Winter Blues? Go Green With Indoor Gardens.

I think I most definitely suffer from anxiety and probably bouts of depression from time to time. As you grow older you become more sensitive to your body and how you feel mentally I think. Of course before you diagnose yourself with any of these illnesses you must first make sure that you have not in fact just surrounded yourself by arseholes. Arseholes will make you feel terrible so bear that in mind.

 

Keeping my mental health in tact, or as near as I can to that is always a struggle for me and this is probably why I am drawn towards gardening so much. Creating life and sustaining it really does make me feel better, inside and out. Whether it’s getting mucky in the garden creating new features (see my old blogs about making a green space out of *literally* a car park), or planting seeds on a windowsill and watching them go through germination and sprouting I just get a massive kick out of the whole process. Key issue though however – the massive black hole that is November through to April/May. My garden looks like a sludgy feral dump currently with twigs loitering in every corner and decomposing leaves recarpeting the ground. Vile. All the indoor plants are snoring as I type – they shan’t be considering making any effort whatsoever to grow for at least another three months. Like the divas that they are. Life just basically fucking sucks on the greenery front at the mo.

 

This is what has driven me to find my hit elsewhere. When nothing goes right, go left. That’s what I say. If the sun won’t come out then I will fool the bastard plants into thinking it was here all along. Cue introduction to my new experiments in playing plant God. The indoor garden systems! 

 

Firstly we have the Ikea Krydda or Växer system.  It comes in a 1 or 2 tier option. And you put it together kind of like a pick and mix. Pick and mix.  Sour, chewy sweetie goodness. God I want pick and mix. Anyways, you put it together yourself which I in fact am already not a fan of before I start. Lets face it, every single one of us have on more than one occasion gone to Ikea to buy some essentials (and about 75 quid of other surprise purchases along the way) only to get home and realise you didn’t buy ALL the component bits. This set has disaster written all over it on that front. I did actually go to Ikea to buy this set but gave up half way through loading my trolley as even the staff were unsure about everything I would need to purchase. Also – not the prettiest thing frankly. You also need to have a separate propagator for it so it’s quite labour intensive-not that I mind that but just so you know. From what I can fathom a set up for this will be around about the £100 mark. 

 

Leading on from this we have the Ikea Bittergurka. I don’t know what the Gurkas did to get this  piece named after them but I’m sure Joanna Lumley is not thrilled about it. I love this. I have purchased it and been using it for a few weeks now and it really works. It is dead simple to set up only involving one screw – which you can fit with a butter knife. Not that I did that of course. But I did. Fuck it. I leave it on 24/7 and it gives the kitchen a nice warm glow to it. I feel like this helps me with the crappy feelings I get when I look out the window to darkness every day.  You literally just sit your plants in it ( in my case shop bought coriander, rosemary and basil), and you top it up with water every so often and that’s it. My herbs are noticeably growing every day and I am hacking away delightedly at them at basically every meal time. I may also be inventing a few mealtimes as an excuse to get in there and forage. It wouldn’t be fair to measure it against the Krydda because the Bittergurka doesn’t propagate and isn’t a hydroponic system, but on ease of use and overall impact however I far prefer it. Also it looks fit, and was only £35 all in.

 

Moving on from this I realised that I didn’t have a means to propagate and I do really want to be able to bring seeds on all year long.  I had decided against donating the amount of worktop space that the Krydda would take up so went on the prowl for another option. This is when God, God herself came down from heaven and spoke unto me. She said Paul, Paul go unto the Red Cross shop in Chorlton and verily I did my children. On entering I did find awaiting my eager clutch a Miracle Grow Aerogarden in immaculate state.  The angels descended, but I had to ask them to shut the fuck up because I couldn’t hear the woman at the counter. Turns out she was asking if I had a loyalty card. Who knew the Red Cross did them!? Anyways, got it home and it was über easy to set it up. I had to order seed pods for it and fertiliser which cost a tenner for 6. Literally you plug it in, add water, two caps of fertiliser goodness and pop the pods in. Then you switch it on and leave it until it tells you to do something else such as give it more water or food. It’s not a pretty thing and the amount of light it gives out may have your neighbours questioning exactly what kind of hydroponics you’ve got going on in your house, but I’ve got it set up in the kitchen and I’m literally giddy with excitement about seeing the wee seeds start to show their little green arms. My plan will be to get my seeds going in the Aerogarden, which I may move to the utility room when the days get longer, and then transfer them to the Bittergurka. There are more palatable looking Aerogardens on the market now and they come in at around about the £120 mark and my one has space for up to 5 plants at a time.

