Congratulations – it’s a girl!

“My cucurbits aren’t producing fruit “, I hear you cry. I feel your pain, it’s happened to me. Cucumber, melon, courgette (marrow), squash, gourd and pumpkin, are all members of this delicious, watery, succulent family.

Back in the Spring, you took those curiously flat, oval seeds and started them off in pots. You even planted them on their side so that excess water could run off them, improving their chances of germination. You lovingly transplanted them into their growing position when weather and season permitted; a well- drained, fertile sunny spot. You tenderly cared for them, making sure they didn’t get thirsty. You removed caterpillars from them by hand, protected them from every mollusc in the neighbourhood – because word is out – they know there’s a party going on in your garden! In return for your kindness, they put out plenty of fleshy, verdant growth. And then, you could hardly contain your excitement, as you saw the first blousy yellow flower appear. Like a good veggie grower, you’ve planted plenty of insect attractant plants around them to give the flowers the best chance of being pollinated because you know the window of opportunity is small. You waited….and waited…waited some more ….and …nothing! More lush flowers; still nothing.  Ah, the curse of the cucurbits!

Cucurbits produce both male and female flowers. Boys come first. The more mature the plant is, the more likely it is to grow some girls. It’s the girls that need to be pollinated to grow your lovely fruit. For that you need the pollen to be transferred from the boy. So, yep! You guessed it. It takes two to cucurbit! So, how do you know which one is male and which one is female? Easy! Mrs C has a miniature fruitlet sitting just behind the flower.  Mr C doesn’t.

The female has a miniature, unfertilised fruitlet sitting behind the flower, clearly seen as a bulge on this melon plant. She needs to be pollinated for the fruit to grow.
The male flower simply grows on a stalk.  We need him to pollinate the girls.

A young plant will initially put out mostly male flowers. One way to encourage it to produce more girls is to -sorry about this, guys- remove some of the boys. The plant somehow gets the message and starts producing more girls. However, don’t go crazy, this is not a cull! Leave some boys because you need them to pollinate the girls when they grow and she will only be open for a couple of days. This is why you grew all those lovely insect attractant plants nearby! You can pollinate the flowers by hand by taking a male flower off the plant, removing the petals (from smaller flowers such as those produced by the melon), and rubbing the pollen bud around the inside of the female. It’s a bit fiddly but it can help increase your chances of fruit being formed.  One male flower can be used to pollinate 3-4 females. I’ve only ever needed to use this hand pollination method for my melon plants growing in the greenhouse.

This young lady wasn’t pollinated and her potential fruit is turning yellow. It will eventually drop off.
Whereas, this young lady has been busy,
The pollinated fruit will continue to swell into a hairy young melon baby
The fruit continues to grow and the flower end drops off

As the fruit swells and gets heavier it may need some kind of support. Large squashes, melons and pumpkins growing on the ground can be supported by purchasing cradles that allow the air to circulate around the plant and for it to grow evenly. For larger fruits growing vertically you may need to provide a ‘sling’ to prevent their weight breaking the stem of the plant. Old tights or netting is ideal for this. Be as creative as you like!

Once the fruit has started to swell, feed the plant every 10-14 days with a liquid feed high in potassium/potash; such as tomato feed, and continue to make sure the plant doesn’t experience drought. You can remove some of the larger leaves around the fruit to let the sun do its job of ripening. Harvest fruits by cutting them off the plant with stem attached and enjoy – throw your head back and laugh – delighting in the knowledge that you have overcome the curse of the cucurbits!

Ponderings from the Polytunnel

Going Where the Favour Lies

How do you know if a door is locked or unlocked? No, it’s not the start of a bad joke. It’s something I use as a bit of a life philosophy, and you know the answer. It’s simple. You turn the handle. Sometimes you have to give the door a slight push but clearly, if you run at it from 300 hundred paces, throw all your weight on it and it still won’t budge, then you can safely assume it’s locked! Opportunities come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some don dark glasses and other such disguises (couldn’t help it – it rhymed – but the sentiment is there). They are not always easy to recognise and just staring at the door handle won’t open the door. YOU have to engage with it, and exert your energy and influence on it.

