The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies. Gertrude Jekyll

Annie's Little Plot

Annie's Little Plot

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Presents and poppies

Storm Frank is starting to get going now so hunkering down for the day, no plans on going anywhere. I'm in my back bedroom and I've been sorting out my photos that I've taken this year. Where has the time gone, I really struggled to find the time to organise them this year and some I'm only just taking off my camera but its nice to look back at them and I might do some belated blog posts about some of the garden visits that I've been on this year.

I hope you've all managed to have a relaxing Christmas break, I'm making the most of mine, lots of reading, watching films, things I just don't tend to have the time to do at any other time of the year. I particularly like reading my gardening books at this time of year. I've had a few on the go throughout the year, two Monty Don books (The Ivington Diaries and Gardening at Longmeadow) and one by Carol Klein 'Life in a Cottage Garden'. They are written almost in diary form so I've been reading each month by month sort of, though more often chunks at a time to catch up. I've finally finished Gardening at Longmeadow as December comes to an end. I do like his writing, probably more than I like him on Gardeners World. Tend to watch that more for Nigel. But have you seen Monty's new dog? If you follow him on Twitter you will have seen he has a new puppy called Nell!! Gorgeous.

I've had a couple of new books for Christmas, The Crafted Garden by Louise Curley, otherwise known as Wellywoman looking forward to being inspired to be more creative in my garden and the latest book by Georgie Newbury, more inspiration for my cut flower patch. My bedside books for 2016 will also be Dan Pearson's Home Ground, Joy Larkcom's Creative Vegetable Gardening and Helen Yemm's Thorny Problems. I think I'm sorted till next Christmas now. 
My friend also bought me a book on the meaning of flowers which is an interesting one. I find it fascinating though confusing with lots of different versions out there. This concept of the language of flowers was especially popular in Victorian times, with the giving of Tussie-mussies, small posies of flowers the content of which had much meaning. 

But on Monday I went to visit an exhibition which truly emphasises the power of flowers as symbols. I went to the Poppies: Wave sculpture at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It is a wave of poppies arching over the Cascade Bridge in the park. At once, stunning and moving, on a gloomy Yorkshire day. We approached from the lake side.
These poppies were initially seen in that amazing display at the Tower of London, which marked the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. Its estimated that 5 million people visited the exhibit in London and many wanted the exhibit to stay there longer but the artist and designers always wanted it to be transient, however they decided that parts of it, the wave section and the weeping window segments, would be displayed at sites around the UK before finally being installed in the Imperial War Museums in London and Manchester. There were so many people there to visit this, I've never seen the sculpture park so busy.

I love the YSP anyway, especially in winter, though its becoming a bit of a victim of its own success, and of the weather too. Many of the sculptures were temporarily fenced off, at least I hope its only temporary. Because of all the rain, the ground was sodden and there was lots of mud in places so they've stopped people going on some parts of the grass, to protect it. As I say I hope it is only temporary as that is one of the joys of the park in that you can get up close to touch the sculptures. You couldn't walk round the lake either as they have closed the bridge at the top end of the lower lake so you can't do the usual circular walk. But this is while they do work on the bridge so hopefully this will be open again for the summer.
Its always worth a visit at any time of year but the Poppy exhibition is only on until the 10th January 2016 so you'll have to hurry if you want to see this.

Sunday, 27 December 2015


Ahhh sunshine, where have you been hiding this last month. So lovely to see you again! Clear blue sky for what seems like the first time in ages, but more importantly it has stopped raining at least for the time being. What a relief for those living here in West Yorkshire who have suffered with the floods, there have been problems all round the Calder valley. Thankfully we've not been affected either by the flooding or the subsequent power cuts, the allotments behind my house have been a bit like a pond in places but our house is raised up. 
I walked over to my allotment yesterday to get some fresh air and to pick some vegetables for our roast dinner. I grow enough sprouts to have some for Christmas and a few other meals and that is enough for me. I never used to like them much at all but do like them now. This year I had a go at growing two varieties. Just three plants of each. An F1 variety called 'Titus' and one called 'Ruby Crunch'. Both from Marshalls. Some of the sprouts on 'Titus' had blown or gone over a bit and there was a mixture of sizes, some very big and some small. I think some of the sprouts should have been harvested earlier. Growing F1 hybrids is supposed to help to get more even sprouts but I think the growing conditions have made the growth a bit erratic this year with some dry spells and then a long warm autumn. In fact sprouts are supposed to be up to a third bigger this winter due to the long mild autumn. Have other growers found this? Those on 'Ruby Crunch' were probably more even in size. This is a variety with red/purple sprouts and Marshall's claim it as a dual purpose Brussels sprout as it also produces a red cabbage at the top of the stem. Mine did have a lot of greenery at the top which I used as cabbage but it was quite loose in growth. Maybe it should have been left for longer. This is the first year that I've really properly grown a purple sprout successfully. I found that they had a lot less of a tight button than the green variety and they did look very weird. Like little brains!! Here they are all picked and peeled.

