Garden Update (May 2017)

It’s been a long time since I posted about the garden. This is the last photo of the back garden I showed you, back in January 2015:Braemore garden

This is the same view today (sorry about the blurry photo):IMG_20170529_125244

Some of this is simply the difference between January and May, but most of the difference is down to hard work and planting! Today I did some more planting, and I think I am more or less sorted for the summer. My courgettes are getting on nicely, in the back and along the side of the house.


Today I planted out broccoli seedlings in the front and in various places out back.


You’ll see that in the front bed, I’ve also got some beet ‘spinach’ and a couple of tomato plants that are really doing well. I’ve also got strawberries in another raised bed in the front, and some raspberry canes against the fence. Today was the first strawberry harvest of the season. They were delicious.IMG_20170529_123208

On the patio, I planted some flowers in this old sink, to replace the ganzanias I planted a month back which were eaten by molluscs. These are geraniums, petunias and begonias, plus one ganzania (I live in hope) and a tomato – all from Portslade Church’s plant sale. I’m ready with my gloves and head torch to do a slug patrol after dark – I’m very reluctant to use pellets – it’s their garden too. I’m also trying another fuschia, in the hope that this one will survive the winter unlike its predecessor. I love fuschias.IMG_20170529_125258

The wire caging is to keep the fox from digging up the plants. There’s plenty of soil for him (I think he’s a him) to dig up in the wild corner of the garden, near the laurel bush under which he likes to take a nap. IMG_20170529_125629

I enjoy pottering in the garden, but what I really like to do is sit on the swing seat. I extended the roof a couple of years ago, sIMG_20170529_125656o I can sit there even when it’s raining. It has a great view (see below: oak, hawthorn, hazel, rowan, hydrangea, laurel, camelia, budleia, apple, pittosporum and next door’s silver birch, as well as grass I let grow tall, as grass should), and it’s tucked away from sight. I bring a coffee out here early every morning and have a little time thinking, praying and watching the birds on the feeder. It’s my favourite place at other times, too, for reading or just sitting. Because what’s the point of a garden if you don’t sit and do nothing except enjoy it?IMG_20170529_125133


Front Gardening

This is only the second front garden I’ve had.  In the last house, the back was so large I just kept the front as lawn.  Here, though, the back is small and quite shaded; also I want to leave enough space out there so that the tent can be put up to dry if we have to bring it home wet.  So I’ve decided to put some vegetable beds in the front garden instead.  Here’s a photo of progress so far:

Front veg beds

The frames are old ones we brought with us, the rear one being made of old floor joists.  I’m a fan of ‘no dig’ gardening, on the basis that the soil is a living complex of fungi and other important beings that are better left undisturbed … plus it’s less work.  So I put down a layer of cardboard to cover the grass, then added the compost and some manure.  Then the seedlings went in: sugar snap peas, lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower and strawberries.  A surface mulch of straw should help with moisture retention.  In front I’ve planted a couple of rosemary bushes and some dwarf sunflower seeds.

The first night, a fox (probably) dug everything up.  I was really annoyed.  I thought, “What makes the fox think she can just dig where she likes?”  Then I thought, “What makes me think I can just install raised beds where I like?”  Still – I’ve put a sheet of wire mesh across the rear bed, about 6 inches above the soil.  The front bed frame was a kit and had a kind of square poly-tunnel over it. The plastic rotted but I’ve used the frame and covered it with chicken wire.  So far, that’s kept the animals away and the re-planted seedlings seem to be recovering.

One bonus of gardening in front of the house is that, while I was working, I had loads of short conversations with passers-by.  It seems that vegetables make people happy.

Blank sheet garden

This is our new back garden:

Braemore garden

It’s a bit of a dump, isn’t it?  The builders have trodden a lot of the grass into the soil, which seems to be a heavy clay, heavily compacted, very muddy.  If you’ve seen my previous gardening posts, (e.g. Garden, from 2012) you’ll see that this new garden is a fraction of the size of the old one, and really quite boring.

It’s actually quite exciting.  It’s like a blank sheet of paper.  I have ideas and dreams, and because it’s much smaller, I might manage to realise them here.  I’m thinking … wildflowers and veggies … a small pond for amphibians and maybe fish (maybe it will help drain the soil?) … an apple tree trained up the south-facing fence … a hedge of hawthorn, hazel & maybe holly to mask the compost bins and feed the birds …  the possibilities are endless in a blank sheet garden.

Except it’s not exactly blank.  That’s some sort of oak tree, there at the back, and something’s been living in that compost bin.  There’s a laurel bush and some sort of evergreen, broad-leafed tree and a magnificent yucca-type thing, and who knows what’s dormant in the soil, waiting for spring, amongst all the chilled invertebrates? I’m not too hopeful about garden birds, being about 100 yards from the sea, but I’ve already seen a robin and some blackbirds.  It’s not blank – it’s full of life.  And, just like the old garden, or any piece of land I might inhabit, it’s not mine.

Keyhole Garden

I have just come to the end of over seven years ministry with three churches in Hove and Portslade. Amongst the generous leaving gifts were some virtual gifts through Oxfam and Send A Cow: 2 rabbits, a goat, water harvesting, mixed fruit trees, a ‘Magic Muck Kit’, mosquito nets, safe water and 2 keyhole gardens.

I love the idea of these keyhole gardens. At some point, we are going to be moving to a house with a considerably smaller garden, where I’m going to have to be much more creative to make good use of the space. I’m feeling inspired about building a keyhole garden, complete with a little thatched roof.

Here’s a link to Send A Cow’s video showing how the keyhole garden is built.

I think the goats look pretty good, too, but don’t tell Mrs Mabbsonsea.


It’s harvest time here in the Mabbsonsea garden.

The tomatoes are nearly over (this picture is a couple of weeks old).  They haven’t thrived this year, but there’s still nothing like eating a sun-warm tomato.



The courgettes are having a second wind, producing some small fruits on vines that look nearly dead.



This is my first crop of potatoes.  They probably cost me a couple of pounds each, but they are really delicious.



My aubergine (eggplant) plants, grown from seed, didn’t fruit.  Aubergine is one of my favourite vegetables.  I do a cheat’s version of mellanzane alla parmaggiana, by frying slices of aubergine in olive oil, spreading them with sun dried tomato paste and topping with a slice of mozzarella, then  grilling them to melt the cheese.   As the British aubergine season is nearly over, I ordered a couple of kilos of aubergines from Barcombe Nurseries (who do us a weekly delivery of organic veg, fruit and eggs).   I cut them into chunks, salted them, fried them, then added them to a rich tomato and onion sauce, added sugar, balsamic vinegar and lemon juice and then popped the sauce into three (sterilised) Kilner jars.  I had this sauce in mind, based on a dish I ate on a course years ago, but I couldn’t find a recipe that resembled it.  Anyway – I don’t like following someone else’s idea of how to cook the food I have in front of me in my kitchen.   I just hope there’s enough vinegar in there for the preserving to work and we don’t die of botulism.



Bon appétit!


Garden Life

Time for an update on the garden.  Everything is doing well, although we could do with some rain soon.  Here on the chalk downs, the soil dries out very quickly.   I don’t know where the water’s going to come from for the fracking that’s being planned a little further inland, but they can’t have what’s in my water butts, not for any money.

This courgette plant is in a very shady position, but it’s the largest of the four I have.  It’s only just starting to fruit, though, so I’m not yet sure if the shade has been good or bad.



I always forget what this large shrub (small tree?) is called, but it’s very pretty when it comes into blossom.



I’d better pick these blackcurrants before the birds discover them.



The strawberries are ripening here and in the bed.  We’ve had some already – delicious!



The lavender is a good drought-resistant plant, flowering splendidly and feeding the bees.



Next to the lavender, the potatoes are going mad.



The tomato plants seem to be thriving in the sunniest spot in the garden.  No sign of fruit yet, but plenty of flowers.  A sun-warmed tomato with a bit of strong cheddar is one of life’s great pleasures.



It’s great to get outdoors!

The First Courgette

On Saturday I picked and ate my first courgette (/zucchini).  Apart from some beet spinach leaves that grow all year anyway, it was the first real produce of the garden to be harvested this year, and so it felt very special.  I sliced it thickly then fried it in butter with lots of cracked black pepper – the best way to eat these delicious vegetables in my humble opinion.  Mrs Mabbsonsea and I shared it for our lunch.  Food definitely tastes best when it’s so fresh it’s still alive … and when it’s fried in butter.

Unfortunately, I was so keen to eat the first courgette raised from a seed by my own muddy hands, that I forgot to take a picture.  It looked like a courgette, folks.

This morning I spotted some little apples on one of the trees.  The strawberries are still green, but there are lots of them and the weather forecast is promising warmer weather this week.   There are bunches of green blackcurrants on the bush, but something is eating the leaves off the gooseberry bushes, and no sign of berries.  The potato plants seem to be coming along really well.  I love growing food.


You are nearer God’s heart in a garden

I have been tempted to despair of my garden.  It looked as if nothing was going to happen this year.  Then all of a sudden it seems to have sprung to life.

I love the way the early morning sun shines through the leaves of the sycamores and the neighbour’s copper beech when I sit down at the wild end with my coffee …




The walnut is coming into leaf …

Walnut tree



And the horse chestnut is in flower …

Chestnut blossom



After months of waiting, the potatoes have come up and are going to need more earth piling on …

DSCN0702… but I’ll have to take away the anti-cat-and-fox grid.

The raspberry canes and strawberries are doing well.  We had some of the beet spinach for tea yesterday – delicious.

Berry bed



Not very permaculture this, but the courgettes are loving the micro-climate in their little poly-tunnel.  I bought some cucumbers at the church plant sale yesterday.  I think I’ll plant them here too.




The clover is providing good ground cover in the dogwood bed, and I’ve taken down the fence – hooray!

Dogwood bed



It’s a good job there’s a bank holiday tomorrow.  Lots to do!  Happy days.



