Tag Archives: plants

Snooping around allotments in February

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The weekend was rather sunny and at my parents’ allotments things were starting to stir.

I was staying with my parents last weekend and I took the opportunity to have a good old snoop around their allotments yet again! I last visited their plot properly in November and established that being a nosey gardener is in my nature.

There was a lot of activity, people barrowing compost and wood chippings, constructing paths and building structures. Jobs like that are very popular at this time of year with allotmenters and gardeners alike because there’s so many bare areas that you can tend to, unlike in the summer where they could be overgrown with foliage, flowers and weeds.

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There was still an abundance of kale and it’s looking like the stuff at RHS Harlow Carr with the pickings gone from the bottom leaving young leaves at the top of long stalks. It is still my No.1 favourite veg that I have never grown!! Can’t wait to start sowing it soon.
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A rare sighting of me, still obsessed with kale!

I also made a beeline for last year’s allotment winner, lots of neat bare beds but I was impressed by the quality of the veg she’s still got growing and looking so healthy.

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The cabbage man has eaten the majority of his giant crop but a few remain, still looking impressive.

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I also noticed a huge net box! Plus, one that is still covering carrots from last year and I spied some seedlings in a greenhouse – could they be monster leeks and onions!

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It was nice to spend time at my folks allotments and I sensed a really good vibe among the allotmenteers. I’m looking forward to visiting again and seeing what happens over the next few months.

This weekend has been grey and slightly snowy so far and I’ve had to dig the indoors today! I’ve finally been able to catch up Monty Don’s French Gardens series that Wellywoman reminded me of in her recent post. The Gourmet Garden episode was of particular interest to me because it covers the topic of my latest challenge, which is to more carefully buy food products that I can trace the source of.

Hope you’re enjoying your weekend and have had better weather than me. Have you been spending more time outside in your gardens lately?


Month by month – gardening in February

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I always remember back to a job I had years ago when I used to drive up the motorway home every night. I benchmarked February 10th as being light when I hit the slip road. It doesn’t always happen on that date though but in February I basically live in hope of the light! At the end of this month I’ve usually managed to get up to my allotment after work and I start airing and cleaning the BBQ ready for March, when cooking and eating my evening meal up there becomes normal. This month could bring more snow and bad weather though, so we’re not out of the woods yet…

  1. Buy your seed potatoes and start ‘chitting‘ them by standing them up in trays (egg boxes are perfect) on your windowsill or anywhere light so they start sprouting.
  2. Start warming up the ground where you’ll be planting this year. Cover in polythene, mini poly tunnels or net boxes.
  3. Keep protecting pots of bulbs that haven’t come up yet from squirrels and water-logging. Keep them in your greenhouse, cold frame or a sheltered spot.
  4. Divide up any big clumps of bulbs after they have passed their best – snowdrops are the ideal candidates followed by clumps of grape hyacinths and daffodils next month.
  5. Start sowing chilies, peppers and early tomato varieties indoors or in a greenhouse that you can heat if temperatures plummet.
  6. Once they’ve finished flowering, prune winter flowering shrubs.
  7. Carefully prune fruit trees and certain types of clematis – don’t hard prune anything that flowers in spring.
  8. If your ground isn’t frozen or waterlogged you can plant garlic.
  9. As above, sow broad beans and/or plant out any well-established young broad bean plants that you’ve previously sown under cover.
  10. Go shopping for onion and shallot sets ready for next month, if your ground looks good though you could plant shallots in February. I tend to wait. You can also start sowing onion seeds now, although I prefer planting sets.

If it snows, clear it off tree branches and shrubs (Adam finds this hilarious but just shake the shrubs and use a brush if need be to clear it from tree branches) and if all else fails stay inside and do some sowing! My seed sowing list this month is:

  • Chilies – Anaheim, Jalapeno, Cayenne and ‘Hot Thai Culinary’ from World Kitchen
  • Peppers – Californian Wonder and Ingrid sweet pepper varieties
  • Lobelia – String of Pearls
  • Tomato – Black Russian from Seed Parade
  • Cucumber – Beth Alpha
  • Broad beans – I’ll be sowing straight into the ground outside and planting out the ones I started off in December

The important thing to remember about planting out is that the ground must not be frozen or waterlogged. Don’t do any pruning or planting out just before a period of very cold weather – check the weather forecast for the week ahead first.

The most comprehensive guide I’ve seen this month is on Woolly Green. There’s a video on pruning wisteria if you’ve not done that already and some advice about lawns. I know that some bloggers pruned their wisteria before Christmas. Not Just Green Fingers also has a great guide for the kitchen gardener.

