Monday, 26 March 2012

Structure time

Went out with the intention of sowing lots of veggies at the allotment this weekend but never got out of my own back garden.  Instead got sidetracked into making sweet pea wigwams and laying foundations for a brick wall.  Just a little wide of my original plan...

It started out with a quick perusal of the cold frame.  Decided that some of the early sown sweet peas were starting to look a bit less green than I'd like - probably running out of nutrients stuffed into their soggy loo roll tubes.  This spurred me to take a gamble on this warm and sunny weather and get them into a more permanent and nourishing spots... which in turn led me to making a wigwam (or leaning tower of hazel sticks).

This wigwam is something I've always had good intentions of doing, but never quite got round to.  As I have a garage loaded with hoops made out of the clematis stems, I decided to incorporate them into my design.  Am quite pleased with it - much better than last year's last emergency version made out of thick tree boughs (and hopefully it will be more effective too!).  

I've also leaned some of the very tall, twiggy sambucus nigra prunings up against the evil thorny boughs of the rambling rose (Pleine de Grace - or "pleine de **&^%)* thorns" as I always curse it loudly each time I have to interact with it).  Have planted a few sweet peas at the feet of these too - a decorative barrier to stop me having to stoop anywhere near the clothes ripping claws which festoon the rose branches.

Gardening with a budding junior builder is always a good catalyst to make me do the hard landscaping jobs I'd naturally put off forever. So, having emptied the water butt next to the shed, I was able to remove the sagging stand made out of an old pallet, and begin the work to build a brick built platform topped with slabs to stand it on.  Out with the reference books, and in with the concrete into my self-built formwork (just as well my dad always salvages old timber from skips - knew it might come in handy one day).  Feeling very pleased with myself for expanding my skills -  until I discover unforeseen cockups in its construction.   I'll keep you posted as the wall gets erected!

Did manage to set out some lettuce seeds, and a bit of red Orach (my computer keeps changing this to 'roach' - annoyingly) which I hope will give me height, decorative seed heads for flower arrangements, interesting salad leaves and some lovely pinky purple colour in the borders.

More good news: the seed tray of verbena bonariensis which I'd despaired of (just one leggy seedling emerging after three weeks of taking up half my heated propagator) is starting to sprout prolifically in the cold greenhouse.  Not sure if the increased light levels have triggered it, or the cold nights, but either way I'm chuffed to be on the way to re-stocking my garden with one of my favourite plants.  Used to have forests of it ('The Scratchy Plant' as my children called it following various grazings from its sandpapery stems), but it has gradually dwindled over a few cold winters and is now down to about 4 self-sown seedlings.

Friday, 23 March 2012

First bunch of the year

Big fat buds are appearing on the pear tree and I've had to clean out the cold frames to house the greenhouse overflow.  It must, therefore, be spring.

I've even managed to pick enough stuff for a vase of flowers, so hopefully it is the start of a prolific year of flowery marvellousness.

Must prune more of the red-stemmed dogwood used in the arrangement above, so it comes back with more bright red growth late in the year.  Love the lime green of its leaves at the moment. Very eye pokey!  Have planted lots more honesty seeds (the purple stuff) in the garden this week, so should get lots more to pick over the next few months - got quite a surprise to see that flowering this early - must be a self-sown seedling that has overwintered in the hedge bottom.  Also sowed pot marigolds, nigella and cerinthe so I should get a few vasefuls from that investment of five minutes labour.  I love this pink hellebore flower - a seedling from one of my mother-in-law's plants years ago, which is now firmly established in my own garden.

Nearly pruned the straggly bit off the amelanchier tonight, but had the bright idea of holding off for another few days.  If I trim it back when its blossom buds are a bit further on, I can enjoy it in the house rather than just putting it straight into the shredding pile.

This good weather has brought on a ruthless purge on all things which are not earning their keep in the flower border, or which need dividing to promote new vigourous growth.  Leggy lavenders have gone, sambucus nigra is about a third of the size it was this morning, things have a bit of breathing space around them, and plant labels marking out seed beds are now starting to appear in all the borders.

 A friend went home with a tray full of various hardy geraniums, lysimachia, knapweed and knautia as she's just in the process of digging out a new flower border and needs some inhabitants for the bare soil.  Just hope I haven't passed her any bits of ground elder with it.  I DID inspect all the rootballs carefully to see if there were any nuggets of the evil weed lurking within.  I see that stuff when I close my eyes at night at the moment!

Sunday, 18 March 2012


The score so far : ground elder 4 - me 1 (how many beds it inhabits, how many I've banished it from).  Set to on the island bed today - dug up established plants to winkle the starchy white roots out from the nooks and crannies they have invaded in their hosts' rootballs.  Also made me do some long overdue divisions.

3 bin bags of roots later, and I still have only done about a fifth of the whole bed....  To be continued.

Wanted - Native plants for drought and shade


"For my eco-house, the council advise indigenous plants that are drought resistant. Do you have any ideas?  
I have a few shallow-ish planting areas. One in shady area. One is area that only gets sun for half the day. 

 I also have two large planters in front of property/in wall. Wanted something that flowered for a long time. Any ideas?  


Drought resistant indigenous plants...

A good website to look at to check what might be native near you is:

I tend to plant things I like whether or not they are indigenous - there are lots of great wildlife plants that aren't necessarily native to the UK.  Lavender is brilliant if you have any dry sunny bits - it will grow in less than full sun but doesn't do as well and gets straggly even more quickly.  I also love verbena bonariensis which is drought tolerant and, in my garden,  has grown in areas which do not get full sun for more than half the day.  I also love (as do bees) Knautia macedonica and globe artichokes.  Angelica is also brilliant for bees.
Non-native but much loved by bees - Knautia Macedonia
Cowslip - will self seed and multiply

Dryopteris fern and Mourning Widow geranium (cranesbill family)

Shade loving natives would include things like wood anemones,  ferns (e.g dryopteris), cranesbill, cowslips (but cowslips like a bit of damp). The ferns, cranesbill and anemones would be happy under trees and fairly drought tolerant.  Alchemilla molls (ladies mantle) would be happy too.

Dog rose and guelder rose are pretty tough, as are oxeye daisies (but are thuggish invaders after a while). They grow in pretty dry conditions at the bottom of my garden close to large trees, so I think would cope with your conditions.  Teasels seem to cope with less than full sun, as do yarrow (achillea)  All of these are happy in poor soil as well, so should be OK for your partly shaded area.

As for your planters, I think you are being a bit hopeful to find something that will flower for 'a long time' - especially as containers tend to run out of nutrients pretty quickly - why not look for something with long lasting interest instead : you could always put in something evergreen and structural like a standard holly, for example, and underplant it with other things for seasonal interest - cowslips, ivy, etc in spring, native cyclamen (sow bread) etc - and whatever else takes your fancy as the year goes on.

Remember also that containers are going to have significantly higher watering needs than plants directly in the ground.  I always forgot to water my container by the front door as it was screened by the big gates to the garden, and my own standard holly eventually keeled over in protest (after a couple of years of criminal neglect).  If you don't want to water regularly, consider making planting pockets in the ground rather than having containers.  You may still need to water sometimes though because of the rain-shadow of the wall.

Hope this helps.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Allotment picnics and spring sunshine

 Inspired by the advent of spring sunshine and a glorious solitary day of digging down at the allotment on Tuesday, I suggested that I and my fellow plot-sloggers might throw a family barbecue/picnic at the plot (something I've always intended to do but never quite got round to).  Today is the day - the sun is shining and the birds will doubtless be tweeting on plot 57.

And the fox corpse I spotted on Tuesday still needs burying.  I've therefore got to nip down early to give it a quick funeral before the sentimental soul who adores anything fluffy turns up and has his day ruined by the sight of death...

I should perhaps take the attitude that gardening and working with the cycles of the seasons should teach the next generation about life, death and regeneration and that clapping eyes on the dead body could be an interesting biological study.  However, given the trauma that lost toys from 7 years ago can still sporadically engender to this day, I think a preemptive strike with a spot of deep digging is going to make my life a hell of a lot easier.  So, armed with  a spade, a stout back, grim determination, a disposable barbecue and a tube of hand sanitizer, it's off to work I go....

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Sprouting at last

Very excited this morning to see white furry alien roots creeping out of the compost surface in my trays of dahlias - horrified at first glance as I thought (without my specs and first thing in the morning) that it was a mould.  Fears replaced by grins of delight as I realised what was happening - and increased by spotting the first sprouts of leaf buds on the shrivelly stem of the tubers. Yabadabadoo!

 I want loads of colour this year and hope that these boys are going to produce it in bucketfuls for me.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Spring is on the way

Sweet Peas toughening up in the unheated greenhouse.
Signs of stirring everywhere - allium bulbs now poking up through the borders and I'm always amazed at the rate at which they grow away each day.  Globe artichokes are sprouting nicely so I separated some offshoots from an established plant today to try and increase stocks.  Potted them up using fairly gritty compost with added perlite for drainage, so hope that will be enough to avoid any rotting problems.

The staging in the greenhouse is filling up nicely and is host to early sowings of sweet peas, lupins which have been booted off the top of the piano indoors, window boxes of lettuce sowings...

As well as the artichoke offshoots, today's additions were a couple of lengths of guttering into which I sowed some peas - either to go into the allotment or to eat as pea shoots in salads.   Also lifted and divided heucheras which where starting to get a bit straggly, along with eryngiums (sea holly) which I'm hoping to use to pad out the new patio border.  The satisfaction of getting plants for free definitely rivals the pleasures of plant shopping at shows.

Got a flyer through the post about the Malvern Spring Show today - debating whether to risk my wallet or not this year...

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Death to ground elder!

Astrantia (pink) and Lysimachia (purple leaf)
Hardy Geranium with euphorbia
(green foliage and bracts)

Spent my afternoon doing battle with the creeping roots of ground elder - I can tell I've been too busy to garden properly over the past 18 months as the evil weed is now firmly re-established in one of the borders.

One happy side effect of ferreting out the insidious roots is that it has encouraged me to review which plants merit a place in the affected border and which ones are just too woody, straggly and generally over the hill. No mercy has been shown to anything falling into the latter category - green recycling bags now await collection stuffed with scruffy purple sage (have another clump which I'll take cuttings from later to replenish my stocks), invasive lumps of lysimachia (which has great purple foliage, but is a real thug) and endless seedlings of hardy geranium which are making a bid for world domination.

Also lifted and divided clumps of herbaceous perennials like astrantia, anemone levellei, primroses and aquilegias, so hopefully the denuded border should fill up again over the coming months and show a bit more vigour.  That's the theory anyhow - hope we don't get a prolonged cold snap or another dry spring like last year...

Shifted some of the hellebore seedlings which were clustered at the feet of the parent plant - Old Mother hellebore is just coming into flower, so I know that the growing season is imminent.  Lungworts are also starting to add a welcome splash of blue and pink in addition to the snowdrops which are putting on a great display this year.

It feels good to be doing some proper gardening again - it's definitely addictive, and I get very grumpy if I can't get out there and do something.