Holding on to the holiday feeling

It doesn’t matter how long to escape your everyday for, it seems just a matter of hours back and you will soon find yourself feeling as if you’ve never been away. I often wonder how long its possible to retain the holiday feeling. Not just the tanned glow, but both its physical and emotional manifestations in ones mood and outlook.

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Skin is soft and buttery, hair blonder, smoother from kinder water and fresh air. I have to confess to avoiding that first post holiday shower -fearing not just the tan washing away – turns out is just the sandy coloured dust making you glow – but the feeling wasjhing away too. Anything to hold on to that holiday buzz. Not checking work email, just sliding along with sand in between your toes, thinking about a glass of wine at sundown rather than how long the pile of washing will take to sort, hoping the garden has survived a drought spell and wondering what is left in the fridge. Life is fast, it rushes by and sometimes a holiday is exactly we need to remind ourselves what matters.

I do think its something we can all benefit from;  slowing down, taking stock, living in the moment, looking outside ourselves away from screens and cities.  I’m making a promise to myself – the sand has washed away and the freckles fading – I might be standing on a packed commuter train in golden Autumn sunshine but in my heart and mind I’m standing in the sand looking out to the Aegean sea.

 

If anyone knows another secret to keeping the holiday going do let me know, it will certainly help get through the winter months ahead!

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Back to the front garden

Front gardens are undoubtedly a collective eyesore on many streets in London. They are have been downgraded to become unloved and functional places people park a car, store bikes and utilise precious (expensive) space for the much-needed multiplicity of recycling containers. That’s why it’s such a sad state this so-called ‘nation of gardeners’ have let their front gardens get into. Nearly  1 in 4 gardens are paved over to have more utilitarian uses. I understand this completely given high population density spaces we find ourselves in. All space is at a premium. However there are ways of having parking and plants – horticulture that brings us not just an aesthetic cheer, but also supports wildlife and pollinating species. That’s why the RHS Greening Grey Britain campaign really gets to the heart of the problem and gives inspiration to help us all green up our streets. 

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My own front garden was no exception – when we moved in it was an unloved 3 x 2 meter plot of ripped plastic lining and old stones, weeds and paving slabs.  2 years later, the house redecorated and back garden restored, but the front garden had only been stripped back as far as removing the stones to a bare patch of earth – albeit with its own permanent population of dandelions. Hardly the nature reserve we wanted!

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But with a bit of planning and graft we’ve transformed the space – all for less than £400 on materials and plants.  We started with a few basic ‘back of a fag-packet’ plans and wish lists for the look and plant types – the challenge will always be the outlook as its north east facing – gets 3+ hours of early morning sun from May onwards but will be in total shade in the winter months. Finally deciding on one large planted section, and pots that can change with seasonal interest.

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The main investments were the weed lining, shingle and path edging – as well as hardy plants such as an acer palmatum, cotoneaster ‘Coral Beauty’, as well as a  couple of low growing evergreens and a sambucus nigra. All of these will be maintained and kept neat (hopefully). I’ve planted in cosmos and red new guinea impatiens for colour. By a stroke of bad luck (or labelling mishap) the red cosmos all turned out to be deep pink – so we have a kind of brave colour scheme in the front – but hey it’s bright and bold, without any concrete grey in sight!

The pots were all painted blue with spray paint for that overall Grecian appeal. I also arranged a hanging basket with bright blue and purple lobelia, intermingled with highly scented petunias. There are three terracotta wall pots with a mix of the impatiens, lobelia and orange trailing begonias too.

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Now in early August it is really coming into its own and filling out the space with flowers attracting playful bees and butterflies.

The perfect thing has been that the front seems to have escaped the overwhelming invasion of slugs and snails currently wreaking havoc across the veg beds out back. But with time I’m sure they’ll discover it soon. It really has made a positive impact on how we see the house, as well as providing a little cheer for the street. I met at least three neighbours on the weekend we planted it – faces I’d seen but never spoken to in the years we’ve lived here. It’s true – plant something colourful and it’s not just for your benefit, the world wants to say hello and enjoy it too.

If you ever needed an excuse to get outside and bring some cheer to your street, join in, read this for inspiration and get Greening Grey Britain! 

Garden attention = blog neglect

It’s June and look where we are, just about that time us gardeners get ready to sit back and enjoy the fruits of our labour. The flower shows are in full swing, inspired green-fingered folk up and down the country are watching their gardens fill with colour, fragrance and produce as the summer temperatures rise.

Well, dear readers, I’ve been giving my garden so much attention that something had to give and sadly, it was the blog. But I’m glad so much energy and attention has gone into growing – we’ve managed to transform the front space, but it hasn’t been an easy ride. The slugs and snails have been particularly invasive this year – chomping their way through whole petunias, sunflowers, courgettes, dahlias, nothing has been too much trouble for the hungry little fellas! But we do have a new raised bed.

This is netted, as well as housing the cucumber, it is has swiss chard, butterhead lettuce, Greek radish and spinach leaves. I picked out a cheeky snail that had eaten its way through the net…

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The tomatoes, aubergine and sole surviving courgette are out in a mixture of patio tubs and growbags. I’m experimenting with quite a few varieties to see which thrive and fruit best.

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The broadbeans have, like last year, been infested with aphids. This has attracted ants. So yesterday I soap sprayed them and then nature was on my side, as the torrential rain helped to reduce numbers. I’ll keep monitoring them. But many of the bean pods look ready to pick this week.

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In other good news – the radishes are being picked as we need them and the flowers are really starting to come into their own. With the humid and high temperatures, everything seems to had a good growth spurt. Still no blooms on the sweatpeas yet but they continue to climb upwards.

I have a parental pride in the ‘foxy mixed’ foxgloves I grew from seed – it is a long process, starting them late last summer to overwinter. But they have been a true highlight since late May. Their towering tall pink spikes attracting pollinators to the garden from far and wide.

Summer is here – there is always more work to be done. But when the real working day is over, I get to retreat here and start work in the Greek Garden.

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Patmos in Bloom

It’s been a magical week in Patmos. We’ve experienced the warmest hospitality, discovered Easter traditions, walked for miles surrounded by wild lavender on the trails.

I even managed to visit a garden centre in Kambos. Everywhere we looked were beautiful gardens, full of lillies, petunias, beaurganvilla and hippeastratum in blooms. I bought some aubergine seeds from a lovely English lady who married a local and now runs a florist and plant shop in Skala. It’s an island full of garden plots and vegetable growers. I’ll be back Patmos.

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A time for patience

The week is flying by and what this means for the seedlings is that a whole load of jostling for space and attention is happening in the ‘germination station’ – aka the kitchen windowsill. The complementary concepts of planning and patience have definitely been at the forefront of my mind in the past week. We seem to have found it so commonplace to have a daily obsession with time – ‘too busy’ ‘no time for myself’ and it most often manifests in negative feelings towards time. The garden is a place with an acute sense of time but not a place to rush or be consumed with timekeeping. I am learning to have patience and wait for these rewards as I wait for the seedlings to show.

There has been big progress with the Witkiem Broad beans which got so tall with 5 weeks I had no choice but to get them planted out on the veggie patch – this was early but I am hoping i have good luck and they are hardy enough to settle. I gave the patch a good digging over first, sprinkled with blood, fish and bone powder and covered in bin bags to help the soil warm up a week before. I’ve staked all 8 plants and positioned them to maximise the sun.

Slugs are a major worry – they seem to have even managed to get into the two mini-plastic green houses I have outside. The past weekend I built the second one – and meticulously wrapping copper tape round the outside!

On the flowers front, the sweet peas had been one of the reasons I needed the second plastic greenhouse as I have got the sweet peas taking over one -getting leggier every week so I’ve ruthlessly pinched them out in the hope this will stunt their growth but encourage bushier sideshoots. I am making steady progress with Sweet Williams and Aster which are out in the ‘greenhouse – although again slugs have been snacking on leaves…

Last year I stuck to some quickly gratifying seeds, like cosmos, marigold and nasturtium. It’s more than likely I will grow these again as they are great gap fillers, but I wanted to set a challenge to grow some longer lasting perennials and a wider variety of annuals,  I have found that even some annuals can be much slower to germinate; Ageratum, Heliotrope and Verbena Bonariensis are painfully slow…4 weeks and barely two or three seedlings in each tray. The temperature fluctuations are probably not helping in the kitchen, cold overnight and on the rarity of a sunny day they will be getting very warm. But I’m determined to not give up…

I have also been germinating a few more unusual seeds from the RHS collection; geranium pratense (meadow cranesbill) which I hope will be a good shade loving plant for the front garden challenge (more on this soon!) . I have put a pot with Armeria Maritima (thrift) seeds into the central heating boiler cupboard in the vain hope that dark, warm conditions will set that off. I have two types of agastache; rugosa (korean mint) and mexicana which can take up to 30 days to germinate. But that might be easy compared with the cold stratification I am attempting with a couple of varieties; so for those not in the horticultural know, like me a week ago! cold stratification is basically faking winter to get the seeds back into life, ideally achieved by letting the seeds hang out in moist compost in a cold fridge! Clearly labelled and in protective tupperware was definitely the order – so the Camassia leichtlinii (californian white quamash) has been spending a week sidling up to the yogurts and cheese before it awakens to Spring or when i take it out and see what happens in a warm sunny propagator. Also in the fridge stratification station is Lavender seeds who might need up to 4 weeks and Chiastophyllum oppositifolium (lamb’s tail) after a 2 week chill out. I am finding this rather exciting as it the first time i have ever tried anything so ‘scientific’ so it’s feeling like a big deal for me! Berkheya purpurea takes 90 days to germinate….as does Aquilegia. They are perennials so i guess that’s why you have to play the waiting game

In terms of the veggie seeds – I am patiently watching the Aubergine seeds and willing them into life! The same goes for the chilli pepper seeds we salvaged from last years crops. One of which is from a Romanian pepper…exciting to see if this harvesting method gives us rewards. This waiting game is making me feel quite stubborn and testing my patience to get these to be a success from seeds rather than buying plug plants. Yes, the tomatoes have germinated efficiently -there is method to setting them off this early as I want to take some Tigerella, Red Pear, Roma and Cherry Tomato seedling plants to my Dad at Easter. Just to start off the inagral North versus South climate challenge. I’m feeling confident that what I lack in experience over his years of tomato growing, the sunny SE Kent weather will make up for!

As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said ‘Time is a game played beautifully by children’. This gardener is happy to play a waiting game and time is on my side.