Hello, you’ve somehow stumbled onto my blog! Well done, but don’t go, even if you were searching for something else. Stay awhile and have a little browse of what I’ve been up to.
First warning is this blog is about gardening and so if you are up for it and have a mild interest in gardens, then you may not die of boredom. Insomniacs, you have found Eldorado and I’ll have you off to sleep in a jiffy.
Obviously I’m an enthusiastic gardener and vegetable grower and I earn my living as a graphic designer and illustrator. I work on Garden Answers magazine in the UK which is officially the fastest growing magazine in the country. But this blog is my personal journey through the perils and triumphs, tantrums and miracles of gardening.
I also couldn’t resist showing you the illustrations that I do for Garden Answers. They are all about bringing to life Dawn Issac (Gold medal award-winning designer) magnificent garden ideas so that readers can get her idea in glorious technicolor.
I have and allotment and a small town garden in Northamptonshire in the UK. I love my little garden because it is easy to adapt to whatever my current obsession is. I don’t know about you, but gardening never stops. It’s not the up-keep so much but the design and desire for something new. The knowledge of plants grows too and this stimulates ideas for all seasons.
It’s not all about the plants The space is small and private and place that I can express myself that’s different from my home interior. It’s obviously seasonal but not if you have a she-shed too.
The shed is part of the garden and a focal point. It’s a place of creativity that’s not only about gardening but other projects with stuff on-the-go and stuff in progress. It is the engine room for my creativity and brilliant place to go when its raining.
People think its easy-peasy having a small garden. It is in a way but its a much more intense as it really is all about the detail.
My deck area measures 8 square meters, the main area 33 square meters with a side bit of 15 square meters, where I have the green house. Its 56 square meters in all.
Just like your favorite room in your home, you want it to look gorgeous, maybe neat and tidy, possibly a little too ordered if you are like me.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing as you will see in the before photo here. But the builders could have done worse. I have ended up with a lot of walls. Other people walls. So its these that I am gradually making the most of with trellis that I have built myself, obviously in the she-shed! See below my herb rack that has been a delight outside the kitchen.
Growingmyown I have an allotment too and although demanding it is educational, but also a place of peace, it’s why I have loads of stories to share with you. From the promising baby seedlings in the green house to the grandeur of the summer spectacle to the ultimate harvest.
Design Solutions My favourite ten… Got a design problem with your garden? is it an awkward shape, too shady or overlooked? Or would you prefer a particular theme like a jungle look, or seaside feel? All these questions are answered by Dawn Issac* in Garden Answers magazine and I’m the lucky one that illustrates Dawns vision. Enjoy my favourite ten below…
The Gallery: tap on an image to see the full picture.
Go for something exotic but hardy
An outdoor kitchen is a must!
A seaside look.
A triangle-shaped garden is no longer a problem
A shady garden option
A driveway solution
A privacy issue adressed
A tropical courtyard
Sloping garden now looks a lovely place to be
A bit of fun with a glamerous Chelsea theme in a ordinary back yard
Back to the drawing board!
I took this opportunity to hone my illustration skills when Garden Answers needed to illustrate the garden plans. The editor, the fabulous Liz Potter, commissions Dawn to come up with a design tackling a specific problem. Dawn supplies a simple sketch that I use as the basis of the illustration then I embellish it like a giant digital collage.
Giant! I am not joking. Each object, whether it’s a plant or a chair, is carefully cutout from my archive of images. Textures, watercolour washes and ink-work are done the old fashioned way on paper. Then I photograph it and import it into photoshop so that I can get the hand-done look. Organization, hours of picture research and a tiny grasp of perspective is all you need. Plus knowing the odd retouching trick, messing about with filters, the odd bit of warping and colour replacing. Below you can see how I’ve used Dawns initial sketch as a template then slowly built up the plants, building and water feature.
Dawn Issac Dawn is an RHS Chelsea medal-winning garden designer and author of Garden Crafts for Children, Things For Kids To Do On A Rainy Day, 101 Briliant Things for Kids to do with Science as well as contributing to Garden Answers magazine. http://www.dawn-isaac.com
Not so breaking news The She Shed gets featured in Modern Gardens Magazine!
