The Guest Bed

It's all very well reading about someone else's constant garden exploits, but lets be honest do you really care just how big someone's marrow is, or just how perfect each right angle of their new raised bed is? No, you only care about filling your own bed and getting complimented on just how big yours is. Damn right.

So here's your chance to take up a spot in my guest bed! And I don't let just anyone in (quiet at the back there friends). To get your name down in this most coveted of places you must meet the following criteria

1) Be able to feel and express emotion 

And that's it really. The emotion you choose and how you express it is up to you. You can be dark, funny, serious, and yes despite my Guerilla gardening post even evangelical.

Actually, hold on there is one more criteria. You're not allowed to be one of these awful show offs with a perfect garden that you appear to have the time to manicure and perfect without so much as a sweat. We know you don't, and that actually underneath you're a quivering wreck in front of a slug, a moody sod when its been sunny too long and a little bit carried away with flowers. It's that stuff I'm after; the euphoric highs and dirty lows.

If you'd like to get your paws into this, or want to recommend a guest email me or contact me on Twitter @haplessgardener. I'll also be gradually getting in touch with people who have been kind enough to send messages and comment on my blog and asking you to join in. 

In the meantime, embrace your inner shambles, pick your emotion below and indulge, or just scroll down and read the lot

Love   ----------    Disappointment  ---------- Frustration  ---------- Sorrow  ---------- 

Hopeless Romance  ---------- Anticipation  ---------- Guilt  ---------- Surprise ---------- 

Enthusiasm  ---------- Helplessness  ---------- Wonder  ---------- Oh What the Hell!  ---------- 

Awe  ---------- Hope  ---------- Planternal Instinct  ---------- Pride  ---------- Glum  ---------- 

The real love that dare not speak its name

Love is not a word usually associated with the garden.  Hobby, pass-time, pleasure, keen, weekend, amateur are all more commonly linked with the acts of sowing and growing, planting and mowing.  However, having been asked by the Hapless Gardener to write a guest post for his blog, Love is what I want to write about.

For the relationship between garden and gardener has taken the Hapless Gardener and me completely (and independently) by surprise.  It has been so overwhelming that we have both chosen to write about it in our blogs.

Let me explain.

The Love between garden and gardener is based on a few simple principles.  First, it is undemanding:  the garden asks nothing of the gardener except that which the gardener knows the gardener can give; light, warmth, water, time.  The garden, in return, rewards the gardener with stunning results year after year. 

Second, the Love between garden and gardener is unconditional.  Only if the gardener fails to nourish the relationship completely and for a prolonged period, will it wither and die.  Otherwise, the relationship is a constant, that survives the many changes life brings.  Once acquainted, the garden and gardener cannot imagine being without each other.

Together the garden and gardener share the miracle of new life.  The perfect combination of nature and nurture.  I know I am not alone in arriving home and rushing to the window sill/propagator/greenhouse to see whether my seeds have germinated.  Or in experiencing that flush of excitement in January when the first green shoots of spring start to appear.  (I fear I may be alone in encouraging my Delicata Cornell squash seeds to germinate by placing them, in their pots, on a hot water bottle topped up with hot water every four hours.)

The relationship between garden and gardener is about the fundamentals in life: light, colour, air, water.  It endows the garden and the gardener with a richness and a sense of harmony, otherwise often lost in the furore of modern life.

So whether you have a window box, a herb patch, a pot of flowers outside the front door: an allotment, a London garden, or a huge, formal garden with sweeping lawns, Love your garden, see the best in it, cherish its strengths and work with its weaknesses.   And when you are lowering your tired muscles into a hot bath at the end of a long day in the garden, or marvelling at a bee sucking from a flower full of nectar, or cooking a simple meal to share from the produce that the garden has provided, celebrate all that the garden gives you.  

Love and Life and Health and Happiness.   

by Linnie W (@WesternTrillium)

Tom says I can write for you today. (And you thought Tom liked you.) I’ve chosen for my topic the feeling we call disappointment, which, I have noticed, is much-neglected in the Gardening Literature.

