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Agapanthus and Allotment Stalwarts

July 2, 2015

DSCN4873A pot of Agapanthus africanus outside the front door is full of flower heads bursting into life and against the odds since they had infrequent watering to say the least. I did however feed all five pots of agapanthus back in April and they are flowering like never before.


On the allotment a neighbour has a stunning clump of globe artichokes basking in the sun.  Last year I grew this plant from seed and they germinated fast. Potted on into 9 cm pots they grew to 30 cm tall and were planted out.  Within days they’d been demolished by slugs but I’m having another go and this time they’ll stay in pots till they reach a really robust size.


Opposite the artichokes is a huge clump of fennel and inspired by Charles Dowding I have just purchased seeds for these (and the artichokes).  In How to Create a New Vegetable Garden he sowed Fennel ‘Montebianco’ in modules at the beginning of July and planted them out 3 weeks later.  He says they swelled to medium size bulbs through October but I’d be happy to have the leaf as a herb although any bulbs would be welcome too.


The Crimson Flowered broad beans growing in a pot outside the kitchen door are fattening up and completely free of blackfly…


Unlike the allotment broad beans which have been badly infected. This week I cropped the lot and chopped up the plants to add to a compost bin. The heat wave will help get the temperature up on all the bins and that should speed up decomposition. On the subject of soil, in Bristol on July 4th there’s an important event celebrating UN International Year of Soils. The guest speaker at the Create Centre is Alys Fowler who will be inviting people to explore the life-giving matter of soils to inspire a deeper understanding of its nature and its role in the future of food.


Above Alchemilla mollis is looking very pretty mingling with Stipa tenuissima and the lime green flowers cut well with marigolds and achilleas in a pot…


And here’s a most delicious recipe prompted by urbanvegpatch for nasturtium leaf pesto which we ate on sliced tomatoes …DSCN4890

Dividing up Herbaceous Plants

June 25, 2015

I rescued the two lack-lustre Achillea ‘Moonshine’ from the bed that the slugs had taken over and it was easy to ease the roots apart at the base to make eight new plants. I shall do the same with the Geranium psilostemon and re-plant that at the back of a border.


The achillea will go in the main sunny bed where they seem to be thriving and with no apparent slug damage…


A three-hour weeding session on the allotment left it looking great again and exposed several rows of beetroot and spinach sown from seed weeks ago and then forgotten about. I sowed more of each plus various perennial flowers Salvia ‘patens’, Verbascum ‘Summer Charm’ and Scabiosa ‘Drakensbergensis’.


These allotment raspberries and strawberries were pureed with a small amount of caster sugar and made into ice-cream.


 Beat 1 pt double cream  with 397 g of condensed milk (half a tin) until it forms soft peaks and then fold in the fruit puree and freeze.


The allotment broad beans are badly hit by blackfly but I washed the pods before pushing the beans out and they are un-blemished. A surplus was transformed into a pea and broad bean hummus recipe which was in my head but I think came from Hugh F W originally.


Cook a cupful of podded broad beans and a cupful of peas (frozen or fresh) together for 3 minutes in boiling salted water. Cool then puree with 100 ml olive oil and a handful of mint leaves plus 50 gm of grated Parmesan cheese. Served on toasted sour dough bread it was delicious.


Allium ‘Ivory Queen’ was in bloom for weeks in the garden and although now gone to seed it still looks very pretty.  It’s mixed here in a vase with the seed pods of Nigella ‘Love in a Mist’.

Flowers for Cutting

June 18, 2015

This week is British Flowers Week and even the smallest balcony, garden or allotment offers space to grow cut flowers rather than buying imported ones.  Last year a bed on the allotment measuring about 2 m x 1 m kept me in flowers for the house from May until October.  Ranunculus ‘Aviv Red’…

download (1) started the season followed by dahlias in June and these flowered until autumn both providing  substantial pickings. Annuals such as ‘Love in a Mist’, Calendula, cosmos and nasturtiums provided extra padding throughout the summer season. I rarely buy flowers now apart from the odd bunch of tulips early in Spring and I pick flowers for the kitchen table and a huge vase for the hall table twice a week for many months.