 

There are some other contenders out there also such as the Seed Pantry Grow Pod at £65 which hosts two plants. I think the thing to think is, how much time can I donate to this and how pretty do I want my kit to be. I wanted the best of both worlds with an ability to grow a variety of things at the same time. I totally recommend getting one of the above though if you suffer from the winter blues, it will give you a bit of a lift and contribute towards tastier dinner times too!

Mid Century House Plants: Some people are a pants man, me I’m a plants man

From a baby I was brought up around plants.  Not in the ‘child raised by wolves in the forest’ way – although this would explain quite a few things if it were true. We always had a well stocked garden namely filled with Azaleas and colourful annuals. As I have grown and developed my flavour/obsession for mid century styling, my taste has focussed itself unintentionally towards the popular plants of the era also.  Before we moved to our new abode, guests regularly described our apartment as a ‘jungle’, which pleased me immensely.  This winter my plan is to start off all the plants that will be folded into the blend of our MCM inspired garden which we will be stocking throughout the spring – you can follow the blog updates on that.

So without further ado I want to introduce to you my collection of mid century inspired plants, amongst them some of which you will see next year as local points to our garden.

Asparagus Fern or Protasparagus setaceus

 

I bought this baby three years ago at a street stand in Manchester for £2.50 and in the time since I would estimate that she has grown in size by roughly 15 times.  A really easy one to look after – basically the more you water her, the more she’ll love you back.  Apparently they can get small white flowers in the summer but I suspect that with our cold climate in the UK this is but a dream for me to cling on to.

Sprenger’s Asparagus or Protasparagus densiflorus ‘Sprengeri’

 

This little puppy refuses to stop growing. I bought it from the same street stand, however this one was about the size of a can of beans at the time.  I bought this one two years ago.  It’s now as wide as my McIntosh dining table and about 2 foot high.  It’s not fair to have favourites but…..

Again, simple to grown.  The more water the happier it is.  They don’t seem to like windowcills or any direct light though.

 

Spider Plant or Chlorophytum comosum

 

I love these and have several dotted around the house, although this particular one came as a gift from staff at a cat shelter that my mum volunteers at 2 years ago.  I love the fact that they gift you more and more babies every few weeks.  I leave the small ones on normally until my mum or someone else intervenes.  At the back of this pot there is some purple oxalis and some kind of other purple trailing thing that I never managed to identify.

 

Mother in Laws tongue or  Sansevieria trifasciata

 

A house warming present from a friend in 2008, this plant was originally part of a larger one that she owned.  I have completely abused this one from the beginning, sometimes forgetting to water it for weeks.  It just keeps going.  Ideally I’d like to create some kind of waist height room divider with a wall of this planted along the top.  It’s on the ‘to do’ list.

 

Purple velvet plant Gynura aurantiaca

 

My new toy.  I bought this from a very talented and inspiring local gardener about a month ago.  It’s amazing to look at.  The dark purple leafs are smothered in a bright red hairy carpet.  It’s utterly divine and regular mesmerises me as I walk past it.  I’d say it’s doubled in size since purchase so I hope this will continue!  Easy to look after again as all it seems to want is lots of sun and loads of water.

 

Succulents

 

The absolute stalwart of the MCM look, the succulent comes in all shapes and forms.  These particular little babarinos came from a villa that we visited in the South of Spain last summer.  I literally ripped arms off five of the plants that were in the garden and shoved them in my case as we left.  They were all kinds of crazy orange and red hues at the time but I’m guessing the blazing sun of Manchester doesn’t quite cut it for them!

 

Orchids &  Tropicanna Black 

 

I have terrible, terrible, awful luck with orchids.  The sensible man would just stop buying them. Not me.  I’m not a quitter. I did once manage to keep three of them flowering for three years continuously, however it would appear that what was actually happening at the time was the orchid gods had gotten together and decided to shell out all my orchid luck in one fell swoop.  My worst orchid story involved buying one that cost over £30, for it to die within weeks.  I will not give up.  I will not be beaten.

I love the shades of the Tropicanna Black.  I bought it about two months ago and since then it has developed a second stem which I am excited about.  It will also go out into the garden in the spring and hopefully go on to develop an array of beautiful flowers throughout the summer.  I’m half tempted to buy a second one to keep indoors as I love the shade of it against my living room walls.

 

Christmas Cactus

 

I actually bought this baby from Ikea last Christmas, and then ignored it for 9 months.  A couple of months ago I moved it to a bright window and it turned the most amazing shades of purple and red.  Following this, BANG, all these lovely flowers. My mum informs me that they flower one month earlier every year.  Bizarre.  

