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Autumn Gardening

October 6, 2018

It’s a good time of year for produce with brocolli ‘Marathon’ cropping…

plus Cavola Nero which is Winter hardy and there’s still time now to sow seeds indoors to plant out over the next week or so.

Curly Kale. spinach, and Swiss chard are all looking healthy and I keep finding Charlotte potatoes missed when forking up in August.


Purple sprouting broccoli, Brussel sprouts and leeks will be cropping over Winter. But beetroot has been good all Summer and this bunch was cooked and chopped up with yogurt and coriander leaves. The sweetness contrasted beautifully as a side dish with a coconut fish curry.

On a glorious sunny day this week I lifted a bed of comfrey out of the ground to make room for a larger cut flower bed next year. Comfrey readily springs up on allotments and another patch still remains and with regular cutting will be enough for my needs. This left a space to plant two rows of  Sutton dwarf broad beans to crop in April/ May and the rows of cut flowers will then take over.  I pushed the beans in at 30 cm intervals and I’ll cover the soil with a fleece if the forecast is snow or ice. They will need no supports since they grow no taller than 40 cm.

I love my walk-in polytunnel although the plastic is shot which allows the rain in through the roof and one zip is useless. But I am optimistic because last year Winter Density lettuce and an annual poppy, inspite of heavy snow in February, germinated well.  So I am hoping it will be snug enough this year to over-winter annual seeds for the extended cut flower bed.  Small amounts of  Amni visnaga,  Rudbeckia occidentalis ‘Green Wizard’, Cosmos ‘Sunset’, Papaver orientale ‘Brilliant’, Sanguisorba officinalis ‘Burnett’ are sown in 30 cm blocks on either side of the centre path.  The beds will be protected by fleece when the temperature drops and if it fails as an experiment then I will sow again in April.

Garlic and onions have also gone in and their green shoots are appearing just about sturdy enough to justify a photo.

Globe artichokes were cut back to the ground six weeks ago and are looking very bonny which inspired the planting of four more 20 cm high seedlings next to them.

I regularly think there is nothing to pick for a vase and then I look more closely and find more than enough. Sedum ‘Autumn Glory’, Verbena bonariensis, Kaffir lilies and Japanese anemone seed heads filled this pot.

I am taking a break from blogging over Autumn and Winter but will be back in Spring.

Notes For Next Year

September 9, 2018

I have had great results from Dwarf (French) beans sown at the beginning of July and planted on the allotment two weeks later. They started cropping a month ago and we have had two big handfuls every week since. I could have sown them earlier but I like to go from broad beans to peas to runner beans to borlotti then to a late summer treat of dwarf beans. But diary notes will now have a reminder to do two sowings, two weeks apart, from the beginning of July.

The other success has been sowing in late July, two courgette plants which are now producing fruit.  Provided they get enough light and sun they may crop for another few weeks.


And I will definitely make a note to sow a second crop of runner beans with six weeks in between sowing.  I spotted these last week in a local veg patch with masses of flowers and hopefully beans to follow.

The squash has been a bit unpredictable and of the three plants only two are producing fruit. These are late to get going and I can’t imagine they will grow into substantial fruit to store for Winter but I am watering and feeding them regularly.

Light levels seem to change dramatically at this time of year but that at least adds to the pleasure of the domestic garden. And several neighbours have glorious end of season plant combinations.  Hydrangea ‘Annabel’ where the flowers have turned from white to pink are looking gorgeous mingling with the flowers of the Macleaya ( plume poppy) and all set off by the elegant grey/green leaves of the poppy. It’s a notorious self-seeder but can be managed easily and I am now hoping that mine will produce seedlings to be re-planted amongst the hydrangea here.

And another friend’s garden is looking stunning full of texture and form.  Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ (given the Chelsea chop earlier in the year and that’s definitely a note for the diary) contrasts brilliantly with the lightness of the Stipa tenuissima and the Stipa arundinacia. Hydrangeas at the back of the border add height and interest and Cimicifuga ‘Black Hillside Beauty’ with its dark leaves and white flowers contributes to the rhythm and should flower into October.


Various roses here are having a second flowering. They were planted three years ago to prolong colour and interest into Autumn and whilst still relatively small shrubs they have all repeat flowered.  R. ‘Darcey Bussell’ and R. ‘Munstead Wood’ have produced second displays and below is R. ‘Iceberg’ blooming happily in quite substantial shade.

And the final picking of Sunflower ‘Velvet Queen’  is looking Autumnal in this bronze lustre jug.

