Widgets Blog - Emma the Gardener

Write Club: Gardening with a disability

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Angela Moore kicks off Write Club 2014 with her guest post on gardening with a disability. Angela blogs at Garden, Tea, Cakes and Me and is on Twitter as @daisyangel1.

You can vote for this post by using the social media buttons in the sidebar to like it, and by leaving a comment.

I have scoliosis, which is no surprise if you are a regular reader of my blog Garden Tea Cakes and Me, I have written about it previously particularly to highlight Scoliosis Awareness Day. Scoliosis has recently featured in the media due to the discovery of Richard III’s skeleton in a social services car park in Leicester, confirming that he had Scoliosis, a curvature of the spine. I have a curved spine I also have a garden, but how do I manage gardening with my wonderfully curved spine.

I love gardening, the nurturing of an inert seed into life giving you something wonderfully green, colourful and scented or maybe a fruit or vegetable that supplies sustenance. But for me there is a certain acceptance of compromising in the garden – what I want to do and what I can do physically is not compatible. I cannot stand for long periods of time, I can only kneel for a very short period. I cannot raise both my arms above my head, not that it matters being only 4ft 6 inch tall means I cannot reach most things anyway. Fortunately for me there are no light bulbs that need changing in my garden, though it can be problematic picking fruit off trees or pruning shrubs.

That in it self has taken some time for me to accept, but there is still lots I can do in the garden. There are just a few rules I have follow: –

  • Let someone else do the heavy work – that someone for me is my sister, who adores gardening and is more than happy to do the digging, reaching and lifting. My sister is the one with the ‘Under Gardener’ mug; mine of course reads ‘Head Gardener’.

  • Knowing when to stop – not to keep going until the garden task is competed, stopping helps to prevent me from over doing things, difficult when I like things completed straight away. I regularly set an alarm on my phone to remind be to stop grab a cup of tea, sit and enjoy the garden for 15 minutes – something we should all do more often!

  • Getting the right layout – I have some amazing raised beds not your average one plank of wood high mine are two foot high. This means no bending down on to my knees, minimum bending of my back, they make for much easier gardening, and more importantly high enough for my carrot crops to avoid carrot fly!

  • Being Patient – I may not be as quick as some gardeners, but tasks do get completed I just have to allow a little extra time.

The greenhouse is the centre of my gardening world, it is here I get to enjoy what I love the most – sewing of seeds, potting on seedling and taking cutting. Apart from the everyday gardening tools in the greenhouse I also have, a footstool to reach the higher staging and a stool to sit on as I have said previously standing too long is my enemy. The failures the successes in the greenhouse all make up the challenge and enjoyment that is gardening. I may have never successfully grown Squash, my seedlings do not survive longer than a few weeks, but that does not mean I will stop trying. However my Agapanthus seeds I planted six years ago are now thriving and healthy Agapanthus plants, my tip I ignored them at the back of the greenhouse for nearly three years!

I feel I need to explain the photograph above as I do not normally dress so smartly for gardening. This photograph was taken when I had just popped out to pick some raspberries having returned home from an event where I met the Duke of Gloucester – ooh get me!

I am sure in the years to come I may have to make more adjustments to how I garden, but one thing for sure I will always enjoy it.

Posted in Blog on Sep 7, 2014 ·

Tag: competitions

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.

How to choose space crops

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This is the latest post in my Choose-your-own-space-adventure series, where you get to vote on the next topic covered.

Tending to the Veggie garden on the ISSAstronaut Steven Swanson tending to the Veggie garden on the International Space Station. Image credit: NASA

The aim of my GlutBusters project is essentially to change the way we choose the crops we grow in our kitchen gardens, moving the focus away from the ‘maximum yield’ mentality that can bring problematic gluts and ‘hungry gaps’ and towards planning for diversity rather than sheer quantity. It’s an idea that relies on a modern reality – access to crops grown on farms and commercial suppliers means that gardeners with a lack of time and/or space don’t need to aim for self-sufficiency.

