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April 21, 2018

I love it when plants self-seed around the garden popping up to surprise in unexpected places. It’s only a year ago that I planted primroses and today seven new plants were found nestling on the edge of other beds and all in flower.

Another favourite plant Tellima grandiflora has spread itself across the garden from a bed some distance away. It’s a great plant for early Spring forming a clump of healthy green leaves that carry a pretty yellow flower.

Adjuga reptans is another perennial that returns and increases every year from seeding itself close to the parent plant. It has a lovely, strong purple flower that looks great in a vase with yellow Lamium galeobdolon ‘Florentinum’ flowers.

I’ll admit to being ambivalent about the lamium and no amount of editing seems to stop it but it does make a pretty addition to a vase. The leaves are mottled cream and green and it flowers at the same time of year as the Spanish bluebells.

Saxifraga ‘London Pride’ spreads in the area it’s planted in increasing by four or five plants each year and all about to flower this coming week.

Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Bevan’s Variety’ has an intensely scented leaf and deep pink flowers in April.  It increases every year to form a great clump at the front of borders. Incidentally the white on the leaves are the petals from Amelanchier canadensis floating off in the wind.

Aquilegia is currently filling lots of beds no longer in its original form A. ‘Nora Barlow’ but welcome none the less. I saved seeds last year and sprinkled them in various empty spaces and now they stand at 30 cm tall covered in buds- a really welcome sight.

My message is if you want to increase your garden plants start with species that reproduce with no effort and remember that most herbaceous perennials love to be divided up and re-planted.

It’s all a bit slow on the allotment but I cropped the very last of the Red Russian Kale, Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Allium ursinum (wild garlic leaves) and wilted them together before adding to an eight egg frittata.



Cracked Pots

April 1, 2018

There were several casualties in the terracotta pot department over Winter including an ancient rhubarb forcing pot that inverted made a fabulous tall planter. I assumed these were relatively well-weathered having withstood ice and snow out in the fields for decades but one of them succumbed.

By the time the plastic liner had been lifted out it became obvious why. Three years worth of roots from Agapanthus africanus was too much and it split dramatically top to bottom.

Since my other favourite pots, by Devon potter Clive Bowen, were also stuffed full of agapanthus, action was needed.

Luckily there was no damage to the terracotta and after two hours of sawing through the compacted roots the plants were eased out never to be planted in pots with narrow necks again. I think I can salvage the plants and will plant them in an open bed in the back lane.

These gorgeous pots will now only be used for summer bedding followed by tulips in Autumn so it’s been a bit of a learning curve.

But there’s progress with vegetable preparations and the onions are looking good.  I usually plant onion sets direct in the soil but this year  I sowed them in  root trainers and substantial roots formed to give the onions a great head start.

And trays of seedling ranunculus, beetroot ‘Boltardy’ and mangetout ‘Sweet Sensation’ all germinated in the last ten days and are growing steadily. I used Wilco in-fill modules, sitting in old plastic trays, with John Innes multi-purpose compost and the depth allows for seedlings to make plentiful roots.

The evergreen shrub Osmanthus burkwoodii, with its scent of jasmine, attracted several large bumble bees last week before the rain. I cut a stem for the house and there’s a subtle perfume in the room.


Juggling Act

March 20, 2018

What I want is a proper greenhouse-preferably an elegant, slim, wood framed greenhouse. This modest structure,  spotted on eBay, would suit perfectly but it’s no longer for sale and anyway there’s a lack of space in the garden.

Related image

So instead I start the annual juggling act moving trays of seedlings from the garden table when the sun is out to the garden shed when the temperature drops. I always sow too early, as soon as there’s the merest hint of sun, and I always believe that a small rise in temperature will steadily increase through till May. Currently it’s snowing so I got that seriously wrong and the juggling has involved dahlias brought out from the cellar steps for six hours in the sun now back on the cellar steps. And seeds of beetroot, broad beans and Swiss chard moved out of the cold frame to the only sunny window space indoors.

