All posts by horticultural 'Obbit

Chronicling the mis-adventures of a would be allotmenteer. Author of 'Playing with Plant pots: Tales from the Allotment' Available on Amazon in ebook and paperback http://amzn.to/1UvWUkb (paperback) http://amzn.to/1QRgVBZ (Ebook) Full buy links at www.horticulturalhobbit.com/books

Inky and Instrumental

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When is a pen not just a pen? When it is capable of producing pure magic.

First thing first; years ago, teachers decided that my handwriting was terrible. I spent hours practising, and hated every minute of it. It felt almost unnatural to iron out the kinks and curves of my cursive handwriting. For years, I harboured a resentment. I like my handwriting, it helps to manifest everything that goes on inside my head.

For my twelfth birthday, Pops asked me what I wanted. I asked for a fountain pen. He looked at me as though this was really odd.

I got one though, a simple blue-barrelled one that he got from Smiths. I used it til it died an undignified death. I bought an assortment of Parker ones, mostly the Vector range and struggled to find a zing. This went on for some time.

Before long, I abandoned all hope of finding a pen of my own.

This is important, and if you’ve ever read or watched Harry Potter, you’ll know that a wand chooses the wizard, not the other way around.

And boy, did that happen.

I was in London one day, and walked passed The Pen Shop. I had time to kill, so I went in. There happened to be Parkers there, and I saw a shiny one. A shiny one, that happened to be in the Sonnet range. I asked to have a look, and was handed one.

Wham.

There might as well have been sparks. This was my pen, this was what I wanted to write with. Feeling all very overwhelmed, a bit shocked and surprised, I said thank you, walked off and was in something of daze. At that moment in time, I didn’t understand what had just happened. Off I sloped, and did some cyber-window shopping.

I wanted that pen.

By that time, I’d written Fragments, well two-thirds and in biro. I decided to find that pen. That book needed something special to finish it off; the book was a special, the final flourish had to be too.

Oh, I paced, I worried and I turned it over and over. My siblings couldn’t work out why I wanted that pen, biro did the job as far as they were concerned. Why on earth would I want a fountain pen, pay that much for it, and what was the big deal?

I got the pen. I had my Excalibur. This was my pen.

I had magic at my finger tips; the outlet that would get ideas from my brain, through the CNS and onto paper. I didn’t look back. I found a couple more; a bit like having  your favourite jumper in three different colours. I have three sonnets. I remember being in Venice and window shopping the Matte Black one. It didn’t feel right, it felt too heavy. I’ve even tried, out of sheer curiosity, to woman-handle a Mont Blanc. Too heavy. no zing; I didn’t even think about the price tag. I don’t think I am meant to have one of those.

Then came the IM. A slightly posher Parker pen, I guess. A random shot in the dark, but this also came with a zing. It’s a different zing to the Sonnet, but it’s a zing nonetheless. The two types of pen, sit on opposite sides of the pen case with a biro in the middle. A biro, to be used only in the case of an emergency.

All pens are to be inked up at all times.

I take no chances. I take those pens everywhere, alongside a notebook.

Then there is the ink. I don’t get on with cartridges. On my desk, is a wooden box beneath a stapler. It contains seven, small plastic bottles of ink. Imperial purple, grape, billbery, magenta, forest green and teal are used more often than not. I have Oxblood, but it doesn’t feel right; I really don’t like using that ink. There’s not black ink, blue does languish behind the box. This also means that I end up with inky fingers that are all too difficult to explain.

Everything of would-be note that passes across my desk is handwritten. The first draft of books always is, in a note book, on file paper. There is far more soul in this analogue, organic process compared to typing away.

Using a fountain pen certainly retains the kinks and curves of my handwriting.

As for reading it.

“Punam, your writing makes my eyes go funny.”

Strength of a Seedling

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Over the last few days, I’ve been checking the heated prop for seedlings. There’s a mixture of cayenne, cucumbers and tomatoes in there, so quite a variation in potential germination. This does mean that I end up fishing things out every now and again as I see green leaves. I don’t have many tomatoes just yet. I think I have a handful of wiry, somewhat leggy seedlings. The one above, looks reasonably happy and healthy for the time being. It has been named Tom by the baby sister.

Sowing seeds in pellets is useful; I don’t make a mess with compost and run the risk of Mama F’s wrath over muddy floors. However, they do have a tendency to dry out in the heated prop. I’m not sure if that’s down to the pellets themselves or the ageing heated prop. It’s certainly been cranky this year.

I am also feeling  very protective of seedlings, with there being a regular window-sill shuffle. As the weather changes, tomatoes and chillies do have a tendency to curl up and keel over.