But what about gardeners in space? How would they choose which crops to grow? Currently astronauts are supplied from Earth, and it’s not something they need to worry about. But it costs getting on for £14,000 to launch every kilo into space (it depends a little bit on which launch system is used), so giving astronauts the means to grow some of their own food could prove cost-effective. That’s particularly true for long duration missions, such as a manned mission to Mars, or a lunar base. The more self-sufficient we can make the crew, the less they will need to be resupplied from Earth. However – it’s not only food they need. Plants could form a part of their life support system, removing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, as well as recycling waste products and cleaning up waste water.

In the early 1960s, NASA began to look into the science and technology of Controlled Ecological Support Systems (CELSS), which could do all of those things. It was Boeing Company that produced the first list of suggested plants, which included 14 different crops: lettuce, Chinese cabbage, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, turnip, Swiss chard, endive, dandelion, radish, New Zealand spinach, tampala (amaranth), and sweet potato.

Crops growing in VEGGIE plant pillowsCrops tested in VEGGIE plant pillows include lettuce, Swiss chard, radishes, Chinese cabbage and peas. Image credit: NASA

There’s a lot of leafy vegetables in that list, and that’s in part due to the criteria by which they were selected. The idea was to have plants that have compact growth, so they don’t take up too much space. They need to be productive (usually ‘early’ varieties, that achieve a harvestable size quickly), and easy-to-grow. The crew don’t have much spare time to be tending veggies, nor do they have time for food processing, or space for complex machinery to do things like threshing or milling. Ideally the crops want to produce as little inedible biomass as possible, although some later versions of CELSS incorporate insects or animals that can process inedible crop wastes into edible protein.

Space veggies have to be able to cope with less-than-ideal conditions, including low light levels and problems with the water supply. The latter would be less of an issue on the Moon or Mars, where there is some gravity to ensure that irrigation water does what we need it to do and doesn’t constantly try to float off and short-circuit expensive computer equipment!

There also has to be a focus on nutritional balance, as a complete diet would be needed to keep astronauts healthy in the long term, whether all nutrients are being supplied by the CELSS, or some come from Earth-supplied rations. Home-grown food also helps to relive ‘ration fatigue’ for astronauts – fresh fruit and veg are the most eagerly awaited part of every supply run to the International Space Station. And there are psychological benefits to gardening as well, with astronauts reporting positive effects from tending plants in space.

The list of plants included in a CELSS also depends on the culture of the scientists building it, and that of the astronauts it will feed. NASA is planning on sending along lettuce, spinach, carrots, tomatoes, green onions, radishes, bell peppers, strawberries, fresh herbs and cabbages with their mission to Mars; Chinese scientists would rather go with rice, soy beans, sweet potatoes, a variety of ‘green-yellow vegetable’ (e.g. komatsuna), stem lettuce and even mulberry trees (to feed silkworms, to produce edible pupae).

And plant breeding can overcome issues with some species – a special dwarf variety of wheat (‘Apogee’, on which seed heads develop after just 23 days) was developed to be grown in space – although the technology necessary to grow plants successfully in zero gravity is still being developed.

Garden on Mars: Plants include arnica, Opium poppy and calendula
© 2007 Aggregate Industries Ltd

In 2007, garden designer Sarah Eberle won a gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show for her interpretation of a garden that could be grown in a protected habitat in Mars. She visited Sicily to choose plant varieties that she thought might thrive in the Martian environment and that had multiple benefits, including their colour, nutrition and medicinal effects. She included coffee, wheat and calendula, with carob as a chocolate substitute. Another area of the garden was set aside for ‘luxury’ crops such as pistachios and olives, along with plants with healing properties such as arnica and the Opium poppy. If I end up going to Mars I’d like to sign up to go along with Sarah’s garden, please!

So… if you found yourself on a deserted planet, with the right kit for growing a space garden, what would you choose to grow? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

And now its time to choose where to head next…

Advanced Space Transportation Program: Paving the Highway to Space

Alling, A., Van Thillo, M., Dempster, W., Nelson, M., Silverstone, S., & Allen, J. (2005). Lessons learned from Biosphere 2 and Laboratory Biosphere closed systems experiments for the Mars on Earth project. Biological Sciences in Space , 19(4), 250-260.

Farming their way to Mars: Gardeners and chefs likely to join astronauts on first trip to the Red Planet

Space-inspired garden takes top prize at UK’s Chelsea Garden Show.

Wheeler, R. M. (2011). Plants for human life support in space: From Myers to Mars. Gravitational and Space Research, 23(2).

