I will be trying to grow potatoes for the first time this year, in bags. I’ve got Charlotte (on the left) which is classed as a 2nd early, and Pink Fir Apple (right) which is a maincrop potato. I was quite late ordering my seed potatoes so they’ve only had just over a week chitting (where you leave them out in a light, warm place to start sprouting). Some of the Pink Fir Apple already had some shoots when they arrived and some small shoots have appeared on the Charlottes. Many people say you don’t even need to bother with chitting so I sowed them today anyway.
In my conservatory I have a fig tree and an olive tree. I’ve had the fig for about five or six years, almost killed it through neglect but pruned it quite hard and watered and fed it back to life. Now it’s thriving – last summer I harvested a pound of figs and made fig and ginger jam. This year it started leafing up quite early and there are already four figs. Figs are quite interesting because they are not technically fruits but inside-out flowers! There is even a specialised species of wasp which crawls inside the fig and pollinates it.
My olive tree is flowering though I don’t expect to get any fruit from it. It got a bit worse-for-wear last year with a scale insect infestation. For a long time I didn’t realise what the funny lumps were and so didn’t do anything about it until it was quite bad. I think they came with the plant but it was just a cheap one from B&Q. It’s under control now but not completely gone. I’ve been occasionally applying a systemic insecticide and also manually picking them off.
I mostly favour flowers which fall in the colour spectrum from blue and pink but a bit of yellow can make a nice contrast and it’s particularly appreciated at this time of year when there are still plenty of gloomy, grey days. In my full shade corner my bergenia are starting to flower. The white Bergenia ‘Bressingham White’ are ahead, with the pink Bergenia cordifolia ‘Purpurea’ still in tight buds. The little, pale pink Bergenia ‘Baby Doll’ have not put up any flower stalks yet. Behind is my Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’ which has opened up frothy white flowers after displaying pretty, little, dark pink buds that almost look like berries all winter. The leaves have been looking a bit chlorotic; I didn’t realise that skimmia prefer acidic soil so it has been struggling to absorb iron. I’ve been trying to rectify this by feeding with iron-rich seaweed extract and increasing the acidity of the soil with ericaceous compost. Behind the skimmia you can see my forsythia which is still going strong. On the other side of the garden, some yellow wallflower are starting to flower. They were from a ‘wildlife’ seed mix, or something like that, so I have no idea what variety they are. I’ve been doing a bit of mulching this morning, with an all-purpose compost, and I love how black and healthy it makes the beds look.
My geraniums have been leafing up and it’s always such a pleasure to be gardening near them and smell that gorgeous scent when brushing against them. This one is ‘Johnson’s Blue’. Another in the same bed is a pink one, I can’t remember the variety but it should be called Lazarus because for a couple of years I thought it was dead. All that was left of it was a tiny bit of rhizome but it has now come back to life and looking very leafy!
In my garden at the moment I’m enjoying the gorgeous scent of some hyacinths. They were from a supermarket bought container that I had indoors last spring and then planted outside after they finished flowering. My pulmonaria is also coming into flower now and the bees love it.
For some reason I’ve always had a massive slug epidemic in my garden. On a summer’s evening we can easily collect bucketfuls and then do the same again the following night! I usually apply slug killing nematodes (Nemaslug) once or twice a year. Today’s a good day to do it – damp, cloudy, and the soil is warming up. The neighbours must think I’m crazy though, watering the garden when it just rained!
I’ve tried barrier methods – coffee grains, copper tape – with varying success. This year I’m trying wool pellets. They’re very expensive so I’ve just bought a small bag to try out – if they work it might be worth buying more. They do have a very sheepy smell! You sprinkle them on and then water so they form a felty mat. I have put some around my new little Iris reticulata ‘Harmony’ whose flowers keep getting devoured, and my nerines which also seem to be a favourite with the molluscs.
Really getting into gardening season full swing now with lots to do and a million ideas racing through my mind! I’ve just re-read The Thrifty Gardener by Alys Fowler which is full of inspiration and tips – I recommend any book by her, I love her gardening style.
First a Paulownia update. In December 2015 I germinated some Paulownia kawakamii seeds in a jar of water. Also known as the sapphire dragon tree, a close relative of P. tomentosa the foxglove tree, but I think with a more pleasing rounded crown. In the new year of 2016 I picked the eight strongest germinators to go into compost, of which three survived, were potted on, and made good growth last summer with nice big leaves. All winter they have each looked like a single stick, about a foot or so tall, but are now showing signs of life with pretty purplish axial buds. In the background there is one of my little anemones (Anemone blanda), I love these guys – I forget they’re there and then in spring they pop up around the garden – and they were one of the first things I planted in this garden.
After reading up on how I messed up my sweet peas (i.e. not putting them outside) I decided to sow some more straight into the ground. I am worried that as soon as they emerge the slugs will get them but I received my order of some Nemaslug (slug killing nematodes) today so will get that on the garden in the next couple of days. While I was having fun sowing, in what counts as the sunniest corner of my back garden, I also chucked some calendula seeds into the ground. The “lawn” is now very slightly smaller but no one will notice if I just take it up inch by inch! On the spur of the moment I chopped a small chunk off my lamb’s ear (Stachys byzantina ‘Silver Carpet’) and bunged it back in the ground about a foot away from the original plant. I also noticed my rosemary was looking a bit scruffy so gave her a little prune and hung up the offcuts to dry for using in cooking.
Inspired by the gorgeous sweet peas my Mum grew last year, I sowed some last November. They grew a bit too fast due to the warmth of my conservatory and were a bit of a neglected, tangled mess. Today I potted them on into bigger pots and clipped them back to 3 or 4 pairs of leaves. They’re quite lanky and weedy so I hope this will encourage them to thicken up! I really have no idea what I’m doing though.
While I was at it today I also sowed some Verbena bonariensis seeds in trays. I admired the verbena at Kew last summer so I’m looking forward to having some of my own, I just hope it can manage without all-day sun.
Things are starting to come to life! My forsythia are coming into flower now – I have one in the back garden and one propagated from it in the front garden. They are providing some much needed cheer. Another harbinger of spring: I spotted my first brimstone butterfly of the year flutter across the garden yesterday. Not the first butterfly of the year though; I saw a red admiral a couple of weeks ago.
About a month ago I took some lavender cuttings and two of them seem to have taken and are making new green growth. It’s probably not the right time of year to be taking them but my conservatory is warm so I thought I’d give it a go. I also have some baby succulents growing from some leaves that broke off. It’s amazing how easily some plants will root!
Outside I have made up some pots with fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris) and grape hyacinths (Muscari armeniacum) which are starting to come out now. I love the chequerboard pattern on the fritillary flowers, and I think the new grape hyacinth inflorescences look like little blue conifer trees!