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Tulip Time

April 28, 2016

DSCN6380Euphorbia mellifera is looking glorious lording it over a pot of T. ‘Brown Sugar’ making a rich, rusty-orange combination.  And just emerging at the base of the pot is T.’Orange Favourite’ to extend the flowering for a week or two…

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These Wilco tulips were bought in the sale and I hope to have identified them as a species T. Clusiana var. ‘Cynthia’ …DSCN6475

Three multi-stemmed Amelanchier have blossomed and beneath them is flowering wild garlic mingling with Euphorbia robbiae and Spanish bluebells…

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On the allotment the eight rows of flower seeds sown ten days ago are showing no signs of germination.  As compensation there are relatively few signs of weed seedlings so the ground is still warming up. However there is emerging leaf on rows of Charlotte potatoes…

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And the chard is looking healthy…

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I cropped the first of the rhubarb and a handful of salad leaves…

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And for the hall table I picked a pot of T. ‘Hakuun’…

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New Planting

April 14, 2016

Inspired by the grasses in Barn House Garden and the excellent tips on how to manage their hair cuts I have bought and planted 4 Stipa gigantea.  I’ve had them before but they were planted in a shady area rather than open to the sky with potential full sun.  The dead leaves had been removed by the nursery and after a soak in a bucket of water they were planted towards the outer corners of the main bed.

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To make room I lifted some small lavender plants,that I seem to plant every year.  They never do terribly well probably because it’s a bed that tends to get watered regularly. These are now on the allotment near the shed in full sun and in an area that relies on rain only.  I surrounded the Stipa gigantia with eighteen Verbena bonariensis.

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The Purple peas germinated fast and built up a good root system in the root trainers…

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They’re now planted at the base of an A frame draped in jute netting…

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The ongoing project to green-up the lane that runs the length of the back of our terrace is progressing with the purchase of more plastic potato sacks for a pound (from you know where). To further keep the costs down I am experimenting by half filling them with kitchen waste covered with two layers of cardboard then topped up with commercial compost before planting. The Muscari grape hyacinths planted in November are looking good…

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As is Tulip Monte Carlo with its lovely fat heads about to open and planted with Narcissus Tete a Tete…

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These bulbs have done well whilst waiting for the compost to break down and in relatively shallow soil. When they’ve finished flowering they’ll be lifted and the soil topped up ready for annuals and perennials and medium size shrubs.  Nasturtium seeds saved from last year will add colour sown round the edge of all six planters …

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Before a week away in Venice I shall be sowing Purple climbing and dwarf French beans, runner beans, courgettes, pumpkin, sweetcorn, beetroot and fennel.  All are reliable grown from seed and will be left in trays in the warmth of the allotment greenhouse. They’ll be hardened off outside towards the end of April before going in the ground in mid-May.

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Here’s a great tip from Alys Fowler in the Guardian two weeks ago on seedling care. I’ve been seriously guilty of pushing new compost around the stems of seedlings when potting them on but not any more. Alys says it damages the delicate stem and prevents the immature plant from taking up water to survive.

The Fritillaria meleagris bulbs planted near the garden tap have produced one lone flower…

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Transition Time

April 7, 2016

Changes in the garden have begun as Winter moves into Spring and we head towards all plants in full leaf by May.  The transition is slow but steady and I especially like the dry, rusty leaves on the beech hedges in contrast to the fresh, green leaves of the box balls and parterres.

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There are signs of Spring all over with new flower-heads emerging on the Hydrangea petiolaris.  It’s such a good plant: it self-supports against walls or fences with suckers on the base of the leaves and although deciduous it is bare for as little as three months. It’s now smothered in shiny, fresh green leaves and the flowers will soon open to white.

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The emerging buds on Clematis armandii are really beautiful and almost my favourite stage…

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But the perfume comes when the flowers are fully open which they are today.

DSCN6383Euphorbia mellifera is providing scent too…

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The lilac had about three blooms last year but today it’s smothered in masses of emerging flowers. One stem is seen here against the beech hedge and there are at least fifty or so to open in May.  I’ll really want to pick the blooms but my darling late mother always warned against it. Does anyone know the source of that superstition and should I dare to defy it?

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The shrub that keeps on giving, Chaenomeles japonica, has been in flower on and off since before Christmas. I am not sure it even dropped its leaves this winter…

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Tulips are bursting through their foliage in the garden and some just begged to be picked for the warmth of the kitchen table. DSCN6364-001

To Sow or Not To Sow

March 31, 2016

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The new pop-up greenhouse was purchased with a plan to sow and grow seeds in the light and warmth for much of April.  From past experience sowing too early at home results in a crazy juggling act with a small sunny window having to cope with too many seedlings all desperate for sunlight and warmth. In the greenhouse it was great to be working away from the wind and in considerable space in the warm so I started with peas since they are hardy and germination was satisfying and quick. The plugs of globe artichokes were potted on and seeds of chard, leeks and cucumber emerged at a steady pace. This was all looking good with full pots and seed trays resting on the soil in beds that would later be used for tomatoes, chillies and cucumbers.  Watering every four days or so with cans kept in the greenhouse to warm the water was also manageable. But with a severe weather warning and a reluctance to be slipping around on muddy paths I decided to bring several trays of seedlings home.

 

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Here they are in the potting shed recently edited on one side to take trays of seedlings in need of protection from heavy wind and rain.  It’s a perfect holding environment for young plants with enough indirect light to encourage growth although not enough to provoke seed germination.

So plant juggling again but worth it since in spite of severe gale warnings two days later this is what we found…

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The metal appears to be undamaged and the frame is back up and the cover will go on later this week. Gardeners on the allotment didn’t fare much better with the glass in traditional greenhouses smashed and there were casualties with cloches and propagators.

