February 2010

So I didn’t win the garden design competition thing.

But am I down-hearted?

Well actually yes. A bit.

It’s only natural;, after investing a fair amount of thought, time and effort into the thing.

How many of these have I had a go at so far? I forget. But each one I enter is one closer to the one that I win.

At least I hope so – on the basis that if you throw enough balls at enough coconuts, you’ll hit one eventually.

This time, I think I blew my own chances. You had to supply a narrative to go with the drawing. In mine the opening lines pretty much said that most modern design was boring as it was predictably rectilinear. Which a quick gander at any recent edition of the Garden Design Journal ( the Society of Garden Designer’s mag) will bear out.

It was however a risky gambit – being one of those things that would get you noticed, but also get you marked out as a risk taker, or a dick-head.

Whether any of this came in to play or whether my failure was down to my perennial lack of talent I don’t know. I favour the latter.

But at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter. Most of these competitions are about raising a bit of publicity and creating a mailing list of people interested in garden design who might be swayed into becoming pupils.

I did laugh though, that my rejection letter credited the competition to a rival publication.



There are two types of tubers and you’d think they might be alike, but no, they are a horticultural Laurel and Hardy.

Stem tubers, like spuds, will grow away even if you plant just a small, skinny, eye-bearing eye fragment of skin. And then there’s root tubers such as dahlias, which, no matter how plumptious and fecund they look, will not root unless they are attached to a piece of root base that carries an adventitious bud on it.

The other night, armed with this knowledge, I used the left-over, detached, fragments of lesser galangal plantings to cook with. After all they wouldn’t grow into anything.

True I only had a couple of skinny bits left, and once sliced they looked like snippings from slightly portly twigs more than anything edible, but I was willing to give them a go and bung them in a stir-fry. After all it’s related to ginger so surely these meagre scratchings wouldn’t be a dead loss?

They immediately released a rather perfumey fragrance when tossed into the sizzling mix. Unusual, but not unpleasant, the smell continued and might have given the dish a flavour of its own had it not been nuked into the background by the healthy dose of chilli I’d strewn across the pan.

Next time I cook with it I’ll do something more suble to see if it impacts on the tongue as much as it does the nose.

Meanwhile I am trying to run down viable propagation material for:

Cardamom – Eletheria cardamomum

Japanese ginger – Zingiber miogi

Pandan – Pandanus amaryllifolius

Shado beni – Eryngium foetidum

Curry leaves – Murraya koenigii

They are intended for the office allotment, but I might even cook with some of them.

Last week it was Little Boots’ first school disco.

“I wonder if they’ll play We Will Rock You?” I said (it’s the five year old’s fave).

“Yea, ” replied the munchkin, “or this”, launching into a bizarre sequence of syllables.

This not uncommon. There are a number of things that makes LB’s renditions of pop songs unintelligible. Firstly only knowing a line, or part of one. Second, the lyrics are generally misheard, or misunderstood. For example, Cheryl Cole’s “Fly, Fly fly, fly to this love”.

But most importantly Little Boots puts on a voice to sing pop songs, that‘s somehow a mash up of Bob Dylan-ish nasal tones and a thick Welsh accent. It is quite, quite bizarre and very funny.

So I asked, “What’s that song?”

“One I made up”, came the reply.

“Good luck with requesting that from the DJ”, I thought.

I don’t know what happened, but the little bean has not stopped songwriting. Today were in the car, returning home from some boring errand or other, when LB announced “I’ve made a song about trees. It goes like this:

Trees, trees, boring trees

Winter, Spring

Make them better

Like baby ones “

Despite first appearances this is a positive little verse, but only with a little explanation

Trees in winter have no leaves and to LB this is boring.

Winter and spring is when trees have no leaves.

And baby trees are seedlings which as far as LB is concerned always have leaves.

Not only that, it was sung in a sweet little trill, not the weird “rock voice”.

I just got sent this – I know Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page was an old rocker I just didn’t know he was that old.

So there we are. Or rather, here we are. After a rather grim period life looks like it’s picking up.

Some of that is rather small things like seeds bursting into life, but then it’s often the small things, or at least an accumulation of them, that make a difference.

Other things are a bit bigger, like only having one RHS3 exam left and already having done over half the notes for it back last summer.

Of course none of this compares to being given the all clear health-wise, but there is one other big bit of news that has really buoyed me up.

It looks like I’m going to be helping to build a garden at this summer’s RHS show at Hampton Court. It’s all a bit nebulous at the moment, but it is nevertheless stupefyingly exciting and the best thing I’ve had to look forward to for ages.

And it’s especially welcome on a wet and miserable day like today, when I want to be out planting things.

Exactly a week ago I thanked buggery that the day was over.

I’d woke early (like 5-ish), courtesy of next-doors’ sproglet and stayed that way due to subconscious , but unacknowledged panic.

About to take an exam I felt wholly unprepared for*, and concentrating so much on running over the information that I’d managed to cram into my head, thoughts of breakfast didn’t even occur to me.

Little Boots had worked out that I had an exam. The only point of reference in synch with this was the weekly spelling test. “Hope you get eight out of eight” said LB, with the conviction of one who always does. I responded with weak grin.

“Boris” our crappy, battered Citroen Saxo wouldn’t start. He’d been screwed by the cold weather and lack of use. I rolled the little tin can down the road and bump-started the thing and everything seemed fine. More so when I got to college, turned it off and the car started again straight after.

I went into the exam expecting the worst. The first part of the paper was short answers and I think I did really well.

Then I turned to the longer answers – OMFG!!

My immediate reaction was that I could not answer a single question much less three.

After the initial panic I tried to get a handle on things, I reckoned I’d tucked away most of the marks for the first bit, which equated to nearly 23% of the exam- nearly halfway towards a pass.

I realised I could answer one question quite well and that I could probably bullshit some of the marks out of two others.

And I did so, hoping it would be enough.

I left the exam room mentally exhausted. At that point I start to shake. Having not eaten my blood sugar level went through the floor and, without adrenaline to sustain me, I was suddenly as weak as a duckling.

It got worse. The car wouldn’t start. I tried to bump start it. Lack of food and the fact that I’d packed the thing with compost, intending to go to the allotment on the way home, meant that I failed. Twice.

The young students wandering around the campus ignored me. Some doubtless because they had never known the joy of bump-starting a car and didn’t know what was going on, but mostly because they were, quite rightly, enjoying being silly and self-obsessed.

I was rescued by a rotund lady who announced that it was a long time since she done this – a long time since she’d done lots of things I reckon – and a chain-smoking gent with a gay caballero ‘tache.

I was so grateful.

*We’d had only half our designated lessons for one reason, or another

You will no doubt be wondering what the thing is in the above image. An over-exposed snap of a piece of grated coconut on a bed of chocolate mousse? A badly taken photo of a peeled banana that has landed in something unpleasant?
Well, the last is nearest the truth because it is the tiny emerging shoot of a Musella lasiocarpa seed I planted four weeks ago.
This is it the next day; it’s showing a remarkable rate of growth.

It might seem like a small thing, but it is something I’m immensely proud of, even if it is a fluke. 

You see I have read that this plant, the Golden Lotus Banana, is difficult to germinate. I’ve seen tales of it taking a year or more, and others of just one in a hundred germinating. You will therefore I hope, forgive me if I am a bit smug about getting one out of six to grow in just one lunar month. 

I think the advantage I have over the folk I’ve linked to is that they appear to be in quite hot parts [of the United States], and I am in the middle of a very parky UK winter. You see the plant is found Yunnan province in China, which seems to have quiet a varied climate and certainly has cool periods. 

I do not know about the provenance of the seeds but they will have spent a couple of days at least in chilly post offices and postal vans before they arrived. They then spent a while knocking around in a house that was sparingly heated in the day time and pretty cold in the dead of night. Once planted they spent nights in the propagator at approaching 30° C and days outside it, in the house, which has probably been between 12°C & 18°C in the daytime. I understand that you have to do this temperature alternating with some, but not all, bananas. 

Anyway whatever went right – it worked. 

The plant is sacred to Buddhists and so I’m taking this as a sign of good fortune to come. 

I mentioned a while back a similar fluke which occurred where I had managed to grow a Morinda citrifolia seed. Well that germinating pip is now this handsome little fellow, and before too long will be on its way to the office allotment. 


Now, as ever, I’m not claiming any real level of horticultural finesse, but I have managed to germinate two more of them and they do seem to be regarded as a bit tricky – at least outside Hawaii. 

But  what I am wondering is, whether there is some kind of term for someone who is this jammy with germinating seeds?

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