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
This may seem random, but I was lying in bed last night unable to sleep, thinking about what type of gardener am I. Inexperienced? Maybe. Enthusiastic? Definitely! Probably a bit messy or as I prefer to say wildlife friendly. Do I follow specific gardening rules? Not always. Don’t get me wrong I do follow the rules with the germination and cultivation of plants, but when it cones to design or style ideas, I can’t stand to be told that I should group things in threes or fives, or I should limit my colour palette to on-trend shades or only grow seven kinds of plants in the whole garden.
So what type of gardener am I?
I love cottage gardens, with its vibrant mixture of fruits, veg and flowers growing in the same beds, but then I also love a minimalist coastal garden. I watch Chelsea each year and think ooh I like that garden, but if I tried to emulate it, I know after a while I would get bored of its not really practical landscaping or limited coloured design. And why was I thinking of gardening n the middle of the night? Because I had just finished reading a fictional book about a childlike lady hoarder and the chaos that surrounds her and her family from her lack of ability to throw anything away. And that’s when it hit me I’m a hoarder in garden terms. Just like the main character of the book I can’t seem to throw anything away. I can prove this not only by the number of ornaments, pots, baskets and seating I have cluttering up the garden, two sheds and two greenhouses, but also by the plants and who they came from, or specifically, whose garden they came from.
Take for example our Rose Garden, there are species in there as old, if not older than me, they came from Mark’s grandparents’ garden. We inherited them when Marks parents dug them up for a second time when they themselves moved to a smaller place. My other Roses are Valentines gifts from Mark, or presents from my family and friends.
Apart from the Roses from Mark’s grandparents we also have their Peony. From my paternal grandmother we have the Periwinkle and Aloe Vera’s . From Mark’s parents we got the Rosemary, the Elephant Ears, The Lambs Ears, the Honesty the Aquilegia , the Lavender, the Cotton Lavender, the Mint, Azaleas, Hydrangea, Sedums, Pinks, Mums, Margarita Daisies and some Fuchsia. We have Poppies from Percy next door, and Honeysuckle, from a lady down the road. We have a beautiful Maple that Mark’s son bought us the year he left home to join the army. The Weeping Cherry has been here since Easter 2003, a gift from mum six months after we moved in. A standard cherry that Mark gave me for Valentines the year Woolies closed down. Last of the romantics he said it was going cheap. Grape Hyacinths, daffodils and Crocosmias from people I worked with over ten years ago. An Aspidistra from someone who moved away from the area and the plant grew too big for the house. That is just some of the many many living things we have been given that grows in the garden.
Sadly , like the character in the book, I may have attached feelings to inanimate objects, and it’s quite ridiculous to think that I will forget the person, or place in time if I throw the dang thing out. For instance here is a picture of a pot of winter bulbs and sedums sitting on an old stool. This stool is from my childhood home. We had a set of five one each for mum, dad, my two brothers and me I have no idea when or how I even took it from my old home to this one, as I lived in a one bedroomed bungalow before i moved to my current place and I don’t remember owning it for the first five years after moving. And why would I only have one stool – if mum gave it to me after I moved to my new place, I would have been with Mark then so surely two stools would have been more appropriate? I don’t think I’ve even sat on the stool inside, it’s always been in the garden holding a plant pot. Why have I got this stool? It’s that weathered you couldn’t sit on it now – It would crack in two. And if you think that’s bad, the next picture shows a lovely 1970’s plastic plant pot. It belonged my maternal grandmother, the only thing I took from her garden when she died and I was thirteen. In the greenhouse I have a 1980’s kettle another relic from my childhood, it was supposed to go into the charity box when we emptied dads house, but it somehow need up in mine. I also spot my dads colander which I was going to grow strawberries in. His ancient rescued plough sits on our
front drive, along with yet more ceramic pots.
And that’s not all, unfortunately our garden is peppered with objects from people who are no longer alive. Like my favourite garden bench, it belonged to my good friends, who were, incidentally, Mark’s ex in-laws. My set of four square planters from my neighbour who passed away the same time as my dad. Dad’s collection of garden ornaments, the owl, the badger, a duck, a toad, and a sad collection of gnomes mingle with my three cement dogs and a penguin. I don’t like gnomes, but I still keep them. Like Tessa’s plastic ball. The ball has a hole in it that treats used to fall out of when it was rolled across the lawn. Tessa was my beautiful, clumsy collie who died years ago, yet her ball sits near the compost bins as if awaiting her return. The ball never got thrown out because visiting dogs (and their owners) would play with it, and now it seems to be home to a colony of snails and woodlice. I really should throw out this ball. I should also bury Tess, her ashes are still in her tiny casket in the back of my wardrobe.
