Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Inelegant Gardener’s Almanac for 2011



  • Plant out the tulips that I failed to plant when they arrived. Purchase crowbar to push through frozen soil and wedge tulips into crevices. Desultorily fill in crevice with sodden soil, as excitement of bulb planting quickly wears off as I start to lose feeling in my fingers.
  • Use newly purchased crowbar to try and prise last year’s parsnips out of the frozen ground. Parsnip lollypops could be the ‘next big thing’.
  • Get over-excited with the seed catalogues, forgetting the avalanche of packets in the garage, bought in the autumn. Realise that the rush of excitement when buying seeds must be how normal women feel when they buy a pair of high-heeled shoes.
  • Peer at feet, troll-shaped from many years of welly-wearing, fail to imagine them crushed into a pair of Manolo Blahniks. Buy more seeds.
  • Order seed potatoes as I will have forgotten to have ordered them in the autumn.


  • Rue the fact that once again I failed to buy any snowdrops last year
  • Sow parsnips, forgetting that they always fail to germinate as I have planted them too soon and the soil is too wet and cold.
  • Panic when two deliveries of seed potatoes arrive, as I hadn’t forgotten to order them in autumn. I have enough potatoes to start up my own Spud-U-Like franchise.


  • Fail to remember to buy snowdrops in the green.
  • Make plans to successional sow a range of veg for the allotment, to avoid gluts
  • Sow parsnips, forgetting that they always fail to germinate as I have planted them too soon and the soil is too wet and cold.
  • Try to finish harvesting and eating last year’s parsnips, which the hard, frozen ground has only just yielded. There appears to be a 7 day window between prising the parsnips out of the ground and the parsnips becoming heroically wooden. The recipe for parsnip cake comes out, and SomeBeans starts to look worried…
  • Survey the relatively weed-free plot and think ‘Yes, we have finally conquered the horsetail, couch grass, docks, ground elder…’


  • Make mental note not to order lettuce seeds for the next three years, as over-excitement at seed buying time (see January) has led to enough lettuce seeds to supply Tesco (if Tesco were willing to take holey, slimey, slug-ridden lettuces).
  • Forget mental note instantly.
  • Remember that one year, all the courgette seeds that I planted died, so sow at least 10 courgette plants, to make sure one or two survive.
  • Sow parsnips, forgetting that they always fail to germinate as I have planted them too soon and the soil is too wet and cold.
  • Realise that the reason there were few weeds in March was because they hadn’t started growing then. They have now.


  • Get parsnips to germinate!
  • Remind myself of the importance of successional sowing, so that we get a regular supply of a range of veg.
  • Become over-excited by all the different squash and pumpkin seeds, buy six different types, and plant all of the seeds
  • In a vain attempt to keep the ground elder down, try using it as an ingredient – foraging and wild food is trendy, apparently. Realise that although the Romans may have brought ground elder to Britain to eat, a couple of thousand years of evolution of cooking ingredients means that we now longer have to eat this stuff. It’s nasty.


  • Transplant a plethora of squash and pumpkin seedlings to the allotment. after all, they are still tiny, so won’t take up too much room
  • Realise that the birds have found the ripe redcurrants and gooseberries before me. Yet again.
  • In a frenzy of hoeing, chop off half of the onion and shallot tops. Oops.
  • Forget to successional sow anything
  • Rediscover the furry loveliness of the inside of a freshly picked broad bean pod.


  • Realise that I have forgotten to successional sow. Again.
  • Rediscover some poor, lanky sprout and cabbage seedlings languishing in the back of the greenhouse, where they have been since March. Hope that, despite the brassica equivalent of Chinese foot-binding, if I transplant them they will rally round and provide greenery for the Christmas table.


  • Ahh, bulb catalogues. Time to order the little globes of anticipation. Vow to plant the bulbs as soon as they arrive
  • Not waving but drowning under an avalanche of courgettes, as all of the plants I sowed in April survived, and it felt cruel to kill some of them.
  • Give up on weeding. It only makes them angry. I wouldn’t like them when they’re angry.


  • Hack bravely at the pumpkin patch, which is making a concerted effort to take over Cheshire. It resembles Audrey 2 from the Little Shop of Horrors.
  • Bulb order arrives. I’ll just store them in the garage until I’ve got a little time to plant them
  • Wonder why work colleagues run away from me when I stagger into the office weighed down with plastic bags full of courgettes and runner beans


  • Drool over the newly arrived seed catalogues and buy things that look exciting, forgetting that there is often a reason why some veg are allotment stalwarts, and some don’t catch on. Like achocha.
  • Become smug at the huge haul of pumpkins and squashes I have cultivated.
  • Try to reassure self that the blood over the pumpkin, where I have tried to carve it for Halloween but ended up carving myself, will make it more scary to any visiting trick or treaters.


