Posts from expert gardeners just like you!

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Beyond the Pail

Seriously? It’s April already? How did that happen! (If that’s rhetorical, does it need a question mark?) It’s all systems go here. David and I are Going For It big time: NEW sculpture focal point, NEW rill feature, NEW rose arch. And NEW hanging baskets – no more wicker, gone off rustic – and in their place, vintage galvanized buckets. We’ve even got one for the cats to lie in. More of that later…

Caroline's new rose arch, feature and focal point

Caroline’s new rose arch, feature and focal point
© Caroline Broome

In-between bouts of furious activity in the garden, we’ve been out and about too. (New Year’s Resolution: Get Out More). In March we visited Kew Gardens to see the orchid exhibition, and even though I’m not a fan of orchids I thoroughly enjoyed it. Such bold displays of colour and theatre that I even managed to get from one end of the hot house to the other without having a panic attack and running out! (Memories of Eden Project tropical biome.) There was one orchid that was so intensely turquoise blue that I had to touch it to make sure it was real. (Get a grip girl, it’s hardly likely to be plastic, is it, it’s KEW GARDENS!) Bumped into our esteemed Hort Soc Chair, Doc Page with family and friends; clearly not a good location for a secret rendezvous!

Stunning displays at the Kew Gardens Orchid Exhibition

Stunning displays at the Kew Gardens Orchid Exhibition
© Caroline Broome

Last weekend we joined friends H & N at their lodge in Belton Woods, Lincolnshire, for a couple of days of R&R. An amble through the ash woodland revealed a cathedral of towering trees, their branches stretching up towards the cloudless sky. At the edge of the woods we saw a small herd of Sika deer. Oh, the peace and quiet; I could get used to this!

A catherdral of trees

A cathedral of trees
© Caroline Broome

Spurred on by all these bucolic influences it was straight back outside on our return, to start planting out. I was surprised to find myself slightly daunted by quite large patches of bare soil (more than 1m² I consider extensive in our garden) that I created by lifting loads of perennials last autumn. But gradually they are all being replanted in a more balanced design, with plenty of room still to spare for new ones of course.

At a recent horticultural club where I was presenting a PowerPoint presentation of The Evolution of Caro’s Garden, I was asked what my favourite plant was. And, like so many other gardeners, I answered, “the one that’s in flower right now.” Which is brunnera. I’m building up quite a collection with no thought whatsoever of where I will accommodate them. Brunnera Hadspens Cream is my latest acquisition, and my T&M trial ‘Alexander’s Great’ from a couple of years ago is certainly living up to its name!

Having derided wicker hanging baskets in our recent Hort Soc newsletter, I felt it would be churlish of me not to put my money where my mouth is, so all nine of them have been swapped for vintage galvanised buckets, purchased through a certain auction website. Once we’d entertained ourselves with humorous quips such as, Kicking the Bucket and Beyond the Pail, David got down to work drilling drainage holes, adjusting brackets and fixing chains, before I replanted all my cherished hostas, ready for the addition of colourful T&M plug plants, which are arriving by the minute.

Brunnera 'Alexander's Great' and Caroline's new hanging baskets

Brunnera ‘Alexander’s Great’ and Caroline’s new hanging baskets
© Caroline Broome

Talking of which, every day is like Christmas, anticipating the arrival of new plugs: so far Nasturtium ‘Orchid Flame’, Begonia ‘Buffey’ & Begonia ‘Sweet Spice Bounty Coral’. Petunias next. Grown from seed, Tomato ‘Sweetest Duo’ aka. ‘Sungold’ & ‘Sweet Aperitif’, Tomato ‘Sweet Cherry’ and Cucumber ‘Mini Munch’ all have their first true leaves, and even one or two tiny seedlings of Nicotiana langsdorffii (much admired at last Summer’s T&M Press Open Day) have managed to survive thus far! Ricinis communis and Cerinthe major ‘Purpurescens’ seedlings, the easiest to grow, are well established now.

Mind you, the mad dash to the greenhouse to open the door and switch the propagators off before work, followed by the inevitable nocturnal dive to shut the door and switch the propagators back on overnight, is fraught with tension (quel domage, that should be one’s greatest worry in life, n’est-ce pas?).

Even going away for two nights was touch and go! Should I cover them with cloches, but they might bake to death; should I leave them uncovered, but they might wither from damping off. Shows you what my priorities are: as soon as we arrived home, a quick grovel to the cats, begging for forgiveness for leaving them, and then straight up to the greenhouse – to find all seedlings fine and dandy. Phew!

But what of the cats? Our covered patio, or Catatorium, was specifically designed for feline frolics in an outside space without risk of injury to the cats themselves or the wildlife beyond. Hence all the shelves and tunnels. The large wicker hanging basket was never meant for them, we just hung it up one day pending planting and Fred got in, and the rest as they say, is history. So the hunt was on for a galvanised replacement, big enough to accommodate two cats, after all, he’s got to have a double bed for him and his new bride, Ethel. And as luck would have it we found the very thing in Belton Wood Garden Centre, a 15” pail.

Caroline's cats, Fred and Ethel

Caroline’s cats, Fred and Ethel
© Caroline Broome

As time marches on plans for this summer’s National Garden Scheme Open Gardens is well under way. In July (Sunday 7th to be exact, put it in your diaries,) our Hort Soc is holding its second NGS Group Open Garden Day in Hampstead Garden Suburb. Our first suburb group open day in 2017 was such a rip roaring success that everybody wants to join in now, so we’ve ended up with 14 gardens (4 new) and 1 allotment, making this group possibly the largest in the UK for NGS. No pressure then!

So as dear old Arnold Schwarzenegger would say, “I’ll be back”. Can’t picture him pottering around in the garden though…

Plants for shade

Shady corner of a garden with a statue, hostas, ferns and other plants

Brighten up dark corners with shade-loving plants
Image: Elena Elisseeva

Does your garden have a Cinderella spot? A part that doesn’t get the same love and attention as the rest? Chances are, says Mandy Bradshaw of The Chatty Gardener, it’s a shady area.

Sunny borders might seem more interesting and easy to fill, but Mandy’s tips for the best shade-loving plants will give your neglected corners a fairytale ending of their own. Here’s her pick of show-stopping specimens that positively thrive in the shade.

Shady types

stock image of a green garden with beds, trees and patches of shade

Know your type of shade before you plant
Image: Hannamariah

Before you start tackling a shady area, there are a few things to consider.

Firstly, work out what sort of shade you have. Is it unrelenting gloom or the type of dappled shade that’s found under deciduous trees and shrubs? Is the shade caused by buildings or walls that will lend themselves to climbers? Or is it cast by evergreen shrubs that take the light and compete for water?

The type of soil you’ll be planting into is also important. Some shady spots suffer from dark, damp conditions, while others have quite dry soil. Different plants will suit each scenario.

Ask yourself what you want to achieve. Is the patch of shade at the end of your drive where neat and tidy will do, or alongside a seating area that needs a bit more drama?

Finally, think about colour. Lighter colours, particularly white flowers, and variegated leaves stand out better in shade than those with dark or muted tones.

Preparation is key

Pink and white Cyclamen hederifolium from Thompson & Morgan

Cyclamen is a woodland flower that grows well in shady areas under trees
Image: Cyclamen hederifolium from Thompson & Morgan

Look carefully at the area before you start. Sometimes, raising ‘the skirts’ of trees or shrubs dramatically increases light levels beneath. In my garden I’ve removed the low-growing branches on my Parrotia persicaria, allowing cyclamen and snowdrops to naturalise underneath. Similarly, clearing the lower trunk of a holly bush has not only given it a better shape; I now also have an easier area to plant.

Preparing the soil thoroughly is never wasted work, particularly when it’s in shade. Add plenty of humus and fork it in. Well-rotted leaf mould is good as it mimics the sort of natural conditions many shade-loving woodland plants love.

After you’ve planted, mulch the ground thickly. This will help to conserve moisture and, if repeated regularly, will gradually improve dry soil.

Plants for damp shade

Yellow flowers of Epimedium ‘Frohnleiten’ from Thompson & Morgan

Pretty yellow Epimedium lifts otherwise gloomy areas of the garden
Image: Epimedium ‘Frohnleiten’ from Thompson & Morgan

There are many plants that will revel in damp shade. Lamprocapnos spectabilis (bleeding heart) is lovely in gloomy spots, particularly the white form. Geranium phaeum is another good choice – the white flowers of ‘Album’ are particularly effective. Other possibilities include epimedium, with its dainty flowers held high over the leaves, Lily of the valley, and hostas – as long as you can guard against slugs and snails. For something a little different, try Podophyllum versipelle ‘Spotty Dotty’ for its beautiful marbled foliage.

Plants for dry shade

Shady border of a garden with hostas and sweet woodruff planted together

Sweet Woodruff and hostas planted together in a shady spot
Image: Nature Within – Cherish The Moment

Dry shade is the hardest to deal with, as I know well from gardening on my own thin, sandy soil. Euphorbia amygdaloides var robbiae has lovely limey green bracts and growing it in poorer conditions keeps it in check. Iris foetidissima copes with deep shade and its orange seed pods are a welcome splash of winter colour, while a pretty ivy or Galium odoratum (sweet woodruff) are great for ground cover. Several ferns, including dryopteris and polystichum, also thrive in shade.

Plants for partial shade

Pink and white flowers of Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids’ from Thompson & Morgan

Attract wildlife to your garden with foxgloves
Image: Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids’ from Thompson & Morgan

The term ‘partial shade’ describes the way the sun moves across your garden, leaving it in shade for part of the day. But it can also refer to the sort of seasonal shade that deciduous trees and shrubs provide when in full leaf.

Alchemilla mollis, hardy geraniums and the elegant Polygonatum x hybridum (Solomon’s Seal) are all good for spots that are shady for part of the day. Under trees, choose woodlanders such as Anemone nemorosa, primroses, and foxgloves.

Climbers

Single yellow flower of Clematis ‘Guernsey Cream’ from Thompson & Morgan

A climbing clematis is a great way to cover walls and fences
Image: Clematis ‘Guernsey Cream’ from Thompson & Morgan

Ivy is the obvious choice for covering a shady fence or wall, but you can also brighten these areas with flowers. One of my favourites is Clematis ‘Guernsey Cream’, which I grew for many years in a sun-free courtyard. Its beautiful limey flowers gradually fade to white as they age. There are even climbing roses that will tolerate some shade, including ‘Graham Thomas’ and ‘The Generous Gardener’.

So, with a little thought and some careful soil preparation, even the most overlooked area of your garden can enjoy the spotlight.

Starting a culinary herb garden

closeup of hands taking cuttings of basil from a white windowsill box

Grow herbs to add to your garden and kitchen.
Image: DarwelShots

Anyone can start a herb garden, no matter how little space they have available. Some people create bespoke culinary herb gardens, while others tuck these flavour-packed plants into any empty space they can find.

We asked The Sunday Gardener, Carol Bartlett, for her top tips on growing herbs at home. Here’s her sage advice…

What is a herb?

collection of harvested herbs on a brown cutting board

Grow hardy herbs in shady spots.
Image: Shutterstock

‘Herb’ is a generic term. It covers a wide group of plants that don’t necessarily share the same preferences for growing conditions. It’s true to say that, as a group, herbs mostly prefer sun – especially those of Mediterranean origin. But for those of us who don’t have sunny, south-facing gardens, there are enough herbs that tolerate semi-shade to keep a keen cook happy.

Should you grow herbs from seeds or plants?

Pots of Rosemary, Thyme, Mint and Coriander on a windowsill

Start with plug plants for faster results.
Image: Christine Bird

Many herbs germinate readily from seed – an easy and inexpensive way to get started. Early in the year (before May), it’s best to sow on a windowsill or under glass. Simply place several seeds in a small plant pot, and cover with a light sprinkling of soil. Keep the soil warm and ensure you keep it moist.

