Renewal

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:

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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:

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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:

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a bramble bush:

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a cotoneaster:

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and, astonishingly, a yew tree.

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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!

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.

Advent Calendar Days 15-20

Today I’ve been at home in daylight and even done some gardening.  I forgot to take any photos in the garden  but here’s a wee update on the wild and wonderful Advent Calendar this week. On Saturday the 15th, snow and hail and all sorts of wintriness was forecast. I spent the day delivering mince pies to my mother and helping her to eat them, while sorting out her Christmas card list. By the time I got round to thinking about the advent calendar, it was dark and it was hailing. So here is a picture of the pond in the hail:

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On Sunday the 16th the sun came out and it felt quite springlike. I went for a walk in the park and watched people feeding the birds in a rather bigger pond than mine:

20181216_113535[1]I got along to the allotment in the afternoon to do some weeding and harvest some beetroot and check that the Brussels sprouts were doing ok. We only succeeded in growing one plant but I’m hoping it will provide enough for Christmas dinner. A friendly robin joined me and became my advent window for the 17th

20181216_184438On the 18th I was stuck at work all day and never saw daylight. I got home very late but Bella was able to inspire me with her feline ability to concentrate on her own concerns and show no interest in my woes:

20181218_214111Yesterday I walked past the writers’ museum in Edinburgh on my way to work and noticed the inscriptions on the flagstones in the courtyard. I thought this one from John Muir seemed apt for day 19:

20181212_093003And today, I finally was able to take a day off, mooch round some charity shops, go swimming and appreciate the little garden outside the swimming pool, and the birds chirping in the trees for day 20:

When I got home it was still light and I did some much needed tidying up and weeding in the front garden. This year has been very busy and lots of garden duties have been neglected but it was good to feel my hands in the soil and notice some tiny signs of new growth appearing on some of the shrubs. I also spotted some bulbs pushing up to bring us hope of spring. Tomorrow is the winter solstice, then the days will start slowly to lengthen again and spring will come.

Advent calendar update

It’s been a bit of a long week but keeping my eyes open for snatches of winter joy has helped me get through. So here’s an update:

Day 8 – I was walking along the street, not feeling very festive, when I heard workmen singing Christmas carols as they worked. This prompted me to photograph some festive holly:

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Day 9 – tiny signs of spring. Snowdrops peeking through the soil outside my mother’s new flat

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Day 10 – frosted oak leaf lying among the frosted clover in my lawn

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Day 11 Chelsea sitting under a broccoli plant

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Day 12 Lovely morning light

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Day 13 – glorious sunrise – one of the small advantages of the short December days

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Day 14 I walked to work and heard birds singing in the trees. In this picture there is one fat pigeon but also lots of tiny sparrows, cheering me on my way

20181214_090843So, another week with no gardening but some tiny glimpses of joy in nature around us. I am constantly surprised by these beauties. Some days it has taken a real effort but there is always something if you look.

Wild and wonderful advent calendar

The first week of my wild and wonderful advent calendar has gone rather well. I set out to tweet something that struck me as wild or wonderful every day. This has forced me to go outside at least for a few minutes in the morning or in the middle of the day when there was still some light and to try and notice the world around me. Some days this is easy but others I have to really pay attention. So for your enjoyment, here is the first week of wildness and wonder:

Day 1 – the Viburnum in the front garden, in full flower and with a scent to knock your socks off

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Day 2 – Chelsea decided to climb the apple tree, her wondrous colouring only just managing to not merge with the red berries on the cotoneaster

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Day 3 – was a little gloomy but I made myself walk to work to look for wildness and wonder. I saw lots of things but I was waiting for something to strike me. The wonder came from a bush full of sparrows. I couldn’t see them but the bush was alive with chirping;

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Day 4- frost was forecast, so I nipped out to the back garden to catch the frosty rainbow chard

20181204_082327Day 5 – was another glorious frosty morning. I went out into the garden to see if there was anything new and I hear a wren in a tree. Again, I couldn’t catch it in the photo but rather liked the dawn light through my neighbour’s apple tree (much bigger than the one that Chelsea tried to climb):

20181205_075130Day 6 – I caught the light at the end of the day. I’m usually stuck in an office at this time but yesterday I happened to be out and about and saw the light begin to leave the sky at 3.30pm:

20181206_153319Day 7 – my work took me out around central Scotland by train. I spent some rather chilly moments waiting on railway platforms. But the sun came out and struck one of these little wooden trains which often cheer me in these small town stations:

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So my first week of looking for wildness and wonder in December has gone rather well. It has been more challenging than the 30dayswild challenge in June but has proved to be possible and perhaps even more joyful. It is easy to find joy in nature in June when the days are long and everything is at its best. It’s tougher in December, with such short days and plenty of gloom. Look out for more on my twitter feed and an update on here next week.

