Biennial inspirations

It’s biennial time again.
As our Aquilegias, Digitalis, Erysimums and Myosotis finish flowering, it is time once again to sow next year’s new ones to ensure that we get as good, if not better, display as this year.

Aquilegia 'Green Apples', Aquilegia 'Firecracker' & Belle perennis 'Pomponette Mixed'

Aquilegia ‘Green Apples’, Aquilegia ‘Firecracker’ & Belle perennis ‘Pomponette Mixed’

This biennial cycle goes on in our gardens almost without us noticing it, as various plants self-seed in the quieter corners of our gardens. Plants such as forget-me-nots (Myosotis) can pop up almost anywhere if we leave the parent plants to seed in May and June. This happens in the wild as well, with plants such as hedge garlic/jack-by-the-hedge (Alliaria petiolata) seeding themselves at this time of year in the bottoms of farm hedges – the seeds then germinate before winter, surviving the harsh winter weather as young plants that then flower in spring/early summer. The parent plants die as they drop their seed.

Foxglove 'Excelsior Hybrid Mixed', Foxglove 'Silver Cub' Myosotis 'Symphony Blue'

Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrid Mixed’, Foxglove ‘Silver Cub’ Myosotis ‘Symphony Blue’

So, what can you sow now that are grown as biennials? The starting point is to look for the letters HB at the beginning of the description of the plant. Sow Aquilegias cultivars now and watch out for a stunning display in May and early June – I like the look of ‘Green Apples’ and ‘Firecracker’ as interesting variations on the normal range of colours. Bellis ‘Pomponette Mixed’, although actually a perennial, is normally grown as a biennial and looks fabulous in the spring garden and in containers. It is loved by bees as well so we all win!
For something a little unusual, try Cabbage ‘Northern Lights Mixed’ with various foliage colours to delight you and your friends. If you leave them in until early summer they will flower and the yellow flowers are edible  – yummy!! Dianthus barbatus, more commonly known as Sweet William, gives a stunning display in early to mid summer and there are a number of wonderful cultivars to choose from. Foxgloves (Digitalis) have come a long way in recent years from their biennial wild relatives and the range of colours and forms is worth studying, from ‘Excelsior Hybrids’ up to 1.5 metres to ‘Silver Cub’ at only 60cm high.

Dianthus barbatus 'Excelsior Mixed', Pansy 'Majestic Giants Mixed' & Viols 'Sorbet Orange Jump Up'

Dianthus barbatus ‘Excelsior Mixed’, Pansy ‘Majestic Giants Mixed’ & Viols ‘Sorbet Orange Jump Up’

Pansies and Violas are amongst of the most popular winter and spring flowering plants for containers in our gardens and, although they are classified as perennials, we do tend to grow them as biennials. The flowers are edible as well as colourful and one of my all-time favourites is ‘Majestic Giants’ with flowers up to 10cm across. Wallflowers (Erysimums) are one of the more traditional biennial plants used by local authorities and larger public gardens for spectacular spring displays. Try ‘Tom Thumb Mixed’ for an easy to manage cultivar with a wide range of flower colours from yellows to rusts and reds. It works well in a container because it only reaches 20cm high.

Cabbage 'Northern Lights', Calenduala officinalis nana 'Fruit Twist' & Nigella papillosa 'Midnight'

Cabbage ‘Northern Lights’, Calenduala officinalis nana ‘Fruit Twist’ & Nigella papillosa ‘Midnight’

Some plants can be nudged into a biennial life-cycle just by changing the sowing dates. Plants such as Calendula, Limnanthes and Nigella can be sown directly into the garden in late September, will germinate quickly in the warm soil and will then overwinter as young plants, flowering in April and May for instead of June, July and August. These plants are normally sold as hardy annuals for direct spring sowing. Give it a try and surprise yourself and your neighbours.
Whatever you grow now for your winter and spring garden, enjoy the surprises that these wonderful plants can give you.