This summer, at a garden where a group of us get our green exercise, high at the top of a pergola, a family of tree bees moved into a redundant bird box. They took the opportunity to lease hold the property for the season, make it their own, do what the birds and the bees do, and raise their resultant bee babies, teaching them how to bee. All in the space of a few weeks. Back in 2001, Bombus Hypnorum, as she likes to be called, took the opportunity to establish herself here in the UK. She’s settled in nicely, without causing detriment or harm to us or our native bees.  She’s now a fairly common site in the more northerly parts of the UK. Imagine if she hadn’t taken the opportunity? I wonder which intrepid soul was the first to recognise that the handle could be turned, that the door could be opened and that a new land could be conquered? Which bee was the first to engage, spend her energy, and subsequently influence the future of the entire species?  

Tree Bees in their summer house

One unlocked door will often lead to others. In turning various handles over the years, I have learned to only push a little. I’m not going to waste my limited time, resources and energy in taking a battering ram to them because we do have a problem here! We can’t see what’s on the other side of the door and when you’re a curious sort, you have to know. But you might be better off remaining in ignorance. You may not like what you see or not understand that what looks appealing might actually be harmful to you.

You see, our little bee friend has only done so well because the conditions are right for her here. The environment suits her and supports her needs and wishes; food, shelter, territory.  She saw an opportunity, realised conditions were favourable and set up home. Opportunities will not produce anything unless you follow through. Bombus gave it a try and has thrived.

In May and June the guys swarm the nest entrance waiting for her majesty to appear so they can mate with her.

We have experienced such a long time of literally being behind locked doors. Some of the doors that were once open remain locked up – possibly permanently. But opportunities are coming up again. Handles are beginning to turn and like our bee friend, we can advance into new and exciting lands. She’s moved on and her nest is empty now. She saw her bird box of opportunity and by taking it, she has secured her family line.  Bombus Hypnorum would tell you to go for it, you little risk taker you! When a door presents itself to you, turn the handle, go where the favour is and see what wonderous new world opens up before you. You never know, we might meet up on the other side of the door. Wouldn’t that be fun?

Lovely reviews of our Groceries from the Garden Experience – 5 star!

Lucy ” We thoroughly enjoyed our ‘groceries in the garden’ experience. Isa was extremely informative and gave us a lot of insight into growing fruit and vegetables in your own back garden. After taking a tour round her beautiful garden we also got to enjoy hands-on activities including feeding chickens, re-potting plants and cultivating potato’s. I would recommend this to anyone wanting to learn more about gardening food, or anyone who is looking for a therapeutic relaxing, educational experience. This best way to end our 3 day trip in Wales. Isa was a lovely host, she was honest, down to earth, had great energy and we left feeling grounded and inspired. Thank you Isa!! “

Maya “Amazing experience! Will go again and take my daughter. Lovely lady and AMAZING garden”.

Why not book your place now?

“Keep your bird lips off my food”

That’s the often repeated mantra that echoes throughout my garden at the moment! The visiting blackbirds seem very tame; I can get ridiculously close to them. One clever couple have raised triplets and bring them to the redcurrant bush to feast on. I don’t mind; there are plenty. But when they move onto my blueberries it’s another story. It’s as if they know they can be difficult to grow. They won’t keep their bird lips off! The thing about a wildlife garden is that it attracts wildlife.  My brassica seedlings have been replaced three times because some critter keeps eating them. So rude! The critter tried to move into the hen pen but it was informed it had been eyeballed, and its’ plan for hen pen domination has been thwarted.

The blueberries are now covered in netting

Talking of the girls– all but one of my lovely rescue hens that I got last year have died, so I have 4 newbies. It’s a bit like the Montagues and Capulets down there; each group sticking to their own end and occasionally clashing over food in the middle. Their noisy protestations make them sound like they need oiling!

The garden has been quietly growing (when critters and birds allow), although it seems a bit behind everyone else’s. Even so, the dinner table has been graced with beans, peas, potatoes, leeks, cucumbers, salads, radishes, cauliflower, cabbages, spinach, spring onions, and carrots. And for desert; strawberries, gooseberries, blueberries, redcurrants, blackcurrants and rhubarb. Onions, shallots and garlic are curing in the wood store – yes, the wood store – where else would one cure one’s alliums? The tomatoey madness is yet to come but the plants are healthy with flowery promise and there’s much laughter to be heard as they’re given a good tickle. 

It took me a long time to figure out just how busy I should be in the garden in July, because it seems, in some respects, as if the growing season is starting to slow down. The long lazy days of summer make you feel long and lazy! July is sometimes known as our second spring, due to the fact that there are many seeds that can be sown now, many transplants to plant in situ, and it actually is a very busy month. Lots to do to prepare for the late autumn and spring harvests. The weather here is currently hair frizzing – 90 degrees in the greenhouse by 9:00am.  And yet in the cooler evenings you can almost smell the forthcoming transition of seasons in the air.

