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