Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Raindrops on Roses

When will this rain stop????

Argghlk*£$%^&**(*)kjdhueibfgh! Hear that noise? That's the sound of me losing the plot.

Magical World

When I thought about writing this post I was going to talk about how this picture reminded me about the beauty of life.

Y'know, how magical it is. How both life and seeds are seemingly fragile yet strangely robust at the same time. How random they can be. But I don't think I need reminding. Thinking about life and how precious, how magical it is, is on my mind a lot today.

Our car is mangled. The deer? Dead. Hubby? Thankfully unharmed. And when my frazzled soul needs soothing today I know I have my plants, my hobby, my blog even, to distract me from unreliable garages, annoying insurance companies, money, inconvenience and the biggie - "what might have been".

Monday, 28 April 2008


I'm not sure if I should be worried. This gardening lark seems to be taking quite a hold. Take, for example, this morning.

I am faced with an unavoidable shopping trip with tired toddlers, one of whom seems to think it's akin to torture to be strapped in his buggy. Why sit when you can run around like a wild thing? Add to this an awful, bone-deep exhaustion that even caffine cannot seem to shift and you get the general feel for the outing.
So what's a newly impassioned 'gardener' (and I use that term loosely) supposed to do? Go and stroke the plastic pots in Woollies? Stand and gaze at a florist's window? Or, if you're lucky like me, remember the secret garden that is nestled behind the shops in the High Street?

Sometimes, and I blame sleep deprivation, you can forget the blindingly obvious. The garden, run by volunteers, used to be a favourite haunt when number one son was a toddler. As soon as we step inside the quiet, walled, ordered world I literally feel my body relax. Couple it with a cinammon latte with whipped cream and a 30-second sit down on one of the many benches and it's pure heaven.

Never mind that toddler son doesn't want to sit, preferring instead to "wok, wok" and that I have to keep reminding him to not pick the plants and to keep to the paths. It is a respite and a chance, in this busy whirlwind world, to stop and smell the roses.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

School Gardening Club? Anyone?

"Mary Mary quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?"

I'm not entirely sure how these things happen, but I am now the proud Person In Charge of a soon-to-be school gardening club.

To say I am panicking is probably putting it mildly. So what am I scared of? Er....let's see. That none of the children will be interested or will be at first but will then become really bored and it'll be just me and two of my daughters and well, we can do all that up at the allotment any old time can't we? And that nothing will grow. Ever. I mean, I'm not exactly well known for my green fingers.

I'm also worried that we've left it slightly too late. I think, rashly it now seems, I suggested this more than a month ago (we were asked for our suggestions/opinions and I suffer from Big Mouthitis) and the Headteacher has just got back to me about it. I don't think she's a gardener somehow.

But I've picked my, cough sorry, our patch. I've volunteered Hubby to make the raised beds, with what I'm not entirely sure. I am a bit worried about the very large tree next to the patch but the head assures me it gets sun and there are lots of greenery around so it can't be too bad, I hope.

However, because it is getting a bit late in the day (did I mention I was panicking?) I've suggested we buy some plants from here which will hopefully give us something to show for our work.

If anyone has any hints, tips or tricks about setting up or running a school gardening club I'd be really, really grateful (me? Panicking?) I've just spent hours surfing the web and have come up with a few ideas and have realised I missed Gardeners' World. Goodness, I must be keen!

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Sunshine and Showers

"What a fearless magician is Spring -
you really can't teach her a thing!
In she sneaks on a breeze,
draws the leaves from the trees....
just when Winter thought he was still King!"
-Judith Nicholls

Time is squeezed for every one of us, I imagine, except perhaps the super rich who have no need to work or the retired. But add children to the mix and it's not just time but your head that is feeling a little under siege.

And so when I can't get up to the allotment I've started (and 'started' is the relevant word here) veggie gardening a little more intensely at home and I've been surprised at what you can fit in!

Of course, you still have to be organised and sometimes if I have a little more spare time I'll three-quarters fill a couple of pots and earmark them for some salad or herbs when I have a little more time.

