Monday, 10 December 2012

Product review: GreanBase Wheelbarrow Booster

When I was asked by Joe from GreanBase to review the Wheelbarrow Booster, a product that would increase the capacity of my wheelbarrow by up to 300%, I couldn’t resist and I jumped at the opportunity.  I use wheelbarrows on a daily basis, largely when mucking out my horse’s stable, and I knew I could put this product through its paces and to very good use.

On the day it arrived it was swiftly unpacked ahead of its first outing.   A simple product, often the best inventions are, it appeared well made and I could imagine it would last many years if looked after correctly.    The only downside – it didn’t fit either of my barrows.  At the time of testing I was using an 85 litre Bull barrow and if you look closely the plastic pan meets up with the handles meaning that I couldn’t securely fit the booster’s elastic band around the pan.  Rightly, the manufacturers do state that it fits “most” barrows but it appears I have a knack of selecting barrows that fall outside of this category.  I did however manage to get some purchase around the pan and testing was possible.  I looked to see how others got on with similar problems and Compostwoman from ‘The Compost Bin’ blog found one way to deal with it.

The first test was to see if it could hold wood shavings.  I had just taken receipt of new flooring for the stable and I needed to lift the shavings that were currently in place so I could fit the rubber matting.  The barrow safely held a whole stables-worth of shavings, although we may have worked hard to get the last few forkfuls in.  As you can see from the picture we overfilled the booster but despite it bulging slightly it certainly held well and made the job much easier.  The first test was a success.

It’s recommended that the Booster is used for: “light-weight, but bulky garden waste e.g. grass/hedge trimmings, leaves, pruning’s, cleared vegetation. Not forgetting hay, shavings etc. around the stables.”  In an effort to test it with heavier materials I filled the barrow with both horse manure and garden compost and it worked fairly well, although it wasn’t possible to fill it as much as in the first test.  My main concern with carrying this type of material is that you do have to be fairly careful when filling your barrow and that upon emptying it the Wheelbarrow Booster came loose and detached, although I fear this may be more to with the type of barrow I was using and the lack of correct fit.

All in all, I found this product to be pretty good and especially handy at the stables, although it would be interesting to see a design put in to production that accounts for barrows such as the Bull barrow, which doesn't accommodate the current design.  I don’t have a lawn or much hedging to trim but I imagine that the booster would come in to its own in larger gardens that require the removal of such trimmings and leaf collection, which the booster is specifically designed for.

The Wheelbarrow Booster from GreanBase retails for £15.98

Monday, 3 December 2012

Ryan’s Garden Photography Competition: Win Higgledy Garden Flower Seeds

It’s the perfect time of year to sit snug in front of the fire and flick through seed catalogues while planning the year ahead but I may have an alternative for you in the shape of a great competition prize from Higgledy Garden worth £19.50

To be in with a chance of winning the Higgledy Garden Complete Cut Flower Patch Spring 2013 Collection worth £19.50 all you need to do is email an original image (or two) that you have taken to: with your full name, image title and short description.  This image will be placed in to a gallery on the Ryan’s Garden Facebook page.

The theme for this competition is: Winter in the garden so please feel free to get creative!

Good luck!

Terms and conditions: The competition closes 31.12.12. Entrants must be UK residents aged 18 years or older to enter.  By entering this competition you agree and consent to your name and selected image being published. The competition is not open to employees or affiliates of Higgledy Garden.  You may submit two original images only.  In cases where more than two images are submitted only the first two images uploaded will go through to be judged.  By taking part in the competition, entrants are deemed to have read,understood and accepted all of the Terms and Conditions and agreed to be bound by them.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The King of the Autumn Vegetable Garden

I’ve been waiting for this moment.  The ground is crisp, the air icy and the heavy-knits, scarves and gloves are out of the wardrobe – it’s Parsnip pulling time!

Over the past couple of weeks the temperature outdoors has dropped significantly. The wood burner has been blazing away during the nights, taking the chill from my old Victorian home, and I’ve really been hankering for some hearty root vegetables.  I always associate Autumn/Winter with Parsnips and my mind has been solely focussed on this sweet, yet warming, golden root.

Although we’ve had a few minor frosts and hail storms I wanted to wait for something a bit more substantial before the first parsnip was dug up.  That day had come and gone and so yesterday I headed to the plot with my faithful metal bucket to see what bounteous offerings were to be had.  I collected around a dozen small onions that had been drying and headed on to the parsnip patch.  Like a small child on Christmas morning I was more than eager to see what hid below the earth.  
I took extra care this year to space my rows well and thin the crop when young, in an attempt to grow thick and uniformly straight roots.  I’d chosen the cultivar ‘Gladiator’ from Seed Parade as they offered good canker resistance and I went about sowing them thinly in my slightly enriched clay soil.  With my gloves on and an old wooden-handled fork I lifted the first – it was huge.  I was hoping that the rest would follow suit but unfortunately they didn’t quite live up to expectations but a good haul was had anyway. I’ll leave the other parsnips to chill further and lift them as and when they’re needed.

Adding to the parsnips, I dug another row of ‘Sarpo Mira’ potatoes, which have been totally outstanding, offering harvests over the past few months.  Soup is most certainly on the cards, with a few recipes in mind and let us not forget the holy grail of parsnip dishes – the roast parsnip.  The food of dreams and the king of the Autumn vegetable garden.

