February

It’s possibly the coldest day of the year, it’s been snowing but nothing has settled which is disgraceful as I am praying for a day off work. Glenn has been outside all afternoon building a new stepped planter from pallets and I have broken my vow of avoiding the garden until spring by going into the garden. No resolve.

The day is grey, bitingly cold and from the snug security of indoors there is nothing going on outside. How wrong can you be? It is all kicking off out here. The first thing I notice is the sound of birdsong. My knowledge of birdsong is limited to the obvious ones; pigeons, cuckoos, seagulls, ducks. So what the various birds are that are giving it their best out there today is totally beyond me.

What happened was what always happens when I am out in the garden, I pop out to do something very straightforward and end up getting sucked into many tasks.

 

The garden looks rubbish at the moment. There is so much that needs clearing and the dahlias still haven’t been lifted but we didn’t lift them last year and they came back bigger and better than ever. Go figure. We have hibernated since October, we meant to do so much but it has not happened. But you know what? It doesn’t seem to have mattered.


We planted hundreds and hundreds of bulbs in the autumn and they are coming up, full of lush promise. The primroses, snowdrops, hellebores, wallflowers are all going mad. It just makes me yearn more for those warm bright days of early spring. There is one area of our garden which escaped us. It’s a slope down the side of the garden, next to the steps. It’s hard, dry, shady and unloved. Our aim is to grow a meadow style patch of grass and a lot of seed has gone into that area so we shall have to wait and see. In the meantime Glenn planted many crocus bulbs and thankfully they are in evidence.


So after I have had a walk around the garden and marvelled at nature I decide to do some hacking back. Glenn has already had a good tidy up today and so I re-wrap the canna lily in bubble wrap and cut back all the dead growth. This may well be the wrong thing to do. Last year we kept the pot in the greenhouse but since our greenhouse is smaller than a cupboard and it already full of geraniums and sweet peas, outside in a sheltered spot is our only choice. I have collected a lot of seed so I intend to sow some successors in case of unplanned death. Jazzy is helping me, as only cats can.


So with frozen feet and fingers I scurry inside to sort through the seed tin. I now have a pile of ‘to plant’ seeds for this month. Once again every windowsill in the house will be occupied with seed trays. This year we are growing for two, the allotment demands our attention and large scale veg and flowers will be our driver. In the meantime there is chard to pick with to go with our pulled pork.

Names

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I knew Glenn had been up to something in the garage in the run up to Christmas. And here it is, my own knitting bowl with my name on it but not only that, my name is functional and integral. When I was little, finding stuff with my name on was almost impossible. As I have grown older my name has become commonplace but having my own belongings with my name or initials on still thrills me. This is mine, it belongs to me and no one else. The fact that it was clearly made with love makes it the most prized possession.

The Good Life Gone Wild

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At some point in the spring we found ourselves having the conversation about adding to our empire. We had a great garden that was keeping us busy but not so busy we couldn’t  sit and look at it. We had all the planting planned, seedlings on the go, colour schemes and a succession of bits of gorgeousness waiting in the wings. The greenhouse was full and that may have been the tipping point. The greenhouse was full and we had nowhere to put anything else, at all. All the windowsills in the house were claimed by seed trays. The garden table was a nursery zone. We had nowhere to go, or did we?

So this is how we found ourselves discussing whether we were ready for an allotment. It was surprisingly easy really. Salisbury has many, many allotment sites and we were able to put our names down for one nearest our home. We didn’t have long to wait and within a couple of months we were skulking around our local site inspecting vacant plots, choosing our new piece of land.

In the end we chose Plot 51 purely because it was the least overgrown and had the least amount of rubble, bedsteads, concrete mixers and man traps. Oh and it was the only one with a free shed so we took it.

The very kiIMG_5372nd lady at the council said that we could start working on it straight away so off we went one Wednesday night to survey the land. The great news was that we had to clear it all by hand and it was all grass and thistles. Amazingly in one hour we met both our neighbours and the site warden who gave us some garlic plants and a massive amount of info about the soil and the flooding in the winter. Flooding?

So we set to work. After much plotting and planning about what to do with everything and how to go about it, we decided on the black plastic approach. According to our site warden, Terry, our plot had only been vacant for two years. We could just about make out the remnants of some old beds so we followed one to give us a starting point.

Our aim was to smother as much as we could in plastic and leave it to fester until early spring 2017 whilst cultivating a small bed this year. We had chard, courgettes, beans, chinese cabbage and squashes that needed a home. And then we uncovered a strawberry patch.

IMG_5415Glenn started planning some compost bins and we started ogling all our neighbours to see what they were growing and how. It was pretty impressive. Lots of flowers and fruit and chickens and show stopping soil condition but everyone we passed said hello and chatted and were terribly, terribly friendly. Within a week we had cleared a long lost bed and put in some basic crops. We had sourced a free mini poly tunnel from Gumtree and bought a ton of fantastic black plastic for the larger part of the plot. We weighed it down with junk and rubble we found around the allotment site and asked the warden if we could pillage vacant plots. Yes was the answer so we helped ourselves to a compost bin

There was still an issue of large amounts of grass which we couldn’t cut with shears and our mower is electric. So in a moment of sheer manliness Glenn went and hired a behemoth called a POWER SCYTHE.

Behold the POWER SCYTHE!

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I imagine this would be pretty effective at removing toes. The man at the hire shop persuaded Glenn this would be more demonic than a petrol strimmer and after Glenn had almost popped a vertebrae getting it into the back of the car I think he was in agreement. If you have uneven ground, do not hire one of these. It is very heavy and very unwieldy. Hire a strimmer. Our plot is uneven so this was no mean feat. However, after Glenn had mastered the beast we had well chopped land which was more under control and gave us a great starting point.

Our plan at this point was to grow veg and flowers on the bulk of the plot with an area for fruit down one side. Our layout was still a bit vague and we were going to just live it for a bit and then…..

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We went to the Lavender Farm in the New Forest. I had been there last year plant hunting while we were finishing our garden for the TV series. It was August and the flower meadow was in full cosmos phase. I took Glenn with me this time and after we had eaten cake and drunk coffee we immersed ourselves into wonderland and this is were we had our allotment epiphany.

So many of the species we love and are already growing in our home garden were here in massive amounts and so as we sat on a small bench on a mown path, with flowers up round our ears, we decided to try and create our own version on our allotment. Yeah, who needs potatoes?

Next time on Sowing, Growing and Cups of Tea; July Has Busted Out All Over

 

 

Actual, Proper, Real Gardening

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We had come through the winter with not a great deal happening in the garden. We had a couple of months to enjoy being newly weds so we did just that. We had also plotted and schemed, pouring over catalogues and bought many packets of seeds in readiness for a full growing season which we hoped to stretch out as long as possible based on our new found knowledge. Our colour scheme was going to remain for a second year and having planted hundreds of bulbs which we bought on honeymoon in the Lake District, we were anticipatory for spring.

Following the showing of our episode of Big Dreams, Small Spaces we were asked to give a series of talks on how we made our garden and our involvement with the BBC and Monty Don. March saw us in our own gazebo in Salisbury Market Square at the Homes and Gardens Show. We had a wonderful day, met some lovely people and had a free pizza. What’s not to like?!IMG_5072

Oddly enough, most of the members of the great British public who we spoke to were convinced were were garden designers which gave us plenty to think about and talk about. Could we? Should we? How on earth would that even work out if we did?

Totally non-plussed but enthused with all things garden we got back to work at home. There was so much to do and the first thing we needed to get sorted was chopping back the overhanging trees at the bottom of our plot.image1

Sadly we do not own the trees but there is enough branching out over us that we can get them hacked back. They are an Ash and a Sycamore, both late coming into leaf and quick to lose them again in the Autumn so as trees go, it’s a pretty good combination.

And while that was going on the garden came into life. To be honest, the planned swathe of daffodils never happened. Slugs, squirrels, too wet, planted too late, R in the month, sheer bad luck. Who knows the reason but the pink and black tulip ocean I had planned didn’t really take off either. However, all was forgiven by the appearance of the alliums. They started in April and some are still coming into bloom as I type this in July. Utter value for money. We planted five different varieties and they vary hugely in size but are all either purple, blue or white. I cannot remember their names but we love them all equally and the seed heads are just as perfect and delightful against the roses which are now in full bosomy bluster.

Next time on Sowing, Growing and Cups of Tea; Two Shows for the Price of Two

 

 

 

 

Our Big Dream Just Got Bigger

IMG_4881I am not sure how we managed to keep ourselves busy on the day in February our episode went out but we lasted until the evening. A week earlier we had received an email saying that our episode would be the first in the new series and then it occurred to us that we might be in the Radio Times. THE RADIO TIMES! The actual Radio Times, bible of the TV watcher. For us that was enough, we found ourselves in print. It snowballed from there. We had an email from Lion TV asking for photos for a Daily Mail article. Glenn’s mum rang us to say she had seen our photo in The Times and before we knew it we were standing in our local Co-op rummaging through every newspaper, laughing at all our photos and reviews.

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Our worst fear was that we would be pilloried but thankfully we weren’t. No sarcastic comments, nothing. This filled us with relief as it meant the programme must be ok. If the preview copy had passed the critics’  judgement then we were possibly safe.

So to while away the hours and hours and hours we read the papers and did some light gardening, what else? I sorted out a mass of seeds I had collected back in the Autumn. I had no idea what they were but my intention was to set up a small seed lab on the kitchen window and see what grew. The way they had been collected was something between a jumble sale frenzy and a trolly dash. Most ended up in the bottom of my handbag but after a while all order was restored.

We needed food and drink so this also took up some time. I seem to remember we had IMG_4879drunk all the wine before kick off so we just had all the food to feverishly nibble on as we watched ourselves moving and HEARD ourselves speaking. Oh my lord, if this ever happens to you prepare yourselves for the fact that the people you are looking at and hearing are not the same as the people you think you are – at all.

We were inundated with phone calls, emails, texts, tweets and amongst it all there we were slightly dazed and pretty smiley. Phew! Rather wonderfully we had made contact with some of the other gardeners on the series and some serious messaging was taking place. Up until now we had only a few comments from the film crew to go by. It seemed really odd that there were many other people out there who had had the same experience as us as yet we knew nothing about them. It was so lovely to be finally able to freely discuss all that had happened. Solidarity in horticulture.

WoodblocX got rather excited by the coverage as you can see below and all of a sudden we found ourselves the inadvertent advocates of their products. Happy to oblige, we were overwhelmed by a beautiful (and very alcoholic) package that arrived from Scotland courtesy of Woodblocx. We could get used to this.

So there you have it, full circle. We had been booked to give some talks and had the spring to look forward to. We had so much positivity to keep us going and so much growing in the garden to look forward to. Our garden was just starting to come back to life and we had loads to be getting on with.

Next time on Sowing, Growing and Cups of Tea; Actual, Proper, Real Gardening

A Marriage Made in Salisbury

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The dust had settled on our garden after the frenzy of filming and all the excitement of working to a tight schedule. Of course, we had another deadline to meet, October 24, our wedding day. It had started out as a rather cavalier claim by Glenn that it would be nice to have something from the garden on the table at our reception but we now found ourselves in an unexpected position. It was September and the garden was looking incredible. Neither of us had ever experienced this before and we realised that not only would we have our own flowers on the table but I would be able to make bouquets for myself and my daughters and Glenn and his children would have buttonholes. Timing was tight but we fed, watered and dead headed often and things were looking very, very healthy.

In a way it was a shame that our reveal day hadn’t been a month later as the garden really settled into itself. The rudbeckia went mad as did the nasturtiums. Roses bloomed, asters finally did their thing. The calendula took hold and the euphorbia and pelargonium from Sarah Raven did us proud. There were some surprises too, sweet peas in October and thankfully the very late sown cerinthe came into flower the week before the wedding.

My plan was to cut all the flowers we needed two days before, in the evening. I had to condition everything and then plunge the lot into water to have a long, cool drink. There were buckets and vases everywhere. The table decorations were made two days before as they were delivered to our venue in advance, crossing my fingers that it didn’t all wilt. The bouquets were tied the night before and given their final ribbon hand holds on the morning whilst I stuffed a croissant down me, waiting for my rollers to take hold.

The crazy thing was that despite us cutting all the flowers for our big day, the garden looked untouched. As if it had happily yielded as much as we needed and then filled in all the gaps. We wandered around every night after work, in the dark sometimes, just breathing it all in. It grew and wouldn’t give up. All the digging, weeding, soil improving, feeding, dead heading, staking, caterpillar ‘removal’, snail ‘cleansing’ was paying off and mercifully, no frosts. This was the best bit. This was better than anything we had ever done.

October 24 was here. Glenn had spent the night before away from home with his family, my family had arrived and we had eaten, drunk, laughed and danced. And now the hairdresser was here and I was fiddling with flowers in the kitchen and getting ready to get married. Glenn had taken the buttonholes with him with instructions to keep them in water and before we knew it, it was time.

Ever since Glenn had proposed to me in Salisbury cathedral, in the chapel of St Edmund, with a ring he bought from the gift shop, we had been looking forward to this day. We had planned a very quiet, very personal day and as exciting as it was, I for one was super calm. No nerves, just huge joy and certainty that I was marrying one heck of a man. Oh and that we had some pretty damn beautiful flowers too. So sit back and enjoy some floral highlights.

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So there we are, married and off on honeymoon to a surprise location which turned out to be the Lake District, staying at The Belsfield Hotel which is code for WOW. We did of course manage to buy a car load of bulbs which strictly speaking were a little late for going into the ground but what the heck, everything we had planted this year had been late and yet had turned out fine in the end.

Next time on Sowing, Growing and Cups of Tea;  Our Big Dream Just Got Bigger

 

Glenn & Zoe Reveal It All – On Camera

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It is possible that what we were looking forward to most of all was the chance of getting our sleep patterns back to some form of normality. The night before the reveal day for us for example, was probably more how Christmas Eve feels for a six year old. We were thrilled, full of anticipation, happy, proud, curious, full of lists of small jobs to be done in the morning. My parents and the film crew had come over the day before. Their reaction had been more than enough for both of us. We felt surprisingly impressed. Even though we had witnessed every shovel load of soil that had been moved in that garden, it took other people’s comments to bring it home. They were swearingly complimentary. Quite right too, it looked fantastic.

The basic running order of the day was thus; we get up very early and faff around the house and garden, the film crew arrive and set up, they chat to us and film us, Monty arrives, we film his first impression – many times. Our guests arrive, we film their reaction – many times. We have cake and champagne and speeches – many times. Monty grabs slice of cake, kisses us goodbye, dashes off to next garden. Crew pack up and go, guests filter off, the end.

Monty was charm itself, as ever. Full of compliments and very keen to know how on earth we had finished on time. He spoke generously with our guests and discussed the finer points of champagne versus prosecco. Our family and friends were perfectly behaved, despite my dad getting in the way of the filming with his enthusiastic photo taking. It all felt a bit flat after everyone had gone. So that was it, see you around sometime, that whole ‘keep in touch’ promise that you know is well meant but unlikely. The date for the series to go out was in the air, changing all the time so we would just get on with life and not worry too much about it.

IMG_4943But without wishing to sound too romantic, it wasn’t the end, it really was just the beginning. We had something we had made together, something we had never thought we would or could do. A garden which would never have happened had we not met Monty Don or Sarah Raven. For all the utter excitement of being involved with a TV series we were left with two things, a beautiful garden which was set to grow with us and a new found passion for gardening, together.

Of course we also had a wedding to finalise and focus on. The driving force for the planting had been the flowers for October 24th. Now all we had to do was tend and encourage our stock to burgeon, despite the onset of Autumn. We had initially thought table decorations only but we expanded to bride’s bouquet and now it was looking as though we could cater for the whole shebang. Oh and could Lion TV have some wedding photos please.

 

Next time on Sowing, Growing and Cups of Tea;   A Marriage Made in Salisbury