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:
After a very busy November I finally found myself at home on a fresh, bright, still day and decided it was time for The Big Garden Tidy Up. I’ve always sworn by the adage that there is no such thing as the wrong weather, just the right clothes (or something like that anyway). So, togged up appropriately, I strode outside with implements in hand to – Leaf Fall Hell! As I stepped into the garden I felt the Silent Scream come upon me. I have never seen so many dead leaves, and I wouldn’t care, but the majority of them aren’t even from our trees! I can only assume that last year the wind must have blown them elsewhere.
Where to start? I decided to tackle the worst bit first. Have you ever tried raking dead leaves out of heavily planted gravel? You have to create a pile and then sieve the gravel back out of said pile before finally bagging up the leaves. Not fun. Next I decided to tackle the rampant ivy colonising the corner behind the apple tree. This task was quite satisfying as it happens, dragging the tendrils out of the tree canopy and cutting back to a nice hedgy silhouette. As the trellis backs onto the greenhouse the gutters where choked with leaf litter and yet more ivy was starting to run over the roof, creating a cavern inside! All was going well until my thankfully gloved hand touched upon something cold and clammy. No more the Silent scream! Having unearthed several hibernating frogs during clearance my first thought was dead amphibian. Girding myself up I reached back into the gutter and retrieved – the 6″ rubber lizard!
Caroline clearing up leaves and one of the many frogs she found
That lizard is haunting me. Last autumn I unearthed it from the leaf litter under the hydrangea petiolaris and thought I had hurled it over the fence from whence it came (junior neighbours) so unless it crawled back under its own volition (it’s eerily lifelike), I have a very poor aim!
Somewhat unnerved I decided to clear the roof terrace. Open air, bright sunshine, back into the land of the living. Straightforward apart from one thing: how to dispose of the ricinus? So, well gloved up, I chopped it up into manageable pieces and bagged it up. However, by now the recycle bin was virtually full so – do I stuff it in the top and risk poisoning the dustmen? Oh no, I delve deep into the bin, emptying half of its contents onto the pavement, so that the ricinus can be safely buried beneath. Lifting and transporting the three cannas (picture The Three Tenors haha!) down the ship’s ladder was no joke; they had tripled in size so that only cut-down black dustbin sacks were big enough to contain their massive root balls. I am having to overwinter them in the summer house with the colocasia and banana as there is no room in the greenhouse raised bed in case I disturb the mice.
The beach huts at Southwold, Suffolk and David’s new water feature idea
As I continued to sweep, prune and mulch the borders into submission I reflected upon the passing year. Our most recent adventure was a long weekend in Southwold, Suffolk with good friends Amanda and Michael. Southwold in November brings its own unique meteorological challenges. France has its Mistral, Lybia has its Ghibli. The horizontal wind driven Southwold rain that surges across the gorse dunes towards Walberswick deserves its own name too! In summer, amble across the dunes, surrounded by the delicious aroma of coconut emanating from the gorse, and pay your 20p to be rowed across the estuary by the small family run boat service. But in the winter even they hang up their oars! So a two mile walk becomes a four mile trek and of course being stalwarts we were not to be deterred. A refuelling stop at The Bell Inn to break the round trip certainly helped!
The beach huts at Southwold are the inspiration for our new summer house theme, and we had great fun picking up little nautical whimsies from the gift shops. The cheeky Heath Robinsonesque clock water feature on the pier gave David food for thought regarding his next water feature. Take a close look every quarter hour and you will be shocked or hysterical with laughter depending on your temperament!
Caroline’s raised bed decorated for the festive season
David installed our exterior festive lights at the end of November before a hand operation put him out of action over the holiday period. The twinkling red lights threaded through the undergrowth in the raised bed out front look lovely, but the multi-coloured flashers in the eucalyptus out back were like Blackpool illuminations (nothing wrong with Blackpool – right plant right place or some such analogy). But when he reprogrammed them to be static, the neighbour’s young daughter complained, so now they are fading on and off tastefully!
So it only remains for me to wish you all Seasons Greetings and a Happy New Year and I hope you enjoy the photo of me in action. We’ve had Gardening In your Nightie, Gardening in your Pyjamas and now we have – Gardening in Your Curlers! xx
A view of London from Hampstead Heath
At the end of October we took a break from the garden and went to stay with our dear friend Sonja who lives in The National Forest (imagine small thatched ginger bread house in woodland clearing – no – small but perfectly formed terrace in Swadlincote). We left home on the Friday to summer’s last hurrah; two days later we returned to autumnal gloom. Knee deep in leaf litter everywhere; it’s all very well extolling the virtues of Autumn Colour (hushed voices, deep awe), if only it would stay on the trees! Gutters blocked, paths and lawns littered, shrub canopies choked, containers swamped. And then, do you let the leaves rot down to a natural mulch in the borders or do you clear them away so they don’t rot the crowns of your prized perennials? (Neat freak, clear them away, and then add somebody else’s mulch for £4.50 a bag.)
Acers on a spectacular scale – October 2016
Anyway, mercifully so far I have been able to sweep this year’s leaf litter up during the current dry spell. Woe betide it should rain, you take your life in your hands every time you step outside your front door! (Talking of Autumn Colour, some of the best I’ve seen has to be on the stretch of M1 motorway between Northampton and Leicester.) Autumn Colour apart, it’s the low light levels at dawn and dusk, casting their luminescent glow over the fiery landscape that gets me every year, just magical.
Coleus ‘Campfire’ & Hydrangea ‘Zorro’
In contrast to my androgynous gardening demeanour, Sonja, being a perfumery consultant, is a fragrant jewel! So for the first time in about 30 years I treated my feminine side to some perfume. And the point of the story is this: Wearing said perfume whilst sweeping up the dreaded Autumn Colour (and why not?) just smelled wrong! It masked the scents of the soil and natural fragrance of the flowers that I hadn’t even consciously registered before. How about that!
Now it truly is autumn in the garden
……Anyway, back in my gardening world, I was so excited about all the plants I was going to grow in my new propagator that I forgot one fundamental thing – to water them: Guess what, they all died! I am rubbish at cuttings, I really am, having always put it down to lazy horticultural practices. A brief knock to my confidence before taking another lot of cuttings (host plants looking a bit bald thereafter) whilst promising to learn by my mistakes. So we will see. However as insurance I have supplied a duplicate set (what is the collective for cuttings?) of salvia involucrata and confertifolia (sounds like a musical score) to the Chairman (Chair, Chairperson, whatever!) of our local Hort Soc, who is a veritable cuttings magician.
Whilst we are on the subject of my shortcomings, how many times do I have to lose my heucheras to vine weevil before I learn my lesson? Empty pots, add fresh compost, plant heucheras, feel noble. Simple! And why oh why do I put off splitting perennials for five years? A WW1 trenching tool was the only implement hefty enough to shift the clump of white phlox with a root ball the size of a wrecking ball! While we are at it, perhaps it would be a good idea to clean the greenhouse windows before the automatic lights stay on permanently. (The electricity bill has already doubled due to the heated propagators, and David’s paternal concern for the mice.)
flaming central bed & FUCHSIAfuchsiaberry
Really though I cannot believe we have reached November already. Whilst David is raring to go with his festive red berry lighting for the front garden, I am so behind with my jobs: so reluctant to lift the cannas, some of which have only just come into flower; have hastily stuffed & wrapped the tree fern (oven ready?) but must must must raise the containers onto pot feet, fleece the eucomis and bring the tender salvias under cover. T & M Crackerjack petunias and new Bidens are still flowering in the hanging baskets, half hardy annuals, tender perennials and my treasured ricinus are still in full swing but surely it’s only a matter of time before they are cut down by frost. I did succumb to tulips in the end, black Paul Scherer and white Triumphator (not sure, threw the packaging away, why do I do that every year?) planted in amongst the grasses out front.
Hanging baskets just keep on going!
I am so reluctant to get on with it all, as it will signify the end of this amazing horticultural year for us. But no doubt I will find something to write about in December but until then have a productive autumn and be careful not to slip on those dratted leaves.