In competition news, the winner of the Draper tool set is Emma Cella (@handbag2000 on twitter).  Congratulations!  To claim your prize please email:

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Oranges, Reds, Bugs and Seed Heads

I couldn’t resist getting out in to the garden today, which felt like a bit of a novelty given the year we’ve had so far.  The sun was shining and with that the garden was glowing with hues of red and brilliant orange.  As I looked through the window I could see the blood red leaves and berries of Viburnum opulus and the caramel shades of the Cercidiphyllum, which I knew all to well would also be producing the most wonderful candy floss/burnt sugar scent.  I had been summoned and who was I to resist.
To get anything other than an overgrown mess at this time of the year is all down to luck I guess, as I’ve not really spent a second in the garden.  What with starting my new business and the dreadful weather conspiring against me, the garden has had to look after itself as any good weather has resulted in quick dashes to the allotment to try and get a little work done.  But this is no bad thing really.  Yes, a few plants have romped away and others not done so well but no real harm has been done.  Well, nothing that a quick tidy up couldn’t fix.  The thuggish Miscanthus have practically enveloped most of the space and are prime for dividing come the spring, but they are also just coming in to their best, adorned with wonderful seed heads that nod and sway in the breeze. I leave these all winter and their stature and grace really adds to the garden.  
Today I found what was either a solitary bee or a hoverfly (I’m sure someone will clear this up) sunning itself on one of the mammoth Miscanthus clumps and I couldn’t resist getting a few pics.  The garden is quite the mini-beast haven right now and with the amount of drying grass, herbaceous perennial stems and other bits and bobs lying about, it should make for a great place for them to overwinter.  I’m just hoping that the cold snap is selective and targets those marauding molluscs that have thoroughly enjoyed the damp conditions.
The trees that I planted a couple of years back are just coming in to their own now and they’re set to provide a veritable feast for the birds and fuel them through the colder times ahead.  Originally I bought what I thought were two Crataegus persimillis ‘Prunifolia’, in their naked state of course, but it turns out that I picked up one of the aforementioned and another Hawthorn cultivar that doesn’t have a patch on it’s cousin – oh well, variety is the spice of life and all that.
What with the ever impending frost on it’s way, I thought I’d leave you with an image of one of the last flowers remaining in the garden and a reminder that if you’re planning to complete an Autumn tidy-up any time soon please spare a thought for the wildlife that call your garden home.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Ryan's Garden Competition: Win a Draper garden tool set!

Well, we haven't had a competition on the blog for a while and what with all the doom and gloom of late I thought it was about time we had a bit of fun.

The good people at Gardens Galore, a garden landscaping company based in Scotland, have kindly offered a Draper tools set comprising of  a carbon steel fork, spade, hand trowel and hand fork worth around £30.  Gardens Galore are a family company offering garden landscaping in Edinburgh.  Autumn is a perfect time to get planting, weeding and mulching and these tools are sure to come in handy.

To be in with a chance of winning just answer the question below:

'Gardens Galore recently completed a sensory garden project for which nursing home in Carnoustie?'

When you think you know the answer to the above question, leave a comment in the comments box at the bottom of this post.  You can gain an additional two entries to the competition by retweeting @ryansgarden promoting the competition on twitter or by sharing a link from the Ryan’s Garden Facebook page (you must like the page to share the link).  The number of entries will not increase if you retweet or share links more than once.

Good luck and don’t forget to subscribe to the Ryan’s Garden blog to ensure you don’t miss out on future competitions and posts.

Terms and conditions: This competition closes at 23.59 on 31.10.2012. Any entries received after this time will not be counted. If for any reason the particular prize is out of stock then an appropriate alternative will be sought.
 Entrants must be UK residents aged 18 years or older to enter.  By entering this competition you agree and consent to your name being published and your details being sent to the prize giving company.   By taking part in the competition, entrants are deemed to have read, understood and accepted all of the Terms and Conditions and agreed to be bound by them. The winner will be selected at random and will be announced here on the blog.  

Monday, 15 October 2012

The chicken’s in the fox and someone’s chopped up my railway sleepers

“Well, the chicken’s in the fox and someone’s chopped up my railway sleepers”.  That was my reply to one of my fellow allotment holders who had the untimely pleasure of asking me how things were going.  Not the usual reply of: “yeah, everything’s fine. Just getting the plot ready for Winter” or “well, the beans have been slow this year but my spuds have been pretty good”.  I guess on this occasion, my reply was a little less optimistic than most and it certainly acted as a conversation killer to say the least.

Although both issues have had me equally concerned, the latter of which has been resolved somewhat now, the issue of Chick was most alarming.  On Friday “Chick” came to an untimely end at the hands of Mrs Fox.  His swift, if not brutal death, was largely down to his cockerel-like bloody-mindedness and his want to explore and find tasty treats.

As usual, the chickens were let out of their run and into the larger area around the coop which is surrounded by the dead hedge, which is reinforced with brambles, blackthorn and holly making it a pretty good barrier.  This area is the chickens favourite place to scratch around as the woodchip houses a whole host of bugs and they get to peck at the handful of corn they get thrown each evening.  Rather than stay in the safety of this area in eyesight from where I was pottering, Chick decided to go off in to the wood and explore further, something that he’s never done before.

