I’m feeling very mellow right now. It’s Easter Monday, it’s not raining, and I have time to reflect upon the weekend. On Saturday David and I visited Kew Gardens or should I say The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. I’m ashamed to say that neither of us has been there since we met, so that’s nearly 30 years. I remember being underwhelmed by Kew, very flat, very open and uninspiring if trees are not your first love. (I can see you shuddering; sorry but there you are!) However, this trip proved to be much more enjoyable, primarily due to the company of our good friends Pat & Eamon, who treated me for my birthday.
On arrival we headed straight for the Kew Explorer Land Train, where we mistook a giant Moomin for The Easter Bunny, exposing us to the withering disdain of surrounding children. Then we kept joining in with the driver’s repartee, unaware that he was in fact enclosed in his vehicle so could not hear us. (Probably just as well.) The bluebell woods were pretty but I reckon our local Littlewood and Bigwood in The Hampstead Garden Suburb look better. (Yeah well, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of pride in your local environment.) Anyway, the 35 minute choo choo ride was a darn site more picturesque than the round trip of 56 stops – East Finchley to Kew Gardens – on the Tube. And I’m pleased to report that London’s tourist trade is alive and well thank you.
The Palm House was amazing, although I had to keep my hat on to stop my hair frizzing up in the humid environment. We did the whole thing, up and down, taking loads of photos: the sheer size and scale of the the thick aerial roots, the parasitic orchids and exotic flowers took my breath away. Mind you, last time I went into a tropical house like that was at The Eden Project, where I got quarter of the way in, had a panic attack and had to elbow my way out against all oncoming pedestrian traffic, leaving David wondering whether to carry on or follow suit. Needless to say I prefer the open space and calm of The Lost Gardens of Heligan. Having said that, I did once have a panic attack in the woods at Kenwood on Hampstead Heath, until David pointed out, quite stoically, that if I looked to my left I would see civilization in the form of the 210 bus travelling along Hampstead Lane. And anyway, seeing as Hampstead is home to a myriad of psychotherapists, there was sure to be plenty of help at hand. So Saturday was somewhat of a victory for me, having conquered my claustrophobia of the Tube and the Palm House.
(*NB The collective noun for psychologists is a Complex or a Couch according to my dear friend Google)
David got to do his Dr Doolittle thing again with the resident geese, who really are just ducks with attitude. (He is somewhat of a swan whisperer too but that’s for another day). But the highlight of the day for me was the Water Lily house, the surface of the pool was like glass and was like a 3D Monet painting.
Anyway, to matters on the home front now. With more time on our hands than anticipated we managed to reconstruct the living wall by the front door. Much more Sophisticated (that’s my new watch word by the way, along with Theme Park every time I see David paint another blue and white stripe on the Beach Hut). The new wall troughs are aircraft grade aluminium with high density foam sides apparently. And readers, I have filled them already, with revived heucheras, grass divisions (am feeling very noble about the recycled element) and ferns (support your local garden centre). The Three Cannas are now nine; three for the patio, three for the front garden and three for the little girl who lives down the lane. (For those of you who think I have just lost the plot, think Bah Bah Black Sheep!) Really though, three for the plant sales.
Talking of divisions, 2017 will henceforth be remembered as the year the garden went mad! I blame friend Diane who preaches the gospel according to Mulch. All plants were ticking along nicely until she convinced me to mulch my borders every spring, and see what’s happened? The plants have grown like triffids and are now threatening to take over the world. Thalictrum growing in all the cracks, filipendula popping up like Japanese Knotweed, sedge grasses swallowing neighbouring perennials whole, and persicaria! It’s colonised half of the central bed, while the other half is covered in dainty (what, hahaha!) woodruff. Mind you, Diane is threatening to have next year off from opening for the NGS just to rid her garden of invading bullies; a case of reaping what you sow if ever there was one. I feel I should label the plants-for-sale with a government health warning.
On an even more depressing front (don’t interrupt me now, I’m just getting into my stride) my two feature climbers on the patio, abutilon megapotamicum and Kentish Belle look, well, dead actually. Not a green shoot between them. This has happened before and thankfully, with some emergency resuscitation, they sprang back into life thereafter, but I’m not hopeful. Still, I fancy a golden hop and perhaps Spanish Flag……………….
I could go on and on, but my recliner is inviting me to watch The Beechgrove Garden (watch out Gardeners’ World). See you next time, love, Caroline.
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
So last month we had spawnography, and this month we have tit wars! Honestly it’s like Animal Farm out there! We have two nesting boxes and a number of nesting pouches in the trees, but it seems the only Des Res worth considering is the one in the apple tree. So, the great tits, who have been nesting in it practically every year since we moved in, are now being dive bombed by the blue tits, who sit (perch?) in wait in the tree canopy, ready to mob them every time they try to roost. But my money is still on the GTs, as the BTs seem too flighty (haha get it?) to me, veering off in the direction of the bird table at a moment’s notice.
I’ve never had so many birds in the garden as this spring; David loves the ones I mentioned above, but my heart belongs to the robin. When I’m working in the garden I can see him he flittering about in the corner of my eye, singing so quietly it’s almost as if he is humming to himself. He has another more sinister side to him though; I can see why people say that robins peck the eyes out of new-born lambs. Jitterbug our Devon Rex cat, whose intensions are not good when it comes to our feathered friends, has a love hate relationship with Robin. Being separated by only the wire netting of the catatorium, they torment each other at every opportunity.
So having said in my last Blog that all the hard work was done, I can now officially eat my hat! I have always shied away from lifting and dividing if I can possibly help it but this year I have had to knuckle down to some serious hard graft. Scuttelaria, liriope, day lillies, flag irises and phormium just got completely out of hand. I had to use my First World War trenching tool just to prize them out of the ground! When it came to splitting up the clumps I had to use David’s heavy duty saw as my dainty hand saw just bent under the strain. The phormium and flag iris divided into over a dozen new plants each, and the day lilies were so heavy it took the two of us to lift them out of the border. Doc Page, esteemed Chairman (person, sorry!) of our Hort Soc – he of the immaculate hostas – donated a sackful of divisions that had to be split again just to be able to pot them up into 6” pots. The Three Cannas, still bursting out of their cut off dustbin sacks, are pushing out vigorous shoots in all directions and will have to be divided an’all. But oh, the number of plants I have propagated for our plant sales is mounting up apace. Ka-ching! Think of all that money we will raise for the NGS this summer.
This positively tropical weather has brought the garden on so fast I can’t keep up. I am not allowed to switch on the irrigation system as David is painting the summer house (Project Beach Hut is well under way, more of that next time) and the roof terrace tends to leak water down the outer walls. Nor may I have access to the hose as its mount has been removed from said walls for same reason. So it’s the watering can and moi. Now that we have stripped back most of the clematis Montana from the pergola all the pots of ferns have suddenly become exposed to direct sunlight and keep wilting pathetically. I have to say that the cats love their new sunny spots: It was especially thoughtful of me to leave the black fleece on the cannas so that Jitterbug could enjoy the afternoon sun in comfort. (Cannas not so happy, having lost all their new tips in the process).
Progress of a kind is being made in the greenhouse now that the mice have finally vacated. (Not so much as a backward glance.) So now that it’s safe to uncover the seedlings do I switch off the heated propagators and risk damping off (I know all the technical terms y’know) or leave them on and roast them to a crisp? Off, and I’ll take my chances. So far so good. I haven’t managed to kill the tomato seedlings yet, in fact they have even developed their first proper pair of leaves, and last year’s begonia tubers are sprouting nicely too. Dozens of T & M plugs have been potted up, some mini plugs doubling up per 10cm pot. Oh for those surplus containers that were tossed asunder for taking up too much space last autumn. So far Bidens Collection 15 Postiplugs are putting on the strongest growth, and this year I was ready with the slug pellets to protect Petunia ‘Romantic Mini Rosebud Peachy’, which got devoured within their first fortnight last spring.
I’ve raised four seedlings of Courgettes ‘De Nice A Fruit Rond’ ready for the allotment next month, and the broad beans were transplanted onto the plot last weekend. (Do any women actually like broad beans? Mr B loves’em. I recon it’s a man thing). One long row of Pea ‘Terrain’ seeds were sown a couple of weeks ago, followed by a parallel row of Pea ‘Eddy’ seeds, sown by my allotment partners Rose and Ed – we’ve decided to conduct a controlled experiment, nothing to do with competitiveness or one-upmanship at all! Talking of which, last weekend it was like a holiday camp down there, never seen so many plot holders in one go; nothing at all to do with the imminent site inspection, I’m sure. Truth be told, I feel put to shame; on the one half of our small plot the soil has been turned and manured to perfection but on my side of the plot the soil surface has at best been scratched. Clearly I believe in the No Dig method. (Actually I believe in the No Work method, however I am in the minority here.) I brought home armfuls of daffs from previous years’ transplanting, and will add this year’s assortment of T&M jonquils, currently flowering their hearts out and wafting their fragrance all over the patio.
