London flowers

I’ve been away again and not gardening or blogging as much as I should. I was in London for a family event but I sought out some floweriness even in the big city.  As part of #30DaysWild I tried to find some wildness in the city parks and found these glorious (if not actually wild) foxgloves.

20190607_134211

There is a bee in the white one on the right, making it a little bit wild:20190608_130113The highlight though was my adult son’s suggestion to go and look at the roses in Regent’s Park. He’s always been a flower lover and it was entirely in keeping that we made this detour to sniff flowers:

20190607_193047

.. just roses though, no embarrassing photos of him now or when he was four (though there are many).

Now I’m home and the garden is growing beautifully and the wildlife is doing what wildlife does:

20190609_113815

20190610_190411

Over at the allotment, things are less cheery as the slugs and snails have demolished my peas but the beans and onions are doing well and I’ll sow some more peas in the hope that they’ll catch up.

 

Thirty days wild

It’s June, so it’s time for #30DaysWild – an annual event run by the Wildlife Trusts  to encourage people to get outside and enjoy nature. I try to appreciate nature every day, not just in June, but the 30 Days Wild event makes me try that little bit harder. My busy city life doesn’t usually allow me time to do some of the more adventurous things suggested by the Wildlife Trusts but I try to find some joy in nature in my garden, my allotment and in the urban landscape. While it’s easy to find wildness in the garden and allotment, I can also find nature walking to and from work, taking a moment just to listen to the birds or to notice the wildflowers growing between the paving stones or the roses escaping from the gardens. I’ve followed 30 days wild for a couple of years now – see previous posts here and here and even tried to do it in December  to lift the winter gloom.

20181224_121542

December was a bit of a struggle, but it’s easy to find joy in nature in June. The start of the month has proved a little challenging as I was travelling and busy with work but I shared the shelter of marble pillars outside an art gallery with a little bird, as a thunderstorm raged around us:

20190530_154555Now I’m home and able to enjoy the simple pleasures of a bee on the clover which has rooted in the paving in my front garden:

20190602_122638and the rose ‘Shropshire Lad’ which I planted beside the back hedge to provide scent and colour where there used to a conifer desert

20190603_202552

I’ll keep tweeting some wildness every day on my twitter account @GreenBeanJackie  If you look at the #30DaysWild hashtag you’ll find lots of other people enjoying nature in extraordinary and everyday places. I hope you all have a wild month!

 

 

In other newts*

…the frogs are back!

20190420_140652

We’ve missed seeing them in the pond since last summer but the sunny weather has brought them back. We spotted at least two but I am sure there are more lurking in the undergrowth. We also have newts, dozens and dozens of them. They are harder to photograph as they flit about just under the surface rather than sitting still like the frogs. Bella is intrigued by all this underwater excitement:

20190421_103656

We also have an invasion of ladybirds:

I love these tiny creatures, even more so because they eat aphids. I’ve been trying to encourage them on to the roses which seem to suffer most of the tiny greenies but it’s lovely just to see the ladybirds, whatever they are doing.

It’s been lovely weekend, spent mainly in the garden, feasting our eyes on this glorious wildlife, entertaining a random collection of relatives and passing musicians and feasting ourselves on various delicacies, including an unseasonal Christmas pudding, bought in enthusiasm at a bargain price in late December. It was eaten outside, for an Easter feast. I was looking for an edible flower to decorate with – or at least something that wouldn’t poison us – rosemary seemed the most suitable

easter-pudding.jpg

Happy Easter, or Happy Spring, or whatever you celebrate, I hope you celebrate it well

*Thanks to my older son for the pudding and the title of today’s post

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:

20190414_124312

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:

20190414_130813

 

 

20190414_130824

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:

20190414_163119.jpg

a bramble bush:

20190414_165629.jpg

a cotoneaster:

20190414_165640

and, astonishingly, a yew tree.

20190414_165615

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:

20190414_175626[1]

 

 

Foraging

Last weekend I was away,  staying in a caravan, having a long lie while reading in a sleeping bag and listening to birdsong, then waking myself up by paddling in freezing sea. Here is a photo of fabulous gorse bushes with a wonderful coconut scent

20190406_152734[1]

It was all lovely but there was no gardening or allotment activity. So far, there has not been much this weekend either. I found myself at the seaside again, though much closer to home, wandering along Portobello Promenade in the icy wind and not at all tempted to paddle, despite the sunshine.

