Hardiness zones, what can I grow?

January is the perfect time for sitting with a mug of tea, a couple of biscuits (ok, ok a plate) and a pile of seed catalogues (or as Kate calls them, garden porn). Just browsing those wonderful blasts of colour and potential beauty is enough to keep me going all through the beginning of the year, but… I remember the first time I picked up the seed catalogues and I remember feeling lost in the jargon and abbreviations. So let’s make this part 1 about all the different pieces of information you’ll find in your seed catalogues, seed packets and in garden centres. Let’s start with hardiness zones.

When it’s time to decide what you’ll be ordering this year

Seed catalogues are full of options, wonderful varieties of plants you’ve never heard of with pictures that almost make you drool thinking of them in your garden. The thing is, not everything is going to grow well in your garden and working out what will and what types you want to buy is a bit of a labyrinth for any new gardener.

Hardiness zones

If you are a new gardener then hardiness zones might be a new term for you, but it’s something that’s really useful to know. It essentially gives you a rough way of looking at plants and knowing if they will thrive in your area, for example, there really isn’t much chance of tropical plants growing outdoors here in Scotland. It’s a wet and cold climate but would a palm tree? Well, let’s look at the hardiness zones and information that the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) publish. This gives us the USDA Zones and some info about the temperatures in them but more importantly, the RHS hardiness rating which you are likely to see in catalogues and garden centres in the UK.

The zones

RHS Rating Temperature Hardiness USDA Zones Notes
H1a >15C Tropical 13 To be grown under glass or as a house plant
H1b 10C to 15C Subtropical 12 Can be grown outdoors in summer in warm, sunny and sheltered locations, but will generally perform indoors
H1c 5C to 10C Warm temperate 11 Can be grown outdoors in summer throughout most of the UK.
H2 1C to 5C Tender cool 10 Tolerant of low temperatures, but will not survive being frozen.
H3 -5C to 1C Half-hardy 9 Hardy in coastal/mild areas, except in hard winters. Likely to be damaged or killed in cold winters, particularly with no snow cover or if potted.
H4 -10C to -5C Hardy 8,9 Hardy through most of the UK apart from inland valleys, at altitude and central/northerly locations.
H5 -15C to -10C Hardy 7,8 Hardy in most places throughout the UK even in severe winters.
H6 -20C to -15C Hardy 6,7 Hardy across the UK and northern Europe.

So looking at the table we can see a few important pieces of info, let’s take USDA zone 9 as an example. This is the zone I live in. The table shows that it has an RHS rating of H3, so if we see that in the garden centre we know that means us. The winter temperatures are on average between -5C to 1C and it’s considered half-hardy. We can also see a bit of advice. “Hardy in coastal/mild areas, except in hard winters. Likely to be damaged or killed in cold winters, particularly with no snow cover or if potted.” So something that usually survives winter might not survive a harsh winter, especially in a pot.

Useful to know. Means I may want the ability to move a plant into the greenhouse or indoors during a bad winter.

Zones in the UK

So the first thing I want to point out is that Scotland isn’t just one zone. You can see the west coast is marked as zone 9, whereas if you head inland towards the Cairngorms National Park it’s a hardiness zone of 6. This is because in different areas you can expect lower temperatures over winter, different levels of frost and snow. Knowing which zone you are in can really help you decide which plants will do well in your garden. However, don’t take this as absolute fact, keep your garden journal up to date and get to know your garden. I know that even though I am in zone 9, there is a bit of a local microclimate around my area which these charts can’t predict.

So that palm tree… well maybe, most palm trees are tropical meaning no they wouldn’t grow here, but you can look for palms which are labelled as hardy. These could be grown in pots so that you could bring them indoors over winter or wrap the stems to prevent damage from our cold winters.

Take a look at the RHS plant search site and have a look at the plants recommended for your hardiness rating.


Beetroot soup – what to do with a glut of beetroot


We mentioned earlier in the blog that we were having to come up with ideas for using up courgettes. Well the problem now is beetroot. We have tons of the stuff.

So Kate and I have challenged ourselves to come up with 5 things to do with beetroot. Today it’s beetroot soup.


