What’s happened to the summer sun? Honestly it’s more like autumn in Pembrokeshire! The days are usually overcast, with a fair chance of a shower. The wind makes it impossible some days to open the greenhouse doors or windows for fear of damage, and the sawflies are out in force.
On days it is actually sunny, my poor plants get caught out as temperatures soar. The other day it was too wet and wild to open the greenhouse and we had to go out. When we got back at lunchtime the weather had brightened up and inside the greenhouse was 38 degrees. Thankfully the plants didn’t suffer too much stress. There’s an old trick to getting the temperature down quickly under the glass, which is to open all doors and windows and then damp down the path with a can of water. Then the use a mister to slightly wet the foliage. Each year I think about buying shade paint, but then promptly forget to get it, so I’ve now taken to taping split orange plastic recycling bags to the outside of the greenhouse on really hot days.
This month has been particularly busy in the garden; I’ve harvested peas, beans, strawberries, red currents, raspberries and red gooseberries. These plants are low maintenance and give so much in return every garden should have them! I’ve also grown cut flowers for a vase everyday; this is often an ecclesiastical mix of perennial and annual flowers, herbs, wildflowers and foliage. I’m dahlia mad and a currently have two favourites growing. Ice and Fire from T&M and I love Life, that I bought as a sad dried out little tuber in a local shop for £1.49. My favourite wildflower at the moment is Scarlet Pimpernel – but many would class this as a weed.
The grassy knoll is starting to take shape, but there is room for more ornamental grasses as well as some herbs. Unfortunately, the slugs ate all of my Hyssops after they were put in their final growing positions, so I’ve set off more grass seeds as well as Stevia and Lavender. There are some grasses that require a cold snap before germination, and some that just need a consistent temperature, and there are many varieties that can be grown in July. Some are just sprinkled on the surface of good compost, while others need a layer of vermiculite and then sealed in a plastic bag before they start to grow. Hopefully within one to six months I should see Pony Tail, Tail Feathers, and Rainbow Phornium seedlings appear. These seeds are in the small greenhouse along with a new batch of freshly sown Liatris, Hollyhock, Cabbage, Turnip, Forget-me-not, Foxglove, Viola, and an Olive. The Turnips were eager, germinating in only forty-eight hours. Followed closely by the Stevia, Lavender and a pot of Violas. I’m looking forward to the Heartsease as it’s an old fashioned variety called Jonny Jump Up.
I’ve squeezed three extra tomato plants into the small greenhouse too. One in the border nestled between the money tree and a giant aloe. The other two are on the path in potato grow bags. I have no idea if they will be deep enough in the bags, but they seem to be flowering so fingers crossed. Another tomato is in the spent pea container outside. I’m experimenting with the theory that the Nitrogen left behind in the pea roots (which stay in the used compost) will give enough nutrients to grow a tomato plant in. It’s also only being watered by the rain. It seems to be standing without supports at the moment; I’ll let you know how it goes.
The aloes have finished flowering, the cacti has had a few babies, and the money tree is still putting on lots of new growth. The three house plants that people gave me in work are still green, but as yet there are no new flowers on them. I can’t remember what they are called, but they have strappy leaves and a flower spike comes out off the middle, similar to a flaming Katie. Hopefully the picture will help.
The big greenhouse is full to the rafters, literally! On the shelves we have spider plant in full flower, pretty little white things, but so pot bound we are will have to cut the pot for it to be replanted, I am wondering if it’s hardy enough to go outside in our sheltered bit, between the house, shed and maple tree, next to another houseplant ,(mother in laws tongue) the spider plant belonged to dad, so I don’t want to kill it, or give it away, but it’s too big for the house. Perhaps I will thin the aloes and stick it in the small greenhouse after all. There are also baby money trees in pots which I am looking for homes for. I have cuttings of Christmas cacti on the shelves too. In the left border, we have three highly prolific Sweet Aperitif tomatoes, these cherry ones, certainly live up to their name. It’s so hard not to eat them all walking back to the kitchen. Alternatively, they are absolutely delicious in a cheese, onion, and tomato toasty, sprinkled with turmeric, black pepper, basil and oregano. We also have two large Yellow Stuffer tomato plants growing there too. These are yet to change colour, they are about the size of an apple at the moment, and getting bigger. I’m surprised at how many there are; wrongly assumed that as they were bigger fruits there would be less of them. Under planting the tomatoes with Marigolds, and many rouge Amaranthus, (we have transferred half a dozen outside) has attracted many pollinators, which means more fruits for us, and absolutely no white or greenfly. We do seem to have an ant problem in both greenhouses though. (The sparrows usually sort this out for us by comically hanging off the guttering or doors and grabbing the ants midair. Occasionally the blackbird is in the foliage digging for the grubs.)
