FIVE SWEETPEAS AND A CUCUMBER
Like a fine wine I don’t travel well so I have only ventured abroad twice in 20 years (that’s if you don’t count Jersey). However a promise is a promise: We have just returned from a visit to Cyprus, home of my oldest friend Naomi, to celebrate her 60th birthday. (I bet she’ll thank me for that announcement!). I had forgotten how exotic the Mediterranean was. Oh the flowers! So the British have their privet and box hedges, but the Cypriots have oleander, lantana and hibiscus hedges! Cannas growing like weeds at the road side, ipomoea scrambling through wire mesh fences, callistemon in flower now. Little gems (well not literally lettuces but nothing would surprise me) like gentians and eryngium, nestling in shingle on beaches and rock faces. Banana plantations! Cactus flowers 20ft tall! Whether it’s the British ex-pat community over there or just brute adaptability, the roses were magnificent: I have to say though that the species roses growing wild amongst other indigenous shrubs looked more comfortable than the cultivated ones, somehow incongruous, in domestic gardens. And green lawns, hmmm, a sure sign of British ownership methinks.
As well as being in flora heaven, the fauna was highly entertaining too. Opportunist sparrows, more like our robins, silently prospecting our alfresco dining – unnerving if you are not a fan of Hitchcock’s The Birds – quick as a flash, dive bombing for French Fries in formation, the final flourish provided by a hooded crow who swooped down and carried off half of an 8” seeded baguette complete with cream cheese topping. (I wonder if foreign tourists find seagulls quite so entertaining in Southend when they steal your chips; come to think of it, do foreign tourists go to Southend?) As in so many other Mediterranean resorts, the feral cat population is alive and well thank you. By and large they are in good condition due to trapping and neutering programs established by the numerous cat sanctuaries on Cyprus. At Naomi’s apartment complex, her Russian neighbour regularly feeds the resident feral community and it was highly entertaining to see them gathering around at dawn and dusk, staring intently up at her balcony willing her to hurry up with the grub. (Evidently there are Mad Cat Women the world over.) Like a scene out of West Side Story they roamed around in their gangs, lazing arrogantly around the pool in the sunshine, occasionally brushing up against rival factions. Clearly not starving, they barely lifted their heads to register the swifts that were dive bombing the surface of the water for insects.
However, here we are again in East Finchley. One week since our return and I find myself reflecting upon the joys of travel. Although I appear to be well on the way to conquering yet another phobia, this time flying, I don’t think that I shall be making a habit of it. Holidays are all very well but I won’t be leaving the garden to its own devises again any time soon! Oh the stress of it! Should I leave the irrigation system running or switch it off? Will I return to scorched earth or sodden borders? Two days prior to departure I decided it was prudent to relocate the dozen or so trays of seedlings and annuals from the greenhouse to our spare room. With temperatures so unpredictable and access so hazardous (plants-for-sale, hastily moved into the shade, were blocking the path to the back of the garden) at least this way friend Anne could keep an eye on them when she fed the cats.
After only five days away (trip dates had to work around our local Plant Heritage sale, never mind Naomi’s birthday) the garden had gone berserk! How do other gardeners manage to go away for a fortnight? Having loaded up the washing machine for the ninetieth time in 12 hours (slight exaggeration, but still, yet another reason not to go on holiday) I could at last concentrate on the garden. Once the nursery trays had been returned to the greenhouse (thanks Anne, what’s your secret, they have doubled in size!) and the plants-for-sale had been revived, it was time to plant up the T&M tomatoes, Garnet, Mountain Magic & Indigo Cherry Drops, into their final positions, then turn my attention to the patio.
With the assorted T&M jonquils finally over, I turfed them out of their pots, foliage and all, ready for replanting on the allotment. Not known for my patience or adherence to the six week rule, out came the rest of the spent bulb leaves from the permanent planting schemes. I’ll take my chances! You may remember my concerns regarding my two towering abutilons, well readers, they are well deadski, as my friend Laurie from the Bronx used to say! Quel dommage! ………..And five minutes later I muse that golden hop might look striking combined with blue ipomoea and black eyed Susan. There’s no sentiment in war, or gardening it seems.
