02 March 2015

Gardening with ME: SMARTER Gardening

If you haven't heard of the SMART goal setting framework before, then I hope that this post will be really helpful for you. While I'm certainly no expert, I've been using this framework for a few years and find it very helpful in improving and adapting the goals I have for my garden and other parts of my life.

I've chosen the extended version, as I find that with ME performing the actual task can be very different from the plan. The ER, evaluation and review, are important steps to ensure that you improve and pace well when returning to complete the same, or similar, task in future.

In this post, I'll be using an example of my own SMARTER goal to show how the process works.

Some of the tools and equipment required for the job.

Being specific will not only hold you accountable, but it will help you know when you have achieved your goal. 
I want to remove our acer tree from the small pot it is in and re-pot it into a larger pot.

This allows you to state how much or how many of the specific item needs to be done before you have completed the goal. 
I am hoping to perform the re-potting in a single session. This will include removing the acer and pruning the roots. Removing the moss on the top of the current compost. Adding new compost. Watering the re-potted acer. I may have to rest at certain points to ensure that I don't over do it and will check this during the task.

Is the goal you have set realistic and attainable? If it isn't attainable at this stage, then perhaps you need to break your goal down into more specific steps. You should be able to write about how your goal will be achievable.
I will accomplish this because I know the steps to complete the task and have done this before. Lucy will be on hand if I need assistance.
To achieve this I will need to ensure I have all the tools and equipment ready. This includes a new pot, enough ericaceous compost, a trowel, a kneeler, a knife, a patio weeder.

Is this goal relevant and worthwhile to you? Is it in line with your values and requirements? If not, then this may not be the right time to attempt the task, or perhaps, you may not be the right person for the job.
Achieving this re-potting task will provide me with a confidence boost and will be a great way to get going with the gardening year. I enjoy gardening, so I know that this is relevant to me and as I enjoy caring for plants, this is in line with my values.

Not only should the goal be specific, but you should be able to give yourself a time frame to complete the task. This will help you focus on completing the goal.
I will aim to complete this task in the next month on the day/days that Lucy isn't working and the weather is amenable.

This is an important step because we can then understand how our goal is progressing or progressed. You don't have to wait until the end of the goal to work on this stage. For instance, if you find that you're struggling to meet a requirement, such as time-specific, you can evaluate why that is. Alternatively, if it's a long-term goal, say 6 months, then you could evaluate every 2 months.

The task went well and I accomplished the goal of re-potting the acer. Lucy was on hand to assist with the lifting. I had forgotten that the pot the acer was in had a lip going into the pot, this meant that I had to do some extra work in cutting away some soil before we could get the acer out of the original pot. Having the tools ready was very helpful, but I did forget a few things. I need to consider the job step by step to ensure I don't need to waste energy fetching things I've forgotten.

After the goal have been completed, you can look at ways to adapt or improve the goal based on any challenges that you have faced. For instance, you may find that doing the whole goal in a single session wore you out for the following 2 days, in which case you can look at where the task can be broken into additional sessions. Alternatively you may find that the goal was very painful, so you may look at different tools or ways of increasing your comfort levels - or even farming the goal out to someone who isn't ill if it's a recurring task.

While the task went well, I hadn't realised how much I needed Lucy for the lifting and removing of the tree from the pot. I need to make sure that I schedule tasks like this when Lucy isn't at work.
I also need to create an inventory of our pot plants as the plant was very root bound and I'm not sure how well it will recover. The inventory will help me keep on top of pot plant maintenance and I won't have to waste so much time and energy in cutting away sheets of roots.
The SMART portion of SMARTER will help you to create a statement of what your goal is and how you will achieve it:
I want to remove our acer tree from the small pot it is in and re-pot it into a larger pot. I want to do this in the next few weeks with the help of Lucy. I will do this in situ, as the acer is located near the house in the back garden.
To achieve this I will need to ensure I have all the tools and equipment ready. This includes a new pot, enough ericaceous compost, a trowel, a kneeler, a knife, a patio weeder.

  • There is a hierarchy of achievements which consist of: Objective (Make my garden look amazing), Aim (Ensure that all my potted plants are happy and healthy), Target (Re-pot, top up, and maintain any plants that are looking unhealthy), Goal (Re-pot my acer plant).
  • With this in mind, the SMARTER framework is for goals, which are the smallest measurement of achieving your overall objectives. When setting up a SMARTER, ensure that it is the smallest component and that you're not trying to to achieve larger tasks.
  • In time you probably won't need to write it all down. These days I don't often write down my gardening goals because I've been using SMARTER for a long time. However, I do often sit and think about how to improve and adapt - especially when the ME is trying to keep me down.
  • SMART and SMARTER may not be the tool for you. I'm sure you probably have a formal or informal method of managing activities. Whatever tool you use, as long as it works, is the best one for you.
  • Ensure that you don't breach your activity/energy baseline. If you don't have one yet, then it's worth taking a few weeks to log your current levels of activity, so you can understand how much you can do without any energy backlash or symptom relapse.
  • Enjoy the process! Even making a SMARTER goal is gardening - because you're thinking about your garden and how to make your time in it enjoyable. 
The end result. Pot to the left is the original pot.