So in April I re-designed a bed in the garden to extend my cut flower obsession. It’s been fairly successful but in reality it’s less a cutting bed more a take-away for slugs and snails. Five Salvia, five Ammi majus and four Cosmos ‘Sensation’ have been razed to the ground and the G. psilostemon …DSCN4792

has grown huge and although fantastic cut with bright pink roses it’s smothering the Achillea ‘Moonshine’ and providing cover for the slugs and snails.  But the roses planted several years ago are holding this cutting bed together especially the striped and scented R. Ferdinand Pichard…


and the rambler R. Veilchenblau which covers the wall with its dark magenta clusters that fade to lilac…


The Philadelphus ‘Belle Etoile’ is flowering too and scenting the garden…


And this new bed has definitely been improved by Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’…


and Alchemilla mollis planted in the front of the border edging the path…


So a bit of re-jigging of the bed maybe required in autumn and I’m inclined to re-position the G. psilostemon at the back of a border. It sprawls but I value the flowers so will need to keep it.  I would love to plant peonies inspired as I am by Julie’s blog Peonies and Posies. They make awesome flowers in the border and associate well with roses and look stunning in a vase but that said they will flower in May and June and then they’re over. So perhaps one just accepts that in a relatively small garden having one’s heart’s desire is too much to ask.

On the allotment the rainbow chard has started flowering a sure sign that is will now slow down production of the lovely leaves.  A friend who grows her own and is a brilliant and imaginative forager passed on this hot tip. She cuts off all the young flowering stems from the top and sides of the plant and gently steams them. We did this last night and they were tender and sweet with a delicious chard flavour and now the row can be cropped for a few more weeks.


And on the subject of productive plants I’ve been carefully observing the crimson flowered broad bean outside the kitchen door.  It went from scented flowers to dried up flowers to small beans in the space of a week and the pods are now growing bigger by the day. It explains why on the allotment I was suddenly picking fat broad beans when ten days before there was nothing to be seen.


The cut flowers this week are the  hybrid musk rose R.Felicia with Stachys lanata and G.Psilostemon.



Roses and Alliums

June 12, 2015


Allium multibulbosum has opened and is looking very cool in the first parterre. I love the height and that it needs no support and it’s on my list for buying plenty more bulbs this autumn.

DSCN4714Rosa Madame Alfred Carriere planted to cover a shady garden wall has flowered for the first time. The very fragrant double blooms are white with a pink flush and it should flower constantly into autumn. I cut three stems for the kitchen table and although they lasted just three days in water the scent was heavenly…



Within moments of the broad beans being full of flowers the pods have formed and we had our first taste last night…


And the garlic leaves have turned a papery-white so I forked one up to examine the size and decided to lift the whole lot to dry them off in the sun…


Nettle Tea anyone? Wearing gloves I filled a 2 gallon plastic bucket with cut stinging nettles then placed a brick on top and filled to the top with water. It’s now covered with a plastic bag and will be left for three weeks behind the water-butt on the allotment. Diluted 1 part tea to 10 parts water it makes a nutritious feed especially good for dahlias and sweet peas. It will be my reward for the rescued dahlias which are now planted in the cutting bed and looking very healthy.



A packet of twenty plant clips in two different sizes has been an excellent buy from Poundland. You simply squeeze them open and gather the climbing bean or sweet pea to the bamboo cane and clip it gently to the support. No need to even take your gardening gloves off let alone hunt for twine and scissors.



Every year I plant thyme in the mixed border in the garden and within a month or two it has disappeared for ever. This year I planted in a terracotta pot that sits on the garden table and it’s thriving. My theory is it gets far less watering and has full sun and both are exactly what it likes.



This un-named rose climbs through the garden railings up the steps and is very sweet cut with G. Psilostemon and with ‘Love-in-a-Mist’ which self-seeds everywhere on the allotment and is very welcome.




Community Gardening

June 5, 2015


In 2005 this derelict space in Peckham S.E.London was transformed into an appealing community garden by a group of neighbours wanting to provide a focus for shared activities and to enhance a pedestrianized street. To kick-start the project Southwark Council contributed a grant of £500 which prompted residents to get together to lift flagstones, build raised beds and to begin the planting.  They bought mature shrubs and bamboos for good structure but mostly divided plants from their own gardens with low-maintenance and self-seeding possibilities being the criteria.  Over the next year or two an additional grant of £1000 allowed the residents to improve the soil, repair some of the raised beds and to install a couple of water-butts. A resident told me the garden only gets watered mid-summer if there’s a prolonged period of hot weather and there’s a twice yearly weeding session involving neighbours.

