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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.