Widgets Blog - Emma the Gardener

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Ryan and I have (finally!) moved into our new house! And, whilst we had the use of a van, we collected all of the tall plants from the allotment. So the first refugees from my old garden have arrived in their new home. As well as my Christmas tree, there’s two cobnuts, a crab apple, a golden bamboo, a rosemary and a lavender, the medlar and one that remains unidentified until I can have a good look at it.

I also brought back two scented pelargoniums that I uncovered from amongst the weeds on the allotment – one is Attar of Roses :) They were part of an order of four; all that remains of one is an empty pot. One seems to have been eaten to the ground by snails. Frankly, I am surprised any survived!

And I found, but didn’t bring back for the moment, my horseradish.

There’s a lot more work to do, rescuing plants from the allotment and bringing them home, but that can be done over the next few weeks. In the meantime, we have plenty to keep us occupied unpacking indoors, and I have some nice big pots ready to be planted up with winter veg.

Did I mention that I now live just a stone’s throw from a garden centre?


Posted in Blog on Oct 17, 2014 ·

Tags: gardens & allotment.

Waking sleeping beauty

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I had to abandon my allotment earlier in the year, as it was engulfed in a sea of weeds that I had neither the time or the energy to deal with. All of my plants in pots, mainly refugees from the old garden, had to be left to fend for themselves – they had been swamped by the undergrowth. I don’t think I could have found them all, had I been so inclined. I hoped that they would find some protection in their leafy covering, but as the weather warmed up and there were extended periods of drought, it seemed increasingly unlikely that any of them would survive. But there was nothing I could do.

I think it has been around four months since I was last there, but I had the day off today and this morning I felt like I could cope with a trip to survey the damage. It wasn’t as bad as I had feared. Yes, there have been casualties, but some of my plants have survived – more than I had expected. It will take some time to clear the weeds and uncover the true extent of what’s left, but it feels more possible now than it did in May.

An olive, hiding under a bindweed blanket

Clearing the thatch away will be a gradual process, and I will uncover plants as I go along. With sturdy plants it’s simply a case of pulling the bindweed until it breaks free; with this olive I had to be more gentle, as it was poised to come flying out of its pot completely. But it has survived the summer, and even produced a single olive whilst doing so.

Rescued olive
Free at last

Now that the weather is cooler and wetter, it should appreciate better air flow.

The tally so far is:

Tree fuchsia (sorry Owen!)
One Sichuan pepper (one is still MIA)
All of the asparagus

Alpine strawberries
White saffron
Japanese raspberry
Babington leeks
Cha cha chives

I brought home the pot of white saffron, as it has no drainage holes and won’t fare well as the autumn rolls on. I also brought home the Cha cha chives, which I have been worried about, and the regular chives, to sit on the kitchen windowsill. In fact, I even went so far as to snip some fresh chives for my potato salad at lunch time.

It’s a start. Next time I go I will try and solve The Mystery of the Missing Horseradish Pot!

Posted in Blog on Sep 5, 2014 ·

Tags: allotment & herbs.

Grow! Harvest! Eat!

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“We grow! We harvest! We eat!” mural in the Exotic Garden at Ryton organic gardens

I haven’t felt much like writing over the last few weeks. I haven’t felt like doing much of anything. It took Ryan and I far longer than we had anticipated to get his flat ready for sale – having moved some of my things in, it was cluttered. We had to put most of my things (and plenty of his) in storage to declutter, before redecorating the whole place. It was worth it in the end, when we quickly found a buyer for the flat once we’d chosen the house we hope to live in, but it left us both exhausted.

The allotment has been left to fend for itself far too much this year. We tried at one point to control some of the weeds, but we lost that battle. I popped over last Sunday morning to see whether any of the plants that I have in pots there (the refugees from my old garden) needed watering in the sunny weather. I couldn’t even see them, they were hidden by a wall of grass and bindweed. Even the areas we had cleared were smothered. I felt a little bit like sleeping beauty, waiting for a prince to rescue me. Except that the allotment doesn’t need one prince with a sword, it needs an army of princes armed with strimmers and hedgetrimmers to break a path through at this point in time. It’s not going to happen.

We’re ploughing though the mountain of paperwork that comes with buying and selling houses. For the last couple of weeks Ryan has been working some insane hours. Warm nights and early sunrises aren’t conducive to a good night’s sleep, and sometimes you just have to concentrate on the things you can do whilst waiting for a situation to change.

The garden that may become mine was, last time I saw it, in much better condition. It’s probably a similar sort of size to the allotment, but it’s in three different sections. The main ‘back’ garden is a square off to the side of the house. There’s a strip along the front side of the house, and another strip a similar size and aspect on the other side of the garden that can’t be entirely fenced off because there’s a supply box of some description that the utility company need to have access to. There’s a lawn, some shrubs around the edges, and plenty of vertical spaces to make use of. The house faces west, with the garden to the north – at midsummer all but the patio is in full sun at midday. I’m not sure there’s room for a greenhouse.

I have been trying to think of a plan for the garden, but of course it is difficult without proper measurements – and there’s no point getting too invested until the house buying process is further along. I was originally trying to think of a ‘theme’ for the garden, but nothing really seemed to fit. More recently I have taken a more basic tack, thinking about how we want to use it.

My old garden was large, and gave me a lot of scope for gardening, but it never became a place where we simply went and sat. There wasn’t much of a patio, and most of the garden was in full sun (and far too hot) all day during the summer. There wasn’t any shade for us or the plants. With the new garden we’d like to be able to sit outside, have a BBQ and eat outside, and have some shelter from the sun. The living room has patio doors that open onto the garden; it would be nice to sit inside with them open and have the sounds and smells of the garden wafting in. Essentially, I suppose, I want a garden that is an outdoor room.

That doesn’t mean it’s going to be full of roses and carpeted with a well-manicured lawn, though. And it’s certainly not going to be one of those ghastly “low maintenance” gardens. *shudder* I’m still me, and I still want plenty of space to grow my plants. I want to be able to pop outside before work, or when I get home, and at the weekends, and spend time gardening. There isn’t a definitive list of the things I want to grow – I like trying new things, and I get new ideas all the time. So although I’d like a defined structure to the garden (something the old one never really had) that’s relatively easy to maintain, I want plenty of scope to experiment with the planting.

A compost bin and a water butt are pretty much essential. There will be some perennials, and climbing plants. I may experiment with stepover apples, and other trained fruits. Ryan is keen to put in some raised beds, and I concur – they will be great for annuals and biennials, concentrating most of my gardening effort on the plants that need it. I think a strip of herb garden alongside the front door would be both welcoming and efficient – with access to a larger kitchen again I’d like to get back into garden-to-table eating.

So… I may not have a plan, but I have some ideas. Now I just need the garden :)

What’s your favourite part of your garden?

Posted in Blog on Jun 28, 2014 ·

Tags: general & allotment.

The ice cream shed

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My allotment doesn’t have a shed. I wish it did, because it would be somewhere to keep the rake (which is too long for my tool store) and to shelter from the rain. But on my fantasy allotment I wouldn’t use my shed for storage at all – I’d turn it into an ice cream shed. I’d need to run up a power cable for the ice cream maker and the freezer. Then all summer long I’d hide away in there, concocting flavours worthy of Willy Wonka himself, from the cool things I’m growing on my allotment (or that I could forage from the local hedgerows). And then, on summer days, I could open up the doors and sell ice creams to my allotment neighbours. When they’ve got to the point where they’re too hot to do any more digging, they can sit down and have a breather and sample one of my wares.

The most memorable ice cream I ever tasted wasn’t an Italian gelato, but a buffalo milk ice cream flavoured with lavender. It neatly avoided my cow’s milk intolerance and introduced a new flavour at the same time. It was the first ice cream I’d had in months, and a real treat. The trick with lavender is not to make the flavour too strong – like rosemary it has a bit of a medicinal edge to it that people find unattractive. It might take me a little while to perfect that one, tinkering away in my shed.

Oatly strawberry ice cream

I started my ice cream experiments last year. This oat milk strawberry ice cream was delicious, and an easy one to make from homegrown strawberries. The flavour really floods out, even seducing Ryan (who is not a big fan of strawberries). One my old friends sprinkles black pepper on her strawberries when she eats them; I can try adding a dash to the mix and see if my strawberry ice cream gets even better.

Frozen yoghurt is another speciality, easy enough for me to make with goat’s milk yoghurt. (The Nutella-flavoured sheep’s milk fro yo turned out to have a strange mouth feel, but I liked it.) Lemon curd is a lovely flavour, and a good way to use up some eggs if you have your own chickens.

