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.
Reduce, reuse, recycle- it’s a phrase that has been drummed into everyone in the last decade. Repurposing in the garden is a hot trend at the moment, and saving money isn’t the only benefit. Your garden is an ecological haven, so it makes sense to use natural products wherever possible, keeping harsh chemical fertilizers and pesticides to a minimum (something also worth bearing in mind if you have little hands helping out).
Clive Harris, a keen gardener from Essex shares his best tips for keeping your garden environmentally friendly, as well as saving you time, money and a trip to the local garden centre. You can see his personal gardening blog here – https://diygarden.co.uk/blog/
Most households use an organic waste bin nowadays, and if you’re super savvy, you will have your own composting bin, but there are a few food waste products that yield better results when used directly in your garden.
Banana peel is an excellent source of potassium, phosphorous and magnesium, making it an ideal fertilizer. Chopped peel can be added directly to your garden for a nutritional boost. Soaking banana peel in water for at least 48 hours will give a fertilizing solution that can be sprayed directly on to plants and flowers. To give your perennials the ultimate start in life, line your bed trenches with whole banana skins before planting. This works exceptionally well for roses too!
Made of calcium carbonate, eggshells are a great way of providing calcium to your soil and plants. They need to be rinsed and dried before being added to your garden, otherwise you might find them attracting unwanted attention from passing animals and pests. They should be crushed or ground before mixing into the soil. It can take months for eggshells to break down enough to be absorbed by plant roots, so the best time to spread them in your beds is autumn and early spring.
Used coffee grounds are rich in nitrogen, meaning they are terrific for enriching the soil in your flower beds. Unwashed, they are acidic and will help to balance the PH of your soil. However, if using coffee grounds around vegetation that doesn’t tolerate acid very well (such as tomato plants etc), rinsing them first will neutralize the acidity. Coffee grounds can be added directly to the soil in your garden, making it a quick and easy fertilizing option.
Tackle Those Pesky Predators
There are 2 types of pests that pose a threat your garden- wildlife such as insects or prowling animals, and plant diseases caused by bacteria, fungi and viruses. Shop bought pesticides and animal deterrents are a quick fix, but can be harsh and need to be used with extreme caution, especially in gardens where children and domestic animals are passing through. However, there are some safer, gentler options that can be used to the same effect as commercial garden products to ensure that your plants remain healthy and thriving.
Plant fungus giving you a headache? Aspirin is fantastic at preventing fungal diseases such as mildew and black spot. Simply crush an aspirin tablet and dissolve in a gallon of water. Use the solution to spray your plants every few weeks to guarantee they stay mould free.
Surprisingly, regular old shampoo makes a great insecticide. Mix 2.5 tablespoons of shampoo with 2.5 tablespoons of cooking oil and add to a gallon of water. Use the solution to spray on pests such as aphids. Plant leaves should be rinsed a few hours after application to prevent damage. This also works well using dishwashing liquid instead of shampoo.
Mix even parts of milk and water and spray on tomato plants to prevent dry end rot. Putting crushed eggshells into the planting hole will have the same effect.
As it turns out, us humans aren’t the only one who fancy a cold one in the garden during summer! Slugs and snails are highly attracted to the frothy goodness of beer, making it the perfect distraction to drag them away from your vegetables and flowers. Half-fill an empty jam jar with lager and dig a trench so that the lip of the jar is flush with the ground. The pests will gravitate to the jar and die a happy death.
Playing your dodgy old 90’s pop tracks at full blast will definitely keep flying predators at bay. However, if you’re finally ready to relinquish them, old cds are a more effective deterrent when used as a type of scarecrow to keep larger pesky birds away from your seeds and vegetables. String a few cds together and hang near your beds at a position where they will catch direct sunlight to keep pigeons and other scavengers away. This trick also works great as a cat deterrent.
Plastic bottles half filled with water will stop cats digging up and soiling your flower beds. The water in the bottles casts a reflection that frightens the felines away.
From eggshells to aspirin, and even old Spice Girls cds, it is astonishing to see how household products and by-products can benefit your garden in a multitude of ways, saving you money while helping the environment at the same time. There’s no better place to start your recycling kick than in the garden!
Many people at work here at T&M know that I am an avid dancer, I’ve even encouraged a few others from my office to come along and try Ceroc (the dance I love to do) and they’ve enjoyed it too!
This got me thinking recently, as I start to plan out my garden pots for this year; why not have a section dedicated to dance, after all, if I can combine my two passions, dancing and gardening then surely I’ve got the best of both worlds?