Graham Porter

Graham Porter
I have worked in horticulture for the past 49 years and have become more involved with and concerned about the environmental impact that our profession has had on the world. I am married with 2 grown up children and 4 wonderful grandchildren. I am currently writing my first book that reflects my thoughts on gardening / horticulture in an environmentally friendly manner.

Gardening is great therapy

Summer greetings gardeners,

Hope you are all well. I have spent the last two weeks sitting in my garden everyday in hot sunshine, I’ve eaten breakfast, lunch and dinner on the patio with family and friends and I’m loving every minute of it.

I have a confession to make though, Mark and my mum have been doing the greenhouse duties for me. I have decided to be supervisor until I am stronger. Unfortunately not long after writing Mays blog I was struck with a medical emergency (not related to my heart condition) that put me in hospital for nine days. It also coincided with the hottest week of the year, a delivery of plants, and a build it yourself solar lighted trellis planter. Poor Mark would spend most of the day at the hospital with me, return home to feed himself and water the plants then rush back to the hospital to be with me. To be honest I don’t know how he and the plug plants, potatoes, tomatoes, aubergines, and numerous plant pots and hanging baskets survived.

Digitalis

Unfortunately, not all of the plants survived, I have lost my Banksia Hookerensia and most of my seedlings, apart from some mint and dill. The first thing I did when I came out of hospital was a garden inspection. I cried when I saw my wildlife border it was so pretty filled with poppies, foxgloves, corncockles and lupins. Then I tied in the eating peas and sweet peas.

The next day I asked mum to help with the new planter Mark had built one evening, that I had from Thompson & Morgan as I had nicotianas, sweetpeas, petunia, and a dwarf mallow that needed potting up, as well as the geraniums. Seeing all the failed germinated seedlings also made me sad, so I asked mum to empty the soil into the established outdoor pots rather than waste the compost.

Inside the little greenhouse I have the mint and dill, a few hebes that we have collected from around the garden and growing on so that we can make a new hedge, our aloe border and two cucamelons and a small pot of lettuce. At least Mark thinks they are, he can’t remember if they were them or the squashes as ‘they all looked the same”, he says.

Amanda's garden

In the big greenhouse we have the basils, aubergines, chillies, sweet peppers and tomatoes all romping away happily in the borders, there is possibly a cucamelon in there too. Mark has pinched out the tips on the tomatoes, but needs to get in there and cut back some of the stems. There are flowers forming on the trusses as well as tiny fruits.

Amanda's Garden

As I have had so many people back and forth to see me these last few weeks, I feel a bit of a fraud as my greenhouses are not looking their best. And it’s amazing how many people just want to have a look at what’s inside them. It a big compliment but dirty pots and clutter is not the look I wanted. As I said to mum I’ve never had such an empty small greenhouse in June. Sadly I can’t plan any seed sowing and growing at the moment as my illness means I will be going for surgery and possibly further treatments. It’s not fair to ask Mark or mum to look after the plants as well, as look after me. I’m just happy to watch the things we already have growing.

Amanda's Garden

Being part of the T&M social community has really helped
( Wendie and the rest of the team have been supportive too), because if I can’t get out into my own garden, I can read the other blogs or connect to their Facebook pages and look at photos of other people’s gardens. When I was in hospital my garden and greenhouses seemed to be calling for me to get better and get back out there. I so wanted to see the new planter and my potatoes and flowers and I even had a discussion with the Radiographer about how successful my aubergine seed germination was, he said his was terrible, we also discussed what else was thriving during a particularly painful procedure.

Amanda's Garden

My blogs might be on hold for a while as I have to concentrate on fighting my illness and getting stronger, but I promise you, if I am well enough to get into the garden, then I will be well enough to supervise Mark and write about our greenhouses once again, in the meantime, please keep posting your gardening endeavours – it really does cheer up my day.

