Friday, 30 September 2011

Guest post: Surprise (by Dave Cliff)

The gardening year is rich in emotions; it mirrors life with its ups, downs, frustrations and joys.  But the one for me that occurs more than any other, from day to day, from week to week, good or bad is………..surprise.
To be honest, for such an amateur as me, it’s not been a bad year, surprisingly good in fact.  In July and August the versatile courgette become a part of almost every meal.  I recommend the ‘Patriot F1’ variety – you cannot go wrong with these beauties.  The surprise was how these plants grow into beasts, literally scaring the living daylights out of lesser mortals in the patch as they relentlessly spread themselves way, way beyond what I previously thought to be their generously allotted zone.  I blame them wholeheartedly for bullying into submission my normally abundant spinach plants.
There’s been a decent supply of raspberries – not bad for young plants in their first full year.  The pots of potatoes were nice while they lasted, the onions plentiful and the experiments with various types of chillies provided surprisingly successful in spite of the suns shyness to appear for any thing more than a fleeting five minutes.

Inevitably, there have been disappointments too.  In comparison to last year, the aforementioned spinach has been lean and lifeless – and that’s before being placed in the steamer.  After two previously promising harvests, the grape vine managed to splutter out one paltry quarter-bunch of tiny and hopeless fruits.  That’s another one to blame on the sun, or lack of.  And for some strange reason, the coriander, usually one of my home bankers, never even emerged from the ground.  In any case, if it had, it doubtlessly would have soon been unceremoniously swamped by a heaving mass of courgette plant.    

But just when I thought it was all over for another year, as the cold wind and rains of autumn looked like prematurely signalling an abrupt end to proceedings, there’s been a final surprise and a joyful one at that.  It’s the tomatoes – the blighters have come good!  This flash of late September Indian summer has brought them across the line, finally turning them from their endless green to juicy ‘eat me’ red.  Cooked with butter, salt and pepper and served on granary toast, the perfect encore to a summer of surprises.  


This man is a champion of fine music and underappreciated football clubs. Do leave comments below and pass on this and other guest blogs. It's the latest in this blog's ever expanding maelstrom of emotions. For more, head over to the Guest Bed and see if you share any...

If you'd like to get involved with your own take on how you feel about the nation's favourite pass-time behind internet dating, moaning about the weather and baking, email me or find me on Twitter @Haplessgardener. Be bold, even if you've never written before.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Guest post: Guilt (by Ellie Russell)

Sans green fingers

You may well ask how an Acer can make you feel guilty. Well, if you are, then you haven’t been on the receiving end of a beautiful flame coloured variety sprouting skywards with such alarming speed and joy at being let loose on your mini- balcony only to three weeks later whimper (visibly not audibly, that would be silly) and discard every leaf - leaving nothing but a twisted brown skeleton.

This Acer was my balcony’s new pride and joy. A small but beautiful touch of the outdoors creating a small canopy of tranquillity over my ceramic owl. I realise that this may sound as though I have a balcony filled with freakish stone ornamental animals or worse, gnomes. A macabre garden tribute to our loving outdoor friends. Please don’t fear for me, as despite living in Southampton, I have not lost my sanity… yet. There is only one ceramic animal and I assure you, he is endearing and very discreet.

Meanwhile guilt bites again as my fuchsia (Beautiful Dreamer) does not live up to its promise. The flowers are a washed-out pink. NOT the bright red promised by the image on the ‘how to look after your fuchsia’ card. Even worse, up on the top balcony of our block, perched up in a priority spot lapping up the sunshine hangs a fuchsia heavy with flower, red petals gleaming in the sun.

“What if? Maybe if? Should I have? Did I use the wrong?” There comes a point when you have to stop asking yourself questions about what you did to deserve the ultimate plant rejection. The guilt becomes all-consuming. Had only I not gone on holiday leaving my plants in the careful but sporadic attention of my neighbours…had I used Baby Bio and not the cheaper home brand plant food…maybe?

Ultimately I decide my fingers are just not fecking green enough.

Screw this plant growing. I’m off to get myself something classy to keep my owl ceramic company.

