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.

Solstice soup

Today’s the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year but the one where we can start looking again for light and the promise of spring. It’s rained for most of the day but I went into the garden in the rain and hauled out masses of overgrown stuff from round the pond. The frogs like the overgrown weeds but I know that there are spring bulbs underneath it all and so worth hauling some of it out. It felt quite therapeutic.  I was called away from this task by a horde of musicians who have returned to take over the back room, having not quite finished the recording they started in the summer – for more on the musicians see here. The musicians are lovely, but hungry. We raided the freezer and found soup, made when the summer vegetables were in full production. Here is the courgette and pea (and are there any marrows in this? – well maybe). It doesn’t look very green in this photo but that’s because I photographed the steam.

20181221_130010[1]The courgette and pea was consumed rather quickly and then more musicians appeared so we had to unearth a tomato soup from the freezer as well, this one looking a little more festive:

20181221_131155[1]There are still no festive decorations up here at Reclaiming Paradise but a house full of young people eating their way through the summer’s vegetables feels like a good way to celebrate the Solstice.

Saving seeds

Despite today’s rain, I went along to the allotment this afternoon to see what was up. The apples have now all been harvested though there are several bags sitting waiting to be consumed. The courgettes are still coming slowly, there are handfuls of raspberries each week and there are winter brassicas waiting their turn. But most of the harvesting is now over. So today I planted some autumn onion sets and overwintering broad beans.  I did take a photo:

WP_20181007_16_43_58_Pro[1]That’s an onion bed with anti-bunny wire netting.  I admit it’s not very exciting but it excites me to think that next year’s onion crop is lurking beneath the soil and that there are broad beans in the bed next to it. There’s nothing like thinking about next year’s crop to get you through a damp dreary Sunday.. unless it’s looking at seeds:

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These are my saved seeds from the pink pea plant. This was a heritage variety – Pea Salmon Pink – which I originally picked up at a seed swap event a couple of years ago. They have lovely flowers and a very unusual growing habit, with the peas all growing at the top of the plant. Oh and the bees seem to like them too:

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You can’t buy these beauties and I was worrying about what would happen when I ran out of seeds, so decided to try and save some. Those in the picture are the result. I’ve dried them out carefully on a sunny windowsill and put them away in a labelled envelope. While I was at it, I saved some sweet pea seeds too. Crossed fingers they will grow ok next year. Now that is almost more exciting than sowing next year’s beans and onions.

Roses and memories

The end of July is time to celebrate wedding anniversaries and to remember those we have lost. I visited my mother earlier in the week and attempted some one-handed pruning of her overgrown wilderness.

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I’m not sure I made much of an impact.  I also noticed that her ‘Golden Wedding’ Rose had survived a recent pergola catastrophe:

WP_20180725_12_28_58_Pro.jpgMy Dad put the pergola up for their Golden wedding nine years ago, but it all collapsed in an early summer storm a month or so ago. I was very pleased to see this bud about to burst open to celebrate their 59th anniversary, although always sad that he is no longer with us to see it

Meanwhile, back in Edinburgh, our own silver wedding roses are blooming away:

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We went out last night to celebrate our own anniversary and were going to do a celebratory visit to the allotment on the way home to do some much needed watering (I’m just a romantic at heart) but the skies put on a spectacular thunder and lightning storm for us instead, along with some rain so the watering wasn’t needed.

This morning I popped along to the allotment on the way back from a physiotherapy appointment, the latest in the ongoing saga of my damaged arm. The physiotherapist asked me, Have you been off work? Well no, because I rather stupidly plodded on through the pain. What about  hobbies? Well, gardening – I’m sure you can do a lot of gardening with one hand. I have every respect for the physiotherapist’s skills but I suspect she wasn’t a gardener. So the one-handed gardening continues, and the hospital is near the allotment so I harvested some courgettes which were about to turn into marrows (best to pick them quickly before the allotment holder comes by with her anti-marrow devices. My love of marrows is not shared).  It seems to be possible to do one-handed pickle making:

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I also harvested a lot of peas from the garden but can’t decide what to do with them. They seem too precious to freeze. It may be pea and bean guacamole for tea tonight.

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It’s been a funny kind of day. A day to remember Dad and to wonder what he would think about the roses and the allotment and the peas and the pickles.  One of my enduring memories of him was his joy at his vegetable harvest during the heatwave of 1976. We lived in the far north of Scotland and that year he had bumper harvest while everywhere else was scorched dry. He would probably approve.

