March 2010


Personal taste is such a strange thing.

Many people don’t like Forsythia, but to me a big yellow cloud of it on a dreary day is rather cheering.

Then again, a lot of people say that daffodils are lovely and cheerful. They’ve always given me a feeling of unease and I’ve only just worked out why.

I don’t like them.

There, I’ve said it. It’s the fact that so many people do that makes me uneasy. I feel I should like them, and I’ve tried, but they’re horrible.

Does that make me weird? Probably. But what’s to like in a flower that looks like a child has made it with some card and part of an eggbox?

Something that definitely is peculiar is my dislike of winter aconites, because that isn’t based on the flower (for instance I love celandines, which look similar), but the ruff of green leaves round it’s neck. For some reason that puts me right off them, to the point that they sort of give me the creeps.

Now that is weird.

A word to the wise.

If you have some garden-based project, or idea, that you are convinced will engage small children – then abandon it immediately. It will singularly fail to do anything other than annoy them at best, and at worst invoke indifference. Hostile indifference at that.

Here, by way of an example, is an example.

Some free alpine strawberry seeds came my way. And Little Boots loves, nay, luuurves, strawberries. So I explained that I had some strawberry seeds , but they were special strawberries, that came from mountains and were much more tasty than ordinary strawberries, but were a lot smaller. Wasn’t that great?

“No. They won’t grow,” pronounced LB. “They come from mountains and we only live on a bit of a hill.”

Recently, I’ve been watching Three Hungry Boys on Channel Four.

I know that I started watching the series because I’m a River Cottage fan and it comes from the same stable. What I cannot explain, other than to wonder whether I have a hitherto unknown masochistic streak, is why I’ve watched more than one episode.

It follows three rather smug and charmless young men as they jaunt around west Scotland in a funky VW Camper that they’ve been given.

The premise is they live off the land, and food/produce that they work for, or barter.

It’s all plainly, and painfully, rigged and staged, which kills the thing stone dead and it doesn’t even come alive on the one occasion they do actually have to rough it – bleating like sheep as they do so.

This is doubtless why they buried it in the scheduling at 4 o’clock on Saturday afternoon, but what I don’t understand is why Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall put his name to it.

Luckily the series ended today, so I won’t be doing any more televisual self-harming.

I’ve been stuck on the sofa for most of this week – hence the rash of rather boring blog posts. At first because I was keeping watch on Little Boots who’s been laid low with a bug. And then because I’ve been ill with the same thing.

Should you find yourself in a similar position and stuck for things to do here‘s a suggestion:

First turn out a 9cm plot of damp compost, onto a tray and then try finding half a dozen small black seeds that are somewhere in said compost.

I can guarantee hours of ….well if not fun and amusement, then diversion from gastric gurgling.

There is a reason that I’ve been indulging in this tedious activity. You see, when I planted my banana seeds 50% were planted in some African Violet compost and the other 50% in a mix of John Innes and sand, since I was unsure what sort of medium to use.

Well, the bananas that have so far germinated have all been in pots of the richer compost and so I thought it’d be a good idea to move them all into that medium. It also gives the opportunity to resoak them (this worked with my Ensete ventricosum seeds), assuming you can find the blinking things.

It is very nearly as boring as being ill.

(BTW – if you want to do this in under two hours – wait till the compost has dried a bit then sieve it).

Following on from yesterday’s post – I have at last discovered a little bit about Zingiber clarkeii.

As is usually the way of things, I was looking for something else – Mango Ginger (Curcuma amada).

Anyway, since I have at least one visitor looking for info on this plant, you can find it here.

The office allotment has had a few casualties since summer. The lemon verbena and the tarragon did OK to start before quickly growing too soft, pale and leggy. Vietnamese coriander also grew the same way, before falling to red spider mite that must have travelled in on it. All three were binned. The trouble is my office glass has a tint which means that low light levels are even further compromised.

I got fed up with the both the sweet and chilli peppers which grew well, but with soft foliage so that they were overly affected by the aphids which they kept getting. When their flowers continually failed to set fruit, despite my efforts to hand-pollinate them, I got cheesed off and cut them down.

Also an Alpinia that I bought was a secondary victim of my own month-long swine flu episode. The plant arrived by mail at the office while I was sick and seemed fine when I unwrapped it, but gradually died off and went mouldy. This was also partly down to my ignorance in planting it up in a compost that retained too much moisture. It seems to me now that the ginger family cannot really tolerate much moisture when they are little more than a rhizome. Once they have rooted and shooted they are much better.

So left for this winter were my dwarf Cavendish banana, three gingers, pineapple, lemongrass and coffee plant.

Just before Christmas I dug up the Abyssinian banana from Little Boot’s jungle area and dragged it indoors. It sat leafless in the kitchen looking very sad. So on December 30th I potted it into some fresh compost and dragged it into the office. The environment was immediately to its liking and it has gone crazy, throwing out a new leaf roughly every week to ten days.

And lastly, I’ve just added a Zingiber clarkeii – a plant which I have little knowledge of and haven’t been able to discover much about.

I may contact Edinburgh Botanical Gardens on that, as they seem to be the UK place in the know for the ginger family.

(EV = Ensete ventricosum)

It’s always a good idea to have a project to look forward to (even if they are pipedreams). I have plans to design a log-store. And one with a green roof no less. In truth I first thought about this a while back, but recently saw a picture of one in a magazine and reckon I can do better.

I’ve also been thinking about a new shed – it may have been mentioned before, or was that the garden office?

This has been prompted by one of my Christmas presents – this rather grand tool hanging gadget. I recall admiring it in a magazine – which was obviously noted. The thing is where do I put it? The shed which is only held together by the woodworms joining hands, or the garage, which looks like a rubbish skip after it’s been messed up by Tracy Emin? What is clearly called for is a new shed worthy of this hangy gadget thing. It will need to be a bit special.

Speaking of Christmas presents, this year I got something I have wanted for years. A subscription to Hortus.

I hadn’t looked at it until recently, through not being in the mood for reading, or else not having the time.

On opening it I was more than a little disappointed, to almost immediately find therein Hugh Johnson, a boring old fart who used to write a tedious column for the RHS magazine. He is still writing about the carp in his moat. YAWN.

It’s a bit like getting off with the long-yearned-for object of your desire only to find (depending on your orientation) that their cleavage is mostly tissue paper, or that a bulging crotch is caused by an old sports sock.

Rather more backward looking than I anticipated, much of it is enjoyable, but I can live without 23-page articles, overwhelmed with the life and times of Anglo-Irish gentry, rather than the garden they created.

But I’m determined to see the positive though. After all, I have two of the Hortus anthologies and they are full of good stuff. Annnnnd, one of my favourite writers Charles Elliott has a piece in there, so it can’t all be bad.

It has made me realise something -there’s not enough entertaining writing about horticulture around.

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