  • Celebrate first (and last) ripe tomato shortly before the first frost.
  • Think that the parsnips will taste better after the first frost, so delay harvesting any
  • Realise that the excitement of pumpkin soup palls after the first few litres. And that was just with one pumpkin.
  • Uneasily eye up the large pile of pumpkins in the conservatory.


  • Having delayed harvesting parsnips, they are now frozen into the soil
  • Rediscover the unplanted bulbs in the garage. Pretend I haven’t seen them
  • Hibernate until the days start getting longer
  • Think about all the garden jobs I failed to do properly in the year, and vow to do them differently next year. After all, only a fool would repeat the same mistakes, year after year…

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Merry Christmas

I hope that you get where you want to go; I hope that you stay warm; I hope that you have a happy Christmas and a happy and healthy new year.

In 2011, may your seeds germinate, your compost gently steam and your slugs take a long holiday somewhere else.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Let it be warm and sunny

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Back to basics

I haven’t tweeted or blogged much recently – I find the very cold weather depressing and can’t rouse myself from apathy. Except to rant about Gardeners’ World, of course. The garden has been abandoned for the past few weeks, in a listlessness borne of shortening days. As nights grow longer, I withdraw deeper into my shell.

One thing that has been taking up my time as I hide in the house waiting for longer days is grappling with garden design principles. I’ve mentioned previously that I was starting a shortish garden design course, and I have been really enjoying it. So far, I have:

  • bored SomeBeans and my father rigid with talk of unity and progressive realisation in various garden design periods;
  • tried to distil this into a short (3000 word) assignment – writing the essay wasn’t difficult, but getting the word count down from 6000 to 3000 was excruciating;
  • traipsed around some very forgiving people’s garden, with 10 or so classmates, tripping over each others’ survey lines;
  • done battle with a scale rule to produce a pretty accurate base drawing.

The biggest challenge so far, however, was something I’d kept quiet in class about until this week.  At the start of term, we’d all splashed out on various bits of equipment, as keen students do. Because of the theory we had to initially cover, this equipment stayed on a shelf at home, until last week.

It’s a strange feeling to be worried about pens. I’ve been using pens for many, many years now. You learn how to use pens at school, and since then, I’ve probably used one every day. So it was rather embarrassing to be in possession of some pens which I was too frightened to use, even if I had known how to fill them up with ink. Oh, the ignominy.

But it turned out that nearly everyone else had had the same worry and the same sense of foolishness at not knowing how to fill them up. We had all bought them, looked at them, looked at the instructions, looked at the ink bottle, looked at the pens again and quietly put the lid back on.

However, after our lesson on Monday, and a patient tutor, I have discovered the joy of  ‘inking’. It makes feeble pencil drawings look almost good. It will take quite a lot of practice to become proficient, to produce graphics that look like they should, to make sure that I don’t smudge and to make sure that I keep the pen at the right angle, but I have conquered my fear of the Rotring pen. Hurrah!

Next week we’ll be learning ‘colouring in’ as SomeBeans calls it – another return to basics!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

A poem

A poem by E.J. Thrip*,

So. Farewell then
Toby Buckland
The nation’s gardener.

The BBC have placed you
On TV’s compost heap

But you showed us all
How to tickle
The soil to hide your footsteps

It’s a shame that
The BBC see fit
To do the same to you.

*with a very large nod to E.J. Thribb.

The problem with the public... that they are generally wrong. Well, they are if they disagree with me.

The BBC have been garnering intelligence on what people like and don't like about gardening on the BBC. In what appeared to be a hastily constructed forum called 'Over the Garden Fence' they encouraged us to tell them what we liked about the BBC's contributions to gardening.

I don't know if the two are related, but tonight I have found out (thank you, Twitter folks) that Toby Buckland will no longer be heading Gardeners' World. A shame. Also adieu to Alys Fowler.

Toby's reign had a slightly wobbly start (the Cool Wall, anyone?) but had improved and had some more interesting and occasional technical pieces in it, which made it worth watching. I had all but given up the previous incarnation, apart from to count how many times the Lord of Cord said "Here at Berryfields" each week. I found it condescending. And dull.

One positive remains - Carol Klein will still be on the show. Rachel de Thame returns - into each life a little rain must fall.

I hope the BBC didn't make these choices based on their half-baked intelligence-gathering forum. I'm sure they didn't. Because who would let the public decide such madness as this?

Roll on long Friday summer evenings, a glass of wine, a comfortable garden bench and the TV off switch.