Signs of spring

In the dark days of January I have not got into the garden very often. I was away this weekend but got home in time to have a quick look round before it got dark. I was delighted to see the first snowdrops coming up:

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and that the hamamelis (witch hazel) is in flower:

20190113_142842[1]I love these signs of spring and they are a little early this year I think. The hamamelis is particularly pleasing as I’ve been struggling to keep these plants alive over several years. I used to grow them in pots but they have been destroyed by vine weevils – for more on these, see here . So early this year I bought a new one and planted it straight in the ground. It was doing well until it got a little damaged by the football playing musicians , who are, to quote my neighbour, ‘better at music than football’.

It seems to have survived both the weevils and musicians and has produced a lovely array of sweetly scented orange flowers to herald the spring.

Radishes

I dug up these radishes in the garden today:

I know they don’t look very appetising but I’m not proposing to eat them. These are what is left of the summer’s super flowering purple radishes, ‘purple plum’,which produce lovely flowers but are tricky for actual radishes:

These impressive flowers have finally succumbed to frost so I dug them out. While I was doing this, I discovered that they still had some impressive seed pods:

20190105_141710.jpgYou can eat the seed pods but not when they are dried out like this. Each pod is full of tiny new seeds:

20190105_141021So that’s this year’s supply of flowers sorted. Maybe some will even turn into radishes.

Meanwhile, I did some weeding, was delighted to see onions coming up and rainbow chard still hanging in there;

Then I relaid all my cat protection devices: cardboard, freezer baskets, twiggy prunings and, new for this year, an abandoned shopping basket which my son rescued from a local cycle path and brought home:

A rewarding first day in the garden for 2019.

Reclaiming Paradise awards 2018

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As the old year rolls on and we venture into 2019, it’s award season at Reclaiming Paradise. In a year of weather extremes and personal complications, we celebrate all that is great, good or frankly unsuccessful in my garden and allotment. This year I  cracked a bone in my arm, helped my mother move house, acquired a second cat and was overcome with day job commitments. But the garden, the allotment and the blog bring me joy, and the Reclaiming Paradise awards help me to celebrate that with you. Here are the award categories:

Most impressive garden developments; Most unlikely collection of sporting equipment found in a hedge; Most extreme weather; Most successful vegetables; Most unsuccessful vegetables; Most promising, but ultimately disappointing, fruit; Most unsuccessful recipe; Best use of garden produce; Most colourful vegetable;  Most awe-inspiring wildlife; Best cats.

Scroll down to find the winners:

Most impressive garden developments

This was the year that I finally got round to having the conifers and the giant sycamore removed from the garden. This was done, not by me, but by professional tree surgeons and a professional stump remover. It was expensive but necessary. The space left behind enabled me to have a go at creating a garden bench and several raised beds:

of which the bench was fun at best and hopeless at worst while the raised beds produced bumper cucumber and tomato crops. I still have plans to do more with the space left by the conifers but they were thwarted by the broken bone and other commitments.

The winner in this category, however, is the allotment, for which I got a key in February, moved my wellies and gardening gloves into the shed, observed flooding in April, found a use for my 25 year old hoe and entered a bumper crop of vegetables into the allotment show, winning a few prizes but it was the growing that mattered, not the winning:

Most unlikely collection of sporting equipment found in a hedge

This award goes to the footballs and other useful items which emerged during the giant conifer hedge removal:

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Most extreme weather

For 2018 we must reinstate the most extreme weather award, with the Beast from the East providing Bella with many photo opportunities:

and an unexpected use for a cow shaped boot scraper as a ‘cowometer’ to allow me to see the increasing depth of snow on the pond:

The impressive snow was followed by equally impressive ice on the pond in early April:

Most successful vegetables

Reclaiming Paradise is all about growing vegetables. As always there were several contenders, including courgettes and marrows:

which were very impressive, even though not enough to win any prizes at the allotment show. The peas were beautiful and very productive both in the garden and the allotment:

but they will qualify for another award, as we will see.

The amazingly hot summer certainly helped the cucumbers to flourish in their newly built raised bed/cucumber frame:

But the outright winners have to be the tomatoes:

which started slowly but then flourished in the hot sun and continued into November. They provided enough surplus to make soup which we were still enjoying in December.

Most unsuccessful vegetables

You may be beginning to believe that my fingers are so green that everything flourishes in my garden. Not so. My biggest disappointments this year were the onions, which I sowed in newspaper tubes in early spring and transported to the allotment:

They succumbed to the drought. A few of them made it but most did not. These, I admit, were meant to be autumn sown and I was taking a chance with them. We were compensated by a very successful crop of ordinary spring sown onions in the bed beside them. I learned something about how not to sow onions.

Most promising, but ultimately disappointing, fruit

The fig tree produced some fruit for the first time ever:

WP_20180804_09_42_56_Pro[1]I suppose I knew they would never get any bigger than peas but a gardener is ever hopeful. A close contender for this award was the cherry, of which there was only one, and it got snaffled by a passing bird between this photograph and going back to pick it:

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Most unsuccessful recipe

While dwelling on the year’s failures, I think the rhubarb curry was probably the least successful of my cooking experiments. On the other hand, the rhubarb did win a prize at the allotment show, and was very successful in cakes, crumbles and jam:

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Best use of garden produce

The summer gluts nearly overwhelmed us but we were assisted by visiting musicians, who moved in for the summer and helped to cook and eat a wide variety of fruit and vegetables. We made cakes and stews, soups, jam, chutney, pickle:

We made a wonderful Christmas Day smoothie, lemon curd (although not from the garden), a very successful summer pudding:

but the winner, out of these many, has to be the musicians’ giant stuffed marrow, so huge that it overflowed the serving dish and had to go in the oven at an angle :

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Most colourful vegetables

The Reclaiming Paradise awards always include a most colourful vegetable prize. The purple radishes again produced lovely flowers but no radishes and the Swiss chard continued to provide rainbows:

For the third year running, however, the award goes to the peas:

with which I am now so besotted that I have saved the seed of the salmon pink and may need to venture into other varieties as well next year.

Most awe-inspiring wildlife

The annual awards cannot pass without an award for wildlife in the garden and allotment. This year we have outright winners. As well as the bees, robins, snails, foxes, ladybirds and other creatures, we had a multitude of frogs, congregating in the pond during the heatwave:

and bringing us joy.

Best cats

Finally, 2018 brought a second cat into the garden. Chelsea helped to build a pond in my mother’s garden but then moved in with us, leaving the pond to new owners and new cats. I won’t let her and Bella compete for this award as they have enough to fight about already. So the best cats award goes to them both for being awesome and in the hope that they will learn to share in 2019:

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So that’s the awards for this year. Much has been missed off but it is nice to look back and see what has happened in the garden and allotment over the year. Happy and productive gardening and best wishes for peace and happiness to all my followers for 2019.

Christmas at the allotment

Family commitments caused me to fall a little behind with the advent calendar but here are the last three photos. On the 22nd of December I spotted this Wintersweet’s tiny flowers in the sunshine. This shrub has only every flowered once, last year, when it produced one flower. This year it seems to have finally matured

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Only two flowers in this photo but there are at least a dozen on the plant.

On the 23rd I spent the whole day doing my ‘annual’ housework and didn’t get out until after dark, so the photo for that day was rather enigmatic. There was a bit of light in the sky and it was rather beautiful but hard to capture.

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Christmas Eve brought a beautiful frost,  showing up the loveliness of these self-seeded teasels. Much nicer than anything that you spray with silver paint:

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I was fortunate to get out to the allotment to harvest my long-awaited Brussels sprouts, the single plant to have survived from my seed sowing earlier in the year:

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The allotment was lovely and frosty and I was joined by the resident robin, posing festively on the apple tree:

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So we had home grown sprouts on Christmas Day. Other home grown offerings included the holly on the Christmas pudding:

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rosemary and thyme in the roast potatoes, and a specially made Christmas smoothie. A few days earlier I had found a prodigal apple, lurking in the undergrowth in the garden. It survived the winter and was untouched by vermin or slugs so was added to the Christmas smoothie:20181222_145224But the stars of the show were the award winning autumn raspberries, which I had been keeping for the occasion:

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Belated Happy Christmas to all my readers.

Solstice soup

Today’s the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year but the one where we can start looking again for light and the promise of spring. It’s rained for most of the day but I went into the garden in the rain and hauled out masses of overgrown stuff from round the pond. The frogs like the overgrown weeds but I know that there are spring bulbs underneath it all and so worth hauling some of it out. It felt quite therapeutic.  I was called away from this task by a horde of musicians who have returned to take over the back room, having not quite finished the recording they started in the summer – for more on the musicians see here. The musicians are lovely, but hungry. We raided the freezer and found soup, made when the summer vegetables were in full production. Here is the courgette and pea (and are there any marrows in this? – well maybe). It doesn’t look very green in this photo but that’s because I photographed the steam.

