Monday, 31 December 2012

End of Year View (31 DEC 2012)

These photos were taken a few days ago during a brief interval between rainfalls.

view of front patio  -  primula  -  bulbs disguised
I thought squirrels/cats/foxes were supposed to keep out of the rain, but they managed to snatch a few moments to dig up newly planted bulbs which I attempted to hide under the primula, leaving the latter with dirty faces. They didn't outwit me completely though because the bulbs I poked into a weedy planter are still safe.

winter jasmine  -  view of front left bed  -  frost-bitten marigolds
I didn't celebrate Christmas, the sad state of the garden is pretty much a reflection of how I'm feeling. This year was the worst in my life so far with two deaths in my close family. It's the first time I have experienced how quickly life can slip away without even a good-bye and how easily loved-ones let go and move on.
sedums  -  view of rear patio  -  heather & swiss chard
The sadness has been increased by reports in the British media about sordid events which may or may not have happened several years ago before the word celebrity was a derogatory term. Apparently, some of my childhood idols, assumed to be reliable, trusted and true, were not so heroic. 
hellebore buds - view of rear left bed - viburnum
Up till now I have always felt personal and public sadness in different ways; events I heard in the news affected me but didn't get to my inner core. However, this year they have amalgamated into one. A cup of tea and a biscuit doesn't make a bad situation a tiny bit better, for the first time.

reinvigorated foxgloves  -  view of woodland by the back wall  -  iris shoots

Gardening in the rain is what's kept me going through the festive season (though there isn't much evidence of this in the photos). It's been almost three years since I became a gardener or at least had the idea of becoming one, but the seed was planted much earlier.

jasmine didn't flower but presented red leaves instead  -  view of rear right bed  -  wall flowers 
When I was sorting through some of my mother's things I found a letter that I wrote to her when I was about ten while she had to take a trip away from home. It described the flowers in her garden that she was missing. Even then it seemed to be one of the few ways we could communicate and now it is the way I interface with the outside world.
remains of ammobium  -  view of front right bed  -  japanese quince (my final Dozen for Diana nomination) 
Joining in with the Dozen for Diana meme during the past year was a way of sharing what I understood about plants beyond just their appearance. I'm not a fan of the colour, so it was a surprise when I followed Diana's example and assembled my twelve tried and tested plants together to find there was a definite bias towards pink.
Dozen for Diana - my choices for reliable, trusted and true plants
Inspecting this collection charts my progress as a gardener : the blue moon roses I sniffed as a child; the nicotianas which I was given to start my own gardening journey; the marigolds which germinated in my kitchen; the lavender revived after being rescued from the sick plant shelf; sedums divided, then divided again; foxgloves introduced to a gloveless garden, now taking over.

It seems a shame to end Dozen for Diana with just a collection of photos. I have my eye on two plots of land which might give me an opportunity to start from scratch and arrange these plants properly having learned from experiments in my own garden.

Neither of these plots belong to me, they are owned by non-gardeners who don't mind giving me access. The first is the rear section of my late mother's garden. If you dig around you'll find toys from mine and my brother's christmas crackers tossed away decades ago and cassettes of my favourite songs which my brother taped for me then stamped on after we had arguments. The second belongs to my friend (& fellow engineer) T who thinks a garden is just a place to set up a shed. The problem is that neither my brother nor T are into pink or developing relationships with well-behaved plants. That's a small issue to be dealt with next year ...
Today I'm linking up to :

©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Harvest (26 DEC 2012)

When I was small, a frequently-practised ritual at meal-times was to save my mashed potato side-dish till last, then shift it centre-stage and splat on a dollop of tomato ketchup. This gruesome-looking mound would then be homogenised by my fork into a fine delicacy (to my palate) - pink potato. My mother turned a blind-eye as she wasn't a stickler for table-manners, however she warned me not to do that when visiting other people's houses. It made home seem like a special place, where I could just be myself.

