Existential Crisis #4372

Ah, once again I find myself questioning everything. It’s been a mad old time, hasn’t it? It feels like I’ve been back at work forever, and my months of furlough seem like a distant memory. Like it happened to someone else and I simply heard the story being told.

Lockdown for me was wonderful. Once we could get shopping delivered and I didn’t have to leave the house at all, I stopped paying attention to the news and happily pretended that everything was fine. I came to terms with my fat body, I had grand plans and ideas, I had so much energy… I was on top of the world!

Once I’d been back at work for a while, I started feeling something like my miserable old insecure self. It would be easy to say it was the harsh return to reality that caused this mood crash, but I don’t think it was that. I stumbled across the term ‘hypomania’ online one day and started doing some (somewhat uncomfortable) research, and the end result is that I believe I had some sort of manic episode.

For weeks I felt absolutely euphoric. I had increased self-esteem, had more energy, needed less sleep and felt generally untouchable. These things all sound like positives, but along with that came other excesses, like food consumption, alcohol consumption and spending. I spent all of my savings (and then some) despite the fact that before Covid one of my goals was to have savings put aside for emergencies. Then I decide to go and spunk it all during one of the most uncertain periods of my life?

Now I’m feeling more ‘me’ again, I can look back and see that I don’t recognise the person I was during that period, and it comes with an enormous portion of freshly-served guilt. I was a better person when I was like that, and I thought I’d permanently changed for the better.

I know I have depression, but I’m not sure if this apparent mania is something that I ‘have’ or something that just ‘happened’ to me, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter. Have you ever tried to get the appropriate treatment for anything mental health-related? If you’ve ever been succesful let me know, because right now I think it’s a myth that it ever happens.

When I was having telephone therapy sessions, I was discharged because my ‘numbers were too high’. Each session you are asked a series of questions, such as, on a scale of 0-10, 0 being terrible, how great do you feel? And there’s me saying ‘I FEEL BRILLIANT! I’M A 23 ON THAT SCALE RIGHT NOW!!!!’. After all of my questions were answered, the numbers indicated that I didn’t need treatment and that was that. One apparently good week and you don’t need help any more!

I think talking to a doctor about all this would be a fruitless exercise, so I’ll just keep an eye out for it in future. Apparently apart from certain medications, which I don’t think my symptoms are serious enough to warrant, the treatment seems to be to try not to get too carried away when you feel it coming on. The problem is, it felt great. If I’m honest, before I started thinking properly about the repercussions, I was already willing another episode to come. It’s like drugs or booze though. It feels great in the moment but in the long term? Yeah, not so much. Best to try and stay level so I don’t get the subsequent crash.

Although I thought I’d handed backs my membership card to Overthinkers Anonymous for good, I’ve had to go crawling back with my tail between my legs as I lay awake trying to unpick which parts of how I feel is because of work, a global pandemic, a potential undiagnosed mental illness, general stress, tiredness, hormones, childhood trauma, poor diet or god-only-knows what else. Sometimes getting the words out of my head and into a blog post is the only thing that helps, so here I am after not writing for an absolute age.

When I last wrote, I talked about being happy in my own skin. Now I feel like a total fraud because I’m absolutely going to be getting back on the diet wagon as soon as we have a functional kitchen. Is it true that me feeling good about myself was a symptom of an illness? Or is it being back in society that’s making me feel shit? No one, least of all me, knows the answer to that, but what I do know is that nothing fits and the coldest winter months are going to be hell if I can’t fit into my work thermals. Even though I bought more out of my own pocket that are five sizes bigger. They are getting too small as well and I’m starting to feel desperate.

The last few weeks especially have been insane. My mum ended up in hospital for the week (she’s on the mend now thankfully) then once she was out the council came to tell us we’re having a new kitchen fitted. The works are now going into their second week and everything is up in the air. I’m hoping once that’s done we can all feel a bit more settled again. Until then we’ll just plod along.

I haven’t had much energy for gardening since I got back at work, and now I’m starting to face the reality of how much I can do whilst holding down a fulltime job, my plans for the garden next year have changed accordingly. In my head I’m starting to plan how to get maximum impact with minimum effort, and I have all winter to figure it out.

Since the weather has cooled down the tomatoes survived despite me forgetting to water them, and they just keep coming and coming. The tomato season is almost up, but it was well worth growing all of those plants. As far as tomatoes go, I’ll be doing the same again next year.

Remember the squash that Newton took a nibble of? Amazingly that’s still going strong and it’s even starting to get a tinge of orange. I’m going to go mad on squash varieties next year, they have been a joy to grow.

I must take a new photo tomorrow as the colour has changed since then, but I thought you’d appreciate the dog-proof squash cage!

I have many more updates to share, but since I’m feeling better having put my thoughts on to the page, I reckon some sleep is in order.

Thanks for reading, people of the internets.

Hayley x

Little Teefs

We’ve got this damn heatwave going on in the UK, and whilst I can handle the odd seriously hot day (and even enjoy it) when it’s continuous it ceases to be much fun. Maybe if I didn’t have to go to work I’d feel better about it-even when it gets cooler it takes another day or two for the temperature inside the warehouse to drop.

In my teens and twenties I was so unhappy with my body that I’d still be wearing black tops with long sleeves in this kind of weather. I’m so grateful that although I’m not exactly ecstatic with my physical appearance, at least I give few enough shits to be able to relax these days.

It’s so weird how I’m 5.5 stone heavier than my lowest weight yet I’m so much more comfortable with my body now. When I was dieting, it was just never enough. It was always ‘just a little bit more’, but the end point never came.

The pool was where I spent almost the entire day yesterday, even when my friend came to visit. He’s actually an ex from a long time ago, and when we were together I never would have let him see me like that. I would have gone and got changed into something more ‘attractive’. And I certainly wouldn’t have posted this picture on the bloody internet for all to see!

I used to think that people who said they were fat and happy were just saying that. I believed that they believed it, but couldn’t imagine how it could possibly be true. Well, now I’m doing it, it’s happening, and I’m absolutely positive I’m not lying to myself.

Five years ago I also told myself I’d never, EVER be a desk clerk at work again. That’s the role I took on again last week, and although the job hasn’t changed much, I have changed. A LOT.

People are still rude to me (it’s amazing how many people don’t say please and thank you), there’s drama and backstabbing, there’s either too much to do or not enough… but I have learned to not be affected by things that aren’t my fault. Even if I am being blamed for them! For instance we had a lot of work the other night, more than the amount of truck drivers we had could possibly do. In the past I would have been pulling my hair out trying to ‘make it work’. But that responsibility isn’t mine to carry. I do the best with what I’ve got, and that’s that. No point taking it personally.

I released two loads on to the same bay so one was overflowing and one next to it was empty. In the past I would have felt a massive amount of guilt over this ‘mistake’. I would have woken up in a panic whilst it had been subconciously playing on my mind as I slept. As it is, sometimes the computer gets ‘stuck’ on the previous load and in my retraining no one had reminded me of that. I also asked my trainer to double check my work in case anything was on the wrong bay but he decided not to bother. It happened, it’s something I will look out for in future, and the world didn’t end.

The next night I was on the desk my manager gave me a half day holiday because there was nothing to do. Swings and roundabouts, eh?

There has been garden drama since I last wrote Remember my most magnificent squash? This particular one has been the star of the show, and in between Friday and Saturday it grew a whole two centimetres. Then Newton the destroyer came to visit.

Aren’t his little nibbles the cutest? And you can’t very well fault the boy for wanting to eat his veggies! The damage quickly dried and hardened up, so I’m cautiously optimistic that being eaten just a little bit isn’t going to stop this squash at all.

This is the difference between Friday and today:

The difference day by day is actually astonishing! Also new in the garden this week, a red dahlia has popped up (it’s a stunner) and my one cauliflower that has made it to this point is showing… a cauliflower! I think the reason this one survived wheras the others were eaten by slugs, is because I put it in an old pot I had handy (a metal one that once housed a mini Christmas tree) which I think the slugs and snails aren’t too keen on. That could come in very handy in future.

My biggest sunflower is still going strong and now stands at over 7ft tall. However I’m just as excited about the sunflowers I got from planting bird seed-because I had no idea what varieties I planted it’s been fun to see that some of them will have multiple flower heads. One even has a bud attached to every single leaf node.

I don’t like to wish the time away, but to be honest I’m very much looking forward to more managable autumn weather and seeing how the garden transforms over the coming few months. Autumn is a great time of year, don’t you think?

In the meatime, I will just have to try and stay cool as best as I can.

Thanks for reading,

Hayley x

Call Me Vince

For some reason I thought I’d only get one shot with my butternut squash, but it’s proving me wrong in spectacular fashion. The first fruit I hand pollinated didn’t take, which thinking back may have been because it was too wet at the time. Since then however, new baby squashes have been popping up regularly.

Due to a lack of simultaneously having male and female flowers, a further two fruits haven’t made it. They have started to shrivel and will eventually fall off altogether.

I was finding it increasingly hard to keep track of this squash, so I have now gone full-on plant nerd. Once a new fruit appeared I found it so hard to find it again in the foliage, and I also had the suspicion I was counting some twice. So I came up with a solution-I now have different coloured string loosely tied around each fruit.

The pink one is doing really well, but to be sure I’ve started taking measurements. I’ll soon know one way or another whether any pollination has been successful-if it has, they should show growth within a single day.

I will leave it another two days before measuring again, just to be doubly sure.

A few very hot and dry days have brought mixed blessings. The squash is very happy indeed (I had four male flowers bloom in one day) and the sunflower finally showed itself fully.

Just today, my first aubergine flower popped out and others aren’t far behind.

My first ever dahlia has bloomed and it’s a lovely, delicate lemon yellow. Another dahlia seems to coming through pink, but all will be revealed in due course.

On the other hand, the water butt has run dry. I have several containers sitting waiting in case it rains while I’m asleep or at work, but we haven’t had a drop. By this time next year I plan to have at least two more water butts, but I don’t have the money just now.

One thing I could afford was a second compost bin. The council has a scheme where they offer subsidised prices so I ordered one which arrived today, for less than half the price than you’d pay in the shops. It’s worth checking for any local schemes before you buy anything.

