Why are TV garden experts all alike?

It seems to me there are three main types of Gardening presenter. White middle aged men like Monty Don, Alan Tichmarsh & Joe Swift; white middle aged women like Carol Klein, Anne Swithenbank & Sarah Raven; and ones with long flowing locks and mystic names and who look like Elves from Lord of the Rings like Rachel de Thame, Alys Flowers and Bob Flowerdew.

Elves from Lord of the Rings

Garden Elves Alys, Rachel & Bob

Here’s a handy Venn diagram about gardening presenters.

venn-2

Obviously this is an issue with diversity in television, not gardening. Black people do garden, in fact I once know an elderly gentleman who could revive the most withered seedling, but he didn’t realise that he’s not supposed to be racist either and so he called his homemade plant feed ‘jungle juice’ and made lurid references to the supposed virility of black men. Lovely fella, but perhaps not the next Percy Thrower. Still, surely there could be a little bit more diversity? I wouldn’t make a fuss, but as soon as you notice weird absence of entire sections of the community, you can’t stop thinking about it.

However, I’m pleased to say the Big Allotment challenge has an African (I actually have no idea where she is from but she grew up in Zambia) AND a Malaysian in it.

jojo rekha

Thank you Rekha and Jo Jo for making me feel a little bit less uncomfortable.

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Sowing the seeds of compromise

seed trays

First seeds of the year

A lot of the time gardening for me is a battle between, what I should do and what I am actually going to do. This series of compromises begins straight away with seed sowing.

Ideally I know that you should use clean trays, specialised seed compost, vermiculite, and a propagator, and this year, I did at least clean my trays, the rest is frankly not going to happen and here’s why.

Cost – Every time the splendid Carol Klein sprinkles vermiculite over her seed trays all I can hear is the sound of coins raining into garden centre’s tills. It’s nearly £5 for 10l, and Carol’s so heavy handed with the stuff I suspect she must have her own mine round the back of Glebe Cottage. I mean we all love a bit of drainage, but steady love, I’m not made of money, I might as well cover my chilli seeds with a light layer of cash.

To be honest my tight-fistedness extends to special seed compost too. I’ve always used my usual multi-purpose and it’s been adequate. Probably I don’t get as good germination rates, but I don’t need to. I get more plants than I can use with my inferior growing medium and again it simply doesn’t make economic sense to treat seeds (very cheap and high degeneration) as a more precious commodity than the far more expensive specialised composts (pricy and bulky to store lots of different kinds). I know that the best start will lead to stronger plants, but I need to keep the costs within reasonable limits for what is a hobby, not a job.

Space- Heated propagators are never going to happen in my house either. Apart from the expense and the inevitability that I will break them, there’s the fact that I wouldn’t have enough for all the seeds that I grow, leading to a heart-breaking Sophie’s choice every sowing day. Plus we don’t have enough plugs to spare.

‘Sorry kids it’s either TV or dialysis, you can’t have both, my sweet peas need a consistent 17 degrees.’

Time- I have to confess that in previous years I haven’t even got round to cleaning my seed trays properly. I’ve just brushed out the old dried compost. I know this is terrible and leads to all sorts of diseases caused by poor hygiene which not even a back-street slum chemist will be able to help you with. In my defence I’ve had very young children for the past decade, and what sowing I have been able to do has been a hurried operation which I never quite finish or clear up after before I am called away to tend a crying child or adjudicate on a siblings dispute or feed the little sods. I still find weeing on my own a novelty, when would I have found the time to carefully wash out my seed trays? Since 2003 the only things that have got washed in this house are things that are growing a culture, emitting an especially strong odour or are likely to be seen by my mother – basically plates, pants and wine glasses.

Now the kids are old enough to play on their own (their favourite game being ‘stare at a screen’) I finally have the chance to exercise a bit of garden hygiene, but I know the rest of the year will see more compromises. Gardening experts are great for telling us what we should be doing but without their seemingly endless budgets, time and resources I’m pretty sure they know we’re all just doing the best we can with what we’ve got.

