Backpatch Blossom

Peony with lungwort, forget-me-not and artemesia in the back (20 May 2021)

Late May sees an explosion of growth, expansion, bloom. Dark blood red blooming peony along the railway path have shown themselves – a memory of Brenda and Jim.

The pale yellow columbine have come into their own under the far pergola – kept company by Dalmatian foxglove – also a creamy yellow flower with darker burgundy patches in the inner cone of the flower head.

The orange-yellow rambling roses are out in the woods at the corner, and all the rose bushes along the railway path in the woods and in the back patch are starting to swell with blossom.

Yellow flowering columbine with foxglove under the far pergola. (20 May 2021)

The purple rose donated by Jo will be a veritable explosion – there are a huge amount of sturdy multi-bloomed candelabras forming and just waiting for it to warm enough to burst from bud to blossom.

But saying that, the white flowering simple flowered ‘shrub rose’ at the far corner has already flowered and gone over. I should dead-head immediately! (That whole corner needs a thorough weeding in point of fact.)

We’ve been eating rhubarb crumble for at least a month, and the lovage has also burst into life. As a long-lived perennial herb a clump of lovage gets stronger and bigger every year – this year it stands a good three feet high and is robustly healthy.

The red currant bush in the corner where we keep our water is starting to set fruit – little cascades of swelling green nubs. And in the terracotta pot that I filled with soil and grit and but in four currant stem cuttings in the autumn, they all seem to have set and look to be growing.

At the corner near the gate the iris this year are spectacular.

In the autumn I transplanted a large clump of sedum to give the iris more room and light.

And I must say, the iris sure are repaying the favour with a forest of flower stalks and very healthy expanded growth. This summer I can ‘thin’ this patch of iris out to further encourage new healthy growth – and will move the root sections I dig out to a new area further down the railway path.

Having repeating clumps of flowers helps lead the eye through a garden and creates calming continuity. You don’t necessarily want to repeat all your perennial flowers – but iris give a great structural and architectural touch with their cheerful spears and the explosion of purple flowers in spring is a joy to enjoy year on year.

Iris in bloom, with emergin very tall spears of asiatic lily in the background (20 May 2021)

Another hero in the back patch is the anchor plant which continues to thrive – and survived a hard cold, wet winter unlike the tender fuschia and salvia amistad.

Anchor plant showing flower buds setting (20 May 2021)
A little patch of lily of the valley in the woods half circle bed. (20 May 2021)
Bumblebee in California poppy (20 May 2021)

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A cold, slow spring…

It’s been a slow start. A very slow start. Cold and quite wet. Cold. And windy – or ‘blowy’ as the British weather forecasters are wont to say. (It’s been warmer in Ontario than London this April and May).

We have some tomato and peppers purchased at the local garden centre – but most still safely ensconsced in the garden shed.

Spring shed with peppers and tomatoes. (early May 2021)
Bottom of the strawberry stairs. (May 2021)
Strawberries across from raspberry bed, and new brick path. (May 2021)
New lettuce & broccoli beds, with over-wintered garlic beds going strong & Felicity Fiacra keeping watch.
Pea bed planted up at top of the stairs. (Early May 2021)

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Enfin!

Spring is coming to London and we’re getting into the spirit of things again. It’s been a long dark winter during the covid pandemic. But the plots have survived the darkest months – the garlic beds sprout with growth, and the strawberry beds hover in suspension ready to explode back into growth.

The potted citrus survived and are growing well in the shed. Feb 2021.
Felicity survived the winter with her hat intact! Feb 2021
Photo by G late Feb 2021.

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Happy St Fiacre Day

The weather’s been pretty rotten lately – cold, windy, overcast with plenty of intermittent rain.  We were busy in the flat – the painting marathon continues.  But we should be done soon.  Here’s hoping Felicity Fiacre, our garden watch woman, is keeping a good eye on things.

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celebrating sunflowers & stuff to do with willow boughs

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Trio of sunflowers at the top of the strawberry stairs. (Aug 2020)

Our sunflowers have finally come into bloom. Yippee! Despite the slugs and snails devastating many of my early sunflower seedlings, a few managed to brave it out and are finally in full bloom.

