Right on Kew

Last weekend I visited Kew gardens for the first time in over 30 years. It’s a place that I’ve been intending to return to for ages. It’s amazing, with iconic glasshouses and rare plants, as well as some artwork that I particularly wanted to see again. As an unexpected bonus, there was also an impressive exhibition of the work of Dale Chihuly, who creates huge glass sculptures, many inspired by natural forms.

It was a hot day, so spending any time in the tropical house was beyond us, but we did manage to enjoy some of the glasshouses. Mostly, however, we wandered the extensive outdoor spaces, enjoying the sculptures dotted around the garden as well as the beautiful plants.

I particularly wanted to revisit the Marianne North gallery – it’s a wonderful space, completely filled with her paintings. She paid for its construction, but was prevented from implementing her original idea that it be a tea room… such a shame because it would be a perfect place to relax with afternoon tea.

I’m not going to leave it another 30 years before going back.

Back from the brink

A couple of years ago I bought a specimen of Drosera dicotoma – it is an amazing sundew, which produces huge leaves and, therefore has the ability to catch a lot of flies:

Huge, trailing leaves

I hung it up in the limery and it did a brilliant job. However, during last winter it completely died back and I wondered whether, reluctantly, to tip the contents of the pot into the compost bin. I decided, after a little thought, to leave it and see whether any shoots might reappear – carnivorous plants do seem to have a tendency to ‘play dead’ and, whilst they don’t always come back (Venus fly traps, I’m talking about you), I have experienced several resurrections.

To begin with, it looked like this:

Apparently dead

But, with a little patience, I started to see signs of life:

Tiny shoots

It was weedy at first:

Struggling

But as the weather warmed up and the sun shone more often, it rather perked up:

More shoots

And now, although it’s nowhere near as big as it used to be, it is thriving once again:

Call me Lazarus

I have high hopes for a long and active life for this very useful plant. I really hope that it achieves its previous impressive size.

Opening up

It’s all very well to visit large estates and see amazing rolling acres, huge walled gardens and what can be done with a dozen gardeners, but inspiration is probably more likely to strike closer to home. It was lovely, therefore, to visit a couple of gardens just round the corner from us who were participating in the National Garden Scheme. I think the pictures say more than my words could:

And as a secondary source of inspiration, I discovered that Beryl (one of the owners), who I regularly have a chat with when I’m passing with the dogs,  is the most amazing needlewoman. She had some of her quilts, stumpwork and stitched pictures on display in her conservatory along with the open garden. Because I usually see her when she’s gardening, we normally talk about plants and I never knew about her sewing… learning more about your neighbours is certainly a hidden benefit of visiting their gardens.

Growing and groaning

The saga of the tooth continues – the first part of the root canal work has been completed, but it has awoken the infection and so I’m back on antibiotics. Hopefully the stuff I’m taking now will have less of an adverse effect on me than the last lot. Anyway, I have a few weeks to wait before the procedure can continue. In the mean time I’m sitting here, moaning gently and watching my garden grow….

I’ve photographed the good bits and carefully avoided the jungle elsewhere!

Sunshine and showers…

… no, hang on, that should read ‘torrential rain’.

So far this June we’ve had more rain than in the two previous Junes combined. This, of course, provides challenges when it comes to growing and I have been especially grateful for the limery. I potted up all my pepper and chilli plants with a view to trying to raise some outdoors this year, but then the wind and rain arrived and it seemed unlikely they would survive outside, so in they came. Some of the other plants weren’t so lucky and I lost several patty pan squashes that were still in pots – I think they simply drowned.

Nevertheless, we are now eating lots of home-grown food and that is always a joy. I have three courgette plants in the limery and they are way ahead of the outdoor ones and already supplying us with food. The jalapeno chillies (red and purple) are producing fruit, as are the sweet peppers, although none are ready to be harvested yet. We’ve already eaten lots of lettuce and many potatoes. The peas are starting to flower now, so I’m hoping for some of those soon and the little herb garden that I planted up a few months ago is doing well – especially the oregano.

As climate change takes effect, I feel that I’m going to need to be much more responsive to severe weather, so that having both indoor and outdoor growing space available will become increasingly important, as will growing in pots so that plants can be moved in response to the weather (this year potatoes, peas, beans and squashes/courgettes have been planted both in the ground and in pots). So far this year I have managed to nurture a variety of crops, but there will always be years like 2018 when, after the early summer, we were unable to raise things like lettuce because it was simply too hot. This year I’ve diversified somewhat and so we have carrots, parsnips and sweetcorn in addition to our usual vegetables. For various reasons, I haven’t grown any of these for ages, but I think it’s time to have a wider range so that if one crop fails, another might succeed. In short, I am trying to build more resilience into my garden and I hope that this means we’ll be able to supply even more of our food than before from the limited space available.

