Friday update

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It’s cooled off this week, after last week’s mini heatwave, and has been a bit wet. I took a few snaps in the back garden before reporting on my seedling progress. My ceanothus ‘Puget Blue’ is just coming into flower now which is always a highlight. Behind it you can see my bleeding heart flowering away, and the rosemary.

DSC_0018 A bright splash of colour is provided by a yellow wallflower which is just as well as the forsythia was a bit short-lived this year. It came into flower late because of the “Beast from the East” cold snap in March, and then went over quite quickly with all the rain. I have pruned it quite harshly this week so it looks even worse now.

There are bluebells and bergenia flowering on the shady side of the garden. But my bluebells can never compare to the wild ones that carpet our local woods and were at their peak last weekend.

So a germination update: since last week three beans, three cucumbers, two butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa), and two smoke trees (Cotinus coggygria) have germinated. Yesterday I pricked out 14 Korean mint (Agastache rugosa) and four cranesbill geraniums (mixed unknown varieties). Today I have sown some more tufted hair grass (Deschampsia cespitosa) and purple cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris ‘Ravenswing’) as I have not had any luck with the first batch. The wild cow parsley is flowering right now so I don’t think I have much chance of having flowering plants this year.

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Potting bench update

Yesterday I planted out my sweet peas which has freed up some pots, so today I could sow some more seeds. My “potting bench” in the conservatory is now looking rather crowded! I have sown the beans, cucumber, and squash that I bought a couple of months ago, and the remaining RHS seeds which were two grasses (New Zealand wind grass Anemanthele lessoniana and Chinese fountain grass Pennisetum alopecuroides) and devil’s bit scabious (Succisa pratensis).

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I have had really good germination from the snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) and Korean mint (Agastache rugosa), four geraniums, and two puny quaking grass (Briza media). Everything else, eight other species, nothing! I only sowed half the seeds in the packs so I may have to try again. Maybe my loo rolls aren’t popular, or the vermiculite, I have no idea.

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Many months ago I pruned some succulent houseplants and left the bits lying around with the intention of sticking them in some compost. I then forgot about them but was amused to find them looking still alive with roots searching for moisture. In the case of the echeveria, the original leaves shrivelled but new plump leaves have grown. It amazes me the survival skills of these plants, whereas with others getting a cutting to root can be a nightmare (looking at you, ceanothus)!

Big Pots

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This week my attentions have turned to the back garden. My bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) that I bought last year has started flowering, I really love this plant. I have also just noticed today that the pittosporum has flower buds for the first time. This shrub was here before us but I have never seen it flower before! I will be interested to see how it looks when the buds open up.

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My main mission so far this week has been to repot my paulownia into very large pots. I ordered the largest pots I could find, then regretted the decision as I started to worry that they would look ridiculous. They don’t look as bad as I feared after putting some other pots in front of them to blend them in a bit. The paulownia look like weird sticks at the moment but there are lots of promising buds which are growing each day.

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Work in Progress

We’ve had some sunshine and the temperature has gone up by about 10°C! I’ve done some more work on the bed in the front garden that I wrote about in my last post. I needed some muscle to help remove the trunk of the ceanothus so that had to wait until the weekend. It was quite interesting to see the root ball – there was some very thick root coiled round suggesting that it had been pot grown for a long time before being planted in the ground. Outside of that the root system was not very extensive at all, I’m amazed it had survived as long as it had.

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My new planting looks rather sparse and I’ve had to put stones in the gaps to try to keep the cats off. Some columbines (Aquilegia) have self-seeded in this bed, I quite like them so have left them, but have yanked out all the periwinkle. I’m hoping that I will be able to add to the planting from my RHS seeds. I have sown most of my seeds now, just two of the grasses and the devil’s bit scabious to go. The Korean mint (Agastache rugosa) and snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus) have germinated but no signs of life from any of the others yet.

I gave some big dollops of worm poo to some lucky plants: the two roses in the front, the philadelphus, and the wisteria.

I have finally started hardening off my sweet peas this week. I’m determined to make a better effort with them this year after last year not providing them with adequate support. I have saved some long branches from pruning the buddleja which I will give them to scramble up.

Potato Day

Today we sowed the potatoes so I’m writing this post mostly to keep track of that date. To recap on my previous post, I am growing Casablanca and International Kidney.

The weather has still been cold and wet; everything is late this year. My forsythia are flowering now and I’m so grateful for their cheery bright yellow. Some blue wood anemones have popped up and the pulmonaria is beginning to flower, but most plants still seem very sleepy.

I have some plans for a bed in the front garden which I started enacting today between rain showers. I am going to have to put the ceanothus out of its misery. (It is a broad-leaved one, Trewithen Blue, I think.) I mentioned last year that it came back from the brink of death a few years ago and since then has been rather misshapen and straggly. It did not appreciate two small dumpings of snow in March just as it was coming out of dormancy. I even went out with a broom to try to brush the snow off but that was too little, too late. It’s still alive but a lot of leaves have died and the flower buds are brown and floppy – I don’t think they will open. So that along with its already bad shape means it needs to go.

Yesterday I bought two Elaeagnus x ebbingei ‘Viveleg’ – one will replace the ceanothus (but slightly further away from the philadelphus which it was too close to) and the other will go on the other side of the philadelphus. They have nice evergreen variegated leaves which I hope will go well with the variegated leaves of the philadelphus but also fill in for its bareness in winter. I look forward to its scented flowers in autumn. I also bought some lavender which will go at the front of the bed, I couldn’t decide which variety to get so bought Munstead and Hidcote to mix it up a bit. I’m going to try using some mycorrhizal fungi when I plant these plants out. I haven’t used it before but it’s supposed to support the root system and help the plant get established more quickly.

Another change in the front is that I decided to put the Christmas box (Sarcococca confusa), that was in a pot in the porch, into the ground right next to the porch. It hasn’t grown very much in the pot and I wondered if it would be happier if it could spread its roots but when I took it out of the pot the root system wasn’t that big and it certainly wasn’t pot bound. I didn’t find any grubs so I don’t think it’s been eaten, maybe it’s just a very slow grower. I also popped some bluey-purple hyacinths, which I’d had indoors, in the ground in front of it.

RHS seeds

My RHS members’ seeds have arrived! I received everything on my first choice list which is very nice. It is very exciting but also quite daunting – the responsibility of not messing it up. My first task is to get organised and draw up a list of the germination conditions for each species. I will save figuring out where to put the plants until I actually have some plants!

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I eye an Iris

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This morning I spotted the little Iris reticulata (‘Harmony’) that I bought last spring and tucked away in a pot on the patio. That little bit of purple caught my eye and so I have moved it to the front porch so that it may be admired more frequently.

This week I have tidied up my strawberries, removing all the dead leaves and rescuing lots of baby plants on runners. My main motivation for doing this was to uncover any bulbs that were trying to come up beneath them and to remove any hibernating slugs. I collected about twenty mini strawberry plants and stuck them in pots, not actually sure where I’ll put them when they grow!

Of the 18 sweet peas that I sowed last week 8 have germinated so far.

 

Winter Flowers

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Indoors my Christmas cacti are flowering prolifically, their cheerful hot pink always a joy. In a pot in the front porch a Christmas box (Sarcococca confusa) is giving off quite a fragrance for its small size. To start with I kept wondering why there was the smell of wee lingering around my front door until I realised it was coming from these little white flowers. I’m getting used to the aroma now, it’s more icky sweet than urinary, but it’s certainly not my favourite floral scent. I suppose I shouldn’t be too harsh, it is January and it should be commended for making the effort at this time of year.

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Snowdrops are croci are starting to make an appearance in the front garden. Last year I divided the clump of snowdrops and replanted some bulbs in the back garden. The leaves of some of these have emerged but I expect that they won’t flower this year after such a rude disturbance.

Preparing for Spring

No posts for three months and the first in the Winter category. It’s no surprise that less has been happening in the garden. The plants are mostly sleeping and it has been so cold, damp, and dark that I have barely ventured out. I have done a minimal amount of tidying over the last couple of weeks – trimmed the wisteria, jasmine, and very messy passionflower in the front garden, and swept some leaves. I try to leave most cutting back until spring kicks in so that invertebrates and birds have somewhere to hide out. I have come around to the idea of trying to support all invertebrates in my garden, even though there are some that are my sworn enemies, because more invertebrates = more birds and maybe the birds will eat the baddies. There are also some carnivorous beetles and the like that perhaps will devour some slug eggs. We can live in hope anyway. Basically, diverse ecosystem must be better is what I reckon.

Today my seed potatoes and veg seed arrived. Last year I left ordering my potatoes way too late and they didn’t have enough time chitting so I’ve got in earlier this year. Chitting potatoes is not a bowel disorder but the process of leaving the potatoes out in the light so that they start sprouting. The idea is that this gives them a head start before you bury them. I am growing different varieties to last year: Casablanca, a first early (on the right); and International Kidney, a maincrop potato (on the left).

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Due to lack of sunny spots in my garden I only have space for three climbing vegetables which I grow up the side of my shed. Last year I grew three varieties of bean, taking a break from curcubits due to mildew fears. The year before that I grew cucumbers (harvested 25), classic large pumpkins (one was edible, one was already gruesome for Hallowe’en), and tomatoes. This year I have bought seed for: cucumber ‘Crystal Lemon’ which are small round yellow cucumbers; ‘Turks Turban’ squash/pumpkin; and ‘Violetto’ climbing French beans. It’s obviously too early to start sowing but I am prepared!

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This week I did, however, sow some sweet peas. They are a Spencer mix which came with my RHS membership. I am hoping to do better this year than I did with my sweet peas last year. I sowed them in the autumn and kept them in the conservatory over winter which was too warm and without enough light so they grew very leggy and weak. Then after I had finally put them outside in the spring I neglected them and didn’t provide enough support so they were a bit of a mess really. This year I will harden them off outside as soon as they are a few inches tall. Apparently sweet peas are actually hardy and can stay out during winter once they’ve been hardened off carefully, and they will be all the tougher for it!

As a member of the RHS I had the opportunity to order some seeds from them that they have collected from their gardens. There was quite a long list to choose from and we get to pick 15 species, and then 5 second choices in case they run out of any from the first choice list. Some of what I’ve chosen is probably completely inappropriate for my tiny garden but I’m very much looking forward to receiving them.

Outside some snowdrops and a crocus have appeared, and daffodil and bluebell leaves are emerging. My mahonia has flowered continuously for three months and is now spent but what a performer – this is a very underrated plant! It has green berries now which I think are supposed to turn blue. In the front garden a small-leaved purple hebe has been flowering which I’m not sure is supposed to at this time of year. The best colour in the back garden is being provided by the deep red leaves of an epimedium. I will endeavour to take some photos of all these plants when there is some light.

Autumn

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There is some autumn colour about. In my garden my blueberry bush is putting on the best show. My Japanese maple is disappointing this year compared to last when it went very red, the leaves haven’t changed much at all and are starting to drop. Less sun I guess. My nerines have also not done so well, I only got five flower stalks this year, which I think is my fault for forgetting about them amidst the jungle and not making sure they weren’t being shaded. I am cheating by using a photo from last year.

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My Mahonia x media ‘Winter Sun’ is flowering for the first time, bringing some cheeriness to a dark corner. It’s still quite a small plant and I’m looking forward to it getting bigger and filling out the space.

In September I dug up my maincrop potatoes, the Pink Fir Apple. They are very knobbly and funny looking and washing them was quite tedious but they had a good flavour. I’m not sure I would grow them again though.