We’ve got sunflowers sprinkled just about everywhere on our plot – at the top terrace at the top of the stairs, at ‘ground’ level near the boundary to H’s plot which is the level of the raspberry patch and main path, and also down at the bottom of plot, paired close to the sweet corn and little zucchino squashes – native American styled.

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Two varieties of sunflower at the top of the strawberry stairs.

The bottom patch has corn, sunflowers and squash, which the natives called the ‘three sisters‘. We hope the corn comes good, but this year our squash are all leaf and flower and not much fruit, alas. Nevermind!  The little squashes that have formed are all greedily enjoyed as an absolute delicacy. Yum!)

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Sunflowers at bottom of the patch, with corn in flower. (August 2020)

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Spectacular sunflowers at ground level on the boundary to H’s.

Our excitement is second only to the bees, who are pollen covered and ecstatic.  Check out this guy.  Go bees go!

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Bee busy harvesting pollen on a gorgeous sunflower. Love the psychadelic wings! (Photo by S)

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Busy, busy happy bees.

There’s nothing that makes us happier than seeing bees of all sorts enjoying the flowers we plant.  I’m thinking I’m going to save the sunflower seeds to share with the flock of sparrow and finches who enjoy breakfasting at our back window bird feeders. Once the petals drop off and the seeds mature in the centre, I’ll simply chop the mature flowerheads off and hang them with wire off our balcony – natural styled. That will be sure to spread the enjoyment around. I’m sure there will be happy chirping and twirping when the sunflower heads get hung.

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Willow arbour on raspberry bed. (August 2020)

Last week a fellow allotmenteer trimmed his pollarded willow. He invited us to take some of the cuttings, so guess what? We helped ourselves. The great Malink was at first fairly sceptical: “what are we going to do with all these slips?,” he asked as he pretended to use one as a very long 14 foot bullwhip, playfully snapping at my butt.  But I can’t help but say that just like all the found treasure I’ve scooped out of the neighbourhood rubbish, we soon put those slips to good use.

BirdProofedBasketAnd then we had to go back and get a few more rods.  So useful, these willow boughs!

We made a brand new willow arbour at the end of the raspberry bed – all the better to train the long fruiting vine canes of the super-prolific and awesomely tasty loganberries…  This is shown in the picture above, which used three sturdy willow boughs bent and wired together (two for uprights and a third bent over the top).

Inspired and excited by the possibilities of this flexible willow caning, I then constructed some bird-proofing ‘lobster pot’ cages for my wicker baskets planted up along the edge of the blackberry steps.

The baskets hold crops of tender greens – lettuce and radish – which are often ravaged by birds, so really did need a good protection mechanism. I ‘sewed’ the plastic netting on with cotton garden twine. So simple and elegant!  Once finished I’ll be able to remove the whirling pinwheels – which are admittedly gaudy and a bit disco coloured, but were a good cheap solution to scaring the birds off before this much better willow cane and netting set-up.

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Stair wicker baskets, half-bird proofed. With radish seedlings sprouting. (Mid-August 2020)

These willow and plastic pea netting constructions are only half-finished. We witnessed a bunting reed fly in and out of the netting that protected our gooseberry patch – which was repurposed to house the potted ericaceous Jersey Blueberries – so we’re now well aware that plastic pea netting just isn’t enough. Sure, it will discourage the bigger of our flying beasts such as wood pigeons and parakeets, but you’ll still lose peas and fruit to the smaller flying thieves.  So in due course we’ll need to hang over these constructs a finer webbed netting around the lobster pots…  (The picture below shows a half-hearted effort on the F&M wicker basket but will have to be finished more properly later.)

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Basket protected by two layers of netting – the finer bird-proof stuff is almost invisible. Radish seedlings safely ensconced within.

And just in case you’re curious about netting in general, I’m a big fan of the large grid hearty plastic pea netting, but as we already discussed, this doesn’t do it to protect against the feathered fruit raiders (and that’s all birds, from sweet robin-sized buntings and finches to the big bodied beasts of wood pigeons and parakeets).

To properly protect against feathery fruit and tender leaf raiders, you really do need the finer black mesh netting. But on it’s own that finer netting is enough to drive any gardener to rather copiously drink mid-day – I kid you not. The big dude had close to complete meltdowns dealing with the stuff when we tried to set some up in May around the four-poster fruit cage at our bottom boundary to J’s and M’s plot.

