Five years ago our lives were very different. My wife and I were both commuting for at least 2 hours a day whilst using a childminder to look after our young family. We were on a treadmill of long days and early mornings without a great quality of life. Something had to break and unfortunately that was me. From that point we decided to work our way to a different kind of life and now here we are on the Isle of Wight. We have opted to try and simplify our lifestyle.
We recently moved house and I was talking with a neighbour at the weekend whereby he asked me if I was a gardener. I answered negatively – that sounded like a profession to me, but it did get me thinking. I like the idea of gardening, but not being a gardener – to me that means doing it for others and that’s too much responsibility.
Our new garden is much bigger than any we have ever had before and has been neglected for some time. There is an area of raised beds for a vegetable patch, these are overgrown with weeds right now, but I’m using a small corner of one of them to attempt to grow some runner beans. First lesson – use long canes!! This is my first effort. I am also growing some tomatoes (in a grow bag), chilli’s in a pot, and a cucumber plant.
I would like my children to get some appreciation of where food comes from and the effort involved in producing it – that’s really important. I also want to be able to prove to them that it can be done and its cheaper / healthier / tastier / better for the environment to grow your own food if at all possible. As ever, time is the main problem, but now that I have left the rat race behind there is more of a chance that I’ll be able to spend some proper time in the garden.
Other jobs that I’d like to be sorting in the garden sooner rather than later (but I’ve got to get used to the fact that the seasons affect what grows and when so I’m not sure when the best times will be yet) include:
Weeding, digging over, and planting up the front garden so that it has a cottage garden feel (I’m investigating what this actually means)
Encourage the front hedge to be consistent (fill in gaps, grow higher). Its brambles, ivy, and bind weed right now
Sort the lawn out so that its actually more grass than weeds
Clear out the pond, relining and refilling it, re-bedding slabs, and restoring the waterfall that used to run into it many years ago
Behind the pond is a shady area – I’d like to try and see what kind of “woodland” planting I can do here – I’m thinking ferns, moss and so on
Establish a hedge along the side of the garden for privacy
Recommission the raised beds for a vegetable patch and then work out what needs to go where
Have a wild meadow patch to encourage the bees and butterflies
Build a greenhouse or similar – something to keep the plants warmish in the winter
Replace the dilapidated shed before it falls down – this will require proper money
So my problem is that, other than watching Gardeners World on a Friday and having a bit of enthusiasm, I have zero gardening knowledge. I can dig a hole and that’s about it. I’ve tried learning some plant names but then promptly forget. I generally describe plants as red flower, purple flower, long grass, dead twigs, so I really need to get my head around this and work out a strategy for remembering the names.
However, armed with the internet and the team at Gardeners World (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006mw1h/episodes/guide) I’m sure I can make a pretty good go at this. I just need to fit it in along with everything else. I’ll be keeping you updated with what I’m doing and how it’s going – please let me know how you think I’m getting on and if you have any advice!
Firstly may I apologise for the lack of a May blog, I’ve been busy in the garden, but I also had a major setback. As some of my regular readers would know for the past year I’ve been fighting ovarian cancer, but many of you might not know I was born with a life limiting condition known as Fallots Tretology. It basically means I have four things wrong with my heart and although I had surgery as a child, I was still left with two heart murmurs and some dodgy heart valves.
Whilst the chemotherapy did its job in killing my cancer sadly it severely damaged my heart. Two and a half weeks ago a blood clot formed in one of the heart chambers causing long term dysfunctional heart failure and temporary kidney failure. To say I’m lucky to be here is an understatement. I’ve never felt so rough in my life. But I’m back home and I’m in the garden, and I’ve got an awful lot to be thankful for. My cardiologist says I have to rest and take things easy, but with the gorgeous weather we are having this week, I find it way to difficult to sit around, so I’m doing lots of supervising and planning and possibly nagging poor Mark to do stuff as well as and talking to the plants, setting of new seeds, transplanting, misting and pollinating.
