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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.



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.