Yu, X., Liu, H., & Tong, L. (2008). Feeding scenario of the silkworm Bombyx Mori, L. in the BLSS. Acta Astronautica, 63(7), 1086-1092.

Posted in Blog on Sep 5, 2014 ·

Last modified on Sep 19, 2014

Tags: space & science.

Glutbusters: September 2014

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Stunning autumn foliage

In the gardening calendar, September in the UK is ‘early autumn’. It comes before the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, and (depending on the weather) is frequently a period when harvesting of summer crops can continue. There’s usually a few more weeks of frost-free weather, and the mad dash to harvest everything safely and clear everything away for the winter hasn’t started yet. Most people are sick of the sight of courgettes and runner beans, and longing for something a little bit different.

In a traditional kitchen garden, or on an allotment, there’s a pressure for space as the summer crops refuse to give it up, but the winter ones need to grow in the ground. Rows of Brussels sprouts, sprouting broccoli, cabbages and kales may already be in place – all large plants that take up space for much of the year.

In a smaller garden, the aim of the Glutbuster is to keep it productive and attractive through the winter, without having to resort to these brassica behemoths. I have always been a fan of planting Japanese onions at this time of year, a job that can be done over the next few weeks. Planted as sets (small onions) in September, your onions will overwinter and produce a harvest in June and July – about 6 weeks ahead of spring-planted onions. Planting some now, and some in spring, will give you a long harvest period for your onions. It’s hard to grow enough onions to be self-sufficient unless you have a large garden, but home-grown onions can grace the GlutBuster table for some of the year.

The problem is that a net of onion sets contains over a hundred – far more than would fit in a small garden. Conventional advice would be to plant the biggest and healthiest, and discard the rest. Surely there’s a better option than that?

Onion sets
Onion sets for autumn planting

GlutBuster onion advice

  • Remember that the size of the final onions depends on their spacing. If you’re trying to grow giant onions, they need plenty of space. If you’d rather have smaller ones that you can use in one sitting (and not leave half an onion stinking up the fridge) then you can put them closer together. You can even plant several onions together, so that they grow as little clumps. The onions themselves will be smaller, but your overall harvest might be greater. Not that that’s all we’re aiming for here ;)

  • Share and swap. Join forces with a friend, neighbour or co-worker, and have an onion pact. You could share the contents of a net, or each buy a different variety so that you can have two without doubling up on quantities. You could even arrange it so that you buy the autumn-planting sets, and your friend buys the spring-planting ones. No onion goes unplanted, but the garden isn’t overfull of onions.

  • Sort out your sets. Through away the ones that are soft or going mouldy (there’s always a couple) and grade the rest by size. Plant the largest in the garden. If you can’t bring yourself to throw the runts away, then think creatively. Plant them up in a corner, or a tub, close together. Cram them in, and harvest them as spring onions… in the spring. Get an earlier harvest, from what was essentially a waste product – a real GlutBusters success story!

  • Don’t buy a net. You may be able to find a garden centre, of a market stall, that lets you buy only the onion sets you need. You can pick and choose both variety and quantity, and have the best of both worlds. Ornamental bulbs are sold this way… why not edible ones? You’ll need to plan ahead and know what size space you’ve got, and the spacing you want to plant them at, so you know how many sets you need.

  • Don’t buy sets. Onions can be grown from seed, although you need to be organised a few weeks in advance. Japanese onion seeds are sown in late July and early August; maincrop onion seeds are sown in March and April. Of course, then you have the agonising problem of choosing which of your seedlings to plant out, and which to toss into a salad ;)

  • Buy plants. Garden centres sell a much better range of vegetable plants these days. I checked my local one over the weekend, and they had onion seedlings on sale. You can cut out the seed sowing stage and simply plant the seedlings. Packs tend to be smaller, and it’s may be a more expensive option than simply buying a net of sets. But you can also find online companies that deliver vegetable plants at just the right time for planting – try Organic Plants. I have used them myself, and can vouch for the quality of their plants. Order only what you need, for delivery at planting time.

  • Or pass them on! If you find yourself with too many onion sets, simply find a new home for them. You might make a new gardening friend at work, or find a community garden near you that’s grateful for them. Or there’s always Freecycle, or passing them on via Twitter!

