Saturday, 21 April 2012

Hapless is (almost) 1!

Monday is my first birthday - a year to the day that this blog began life. Sadly I'm away for work from tomorrow, so I'll be burning a candle in a hotel room in Fleetwood instead of getting my hands dirty in the garden and on the keyboard.

A year ago, I'd just met a fellow gardener / rower with a new found passion for growing veg and, Laura, thank you for encouraging me to have a stab at writing, I am still thoroughly enjoying every minute of it.

I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who has written for and sent photos to me - friends, strangers and strangers who are now friends. Thank you too for the tons of comments, tweets and re-tweets, 'likes' and 'shares', and thank you especially to those of you who have shared your enthusiasm for this blog and given so much personal encouragement. Love it when you all get involved so keep the garden love coming.

To mark the occasion, here's a guilty pleasure for you all - a chance to show off in my new gallery inspired by an old post - or more accurately the title of an old post. Yes, it's a gallery just for you, the amateur. Introducing:

Head on over, I've had one entry already from the reader who started it all...

And once you've cooled down from that, have a think about which fruit, vegetable, flower or, er, nuts you're most proud of growing, get out the camera and send over your snaps to or tweet @Haplessgardener. Don't be shy...

Finally, I thought it would nice to re-post the first ever post, especially if you're new to the blog. It makes me feel strangely nostalgic. And of course, it has little to do with gardening really:


Angry. Birds.

It's me that's angry.

I've seen the headlines, read the books, listened to Monty and friends and thought - a bird table, what better way to encourage wildlife in and help the old sparrow survive in these troubled times. And as a bonus they can deal with my snail problem. To be honest it's more than a problem (b*******) but that's for a later post.

So, save the planet, save my crops.

Except I never realised how hungry birds could be, a whole feast of nuts has been devoured every day!

At first I thought I was single handedly reviving Bristol's feathered population, but this morning I found a shameless crow gorging on my generous offerings.

A bloody crow! Not even good to look at, let alone useful in any way. Do they even touch snails?

So as the country suns itself in the easter heat wave, I'm here itching for a showdown with the crow. I can see why gardeners need to get out more...

Friday, 20 April 2012

Guest post: Pride by Catherine Jennings


I know, it’s not a very British thing to be very proud of one’s self but I am actually very proud of my garden. It has taken a long time for us to be in a place with a garden to call our own and I have revelled in working in it, choosing plants to provide blooms all year and setting up our raised beds.

Our lovely sized garden – enough size for kids and mummy to play in!

Saying this, it hasn’t all been easy work. We have been here for 1 ½ years. When we first moved in the garden was in a reasonable condition but the border was full of weeds, cherry and sycamore seeds had taken root and all number of smaller weeds that I don’t know the name of but just know (through growing up with parents and grandparents who garden) that they are weeds. As we had moved in the September I did a little work in the garden that year but then it got left until the spring. We revelled in the swaying daffodils as they raised their heads and were stunned when the big shrubby thing in the corner turned out to be a large forsythia and the two clematis came into flower. But, there was one particular weed that was through the whole border, even winding its way into the grass; it’s roots deeper than the sycamore seedlings roots and the top shooting out runners like a strawberry plant! Even after a year of uprooting this plant it is still the most prevalent plant in my border!

My nemesis – if anyone knows what this is please help!

More hard work was needed to create our raised beds, constructed out of scaffolding boards that I acquired in exchange for 11 cups of tea and about 20 spoons of sugar. I had a, not so willing, helper who constructed the beds for me and it was a team effort to dig out the beds which we then filled with a rather large number of bags of compost and topsoil but I am very proud of our results. We have onions, garlic and broad beans in one bed and strawberries, beetroot and carrots in the second large one. There is nothing in the small bed yet, either potatoes or courgettes? We can’t decide, we have both to put in but really need some more space!

Onions, garlic and broad beans in one of our big beds – with rhubarb in the pots at the back.
Really and truly, saying that we need more space, I really don’t think we do! I am proud of the progress I have made in this last year and a half as I know we have so much to look forward to over the coming year, the crops we will harvest and all the flowers and herbs in the border will continue to amaze us but there are still areas of the garden that I just don’t have the time to tackle.

My patch of weeds – I am hoping to turn this into a wild flower patch
Thankfully I have enough good parts of my garden to be proud of so these small areas of weeds can be mostly overlooked. I will continue to try to do a little work in the garden every day and will continue to be proud of all my efforts.

Do you have flowers, or fruit & veg, or both in your garden? Which part of your garden are you most proud of? What are you looking forward to coming up next in your garden?

