Friday 22 October 2021


It’s finally dropped to 50 deg F in my small greenhouse and I’ve picked the last of the tomatoes. It’s been a long season: our first fruits were ready on July 3. And, so powerful are the cherry tomatoes, I could put away my chutney ingredients: Almost overnight, with my cherry tomatoes in the same bowl, the green medium-sized ones turned red. Hoorah.

Many weeks later than I expected I dismantled our last two tomato plants. There was some mould or maybe even blight on a stem on their last day. But it was academic as the plants were headed for the incinerator. I never compost tomato plants. I don’t want to spread blight but nor do I want the seeds from discarded tomato fruits to randomly germinate in the veggie plot.

I haven’t used Jeyes Fluid to disinfect the greenhouse now the temperatures outside have dropped. It was time to bring my lemon tree under glass and I felt Jeyes would be too strong for it. I could disinfect with a milder cleanser but I don’t want to upset the lemon tree which is full of fruit.

Now I am on that last bowl of tomatoes - the cherry and medium-sized fruits - it will be November when I cook with shop-bought ones. For four months we have enjoyed our own tomatoes and French beans, dwarf and climbers. I have a freezer-full of beans but never fear…the August-sown broad beans are in flower. And right on cue. We may yet have full pods in December. The ‘Luz de Otono’ variety is new to me. If they produce pods this side of Christmas I will include them in my future growing plans.

Meanwhile my thin leeks are gradually fattening and I plan to dig them in deeper, as suggested by a helpful member of the ‘grow your own’ group. I await the spinach crop but until then I can be picking the salad leaves. It’s hardly cold out there this late in the year.  I may even transplant the salad crops closer to the house. It’s then much easier to cover them with frost-proof netting this end of our long garden. 

So relatively warm has it been that my miniature iris bulbs are already 12 cm high. They are spring-flowering and shouldn’t even be showing themselves yet. I’ll be interested to see what Monty Don suggests for garden maintenance in the last programme of Gardeners World. It’s time to let nature go to sleep. 

Tuesday 12 October 2021


It has been a joyous, warm and sunny September. And today, October 12th, I had to come inside as it was so warm sitting on our patio. The ‘sweet petite’ tomatoes are continuing to grow and fruit in the greenhouse which is recording temperatures of 62deg F. Still.

My shed/ workspace reached 66deg F yesterday afternoon - with the door open. In a few weeks’ time I will have to dismantle my tomato plants, move begonias, geraniums and others into the greenhouse to overwinter. It has a frost stat and a small gas heater for very cold January/February days. But not yet. 

But where do I put my lemon tree? It has produced lots of fruit, hasn’t dropped its leaves, and is healthy. However the fruits haven’t yet turned yellow.Maybe next season. 

Should I wrap the whole lemon plant in bubble wrap and put it in the (well-made) shed where it’s a few degrees warmer than outside? (But I can’t heat the shed easily). Or should I put it in the greenhouse - still bubble-wrapped - where it’s lighter and where I can put in a few hours heating as temperatures drop? 

These questions don’t have to be answered yet. 

In the meantime I’ve been reflecting on what a good life I have. Yes my husband is ill with depression and I can get tired as he is debilitated by it. So I have to do more. ( I do get help in the home and garden and get lifts when required). But sitting in the sunshine, surrounded by apricot and orange begonias, my newly grown pansies, the last of the bedding plants and feeling the warmth it is a time to be alive. The news, post-Brexit, post-Afghanistan and mid-Covid is depressing and politicians have a lot to answer for. But if you are lucky enough to be able to sit in the sun this late in the year you have riches untold.  

I was listening to Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Only Livin’ Boy in New York’ and admiring the view from my patio. I saw colour; shocking pink, blousy pot plants and a long, productive, cared-for garden. As I sipped my coffee I felt huge contentment. And I realised I’d grown up. When I heard ‘Only Livin’ Boy in New York’ first time around life was for the having - in the US, in California, in New York. But I’m older now. I’ve grown up. Yellow cabs don’t enthral me. My garden is a place of gladness and serenity. And I feel blessed. It takes work but it’s a bit of Eden, just outside my back door.

Now I’m going outside again, to wallow in ‘The Boxer’, ‘Cecelia’, the sunshine and a fresh cuppa. Bliss. 


have joined a couple of ‘as it was in photographs’ on face book. It is astonishing how, despite the geographical distances apart, life in the 19th century or in the 1930s, or even post-war, looked pretty similar for working men & women whether close to wealthy suburbs or in the sight of heavy industries and the factory gate. 

Some areas have improved since the sepia-tinted images were first made. Other areas have never recovered from the lack of production and eventual unemployment in the 1980s. Thatcher’s Britain.

But it was in the 1970s that I first saw what poverty really looked like. My father was a grammar school Head and mum worked very part-time with special needs children. We had a comfortable life surrounded by woods and playing fields. Our neighbourhood was very safe: our childhood home was in a small cul-de-sac and there was very little traffic to risk our safety out-of-doors.

Books lined the shelves in every room. We were brought up in a state of security, informed discussion and happiness. I rarely heard my parents argue and I knew little of domestic tension nor a lack of cash. However we weren’t spoiled. A Head’s salary wasn’t huge but his quality of life in and out of school made dad a good chap to be around 

But it was at a school jumble sale that I saw a very poor man indeed. Every autumn the girls’ grammar school that I attended held a jumble sale in the wood-panelled school hall. All our mums were there, donating rather than buying, manning the stalls and making teas. The Headteacher was there in her batman cloak. There were few men.