GlutBuster alternatives

Welsh onion flowers
Perennial Welsh onions will keep you in giant ‘chives’ year-round

Of course, part of the GlutBuster ethos is looking for different things to grow, as well as different ways for using conventional plants. If what you want is onion flavour throughout the year, then a planting a diversity of alliums is going to be your best (and most versatile) bet. A healthy clump of chives will give you fresh flavour on the windowsill in the winter months; outside you’ll get a crop in the warmer months. Perennial Welsh onions are like a larger version, giving you giant chives almost year-round, and a harvest of small onion bulbs whenever you feel like dividing the clump. They’re also much-loved by bees, with pretty white pom-pom flowers in early summer.

Leeks are grown from seed, and stand well throughout the winter months. Again, they’re sown in spring, but you should be able to find young plants for sale now. And spring onion seeds can be sown from March right through until Autumn; the ‘winter hardy’ version of White Lisbon can be sown in September and into October, as long as you can give the plants some winter protection (such as a cloche).

GlutBuster buys

Saffon corms
Saffron corms are planted in early autumn

If onions aren’t you’re thing, or you’re happy to leave them in the ‘bulk’ category and continue to let farmers supply yours, then there’s a completely different autumn ‘bulb’ (strictly speaking, they’re corms) you might want to buy now. Saffron is, perhaps, even easier to grow than onions. A perennial, it is the red stigmas of the flower that you harvest, and a few can go a long way to make your meals impressive! If you plant them now, you may even find they flower in their first year. I always order mine from Suttons, and at the moment you can choose whether you want to buy 30, or 60, at £9.99. it sounds like a bit of a no-brainer to me; if you don’t have space for 60 then you can swap the spares (perhaps for some onion sets ;) or share them.

I don’t even have my garden yet, but one of the joys of online shopping is that you can order plants for delivery later in the season. I have splurged on some ‘Ruby Beauty’ raspberry plants from Thompson & Morgan. ‘Ruby Beauty’ is a new dwarf variety of summer fruiting raspberry, with canes reaching no more than a metre high. They don’t need supporting, and will quite happily grow in pots. Their small size makes them easier to net against bird thieves, and their thornless canes will make it much more fun to forage for raspberries in the garden!

(Yep, there’s affiliate links in this section. If you click through and make a purchase, I’ll get a small percentage. it helps me to keep the blog running, and lets me bring you lots of lovely free content like this GlutBusters newsletter. But if you object, then simply avoid clicking those links, and spend your pennies elsewhere.)

GlutBuster star

Nasturtiums brighten up the garden all summer, and they’re tasty too!

Nasturtiums are one of the stars of a GlutBuster’s garden. Easy to grow, with beautiful flowers, they produce edible leaves and flowers all summer long. (They can also be used as a ‘trap crop’ for cabbage white caterpillars!) They’re coming to an end now, and delivering their final gift of the season. Once their large seeds have matured to brown, they can be collected for sowing next year. In the meantime, the unripe green seed pods can be collected and used to make a homegrown version of capers. Pickling a jar or two is a quick and easy job, and won’t take up too much room in the pantry. Sow and So have a recipe.

GlutBuster top tip for September

Remember that, from now on, the day length is decreasing and will rapidly get below the point where it can’t support active growth in most fruits and vegetables. Whatever autumn and winter crops you’re planning, time is of the essence – the earlier you can get them in the ground, the better. Every day you delay makes a difference!

And so it’s over to you, GlutBusters! What are your top tips for September, whether it’s something to do with your summer harvests, something to sow now, or a way to plan ahead for delicious diversity next year? Leave me a comment, or share your thoughts with us on Twitter and in the Facebook group.

Posted in Blog on Sep 1, 2014 ·

Last modified on Sep 27, 2014

Tags: GlutBusters & veg.

Love in a mist

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Nigella damascena

One of my favourite flowers, but one that I have yet to grow, is Nigella damascena, commonly known as “Love-in-a-mist”. It has delicately beautiful flowers, held high on ferny foliage, followed by stately seed heads. I believe it self-seeds quite readily. The picture above shows a predominantly blue mixture, but you can also get a mix called ‘Persian Jewels’ that has a few more colours. I think it would make a nice addition to my Middle Eastern garden. It can be sown outdoors from April to June, and then again in September.