The greenhouses have gone mad, I have absolutely no idea what Mark did, but when I came out of hospital the plants had gone ballistic- maybe they were just happy to see me – because within two weeks they had grown a hundredfold. I asked Mark had he given them liquid feed – he said no, apparently his secret is to open all the doors and vents, hang the sock airer or small clothes horse in there, with lavender scented conditioner on the clothes to attract pollinating insects, (poor things being tricked like this) water just before dusk, as he still has to do all the housework, eat, have a shower, visit the patient and do everything else that needs doing, and that’s it – simple! I think he deserves a medal, or a holiday poor man.
So in May the little greenhouse was full to the brim with seedlings, and baby flowers, I had also ordered Lucky Dip annual plug plants, and dahlia plug plants from T&M as well as Gardeners World perennial plug plants. There were close to 500 things growing on the shelves. Not to mention new pots of germinating grasses, veg, flowers and fruit. I was in my element, I was getting ready to return to work and I was really excited about the plant sale I would be holding the second week in June.
Then it went all went a bit wrong….. Mark had no option but to plant the bigger flowers outside, move them to the cold frame or sheltered positions – However, he doesn’t know a Phlox from a Nepeta, or a Carrot from a Cornflower, so my plants for sale were planted in our garden by mistake. I gave mum about 144 plug plants for her garden, as well as tomatoes, aubergine, and pepper. What’s left are pot bound and in dire need of planting but there’s not enough left for a good sale and I don’t feel like I can charge people for something that I know will grow perfectly but looks past it’s best. My lovely friend Trisha from work has said she would deliver any plants to my other colleagues if need be so maybe there’s a solution after all.
This month in the little greenhouse I have pots of germinating grass seeds, English Marigolds, Liatris plus mixed grass seedlings, geranium, phlox and begonia plug plants left to move to the cold frame or plant out. I have spinach beet, and cornflowers that need transplanting, as well as a very slow T&M aubergine, hollyhocks and hyssop. The greenhouse border is full of Aloe Vera flowers, the cacti is growing slowly and the money tree is bigger too. There are a number of seeds that I can start off in June, but I think I have enough for the moment. The only thing I will continue sowing are my Radish – they are delicious – they have a mild peppery flavour and we have recently been using them with our new potatoes and a red onion to make potato salad. I also want to try my hand at Beetroot, but I appear to have lost the seeds. I am wondering if I gave them to my niece, but I don’t think I have.
The big greenhouse has turned into one of the best and interesting places I can get to at the moment. But it misbehaves when I’m not at home, the watermelons are trying to get into bed with the tomatoes, and the peppers think it’s fun to push up amaranthus seeds. I’ve never grown amaranthus in the big greenhouse so the peppers must have decided to do some gardening for themselves.
There is equal growth between the yellow stuffer and sweet aperitif tomatoes. They are only about two and a half feet at present, but they are exceptionally strong. Although tied to a framework they appear to have better roots than the ones I grew last year. The tomatoes are situated on the left border and under planted with French Marigolds to deter whitefly.
The back border is filled with aubergines; I am doing an experiment to see which grows best, a normal purple skinned type, a green and white type and a pale purple type. Unfortunately the one from T&M is still in its three centimetre pot as it’s extremely slow growing – I think it’s gone dormant as the temperature soared.
The right border has two Sweet Peppers and a Chilli, plus a watermelon and a cantaloupe melon. The melons, might not be a good idea, not that I don’t want them, because I do, but because they are putting tendrils everywhere. They are climbing and flowering well, but left to their own devices I fear they will take over the ten foot greenhouse no problem. On the shelves of the same greenhouse, I have Zinnia Red Spider that have not germinated as successfully as I hoped, out of forty seeds only ten have popped up. I think the reason for this was the unexpected frost towards the end of April that knocked everything back and caught out lots of gardeners. There are also a few pot bound tomatoes, a spider plant, a Poinsettia, an orchid, two money trees that have successfully rooted, some hyacinth bulbs that still haven’t died off and a massive Begonia. Although I seem to have lost my Banksia Hookerina seeds.
