The garden is bursting with growth at the moment. We’ve had the full weather spectrum this month with warm sunny days, cool rain, and the odd 40-50mph winds.
We’re still learning what grows best here, and as a result of that the layout of the garden has changed somewhat to how I planned it out at the beginning of the year. Unsurprisingly, the best crop are root vegetables and brassicas. More sensitive crops like beans and tomatoes are much more difficult, and I’ve had little to no success with either this year. I also thought I had completely messed up the peas as hardly any came up, but I ended up germinating some more under a wet paper towel on the kitchen windowsill and now we’ve got plenty of peas.
One of the greatest successes this year has been the basil. Last year we got a decent crop growing it inside, and this year it’s thriving in the cold frame Liam built from two old red cedar doors. We’ve got regular Sweet Genovese, as well as Thai and a purple variety. We also grew some potted fennel in there, but the humidity was too high so we’ve put them in the green house instead. I’ve prepared a few fish boxes for them, and we’ll plant a few out to see whether they’ll survive the wind.
I’ve also expanded the garden’s stock of pink flowers. The rosa rugosa hedge is in full bloom and spreads a lovely scent, but I’ve also got fuchsia, bleeding heart (safely tucked by the door as it doesn’t like the wind but is happy enough in shade), and I’m still waiting for the lupins, stargazer lilies, sweet peas, poppies, dahlia, and cosmos I planted to bloom – all in shades of pink. I’m not sure why I’m enthralled by pink flowers, but they make me so happy.
For now, I’ve spied the first pea and strawberry, the potatoes are starting to bloom, and the beets and carrots are swelling in the ground. In the greenhouse the glass gem corn are growing well, too.
The cows have returned to the pasture surrounding the house, and I’ve managed to use up most of my leftover hebridean wool for a patterned vest.
At the front are one of my favourite Eriskay patterns, called heart in the home. The back is made up of four patterns atop each other, bordered by a double wave on either side. I started with an anchor at the bottom (because where else would an anchor go?), followed by a starfish, the tree of life, and a star/snowflake at the very top. I like putting this star over the tree of life as it looks a bit like a Christmas tree that way.
In the over exposed photo of the back you can see the difference in yarn (just under the armhole) – the bottom is from The Hebridean Smokehouse, from which I knit Liam kilt hose a few years ago. The top darker section is Uist Wool leftover from my Vintersol jumper. The difference is not at all noticeable in real life. The vest is actually lying on a Hebridean fleece I got for the bed from Skye Skyns!
It’s been great to have in the cooler evenings, and I even took it out on a hike yesterday. Me and Liam hiked up from Snishival to Loch Àirigh Nighean Amhlaigh. I thought we’d be out for most of the morning, but we didn’t get back to the car until 6pm. Liam was fly-fishing from the shore while I knit, then we had a little peat and heather fire and ate some chicken soup. It was a difficult walk up there, but so lovely once we reached the loch and got to dip our feet in. On the way there and back we saw owls, deer, otters, and plenty of wrens. I’m now sunburnt and will spend today inside!
Just before we hit the main road on the way back four young bulls came running over. They must’ve thought we had some food for them!
In July last year, while off work for two weeks, I drove up to Uist Wool Mill in Grimsay one day. It’s about an hours drive north from where I stay in South Uist, so it’s a place I visit mostly when I’m off work and have the time. I love driving there in the summer. I remember the sun shining, there was barely anyone on the road, and the mill and shop itself is cool and quiet and just so lovely. I could spend hours wandering there, especially if there was WiFi so I could browse potential patterns.
I try to spend some time on Ravelry before going up, so that I can match any yarn I like with projects – that way I know how much I’ll need, too. This summer I purchased three different yarns for three different projects. First, their 4-ply alpaca blend, Astair, in the Maol colourway which is a blend of red alpaca and cheviot. I used this for a shawl in a pattern called architexture. Then another 4-ply, this time their merino base Canach, in the four shades Breac, Osna, Sanas, and Corca. From this super soft luxurious yarn I made another shawl, this time following the pattern stratus wrap, but in all garter stitch. Lastly, I got some aran weight yarn in a dark peaty brown and two shades of grey. I don’t have the labels of these anymore, but I think the shades were Calma, Fuaran, and Siaban. For this yarn I intended a jumper in the Vintersol pattern by Jennifer Steingass.
Whereas my two shawls were knit up pretty quickly I didn’t start on my jumper until October. I actually fit in another trip to Uist Wool before starting, where I got yarn for the project I brought to Nova Scotia (blog post here). I then put the project down for a good wee while, and started and completed various projects while it languished.
It wasn’t until March this year that I picked it back up. With all the extra time at home I finally felt inspired enough to keep going. I barely remember knitting on it at all, and I didn’t take any photos of the process. But it’s a beautiful pattern, and equally beautiful yarn. I knit extra long cuffs and incorporated thumb holes – a great tip for winter to close off the space between your jacket and mittens. This jumper is best on cloudy days, because the dark brown hebridean wool warms up incredibly fast in the sun and it easily gets a bit too toasty!