The two certainties of chicken-keeping – Death and foxes.

Fox with a gun

Damn my clumsy paws

There has been some soul searching after we lost all three chickens to a fox. I don’t in anyway blame the family who were looking after them, as I clearly didn’t fully explain the ramifications of not putting them in before dark, and I sympathise with how terrible they feel and the efforts they made to find the chickens. However initially, I did feel that this wouldn’t have happened if we were at home. Once a fox had been able to get to the chickens he was bound to come back, and he was able to get to the chickens in the first place because they weren’t locked up before dark.

However, if I’m honest, there have been times we have been late putting them in at night and we have been lucky. It is also naïve to think that foxes only attack during the evening. Given that the other two chickens were killed in broad daylight.  The farmer who supplies us our chickens wasn’t at all surprised that the fox attacked them during the day. He clearly thought we were thickies for thinking otherwise.

Anyway, what has worked for the past year will not work anymore. Lala and Cassie are in the uncomfortable position of having a fox know where they are and we will have to be more careful if we are going to keep them safe.

They have a large run and coop, so they should be happy kept in there when we are not around. Our other chickens had free range of the whole ‘farm’ area, but this will not be the case for the newbies. From now on chickens will be in the run unless we are around. Although this is no hardship now, I’ll be extending the run over the weekend to give them more space while in captivity.

I’m aware that foxes are wily and cunning. I’ve read my Roald Dahl and I’ll be disappointed in any fox who doesn’t mock up a scale model of the garden including all defenses before he attacks. I know they can bite through wire, chew through wood and dig like crazy… erm, foxes, but I refuse to become paranoid.

I will do my best for the chickens, without surrendering and unreasonable amount of time/money to the project. Lala and Cassie aren’t on their own, but they remain, just chickens, and let’s not get weird about this.

I feel this is an apt time to put in a quick note about my feelings towards foxes. They haven’t changed. I knew foxes were rather nasty creatures before this and I still know it now. I have always been opposed to fox hunting, not because I think foxes are cuddly, beautiful creatures who need protecting, they’re not. They are, in many cases ruthless pests who need culling, but I don’t think the way to do it is to invite your friends round, get dressed up, get on horses and watch your dogs tear them apart. To me it’s about the motive and turning killing into a game is a bit too cruel and ruthless for me to be comfortable. I don’t like killing for fun it in humans any more than in foxes. Let’s be clear about this, foxes absolutely do kill for fun. They did not eat my chickens, they ripped their heads off and left their bodies and they sought them out to do this. They killed them because they can. I don’t approve of this sort of behaviour in anyone in a red coat, be it fox or posh bloke.

Although Foxes are the usual enemy, our farmer told my husband that the worst poultry massacre he’d ever seen was in a coop where a badger had got in. From a barn of 100 hens, only half a dozen were still alive the next morning. Many killed, but many more dying of fear and shock. Chickens do that, never throw a chicken  a suprise party, they are massive drama queens who will keel over and die when faced with a bit of a shock just one of the reasons my birds will never be allowed to see the state of my knickers drawer.

Gone chicks gone.

chickens

Me and my girls

It’s been a while since I posted on this blog, but I’m afraid tragedy has forced my hand.

Our three chickens, Goldie, Isabelle and Julia have recently celebrated their one year anniversary with us (we chucked some corn their way and said ‘nice one’). They have been happy pecking about/mercilessly destroying the top end of our garden. We have chased them around neighbouring gardens, harvested slugs for them and braved all kinds of weather to collect the eggs they have kindly provided. We have all been happy, fulfilled and content with one another, who can ask for more?

Last weekend we went away and our usual chicken babysitters couldn’t make it, so we asked a family down the road to take care of the girls for a few nights. They did so, but on the last night we got a text to tell us that they’d been a bit late putting the girls in and despite a 2 hour search one of them was still missing. Then came the fatefull line, ‘there were some feathers and blood around…’. A fox. Dammit.

