It's been awhile since I've shared any garden photos. I was, to be honest, a little embarrassed, as I'm such an amateur and I've never tried to grow anything in a wet, cool climate before. I hadn't realized how much I counted on the hot Chicago summers to plump up the tomatoes and spread the basil leaves wide. It's been a cold and rainy summer so far and therefore my plants are progressing slowly, but they are still growing.
However, the 80 or so tomato and herb seeds I sowed in early April have made steady progress. The only flat failures were the melons and sweet marjoram (both started out well but died within the first few weeks of being repotted). I was able to give away dozens of herb and tomato seedlings, and as my parsley and coriander continue to flourish I've been dividing those up and sharing them, as well. The mint suddenly developed some sort of leaf disease, but I repotted it, cut off the sickly leaves and it seems to be making a recovery.
The sweet marjoram died, but at least one of my other herb plants have survived and are doing well. Here we have two sage plants (front left), a parsley plant (under shelf), coriander (top of shelf) and a mint plant (large pot). The tall plant in the front and center is a verbena variety that a friend gave me in exchange for some tomato and basil plants I shared with her.
Then there are my beloved tomato plants. I planted 40 tomato seeds in a seed tray (of four different varieties) ... or so I thought. I somehow ended up with 41 tomato seedlings, 17 of which are now in this back garden corner. The others are being grown in gardens throughout Nottingham, as I gave many away.
My tomato plants are thriving! It's been less than a week since I transplanted them to their pots and placed them in the greenhouse and, despite the fact that the greenhouse is missing several key panes of glass, the plants have been so very happy. They've quadrupled in size in the past 5 days, and today I proudly gave the four strongest and tallest to my friend Emma so she might put them in her garden. My potted mint plant is very happy, as well, and I've been loving the chance to dart out to the greenhouse for a handful of mint leaves when I've made lemonade or iced tea.
Both of those iconic American drinks, however, take a little bit of work on this English isle, for neither is common at all. That is to say, there is a common drink called lemonade that is available at every bar, but it's actually what we'd call 7-Up or Sprite or, to use the generic term, a lemon-lime soda pop. The church I'm volunteering at has a fully licensed bar that we open after the evening service, and I work behind the bar once a month. The first time I was there, the team leader asked me to check the lemonade and see if it was OK, so I pressed the little button marked "L" on the soft drink dispenser (or, as they'd say, fizzy drink dispenser) and poured myself a glass, thinking it was strange that the lemonade was carbonated. I tasted it and announced, "Something's wrong with the lemonade. It tastes like Sprite." I was soon set straight--that is lemonade in England. I also quickly learned that a popular bar drink is a shandy, a mixture of "lemonade" and lager from the tap (our lager on tap at the Trent Vineyard bar is Carlsberg Export, and I've grown to quite enjoy an occasional cheeky half of this pleasing little brew). I've since learned that what we Americans call lemonade is most often referred to here as "cloudy lemonade" and is served as a specialty bottled drink in the better pubs. However, my English brother Dave brought home a bottle of lemon squash (concentrated fruit drink that is diluted with water before serving) that's actually made with real lemons and sugar, and it's delicious. When I mix in cold water, ice cubes and mint leaves, it's like I'm sitting on my Great Uncle Roger's Colorado farm, enjoying his signature summer beverage.
Today I spent a few hours in the greenhouse, baking in the 75 degree sun (it's warmer than you think!) and painstakingly transplanting my 35 tomato plant seedlings into pots. In a few weeks they'll be ready to put into the ground, I hope. Of course I don't have nearly enough space (nor even eaters) for 35 plants, so I've been spreading the word to friends that I'll have free plants to give away, assuming all goes well.
The ideal spring weather in these photos is a major contrast from the photos taken just two weeks ago that I posted yesterday. It's the third day of sunshine here in Nottingham, and I just can't get enough of the outdoors. Luckily, being in my peaceful, second-story bedroom (here in England they'd call it first-story) is almost like being outdoors, for I've got two large banks of windows facing east and south over the garden. One of the peculiarities of England is that nobody has window screens. That's right--no window screens. Instead, almost all windows swing straight out into the air. That's a boon for me, since the apple tree outside my south-facing window is currently laden with blooms, and the pear tree next to it and cherry tree next to that are just finishing up their flowering.
Although the occasional wasp, bee and the fly find its way into the room, apparently mosquitoes, gnats and the other pests we know in Chicago aren't much of an issue here. The bugs to watch out for, I'm told, are midges. Just what midges are, however, I've yet to discover.
Keep reading to see more photos of an English spring.
It's been a sullen, grey day and the many seeds I planted on Monday are still hiding away in the earth. The mint plant that I potted and set out in the greenhouse is flourishing, though.
I quickly learned one quick difference between English and American gardening--the wearing of Wellies. Wellington boots are tall and rubbery, in order to keep out the mud, I presume. It's so much easier to slip into my Wellies (well, OK, into my housemate Julia's Wellies) at the garden door than it is putting on tennis shoes (trainers, they call them here) that are bound to get filthy and that need to be scraped before re-entering the house.
Yesterday I posted about my new garden. Today the story continues...
As I stepped into the greenhouse, feet crunching on piles of brown leaves that had fallen through the holes over the last decade, I imagined myself back on the North Shore, where I did home and garden writing as a Pioneer Press reporter between 2003-2007.
"It's like discovering a Jens Jensen garden," I thought dramatically, scooping up leaves (and more than a few snails--the bane of English gardeners--who had taken refuge in them). "I can almost see myself on one of those palatial yet neglected Lake Forest estates, finding a little garden shed filled with rusting but still usable supplies."
Or, of course, I could pretend to be Mary Lennox, the child from "The Secret Garden" who finds a once-loved garden that's been long abandoned to the ravages of time.
I knew such romantic fantasies were frivolous, indeed, but that's what a lifetime of reading about dreamy, spirited heroines like Anne of Green Gables and Jo March will do to a girl! Soon I was very busy clearing out the leaves, picking bits of broken glass out of dirt and emptying pots of dank water, but a delightful sense of mystery and discovery remained.
Troy and Timmy, the Pasture House cats, were very happy that someone was in this quiet corner of the garden at last, and came purring into the greenhouse to visit and "help" me. Timmy even curled up on the shelf to keep a close eye on all events (and just in case I spontaneously decided to serve them their tea out in the garden, no doubt).
Like many women, I grew up loving the children's novel "The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett (and the 1993 Broadway musical version) but it wasn't until I became an adult that I really began to resonate with the themes of renewal and new life that spring into the hitherto wintry life of young Mary.
I was pleased to find "The Secret Garden" on the shelves of the 200-year-old house I am currently sharing with the English family that has invited me into their home for this year. (This family consists of husband and wife and three young adult children, two of whom still live at home and are about my age). As I read the story once again, I wondered at the huge amount of work that Mary and her friends Dickon and Colin put into reviving the walled garden high on the moors. Is English garden so different from American gardening?
I am delighted to report that I am about to find out.
Troy the cat suns himself before the side door of my English home, as daffodils brighten the foot of a cherry tree about to spring into blossom.