I am highly embarrassed to reveal this - but here goes.

For the first time ever, my greenhouse tomatoes are a complete disaster.  I blame it all on the new growbags I chose. Of course you’ll say “well a bad workman blames his tools” and I would understand that. But hear me out.

I always grow the same cherry tomatoes – Sun Cherry, Sun Gold and Black Cherry and I always buy my seed from Thompson & Morgan. And this year was no different.

My usual practise is to germinate them from seed in trays on a heated shelf, in seed compost. I then move them into 3in pots in a mix of general purpose and the material from the same bag as I plan to plant them in. They get moved into the grow bags, three to a bag, when they are about 6 – 8 inches high. And usually they shoot up, thicken up, need their 'overarm' shoots pinching out to control them, and they flower and fruit profusely.
I use the green plastic rings to help with the watering and the plants are supported on canes held up by an invention my father made when I was a child, two of which I still have and which work beautifully, even if they are a little rusty now. It was called the Arley Grow and the metal supports are held in place by the weight of the growbag and three metal rings support the canes. All very simple and effective.

In some years, to be fair, when we have had poor summers, the tomatoes have taken longer to ripen but the plants are always huge, trying to burst out of the top of the greenhouse and covered in flowers and then fruit. Every year to date I have enjoyed lots of ripened fruit by August at the latest.

And this year was no different early on, except that I used new growbags. For years I have used New Horizon, peat-free growbags as recommended by Which?Gardening, with great success.  But this year I tried a new growbag, as uber-recommended by the same authoritative organ – Verve growbags from B&Q.
I also planned to use them for the other seeds I was planting, as Which?Gardening recommended them as a good seed propagation medium too. So I bought five. I should have known better. As soon as I opened the first one I was shocked. It smelled strongly of manure and was black and very fibrous. So, for the seeds, I put some of this in the base of the tray and covered it with proper, fine grained, seed compost. All my seeds did well, not just the tomatoes so, early in the season, I was very happy with my growbag choice.

However, you have never seen such a sad and pathetic sight as my tomatoes now. A couple of the six are still no taller than 1 metre.  As I write, there are precisely three small green tomatoes across the six plants and three small flowers on one plant. There are toadstools growing up in the base of one and they all look sickly, despite having been fed with tomato feed and watered properly. And the bags are very poorly made. They have holes everywhere, not just on the top where they should be if you over-water, but all over. When I water, the floor of the greenhouse gets a good wash.

I am devastated. Each year I rely on a fabulous crop of tomatoes from August onwards to keep me going in salads, in fish dishes and cooking generally. This year I'm going to have to resort to the supermarket again - and tasteless, watery tomatoes.

I love Which?Gardening normally but, to be honest, I am now going to be more wary of their recommendations. I 100% blame them and B&Q for my tomato disaster this year. New Horizon will have my allegiance again next year. It's too late now.


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The male blackbird who has starred in a couple of my movies loves this garden. He built a nest this year with his mate in the ivy in the side passage: very sensible – well hidden and close to a permanent food and water source. For weeks I watched him and his mate dive in and out of the ivy. Then, a couple of weeks ago, the side passage was full of the cries of newly hatched blackbirds screaming for food.

Sitting at the table on the terrace was almost dangerous – we were in the flight path – as Mr and Mrs Blackbird flew tirelessly in with worms and grubs to feed their young. The noise from the ivy was glorious and exciting. A new brood of little blackbirds was in progress.

Last Friday I was out at the opera and the dogs were thus locked in the house. Saturday morning the nest was silent. I listened to the silence for a few hours and then, with a heavy heart, investigated. I found a dead blackbird chick on the ground – almost fully fledged. It broke my heart. I can’t see the remains of a nest or his other fledglings (maybe they are in my neighbours’ garden) but the nest and family are clearly gone. It must have been a magpie or a cat. Magpies check the garden out and I have caught cats stalking across the fence there, despite the thorny roses and dogs.

It has happened before. Last year a cat attacked when the nest was just eggs and Mr Blackbird and his wife recovered and built a new nest in the roses above the gated arch where they successfully raised a brood. This time I know he put up a fight, albeit unsuccessfully and I don’t think he has built a new nest.

He is now back on the feeder, bruised and battered, with his feathers all messed up and looking like he has been in a cat – or magpie -fight. He can fly and feed so I suppose he’s OK but gosh, every time I see him, I want to weep for his dead family and the fight he obviously put up to try and save it. His before and after can be seen below.


A few days later I found what looked like a dead bee in the pond. As we all know we need every bee we have for pollination purposes, so I fished it out and put it on the edge hoping it might recover. I filmed it too. As you will see it lay looking dead for some time and then miraculously came to life, started to move and clean itself. But then the struggle seemed too much and it appeared to give up and die. However some moments later it recovered its strength and went through the process again. This happened about five times and every time I thought he had given up the ghost. But he hadn’t. 20 minutes later it had recovered sufficiently to fly off – and of course I missed the take-off. However, on the positive side, we have one more bee in this world even if we have four or five fewer blackbirds. I am still in mourning for them.