Yes, I’m certainly a garden hoarder and I believe it’s about time I addressed this issue. I have absolutely no intention of getting rid of anything living, unless it becomes diseased or dies, but I’m sure I don’t need all of the plastic pots or baskets that are knocking around. At the last count I had four bin bags stuffed with them in the sheds. The bigger containers are stacked outside the shed. There are plastic propagators with missing or broken lids just screaming to be chucked. I don’t need to keep all of the broken bits of terracotta for drainage. I’m sure that bubble wrap is useful for insulating plants, but everything in my garden is hardy anyway. Do I really need dads colander? Seriously? And the kettle? So its most obvious I need to have a spring clean. The only problem is what if I throw away something that could have been useful? I can’t bear to think of myself as hoarder, as I am not like this indoors (although I do have a collection of stuffed pandas and an attic full of childhood memories and probably too many cookery books in storage boxes under the bed,) but if I can make a start in the garden, then it will give me the impetus to clean out the attic and the boxes under the bed. So instead of being labelled as a hoarder I suppose I could think of myself as The Sentimental Gardener.
Until next time,
Love Amanda xx
Taking advantage of the dry weather this week to empty and turn my compost heaps. Always a satisfying job.
One now vacant for this year, one cooking and one cooked ready for the autumn.
Our resident slow-worms have emerged and are basking in the sun against the fence, they produce live young which will be happy in the warm compost heap where they will not now be disturbed for the whole of the summer.
The onions Red Barron and Golden Ball are in now, nothing much to do now with those except keep weed free and watered. Thinking of putting in the first early peas thus week as the ground has warmed up quite a bit. I will start them in old gutters covered with cloches to keep the mice out.
Last year every runner bean seed was carefully removed from the gutter over night, I imagined an enormous mouse in the garden, but found the stash later behind a pile of old pots at the back of the greenhouse. Lesson learned.
The flowers beds are now coming to life as the hardy perennials green up and the spring flowers put on a wonderful show. The trees and shrubs are leafing up with that wonderful lime green that you only get in spring. The buds are beginning to open on the tree peony, more buds than ever this year it just gets better and better as it establishes(its been there now for 5 years).
Hope you are all well and making progress in your gardens. I recently remembered an old saying that goes “A dry March and a wet May, fills barns and bays with corn and hay. I don’t know if it’s true but we seem to have a lot of corn sprouting up under our bird feeding station thanks to the House Sparrows throwing it out of the feeders. Usually the Collard Doves or the Wood Pigeons eat it, but they have missed some of the grains.
The garden is in bloom with Crocuses, Hyacinths, Grape Hyacinths, Tulips and Cherry Blossom on the trees. Mark has planted my 40 mixed Gladioli bulbs as well as the flowering shrubs, and two bags of potatoes. The rhubarb has started to sprout. He has also split a big pot of Black Mondo Grass into 4 pieces and dug them into what will be our new grassy knoll area. We took our ancient petrol mower out of the shed so we could service it, only to find after nearly fifteen years of use it has finally given up the ghost. Mark did try to fix it – as he has so many other times, but in this instance it was beyond repair, so we set out to the shops to buy a replacement, taking the old one to the recycling centre after breaking it up into piles of plastic and metal bits. The new petrol mower looks like Bumblebee from the film Transformers, it’s yellow and black and insect-looking, and I half expect it to morph into something else. It was on the sale so fingers crossed we have a bargain. I just hope it doesn’t sound too much like a mad wasp when the grass is cut next week.
Mark has been taking good care of the greenhouses for me, as up until the end of last week I hadn’t been able to get into them. I had a huge smile on my face when I finally got into them for the first time since last September when my chemo started. During that time I would stand outside the glass and ask mum or Mark to pick, cut, water or plant things for me. I only had a two week break before my chemo ended and my operation took place in early February, so I didn’t do as much sowing as I would have liked to, so I feel like I’m trying to catch up. Usually I would have sunflowers and sweetpeas germinating, but hopefully I will make progress soon.
My mobility is still not good enough to get me up the steps to the greenhouses so I have to go the long way around. It’s like an obstacle course, out of the back door down the path, into the front garden, across the grass then through the hedge tunnel and along what will be the grassy knoll and into back garden. Meanwhile I’m holding onto Mark and using a walking stick for balance – but I’m getting stronger so it won’t be long before I can get up the steps.
Anyway enough about my health, when I got into the mall greenhouse I was pleased to find that 4 Sweet Bonita Peppers have germinated and so have 9 tree seedlings. As yet there is no sign of the Bullhorn Peppers, Chilli Prairie Fire, or the Alderman Peas. But I do have a good pot of Mint plants that need pricking out and I found a Begonia Tuber sprouting that needs to be potted up. The Aloe Vera’s look like they are on steroids, and I’m wondering how long it’s going to be before they outgrow their space. The Money Tree looks so much healthier than last month.