Nigella damascena is generally considered to be an ornamental plant, but according to PFAF, the seed can be used raw or cooked, and is normally used as a condiment with a nutmeg-like flavour. It can also be used to produce an oil.

Fennel Flower

Nigella hispanica

This one is Nigella hispanica, (known, with a certain lack of originality, as Spanish Love-in-a-mist). I found this one growing in the Cook’s Garden at Garden Organic Ryton a few years ago, which would lead you to suspect that it’s edible. And Cherry Gal suggests it can be used as a substitute for black pepper, but I haven’t found any corroborating evidence of that yet. This species isn’t covered by PFAF.

kalonji in the sun

Kalonji, by Karen Christine Hibbard

Nigella sativa is definitely edible, and used widely as a spice. I have yet to see it growing, but am aiming to try it myself. It’s also known as black cumin, kalonji, and (inaccurately) as onion seed. You may have come across it in a naan bread. (There’s another spice known as black cumin, Bunium persicum, which goes to show how confusing common names can be.)

black cumin

Nigella seeds, by seelensturm

PFAF also lists two other Nigella species – N. arvensis and N. orientalis, about which I know nothing. Have you got any Nigella growing in your garden?

Posted in Blog on Aug 30, 2014 ·

Tags: flowers & spices.


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Kitchen garden
The productive, but labour intensive, kitchen garden at Hampton Court Palace

Conventional advice for growing your own fruit and vegetables tends to follow one of two tacks – it either assumes you have acres of dedicated space, and the time to look after a traditional kitchen garden, or that you have no space and are limited to a few pots on the patio or the windowsill. It doesn’t resonate with the modern reality of homes being built with ever-smaller gardens and allotments being grubbed up for ‘development’. It’s not really aimed at the majority – people who have other calls on their time, and for whom a supply of homegrown vegetables is only one of many things they want from their garden.

Our gardens, whatever their size, are the places that we relax and play. We might need a lawn for the dog, or for football games; we may want space for a BBQ and a sun lounger. It’s a place where we can dry the laundry, and an ornamental balm for the soul with its flowers and scents, as well as somewhere to grow things for the kitchen. Houses are getting smaller, too. We don’t all have pantries, or room for an extra freezer – we can’t all deal with a sack of spuds in one go.

A beautiful, but purely ornamental, patio display at Whichford Pottery

My vision for my new garden is of a beautiful and productive multipurpose space. A place to potter and relax, to entertain and to experiment. Somewhere where I can pop outside every day and find something tempting to nibble on, perhaps even to take back into the kitchen, without being overwhelmed with produce our small household can’t finish. We won’t have acres of storage space, and we don’t eat our way through mountains of jam or chutney – I’d rather eat seasonally than try to be self-sufficient. Whilst I’m happy to share with friends and colleagues, I don’t want them hiding from me and my marrows! I can’t grow everything we need, but we have farms and commercial growers who have the space (and manpower) to provide the bulk.

I will be aiming not for feast and famine, or even for glorious gluts, but for diversity and interest. Growing different things, or growing and using familiar things in different ways. A garden that is a delight to every sense, a haven for us and for wildlife and somewhere I love to spend my time. I don’t want to measure my success by weight or volume; my definition of ‘yield’ is less tangible, and more fulfilling.

Earlier this year I wrote an article for the Guardian about some of the ways in which it’s possible to garden for continuous supplies of tasty treats. Continuing on from that, I am aiming to publish a special post on the first of every month, with timely advice for things to do in the garden. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who garden this way (or would like to), and I’d love for this to be a community effort, where you can share your hints and tips and favourite plants with me whilst I’m sharing mine with you.

Come on in and join the GlutBusters!

Posted in Blog on Aug 29, 2014 ·

Tag: planning

Write Club 2014

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Word Cloud

September is fast approaching, and whilst I haven’t got a date for moving yet, there are big changes on the horizon. I’m getting a new home, and a garden, and the website is getting a revamp – more on that later, but I’m hoping that will be in October. The new design is clean, clear and very modern, and works very well on mobile devices. It will also be a lot simpler to navigate, for me as well as for you!

