Friday, December 31


to all our visitors
In 2011 may all your seeds grow and plants flourish

Tuesday, December 28

Second trawl of the seed catalogues - herbs

We have a couple of herb beds at the plot but also grow herbs in tubs in the garden. This way we can pick some fresh when cooking as well as having a supply to gather from the plot.

I’m really not sure how our herbs will have fared over the past few weeks. Now most of the snow has thawed some have been revealed to be in a very sorry state.
Some such as the rosemary and bay still look very much alive but may be just teasing us into false hope.
Others such as the parsley although still sporting some green are well and truly flattened.
I haven’t given up on any of the perennial herbs just yet as most winters they look as though they are dead only to shoot into life come spring.

Each year though we grow some herbs that we treat as annuals and it was these that I was concentrating on during my second trawl of the seed catalogues.

We haven’t had luck growing basil in the ground and so I sow this successionally in terracotta pots which are kept in our garden greenhouse. Last year as well as the green leaved variety – I also grew some dark purplish leaved varieties. This year I have ordered Purple Basil and Sweet Basil. I grew a purple leaved variety with a greenish tinge to the edge of the leaves last year but it was a free packet of seed from somewhere and I can't find this variety in any catalogues.

I love the taste of coriander (cilantro) but it so quickly bolts and so my attention was drawn to the description of a variety called Leisure which is supposed to have been bred to produce a lot of leaf and bolt much slower so I’ll give that a try.

I’ve also ordered some Greek oregano and I was also going to try Sweet Cicely which is a perennial and supposed to be a natural sweetener. The seed sounds as if they are extremely challenging to germinate so, as I only really want one plant, I’ll try to find it as a small plant.

We sow parsley seeds each year, treating it as a biennial – we grow both flat leaved and curled parsley. Parsley is always useful – the flat leaved is supposed to have a stronger taste and better to use in cooking whereas the curled parsley lends itself to use as a garnish. We have some of each parsley seed left so will try sowing that and if it isn't viable will buy some new.

Other perennial herbs will be replaced if necessary once I am sure they are dead and gone and no doubt I’ll find some other herbs to tempt me during our rounds of the garden centres and nurseries later but for now those will start my collection.


Sunday, December 26

Do they know it's Christmas?

It's just another day for them to survive the freezing weather!
These two were tucking in to Christmas lunch in my sister's garden.

Wednesday, December 22

Icy problems

The ice looks like a modern sculpture and makes a facinating sight but gradually the ice free area of our pond is closing. If it freezes over completely it will be bad news for the fish which incredibly can be seen still slowly swimming beneath the ice covered surface. If there is no hole in the ice the toxic gases created by organic matter decaying in the pond will not have any way to escape and could poison the fish so we'll have to keep an eye on things.

We have another problem in that our new heating system has packed up so happy days eh? More on Martyn's blog as I don't want to talk about it shudder, shudder, brrrr!

Monday, December 20


Not exactly two turtle doves but as near as I could get in our garden.

Saturday, December 18

Shooting our garden birds

Well the snow sort of arrived as you will know if you visit Martyn's weather blog but considering what has happened in other parts of the country I'm a bit embarrassed to say it has snowed here. We may not have had much snow but  it has been bitterly cold so I have been amusing myself shooting our garden birds.

Bet that caught your attention but if you know me at all you will know that the only thing I would use to shoot anything is my camera.

Martyn has bought me a new camera (I didn't even have to wait 'til Santa came!) so I have been 'exploring it's capabilities' which is just a pretentious way of saying I've been playing with it.

Now it's one thing taking photos of gardens and flowers and vegetables as each has enough consideration of the photographer to keep still but birds are another thing altogether. They move and in some cases pretty quickly and they don't give an amateur photographer like me time to compose and focus so I must admit to relying on autofocus and burst shooting! I also have to admit to a bit of tweaking and cropping using Photoshop. Much photographic jargon is a mystery to me but if any 'real' photographers out there would like to give me a simple online course then I'd happily take them up on it.