In October last year I bookmarked a cowl pattern by Julia of waysofwoodfolk.com. I didn’t have any yarn in my stash that immediately came to mind when I saw the pattern, but I recently revisited it and realised that I picked up the recommended yarn during our Nova Scotia trip! So I cast on using the free pattern on her website and I’ve just sewn in the ends today.
I knit this over two days, sitting at home on the sofa watching Steel Magnolias and Netflix’s Ophelia, at the lochside of Loch a Chlachain, and in the evenings in bed watching Tales from the Green Valley. If the house had a log burner I would’ve sat there knitting, too!
This pattern is lovely, simple in construction but with a wonderful eye catching and engaging fair isle motif. It was coincidence that I knit it in colours matching the rosa rugosa in bloom.
The yarn is by Briggs & Little, in their 100% wool 2-ply line Regal, colours Light Grey and Red BWO.
A quarter of my wool stash is probably made up of random unlabelled balls of lopi yarn. There’s not enough of any shade to make an adult sized jumper, but I managed to put together a toddler sized one from some of my favourite colours. I did have to use a different yarn for the arms, but they’re similar enough that you don’t notice unless it’s pointed out.
I didn’t follow any pattern, just made it up as I went along. I usually have a quick browse on Ravelry for ideas before starting children’s jumpers, then just cast on and see what I feel like with the colours I’ve chosen.
I have a few different balls of brown, one of which was softer than the others and I used that for the body. I’ve also been really drawn to russet colours lately, so I put some of that in too, along with two shades of grey and a light green. I knit the body several weeks ago, then wasn’t sure how to pattern the sleeves. I decided to leave them plain as the floats have a tendency to get stuck in little fingers.
I’m so looking forward to using up more of my stash yarn this year. I still have several wonderful skeins from our trip to Nova Scotia, some leftovers from my Macauley cardigan and Vintersol jumper, as well as a beautiful kit from Black Isle Yarns for a fair isle jumper. If only adult sized knits were as speedy as child sized ones!
We moved to this house in September 2018. We were lucky to have found a house with more space, as well as a garden and sea access. The previous house we rented was built on a concrete slab, and all around the garden was either bog or concrete just under the grass. The house was also unfenced along one side, and we came across cows that had escaped their pastures grazing in our front yard several times.
This new house is warmer, the garden is surrounded by rosa rugosa, and we’ve only a few metres down to the shore where we can tie up our little boat. We have, unfortunately, had another cow-related incident where our gate was open and they ate some of our vegetables, but the majority recovered and we learned our lesson.
In 2019 we dug raised beds on one side of the front garden, where we planted carrots, beets, kalettes (kale and brussel sprout hybrid), shallots, and garlic. We didn’t know that there were so many daffodil bulbs around, but we found out that there are probably at least a hundred of them planted all about the front garden. I replanted the majority of the bulbs, and the flowers are a welcome burst of colour in early spring.
The beetroot and kalette grew very well, as did peas I had in balcony planters along the side of the fence. The carrots were alright, but the ground was probably too tightly packed for them. As for the onions and garlic, we think the ground was too wet. This year the soil has improved a lot, so we’ve got high hopes for both carrots and onions. We’re also keeping better on top of weeding, which was difficult last year as the soil was rather wet and seem to have consisted almost entirely of weed roots!
Hanging over the side of the fence above is some plastic netting. Whenever I find a good piece of rope or netting on the beach I bring it home. It’s great for protecting seeds and seedlings from birds, provides some wind protection, and is great for peas to climb up. It also helps clear plastic from the beach, and gives it some new life. This year I found some fine fishing net, which I’ll try to use to cover the strawberry plants.
We also undertook a horticulture course through my work, where we got support from a tutor in learning various horticultural topics. Besides working in our own garden we also helped keep a plot in a local walled garden, where the soil is said to have been ballast off of Russian trading ships. It’s a wonderful place, and I’m so happy I got to spend some time there as part of my CPD.
Last year we also planted some potatoes on the machair. Unfortunately we seem to have planted them just in time for a heatwave, and since we couldn’t water we didn’t get a very good crop.
In May my mother and sister came visiting from Sweden. We went on plenty of walks, but we also spent a day at home just working in the garden. We weeded and cut grass in between tea breaks. I love sharing photos with them from this years garden, knowing they were part of it last year.
This year the raised beds have evened out nicely and in the largest bed I’ve broken up big clumps of soil for a finer tilth. In this bed we’ve planted carrots, and at the top some onions. Next to that bed, where the kalettes used to be, are potatoes this year. At the end of last season we extended a bit, and have three more lengths of soil to plant in. I’ve put beetroot and purple sprouting broccoli in these bed. The soil is quite poor here, and the depth not very good. We will heavily seaweed this part once this years growing season is over.
I’ll share more about the garden later in the summer. I’ve been experimenting with glass gem corn in our small greenhouse, we’ve got fennel and basil in a cold frame Liam built from a set of old red cedar doors, and I’ve got fuchsias, lupins, a dahlia, sweet peas, cosmos, and poppies planted in the hopes of having more summer flowers this year. I’ve also got a few calendula planted, from which I’m gathering petals to make a balm. It’s hard to know what will survive in the wind, and although I at times wish I live somewhere where the weather is more gentle, I am never regretful that I took the opportunity to move out here.