DSCN4646It’s leafy and colourful and thriving and great that an otherwise under-used patch of ground can be transformed into a calm oasis for a community to share and enjoy. So far it’s been used for summer barbeques, opera and other musical events, Easter egg hunt and Christmas carols. Every household can apply for a key and are then able to use the space as and when they desire. Here’s the bamboo grove that the children love to play in…



More planters line the road …


And the base of several trees have been planted up too…


And these magnificent trees in the same street bring the changing seasons to the heart of this residential area in the suburbs of London …


Back at home the allotment is full to bursting but there’s not much to pick for a week or two except this bowl of vibrant rainbow chard …DSCN4687

In the garden R. Guinee is finally climbing up the lilac albeit rather slowly but worth the wait ( 4 years) for its colour and perfume and it will repeat flower. All my roses were given a good feed in March and they are blooming like never before and I’m about to feed the repeating ones again to get more flowers.


After five days away the garden appeared ravaged by several days of gale force winds so I picked every thing in flower that was horizontal and plonked it in a vase…




Slugs and Dahlias

May 28, 2015

Hmm. The dahlia plants were looking very healthy in their 3 L pots with lots of green leaf showing after the tops had been carefully nipped out to increase bushiness. So two weeks ago I planted them in the cutting garden on the allotment and covered the row with a fleece cloche to protect from a late frost. To my dismay when I removed the cover last weekend there was nothing to be seen.  A gentle forking around the row found the tubers but covered in slime.  I brought them home, made sure they were free of slugs and re-planted in fresh compost in a polystyrene box placed up high on a metal garden table. They are sprouting again and will be left to establish for a good four weeks.  As soon as there’s a period of dry weather I’ll plant them out once more and surround them with crushed eggshells and coffee grounds which I’m saving daily.


If ever proof was needed that copper bands round the top of pots  protect against slug damage then here it is. Un-blemished Hosta sieboldiana var.elegans in the peak of health in a neighbour’s garden.


And they don’t appear to have a slug and snail problem in Millennium Square in the centre of Bristol where several huge raised beds are full to bursting with allotment veg and strawberries.  It’s an inspiring project and below are three of the beds brimming with healthy produce …




And on the edge of the square was this fantastic pickup loaded to the hilt with pollinating and edible plants from Cleeve Nursery nr Bristol…




The nursery is taking part in the alternative garden festival drawing attention to the importance of  pollinating insects for our food security. The selection of plants chosen demonstrate how easy it is to encourage vital pollinating insects into our gardens and public spaces.

Sambucus nigra is looking gorgeous with the blackish-purple leaves making a lush back-drop to the soft pink flowers. I’m tempted to pick the flowers for elderflower cordial imagining it will be pink and sparkly…


Cut flowers from the allotment this week include cow parsley, ranunculus, an alpine euphorbia (unidentified but low-growing and self-seeding) and Phacelia tanacetifolia.



Nest Building Wrens

May 23, 2015

A dear little wren, just visible halfway up the rusty iron upright, was busy making a nest in the ivy all week. It became increasingly confident flying back and forth past my head, almost insect-like, carrying a beak full of leaves and feathers. He let me know he was back with a penetrating trill which he repeated four times in a very short space. Apparently the males do the building and often make two nests and the female chooses which one she considers the best construction for her egg laying – sweet.



Outside the kitchen door a large pot of Vicia faba Crimson Flowered broad beans are doing well.  These were planted to increase my scented plants in the garden and for occasions when a trip to the allotment is impractical. They smell deliciously of sweet peas, the bees love them and they are my scented plant for May.



I’ve had six weeks of cut flowers from the Ranunculus ‘Aviv Red’ and they last for days in water. The corms were planted in October and they started flowering mid-april and I’ll plant lots more in the autumn. I shall stagger the planting to prolong the season. They are combined here with Phacelia tanacetifolia a green manure which survived the winter.


Allium ‘Ivory Cream’ is in the shady parterre and followed on very successfully from the white ‘Triumphator’ tulips. These three got broken from the base when I was weeding so I popped them in glass containers.



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