If you live anywhere near Southampton or you're just passing through check out the Berry Theatre where the wicked Ellie does some awesome work, instead of caring for her Acer!
This is the latest in a series of guests posts about the emotions we feel as we try our hand at raising plants and veg, fight the beasts and pests and dream of being the unholy love child of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and Percy Thrower (I'm sure it's possible). Head over to my guest bed to find more

Monday, 19 September 2011

Seasons bleatings

I've entered a post into Emma Cooper (@emmathegardener)'s Write Club 2011 competition.

You can read all the entries on Emma's website and the winner is the guest post that has received the most reader interest (from comments, votes, tweets on her website) by the end of September. 

Mine's a short Autumn tale, illustrated with a scattering of photographs - a homage to the best season of all. In my view. You may disagree and you may wish make your views known on Emma's website! Or you may agree and may wish to use one of the voting buttons next to it. But I'll leave that to you of course.


...until the competition is over the only place you can read it is here:


Sunday, 18 September 2011

Sunflower toil

It has been a long hard slog this summer.

When you're a child two of the memorable things in summer are sunflower competitions and crabbing (which is alive and well in the south west and norfolk i discovered this year). 

As an adult, sunflowers mock us (ha ha, if you had a proper climate I'd be much bigger) and as for crabs...

Back in May I was given 5 black sunflower seeds, by my friend Mark. I had to trade them for a cow much to the dismay of my mother, but I was assured by Mark that these were magic seeds that would produce the most amazing sunflower on the back of which I could make lots of money. Or something to that effect, I can't quite remember.

So, in went the seeds and until about two weeks ago there was no sign of anything other than a long straggly stalk. Then, on return from my festival shenanigans I saw promising signs

And then, yesterday I was greeted by a fully fledged, unique sunflower head and one I feel is apt for the absolute PATHETIC DISGRACE OF A SUMMER that we have had this year.

And I didn't even get to meet the giant.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Pop! It won't eat itself.

Previously on 33...

Read me

The following takes place between 5pm and 6pm

So. The moment.

How can it be that what takes some of you barely a flick of your eyelashes to pop them into your shopping basket, takes me months of preparation, mental and practical?

I have reaped a bumper harvest this afternoon. A colourful array of fruit and vegetables to give me all the pleasure I need without touching 'the red beast'.

But this is about one fruit and one fruit alone. They stand out don't they. Like poisonous berries.  It's time...


First up. Raw.

Oh god it's vile. It's just burst and the juice has poured forth.  Its the sudden impact of the taste - exactly that which makes me recoil when unexpectedly hit  one in a soggy Pret sandwiches.  Concentrated, dirty bitter flesh.

To me, it feels wrong to be subjecting my mouth to this, and like anyone with doubts of that nature, I'm not going to swallow.


But I don't give up lightly. I'm all for new experiences. I'm going to take on the advice of others and have a back up.... right, mozzarella and basil lined up. A drizzle of oil and we're ready to go again.

Ok,  this time I've survived the ordeal. In fact, it wasn't so bad with the combination of flavours, and the strength of the basil keeping the tomato at bay. But its lingering. I need a drink. Hmmm, I'm not going to be craving any more of that in a hurry, and I think I know why.

This tomato is an immature version of the bog standard 'gardener's delight' variety. The standard large red brute that sits arrogantly in supermarket aisles up and down the country. Due to a faulty summer, the tomato wasn't able to grow it's normal size and came up short. 

And you don't want to eat something with Short Tomato Syndrome. It tries to make up for its failings which seems to bring out its worst elements. Pretending it has class that it doesn't. My guess is that the green cherry tomatoes that I hope will ripen will be an altogether different experience. Lets hope so, because alas that really was disgusting.

Previously on 33...

...years of avoiding raw tomatoes...

Read me

"The following takes place between 12pm and 1pm..."

This will be my first venture in the garden since last Saturday. I'm scared and have no idea what I'll find. I'm picturing a snail orgy, rotten plants and general carnage. A trip to Cambridge, the start of the rowing season, leaving party for our work placement students, and work itself have all elbowed their way to the top of my diary leaving my garden at the mercy of others. So I approach the steps to the garden door with trepidation...