Which is why it was so noticeable when a down-at-heel father-of-many with long black hair and an even longer beard arrived with a crowd of very young children wearing jumpers that had been washed far too often. He clearly hadn’t shaved in months. The Head smiled, uncertainly, at him when he entered. She was an unmarried MA in Maths from Oxbridge. 

He ruffled through a variety of jumble bundles. As he pushed his hand into his overcoat pocket I could see it was torn and buttons hung from his coat. His trousers were too long but it was the strain in his voice that told you all was not well. 

I’d have been about 13 and I could see he wasn’t like anyone I had ever met. When he handed a few coppers over for jumpers, slacks and skirts for his brood his hands were dirty and his finger nails were long.

I imagined that family lived in one of the council estates or in a privately-rented terraced house. Now I wonder whether they were in temporary accommodation. There certainly were poor areas in my town although there was full employment.

Looking back I guess his wife had died and he was bringing up the children alone. I do recall he held conversations with some of the mums and stopped for tea and biscuits. He wasn’t frightening just sad and weary. My friend’s mum gave the children unopened packets of biscuits. I saw the man smile. A few moments of tension left his face. He looked younger.

I imagine he got most of his children’s clothes at jumble sales. His children ran around the school hall like undomesticated kittens but went to him when he called them over. They were excitable but did as they were told.

Today there will be families in England who have no idea how they are going to cope with the prospect of rising domestic fuel prices and the lack of the £20 weekly uplift. 

Around five million may have to use the Trussell Trust or food banks just to get a meal. If a kettle breaks how does it get fixed? Let’s hope there are cheap, working models of microwave ovens available for folk who aren’t going to cope with even less per month as we enter the coldest months of the year. Heat or eat? 

Poverty is a failure of a wealthy society, like ours,  to provide for those when they need it. When they need a hand-up. Our welfare state is something we should have been proud of. But it’s slipped through our fingers like twenty-pound notes. There’s a lack of care.

The Victorians saw poverty as shameful, and the result of laziness or vice. But Dr Barnardo refused to discriminate between the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor. He accepted all children, regardless of race, disability or circumstance. That was London 1870. How have things changed? We have universal schooling and free school meals now but housing is poor in some areas and rents are shockingly high. And we have the food banks.

Should poverty exist in the world’s fifth richest nation? 

Monday 13 September 2021

The clash of the Titans (beans, that is)

For the next two weeks, indeed throughout most of September, temperatures shouldn’t drop below 64 deg F here in sheltered Bath. The ‘Luz de Otono’ broad beans, which were giants even in their seed trays, are going to make rapid growth at this rate. And with no sign of frost the climbing beans look set to keep on producing.

I have found an excellent recipe for the likely glut of climbing French beans. It was written for runner beans but I don’t like runners. I don’t waste my time making wigwam frames for them. Therefore I’m christening this recipe ‘French bean & tomato soup’. If you grow your own tomato plants you are very likely still picking fruits by the ton. In which case you can make 3 cups’ worth of tomatoes as stated* or use the tinned variety.

French Bean & Tomato Soup

  • 1 cup chopped carrots
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 6 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 pound beans, sliced
  • 1 chopped garlic clove
  • 3 cups chopped tomatoes*
  • 1 tbsp dried basil
  • 1/4 tsp pepper

  • In a large saucepan, saute the onion and carrots in oil for approximately 5 minutes - until the carrots are softened. Stir in the stock , beans and garlic then bring the whole to the boil. Reduce the heat then cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender. 
  • Stir in the tomatoes, basil and pepper. Cover and simmer 5 minutes longer.
  • Serve, eat and enjoy.

Meanwhile, after indulging in my vegetable-garden broth, a glance at the seed packet shows me my giant one-month-old broad beans are destined to grow over three foot tall. I’ll need the bamboo canes from the wigwams to help support them. But we may not get a frost until November so the climbers may need the sticks themselves … On the other hand with strong autumn winds the broad beans may well be rocked in their planting positions while the climbers keep producing. It’s the clash of the titans in the world of beans!!

Tomatoes can be kept in their growing positions until temperatures drop below 50 deg F. At which point it is time to dismantle them, remove the last fruits for ripening and discard the stems. The tomato-growing season is then over. By which time the climbing beans can still be going great guns as frosts don’t form until we reach 32 deg F. Oh to have more space! 

I plan to replenish the raised beds with fresh compost. One has lettuce and salad leaves growing in it. Another has leeks. Do I lift them and replant them after I’ve enriched their growing medium? I’m thinking it’s best to wait until this warm, dry spell is over and replant them when rain is expected and aim to disturb their root systems as little as possible.

The other raised beds are an easier matter. When the dwarf French beans are finished I can fully replenish the beds and leave them fallow until spring. 

What a busy gardening year this has turned out to be. My only real failure has been the spinach. And I can only think I was trying to sow old seed. 

When the battle of the beans is over I will try my hand at growing garlic. Some say plant in October, outside, where the frost can get at the clove. Others say ‘plant on shortest day’ ‘harvest on longest day.’ However it’s done I need space not just for the various beans but for garlic too!

