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

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

Too Happy

It’s been two very strange months since I last went walking just for the fun of it. Individually the days have flown by, but when I think back on that last walk on the 16th of March (with Newton, ah those were the days), it feels like a whole other life. It was an age ago, surely?

I’m still loving our garden, which is getting better every single day, but if it’s going to keep evolving I need outside input. This morning I got loads of inspiration after visiting the nature reserve.

First of all I drove for 20 minutes to a park where it would be much easier to social distance, but when I got there it was closed. After the recent easing of certain lockdown rules, it never occurred to me that a public park would still be shut. Of course I could have just climbed over the fence, who would stop me? But I’m too scared of getting told off! I drove all the way home again, but it was good for the car which has mostly been rusting on the driveway of late.

Despite having to faff a bit first thing, I still got to the nature reserve before 5:30am. Not bad going eh?

It seems I had the place to myself right up until the end of my walk, and feeling like you’re completely alone like that is a little bit magical.

How amazing is that? Wildflowers as far as the eye can see. This is just one field where the wildflowers have been left to grow – I can’t even imagine how many thousands upon thousands of plants there must be altogether. Beautiful.

I haven’t been out since I started learning the names of things, but because of my indoor researches today I was able to identify (to a reasonable degree of certainty) herb robert, yellow archangel, cow parsley, red campion, bluebells, greater stitchwort, iris, dog rose, honesty, speedwell, vetch, wood avens, yellow rattle, azalea and, best of all, what I think is an early purple orchid. It’s definitely an orchid of some kind in any case.

As if that were not enough excitement to be getting on with, I have a few things filed away that I’ll hopefully be able to identify at a later date. When I got home I ordered some of seeds of the flowers I saw that I want in the garden, so this time next year we’re going to have a riot of colour out there.

When I got home, I immediately noticed that the first icelandic poppy of the year had flowered while I’d been gone. That’s the first time I’ve ever wanted (or tried) to pinpoint when it flowered. The thing is almost the size of a bloody plate!

We have these along with Welsh poppies in the garden, but another plan for next year is to have loads of different varieties of them flowering at the same time in all different colours. Go big or go home, as they say.

Since I last wrote, I had my final counselling session. I have been discharged, because simply put, I am now too happy to qualify for their services. Well I ain’t complaining! I have discovered that I find therapy extremely useful and I fully intend to get private help by the end of the year. Yes, I’m fine now, but I think it would be helpful to have ongoing advice. For one I’d like to come off the anti-depressants at some point, but I especially struggle in the winter so it would be nice to have someone to help keep things on track. That’s the idea, anyhoo.

It’s so nice to allow myself to be happy and enjoy the moment without replaying the past or obsessing about the future. It makes simple tasks so much more fun. Yesterday I spent the afternoon putting stones in the ground around the cherry tree, which next year will be a huge circle of wildflowers. Some bird’s foot trefoil already made itself at home there, so I figure why not get it some company?

I can’t even begin to find the words to describe the pleasure I’m taking from such simple little things right now.

I did have a call from work this morning, and I’m officially due back in on the 15th of June, so there will be a new dynamic to get my head around. As long as I have the garden though, I have no doubt I’ll be fine.

Right, time to get outside I reckon!

Thanks for reading,

Hayley x

Manual Labour

Another day, another opportunity to get out there and enjoy the garden. Yesterday it was raining most of the time, and I can’t even remember why I went out at all to be honest. What I ended up doing was weeding a little section of the garden and transplanting some wildflowers that were spreading over the grass. It’s nice to just do whatever I feel like doing at the time.

I don’t know if the transplants will work, but I thought it was a much better idea than just mowing over them. Hopefully they’ll stay healthy. I’ve also created some space to put out the plant babies when they’re ready, though I don’t think they’re quite there yet. Even so, my hand may soon be forced as I have way too many per pot and nowhere to put them. It’s fun not knowing what the hell you’re doing!

I didn’t take a before picture, and since it was in such a terrible state it’s one area I tend to avoid when I have my camera out. Once I had started I was in my happy place and forgot all about it. Here’s the after picture anyway:

After I took this picture and went indoors for a nice shower, we only went and had a poxy hail storm. I timed that just right, because although I stayed out when it was raining I draw the line at hail. Luckily it didn’t seem to harm the plants.

My task for today was to give the pampas grass a haircut, but I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. The garden has just been going wild for the last few years without any intervention from us apart from cutting the grass from time to time when absolutely necessary, and the last time I even went near the pampas was to photograph a fly five years ago.

There are a couple of viable options with a pampas grass. You can cut it right back till it’s just a stump, but now is the wrong time to do that. Or, you can set it on fire. I decided to give that one a miss. Before I started it looked like this:

I thought it would be a case of pulling out the old stalky bits from the top (technical term) and yanking out a few of the dead… leaves? The dangly bits, anyway. But when I got right into it, I saw that were a lot more dead dangly bits than I thought.

