It shouldn’t happen to a gardener!

The best laid plans do not always come to fruition! Gardening is a great leveller. Whether you are growing on an allotment, in a window box  or own a huge private estate, nature always has the upper hand – and that is exactly as it should be.

I’m a professional kitchen gardener, garden writer and teacher, I’m reasonably experienced (10 years professionally, a few more decades as a hobby gardener) and know how to grow great veg but life gets in the way, disasters happen and the weather, as always, is unpredictable.

Most of my garden is growing beautifully I am happy to say, I’ve shared photos and updates of my successes on the blog and social media but things have gone wrong too!

Problems help to keep me on my toes, gives a sense of perspective and empathy for others in the same boat, and offers interesting (and frustrating!) challenges to overcome. Gardening reminds us of the importance of flexibility, being open to exploring new ways of doing things or making gentle tweaks to our current way of growing. It can bring us down to earth, literally, with a bump.

It has been unusually hot and dry for weeks and weeks. I actually felt quite excited a few days ago when it was cool enough to need to pop a pair of socks on for a few hours in the morning, but the heat is back now. I love the sun, I love being warm, but it has been too hot in the afternoons to work outside for me and so everything has to be squashed into the morning and late evening. And I don’t have a swimming pool 🙂 Some cool water to swim in during the afternoons would help.

There simply has not been enough time in the day to get everything done.

Please admire my beautiful bed of agretti and carrots…. Weeks of dry weather in a bed which could only be watered once a week (due to location and time restraints) has meant zero germination. The agretti in the photo was raised in modules at home, where I could water, and planted as a border for the seeds I had sown. After rain – finally! – on Sunday resulted in some germination.

3 carrot seedlings…

It’s a start. Hopefully more will decide to follow suit.

The high temperatures and lack of rain has meant that some new plantings have simply died within days of going in. Others I had to decide not to put in for that reason. Others need watering at least once a day, sometimes twice. (These are new plantings or pots, established plants are fine).

Usually I would water new seedlings in once, perhaps a top up a few days later, but that’s it. On the positive side, the compost mulch has meant that established plants have not needed too much extra watering – mainly beans at the allotment and of course the polytunnel. I’ve watered the sweetcorn twice since planting, for example and the main crop potatoes once.

Unfortunately I lost all of my next plantings of brassicas, chard, beetroot, lettuce and herbs just a few days before they were ready to go in. Some hungry sparrows flew into my greenhouse and ate the lot. I bought more brassicas from Organic Plants (a small family run UK company) because it’s a bit too late to re-sow those and have sown everything else again.

It’s too hot to close the greenhouse doors of course, so new sowings are under these sparrow proof covers on a table under the old apple tree. They also offer some shade. Fine whilst the seedlings are tiny but I’ll use enviromesh after pricking out to prevent legginess.

Spring’s gorgeous blossom suggested abundant harvests but all of my potted fruit trees have shed significant fruit. This quince is down to two fruit now and the medlar has dropped almost everything – this is a dry fruit that is going to drop off. It was growing so well but eventually the dry weather became too much for the little tree.

Watering as I’ve already mentioned has become time consuming. My potted garden, seedlings and new plantings needed regular watering. It’s not so bad for plants in the ground, I’ve only watered at the allotment a few times in two months, for example.

Watering can also be dangerous! This is my lovely blue salvia, cut off in its prime when the hose got wrapped around it. Another day a few weeks ago, the hose caught round a solid object, yanking me so hard that I injured my back. This caused shooting pains in my lower back and down my leg, making it difficult to work in the garden or write because everything other than lying flat moaning sorrowfully, hurt. Another day I caught my foot on the hose, fell and wrenched an old ankle injury making me limp painfully for two days!

And yes you’ve guessed it, it all meant more time wasted….

I had planned during the late winter to dig out a path made from bricks which leads to the polytunnel to increase growing space. We had made the path 17 years ago for the children, it led to the lawn (now no more, as the polytunnel is on that space). It had become overgrown and weedy, we didn’t use it either as another path alongside the washing line which leads to the shed, polytunnel and greenhouse is much preferred by us all. So increasing my growing space there is a great plan, I decided. This was delayed by The Beast’s snow. So in the spring I covered the weeds with card to kill them off at least and have one less job, thinking I’ll be able to do that job in late May or June.