Until next time,

Happy Gardening,

Love Amanda xxx

My name is Amanda and I live in Pembrokeshire with my fiancé and our garden is approximately 116 meters square. I want to share with you my love for gardening and the reasons behind it, from the good to the bad and ugly. I want to do this for my own personal pleasure. If you would like to take the journey with me then please read my blogs and share with me your gardening stories.

Geoff shows off his new plants

The summer is racing on at a pace, but the plants still think it’s spring! The garden here at Driftwood, is roughly 3 to 4 weeks behind where I would expect it to be at this time of year. We’ve already had 2 open days, raising money for the Mayor’s charities in Seaford and the first of 4 openings for the National Gardens Scheme this summer. Hot topics, as usual, are some of the plants from Thompson & Morgan.

Unnamed bidens & Petunia 'Night Sky'

Without doubt the top 2 so far are the stunning Petunia ‘Night Sky’, which look wonderful by the pond combined with other similar coloured plants. Right by the entrance to the back garden is a raised container with a brand new, as yet unnamed, bidens which has caused quite a stir too! It has some beautiful blooms that change in colour as the flowers develop. I look forward to hearing it’s new name announced later in the year! The comments on the petunia have  been a little mixed, with visitors saying it’s one of those “marmite” moments, you either love it or hate it! I’m pleased to say, on balance they love it.

Pennisetum 'Blackjack' & Calendula 'Power Daisy'

In the beach garden I planted out the new Pennisetum Blackjack’, which are only just starting to get going, but I’m sure they will look stunning once they are established. I had some problems with the delivery of the Calendula ‘Power Daisy’ this year and some plants were damaged. I managed to rescue three of them and they have done really well. They are just starting to bloom along the central path and are quite dazzling once they open out. A second delivery is awaited, so they should be putting on a great show later in the summer.

Hibiscus 'Luna' & fuchsia with no name!

The bare root Hibiscus ‘Luna’ was delivered back in April and has also just started to show signs of growth with new leaves bursting out. I look forward to seeing it’s large flowers as the summer goes on. I’ve been very luck this summer to have received 2 brand new plants, as yet unnamed.
The other is a fuchsia, which is also just beginning to develop it’s flower buds. It won’t be long before we can see the gorgeous flowers.

Tomato 'Sweet Aperitif'

Finally, the Tomato ‘Sweet Aperitif’ that came back in April are doing really well in the greenhouse and are already about 1 metre tall. It shouldn’t be too long before the delicious fruit appear! Later this month the garden will be part of a photo shoot, by the magazine Coast. Driftwood will be featured in it next Summer! We’ve got another 12 open days to go so plenty of opportunity for visitors to come and see the garden. If you want to read more on the garden go to www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk.

Geoff Stonebanks
Geoff Stonebanks was very lucky to be able to retire early from 30 years in Royal Mail back in 2004. He had 3 different careers with them first as a caterer, then manager of a financial analysis team and finally as an Employee Relations Manager and Personnel Manager. He sold up and moved with his partner to Bishopstone, near Seaford in East Sussex in 2004 and now spends all his time gardening and fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. Using his multi award-winning garden as a base, first opened to the public in 2009, he has raised over £61000 for various charities in 6 years, £32300 of that for Macmillan. In his spare time, he is also Assistant County Organiser for the National Gardens Scheme and their Publicity Officer for East & Mid Sussex.

May madness with Amanda Davies in the garden

Hello Gardeners!

Just like this time last year the season doesn’t know if it wants to be spring, autumn or winter. One minute it’s wet and windy, next it’s too hot to stand in the greenhouses for more than ten minutes. Unexpectedly the potatoes have shot up, and luckily I moved them outside before the really hot weather kicked in, however they have started to grow flowers so they will be ready sooner rather than later. It takes 12-16 weeks for Charlottes to be ready, and Dad used to say once they have flowered cut off the foliage and leave them for 7-10 days where they are. The trouble is once I know they are almost ready I just want to dive in.

 

Amanda's Potato 'Charlotte' & Tomato 'Magic Mountain'

Amanda’s Potato ‘Charlotte’ & Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’

The month started off with high winds and a telephone call from Rachel asking “Who’s your glazier?” My greenhouse was unscathed but she had lost a few panes. Come the Friday she said, “I found someone who does glass cheaper than yours.”

“Who?” I demanded.

It turned out that a long established garden nursery in Pembrokeshire were getting rid of 2 giant glasshouses as they are diversifying into a Glamping Eco Centre, and to raise extra funds they were selling the panes for £1 each. Rachel said ” I’m getting extra panes tomorrow, do you want some?” Of course I did. I bought £5 worth as I didn’t want to get too many hope this will last me a few years.

We have both been busy in the garden and greenhouses, I have pricked out my geraniums, hardened them off and planted them outside, along with the petunias, cosmos, Californian Poppy, sweetpeas, eating peas and a sunflower. Apart from 3 nicotianas the rest have also been put into their final growing positions. Meanwhile Mark has been mowing, edging, weeding, digging and fixing.

Trial fuchsia & bidens with Petunia 'Night Sky'

Trial fuchsia & bidens with Petunia ‘Night Sky’

I, like a lot of people this year seem to be struggling with seed germination. My methods usually work, but out of 20 sunflowers, only 1 has grown. There is no sign of my malvins, dahlias, Bells of Ireland, strawflowers, asters, snapdragons, cucumbers, squashes, verbena or pumpkins. I don’t know if it’s because I bought poor compost or the unpredictable weather. I usually stick to a certain brand of compost from my local Garden Centre, but they had a 3 for 2 offer on 70ltr bags of a different one. When I was sieving it, I was disappointed by how many pebbles, bits of glass and bits of wood were in it. It doesn’t hold the water and bakes hard in the sun. The other 2 bags I have mixed into the big greenhouse borders as there was no way I as using it for seed again.

As the little greenhouse is now empty Mark decided to take everything out at the weekend and give it a good clean, it was surprising how much muck was on the inside windows.

Whilst waiting for the seeds in pots to germinate, I feel a bit annoyed and let down that I didn’t buy extra pot plants, so I would have something to write about, but then something brilliant happened. Thompson & Morgan asked me to trial some plants for them. They sent me, and bloggers Caroline and Geoff, and others to trial an as-yet-unnamed set of trailing fuchsias, bidens and antirrhinums. So we planted up some hanging baskets with them and let them establish before placing them all outside. The bidens were planted with a single Petunia ‘Night Sky’ as I wanted to fill the hanging basket. The bidens are white with a yellow middle – almost daisy looking – but not all are white, some are white and mauve with a yellow middle. The scent is outstanding, on a warm day we can stand six feet away from the basket and their fragrance drifts on the air. As the baskets are attached to a boundary wall that backs on to a back lane, I don’t think it’s going to be too long before someone passes the garden and asks what is that beautiful smell.

Californian Poppy 'Cherry Swirl' & Dahlia 'Bonita'

Californian Poppy ‘Cherry Swirl’ & Dahlia ‘Bonita’

The trial fuchsias are attractive to slugs so we have had to keep using pellets in the hanging pots to keep the critters away. Although this year we seem to have more snails than slugs which is better as I can just remove these by hand, taking them into the closed down school field where they can live in peace. The plants themselves are putting on a lot of growth, but no signs of any buds yet.

The antirrhinums are also planted with a petunia, these are growing fast and appear to be starting to bud, I can’t wait to see what they look like. All of the trial flowers were repotted into their baskets/pots on the 26/04/16, using a compost that was tested with our meter to be PH7, they were watered, given a slow release feed and slug pelleted.

Typically when the greenhouse is misbehaving my nieces call and say, “Auntie Amanda, Daddy’s building our greenhouse, have you got any tomatoes we can have please…..oh and some aubergines, and peppers and basil and chives, and peas. Oh and Daddy says do you think Uncle Mark can help make the greenhouse?” Luckily I have lots of aubergines and tomatoes. I have basil and peppers, but I am now in the process of growing several different types of herbs which include basil, oregano, Lemon Balm, corriander, parsley, chives, dill and mint. Then my mum comes over for her tomatoes, aubergines, nicotianas and cosmos and geraniums, followed by my Auntie Mary who then needs aubergines as well. She asks what variety the tomatoes are (Magic Mountain) and takes one of them as well. Not that I mind, I had a packet of seeds that said, average 10 seeds, there were 14 of them, and they all grew, so I have been looking for homes for them. I have also given tomato plants to my next door neighbour and a friend at work. I can’t wait for the feedback from them as to the taste, size of fruit and quantity.

Cucumber 'Curino' & Squash 'Patty Pan'

Cucumber ‘Curino’ & Squash ‘Patty Pan’

I love sharing plants, after all what’s better than teaching a younger generation where food comes from, or having a jar of homemade tomato chutney for Christmas. As I wrote in one of my earliest blogs, a generous gardener is never poor.

In the small greenhouse border the Aloes have put on a lot of growth as has the money tree. However the Peace Orchid hated it, and had to be moved back into a pot of its own, so I put a spiky cactus in there instead.

In the large greenhouse, Mark has been busy building a cane support for the tomatoes, luckily it didn’t involve a trip to A&E like last years build. I have decided to use the left border for them instead of the right border this year to see if it makes any difference to the way they grow. I want to find out if they will get more light, as although the sun shines on the greenhouse all day and last year the vines created too much shadow for the plants on the left side. Hopefully this year the aubergines, peppers and chillies which will go on the right hand side will have more early morning light.

We have already put the tomatoes, peppers and aubergines into their final growing spots. Unfortunately, the hot chillies are still tiny, no more than 2 leaves each. They are on the hanging shelves and I don’t know if I should move them into the cooler smaller greenhouse or be a bit more patient. Also on the hanging shelves are seeds still waiting to germinate and a fabulous Banksia Hookerina that is growing steadily. I keep inspecting it every day and wish I had thought to do a time lapse photo record of it.

I am waiting the arrival of some plug plants that include a cucamelon and extra chillies. The back border in the greenhouse only has some Basil ‘Lemonade’ and rueben in it to go with the toms. Rachel is threatening to share some yellow tomato plants too, but the variety she grows are delicious so I am sure I can squeeze them in.

I must remember to buy some sticky yellow traps, although I was surprised at how much they cost. I don’t really like using these though as they also end up catching the beneficial bees and butterflies. I think I might research companion planting instead where the scent of a flower or herb attracts the pest to it instead of the crop, good ones to try are marigolds, basils and borage.

I am hoping June will see more progress on the germination of the seeds, if not I am going to stop the seed sowing until it’s time to plant winter veg towards the end of August. June and July will be busy months with nipping out side shoots, pest control, watering and weeding.

On a personal level I have a number of hospital appointments coming up, a Cardiology one this week and a balance test due to my ears being damaged by the Labrynthitis virus, which I still appear to be fighting even though it’s been over 12 months. I need to have an MRI scan on my head because of the balance issues and again I will be distracting myself by thinking of all the jobs I need to do in the greenhouse to get me through the tests. I am so glad the RHS Chelsea show are doing a huge amount to promote the health and wellbeing of gardening, because not only does it offer great exercise, encourage you to eat healthily, and get fresh air but being at one with nature is nourishing and healing to the soul.

Until next month,

Happy Gardening,

Love Amanda.

My name is Amanda and I live in Pembrokeshire with my fiancé and our garden is approximately 116 meters square. I want to share with you my love for gardening and the reasons behind it, from the good to the bad and ugly. I want to do this for my own personal pleasure. If you would like to take the journey with me then please read my blogs and share with me your gardening stories.