From May onwards you can sow herb seeds directly outdoors into containers or your veg plot. It’s best to sow crops like parsley and coriander fortnightly, to ensure a regular supply. If you want to grow from seed, I suggest parsley, coriander, chives and basil – you’ll need a regular succession of these plants to keep your kitchen in business.

If you don’t have time to grow from seed, there’s a wide variety of herbs available to buy as plants for an instant, ready-made herb garden. It makes more sense to buy herb plants if you only need a few of each. I suggest buying mint, oregano, sage, rosemary, thyme and lemon balm this way to get started.

Where to plant Mediterranean herbs

Sage (Salvia officinalis) from Thompson & Morgan

Fully-hardy sage thrives outside
Image: Sage from Thompson & Morgan

Sun-loving Mediterranean herbs include thyme, rosemary, oregano and sage. They need to be planted in dry, well-drained soil and get plenty of sun to grow well. Some of them, like thyme and oregano are particularly attractive to bees and pollinators – ideal if you’re trying to attract more wildlife into your garden.

Thyme:

Different varieties of thyme are available with small, pretty flowers in white, mauve and pink. These plants look attractive in containers, and they also like to grow in small crevices in walls and paving. Because of its compact size, thyme is ideal for growing on a windowsill. It’s easy to grow and requires little maintenance except for a light trim after flowering. For culinary use, I consider Thymus Vulgaris (common Thyme) best. It has a lovely aromatic sweet flavour and easy to pick leaves.

Rosemary:

Rosemary is a larger plant that grows to somewhere between 60 cms and 1m, but it’s relatively slow growing. It’s reasonably hardy, but less so in poorly drained soils and it dislikes cold, chilling winds. If conditions aren’t ideal, there’s a tendency for the needles to brown.

The other common variety of rosemary, from the prostrate group, is not fully hardy and requires winter protection. As the name suggests, this is a trailing plant which is best grown in a container so that you can move it under glass for winter protection.

Sage:

Sage is fully hardy and happily grows outside all year round. It can look a bit battered at the beginning of the growing season but quickly picks up. Both sage and oregano do get quite large as they mature, up to around 60cms tall with an equal spread.

Oregano:

Oregano is a fully hardy perennial that benefits from being cut back in the spring.

One oregano shrub usually provides enough pickings for a family, but I always grow more to feed the wildlife. Origanum vulgare is an attractive shrub which has pretty mauve flowers that bees and butterflies just love. Mine are covered all summer with busy pollinators. Many herbs are attractive to bees and butterflies, but oregano is one of the best.

Which herbs grow in semi-shade?

Basil 'Siam Queen' from Thompson & Morgan

Grow basil on window sills if you have limited outdoor space.
Image: Basil ‘Siam Queen’ from Thompson & Morgan

Don’t have a south-facing garden? A number of culinary herbs tolerate semi-shadeparticularly chives, parsley, mint, lemon balm and coriander. As long as they’re in the sun for at least half a day (preferably morning), these herbs don’t mind living without full sun.

Chives:

Chives are very hardy – they die back over winter and regrow in the spring. They’re also another bee magnet if you want to attract wildlife into your garden.

Parsley:

This herb can be slow to germinate, but once it gets going it’s pretty tough. Planted outside, parsley produces good pickings well into the winter and tolerates frosts, and although biennial, it should be treated as an annual.

Of the various herbs discussed here, parsley is the only one which can be difficult to germinate from seed. Patience and more than one sowing may be necessary, but once established, it’s robust and hardy.

Mint:

There’s a gardening ‘health warning’ attached to mint because it’s so invasive. If you want to plant mint in a border, it must be contained to prevent it from taking over, (and the same is true of tansy should you have an urge to plant it.) It’s much better to grow mint in a container to restrict its spread. A perennial plant, it’s often treated as an annual because the leaves become coarse with age.

Coriander:

Coriander grows as an annual in our climate. Because it resents transplanting, sow the seeds where you want them to grow and take care that the plants don’t dry out. Fortnightly sowing is best to provide a regular supply for your favourite recipes – and it’s best to pick the leaves before flowering.

Basil:

One of the more tricky herbs to grow in our climate is basil, despite the fact that it always looks so tempting in supermarket pots! Basil is easy to grow from seed and germinates quickly. The drawback is that it’s very temperature sensitive. It should never be placed outside until the summer is in full swing and then only in a warm sheltered spot. If it’s too cool, the plant leaves tend to yellow, and develop unappealing beige patches. Conversely, basil is ideal to grow indoors and perfect for your windowsills.

Even more tempting, and requiring the same growing conditions, Thai basil is a fantastic addition to authentic curries. Thai basil germinates easily from seed when placed in a warm spot with good drainage. It will do well all summer, but later in the year both Thai and Italian basil should be brought indoors to extend the growing season.

Growing your own herbs makes an aromatic garden display, attracts lots of bees and butterflies to your garden and gives you a wonderful fresh supply of herbs for the kitchen all the year round. What’s more, you can pick them at their best and freeze any excess if you find you have too much. Happy herb growing!

 

Geoff Stonebanks Driftwood Garden Update

I saw this posted on social media recently!

“Gardening is an art that uses flowers and plants as paint, and the soil and sky as canvas”.

It was credited to Elizabeth Murray. It really tugged at my own perception of how I garden myself. As someone who has no formal background in gardening of any sort, and one who, to be totally honest, struggles to find the patience to grow from seed, this description best fits how I tackle my own garden, Driftwood, and prepare it for the 2,000 odd visitors that come to see it every year! I’ve always said I’m a bit of an instant gardener, as I want the area I’m creating or changing to look like the image I have in my head, instantly.

This description of being a painter and using the plants as paint is something many have said to me over the years. Interestingly, many of the plants I’ve used to paint since 2012 have come from Thompson & Morgan. Looking back to 2013, two of the trial plants I was sent were Dahlia ‘Fire and Ice’ and Tulip ‘Silver Parrot’. The former was the most impressive flower to set the borders alight with some dazzling colour, easy to imagine my brushstrokes creating this dazzling bloom. Likewise with the amazing tulip too.