Right now, there is only one fruit on my mind. Toms. My namesake. My nemesis. I was given a tip by my workmate Jess on storing tomatoes, and I know it's time for me to bite the (allegedly juicy) bullet and harvest whether red or green...


Out here in the garden and it's a sorry sight. I planted cherry tomatoes and gardener's delight. The latter has gone for it, attacking the bay tree and courgettes in its bid for light domination. I've had to cut rotting vines and over enthusiastic creepers, complete with a mix of immature, rotten or munched fruits.

I now have my secateurs in hand, hacking away to clear most of the mayhem. It's a grim task, it's wet out and the pungent smell of tomato plant pervades my senses. Whenever you touch a tomato plant it releases its aroma. It's strong and instant. Right now I'm in the midst of an unwelcome fragrant cloud.


They're collected on a heap ready for the green waste bin. It's all I can face doing. It has grown far more vigorously than I ever expected, and this is despite no summer of any note. It's a bit sad actually, all that wasted potential.

But there is something upsetting me. I don't want to fail. Either in growing or facing my fear of this red beast. I can picture all those people who sneer when you say you don't like something, questioning your character, backbone, and judgment. I wanted to do this as my way of saying to myself, you have nothing to fear in this world. So any sense of relief I now have is actually being overpowered by a sense that I don't want to give up. The prize is too great. And as Jess' tomatoes ripened strung up indoors whilst she was away on holiday, then maybe these green ones will do too...


Oh crap.

Just as I hacked away to the core of the plants I can't believe how I didn't spot these. Small red tomatoes. There is genuinely no escape is there? I'm going to have to eat these. And prove that I have too.

How on earth did the tomatoes that had no sunshine whatsoever turn red?

It's 1pm. Lunchtime. I'm not sure I'm ready for this...

Friday, 16 September 2011

Guest post: Anticipation (by Katherine Sparkes - @flamingokatie)

ANTICIPATION - ‘Living in hope’
My tiny, but much-loved garden is a constant source of emotions for me. With each new season, and even each new day, I live in the hope that by some miraculous intervention of Mother Nature, it will be transformed as if by magic into the garden of my dreams.
Of course, this has not yet happened, but the anticipation that a new season brings lives on and I find the change an incredibly exciting and refreshing time.
Managing my expectations can be tough, but I know that whatever a new season brings it will be a real treat.
As I prepare for autumn, still rueing the fact that we have hardly had a proper summer, I find myself excited by the prospect of new, and different, life.
Being aware of the changing seasons and the differences in weather it brings allows me to focus on creating a garden that will evolve and transform in each new season.
It is a constant challenge – not all plants and animals in my garden are as keen on the colder months – and I have to work hard to create a space with elements that thrive in all conditions.
This autumn I’m expecting to see the number of visitors increase, with squirrels and foxes putting in many appearances, and I hope my plants will continue to provide the amazing colours and smells that have delighted me with already this year.
The arrival of conkers is another source of joy for me. As they start to fall I know that autumn is well and truly here, and I look forward to cracking them open to find that shiny gem inside. As someone with a morbid fear of spiders, I then litter the conkers around my house to ward off the eight-legged monsters and keep them out. Don’t ask me how it works, but it actually does!  

Each changing season brings such a thrill for me. My garden may be small, but it has a lot of variety. Every year I delight in the new life that a change in the weather can bring. Snowdrops and crocus peeping through the snow and ice in the depths of winter, daffodils waking up to the spring, summer rose buds ready to bloom, leaves turning to all shades of yellow and gold as autumn sets in.
Anticipating these changes is one of the great joys about having my own patch of nature to tend and care for. It’s difficult to be too ecstatic about the wind, rain and freezing temperatures that autumn and winter bring, but seeing the effect the new season has on my little garden really does warm the heart.
Mother Nature never fails to inspire me, always bringing new life and energy with each change of the season, and it’s a real delight to watch her at work.