Talking of bloggers, Sue from Green Lane Allotments has listed what she’s sown so far and also done a great post about her new seed delivery. Jo from the Good Life has sown her pepper seeds and onion seeds. My complete seed list for the year is here

Please feel free to add your own February tips and advice. What will you be doing this month?

Ideas and inspiration from garden visits

harlow_carr_alpine_greenhouse_viewWhen I renewed my RHS membership last year I made a vow to visit Harlow Carr at least once a month. This isn’t just so I can have a nice wander and a treat from Betty’s but it means that I can pay far more attention to what they’re doing each month and come away with some good ideas.

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I find Harlow Carr really inspirational and contrary to popular belief I do feel you can get ideas to take back to your own gardens and veggie patches. For example, their alpine greenhouse has always inspired me to keep my own little alpine area and get more involved with alpine plants. I also joined the Alpine Garden Society last year as a result of a growing interest that stemmed from Harlow Carr.

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The neatness of their veg planting is something I also aspire to achieving and with my new row markers that I got for Christmas I have no excuse!

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During my visit last weekend I saw them creating new pathways. Marking them out with sticks and laying black anti weed membrane down first. Another really neat job but definitely something anyone could do. They’ll no doubt weave willow between the sticks to create nice borders.

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It also gives me yet another opportunity to plug the wonder plant Kale, still looking pristine even though 2 days earlier we had the biggest snow dump of the month. Their planters of pak choi, which I first saw in November, have lasted perfectly. I’d have never thought about growing pak choi if I hadn’t seen theirs.

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I was delighted to see their pots of garlic in cold frames. Last year I struggled to get my garlic planted due to water-logging so to solve the problem I planted some in pots as a bit of an experiment, but I see they’ve done the exact same thing!

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It’s great seeing how they work and I think visiting gardens, big or small, professional or amateur is a must for any keen or budding gardener. If they can do it, so can you!

harlow_carr_strawberryOk, so I don’t know how they have a strawberry in January?

Have you ever tried doing new things as a result of a garden visit? Have you got any good tips that you picked up from a garden visit?

Forced Hyacinths – an accidental surprise

blanched_hyacinthsUntil today I had no idea that you could ‘force’ hyacinths. I know all about forcing rhubarb since I live in close proximity to the ‘Rhubarb Triangle‘ in Yorkshire, but hyacinths?

Yesterday Adam ventured into the cellar and returned with two pots of them, looking anemic and almost plastic like. What a spectacle! They were much paler yesterday than this photo above and looked totally bizarre and alien but a lack of time and battery power meant I couldn’t photograph them in all their weirdness. They’re looking a lot greener now and apparently in just a few days of being in a cool but light spot in the house they should start producing more flower buds.

It was only when I started to think about this oddity that I discovered that forcing hyacinths is actually a real practice. Keeping them in the dark to bring them on early is apparently wide known. Adam said he’d put them in the cellar for this very reason but forgot all about them and was meant to retrieve them when the tips started to show. It would seem that I’ve been in the dark about this as much as the bulbs have.

second_lot_of_vases_out_of_the_cellar_5-12-2011_thImage from http://www.hyacinthvases.org.uk/

I found a whole blog dedicated to this practice and looking at their amazing collection of antique vessels I can see why someone would want to create a display of these bulbs as soon as they could. I’ve also found tons of information online about forcing all sorts of bulbs. Here’s Monty with his little yellow trug – apparently the episode that inspired Adam to stash the bulbs in the first place. There’s even loads of people on Pinterest who are keen on collecting the lovely glass vases as well as growing the hyacinths. I’ve quickly become obsessed and even created my own board.

I love interesting plant containers and planted some bulbs in teapots a few months back. I really think these hyacinths look cool in the colourful vases. I’m inspired to create my own collection. My only problem is space! I sometimes feel like plants are taking over my life!

Have you started growing hyacinths in the dark before? Do you have any ideas about interesting ways to display bulbs?

Back from the snow and into the snow…

Well it snow surprise that we suddenly get a massive dump of the fluffy white stuff just when everyone was starting to enjoy the unusually mild winter! I’ve had a wonderful holiday in Andorra, hitting the ski slopes, where there was a slight lack of snow (but enough to ski and snowboard) and I must say that coming back was a REAL downer. Wow! If January blues aren’t hard enough add a dose of post holiday blues on top and that was me all last week. I’m finally coming out of it though and just as I thought I had nothing to write my fingers have started tapping. I thought I was going to have to change my blog to ‘dig the inside’ since all I found myself doing was vegetating in front of the TV – a very unusual activity for me.  andorra
The good news is that my seedlings have survived without me. The sweet peas are looking a little leggy though and this is when I wish I had a conservatory to put them in to give them as much light as possible. The ones I sowed in the greenhouse in November are only just coming through and are still tiny.

