May 2010

This weekend I’ve torn around like an idiot and yet still achieved next to nothing. Consequently after three “days off” I do not feel rested. In fact, I feel wrecked. My back popped early on Sunday, and yes, this should have made me just sit down relax and do nothing. But it didn’t; not a bit of it. Instead I rushed round busying myself with a series of small, ineffectual chores, several of which I left unfinished and most of which were largely unnecessary.

It has had one effect – to leave me mentally frazzled and knackered.

I listened to a trail for this radio programme this morning and should have taken a lesson from it.

This week I am going to try to “stand and stare”.

W. H. Davies


What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare?—

No time to stand beneath the boughs,
And stare as long as sheep and cows:

No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass:

No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night:

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:

No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?

A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare


Gardeners recycle all the time. And a lot of it probably isn’t even thought of as recycling. I mean who uses a terracotta pot once and discards it?

Last weekend Little Boots and I planted up a few pots that we had “liberated” as part of a house clearance. Shortstuff had chosen a couple of plants during a visit to our local nursery – plain old garden mint (‘to go with our potatoes we planted’) and a fuchsia called “Gold Mountain” (‘because I like it’), which, I must admit, is nice – for a fuchsia.

Our garden gets ridiculously hot and dry in anything approaching a decent summer, and you can sometimes find yourself watering potted plants 3 times a day. So now, all new pots get lined with an old carrier bag (NB – a few holes in the bottom), or, if they are over a foot in diameter, with bubble wrap (bubbles = pot side).

The bubble wrap serves two purposes – firstly, like the plastic bags, to conserve water in summer, but also, since bigger pots are likely to house more permanent plants, it also acts as an insulating layer over winter. This not only protects the plant roots from cold, but also keeps the compost away from the terracotta, making it drier and less likely to “blow” in very cold weather.

There is however a potential drawback. A nice dry pot, with a warm inter-bubble network is shangri-la for ants – so you need to make sure you cover the hole in the bottom of pot with a piece of landscape fabric. Or a scrap of old net curtain.

If you have some to recycle.

Allotmenteers seem to fall into two camps. Gardeners and Farmers.

The latter generally grow regimented rows of vegetables which they could buy for buttons at their local supermarket.

It keeps them off the streets I guess.

The Gardeners can be broadly identified by the fact that they do not grow potatoes [other than earlies], seldom bother with onions, and because they annoy the fuck out of the farmers.

I am a gardener. My allotment is the best looking on the site. If you like shape and form and colour, rather than sterile monocultures, that is.

The OH has just got back from a trip to France. Part of the ad hoc itinerary was a visit to some kind of Gallic flower show/country fair.

Whilst there, one of the people the OH was staying with, knowing of my burgeoning collection of sempervivums, wanted to buy me one. The OH who was travelling to and from the continent as a foot passenger vetoed this.

I wasn’t hugely impressed with that news. After all is there an easier plant to transplant than a houseleek?

Just take a plastic flowerpot, stuff it with cotton wool, scrunched kitchen roll, or newspaper even, invert over the sempervivum, secure with an elastic band or sellotape. Then slip it in a carrier bag with some holes in and the job’s a good’un.


It’d take up next to no space – it’s hardly a Wardian case.

Mind you I do say all that as a person who once took an eight-foot canary palm on a train.

But no. No, that would have been too much effort.

As I say, I was a bit miffed. I mean, why tell anyone about the present they nearly got.

The situation was ameliorated by a bottle of what looks like a French version of port and a jar of what appears to be mustard with samphire.

Interesting and delightful I’m sure, but I’d still have rather have had the Sempervivum.

And to add insult to injury I came home to find the OH slathering “My” mustard with what appears to be samphire, over a sandwich.

Apparently they are “joint” presents.

Whenever I read about somebody growing something different (especially to eat) I get a bit excited.

Actually excited, is probably too strong a word and makes me seem a bit odd. Curious is probably a better word. No, not strong enough. Actively curious? No, that’s no good – it makes me sound like a category in some kind of psychometric test, or pollster’s demographic.

Anyway, I hope you get my drift, so I’ll get to the point.

I was reading in a book, some old boy talking about one of his fellow allotment plot holders, who was Asian, growing a plant called Mehti, for the edible leaves. I immediately looked this up and found that the crop concerned is best known in the UK as fenugreek. “Oh I know fenugreek,” I said to myself, “I must try it” and made a mental note to get some.

So, earlier this week, when I saw a large packet of seed marked down to 50p I picked it up as a bargain.

The thing is that the packet was for ‘sprouting seeds’ which meant that there were no instructions on how to grow the things in soil. At this point it dawned on me that my comment “I know fenugreek” was actually a load of rubbish and that I knew just one thing about fenugreek – it’s a herb. Or a spice. In fact I don’t know anything about it. 

So I looked it up in my herb books and found . . . that it was popular for ‘sprouting seeds’. And no more.

Then I consulted some wider-ranging books about growing. And found . . . . more on ‘sprouting seeds’.

More scholarly tomes told me that it was ‘popular for ‘sprouting seeds’

I was still at a loss as how to cultivate it, and whilst of course there are general principles that apply to any seeds in terms of planting depth etc, I wanted to be sure that there weren’t any specific requirements that would make the difference between success and failure.

I asked a colleague who knew what it was and was able to give me some advice on cooking with it, but she’d never grown it.

So I’m just going to have to suck it and see. Or should that be chuck it and seed?

My favourite second-hand bookshop closed for good a few Saturdays back.

Over the years I must’ve bought hundreds of books from them, spanning all kinds of categories. Of course in recent years it has been almost exclusively gardening books and they had a good selection.

I went along, to kind of mentally say goodbye as it where. I didn’t take Little Boots as the protests of “This place is boring” got increasingly loud over the last few visits.

At £1 for hardbacks and 50p for paperbacks, there were bargains a plenty, but my heart wasn’t in it. I bought a fiver’s worth but felt like a graverobber and have only just opened the bag to look at my purchases.

They are:

Over the Hills – W. Keble Martin’s autobiography

Shrubs for amateurs – W.J. Bean

More Green Fingers – Reginald Arkell humourous garden-based poetry – or at least what passed for humour in the 1930s.

Flowers Shown To The Children – Janet Harvey Kelman – a book about British natives from the 20s/30s, with coloured plates, intended to help kids identify flora 

Trees & Woodland in the British Landscape – Oliver Rackham

All are interesting books and not ones that are necessarily easily picked up. Of course you can buy many books on the ‘net, but unless you know what you are after, it is very much a case of buying them blind. There is no browsing, unlike a real bookshop where you can actually have a look at the things.

So, I reckon, not only has a little part of my personal history passed on, but my life in a small, but tangible, way has become slightly poorer.

 Saving seeds is something I do quite often, some from my own garden, but also others I come across in my travels. Usually they end up in a folded piece of paper, or tissue even, and only discovered weeks/months later.   Recently I have been much better – partly because I’ve made a small supply of suitable seed-saving envelopes.

First take one return postage envelope – it does not need to be from the RHS, I’m just being posh, normally I use credit card ones.

Then seal it up. You will have to add some extra glue to the area cross-hatched in green, or small seeds will escape.

Cut it in half, and then fold over the cut edge to a depth of about an inch/3cm.

Make two diagonal cuts from the botton of the open side, towards the folded corner (see photo), making two flaps and  then fold back the top one.

Cut off the bottom one, et voila, a neat little envelope for saving your seeds in.

Don’t forget to seal it, wither with a pritt stick (not wet glue) or a strip of tape, and remember to label it with the contents (add the date too).

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