Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Still holding my breath... and bursting....

The #britishflower hour on twitter last night was awash with talk of tulips and dahlias - both at the forefront of my mind at present. Am spotting the first signs of colour in the tulip buds, and most of my dahlias are growing away nicely now and I am trying to keep them bushy and strong, out of the frosts which are threatened for this week.  None last night though - phew!  The stems on most of my flowers do seem to be slowly lengthening though and lifting them up from soil level at long last.

A tulip flower head starts to show the first hint of colour at the tips - this one will eventually be a pink 'Perestroyka' tulip.
'Perestroyka' (I think! Can't yet tell if it's a lily flowered form or not)

There seemed to be a general consensus that things are growing a bit shorter this year - well apart from those lucky Cornish growers with big polytunnels of which I am so jealous.  Don't think they'd go down too well with my neighbours though, or my children who would then definitely lose their last remaining bits of lawn!  I was also listening to 'Farming Today' on the BBC World Service last weekend whilst arranging flowers in the small hours where there was a big discussion about more farmers starting to cover their land with tunnels in order to get reliable crops.  This mental weather is playing havoc with their livelihoods I'd imagine.

Still, can't complain about it today as in my neck of the woods we have beautiful blue sky, the leaves on the garden trees are starting to unfurl, and the tiny white damson blossoms are looking gorgeous.  My 'boing' moment prediction for last Wednesday was, it seems premature, and I am still waiting for the magic to fully happen.  It must be imminent though as the lawn even got its first haircut of the year at the weekend.

Fat buds on branches against a sky backdrop, and a few pinkish yellow leaves unfurling.

Have got to sow my Bells of Ireland seed this morning as I've had them in the fridge for a couple of weeks in order to encourage them to germinate.  Am also going to sow some red orach direct into the garden as it is such a brilliant plant - dark red, edible leaves and amazing plumy seed heads which are great as fillers in flower arrangments later in the season.  I've sown some seeds directly already: cornflowers, cosmos and sunflowers as they have historically done better for me this way than when transplanted from pots. Will have to keep an eye out for them emerging as everything has to take pot luck with the cats' trampling paws these days.  Have really got to get cracking with my veg sowings at the allotment as well, so that's all on my to do list for this week.

Soooooo nice to be able to garden again after all this waiting. Now that I have a couple of weeks break from flower stalls, I can at least relax about the speed of development.  Having said that, I'll doubtless be doing my garden march yelling at all the flowers to slow down by this time next week, you wait and see!

Still waiting for those tulips to open.
  Narcissus 'Jetfire' have been great for weeks now, with the odd new bud still coming out.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Drooling over teacups

Have spent the day on my stall at Moseley Crafts and Curiosities fair, ogling the vintage china used by the tea and cake stall - such beauties in all their mismatched glory.  Really fell in love with a forget me not cup by Royal Stafford which was as beautiful as the real things adorning my own china collection in abundance.  Didn't think I'd be able to use that 'a' word this season, but have had to resurrect it from the dictionary, because the forget me nots in the garden are starting to run their usual riot.  Very welcome too, but will be seriously culled as the month wears on and a wider variety of  flowers start to put in an appearance.

Sales were reasonably good and only came back with half a tray of stuff in addition to all the packaging and stall stuff, which is always a good sign.  All of these had been sent off to new homes:

There was much discussion amongst the many crafters about a new vintage shop which was having its opening day on Saturday - wonder if they're in the market for weekly arrangements in a varied array of rented china?

I am really enjoying this playing with flowers lark and it even makes the early mornings bearable on market days.  Especially when the car is filled with the perfume of daphne flowers en route to the venue!

Monday, 22 April 2013

Ready...... steady.....

It's nearly boing time - that brilliant moment when the trees burst into leaf and you know that the new growing season is upon you.  It is marked in the Tuckshop garden by the pink acer (flamingo) showing its first tender flush of salmon pink leaves.  Buds are swelling on it daily and I think it will be out by the end of the week - Wednesday is forecast to be warm, so I would bet that in a couple of days, we will have officially boinged.