More Seed Sowing

August 26, 2018

Now that the climbing beans have all finished there are newly emerging gaps on the allotment. So this weekend two rows of Wild Rocket, a row of Italian flat-leaf parsley and a further row of coriander were sown. The seeds of the latter came from a clump of coriander that had gone to flower and was found in amongst the lettuces. The seeds were still green rather than dry brown so I will report back on whether they germinate.

The courgettes have produced fruit very steadily for the last eight weeks and there appear to be many more slowly emerging. But in order to prolong the crop two seeds were sown six weeks ago and planted out three weeks later when still small plants. They are doing well so I hope to see flowers soon and if a crop follows then next year the diary will have a reminder to repeat the practice again. The diary will also get a reminder to sow Dwarf French Beans in early July since these have been a great crop and we are now on our sixth picking with more to come.

I am familiar with several London gardens that have lost box plants both to blight and the box caterpillar in the last two years.  In design terms my garden is hugely dependent on box (Buxus sempervirens) in the form of parterres, box balls and pyramids. So I regularly remind myself to check all these plants for suspicious damage or lurking caterpillars and so far so good.

It’s also necessary to keep an eye out for interesting planting schemes in case disaster strikes when a re-design might be necessary. Bristol University has some very lovely and imaginative low maintenance beds to inspire.

This one is planted with Stipa gigantea, Perovskia ‘Blue Spire’, Sedum matrona and Stipa tenuissima and it’s looked stunning for months and especially so this week. I could happily live with that collection of plants if needs be. But no re-design required just yet and with that in mind dividing up perennials and taking cuttings is the order of the day to ensure infill planting at low-cost for Spring 2019.

This Geum ‘Totally Tangerine’ was long-flowering and looked good near the grey leaves of Santolina chamaecyparissus. So to increase the stock I lifted three geum plants and carefully cut through the roots and re-potted all six to over Winter to replant in Spring. I lifted out four fennel plants from a pot of herbs and cut them back to 20 cm. These were eased apart at the roots to double up to eight plants. I fancy seeing fennel mingling with Verbena bonariensis in the first parterre next Summer: airy, tall and elegant.  To propagate the verbena side shoots were gently taken off the main stems (see image below) by gently pulling them down the stem and dipping in hormone rooting powder. They were placed around the edge of a 1 litre pot filled with potting compost with a plastic bag over the top. This will be left on for several weeks until new leaves appear at the base of each cutting.

There are pockets of colour in the garden but not as much as I need to fill a vase every week. The flowers of honeysuckle Lonicera ‘Henryi’ had put out a second flush and these were bulked out with the very last hydrangea flowers (rescued from another vase) to fill a small jug  handsomely.

Compost Bins and Rusty Bedsprings

August 9, 2018

Sunflower ‘Velvet Queen’ with various dahlias.


I am pleased to find that two of the four compost bins are ready to re-distribute with the intense heat over the summer helping to break down the contents fast. And since the wheelbarrow went AWOL I plan to rethink the positions of the bins in order to make spreading the contents a little easier.  One of the four is already situated at the end of a large bed and another will be re-positioned in the bed next to it.

This is the style bin I use on the allotment. You simply lift the whole drum off and fork the contents into a carrier or wheelbarrow editing out any material that hasn’t fully broken down.

Whilst I like the look of these wooden composters they are a bit more fiddly to use and aesthetics don’t matter that much when allotment gardening do they? And talking of beauty and composting the marigolds and nasturtiums which have looked stunning in beds for the last eight weeks will not be composted. I love the joyous colour they add to the rows of vegetables but many came through uninvited and in places left little room for produce. As soon as these go to seed the plant will be brought home to the council garden waste collection.

After a week away with no watering other than a friend looking after the greenhouse tomatoes there was a good haul to be had. The large yellow courgette came from a neighbour but I’ve had a good and steady supply from my own three ‘Defender’ plants.

My new favourite recipe is griddled courgettes with chopped mint and grated lemon rind and a dressing of olive oil and lemon juice poured over after cooking.

It’s a relief to be at this mid-summer stage in allotment gardening with less watering and relatively less weeds to eradicate. Another time saver that is new to me is dotting four buckets around the plot (left over from house renovation). They save time and energy when weeding and can be left to accumulate water on rainy days. But there’s still plenty to do and a need to keep ahead with seed sowing at this time of year with the large papery seeds of Lunaria (Honesty) ready to be sown now.

Some are in deep root trainers in a mix of old compost and seed sowing compost whilst other seeds were pushed straight into the soil both here and on the allotment for a Spring display. The pea pod seeds (above) are from the everlasting sweet pea Lathyrus latifolia and this perennial has been simply lovely growing up a grey stone wall and in flower for weeks. The aim is to have a row along the narrow bed since the plant seems happy to be contained provided it’s watered and fed regularly. As cut flowers they last no more than two days in a vase and unlike annual sweet peas they’ve no scent. But in flower since June, with lots of new buds appearing regularly, they should flower till September so well worth finding room for more.

The support is a small group of rusty bedsprings found in a skip. If I achieve a row of plants I might look for a larger support like this double bedful spotted pinned on the front of a house locally last April!  I must go back to see what climbers if any were planted.


Keep Sowing Seeds

July 24, 2018

 Artichoke ‘Green Globe’ seeds sown about ten days ago plus a couple of courgettes have germinated fast. The artichokes will be potted on and probably kept until next Spring to pick them small next Summer. But the courgettes will be planted out on the allotment to continue a supply for a bit longer. A delicious courgette and Halloumi fritter recipe found on-line has been very popular either as a starter or a light supper at least once a week.


And the best way to keep supermarket herb plants healthy and productive is to re-plant them in largish pots. Then keep picking and water regularly and they will remain productive for weeks on end. The coriander and Greek basil in the image above were planted four weeks ago and there’s plenty of life left in both.

The garden looks a bit colourless currently but there’s always enough for a vase for the kitchen table. An un-named pink hydrangea looks pretty next to the pink flowers of a Gaura ‘Sisyu Pink’ with a stem or two of Verbena bonariensis.

And on the allotment a delightful flowering Oregana marjorana is mingling with an upright Rosmarinus officianalis.



A thorn-less blackberry planted against the allotment shed about three years ago is this year, for the first time, producing fruit.

The sunflowers ‘Velvet Queen’ have begun to open and the bees are all over the flowers gathering pollen.  They make a great cut flower and last five days in a vase and they are meant to be hardy.   I plan to cut them back when they stop producing flowers and the base will be protected with a mulch over Winter.

Watering Frenzy

July 9, 2018

Florence fennel is in flower and I couldn’t resist picking it with the last of the Nigella ‘Love in a Mist’. Incidentally the fennel appears to be thriving in the heatwave with very little watering. Just saying because keeping the fruit and vegetables and salads in good condition is rather overwhelming on the exposed allotment at the moment. Which is why it was with some relief for me that the last of the broad beans and purple peas were picked this week. The watering cans will now be focused on runner beans which are full of flowers and the courgettes, squash, beetroot, tomatoes and spuds.

And the tomatoes are turning red daily and although they are the reason for buying the pop up greenhouse I will be cropping most of them as soon as possible for one less watering responsibility.

As for raising more crops that will definitely need to wait.  The dwarf French beans sown ten days ago are thriving so I am tempted to plant them in the garden for ease of care. Washing up water is religiously saved for watering all the pots near the house and surely a hosepipe ban will be announced soon.

But one plus is that the shared grass paths don’t need strimming, weeds pull out relatively easily and the slugs and snails are not a problem. And it is so lovely to be eating outside in the warmth late into the evening. This inspired a refreshing chilled pea soup for supper made with frozen peas and homemade chicken stock. I chopped several allotment medium potatoes and an onion and cooked them slowly in butter for ten minutes Then they were added to the cooked peas and stock and pureed in the blender. Chopped mint and chives plus a dollop of Greek yogurt were added last and it was very good especially with crisp croutons on top.


June 23, 2018

I am loving these sweet peas from seeds saved from last year. They were sown in Winter and planted out in early March and three weeks ago I sowed more and planted them out today.

Purple peas are also flourishing and I will try very hard not to eat them whilst gardening. I rarely seem able to grow kilos of these beauties but even a handful uncooked and added to salads is a real treat.

I lifted a garlic and discovered an entire row was suffering from Botrytis squomosa lurking in the soil from last year probably. The row next to it was fine although the bulbs are small but I knew it was best to lift them out to dry in the sun.

The spinach has gone to flower but waste not want not I stripped the leaves and cut the plant back to ground level to see if it sprouts new leaves. Then I could wait no longer and lifted a handful of first early  ‘Charlotte’ potatoes plus broad beans and the spinach and steamed them for supper with salmon steaks.


Hmm. There are masses and masses of flowers on the courgette plants and I have four of them !! So I am rapidly gathering recipes and remembering last year that cutting them into ribbons and substituting the strips for pasta was very good.


There’s a need to be ruthless with self-seeders on the allotment with calendula and nasturtiums and ‘Love in a Mist’ crowding out the beds. All three are a delight to behold when in flower but there’s a limit. So I picked these nigella flowers and then took out the entire plant.

Globe artichokes have been especially good this year and at least eight have been cropped and steamed. A friend’s Maltese mother always mixes bread crumbs and garlic and lemon into a paste with olive oil to stuff around the leaves before standing the heads upright in water to steam for 30 minutes. I considered doing this and tapped them upside down before preparing the mix but there was evidence of black fly. So I carefully washed them and then steamed the heads and inspected each leaf before dipping in a French dressing. Very good.

Bugs and Compost

June 5, 2018

When sowing seeds in pots and trays on the garden table germination this Spring has been poor. The bags of multi-purpose compost bought for topping up pots, whilst excellent value, is too coarse for seedlings.  Seeds do so much better in John Innes No 1 seed compost and show signs of germination within days.


A neighbour recommended Slug Gone as a great deterrent against slugs and snails. It contains phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium and acts as a mulch, soil improver and slow-release fertiliser.

She lost her first planting of purple sprouting brocolli with all demolished overnight but this second attempt surrounded by the wool shoddy seems to be thriving.

It’s certainly good value for small areas and on the allotment it can be used for rows that are susceptible to slug attacks – brassicas, peas and mange tout plus my sunflowers ‘Velvet Queen’.  Sown from seed and planted on the allotment when 5 cm tall they were eaten within days. I started again and have waited till they reached 15 cm tall before getting them in the ground and they are thriving.

At last I am coming home from the allotment with produce.  The first crop of broad beans planted early Winter was relatively successful with assorted sizes. The row needed to be cleared so I cropped baby as well as mature pods. There are two more rows, planted seven weeks ago, and these are coming along nicely.

And strawberries which have benefitted from regular watering and were fed with a fruit fertiliser in early Spring have given us two bowls with more to follow. Pet shop straw was laid under flowering shoots to keep the fruit off the soil and the bed was covered with netting to protect from birds.


Winter Density Lettuce has been fantastic for filling the salad gap with two a week cropped for the last six weeks.

Globe artichokes are doing well and it’s good to see lots of ladybirds on the leaves …

Leek seeds sown eight weeks ago were planted as seedlings just before a heat wave so only a dozen survived. There is still time to sow seeds direct but impatient to make the allotment look good I bought more seedlings (I know, I know).  I planted 40 and it’s a great boost to the spirits to have a full bed of potential Winter produce with the minimum of effort (hoeing needed though).

And here’s the first picking of Ranunculus Persian buttercups …

…and then more three days later to mix with the last of the anemones.

Establishing Successful Borders

May 19, 2018

Gardening can be both a satisfying challenge and a dreadful chore. And whilst it’s not possible to plant a garden that looks good for every month of the year much of the joy comes in analysing what will give pleasure for parts of the year and then helping it come to fruition. With this in mind last Autumn I re-jigged several of the side beds by editing out plants that were failing to thrive realising several species simply needed more light. The neighbouring trees had grown taller over the years and reduced sunlight by a couple of hours and plants had got leggy.  But in the beds shown below ferns and Euphorbia robbiae and Geranium macrorhizum ‘Bevans Variety’ were thriving in almost total shade so these plants were increased to give ground cover. Providing early summer interest, and with tall hydrangeas at the back for colour in late-summer, this bed more or less looks after itself.

Then another bed in relatively good sunlight had become overgrown and required a very serious re-think. The soil needed to be improved so the plants were lifted out and placed in a bucket of water whilst the ground was cleared.  A Hydrangea petiolaris lined the wall behind it and was kept as a back drop whilst the bed was forked free of weeds and bags of soil improver were emptied over the surface. The plan was to reuse as much of the existing planting as possible so the  Japanese anemones, that had spread by extending their roots, were forked up and the root cut through. This gave two new clumps for each end of the bed. Self-seeded hellebores were rescued from around the garden – many were found poking out from the base of the box hedges.  Saxifraga ‘London Pride’ was divided into enough plants to edge the front of the bed at both ends. Several small plants of Tellima grandiflora and Achemilla mollis had spread into cracks in the paving and these were eased out, soaked and replanted.  In early Spring it looked very pretty with flowering hellebores and now it is quietly green but ready to go for Summer flowers. Clumps of Geranium psilostemon will bloom in June, Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ in July and the Japanese anemones will come in late Summer.