Dahlia ‘Ice and Fire’ and Parrot Tulips. ©Geoff Stonebanks

In 2014 the standout bit of art for me was the stunning Gazania ‘Tikal Sunbather’, whose dramatic pointed petals really set the garden canvas alive on either side of the tranquil pond. By 2015 we took delivery of the outstanding Fuchsia arborescens. This was a much talked about work of art by many garden visitors, lots of whom had never heard of it. All were captivated by its elegance and its twofold purpose in the garden, producing amazing delicate flowers to paint the borders or containers and then to turn into delicious berries that could be eaten.

Fuchsia arborescens and Gazania ‘Tikal Sunbather’. ©Geoff Stonebanks

2016 saw the stunning Petunia ‘Night Sky’ delivered to Driftwood. These were certainly one of the most talked about pieces of flower art in the garden that year, I had lots of them tumbling out of my 200 or more containers and you could just imagine them painted on a night sky canvas.

2017 saw another gorgeous petunia take the crown for the most commented on plant in the garden. Like the night sky, you could just imaging an artist’s brush delicately painting the heart shapes across the flowers petals. Petunia ‘Amore™ Queen of Hearts’ was a great hit.

Petunia ‘Night Sky’ and Petunia ‘Amore™ Queen of Hearts’. ©Geoff Stonebanks

Moving swiftly on to 2018, the outright winner in the stand out colour and longevity category, without doubt, was the Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’ that arrived and was planted into a large container. They started to flower very early on in the season and never seemed to stop until the garden gate was closed in September and beyond. So, what artistic contributions to the garden will 2019 bring? Well I’ve got 13 different plants being delivered by Thompson & Morgan this Spring, 2 are here already, Acanthus mollis and Alstroemeria ‘Summer Red’. But I reckon the stand out plant for me on the artist’s palette this season will be the Salvia ‘Amethyst Lips’. You’ll have to watch this space over the summer months to see how it turns out on my garden canvas!

Alstroemeria ‘Indian Summer’ and Salvia ‘Amethyst Lips’. ©Geoff Stonebanks

Interestingly, back in 2017, a visitor to the garden posted this review on Trip Advisor after seeing the garden.

“The garden was a picture created by an artist – a delight of colours, secret glades of surprise, intricacies of fronds and leaves, inspiring and challenging, completely enjoyable”.

Read more of Geoff’s garden at www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk

Not Quite Spring

Hello

As I write this it’s the beginning of March and we’ve had a lovely warm spell but are now experiencing some wetter, cooler weather, and today it is blowing a gale here in mid-Wales. Rain is never a bad thing to be honest, it’s good to have rain sometimes, if not for the fact that the water butts are full again!

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

Since I last wrote, I’ve put in the Spring Onion sets, and I finally got round to buying some ericaceous compost so that I could take up the three, small blueberry bushes form the garden. They have now been put into planters and are getting a good rainwater drink as they sit. They have survived the Winter very well and are now happy in the pots.

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

In my last, and first, post here I wrote about overwintering a couple of things – so first off let’s chat cabbages! Here are my Cabbages transplanted from the greenhouse. I’m quite chuffed with these as I kept them covered with netting during the latter part of the year ,but after a while, I didn’t expect anything to try and eat them so I didn’t bother. Now they are looking very healthy indeed. I think I may perhaps be able to harvest them in about July.

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

I overwintered some Pea ‘Meteor’ climbing peas in the greenhouse and, with my hand as a guide, you can see how they are coming on after being planted in the poly house bed. Harvest is set around May time I think.

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

I also sowed, and left in the greenhouse, some Sweet Peas at the end of September. I think they’re ready to be planted out I would say!

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

A couple of failures were Beetroot and Turnip in the greenhouse. I had lots of greenery and leaves grew but nothing underground. Shame as I’ve grown these both outside quite well in the past; never mind, we live and learn.

Talking of the greenhouse….

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

This is what happened when Storm Eric hit. I was about as devastated as the greenhouse was because I’d hardly made any use of it and had lots of plans for it this year. I intended to grow all my tomatoes in there so as to leave space in the poly house, but that has been put paid to. However, I’ve adapted and bought some Tomato ‘Outdoor Girl’ seeds which I’m told by a friend are a good outdoor cropping variety. I’ll let you know how I get on.

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

Over the Winter I thought I’d lost my rhubarb crowns for various reasons, including the area having become very overgrown. But the other day I discovered one, and then the other. I made the decision to clear it and created a frame so they won’t get lost again, or damaged by my husband when outdoor jobs are being done! I built this frame out of ash branches, following him cutting back some trees in the garden. I have to say I love it!

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

I don’t grow flowers in general although this year I’ve decided to sow some Nigella. Although we have lots and lots of Daffs and Snowdrops in the garden, I’ve sown some Daff and Tulip bulbs in pots and happily found Crocuses pop up with no effort at all!

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

I think Spring may be on its way but we need to take care when the weather takes a turn and keeps us on our toes.

©LOUISE HOUGHTON

I look forward to writing again about how the season progresses.

Bye.
Louise

Pass Me My WW1 Trenching Tool

Oh but wasn’t I right – as the nights draw in we wistfully reminisce about the long hot summer of 2018. Get over it! Time to move on! And move on we have; half the garden is enjoying the extrovert opulence of autumn and half, well, the other half has been dug up! The prospect of a year out of charity open days and competitions (more of that later) has been liberating to say the least.