One thing I notice as I prowl around the garden is that everything is not only late, but also noticeably smaller than in previous years - the flower buds on the cowslips, muscari and tulips seem to be forming close to soil level in their desperation to get out and on with the business of making seed.

photo shows buds of cowslips forming close to the soil on virtually no stem

 No time to bother with this stalk making stuff - that seems to come later. Now the muscari are almost in flower, the stems are starting to elongate, but they're still only about an inch tall.  Doubtless these things will sort themselves out, but it is all very odd.  The tulips (even the new ones) seem to have much smaller flowers than normal - but that might play in favour of teacup arrangements. (Not that I'm obssessed or anything...)

Spent today planting out more sweet peas, thinning out weed seedlings, and thinning and pinching out shoots on dahlias to make them strong and bushy.  I don't want to end up with spindly slug-eaten sticks like last year.  So where there are more than five shoots emerging from the tuber, I've cut them off just below soil level and am going to see if these cuttings will root in the propagator - should do, hopefully.

Larkspur sown a few weeks ago is germinating well in the new raised bed and I think that even some of the September sown seed is starting to appear after being resolutely on strike.  Took this as a sign that it might be worth doing some direct sowing, so have put in some nigella, verbena bonariensis and clary sage seed.  It is so nice to be gardening again and to see the garden slowly filling out and coming back to life.

Something from my visit to Real Cut Flowers in Herefordshire - not sure if it's echinacea or rudbeckia - can't remember

One of my divisions of brunnera 'Jack Frost'  - growing away nicely and doing well in its new home.

Emerging shoots of anchusa - will grow to be blue flowered giants,  I hope.

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Flowers mustered, stall done and dusted.

Managed to wrangle enough plant material from the garden to populate my first stall of the season - a big relief.  Lots of planted teacups as well as ones with flowers arranged in them, a few cut off wine bottles with larger arrangements, willow wreaths and, of course, lots of magnolia.

Market stall with flowers in old china teacups and jugs, buckets of magnolia.

Had lots of people cooing over the stall and found that there are plenty of other chinaholics lurking in the woodwork...none male, as my husband points out.  It was also funny to tab-hang on people's discussions about the stall as they walked by and I think it jumped out at them because it was so different to standard florist fare.  Lots of comments on the idea of teacups and china, and a lot of interest in the magnolia - have to say I was almost pleased to see the back of it, as I've spent the last three weeks changing the water in the buckets and lugging them in and out of the house to get them colder/warmer to stop/start them flowering as needed.  I seem to spend all day picking up the fuzzy casings the buds shed, or rescuing them from the cats who delight in pinging them around the wooden floors.

I was very pleasantly surprised that the topic of weddings came up several times  - as a novice at this game, was very flattered that my arrangements were so well received. Quite a few people took my card, so who knows....

The 4.30 wake up to get everything arranged and packed up for 8.00 am was a bit of a shocker and I'm quite knackered now, but it is good to get the first stall out of the way and I'll have a better idea of how to organise myself more effectively next time around.

Also got nobbled by a lady who is running a craft fair next weekend who wants me to take a stall. As the garden is really starting to go into lift off now, I think that another week should see me right in terms of plants - the tulips are colouring up, bluebells are starting to form their flower spikes and the honesty is almost ready to flower as well.  I'll just have to continue my daily march around the garden shouting at it all to grow!

The bonus of doing a flower stall is that the house looks gorgeous with the leftover plants - saves me having to organise myself to make more!

White hyacinths, white heather and green hellebores in a gold and white china teacup.

Flowers left over from the stall on my living room mantlepiece.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The forgotten front

Front gardens.  Where are they in gardening literature or on the web?  They are a rare beast, spotted only fleetingly, even in my own photo collection.  As front gardens are the bits of us that everyone sees all the time, why are they so neglected in terms of coverage?

