Monday, 31 August 2015

Wet day

Ive had a day at my place pottering about, its been ok, but rather quiet and lonely, Poppyman is at work and it is raining, Bank Holidays are supposed to be fun right?

We had another wet day recently, one that I had a very different outlook on. With us both being at home, we kind of entertain each other with ideas and interaction, conversations like, 'what shall we do?', 'Shall I light a fire?' all end up in a flurry of activity inside while hiding from the rain.

On wet days, I try to catch up with tidying and cleaning the house, its not something I like to do when its dry out, when I can be in the garden or on the allotment. The trouble with this bank holiday, is that I had a list of allotment jobs that with it being wet, were unable to get done, which can leave you feeling a little demotivated and disappointed.

With the evening starting to bring lower light, I walked to the allotment anyway, deciding that getting wet would have to be accepted. With a couple of nagging jobs done, it feels like the day has been productive after all, although it already was with the house having been cleaned.

With my job list shortened, albeit by only a couple of jobs, I'm hoping to have a couple of dry evenings in the week, when I can pick some fruit, complete a couple more jobs and sit outside to enjoy a few moments of dry weather.

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Hyde Hall and Ultingwick

Meeting online friends from Twitter at RHS Hyde Hall proved to be another really good day out, it seems that every Twitter meet up that I've had the pleasure to have been involved with has been this way.

Meeting up isn't just about visiting a garden, its the social side too, sharing of stories and conversing about all sorts of things, yes, even things not related to gardening. For me though, the thing I treasure so much from these days is the laughter.

Hyde Hall provided a great setting for our laughter and conversation as we wandered through the many tended areas. All of the gardens were very beautiful,, and offered diversity in the different planting arrangements and dramatic aspects. Visiting an RHS garden really should be the cream of the crop, though I had moments of feeling a bit empty, possibly some of what I saw needed a few years to settle and grow, perhaps I was lacking little imagination?

With having looked around the gardens, taken millions of photos and laughed lots we made our way to garden two at Ultingwick, where we met up with fellow tweeter @UltingWick. We looked around her sumptuous garden and then stopped for a cuppa and cake. The garden was a planting delight, some very beautiful combinations and attention to detail in distinct beds that provided layers and layers of interest.

while drinking tea we were advised to take in a border that we had initially missed. When gardeners recommend borders in their gardens, they certainly know what they are talking about, This border certainly did not disappoint, having dramatic impact and leaving a lasting impression with the use of some very special plants. As we came to the end of the border I noted a low growing, almost purple foliaged plant, to me it looked like verbena, but not a variety that I had ever seen before. On enquiring, my guess turned out to be correct (unusual for me) and how good to then be told its cultivar name, 'Bampton'. I was delighted that when in the plants for sale section, there were numerous pots of this plant to be bought, four in total, much to my joy, to be added to our garden to provide colour interest and serve as a reminder of a really fabulous day out with the 'laughing horts'.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Sunflower day

At Christmas Poppyman packaged up sunflower seeds collected from last years tallest sunflower in our garden. 5 seeds per packet, and with an invite, to grow the seeds and pop over to spend an afternoon in our garden, for a summer BBQ. We also said that there would be a prize for the tallest sunflower, so as well as a fun thing to do, it was a competition!

We prepared the food the night before (much of the salad and vegetable ingredients were home grown) and spent an hour or so on the morning setting up the lawn so that it was an outside lounge for the afternoon. With it being an exceptionally hot sunny day,we were fortunate to borrow a large parasol from our neighbours, which inevitably spared us from sunburn.

Guests arrived, we cooked, we ate, we chatted and ate more, so all in all a super afternoon. When everyone eventually left Poppyman disappeared to the shed and returned with a box. As it started to get dark he assembled a suspended fire pit and we spent the rest of the evening sat in deckchairs on the lawn, enjoying the fire and watching the stars.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Little visitors

Nature is miraculous, the closer you look the more intricate it is, its a wonder how animal and plant life ever managed to come about in the first place let alone evolve to survive and flourish in ever changing surroundings.

With interacting online with a few people on twitter who are interested in insects, pollinators and birds, I have of late been inspired to start looking closer at what is in our own garden, and in doing so have discovered a whole new aspect to the systems and ecology that exists there.

