Balcony Garden Update April 2015

Having been over-optimistic about the arrival of sunny weather, i have had to put many succulents back into their indoors homes in preparation for this week’s colder weather. Maybe they will re-appear on the balcony later in the summer, but for now it is too risky to leave these sensitive souls outside.

Most of my cacti seem to be fine outside as long as it’s not winter, but succulents are very much more demanding, and i have lost many since starting up this small garden a few years ago. Be it too much water, not enough, too little light or perhaps the wrong drainage – anything slightly less than optimal leaves me with dead plants pretty quickly.

The best news so far has been my hostas, and am thinking of cramming a few more in the last remaining free spots on the balcony. Having said that, i am now on a crazy cost-saving routine at the moment, so even a tenner on some small plug plants is something that i’ll probably delay for the time being.

As i learn more about each of the different types of plants on my balcony i am getting better at putting each in the right spots. My ferns and hostas will sit lower now, whilst anything more exotic will get maximum exposure to the sun, or sit inside if it’s too cold or windy. Being set on the Thames, wind is certainly an issue for some of my more dainty plants, such as the young succulents which remain fragile.

I have had a Yucca Rostrata sat in the corner, furthest from the balcony door, and is has coped admirably with anything thrown at it over the past two years. There have been some serious wind and rain storms that have failed to upset this truly hardy plant and helpfully it’s tips are just below the top of the balcony cover.

Yucca Rostrata

The Yucca remains my most expensive purchase at around £80, with the new Draco coming second. That looks much happier now and sits across from the Yucca, with a little more protection, sat just behind the plant stand.

Draco

With the ferns and hostas sat on the lower levels of the stand, the rest of the rows are given to a few small vegetable pots (spring onions), different sizes succulents and also a Cycas Revoluta which remains slightly pale, but hopefully ok. My Aloe Veras are now back inside after starting to brown whilst outside – they came back with me from our Tenerife holiday.

Several of my Acers are now with leaves, whilst others continue to look a little moody in the corners of the balcony. I gave some of them to my mother, as well as some pine trees, and those all seem to appreciate Mum’s garden more than mine. She simply has more space, more sun and also more time and experience to look after them better.

My two Bamboo plants continue to also look a little sad, both pretty much leafless for the last few months. I am hoping that once i can move them to a brighter location they will be happier.

The north-facing nature of our balcony will always make it hard to keep all of my plants happy, but i am starting to get better at choosing ones that are more suitable.

Fruit Plants

You can see above how my new fruit plants have also burst into life. No actual fruit yet, but i will be patient! The main thing is to see that there is plenty of growth occurring on an almost daily basis, which promises much for the summer.

The fruit plants arrived straight off Ebay in suitable small plastic pots. I literally just slapped them straight out on the balcony and make sure that they have plenty of water. It was around mid-March that the cut-back branches suddenly started to show new shoots, and they’ve been very active ever since.

New grasses have been placed besides the bamboo plants as i try to create some sort of wall cover from prying neighbours. There are now several different reeds and grasses together in two large pots as i experiment with these hardy types of plant. The Thames route around our flat features similar choices so i thought they would be a good bet to thrive with the additional cover of my wall. Only time will tell, but the ones i planted last year have already doubled in height and just begun to spread out a little as their seeds blow around in the wind.

Grasses

Vietnam Oriental Restaurant, Greenwich, London

We’ve never actually eaten any Vietnamese food in this restaurant, in all the times we’ve visited. In fact, i’m not sure if i’ve even seen any such dishes on the menu – we go straight for the Chinese choices which dominate.

Vietnam Oriental Restaurant, Greenwich, London

This has become our favourite restaurant in Greenwich and is really the only Chinese restaurant in central Greenwich that we would consider going to. The others around here are generally aimed at students and offering large portions of budget food as a result.

A typical evening out for us in Greenwich would be a few pints in The Yacht before heading here if the finances are good enough at the time.

This restaurant is where we headed to celebrate initially putting down a mini-deposit on what was to later become our flat. It was about £250 and simply kept our names with the Housing Association as particularly interested in three separate flats in the same block. It allowed us to enter the process of getting a mortgage together, which we managed to complete a couple of months later.

We have also visited here to celebrate several other milestones, such as new contracts, birthdays and the like.

The food here has never disappointed, and we rarely now even bother going through the menu. We have our favourite dishes and tend to pick from those in our heads.

Favourite Chinese Dishes from this Restaurant

Ruby’s current favourite must be the spicy fish which comes served in a large pot full of chillies. I think it is a Szechuan recipe, but not absolutely sure. Personally, i tend to go for one of the delicious hotpots. The Eel one is best, but a little more expensive, whilst the seafood, beef and pork ones are also really tasty.

The fried rice here is great, never too greasy like many other places in the UK will serve. There is also an excellent array of Dim Sum, though we only tend to choose that when in for lunch.

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For those looking for the standard UK Chinese food experience, but with a little more quality than your average takeaway, then there are also plenty of Cantonese options on the menu too. Sweet ‘n’ Sour Pork, Aromatic Crispy Duck and all the other usual suspects are all there to keep you feeling comfortable when entering for the first time.

Alternative dishes for those looking for something different include the fried intestine and also Xinjang-style Lamb kebabs. Ruby loves this place because of the amount of mainland-Chinese dishes that are offered here, but there is something for everyone.

Obsession with iPad Games

Growing up in the 90s and 00s, my life was dominated by computer and video games like Championship Manager and Brian Lara’s Cricket. Many evenings and weekends were lost over the years to strategy and sport games. Sensible Soccer was also a favourite, but only in a social scenario, whilst the strategy games could dominate my entire life.

Sensible Soccer Commodore Amiga
Sensible Soccer

Championship Manager 99
Championship Manager 1999

Brian Lara's Cricket Playstation
Brian Lara’s Cricket

At University we would waste many a day playing full test matches in Brian Lara’s Cricket on the Playstation, whilst sending someone out for lecture duties (i.e. sign us all in and collect the notes).

It was then around my 30s that i started to miss new games, new consoles and all the hype around them. I didn’t really fancy playing games all night after working in IT during the day. I thought this would remain the case from their on, but then my iPad arrived and things have gone back to normal!

I was not convinced of the needs of tablet devices when they first arrived, but really appreciate their use now. I can connect to emails, news and sport scores without having to boot up a desktop computer. I can also play games that go beyond the limits of mobile phone technology and physical restrictions.

The tablet is also awesome for easily watching TV in another room, without having to port around any heavy items or be limited to what is on digital TV at that precise moment. With SkyGo and iPlayer apps, there is more TV available to choose from than i could possibly ever need.

It was the much-hyped Candy Crush that initially lured me in, before Clash of Clans led me to actually start paying money to speed up the game developments. I remain active in that plus Boom Beach, whilst Sim City BuildIt has helped me to continue on an old favourite that i used to play on the Commodore Amiga back in the day.

Candy Crush iPad
Candy Crush iPad

Boom Beach ipad
Boom Beach iPad

Clash of Clans iPad
Clash of Clans iPad

I am forever checking my tablet to see the latest progress of these games, to the point where i actually start to drive myself mad and cannot manage to hold my concentration long enough to watch a film from start to finish.

Several times recently i have contemplated getting a new console but have yet to do so. I have considered either a new PS4 or the latest XBox model. Alternatively an old Amiga or N64 could let me play some old retro games for a laugh instead, and are relatively easy to find on Ebay.

Commodore Amiga 500 Plus
Commodore Amiga 500 Plus

Contracting has given me more spare time than i had previously, but i still always feel that i should be using it constructively, so end up choosing not to invest in any new games machine. The iPad is taking up enough of my time, to be fair, and enables me to multitask because of it’s portability.

Hostas Resurrected in Balcony Garden

April has become a key time for my balcony, with plants coming back to life and sunshine starting to hit my garden directly for the first time of the year. My north-facing balcony struggles to encourage healthy growth and many of my plants must stay indoors until the weather looks promising enough to pop them outside.

The best surprise so far has been several hostas which have sprung into life, having appeared lost to the world ever since last summer. After a long holiday where they went un-watered, these limp beauties seemed done-in. I pulled away the dead leaves and kept watering the tiny roots over the winter, and suddenly we have some stunning hostas on the way again!

I am really pleased as i bought several different varieties last year and believed they would be ideally suited to my shady, north-facing spot. After this experience, i will do the same with some small ferns which are also struggling and see if they can return to life later in the year.

hostas-reappear-in-spring

Dracaena Draco Plant

Dracaena Draco – Dragon’s blood tree – is the latest addition to my ever-expanding plant collection. It is a plant that i have loved ever since we started visiting the Canary Islands. The photo below is a giant one found in Tenerife.

Dracaena Draco in Tenrife

The trees are very slow growing and also not entirely suited to the UK climate, so it took quite some time to get hold of one online. It is a good size, nearly a metre in total height, and i am hoping that in can cope with indoor conditions for 3/4’s of the year.

Since buying the plant, it has not looked too healthy. All low branches have browned before falling off. However, with the weather now reasonably warm i have been able to drop it outside and it’s looking much better. It seems to take a decent amount of water without too many problems and is providing cover for some of my other plants, with space on the balcony now being at a premium!

When indoors i was not able to really give it much water at all, because there was no tray to protect my carpet. That may in fact be the real reason as to why the plant is enjoying life a little more, as on the balcony the water can just drain away or be soaked up by surrounding plants.

Leeds Castle, Kent Day Trip

Leeds Castle Kent England

Ruby had wanted to visit Leeds Castle for several years and we finally got around to it. The weather has been good across the UK all week, so it made sense to go when we did.

The first thing that struck me on arriving was just how many people had many the trip here for the day – a huge car park was packed, making the area look a little like a busy campsite. Fortunately the overall area that surrounds the castle was big enough to cope with all these adults, kids and cars. It was quite easy to find a quiet area around the complex, with the children’s playareas taking care of most of the visiting families.

Castle and Gatekeep

Castle Up Close

The castle itself was stunning. The main areas had been altered several times over the past 900 years, with the most recent stone facade being put together in 1822. The surrounding areas were beautifully landscaped, meaning there was plenty to do besides just visiting the castle itself and the gatekeep.

Swan at Leeds Castle, Kent

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There were several stunning gardens featuring a variety of foreign plants, such as palms and bamboos. Ruby also found a plant that she remembers from Nan Ao Village in China, where she was born. Besides these gardens was a large lake which also offered free boat trips from tip to toe. Although £24 seemed expensive for a single adult ticket, there was quite a lot to do across the day. Archery and Falconery shows were also on offer.

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Ruby remains a big fan of European castles, fortified houses and stately homes. Anything linked to her interest in antiques as well as building types not seen in China continues to draw her in, even though she has now seen quite a number across the UK.

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