The simplest flavours might prove to be bestsellers. The allotment has lots of fruit plants (blackberries, raspberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants), and cooked down into a compote they are easily mixed into frozen yoghurt for a fruity sensation.

I can even do sorbets – the gooseberry bush furnished us with a lovely one last year, which barely made it into the freezer before it was scoffed. With mature rhubarb plants producing plenty of stems, there’s an opportunity there as well.

So… if I build my ice cream shed, what’s your suggestion for an allotment-inspired flavour? What would entice you back for a second scoop?

Beast Sheds Blog Competition

Posted in Blog on Apr 30, 2014 ·

Last modified on Apr 30, 2014

Tags: allotment & food.

Rods and cones

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One of my exes, a biker, had a peculiar approach to work-life balance. He refused to work on any day that was sunny, dry and warm – the conditions in which the roads got sticky enough for him to ‘get his knee down’. Should he find himself at work when this climatic ideal occurred, he simply clocked out and went home. He had flexible working hours and so I’m sure* he made up the time on drizzly and uninspiring days.

My own working arrangements are not quite as laissez faire, but having worked some extra time I took the opportunity to leave an hour early yesterday and head to the allotment whilst it wasn’t raining. The allotment hasn’t seen me in a couple of weeks; in my absence it has been concentrating on growing bindweed and dandelions.


I was impressed to see that my horseradish thong is alive and kicking and well on the way to being a special kind of garden thug. I was also intrigued by how many brown shield bugs were… ahem… active on one of the leafy remnants left behind by a previous occupant. He said it was spinach; it can’t be, it has resprouted this year from a root ball too massive to pull up.

I went to the allotment with the goal of collecting enough potting compost to repot my six new Chilean guava plants, which were starting to look a little pot-bound. I also planted my oca tubers, which were chitting nicely. Although colder nights are forecast for the weekend, I’m not worried. They should still be under the soil if a frost comes, and (like potatoes) they can recover from a touch of frosted foliage anyway.

I cut the flowers off the rhubarb (mature plants that have been on the allotment far longer than I have) and harvested my first stems. I didn’t get around to cooking them last night, so I have yet to discover how nice they are (the variety remains nameless). Watch this space….


By the time I had done that it was, of course, raining. It is April, after all. So I went home and pricked out my two Calamondin orange seedlings, and sowed 5 more seeds. But just before I left I discovered that my little Christmas tree (which grows in a large pot) has cones on for the first time. Aren’t they lovely?

Allotments are traditionally measured in rods, which gives you the other half of the title for this post. I have been writing about eyes at work this week.

*actually, I’m not ;)

Posted in Blog on Apr 29, 2014 ·

Last modified on Aug 31, 2014

Tag: allotment

First day of spring

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Devil's claw

If you haven’t already seen it, check out Google’s doodle for today. To celebrate the spring equinox, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere, they’ve got a little cartoon human watering the plants. They grow pretty fast – must be weeds ;)

It’s a work day, so I won’t be celebrating the first day of spring by doing any gardening, but I did get out to the allotment at the weekend to make some progress there. Ryan helped me to set up my water butt in a new (but still temporary) location. It doesn’t have a downpipe feeding into it as I don’t have a shed, but it will collect some water when it rains. Ryan also helped me to dig out some unwanted rootballs; I inherited a thriving population of thornless blackberries when I took on the plot, and if I don’t thin them down I won’t have any room to grow anything else!

I brought home some potting compost in which to sow some seeds – three varieties of sweet pepper (F1 Sunshine, Tequila Sunrise and Corno di Toro Rosso) plus Garnet, which is bred for drying and grinding into paprika. The white sprouting broccoli and flower sprouts I sowed on Sunday have already germinated and are pushing up little seedlings on my office windowsill (brassicas being the speed freaks of the seed world). Like the peppers, my final sowing will take a little longer. Ibicella lutea syn Proboscidea lutea is a variety of Devil’s Claw or martynia. These plants grow hard, spiny seed pods that are shaped like caltrops and stick into the feet of animals. It’s their means of seed dispersal. That would be enough to make them interesting, but those same seed pods are edible when immature, and can be turned into pickles.

I don’t know of anyone who has tried growing Devil’s Claws, so if you have then do let me know in the comments. You can read more about my adventures in growing unusual edible plants (and the characters I’ve met along the way) in my new ebook, Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs. The official release date is 1st May 2014 and you can preview the book at Smashwords. It’s also now available for pre-order from the NOOK book store!