However, if you have a better structure to hang the blasted and very fiddly lighter netting onto, well, take it from me – it’s a million times easier to manage. And netting’s just no damed good if it’s so finicky that you can’t get into it to do any harvesting.  Or at least that’s what I decided after letting all of M’s red currant harvest go to rot earlier this summer just because I couldn’t figure an easy way in or out of the netting system over her currant hedges.

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Brassicas under a bridal veil of mosquito netting. With potted hyssop within for extra protection.

Following the creating of the loganberry arch at the end of the raspberry bed and the two lobster pot frames over the wicker baskets, we also created a willow frame to protect the sprouting broccoli plants that were started from seed in spring (seeded mid-May) and finally planted-in in early August. I’ve finally come to see the benefit of netting – and now am convinced of the usefulness of mosquito netting to protect brassica plants from the white butterflies that absolutely devour them.  In this we’re copy-catting the mosquito netted ‘tent’ built on the lower plot below us.

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White flowering campanula, on the blackberry stairs.

Other general allotment developments include the insertion of a nice clump of white flowering campanula into the clay around the stairs. I adore campanula! If happy it will flower almost continuously through the calendar year, and flowers in late autumn and early February are not unheard of.  Yippee!

The patch on the blackberry stairs was added as a complement to the earlier insertion of a white and a pale blue patch of campanula at the top border to H’s plot – just at the edge of the newt pond.

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Campanula at the top corner near H’s newt pond.

Campanula will spread if in a happy spot and I’m hoping in time we will have patches that cascade down the stairs in the gaps between pots and crop growing spaces.

And even our inanimate pals have company now. Felicity Fiacre – our stalwart semi-retired store manequin-come-scarecrow – has a new pal.

Meet little Alphonse, a sausage-dog shaped watering can I picked up at a chi-chi flower shop on a north side street off Oxford Street last spring. What a cutie. Sure, he’s never put to use, but so what? He stands proudly en guarde. SuperWoof!

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Alphonse in Felicity’s basket. With potted curly parsley – and sweet woodruff at ground level.

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Alphonse on guard, with ever-watchful Felicity Fiacre. What a team!

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Top of the blackberry stairs, with squash in the pea bed & nasturtium cascading down the steps.

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Success! Self-seeded mizuna growing at the base of the red rose arbour. Self-seeded crops are gardening at it’s easiest. So satisfying!

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Italian Green Raddichio Plot – a gift from our pal S.  All safely under black netting to protect from parrots, pigeons and feathered raiders of all sorts.

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Future pickles in development… Cucumbers forming at long last in mid-August. Enfin!

And lest us not forget. The pandemic’s not over. So many still sick, still in hospital or worse. Health service workers are still at it day and night. Good to see Tate Modern’s done it’s bit to mark their appreciation.

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Tate Modern, Bankside London. Early August 2020.

Here’s hoping you’re all staying safe, wherever you may be.

 

 

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thinking ahead – special seasonal tipples

The end of summer approaches.  I’ll be back to work soon – which surely will be a shock to the system.  What?  No outdoor time for six hours a day?  Oh my!  It’s going to be something else this year, on return to school after lockdown.  It’s been a gardener’s delight since late March – despite the quiet apocalypse we’re all experiencing.

Harvest time abounds.  Purple beans, tomatoes galore…  Flying saucer squashes and tons of ratatouille to devour in all manner of ways: on pasta, on mashed potatoes, pan fried and then coddle eggs in it.  You name it, we’re eating our tomatoes and squash in all manner of ways.

Soon it will be sloe season, which is the real mark of the start of autumn proper.  But before then, I thought I’d try to preserve the truly magical taste and scent of lemon verbena.  Who knew?!?  Well, folks, I’m super delighted to let you know that you can make lemon verbena gin in much the same manner as one concocts sloe gin.  Oh my!

It’s so easy! Push a few sprigs of freshly trimmed lemon verbena into an empty gin bottle.  Place a small funnel at the top and then decant a small wine glass’s worth of bog standard white sugar into the bottle.

Why sugar?  Well, sugar is generally speaking a preservative.  As is alcohol.  But the sugar gives a lovely silky viscosity to the resulting gin nectar.

