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!
The vegetable garden is looking a little sorry for itself at the moment. The last of the winter roots and leeks and brassicas are waiting to be harvested and there are a few weeds showing now. Nothing that a dry, sunny winters day cannot sort out. I have heavy clay soil so I use long planks resting on the side of the raised beds to work on to prevent compacting the soil, which has had some good productive frosts this year breaking up the clods.
The autumn planted garlic and shallots have benefited from the frosts as well and are looking good. So too are the autumn sown Aquadulce Claudia Broad beans. I always get a nice early crop which means some for us and the rest for the freezer and the ground can then be used for the spring onions, lettuces and radishes which I plant in the spaces between the old bean stalks that stay in the ground making nitrogen nodules on their roots to feed the brassicas next year.
I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of my potato tubers, egg boxes are ready for chitting on the conservatory window sill, The ground for these will be dug over after the last red cabbage and sprouts have gone.
The garden has suffered with plenty of slugs over the last couple of years so I am very diligent about cleaning up leaves weeds and old plant stems where they like to hide. Any that I do find go straight into the chicken run where they are devoured with relish! Chickens are very good re-cyclers, they love all the outside leaves from the brassicas , swede tops and fallen fruit which they instantly turn into quality manure which is added to the compost along with the nest box material and newspapers I use to line their sleeping quarters. My reward lovely fresh eggs every day to share with family and friends.
Seeds for the season have arrived so I must dust off the propagator to set the peppers and tomatoes at the end of the month. How quickly it all comes round!
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
Hello Everyone. This is my first blog for T&M and I approached them because I want to try something new and grow something edible in my vastly overcrowded cottage garden.
We live in a 1920’s terrace house in North London and have a cottage garden front and back. We feel very fortunate to have a long front garden path and a back garden big enough to eat out in.
This is how it looked in 1988 when we moved in.
And this is how it looks now.
Here is a picture of the front
And here is the back
I fell in love with this style when I saw Geoff Hamilton on TV years ago building his Paradise Garden at Barnsdale. I was hooked. My style is to cram everything I like in to the borders and pots including scented shrubs, easy perennials, simple herbs, clematis and honeysuckle, Spring bulbs and autumn colour. Some of my favourites are hardy geraniums, pulmonaria, primroses, euphorbia of all kinds, heleniums and sedums.
Ideas for this year
So now my idea is to start small and grow something I can eat. After hours of browsing I’ve decided salad crops and maybe strawberries might be the best to start with. I don’t think I get enough sun for tomatoes and as you can see I have no greenhouse or cold frame.
Two problems spring to mind. As the borders become so abundant in summer any crops in the beds would surely get smothered. Secondly I do have to contend with rats, squirrels and pigeons running around the beds and pots. I don’t have a problem with slugs as I avoid growing anything they like to eat but if I want to grow salad crops how will I manage?
I intend to get all the advice I can from T&M and elsewhere and in my next blog I shall report my progress.
Until then, lots of research and planning awaits me but it will be worth it in the end!
Hope you are all well. I’m writing this from the comfort of my living room as Storm Doris rages across the UK. Luckily there is no damage to the greenhouses but our rotary washing line has snapped in two.
In Welsh February is sometimes known as “Y Mis Bach” meaning little month or short month, so maybe it’s not a coincidence that February’s flower is the primrose, a short little thing that brings a lot of cheer. Our primroses aren’t flowering yet, but I do have Bergenia, Daffs, Crocuses the purple Daphne in flower. The Dutch Iris leaves are at least two feet high as are the flag irises. The Japanese Maple and weeping cherry tree has tiny buds forming. Last year’s tulips in pots are magically regrowing and are a few inches high already.
I’m afraid I’m behind in my seed planting, all because of Valentine’s Day, no I wasn’t treated to a romantic break at a luxury Parisian hotel. I spent it at hospital having my tumour removed as part of my final cancer treatment, now although I am allowed in the garden I’m not allowed to lift anything heavier than a cup for 4 weeks and then nothing heavier than a bag of sugar for a further 12 weeks. I’m determined my blog is not going to have to be renamed A Year Not Allowed in the Greenhouse, so again I will be recruiting Mark to do the jobs for me.
The following is a list of things to be done by the end of the month:
- Sow tomato and herb seeds.
- Plant the Gladioli bulbs that I have been delivered early.
- Send someone up the garden centre for aubergine seeds.
- Sow the seed potatoes that have chitted themselves in my food cupboard
- Plant up the Camellia my Auntie Mary gave me as a get well gift.
- Plant up my Christmas Flowering shrub collection
In the large greenhouse a clump of daffodils have shot up in one of the borders, they look very pretty but I’m not sure how the bulbs have got in there, I’m going to let them flower then when the leaves die back Mark will dig up the bulbs and plant them elsewhere in the garden. On the shelf there is a Spider plant that’s looking unhealthy I think the frosty weather got to it, however they are quite tough plants so I think if mum cuts off the dead bits it may still grow. Additionally there is an Ivy that we had for Christmas that is growing well in the basket it came in, soon it can be transplanted to our west facing wall. I love native Ivy for its scented flowers and shiny black berries, but I love it more when it’s being pollinated by bees, wasps, butterflies and hover-flies as the whole wall sounds like it’s being electrified. It’s a great place too for spiders to hunt in, and often at the base where the Ivy is at its thickest both the wren and the blackbirds dart in and out looking for tasty bugs.
In the small greenhouse I’m still waiting for my seeds to germinate, again due frosty weather and me being over keen to get things growing I may have sown them to early. The aloes are starting to respond to the longer days and do not appear to be as dark a green as they were last month. However, part of the money tree has broken off and the leaves have turned a bit yellow. We cut out all the dead bits so I’m hoping it just a phase and it will pick up again.
Soon it will be St David’s Day, (1st March) and this is usually the start of spring for me. Growing up in St David’s we would celebrate the day in the way youngsters down there still do; girls dressing in traditional Welsh Woman’s costume of a skirt, thick shawl and black bonnet, and boys with thick shorts/trousers shirts and flat caps, then with morning lessons cut short to attend a celebration day mass at the Cathedral, each child or adult would have either a fresh daffodil or piece of leek attached to their lapel. After the service we would walk the half mile back from the cold cathedral to school for a warming bowl of Cawl, (Thick root vegetables, potatoes and meat broth) bread and cheese, followed by Hot Welsh Cakes. Perfect. From then on adult conversations would change from the hardships of winter to early potatoes and lambing. I moved from St David’s in my 20s but went back to visit just before my operation I went to St Non’s healing well which is reputed to have sprung up on the day St David was born. There was a beautiful clump of snowdrops on the
path down to the well and I was so tempted to pick some I love flowers in the wild.
My nieces have informed me that they are having a potato growing competition at home. They are trying the Albert Bartlett variety, but they told me they spent ages with daddy looking at the different ones in the shops. I told them I would be growing Charlottes as they make a delicious potato salad. I will let you know what their results are, the girls are pretty competitive so I’m sure there will be a lot of stories along the way.
The final gardening thing that I have done this month is to send off for sone free tree seeds from the Woodland Trust. They recently sent an email explaining they would like volunteers to take part in growing, monitoring and reporting on five different species and I was lucky enough to be able to take part. The seeds come in their own plug of compost with detailed instructions on how to germinate them and bring the saplings on. I did think carefully about whether or not I have room for five more trees as we already have a weeping cherry, a standard cherry, a Japanese maple,a Canadian maple, plus two dwarf apples and a dwarf pear, and a yet to fruit plum tree. I also have many shrubs including the four new ones, but in the end I decided I will use them to make a new native hedge between us and next door, it will take a few years for them to reach maturity and it will be a long term project to look forward to.
Until next month,
Love Amanda xx
Getting the right balance of plants is essential for a healthy and thriving pond habitat.
To achieve good visual interest, you may wish to consider getting a combination of foliage and flowers sitting at different levels in and around your pond; bearing in mind that most plants only flower for a few months out of the year.
It is therefore useful to take a note of the height or planting depth, spread, and flowering season of your favourite varieties of pond plant, in order to plan effectively.
You will also need to calculate the pond surface area and depth, to avoid overcrowding, and to ensure that the plants grow to the perfect height in the water.
The positioning of plants is a crucial aspect and will depend on the plant type.
Area Surrounding the Pond
Bog plants nest in the watery area surrounding the pond. Whilst the soil needs to be wet for the plants to thrive, it should not be submerged, so take care to ensure that the border does not fill with water after a downpour.
A few examples of plants that work well in boggy conditions include Astilbe varieties, such as the Astilbe chinensis which has lilac plumes between July and September, and grows to around 30cm high; Typha, also known as bulrush, which feature a round brush like flower on a spiky stem; and Gunnera manicata, which are suitable for larger ponds, with their huge, dramatic leaves.
Shallow Areas at the Edge of the Pond
Marginal plants sit on the edges of the pond, with their roots submerged in the shallow water.
Plants that are ideal include several varieties of Iris, such as the Japanese Iris, which produces dramatic coloured flowers around May to June; the Alisma plantago-aquatica, which is known as the water plaintin, and produces small flowers between June and August; the Calla palustris, which has beautiful large white flowers from June to August; and Mentha aquatica, also known as water mint, which produces many dense clusters of tiny purple flowers between July and October, and grows to 90cm. The latter spreads quickly, so you may need to plant it in a basket to restrict its growth.
The Deepest Areas of the Pond
The most popular deep water plants are of course, water lilies. However, it is important to be aware that there are many different types. You will need to choose your water lilies based on the depth of the pond, as they grow to different heights.
The Nymphaea Alba has large white flowers, and can be planted at 60cm to around 3 metres; whereas the Nymphaea caerulea only needs to be planted at around 20cm, and will produce beautiful blue flowers. There are also red lilies and yellow lilies available that grow to different heights, so your pond can be covered with a burst of colour in the summer.
As well as being beautiful, lilies are also useful. They also provide valuable shade for fish from the hot summer sun, and as their leaves cover the pond, the reduction of sunlight will help restrict algae growth.
Algae can also be stifled by hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum) and water violets (Hottonia palustris), as they are good examples of plants that feed on the nutrients that algae need to survive.
Choosing Plants for Pond Life
If you are going to keep fish, or just want to encourage natural pond life, then you will need to choose good oxygenators; plants which are fully submerged in the pond and produce oxygen.
These plants make use of the nitrates created from fish waste, and the carbon dioxide released by fish during respiration, converting them into food.
Maintaining this delicate ecosystem is vital for the success of your pond. If you have too many plants, or too many fish, the whole cycle could collapse.
A great plant to start with is Anacharis, as all you need to do is weight the plant, and drop it into the pond. It is a vigorous grower, so make sure you trim it back every now and again to keep it in check. One bunch per square foot should be sufficient for a small pond.
Other varieties of oxygenators include Groenlandia densa, or opposite-leaved pondweed; and Callitriche hermaphroditica or water starwort, although this may grow too rapidly for a small pond. Water cress is also a good oxygenator.
The final step is to ensure you have sufficient time to maintain the pond after you have planted it up. Many of the plants will require specific aftercare, such as trimming back, or cutting away seed heads, and gaining this knowledge at the planning stage will help you to stay on top of the maintenance of your pond.
Please visit my Lifestyle Blog for more pond plant ideas and inspiration.