Friday, 29 January 2016

Easy plants for my daughter's garden

My daughter asked yesterday if I could help her choose some easy plants for her garden because it's looking a bit tatty. She lives in a lovely three storey house in Bath with a garden that wraps around three sides of her house. The front garden is mostly given over to a driveway but has mature shrubs and bushes so doesn't need much other than to be tackled with a pair of secateurs. The rear and side garden are used by her family and children that she cares for (as she is a childminder). Having completed a degree in Early Years Education, she started her family and now has combined her knowledge and experience with her family life, which I think is a great way to care full time for her children whilst also having an income.

She doesn't have much time for gardening, but does want an attractive environment and an opportunity to give the children a learning experience about plants and wildlife. So plants need to be easy to nurture, non poisonous, attractive and if possible to have a big impact.

I think it would be fun, once the plants have grown, for her to be able to then use the flowers, leaves or seeds in the kitchen and show the children some great uses for plants, so my suggestions for her garden include

Nasturtium, with their hidden sip of nectar in the base of the flower and peppery leaves (which sadly in my mind tastes of caterpillars, I obviously had a close encounter at an early age).

Pot Marigold with bright shiny flowers and which are edible, although I haven't tried eating the stems or leaves yet, perhaps that is something for us to try later in the year.

Lavender, which would give us the perfect reason to visit a lavender farm like Cotswold Lavender later in the year and give my daughter's charges an opportunity to make lavender bags as gifts for their family members towards the end of the year.

Candytuft, like these cheerful little ones from  Mr Fothergill's seeds. Easy to grow, even for the smallest of fingers, I remember my daughter taking great delight at sowing her own little patch of flowers in the garden when she was about two years old and the pride on her face when she picked her first bunch of home sown flowers.

Scented Geraniums like these ones from Victoriana Garden Nursery.  Dainty little fairy cakes that have been cooked with a lemon scented geranium leaf in the bottom of the cake case have a flowery lemon taste and they smell heavenly. I made these with my son when he was in his pre-school years and haven't made them for about 25 years, it must be time to teach my daughter how to make them with her children.

Sunflowers like these ones from Premier Seeds Direct (I particularly like their seeds and they offer loads of organic varieties of flower and vegetable seed too).

These are all easy to grow plants and I will also suggest some easy vegetables like runner beans, radish, mangetout and lettuce.  It would be lovely to think that she may help nurture an interest in gardening and wildlife in the next generation whilst making a colourful splash in her garden and growing a few tasty additions for her kitchen.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

In praise of Generosity

I have been searching for some additional kitchen units for the house. Ideally I'd like some to create an island unit in the centre of our kitchen to replace the plastic tubs I have under the pine table that currently store most of the cooking utensils like large pans, mixing bowls and plastic containers that I save to reuse when freezing meals. This would allow us to use the table as our dining table again, which would be great because we are currently using a fold-up camping style plastic table (tres glamorous!). There is another area in the kitchen that I would like to add a few more base units to store some of my larger cooking utensils and equipment, Additionally we'd like to have some storage cupboards in the boot room, and we've both commented that a sink in the boot room would be ideal for us to wash our muddy hands before we come into the house. So that's the wish list and our 'in an ideal world' thoughts.

I am an avid user of recycling sites like Gumtree, our local wood recycling project and charity shops. Using these facilities just makes sense to me, I am getting something I want, I'm saving money, and the seller is disposing of their unwanted items and making some cash in the process, win-win! And of course it is better for the environment for us not to keep creating more and more but to use what is already made. I try to shop as locally as I can, and that applies to recycling too. There's less sense in trying to do one's bit by recycling if we are then using masses of transportation miles.

Mr J and I have looked at the price of new units for the kitchen and decided that we really can't afford to buy new ones, so I have been searching the recycling sites for suitable units and have learnt that they get snapped up really quickly. Every time I contact someone to say we are interested, the units have already been allocated to other folks. Anyway, late afternoon yesterday I received a message to say that one of the advertisers had been let down by someone and that her kitchen units were still available if we want them.

Well yes please! We spoke on the telephone and she also sent me some photographs of the units that are available and they are perfect for what we have in mind. She then went on to offer me a sink unit complete with butler's sink. If I could do a cartwheel I would do many of them in celebration of her generosity.

And the price of these units is simply the cost of going to collect them. She lives less than ten miles away, albeit on the other side of the Severn Bridge but still very close. So including the bridge toll, I think it will cost us about £10 per journey to collect them. We should be able to fit a couple of units into the car per trip. I am delighted.

I think that the great thing about generosity is that it has hidden benefits. When we are generous towards other people we get a feel good moment for ourselves and who doesn't like to feel good?  When we are generous with our time, love, care, or as in this case with unwanted items, we can re-affirm our belonging to a community (that could be a community of a couple, family, school or wider community) and the feeling of belonging helps to make us feel secure.  Giving to others can help to build stronger links, create new friendships, meet other's wants and needs and support the local and wider community. The list of benefits of being generous goes on and on.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Reacting badly

Following a busy weekend I promised myself that yesterday was going to be a gentle rest day, until I remembered that I needed to get my car sorted out before the tax runs out at the end of the month. The car hasn't started for the last 3 months and really needed to go to a garage to be fixed, sold or something. So Mr J and I headed off to South Gloucestershire where my lovely old car with its massive boot-space has been hibernating for the autumn and winter.

It was great to see our former neighbours again having not seen them since we moved. We had a coffee with them while we waited for the mobile mechanic to arrive. It was so nice to have a freshly made coffee as I haven't had one for about six months. Then, half way through the mug of steamy black coffee I suddenly remembered why I hadn't had one for so long, my careful eating plan excludes caffeine. It was an interesting experience, I felt my eyes hit the back of my head, my heart started to race and I got hot, uncomfortably hot.

The emergency car break down service folks arrived earlier than they had anticipated and  gave me the perfect reason to excuse myself and go and stand in the cooling air. He got my much loved vehicle going enough to put it on the back of a lorry and take it to the main dealer that I have been using for servicing and repairs. The staff there have promised to arrange for the car to be sold on my behalf and then, when I feel safe to be driving again I can buy a new (new to me!) car.

I was really quite upset yesterday morning, not because of the car but because of the implications of getting rid of my car. It felt like I had finally lost my independence. Logically I know that I haven't, I can drive Mr J's car at any time I want to (once I feel safe again), but somehow that wasn't the point. This is the first time that I haven't had my own car for over 30 years.

We got home in the early afternoon, I spent the remainder of the day taking it easy but the combination of stress and caffeine had done their worst and my body was twitching and jerking quite badly during the evening and I didn't manage to get off to sleep until after 11.30pm. I woke a couple of times in the night with shooting pains in my legs and back, so it wasn't a refreshing sleep. I was obviously disturbing Mr J as I fidgeted and the uncontrollable jerking in my legs meant that I had kicked him rather hard more than a few times. I finally gave up trying to sleep and this morning started at 3.15am.

Downstairs I made a cup of decaf tea and an omelette and lit the wood burner in the lounge as I listened to the wind getting stronger and the rain beating against the windows. There is something very comforting in the sound of winter weather outside when I'm curled up warm and cosy inside.

Shortly before 7am I was hungry again and had a bowl of black cherries (that I'd taken out of the freezer last night) with a crushed meringue. Now I realise that this isn't a great breakfast, but it was actually mid morning according to my body clock. I ate a couple of spoonfuls and then I had a reaction.

It started with a tingle in the throat and a pinging feeling in my nose, like I was about to have a nose bleed. Then I got lightheaded and it became increasingly hard to swallow. My chest got very tight and my mouth and lungs felt 'dry' and hot. All of that had taken about 90 seconds. Not to waste any time, I took an antihistamine and went upstairs as fast as I could to wake Mr J.  I curled up in bed next to Mr J while he monitored how I was doing, he has got very good at gauging whether a reaction needs more than an antihistamine and time, and was poised and ready to take me to A and E if the reaction got any worse.

It must be horrid for him to be woken up by me crashing around in the bedroom saying 'I'm having a reaction and I'm not doing very well'. Anyway, lying down didn't help me at all, my breathing got harder and my head was throbbing. Moving downstairs, we sat quietly together while we waited for the antihistamine to do its thing and half an hour later I was feeling very much improved.

So today the gentle rest that I was going to have yesterday has been enforced upon me. I am snuggled under a duvet on the sofa, with the log burner chucking out heat at me and a frequently refilled glass of blackcurrant cordial next to me. I'm hoping that I will fall asleep shortly and catch up on some of last night's missed sleep

I have no idea what caused the reaction this morning, it could have been something sprayed onto the cherries or a nut residue cross contamination, something in the meringues or on one of the logs I had recently put on the fire.

Incidents like this remind me of how careful I need to be about not only what I eat (and avoid consuming) but also careful about what I do. It is still only two and a half months since I was pretty much bed-bound and I am now well enough to do all sorts of things, and I enjoy every moment of them, but over-doing it makes me very tired and susceptible to reacting more to foods and chemicals.

This afternoon, between snoozes, I plan to read some of my favourite blogs and watch some how-to videos on the internet.  Also, no doubt, I will reflect more than a little about fortunate I am to have such a caring partner, lovely home and how in the grand scheme of things life is now relatively stress free. And in my book, those are things to be celebrated!

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Laying pathways and planting hedges

What a great weekend it's been in the garden. Friday and Saturday we mapped out and laid the weed suppressing membrane for the pathways around the area that will the herbaceous border and herb and annuals beds. They are pegged into place with what looks like giant metal staples which were jolly hard work to get into the ground in the stonier areas. I am delighted with how it looks.

This view (above) is from the middle gate into the paddock when we had laid out two of the pathways, looking towards the back of the garden.

Standing in almost the same place but this time looking across the paddock after we'd put down the membrane for all the pathways in this area. The grassy section on the right will become the herbaceous border. It will be about 4 feet deep and 40 feet long and in the corner that is just out of view opens up to become a triangular space. On the other side of the fencing with the green windbreak netting is the shrubbery. The grassy squares and triangle will be dug up and become beds for herbs and annual cutting flowers.

This morning my friend Jane came over for a gardening day. Jane is great in the garden, she has loads of gardening knowledge including things like dry stone walling and tree felling ,and her stamina and enthusiasm are infectious. Luckily just as she arrived this morning I was serving up a cooked breakfast, so we all had hot food and a cuppa before we headed outside. We set about preparing for and planting the hedge that will go around the paddock (which will become the fruit and vegetable garden this year)

We started by laying weed suppressing membrane and pushed the edges into the soil to hold it in place, we worked on about half the length of the hedge at a time. This is also a great photo to show how I'm getting on with mucking out the stables, the pile of hay and manure is now about three feet high, six feet wide and about 10 - 12 feet long, it will be much bigger by the time I have finished clearing the stable to make it into the chicken condo.

Then we planted the key trees, five poplars which will help reduce the wind from the estuary, some fast growing willows and guilder rose trees. After that we filled in the spaces between them with the native hedge plants that I bought a week or so ago.
 We planted a double row of little hedging plants along the full length of two sides of the paddock. My guess is that it's a bit more than 100 metres (335 feet) in length and there are still a few spaces left for me to add some other plants too

I have a few honeysuckle plants, the willow cuttings that I took last week, a crab apple sapling and some ivies that can be added over the next few weeks.

The paddock is very stony and I've thought it would be a good idea to cover the weed suppressing membrane beneath the hedge with the stones as I lift them from the field. This gets them out of the ground and holds the membrane in place without inviting airborne weed seeds to settle and grow.

So all in all, it's been a busy weekend and although as I write it's only 7pm, Mr J has cooked a meal for us, I have had a long soak in a hot bath and I am almost ready for bed, exhausted but very happy!