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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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.
My chocolate vine (Akebia quinata) has produced a lot of large fruit this year. Just this week they have changed from pale green to purple, swelled and burst open.
Today I spent some time playing with my worms and harvesting some worm poo. I got my wormery last autumn and it’s taken a while to get the hang of it so this was my first collection of finished compost. I carefully separated out the worms from the compost so as not to lose any – the worms are happily multiplying, lots of tiny baby worms and eggs.
The compost looks very rich so I will be mixing it with something else for potting, or perhaps sprinkle it sparingly on my flower beds. There were quite a lot of undigested eggshells but that was the only thing still recognisable. I had crushed the eggshells a little in my hands when putting them in but in future I will make more effort to smash them up. In the early days I think I put in too much food waste, too fast. I also made the mistake of putting in large, tough things such as cabbage stalks.
At the bottom of the wormery is a sump where liquid collects and a tap for draining it, then it can be used as liquid plant food. The main reason I had to sort out the worms today was that the tap had got bunged up and it wasn’t draining properly. Quite a lot of compost had fallen through into the sump and so it was a thick mud that needed clearing out.
At last we have a waterlily flower (Nymphaea ‘Pygmaea Helvola’)!
I was also very excited to discover some dragonfly nymphs living in the pond – I accidentally scooped one up when I was clearing some pond weed. Then a few days later I started to notice several exoskeletons that had been left on plants, presumably shed as the dragonflies emerged.
I’m currently cultivating quite a jungle, my paulownia are huge and the size of the leaves is impressive. They do lose a lot of water though and have been wilting in the hot, dry weather we’ve been having despite constant watering. They definitely need to go into bigger pots this autumn. Yesterday it got a bit windy and one fell over, luckily it wasn’t damaged and I’ve tried to weigh down the pot.
We’ve harvested the second batch of Charlotte potatoes, we got about 2.5lbs, so not a huge amount more after waiting another couple of weeks. The climbing French beans have been coming a bit faster now, we’re getting enough for dinner once or twice a week. If only I had more space and less shade, then I could provide a lot more food!
We’ve been picking strawberries for quite a few weeks and are now starting to get some blueberries and a few climbing French beans. Today we couldn’t wait any longer and decided to dig up some potatoes. We’re growing two bags of Charlotte (2nd earlies) and two bags of Pink Fir Apple (maincrop). It was very exciting rifling through the compost to find the spuds! We got almost 2lbs from one bag of Charlotte (2 seeds), some were still very tiny so we’re going to leave the second bag to grow for a bit longer. Something to remember for next year was that there weren’t any potatoes or roots growing deeper than the seed potatoes so we should perhaps use a thinner layer of compost below the seeds and therefore leaving more room for compost further up the stalks. The upper part of the plants are in quite a state: they got a lot taller than I expected (not enough sun maybe) and then fell over. The was one particular stormy night at the beginning of June where some of the Pink Fir Apple got snapped right off! I’m not really sure what to support them with, and there’s also the problem that the sunniest spot for them is also quite exposed to wind, as far as sunlight goes beggars can’t be choosers in my garden!
Sweet peas and blue grass (Festuca glauca ‘Intense Blue’)
Clematis ‘Romantika’, pink jasmine (Jasminum beesianum), bellflower (Campanula portenschlagiana)
Hydrangea serrata ‘Bluebird’
Just as one geranium (a pink Geranium macrorrhizum) finishes another begins to flower (‘Johnson’s Blue’). I’ve cut back all the finished flower stalks of the pink one so I might be lucky and get a second flush out of it. The pink crosswort (Phuopsis stylosa) is also starting to bloom and has grown back massively since I gave it quite a severe prune in April.
After quite a dry April we have been having more rain, but also lots of sun, so everything is growing very fast. I had to mow the lawn twice in the last week! My paulownia are huge. The sweet peas that I sowed indoors last autumn are starting to flower and smell gorgeous. They and my ‘Maigold’ rose are filling that corner of my garden with scent.
Some of my climbing french beans have started flowering and I’m worried that it’s too early. I thought they would grow a bit more first, I hope I haven’t overfed them or made some other rookie error. The second sowing of beans are currently in the porch hardening off, I should be able to plant them out by the end of the week. The kale that I sowed has germinated very successfully and I’ve thinned them a little. I should probably thin more but I didn’t want to reduce my options too much in case of some kind of catastrophe.
Today I planted out 15 Verbena bonariensis in the back garden, more than half of them are in the lawn. All part of my effort to go full jungle. Mowing is going to be trickier but then that’s all the more reason to reduce the lawn even further. I’m thinking of dotting around some ornamental grasses, so it would still be grass – who can complain!