Tuesday, 30 June 2009

spires and bells

Two of my garden heroes. This delicate campanula clinging on to to a rocky slope and seeing off garden thugs like daisies and self-heal. And one of my favourite plants, the tall, elegant verbascum. A seedling from Mum last year which has just started to flower and makes the boorish pampas grass fade into the background.

Monday, 29 June 2009

My bees have bugs

I was going to write a post about the different bumble bees in the garden (I think at least three types) but when I came to look closely at my pics I realised they were carrying a hefty load of mites. The "big-stripey" at the top has two under its wing and the "wee-ginge" has two clumps of three just above its waist. Panic set in, as I had heard about bee declines and the varroa mite that was killing honey bees, but a quick google revealed that these do not affect bumble bees. In fact it is quite natural for bumbles to bumble around carrying lots of hitchhikers. One site even suggests the mites are beneficial because they clear detritus up in the nests. Hmmmm, I can't help think a population of mites that size has got to be debilitating. I suppose they establish a natural balance but in proportion to the bee's body it would be like having two mites the size of your fist stuck in your oxter. Yuck. Google is wonderful it even gave a link that tells you how to clean up any debilitated bumbles you find that can't cope with their mites: http://www.uksafari.com/bumblebees3.htm

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Two things that didn't make me smile yesterday. Someone is eating my pansies and I don't mean the butterflies. ******* slugs!
And some more gormless gardening. This poor fuschia was covered in aphids. I have no pesticides but thought I would try an older remedy. I had heard Mum mention that Gran used to throw the washing up water over infested plants rather than letting it drain down the sink. I had no used water to hand and didn't want to leave the plant, as it was covered, so put a drop of washing up liquid (well, OK, several large squeezes) in a hand spray and gave the plant a good dousing. That poor, burnt stick-thing is the result . Doh. I wonder if Gran's dishwater had soap rather than detergent, which I don't think was widely available until the late 1940s. Now I think about it, the organic pesticides use saponins rather than detergents. Doh again. Anyway fuschias and Coop antibacterial washing-up-liquid do not mix. Looking on the bright side I can use the rest of the spray as a weedkiller.

Two things that made me smile yesterday, my sweet peas flowering and my first ever courgette flowers. I had no idea courgette flowers were so big. Don't people cook with them nowadays? The flowers I mean, I'm sure I've seen recipes for courgette flowers dipped in tempura batter. You'd need a whole dinner plate for one of those.
The sweet peas smell just as gorgeous as they look. They were grown from Thompson and Morgon seeds. Golly, I've just had a look at the packet. It says they're shorter than most climbers and ideal for sprawling through borders..whoops. I've got them trained up poles like any normal sweetpea. Perhaps I should have read the back of the packet before I planted them out. I just liked the picture and didn't read any further. Oh well that's what gormless gardening is all about and anyway they seem to be doing fine, climbing up the poles with enthusiasm. In fact I'm not sure the packet knows what it is talking about because it says the flowers resemble small pansies. Hmm, not like any pansies I've seen.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

It has been a fabulous week of sunshine with not a midge in sight, so I have been lolling about the garden rather than writing about it. Rain today and the midges back with a viscious bloodlust have driven me inside to the laptop, toast in hand and crumbs on the keyboard. Smudge is trying to sit on my knee, purring and dribbling because she smells buttered toast. What is it about cats and computers that the moment you fire one up is always the moment that the cat decides she must have your lap?
Anyway, back to the garden and butterflies. At the end of May a massive wave of painted lady migrants fluttered all the way from Africa to the UK. A couple even arrived in my garden where they fed greedily on the wallflower I planted last Summer. I thought at first they were the small tortoiseshell butterflies I used to see frequently in central Scotland but then I noticed the "eyes" on the undersides of the wings which make them look like faces peering over the top of the flower. The wallflower is a straggily plant, I'm not sure how to keep in shape but it blooms early, when there is little else open for hungry feeders, and keeps flowering all Summer. The cutting came from my parent's garden and while it is not the most beautiful plant in the world, the fact that it has fed tired migrants from Africa has earnt it a permanent place in mine.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

So here I am, a gardening novice, with a challenge on my hands and a budget of zero. Ah yes, the small matter of a global economic down turn. Six weeks ago, after all the hassles of moving and buying a house at the peak of the market, I was given the choice of redundancy or part time work. Any job, even a part time one, is better than no job at all and that brings me, after a long meander through three other posts, to the reason for this blog. A part time job gives me the opportunity to work in the garden and to document what I do but no money to indulge in the plants I'd like. So there will be some advertising on this blog, not too intrusive I hope, and if any pennies are earned they will be used to bring new plants and pleasure to this gormless gardener.

I loved that little garden, with all it's beautiful birds and butterflies, but eighteen months ago my job brought me back to Argyll, close to where I grew up and to a very different garden, the one in the title of this blog. A plot four or five times bigger than I had been used to, set in three tiers on a boggy Argyll hillside, with a stream running down one side and a midge population of a number, size and persistance that only the West of Scotland can breed. I will sound mad when I tell you I bought the house because of the garden, but I did. I stood on the mossy lawn and looked out over the rowan and silver birch towards the loch and decided this was for me.

Did I mention cats? Ah yes, this is Smudge the Incontinent, variously known as Old Podge, La Grande Incontinenta or "that effing cat". She came to me from CPL, as an eight year old. She is sixteen now, so has been with me for most of my gardening life, supervising, digging and watering, in what she imagines is a most helpful manner. Her saving grace is that she doesn't chase birds. Too old? Too lazy? Too toothless? Doesn't matter. The important fact is she has never shown the slightest interest, so I can feed them with a clear conscience.

How to start? Why this blog? I’m not a professional gardener, nor even a proficient one. I am, in fact, almost completely ignorant. A dibbler and a dabbler, but I love it. I have been gardening for nine years. My first garden was a tiny, little, handkerchief-sized plot of builder’s rubble, overlaid with a centimetre of topsoil, in central Scotland. It suffered while I learnt things like: don’t plant camellias in the driest spot you have; slugs are the indestructible minions of Satan; that grey, furry stuff on your expensive, fancy honeysuckle is a fungus which will kill it; dunnocks and cats love seed beds, for different reasons, but the end results are the same.