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The last day of the year, and the first proper frost to hit the garden. If you read the main blog, you might have already seen yesterday’s post about a frosty cemetery. The garden, though, is rather more sheltered so wasn’t really touched by yesterday’s frost at all. Today was the first day that the frost was hard enough for the cold air to get properly into the garden and touch everything down to the ground.
As I’ve said previously the nasturtiums normally have late autumn and early winter mostly to themselves in this garden, and by the time the frost comes the garden often consists mostly of nasturtium. This frost, though, will start to kill them off.
The honeysuckle should be made of somewhat sterner stuff.
The garden has been fairly quiet since I restarted this blog. Hopefully, 2021 will see some interesting new developments. You’ll have to wait and find out exactly what, though.
Some of the wildlife we have spotted in the garden this summer, not including the fox that passed through, then scaled the neighbours’ kitchen roof and was away up the street along the ridgeline of the terrace.
These are all phone pictures, because it’s much easier to whip my phone out when I spot something interesting flying around than to go hunting for a better camera. The biggest pain using the phone for photos like this is the difficulty in focusing on exactly the right thing.
When The Children went back to school part-time in the summer term, one of the things The Child Who Likes Fairies did was plant basil seeds in a pot. In fact, she enjoyed it so much she did two pots, and brought them home with her. We put them on the kitchen windowsill without much optimism, and were as surprised as anyone when a number of seedlings came up. We split apart the most viable ones, and now she has four small basil plants growing on the kitchen windowsill, taking up most of it.
Given the current weather, we knew first thing in the morning yesterday that after lunchtime the garden would be too hot and sunny for us to comfortably spend much time in, but, we thought, at least we can put those basil plants outside to get some sun and some fresh air. Given we knew we wouldn’t be outside, it gave me an idea to try something I’ve thought about doing, on and off, ever since I first bought a digital SLR. I set up the camera on its tripod pointing at the basil plants and the nasturtiums, and programmed it to take time lapse photos, two per minute. We all went inside (and watched The Railway Children), shut the doors, and left the camera to do its thing.
After the film had finished I headed back outside and found that the camera’s batteries had run down after not much more than a couple of hours, and I hadn’t really thought about how the sun would move around and start shading part of the area in the frame as the afternoon progressed. Moreover, after being sat in the middle of the garden on a sunny day for that amount of time, the black rubber handgrips on the camera were now almost too hot to hold, and I had to carry it back inside rather gingerly with its strap. Maybe that had some sort of an effect on the battery life as well. In the evening, I worked out how to stitch each frame together into a video, and upload it onto YouTube.
“I, for one, welcome our new Triffid overlords” said one friend. The nasturtiums might not be changing much over the course of a couple of hours, but The Child Who Likes Fairies’ basil plants are definitely making the most of being in the sunshine.
This week, it really feels as if the garden is properly getting itself going. More and more insects are out and about, and more things are starting to come alive. The lettuce and calendulas sown three weeks ago have just made their first appearance above ground, and the pea seedlings which have been growing on the kitchen windowsill are getting larger and larger, stretching their tendrils like the most grotesque of scarecrows. Today I started hardening them off ready for planting out; I probably should have done it earlier.
More peas will start germinating soon. The first batch of this year’s potato crop went into the ground today too – well, into their container. This year we picked Red Duke Of York, as something we are unlikely to see in the greengrocers, and I’ve tried to squeeze four tubers into the container rather than last year’s three. The second batch will be planted in about a month’s time.
To get the potatoes, we popped over to the Riverside in Southville. Naturally, we were rather tempted by their selection of herb plants. Possibly too tempted: intending go there purely to get potatoes, we also came home with a black peppermint, some sweet peas, and two fennel plants. The fennel is instead of the dill we grew last year; I will explain more about that later.
The first batch of potatoes, Red Duke Of Yorks, is now up and out of the ground. By “ground” I mean “bin”, of course.
And when I say “first batch”, I mean “second batch”. The second batch of potatoes, the ones that were hugely leggy because their shoots were already six inches in length when I planted them, died off well before the plants from the first batch, one of which is still in full greenery. Presumably this is a result of the shoots being far too long; which, in turn, led to them having much more trouble with the bad weather.
