Rain and poetry

We’ve just had a few days away in the Lake District, celebrating my senior assistant’s birthday.  October in Grasmere was never going to guarantee glorious sunshine, so we went well prepared with boots and waterproofs.  We enjoyed walking along rain soaked paths, some of which were just not passable, even with good boots:


and climbed a foggy mountain, enjoying the sun coming back out through the clouds on the way back down


At the wettest point, we went in search of poetry at Dove Cottage.  While the senior assistant was immersed in poetry and history, I was thinking about William and Dorothy Wordsworth’s garden

As well as flowers, they had an orchard and grew potatoes, turnips, peas and runner beans. So there was more to the  Wordsworths than daffodils.

We travelled entirely by train and bus, which is completely straight forward. On our way home we made a small detour to Manchester to visit a wandering assistant and deliver some apples and jam. Meanwhile he had made an impressive courgette cake – recipe here  :

courgette cake

And then home, via the red sun and the yellow sky and battened down the hatches for whatever storm Ophelia has to throw at us tonight.

Frog in the strawberry patch

After my pessimistic blog about growing tomatoes in Scotland, we’ve had two days of glorious autumn sunshine.  Today I’ve been in the garden, clearing up and playing with Bella.  She took particular pleasure in a piece of string which had been holding up my peas:

Then I tackled the strawberry bed.  It has done well this year but it was getting rather weedy and there were lots of runners with lovely baby strawberry plants attached.  I pulled back all the Bella-deterring brushwood and got to work.  A tiny frog leapt past, and then a big one appeared


I took a photo and bustled Bella inside to give the frogs a chance to get back into the long grass.  She is a great garden companion but just a little too interested in the wildlife for my liking.  Then I went back to the strawberry tidying:

WP_20171008_13_42_10_Pro[1]And here’s how they looked in March (complete with Bella):

WP_20170312_17_34_14_ProThere’s  whole family of frogs living in the fairy mound next to the strawberry patch, keeping the slugs and vine weevils and other nasties under control. Here’s looking forward to next year’s strawberry crop.

Meanwhile I’ve had a lovely day, enjoying the late autumn sun, I’ve tidied up the strawberries and the bed with the broccoli and swiss chard, I sowed a few late salads to keep this bed of lettuce company, covering it with a cloche :


We had a couple of the Red Falstaff apples


And then a flock of wild geese flew overhead, making it just perfect.

Optimism of the will..

It is the endless optimism of the gardener that makes me grow tomatoes in Scotland.  I don’t have a greenhouse and my little plastic seedhouses are reserved for cucumbers (which do really well). So the tomatoes have to take their chance outside. Every year I hope that they will ripen and about one year in five they do but this year is not going to be one of them.

The temperature dropped to 4 degrees last night so I reckoned it was time to bring the tomatoes indoors.


This is a pretty good crop but it looks like a green year rather than a red one.  The question is whether it’s going to be chutney, marmalade,  or dare I try and sneak them into the festive joy that is green tomato mincemeat?

I tried this a few years ago and some members of the family have never trusted mince pies since.  … but it’s too early to start talking about these festive delights so I’ll probably just hope that they ripen indoors and we can go on dreaming of summer for a little longer.


Conker season – not just for the young

The wind is howling, the leaves are falling, October has arrived.  Last night I stood in the garden and marveled at the stunning sunset :

Inspired by this natural beauty, I wandered a little on my way to work this morning, taking in some trees and the local park to see how October was treating us.  I passed lots of sticks and twigs and conkers on the pavement.

I picked one up and held it in my hand as I walked along and I remembered our adventures with two hundred conkers when my sons were smaller than they are now.  You’ll find the story here

I passed three, older, white haired, people, two women, one man, one in a wheel chair, the others walking with sticks. They stopped to pick up conkers and delighted in their shinyness.  Conkers are not just for the young.


