Thursday, 30 January 2014

Ideas anyone? - follow up

Thank you for all your comments yesterday, it seems there is a great choice for using the windowboxes for veg. I can't quite work out why I didn't think of using them at any other point during the last 2 years. Out of sight, out of mind I suppose. I am going to compile all the possibilities and suggestions into a list and then decide which to do. There were some great ideas.

Whilst thinking about it I was remembering my first attempt at gardening when I lived in London. I had no outside space so had to utilise anything I could. hence buying the windowboxes.

I found these photos of what I did with them that year.

So they have been used as a herb garden before.
Dwarf peas, I don't think I got many.
Strawberries and marigolds.
More strawberries and cut and come again leaves.
And under all of that, my tomatoes and courgette (hence the marigolds)

I can quite see why I was so delighted with the results of my first ever attempts at gardening. I actually don't think I have had a crop of tomatoes as good as I had that year, ever again.

The following year I ditched the veg because a) I was beginning to get the flower bug but b) because I was trying to sell the flat and thought flowers would help. So went bedding plant crazy.

So back to the veg again now I think.

It was nice to go back and see where my love of gardening first started

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Ideas anyone?

I have been thinking about the veg patch (something I find that happens increasingly during winter, as a substitute for cold grey days). I suddenly remembered that I have four empty window box containers sitting in my greenhouse from my London days when all I had was window boxes, they've never been used since I was in my cottage because they aren't really suitable for use as a window box where I am now.
I just remembered about them anyway and decided that one of them (maybe two) would be a perfect container for growing a row of lettuce, save space in my raised bed.
So what about the other two? Anyone have any suggestions as to what veg would grow well in a window box, obviously nothing that requires massive deep roots Maybe some peas (I have a suitable trellis). I don't know, I am throwing ideas around at the moment so all suggestions are considered. Has anyone any experience growing successful veg in a windowbox??

Friday, 24 January 2014

A little touch of Winter joy.

It is cold and grey (every day is grey) here again and I have no desire to go outside at all.
So it is lucky that today is a short 'indoors' post.
It's the first time I have forced hyacinths and I am delighted with the results. I bought four lots of three last September, planted them up as instructed and put them in a cupboard in the garage and forgot about them. A couple of weeks ago they were all ready in different ways to come out so they came into a cool room on the windowsill. One shot forward, another was slow and steady and the remaining two are slow coaches that will get there in the end.

This delightful pink is filling the room with it's heavenly sent (although my mother has warned me that this smell will turn to cat pee eventually). A small glass bowl that I did a mercury glass spray paint experiment on last October just happens to fit the pot perfectly which is lucky.

These are the remaining ones. It looks, to my untrained eye, that they are all going to be ready at different times, which is a lucky coincidence as this might give me a continuous supply for a while. One is white, one is the deep purply blue and the other light blue.


Monday, 20 January 2014

A video

What a positive response I got for yesterday's post!

I got fancy messing around with a video/slideshow with soundtrack yesterday - something new to me. It was good fun to do and interesting to watch I think (I hope you find it so too) I know a lot of the photos are those I have shown before but it is the order which makes them interesting.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Frugal Living UK becomes The Singing Gardener.

Hold on, what's going on here then?

OK so I got bored and feel it's time for a change.
It feels pretty major (unreasonably so) to change the name of a blog and I have thought about it since new year and worried people wouldn't like it or no-one would realise it was the same blog etc etc. And then I just realised it didn't really matter, it is my blog after all and I had got a bit stale towards the end of last year. When I started blogging I had no idea what it would be like and certainly never thought I would end up with 353 followers and so just came up with any old title, now it feels right for a new one. Everything else in my life is changing at the moment so I might as well go for it. And you know what? If I find I don't like it then I will just change it again!

So here we are, I am, after all, A Singing Gardener in my heart and the title appealed.

The content is still the same although that has changed somewhat over the last 2 years too, everything evolves after all.

I hope you all like it and I hope you all carry on reading.

Dan X

Friday, 17 January 2014

I've always been a little afraid of dahlias.

The whole lifting and drying thing seemed fraught with danger of loss. I can't even remember what colour tulips I have planted most of the time, let alone where dahlia tubers might have got to.
My other problem has always been when the combination of big, blousy and dare I say it, yes I do, vulgar dahlia flowers are all together in a messy drift. I find it too much. no I hate it.
So when my mother gave me a pretty pink and delicate pom pom dahlia in a pot last summer my heart sort of sank as I thought it would end up dead in a few months.

