In the next couple of months, I am hoping to make all of the paperbacks available on Kobo.
So here are the pre-order links, in case you want to stock up.
Apologies for not being around. There has been a lot going on, not bad, I assure you! This has made gardening and writing a bit more challenging. The next few months are shaping up to be both interesting and busy, but I am still around, not disappearing or dropping off the proverbial radar.
Not sure quite what gardening or when it will occur. In the mean time, the ink pens are in action and writing projects are happening.
Just wanted to remind you, of the books and there are quite a few now! If you wanted a bit of advice and guidance beyond the blog, there is the ‘yellow one’ and the ‘little green book’ that will help make things a little less confusing.
And if you fancied something completely different and not in the least bit gardening related, there is Fragments and also Retreating to Peace. Links to your right.
All of the books are available in both paperback and ebook.
And so it begins.
Where did Mama F put my wellies? Where is my hand fork and transplanting trowel? Is it going to rain?
I had to go find my wellies, having not worn them in a while. Not to mention the gardening trousers and grey Petal hoodie. No idea where my purple gauntlets were either.
My plan had been to spend time doing coureswork today. Having been to supervision though, I didn’t fancy my chances with doing anything academic or cerebral. Nope, today, I wanted to restore my soul.
Today, I took a walk, to survey my kingdom. Today, I took the first steps to go reclaim it. I didn’t go by myself either. I had company, namely Mama who followed me with my edging spade and ladies fork-tools, that she has now claimed as her own and doesn’t really part with. I had two trowels and a pair of secateurs, not to mention a thermo mug of tea. Mama F does have her own plot, and that usually means we meet in the middle when it is time to go home. She came to mine to give me a hand, to make sure that the plot is neat and tidy. I have no idea what this means, but I do no that my plot has never been neat and tidy. Organised, but never primped, preened and perfectly manicured. Mama F can also dig for England, and that is what she wanted to do; that is all she ever wants to on my plot. I wasn’t going to stand in her way.
Luckily, I had a good twenty minutes before she arrived. Twenty minutes where I could stand there in my own space, in silence whilst thinking. And it felt good to stand there. Okay, it was cold, murky and seemed like a different universe, but I was there. Walking down to plot 2a, it did feel like the walk of the prodigal. I was going back to somewhere important, somewhere that I had left my soul.
Thank goodness for my Petal hoodie, it served it’s purpose.
My plot didn’t feel or look as bad as it seemed. It’s untidy, overgrown, but it still has it’s bones. Beneath the masses, is the body of my allotment; the skeleton and infrastructure that I had created hasn’t been eroded away.
Walking around, I got the lay of the land to formulate the plan. The plot is a game of two halves. The top half, with it’s open ground, fruit trees and rose buses is Project Othello. At some point, this was sectioned off into seven beds. I have never had much success with open ground; this is why I have raised beds on the lower half. In the last few years, barely anything except the roses and a dozen cherries has grown up there. This new start presents me with a opportunity to re-create that canvas. Covering this area, and holding it won’t make this whole process so overwhelming. I can still look after the trees and roses, there is even the odd raspberry cane. This will mean that I can focus on getting the lower half ship-shape, with raised beds being added to the top half later on.
As for the lower half, the raised beds can be cleared and covered too. I do need to think about what to do with the bare earth, and how weeds can be discouraged. I did prune down the roses too. There are plenty of roses on the plot, with about two dozen on the last count. Some are posh, some less so. Raspberry canes, the autumnal ones, were also cut down. There was a lot of fighting with, and clambering around with wild brambles that have been dotted around. I could have done with an Excalibur, some where as thick as my fingers and didn’t like the secateurs.
Today actually felt nice, it felt the right thing to do. I might not have shovelled tonnes of earth, but it did feel connecting and grounding. I don’t plan to rush this, this is a slow return. I can only do so much, and that’s the key here. I don’t want to feel overwhelmed and at a loss. Allotmenteering shouldn’t be like that, it shouldn’t be about perfection and living up to unrealistic standards.
So, we have a beginning. Let’s see what happens.
As well as being available on kindle, all of the books that you have seen develop here on the blog are also available in paperback. As the big day draws near, there may be one of them that you fancy getting for yourself or for the book worms in your life.
All being well, if you were to click on the covers below, the universe should send the books out just as the festivities kick off. If the books don’t make it to you before the 25th, then there are twelve additional days of Christmas where celebrations continue.
The first two books are most definitely an extension of the blog. Covering allotment adventures and what you can cook with everything that you might grow, ‘Playing with plant pots’ and ‘Sow, Grow and Eat’ make GYO less complicated and accessible for all.
Chillies and tomatoes, you can grow your own and look at the food you eat in an entirely different way. Be it on your kitchen window sill or in your garden. Growing your own fruit and vegetables need not be scary or complicated. This book contains learning experiences of a novice allotmenteer, Ideas as to what worked, what didn’t and what to do with too many courgettes. From first having an allotment, and not knowing what to do, to growing chillies that are some of the hottest in the world. Anecdotal evidence of success, failure and ideas to help make growing your own fruit and vegetables a little simpler. All of the details are real, that means influenced by rain, shine, slugs and snails. The details are honest, and aim to inform readers of how allotments are worth the hard work put in and will yield fruit that makes it all worthwhile.
If you ever wondered how to sow and grow chillies, or what might be useful to know when growing tomatoes and what happens when radishes go wrong, then you will need to have a look inside! Building on the experiences of ‘Playing with Plant Pots: Tales from the allotment’ there is more to be learned from the fruit and vegetable plot. With a few allotment plot staples revisited and others that you might not ordinarily think about, this second book also contains further recipes to be tried using plot fruit and vegetables. Growing your own fruit and vegetables is still uncomplicated and still an opportunity to create edible experiments. Within these pages there are jams, jellies, chutneys and infusions all just waiting for you to read about them and to create them in the comfort of your own kitchen.
Life starts and life ends. In between we form relationships and friendships. We have husbands, wives, sons, daughters and we mustn’t forget pets. Memories form that shape who we are and what we do. Only for death to cast it all askew. What we know becomes nothing by fragments, torn up and thrown to the winds. The Anands lose a wife and mother, Matthew is lost without his grandmother, Daniel loses the man he loved, Michael wonders about having children and Maya is a mother bereaved. Within are six inter-related stories explore what happens when the universe as we know it implodes and entirely. Grief is a journey to be travelled by them with emotions to be experienced as their lives are changed. Whilst they feel alone they are all connected and these are their stories. Family, friends and even our pets cannot escape when it comes to the footprint that is left by death.
‘Fragments’ is definitely not about gardening, but it’s genesis has most certainly be documented on the blog. Grief and bereavement are the sort of things that we might not discuss everyday, but are certainly part of the lives that we lead. I do hope that those who read it, will get as much out of it as much as I did in writing it.
The eagle-eyed amongst you will have realised that there has not been much by way of gardening go on. A bit ironic, I guess, when that is a primary function of the blog, the brand and all things Petal.
The last year has been different, compared to previous years. I have mentioned in previous posts that I have found it challenging to shoe horn lots and lots of things in to real life. There have been peaks and there have been troughs; sometimes, that is what you need. There have been many times where there has simply not been enough of me to go around,
I miss the allotment.
At this moment in time, I dread to think what state it is in, A major overhaul is needed, and this is something that I feel very keenly and it is very much part of my process. I have paid the rent of the coming year, and a potato order has been placed. What I need to do, is to go there and see what I can make a re-start on.
This does feel overwhelming; the plot is 200 square metres and over run with weeds and all sorts. There is disrepair, the poly tunnel is still in pieces. I am loathe to see the tuts and shakes of the heads that might happen from other plot holders. I’ve never aimed for gold standard, I’ve always aimed for what makes me happy, and that is what I need to remember. Also, Rome wasn’t built in a day; the allotment wasn’t developed in a day. It’s going to take more than a day to strip things back, and have a relatively blank canvas to work upon.
Over the last few weeks, I have had chillies on my mind. More specifically, having compost to germinate seeds in during the Christmas holidays. Christmas isn’t that far away, and sowing chillies in the depths of winter is not as odd as it sounds.
There are no plans to give up the allotment. No plans to walk away. There are plans to reclaim it; to take walk down there with a cup of tea and just take a look. Assess, where I can go from here and how I can return to the passed glories if you like, of the allotment.
2018 promises to be an interesting year on all fronts. This means that I will need the allotment as my space even more. I have certainly missed it over the last year and have felt the impact of not being there.
There has been a physical and mental impact and I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. There truly is something about having fresh dirt beneath your fingernails. An important aspect of being a trainee counsellor and indeed part of the BACP ethical framework is self care. For years, my self care was the allotment. This has somewhat lapsed, so I am doubly minded to get things going again.
