Tuesday 29 December 2015

Gardening with ME: a review of 2015

As 2015 draws to a close, like many garden bloggers I have been reflecting on the past year in the garden. As a garden blogger who gardens with a chronic illness, ME, it could be easy to focus upon all that I didn't get done. But instead I found myself thinking about the successes and realised that I'm feeling quite positive about my garden and what I've achieved this year within the context of gardening with ME.

In the kitchen garden first. I had a good crop of broad beans. Although I wasn't quite able to keep on top of the blackfly, on the whole we had several good meals out of them, plus some in the freezer for winter.

The peas were a great success and I had to turn to the internet to find more recipes to explore ways of cooking peas. Pea and Sweet Potato curry was a particular favourite. On top of this, I also was able to save enough of the seed not just for myself, but to send some of both 'Lativan' and 'Robinson' back to the Heritage Seed Library.

Pea Robinson, to the left, grew happily in my planter in the driveway, withstanding frequent high winds that zoomed up between the two houses. Sweet succulent large peas, mmmmm.

Strawberries were also a great success, and bang on time for Wimbledon. I made up some strawberry ice cream too, and there is a little left so that we can enjoy a taste of summer in the winter. Plus we had plenty of courgettes to get us through several months, and I made up a big batch of courgette fritters to freeze, again to enjoy in winter.

Carrots and parsnips were another success and my garlic did very well. The non-flowering sorrel is the plant that just gives and gives. In fact, I like it more in pasta sauces than spinach, and as it's a perennial, it pretty much grows without any assistance from me. What a vegetable!

Non-flowering Sorrel in the middle. The plant grew 2 more times this size, constantly
sending out fresh young shoots to eat.

Perhaps the star crop was the Climbing French Beans, which basically ran away from me in their attempt to become 'yield of the year'. In fact, there were so many that I was begging people to take some off me, bags of beans off me. I succeeded in that too.

I grew a few types of Climbing French Beans, including Cosse Violette and Cobra

Turning to the flower garden, I kind of had to let some of the perennials look after themselves whilst I focused my limited energy in the kitchen garden. But here plants still grew and flowered well. Although I had to give up on writing my End of Month View posts on the Long Shady Border, the border itself managed to hold on quite well without much attention from me.

Flowers and foliage in the Long Shady Border this year included:
Left: Astrantia 'Hapsden Blood'
Right: the leaves of Ligularia 'The Rocket' and fern Dryopteris erythrosora

Left: Primula beesiana (magenta) with Primula florindae (yellow) behind.
Right: Pulmonaria 'Blue Ensign'

At the back of the garden along the pergola, I had a wonderful display of Crocosmias that lasted nearly three months and last years nasturtiums had self-seeded and flowered without any intervention from me at all.

Left: Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora 'Red King'
Right: Crocosmia x crocosmiiflora 'Irish Dawn'

Left: Lonicera similis var. delavayi (wonderful fragrance)
Right: Nasturtium 'jewel mixed'

Around the pergola in July

Elsewhere in the garden:
Left: Salvia guaranitica 'Blue Enigma' (tender perennial)
Right: Rudbeckia 'Takao' (makes a wonderful cut flower too)

Left: Dianthus cruentus
Right: the leaves of Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum'

I had sown some Cosmos and sunflowers from seed as part of my very small cut garden, and I got plenty of vases of flowers from them. This was particularly welcome as their flowering coincided with an extra bad period of ME; picking them was my only gardening activity in August. What a delight they were.

Helianthus Velvet Queen with Helianthus Lemon Queens, flowering royally in the house.

In general, the perennials grew and bloomed with little input from me, and this gave Kevin and I a great amount of pleasure. I managed to spend more time just sitting in the garden on my comfy chair and enjoying the plants, bees and butterflies. Yes, a little tidying up needs to be done before the end of winter, and what I cannot do myself I aim to get some help in to do it for me. Because another success was allowing myself to say it was ok get (paid) help.