Monday 6 September 2021

The exciting new broad bean

In my enthusiasm to plant ‘Luz de Otono’ broad beans I took up a climbing French bean plant which I thought was nearing its end. A few weeks ago I dug over my vegetable plots and manured them then covered the prepped areas with tarpaulin.But my climbers were still strong and tall. I dug areas around them for the broaders. As a new experience ( I live a wild life) and an experiment, I sowed the winter-cropping Luz de Otono beans.

This will be a first for me. Normally I either sow broaders in the autumn for early summer flowering the following year. Or I sow them for planting out in the spring of their pod-producing year.

About two weeks ago the temperatures dropped and last week I put the garden parasols away. I thought autumn was with us. After I’d sown my special broad beans in toilet roll inners I placed them in the greenhouse. I expected them to take weeks to germinate. It was still August then but chilly. I also had guttering drilled for drainage holes to be used as long ‘window boxes’.

The idea behind these late summer antics was that the climbing beans were still growing and taking up space I knew the broad beans would devour. But, I thought, by the time the broad beans are ready for the ground the climbers would have finished. Wrong. Or I could use the guttering as a temporary home for the Luz de Otono. Wrong. And I thought the broad beans would take some time to grow to planting size. Wrong. 


Yesterday, as I was preparing the guttering with compost, I checked the Luz de Otono and they were already huge. This is what comes of being used to growing dwarf beans. When trying to grow standards their height is that much greater even at the seedling stage. Our mini heatwave, our Indian summer, since September had brought on the broad beans quickly and,at the same time, the climbers showed no sign of giving up the ghost. It was nearly 80 deg F in the greenhouse. I was overproducing for the space I had. 

The guttering idea - a temporary home for my fledgling broad beans - was a non-starter. They were too big and the guttering was too shallow for them.

Today, which was another splendid summery day,  I removed the tarpaulins from the pre-dug patches in the veggie plots. The soil underneath was still moist from the day I’d worked it and prepped it. It was now or never. Could I plant twenty 12 cm high broad beans in the few spaces of pre-dug soil I had between my wigwams? Only one way to find out: 

Almost an hour after my haphazard planting the broad beans were in place. The wigwams were still intact and the various beans, of whatever genetic make up, would just have to fight for space. I could have taken up one batch of French dwarf beans that were growing in a raised bed. They are not as productive as the climbers but a few still have flowers and pods. But the broad beans are going to grow too tall to be properly supported in the raised bed… Back to squeezing them

in between the climbers. 

This is the problem when the seasons are adrift. Early summer was so cold, wet and late most crops and flowering plants were a month behind when they did get going. My climbers are still going for it. Maybe they would be slowing down now if they had germinated in mid-May. But they didn’t show their heads until near-June.

Now we have much warmer weather again everything is giving its last hoorah. And my broad bean seedlings are growing visibly taller by the day.

I could make temporary homes for my last ten Luz de Otono in 20 cm diameter pots.

But they will soon need to feel the soil under their feet rather than spend their short lives in pots.

And what of the hapless climbing bean growing up its single bamboo cane? On closer inspection I saw more flowers and developing pods on this particular climber. It seemed too cruel to throw it on the heap. It was still enjoying life, after all. So I hurriedly found a barren spot by my tangerine rose which had been mulched with bark but not prepped with manure. And I watered it in, there and then, cane and all.

Whether it survives its premature uprooting only time will tell. So much produce and so little space. It’s a good problem to have.

Tuesday 31 August 2021

The Allotment Shed

As if in readiness for autumn, when September hails a completely different season, we started the evening by putting on the central heating. And, sadly, I put away my shorts and thin summer dresses too. It seems far too early to be unearthing jeans and cardigans but I don’t relish getting cold. What happened to those long warm evenings and sultry, sunny days? Every year I forget those lazy times don’t last forever.

Looking on the bright side there will be fewer flies around our cat’s food. I won’t have to get the lawn mower out and even the bindweed will retract its claws. Now I’ve run out of room in the freezer I probably have as many beans as one small family can manage. But I’ll pick more and give to friends.

The autumn flowering broad beans ( luz de otono)  are gearing up. It’s an experimental sowing on my part. There’s a battle for space in the veggie plot. I can’t wrench up my wigwams while the climbing beans are still proudly producing their long, long pods. But the new broad beans have already poked their heads through the compost and will need to be transplanted.

However we did have spare downpipes left over from the construction of a water butt system. Never one to fill the car with rubbish for the corporation tip I got  the unwanted pipes cut in two - length ways - and drilled to make drainage holes. They will now form temporary, narrow broad bean beds. The new plants can grow a few centimetres before I place them in the beds vacated by the climbing beans. At least that’s the plan. And I aim to pick the pods in December… As I say it’s an experiment.

Temperatures for the next few weeks will make 50 deg F. The greenhouse temperatures will reach higher than that for a little while but at some point I will cut down my sturdy tomato plants and decide what to do with the green fruits. Until then they are sill blushing in the sunshine. I can rate my first year as a greenhouse owner a success. What I could have done with a bigger one! But contributors to The Allotment Shed have plenty of ideas for green tomatoes. I assume not all will ripen.

My lemon tree produced small lemons back in the spring and they are growing fatter. But they are still green. My instinct is to bring the citrus tree into the greenhouse where there is plenty of light and warmth. But I am open to suggestions. 

I have a pathetic display of spinach but the leeks are getting stronger. Perhaps I should feed them as their compost hasn’t been replenished. My lettuces haven’t been chewed, yet, largely because we’ve had a dry spell. But I want to start my sweet peas soon, along with garlic plantings. I’m hoping this is where my small but perfectly formed greenhouse will come into its own. 

As well as sweet peas my pansy plugs are gaining in strength and a few primulas are daring to show their magenta faces. When I discard my petunias and put my geraniums in the greenhouse the pansies should be large enough for tubs in the front garden.

If I’ve actually managed to time things properly I may even have space to plant snowdrops-in-the-green. To top it all miniature daffs and irises will add to the autumn plantings.

But it does seem awfully early to be waving the summer goodbye.

Tuesday 24 August 2021

Tips I’ve learned from ‘Allotment Hints and Tips’

One of the earliest tips I used in 2021, after the dreadful cold and wet weather in May, was to sow my climbing beans in toilet roll inners. Climbing beans are more vigorous and, of course, taller than dwarf French beans. It was my first time growing French climbers from seed (I don’t like runner beans). And it was so much easier to simply plant the seedlings in the prepped vegetable bed in their inners. Those that weren’t dug in deep were just as successful as the deep planted ones and I wonder whether the card collars helped prevent a slug attack while the seedlings were establishing themselves.  What a great suggestion! Thank you lotters.

From early June onwards I followed suggestions that regular watering would help prevent blossom end rot for my tomatoes. Every morning I gave each tomato tub 1 litre of water. In addition each tub had a weekly tormorite feed. And I removed the lower tomato leaves to help prevent blight. Next year I will set up a self-watering system for when we are on our holidays. 

In July, when my first dwarf French beans developed, I had a bowl of cold water and a pan of boiling water on the hob ready before I picked them. As lotters have suggested: top and tail as you pick then plunge beans into cold water to wash them before blanching in boiling water for a couple of minutes. Their colour (and flavour) is indeed enhanced. 

In the flower garden I have regularly picked sweet peas. Especially from August. Until then their stems were short. They are now beautiful long-stemmed cut flowers in a mixture of pink, magenta, purple and lavender. And they just keep on giving.

During the mini heat wave I put a parasol over my tumbling compost maker. I read the advice from one lotter that on very hot days dry compost can ignite. I didn’t take the temperature inside the cauldron but I’m sure it was breaking down the peelings and grass with a vengeance! It was baking out there. 84 deg F in the shade!

Now it’s almost September and my chrysanthemums have black fly which I will spray with soapy water before I plant them. They are from our local nursery and I’ll grow them well away from the veggie plot. Thanks for the advice, lotters.

In a few weeks time, before the frosts arrive, and when we move into autumn proper with cooler evening temperatures and dark nights, I will replenish my raised beds. I like the idea of the no-dig method, as suggested by many lotters. I have sciatica and am waiting for a knee op. If I can avoid aggravating those conditions and still get a good crop I can be pleased with my efforts. And my raised beds have produced four huge cabbages (the rest were eaten) and a pound of dwarf French beans every time I pick them. That sounds like success to me!

And in the spaces in the raised beds created by the lifted cabbages I’m growing lettuces and leaves. 

Lotters have truly inspired me to try my hand at growing garlic. I had never even thought about it until now. I should have my earliest Wight bulbs arriving in October. I realise it’s a slow journey but I like the idea of ‘plant on shortest day, harvest on longest day.’ Thank you lotters. Great, easy-to-follow advice. 

With so much produce I’m struggling to find space to grow late summer plantings. But I have discovered the ‘Luz de Otono’ broad beans. 50 of them are in the greenhouse now, sown in toilet roll inners. I have unused guttering left behind from when we were setting up the greenhouse waterbutts. After drilling holes in the guttering and filling with quality compost I have two long rows of growing space for my autumn-growing broad beans. This is an experiment. I’ve never sown broad beans to pick in December before. And never in old guttering!!! But it gives me growing space while my French beans are still so productive. It would be criminal to lift my climbing beans and take down the wigwams this early. 

Another experiment I tried was in the use of tomato gro-bags. I planted one small tomato, about 1.5 feet high, in a tub of used compost. The rest - all about the same height - went into new tomato gro-bags or into large tubs filled with compost from the gro-bags. Do gro-bags contain nutrients? Well, yes, they do.

The tomato plant in spent compost was smaller, a much paler green and far less vigorous than the others in new tomato gro-bags. The spent compost was just not feeding it. 

Of course I replanted the ailing, under-nourished tom and fed it tomorite. 2 months later it has caught up and is producing shiny red tomato fruits all of its own.

It just shows that vegetables and plants are like children and pets: look after them, feed them carefully and they will grow strong and productive. ( Unlike my cat who is eleven this week. He isn’t productive but he certainly eats well!!). 

Thank you lotters for all your really good advice. And here’s to a new season’s growing success. And I’m truly looking forward to seeing what I can grow and overwinter in my new greenhouse. It has a frost stat heater. If it helps bring on early sweet peas and overwinters my geraniums it will be worth the money. I won’t know until next March, by which time it will be the start of a whole new gardening season.

Happy growing one and all! Always peanut biscuits in the tin!! 

Friday 20 August 2021

Green Fingers VII

It was almost July. The solstice had come and gone but the rose arches were in full flower. On our upper arch I grow a climber from a cutting mum struck for me soon after we moved in. That was over twenty years ago. She called the variety ‘Queen Alexandra Day Rose’. Or simply the Alexandra Day Rose. The sale of roses dates from 1912 and celebrates Alexandra’s arrival here from Denmark. Its a fund-raising day for her charities, especially for hospitals. 

The Alexandra could be a type of Alpine Rose. It’s petals are just the same but, unfortunately, it’s not thornless as is the true Alpine. Either way it’s vigorous, very pretty and flowers freely every year. In fact it grows much more productively than the damask rose from David Austin roses which wasn’t free!  However for the last two summers I’ve been thinning the lovely climbing rose and, with another friend, removing the honeysuckle around the upper arch. A ‘honeysuckle and rose arch’ sounds so good but tragically the honeysuckle thwarts the rose. It is simply too rampant. And, of the two, I prefer the rose over the heavy honeysuckle.

By our patio a spreading Rose of Sharon was blooming. We fast approaching the end of June but this unchecked plant was growing faster than the honeysuckle. It’s lovely even as a cut flower - but pervasive. In the coming months it will also have to be dealt with. It is swallowing up prettier more delicate varieties. 

In contrast I was pleased to see the advanced progress of my veggies. By the 2nd of July my climbing beans were climbing. They had reached 1 foot in height. The dwarf beans were full of leaf and my first Sweet Petite cherry tomatoes were red. What a great time was to be had by walking up the garden and seeing it all flourishing.

My only real disappointment was the cherry tree which D had moved the previous autumn. It was still barely in leaf. I can only hazard a guess that the soil isn’t suiting it all. My spinach seedlings were doing nothing either. As spinach is so easy to grow I must have inadvertently tried sowing seeds from an old packet.

Nevertheless my new lawn mower was an ideal weight for me. I just had to remember to charge the battery pack before use! My wilding patch didn’t produce more self-seeded varieties than any other part of the garden so I took the decision to reseed it with grass seed for the time being. I had planted bate-rooted lupins, hollyhocks and Chines lanterns in the depths of winter. The first two were growing well. I can only think the lanterns had rotted or were eaten by slugs. Maybe I need to buy a potted lantern next summer rather than a root which can be planted in wintry, muddy, cold soil. But then fail to thrive.

Gardening is an experiment. And it’s exciting to see what works and what doesn’t. We went for a weekend in Devon in early July and afterwards I planted marigolds near my beans in order to lure insects away from the crops. That worked and the marigolds added a splash of yellow to the vegetable plots and raised beds. Then it was time for a week in Dartmouth and a weekend in Cornwall when my husband could see his brother. 

On our return the climbing beans were at the tops of their wigwams. It was July 16. 

Schools were about to break up and the July 19 easing of covid restrictions was about to take place. And I made my first pickings of dwarf and climbing beans. It was an excellent feeling!  

Next time: cabbages!

Tuesday 17 August 2021

Green Fingers VI

It was June and I was catching up with the real gardening jobs, the ones that cause back ache and force dirt under your finger nails.

I’d tried wilding in a plot where my friend D had removed a rose and small cherry tree. Having read ‘Wilding’ by Isabella Tree, now there’s a name for a gardener, I left this small plot in the lawn unmown. But when doing the Big Butterfly Count there seemed no shortage of bees in our garden and I generally tend to leave wild flowers such as buttercup, daisies and herb Robert to grow. Maybe my patch wasn’t necessary? I’ll rethink my wilding ideas for next year. My garden isn’t immaculate nor devoid of non-cultivated plants…In other words there are wild areas  already. I’ll work out the best way of keeping a wild area alive without the garden running riot. 

Thinking, now, of the other extreme: the cultivar. Neighbours had given us a beautiful lemon tree for our Ruby Wedding. As May had been so cold I was minded to follow the care instructions for this plant more closely than usual. And there were a lot of them.

When I read that watering had to be done using water that was room temperature and how a lemon tree doesn’t like cold or shocks I wrapped it in bubble wrap and ensured its compost didn’t dry out. I was also trying hard not to overwater it. The watering can was kept indoors, close by,  so the water wasn’t too cold for the tree. And I kept it in the same place, wrapped, waiting for temperatures outside to grow more seasonable. Naturally - as it’s a Mediterranean plant - I made sure it was close to the window in the insulated shed.

This way I avoided the commonest mistakes people make when tending a lemon tree: Over-watering or under-watering, temperature changes, poor light and nutrients.

My friend had kept his lemon tree indoors throughout the winter but there isn’t much space in our house unless it stays in a bathroom. I also noted citrus trees need good ventilation, away from drafts but also away from radiators. Although conservatories and hallways are ideal we have neither a hall nor a conservatory. But we do have three well-lit bathrooms. 

All that was planning for the future. I had already bought chicken manure pellets and phosphate feed. The watering regime and feed had encouraged new growth, blossom and the formation of tiny lemons. At least it had grown some on my watch.

If a citrus isn’t getting nutrients the leaves turn to different colours, and mine were all still green. If the leaves do turn the tree is likely to be starved of iron, magnesium or nitrogen. I think the phosphate feed I was using did the trick. I just needed to feed the tree weekly. Although the potash I have says once a season. It takes some nurturing this tree!

Another issue was pests. Lemon trees can suffer from aphids, gall wasps and citrus leaf miner. I can’t say I was familiar at dealing with any of these pests. Apparently the eggs from the bugs have to be lifted by hand and leaves cut to remove any damage from miners. The lemon tree seemed somewhat high maintenance. But I persevered!

I knew lemon trees were sensitive to frost but little did I know that once moved to the sunny outdoors they needed shade for the first few days. As I don’t have a conservatory I moved the tree to full sun but for a whole week I gave it its own parasol and base to shade it. Neighbours couldn’t understand why my parasol was only 4 foot off the ground…

In June the sun is, of course, at its highest and strongest. I also loosely draped bubble wrap over the leaves so they didn’t scorch. After a week of this treatment I let the lemon tree cope with the elements. It was finally on its own. And at last we were enjoying summer temperatures.

Thus far the tree has continued to produce flowers, fruits and new leaves.  l read it can cope with dry conditions - it is from much hotter countries than ours - but I felt I must feed it more often.

Meanwhile - in early June - I watched a You Tube video on the best ways to build wigwams for my climbing beans. I wound string around one wigwam to encourage the climbers to cling on. In the second wigwam I used only beans in toilet roll inners but not string for the tendrils to grasp. And for a third wigwam I decided not to put mesh around the young plants. For the other two wigwams I protected the plants with mesh against slug damage. 

For up to a week after intensely caring for the citrus tree I hardened off my beans. They survived! 


After hardening off, a little more exposure to the outdoors every day, I planted dwarf French beans in my raised beds. In another raised bed overwintering cabbages were heartening up and I covered them against cabbage white butterfly grubs. In another raised bed I sowed spinach.

At that point my greenhouse was almost empty and all my tomato plants could take up residence there. Finally I felt like a gardener once more! 

But that didn’t last long.

We were back to the hardware. Our local electrician had found a way of using old cables buried in our flower beds to create a circuit up to the garage, new shed and greenhouse. 

It took him a couple of days to resurrect the switch and socket in the garage. He got a new strip light working in there and put the whole in waterproof casings. The greenhouse was given its own frost stat heater(one that could cope with rain and leaks) and the shed had a couple of sockets for a kettle and a lamp or even a heater. Everything was waterproofed and although it was too late for this year’s crops and flowering plants it meant the lemon tree need never suffer from frost and overwintering plants should survive in the green house, although they may need extra protection from a few layers of bubble wrap.Even the late, great Percy Thrower suggests covering plants (or greenhouse windows) in the very coldest months. Even with heat. 

The month of June was a month of achievement. It saw that I had a safe, working greenhouse heater, a useful thermometer, double glazing and space for tomato plants. The roof window was letting in less rain but I opened it on much drier days to allow the tomatoes get the ventilation they needed. 

I could charge the battery pack to my new mower in the socket in the new shed. And the mower was so light I could easily lift it. And there was no longer the need for unwinding a cable extension every time I cut the lawn. At long last there was a return to light in the garage. If we do put the car in there on some very cold nights we can see what we are doing without the need for torches. Blow me we were getting sophisticated! 

By the 12th June everything was growing away and I felt I’d cracked it for this year. I was equally proud of the petunias which had grown from tiny plugs to cascading beauties in patio pots and in the front garden. And we’d had our two jabs against covid-19. 

Phew! Busy but successful! 

Time for a holiday in Devon! 

Saturday 14 August 2021

Green Fingers V

By mid-May this year I had joined an allotment growers group on facebook. Almost everyone was complaining that it was too cold and wet for seeds to germinate and many were growing them on windowsills. But we have very narrow window sills in our house. And for the first time I have a greenhouse, which I preferred to use, to get the sowing season started. 

It became very frustrating to still see the thermometer register no more than 45 deg F. I knew most French beans need 50deg F for germination. I had a few weeks in hand but I was itching to get growing.

On one of the rare days in May when it was sunny and dry I decided to brighten up the shed and greenhouse. I matched Cuprinol wood stain shades with my bunting and bought a copy of Gill Heriz’s ‘A Woman’s Shed’. In it were glorious examples of sheds cum study rooms, garden rooms, work rooms, sun rooms and - simply - sheds. I found the design that most closely resembled my new ‘play pen’. It had access to water, electricity, a table and chairs, a cushion, a view, curtains (to match the cushions) and the inevitable kettle. The best one was built with decking and a sail for shade. 

I set to with my seven metres of cloth. As I don’t have a sewing machine I trimmed the edges with pinking shears. There would be time in the winter to sit and make proper hems. I bought a simple piece of curtain wire and created a drape which matched the table cloth and spread a decorative swash along the shelf. No plants were growing there as yet. 

I kept some cloth back as a cushion cover and painted the outside of the new shed and greenhouse in a lurid but fun array of lime green, flamingo pink, white and powder blue stripes. In the generally bleak month of May it was fun and lifted the spirit. 

Meanwhile I had managed to pot up my begonia bulbs and in the unheated greenhouse they were just sprouting leaves. It was then I made a ridiculous discovery:

As I looked more closely at the plants on the shelves  I saw that the thermometer which had never shifted from 45 deg F had a crack in it. It must have fallen and broken without my realising it. All this time it hadn’t even worked! The point at which I thought the meniscus on the mercury was stuck - at 45 degrees - the glass has smashed. No mercury could travel any further up the thermometer column. The column had been broken. 