There is the allotment, knitting, colouring, preserving and pottering; all of the things that I once used and have lapsed with I would like to resume. There is also writing too. At the moment, I am looking at Petal’s cookbook. Looking at Petal’s cookbook is really important, as it’s all plot orientated and will help get things going again. Nurturing the book and nurturing the plot do feel as though they go hand in hand. Talking of hands, I get to see which nail varnish is allotment proof.
I do need to re-vamp my seed collection; a major cull and over haul is needed. Some of my seeds have been knocking around since I first started and are no longer viable. Raised beds need looking at, and I want to look at putting raised beds across the whole plot. I know for a fact, that cultivating things there in open ground really doesn’t.
At this stage, this does all seem overwhelming. The arrival of autumn, the dark depths of winter will do that you, will do that to anyone. I will be taking a walk soon, and reclaiming the plot.
2017 started with chaos and carnage. My poly tunnel fell victim to unseasonably strong gusts and was rendered kaput. Still hasn’t been fixed.
In real life, I was one third of the way through the first year of a level four counselling diploma, there had been a family bereavement and this combined with a self imposed writing/publishing deadline and increased hours at work.
There were a lot of variables that all combined and made going to the allotment more challenging. This has not felt like a productive year; this has felt like a duff year, with nothing quite coming off as it should.
I did sow seeds, these became seedlings and I split them all with my mum for her plot. It all however felt very cumbersome, as though the universe and I were embroiled in some kind of psychological and physiological tug of war that defied the laws of physics to make time turn to grains of sand.
There simply wasn’t enough time or me to go around. I was focusing on the diploma and it’s process of transformation-still going, now in the second year-writing was and in there someplace, there are projects in the pipeline, some more immediate than others, I have decided not load my writing plate. Then there is the real job, the teaching job that I do three days a week; this ebbs, flows and keeps me going in a straight line.
What I have missed, what my brain and body have needed but not had, is the allotment. And Zumba, but this is another story.
Somewhere in there, is my allotment. My little piece of England, my eden, my demi paradise.
It doesn’t look so pretty, now does it?
If you’d been neglected, unloved and not had your potential actualised, I daresay that is what you might look like.
Over the summer, I did get asked, ‘Punam, what you doing, do you want me strimmer?’
As you might remember, I spent summer doing nothing. I was feeling very spent, as though my figurative lego bricks had been smashed to smithereens and I was trying to put myself back together again. I am still trying to do that!
I am trying to resume course in the Captain’s chair to be in charge of my own figurative starship.
This includes the allotment.
At the moment, it looks awful; completely and utter derelict, it’s not in the best shape. I guess that reflects me, and the experience that I have had over the last nine months.
I haven’t been listening to myself as much as I should have, and this summer was about resting and taking the best care of myself that I could. My actualising tendency had been battered, bruised and broken in some part. The allotment is choking with bindweed, the raised beds need tidying up and the whole allotment needs to be rebuilt from scratch.
A lot like me, I guess.
The allotment is sizeable, 200 sq metres. It’s got its own micro-cosm, does what it wants, prefers to be negotiated with rather than told what it should do; it has a thing about experimenting, trying it’s best and doing what it can do, rather than what it can’t. It would rather have a go, learn it’s lessons and move on to do what makes it happy.
Remind you of anyone?
As the seasons change, and autumn arrives, my thoughts are still about rest, rejuvenation, about taking stock. In the autumn and winter, we have the natural cycle of things bearing fruit to then reaching the natural end. The allotment may not have done much this year, but it is now time for it to rest and recuperate. I have lots of tidying to do, and with foliage dying back, perhaps that will be easier to do.
That 200 sq metres does look intimidating. I do feel an overwhelming urge of ‘how the flip do I tidy you up, where am I meant to start, and do I have enough hours for you?’
I’m not giving it up, that’s for sure. I have no plans to walk about from this allotment plot. What I need to do, reconfigure things. Take one corner at a time, do one job at a time.
There is no rush.
Well, there might be, when the allotment secretary sends me a warning. He’s been pretty nice about it so far, given how there was some productivity.
There won’t be any breakage of the laws of physics; that never helped anyone, not Sherlock Holmes, Star Trek Captains or Buffy and Angel.
We’ll get there.
There hasn’t been much preserving in a while. Whilst fruit has been harvested and safely stowed in a freezer, the plot hasn’t been all that productive over 2016-2017. The tomatoes took their time to arrive and when they did, it was a case of battling blight and removing fruit from the vine in the hope that they would ripen at home. The puddle of tomatoes this year may not have been as big as last years, but there was a puddle nonetheless. This had to be used, to be preserved. Whilst there has been homebrew-it is sitting aside quite comfortably-there had been no jamming, jellying and chutney-ing for a while. This would have to change.
The puddle would form the basis of preserves as Petal and I played with the preserving pan.
My first endeavour was chutney, of the green tomato variety. Last year, I dabbled with adding apple and pears, so I decided to repeat the feat with this years experiments. My first batch of chutney, involved the green tomatoes, alongside Falstaff apples and also using the abundance of fenugreek that Mum’s plot has produced. That gives you three different flavours and textures that somehow have to amalgamate together to a suitable counterpoint that brings the whole thing together. I had forgotten, how long it actually takes to chop up all the ingredients and how there is the propensity to make a mess in Mama F’s kitchen. You can have hundreds of green tomatoes, all of varying sizes that need to be chopped up, then there is the apples that have to be defrosted and chopped too. On the surface of it, this could be a drag. Until that is, you stick your ear phones in, develop a technique and hear the muffled words “Punam, I’ll help you, it will be quicker then, and there won’t be a mess.’
Like I could refuse an offer like that.
It was quite therapeutic to make the first batch; with more tomatoes coming and blight about to hit middle earth, it was soon time to make a second batch. I had more jam jars by this point too, by way of preparation. This second batch was simpler and not so fruity in being courgette and green tomato. I forget if I have made this combination before, but it seemed a good idea at the time. It never ceases to amaze me, when rummaging around the pantry of all the different things that could be used. Mustard seeds, be they black or white, will give you an intense ‘curry’ flavour. So when I get asked, did I put curry in the chutney, I have to tut, shake my head a little. Onions, might be used as base, but this flavour changes if you add onion seeds. I don’t put garam masala in-it’s got too many variables-so I take one variable and use that, i.e. coriander, be it seeds or powder.
To make chutney, is an interesting experiment.
As well green tomatoes, there was and is a stash of plums and apples in the freezer. Pounds and pounds have been amassed, so to make jam was the next step.
One of the first flavours that I ever made was plum and apple; named person-centered (it was a some point during a counselling course that I made it) this was calling to me to be made once again. I would be making this alone though, Mama who is usually the production manager would be at school. The plums were ripe-oh, there is song there-so low pectin, and the apples were cored and peeled. There would have to be lemons or powdered pectin used; I went with the lemons and then stood on a stool at the stove to watch the preserving pan.
It didn’t half smell nice, as everything cooked down and the 104 setting point was encountered. Potting it all up was systematic, has to be done while it is all hot, and soon I I had over a dozen jars. Not bad for five pounds of fruit, but I still have quite a few more. I suspect there will be more preserving over the autumn term,
Preserving, I have missed; Petal and I might have to do some more.
Eight years ago, I was coming to the end of my initial teacher training; the PGCE was over and I was looking to the future. I had also started to do an experiment.
During that final summer time, I wasn’t feeling particularly positive. I had no idea whether I would make it through the course, my morale was very low and I wondered whether the vocation that I felt was just a whisper on the wind that I had misunderstood. For some daft reason, I threw aside the applications for NQT posts having been sat in the garden trying to fill them in in the sunshine. I took the bus to the High street, went into Wilko’s and came out with seeds and pots.
I really fancied sowing those seeds, and how difficult could it be to sow a tomato, a chilli and why not throw a runner bean into a pot. See what happens. A few weeks later, I was in a gardening store, and I saw a crate of onion and shallot sets. There were far too many for me, so I sunk some into the garden-my parent’s garden-and gave away the rest to a neighbour.
Watching seedlings come through-the summer of 2009 was freakishly warm-and then having chillies and tomatoes growing lusciously and then cropping, was something of a marvel to behold.
As the summer drew to end, my sweet peppers were damp but productive; something had clicked, changed; I found that I rather enjoyed sowing seeds, watching them grow, and you know, those four courgettes a week did come rather handy in Mum’s kitchen. I thought about expanding the science experiment-that is in essence what it was-and to be fair, Dad was thought there were a lot of plastics pots lining his garden.
I knew that there were allotments in the area, the neighbour who I had palmed off onions too, he told me about them. Off I went to a search engine to investigate.
What he didn’t tell me, and it was only after I called the allotment secretary as listed on the local authority information, that I found that the onion neighbour were the one and the same. I know, daftness. I put my name on the list, I wanted an allotment.
I had already been documenting my seeds sowing; by writing things down, I used another website. Horticultural Hobbit was born, there was a growing-literally-body of work. I even asked a good friend of mine, to give the name a face, give the name a face. He took one look at me, and came up with the figure holding carrots. The figure that we now know as Petal. I was adamant. that this would be my alter ego, that the allotment in the shadow of the Shire Country park and Sarehole mill would be a good record of my growing adventures.
By November, I was renting half an allotment plot. This was now about allotment adventures. It took two weeks to clear it, and to get cracking. There was half a plan-sketched out-as to what I wanted to do, what I wanted to achieve. This was going to be anything but easy.
Put quite simply, I didn’t have a clue. What I was doing, how I planned to do it, was a bit of a haze. What I did next was to join an online forum, I had questions needed answers. This was by far one the best things I could have ever done. To have joined a community of like minded people, from whom I could learn, use as a sounding board and also pass on the benefits of my mistakes.
What followed was growth, development and further scientific enquiry.
Growth. Development and a journey. A journey, that is on going and to this day.
There have been peaks and there have been troughs. That’s a lot of tomatoes, more courgettes that you can shake a stick at. There have been weeds galore-current, state of play, by the way-and storm damage, sometimes not enough time in the life space continuum; everything has ebbed and flowed.
It is impossible for me sum up in this post every triumph and disaster, every seed sown and harvest made. Plus you can find it all in the archives. All in all, a journey is documented and is shared.
Sowing seeds and then writing about it has had benefits that I could not have possibly for seen. I remain a teacher, although my jobs have varied since that summer of 2009. There have been a few posts, where I have been able to use gardening to support students; at one point, I grew chillies in a classroom. The plan is to continue with the vocation. I have become a trained listener, started to train as a counsellor, as the impact of gardening on my own mental health has encouraged me to consider how the mental health of others could be supported. In particular, work carried out with veterans, mental health and gardening really struck a cord and led to the development of the Pledge for Warriors.
Then there was the writing outside of the blog. I was able to write guest blogs with the support of Michael Perry and this tipped something of a balance. I felt that this was really positive step forward and helped to move within the blogging and gardening community. Plus, there was the whole ‘bollywood gardener’ hashtag, I couldn’t tell you how that came about, but I am grateful for Michael coining it and I am keeping it! Plus, I remember swooning and almost keeling over when termed as being gardening royalty…that is a dream that I will continue to keep a hold of as motivation to persevere.
I am still trying to be a part of that community, but what this did was edge me towards writing a book. I looked at the guest blogs that I had written, and had a gut reaction. Two years ago, in something of a haze I sent my youngest sister a text message; I was going to write a gardening book based upon the blog.
“Okay, good luck,” she said. “Do what you want.”
There was definitely a haze, and I did write that book. I wrote two. Now, they might not be Pulitzers, and you won’t find them on The Times 100 Best seller lists any time soon. But they are my books, and I am very glad to have written them both. They are not perfect, I don’t pretend to be perfect in anyway; I have however, learned from the processes and there is further development, dare I say it, growth. Writing the two gardening books led me to the Indie authors community and has set me onto another, additional pathway. A pathway towards fiction, towards writing in another direction. I wrote ‘Fragment’s and that couldn’t have been more different to Plant pot tales and so grow eat. This writing journey continues, and there is a release scheduled Spring 2018. As for a return to gardening books, maybe; there are plans.
Then there was the swag, the merchandise that the figure holding carrots-Petal-was emblazoned upon. Petal, who gave her name to Petal’s Potted Preserve, and was far more than the Orticultural Obbit; far more than just my alter ego. There have been lots of bits and pieces-through trial and error-that have been developed, shared and have actually gone to loving homes. A good sign, I guess, of how much this blog, the process of gardening and growth has changed as there is now also a Petal shop.
Petal is something that I believe in, that I enjoy developing. She is a brand. A brand that is diverse, growing and hoping to get bigger, better and stronger. There are many different facets to Petal, the Orticultural Obbit and her Potted Preserve. To date, I have have uncovered just a few. The plan remains to keep searching, to keep growing and developing.
It truly has been an interesting eight years.
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!
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