It is still there…. I’m re-covering the card which has disintegrated because I know there’s no way I’ll find the time for this job now until the autumn. It’s too hot for such a task too. So here’s the re-covering job under way (and still not finished because I had to stop to do something else and then go to work, then a work trip to Ireland and then ….) I remove the sticky labels, tape etc from the card before spreading and will weigh it down with stones and some of my potted trees and veggies.

Please admire my lovely winter brassica and leek beds in the photo below!

You may remember this area from earlier blog posts, where the fence was destroyed in high winds. I covered the area with polythene (the groundsheet of an old tent) after it had been trampled by the people repairing the fence with the timber from the damaged fencing temporarily…. and it is still there. No beds, but at least it isn’t weedy thanks to the polythene. It has become home to some odds and ends too, as can happen when a ‘temporary’ dumping ground is set up. I have had to decide to just let it go and not worry, this area will be sorted out at some point I’m sure and I have fortunately found another place to grow my winter brassicas and leeks.

At the allotment, I had covered an area of invasive horseradish with polythene (recycled from an old lambing shed) for almost two years, removing it 6 weeks or so ago. It has not been a success. Deprived of light for so long, the horseradish has welcomed the sunshine and re-grown. It is clearly in another dimension of its own, invincible. You have to admire its survival abilities! So, I’m removing the shoots as they pop up and re-thinking this area. In the meantime, it’s a handy place for the cloche hoops to recline until the brassicas go in.

The wild weeds on the right belong to my allotment neighbour. The jungle is an excellent source of weed seeds and keeps me on my hoeing toes. The rest of his plot is growing veg, this area has proven a bit too much for him this year I think.

It’s amazing how perennial weeds can survive even the harsh growing conditions of the past two months. Here, bindweed, tormentil and creeping buttercup have crept into my allotment from neighbouring plots and weed infested paths. It only took a few minutes to remove. Always worth keeping an eye on the edges of your plot for uninvited guests.

Birds, wasps and other garden visitors are helping themselves to some of the ripening fruit. Many of my early plums were damaged and some ripe tomatoes in the polytunnel, fortunately only those growing low. A couple of cucumbers too. The poor creatures are so thirsty it’s hardly surprising really.

We seem to be managing to share the Japanese wineberries and raspberries that are ripe now quite amicably. I do need to check for wasps first!

These poor things got forgotten about and frazzled. A lime or possibly lemon ( lost labels, can’t tell which is which) has lost almost all of its leaves thanks to the experience – buds are growing again now – and the Kafir lime on the right is rather sorry looking too.

I’m hoping the red hazel will recover…

This is my beautiful baby watermelon!

Watermelon baby

But sadly a couple of days after taking the photo, the mother plant mysteriously died. All of the other plants around it are fine, it is an absolute mystery.

As it this! All of the climbing French beans in these work beds have been killed by some kind of rodent (we think). For some peculiar reason of its own, the creature bit through the stalk of every bean about 4 cm above the soil surface, killing the beautiful plants. It doesn’t seem to have eaten the beans, the whole thing is a mystery. The determined creature has done this to five (yes, five!!) teepees of climbing French beans.

I was so very sad. They were beautiful and productive.

As if long dry hot days were not enough, we had a storm which flattened some sunflowers and these poor globe artichokes. I think they will regrow from the parent plant but the flowering stems are destined for the compost.

The storm sent piles of seed trays flying about my garden. A young apple tree in the front garden is now at a jaunty angle and needs staking.

My big, old apple tree has shed a significant amount of fruit due to the dry weather. I am willing it to hang to to the last apples so that I will have some for chutneys and pies.

Last autumn I bought a stack of lolly pop sticks from a discount store bargain bin (so you can imagine how cheap they were!) to use as plant labels. Unfortunately one day I decided to use some of my lovely colourful Sharpies to brighten things up. Big mistake! I now have lots of plants which I can’t properly identify, especially frustrating for new plants that I am trying out. You live and learn….

I usually use an Edding 140 S pen, which lasts a long time on wood, plastic, all kinds of materials. I want to find something which works on wood and isn’t made from plastic, so will be trying out a soft pencil in the traditional manner, although to begin with will use both until I am sure it will work.

The garden is absolutely not as I wanted it to be by this stage of the summer! How has it been for you? I hope sharing some of my mistakes and mishaps will make you feel a bit better about anything that hasn’t gone quite as you wished in your garden.

But there is still so much to celebrate – here are yesterday morning’s polytunnel harvests 🙂

19 thoughts on “It shouldn’t happen to a gardener!”

