We buried our baby spuds in record time on Saturday as we spent the afternoon getting mildly political. We're growing an early variety this year, so hopefully before too long we'll be eating delicious hot buttered new potatoes. I love digging them up - I always feel like I've struck gold.

The variety we're growing is Anoe (a variety a bit like a Ratte hopefully - ie french and fancy), and having sat them in a light room (away from direct sunlight) for a few weeks chitting, they have nice solid little greeny purple sprouts. 

Spuds - chitted

We buried them with lots of well-rotted manure a few inches down at the bottom of a small trench and as the leaves emerge we'll heap soil over them until we've got the more traditional potato mounds. This means that if there are any late frosts we can hopefully cover any leaves with soil to protect them.

The spuds are in the trenches - not the mounds


Gardeners against cuts

I don't really want to get into politics in this blog. Unless it has something to do with gardening of course. But I did happen to be on a certain demonstration march on Saturday in central London (and for the record, it wasn't me throwing tables through the windows of the Ritz).

While strolling slowly through Picadilly, this incredible green wall caught my eye. I've not seen it before as it's in a swanky part of London I don't visit very much. The photos don't really do it justice; at 8 stories high, it's absolutely massive. Looking directly up at it is like having the opposite of vertigo - you feel as if you're looking out across a flat green field, not directly up. Very disconcerting.

What's more, the plants (few of which I recognised - apart from a couple of Euphorbias and a rogue Fatsia Japonica) all seem to be thriving - god knows how they water it. I've just looked it up, and it was designed by botanist turned green wall proponent Patrick Blanc

The man has style.


Signs of spring and plot protection

Trees are looking amazing with the warm weather - this is a local Blackthorn (I think)

A belated post about last weekend (rather than a prescient one about the weekend to come - obviously). It was unexpectedly warm in the garden on Saturday, which meant I managed to spend the entire day out there - tuckering myself out in the process. It was one of those deceptive early spring days that tempt you into planting things that then get caught by the frost. I managed to resist - mostly. 

I did however plant:

A single row of peas - I'll plant another row in two weeks time, and another two weeks after that to try and extend our picking season - a row of swiss chard, and a row of perpetual spinach. The last two literally keep us in greens all year round. We've got some that's over wintered, but it will probably bolt come the warm weather, so it's useful to plant some more now. I also couldn't stop myself from planting a row of swede and a row of beetroot. I should know better, as it's way too early really, but it's old seed, and who knows - it might work. We tried swede last year, but got no crop at all as we put them in too late, so I'm determined not to do the same again.

All this planting means that I have to take elaborate precautions to protect the bare soil and seedlings from the local wildlife. No it's not the urban rabbits - it is in fact the local Felis Catus population (two of whom are ours - and the wost culprits I might add) who are irresistibly drawn to crap all over any newly dug soil. I wouldn't mind (long term I'm sure it's good for the soil), but after relieving themselves, they scrape the surrounding earth all over the place, digging up and killing any seedlings nearby. Well not this time. This plot is bullet proof. I even used the gardeners version of barbed wire - thorny rose trimmings. Only a crazy cat would choose to crawl under those babies to take a dump.


A Monday morning pick-me-up

Something to cheer up what promises to be a grey and chilly Monday morning:

"In the late 1940's Edward James, an English traveller on his way to Mexico City stopped off for a rest in a forest just outside a monastry at Xilitla. Edward was apparently looking up at the sky, when a cloud of butterflies descended, blocking out the light of the sun. This inspired him to build a public garden in the middle of the forest, and the resulting gardens, Las Pozas, are a delicate fantasy of towering colonnades, impossibly elaborate fountains, doors that appear to be entrances but are actually exits, and staircases that lead to the sky."

From 'The Gardener's Companion' - edited by Vicky Bamforth.

Definitely worth a visit - although how and when I've no idea.


Slow and steady wins the race - mostly

Clematis Armandii
When we first moved in here we were desperate to cover the tall fences that surround our garden as quickly as possible. So we scoured the internet for quick-growing climbers and bought what we thought were several fine specimens: Clematis Armandii 'Snowflake', Clematis Montana 'Grandiflora', and the quick-growing evergreen honeysuckle Halls Prolific (Lonicera Japonica 'Halls Prolific').