20181221_130010[1]The courgette and pea was consumed rather quickly and then more musicians appeared so we had to unearth a tomato soup from the freezer as well, this one looking a little more festive:

20181221_131155[1]There are still no festive decorations up here at Reclaiming Paradise but a house full of young people eating their way through the summer’s vegetables feels like a good way to celebrate the Solstice.

Advent Calendar Days 15-20

Today I’ve been at home in daylight and even done some gardening.  I forgot to take any photos in the garden  but here’s a wee update on the wild and wonderful Advent Calendar this week. On Saturday the 15th, snow and hail and all sorts of wintriness was forecast. I spent the day delivering mince pies to my mother and helping her to eat them, while sorting out her Christmas card list. By the time I got round to thinking about the advent calendar, it was dark and it was hailing. So here is a picture of the pond in the hail:

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On Sunday the 16th the sun came out and it felt quite springlike. I went for a walk in the park and watched people feeding the birds in a rather bigger pond than mine:

20181216_113535[1]I got along to the allotment in the afternoon to do some weeding and harvest some beetroot and check that the Brussels sprouts were doing ok. We only succeeded in growing one plant but I’m hoping it will provide enough for Christmas dinner. A friendly robin joined me and became my advent window for the 17th

20181216_184438On the 18th I was stuck at work all day and never saw daylight. I got home very late but Bella was able to inspire me with her feline ability to concentrate on her own concerns and show no interest in my woes:

20181218_214111Yesterday I walked past the writers’ museum in Edinburgh on my way to work and noticed the inscriptions on the flagstones in the courtyard. I thought this one from John Muir seemed apt for day 19:

20181212_093003And today, I finally was able to take a day off, mooch round some charity shops, go swimming and appreciate the little garden outside the swimming pool, and the birds chirping in the trees for day 20:

When I got home it was still light and I did some much needed tidying up and weeding in the front garden. This year has been very busy and lots of garden duties have been neglected but it was good to feel my hands in the soil and notice some tiny signs of new growth appearing on some of the shrubs. I also spotted some bulbs pushing up to bring us hope of spring. Tomorrow is the winter solstice, then the days will start slowly to lengthen again and spring will come.

Advent calendar update

It’s been a bit of a long week but keeping my eyes open for snatches of winter joy has helped me get through. So here’s an update:

Day 8 – I was walking along the street, not feeling very festive, when I heard workmen singing Christmas carols as they worked. This prompted me to photograph some festive holly:

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Day 9 – tiny signs of spring. Snowdrops peeking through the soil outside my mother’s new flat

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Day 10 – frosted oak leaf lying among the frosted clover in my lawn

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Day 11 Chelsea sitting under a broccoli plant

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Day 12 Lovely morning light

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Day 13 – glorious sunrise – one of the small advantages of the short December days

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Day 14 I walked to work and heard birds singing in the trees. In this picture there is one fat pigeon but also lots of tiny sparrows, cheering me on my way

20181214_090843So, another week with no gardening but some tiny glimpses of joy in nature around us. I am constantly surprised by these beauties. Some days it has taken a real effort but there is always something if you look.

Wild and wonderful advent calendar

The first week of my wild and wonderful advent calendar has gone rather well. I set out to tweet something that struck me as wild or wonderful every day. This has forced me to go outside at least for a few minutes in the morning or in the middle of the day when there was still some light and to try and notice the world around me. Some days this is easy but others I have to really pay attention. So for your enjoyment, here is the first week of wildness and wonder:

Day 1 – the Viburnum in the front garden, in full flower and with a scent to knock your socks off

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Day 2 – Chelsea decided to climb the apple tree, her wondrous colouring only just managing to not merge with the red berries on the cotoneaster

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Day 3 – was a little gloomy but I made myself walk to work to look for wildness and wonder. I saw lots of things but I was waiting for something to strike me. The wonder came from a bush full of sparrows. I couldn’t see them but the bush was alive with chirping;

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Day 4- frost was forecast, so I nipped out to the back garden to catch the frosty rainbow chard