  1. Yes, that exact strange thing happened to all my runner if someone had come and cut through them with scissors ! Fortunately my Frenchbeans are doing well..I wish I’d grown more of them..and will next year . My Holly was thick with berries back in early May (a sign of a very cold winter to come ) …..but has now dropped nearly all of them all around on the ground ! So no holly berries for my wild birds in the Winter now 🙁
    Big sigh ! Pick yourself up..dust yourself down…..start all over again ….next year ! 🙂

  2. A very honest account Stephanie…some would have “given in”with the loses you have endured…I have suffered with allium leaf miner these last two years…but, if growing healthy food for the table is in your blood then you soldier on…we get far more victories than loses.

  3. We’ve had rabbits in the garden for the first time this year. What a lot of damage. Good luck with your replanting and gardening . Karen

  4. I think most growers have at least one ‘disaster’ each year – but those are so seldomly shared publicly, which is a shame. Nice to see someone as experienced as yourself doing so – it’s especially encouraging for ‘newbies’ to see that we all have failures.

  5. Wow… It is such a relief to read your post. It is as if you were writing about our garden! I’ve spent many an hour mentally torturing myself over the sorry state of­­—actually rather few­—plants. As you say, it is so important to be flexible and, well, humble when gardening. Not much we can do about the weather (no amount of singing to the local rain goddess seems to help anyway), and pests are just hungry critters. Cunning ones, perserverant. Or desperate?

    The watermelon issue looks like Alternaria to me. We have it, too. One day it looks all peachy, one overlooks the discrete dark-grey spots on the leaves, the next day it looks as if the sparrows were taking a dust bath on the poor plant, and the next day it’s all just a dry crumbly mess. The first plant to get it is now barely there, hanging on to a tiny but hopeful watermelon, and perhaps making a comeback after I’ve removed all the leaves, sprayed with horsetail tea, fed it nettle tea, and I don’t know what else (it’s my first time growing watermelons, so they get a lot of fuss). The other ones are also getting it, but now I’m more or less on it (save for those many days when there is no time). Funnily enough, a few that are outside seem well. Barely surviving the heat and pounding sunshine, but right now starting to grow. Not much hope they’ll make any fruit, though. In any case, horsetail tea has been quite helpful, also against early blight in the spuds. The plants seem to recover and green-up nicely after a couple of applications.

    It’s a great year to be gardening. So much learning to do! It’s my belief that we’ll get more and more of this type of weather, so anything we can learn early on, and apply to the garden will help a lot. Also, planting more and more will certainly help with the climate, even if it’s at the micro level.

    Thank you so much for your work and all the effort you put into spreading No-Dig and gardening in general. I hope the days become less full and you can rest, or at least not get wrestling with the hose. 🙂

    1. Thank you so much 🙂

      I wonder if it was Alternaria, fortunately everything else is looking lovely in there. Horsetail tea is fabulous stuff, must make the time soon to drive to some local lanes and harvest some more.

  6. Thanks for sharing – I think it’s important to have a balance, life isn’t perfect and gardens certainly aren’t and can’t be. Reading only about successes can make one give up on gardening when failure is perfectly normal, although hopefully not of everything! I wonder if a mouse was thirsty and bit through the bean stems for moisture?

    1. Thank you! It could be a mouse, wild creatures are so thirsty. A friend told me after this blog was posted that she has observed voles doing this, cutting through plant stems in order to make the plant fall and enable to vole to eat the sweet shoots and flowers. But as the beans are growing around poles they do not fall, and so it moves on to the next one and then the next…. so we end up with a very frustrated vole and gardener!

      1. Could you put some water down for it? Do voles drink or just eat plants? I expect any hedgehogs and birds would appreciate a bowl anyway.

      2. There’s water at the location – no hedgehogs though as the beds are all knee high, it’s outside an art gallery! Voles eat plants, they are very destructive in the veg garden unfortunately.

  7. Thank you for making me feel so much better about my gardening, I started the year with high hopes of getting back on top of things and growing more but the cold weather slowed us, then its been so hot and dry, I will keep trying now.

    1. Thank you! It has certainly been a very challenging year in the garden, but there’s still plenty of time for sowing for winter and spring now and next year to plan. Hopefully the weather next year will be a bit more predictable…

  8. Pingback: 10 highlights from the grow your own blogs: August 2018 – Sharpen your Spades

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: