Another wet weekend

There's nothing like gardening in the rain. Today we were moving around enough to keep warm, and as everyone sensible was inside it felt like we had the estate to ourselves. Before I knew it I'd spent 5 hours out there, although clomping around in the mud didn't do the lawn any good.

It was one of those satisfying days, where the garden looks happier, and perkier once you're done. We were simply chopping back the old dead woody stems and grasses left over from last year (a task I've been putting off because they look so pretty). I'm good at this sort of pruning because it's really very easy. All you have to do is chop off the dead stuff. I'm not so good at cutting into growing stems on a live plant, and often stand baffled looking at a plant for minutes on end before I pluck up the courage to attack it. I've an entire book dedicated to the dark art of pruning but even having read it cover to cover I still have niggling doubts that I'm doing the right thing. My co-gardener thinks I'm too soft - and she's probably right.

It's for their own good


Garden activity

A drizzly weekend was the perfect time to get out in the garden - the rain means all is quiet on the estate. Not that much to do - we covered our beds with plastic in an attempt to warm up the clay soil a little quicker, and planted a row of garlic in a raised pile of compost to try and stop it from rotting in the wet mud. It's a bit late to plant garlic really, but it should be OK.

It's not pretty, but our soil needs all the help it can get

Garlic - tucked up inside a nice pile of compost

I also cut a chunk off the roots of some of my favourite plants in the world - Persicaria Amplexicaulis 'Firetail' to give to a friend. My mum inherited it from my grandpa's garden, and has grown it in her gardens ever since. She passed it down to me a couple of years ago. I've given it to at least two others - it's so simple to give away - you just take a spade and chop off chunk of root around this time of year. As long as you get a bit with some of the tiny new leaves on, it should grow up big and strong. Once it's settled, it will take almost any kind of punishment you throw at it. In our garden it grows in heavy clay, as well as dry semi-shade that's pretty much waterlogged in the winter. It rewards you and any insects in the garden, with flowers from midsummer all the way through to the first frosts. I like it so much, in our small garden we've still found room for three.

One of our Persicarias now - just poking through

And this is what it looks like in August - it's the plant with tiny red flower spires on the left


Toilets - the new pots

Who says gardeners can't be funny! Our travels around the US last year took us to Locke - a little town in central California, designed for and lived in almost exclusively by Chinese Americans in the 1920s. They had some communal allotments there, at the front of which was this garden. Made from toilets discarded by local residents, it was built and tended by an elderly Chinese American lady called Connie - who sadly had died not long before we passed through. She used to give tours of the allotments, and always showed off her favourite toilet pot - a cock and balls arrangement of cacti - one long, two small either side. Brilliant.


The subject of heated debate between me and the co-gardener. Viburnum is at its best now, and smells incredible too. But for some reason I just can't bring myself to like it - maybe it's a bit twee? I think something like Witch Hazel is much more interesting. We've no space for either, so until we win the lottery and move to a  huge house in the country the debate continues. I found the Viburnum below in a nearby park. Does anyone else feel weird when they stop to smell flowers in public? It always makes me feel self-conscious.


The veg plan

So this is the plan. I don't have lots of space, so I'm growing lots of tall stuff, and as soon as one thing is finished, something else will take it's place. This year we're trying climbing courgettes, and experimenting with planting corn and climbing french beans in the same place.

I rotate crops every year, but not to any strict pattern - it's mostly just trying to avoid putting a crop in the same place as last year. That's why I need a plan - so I can look at what I put where last year, and avoid doing the same thing again.

The plan won't last a second once I actually start planting, but at least it means I can order the seeds.

Garden Design

We've already got rid of most of our lawn - replacing it with raised beds for veg - and I've been eying up the rest of it as part of my long term garden master plan. So it's interesting to read this Independent blog about how to make the most of small spaces. Tear up your lawns people! They are a lot of work to maintain, and take up valuable space you could use for more interesting plants.


Rude Rhubarb

Bright crisp blue morning. A steaming cup of tea. Perfect time to have a good stare at the garden and make myself late for work. My current favourite is the Rhubarb. Not only does it come back year after year, but it's hardy down to arctic conditions, and almost impossible to kill.

To top it all, when it first comes up in the spring it looks like a cross between a cock and a tiny little brain. What more could you want in a plant?



Difference of opinion

An indifferent photo of some snowdrops, which are in full swing near our local Sainsburies. When I first saw them the snowdrops looked awesome, poking through and round the plastic bag. But just as I was about to take the photo an older lady came up to me. The conversation went a bit like this:

Me: lovely snowdrops...
Her: Beautiful. Are you taking a photo of them then?
Me: Yes
Her: Oh, you don't want to take a photo of them with that horrible bag in the way...
Me: Actually, I quite like it
Her: Oh no you don't, I'll get rid of it for you
Me: No, honestly I do like it with the bag there
Her: There you go, that's got rid of it. Isn't that nicer?
Me: Ummm. 

And with that inexplicable moment of photographic fascism she was gone. I tried to restage it with another bag but it just wasn't the same.

Snowdrops at Sainsburies

My Garden

So this is my tiny patch of green. Some scaffolding the council have forgotten to take down at the back of our house let me take these photo's from above. It looks grey and grim, but if you look closely the signs of spring are there. The crocuses are up. The sedums are showing. And from down there mostly you can't see the tower blocks.

It's not much, but it's home

I really should cut down the skeletons of last years plants that have lasted the winter, but I can't quite bring myself to yet. Until the bulbs are up I need something to keep me going out there in the February drizzle.

Dead flowers of the grass Calamagrostis Karl Foerster

The raised beds with our estate in the background.


US inspiration

So last year I spent a few months in San Francisco away from my garden. With the incredibly cold weather back in the UK I worried about our poor plants, but being in the USA was incredible. We took a road trip down to Palm Springs, and I was totally unprepared for how beautiful the plants in the desert were. Even in the winter. It felt like the more you looked at that landscape the more you saw.

Dry desert flower 5000 feet up in Joshua Tree National Park

bright red barrel cactus - species unknown

Joshua Trees as far as you can see

lichen on rock

some amazing plant combinations



I suppose I should explain a bit about why I’m writing this blog.

Partly it’s because I love taking photos, and want to put some of them to use.

Partly it’s because I love to write and want a place to do it that isn’t my day job.

And partly – well mostly - it’s because I love my garden. Even with its estate playground out back filled with kids competing for ASBOs. Even with soil so heavy you could use it to make pots. It's a bit of land to grow stuff. And that's all I've ever really wanted.