greenfinch garden

The quiet evolution of a cottage garden

The last cucumber

I have picked the last cucumber of the year. There have been four from one plant pushed into a greenhouse growbag months ago. It has twisted through the tomatoes with tensile tendrils and giant leaves that have grown dusty with mould. There were plenty of embryonic fruits that sadly withered. But four full fruits is more than enough. I am so happy with four.



A string of onions

The draughty potting shed has been just the place to cure the onion harvest. Small flattened bulbs have been plaited on the bank holiday Sunday in August. But it feels more like September. Beans, apples, blackberries and pesto-making with greenhouse basil and the only garlic cloves to survive the rot. It has been a day of cool quiet harvests.


Zenith of simultaneous flowering

A CONSTELLATION of Oxeye daisies is on the verge of coming together. The thuggish natives seem gloriously delicate right now with pale petals wrapped like buttons atop waving stems.
There are hundreds of them, some planted deliberately and others self seeded with a vigour entirely consistent with a plant that is used to making its own way in the world.
I love them right now because they grow so rudely — as everything should in June.

These flowers prompt thoughts of the moon and stars

These flowers prompt thoughts of the moon and stars

But as I admire them with their neighbouring irises, anthriscus and paeonies, I know that come July, the best of this border will be over.
It is a tiny border, half-a-metre wide and three metres long at most.
It looks so lovely with all this simultaneous flowering that I am in two minds whether to dilute the display by adding plants not at their best right now.
That is a question for another day, perhaps. But already I am planning autumn seed sowing to build on plants that are doing so well.
I plan to bulk up my white foxglove quota and Astrantia major ‘Shaggy’ by collecting seed later in the year. That’s because these are two lovely plants that will do well in dry shade which is always a problem for me.
I have also made a second sowing of borage to fill in when the early flowers have done their thing. The thing with ‘wild’ plants is that they germinate so quickly. No sooner had I looked away than the cotyledons were pushing aside the compost. Brilliant, reliable, capable.
The coldframe and standing tables are bursting with plants ready to go out.
I have some Ammi majus that I picked up from the garden team at Hollicombe Community Resource Centre. The little umbellifers are playing host to a ball of baby spiders that have attached themselves to the young foliage.

Baby spiders hang from gossamer thread

Baby spiders hang from gossamer thread

They are an incredible mass of yellow and black that I happened to disturb by accident.
I watched as the pin-dot bodies swung this way and that on invisible strings. Slowly they came too and reassembled for safety in numbers.
I thought that I didn’t like spiders, but this show has taught me tolerance.
What can be so bad about a garden visitor that seems to love Ammi as much as I do? Besides, at a size no bigger than a grain a salt, they pose no threat. For now at least.





New spring colour marks a lifetime of memories

MAY has crept in on a blue haze across the woodland. The bluebells, white wood anemones and wild garlic are underfoot by the time the maypole is danced.

When there are so many wildflowers bursting into colour, I tend to turn my back on the cultivated specimens which seem too self conscious by comparison.

This wave of blue, pink and acid green is the first act in the year’s performance.

And it is by weaving a wreath with this new life – the year’s first colours – that I paid tribute to our dear dad who died last month.

A garden is full of memories. There are shared experiences which run in the veins of an apple tree, say, or unruly mint patch.ImageSo it seemed right to use flowers and leaves which had meant something to him and to us.

I made a base of hazel, ivy and bluebells and added some snippets which featured in my childhood.

The wreath was studded with muscari I had once put in a pan and fed to my one-eyed panda bear, I included lilac for the scent my dad always loved and garden mint in homage to the patch which grew madly in the garden of my childhood.

I included the bright flowers of honesty and crowning the piece was some apple blossom for the little orchard we once had.

I remember climbing that tree with my dad and being stung by a ‘wisp, a wisp’.

It is raining gently when I collect all these flowers and it still patters on the potting shed windows while I tie the wreath.

It is quiet mediative work which pulls my fractured self into a kind of order, slowing my thoughts and soothing my nerves.

In the first few hours after his death, I found the only salve was the birdsong, the assurance there was still beauty in the world.

I notice now, a month on, that the muscari have completely gone over, the bluebells flattened by rain and the apple blossom has disappeared.

