Nesting bees

It was one of those days when you are sitting having your lunch, pondering the nature of utility and beauty and realising that your garden is not quite passing the William Morris test: ‘Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’ – for more see here , where I argue that the test does not apply to the garden. In the garden there are many many beautiful things but also some that are not beautiful but are useful, mostly old plastic buckets and odd bits of wire caging which keep cats off the vegetables – example here

20190105_144328Not beautiful but definitely useful.  There are other things which fail the test but stay in the garden because I don’t know how to dispose of them in a sensible environmentally friendly way and anyway, we might find a use for them one day – the footballs from the monster hedge fit in this category:

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Meanwhile an old shed door has lain about in the garden for ten years, being used for football practice and various other delights and has met a creative end as a pirate ship. Even old shed doors do come in useful one day.

Anyway, while pondering these higher things, we decided that the old garden bench had finally failed both tests. It has served us very well over twenty years but it stopped being beautiful a few years ago when its various cracks and unsafe bits were repaired effectively but somewhat less beautifully. It has also served as a very good cat scratching post – useful but making it less beautiful – pictured here complete with cat:

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Now those repairs have collapsed and it really does not meet either condition. What to do with it though? We just added it to the pile of possibly useful garden things.  While doing this , I ventured into a bit of the garden I haven’t looked at for a few weeks and saw that someone or something had torn a huge piece of turf away from one of the fairy mounds. I immediately recognised the signs – last time this happened the mysterious something was attacking a wild bees’ nest – see here  The destruction was too great for it to be cats so it must have been a badger or a fox, I think. Last time I was too late to rescue the nest. This time, I’m not sure as the bees are still buzzing about. So I used one of my not beautiful but never-the-less useful wire racks to cover it up to keep the intruder out, and this time, also put up a sign to warn them off:

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Beautiful? Useful? I don’t know but I was very excited to find that the bees had nested in my garden again.

Monsoon weather

I brought the lawn mower back from the allotment last week so that we could tackle the jungle in the garden. Fortunately a small gap in this year’s monsoon enabled us to have a go at the lawn.  But the monsoon has returned, which means the lawnmower is useless and the grass just keeps growing, but I have found a solution

I evicted all of these little chaps from my pea plants and set them to work on cutting the grass.

Meanwhile the marrows are really enjoying all this rain:

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I did get a great harvest from the peas and made a huge pot of pea and broad bean soup to see us through the November-like gloom:

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Now all I need to do is to persuade the snails to stay on the lawn and leave my other plants alone. We can all dream.

Paradise reclaimed

This blog takes its name from Joni Mitchell’s song Big Yellow Taxi. My front garden is a reclaimed car park where previous residents parked their cars in front of the house. For more on this story, see my about page. Instead of parking cars, I grow plants and welcome the wildlife. Today I did a big tidy up in the front garden, updated the labels in my herb garden and revelled in the plants and creatures that would not have been there had I been parking cars instead:

I also found this frog in the back garden, lurking in the long grass around the raised beds

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and this magnificent slug

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I found these exciting seed pods

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which came from this beautiful California poppy

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Seeds are magical but the bees and the butterflies are just the best:

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Paradise indeed.

A new redcurrant recipe

I harvested most of the redcurrants today. They have been fabulous this year in the garden but not at the allotment. Another of the strange differences in microclimate between my two growing spaces.

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I remembered making some less than successful redcurrant relish last year but couldn’t remember where I found the recipe – just checked, it was a link on the blog – here , but I didn’t think of looking on my own blog! Instead I ploughed through my various recipe books, failing to find a suitable recipe, and so decided to adapt one for red pepper relish instead. Let’s hope it works. Here is the revised version:

Redcurrant relish

  • 1 kg redcurrants
  • 375ml vinegar
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 medium onions (or one monster onion from the allotment)
  • 4 gloves of garlic
  • a teaspoon of grated fresh ginger
  • 2 apples
  • 1 tsp of black peppercorns
  • 230g sugar
  1. Slice the onions finely and chop the garlic and apples into small pieces
  2. Put the onions, garlic, ginger, apples, and peppercorns in a pan with the vinegar
  3. Simmer for about 20 mins
  4. Add the redcurrants
  5. Simmer for a further 10 mins or so
  6. Add the sugar
  7. Simmer for about an hour until the mixture is thick
  8. Remove the peppercorns, which will float to the top
  9. Pour the mixture into warm, sterilised jars

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The redcurrants, onion and apple were all from the garden or allotment. The apples were a couple of the windfalls from the amazing Howgate Wonder tree. When they are mature they will be the size of grapefruits but today these were perfectly big enough for this recipe.