In other news, it’s happy belated birthday to Sow, Grow and Eat: From Plot to Kitchen. I’d quite forgotten, but this book-the green one-is now three years old. This was the second of the gardening books. Well, it is part GYO and part cook-book. A third, is a work in progress. It sits on my desk, waiting for my to have the mind-space to finish it. It has been on  my mind lately, and I daresay there will be an attempt at some point to get it together. Sat here typing, I am eyeballing the cook book folder, wondering what energy and focus I need to commit my thoughts to paper. The pens, sit near by, poised to pounce. I wait for the tipping point, the mojo to dive straight once more.

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As mentioned above, the book is part GYO, part cook-book. There are recipes inside for jams, jellies and preserves made using plot produce as well as the home-brew that has been made. It does rather go well alongside the yellow one.

Tis the season! Growing your own Ebooks

 

The first week of Spring, and there is soil beneath my finger nails. Well, there was; I’ve cleaned up and sit here writing. I’ve enjoyed pottering around the plot today,  I remembered how much colour the plot brings to my life. I also remembered, just how much I’ve learned in the decade of growing my own.

Growing your own is not a new thing. It’s been happening since the middle ages, but the rise of allotments has really put it into a sharp focus. As has the spotlight on eating healthy, getting exercising and knowing where your food comes from. Three things that when you have an allotment really are part of the whole process of growing and eating.

You don’t even have to have an allotment. I started my gardening journey with plant pots in Dad’s garden. Container gardening was a really good foothold in learning and experimenting.

This blog has documented every inch of learning and experimenting. Much has been supplemented by talking to allotment neighbours, not to mention gardeners and allotmenteers across the universe. Documenting on the blog was certainly one aim. I also wanted to share my learning and experimenting. I’ve made a few mistakes, and I guess communicating these to others has some benefits.

As such, two ebooks have borne out of this blog and offer another avenue for encouragement and support. They are also available in paperback.

Plant pot tales.

UK: http://amzn.to/2bdMdBB

US: https://amzn.to/2U0DUSa

Canada: https://amzn.to/2Y9z982

Sow grow eat

UK: http://amzn.to/2bdLro6

US: https://amzn.to/2unaLSt

Canada: https://amzn.to/2Wg2tIj

Bliss at the Brum Botanical Gardens

I spent this morning, having something of  botanical, therapeutic adventure. It’s book release day; I didn’t want to stay inside and sit on my hands. A few days ago, whilst walking through the greenery around Sarehole Mill, I decided to plan a trip to Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Despite the fact that I’m a born and bred Brummie, I’ve never actually spent any time there, enjoying it. I remember going to a wedding reception, by the Arid Glasshouse and making a mental note to come back.  It’s taken me  few years, but I made it!

There wasn’t a concrete plan, not really. I had a thermos of tea, some lunch and a pair of walking boots.  A class of kids-Year 2 from a local school-were also wandering around, so I made sure I was well off their radar. Their teachers, have my empathy. Not my school kids, not my trip. I carried on.

As I sit here and type, I’m actually creaking. Who knew, that such a gentle, aimless and ambling walk could have an impact?

Anyway. Using the map from the entrance desk, I did amble and quite aimlessly. Everything is labelled clearly, the information is presented concisely for everything. Better, in my mind, than most museums.  I could spot Camellias-Dad has two in the garden-so I didn’t feel completely clueless. There were daffodils in dots and splodges, all very timely as we kick off with spring.

 

Whilst not a huge site, Birmingham Botanical Garden is best savoured slowly. It didn’t take long for me to take a walk around. So I made the conscious decision to sit, stare and take tea a couple of times. Least of all when three pea hens and a peacock were in the vicinity. Taking that one picture, the peacock more or less posed and looked me in the eye as though I was crazy. Even the pea hens shuffled around as though indifferent. I had hoped that the peacock might shake a tail feather to give everyone a display, but alas no joy. To sit, stare and sip tea was part of the deal for today’s adventure. To be completely immersed in greenery, to take stock and just absorb everything has been crucial this week.

A special mention, goes to Alison Levey, who made me smile today. A couple of days ago, she posted an image of a Magnolia. I happened to read the name as Lionel Messi. Yes, the footballer. I forget now, the proper name of this plant. It struck a cord today, whilst I was adventuring. In walking through the memory garden, I saw a sign in the boughs of a pink Magnolia. I read it as Lionel Messi. In the image above, the white magnolia does cover the pink footballing one in the fore-ground; it genuinely made me giggle and out aloud.

