing (which, let's face it, is hardly surprising).

I keep the soil moist but sometimes the leaves still look droopy. Plus there's an orange colour appearing on them and they're also looking a bit....raggedy.

So that's three things wrong with it. Apparently these plants do not appreciate windy, inclement weather. Thinking about it, I think I'll be lucky if the plant survives, let alone produces anything.

A search round the web hasn't provided much information about what may be wrong with my Baby Belle, but I have learnt it really should be in a greenhouse or conservatory. I don't have a greenhouse but the 'eating' end of the kitchen is glass so that may be it's new home. Then I'll be able to add 'Toddler' to the list of what's wrong with my aubergine.

Monday, 7 July 2008

Black Clouds Are Gathering......

So where are you summer? Who ordered the rain, and why is it so chilly?

I'm mighty glad that my vague thoughts about camping this weekend came to nought. Mainly because I failed to voice them out loud. Sometimes going away is so much harder work than staying at home. Especially when it involves tents. And little people.

I'm also cheering myself up with the thought that at least I don't have to get out the watering can. Not that I'm lazy or anything you understand. But, but....I'm not feeling great still and everyone is very grumpy. Roll on the end of term. Or maybe not.

So thank you everyone for your kind comments on the last post. To cheer myself up (and no doubt you, if you've made it this far) I took some photos of the blooms in my garden.

I'm not really into flowers. In a vase on my kitchen table but growing them? Not so much. I think I will eventually, but first I need to get a handle on growing veggies. But to remember that sometimes I do have blooms in the garden, I took these. While dodging the downpours.

Friday, 4 July 2008

And Exhale...

I needed to be soothed but eschewed my usual chocolate. Or glass of wine (well, it was 9.30 in the morning) or a pick-me-up-book (really, really trying hard on the book buying front).

So I took a detour Wednesday morning. Head still fuzzy from the previous day's migrane (luckily it just started as a bad headache so I was able to do the gardening club. But it progressed. Rapidly. Adding five children and six after-school activities to the mix does not help. Have I mentioned I don't love Tuesdays....).

With three children in tow, one of whom was off poorly with some lurgy that she later shared with me, we mooched up to allotment. No tools with which to dig. No plants to put in the ground for the slugs. No camera even (that's an old picture), we pottered.

We were only up there for a short time. But we were on our own. And were there long enough for me to exhale and fill my lungs and spirit with a lush, green boost.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Chuffed To Bits

I've been awarded the Arte y Pico Award by Sheila of Gardens of Petersonville. I feel completely chuffed to bits as I can't remember ever getting an award. No, not even at school. I know, it is sad....

Thank you ever so much Sheila, I feel very honoured to receive this from you. I'm sorry I've taken a day or two to blog about it but a migrane laid me low for a couple of days (well, as low as you can go while looking after a three and a two-year-old. Not low enough, not lying-on-the-bed low, unfortunately).

So here I am, very graciously and not at all head-swellingly saying thank you and passing on a bit of bloggy love round the 'net. There are a lot of rules and I think I'm following them. Here's the history of the award:

The origin of the Arte y Pico Award: "This prize has arisen from the daily visits that I dedicate to many blogs which nourish me and enrich me with creativity. In them I see dedication, creativity, care, comradeship, but mainly, ART, much art. I want to share this prize with all those bloggers that entertain me day to day and to share this prize with those who enrich me every day. Doubtlessly, there are many and it will be hard to pick just a few. The people I will name today deserve this prize, as do the very long serious list of bloggers I also enjoy to read. But I will name the first 5 and leave the rest of the work to all the bloggers that visit other's blogs and are nourished by them."

Here's the 5 rules bit for this award:

1. Choose 5 blogs you consider deserving of this award for their creativity, design, interesting material, and contribution to the blogging community, regardless of the language.

2. Each award should have the name of the author and a link to his/her blog to be visited by everyone.

3. Each award winner should show the award and put the name and link to the blog that presented him/her with the award. (Sheila said she wouldn't be hurt if I didn't put this in. I, on the other hand.......)

4. The award winner and the one who has given the award should show the Arte y Pico blog so everyone will know the origin of this award. Translated, it means "the peak of art."

5. Show these rules.

Now onto my choice. Can you feel this cyberhug whizzing through space to you? Whaddya mean, no? In no particular order I award the Arte y Pico to: Victoria at Victoria's Backyard for having a really lush, enviable garden and for writing about it in an interesting way; to Rhiannon at GreenPatch because she's a mummy allotmenteer and I admire her hard work; Karen at An Artist's Garden for her stunning photographs and finally to two blogging/gardening mamas across the pond whose writing style and blogs I admire and enjoy - Kate at The Root and Melissa at Garden Portraits.

Enjoy! Enjoy!