You can directly sow Autumn King carrots, Swiss Chard, Spinach, Purple Kale, and all manner of salad leaves; such as quick heading lettuces, winter purslane, endive, oriental leaves, mibuna and chicory. Why not multi sow beetroots such as Boltardy, turnips such as Snowball and start yet more radishes, peas, spring onions, French beans, spring cabbages, kohl rabi, and fennel? Leek transplants need to be in by the end of the month, together with Brussels sprouts, winter cabbages, autumn cauliflowers and sprouting broccoli seedlings.

There really isn’t such a thing as a lazy summer when it comes to growing your own. As well as all the above; there’s weeding, feeding, watering, harvesting, pruning, and training to keep on top of. There are wars to fight – soil borne diseases, airborne diseases, pests and critters. Cats sitting on your seedlings or using your raised beds as giant litter trays; birds to scare as you wrestle them for your blackcurrants; slugs and snails partying on your greens; black fly, green fly and variations on a theme. There’s food to harvest, cure, store and preserve and July is the month to do it all in!

Cherry and plum trees are pruned now – not in the winter. Apple and pears need to be thinned out to allow each fruit to grow to a reasonable size. Blackcurrants can be lightly pruned, and following your harvest of summer raspberries, cut the canes that had borne fruit down to the ground.

August will hopefully allow for some relaxation, be it a staycation or a vacation. See you then with cuppa in hand.

Another lovely endorsement for our ‘Grow4it’ hospital work

“I wanted to say a big thank you for your nature studies sessions. Patients have found them really interesting and a great escape from the hospital environment breaking up the day. We have noticed such a difference in patients that come to the session being engrossed and engaged with the fascinating topics that you present. They find them so interesting and as they have limited outside time it helps them to visualise their own gardens and favourite outside spaces. It also promotes chatter amongst the others on the ward”.

(Community hospital Dementia Support Worker)

If you are interested in receiving our lively interactive nature studies for your ward/hospital/hospice/social/community group, please contact Isa – for more information. Sessions can also be delivered online.

Received this lovely endorsement for the Grow4it sessions today.

“I am a dementia support worker in (North Wales) Community Hospital. I am writing in regards to Isa, from the King’s Garden. This lady has made such a huge change to my week it is remarkable. It gives me fresh new innovative ideas to come up with different activities. It calms patients and makes them forget they are in hospital. A couple of patients even said “It was like attending my local community centre with my friends, such fun!” We have been fortunate enough to have Isa deliver some taster sessions, her knowledge is remarkable! I personally could not deliver a session in such a unique way and with such passion. If a patient hears a bird in the garden Isa will identify the call immediately. Alongside her marvellous presentations come props such as fossils, woolly mammoth hair, birds’ nests, wasp nests and magnifying glasses to enable the patients, even the poor sighted, to really see what’s going on. So, you can see nature in its glory seeing things the naked eye wouldn’t ordinarily see -it’s really extraordinary. The patients and I are always really keen to see what will be produced from the Mary Poppins rucksack next! Our patients are so enthusiastic to attend that some have to be told they can’t attend due to popularity. Not only does Isa come with an enthusiastic way of delivery to her sessions, she also has an incredible amount of passion. A topic is picked in advance either by Isa or she will offer me a choice depending on the type of patients I have and their capabilities, again being person centred. I have never come across an organisation as special as the King’s Garden. It delivers a person centred, individual hour of escapism for a patient who ordinarily would be sat bored by their bedside. Patients leave uplifted and eager to tell their fellow patients in the ward what they have learnt. Having a friendly face who is an outsider to the hospital also makes a huge difference. Being in hospital means that elderly patients have limited access to the outdoors, a lot of these patients adore their gardens and embrace being outside. Having Isa coming in to discuss various topics brings the outside inside for some patients. Or it will make an individual fall in love with the great outdoors again. It’s really quite hard to describe their faces and how much these sessions are well loved. We all look forward to our sessions with Isa and keenly await her friendly smiley face”.

N.B – places are limited due to the need to comply with social distancing measures.

Please email Isa for more information on the sessions, and how King’s Garden can help your group to cultivate connections to the natural world :

Ponderings from the Polytunnel

Bring back playtime!

