Gardening First Anniversary

Timehop informed me yesterday morning that it was a year ago to the day that my gardening adventure properly started. We moved into our house and had our very own garden for the first time ever in September 2014 so you might think that the adventure started then, but it didn’t, not really. We dabbled a bit. We kept the lawn mowed, we kept on top of the weeding (after a fashion) and we did acquire a couple of new plants but the garden had been so neglected by the previous owners and their tenants that it had become very overgrown. I used to go out there with the intention of tackling it, but once I was out there it was incredibly daunting and I just didn’t know where to start so I’d come back in deflated and defeated. We used to joke that there could be an Aboriginal family living down the end of the garden and we’d be none the wiser!

That all changed after we decided to bite the bullet and pay someone to come and undertake a bit of deforestation. I don’t generally advocate the cutting down of trees, but in this case it was very necessary, and didn’t actually involve the cutting down of many trees, merely hard pruning since, as it turned out, the trees were overgrown from our neighbour’s garden.

We went from this ….

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… to this …

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… all in the space of a day! The transformation inspired me. All of a sudden I could see how amazing our outside space could be. I started frequenting garden centres. A lot! I paid for a loyalty discount card for Notcutts and probably made my money back within a week! I discovered plant sale tables and I learnt what is and isn’t saveable. I set series record for Gardeners’ World and Love your Garden. I started a gardening folder to keep my plant labels safe and to jot down design ideas or plant care tips. I set reminders in my phone such as ‘cut fuschia back’ and ‘deadhead the roses’. The garden became my happy place.

I was thinking about this on and off all day yesterday and I decided to mark the day by deciding on my ten favourite plants and then this time next year, when I’ve had another year of discovering new plants and seeing what appears in the garden that I’ve forgotten I’ve planted, I can compare and see if today’s top ten are still my top ten. I’m not going to attempt to put them in order because I think I’d drive myself mad pondering their relative virtues, so I’ll just do it alphabetically!

Blue Festuca – I love the feel of this grass. I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s a very touchy feely plant. It’s also very resilient.

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Cordyline –  I have two, a pink one which I’ve planted close to the house and a green one which is in my birthday planter. Did you ever put a thick piece of grass between your fingers when you were a kid and blow on it to make music? The Cordyline, with its lovely broad fronds, reminds me of doing that.

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Daffodil – needs no explanation really! Beautiful in all its forms and makes me so happy when I see them starting to pop up because it means I’ve made it through another Winter!

Diascia Cherry Blossom – a little bit of Spring in the Summer and even through to the early Autumn. It waves its clusters of blossomy flowers at you for weeks before it settles in for the Winter.

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Erysimum – this was another of my sale table finds and it had the odd flower all through Winter as it sat in its pot waiting for me to find it a home. Now it’s planted out it’s bursting with the most cheerful of blooms.

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Eupatorium – I’ve harped on about my Eupatorium many a time. It does have white flowers in the late Summer and into Autumn, but it’s the leaves that really do it for me. The variety I have has the most gorgeous purple tinge which perfectly sets of the dark green majority. It actually made me gasp with joy when I saw it pushing its tiny shoots through ready for another growing season.

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Fuschia – I’m pretty sure this will still be on my list in a year’s time because I’ve always loved them. They remind me of my Grandad who always had them in his garden. I like all varieties, and I had a purple one last year called Delta Sarah (which was supposed to be hardy but hasn’t come back this year) but my favourite is the stereotypical bright pink Fuschia.

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Geum – again a sale table find. It had a couple of flowers left when I rescued it, but I wasn’t prepared for how happy it was going to look this year. It has bright orange flowers on long stems which rise above the cluster of leaves and wouldn’t fail to brighten anyone’s day.

Hebe – I have lots! I have to blinker myself in garden centres now to stop myself buying more! I have several varieties, but Purple Pixie was the first I got. It’s not flowering yet, but it’s over-wintered ok so I’m hopeful that it will. I have some with pink leaves as well that will hopefully provide some colour in the (bleak mid) Winter.

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Stipa – my first two Stipa were probably the best bargains I’ve found. They were fifty pence each from B&Q and I’ve no idea why because there was (and still isn’t) literally nothing wrong with them. If I could’ve carried them I’d have bought more! These are those original two either side of the pink Cordyline. I’ve acquired more since, but not for fifty pence!

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This is what the garden looks like currently, and the improvement is due, in no small part, to all the beauties above, alongside a fair bit of hard graft!

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There’s still a way to go until we reach my vision of what it will look like, but it’s practically unrecognisable today from just over a year ago and I’m proud of what we’ve achieved so far.