Anyway although I haven't got to grips with the camera yet I thought that I'd share some of my photos - they may not be quite in focus but some are quite cute. The photos were taken from our window and I had to try and dodge the leading on the glass. Also I guess the windows could have been a bit cleaner so cut me a bit of slack!

Maybe when I set up on a tripod the focus will improve and I've also ordered one of those remote thingies to plug into my camera so I can stand away from the window and not scare the birds away.

I must have taken several hundred shots, (literally), to get these few that I dare share. Many shots were of where the bird had been just a second before the photo was taken! Anyway one thing for sure is that if this weather keeps up I'll have plenty of time to practise!

Wednesday, December 15

Soggy, Muddy and Miserable!

Last weekend we actually managed to pay a visit to the plot where everything looked gloomy and soggy. There are more photos taken at the plot in an album here
You can see from the photo below of the winter onions that the soil is really muddy.
Despite the mud we managed to dig up some parnsips ...
some carrots and beetroot  from beneath the straw protection ...
and also took home some red and green cabbage which had survived the snow in spite of losing some of their outer leaves. We really enjoy the red cabbage braised.
The thaw has revealed the sorry state of what were my beautiful cyclamen - I'm really upset to see them reduced to this. Of course we all know who's fault this was!
As ever the pansies are made of sterner stuff:
To make up a little for my disappointment over the tub of cyclamen I treated myself to a pot plant (I told Martyn that I had bought it for him so ssh) - at least I know the snow shouldn't ruin that!
Now bracing ourselves for a return to the freezing conditions that are forecast - at least we now have our heating in!

Saturday, December 11

First trawl of the seed catalogues!

What with the weather keeping us indoors where we have had to keep out of the way of heating engineers and try to keep warm despite most of our heating being out of commission, this week seemed an ideal time to browse the seed catalogues.

I've made a start by choosing flower and herb seeds. We grow cut flowers on the plot and also like to have flowers growing amongst our fruit bushes. We spend a lot of our time on the allotment and the flowers brighten the place up. I've added links just in case you want to have a peep at what the flowers SHOULD look like!

This photo is alongside the paved area outside the shed where we sit for a coffee break and shows what it looked like last year. I am ordering more nemesia - Carnival Mixed which provided a great display and another variety of rudbeckia - Marmalade. I'm hoping the poppies will have seeded themselves. The sunflowers provide a bit of privacy and may also seed themselves but just in case I am ordering a packet of Prado yellow. The birds, bees and other insects wouldn't forgive me if I didn't have any sunflowers.

Flowers amongst the fruit also bring in the bees and other pollinators although it has to be said most of the fruit bushes bloom before the flowers. We still have some marigold seeds - Disco and Naughty Marietta so I am ordering some Tagetes - Starfire for a change to mix amongst them. Instead of annual chrysanthemum I am ordering zinnia - Oklahoma which should also provide cut flowers. Again the cosmos should self seed but I'm ordering some cosmos - Sensation just in case.

To create a boundary along the edge of our plot we have an ornamental border with shrubs roses, perennails etc. We already have some foxgloves -Foxy  and  Excelsior Hybrids growing on to be planted in this border in spring (the bees love them)  and I have also ordered some larkspur - Giant Imperial mixed and Gazania - Splendens Mixed to add to the mix. One lot of seeds that I know will self seed very freely here are the poached egg plants so I won't need to buy any more of those seeds - they are the type of seeds that you only buy once!

Regular visitors will already know that we grow dahlias on the plot too but we have ended up with quite a lot of similar colours and I've decided to try growing some more from seed rather than tubers so I am ordering a variety called Giant Hybrids.

We usually grow sweet peas for cutting and have been pleased with the performance of the varieties we have grown in the past - Perfume Delight and Spencer Waved and so will be growing them again next year. The mixed varieties are much cheaper and ideal if - like me - all you want is to cut the flowers for a vase. I do want the flowers to smell like sweet peas though so these are chosen for their perfume and fairly long stems.

Last year we grew outdoors cucumbers up the other side of the cane arch.

I've also decided to try the short sweet peas so am ordering Snoopea just for interest.

Some of the plants grown will be planted in the garden but I am also ordering some seeds specially for the garden.

Under the bird bath is an ideal position for plants the love damp conditions. Last year I planted some mimulus and they did really well so this year I am ordering more seeds. The variety was Mystic which had a good mix of colours and quite large flowers. Again they may self seed but I don't want to risk it.

I tried nemesia in tubs last year but these didn't do as well as the ones planted on the plot in the ground so this year I'm going to try some osteospernum which I know you can buy as mature plants but I'm going to try growing some  Giant Mixed from seed. I'm also going to try some Bellis - Pomponette but mainly for my sister as she likes them.
I've mentioned that I like cyclamen and we have loads of hardy cyclamen - Neopolitanum which have self seeded everwhere including gaps in paving. They cross pollinated from just one white and one pink plant and we now have all sorts of shades of white and pink. There is another hardy cyclamen called coum which flowers at a different time so I'm going to have a go at growing some from seed. The Neopolitanum grow fairly easily from collected seed so I just hope that the coum ones are as easy. I guess it depends on whether they grow better from freshly harvested seed as some plants such as primroses seem to. Just to be even more adventurous I'm going to have a go at growing some indoor cyclamen too. The variety Lazer claims to be the easiest to grow from seed so I'm ordering that variety - but how easy is easy and why do they feel the need to claim that it is the easiest to grow from seed - does it mean that it is just less difficult. If anyone has grown cyclamen from seed and has any tips I'd be really grateful.

Now just the herbs and vegetables to decide on!

Monday, December 6

Would you eat beyond rotten fruit?

We bought a medlar tree about three years or so ago and planted it in the garden. Must admit that we liked the sound of it as an ornamental tree rather than as a fruit supply.
It flowers in May/June and has large shiny leaves.
It has good autumn colour ...
and interesting fruits.

The tree is still only very small but has produced a few fruits each year. Before the fruits can be eaten they have to blet. Bletting is a polite way of saying that the fruit has to go beyond ripe and have started to decay and ferment. Doesn't that sound appetising? It doesn't look very appealing either.
Last year after bletting we made apple and medlar jelly.
Although this tasted quite nice we don't really eat much jelly or jam so this year as the fruits were larger we decided to try eating them raw.

According to what I have read and as seen on TV, (apparently medlars are one of the old-fashioned fruits making a come-back so we are inadvertent trend-setters), once the fruit is bletted the flesh can be spooned out to eat. It is supposed to taste of dry applesauce with a hint of cinnamon. I decided that would probably taste quite good in yoghurt. On breaking it apart the inside of the fruit looked a bit like bread.
Thankfully Martyn and I tried a taster first and agreed that it wouldn't be going into the yoghurt. Maybe it's an acquired taste but we didn't like it - it tasted more yeasty than cinnamony no doubt the product of fermentation.

I know I picked them a little early as they should be left until after the first frost - but I forgot that - and maybe I left them to blet for too long - but we won't be eating any this year. Next year we'll try again - perhaps.

If you want to read more about our medlar and how we made the apple and medlar jelly then visit this page of my website

Saturday, December 4

So what draws you into a blog?

Due to inactivity in the garden and on the plot I am deviating from my usual topics.

Weather has trapped me indoors so I've been visiting quite a few blogs recently and have been trying to analyse why particular blogs appeal to me. It's strange that I can often tell almost as soon as I open a blog if I am likely to become a regular visitor.

Even before I read any of the posts I am making a subconscious judgement so what is it that draws me in?

The first thing is the overall look of the blog. Do I feel comfortable with the colour scheme and the size and style of the font? I don’t want to have to squint to be able to read the posts. Sometimes the choice of background and font colour makes the text hard to read. It's not so much a matter of do I like the colours - it's more do they annoy me enough to make me not want to read the blog?

Then I like a balance of text and images? I don't tend to be drawn to huge blocks of text or postings with no images at all - I guess that I am a picture person. I'm the same with non-fiction books I like them to be well illustrated. On the other hand I don’t tend to be drawn to blogs that are just photographs even if they are really beautiful photographs. I get a bit bored just browsing a whole host of photos – a bit like having to look at loads and loads of someone’s holiday photo. I am also attracted by larger photos rather than tiny ones that seem to get lost in the text.

If a post is quite long then the way that it is written will determine whether I stay to read to the end or not. Personal commentary often adds to the interest as it makes me feel that I am getting to know the author a little - they become real people unlike when reading a book or website which is just intended to give information. A touch of humour helps too – it’s good to know that people don’t take themselves too seriously and get some fun from what they do.
Then there is the content – I guess like everyone else I enjoy reading posts that strike a chord with me personally - things that echo my outlook on gardening. I’m not a specialist gardener so don’t tend to be drawn to specialist blogs that concentrate on one particular type of plant.

We all make personal choices when visiting blogs - nothing to do with the quality of the blog – some very highly acclaimed blogs may not appeal to me personally whereas often there is a little known gem just waiting to be stumbled on which will become a firm favourite. If you have a blog that I haven't found and think I would like then please let me know about it.

So what is it that draws and keeps your attention blogwise? Do you use those sites that promote blogs to find a new blog to follow - if so which are the best?

By the way I've probably broken all my own preferences in this post but then I don't have to read it do I?

Thursday, December 2

Well we have now!

I kept visiting other people's blogs and seeing photos of deep snow and commenting that we had only a sprinkling and feeling rather smug and cosy. Well I'm not feeling very smug now as we are now covered in the cold stuff.
A TV repair man arrived on foot on Monday. He had left his van on a nearby cleared road not wanting to risk our snow packed road as access to our house is quite steep. He ended up carrying our broken TV back to his van.

Fortunately for the birds a delivery of seed managed to get through this afternoon so at least the garden birds shouldn't run out of food.

I've braved the cold to take a few photos of the garden to share - although many were taken from a bedroom window. You may be able to spot our poor tree fern. If you click on the album you can view the larger version.

If you have visited Martyn's weather blog you will see that the snow may cause him to be in a bit of trouble if our mini cyclamen don't survive being piled with snow! Martyn also has a webcam pointing out of our window which updates the photo on his blog sidebar fairly frequently - a case of men and their toys eh?

I do hope it warms up soon as we are having all our heating replaced next week - four days without heating - HELP!! Keep warm everyone!

Monday, November 29

Fer's blog carnival

Fer at My Little Garden in Japan invited his visitors to take part in a blog carnival. The idea of this is to get all his visitors to write a blog post on the same subject. It seems to have kicked off a day earlier than I expected so you have two posts to browse today.

One suggested topic was "My Favourite Plants" This would have given me a bit of a dilemma as I wanted to take part but I’m the sort of person who can never choose my favourite anything. Maybe I’m fickle but my favourites depend on when I am asked or what mood I’m in. In the case of plants it really does depend on when I am asked. If there is something that looks particularly good in the garden or on the plot at that time then that becomes my favourite – maybe just for the day or the week but nonetheless a favourite.

Fortunately Fer took pity on the plight of people like me and said we could write about more than one plant so here goes.

 To make matters a little easier I’ll confine my choices to the non edible plants – although I suppose you could eat parts of some of them!

So at the moment my favourite plant is the mini cyclamen. I have a pot of them flowering in my garden and they were beautiful until the snow covered them. They lit the gloom of the day with a bright full stop of colour at the top of some steps and could be viewed from the comfort of the house. I hope they are still flowering once the snow has gone.

Must admit that it was a struggle choosing between these and winter pansies which even put on a cheerful face when they are up to their necks in snow!

In the depths of winter I may have to turn my attention indoors and choose one of my flowering pot plants such as the hoya. The waxy flowers hang down like miniature chandeliers and can only really be appreciated by looking up into the flowers from below.

We have had our hoya for lots years now and it seems to flower on and off throughout the year like many old ladies it just does what it feels like at the time. It has buds at the moment.


Ask me around February and my favourite plant would most likely be the snowdrop. We have clumps of snowdrops planted so we can enjoy them from the house

I really look forward to their appearance as for me they symbolise the start of a new season and the fact that winter may soon start to lose its grip and that spring is maybe just around the corner.

March and I’d have to choose the primrose – not the cultivated variety which although lovely just doesn’t ‘do it for me’ as much as our native primrose. It’s evocative of childhood and walks with my granddad and Rover the dog. Clumps of native primroses take over from the snowdrops in the picture frame to enjoy from the house window.  We also have a whole row planted on the plot. We can enjoy these too as March usually means more time is spent at the allotment. The flowers also have a lovely delicate perfume.

April and May arrive and we start to be spoilt for choice – there are lots of bulbs flowering now each of which are contenders for my favourite or the magnolia but I think I have to turn my back slightly on flowers now and choose ferns. No particular type of fern – I just love the way the new growth forms shepherds’ crooks before unfurling their feathery fronds – although I have to admit an extra special bit of excitement is generated once our tree fern begins to show signs of growth. This means it has survived another winter.

Even more problems choosing a favourite in June – I could chose the rose especially those that have a beautiful perfume but I’m going to choose Sambucus Black Lace as it was really spectacular on the plot last year with everyone who saw it falling in love with it. The pinks flowers contrast beautifully with the delicate cut bronzy leaves.

What to choose for July – now this is really difficult as July is just so full of colour. I think I’ll choose clematis – Princess Diana as I really like the colour and shape of the flowers. There are a whole host of other contenders for the July favourite though.

August is another tricky month with so much to choose from but I guess I have to give August's vote to the dahlia. I love the intricate shapes of the pompoms.

For September I am going to choose another cyclamen – I think it is Cyclamen Hederifolium. We bought a couple of corms many years ago, one was pink and the other white. The flowers appear before the leaves which in themselves are beautiful. Over the years they have seeded everywhere even amongst the grass on the allotment. Some of the corm are as big as dinner plates now.
My favourite autumn plant has to be the chrysanthemum as the colours are just so – well autumnal.
I really don’t know which plant I would choose as my overall favourite as it was difficult enough making this selection and if you were to ask me to do it all again tomorrow then I’d probably choose a totally different set of plants.

Getting off lightly - so far!

Visiting other blogs it seems that so far we have managed to avoid the worst of the snow although as you will know if you visit Martyn's weather blog we have had it very very very cold.

Our poor little cyclamens wouldn't agree that they have got of lightly as they have been reduced to this:
I'm just hoping that as the snow melts the flowers will spring back into life.

Fortunately our more tender plants were given some protection just before the cold weather arrived. Some in pots have been moved inside the greenhouse.

The banana plants have been cut down, piled with straw to insulate and covered with sheets of polythene to keep out the worst of the wet. We have several Musa Basjoo plants - a hardy variety which - have so far survived whatever our climate has thrown at it.  Banana plants are herbaceous perennials so as long as the roots are protected they should survive the winter. The stems are cut back as you would any perennial and each year more shoots spring up from the roots or cut back stems creating a mini plantation. Unfortunately we won't get any bananas from our plants and I'm sure some of our visitors from regions where bananas grow wild will think it strange that we grow them for their decorative value but we do!
No doubt also our visitors from Australia will find it strange that we grow tree ferns in our garden. We have just one  and each winter this has its crown protected by a fleece muffler. The fronds will die off but as long as the crown is protected it will hopefully produce new fronds next year. This doesn't get any protection from moisture as the crown doesn't like to dry out. Each year we keep fingers crossed until we see new fronds beginning to unfurl and each year the tree grows a little taller. The trunk is made up of previous years dead frond stems.
Well we may have managed to avoid the worst of the snow up until now but with more forecast for tonight who knows what tomorrow will bring.

