My growing obsession blog

Struggles and successes in a suburban garden

Reasons to be cheerful September 13, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — mygrowingobsession @ 12:12 pm

At this time of year, I have a tendency to get a bit wistful. The nights are drawing in so there are less hours for me to tat about in the garden after work. I wish I’d done certain things a certain way and so I make a mental note to do things differently next year. (Making an actual, physical note would be much more useful, mind you.)

So I’ve decided instead to concentrate on things to be glad about. Things I’m enjoying about the garden right now (in mid September), and things that I can only now appreciate have gone well for me in the garden this year. So here goes:

  1. Apples. This has been a great year for my old apple tree. Last year I feared that it was coming to the end of its useful life and had even started to contemplate something to replace it. But we are currently benefitting from a glut of Bramleys. Rather than complain about all the apples I need to stew, I’m attacking their over-abundance with all the enthusiasm of a hungry pig!
  2. Sweet peas. I’m thrilled with my sweet peas this year. Even though their flowering is starting to slow down now and their foliage looks a bit tatty, I’m still able to pick a bunch every weekend. Some of them were bought as seedlings but the rest I grew from seed in the spring – so I certainly won’t bother to sow any this autumn.
  3. Raspberries. My ‘Autumn bliss’ raspberries have been brilliant again. This has to be one of the easiest crops to grow. Ours are growing in a raised bed between wires fastened to two T-shaped wooden contraptions. They need watering and a weekly feed but that’s it. I should really be out there picking every day but I probably only manage it every couple of days and end up with a decent-sized cereal bowl of fragile fruits. Excellent results for very little effort.
  4. Cosmos. I nearly didn’t bother sowing any Cosmos (‘Purity’ and ‘Dazzler’ incase you’re wondering). The snails/slugs nibbled a fair few. But I’m so glad I persevered because they are the one success in my pursuit of the impossible: late summer colour. Even though they need staking, tying in and dead-heading, I will still sow some more next year.
  5. Sunny weekend evenings. There haven’t been many of them recently but there have been a few evenings where the sun has dropped in the sky just as I’ve finished in the garden and I’m able to sit on the patio, in my gardening gear, with a mug of tea (ok, a glass of red wine) and appreciate my handiwork. It’s not the same as a summer evening as the light is different and things smell different. And it doesn’t last long (my cats want feeding or the neighbour’s dogs start yapping) but for five minutes I can just enjoy the moment.

Beautiful brassicas August 30, 2011

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Look at these beauties! 

I took this photo yesterday at Titsey Place and Gardens ( where I saw what is possibly the best walled vegetable garden ever! Titsey Place is situated just outside the village of Limpsfield between Westerham and Oxted. The house (which I didn’t visit this time) has its origins in the sixteenth century but the walled gardens were restored in 1996 to showcase Victorian techniques.

I don’t know how authentically Victorian the garden is but it completely blew me away.  At this time of year (late August) the garden is full of  fruit, veg and perennials.

The photo shows what must  be an area of about 5 square metres. In the photo (taken on my phone so apologies for poor quality) you can see cabbages, Brussels sprouts and Kale ‘redboor’ behind. They were beautiful, with no sign of cabbage white damage. (I was even impressed with the way they’d constructed their netting.)

I have no idea how large the walled garden is but it was huge (not very helpful I realise). It has a very formal structure, with paths bisecting bed after bed. Fruit trees and currants grow against the outside walls along with climbing and shrub roses. Height is provided by wigwams of sweet peas, an arbour of gourds and a great archway of runner beans and ipomea growing together (definitely something to try to grow at home on a more modest scale). 

It wasn’t just the size of vegetables that impressed – the range of fruit and veg grown is incredible. You name it, it was growing there. From celeriac and asparagus peas to Jerusalem artichokes and amaranth. And who knew there were so many different varieties of asparagus and gooseberry?

I could whitter on and on but I’m really not doing the place justice with my description. Suffice to say it’s definitely worth a visit.

Thanks to my friend Yvonne for telling me about it – I can’t believe I’ve never been before!


New potatoes August 19, 2011

Filed under: Food — mygrowingobsession @ 4:57 pm
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Once again, I’ve grown various varieties of new potato in sacks and tubs.

The Charlotte potatoes had a great taste, although the yield was a bit disappointing (possibly due to user error though). Rocket and Vivaldi were okay but nothing special. But my biggest potato success this year has been the Pink Fir Apple. They are knobbly, pink tinged tubers with a really nice flavour – perfect for potato salad as they hold their shape well and don’t disintegrate if you accidentally over-cook them. I will definitely grow them again next year.

Here’s a quick supper recipe I threw together the other week with the last of my Charlotte potatoes and some runner beans:

New potatoes, runner beans and chorizo

Scrub and boil some new potatoes. Prepare runner beans (I like to use a slicing gadget for mine) and steam. Meanwhile, fry some chunks of chorizo (you won’t need to use much olive oil as the chorizo will give up its own oil). Once cooked, remove from the pan and drain on some kitchen paper.

When the potatoes are coooked, add some olive oil to the chorizo pan and fry until golden all over. Add the chorizo chunks back into the pan and re-heat briefly.

Serve the potato and chorizo mixture on a bed of runner beans. Scatter over a mixture of whatever herbs you have to hand. Season and serve.


Time flies August 17, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — mygrowingobsession @ 2:32 pm

It’s been such a long time since my last post. I see that I never did get round to posting updated photos of what Bed 1 looks like now (quite nice actually). And poor Bed 2 never even got a mention!

I’ve been trying to work out why I’ve been so tardy with the blogging and, looking back at how I’ve been spending my weekends, it can only be because I’ve been busy in the garden. There is nothing I like better than a weekend in my ‘scruffs’, pottering and digging. 

Sometimes I only intend to pop out for five minutes but then, while I’m picking raspberries, I notice that a nettle has suddenly appeared growing among the raspberry canes. So off I trot to the shed to get some gloves and a hand fork, but then I get distracted by a cabbage white butterfly that’s managed to get itself trapped in the mesh that’s supposed to be protecting my brassicas. While I’m crouching down untangling the mesh, I notice an infestation of snails under a stone, so then I set to stamping on them. (I’m sorry but I do – unless they  are particularly pretty ones, or they’re already poking out of their shells making a run for it. Please don’t hate me. My garden has plenty and can always afford to sacrifice a few.)

Anyway, before I know it, two hours have passed and I still haven’t picked any raspberries for my tea! I just can’t seem to stick to one job and finish it. A bit like writing this blog really. I wish I could commit to regular updates but there is always something more interesting to do in the garden.

For this blog update, I intended to write about ‘the jobs I don’t like doing’ but that will have to wait until next time now. Along with a description of bed 2. And latest photos of bed 1. Oh dear. There I go again…


Ready to go: bed 1 February 25, 2011

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The new patio looks great. And I have several newly created beds that I plan to fill with perennials (mostly) and a few shrubs and bulbs.

Bed 1 is to the left of the house as you look out of the bi-fold doors. It’s about 3m long by 1m wide and borders our neighbours’ fence. The problem is that we can now see a bit more of our neighbours than we used to (not that we don’t like our neighbours) so I’ve chosen a couple of shrubs that will grow tall enough to give us and them some privacy.

At the middle-left hand area of the bed I’ve planted a Cotonoeaster Cornubia. Semi-evergreen, it’s described as a ‘small weeping tree covered in white flowers turning to red berries’. It will eventually (if I let it) get as tall as 3m but my plan is to keep it under control and encourage it to ‘bush out’ where I need it to screen the gap above the fence. Obviously I can’t comment on the berries or flowers yet, but the new bark is a lovely dark shiny red.

Cornus cornubia


At the other end of the bed I’ve planted a Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Diabolo’. This is a deciduous shrub with a bushier habit than the cotoneaster. It will eventually get to 1.8m high by 1.2m wide. I’ve never grown one of these before but was attracted to its purple foliage which will contrast well with the surrounding shrubs.

Underneath these shrubs I’ve dotted round a few miniature daffodil bulbs (Tete a tete I think) which I started off in little pots last autumn (and I’m so glad now that I had the foresight to do this). I’ve also dug up some congested clumps of Allium and planted these in the bed.

And this is what the bed looks like so far (yes, I know I need some more compost down the end!)

Bed 1

But what else to plant in here? I’m fancying some Japanese Anemones (white) at the back of the bed, some Verbena Bonariensis (if I can get it to germinate from seed this year) and some geraniums at the front (possibly the magenta coloured psilostemon). But what do others think?
Will blog about the other new beds later.

Shopping and raking January 6, 2011

Now that the extension is finished (bar the decorating) my mind has turned to new starts and springtime. Especially in the garden. As a result, I spent the weekend ordering seeds and raking leaves.