When we got back Julia was gone and Goldie and Isabelle were clearly shaken. We were kind to them, gave them lots of TLC, ACV and gentle coaxing and they seemed to be cheering up.

Today we decided to get them a new roomie, so my husband took the kids to the farm to buy a new POL pullet. When they got back we all trooped up the garden to introduce her to her new partners, but all was eerily quiet. My son innocently asked ‘Where are the others?’ to which his brother answered, ‘Don’t worry, they’re probably in the coop’.

They weren’t. I had a quick check round the back and found our favourite chicken, Gold Star ‘Goldie’ lying in the compost, decapitated. We couldn’t see Isabelle anywhere. It was obvious the fox had come returned to finish the job.

Not long afterwards came the strangest scene I have ever been witness to. I was talking to my husband about whether to get a new chicken straight away to give our new bird some company, when behind him  I saw the decapitated corpse of our other chicken Isabelle ‘fly’ over the hedge. By which I mean our neighbours, on finding a dead chicken on their driveway, had decided the best course of action was to sling it over the eight foot lleylandii hedge.

We weren’t in the immediate vicinity so one can only presume that we missed the “Hullo there neighbour, we seem to have found something of yours, would you care to have it returned?” which presumably proceeded the flinging of the dead bird, but I remain confused. If you found a dead cat, or dog on your driveway and you knew it belonged to a neighbour would you, a) pop round and let them know that their dead pet was just behind the Audi, or would you b) sling it over the hedge?

Even for those of you who think. Ah, a chicken is not a pet. I would agree, but then ask the same question if the animal was a lamb, or a sheep, or a goat etc. I’m still thinking you’d pop round. Maybe that’s just me.*

Anyway this basically cemented our decision. As I recall, the last thing I called to my husband as he drove off back to the farm was ‘get the loudest one you can’.

So now, one year on our old friends are gone and we have two new chickens, LaLa and Cassie. And a new enemy. Foxes beware.

*I know some people may not approve of me keeping chickens and may feel it impinges on their lives and I have some sympathy, although I’m not sure how it’s a problem, (unless chicken noises are more intolerable than the house music my other neighbour pumps out of his shed 4 hours a day). I would suggest that my neighbour’s poor attitude to recycling and their teenager’s delight in having a loud party every time they go away, also impinges on my life but I don’t make a fuss. We all live together and small inconveniences are to be endured for the sake of a harmonious community. Basically what I’m saying if your husband is going to stare out the window when I’m sunbathing, then don’t frigging
sling a dead chicken over my fence when we are in mourning. Be nice bitch.

Volunteering

There are many reasons why I’m not doing the practical element of my RHS course. None of those reasons is because I don’t need to.
It would also be really helpful to be around knowledgeable plantsmen. It’s not good that I am the expert round here.
So in order to gain a bit of practical knowledge I joined the squad of volunteers who help at Hughenden Manor estate. Today was my first day and it was fantastic.
The weather to a break from being weird and irritating and the whole morning was bathed in spring sunshine. After a couple of hours lugging barrows full of wood chip it was even warm enough for me to strip down to my last five layers.
The head gardener is a lovely, slightly eccentric German called Frank. He reassured me and fellow newbie Su, that the volunteer system is very relaxed and flexible. I’ve heard this kind of thing before from Germans trying to play it cool, but turn up late or mess with the seating plan at a dinner party and the smile freezes, as they try to find your wanton abandon of convention ‘amusing’. So time will tell on that one, but I’m less likely to screw with his planting arrangement than if he were Dutch.
Frank was clearly pleased with our enthusiasm and he was generous with his time band expertise, explaining why you shouldn’t use fresh wood chip as a mulch and how he selected tree planting.

I had a great time, learnt a lot, and met some very interesting, lovely people. Hope I still feel this way when I go back next week and it’s raining.