I probably eat potatoes in some form every day. As an adult, one of my comfort foods is jacket potato with baked beans in tomato sauce and a sprinkling of cheddar cheese. If I'm alone, the last few forkfuls get mashed into my childhood treat. My kitchen larder always has a plentiful supply of potatoes, onions and garlic regardless of what recipes I've planned to cook during the week - you never know when there might be an emergency situation requiring a spanish omelette or fluffy jacket potato. I don't like to throw away food but these vegetables have to be discarded more often than I like to admit as they sprout quicker than they can be consumed sometimes. Considering that plant propagation isn't the easiest skill to master, it seems a wasted opportunity to deny plants which are begging to do so.

These surplus vegetables were planted in a compost bag in May. I prepared the potato for planting by cutting away its bulk, leaving sections to which the sprouts were attached.

Within a month they were already showing signs of taking root.

By early August the plants were flourishing. I don’t know if they flowered, as I wasn’t gardening for a while, neglecting them till the beginning of October. 

I cannot describe the feeling of anticipation when I finally decided it was time to peek into the compost bag. I didn’t know what to expect because I wasn’t aware of how root vegetables are formed, I certainly wasn’t prepared for woodlice! It was amazing that they only damaged the tiniest potato which had four woodlice curled-up inside it. I discovered on-line that potato halves can be used to lure woodlice out of houses. It’s not clear how to lure woodlice away from potatoes though.

The potatoes were pale and satisfyingly smooth with regular shapes, I’m assuming because they were grown in compost. The onion and garlic were still undeveloped but at least I could see how they were multiplying.
This year was a bad one for tomatoes in the UK by all accounts. It was too wet during the summer so they didn’t ripen beyond the green chutney stage.

I saved a couple of the sunflowers from my mother’s garden, just in case they turned out to be Jerusalem artichokes after all. I waited till the plants died down but there were no signs of those delicious tubers.

Rainbow swiss chard was effortless to propagate and grow. Unfortunately I missed picking them in their prime. I’ll definitely be growing this vegetable again next year and hopefully I’ll get a chance to try a Giorgio Locatelli recipe where he stuffs the sauted leaves and fontina cheese between sections of the stalks, then coats them in egg and breadcrumbs before deep-frying.

Finally the dwarf flowering quince only produced one mature fruit this year, despite flowering excessively and initially presenting a promising number of babies. Does anyone know if you’re supposed to pick off some of the fruit so that the bush can concentrate on what’s left?

I didn’t intend to grow edible produce when I started gardening, but year by year I’m getting hooked onto the idea.
©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for

Thursday, 20 December 2012

London Plane Tree (20 DEC 2012)

This is the last post about london plane trees in this series of Seasonal Celebrations linking up to Donna's meme. Last season she shared in return a photo of her ash trees, explaining how they have been struck by a disease which means some have to be put down and asked for our suggestions of suitable replacements. You can guess my first thought, but then I remembered an article I'd read about a new disease which was attacking them too - massaria. This disease has already damaged some branches of plane trees in London's Royal Parks but at least it doesn't kill off whole trees.

The 42,000 plane trees in France whose roots bind the banks of the Canal du Midi are less fortunate. They are being culled as I write despite their contribution to this man-made UNESCO World Heritage Site as they have been infected by incurable canker stain. The story is that a fungus which grows harmlessly on native plane trees (american sycamores) was transported to France by the US army during the Second World War in some wooden packaging which hadn't been dried thoroughly. It seems that the same fungus is fatal if it comes in contact with oriental plane trees or their hybrids. (London plane trees are a hybrid of american sycamores and oriental plane trees.)
I wondered what it would be like to take a peaceful ride on a canal boat shaded through the entire journey by plane trees on both sides and resigned myself to the fact that it wasn't a possibility any more. Then on a sunny day in mid-October I was perched on the front seat of a double-decker bus when I saw trees in the distance which made my heart skip a beat.

To my delight they were banks of plane trees which had been allowed to grow more fully than their brethren which usually line our suburban streets. Cruising by in a stream of traffic was a surreal experience (though the other bus passengers didn't seem so affected!).
Those were fine trees indeed, but in comparison it seems difficult to believe that a favourite tree in my local park is of the same species. There wasn't much to report between summer and autumn but as autumn changed to winter, I visited often to make observations.
To capture the moment when the leaves started to fall ....

