Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Gardening meme

I volunteered for a meme over at Ally’s place - Seven things about me and gardening.

1 I grew up in a household passionate about exhibiting. We had a full-time gardener when I was a child, and he and my parents discussed, endlessly, what was to be grown each year. They were all keen showmen and competed in local exhibitions, including the Royal Norfolk Show and the Suffolk Show. They won many prizes. In the run-up to a show, the best vegetables were kept back and we were only allowed to eat misshapen, overblown or imperfect food. After the show, much of the unchosen produce was past its best. Mr Weavers, the gardener, would think nothing of digging up a whole row of potatoes to find six exactly matching ones. In flower classes, they specialised in begonias and delpiniums. My parents went to the Chelsea Flower Show every year and went straight to the Blackmore and Langdon exhibit to see the new varieties. One year, my father held a dinner plate to a begonia bloom - the flower was larger and petals showed all round the plate. Mr Weavers would sit up half the night with a bucket of hot water and a bucket of cold, dipping the delphinium stalks in each alternately. This would encourage the buds high up the stalk to open, without making the lower ones drop. The prizes were money, which was always given to our gardener and his name as well as my parents' was on the entry card, although it was my father's name on the trophies won. I never enter shows as I am totally uncompetitive, but I love going to them and know exactly how to choose the best items. For example, it's better to have six matching specimens, even if they are not the biggest, than four magnificent ones and two slightly smaller. Size is not the most important issue, shape and quality is. Presentation is very important, but it's care that matters, not showiness. A dozen perfect shallots, properly dried off, their tops turned over, tied with raffia and neatly trimmed, in a shallow wooden box, nestling in sand, are a joy to see. They do not need prettying up, just showing at their best and being allowed to speak for themselves.

2 My father loved growing plants, but the garden and the greenhouses were Mr Weaver's territory, jealously guarded. So he bought another greenhouse and cleared a piece of land, just for himself. One year he grew loofahs and had his picture in the paper. We used the loofahs in the bath for several years, with the big black seeds gradually working their way out. I've grown loofahs a few times. They are just like cucumbers to grow, but you have to be extremely careful when drying out the fruits, as they rot if they get the least damage.

3 Once, my father took me to the Municipal Nursery. The head gardener, who was a short tubby Scot called Mr Campbell, was extremely kind to me and showed me round the greenhouses, which were fabulous. There was a fully-grown lemon tree against the wall in one greenhouse, full of flowers and fruit. He gave me a lemon to bring home. He also gave me several exotic pot plants. Mr Campbell was in charge of all the parks and public gardens in Lowestoft and Oulton Broad and they always looked beautiful.

4 After my father died and when we could no longer afford a gardener, my mother and I still grew all our vegetables. I have always been a completely organic gardener and never used any artificial fertilisers or pesticides. Proper gardening is a passion, not a fashion. I have always encouraged wildlife, which are a natural pest control. I live in an agricultural area, and get in lots of cow manure, which I let rot down for at least a season before digging it in. In fact, I usually spread it on top of the beds in the autumn and fork it in in spring. I also make compost. I do buy seed compost because I can't avoid it and because peat-based compost is best for seed-sowing, but good companies, now, make compost with recycled peat and claim to be environmentally ethical, so I hope that's true.

5 I used to love growing flowers too, but I have been completely discouraged by the ground elder that riddles a large bed that cannot be cleared. There are three round beds in front of the house and these used to have elderly, straggly rose bushes and bedding plants in my in-laws' day. I got the Bressingham Gardens catalogue (this was when it was still privately owned by Adrian Bloom) and went through it, looking for plants that would thrive in sandy soil, a sunbaked aspect and would grow no more than 4 feet high. I spent £100 on plants, 20 years ago. Most of them are still there and thriving, although a few died off young. I water plants when young or in extremely dry weather, but mostly I believe in having the right plant for the place and letting them fend for themselves. I chose plants that would look good most of the year, with variation in form and leaf colour, that would cover the ground and need little weeding.