Kat is one of the most inspiring people I know. We totally disagree on flowers but other than that I totally get why her sense of anticipation is so important. It drives so much. She has built a business from scratch that does so much good. Last July I played a small part towards raising £20,000 towards building in a school in Africa, based on a whim that she could do it. She has been nominated as one of the top 100 small businesses in the UK and is currently no. 2 in the vote. Take it from me she deserves to be no. 1 and if you fancy voting do so here...


As for the guest bed, well just keep checking the blog every Friday for a new one because those of you who are kind enough to be writing for my blog have some really strong emotions to get up here!

All the emotional outpouring to date can be found in the guest bed and involves:

Sorrow, and
Hopeless romance

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Grassed off

Grass. It's just so plain isn't it? Unimaginative in name and character. There's a reason we call it a lawn out the back. A lawn suggests class and croquet. It's what the aristocracy had. Well, actually the aristocracy had sunken lawns. (Before you go getting ideas, they also had the space in which to make it look good. If you were to try it, it would look like a bunker. So don't).

And it's not called the Lawn Tennis Association for nothing. Even boutique festivals have lawns. The End of the Road festival at Larmer Tree Gardens in Dorset had a garden stage where you could watch bands sat on a sumptuous lawn. None of this Glastonbury 'turf turning to mud quicker than you can say Bono' nonsense.

And yes, turf. The stuff that makes grass sound positively upper class. Turf is disposable. Rough, ready, kicked out at closing time. And it's menacing older cousin, astroturf will scrape your shins to bits should you dare to play hockey or 5-a-side on it's blades (aptly named for once).

I have a small, ahem, 'lawn' out the back. But it's a bit rough, overgrown with weeds. It's not even big enough to justify a normal lawnmower, just a strimmer, which scatters the dandelion seeds more vigorously with each cut as this despairingly bad photo from last year shows (just ignore the ladder and don't even ask why there is a photo with no artistic merit that isn't even straight, of a ladder on an overgrown lawn): 

I've thought about re-sowing it, but to me it's an almighty project and I don't know how long I'll be in this flat, so it would perhaps be a bit generous on my part. If we were guaranteed hours of hot blazing barbequing body tanning sunshine for at least 6 months a year, I'd reconsider.

On Sunday I 'popped' back to Cambridge for my mum's birthday, which we celebrated down the road from my parents at my brother and sister-in-laws home. It used to be my grandparents house, home to the finest back garden vegetable patch known to anyone until my grandad could no longer keep it going. He grew everything anyone could ever want to grow. And greengages.

Steadily, Matt and Lucy are recreating a new garden to suit a young family and one of Matt's recent tasks was to reinstate part of the 'original' lawn (ie the only but that wasn't part of the vast vegetable garden.  I couldn't quite believe just how much grief seemed to have gone into getting some grass up, and dare a certain little 2-year-old stray into this area, daddy would not be happy. In fact dare a certain 33 - year - old do the same, younger brother would have had no qualms in shouting "get off my lawn!" 

You see, he has managed to successfully oversee the first shoots of growth and has got protective. I don't blame him:

Even growing ubiquitous grass can stir up the most instinctive emotions. With any luck, a couple more guest posts will be on their way...

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Ripe for a tart

What's your favourite pudding?

When I were a lad, it were Arctic Roll. Then, when I discovered my palette it was, well still Arctic Roll. I never was the adventurous sort.

Apples were my fruit of choice. I shunned the pear, despite my parents having a pear tree in the garden. The wonderful thing about apples is that if you don't like one type, there's usually another variety that will suit your fickle buds. From the crisp to the soft, sweet to the sharp and then the mighty Russet. The greengrocer is starting to stock up Russets and these nutty wonders are by far my favourite.

But there is a new boy in town, waving its wares through my bedroom window on a daily basis. The tree I have nurtured through the spring is starting to reward me handsomely.

As you may recall from an earlier post I was puzzled at the lack of fruit last year and challenged myself to see if I could entice some fruit with a bit of TLC. I invested in a pruning saw and fully intended to get myself up a ladder.