There are a couple of things that didn’t quite go right with this recipe. First of all I’m not sure I weighed the redcurrants properly and secondly I did not follow the recipe when it came to the peppercorns – you are supposed to put them in a muslin bag and remove it when you pot up the relish. I couldn’t be bothered with this but discovered the cunning trick of just removing the peppercorns at the end – only I had rather more than the recommended teaspoonful:

20190801_211924It just goes to show that precision is not necessary when it comes to cooking – not in my house anyway. The relish should keep so I’ve filed it away for festive use in the dark days of winter.

In the meantime, we had summer again today and I spotted butterflies all over the buddleia and lavender in the front garden:

Not yet autumn surely

This week has had some extremes of weather and the garden and wildlife have been loving it. Following last year’s heatwave induced frog invasion, the pond has again provided a haven for these little beauties during the hot early part of the week:

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Generally they have been very shy this year, coming out only after dark and hiding under the pond jungle the rest of the time. But on those couple of hot days they were out sitting on the lily pads, looking awesome.

The heat was followed by biblical downpours which made the pond look great but no sign of the frogs

The slugs and snails however have been enjoying all this rain and are having a great time on the pea plants:

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Most things seem to be surviving this onslaught though and the pea harvest has been wonderful. Yesterday I also harvested a couple of cucumbers and today I harvested a baby marrow, leaving the rest to grow into monsters. Then I spotted the first tomatoes forming on the tomato plants

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I know, they are tiny but they are full of promise.

I picked what is probably the last of the summer raspberries and strawberries, a few autumn raspberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants and a windfall apple:

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The apple trees are groaning with fruit this year and have had to be propped up with a range of ingenious devices to prevent their branches breaking. This one falling off should help the poor tree to survive for a little longer.

Despite the four seasons weather we’ve had this week, it’s not autumn yet.

Green

It’s been a scorchio day here as everywhere else in the country. I went for a wander and passed an in ice cream van, selling, among other things, mint choc chip ice cream:

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I had been thinking about my Dad, as I often do at this time of year and now six years since we lost him. His childhood was during the Second World War, a time of rationing and few sweet treats. This led to him taking great pleasure in sharing childhood delights like ice cream with us. Ice cream in my rural childhood came in blocks from shops and was always vanilla, or strawberry or chocolate if you were very lucky. It was for special occasions like birthdays and, without freezers, it was usually a bit melted by the time it was served. The first time I had a mint choc chip ice cream was when we were out for a family outing in the ‘big’ town. My Dad saw someone walking towards us eating a ‘green’ ice cream in a cone. None of us had ever seen such a thing before. Lacking any sense of embarrassment, Dad stopped them, and asked excitedly where he could find this new green delicacy. They were a little taken aback: ‘Along the road, at the ice cream shop, where else?’ He rushed us all to the ice cream shop and we stared in awe at the astonishing range of flavours available: mint choc chip, rum and raisin (that seemed very exciting), real strawberry, raspberry ripple. He bought us all a green one just because he could. So I bought one today, just because I could and toasted his memory.

None of that has got anything to do with gardening but I did do a big green harvest of peas, beans and courgettes. I made a huge batch of pea and mint, courgette and watercress and generic green soup. some of it will go in the freezer but I don’t think I’ll risk pea ice cream. Apparently it does it exist but it seems an awful faff. I’ll probably stick to soup.

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Lawnmower holiday

There are tons of peas and beans in the garden so I made a classic green soup for lunch, with some added watercress from the pond:

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Earlier in the week I made a classic summer pudding:

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It was duly guzzled by my various visiting young people.