20181204_082327Day 5 – was another glorious frosty morning. I went out into the garden to see if there was anything new and I hear a wren in a tree. Again, I couldn’t catch it in the photo but rather liked the dawn light through my neighbour’s apple tree (much bigger than the one that Chelsea tried to climb):

20181205_075130Day 6 – I caught the light at the end of the day. I’m usually stuck in an office at this time but yesterday I happened to be out and about and saw the light begin to leave the sky at 3.30pm:

20181206_153319Day 7 – my work took me out around central Scotland by train. I spent some rather chilly moments waiting on railway platforms. But the sun came out and struck one of these little wooden trains which often cheer me in these small town stations:

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So my first week of looking for wildness and wonder in December has gone rather well. It has been more challenging than the 30dayswild challenge in June but has proved to be possible and perhaps even more joyful. It is easy to find joy in nature in June when the days are long and everything is at its best. It’s tougher in December, with such short days and plenty of gloom. Look out for more on my twitter feed and an update on here next week.

 

Emergency carrots and a strange use for sprouts

There’s been very little done in the garden or allotment these past few weeks (by me anyway) and very little interesting cooking either.  But today we got the Christmas puddings made. My mother, now living much nearer to me, came over to help. The pudding recipe  has long family roots and, although I have been making my own puddings for decades now, my mother is the true expert  I thought I had been clever and got all the ingredients prepared but, at the last moment, noticed we had no carrots. Carrots in Christmas pudding? Essential apparently. I asked Mum if we could just add extra apples, or maybe a beetroot from the allotment. ‘No’ and ‘No’. Sadly we have no home grown carrots so I sent a senior assistant out on an emergency carrot hunt while we steeped the dried fruit in alcohol -‘I would just empty the whole bottle in, No point in leaving a tiny bit’. By the time the emergency carrot arrived the fruit was well steeped. Then came the ritual of everybody in the household contributing to stirring the pudding.  Good luck apparently and necessary that everyone makes a wish while doing so. We managed to round up one mother, two middle generation and one son while the other son contributed virtually by phone. Wishes were made but not disclosed – that would break the spell. Then the puddings  were put on to boil (we split the humungous amount of mixture between two pudding basins). Several hours later,  my Christmas preparations were complete.

20181202_203251[1]I may succumb to further preparations over the next few weeks but I always feel that, as long as we have a pudding, nothing else really matters.

Although spurned as a pudding ingredient the allotment beetroot went in a rather good beetroot, turnip and sprout curry. It doesn’t sound too good but actually it was. The sprouts were a bit of an afterthought. The recipe required peas but there were none.  I found the sprouts in the freezer and threw them in instead. Surprisingly it worked. The secret to this particular curry, however,  is the addition of fresh mint right at the end. I went out in the rain to harvest the mint and felt, for just a few minutes, as if balance might have returned to my life.

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End of November – bah humbug

The thirtieth of November has crept up on me. I’m not one for celebrating St Andrews Night, a relatively new invention, but all joy to those who wish to do so.  This is the night when I usually have a mad dash to make an advent calendar. This annual creative endeavour is an example of necessity being the mother of invention, started about 15 years ago when I discovered late on the thirtieth that we hadn’t organised an advent calender for our two then very small boys. So I made one and have been doing so most years ever since – for some examples see here

For the last couple of years I’ve done one for the blog and tweeted the pictures – see here for last year’s effort. But this year, I’m going to do something different. I looked on line for ideas for alternative advent – but, I warn you, just don’t even look. The results were terrifying ‘Are you bored with chocolate?  why not have an advent calendar with: gin, cat food, socks ‘adult’ items, pork scratchings, lipstick, ’24 days of stationery’.  …. it gets worse and worse.  Or there is the idea of the reverse advent calendar, where you donate something to charity every day of advent. That’s fine but not what I was looking for.  Then I found lots of children’s activities. Closer to what I wanted but I’m not at that life stage.  And of course there are actual religious advents, which is what it’s about I suppose but not for me.

I’ve got quite Scroogish in my old age and find most ‘festive’ stuff difficult, while still thinking it would be nice to get through December by doing something cheering. So I’ve decided to follow the principles of the #30dayswild project and try and find something wild or wonderful for every day of advent.  I promise to tweet something every day and provide summaries on here every few days.  You can look forward to something a little wild or a little wonderful – there won’t be much tinsel or tasteless consumerism but there may be cats. Here are some slightly festive things from previous years to get you in the mood: