Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Autumn colour

It's been much colder over the past couple of days, so it looks like autumn is finally here. The trees are turning now, with yellows showing through the greens. Of course, down the allotment, it's mostly browns, although the 'Winter Density' lettuce are up.

The remains of the Calendula will have to be pulled this weekend - they've done well. As soon as the frost hts, the Ricinus and Dahlia will become sludge.

Mr HM took some nice photos of a fig leaf and a Cercis canadensis 'Forest Pansy' leaf. Beautiful colours.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Not quite self sufficient!

The red cabbages I planted in the garden are looking very lacy thanks to the snails inhabiting the leaves. Once the damaged leaves are peeled off, the cabbage can be seen in all its glory:

My, how Mr HM laughed!

On the positive side, the allotment is gradually taking shape and today became a 'proper' allotment, with some garlic (courtesy of Henry - thanks!) planted, and a line of rather optimistically sown 'Arctic King' lettuce. I may need to supply some protection for these, assuming that the slugs and snails don't get to them first. The navvy and I dug two more beds and rather over-keenly started on the next beds, but soon realised our mistake. A couple more weeks of digging and it will all be sorted. I'll plant some green manure in most of the beds over the winter, to out-compete the weeds.

Two new beds, and the optimistically started 3rd row of beds...

I've also ordered some raspberries for the allotment: 18 canes for £21, with 6 canes of three different varieties, spreading the harvest from mid July to autumn. I've got 5 canes of 'Octavia' in the garden, which went in last November, and gave a small but delicious harvest this summer - it took me back to picking raspberries in my grandad's garden when I was little.

A bit chillier today and the sky has been a dull grey all day. Perhaps autumn is finally with us - the leaves are now yellowing on the trees along the front of the road. Surprisingly, the Indian Bean tree (Catalpa bignoniodes) has still got all of its leaves - like my parents' Robinia pseudoacacia 'Frisia' it's normally very late to gain its leaves and very early to lose them.

The Jay has been visiting the back garden this week, which is lovely to see. They are a very colourful member of the crow family, with a raucous call. Its favourite food is acorns, but it seems quite content with the peanuts supplied by us.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

My name is HappyMouffetard, and I have a problem...

They say that admitting you have a problem is the first step towards curing it. So, here goes... my name is HappyMouffetard and I am addicted to buying seeds.

It's not my fault, the pushers produce shiny catalogues, filled with so many promises. The rush of ordering on-line, the anticipation of the parcel arriving. The excitement of unpacking the parcel and reviewing all the different packets of hope. And, in the case of the package I got this morning, the joy of separating the hungarian rye seeds from the mangetout seeds, the packets of which had burst in transit.

Then, the fun of planting the seeds, the anticipation of the first hint of green appearing through the compost. But with the highs come the lows ... the devastating slug attacks, and when you go away at the weekend, only for it to be the hottest weekend on record, causing the seedlings to shrivel. And, even when you've carefully nurtured the little darlings, snail families take up residence in the cabbages, leading to ... well - I'll post the pictorial results of that little disaster tomorrow. Suffice to say, self sufficiency in red cabbage will not be happening this year.

Still, forced labour for Mr HM down the allotment tomorrow, and my wild over-optimism and enthusiasm will lead me to try planting a few lettuce 'Winter Density'. Mind you, a blue tit was cheerfully singing this morning, and if he thinks it's spring, then me planting a few seeds is a minor triumph of optimism over sense compared to his seasonal confusion.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The kindness of the allotmenteer

Having worried last week about not speaking to or seeing anyone at the allotment, today we met Harold. A lovely bloke of 72 who has 2 plots on the site. He gave plenty of advice on what grew best and very kindly gave us a whole load of veg to take home, including some samples of 'Cara' - a potato he recommended for the site, which I had not tasted before. Tonight we will be sampling the parsnips.

Veg courtesy of Harold

Today my labourer and I (thank you Mr HappyMouffetard!) double dug two 4 foot wide beds at the bottom of the plot. We dug out plenty of perennial roots as we went, but no doubt plenty more remain. Another couple of months and we'll have all of the beds dug (no point over-exherting ourselves!). The soil is nice & rich, with a sandy layer below - ideal for decent drainage. Now I'm just waiting for my asparagus plants to arrive.

On the home front, I've just trimmed the lawn edges, and done some deadheading of Dahlias and Rudbeckias (annual and perennial) to try and encourage a few more final blooms. I'm planning on buying a Viburnum shrub for the front garden, to give some fragrance over winter. I've found Crocus a good site for shrubs - excellent quality and the shrubs don't seem as expensive as the herbaceous plants they sell!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Waiting for frost

The summer's over, autumn is well and truly here. Gorgeous mists over the river in the mornings, with islands of trees emerging as the mists drift. A few cold mornings have meant that I'm now waiting for the first frost of the season, which will reduce the Ricinus plants to blackened stumps.

The smell of autumn is so evocative. It brings back memories of dahlias being prepared for showing (dad was a very successful shower of dahlias in the '70s). The smell of vegetation starting to break down, wood smoke and the smell of an imminent frost. Fantastic. It may be a foretaste of the cold and dark of winter to come, but to live in a country with such different seasons is amazing.

Putting the garden to be is the key job of the moment, although there are still plenty of blooms in the garden. The Schizostylis coccinea is still looking great, as are the Japanese anemones. The Verbena continues to attract butterflies into the garden. Mr HappyMouffetard trimmed the lavender flower heads and mowed the lawn, which is still growing quickly and completely recovered from the lack of water through July. Tomorrow we're down on 'the plot' to start digging beds, so hard work ahead. The beds may have to be double dug, with a lot of forking to remove perennial weed roots. No doubt more photos of the hard work to follow tomorow.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Conquering the Wilderness!

Two posts today! We've been down the allotment and made a start on reclaiming it from Mother Nature. It took around three hours to clear the worst of the top growth - I'm so glad we've got half a plot! I'll start getting the roots out as we dig the beds. It was nice to see some underlying structure in the plot - a few narrow paths. No major discoveries of long lost asparagus beds, sadly, but there is a rather decrepit gooseberry bush next to the little shed.
Next week we'll be laying out the bed structure and starting to get those roots out. I've discovered that the horsetail that I thought was just in the far corner is rather more widespread! Still, it'll give me something to do every time I'm down there...
One thing is for sure - I won't be thinking about taking on the other half of the plot - it looks like part of the jungle! I think I spotted a jaguar pacing through it... although it will be a useful source of blackberries, hopefully.
We've now got a huge pile of weeds in the top corner, which I'm not sure what to do with - I think I'll take it down the tip a little at a time, as I don't think it'll make good compost, particularly with the horsetail in it.
Still, we had an excellent morning - we got far more done that we thought. There is carpet down in some places (although there are still viable roots underneath) and we will be able to start digging next week. The soil seems very good - a little heavy, but I will be using raised beds and hopefully 'no dig' methods.


The site is not very full, which is a shame. Hopefully it will start to fill up, as allotments are having something of a renaissance at the moment. There is evidence of some allotments coming into recent cultivation, so fingers crossed it will get fuller.

As for us, we're tired, stung, aching but with a real sense of achievement!

Ness Botanic Gardens

I'm whiling away time until we go down to the allotment for the start of the herculean task of clearing. So, I thought I'd talk about Ness Botanic Gardens.

Ness Gardens are based on the Wirral Peninsula in North West England. The gardens now belong to the University of Liverpool, but were originally privately owned. Although not huge, there is certainly enough there to keep a keep plantophile interested for a few hours.

It's a good place to visit all year round, with hellebores and a snowdrop collection in the early part of the year, and the late colour herbaceous border at the moment is looking fantastic. We are 'friends of Ness' and go regularly - encouraged by the delicious home-made cakes (the coffee and walnut cake is fantastic!)

It has several glasshouses - one harbours a nice collection of carnivorous plants, another has desert plants.

(Pitcher Plant from Ness Gardens)

See the side bar on the right for a link to their website.