In other newts*

…the frogs are back!


We’ve missed seeing them in the pond since last summer but the sunny weather has brought them back. We spotted at least two but I am sure there are more lurking in the undergrowth. We also have newts, dozens and dozens of them. They are harder to photograph as they flit about just under the surface rather than sitting still like the frogs. Bella is intrigued by all this underwater excitement:


We also have an invasion of ladybirds:

I love these tiny creatures, even more so because they eat aphids. I’ve been trying to encourage them on to the roses which seem to suffer most of the tiny greenies but it’s lovely just to see the ladybirds, whatever they are doing.

It’s been lovely weekend, spent mainly in the garden, feasting our eyes on this glorious wildlife, entertaining a random collection of relatives and passing musicians and feasting ourselves on various delicacies, including an unseasonal Christmas pudding, bought in enthusiasm at a bargain price in late December. It was eaten outside, for an Easter feast. I was looking for an edible flower to decorate with – or at least something that wouldn’t poison us – rosemary seemed the most suitable


Happy Easter, or Happy Spring, or whatever you celebrate, I hope you celebrate it well

*Thanks to my older son for the pudding and the title of today’s post

Spaghetti junction

Did you know that spaghetti grows underground? Nor did I until I found a vast network of it underneath the strawberry patch at the allotment:

20190416_161827[1]Actually, it’s not spaghetti, these are couch grass roots and they form a vast underground network right across our allotment. It is hard not to admire their tenacity but today, their bid for world domination has been thwarted, slightly. The strawberries are looking a little happier, although I can spy a few green shoots of spaghetti still sticking up amongst them:


It was a surprisingly satisfying way to spend an afternoon away from the cares of the day job, helped by a flask of tea, some sandwiches and beautiful birdsong:


As a special treat, the single broad bean plant that survived the winter has produced flowers:

20190416_172600[1]Isn’t nature astonishing?


I don’t know about you but when I go out to spend a day in the garden, things never go quite according to plan. I did make a list, mostly concerning seed sowing, but, once I got outside, my mind turned to other things. First of all, it’s been the most glorious day – cold but with a with a spring tranquility. There was lots of birdsong, daffodils still in their full glory, some contended cats, taking it in turns to enjoy the flowers with me:


While admiring these lovely primroses with Bella, I took a closer look at the back hedge, one year on from the great conifer removal. It is still quite scrappy looking but there are definite signs of renewal and there are daffodils, honesty and wallflower providing some spring colour:





You can also see there a  rose, a honeysuckle and a lot of campion about to surge into flower. It’s definitely getting there and should look better in the summer once the regrowth has continued.  I did some light pruning of the privet to encourage it but once I had the shears in my hand, I wandered off to other areas of the garden in need of hacking back, finding myself attacking the enormous and ancient escallonia, which dominates one side of the garden. This magnificent bush has taken the place of the conifers as the oldest plant in the garden. It doesn’t appear to do very much but in the summer it is a magnet for bees:

Bee on escallonia

At this time of year it just looks rather scraggy and gets very out of hand if not pruned. Apart from the bees, what I love about this plant is that it doesn’t seem to mind what you do to it, it just grows back. Once I had cut back an entire council bin full of prunings, I found myself in right at its centre, where its ancient, ivy covered heart  is regrowing already:




Alongside the ivy all sorts of tiny things have self-seeded and started to grow inside this bush, including a holly:


a bramble bush:


a cotoneaster:


and, astonishingly, a yew tree.


Yew trees are supposed to live for thousands of years, but I suspect this escallonia is going to compete with it.  I cut back the ivy a bit (I know you’re supposed to leave it for wildlife and things but there is really quite a lot of ivy in my garden) and I pulled up the bramble but I’ll leave the cotoneaster and the holly and the yew to see what happens next.

I may go back out to the garden now to do some of that seed sowing but I came in to warm up, write this blog and to sample some of yesterday’s allotment cake, which turned out rather well:





Last weekend I was away,  staying in a caravan, having a long lie while reading in a sleeping bag and listening to birdsong, then waking myself up by paddling in freezing sea. Here is a photo of fabulous gorse bushes with a wonderful coconut scent


It was all lovely but there was no gardening or allotment activity. So far, there has not been much this weekend either. I found myself at the seaside again, though much closer to home, wandering along Portobello Promenade in the icy wind and not at all tempted to paddle, despite the sunshine.

In the morning, before my trip to the beach, I did some foraging, on the local cycle path. In Wordsworthian mode I was wandering lonely as cloud and saw a crowd, a host of wild white garlic flowers:


I stopped to gather a rather large bunch, whisked them home, added a couple of handfuls of nettles from the garden and made weed pesto – for the recipe see here. except use wild garlic instead of ordinary garlic.

Spurred on by this culinary enthusiasm I harvested some rhubarb and have just put an ‘allotment cake’ in the oven. The recipe is from a book called ‘Bake a Difference’ by Bee Rawlinson and published by Traidcraft. I can’t find it online except through a well known international book sales outfit which I try to avoid, so it may be out of print.  The cake is a version of my tried and tested apple cake, except with rhubarb and grated carrots instead of apples. It’s still in the oven so we have yet to test it.  I have just been reminded by the younger generation that we haven’t had tea yet and cake (despite its healthy vegetable content) will probably not do. An offer of pasta with weed pesto was not greeted with enthusiasm so it may have to be something much more ordinary. Tomorrow, I hope, will be a gardening day.

Black and white and colour photos

Another lovely sunny day in the garden and allotment. I had been up since a silly hour in the morning, woken by bird song, so I went out when all was quiet and everyone else was trying to grab as much sleep from the clock change as possible. Bella came out with me and, sensing that her rival had been on top of the shed yesterday, decided that she would pose up there too:


I got some help from fellow residents to cut the grass in the garden and hacked back a few bits of hedge that were overhanging the raspberries and redcurrants.

Later I saw a tortoiseshell butterfly on a daffodil – a surprising but colourful combination.  I rushed in to get my camera but came back to find Bella chasing the butterfly round the garden. She didn’t catch it but I lost my chance to get a photo.

However, in the afternoon while weeding at the allotment, we saw our first frog of the season. It stayed still long enough for a photo. I was impressed by its camouflage, almost like a black and white photograph:


For a colourful contrast, we had rainbow curry for tea tonight, made from rainbow chard from the garden and potatoes and red onions from the local farmers’ market:



Rhubarb, weeds and a bunch of flowers

What a glorious day it has been today. I started in the garden, doing a little weeding, down on my hands and knees and was rewarded by this little gem of a viola, pushing up between the paving stones on the back patio:


Then I weeded the strawberry patch:

20190330_131903It may not look like much to you but I assure you it is a lot tidier than it was. While I was down on my hands and knees amongst the weeds, I harvested some nettles, dandelion and hairy bitter cress and made weed pesto:

Weed Pesto

  • bunch of fresh nettles
  • a few dandelion leaves
  • a few florets of hairy bitter cress
  • a handful of herbs, eg chives, tarragon, mint
  • a clove of garlic
  • a splash of olive oil
  1. Wash the weeds and herbs well
  2. Pour boiling water over the nettles to kill the sting
  3. Rinse
  4. Put everything in a container and whizz for a couple of minutes with a hand whizzer




Then, feeling I should do something about that old Mother’s Day thing, I went to visit my Mum. We don’t really do Mother’s Day in my house but following a bit of a little twitter spat about what gardeners should, or shouldn’t do to mark the day, I took her some rhubarb:


Since it was such a lovely day, I brought her back to my house for some cat and garden therapy. Her cat (now resident with us) was rather disdainful but enjoyed being outside.


Meanwhile Mum sorted out all the pots on my garden patio- I’ve never been much of a container gardener -mainly because of the nasty vine weevils which tend to eat everything, but Mum is a container wizard. Various things got replanted around the garden and she filled up some sad pots with bits of thyme, forget-me-not and random nasturtium seedlings. I’m looking forward to see how they turn out. Then she went and picked a whole lot of daffodils and wallflowers and arranged them nicely in a vase for me.


‘But Mum, I’m supposed to give you flowers and all I gave you was rhubarb’. ‘The rhubarb will be lovely. You enjoy the flowers’.

Happy Mothers’, daughters’, grandmothers’, granddaughters’, nieces’, aunts’, sisters’ and family in general day!


Sunshine and rainbows

Despite a busy weekend, I found some time for the allotment this afternoon. We surveyed the plot again and now have our plan down in writing. There is blossom on the plum tree and birds flying all round the plot. Our overwintered onions are doing well and we are still harvesting purple sprouting broccoli and some baby kale.  The autumn sown broad beans have been almost completely hopeless: old seed, pests? We’re not sure why but one brave little plant has survived:

20190324_160136This should give us lovely beans in early summer. We sowed a whole lot more today to keep it company. In between the rows, I sowed some saved seeds from the magnificent radish ‘purple plum’:


I’ll see whether they are any better at producing radishes in the allotment than they are in the garden but, if not, we, and the bees, can always enjoy the flowers:


Meanwhile, back at the house,  my tomato seeds have germinated and are now queuing up on the windowsill, waiting for the warmth so that they can go out to the seed palace in a couple of months (oh dear – sown too soon again).

There was a cold wind alongside the sunshine and some icy showers. This late wintry combination brought us a rainbow, lighting up the trees:


The season  is really beginning.



I made it along to the allotment today, for the first time in a few weeks. Time and weather has been against me. It’s just a little too early to plant anything, so today we did some more weeding to try and keep on top of the couch grass and surveyed our plot, looking forward to good things to come. Meanwhile the overwintering onions are looking mighty fine and the daffodils are in full bloom



Some brave nasturtiums have appeared beside the compost bins, ready to race all over them in the summer:


Back at the garden, my first salads have germinated in the seed palace


and the pigeons have eaten all my broccoli. Inside, I have my first germinated tomatoes and potatoes are chitting nicely in an absent musician’s bedroom.

The gardening season is truly underway


Daffodils always came out for my Dad’s birthday. Today he would have been 85. The daffodils have been early this year but there are plenty still in flower and more to come. Here’s some from my front garden in his memory:


Rain, hail, seeds and holly

It’s twenty past ten on a Sunday night and I STILL haven’t got round to sowing the seeds I was going to sow this weekend. It’s been a weekend of storms and snow and hail and sleet and rain and the odd sunny spell, during which I cut back my awesome autumn fruiting raspberries and mulch them with lots of yummy compost. While doing this I noticed tiny signs of growth in the seeds in the seed palace and I spotted a baby holly growing in one of my many ‘wildlife patches’ aka, messy bits, in the garden:

20190309_122824.jpgDuring a hail storm I managed to wash my seed trays, pots, propagator lids and my collection of seed labels – formed from plastic milk bottles, tubs and other miscellaneous ‘single use’ plastics. All ready to be used for one more year.


I didn’t make it to the allotment today and ended up playing scrabble instead but right now I am going to get off the computer and sow some seeds!