Ugly ducking gets a facelift
When is a garage not a garage? When you can’t get your car in it. So what to do is to turn it into something else that is far more useful and beautiful. I fancied a craft workshop where I can make things like my trellises and renovate furniture.
While all this was going on little did I know that a book about She-Sheds was hatching on the other side of the world and pretty soon I was invited to contribute and tell my story.
ISBN 9781925344547 |
And so the work continued
My garden while the builders were here….
OUTSIDE My garden has undergone several grand facelifts, the most dramatic being when the builders nearly destroyed it.
My disused garage was next on the list for a bit of love.
The building used to looked lovely cloaked in ivy several years ago. I even had fun stenciling the door. But the ivy started to cause damage to the structure, so it had to go. But disaster, the roots had imbedded themselves into the pebble-dash and looked terrible. So awful that I had to have the surface clad with timber.
I also want lots of light in my creative space and so a pair of french doors were acquired for free as a friends neighbour was replacing her conservatory. Did I mention that I’m on a budget too?
Work has started and so my New Year project is to paint my new workspace doors. Then I might build one of my bespoke trellises to grow more manageable climbers such as clematis. Or I might place one of my favourite Acers beside the doors; its red and bronze leaves will look spectacular against the natural wood. I’m even tempted with a vertical planting idea or a ‘green wall’.
But painting will have to be wait until the spring when the weather gets better. This will give me time to decide.
Its now several months into the renovation and the door frames still need to be painted. But best of all I have taken delivery of a beautiful japansese acer. It softens the look of the building and certainly makes a statement. Next purchase is a pot. Terracotta? Still undecided. Also shall I leave the wood to weather? Only time will tell.
November 2015 I finished the painting of the doors in August and took some photos as my She-Shed as really did look gorgeous. Garden News ran a picture of it one week and I was very proud. Then I put an image on Instagram just for fun and could not believe that a publisher is interested in my story. They have invited a contribution to a book on She-Sheds. Wooohoo, how fantastic!
So I have been busy (very) getting the inside into shape, writing the story and taking photographs. I’ll show you when I get the thumbs up. But now I need to sit and relax, in the she-shed of course.
It poured with rain, it froze, it snowed and the tail end of hurricane what-ever-your-name-is lashed its vicious tongue all across the land. That and a brief spell in hospital meant that it wasn’t until the 28th that it was nice enough to spend a pleasurable afternoon up at the allotment. I cleared away the bean poles, dug over some of the beds and have come to the conclusion that a bag of mulch spread over the area in the summer was worth every penny. Not only did it keep the weeds at bay but also kept the moisture in. This has saved me a lot of backache on the digging front. This lot in the photo above took me a couple of hours to thoroughly get rid of the weeds.
The storms that raged in January were Storm Eleanor, Fionn, David and Georgina. I’ve renamed the collective word for storms in January as Daisy as you can’t get angry at Daisy.
The wind had done a bit of damaged with broken frames and tangled nets. But nothing too serious. At least I’ve still got some brussel sprouts, parsnips and carrots to harvest. In fact my butternut squash has stored well and so even in January I was able to cook my own produce. Well done me!
Stuff I’d over looked in December were two packets of camassia bulbs. They were bursting inside their packets so I quickly stuffed them in some pots so at least they had a chance of survival. I’m hoping that in the spring I can put them in the front garden with the others.
Its February just around the corner and no doubt more love will be bestowed upon my plants and seedlings as February is when I get sowing.
Twice it has snowed in December! This doesn’t happen often and is so exciting when it does. I have created a Christmas dinner bed and noes the time to harvest. Although to be practical I couldn’t grow it all in one bed as roots and brassicas don’t have the same needs and my Swiss chard got shaded out by the Brussels. But under that snowy blanket lie the brussels and broccoli, then a discrete breathing space before rows of parsnips. The carrots needed a less fertile area plus different netting needs. Those carrot fly never give up and so they were sown in an adjacent bed.
My Christmas trug looked a treat though and worth all that effort.
Those parsnips weren’t the usual pointy shape. I suspect that I didn’t prepare the ground well enough. But they tasted fantastic roasted.