And finally there are pots of dahlia tubers baking in the heat on the path of the greenhouse. I usually bake them until the first flower buds start to appear, then they get put in a sheltered position for a few days, before being moved to their final place. My cold frame is full of pumpkin plants needing a home I have enough for myself and some for the family so I might contact the secretary of the allotmenteers here and see if they want some free plants. I also have tree seedlings from The Woodland Trust, that are putting on strong growth.
Finally, I have six Hyssops that are big enough to be planted in the grassy knoll. Speaking of which, my neighbour’s gave us a lovely blue grass to add to it. It’s a stunning plant, the colour compliments the red Acer and it will look amazing when it seeds. The lady said to Mark that as her and her husband are no longer well enough to garden; they enjoy walking past ours and seeing what’s in flower, or what’s looking good in the greenhouse. It’s such a compliment when someone gives you something for your garden, or says that your garden cheers them up, it’s especially nice to think that we have inadvertently enriched their lives.
I have been banned from growing or buying any more plants until the autumn and I have been asked by Mark to “just grow fruit and veg next year!” The thing is, I’m sort of addicted to the thrill of nurturing seeds and seeing something grow – I can’t promise I won’t buy anything, but I might just stop growing seeds until September. Oh and I definitely need flowers in my life, so I won’t be growing just fruit and vegetables either. Sorry!
Until next time,
Love Amanda xx
After several weeks without any significant rain last night we had 21mm enough to create puddles and fill all the water tanks. The potatoes have visibly grown during the day and everything looks green and healthy.
The spring onion White Lisbon and the Radish Bacchus only sown 6 days ago are up as are the Little Gem lettuce and the Lollo Rosso. We’re looking forward already to fresh salad from the garden.
I have sown the first Parsnip Tender and True; this seems to do very well here and overwinters nicely in the ground. I shall do another row in a couple of weeks. The cabbage Hispi and Red Jewel and beetroot Boltardy seeds sowed in cells will be ready to go out in about a week, then I shall do a second sowing of them as well. The runner beans are out as they were growing very quickly, the second sowing will go out a in a few weeks to stagger the crop a little.
The spring garden is all finished and everything is growing very fast now for the summer. Bearded iris, Peony, Alliums and Perennial wallflowers are all colouring up. Soon it will be planting out for the bedding and tubs. Have bought some colourful pots today and will fill them with Garden Ready plants as I do not have enough greenhouse space to grow on small plugs. The pots are destined for decorating a wedding venue in August so I have got to get that right!
What a completely manic month April has been! The clocks have gone forward, Easter has been and gone and I’m back to my normal self – My cancer is in remission and I can walk around the garden, go up the steps and lift little watering cans or pots of seedlings now. I’m still not allowed to lift heavy stuff or dig with a spade, or use a mower, but luckily for me, Mark doesn’t mind doing these jobs.
Where to start? We’ve done so much that I hardly know where to begin. I guess as this is a greenhouse blog, I shouldn’t prattle on about other areas of the garden, but as we are developing a new ornamental grassy knoll area I’d just like to mention that I have added a Bronze Carex and a pink Corederia and Euphorbia Martinii to it. My brother gave me a Criodendron (Lantern Tree) and this has been placed in our second wildlife border just behind the pampas grass. This is a triangular border that has dappled shade so it’s perfect for the shrub as it’s protected on two sides by our boundary walls.
My little greenhouse was getting too much shade from an overgrown Hebe so Mark has cut that right back; the sparrows weren’t too impressed as they like to hide in its branches. However it’s a fast growing shrub so it won’t be long before it greens up again. It’s really surprising how much extra light I have in there now and the plants love it; so much so that I had to take the transplanted radishes off the shelf and put them in the cold frame for fear of bolting. They are doing much better in there, along with two sacks of potatoes (the third is outside already), a hanging basket filled with French Marigolds that germinated rapidly, several pots of marigolds, a trough of mint and mum’s helenium that was in my box of shrubs from the garden centre. I need the potatoes out of there by next week as I have sixteen trees that germinated from seed from the Woodland Trust and they need to harden up. I was told there would be five seeds and four varieties -I had many seeds and three varieties including beautiful Dog Rose and Mountain Ash, I think the other seedlings are Alder Buckthorn. I am keeping one of each variety and my auntie in Scotland said she would take some for her garden when they visit in the summer so the rest may end up in my charity plant sale. Along with whatever else I have too much of.
I tried to have a theme this year of growing just orange coloured flowers but I’ve also added a few yellow varieties of Sunflowers and white Aster, black Cornflowers, and green Bells of Ireland. I made a list of everything I’m trying to grow from seed and was shocked at the number. Thirty-three at the last count. Most are hopefully to share with my friends who have supported me over the previous twelve months, and to use in my plant sale. Although it’s debatable if all my things will grow as it’s gone from warm spring days to cold northerly Arctic winds and rain; and even though the days are getting longer there’s not a great quality to the light. The following paragraph is everything on the shelves in the little greenhouse. So this is the progress so far – Pumpkins just sown, Spinach Beet just sown but seedlings showing within forty-eight hours. Carnations, just sown, Cornflowers sown and germinating within forty-eight hours. Carrots sown two days ago. Radish successional sowings so various degrees of growth from seedlings to plug size. French Marigolds, mostly in cold frame after being sown at beginning of April, a few stragglers on the
staging in the greenhouse. Cosmos sown at start of month, still thinking about it. Rudbeckia, a few brave souls have popped up in the last week from mid month sowing. Aster not even thinking of germinating even though they sown same time as Rudbeckia. Sunflowers, no sign of them from a March sowing. Mid April showings of Bells of Ireland, Venidum, Helianthas Maximilianii, Banksia Hookerenia, Star of Veldt, (rela
tion to Osteospermum) and Californian Poppies have yet to show. I didn’t have any T&M aubergine seeds left so got some from the garden centre who only stock a different company’s seeds so I am growing them, but also trailing them with a German Supermarket’s own brand aubergine seeds. I have had amazing results with T&M’s aubergines so I can also compare it to last year’s crop, in terms of how well they grow etc. The pots of Hollyhock have been only half successful from a late April sowing. There are no signs of the dahlias I sowed, and this happened last year too. I wait in vain for them as they may just turn up. I had eight packets of Free T&M Seeds from a magazine and they included Hyssop, I sowed about a quarter of the packet three weeks ago and there are baby seedlings already. The Chilli Peppers and Alderman Peas Mark started off in January was an epic fail even though I can start them off in the winter, with success. However, this year was milder than most winters so damping off may have been the issue. I’ve re-sown them in the hope they will grow, but so far no chillies and only two peas. Incidentally, the Sweet Peppers Mark did in
January germinated brilliantly and there is one left on the staging for mum after I gave a few to my brother.
My grass Oryza Satvia has germinated, I sowed six seeds and all have come, I’m waiting for grasses Panicum Virgatum, Stipia Pony Tails and Grass Tail Feathers as well as Anemanthele Lessonia. I sowed Liatris the same time as these. Finally there are a few tomato plants of both varieties left over after the family picked what they needed. The worst thing about growing all of the above was having to label the pots. Usually I use the Dymo machine, but it’s getting on now and I have to really press down hard on the plastic clicker bit to get the letters on the tape. I got really frustrated after half the labels came out with missing or Ill-formed letters. One came out as Rude Becki instead of Rudbeckia and as for Bells of Ireland…….
Outside the large greenhouse I have two deep flowerpots with wigwam supports filled with Runner Beans that I swapped with my Uncle Raff for an Aubergine plant and Peas given to me by a friend from work. Inside the greenhouse I have a lovely crop of curly leaved Parsley that needs to be potted up as I don’t want it spreading there. On the hanging shelves, getting used to the heat and light of what will be their permanent home in the borders when they get bigger, are my tomatoes, peppers, and aubergines, along with an Orchid, a Spider Plant a Poinsettia that’s still dying back, a Rosemary cutting and Christmas Cacti cuttings. There are also hyacinth bulbs that still want water so I can’t dry them and store them yet. Lastly on the shelf there is a potted Begonia Apricot Shades. It’s the last bulb I have left, I have no idea what happened to the others last year – I fear they were not dug up and stored. The begonia is starting to sprout – it loves the heat. In the greenhouse borders Mark has set me some grafted plants – each year I like to try something new so this year I’m trying a Watermelon and a Cantaloupe Melon, these are not from Thompson and Morgan, neither is the hot Chilli that came as part of the offer, The only reason why I went to a different place was because unfortunately T&M don’t do grafted Watermelon, and I really want to see if I can grow Watermelons in Pembrokeshire.
However, I have put in an order with T&M, well two orders actually. The first was an offer of 36 free plants with them through Gardeners’ World magazine, and the second order was for 224 Lucky Dip Annual plants for a couple of pounds that I will split with my mum. These won’t be in my charity sale – sorry people! Oh and I ordered Dahlia Fire and Ice as it looks stunning, as well as some Bronze English Marigolds and Petunia Easy-wave. The both orders for what will be 288 plants in all worked out to something ridiculous like eight pence a plant – you wouldn’t get that at a DIY or chain garden centre.
I love the way you can track and order to see if it’s been dispatched. Or look back on previous orders if there’s something I want to order again but can’t remember the variety name. So while I wait for my own seeds to grow and the postman to deliver my goods, I think I will amuse myself by reading a new gardening book. I’ve just finished reading The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden written in 1906; the countryside she grew up in has changed so much. Last month I discovered from Margery Fish (Cottage Garden Plants) what a Tussie Mussie is, so I think I shall gather one for myself. There’s always something new to learn.
Oh and I’ve decided to join the “Solar Light Brigade” that seems to be dominating back gardens in our street, instead of putting pole lights or fairy lights in paths or trellis or trees, I’ve strung up tiny LED string lights in the greenhouses. Blue in the large greenhouse, red in the small. I also bought glow in the dark stakes with a butterfly, a dragonfly and a wasp on top to use as plant markers too. I promise it doesn’t look garish -I’ll take a photo for next time to let you decide.
Until next time,
Love Amanda X
The tomato plants in the conservatory have started to produce their first flowers so it is time to move them into their growing space. I use re- useable Tomato growing bags and fill them with good quality compost mixed with some home grown compost, I like them because they give plenty of depth to plant deeply. This encourages the plants to put down extra roots which in turn makes for a stronger more productive plant. I also use collars around each plant this acts as a reservoir when you water and allows the water to seep into the bag slowly. I can fit 12 plants in the greenhouse and then have pots outside with about five more plants including my favourite bush tomato Red Alert.
The cucumbers, squash and courgettes have all germinated over the last week. I use large yoghurt pots for sowing in; this gives them plenty of depth to get a good root system going. They can stay indoors for a bit longer, until at least the end of May when we can be sure there will not be hard frost.
Having covered the potatoes last week because of the expected cold spell, they needed uncovering today, plenty of new growth so I shall be out there tomorrow ‘earthing up’. There was a little frost damage on a few of the leaves but nothing serious.
We are eating fresh asparagus almost every day, if you have the patience to wait for two years it is a very rewarding crop to grow. A little weeding feeding and mulching in the winter and it will be growing for the next 15- years.
The flower beds are looking lovely, the Perennial Wallflowers with the Forget me Nots are one of my favourite sights. Two years ago I started off a Wisteria to grow into a free standing tree. It has flowered this year for the first time and looks a picture. When it has reached a respectable size I shall transfer it to the garden, maybe near the replacement pond we are constructing but that is another story……
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.