I can recall perhaps three features on front gardens read in various gardening magazines over the last 10 years or so, and a quick Google of the term usually results in lots of marketing pics from paving manufacturers, which highlights the central issue that generally they're used for accommodating off-street parking and not a lot besides. But they can prettifying the street too.

My current house has very little front garden to speak of as it sits close to the road, having been a sweet shop in a former incarnation.  We have cast iron railings separating us from the pavement with a narrow border behind them and when we first moved in, this strip was (freshly?) planted with young cherry laurel shrubs.  But why would I want something that rapidly grows to form a dark, heavy leaved shrub when the railings themselves form an attractive enough barrier to the street?  I certainly didn't want the grief of trying to keep this vigorous species in check to stop it poking out over the pavement and blocking the light from my front windows.  It wasn't even that pretty to look at with its rather large, regular foliage and dark spreading branches.  It very definitely is NOT the shrub for a small, constrained space, as its tree-like form dominating many front gardens regularly testifies.

Along with the conifers, these cherry laurels were the first things to go. But typically their existence was never documented, unlike the minute recording of all stages of the back and side gardens' development.  This post started life as an idea to write simply about the lavender hedge which took its place, but it was only as I searched in vain for any photos of the lavender in all its glory, that I realised that I completely ignore this border in my recording, even though it is the only public bit of my planting.

The only photos I have of the front garden were taken to document other things - the house covered in snow, or to text a dodgy paint colour to my husband while I was in the middle of applying it with great misgivings.  But not a single picture of the wisteria in flower, not the minutest snap of the paving detail or of bees on the lavender flowers in summer.

I'm therefore going to make it my project to promote the front garden in the pecking order - it is a prime south-facing spot (hence the lavender loving its home), even if the soil is solid clay in places. The latter is clearly a further sign that it has not enjoyed the same additions of muck, grit and leaf mould as its favoured rear-facing sibling. "NOT FAIR!"  as my children would yell.  Things must change.

Steps have been taken as I have widened the border next to the house wall this year - more due to the fact that wisteria roots were appearing in the cellar, rather than  because I had a firm design plan.  I loved the perfumed, purple racemes which it produced in late spring, but I love the house more, so they had to go as they'd been planted just a couple of centimetres in front of the brickwork when young, and had developed trunks about 30cm in diameter over the last six or seven years.   Now, in the new widened border, I've planted  (a good foot away from the wall) an Aloha climbing rose which has a more moderate habit, and whose feet I hope will  feet benefit from the addition of manure and grit.  I've also put in a clematis - both of these plants chosen with a view to them contributing towards the cutting garden as well.

 I'm going to also make it a mission to take pictures of other people's front gardens in order to get together a little library of inspiration and ideas for this Cinderella of the horticultural world.  Better knock on their doors and ask first though or they might think I'm casing the joint!

Photos to follow - watch this space....

Sunday, 14 April 2013

T-shirts and taters

Stop press - was gardening in a short sleeved t-shirt today - can't remember the last time I did that - even if it did end up on the radiator after getting soaked in a downpour.  Fantastic to be out without various layers of swaddling and hats.

Had a multi-site day of digging today - a trip to the allotment to get spuds in, and ground elder attacks and weeding at home. So at the plot I now have a row and a half of Charlotte potatoes, and a row and a half of Rooster main crops in situ, along with a dressing of muck.  Can't wait to see what that does for them.  Forgot to take the raspberry canes which my dad recently donated,  so there is a useful reason to get back down there later in the week.  Checked on my peas, but no signs of life there yet - even under the tunnel cloche.

In the garden at home, things are looking a bit more cheerful as there are actually green things growing in the borders where I have planted my strong seedlings.  Makes such a difference.  A few circuits of the gardener's prowl also reveal that brunnera, astrantia, peonies, veronica and various other perennials are starting to sprout too.  There are even tiny buds on the spirea.   Lurking down at soil level, cowslip buds and grape hyacinth flowers are forming, so am praying for warmth and a growth spurt in time for next weekend's flower stall. Clematis 'Markham's Pink' has big fat buds waiting to pop, and that makes a surprisingly good cut flower, so it would be brilliant if that comes out in the next few days.

