Revenge of the plants

It’s not often that you see plants getting their revenge. Warning, there may be gross bits.

Since my boys were small, we’ve always had carnivorous plants in the house. The only non-vegetarians apart from the cat. We grow pitcher plants (sarracenia) in the kitchen in the vain hope that they may eat a few of the fruit flies that inevitably come in from the compost bins. Fruit flies are harmless but a bit annoying. Mostly the pitcher plants don’t have much effect but it feels like we’re at least trying. This winter I managed to kill off the plant that we’d had for a few years – too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, not enough insects, too many insects? – one of these things, unless it was the dreaded vine weevils getting in from the garden and eating the roots.

I’d been feeling  guilty about the dead plant. The fruit flies had made their spring appearance, so I bought two new pitcher plants, and a venus fly trap, to see how they would get on. The fruit flies are still multiplying and there didn’t seem to be much evidence of them being caught by the plants. Fast forward to yesterday evening and I noticed holes in the leaves – the blasted vine weevils at it again:

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– and then I saw the body…

….. well half a body. You know the joke about what is worse than finding a maggot in an apple? Well this was a revised version. What is better than finding a vine weevil on your pitcher plant? Finding half a vine weevil on your pitcher plant. This glorious plant had eaten the vine weevil! I told you it would be gross but I’ve spared you the photograph. By the time I took this one, the weevil had been completely consumed.

I’ve always grown these plants inside but apparently they can survive outside as well. I may have to fill the garden with these wonders and see if they can eat all the weevils and perhaps a few slugs into the bargain.

Three reasons to love broad beans

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1 Because they are easy to grow

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2 Because you can make broad bean guacamole from them – see here for how toWP_20160903_006

(Actually that photo also contains courgettes, peas and French beans but you get the point)

3 Because they remind me of Roxy, our lovely garden blogging cat, long gone but still remembered, especially at this time of year:

Clearly a master of disguise as well as a talented garden blogger

Groceries in the garden

Today I heard that an old Italian friend, Roberto, had died suddenly.   I will never forget his exclamation when he visited our old house and looked out of an upstairs window at the garden:

‘Ah but you have groceries in the garden’

His English, like everything else about him, was charming. He had not yet worked out the subtleties of the English language, where ‘groceries’ means things like tea and sugar and butter and ‘vegetables’ are what you find in gardens.  It was not just his take on the English language but Roberto’s enthusiasm for such things as vegetables that I remember about him.  We had lost touch but I am still shocked by this sudden and untimely loss. Roberto’s memory lives on in those who knew and loved him. I’m pleased still to have groceries in my garden.

Magic Seedlings

I have never got over the magic of a germinated seed. Even to hardened gardeners, those first little signs of life are the proof that there is magic in the world. Although some of my vegetables are up and growing, some things have just peeked their tiny green heads above the soil. Here, for example, are my first ever germinated parsley seeds. These are notoriously difficult to germinate, but this year they’ve come through:

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And here are some aubergines:

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Don’t laugh, I thought they weren’t going to come up at all this year.  Here is some basil, looking rather more sturdy:

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I’ve been experimenting with these ‘peat free’ planting pod thingies and they seem to have worked really well, especially with tomatoes, peppers etc.  You plant one seed (or if you’re a bit nervous, 2 or 3 or 4 as with the basil) in each pod and then plant the whole thing out once they’ve properly established.  Seems to work. The other secret, which may explain the parsley, is an electric propagator. I really try to resit anything like this but it’s only one small tray and it seems to make all the difference just to get things up through the soil.

Here are the courgettes and marrows.

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Here I have a problem. If you look carefully – excusing the lazy plant labels – you will see about 12 courgettes and only one marrow. what to do? Do I

1) Plant out all the courgettes but let some grow into marrows;
2) Sow some more marrow seeds, just in case;
3) Be patient and hope that some more marrows come up?

The problem with 1 and 2, of course, is that I will end up with 12 marrow plants which is probably more than even I can cope with – see here for my love of marrows.