The next phase of flowering has begun, here are the first alliums and the new forms of phlomis and unfurling hostas Image.

It feels like time has slowed but there is no breaking a cycle in which the old makes way for the new.

It is the way of things, of course, that seems entirely relentless, but how else will the next wave of good things come?

A little mouse and his winter feast

I UNWRAPPED the roll of underlay and discovered a tiny cocoon made of fibres and straw. There were little poos all around like wild rice and a cache of nuts and seeds which had been neatly hollowed out.

I paused for a minute, chewing my lip and in two minds about getting rid of this beautifully crafted nest.

A little mouse has made a home here from the worst of the winter and fed himself, it seems, from the hazels and cherries which have fallen from nearby trees.

hollow seed

He has feasted on the fallen grains from the birdfeeder and the seeds from a pumpkin I neglected over winter.

It is an admirable picture of self-sufficiency and however whimsical it may be, I imagine this little fat-bellied mouse had been snoring here while the rain thundered on the potting shed roof.

I feel a little guilty to tear this apart, but a little voice tells me: “You can’t encourage vermin.”

And besides, I need the space in the potting shed.

With the spring equinox looming on March 20, it will soon be a hive of activity again.

I have checked over my compost-blend recipes ahead of those days when I shall be happily mixing soil and compost and coir with my favourite scoop on the potting bench.

With those days in mind, I have enjoyed a few hours sorting through the shelves, cleaning tools and stacking clean pots and seed trays.

There is a sense of order in here again and with just enough space for me at the potting bench feels like a true sanctuary. There is a climbing rose — Iceberg — which partly obscures the windows.

Little bluetits flit on the branches to reach the fat balls hanging here.

It is a quiet space where I can work at my own rate.

I have started potting up some onion sets into module trays because the ground is still so sodden.
onion sets
I watered them in and put them in the greenhouse before gradually acclimatising them to the outdoor life.

Also in the greenhouse are the six mini Christmas box (sarcococca humilis) plants which arrived by mail order.

Despite being just a few inches tall they have flowers already with an incredible scent which hits me every time I open the greenhouse door.

Hellebores and sunny days


THERE was a lovely surprise waiting on the doorstep on Sunday morning. It was the first true sunny day I can remember and wrapped in a carrier bag was a task ahead.

Inside was a lovely great clump of hellebore seedlings dug up by my brilliant neighbour who always remembers a promise.

It was back in the autumn when we were discussing the easy dispersal of the hellebore seedlings in her gravel path.

She vowed to dig some up all those months ago and so they were duly received.

We are expecting the flowers will be a hybrid blend of purples and pinks, but I may not know for a year or two.

I am a late convert to hellebores. There are a few natives in the garden, but it was while at Dartington Estate I realised the true beauty of the claret and speckled varieties.


They are neither spectacular or showy and that is the charm.

I like the dull powdery sepals and how they bow their heads. Planted en masse, they create a beautiful early display and I have just the spot in mind.

There are some apple trees along the boundary which have bare feet.

I hope some well placed plants, along with some snowdrops and daffodils, will brighten future springs.

This first warm and sunny Sunday has inspired a new optimism. It is like shedding a heavy coat and stumbling upon a new lightness in feeling.

The transformational effects of sunshine in a greenhouse should never be taken for granted.

I flick on the radio (Weekend Woman’s Hour) and wedge the aerial into the greenhouse aluminium frame to ensure a good signal. Then I grab the first seed tray of the year.

To my side there is an open bag of compost.

I use two great handfuls to line the bottom of the tray and in gently teasing out the roots, I realise the gardening year has begun.

I had forgotten how much I enjoy this, selecting the tiny plants, burying the sturdy roots deep in compost and writing the labels.

I water the trays and then the waft of moistened gravel in a warm greenhouse. It is rich and earthy, I don’t have any other words but you know what I mean, don’t you?

Wow, it is as if the whole world has burst open in those tiny molecules.

Goodness, it has been too long.

The last parsnips


These are the last three parsnips. They are supposed to taste better after frost but there has been no chance of that this winter.
It is February 23 and so far there have only been two nights cold enough to leave ice on the car.
But it has been wet, the newspapers say the wettest winter on record. This trio slip easily out of the earth. It is a shame that ‘snips don’t taste better after rain.