I’m feeling very mellow right now. It’s Easter Monday, it’s not raining, and I have time to reflect upon the weekend. On Saturday David and I visited Kew Gardens or should I say The Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew. I’m ashamed to say that neither of us has been there since we met, so that’s nearly 30 years. I remember being underwhelmed by Kew, very flat, very open and uninspiring if trees are not your first love. (I can see you shuddering; sorry but there you are!) However, this trip proved to be much more enjoyable, primarily due to the company of our good friends Pat & Eamon, who treated me for my birthday.
On arrival we headed straight for the Kew Explorer Land Train, where we mistook a giant Moomin for The Easter Bunny, exposing us to the withering disdain of surrounding children. Then we kept joining in with the driver’s repartee, unaware that he was in fact enclosed in his vehicle so could not hear us. (Probably just as well.) The bluebell woods were pretty but I reckon our local Littlewood and Bigwood in The Hampstead Garden Suburb look better. (Yeah well, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of pride in your local environment.) Anyway, the 35 minute choo choo ride was a darn site more picturesque than the round trip of 56 stops – East Finchley to Kew Gardens – on the Tube. And I’m pleased to report that London’s tourist trade is alive and well thank you.
The Palm House was amazing, although I had to keep my hat on to stop my hair frizzing up in the humid environment. We did the whole thing, up and down, taking loads of photos: the sheer size and scale of the the thick aerial roots, the parasitic orchids and exotic flowers took my breath away. Mind you, last time I went into a tropical house like that was at The Eden Project, where I got quarter of the way in, had a panic attack and had to elbow my way out against all oncoming pedestrian traffic, leaving David wondering whether to carry on or follow suit. Needless to say I prefer the open space and calm of The Lost Gardens of Heligan. Having said that, I did once have a panic attack in the woods at Kenwood on Hampstead Heath, until David pointed out, quite stoically, that if I looked to my left I would see civilization in the form of the 210 bus travelling along Hampstead Lane. And anyway, seeing as Hampstead is home to a myriad of psychotherapists, there was sure to be plenty of help at hand. So Saturday was somewhat of a victory for me, having conquered my claustrophobia of the Tube and the Palm House.
(*NB The collective noun for psychologists is a Complex or a Couch according to my dear friend Google)
David got to do his Dr Doolittle thing again with the resident geese, who really are just ducks with attitude. (He is somewhat of a swan whisperer too but that’s for another day). But the highlight of the day for me was the Water Lily house, the surface of the pool was like glass and was like a 3D Monet painting.
Anyway, to matters on the home front now. With more time on our hands than anticipated we managed to reconstruct the living wall by the front door. Much more Sophisticated (that’s my new watch word by the way, along with Theme Park every time I see David paint another blue and white stripe on the Beach Hut). The new wall troughs are aircraft grade aluminium with high density foam sides apparently. And readers, I have filled them already, with revived heucheras, grass divisions (am feeling very noble about the recycled element) and ferns (support your local garden centre). The Three Cannas are now nine; three for the patio, three for the front garden and three for the little girl who lives down the lane. (For those of you who think I have just lost the plot, think Bah Bah Black Sheep!) Really though, three for the plant sales.
Talking of divisions, 2017 will henceforth be remembered as the year the garden went mad! I blame friend Diane who preaches the gospel according to Mulch. All plants were ticking along nicely until she convinced me to mulch my borders every spring, and see what’s happened? The plants have grown like triffids and are now threatening to take over the world. Thalictrum growing in all the cracks, filipendula popping up like Japanese Knotweed, sedge grasses swallowing neighbouring perennials whole, and persicaria! It’s colonised half of the central bed, while the other half is covered in dainty (what, hahaha!) woodruff. Mind you, Diane is threatening to have next year off from opening for the NGS just to rid her garden of invading bullies; a case of reaping what you sow if ever there was one. I feel I should label the plants-for-sale with a government health warning.
On an even more depressing front (don’t interrupt me now, I’m just getting into my stride) my two feature climbers on the patio, abutilon megapotamicum and Kentish Belle look, well, dead actually. Not a green shoot between them. This has happened before and thankfully, with some emergency resuscitation, they sprang back into life thereafter, but I’m not hopeful. Still, I fancy a golden hop and perhaps Spanish Flag……………….
I could go on and on, but my recliner is inviting me to watch The Beechgrove Garden (watch out Gardeners’ World). See you next time, love, Caroline.
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
In February, we launched April 12 as National Pumpkin Sowing Day and now that day is upon us! We hope that you’ve got your seeds at the ready – if you haven’t, there’s still time to get some – so you can get them planted and on their way.
As sponsors of the UK’s giant pumpkin growing competition each autumn at the Great Pumpkin Commonwealth’s annual event in Southampton, we decided to designate a specific National Pumpkin Sowing Day in response to the many queries that we receive around the time of the giant pumpkin weigh-in. We thought it would be a great incentive for people wanting to try their hand at growing a record-breaker or for those simply wanting to grow a modest pumpkin for carving at Halloween.
Our commercial director, Paul Hansord, who himself sows a couple of pumpkins each year, said: “We decided to set April 12th as National Pumpkin Sowing Day 2017 and encourage people to get their seeds ready to sow on this date. We’ll show them how to sow and grow their pumpkin with useful tips and informative videos and hope someone out there might grow a pumpkin to rival last year’s winner”.
The heaviest pumpkin at last year’s giant pumpkin event weighed in at 2,252.3lb and was grown by Ian and Stuart Paton who have broken the UK record an incredible 7 times. The majority of entries to the 2016 official weigh-in at the Southampton pumpkin event were grown from seeds that came from giant pumpkins grown by the Patons. Seeds from the Paton twins’ 2016 record-breaking giant pumpkin are still available from T&M if customers want to invest in some excellent giant pumpkin genes. Go to Pumpkin ‘Paton Twins Giant’ to purchase.
RHS Hyde Hall’s Matt Oliver won the award in 2016 for the largest outdoor-grown pumpkin with a seed purchased for £1,250 by Thompson & Morgan. His pumpkin weighed in at an astounding 1,333.8lb (95 stone or 605kg) and the seeds from this aptly named ‘Matt’s Monster’ can also be purchased from Thompson & Morgan. Matt had the crazy idea of hollowing out his pumpkin, along with some other giant pumpkins, and rowing them across the RHS Hyde Hall lake in November last year. Watch the Madcap Giant Pumpkin Rowing Race by clicking the image below
Giant pumpkin race
Whether you want try to grow a whopper or simply a modest-sized pumpkin to carve at Halloween, we are urging people to sow their seeds today. We’ll be posting tips and updates on social media over the coming months, so be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to keep in touch with us, as well as with other budding pumpkin growers, using #growapumpkin
Did you know? Pumpkin seeds are best sown on their sides
Our how to plant pumpkin seeds video guide can be found here
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