Yesterday, while dodging the showers, I managed to sow some salad leaves in a large pot which had been kindly donated by my Dad.

"I sowed the seeds in a nice spiral," I told Hubby.
"That's lovely," he replied, "is that so it looks pretty for the slugs?"

I cannot, however, claim success for putting up the mini grow house (and I think I'm rather pushing it claiming success for the salads but I'm optimistic). Frustrating barely covers it.

Instructions remained unread (Mummy, I need a weeeeeee...), the wrong poles were slotted in (Juice Mummy, juice...) and the correct poles wouldn't stay in place (Mummmmyyyy, he took my spade....). There it remains, half erected, installed in the wrong place, devoid of shelves, poles falling out of holes, listing slightly.

But, y'know, I'll take these (admittedly small) successes where I can find them.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

At Last.....

Yesterday I finally felt that spring was here. Lately it's been a bit tricky remembering which season we're in, what with the snow, rain, cold, rain, hailstones and rain. But yesterday, ah - warmth and sunshine. I sat in my garden, typing this, surrounded by the sounds of chatty birds, lawnmowers and the odd drone of a bumblebee. I watched (I can touch type) a butterfly sunning itself on our slide and next door's frothy blossom gently doing a little dance in the breeze. Bliss.

So what's a girl to do with time, and a toddler, on her hands? No, no prizes for guessing. I remembered to take everything I needed, which in itself is a minor miracle, and packed a bribe (or as I described it, a picnic) for the little one and we headed to our patch.

I can't say I wasn't feeling a little concerned that it would be one Stress Fess from Hell as I haven't been up to the allotment with anyone under the age of three on my own for a looooong time.

But I needn't have worried. The toddler was absolutely fine, actually better than fine. He stuck next to me, didn't take the opportunity to wander when I wasn't looking, kept off others' plots and dug away on various bits of earth.

I'll just gloss over the time he walked over my newly emerging carrots and just-planted peas. Or how he plonked himself down in the patch that I'd just dug over for my broad beans. Nope, he was a star.

We stayed for nearly two hours and I managed to sow three more rows of carrots. I had meant to do it last time but didn't. Tiny little shoots are now poking their head out of the soft bed of compost I made for the first lot I sowed, so I felt encouraged to sow some more.

My carrots are never prolific growers so last year I decided to sow them in rows filled with compost and then covered them with it before giving them a water. But still, not much grew. I think it got warmer and the wet compost baked a nice, hard crust so this year I did the same without the watering.

Today I ran out of compost so I sowed one row directly into the soil. I'm sure it won't be successful but it'll be interesting to find out if my cossetting way does make a difference. I also managed to sow a double row of sugar snap and another of broad beans. I'm not holding out much hope for these - I'm sure a mouse is sharing our plot.

There is still much to do, but I'm feeling happier and ever so slightly green-fingered, if only a delicate shade of a hint-of-apple. Then again, it could, of course, just be because sun was at last shining!

Sunday, 20 April 2008

A "Carrots" Catch-Up

So, onwards and upwards. Or perhaps just onwards.....

The weekend has been busy. And with no help it's up to me and Hubby to fit the essential but incredibly time-consuming Stuff in amongst looking after the children. Stuff like moving everybody's bed around kind of stuff, that takes up entire weekends.

Sixteen binbags of rubbish, two bad backs and five grumpy children later the deed is done but the allotment is untouched. I'm not going to fret, it can't be helped but I have been thinking about it, the garden, plants, seedlings and veggies, so does that count?

So here's a rundown of what's in my head. Granted it's not a lot....
  • My new Mini Plastic Greenhouse Thingy (must find out its correct name). Need to put it up, fill it up, find the best spot for it and dispose of the old knackered one.
  • Plant carrots and salads in my numerous pots at home. What can I say? We're greedy.
  • Plant more seeds. In a short space of time we have amassed a load of loo roll inners. One of the unmentioned joys of large family living, loo rolls and the quantity we get through.
  • Think some more about the plans for the back and front gardens. To do this I must read the gardening/design books I got from the library. It's a tough job but someone's got to do it.
  • Organise the child-friendly gardening things - Fimo stakes, sunflowers for the wigwam, garden in a bag (more of all of those later).
  • Head up to the allotment, or head Hubby in that direction, with his drill and screws to repair the now dilapidated beds.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Not A Happy Digger

How keen are we? Gardening by moonlight...

