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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

Sticky

The reason that I first acquired my carnivorous plants was to keep the flies under control in the limery – a natural solution that is also fascinating. The pitcher plants, which featured in last week’s Three Things Thursday are good for controlling large flies, but when it comes to fruit flies and little black compost flies, you need a sundew or two.

The most common and easiest to grow in a UK conservatory is probably the Cape Sundew (Drosera capensis). The plants have linear leaves and either pink or white flowers, the former associated with leaves with red highlights. Mine are always covered in little flies:

And then, if you’ve got some hanging space that’s high enough so you won’t walk into it (and honestly, you really don’t want a face full of this), there’s my favourite – Drosera dicotoma, the leaves of which can reach 30cm. Mine had a bit of a set-back earlier in the year when I was on holiday, but has now grown some new fresh leaves which haven’t had much time to catch many flies, although it is capable of snaring big ones.

So, who needs chemicals or fly paper, when nature can solve the problem for you?

 

Three Things Thursday: 8 June 2017

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog [or Twitter account or Facebook page or diary or life in general] with the happy*

Emily of Nerd in the Brain originally created Three Things Thursday, but it’s now being hosted by Natalie of There She Goes. Anyway, here are my three things this week…

First, letter-writing. I mentioned in my  recent post Small Calm Things, that I had made a start on some letter-writing and over the past few days I’ve written quite a few. Sitting in the limery as the rain hammers down in our British summer, it’s rather nice to put pen to paper and know that I will be raising some smiles as a result of my efforts.

Second, new inks. I have a project in mind that involves alcohol inks in muted colours. Until now I only had bright colours, but this morning’s post brought me the earth tones I need, so I’m now all set for getting arty.

a new art project is on the horizon

Third, pitchers. The pitcher plants and the monkey cup in the limery are growing like mad and it does make me very happy to see them doing their job and looking so fabulous.

And if you want to see lovely pictures of some of these plants in their native habitat, check out this post from Nerd in the Brain, who recently went to visit the Stanley Rehder Carnivorous Plant Garden.

So, those are three things making me smile and that I am grateful for this week. What is making you happy?

Three Things Thursday: 20 April 2017

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog [or Twitter account or Facebook page or diary or life in general] with the happy*

Inspired by Emily of Nerd in the Brain here are my Three Things Thursday.

First, fantastic flowers. The carnivores are growing great guns in the limery – some are busy producing new leaves or pitchers, but the Sarracenia leucophylla is concentrating on flowering, The deep red blooms are each atop a very long stem, towering above all the other carnivores.

Second, back to blankets. I need a bit of mindless crochet for a while to take my mind off politics, so I have got out the squares and yarn that Wild Daffodil sent me and have started creating a new charity blanket.

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The colourful ones were donated and the brown ones are mine

Third, getting arty. After being inspired by some of Pauline’s doodling, I bought myself some yupo paper and alcohol inks to play with. I haven’t had much time yet, but I had fun splashing some ink about to see what it did. Since I made these, I’ve bought a few new colours and some thinner, which should allow me to get some more interesting effects…. and I haven’t even started doodling over them yet, which is the plan

So, those are three things making me smile and for which I am grateful this week. What has made you happy this week?

Three Things Thursday: 15 December 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Ms Emily’s Home for Full-Grown Nerds (and others) for Three Things Thursday. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

First, my local  swimming pool. In mid-January I decided that I would start going swimming regularly in order to exercise more. I’m lucky enough to be able to afford to pay up-front and so I bought a year’s pass, allowing me unlimited swims. Originally I intended to swim twice a week, but since October I have been going three times a week. I started off doing breast stroke and swimming with my head above the water… this had to stop because it was not doing my neck any good. So, I bought some swimming goggles and learned to do ‘proper’ breast stroke. Later in the year I trained myself to do front crawl – I started only managing one length of this stoke per session, but now I use it for half of the distance I swim each time. I started swimming 40 lengths (1km) per session, but now I do 50. Over the eleven months I have been swimming 102 times! None of this would have been possible without my local pool, so I’m grateful for all the staff who keep it going, and especially to Ollie who gets up to let us early-morning swimmers in at 7am three times a week.

Second, new food inspiration. For some time now we’ve been intending to have  a clear-out of our spices. Many of them were old and stale and not a great addition to any dish. So, in a fit of enthusiasm the other day I ordered an Indian cooking pack from a company that I had recently discovered. The pack included spices and other ingredients, plus a cookery book. This may be one of the most inspirational cook books I have ever bought. There are so many simple recipes in it that I want to try. I will certainly be reporting back on what I make. It’s good to get out of a cooking rut and I’m looking forward to trying making my own naan and a whole variety of new curries – first on my list is a squash curry.

Third, food with friends. After a bit of a lull in terms of socialising, in the past week we have had two different lots of friends round to eat with us and we’re just about to go out to a shared pot-luck lunch. I’ve  been a bit remiss about cooking for others recently but, hopefully, I’ll get back into the habit of inviting friends round to share food with us as it is a real joy in life. Possibly, everyone will be getting curry!!

So, those are three things making me smile this week – what about you?

Three Things Thursday: 8 December 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Ms Emily’s Home for Full-Grown Nerds (and others) for Three Things Thursday. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

This week all three things are from a single trip out that we had on Tuesday. We went to visit Plantasia in Swansea… it’s one of the places that inspired the Eden Project and it’s about 25 years since I last went.

I was delighted to find several things there that I’m now growing at home.

First, this amazing hanging Nepenthes pitcher plant

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A Nepenthes

Mine has a long way to go before it can compete with this one, but it’s certainly grown since I first got it.

Second, a selection of other insectivorous plants: Sarracenia (pitchers), Drosera (sundews) and Dionaea (Venus fly traps), species of which I have growing in the limery.

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A community of carnivores

Third, Lithops (living stones). I have one surviving in the limery from the seeds I sowed back in 2014, but it has a long way to go before it looks like these:

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So, those are three things making me smile this week – what about you?

Hanging around

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Not an appealing sight

In order to control flies in the limery I have been using a combination of carnivorous plants and fly paper. The latter is unsightly, but effective to hang high up. However, now I’m getting to know my insectivores better and discovering what grows well, I have been able to ditch the fly paper in favour of Drosera dichotoma. This astonishing sundew (at least astonishing to those of us used to our tiny native Drosera rotundifolia) produces long trailing leaves, and so is best in a location where these can drape down the side of the pot, unrestricted. Suspending this plant shows it off to its best advantage and gives it the greatest opportunity to trap its prey.

Since the plant needs to sit in water, a reasonably deep suspended dish is required. After a bit of rummaging around, I located a plastic bowl that had been given to me years ago full of pot pourri (pointless stuff, long since composted).  A little bit of work with some jute twine and a crochet hook and I had constructed a hammock for my pot.

And now it’s hanging in the limery looking much more attractive than the fly paper, and photosynthesising to boot!

Fingers crossed that it’s happy there and grows lots more fly-catching leaves.

In the green

I know that you are probably sick of seeing pictures of the limery, but it was so long coming, that I still can’t quite believe it’s complete and that the plants in there are growing so well. There are now tomatoes, peppers and chillies fruiting (although all green) and the passionflower has put on about 20 cm in height since it arrived.

I promise to stop obsessing about it eventually, but it is making me SO happy right now!

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