Pouring gin over the sugar helps dissolve it and then continue to fill until your empty bottle is full.  Then you need to vigorously shake the bottle (cap on, yes!) to help dissolve the sugar.  After initial filling simply leave the bottle in your kitchen and give it an encouraging little shake every day for a month, then store away and it should be ready to drink by the time of the mid-winter seasonal festivities (also known as Christmas).

I think I’m going to be heading to Sainsbury’s soon to pick up their monster home brand 1.5 litre bottles of gin.  And guess what everyone in the neighbourhood’s getting this Christmas from me and Malink?  You guessed it – a superb cordial of verbena gin.

The tales of Anne of Green Gables has a great ‘scene’ when Anne gets thoroughly sozzled on her auntie’s fruit cordials.  Yummy and fruity and powerfully alcoholic.  What fun!  There’s an old saying, quoted by many including Hegel himself – in vino veritas – which roughly translates as truth in wine, but more widely is that wisdom can be found in the soft-edged state of mind of that results from the indulgence in a bit of alcohol.

Wine, gin, Campari, Marc de Marc, whiskey, Strega, Jagermeister, ginger wine….  It’s all much of a muchness. (From my list you can see I prefer my alcohol distilled and am no big fan of other yeasty brews such as beer and ale.)

Alcohol, oh alcohol!  It all works to open the mind to a bit of wisdom – helps the mind unfold wider and sideways.  My old philosophy professor and research pal was a big fan of regular moderate consumption of ‘hooch’ as he affectionately called it, and on particularly difficult days in the British Library or Paris’ Bibliotheque Nationale, recommended a very healthy dose to take the rough corners off life.  Needless to say, with German Irish blood mixed in my veins from the start, I can’t say I ever needed much encouragement.

Enjoy!  Hic!

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chilli update & outfoxing the foxes

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Hungarian Chilli Plant in flower, with small fruit forming.  (Early August 2020)

After a week of heatwave conditions of over 30 degrees in London, the weather turned on Thursday 13 August with spectacular thunder, lightning and torrential rain.

No doubt the Hungarian chilli plant enjoyed the sweltering conditions more than we did, and is now showing signs of fruit forming.  I checked and these little chilli peppers are spicy without being eye-wateringly hot hot hot, and will mature from their present light green to a warmer red tone as they ripen.

Chilli plants are listed as annuals, and some sites recommend pulling the plants and drying all fruit by hanging the plant upside down, but we are going to experiment and move the pot to our growing shed, which typically seems to be about 5 to 7 degrees warmer than outdoor conditions.  They will keep our two potted lemon trees company in the growing shed through the winter.  Or at least, that’s the plan!

Yesterday we took advantage of the cooler, grey overcast conditions yesterday to finally plant the echium into the back patch flower bed.  Transplanting is a bit like open heart surgery for plants, so doing it on overcast cooler days helps to secure success.  Plants hate nothing more than to endure stress when the sun is hot and the heat’s high.

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Tray of echium seedlings – waiting in the wings until we transplant them to the back patch meadow area. (August 2020)

The great Malink created fox-proof conditions by surrounding the new planting with a wire mesh protective guard and he also lined the ground surrounding the area with trimmed prickly rose and blackberry vines.  (Prickly cuttings did the trick a year ago to discourage foxes from repeatedly digging around a tree on the circus.). We’ve already experienced fox damage this summer when they took it upon themselves to dig out a planted shrub gifted to us by a fellow allotmenteer.  We had to replant it twice before protecting the whole area with large rocks.

Why do foxes dig out the plants?  Who knows the mind of a fox, but we figure it’s because we’ve turned over the ground and softened it all and watered, which makes all your newly planted areas ripe picking for worm-hungry foxes.  We’ve heard it said that a good portion of a London urban foxes’ diet is based on eating worms and other invertebrates! From what we can see of their behaviour, we are willing to agree.  From the regular appearance of large holes in the ground in the woods and back patch, one wonders if worms are perhaps their favourite delicacy – they sure do go to town to dig them up!  And yes, in case you’re curious – we spied three adult-sized foxes investigating all our newly planted areas, but even though they sniffed and explored, they didn’t linger long on the areas protected with prickles and thorny cuttings.  The super-Malink may in the end have figured out how to finally out-fox our beloved but wily and occasionally destructive foxes.