No more Kilmarnock Willow
© Caroline Broome

Armed with my WW1 trenching tool and my shiny new rabbiting spade no clay is too impervious to the dislodgement (new word that) of plants that have either outstayed their welcome or aren’t earning their keep. Funny thing, the more plants I dig up the more opportunities I see. If I keep on going like this there won’t be a perennial left standing in the borders. That’s not to say I’m discarding them, on the contrary, I’m dividing them and potting them on so that I can relocate them next spring where they can create more impact. Shrubs are another matter: gone for good are fuchsia magelanica Alba, replaced by viburnum Mariesii, cotinus coggygria Royal Purple giving way to photinia Pink Crispy, Kilmarnock willow in favour of red stemmed contorted willow, and as soon as its stops raining elaeagnus Limelight gets it. From the patio, miniature ornamental cherry Kojo-No-Mai and hydrangea King George are off down the road to a friend’s woodland garden, and hydrangea Zorro Pink off up the road to NGS fellow Rosie. Along with two large containers that displayed annual climbers this summer I have now created five new planting opportunities to savour over the coming winter months.

And so to this summer’s star performers:

  • T&M Ricinus Impala. Transformation from seed to 4ft triffid in 20 weeks, withstanding the exposed north winds of our front garden and roof terrace. Real show stopper.
  • Salvia Involucrata Boutin. Not reliably hardy? Well if it managed to get through last winter in North London I’d say take the risk. In its third year outside now, all I’ve done to protect it is to cut the stems down to about 45cms and mulch deeply around the crown. Right now it’s at its peak, unrestrained; it’s the size of a small country! Arching spires of bright magenta flowers reaching 7ft high. Overall span in excess of 8ft with neighbouring plants intermingling through its loose habit. And so easy to take cuttings.
Ricinus Impala, Salvia Involucrata Boutin and Salvia Confertuflora with rudbeckias 'Prairie Glow' and 'Goldsturm'

Left to right: Ricinus Impala, Salvia Involucrata Boutin and Salvia Confertuflora with rudbeckias ‘Prairie Glow’ and ‘Goldsturm’
© Caroline Broome

  • Salvia Confertiflora with rudbeckias Prairie Glow & Goldsturm and patrinia scabiosifolia. My embroidery teacher (yes, well, I’ve got ‘O’ level Embroidery as it happens) always believed that red and yellow should never be seen together. Well you’re so wrong!
  • Salvia Black and Blue with rudbeckia Prairie Glow. Accidental pairing in the potting area will become next year’s most striking combination.
  • Coleus Campfire with Ipomoea Black Tone and Solar Power Green.
Accidental combination of salvia and rudbeckia, Begonia elata ‘Solenia Apricot’ and Begonia x tuberhybrida ‘Non-stop Mocca’

Left to right: Combination of salvia and rudbeckia, Begonia elata ‘Solenia Apricot’ and Begonia x tuberhybrida ‘Non-stop Mocca’
© Caroline Broome

  • T & M begonias. If I could only buy one plant from T & M it would be begonia. This year Solenia Apricot, Non Stop Mocca, Fragrant Falls Orange Delight. Easy to grow plugs, extensive and prolific flowering habit, versatile placement, reliable tubers for overwintering. Can never have too many.
Tomato 'Sweet Baby'

Tomato ‘Sweet Baby’
© Caroline Broome

Having almost given up on the greenhouse tomatoes ever ripening, I am now relieved to report that T&M trials of Sweet Baby, Artisan Mixed and Rainbow Blend were, er, marginally successful in the end. Although all three varieties were deliciously tart, the skins of Artisan and Rainbow were quite thick. I feel vindicated as other growers have experienced similar results even after judicious feeding and regular watering, so I recon it’s to do with the excessive heat. Bound to be some chemical explanation available somewhere. Cucumber Nimrod supplied us with loads of fruits for weeks on end, so I came up with a lovely salad idea:

  • Thinly slice cucumbers, multi-coloured tomatoes, red onions and radishes.
  • No peeling, salting or draining required.
  • Marinate in French dressing overnight.
  • Eat! Simples!

Not all my culinary efforts have been so fruitful (boom boom!) Apples and pears on the allotment have been few and far between this autumn, no plums at all, but plenty of tiny sweet bunches of black grapes. Pride certainly comes before a fall. After bragging about my blackberry jam triumph in my last blog, not so with grape jelly this time! Having followed the recipe to the letter, sterilised everything, bought muslin cloth and a thermometer, it failed to set. Boiled it up again, sterilised everything again, still didn’t set. Five jars of deeply rich grape syrup anyone? Not one to admit defeat, certainly with no intention of wasting it, I am poaching nectarines to preserve in the syrup instead. Job done!

……..And talking of competitions, The London Gardens Society All London Championship Awards 2018 were held at The Guildhall, City of London last Thursday evening. David & I were shortlisted for the Best Small Back Garden, Diane for the Best Large Back Garden and Rosie for Best Patio. Having both won the cup two years running in our respective categories, Diane and I entered the hall with severe trepidation: dark thoughts of rivalry and one-upmanship bubbled away at the prospect of Diane scoring a hat trick and us not. How was I to be her friend anymore should that come to pass? (I’ve already had to reign in my canna envy – she does nothing to them from year to year I tell you, and they are still the tallest I’ve ever seen in a domestic garden and in pots at that!) Well readers, as it happens WE BOTH RETAINED OUR TITLES so all was well. Haha! Rosie won a silver medal in Best Patio category (she was robbed!) and we won bronze in the Best Small Front Garden class (must try harder) so celebrations all round.

Carolines friend Diane with her Canna Lilies and David and Caroline with their awards

Left to right: Caroline’s friend Diane with her Canna Lilies and David and Caroline with their awards
© Caroline Broome

With autumn in full swing now thoughts are turning to next year’s horticultural activities and challenges. Plans are already underway for our Hampstead Garden Suburb Hort Soc three day coach trip to Hampshire and the Isle of Wight next July. A week later the Hort Soc is having its second National Garden Scheme Group Open Day with twelve gardens and one allotment this time. Having said that we were not opening our garden next year, I think it highly likely that David and I will have a pop-up Open Day in aid of the London Gardens Society, but not until late summer. I am so looking forward to being able to make radical changes without having to face deadlines, so that NGS visitors can return in 2020 to rejuvenated and innovative planting schemes. I can’t believe that I’m anticipating two years hence, and being of a superstitious nature, I say all this with my fingers firmly crossed behind my back (quite a feat if you’re typing) with the caveat that We Make Plans and Fate Laughs.

Enjoy the autumn. It’s a long winter ahead!

How to store home grown vegetables

Make the most of your home grown veg by storing it correctly
Image source: Shutterstock

There is plenty to harvest from the vegetable plot, and if you have a glut it might not be possible to eat them all at once. To enjoy vegetables throughout autumn and winter it’s vital to store them correctly. Here’s our simple guide to storing your home grown vegetables.

Keep vegetables fresher for longer

Separate bad veg to enjoy the ‘fresh from the garden’ taste for longer
Image source: Zaretskaya Svetlana

It’s important that no damaged or rotting vegetables are put into storage. Over time, damaged fruit or veg will infect any vegetables nearby, causing them to rot. This bears out the old adage ‘a bad apple spoils the bunch.’ There’s no need to waste damaged produce – if you have vegetables which are less than perfect, simply set them aside to use first.

Only place completely dry vegetables in storage. It’s best not to wash vegetables with water before they are stored. Instead, any excess dirt should be gently brushed off. Cut off any top growth from root vegetables before storage.

These general rules apply to all veg, but different vegetables dictate different methods of storage. For example, two of our favourite crops, onions and potatoes, are as different as chalk and cheese when it comes to the best methods of storing them.

How to store potatoes

Potatoes must be kept away from light
Image source: Shutterstock

It is crucial that potatoes are stored in a dark, and ideally cool place. Light causes potatoes to produce chlorophyll, which produces solanine, a natural toxin present in green potatoes which causes an upset stomach. You mustn’t eat green potatoes.

Once the potatoes have been lifted, they should be cleaned of soil and only put into storage once dry. A good storage area for potatoes – and a number of other vegetables – is in a garage because it’s a cool, frost-free space.

Potatoes store well in hessian sacks, or if these are not to hand, a box or potato sacks can be used with layers of newspaper to exclude all light and to ensure that the tubers remain dry. An ideal storage combination would be hessian or potato sacks inside a container that excludes light, left slightly open to allow air circulation.

Like many root crops, potatoes need to be kept cool. Greenhouses and conservatories are not recommended, as they tend to be too light.

Storing alliums: leeks, onions and garlic

Plaiting garlic and onions is a practical and attractive storage method
Image source: Mattis Kaminer

Onions and garlic need to be kept dry and stored in the light. Traditionally, onions are lifted and left resting on the soil for a few days to dry, which is all very well if your harvest coincides with a dry spell. Since our weather is often capricious, it’s best to lay out onions and garlic to dry indoors or under glass. This usually takes up to a week.

Onions and garlic can be strung together or woven into decorative plaits and stored. Once the top growth has dried out it will plait easily. Start with the large onions or garlic bulbs and plait in descending size ending with the smallest. If there is not enough top growth, weave in raffia to make more to plait with.

Although onion plaits and strings look decorative in the kitchen, it’s not an ideal storage area as it can be humid. Onions and garlic are best stored in a cool, dry environment such as a porch, conservatory, or greenhouse. Onions and garlic can also be stored in string bags or nets.

Leeks, although members of the Allium family, are different again. Leeks are best left in the ground over winter and dug up as and when required. Traditional varieties such as ‘Musselburgh’ will withstand winter and can be harvested from December to March.

Parsnips are another crop which can be left in the ground until needed, and their flavour is reputed to be better after hard frost.

Not so for carrot and beetroots, which need to be lifted in autumn before the weather turns wet and cold. There are traditional methods for storing root crops in sand and compost, but it is easier to put them in hessian sacks or string nets, and store in a cool dark place.

Turnips and Swede can be left in the ground but if your plot is wet, (and also bearing in mind the difficulties of lifting vegetables from frozen ground), both crops can be lifted and stored in the same way.

Storing peas and beans

Enjoy your petit pois for longer by freezing a glut
Image source: Thompson & Morgan

In the centuries up to our modern times, large estate houses had areas of cellars and rooms dedicated for storage to feed the family and estate workers through the winter. Today, we have freezers. Freezing is the only way to store French, runner, and broad beans, and peas including varieties such as mange tout.

These vegetables need to be prepared and blanched in boiling water for two minutes. After two minutes, drain and plunge them into ice cold water to stop them from cooking any further, and bag up into the freezer. This way you can enjoy your home-grown peas or beans with Sunday lunch for weeks to come.

How to ripen green tomatoes

Ripen green tomatoes indoors if it’s getting too cold
Image source: Thompson & Morgan

Tomatoes, especially when in the greenhouse, will keep ripening until late in the season depending on the autumn weather. If you have a glut of green tomatoes at the end of the growing season, there is no need to resort to green chutney. Tomatoes will ripen indoors and be perfectly edible.

Cut good sized tomatoes on the vine as soon as the temperature begins to cool and bring indoors into the warm. Make sure the fruits you put out to ripen are all without blemish and in good condition. Lay out the vines on newspaper, ideally in a conservatory or on a warm south facing windowsill. The majority will continue to ripen over October and early November.

Whatever type of crop you are storing over winter, it is a good idea to check on them from time to time. Remove any damaged vegetables to ensure they continue to store well.

Driftwood Garden’s Geoff Stonebanks’ trip to the Palace

Geoff Stonebanks attends Macmillan Cancer Support Volunteers Reception at Buckingham Palace, Hosted by HRH The Prince of Wales

Macmillan Cancer Support’s Patron, HRH The Prince of Wales hosted a reception at Buckingham Palace on 31 January. The event recognised and thanked exceptional volunteers for their life-changing contributions to helping people living with cancer.

The reception focused on the contribution these supporters have made, and celebrated the vital role volunteers play at Macmillan. One of our long serving customer trial members from Seaford, Geoff Stonebanks, was extremely lucky to be one of those invited to attend this prestigious event. Geoff is a local gardener and active fundraiser for the charity through his Driftwood Fundraising Group.  Macmillan said that all of those who attended had gone above and beyond their volunteer role.