And more juggling with a rather garish mixed selection of Persian Buttercups (Ranunculus asiaticus) sown in root trainers last week.  Ranunculus asiaticus Mixed

It’s a strange bulb with clusters of tiny roots that hang from each bulb-head and they needed to be soaked overnight before planting with the dangly bits down. These are for the cutting bed and if the results are good then more sophisticated paler tones will be selected next year.

Seeds of Zinnia ‘Green Envy’ were also sown in trays to bask in the sun-soaked cold frame five days ago. They are now re-housed in the garden shed along with the ranunculus both coddled in bubble wrap.

Zinnia Envy

All of this activity could have simply taken place in the pop-up greenhouse on the allotment (incidentally this is a commercial image of the one I bought so not my allotment).

I failed to dig the two side flanges deep enough in the ground so in the last two years it has crashed twice in extreme weather conditions and as a result the zip doors on both ends have to remain rolled up at all times. And the plastic cover is now shot to pieces with perforations over the roof area and down the sides. But it’s still usable as a giant cloche and it will house the tomatoes in May but right now it is not a snug and protective place for any of my seedlings.

One relatively straightforward activity this week was the eradication of a huge swathe of Arum italicum and Lamium maculatum from an otherwise useful Winter bed.  These performance plants had taken over and as invaders were smothering a bed of Helleborus argutifolius, Sedum spectablis ‘Autumn Glory’,  Allium sphaerocephalum bulbs and Adjuga reptans.  All were rescued onto a sheet of heavy black plastic and then the entire root system of the invaders were dug out and chucked into the green waste bin.

The ground was forked over, carefully avoiding the roots of 2-year-old Rosa ‘Iceberg’, and the rescued plants were carefully put back in and the surface sprinkled with a general fertiliser. I added two Viburnum opulus Roseum at the back of the bed to increase my cut flower options.

Image result for Viburnum roseum

The Lamium is a lovely plant for foliage but needs managing.  I regularly remove it from the beds yet it always returns somewhere in the garden. I cut the leaves before throwing it away last week and added them to some Lenten roses for a small vase in the sitting room.

Signs of Life

March 6, 2018

A polystyrene fish delivery box found on the street is perfect for my Sarah Raven ‘Bonanza’ dahlia collection.

I sat the tubers on 20 cm John Innes compost and then covered with another 30 cm and watered them. It seems the cellar steps, albeit in semi-darkness, are warm enough to encourage leaves as confirmed by this pot of dahlia tubers lifted and planted last October and just showing.

It’s important not to let the compost dry out and they need to be frost-free till April. Then they can sit outside in the day and will be planted mid-to late May on the allotment.

An emergency sowing of sweet pea seeds have germinated fast in less than ten days. The challenge will be to prevent them getting leggy so they are now in the cold frame to slow them down. These were sown to cope with  the distinct possibility that the ones in the pop up greenhouse on the allotment would have been knocked for six by the snow and ice.

But here they are and very happy and anyway you can’t have too many sweet peas. And this small tray of stalwart seedling fennel survived in the cold frame in minus 8 for two nights running.

A clump of Winter Density lettuce has also grown into substantial seedlings in the poly-tunnel and will be planted out over the next week or two.

So all in all there is a huge prompt to get sowing again and with a packet of labels for a pound (from you know where) there is nothing to wait for.

Oh and plenty of seeds…

Helleborus argutifolius coped brilliantly with the snow apart from one or two lying horizontal across the path which was a great excuse to cut them for the kitchen table.  They only last for two to three days before flopping but are irresistible at this time of year.

Pruning the Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’.

February 17, 2018

Spring is definitely in the air today with the sun shining on new herbaceous foliage emerging through the soil and tiny buds on the lilac tree and daffodils on the point of opening. This is the month to prune the elder tree Sambucus nigra,  so we had a massive session with the long-handled branch cutters. It went from this wayward tree…

to this …

…with me further pruning the light-weight branches with the secateurs and filling the council green waste bin to the top.

