Trainspotting for beginners

We were standing at Newcastle train station today chortling at the trainspotter who was camped at the far end of the platform noting down all the numbers of train engines that went past. Poor, poor man – what a silly obsession. Fancy getting that worked up about a hobby that involves meticulously noting down each and every thing that comes into one’s orbit? In his case, trains. Natty clothing mind you. He was well rugged up in that perfect English-sounding jacket – the cagoule.

And then of course I sat down in the carriage, opened up the laptop and contemplated doing just that. Not the train engine numbers. But the numbers of brassica seedlings I have sown and potted on. And I suddenly thought. Am I any different from a trainspotter? All this obsession with counting and collecting. And to anyone who doesn’t want to know just how many seedlings of lime basil came up and were transplanted last week in my potting shed, about as enthralling as train numbers.

But what to do? Entertain, or record assiduously all that is planted and pruned and when. One of the pleasures of this diary of the garden is I am forced to note down when I plant things, take pictures every day, and not worry about losing bits of notes and pages that look like hieroglyphics once they have been in my back pocket, gone through the wash and then hauled out in London or on the train and written up.

Feel free to be distracted by the pictures. There’s way too many lists of seedlings ahead.

Random notes from the back pocket.

Before I left in April I had a mad sowing session of many of the seed packets lurking in the office back at the house. No point having them there. Time to get them in some soil and see what comes up. Well. Was I surprised. So much germination. This wonderful potting shed is outdoing itself in the optimum atmosphere for crops. Here is a list of what went in and was left for two weeks to get on. (Excuse the typos)

Hordeum jubatum
Deschampsia flexuosa
Panicum virgatum
Echinacea leuchtstern
Miscanthus nepalensii
Chionochloa rubra
Miscanthus sinensis
Chaerophyllum hirsutum var roseum
Sanguisorba officianalis
Poppy black paeony (ah, English at last)
Lupin My Castle
Basil lime
Sanguisorba tenufolia purpurea
Calamagrostis brachytricha
Sanguisorba menezeisii
Eupatorium purpureum

I also sowed nicotiana lime green, chleome Reine rose, Asparagus pea, and then for fun potted up 45 Verbascum Aaron mix and seemed to have 16 spares that just wouldn’t go into their pots. Why? I ran out of potting mix. Which is a shame as massive volumes of just about everything is what this garden needs. Shall come back with more of the black stuff next trip to the garden centre.

Saturday morning: the light comes into the bedroom soon after 630am and my brain starts a-whirring. Listen to the BBC radio via the internet while I make a pot of tea. Attend to emails, wash the floors, try and attach a washer to the spray back pack I borrowed from Nicolas, head out to the garden. Build up a bank of soil around the little apple tree to help it maintain moisture. Rake the grass, water the said apple tree, marvel at the din the frogs are making in the pond near the pool (It’s Jurassic Park out there) and then come inside at 8 to start the day.

Monday 12th May: to the potager. Up at the top of the property the soil is so much richer and deeper and the weeds even mightier. But once you can scuttle up the steep slope and undo the wire fencing, it’ a very satisfying way to spend a morning. The potatoes have all come up and needed earthing. The extra asparagus plants have gone into the gaps. And all the weeds congregating around the peas and bean plants yanked out and added to the compost heap. With my embarrassing glut of brassicas I have found a repository for about 40 of them. I have planted a row of red bor Kale next to a whole row of land cress.

Things look rather regimented and lovely here now: from right to left a cutting bed of soft fruit cuttings, kale, land cress, two rows of pink fir apples, raspberries (starting to show growth at last), charlotte potatoes, asparagus, broad beans and last but not least yet more peas.

Inside for lunch and then just as I was poised to trudge down to the vineyard to hack at weeds the heavens opened and we experienced a mighty downpour. Well, it proably wasnt that dramatic, but when you are standing in your potting shed and the rain is drumming on a Perspex roof it sounds very impressive. So I stayed. (I did have a sneaky packet of biscuits after all in the random objects box) And potted up the lupins, the antirhinnum snowflakes and the poppies. And for an encore had a go at climbing French beans, more verbenas, nepeta grandiflora, eggplants, basil lime, yet more swiss chard (I’m trying to get more reds and yellows, but the ones that germinate seem to have a preponderance of green stems rather than the bright lights I was hoping for. So I keep sowing.)

And then in the almost darkness it was down with another wheelbarrow of brassica seedlings and cramming them into the allotted brassica bed at the lower plot. I have to plant them up the little terraced bank. Which I’m sure is a sin against terraced farming, but I just have no more room. They are already flanking the main pathway of the potager – which rather scuppers my plans of having a dear little flowing path of flowering chives. Next year. This year there are greens to plant and hopefully eat.

It’s an auspicious time for tomatoes. Or so the lunar calendar tells me. But actually it was time to plant them out as they are bursting their pots and they have been hardening off long enough. In went twelve tomato plants to the complicated design of the onion bed. Six marmande and six beef steak varieties. These are in the spot where the garlic used to be.

I know I planted garlic bulbs back in the autumn (note for next year, plant the garlic and onions in spring instead; the onions are already bolting) but they seem to have been either uprooted by the mole, or just not made it through the winter intact. So plenty of room for the tomato factory. Plus two long rows of rocket seedlings that all germinated beautifully.

I weeded the strawberries (first crop of two mid-May, not bad) and had a go at weeding the beetroot beds. Actually I can’t really see what is beetroot and what is weed. That will teach me for not hoeing to a fine tilth first before I sowed. And blaming the very thin and poor soil in that part of the vegetable garden.

I am strimming at last. So the raked grass is going down as a mulch between the rows of beans and peas. Not sure if it is the right thing, but it is a lovely bouncy mulch and may just deter some of the weeds.

Then in the afternoon (don’t ask me which one, I can’t read my notes) down to the vineyard with a sharp mattock-like hoe. I spent two hours labouring away and managed to weed seven rows of vines. It was a peaceful if exerting exercise. The poor vines have been pruned well, but the base of each plant is matted with sinuous brambles and long grass which carpet the entire vineyard. I tried out a few other implmenets first and then settled on this sharp hoe. Hacking away with the sharp edge to cut the brambles, then scraping and pulling to give the vines some room. I was listening to a dramatisation of Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time as I worked and the tedium of the story (just can’t feel much empathy for the characters, alas) suited the task. I have seven done but twelve more rows to go. About two hours was enough to cause all sorts of aches in the back and arms. And small blisters to break out on the hands. Goodness only knows when I will be able to get down and do more of the vines. Strimming really ought to come first.

Tuesday:Potted up ten cucumber plants (the Burpless Tasty Green variety¬† can’t beat a name like that) twenty Gardener’s Delight tomatoes, and sowed borlotti beans, swiss chard bright lights and yet more corn. This was only a brief interlude between visits to nearly Chalencon with my aunt and uncle; plus a visit to the perfectly manicured potager at Nicolas’s chateau. My his lines are perfect. And I note that his preparation of the soil is so meticulous. All his pea plants seem to come up at the same height and spacing. Mine are a bit more erratic. But growing well as you can see.

Wednesday notes just say potted up 52 cavallo nero kale, dug a trench and potted up 12 asparagus pea. Does this mean I am up to date? I think so. Last action before the train journey was to ‘prune back’ some of the heavy branches of the viburnum snow ball tree. I have an armful to bring back to London. And pictures of the beautiful wisteria just coming into flower.