I nearly missed this, but on the way out, I found the Japanese Garden. I’m glad I did too. This is a pocket of serenity, that I might have otherwise missed had the universe not nudged me to head out of one of the glasshouses. This garden is tucked away, and there is just something about it; even the air is different.

Carefully observing, I was wandered in, and there were three red camellias sat in water feature. Whether they were put there, or landed there through serendipity I don’t know. There is a sign, that details how in Buddhism and Shinto, fallen blossoms are a sign of the transience of life. That really did strike me; life is too short, to sit back and not smell the Magnolia. I edged in and I found this one.  A Saucer Magnolia. Something was ringing, and for three seconds I had no idea where the sound was coming from. Then I realised it was the chime sat in the middle, caught by the breeze.

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There was just something about that moment that felt almost ephemeral. I don’t have any other words to describe it.

I’m glad that I went, even if the gardens are half asleep. I want to go back and see the rose garden in full bloom. I do think, that when the whole thing wakes up, it will be even better.

 

Postcards from Peace: release day! #PeaceSeries

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Here we have it!

Postcard from Peace:

A Peace Series collection

is officially live on Kindle!!

 

 

Click on the image above and download your copy. Don’t forget to join in with the facebook event as well.

Kangana: A diverse romance

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We’re all familiar with Bollywood movies; it is after all multi-million dollar industry with blockbusters that enthral millions. Many of them are romances of a kind. Yet when it comes to fiction, contemporary literature, diversity in romance is still a bit grey around the edges.

Don’t get me wrong, Mills and Boon-Harlequin by another name-has an armada of different nationalities. Many of the characters are Greeks, Italians, there might a few Russian Oligarchs, British Aristocrats and a few American Lieutenants and Medics in the mix. I don’t remember seeing many-if any-characters of Indian ascent; perhaps I missed that part of the library shelf, I don’t know. I  dovknow that I saw a gap, especially having written Retreating to Peace: A Peace Series novella.  The main protagonist, Devan Coultrie, is of a mixed heritage, but without him, I wouldn’t have even contemplated writing Kangana.

There is a lot to consider when it comes to books with characters from BAME backgrounds. There are authors from BAME groups. I remember seeing Bali Rai’s (Un)Arranged Marriage in the library as a teenager. I grabbed it, read it, and was overjoyed that it existed. I was amazed, that an author from BAME background existed. I’ve also experienced reading Meera Syal’s work; she is a national treasure, I tell you. Meera Syal and Nina Wadia are probably the most recognisable women of South-Asian ascent in the British Media and should be celebrated for their contributions; they certainly motivate me.

The pool of diverse authors is small, but does exist. I guess, that is the pool that I have inadvertently fallen into. Be it by background, be it by what I have chosen to write.

I don’t class Kangana to be the same as Bollywood movie, I’m loathe to even call it a bollywood romance. It’s difficult to put a label on it, but I would say it is diverse. It contains characters, narrative and experiences that are had by characters that we don’t necessarily see on the typical library, book shop, shelf.  The setting isn’t exactly New Delhi,  Mumbai or Bangalore either. The book opens in Midlands, there are references to the BMAG, Sarehole Mill and also the Sea life centre. After all, I am a Brummie Born and bred. There had to be a strand of Birmingham in there.

So, there are some teasers below, the blurb too.

Why not try and read something different today? Kangana is available in both paperback and ebook. Links are on the sidebar.

Sometimes when you think you are falling for one person, you are really falling in love with everyone else around them too.
Gorbind’s family are his whole world, even if they are far from normal. His kid brother needs looking after and his Grandmother just wants him to find happiness.

His whole world changes when he meets Padmi. Life gets more interesting as she changes Gorbind’s universe completely. Romance with Padmi is anything but straightforward.

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The rainbow cover is very important to me, and really does reflect the colours on the wind. This is a book that attempts to address different aspects of diversity and the cover had to underline that.

Don’t just take my word for it either.

Soul revival: Hello, Spring

It’s half through the week off, and I’m pottering around, practising some much needed self care. I say I’m pottering, I’m pacing around til the new book goes live and have a distinct lack of writing mojo. Writing other than the blog, that is.

I find it really hard to wander around aimlessly; generally, I have lists and plans as to what to, when, and will be diligent in doing what I have to. What I need to do, sort of gets jettisoned out of the nearest air lock.

Until this week, that is and I’m making a conscious effort to stop.

Sowing of seeds was definitely on the agenda for this week. I’ve been keeping an eye on the chilli seeds; with two more little green babies fished out of the propagator. These were the recently re-sown batch of Cayennes. I do have a few slow growing habaneros in there, I think. I may well find myself rescuing chilli plant from garden centres at some point, by way of experimenting.  I wasn’t originally going to sow cucumbers, it’s been a while since I have. These are Marketmore, and we shall see if these germinate. I don’t tend to have much luck with home sown, home grown cucumbers. They are however wonderfully delicious to eat and do make a nice raita or a good side salad. I might have a a look at other varieties, with a few crystal lemon ones knocking about.

The first batch of tomatoes have been sown, I say first batch as I will probably end up sowing more. I’ve sown four different varieties. The ever present Roma and Marmande, with a sun-blush orange variety and another, which I think is called Indigo. The latter is a blue/black tomato, so we shall see. Roma and Marmand have proved to be reliable varieties. They are heavy croppers and tend to get used up really quickly.

There is a whole list of other things to sow. I will hanging fire yet, before sowing squashes, for example. These grow quickly and the frost window here in Birmingham doesn’t close til the end of May. I will have a think about Runner Beans and Climbing French Beans, The latter will definitely be used across different dishes.

My plan is to continue pottering for the rest of the working week. The weekend is reserved for the allotment, provided that the weather stays stable.

 

Today and yesterday, I decided to take a walk around Middle Earth. Within walking distance, there is Sarehole Mill. A place, said to be the childhood haunt of J.R.R Tolkien and something of a local heritage treasure.  This morning, I donned my walking boots, took a thermo-mug of tea and off I went. I wanted to do this as slowly and as serenely as I could. Yesterday, I thoroughly enjoyed just ambling along, listening to the birds, being a green space and feeling my heart rate slow down. This was about being, taking time, absorbing the universe and being at peace. I think I might do the same again, and make the most of my down time.

 

Postcards from Peace: Pre-order!!! #peaceseries

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In Retreating to Peace, Devan Coultrie moved kit and caboodle to Montana. Before long, he was joined by Aditi Rao. Their history laid the foundations for a rosy future together.

Devan now calls Peace home and his life has become eventful.

This collection of short stories sees his family visit, his romance with Aditi develop further and his dreams in Peace blossom.
Devan Coultrie’s life in Peace is a picture postcard with more to it than meets the eye.

Three and Six: the place to pause

As I approach the Spring Equinox, I’m taking the tine to take stock. Taking the time to pause, absorb the magic that hangs in the air and process how cycles are completing. Processing how things have changed a great deal in the last two years.

This week, is certainly significant and for a number of reasons.

As you read this, I’m either sat at my desk, fiddling with a pen and notebooks. braving the bracing wind and pacing the plot or snuggled up beneath a blanket with a book, Buffy or something similar. (As I type, I’m watching the box set of Endeavour…..so that’s more likely, to be honest.)

I’m having a break, a pit stop; a gentle rest, after what has felt  like a never-ending Spring term. I am also very, very close to the end of my training hours for the Level 4 Diploma in Therapeutic Counselling. It’s a matter of touching distance and a handful of hours.

Cycles are definitely ending, new ones are waiting in the wind. There is a great deal of anticipation in the air, as something of a tipping point arises with the potential for forward movement.

Today, Tuesday 19th March, is two years since Fragments was published, since it went live on Kindle. As my first foray into fiction, this is a book that is very, very important. This week, also sees the release of book six and the journey between three and six , it completely blows my mind as to how it has unfolded.

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There is big difference between Fragments and the two gardening books, least of all because of being fiction and non-fiction. The two gardening books, are like sunlight on a page; they both bulge and burst with it. Fragments has a certain big, black grey cloud presence to it.

Yet, some grey clouds do have a silver lining. There is a silver lining to Fragments, it’s a thread that runs all the way through to be knotted at the ending. The ending of the book itself, and also where I am now with book six due for imminent release.  It was never my intention to write a heavy, hard going book. So I wrestled with working towards endings that felt appropriate for the narratives explored.

I had a vague plan for how Fragments would go, I used a grief model to have a skeleton and wove the plan around it. The model was important to me; I wanted to have something to pin the book to in relation to Counselling, my understanding and development at the time too. In hindsight, I know that fragments is filled with sadness, darkness and is brimming with emotion. On the other hand, there is light at the end. It’s a glimmer, faint, but it brews, blooms and becomes far greater than one ever imagined

Each of the six stories is important. The Anands, are a family of mixed heritage. Daniel and Caleb are a gay, married couple. Maya and Aldo, Michael and Sophie are two sets of parents who are grieving children at different ages.  Matthew’s bond with grandparent is broken, Albie copes with the loss of his wife and Chris is without man’s best friend.

These are real, everyday people that are all around us.

Fragments was book-ended by bereavements. One, occurred six months before I started to write, the second three months towards the end. At the time, that was a surreal episode of life imitating art, and I couldn’t write at that point. Physically picking up my pen at that point, was painful beyond measure. Writing Fragments was a fevered and frenzied experience. Each and every chapter was like a vivid day dream as it played out in my head and I used my pens to keep up. The whole writing process was a lot like directing and watching a movie; I might as well have had a camera in my hand.

There are two bits, I can imagine really very clearly on screen. Michael breaking up the nursery and Maya in the Ladies toilet. Even down to the camera angles, edit and panning.

In writing it all down, I got there eventually. I had to; Fragments was not going to be left an unfinished, twelve cylinder symphony. This was a book, that had to happen, had to be out in the universe. Not just for me, but anyone who might want to read it.

There is abject, absolute heartbreak in Fragments. If you read it carefully, you can probably read, see and feel the moment my heart goes crack from top to bottom.

The crack starts to heal with Retreating to Peace. By Kangana, the crack is gone and I’ve acknowledged where the bruises were. It has taken Postcards From Peace to buff the shine back and know the dents are no more.

All six books, move towards an unexpected silver lining. Books six, comes out on Friday. It’s no accident that this is around the Equinox, this is a phase change in writing of a sort. I will be writing, definitely. Just in a different frame of mind, I guess.

 

 

Tomatoes on my mind

 

It’s that time of the year again. I’m thinking about what tomatoes to grow. At the moment, I have a handful of chillies, growing very slowly and pretty much left to their own devices. They are relatively happy, so it’s logical to think of the next phase of sowing.

There are tonnes and tonnes of tomato varieties out there, and I’ve certainly collected a few varieties to have them in my seedbox. These have all been road tested in different forms over the years, so choosing the annual crop is actually quite challenging.

I’ve gravitated away from the dwarf, bushy varieties that produce cherry type tomatoes. This was, in the first instance, about sowing something different. Cherry tomatoes are certainly a good starting point; they are easy growing, abundant and offer a tasty harvest. As a salad tomato, they do serve a purpose and are quite effective plate fillers. I grew a variety called Minibel for a long time, and I suspect I will try another cherry tomato in the future at some point.

Seeds have been located, and wait to be sorted in my seed box. There are standard seeds such as Gardener’s delight and money maker; varieties that have been part of the GYO armada for many, many years. There are also heritage varieties; tomatoes that for one reason another, we don’t find in supermarkets, that are older in origin. I find these varieties really interesting, particularly when it comes to the Beefsteak types. In my experience, these are slow-growing and the crop is quite small. The plant puts so much power into a handful of whopper fruits, you need quite plants to have a substantial harvest.

Heritage tomatoes also open your world up to different shapes, sizes and colours of tomato. My favourite non-red tomato, has to be yellow stuffer. This, when combined with sweet yellow peppers, makes a fantastic chutney. You won’t find yellow tomatoes very often in the supermarket or fruit and veg markets, so growing your own is rather magical. I need to get some more yellow stuffer seeds, I rather fancy making that chutney again! We shall see if yellow brandy wine, yellow pear and cream sausage are in anyway comparable.

There are two varieties that I know I will definitely have on my list. These would be Marmande and Roma. I have found that Marmande is a brilliant cropper; it is wonderfully abundant. Roma is  a plum tomato, really very resilient and also a good cropper. In sorting out seeds, I did stumble across tomatillo seeds as well. I’ve been meaning to  sow these, as an experiment to see if they would actually work. I’m rather intrigued as to how this small piece of Mexico might take off in the middle of England.

You might ask, how many different plants does any one allotment need. All of the tomatoes that are grown will get used. Be it in chutney, salads or used in the base of Indian dishes.  Growing different varieties, having lots of plants does make for an interesting experiment, and any extras do got to good home.

At some point this week, I will take the plunge and sow tomato seeds. As with all the seedlings, I will be keeping an eye on them in case we have a cold snap. In comparison to the chillies, tomatoes do tend to be more resilient and less susceptible to keeling over-she says, crossing her fingers- but do need monitoring anyway. They do grow quickly and will need potting up as they develop. It will be late May before anything is planted outside to they will need to be hardened off in time.

I do tend to grow tomatoes outdoors, with no cover. I did try to cultivate them in a polytunnel, but found that they became leafy and didn’t crop that well. With being outdoors, plants are exposed to pollinators and the winds. There is a lower level of maintenance too. You do get cordon/indeterminate tomato varieties, those that need shoots removing. I have defoliate plants when there has been a lot of foliage to help ventilation. Having too much foliage can also be a product of what you feed and water the plans with as well. So make sure to see what is in the make up of any fertiliser if you are using it.