Pet Corner

We have moved the pets (rabbits and guinea pig) around quite a bit, never fully liking where they were situated, but I’m happy to say we have finally given them a fixed position at long last! The area we have chosen is more sheltered and a quieter part of the garden.

Unfortunately, I didn’t see fit to take a complete before photo…

We had some spare slabs from a cheap assortment I picked up a while ago, so we laid them down in front of the hutches to avoid the soggy mulch of inevitable-falling sawdust. Now it can be swept up. Hooray!

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If you’ve ever kept rabbits and guinea pigs, you’ll know what little grass munchers they are (particularly, Fred the guinea pig who is a very useful lawn mower and fertiliser!). The problem with moving the run all over the garden during the pleasant weather is that you end up stepping in said fertiliser constantly.

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I wanted a designated pet area out of the way so the actual lawn was free from accidents waiting to happen! Unfortunately, the area I wanted to give them had the trampoline over it for years and was completely bare, hard, compacted soil… queue a call to my poor-suffering Dad. Oh, Daaaad!

Eventually, he could ignore my pleas no more and turned up on an autumnal Wednesday with his rotivator and other useful tools, and we got to work on preparing the ground and laying the turf. Well, I say ‘we’ very loosely, although I did carry some rolls of turf from the car, up the steps and across the garden and they were pretty heavy. I also kept my dad and husband supplied with tea while they worked, so I wasn’t completely useless. And of course, who would have taken the photographs if not me?

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We decided on turf rather than grass seed as I wanted the lawn to establish as quickly as possible for the pets.

What I have learned about laying turf (by watching and asking annoying questions):

  1. Dig over the ground well. If it is very compacted like ours, you may need to borrow a rotivator or you can hire them out, I believe.
  2. Once dug over, make sure there is a little lip so the ground you will be laying the turf on is shallower than the surrounding grass by about an inch (depending on the thickness of your turf); you may need to dig some soil out.
  3. Next, thoroughly rake over the area, getting it as level as possible and removing any large stones
  4. Tamp down the soil you have raked with the end of the rake. There is probably a better tool for this, but it is very effective
  5. Roll out the turf, tamping down as you go. Lay it out in a brick pattern to avoid gapping. My dad used a board to walk over  to firm it in place.
  6. Water it in. Keep watering each day if it is dry, until established.
  7. Wait for it to grow well before mowing the area

There are possibly parts we did wrong or missed but as my turf is growing well and is nice and even, I’m pretty sure “we” did an okay job.

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Around the same time, I took delivery of my third and final compost bin which my husband kindly built up for me. I’m still learning about compost but I will share a future post on what I put in, along with the most effective systems. It’s definitely not a quick process, I have found, but one of those things where I feel it will be worth the wait.

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I am absolutely chuffed with this little area at the back of the garden now and hopefully, Ginny, Luna and Fred are too!

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that we have three hutches… unfortunately, Ginny and Luna weren’t getting on well so we had to split them up as Ginny savaged Luna’s ear and I had to take her to the vets for alternative day appointments over two weeks! I was hoping to introduce them back together but Ginny (whilst lovely to us) is very hostile towards Luna, so we decided it wasn’t worth the risk. They are due to get spayed in the new year, so we shall have to see.

 

Bulb Planting

This has to be one of my favourite garden jobs. For me, it signifies the last big job in the garden before I have a rest and do lots of knitting over the winter. I look forward to a rest. I’m sure lots of other gardeners don’t feel this way, but I love making things so I see the winter as a great time to work on my other passion.

Having said that, I start getting very itchy feet by February and will be desperate to get back outside each day!