For this Spring’s trials, I have just received a new T&M potato variety, complete with Incredicompost, Incredibloom fertiliser and grow bags, as well as a couple of experimental varieties of cosmos and poppy to grow from seed. Well within my comfort zone and not too likely to embarrass me with poor results Oh well I will just have to rake my cut flower bed to a fine tilth and get down to it. Still, ever the optimist, here we go…..
And in conclusion, this month’s star performance goes to Erysimum Red Jep and Coronilla glauca Citrina. Happy gardening, love, Caroline
Why oh why don’t they make gardening gloves reversible? Being right handed I have a drawer full of superfluous intact left hand gloves as all my right hand ones get ripped and worn with monotonous regularity. As I value my nails I opt to double glove, that is, to don surgical gloves first (well, I do come from a medical family) followed by fine weave gardening gloves with reinforced palms and fingers. I find this way I can actually feel what I am doing! But it seems such a waste to throw a whole pair away just because one glove has had it. So if there are any dainty size 6½ left handed gardeners out there in need of spares please do get in touch!
And so…….Spring is here, that is if you are of the meteorological persuasion. Personally I feel like that’s cheating and am opting for Monday March 20th before I celebrate the demise of Winter. But the frogs are definitely in the first category! Having sluiced out the fermenting rill (oh boy did we stink; even after our clothes had gone in the wash the smell lingered on in our olfactory senses) we decided not to refill it straightaway. (Why not, David? You still haven’t given me a viable explanation.) So when David came running in from the garden a couple of days later, lamenting that it was, “Too late, too late”, I wondered what on earth had happened. I should have put two and two together when the previous evening friend Lesley reported hearing strange throbbing noises whilst sneaking a fag on the patio, during our pancake eating Shrove Tuesday Book Club: Frogspawn in the rill! One centimetre of rainwater was all the encouragement they needed. So now what? Do we gently fill it up and hope the frog spawn rises with the tide, or run the risk of evaporation if we leave it be? And how would they climb out? Eventually, having watched a group of five milling around (is that what they call it in polite society?) amongst the frogspawn, David came up with a makeshift ladder cut from a piece of tongue and groove floorboard. They queued up to use it but slid down again, so he then applied a piece of fine grade abrasive anti-slip tape. Lo and behold, off they went to find fresh fields, croaking away happily…..
Accident prone as ever, I dove into the flower bed to prune a clematis, only to catch my toe on the irrigation pipe coming out, and landed knee to shin on the stone path. Dear me, the air was blue and so were the bruises! Undeterred I soldiered on (back of hand to forehead) until rain sent me under cover. Oh the inevitability of my seed sewing failures: Basil nothing, leeks eaten by mice (you’ve overstayed your welcome folks), broad beans etiolated under protective tray cover, sweet peas dying of thirst. However all is not lost. I have managed to prick out three each of T & M tomato Garnet & Indigo Cherry Drops but alas no sign of Artisan Mixed. Perhaps a few cells of tomato Mountain Magic will produce better results. So the next lot of greenhouse sowings for March are as follows:
• Sweet pepper Gourmet
• Pepper Sweet Boneta
• Courgette de Nice a Fruit Rond
• Nasturtium Troika Spotty Dotty (surely these can’t go wrong)
And then there is the allotment. When it comes to The Good Life I am definitely a fair weather gardener. My first visit since last November was relatively painless. Hardly any weeds, a few brave broad bean seedlings valiantly growing away in splendid isolation. So I achieved my objective of pruning the blackberry hedge and the strawberry patch, with the welcome help of the allotment tortie cat. Originally from an adjacent semi, said cat opted for the outdoor life by adopting a plot holder who now provides bed and board. He feeds her twice a day and makes alternative arrangements in his absence, and has provided shelter in his shed with access via a cat flap. She has the hump right now because the local vixen has taken up temporary residence whilst in confinement with her two cubs. Obviously I didn’t hear this from her (!) but she did share my hessian ground sheet for a good hour, purring away as I struggled with the thorny brambles. (Who’s the mug here?) Anyway I digress. On my next visit I shall sow T & M Pea Terrain and Pea Eddy direct: I always surprise myself with the success of peas and beans. I have decided that I shall relocate the T & M tree lilies from the front garden to the allotment, to join the existing half dozen four year olds that flower so profusely you could see them from space. As I can’t grow them at home (as all parts of lilies are poisonous to cats) I might as well enjoy them on the plot. I wonder if the dahlias Fox Mixed and Trebbiano have survived, this being the coldest winter since transferring them three years ago. Plenty of daffs coming up though, good for cutting. All the flowers and bulbs on the allotment are from previous T& M trials, which reminds me that I have been on the Plant Triallists’ panel since its inception in 2010.
