Monday, 28 February 2011

My chillis are on the way...

This year I have been determined to resist the temptation to sow seeds too early. I don't have a greenhouse, and my house is aligned in such a way that none of the available windowsills get more than a few hours of sunlight per day, so there is a serious risk of my seedlings going drawn and leggy. I often ferry my seed trays from one side of the house to the other twice a day!

The first seeds I sowed this year were some chillis, and I sowed them on Valentine's Day, 14th February. I sowed six different varieties, two pots of each, and two seeds in each pot. They went into unheated propagators (i.e. seed-trays with clear plastic lids), and lived in the airing-cupboard for a couple of days until they had mostly germinated, when I took them out and put them on a suitable windowsill.

One of the jobs I like least is pinching-out one of the two seedlings, when both have germinated, especially when they come on at the same rate and seem equally strong. I always think "what if I make the wrong choice, and the one I choose to keep turns out to be a weakling?"

So which one of these gets the chop then - left or right? I think maybe the left one, because it isn't standing up quite so straight. But they both look pretty good. Oh dear, this power of life and death thing is such a big responsibility! *sigh*...

P.S. I made my choice (left one). I've added this final picture to my post just to demonstrate how big the root systems are on even seedlings as tiny as this...

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Some attractive chillis

The "attractiveness" of these chillis is twofold- not only are they nice to look at, but also they are magnetic. They are fridge magnets which I ordered from a web-based business called Snow and Snow. They were supplied in a very smart presentation box, lined with a metallic strip to stop the chillis moving around too much in transit.

I think you will agree that they look pretty realistic.  Compare them with these real ones...

The fact that the models are all different and not all of them are 100% "ripe" is nice.  I consider them good value too, at £5.00 plus £1.50 postage. Here's a link to the relevant page on the website:

They have some nice stuff, with a kitchens and cookery theme. Just the sort of place to look when you need a present for a Foodie friend....

Here are the magnets on the door of my fridge, doing the job they were designed for...

Thanks to Sara ("Hilwards") for bringing this product to my attention. :)

Saturday, 26 February 2011

Gardening is in my blood

Many of you will know that I am very keen to pass on my love of gardening to my children, and now my grand-daughter Lara. This happened in my Father's generation too of course. My Dad retired quite early (55) after spending most of his working life living in Malaya, where he met my Mum, and where eventually I was born. My Dad's retirement hobby was gardening, and he rapidly became proficient at it, and grew lots of lovely vegetables, notably potatoes, runner beans and tomatoes. I'm sure that my own love of vegetable gardening was initially inspired by his achievements. Regrettably my Mum died very young and I knew far too little of her past. Here is a picture of her on the front steps of our house.

Mum, surrounded by plants - Coleus, Caladiums etc.

Just recently I acquired a brilliant device called "Slides2PC" which allows you to convert old 35mm transparencies (slides) into digital files, such a Jpegs. This has opened a new window onto my past, because I have been able to view easily all the slides that I inherited from my Dad, which probably had not seen the light of day for the past 20 years at least, since we do not have a slide-projector. Most of these slides are at least 50 years old, many of them much older, so the quality (particularly in respect of the colour) is not so special, but considering their age I think they are quite good still. I have been able to adjust some of them with photo-editing software, though they don't all respond to this.

The slides show many fascinating insights into my early years, and into life in Malaya in the 1950s and 60s, but for me the most significant thing they demonstrate is that my Mum was also a keen gardener!

Here is the house in which we lived, in Ipoh, Perak, Malaysia. It was right next to the race-course.

16 Thompson Road, Ipoh

Note the massive garden - I think it was about 2 acres in total.

Here is the office in which my Dad worked - The Perak River Hydro-Electric Power Co. Ltd. He was the Chief Accountant of the firm.

Perak Hydro offices

Here is a view of a prominent Ipoh landmark - the railway station.

Railway station

Here is the "padang", which serves as parade-ground, sports field etc.

Ipoh padang

Here is the Court House.

The Court House

Here is the archway erected to celebrate Merdeka, or Independence, from Britain in August 1957.
The Merdeka arch

Here is a view of the Swimming Club, scene of many happy memories.

The Swimming Club

I know that some of my readers live in Malaysia, so I wonder if anyone can tell me what those places in Ipoh look like now.

But now what I'm most interested in, evidence of my Mum's love of plants (flowers in this case). In the collection of slides there are lots of pictures of flowers and flowering trees, mostly taken in our own garden.

Canna lilies



Flame of the Forest


More orchids

Here's a picture of our lovely cat Fluffy - obviously a fan of the flowers too (though I suspect she had just been drinking water from that very impressive cut-glass vase...)


And finally, here's a photo of Yours Truly, aged about 7, on his first bike (shared with brother Paul).

So, the photos are rather faded, but the memories they evoke for me are nonetheless vivid...

