14 Jan 2018

Seventeen, going on Eighteen

I feel a bit silly writing a review of 2017 a couple of weeks after the new year started and long after I started planning for 2018 but, while it seemed there was a lot to be glum about last year, looking back I've found quite a bit to perk me up.  I want to park my thoughts on last year so, in no particular order, here we go.

Yay! spring is coming! Late winter is all about the flowers

We're well into the beginning of January (or, as I prefer to say, half way through winter) but I trust you all had a really good christmas and New Year? I did. And, possibly for the first time ever, the tree was bought and decorated in good time, looking all twinkly and festive for many days before the big event. A good start to christmas - and, perhaps, a good end to the year.  The tree is now down, along with a tsunami of needles which dropped as I took the tree outside, the decos have been carefully wrapped and restored to their box on high, the indulgent puddings a distant memory. My new garden notebook has arrived and a stock take of the seed box is imminent - before I settle down to read through seed catalogues.

I've got a good feeling about 2018. I started thinking about the year ahead in the breathing space between christmas and new year; without becoming overly optimistic, I'm feeling a renewed sense of purpose and excitement when it comes to gardening. Last year, there were too many personal and work issues which threw a proverbial spoke into my wheels, but I'm nothing if not a gardener, so ... new year, fresh hope, clean slate. Moving forward with intention. Sounds good, yes?

Flowers bringing joy in late spring along with some veg

Every year there are lessons learned and thoughts to bring into the next round of growing so I'm taking a moment to look back at last year because, well, it wasn't all bad.

There were garden shows, plant fairs and trade shows - always a good idea to go to these if you can, you never know who you might get into conversation with or what you might learn. This past year I've met, or met up with, many lovely garden bloggers, writers, designers and brands. I would name names but you'd think I was boasting. 😉

Garden Bloggers

Meeting other garden bloggers was a definite highlight; what could be better than chatting to people whose writing and opinions you admire and, let's face it, who'd pass up the chance of a good garden chat! We bloggers are a fun bunch too. The Garden Bloggers group on  Facebook and Twitter was set up in 2017 and has become a really good way to connect with other bloggers - including the end of month #gdnbloggers chat on Twitter. Worth checking these out if you're not already familiar with them. There's even a small (real life!) meet up planned for early April this year at the Great Dixter Plant Fair, if you're down Sussex/Kent way - check out the Facebook page.

Golden sweet corn in August; glass gem corn in November
(best to let this last one dry on the stem for deep colours).
More achocha (top middle) than I could eat! 

Garden Visits

I do love a garden visit, particularly walled kitchen gardens which, for my money, reign supreme, but it takes organisation and time. Last year, I squeezed in trips to West Dean in Hampshire, Winston Churchill's kitchen garden at Chartwell in Kent and the Skip Garden in Kings Cross, and came away inspired and motivated. The herb, veg and trial gardens at RHS Wisley are also worth visiting throughout the year, although last February my mission was to see the winter borders and to recharge my happy zone with a splash of spring colour on a sunny day. It's a day out that delivers.  Likewise Waterperry in Oxfordshire (an hour's drive for me) - lots to delight in during the summer but I also went in February when I was thrilled by carpets of snowdrops leading to the river walk and the surprisingly beautiful and thoughtful sculptures along the path.

There were other visits last year that stimulated ideas of good plant juxtapositions or unusual plants that will happily grow outside. I was thrilled that I managed to get to Tom Hart-Dyke's World Garden in Kent last September before driving on to Great Comp to see the collection of salvias and dahlias. I saw flamingos wading through the water high above the traffic of Kensington at the Roof Gardens during the GMG summer social and ate cake with Rosemary Alexander (founder of the English Garden School and prolific teacher/author/designer) in her Hampshire garden - one of the garden visits organised by the Garden Media Guild.  I've been a probationary member for over a year now and these GMG group visits are a real perk of membership as we're often the only people in the garden, with behind-the-scenes tours from the head gardeners.

Peaks, troughs and plants

In any gardening year there will be moments of bliss counterbalanced with frustration but, in 2017, I experienced more low points than anticipated.  Involvement with helping at the allotment diverted a lot of my time from my gardens at home, something that needs to be rebalanced this year. Despite that I managed to grow some wonderful flowers and vegetables, including several new plants that will go back onto this year's plan.