ScrapHappy May 2019

In keeping with my recent activities, this month’s ScrapHappy is in the garden.

It’s a busy time of year for a gardener. Sowing seeds, potting up, transplanting and preparing beds for planting all seem to need to be done at the same time. If you visit your local garden centre, you are led to believe that you must buy all sorts of items to ensure that your garden grows, but there are also many scrappy solutions and I thought I’d share a few with you.

Many items, such as plant pots and labels can be used time and again, but when they finally come to the end of their life, there are alternatives. Recently I have used a couple of plastic buckets (that originally contained fat balls for the wild birds) to plant courgettes in, having punched some holes in the bottom for drainage. I cut up old plastic milk cartons to use for plant labels and these last for years – I write on them with a marker pen and clean them off each year with a bit of methylated spirit. My lettuce is planted in an old fish box that a neighbour found washed up on the beach and the pots containing my young pepper plants are currently sitting in an old polystyrene insulated mailing box that keeps them warm and acts as a water tray. I look at all moulded plastic packaging to see if part of it is the right shape for a pot holder and cut out the useful bit if it is. Punnets that have had fruit in (grapes or strawberries, perhaps) make ideal little seed trays, and they usually have holes in the bottom already; the ones with integral lids can even act as a tiny greenhouse when you are germinating seeds. And squirty bottles containing cleaning products can be thoroughly washed out and used as small garden sprayers, for things like foliar feed.

All these items are the sort of thing that gets thrown away on a daily basis, and even if they could be recycled, reuse is always a better option.

These are just a few examples of scrappy re-use in my garden; there are plenty of others involving pallets (see Mr Snail’s blog for an abundance of these), an old rotary clothes drier, electrical cables, mushroom trays and more. Do you have any scrappy gardening solutions?

-oOo-

I’ve been inspired to write this (and future) ScrapHappy posts by Kate,  Tall Tales from Chiconia. On the fifteenth of every month lots of other folks often publish a ScrapHappy post, do check them out:

KateGun, TittiHeléneEvaSue, Nanette, Lynn, Lynda,
Birthe, Turid, Susan, Cathy, Debbierose, Tracy, Jill, Claire, Jan (me)Karen,
Moira, SandraLindaChrisNancy, Alys, Kerry, Claire, Jean, Johanna,
Joanne, Jon, HayleyDawn, Gwen, Connie, Bekki and Sue (who I have just persuaded to join in)

If you fancy joining, contact Kate and she’ll add you to the list. It would be lovely to see more non-sewing posts, but any use of scraps is welcome.

Make soil not war

I have been feeling extremely glum over the past couple of days, reading more and more about the myriad ways we are screwing up our planet, particularly with respect to climate change. What saddens me most is the lack of foresight of politicians and those who wield power (political or economic). For example:

  • Sadiq Khan telling the Extinction Rebellion protestors that London needs to get back to “business as usual”, when that’s exactly what got us into this mess in the first place.
  • The supervisory board of Bayer supporting the CEO, despite 55% of shareholders voting to express their concern over the company’s acquisition of Monsanto… and all the issues associated with the fact that glyphosate (remember that “benign” weedkiller Roundup?) has now been scientifically linked to cancer. OK, the shareholders are probably concerned over profitability, but even so, the board still don’t care.
  • A report (the EAT-Lancet Planetary Health Report) extolling the virtues of a plant-based diet that, it emerges, was funded by global “food” businesses that make ultra-processed junk in their factories and (mis)sell it as being healthy for both people and planet… when reliable research is increasingly demonstrating the value of extensive, grass-fed livestock production for building soil and sequestering carbon and the adverse effects of diets that do not include nutrient-dense food, but rely on excessive carbohydrate intake. If you are interested, you can read more here.

I could go on, but it’s just too depressing.

Sometimes I feel as if I might as well embark on a gigantic shopping spree and sod the planet because it’s buggered anyway. And then I go into the limery and see what’s growing…

And so I remember the joy that comes with growing and nurturing the plants in a garden… a practical thing, but so, so important.

IMGP6739

a bed of potatoes

On Sunday, outdoors, I planted potatoes – one of the raised beds is now full. I saved the sprouting tubers from last year’s harvest, so there will really be no food miles when these produce a crop. This bed was constructed on an area where, when we moved to the house in 1999, there was no topsoil. We’ve worked very hard to create conditions suitable for growing vegetables. Whilst I was planting, Mr Snail scythed the front garden (man-power not fossil fuels) and the cuttings went in the compost bin, to be resurrected in months to come as vegetables. So, in our future we have peppers and chillies and courgettes and squashes and potatoes and lettuce and beans and peas and carrots and parsnips and kale… the carnivores will keep the flies under control, the passionflower will bring joy to our eyes and eventually we might even pick an avocado (the plant came out of my sister’s compost heap!).