6 I love growing things, but hate weeding. I'm best at the nurturing stage and then want to plant out and forget about it. For this reason, I always let weeds grow far too long before removing them, as I can't be bothered to hoe. However, one does find self-seeded gems this way. I have forget-me-nots and heartsease in the kitchen garden and haven't the heart to eradicate them. I let some vetch grow in a flower bed as it was pretty - this was a mistake as it's very tenacious. The worst mistake I ever made was to grow some tansy, which came in a collection of herb seeds. It is beastly stuff. It stinks, it roots deeply and is hard to kill and it seeds like a Victorian paterfamilias.

7 When my children were young and life was very busy, my greenhouse was my refuge of calm. I used to grow loads of seedlings, not only for our own garden, but to sell at fêtes and fairs for local charities. I spent hours in the greenhouse, pricking out seedlings and caring for the plants. The family was always welcome to join me, but my strict rule was that it was a calm and happy place. They were not allowed to come and quarrel or complain. I grow a good many tender vegetables, but have the cheapest propagator possible, it being a soil warming cable in trays of earth, on which I put the seed trays and over which I have a framework draped with polythene to keep in warmth and humidity. It works fabulously well. The cable is 150 watts, so it's like having 2 lightbulbs on at night for about 2 months, by which time I have enough plants to fill a 40x14 foot greenhouse, a 30x12 foot greenhouse, a 30x10 foot greenhouse and all the kitchen garden. Of course, as the plants get bigger I have to move them about to keep the most tender ones in the warmest place and allow room for everything to grow.

8 (Sorry, 7 was not enough) In the past few years, gardening has started to become a chore rather than a pleasure, and I am dealing with this by finding new and interesting varieties to grow and, paradoxically, by enlarging the vegetable garden. The best thing I ever did was to have proper paths put around the beds. We borrowed a cement mixer and mixed concrete for the paths, which are 2 feet wide around 4 foot wide beds. They are always clean and absorb warmth from the sun, which warms up the soil. Rainwater runs off and onto the beds, helpful in this dry place and on our sandy soil. If I can't keep on top of the weeding, at least I don't have a huge area of growth to deal with. I'm following the same principle in the new garden, but varying the sizes of the beds this time. Once my wall is built, I'm going to plant roses, jasmine and other scented plants on the drive side of it, and tender fruit trees such as peaches, plus cottage garden flowers like hollyhocks on the kitchen garden side. I am going to put down mulches early, so as to keep moisture in and smother weeds. I know my limitations and the limit of my time and enthusiasm, so I'll really try not to get carried away and be overambitious, and then disappointed later. I am determined to get the wall done by the winter and the paths finished by next spring, so that next year I will be able to start to realise my dream. I won't plant everything in one go, so as to extend the enjoyment. It's something I'm looking forward to enormously, so expect some enthusiastic posts in the future. With pictures.

25 comments:

stitchwort said...

Ground elder - a solution I have heard of, but not tried, is to sow turnips very thickly over the area. Why turnips, I don't know - perhaps they give off some chemical?

And how is the wall coming on?

Z said...

Really? I'll have to try that next spring. It's all in shrubs, herbacious plants and in the roots of the laurel hedge, so I can't clear the ground and start again without a lot of difficulty.

No change to the wall, but when we start we'll get going speedily. There's a feeling in the air.

The Boy said...

Hmm, don't have ground elder, but have managed to contain (with much effort) some knot weed in a corner of the garden.

You can grow loofahs? Blimey, I thought they were a sea sponge thingy.

I am envious of your greenhouse. Living on a hill, the one place we can put one lives in the shade of the house, so is useless. The one thing that could tempt LL to move would be more land and a proper walled kitchen garden.

Dave said...

When I retire, I want to be able to garden properly (not just in containers, as I'm forced to here).

