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Scent in September

September 21, 2016
 Calamintha nepeta has been in flower six weeks or so and should continue until the first frosts. It’s smothered in small, very pale lilac flowers from mid-summer lasting until the temperature drops. It’s useful as an edging plant with a long season of interest. Next Spring I shall lift and divide it to edge the length of the path interspersing it with the neighbouring Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ which finishes flowering before the calamintha.
  Sorry to go on about Cosmos quite as much as I do but in terms of longevity and low maintenance and cheapness and beauty,  as a cut flower it’s difficult to beat. All that’s required to achieve a bunch a week from July till October is good ground preparation and a packet of seeds sown in late-May. And although the flowers droop on the way home from the allotment they revive fast in water and last for five or six days and the more you cut the more you get.  They have a very gentle scent and the colours are stunning and above all the bees love them as witnessed four days ago.
In the garden the tree Clerodendrum trichotomen is in flower with its intense perfume wafting around in the heatwave last week. It’s available as a shrub but I like the strange form that it now has as a tree and it means we can sit under it to get the benefit of the scent.
In the burst of sunshine last week the Cistus ‘Sunset’ produced two flowers a day. The strong resin-scented leaves transport me back to childhood in my aunt’s cottage garden. That and the fact that it keeps its leaves all Winter and is a manageable size shrub for a town garden is why I love it.
It’s easy to miss runner beans and then to discover dozens hiding among the leaves and by now all as long as your arm. They’ll be stringy when this size but leave them growing till the shells are crisp and papery then pod them. Cook in much the same way as borlotti beans which I find take about 25 minutes simmering but best to test after 10 minutes. Both these beans absorb the flavour of other ingredients and drenched in olive oil and garlic when warm they make a great accompaniment to other dishes.
  Some substantial rhubarb stems were discovered hiding under huge leaves on the allotment. Chopped up and sprinkled with dark brown sugar and the grated rind and juice from an orange then roasted gently in the oven it made a lovely pudding with Greek yoghurt.

Early Autumn Sowing

September 14, 2016

Having cropped the last of the tomatoes in the greenhouse I am keen to use the space for growing other things.  The first task is sowing seeds for cutting next year and I want lots of Fennel vulgare for planting at home and on the allotment…

IMGP0672-002And  Ammi visnaga …IMGP0692

Bupleurum rotundifolium a late-flowering plant with lime-green flowers…


Lunaria annua (Honesty)…


And seeds of a lettuce Winter Density described as like a large Little Gem, slow to bolt, flavoursome and tolerant of heat…winter-density

All these seeds were sown in half-size trays of general purpose compost and placed on shelves in the warmth of the green house-with the door left open. However on a trip to the allotment early sunday morning a ground frost was silvering the leaves on the Euphorbia wulfennii and the Phlomis fruticosa so I zipped the door closed.



Then by today temperatures are soaring up to 26*C so I will unzip the greenhouse door. With these crazy fluctuations in temperature the seeds may be traumatized and will need to be re-sown.

Difficult to say why I bought quite so many onion sets but they are now all planted: Red Winter, Senshya and Shakespeare, fifty of each, are in the ground. And I sowed two rows of Wild Rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolia) seeds next to a row of flat leaf parsley, the latter came through from a sowing three weeks ago.

The Kaffir lily plants are slowly fattening up in a border here and I cut the flowers from one for my desk. They are such an extraordinary orange/red and perfect for this blue glass vase.


Clumps of pot marigold were cleared from a bed in order to tip a full, well-rotted load of compost from one of the three bins on the allotment.  It’s an effort forking it out and transporting it in a wheel barrow and then raking off any resistant roots, but very satisfying.  Two of the three bins are full to the brim but there’s now an empty bin to take the rest of late summer weeds and kitchen waste. Incidentally now is a good time to save seeds of this lovely annual.


Climbers as Ground Cover

September 8, 2016

Image result for akebia quinata

Inspired by James Wong  suggesting climbing plants for ground-cover I’ve lifted and re-planted the climber Akebia quinata. I bought two in my impatience to cover the arbour and one took off in a spectacular fashion whilst the other dawdled.  I can see that one plant will be enough to combine with the golden hop and Solanum crispum ‘Album’- I just need to be patient and wait. So the slower akebia is now planted as ground cover in a part-shady bed and where, with some protection from the wall, it might remain in leaf all year. The flowers are scented and appear in early spring and I’m imagining them mingling around the base of several Helleborus argutifolius all doing well in the same bed.  Watch this space.

We’ve had a great crop of Calabrese Marathon for the last eight weeks…


And Spinach Beet…

imgp0908A large squash (I think it’s Baby Bear) has ripened and will be roasted with onions, peppers and garlic.  Next to it is the first of the Sarah Raven climbing squash ‘Munchkin’. It’s one of seven clambering over supports and these will be left to grow a bit bigger and steaming is suggested.

The first borlottis are ready with a huge row that were sown much later to follow…


Some rather interesting plants appeared in the garden eight weeks ago in a bed planted with Verbena bonariensis.  Several have come up in a neat row so it sort of feels intentional but I can’t claim responsibility. The flowers are insignificant but the wiry form makes a great contribution in a vase…IMG_20160904_142636221

Here it is with Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and Verbena bonariensis…



Late Summer Flowers

August 31, 2016

A trip to look at the long borders at Dartington Hall in Devon two weeks ago renewed my determination to get more late-flowering plants in the garden here.

The Sunny Border

This Achillea ‘Moonshine’ was looking great although it rarely thrives in my hands but I might try again.


The exotic Crocosmia ‘Solfatare’ grows to a manageable height and looked pretty in the front of the border supporting mid-height plants growing behind. The bronze leaves contrast well with the pineapple yellow flowers.


Another great flower bobbing around the Dartington Hall border was Euphorbia schillingii in bloom from mid-summer to mid-autumn. It hails from Nepal so is hardy and can be sown from seed available from Chiltern Seeds. I plan to sow it in the pop-up greenhouse in Autumn.


In a local garden the plume poppy Macleaya is towering over the beds and looking astonishing. It’s a handsome plant with grey-green leaves that catch the late afternoon sun and has plumes of tiny, petal-less, soft coral flowers. It’s a herbaceous plant often recommended for the back of borders but here it’s planted in the front of beds next to winding paths. The paths meander through dense planting with the Macleaya towering above head height and positioned in this way it looked amazing.


In the same garden Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ about to bloom looked lovely pushing through the Stipa arundinacia.


There’s some good wall interest in my garden with the leaves of Vitis vinifera ‘Purpurea’ just beginning to change.  This was it two weeks ago with a Clematis jackmanii flowering through it in places and a few bunches of black ornamental grapes nestle in the leaves.


And here it is this week with the leaves beginning to turn scarlet before they drop in Autumn.


And six clumps of Japanese Anemone ‘Honorine Joubert’, looking fresh and interesting, are filling a large shady border.


I was reluctant to cut the anemone flowers so have resorted to nasturtiums which are still flowering away on the allotment.


Ornamental Climbers

August 24, 2016

DSCN6587Gradually (and a bit nervously) I am reducing the Rosa lutea that covers the arbour outside the kitchen door.  It’s provided a lovely green canopy for the last ten years but it’s only truly wonderful for three weeks when in flower. The rose petals then turn brown and drop onto the paving for weeks on end and as soon as the temperature drops it sheds leaves for much of Winter.


I aim to eventually replace it with Solanum crispum ‘Alba’ seen here in a garden last week where it’s flowered since May and will continue till November or later. And although it’s only faintly scented it is a very lovely plant and will provide interest for months on end. It will probably need as much monitoring as the rose but should be more rewarding.


Having started the edit, by removing much of the rose from half the frame, the golden hop has wasted no time in rampaging along the supports. It had been struggling to be seen and will combine very prettily with the solanum.

A supermarket pot of chives was divided up into four and planted in the garden three weeks ago.


The four new plants are thriving and all have flower buds emerging.


The Origanum here in a pot was lifted and gently pulled apart at the base to make more plants.  It had visibly healthy roots on each piece and these should fill out to make new growth.


It divided up easily into potentially six new plants which will be kept watered and planted out in late-September.