The wood isn’t as idyllic as it sounds and I think I should illustrate further.  Surrounding one side of the allotment, the wood is a strange old place, it’s more of a swamp than your typical wood with mud calf-deep in places and a good blanket of brambles and other obstacles to make slow any progress.

In the twenty minutes or so in which I tried to corrall Chick, he enjoyed scratching about in the drier areas adjoining the site paying not one bit of notice to me and my attempts to direct him back to the safety of the coop.  As I tried desperately to get near the soon to be takeaway dinner, I successfully collected a number of thorns, notably bramble and blackthorn - great, and covered myself with the rancid stagnant mud from the waterlogged wood.  In some pain and just when I thought I was starting to make progress, Chick turned and headed in the opposite direction to the coop - heading deeper in to the wood.  He was now a good 100 metres or so away from me and there was no way that I could negotiate my way through the undergrowth and thick mud with any efficiency to direct him back.

I opted for plan B – shake the corn tin and wait for his return.  In the past this technique has worked well for the rest of the flock as they know this means tasty food awaits and I make a point of doing this each evening so that they’re conditioned to come when needed.  Whilst sitting next to the coop with the rest of the girls enjoying their corn and bugs, a very loud and alarming honking could be heard.  Instantly I knew it was all over for him.  I ran over to look and caught sight of an incredibly muddy fox and one very dead Chick tangled up in a patch of brambles.  The fox quickly made good its escape and headed back in to the wood with her prized catch.  I had no idea what to do and I was helpless to intervene.

As beautiful as nature is it is also a savage beast and this was a lesson in just how quickly it can claim its victims.  Chick’s future was by no means certain, what with the main concern being his sex and the amount of noise he was likely to make, but that said I was really looking forward to how he would mature and how his personality would develop.  I was even hoping to breed from him at the start of next year to increase the size of the flock.

I’ve never owned a cockerel before and as he was the first Chick I ever hatched the “special” tag applied to him.  I guess it’s comforting to know that he will go on to support the fox and a whole range of other wildlife through winter, even if it does mean it deprives me in the process and removes a great addition to the flock.  Keeping chickens secure in a run is certainly one option but I do like them to have a little bit more room to roam when I’m there to keep an eye out as badgers and foxes live close by and can be seen most days.

The girls have always enjoyed a roam on my plot and around the hen house but I wonder if this is too big a risk, knowing just how quickly the predators act?

Over the winter months  I'll complete my plans to extend the chicken run although it is unfortunate that Chick can't be a part of it and the railway sleepers that were ear marked for the construction are no more.  Onwards and upwards!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Apples on sticks and a name for my cock

I was fortunate enough today to spend a bit of quality time with the chickens.  For those of you who don’t keep chickens I imagine it’s quite a strange concept, but really it’s just fascinating to watch them go about their business and see how they interact with one another.  Of course, I was also there to clean them out, collect their eggs and feed and water them but you cant help but lose track of what you’re doing.  In fact, I seem to do this everyday.

In an effort to keep them entertained amidst constant downpours, I chose to copy an idea that I read about this morning on Ruth’ blog - ‘Country Living Chick’.  I absolutely love this blog, in particular the posts about Audrey and Mabel.  Following Ruth’s lead, I went about staking a couple of apples with bamboo canes and leaving them for the flock to peck at.  At first they were totally bemused, if not a little scared, and they actively went out of their way to avoid the strange red globes.  I cut a section from one of the apples to show them just what these alien objects were and in an instant they switched from fear mode and immediately turned in to what can only be described as vultures of the Serengeti scavenging from a lion kill.  Within minutes the apples were no more.

It’s great to find new ways to keep the birds entertained as I can’t leave them free range when I’m not there in the day for fear of cats or foxes taking them, the populations of which must be fairly high as both can be seen wandering on daily basis.  I often tie up whole cabbages or bundles of comfrey and other green leaves for them to pick at and I also like to leave halved courgettes, the ones that you’ve forgotten about or have gone unnoticed under large leaves and have grown to resemble giant marrows.  If anyone has any other suggestions on how I can enrich the chicken coop and feed time I’d love to hear a few suggestions.  Just leave a comment below.  

In other poultry related news, “Chick”, the big white one in the photograph above, has very nearly completed his transition from scraggly little chicken to fabulous Ixworth cockerel and he’s really turning in to quite a strapping lad.  So far, he's not presenting as at all aggressive and he's also yet to crow.  He is however, taking some interest in the ladies, even if that does solely consist of him mounting Sophia La Hen, the Ancona hen that hatched and reared him.  Despite his uncertain future and going against convention, such is my nature, I have decided to name him as continuing to call him “Chick” just doesn’t feel right.  That’s why I’m looking for suggestions for names. I contemplated Boris for some time but it just doesn’t seem to fit and he’s far too likeable to be named after such a well-known pillock.  That's why I'm throwing this open to you and I'll gladly welcome any help you can offer, just leave your comment and I’ll have a gander.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

Of new seasons and good fortune

It appears that autumn is the new summer, well at least for the past few days it has been anyway, but as we speak the skies are awash with grey and the wind of change is a-blowing - potentially signalling the end to our hopes of an Indian summer and other overoptimistic wishes?

