Waiting for things to grow.

I am not a patient gardener although I think gardening can teach us patience. If things don’t happen quickly enough I tend to lose focus and get on with something else. It’s a trait I inherited from my mother for whom the rice could never cook quickly enough. My childhood was filled with the smell of burning rice while my mother wandered back to her studio.

After the initial excitement of seedlings comming up, appearing like magic through the soil and putting out their first leaves, now is the boring bit of waiting, waiting, waiting and in the mean time watering. It would be fine if we didn’t need to water and tend, if we could come back in 3 months and pick all the vegetables. Unfortunately most garden jobs and plants, require constance and I try to be the gardener they need. I still harbour a special affection for the plants that do it without me. The annuals that reseed themselves, the bulbs that come back every spring even though I’d forgotten they were there, I feel like those plants really get me.

Last Christmas I lifted and divided a clump of spider lily bulbs. Of course I accidentally stuck my fork through a couple so I decided to use them to propagate. Reading the instructions in my RHS guide it promised that
in a year I would have new little bulbs.hdr And I thought ‘goodess a year is a long way off.’ SInce the bulbs were damaged there was nothing else i could do with them so I chopped them up and sealed them in a bag of vermiculite.

As the saying goes ‘don’t put off a goal because of the time it will take to complete it. The time will pass anyway’. And so it has.

Today I pulled out the bag and planted each little spider-lily plant with it’s own furry roots and smooth shoot. I have twenty plants in large yoghut pots and grow bags. No doubt it will be another year before they grow up and flower but the time will pass with or without my plants so I may as well use it.

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Sowing Seeds

ippLast year was disastrous in terms of vegetable seed sowing. I managed to raise a couple of courgette plants a few french beans and four cucumbers which shriveled up and died. I think my grand total harvest was three beans and a courgette. The problem was a combination of my method and my dedication. Everything just got lost in the dust and I lost heart. I should have waited for the rains to plant them out because my enthusiasm couldn’t sustain watering them daily so most of them had died by the time the rains cameipp. Those that hadn’t were sufficiently weakened to be suffocated by the forest of weeds which then sprung up.

This year everything is different. Although it’s slow progress I am getting things done and I’m determined to stick to my resolutions.

I have been planting the seedlings in my paper pots. It’s such a simple way of doing it, as they’ll ippjust degrade into the soil when I plant them. I have even planted some carrots in them as the ones I sowed straight into the beds got eaten by chickens. These were sown on August 22, I even labeled them, so far the peas and carrots have come up as well as the pumpkin seeds I saved from one I bought at the Bryanston Organic Market. The only downside is they don’t stand up so well to an excited puppy stepping on them.

Arbor Week

In South Africa we have a whole week dedicated to Arbor-ness. There is great stuff going on all over South Africa one hopes, although a Google search produces more events from previous years and to be honest I haven’t seen anything but then I don’t get out much.

I am celebrating Arbor week by planting some indigenous trees in my Bird Garden. I went out to Grow Wild Indigenous Nursery this afternoon to buy them. It’s a brilliant nursery, although not much to look at. Their website is a fantastic resource for finding a plant that matches your requirements, they responded within a few HOURS to my query AND they have 20% off trees for the whole of September in honour of Arbor week.

The trees of the year for 2014 are White Ironwood (Vepris lanceolata) , which conincidentally I had been eyeing in my book, and the Lavender Tree (Heteropyxis natelensis). I bought a small one of each and a Wild Pear which turns out to be the Pink Wild Pear (Dombeya burgessiae) instead of the Dombeya rotundifolia. Both have beautiful blossoms so I’m sure I will be just as happy with it, perhaps happier, but it just goes to show the importance of Latin names; or tree numbers.

I hope where ever you are in the world you are planting a tree for Arbor week, if you don’t have a place for one yourself there are great schemes for community planting.

The Veg Garden

Spring has poked it’s nose in and retreated again, like a cat trying to decide whether or not it wants to come in; while it’s owner stands holding the door open and freezing. At any rate it won’t be long before it comes all the way in, promptly followed by summer. Time to get on with planning the veg garden.

There is no formal layout. I’m starting to wish I had put down straight rows of paths for the methodicalness and aesthetics of it if nothing else. Will do that next year.

ipp
The Veg garden – taken 2nd June
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The Veg garden this evening – almost 3 months later.

Of course there is A LOT of garlic in already, some onions, possibly a couple of leeks and a few peas. I planted some more peas because most of them didn’t grow. Probably eaten by chickens. I planted out my brassica seedlings (now fenced because of chickens dust bathing) but I have a feeling we’re in the wrong season. Oops.

I’ve made a list of veggies I want to grow based on what we eat – lettuce, cucumber, celery, tomatoes, peas, beans, beetroot, carrots, sweetcorn, potatoes, peppers, squashes, melons – and I’ll probably add some others along the way.

I’ve already started planted some seeds in little paper pots but that’s another post.

Transplanting Roses – in Perspective

Not my roses... but we can dream.
Not my roses… but we can dream.

Yesterday Davis and I moved the eight surviving roses from the rose garden to the bed we dug out in the cutting garden. It turned out to be filled with rubble so that was a bigger job than expected. We back filled the beds with the sand, sieving it through braai grill to avoid the smaller pieces of rubble and added loads of compost.  I delayed the transplanting for a week because I was waiting for my mychorrizial fungi to arrive. I felt we were very prepared for the job.

ippLots of minor stresses in the process but by mid day I was basking in the satisfaction of a job well done. Until this morning when I went out to turn the compost and it struck me that the bed doesn’t get much sun. With a sinking heart I realised that in winter the sun never quite reaches the bottom.
Even worse, my favourite (it’s okay to have favourite plants) was right at that end. I let it all percolate as  turned the compost heaps and decided quick action was better than no actions and quickly moved the two roses at the bottom to a higher position. They still only get about an hour of sun in winter but by summer they should get their full six hours. To be honest I don’t know if they’ll survive all this excitement. (On the plus side I didn’t plant them in the bed next door which gets no sun at all in winter.)

I should have planned better of course but I’m learning to live with my mistakes. After all it’s just a garden. I’m also learning to be ruthless in fixing things that niggle at me, even if it’s my fault they’re wrong. A garden is not a place to pay penance daily for your sins. Only time will tell if these roses will live and bloom and if they don’t time will take care of that too. As e. e. cummings wrote, ‘in time’s a noble mercy of proportion/ with generosities beyond believing’. So has the garden mercy and generosity and puts into perspective our petty grudges. A garden adapts, forgives and moves on; a lesson we do well to learn.

N.B. Although the garden as a whole is forgiving, individual plants are not necessarily so.

The Rose Garden

2010 before putting in the rose garden
2010 before putting in the rose garden

About four years ago, after an overly inspiring Rose Tour which they sadly (maybe fortunately) don’t run any more, I ripped up a part of my driveway and put in the rose garden. Roses are expensive though so although I did VERY detailed plans I never managed to finish it. The soil is dreadful, despite a huge amount of compost going, and, though some of the roses struggled valiantly, some of them have died. I haven’t given up on my rose garden, I’m just making it a long term plan. For now I intend to transplant all the roses that were in there into the cutting garden. Madness I know, the soil there is not much better but we have dug a massive trench and will fill it almost entirely with compost. Then I’m going to add more compost to the rose garden and plant it with annuals for the next few years.

The Design PlanippI’m using heritage ‘Old Spice’ mixed sweet peas on teepees in the centre and surrounding them with clarkia. At the back are the existing ‘Great North’, a stunning white spire rose with a lovely scent. I want to put in a storage tank to collect the water that comes from the neighbour’s down pipe and through that wall but I have to make it into an attractive feature. Behind that is a viburnum hedge on top of the retaining wall. All the beds are edged in low hedges of a plant whose name I know well but currently escapes me.

The Plan of Action

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As you can see, current reality differs somewhat.

It’s a bit unfair as this is mid demolition but this is what the rose garden currently looks like. I had a bit of a pond in the middle surrounded by bricks which I’ve dismantled. The Hybrid Teas which are to be moved have been pruned back hard in anticipation.

Jobs to be done

  • remove roses
  • add compost
  • prune spire roses
  • clip existing hedge
  • plant rest of hedge
  • plant annual seeds
  • remove ivy from back wall
  • plant viburnum hedge
  • build water tank

The Great Compost Experiment!

ippWe all know the most important aspect of any garden is the soil. Mine is dreadful; stoney, sandy and nutrient poor. Organic and permaculture principles tell us to feed the soil not the plant. If I’m going to turn my garden around the first thing I need is compost.

Good compost is pretty expensive, roughly R400 to R600 a cubic metre ippdepending on how much you buy. This is very good value for what it does, there’s no point in buying a beautiful rose for R100 and putting it into poor soil, (I have done this and speak from experience) but I’m going to need a shitload (haha see what I did there) so I’ve got to make it. Previous experience is restricted to cold composting, piling everything up and leaving it for months and months and months. If I want compost fast I need to make hot compost. I found some great posts, here and here, on how to do it in under a month.

ippThere is a stable down the road which gives away manure to whoever will take it. They leave it ready packed into old feedbags and only ask that you return the bags. I can fit about seven in my little ford fiesta
We cleared out an old compost heap resulting in five massive bags of mulch (and another hand trowel) and built our new one. I’m not entirely sure about the ratios, so we’ll see how long it takes. Hopefully in a months time I’ll be able to tell you all about my fantastic compost.

Lessons from the Garden (that might save the world)

ippYesterday I had a clumsy day. I forgot things, walked into a wheelbarrow (massive bruising) and knocked over a pot. I was reminded of how much a garden can teach you, other than to watch where you’re going. The pot had artichoke seeds in that I was beginning to lose hope for. I planted them at the beginning of May. I’ve been dutifully carrying them out into the sun in the morning and bringing them in at night and although the sweet peas I planted at the same time are about 5 cm high the artichokes haven’t even peaked up. I was beginning to think they’d probably expired or it was too cold, so when I saw the pot on it’s side, a bit of soil out and a beautiful little germinating plant lying there, it took me a second before I quickly put it back and doused it in water. A couple of days later I might have stopped bothering to look after it.

If you want a child to learn patience, teach them to garden. There is only so much you can do to hurry nature up and it’s usually not worth it, you end up with weak, sickly plants or over-crowded beds, so we have to wait, patiently. Some things come quickly, others take more time. It is frustrating when there is nothing you can do and your daily nurturing elicits no response, just sullen soil staring back at you, but waiting is a skill and plants are good teachers.

Hand in hand with patience is being able to see the future. Obviously I don’t mean in a clairvoyant way but in being able to imagine and plan and work towards it.

If you want a child to learn to invest, teach them to garden. I am a product of a instant gratification culture, if I can’t get/do something now I’ve probably forgotten it by the time I can, so this has been a hard lesson which I’m still learning. There are things I know I didn’t do because it seemed like the rewards were too far away (like plant asparagus) but time slips by so fast and it will slip by anyway.

So many people can’t see the future, they can’t see how their behaviour today affects tomorrow and they can’t believe that changing it could change the future. There is a saying that to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow so perhaps the world will be saved in the end not by heroes but by gardeners.