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Sowing Sweet Peas in Root Trainers

October 31, 2017

Space is limited here for over-wintering plants so the Geranium ‘Little David’ propagated from one clump a few weeks ago have now been planted. They made nine new plants and are now in groups of three in the main bed. Perennial geraniums make robust ground cover and will survive the winter to provide lots of flowers next summer.


Still hanging in there this pretty Lychnis coronaria flower had a last fling in the border and prompted a division. They self-seed readily but are easy to divide through the root and one clump made six more plants.   They make good pops of colour in a mixed vase and the leaves will contribute to the grey foliage and purple/magenta theme in this bed.

The seeds of sweet peas were saved in late summer…

…and sown in root trainers about four weeks ago. Germination was fast and the seedlings will be kept in the cold frame till April 2018.

Helleborus argutifolius flowers are emerging really early this year and will bloom till April next year.

I pruned the spent flowers from the Hydrangea petiolaris that lines about five metres of wall behind them…

…and decided to leave the mass of fallen hydrangea leaves on the ground for the worms to drag in. Raking and bagging up is a challenging task at the back of borders and nothing like the ease of sweeping a paved path.Cut flowers this week were the result of pruning various evergreen shrubs to keep their shape, with recycled flowers from a gift ten days ago, added to enliven the display.


Allotment Tidy Up

October 18, 2017

The nasturtiums and marigolds still look glorious across most of the allotment and I am reluctant to clear them away.

But there’s always a slight urgency to get ahead at this time of year so to keep on top of things new paths have been laid. The allotment shop sells a weed suppressing membrane and with a huge and enticing mountain of wood chip on site no time was wasted. We cut the membrane to 50 cm width and tipped on barrow loads of wood chip spraying with water to hold it in place in the event of hurricane force winds. It has given me a larger bed- always a good thing-and this week the remainders of the grass path has been forked out along the 5 metre edge. The grass was laid face down to decompose in the compost bin (secondhand for a fiver in the allotment shop) and installed half way along the plot to save time and energy. The three other bins are metres away behind the poly tunnel and are now full to bursting and will be left till Spring before turning.

In the shed I rolled all the individual nets and plastic sheets into neat bundles secured with rubber bands to store till they are needed. My tendency throughout the growing season is to lob them to the back till required but it’s not fair on Colin who shares the shed. I brought back all the plastic pots and trays since most propagating is done at home.

Weeding the strawberries and preparing the bed to take new raspberry canes was another job ticked off. The blackcurrant bushes are in the next bed and the new plan is to keep all the fruit in one area by removing the grass path between the two (more planting space yippee). A couple of old floorboards can be moved around to provide planks for picking and planting. This re-design involved cropping the last of the sunflowers ‘Velvet Queen’ growing with Dahlia ‘Magenta Star’. These single flower dahlias are fantastic for pollinators with all their reproductive bits on show ready for bees, butterflies and other insects to access pollen and nectar. They have a reasonable long vase life and the buds open in water.

 The dahlia tubers are now lifted to over winter in the garden shed in compost in a polystyrene box for extra frost proofing.

Santolina pinnata ‘Sulphurea’ is a favourite low-growing evergreen shrub that needed cutting back to keep it compact. The cuttings were trimmed and the ends dipped in hormone rooting powder and they are just showing enough green growth to pot on into individual 9 cm pots. They will be over wintered in the cold frame ready for planting next May…

The half-standard holly tree is full of luscious red berries but not for long. As I approached to take the photo a fat pigeon shot out of the branches like a self-powered war plane.

Autumn Flowers

October 10, 2017

A trip to Great Dixter and Sissinghurst last weekend confirmed that both these stunning gardens hold their own throughout the year and are well worth seeing even out of season. The substantial evergreen planting in both gardens sustains form and interest whilst the luxuriant planting in the beds cleverly softens the formality.  And whilst the borders were fading the drama was maintained in both gardens with swathes of dahlias and fabulous clumps of Cosmos ‘Sensation’ and C. ‘Purity’ and C. ‘Rubenza’ below. For the cost of a packet of seeds the most glorious display can be enjoyed throughout summer up till the first frost.

Verbena ‘Sissinghurst’ was thriving at the castle in four urns at the entrance to the garden and a profusion of Erigeron karvinskian had colonised at the base …

On the allotment the broad bean ‘Aquadulce’ sown two weeks ago germinated fast and are in the ground spaced 25 cm apart in two rows. More will be sown at home in a month or two to prolong the picking but in my experience they tend to catch up and usually produce their beans all at the same time.

However it’s good to fill the beds at this time of year and they are sharing the space with  Russian kale for winter pickings, garlic and Pak Choi. The homemade compost  spread over this bed a week ago had produced masses of small weed seedlings that were easily hoed off. And the row of spinach sown from seed a few week back was demolished by slugs as soon as it was in the ground so will be re-sown and protected in the cold frame till bigger and stronger.

Envelopes are now stuffed full of seeds of ‘Love in a Mist’, nasturtiums, aguilegia, sweetpeas and these Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ seeds.  It’s a great plant for its vibrant orange flowers and for the strangely primitive form so seeds were scattered next to the allotment shed for picking. If they fail to germinate I shall edit out plants from here to take to the allotment next Spring.

And I moved all the Kaffir lilies to the back of a border at home because they tend to flop over the garden path.

A row of stunning sunflower ‘Velvet Queen is coming to an end but has been such good value for the last eight weeks.

Dividing Plants in Autumn

October 1, 2017


For several years Geranium ‘Little David’ has lurked very close to a box hedge in the first parterre where it produces  non-stop simple blooms from June to October. It’s rather good value in that it’s low-growing and pretty with flowers that enhance the grey foliage of Santolina pinnata ‘Edward Bowles’ and Salvia officinalis that are planted near it. Suddenly I could imagine the whole bed full of silver plants with purple and cerise pink geraniums dotted in amongst. I plan to propagate from the santolina next week but the clump of geranium was very easy to lift out and the base pulled apart to make several rooted stems.

Six new plants are now in 9cm pots and within two days they are looking fresh and ready to put on roots over the coming months to plant out next Spring.

Lemon verbena survived last Winter in a pot next to the house where I will leave it again this year. It’s currently looking very healthy but in case it gets lost to frost I decided to cut some of the leaves to make a sorbet.


225 g sugar dissolved in 1 pint of water on a gentle flame. Add 3  handfuls of lemon verbena and 1 of lemon mint and simmer for 3 minutes. Strain into a bowl adding the juice of 3 lemons then when cool churn in an ice-cream maker for 30 minutes. It slipped across the tongue and was the most intensely refreshing sorbet yet to be made by me.

Eight bags of leaf mould rounded up last Autumn and stuffed behind the garden shed were spread over beds this weekend. It had decomposed and broken down to a rich organic humus to provide a mulch and further enrich the soil.  With huge trees in neighbouring gardens it is very satisfying to round up leaves knowing they will be returned back to the earth to contribute to the ecosystem.

There’s quite a limited choice of flowers in the garden currently but I  rounded up Sedum ‘Autumn Glory’ with Verbena bonariensis.

Planting Garlic and Sowing Broad Beans

September 24, 2017

This year I am planting Mersley Wight a garlic that originates from Auvergne in Central France. It’s a silver skin and the two bulbs have broken into a couple of dozen very fat cloves which will be planted about 30 cm deep in two rows.

Two compost bins are now full to the top and won’t be usable till Spring but the third one had broken down into quantities of gorgeous compost. Here’s a barrow load, one of four, now spread over a patch to take the Autumn broad beans. I will get a fourth compost bin soon since it is so satisfying to recycle vegetation both from the plot and from home. Even shrubby raspberry canes and artichoke stems cut up will decompose over time. All the bins get regular quantities of strimmed grass, nettles and comfrey chopped up every six weeks to speed up decomposing.

Broad bean Aquadulce Claudia were sown in trays this weekend to plant out in a month or two. Sowing direct doesn’t work for me with some of the pods germinating then big gaps where germination fails. The 3 trays have two beans in each space and will give two rows to plant out late October/November.

The Pak Choi is looking scruffy and has been attacked by the flea beetle leaving the leaves covered in small holes.  The fleece cover flew off on a windy day but since it takes up to 75 days for Pak Choi to mature there may be time to rescue it. The outside leaves can be picked off and the row fed to strengthen resistance and then covered again in a horticultural fleece.

My favourite new grain Maftoul makes a great salad with tomatoes, celery, feta cheese, apples plus masses of chopped mint and coriander from the garden. It’s available in supermarkets but make sure it’s a product of Palestine and one that supports farming families as they build a sustainable future.

Not a brilliant cut flower composition but it’s so touching to see six buds on the repeat flowering Iceberg rose. It was planted two years ago and has performed really well and is regularly rewarded with fertiliser currently purchased at Poundland !!

Re-arranging the Climbers

September 16, 2017


Two years ago I planted a repeat flowering rose Madame Alfred Carriere against a three metre wall at the far end of the garden. It’s a gorgeous climber and it does well on north walls so the plan was to have an endless supply of sweetly scented white, tinted pink roses. It put on masses of growth throwing out huge stems a metre above the top of the wall and whilst the scented roses were lovely they were out of reach. So yesterday it was moved after radical pruning to a sheltered south facing wall on the other side of the garden. It replaces a -scruffy as in constantly nibbled leaves- ornamental grape vine Vitis coignetiae.  So that was lifted out and cut back to two or three side-shoots from the main framework and since it copes in part-shade it was re planted in the bed the rose came from. The rose now has a large sunny wall to clamber over and whilst it’s looking sadly un-leafy today a mulch of well-rotted horse manure will hopefully restore it.

On a transplanting roll I did further radical re-planting and moved a Clematis armandii that had been in an inverted  rhubarb forcing pot for three years. The thought was that the pot would be deep enough to get a good root system going to support it clambering up the railings by the steps providing evergreen interest and scented flowers in Spring. But although it put on quite substantial growth I knew it would do so much better in the ground.  It is now re-planted and will cover the wall where the ivy had recently been stripped off on the terrace. It looks a bit droopy but with its roots in garden soil shaded by a shrub and with three layers of horizontal wires drilled in for support I anticipate it will be gorgeous next Spring.

Tulip Black Parrot are now planted in two rhubarb forcing pots…

And in smaller pots dwarf crocus ‘Miss Vain’ planted 8 in each and in the bigger one the scented Narcissus triandrus ‘Thalia’. These will be brought in for the kitchen table when in flower…

All the pots had to be protected with chicken wire to stop the squirrel fishing out the bulbs to hide his walnut hoard.

Sixty Allium sphaerocephalon were planted to come through the foliage of three substantial Helleborus angustifolia…

And 10 Allium Purple Sensation were planted in the main bed…Allium 'Purple Sensation'

The allotment is full of marigolds, nasturtiums and cosmos but the garden is almost devoid of flowers with only the last of the un-named hydrangea for picking. Here it is with the addition of a present of Lonicera periclymenum ‘Serotina’ both of which had a vase life of six days.

Ottolenghi’s recipe for beetroot and za’atar used the last crop of allotment beetroot and was delicious. I substituted feta for the goat’s cheese and the saltiness worked really well… 


Book Review: Growing Self-Sufficiency

September 7, 2017


Sally Nex is an experienced and passionate grower of fruit and vegetables and her aim in Growing Self -Sufficiency is to get you started whatever the size of your plot.  You may only have space for a window box for herbs or a small patio or balcony for pots but you will be able to grow an impressive amount of produce.  With an allotment or sizeable garden Sally’s advice will show you how to be near self-sufficient and shave pounds off your food bill. She says:

‘Taking control of your own food is one of the easiest ways to tread lighter on the earth: as easy, in fact, as planting a seed’.

One motive for the book is the need to avoid where possible the thousands of miles food travels to get to your table. Add to that the concern over chemicals that are regularly used to keep produce artificially fresh. But Sally Nex is also inspired to pass on what she calls her addiction to growing produce and it’s one that I share.

The opening chapter explores gardening in window boxes and discusses the easiest veg to grow. Sally says salad leaves can be picked for months on end as can perpetual spinach, Swiss chard and kale. Herbs also do well in window boxes and I can vouch for that having filled two surplus troughs with parsley, mint, basil, chives and coriander this summer.  I have been picking herbs for the last three months saving on average two pounds a week so aside from their beauty it’s definitely cost effective. If space is limited and you enjoy cooking this would be an easy way to start and there are great tips on freezing herbs to keep a supply though the seasons.

From window box gardening Sally moves on to three container gardening which she says will feed one person for a year. Double that up and it can feed a family of four. Easy to grow produce such as salad leaves, Swiss chard, perpetual spinach and beetroot fit nicely into this project and with sufficient space more containers can be added. Early new potatoes can be planted in spring with beans and peas to follow and these would provide vertical interest climbing up wigwams.

Chillies are pretty plants that do well in a pot and crop throughout summer and surplus can be dried for winter use.

Sally provides charts showing sowing times to cropping times for all the produce to keep you on schedule. Perennial herbs such as rosemary, thyme and sage can be woven in around other plants and chives can line the edge of borders.

Mini orchards can be grown in pots but in a bigger garden Sally has encouraging advice for using fruit cages. In gardens the vegetable plot can be defined with espaliered fruit trees on the edges or fruit can be trained against walls. Blueberries make attractive plants for a large pot and can be supplied with the ericaceous soil that they need to thrive. Figs should have their roots contained so these make an ideal fruit tree for a container. I fancy her idea for lemons, limes and oranges to be grown in pots outside and then brought in for winter. Strawberries can be used to edge borders or planted round the outside of containers.

There’s advice on preserving, bottling and freezing to extend the seasons and there’s a great chapter on saving seeds. I loved the idea of cutting  a ripe tomato in half to scoop out the seeds onto kitchen paper. Simply leave them to dry then store on the paper in an envelope to sow next year.

Something to move onto if there’s space is her chapter on keeping chickens, weaner piglets and lambs. I have friends in Devon who started with a vegetable patch and have steadily built up their self-sufficiency to this level and they are loving the challenge. But most of us have space for at least a window box and with Sally’s book to inspire it would be a great start to self-sufficiency. That then might be followed by renting an allotment or moving to accommodation with a garden for a vegetable patch. Whatever the space I believe this book is just what is needed to inspire you to get started.

Publisher Green Books: ISBN 9780857843173