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Harvesting and Saving Seeds

August 20, 2017

It’s a great time of year when all the hard work pays off…

…and people give you plums and you make Plum-cardamom-and-orange-jam …

…and seeds can be saved from sweet peas…

This Autumn I plan to sow a dozen or so sweet peas ready to get in the ground in April. Sowing in root trainers ensures lovely long roots that in turn provide long stems. More will be sown in June to get a second crop.


I am gathering seeds from lots of plants this year: so far Nigella ‘Love in a Mist’, nasturtiums, hollyhocks, aquilegia and marigolds for a small project to brighten up a friend’s garden in London. Below is the area outside the kitchen door and it works really well with established plants in the ground and full pots dotted around leaving ample space  to eat outside.

But  walking up the steps to the top garden there is little to lift the spirits. Several dead box balls have been hit by the box-tree caterpillar which in the last eight years has been demolishing box plants all over London. From an upstairs window it was seen to have ravaged a substantial parterre in the garden next door. You can read about it here but there’s not much hope of defeating it.

This top garden has large pavers surrounded by pea shingle with Acanthus, Phormiums, Fatsia and Choisya providing dramatic greenery and height…

These well established plants were put in several years ago but shingle was then spread over the entire planting area.  It is now difficult to get as much as a trowel in to add to the planting so we plan to experiment with seeds.

The inspiration is the back lane at home where Erigeron karvinskianus grows out of the pavement …

and hollyhocks thrive in thin air…

…and Alpine campanulas have colonised steps and pavements with barely any soil …

It will be fun to see if this is possible and the selecting and storing of seeds has started with the aim to sow in early September.  Plus tiny Alchemilla mollis seedlings are visible in the cracks in the path here and these will be lifted and added to small pockets of soil around the established plants in the top garden.

As usual in August there’s embarrassingly little in flower in my garden but Cosmos ‘Sensation’ on the allotment has opened and looks lovely.


August 13, 2017

Marjoram is such a gorgeous well-behaved herb and especially good for late summer flowers…

And in early Autumn it can be divided up to make more plants by gently easing the rooted base apart into smaller segments. Pot these on into 9 cm pots and next Spring you can spread the joy. Last year I made six plants from one established clump.

Culinary sage Salvia officinalis  is more of a shrub and is less well behaved. Several years ago I made cuttings from an old plant by gently tearing a heel from several side shoots. These were dipped in hormone rooting powder then put round the edge of a flower-pot. The following Spring the young rooted plants were dotted round the parterre nearest the house.

Sage requires a hard prune three times a year to keep it compact and it was difficult to climb in amongst other plants to cut it back regularly. As a result the small plants grew sprawling and leggy and since it should be replaced every four years several have now been removed. Here it is taking up too much room around the box balls …

But lifted out it leaves plenty of room to plant the area with something interesting for late summer flowers. I plan to sow more fennel in the greenhouse over Winter which could look good in this bed but might be too tall. Or I could buy a large pot of Astrantia major…

and divide it up to plant with Stipa arundinacea the leaves of which turn a lovely orange-russet in Autumn  This has self-seeded round the garden since the first time I planted it ten years ago and it appears in the most inappropriate places like outside the garden shed door…

Several allotment beetroot were hiding under the courgette leaves and had grown really huge…

They were easy to peel and chopped into small chunks they were then roasted with un-peeled garlic cloves for 45 minutes in olive oil. When cool Feta cheese was crumbled into the dish and the soft garlic squeezed out and basil leaves added.

The sunflower ‘Velvet Queen’ is blooming on the allotment and makes a great cut flower especially with red dahlias. They had a vase life of five days…

Learning Curves

August 6, 2017

A rose that had performed for decades suddenly stopped flowering two years ago. It appeared to be perfectly healthy with masses of strong new stems and an abundance of healthy leaves but no roses. R. ‘Gloire de Dijon’ is a climber with creamy-buff flowers and a spicy fragrance often repeat-flowering and sometimes forming huge hips in Autumn.  I realised that the problem was the walnut and mulberry trees in the garden next door now grown so huge they block out the sun on this border all day. I enjoy these trees and appreciate the atmosphere they bring to my garden especially  the way the light is changed when they are in full leaf. In Autumn the leaves drop and are bagged up to be  saved for twelve months to provide a winter mulch for many of the beds. And as they come into full leaf in Spring it’s a comforting reminder that warmer weather is on the way. So I have needed to re-think this bed, now in almost full shade, and it’s good to see that Japanese  Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’ loves the conditions and has self-seeded happily along 3 metres.

Saxifraga x urbium ( London Pride) tolerates full shade and is thriving .

Alchemilla mollis is in full flower and has self-seeded along the front edge so it clearly gets enough light.

This weekend I added five clumps of Helleborus foetidus towards the back of this full shade border extending the large space from removing the rose.  Hellebores do best in part-shade but since the trees are deciduous there should be enough light at the right time to encourage healthy growth. As an evergreen perennial these will add year round interest with their palmately divided leaves surrounding purple-edged, pale green flowers anytime from Winter through till Spring.

The second learning curve was although we’ve had rain on and off for weeks, the large new planters in the back lane were bone dry. Note to self, water twice a week regardless of weather, wind drys the surface out even if combined with a heavy downpour. It has also become apparent that small terracotta pots are not very practical for herbs because these too dry out quickly. I have several and they will be saved for planting crocus in October that can then be brought in for the kitchen table when in flower.

And although a plastic window box is less charming it has proved to be a fantastic way to grow herbs near the kitchen door. It sits on the garden table and can be moved when we eat outside. Chives, Greek basil, flat-leaf parsley and mint have thrived all summer with no sign of slug or snail attack.

Aside from three Kaffir lilies coming into bloom with their gorgeous, intense orangey-red petals, little else is doing much in the sunny border.

But Clematis ‘Rouge Cardinal’ will be planted against the wall behind them.

A trip to a garden centre is required to see what herbaceous plants are looking good at this time of year. I shall then follow Monty’s great tip in last friday’s Gardener’s World where he showed how to divide up and increase plants ready for next year.  The programme also featured Karena Batstone’s wonderful town garden in Bristol which is well worth catching on BBC I player.

This week the cut flowers in a favourite green glass jug are the leaves of R. rubrifolia with the flowers of the un-named hydrangeas.

Flowering Roses and Clematis

July 30, 2017

Clematis ‘Jackmanii’ has flowered for the last twelve weeks winding its way through a climbing rose in the small plot at the back of the house. It’s such good value as a flowering plant and has the conditions there that clematis love, part-shade with the roots smothered by other plants to keep them cool.    I’ve just  purchased C. ‘ Rouge Cardinal’ having seen it doing much the same in another garden and will plant it to mingle at the back of the border with shrub roses.

Repeat flowering Rose ‘Munstead Wood’ is doing just that and was a great buy last Autumn from David Austin. It arrived in an upright box and when carefully unpacked there it sat smothered in a mass of flowers.  I could have ordered bare root which is cheaper but it was a fabulous treat to have such a spectacular instant addition to the border. I fed all the roses a month ago with a rose feed at the base to encourage more flowers and R. ‘Iceberg’ has new buds as does R. ‘Ferdinand Pichard’.

There’s been too much rain to get to the allotment for a serious session but the tomatoes are ripening and are delicious …

Ammi majus has filled two vases this week and lasts for days. Here it is with dahlias and Alchemilla mollis…

and here with Hydrangea ‘Madame Emile Mouillere’…


July 22, 2017

I rounded up these stylish plastic planters from a garden centre for the back lane project. Large enough to take a variety of plants and deep enough to support tall ones all that was needed was to punch out three holes in the base for drainage. I transferred the plants and compost from the Poundland ones that had served well enough to green up the lane for the last year.

On the allotment the runner beans are ripening and the courgettes are a manageable size and the French beans will soon be ready to crop. In the greenhouse the beef steak  Marmande toms are looking fantastic but still green and the ‘Sungold’ are sweet and delicious.

A salad was made from the last of the purple leaves ‘Fancy Summer Mix’ from T & M with marigold petals and ‘Sungold’ baby toms added for colour.

A long window box is a really useful container for herbs with space for a variety of plants and enough depth to take a decent quantity of compost so less chance of drying out.  It sits on the garden table but can easily be moved if we want to eat outside. It contains flat leaf parsley, two chive plants and an enormous Greek basil that’s been great to add to recipes for weeks on end. There’s been no slug or snail damage to any of the herbs all summer and my theory is that the scent of the Greek basil puts them off.

The cut flowers this week are an unnamed hydrangea bought in Ikea three years ago for 50 pence. The smallest green leaves were just visible hence the price reduction but now the three plants form a substantial clump in a shady bed.

I added one stem of Japanese anemone ‘Max Vogel’ which is the first of the anemones to flower.

Planning Bulbs for Next Year

July 13, 2017

The bulb catalogues are dropping through the letter box and whilst I am in no hurry to see the summer over it has none the less got me thinking. Alliums make a great addition to the garden: flowering for weeks on end, remaining upright and mingling with other plants they add extraordinary form. So I am planning an early Autumn planting session when herbaceous plants and shrubs can be cut back and when it’s easier to see the areas where added bulb interest is needed.

I plan to plant drifts of A. sphaerocephalon…

…to come through the foliage of Helleborus argutifolius which will then provide the alliums with support. Their dots of deep plum flowers looked great this summer contrasting with the grey/green leaves of the hellebore. These perennials flowered from December through to April and the three substantial plants can easily support thirty or more alliums to flower from May till June…


Another favourite is Allium christophii with its stunning large heads…

Allium bulbs

…to be saved and sprayed silver for Christmas decorations…

It appeared in various beds this summer self-seeded from bulbs bought a few years ago and it’s a great addition to a border. These handsome plants deserve a more considered space in the garden so I shall weave them the length of a border containing shrub roses and Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’.

Allium multibulbosum planted in a parterre two years ago was very succesful and it’s time to repeat these…

Allium siculum is also on the list…

And I’m yet to think about tulips but will definitely include  T. ‘White Triumphator’ in my order. This was it two years ago…

 Agapanthus in pots outside the kitchen door unexpectedly produced flower-heads a month or so ago and now in full bloom they look great against the newly lime-washed house wall.

And a new recipe for courgettes was to cut them with a hand spiralizer which was very easy to use. I cooked the strips in a large frying pan for 2 minutes in a small amount of water then added pre-cooked chillie con carne and added mozzarella before grilling. A lovely low-carb supper.

Cut flowers this week are Allium sphaerocephalon and Alchemilla mollis.

Courgettes into Marrows into Jam

July 6, 2017

It can happen within days. You resist picking the courgettes at 20 cm then five days later they have grown into monster marrows. My favourite way to use these handsome beauties is to make marrow and ginger jam.


Peel the marrows and with a spoon scoop out all the seeds from the middle of the plant. Chop to sugar cube size along with 50 g of peeled ginger root. Weigh and then steam the chopped fruit/vegetable for fifteen minutes. Tip the steamed marrow and ginger into a preserving pan with the same amount of jam sugar and the juice of three lemons. Stir till the sugar has completely dissolved then boil rapidly to the setting stage. The weight after preparing my marrows was 1.7 k plus the same weight in sugar and it made three kilner jars.

The tomatoes are looking a bit exhausted in the allotment greenhouse, a combination of intense sunshine and irregular watering. The beefsteak toms look promising though and I have removed all the side-shoots on the stems and given them a good feed at the base with comfrey tea.

The seeds of a heritage Palestinian squash brought back from our trip in the Spring have produced three fruit so far.

The French beans are showing flowers and more seeds were sown in three pots here last week.

The warm weather encouraged germination fast and they are just peeping through the compost.

And an aquilegia with a few flowers and some pretty seed heads was enough to grace the kitchen table this week.