Geoff raises money for The Macmillan Horizon Centre, over £54000 to date, through events in his own garden, Driftwood, and by single-handedly organising an annual Macmillan Coastal Garden Trail of approximately 25 gardens each year between Brighton and Seaford.

Geoff recounts how he brought the smile to The Prince’s face by telling him of a trick he had picked up for his own garden after a visit to Highgrove a couple of years ago. The Prince has some large urns at the back of the house which were looking a little faded and tired. As Geoff watched on, a couple of gardeners came up with a tractor and trailer loaded with pots of perfectly primed tulips, just about to burst into flower! They lifted out the tired, inner container from the urn and replaced it with one of tulips. Instant impact! This principle is something that Geoff now adopts, not on such a grand scale, in his own award-winning garden each season, where he has over 200 different containers. The Prince smiled.

Image by Paul Burns Photography, Courtesy of Clarence House

Geoff said:

This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and so totally unexpected. Never ever did I imagine I would visit Buckingham Palace and engage in conversation on one of my favourite pastimes with The Prince of Wales, utterly magical! Thank you, Macmillan!”

Image by Paul Burns Photography, Courtesy of Clarence House

The royal connection does not end there though! Geoff was dumbstruck in January to receive an invitation to The Queen’s Royal Garden Party, also at Buckingham Palace, in June, for his services to the local community in Seaford, where he lives.

You can see Geoff’s own garden and discuss with him the tips he pinched from Highgrove when it opens 8 times for various charities this Summer. You can also see and discuss the plants he will be trialling for Thompson & Morgan too!  www.driftwoodbysea.co.uk

Where Have All The (Wild) Flowers Gone?

This year marks the 40th anniversary, since The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady was published.  Amanda Davies looks back at her life, and asks if written today would it be as charming?

cover of the book by edith holdenEdith Blackwell Holden was a romantic ecologist as well as a celebrated artist. Born on the 26th September 1871, she was one of several children belonging to Arthur and Emma Holden, of Holden and Son’s Paint Factory in Kings Norton.   After leaving school Edith trained as an artist and took the opportunity to enhance her skills by spending a year under the tutorship of the painter Joseph Donovan Adam, at the Craighill Art School in Stirling and at the farm that he owned there, sketching the natural world.

Greatly influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement her paintings were displayed both in the Royal Birmingham Society of Arts and The Royal Academy of Arts in 1907 and 1917.   In addition she did artwork for four volumes of The Animals Friend, a publication for the 1920’s London based charity National Council for Animal Welfare; plus illustrations for “The Three Goats Gruff” storybook when it was translated into English – a considerable feat in an age when women weren’t supposed to have careers.

From 1906 to 1909 she taught Art at the Solihull School for Girls; and it was for this reason that she made her nature notes – these recordings were never meant to be published; instead they were designed to help structure the course material for her students.  In 1911 Edith married Alfred Ernest Smith, eight years her junior; the marriage was frowned upon by her family, so they moved to Chelsea, London, where they associated with Sir George Frampton, the Countess Fedora Gleichen and King Faisal of Arabia.

Edith and Alfred were married for nine years; they didn’t have any children, and it’s reputed that when she met her untimely death on the 18th March 1920 (by falling into the Thames whilst reaching across the bank with the aid of her brolly to gather Chestnut buds to draw,) Alfred never got over it.

illustration inside book by cover of the book by edith holden

So how did we get access to one of the world’s most popular books?  The answer is simply down to the insightfulness of her great niece Rowena Stott; who in 1977 (when she herself was an art student,) showed the family’s most treasured pages to a publisher.  Seeing the potential of the chronological recordings of the flora and fauna in Edwardian England, it was published in its facsimile form, and has been translated into thirteen different languages; it remains number four in the world’s most popular book list of the last forty years.

In 1984 a twelve-part mini-series was broadcast on television charting her life; and she is as popular today as she ever was – her illustrations are currently being used in adult colouring books, as well as inspirational designs for the home including wallpaper, napkins, and crockery.   A leading high-street store still holds the longest continually running licence certificate to produce its annual ladies diary, based on her original works, with quotes and poems and mottos.

If Edith were alive today what would she think of the countryside now?  How many of the two-hundred and fifteen plants or seventy-six bird species she documented are around to record now?

illustration inside book by cover of the book by edith holden

When did you last see a Bee Orchid?   According to the Woodland Trust, they are common in marshland and native to coastal regions of Wales; you can probably name several flowers in the hedgerow, but can you identify them all?   There are native plants including clover, dead nettle and thistle in our gardens; there are many pretty weeds too; what are their names?

illustration inside book by cover of the book by edith holdenThere are numerous reports available suggesting that adults and children don’t spend as much time in the outdoors as they should; however, there are also a number of bodies trying to redress the balance; Natural Resources England/Wales and Scotland, have a wealth of information on things to do in the countryside, as does the Woodland Trust and Citizen Scientist too.   You can also access the Government’s website that lists all of the currently endangered plant and animal species in the UK – and important advice on legislation when it comes to protecting them.

One innovative American charity, accessible to all online, entitled Children and Nature encourages youngsters to keep a year’s worth of drawings, photographs and notes on what they see in the of the natural world starting in their own backyard.   Imagine what the results might be.  Closer to home the Facebook group 30 Days Wild encourages everybody to send in a daily update of wildlife in their area.

Possibly record a journal yourself; because who knows, just like the unassuming Edith Holden, in forty years’ time, your memoires could be important too!

 

 

 

© Amanda Jane Davies 2017.  A.449davies@btinernet.com

September in Pembrokshire

Welcome Everyone,

As you know from previous September blogs I love this month. I love the last of the warm sunny days, before the transformation of of Autumn, with its crisp mornings, wood-smoke, and crunchy colourful leaves.

Though this September has not been the gloriously warm and sunny days it usually is here in Pembrokeshire. Instead we have had muggy, mild and wet days. Perfect blight inducing days – yet surprisingly I haven’t had blight in the greenhouses yet.

