I made the most of the sunshine on Sunday morning, busy sowing my tomato and chilli seeds, I love this time of year when it gets busy with seed selection and seed sowing. The up cycled table that my husband Ian repaired last year comes in handy for potting seeds (but it is the dog grooming table!)
I bought a cheap garden propagator kit that came with three single cell inserts; cheap enough to throw them away because they normally split popping out the plug plants. Monty Don recently said on Gardeners’ World that it was a good idea to use single seeds because you don’t have to keep transplanting seedlings, that’s the bit I dread the most! You nurture the seeds, they germinate and then you have to up-root them and pot them on (and on) if they are tomatoes. This way you just pop out the whole plug and pot it on, simple. And the good thing about the single cell inserts, you can write the seed name in permanent marker, even better.
Here is a list of the seeds I started off at the weekend:
Tomato Terenzo (Thompson & Morgan) – a new one for me a high yielding red cherry tumbler type, no side shoots to remove and produces a high number of sweet red fruits which resist splitting (perfect, no fuss). I plan to put 2 or 3 planters in the gravel garden next to the veg patch for full sun.
Tomato Orkado FI Hybrid (Thompson & Morgan) – another first for me. Outdoor cordon variety perfect for growing in British indifferent summers! Early to ripen first trusses with an average 8 round, deep red fruits per truss. Well flavoured and another variety resistant to splitting and great for slicing.
Pepper Chili Numex Twilight (Thompson & Morgan) – an ornamental edible suitable for pots on the patio in full sun. Attractive dark leaves show off the fruit ripening from purple to yellow, orange then red. Bears hundreds of small edible chillies July to October.
Tomato Golden Sunrise (Cordon, Thompson & Morgan) – an attractive RHS AGM variety producing medium sized, well shaped, golden yellow tomatoes that add a lovely splash of colour to summer salads. Crops of Tomato ‘Golden Sunrise’ are early maturing and prolific with a sweet, fruity flavour that is quite distinctive. This cordon variety is suitable for growing in the greenhouse or outdoors.
Read more on my blog, ‘Eight by six’
In his first blog post for Thompson & Morgan, gardener Richard Laker writes about the challenges of gardening on a budget…
My name is Richard Laker, I am (just) the better side of 30. I live on the North Essex coastline and this is the start of my second full year gardening at this house.
I should probably explain that I have a wife and two children, two dogs and a cat, all of whom (apart from the wife) throw unexpected challenges on my gardening aspirations and also require feeding, which sadly leaves less than desired money to spend on the next project.
View from the back door
When we moved in, in late August 2012 I was recovering from complications following surgery and couldn’t wait to start getting the garden in a happier and healthier state, but in the process it has received many ‘tweaks’ which has kept me busy.
The damaged fence
Last year was a challenging one as we got our first family dog, a working welsh sheepdog puppy, called Kiyo, which soon taught me that things were going to have to change if I ever wanted to see a full plant life cycle ever again.
Being on a very tight budget requires a lot of improvisation when different challenges arise. Stopping Kiyo from eating the various garden plants and shrubs that are poisonous to dogs and running through the different beds was one of them.
I started to try to dog-proof the garden by raising the flower beds on the patio section, for which I needed a cheap and effective boundary that I could try and train him from jumping on. I thought about and priced up a number of ideas to raise the beds but my finances couldn’t stretch as far as I had hoped, so I improvised. This time it was with some bricks left over from a neighbour’s building work. I literally dug a five inch trench alongside the path and plonked the brinks on their edges and started to fill the borders with a mixture of compost and well rotted manure. It mightn’t be as aesthetically pleasing as it could’ve been but it was a cheap, effective and environmentally friendly way of sorting the problem. Luckily Kiyo was a very quick learner and learnt that past the bricks was off limits!
My 1st place T&M award winning Begonia ‘Inferno’ hanging basket and my stunning Tree Lilly ‘Yellow Rocket’
I then decided that I needed to separate the garden in half: dog end and dog-free end. I started to divide the two ends of the garden with old pieces of wooden slats that were laying around (from my son’s bed) and made an awful attempt at a picket fence.
First fence attempt!
It did the job for a couple of weeks before Kiyo realised that, if he ran at it fast enough, it would collapse. The next idea I had was to try something I hadn’t done before and that was to set three fence posts into the ground and fit 6X6 trellis panels to securely cordon off the two areas. First I wanted to move the existing garden path from the edge of the garden to the centre which would help me fit the posts to provide most support to the panels. I was in the planning stages when I was given a large black gate which, coincidentally, was the exact size for the gaps in the trellis panels and this is the semi-finished result.
The summer continued to present more troubles but I hope to explain more in my next blog.
Was Buying a House Called “Brambles” an Omen? (part four)
It is early January 2014 and it feels like it has been raining nonstop since Christmas Eve. The ground outside is splendidly squelchy; far from the horticulturist’s ideal and workable “crumbly tilth”. The cars, the children and the dog are all variously caked in varying layers of seemingly permanent brown crud and I have a dirty-(muddy!?) confession to make – it seems that I have not ventured out into the garden since the middle of October!
Frankly I am ashamed of myself! “Call yourself a gardener?!” is the internal dialogue that whispers loudly enough to register whilst I am otherwise distracted dashing around dealing with the weekend-devouring cluster of family birthdays that happen in Autumn and then of course there’s Christmas not to forget full-time work and trying to keep the house heated, clean and bills paid. But now that January has crawled around and the bustle of Christmas is over and, crucially, the daylight length is expanding I can feel my gardening desire unfurling and thoughts turning to green shoots, brown earth and bountiful borders full of colour. The horticultural retailers aren’t unaware of this either! Abundant plant catalogues are delivered for me to pore over – Sarah Raven’s eye-popping colour combinations for example, Thompson & Morgan’s mind-blowing cornucopia of delights – all dilemma inducing! Which plants to buy? Which to resist!
So, given the Sunday newspaper glossies are chocabloc full of new year resolution clichés, I thought I’d go with the rest of the herd and wallow in a bit of cliché myself – that of looking forward to the growing season ahead and listing a few of my new gardening year resolutions. I’m keeping the list short to try to increase the chances of me actually keeping to these disciplines:
Things I did last year that I will repeat this year:
- Staking! This I promise to do very early on in the season again. I will create a wondrous network of canes and twine and obelisks for the various perennials to scramble up and between. I will willingly put up with the garden looking like a mad cat’s cradle in March because I know that by May/June it will be hidden by growth. It worked like a dream last year and made me feel so much better about my gardening skills. Ah, the joy of having upright plants rather than a flat slump of them. Thrilling!
- Weed Early! This is however caveated with “depending upon what the weather brings” as, if the soil remains sodden for a long time, my size 7 Wellington Boots will just make a compacted mess of the soil if I furtle about attempting to weed. Nevertheless I will definitely put effort into weeding the borders before I start with the seed sowing. Late-ish seed sowing seems to always catch up in a way that is never possible if there has been any procrastination regarding weeding.
- Chelsea Chop! This, for those of you not aware of gardening-parlance is the selective pruning of summer perennial plants’ flowering tips in June. This is generally done around the time of the RHS Chelsea Flower show, hence the name. Not only does this prolong the flowering of summer perennials it stops them getting top-heavy and splaying irritatingly into their next door neighbours (see also staking comments above). But more marvellously so, this activity provides lots of brilliant material for cuttings and therefore more free-plants. This year I will be doing the “third” rule – going through and Chelsea chopping approx a third of each plant so that I still get some early colour but generally the flowering lasts longer into the middle of summer.
Things that I really must and will get around to doing:
- Another confession here – I have never tested the pH composition of my soil! I think that it is a little bit acidic but I haven’t really got a clue. 2014 is the year that I will pay proper respect to my plot of land and learn more about its geological building blocks.