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The garden is looking delightful and I’m really glad I left my pots of bulbs in the greenhouse and in the cold frame. The ones planted outside are doing very well and the snow seems to enliven them unlike the violas which look a little droopy. I have no doubt that they will spring back though and I’m carefully deadheading them to give them as much growing energy as possible.

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This is a short but double whammy post because along with my updates I’ve also published the first of my ‘month by month‘ series. I’m absolutely no expert but people keep asking me what they should/could be doing in their gardens. I direct them to plenty of websites, but still they ask. So to accompany what I’m doing I’ll also post a monthly list. Please feel free to help me with this and add links to your posts.

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As well as getting back into writing I’m looking forward to catching up on reading all my favourite blogs too. I plan to make some changes to my website this month, including a list of the blogs I read and I also plan to do lots of sketching with my new kit that I won from casual casual easy thing!

I hope you’re all doing well this January and you haven’t succumbed to the blues. What plans do you have for the rest of the month?

The garden diaries – an allotment retrospective

I’ve read a lot of awesome blogs this year and in fact it was reading such blogs that sparked the desire to write my own. I recently read three very cool review posts, one by Marks Veg Plot, a two-parter by out of my shed and the amazing award ceremonies by wellywoman. All are very uniquely written with a good dose of humor and I too would like to review my year in my own way.

Each week at work we have an ‘agile retrospective’ where we look back on the week and discuss the good, the bad and the things that we weren’t quite so sure about. So, I’ll do the same. I’m interested in looking back at this post next year and seeing what changes, improvements or planting disasters I may have had, after all keeping a record is what a blog was originally all about – a web log.

The good
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Fruit – gooseberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, redcurrant, apples and pears. All were exceptional. I think they liked the rain (unlike me who did not).

Flowers – all germinated well and flowered for a long time.

  • My Pelargoniums at home in a hanging basket are still going for it?! The others are covered in fleece and being stored in the greenhouse. Before I had my greenhouse I used to stash them under a hedge.
  • I grew tons of Marigolds, inspired by my wedding in India. They flowered prolifically.
  • Adam sowed Rudbeckia and it was exceptional, even the plants we salvaged later in the year continued to flourish until they were killed by frost.
  • Sedums were amazing, as was Eggplant (when is Eggplant never good?) Alpines, Lupins were incredible, my Jasmine is lovely right now, Clematis, Roses, Skimmia Japonica…you name it, the flowering plants and shrubs have been amazing.

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Peppers – the best being the big red ones that were given to me as seedlings from Michaela, who sows them early.

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Chilies – an abundance of chilies and some are still growing in my kitchen.

IMG_20121021_151728The final tomato harvest above – 9 weeks ago!

Tomatoes – tasted the best ever and I’ve been growing the same variety (passed on to me from my mother) for the last 10 years. I can only assume that I saved the very best seeds from last year, which incidentally lived on a piece of brown paper floating around my kitchen until spring and are really lucky to have survived. I still have tomatoes left from the final harvest which I took 9 weeks ago.

  • Broccoli – the best variety I’ve ever grown. I will be doubling up on the crop for next year. The plants were also easy to pull out unlike some broccoli varieties which grow, what I can only describe as, tree trunks.
  • Sprouts – withstood the onslaught from the cabbage whites and were grown in adequate numbers to be a tasty treat, rather than frozen wasted mush.
  • Carrots – grown in tubs, covered with fleece to stave off the dreaded carrot root fly. A small round variety. Very nice.
  • Onions – every year I buy onion sets from Wilkos and every year they perform. They last me until the following year’s crop is ready and I really enjoy plaiting them. Home grown onions are leagues ahead of the ones you normally buy in terms of flavor and juiciness.

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Beans – given to me by my friend Alice. Her parents (she calls them the bods) donated the seeds from their garden in Selby, Yorkshire. All my fellow allotmenteers had poor beans whereas the Selby beans triumphed and were a monumental spectacle in my front raised bed. Thanks ‘bods’.

The Bad
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  • Squash – I had 10 plants, only 2 grew and the specimens were poor.
  • Courgette – normally I have marrows galore because I can’t eat my bountiful crop fast enough, this year I had one lousy courgette? It was perfectly formed and tasted great but I really missed having more. Major disappointment.
  • Potatoes – my first and only poor crop in 9 years of growing them. A couple of spuds even had blight. Worried for next year.
  • Cauliflower – germinated fine, disappeared just fine. Don’t know what happened?
  • Peas – shriveled, withered and died. Another first in 9 years.
  • Sweat Peas – a poor show.
  • Cacti – none germinated.
  • Parsnips – did not germinate.

The ?
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  • Garlic – it grew but it was quite small. Tastes great and far better than anything I buy but I feel it could have been better. Not a total disappointment.
  • Pumpkin – one tiny one. Last year’s was a monster? Still cute though and good for a decoration.
  • Nasturtiums – I love them and they weren’t too great this year but they produced a lot of seeds, so hopefully next year will be better.
  • Cucumbers – I forgot to sow them?!
  • Avocado – I brought a stone/seed home from Cyprus and it’s growing. I fear it might be growing into a big tree though. No idea what to expect.

As an added bonus, the downright ugly

slug_monsterMonsterous Slugs, pictured here (sorry it’s blurry) stuck to a large piece of slate gravel. Even Adam wouldn’t completely touch the critter.

I really don’t want to see these beasts again next year!

I hope you had a good year in your gardens. If you have written a review blog post or enjoyed reading one elsewhere please feel free to add your link, or add a comment about your year :)

The Allotment in December – what’s happenin?

frozen_allotmentIt’s a bit grim up north

Last week we had freezing rain and a day that never seemed to get light, 9am seemed more like midnight, it was dreary. During this spell I visited the allotment before work to check that I’d properly fleeced everything in the greenhouse.

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It was foggy on the plot and as I looked around all I saw was mess and all the jobs that need doing. I also saw that the frost was killing off my flowers, which have been very confused until now. I love frosty mornings but I must admit that morning was quite grim!
allotment_december_thawedIt’s still a bit grim up north

Only a few days later and the big freeze has gone! Today was much milder and it seems strange to think that we’re only a week away from Christmas. I wanted to take these photos of the allotment so I can start recording it through the months ahead. So much of it is really untidy and I have a lot of general chores to do. To be perfectly honest, I could be growing more but I prefer to grow just enough and then clear out the veg beds over winter and concentrate on bulbs and planning for the following year. Today I noticed a lot of rotting vegetables in the other plots and I’m glad I’m not in that position. However, I really do wish that I’d grown kale and I wish I still had leeks and broccoli left but I’ve eaten it, leaving me with only three sprout plants, just enough for Christmas dinner!

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Rather embarrassingly untidy plot

my_sproutsThese are up next for the chop

I aim to start January with a bang and aside from sowing leeks for the giant leek competition I’ve got involved in, I will also start sowing peppers. The best peppers I had this year were ones that fellow allotmenteer Michaela gave me. I know she starts sowing them early at home and I think that’s why she is such a rock star at growing veg. She doesn’t wait until the spring, she gets a good head start. I’ll definitely have my leeks in a heated propagator to get them going for the competition. If you have any tips for growing ‘mammoths’ I would be most grateful. I usually grow them close together to keep them small so this is going to be a real challenge!

What do you do this time of year and what are your thoughts on starting off seeds at home before the spring?

Reasons to love Yorkshire – RHS Harlow Carr

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It doesn’t matter what time of year you visit RHS Harlow Carr – it’s always inspiring.

We took Adam’s parents for a stroll around on Saturday, it was their first visit and despite it being December 1st the gardens still looked amazing.

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It’s hard to choose a favourite part of Harlow Carr but the areas that inspire me the most are the ultra neat and well thought out vegetable plots, with their recycled plastic raised beds, willow edging and perfectly planted rows. How do they do that?

HarlowCarr_IMG_8174HarlowCarr_IMG_8172HarlowCarr_IMG_8161HarlowCarr_IMG_8158HarlowCarr_IMG_8156HarlowCarr_IMG_8165Adam’s Mum – Tina

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The alpine greenhouse is fascinating with an array of delicate plants in sunken pots inside and interesting troughs dotted around the outside. I always spend hours in the alpine zone and it sparked an idea to do an alpine advent on Instagram where I’ll be posting a different alpine each day.

A nice surprise was finding a new greenhouse. Check out the cool chilli and tiny apple decorations inside! The ideas coming out of this place are just endless.

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I highly recommend a visit to Harlow Carr. I just think these guys really know what they’re doing and I come away with new ideas and good intentions of planting my vegetables in perfect rows each time…but for some reason I just can’t quite get the look?!

Have you been to Harlow Carr or any of the other RHS gardens?

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Talk about matching greenhouse, cold frame, container and water butt envy!

