The will to grow

Last year, I took some root cuttings from one of my comfrey plants. I dug a hole next to the plant, rummaged around until I found some decent-sized roots and snipped off a few large-ish chunks. I then put them into small pots of compost, arranged the pots neatly in a sheltered corner of the gravel next to the shed and put them to the back of my mind. Until now. Continue reading

Leaves, cuttings and a touch of colour

I’d been neglecting my houseplants a little recently, so at the weekend I lugged them all outside into the sunshine for a bit of a tidy up. And with the little fellas lined up on the lawn like a ragtag floral guerilla army, it was clear that some of the scruffier ones had to go.

But before I hurled them onto the compost heap, I took the opportunity to harvest a few cuttings from some of the Echeveria, which look great when they are young but then have a tendency to turn into bald rampaging stalks as they get older.

While I was at it, I thought I might as well take a few cuttings from some of the others, too. And then Natalie wandered over with some tiny Sempervivum, which we added to my growing collection in a large module tray.

Leaf cuttings

The result was somewhat more cuttings than I had anticipated, and I’m probably setting myself up for another houseplant crisis some time next year, but I have to admit that they do look rather cool, as you can see in these photos.

Leaf cuttings

They’re currently residing in one of the cold frames at the bottom of the garden, where they’ll stay as long as the warm weather lasts. Hopefully, I’ll be able to pot them up before the first frosts arrive, so that I can distribute them around the house. And then, my friends, I’ll be right back where I started…

I appear to have overdone it with the plants (again)

I’ve done it again. I’ve got a little bit carried away with my seed-sowing and I have far more plants than I know what to do with. I do the same thing every year and each year I promise myself (and Natalie) that next year it will be different. And now I have a greenhouse, three cold frames and part of a garden full of little pots of plants that are looking for a loving home.

Tagetes seedlings

They didn’t seem much of a problem when they were this small

I could claim that it’s not my fault. I plant a few extra seeds in case they don’t all germinate and, when they inevitably all do germinate, I can’t bear to discard any of the tiny seedlings (I mean, they’ve kept their part of the bargain, so surely I have to keep mine) and pot them all up. What kind of heartless gardener would throw away perfectly good seedlings? A sensible one, probably, so we’ll move swiftly on.

Regardless of fault, the upshot is that I now have more plants than you can shake a stick at. I’ve got six varieties of tomatoes, two sorts of mint, loads of tagetes, four varieties of chilli, four or five sorts of courgette, ipomoea, mina lobata and more. Oh, and squash. Lots of squash.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been doing my best to rehome them. I’ve had a stall at my local country market, I’ve given some to my neighbours and I spent last Saturday morning selling some of them off at a plant sale in the town centre (total takings: £19). My wife has also got on the case, securing orders from several of her work colleagues (who benefit from a very generous 100% discount).

Plants for Stuart

A tray of plants for my neighbour

I’ve manage to find homes for about two thirds of my surplus stock so far, and will be off to market again tomorrow morning with the rest. On the basis of experience so far, I suspect that I may be bringing a fair few of them back home with me afterwards, so I will have to think of a further plan for any stragglers.

Plants for market

Ready for the market tomorrow

But anyway, there’s gradually a bit more space appearing in the greenhouse and the cold frames, which will give me room to pot up and grow on the other seedlings that I have yet to plant out. I know, I know – I’m doing it again. But the little fellas have done their bit and now it’s my turn. I shouldn’t have planted so many. I’ll do better next year.

Paparazzi alert: Molly and the boys

I went to see my mother at the weekend. Not a particularly promising topic for a blog post, but bear with me. My mum lives in a very picturesque corner of rural Somerset and, as she has recently hurt her knee and was hopping around like a demented pirate, Natalie and I offered to take her two border collies, Vasco and Hal, for a walk with Molly, our Labrador.

After spending the better part of an hour wandering through the fields, Natalie decided that she wanted to take a look at the plant nursery at Forde Abbey, which lay on our way back to my mum’s house. While dogs are allowed in the nursery, we thought that three might be pushing it. So while Natalie went in, I found a shady patch under a tree next to the river and sat down with two border collies, one Labrador and a big bag of dog biscuits.

It was quite pleasant sitting there and the dogs were behaving unusually well. Vasco and Hal were overjoyed to be out and about and Molly was just happy to be tagging along. And our little picture of perfection didn’t go unnoticed. Several people grinned at us as they walked past and, at one point, a lady with a car-full of kids pulled over and several of her offspring dangled out of the windows to get a better look.

