Monday 2 March 2020

Hoping for some dryer weather

under the sunlamp

After the  three consecutive weather events in Febuary, all of them wet and really quite windy with barely a let up between them I'm thrilled to announce that March is pleasing me much more.

Today is the first day this year I've been able to dry washing on the line and it was pleasant enough outside to plant the onion sets which have been waiting patiently for several weeks now.

The picture shows seedlings mostly started in January, chillies and pelargoniums, which are making reasonable progress under a growing light.

Time to start the tomatoes.

Tuesday 28 January 2020

A few photos

winter aconite

Small signs of spring are emerging in the existing garden; along with these winter aconites are some purple croci and quite a lot of snowdrops in various places, including across the road outside the house in the ditch which must surely be feral escapees.

garden primroses

I planted a few primroses in this shady spot by the gate, later in the year it will be a bed of ground elder but I'm ok with that given the position. I'd rather have put wild primroses there but we'll see how these do.


This is the big spring project. An old polytunnel previously used to raise lambs so it's never had plants but the frame is rickety and it will be difficult to cover. It might be easier to build a whole new kit but it seems a shame to waste the start given here.


These are the snowdrops, very double but a quick whisk around the interwebs suggest they are only the most usual double Galanthus nivalis Flore Pleno, which can arise spontaneously but because I can only find this form in the garden must have been original plantings. I'm toying with the idea of getting some singles although I've never been a keen collector before.

Thursday 23 January 2020


striped bunch bean

The days barely seem any longer but the pull towards starting the next season of seeds is building up. As a first step I thought I'd look through the collections of seeds from years past and find out what needs urgent regeneration.

the jersey bean

Inevitably there are far more bean seeds for consideration than anything else, and many of these are so old that it's doubtful they are still alive. I plan to do some germination tests of some of rarer geriatrics and see if I can bring them round. It will be fine to grow out many french beans but I'm already panicking at the difficulties surrounding broad and field beans which cross easily.

mayflower bean

I've found some 'not-too-old' chilli seeds that were gifted to me and put to one side during the move so I shall start those this month along with some aubergine and other tender vegetables that need an early start on the year. It will be good to install the grow light that I bought three years ago and get some use out of it.

Pink Fir Apple

The seed potatoes are bought, luckily none of them looking like the mad Pink Fir Apple above, and some spring planting garlic. I am concerned that I can't find my tomato and pumpkin seeds though, let's hope they turn up when I do some more unpacking.

Here's to the new vegetable patch!


Tuesday 26 November 2019

A new start


We've moved. We're now in the Forest of Dean making a home we hope will last us the rest of our lives. This is the view from the back porch.


We don't have as much land as we did, a mere four acres but we have inherited a well established shrub and flower garden which is revealing itself slowly as the months pass. It's particularly nice to see that the last owner, a keen gardener, has taken care to find plants that will give a succession of flowers and interest throughout the year.  All the photos were taken today (except one, you can win a prize for guessing which!).


There are a number of fruit trees scattered around and a few walnuts, which look to be as about as productive as our old French tree was, that is, barely at all. Some of the apple trees are very old and decrepit, infested with mistletoe but there is a productive Bramley's seedling and a cider apple Tom Putt which fruited heavily. Not knowing the variety I made a couple of crumbles with it and they were good supporting the notion that it's a good all rounder.


The figs and grape vine were heavily overgrown and neglected and although we had lots of fruit from both it was mostly underripe and small. Next year I'm anticipating proper care and attention to pruning will improve that. I have made a demi-john of ginger wine with some of the grapes and added sugar which I hope will be a success. It's bubbling away nicely at the moment.


The winter jasmine is very cheerful outside the front door and I've already inadvertently taken cuttings from it when some sprigs taken for cut flowers rooted in the vase.


Several hollies and yews around the place give a Christmassy feel already.