In the large greenhouse I have a slightly neglected Spider plant that has luckily survived being forgotten about and only just watered, since who knows when, and some indoor hyacinths. I also found the Stephanotis plant that I had Christmas time. Unfortunately it didn’t like our house and the flowers fell off and the leaves turned yellow. It’s starting to recover now. Our bags of potatoes are also in there, and also a bunch of parsley plants. I think the parsley got into the borders accidentally when I thought I had lost all my seeds last May and I chucked the pots of dried out compost onto the tomato plants. The seeds must have lay dormant until the conditions were right. I’ve never had parsley grow really big in March before.
As it was a really warm Spring day today (23/03/17), I decided a trip to our local garden centre was in order, as I wanted to crack on and plant my tomato Yellow Stuffer and Sweet Aperitif seeds but I hadn’t any compost left. So off we went to buy a few bags, I also bought a packet of aubergine seeds as my trial seeds haven’t arrived yet – although I was shocked at the price – there times as much as T&M seeds. As I’m still not allowed to do strenuous activities, poor Mark had to sieve the compost while I spoke to mum on the phone. I also made him wash some plastic growing pots. I was determined to do some actual gardening myself though, so Mark put my potting tray onto my storage box seat just outside the greenhouse in the sun so I could plant my seeds in three inch pots. I then used different coloured lolly sticks to label each seed variety and gently watered them. I also rearranged the shelves although it’s still too untidy for me, as last year I let things slide, including stacking things neatly.
Whilst I was sowing my seeds Mark weeded around the blueberry and pink blueberry bushes and gave them an ericcasious feed, he dug the beds over in the large greenhouse, fertilised the soil, and then erected the cane, wire and string supports ready for the tomatoes in May. Too many times we have been caught out and the support frames have not ready in time and it’s a mad rush to do them.
Other things we have done over the last month was cutting the Autumn Fruiting Raspberries down to ground level. They have already put out new growth. Removing the flower spikes from the pampas grass and leaving them near the hedge for a few days to allow insects to escape, before putting them into the compost bin, and direct sowing a free packet of wildlife seeds from Grow Wild in the wildlife border. Talking of wildlife, the Blackbirds are feasting on the last of the Ivy berries, the Magpies are nesting in the tree that overlooks our garden, and the Sparrows are doing their best to chase them off. We have earlyBees on the flowers, Ladybirds in the leaves of the Knifophias and a Green Shield bug walking on the grass outside the greenhouse looking as if he is inspecting the glass for cleanliness. Soon the Blue Tits will be chasing each other in the cherry tree blossoms and I really hope I can be quick with my camera and capture their antics.
My brother still hasn’t built his greenhouse, but he has got herbs and potatoes growing in pots. Mum still hasn’t decided on her front garden renovation design, but she has decided to buy herself a small polythene greenhouse that can be taken down after the summer. The weather here promises to be nice over the weekend, (although we may be in for a few frosty nights), and into early next week so I plan to get on with more sowing. I still need to grow a plethora of flowers for my charity plant sale so I’m going to start with things that germinate quickly like French Marigolds and Amaranthus and Cornflowers. I may even do some Lettuces and Basil.
Finally I want mention that the trial trailing Antirhinums (still unnamed) have survived on pure neglect over the winter, the hanging basket was left where it originally hung in the summer, and astonishingly the plants have come back. I need to tidy up the soil in the basket by pulling out the weeds and giving the poor plant some food as well as a quick prune, but I am seriously impressed. Has anyone else who trials for T&M had their Antirhinums come back?
I hope the weather is kind to you.
Until next time, Happy Gardening,
Love Amanda X
I have just potted on thirty six tomato seedlings of seven varieties. Mountain Magic for its blight resistance, Country Taste for those big tasty fruits, Sweet Aperitif and Sungold for the delicious little mouthfuls, Red Alert a bush tomato that fruits very early on the bench outside and San Marzano for the best tasting pasta sauce to see me through the year.
I also spent some time in the sunshine yesterday digging bean trenches and filling them with compost from the heap, it will have time to settle before putting in the canes. The chickens enjoyed that, pulling out a few worms, wireworms, ants and those tiny black slugs that only they seem to see.
More compost was laid on the flower beds around the herbaceous perennials and shrubs to help keep down the weeds and retain moisture. We do have very dry summers here in East Anglia and every drop of water is precious. Three IBC (Intermediate Bulk Container) tanks with a watering system attached are in the fruit and vegetable garden but the flowers have to fend for themselves so mulching is a great help. We channel all our surface water collected in water butts to a large underground storage tank and from there it can be pumped into the IBC’s throughout the season. How lucky am I to have a very practical husband!
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