It’s not all doom and gloom though, quite the contrary really.  With the change in seasons has come a change in fortune.  As many of you already know, I’ve been shortlisted in the Wales Blog Awards in the category of 'Best Lifestyle Blog'.  Alongside this award, I also have the chance of winning the 'People’s Choice Award', which is voted for by you, the readers.  If you would like to vote for me please click here to cast your vote.

The award ceremony takes place toward the end of this month in Cardiff and to say I’m quite thrilled at being a finalist is an understatement.  This is the first thing I’ve been shortlisted for, so naturally I’m not exactly expecting a great deal, but it will be great to meet lots of fellow bloggers and Welsh ones at that!

At the allotment the courgettes, beans, potatoes, and root vegetables keep on coming and the cutting garden is looking great.  The Dahlias and Gladioli are the stars of the show and although the colour combination in the bed clashes, which incidentally I don’t mind at all, they’ve provided a great wealth of flowers for the home.   This bed was moved this year and it's done pretty well so far, despite my lack of care and early slug attack.  I also planted the Japanese Wineberries in this bed, as I’d run out of space on the rest of the plot, and they’ve now produced their first berries.  Although, not yet prolific the tiny offerings were quite delicious and I’m looking forward to perhaps harvesting a handful in weeks to come.

In the garden, if I can even call it that, things are less controlled.  The majority of the garden is made up of herbaceous perennials that are in desperate need of division.  Giant clumps of Cirsium rivulare ‘Atropurpureum’, Miscanthus sinensis ‘Yakushima Dwarf’ and various others have begun a quest to turn my tiny garden in to somewhat of a jungle.  This is not difficult in such a small space and it must be said that they’re doing rather well!

This Autumn/Winter will see me spending quite a bit of time back out in the garden dividing and replanting in an attempt to bring order to an unruly and chaotic space.  The only good thing that can be said for the garden at present is that the trees are looking great.  I have two small Hawthorns and a Katsura tree (Cercidiphyllum japonicum), which were added to create and upright element and some Autumn/Winter interest.  The Hawthorns are already sporting their bright red berries and the Katsura is just beginning to show signs of colouring up for autumn; although it was planted more for the scent of it’s leaves, which smell of candy floss or burnt sugar when they fall.  This I cannot wait for!

It's going to a busy Autumn/Winter for this gardener.  What do you have planned?

Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Three courgettes – is this a glut?

I left the allotment today with an overwhelming feeling of smugness.  No, I hadn’t outdone one of the old boys or found my favourite fork, which has been “missing” for some time, but I left holding a bag containing a nice box of eggs and 3 courgettes.  I had also obliterated what appeared to be 95% of the worlds population of red mite that had taken to calling the chicken coop home, much to the horror of my girls.  It appears that I’m easily pleased.

The courgette plants, which once lay beneath the sweet peas – now dead and removed, have grown rather stately.  They all look particularly strong and are encroaching on my path in a bid to engulf the whole of the plot.  One bed is not sufficient, or so it appears.  Not content with plans of world domination and just looking beautiful, these plants are also starting to crop well.  The forerunners so far are ‘Taxi’, ‘Black Beauty’ and a new plant I’m trialing ‘Italian White’ (pictured above).  The latter, I think is pretty beautiful and is certainly holding its own against the seasoned pros.

What with harvesting three courgettes today, naturally my mind is turning, somewhat prematurely, to that wondrous time of year in the gardeners’ calendar, which has so far eluded me – the glut!  I did say premature, you remember?  Already there are small undeveloped fruits waiting in the wings and I can’t wait.  Courgette cake, spiced chutney, roast courgette … the list goes on and on.  Other recipes are welcomed of course!

Thursday, 23 August 2012


The undeniable successes of 2012 (so far) have largely come from the Allium bed.  The shallots, onions and garlic have all outdone themselves but there may be a vegetable set to challenge them.

So far the potato bed has remained largely untouched. I harvested some ‘Swift’ and ‘Pentland Javelin’, which were useless and disappointing respectively, and I then assumed that I was in for a repeat when it came to harvesting any of the others.  I was wrong.

When harvesting one potato cultivar, which I’ve not grown before, I was quite shocked to see that plant after plant, it consistently produced fairly large tubers and en mass too.  That potato was ‘Wilja’, a second-early, and I’ll definitely be growing it again.  From a row six foot long I harvested 5kg of potatoes (11lbs in old money), which I thought was pretty good considering Garden Organic state the average yield of early potatoes to be 5.5kg/3 metre row.
They didn’t disappoint in the kitchen either.  At the slightly waxy end of the potato spectrum (well, that’s what I’m calling it anyway), this potato is perfect for most treatments but simply boiled with a slathering of good butter - it tasted divine.  I'm a bit of a sucker for a good spud and although many people feel they take up too much room in the garden or at the plot I just don't think you can beat them and they are a must-have for me.

I’m yet to dig up the remaining 7 rows of spuds, which consist largely of ‘Sarpo Mira’ and two other main crop cultivars, the names of which are written on their labels but not emblazoned in my memory.  I can only hope that they produce as well as ‘Wilja’ has.  Usually, I like to change the potatoes I grow from year to year but I think I may be growing this one again in the not to distant future.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Gold at the allotment

Courgette 'Taxi'

The fashionably late arrival of courgette’s and runner beans has somewhat restored my faith in my ability to grow valuable plants, as opposed to just growing weeds, and also highlighted that this growing year has been, well, a bit useless really.  Though, for a second there, I was really beginning to doubt myself.  There’ll be no moaning though – perish the thought.   No, what doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger and next year is going to be a corker I’m sure.