- Mulching – I am, generally speaking, rather rubbish about doing proper mulching of the borders and this is probably one of the best activities you can do to improve your gardening success. But it’s a tricky thing to do right – you’ve got to get the perennial weeds out before you mulch and it’s fiddly to work in around all of the established plants so can take a long time to finish. And there’s the fear of suppressing the wanted self-seeders. But on the other hand, I have been ‘brewing’ three bays of compost so frankly it needs putting to good use. 2014 marks the 7th year of us being at Brambles so should really be the year that I give back some condition and attention to the earth itself.
- Visit other gardens – on my annual visit to the brilliant Eden Project in Cornwall this year I am going to try very hard to wander about in the outside gardens much more and really study the planting combinations. The biosphere plantings are great – but I can’t garner too many tips from them not living in the tropics or the arid Mediterranean. I am also going to take time to visit at least one other garden in the UK that can inspire me. I was given a new book for Christmas called “1001 Gardens to Visit” (sub-text, before you die!) so in honour of and with grateful thanks to the present-giver, I will endeavour to tick at least one off that hefty target-list!
Memories of Brambles’ Summer 2013
So here’s to a fabulous new gardening year. No doubt full of the usual frustrations with weather, weed & wildlife infestations and poverty of time but equally giving of scent, colour, graceful flowerific-form and (fingers crossed) blue skies.
I’d love to hear if there are any other October to February ‘non-gardening-gardeners’ because frankly it would make me feel less slovenly and shamefaced! I’d also be really interested in what your 2014 gardening resolutions are – leave me a comment below so that we can compare..
The Rough Guide to Beans
Are you an allotment beginner, getting ready for your first season as a veg grower?
Well, let me recommend starting with beans. Beans were the biggest success of my first season, and I’ve loved growing them ever since.
They’re easy to grow, very healthy and one of the most prolific croppers on any vegetable patch.
So, if you’re new to growing veg and fancy some lovely legumes on your plot, here’s the Real Men Sow Rough Guide to Beans:
Broadies are the first beans of the new season, and very welcome after the hungry gap.
Sow undercover into small pots of multipurpose compost in February, or early spring outside, and plant out once the plants reach 9 inches or so in height.
For the earliest crops, try overwintering a hardier variety such as Aquadulce. Broad beans are susceptible to blackfly, but many gardeners will tell you that overwintered broad beans suffer much less grief from the aphids.
If you do see any signs of blackfly, squirt off them off with warm soapy water as quickly as you can.
I like to enclose my broad beans within blocks, using stakes and strong string. This lets the plants support each other.
My favourite thing to do with broad beans is parboil, and then grind up into a mash with feta, olive oil and mint. It makes a very tasty toast topping. A spring time minty risotto with peas is also delicious.
French beans are one of the most prolific croppers on my plot. I regularly walk home with a carrier bag full during peak harvesting time.
I also love growing French beans as they’re not particularly fussy. French beans will stomach drier, poorer conditions than other veg, so will grow well if space is tight and you’re planting where other veg has been taken out.
Sow two seeds in pots of multipurpose compost any time during late spring (earlier if undercover) to late summer, before planting out when six inches or so high.
Climbing varieties are available, but I prefer the dwarf Tendergreen, which is great for kitchen gardens. French beans grow tall and thin, so plant close together so they can support each other.
French beans freeze well, and I sow a late crop in July/August purely for this purpose.
Keep an eye on the plants though, they crop fast! Pick regularly, when the beans are small and tender, otherwise they become stringy and tough.
What could be more traditional than runner beans growing up a wigwam? I love runners for the interest they add to a plot, and their red, white and pink flowers make them a really attractive veg to grow.
Runner beans are deep rooted and require rich soil for best results. Some gardeners make trenches during the winter, and fill them with kitchen scraps to give their runner plants a boost.