A DIY weekend

It’s been a DIY weekend in the garden, starting with the problem of how to replace a raised bed which had finally collapsed on me.

Made from scrap wood from an old shed, the raised bed has served me well for seven years.

So it was out with the saw and tackling some lengths of wood, left behind after some loft flooring work a few years ago. This wood has been sitting in the garden, covered with plastic and waiting for that day when it might just come in handy.

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New raised bed – with Swiss chard seedlings ready planted in the old one before it collapsed.

I also dismantled a rotary dryer, which had collapsed on us a couple of months ago. We were vaguely thinking of taking this to be recycled but I thought that sturdy pieces of metal might be useful for something.

New pea supports – two metal poles, strings threaded through the holes, old raspberry canes woven through the string.

And then there were the baskets from a dead freezer which I rescued before my brother could take them to the tip. New cat deterrents:

Otherwise, I’ve pruned a hedge, turned out the compost bins, planted out peas and broccoli, sowed some more seeds, and made a rather good green soup from the remains of last year’s broccoli and some Swiss chard:
WP_20170507_13_15_59_ProThe secret is in keeping the ingredients green as far as possible (some rainbow chard and purple sprouting broccoli did sneak in) and flavouring with a good handful of tarragon and mint.

A satisfying garden weekend.  Bella helped where she could:

wp_20170507_17_10_18_pro.jpgHere seen guarding the potatoes in a pot.

Happy 3rd birthday blog!

WordPress has just reminded me that it is three years since I registered my blog. I didn’t put up my first post till June, as I spent several weeks dithering about it.  But, today’s the anniversary so it’s worth celebrating today.  My first post – see here -didn’t have any pictures – but I’m still quite fond of it as it summed up what I thought my blog would be about.  Seven years ago, soon after we moved into this house, the front garden was devoted entirely to paving and had room for three cars:  we made a plan of what we hoped the front garden might look like. My, now, almost completely grown up, son added an important sign:IMG_0005

Seven years on from that plan, and three years on from my first blog post, my front garden is still blooming and buzzing:WP_20170505_08_50_59_Pro.jpg

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It has flowers and herbs, a small but promising cherry tree:

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and it has vegetables:

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and wild flowers

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All of this and much more replaces what was once a car park. Paradise continues to be reclaimed.  This all happened before I started blogging but now I get to share it with my readers as well as the random toddlers who come in to smell the flowers, so happy birthday again blog.

People in glass houses

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..should grow vegetables. This is my beloved terrarium, given to us as a wedding present longer ago than we care to count. I’ve kept it potted up all these years, occasionally cleaning the whole thing out and replacing the plants. This winter it needed more than that though. The plants really were unhappy and the door had fallen off.

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I emptied it out, cleaned the glass and the pebbles and took cuttings from the plants, with the intention of getting the door fixed. It has taken me a wee while, but I found a local stained glass workshop who were able to fix the door and generally overhaul the leading on the glass. Today I replanted it,  planting the nicely rooted cuttings in individual pots. I was very pleased that the cuttings of the creeping fig and ferns had survived and look happy in their new home. And now there are vegetables too.  Here it is before I added them:

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This weekend’s main task however was to get on with the vegetables in my own garden, having returned from visiting my mother. I’ve done a lot of spring tasks, sowing seeds, digging over raised beds, enjoying the apple blossom.

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I did a lot of weeding, harvesting enough nettles and dandelions to make weed pesto – information on that here – I was pleased that I had the details on my blog to remind me how to make it.  This time I blanched the nettles first to avoid stings.  It didn’t taste as good as last time, possibly too much dandelion.  We’ll have to keep testing

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I planted out a row of monster pink peas,  information about their origins here

WP_20170430_16_44_38_Pro trying to remember how big they grew last year:

WP_20160618_012It’s very hard to imagine the change from the tiny seedlings to this kind of abundance, but that’s what gardening is all about.  The season has truly started.

More than pots on the patio

Following on from my post on pots of flowers in my mother’s garden, here are some results from my trip to the garden centre:

But just in case you thought my mother’s garden was all patio and pots, she also has a humungous apple tree, just coming into blossom now:

with promise of lots to come in the autumn, if last year is anything to go by. Only she could have strawberries growing in the steps:

strawberries on the stepThe garden is full of birds, including a blackbird nest hiding in an overgrown shrub in a wall:

blackbird nestYou probably can’t see the bird, but I can assure you she’s there, sitting in the nest and flitting in and out along with her mate. We were alerted to this wonder by my mother’s observant cat.  Not a good combination but we’re crossing our fingers that the birds survive her attentions.  We’re hoping the sun keeps shining to keep her occupied with other pleasures.

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Pots of flowers

It’s been a busy month, taken up partly with work commitments but also with helping my mother come home after a spell in hospital. She has always been a gardener and her speciality is pots, with a patio of constantly changing seasonal flowers. It was a joy to be able to show her the photos of her spring bulbs as they emerged during her long stay in hospital:

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Now the bulbs are coming to an end and the season demands that they be dug into the ground and the pots refilled with late spring bedding. I’ve been doing a lot of weeding and cutting back overgrown shrubs and wondering what to put in the flower pots. I sneaked some herbs into a stone trough but suspected that this was not quite what my mother would usually do with her patio:

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Yesterday I was out walking and was getting a little weary when this loomed ahead of me.WP_20170426_16_12_51_Pro

Garden centre and coffee shop. The perfect combination. I stocked up on coffee and flowers and headed home.

WP_20170427_10_22_44_ProToday’s task is to plant up all the pots at the back door so that my mother can enjoy them.

Daffodils and rhubarb

WP_20170402_18_29_30_ProIt’s a strange combination I know but it seems to work.  And look down there in the corner, there are some lovely primroses too.  The daffodils are absolutely at their best today.  What’s more the sun was shining at last on this little dark corner of the garden.  The thing about my daffodils is that they come out in stages.  This was wholly unplanned but they start in early March and keep coming until the end of April.  Here are today’s front garden gems:

And these ones are still waiting to come out.

Today I moved various garden projects forward.  I fixed a collapsed raised bed and discovered a spider colony hiding in the long grass beside it:

WP_20170402_16_11_50_ProI hope you’re not scared of spiders.  They are the good guys so to be encouraged.  I liked the colours on the faded wood as well.

Then I planted some more seeds, including this birthday card which has wild flower (or maybe weed?) seeds in the card:

WP_20170402_17_18_21_ProThank you to my sister and her family for this.  Looking forward to seeing what comes up.

Then to do some cooking.  I harvested a bowlful of rainbow chard which had survived the winter and sprung into new growth:WP_20170402_19_06_47_ProThere’s still some more to come and new rainbows have been planned, with this year’s rainbow chard seeds just beginning to germinate.

Finally, to do something with the rhubarb, I adapted a recipe that worked quite well last year with plums see here .  Revised rhubarb flapjack recipe below:

Rhubarb (or plum) flapjack

  • 450g plums or rhubarb
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice or ginger
  • 50g dark sugar
  • 250 g dark sugar
  • 350g butter
  • 300g rolled porridge oats
  • 140g plain flour
  • 50g chopped walnuts
  • 3 tsbp golden syrup
  1. Halve and stone the plums (or rhubarb cut into small pieces), toss with the sugar and spice and leave to mix up nicely.
  2. Mix together all the other dry ingredients
  3. Melt the butter and the syrup in  pan
  4. Mix the melted butter with the dry ingredients to make the flapjack mixture.
  5. Grease and line a baking tray.
  6. Empty half the flapjack mixture onto the tray and flatten out.
  7. Cover with the plums/rhubarb
  8. Cover with the other half of the flapjack mixture.
  9. Cook in a hot oven (200c/gas 6) for about 45 minutes until golden brown.
  10. Remove from oven and leave to cool.
  11. Cut into slices

But don’t eat the daffodils – just look at them