Even a badly managed plot will produce harvests!


A few were new to me plants - glass gem corn, Edamame beans, Tiger Nuts (chufa), Squashkin, Honeyboat Squash, Old Boer White squash, Cobaea scandens (cup and saucer climber), pale mini courgettes, 'Berries and Cherries' strawberries from Thompson and Morgan which have deep pink flowers and delicious small fruits; I grew those on my balcony but will transplant them to the garden this year.

Some highlights: My sweet red gooseberries finally fruited in abundance which was very thrilling. I had masses of lovely big Polka raspberries from the veg patch, sweet corn from the plot, squashes! yay!, superb plums from the plot (made into delicious crumble), autumn baby Nantes carrots (well worth resowing in July to get these). Cavolo Nero and curly kale was left to go to seed (the bees love the flowers) but continued to sprout baby leaves and are still growing strongly, and being picked, one year on.  The plants I brought to London from Mum's garden flourished - agapanthus, lily of the valley, eucomis, geum, pieris - all flowered and looked very healthy last summer. Croix lachryma jobi (Job's Tears) bead plants from 2016 regrew as well although there weren't as many beads, probably because I moved the plants into a pot. Job's Tears are not edible, unless you want to grind your own flour, but can be strung together to make bracelets. I advise using a thimble. The daily smile came from several Cobaea plants climbing through the pigeon netting on my balcony where I could see the flowers turn from pale green to purple at eye level, and the huge Scented Pelargonium which scented the air every time I shoved my way past it to step into the veg patch.

Not so good:  There were (are?) whitefly of biblical proportions feasting on my balcony salad and herbs; I'll have to clear everything, scrub and start again. Edamame beans seemed to be okay then struggled to grow and were finally taken down by slugs. Courgette and kale seedlings in the veg patch were eaten overnight, probably also by slugs - literally down to a stump - so I had to start again there. No french beans only broad beans, lovely Braeburn apples were all pinched before they could ripen (and so discarded with one bite taken out, grrr), ditto pears, five quince this year but all went rotten on the tree before being fully ripe, no plums (again) in the veg patch (but loads from the plot). As the veg patch plum trees have never fruited in eight years of growing, they're for the chop any day now ... especially now I have my chainsaw! I started several Physalis (Cape Gooseberry) plants from seed; it looked like I would have an abundance of fruit but none of them ripened before the frosts. Those plants were at the allotment where I thought they'd get more sun but it seems they prefer warmth over sunshine. Next year they'll be back in the veg patch. Leeks were a disaster. And I never got round to sowing any broccoli so no purple sprouting for me this year  - unheard of!

Echeveria and Pilea at home (top middle); Echeveria and string of hearts at Petersham (middle right)

Having never had any luck with houseplants, I dived in for another go, having discovered a few beautiful houseplants at Petersham Nurseries' new Covent Garden store. There I bought a 'String of Hearts' to add to my existing Jade plant (even I haven't been able to kill that one off) - and even got round to repotting Jade into new soil this year. I soon had a little collection of indoor plants to look after - crassulas, an aloe, jade plants, an echeveria and pilea peperomioides, the Chinese money plant. There's even a cardamom plant, for now. So far they're all surviving on a lack of attention and the merest hint of water. 

Last but not least ...

There were honours, which was a bit bizarre.  In January, I was amazed to be told that this blog was listed in Gardener's World magazine as one of 50 new things to try. (I'd never have known but a friend has a subscription to GW.) That's quite an honour given the circulation of the magazine but really bad timing as, having spent a few emotional months clearing my parents' home, my absence here was noticeable. I can only hope that anyone checking out the link stuck around but I seriously doubt it!

So, there we have it.  Another year gone, another year older and, with luck, wiser. Thank you to everyone who read, commented and generally made these pages a nice place to be - it's truly appreciated and I love getting you know you all!

Wishing everyone an excellent year ahead, may the garden gods smile on you.
Caro x



26 comments:

  1. I'm glad you did your last year review whatever the date. When a year begins and ends is a bit synthetic. No reason why one shouldn't have a twelve month summary in July!