I feel so privileged to be able to be able to go out in the greenhouses this September – such a change from last year when I was fighting for my life. I genuinely believe that gardening and writing got me through one of the most stressful and scariest parts of my life.

Amanda's various seed packets - September 17

So many seeds to sow!

So what’s been happening in my greenhouses? Plenty! I don’t really know where to start. Last month I asked for suggestions for naming the greenhouses; unfortunately no one has given me any so I’ll just have to name them myself. So in “The Office” (little greenhouse) I have been busy sowing and transplanting many many seeds. I am sure my staging is more abundant with plants now than it was in the spring. It seems to me that putting the red LED string lights in there is helping the seeds to germinate quicker. They seem to react to the lights which come on at dusk. These lights were less than £3 for 50 bulbs from a high street value store. They run by solar power and on really sunny days the charge lasts until dawn.

Amanda's blog for September 17 - seedlings and cold frame

Seedlings and Hardening off

I started Calendula and Violas off at the start of the month and these have already being hardened off in the cold frame, and now planted out for my autumn and winter displays. The second lot that I did of these two varieties in the second week of September are now in the cold frame, and I’m halfway through transplanting my third batch to individual bigger pots, that I started off on in the third week of the month.As well as them, I have Calendula Snow Princess that T&M gave me to trial in the Spring. They didn’t germinate then, but have more than made up for it now when I sowed the remainder of the packet two weeks ago. There are many many plants that are hardy enough to start in September and October; and it appears that Autumn now seems to be the optimum time for greenhouse growers to get ahead of the game and prepare for their early spring beds and borders. So with this in mind I have started off the following varieties: Cornflower, Foxglove, Helenium, Kniphofia, Lavender, Larkspur, Lupin, Malva Moschata, and Nigella, As well as Radish, Turnip, Calabrese and Cabbage.

Amanda's aloes in the little greenhouse - September 17

The Aloes are taking over!

So far I have seedlings of Cornflower, Helenium, Lavender, Larkspur, Malva Moschata, Radish,Turnip and one Cabbage to transplant. I try to spend an hour a day, watering, transplanting and shelf arranging each day, though my energy levels are rubbish so sometimes they only get a water and a chat. I usually thank them for growing and brightening my day. Also in The Office, the aloes have gone all thuggy. I almost have a carpet of them in the border. I am so tempted to give them as Christmas Presents to people, along with some baked goodies, as a proper old fashioned, but more personal gift The indoor house plants that were evicted to The Office in spring are a lush dark green and look like they are about to send up flower spikes.

Finally, the White Lavender Edelweiss cuttings I accidentally rescued, when they fell off a plant I was looking at in the local garden centre on my birthday, have rooted. I told the person at the desk and I asked if I could take the broken bits home to save them. The actual plant was £8.99 for a 5cm pot so was worried I would have to pay for damages. I dropped the pot thanks to chemo nerve damage. (I didn’t have to pay.) They just looked at me like I was mad. Especially, as I had them wrapped in a bit of wet tissue. I now have a plant for me and a plant for mum for free. The actual potted plant I dropped didn’t look damaged so it was still able to be sold to someone.The tiny Christmas Cacti cutting I took in the spring from my dads plant has sprouted lots of little new leaves.So that’s all that’s happening there.

September 17 , tomatoes and aubergines

A bumper harvest!

Meanwhile at Ty Mawr (big greenhouse) there is so far an endless supply of tomatoes, and aubergines. The peppers have not been that great sadly, only five peppers off two plants. They were tasty though.I wish I had counted how many toms I had altogether. I would say to any new tomato growers, for sheer numbers of sweet cherries Sweet Aperitif does not fail. To try something more unexpected grow Yellow Stuffer, they get huge, are best eaten cooked as it brings out the flavour, and are still cropping at the end of the month.

Jewel Jade Aubergines have a fig like texture and are much sweeter than normal dark skinned ones. Although I found the skin inedible. I’m not sure if your meant to eat the skin on this one, or if I needed to let it mature for longer. They felt ripe though. The normal aubergines (Celine) have not performed as well as the greens. The chillies are making an aggressive comeback with many new flowers and fruit
.
The Garlic I planted from the fridge at the end of last month have shot up and have three leaves each. I’ve never grown garlic in the greenhouse, and have no idea if it will work or not.The amaranthus are starting to get seedy (oops that sounds a bit wrong,) and I must get to them before they droop and I end up with an amaranthus issue next year. The Nicotianas are flowering like mad under glass too. I have no idea if they will become a problem next year, but I am sure I will find out. The marigolds are still flowering and keeping the pests at bay.

Similarly, I have solar lights in Ty Mawr too. Only these are blue, and I really do feel that they contribute to the vigour and health of the plants. The green of the leaves is still succulent and rich,the flowers continue to being pollinated and the fruits still growing. I’m not sure if it helps to turn the fruits different colours, but they certainly seem to be more disease resistant and although I had blight on my tomato outside, so far the greenhouse appears to be blight free.

As it is time to start watering hyacinths for Christmas Blooms, I recently moved the bulbs to The Office, as they have more chance of staying warmer on the staging than on the shelves on their own in the other one. Also if Mark decides to tidy up the shelves of the big greenhouse when we finally pull up the summer crops, he might think it’s a pot of non existent plants and chuck it out.

So that’s what’s happening at Ty Mawr. Lastly, in the cold frame are my weaker plug plants I got from T&M last month, that have finally decided to grow, and hardening off, plus trays of calendula
and violas. I need to rescue my two baby money plants and the spider plant that are still out by the front bench and need somewhere warmer to overwinter.

That’s it from me this month. I’m off to go and collect colourful leaves – not to make leaf mould -although they will end up in the compost bin after, but to take photos as inspired by Andy
Goldsworthy. If you don’t know who he is just ask the ” tinternet,” as I call it!

Until Halloween,
Happy Gardening,
Love Amanda xx

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