This year, I have planted the following spring bulbs in one bed:

  • Tulip ‘Stunning Apricot’
  • Narcissus ‘Tete a Tete’
  • Tulip ‘Dragon King’
  • Narcissus ‘Minnow’
  • Tulip ‘Crispion’
  • Anemone ‘Mistral Tigre’
  • Tulip ‘Murillo Mixed’
  • Allium Giganteum
  • Tulip ‘Apricot Beauty’
  • Tulip ‘Double ate Angelique’
  • Narcissus ‘Pueblo’
  • Ranunculus Pink
  • Anemone ‘St Brigid’
  • Allium ‘Purple Sensation’

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I can’t wait to see how they come through… if they do. I have trialled something which is against advice so I may find myself with no flowers at all come spring! I had some spare turf and took the quick decision to turf over the border I had created for the bulbs in the hopes that they will naturalise in the grass. I have grown lots of bulbs in borders over the years and proceeded to ruin them by accidentally putting my garden fork though them when weeding or replanting.

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Last year, I naturalised some daffodils alongside my purple bench and it worked so well. I left the grass uncut while they died back then mowed it once the foliage was spent. The problem is that I know that lots of the bulbs I have planted here are not typical for growing this way, particularly the tulips. It could be a costly error. But if it works I will be over the moon. Only time will tell!

This year, I have also planted onions and garlic for the first time. (I have grown some onions before but from spring onwards). I have planted:

  • Onion ‘Electric’
  • Onion ‘Radar’
  • Onion ‘Snowball’
  • Garlic ‘Solent White’

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Back in September, I also planted some winter brassicas. They are doing really well despite the few slug holes. I will keep you updated with the progress.

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Another first, I have sown some green manure in one of my beds as a trial.

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Gardening is trial and error though, isn’t it? That’s part of the joy. Have a go, see what happens, amend.

Right, I’m off to do some knitting!

 

 

My Garden Shed Makeover

When I painted the exterior of the shed with Cuprinol Garden Shades in Spring 2015, the plan was always to paint the inside of the shed too. I didn’t anticipate that it would take me almost four years to get around to doing it but there we are.

It was the end of the summer and I had a few days off with Faye before she went back to school, so I decided it was the perfect time to get some painting done.

I used Cuprinol Garden Shades ‘Country Cream’ and it took about three coats to fully cover it, painted over three days. It was a lot of work but I had a merry, old time listening to an audiobook while I worked and was very excited as the shed got brighter and brighter with each coat.

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I painted the floor cream at first and then quickly realised that it would always look dirty, so I repainted it with the Cuprinol Shades ‘Lavender’ that I had left over from my two-seater bench.

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The drawered cabinet that I had in the shed previously belonged to my grandad and I hadn’t the heart to get rid of it when my Dad was clearing out his house. It couldn’t be used as a proper piece of furniture as there was a giant hole in the back! The drawers were ill-fitted and difficult to open; the cupboard doors posed a problem as I had to remove the bikes from the shed each time I wanted to get in the cupboard! However, it did fit the space to the left of the inner frame so perfectly that it seemed silly not to utilise it.

My dad (to the rescue again!) turned it into a shelving unit and I attacked it with the remainder of the Cuprinol ‘Country Cream’. We added a shelf above too.

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I spent an entire day with Rob going through all of the, ahem, junk that we pulled out of the shed. We got rid of quite a lot. Then it was time to refill and organise. It’s hard to make this kind of thing look pretty but I did my best. It’s no Pinterest image, but…

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It’s not quite finished yet. I still need a stool and some fairy lights, and I’d quite like to make some curtains and bunting to make it look extra pretty (Pinterest has a lot to answer for).

All that time painting got me thinking about how I’d like to write a blog about my garden… all the little notes I make would now happen whilst I was in this shed… and ‘Notes from the Garden Shed’ was born!

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When I started writing this blog, I almost jumped straight in with this post but decided that I’d like to share my journey of how I got to this point first, as it has been very long, and I think that is more realistic of how most peoples’ journeys go.

I’m not picture-perfect, or even prose-perfect. I’m certainly not garden-knowledge-perfect! Though I hope that will encourage you to read rather than put you off. Because you don’t have to have all the know-how and tools and amazing Pinterest pictures to grow a garden. Anyone can do it with a bit of love.

 

[I just wanted to add that I am in no way connected to/affiliated with Cuprinol paints, I just really like them!]

Weather Rules

So here we are in 2018. I have almost caught you up on my gardening journey so far. This has definitely been a year where the weather was king and we were at its mercy.

