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’
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’
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’
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’
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,
The greenhouse is packed to the gunnels with plugs-in-waiting and half hardys. With the cold spell behind us, at least for now, at last I can start thinking about hardening some of them off. I’ve managed to plant the millions (well, 2 dozen actually) of sweet peas on the allotment, as well as some more tree lilies salvaged from the carnage created by slugs and snails. Half of the postiplug Minitunias have been demolished as well, so displays will be somewhat diminished sadly. I’ve received some surprise (as yet unnamed) trailling antirrhinums, bidens and fuchsias to trial though so hopefully they will compensate. It took three 50 litre bags of compost to refill the tomato trough, but at last I can transplant the Tutti Fruttis.
Fred the cat & chillies and curcumas
The salvias and cannas can be relocated to the shelter of the patio now, so I can set up the tubs for the cucamelons. I’ve got the T & M Incredibloom® and fuchsia plant food at the ready so there should be no excuse for a poor harvest. It’s Russian Roulette as to whether I remember to open the greenhouse door in the morning (think tropical rainforest) and then close it again in the evening (frozen waste). A friend once trapped a neighbour’s cat in hers overnight but I digress!
Caroline’s overflowing greenhouse & ricinus
The sunroom is crammed with the cucamelons, courgettes De Nice A Fruit Rond, patty pans and chillies, all fed and potted on into 4” pots, ready for planting into their final positions by end May. The curcumas and eucomis are finally emerging too. I’ve got several thriving hosta divisions wedged in behind the bin store in the front garden. The helianthus Lemon Queen, run riot in one of the containers on the roof terrace, has been dug out, split and potted on for our National Gardens Scheme Open Day Plant Sale, now currently residing between shed and greenhouse. David reckons if he stands still long enough I’ll plant him too!
Tulips in pots on the patio are coming into bloom in succession (more by luck than judgement), their leaves the object of a running buffet for my Oriental cat Fred. I can’t have New Guinea impatiens, begonias or hostas at ground level as he munches on them too. (Winky the Sphynx cat is partial to chives.) I’m getting impatient with the tulips now, even as I enjoy their riot of colour, as I am already planning their replacements: all those zingy T&M petunias and bidens in waiting!
Tulips & more tulips
I did treat myself to some T & M perennials as well this summer. Brunnera Alexander’s Great are said to grow far bigger than Jack Frost, so we will see in due course. Following the success of Digitals Illumination I’ve also bought new Ruby Slippers. But my most anticipated plant so far this spring is the Ricinus communis Impala. The four seedlings are romping away, their leaves and stems already deep red. I shall plant one in the raised bed out front with melianthus major, grasses & ferns for an architectural effect, and one in the island Prairie bed out back combined with (yet more) grasses, thalictrum, angelica & eupatorium. But my Piece de Resistance (or dramatic flop) will be planting up the kadhai (won in a prize draw at GROW London last year and an unwanted eyesore ever since) with ricinus as a centre piece surrounded by fiery red hot pokers and cannas, on the roof terrace. It will probably end up looking like a sacrificial altar – hope it doesn’t frighten the neighbours!
I hope you are all well.
These last few weeks have been really busy, April is an inspiring month. Before I set out to write this I had a quick read of my April 2015 diary and last years blog, as I was convinced that I was lagging behind in the greenhouse. However, according to my journal we had only just finished constructing the big greenhouse and we only had potatoes growing in sacks, onions and strawberry plants in the greenhouse so it turns out I’m actually a little ahead this year.
It’s hard to know where to start so I will begin by saying that my plug plants from Thompson & Morgan arrived, they include a Barnsley Baby Mallow, Nicotianas and Petunias. They have been potted on and are growing rapidly. To make room for my ever increasing seedlings, last September I sowed Yarrow, Californian poppies and nigella which have been hardened-off and planted either straight into the borders or into decorative pots. I have saved a few for mum as I like to share my plants with her in return for cookery lessons.
The September sown sweet peas have been pinched out and I would recommend reading Kris Collins sweetpea diary for some really good tips on successful sweet pea growing. The geraniums have germinated and are taking on that distinct leaf shape that makes them so identifiable. Before long they will be transplanted into pots of their own so they can establish into healthy specimens before being moved outdoors. I thought I planted a pot of red and a pot of green basil but one pot has nothing in it whilst the other has both in it! The variety shown looks really pretty together and I’m wondering if I have stumbled across a new summer taste sensation Basil Lemonade and Rubin mixed with fresh tomatoes. Has anyone else combined two basil tastes together?