  • 3-4 medium (apple-sized) beetroot – grated
  • 500g ripe tomatoes, halved
  • 1 clove garlic – chopped roughly
  • 1 medium onion – peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 500ml of stock, we used chicken
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 125g feta cheese

What to do

  1. Firstly put the halved tomatoes in an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle over the garlic and drizzle over half the olive oil.
  2. Roast them for 25-30 minutes in a fairly hot oven (190C or 170C fan) until soft and squishy. Then rub them through a sieve to remove the skin and pips.
  3. Then heat the remaining oil in a pan and sweat the onion for a few minutes until soft. Add the beetroot and the stock and bring to the boil. Season lightly with salt and pepper.
  4. Simmer gently for 10 minutes until the beetroot is tender.
  5. Stir in the tomato puree you’ve just made and then scoop out two ladle fulls and put aside.
  6. Using a stick blender, blitz until smooth and then add the two ladle fulls back to the pot.
  7. To serve, crumble over a little feta into each bowl and serve with crusty bread.Easy peezy.


July already – quick get the potatoes pulled

IMAG2547This year seems to be whizzing by and to be honest, almost without me noticing.

I’m finding this year that the garden and its moods are not quite as obvious as it’s been in previous years possibly because of the very mild winter we had where next to nothing died off and flowers continued to flower right through. This meant we didn’t have the usual spring and instead have been hit with a summer where a lot of the flowers in the garden have already past and although everything is very green, there is not much in the way of colour about.

We’ve found also that this year has been a lot harder going for veggies too, with not nearly the success we’ve had in previous years. Our beetroots are no where need harvesting size yet, our carrots are all leaves and very little, well carrot! The tomatoes as well are green but nowhere near ripe yet. I suspect the lack of definitive winter, spring and summer has affected things. We’ve had a lot of warmth, not as much sunshine as previous years and more rain than previous years.Could this be it?

Our usual champion of the garden – courgettes – have just been rotting on the plants as babies and we haven’t managed yet to eat any.

However it’s not all doom and gloom. This year’s trophy for fabulousness goes to the peas. We have had so many peas that the plants are now almost past and starting to die of, and I never thought I’d say it, but I’m kinda getting sick of peas from the pod. I know that is a sacrilegious thing for a gardener to say but I’ve been eating them in huge handfuls daily (along with help from colleagues at work).

The strawberries too have been incredibly tasty although we found a very amusing trait which may be of interest to those of you thinking about giving strawberries a try next year. DON’T plant them in the bed you used for garlic the previous year. Garlicky strawberries are a bit weird and trust me, a couple of our plants REALLY picked up on the garlic.

Dad helping with the tatties july 19th 2014Potatoes have also been a success, my dad helped me pull a couple of batches yesterday which have really enjoyed all the rain, our salad potatoes ARE HUGE. Like baked potato size. Next weeks potato salad is going to be a stonker (next week is my annual birthday bbq).

So how do things stand, well check back in a few weeks, the weather is meant to be sunny for a bit, so hoping the tomatoes will ripen and the carrots and beetroot will catch up. I promise to keep you posted.

It’s time for an update


A few weeks back I introduced you to a garden newcomer called cucamelons. At that point they were just little seedlings and you couldn’t really tell much about their “character”. I’m glad to say that they have come on in leaps and bounds since then.

They should keep going in this long and spindley fashion and be putting out little runner shoots before eventually producing tiny little water melon looking fruits. I’m hoping they will be a good little greenhouse treat to stop me munching on the tomatoes. Its not good that more often than not, the tomatoes don’t get as far as the kitchen.

And here’s a full frontal.


So how is the rest of the garden doing?

Well it’s a bit early in the year for anything much to be edible other than salad and radishes but we are on the way.


The tatties are doing well too, the flowers have already formed and look like opening their buds any day now.


We’ve also got our first teeny tiny courgettes, green and yellow. I’m just hoping that this time we wont suffer from rot like last year.


So all in all quite happy about the garden so far. Everything is beginning to to do its stuff and hopefully we’ll start getting some good weather soon to help it along.