Blooming radishes

I’ve written before about my struggles with radishes You know the thing when they beat the slugs and then they go all woody and start flowering and are never just right for eating? But you can eat the seed pods, making it probably worth while.WP_20170930_13_11_34_ProWell this year I must have had a mental block when I did my seed ordering and ordered what looked like exciting radishes: radish purple plum   But as usual, they got eaten by slugs, dug up by cats, went woody and then produced lovely purple flowers;

WP_20170910_16_42_21_ProThe flowers are truly lovely but I think it would be true to say that I didn’t achieve a single actual radish and the flowers looked as if they weren’t even going to produce decent seed pods.  But last night I was out gardening in the dark (as you do), looking for some kick to add to some marrow chutney and harvested a bunch of seed pods.  it was only when I got inside that I realised that the purple plum radishes had also produced purple seed pods

WP_20170930_13_11_58_ProIt makes it all worth it.

Meanwhile I did make the chutney:

WP_20170929_23_01_14_Proand an apple and raspberry cake:

WP_20170929_23_00_54_Proand for tea we had an ‘everything grown in the garden’ stew thingy

WP_20170930_19_58_51_Pro.. made from marrows, green tomatoes, red tomatoes, rainbow chard, radish seed pods and runner beans.  There were no radish seed pods in the cake.

Howgate wonders

I know I say this every year but I just can’t get over the wondrousness of Howgate Wonder apples.

wp_20160930_001We bought this tree as a little stick seven years ago and it has produced a joyful bounty every year since.

Howgate Wonder 2013

Here it was four years ago when it was three years old and produced ten apples. This year it is a little bigger and has about twenty grapefruit sized fruits.  They taste wonderful raw but they are too big to just eat like, well, apples. We had the first of these stewed with a little sugar and cream yesterday evening, and even better, on breakfast cereal this morning.  It’s astonishing that such a little tree can produce such amazing fruit with absolutely no effort from me at all, other than digging a hole seven years ago. I still can’t get over it really.

Autumn joys

I’ve been away at the weekend, visiting my mother.  We went to the wildlife reserve at Caerlaverock, in search of migrating geese.  The geese migrate to Svalbard in the summer and come back to Scotland in the winter.  We were a little too early, though I did see my first skein of geese in the sky, a sight and sound I always find uplifting.  While we watched for geese, we also enjoyed the other wildlife, including these bees gorging on a sedum plant:


I was so impressed that I succumbed to buying a sedum in the garden centre.  Otherwise I was doing some tidying up in my mother’s garden, helping to harvest some of her magnificent apples:
WP_20170916_17_15_17_Pro[1]I thought it might help if I targetted the highest up ones.  I’ve seen fancy gadgets in catalogues for harvesting apples but I improvised my own apple grabber from a thing I found in the shed, I think designed for citronella candles:

WP_20170916_17_07_44_Pro[1]Grab the apple in the baskety thing, give it a little twist and it comes off neatly enclosed. Perfect.  The only drawback is the great pile of apples that I’ll have to cook or do something with soon:

WP_20170916_17_14_58_Pro[1]I also did a little weeding and hacking back of my mother’s overgrown garden, worrying a little that I had been overenthusiastic in my hacking back of roses earlier in the year.  There is a lovely rose growing over a pergola that my father made for their golden wedding a few years ago.  The pergola is terribly overgrown with enthusiastic honeysuckle and thorny rose shoots. He would be horrified at the lack of order but I hope he would love the flowers:


Vine weevils on the march

My battle with the vine weevils has moved to a new level.  Having destroyed my strawberry and blueberry plants, had a go at an insect eating plant, and a bay tree, they have now launched an attack on  my new witch hazel (hamamelis).  I only bought it in the spring to replace a previous one which had met a similar fate.  Photo here of the original one in its glory days:

WP_20160131_008I’m particularly fond of witch hazel because it flowers in the winter, has the most unlikely flowers and an intoxicating scent. My Dad bought me the original one for my birthday a few years ago so it has special memories too.  Anyway last year it curled up and died so I bought a new one, at some cost and after some searching. When I came home from my holidays last week, it looked a bit droopy so I gave it a good water.  This weekend it hadn’t recovered so I guessed the monstrous weevils had been at it.  I upturned the pot to find munched roots and dozens of disgusting weevil grubs – I’ll spare you a photo.   I’ve given it a good root wash, planted it out in the garden and made an emergency online order for nematodes to see off the nasties.  I’m hoping it will recover.