These bluebells are the latest thing that I am so proud of – just emerging out of the stones

Catherine is the latest gardener to be seduced into my bed of roses and thorns, having been completely taken not only by gardening but by writing too. Follow her intriguing journey as Catherine and her family test out food, fun ideas and more at

If you would like to take on the challenge of tapping into your inner gardener and expressing yourself within the hapless family then do get in touch

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Pain in the grass

We all want the perfect lawn, front or back garden.

In my patch it's simply not going to happen unless I go for a full re-turf, yet I fear that ripping up the lot will be too painful and seeing it bare will just make me itch as it slowly grows back (I'm impatient you see). 

Also, I don't know how long it takes to pull up, and whether I should ask a professional? Do I really feel comfortable showing someone else just what a state it's in? What if they make it worse?

However, I believe we need to open up a bit more, share what nature has given us all, no matter how embarrassing. It's the only way we'll come to appreciate what we have in life. So here it is:

Granted, the dandelions are rampant, but take a moment to absorb their buttercup-rich petals and proud defiance among the mish mash of green leaves and stalks. Ok, perhaps I'm pushing it a bit, and yes it is in desperate need of a tidy up.

However, no amount of overgrowth can hide a thing of beauty, and in amongst the rampant mess proudly sits this gem:

I couldn't have decorated it better myself

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Root 666

If garden writers, lifestyle journalists and the folk at B & Q are to be believed, growing your own is meant to be fun. Often involving bright colours, hazy images of sunset at the allotment, and children. Always children when portraying images of gay abandon, such as you might find raising tomatoes.

Not in my garden.

Last year I was saved by kind readers from mistaking potentially deadly ground elder for elderflower (also potentially deadly when mixed with champagne. At least in the quantities I would probably be tempted by).

I was wisely advised to remove it quickly from the garden to avoid it spreading. And I did. Well, lets say I removed 95% of it, the bits around the base of an old tree requiring perhaps too much effort to clear. 

Roots prior to being 'Green Binned'
But just like Hollywood, I should have made sure I killed off the bad guy properly. I turned my back and bang - it's back for revenge. Why oh why do they never give up?!

So instead of spending a joyous sunny Sunday potting beans with a heart full of hope, I was cursing under my breath as I discovered the true extent of this devil weed. Oh yes, it divides itself and heads off in all directions, creating its underworld cackling away as it meanders past worm, buried stone and, as I have also annoyingly discovered, buried cat crap.

Seen here surrounding and killing off a more deserving plant
On the surface its murky green leaves have blocked out the sun for plants that are more deserving and it surrounded my healthy bay tree with dark intent.
Burying the bay
Next time a gardener advises you to get rid of something, do it properly. Don't succumb to the temptation of the good stuff, ignoring the warnings. You'll only end up like me, stuck in horticultural limbo, wanting to taste gardening heaven, yet fearing your actions will take you on the opposite journey.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Oh Goody, Jade

Cambridge University Botanic Gardens

Four words that make someone like me feel well and truly out of my intellectual depth. 

Or thick (as a more concise writer might say).

The plethora of latin names, the tangle of botanical geneology, and the sheer biological complexity makes the plant world fearsome enough. But throw in one of the world's academic behemoths (I still love that word) and it's enough to make you weep, knowing you are to the garden world what a kebab is to the culinary world. Actually, to the world in general, a morning stain on the pavement of life. 

Now, I'm not about to dive in to the intellectual waters claiming it's all too elitist, because there's no class in that. But I do want to share some thoughts on botanic gardens from the hapless point of view.

Bristol has a botanic garden, yet I've never been. I grew up a squirrel's nuts throw from the esteemed Gardens in Cambridge but barely set paw. And when I took a beginner's course in growing your own, set in the treasured grounds of Bath botanic gardens, a generous talk from the director there didn't just go over my head, it was totally lost in the clouds.

Yet in Cambridge last Thursday I saw this:

A Jade vine. The actual colour was breathtaking, and it was recommended to me, upon asking, by the lady at the entrance gate. The photos don't really do justice to how striking this plant is, but here's a close up to try and give you some impression.

Why do I not regularly mooch through the grounds of such gardens when there is such simple pleasure to be had? Is it just my own ignorance of the botanical world, or is something being lost in translation between those who live for plants, and those of us for whom life is rather overwhelming? And are those of us stuck behind computers or in meetings day to day, missing the real antidote that many over the years have painstakingly concocted, developed, understood and used for themselves?

What I can say is that if you too fear the botanist, go in on your own terms and see what you come out with. Well, make sure you don't come out with a Jade vine or any other rare plant. That would be stealing. And you'd be going somewhere else, on Her Majesty's terms... 


For more information on the Gardens click:

The Hapless Kitchen Gardener

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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.