Whilst I’m otherwise engaged working my way through that lot, I thought we could re-run a successful event from 2011: Write Club. Write Club is my guest posting competition, and for the month of September I am opening up the blog to guest posters – anyone who feels they can write a post on a relevant topic is welcome to enter. (I am not going to edit your posts (which wouldn’t be fair), so I suggest you get your spelling and grammar in order before you send them :)

There are five rules:

  1. Blog posts have to be 1000 words or less. They can include photos if you own the rights to them and send them in a suitable format.

  2. Your topic has to be within the gardening/ environment/ sustainable living genre, but feel free to write about things I don’t normally cover, because that’s part of the point.

  3. Do not be rude. No swearing, no libel, no inflammatory comments. This is a friendly place, don’t upset people. It will be me that has to deal with the fallout.

  4. Carrying on from 3), I reserve the right to refuse to publish your submission. Hopefully if that happens we can work on an acceptable version together, but at the end of the day if we can’t then you don’t get to play.

  5. If you’re submitting a guest post to this blog then it has to be your own work, and it can’t have been featured anywhere else online before (Google frowns on duplicate content). DO NOT COPY other people’s work; I will be checking for plagiarism and pre-existing work before I accept your entry.

Write Club is as much about blog readers as guest posters, and it’s the public that will pick the winner! I will determine the most popular post, based on the number of comments, Facebook Likes, Tweets, and Google+ mentions it receives (based on the information displayed on the social media counters on each post).

The prize for the most popular post will be a £20 gift voucher for the gardening company of your choice (or the equivalent in your currency if you live outside the UK).

Every reader who leaves a comment on one of the guest posts during September will be entered into a draw to win a copy of Jade Pearls and Alien Eyeballs. One comment per guest post per person will count as an entry into the draw.

As the voting system relies entirely on social media you can promote your own pieces to your heart’s content – which does leave the competition open to a bit of abuse, but I reserve the right to disqualify entries that resort to unfair tactics like tweet robots. Fortunately you can’t vote down other entries – a negative comment will count towards the final total in just the same way as a positive comment.

Whether you submit your piece at the beginning of September or towards the end is up to you – you may feel there’s an advantage in it being online longer, or that a sprint finish would suit you better. Your choice – I will be posting each entry in the order they are received, one a day unless I am absolutely inundated!

To enter: Email entries to with the subject line “Write Club”. Submission of an entry does not guarantee publication on the blog. If you have any questions then ASK! You may find it helpful to read the entries from 2011, and/or the writing prompts I suggested back then.

Happy writing!

Posted in Blog on Aug 28, 2014 ·

Last modified on Sep 29, 2014

Tag: competitions

An edible archway

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Edible archway

An archway into a pergola at the Cotswold Wildlife Park

Ryan and I went to the Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens last weekend, which is a nice day out if you’re in the area. (If you book online you save a little bit of money, and some time at the ticket kiosk – tickets are valid for one month from purchase.)

The animals are great; there’s always a crowd around the meerkat enclosures, and there’s plenty of cute things on show. There was a man doing a falconry display as well, but since his falcon had basically flown off and was showing no sign of coming back, it was more like a man swinging a piece of dead meat on a string with a running commentary ;)

The planting is always interesting as well. My favourite part on this occasion was in the walled garden. A large pergola has been planted up with climbing edibles. At first it simply looked like a grape vine (there are several around the walled garden), which was fruiting merriily. But on closer inspection I found…

Hanging kiwi

Kiwis hanging from the pergola

…at least one very happy kiwi plant, fruiting away merrily in the shade under the pergola. And it got even more exciting, as there was something else climbing up the poles….

Bottle gourd flower

A bottle gourd flower

They had several bottle gourds (Lagenaria siceraria), which were flowering and fruiting on the sunnier edges of the pergola. The flowers are quite distinctive, as are the immature fruits:

Baby bottlegourd

Baby bottle gourd fruit

It was a lovely feature, I could have spent hours there! Whilst I might not have room for an extensive pergola in my new Middle Easten garden, I do have my arbor, so I can recreate the scene on a smaller scale. Vines, fruit and climbing squashes will fit in with the theme perfectly :)

Posted in Blog on Aug 24, 2014 ·

Tags: gardens & fruit.

Independent nurseries

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Victoriana Nursery Gardens, in Kent

I ordered some plants yesterday, from Thompson & Morgan. I’d seen their new ‘patio’ raspberry, ‘Ruby Beauty’, and took advantage of their Bank Holiday free P&P offer. It was ideal for me because I fancied buying some plants, but since I don’t currently have a garden I am struggling to keep plants alive. My new raspberries should arrive after we’ve moved in to the new house, and give me something to play with. They will be the first of many new plants to take up residence with me.

A passing comment suggested that I really need to find a local, independent source for my plants. That wouldn’t have fit the bill yesterday, for the reasons outlined above. I buy my plants, seeds and gardening sundries from a variety of sources. I’m quite familiar with Oxfordshire’s garden centres; I have a long list of online suppliers I use and trust, including large companies and smaller, independent ones such as Victoriana Nursery Gardens and Real Seeds.

There are a number of reasons why independent, local nurseries don’t feature very highly on the list:

  • How do you find them? Googling for nurseries brings up places to leave your babies, and it’s not the easiest thing in the world to get only plant nurseries in your search. Not all of them will have a web presence, or pay for an advert in the Yellow Pages. Unless you drive past them, or are recommended by a friend, some of them are all but invisible. The RHS used to have a Nursery Finder, now you’re stuck with using the Plant Finder – which involves searching for a plant, not a nurseries.

  • Small concerns may have opening hours that are incompatible with my work schedule.

  • Oxfordshire is a big county, and many nurseries are some considerable distance away. A visit means a special trip.

  • They don’t sell what I want to buy. It’s easy enough to find common bedding plants, or perennials, anything ornamental. But edible plants? Not so much, particularly the unusual ones.

  • Standards are variable, for both the plants and the customer service. I have been to local nurseries that were depressing and unkempt. I made a special trip to one on the other side of the county, after an email exchange confirmed they had a plant I wanted to buy. When I arrived I was told they couldn’t find it, and that I should have called ahead….

So whilst, in an ideal world, we would “shop local” for our seeds and plants as much as anything else, it’s not always the easiest thing to do. What are your experiences? Do you have a spectacular local nursery you’d like to share? Where do you find your plants? Leave me a comment!

Posted in Blog on Aug 23, 2014 ·

Last modified on Sep 23, 2014

Tag: general

A Middle Eastern garden

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Kitab al Felaba

Al-Andalus display at the Eden Project, 2010

I was talking recently about having Palestinian plants in my new garden (and there’s still no news on when we will be moving in!), and yesterday morning it occurred to me that it might be nice to go a lot further than that, and design a garden with Middle Eastern influences.

The main part of the garden is almost square, with fences on two sides and a wall on the third, so it could pass as a courtyard garden. I’m thinking tiles and mosaics, mirrors and wrought iron, copper and lamps, cushions and throws, dusky pinks and deep blues, dark wood, lots of white and stars. A water feature of some kind.

In terms of the planting, it seems there isn’t that much that wouldn’t be at home in a Mediterranean/ Middle Eastern inspired garden. A lot of the plants with which we are familiar came to us via that route. There will be lots of herbs, of course, including mint, coriander and parsley, lemon verbena, oregano and thyme, sage, rosemary and saffron.

Fruits could include grape vines and figs, peaches and apricots, pomegranates and citrus. The lemon tree I grew from seed will finally feel at home! At least in the summer, it will have to come inside in the winter…. The garden is probably too small to include a walnut, but an almond might be manageable. I have at least one olive that will fit in nicely.

Flowers wouldn’t be missing, with the scents of honeysuckle and jasmine filling the air. Calendula would fit in with the colour scheme, and there would have to be roses – preferably at least one Damascus rose.

Moroccan garden

Moroccan Garden, by Pieter De Decker

Lots of leafy green vegetables (spinach, chard and leaf beet, mallow, purslane and rocket), plus asparagus. Garlic and onions, pale courgettes and other squashes, peppers and okra, carrots and cucumbers.

It’s an idea still in its infancy, and a proper design will have to wait until we’ve moved in and I can measure up. But it has promise… Eastern promise ;)

Have you got any Middle Eastern features in your garden? Or have you been to see a garden that might inspire me? What would you add to your garden, if you wanted to enjoy your own Arabian nights?

Posted in Blog on Aug 22, 2014 ·

Tag: gardens

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