Nature rarely makes much of an appearance inside, the odd house plant, slider, fly or midge make fleeting appearances. This summer however I had numerous unwelcome house guests.

With my lodger keeping a cat, its inevitable that it will pick up the odd flea, not usually a problem, but I have a particular issue with fleas, not quite a phobia, but for some reason a rather irrational fear of them. Encountering them in numbers that were more than the odd one or two caused for action and removal was instigated. Though in the process I did manage to kill the odd one or two, which I then placed in sealable plastic sample bags. My plan once the issue was resolved, to look at them under a microscope.

A sunny day works well for me and my microscope. So it was set up on a windowsill and the offending flea placed between two glass slides. I was secretly hoping that the process of encountering the source of a fear would help me to understand the creature and help me to overcome my fear.

I can confirm that looking at a flea under a microscope has not helped one jot. I still have the same sense of fear as before, however have gained something positive. While I do not profess to understand the common flea any more than I did (hardly any understanding at all) I do have a fuller appreciation of it as a living creature. At a greatly magnified level they are not just a horrible black dot, they have recognisable features and to my surprise look like living creatures.

Fleas really are effectively evolved to live on their host snd in their hosts surroundings, when you look at them in that way, its possible to get a glimmer of the miraculous that we see in so much of the natural world, its possible that with them not being pretty, annoying and undesired that this blinds us from how incredible they are. Despite them being amazing under a microscope, I am hoping that I never encounter another one again inside my home, they don't make for being very good lodgers!

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Sunflower Plot

I love August, its still warm outside, the harvest of fruit and vegetables from the garden and allotment is in full swing and the sunflowers are tall and in full bloom.

This year we are having a sunflower growing competition with friends, needless to say that as we are growing with purpose we have inevitably had a few disasters, still we have two that could be contenders, so fingers crossed!

On wandering around the allotment field this week I walked past the full size plot that has for another year been covered in sunflowers. A few other crops are planted in amongst the beautifully cultivated ground, but the sunflowers completely dominate, they look awesome, almost a field of yellow, made gold by evening sunlight cast across them.

Sunflowers always make me smile, they are intense in colour, tall and proud and remind me of holidays as a child in France, where my family and I took photos of ourselves in sunflower fields, happy times together as a family.

My other love of sunflowers extends beyond the bloom, seeds are great for birds and the stems are something we use in bug hotels, encouraging the bugs that will help our gardens ecosystem thrive in the years to come.

Maybe with such inspiration a few plots away, sunflowers are something that I should consider growing on my own allotment plot next year?

Tuesday, 18 August 2015


Ive never experimented with dehydrators, somehow they have never appealed beyond the idea of slicing lemons and oranges and baking them on a low heat in the oven to then string up when dry as decorations for a Christmas tree. As a way of making a food product it seems a little time consuming and energy thirsty for my liking; until last night that is!

On popping down to my allotment with dad, to show him around and to unveil my newly finished shed interior, I noticed a construction on my allotment neighbours plot, on closer inspection from the perimeter grass path, I worked out what it was, and how is was powered (solar) and immediately fell in love with the idea.

Naturally as I, like dad, always have a phone, so camera in my pocket we both snapped away and discussed how it was constructed. It looked like something that could easily be made from a few basic materials,much of which could be re-purposed to keep costs realistic.

With dropping a few hints, I'm hoping that a dehydrator may one day be delivered for me to use on my plot, though saying that, perhaps I should be getting busy making one for my dad?

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Auction of promises

Gardening is something that I have been fortunate enough to do in a social context in recent years, thanks to my involvement with the community garden in Ipswich. This weekend saw another aspect if it being a social activity, with my keeping a promise.

With our village garden club thriving, and being involved in the village community, I was asked if I could donate something to an auction of promises, which was organised to raise some more funds towards rebuilding the village hall where we hold our garden club meetings and talks.

I was delighted to offer three hours of my time working on jobs in someones garden to this auction, and with another successful social event assisted in my three hours raising £50 towards this cause.

With sending a few emails and texts, a meet up with the garden owner was arranged snd a work plan set up, the planning ended up with a nice chat about the garden, houses snd a number of other things, and while working much conversation was had with the winner if the suction, neighbours and other people in the village.

Working on someone else’s garden on a promise rather than for pay proved to be satisfying, social and also the start of a friendship with another resident in the village who I have not spent much time with till now.

So will I garden on a promise again? For sure! What better way can there be to raise money for a cause than to do something for someone in your community under a sky filled with fluffy clouds while enjoying an activity that you love?

Friday, 14 August 2015

The inside out shed in a shed

Around 10 years ago I was given a shed by some generous folk at the allotment where I have a plot, I bought roofing felt and made it water tight and bought a lock, my shed although old and already patched up was complete.

This spring I decided that the shed needed a little attention, I mentioned that I needed a few planks of wood for repairs to my neighbour, who responded with offering me a shed that a mate had given him to use as material to make repairs.

In the event, the shed upon arrival was too good to be sacrificed as repair material. I used preservative on the outside if my original shed and decided upon the idea of using the new to line the inside of the old.

With a little adaption I was able to erect one inside the other, but in an attempt to do this a little different, I put it up inside out.

The result is a lining that does not look quite like the inside of a usual shed, and one that begged for a little furnishing, similar to what I have done at hone in an outhouse and my garden shed.

The result is a shed that is made for my needs on the allotment, a place of shelter when it rains, somewhere to keep a few basic tools and most importantly somewhere to escape the world and relax while drinking tea and eating home made cake, perfect!

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Garden games

Garden games

Poppyman came by some enormous logs last year, which we then placed in a wild part of the front garden, they make two great seats, with a taller log forming a level platform that makes for a table. Set in dappled shade, they are just the right size for a bottle of wine and two glasses.

Just recently the ‘table’ has been home to a smaller log, one from a tree felled in my parents garden. Said log was transported before having 4 grooves sawn into it, to make a noughts and crosses board. With finding a collection of stones in two different colours, we have all that is needed for playing noughts and crosses in the garden, fun with wine and also a great entertainment for when nieces and nephews visit us.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Fruity gin goodness

Many years ago I was introduced to sloe gin when I was gifted a bottle from a friend. With it running dry quickly I sought to make my own, to ensure a regular supply, with surplus making fine gifts for family and friends.

This is not so much a recipe, more an annotation of my learning, I do things by intuition, which means no two bottles are ever quite the same.

If you are growing your own, what better way to deal with a fruit glut than to give this a go, its easy and tasty and far quicker than making jam.

You will need:

Several bottles of gin, or you could substitute for vodka if you are not a gin fan
Granulated sugar
Fruit of your choosing, sloes and damsons are quite remarkable, but other fruit can be used

Helpful kit includes:

Corks for bottle reuse

Heres what needs to happen:

You will need to buy several bottles of gin or vodka in a single purchase at a supermarket, use a checkout that is operated by a person, this will ensure that you get ‘that look’, which can spark some great conversations.

Next drink a bottle of wine, or hunt out that nearly empty spirit bottle, and finish it off, you will need an empty bottle to decant into, to make space for the fruit and sugar when you start your infusing.

Prepare your fruit, wash it first and then allow it to dry. Sloes will need the skin pricking, and larger fruit will need cutting so it will fit through the bottle neck.

An approximation is that three bottles of gin should be split between four bottles, then equal amounts of sugar and fruit added to replace the decanted liquid. The use of a funnel makes sugar being poured into the bottle will be done easily. Cork or screw caps are to be put in place before a good shake to start the sugar dissolving.

Filled bottles need to be labelled with their contents and the date. Each bottle will then need a gentle shake daily until the sugar is dissolved. With the fruit remaining in the bottle for the infusion process, a minimum of three months should be left until it is ready to drink, but then drink reasonably promptly, to avoid the fruit pulping.

When drunk, the remaining fruit can be used to accompany ice cream or yoghurt as a desert with a bit a kick, or as I like to do, it can be used as the fruit in a trifle. Do remember that with alcoholic fruit you must not eat and drive.

With larger fruit, eg damsons or small plumbs, a demijohn can be used, after three months the infused gin/vodka can be decanted into bottles, this has the advantage that the resulting infusion can be stored for longer, though drinking promptly is always advised, it helps to reduce clutter in kitchen cupboards.

Alternatives to what I have described that are equally delicious include haw brandy and raisin rum, its always worth experimenting, go on get creative!