If you read about combatting climate change, you will find all sorts of great suggestions, but for me, the greatest joy comes with growing. Nurturing your growing space – whether it’s a tiny terrace or a vast farm – is a real practical way to help the planet. In particular, making compost and building your soil is a wonderful and effective way to lock up carbon. So, whether you are composing with bokashi in an urban apartment or have vast hot compost beds on your allotment or smallholding, keep at it. These are genuine ways to save the world… and even if the politicians and big food succeed in their drive towards planetary annihilation, at least you’ll have a salad to eat whist the world collapses around you.

New Shoots

It’s that time of year again when I’m busy sowing seeds and getting irrationally excited when the little green shoots appear from beneath the compost. Outdoors I have sown salad leaves, carrots and parsnips, although only the lettuces are showing signs of growth yet. As usual, my first sowing of leaves is in the old fish box retrieved from a local beach many years ago.

Indoors, the peppers and chillies that I started sowing much earlier in the year and then sequentially until about a month ago are coming on well (all except one variety which has not germinated at all and must be duff seeds, since they have been kept under the same conditions as all the rest). The ones doing the best so far are the purple jalapeños which were amongst the first planted.

This year we have an additional protected growing space. When Mr Snail moved into the flat he’d rented in Reading, it was full of stuff abandoned by previous tenants. After checking with the landlord, most of this went to a charity shop, but we retained one or two things, including a mini-greenhouse that had been on the tiny terrace. A few weeks back, Mr Snail put it together here in Wales and it’s providing a space for some sorrel frown last year as well as more germinating seeds: peas and various brassicas. Later in the summer, I think I shall put a couple of pepper plants in there to see how they get on.

I certainly wouldn’t have gone out and bought a plastic greenhouse like this, but it seemed a shame not to make use of it and I think it could be a valuable addition, since my wooden cold frame rotted away some years ago.

Inside the limery the carnivores are waking up and the citrus plants are growing great guns, and I’m dithering about exactly when to put them outside.

And finally, in the bathroom the flower on the Nepenthes continues to bloom…

mc flower

Monkey cup flower

I do enjoy this time of year… all that promise of future harvest…

It’s a boy!

Well, there was a 70% chance that it would be, but it’s interesting to know for sure…

Yes, the first flowers on my monkey cup have finally opened and revealed themselves to be male. Only having one plant I knew I would never be able to have babies, but the flowers are interesting to see.

I noticed this morning that one of the best places to see this plant from is in the shower, so I climbed back in the shower once it was dry and you can see how many lovely new leaves are appearing.

IMGP6548

growing some new leaves

It’s currently not forming new pitchers, but hopefully we’ll have lots more later in the year once the flower is done.

Pitching in

Back in 2015, when the limery was first built, getting some carnivorous plants seemed like a really great way to control the burgeoning fly population, and so it proved (much more pleasant than fly paper). One of the carnivores that I bought, however, was purchased mainly because it was a type of plant that I had always wanted to own – a tropical pitcher plant, otherwise known as a monkey cup or Nepenthes. I knew virtually nothing about these amazing plants other than that I had always admired the collection in the botany gardens at the university in Aberystwyth – a collection put together by an amazing gardener called Don Parker, who had trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh amongst other places. Don collected all sorts of species and was very proud of them and I used to admire his new acquisitions whenever they arrived. Don is no longer with us, but his collection lives on in the tropical house at the university botany gardens (I’ll go and take some photos one day)… and his inspiration lives on in the one specimen that I own.

nepenthes ventxtala

Then: Nepenthes ventricosa x talangensis when I first bought it

I just wish I’d taken the time to learn more from Don about these amazing plants; as it is I’ve had to read up about them as I don’t know another expert. The specimen that I bought in 2015 is, it turns out, a hybrid of two relatively compact upland species of tropical pitcher: Nepenthes ventricosa and Nepenthes talangensis. This upland origin is fortunate because it means it is more suited to surviving cooler conditions than its lowland relatives. It has, however, taken me a while to discover a location for it over the winter that allows it to thrive. But I have now discovered that it loves our bathroom – bouts of high humidity, dispersed light and (it appears) just the right temperature. As a result it has started to produce new pitchers and, for the first time, a flower. Nepenthes plants are either male or female and you don’t know which until they flower, so this event will allow me to find out whether it’s a boy or a girl – probably the former as they are more common (70:30 ratio in the wild, apparently). Here it is now:

Many of the plants I grow have a real practical purpose, but the job of this one is mainly to bring me joy… and it does.

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