Olive tins make very pretty containers provided the compost is watered very regularly. IMGP0800I spotted this one holding the perennial Red-Veined Sorrel.  It’s a lemony flavoured leaf that is great added to other leaves in salads.


The blackcurrant jam was made from frozen allotment fruit and is a really good flavour and texture. The recipe says to gently soften the 1 k of fruit simmering it in 1 pint of water till the fruit splits. This avoids any toughness in the skin and the other tip was to warm the 1 k sugar in the oven for 10 minutes before adding to the softened fruit. Then it was stirred on a low heat till all sugar crystals had melted and boiled rapidly for 15 minutes. This quantity made three kilner jars.


Cosmos ‘Sensation’ in a pretty mug.

Green Tomato Chutney

August 18, 2016


A large limb of green tomatoes was torn from the main stem in error I hasten to add. I spotted an easy recipe from the RHS Allotment Journal and halved the ingredients and saved the day.


I kg of green toms finely chopped

500 g onions finely chopped

2 fresh green chillies de-seeded and finely chopped

2 crushed garlic cloves

1 tsp ground ginger

Pinch of cloves and pinch of turmeric

50 g raisins

250 g soft brown sugar

300 ml white wine vinegar


In a large saucepan add all the ingredients and stir together. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat and cover the pan stirring frequently. Simmer for one and a quarter hours then transfer to warm jars. This makes about 2 kg of chutney in four jam jars. Leave to mature in a cool place for at least three weeks.


The tomatoes are ripening fast in the greenhouse but I seem to have lost all the labels so I can’t say which is the best flavour. What I do know is I’ll be growing more next year.


A friend who has a fantastic crop of garlic this year separated two bulbs from bunches of garlic bought from a market stall on the Portobello Road last September. I am guessing they looked as authentic and organic as these which came from a market in France this week. The cloves will be separated and planted out in September and I’ll see what happens.


Seeds of Kohlrabi ‘Delicacy Purple’ were sown directly in the soil on the plot two weeks ago as were ‘Amsterdam Forcing 3’ carrots and there’s no sign of either-yet.

This week the cut flowers are cosmos, calendulas and nasturtiums with a few alstroemeria flowers from the supermarket.



August 10, 2016


A pot of Oregano on the garden table is scenting the air thanks to a bee disturbing the leaves and flowers whilst rummaging around for pollen. It’s a great herb to add to pizza or Greek salads and will be divided up in Autumn to spread the joy next summer.


The hardy perennial fennel Foeniculum vulgare can be sown from seed late summer to over-winter in the ground with some protection. I’ve sown seeds in a seed tray to plant in full sun when I’ve cleared the climbing beans. The seedlings should be watered regularly-it’s a plant that hates to dry out.


Sage is a pretty herb with antibacterial properties which is why it’s been used for centuries as a gargle for sore throats.  Young leaves chopped and added to butter to stir into hot pasta is a refreshing alternative to thyme.  And it’s easy to propagate by taking material from the shoot tip with a sharp knife or secateurs. Trim each cutting just below a leaf and carefully cut or pinch off all the leaves from the lower half.  Each cutting should be around 5-8 cm in length and cut from several non-flowering shoots.  Collect material in the morning when it is at its most hydrated and drop the cuttings into a plastic bag.

IMGP0770 The pineapple sage (above) was propagated in this way-the ends dipped into hormone rooting powder and placed round the edge of a 9 cm pot of damp compost. The whole pot was placed in a plastic bag and put on a shelf in the light to take root. Several plants were propagated last year and it makes a great gift to give away.

Mint on the allotment has started flowering and the leaves appear to have rust. I forked it all up and pulled apart three roots to propagate.  The roots were trimmed and the stems cut to 30 cm stripping off all the leaves. It’s now re-planted with the attached leafless stems spread out in different directions and the soil firmly packed in over the lot and well-watered. Fresh new leaves will emerge on all the leaf joints in a month or so. Oh dear is this a convincing image?



Masses of summer crops are peaking this week with the first tomatoes now ripening every few days.


The cut flowers this week are white Japanese anemones ‘Honorine Jobert’, pineapple sage, mint, Alchemilla mollis and Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’.