In an inspired Gardener’s World recently Carol Klein showed viewers how to take back control of borders in much the same way. She stressed that garden maintenance is essential and showed how with regular editing there is huge satisfaction from the effort plus the anticipation of good things to come. I would add that in glorious weather take the opportunity to sit in the garden to gain different views then make copious notes on what to do in Autumn.

The bed above is the next one in need of my attention with the wall especially crying out for more orderly and interesting climbers. It’s a project for later in the year but the four shrub roses bursting with  buds will carry it for this summer. The middle storey is provided by healthy herbaceous plants but they compete with a lot of invasive stuff that needs to come out. Lamium, wild strawberries, borage, and the weed that looks like a geum but sadly isn’t, have taken over. All will be sorted at a quiet time in the future but the yellow flowers of the Welsh poppy next to Allium ‘Purple Sensation’ works well. These  will be increased in various parts of the garden and the allium bulbs are on the list for buying in Autumn.

In other areas I’m pleased with the Rosa Banksiae Lutea which is being encouraged off the arbour to adorn the two balconies. It’s the result of pushing two stems into the ground below ( about three years ago in Autumn) and both stems have taken off.

The plan was to reduce this rose growing a bit too vigorously over the arbour and to replace it with an Akebia quinata vine which is now in its second year and is a quarter of the way across the structure (see below). It’s lighter than the rose and will provide the same amount of shade without the need for endless pruning.

The Euphorbia mellifera hit by frost eight weeks ago and looking beyond hope has recovered and is filling the garden with the scent of honey…

The kind man (without a prompt) has improved my 15-year-old Felcos.  I asked him for tips to pass on and he said to undo the screws and place them on paper in the pattern they came out in. He then cleaned the blades and sharpened the top one on a kitchen steel, reassembled it all adding some grease. He praised the brilliant engineering and said that they hardly needed sharpening and I can now vouch they are working like a dream.

After a week away when the first heat wave hit the south-west the only watering on the allotment was in the pop up greenhouse. So it was a relief to find that the courgettes and squash, whilst no bigger, were at the very least still alive. The same with rows of leek seedlings that were planted when the size of grass stems but were alive and healthy. But generally seeds are incredibly slow to germinate so the heated propagator is on again for French beans, salad leaves and more sweet peas. And cropping is limited to rhubarb, flat-leaf parsley and Winter Density lettuce . But I was pleased to spot these honesty Lunaria annua seeds to collect to sow later.

A vase of aquilegias and Allium ‘Purple Sensation’  is brightening the hall table.



Sowing and Planting 2018

May 2, 2018

Last Autumn I failed to put the allotment to bed for the Winter.  As each bed is emptied of Summer produce my usual routine is to lift the plants that have gone to seed and to weed the ground thoroughly. The empty beds are then covered with weighty, re-usable plastic sheeting weighed down with bricks to hold it in place. Then other beds carry on for several months with rows of Swiss chard, spinach, cabbages, Brussel sprouts, Purple Sprouting broccoli, beetroot plus the leeks keeping the allotment looking good and productive.

The result of not getting round to covering some of the beds allowed couch grass and weeds to take over doubling the effort this Spring to knock it back into shape. With the very cold and wet weather, the days for gardening have been severely limited and it’s been near impossible to work the sodden soil. So a lesson has been learned and progress has finally been made in the last three weeks and I now realise there are some pluses for my tardiness.  The major one being that as each bed gets sorted all available space on these late prepared beds is now jam-packed with young plants. This in turn reduces the empty ground available for weeds,  watering will be concentrated on these full beds and moisture will be retained better due to the dense planting.

So here’s my planting thus far this year and illustrated by the produce from last year:

Purple peas are in and have started to clamber up the netting …

Courgettes and squash seedlings are planted and securely covered with hoops and fleece to protect them for a week or two.

Broad beans are in flower and should produce beans over the next three weeks  …

Onions and garlic planted in January are looking healthy…

The one huge area still unprepared and covered with tarpaulin (weeds and all) measures about 5 metres by 3 metres and is awaiting attention. The plan is to gradually unwrap it over the next six to eight weeks and to prepare the ground ready to repeat much of the produce that is now planted. I finally feel relaxed about the allotment rather than anxious and challenged and I am happy with my plan. To celebrate progress I sowed Calendula seeds saved from last year to brighten up areas between rows.


And getting on with it entirely alone are two blackcurrant bushes (sorry not a good picture) but laden with fruit.

And a strawberry bed with several flowers of the most delightful, intense pink.

And the first of the self-seeded Aquilegia in flower were picked for the kitchen table.