Kevin Smith's Blog

Day 25 - miscanthus

Friday, 24 September 2010

Sorry to have such a gap between blogs, but it's been quite a week. I've been working like the clappers editing Toby Buckland's next book (*1) and, what with a good dose of full-time childcare, I've had more than enough to keep me out of mischief. Anyway, enough about how busy my life is - here's the main event...

The three strands of my blog (man, garden and baby) came together in a beautiful union this morning. To be honest, it all started yesterday when I dropped Ida at nursery and was given a very informative newsletter. It's the circled bit that caught my eye:

I know it's tricky to read, so here's what it says: "We would be very grateful if baby parents would collect some autumn objects and bring them in for us to use in our activities" (*2). This is it, I thought, a chance to prove that I'm a good parent, who reads everything I'm given and wants to contribute. Besides, I can do 'autumn objects' with knobs on - I've got a whole garden full of them.

So, I had a quick whizz 'round the garden this morning to see what I could find to take along. Unfortunately, it turned out that I couldn't do 'autumn objects' with knobs on (the garden is still looking really summery) and settled for a few cut flowers/panicles (what are they called, anyway?) from my Miscanthus sinensis 'Malepartus' instead. Here it is. Don't you think it's looking rather handsome at the moment?

I tied my offering together with a piece of snazzy raffia I found lurking in the spare room (*3), and felt proud as I handed it over to Miss Bowler, the nursery nurse who seems to be in charge of things. I explained what the plant was called (in my best 'ooh, don't some plants have rude names' voice *4) and how I thought the fluffy flowers/panicles might be useful for their 'autumn objects' project. Miss Bowler looked at me as if I was a little odd. I'm not sure if was my 'ooh, don't some plants have rude names' voice, or the fact that the miscanthus was shedding its panicles all over the floor. But I didn't care - I'd been a competent parent.

Until next time...

Oh, one more thing. I'm VERY excited because I've been asked to blog on the BBC gardening website. That's right, you'll be able to read my ramblings on THE BBC website. I'll be live some time in the week of 4 October - what are they letting themselves in for?

Oh, and another thing. In my last blog I talked about Ruth, Matt and my choir, all of which are of  little interest to some readers. Well, here's something else in the same category:

My mother-in-law just completed this excellent piece of embroidery for Ida, and specifically asked me if I would post a picture of it in my next blog. And, as there's a legend that says every man must do everything his mother-in-law asks, I couldn't refuse.

*1 The book will hit the shops in spring and, in my opinion, is going to be a cracker. The very clever Jason Ingram took the photographs.

*2 Let's ignore the 'baby parents' grammatical error - it conjures a funny image though, doesn't it?  Lots of parents the size of babies!

*3 It turns out that all those hours I spent creating Fresh Ideas projects for GW magazine weren't wasted.

*4 Think about it

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Day 16 - the kitchen

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Before we start I've two exciting things to tell you about my weekend just gone:

1. My very dear friends Ruth and Matt got engaged, and I'm thrilled for them. Also weddings are just about my most favourite type of social engagement, so I'm delighted to have one in the pipeline. Here are Ruth and Matt looking all lovely and glamorous:

2. My choir (yes, Gemma and I are in a choir) sang at The Essex Country Show on Sunday, which was rather good (both the choir and the show). I've no pictures of that.

Sorry if you're not interested in Ruth, Matt or my choir (which I'm guessing lots of you aren't), but they are highlights of my week. And it is my blog.

Right, down to business. I've found myself in the kitchen a great deal since I've been at home looking after Ida (which I guess is par for the course), and I've spotted a couple of things that are most certainly of interest to us gardeners. Yes, we've got all the normal paraphernalia in our kitchen, but I feel these two lovely specimens are worth some discussion:

The first picture shows 'Ida's' sunflower which has been growing on the windowsill. Gemma and Ida were given the seed in spring by the nice ladies at messy church (*1) with a view to growing it and reporting its eventual height round about now (I have no idea what growing a sunflower has to do with church). The seed was for a Russian Giant, which on average reach around 10 feet tall, and I was charged with growing a cracker. Can you see the problem? How on this earth have I managed to grow one that's only the height of a wine bottle?