It takes a huge effort to go up to the allotment when Hubby comes home. It's the wrong end of the day and it's quite fresh with a cold wind. I'm in two minds, although it's nice to get away from clingy toddlers who, at this hour, could do with a visit from Supernanny and a spell on the Naughty Step.

So I make myself, knowing that I will feel better for it and there are jobs that need doing. My seven-year-old under gardener leaps at the chance to come too.

But tonight it's not been so wonderful and we return home a bit flat. Well, I do. Under gardener is concerned with her scratches but once assured that she's getting "gardener's hands" she seems satisfied. She is turning into a real help, wheeling away weeds, giving a discourse on the relative merits of the wheelbarrows she's trying out and happily going off to pee behind a tree on her own. This is progress I'm thankful for.

I feel a bit peed off because my new spade has gone missing. Other tools from the shared, minuscule shed with the door that doesn't shut properly, are all there including my (matching) new fork. Working on 'benefit of the doubt' principles I decide to write a polite but firm note requesting it's return. I'm hoping one of my neighbours has taken it by accident.

I plan to tell Mr Grumpy, the bloke in charge of the allotments. He has built himself a lovely, large shed complete, I notice tonight, with padlock. If I broach the subject of us having our own shed and he says no, I can't plead innocence when he inevitably complains. The shed three of us share is obviously not secure and quite frankly it's a pain not having one of our own. An allotment without a shed is like hot chocolate without squirty cream - tolerable but not quite right.

My mood doesn't improve when I notice that someone has been picking my tulips. It's happened before with my daffs but the person, a fellow allotmenteer, confessed with an apology. I guess he thought I wasn't going to pick them and they were going to waste. I wasn't exactly pleased but the deed was done.

This second c**p discovery cements my Eyeore-ish mood. It's not as if I have a stunning display of tulips and won't notice. There are now, thanks to the thief, five flowers. I was leaving them for a bit longer because they didn't seem ready but have now picked the only one that does. It might look a in the vase on the kitchen table but at least we get to enjoy it.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

A Demanding Mistress

I feel a bit envious looking at others' plots. Not for their productivity, sheds or sheer green-fingered talent on display although that does come into play. No, it's more for the love they have for their allotment. Me? I have a love/hate relationship with ours; sometimes I feel our lottie is a demanding, expensive, time-robbing harridan who expects much but delivers little.

I think I've had the allotment for four years (and yes, she is mine, that has been made clear), making this my fifth growing season. I guess it's a bit shameful that I can't quite remember.

When we took her over, after a relatively short wait, allotments were not quite the Thing to have as they appear to be now but were, I guess, just becoming fashionable. Oh yes, that's me, on the cutting edge. When I told a friend about my plot, her response was How old are you? Trends come and go and I'm currently regarded with envy when I mention the A-word.

Despite the lottie's new stellar status, she finds herself today competing with more cuter, lovelier, expensive demands which bestow far more than they ever take so it's a bit of a one-sided contest. She has been well and truly neglected during the two pregnancies and subsequent newborn periods we've been through since we, I, became allotmenteers.

I have nearly walked away from my allotment-affair many times but something - perhaps the hope that one day she will be the plot of my dreams -has kept me there, working away.

Through our bad patches I'm never able to watch Gardeners' World, pick up my allotment books or even think too much about her. Guilt hangs heavy on my shoulders and she becomes another thing on my To Do List, another chore. Although I have thought about hanging up my trowel and walking, sheepishly, away I keep thinking it will get easier, our youngest are growing, soon they'll be at school.