So with the growing season well under way, David and I have really got stuck in. Clearly not satisfied with the mess created by Rill-Gate, David pressure washed every hard surface in the garden. So traumatised am I by the inevitable mud splashes and sodden border edges that I won’t set foot outside until it’s all dried off and swept away. For my part, having completed all the heavy duty tasks – top dressing the borders with manure, successfully liberating T & M Tree Peony Hong Xia (2011) from its container to the pastel border, replacing aucuba with outrageously expensive cornus Kousa (and it’s not even my birthday for another month) and lifting & dividing monstrous miscanthus – I can smugly look forward to pottering about over the next few weeks. Who am I kidding; it’s almost time to hard prune the fuchsia and the hardy salvias, bring the giant cannas out of hibernation, and so the list goes on……..still, it keeps me off the streets! Love, Caroline
January? Where did that go?
So it’s February already and there’s been precious little activity going on of the horticultural variety! I can’t remember a year when frost was so heavy and so prolonged. The water features and borders were frozen solid for a fortnight, although mercifully not much rainfall to drown the perennials in their beds.
There are only so many times you can bring out the tubs of seed packets and file them by type/sowing
date/ indoors/outdoors etc. I was even tempted to create a spreadsheet just to keep me occupied during January. Trays and modules were washed & set up, labels pre-written, compost at the ready. I rearranged the greenhouse so that the propagators were free: Not difficult seeing as I accidently switched them off when I was repotting the lilies and most of my cuttings died!
In previous years I have sown my seeds too early; they germinated fine but became all etiolated and eventually rotted off. And because the warmest, brightest place in the house is the sunroom they had to share space with our cats, who would eat them! (Micro greens for cats?)! This year however is very different. With the addition of the propagators, I have been able to relocate to the greenhouse.
So raring to go was I, that come the first weekend in February, I was in that greenhouse like a rat up a drainpipe (unfortunate simile I know) ready for the off! Honestly it was like a military operation: Decks cleared, each tray containing its 12 cell seed tray and plastic lid. Sieved soil (extracted from the so-called mouse trough previously referred to as the tomato trough) and vermiculite. Marker pen, labels, dibber, watering can, T&M seed packets. What could possibly go wrong? Well to start with, have you ever tried sowing seeds the size of dandruff with your third fingertip resembling a black grape after slamming a window on it? Fiddly but do-able. Filling the trays with soil went well, until that is, I ‘lightly watered prior to sowing’ as instructed: the water dribbled straight over the sides.
Undeterred, I managed to sow well enough – without my glasses I had to get so close to the tomato seeds that I dared not breathe in case I blew them away – but when it came to sprinkling vermiculite, the greenhouse looked like a scene from one of those snow domes! I hadn’t realised the bag was open when I whisked it up from under the bench, and managed to get it everywhere except on the surface of the seed trays. Don’t know how Carol Klein does it and talks to the camera at the same time.
Here is what I have sown, and yes, those of you who know better, will be tutting about some of my timings but hey ho, nothing ventured, nothing gained:
• Tomato Garnet; Tomato Indigo Cherry Drops; Tomato artisan Mix – all varieties received & tasted at last summer’s T&M Triallists’ Open Day
• Sweet Pea Purple Pimpernel; Sweet Pea Fragrantissima; Sweet Pea Mollie Rilstone; Sweet Pea Night and Day – wretched seeds are like ball bearings.
• Basil Sweet Green ; Basil Lemonade Something (tore the top off the packet!)
• Leek Bulgaarse Reuzen Lincoln
• Broad Bean Oscar – in their own 9cm pots.
Seed sowing will continue in March and April; hopefully by then I will have been able to prick out Batch No 1.
In the garden at large spring bulbs & perennials are at least a couple of weeks behind compared to last year, due to the colder weather no doubt. I was beginning to think that the five dozen T&M Jonquilla Daffs must have somehow succumbed; they are only just starting to poke through the soil of their containers. One or two aconites are in flower, but iris reticulata, snowdrops, coronilla glauca and hellebores are taking their time. Having experienced such a hiatus during January, the brisk change of pace is a shock to the system.
I am fighting back panic at the thought of pressure washing the slippery moss encrusted paviers, as it swamps the already soggy borders, but it’s gotta be done before everything really starts into growth. Bird boxes need to be cleaned out as the tits are already prospecting nesting sites, and the stinking water of the stagnant rill (good alliteration don’t you think) needs to be sluiced out before the frogs spawn. And I haven’t even been to the allotment since November. It’s all go here in East Finchley I can tell you; life doesn’t get much more exciting than this!
David’s got Spring fever too. Now that his hand is on the mend, he’s been revamping all the garden ornamentals, creating new resin tails for bunnies and metal beaks for birdies. Every time I make cutbacks in the borders, miscanthus grasses especially, we find more and more objects that had been overlooked during winter clear-up, lurking amongst the foliage. After tireless research, he has purchased an oversized copper cup and saucer over the internet, which he will turn into another water feature, to complement his copper kettle and strainer works-in-progress.
One other exciting thing I did in January (excitement is not an emotion one usually associates with January) was to place my first order for hanging basket and container annuals. After listing my first two items, Begonia Non-Stop Mocca Bright Orange & Petunia Orange Punch, Dawn in Telephone Sales observed dryly, “You like orange then!” and she wasn’t wrong: the rest of the order consists of Begonia Glowing Embers & Petunia Mini Rosebud Peachy! I may be predictable, but I believe strongly that if a formula works why change it? The last two summers’ patio displays of purple, red, yellow and orange have been electric! I’ll ring the changes with foliage plants, perhaps some more coleus, heuchera, ipomaea and hostas (haha, hope over experience).
Talking of orange, I’ve just remembered the overwintering begonia Apricot Shades tubers in the spare room dresser – back in a mo – they are already showing pips for goodness sake. Now that is exciting!
Will we plunged back in to winter before March? Who knows, watch this space. Love Caroline
Christmas? Well thank goodness that’s over! So used to being outdoors am I (virtuous, smug) that being confined to quarters made me as sleepy as a dormouse. I reckon I was spending 14 hours a day either in or on the bed! Buoyed up by the prospect of increased day length (1 minute per day, yippee!) I have taken to mooching around the garden, peering at the earth for signs of life. And I haven’t been disappointed: crocus, snowdrops, narcissi; pulmonaria, cyclamen, Lords and Ladies; hellebores, scuttelaria integrifolia (Blue Helmet, cross between mint and salvia – look it up, it’s a thug but great for shade), sedum; and at eye level Clematis Freckles, little darling it is!
At this time of year there is no hiding place for hangers on I can tell you! I have been stalking around, beady eye looking out for howlers and as a result have a lovely list of removals in the offing: A variegated Philadelphus in a patio container never flowers well due to lack of bright sunlight and contributes nothing of interest to the winter displays. Where to put it in the borders though? It’s like the Domino effect here, what can I move on to make room for it? David reckons if he stands still too long he won’t be safe either! I can’t wait to get that clumsy spotted laurel out after sneering at it for years (ruthless terminator!) and replace it with Cornus Kousa Robert’s Selecte. The tree peony will be looking for a good home too. It doesn’t warrant its position as focal point of the fernery. Poor thing has only produced 3 flowers in its 5 year existence due to low light levels. I am rubbing my hands together in glee at the boundless planting possibilities: Maybe the T&M Blechnum Brasiliensis Volcano?
No more excuses! The miscanthus has to be lifted and divided in spring before it swallows up neighbouring thalictrum and euphatorium. Oh the effort, the mess, the clearance! Ah, but once it’s done think of the extra space. (Do you have two little green men on your shoulders arguing away behind your back? Only wish they could do the digging as well.) And bidens Hannay’s Lemon Drop is creeping through the salvia uliginosa and has to be stopped before it takes over. Trouble is, that whole section of bed will have to come up to separate them all. Perleeease! I’m exhausted already!
Some things seem to be a bridge too far though, like resolving to grow culinary herbs outside the back door. Trouble is, they start off vigorously enough in Spring, but by summer the passiflora canopy has shaded them out, and or the cats have been grazing on them. Maybe hanging baskets?
It’ll be a month or so before I can really get stuck in, but I shall console myself during the frosts by scouring the new Spring T&M catalogue. Plenty of sumptuous ideas for container planting, as well as delicious new tomato and veg varieties. A Must-Have addition to the allotment will be strawberry Just Add Cream, introduced to us at last Summer’s T&M Triallist’s Open Day. But more about the forthcoming year’s trials in my next blog.
In the meantime, here are some of my personal favourites from our garden throughout 2016: