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.
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!
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!
I’ve been watching the weather forecasts like a hawk for any night-time dips in temperature and have decided that today looks safe for planting out my first batch of climbing French beans. They have been hardening off in the porch for a little over a week and have survived that without problem. The second batch of beans seem to be germinating a little slower, only two have appeared so, which is perhaps due to less sunshine than we had in early April. I have sown a few kale seeds in the tubs with the beans hoping they will be suitable companions, perhaps the beans will supply the kale with nitrogen and the kale leaves will shade the compost and reduce evaporation.
My potatoes are growing, not amazing amounts but enough that I’ve started earthing them up regularly. Surprisingly the maincrop variety seem to be ahead of the earlies! Perhaps because they were better chitted. My strawberries are flowering and I’ve mulched them with straw. Chives are also displaying lots of pretty, little, purple pom-pom flowers.
Last summer my son and I dug out a very small pond. The water forget-me-nots (Myosotis scorpioides) are now flowering, and also the watercress that I grew from some supermarket, bagged, cut watercress. My lily of the valley have been flowering for a couple of weeks, they are from the same rhizomes as the flowers that I had in my bridal bouquet 19 years ago! They are finally establishing quite nicely in the shady bed at the back of the garden.
My climbing rose (Rosa ‘Maigold’) has started flowering and smells gorgeous, it has tons of buds so I’m hoping for a record year. And look how magnificent my paulownia looks!
While out in the garden with my camera I noticed my cat looking intently at something – a red admiral butterfly feeding on the ceanothus. The ceanothus is still looking stunning, flowering away, earlier I spotted a blue butterfly on it almost camouflaged in the blueness! The swifts are back and its so good to hear them screeching around again, and mesmerising to watch their aerial acrobatics.
And here is my wisteria which has been looking glorious for the past couple of weeks but I have been unable to get any photographs that do it justice.
My tiny blueberry bush is flowering at the moment, and the aubretia next to it looks very pretty too.
Yesterday I pricked out some of my verbena seedlings and started planting out my new plants. Some of my tomato seeds have germinated and there is 100% germination of my beans. I think I will hold off sowing the second batch for another week as the first batch are growing so fast and it’s not frost-safe outside yet. I have sown some lettuce seeds which I will be keeping indoors rather than feeding the slugs. The sweet peas that I sowed straight into the ground have germinated and I have put rings of coffee grounds around them in an attempt to put off the slugs.
The desk/potting bench in the conservatory is looking quite productive at the moment. Also in the last week I have lifted some snowdrops from a large clump in the front garden and planted them on the shady side of the lawn in the back garden, next to the bluebells. I took some more cuttings from my Euonymus fortunei ‘Emerald n Gold’ which is great for brightening up dark corners. Cuttings I took from it last year and planted out in the autumn have survived the winter and are slowly making new growth.
Lily of the Valley have emerged. Next to them is a crosswort (Phuopsis stylosa) which was getting very leggy with dead-looking thatch underneath which I cut out yesterday. To fill in a bare patch in front of it I divided a bellflower (Campanula portenschlagiana) to go in the gap.
Today turned out to be forsythia pruning day. The flowers have almost finished and I was going to wait a bit longer until they had all fallen off but noticed new shoots starting to grow from branches that I was planning to remove. I didn’t want it wasting energy growing something that I was going to remove, and it’s also easier to prune before it’s fully in leaf, so I went ahead and chopped away. The older forsythia in the back garden has been pruned badly in the past, by a previous owner and by me when I didn’t know what I was doing. Over the last couple of years I’ve been trying to gradually rejuvenate it by removing old badly shaped branches right down to the bottom. I’m aiming for an open, natural look rather than a tightly clipped hedge. It bugs me when the council butcher forsythia, especially when they do it in the autumn or winter thereby removing the flower buds!
I applied MO Bacter to the lawn this afternoon. Despite its name it is not a rapper but a fertiliser that is also supposed to kill moss. Its NPK is 5-5-20 and it’s the high level of potassium that kills the moss. It also claims to have some Bacillus spp bacteria which digest the dead moss. I used it last year and I still have a mossy lawn so I’m not totally sold on the idea but the lawn needed feeding anyway so I used up the rest of the bag.
I can also report there has been some french bean germination!
Blooming in my front garden are tulips and ceanothus. I don’t know what variety the ceanothus is as it was planted by a previous owner and it’s not in great shape. A few years ago I had to chop out most of it as it was dying and the main trunk was splitting. It’s still going though which is amazing, but a bit straggly and messy so I’ll give it a prune after it’s finished flowering.
Also in the front, my wisteria is full of flower buds which seem to grow noticeably each day – so exciting!
Today I sowed some beans and tomatoes. I bought a mixed pack of climbing french beans: ‘Carminat’, ‘Monte Cristo’, and ‘Monte Gusto’. I will be growing them up the side of my shed in the three tubs where last year I grew cucumbers, pumpkins, and tomatoes. I have sown three beans of each type and in two weeks I will sow three more of each type to get successive crops but I will only have space to grow one of each type from each batch. I’ve sowed them in loo rolls so when they’re ready for planting outside I can just plant whole thing and the cardboard will disintegrate.
I wasn’t going to do tomatoes again this year but my parents have kindly given me a subscription to the RHS for my birthday and with the welcome pack came a packet of ‘Gardener’s Delight’ tomato seeds. I sowed some of these today, now I just have to figure out how I’m going to fit everything in the very small area that gets enough sun!
The verbena that I sowed a couple of weeks ago have germinated.