All of May was spent at home, in lockdown. Most of the time I was outside, either working in the garden, or sitting with a good book. I managed to read ten books in May, something I would not have been able to do if I was working. My best read of the month was Dune by Frank Herbert – a sci-fi classic that I’ve had on my shelves for at least four years. I think the reason why it sat unread for so long was because I was intimidated by it, sci-fi from the 60’s/70’s isn’t always easily digestible. But the writing was beautifully lyrical, with plenty of parts to make you stop and think for a minute. I enjoyed it so much that I also read Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness straight afterward, a book I’d had for equally as long. I had tried reading it before but it’s a book that needs a bit of commitment to understand, and since I had plenty of time it was no issue.
We also ate fresh fish, langoustines, and lobster from fishermen who are now selling locally instead of exporting. Liam also caught his first brown trout of the season. We cook most of the fish in white wine with leeks, it’s my favourite (especially in a Pinot Grigio).
We ate the langoustines on their own with butter, but for the lobster we made a homemade pasta.
Most of the hundreds of daffodils in the garden had already flowered, but I had some special triple-headed narcissi that I planted late, as well as the bleeding heart (one of my favourites), some fuschia’s from the Co-op, and a few other flowers in the front garden in full bloom. Most spectacular were the kalettes from last year, which I moved from the beds in the front garden to behind the house. This is by far my favourite crop; we harvested kalettes first (a hybrid between kale and brussel sprouts) which are in the freezer waiting to be put into zuppa toscana, then we used the young unbloomed flowers as sprouting broccoli, and we probably could have used the leaves of the plant as kale, too. In May they burst with an abundance of yellow flowers, which provided a lovely contrast to the purple stems and leaves. Best of all, they’re all full of bumblebees. I planted this year’s crop by the flower beds since they’re so beautiful throughout the winter and spring. I’ll also be collecting seed heads from last years plant. Once the daffodils had flowered and died back at the end of the month I collected probably three wheelbarrows worth of them which were put on the compost pile.
I also finished a cardigan that I started in September last year that had been languishing since. It was a surprisingly quick knit, using merino wool in a gorgeous green shade. The pattern is called Mariechen, and has front panels of faux cables and lace. I added some dark wooden buttons that I’ve had for about as long as I had the yarn, probably three years! When that was finished I did a big wool wash, including six pairs of socks and my recently completed Icelandic jumper (pattern Vintersol, Uist Wool yarn).
Eriskay ponies grazing locally often get a pat when we go past.
For two days I tidied and cleaned out our two guest rooms. I wanted to move our pine desk into the smaller room since it has better light, but to do that I had to move the bed already in there and I ended up having to take everything out (mattress included) in order to flip the bed around. This did allow for a good deep clean, and the room is lovely now. Where the desk had been in the twin room I put in a clothes rail that had been standing unused in the wardrobe and hung clothes that get very wrinkled when in drawers. There’s somehow less hassle involved in getting dressed in the morning if you can see the clothes hanging.
On the bed in the single room is a small quilt I finished this month. From the scraps I made a matching cushion cover, and it looks lovely on the bed together.
That’s it from May. Here’s a photo of a sleeping lamb (definitely sleeping, it woke and ran around shortly after).
In September of 2019 I took part in a guided tour of the mill at Uist Wool in Grimsay. I love working with their yarn, and have a multitude of jumpers, hats, mittens, and shawls all made up from their natural shades. Seeing the yarn produced on their Victorian machinery was such a great experience, and it’s nice to know that although the yarn is at a premium price all the money is used locally. I think they were spinning their blend of Cheviot/Texel and Zwartbles, Fras, while we were there, a yarn which I’m yet to work with! It’s a lovely white base with marling of dark brown/grey, which knits up to a pattern that reminds me of birches.
Here are a few photos from the evening of 26th July 2019. While Liam was fly-fishing I was knitting on my shawl/scarf (pattern is Architexture) in Uist Wool’s alpaca blend. I knitted this on straight bamboo needles, which I like to do when I’m not knitting in the round. The shawl is long enough to wrap twice around your neck, or just once for a looser fit.
Over the long Easter weekend we try to leave the island for a short stay on the mainland. In 2018 we stayed in Assynt, and 2019 we went to Argyll. We were hoping to go to Islay in 2020, but we couldn’t due to the lockdown.
For our 2019 trip we stayed in a shepherd’s hut in Lagavullin, Argyll, just at the edge of Kilmartin Glen. It was a beautiful AirB&B with wooden interiors and a nice log burner, situated in the garden/orchard of the hosts.
We spent a day with friends from Mull on Gigha, where we ate ice cream and enjoyed the sun. The rest of the time we explored various castles, including Kilchurn, Sween, and Tarbert. We also had tea at a cafe by St Conan’s Kirk, and a lovely dinner at Loch Melfort Hotel.