Monday, 24 June 2013

Post prandial grass massacres

Lighter nights mean that I can fit in trips to the allotment after tea in emergencies.  Emergencies like the knee high grass (which gracefully adorned my bunches at my recent stall, so thank you grass, but now it's time for a trim...).

As a new convert to the world of petrol mowers, with a mustard keen mower of a child, I was virtually frogmarched to the plot to engage in some after dinner grass removal.  Mowing delegated to offspring, that left me free to plant out the hundredweight pumpkin and winter squash 'cha cha', kind donations from a neighbouring plot holder,  into manure rich spots. Sweet peas also got hoisted into position by new loops of friendly string.

It's amazing how much difference a haircut makes to allotments - they go from looking semi-derelict to almost well tended in one grumble of a petrol engine....  Which reminds me, I must try to phone the hairdresser tomorrow to get my own locks strimmed.

Friday, 21 June 2013

To market, to market....

Have had a productive day in the garden and allotment.  Turned over a patch which I'm bringing into cultivation at the plot - so strange to be able to just dig, without needing to go round things or avoid bulbs etc!  Will keep these patches for annuals so that this bare earth approach can be repeated again later in the season.

Found that I (and a generous neighbouring plot) had parsnips which had gone to seed from last year - they make fantastic cut flowers, but the purported coconut smell which on of the #britishflower folk tweeted about on Monday night was not evident. I had a good sniff, but my snoz detected only...well.... parsnip....  Gorgeous flowers though and I have a huge bucketful of them conditioning in the shed overnight.

From the garden I've harvested the first of the roses - had been hoping for more, but the buds are still pretty tightly furled on most of them, so I will just have to be patient and wait for the rosy show to swing into action over the next couple of weeks.

Also picked lots of the smaller foxgloves - I find that the giants are just too big to do much with on a domestic scale of flower arranging. The ammi is looking lacy and lush, so have frothy buckets of this and the deadly ground elder flower - so pretty. Can't wait to use them to make some bunches for my stall tomorrow.  Wafts of gin-scented angelica keep hitting my nostrils, so I hope they continue to smell this delicious tomorrow.

Colour has been provided by sky blue anchusa and the last of the centaurea flowers, cerise flat button-heads of knautia macedonica and some elegant wands of blue iris.

This flower arranging lark really is a labour of love - have spent ages cutting and conditioning this evening and have to get up at the crack of dawn to put them all together into bunches to sell.

And so to bed...

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Playing catch up

Have just planted out cosmos seedlings that I sowed in an unheated greenhouse in mid May to fill up gaps in the patch planted with late March indoor sown plants.  The March sowings will probably flower sooner, but in terms of size, the May plants are well on the way to catching up their older cousins.  Just goes to show that you can't beat the elements.  The tray of cosmos 'Purity' sown in late May is zooming along too, now that the weather has really started to show (albeit intermittent) signs of warming.  They are bursting to be potted on, and now that I have space after planting out, that is the next job on my list.

My slug repelling trials on my dahlias suggest that wool and coffee grounds are equally ineffectual, and that the wool pellets just give the slugs a clambering challenge which they seem to relish.  So, I have some healthy plants and some which I feel very sorry for - and some of the healthy ones didn't have any protection at all, so I'm at a loss to know why there is this variation. I suppose I should be grateful that it exists, however. It doesn't even relate to the size and vigour of the dahlia on planting it out - I have once huge plants reduced to spindly sad things and small plants equally targeted, whilst others have escaped virtually unscathed.  Maybe I should do a taste test myself and see if that's where the answer lies!

Who said coffee grounds deter slugs?  Mine seem undeterred by their caffeinacious experiences.

21/6/13  Update

Have just been down to the allotment and the plants there seem untroubled by slugs - even the ones which I haven't protected in any shape or form.  Long may it continue....  They are looking good at the moment and have given them a feed of nettle tea today, so hope they enjoyed their rather smelly tisane.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Gardener's World Live comes to town

Compost-stained finger folk take heed - you've got one day left to get over to the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham to catch the last day of BBC Gardener's World Live  (12-16th June 2013) and to visit the RHS floral marquee.

I went on Friday, thankfully - tickets for Saturday were sold out about a week ago - and I was relieved to have chance to get there ahead of the crush. Especially when the heavens opened and everyone herded en masse towards the RHS marquee and exhibition hall to take cover from the elements.

The Floral Marquee was a treat with so many exhibitors to choose from it was essential to proceed in military fashion to make sure all areas were covered. That was the theory at least, but I repeatedly got dragged off course, lured by  a tempting colour here and an unusual form there, or by the urge to tail the contents of a trundling trolley being lugged along by a compulsive plant buyer  - a quick interrogation about the source of particularly lovely specimens was as useful as any show guide.


As always, there were some plants that seemed to be EVERYWHERE, on virtually every stall and featured in the majority of the gardens.  This year's favourite seemed to be astrantias of every height and hue: the one that crept onto my wish list (if only I could get rid of the leaf miner that plagues the genus) was the one below,  from Letham Plants.

My notebook records it as Astrantia Species (but this sounds far too bland to be correct for such a stunner?)

Another revelation was that my very own plant of the moment, centaurea, can be found in different colour variations beyond the normal electric blue. I was very taken with the dark 'Black Sprite' variety exhibited by Morton Hall nurseries which looked marvellously moody against its lime green leaves.

'Black Sprite'
Pink centaurea 'John Coutts' from Barnsdale Nurseries

Also spotted  pink and Cadbury purple variations on this cornflowery theme, so I wonder what other colours are out there.  Something to investigate for the future...

The Floral Marquee is always an inspiration when it comes to eyeing up plant combinations to try in your own garden. You may find collections of new 'must-haves', or you may just alight on the ideal companion for a homely soul you already possess.  I left the show clutching a pot of cirsium, eager to set up blind date for it with my existing angelica, having seen the billowing display on the Hardy's Cottage Garden Plants stand.


I've also taken away some ideas for the garden.  I shall have to keep drinking steadily to recreate Hopley's fountainesque garden feature....

...but am perhaps more likely to undertake the easy project of using old step ladders as plant supports.

Show Gardens

There were two gardens which jumped out and grabbed me this year, even though they are polar opposites in style.  The first was the rural idyll 'Hay Time' by the Yorkshire Dales Millenium Trust, who want to get out their message that 97% of the UK's meadowlands have been lost in the last 50 years. Their garden aimed to raise awareness of the need to save those meadows that remain, and to encourage gardeners to incorporate wildflower areas for pollinators in their own grassy spaces. The  enthusiastic helpers on the stand gave loads of advice in response to questions about how best to achieve a meadow effect on a domestic scale.

The second garden, Tony Smith's 'In Perspective' was a different beast. Very sleek,  emphatically 'designed' and undomestic - the diminutive lettuce bed at its heart was really appealing.  It's huge black towers topped with massive gunneras made even me feel lilliputian and the glowering grey day with bright stormy sun made the contrasts more stark. It's completely unlike my own (or anyone else's) garden but I thought it was a brilliant bit of design.

Fun things 

I left the show with only a few purchases (iron will, restraint and lack of available planting space remaining) but with a lengthening list of things I covet:

This van for my flower stall (but Tuckshop Flowers Van doesn't have quite the same ring as 'The Plant Van'.)....

...... these brilliant beasties from Twigtwisters....

.....and finally the enormous, super-squishy (and amazingly quick drying) Beachbums bean bags in the Garden Lounge.....

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Where's the splash?

Dry borders - how long is it since I've had those?  Well, they are back for the time being and the water butts are starting to run dry.  A light shower this morning refreshed the garden slightly, but the ground could still do with a bit more of a soaking. I never thought I'd ask for rain again after last year, but here I am.... Hope I haven't jinxed the summer now.

Busy busy busy in the garden - keeping on top of weeds and pests - will be looking to stock up on organic 'Growing Success' slug pellets at Gardener's World Live at the NEC this  Friday - my local garden centre no longer stocks them and I'm underwhelmed by the other organic alternatives available.  Slugs are tucking into my dahlias in spite of coffee grounds and wool pellet barriers. Devilish beastlies.

Had to risk planting out my delphiniums - hope at least some of them will make it to join the two grown up plants which have emerged from last year's efforts. The glorious thing about growing from seed is that you can plant in drifts and big groups as you get so many plants from your packet - it would be hideously expensive to do this if buying pot grown plants from a nursery.

The borders are really growing tall now and the roses are starting to open and waft their luscious smells around the place.  A few bright heads of knautia are bobbing, deep pink, in the sea of foliage, and sweet williams will soon start showing colour in their sea anemone flowers and add to the show.

 I love June for flowers - it's often the best time for my garden.  I shouldn't judge it quite yet as things have not really exploded, but I'm a bit concerned that things are getting too subtle again. So much so that I'm pleased to see the shouty oriental poppy which is going bang in the main border.  Need more eye-jabs of colour to liven things up a bit at the moment.  When the yellow rose comes out, that should add a bit more contrast to the pinks and blues - Christopher Lloyd gets his contrasts right in my book - can't be doing with restricted colour schemes really - too boring.

Desperate for a splash of really vibrant colour to set the borders alight.  Greedy gardener.

More along the lines of that orange t-shirt and poppy burst please.  Flowers are coming. Must learn to be patient.

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Jobs for the weekend

Deal death and destruction to aphids - squish them mercilessly between thumb and forefinger before they take over.
Prune early flowering clematis now they are over - they flower on this season's ripened stems, so get rid of the twiggy top growth and get a better, balanced shape so that the growth can be ready for a new flowering framework for next year. 
Tie in your sweet peas to their supports before they flop and become slug fodder.

Tie in other climbing plants like clematis  to their supports.

Plant out seedlings into their final flowering positions - fill your gaps!

Pot on any seedlings which have been in their existing pots for a while - let them breathe!

Thursday, 6 June 2013

A* for the gardening life

Aquilegias, anemone, alliums and alchemilla. (A*, A*, A*, A* )

Stirchley Community Market was fun in the sun on Tuesday night and it was a real joy to stand in the Working Men's Club car park with the sun on my face, a load of lovely flowers for sale and a piece of locally home-made banana cake in my hand.  The cold pints from the bar drifting sociably past also looked very appealing....  A really great atmosphere with lots of gardening and plant chat to be had with passing folks - some of whom even knew the Tuckshop from their childhood sweetie-buying days. (It's a bit of a local landmark).

At the end of the market, I felt rather like lady bountiful, doling out leftover posies to my fellow stall holders and the reaction this gets is always one of delight. I am always happy to rehome any larger bunches in my own house and enjoy combining them into superbunches to fill my flared glass vase above (which one lady was coveting at the market - NOT for sale, it's too fantastic!).

Whereas at the end of the teaching day I'd come home with a pile of marking and preparation, my current life sends me back with flowers which I have grown and love. Guess which I like best. When the sun is shining, this new life cannot be beaten. Best job in the world!

Sunday, 2 June 2013

All grown up

The boing moment may have happened a few weeks ago, but now the garden is well and truly into its stride.  The plants seem to have been plotting a surprise party for my return from holiday, despite the hail which was apparently hurled at them in my absence.

On my photo safari this morning, I was spoilt for choice as marshmallowy peonies purred for attention, and ruffled granny's bonnets (aquilegia) nodded coyly towards the lens.  Blue centaurea appeared neon in the post dawn light and dog daisies prepared to sprawl across the borders.

Greenfly peeped round rose buds and cowered from the squishing fingers which loomed towards them whilst slugs crawled along lugubriously, content in the morning dew. RIP slugs (evil cackle).  A snail doing early morning calisthenics on a dried stalk was plucked to meet its final crunch.

Gaps are filling, things are sprouting, clematis is smothering the old pear tree with a twisty tangle of pink-frothed vines and all is well in the Tuckshop Garden. It's good to be back!