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.

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.

The trouble with

.. courgettes is that they grow into marrows. We’ve had a bumper crop on the allotment this year and I’ve been struggling to keep up. My allotment keeper friend is not very keen on the big guys so I said would deal with them. Only, I didn’t get along to the plot for a few days and they grew even bigger and I couldn’t carry them all with my dodgy arm. I did get several home eventually. Fortunately my house has been taken over by a bunch of enthusiastic and hungry musicians (nothing to do with the Edinburgh Festival, just one of those things that happens when your young people grow up). They insisted on taking the most monstrous marrow and cooking it whole:

giant marrow(plates for scale, it didn’t even fit in our biggest casserole dish). In fact they cooked two marrows: the monster, which was stuffed with practically everything from the store cupboard plus some cheese, and its baby sister, which was created as a vegan version, with same miscellaneous filling but no cheese. These fed several hungry musicians, plus a few of us oldies for tea one night and the leftovers were turned into a rather good soup which fed us all the next day too.

You may not have spotted from the photo above, that the outside of the marrow was also tastefully decorated  to make it look like a bus – close up of windows here:

wp_20180815_21_59_06_pro.jpgThis was inspired, we think, by  The Trouble with Grandad by Babette Cole, a much loved favourite from when the musicians were much smaller. Fortunately we still have a copy so were able to remind ourselves of this glorious gardening story. I won’t give a way any plot spoilers, but lets just say that it features a similar giant vegetable which is not dissimilar to  our bus marrow.

Well done, young people for your creative efforts. Meanwhile, here is what is still waiting in the kitchen to be attended to (just saying):

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I’ll get the pickle making juices flowing soon. I won’t be pickling the cucumbers though. They have been equally majestic, if rather more restrained in size,  this year:

WP_20180811_12_31_42_Pro (1)The cucumber plant in my cucumber frame has escaped out of its raised bed and started climbing up the hedge at the back of the garden:

wp_20180818_11_16_05_pro.jpgWonderful. But these are best just eaten raw in salads, or even straight from the plant as a mid-morning snack.

Frog update

There were a few drops of rain today and the frogs came out to play

I counted ten at one point – that’s the most I’ve seen at one time. They range from enormous

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to very tiny

 

WP_20180715_16_21_42_Prosometimes they come in pairs:

WP_20180715_15_50_31_Proand this one was worshipping the great frog goddess:

Frog goddessI could watch them all day.  Meanwhile, in other garden news, we’ve had a little rain and the peas, broad beans, raspberries and strawberries are abundant. This is fairly normal for early July. What is much more unusual is that tomatoes are fully formed:

WP_20180715_16_38_37_Prooutside, and showing tinges of yellow. We also have our first baby marrow:

WP_20180715_16_38_56_ProI’m still doing everything somewhat one-handed but, mostly, the garden is looking after itself.

Advent calendar

2017 Reclaiming Paradise advent calendar revealed

Advent calendarAnd in today’s window we have:

WP_20171126_17_40_28_ProA jar of marrow pickle!

You’ll find something from the garden in the store cupboard on the twitter account throughout December and an update every few days on here.

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.

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.

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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:

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

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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.

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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

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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

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

 

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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;

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

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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.

Magic Seedlings

I have never got over the magic of a germinated seed. Even to hardened gardeners, those first little signs of life are the proof that there is magic in the world. Although some of my vegetables are up and growing, some things have just peeked their tiny green heads above the soil. Here, for example, are my first ever germinated parsley seeds. These are notoriously difficult to germinate, but this year they’ve come through:

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And here are some aubergines:

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Don’t laugh, I thought they weren’t going to come up at all this year.  Here is some basil, looking rather more sturdy:

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I’ve been experimenting with these ‘peat free’ planting pod thingies and they seem to have worked really well, especially with tomatoes, peppers etc.  You plant one seed (or if you’re a bit nervous, 2 or 3 or 4 as with the basil) in each pod and then plant the whole thing out once they’ve properly established.  Seems to work. The other secret, which may explain the parsley, is an electric propagator. I really try to resit anything like this but it’s only one small tray and it seems to make all the difference just to get things up through the soil.

Here are the courgettes and marrows.

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Here I have a problem. If you look carefully – excusing the lazy plant labels – you will see about 12 courgettes and only one marrow. what to do? Do I

1) Plant out all the courgettes but let some grow into marrows;
2) Sow some more marrow seeds, just in case;
3) Be patient and hope that some more marrows come up?

The problem with 1 and 2, of course, is that I will end up with 12 marrow plants which is probably more than even I can cope with – see here for my love of marrows.

Solstice

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Edinburgh skyline from Inverleith Park, midwinter

I took this photo yesterday but the light in the sky was so lovely, it represents the season rather better than the rain and gloom today.

We should have had a special dinner to celebrate the Solstice but it was one of those ‘see what’s in the fridge and cook it’ days. So we had green soup: cabbage, courgette, leek and some ageing sprouts.  I know it doesn’t sound in the least bit tempting but it was rather good.  In more celebratory mode, we had the last marrow last night:

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The last of a wondrous crop this year.  This one had been sitting in the vegetable basket for a couple of months but was delicious in a vegetable curry, despite the long wait.

And here’s the advent calendar update for the Solstice:

Spider plant – you know why – if not,see here

Hamamelis – the lovely witch hazel, blooming magnificently in the early spring

and the beautiful bees, cheering us all as we creep slowly through these dark winter days.