Amaranthus – the jungle plant

Love lies Bleeding originates in Jamaica, where it is also eaten.  I might throw some leaves into a green risotto and see what happens.  What it has done for me though is to bring a jungle effect into my garden.  Pink monkey tails and greenery gently waving in the breeze.

Amaranthus

I sowed my amaranthus seeds late in mid-May in a seed tray kept under shade in my greenhouse.  8 weeks on from there, they got potted on into 9cm pots.  After two weeks of growing on, we put them out onto a barren hot and ugly south facing slope beside the greenhouse, planted up with small and barely pulsating small box plants.

Amaranthus

The slugs were overly curious for the first few weeks of planting out.  I resorted to organic pellets and now the slugs have lost out and the amaranthus motored skywards on thick stalks (Watering to start them off was important).  I am on alert for staking but so far there has been no need – they have become slug proof, pug proof and human proof.

amaranthus

The Amaranthus has bought the jungle to my garden and various squashes and the claret sunflower have added to this mood.  Sowing with jungle-look annuals and half hardy annuals is an ongoing experiment for me.  If anyone has some large, leafy exotic annual plantings to share, I would be very interested.

 

You can read more on my blog here.

Growing vertically

Growing vertically

Both of us were staring at the same wall mounted moss collage in a corner of the Grand Marquee at the Chelsea Flower Show. We got chatting and I found that my new acquaintance was no less than Sue Fisher, the author of ‘Growing up the Wall’.

Growing vertically

Moss wall

Green walls have taken off in a big way as a means of introducing flora to sterile concrete places, to insulate buildings and now as a means of feeding ourselves.

Well, here is a subject for all keen gardeners short on space.  Sue Fisher has written many books on gardening and she has a serious  background in horticulture. No surprise then that ‘Growing up the Wall’ is a serious manual for the would-be vertical grower. The full title of the book is “How to grow food in vertical places, on roofs and in small places.” Only last week, I had a question on how to use a little balcony that gets some sun. This book answers that question and many more as well.

Part two runs through suitable edible vegetables, herbs and fruit by alphabetic listing. You will learn the necessary soil depth, the overall height of the plant and get tips on sowing, varieties and aftercare.

Growing vertically

Beans

Balconies apart, the text tackles all sorts of containers and growing spaces – everything from window boxes and hanging baskets to full-blown edible roof gardens. This is a really handy book. Knowledge is given without it being daunting.

After reading this book I will grow up.

You can read my own blog here

Advice for the new allotment holder

Advice for the new allotment holder

This short post is all about string. The string-thing is aimed at new allotment plot holders. As they, like me, may be daunted by the large slab of ground they have just taken on annual rent from the local council.

Where to begin with plotting, sowing, portioning out the land for the various crops? How to stop hoofing all over prepared ground with clod heavy gardening boots?

The guru for vegetable gardening is still Joy Larkcom and her book : “Grow your Own Vegetables” is short on glossy pictures but long on sensible advice. Her recommendation is to keep beds to a width of 1.20 metres. Why? In order that you can work the ground from either side by reaching in, without (apart from actually sowing seeds) ever having to tread on it.

Advice for the new allotment holder

Divide your allotment into 1.2m wide beds for easy access

And so, if you are a little uncertain about how to begin tackling your plot, I recommend dividing it up into widths 1.20 with 30 cm paths between each bed. Mark out the beds with small canes and stretch twine between them. This makes allotment growing far less daunting and will keep the soil in good order.

You can read Catharine’s own blog here

 

How to improve clay or sandy soils with leafmould

How to improve clay or sandy soils with leafmould

Leafmould is the black gold of gardening. Ten or more years back, I worked in nursery on a rare hill on the Suffolk Essex border. We are talking small scale, husband and wife team, working all hours of day and days of year. The only time off was to load a large blue van with unusual and mouthwatering plants – arisaemas, trilliums and the like and drive to London to set up a mini fairy garden for the Chelsea Flower Show or exhibitions in the RHS’s Floral Halls. Bulbs and other woodland plants were their speciality. Anyway, I digress: their potting medium was leafmould.

Why I love leafmould

New tree mulched with leafmould

So what exactly is this stuff? Simply leaves that are well rotted, nothing else added. The final product has no nutrients but crumbles down like rich dry chocolate cake – Sachertorte – to be precise. In this form it acts as a soil conditioner. Those with an open sandy soil will know how fast minerals get leached out and moisture too. The leafmould will bind the structure of the soil to help improve water retention.

Clay is more of a problem to work with than sand. Clay soils are intrinsically fertile but the individual particles grab each other so tightly that hallmarks are swamped out wet in winter and cracked dry in summer. Leafmould, by a weird process known as deflocculation, persuades the soil to open up, drainage improves and digging and otherwise working the soil become a good deal easier.

Why I love leafmould

A cage for storing leaves – yours can be much more simple though

Leaves do not rot down in the same way as other garden waste. For this reason store them separately in a cage made of chicken wire. If you can soak them thoroughly now and again in the hot long summer days and turn them once or twice, decomposition will be accelerated.

Why I love leafmould

Leafmould for sale at Fairhaven Trust, Norfolk

The best way to use the leafmould is to put it on as a thick layer over your beds in the very late autumn. It will help conserve soil warmth and act as a mulch. It is almost impossible to buy this fabulous product – I have only seen it for sale at the Fairhaven Trust in Norfolk. But get ahead and make your own. All you need are some stout stakes and chicken wire. And as mentioned above, it is a great medium to use for potting up plants.

Trees for small gardens

Deciding what small tree to squeeze into a modern pint-pot garden can be a real problem. A look at a tree nursery list will have you salivating but if space is challenged, stop right there. Drool away by all means but do not buy anything on impulse.

Never ever buy a tree without paying close attention to the final size that your specimen will reach. Many are parkland trees.

My next door neighbours have a garden 40 metres long and in to it are packed the following: two eucalyptus, one Norway sycamore and a liquidambar. All will make over 20 metres in height. Expensive work for the tree surgeon will ensue and the house itself might suffer from roots questing for water and stability. So what should you grow?

Trees for small gardens

Salix viminalis – the common willow

An elegant solution is the common willow Salix viminalis. With an annual haircut you can keep it to the size you want. Willows put on good growth in one season and new stems are rich and vivid in colour. Give the plant an annual short back and sides and you will have the perfect mini-tree that will not outgrow allotted space.

Trees for small gardens

Give willow a good yearly haircut

An excellent way to treat your willow is to establish three main stems and to cut them back to about a metre and a half. This gives the extra height. The beauty of three stems is that you can rotate your hard hairdo – two one year and the third the following. That way you will always have a framework of branches to look at.

Trees for small gardens

A great tree for small gardens

There is a large selection of willows to choose from – go with the branch colours you like best. There are oranges, blacks, yellow. Their silvery leaves are pretty good too and look graceful all summer long.

Click here to read my blog – Catharine Howard’s Garden Blog

 

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