Poorly Department Rescue

tulips from the poorly department

When it comes to all living things, I’m a bit of a champion of the underdog. That applies to plants, too. That’s why I’ve almost made a hobby out of scouring what my Mum and I refer to as “the poorly department” at garden centres and plant nurseries – that shelf of sickly, leggy, rather sad-looking plants that appear to be past their best.

How can I not give them a second chance, and grab myself a bargain at the same time?

echinacea purpurea

Often all they need is minimal TLC. In fact, some of our top success stories have been via The Poorly Department. Last year, I found a reduced echinacea purpurea for a few pence. It looked a little scraggly and had already flowered. But I could see it wasn’t done yet; it just needed a bit of sprucing up, planting in the ground and some space. So we did just that, and it bloomed and bloomed and bloomed. This year, it’s already coming up and Rich, having been so impressed by its performance and the sheer volume of wildlife it attracted, has added a few more echinacea plants into the borders.

echinacea for bees

Another Poorly Department rescue I undertook this year was with these tulips below (see top image too). I don’t even know what they are, only that they looked a little sad, but had lots of unopened flowers and I had a space that needed filling.


When the flowers did open, they were spectacular, and have added some much-needed colour (and pollen) in an area of the long border that doesn’t otherwise get going until mid-summer.

mange tout

My latest rescue was brought home just a couple of days ago; I spotted these mange tout looking very sorry for themselves, hidden away on a shelf at the back of the garden centre. My plan is to have these little guys scrambling up a small obelisk in the flower borders, as I have a new gap-filling plan that involves flowering vegetables. More on that, later.

Have you had any success stories with your own Poorly Department rescues?

Another Delayed Blog Post…

As I begin to write this, it’s not even 9am on a Saturday and here I am, tip-tapping away on my keyboard, ready for a day of freelance work. I’m not in the best of moods, if I’m entirely honest. We’ve had a week of battling with a sick bunny – due to a condition she’s developed, she’s prone to attacks of ileus, a life-threatening illness bunnies can come down with for a myriad of reasons. Basically, their guts stop moving, and when their guts stop moving, it’s not. good. at. all. She was in the veterinary hospital overnight on Thursday, came home yesterday and still refuses to eat of her own accord.

We brought her home because she’s had a history of refusing to eat at the hospital, but once in familiar surroundings of her home (our living room), she eventually perks up and stuffs her face. She’d had a good run since the last attack a few months ago. In fact, she’d never been better. But this one seems to be nasty. I don’t know what’s going through her little mind – if anything at all – but she’s being so stubborn and it’s making me miserable. I don’t cope with animal illnesses very well when I’m away at work, and I dread Monday morning arriving and there being no change with her.

So let’s hope this weekend sees some improvements. We’re doing what we can and really, it’s up to her.

All this bunny related stress has seen me going to bed much earlier, and it’s actually done me a lot of good. I only half look like I’m from the Land of the Dead, and together with my new green tea drinking/greater intake of water regime, my skin is finally starting to clear up. I’ve had this funny rash of red pimples across my face for a while, and I imagine it’s probably diet related. Since my back went a bit doolally a few weeks ago, my diet has been absolutely abysmal. We’re talking bread, bread, bread, take-aways, cheese, bread, chocolate, crisps, sweeties etc. Comfort eating mode. I’ve been stressed a lot. Money. Work. Money. Money. Animals. You know how it is.

Anyway, I’m trying to get on top of it all, cutting out the crap and upping veg/fruit/wholefoods PLUS the green tea & water drinking PLUS earlier nights PLUS osteopathy and hoping that I don’t fall apart in a few weeks. I’ve got a LOT of freelance on at the moment, which is a good, great, fantastic thing, but boy could I do with a holiday. It’s looking a less and less likely prospect in the near future, thanks to vet bills, normal bills and the like. So I’m hoping that the summer will be a nice one, and that maybe we might be able to slot in some camping somewhere. Preferably away from screaming children. We have enough of those around here in suburbia, where parents don’t seem to think that allowing their children to scream for hours on end is inconsiderate. Hmm!

So what’s been keeping me busy besides a belligerent bunny and stacks of freelance? Well, I’ve actually been quite strict with myself and allowed for time in the Smallest Smallholding. In the greenhouse, the kale and leeks are doing well, but the chillies and peppers, as I predicted, are taking a while to germinate. With these cold nights we’re experiencing, I think it could be a little while until they start to shoot, but I’m going to use the opportunity to finally get my last lot of garlic in this weekend. I have a feeling some of it is going to end up in pots and troughs.

I’m holding back on the direct seed sowing for now. Apparently spring is a couple of weeks behind, which suits me fine. So I think I might give it a fortnight or so before I start putting in the parsnips, carrots and countless other seeds I’ve managed to accumulate, but not accommodate (yet). I’m going to follow Monty’s suggestion from GW last night, and start off some salad leaves in trays in my cold greenhouse. I unearthed (literally) a load of perfectly good seed trays that had been dumped in a pile in the semi-derelict corner of the Smallest Smallholding, so I’ll be putting those to good use.

Speaking of which, I’ve also made a start on what will become our Mediterranean eating area. At the moment, it’s a small square in the corner of the garden that gets sun from early-mid morning in spring/summer, right through to sundown. I think it’s probably south to south-west facing, and with poor soil and fanced on two sides should house quite a few Mediterranean plants and flowering herbs quite nicely. At the moment, it’s covered in lumpy mounds of grass, which in turn sit on top of brambles and an underground network of bindweed. It’s been a dumping ground for wood, houses my original wood pile (I started another one last year in another area, so am slowly transporting the original one over), then there’s the collapsed trellis slowly being overtaken by ivy, and remnants of a wooden arch that once supported our glorious clematis montana, honeysuckle, and rose. Those three plants are still there, somewhat overgrown and rambling, but we’re hoping to reinstate them once it’s all fixed up. On one side there was also part of a privet hedge which we’ve taken out. The birds didn’t really use it, preferring the denser hedges further up near their feeding areas, and it’s opened up the space towards the mini woodland garden under the fruit trees, my greenhouse and my veg plots. So much more light.

It’s taken me a number of hours spread over two weeks just to hack everything down to ground level. I have a feeling we’re going to have to take the top layer of soil off just to tackle the bindweed and bramble problem. Believe me, I know what I’m dealing with. Bindweed is one of the banes of my life. Once all the discarded wood and dumped fence panels are removed, the second overgrown honeysuckle is taken out (it doesn’t flower) and I’ve finally chopped down the last of the BASTARD scratchy brambles that have shredded my hands and arms for the last fortnight, then we’ll be ready to start planning and designing it all properly. My starting point is that I want to keep it looking fairly natural and wildlife friendly.

In other Smallest Smallholding news:

  • We have a pair of blackbirds bringing up a small family in our ivy. Been helping out dad by periodically digging out nettles in one area and vacating for a while whilst he goes in and collects food. This is in addition to the spring/summer mix we offer all the birds, which includes mealworms.
  • The alpine strawberries are growing well in the shingle near the house. Might transplant some into the new eating area, if we choose to gravel round the edges.
  • Hedgehog poos on the lawn confirm – the hedgehogs are awake. Extra supplemental feeds will now be available on a nightly basis at the Smallest Smallholding!
I can’t write any more now. I have to get on with a tonne of freelance. Sigh!
Edit: Since writing this post Ms. Moppy is doing much better!
Edit: You can view the evolution of the Mediterranean Eating Area here on my Smallest Smallholding Facebook page.

Falling Behind at my Smallest Smallholding

This should have been posted last week…

…Mre posts to follow!…

Right now there are several hundred (or a few thousand even) people across the pond at the Harry Potter ‘Leaky Con’ convention. And I’m not there! Boooooooooo. I wish I was. Oh well, I’ll have to console myself by buying a Harry Potter t-shirt or a wand or something tragic like that. At least I got to enjoy a stunningly beautiful bank holiday weekend!

Yes, I know, I’ve not blogged in what seems like ages. Firstly, as you’ll remember from my last post, I was ill with a bad cold and flu-like symptoms. Then when I got back to work, I had two days to dash off something I was supposed to have been working on all week, and the following Friday I was off to Bristol for Rich’s cousin’s wedding. The marriage ceremony took place in the futuristic Planetarium, with the meal and reception held at a Hogwarts-style stately home. It was a good day, although my feet were killing me by the evening. So I took my sparkly shoes off (which had earned me SO many compliments during the day, you wouldn’t believe) and danced the night away bare foot.

Then I had the mistfortune to be in a car accident last week. Nothing major, but enough to have me down the doctors for a check up, and a few repairs done to the car. Not my fault, I hasten to add. I was sitting in a queue of traffic and WHAM! I didn’t stop shaking for a long time afterwards. But nevertheless, getting it all sorted out took ages, and I had another mountain of work to get through last week. You see, on top of my full time work I’m also still freelancing…it’s no wonder I fall asleep at the drop of a hat these days.

Then Friday arrived and I had a quick meeting – I’ve been given a little promotion (whoop!) and my career path at the company I work for has changed slightly. In a good way. They’re training me up…so fingers crossed it’ll go well and I’ll prove a success. It’s nice to have people believe in your skills and your abilities. My new line of work will still involve writing, and I’m moving from the proofing side of things to more of a creative role, which is good. All I know is that at the moment, I need this. I need to have some direction.

So you can understand why here at home, I’ve been piss poor and I’ve not managed to get a proper grip on all my vegetable growing and smallest smallholding this year. Although, in my defence, everything I planted outside seems to be doing OK. I thought my runner beans had had it, but in the last few days they’ve put on a spurt of growth, and having had a quick squizz down at the allotment, they’re just about on par with other people’s. My carrots are coming on (all three rows, whoop-de-doo), the parsnips are finally showing themselves, and the Charlotte potatoes look a-ma-zing. They’re going to be DELICIOUS, I just know it. The onions are a bit small, but I did put them in a little later than I wanted. Garlic is coming on well…looking forward to pulling that up when the time comes. Can’t get enough of garlic. Nom. And God Bless my wonderful Mummy for keeping the allotment ticking over. I’ve been down there about twice in the past four or five weeks, and if it wasn’t for her, it’d be a weedy mass of couch grass, chickweed and not a lot inbetween.

However, everything in the conservatory (because I still don’t have any greenhouse staging RICH) has really died a death. My cosmos are just about hanging on for dear life, despite me completely abusing them and failing to do any watering for days on end. The sunflowers that didn’t fall victim to my rabbit’s snippy snipper teeth have either gone ridiculously leggy, look like they’ve had a few too many and are failing to stand up straight, or just look sickly and shrivelled. Bah.

And if my habitual failings (I was ill, remember!) in the watering/potting on/feeding department weren’t enough, I’ve also been losing the fight against greenfly. The little buggers somehow got into my conservatory, and despite my best (OK, poor) efforts, they’ve sucked the life out of my chilli seeds. So I’ve lost all them. I have one butternut squash plant that I did pot on (hurrah!), which isn’t quite out of the woods yet, and the leeks keep being sat on by the cats and the rabbit.

My brassicas…well. Just disaster really. All gone. Every single last one. All my Primo cabbages, my calabrese selection, romanesco broccoli. Nothing.


I don’t know what to do. I mean, I do want to have another go but I just don’t know if it’s too late. Yesterday, as I sprawled out in the sunshine with Potter in hand, blue skies above, rabbits rabbiting about, cats lazing, I didn’t feel at all worried about it. ‘Bahhh! It’ll all be fine, just sow a few more seeds and see how it goes, and if it doesn’t work out, buy a few plug plants or young plants from a garden nursery’, is what I thought.

But…buying them in? Feels a bit like cheating to me. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because I think I have to be a complete purist and just do EVERYTHING myself from seed…perhaps I think if I don’t do that, I haven’t put enough work in and it’s not really my produce, it’s just something I’ve stuck in the ground and looked after. Like I won’t enjoy eating it so much because I didn’t do it all myself. Do you see what I mean? But it’s silly – I mean, I bought some leeks from the WI stall and grew them on to eat, and it was fine. Why do I feel like I’ve failed if it’s not something I’ve raised from seed?

In fact, sometimes I wonder whether I am getting out of my depth with all this. Since I’ve started working full-time, it’s been a constant battle to keep my smallest smallholding in order. It just looks so pathetic these days. A few sandy, undernourished vegetable beds, overgrown flower borders, junk everywhere (although we should be getting a skip soon to solve that problem), persistent bindweed, nettles, rampant honeysuckle, corn(!), scraggly grass and just…crap. If you actually came here to see what it’s like, you’d laugh. You might feel a bit sorry for me, or think it’s some sort of bad joke. You’d probably think it was utterly pathetic, in all honesty.

I’m fed up with people laughing at me and thinking I’m a bit rubbish. They do, you know. So I’m going to prove them wrong. I’m on track with my work now, so I just need to put that extra bit of effort in each day and get this place up to scratch. I ought to because when everything is crap or going wrong, or I’m feeling stressed, it’s the one thing I can turn to that feels real and grounded and just right. It’s my haven and it’s something I desperately want to be proud of. I’m a bit embarrassed by my efforts thus far. I want it to be more than just an ethos.

OK, so I have no hens right now. Essentially, I’ve been pedalling backwards these last few months. But remember, my back yard smallholding is still a work in progress and a dream. Whether I’ll ever have a working (vegetarian) smallholding one day…well, your guess is as good as mine. I don’t even know where I’ll be in five years, let alone that far ahead. All I’ve got to do for the next few weeks is focus on real goals – repair the greenhouse, dig out the nettles, plant the sunflowers…work hard at work and just do whatever I can do when I get home. And just try to enjoy the summer.