I guess the real verdict is in the taste. Well we weren't sure but found the purple variety a little bit bitter compared to the green one. Hmmm so not sure whether to try that again.
Its been a good year for Brassica's for me. Calabrese was good over the summer, I grew the variety called 'Marathon' which is always reliable. I grew a mixture of Kale varieties which are still going strong. I also had good success with red cabbage, I grew a pointed cabbage called 'Kalibos', less so with the green cabbage 'Primo'. Wish I'd tried cauliflower this year, it might have been a good year. I was less successful with Kohl rabi, I struggle to get nice round balls as the slugs always seem to take a chunk out of them. But I did get some to harvest. I grew my main crops under enviromesh this year, which really helped with the cabbage white butterfly so I would definitely recommend it. There were no sneaky caterpillars in amongst my Calabrese which can be very off-putting!! It is also effective against the pigeons, though I still have a bit of a problem with cabbage whitefly but much less so for the ones grown under the mesh. The thing that was the biggest Brassica pest was slugs and snails. I would say that you need to be really diligent with weeding under the covers as I wasn't for my cabbages and the green ones got ripped to shreds. It can create a lovely haven for slugs and snails. It was clear when picking the sprouts and cabbage that slugs and snails are still active on my plot. We really need some cold weather to see some off!
So what to grow next year, well think I will stick to my tried and tested Calabrese and Kales, and the Cabbage 'Kalibos' was great. But our local garden centre was recently selling off seeds for 50p a packet and so I got another couple of curiosities, a Brussels sprout variety called 'Flower Sprout' from Suttons, which is a cross between a Brussels sprout and a Kale! It develops like a sprout with buttons along the stem but then these are like frilly kales. A bit bonkers yes but will give it a try. I also bought a packet of seed of Cauliflower 'Di Sicillia Violetta' from Suttons in the same sale, this is a vibrant purple variety. Maybe I should have learnt my lesson with the purple sprout. Are you growing any curiosities next year?

Monday, 21 December 2015

Counting down

There is a lot of counting down in December, many of us lighting an advent candle to mark each day leading us to Christmas day, others indulging in a chocolate a day (I do both!). Some of us count down to finishing school or work for the Christmas break or to the Christmas party. My countdown though is to Winter Solstice! This is more often than not on the 21st December but this year it is tomorrow, the 22nd December, more precisely at 04.49. The day after which the days start to get longer again and for me the promise of Spring. 
Spring you might say though has come early this year, or have we had a super-long Autumn? Its certainly been very mild here in Huddersfield the last few days, there has been a lot of talk in the media about daffodils and snowdrops being in bloom, blossom on trees. I'm not sure about this as there will definitely be some varieties that given a mild winter will flower earlier, and there are some well-known snowdrops which flower before Christmas anyway. But there is no getting away from the mild weather. Its looking like we may have one of the warmest Decembers on record. My bulbs are starting to come up, I'm planning a day of winter tidying this week, weather permitting, so I'll have to take care not to damage any emerging spikes of foliage. But as soon as we get any cold weather the plants will just sit tight and wait it out. So far we have had one or two frost here and a sprinkling of snow but other than that it has been wet, wet, wet and windy. Its been the lack of sunshine though that has been the hardest to take. There seems to have been a constant gloom throughout December that even the sparkle of Christmas and Strictly has struggled to shine through. But I did manage a walk the other day to forage for some foliage and made a wreath for my dads grave.
I also decorated a willow ring that I made last year and made a couple to give as presents.
Luckily I did manage to get busy at my allotment a few weeks ago, before all this rain, and cover most of the empty beds with a layer of well-rotted manure or compost. I've still got some leeks, cabbages, sprouts, kale, chard and celeriac to see me for a few more weeks. So it is virtually sorted for winter now, just a couple of other beds to tidy up now, like the raspberry bed and the main fruit beds. I even managed to give my shed a good tidy as well!
At this yuletide I have a very welcome visitor to my garden, usually making himself known as I do my check on my greenhouse. What is it about Robins that make you think they are looking right at you, the way they cock their heads and really seem to connect with you. No other birds seem to do that. The little delicate trilling that he makes is a sure sign that he is around and waiting for some mealworms.
I bought this feeder especially for him as he was struggling a bit with the seed feeder, though he can do it. Robins seem to have learnt how to use them now, though its often a battle to get on it when the sparrows are in force. The blue tits also seem to like this one too.

Enjoy the Winter Solstice and the return to longer days.