So it was with surprise that I really started to love this little plant, it has a delicate colour and the small blooms were just perfect. It was even more of a surprise when I found how very very easy lifting the tubers and drying them can be.
So recently, while browsing through the Sarah Raven seed catalogue I was rather captivated by the dahlia section. Rather pretty combinations.

Maybe it is those gardeners that like to specialise in just one species that has turned me from dahlias, too much of a good thing can become massively overdone for me and I find it a little bit like the woman that has 30 cats (apologies to all those readers with 30 cats :-)). What seems to make any flower look good is the combination with other species that compliment it's form or colour and with that in mind I have been wondering for the first time if I should maybe try again with this flower that I have avoided.


Monday, 13 January 2014

Inspiration for the week

After a week of talking about winter, delphiniums are today's inspiration.

Is it any wonder?

I have not had huge amounts of luck with delphiniums yet.

I planted some last year and as they come up the following season I am hoping for a display this year, if not quite as wonderful as this one then at least half decent. Last year I had a few from the year before but they were a bit ragged and soon fell over. I planted them a bit too near the sweet peas and these were a little attention seeking and got their tendrils onto the delphiniums and pulled them to the ground. Won't make that mistake again.

The wonderful blues and purples here is something everyone must want to experience in their garden, surely?

My own great British garden revival would be Delphiniums.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Finding the Colour

After my last post, bemoaning the garden in winter I thought that I would try and, well if not celebrate it, then at least look for the good stuff. Okay, so as I stood there wondering what to photograph there wasn't very much to show, but there was a bit of 'promise' here and there.

When the two small conifers I had in the front door pots finally succumbed and died I decided to do some winter pots. The holly in the left pot is female and the one in the right is male, so at least the female will always have red berries. If they ever get too big (or me too bored) I will replant them in the garden itself in the future. Lower down in the pot are a selection of pink tulips for Spring and something else (and although I wrack my brains, I can't for the life of me remember the other bulbs I put in, but I know it was something.)

On the left here is a camellia that my father gave me for Christmas, it is called a Preston Rose which seemed quite apt (as Preston is near here). A gorgeous deep pinky purple flower and there are loads of buds on it. On the right is my rhododendron - very small still, but gave me quite a good pink display last year. Rhododendrons aren't everyones favourite, but since I was a small boy and happened on an enormous bank of them in bloom I have never forgotten how captivated I was, so I had to have one, even if it is a small dwarf one.

These snowdrops don't look much right now, but they will do soon, always a pleasure to see them arrive.

Now these really don't look like anything much, but they will, oh yes, they will. The pots on the left all are packed full of cream tulips and are going to look wonderful en masse like that. The strange looking thing on the right is my tin bath, also packed full of tulips (pink? red? no idea, can't remember. It is like I forget immediately once I put them in, but will be a lovely lovely surprise when the time comes). I added some mulch and wrapped fleece around it because the tulips were already poking their heads through and we are still likely to get some bad frost/snow/end of the World weather yet so I was a bit concerned by their exuberance.

So nice things do exist out there, we just have to find it and celebrate it.

Monday, 6 January 2014

The Winter Gardens.

No, not Blackpool Winter Gardens, that's something completely different.
Whenever you see a section on gardens in winter in a book or a magazine the garden usually looks pretty stunning. So why is it that my own winter garden is a mixture of mud and gloom? If I go anywhere in my garden at the moment it is accompanied by the squelch squelch squelch sound of my mud encrusted wellies churning up my poor Winter strained lawn. Beds look forlorn and sad. When the snow comes it hides the bleakness and transforms it into something totally different of course, a Winter wonderland that never ceases to appeal to me (until I find I can't get my car out and it turns to slush of course, then the squelch will be accompanied by cursing). Perhaps it is never possible to have a garden that looks stunning in both Winter and Summer.
But there are good things to look out for. Already my snowdrops are poking their eager heads through the soil and one of my rambling roses seems to never lose its leaves. Maybe I will put in some hellebores to help next year, just maybe.
Most jobs in the garden at this time of year seem rather joyless too, digging, clearing away old crops and plants, in my case, picking cat poo out of borders, oh the joy. But then there is the excitement of browsing 2014 catalogues, picking seeds, planning where they will go, all done from the comfort of a warm sofa.
We look at the bare bones of a garden, Winter is the only time we can really see it. It is a time to take stock of the years successes (sweet peas, iris, shasta daisies) and faliures (tomatoes - in fact all veg let's blame the weather, delphiniums, lobelia, let's blame some terrible John Innes) and to plan how to rectify errors next time.
By January I am already looking forward to the promise of Spring but I would love to find a way to actually enjoy my Winter garden. The grass sure doesn't help but as my amount of grass gets smaller and smaller each year (as my borders get bigger and bigger) it won't always be such an eyesore. What I would really like, of course, is a man to come and lay paths for me, I have often thought of doing this myself and if my garden was a beautifully flat space I might attempt it, but I have an undulating, uneven garden, not conducive to easy path laying, not that I am complaining because the different levels are actually one of the things I do like about my garden. Makes it interesting.
So it seems that I need to just get some perennials that make for good Winter interest in.