Alex’s Energy Saving Tips

These are tiny drops in the ocean.  But seeing TV pictures of the flooding in Queensland the other night, and the warnings of yet more flooding here in the UK, makes me feel we all need to pull together to counter the madness of growth-addicted, consumer culture.  It’s all feeling rather apocalyptic, and I’d hoped that we’d have more time.

Feel free to contradict me or to add your own tips.



It feels strange to talk about saving water in a flooded country.  But drinkable tap water uses energy (586 kWh per million litres) to produce, and treating the sewage takes a further 634 kWh per million litres (2006 data for UK – couldn’t find more recent figures without wasting more energy – I read somewhere that two searches on Google use the same amount of energy as boiling enough water for a cup of tea).   Water treatment impacts the environment in other ways, too, so we should save water, even in the floods.

Don’t use the hot tap for small quantities.  By the time it’s run hot, you’ve poured a load of water down the drain.  Of course, you could catch that water in a bowl and tip it into a water-butt for watering the vegetables – but in this perpetual rainy season, my water-butts are full.  (My brother-in-law fills buckets from the water-butt and uses that to flush the toilet.  Deep green.)  For washing up (Dishwasher? Do you know what those chemicals do to nature?), boil water in the kettle and add to cold water in a bowl.  The breakfast washing up is my job, which often includes cups and bowls from the night before (teenagers – always eating), and I use between 3 and 4 litres of water.  On the subject of washing up, use washable cloths (made from fairtrade, organic cotton) rather than disposable sponges.

In the shower, once you’ve wetted yourself, switch off the shower while you put on shampoo/soap.  This is hard to do in our unheated shower room during winter, but I’ll bet it saves a lot of water (and hot water, too).

Make sure your kettle can boil as little as a cupful of water.  After you’ve used the kettle, refill it.  If you don’t know how much water you’ll want to boil next time, just put a cupful in.  The residual heat in the kettle will take the chill off the water and so less electricity will be needed when you boil it later.

Defrost food in the room.  Thinking ahead saves using the microwave.

Eat less processed food.  For example, a lot of energy is used in making breakfast cereals, when compared to porridge/oatmeal or muesli.

Follow my Grandpa’s three dictums for a healthy life: eat plenty of good food, get plenty of fresh air and get plenty of exercise.  Hospitals are very energy-hungry places, with their overheating, air-conditioning and huge amount of disposable equipment.   Best to avoid them by staying healthy.

Don’t use the car unless you absolutely have to.  Planning ahead saves urgency.  Rain is not an excuse – if the Good Lord had meant us to drive a short journey just because it’s raining, He wouldn’t have given us Gore-Tex.

Only turn the heating up when everyone’s wearing 2 sweaters and a scarf and is still cold.  Although, apparently, this is the behaviour of a Mean Dad.

Avoid as much plastic packaging as possible.  This is very hard to do, but it’s such a lot of waste.  It’s harmful to animal and plant life in landfill or in the rivers and seas.  It uses a lot of oil and energy to manufacture, and recycling it also uses energy and isn’t brilliant environmentally either.  Plastic water bottles are easily avoided – use a washable metal flask.  Getting milk and fruit juice in glass bottles from the milkman saves some plastic cartons.  Supermarket meat, vegetable and fruit packaging can be avoided by buying those things in better places, like farmers markets or small shops.  But as most dry goods come in non-recyclable plastic wrappers, this is a hard tip to practice.  Bring back weigh and save shops!

Eat seasonal food, as locally grown as possible, and preferably organically grown, too.   Thinking about what’s in season helps connect us to the natural world and its rhythms.  I’m not very good at this one – I’m not so bad with veg, but I do like my daily banana and apple.  At this time of year in England, you need to learn to appreciate turnips, although thanks to Barcombe Nurseries (see links), we do get a good variety of local (and therefore seasonal) organic produce.

Don’t eat meat.  If you have to, eat much less and make sure it’s kindly reared (kind to the animal and the land) on a local farm.  I should probably also eat much less dairy produce, although the pulses I eat are not locally grown – I’m not sure which is better in terms of energy consumption.

Well, that’s just a few thoughts off the cuff.  Even if the drops in the ocean are too small to mitigate climate change, at least we will be doing the right thing; plus we will be demonstrating that alternatives to mega-consumption are possible, and we’ll be better prepared for when everyone has to live like this.  I think it’s better than merrily living in denial, anyway.

Shoreham power stn


(Shoreham Power Station, Sussex)

Vegetables are murder, too

By now, my new vegetable beds should be packed full of a variety of vegetables, all thriving in the rich compost and growing leafy and tall.

Unfortunately, we’ve had very little sunshine this ‘summer’, and I think the soil hasn’t warmed up enough to germinate all the seeds.  Also, as it’s hardly stopped raining since early April (apart from a week in May and a few days here and there), it’s been perfect weather for snails and slugs.

Just look at what’s left of my poor dwarf beans.

It looks as if the only way I’m going to get any home-grown veg this year is to kill some animals.  So much for vegetarianism being gentle.