Garden fashion is not high on my list of priorities, however I think I’m rocking the compost bin skirt.

As if that wasn’t value for money enough, it also doubles up as a dalek costume.

Since last writing, I have become a fully fledged member of the Royal Horticultural Society. One of their four gardens happens to be a mere 20 minute drive away, and once I was sure it was safe to visit I bought my membership and booked my slot. They are giving out allocated times to make sure it doesn’t get too crowded.

A yearly membership is less than £50 and it’s amazingly good value. You get free entry to the four main RHS gardens (including free entry for a family member) plus free entry to 200 partner gardens. This alone would make it worth it, but you also get a free magazine, access to members’ only days at the big garden shows (although of course they didn’t go ahead this year) access to the RHS library (closed for the time being for obvious reasons) and the opportunity to order seeds collected from the gardens themselves. There’s more, but let’s not turn this post into any more of a love letter to the RHS than it already is!

I visited the first garden on my list, Hyde Hall, on Monday. Just for the fun of it. I got loads of inspiration, and since I’ll be going back regularly I’ll just give a couple of highlights from this trip.

First of all, I had a massive case of sunflower envy. Although mine are taller, these specimens are particularly spectacular.

The size of it! I couldn’t see a card saying which variety it is so next time I go back I’ll ask a staff member. I MUST HAVE ONE!

The theme of this visit was dinner-plate-size plants. I saw so many dahlias as big as my head. Next year, they will be mine.

I also simply must have purple chillies at some point in the future. I don’t think my life could be complete without them.

Also, okra flowers are beautiful. Another one added to the wish list.

Before going back to work Tuesday night, I just about managed to fit in a little painting session. I’d been itching to paint all weekend but the time just got away from me. I still haven’t finished, but I’m very satisfied with my progress so far. It’s been so long since I did a painting this detailed. I’m definitely channelling my inner Vincent, but thankfully with less removed body parts.

At work, I’ve been relearning a clerical role I used to do. I last did it about five years ago, yet my fingers still remember all of the menus I used to use. It explains a lot-I can’t remember anything I want to remember, but my brain is hoarding information I haven’t needed to use in HALF A DECADE. No wonder there’s very little space for anything new.

I’m also doing my first full work week since before lockdown. As such I’ve already run out of time.

Until the next post,

Hayley x

Blooming Lovely

Truth be told, I was a bit put off after our little hedgehog had to be put down. I still left out food but the only thing nibbling at it was next doors’ cat, so I’ve only been leaving the camera out sporadically since. I’ve also been lax with the food, but then there’s plenty to eat in our garden. We’ve had a couple of rainy days, and the slugs have been out in force. I haven’t seen a single snail though…

Unlike some gardeners who will literally go out every midnight for a slug and snail cull, if I see one the first thing I grab is my camera.

This critter was climbing (sliming?) up one of several thyme plants but that’s ok. I don’t cook with thyme all that much, and there’s plenty to go around in any case. I do believe that the hedgehogs have been keeping our slug and snail population under control, because most of my plant damage is definitely done by the birds.

On Wednesday I went to bed quite late, and since it was warm I had the window thrown wide open. Some neighbours were having a party, and amongst the aural assault of the most awful bloody music, I could just about hear a regular cronch, cronch, cronch.

I ran downstairs and very quietly opened the back door, to discover a hedgehog eating seed that had fallen from the bird feeders. I wasn’t sure if that was healthy so I went in to get a bowl of special hedgehog food, of which I always have a supply. The little creature just froze while I put the bowl down and sat a short distance away, but soon realised I wasn’t a threat and tucked in. Since then I’ve been leaving both food and camera out regularly, which has resulted in a regular visitation.

Last night I looked out of the window and could just make out a small shadow by the food bowl, then from the corner of my eye I noticed something else – next doors’ cat stalking across the grass.

I don’t think cats are a threat to hedgehogs, but I didn’t want my one being disturbed so I made a noise. Me and the cat then had a stare-off, after which the cat ignored me and carried on towards they hedgehog. That’s cats for you, they give zero f**ks. I popped downstairs and shooed it off though, so the hedgehog could eat dinner in peace. The cat no doubt headed straight to the front garden to do a retaliatory poop, but there’s not much I can do about that.

In the last couple of days the squash is really showing me what it’s made of. I came home from work Saturday morning to find the first male flower fully opened.This is pretty much as good as it gets with the males, it would seem.

That same day one of the females was showing promising signs.

Less than 24 hours later she was fully open (and a lot nicer on the eye than the male, I must say).

I opened up the male and got my paintbrush in there to collect the pollen, and deposited it onto the sticky stigma of the female.

Hopefully, hopefully, this means I’ll have a least one good butternut squash! The other three females I have look like they’re almost ready to bloom, but the rest of the males are a little behind. So we’ll see how it goes with the others. In any case it was exciting to do my first ever hand pollination.

It’s pay day tomorrow and now that masks are mandatory, I’ll risk a trip to the garden centre. Buying peat-free compost online is prohibitively expensive, but I can get a lot more for my money if I go and get it myself. I’m out of everything really, I need more Pearlite, more compost, more seaweed feed, horticultural grit… It’s amazing how quickly you get through the stuff.

I think mother thinks I’m joking when I say I want another compost bin and at least two more water butts, but I’m not. I have plans to hide them in the garden so they don’t look out of place, but I think it’s essential. Now my tomatoes are really going for it, I used up a whole water butt in less than two days. Imagine if all of that water had come from the tap… Luckily after that we’ve had a good bit of rain and everything is topped up again, including various containers I’ve left out around the garden.

Being less wasteful makes me very happy.

Finally, my sunflower has had yet another growth spurt and is now taller than me. Every day I speak to it, saying ‘come on!’, willing it to flower. I can’t be long now!

Thanks for reading,

Hayley x

Sexing the Squash

Not long after I’d hit publish on the last post, I did a walk around the garden. I probably do this dozens of times a day, sometimes seeing what needs to be done, sometimes just looking on adoringly at all the beautiful flowers and veg babies.

As they saying goes, a watched squash never grows. Ok that isn’t a saying, at least it wasn’t until now. Hopefully it’ll catch on. I swear they waited until my back was turned then my squash plants pushed out some baby butternuts.

I knew that squashes have male and female flowers, but I couldn’t spot any difference in mine. Until now! I’ve been reading up about these things but seeing it with your own eyes is always much better.

Even though the flowers aren’t yet open, the difference between the male and female parts is now distinct. The male flowers are on the end of a long stalk, whereas the female flowers are on the end of the ovary, which in this case will hopefully one day be the actual butternut squash.

How I didn’t spot them earlier on in the day I do not know, because I counted a total of four females on my plants so far. There will most likely be even more to come.

When the flowers open I will help with the pollination process, just in case. Otherwise the babies may not develop into grown-up butternuts, especially if the flowers open on a grim day and the bees don’t feel like coming out and doing their thing. Just call me Cupid.

I started writing this on Wednesday, and a mere two days later there are even further developments. My morning squash check didn’t reveal any changes, however when I got up this evening we have CLEAR FLOWER EVIDENCE!

This was the first bud to grow so he’s much further along than the rest, but I’m delighted he’s ok. When I saw browning at the tips I was worried he wouldn’t bloom at all but now I’m sure he’s going to be amazing.

The tomatoes are progressing wonderfully, although I have learned it’s best not to mention you’re growing them to anyone – already several people have called dibs on a portion of my harvest. There was me thinking 46 plants was overkill, now I’m not so sure…

In other news, some Lavender I’ve been growing hasn’t done so well. It didn’t seem to like being moved on from the propagator and I only have a couple of seedlings that look like they’re going to make it. Perhaps I rushed it and they couldn’t handle the change in humidity, but then that’s what this is all about, learning as I go.

My second batch of Violas (Midnight Runner) are coming along much stronger than the previous, and the same can be said for my Chinese Lanterns.

My sunflower, the one not so long ago I wasn’t sure was going to survive, is now taller than me. You can expect an update the very second that beast flowers!

Thanks for reading,

Hayley x

The Garden of Birdly Delights

The sparrows like to eat my Swiss rainbow chard so much, in the end I decided to leave out their own special supply. It did have beautifully lush green leaves and colourful stalks, but now it’s just… stalks.

Chard is a cut-and-come-again veg, but I think I’m going to have to hide it for a bit to give it a fighting chance of coming again at all. At this rate though, we’re going to have the healthiest sparrows in the land.

It was only a few days ago that the chard still had leaves…

While I had my telephoto zoom lens out, catching them in the act no less, instead of having lunch some of the flock decided it was bath time. I’ve seen this behaviour before but until now I didn’t have my camera handy.

One juvenile starling will start having a good ole splash about, then everyone wants a bit of the action.

Our garden birds are healthy and clean.

Going back to chard, last week I was able to really start munching on my own produce. I started growing chard simply because it’s easy and generally problem free (unless you have clean eating sparrows), but I didn’t have any particular desire to eat it. But eat it I did, and it’s rather nice. A similar taste to spinach.

I also tried my first bit of homegrown kale, which wasn’t much (it’s very popular with the caterpillars) but was absolutely delicious. I’ll really try to ramp up my supply next year as it’s something I generally eat a lot of.

On this occasion I very narrowly avoided eating the worlds’ smallest omelette.

Last week’s most exciting development though was the potatoes! I have no idea when I actually planted a few old potatoes that were growing eyes in the cupboard, so I had no idea when they would be ready to harvest. Not much to do rather than dig around and have a look, then. This is what I found.

I haven’t a clue what variety they are, because I hadn’t decided to label anything at the time. More recently I started labelling and dating everything, so I shouldn’t have the same problem in future.

A friend pointed out they look like they came straight from a Tesco bag, which was surprisingly on the money.

If I remember rightly I did indeed get this hessian bag from Tesco’s.

They were really tasty taters, despite me taking my eye off the pan and boiling them to within an inch of their lives. This week I will plant Charlotte potatoes that should be ready to harvest around Christmas.

Despite having a great start (this shows them from the beginning of April to last week) my squash seems to have stalled. I’ve had buds for ages but no flowers, so I’m thinking they grew too much foliage instead of the energy going into fruiting.

I’ll be patient and see what transpires though – at the end of the day they were grown from seeds I took from a squash I ate, so I’m not losing anything if they all fail. In any case, I just love them as a plant. Check out this gorgeous tendril in the evening light.

Best of all though, oh yes definitely best of all… this week MY TOMATOES HAVE TOMATOES!!!

I started noticing them yesterday and I could not be happier. I planted them much later than is advised, so I was happy enough just to get flowers. To see the fruit though! I had a count up and I have a total of 46 tomato plants that have flowered, so even if I only get one tomato from each plant, that alone would be ace. As things stand, it’s a good job I bloody love tomatoes!

Again, I’m not sure about the varieties. I think I grew five different kinds, 2 from bought seeds and 3 kinds that came from supermarket tomatoes. It’ll be lots of fun finding out, whilst in the meantime every week I buy different tomatoes to eat and put aside some seeds for next year. Until I get my first harvest that is.

Although I’ve already learned so much about gardening, now I’m learning to be patient. It’s not something I’ve had much success with in the past, however yesterday I sowed some seeds that are going to really put me to the test.

They’re Japanese maple (acer) seeds, and first of all you have to soak them for 24 hours. Normally even that would put me off.

Anyway, stage one is complete. Next, they go in the fridge for 2-4 months, to make them think it’s been winter. It might work, it might not. If not, back in the fridge they go.

It could be a full TWO YEARS before they germinate. Please, don’t hold your breath for updates on this one!

Whilst I could go on about the garden indefinitely , there’s stuff to be done. Including gardening stuff.

Who would have guessed?

Thanks for reading,

Hayley x

Sacrificial Kale

One thing I’ve been absolutely itching to do for months is go to the beach. I’m not one for sunbathing or even swimming in the sea (too many fascinating yet terrifying things in there) but I do love to find ‘stuff’. Even though going to the beach has been ‘allowed’ for a while, I still won’t go unless I personally deem it safe. There’s a lot that is now permitted that I still won’t do, but let’s not get me started on that because once I start ranting I may not stop.

My brother dislikes crowds as much as I do so he’s the best at finding quiet spots. He found this particular beach, at Dunwich, a couple of years ago. Because there’s not much there in the way of touristy stuff, there aren’t many people there either (advice: take snacks). If you’re gonna beach comb, this is the way to do it.

Getting there at 6am, like we did, means you’re even less likely to cross paths with anyone. We sure do like an early start.

Top of my list was to find some sea glass, and although it’s not the kind of beach where this is at all likely, we did indeed find a couple of tiny pieces. I suppose it must come down to the lack of littering so that’s no bad thing.

One thing I didn’t take home though, was this:

We found two of these, the first one of which I just managed to give a gentle poke before a wave reclaimed it. From that little poke, I gathered that it was organic, but I couldn’t see any actual… well, organs. When we found another and had a closer look, we could just about see that there was something inside, but we couldn’t tell what.

Once home, Google informed me that it is in fact a sea gooseberry, a tiny comb jelly that has tentacles it can retract into itself. Of course we returned it to the sea, but it was definitely the find of the day.

When I got Pea I started putting the odd feather in glass bottles for display, and after all this time my collection of bits and bobs is just starting to take off. My little selection of Dunwich Beach finds has now been added to the tooth of some sort of sea creature from Dungeness, wool I found in the Peak District and the Lake District, some bits I found whilst digging the pond and one of Newton’s puppy teeth.

I’m only just now learning how to balance my love of things without said things overwhelming me. There’s a potential hoarder in me and I’m always trying to keep her at bay. Keeping things in these little bottles is a great way to satisfy those urges without filling the whole house with stuff. So says the woman who cannot see any surface in her room because there are over 50 plant pots containing seedlings covering most available space…

Life hasn’t all been checking out lovely beaches though. I’ve now been back at work for two weeks. Kinda. The first week I did a total of about 12 hours, the second week I did 16. I’m building up shall we say. Either fortunately or unfortunately, I can’t decide which, there isn’t much to do there so I’m using some of the annual leave that’s been sitting waiting for me during lockdown. I’m keeping a very open mind with regards to the future of my employment, but I absolutely refuse to worry about it. No more overthinking for me, thank you very much.

I think it’s gardening that has enabled me to turn my brain off when it goes into overdrive (see, you must have known I’d get back to gardening sooner or later) because it keeps me literally grounded. It’s the only time I more often than not have a simple tune in my head and don’t think about the past or the future at all. Unless, of course, I’m making future gardening plans. Most of the time I’m just relishing the smell of the soil, the neighbours’ roses, listening to the humming of bees, laughing at the drama going on between the birds and generally just having a lovely time. It’s also an investment in the future. When you plant something, you’re saying ‘I intend to be around to see this bloom’, even if it’s something that will take years to mature. As someone who hated waking up for another day, because it meant another day of feeling awful, this is a massive deal. Depression is a bitch.

Our garden was already sparrow central, but since I finally had a bird bath delivered it’s become the place to be. Although, the sparrows do prefer to bathe in the dust for some reason…

I think as the garden evolves I’m going to have to leave a patch of dirt especially for these guys. I don’t think I have the heart to take it away, especially as they bring me so much joy every single day.

I also didn’t have the heart to remove a caterpillar from my kale (at least I finally found out what’s been munching it) so next year I will grow a special sacrificial kale. That way, when I find a caterpillar on the eating kale, I can transfer it to the special caterpillar kale. It makes sense to me anyway!

My favourite garden development since I last wrote is my garden table display. I drilled holes in the bottom of teapots for drainage and planted them up with any young plants I had handy. There’s a Nasturtium ‘Ladybird Rose’ (can’t wait for that to flower and see the petals against the blue of the teapot), a mystery seedling (I forgot to label it when I planted it) and an Ipomoea ‘Black Knight’. Again, that one should be pretty special once it blooms.

Looking at the teapot lids strewn across the ground, I needed something to do with them too. Then it came to me – cane toppers! My mum warned me to put on cane toppers when I first started staking the tomatoes, but I didn’t get around to adding any until I stabbed myself in the face with a bamboo cane. At least I didn’t poke myself in the eye.

That reminds me – THE TOMATOES HAVE FLOWERED! I planted them really late, from seeds I took from tomatoes bought from the supermarket. I wondered if they’d grow quickly enough to flower at all, and now I’m one step closer to having fruit. It’s so bloody exciting.

Straight after work one morning I went on a lovely walk where apart from getting some exercise and fresh air, I took home inspiration for the garden. I never really looked closely at wild carrots before, but they’re actually beautiful.

When I got home I ordered a pack which provided me with a mere 2000 seeds. They have so many different stages and different colours, I can’t wait to have them at home and study in detail every moment from spring to autumn.

Right, it’s bedtime now so I’ll leave it there. I’m off to dream about gardens (no really, I dream about gardening most nights). I’ve got it bad!

Thanks for reading,

Hayley x

Made For Sharing

Photography, art, the garden… they’re all connected. Discovering I love gardening during lock down was like finding the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle – I got to see the whole picture and it felt awesome. It started off with the photography. I found some time ago that what I most like to photograph is plants and nature. When it comes to painting, again, it’ll all about the natural world. These days if I’m not actually gardening I’m usually taking pictures of the garden, drawing it, watching TV shows about gardening, reading about gardening, talking about gardening or thinking about gardening. I even dream about gardening.

It gives me the same kind of magical feeling that photography does. I’m pleased I didn’t grow up in the digital age, because taking pictures was always (and still is) an absolute wonder to me. I’d hate to take it for granted. To be able to freeze a moment in time and keep it forever… when you really think about it, it’s kind of unreal. And Polaroids! Oh how I desperately wanted an instant camera when I was a kid, but the film was just too expensive. It still is to be honest, but of course I have one now. There are worse things I could be throwing my money at.

I’m kind of obsessed with seeds, because there’s that really incredible feeling of something coming from virtually nothing. The excitement when the seed actually germinates, especially if it’s one that takes over a month and you think it definitely won’t ever spout. Then BOOM, there it is, and you have to nurture the tiny little seedling that would otherwise die without you. Before you know it, you’ve gone from wondering what the heck to do with a load of somewhat sickly looking green sprouts to having a colourful garden.

This was the beginning of April, struggling to find enough pots and enough compost, having no idea if I was over-watering or under-watering.

Now look it all! Nearly all of that was grown from seed by yours truly.

I have bought a few plants with my grocery shopping, just because I could (there’s no WAY I’m risking going to a garden centre) and although it’s nice to instantly add colour it’s just not the same as growing it yourself.

One thing I’ve thought long and hard about is what I want to do with the garden next year. I’ve found garden ‘pests’ to be a huge problem – not because there’s no way around controlling them, but because I can’t bring myself to do it.

The sparrows were actually going inside my greenhouse and cold frame, but after I netted it I learned this is really dangerous for birds as they can get caught up in it. I had to do something immediately because if we approached them when they were inside they’d panic and possibly end up hurting themselves in that way instead.

Soon it won’t be a problem, because I’ll have a proper greenhouse instead of a plastic one that has to have the door open during the day. As for anything sown directly into the ground, I’ve decided to work with nature rather than against it. I have been providing plenty of food for our garden birds, and as such we must have 20, maybe 30 or more individual sparrows visiting every day, not even counting pigeons, starlings, tits and more. Obviously I’m trying to bring them in to the garden, not discourage them, so I will only grow food that they’re not particularly interested in. As far as flowers are concerned, I plan to have thousands next year and the birds are welcome to share. I’m especially looking forward to growing teasels which will hopefully attract goldfinches. I’ve bought a mere 1000 seeds, I hope it’s enough…

Now, slugs. I applied nematodes and they seemed to work, but it’s a bit too expensive for me to carry on. Plus I feel bad for the slugs. I lifted up a log the other day and found so many different varieties under there – I was instantly fascinated. I also realised that I literally cannot kill a slug or snail on purpose. So, again, I’m finding workarounds.

My squash seems to be relatively unharmed, and I think it’s because they’re strong enough to stand up to some slug damage. Other that that, I’ll experiment with growing sacrificial plants, sowing lettuce in baskets so they can’t get at it and looking at planting things they don’t like to discourage them from certain areas. Plus the birdies should help. I’m sure I’ll figure out the right balance, and if not? It’ll still be fun experimenting.

My absolute favourite thing about the garden though, is that they are just made for sharing. Apart from sharing with wildlife, which I clearly love, it’s so good to have somewhere nice to be when people visit. It has just turned into a really lovely space.

What I possibly love even MORE than that, is giving people things to take home with them. I gave me sister a little pot of rocket seedlings and a tomato plant, and I was seriously buzzing at that! Me and mum ate my first ever radish the other day and it was just… brilliant. The best.

Next year I plan to grow plenty of flowers that are specially for cutting. Good luck to anyone who visits who thinks they can go away empty handed.

Damn, I almost forgot to mention the pond! We are now sharing that area with tiny little wormy things and what may be a load of damselfly larvae. I’ve now added oxygenating plants and just yesterday a bunch of ferns arrived in the post which is now providing more cover for potential wildlife. I really hope we get frogspawn next year.

The other day my mum found this picture of the garden as it was two years ago (silly me forgot to take before pictures this year) which is a pretty fair representation of how it looked before I got started. Perhaps the grass wasn’t quite that long.

We have gone from that, to this:

Yeah. I’m somewhat chuffed with that.

Thanks for reading my garden ramblings,

Hayley x

Not the Best Time Ever

I’ve been enjoying Twitter lately, it’s been a great place to learn about flowers and animals. I headed over there yesterday to look at what wildflowers people have found. Angry botanists were going off at Chris Packham for saying the wrong thing about which flowers were planted on a roundabout (I kid you not) then I clicked on the comments for something innocuous and was slapped in the face by a load of hate directed towards trans people. I learned Covid-19 isn’t real, and that it is real but comes from 5G masts. I despair.

Over on Facebook friends amplifying the Black Lives Matter message were shouted down by the ‘yEah buT aLL LivEs MatTeR’ brigade and there’s no discussion over the matter. People are so concerned with appearing to be right rather than what is right. And the meanest people are always the loudest. I don’t get it. If someone tells you something is problematic, but you don’t believe them, then why not do a ten second Google search to find out more? Then you could say something like ‘thanks for pointing that out, I have learned why that was wrong’. We need more of that in the world. It’s ok essential to change our minds when presented with new information!

When I go back to work I may even have an opportunity to be an equalities representative for our Union where I’ll be sent off on courses so I can learn more and maybe change things for the better. My furlough has been extended till the 1st of July, so I’ll find out more then.

In the meantime I think a social media break is on the cards.

I went out in the real world last Friday to have a little socially-distanced walk with my sister and Newton. That was lovely – Newton went bananas upon seeing me and nearly knocked me over after wrapping his lead around my legs then trying to run off in the other direction. He gives me such pure happiness! But then, as we walked along the high street on our way to the park, despair kicked in again. PEOPLE JUST AREN’T SOCIAL DISTANCING! There was enough space on the pavement to leave a gap of two metres, but they just… didn’t. They seem to think this over. At the beginning of lockdown there was a feeling of unity, that this is awful but we’re all in it together. It doesn’t feel like that now, it feels like the majority of people just don’t care. Sigh.

Last night, I watched some TV with mum. We put on a documentary about the ocean which showed a necropsy of a porpoise which was just horrific. The poor creature was underweight, lactating (which means the calf is also almost certainly dead) and pregnant. What caused this? Yeah, you guessed it. Humans, and all the shite we dump into the environment. We really suck.

Just bear with me as this post continues to be a bit grim. I’ll talk about something happy soon, I promise.

Last week I decided to get my DSLR out and take a nice shot of our resident hedgehog, Wonder. After putting it onto the computer (the same PC which is now broken as it happens) and seeing it in detail, I started to worry. The poor guy was much patchier and scabbier than I first thought from seeing him on the wildlife camera, so I called a local wildlife hospital for advice.

They said to try and catch him and bring him in as it sounded like he could either have mange or ringworm, both of which have similar symptoms and wouldn’t get better on their own. The lady said if I leave my number on the admission form I could come and get him when he’s better and release him back into his little home.

I took him in last Tuesday I think (time is passing in strange ways lately and I’ve completely lost track) and rather than ring them, on Monday I decided to pop in to the hospital to see how he was doing. On Facebook they had asked for donations of old towels so I took some along, and they were also selling seedlings to raise money for the hospital. Perfect!

Well, not quite.

After purchasing my seedlings (I got several little cauliflower and aubergine plants) I had a not-so-nice conversation with the vet. He informed me that sadly they had to put the little dude to sleep. He had a head injury, an old fracture on one leg, another leg was completely dislocated, he had maggots inside him and a fused spine from another old injury. The poor thing must have been in agony.

But I just couldn’t believe that was my hedgehog. Surely they’d got him mixed up with another one? The vet told me that people often can’t believe it’s the same animal because hedgehogs will just carry on as best they can until they expend their last bit of energy and pass away. You’d never know what was really going on just by looking at them.

I know so much is going on in the world right now that a little hedgehog may seem insignificant, yet I’m heartbroken. But also grateful he’s no longer suffering. Poor fella.

That’s twice now the South Essex Wildlife Hospital have helped us out, they also came out when my brother called them about a fox that had been run over. I’m so thankful for what they do, and they’re currently (successfully) looking after a number of rescued badger cubs which are CUTE AS HELL. See, that’s happy news! The next photo is a rare example of me sharing a photo I haven’t taken myself, one from their Facebook page.

Too gorgeous not to share.

So, a garden update. I applied the nematodes yet something is having a nibble at my squash. I’m not too worried about it right now, I have a few plants so something should make it, and this first year is the beginning of my learning curve. I don’t exactly have the space to grow squash so I plan to train it up, which may mean it doesn’t get eaten as much. We shall see.

Just when I think the garden will cease being quite so magical to me, something else pops up from the compost. This week my beetroot, radishes and honesty have germinated.

The stuff I planted back in April is also causing much excitement, because I don’t know exactly what I planted and certainly can’t identify much yet. These are all mystery plants, two of which aren’t too far off flowering. I can hardly wait.

Our wildlife may have taken a sad little turn, but our garden is still so full of life. The lavateria is out, the sparrows never shut up, I saw my first ever red-tailed bumblebee, juvenile starlings and great tits have found our feeders, we’ve mercifully had a good bit of rain and everything in the garden is thankful for it, and I found an enormous moth.

Yes the world is a mess, I miss my spiky friend, and my PC is knackered. Yet still the garden keeps growing.

Thanks for reading,

Hayley x

Me and my Squash

It’s all been happening here, I hardly know where to begin! The garden continues to be the gift that keeps on giving, and it has genuinely burst into life over the last few weeks. Considering that apart what’s currently in a greenhouse and cold frame I haven’t added any plants to the garden, it’s looking remarkably lovely.

I started to dig out a little patch at the bottom of the garden for growing some veg soon, and the sparrows have absolutely LOVED it. Where I’ve turned over the earth they have feasted on the worms and grubs I revealed, but also (and this is crazy cute) they’ve been taking dust baths in the soil. I managed to capture it on the wildlife cam.

They have been driving my mum a little bit potty, because although I’ve spotted them feeding their fledgelings and teaching them how to forage by themselves, they are already getting ready for the next brood. These randy sparrows are extremely noisy, but it’s worth it because one couple have just moved into one of our nest boxes. Every day I look out the window to see them collecting more nesting material.

Another thing that has become part of my daily routine is filling up an old dustbin lid with water, as that’s where they like to drink and bathe. It’s funny how my life is currently revolving around several different animals – the evening routine involves religiously feeding our new resident hedgehog.

We have named him Wonder, because I think he might just be blind. He lets me get very close to him even in daylight but if I make a noise he will run away. Now I’ve discovered this I feed him and leave him alone, and I’m glad he found our little house. He comes out like clockwork and doesn’t even wait a whole minute after I’ve put the food out before he starts eating his dinner.

We’ve had aquilegias in our garden for years and they have been self-seeding of their own accord without us having to do anything. This is what a normal single aquilegia looks like:

But these are some of the more exciting ones I’ve been discovering:

Lockdown rules are starting to be relaxed in the UK, which for the most part I think is a huge mistake, however after a lot of thought we decided that it was time for my sister to come and visit. She stayed in the garden the whole time, and it was like the intervening two months never happened.

Of course she brought the marvellous Newton with her, and he has changed quite a bit! He’s pretty much fully grown now and he’s a lot more muscular, but also he has calmed down a lot. He’s not quite the boisterous puppy we saw last, but he’s still perfect in every way.

He very helpfully ‘watered’ the poppies for me (thanks dude) and also helped me eat my strawberries.

He takes things from you so gently, it’s absolutely adorable. I don’t think it’s possible for a dog to be more loved than this guy.

As for the things I’ve been growing, it’s been mostly successful so far. Everything in a pot seems to be doing really well even though I’ve had to improvise. I have stuff growing in old food packaging like tomato trays, plastic bottles and coconut milk cartons. Everything I’ve directly sown into the ground however has been immediately eaten by slugs before it even got going, so I’m waiting on a delivery of nematodes before I plant out my veg.

Nematodes are microscopic worms that aren’t harmful to humans, pets or wildlife, and might give my corn, beetroot, carrots, rocket, cauliflower, chard, four different varieties of tomatoes, chillies and various flowers a fighting chance. The thing I’m most excited about though, is my butternut squash.

When I last ate a squash I just threw a few seeds into a container with some compost and hoped for the best, even though you are supposed to dry out the seeds first. I just thought I’d see what would happen as an experiment, and this is what I found.

This was one squash plant at the beginning of May:

This is the very same plant today:

I’m completely invested in this plant now and rather than just sitting back and seeing what happens, I’m doing my best to look after it properly and hopefully I’ll get a harvest from it in the autumn. So exciting!

I think it’s nap time now as I have to go back to work on the 16th of June. I’m slowly, slowly working on switching my body clock back to nights mode. On the one hand, boooooo, work. But on the other, yay, naps!

Gotta keep focusing on the positives.

Thanks for reading,

Hayley x