    As a new allotmenteer I went through all sorts of emotions as I read this post. With the positive things - I was thinking perhaps slugs don't exist in your garden and was hoping for extra tips. But from the negative element, they clearly do.
    On the positive side, I am this very day wondering whether to buy Polka raspberry canes. This is a clincher.
    Herbs; I'm feeling very uncreative about where to put things and have resigned myself to just plonking things anywhere while I continue to clear the plot - and have more of a 'plan' for next year. But your post has somehow decided me to put herbs (if they will) in the raised bed where the carrots didn't grow. It is higher than the other beds and is beside where my imaginary greenhouse will be. I was thinking I'd have herb pots outside my house but having them at the allotment too would be lovely. I'll be able to sit beside them and pretend there's a shed behind me . . . with a little camp stove inside for making cups of tea in.
    So . . . thanks for the post. I am both inspired and reassured that even experienced allotmenteers have disasters. (But mostly success!)

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    1. So pleased you found this post useful, Lucy. I've found Polka much better than Autumn Bliss (my first canes), I've good things of Joan J as well and was impressed with Brice raspberries growing at Capel Manor although I think they're harder to get hold of. Plonking things in is a good strategy as you can usually move things next winter (when plants are dormant) if you need to. I've moved thyme, tarragon, chives and others several times. Bear in mind which herbs need moisture and can tolerate shade (mint, lemon balm, parsley) and which prefer sun and good drainage, thyme, basil, rosemary, etc. Coriander can be started early (Feb) in modules as it will flower and go to seed in May regardless of later sowings. I love having herbs growing on my balcony but some (eg fennel, sage) do better in the ground! I'm currently replanning my herb bed and moving it into the other garden under my window so a tiny bit closer than the veg patch and working out what can go where. Will probably do a post about this so keep reading!! Cxx

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  2. What a shame about the fruit. It wouldn’t have been quite so bad if they hadn’t been wasted. Well done for the GW mention.

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    1. I really have to get round to putting up a sign that says "apples not ripe until October"! I think they look so tempting by August that people pick them too soon. I hate the waste of what could be good fruit. I've no idea how GW got hold of my blog name, nothing to do with me!

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  3. It was a sad start to the year for you but it sounds as if you are healing and I have a feeling that your garden related adventures have helped you move forward.

    Winter is the time when I recharge my gardening batteries, take stock of what went right/wrong in the garden and look forward to a fresh start next season. I quite enjoy the down time to reflect and plan and this is especially true when it's been a trying year, such as this past one.

    I just laughed at your lack-of-luck with houseplants comment - seems to be a rather common theme amongst us gardeners. I've had a few different succulents on the go for over a year now and consider that a major success!

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    1. Being outside in the garden has been very healing this past year, Margaret. Time just to be still with my thoughts in the fresh air is very calming and it helps to be able to look forward. I love that about gardening, there's always something new on the horizon and plants that need nurturing.
      I have to say that I've probably picked the wrong time to indulge in houseplants as scaffolding is robbing my home of light at the moment! If my plants make it through the winter I'll be amazed! The Kalanchoe that has been very happy in the bathroom for over a year (yes!!) has been looking very sad recently - there were two, now there's only one. :(

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  4. I'm so glad you shared your review with us! There is always something we can learn from other gardeners experiences. We are lucky how we can start each year afresh with lots of optimism and plans! I'm glad your Mum's plants have taken, and they will bring back happy memories of being in your parent's garden. Congratulations on being mentioned in GW and belonging to the Garden Media Guild, both are so well deserved. Sarahx

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    1. Thank you, Sarah. I enjoyed reading your review too - it's especially nice to look back on summer colour and produce during the darker winter days. My mum's plants did so well here, I'm sure she would be pleased to know that I have them safe; she loved her garden and pottering around outside and often asked me what the names of various plants were. I hope they do well again this coming year - I still have a lot to do in that middle garden! Caro xx

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  5. Good day! This is my first visit to your blog! We
    are a group of volunteers and starting a new project in a community in the same niche.
    Your blog provided us valuable information to work on. You have done a wonderful job!

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    1. Thank you. I always hope that my posts include nuggets of information that will be useful to other gardeners and food growers.

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  6. Caro, that's a lovely review of 2017, thank you very much! Given your emotional challenges in 2017, you achieved a lot in he garden and on the blog front! Which means that perhaps 2018 will be an even more fabulous year... I look forward to seeing your progress. xx

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    1. Lovely comment, thank you Simone. I know that you are aware of how it can be challenging to keep going during emotional times so your comment means a lot to me. So far, spring is full of promise for the year ahead so I hope that you're right, 2018 will be better - and not just for me but for everyone. xx

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  7. A most enjoyable post and lovely pictures. Good to see you mention #gdnbloggers.
    Well done on being listed in the GW magazine, it's well deserved.
    Thanks, and for you too. xx

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    1. Aww, thanks, Flighty. Yes I think our little garden bloggers groups are really good to get involved with and I love the monthly chats (even though I sometimes forget!). Wishing you a good 2018 and thank you for your regular and interesting blog posts. xx

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  8. A lovely post Caro. I think that we were treading similar paths last year. Like you I'm feeling much stronger both physically and mentally and my fingers are itching to get going again both in the garden and allotment :) So pleased to read that the plants you bought from your Mum's garden are flourishing. My Mum loved her houseplants which like you I don't have much joy with. We passed many of them on to one of her neighbours who is good with them but I did bring Mum's Jade plant back with me and it's still going strong I'm relieved to say. Congratulations on all your well deserved successes and thank you so much for sharing your gardening year with us xxx

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    1. I'm so sorry to hear that you also had a challenging year, Anna, but so pleased to read that you're recovering. Having your mum's jade plant nearby will bring back lovely memories and I can promise they're practically indestructible! One of mine was rescued from an empty flat downstairs where the tenants had been gone for a whole year; I brought the plant up to mine, repotted it, watered it and then just left it alone as I didn't want to invest in a plant that would surely not recover. That was 7 years ago ... !! Not so sure my other (new) plants are that sturdy but I'm going to give it a go. Thank you for your lovely comment - I'm looking forward to reading more of your posts in 2018. Cxxx

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  9. Great post! Loved it. Didn't know about the Garden Bloggers group - thanks for that. Also the twitter link as well. And is the magazine you mentioned the BBC one? You didn't provide a link so interested in checking it out and seeing if it comes here to Australia. I took a leaf out of your book and have also done my own 2017 review - so very different to yours. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thank you Kathie, and welcome to the Urban Veg Patch. I do love it when I meet a reader from the other side of the world, puts a big smile on my face. Glad you've found the links to Garden Bloggers groups useful, you'll see that there are bloggers from all over the world there - so lovely to be in such an international group! Yes, the magazine is BBC Gardener's World - I was in Jan 2017 - it's quite a good mag although I have to admit that I don't subscribe to any gardening mags myself. (Although I occasionally succumb and buy one if there's good content.)

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  10. Oh, and forgot to congratulate you on being listed in that magazine. What a wonderful thing for you.

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    1. Thank you, I was very surprised as there are so many excellent gardening blogs out there these days!

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  11. It's not silly to look back! I love going through the years photos and cherry picking the best to show off :)

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    1. Oooh, hello Adam! I didn't realise it was you (Carrot Tops Gardening) until I clicked the link. :D
      Last year wasn't the best for me so it was good to look back and see that there was quite a lot to smile about, even if it didn't feel like it at times. Loving the optimism of a fresh start and new year - let's get growing! Thanks for reading and commenting - it was a long post to wade through!

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  12. Isn't that just typical, you getting a mention in GW mag and not being around! Hopefully any new readers from that have stuck around to read this marvelous review. I did enjoy it, we forget so easily all the successes don't we? Here's to a wonderful 2018, may it be good for you and yours.xxx

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    1. It was really nice being mentioned in GW mag but I always remember that real life is more important that blogging and social media - especially when I find best part of my day has disappeared staring at a screen one way or another! I also find that any success is fleeting in our fast paced internet world - it's true what they say "today's news, tomorrow's chip wrappings"! Well, that's me - chip paper! Hahah! Never take myself too seriously!
      Wishing you a very good 2018 also, let's hope it's good for all of us! xx

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  13. I've been binge-reading your articles. All your posts are awesome! :)

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    1. Thank you, Sam, that's very kind of you to say so :)

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Comments on my posts are much appreciated and help to build an online community of blog friends. Everyone is welcome! I love to discover new blogs so please leave a comment to introduce yourself.
Caro x

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