 

Maiden Hair fern Adiantum capillus-veneris

 

I love these.  I have killed 7 so far.  This one came from a garden centre in Newcastle a few months back.  So far it is not dead.  I hold no great hope for it, but I have a dream that one day I will manage to at least keep one alive for a year.  I’d like to give you some advice on how to succeed with these, but alls I can really say is I have discovered that they don’t like direct light, but also don’t like shade.  They are not very interested by indirect sunlight either.  They don’t like over watering, but don’t like going dry.  They hate the cool.  They don’t like too much heat.  They’re basically the diva of plants.

Angel Wing Begonia

I remember my mother having one of these a child and it grew to over 5 foot with the aid of a few canes eventually. That one disappeared about ten years ago now and ever since I have kept my eye out for one of my own.  By chance I was walking through an arcade in Chorlton one day and they had two of these for sale.  The woman seemed a wee bit confused at my over animation as I made my purchase, but this begonia has been long awaited!  I hope to grow it to a similar height over the next few years. I love the patterns that its pot casts on the hall when the morning sun shine through the window.

Anthurinium

 

Love, love, love these.  Although I’m not quite sure where my one thinks it’s going.  It seems to be crawling towards a door.  We bought this one four years ago, again at Ikea and it hasn’t stopped flowering once since that day.  It’s a great plant because you can totally ignore it for weeks on end if you have to and it will just keep on going on with life.  I bought a pink one for my mum for mothers day a few years back which is still going strong also actually.

 

Variegated philodendron

 

This plant is 17 years old that I know of. I purchased it from a street vendor in Glasgow in my first year of university in 1999 and since then it has moved with me to 8 different addresses in Glasgow, back home to Fife in Scotland many times, down to Manchester and to 8 different addresses down here also.  It seems very at home making it’s way round the peripheries of our shower cubicle, in fact at times I have to have a strong word with it as it’s developed a habit of trying to grow round the shower head.  Slightly too ‘Day of the Triphids’ for my liking.

 

Mexican Hat Plant

 

 

I purchased this from the back of someones car in a field by the Lake District of England (don’t ask), and it’s the most bizarre little plant.  Every time a new leaf appears, it will get covered in tens of tiny heart shaped nodules round the edge which will then fall off in time and sprout new plants.  Consequently I have now got in the range of 100 to 150 other Mexican Hat Plants also growing around my upstairs bathroom!

 

Alocasia Calidora

 

The mother of all giant plants.  I am SO excited about this.  The man that supplied my ynura aurantiaca, also got his hands on this puppy for me.  She will form one of the centre pieces to our MCM garden next year, with leafs that will easily measure two feet in width, she’s already twice the size she was when I received her a month ago.  One thing to note about this plant is that if you are buying one to have indoors, it literally slurps water when you feed it.  You can actually hear it gulping.  Disconcerting when at home alone!

 

Ficus Microcarpa Ginseng

 

I have had this plant since 2013, when I was gifted it by colleagues at a job I was leaving.  I’d say it’s maybe four times the size it was then.  I regularly get quite pissed off at this plant, which entertains my partner no end, as it literally doesn’t matter how much water you give it – it’s NEVER ENOUGH.  Literally this thirsty little bugger can make it’s way through 200ml of water in a day without even breaking a sweat.  The good thing about it I suppose is that it can also go for weeks of abuse before developing yellow leaves so I guess I’ve no real beef with it.  I have aspirations that one day I will grown it to waist height.

And so there we have it people, a snap shot of some of my plants, un-intentionally but perhaps subconsciously purchased, of the MCM style.  I can’t wait to get the outside planted up and continue our discussion on that space. This weekend I take delivery of my first banana tree which i’m über excited about. In the meantime I’d love to hear about your plants, and maybe see some cheeky pictures of them also!

The Fence Is Up! The Work Has Begun

Well it has been a long time coming, but finally last weekend we defined the boundaries of our garden area and were quite surprised to see that it was significantly larger than we had ever thought or prepared for.  In total in measures 70 square metres.

 

In an ideal world, this feather edged fencing would have been a breeze block wall rendered in a light duck egg blue, staggered to create shadows as the sun moves round.  In a ideal world I would be rich; I’m working on that – check out the stock we have for sale currently!

 

I resolved in the end that it’s not the medium you use to create your boundaries, but what you then do to pull the look together.  Speaking of which, what the absolute hell was I going to do with an area 10 metres by 7?  The largest space I had contended with previously was postage stamp sized. Now I was dealing with a vast empty terrain to the back of the property, an allotment to the side and 48 square metre front garden also chucked into the mix.