Posted in Blog on Mar 20, 2014 ·

Last modified on Mar 20, 2014

Tags: allotment & unusual.

Rhubarb and alliums

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Rhubarb bud

I wanted to go to the allotment at the weekend (Saturday was the first (mostly) dry day in yonks!) but was given the opportunity to be an extra in a fun corporate video, and since that involved getting my face painted I did that instead.

So today I have been to the allotment for the first time in ages. The ground is very wet. My sloping plot isn’t doing too badly, but the grass paths around the site are sodden and make for slippery progress. The rhubarb plants are putting forth giant buds, and one is even unfurling a leaf. It was hard to get a good photo because the afternoon sun is still low, and shines in your eyes the whole time.

I sowed the last of my packet of broad bean ‘Karmazyn’, which had a sow by date of June 2011. I know the seeds are just fine, because I sowed some in a container on the windowsill and they all germinated. I didn’t get to the allotment to plant them, and so instead I used them to prove that sprouting broad beans isn’t the best idea! They rapidly grow too tall, and spindly in the nice warm indoors. You don’t get a good return on your space, peas would be much better. I am slightly concerned that my new sowings will be snaffled by mice before they germinate – I haven’t direct sown them into soil before. But I sowed a few extras, and I have seeds of other varieties I can sow later if necessary. I note that my allotment neighbour has broad beans plants growing nicely already….

I also planted 24 Triteleia ‘Queen Fabiola’ corms that have been in my kit bag since last year. I’m not holding out much hope for them still being viable, but they’re not going to get any more viable if they stay in the bag, and the instructions do say they can be planted any time between January and June. It was Rhizowen’s fault that I bought them – he says they’re edible. Oh, I’ve just noticed the packet says “dormant until you plant”, so there may be hope.

And last, but not least, I planted two different sorts of allium bulbils. I know one set are from the walking onions I used to have in the garden – I think they’re ‘Amish’. The other… well, I’m not entirely sure. They must be from something that was growing in the garden, but to be honest there were some alliums I lost track off and I’m not sure what they are. I have labelled them as ‘mystery bulbils’, which will at least remind me that I don’t know what they are. Once they come up it should be possible to have a stab at identifying the species. I didn’t have that many….

The purple sprouting broccoli plants are still very dinky, and one needed tying into its support again, but they’re alive and growing and they haven’t been eaten by anything – or blown away – so I’m taking that as a plus! We’re clearly not going to be short of rhubarb in a few weeks, and the garlic and onions I planted last year seem to be doing very well indeed.

Posted in Blog on Feb 26, 2014 ·

Tag: allotment

Thick, thicker, thicket

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Flying blackberry

For as long as I’ve had my allotment, it has has a thicket in the middle. The main offender was an out-of-control thornless (technically prickleless) blackberry, whose arching stems reached for the skies but then fell back down to earth. It was aided and abetted by currant bushes in need of a good prune, and lots of grassy weeds. it looked impenetrable, and the blackberry was not only beginning to take over the plot but was sending out shoots across the path as well.

On Saturday morning I spent an hour cutting all of its stems to the ground. It won’t stop them growing up again next year, of course, unless I go back and dig out the roots. But for the moment the allotment is considerably more low profile. Some of the stems were too thick to cut with secateurs:

Thick stem

As I didn’t have a machete handy I took the simple approach of standing on them until they snapped in half, and cutting through them then.

Theoretically it is now possible to walk down from the top of the plot to the bottom. In practice it isn’t, since the way is blocked with plant refugees from the garden, sitting in their pots. It wouldn’t be an easy route, however, since the blackberry clumps are there to trip over, and the plot is oddly uneven. It would be easy to twist your ankle, particularly around the edges, which are sunken. Obscured by grassy weeds you take a risk every time you step off the path. It’s one of the things on the list to fix :)

I don’t remember the first frost ever having been this late before – we’re still waiting for one here. The oca are still growing and the purple sprouting broccoli are still safely under their net tunnel to protect them from marauding butterflies. They’re not coming out until it’s too cold for caterpillars. And then they’re getting staked, because it’s windy!

There’s no photographic evidence of my last trip to the allotment, during which I dug up the Sárpo Mira potatoes (which were still going strong, despite blight on other plots) and planted my overwintering onions, shallots, and saffron in their place. The rhubarb has been tidied up, and that corner of the plot is covered in bark chips to help keep the weeds under control. The garlic, and elephant garlic, are still waiting in the wings – I’ll plant those soon.

