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.
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.
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).
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.
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)!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
My chocolate vine (Akebia quinata) is flowering and, I’ve just noticed, so is my Japanese maple (Acer palmatum ‘Orange Dream’). I have never noticed it flowering before so this may be the first time!
The lavender cuttings that I wrote about before didn’t actually take – the new green growth wilted and died. So I took some new ones today from just new green shoots rather than the woody parts, hoping that works better. I also took some dianthus cuttings, from a very leggy plant which will be euthanised if the cuttings take, and sowed some dill seeds in three little purple pots that my Mum gave me.
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.
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.