Garden: Planting a sunset

Today I planted a sunset in our front garden. I can’t wait for all of the flowers to bloom!

For once the beautiful, clear sunny skies coincided with my day off. I went to the garden centre and bought new gardening gloves as I had worn both of last year’s gloves to tatters, and bought some flowers too. My goal this morning was to focus on the border of the front garden.

So I dug up the border entirely, salvaging the one primrose that managed to survive somehow from last year, and pulling out all of the weeds. Not long after I began, none other than Miss Kitty sidled into our garden. She inspected my handiwork and I assume she approved because she stayed for a few pets, too. I rescued the other four remaining primroses from the pots that had completely gone to weed — the pots I would use for Narcissus and tulip bulbs.

Even though I remembered that I ought to take a ‘before’ photograph, I ultimately forgot in my excitement to start digging. What did I plant in my flower beds? Narcissus, Delia blue red-eye primroses, Delia apricot primroses, and orange-duet violas.

The violas are my new favourites — though I might have to attribute some influence to Patrick Ness, as Viola is such a strong character in his novels. Not all of the violas are blooming, but I expect they will look wonderful alongside the primroses. (Wondering what the blue specks are? Slug repellant — my only weapon against my gardening archnemesis.)

The border isn’t all that exciting until the flowers start blooming, but I’m much happier knowing that it’s done and there are flowers there to greet me when I come home. My next project is going to be the flower bed in the back of this photo, the one under our front window…

Spring is in the air…

On my way home today I passed by one of the little garden shops near my house. Already it had a stand out with flowers on display. It being sunny, it being the onset of spring, I could not help but stop. Narcissus! Those tiny little daffodils that Ros was saying she preferred to their larger cousins — I knew she would not object to those in our front garden. Nor the beautiful, purple and orange violas. Nor the primroses. Mentally I filed away which flowers were available and reluctantly tore myself away. First we need to dig up the garden. There needs to be somewhere to plant said flowers.

So yes, dear readers, it is nearing that time of year where you will hear (read?) me wax poetic about playing in the dirt and receive periodic updates about my Victory Garden. As the days continue to lengthen I will be able to work in my garden when I come home from work in the evenings. Maybe Miss Kitty will come round our garden again, maybe I will make some new garden friends. Stay tuned!

(Are you one of my local readers? Come over and play! I will need help digging and clearing out the green house. I have just discovered an amazing recipe for Earl Grey chocolate cake. I will bake it if you help me dig and plant flowers in my front garden.)

Our Garden, Part 11


More than one thing wreaked havoc with the garden while I was away. Gales blew over corn stalks and sunflowers, battered the courgette plants. Some sort of disease is attacking the pumpkins and courgettes. My landlord, in his inscrutable wisdom, pruned the apple tree and blackcurrant bush. Why anyone would prune fruit trees or bushes in autumn, when they are covered with ripe or nearly-ripe fruit, is beyond me.

Beyond me.

Left: Before, and Right: After

Our apple tree produces Monarch apples, a type of cooking apple. Ros and I were both looking forward to making lots of appley things: pies, crumbles, bread, butter, sauce. We both love apples. I use a lot of apple sauce in holiday baking, and I am more than upset at this inexplicable loss of a resource. No, the garden isn’t really mine, and no I didn’t plant the apple tree, but I had watched it bloom and grow fruit, and had read up on how to prune it — properly — in winter so that it would produce even more fruit next year.

So now my day off this coming week, weather permitting, will be spent trying to salvage what I can of the garden. And I mourn the devastation of our apple tree.

Our Garden, Part 10

Right now, my Victory Garden is mostly taking care of itself. The pumpkins are spreading their vines as far as they can across the garden and I’m hoping the small fruits that are forming will be big and orange and ready for Halloween. The sweetcorn is valiantly growing in Scottish weather, and even a few cobs are forming, sticking out their creamy tassels to flutter in the wind. I’m disappointed that on the whole the sunflowers haven’t been as successful as I hoped, but I did get one good, beautiful sunflower. When I look at this sunflower, my heart is glad.

And then there are the courgettes. Lots of them.

That’s only the bag from today’s harvest. I’ve given bags of courgettes away to friends, colleagues, and even my supervisor. Ros and I have been putting courgettes into whatever we cook for dinner, and we’re still not going through them fast enough.

