Saturday, 23 April 2011

Easter Weekend in the Garden

I don't think there's a better sight than the pink of cherry blossom against a blue sky. It lasts such a short time - already blowing off the trees - but while it's there, it makes you smile.
All around here there are branches heavy with blossom, most pink, but some white, like these outside my house. Lovely.
In the vegetable garden, the Katy apple tree is in full bloom now, while the plum has finished and is setting its fruit.
This is a bit of a long shot, but here you can see all four of my apple trees; left to right we have Worcester Pearmain, Blenheim Orange, Katy, Spartan (the newest and smallest one on the end). I've had a struggle getting the Blenheim Orange to flower and then getting it to set fruit, having lost one of the trees that used to pollinate it, but adding the Spartan last year did result in one apple setting, even though the Spartan was very new. This year the tree has a lot of blooms, as does the Spartan so I'm crossing my fingers and hoping for a proper harvest this time.

The cloche you can see in the bed covers the lettuce, radish and spring onions. The weed ridden mess on the right is the potato bed, and just out of shot on the left is the pea/bean bed. The empty bed in the middle is the "leaf bed" - more on that below.
And here is a shot of the potatoes, carefully taken in a less weedy spot so you might think I'm a really good and conscientious gardener who doesn't have to work for a living and can spend every day pulling out every stray bit of grass. Convinced?
This weekend I planted up the "leaf" bed - spinach (the perpetual kind which is the only one that doesn't run to seed for me), chard, parsley and coriander. I habitually keep about one quarter of the seed in reserve in case of germination failures - in normal years our wet, cool soil can affect germination so I'm always cautious. I also filled in the gaps in the transpanted lettuce with some reserved seed as well.
These are the artichokes, which I replanted in February, and which have now pushed through the soil well.
And this is the strawberry bed, showing the before and after weeding view in one photo. The warm spring has meant I've got behind on my jobs, with the weeds and grass getting going very fast so I've struggled to keep up. I really hate weeding this bed - it's back-breaking work, but thankfully only needs a good weed twice a year. As you can see, I've weeded almost half the bed today and scattered some well rotted horse manure on the soil. As the bed is under a tree, it naturally gets a mulch of leaves over the winter which helps lighten the soil, so all it needs is a little feeding.
Another sign of the warm spring is that bluebells are out very early this year, these were on the way home and they're just putting their heads up.
Here's a picture of the weir, you can see the 19th century sluice gates in the background, which used to take water to the mill in the village. The river's low due to the lack of rain, but there's still plenty of water dropping over the edge.
More bluebells, with some ferns pushing through too. When you see slopes like this planted with flowers, don't you wish you could create a garden like this too? Somehow nature seems to do a better job.

Have a good gardening weekend.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

A lovely warm April...

After last year's cold spring, this April has been remarkably warm and pleasant. My last narcissus bulbs have just flowered - the small yellow ones you see mixed in with these white ones. Small, but very sweet smelling and as I type their scent is drifting through the open window. So early spring is coming to an end and I'm looking forward to the garden delights to come.
On the allotment, work has started in earnest. This weekend the grass got its first cut, using my trusty strimmer thingymebob.
And I sowed radishes and spring onions. I like radishes, and have found that a variety called Rudolph works well for me. Unfortunately, sowings after early May have a tendency to go to seed, no matter what I do or where I plant. I'd really like to get a longer radish season so, working on the assumption that it's the variety that's the problem, I've also sown Scarlet Globe next to it, and I'll repeat this double sowing through the season to see how they do.
These radish are next to the lettuce which I transplanted a week or so ago. The funny thing about Salad Bowl is that when they germinate indoors, the green and red varieties are both green. But when they go in the ground, the red immediately colour up. The little blue pellets are environmentally friendly slug pellets - among a few dead ones, I found one live and fat slug under the lettuce cloche. It wasn't there for long...
And speaking of cloches, I have whipped them off this bed - on the extreme right is a very straight row of weeds which mark the old edge of the bed, newly extended and awaiting weeding. Then (right to left) we have two rows of broad beans and two rows of peas. Lurking in the background somewhere are a couple of parsnips which I missed in the winter and which are growing on to provide next year's seed. This week's job is to get the weeds out and then my Other Half can do his favourite job - constructing a frame for the peas to climb. I will also do a second sowing of peas in the next week or so.