So that's where we are; I keep plugging away, caterpillars, mice, pigeons keep feasting and weeds keep growing. I think maybe that's why I've not visited lottie this week, despite it being An Important Time in the allotment calender. Cold feet. But visit I will, hoping that something veggie-like will eventually grow. Hope springs eternal. I think that's what I should've called this blog.

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Squeeze Me

Hurumph. I'm not overly happy.

You'd have thought, wouldn't you, that with five children patience might have been high on my (very short) list of attributes. You'd be wrong.

Nothing is growing (and nobody else seems to have this problem. I haven't got green fingers. More like kiss-of-death fingers). The peas are not looking too healthy. The broccoli has been nearly decimated, despite protection, and my plot is looking scruffy. I'm fed up with not being allowed a shed on site (despite the bloke in charge building himself a very large one) and someone has taken out the steps leading up to the allotments so now it is a very muddy slope. It was hard to negotiate before, now it's impossible especially if your arms are laden with trugs, plants, children and flask.

Oh and (yes, this List of Moans has not finished) my plot is titchy. In every facet of my life I feel squeezed. The list of things that are not big enough include my clothes, house, allotment and days. Moan, whinge, whine. I know it is in my power to change all of this (well, apart from the size of my plot and time, of course) but sometimes it's just nice to vent. Deep breath. In with love and - exhale - out with everything else. Feel better already.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Gardening on a Budget

I think I really need some help with gardening on a shoestring. Obviously growing flowers from seed is great and cheap but somehow I always end up buying loads of seeds. And ten packets of seeds can start to add up. Plus there's all the other stuff. In my case a half-price jasmine, a thyme plant and a rosemary. Oh and some violas and a tray of geraniums. Add in the children's bits and I'm left with a hefty bill. Gulp.

I did manage to resist a window sill propogator thing with pots that can be transplanted straight into the ground. Instead I have used the idea I got from Gayla at You Grow Girl and recycled empty loo rolls. I couldn't remember what plants would suit this system best so I sowed some sweet peas. Not the most attractive looking things but hopefully they'll do the job.

Other than sowing everything from seed and composting seriously (I am a bit feeble about the C word but this will have to change) I can't think of anything else. Oh, I know - must remember to not step foot inside a garden centre with children. Actually, I think not stepping foot inside a garden centre FULL STOP would help. Enormously.

Still, the Potting Shed Plan is, surprisingly, taking shape. They have been tweaked a bit (the place where I wanted to site it is not good, being in shade for most of the day). And the online prices we've found are too pricey. But Hubby has decided to build one! This apparently will be much cheaper and because it will be 'bespoke' I can tweak his plans. I have decided a cold frame attached to the side would be wonderful.

I guess our DIY potting shed could be construed as being on a shoestring but really the most frugal thing would be not to build it. Budgeting is obviously not a strong point of mine, otherwise there would probably be no need for such a tight budget, but I have decided I need to curb my spending in other ways. So I'm pledging not to spend anything for the next three months. No magazines, no coffees and no......goodness this is hard to books. I think if I remember to equate that £3.50 magazine to x number of seeds it might just work.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

I'm dreaming of...

I think maybe I'm getting old. I get complimented by checkout girls on the way I stack my groceries at the till. And now I'm coveting a potting shed.

This beauty would not be for the allotment but for our garden, which is in desperate need of an overhaul and some TLC. Part of that is getting a new shed. Of course, I've taken this one step further and am looking at Very Expensive Sheds.

I lovingly gazed at my friend's potting shed today. Only she doesn't use the potting part of it, even though it's in full sun for most of the day and she is into gardening. She has a tiny veg patch next to the shed, four (yes four) compost bins and yet, yet, no trays of seedlings basking in front of the large windows. What a waste!

Oh lovely, I sighed, you could be in here, in the warm and the sun, with the radio burbling away.....

She reckons there's no room for her in the shed, that it is full with her two children's bikes and things. They've taken it over, she sighed.