Just a few things I have made with courgettes:

As well as, you know, tossing courgettes into whatever other concoction I might be making, be it pasta, rosemary chicken with tomato sauce, chicken coconut curry, Scotch broth, or my own spicy red lentil soup. On the list of things to do with our cornucopia of courgettes is to make quiche, chutneys, and blanch some to freeze.

Any suggestions for what else can we make with courgettes?

Our Garden, Part 9

The past couple of days I’ve been working on a flower bed in our back garden. Some time ago I discovered that the front part of the garden, closest to the house, used to have a flower bed, but over the years it had grown over with moss and weeds. I’d been meaning to reclaim it, and when it came apparent that my roses needed to be planted into the ground after all, I thought I would finally get around to doing just that. And this time I even remembered to take before and after pictures.

I’d like to add mulch and a border, but that will be work for another day. In addition to the roses I planted two fuchsia plants. But the real treat will be in the spring when the daffodils and, hopefully, a few hyacinths come into bloom.

Turn of the year

Sun shining, the sky bright and blue and clear like the inside of a bowl, birds singing, and a chill in the air. The first breath of autumn. It will be a while yet till the leaves change and the pumpkins are ready to harvest and the nights draw in dark and cold, but already the year is turning. I do not mind the autumn, only we have not had much of a summer this year.

I intend to savor the remaining green in the trees. In my garden the sweetcorn and pumpkins are still growing, and there are plenty of courgettes to harvest. Next month the blackberries will be in season and I can harvest those, too. The days are still long and the air, though cool, is not cold. It is only the first breath of autumn, after all.

Our Garden, Part 8

Last night Ros, Charly, and I heard that it might be possible to see the Northern Lights, so around midnight the three of us went out to the end of the long pier. It was mostly cloudy, and though there was a suspiciously bright patch of cloud over the bay, and an oddish colour blue between the clouds to the north, we mostly saw the northern lights of Dundee from across the Tay. But it was not a venture wasted. Dark as it was, we could see ribbons of white and silver on the tips of the waves. Between the patches of clouds were swaths of stars, so rarely seen in summer when the days are so long. I was mesmerised by how far light can reach in the darkness: a flash of headlights sparkled on the waves from a car turning down a road across the bay, a bonfire at the base of the castle cliffs where someone was juggling fire, and even Jupiter cast a faint gleam on the sea.

This morning, after a much needed lie-in, I was grateful that it was another sunny day. After brunch I went out to work in the garden. The task today was to clear up the area around the blackcurrant bush and apple tree so that we could get to them more easily. One thing I appreciate about gardening in Scotland is that I need have no fear about getting amongst it in weeds and bushes, because I don’t have to worry about spiders that can kill me. I always forget to take before and after photos of my renovation work in the garden (renovation is the best term for it, since we inherited the garden with the house and it has suffered who knows how many years of neglect). But here you can see how our fruit area looks now.

Of course, having now made the blackcurrant bush easier to get to, I then promptly stained my hands purple harvesting a bucketful of fruit.

One of the first time I encountered blackcurrants was when I was traveling around Britain with a group from OBU, and I poured myself a glass of what I thought was grape juice one morning at breakfast. After that first misadventure, I was wary of blackcurrant flavoured things. Then I tasted blackcurrant jam, though, and it’s been a good relationship since.

With my very own blackcurrant bush, I can make my very own blackcurrant jam. Just look at that bubbly, fruity goodness. Blackcurrants, like most native British berries, are really quite tart. But add just enough sugar and it becomes a delicious, delightful jam. I was pleased to end up with four jars as the fruit of my labour. (I know, the tray behind them says cherries. But I like it.)

Of course, one must always have a piece of toast with the left over jam in the pot.

I spent the afternoon attacking the weeds around (and beneath) the courgettes and the pumpkin plants. Imagine a garden where it gets just the right amount of sun, good fertile soil, and lots of rain, and then let it be neglected for three or four weeks. Yes, I have quite a lot of work ahead of me.

In other news: C is for Courgette:

Our Garden, Part 7

It’s been a long time since I’ve written about the garden. It’s also been a long time since I’ve been in my garden. While Ros was kindly making dinner I went out to reacquaint myself. I am amazed at how things grew in the three weeks I’ve been away. I came back into the house with a marrow and four courgettes (a.k.a. zucchini), two of which Ros promptly added to our dinner.

One of the sunflowers has bloomed en masse: at least six heads, if not more. The other sunflowers are starting to bloom, too. The corn stalks are growing stoutly despite the Scottish climate, and the pumpkins are stretching out their long vines.The rhubarb has recovered from whatever it was suffering from last month and we now have a new supply of rhubarb. Most impressively, the courgettes have turned into a jungle.

Courgettes will now become a staple in our diet. Ros is dreaming of quiche and I’m thinking of zucchini bread. Yum. The blackcurrant bush is ripe and Ros harvested some to make crumble. Soon I will be making chutneys with our courgettes and blackcurrant jam.

Pomp & circumstance

This week has been graduations at my university. I ushered three of the eight ceremonies this week. Our university, being the oldest in Scotland, has a wonderful ceremony full of tradition. (Though I will admit, the quality of Latin spoken these days makes my medievalist heart cringe.) One of the honorary graduands at this year’s ceremonies was none other than Sir David Attenborough. I had the pleasure of attending his lecture on ‘Alfred Russel Wallace and the Birds of Paradise’ on Tuesday night and of attending the ceremony in which he was honoured.

In my last post I mentioned that it had been pouring rain. Well, it certainly was on Tuesday, the first day of graduations. At the end of each ceremony, the academic procession leaves the hall to go to Sallies Quad. A piper leads the way, followed by the university’s maces, each carried by its own bedellus. Behind them come the Chancellor and Vice Chancellor and the rest of the Senatus Academicus, the honorary graduates, and the new graduates. The procession always goes right past my office, so I stand out on the front stoop to watch them walk past, waving at any of the graduates I might know. Well, the very first day of processions still took place in the rain.

The rain also meant that I didn’t do any gardening this week, and the garden is already being taken over by weeds. I did a bit of weeding today, since it was sunny and mostly dry, but I only cleared the area around the sweet corn. Weeds in a garden of this size are going to be a constant battle.

I also had a moment of happy surprise this week. My walk to and from work takes me along and across the Kinnessburn, a smallish river. There are usually an abundance of ducks around the footbridge that crosses the burn. One particular duck is my favourite — she appeared last year and has the most extraordinary colouring, being cream and white instead of the usual brown and black. I had been worried that something had happened to her since I hadn’t seen her since before the mating season began, and though I hoped she just might be farther upstream, I hadn’t gone on a walk along the burn to be sure. All is well though, for she has come back! With babies! Eight of them, already looking adolescent-like and less baby-like. I saw her again today and am very pleased indeed.

See, isn’t she pretty?

WORD COUNT: 40,028

My own roses

Though a bit late this summer, everywhere I walk in town the roses are blooming. Whether they are climbing up garden walls or growing in bushes here and there, whenever I see them I smile. I used to hate roses — or rather, the idea of giving someone roses, because it was cliché and I didn’t really like the look of roses that came from a florist. Roses growing out, though, are a different thing entirely. The Red House in Oklahoma had a rose bush, and while caring for it for the year and a half I lived there I read Rose Daughter by Robin McKinley, and well, I fell in love with roses. Since then I have remembered that my MeeMee kept roses at her house in Charleston. I am glad to share this connection with her.

So when I was walking home from working at the Registry today, helping prepare for graduations this week, I was admiring other people’s roses and feeling sad that my own garden did not have any. It was a beautiful warm afternoon and I took a longer route home, even if I was very tired from a full weekend of work. My route happened to pass by the other little garden shop, which tends to have a greater variety of plants than the proper garden shop nearer my house. I paused to looked at the plants, not intending to buy any, as most plants are out of my budget right now. But then I saw a teeny rose peeking its head out from the shadows of a low shelf. I walked away with two, because together they were only £3, and I couldn’t decide which I wanted more. I came home, repotted them, and put them on the sitting room windowsill — the default home for plants until I decide where they need to go. I hope they stay there, because it also means I can look at them, and smile at my very own roses. I plan to keep them in pots as long as I can, so that they can move with me when I move house.

WORD COUNT: 32,335