One month ago I took some cuttings from the white pelargoniums which I overwintered in the house. The parent plants went back outside a couple of weeks ago, and are filling out well. Meanwhile their offspring have been busy growing new roots, as you can see! Excellent growth on these little plants, they're now outdoors in a long trough pot on my sunny windowsill. If you want to practice growing cuttings, geraniums are a good one to start with.
Last summer I posted about the pruning of a rambling rose, and here is a picture of the result. A few months ago this plant looked rather straggly, but you can see how important it is to cut it back and tie down the long stems into a horizontal position; all those vertical shoots will produce flowers this summer. The plant is looking extremely healthy and pushing new growth out at the base, so I think it might be another good year for this rose.
And finally, a couple of weeks ago I posted about a packet of seed - Lobelia Cardinalis Queen Victoria. I was amazed to read on the packet that the seed could take up to 6 months to germinate, and thought I might be waiting a long time to see the plants! But fear not, the seeds confounded me and here they are, just starting to grow their first true leaves. It'll be a while before they're big enough to handle but I'm hopeful of getting some flowers this year.

Have a happy and sunny gardening weekend!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Holker Hall Gardens

Each year Mum and I try to get to Holker Hall, in Cumbria (just west of Grange-over-Sands) to see the spring garden. It's a lovely garden, with lots to see through the summer, but we prefer it when the shrubs and trees are flowering. It's a mix of formal and informal gardens, so here is a tour of what's on offer there right now. Do click on any of the photos for a closer look.

This section doesn't photograph too well, as the canopy creates a lot of shade, but this walk runs up the hill, with a fountain on the first "landing" of the steps (you can just see it in this photo), then the steps go on upwards, with a water cascade either side. Very shady and cool on a hot day, which it wasn't today!

On either side of the fountain are the massive rhododendrons we come to see; planted in the Victorian period they are truly magnificent. Holker has its own microclimate which means things flower a little ahead of our area, despite being further north. Timing it to get the best of the shrubs is always tricky, though fortunately different plants flower at slightly different times.
Here's another huge rhododendron, this time a white one and it was difficult getting the whole thing into shot!
A revamped woodland section contains some smaller flowering azaleas (left) and frilly magnolias (right). Alongside the path are lots of other woodland species such as bleeding hearts, lungwort, wood anemones, snowflakes, and the tree in the centre is surrounded by lily of the valley.
Here is a massed planting of hellebores, probably easier to see if you click on the photo. There were various colours, all just at their best and the photo really doesn't do them justice.
The thing about this garden is you turn a corner and suddenly you're hit by something stunning, like this pink magnolia. I love magnolias, but my soil really isn't suitable for them. This year we managed to get to Holker just as they were flowering, and there are lots of them!
One area they have been working on in recent years is the woodland garden; here's a shot of daffodils among the trees. The daffodils are just starting to go over, but they're still very impressive. Elsewhere there are massed plantings of yellow and pink primroses.
And in the midst of this is a small formal garden in (I think) the italianate style. These formal beds are yet to reach their peak, but some of the tulips are starting, as you can see in the foreground.
And here's the woodland garden on the other side of the formal bit. The nice thing is they've designed the planting so that paths can be mowed through the grass for you to walk on; it's not a place where you see "keep off the grass" signs, which is nice. You can see one of these paths in the centre of the photo.
While the house is open to the public, the family keeps its own quarters and garden off limits, but these domestic escapees were foraging among the rhododendrons.
This is one of the newer areas, still under development. In the foreground are some magnolias, more new magnolia trees are out of shot to the left. In the middle ground are silver birch, while at the back are a couple of rhododendrons. Most of these trees weren't here when we last visited a couple of years ago. They look like they're leaning, but that's just my dodgy camera work! I was standing on a sloping path and failed to compensate.
And this is a camelia corner, with several bushes, of which this was the best. The bare bones of the planting were laid down 100+ years ago, with the rhododendrons and trees which have now reached a huge size. In between, subsequent owners have added more themed planting, of which this is an example. They've also been careful to plant for the microclimate - this side of the garden is much more sheltered than the woodland sections.
I love monkey puzzle trees, you used to see a lot of them when I was younger. They were fashionable around a hundred years ago, but age has reduced their numbers somewhat, so to see a collection of huge specimens like this is now a rarity. The biggest tree in this group happily has small offspring growing at the base, carefully preserved by the gardeners.
Returning along the paths towards the house, here is another showy rhododendron in full flow.
The formal gardens near the house are classics of their type; separate "rooms", bound by hedges both large and small. Here is the view looking up the avenue; as you can see there were quite a number of visitors about, I found it impossible to keep people out of my pictures!
Standing at the same point as the last photo but looking left, here is a stunning tulip border along the edge of the box hedge. These borders are changed through the season, beginning with tulips.
This is the centre of this "room", with low hedges and four beds in the centre circle. The trees in each bed are closely pruned pears. The plants in the wicker-bound beds are pink tulips, just a few days off blooming, so you'll have to use your imagination!
But even this well-kept garden has a few things out of place - here's a grape hyacinth which has chosen to grow in a gravel bed by the path.
Leaving the first "room" behind, you pass through a section with high hedges enclosing lawns, then into the final "room" which has yew hedges round the edges and in the centre, where it encloses a sun trap with benches for the weary. They haven't finished planting this bed in the foreground, it's looking like it will be full of summer flowering plants eventually. This bed is exposed to the wind and it looks like they may have lost some plants in the winter.
The path runs in a circle round the centre hedges; as you can see, there is a bit of topiary here too.
And here is a shot of the tulip beds outside the house. It was too early for the tulips really, we have been when they are flowering and they are stunning.

While I like the formal beds, it's the woodland garden I like to see; rhododendrons and magnolias of a size too large for ordinary gardens. If you're in the area, it's worth a visit, especially in the spring.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

A Glorious Sight

My Victoria Plum is in full bloom, the first of the fruit trees to blossom each year. It's a marvellous sight, and it also has a sweet scent too.
This tree was planted in 2005 and took a few years to settle in; it's on a Pixy (extremely dwarfing) rootstock and for a couple of years I was concerned the graft hadn't taken correctly. But eventually it produced a few flowers and two years ago a lot of plums. Last year it didn't have too much blossom, and was also affected by the late frosts we had; this year it's covered in blossom though. I'm now slightly concerned it is tending to be a biennial fruiter, so will have to keep an eye on it and thin the plums once they've set to prevent this happening in future years.
The bush fruit is also flowering - here you can see mostly redcurrants. A couple of weeks ago on Gardeners World Monty Don showed his hard pruned currant bushes. I've never bothered doing this, preferring quantity and I have masses of fruit each year. Put it this way, the retail value of the fruit these bushes produce is enough to pay my allotment rent twice over. So these redcurrants are sparingly pruned, only the blackcurrants get a good haircut as they need it in order to produce fruit.
The broad beans are growing well under their cloche...
as are the peas which have now pushed through.
This is the parsnip bed this year. This bed was reclaimed from a grassy bank back in 2000 (you can just see the continuation of the bank behind), with the lower plot on the left and the upper plot on the right. Like much reclaimed land round here, the clay soil was poor at the start so I added soil and organic matter but it was still too poor to grow very much. A few years ago I had a new retaining fence built and extended the bed a bit, adding more soil and a lot of organic matter. The soil in here is now light, with a good depth of topsoil so this year I decided to put the parsnips in here. I've used my own seed which I gathered last year, keeping my packet of bought seed in reserve in case of failures. I'm hoping that this light soil will favour the growing of good, long parsnips.
I planted out my home grown lettuce today, they look dead in this photo as they'd just been watered in. This leafy lettuce (Salad Bowl) doesn't transplant particularly well so there will be losses, but I can fill the gaps with seed in due course and I will get some lettuce to eat in May, which is the point really. I've also popped in some spring onions here, the whole lot is now under a cloche to keep it warm.

This week I took advantage of the warm and sunny weather to sow beetroot outside. In a cold spring I tend to start them in pots indoors, but from previous experience I know they could germinate well in this kind of weather. If needs be I can pop a cloche on them later.
And here is a truly white daffodil, my last daffodil to flower, and they're just coming out now.
Finally, for that "ah" factor, here is a brand new foal, outside with its mum for the first time this week. Not mine, I hasten to add, just a paddock I pass on the way to my vegetable plot. Couldn't get too close, the foal is still a bit jumpy and its mother very protective. Sweet.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Flowering Blackcurrant - Again

The most popular post on this blog is the Flowering Blackcurrant from 2009. Looking at that photo now, I think I can do better, so here is an updated picture, taken this morning. Rather better, I think, I tried to find a flower where most of the blooms were open. It is a lovely bush and, as you can see, is covered with blooms. Difficult to get a photo of the whole plant today as it's quite breezy, but I'll try to get one later in the week.
So spring is here; these willow catkins are getting along well, the first swallows have arrived and today I saw (and heard!) my first willow warblers of the year. They've just arrived from Africa and the first few will be followed by many more - we have a good population of these birds round here. Have a look at the link and listen to their song, it's the song of summer for me.
Here are a couple of daffodils from my garden, very pale ones with orange centres. Looking at my photo library, it seems these are out almost 3 weeks earlier than last year. We did have a late spring last year, but spring is a little earlier than it was in 2009 too.
And here are my grape hyacinths, in full flow, with the red stalks of the peony behind.
These narcissi are also blooming three weeks earlier than last year. This means I really must get going in the vegetable gardening, lots to do there, so I hope to post later in the week. Enjoy the spring sunshine!