Seeds

The seed palace is now populated! I had a small window of time this morning to sow some seeds, resulting in two small trays of oriental salad and one of sweet peas:

I also sowed some broad beans and spinach in the surprisingly warm ground. The sun is deceptive though and I have covered these with a cloche:

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Just to show that I don’t always, or even usually, rush out and buy new stuff, you will be pleased to know that this cloche is constructed from a twenty-five year old frame and has a cover from another defunct plastic seed house. It is tied down against gales using old bicycle inner tubes and the whole thing is protected with metal shelves from same defunct seed house to deter any cats who might think that this is just one big cat toilet or sunbathing spot.

I didn’t have time for any more gardening today but I did go to the big seed swap at Gorgie City Farm. I spent many happy days with my sons there when they were small and am always pleased to visit the chickens, pigs, goats and, of course, vegetables. I deposited countless unwanted packets of free seeds from the front of gardening magazines, collected by me and my allotment buddy. In return I got these gems:

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Three varieties of heritage pea including one ‘mystery pea’, some runner beans and some sweet peas. It is a scientific fact that you cannot have too many peas, beans or sweet peas, not in my garden anyway.

A good day and an important start to the growing season.

Seed Palace

First of all, here are my quick, let’s compare the garden to this time last year, pictures. Here is the pond this year, complete with daffodils and the cowometer showing a no snow reading, and how it was during the Beast from the East, with the cowometer fully charged:

But on to the seed palace. I’ve had my trusty seed house for about ten years but it is really beginning to show its age and it doesn’t seem to be possible to buy a replacement cover

20190302_103831When I suggested to the other household members that I might upgrade to give my seedlings a new home and make the area look a bit nicer, the response was ‘it could hardly look any worse’. It doesn’t help that it’s full of old pots and dead plants. I took that to mean ‘go ahead’. So I have invested in what has come to be known as the seed palace. This meant the arrival of a very big box, delivered by a rather grumpy man who complained about its size. Then I had to wait until this morning before I could put it up. First of all I had to remove the old seedhouse and tidy up some of the dreadful weeds and mess that had built up around it. An old kitchen bread knife came in handy for some of the weeds embedded between the paving stones:20190302_104907

I still need to decide what to do with the old seedhouse. I do have plans, but for the moment I have tied it to a garden chair to stop it blowing away. Then I was able to start the joyful meccano exercise of putting the new one together. I read the instructions carefully, checking I had all the bits and pieces and necessary tools:

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I decided to do the actual construction inside. It’s a bit cold today and I knew I would end up getting very frustrated and probably break something if I had to fiddle with all of these bits and pieces out in the cold and wind. The only distraction was the cats, who apart from their daily mission to kill each other, also wanted to inspect this new piece of furniture. Because of the killing thing, they are still having to take turns at being in or out. This was Chelsea’s turn to be in and to inspect the palace:

After a little bit of swearing when I found some screw holes missing, and the use of our trusty handdrill – it has been mocked by visiting nephews but is very handy for small jobs like this – the thing was finally finished. With the help of an assistant, I carried it outside and set it up in its new home:

20190302_150649Then it started to absolutely pour with rain, which we need, but I was glad I had done most of the work inside.  Now all I need is to tidy up all those buckets and things, crowding out its beauty and starting sowing some SEEDS for this new palace!

Lost and found

Spring has come early. The daffodils have joined the snowdrops and crocuses in bringing us cheer

Today I got out into the garden to do some clearing up. The hedge at the back of the garden, where the conifers used to be, is looking decidedly bedraggled. My idea that it would be full of life and colour and a huge improvement on the conifers has yet to materialise. Partly it is just winter and some of the things growing up it have yet to come into full joyousness but the bare bits are made slightly more complex by neighbours moving in behind the hedge. The house behind ours has been empty for a year or so and it hasn’t mattered very much that you can see straight into it but now we (and the new neighbours) seem just a little too transparent. Not that we get up to anything interesting but a certain level of privacy would be good. Today I used the springlike weather and some recent birthday gifts to try and fill the gaps a bit. Along with the existing honeysuckle and roses, I have now added another honeysuckle, a pink flowered jasmine, a pyracantha, a spring flowering clematis and some lavender seedlings.

If these all grow like they are supposed to the gaps in the hedge should fill up and there should be some winter greenery and early spring flowers and perhaps the neighbours won’t have quite such a ringside view of our family goings on. Meanwhile, the hedge threw up yet another piece of treasure, after all the footballs and whatnot from last year, today I found a keyring under the hedge, complete with key for the shed padlock, lost about five or six years ago and long since replaced:

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It’s very muddy and a little rusty but it has returned from the planet of the keyrings to its proper home.