Only one sunflower has germinated I’m not sure why this would be as they are in the same small greenhouse. I have sown more as these are one of my favourite plants. I’m still waiting for Malvin Mystic Merlin. I am also waiting for the Dahlia Cactus Flower, the Hot Chilli Peppers Prairie Fire, the Cycads, most of the Squashes and the Perennial Sunflower Helianthas Maximilian.
I have very recently sown two cucumber seeds, two pots of Baby Leave Lettuces, more Spencer Sweet peas, five pots of Everlasting Strawflowers, five pots of the half-hardy annual Bells of Ireland, three pots of Snapdragons, as well as several pots of Verbena Bonarienses as although this hardy perennial will happily self seed in our garden, last year the Blue Tits stripped the seeds and we have only two or three plants left out of the many we grew from an original seed packet at least six years ago. I have also sown some Asters as I love that it flowers mid summer to late autumn so it’s perfect for pollinating insects. In addition I have also taken the Begonia bulbs out of storage and put them in individual pots of compost to bring into growth.
We are really impressed with the Tomato ‘Magic Mountain’, all the seeds have germinated and there is rapid growth. I decided to plant a whole packet on the basis that they might not all grow, but I should of had more faith. Luckily I can give some plants to family and friends as well as keeping three for myself. The Aubergines have germinated and so has the Sweet Bonita Pepper. These have been moved onto the hanging shelves in the big greenhouse and they are loving their new position. Also on the shelves are the Aloes, Cactuses and Spider plants, as well as a germinated Banksia Hookerenia, I can’t wait to see how long it takes for this to grow into a decent sized plant, at the moment they have a pair of leaves that seem to be opening wider apart and getting bigger each day. I have trays of germinating seeds on the shelves too, a mixture mostly of the flowers mentioned above. What has surprised me most is that as the shelves are nearer the roof the plastic tubs stay hotter for longer, meaning that the compost warms up quicker hopefully giving the seeds a more temperate state. One drawback is though that they do dry out a lot quicker.
Also in the bigger greenhouse are the Charlotte Potatoes. They have, in the last month, grown so rapidly I cannot earth them up any more as the sacks are full. The leaves are strong and vibrant, although I am tempted to put them outside I always wait until the farmers in our neighbourhood take the plastic off their crops before I even think of hardening them off.
As I mentioned I am waiting for most of the squashes but I do have one Patty’s Pan that has grown, albeit a little weedy. Not everything has worked out unfortunately. My direct sown two dozen radishes shot up for about two weeks then died. I don’t know if it was the rapid change of temperature from cold to very warm and then back to very cold again or the fluctuating light levels. Either way they are no more. I don’t know if I will grow any more of them. I don’t have a specific veg patch in the garden so perhaps I will wait until early autumn and try them in the bigger greenhouse in pots on the shelves.
The final job we did before I wrote this blog was to decide what to do with my massive Peace Lily, Money Plant and Aloe Vera. They had outgrown their pots, and last summer I let them live outside, and apart from the Peace Lily the others successfully overwintered in the large greenhouse. Unfortunately they are now too big for the windowsills in my bungalow. My home is compact so we try not to have too many pots or ornaments cluttering the shelves. So I asked Mark if I could dig up the expired radishes in the border in the small greenhouse and settle them in the soil in there. I have no idea if this is a good idea or not, but I really didn’t know what to do with them. I didn’t want to give them away or plant them outside. I am hoping that it might make my small greenhouse look tropical and provide evergreen foliage throughout the year. I am hoping the heat they may generate will keep the seedlings warmer at night. I’m hoping it’s not a decision I live to regret!
I still have plenty of other jobs to do. I need to build my cane and string wigwam for my eating peas, keep an eye on the long term weather, as believe it or not there are sleet and snow showers forecast as well as frosty nights. I have to find and wash the bigger pots for the next stage of transplanting. If that’s not enough, I also want to keep up with all of the other cracking blogs on the T&M community page, and take a look at some of the growing guides. Whilst sorting out some DVD’s last weekend I came across the T&M E-zee Guide to planting Flower Pouches, I must watch this again as I would like to be able to gaze up at my ‘Night Sky’ Petunias.
Soon it will be May, another busy month, what with watering, thinning out, and repotting. But for now, I’m going to continue to enjoy the longer lighter evenings, pottering about after work with sieving, sowing and settling plants, sitting on a stool listening to the blackbird singing his evening song. The best things in life are definitely free.
Until next month,
Love Amanda X
3 simple tips for bigger sweet peas
Left to their own devices sweet pea plants will work their way up their supports, going on to produce masses of colour and scent. However, with a few simple training tricks you can turn an every-day display into a real show-stopper!
My tips here will encourage the fastest growth and the biggest blooms on the longest stems. You can see the difference my training tricks bring about in the photo below.
Training difference in sweet peas.
Sweet Pea ‘Turquoise Lagoon’ in the left hand pot has been left to its own devices, while Sweet Pea ‘Eleanore Udall’ on the right has received some regular attention from me – and what a difference it makes. When I get home this evening I’ll have to add the next tier to the Tower Pot frame, it will be another couple of weeks before I have to do that for ‘Turquoise Lagoon’.
If you want the same results, simply carry out my three easy maintenance tips:
Remove side shoots: Check plants every few days for side shoot development. These divert energy away from the main stem, which delays flowering and reduces eventual flower size. Use snips or your thumb and forefinger to pinch out shoot growth as close to the main stem as possible.
Remove tendrils: Sweet pea plants put a lot of energy into producing tendrils and latching on to available supports. Divert that energy back into the main stem by snipping off tendrils before they latch on to a support.
Tie in: With no tendrils to hold up stems you’ll have to provide an alternative. I use sweet pea rings to keep my stems in place. They are quick and easy to put around both stems and supports, with plenty of room left between them. Therefore, avoiding any stem damage, and the rings can be used again and again. It is so much easier to work with than fiddly twine or raffia.
Sweet pea rings
At last Spring is finally here! Not wanting to wish my life away, but it’s been a long underwhelming winter. I’ve been sowing seeds since February but now it’s all systems go: As one batch of seedlings needs potting on, it’s time to sow another batch. T&M plug plants have been arriving regularly. This year I decided that I would be well and truly geared up in the greenhouse: 9cm pots washed and stacked by colour (perhaps a little too obsessive?), new plant labels written up in advance with indelible pen (sick of guessing!), propagating lids washed (green algae tends to block out the light!), seed modules matched up with waterproof seed trays.
Ricinus from seed and sown seedlings
In preparation for the onslaught I moved all perennial divisions and bulbs outside into the sheltered gap between greenhouse and shed. The potted tree lilies were being nibbled by mice (ungrateful vermin, quite happy to accept the hospitality and shelter of the greenhouse over winter), now temporarily housed in the auricula theatre. My treasured tender salvias and cannas were allowed to stay inside, along with last summer’s T&M trial Fuchsia ‘Eruption’, which are showing signs of life, and of course sweet peas sown last autumn.
Seedlings in the sunroom
David is a huge chilli fan, so I have grown two each – an heir and a spare – of the following T & M varieties: Prairie Fire, Naga Jalokia, Tabasco, Tropical Heat, Padron and Cayennetta. Guaranteed to blow his socks off. Considering I have only just harvested the last of the 2015 chillies from two plants overwintered in the porch he is pretty much guaranteed to have chillies all year round. He was less than enthusiastic about the four ricinus plants that I have grown from seed, convinced that we will all be poisoned due to their toxicity. So they are growing like triffids in the warmth and sunlight of a high shelf in our sunroom, well out of reach of our seven cats. Eventually I shall plant them out on our roof terrace with grasses and exotics.
At the beginning of April I sowed Cucamelon for the greenhouse and Squash Patty Pan Summer Mix & Courgette de Nice a Fruit Rond for the allotment. We sampled the cucamelon at T&M’s Plant Triallists’ Open Day last summer. They were delicious and I can’t wait to snack on them in the summer.
Fuchsia Berry, Minitunia and Crazytunia plugs have transplanted well from their plugs into 9cm pots. I love receiving Order Despatch Confirmation emails from T&M so I can enjoy the anticipation of next lot’s arrival. Mail ordering in this way has become quite addictive!
I have also been busy filling gaps in the borders. With slugs and snails so fond of fresh young growth I always use my plastic Tomato Auto-waterer collars as protection around newly planted perennials. Although I have never used them for their original purpose I wouldn’t be without them. To give the plants the best start in life I have also sprinkled Incredibloom® fertiliser granules around and am looking forward to reaping the benefits.
Cats in the rubbish and the compost!
And finally….not wishing to be overlooked is my Devon Rex cat Jitterbug who is showing green pawed tendencies. She does love to get involved in the garden!
Cat in the propagator!