The tomatoes are flowering too, although I’ve been a bit worried that the plants aren’t as tall or bushy as other years, I guess we’ll just have to see how they do.


So there you are. A quick update of the garden at the end of May.

Beetroot and carrot seedlings

It’s official, our very first outdoor seedlings are starting to sprout. The bed where I planted our carrots and beetroot is showing signs of life.

I apologise as the picture is not the most amazing but we thought it would be good to share the small signs of spring life we are starting to see.


On a plus move though, it’s not just in that bed we are watching spring take hold. I can’t help but get a little excited by the lovely, fresh greens in the herb planter. There something about the spring colours.


That’s this years parsley which is looking amazing and bright. We’ve also got our first decent growth of chives since we started the garden. I just couldn’t get them to take the last two years but apparently giving up and ignoring them was the secret as they are coming on a treat.

As always the courgettes are the biggest plants going. Again this year we’ve tried the yellow ones as well as green but again I’m not certain. The yellow courgette plants don’t seem as strong, they seen to struggle a bit and are smaller.  Last year we also noticed that the yellow courgettes really struggled with rot. This year… We will see.


Quick update – the seedlings, one week on

Just a very quick update for you, it’s been a week since we planted our first seeds and already we have some life.

As usual it’s the courgettes at the front of the race with good strong looking plants.


I always worry about the tomatoes, they start off looking so small and delicate. Fingers crossed these little guys makes it.


Well that’s a week on. We’ll have to keep an eye and see how next week goes.

Let 2014’s veggies get growing


Well right on queue as I started planning for the garden, the snow came. Luckily we haven’t been hit in Musselburgh but coming home from Edinburgh on Friday I felt like Scott of the Antartic and it’s definately feeling quite nippy outdoors.

Not to be disheartened though, all I am doing just now is to get the tomatoes etc going before the weather improves and they go to live in the greenhouse. So we popped out today to Pentland plants which is our favourite nersery and garden suppliers and stocked up on the bits and pieces we would need for our veg beds.


For just now I’ve got the tomatoes, courgettes, peas and beans in little plastic propagators on a shelf in the den so they have a safe, warm place to get a start in life. (The bit of paper sellotaped to the propagator is my list of what’s what)

We’ve decided that this year we are mostly going to stick with cherry tomatoes as we seemed to get a better yield from them. We do still have a couple of plum tomato plants for making pasta and pizza sauce.  So we’ve got red and yellow cherries and some red plum tomatoes.

We’ve also got yellow and green courgettes going because we got a better yield of green but liked the taste and texture of the yellow.

We’ll have to wait till July to see how it all works out but we’ll keep you updated as usual.


We’ve also added a bit of fun with the potatoes this year. We found in previous years that Arran Victory do well here, so we’ve got a few of them chitting, we’ve added some Maris Piper to try these out and we’ve also gone with Charlotte salad potatoes just to see how things do.

Chitting potatoes

I’ve talked a little about chitting potatoes but I’m conscious that when I first started and Luke gave me potatoes and told me to chit them, I had no idea what he was on about and remember standing in the greenhouse googling things on my phone. So for those of you who may be feeling the same way, here is the skinny on “chitting yer tatties”.

Chitting – is the name for the process that encourages tubers to sprout before planting. To chit seed potatoes, place them side by side in a clean egg box or tray ‘rose end’ up (the end where tiny buds can be seen). Label the box with the potato variety and put in a cool light place for 4-6 weeks allowing the chits to develop. By putting them in a light place, the shoots will remain short, dark green and compact.

Want to know more about growing potatoes?


Is that spring I’m feeling?

seedlingsIt’s only the beginning of February but I swear there’s a feeling of spring in the air. (Well come on we haven’t really had a winter have we?) and with the approach of spring comes the hive of activity to get the garden ready for the coming year.

So anything new this year? Well yes!

We don’t have a massive garden, so we’re actually quite lucky in that the amount of work we need to do to keep on top of it is actually quite little, but it doesn’t mean we can ignore things.

The greenhouse

So far, during the dreich winter nights we tackled one of this year’s biggest jobs, cleaning the greenhouse. It’s been up now for a couple of years and although it gets wiped down and general cleaning regularly, every couple of years it needs to have the roof panels cleaned – on the inside. The greenhouse is a poly-carbonate type and the roof panels are a bit like corrugated cardboard, all little tunnels full of air.  Unfortunately this means that these tunnels get clogged up with YUK. Green, slimy algae type stuff. So the big winter job was to get these all cleaned out.

It wasn’t actually as hideous a job as we thought, with the stormy weather we’ve had, we had learned how to very efficiently attach the roof panels which had been blown off and so we were able to get these off and on again relatively easily. Dealing with the yuk actually turned out not too bad either, we soaked the panels with my acid based sanitiser I use for brewing and then put the hose on full power and blasted the yuk out of the channels and across the garden – MOST SATISFYING!

The inside and all the jointed received a similar treatment so it’s now all shiny and ready for the next stage. Which is setting it up to take the potting of seedlings and then them moving into their final pots. Mostly this will be setting up the shelving and cleaning the pots and filling them with compost to give it a chance to heat up a little before potting but we’re also going to try a new approach with the tomatoes this year. Normally we use canes to support the tomato plants but this year we are going to tie guide strings for the plants to climb. It all sounds very simple, we run a string from the bottom of the pot to a spar on the ceiling and then this gets loosely wrapped around the stem of the tomato plant as needed. We shall see how that goes.

The other big job will be the shed, we are going to replace our old run down shed so watch out for a fun filled blog post on a 5foot tall woman trying to put a shed roof on.

The beds

As always we have the three raised beds but we are going to tweak things a little this year. The bed nearest the shed is going to be halved and half will become the strawberry patch. We haven’t grown strawberries before but Alan Titchmarsh assures us that it’s very easy. (yes I’ve spent today watching youtube)

Before we go planting anything in the beds though, which probably won’t be until mid march, I need to dig some compost through them to add some nutrients for the new plants that will be living there. That’s not a job I’m looking forward to – I have to actually climb into the compost pile to shovel it. Eeeeewwwww!!

 What’s on the menu?

Well as usual we will be growing a plethora of carrots and beetroot (varying colours) and the usual tomatoes and courgettes etc but this year’s new things to try will be the strawberries and we are going to try peas. Mostly I’m wanting to try growing peas because everyone talks about how amazing it is to eat peas straight from the plant. I know I’m easily influenced.

So as usual, here is our list.

  • purple orange and globe shaped carrots
  • red, golden and stripey beetroot
  • yellow and green courgettes
  • red, purple and yellow tomatoes
  • purple and white tatties (potatoes)
  • purple, red and white radishes
  • salad leaves mostly green
  • rhubarb
  • herbs
  • strawberries and peas as the new things to try

That’s quite  a healthy plan I think 🙂

ok so check back next week as we’re going to spend next weekend getting ready.

Bring on springtime!

Just for fun

What I watched today to get me all inspired

Here’s what we were doing this time last year –

Other folk getting ready for spring


Brassicas everywhere

It’s amazing what I little bit of sun does and not just to me.

brassicas everywhere







We planted a bed with broccoli and Brussels sprouts recently, all nice and spaced out. A bit of sunshine later and they have turned into day of the triffids.

We have a bed full, a large pot full and two troughs full.

The exciting bit is that we have our first baby broccoli….

our first broccoli


It’s all very exciting. The broccoli and sprouts were two of our new veggies for this year so we didn’t know what to expect. Success I think is the answer.







Another new arrival in the garden this year are our yellow courgettes. Yup yellow. We have three babies on the plant already.

baby courgettes











So on the colour theme, we have:

  • yellow courgettes
  • Purple carrots
  • Orange carrots
  • Yellow carrots
  • Stripy beetroot
  • Red beetroot
  • Yellow beetroot
  • Red stripy tomatoes
  • Green stripy tomatoes
  • Yellow tomatoes
  • Burgundy tomatoes
  • Purple Tatties and
  • White Tatties
  • Rainbow chard



Spring update – you just can’t turn your back.

spring flowersSpring has truly sprung. The garden is full of colour, the birds are singing and every time you turn around something new has sprouted or flowered.

It’s is the most amazing time of year and it’s impossible to not feel happy in this environment.

Our border along the fence is now an absolute feast for the eyes with splashes of colour and different shapes and sizes of plants filling it out. The best yet is that there is still more to come as most of the bulbs we planted won’t come up until July or August so there will be another boost of colour them too.


There are two batches of flowers in the border that I absolutely love because they just catch your eye from anywhere in the garden. The first ones are the little red flowers you can see, they are just so striking and the second ones are the variegated ones with the yellow and purple petals.

Every time I look at the flowers either in our garden or in other folk’s gardens I just can’t believe the patterns and colours there are. Sometimes I feel like someone has painted them. They are just too amazing and intricate and it wows me that there little flowers are just like that with no interference from humans.

Nature rocks!

nature rocks

We also have the most fantastic addition to the garden this year; we’ve sparkled up the beer garden a bit with an amazing new flower bed and baskets around the picnic bench. Lots of colour and pretties for us to look at and of course lots of bee friendly flowers to help our little friends.

The little bunches of purple flowers in the flower bed will spread and cascade out the front of the bed. I can’t wait.




I have to say it; this is probably the best beer garden in the world. ;0)

back bed

It’s important though that we don’t forget that the garden is more than just a gloriously eye catching colour pallet. Our veggies have joined in the spring party and although we are around a month behind on last year, things are looking green.

I’ve just had to add the first layer of soil over the tatties as they had begun sprouting and in the beds, the beetroot and carrots are just starting to poke through.

The sprouts and broccoli are monsters; I’m quite excited about the sprouts!

I’m looking forward to our own sprouts from the garden as I’m a bit of a sprouts fan. Mmmm sprouts.









I think all in all we can say that spring is definitely here and the garden is just bursting with life.

potatoes and veg

Next weekend is a back holiday weekend so we’re already hoping for some decent weather so that we can enjoy our beer garden and take advantage of all the hard work we’ve done.

After all, the point of it is so that we can enjoy our outdoor environment.

With any luck we’ll be roasting bratwurst on the BBQ and drinking some nice craft beer while we talk about how pretty things are.

Ah such a hard life.






New year and time for the work to begin

garden plan

As I’m sure everyone agrees, last year was a very successful year for our garden. This year we are hoping to use everything we have learned to make 2013 as successful, but that means getting ready and getting some of our pre planting jobs out the way including a snazzy planting and harvesting project plan I am quite proud of :0)

We started off with clearing the beds and greenhouse of the baby veggies which have been growing, as they aren’t going to survive much longer, but last night’s tea was a treat with roasted baby veggies :0)

We also have a bit of news for you about Larry the Lemon tree… he’s given us lemons.


Today we took a quick trip out to the local nursery for some ideas for flowers but there wasn’t really anything around yet so we will pop back next month. That gives us time to get some jobs done though, so jobs to get done will include painting the fences around the garden AGAIN, as they are starting to look worn and we are also going to lift all the chuckies which are around the house (chuckies are small stones) and turn those areas into proper flower beds. This is a big job, but learning from last year, we are only doing one bed each weekend and in no rush. (neither of us could cope with any more heavy work)

Watch this space for photos.

This year, we plan to grow very similar veggies to last year with a few exceptions;

Not Growing This Year

  • •Pumpkins & Squash (don’t really get a high enough yield here to justify it)
  • •Beans (just didn’t work)

New for this year

  • Broccoli
  • Sprouts (decided rather than buying them at christmas and thanksgiving, we’d just grow them)
  • Strawberries

Also this year, we are changing up the types of tomatoes and courgettes we are growing, just as a bit of an experiment. So here is the full list of what the garden will hopefully give us this year.

  • Beetroot (red and striped)
  • Carrots (orange and purple)
  • Garlic (after discovering last year how much better garlic was from our garden, we are growing lots this year)
  • Radishes
  • Sprouts
  • Broccoli
  • Courgettes (green and yellow)
  • Tomatoes (multi colour and size)
  • Potatoes (three different types)
  • Herbs
  • Salad
  • Strawberries

We’ll add stories and pics to the blog as we go.



Ar Bruadair Autumn update

Ladies & Gents, we have received our first ever complaint about the blog. Well when I say complaint it was more of a disappointed observation about how little activity there has been on here recently.

But let it not be said that we don’t listen… so here is the Ar Bruadair Autumn update.

The seasons are changing, we’ve gone from the – ha ha ha I was going to say summer, the couple of weeks of nice weather, to a bit of a nip in the air and the sobering fact that I’ve had to put the heating on while typing this update. Autumn and cold weather, wind and rain are always a bit sad so lets cheer ourselves up with the thought that Christmas in our new house is just around the corner and I have the joy of picking kittens out of the Christmas tree to look forward to!

So what has been happening since our last posts, well mostly eating.

One of the great pleasures to be had has been reaping the rewards of all of our hard work and eating lots of lovely veggies and salad as well obviously as looking at all the lovely flowers. So here are some little smiles we’d like to share.

1. Tomatoes.

wpid-IMAG1009-150x150wpid-IMAG1028-1We were giving them away we had so many.

We have three cherry tomato plants, two of which were giving us enough tomatoes on a daily basis for two lunches and two dinners.  We ate an awful lot of  a pasta dish called summer garden pasta which is basically spaghetti with lots of cherry tomatoes and lots and lots of garlic and some basil.

We also have two plum tomato plants which gave us enough for two big pots of pasta and meatball sauce and some Spanish chicken. Yum!

2. Pumpkins & Squash

wpid-IMAG0984-1-1-150x150The pumpkins and squashes were a bit of an experiment which we didn’t expect to work. And excitedly they did.

We didn’t get a lot, one or two from each plant, but given that we were told not to expect anything, I am really happy.

We did our lovely Baked Leeks and Pumpkin/Squash which you can get the recipe for on this blog.

It was so satisfying getting my little gardening knife out and cutting pumpkins from the plant. The only disappointment is that we didn’t get more. I’m about to brew some pumpkin beer and had to get pumpkin from a friend for it, I would have loved to make this using our own pumpkins.

3. Radishes

The radishes were the biggest event of the year I think.wpid-IMAG0911-1-150x150

Kate had never eaten radishes and was very dubious about it. They are now firmly one of her favourite veggies from the garden and we’ve just planted out third batch.

I just can’t keep up with the demand, she eats them in salads, in sandwiches, in curries in stir fries.

4. Carrots and Beetroot

wpid-IMAG0965-150x150The carrots and beetroot were two of my favourites this year. I love beetroot and the biggest issue for me was leaving them long enough to get bigger, I just wanted to be picking and eating them RIGHT NOW! I liked them roasted and we even blogged a recipe.wpid-IMAG0885

We have discovered though, that later on in the year the carrots were ravaged by what I think might have been carrot fly and we ended up throwing the last 15 or so in the bin.

To make up for this, I have another couple of batched going in the greenhouse just now (both carrot fly resistant).

What we did do which went down an absolute storm with friends and family, was we had a barbeque as a birthday celebration at the end of July and as part of the feast, we made a salad with all our own produce and a potato salad with out own potatoes.

Wow, what a fabulous night. The food was great and so was the beer, well obviously as it was our home brewed beer.

So that leads us onto potatoes I suppose.

5. Potatoes

Would you believe we only ate the last of them last night?

Like the tomatoes, the beetroots and the carrots, our own potatoes tasted so amazing, better than anything we’ve bought from the shops. So good in fact that I’ve planted some more and we will be pulling them up on Christmas morning for our Christmas dinner.

Now I have obviously missed out some of the fabulous foods, like the herbs and the salad and the spring onions, but I can’t finish up on veggies without mentioning our little blog celebrity, Colin.

IMAG0819The absolute star of our garden this year has to be the courgettes which we ate with almost every meal for months and then started leaving courgettes on other people’s desks at work to try to use them up.

We only had two plants but the amount of courgettes we got from them was amazing.

So going forward, our plans and ideas… well just now we’re starting to think about what we want to be growing for next year as well as learning about what the different season mean for the garden.

We also have some ideas for making things even more pretty, so watch this space.