I suspect it's largely to do with neglect. I kept on forgetting to pot the sunflower on, or indeed plant it outside, and I regularly let the compost dry out . But even still, surely it should have reached more than 18 inches tall? Am I the first gardener to bonsai a sunflower? Perhaps I should rename it Russian Dwarf. Whatever, Ida's certainly not going to win any prizes for this one, which is a little unfortunate. Also, the nice ladies at messy church had high hopes for Ida's sunflower as 'Daddy's into gardening' - let's hope they forget all about it.

I think the subject of the second picture is also the result of a little neglect. While rummaging around in our pull-put larder (*2 ) I discovered this sprouting sweet potato and, I have to say, I'm quite excited about it. Yes, I often find a forgotten regular potato  sending out a sprout, but never a sweet one. So, I've got some questions:
  • I've got a vague recollection that sweet potatoes make lovely foliage plants - is this the case?
  • Is it too late in the year to pot it on? Should I forget about it and bung it on the compost?
  • If I do pot it on, will it work as a house plant through the winter?
  • Could I over-winter it in a frost-free greenhouse?
  • What should I do with the plant next year? Are they short lived?
  • If I compost the potato, at what point next year should I try to sprout another one?
Any sweet potato advice will be greatly received, and I promise to show you a picture if the grand experiment works.

Until next time...

*1 Messy church is a kid/baby craft group which also does a bit on all things Christian for good measure - start 'em young and all that

*2 Gemma likes to call it a pull-out larder to make us sound posh, when really it's just a big cupboard that slides in and out.

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Day 9 - tomatoes

Wednesday, 08 September 2010

Ida started nursery this week, which is a blessed relief. It's only taster sessions until she gets used to things but, even so, the free time is bloody marvellous. This morning she's already eaten two sheets of A4 paper, showered herself in the water from the cat's bowl and headbutted a radiator (no need to call social services, she's totally fine and enjoying a  nap as I type this). I knew things would be a bit dicey once she started to crawl, but jeez, I'm ready to let her loose on the lovely ladies at the nursery. Do your worst Ida, we're paying them enough. *1

Now, as an aside, I've been incredibly brave between finishing the last paragraph and starting this one, as I took Ida to the health visitor to get weighed. If I'm honest I was petrified, but luckily it was just like buying some ham at the deli counter. I pitched up, took a number from the machine and waited for my turn. We were done in double-quick time and home in a flash. Phew. I'm sure you'll be pleased to know that all's good with Ida's weight gain, too. The health visitor did ask me if I was Ida's father though, which I found very odd. Who did she think I was? Maybe she was impressed with my purple cardigan and wanted to pull me. Or maybe she was thinking that no man who wears a purple cardigan is capable of fathering a child. I'll see if she asks me again next time.

Anyway, back to nursery. At our first session on Monday, we were given a tour of the garden by a very capable three-year-old boy who proudly showed me the tomatoes they were growing. And he had every right to be proud because, if I'm being totally honest, his tomatoes were about a zillion times better than mine. How is it possible for a bunch of very small children to grow such bumper toms while mine have all but bitten the dust? I know there are probably some adults lending a hand but still, gardening's what I do for a living (sort of) and my tomatoes are rubbish.

Feeling a little disheartened, I've started to think about where this year's tomatoes went wrong. After all, and I knew this would come back to bite me on the arse, I claimed back in spring that I was going to grow enough tomatoes this year to make jars and jars of sauce, chutney and passata. As it happens, I've just about had enough to spruce up a few salads. Perhaps I just need to grow more plants (I've got 10 plants on the go this year), or maybe I'm growing the wrong varieties. Whatever, I'm not going to get a glut.

This seems to happen to me every year in some way or another. I think I've cracked exactly what crops to grow to keep the family ticking over, but there's always never quite enough of this or way too much of that. We're obviously not starving but, just for once, I'd love the summer harvest to be as I dreamed off in spring when sowing seed. Ah well, there's always next year. And come March I'll probably have forgotten about this year and be full of grand edible plans. Again.