Don’t be tempted to sow runners too early. Earlier sowings can sometimes struggle to set flowers, and subsequently don’t crop as heavily. I sow my runners into multipurpose compost in mid May, with the aim of planting out in June.
Like French beans, runners grow at quite a pace, so keep an eye on your crop and pick early for the sweetest bean.
Fancy something a bit more adventurous?
How about the striking Borlotto bean, an Italian variety with cream and pink pods? Or for more of a challenge, try the spectacular yard long bean.
Yes, it really can grow to a yard long…
About Jono and his blog
In 2007, I took on a redundant allotment plot with my gardening-mad mum. As all good mums do, she went along with it, but I don’t think she held out much hope.
However, six years on, and mum now lets me work without watching over my shoulder, so I must be doing something right.
I’ve found that there’s something joyful about allotments, growing your own food, and living within the seasons. I do my best to try and capture that feeling on my blog, Real Men Sow.
Guest blogger Jane Scorer has gardened the same half acre plot for over 30 years and has opened her garden for the NGS (Yellow Book) scheme. She has an RHS qualification, but feels that her main qualification is the years she has spent with her hands in the soil.
Variegation across the nation…
So, the dahlias are a fading memory and the Delphiniums are just blackened stalks and sadly, another fantastic growing season has fizzled out like a rainy Bonfire Night. But, surely there must be some reasons left to be cheerful! When all around is in tones of Sepia, there must be something in the garden to lift the gloom and lift our spirits.
There are still a few flowers blooming in the garden, but they are the last, lone remnants of the warm summer days. A rose here, a Michaelmas Daisy there, just welcome pools of colour amongst the falling leaves. Soon they will all have finished.
The berries are very plentiful this year and bunches of vivid lipstick colours dangle from the trees, but they are too transient and will be all too quickly gobbled down by hungry birds. I can’t rely on them to be there all winter, until the Spring bulbs begin to appear.
So … it HAS to be foliage which saves the dreary day, and brings some interest to those winter days. Not any old foliage, but lovely crisp variegated foliage in shades of greens, greys, yellows, creams and silver. I took a trip around my local nursery and found lots of lovely new variegated plants to buy.
When I buy a new plant it has to earn its place in the garden, and it has to offer me as much as possible … flowers, a long season of interest, interesting foliage, perfume and so on. The new variegated plants I have seen tick lots of boxes anyway, and the variegation adds another important element.
I bought a variegated Honeysuckle, ‘Harlequin’, for just £1 in the Bargain Corner. Now, Honeysuckle ticks so many boxes for me, beautiful flowers, strong scent, often evergreen, hardy and healthy. To add variegation to that list makes it a very special plant indeed. That means that even when not in flower,there is interest in the foliage. I would have thought that these little crackers would have flown off the shelves, but the owner of the nursery told me that people were just not interested… even discounted to £1. I cannot imagine why not!
Hydrangeas also have a variegated form, ‘Hydrangea Tricolour’ and again that is an additional element for an already attractive plant. The top leaves in the photo show how the variegation develops, with shades of green in irregular patches, contrasting with the crisp cream edging. It must look spectacular when it is also in flower.
There are few lovelier sights in late Spring than that waterfall of blue created by the flowers of the Ceonothus. That interest can be extended for a much longer season through the use of variegated plants, like Ceonothus ‘Silver Surprise’.
Some variegated plants, it has to be said, may not have the same vigour or hardiness of their plainer cousins. I will be interested to compare the performance of the new variegated varieties in the garden.
An old favourite of mine is Euonymus ‘Emerald n Gold’… tough, hardy, evergreen and reliable. Easy to propagate through cuttings, and great for filling any awkward little spots. The variegation is a bright sunny yellow, which makes you think of sunshine even when the skies are low and grey.
So, even though it is gloomy old November, there are still some reasons to be cheerful
You can read more of Jane’s blog posts at Hoe hoe grow.