Friday, 25 February 2011

Roadside Beauties

At this time of the year lots of our trees and shrubs are beginning to burst into life after their Winter sleep. Here is a collection of photos I took near the hotel where we stayed last weekend, just by the side of the road. Wild trees, totally untended, but sources of real beauty when inspected closely...

These are the flowers of the Hazel tree, commonly referred to as "Catkins".

These ones are fully open, dispersing yellow pollen all over the place

These ones are only just opening

These are the flowers of the Willow tree. We call them "Pussy Willows".

Is it just me, or does that remind you of a toothbrush?

These are the flowers of the Blackthorn tree, which will eventually produce the fruits called Sloes.

Nearby there was a big patch of what I think were Privet trees, with masses of glossy black berries - inedible, perhaps poisonous, I'm sure  - but looking for all the world like miniature bunches of grapes.

And what about this luridly-coloured lichen? It certainly brightens up the surroundings!

All these photos were taken at the side of a busy public road, not a garden. It's amazing how many nice things there are out there, sometimes in the most unlikely places.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

The sleeping dog awakes...

Yes, my post title is a 'corny' reference to the saying "Let sleeping dogs lie", because it is about the plant called the Dogwood (Cornus Alba).

My Dogwood shrubs have enlivened my Winter garden with a profusion of stems in various shades of red, yellow and orange, but it is getting to that time of year when I must prune them hard to maintain their shape and vigour. If I delay this task too long, the plants will put much of their energy into stems that will soon be cut off and discarded. Better to prune them early so that all their energy goes into stems that will be allowed to develop to maturity.

You can see that with the advent of milder weather the plants are already beginning to produce buds:

The cuttings I planted on 12 January are also doing the same thing, so hopefully several of them will take root.

I think this next photo makes the emerging flower bud look like a miniature cauliflower!

So, sometime over the next couple of weeks I will have to set-to with the secateurs...

P.S. I have recently ordered another Dogwood plant - Cornus Kesselringii - which has black stems. Should be good!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

A Hampshire day out

Last weekend we spent a night in an hotel down near Fareham, in the southern part of our county, Hampshire - very close to Portsmouth, which most of your will have heard of... This was supposed to be a special occasion, to celebrate 35 years since we became engaged. However, the hotel in which we stayed left a LOT to be desired, so the less said about that, the better.

We paid a token visit to the seafront, overlooking the Solent (the narrow stretch of water separating the Isle of Wight from the mainland). The sea was very calm, but also very grey...

Not really beach weather... But then what do you expect in February?

Since the evening meal in our hotel was a big disappointment, we felt in need of some serious Food Therapy, so called in on the way home at a little Hampshire village called New Alresford. Actually, it is only "new" in relative terms. In the year 1086, when the famous Domesday Book was put together for King William The Conqueror, this village was inaccurately recorded by the clerk. It was supposed to be "Arlesford" - since it was a place where you could ford the river Arle - but the clerk recorded it as "Alresford" by mistake, and it's been called that ever since.

It is still the archetypical "Sleepy Hollow" - delightfully quaint and old-fashioned. It has a number of suitably old-fashioned shops in which you can still buy real food. We bought (amongst other things), some really traditional Hampshire foodstuffs - watercress and Lardy cake. Most of you will know the first of these:

Watercress - Hampshire is renowned for this!

Lardy cake is probably less well known! It is a type of sweet bread, made with lard. It is eaten as a "tea bread", like you would eat a cake. Faintly akin to a doughnut, I suppose. It is delicious.

We also bought some nice cheese, including some Fourme D'Ambert - hardly Hampshire cheese, you wiil say -  but perfect for the dish we were planning, which is home-grown salad with chunks of pear, all in a blue-cheese dressing.

Chicories and Land Cress, all from the garden

As you can see, I picked the first of my Red Chicories. It was a bit on the small side and would have grown bigger if I had let it, but I felt we needed something special to compensate for the disappointing hotel meal, and I think you will agree that it gets full marks for visual appeal.

I made some Soda bread for with the salad, which we ate with lots of nice salty butter... It's incredibly easy to make, and ready in 45 minutes from a standing start!

We also bought lots of more mundane things, which I won't bore you with, but I will make an exception in favour of the beetroot. The fresh roots were in a pan of water, boiling, within about half an hour of us getting home. Both Jane and I find the earthy smell of freshly-boiled beetroot irresistible. Here's a picture of it fresh from the pan, with the steam still rising from it. If only there were such a thing as "Smellyvision", so that you could share the lovely aroma with me...

Oh, and finally, one other good thing came of this little outing: we decided to recognise the occasion by buying ourselves a little treat. Jane chose a striking piece of jewellery (a bracelet to be precise). Don't get too excited, it's not real gold or anything!

whereas I went for a new plant-pot. Each to their own!

I think this one may be destined to host a new fern that I have ordered, but I'm not 100% sure yet...