Z said...

Knot weed must be the worst problem to have in any garden.

Loofahs are a gourd and look and grow exactly like cucumbers, though they are inedible. When they stop growing and start to turn yellow, you have to dry them off very slowly and the skin drops away to show the fibrous skeleton.

What I most miss from my last garden is the lovely big lawn, where we could play croquet. Here, there's only a small lawn and it gets a bit mossy. It's not really possible to alter the layout of the garden without a major redesign, but if I could, I'd have a lawn where the tennis court is, which is in a silly place (but wasn't when it was put in 60 years ago, when it was hidden by an elm hedge that was later killed by Dutch Elm disease.

Z said...

Most of my flowers are in containers, Dave, because of the ground elder. But it's not the same, is it.

Z said...

Oh, and if you do this meme, do let me know

Wendz said...

Oh goody - a meme I can do with ease.

1. My mother made me weed the lawn as punishment for being cheeky. In revenge, I dug up large clods of grass with the weeds.

2. I liked the garden - it was large enough for me to run away from my mother when she was cross and chasing me around the flower beds brandishing a hair brush.

3. The rose garden was endowed with spectacular thorns - this made my mother wary of following me in. I like roses too. They smell lovely even if they are thorny. It was the perfect fortress.

4. Early morning dewy grass always shows the footprints of the fairies that had a party there during the night. I can vouch for this.

5. Overgrown jasmine bushes are wonderfully romantic...I received many a long wet kiss next to that Jasmine bush.

6. When I was 7 I planted a few Marigold seeds...and then got tired of it and sprinkled the entire packet over the flower bed. It was a spectular show when they all bloomed. My mother called it Poor Man's Gold.

7. I am very good at killing plants. My latest achievement is killing the potted Basil in my kitchen. Rotten Basil stinks, btw.

A wildlife gardener said...

I enjoyed reading about those who have been influential in your life as you grew up, perhaps leading you to becoming an organic vegetable grower. Thanks for sharing :)

Sometimes pouring boiling water regularly over the ground elder helps, though I have to dig mine up, slowly and painstakingly, when it has come up through other plants, like hostas. Strangely enough, I find it easiest to come out when it's fully grown. The whole plant seems to just ease out of the ground. I always use a fork and not a spade as it slices though the roots, which then multiply...

Z said...

You were a naughty little girl, I suspect, Wendz.
Do you get fairy rings in the grass in South Africa?

I could have made this post at least twice as long, WG. There was so much more I could have said.

I used to try hard with the ground elder, but never could eradicate it and it's disheartening. I knew someone who put salt in the cracks in her paved path and then poured on boiling water, to keep bindweed at bay.

Wendz said...

Yes I was naughty. And yes there were fairy rings. I went through a stage where I got up early in the morning to inspect the garden for fairy evidence.

martina said...

Like you I love gardening but not weeding. The descriptions in your story were excellent very easy to visualize. The nasty invasive plants here are the ivy that my next door neighbors planted on our common fence 15 years ago. They also have a wild fennel planted next to the fence that is now 8 ft. tall and sows seed everywhere--thank goodness for vinegar and a weeding fork. Other weeds are buttercups, dandelions/hawkweed, clover, chickweed and some wierd single stalk weed with a tiny purple blossom that sends ground shoots. What does elder weed look like?

Z said...

But you grew out of it by the time you were 18 or so, yes?

I'll add a photo of ground elder to the next post, Martina.

Blue Witch said...

Wonderful memories. But...

because peat-based compost is best for seed-sowing

*makes disbelieving noises*

The cable is 150 watts, so it's like having 2 lightbulbs on at night

That's 10 or 15 light bulbs worth. But only if you use low energy bulbs... Baaaad girl ;)

Z said...

What do you use Blue Witch? Because I haven't found anything, in practical terms, that is better.