At last, February

I’ve got a bit behind on the blog, what with the usual winter darkness and other commitments but, today, spring is in the air at last. I made a pilgrimage to the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens with my mother to look at the snowdrops:

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The gardens have a bare beauty at this time of year, with architectural trees, some tiny flowers and plenty of birdsong. They were also busy with visitors: families with small children, young couples, older people, tourists. We had a little reminisce over the generations of visits we have made to the gardens, always a popular place with children of all ages. We also enjoyed reading all the plaques on the memorial benches, and sitting on a few of the benches.  I noticed that there is now a ‘free library‘, down near the hot houses:

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currently filled mostly with novels.

Note of course that public libraries are also free and have many more books but it’s good to know that, should you find yourself sitting on one of the many memorial benches with nothing to read, you can find something in the free library.

Having tried out a few more benches, sniffed a few witch hazels and listened to robins in the trees, we came away with a bag full of plants from the shop – my mother’s birthday present to me. By the time we got home it was dark so the plants will have to wait until tomorrow to be planted. Meanwhile we had a good sniff of the winter box (sarcococca confusa) that sits just outside the bike shed on the way to my kitchen door:

20190215_182401[1]Spring is definitely in the air.

Big garden no bird watch

Today was the RSPB Big Garden Bird Watch day. I’ve counting the birds in my garden at the end of January for over twenty years and have found that the birds vary enormously from one year to the next. One of the variables has been the change in garden. My old garden attracted the usual sparrows and blue tits, blackbirds and robins but also starlings.  In this garden, where I’ve now been counting birds for nearly ten years, there is a wider variety, including magpies and wrens, but I’ve never seen a starling.  The other variables include the weather, the time of day but, most of all, whether or not I put out bird food. I used to feed the birds and took great pleasure in watching them but a few years ago I noticed that the bird food also attracted mice, squirrels, and at least one rat. The mice I can live with, the squirrels, I thought were harmless and the rat, I have only seen once when polite guests were visiting and we all looked out into the garden. ‘Oh what’s that?’ ‘There’s some kind of animal in your garden’. Cue ‘how about some more tea? let’s go into the kitchen’. I’ve never seen it since.  I  quite liked the squirrels.

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They were fun and acrobatic but my sympathy for them disappeared the year that they broke into our roof space, ate their way through our electric wiring and built a nest above the bathroom ceiling. It’s a long story but the bathroom and the lights in the upstairs landing were out of action for months (pressure from my fellow residents meant that we had to wait until the baby squirrels had grown up before we could attend to them*) and getting all the repairs done cost a small fortune. So I stopped feeding the birds and the squirrels and the birds stopped coming into my garden in such great numbers. The squirrels also took the hint and have, so far, gone elsewhere to cause chaos in someone else’s house.

I still try to support the wildlife by gardening organically, leaving a lot of wild stuff, weeds, berries, seeds and what not in the undergrowth and providing a water supply with the pond. I’ve also got a bird bath in the front garden for any passing wildlife there.

For today’s bird watch I went into the garden, suitably dressed with several layers of thermal clothing (thanks to my lovely Norwegian friend who sends us thermal underwear every Christmas), a woolly hat, fingerless gloves and a big cup of coffee. I sat patiently for nearly an hour (until it started to rain). I heard lots of birds and I saw several seagulls, pigeons and crows soaring overhead but the only birds to land in the garden were one blackbird, one pigeon and a tiny bluetit in a tree. A pretty dismal collection this year. While I waited for the non-existent birds, I looked at my garden,  and made several plans for its development. While I was waiting for the birds, I noticed this ridiculous sweet pea, which is growing away bravely despite some recent very cold weather:

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Then I came inside and did my annual seed census from my trusty seed box:

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I did a little fantasising about this year’s peas and tomatoes, sweet peas and marrows but it seems I have nearly all the seeds I need for this year’s vegetables. I’ll just have to be patient before I can start sowing them.

In the mean time, I spotted a fox in the garden earlier in the week, when we had a heavy frost:

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So we may not have so many birds but we do have foxes and some silly sweet peas.

*no squirrels were harmed in the eviction – we just chased them away before destroying the nest and getting the ceiling rebuilt.

Worm’s eye view

Earlier in the week I got out into the front garden for a wee while in the sunshine. I noticed a huge worm on the paving stones.

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Who knows how it got there. I suppose it crept up through the cracks. Anyway, I picked it up and moved it onto a flower bed where I thought it would be happier.  While I was down on my hands and knees, I had a wee look to see what was in flower. All these lovelies were turning their heads to the sun:

and then I noticed crocuses, hiding underneath a gigantic lavender:

20190118_133309These are far too early for my garden but the combination of a low sun and the protection of the lavender must have brought them out.

Today I went to the allotment and spent a couple of hours, hauling up weeds mostly, and forgetting to take any photographs. But there was a lovely sunset to compensate on the way home:

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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.