Googling “Dancing Plants” will firstly come up with Desmondium gyrans, which is known as the “dancing plant” or “telegraph plant”. This unusual botanical wonder actually has leaves which move about in search of the best source of daylight in the morning, but will also move quite visibly when played music too! So it is a must on my list, although it’s a tender annual so will probably live with me indoors and dance along when I play my music.
So to more practical varieties that I can plant outside in my theme. Just typing in the word “dance” on the T&M website gave me some great choices. Amaryllis ‘Dancing Queen’, I’ve grown before outside in the summer, packing half a dozen bulbs into a large pot, the stems didn’t grow quite as tall as I’d have liked, but what an impressive show they were! And, as long as you keep them away from the frosts, give them a good feed and look after them, they’ll come back again, in a similar way that crinum will.
I must admit that Loropetalum chinense var. rubrum ‘Fire Dance’ has really caught my eye, early flowering , so I’ll have missed it this year, but what stunning foliage too! I think keeping it in a large pot at the back is going to provide me with the perfect backdrop for my other plants. I’ll keep a Clematis ‘Dancing Smile’ in a tower pot next to it which will sort out the height I’m going to need and I’ll still get some nice blooms from the clematis too!
I do like bright colours in my garden, which is why I think at the front of my dancing themed display I’m going to have Bidens ‘BeeDance Painted Red’ and also Trollius ‘Dancing Flame’, these will also fit in nicely with my ideas as one of the main colours in the ceroc logo is orange too, so it’s win, win! Red Hot Poker ‘Fire Dance’ is also a contender too, as the leaves will hang around all year, I’ll have to see how it copes with being in a large pot, I’m sure it’ll be fine!
There are also a couple of very nice dance based sculptures that we sell, I’m loving the “ballroom grace” one, maybe I’ll hint for it as a birthday present!
So it looks like this year – in the words of a famous TV show – I’ll “Keep Dancing”
January? Where did that go?
So it’s February already and there’s been precious little activity going on of the horticultural variety! I can’t remember a year when frost was so heavy and so prolonged. The water features and borders were frozen solid for a fortnight, although mercifully not much rainfall to drown the perennials in their beds.
There are only so many times you can bring out the tubs of seed packets and file them by type/sowing
date/ indoors/outdoors etc. I was even tempted to create a spreadsheet just to keep me occupied during January. Trays and modules were washed & set up, labels pre-written, compost at the ready. I rearranged the greenhouse so that the propagators were free: Not difficult seeing as I accidently switched them off when I was repotting the lilies and most of my cuttings died!
In previous years I have sown my seeds too early; they germinated fine but became all etiolated and eventually rotted off. And because the warmest, brightest place in the house is the sunroom they had to share space with our cats, who would eat them! (Micro greens for cats?)! This year however is very different. With the addition of the propagators, I have been able to relocate to the greenhouse.
So raring to go was I, that come the first weekend in February, I was in that greenhouse like a rat up a drainpipe (unfortunate simile I know) ready for the off! Honestly it was like a military operation: Decks cleared, each tray containing its 12 cell seed tray and plastic lid. Sieved soil (extracted from the so-called mouse trough previously referred to as the tomato trough) and vermiculite. Marker pen, labels, dibber, watering can, T&M seed packets. What could possibly go wrong? Well to start with, have you ever tried sowing seeds the size of dandruff with your third fingertip resembling a black grape after slamming a window on it? Fiddly but do-able. Filling the trays with soil went well, until that is, I ‘lightly watered prior to sowing’ as instructed: the water dribbled straight over the sides.
Undeterred, I managed to sow well enough – without my glasses I had to get so close to the tomato seeds that I dared not breathe in case I blew them away – but when it came to sprinkling vermiculite, the greenhouse looked like a scene from one of those snow domes! I hadn’t realised the bag was open when I whisked it up from under the bench, and managed to get it everywhere except on the surface of the seed trays. Don’t know how Carol Klein does it and talks to the camera at the same time.
Here is what I have sown, and yes, those of you who know better, will be tutting about some of my timings but hey ho, nothing ventured, nothing gained:
• Tomato Garnet; Tomato Indigo Cherry Drops; Tomato artisan Mix – all varieties received & tasted at last summer’s T&M Triallists’ Open Day
• Sweet Pea Purple Pimpernel; Sweet Pea Fragrantissima; Sweet Pea Mollie Rilstone; Sweet Pea Night and Day – wretched seeds are like ball bearings.
• Basil Sweet Green ; Basil Lemonade Something (tore the top off the packet!)
• Leek Bulgaarse Reuzen Lincoln
• Broad Bean Oscar – in their own 9cm pots.
Seed sowing will continue in March and April; hopefully by then I will have been able to prick out Batch No 1.
In the garden at large spring bulbs & perennials are at least a couple of weeks behind compared to last year, due to the colder weather no doubt. I was beginning to think that the five dozen T&M Jonquilla Daffs must have somehow succumbed; they are only just starting to poke through the soil of their containers. One or two aconites are in flower, but iris reticulata, snowdrops, coronilla glauca and hellebores are taking their time. Having experienced such a hiatus during January, the brisk change of pace is a shock to the system.
I am fighting back panic at the thought of pressure washing the slippery moss encrusted paviers, as it swamps the already soggy borders, but it’s gotta be done before everything really starts into growth. Bird boxes need to be cleaned out as the tits are already prospecting nesting sites, and the stinking water of the stagnant rill (good alliteration don’t you think) needs to be sluiced out before the frogs spawn. And I haven’t even been to the allotment since November. It’s all go here in East Finchley I can tell you; life doesn’t get much more exciting than this!
David’s got Spring fever too. Now that his hand is on the mend, he’s been revamping all the garden ornamentals, creating new resin tails for bunnies and metal beaks for birdies. Every time I make cutbacks in the borders, miscanthus grasses especially, we find more and more objects that had been overlooked during winter clear-up, lurking amongst the foliage. After tireless research, he has purchased an oversized copper cup and saucer over the internet, which he will turn into another water feature, to complement his copper kettle and strainer works-in-progress.
One other exciting thing I did in January (excitement is not an emotion one usually associates with January) was to place my first order for hanging basket and container annuals. After listing my first two items, Begonia Non-Stop Mocca Bright Orange & Petunia Orange Punch, Dawn in Telephone Sales observed dryly, “You like orange then!” and she wasn’t wrong: the rest of the order consists of Begonia Glowing Embers & Petunia Mini Rosebud Peachy! I may be predictable, but I believe strongly that if a formula works why change it? The last two summers’ patio displays of purple, red, yellow and orange have been electric! I’ll ring the changes with foliage plants, perhaps some more coleus, heuchera, ipomaea and hostas (haha, hope over experience).
Talking of orange, I’ve just remembered the overwintering begonia Apricot Shades tubers in the spare room dresser – back in a mo – they are already showing pips for goodness sake. Now that is exciting!
Will we plunged back in to winter before March? Who knows, watch this space. Love Caroline
In the last year, I have spent more money on gardening than anything else.
This year, I decided to do what I could on my own and research the methods to reduce cost and learn something new about gardening at the same time. It is simple really when you consider traditional gardening methods which probably involved planting what would grow by taking a good look at the soil and going by the general environmental conditions in your area. Where I live it is chalk downs and for the most part this is the soil that I have in my garden. Over time, I have learned about the soil by the types of plants that are growing there naturally. Knowing your garden very well in all aspects and especially the soil is the one thing I have discovered will save time and money.
The less you have to spend on the things you already have in the garden means you can splurge on the things you don’t have and would really like to have. For me, this would be my dream of a green house, a cold frame and a raised bed or two. The raised bed and cold frame you could probably make yourself but I will leave that for another post!
Today, I made my own seed compost. After some research, I put together this mix:
1 quarter all- purpose compost sieved
1 quarter locally sourced mole dirt ( I have no moles in my garden-yet!)
1 half well-rotted leaf mould
I put all in a large tub mixed it really well and sieved it again just to make it very fine for seeds
It turned out really well. I filled up one seed tray of Hellebore (helleborus purpurascens) and three pots of Norway Spruce (picea abies) that I got from a free seed packet.
I learned some valuable lessons: one is to take the time to go about and discover what you can forge from the countryside near you- within reason and legally. I discovered the mole dirt when I went out for a walk one day and realised there were moles everywhere. This got me thinking about the soil. I went back a few days later, filled up a bag and lugged it home to my garden. This soil is quite good since it has been sifted for the most part already by the moles themselves. Of course you have to take a good look at the soil and make a judgement as to what the structure but unless you are collecting it from an area that has been previously an allotment it is likely that the soil will be the same as what you have in your local area.
How I came to get all of these necessary ingredients is the key.
I already had some left over compost, and the mole dirt I foraged but I didn’t have any leaf mould- this is something that I need to get prepared for next year. During the summer, I made a place in the corner of my garden where I put the left over compost after sifting. During the winter, leaves had accumulated there and lo and behold without realising it I had made well – rotted leaf mould. This came as a happy realisation that I had a lot more to work with in my garden than I thought I did.