John Innes is too heavy to carry in the amounts I need, and it tends to pan. I have, in the past, mixed it with grit and stuff, but I do not have time for all that any more. I could sterilise compost and add the correct nutrients, but I'm not that dedicated. I tried, a few years ago, the coir composts, but they were not very good and they had been transported thousands of miles.

If you've got a better idea, I'll try it. But it has to be practical for me, or it will be a one-season wonder.

Sure, I use low-energy light bulbs, in places that don't matter much. Because, though better than they used to be, they are still a bit rubbish. The so-called 100-watt equivalent do not give as much light as 60-watt ordinary ones, so I need a lamp as well and it's still not as good a light. And they take a while to start working - not as long as they used to, but a noticeable time. So one is more likely to leave them on when leaving a room.

In the church room, we are replacing light bulbs as they blow with low-energy ones. In one room, there are still 3 100-watt bulbs and 1 "100-watt equivalent". The light is dim in that corner. Extra lamps are not an option. I suspect that the decision will be reversed when we can't read our papers at meetings and the flower-arranging club and art group start to complain. Or else we will have to replace the fittings with three-bulb ones. Makes little sense to me.

I've been waiting for you to challenge me on these points, dearest BW. I appreciate it, too.

Z said...
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Z said...

I bloody well clicked twice on my own comment. I despair, I really do.

Linda said...

You sound like a professional level gardener. Maybe it's because your parents knew so much and you learned it growing up. I came to gardening late and love having flowers in my yard but, oh my, the weeds. Here in Provence, where I live, they don't believe in mulch that I can see. They just dig up weeds and do alot of hoe-ing. I have lots of lavender-a very low maintenance plant-except for weeds around them.

Z said...

Hello, Linda and welcome. I know a lot about the practicalities of gardening...in theory. I'm lax about getting down to the hard graft. Many friends know far more about plants than I do, I'm pretty ignorant there.

I have lots of lavender here too, as it does well in dry conditions and poor soil.

Blue Witch said...

This year we just used our own garden compost for the seeds. It worked just as well as anything else and was totally free. Sterilising? Stuff and nonsense. Nutrients? Add some chicken plops to the heap.

I've just this minute put a new low energy bulb into a fitting 12 years to the day after first inserting one. While the old one certainly had a delay to warm up, the new one is super instant! The cheap new ones (IKEA and the like) are still less good than old-style bulbs, but the new Philips ones are excellent. Buy the next wattage up from the equivalent of an existing bulb for the same performance. There are low-energy bulbs in our nearest vilalge hall and no-one even notices the difference.

We've got LED floor lights in the studio. They did cost a fortune but will last forever and 15W an hour runs 12 bulbs. LED lights are the future. They're using them on cars now too.

Z said...

I use a mixture of compost and manure to pot on in, but there are weed seeds in there. I'll use compost next year with the larger seeds, like beans, and take it from there.

We don't have shops like Ikea round these parts, BW, I must be one of the few Ikea virgins in the country. I haven't put any new low-energy bulbs in very recently - the bloody things last for ages - but I've not been satisfied with the ones I have used up until now. Evidently the thing to do, as you say, is to buy a wattage up - but why don't they label them honestly in the first place?

it's the little things... said...

This was absolutely fascinating. How wonderful it is to blog, and learn about these little slices of life that we may never know...

Z said...

When I start to write about the past, I find myself remembering things I didn't realise I still knew - I put down, once in a while, things about my parents' and grandparents' lives, which has been for my daughter as much as any other reason, and I've been surprised how much people have enjoyed them. We all do seem to love to read about past times and people's lives.

Z said...
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luckyzmom said...

I've spoken before of going from a half acre eden to a postage stamp size yard. So, this post and the subsequent comments are pulling me both ways. I have planted a lilac bush, three lavendars, a French terragon, thyme; another lilac and a red Japanese maple, both of which croaked. I'll be thinking about this meme and let you know if I ever get around to it.