Important ME news:
Last week it was reported that a potential biomarker for diagnosing ME was found. Read what that means and why it's important: http://tanyamarlow.com/potential-biomarker-for-myalgic-encephalomyelitis-chronic-fatigue-syndrome/ 

Read Jullieanne's post on gardening in your head

23 February 2015

Book Review: Principles of Horticulture by Adams, Bamfords & Early

This book covers everything you need to know to get started as a horticulturist and is aligned with the current syllabus of the RHS certificate of Horticulture.

Topics from Climate to ecology and from plant growth to pests and diseases are covered.

The book certainly does what it says on the cover and provides information on the principles of horticulture with a reasonable amount of detail. However, I found it to be a very dry book and it took me a long time to get through it. Although, saying that, I did learn lots of new things and I'm glad that I persevered with it.

I think that this is probably more a reference book than one that can easily be read cover to cover. It does provide information in an easy to understand way via text, tables, and illustrations. There are plenty of book references at the end of each chapter; which provide a way to learn more about each subject covered. I can see why it's made it to 5 editions so far and see no reason why it won't continue to be expanded and improved in future.

If you want to learn more about the fundamentals of horticulture, then this book is definitely worth your time.

16 February 2015

Sow and Grow: Sweet Pea Royal Mixed

It's that time of year again, when I start saving our empty loo roll and kitchen towel cores. That time of year then I get excited about the fragrance that will fill our home and garden come June. It's also that time of year when I really feel that my gardening year has finally begun. Mulching and weeding is all well and good, but until I start sowing and nurturing new life, it feels like I'm just surviving until the next growing season.

Last year we grew Sweet Pea Royal Mixed a cultivar of the annual sweet pea, Lathyrus odoratus. The mixed meaning that we'd have a lovely and random array of colours from white, through to pink, red, and purple. While some sweet peas required soaking in water (check seed packet for info), this cultivar is happy to be directly planted.

I find that February is a good time to start sowing sweet peas indoor. The packet says we can sow indoors from September, but I feel February to March is a good time as by the time the conditions outside are welcoming, the sweet peas are ready to embrace the alfresco lifestyle!

Sweet peas seeds are hard and spherical. Before sowing, look through your seeds and filter out any that are very deformed - or material that is clearly not seed.

I mixed plenty of grit with my compost, for drainage, and fill up a cardboard core - ensuring that it is firm. I then push the seed to a depth of around 1.5cm, before covering it over and soaking it with water.  I have to confess that I've never used seed compost (I know, I shall hang my head in shame), but I do use a chamomile tea spray to prevent damping off.  I then place the cardboard cores in a tray filled with grit and place in a sunny location.

Within a couple of weeks, the sweet pea will have come to life. Looking at the seedling, it is immediately obvious why they need a long pot.

A couple of weeks after sowing the first batch, I sowed a second batch. This was to try to lengthen the flowering season. This is also a handy time to re-sow into any containers where germination hasn't happened.

When the plant has 4 leaves, pinch out the top two. This will ensure you have a bushy plant that will provide more flowers.

When the plant has a few good leaves and is looking healthy (around March/April), it's time to start hardening them off. This is a process whereby you put them outside during the day, but bring them inside during the night. Then you can place them in their final locations. If you have grown them in a biodegradable material, such as paper or cardboard, there's no need to disturb the plants - which they dislike. Just plant the whole thing and there won't be any sign of your paper or cardboard by the end of the sweet pea growing season.

Dead heading is a great way to ensure that the sweet peas keep providing a good crop of flowers. But, there's no need to wait until the flowers are dead! I like to make sure I have a good supply of flowers on the windowsill by the sink and in the living room - such a gorgeous fragrance. This way we get fragrance inside and out.

It's hard not to look at a sweet pea and smile. Not only do they provide a lush fragrance, but the shape of the flower is very pretty. While there are many flowers in the legume family (the third largest flower family currently known), sweet peas provide flowers that are large enough to truly appreciate.

The sweet pea has 5 petals: banner is the uppermost petal with the two wings below. The lower 2 petals are fused into a keep and they protect the many anthers and the single stigma. This beautiful arrangement is called papilionaceous, relating to the nature of the butterfly. This is because the two wings resemble those of a butterfly.

If you let the flowers go over, they will produce a seed pod, which is initially green. When it has turned brown, you can pinch the pod from the plant and dry them indoors for a few days. When you see the pods start to split at the seam, you can spread the pod and retrieve the seeds. Dry them thoroughly, package them, and store them in a cool, dry location until you are ready to plant them. I'm not sure how long harvest seeds last, but the store bought ones tend to last a couple of years.