 

My main plan has always been, as you know, to go all MCM on it’s ass. But after much taking of advice, deliberating cogitating and digesting, something didn’t sit well with this notion to me and I couldn’t put my finger on why. It did take a few months of mulling it over for me to put my finger on it. Finally it did click; all my research into this project pointed towards the same main themes in MCM gardens.  They were covered in clean lines, minimalism, stark – sometimes almost brutalist – features and a ‘less is more’ approach to planting.  

 Fabulous.  Not me, but fabulous.
Fabulous.  Not me, but fabulous.

 

This isn’t me.  This isn’t what goes on in my brain.  What goes on in my brain is a bit more like walking through a ticker tape calvalcade of pyschadelic clowns with one person in the corner screaming for everyone to ‘try and keep it down’.  You can share my dilemma, I’m sure.  So how do I match my greatest love with the scratch and sniff of crazy that I really am underneath it all.  Well, like all good ideas, the answer came to me in the shower.  Jungle.  Mid century jungle!

 This image formed part of my inspiration for our final theme.
This image formed part of my inspiration for our final theme.

 

Hurrah.  Everything has slotted into place.  Like one big unbelievable game of Tetris. So I have split the garden into quadrangles to make it easier to deal with. Below I have shared my very naïve drawing of where I am going with it all now.  

 

Essentially, there is a tropical area directly outside the french windows from the kitchen filled with the likes of Musa Yunnanensis, Voodoo lily sauromatum vernosus, Alocasia calidora, Gunnera manicatia and Tibouchina urvilleana – for that utterly nuts jungle feeling.  Interspersed in this area there will be a wicker hanging chair, and some kind of marble table.  The flooring will be purple slate chips which will absorb the heat that we have throughout the day and release it throughout the night back to the warmth loving foliage. I want to raise the plants out of the ground so will use repurposed concrete drainage pipes in a nod back to those fabulous atomic age curves.

 

Next time, I’ll be looking at options for greenhouses.  As always, your comments are invaluable to me and how I perceive this operation!

Mid Century Garden Update

Well here I am 4 months after my last blog about creating a mid century inspired garden, and by god has it been an uphill struggle.  It would be ace at this stage to be able to upload loads of pictures of my effortlessly cool, well landscaped and inspirational outside living space, but frankly I suspect I’m at least one year away from that.  So, instead I thought I would show you a before and after of the current situation out there!  

 

When we first purchased last October, the house had been a set of bedsits which had laid empty for some time so in terms of landscaping or established plant stock we were basically at page 1 of an empty book.

 The house was pretty much a scratch and sniff of bad DIY decisions and poor upkeep.
The house was pretty much a scratch and sniff of bad DIY decisions and poor upkeep.

 

The rear side of the house had a feral concrete garage with asbestos roof, and what would be a garden had been covered in asphalt to create a car park.  Nice!

 

Where do you start with this?   Well stage 1 was to create a space directly outside our new kitchen patio doors (so as to stop ourselves from falling out of the house every time we stepped out)

 We went for an 8m by 6m decked area with raised beds.
We went for an 8m by 6m decked area with raised beds.

 

 

Really this is still at stage one, it is yet to have a slanted timber roof attached from which I plan to hang a wicker chair.  This area works well for herb and tomato growing I have found. I think Id like to go several shades darker on the flooring here to get a better match to the bamboo floor in the kitchen. But it’s a good start I think.

 

Stage two was to create some kind of vegetable growing area, for which the location was determined by the patterns of the sun.  For this reason I have placed it to the right of the front door.  Again I have painted the planters blue black as part of a plan to keep the area as monochrome as possible in terms of structures.  Incidentally can you spot the repurposed bed base?  All the other planters were made out of disused crates.  Literally this area cost me just over £30 to make.

 The plan will be to surround this area with mid century inspired trellis.
The plan will be to surround this area with mid century inspired trellis.

 

Stage three was the removal of the garage, which we have put together into a snappy little video for you.  This was a bit of a landmark occasion for us and will now allow us to go ahead and put up the boundary fence.  In an ideal world I would like a skimmed wall to surround the area, but realistically this won’t be feasible and so we’ll be going for a 6ft feather edged fence possibly also painted blue back.

 

After the fence, I’ll be focusing on creating an outside dining space using the existing foundations of the garage area, which now looks like this.

 

It’s a long road, I’m just trying to focus on building capacity for those mid century lines and curves that I have in my minds eye.

Thoughts and opinions are always welcome!