So with all that in mind I leave you with a poem just to bring a bit of culture to this blog for once :-)

The Garden in Winter

By Lucy Maud Montgomery
Frosty-white and cold it lies 

Underneath the fretful skies; 
Snowflakes flutter where the red 
Banners of the poppies spread, 
And the drifts are wide and deep 
Where the lilies fell asleep. 

But the sunsets o'er it throw 
Flame-like splendor, lucent glow, 
And the moonshine makes it gleam 
Like a wonderland of dream, 
And the sharp winds all the day 
Pipe and whistle shrilly gay. 

Safe beneath the snowdrifts lie 
Rainbow buds of by-and-by; 
In the long, sweet days of spring 
Music of bluebells shall ring, 
And its faintly golden cup 
Many a primrose will hold up. 

Though the winds are keen and chill 
Roses' hearts are beating still, 
And the garden tranquilly 
Dreams of happy hours to be­
In the summer days of blue 
All its dreamings will come true. 

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Lions Beware.

I was determined to get into the garden today, always planned to come rain or shine. Well it was rain, surprise, surprise but I made the job more appealing by taking out with me some essentials, in the way of

 a flask full of hot chocolate (laced with Bailey's Irish Cream - oh yeah, now we're talking!) Just what you need on a cold, wet, wintry, dull, dismal, dank, dire day.

First job was dealing with the lion sized kitty litter tray that is my vegetable raised bed. I cleared this out of all it's remnants last week and ever since then it is like a massive beacon going off to all the cats in the area - 'woohoo, someone has opened a massive cat toilet for us!'

Yes I'm talking about the likes of you!!:

Looking like butter woulnd't melt - My parent's evil cat, Diego

Last year I had the same problem and stood small rods of wood and stones in the bed to deter them, a bit unslightly but probably very uncomfortable on a cat's behind. This year I had a different (hopefully better) idea.

The added advantage being that it might kill off a few weeds in the process. Just look at that poor box ball above the bed - why is it losing it's leaves????? arghh

Next it was into the nice tidy greenhouse (it won't look as tidy as this again until next winter I think)

 to deal with some very late in the season jobs. Jobs I should have done a good while ago (slap my wrists).
I lifted some dahlias (too late, I know, I forgot them, but you never know they may survive) and hung them to dry for a few days. When they have dried a bit I will get all that wet soil off and bring them into the garage to continue drying off.

 Then repotted some digitalis that I had growing from seed all last year and have survived surprisingly well despite complete and utter neglect, yes, can you believe it, me, the ultimate in an organised gardener neglecting something! Well anything that battles against all odds and still survives deserves a little bit of attention, even if it comes rather late in the day.

Finally I came back indoors (mainly because my hot chocolate was finished) and stared lovingly at some of the seeds that arrived yesterday.

And very happy I was too.

Saturday, 4 January 2014


I dealt with the raised bed yesterday, clearing it out and preparing it for this new season. In it I found my entire carrot crop for 2013:

Impressive eh?

Not what you may call a roaring success but, you know what, the one mouthful it gave me was delicious and I will try harder next year. It may be tiny but it is so beautifully formed that it makes me want to try again this year.
In a nutshell, I planted my carrots as an afterthought too late in the season and they got rather swamped by the purple sprouting broccoli who stole all of their light, so I gave them up for dead. But here was one fighter.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Top 5 garden mistakes

As I am using the winter to prepare for the next growing season I have been reflecting on the errors I made over the last couple of years and want to avoid this year. These are what I think are my top five mistakes (only four of which I made). In other news I have put my name on a waiting list for an allotment. It will be a very long wait, no doubt.