Pea soup and summer pudding

My gardening is still a little restricted by my damaged arm but I’m enjoying doing some light harvesting and cooking. Today’s haul included pea soup:

 

WP_20180721_15_39_38_Pro.jpgMade mostly from mange tout peas with some added whole peas from the heritage salmon pink pods – all very beautiful in flower but equally good to eat

We also had some broad bean guacamole

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Later we had summer pudding. This is a dish which looks unlikely, but was described by a young visitor as ‘the best thing I’ve ever tasted’. It didn’t last long:

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Summer pudding recipe

  • Mixed soft fruit – strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants (about 500g)
  • A stick of rhubarb, cut into chunks
  • about 100ml orange juice
  • tblsp lemon juice
  • 50g sugar
  • 3-4 slices of sliced bread*

All quantities are very approximate – nothing matters too much so long as it fits in your pudding basin and you can adjust the sugar according to taste and health obsessions

  1. Heat the orange and lemon juice in a pan and dissolve the sugar
  2. Stew the rhubarb in the juice for about five minutes until the mixture is quite thick
  3. Add the soft fruit and cook for about one minute – don’t overdo it
  4. Line a pudding basin with 2-3 slices of bread
  5. Pour the fruit and juice into the basin
  6. Put the last slice of bread on top to make a lid
  7. Put a small plate on top of the pudding and add something heavy to weigh it down (I use a cast iron pestle and mortar but whatever you have around would do)
  8. Leave to cool and then put in the fridge overnight
  9. Turn out onto a large plate and decorate with some extra fruit

*The recipes usually say to use white bread and cut the crusts off. I don’t bother. Wholemeal or granary bread with crusts seems to work perfectly well. We don’t always have sliced bread in the house but because of my wonky arm, we have been buying the sliced stuff  so I can make my own breakfast without asking some one to cut the bread for me. Unsliced bread would work too but you would have to cut it fairly thin.

Slowing down

There’s a heatwave in Scotland, too much going on in the day job, garden and allotment in full vegetable production. They don’t combine well with putting your left arm out of action with a (thankfully) minor injury. So I’ve had to slow down. The grass will stay long, the weeds will invade, the shrubs will grow straggly but the frogs and bees are in heaven.

frog in lilies

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The lawn is full of clover.

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I love it and so do the bees. I’m trying to slow down, pick the peas and raspberries and watch the tomatoes, marrows, bees and frogs enjoy the sun. Everything else will have to wait.

… oh and typing with one hand means the blog will be full of typos but like the weeds and the wildlife, they may bring special joys

 

Rainbow Peas

All my lovely multicoloured edible peas are now in full bloom:

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and some purple flowered beans:

wp_20180704_21_12_28_pro1.jpgAnd the sweet peas are also rather good:

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Red runner bean flowers and rainbow chard in the background too

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Cucumber frame

I finally got round to building my second lego brick raised bed. The first one is doing well:

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with tomatoes, lettuce and Swiss chard all looking fairly happy. The sea shell is supposed to stop people from poking their eyes out.  I planned the new raised bed so that my trusty plastic cloche will fit over it, making it into a kind of cold frame – or perhaps a cucumber frame, which I’ve always had a strange fancy for:WP_20180622_20_12_40_Pro

My seed house already has its maximum three cucumber plants.

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The strange thing about this year’s cucumbers is that I sowed two varieties: green ones, Marketmore, and yellow Chrystal Lemon. Only four seeds germinated and I assumed they were all the same, hoping that they would be the Chrystal Lemons as they are so good. It seems though, that I have two of each.

I don’t know what happened there but it does mean that I have one spare green one to plant in the new raised bed. I’ve also put in a courgette and some very small basil seedlings

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This will be slug paradise of course but I’m hoping that the frogs that inhabit that part of the garden will work to keep them under control*

Meanwhile summer vegetable production is seriously under way. The allotment has been producing rhubarb and the first strawberries. From the garden, we’ve had a garden salad, including the first cucumber and the first red onion:

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And today I spotted the first mange tout peas:

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*and by the way, I discovered that they don’t like cider. My experiments with cider filled slug-pubs caught a lot of fruit flies and one snail in the course of a week so that didn’t work.

 

Peas

The last couple of days’ rain has brought on some new growth and the peas are finally romping away. I’ve been enjoying the way their tendrils grasp at whatever passes near them:

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They go where they choose, often attaching themselves to a nearby plant:

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This one attached itself to a neighbouring onion. My mixed and overcrowded planting often leads to these happy relationships.

 

Allotment wildlife

I had a little post-work wander down the allotment this evening. It’s been very dry, although a little cold and we were worried that the newly planted brassicas and peas might have succumbed to drought, or beasts of some kind. I am pleased to report that they have all survived, so far. They are well protected from rabbits and pigeons, and maybe slugs:
WP_20180524_18_57_19_Pro.jpgI gave them a good soak and hope they will hang on until they are a bit bigger and able to withstand whatever they need to withstand. There are two purple Brussels sprouts and four purple sprouting broccoli plants under those plastic covers.

I checked on the pea seedlings, which also seem to be withstanding the drought, rabbits and slugs. The seeds did not all germinate but I planted a few extra seedlings from the garden to encourage them along a bit. The allotment peas are Carouby de Maussane and the heritage pink pea – pictures here to remind you what they will look like in a month or so and to encourage the seedlings:

Then I watered a bit more round the plot, did a bit of weeding and found this beautiful ladybird, enjoying the weeds:

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On my way home, I saw the resident allotment fox. Apparently she also has cubs but I didn’t see them.