Having absolutely no idea what I was doing, I took time out to take tips from Youtube and my RHS 'grow your own' book. Essentially these were:
  • Don't over prune, it will distress the tree. No more than a third of the crown.
  • Cut diseased or dead branches
  • Remove crossing branches
  • Aim to let light and air through the middle of the tree
  • Cut above a bud just high enough to protect it, at and angle that doesn't allow water to run on to the bud.
  • Don't use a ladder (unless it's secure...)
  • "large fruit trees need to be pruned by a professional tree surgeon. Don't risk it yourself..."
There's only so much weeding and rose bush trimming a guy without a garden shed or lawn big enough to justify a petrol-driven lawn mower can take before thinking he wants to get involved with something more substantial. So I got up that ladder, saw in hand, told myself all professionals have to start somewhere and got busy in amongst the crossing branches.

As for the pear tree, apparently it's decades old. When I moved in two years ago, it was being strangled by an evil aggressive vine. I spent my weekends thoroughly hacking into that wintering weed, still very much alive, to hopefully limit its antics this summer (but of course it's twice as aggressive).

To both trees I added 'zoo poo' from Paignton Zoo and since then I've let the trees get on with their side of the bargain.  

And boy am I chuffed with the results. For all my failure to protect my crops from snails, wind and my own disorganisation this summer, the time and effort invested earlier this year is starting to prove worthwhile.

Back to the puddings, and whilst I have cravings to make my own apple pie, I've never eaten, let alone made a pear pud. Does anyone have the ultimate apple or pear dessert for me to make, bearing in mind that although I can handle myself in the kitchen, I'm no master baker, caker or dessert maker.

Tweet or facebook a link to a recipe, or leave a message on the blog.

Until then, I'll bask in the fact that my apple and pear trees are happy. And happy because at the end of the day, we all love a bit of TLC

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Nothing like a good forage

You may have noticed that foraging in the wild has become popular of late. The pace at which we've become foodies, folkies and (garden) forkies in recent years has led to a plethora of niche trends from cup cake baking to bunting stitching. So my instinctive reaction to sounds from the countryside, rustling in the bramble bushes if you will, was one of caution. Is this just another London media crowd driven trend?

Now that the country appears to all be growing its own, are we also not seeing another classic case of British one-upmanship? My fruit is wilder than your fruit? Who needs an allotment when you have it all down the lane? 

But slowly I’m being persuaded by River Cottage, seduced by Alys and coming round to the sound of the foraging chefs. And half a bottle of home made Exmoor sloe gin once numbed the pain of an ex-girlfriend taking un-nerving pleasure in removing 35 sea urchin spikes from my foot one by torturous one with a scalpel and tweezers. It was amazing stuff.

As I've mentioned before on these pages, gardening has done a funny thing to me. It genuinely has made me take a little step back and look at food in a different light. Indeed, look at nature as a conscious, complex thing, which has led to a humble appreciation of just what it takes for fruit and veg to come to life.

Nature has developed a careful balance of water, light, heat and minerals to provide us with fruit and veg that keeps us well oiled. Only we go and manipulate them, pass chemicals off in their place (artificial blueberry bits anyone?), or just leave them to rot.

This appreciation is important. And once you’ve taken that step, the next logical one is away from the ordered, control-freak world of allotments and towards a naturally created treasure trove. Sometimes the bounty gets devoured on site, other times it becomes the highlight of the plate or glass. You know what you're looking for, but unsure if you'll find it, and the thrill when you do... (note of caution, stealing carrots from Farmer Giles' field does not count as foraging).

However, I'm yet to go out there and get my hands pricked since moving to the south-west, and I bet all the good sloes have gone already. I need to get my rear in gear as, yes, I'm conscious that there’s more to foraging than being in with the latest trend. 

Indeed, one could say foraging goes to the heart of our very existence, being at one with the complexity of nature.  Just take care with the mushrooms. Get it wrong and they can go to the existence of your heart.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Guest post: Hopeless romance (by Catriona - @Foxglovelane)

To the Hapless Gardener from the Hoplessly Romantic Gardener

Dear Tom,

You may well be the hapless gardener (and I can vouch for that fact as you nearly fed hogweed to your family!) but I would like to declare myself to be the utterly hopeless gardener....It's not that I feel hopeless it's more that I am hopeless, lacking in elbow grease, skill, knowledge and lazy as sin to boot......