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I sowed some more sweetpeas in January again; many more than the year before after acquiring some root trainers for Christmas.

We had lots of snow in December but it carried on and on and I wondered if winter would ever end! I found it so frustrating that I couldn’t get outside and start digging and cleaning the polytunnel but the wait was finally over by the end of March.

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Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of chance to sit on my purple bench and enjoy the daffs popping up around me but it was a beautiful sight.

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A sight that could not be beaten were the absolutely stunning tulips in pots – oh my! My family thought I was mad gushing over the flowers and boring everyone to death on social media with my tulip spam!

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My sweetpeas were extremely leggy and knotted up when I finally got around to planting them in baskets, of which I acquired two more this year. They put on a decent enough show but the hot weather and shallow baskets were not a good mix so by mid summer, I gave up and put them on the compost.

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I experimented with growing lettuce leaves in washing up bowls and this has worked very well, using up less compost than a deep pot with more surface area for more leaves. I shall definitely do this again next year.

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I wanted to implement lots of changes this year – New border shapes and splitting the raised bed to make things easier for me. This took a lot of work and in a never-ending heatwave too, but we got there in the end and I’m so pleased with the results.

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I made rhubarb and vanilla jam – my first foray into jam making and definitely not my last.

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The heatwave was like nothing I can remember before. I have lived in shorts for months, could not imagine a time where I would feel cold and need a coat or not be able to wear my flip flops! A heatwave to surpass all heatwaves. Two hosepipes broke and I gave up and began watering everything by can instead which took much, much longer but was also quite enjoyable.

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The sun was now king and we were at its mercy. It made gardening much harder in many ways. Watering seemed to take over our lives!

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The courgettes loved it. I have never picked so many. I still have lots of grated courgette in the freezer to add to bolognese sauces over the winter and to make more courgette chocolate brownies and lemon courgette cake. My family have asked that I don’t grow it next year as they are sick of it! It’s like the runner beans all over again!

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We have also enjoyed peas, beetroot, carrots and yellow squash this year. I had a year off from polytunnel growing (i.e tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers) so in that way things were a bit more relaxed. I found time to actually sit and enjoy the garden this year, reading, knitting and soaking up some sun, and that has been lovely.

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I successfully grew hollyhocks and cosmos from seed and even now into October, they are both still going strong and are absolutely beautiful. I have been picking Cosmos flowers for the house since early August.

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As I was so late getting the veg sown this year due to all of the digging and changes, I decided to sow sunflowers in one of my raised beds and they have been a pure delight.

Not everything worked, however, I forgot all about the dahlia tubers I had purchased on whim in B&Q and didn’t get them potted up until late May. I kept them in pots to grow on but they did not work. I think I had two flowers before they gave up! This was mostly due to the enduring hot weather, I think. When I removed the spent cornflowers from the border in July, I decided to transplant the dahlias from the pots into the border to see if they could do better there. They finally began flowering last week so not all was lost. I am thinking about how I can grow them next year as I absolutely love dahlias.

I am growing winter brassicas and leeks in the raised bed for the first time this year and despite a bit of slug damage, they are doing quite well.

I also gave my shed an interior makeover, but more on that next week.

I hope you have enjoyed reading about my garden journey up to this point. It has been rather a sweeping round up but I wanted to show you how many things I have got wrong in the process to where I am now. I’m still a long way off a beautiful, functioning garden, but making progress all the time.

Lessons Learnt

Following on from a year of half-hearted effort and poor results, I promised myself that I would give as much time as possible to my garden in 2017. I began gardening on 5th January and found the enjoyment in drinking a hot cup of tea in the cold, pottering around in the wintery space.

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It was the first year that I had sown sweetpeas and I did this in my shed in late January using old toilet roll innards in a tray. These sat on my kitchen windowsill and were growing well by February.

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I spent much time pondering over seed catalogues and making plans and when the first bright weekend was forecast I emptied and cleaned my polytunnel ready for a new growing year.