The pampas grass should be renamed the Tardis grass.

That’s not even all of it! It’s also razor sharp and the seeds are all fluffy so I’ve been sneezing like mad since I stopped. Now I’m learning about these things, it should never get that bad again. So that’s something. When it’s the proper time, it’s not just getting a haircut, it’s getting shaved.

There have been some developments as far as the wildlife cam goes. You can get up to ten different hedgehogs visiting your garden every night, but I now know for sure the little chap/chapette visiting us every night is the same one. I suspected our little friend has a leg missing, but I wasn’t sure whether or not it was just hidden in his underfluffies. After reviewing around 3 hours of footage (so far) I can now say for sure he (I’m also around 60% sure it’s a boy) only has the three legs.

A friend of mine suggested a great name for him, so henceforth he shall be known as Tripod. He seems really well adapted and he’s obviously getting along just fine, but yesterday night he had an itch that he just couldn’t scratch. If I didn’t think it would be scary and stressful for him I’d be tempted to catch him, but since he’s seems happy and healthy enough I’ll just leave him be.

I almost forgot to feed him last night but remembered just before going to bed. When I checked the camera in the morning it showed he had appeared a mere four minutes after I put the kibble out. He must have been waiting!

We’ve so far had an appearance two nights running from what I believe to be a field mouse, but on the second night it came too late and there was nothing left. It’s name is Dangermouse.

Last night we had what is possibly a house mouse, but I don’t know enough about these things to be sure. The field mouse has longer legs, and is much more nervous. And fast, too! This one, as yet unnamed, seemed much more relaxed.

The final species was our neighbour’s cat. I’m so glad it didn’t eat any of my new friends, both of which visited again after it had gone. Nothing will come between them and Hoggy Crunch, it seems.

Yesterday I found a wildflower which I think may be a common vetch. Or perhaps a spring vetch. Either way it’s delicate and pretty. Once I spotted that one I found three others, and avoided doing any more gardening around that spot. I’ll keep an eye out for when the seed pods are ready and we’ll hopefully have loads more next year.

Finally, I saw my first ever brimstone moth today after my bright gloves confused it.

In case you hadn’t noticed, I FLIPPING LOVE OUR GARDEN! I love the physical work, which completely takes me out of myself while I’m doing it, almost like meditation.

Simply marvellous.

Thanks for reading,

Hayley x

Hog Cam

Over the last seven days I have definitely been embracing the lockdown life. I’ve meant to blog several times, but by the time I get around to it I’ve been way too pooped and have instead relaxed on the sofa in front of the TV with me mum. Plus a glass of wine (or four).

Since lockdown started I have seen whole episodes of The Great British Bake Off, Killing Eve, Great British Menu, and the new one about primates. Normally I’m rushing around getting ready for work when these shows are on but it’s nice to sit down and enjoy them with company.

Over the next two weeks I’m going to try to live a little healthier (I’m drinking more than usual for one) but for now the guilt of being safe has subsided enough for me to make the most of this rare opportunity. I always thought it would do me the world of good if I could have a break from night work (well, work full stop) and I was right. I feel like a different person, and although I already succumbed to a nap today, generally I’m waking up at about 8am without the need for an alarm and I’m managing to stay awake for the whole day. What a treat to be able to see all this daylight!

The weather has been a bit up and down, but that’s ok. I had to venture out to the chemist yesterday and since it was raining I didn’t have to queue at all to pick up my prescription. I managed to pop into Lidl’s for a wee top up shop, again without queuing or getting stressed out by other shoppers, and on my walk to and from the shops I didn’t see a single other person on the streets.

Friday was a busy, busy day, but it’s only because I keep a photographic record of everything fun I do that I’m able to tell you that. Time isn’t running like it normally does, that’s for sure, and I don’t know where the last 7 days have gone.

I spent hours clearing the corner of the garden I mentioned in my last post, which was a damn good workout I tell you. I sawed up a large portion of our old tree which was very hard yet very satisfying work. The next day my muscles were like jelly.

At the end of all that work, the area (underwhelmingly) looked like this.

We have a hedgehog house on the left, and a bug hotel on the right, however since I plan to put a pond in here too I figured the hedgehog house was too close (and a danger to the hoggies) so I’ve since moved it to the other end of the garden.

Two evenings ago I put out food and water, and I had instant success! I bought Hoggy Crunch specially which has proved to be a hit with our spiky garden community.

On Sunday, I ‘met’ my little sister for drinks (we had a video chat and got pissed) and it was great fun. Of course I would have prefered to do it in person, but it just goes to show we can still have really lovely moments in our lives.

Considering I’ve been so busy the words aren’t coming easily today, perhaps because I already had my therapy this morning and I’m all talked out. I’ll just leave you with a few of the photos I took since I last posted.

Thanks for reading,

Hayley x