The garden in September

Gardening with a chronic illness can often feel like one step forward four steps back. There has been plenty of times I have felt frustrated and upset about not having the energy to do any gardening. When six weeks have gone by and I haven't tended a thing. When I've very occasionally wondered if maybe I'm trying too hard to continue gardening and that maybe I should just give it up.

Drying out the garlic.
Those at the bottom were the best of that variety and I've saved these to sow next season

My garden might not be anywhere near show standards, and some vegetables needed more attention than I could give them and slowly died off. But as this review has shown, despite gardening with ME, I have managed to garden and grow this year, and quite successfully too. I've been able to grow, harvest and eat some of my own fruit and vegetables, and have enjoyed flowers and foliage all year round.

I say cheers and bloody well done. And thanks to my readers for taking the time to read my blog, and for leaving comments and suggestions. Happy New Year to you all, and good gardening for 2016.

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I welcome your thoughts and comments. And if you blog about gardening with ME/a chronic illness, do link to this post in your blog and leave a comment below with a link to your post, so we can all find each other.

About Gardening with ME

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Recent Gardening with ME posts...
  Gardening with ME: pressed flowers & foliage - the first results
  Gardening with ME: facing some hard facts

Friday 11 December 2015

Gardening with ME: pressed flowers & foliage - the first results

This is a follow-up of my post at the end of November, on my new hobby of pressing flowers and foliage. I checked how the pressings were going a week ago (all fine) and yesterday I completed process of adding the pressed flowers and foliage to my scrapbook. And here they are - ta da!

One problem I'm having is that the photographs aren't as clear as I would like. I'm finding close-up photography more difficult since having ME, as I shake much more than I used to. I think I'm going to need to get a tripod of some kind to help counter this problem. Still, I think you can get a sense of the flowers in this post, and of course I have the dried flowers, and a magnifying glass, to look at them in my detail in my scrapbook.

Using a magnifying glass, you can see the anthers of the stamen in quite fine detail.
The colour of the splotches on the petals are also much more vivid.

Another thing that isn't showing up right in some of the photos is the colour of the flowers. For instance, the Geranium petals are much more of a deep purple in my scrapbook, blue in these photographs, but 'Ann Folkard' is actually a magenta coloured flower. I think a mix of photographing the flower indoors dulls the colour, but possibly the process of drying leeched out the colour a bit. I'll try again next year, but early in the flowering period for this plant (from May) and see if I can dry it in a way that keeps the colour more.

You can pick up the orange colour of the anthers. I hope next time I can capture the
magenta petals against the orange anthers, as the colours together are very striking.

The flower to the left is quite close to the colour of the flower on the plant, my dried specimen
in the scrapbook is much darker. Another one I want to try again next year.

A skill I need to improve is placing the specimens into the paper to the pressed more carefully. You can see that I bent around some of the Sage leaves. Despite that, even in the photo you get a good idea of the kind of detail to be found on a common Sage leaf. It looks like mountains and valleys contained within a leaf. I never paid such attention to this plant before (other than cooking with it), and I'm enjoying the discoveries this new hobby is giving me.

I chose to capture the underside of the Potentilla leaf, as I found the soft hairs so very intriguing. Quite beautiful, and I can confirm that if you stroke the underside it is very furry. This reminds me that in future I should press both the top and underside of any leaf of flower, to record the complete specimen.

I'm quite happy with my first go and am keen to try some more. I might even try and make some gift cards next time.

This is a fairly low-energy hobby for someone with ME/a chronic illness. The major energy expended is collecting the flowers, placing them in the paper and then stacking them, all which needs to be done around the same time if you want to optimise the chances of them drying well.

Once they are dry, it requires a bit of energy carefully teasing them off the paper and onto the scrapbook page. More than you might think as it is quite an intense action. But you can do this slowly, even over a couple of days if you wish. I did it over a couple of hours. You can then take your time looking at the flowers and foliage in detail, in the comfort of your warm house, and enjoy a bit of the garden inside.

So, I've noticed buds on my Hellebores. I think they might be next.