If you are interested in what is happening with the weather visit Martyn's blog which has lots of information, photos and charts. A new feature is an updated photo from the webcam recording the weather in our garden.

I've also updated my November diary which can be found here although so far November hasn't been exactly hyperactive!

Monday, November 22

Dine al fresco chez nous.

Refurbishment of our al fresco bistro is now almost completed and our winter menu in now available. Opening during all daylight hours including bank holidays.

We try to appeal to as wide a clientele as possible and so we operate a self service buffet where customers are free to eat as much as they want.

The bistro is divided into a number of dining areas so there should be an area to suit each individual diner's preference. 
For customers who prefer 'haute cuisine' there is a new high level table  with enough capacity to suit those who wish to dine with a group of friends. Whilst we cannot guarantee privacy, lone diners are also welcome in this area. If this area is overcrowded there are nearby trees in which our customers can wait for a place to become free or where they can rest after a hearty meal. If customers prefer they may relax at their table with no need to feel pressure to move on after their meal.
For those who prefer dining at ground level two lower tables are provided.
One in a secluded area and another in an open situation.

Whilst our regular visitors have their favourites from our menu some of our younger more inexperienced diners may be a little spoiled for choice.

For our more acrobatic customers we provide a range of hanging meals.

Vegetarian options are catered for with a range of seeds, including the ever popular and extremely nourishing black sunflower seed.

Our black sunflowers are also available as take away meals with many of our customers quickly coming back for more.

Niger seed is provided to cater for those with exotic tastes.

These areas are specially adapted to suit the needs of those diners who have feet which prevent them for clinging.


Whilst we should warn customers that all of our meals may contain nuts those who have a special fondness for nutty meals are also catered for.

During the cold winter months our range of fatty meals will give energy to sustain our customers through difficult times.

Our range of fat based meals is designed to meet the needs of both vegetarians and insectivores. From the menu diners can choose from, peanuts and raisins, peanuts and insects or peanut and mealworm. There is also a homemade option details of which can be obtained by clicking here. Insectivores who would like a ready meal can enjoy dried mealworms.

For dessert clients may like to choose fresh coconut. or a selection of fruit and berries when available.

For those diners who prefer to be more actively involved in the acquistion of their meals - foraging is permitted although we would request that flower buds are not eaten.

Whilst we attempt to cater for all diets we do not under any circumstances serve fish and so any fish eaters are respectfully requested to dine elsewhere.

Whilst we do not actively encourage hunting in our grounds, diners must be alert to the fact that a certain amount of hunting is tolerated and the management take no responsibility for injury or worse resulting from a hunt taking place.
Fresh drinking water with or without ice is available at all times but customers should be aware that many clients will also bathe in the drinking water.
 Visitors from overseas are always welcome.
Provision is made for those feeding youngsters during the breeding season but every attempt should be made to keep offspring under control so as not to spoil the enjoyment of others. Live caterpillars and aphids may be taken in abundance as required.

Also occasionally some of the feeding areas may booked by other than feathered clients and  be unavailable to our regulars customers. We apologise for any disruption during these occasions.

Please note in the interests of safety no net bags are used in our meals and every attempt is made to comply with all feeding advice from the RSPB and BTO.
Please also note that cameras may be used and our customers may find themselves featured on our websites or blogs.

For more information, photos and video clips of how we cater for our feathered friends then click here

All except for one of the birds, (and mammals), shown have been a visitor to our garden - can you guess which is the odd one out?

Look after your garden birds and they'll help you look after your garden