It’s lovely to have all this wonderful fruit and vegetables but all these gluts are causing a bit of crisis at the allotment. The warm wet weather of the last few weeks has caused a massive growth spurt among the onions, strawberries, peas, beans and courgettes, which is great. But is has also caused enormous growth of grass and weeds, which, combined with our faithful allotment push mower having a breakdown, has meant that things are getting a little out of control. The mower has gone to the mower hospital to see if it can be tempted back to life but what to do about the grass? The solution was to take my ancient, but almost wholly reliable, lawnmower from the house along to the plot (for more on the history of this beast see here and here):

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Part of its realiability comes from its ancient metal parts which make it much heavier than its younger partly plastic cousin. It was too heavy to take on the bike but it was quite easy to get it to the allotment, just by pushing it along the street, if you discount the funny looks from passers by. But then I am often to be seen carrying odd things along the road to and from the allotment. It did a stalwart job of dealing with the overgrown grass and clover and will stay at the allotment for a short holiday until its modern friend is feeling better.

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Slow germination and deep roots

Two plants have appeared in my garden this week that I don’t remember planting.

First of all this orchid appeared in a pot of tarragon which has been at the kitchen door for several years.

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I have no idea how it got there. Possibly the seed was in some garden compost and had been dormant for a few years or possibly it blew in on the wind or was deposited by a bird. Apparently these orchid seeds can take up to ten years to germinate. Whatever planted it, it is a lovely thing. I knew at once that it was a spotted orchid because I have a long dormant memory of these plants from my early childhood. When I lived in Shetland in the deep deep past, I collected the local wildflowers, pressed them and stuck them in notebook, unsorted and with no explanation but a careful labelling of each one.

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I’ve kept that collection all these years and I knew that there was a spotted orchid in there, although rather smaller than the one in my herb pot. It was lovely to see one again. I hope it stays and makes more. Any advice on how to keep it, or move it to a wild part of the garden would be helpful!

The other random appearance was watercress in the pond. I noticed this the other day when I was looking for frogs.

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I don’t remember seeing it before but I had a very hazy memory of having planted some unsuccessfully several years ago. I checked my (pre-blog) garden diary, regretting its lack of a word search facility, and found a reference to having sown some seed with little result in a pot in the seedhouse and then having moved it to the pond in 2011, a little more recently than my pressed flowers from the 1960s. Anyway, that’s taken 8 years to appear in any meaningful way. It should be edible, though I’ve seen some debate on the internet about this. Again, any advice would be helpful.

There wasn’t any watercress in the bogs and fields of my childhood but, in among the watercress in my pond, is a thriving collection of wildflowers, some also based on my childhood memories of the far north of Scotland – bog cotton:

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bird’s foot trefoil,

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or craw’s taes as I knew it all those years ago:

20190717_225227[1]I love these wild flowers, slowly taking over my garden in relatively unplanned ways. They connect me to my past and bring me new joys.

A garden feast

I’ve spent most of today at the allotment, tackling weeds and harvesting onions. Everything is coming along nicely although the peas are still rather straggly, which is strange as the peas in the garden raised beds are in full flourish, with their beautiful butterfly wing flowers:

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The onions have been magnificent this year but feel a little overwhelming at the moment. I’ve also had an invasion of musical instruments, bikes, camping equipment, bags of laundry and random pairs of shoes this weekend. And that is a good thing, because it means that my lovely young people are around, filling the house with youthful noise and clutter and emptying the fridge. They are particularly good at helping to cook and eat their way through the fruit and vegetable gluts. This evening they helped to eat a feast from the garden, including a giant lettuce, with nasturtium garnish:

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An enormous pan of onion soup, with added herbs and Swiss chard:

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And the first broad bean guacamole of the summer:

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They’ll be in and out over the summer, bringing friends and more musicians, who last year helped me eat my giant marrows – for more on that see here

Fortunately the marrows have just got going:

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and in a few weeks should be big enough to feed my musicians.

Let the gluts begin

Been away for a wee holiday, enjoying the great outdoors, lots of walking, wildlife and dipping my toes in water, history, art, literature and gardens. But I’ll leave writing about that for another day. The main thing is coming home to find that the cats have survived and the vegetables are flourishing

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The allotment is groaning in onions and strawberries and there is promise of lots more to come:

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These are the tomatoes and cucumbers in pots in the new seed palace. There are lots more in the ground. The cucumbers are doing beautifully in the cucumber frame, although a couple of monsters managed to breach the defences round the cucumbers  the other day:

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One of the joys of growing your own vegetables is sharing them with other people. Over the last few days I’ve delivered strawberries and raspberries to two generations of family members and served up garden salad, home made onion quiche, onion soup and new potatoes to several more – let the gluts begin.