A tidy seed box = a tidy mind

The weather on Sunday didn’t appeal, so I sorted through my vegetable seed tin and chucked away anything over two years old. (I’ll have to look over the seeds of annuals another day). I found this really hard to do and actually I have sneaked back in some seed I saved from my runner beans at least two years ago.

Anyway, feeling virtuous, I set about making a list of what I had left (how I love lists!) and another list (any excuse!) of what I needed to buy fresh this year. I then headed to the Thompson & Morgan website (  and started shopping. I should point out that I’m not a slave to T&M – I had a £10 voucher burning a hole in the pile of recycling – and recommend looking at Marshalls (, Suttons ( and Sarah Raven ( – if you’re feeling flush).

The big veg plan

The list below is what I’ve decided to grow this year. I’m quite hopeful about some of the veg (eg beetroot) and expecting to fail with others (eg artichokes). I’d be interested to know what you think of my choices.

  • Beetroot globe coloured collection. This is a pack of three varieties: Boltardy (which I’ve grown successfully before), Burpee’s golden (because I fancied trying a yellow one) and Chioggia Pink (a striped pink one which I thought looked pretty and therefore worth a go).
  • Dwarf French bean purple tepee. I used to grow this variety years ago and always had good results. My climbing purple ones last year weren’t that good (maybe I didn’t plant them in the right place) and I struggled to reach the climbers in the raised bed, so I’ve decided that I’m going back to the dwarf variety.
  • Courgettes Soleil (yellow) and Tristan (green and allegedly a scratch-free variety).
  • Potatoes which I’ll grow in the planters purchased a few years back. Last year’s potatoes were not my finest (I’m blaming blight) yet the year’s before were great. Such temperamental tubers. This year I’ve decided to grow Rocket (a first early variety), Vivaldi (a second early or early maincrop if you leave the tubers to get big enough) and Charlotte (a second early which I’ve grown successfully before). 
  • Tomatoes Garden Pearl (already have the seed and love the small pink-ish fruits) and Costoluto Fiorentino (hopefully a big, beefy variety that will eventually ripen outdoors). Both will be grown in tubs. 
  • I found lots of lettuce seeds and will be giving all of them a go, squeezed into any gaps I can find. These include Merveille de Quatre Saisons, Cos Blonde Maraichere, Rossa di Trento, Radicchio Chicory and mixed salad leaves (peppery mix). 
  • Carrot Sytan. I’ve tried to grow this before and the results really weren’t worth the effort but perhaps this time I’ll have more luck. 
  • Artichoke – why not?! It’ll look attractive at least. 
  • Red swiss chard (an acquired taste but I like it and it’s really easy to grow). 
  • Kales Nero de Toscana and Redboor (because they were my big successes last year). 
  • Squash Sweet Dumpling (because I ran out of room for this last year and gave my baby plants away to friends).
  • Runner bean Painted Lady (tried and tested). 
  • Yellow Climbing French bean. I am least hopeful of these doing anything but as I only have a few of these seeds left and a few of the aforementioned runner beans I thought I’d stick them together against the same wigwam and see what happens.

I’m also going to try and squeeze in some leeks and peas but I’ll buy these in the spring as baby plants from my local garden centre.

Getting the garden in order

Bank holiday Monday saw a glimpse of sun and, thanks to the great views of the garden from the extension, I couldn’t put off raking/tidying any longer. A few hours later, I’d managed to make the part of the garden I can see best from the house look ten times better (although not good enough for a photo I’m afraid!). Weather and decorating permitting, the rest of the garden will be spruced up next weekend.


Tidy, tidy, lazy? October 24, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — mygrowingobsession @ 4:52 pm

Sorry I’ve been so quiet. I went on holiday, came back and got sick, and the building work I mentioned previously has taken over my whole garden.

As a result of all the building work, my garden isn’t a very pleasant place to be right now but last weekend I steeled myself for a day’s tidying. Turning my back on the garden next to the house/building site, I went down to the bottom of my garden where I grow my vegetables and began putting the garden to bed for the winter.

I dug up the remains of my courgettes, squash, tomatoes and leeks (I’d greedily planted them too close together and they’d gone all woody inside) and tossed them on the compost heap. I then set about cutting down my French beans and runner beans and untangling them from their canes. I didn’t pull up the beans – rather I snipped them off at soil level and left the roots in the soil. This is because the roots of beans contain nitrogen nodules which the soil needs to help replenish the nutrients taken out of the soil when you grow beans.

I dismantled the nets around the cavalo nero and red kale and picked off the nibbled leaves before staking the kale to help it through the winter. The great thing about kale is that it’s frost resistant and will continue to grow (albeit slowly) through the winter. It’s also really pretty.

Spurred on by last weekend’s achievements, I ventured out into the garden again today. This time I thought I’d cut down a few perennials. I’m never really sure how far to go with the cutting back of perennials. Some gardening books swear by it to remove debris that will harbour pests and diseases over winter. Other sources say to leave well alone to protect the crowns of plants from frost and to provide hiding places for wildlife over winter. Today I started cutting back the dead stems of the echinops as they don’t look very nice – even with frost and sunlight them. I was about to start on the dead sweet peas (again leaving the roots in place for their nitrogen-fixing qualities) when I noticed two ladybirds on it. I immediately stopped tidying and decided to call it a day.

I like to think I was being wildlife-friendly. But maybe I was just being lazy?!


Frustrated! September 10, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — mygrowingobsession @ 12:44 pm
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I haven’t been able to get into my garden very easily for the last few weeks because we’re having an extension built.

This is particularly frustrating because everything is growing like fury!

The veg beds are doing really well. I’m managing to get out after work (when the builders aren’t blocking my exit) and am regularly harvesting runner beans, French beans (not as productive as last year), summer squash, courgettes (green and yellow), cherry tomatoes and masses of Autumn bliss raspberries – delicious!

I’m about to go on holiday so will most likely miss the first red Roma tomatoes (a plum variety) and the first red (massive) chillies.

As for my perennial borders, I’m ashamed to say I’ve let them get away from me now. I failed to keep on top of dead-heading the sweet peas (to encourage the flowers to keep coming) and I really ought to have dead-headed more of the cosmos. Still, from the house  (when gazing over the builder’s rubble) it does look lush and jungly out there.

Worst of all, it’s not going to be possible to plant out any more bulbs this autumn. All the bulb catalogues are going to waste and normally by now I’m making lists of exciting new coloured tulips I want to try.

I’m comforting myself with the fact that once the building work is done (hopefully November time), I can set about planning my new patio and beds near the house…


Great Dixter August 24, 2010

On Sunday I visited the late Christopher Lloyd’s garden at Great Dixter ( The weather was unkind – wind and heavy rain – but it wasn’t enough to dampen my enthusiasm.

This is only the second time I’ve been to Great Dixter but I’ve been a fan of Christopher Lloyd’s books (eg Succession planting for adventurous gardeners) and garden writing  (Cuttings) for a long time. I wanted to go in August to see what’s in flower right now.

And the garden looked great, so why doesn’t mine?! There were plenty of dahlias and grasses (the fabulous Stipa Gigantea  and Miscanthus Sinensis) looking very impressive, even in the rain. They also used quite a lot of annuals (zinnias, marigolds, nicotiana) to plug any gaps. I really enjoyed discovering lots of different clematis that were clambering through shrubs, up poles, and anywhere else they seemed to get a hold. I definitely need to get some more clematis in my garden – and get better at successional planting.

Christopher Lloyd is well-known for his unusual planting combinations and the garden certainly challenged a lot of my preconceptions but I have to confess I don’t like all the planting combinations used in this garden – probably because of my plant prejudices. For example, I can’t warm to all the Evening Primrose and Verbascum that they’ve let self-seed around the place. (Think I’ll start a new blog post on plant prejudices!)

There is also a very impressive, very tidy, vegetable plot. I wish I had more room to grow vegetables, or to build a compost heap the size of theirs!

As if all this wasn’t enough, there is a really great nursery attached where you can buy more unusual perennials (approx. £4 each) and clematis (£7 each).

I left the garden smiling, slightly damp, clutching a copy of the nursery catalogue. I’m already looking forward to a visit in spring to see the tulips…


Beetroot August 13, 2010

Filed under: Food — mygrowingobsession @ 3:56 pm

One of my favourite ways to cook beetroot is to roast it (wrapped in foil), cut it into cubes, then peel and dress with oilve oil and red wine vinegar. Mix gently with some crumbled feta cheese, fresh mint and a few toasted pine nuts. Serve on a bed of (home grown) salad leaves.

(This post has been moved from the food page. Unfortunately I can’t move your comments with it, but thanks for all your replies.)