After 11 weeks, we have harvested the first crop of this year: “Ostergruß Rosa” radishes, planted back in March. I pointed out, last time I mentioned them, that we didn’t have much success with radishes last year. These, though, have been a lot more successful: a good clutch of long, fat roots.
Never trust anything you read, especially if it is on the back of a seed packet. “Self-supporting if sown in a block”, it says on the back of the packet of peas I’ve been sowing for the past couple of months. Self-supporting if sown in a block. Now, I admit, the pea stems aren’t exactly lying flat on the ground, but they have lurched rather drunkenly over to one side, the well-grown stems from the first batch completely swamping the later ones. I have, rather belatedly, added some string to prop everything up and get everything growing a bit more upright. I’m not too sure how these peas are doing: the first batch may have plenty of leaf and tendril, but there is no sign of any sort of flower yet.
Both batches of potatoes are well up now and have completed earthing up – the second batch with a few sprigs of leaves showing, the first batch with a good head of foliage. The leaves of this year’s variety are, initially, a beautiful deep maroon in colour.
I was hoping that the plants would retain the colour as they grow. As the leaves get larger, however, they fall back to a more conventional deep green, with only the midrib and some of the larger veins keeping the red pigment. There is no sign yet, touch wood, of the leafhoppers which plagued our potatoes last year.
Two weeks ago, I sowed the main batch of courgette seeds, and was rather wary. We’ve not tried to grow them before, and I’ve heard stories of people having lots of trouble with them this year. However, in exactly 7 days every seed in the batch had germinated and was showing itself above the surface. I’ve killed off one as it was showing signs of rot, but the rest seem to be going well. They have started hardening up, and before they’re three weeks old should be ready for planting out.
One last thing for today: if you read Alys Fowler’s advice column in the Guardian Weekend magazine, you might have noticed last Saturday’s query about mossy containers. My mossy containers, that is: that was my letter! In particular, the container with our Swiss chard plants in, which developed a thick green carpet last autumn which didn’t seem to bother the plants at all. I shall stop worrying now that the moss might be bad for them.
It rained all last weekend; and since planting up the runner beans on Tuesday the rain has been essentially continuous. So I’m getting somewhat behind with the gardening, and getting more and more depressed about the state of the place. Gardening has been limited to poking the camera lens through the kitchen door, which is an angle I don’t normally try. The curly parsley decided, when the weather was hot over Easter, that it was time to bolt into flower. So far its flowers have not yet come out: maybe the rain has made it regret its decision.
From that angle, the garden looks rather lush. It doesn’t feel that way when you’re standing in the middle of it. Moreover, the wet weather has prompted the local slugs and snails to mount a full-on attack of chewing. The garlic and fennel are too strongly-flavoured, but the runner beans and lettuces have survived a major hit, some of the pea plants are just hanging on, and a tray of coriander seedlings was completely destroyed, not a leaf left. Last night I went out twice, armed with scissors, and killed about eight slugs and five snails, stabbing the snails thoroughly and snipping the slugs in half. Well, it’s better for the rest of the garden than poison, and it definitely kills them before they can eat any more.
A month ago, I posted a photo of a rather lonely solitary rosemary flower, as our small bush was just starting to come into flower. Ever since, as blossom erupted up and down each branch of the rosemary plant, I’ve been trying to make a better photo of it. None of the photos I’ve taken, though, has really managed to properly capture the beautiful deep violet-blue of its petals. In all of them, even those taken in the brightest sunlight, the colour seems rather pale and washed-out compared to what I can see myself outside in the garden. The local honeybees are loving the rosemary, too. Last year it was rare to see a honeybee at Symbolic Towers; I assumed there weren’t any hives nearby. There still aren’t many to be seen, but they are now regular visitors – whereas so far this year bumblebees have been a relatively rare sight.
Still, I have pushed on and tried to get the rosemary petals on-screen, before the flowers all turn to seed. Here’s my best attempt:
Not my best photo, but it gives at least an impression of the deep, strong colour I can see with my eyes. In the foreground, you can see the flower stalks some of the chives are sending up; and in the background the feathery foliage of one of the fennel plants.