Thursday, 31 March 2011

End of March in the Vegetable Garden

Here's a turn up for the books - straight potato trenches. Usually my potato rows wriggle their way across the ground like worms, but for some reason this year they're rather straight and evenly spaced. No idea how I managed this. You may notice there are weeds along the edge. I take a live-and-let-live approach to weeding, only bothering when they're affecting my plants or harbouring too many slugs. Digging potato trenches is hard enough, I really couldn't be bothered getting every weed out too!
Here's a nice weed-free plot though, the garlic is growing well. I hope to be putting some lettuce in this bed next to the garlic soon, the soil here is really good now, light and full of organic matter.
Here are the blackcurrant buds, just ready to open. I'm hoping for a good crop of blackcurrants again this year and they're often one of the first fruits to flower.
The rhubarb is romping away now, I'm looking forward to tucking into this in due course.
And last year's leeks are still going, giving early spring vegetables which are welcome at this time of year.
At home, the seedlings have moved to the cooler windowsill to grow on. The lettuce are on the right; on the left are the spring onions and the geranium cuttings. I think it may be time to take the plastic bag off the geraniums now, they should have little roots and be able to cope with "breathing" normally.
I potted up the herbs too; the parsley at the back has already contributed to a salad, the coriander at the front was a slightly sickly plant due to the really crappy compost the garden centre had used. It was the kind that turns into cardboard if it dries out even a little bit, but it's picking up now it's repotted. I moved all the basil seedlings into a large, shallow pot as they'll never go outside but will sit on this windowsill in the sun for the summer.
And finally, I started my Lobelia Cardinalis Queen Victoria. I was astonished to read that germination for this plant can take, and I quote, "1 to 6 months". Months? What on earth do these seeds do, just sit around, saying "Shall we get going then?" "No, don't like the look of the weather today, let's not bother." How can a seed take that long? Anyway, I sealed them into a plastic bag as per the instructions and I'm hoping that they might grow at some point this year.

The weather's a little bit changeable at the moment, but I'm hoping to get out this weekend for some gardening, if the rain holds off for a while.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Container Gardening Part 2

Last time I talked about the "hot" right side of the house, today I'll focus on the cooler west left side. This side gets direct sun for a short time in the morning, but then spends the rest of the day in the shade. It's also longer than the other side of the house, so most of my pots live here.
Since most of our weather here comes from the west, this side is also less windy and a bit drier, so daffodils like these don't get blown about so much. This pot has got quite crowded now; when they've finished flowering I'll split the bulbs up, particularly those at the left end which is rather congested.
This side of the house is the "nursery" side where sick or recently moved plants reside. A couple of weeks ago my Mum was weeding her own garden and got a bit too enthusiastic around her bleeding heart (dicentra spectabilis), splitting a bit off. She potted it up and gave it to me, as I wanted one of these, but the shoots seemed to die off. A week later though it's recovering as you can see from this photo, with nice pink shoots coming on.
On the right are a couple of small crocus pots; these haven't flowered well so I think I need to move them. The pot next to them is one of my new plants; a red oriental poppy (papaver orientale Allegro). I don't know if this is susceptible to snail damage, so I've left the pot un-armoured and will see if they go for it in due course. Next to that is a young New Dawn rose; this is a cutting I took a few years ago and it's now getting bigger, though unfortunately you can't see its full size in the photo. I'm hoping it might flower this year.
In this photo (right to left) we have my new delphinium (Belladonna Bellamosum), some more crocuses, the bleeding heart and my Himalayan Poppy. I took seed from this last year with a view to germinating more plants; according to internet sources, it can be difficult to germinate, needing very cold temperatures. So out I went in December with my carefully conserved seed, which I scattered round the base of the parent plant. I did this because the snails like this plant and since the pot is now armoured, any seedlings would have a good chance of survival here. As you can see, the parent plant is looking very healthy, and it is now surrounded by tiny seedlings. It's too early to say if they are poppies, there are certainly a few weeds in there, but I'm hopeful.
Right to left: first my little oak tree. Yes, really, don't ask me why, I really don't know why I have this. Then a wild flower which I love, Purple Toadflax. It grows tall spikes of purple flowers, and seeds itself readily everywhere. Next to that two varieties of rosemary, one what I call a "tree" type, with thick woody branches, and a new bush type. These are here for now as they've just been repotted, but once they've settled in they'll go round the other side of the house for the sun.
The pot on the right here is a carawy plant, which I'm growing to make seed for breadmaking. The other pots contain dwarf sweet peas, which I picked up in the garden centre recently and I'm hoping they will create some nice colour in the summer.
This is a slightly scruffy area unfortunately as I haven't got this far in my tidying. The plant on the right is woad, which I intend to use for dyeing wool as soon as I know how to do it! The other pot contains mint, along with a collection of dried leaves and moss! Mint is best kept in a pot as it is very invasive; this one is useful for mint tea and other culinary uses.
On the left is another herb; chives, which come back year after year. The large pot contains some marjoram and lady's mantle which you can see at bottom right. This pot needs attention, I suspect that I will need to replant this year, but I'll wait to see what comes up first.
On the right here are some narcissi with a single crocus lurking. In the white pot is a large hosta, which I've had for about 15 years and still grows very well. Hostas are very attractive to slugs and snails, so the pot is well armoured with copper tape. On the left is a pot of sage. Behind them is this plant:
a clematis which I was given as a gift some years ago. I've long since lost the label and have struggled to get it to flower. I've tried cutting it right back, half back or not at all. Whatever I do, it produces leaves but no flowers. Any ideas? I'm kind of losing the will to live with this plant, and have no intention of doing anything with it this year, just to see if it will prove it's worth the space and all the watering. If it doesn't justify itself this year, I think I'll remove it and find something else for this large pot for next year.

So that's a quick tour of my container garden. It's very easy to do, and I'm hoping to expand it again this year, with some new perennials along with summer bedding plants. Most of my pots are plastic which makes them easy to move, it also reduces water loss on the hot side of the house. Terracotta pots are lovely but with our harsh winters, they often don't last too long. Watering can be a bit of a chore in the summer, but there's nothing nicer than arriving home and seeing the splashes of colour against the sides of the house.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Container Gardening Part 1




Despite being a keen gardener, I don't have a garden attached to my house; I have a strip of land across the road, which comes with many problems for growing things so it's quite limiting. So I've been doing a lot of growing in pots and larger containers outside my house. I'm not alone in this here, most of my neighbours do the same thing and the village looks very pretty in summer. But you don't have to limit yourself to bedding plants; it can be like a normal garden, with seasonal planting which you rotate through the year. So I thought I'd share my container garden with you, hope it provides some ideas for those who are limited in space.

The photo above is of my house; the corner points just east of north so looking at the picture the right side of the house faces roughly west, and left side east. This means I have two very different micro-climates, and on this post I'll talk about the "hot" (right) side. This gets the sun from early afternoon through to early evening - at midsummer this means a little over 5 hours at the hottest part of the day. The house is made of stone and if you've ever leant on a stone wall which has been in full sun, you may remember that stone retains heat and radiates it for hours after the sun has gone down. So even plants which should cope with lots of sun can find it difficult on this side of the house should we be lucky enough to have a hot spell.

I have two roses on this side; you can see them in the first photo. My New Dawn seems to survive the conditions well, though I am careful to reduce the leaf cover after flowering so it doesn't lose too much moisture through the leaves. I also have a yellow rose in a pot by the door, and it also likes the sunny conditions. In spring, this side is perfect for early bulbs and flowers, such as these scilla siberica. Once they have flowered, they move to the other side to feed in the shade before resting for next year. This pot is by my front door, where I can see it regularly.

The great thing about container gardening is you can plant for more than one season in a large pot. My rose has space round the edge for me to tuck in some colourful annuals later, and this pot is a spring/summer mix, with grape hyacinths round the edge and a peony in the middle. A peony alone in a pot would be dull for months on end, the grape hyacinths flower briefly so a combination of the two works well. The grape hyacinths also shade the roots of the peony as they grow on for some time after flowering, so stop the peony drying out too much. You can just see the red shoots of the peony poking through the foliage. The grape hyacinths will be at their best next week, I think.

The two pots at the back here are rudbeckia goldsturm; I split one plant last year into two pots. Rudbeckia should do well in sunny conditions, but it doesn't cope with the temperatures here. It needs water more quickly and often than I can supply; at this time of year it likes the light but I'll move it round to the other side of the house in about May as I've found it grows better there through the summer.

In front is one of the white pelargoniums which I took cuttings from a couple of weeks ago. I've planted these up and popped them outside now, these plants cope very well with the hot conditions here and geraniums of all kinds are ultra reliable on this side.
More pelargoniums here, next to a large pot of daffodils - I think these are the white ones, but don't know as I regularly lose labels. Thank goodness for blogs - once the name is on here I can look it up! Bulbs cope well with living in pots all year round; I'm careful to move them to the shade and feed them once they've flowered until they die back, and they seem to thrive on this treatment.

The deep windowsill on the front is just wide enough for a trough pot, and this one is another mix; snowdrops with yellow primroses. The snowdrops have finished flowering, the primroses are just starting to open now. Occasionally I split the primroses, but again they and the snowdrops stay in here all year round. This windowsill is too hot for anything to grow later in the summer, plus my cat likes to sit on it by the open window in the summer, so once these flowers are over I'll leave the windowsill bare.

You can grow pretty much anything in pots, and I've started to grow more perennials this way, using annuals just to fill gaps. But we do have a large snail population here, and they like to munch their way through my precious plants. The answer is this copper tape, which has a self-adhesive backing though is is quite sharp on the edges, so beware! It does the job - this is a delphinium which would be gone in 8 hours if I planted it in the ground here, but in an armoured pot it will be fine.


If you're wondering how it works, it seems the copper gives the snail or slug (I have both) a small electric shock as they try to slide over, so they don't bother. The only thing you have to watch out for is that the leaves of the plant don't touch a wall or other plant, creating a bridge. The downside of the tape is if a snail does get in, it's imprisoned and will eat its way through your vegetation!

In summer I water the plants on this side every day, twice a day if it's hot. But by testing carefully, I've learned which plants like these conditions and always manage to have some colour here. Next time I'll talk about the other side of the house and introduce some of my new plants for this year.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Crocuses

One of the first flowers of spring is the crocus, and I have to confess they rank highly on my list of favourite flowers. They need bright spring sun to be at their best, and today was one of those days, thankfully.
The best crocuses in this area are in the local churchyard; these white and purple ones run down the slope. Do click on either of these photos for a closer look - simply glorious.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Second Week of March - Sowings and Cuttings

I was hoping to get the pototoes in this weekend, but the soil is still too cold and wet so they'll have to wait a bit longer. But my first daffodils are out, which is always nice to see.
Earlier this week I sowed my first lettuce - Salad Bowl, a loose leaf lettuce. They're at the back of this picture, very fast to germinate. Half of the tray is red, half green but at this stage they look the same, though you will notice a slight difference in germination rate - strangely the red doesn't germinate quite as well as the green. On the left are some spring onions which I sowed at the same time and are just putting up their heads, on the right the basil which I bought from the garden centre and which should be ready for transplanting later this week.
So then my thoughts turned to cuttings. I bought some sand and rooting powder with a view to taking cuttings from my white geraniums which have been in the house over winter. I prefer rooting powder to gel, find it easier to use and this pot comes with a handy dibber top which you can use to make a hole in the compost.
Geraniums tend to root well, though it's some years since I did this and last time I had a conservatory in which to keep them, instead of a windowsill. I mixed the compost with a little sand to improve drainage, then cut off some promising shoots from the plants. On the left is a shoot before preparation, on the right one after. You need to remove all the leaves except one at the top, then cut just under a leaf node. Put the shoots in water, then dip each one in the rooting powder and pop in the prepared compost. Cover with a polythene bag to keep them warm and moist until they root, it takes a few weeks.
And here they are; four healthy shoots which should provide new plants for later this year. The old plants will be used in in my planting outside the house, while these will be kept in individual pots this year so I can bring them inside for the winter and start the cycle all over again.

Anyone in the UK see Gardener's World on Friday? It's nice to have a proper gardening programme back again after it's meanderings over the last few years. One talking point on a blog I saw was how many secateurs Monty Don had hanging on his "shed" wall. I say "shed" but really his outbuildings look like the outskirts of Hampton Court Palace, what a place! Anyway, it was nice to see that I'm not the only one who sows beetroot in pots rather than direct in the soil, it seems I'm in good company!

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Doings for the First Week of March

While we've had some hard frosts this week, the weather is looking up and the days are getting noticeably longer. Not much to do in the flower garden at the moment - just some tidying up of the leaves I didn't get to before the December snow, and some tying in of stems and pruning on the roses. But on the allotment, it's full steam ahead.
The rhubarb is pushing up well now, lots of lovely red stems appearing with proto-leaves on top.
And the fruit trees are budding - it's not very easy to see on this photo, but this Katy apple is covered in buds. So today I sprinkled potash around the base of each fruit bush, tree and raspberry stem to aid in their flowering. I followed that up in the case of the bushes and trees with some horse manure and topped it off with some compost. Now I can sit back and let them do their thing - no further work required.
The garlic, which I planted a few weeks ago, has got above the soil now.
And cloches are starting to breed on my plot - the one on the right has the broad beans under it, which I planted on Monday. The one on the left is preparing the soil for the first peas, which will be planted in a couple of weeks. I also have another one warming up a bed for an early carrot sowing.

In the press this weekend there has been talk of increases in allotment rents. Some local authorities have been increasing rents by 100 to even 300%. I'm fortunate in that while rents on my plots have been increased again this year, the increase is only around 6%. It will put a few pounds on the rent, but it's not massive. I suppose allotment holders are seen as an easy target, if you really want to grow your own vegetables you'll pay up - a few pounds on every plot is an easy way to increase income for the Council. Anyway, at least this year my Council has actually written to me to tell me about the increase rather than just send an invoice without giving notice of the rise. It seems they have learned their lesson from last year when I pointed out that under the terms of the lease, they were obliged to give one months notice of the change. Even when I've taken into account the costs of the plot and seeds/equipment, I'm saving over £1000 per year in food costs, and have better food into the bargain. If you're an allotment gardener, I hope you're not being badly affected by rent rises.