Reflecting on my week #34

It's been a productive week here, despite the earlier than usual starts for this not-a-fan-of-mornings.  With the builders regularly arriving before 8am, which is good, it's tradition really isn't it to be dressed when they arrive?!  It's not mega-early I know, and it's not much earlier than we'd normally be up and about, I think it's knowing we have to be that changes the mindset.  A bit like when you go on holiday and you set the alarm super early and then wake up every hour and check the time...  but without the holiday and with a bit more dust!

There was a first visit to the allotment too on Tuesday evening, we'd run out of time over the Bank Holiday weekend, and I wasn't quite sure what we'd find. Or rather, how many weeds we'd find.  The answer was quite a few, and a lot of grass too.  Some of which had been strimmed, but still more that could be cut back - I'll be taking my Stihl trimmer on our next visit, and some weed killer. 

We did take one of those tarpaulins that arrived back in November (how, was it that long ago?) and once we'd weeded one of the beds, which thankfully was relatively easy to weed, we covered it to try and prevent them coming back quite so quickly.  In the process we dug up some potatoes we'd missed last year, and some we hadn't got around to harvesting and that was a nice bonus.

During the weeding I noticed there was blood on my foot, turned out I'd been savaged by a mosquito.  Three bites on the top of my foot had drawn blood and plenty more up my leg were just a bit of a nibble.  I thought nothing more of it, but hoped it wouldn't be a recurrence of the insect bite drama from last May.

There's more weeding to be done but we left with those potato discoveries and almost a kilo of rhubarb.  You can't beat crops that do their thing while you spend winter sitting on the sofa...

Once home a closer inspection of the three bites and I wasn't convinced it was going to end well.  And it was close, it wasn't until Saturday that my foot stopped swelling and the bites died back a bit.  Phew.  

It looks like wellies could be my footwear of choice for the allotment until the insects get over the taste of me.  The rhubarb helped make up for it though, when I took it out of the oven I realised it had a more ordered look than it usually does.

roasting rhubarb from the allotment

I roast the freshly washed rhubarb in the oven with some sugar and a splash of orange juice if I have it. It only takes about twenty minutes, and keeps its colour and shape cooking this way and is great with ice cream as a pudding, or greek yogurt and seeds for breakfast.  There's plenty more rhubarb to come, so I expect I'll be branching out into cakes and crumbles soon.

Talking of cakes, I'm still making my way through the mountain of frozen bananas in the freezer we're eating our way through.  There's been banana and blueberry pancakes, banana flapjacks (both of which are good) and this week a chocolate banana bread.  In the spirit of using things up instead of the dark chocolate pieces there were some white chocolate drops and some grated chocolate chilli hot chocolate flakes and for the pecans some chopped almonds.  I'm sure it'll be fine and will be a great addition to our lunchboxes this week.

A chocolate banana bread with a hint of chilli chocolate

Work on our conservatory is continuing apace, but I think because they started late they'll be here a week later than expected too, which is annoying as we'd booked that week off work.  I'm not keen to spend a week off work with the builders so we're looking to see about changing our time off.  I'm hoping that next week will see a major milestone and then I hope to share more here on the progress so far too.

What we already know, thanks to a day of rain on Saturday, is that the new guttering is doing its job.  It's the first time the structure has had guttering, and as it's been up since 1996, that's quite something.  And quite an improvement we've (or rather our builders) have been able to make to the longevity of this revamp.

I've had some blog post too and there's some exciting collaborations on the way, there's a new rug and a some wall coverings to come and some smaller items too.  My pass for the Chelsea Flower Show arrived this week too, and I'm looking forward to putting that to good use, I just need to confirm which day I've been accredited for, and book some time off work.  I'll also be sharing more from our trip to Grand Designs, so look out for lots of posts to come.

This weekend I've spent some time pottering about in the greenhouse, and those advent calendar boxes have been put to good use.  I've missed sowing tomatoes and some of the earlier crops, so hope to be buying some plants to help me on my way. I can't imagine a year without growing tomatoes, but given my lack of success with tomatoes since we've had the allotment  I think I'll be growing them in the greenhouse and the garden this year instead.  I'm hoping they'll be less susceptible to blight that way - keep your fingers crossed!

Putting my advent calendar boxes to good use in the greenhouse

What I have sown in the boxes are courgettes and squash.  In the loo rolls I've insisted we save I've got a selection of runner, climbing and borlotti beans - we've had much more success with these, especially the latter, on the plot and so I'm aiming to play to our strengths.   In another seed tray I've a selection of brassicas, ranging from kale to bok choi to sprouts, and my first bunch of herbs.  I may supplement the brassicas with some small plants too, as I want to maximise our chances of success, as without the crops the allotment isn't so much fun.

courgettes, squash and beans sown in the greenhouse

This week we'll be back at the allotment one evening, I hope, and this time I'll be forewarned and ready for the mosquitos.  There'll probably be some more rhubarb and the verdict on the chocolate banana bread from MOH and no doubt yet another way to use frozen bananas.  I am tempted to make some easy ice cream, but that doesn't help me so much at the moment as it still needs freezer space.  

It's all a bit of a juggling act right now, but don't tell me you're surprised!

A touch of gardening

Much has been made of the long winter and with that and a north facing garden, this year my gardening has been off to a slow start.  I missed making anything of the brief spell of good weather last month as we were prepping for work in the conservatory, which we later discovered would be delayed.  But the good news is, the gardening has started and both of our green wheelie bins were full to the brim last week, and will no doubt be every week for the next month or so.  We compost our garden waste in our own garden too, but at the moment both 'daleks' are full and need emptying, so we only manage to squeeze in a bit each week.

There was no room for the fatsia leaves, and with their waxy finish they take a while to compost so after cutting out at least three of the older stems, the plant was a lot less dense and our bins were a lot fuller.  It seemed though that wherever we worked in the garden was in full sun, and so plenty of breaks were needed.  This weekend it's been a little cooler, and a preferable temperature for gardening, though of course today I've spent some time in the greenhouse instead. 

A pile of fatsia leaves

The fatsia remains one of my favourite plants in this garden as whatever the season it looks good. The birds hadn't found all of the berries this winter though, so even some of them went out to the green bin.  I cut at least three of the older stems out and it's looking much less dense, and happier for it now.  I know though, that it'll grow back before I know it, it's the sort of plant that sees being cut back as a challenge to grow more!

saying goodbye to thees Fatsia berries

Elsewhere in the garden the sleepers have weathered the winter well and the French lavender has grown dramatically.  The ice succulent has fared less well but I plan to take some leaves from the plant to propagate some new plants.

The first of these shots of 2018

In the autumn I discovered that the squirrels had taken a shine to my trug of succulents with many of the leaves separated from the plants, and one or two of them with bite marks in.  So I picked them all up into a a plastic container, left them in the greenhouse and promptly forgot about them.

So discovering two plastic containers looking like this, was a bit of a win: 

pink succulent babies

Plenty of free plants, with no effort at all!

The small Christmas tree is getting ready for a growth spurt too by the look of things.  It had started to look a little weary in the heat last summer but has recuperated well over the winter.  This year could be the year I finally get to cut it to make some wreaths, we'll see.

growth on the small christmas tree

Just above the small Christmas tree is the lilac, whose height we reduced by half last year.  It's repaid us with plenty of pretty and scented blooms this year, and what's better is that many of them are at head height so it was well worth cutting back.  If you're planning to cut yours back, wait until it's finished flowering and then do it, otherwise you'll miss out on next year's flowers.

plenty of flowers - and fragrance - from the lilac

We missed the chance to cut down our dogwoods in February/March as not much was tempting me out into the garden earlier this year, so we do have some flowering dogwoods for a change.  I'm considering cutting some of the stems (not all) so that we can still benefit from some red stems over the coming winter.

dogwood flowers too

There's plenty of new growth around the garden, and quite a bit to be tamed. But not this fern.  It's another of our plants that is very low maintenance, and I'm always pleased and slightly shocked that it comes back each year.

an unfurling fern

The forget-me-not weeds are still coming, but now they're joined by the blue - and pink - bells.  The markings on these, especially the pink are exquisite, we've some while varieties in places around the garden too.  I like the bluebells, for now, but they have a lot of greenery with them and once the flowers have gone I'm keen for that to be gone too.

pink bells and blue bells

On our side of the fence our Chilean potato plant is just starting to flower, the buds look heavy and fit to burst.  Looking out of the first floor windows it seems, that they've well and truly burst into flower on our neighbour's more sunny side of the fence.  

starting to form buds

The camellia continues to flower and continues to shed its petals like confetti.  The concrete hare (one of a pair) has a look of being caught about him doesn't he?

a hare amongst the camelias

At the end of the garden the lily of the valley are making their scent known, and the bluebells are trying to get in on the act here too, along with the variegated ivy, which does look as if it's been artistically painted.

lily of the valley and variegated ivy

Throughout the garden we have many types of aquilegia, columbines or Granny's bonnets, whichever you know them by.  We've some already in flower and this shot looking down on the flower is a favourite of mine.  The trick is to take off the seed heads before they self seed - it's not something we always manage, but the results are pretty enough.

looking down on an granny's bonnet

This year our laburnum tree is putting on a spectacular show, brighter and for longer than I remember last year.  It's great to see a pop of yellow from the conservatory, something that usually the forsythias deliver in our garden, but this year they've not been so vivid.  It's been the turn of the laburnum instead. 

proof work really did take place

The berberis and holly have been clipped into their lollypop shapes, and I'm waiting for the mass above them to flower before I trim that back.  It's closer than it was last weekend, but that whole space will be full of tiny pink flowers, and I don't want to miss them.  This could also be the last hurrah of my step ladder as if I'm honest, it's seen better days (and probably had when we moved here fifteen years ago).  The bottom step is a bit wobbly, which isn't so good - but it'd be worse if it was one higher up, as I'm wobbly enough up a ladder without help. 

It's future isn't helped by the fact I tried out a Henchman ladder, the sort that I put on my garden wish list, at Grand Designs last weekend.  I liked the wider base, but it was wider than I expected and while I managed to go up a couple of rungs, MOH went almost to the top and was impressed too.  They're not cheap though, but it's the sort of thing you don't buy every week either, is it?

While my garden to do (and shopping) lists are growing, I'm pleased to have got out into the garden to can start to tackle the work that needs doing, it's taken a while this year to get my grow-jo* back!


* aka gardening mo-jo!

In my greenhouse...

Back in June it was all about reacquainting myself with my greenhouse, and trying to persuade my tomatoes to grow - and I managed that, in the end. I think I should have potted them on much sooner, but hey ho! 

i had a bit more luck with courgettes and squashes although no sooner had I planted them out in the allotment, then another one sprung out of nowhere... 

A final courgette has made an appearance

My chillies were suffering the same non-growing fate as my tomatoes, so on our recent visit to Hyde Hall I consoled myself with this pretty purple chilli plant. I've not picked any yet, but am curious to know what they taste like.  

A purple chilli  - pretty but I've not eaten any yet

The flowers I have in the greenhouse continue to flower, it seems both those grown from seed and the miniature bedding plants are acting the same way, and both are adding some unusual colour to my space. The one below is a poached egg plant and good for attracting pollinators.  Pretty too.  

A poached egg plant

Proof that my tomatoes have responded well to potting on. Of course now I'm left with the headache of finding space for them on the allotment, but that's a good problem to have. 

the tomatoes are finally growing

I've also had success with parsley this year. For the first time ever what growing from seed  I know parsley likes it warm to germinate and it seems this year it's playing ball.

success with parsley for the first time ever

I'm also trying starting off spinach, lettuce and beetroot in drainpipe. I know it sounds odd but I think these are the kinds of plant that do well sown direct. But the only problem with that is when the seedlings come through they look like weeds. So my master plan is to give them a head start in the drainpipe and then transplant them without needing to disrupt and interrupt them too much.  

Thats the plan anyway, and of course it's reliant on having somewhere to grow them... 

Spinach - trying a new approach to seedlings
A delicate flower from the bedding plants I ordered much earlier in the year

As well as the pale pink flower above I'm noticing that my blueberry has turned autumnal. I mean, it's a lovely colour but I don't know if it's putting on a show or slowly giving up, I guess I'll find out soon enough. 

The blueberry has turned red, I'm not sure if this is usual or if its upset

It seems that this year though is my year of the foxglove, as not only did I have two flowering foxgloves I've a bumper crop of seedlings too.  

foxgloves seedlings growing on nicely

And finally, there's an unusual addition this month, with these solar powered light bulbs sheltering here. It was way too windy for them to be outside, so they're taking a temporary respite until the summer returns.  I'm hoping it won't be long!

lightbulb solar lights sheltering from the wind

What have you been up to in your garden or greenhouse? Share your successes and more in the comments.