Tag Archives: gardening

Roses First flush 2017 #gdnbloggers

All is not lost; the roses are coming!


I don’t meant the red and white ones on the standards of England, but the ones down the plot. These happen to be pink and red.

The month of May has finally decided to shape up and get warmer, and the blooms on the plot at starting to kick off. Roses and Gladioli are the plot favourites, and this is the first flush of the year. The gladioli are only just starting to peek through, and true to their name they appear blade like protruding through clay and raised beds. By now, I have usually sunk loads, and I might still do so. For now, I am over bowled and with the scent of lemons with a small clutch of roses sat on the kitchen window sill-I do most of my school work sat at the kitchen table so I do get to to enjoy it.

I was perhaps a bit over zealous, and have taken the first roses to come through. I will probably wait and let the next batch bloom and blow on the plot. When it is high summer-yes, I know it doesn’t happen often-there is a lovely, heady scent of zingy lemons that drifts around the plot. The blooms also produce bursts of colour that break up the green.

All really is not lost, and in the coming week I have lots of plot related stuff to do. With the bank holiday, the frost window in Birmingham closes so I will be endeavouring to sink tomatoes and squashes. There is also a shopping list, I really want to find some beans and spinach.

For now, happy Wednesday!



Sowing Aubergines

Very brief update today. Have finally got around to sowing aubergines. I have sown Black Beauty which is the traditional, purple skinned variety, as well as Clara, which is a white skinned variety.

I’ve not had much success with sowing and growing aubergines. The one time that I did have a fruit, the plants were called Black Prince and were rescued from a garden centre. I am going to remain undaunted and try again. These seeds are being popped into the heated prop and all being well, we shall see the seedcases crack and seedlings appear.

Magic Squares and Chillies #gdnbloggers

The chillies have had something of a spurt; with the low light levels and lack of direct heat, they have become leggy. When leggy, seedlings stretch towards a source of heat and light, stretching upwards and being at risk of keeling over. This can be quite disheartening when you really want seedlings to grow.

Of the forty something seeds grown-scotch bonnet yellow, purple haze, cayenne, jalapeno and purple haze-we have approximately 15 seedlings that are some wiry, tall and gangly. I would rather they didn’t keel over. so I have decided to pot them up today. Using multi-purpose compost and some 7cm pots, chillies are being made a little more comfortable.


You can also find the video here

For me, this is the first transplanting. There may be another pot change, before they end up in their final pots in a at least three months time-ish. After that, any surviving plants will live-hopefully-in the poly tunnel. As you can imagine, this is something of a lengthy process, and we are only at the very start of the growing season.

Currently. the weather-in Britain, at least-is fairly hit and miss; it is cold outside. I, like many other Britons, scraped frost off the car windscreen this morning. This directly impacts upon all the tiny, dainty seedlings that might have already taken up space upon the window sill. I am keeping my chilli seedling away from the window pane. They will still get light, they-hopefully-will have some protection against the drop in night time temperatures.

With the heated prop empty, I have sown an emergency batch of about a dozen cayennes; it all felt a little thin on the ground. I shall monitor these over the next week to see what happens with them

So, seeds have been sown, they have germinated and grown. I like that feeling of new beginnings, as we look forward to the new growing season. I have written before, that allotmenteering and GYO both impact upon mental health; for me, that is really important. Least of all, because I teach about it, I am a trained listener and currently enrolled on a Diploma for Humanistic Counselling; the plot has a profound effect on me, my wholeness and the way I view the world. It all helps me to obtain mindfulness and improves my mental health.

You may have seen that I rather like colouring. I also knit.

Couldn’t be more different from gardening, could it?

For the last year, a knitting project has been on pause.


With the chillies adjusting to their new pots, I quite fancy a couple of hours revisiting knit one, purl one.