 

Sheds

After a little twitter discussion on #gardenshour the other night, which ended up with more information about deceased vermin that I really wanted, I got to thinking about sheds and their contents. I had commented blythely that I had spent the weekend clearing out a shed (part of my mother’s moving house project) . The shed contained joys of all sorts of other kinds, including: enough plastic pots to keep any gardener going for at least 50 years, the stand for my now 21 year old baby’s Moses basket, several trowels in a range of states of usefulness and decay, several broken bird feeders, some random bags and jars of plant food, bird food and cleaning products, string, cardboard, newspaper, useful plastic thingies, useless plastic thingies, useful wooden thingies, useless wooden thingies, a chimenea, a box of partly rotten cooking apples, a wasps nest, more garden tools in various states of decay, more plastic plant pots, a few rather nice clay pots…

but actually not any dead mice. Someone on twitter asked if there had been any dead mice in the shed. I confess that my twitter response was a tiny white lie – the dead mouse was in the house. Sorry to remind you dear sister but these joys are side effects of cat ownership and I’ve got used to it over the years.

Anyway, it was a lovely sunny day and we made good progress, if not entirely finishing the job. We really have to admire my parents’ generation’s ability to keep things on the grounds that they might come in handy one day. Most (if not quite all) of the things in the shed did have potential uses. Sadly, quite a lot of it had to go to the ‘recycling centre’, a modern euphemism for the dump, but some has been spared to pass on to new homes and I’ve brought one of the better trowels to pass on to my mother so that she can do some midnight gardening in the grounds of her new flat. She’s worried that it’s not really allowed so intends to plant bulbs in the dark.

Back to musing about the shed though, and the deceased vermin. I remembered the project that I carried out with my grown up 21 and 19 year olds when they were about 4 or 5, when we painted murals on the inside of our garden shed to make it into a sort of play house.  I asked them what should be included.  Their interests in those days included dinosaurs, dogs, flowers and butterflies:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASea creatures:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGiraffes:

pb280296.jpgflamingoes and peacocks:OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAour then cat, Roxy:

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and a tiny mouse, to commemorate, the inevitable deceased one which we had found when clearing it out (sorry no photo of the mouse painting) – it’s a thing, deceased vermin in sheds.

Inside/outside, dealing with weatherhouse cats

Cats, as you know, are always on the wrong side of the door.

DSCN5359Here is our lovely Bella on her first ever trip outside in 2015. She has got a little bigger since then but has had to face new challenges in the battle of the doors with the arrival of Chelsea:

my mother’s cat who has had to leave her old home and her handy cat flap to come and stay with us, at least for the moment, while my mother works out whether she can manage to have a cat in her new tiny flat.

Unfortunately, these two delightful animals are not the best of friends, so we have had to devise ways of keeping them apart. To begin with we kept Chelsea inside, but now we have let her out to explore the garden:

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She seems reasonably impressed and completely at home but they still hiss and yowl whenever they see each other. So for the moment we are operating a one cat in, one cat out system, like the little couple in an old fashioned weatherhouse.  This is more or less working except at night when, generally speaking, they both want to be in.  This requires a simple system requiring a shut door and a big warning to passing residents to think before opening it:

wp_20181115_21_56_36_pro1.jpgIt has worked quite well except that cats can’t read and these two are quite clever. One or other of them worked out how to open the door, as we discovered when we were awoken in the middle of the night to yowling and hissing.  An ingenious son, left on his own to cat wrangle while I was out at work, came up with a system involving chairs and bits of rope, which worked to stop the cats from opening the door.  But it really seemed a little too uncivilised for anyone who might want to use the bathroom in the middle of the night.  So this evening I had a look through the ‘that might be useful one day’ box and found a snib for the top of the door. There were a few of these in the box because the previous owners of the house had them attached to every door to  keep dogs in or out :

wp_20181115_21_56_27_pro1.jpgFor once something from that box has been used. Let’s see if it works at least until the cats can learn not to kill each other in the middle of the night.