While he was busy with the new echium in the meadow area, I dug out some of the creeping mint under the far pergola. I set a brick boundary dug deep into the soil to discourage further mint incursions, turned over the soil, picked out large stones, and then planted out three of the plants I’ve been nurturing from tiny plugs, including a pot of perennial Aquilegia Mrs Scott Elliot (aka Columbine or Granny’s Bonnets), a biannual purple-flowering Digitalis Dalmatian (aka Foxglove) and a perennial purple flowering Verbena Buenos Aires.

Waiting in the wings at the allotment nursery area (a shady sheltered spot tucked in behind the blackberry screen at the top terrace) are more of all of the above, as well as Crazy Daisy Leucanthemum (daisies) and Primadonna Rose Echinacea.

There’s more turning over, picking stones and weeding to do before the final of these grown-on plugs can go into the flower beds.  Also planned is the digging out of some of the thicker patches of day lilies in the beds along the railway path, as I’d like to spread these throughout the whole length of the beds but right now they are concentrated in the first half of the long flower bed from the first pergola to halfway down the path.  Moving the day lilies will make room to dig out and divide the gladioli, which this summer have not flowered well and are very likely overcrowded.

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Potted lilies at the allotment, in flower July 2020.

We also have two large tubs of asiatic lilies at the allotment that flowered nicely this summer up there, but will also have to be moved and dug into the flower beds before autumn’s over.  We’d thought the asiatic lilies would be safer to develop at the allotment due to an infestation of red lily beetle in the back flower beds.  But careful monitoring revealed the presence of red lily beetle up at the allotments as well.  As there’s no space for perennial flowers at our small allotment plot, they will make their way to the long perennial beds along the railway path, and I’ll just have to monitor carefully through spring and summer next year.

CIMG0015At the allotment, things continue to develop and get better and better bit by bit.  We spied a small pallet out in the rubbish and scooped it up.  It made an admirable pop-up party table we hosted a small gathering for other allotmenteers in early August, but has now been painted with weather-proofing and slotted into place to create a nice even step into the growing shed.

The step will also provide additional extra seating for our next guests.  It’s worked out so well that we are now keeping our eyes out for a second small pallet to add in front of this one.  The ground at the top terrace is still sloping so anything we can do to create level spaces at that level can only improve things.

The bar stool was also a great find in the garbage. In fact, we have two matching ones which thankfully stack one on the other.  We’ve set it up at the side door of the shed.  The slate tiles were also ‘found objects’ we’ve put to good use. The slate absorbs an incredible amount of heat from the summer sun, and I may use them as heat sinks elsewhere on the plot….

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shoe mystery solved

We’ve been cursing our neighbourhood lately.  Pandemic aside, our little leafy corner of north London is awash in rubbish.  Missed garbage collections on the circus makes for growing tides of swirling garbage.  Drives super-dude nuts – to the extent that he’s taken to collecting the rubbish himself in and around the woods.  It’s great to clear the place up, but it does make us peeved to have to do it.

One trend that particularly irked the big dude was the regular appearance of worn out shoes of all sorts in our flower gardens out back.  Dress shoes, men’s dancing shoes, sneakers, all sorts!  He was aggrieved and wondered who in their right mind would want to regularly and repeatedly toss old shoes into the yard.

But a recent news reportIMG_2615 from Berlin has shed light on who the culprits may be….  Foxes!  Our beloved crafty, sneaky foxes.

In an outer suburb of Berlin residents had their flip flops and shoes stolen from their gardens and yards.  But then one resident spotted a fox trotting down the path with two flip-flops in its maws.  Turns out the thieving culprit had a collection of over 100 sets of shoes and flip-flops of all descriptions!  That’s one flippy-fox for sure.

In our neck of the woods, the foxes must be collecting old shoes from the rubbish areas and the charity clothes and shoes dumpsters to drag to the back to play with.  Bless them!  Much as we don’t like the random dumping of shoes in the flower beds, it’s hard to hold a grudge against our favourite vulpines….

Speaking of the crafty so-and-sos… we watched them last night – three foxes frolicking and tussling in the flower beds.  So now we also know how the gladioli get knocked flat to the ground, and our newly planted areas get so dug up.  Grrrrr… Boo….. Hiss…..  Sigh.

Four-footed foxes we can forgive (bipeds less so).

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feeling plummy

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Victoria Plum Jam (5 August 2020)

It’s plum harvesting season on the plots.  We don’t have a tree on our plot, but many others do.

Earlier this summer we harvested greengage plums from the bottom plot we’ve been keeping an eye on for the nice couple that had to head out of town to visit elderly parents overseas.  It was lovely with a golden green honey colour and exceptional taste.  I saved a jar of jam for them so they can at least enjoy some of their plot’s crops when they return to town.

Last week we harvested Victoria plums from R’s plot beside us.  Sadly these were effected by plum worm, but happily I had decided to make a crumble, so halved all the fruit and was able to cut out damage and or discard fruit that was really badly effected.  (Plum worms grow within the fruit rather than burrowing in, so you can’t see the damage from the outside.  An extra disgusting fact is that the grow and poop inside the fruit, leaving black brown tracts all through the flesh of the fruit.)

Yesterday we were invited by another allotmenteer to harvest high-hanging fruit from her tree.  These seemed plum-worm free, so we decided to make Victoria plum jam.  The results were delish and the jam turns a pale rosey pink.  Wonderful beyond words!  Yum.

For details about how to do this in your own kitchen, see my notes on making plum jam on the newly created ‘Witch’s Kitchen’ pages.

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Nora’s Kitchen Witch.

Why ‘Witch’ you may wonder.  My beloved maternal grandmother was a very skilled artist and craftswoman, who painted oil and acrylic portraits and paintings, made dolls and clothes and much more for all of her many children and grandchildren. One year she made each of her children a ‘kitchen witch’ – with heads created individually by her out of paper mâché, and then sowed a cloth and batting body, and adorned with unique little doll dresses.

CIMG0006When she had to downsize her house as she was unable to live independently, I was lucky enough to be in Canada that summer and was able to peruse some of her personal effects before they were disposed of.  All of her own sentimental items were laid out in a huge Mississauga basement – it was a sad day for her and I felt it keenly. Incredibly to me, nobody else in the family wanted her very own kitchen witch, which had hung in her kitchen with her through the years. I scooped it up as a significant personal memento.  To my delight her kitchen witch still had it’s little poem tucked into the witch’s apron, written by her own hand.  This is truly a treasured personal item and hangs to this day in my tiny little galley kitchen in London.

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I’m a good luck Kitchen Witch, I ride on my broom to bring success to all who work in this room! Roasts won’t burn – Cakes won’t fall – No boiling over – No Boo-Boos at all. With my supervision no disasters to appall!  With my Birks baby knife. 

I’m often accused of being a hoarder, but truth be told most of my hoarding is highly sentimental and each item collected evokes powerful personal memories.  An example would be that I still to this day, five decades on, have in my possession the silver Birks baby knife that I was gifted at birth by my godparents and beloved aunt and uncle.

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high hopes for Echium

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Echium in flower at the plots (24 May 2020)

Earlier this summer.. or was it spring..?  Probably late May, the big dude did a wander through the plots to the end – looking for foxes and butterflies and what-not – and spied an end plot that had absolutely magnificent Echium in flower.  Think huge spears of flower stalk standing proud at about 16 feet tall – and we’re not kidding!

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Echium plant going strong (4 August 2020)

So later in the summer we returned to request a seedling from the man with the super-plants.

Seems echium self-seed abundantly, and we were gifted with some seeds as well as a little plant that had started on its own. We have high hopes for this little guy.

It was tiny but is now coming into its own and almost ready to be planted out into our new meadow area in the back patch.  It is sure to be a neighbourhood eye-catcher!

And we also started a tray of seeds with lots of grit for extra drainage. (I’m now officially addicted to horticultural grit!  Can’t get enough of the stuff.)

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Echium seedling. (4 August 2020)

The echium seed tray has also taken off, with one definite contender, and we think we have a few more little echium sproutlings starting up.

Magnificent success with these – but I was much less successful with starting poppies in a seed tray.  None have come up.

Isn’t it strange how wildflowers, which seem to do fine on their own, are often the hardest plants to start by seed and cultivate?  Go figure.

 

 

 

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