It seems that ‘Billy the Kid’ (see March 2021 – Groceries from the Garden ), and ‘Billy no Mates’, are in competition with each other. Young Billy no Mates and his crew of 6, recently enjoyed a boy’s night out. Looking for greener pastures and a better night life, they decided to break out of their field in Beverley, East Yorkshire, and paint the town red. Young bullocks out on the razz must have been a sight to behold! They had a raucous time of it, making sure they stopped for a good scratch on lampposts as they worked their way through the streets. They dined out on as many verdant garden lawns as they could find– the bovine equivalent of a good curry and a pint. No doubt they paid their bill with a little something to help the roses grow! One was even tempted to try out a trampoline but thought better of it. Wise move – curry and trampolines are not a good mix – no matter how many stomachs you have! * Billy no Mates somehow managed to avoid being herded back into the field with the others, and was seen searching for his posse on the village green before being apprehended. That’s enough to scar you for life! You’re on a night out, you turn around and all your friends have gone home, leaving you on the dance floor busting your moves alone? Quelle horreur!!

Tearing up the dance floor – photographs: David Harrison

In fields, pastures, and woodlands across the Northern Hemisphere right now; there’s much frolicking, chasing, running, gambolling, dancing and play-fighting going on. Mini Me’s are learning the skills they need to be their adult selves – all through the gift of play. They’re testing their strength, learning the rules, pushing boundaries, and honing hunting skills key to their survival. Or are they? A number of scientists are coming to the conclusion that much animal play is pointless; in that it doesn’t actually teach the critters anything; they’re just having fun. Ornithologists are also concluding that not all bird song is about staking territorial claim or wooing a potential partner. Sometimes, they sing simply because they enjoy it and it’s good for them.  I love that!

photographs –

 We know that as children, we learn how to communicate and socialise through play and that it can be educational. As adults, we might construct play differently but it’s equally as vital. What an absolute gift it is, and what a relief it is that here in the UK, we no longer have to break out of our fields in the dead of night with Billy no Mates to have our fun! It’s time to fill the air with laughter again. Children, we adults may need your help. Remind us what the ring of excited, unrestrained, unabashed enjoyment sounds like. We may have to involve copious buckets of water and a water pistol but I know you won’t mind. Let’s bring back playtime. I don’t see why the critters should be the ones having all the fun. Who’s coming with me to buy a trampoline? But they’ll be no stopping for a curry on the way back! 

  *For the sake of accuracy and because I’m a pedant – cows don’t have 4 stomachs. They have one very large stomach made up of 4 chambers.

What a difference a year makes.

This time last year I woke up with an idea.

Life had radically changed for all of us; around two months into the first long lockdown, unable to work and, for me an added threat of redundancy was looming. Now, I am a thinker but I’m also a doer. Sometimes I sits and thinks, sometimes I just do. The weather was glorious so I painted everything that had the misfortune to be in my way (sorry cats). The garden was weeded, hoovered, tidied and peacefully growing at its own pace. I had repaired things, decluttered the house, chopped up wood for the winter and rearranged the hen pen. I had tidied the shed and, like so many, I had even had a go at making sourdough bread – we’ll say no more about that!

Then I stopped. What next? With nothing to do and no-one to see, I’d run out of purpose and was genuinely beginning to run out of hope. Looking at the long term forecast, I couldn’t see the way ahead – no income, desperately limited social contact, others in my life suffering, and no inkling of how things were going to improve.

A year ago – to the day – Groceries from the Garden was born. Writing it helped to keep me sane, gave me reason and construct to my days and now it’s an experience bookable through AirBnB / or by contacting me on

I got my mojo back. But what a difference a year makes.

In the garden, this spring has proved to be a challenge for those of us who don’t have a heated green house. Seedlings have struggled with the fluctuating temperatures; so much so that this is the difference 12 months has made:

Tomatoes were in their pots ready to be sited in the garden 2020
Tomato seedling 2021!

But there’s hope! Sometimes you have to create it or at least play a part in its creation. I can’t change the weather to help my seedlings but I can do my best for them. So, during the day 100 tomato babies have basked in the greenhouse and in the evening they have been dutifully transported to the kitchen. I’m confident they can survive the nights in the greenhouse now. Things will improve for them and they’ll soon catch up.

This month you can sow just about any and every veg seed you want to grow. I didn’t sow my parsnips and carrots until the beginning of the month and they’re now peeking through the soil. Sometimes it’s worth holding back. Salad crops can be sown directly into their growing areas. May is known as the growing month. Things other than your delicious veggies and flowers will be growing rapidly too so if it’s a weed in your veggie patch, get rid of it. If you can hold off mowing your lawn (no mow May), and allow dandelions and daisies to grow, the bees will be for ever in your debt and will reward you by pollinating your plants. There’s much to do but don’t forget to simply enjoy the garden. As you plant your veggies, consider the hope that you have participated in creating and the difference a year makes! See you in June.

Ponderings from the Polytunnel

Where’s Wally?

I know he’s not supposed to be easy to find. In fact, he really isn’t supposed to found at all. At least not in the UK. No, not our bespectacled friend in a woolly hat and scarf. I’m talking about that moustached, marine gentleman in flippers.

Wally, the juvenile arctic Walrus was first seen in Ireland. It’s believed he drifted across the North Atlantic Ocean from Greenland after falling asleep on an ice floe – as you do! From Ireland he swam to Tenby, in South Wales and has found an ideal spot for a ‘staycation’. He’s become a bit of a celebrity and, in true celebrity fashion, he had a diva moment – disappearing from the public glare for a few days over the Easter period. No-one knows where he went but he’s returned in good health and has even gained weight. He apparently spends his day simply resting, eating and sleeping – a man after my own heart! A walrus can live up to 40 years in the wild, weigh up to a tonne, and their 4cm thick layer of skin and fat helps them withstand freezing temperatures as low as minus 35°C. They are sensitive but resilient creatures and you wouldn’t want to pick a fight with one!

Wally taking his staycation in Tenby, Wales, UK. Photographs: Amy Compton

Life can be a bit like Wally’s accidental adventure. One minute you’re happily drifting along on your iceberg and the next you find yourself in a strange and distant land, far removed from what you had expected or intended.  Life interrupts your plans. Sometimes the interruption is ridiculously difficult and painful, sometimes it’s pleasant – even wonderful. Like Wally, we have to adapt and settle into the new environment we find ourselves in. That can be exhausting. I think Wally’s idea of getting away from it for a while was a good one. Even when we can’t physically remove ourselves, we can immerse in the things that make us smile, even if only for several minutes.  And just like Wally does; keeping to our routine will bring us familiarity and comfort as we learn to navigate the new waters.

Good on you Wally. You’re welcome here. I’m going to take a leaf out of your book now – off to sit in the garden with a cuppa and a slice of naughtiness, while I listen to the birds make their music. Feel free to stay as long as you need to. Sometimes, when your ice floe has deposited you somewhere you didn’t expect, it takes a little time to figure out what your next move should be!

Wally ‘sleeping on it’, while he figures out his next move. Photo: Emma Ryan


This time I won’t shout. Promise.

My poor delicate seedlings don’t know whether to wear fur lined boots or open toed sandals. In the greenhouse they bask in 80 degrees centigrade during the day and shiver in minus 1 at night.  Such extreme fluctuations have led to a dozen of my tomato seedlings giving up in their confusion. They have ‘damped off’.

This is a term used for when a seedling collapses and dies following attack by a soil borne disease – usually a fungus. The fungus is caused by damp conditions and is particularly problematic in Spring when light levels and temperatures are still low.  Of course, I’m also going to apportion some blame to the lockdown too, as I hadn’t been able to buy any vermiculite to add to the sowing compost. Vermiculite adds drainage and helps to prevent the shallow roots from becoming water logged.  Their demise had absolutely nothing to do with me being way too eager and sowing too early!

The seedlings in the foreground have ‘damped off’ and cannot be recovered

No other seedlings were harmed in the writing of this blog and I do still have about 100 tomato babies left– I can’t help myself; I have a problem, I know! At the opposite end of the spectrum; broad beans, garlic, onions and shallots are as resilient as resilient things and thriving in situ. Snow and frost haven’t fazed them.

Happy garlic

The fruit trees are dripping with blossom and buzzing with bees; teasing me with the prospect of deliciousness to come. The girls, who are now allowed out to play, are starting to hide their eggs from me again. It’s a game they play. They tell me they’ve heard that we humans like to go on egg hunts at this time of year – something to do with an Easter tradition and all that. So, April is living up to her horticultural reputation of toil, unpredictability and promise. She always was a bit of a drama lama. Exhausting! I’m going for a lie down. See you in May.

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