The initial garden set up!

The Good Life in Practice and Thompson & Morgan – the initial garden set up!

So I have been lucky enough to get a goodie bag from Thompson and Morgan to try this growing season! Now I have used Thompson and Morgan for the last 5 years and have always had productive crops so it is good to be working with the same company – particularly as they are my local gardening company to Suffolk. This is my first update for this growing season with hopefully some ideas to get you into the garden or allotment.

A selection of the seeds which have been planted in the garden and allotment

A selection of the seeds which have been planted in the garden and allotment

I have started to plant up seeds ready in both the ground and in the greenhouse space. I have potted up Calendula Candyman orange and yellow (marigold) and Nasturiums ‘Firebird’, ‘Princess of India’ and ‘St Clements’ ready for adding to salads and baking. I love using edible flower to add a niche element to meals and to additionally add colour. I quite often bake breads adding nasturtium flowers to bring a spicy element to cheesy bread and to herb bread varieties. What’s more, the Calendula gives a great colour pop to other recipes. This includes the obvious salads and soups. However, I love using the brightly coloured petals to decorate cupcakes and want to have a go at making a natural balm with it this year-watch this space. Again, I have planted some Cornflowers ‘Blue Diadem’ as they not only look beautiful outside or as a cut flower but also add attitude to a dull salad.

Calendula 'Candyman' Orange & Yellow & Sunflower 'Helios Flame'

Calendula ‘Candyman’ Orange & Yellow & Sunflower ‘Helios Flame’

Next I have been potting up all the salad varieties to hopefully make me more self-sufficient this year; rather than having to supplement my garden with brought salad. Think this will save a lot of money and shopping trips! These are the varieties I am trying this year:
Lettuce ‘Ultimate Mixed’
Salad leaves Sorrel ‘Blood Veined’
Salad leaves ‘Bright and Spicy’
Herb Rocket
Wasabi Rocket
So far the Wasabi Rocket is growing on the windowsill – it is growing gradually; although I couldn’t resist trying a bit of a seedling – hot stuff! Can’t wait to use it as something a bit different in Thai salads and to serve with main meals. It will make an exciting addition to a vegetarian lunchbox.

Nasturtium 'Firebird', Princess of India & St. Clements

Nasturtium ‘Firebird’, Princess of India & St. Clements

As well as the edible plants, I also love cut flowers in the house. One that is rustic, sturdy or simple. Therefore I have planted some Sunflower ‘Helios Flame’ to grow gradually so I can harvest the stems later in the growing year to add colour to the house and dinner table.
Lastly, in this session I have planted up a set of Spring Onions ‘White Lisbon’ seed tape. This was so much easier than separate seeds to plant! Also it will hopefully reduce weeds that will grow around the plant and make it easier to flourish. Spring onions add a punch to summer salads – yum!
Next time I will give you an update on my allotment, how things are growing and some tasty, alternative recipes to try at home.

Lettuce 'Ultimate Mixed', Salad Leaves 'Bright & Spicy' & Spring Onion 'White Lisbon'

Lettuce ‘Ultimate Mixed’, Salad Leaves ‘Bright & Spicy’ & Spring Onion ‘White Lisbon’

Katy Runacres, The Good Life In Practice
https://thegoodlifeinpractice.wordpress.com/, Facebook: The Good Life In Practice, Twitter: @thegoodlifein

Katy Runacres
Katy is a smallholder, cook and writer. She keeps Chickens, Bantams, Meat Rabbits and has a resident cat called Podge. She takes an interest in all aspects of homesteading and has written pieces for a number of magazines including Backwoods Home, Bushcraft, Country Smallholding, Home Farmer and Smallholder. Katy is a member of the Essex and Suffolk Poultry Club and has a Diploma in Countryside Management.

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