Right, I’m off to put a reminder in my phone to do this exercise again on this date next year to see if my top have changed.

Six on Saturday 18th May

Evening all.

I wasn’t sure if I’d get round to doing a Six on Saturday today, but I find myself sat on the sofa at a loose end having spent the afternoon in the garden, so here I am.

I’ve had a productive few hours outside planting out my plants grown from seed and also a fun time taking photos. I was hoping to be able to make one of my points on garden critters, but the bees are so busy that none of them stayed still long enough for me to snap them. I’ll save that idea up for a future six.

So, number one – my Sunflowers, Sweet Peas and Cosmos are finally planted out.

They all seem to have coped ok with being left outside while I was away with work. Some of the Sunflowers are possibly slightly droopy so I’ve staked those that needed it using random sticks that I found in the garden. I’ve been thinking a lot about sustainability and reusing resources lately so I wanted to use what I had available to me.

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Here they are all in situ. The Sunflowers are in two (OCD inducingly wonky) lines behind my birthday planter with the hope being that they’ll get big enough to rise above the planter so we can see them from our back windows, the Sweet Peas are tied into the frame and seem reasonably happy (so far) and the Cosmos are dotted around in three clusters to the back left and right of the frame and the front right by my Eupatorium. It doesn’t matter if the Sunflowers obscure the view of the Sweet Peas because I’m intending to use them for steady supply of cut flowers for our house and work, if I get enough.

On to number two.

I’ve hardened off my Calendula as well, but I don’t think they’re quite ready to be planted out yet so I’ve repotted them individually as they were all bunched together in their former home. Hopefully they’ll all thrive and then I think I’ll put them in my wheelbarrow to replace the primroses which don’t seem to be doing too well.

Number three – Funky Veg and Chillis and Spice update.

If you read my last post, you’ll know I was on a work trip in Italy from Monday to Thursday. I watered my seedlings in the greenhouse before I went and thought they be ok while I was away so didn’t leave hubby instructions to check them. Rookie error – the UK had good weather while I was away (typical!) and when I checked on my return everything was looking very sorry for itself! Noooooooooo!!! I watered everything well and went to bed with crossed fingers.

When I checked in the morning most looked well improved, and the above photos are how they are now. The Coriander’s recovered completely and even has its first true leaves and most of the Jalapeños look to have survived but I think the Cumin’s had it!

It’s touch and go with the Funky Veg. I think the two Stripy Tomatoes, the Yellow Courgette and the Purple Carrots will make it, but the Red Brussel Sprouts and the Rainbow Swiss Chard may have deserted me.

I have several other Yellow Courgettes growing and they’ve all recovered bar one so I don’t think I’ll have any shortage of courgettes! They’ve grown their first true leaves as well. I’ll be able to give some away soon.

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Number four – out of the greenhouse to the raised beds.

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The top photo is of the Strawberries and Raspberries. But it’s a mixed bag here. The Strawberry plants are flowering so I’m confident that they’ll fruit but the Raspberry canes are a whole different story. There are two different varieties and the ones at the top of the photo are supposed to be later fruiting, but they’re the ones with leaves. The ones to the right haven’t done anything at all! I planted them as soon as I bought them home so I’m not sure what’s gone wrong. I’m not overly confident about the ones that do have leaves because all the canes in the garden centres have lots more leaves. Very disappointing. Maybe I should bite the bullet and go to buy some more.

The bottom photo shows more success, thankfully. To the left are a couple of rows of Peas, in front of my feet are Carrots and on the right there’s a row of Red Onions and a row of Leeks, there’s not so many of them so it’s hard to see them. Apart from the Peas, they all look like wispy bits of grass but I’m hoping they’ll come good. Certainly the Peas and Carrots are going to need thinning out. I could do the Peas now, but the Carrots are so bunched up that I need them to grow a bit so there’s enough to get hold of.

Number five – Lunaria (or Honesty). It feels like it hasn’t lasted long, but I just looked back to when I first told you it was flowering and it was 6th April so I guess it’s not that short-lived. It just seems it, I suppose, because we’ve had a holiday and I’ve had a work trip during its flowering time.

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It does have a few flowers left but, as you can see, it’s covered in seed pods now. I must investigate how to harvest the seeds so I can grow a few more. It still looks impressive without flowers because it’s so tall.

Finally, number six – a new plant has grown itself. It appears to be some form of Geranium judging by its leaves, but it’s not the same as the other Geraniums in the garden, they have single, plain brightish pink flowers, but this one has these …..

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It’s growing itself in a pot that was left in our garden when we moved in so it’s all entirely free! Good for my sustainability (and frugality, which isn’t generally my strong point!)

I have loads more to share in the garden so it was hard to narrow this down to six! I really wanted to show you all the colour that’s springing up so maybe I’ll do another post tomorrow because I don’t want to break the Propagator’s rules! Check out his page for more sixes.

Right now, I think I’ll pour myself a glass of wine and head over there myself. Happy Saturday all.

 

 

Taranto Trip

My company made a huge acquisition last year, of a steel mill in Taranto in the south of Italy. It’s the biggest steel mill in Europe but it didn’t come without its issues, so my first trip was only organised this week. Even the model of it was huge and required the guy explaining it to use a big stick and lights to illustrate which bits he was talking about!

I seem destined to work with mills which are, without putting too fine a point on it, a pain in the bum to get to, so my Monday consisted of flying from Birmingham to Dublin and then Dublin to Bari. This was with Ryanair. For those of you who know me, or are regular readers, you’ll know my opinion of Ryanair – money-grabbing and seemingly hellbent on making travel as irritating and difficult as possible. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ll still go out of my way not to fly with them if at all possible, and it continues to irritate me beyond belief that they have no seatback pockets in which to stash your stuff, leaving you doing a juggling act with your hand luggage (40 x 20 x 25cm and not a millimetre over!) your passport (which you had to show to board), your phone (which you needed to keep in your hand to use your mobile boarding pass and then show as you boarded to prove that the combination of you and the ground staff weren’t stupid enough to get you to the wrong plane) and your bag of essential sustenance (because you can guarantee Ryanair will have sold out (or not bothered to load) what you want to eat/drink, however Monday’s experience was actually reasonably pain-free and seamless, helped by the fact that I had check in luggage due to the length of my trip and the fact that work were picking up the bill, so I didn’t have to rush to board in order to do battle for a space in the overhead lockers.

Yes I had to book my connections as two separate flights (Birmingham to Dublin and Dublin to Bari) because Ryanair don’t want to be held responsible if you miss your connection, which meant I had to collect my check in luggage in Dublin and recheck in for my onward flight and deposit my bag again, but for once, Ryanair’s insistence on making you doing their job and making everything as speedy as possible worked really well! In Birmingham I had to go to the self serve machines and print my luggage tag and attach it, and then check the bag in myself on the conveyor. In Dublin my bag was one of the first out, then I had to go through the same process again and then I was on my way. No standing in queues or even speaking to people! I do find the fewer people I’m forced to speak to, the more advantageous it is for my state of mind!

Both flights were pretty much on time (which breaks my recent trend of being delayed everywhere I go!) but thankfully they didn’t blow their stupid bugle upon bouncing down, and pretty uneventful, with the exception of the luggage, passport, phone, drink juggling situation!

Being a seasoned traveller, I thought I’d got that sussed. Hoodie! I thought. Wear a hoodie – easy access to a pouch to stash the aforementioned belongings, and, although I was officially working, I was in transit so no jacket required (eat your heart out Phil Collins). This worked perfectly in Brum, but by the time I got to Dublin it was too hot for a hoodie, so then not only was I juggling my luggage, passport, phone and drink but I also had a hoodie tied round my waist that kept threatening to fall off. Sigh!

Anyway, I arrived at Bari airport without incident with it now cool enough (south of Italy versus Ireland – go figure!) to make use of the hoodie pouch and I headed out to meet my shuttle driver. Bari is the nearest airport to Taranto, but it’s still over an hour’s drive to the town so transport of some sort is needed. The shuttle driver informed me through some combination of semaphore and sign language due to the language barrier that we had to wait for another flight to arrive because he was collecting more people. Hands shoved in hoodie pouch (did I mention it’s a Gryffindor hoodie?) and another sigh, ‘ok,’ says I (somewhat redundantly since I had no choice in the matter) ‘wait we will’.

Sometime later the doors from arrivals open and I spy a familiar face heading in our direction. Imagine I’m hovering around the clouds (hopefully not with my head in them!) in terms of business hierarchy; this person is somewhere orbiting the moon. And there’s me in my Gryffindor hoodie! Sigh. Again. This is someone with whom I would only ever want to make the best possible impression and here I am demonstrating my allegiance to Godric the brave! I mean, I guess it could’ve been worse …. it could’ve been a Slytherin hoodie!

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Anyhow, I did my best to make intelligent conversation during the journey to the hotel (did I mention it’s over an hour?) and I don’t think I let the side down. I pondered the situation that I’d found myself in as I was settling down to go to sleep (in Mickey Mouse pyjamas) and I concluded that wearing a Gryffindor hoodie (or a Pooh Bear T-shirt or carrying a floral Cath Kidston laptop bag rather than a boring, black, corporate uniform laptop bag – you get my gist) is an integral part of who I am, and I’m not prepared to change who I am in order to fit into a corporate box. I am absolutely prepared to work hard in order to prove myself and forge a worthy career, but I’ll be doing it with colour and interest and quirkiness on my side.