You simply won’t find chapters called “Begonia Varieties That Never Fail to Fail” or “Try This Utterly Hopeless Border Plan.” But while books and magazines do not mention the feeling of garden disappointment it is jolly well there in our experiences, and I would bet a cookie it’s there at least once a season or --in places-- once a day.

We all have truly lovely visionary ideas about our garden efforts. And small wonder, with all the gorgeous magazines and seed catalogs and books and rich relatives and liars out there. Not that I am bitter! I am simply laying out the terrain we must travel as gardeners, now and then.

Let us just, for a random example, delve into another as yet unprinted chapter, “Sunflowers for Dazzling Summer Disappointment.” Boy could I write that one.

Because the truth is, as a serious and devoted gardener you can knock yourself out to do everything right… You can buy fresh seeds, you can germinate them in the greenhouse, you can plant them out BEFORE they have secondary leaves which is to say BEFORE the miserable tap root has shot down 20 feet to the water supply, you can put them in the only sunny exposure left in the garden, you can water, mulch, pray (isn’t that a book title: Water Mulch Pray?) and STILL end up with short, deformed, one-bloomed, bird-eaten, bent-over sunflowers. It is at that point when you experience at least a minor feeling of Disappointment.

There are gardeners out there who will tell you that their gardens bring them joy, great joy, and only joy, always always always. But those people are, as the politicians say, disingenuous. Because every garden eventually suffers “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…”

We just have to tell ourselves not to care that the cantaloupe vine had no fruit, or that the deer ate the roses down to sticks while the raccoon took the one ripe tomato. Or even that the “mixed-color” asters grown from seed ALL produced blooms that were hot pink. Just breathe in the fresh outdoor air (what is that farmer across there spraying, it smells terrible --is it herbicide? is it drifting toward my beautiful lettuce?) and be thankful that you have that one bed full of mint plants growing, bigger every year, but very dependable and probably they won’t reach the house for maybe two more summers…

Then be comforted that soon it will be lovely fall, and time to collect seeds and cut away the dead stems and divide some of the perennials, and then to watch for the beautiful new garden catalogs in the mail. I am honestly getting excited about planning for next year’s beds. Why is that? Because, for better or worse, disappointment is nowhere near as powerful as a gardener’s creative, happy hope.  


by Leslie (@MissilePanda)

Its Not All a Bed of Roses

For many people gardening sums up old people pottering around a well tendered, mature garden or perhaps the idea of people having a “good life” moment and growing their own veg. For me gardening tends to fill me with rage, frustration and annoyance. ( I still love it- sort of)

When I moved into my current home my front garden was mainly chip stones and one flower bed and in the last year I have spent much time toiling over removing them and trying to replace them with plants. So far so good you might think-not so and this is where the frustration comes in. I am utterly impatient and I want things to grow to their full height and glory yesterday, I hate the waiting on things to grow. I planted some gladioli bulbs last year and only now in the second week of August have they flowered, every day since the spring I have watched the them grow taller and taller but with no sign of flowers, just the ultimate in teasing and frustration for me. JUST GROW ALREADY!!! *sigh* even the mere thought of these bloody flowers sends me into a rage and my blood pressure sky high.

The first signs of a green shoot poking through the dark earth is a sight of joy for many, the first signs of life, a sign of things to come. Whenever I see green shoots, dark clouds come over head and my mood changes, as usually it is a sign “The Enemy” has returned, the enemy in question being, nasty, spreading, vile super weed the field horsetail. This weed is the absolute bane of my life, weed killer doesn't touch it and digging it up doesn't help as it only returns to haunt me. Normal everyday weeds don't bother me quite so much, some of them even have pretty flowers or can be good for bees and other wildlife, the field horsetail has no such redeeming qualities, it is just and ugly horrible weed whose main purpose appears to be annoying me.