A mixed bunch of yellow cowslips, pink clematis, purple honesty and violet bluebells, along with the fresh green foliage of viburnum opulus.
This time last year, all these boys were out - none at this stage yet, but buds are finally showing on the cowslips and pink clematis at least.

Primulas are looking cheery, a few daffs are now out, and honesty is threatening to develop its flower spikes.  Allium and tulips are looking leafy and strong too. Come on you lot, get a shift on!

Any of my neighbours peering into my garden would have spotted me doing various jigs of delight today.  The first one prompted by me finally managing to up-end and remove the rambling rose stump after letting the winter frosts do their work (in combination with my loppers, fork and jumping up and down with my not insignificant weight on the stump for half and hour or so).  The second was when I finally got round to chopping down a straggly, half dead viburnum which I've been meaning to tackle for months.  Light can now get into the border beneath it, and it opens up a whole load of planting space, hence jig number 2.

Off to do all the neglected household chores now - if the weather keeps improving, the house is going to get a whole lot dustier and dirtier....

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Hi ho, hi ho

It's off to work I go at the allotment.  The children decided they wanted to try an activity day so I have from 10 til  4.30 to make inroads into the vast amount of work that still needs doing at the plot.

There's still a chill wind blowing today, so shall take lots of layers and a flask of tea with me as protection.  I'm also going to take my recently purchased fleece tunnel from Aldi to perform a similar job for my freshly soaked pea seeds which are going to taste soil today.  I don't usually soak them, but I think that as the soil is quite dry at the moment and barely warming, they're going to need all the help they can get. My dad swears by soaking them, so I am going to give it a whirl, as he is A Man Who Knows where veg are concerned.

The broad beans that I sowed in the cold greenhouse two weeks ago still haven't formed any real shoots, though they have obviously swollen and are starting to show signs of life.  So if that is the state of play under glass, it is clearly still wintery....  Might start off the crimson flowering ones for the garden indoors, just to give them a kick start.

A crimson flower stands out against a backdrop of tiny blue forget me nots.
Crimson flowered broad beans make a pretty, edible addition to the flower border

I'm going to delay planting my potatoes for another couple of weeks as conditions are supposed to be improving gradually, a trend which I hope will continue.  We have had a couple of (relatively) warm days recently, which gives me hope that spring will really arrive soon, although the easterly breeze is making that hope recede again today.

I have now managed to plant out about half of my September sown flower seedlings which have proved their sturdiness credentials by making it through the bitter winter, so at least I have little oases of green leafiness appearing in the still naked borders.  It also means I have a bit more space in my cold frame at last, can't wait to get the rest in.

I'm writing this whilst trying to defrost some chicken fillets which sat on an apparently chilly worktop last night and didn't quite make it out of hibernation - wanted to put the slow cooker on before I went to the allotment, but am being held up by the fact that they are stubbornly resisting all gentle efforts to thaw out the last ice crystals.  Feels rather like a metaphor for spring this year.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Flitting time for snowdrops

Grabbed a quick hour in the garden before tea (northern English 'tea' - the evening meal, not the southern English light snack at 3 o'clock) and enjoyed the blue skies but not the marrow-chilling blasts of wind which have persisted for days now.  Did manage to shed the thick coat and hat after a spot of digging, but it's still not warm enough to really get my plants bursting into growth.

The snowdrops emerged from their snow dousing looking a bit worse for wear, but they had given me a pretty spectacle for several weeks before they got buried.  The time had come, therefore, to shift the ones which were badly placed now that I've widened my border, so up they came to settle in their new spot under the apple tree.  I think they'll look great there next year with their newly installed neighbours, the primroses.

Also planted my Japanese flowering cherry tree 'Amanogawa' down by the bottom shed near the hedge.  I bought it a) because I can't resist a bargain - £4.99 in Aldi, and b) because if we have more years like this on the cards, it will be good to have more spring blossoms available for harvesting. I plan to use it for cutting, so hopefully this form of annual pruning should keep the size in check. And at £4.99, if it turns out to be a mistake, it won't be an expensive one.

Have got no half term plans for tomorrow, so am hoping to spend a fair bit of time in the garden. Am debating whether to risk planting out some of the September sown ammi, which is well toughened up already. I planted six out just before the snow came as a tester, and although they are twisted into somewhat malformed contortions, they seem to have come through their prolonged burial under snow.  Surely we aren't due any more serious snowfalls?

I still have one drift near the patio, ice slabs which have fallen from the roof, and the path to the compost bin is still under a few inches of white stuff, but it is, thankfully in retreat.  We did however, have a light snow shower this morning, which had me swearing quietly over my cornflakes. I think I want to move into the Eden Project, and garden under a biome.

Clumps of snowdrops in full bloom amidst dark splotched hardy geranium leaves.
Now they're over, move your snowdrops before the foliage disappears.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Shiny thing spotted in sky.

Sun is out, sky is blue, birds are tweeting... Snow is on its way out - well everywhere except in my garden it seems.  That's the joy of a north-facing plot I suppose.  The white stuff lingers longer.

In the greenhouse, out of the cold wind, it is warm and snug and things are looking happy, if a little crowded.  Ousted most of my September sown seedlings (snap dragons, scabious, sweet williams) to the coldframes this week and dumped any sickly herberts that didn't seem to merit the space they were occupying.  Being very brutal when space is at such a premium.

Checked in my big cardboard box of dahlia tubers to see that those awaiting an acquaintance with soil were still in fine fettle.  Witteman's Best was looking eager to get going, showing little sprouts near the dessicated stalks on the tubers, so they got planted today - I now have a line up of pots in my living room in addition to the one in my bedroom.  Still have 5 Purple Gem and 5 Peaches dahlias to pot up, so hope the days continue to warm up so some of the piano top inhabitants can move towards the greenhouse to make room for another dahlia parade.

On our family day out to Baddesley Clinton, a National Trust property in Warwickshire yesterday, it was grimly comforting to see that the lack of growth on my patch is not just the result of disorganised ineptitude - the kitchen garden there was closed 'due to the recent poor weather' and was yet to be planted up. Neither were the borders were as far on as you'd expect for April, even in the walled garden. However, there were some lovely daffodils and hellebores around, and the primroses tucked into the grassy walks were just "aaaahhhh".

 What I found myself coveting were the lean-to greenhouses - I might know just the spot where one could live in my garden....

Came away from my visit with two very muddy happy children, 4 timed entrance tickets for the house which we'd never got round to using (we'll be back) as we were having too much fun outdoors, two primroses (couldn't resist - want to get lots of these going),  four Fentimans pop bottles (brilliant to cut down to use as sweet pea vases), and a bag full of foraged sheeps wool.  Why the latter? On a recent #britishflowers tweet up we were discussing pest and slug control and apparently sheeps wool is a very effective slug deterrent, so I have spread the top of my larkspur sown raised bed with a layer of it to protect any sprouts miraculously jolted into life by their spell in the cold.

I'm always amazed by the seeds that need this cold treatment.  My auriculas have now all emerged in the warm fug of the propagator following their two week banishment to the subzero nights and cold days in the greenhouse.  Have subjected my reluctant cleome sowings to the same treatment, but haven't had any success there yet. Will give them another couple of weeks to emerge or be chucked.

Steadily sowing sweet peas, still a few more batches to go to hopefully get a well-staggered harvest.  First batch of this year are almost ready to start hardening off now.  Roll on flowering time so I can press those pop bottles into service.

Repeating arrangments of Pink, purple and white sweet peas in a row on a mantelpiece.
Last year's sweet peas in sawn off bottles - suddenly posh pop seems worth it!