Grow Your Own! Round Two

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We’re gonna need a bigger plot.

You may have noticed that in between the bitingly cold mornings there is a fair bit of sunshine and spring-like-action occurring at the moment. The evenings are lighter. The finches are back. It is gardening time, and this year I’m ready for it.

The last growing season has been basically a long, hard learning experience punctuated with a few minor victories in the shape of early lettuce crops and some very tasty carrots. We had weeds and greenfly and a fair amount of fungus to put those into perspective, however. I’m looking at the new season with renewed confidence though, determined and prepared to get the most out of my little patch of green and pleasant this time around. I have a notebook with Garden written on the front of it and everything.

The Plants

Over the colder months I have had something of a cull, taking out some lavender and seriously hacking back the buddlejas which have been threatening to rip down the fence panels and blot out the sun to deliver an eternal night across Brightlingsea since the summer. I’m just not a lover of lavender, in particular I am really not a lover of endless pruning of scrappy plants that smell like old hippies so this is down to one, small plant which remains mainly for bees and to fight the bloody geranium spread (which began creeping into being the second the clock struck midnight on 1st March). I do, however, quite like French Lavender with its frilly pink flowers and softer aroma though I unfortunately didn’t read up very well on it and have murdered my two frenchies by leaving them out in a frost that their hardier English cousins would have survived. I will replace these some time after payday for bee fodder and eye candy alike. Speaking of bees, they do love the buddleja which will definitely spring back in a couple of months to its behemoth status but until then I have put in extra bulbs, cyclamen and petunias to ensure the bees have enough to buzz about. I also seem to have a staggering number of primroses which I didn’t notice last year.

Another large casualty was the unruly and non-symmetrical pinkish thing up by the shed which was ripped out with little ceremony to make space for something more practical and less irritating. So there’s tulips, obligatory English garden daffs and lavender, iris, two big and one baby rose bushes and the wild sage cracking on with their spring unfurling. The alstroemeria will be coming through later in the spring and all bets are off on the stunning dahlia I put in last year which may or may not be another murder victim by proxy of my neglect on frost precautions.

The Blackcurrant: Now identified, currently blooming with lovely dark pink flowers and set to be looked after properly this year now that I know it is actually a fruit bush. More watering and feeding will be top of the care list.

The Pears: Conference type, stoic and solid. Just about thinking of budding at the moment.

The Plum Tree: I lost this entire crop last year to some kind of weird, funky white growth which basically turned all the fruit into a sticky bubble of yuk. Early pruning of blossoms will apparently prevent this, so I will attempt to get some usable fruit this year however I’m not a great lover of plums and the birds do love the rotting ones so it isn’t the end of the world if we have a re-infection year.

The Gooseberries: I have to say, I am most excited about these two red gooseberry plants which are doing well since going into the recently vacated plot of the unruly and non-symmetrical pink thing.

Gooseberries, impulse purchased from B&Q around 20th Feb for a fiver each, doing well with plenty of buds over the last month.

The Hazelnuts: Seriously cut back last year by the Mr, thinking about budding but I’m not sure they have the leaf coverage to bounce back this year. I was quite romantic about these trees last year however they grow really quickly and generally outwards as much as upwards which becomes hard to manage and mildly aggressive to anything else trying to grow within a few feet. One day when I’m all grown up and I have space for a hedge or some kind of creepy horror-book woodlands I would have bundles of them but they are not really suited to the small suburban garden.

The Bay Tree: A Christmas gift from the mother ship, currently potted as rumour has it they tend to go a little mental if directly in the ground. Pretty though and hardy, doing well with lots of usable leaves ready to go straight to kitchen use.

bay tree
New bay tree, doing well in standard potting compost

Errol The Lemon Tree: I am increasingly concerned for the welfare of Errol since he dropped all of his leaves for the first time ever this winter. Light levels in the house are crap for a plant his size and the conservatory far too cold for his delicate nature since November. I’ve kept him coddled and sparingly watered inside and now moved him out into the conservatory again for some measured feeds and lots of prayers to the citrus gods to rejuvenate him. Google tells me this is possible. His buddy the mini chilli plant is clearly unaffected by this downturn and is putting out new flowers and fruit roughly every 3 weeks.

The Patch

Clearing up and turning over the earth in the veg patch last weekend was a chilling return to the land of the triffids due to the dense maze of bastard oxalis roots infesting the soil back there. Even with all the surface growth cleared there is a persistent and tangled network of evil lurking down there to snag my big digging fork and frankly piss me the hell off. After a painstaking hour or so of turning the soil then picking out the biggest roots by hand I’m hoping to be at least marginally ahead of the assault this spring. Some of last year’s failed onions have sprung into life with a remarkable amount of growth already. I am keeping these in mainly for their bug-deflecting properties and not planning on putting any more out this time, although they do produce very striking flowers. Four pathetic bargain basement rhubarb plants have gone in the back corner also, if they make it through this season it will be to establish only as they won’t be good for picking until next year. Otherwise we are at bare soil that has been painstakingly sifted and dug with some bonemeal ready to accept the life springing forth in the safety of the conservatory in a couple of weeks. Yes, I looked, I learned, and I have set up something of an indoor nursery in the hope that I can get some good growth on all the veg before it goes out into the onslaught of winged and slimy enemies. At present we are shooting lettuce, radish, courgettes, carrots, pumpkin, cabbage and chard to go out along with the Charlotte seed potatoes which have been thinking about chitting for the last couple of weeks. Depending on the propagation success some of this will go into the patch and others stay in the bigger pots. I’m also trying basil, parsley and coriander in pots though fear it is too hard outside and too hot in the conservatory for them to make it through the year. My rosemary plant has thrived through the winter and enjoys his spot outside by the bird feeder.

The Pests

The snail traps from last year have been de-slimed and refilled with delicious beer and I enjoyed the dark pleasure of unearthing many a sleeping slug last week while clearing out a load of moss and scrappy weed growth in the rockery type thing. Let’s say they all slept on painlessly ‘twixt the budleja cuttings and a thick layer of compost accelerator.

I’ve pulled out a fair amount of mint already, mainly around the veg patch and at the rear of the garden where it seems to have actually tunneled under the veg patch to emerge at the other side where the gooseberries now live. A similar story with the bloody geraniums. Only vigilance will keep these buggers at bay.

Speaking of vigilance, Moby Dick has returned and is frequently seen on top of the shed, surveying his dominion and looming like Batman after a rough night at the asylum. He is calmly ignoring my wails, swears and claps until I thump the shed roof which tends to send him back to his kitty-cave next door briefly. Either he or one of his compatriots has taken to pooing about five feet behind the cat scarer, in the very centre of its blind spot. I’m getting three more of those things post-haste and if that doesn’t work I might buy a tiger. Nowhere will be safe.


So here we are, on the cusp of either greatness or an RSPCA enforcement order. This weekend holds the promise of some weeding around an Iron Fist binge (it’s not as bad as they all say) and lots of gentle cooing and encouragement to my nursery of shoots. I shall be amusing you with my tales of sipping cold and fragrant wine in the warm and fragrant shade of all the planting glory in no time.



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