In the mean time moving the strawberries from pots into the ground seems to have solved the vine weevil problem for them – this year at least we’ve had an abundant crop and the plants look cheerful enough.  It looks like I may have to give up on pots completely, except for herbs and annuals which manage to grow before the nasties get to them.

On a happier note, we had our first tomatoes today

WP_20170910_13_55_58_Pro[1]We’v eaten the last of the plums in scrumptious flapjacks (link to recipe here):

WP_20170908_22_29_54_Pro[1]and, although the courgettes and marrows continue to increase in size and quantity whenever my back is turned,

I’ve successfully passed several on to neighbours and family, as well as enjoying eating them in a range of ever-unlikely recipes. Having made emergency plum jam last weekend, marrow chutney is next on the list of things to do.

Post holiday rituals

I don’t know what other people do when they come home from holidays after a couple of weeks away – make a cup of tea , open any post, unpack, put a washing on have a large gin? For me it’s straight forward: greet and feed the cat, check that there are no obvious signs of burglary, leaking roofs or other disasters, greet and feed the cat again, water the neglected houseplants, greet and feed the cat again, go into the garden and see what has happened to the vegetables, taking the cat along too.



I wasn’t sure what to expect when I returned to the garden yesterday. This year, with both young people now having left school and no longer being controlled by the Scottish school holidays, we’ve been on holiday in late August for the first time in many years. I had the business of being away in July down to a fine art, but not in August.  I had anticipated plum, runner bean and marrow glut (tick)

and I knew that the grass would be knee high (tick). I was worried that the tomatoes would overripen or succumb to blight – they’re fine – green and shiny and (crossed fingers) no blight yet.

As I’ve told you before, I love marrows so much that I actually grow them deliberately so I knew there would be a few waiting for me.  I hadn’t bargained on the courgettes all turning into marrows as well, making even my marrow loving heart sink somewhat.  I hoped the chrystal lemon cucumbers would keep going for a little longer, but hadn’t expected to find a dozen, tennis ball sized ones falling off the plants and one enormous green one, preventing any others from growing:


and I certainly hadn’t expected the purple sprouting broccoli (Rudolph, matures December) to be not only mature but actually beginning to flower.


So this year’s returning ritual required all of the activities at the start of the post, but also: pick plums, harvest the absolutely mammoth courgettes, the foot long runner beans and the broccoli. Why these? because it should allow a few more to grow.


Flowers and baby runner beans, waiting to add to the glut. Why do I want more when I already have too many? – well that’s gardener’s psychology for you. I can’t explain it, it just is.

That was the emergency gardening that I did the moment I got in the door. Today has been slightly less frantic but equally busy: pick more mammoth courgettes and runner beans, cut back mildewed peas, find the two ripe tomatoes, the chillies


and the single aubergine, cut the grass (well that was done for me actually), hack back some overgrow hedges, work out what on earth to do with the gluts, make jam, make pickle,

Make a huge put of green soup, look at the pile of overgrown courgettes


and runner beans and sigh. Spend more time with the neglected cat (seen here inspecting the mildewed peas)



Despite the mildew, there is still some life in the peas though, with a few of the blue ones showing hope of continuing for a bit longer;


Enjoy the flowers, especially the sweet peas still flourishing among the runner bean flowers;


Admire the apples, in waiting to fill the spaces left by the marrows and plums. Do the washing and the housework and the unpacking and the post-opening that should have been done yesterday.

Take photos of the above. Blog about it. Holiday return sorted – back to work tomorrow.

Blog holiday

WP_20170820_15_58_31_ProIn case you’re wondering what’s been happening on the blog. I’ve been recharging the batteries on holiday. Now on my way home and expecting a record
plum and marrow glut. Hoping nothing disastrous has happened in the garden. Will update soon. Also needing to catch up with other bloggers – looking forward to seeing what you have been doing. I won’t bore you with holiday photos, but here is a blog relevant one for the moment.