The flowers of the elder are borne in broad heads on purple stalks and are pink in bud then open to pink and white. They make a pretty pink cordial in early Summer. The bronze leaf tone is a refreshing alternative to the greens growing around it. Now is the best time to prune since the emerging leaves will soon be out and will add to the challenge of keeping a uniform shape to the overall form of the tree.

I put several stems in a brass vase to see if they will open although it’s a little underwhelming at the moment…

Unlike these hellebore flowers which show their lovely faces when placed in a shallow dish…

We were accompanied by stunning bird song from two Long-tailed Tits sitting high up in opposite trees. And there were further signs of Spring with a blackbird flying low with berries in its mouth and a robin building a nest in the porch outside the back door.

And the tray of onion sets planted two weeks ago have nearly all sprung green shoots ready to be planted on the allotment in early March.

The next job will be to eradicate as much of the Arum italicum as possible since it has taken over two large beds. The leaves are delightful but there’s a limit to how much is needed as ground cover.

Garden Tidy-Up

February 1, 2018


An experiment with cutting Helleborus argutifolius has worked in as much as the stems remained upright in this decanter for five days. I cut two and held them head down to walk back to the kitchen (aiming to keep any liquid in the stems) then I held the cut ends over a gas flame for 60 seconds. They have lasted five days but interestingly each morning I found that one of the flower heads had drooped.  I topped up the water and within ten minutes the droopy stem was upright again.

All it takes to get me outside is an hour or two of sun so last week under a blue sky I decided to rake off leaves that were still loitering since Autumn. These were mainly from the Hydrangea petiolaris that lines the garden walls and the leaves had dropped at the back of borders out of easy reach.  I had hoped that over Winter the worms would drag them in but one look at the untidy mess prompted a gentle raking session. This long-handled rake is really useful for weaving through established plants at the back of borders. The three prong head is easy to manipulate and is light enough to avoid damaging existing plants. The smaller one is great on the allotment where a surprising number of leaves fall from ancient trees that surround the site. The broad bean row was smothered in crisp, decaying leaves and the short rake plus a short-handled hoe quickly cleared the ground.

I am trying not to bend too much at the moment so a kind garden fairy filled this sack with the raked off leaves and all from just one small bed. It’s now stored behind the garden shed along with six other large sacks ready to mulch the ground in Autumn.

In order to get ahead with some preparation for the growing season I started a tray of Centurion onion sets off in seed tray in-fill packs. Found in Wilco and good value at 3 for a £1 they are designed for seed sowing but there’s plenty of room for these onions plus compost. They will be kept inside for a few weeks and planted on the allotment when the green shoots are up.


January 20, 2018

I rarely buy flowers and try to pick something for a vase from the garden or allotment every week. But supermarket daffodils in Winter and tulips in Spring are irresistible and especially the greenness of the daffs before they open.

And they are even lovelier when in full bloom five days later. The scent is gorgeous and surely Spring is not too far off.

I nipped into the allotment since I was passing and because the tips of the sweet peas needed pinching out. Such survivors- they are doing very well in the cold poly tunnel.


But then the heavens opened so in haste I forked up a handful of leeks and a curly cabbage to thin out the row.

And I would have emptied two compost bins but for the rain and if I hadn’t been recovering from flu and if someone hadn’t nicked my wheelbarrow.  But I felt a motivation stirring that has been missing for the last eight weeks and by the end of February I hope to be fully engaged for the growing season.

Hmm… rather a lot of seeds left over from last year but all within dates so to be sown again this year. It will be obvious if there’s no germination but experience tells me that most seeds are viable if kept dry for a couple of years.

The seed potatoes have been purchased: Charlotte, Winston and Carolus and they will be put in trays in the light and dry to chit.

The longest cut flower this Winter has been the ornamental quince. This is it at the end of week two and still looking gorgeous.