Sorry, I got no pictures this time. I'm certainly not going to put up any snaps of my grotty tomatoes and I think I might have got arrested if I started taking pictures on my phone at Ida's nursery.

Until next time...

*1 I must point out that Ida's only going to nursery for two mornings a week. I haven't given up on the stay-at-home dad bit just yet.

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Day 4 - yellow and pink

Friday, 03 September 2010

When I was hanging out the washing this morning (don't worry, I'm going to write about more than laundry today) I spotted something revolting. Here it is:

Are you confused? Is your brow wrinkling up while you wonder what's so revolting about two perfectly lovely plants? Well, it's all to do with colour. Yellow and pink look totally hideous next to each other. Don't you agree?

The worrying thing is that I'm entirely responsible for this Border Disaster. I planted the pink anemone and I also planted the yellow rudbeckia. What was I thinking? At what point have bright yellow and baby pink ever looked good together? Admittedly I didn't plant them at the same time but, under no circumstances, will this partnership ever cut the mustard. One, or both, will have to be moved next month to make way for a fabulous new plant duo.

Why are colour combinations often so difficult to get right? Pink and yellow can sometimes look delightful together. After discovering the Border Disaster this morning, I chose Ida's outfit so that it included both the colours on purpose. Here she is and don't you think she's pulled it of beautifully?

Perhaps it's to do with shades rather than colours. Who knows. One thing's for certain though, the garden has looked wicked all year and the anemone/rudbeckia partnership has rather spoiled things. I vow to improve that particular area very soon (in my 87 minutes per week of allocated gardening time, but that's for another blog).

Until next time...

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Day 2 - washing

Wednesday, 01 September 2010

I meant to write the first entry of this blog yesterday (Day 1), but I got sidetracked. You see looking after a seven-month old baby is reasonably time-consuming and I somewhat underestimated how busy I would be. Anyway, today's a new day (Day 2) and I'm feeling a little more on track. Ida's downstairs in her play pen, I'm upstairs on the computer and everything is calm (should we be in the same room at all times? I've got an inkling that I've made my first mistake in parenting and I'm telling the whole world - never mind).

Today's main task (along with quite a bit of real adult work) is washing. Ah, the glitz. I've decided I actually quite like washing because hanging it out takes me into the garden. I've already got one load on the line, although I've spotted a few things that are going to need some serious looking at. First off, my line, while a bargain, is too small for all of the washing I'm going to get through. However, my garden isn't big enough for a larger one. Also, my collection or rather large plants is not going to help the hanging and drying process (I'm already fretting about bashed stems from flapping towels etc etc). But what do I do? The garden isn't going to get any bigger, I'm certainly not digging up any plants (that would be the wife's first suggestion) and I refuse to use the tumble dryer. It's a tricky conundrum. Here's a picture so you can see the washing-to-plant ratio.

All this hassle with space has got me thinking about other bits and bobs, too. Where will we put a paddling pool, sandpit, swing, slide and any other garden-toy-horror you can think of? I have no doubt that Gemma and Ida will insist we need all of this outsize gubbins at some point, but there simply isn't room. My town garden is going to have to transform pretty dramatically over the coming months, and I don't think I like the thought of it.

Anyway, that's enough of worrying about the size of things. I need to get a wiggle on. Ida and I have got baby-sensory classes this afternoon (I've no idea what it entails, but Gemma tells me there's often a trip to the pub after class, which has to be good) and I need to straighten my hair. I've got to look my best if I'm going to be in a room with 19 other parents (all who will be female).

Until next time...

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Kevin Smith | Garden Media Writer and Editor

On 31 August 2010 I quit my full-time job as the Commissioning Editor at Gardeners' World Magazine to be a stay-at-home dad  and to try and scratch a living as a freelance garden journalist. It's often said that a 'life change' is good, but can I cut it with the yummy mummys? Will I manage to get a single shred of work done? Will Ida (she's the gorgeous little girl who's the cause of all this) like gardening as much as me? Who knows, we're going to find out...