Disaster were the leeks who came out in an infestation of onion leaf minor and the whole lot rotted in the ground before I noticed. I had to destroy the lot and realise that I’ll have to give leeks a miss next year in an effort to quarantine the area.
Highlights of 2017 were a trip to the Chelsea Flower show, courgette cooking mastery, saucing endless tomatoes and general faffing in my small town garden. I’m happy with what I did last year and vow to spend more time up at the allotment so that problems get spotted before they get out of control. I’m pleased that I’ve set up a better composting system and pleased that my crop rotation study will improve things hopefully.
There comes a time when you have to get down and dirty and back to basics. I mean getting to grips with the soil and its need for nutrients. This reality hit home after a second year of poor sweetcorn yields and I just knew that the only soil-u-tion was digging in compost or muck. This has caused many a dilemma. For years, because of the bad access at the plot , I’ve used chicken manure pellets tossed about the place randomly. So its time to get serious and crazily enough I have a compost heap already that was full but I couldn’t get in it to dig it out.
A single compost heap will not do either as digging out the lovely stuff underneath meant climbing in and removing the top rotting layer. So I hadn’t basically.
I spied a few pallets at the back of where I worked and so armed with a tape measure was able to pick out three matching palettes. I don’t need massive pallets either as I well never fill them in one season.
I only needed three so that I’d have brilliant access.
Positioning I placed the new pallets at right angles to the old compost area so that any inter-shoveling between compost areas would be easy. I simply tied them together with a corner stake that I hammered into place.
My original enclosure was modified by sawing the top three rungs so that I could get a shovel in easily. I sorted through what was there and am pleased that loads of lovely crumbly black gold is now ready to use.
Now that I am sorted with the hardware the system is obvious. New vegetation, kitchen scraps and non-weed matter goes in the new compost enclosure while I dig out the old and use its bounty.
Dog and Cat Poo. But horse, cow, chicken and rabbit droppings are great.
Tea and Coffee Bags. Rip open the bags and empty out the grains and discard the bags.
Citrus Peels and banana skins.
Onions and potatoes if left whole. This is because they might continue to grow so squash them up.
Fish and meat scraps.
Glossy or coated paper.
Sticky Labels on Fruits and Vegetables.
Coal fire ash.
Sawdust from treated wood.
Perennial weed seed heads or roots. I don’t want to risk that pesky bindweed any opportunity to multiply.
A compost recipe
Combine green and brown materials (no poo). Brown being garden soil that will contain microbes and good bacteria and even lovely worms
Sprinkle water over the pile regularly so it has the consistency of a damp sponge.
Stir it up as that will get everything in contact with all the good bacteria
When is looks like its rotted down use it! Don’t worry if there are bits of twig etc as you can always sieve that out.
Bulb planting time and I am joined by a cute little robin. I had only recently learned why robins like to accompany you whilst gardening. Obviously I have just disturbed the top layer of soil and by doing so made all those tiny insects and worms available to feed on.
But where did this little chap learn that if it hung around with the humans maybe it’ll get a cheap dinner? In ancient times robins used to follow wild boars as they scavenged the top layer of ground for roots, fruits and maybe a truffle or two for tea. Robins learnt not to be afraid of these large animals and so grew confident with their company. Now don’t you go and compare me to a wild boar though my hair has been particularly ravaged on this gusty October day. You could say I’m sporting a wild look, but that’s where it ends. I’m happy for my little robin to follow me about. It makes a funny little chirp and curious vibrating flutter when it’s about to join me. I don’t hesitate to talk to it either. That’s not because of modern folklore’s theory that it’s a dead relative visiting. It’s a robin wanting a good old feed before winter and I’m happy to oblige.
Oh leeks why for art thou ruined? The allium leaf miner is the culprit. It has munched its way through my lovely leeks! i done lots of research and basically I need to destroy the lot to break this little critters life cycle. plus in future not only do I need to cover brassicas and carrots in netting but now alliums too. This teeny little thug reached the UK in 2002 and has spread around the country at an alarming rate.
So how am I going to beat this pest?
So how am I going to beat this pest? This beastie appears in March and April having overwinter in the soil. The female flies lay eggs near the base of young leek plants and makes small punctures in the onion/leek leaves in order to feed on the sap. This is where further rot can get in too and so when I harvested my leeks I notice a brown trail where the grub had munched its way into the juicy fleshy bit. When I pulled off the outer layers a small dark rice-grain-sized brown pupae wedged was between the rotting layers.