Since before lockdown, in some cases, we’d lost a few useful local shops. One of them was our DIY shop. It sold thermometers. But I didn’t want to waste any more time hunting down a DIY store. It was past mid-May already. The heat in the greenhouse was still palpable even though it was unseasonably cold outside. An online search had a 24 hour delivery slot. Next day my new thermometer arrived. 

And, of course, with the thermometer safely installed inside the greenhouse, the mercury raced up the column. It was beyond 50 deg F. My French beans could germinate in those temperatures even if it was cooler overnight. Phew! What time had I wasted?

The small, grafted ‘sweet petite’ tomatoes had their place on the window sills indoors. But I set to in my new shed. I removed the table cloth and shelf cloth and armed with bags of seed compost I sowed trays of dwarf French bean and, new for me, about 30 climbing beans. For the latter I had been saving toilet roll inners. Some climbers were sown in seed trays, others in the toilet roll inners, simply as a comparative experiment. It was exciting!

By 19th May I had transplanted two tomato plants into large, individual pots and spaced them apart in one half of the greenhouse. And my trays of beans were germinating in their trays on shelves in the other half. All the wooden shelves were full of germinating beans and leeks and the petunias were in flower. In fact I had so many climbing beans I set some on the shelf under the large window in my new shed.

The temperatures inside the greenhouse held and 95% of the seedlings grew to four inches in height. By 1st June I enriched the prepped soil with more of my homemade compost and constructed wigwams from approximately 8 six foot canes. I was much relieved to have a working thermometer. The double-glazed polycarbonate ‘windows’ clearly kept in enough warmth so that my largely unheated greenhouse could sustain growth. We were in business!

But I’d say most garden plants and outdoor varieties were about a month behind. Would they all catch up in June? The weather was picking up.

Surely it was time for flowers to open and for the beans to go outside?

Yes. It was. But I spent the next few weeks removing bindweed that had flourished in all the rain. What a downer…And not just bindweed. Almost all the fuchsias, periwinkles and other leafy growth had exploded their waistlines during the wet weather. My neat spring garden looked unkempt and overrun. And a lot of it was simply excess growth. It had been too wet for anything more than intermittent, inconsequential gardening.

But June was a better month. At long last real gardening could begin. 

And on to more  home-growing adventures in my next post…

Wednesday 11 August 2021

Green Fingers IV

Just before the anniversary of the March 23 Covid lockdown my greenhouse was waiting, with empty shelves, to be filled with ready-sown seed trays and pots of bulbs. I too was anticipating new seedlings emerging from their compost. But, now the greenhouse was double-glazed, and although the space felt very warm, especially on sunny days, the thermometer showed it was barely 33deg F inside the polycarbonate ‘glass’ house.

I knew it was too early to sow beans but I had packets of cosmos, sunflowers, sweet peas and leeks, lettuce and spinach. 33 deg F was far too cold for germination. Even D, my shed & greenhouse builder, remarked how tropical it felt inside even though the thermometer sternly said it was merely a few degrees above freezing.

On the evening of March 23 itself I lit a candle on our front steps in remembrance of those lost to covid. 

In our bubble we had all had our first jabs and I was relieved that we were beginning to feel safer. The lead GP at the practice where we were jabbed even said it was safe to stop washing all groceries and disinfecting newspapers and the mail that came into the house. That gave me confidence too.

And it was still light at 7pm. Spring had sprung. But not in my greenhouse!

I spent time potting up Suttons beautiful lilac and pink primulas and laying bark on the flower beds. My petunia plugs were no longer than the first joint on my little finger but I could use the greenhouse to bring them on. And my begonia bulbs were ready to plant in pots. All were suitable for the greenhouse, despite the thermometer reading.

By the 12th April lockdown restrictions were partially lifted, our patio fence had blown in, and it was our 40th wedding anniversary. Nevertheless we had a patio party under the rule of six. The primulas made the patio look pretty, even though the fence was hanging badly. I covered it with a screen which displayed our Ruby Wedding cards and bunting.

Meanwhile the greenhouse thermometer was resolute that it was 32 deg F. Friends had given us a lemon tree as an anniversary present, but it would be far too cold for it in the greenhouse. I opted to place it in the new, well-clad shed, in front of the big glass window. As stated in the instructions I repotted the lemon tree as soon as I could and kept the watering can nearby. I didn’t want the water temperature in the can to drop to outside temps. It might be too much of a shock. And I wrapped my new citrus tree in bubble wrap.

That week we enjoyed an anniversary trip to Devon, had warm days on the beach and cooler evenings eating out at the many restaurants and pubs questing for business. We had to book and couldn’t sit inside. There were still covid restrictions. 

And at the end of that sunny week I bought grafted ‘Sweet Petite’ tomato plants. But they stayed in my kitchen. It still registered just above freezing in the greenhouse, even though a blast of hot air met me when I opened the door. 

It was then I took a closer look at the meniscus on the thermometer. In fact it was reading 48 deg F. The mercury had pulled away from the bulb and it needed a magnet to reset it. 