During our visits to the mill we had to leave our passports with reception when we arrived, and collect them again at the end of the day. One of my colleagues (who I didn’t think knew me particularly well) was handing back the passports one day and he got to mine and without even opening it said, ‘oh, well, that’s Sarah’s’. How did he know?

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It’s in this case. This made me happy. 

The hotel I stayed in was called Albergo Del Sole and inside it was pretty nice. I felt like I was sleeping in a cathedral!

Even the bathroom had the same feature.

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The breakfast room was on the third floor with a lovely view of the sea.

They even had Coco Pops which pleased me greatly.

Outside there was a cute little church with a bell that pealed out each hour.

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Unfortunately, outside there were also several homeless people who, whilst not aggressive, were very persistent and made me feel uncomfortable being outside. For once I was glad of the male domination of my industry because I was always with a group of male colleagues who I suspect were more of a deterrent to the hassle than I would’ve been alone or in a group of women. Several of our group had hire cars, and the homeless guys would try to guide them into parking spaces and then request money in return. Worryingly, one of them was the spitting image of our window cleaner (this actually says more about our window cleaner than the homeless guy!)

The area we were staying in was, I think, the old town, and I still can’t decide if it was Mediterranean shabby chic, or if it’s just run down and in need of a cash injection. We ventured further out in the evenings and as I was being chauffeured around on the second night I saw some of the traditional houses that the area is known for. They have round roofs and reminded me somewhat of a Hobbit house, but they were lovely. I bought a fridge magnet representation at the airport.

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On the last evening we walked for twenty minutes or so to a restaurant called Desco. At first I felt wary because we were strolling through back streets with graffiti and guys sat around on mopeds but then we came out onto a nice sea side promenade and we crossed a bridge into what I guess is the new town. It was much more lively and vibrant and, bonus points for Taranto, I found a cat to ease my pining for these two.

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It was a plump ginger tom and it wound its way round my legs happily.

I was determined to have some decent pasta before I left Italy, and I managed it at Desco.

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Tagliatelle con Porcini – yum!

Coming home I came a completely different route with an airline that is the antithesis of Ryanair – Lufthansa. German efficiency and service at its best. The first leg was Bari to Frankfurt. I like Frankfurt airport – it has a McDonalds which, even if I don’t go to it, reassures me that there’s some home comfort available should I feel in need of it. Its seating area has a great view of the airfield too so you can watch the planes taking off.

It also has Steiff bears!

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How I resisted I don’t know! They even had a Blue-footed Booby for goodness sake!

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When we were in Orlando I tried to find a neck pillow for the plane, but they only had boring plain ones so I used my new Eeyore as a pillow instead. I wanted an interesting one, I was really angling for a Disney one of some sort, but it wasn’t to be. Today though, I found this one.

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This one’s not boring and it does kind of look like Melman, the giraffe from Madagascar.

The homebound leg was Frankfurt to Birmingham and this time I didn’t have to collect my bag, it was all one booking so I checked in my bag at Bari all the way though to Birmingham. I’m typing this on the flight so hopefully my bag is somewhere underneath me waiting for us to be reunited shortly! (Edit: it was).

I love flying! I don’t understand being scared of it (but that’s because I’m not). I love settling into my seat with all my comforts and letting someone else be in charge for two or four or nine hours. I have my kindle so I can read, my iPad so I can watch downloaded shows or films on Netflix, my phone so I can Candycrush (is that an acceptable verb?) and the aforementioned drink to keep me hydrated. After that I just settle back and enjoy the ride.

I love the feeling when the plane starts to accelerate down the runway – I find this is best in a smaller plane like an A320 or a Boeing 737. The bigger planes take too long to get up to speed so you don’t get that pushed back in your seat feel. I especially like it when they accelerate round the corner onto the runway and then continue into the ascent without stopping. It makes me smile the way a rollercoaster does.

I love airports too. Even when it’s for work, they’re still exciting because other people are going on holiday and there’s a buzz. I love the moving walkways that get you round the long distances. I don’t understand why people avoid them or just stand on them. You need to walk on them, it makes you feel like your legs are sixteen feet long because you’re going so fast without any extra effort. It reminds me of a recurring dream I used to have where I was running super fast, taking massive lolloping steps.

Anyway, I’ve landed – I’m home, whoop – and this has turned into a mammoth post, so I’ll finish here and post when I get home.

Friday tomorrow already! Happy weekend all when it arrives.