Hope is a chilli seedling #gdnbloggers


It is the very early days of January, and as I type snow is falling but landing as slush. In spite of this, seedcases are cracking and the unfurling of seed leaves is being observed as we have germination.

Possibly as I moved the heated prop from one side of the house to the other.

There had been some hand wringing as a week on from initial sowing, not a lot was happening. I double checked the prop, made wet those pellets that were drying out and moved the whole thing.

Expectantly, I have be checking the prop regularly to see results. It was only this morning that I saw the seedling above. I was aware that seedcases had cracked and in most cases; the heated prop is rather full. This is probably not helping things heat up quickly.

But there is a tiny, delicate looking cayenne seedling that has made it’s way into the world. What we do next, is to give it another day or so and then it will be fished out and kept somewhere warm and light. Else it will shrivel up and it really will be Goodnight, Vienna. In the absence of grow lights, I will be having a good think as to where this might be and hoping that I am able to protect this and any other seedling that might appear from cold temperatures. This occur even indoors, when seedlings are kept near a window. They get light and warmth during the day, but the windows still radiate cold when the night falls.

As delicate and dainty as this seedling might look, this seedling represents a new start. A new start on plot, with the hope that things will be productive this year with last year being something of a grey spell. I will keep an eye on the heated prop, hopefully there will be a few more to keep this one company.


To talk tomatoes #gdnbloggers

It’s okay, I am not thinking about sowing them; it is still too early, and I am inclined to wait at least another four weeks before I start sorting out runners and riders. Even then, I will be thinking about tomatoes and their sixth cousin, the aubergine. For now, I am thinking and reflecting on what might be whilst taking stock of what has already been experienced on the plot.

In 20 16, thirty two plants made it passed the initial seed and germination stage. Think these were sown in late february-most likely started off in the heated prop-as by March, the seedlings had already sent out their baby seed leaves and were about to send out their frilly first true leaves. These were then pampered and kept safe at home on a window sill so that the might establish and be sufficiently robust enough to be planted out. As you can see, we had a fair bit of fruit. Trouble is, very few turned red on the vine. In addition, there were fairly early blight warnings that led to plants being stripped of fruit and cast aside before it struck. Blight struck tomatoes are not particularly pleasant to look at; a putrid shade of puce and stomach turning. This has meant that much of the crop is ripened at home, somewhere warm and light. Ripening does happen eventually, it just takes some time to get going.

You’d think a red tomato was a red tomato. On the contrary, there are  many different varieties, each with their own unique qualities that determine productivity, attractiveness to the taste buds and what you might eventually do with the end product. Not all tomatoes are red, and I have sown and grown some rather nice yellow ones as well. Also, you get the odd ugly one that is really quite amusing. Doesn’t look particularly attractive, but that does nothing to hamper the taste. Food becomes that more interesting when it’s not perfect, but beautifully ugly. You can still eat it after all, there is no supermarket or political mandate as to how your fruit and veg might look. Wonky, uglu fruit and veg is something to shout about and not to be dismissed. (Trust me, I once wondered why I had curly beans; turns out they were never straight to begin with.)

The very first variety that ever tried was a cherry tomato called ‘Minibel’ and that was a fairly simple, straight forward introduction to growing tomatoes. Since then, I have decided to experiment and sown quite a few different varieties. Such as:

  • Latah
  • Money maker
  • Gardeners delight
  • Cream sausage
  • Tigerella
  • Marmade
  • Aisla Craig
  • black cherry
  • Yellow Stuffer
  • Brandywine
  • Shirley.

And those are the ones that I can remember, there is probably a list somewhere. These have been used in salads, Indian dishes; I even made a sage and tomato soup that was rather nice. I am still a little curious about beefsteak varieties though; I rather like marmande with it’s tendency to be sizeable with rather intriguing green shoulders. Brandywine tomatoes are something that I might look into a little further; these take time and with mega-bloom like flowers the development of fruit is somewhat delayed; that or I like something of a quick response when it comes to tomatoes. I have definitely noted the lower yield with these as well; it is much lower than other varieties and I suspect this is why I haven’t made many sowings in recent years.

It would be entirely odd to not have tomatoes on the allotment. I tend to transplant them into raised beds, occasionally they might get plugged into the open ground. I do find however, that productivity is somewhat hampered with the clay, so raised beds are a safer, more equitable bet. I did try transplanting into the poly tunnel; alas, that was a learning curve. We had triffids, yes, but not many tomato fruit. So back we went outside with all subsequent tomato growing.

As mentioned above, there are no plans to sow any tomatoes yet. The heated prop is currently full, and I am going to wait a short while. This allows me to have a look at the tomato seeds and see which ones are going to be sown. Marmade may well feature, but I also fancy trying Roma VF alongside.  I have not sown and grown this variety before, and a request was made by a sibling that we could try a plum variety.

We can talk tomatoes, but we’re not sowing them just yet.

Gardening and Mental Health #gdnbloggers

That is me, and I am standing on my allotment plot. An allotment plot that I call the sukh-Shaanti Garden. Loosely translated this name means happiness/joy and peace. I deliberately chose that name as that is what I hoped to gain from my allotment. Given how my life can get busy with school, volunteering and study; trying to find sukh shaanti can sometimes be entirely necessary.

It is also reflection upon on how the allotment feeds into my mental health.

Seven year sago, I finished my initial teacher training and was about to be come a newly qualified teacher (even after your PGCE you still have to do another year of in school development). Only, I wasn’t feeling particularly positive about the process; the end of the academic year was nigh, I was feeling rather stressed with no job and not sure as to how I had made it through the course in one piece. One day, after getting fed up of having filled in yet another application form, I threw aside my CV and thought sod it; I want to do something that doesn’t stress me out, is something of a experiment, and might have a positive end result.

What did I do?

I went to Wilko’s, picked up some seeds, compost and some labels.

I decided to sow those seeds-in May, somewhere around a bank holiday-chillies, tomatoes runner beans. These were sat outside-I knew very little then-put back in side, to and fro; there was a lot of researching that happened; before there were a series of pots lining Dad’s garden. I was determined to make a success of this experiment and needed it to get a balance.

The seeds germinated, became plants; these flowered and cropped.

We had chillies! Not to mention tomatoes, runner beans, I forgot to say about courgettes. I had managed to grow things.

Plus, I didn’t feel quite so stressed out. There seemed to be a bit of balance, focus, and also some positivity. I wanted to teach, I would get a job and do what I trained to do; the gardening was useful; very useful.

That was the first time that I realised that gardening was good for you. In the  very least, it gave you hope, focus, something to achieve. There was one big change in my mental health as the summer term ended(finished my PGCE-woo-hoo!), I had a few bits of employment as the winter drew in.  I had also developed more than an interest, I now fancied having an allotment. After all, go big or go home, that was the motivation.

And so the allotment came along-or rather, I found it, and put myself on the waiting list and waited till November. Plot 2A was mine, it was my sukh-shaanti garden. It’s been mine ever since, and  has also grown a little.

It is only now with hindsight, that I can see how having an allotment and growing seeds in dad’s back garden all seemed to make sense. Least of all because what I had sown and grown was used by Mum in the kitchen. The effect of the allotment upon my mental health never ceases to amaze me.

See that second picture of me, with the roses? Well, if grow such beautiful things,you just have to hug them and be proud of them.

There have been times when teaching and studying has rather frazzled me; yet taking a walk down to the plot with my wellingtons on and clutching a cup of tea has helped rub away low mood and anxiety. I do believe in the effect and with that, aimed to share the idea. Last year, I carried out a workshop at the Annual Conference of  the Association of Teachers of Psychology where I presented how gardening and horticulture had a positive physical and psychological effects that could be used within teaching and learning. The workshop started off with delegates colouring garden related images and ended with everyone sowing sunflowers. I was also able to raise seeds for all 200 delegates to have an envelope of sunflowers to carry out some mindfulness/gardening therapy themselves. I was really glad to hear that some colleagues had actually sown sunflowers and were reporting back success.

With Mental Health now becoming more and more present in the public consciousness, this also lends itself to the deeper integration of gardening and horticulture as strategies to support mental health concerns. Charities such as Thrive already offer horticulture based support. Gardening Leave, a charity that is sadly no longer running, used to support Veterans using horticulture.  MIND has also carried out significant work and helped to influence policy making.There is clear evidence of how gardening-just pottering-as well as therapeutic horticulture can have a positive impact upon individuals who are experiencing mental health concerns. In cases where there have been communal allotment plots used by groups, there is increased interaction with client groups reporting reductions in instances of low mood. They have felt valued and part of a community; they have improved social and emotional statuses. The effect of gardening and horticulture has been both positive and therapeutic.

Note that I have deliberately used the word ‘concerns’. Using the word ‘problem’ rather raises my hackles and I feel it only contributes to the continued stigmatisation of Mental Health concerns.

As an allotmenteer, I can safely say that gardening is a good strategy in supporting my own mental health. It was a deliberate choice to also include it when writing the first book; there needs to be a better awareness of both mental health and strategies to help those experiencing concern.

I do however have a few other hats. As a Teacher of Psychology, I am only to aware that the students in my classroom, may be experiencing mental health concerns or supporting someone with mental health concerns. As a trainee counsellor being aware is just as crucial. Mental Health permeates through every day life; with every one and every where.

There are of course many mental health concerns; from mild anxiety, depression to severe psychosis. Gardening and horticulture may not be suitable for all aspects of these concerns, but it can certainly contribute to management of some signs and symptoms. I will continue to reflect upon gardening and mental health; for me personally, it has been valuable beyond words.

#Plantpottales: The Global Gardening paperback!

It would be amazing to get support other gardeners as we approach the new growing season here in the Northern Hemisphere. My own experiences have been documented both here on the blog and in the book.

‘Playing with Plant Pots: Tales from the allotment’ charts all of my discoveries, the positives and the pitfalls of growing my own fruit and vegetables on the allotment.

You can find the book in both paper back and in ebook forms. The links to the UK amazon and kindle sites are on the right hand side of the blog.

A reminder though, of where you might find the book:


The link for Barnes & Noble can be accessed here

Another thing that is really important to me, is supporting independent book stores Sadly, there isn’t one here in Birmingham, England! Or at least not one I can find anyway. I am determined to find one. That said, I am working with Serendipity Books and More in the US. At the moment, they are the only store in the USA that physically stocks and sells copies of the book plus some of the Petal’s Potted Preserve Merchandise.

So if you are in the US, would like to support not one by two small independent business and are trying to develop green fingers, why not check out the store without walls as developed by Serendipity Books and More.



Serendipity books and more: Plant Pot tales

Gardening and Mental health…another article

This particular article has been doing the rounds for the last few days on social Media. Whilst it is written by one of the more *interesting* of British Newspapers, it does raise some interesting points. Especially as the gardeners of Britain count down for the arrival of Spring and are able to once more get their green fingers dirty.

In the first instance, I will caveat things by saying don’t be fooled by the sample size mentioned at the end of the article. 112 participants does not make for a generalisable sample. I am also curious about the nature of being ‘stressed out’ as it is termed. There is no comment as to how that has been operationalised and doesn’t mention any form of mental health concerns that may exist in that sample. The research is prefaced by examples and anecdotal evidence involving different situations. I am however wary of the scientific process behind this article and how the article may be interpreted. The perils, I guess, of being a teacher of Psychology with horticultural tendencies. I am likely to consider the research methods used to question the scientific rigour that is being presented.

That said, I do believe that gardening has a positive effect on Mental health and well being. Both on personal level and also on wider level when groups in society feel the positive impact of being involved in green spaces. There was until recently a charity in Scotland-Gardening leave- who used horticultural therapy to support veteran of conflict and did it very successfully from what I have read. Sadly, funding became an issue, and the charity had to close down operations. Then there is Thrive who also use horticulture as therapeutic medium.

Spring summer 2015


It is a shame that gardening and horticultural therapy (also called therapeutic horticulture, yes, I know, the terms are used interchangeably) occurs, but doesn’t get the wider publicity that is deserves in order to get momentum and become wider spread. There have been initiatives, such as the one run by MIND , a few years ago and these were successful. So much so, that the results of influenced public policy. I feel really very strongly about it, having worked in a number of posts where school gardening clubs have helped support learners. Some of which, were vulnerable or have had mental health concerns. It also saddened me that Gardening Leave had to close it’s doors, and my immediate hope what that the veterans that they supported would have appropriate support systems put in place. With the value and implementation of gardening and horticultural therapy being so limited, I consciously wrote about the positive effects in #plantpottales. It is not necessary to have a huge great big allotment to see the benefits, containers in a garden or a kitchen window sill would just as positive and just as useful.

I will continue to talk about the positive effects of gardening on mental health. All being well, someone might actually hear me and listen.

Tail end of 2015

As 2015 draws to a close, I guess it’s time to take stock of how the year is ending. I will save the proper review of the year for another post; but having visited yesterday; it struck me just how different the plot looks now compared to the height of summer.

Above, we have a view of the plot from yesterday. Something of a dreary and really very drab landscape. I did a spot of pottering yesterday, as there were a few things that needed tidying. Sadly, I had to take up two threes. The rochester peach and the sylvia cherry trees have both died a death. In the case of the peach tree, it had not even formed a root system, and didn’t take much digging out. I have yet to consider my victoria plum tree. Looking in a rather sad state, this is a tree that has rather confused me. The tree flowered, having formed foliage in the spring. There was lovely blossom. However, as time went on; the foliage turned copper; much like it was all aflame and started to die off. The one or two fruit on the tree didn’t last very long either. My plan was to dig it up as it is most likely diseased; I just didn’t get that far yesterday. Glad tidings however, a belated santa claus session means that I will be replacing both the peach and cherry tree, and looking at another Victoria Plum.

Another cause for much sadness were the full season raspberries. These have had little or no success this year. The raspberries that I did manage to harvest were actually from slightly confused autumn canes. The full season canes are going to be replaced, thankfully the supplier was very understanding. This will happen next year now, as I have pulled up the cane that again were very twiggy and no bigger than they had been when they were first planted. I am not going to blame my clay soil as this doesn’t appear to bother the other things on the plot.

You can see between the two galleries the difference that a few months can make. Only yesterday did I finally take down the bean frames and tidy up the now very much ex-sunflowers. I say tidy up the sunflowers, as I haven’t taken them down. I have left them in situ, least of all because they will naturally bio-degrade. They are probably still helping support the wildlife, if not being eaten; the now very skeletal flowers are probably playing host and home to critters. Tidying up was necessary, as it was all looking a bit post-apocalyptic and very mad max and the thunderdome.

Having a space between Christmas and New Years is good opportunity to reflect and sort through your seed stash. In the past, just after Boxing day; I would sow my chillies. I haven’t got that far yet! I have however, sorted the seeds from one seed box to the work in progress seedbox. Can’t remember what I did with my Cayenne seeds- I bought a fresh packet!-but I do have something of  a vast and diverse range anyway. Have yet to get any compost though, I was going positively twitchy at not having any; so will remedy that in the coming week or so. In my experience, I have used an electric propagator and also used an unheated windowsill one. I think I am now leaning towards the latter, not just because of how mild it is. That method has produced healthier, more robust seedlings in the past and been effective for cultivation.