Hmmm. I could see the same thing happening with mine, if I ever get one. But that's partly the point. We need a bigger shed to store the bikes and outdoor paraphernalia that seems to have bred with the children and I would really love a greenhouse. A potting shed would kill two birds with one stone. Maybe that's how I'll sell my idea to Hubby - it'll be cheaper! Honestly!

As for the encroaching stuff from the children, well I've got a solution. I would draw a chalk line on the floor and woe betide anyone who's bike crossed it. Oh yes, that should do it.

I'd like to know what more experienced gardeners think - a shed and greenhouse or are potting sheds the way to go (especially for those of us with smaller gardens and smaller people playing in them)? So far Hubby is the only one who reads this (heaven knows how you get others to read your blog) and I think I can guess what his comment will be.................

Monday, 7 April 2008

Signs of Life....

There are small signs of life at my allotment. Other than the rampant rhubarb and the weeds pushily making their presence felt on the paths. Again. I guess I should've pushed this one in a bit more but it seems to be doing ok without any interference from me.

Sunday, 6 April 2008

I Guess I'd Better Introduce My Plot....

I love looking at pictures of other people's allotments. I just think they look so interesting and in the height of summer, so beautiful.

I love the higgledy-piggledyness of them, the recycling of materials like carpets, plastic bottles and CD's. I'm not so into the completely neat and full of obviously bought-for-the-job kind of plots but give me even those over a flowery garden any time.

So here is my plot:

Unfortunately I only have a half-sized one. I am hoping (I whisper so Hubby doesn't hear) that I might be able to graduate to a full size plot in a few years. There are nine plots, some of them divided like mine, on our village site.

When motivation is lacking, usually all of the time, I should remember how lovely it is up there. Peaceful, full of wildlife, backed by woods and with it's own microclimate. No matter how grumpy I am when I set off I always come back in a better mood.

Mine is the only plot which is totally made up of raised beds. When we took it over five years ago (I think) the Hubby thought that would be the best and easiest way forward for me. I have to admit to being slightly reluctant, the plot just seemed smaller somehow, but it is definitely easier.

Just out of shot is my full width cutting garden bed. I have to admit this has been sorely neglected and while the daffs loyally appear every spring, the tulips have largely deserted me in a huff. I also need to grow some cut-and-come-again flowers. I have an idea to halve it, create a small walkway onto the plot framed with a home-made wooden arch smothered, of course, in sweet peas.

I rotate the crops in all the beds except one, which is divided into three for the oldest children. At the back is our monster rhubarb, next to which is the digging pit created by the oldest but now especially left for the younger two children.

Next to the rhubarb is my strawberry patch, again rather neglected and in need of an overhaul. Behind that bed, at the end are my raspberry canes and redcurrant bush. I need to rethink this area too, so that this year we might enjoy the fruit instead of the birds.

I am sure I am the worst type of allotment gardener; the plot was sorely neglected last year and we have had other fallow years thanks to pregnancy and babies. My youngest always screamed when he was tiny in the pram at the allotment (hopefully not a sign of things to come, I remember worrying) and last year, well, I'm not sure what happened last year. Now though, I'm back with renewed vigor. Nothing is going to stop me (except perhaps my lack of gardening skill...).

Children and Their Plots

From what I can tell, most children seem to take to their parents' hobbies and enthusiasms like ducks to water. What happens when they hit adolesence, I'm not sure but will find out before long. It'll probably involve a lot of grunting and refusal to go anywhere near the allotment.

I've found that our children are enthusiastic gardeners. Of course, a few things have helped and because they seem so obvious I feel a bit silly stating them out loud. As feeling silly is a regular occurance, I'll plough on.

  • Space of their own: When I very kindly donated one whole bed (oh, the generosity) to be divided between our then three children, I did wince a bit. A whole bed! But it has been worth every second of weeding for them that I've had to do. Some of their areas are better than others, but each is proud and not a little possessive of their own tiny space (you should see the fight for the fattest worms...).
  • Lower your expectations: The only requirement I've had for the children is that they shouldn't whinge to go home ten minutes after arriving. If they don't fancy doing any "work" on their patch - fine. Earwig hospitals, creating a digging hole and playing in the nearby woods have all taken precedence many times. One of the points of a family allotment, for me, is that they're not sat in front of a screen.
  • Tools: Having child-sized tools makes all the difference. Having one each helps enormously (although they still like using mine). Gardening gloves are handy too, especially if you have biting red ants like we have been blessed with.
  • Food and being prepared: It helps, I find, if you let them stuff their pockets with sweets/chocolate before you set off. Not particularly healthy I know, but offset by all that fresh air perhaps. Also helps to avoid any "I'm hungry, can we go now?" whingeing. Hot chocolate on chilly days and bottled water on hot ones is essential as is coats/welly boots/sunhats/suncream.
  • Little ones: Our two toddlers love the allotment. One is happy to water using a child-sized can while the other loves pushing his plastic lorry through the mud. Both were bought especially with the allotment in mind and live in our shared shed on site.
  • A couple of rules: It helps, I think, not to be too precious but there are a couple of Important Rules that must be obeyed. No walking on others' plots and no running on ours. The carpeted paths aren't terribly well laid and sticks are pointy. Nuff said.
  • Put your hands in your pocket: We have found that it's helped to spend a bit of cash to encourage the enjoyment. They fancy that pineapple mint plant for their patch that they've spied on a garden centre trip? Fine. They need that strip of broccoli plants? Wonderful. Car boot sales and plant stalls at fetes are good places to pick up cheap plants for them and you.
  • Child-friendly plants: I can't see my children ever eating radishes, even if they have grown them themselves but plants they do find interesting are sunflowers, herbs (for the scent) and strawberries. They generally like growing anything, as long as it's not weeds, knowing that us adults will enjoy their produce even if they won't. One of them will now eat a bit of salad so we've planted lettuce seeds in the shape of her initial.
Gardening with children is not hard, just different. As I never had a plot pre-children it's not something I miss. Of course, I can appreciate how much easier it is but I'm sure I'll miss their company terribly once me and our plot have been abandoned for the opposite sex and sleeping in til noon. Until that day I'll enjoy every second gardening with them.

April Showers and April Planting

It was a day of two halves. Thank goodness. My Dad reckons extreme weather in April is not a portent of environmental doom and is not unusual (and he knows A Lot) but it was fun to wake to two inches of snow this morning. Either way, I have to say, it was the most perfect snow. Just right for snowman-making and gone by the afternoon. Just in time to go up the allotment! Yay snow!

The bad bit of the day was discovering my tin of seeds was not watertight and although stored in my "greenhouse" (plastic covered frame thingy) they were ruined. And smelly. But every cloud and all that so me and today's Under Gardener, seven-year-old Marigold, nipped to our local garden centre to stock up.

Today's haul included a special bag of seed, soil-based compost, spring onions White Lisbon, carrots Amsterdam Forcing 3 and Early Nantes 5, squash Butternut Hunter, mixed lettuce, broad beans Red Epicure and mangetout Oregon Sugar Pod. Phew.

I have to remember that taking any of the older three Under Gardeners slows things down considerably. Taking the youngest two practically brings everything to a standstill. But even the eldest three need help (Is this a weed Mummy? I can't pull it out! Is that OK for the seeds.....). Then there are the loo breaks (can you come and stand guard?), stops for hot chocolate (could you just hold the cups for me), and the seemingly endless but very important debates about watching the Dr Who repeat or the I'd Do Anything sing-off (Dr Who won).

So what did I do? A spot of weeding, four rows of spring onions, one and half of red onions (finishing the bag off), four rows of carrots and the four pots of peas (bit worried about the last ones. I'm sure they'll die). I also covered the peas with hazel sticks, covered a row of the children's broccoli with fleece to deter the pest chomping it and covered the carrots with fleece. I am never very successful with carrots so I'm hoping the fleece will keep them warm and protected. Ah!

My mantra is Be Patient, which is pretty handy for gardening generally, and that anything I get done is better than nothing, and heaps better to do it with a child in tow.