You may also enjoy:
A ramble about the bramble
(B)eat your weeds: Brambles
When Plants Attack II: Conventional Weaponry

Posted in Blog on Nov 4, 2013 ·

Tag: allotment

Comfrey: the permaculture plant

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Monster roots

One of the plants that I was keen to transplant from the garden to the allotment was comfrey (Symphytum officinalis). I had several plants, which I grew from root cuttings several years ago. Some were growing in the concrete blocks in the raised beds – which turned out to be a mistake, as they’d grown very impressive roots and wedged themselves in firmly. These ones were extracted with a sledgehammer. I took them to the allotment and planted them around my new green cone composter, and despite the terrible abuse they are still alive and growing new leaves. It’s a tough old plant.

Comfrey is a popular plant with people who practice permaculture, because it has so many uses. With deep roots that are able to bring nutrients up from the subsoil, comfrey is known as a ‘dynamic accumulator’ plant. These nutrients are stored in the leaves, which can then be used to feed other plants.

Comfrey is a very vigorous perennial, which can be cut several times each season. The composition of the leaves means that they break down rapidly and be used fresh to feed plants – either placed in planting holes or left on the soil surface as a nutritious mulch. Comfrey leaves also act as a compost activator – so adding them to the compost heap speeds up the composting process as well as adding nutrients.

You can also turn your comfrey leaves into a very good liquid fertilizer. If you drown the leaves in a bucket of water for several weeks, you’ll get a smelly liquid feed that is great for fruiting vegetables like tomatoes and peppers because it is high in potash. You can try adding scented herbs like thyme or rosemary to the mix to improve the aroma, but comfrey is different from most plants in that its leaves will happily rot down without the addition of water. Seal the leaves into a bucket for a few weeks, weighed down, and they will produce a brown liquor that can be diluted into a much less stinky liquid feed. Whichever method you choose, the remains of the rotted leaves can be added to the compost heap at the end.

Comfrey with bee

And if that’s not enough – bees really love comfrey flowers, and plant has medicinal uses, although it is no longer recommended as an edible.

If you want to add a comfrey plant or two to your garden then buy root cuttings (or beg them from someone with mature plants) of Bocking 14. This variety is sterile, so it won’t self-seed all over the garden. Root cuttings are usually available from May to August. Keep new plantings well watered until they are established. If the ground is not ready for planting then your comfrey will be happy in a container for quite a while.

And if you want to do things the permaculture way, consider planting your comfrey around the compost heap. Not only will it be handy, but it will soak up any nutrients that leach out of the compost!

Liked this? Then you may also enjoy:
(B)eat your weeds: liquid feeds, episode 88 of the Alternative Kitchen Garden Show, on organic fertilizers, autumn green manures and The Peat-Free Diet.

Posted in Blog on Oct 19, 2013 ·

Last modified on May 5, 2014

Tags: allotment & permaculture.

Activate! Activate!

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There were some really good guesses about yesterday’s mystery object, and a couple of you were spot on – it’s the basket at the bottom of my Green Cone composter. It arrived in several pieces, and needed to be assembled before it could be taken to the allotment.

Green Cone - interior

In a slightly What Not to Wear moment, this is the Green Cone in its underwear. The basket at the bottom is designed the buried in the soil and not seen. The black undercone helps the whole thing heat up nicely in the sunshine.

Assembled Green Cone

Properly dressed, it looks like this. The green outer cone is screwed on to the basket and undercone; the lid is screwed on. The next step is to dig a big hole:

A hole in the ground

I cannot recommend doing this in a heatwave, even if someone else is doing most of the digging.


And this is the finished article, all ready and waiting to be fed. I have put it at the top of the allotment, near the rest of the compost bins, but also close to the existing fruit bushes. The Green Cone will feed the surrounding soil, rather than producing compost that needs to be dug out. The nutrients should be sucked up by the fruit bushes; any that get leached a bit further will feed the plants further down. That’s the theory, anyway.

The Green Cone has been in place for about a month now, and I have been feeding it our food waste. We don’t produce that much, and everything that is compostable in a normal bin goes in a normal bin, but so far there is no evidence of rodent attacks and there’s no horrible rotting stench or swarms of flies when you open the lid, so it’s so far so good. I will keep you posted on its progress.

Posted in Blog on Sep 13, 2013 ·

Last modified on Sep 13, 2013

Tags: allotment & compost.

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