Fancy a Pot of Spring Bulbs?

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I was over the moon when I started my new gardening blog because Spalding Plant & Bulb Co. accepted me into their bloggers club.

As a welcome gift Spalding sent me 100 spring bulbs. They recently arrived and strangely enough I’m feeling rather guilty at accepting them? It seems I much prefer to share the love and give things away in the hope that budding gardeners or keen readers will benefit, after all gardening is my passion and I just love it when others find enjoyment in it too. Anyway, it got me thinking about what to do. Should I just give these bulbs away? But I’m already giving away some seeds. Then a flash of inspiration from Pinterest and suddenly I’m thinking about teapots and Christmas presents! Yes, there’s the answer. A teapot or other unusual vessels and nice pots will be given to family and friends as Christmas presents pre-planted with Spalding spring bulbs! After a shopping therapy trip to Leeds I returned with a selection of interesting items including a classic Wedgwood milk jug. All guilty feelings have now gone.

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Then a few days ago I received another email from Spalding asking me to take part in their challenge to pick 5 of their bulbs that I think would make a lovely Spring patio tub display. On further inspection of the fabulous bulbs they sent me, they seem like the perfect bulbs already.

My 100 bulbs consist of:
Mixed Iris, Mixed Darwin Hybrid Tulips, Grape Hyacinths – my absolute favourite bulbs of all time and one of the first I ever grew in my little garden 10 years ago, Tete-a-Tete Daffodils (which must have sold out on Spalding but they have a wide selection of very interesting Daffodil varieties left), Mixed Anemones and Mixed Alliums – again, these must have gone but check this out for an unusual Allium!

So this is how I’ve planted them up – the little Wedgwood jug and the Greek teapot simply contain the Anemones and the terracotta teapot is planted up with the Tete-a-Tete and the Mixed Iris.pot5

Thinking specifically about the patio tub, I have omitted the Anemone’s and used the remaining 5 varieties from my 100 spring bulbs pack. Now this is somewhat of a challenge because these bulbs won’t all come up and flower at the same time. Either a problem, or an opportunity. I see this as the latter, a way to keep a container of bulbs in bloom for longer. So I planted two large terracotta containers with Grape Hyacinth round the edges interspersed with Tete-a-Tete but with those flowing in towards the middle and the Iris, which will throw up greenery but flower later, then the Alliums and Tulips as the primadonna flowers in the middle. Now I predict that the Tete-a-Tete will come up first with a flash of greenery, if I look after them and keep them partly shaded then before they fade the Grape Hyacinth should follow suit along with the Tulips. If I’d planted the Grape Hyacinths earlier though these would be up now because they’re already confused and coming up in my garden. The Iris and Alliums will be the last to flower. I think the combination of colours will look great and I think my pots will last me right up until the end of July. What do you guys think?

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I really enjoy planting bulbs as you will know if you read my recent night planting post. So, thank you Spalding for the lovely gift. All the bulbs are absolute beauties and I can’t wait to see them flower. I just need some ribbons now and to choose who I will give them to….although now I’ve planted them I’ve got rather fond of the pots and think they would look great in my garden. Hmm? Can I keep them? ;)

It’s Blooming Marvelous in Amsterdam

I’ve had a quiet week on the blog front because I’ve been enjoying a short break in Amsterdam with Adam and some friends. I must say, there’s a lot more to the city than just ‘lads on stag weekends’ and the red light district. There’s also plenty of greenery and some delightful parks and gardens too!

Initially we tried booking an apartment but when it was unavailable we jumped at the chance to rent a houseboat on one of Amsterdam’s many canals. Having our own little garden was a big draw for me and I was intrigued to see what would be in flower. Seeing ducks float past the kitchen window on my first morning was pure joy!

As well as eating pancakes we visited two markets in the lovely Jordaan area where there was an amazing abundance of Squash and Pumpkin. My homegrown attempts didn’t work out for me this year, yet it seems that everywhere I go I see the most incredible and weirdest varieties imaginable.

 

We also took a walk to the iconic Vondelpark where the colours of the trees were stunning.

Our trip wouldn’t have been complete without visiting the city’s botanical gardens. It’s not exactly the best time of year though so the outside area was a little disappointing but inside the greenhouses proved interesting. From the little butterfly house to the canopy walks through the big tropical house. We made packed lunches every day and enjoyed eating them on a bench inside.

I was really impressed with Amsterdam. I loved the fact that people were successfully growing plants in the smallest of places. It has given me some great ideas for my small garden at home and some ideas for vertical planting at my allotment.

Okay, so it’s not a real garden, but it is cool!

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