Now that might lead you to wonder what emotion that evokes....devestation, failure, inadequacy? No not at all because you see I am also the mistress of that beast called “denial” .......once I have a garden full of bees, insects, frogs, bunnies, birds and flowers of course.....the star performers...then I am the hopeless romantic and I wander around with a camera, a very rose tinted pair of specs and a willingness to make friends with the world....

Take for example these photos of my garden, you see I don't care about the unkempt nature of these beds, no , I just love that there are some colourful things turning up and attracting bees and being very pretty to look at from my window....

Or this photo of a ladybird, what a joy I think, even if the plant she prefers is a so called “weed.” (isn't that just a bit weedist and people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones, now should they?)

Or this picture of one of the bunny family who had been demolishing my early a message in response on twitter telling me shooting them was the only answer......what? No am afraid not,  shooting photographs is the only shooting that I will be doing......

I am happy to potter, photograph and drink lemonade in my garden so to that extent I do tend it. I also work from home so I need to look out on something that constantly raises my spirits and reminds me of the beauty, fragility, impossibly mysterious nature of life.....and my little garden, and the wilderness beyond does all that.....

By the way in my hopeless romantic state I fall in love with wildflowers, meadows, trees, grasses, watering holes and all the rest way beyond my garden boundary. I love other people's gardens too, and architecture and beautiful art....and the people who bother, the people who care and who nurture nature are my heros.

So don't be hard on yourself or your fellow gardeners, be gentle and kind and in that spirit, give up trying to tame the world to fit in with us and let the world be itself and try hanging out with it in a more cool and groovy kind of way......

From the purple haze of Foxglove Lane, Catriona

PS If I am honest I don't tolerate docks and nettles very well or dare I mention them (ssshh spiders and rats) but hopeless romantic that I am (and again mistress of denial) I do try to show an interest and accommodate them somewhere in a fairytale way, where in the end they turn into bouquets for the princess or footmen for a pumpkin carraige.


Catriona's observations of the natural beauty in life on Foxglove Lane along with her truly captivating photographs can be found on her website I highly recommend a visit.


The guest bed is getting cosier by the week and I'd really like to thank my guests so far, it's been even better than I hoped for and I'm loving the variety, humour and quality of the photographs too. Thank you to those I know who are scribbling away - I've got some real gems lined up. The boys are taking longer with their efforts mind, so a kick up the behind might be order!

To see the full bed in all its glory click here. If you know of someone you think would make an excellent guest, or you'd like to join in this green fingered orgy then email me

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Mirror bawl

It's the end of summer. Harvest time is meant to be upon us, church altars and school assembly halls should soon be groaning under the weight of tinned food from Tesco, some straggly looking onions and a pumpkin. Always a pumpkin.

I reflected yesterday on the photos I put up showing some of my, how can I say, less successful attempts? Despite my stubborness, am I really so bad a gardener that those disasters happened because of my innate inability? Perhaps the reality of a stressful job, and some monumental changes to life circumstances in the past two years have been the root cause. Or have I just not got the passion required to put my garden first in my life (who else has been told to 'make time' when they blatantly don't have any?)

The amateur gardeners I know have all had to chip away at the garden, celebrating mild successes, accepting failures resulting from an abysmal summer and the pressures of their own lives, child-filled or not. I thought back to the night I had my friends round potting seeds, and the sense of excitement at all the things they could grow, the potential for a feast. And the reality now.

Then, my friend Kate unexpectedly tweeted an innocent looking link to her great blog 'Curb your Consumerism' about Personal Best Strategies. And in it she very sweetly showed me just why I garden.

Do read, and for all of you who share my haplessness, in however small a measure, there is always a reward.



Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Summer drubbing...

...happened so fast.

As I lazed on the grass at the End of the Road festival at the weekend, I could see people doing funny arm movements. You know how some people 'dance' to World Music. Yeah, that kind of flailing arm behaviour. But this was to country music (yes, I went to a festival where they played country music, but I promise it was good country music. What do you mean there's no such thing apart from Johnny Cash? I bet you love Dolly when you're pissed. You haven't lived until you've danced to Dolly).

Then I realised they were batting away wasps. I'd almost forgotten what a wasp was, so absent have they been this summer. Then, as I was being bronzed by intermittent rays of unnervingly hot sun, I realised that summer never really came this year. In fact it has been a disgrace.

As Claire describes in her guest post 'Sorrow', tomatoes remain green and no doubt many other vegetables have failed to show what they're made of in gardens across the UK.

Now, the last thing a hapless gardener needs is to have the elements against him. I mean, come on, I'm still mastering how to look after a bloody courgette, the least I can ask for is the basic sunshine to help the thing grow. So it will come as no surprise to anyone that my garden is now starting to resemble one of those homes where they send the SOS squad into after years of neglect. The following pictures may disturb some readers:


Nasty vine killing all around it

In the carnage above you'll see rotten fruit, sorry looking runner beans and blackcurrants and the foliage above? Well, that's what you get if you don't tether your tomatoes properly! And to prove that the elements have it in for me, when I came back from the festival I found this horrific scene:

It's enough to make a grown man take up a smoking habit. Like country music folk do.

Bet you're dancing whilst no-one's looking.

Anyway, I've spent the best part of two days recoiling in horror and despair every time I dare step outside and brave the wind and rain. I'm wasn't actually sure I'd have the strength in me to tackle this without an Indian summer to help.I'm ruing May, when things started to go downhill; ambitions for a bumper summer harvest dented by neglect. In fact  I've been asking where it all went wrong? Am I destined for a life of garden failure. It really strikes at the heart of your being. Where will the doubt end? How can I ever hope to one day raise a family if I can't even raise a runner bean?

Well, as Sophie eloquently described in her guest post 'Love', the garden is a forgiving place. And as my eyes adjusted I spotted hope:

Borlotti beans


Black sunflower
I'll be back in the garden clearing away the debris in no time. I may be hapless, but I'm also stubborn and won't be beaten just yet...

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Rogue trader

Having wowed you with the first rogue for a while, here are two more. And your reaction to these will reveal more than you may perhaps want to admit...

Collector's items

Unfortunately we're talking the type of collection that only the collector understands. Yes, stamp collectors, train spotters, and growers of only one type of flower, you have kindred spirit in ceramic animal enthusiasts (ooo, that sounds very wrong). For the recent converts to growing your own there's a simple way to determine if it is your destiny to become such a collector. Just take my personality test:

You fancy a trip to the garden centre and you head for
a) The small but independent place where gentle folk won’t try the hard sell but will know everything about how to care for alpine plants.
b) That all-you-could-ever-want-in-your-garden behemoth off the M5, that has a pirate ship to leave the kids in whilst you admire the barbeques
c) The slightly off-the-wall place, with an American theme but amaaaazing cakes.

Once at the garden centre you
a)  Head straight for the ‘what to grow now’ and admire the range of seeds from specialist providers
b) Head straight to the summer house display, grabbing a handful of Mr Fothergills as you storm past the seed packets.
c) Head straight for the ceramic animals

Mostly a’s? You’re focused and conscientious but out of touch with modern capitalist society. 
Mostly b’s? You thrive on modern capitalist society and those who mock you can do so in envy of (and peering into) your brand new summer house. 
Mostly c’s? You probably own one these:

Discovered by Bristol food blogger Sam Evans (@Samfraggle) at the Chief's Trading Post Garden Centre just outside Bristol, here are some examples of taking a Gnome habit to a whole new level. "Why yes, that's an elephant in my garden. I call him Trunks. He's good at keeping the cats out but he's a bugger with the fruit trees, can't leave them alone" Sam has assured me that she goes for the top notch cakes and her boyfriend is passionate about the gardening, meaning that they merely have a passing curiousity in these delights, rather than a trolly full! Do check out Sam's great and ever-growing culinary tour of Bristol, including the rather epic list of foodie havens linked to the recent Gorilla invasion of Brizzle.

Back on the rogues

I'm thrilled to be able to announce that we have BRAND NEW ROGUES in the gallery. Yes, it was as if they had all gone in to hiding, having been named and shamed despite my best attempts to insist that the Gallery is more Rogue Vogue than a criminal line up. 

And just like buses, not just one but three pictures for you. Hold on, that's not fair. What with all this real time information, bus lanes and timetables on your mobile, you now know when buses are going to come along and they turn up on time. Except when you're cutting it fine to get to the airport.

So can I introduce the first of three rogues contained in two posts: Foxes. 

You can find the full collection over on the Rogues Gallery page. Please do look out for some of your own and feel free to email them to me 

Ginger nutters

Emotive creatures foxes. Responsible for the march of the countryside, anti fur fashion campaigns and the enlightened imagination of millions of children captivated by a certain Fantastic Gentlefox. And of course, every city dweller has been woken up by the terrifying sound of foxes at it amongst the bins and had to stop themselves reaching for the phone to dial 999 / 911 / 112 / 000 (yep going international on this blog) in case there is some serious assault happening.  To some, they are furry, cute and cuddly, or perhaps sharp humoured, cheeky and answering to the name Basil. To others, however they are pure vermin. Mauler of rubbish bins, chickens and perfectly planned vegetable arrangements. And always caught on the stealth. So, to snap them sunning it, as my top friend Paula did, will only polarise you all further. Are they lording it or just being a loving family? I'll leave you to judge...

Friday, 2 September 2011

Guest post: Sorrow (by @ClaireFood4two)

Green tomato sorrow 

I worry that following on from a guest post about 'disappointment' I am going to give the impression gardeners are woefully unhappy with their hobby and this is not the case, more that we get attached to our gardens as one might a dog or even a house. So when something goes wrong it feels like utter devastation – when actually it's only a plant that has died and you can grow another next year and all will be well again. 

Things have trotted along well in my veg patch this year.

Happy tomatoes

Healthy tomatoes

The usual highs and lows – excellent carrots with no carrot fly and copious amounts of runner and French beans, on the other hand low yield of the normally productive courgettes and unusual amounts of caterpillars to contend with. But all this is a happy balance I can go along with (anyway no one likes those people with perfect vegetables of every variety who brag, sometimes known as liers).

But having decided to go big on the tomato front this year, growing three varieties from seed, I was a bit more than upset when I saw them being slowing ravaged by blight three or four weeks ago. I suspected it was the evil disease as some of the leaves yellowed and withered on two of the plants, but hoped it was the wind and rain. Then came the black spots and dying stems and I knew it was inevitable. It spread to all the plants eventually and they were on their way to death row.

I decided to let them hang on for dear life and in fact many good tomatoes ripened and were delicious, but this weekend the time came to cut my losses and throw the wilting, pathetic plants away, chopping off as many green tomatoes as I could. 

The one variety I desperately wanted to taste – an heirloom beefsteak tomato called Brandywine which is said have a wonderful taste and texture – never did ripen at all. That was probably the most upsetting. All eight plants went into the bin – I stared at their empty pots on the patio and I thought 'this is the guest post I will have to blog for Tom – sorrow for my tomatoes'. Melodramatic, over-the-top, self indulgent? Maybe, but true I am afraid.

I'm feeling slightly cheered however having made a wonderful chutney out of the green tomatoes and some of my courgettes along with a host of other fruit and vegetables. It is a fitting tribute, I feel it is what the plants would have wanted. 

Eat me
Claire's sorrow is the latest in a series of guest posts about emotions kicked off by gardening. Check out the Guest Bed page for some excellent takes on Love, Disappointment and Frustration. Book out your Fridays for more revelations from the heart and soul - I have some treats lined up. And do read Claire's blog about all things food, with some great recipes for the veg you grow - I can definitely recommend the broad bean risotto, beans being one of my few successes in the garden this year. Just don't forget the mint like I did!

The Hapless Kitchen Gardener

My photo
I only feel hapless because some people make it look easy to grow 10 ft marrows or a banquet of greens whereas my courgettes got nabbed by killer slugs and I only got one raspberry. So tips and stories from people less hapless than I are more than welcome. As a disclaimer though, none of my comments should be taken as expert advice on which you can rely! © Unless stated otherwise, and with the exception of guest content where that guest retains copyright, all photos and posts are the copyright of Tom Carpen and may not be used without permission.