Although it was still just too cold for germination my petunia plugs were growing and I brought my begonias on. Spring was almost springing.

Although it was too early to sow my French beans, dwarf and climbers, the leek seedlings were finally fatter than a strand of hair and D gave me some pea plants to grow on the same shelf as the petunias. 

But what to do about raising the temperature? I opted for a small gas heater. It sounded fine in theory, especially in a greenhouse that suffers from leaks and rain getting in through the roof top window. But I had advice about putting heat in the greenhouse and electricity seemed too dangerous. I don’t like paraffin heaters. The small gas heater seemed to fit the bill. And - on first use - the temperatures rose.

It was the end of April and I felt ready to start sowing my beans and transferring the tomatoes into the greenhouse. But then we had the wettest, coldest May on record. And the manufacturers of the little gas heater were most insistent it wasn’t safe to use it without ventilation ie have the greenhouse window open. But it hadn’t said that in the description when I bought it. Another conundrum. If I opened the window the rain got in. Again I was pondering what to do about the leaks and, apparently, cold temperatures in the new greenhouse.  

Back to square one. It was far too cold to use the greenhouse without heating. Temperatures had to be 50 deg for germination but I couldn’t leave the gas heater on over night - the coldest hours. The gas heater manufacturers said so. And I wasn’t going to set the alarm to wander out into the garden in the wee small hours to remove the gas heater once temperatures were higher. 

What to do? I could light a candle in an upturned terracotta pot. Or I could use the gas heater on dry days and just in the day time when I was home. But that’s hardly running the greenhouse at a regular temperature. And it wasn’t just the heater that was somewhat problematic. The thermometer hadn’t actually working at all.

I came up with a better solution: More on the pesky thermometer and ‘heating the greenhouse’ in Green Fingers V. 

Monday 9 August 2021

Green Fingers III

The problem with having so much hardware introduced to the garden it’s easy to forget it’s a place for plants.

The fashion - about twenty years ago - for garden decking, glass and metal constructions and tv screens in a garden, the outside room, always seemed to me to be more about stone, pebbles, cement, sawing and hammering than growing and nurturing.

In our garden, by February this year, we had a new leaky greenhouse, an insulated almost perfect shed, bags of gravel, sand and cement and decorative bark, raised beds on legs, step ladders, tarpaulin and tins of paint. There was a point at which I wondered whether any growing would ever actually take place.

Even my hard-working builder friend,D, said the top garden looked like a building site. Bags of rubble and clag were filling the garage, while I awaited a slot at the corporation tip aka the city recycling site. Spare cement was used to make small walls and boundaries from a few red bricks we had lying around. The bonfire- cum-enriched veggie plot was no more - its space taken by the new shed. And the new raised beds were ready for fresh compost. 

So my green fingers turned black and I improved the soil too. Gotta get down and dirty!

But what to do about the condensation in the greenhouse? Polycarbonate sheets seemed to be the answer: double-glazing for the greenhouse. We looked at various websites; remember we no longer have a Homebase or a local DIY store. The nearest B&Q store is in Bristol but we do have a Screwfix. In the end I ordered £200 worth of polycarbonate sheets to be collected. This cost on top of the initial outlay for the greenhouse was leading me to think an expensive one might have been more economical in the end. However it was a perfect size for the space we had. And, days later, after my friend, D, had created a double-glazed effect using poly sheets,beading, nails and more and more silicon, the transformation was truly remarkable. Gone were the grey, fogged, wet windows. We had a working, unheated greenhouse.

Then the shelves went in. Even more exciting was getting the tumbler compost maker. A neighbour saved me £100 by donating his to me. He had cleaned it out and it fitted neatly next to the new shed. I was finally beginning to think of growing rather than building. And it was still only February. And to add to my gratitude another neighbour helped D to carry my pine table into the shed for me. 

A favourite uncle of mine had given me the money for the pine table when we got married 40 years ago. We also purchased a matching cabinet with shelves. They were among our first purchases when we moved into our new home. We hardly needed to buy anything, however, as Richard’s mother chose to go into a nursing home at the same time and we inherited her dresser, three piece suite, desk, double bed and occasional tables. My aunt gave us a canteen of silver and we had many chairs, bookshelves, cooking pots and pans of our own plus my mother-in-law’s kitchen ware. 

The pine table, then, meant a lot to me. But we have had it outside, wrapped in bubble-wrap and many layers of tarpaulins, for more years than was good for it as oak replaced pine in our dining room. But the pine table was a poor thing: Its legs were bowed, the drawer no longer fitted, the table top was damp and needed sandpapering but nevertheless it worked as a table. Others would have taken it to a tip. I had it moved into the new shed. Sheltered housing for its old age. 

Come mid-March, my birthday, the flower beds were looking colourful and my thoughts turned to vegetables. I had half-heartedly planted cabbages which, in the main, had unsuccessfully overwintered. But I left four of them to grow on and covered them with mesh. 

It was high time for using some of my freshly-made compost on the veggie beds. It took three digs to work them as every time I raked them and prepped them another load of grit was put on top; so much work was still going on in the garden with fewer places to deposit excess soil. After the third attempt I covered them with tarpaulins … ‘verboten’.

I was itching to sow beans, peas, leeks and spinach, my usual fare. But the thermometer said ‘no’. More of that next time: my adventures in heating a greenhouse…