I'm sure though that it's the vegetable gardens that will be most interesting. There is an old polytunnel without a cover which I hope to rehabilitate and a small veg patch with raised beds which has been abandoned for several years and is completely overgrown with nettles.


This is one side of it from when we arrived. All that's left apart from nettles is a small patch of Jerusalem artichokes, always a survivor. Elsewhere there are a few asparagus plants and oddly some small yellow dahlias which it may be possible to save.

With help from a good friend some clearance has been started. I'm mildly anxious about using such an old and decayed plot - who knows what pests and diseases may lurk within - but for this first year it's easier, even with the nettles, to get started in this area than carve something out from meadow grass. We shall see.


Wednesday 12 September 2018

The year of the cucumber

cucs blog

This year those old reliable tomatoes have failed for me, or I have failed them. Away during a crucial moment when I should have been tying up and removing shoots the opportunity was missed and the task assumed proportions beyond my feeble capabilities. Have I ever said how much I hate the smell of tomato plants? Just in case, for the record, I really really hate the smell of hot tomato plants even though I love tomato fruits. So they've been allowed to take their own path.

The sad and unsurprising result is that the toms are not at their best, horrible bushy plants with fewer fruits set and those that have are are suffering from blossom end rot, mildews and pest attacks.

However, another summer staple has stepped up to the plate. The cucumbers this year have been brilliant. Picture above is the Peking China variety from HSL which has kept me in delicious cucumber sandwiches helped along with some Parisian pickling ridge cucs. The only trouble is I've been eating them so fast there won't be any for seed unless there's a very long autumn. Fingers crossed.

ambo pfa

Potatoes went in late, weren't earthed up and were left to the mercy of drought and weeds. I've still to take the Sarpo Mira (this week, honestly!) but the Premiere were fine and the Pink Fir Apple and Ambo perfectly formed if a little small. So forgiving and rewarding. People often say it's not worth growing cheap staples like spuds but the joy in the harvest is at least half the reward.

japanese yam bulbils

Three years ago I was given six bulbils of the Japanese yam Dioscorea japonica. They all came up and were mostly planted out in a group with that year's beans. At the end of the season I rooted around in the patch frantically and failed to find more than few scraps of tuber. I planted these bits up in pots and thought that was the lot but the tubers had other plans. They came up last year in the oca and this year in the potatoes, bigger and better every time.

This year they were mature enough to flower. Unfortunately the plants are dioecious and although I had six plants at the outset I've no idea which sexes they were. All I know is that no seeds were set this year. Still that's not the only way to increase stocks as these climbing vines also produce clones as tiny tubercles on the twining stems. I'm hoping to collect lots of these this year and will be happy to share some with anyone who contacts me.

Inspired I've also ordered a commercial cultivar variety with more tractable tubers which I hope to breed with.

pumpkins blog

I've had a long time relationship with the squash variety Whangaparoa Crown which is, as far as I can tell, the variety that Crown Prince was selected from. It's a great, dense silver blue pumpkin with long keeping fruit  and brilliant orange flesh. This year I grew out some saved seed and found that the plants bore little relationship to the variety I was expecting.  The fruit look like the bastard children of a cross between a C. moschata and the Whangas which are C. maxima. This is generally considered an unlikely (and unlucky) occurrence but on the basis it may have happened here I'm going to first check the pumpkins taste good and then maybe grow them out again next year, just for shit and giggles. The Catofstripes Queen variety may have been born!

bab blog

Alliums have had a horrible time here this year. I failed to plant any onion or garlic sets and missed a chance to rescue last years failed crop when it popped its head up in the spring. I could have had a lot of green garlic. There's still some elephant garlic, it seems almost indestructible but my Babington leeks are reduced to just one plant with bulbils. So I've got to really make the effort and save those little darlings as the start of my next onion patch. Sadly the egyptian onions also bit the dust although there's a couple of sad pots of chives and welsh onions hanging on for grim life.

Bab leeks do take a wicked picture though.

And so the sun goes down.

sunset blog

Thursday 26 July 2018

Is it warm enough?

bigger tamarillo

I have two tamarillo plants started from seed way back in 2016 when I bought a lot of tender novelties in the rush of a new polytunnel. They have proved hardier than most of my experiments and survived two winters at 10C kept very dry. This year, after a shaky start when they were infested by aphids they've really been enjoying the weather and my reward is the first flowers pictured above. Finger crossed they will fruit. Unfortunately I suspect they will need cross pollination and the other plant is just as large but shows no signs of flowers so it may be a forlorn hope.

black gram

In the spring Rhizowen of Radix Root crops gave me loads of lovely new seeds to try and amongst them two sorts of pulses that have really enjoyed the heatwave. Above a black gram, Vigna mungo, with lime green yellowy flowers and a fairly short habit. I grew half a dozen plants and put some under cover and some outside. Although I've been watering the ones in the tunnel and the outside ones have been experiencing drought there is little to choose between their development, and they are clearly very adapted to dry conditions. However as an experiment on the possibility of growing such pulses outside in France it has to be said that the test will need to be made again when it isn't quite so hot. 

carol deppe cowpea

I have tried growing cowpeas (Vigna unguiculata) here before but although the plants germinated and grew well they never flowered and were (I think) eventually eaten by some rogue cows that invaded the patch. This variety is the OSSI registered Fast Lady selected by Carol Deppe for cooler climates. Ha! Anyway, these are growing well indoors and out and forming pods. I was surprised by the yellow flowers but it helps to identify them as the outdoor ones are planted next to some climbing French beans with white flowers.


These two little pots of weedy seedlings represent a new interest. They are both types of chilli pepper but ones that are said to be cold hardy, or at least capable of taking a light frost. I already grow the rocoto tree chilli Capsicum pubescens which can, with care, be maintained as a short lived perennial under much the same conditions as the tamarillos above and I'm hoping that these species will also thrive and perhaps provide the basis of a breeding line. We'll see.

Monday 21 May 2018



Finally got the potatoes planted by the middle of last week. Most years we'd be looking at the first harvest in a week or two. If we get some rain we might have 'first earlies' by the end of July. In the meantime I resorted to the supermarket for the French equivalent of Jersery Royals. If you're tempted to research them on Wikipedia don't be alarmed at my profligacy, far from the quote of 70€ a kilo these cost me just 6€90 and the week after were at half that.

dudi flower

As usual I've planted far too many seeds, amongst them a couple of Dudi plants which I'll grow in the poly tunnel once the oca are out. Last time I grew them in 2014 it was just warm enough outside but with only one plant it was a struggle to get fruit, the plants produce male and female flowers at different times so self pollination  is almost impossible without a helping hand and some good luck.  Also in the greenhouse waiting a chance to break out;
Chinese cucumbers (just like the usual greenhouse sort)
Far more tomatoes than anyone needs
Pepper and chilli plants (and I have more seed of an esoteric type coming this week)
Dioscorea japonica in a pot, but there's some in the ground which will probably come up through the potatoes again.
Adlay in three or four varieties (Job's tears, hard and soft shelled sorts)
Naked oats
Tef (cereal staple)
Ornamental rice and sorghum
Lemon grass seedlings although they're looking a bit ill.

In the ground, or expected there soon;
Potatoes - Premier, Pink Fir Apple, Ambo, Sarpo Mira
Pumpkins - Whangaparoa Crown and Sweet Dumpling
Courgettes - of no particular variety supplied by Fothergills
Lettuce - a red one, I cheated and bought baby plants on whim in the supermarket.
Crosnes - The French call them Japanese artichoke.
Peas - Sugar Ann, Raisin Capujiner and a couple of Gold Harvest which Rhizowen gave me earlier this year, not sure if I'll start any others, it's getting a bit late.
At least 25 Petit vert de Paris cornichon plants. I had 100% germination from some old home saved seed and they're going to need a new bed digging.

Until another time...