The escapologist chicken

 

Chicken- Isabelle

Chicken checks to see if anyone’s looking

 

On every ‘To do’ list I have made in the past year, there includes the item, ‘fencing’. Every now and then I actually get round to patching up the slightly bodged arrangement I set up before getting chickens in our garden, I think it’s sorted and then a couple of days later Isabelle is spotted scratching up a flower bed having once again made her way out of our Tiny Farm enclosure.

It’s always the same chicken and she always does a runner when no one is about to spot how she’s doing it, so I have to guess where the weak spot is before I can patch it up.

The maddening part is that she’ll remain contained for a while, before she mockingly proves me wrong by reappearing in the middle of the lawn. Oh dear, looks like you got it wrong again, sorry about that.

Before you ask, their wings are clipped. We did it as soon as we got them, but I’m not sure why we bothered. Immediately after they’d been chopped they started jumping up to some impressive heights. They appeared to be showing off. Wow, that’s better those feathers were actually weighing me down. Now I feel free.

We had some break outs when they initially moved in. They’d managed to squeeze through gaps in the hedge which led to a panicked trip round the corner to catch the runaways and shove them back through the hedge where my son was waiting to put them safely back into the run until the gap could be plugged. Stood in the right place, an uninformed pedestrian could have witnessed an eight-year-old produce three live chickens from the middle of a hedge. Ta-Daa.

Since these teething troubles, the girls have clearly chosen to stay put, except for this one hopping hen. Seeing as she never really goes anywhere or does anything on her little jaunts, I can only assume she’s doing it to piss me off.

She’s succeeding. Once again I have to imagine I am an irritating chicken with a death wish, and work out exactly how I would make my escape, before I get busy with the fencing wire and staple gun.

My husband thinks that she’s limboing under the gate, which I doubt, but will patch up anyway to appease him. My son thinks she’s using a crack in the universe which appears in the coop and transports her to the veg patch. This seems nearly as unlikely as the limboing, but I’ve said I’ll seal the crack with a time paradox, just to appease him.

I think she’s talking a run-up and leaping over the willow screen. So that’ll have to be raised another foot, but that’s as far as it’ll go, so if she continues to magically appear outside the Tiny Farm. I may have to consider catching her out with undercover CCTV, or tethering her to the shed, or pitching to Channel 5 a show called “Houdini Hen”.

 

PS. On All Saints Day, I shall be praying to St Brigit, the patron saint of chicken farmers.

Seeking garden slaves

When I was a kid my dad used to look after an elderly neighbour’s garden. In return he used a patch at the back behind the flower beds for a vegetable plot. We’d get home grown veg without losing the cricket/football/rugby pitch we called the lawn, while Mrs Moss had a beautiful flower garden to enjoy, and sometimes a few spare veg. It was a lovely arrangement and I often see huge gardens owned by older people who must struggle to maintain them and wonder if more similar arrangements couldn’t be made.

An allotment often isn’t convenient for some people. Even half a plot can be quite big if you just want to grow a few annual veg. With the waiting lists for a plot in some areas stretching into years, getting an allotment may not even be an option.

Also it’s just a really pleasant thing to do as a community, sharing skills, resources and time. You could say that I am wholeheartedly in favour of garden sharing, however this notice I spotted at our local post office seems to be a bit cheeky.

Calling all idiots

Isn’t this just asking for a free gardener? “A variety of vegetables for a family of four” is a big ask. I’ve struggled to achieve that this year on my allotment for my own family. Filling this landowner’s requirement wouldn’t leave much for your own table. Plus you’d be paying for all seed, feed and equipment veg gardening demands.

Given tone of self-righteousness in this ad, the author will probably be amazed that no one wants to snap up his generous offer.

Perhaps they’ll follow up this add with:

“Free parking – Use my driveway to keep your car, all I ask in return is that you ferry me and my family (4) to and from appointments.”

“Free kitchen – If your kitchen is too small for all your culinary experiments, you are welcome to use mine in exchange for a variety of meals for my family (4).”

Voila, a gardener, chauffer and cook. I just hope they’re grateful for the opportunity.