With hindsight, it was something of a mistake, as these three are basically the hooligans of the plant world. Halls Prolific is quick-growing, but beyond that it's a thoroughly useless plant - it gets mildew in summer, has feeble flowers and scrappy leaves. Clematis Montana at least has pretty foliage, but it grows so explosively that you spend half your life hacking it back to prevent it from covering the entire garden. Clematis Armandii throws out positively triffid-like shoots all summer and is covered sparsely in tough leathery leaves. You have to attack it as often as possible, otherwise it grows up and up, leaving a sickly trail of bare stems and the odd lonely leaf in its wake.

I'm being a bit unkind; the thugs lining our fence have done their job, but it doesn't stop me from being jealous of our neighbours pretty, and good-natured, slow-growing quince.

And for a few glorious weeks of the year I can just about forgive the Armandii its many and varied sins; it flowers early, and abundantly. Ours has just come out, so for the moment at least it's spared the secateurs. 

The thug on the fence. Don't be deceived by its delicate appearance.


An urban mystery

Location: a path running between two playing fields near my house

Evidence: an upturned wheelie bin

The Mystery: how the hell did it get there? The nearest place it could have come from is at least 500 metres away, which means someone must have taken the effort to wheel a heavy metal bin a  considerable distance over a rough path. Just to tip it over.

There must be more to this than meets the eye... I afraid it's the foxes. They're getting organised.


Top gardening books

I'm going to enable comments on my blog in the hope that occasionally someone might want to talk back to me rather than just listen (that is the point of this online business after all). To kick things off I'd like to ask a question. What two gardening books could you not live without? I'm a compulsive buyer of the things, but when it comes down to it, choosing my two is pretty easy:

Dream plants for a natural garden - by Henk Gerritsen and Piet Oudolf

I absolutely love this book. Unlike many standard plant dictionaries (not to mention seed catalogues), here the authors are highly opinionated and totally honest. If a plant is no good then they tell you. If they say it's problem-free then it will be. And if they don't like it then they tell you that too. On top of that the writing is warm and very funny - the section on the drudgery of staking high-growing perennials is hilarious (you'll have to take my word for it).

The complete Food Garden - by John Seymour

My favourite book on growing your own food. Engaging and authoritative, there's detailed instructions on how to work over your soil, grow every veg imaginable, and even keep bees. Very hard to find now. My Uncle gave me my copy - and I use it all the time. 

So, any essential books I should add to my shelf?

One of the lovely drawings in John Seymours's Complete Food Garden


Exposing myself

Up until now I feel like I've been a bit coy. I've tried to take nice photos of pretty things in my garden that I'm proud of and want to share. But this weekend I made a decision. I'm going to start a month by month series of photos showing my entire garden - not just my favourite beds, but the tricky spots which often look a bit crap.

I'm doing this for two reasons. Firstly, I feel like the chief joy of gardening is watching your garden change over the year. I can happily stare at our garden for hours on end because every time I look at it something is different. But although you can see the changes every day, plants work on a different timescale to us humans, and you can only really appreciate the big changes by taking a slightly longer view.

Secondly, I feel like if you are interested in gardens you're constantly assaulted by images of perfection that you have no hope of ever achieving at home. So I'm hoping (in a very minor way as I think most of the hits on my page are from my Mum) to redress the balance of all those stunning weed-free show gardens on TV, and give you a picture of a real, and far from perfect, garden.

The first pictures are already up - just follow the link to the right (I've put the link in twice to be extra encouraging). But  to give you a taster, here's a sneak peek from last year (yes I've been obsessively photographing my garden for a while now).

The veg patch in early April

The same view in late June


Sweet Woodruff

Sweet Woodruff - before the cat incident
This has been a real labour of love. I bought seeds of Sweet Woodruff (Galium Odoratum) 2 years ago. It's a lovely, slightly invasive, but tough little herb great for tricky sites in dry shade. What I didn't realise was that the seeds needed stratification before they would germinate (ie they need to be kept very cold for a bit to trick them into thinking they've gone through winter and into spring). So instead of putting them in the freezer for a few weeks I decided to leave them out in a pot over winter for real. 5 months later, they'd germinated (I was surprised it worked - I've not done it before), and once they'd grown on a bit I hurriedly and rather badly planted them under our silver birch last Autumn just before leaving for America for several months. When I came back in midwinter they seemed to be dead, but then, last week I noticed these tiny green stars emerging. I carefully cleared the area around them of weeds to give them space to grow.

This weekend I checked on the plants again. Our two cats had obviously spotted the bare earth and thought I'd made them a brand new garden litter tray. Two giant turds right on top of the little seedlings. Thanks guys...