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
Many people at work here at T&M know that I am an avid dancer, I’ve even encouraged a few others from my office to come along and try Ceroc (the dance I love to do) and they’ve enjoyed it too!
This got me thinking recently, as I start to plan out my garden pots for this year; why not have a section dedicated to dance, after all, if I can combine my two passions, dancing and gardening then surely I’ve got the best of both worlds?
Googling “Dancing Plants” will firstly come up with Desmondium gyrans, which is known as the “dancing plant” or “telegraph plant”. This unusual botanical wonder actually has leaves which move about in search of the best source of daylight in the morning, but will also move quite visibly when played music too! So it is a must on my list, although it’s a tender annual so will probably live with me indoors and dance along when I play my music.
So to more practical varieties that I can plant outside in my theme. Just typing in the word “dance” on the T&M website gave me some great choices. Amaryllis ‘Dancing Queen’, I’ve grown before outside in the summer, packing half a dozen bulbs into a large pot, the stems didn’t grow quite as tall as I’d have liked, but what an impressive show they were! And, as long as you keep them away from the frosts, give them a good feed and look after them, they’ll come back again, in a similar way that crinum will.
I must admit that Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum ‘Fire Dance’ has really caught my eye, early flowering , so I’ll have missed it this year, but what stunning foliage too! I think keeping it in a large pot at the back is going to provide me with the perfect backdrop for my other plants. I’ll keep a Clematis ‘Dancing Smile’ in a tower pot next to it which will sort out the height I’m going to need and I’ll still get some nice blooms from the clematis too!
I do like bright colours in my garden, which is why I think at the front of my dancing themed display I’m going to have Bidens ‘BeeDance Painted Red’ and also Trollius ‘Dancing Flame’, these will also fit in nicely with my ideas as one of the main colours in the ceroc logo is orange too, so it’s win, win! Red Hot Poker ‘Fire Dance’ is also a contender too, as the leaves will hang around all year, I’ll have to see how it copes with being in a large pot, I’m sure it’ll be fine!
There are also a couple of very nice dance based sculptures that we sell, I’m loving the “ballroom grace” one, maybe I’ll hint for it as a birthday present!
So it looks like this year – in the words of a famous TV show – I’ll “Keep Dancing”
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
In the last year, I have spent more money on gardening than anything else.
This year, I decided to do what I could on my own and research the methods to reduce cost and learn something new about gardening at the same time. It is simple really when you consider traditional gardening methods which probably involved planting what would grow by taking a good look at the soil and going by the general environmental conditions in your area. Where I live it is chalk downs and for the most part this is the soil that I have in my garden. Over time, I have learned about the soil by the types of plants that are growing there naturally. Knowing your garden very well in all aspects and especially the soil is the one thing I have discovered will save time and money.
The less you have to spend on the things you already have in the garden means you can splurge on the things you don’t have and would really like to have. For me, this would be my dream of a green house, a cold frame and a raised bed or two. The raised bed and cold frame you could probably make yourself but I will leave that for another post!
Today, I made my own seed compost. After some research, I put together this mix:
1 quarter all- purpose compost sieved
1 quarter locally sourced mole dirt ( I have no moles in my garden-yet!)
1 half well-rotted leaf mould
I put all in a large tub mixed it really well and sieved it again just to make it very fine for seeds
It turned out really well. I filled up one seed tray of Hellebore (helleborus purpurascens) and three pots of Norway Spruce (picea abies) that I got from a free seed packet.
I learned some valuable lessons: one is to take the time to go about and discover what you can forge from the countryside near you- within reason and legally. I discovered the mole dirt when I went out for a walk one day and realised there were moles everywhere. This got me thinking about the soil. I went back a few days later, filled up a bag and lugged it home to my garden. This soil is quite good since it has been sifted for the most part already by the moles themselves. Of course you have to take a good look at the soil and make a judgement as to what the structure but unless you are collecting it from an area that has been previously an allotment it is likely that the soil will be the same as what you have in your local area.
How I came to get all of these necessary ingredients is the key.
I already had some left over compost, and the mole dirt I foraged but I didn’t have any leaf mould- this is something that I need to get prepared for next year. During the summer, I made a place in the corner of my garden where I put the left over compost after sifting. During the winter, leaves had accumulated there and lo and behold without realising it I had made well – rotted leaf mould. This came as a happy realisation that I had a lot more to work with in my garden than I thought I did.
January, supposedly named after the god Janus, a two headed figure who could look to both the future and the past, the reason why we make resolutions at this time of year, to change things in our life. So it’s no surprise then, that we gardeners are very probably this month perusing seed catalogues, drawing up plans, and generally getting our kit ready for the growing year.
Ianuarius – (Latin for January) translates to a doorway – and this is where I feel I am, getting ready to step out into a new adventure. I can’t believe this will be my third year for blogging for T&M! Last year was not my best gardening year due to my cancer, but this year, I really hope to catch up and transform the garden, learn new things and have a lot of fun on the way.
The first thing I learned this year is how powerful plants can be. During my final session of chemotherapy, I decided to google what goes into the drugs that are saving my life. Cabol, was a synthetic and uninteresting drug, but Taxol, as the name suggests, is derived from the Pacific Yew tree. It also contains poisonous plant alkaloids from the periwinkle (Vinca Major) and the American wild mandrake, commonly known as the May Apple. Plus it has extracts from the Asian Happy tree a 40 meter giant that is also grown in Canada – no one would choose to ingest these, no wonder I have felt so rough!
But now with the chemo over I am no longer banned from the greenhouse, so I sit with my seed tins beside me and make a list of everything I want to grow this year. I start by picking out the fruit and veg I want, I’m going to grow both yellow and red tomatoes. Yellow Stuffer, and either Mountain Magic or Sweet Aperitif. I also pick Bullhorn and Sweet Boneta peppers as well as chilli Prairie Fire. The heritage pea Alderman is also on my list. I have asked if I can trial aubergine Listada De Gendia and some melon seeds and some Calendula. I hope I am allowed.
I will also be working on my new grassy knoll area, so I will be growing Banksia Hookeriana, and Horses Tails, as well as a variety of other grasses. When it comes to flowers, I seem to be especially attracted to all things orange this year. I am thinking of buying the Dahlia Jowey Linda, I love its pom-pom shape; I will mostly likely be growing Zinnias, Star or Veldt and Cosmos too.
My other mad plan is I want to have a charity plant sale with all of the extra plants I end up growing. I want to raise money for a local cancer support group who have been amazingly helpful in the last few months. I have no idea if I can achieve everything but I’m definitely going to give it a go.
To kick start the growing year, Mark has already sieved the compost and sown the peas, peppers and chillies. Nothing has germinated yet, but they have only been in for about ten days. The weather has been unusually mild with only one or two days of frost. Most days it’s at least 8 degrees and our lawn is growing, and will probably need a cut soon.
Apart from the germinating seeds, inside the little greenhouse I have some winter flowering shrubs that I had on special offer for £10 back in December from T&M. They are Chimonanthus praecox – ‘Wintersweet’, Viburnum x bodantense ‘Dawn’ plus Sarcococca confusa. I also took advantage of a magazine offer to claim an extra Viburnum X bodantense, fertiliser and snips for just the price of P&P, so it worked out about £4 per shrub. Bargain! The shrubs can be planted any time between now and March, Mark has already repotted them into 9cm pots as the roots are establishing quickly. Ideally the bigger the rootball the better they should settle in the garden.
I am hoping to transplant them in February, I don’t want to take the risk of frost damage or high winds just yet. Also the small flowers on the Wintersweet are making the greenhouse smell divine.
There are also the ever present Aloe Veras, some mint that needs repotting badly, and the Money tree.
In the large greenhouse we have random amaranthus seedlings growing where the aubergines were last year. I have no idea how they got there. The only thing I can think of is the seeds must have lay dormant in the soil from when we grew them at the edge of the wall before the greenhouse was built. I am leaving them grow for now and will transplant them when they are bigger. Amaranthus are really hardy, I have let them dry out completely in pots and they always bounce back. They love the heat and the longer they have in the greenhouse the bigger they become. There is also a Christmas basket containing a baby conifer and an ivy. The basket also contained Poinsettia, but it didn’t seem to live very well in our house. These plants are going to go into the garden eventually, but for now they are getting used to no longer being in the central heated warmth.
Another offer that T&M did with a magazine recently was to claim 40 free Gladioli bulbs for just £5.95. I wasn’t going to order them, but then I started reading the Margery Fish Cottage Garden Plants book, and her enthusiasm rubbed off on me, so I accidentally bought them too! Whilst I have longed for a cottage style garden, her insight showed me an obvious flaw in why I can’t really have the garden I desire. A cottage garden is usually surrounded by stone walls. Walls that will hold in the heat and protect the plants, we have a wooden picket fence along our front garden meaning that although it will filter the wind and offer some protection, it’s not ideal. Although saying that I do have success growing lupins and and foxgloves so there is hope yet.
My brother, Andrew, has recently bought a Veg Trug™ and flower pouches so he and his girls can grow strawberries and vegetables this year. He also says he going to finish building his greenhouse. (This is an ongoing saga, but at least now the base has been done.) My niece was so excited when I sent her and her sisters some seeds to try. I gave them lettuce, carrots, basil and tomatoes. Things that should germinate easily and quickly so they don’t have to wait too long for the results. It’s so good to see youngsters getting involved in gardening and making the connection between the land and the plate. Hopefully it will set them up to make healthy food choices and encourage them to be outdoors rather than inside on a computer. As well growing their own produce the girls regularly help their grandparents in the greenhouse, and me in mine when they visit.
Mum has two projects on the go, firstly she wants to grow her own tomatoes this year, but she wants to raise them from seed. So she is making a cold frame from the vegetable trays from her old fridge. I like this idea of recycling the plastic boxes, as they already have drainage holes in them and they are deep enough to hold several pots. Her other task is to redesign her tiny front garden. When I say tiny, I mean it, as you can see from the picture. She wants to keep the roses and the gravel but she says she wants a new theme. I am rubbish at designing and my gardening style is too wild for her. By that I mean I grow for nature rather than myself. I have native flowers, wild flowers and stinging nettles in borders for the butterflies. I grow sedums, hebe and ivy for the bees, honeysuckle for the ladybirds and leave the seed heads on Verbena Bonarienses for the Blue Tits. I love the dandelions, buttercups, thistles, clover and daisies that grow in our lawns which most people, including Mark, hate. In return I am rarely plagued by pests. The worst I have is earwigs in the dahlias, as looking after the insects means we have a variety of other creatures visiting our garden. We have a massive family of house sparrows, as well as a resident wren, robin and collard doves. We have a family of blackbirds and magpies, plus plenty of other feathered friends too. We have bats feeding in the summer, foxes, hedgehogs, and slow worms. Not bad for an urban garden in the industrial side of Pembrokeshire.
So there’s plenty to look forward to. Soon it will be time for my daffodils, grape hyacinth and crocuses to flower, they are budding, and there is new growth coming on last year’s trial Antirrhinums, these have stayed out all winter in a hanging basket on a west facing wall. They are yet to be named, and I didn’t see them in the catalogue, so I’m intrigued to see what other trialists make of them and if they were a success. I’m hoping to start off my sweet peas next. Then the potatoes.
Until next time.
This season I have decided to start my own cutting garden, mainly because I find I am totally incapable of cutting flowers from the garden to bring into the house. I end up buying cut flowers from the supermarket because I can’t bear to denude my own garden plants. This can prove quite costly, and, by growing my own, I could save around five pounds a week, which amounts to an annual saving of around two hundred and fifty pounds. That is one very good reason to give it a go! I have also found that I have a very limited choice of variety and colour when buying flowers in a supermarket.
Cut flower varieties are chosen by professional growers, primarily for their length of vase life and their ability to withstand the rigours of long distance travel. This limits the number which would be suitable, and thus, the degree of choice in the shops. There will never be, for instance, sweet peas for sale in the local supermarket, as their vase life is only 3 – 5 days, and they are so delicate that they would be easily damaged in transit. As my cut flowers will only have to travel up the garden path, I can choose whichever varieties take my fancy. And if they die after a few days, there will be plenty more in the cutting patch to take their place.
I can also choose varieties for a specific reason, such as fragrance, which is very important to me, so I can choose flowers for their scent alone, if I want to. I love rich, jewel – like colours, so I can select a personal colour palette of purples, reds and strong blues, as well as oranges and hot pinks, which will complement each other well in a vase. I can also select for flower type, shape, size and textures to help me to achieve my ideal arrangements. There is a great creative freedom in growing your own cut flowers, which is lost in the selection of a bunch of supermarket roses.
I have already chosen and bought my seeds – many are Thompson & Morgan annuals, but I have had to go further afield for some more unusual varieties, like Bupleurum rotundifolium ‘Griffithii’, Nicotiana ‘Lime Green’, Anchusa Capensis ‘Blue Angel’ and Melianthus Major.
Choosing was an absolute labour of love and one of my favourite jobs of the whole year! Once they arrived I drew up a sowing plan, based on the sowing information given on the packet, and my own experience from previous years. I tend to wait, for instance, to sow cosmos until light levels are good, as my early sown seedlings have often been leggy and weak. Later sowings have been much more robust.
So, the propagator is on, and … there are babies! The first seeds have germinated, so they will be moved out of the propagator onto a warm, light windowsill to grow on, leaving space for the germination of the next batch of seeds. And repeat!
It must mean that spring is just around the corner …
Hoe hoe grow