Another thing that winds me up about gardening is plants dying or just not thriving in general. Ever since I started thinking about having something slightly prettier in the garden other than chip stones I have wanted a parottia persica or the Persian Ironwood, its leaves turn all shades of pink, orange and red in the autumn. Perfect I thought for a nice bit of autumn colour, having ordered and received my lovely (if tiddly) tree a few months back and planted it in a nice sunny spot in the garden it has been less than happy to say the least. It's leaves are turning brown and it generally looks a bit sad and drab and I have no idea how to help it. It's just another irritating bit of stress I don't need.

If anything it just goes to show that gardening is not all about giant marrows, neatly trimmed lawns and pretty flowers and that sometimes it is just a pain in the backside and you wonder why you even bothered starting it in the first place. Anyway, all this talk of gardening has me all stressed, maybe  I will go into the garden to calm down, there again best not.

by Claire Marshall

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
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.


By Kat (@flamingokatie)

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.

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.

Meerkat with Solar Lantern Ornament

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. 
By Ruth (@MummaRuth)

Gardening, whether good, bad, small  large allotment scale or window box style can all be summed up by one emotion - enthusiasm.

Enthusiasm is what has us eagerly planting seeds in all manor of pots, trays and tubs in spring, This year, when we ran out of those, one of my boys was despatched to our recycling bin where he searched, with relish,  for toilet roll innards (cut in half you get great little bean pots), and margarine tubs work well instead of flower pots. Our best discovery tho was to use old tin cans, with a hole hammered into the bottom the metal acts as an extra heater and encourages the seeds to sprout. They wanted to join in and help because enthusiasm is infectious.

Enthusiasm is what has us all avidly checking our seed trays (probably more often than we'd admit) for signs of life. The rush of seeing each bean shoot reaching for the sky is enough to make even the most unemotional gardener smile!

Enthusiasm is what gets us up early, fills up our weekends and keeps us digging in compost, even when our backs are creaking and tiredness is trying to get the better of us.

The fervour of picking fresh raspberries, the excitement of the first runner bean, watching the bees dance in a frenzy over our flowers, even the vigorous weeding (mostly because it sneaks up on us), it can all be found under the banner of enthusiasm.

Being enthusiastic can also help when your gardening doesn't exactly go according to plan too. The rain flattened my lavender a few weeks ago, so I picked the damaged stalks and put them into a vase enthusiastically so that I could continue to enjoy them, just indoors instead of outside. If your lovingly tendered tomatoes fall foul of the dreaded blight, then you just channel your enthusiasm into making green tomato chutney instead.

However, here is where enthusiasm can also be a negative thing too. Not wanting any of my seedlings go to waste I found myself planting every single one, even the weedy looking ones, and now not wanting any produce to go to waste and my freezer door barely able to close, I have been overly enthusiastically cooking up all manner of chutneys, and really there is only so much chutney one can get through (especially since a similar thing happened last year!) My preserving pan, or cauldron as the boys call it, is often on the go and I now have so many jars of chutney, jam and raspberry vinegar that I could open a shop.

This year the boys have really been swept along on the tide of enthusiasm too, their sunflowers splendid, their sweetcorn brilliant and their pumpkins are looking wonderful.

Plants themselves can be enthusiastic too, even if neglected, like courgettes that grow whatever you do to them and runner beans that keep on running. Then there is the good old fashioned rhubarb, even the snails don't challenge that. Some of this years most successful plants have been self seeded from nit quite rotted enough compost!

Then there are the plants that I fervently crave but have no room to grow, and that us where foraging comes into it's own. Using natures own gardens to fill your plate. Who can resist blackberries (mine now fruit leather), apples (mine now dried apple rings) or Hazel nuts. This morning my 2 yr old and I went foraging for sweet chestnuts and found quite a few.

But here comes winter and somewhere between the last of the potatoes and squashes and the first of the spring bulbs my enthusiasm fades like fallen leaves from an autumn tree, if anyone has any tips on rekindling the enthusiasm in this bare patch I would love to hear them.


By Naomi (@NaomiNome)

When Tom first asked me to write a post about an emotion I felt as a gardener I was stumped. The emotions that spring to mind are the negative ones (typical ungrateful human…) but I’d just hate to put anyone off, or risk portraying myself as some kind of masochist or a failure with a useless plot. So after mulling it over for a while I decided on…


Bear with me…

Helplessness comes in many forms in the garden. There’s the kind, which I’ve been suffering lately, when you can’t get to the plot for a while, due to illness, or holiday, or life otherwise getting in the way, and you just wish you knew if everything was all right down there. There’s the kind when a whole tray of seeds refuses to germinate despite all your best efforts. There’s the kind when a favourite plant keels over without warning and for no apparent reason. There’s the kind when an unexpected late frost blackens all your potato plants and strawberry flowers. And there’s the kind when you take every precaution possible to protect against pests but somehow the blighters just keep coming. (These poor seedlings were scoffed by a stowaway snail right there in my living room!)

The fact is, however hard we slave over our garden’s every need - tending and weeding and watering, rigging with nets and fleece and shiny things, picking off pests and applying treatments and fertilisers - we’re always at the mercy of greater forces. Climate, weather, wild plants, wild creatures, the complexities of soil science – not to mention a sizeable measure of pure randomness and luck. Not even the most skilled gardener can force an unwilling seed to grow or fruit to swell. Nothing is predictable. Nothing is guaranteed.

But those forces can be kind too. While we blame other factors for our failures, do we take all the credit for our successes? Is it ours to take?

At a social event at our allotment site recently, a lot of people were grumbling about what a ‘bad year’ it’s been. Leafy veg bolted in the hot spring, squashes are growing terribly slowly, fungal diseases abound… Well yeah, I said, but it’s been an amazing year for berries, broad beans, tree fruit and potatoes, unlike last year. And your tomatoes may have given up the ghost, but across town in my garden, mine are still going strong. Conditions which are bad for one plant can work wonders for another, and yet we always focus on the negative, don’t we?

I choose to feel liberated by my helplessness. After all, it means I never have to take the blame when things go wrong. And it reminds me to aim to work in harmony with nature, because there’s no point trying to work against it. And because it brings as much good fortune as bad.

From the full-on grief I felt when my prize pumpkin was hollowed out by slugs and my Crown Prince squash plants all gave up and died, through the frustration of trying to keep my cucumbers and peppers bitterness-free, the disappointment of miniscule onions or having to throw away a diseased plant that has barely borne fruit, and the humiliation of seeing a jungle of fat-hen and bindweed spring up all over the plot again, to the joy of seeing our tree full of gleaming red apples or pulling up the year’s first pure white parsnip, the awe and wonder provoked by seeing the fresh green shoots of spring or bumblebees tending newly opened pea flowers, the sheer gratitude I feel for the kilos upon kilos of delicious tomatoes we’ve had this year, the laughter that bubbled up when we lifted potatoes bigger than our hands, and the immense satisfaction of sitting down to an entirely home-grown meal – we owe all these things, in part, to forces outside our control; forces which give and take away on their own schedule.

Yup, I feel utterly helpless – a mere and trifling pawn in nature’s crazy game.

And I love it.

By Kath Haddrell

What emotions do gardens conjure up for me? Mixed I guess. I am the owner of a tiny garden - front and back - which although within a rather splendid conversion of a Grade II listed building (workhouse cum asylum) consist of rubbish turf laid on top of poor soil. And given that I commute to work some 20 miles away, I rarely seem to be there to mow the lawn in the daylight, or when I am there, its raining….so I end up strimming it when it's knee high. Mind you, the clover and poppies added to the biodiversity value this year. Although the neighbours cat "litter" I can do without.  So, for my garden, it's mostly guilt - though it looked lovely in the snow, and is a good place for reading the papers at the weekend or sitting out with a glass of something warming and looking at the stars. And just maybe, I will recreate the haven I had in tiny courtyard garden in Truro, with lots of herbs to use and beautiful flowers, arum lilies, white foxgloves, daffodils, nasturtiums and scabious. 



By Jilly Harrison

Well, here I am in Tom's guest bed (hope it's king size as I do move around a lot), you may be asking yourself what the heck is she going to write about with a title 'What the Hell'!

Let me explain, I have a lovely farmhouse in Southern Brittany, France, typical chocolate box type, really pretty, just the type of place where people want to come for their holidays, it would be ideal to have part of it as a Gite to let out for people to come and stay and enjoy, sigh, but hey hang on, I do have a Gite I let it out for people to come and stay and enjoy LOL.

So, I have 10 hanging baskets along the front, really pretty with trailing petunias (surfinias), geraniums everywhere, including upstairs in my 'Mary Poppins' style window boxes, a decorated bicycle with hanging geraniums etc., really lovely, and lots of other lovely flowers dotted around, and of course a veggie patch to the rear.
I hear you saying 'she's showing off now' but it's damned hard work as you know, and I do not have a perfect garden, I would if I was out there 24/7 but of course who could! I suppose you could say I am a fair weather gardener, when it was so hot, my hanging baskets needed watering twice a day, as they are a bit too high to be comfortable to water easily, I use a footstool, but often I was too hot and couldn't be bothered to find the stool, so watered them haphazardly as couldn't reach properly, so of course water didn't reach the plants properly and just ran out WHAT THE HELL!

Needless to say I was too hot to dead head my flowers so would try and do them in the evening, but Keith my partner would say lets have a glass of wine about 6ish outside, lovely and relaxing, so of course never did them WHAT THE HELL!  Consequently, some of my plants died, tried to revive them with water when I realised it was probably too late, note to myself must try harder next time.

Our veggie patch at the back is rather open to the elements unfortunately, and more often then not I could not be bothered to weed as either it was too hot or too windy, also watering was a pain as had to open the barn door to get to the hose, so some of the time I didn't bother whoops, lost some veggies this way WHAT THE HELL!

NOW it's getting so much colder, it's going the other way, too cold to do much out there, I really cannot garden when there is no sun, I really can't! the garden is crying out for my attention, so decided to try my best and last week dead headed a lot of my tagetes as I thought this is silly not to as there are so many lovely buds still to come! but when I went out there to start I found the dreaded mole had done it's deed, there were these large mounds around them and everywhere else in the garden,! so I thought WHAT THE HELL can't be bothered, but I did dead head them, felt so proud of myself LOL, (please someone tell me I was good will inspire me to do more dead heading)!

Now one of our cats always wants to poo right by my tomatoes as were (pulled them all up now), the area is half gravel and half weeds, and above is one of my hanging baskets, I usually pick it up with a spade and throw it across the road in the land of someone who is really nasty and uncoperative, (got to get my own back) but that's another story. But it was rather cold one day last week and I couldn't be bothered to do it, I was giving my plants a water as they were desperate, when yes you guessed it....I trod on the crot! (French for poo/shit) and I though bugger WHAT THE HELL!

I grew some red cabbages, I love red cabbage my mum is Dutch and they always use red cabbage for so many recipes, was so proud of my home grown cabbage plants, took them round to the veggie patch to plant them, when I realised it was too weedy to plant, thought right I will do some weeding tonight and plant them (it was hot then) did I heck, yesterday I went round there, they were still sitting in their trays as weedy as anything half starved, too late now 2 months on to plant so chucked them in the farmers field (don't like him either - yet another story) WHAT THE HELL!

I have just over an acre of land a lot of it is grass and I have my sit on mower, I absolutely love going round cutting my grass, the sound and smell of cut grass is so relaxing, problem is the battery is dead (needs a new one but too expensive at the mo) and I need someone to jump start it from a large battery charger I have, you have to sit on the tractor otherwise it will cut out, can't do this by myself, so the other afternoon it was dry enough to give it it's last cut of the year, but there was no one there to help me start it, so of course I didn't do it and now the grass is too wet and horrible to cut WHAT THE HELL!

Today is chilly but beautiful with the sun out, so I am going to try my best and plant my spring bulbs I so proudly bought a few weeks ago in time, (not like me), but I can feel a WHAT THE HELL coming up as the clouds are gathering and I might just not do them!!

A friend dropped me off some strawberry plants yesterday, that's really nice of him, but even though I want and like them, I don't think I will get them planted as I'm beginning to lose interest in gardening due to it being colder, WHAT THE HELL but I must try!

It's getting really cold now as I said, and this morning there was ice on the windscreen aagghh hermit time coming up! once my plants have become culprits of the frost then THAT'S IT I will then become a GARDEN HERMIT and I lose total interest in the garden 100%!  I then turn to the computer and all my favourite gardening sites, and look at what I can do different next year, cheers me up when I look at my flower photos as well!

Well I've ranted on rather a lot, hope you weren't too bored, I wonder how many of you are similar to me would love to know!  I really do love my garden, but as mentioned before, I really am a fair weathered gardener, and if the temperature is just right and no rain or wind and there is sunshine, you wouldn't get me out of my garden for anything!

By Sylvia Hawkes (@grajeras)

Having spent 10 years transforming my garden in England, from totally overgrown to a slightly wild and jungly garden, which I loved, I was really excited about the prospect of gardening in Andalucia, when I moved here 3 years ago. Imagining a perfect warm sunny climate where all sorts of exotic plants would be really easy to grow.

Once the renovations of the farmhouse I had purchased with my partner had been completed, my thoughts turned to the garden. 

The house is built on a large plot with about 60 olive trees and a separate fenced south facing area which slopes away from the house. The fenced area which I refer to as the garden, was totally overgrown and neglected. In my dreams I imagined a fabulous garden full of exotic plant species.

I was soon brought down to earth when I discovered that the climate here varies enormously. In the summer the temperature generally averages around 40c but can go up to 50c and is generally a everyday heat.  Which is often accompanied by Strong winds which start without warning, sometimes lasting for only an hour, but it feels like standing in front of a giant hairdryer!

Rain is rare in the summer months, however when it does rain it is more like a monsoon. Autumn and spring are generally very mild, but the temperature can drop from 30c  one day to 10c or less the next.  Winter again is pretty unpredictable, at night it can drop well below freezing I've seen it as low as minus 17c, then by the middle of the day it can be warm and sunny again.

When I moved here there had been no rain for 7 months, since then I have witnessed one winter and one spring, that were so wet the local spanish people say they haven't seen so much rain in 50 years.

The challenge has been finding plants that can tolerate these extremes, having lost plants to the hot winds that literally scorch leaves, lack of water in the summer and to much at other times. The soil is mainly clay so when wet it becomes horribly claggy and if dry like concrete and impossible to dig. It has been much more difficult than I imagined, but gradually it is starting to look like a garden, in which I come to realise it is best to work with nature so am keeping it semi-wild.

I am constantly filled with awe at the way nature adapts to these extremes and constantly amazed by the plants that cope very well with little or no human intervention.

This area is covered in olive trees, which are rarely if ever given any additional water and yet year after year produce wonderful crops of olives. In the spring the area is covered in beautiful wild flowers, sometimes even in the hot dry summer months plants that look totally dead produce pretty flowers. In the garden the grapevines, pomegranate and mulberry produce masses of fruit, without being watered.

Although I am enjoying trying to transform my little patch of the Andalucian countryside, I don't think I will ever be able to compete with the way nature copes with the climate.


By Michael Baker

A gardenless gardener
Young adulthood. It’s a cacophony of highs and lows, triumphs and failures, anticipation and trepidation, as my future seems to rest on every action and reaction. Sound familiar gardeners? I share your pain.One thing that youth and economics hasn’t so far provided me with is the sanctuary of defensible green space; so I get a glimpse of what I may have one day through the tales of Tom’s blog, hear about the trials of nature on Gardeners Question Time, and steal wistful moments with the keepers of the allotments behind my friends house. 

But my flatmates and I share a weekly joy that must be akin to what you gardeners feel when your sprouts are a sprouting, carrots are a carroting and Swedes a sweding...our organic veg box from NEOG (North East Organic Growers). It is our window on to the wonderful world of muddy, knobbly, misshapen, organic veg that garden dwellers are aspiring to every day, and I want to tell you of the joy it brought me on one fateful winter’s eve.