I’ve transcended it fast and trust I shall be growing some great produce comfortably protected within the frame over the next few months. The skirt on three sides will be weighed down with bricks and more wood chips piled on top to anchor it.

It’s always a challenge sowing seeds at the correct time-too early and you end up with leggy specimens that are tender and can’t be planted out for many weeks. Then seeds that are perfect for an early sowing and are growing well suddenly collapse at soil level for no reason. Two of my five cucumbers have just succumbed. So it will be mid to late April before I start most seeds off but tomatoes are about to be sown in the heated propagator.DSCN6356

A lovely bed of pale hellebores came into flower later than others and mixed with a very pale double-flowered daffodil they’ve cheered up the kitchen.

 

Spuds, Peas and Beans

March 24, 2016

Easter is traditionally the time for planting potatoes and although it’s early this year I’ve planted mine this week.  I need the space at home and Mozart,  a new variety with yellow flesh and described as a good all rounder, has produced some lovely long shoots … DSCN6303

Charlottes, Lady Christo and Caro all purchased in smallish quantities from the allotment shop were also ready to be planted. Apologies in advance if I provoke a blizzard in the south west over the next few weeks.

The A frames are also up and soon will be draped in jute netting to support the tall purple peas which are a new crop for this year and these have germinated well in two trays…

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Three rows of broad beans are now in the ground…DSCN6308

 

Seeds of cucumber ‘Tasty King ‘ an F1 hybrid  described as early and high yielding, germinated in five days in the heated propagator. They’ll be grown in the greenhouse and then more will be sown in April to plant outdoors in May…cucumber

Six clumps of Helleborus niger full of stunning white flowers  is adding drama to the shady end of the garden…DSCN6314

And outside the kitchen door the Osmanthus x burkwoodii is blooming at nose level and smelling sweetly of jasmine…

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Inside the kitchen door on the table a pot of ‘Thalia’ daffodils are just beginning to open.  These were lifted four weeks ago from the cut flower bed on the allotment to clear the ground for the greenhouse hence the rather leafy clump. But six flowers have emerged with their heady tones rather similar to ‘Paperwhites’. It naturalises well so it will be planted in the garden when the flowers are over…

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Spring Equinox

March 17, 2016

It will officially be Spring on Sunday March the 20th the day when the sun shines directly on the equator and daytime and night-time are very nearly equal. The sun will rise at 06 am and the sun will set at 18.14 pm so very close to being equal. I guess because we’ve had a relatively mild Winter it feels we are drifting effortlessly into Spring without the usual craving for the new season. And I’m not rushing too far ahead with sowing since it’s not unknown to have heavy frost and snow in April. But two pots of leeks sown just a week ago are through the soil …

 

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These were kept indoors on a sunny windowsill so I shall do the same today with my favourite White Silver chard which has the thickest white stems and huge leaves.  It’s hardy enough to keep going through next Winter so I plan to grow two large rows for the summer season and then repeat sow in July/August.

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With the sun on my back it seemed a good time to propagate the pineapple sage since it’s a great plant to give away. I pulled side-shoots gently down the stem and trimmed off any large leaves.  Then I dipped the stem in hormone rooting powder and planted five to a 9 cm pot. These are indoors on the windowsill in a polythene bag basking in the warm sun and when they’ve rooted they’ll be put into individual pots.

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A large bag of sowing and potting compost bought from a DIY store when shopping for other stuff seemed like a bargain. But when opened it felt too fibrous and coarse for seed sowing although good for using in pots for bulbs, shrubs and climbers. However I used it for peas sown last week and they are emerging unscathed.  So it may be too heavy for fine seeds but it’s perfect for fatter ones such as beetroot, beans, nasturtiums, cerinthe, chard and peas. And lots of the major supermarkets are selling a refined seed sowing compost for as little as £1 for 20 L which is a size easy to carry. These are good value as the larger well-known makes, available in back breaking 60 L bags, can cost up to £5 or so.  I am experimenting with an Aldi one for fine seed sowing and it’s a great quality and cost £1.50 for 20 L.

I’m loving the tones of these green-yellow daffodil flowers which reflect the opaque yellow glass of the vases…DSCN6292

 

House Building

March 10, 2016

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At the weekend we attached a row of eight bird boxes to a plank of wood and then screwed it to the wall in the lane.  It’s in full view from the kitchen at the back of the house and the plan is that the emerging buds on the rambling rose and Clematis jackmanii will eventually help camouflage the boxes.  Within hours a flock of great tits flew past and hovered for a while although they resisted going in. Looking in Birds Britannica (such an excellent and beautifully written book by Mark Cocker and Richard Mabey) it seems the tit family has a near-monopoly on the nest box habit. Pure chance but how sweet to think they might move in.

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On a bit of a house building roll we popped up the greenhouse on the allotment. It was relatively straight forward with help from our son Joe.  We boxed in the beds on either side with wooden boards whilst I cut a heavy black polythene sheet for a narrow path up the middle. There’s a huge quantity of wood chip available on site so we mulched the path with two barrow loads and it’s now ready for action. One of the three compost bins had sunk to half and was ready to be emptied over a bed that will take the Charlotte potatoes. It was a very cold and damp weekend so planting and sowing on the allotment is quite a few weeks off but several beds were cleared of weeds and the badly nibbled brassica bed was emptied.

I did however sow Musselburgh leek seeds at home to be brought on indoors in the warmth and light. They were sown in two deep plastic pots that had held the new raspberry canes and had a depth of 30 cm.  This should ensure a good root run on the leeks and then hopefully they’ll be ready to plant out in May.

A friend brought me a gorgeous bunch of cream camellias from her garden…

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