Mid - October 2012

They turned pale yellow then dried and fell quicker than the surrounding trees still celebrating their autumn glory.

However, the plane tree doesn't let go of its dark-brown, prickly, round seed clusters as the wind will determine their destiny.

By mid-November, most of the leaves formed a thick carpet around the tree and its magnificent framework was revealed.

Mid - November 2012

After a few windy days (or a clean-up by the groundsmen), the carpet had disappeared. The tree is certainly not shy to be naked now, presenting its symmetrical form as one approaches, the lower branches bearing a resemblance to the Angel of the North.

Mid - December 2012

... but if you turn back, you'll catch a glimpse of its mischievous off-balance persona.

This tree has taught me many things during my visits this year, but most of all it made me realise that you don't need to own something to love it.
Today I'm linking up with Donna Abel's meme : Seasonal Celebrations... and Lucy & the tree followers at Loose and Leafy.
©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Succulents (12 DEC 2012)

If I had to choose twelve plants to start a garden from scratch, sedums would be a must-have. Their tiny leaf buds which start poking up in December between the dried stems of the year before, become juicy and turn jade green in spring through to summer when I find them most attractive. The baby pink flowers in autumn are a bonus. This photo taken last year shows their only flaw - the way they splay out as they grow taller.


Janet @ Plantalicious commented that she administers the Chelsea Chop to her sedums in May to control their growth. This treatment seems to have worked on mine this year. I probably wont perform the operation with a pair of shears again though. The sedums made a disturbing squeaking noise as I hacked away and the remaining amputated stems were an unpleasant sight for a while.

MAY 2012                                                                            SEPTEMBER 2012

In July while tidying up, I was surprised to find that the chopped-off stems which I hadn't bothered to clear away were lying on the patio still succulent and hardly shrivelled. Not only that, but there were new leaves sprouting from the centres of what I had initially discarded as excess. I immediately planted them as cuttings, and was rewarded with several flowering sedum plants in September.

JULY 2012                                                                                             SEPTEMBER 2012

I love the word succulence, it makes my mouth water just saying it, reminding me of biting into a ripe peach quenching thirst more than any beverage. It's almost as if the act of biting and bursting cells turgid with juice sends messages to the brain faster than gulping water and waiting for the digestive system to attend to rehydration. I understand that water retention in humans is undesirable, associated with weight gain and bloating. However, our nomadic ancestors were grateful for it, evolving to store water during times of drought. Consequently, our modern bodies store water as we eat too much when mistaking thirst for hunger.
Covergent evolution is when totally unrelated species in different locations find the same solution to a problem as generations progress. When planet earth started to dry out between 5 and 10 million years ago creating more arid landscapes, succulents and cacti started to diversify. Cacti are a sub-set of succulents characterised by their tufty areoles, stunted branch buds from which spines (vestigial leaves) and flowers are produced. Their barrel-shaped stems feature, minimising evaporation from the surface area of the plant. Spines have a dual purpose of keeping predators away as well as condensing moisture in the air.
I tried to grow cacti from seeds this year but was unsuccessful. The few which germinated after several weeks eventually died after being dislodged by accident during watering. Anyway, I've now got my eye on a section of my Aunt's cactus. I'm relieved that she didn't take my advice to re-pot it, as I later read that cacti should be planted in as small a pot as possible to prevent their roots rotting in wet soil, which seems to be their only major vulnerability. 

Ever seen a Christmas Cactus that isn't overloaded with blooms at this time of year?
I keep moving this plant around the house to get the most of it.
It makes me wonder if cacti kept as house-plants are evolving even further to attract human pollinators.

In case that fails, their segmented stems are almost begging to be snapped off and propogated.
Why wouldn't you?

Today I'm linking up to the Dozen-for-Diana meme @ ElephantsEye
©Copyright 2012 b-a-g. All rights reserved. Content created by b-a-g for
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