It is January, and we are in Britain; gardeners know of the anxious state this brings as every chilly eve brings the threat of frost and at any moment we could be cast into the darkness of a 2010 style freeze (I still remember the shock I felt when I discovered my parents Yuka had been claimed...goodbye old friend). Now walk in my shoes and bask for a moment when you realise that you have no garden to guard (I will allow you that) but this comes at a great cost; 15,000 words to write in three weeks! My career dependent on my performance! Graduate scheme applications! The highest youth unemployment rate in 20 years! Cuts, cuts and cuts! Euro-crisis! No job! No money! No hope! And garden! 

In the midst of the crushing pressure felt most acutely in this awful month, I was walking home from another 10 hour session in the library when I remembered that today was Thursday and there was a glimmer of hope due to be collected from a kind old ladies house round the corner – our veg box. Joy and perspective rushed over me in the knowledge that soon I would hold in my hands that scintillating smell of earthy dampness, the mystery of today’s contents would entice me as I carried it home and when I got there I would spill it onto the side and leaf excitedly through its contents.

When I got home, what did I find? Buxom beetroots, pert potatoes, lovely leeks
and a host of other goodies, all ready to be peeled and chopped and souped 
and stewed. I began, and all worry washed away with the sticky mud down the 
sink, and in the meditation of preparation I realised that nothing else matters in 
this cruel world so long as I have nature to nourish me. So sayonara stress! 
Aurevoir applications! Goodbye deadlines! I have a leek and potato soup to 
make, with enough butter to make a GP wince and enough garlic to ensure my 
singleton status for at least a week. In small moments, veg perfect be. 


This post has presented a bit of a challenge for me. 

Reading through the ‘Guest Bed’ posts, it is easy to see why. Our relationship with gardening can be a rollercoaster of emotion, with heady highs of success and shattering lows of disappointment (usually in the form of pest and disease).

Initially I was going to write about gratitude. Since leaving my career and taking up a college place studying horticulture, this has featured predominantly in my psyche. Then again, so too have panic and doubt. Then it came to me as I was having a chat with a classmate about the joys of seed propagation. It was obvious to me I experience an emotional response to this plant process, but I don’t know what it is called. It may have a proper name, but in the meantime it shall be known as planternal instinct. I explain it below.

I recently sowed six varieties of chilli seeds. I popped them in the propagator and placed it on a south-facing windowsill. I gave each of the 18 seeds its own module, thinking some of the seeds might be a bit old and fail to germinate. In the past I put a few seeds in the same pot and was then faced with the decision to either kill off the weaker ones or rescue them all. I opted for the latter and recall spending half an hour staring at these sorry looking, wilted seedlings having detangled them from one another to put them into their own pots. It was touch and go for a while, but all made a good recovery. I wasn’t about to put myself through that again.    

To my delight and surprise, all of the seeds germinated. And which select few will I be potting off? I do not need the wisdom of Solomon to solve this quandary. All of them will be moving on to new containers. I want them all. I don’t care how big, inconvenient and demanding they become. The bond has formed and cannot be broken. These plants will bear the fruits of my seed packets. As far as I’m concerned Thompson & Morgan, Sea Spring Seeds and Unwins have played their brief part, but the responsibility for how these plants mature is down to me. I want them to make me proud and will do all that is in my power to nurture them into successful high yielding plants. I will protect them from the lurking monsters ready to pounce as soon as my back is turned. I will be waiting for you red spider mite and whitefly. Nobody puts baby in the corner. Not unless it has good natural light, with ideal humidity and first-rate ventilation.

I guess simply put, the emotion I am trying to describe is love. It is the hub of our emotional bond with plants, as without it we wouldn’t care so much when things do well or badly. I have been told I will have to become ruthless if I end up propagating professionally. There’s no sentiment to be had in the business of nursery stock production. I have no problem with that. Our decision processes at work are often different to those we employ at home. At home we are more emotionally invested and in my domestic environment, all my seeds will be given a chance.

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.