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I started sowing lots of seeds in the polytunnel and ordered some new seating for the garden – a two-seater bench and a picnic table.  I spent some time in February painting them up with my favourite Cuprinol paint.

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By March, the Purple Sprouting Broccoli I had sown the previous year was ready for picking! It was absolutely delicious.

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Whilst the daffodils and tulips were popping up around the garden, I was busy tidying up the fairy garden and adding some new alpines and a little solar house.

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I began trying to perfect my lawn stripes and took every moment I could to potter around the garden, pulling up weeds and admiring the spring flowers, while continuing to sow more seeds as the weather warmed.

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All the early efforts began to pay off as I watched things blooming all around me. The excitement I felt at the sight of the first pea shoots was slightly embarrassing!

I planted out my seedlings in the raised bed a little early as I was eager to get them in the ground. Some floundered a little but thankfully I had kept some growing on in the polytunnel just in case, so I was able to replace them.

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I transplanted my sweetpeas into a basket and couldn’t believe how many flowers I was picking from them. The more you pick, the more they grow.

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After a little holiday in May half term, leaving my lovely dad to pop round and water, I came home to blooming flowers and growing veg. It surprised me how much things had grown in a week when I hadn’t been monitoring them every day. I planted out my lettuces and potted on cucamelons for the first time.

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Unfortunately, there had been some slug and pigeon damage so we made a makeshift covering with nets to keep them away.

I worked hard to clean and clear the patio and brick paths of the never ending weeds using water from a pressure washer as I don’t like to use weedkiller. It’s a battle you can’t ever really win but can stay on top of with enough effort.

Into July, we were picking lettuce, kale, tomatoes, borlotti beans, courgettes, rhubarb, strawberries and, best of all, the peas! I absolutely fell in love with shelling peas for the freezer and knew that I would grow more the following year.

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I’d ordered some plug plants of Cosmos ‘Purity’ for the first time too and discovered a new love.

Then we had our summer holiday leaving my dad in charge for another week. Unfortunately, he had a bad back at the time and could just about manage to water the garden on hot days but missed the fact that the caterpillars were literally taking over the veg patch. One of my side nets had bigger holes and had allowed the butterflies to fly right in and lay there eggs. Kale, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, sprouts were utterly decimated. There were hundreds of caterpillars. I can’t deny I was absolutely gutted. At first I couldn’t bring myself to do anything, but in the end I went out and pulled everything up and put it on the compost heap. It was a hard lesson.

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Although it was a bad year for cucumbers (I think I picked one from seven plants), the tomatoes did not let me down and I had my first go at making tomato chutney.

The cosmos were putting on a beautiful display well into autumn until a very windy night cut the plant down. We made the most of them by filling jars all over the house.

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Autumn saw me sowing hardy annuals in the triangle bed – calendula, cornflower and larkspur; and pulling up the last of the spindly carrots (due to lack of thinning – another lesson).

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I planted up lots of spring bulbs knowing that they would cheer me into next year. Around the purple bench I planted as many daffodil bulbs in the grass as I could fit in. The tulips went into pots so that I would be able to enjoy them from my kitchen window. Then I put the garden to bed for another year.

 

A Big Commitment

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My main priority at the start of 2016 was to get that raised bed finished. Unfortunately, I got a chest infection through most of February and decided to take it super easy as I had ended up in hospital with one the year before. I did not want a repeat!

Again, I didn’t get properly started in the garden until April. I wasn’t in the best health when I started to dig and weed that raised bed so my dad, brother and husband all offered to give up one of their Saturdays to help me out. Thank goodness they did, as I might have been there until May!

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This was a lovely moment (above); one that I vividly remember. Faye painstakingly raked the entire bed while I was sowing seeds in the polytunnel and I remember feeling like we had something so special to be able to share in the building of a new garden.

We decided to plant potatoes in half of the bed as we were making a second triangle-shaped bed. I was really looking forward to eating my own potatoes but I was really surprised by just how much room was needed to grow them.

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It was the first year that I really got going with seed sowing as I had acquired a table for the polytunnel at last. Things were going well.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t do a very good job of earthing up my potatoes, having sort of left them to their own devices. I’d also managed to grow lots of dock leaves rather than the swiss chard I thought I’d planted! Rather than feel disheartened, I had a good laugh about it. I knew I hadn’t dedicated myself to the garden like I had planned.

It was a year of bad time management for the garden but despite even that, I still managed to grow lots and enjoyed eating it…

3 cucumber varietiesCarrotsFirst red tomatoesPotatoes and carrotsRob and Faye digging up potatoesSquash flowersCucumbers growingPolytunnel pickingsRhubarbTomatoes 2016

In autumn, I decided to get the paint out again to spruce up the area loosely termed ‘the fairy garden’ where Faye and I had planted lots of alpines. My dad stepped in again with some spare bits of wood and fashioned a little staircase up to the fairy garden…

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I had enough tomatoes to make my first batch of passata and I even managed to grow some butternut squash. Unfortunately, in true rookie-style, the frost caught me out and I lost most of them.

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At the end of December (between Christmas and New Year), Faye and I popped out into the garden to pull up some parsnips for dinner. We just could not believe what we unearthed! Never in my wildest dreams did I think that we would have grown giant parsnips! It was fantastic.

This is still to date one of my absolute favourite photographs. Her little face!

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This was the year I realised that in making a huge polytunnel and raised bed, I had unconsciously made a big commitment. This was going to take much more time and effort than I had managed to give it. I had so much to learn (I still do as there is so much information!). I was so lucky to have this space to grow our own food. I promised myself that next year, I would do better.

 

A Garden Taking Shape

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By Spring 2015, my garden was becoming a bigger part of my life. I was making plans, checking weather forecasts and figuring out what I could do when. I was largely held back by not having a clue still, the fact that I still didn’t have many plants or funds to buy them. I was still much tied to pots and annuals.

I decided to paint my shed to match my front gate. This led onto painting the back fence and digging out a new border.

 

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Shed painted

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It wasn’t long before I realised that we had really poor soil. It was full of bricks, glass, broken pottery, breeze blocks and even plastic bags of rubbish! I really did have my work cut out for me before I could even plant anything.

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Despite this little setback, I was full of joy at the many daffodils and tulips popping up from the autumn planting. Tulips are still one of my absolute favourites and I can never resist the urge to buy more bulbs each year.

Mid-April, I’d saved enough to get some wood for the raised bed. We agonised over what size to make it and in the end I was persuaded by my dad to fill the space and have it as big as possible. Construction began…

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It was all a bit of a rush that took several weekends and in between a holiday and suddenly I had runner beans to plant out and a half-full, half-dug raised bed. We decided to plant in the one side and just make do with what we had. It was a pretty awkward growing year!

At around the same time, we were lucky enough to come across some end of line slabs of different sizes at a bargain price of £30 for the lot. So in they went as stepping stones around the bed and a path down to the trampoline (and what I had planned to be the site of a summer house for the future).

This might all sound a bit slapdash and in some ways it was. You see I really did have no clue, not much time around work or when I had helpers so I had to make quick decisions and just go with it.

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But in the end, that really didn’t matter. I may have been awkwardly standing in the middle of a sloped half-full raised bed, but I was picking runner beans until we were absolutely sick of them. You can see Faye above was actually shouting ‘Not more beans!’ We grew onions and a solitary sweetcorn that didn’t pollinate.

We grew courgettes in pots, strawberries, raspberries and blueberries; tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers in the polytunnel. The tomatoes didn’t actually start turning red until September as I had planted them so late but they still tasted amazing.

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And gradually I added new flowers to the new borders with the dreadful soil. They didn’t seem to mind too much.

I remember this year fondly. In truth, I was probably running around like a headless chicken, tearing my hair out at not having done things ‘properly’ or ‘good enough’ but it taught me that no matter how you do it, it is still absolutely possible to grow your own veg and fruit. And you really can’t beat the taste of home-grown tomatoes. Those in the supermarkets are a poor imitation.

I think it was safe to say that I had the gardening bug!