So anyway, with Spring Phase One out of the way, next weekend is Hanging Basket and Container Display time. Yippee! Having successfully overwintered several cannas on the patio for the first time, I planted out some additional divisions in April. Hostas and heucheras, suspended in hanging baskets out of harm’s way, are slug (and Fred the cat) free. The piece de resistance will be T&M Begonia Non-Stop Mocca Bright Orange, Begonia Glowing Embers, Petunia Mini Rosebud Peachy combined with coleus Campfire & black and lime green ipomoeas. I love creating the patio displays, and whilst I was reminded by fellow blogger Julie Quinn that gardening is about the process not the finished result (more of that later), summer bedding schemes are like stage sets with a definite beginning and end.
Talking of Julie Quinn, isn’t it a small world. There she is, gardening away no more than 2 miles down the road from me, attending all the same local plant sales, with friends and acquaintances in common, loves cats and has medical connections. Julie made me very welcome for afternoon tea at her house where we shared horticultural experiences, knowledge and opinions in her beautiful paved garden. Thank you Julie, it was a pleasure to meet you and I look forward to seeing you again soon.
Last Saturday we held our Hort. Soc. plant sale in the Hampstead Garden Suburb. My spy tells me that, whilst queuing to get in, visitors were enthusing about this annual event as one of the highlights of the neighbourhood social whirl, not to be missed. I love selling – once a retailer always a retailer; shoppers still stop me in department stores and ask me where the loo is – so I was in my element amongst the trailing lobelia and petunias, “All plants on sale for £1.40 each.” I have however lost the art of adding up in my head and so hastily produced a crib sheet of £1.40 times table. There was a huge selection of veg and salad plugs and of course I couldn’t resist some extras for the greenhouse and allotment. Having guarded my purchases throughout the morning (funny how seemingly civilized locals can turn into marauding rabble when there’s a bargain to be had) I took my eye off the ball, for one minute I tell you, and they were gone! Panic set in; the Great Clear Up had begun, car boots were searched to no avail, fellow committee members were eyeing me with caution as I interrupted conversations to enquire, “Has anyone seem my five sweet peas and a cucumber?” Indeed, ever efficient chairperson Doc Page and the team had tidied them away ready to be returned to the local nursery, so I guiltily retrieved them and beat a hasty retreat! I am happy to report that they are all now happily in situ and growing on well.
So much to do, and without our usual mid-June NGS Open Day deadline it feels strange to be just ambling along with tasks at a leisurely pace. But my new mantra, “Gardening is about the process not the finished result” ringing in my ears, I can finally allow myself to potter gently on. Yeah right, until the next disaster…..
I have taken advantage of the long weekend to get more of my potatoes in the ground. One of my favourites is Mayan Gold, lovely knobbly potatoes with yellow flesh and ideal hot or cold. My insurance is two rows of Sarpo Mira as they are blight resistant and can stay in the ground until September. I like to grow lots of potatoes as everyone likes them and they store well all through the winter.
The fruit cage is full of flower now on all the currants , blueberries and gooseberries. Luckily one of my neighbours keeps bees so they have been busy pollinating them and the apples, plums and cherries in our very small orchard. There are lots of small weeds in the fruit cage so an hour spent weeding now will save a lot of time later in the season. The chickens live in the fruit cage in the winter where they are safe from Buzzards and foxes and they do a very good job of cleaning out all the pests that live in the soil and manure the ground at the same time. At the moment they are eyeing up the asparagus ( Connover’s Colossal and Purple Pacific) so they are confined to quarters for a while.
In the conservatory the tomato plants are really growing on well and I have put in my Squash,( Harrier and Crown Prince) Courgette(Defender and Parador) and Cucumber ( Burpless, Bella and Cucino)seeds. These will be ready to go into the green house in a couple of weeks. but we are forecasted some cold weather in the next few days so I have fleece and plastic to hand to protect inside and outside.
One of the new begonias I am going to try this season is Daffadowndilly. I have five corms which are just starting to shoot and will put them into a tray to develop. My first plants – Fairy Blue Fuchsia – have arrived and are growing well in the greenhouse, hopefully it won`t be long before I can plant them out into containers and patiently wait for the beautiful blue fuchsia to appear.
At the moment I have filled one greenhouse with plants and Alan has now erected the hexagonal one to take the more advanced plants. This is one of those greenhouses that have a plastic cover and they like the extra light they get from all round, although I do put the green sunshade netting over the top when it starts to get hot.
On the front decking I have my Andre Rieu pink/purple tulips which are so straight and tall. The daffodils are extremely tall this year, unfortunately a very high wind knocked them flat and broke the stems. I picked about a dozen broken ones and put them in a vase inside and they looked really spring like. I must remember next time I buy any to check the height before buying.
My eldest son and his wife bought me a `Welcome` hanging basket stand for Mothers` Day and I filled it with polyanthus and daffodils which looked lovely by the front door and very welcoming. The Raspberry Ruby Falls which I have in a hanging basket was kept in the front porch until it started to grow and then outside just by the kitchen window. It is growing very well and is now starting to grow from the bottom making it look a lot fuller. I do cover it every evening, although I don`t think it is absolutely necessary but a couple of nights we had a frost – so better safe than sorry!
Last year my `Irristible` strawberries which originally were trial plants in 2012 and were in their fourth year produced a lot of runners – as well as plenty of delicious strawberries. I decided not to just cut them off as I have done in other years but to plant them up in another trough and over winter they have grown very well. At the present time there have been flowers on the plants and now strawberries are forming. This year I have ordered `Just Add Cream` strawberries so it will be interesting to taste the difference.
I bought Rhododendron Tinkerbird from Thompson & Morgan, when I received it it was full of very tight buds which are now turning into beautiful flowers, very pale pink/white. I can hardly believe that it is so small and yet produced these gorgeous flowers. I also purchased two pink Annabelle Hydrangeas which were dormant when I received them. I potted both up and kept them in my sunny porch for a couple of weeks until there were signs of growth. They are now around 12” high and have given one to my Daughter in Law who loves gardening.
Alan has been busy painting the fencing and also the small edging alongside the path in the back and front garden which is blue. Everywhere looks very fresh now and ready for the plants to flower. He has also helped me generally tidy everything as with three fractures in my spine I am unable to lift anything very heavy. We transplanted four roses which were in containers to the raised part of the garden alongside the fence. Thankfully because they didn`t get disturbed roots they have taken to their new home very well and are looking healthy. We also cleared out a garden box so we could move it and discovered a metal arch in its box still. Goodness knows how long it has been there but I do remember it was buy one get one free. We put it up across a corner and put my Hydrangea Saori under it with a Clematis each side that is now growing round the arch.
The fountain I bought with vouchers I won in a well known daily newspaper gardening competition, is working well, It is lovely to see the sun light catching the water, there is something satisfying about listening to water. Mr. Roadrunner has been put back next to the fountain and alongside a small Acer tree. I have two other Acers which are in full leaf and look wonderful in the sun.
Mandie – you asked if anyone had any of their trial plants from last year –I don`t have the Antirrhinum like you but I do have one of the Icing Sugar fuchsias which is growing well at the moment. I also bought some this year so it will be interesting to see the difference – if any – with one being in its second year. I have also noticed that the Fuchsia Berry I had last year is also producing many new shoots and leaves. Did you ever try the berries Mandie??
That`s about all the news for now Gardeners, enjoy the lovely weather that we are having at the moment and enjoy Easter………..also any Easter Eggs and Hot Cross Buns that come your way!!
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
February has come and gone and on the South Coast here we had a week of freezing fog which made the garden look good but certainly not the roads.
I finished ordering my plants from Thompson & Morgan, I don`t know about anyone else but I look at the order and think where will I put them all, but of course they all find a home once they arrive, usually in my case, in hanging baskets, containers and troughs. As I don`t have room for a permanent greenhouse I have a four foot one which has a plastic cover round the frame, and also a hexagonal one which holds quite a few trays. These have worked very well in the past I just have to make sure I watch the weather forecast so I can get the small plants covered with fleece in good time. When I have finished with them they can been cleaned off and put away until needed again and I have extra space on the patio for my containers, and space to put a few more hanging baskets up. I believe some of the plug plants are due during March so that will be an exciting time checking them all out.
Alan and I have moved a lot of stored items from the patio so he could pressure wash it ready for the summer, even during the rain on one day but now it looks really good. I had almost forgotten what the original colour was. Also thinking about moving four containers which have had roses in them for three years and transplanting them along a border by the fence. I hope this will be a good move and that they will be happy in their new home.
There are a couple of bedding plants from last summer that seem to have survived the winter outside, Nemesia and Cerinthe Major. I believe the latter is from seeds that have been dropped in the Autumn and the Nemesia is one that was left in a container. The frost on my Hydrangea Annabelle early one morning looked lovely but soon disappeared once the sun started to rise.
We arrived back from a close friends funeral in Somerset to find that my Incredicompost from Thompson & Morgan had been delivered. The driver had kindly stacked the bags in the porch for me instead of leaving them outside in the bad weather or worse still taking them back to the depot. My eldest Grandson thought I had over ordered until I told him that it was probably only a third of what I would need for the containers and baskets.
This year I am trying the new Ruby Falls Raspberry that can been grown in a hanging basket. It has started well having been kept it in the front porch, as it arrived during the freezing weather, where it gets plenty of light and covered each night. A couple of warm days this last week has seen some of the daffodils flower but others seem to be very slow, just waiting for a little more sun!
A footnote to my Blog re California November 2015:
I wrote about the awful drought that Southern California was going through when I visited my Sister in California with a lot of restrictions on the usage of water, 2 minute showers etc. They still didn`t get much rain last year until the end of the year when they had several storms following each other. To date they have had so much rain that the rivers and gardens cannot take any more. A dam in Orriville Northern California overflowed and 180,000 people were evacuated. All this before the snow has melted on the mountains which runs down to the rivers. Some wild ducks obviously took a liking to to the very wet garden and have been visiting my Sister`s garden every day and making themselves at home. The good news is, at least the drought is over for now!
That`s about all for this time gardeners, enjoy the start of Spring and all the new planting ready for the summer……..
At this time of year, it’s always difficult to maintain an interesting looking garden that you can be proud of, especially when you are located on the coast! In recent years, I’ve been extremely pleased with my beach garden, created back in 2012. The small plot sits at the front of my chalet bungalow, facing the sea, about a quarter of a mile away. It has to take everything the elements throw at it.
We get very strong winds blowing off the sea many times during the year! I’d always seen it playing second fiddle to the main back garden, but over the years I’ve begun to realise that it is always capable of holding its own and looks quite amazing, despite what the weather throws at it, especially when the sun sets over it.
More importantly, it is incredible how low the overall maintenance on this part of the garden is compared to the rest of my plot. Surprisingly, a professional garden photographer shot the beach garden this month as well. All my pictures here were taken mid-January, through to early February.
The Arabis ferdinandi-coburgi ‘Old Gold’ is looking really stunning by the steps up from the street, in amongst the grasses and the euonymus fortuneii Emerald Gaiety. You can see the horizon and the sea in the background. Dazzling along the front of the old weathered rowing boat, the bergenia flowers are quite striking. The boat itself, which is the centrepiece of the front beach garden, is now surrounded by plants and shrubs. There is a large sea buckthorn on the right of it that may have shed its leaves for the Winter but it’s silver grey frame still leaves its mark on the landscape.
Brimming over the edge of the dinghy you can see the amazing bright yellow flowers of the coronilla valentina glauca, which really catch your eye at this time of year, along with the pale lemon flowers of the large hellebore argentifolius. The eclectic mix of object d’art around the garden, old reclaimed anchors, rusty wheels, lobster pots and reclaimed groynes all help to maintain the character of the plot all year around, not to mention the large pieces of driftwood too.
We’ve had a lot of mist and fog hang over the garden since Christmas and it really gives an interesting, if eerie feel to the beach garden. Flowering this week by the boat are the delicate flowers of the rosemarium officianalis rosea. Not far away the elegant plumes of the Miscanthus Morning Light Maiden rise up and catch the evening sunlight perfectly.
So, if you’re looking for a relatively low maintenance garden to create yourself, maybe a beach garden is a good choice. What’s more, you don’t actually have to live by the sea. You could create your dream plot wherever you like! You can read more about the garden and when it will open for the season in 2017 at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk