I would describe myself as a fair weather gardener, I am not an expert, I have no interest in ‘twee’ gardens but much prefer the English Cottage Garden style. Perhaps it’s thanks to my late mum, who had incredibly green fingers and which I did not inherit. Things die on me, they struggle to survive whereas my mum could randomly stick something into the ground and it grew. She had a lovely honeysuckle hedge thanks to a cutting she nipped off on a country walk. No botanical conservatory was safe from the ‘big handbag’. She could dig things up, throw them in a corner and they carried on growing. She didn’t buy a lot for the garden, fertilisers were never used but probably thanks to the dog, there would have been plenty of nitrogen around!
In spite of my lack of green fingers, I have always been interested in gardening, I was given my own patch as a wee girl although mum did not appreciate the hairy caterpillars and worms I took into the house to show her. So my interest in gardening remained and eventually aided and abetted by my daughter, we started growing some interesting plants and herbs – a lot of herbs. Our garden was very long and narrow-ish so when I left that house to move into a flat I ended up with a tiny postage stamp size garden complete with an old garage.
The garage served for over 10 years for storage and as a ‘workshop’, the idea of it being a workshop is a bit of tongue-in-cheek description. It had a workbench with a vice and I had an ample supply of tools which I inherited from my late engineering father. Added to that the odd power tool I felt I needed to make short shrift of the most mundane chores. The garage also showed the width of the garden, a couple of feet had been borrowed from the neighbour’s garden to allow me access to mine.
I wanted a greenhouse so got the biggest I could fit into the space available but what I lost in width and length, I made up with height, I need a step stool to reach the apex.
I acquired staging and added to that metal shelving unit which I bought at a sale with the intention of going into the conservatory of a house I nearly bought, the nearly is the reason it’s now been put to good use in the greenhouse.
We, at one time, had a rabbit and guinea pig in a rather salubrious two-storey hutch but unfortunately the rabbit was taken ill and we were concerned about him being too cold. Normally the guinea pig would snuggle up to the rabbit thus keeping each other warm but with the rabbit being poorly and losing some weight, it was decided to get him an electric blanket. Pet electric blankets are a similar idea as for that of humans but they are not fluffy, they have wires sandwiched between heavy clear plastic and not quite a metre square. Sadly and not unexpected, the rabbit died, the winter was coming in and we couldn’t leave the guinea pig alone and cold, in a hutch so he was brought in to an indoor cage and never much liked getting put back out to exercise in the hutch run. The electric blanket was not disposed of, it became a very excellent heated mat for the greenhouse, and the guinea pig lived out his life in comfort, indoors.
Originally I was happy just buying tomato plants and growing them on. I never liked growbags but a gardening friend bought them to fill the tomato pots with so that was a good idea, easy to handle and I could get 3-4 pots of compost out of a growbag depending on which one I bought. I then learned that polystyrene made excellent drainage material rather than the broken crocks. Then I got more adventurous, I decided to collect my own tomato seed, which I am delighted to say was a huge success and the following year I had, it would seem, 100% germination. So besides growing from my own home harvested seeds I bought other varieties to try out and those I liked I kept the seeds. The big problem came when I put the seeds in little envelopes and marked them ‘tomato seeds’, so it is always a surprise when the tomatoes ripened for me to find out what kind they are. This year I will try very hard to get organised and keep a proper record of them.
Potatoes were grown in bags but other than that I didn’t feel very adventurous with growing produce, although I did try strawberries in hanging baskets, onions in the wheelbarrow etc. and it might have worked better had I remembered to water them all. The garden kept changing as the shrubs got too big they had to be removed and replaced. I had a side door to the garage and that’s where my rustic arch went, it had been a gift from my daughter and where I go, it goes. So it did look quite nice at the garage with a pink climbing rose at it.
It was all change again in 2015 when my garage was slowing sinking to the point it was difficult to open doors and so the decision was taken to remove it and get a shed. It took a long time to decide what to do, but after looking for ways of dismantling it, repairing it and reassembling it, finally deciding, it had to go. Once removed we discovered the whole lot of the sleepers it rested on were well and truly rotted and just disintegrated when touched. After rescuing about 30 frogs, a new base was laid for a new shed. So of course there is the problem of re-homing the contents of the garage
Developing the garden
I decided to lift the limestone chips, which had turned a yucky shade of grey with a copious amount of green algae. The landscape fabric had been down for at least 10 years and weeds had started to make a mockery of it. I thought I would try to wash the stones but even putting a jet spray on them, did nothing to enhance their original white. I don’t like wasting anything so bagged up as much as I could and bought some small slabs and using the stones to level or fill in the gaps, and the more I liked it, the more slabs I added. However if I put pots onto the white slabs they were bound to discolour so I do need to work on how best to raise the pots up.
Another step in my gardening adventure was to join a vegetable club, specifically for urban, balcony and container gardening. It has not only opened my eyes and mind to what to plant, it has opened the world as well because many of the members come from different parts of the world so there is a myriad of ideas for not only how and what to grow but space saving ideas you would never dream of. So from simple produce like potatoes and kale, I’ve moved on to growing Aztec and Mexican plants, I’m also learning that more of the plants can be used such as beetroot, the leaves I discard can be eaten raw in salads or cooked. When I think of the amount of wasted produce, those simple plants, well used are healthier and cheaper.
I was so disgusted at the supermarket fruit and vegetables, the scandalous waste with producers having to provide perfect size, colour fruit and vegetables and the absolute disgrace of refusing produce even from third world counties because beans were too bent etc. and they have the audacity to advertise ‘Fair Trade’. It’s not fair trade at all, the farmers grow the produce, and it’s usually foods not included in their own diets so they can’t use them when the supermarkets turn them down. Then of course when produce comes from some other countries, speed of delivery is essential but they can make the produce last longer by giving it blast of radiation to kill the bacteria which starts the ageing and decaying process, all because supermarket have to please customers who want perfection (according to the supermarkets). I try to buy organic food and not to buy irradiated fruit and vegetables now.
That is how I reached the point I am at now, supporting organic, recycling, upcycling, sharing, community gardens, allotments, land share and if possible animal husbandry although I haven’t got that far – yet!
I don’t want that kind of poison in my food nor do I want to buy produce from a supermarket which treats their suppliers diabolically. They want the produce at rock bottom prices to increase the wallets of the shareholders and the CEOs. With all that in mind, I am now wishing I had a bigger garden. I sow seeds for plants I want and if I have excess, I offer them to anyone who wants them free of charge. A local girl has gone further and put a share shelf outside her door, where we can donate and/or pick up, plants/seeds/produce for free. It’s got to be better than throwing it all in bins.
Why ‘themagnoliatree’ for a title for a blog you may ask. I planted a Deutzia shrub, a Magnolia Tree and a climbing rose, amongst a variety of plants which appreciate shade and like to spread themselves out a bit. For years the Magnolia tree did nothing, I knew it was still alive but the Deutzia was absolutely a show stopper in the spring when the sweetly perfumed flowers were in bloom. It had grown too big and only when it was cut down, did the Magnolia start to grow. It grew quite fast but it was against the old garage. The new shed was higher than the garage roof and the branches of the Magnolia had to be trimmed back, plus a branch had got broken in the process. It didn’t give up, it flowered again this year, albeit a few branches short…and that’s just it, it didn’t give up even when the odds were against it.
Why not visit my other blog Grannysattic