There are so many Astrantia and I love them all. This one is the commonest I think (and I know it can grow wild) but it's also possibly the most beautiful with its deep pink centre, pink tips to the stamens and green fringed, white petals. It is surrounded by roses in my pink bed but doesn't seem to care and is a very reliable flowerer.

It was small but almost perfectly formed. It was the Spring garden show at The Garden Museum at Lambeth Palace.  On Sunday a friend and I paid a visit. Entry was cheap at £5. The show consisted of about ten plant stalls - some outside and some in the church, plus a number of other stalls selling things of interest like greeting cards with fabulous photos of plants which made me very jealous and were only £1.50 each - see bloomsofpenge.com.

The event was well attended though I have to say the lunch and coffee tables seemed the busiest places but that may have been because we arrived at about 11.30am and the attendees were inevitably somewhat on the older side.

There were three real highlights for me. The first was that the outside stalls were set amongst the fabulous churchyard which is so evocative. Ancient tombs and stones surrounded by ‘wild’ planting in one section (daffs, tulips, Brunnera, grasses) and the other stalls amongst the formal box beds of the knot garden with a fabulous range of interesting plants.


And all surrounded by modern office buildings on one side and the ancient palace on another, a little green haven amongst the busy roads around Lambeth Bridge and St Thomas’ hospital.


I’m really pleased with this video of birds feeding and bathing in my garden, cut in time-ish to a Strauss polka (watch the goldfinches and Blackbirds in particular). It’s an example of what I am learning as I create this Blog.

My day job is making videos for large corporates. I advise them on how best to tell and articulate their corporate stories on video – for investors, employees and other business audiences. Almost all of this video is online, so supposedly I am online video savvy. But my role is to think, advise, direct and produce – all bossy talk and no physical action! I am never behind the camera and I sit beside the editor as he/she creates the finished piece with me.

For this site, it has all had to change. I have to be able to do it all myself. I can’t wait for a cameraman to be free when a bee is in a flower – I have to film it. I can’t wait for an editor the other side of town to be free so I can create a piece to show you what’s happening in the garden.

I have a gap in my Pink bed. It is behind the Rowan tree, along the West facing fence and it looks particularly gappy in Winter.

Obviously, once the Rowan tree comes into leaf, the Berberis gets going and the Buddleja flowers it will be less obvious, but it still needs filling.

The gap was created by cutting off one half of the Ceanothus which bushed out into the Pink bed and by hard pruning the Clematis montana last year, so whatever is put there will need to deal with the original Clematis montana Grandiflora as it grows back as well as the new C. montana 'Mayleen'. But 'Mayleen' seems to be heading off towards the house ie not inclined to cover my gap.

So what to choose?

Very reliable, big and strong despite Pickle treading all over it. It has burst out of its pond planter.


This, if you haven’t seen one before, is what I call a frog or toad ball. It is part of the mating practice of frogs and toads and happens every year in my pond. It’s the first such ball this year and it’s a small one and I think it’s a frog ball because so far there’s only frog spawn in the pond. As far as I can see there are only four males (they are the smaller ones) grabbing onto the one larger female – she’s the one whose arms are loose and outright. Essentially she’s in a relaxed position with the males all over her. I’ve seen toad balls in the past with more than ten males smothering one female.

Before I had a website, blog and digital SLR camera that shot video I kept a diary by hand to record the happenings in the garden. This was the drawing I made of a frog ball in 2008.


And I am not sure how relaxed the females really are. I have found dead females following this balling. The males must drown her in the process by mistake. It must also mean that there are far too many males per female because other mating videos I’ve seen show just one on one events.



Sometime between 10.30 pm and 11.30 pm tonight, as I was weeping my way through a replay of Sunday’s “Call the midwife” on BBC’s i-player, Spring started in London. I can tell you this authoritively because I heard it. Wiping the tears from my cheeks at the end of the programme I needed air. I stepped outside onto my terrace to be greeted by a sound I haven’t heard for very many months – a serenade of frogs.

They weren’t there earlier tonight at 10.30pm but they were singing at 11.30pm. It has lifted my soul. Spring is here - for definite. If the frogs are back in my pond then there is little doubt. They have made a couple of mistakes in the past – but not many in ten years

It has been a cold, cold winter. I have been chilled to the bone. The dog walks have almost become chores rather than pleasures as the soles of my feet have become numb through my wellies and my fingers have chilled picking up the string of Pickle’s ball countless times as he returns it religiously to my toes in the freezing mud for yet another throw.

Now it is all worth it. The seedlings in my heated greenhouse started to sprout last week but it all felt false – heaters, propagators, bubble-wrapped comfort etc.. But now that the frogs are singing, all is right with the world. We can sing again too and celebrate the dawn of a new season.

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