In the morning, before my trip to the beach, I did some foraging, on the local cycle path. In Wordsworthian mode I was wandering lonely as cloud and saw a crowd, a host of wild white garlic flowers:

20190413_102023[1]

I stopped to gather a rather large bunch, whisked them home, added a couple of handfuls of nettles from the garden and made weed pesto – for the recipe see here. except use wild garlic instead of ordinary garlic.

Spurred on by this culinary enthusiasm I harvested some rhubarb and have just put an ‘allotment cake’ in the oven. The recipe is from a book called ‘Bake a Difference’ by Bee Rawlinson and published by Traidcraft. I can’t find it online except through a well known international book sales outfit which I try to avoid, so it may be out of print.  The cake is a version of my tried and tested apple cake, except with rhubarb and grated carrots instead of apples. It’s still in the oven so we have yet to test it.  I have just been reminded by the younger generation that we haven’t had tea yet and cake (despite its healthy vegetable content) will probably not do. An offer of pasta with weed pesto was not greeted with enthusiasm so it may have to be something much more ordinary. Tomorrow, I hope, will be a gardening day.

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.

Squirrel

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:

20190126_1248151.jpg

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

Seed box

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:

20190122_0847001.jpg

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.

Reclaiming Paradise awards 2018

WP_20180915_15_48_20_Pro.jpg

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:

WP_20180415_19_31_07_Pro

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:

WP_20180630_11_19_37_Pro

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:

WP_20180915_14_35_19_Pro

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 :

giant marrow

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:

20181208_164641.jpg

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.

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:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

Allotment harvest

I was along at the allotment this afternoon to bring home a harvest. Up until now, I’ve tended to bring home a few vegetables at a time but today it felt like a real harvest. In preparation, I took my bike along. I still can’t actually cycle though the arm is improving every day but I knew that I could walk with the bike and it would act as a handy pack horse.  As usual, I forgot to take any photographs of the vegetables but we collected up a huge pile of potatoes, almost all of the onions, two huge bags of apples (a branch had collapsed off one of the trees – they are not quite ripe but should be cookable), three more marrows, six courgettes, six white turnips some runner beans and a handful of autumn fruiting raspberries.  Here are a couple of photos of the allotment from a few weeks ago when the peas and beans and potatoes were in full growth:

We shared our spoils between us. My share fitted nicely in the panniers of my bike:WP_20180819_17_14_50_Pro (1).jpgenabling me to get a very heavy load home.  We had the turnips in white sauce for tea. I’m going to have to organise a jam and pickle making session for the marrows and apples soon but haven’t quite found the time.

At the allotment, I had leant my bike against the compost bin – it has to go somewhere – and while my back was turned, a family of ladybirds moved onto the bag I had brought for the potatoes – along with some less pleasant blackfly:

WP_20180819_17_02_03_Pro.jpgI was tempted to bring the ladybirds home, but moved them all onto the marrow plants instead to continue their blackfly munching.  We also spotted a huge frog in the compost bin. Something rather larger – we don’t really want to know what – has been helping itself to some of our broad beans and leaving plum stones lying about but it is good to know that there is at least some helpful wildlife on the plot.

Frog and bee paradise

This weekend has been all about the frogs and the bees.  We’ve always had frogs in the garden, even before we built the pond and we were delighted when they moved into the water.  We don’t see them very often as they are, rightly a little shy, what with cats prowling about.  This weekend though they have been sitting in the pond, poking their little noses in the air, catching flies or other delicacies.  Last night I counted six, tonight there were nine. Don’t you just love them?

WP_20180624_10_13_04_Pro (1)

WP_20180624_22_15_22_Pro

WP_20180624_22_15_48_Pro

WP_20180624_15_27_32_Pro (1)There was even one at the allotment this evening

wp_20180624_19_27_31_pro.jpgYesterday I spent the whole day in the garden, planting, weeding, generally tidying up and, while I was there, noted down all the flowers that were attracting bees.  I came up with the following list: campion, clover, foxglove, raspberry, radish, thyme, sage, escallonia, cotoneaster, borage, daisy. Bees are much harder to photograph than frogs as they don’t stay still for long. I managed to catch this one on a beautiful red scabiousWP_20180623_14_04_00_Pro.jpg

Watching the frogs and bees has been part of my #30days wild challenge. They have certainly repaid my patience. Maybe it’s because I took the time to really look, or maybe it’s the warm weather. Either way, I’m delighted.