I noticed the first of the Courgettes yesterday.  ‘Taxi’ was the first to produce anything, with two small golden fruits glowing amongst a dense green leafy canopy.  In typical fashion, whilst trying to get a good look at it, I completely ballsed it up and snapped the largest fruit off with my heavy handed approach.  Eaten on the spot (waste not want not) it made for a nice little snack and as the second fruit still remained in tact, all was not lost.  The one remaining fruit is now guarded like sacred treasure, with slug booby traps all around, and I’m hoping that this will be enough to defend it from the marauding evil that slimes its way across anything remotely edible.

That’s not the only good news though.  Today I stumbled upon a developing ‘Black Beauty’, which goes to show that, although late, I’m set for a small but perfectly formed courgette harvest.  Give it a couple of weeks and I may even use the word glut that is so often associated with courgettes.  Although planted late on in the season, they now appear to be thriving and they’ve almost doubled, if not trebled, in size since I last wrote.  I know it’s a bit early to draw conclusions but I think the experimental use of hay mulch has really benefited the plants.  It seems to not only blanket most of the weeds but retain heat and reflect light back up to the plants leaves as well.  I think I’ll persist with this method, after all it costs me nothing and can only help improve the plot in the long term.

The runner beans I mentioned are now flowering and I should be able to harvest a few before the summer (pah!) is out.  Saying that, as I type I can hear the wind howling down my chimney and I fear that upon arrival at the plot tomorrow I may be faced with a scene similar to that of my now deceased broad beans.  Imagine the most perfect beans you’ve ever seen lain prone on the ground, some snapped, and that should give you an idea of what happened to them.

The last of the garlic has been harvested and this crop was probably on of my biggest successes this year.  The Elephant garlic is tremendous and is likely to become a staple crop for years to come.  This leaves me plenty of room now to sow a few late crops and green manures and, I hasten to say it, tidy up ahead of the Winter.
In chicken news, “Chick”, the sex of which is still uncertain, has now moved in with the big girls full time.  One night last week he/she decided that the big coop was the place to be and so it’s remained there since.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

'Not the most prolific blogger but...'

I’m slowly becoming a one-blog-a-month kind of guy, of course it’s not something that I strive to be but I guess the label’s already stuck after ‘The Edible Garden’ magazine wrote: ‘Ryan might not be the most prolific blogger but …’.  A case of the looking-glass-self I presume?  In my defense, I do update my ‘image of the day’ every day (well most of the time anyway) and I just don’t have the time to sit quietly and write at the moment.  I’ll have to make it a priority if I want to improve things around here.

With the never-ending monsoon and the lackluster vegetable performance at the allotment, I’ve been pretty much lost for things to write about.  I could tell you about my senescent sweet peas, my blighted potatoes or my battered broad beans but I fear most of us are placed firmly in the camp of crap summers already.  No, let’s maintain the stiff upper lip and casually move on.  Surely as we are in the midst of the Olympic Games we can adopt some of the athletes grit and determination to succeed.  Small victories and all that.

In the garden, all is not lost in the fight against weather, pests and time really. It’s close to being completely lost but I think I’ve managed to just about hang on in there.  With that being said we did have a patch of very nice weather recently and for the few tough nuts of the vegetable world it worked wonders on lifting their spirits and helping them to put on a bit of late growth.  The courgettes that sat and sulked for weeks after planting appeared to relish their time basking in the warm sunlight.  With a new mulch of haylage, a left over from my horse, they seemed to be rather cosy and content.  This is a new practice I adopted late last year and it seems to be working really well.  The Sarpo Mira potatoes that I’m trialling for Thompson & Morgan also appear to be doing very well, despite being across the path from the rest of my blighted spuds.
Blueberries, which are rather abundant this year, have also ranked highly as one of my 2012 highlights thus far.  I have two small bushes that are around 3-4 years old and although they aren’t cropping in bulk fruits continue to ripen on a daily basis allowing me a few delicious snacks whilst visiting the plot.  A few have found their way in to the stomach of the ever-hungry pigeon, along with gooseberries, blackcurrants and raspberries but it’s a sacrifice I can live with.  After all, something has to provide Mr & Mrs Fox with some food and I'd much rather their attention be on the large wood pigeons as opposed to them trying to work out how they can break in to the coop.

In chicken news, “Chick” continues to grow strong and is now 11 weeks old.  I have an inkling, however, that it may be a male as several attempts to pick it up has resulted in it coming towards me as if to attack.  Only time will tell and this could mean him either going to a new home or becoming lunch – I’m undecided yet.

The winner of the last Ryan’s Garden competition to win a £50 voucher from Creative Garden Ideas, is Claire Davies of ‘License to Kill Slugs’.  Congratulations!  Please email me: to claim your prize.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Garlic, gooseberry sawfly and appreciative chickens

Gardening has been on the back burner of late, what with the weather and my increasing workload, but in between rain showers I grabbed the opportunity to get to the allotment and harvest a few bits and bobs.  The garlic had succumbed to rust and the leaves had yellowed sufficiently to warrant me digging them up.  

This was the first year that I had grown garlic en mass and despite a rather wet and cool season, not always conducive to good growing on clay at the bottom of a slope, the garlic had faired pretty well. The Elephant garlic given too me by a fellow plot holder seems to have faired best, producing the most amazing big bulbs, which I can’t wait to bake and eat with Camembert and sourdough bread.  This particular garlic has been grown at the allotment for many years and as such it's likely to be optimised for the site. ‘German Red’ also appears to have enjoyed the growing season, producing consistently large bulbs that are rather pokey!  I must remember not to eat a large amount of raw, freshly picked garlic in future as large nibble resulted in agonising heartburn and streaming eys.  

The others: ‘Albigensian Wight’, ‘Lautrec Wight’, ‘Picardy Wight’, ‘Solent Wight’, ‘Chesnok Wight’, and a Purple Heritage variety all differed in size and had generally mixed results but I'm putting this down to the weather.

Cleaning the chicken runs was also high on the agenda, after all it was starting to look like the chicken equivalent of a muddy Glastonbury, minus the middle classes, experimental drugs and the rock stars, or is that rap stars nowadays?  Of course, my girls don't go in for that sort of behaviour, preferring to beautify themselves, bitch and lay the most gorgeous eggs.  It’s pretty hard to gauge appreciation from a chicken at the best of times but I’m almost certain they were chuffed with their new deep layer of chip and the goodies hiding therein. 

Food appears to be modus operandi with this bunch and after a quick scout around the Gooseberries I found quite a few tasty morsels for them in the shape of our beautiful friends – the now defunct Gooseberry Sawfly larvae.  As dependable in their arrival as they are for their taste, apparently. Every year these gorgeous little beasts rip through the Gooseberry foliage like there's no tomorrow but they cause little damage if caught early enough.  I just choose to recycle them and make eggs. 

Chick had her (I'm being optimistic) first ever taste of this seasonal delicacy and appeared to enjoy.  She's is now mingling with the big girls, as you can see from the above image, but she still requires some protection from Sophia (step-mum) as lead bully McGee, also pictured above, is not averse to the odd passing peck.  She doesn't appear phased by this, however, and is a very bold little thing.  A few more weeks living in her separate coop and then I’ll consider popping her in with her aunts permanently.

Don't forget that you can still enter to win £50 of gardening vouchers and buy yourself a little something, after all you deserve it!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Ryan's Garden Competition: Win a £50 gift voucher

As summer is still considering whether or not to make an appearance, I thought I’d try to cheer everyone up a bit by posting a picture of the Asiatic Lilies in my front garden, I believe the cultivar is ‘Blackout’, and announcing a brand new Ryan's Garden competition.

The good people at Creative Garden Ideas, who sell some great products, including garden compost, are offering the chance for one lucky reader to win a £50 voucher to spend on their site.  Nothing quite hits the spot like a good dose of retail therapy.

To be in with a chance of winning, simply answer the question below:

Question: How many times has London hosted the Olympic Games?

When you think you know the answer to the above question, leave a comment in the comments box at the bottom of this post.  You can gain a possible two additional entries to the competition by retweeting @ryansgarden promoting the offer on twitter or by sharing a link from the Ryan’s Garden Facebook page (you must like the page to share the link).  The number of entries will not increase if you retweet or share links more than once each.

Good luck and don’t forget to subscribe to the Ryan’s Garden blog to ensure you don’t miss out on future competitions and posts.

Terms and conditions: This competition closes at 23.59 on 22.07.2012. Any entries received after this time will not be counted. If for any reason the particular prize is out of stock then an appropriate alternative will be sought. Entrants must be UK residents aged 18 years or older to enter.  By entering this competition you agree and consent to your name being published and by taking part in the competition, entrants are deemed to have read, understood and accepted all of the Terms and Conditions and agreed to be bound by them. The winner stating the correct answer will be selected at random and will be announced here on the blog.  

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Bringing the garden indoors

Anyone who read my last whinge blog post will know that I've been suffering somewhat from the effects of the weather and so too has my garden and allotment plots.  As a result, I grabbed the opportunity today to bring a little of what's flourishing in to the home and I quite like the results.  It certainly brightens the place up.
A nice naturalistic display of Linaria purpurea, Astrantia bavarica, Cirsium rivulare 'Atropurpureum', and Jasminum officinale 'Clotted Cream'.  These are all really good doers in the garden and firm favourites of mine.  The Linaria alone must measure 4ft from the base of the vase to its tip and somewhat larger in the garden.
The Astrantia always photographs well and is a massive magnet to bees and other pollinating insects.  You can read more in an old post I wrote here.  Since I bought the tiny plant it's really bulked up and is top of the list to be divided this coming Autumn or next Spring.
I've also placed a bunch of Elephant Garlic scapes in a vase on a shelf, as after eating the vast majority, I had just left these lingering in the kitchen.  The light from the fishtank belowgives them a rather menacing look - the complete opposite of how they actually appear.

If the weather is as bad with you as it is here then a little dash in to the garden can certainly be worth it!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Rip it out and start again

Snails enjoying my Bronze Fennel

If a man could live on Alliums alone then this man would be very happy and particularly well nourished.  I say this with a dash of sarcasm and a whole dollop of frustration, as apart from onions, shallots, garlic, a bit of salad and promising courgettes the vegetable plot isn’t looking all too great at the moment.

There are several conspiring factors that have contributed to this: horrific weather, hungry pests and, more so than any of the others, a serious lack of time.  Only a week ago things were looking much more promising.  The vegetable beds were significantly healthier, plants were growing well and weeds were fairly inconspicuous.  I had several types of beans and peas ready to be planted along with peppers, chillies and tomatoes.  The potatoes were growing strong and looking good and a new polytunnel was waiting to be constructed – happy days!  Suffice to say, this happiness was very short lived.

In a rare change from, my now-usual schedule of working from home, managing Doolittle's Dispensary and ensuring the animals are all okay, I had a good few hours to dedicate to the allotment.  It was decided that the polytunnel, which was half-constructed, would be secured and have its cover put on.  Easier said than done. Several hours passed and after innumerable arguments, strange looks and offers of help from fellow plot holders, we discovered that we weren’t completely incompetent polytunnel novices but instead the cover was far too small for the frame.  This realisation came after a very fraught 4-5 hours and was the final straw that prompted us to give up with a plan to write to the online retailer we bought it from. Polytunnel was left in situ half completed ... still.

Shortly after semi-constructing the polytunnel, we were blessed with gale force winds and extremely heavy rainfall for three days straight.  This ensured that said polytunnel remained unfinsished and anything growing above 2-3 feet was raised to the ground.  My beautiful 7-8ft Angelica, given to me by the lovely Sharon Hockenhull a couple of years ago, was now laying prone on the ground, my broad beans were either snapped or laying drunkenly in a semi-upright position and what wasn’t windswept had been munched by the hoards of slugs, snails, mice and pigeons that appeared to have joined forces and amassed a shock and awe style offensive.  The once beautiful potatoes were now suffering from some sort of die-off or wilt and the weeds, delighted with the wet and warm(ish) conditions, had taken over.  You can imagine my delight.

In the garden, things were a little bit more promising.  A new slate path had been installed and planting is looking lush if not rather overgrown and chaotic.  Again, a lack of time and bad weather has limited what I’ve done here but this can wait for now.

All things considered I’m now itching to rip everything out and start again, either that or drink heavily.  I just wish I had the time to do it.

On a lighter note, the winner of the Sarah Raven Kitchen Garden Competition is: @ericahughes  Congratulations!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

RHS Chelsea Flower Show: Part 3

As to be expected, the Chelsea gardens were awash with great features and ideas to take home.  This post will highlight a few of my personal favourites.

The above image shows Jo Thompson's caravan 'Doris' which was a true hit at the show.  Doris, although vintage, is incredibly modern with her shiny exterior and works so well as an alternative to a garden room or shed. Jo's 'Celebration of Caravanning' for The Caravan Club also included a gorgeous little wooden dog kennel (just visible on the left of the above image) with a green roof that included Alpine Strawberries.  The kennel had it's own down-pipe that harvests rainwater, which then flows in to a dog bowl.  A brilliant idea.
The hammock, pictured above, is again taken from Jo Thompson's garden 'Celebration of Caravanning' .  Created by Carmel Meade, this hammock is beautifully crafted and positioned to avoid the heat of the day.  A place to read or snooze perhaps?
Not strictly a garden item as such, but Georgie Newberry's beautiful button holes were out of this world and I wore mine with pride on press day.  Georgie, who runs Common Farm Flowers, also provided the cut flowers for Jo Thompson's garden.
Jo Swift's: 'Homebase Teenage Cancer Trust Garden' had several features that I adored and this stone water feature (above) was my favourite.  I like how the water rises up through the stone and flows rather informally along its surface before trickling over in to the rusty edged pool.
Another chunky stone water feature could be found in the Veolia Water 'Naturally Dry' garden, designed by Vicky Harris Garden Design.  This really is a dream-worthy feature for me and something I would take home in an instant.  I loved the way that water is collected in the stone trough after trickling down the rusty chains attached to the roof.  Not a new feature but it really works well.
A garden that attracted a lot of attention was the 'Satoyama Life' garden from the Ishihara Kazuyuki Design Laboratory.  Moss balls were a constant feature throughout the garden but I loved the use of it on the garden shed/room.
Vertical pillars made of pudding stone and planted with ferns looked splendid in 'The Renault Garden' by James Basson.  One of the new "Fresh" gardens, Basson utilised recycled materials and used fantastic informal lighting to weave in between upright planting.
Titled 'Glamourlands: a Techno-Folly' this RHS sponsored garden with Heywood & Condie certainly stood out.  I loved the pure fantasy that this garden portrayed and the bejewelled sculpture that had a distinct octopus-like quality.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

RHS Chelsea Flower Show: Part 2

Meconopsis punicea
Show gardens, celebrities, designers and who got what medal are the main headlines during Chelsea week but we all know that the plants are the true stars of the show.

As I wandered through the gardens and stands I kept a keen look out for individual plants that I liked or hadn’t seen before and I’ve dedicated this post to just a handful of them.
Meconopsis x cookie ‘Old Rose’
Meconopsis on the Harperley Hall Farm Nurseries display really grabbed my attention.  Meconopsis are fast becoming a love of mine.  Meconopsis cambrica is looking great in my garden at present and I wouldn’t mind adding Meconopsis punicea and Meconopsis x cookie ‘Old Rose’ to the collection.
Aquilegia viridiflora ‘Chocolate Soldier’ with Geum ‘Marmalade’ in the background
Aquilegias are everywhere at Chelsea this year but one particular cultivar stood out for me.  Much more subtle than most with small chocolate brown and lime green hues, Aquilegia viridiflora ‘Chocolate Soldier’ looked splendid mixed with Geum ‘Marmalade’ at the ‘APCO Garden’.
Trifolium repens ‘Dragon’s Blood’
Trifolium repens ‘Dragon’s Blood’ was a surprise find from Edulis Nursery.  I loved the green and cream leaves with dark red veining down the centre, the dragons blood.   I could see me using this in containers as it would certainly add interest and brighten the display.
Peony ‘Clair de Lune’
And finally, my last pick comes from Andy Sturgeon’s: ‘The M&G Garden’.  Peony ‘Clair de Lune’, referred to as the fried egg flower by one onlooker at the show, stood out amongst a sea of smaller flowering plants.  This Peony has creamy-white petals contrasted by a yolky centre of stamens and dark red stems.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

RHS Chelsea Flower Show: Part 1

After one rather long train ride and an uncertain tube journey, I found myself in a slightly grubby, if not generous guesthouse, with views to the London Eye and Big Ben.  I had made my pilgrimage to London for the annual RHS Chelsea Flower Show – the pinnacle of the UK gardening calendar.

A quick walk was all it took to get to the show yesterday morning and after collecting my pass and meeting up with the delightful Emma Bond I made my way in to the show.  

I must add at this point that I’m a complete Chelsea virgin.  I have seen bits and bobs on TV and followed the progress of many a fellow tweeter or blogger but attending the show in person was a completely new experience and one that had fostered much excitement and expectation.

I rushed past the big show gardens on the way to find the press tent so that I could drop off my now shoulder destroying luggage.  On my mad dash through I noticed that everything looked rather splendid, although final touches were still being made.  There was a lot of light coloured stone on show and rather similar planting schemes and colours but at this early point nothing on the main avenue immediately caught my eye.  Of course, there was one rather unmissable structure - 'The Westland Magical Garden' by Diarmuid Gavin (pictured above), which from the screams of people coming down the slide and the large queue, appeared to be a great deal of fun.
On leaving the press tent Jihae Hwang’s: ‘Quiet Time: Korean DMZ Forbidden Garden’ (pictured above), really grabbed my attention.  For a very “quiet” and somewhat subdued garden, in the shadow of Diarmuid’s giant pyramidal erection, it really managed to not only grab me but hold me.  I returned to this garden at least three or four times throughout the day.  Each time I saw more and more detail and found more and more meaning.  The Chelsea hum and chaos didn’t exist here.
The idea behind this garden, in Jihae Whang's own words, was to "demonstrate nature’s versatility and resilience in a place that was once full of destruction. The main theme being the healing and restoring power of nature and circulation of life".  "The Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) is a strip of land running across the Korean Peninsula that serves a buffer zone between North and South Korea ... The disturbance to this ecosystem, during the Korean War (1950-1953) was great and came to an end with the Armistice Agreement of July 27.  60 years on, this area has become a natural sanctuary for rare birds and endangered plants" (Jihae Hwang, 2012).
This was a garden with depth, intensity and heart.  It had no real gimmicks, it certainly didn’t conform to others around it and it successfully conveyed the message it set out to send.  The degree of detail was astounding.  From the dog tags commemorating war veterans and victims on the garden bench, to the stream that defies any human barriers, the letters from separated families in bottles along the rusty barbed wire fence and the perfectly placed planting -this garden was a triumph and possibly my favourite.
On a purely aesthetic level, Joe Swift’s: 'Homebase Teenage Cancer Trust Garden' (pictured above) was also very enjoyable.  With it’s rusty colour palette and cedar wood frames it felt like a complete garden that was both functional and great to look at.  I really liked the use of water and rock, although I did joke somewhat about the rather large sacrifical slab at the very front of the garden, which I now know is in fact an ‘oversized horizontally-sliced boulder’.
In many of the show gardens the colour scheme appeared quite muted and similar but I did enjoy the use of red in Cleve West’s: 'Brewin Dolphin Garden' (above).  Although limited, the use of Ladybird poppies really did lift the garden along with the zingy greens of the Euphorbias.
In the Artisan Garden category I really enjoyed Willmott White's: The APCO Garden.  This garden was created as a space for discussion and decision-making and it’s enclosed seating area was just great with its boundaries made from recycled Italian stone.  I really like the planting scheme, especially the Aquilegia viridiflora ‘Chocolate Soldier’ which was set off beautifully by Geum ‘Marmalade’.

My day started slow as I tried to make sense of the mass of gardens and information competing for my attention. As the day progressed and I found the time to digest things away from the many distractions I started to find my way slightly.  The gardens above are just a few that caught my attention with Jihae Hwang’s: ‘Quiet Time: Korean DMZ Forbidden Garden’ being the star of the show and Willmott White's: 'The APCO Garden' standing out as a garden I could see being used in an urban setting and offering some inspiration for my garden at home.

There's still more to come on my Chelsea adventures so keep an eye on the blog for future posts and don't forget to enter my latest competition in association with Sarah Raven's Kitchen Garden.
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