Just a quick post to recommend a good book - this is a slight volume, one I picked up secondhand in an Oxfam shop (but you can find it on Amazon too). It's a sensitively written and lyrical book, as much a love letter to the city of London as it is to the Helen Babbs's rooftop garden. The author delights at growing runner beans, tomatoes and strawberries in between bird and bat watching, visits to city farms and strolls on Hampstead Heath. It's a book to make you dream of greener cities, where every rooftop hosts a garden, every window has a windowbox and balconies are crammed with an abundance of greenery. Wouldn't that be something?
Everything on the allotment is sprouting at the moment. Lots of green shoots popping up in response to these beautiful sunny days. The daffodils and grape hyacinths have flowered and gone, but are replaced by orange and yellow wallflowers, plus delicate blue forget-me-nots. There're clumps of leaves promising spiky foxgloves later in the year, and my herbs are doing well too - rosemary, lemon balm and fragrant thyme. Sadly I've also found the first signs of bindweed. I'm sure there's some noxious chemical I could use to help clear that away, but as I'm gardening organically I just have to grit my teeth and dig, dig, dig it out wherever it crops up. Tiresome, but necessary.
I'm hoping this year to have a bumper crop of sunflowers for no other reason than they're such cheerful flowers. Those round, open faces can't fail to raise a smile.
I bought a pack of Johnsons seeds last year in the end of season sale at Wilko. 6 varieties of sunflowers, 10p a pack. I'm aiming to have some Red Suns, Italian Whites, Teddy Bears (a kind of pom pom flower!) and some Russian Giants. Fingers crossed those dratted slugs 'n' snails don't get my fledgling seedlings before they've had a chance to shoot up.
I've got various gardening books, and they tend to divide into 2 sorts. The leafing through and gazing at photos sort and the practical, get the spade out and put your gardening gloves on sort.
If you're looking for substance over style there's a huge range of these 'expert' books, and they've been around long enough that you can easily get them in charity shops or secondhand bookshops. They're practical and informative, rather dull in appearance but useful if you need - pun alert! - down to earth details. I find 'The Flower Expert' book's mix of photos and illustrations great for identifying flowers. So if you don't know your Helianthus from your Helichchrysum, or your Salvia from your Salpiglosis, why not have a browse?
You can also delight in the colloquial names for flowers. I'm particularly fond of the Poached Egg Flower (Limnanthes) and Nigella's day-to-day name, the romantic Love in a Mist.
FEEDING BIRDS ON THE CHEAP CHEAP
Whether you’ve got a garden, a concrete back yard or simply a balcony you can still feed the birds. It’s a great thing to do as they get the food and you get the benefit of watching the fascinating little creatures. Rather like our own food stuff, bird food includes everything from the Value range up to luxury brands. But it needn’t cost a fortune to put on a garden buffet for birds.
Try putting out: cooked, unsalted rice or uncooked porridge oats.. (Also provide drinking water.) Halve an apple and they’ll happily feed on that. If you’ve got sunflower or pumpkin seeds you bought to snack on in a healthy phase that didn’t last long, don’t leave ‘em on the shelf, but give them to the birds.
If you do decide to buy a commercial bird seed mix – buy wisely. Check the label. You want to avoid cheap mixes that’re choc a bloc with barley, split peas, beans or wheat as that appeals more to larger birds (and you don’t want to attract wood pigeons, do you?). If you’re buying sunflower seeds the birds will be more thankful for the black rather than striped ones (to do with a higher fat content). Niger seeds and peanuts (not salted or roasted) are very good too. The RSPB’s website has details of how to make bird cake and food bars. http://www.rspb.org.uk/makeahomeforwildlife/advice/helpingbirds/feeding/whatfood/index.aspx
Free ways to persuade birds to stop by:
Provide water. It doesn’t have to be a pond strewn with lily pads. A shallow bowl can be a makeshift bird bath or provide drinking water.
Use leaf mould to mulch your flower beds. Apparently you’ll make the blackbirds happy by doing so.
As with attracting any form of wildlife, don’t over tidy your garden. Leaves, berries, windfall apples, sunflower heads and wood piles all provide a varied habitat and gives Nature that helping hand.
If you're after some good, practical advice about growing veggies, especially in a small space like a back yard or balcony, you could do a lot worse than visit:
Mark Ridsdill-Smith's blog is practical and geared toward newbies to food growing as well as emphasizing recycling and gardening on the cheap. He doesn't post on a daily basis, but it's worth checking the blog every month for seasonal info and tips.
Any green fingered blogs you've come across that are useful to know about?
It's starting to feel more Spring-like out there. Oh, I know we've got lots more bitter-cold and wintry days ahead as March is rarely a month of hazy warm days, but the light in late afternoon seems to be lengthening. There're daffs, crocus and snowdrops popping up. Everything - including us humans - seems to be yawning and stretching, as if coming out of hibernation.
I've been finding flower pots and trays and dragging that bumper bag of potting compost out of the airing cupboard, all ready to go.
(The potting compost incidentally was bought half price at the end of last year's growing season. That's when Wilkinson and many shops are desperate to clear their gardening supplies to make way for other stock. It's the ideal time to buy, if you've got the storage space of your own.)
I was bought lots of handsomely packaged Franchi seeds for Christmas, a practical present for anyone who aspires to be green fingered. I've added them to my seed tin. One little tip I've found useful: because I now need reading glasses to decipher the small print planting instructions on seed packets, I've stuck a white sticky label on the packets. On it I write the time to sow those particular seeds. It means when I rummage through the tin I can sift through packets, seeing at a glance those where seeds can be planted in March, April, May etc. It saves me constantly reaching for my reading glasses, especially when I've got composty hands.
I can't claim to have naturally green fingers. What little I know comes from a mix of library books, YouTube videos and trial & error. When you're a newbie there's not only a lack of knowledge to contend with, but also a lack of cash. That can feel like a barrier as it appears as if gardening costs a lot. Bags of compost, packets of seeds, plants pots and trowels and plant markers, a watering can, plant food (yep, you're supposed to fed 'em), not to mention gardening books and magazines ... and the list goes on.
The good news is that you can garden on a budget, upcycling and recycling, providing yourself with cheap and nutritious herbs, salad leaves, tomatoes and all kinds of good stuff. Even if you've virtually no access to your own outdoor space, you can still grow things on sunny windowsills.
This page will be all about growing your own on a budget. I'm assuming you've got little space and little cash. Over autumn and into the chilly winter months I'll blog about what you're going to get up to when spring and summer finally roll around again.