After we’d been there for about twenty minutes or so, I noticed a middle aged couple bustling over in our direction. The man was clearly in a hurry and he left his wife trailing behind him as he charged towards us. When he was about twelve feet away, he pulled out a little camera. “This is just perfect,” he exclaimed. “Do you mind if I take your photo.” I was a little bemused. Vasco and Hal were unperturbed. Molly was delighted.

It turned out that the man and his wife were on holiday in the UK from their home in New Zealand. They are big fans of border collies and regularly play host to their neighbours’ own two dogs on their back porch. And I know this because the couple produced an iPad and backed up their story with photographic evidence. We spent a very pleasant quarter of an hour or so chatting about the various dogs that we have know and loved. And then, as quickly as they had arrived, they were on their way – and I returned to my patch in the sun, with Molly and the boys.

Twelve little plants went to market

I made my first foray into the nursery trade last Friday, when I packed up a dozen of my home grown plants and headed down to my local Country Market. And I even made my first sale – one of my shuttlecock ferns was snapped up within minutes. Sadly, nothing else happened for the remaining hour and a quarter, but even Bill Gates and Steve Jobs had to start small.

In case you’re not familiar with Country Markets, and I suspect that you are not, let me tell you a little more. They were founded by the Women’s Institute as a way of helping people to offload their surplus home produce and to make a little money in the process. There are markets in most towns and villages, selling a range of food, crafts and plants. Everything you will find there is locally produced, assessed against stringent quality standards (and I know, because I have, in fact, read the manual) and home-cooked, home-made or home-grown.

The plant stall

The plant stall, with my own contribution in the foreground.

I would be surprised that the markets are not more popular, but the one I went to is held for just over an hour on a Friday morning, in a church hall just outside the town centre, with very little in the way of fanfare or advertising. So, to be honest, I’m quite surprised that anybody manages to find it at all.

Anyway, I picked out the most aesthetically pleasing of my current crop of young plants (four each of shuttlecock fern, moroccan mint, hebe pinguifolia and garden mint) and took them along. My first thought was that I was clearly not in the market’s core demographic. For one thing, I was (and still am, for that matter) a bloke. And for another thing, I’m (quite a lot) under 65. But the market controller introduced me to the other producers and everyone made me feel welcome right from the start.

Jane and Heather

Jane (left) and Heather, my fellow plant-sellers.

There were two other people there with plants to sell, Jane and Heather, both of whom have been involved with the market for some time and were, consequently, able to guide me through the various requirements in terms of labelling, filling in my record sheet (to make sure I get paid) and presenting my plants to best effect. Apparently, trekking a load of mud into the hall and then leaving your plants to dribble water all over the stall while you wander off in search of a cup of tea is not how things are done.

Because the market is a cooperative, everyone works together to set everything up (the real reason people were so happy to see me, I suspect, given the number of tables and chairs that needed lugging around), engage with customers, sell things and tidy up afterwards. There are communal tills for the different sections (food, craft and plants), which explains the need for detailed records of who has brought what and how much they are left with at the end, with producers receiving their takings (less a 10% commission) once a month.

As the new kid on the block, my role was restricted to helping to set up the stall, engaging in a little light banter with customers, answering questions about the plants (though promoting one’s own plants is discouraged – you have to treat all producers equally), drinking tea and generally getting in the way. I may at some stage be allowed to operate the cash box, but baby steps. Though I was allowed on one occasion to double-check a total. (It’s all mental arithmetic here.)

And with my one solitary plant sold, I have made a grand total of £2. Less commission, which brings it down to £1.80. Clearly, this is unlikely to become a major earner any time soon. But it will hopefully be a useful way to get rid of some of my surplus plants (which I just can’t stop growing) and to introduce people around here to something other than petunias. It was also, to my surprise, excellent fun. I may even be slightly addicted. I’ll definitely be there again this week.

The first green shoots

I love this time of year because it’s when everything starts to grow. The blossom is making its appearance on the two apple trees at the bottom of the garden, the rhubarb is sprouting crunchy new stems every day and I have a row of tiny chilli plants growing in a propagator on the window ledge in my office.

Chilli plants

The chilli farm in my office

This time marks the turning point, when the dark evenings and frosty mornings of winter come to an end and spring dawns with its sense of purpose and hope. And it’s the time when I can get out into the garden and start planting the seeds of everything that I want to grow. The tomatoes, pumpkins and courgettes are already in seed trays and pots in the greenhouse, as are the mina lobata (the beautiful climbing ‘spanish flag’) and the tagetes (excellent companion plants for the tomatoes).

And that’s just the start. I have a big box of seeds still to plant, from carrots and fennel to calendula and greater quaking grass (one of my personal favourites). I’ll spend my evenings and weekends sowing, potting up and planting out until the garden is a riot of shapes, textures and colours, some edible and some just great to look at. As I said, I love this time of year.