Preventing the allium leaf miner from causing damage is to prevent the flies laying eggs. I’m going to cover the crop with insect proof mesh / fleece during the two risk periods that is March to April and mid September to mid October.
Or plant onion sets and leeks after the first danger period has passed and harvest before the second danger period occurs in September / October.
You may have noticed that Halloween has revved up a gear this year. Don’t be tempted to buy one of those fake pumpkins down the garden center, please buy a real one and carve it yourself. Its so much fun, really cheap and a chance to be creative. Plus when you’ve finished you can leave the pumpkin out for the wildlife to feed as squirrels love them. It doesnt stop there either you can plant one up with with plants for a dramatic effect and lastly they make good compost. So just do it!
A traditional design with freckles!
What a mess, but be sure to keep the seeds.
Biro cases were used for spikes on my pumpkin hedgehog
All together and they look fantastic.
So proud of my hogs.
Any pattern can be achieved with an apple corer and a drill
Its easy to add an ikea cupboard light
When they haven’t made the grade, plant them up. Funky hair-dos and crazy plants will last all November long.
Not everything in life is a bed of roses, so the saying goes, and so the day after the Chelsea Flower Show my step father died. It has been awful witnessing someone slowly be destroyed by Alzheimer’s and so things have been put on hold a little bit. I still had to work but suddenly I had also had a new set of carers to organize for my 91 year old Mum. It didn’t go well as I had to sack two. One for taking my mums bank card and PIN number, the other for allowing the carpet man swindle £240 cash from my vulnerable mum.
The responsibility has been overwhelming and took a toll on my health. But I managed to get though it and out the other side. My salvation is to loose myself in my gardening, it really is the best therapy. Things didn’t stop and I still have issues to solve but the garden soldiered on….
I did a bit of a revamp in a dull area of my jungle garden.
Then there wasn’t a shortage of cut flowers. Calendulas and zinnias performing brilliantly…..
Calendulas and erygium and curious wild unidentifed flower.
Veggies started to yield and often I was badly prepared for harvesting but nothing got wasted…
Ok, I did give away some of the cucumbers but the rest were eaten fresh or baked and frozen.
So strange times came and went. I’ve been sad and stressed by other things, my allotment kept me focused. Even though I had to force myself to go there I always ended up feeling proud and positive and darn right happy! 😀
Whats it like to have ‘grounds’ rather than a garden? Is your space so vast that you go out for a fag round the back of the maze? Staff is almost always required and so we take a peak at Lady Delphinium and her days instructions for the head gardener Benson.
Springwatchis all the rage, Lady D didn’t want to miss out….
Its pumpkin time and time for you to get creative.
Meet the the happy hogs Harriette and Henry Horatio-Hogg of Spikey Bottom, Splottlands, Cardiff….
1. Get yourself some pumpkins that have a good pointy stalk. Then lots of cheap ball point pens from Wilko that cost 28p a pachet of ten. Undo the pen bottoms and get the inky bits out. Keep the clear plastic shaft as this is the bit the light shines up.
2. Now cut a slice from the side of your pumpkin as this is the base. Then clean out the spew of seeds and yukky stuff. Do a good job as you want it as dry as possible in there.
3. Now get your weapon (the drill). Don’t be shy. Start at the ‘hairline’ and follow the natural creases of the pumpkin over its back holding the pumpkin firmly with your other hand.
4. Now admire your handy-work, even though it did make a bit of a mess.
5. Now get your empty pen shafts and stick them in the holes.
6. Add a low-voltage light. I got this one from Ikea. Do not use a candle as the plastic pens will melt.
7. For the eyes I inserted some of the spare pen ends. Black ones looked best.
You’re done! Sit back and admire your work.
EVEN IF DISASTER STRIKES…
What do you do when your pumpkins, that you spent all summer growing, don’t make the grade? Plant them up and they’ll last all though November!
You will love them for longer.
A blog about my gardening exploits to inspire, even if its looking like its all about go wrong. (Which it does, alot)