  1. Over exuberance (Planting too early) - I am almost doing this again and it comes from a keenness to get started. Last year I started planing my seeds so early that they were chomping at the bit to get outside and in danger of becoming leggy or dying because of the cold Spring we had here. Of course this is because looking out on the grey wintry garden we are all looking forward to Spring coming and sowing seeds makes us believe it is that one step nearer. If you live in a colder part of the country (like I do) I have decided it is worth waiting for the second month option mentioned on the back of the seed packet (rather than the first day of the first month :-)).
  2. Growing too much - Beginning a garden is a bit like going to an all you can eat buffet (when you are greedy like me), you want to grow everything, regardless of how much room you have. Last year I wanted to grow some lobelia and it came in a packet of 1500 seeds and, yes, I planted the lot! I have since learned (hopefully) that you don't actually have to plant all the seeds in a packet in one go. Good quality seeds have a really good germination rate so it is worth planting what you need with just a few spare. Also be realistic about what you can fit in your garden. I grew so many varieties last year that lots of plants ended up in the compost which is a shame and I was overwhelmed with volume and didn't manage to look after a lot of them properly.
  3. Only grow what you want to eat - Starting a veg garden it is easy to get carried away with the idea of growing a whole section of something unusual but ask yourself if you will eat it all. It sounds obvious but often we end up growing things because we can rather than because we like it. Choose your veg based on whether you eat it regulary, if you really love it and if it is expensive to buy in the shops. Then cut it down to how many you have space for and time to look after. If space is no object then by all means try something new and interesting but most of us don't have this luxury.
  4. Improve your soil - I have spoken to people near where I live who have said 'oh the soil is terrible around here, nothing will grow'. Well I think I have proved them wrong, but I have spent a lot of time and (yes) money on the soil to improve it's condition. You can't just chuck seeds in some dirt and expect them to grow well. They may grow but the majority will be poor specimens. The comparison would be you living on a diet of only chocolate and crisps. You wouldn't die (well you would in time) but you would hardly be healthy. Plants need good nutrition themselves to perform to their best. Once I have dug out a new bed I add lots of garden compost to it and well rotted manure. And I don't just do it once. Every year I have added new compost and/or manure to the existing beds too. I have used mulch to lay on the surface too. This year I have my first load of home made garden compost too which will all go back in the ground. The results have been terrific.
  5. Poor spacing - This is something I am still learning with seedlings. So often when a seedling is being transferred to the garden we look at how tiny it is and how vast the space it is being placed is and thing it can go too close to the next one, without thinking about how big it becomes. I love beds that are absolutely full to busting, but not at the expense of the plant. The spacing guide on the back of the seed packet is there to help, not as a sort of party-pooper. I am very guilty of this and I promise to be better this year, honest.

Well I hope these are useful to any would be or novice gardeners. I still have loads and loads to learn, after all, I have only been at this 2 years, many people with a life time of experience will still say they are learning. That is the joy of gardening.

Thursday, 2 January 2014


Here is my garden inspiration for the day.

I absolutely love wisteria. I haven't got one although I would like to try, mostly because my mother has kept on warning me that they are a) very hard trees to look after and will probably die and b) they are heavy and will break what they climb up. However I am still tempted to disregard what she says and give it a go anyway. I have read in the wonderful book 'Sweet peas for Summer' by Laetitia Marklouf that  it is even possible to grow wisteria in a pot. Not sure I believe her. Maybe if I find a good sheltered spot and a good support I will try growing one (in the ground) one of these days. I love the rustic bench and the weird sculpture thing in front of the fence.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

New year. New look.

For three years my blog has looked the same, so I have decided to experiment with a few updates and a slightly new look. I've added a new 'about me' tab as things in my life have hugely changed since I started blogging. I've also added a 'my garden' tab with some photos. I am sure there will be a few more changes as I experiment more, but for now a change is doing me good.

Also I suppose my goals are slightly different now as it is 3 years since I started the blog. I increasingly am posting about gardening and cooking. I no longer really have any house renovations to do as, for the most part they are finished now after 2 years of living here so there will be less of that.

My goals and ideals are still just as they have always been and everything I do will be done on a budget. I don't know how the blog content may evolve over the coming year, but it will be fun to find out and I hope you come along with any changes.

Happy New Year to you all.