The back border is where my aubergine trial is taking place. The normal Celine ones are flowering profusely, and I have already had one tasty aubergine from an early plant. The Patio Mix are just starting to fruit. One is called Jewel Jade and is just starting to form green fruits. I’m still waiting to see if I have a white and purple stripy one come up. The right border contains a pumpkin, (another is in a container outside, another experiment.) as I couldn’t find anyone to take it. It seems to be behaving by not spreading too much, and putting up beautiful yellow flowers. Next to it are two Pepper Sweet Bonita plants, which have fruits that are slowly starting to ripen. There are plenty of new flowers coming too. I absolutely love this pepper as it’s very mild and juicy.
Next to the peppers is a Chilli Medina. I don’t like chillies but grew it for Mark. The first chilli to come off it was a dark green beast, but as I left it on the kitchen worktop for two days it turned bright red. One night making supper, Mark decided to fry some mushrooms with the chilli, I told him to try it first before adding it to the pan. I shouldn’t laugh, but it was hilarious, he went from white to red, to purple in about three seconds. He did a little jumping around on the spot before muttering something I dare not repeat! He would have drunk straight from the tap if he could have. Apparently his tongue was still burning fifteen minutes later, (even though it was de-seeded.) His lasting memory of that chilli was “an unpleasant experience, never to be repeated!). Luckily my friend Trisha’s partner is part dragon so he can easily tolerate the heat in them.
Next to the chilli, and taking up at least six feet of the greenhouse including wrapping itself around its trellis the shelf and the lead for the solar lights is the cantaloupe melon. It has at least four melons growing. I have to keep picking off the flowers, as advice from T&M and one of my mum’s friends, is to allow only a few fruits to develop, as these will be bigger and better quality. Try telling the plant that! Everyday, a new flower appears. I have to keep pinching out growing tips that are as annoying as the tomato ones. I have to untangle it from the lights, and occasionally cut off a few yellow leaves. The stems are hairy and can irritate like a tomato, but otherwise it’s easy to look after.
Oh I forgot, there’s also a purple Nicotiana between the chilli and the pepper. It’s so pretty I don’t want to dig it up and transfer it in case I accidentally kill it. Trouble is, it may decide to seed itself like the Amaranthus did, and then I will be cursing next year, when I end up with a greenhouse full of flowers instead of edibles – though surprisingly the French eat Amaranthus leaves like spinach.
Until next time.
Love Amanda xx
A first blog for Thompson & Morgan
We’ve been witnessing a bit of a quiet revolution in recent times, with more and more of us turning away from mass-produced convenience foods towards a more organic, back to nature approach, including the food we order out. It’s reached such levels that apparently some folks are even blaming Millennials for their lack of savings on an over-fondness for artisan brunches of avocado toast (no, really). I personally love an avocado, so I’m not judging.
Yet despite this, research suggests that children in the UK are disconnected from the environment, and the food on their plates…cue much hand-wringing and rose-tinted nostalgia for the olden days.
Well I say let’s not blame anyone young or old for not knowing the provenance of their food, or even when it is meant to be ‘in season’. Lots of us live urban, busy lives with little access to an outdoors space for growing things after all.
I don’t mind admitting that growing up in 1980’s suburban Birmingham, I had no idea food even had a ‘season’; it just came from the supermarket, right? At school, Harvest Festival hampers wouldn’t be groaning with fresh produce, but rather clanking with tinned peas and pineapple. Canned macaroni cheese, anyone?
Nobody likes a moaner though, do they? So what can we do about it?
Get Digging – grab the kids and get outside this summer.
Got a tiny space or just pushed for time?
- Containers are your friend. Window or balcony boxes can be filled with herbs, salad veg, or even things like kale and dwarf beans. Chuck in some seeds and eat your own produce just several weeks later. That’s practically instant gratification.
- Oh, if the packet tells you to thin out, it’s best off doing so. Look at this from my own garden. Tiny, crowded, unhappy beetroot (still eating it though)
Got a slightly bigger space?
- Planting a fruit tree is such a good thing. The Victoria plum in the back garden, after several years of sluggish output, has this year excelled itself. So much so, we’re making a homemade crumble with it this weekend. What’s not to love?
Before, I’d always associated plums with being a purely autumnal fruit but it turns out they belong in summer too. That delights me, and brings us neatly back to the theme of this blog, namely learning to reconnect with our food and understand its space in the growing year.
encouraging children to grow in the garden
In these blogs I’ll be writing about what’s going on in the garden, what’s doing well and what really isn’t. As an enthusiastic novice with a standard new-build sized garden, I like to pick up tips from been-there-done-that family members, oh and the internet of course (don’t we all?) Hoping you can join me along the way.
I’m interested, though. Do you grow your own, and if so what? Comment here and share it with the group. See you next time!
Does any flower smell more enchanting than the sweet pea?
An old fashioned rose, a tropical tiare, a heady jasmine, an undiscovered sticky frilly thing growing in a rainforest, I’m sure there are many. But I am quite certain that no other flower offers a more abundant fragrant experience that is guaranteed to fill your home with whiffy joy for the whole summer season.
I am led by my nose.
As a fragrance writer, my passion for scent translates readily to my garden. My plot is tiny, a ‘typically Yorkshire’ humble patch that fronts my equally tiny Victorian home. I have to be selective about what goes in there. If it isn’t fragrant it has to be exceptionally pretty to be squeezed in.
This year, I decided to make the most of vertical space by growing varieties of sweet peas that are noted for their spectacular scent. I trialled 3 varieties of Thompson & Morgan seeds and an unknown variety leftover from last year (I did know at some point but my memory has made space for new things!). They are; ‘Promise’, ‘Juliet’ and ‘Fragrantissima’.
My favourite of the 3 varieties was Promise.
Promise nearly did not live up to it’s promise. The first seeds were sown in a South facing unheated windowsill propagator in March. Nothing happened. Despite my cat frequently sitting atop the lid in the manner of a hen hatching eggs, the soil remained shoot free.
Promise was given a second chance outdoors in my make-shift mini greenhouse in early April. April Promise germinated at a rapid rate and produced several healthy plants. I pinched out the tips after a few pairs of leaves had set and left them to fatten up. What then fattened up was some rampant slugs that devoured the young plants leaving only meagre remains.
The meagre remains were transplanted to a high container well away from the vile slimers with a few fresh seeds popped in for good luck. Though it took almost 3 months to get there, I now have a pot full of intensely scented flowers in vibrant shades of pink from shocking fuchsia to pale strawberry ice cream. The fragrance is stunning, with a sweet sugared almond quality topping what we know as ‘the smell of sweet peas’. The long stems make choosing a vase easy and they sit well amongst other cottage garden plants such as Godetia and Cornflowers.
The easiest variety to grow was Juliet. I sowed seeds on both the windowsill and outdoors in their growing spot. The young seedlings all thrived, again pinched out but this these little plants somehow avoided slug carnage. Just 4 plants have made a 5 foot wall of scent with a bushy vigorous habit. They are positively bionic. The longest of the stems I gathered today was a massive 12 inches making them ideal for the show bench were I brave enough to engage in competitive gardening. The powerful scent lasts for at least a day longer than the other varieties when cut for the vase, however I’m not sure that I like it as much as Promise. Whilst it is definitely a sweet pea fragrance, there is a hint of green sappiness and an odd musky quality that makes it feel slightly ‘feral’. The cream coloured flowers do however make for beautiful arrangements, complimenting showier companions.
Fragrantissima was sown rather late directly in my friend’s allotment. It hasn’t flowered yet but it’s covered in buds and ready to pop at any moment. It appears to be trying to mate with its bountiful courgette neighbour.
The unknowns turned out to be what we think of as a traditional Spencer type mix, with blooms in a variety of colours on relatively short stems. It smells exactly as you’d imagine it to smell and has seduced the Postman who I I caught with his nose in a bloom halfway up the garden path.
This autumn I will early sow Promise once more, perhaps surrounded by eggshells, beer traps, copper rings and a bloke hired from a security company on night watch. I’ll also be growing ‘Heirloom Mixed’ and ‘High Scent’ which both promise to be delightfully fragrant.
I’d love to hear what are you fragrant favourites this year.
………….I actually found out later that it was a Sugar Glider from Australia. Whilst walking away from a garden centre to the car I saw something on the trunk of one of the Yucca trees that was in a planter just outside the entrance. As we got closer it looked like a baby squirrel but then it took off and jumped about 10 metres on to a wall covered in ivy. We watched it for a few minutes it then disappeared. On checking Google found that the Sugar Glider is sometimes bought in this country as a pet but because they are very difficult to keep, they are then let loose. I hope it survived all the rain we had had lately, I am just grateful that Alan was with me and also saw it otherwise I might have thought I was seeing things.
I am trying to catch up with my Blog after a hectic few weeks, my right hand man (Husband Alan) has not been able to help much with the lifting etc. in the garden as the lens that was put in 12 years ago after a cataract operation slipped to the bottom of his eye and he cannot see above half way. A new cataract operation was scheduled for 13th July which was cancelled and the new date is 2nd August. All this time he is unable to drive, so we have had to rely on neighbours, friends and family for getting to supermarkets etc.
Passion or Obsession……………I love Begonia Apricot Shades amongst many other. This year I have planted over 200 garden ready plants of Apricot Shades, mainly in hanging baskets, window box and tubs. I was asked if I was obsessed with them, I hadn`t really thought about it like that – but maybe I am. I am always thrilled when they are all flowering, especially if I catch the early sun shining on them. I had a head count and found I had a triple basket (12” 14” 16”) joined together by a chain that my husband made for me, three baskets on one fence and two half baskets on the other fence, with a 2 further hanging baskets, a window box as well and the remaining plants amongst several of my containers. Two half barrel containers which, at the moment, are overflowing with flowers.
My other passion is Fuchsias, I bought some Fuchsia `Icing Sugar ` which I trialled last year and they were very successful. Another favourite fuchsia is called `Wendy`s Beauty` a pretty mauve and white large flower, my Sister`s name is Wendy so I grow them for her as she lives in California. This year I bought some Giant Flowered Fuchsias from Thompson & Morgan and they certainly grow like their name. For something different this year I am growing a climbing fuchsia called `Swingtime` in one of Thompson and Morgan Tower Pots; they have now reached the top of the trellis and flowering profusely.
Having decided to grow petunias again this year after a couple of years that were not too successful, I am now thinking that maybe I should have decided on something else. We have had such awful winds and rain that a couple of containers were completely destroyed one night, yet I discovered that the Night Sky petunias and the Queen of Hearts petunias stood up to a lot more rain before they too shredded. Also in future I think I will grow smaller petunias and not the big ones although I really like them.
Hope you are all enjoying your gardens this summer, don`t forget the sun cream and hat, so until the next time……..Happy Gardening.
GAPS KEEP APPEARING
I feel sorry for David, I really do! He can’t help getting nervous when every time I go into the garden I dig up any plant that displeases me, seemingly on a whim. He reckons if he stands still too long I‘ll get rid of him an’all! I felt so vindicated when, a couple of weeks ago, Monty said that in his opinion it was perfectly acceptable to get rid of a plant if you had “gawn awf” it. Sell it for charity, give it away to friends, compost it, but replace it with something you love. I suppose I have always felt guilty about doing that, as if somehow I had a duty of care to those plants which have fallen out of favour, disloyal in a way. Not so anymore! I have been whipping them out with obscene abandon and thus have ended up with immense new planting possibilities.
Well, obviously (you know me, he who hesitates is lost) by the time you read this those gaps will have been filled, so let me tell you about the provenance of some new additions to the borders:
In early July David and I went on our annual pilgrimage aka The Hampstead Garden Suburb Horticultural Society coach holiday. Based in Kings Lynn for three days, we visited Easton Walled Garden (compost bins spotted on Google Earth) on the way up, Henstead Exotic Garden in Beccles and Bishop’s House Gardens (Diocese of Norwich) to the East, and Cathy Brown’s Garden and the late lamented Geoff Hamilton’s Barnsdale on the way back. Plants to the right of me, plants to the left!
You could be forgiven for thinking you were in the midst of the Burmese jungle at Henstead Exotic Garden, that is until you reached the wire boundary overlooking the neighbouring housing estate. Point of Interest: Compost toilet Throne Room. Souvenirs of visit: Papyrus, Aeonium Schwarzkopf and miniature gunnera magellanica. Amazing host, worth a visit to meet him alone.
Barnsdale. Well, what a walk down Memory Lane! The Gentleman’s Cottage Garden, the Artisan’s Cottage Garden, and as soon as we entered the Paradise Country Garden my head was full of the haunting TV series sound track. I am a sucker for a celebrity so our visit to their nursery (Paradise indeed) was all the more special because of the presence of Nick Hamilton, who even identified a plant for me. Talk about Plant Lust though: Revered (and oft feared for her unlimited knowledge of Latin plant names, most notably vernonia crinita) group leader Diane was on the hunt for a potentilla Gibson’s Scarlet. Oh the dilemma when she found it! I can’t have those flower stems flopping over my edges, but she did succumb in the end. My folly? Moisture loving astilbes Lollipop and chinensis Vision for the driest part of my garden. Solution? Plant them by the irrigation hose. Sorted!
So, (I do so hate this current trend of opening a sentence with So, don’t you) before The Trip there was the small matter of the NGS Hampstead Garden Suburb Horticultural Society Group Gardens Open Day June 25th. What a dream! The sun shone, we welcomed 435 visitors, served 240 helpings of tea and cake, sold over 400 raffle tickets and raised nearly £700 on locally propagated plants and produce alone. Grand Total Donation to NGS £5585.76 (one wonders how the 76p crept in). How about that then, eh! Fab-u-lous!
This week? Well, this coming Sunday 30th July David & I are having our NGS Open Day. The thrice daily visit to the Met Office website for weather forecast updates is in full swing. Not looking great I have to say at the moment. (I have been known to log out then straight back in to the website just in case it’s been updated.) But after so much recent horticultural activity I am feeling quite Zen about the whole thing this time around. Seeing as the garden had to be Band Box perfect last Sunday for the judging of the London Gardens Society competition, it’s been coasting along nicely since then. Yesterday I filled my last remaining gap (yeah right, I can see me not planting another thing until next year.) A rigorous regime of dead heading along with a favorable balance of rain and shine (and several doses of Tomato feed, Mother Nature shan’t take all the credit) has brought the late summer flowers out right on cue. That is, apart from the T&M tree lilies, which of course have gone over! Now comes the real preparation for Open Garden Day: Cakes. New recipe from Cathy Brown’s garden (You will be served tea at 3.55pm precisely) Orange and Almond cake Gluten and Dairy Free amongst other old favourites. Pricing up plants-for-sale, distributing signage, organizing Float money, buying paper plates, plastic cutlery etcetera etcetera etcetera.
Hoovering the paths and patio can wait until Sunday morning. Wish us luck, hope to see some of you in our garden on Sunday, come rain or shine, as the saying goes………
- Watering Can – there is something satisfying about watering plants from a watering can. My favourite is an old fashioned aluminium one with a long spout. Ideally the water should be sourced from a water butt in order to recycle the rain, but obviously that’s not always possible. As far as I know new plants should always be well watered when first planted
- Secateurs – the tool I use most in the garden. Cutting back, dead-heading, opening bags of compost. I’ve got a cheap plastic handled one which is fine for now. Don’t leave them out in the rain though…..
- Gloves – brambles hurt whether you have gloves on or not, but they’ll save you from the smaller scratches and scrapes. I also find them invaluable when digging as they stop the blisters which can be a real pain. I tend to buy cheap ones regularly as I either rip them or lose them – for some reason I have several singles of the right hand which aren’t much use. In my limited experience the more expensive gloves don’t wear any better.
- Fork – me and forks generally don’t get on. I must have broken 3 so far – 2 on the shaft and one now has 2 prongs (the pointy bit) rather than 4. I now have a stainless steel and timber one which was a bit more expensive that the plastic ones and is still in one piece
- Spade – again stainless is best as it won’t rust. In an ideal world spades and forks should be washed and dried after each days use. However, its not an ideal world.
- Trowel – this is a garden trowel rather than a builders trowel which is completely different. To be fair I have planted using a builders trowel but I was desperate. I have a cheap plastic handled item which is ok. You don’t put much force through them so they’ll rust before they break. Unless you clean and dry them of course.
- Trowel Fork – its the size of the trowel but has prongs like a fork. Really useful if you need to break up some soil before digging a hole with the trowel. Same rules apply
- Trug – very useful for filling with cuttings / weeds. Different sizes are available and the first thing to go will be the handle – eventually the sunshine turns the plastic brittle so they snap. They’re a bit more structured than a bag so you can just throw weeds into them without missing and clearing up the ensuing mess.
- Hoe – these are good for light weeding if the weed roots are at the surface of the soil. And using them is a lot less back breaking then pulling them up by hand. Simply work over the surface of the soil, pile up the weeds and then throw them in the trugg.
- Wheelbarrow – now I have one of those romantic notions about using a wooden wheelbarrow to cart the new plants around in, but it’s never going to happen. My advice would be to have a plastic container bit and metal chassis, which now seem so be all the rage. It will rot after about ten years unless you keep it indoors, and few of us have enough space for that !
Health and Safety – recently I have become more aware of the importance of H&S when working in the outdoors so please assess the area that you are going to be working in and the tools that you are using. Then imagine with worst thing that could happen and try and mitigate that risk. At the end of the day its not worth doing something that is going to cause injury or worse that means that you won’t be back in the garden for a while