Time to plan…

Chickens, flowers, fruit, Garden design, Plants, Propagation, Secret Garden, Uncategorized, Vegetables

It’s winter, but it’s not cold.

Little green shoots are appearing – but they’re too early.

Hellebores are emerging, the witch hazel is blooming and we even have a couple of snowdrops almost fully out in the front garden.  It’s SpringWinter – not cold enough to be properly winter but not light enough to be properly spring.  Also known – on Instagram at least – as #thatwinterspringthing.

The mild weather and green shoots are not unwelcome – in fact they’re a wonderful reminder of what’s to come. I just wonder if we’re being lulled into a false sense of security, only to be shocked back into the depths of winter by a lengthy icy blast…

In any case there’s not much going on in the garden just yet, and I’m glad of the time to plan ahead for the coming season.  The main projects for this year will be:

  • the white border in the front garden – I’m redesigning one side of the front garden as it’s currently looking the most bare and in need of rejuvenation.  I want to drastically increase the planting and hopefully stick to a mainly white theme, as it’s partly in shade and its backdrop is much larger trees and bushes within the wooded area next door.  The plan is for some lush green/white planting which will lift the whole area during spring/summer
  • planting and sorting the area round the chicken coop – this area needs replanting after we switched the smaller chicken run for a much larger, covered run.  The grass needs fixed and there’s plenty of room at the front of the coop for some new hen-friendly plants
  • growing/selling plants from the Secret Garden – this project began last year when I sold the surplus plants I’d grown for my own garden.  I put the extras onto Facebook Marketplace and they were snapped up by quite a few local folk looking to support a small independent nursery.  I got the best buzz from growing healthy plants for others to enjoy so I definitely want to repeat the experience this year!  (The Secret Garden is so-called because it’s the space I have for raised beds and greenhouse behind a rather unobtrusive-looking door at the bottom corner of the garden.)

So the planning and designing is getting into full swing – I’m researching, drawing, reading and checking my seed stocks to get ready for what is likely to be a busy growing season.

This preparation includes testing out a couple of online drawing/design tools alongside the online systems I already use.  I use a range of different tools for different things – Evernote for clipping and saving articles, photos and plant information; Google Drive for plants/seeds spreadsheets and keeping track of budgets; Microsoft OneNote for drawing and saving designs.  I’m also currently trying the Suttons veg planner tool, which will hopefully help me to plan my fruit/veg growing for this year, as well as my cut flower bed.  And I’ve downloaded an app for my laptop called Bamboo Paper which also allows me to draw and create ‘mood board’ style notebooks.

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Designing the front ‘white’ border with OneNote.  It helps if you do this with wine 🙂

I did contemplate starting an actual physical notebook as a garden journal, and using a real-life pen and ink…but for some reason I seem to get on fine with the online methods.  I think in fact I’m more likely to access these electronic records and keep them updated than a diary-style physical notebook, as lovely as it is to hold and treasure a well-thumbed, dog-eared notebook…

Oh and one more goal which I hope to achieve imminently – sitting two more RHS Level 2 exams in February.  I’ve already been hitting the books again to swot up on plant biology and soil nutrition.  Wish me luck!

Happy 2019 – here’s to a great gardening year!

hydrangea jan 2019

 

 

Where do ladybirds go in winter?

flowers, Nature & Wildlife, photography, Plants, Raised Beds, Secret Garden, Uncategorized

This is the question I’ve been asking myself lately.

I’ve noticed more ladybirds than ever in my garden this year.  They’ve popped up all over the place – in pots, under the bin lids, on doorframes, in the house, and – thankfully – on my plants, presumably feasting on any pests which would dare to come their way.  It’s no coincidence that I’ve barely noticed a single greenfly since the spring.

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They seemed particularly happy perching in and around the sunflower heads, especially the slightly dried-and-curled-up faded flowers which must give them plenty of nooks and crannies in which to hide.

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They also – strangely – took to congregating in the multiple hose head thing which I installed to try and keep the plants watered while we were on holiday.  I’ve no idea why this was an attractive place to gather, but each time I looked in there were at least half a dozen piled into it.

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So, as the season has changed and the temperature’s dropped, I’ve been asking myself what’s going to happen to the ladybirds now?  Many of them still seemed to be hiding out in my faded sunflowers, and I needed to cut these down – but I didn’t want to disturb them or compost their winter hideaway.  And I don’t have a bug hotel in my garden which I could encourage them to populate instead.

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Apparently they do hibernate for the winter in various types of sheltered spots – tree bark, leaf litter etc.   They like crevices, leaves, bark, often low down.  So, having spent some time clearing the raised beds today, I did cut down the sunflowers, but took the heads of the flowers off first with a short section of stem and have piled them, and their little ladybird occupants, in a sheltered corner.  Hopefully the ladybirds will make themselves cosy there for the winter or can crawl away to the many trees and piles of leaves nearby which might make a more suitable winter holiday home.

I certainly hope they will wake up and return in the spring – it’s been a real joy to have a loveliness of ladybirds sharing my garden this year.

 

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September Stars

flowers, Garden design, greenhouse, Nature & Wildlife, photography, Plants, Propagation, Secret Garden, Uncategorized

It seems I have a late summer garden – there’s more colour on show in September than there has been during the rest of the year.

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The front garden is currently showing off all its colours – yellows, pinks, peachy dahlias and flashes of reds from the crocosmia, roses and even a few second-flowering geums.  I haven’t really planned a late summer garden, but each season I have been adding layers of colour and texture so there’s as much interest throughout the year as possible.  It looks like I’ve certainly been attracted to late season plants!

 

I do love my dahlias, of course, and they’re really hitting their stride at the moment.  I’m also really enjoying the echinaceas which are flourishing, the rudbeckias (still small, only sown this year) and the cosmos, which is a great gap filler.  I bought a couple of sedums several weeks ago and love to see the bees still busy around these flowers as they deepen in colour each day.  These are all being propped up by some of the shrubs and plants which may have finished flowering but are still providing essential structure and mass – the two cotinus, the damask rose, teasels and eryngium for example, whose spiky texture is also providing soft browns and purples.

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Some of my front garden plants have had a second wind, most likely due to the very warm summer we’ve had.  The geums I’ve already mentioned – these first bloomed in May I think and are still popping out a few flowers! The hot pink salvia is coming out again for another throw, along with the geranium ‘Lace Time’ with its pretty veined pink flowers.

 

But the stand-out repeat flowerer has to be the rose ‘Lady Marmalade’.  I might be wrong, but I think she’s currently in flower for the third time – and still looking beautiful.

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‘Lady Marmalade’

It’s lovely, as the summer slips away and the temperature starts to fall, that the hot colours are still warming up the garden.  I feel a bit sad about the season changing – I really loved the hot weather – but I can still enjoy the summer blooms.  Plus now is the time to collect seed, take cuttings and begin thinking about next year.  I know – it’s only September! – but I’m already thinking of what I want to grow and/or sell in the Secret Garden next spring and what I will add to the borders, front and back, to keep building those layers of colour, texture and foliage.

The hit list for next year includes more Stachys byzantina for its gorgeous soft leaves and rich pink flowers; more Verbena bonariensis as it’s so bee-friendly, the usual cosmos, sweet peas and aquilegia, and a plan for some new plants – Sanguisorba (inspired by a recent visit to Cambo’s walled garden) and Cerinthe major (which I loved at Chelsea).  I’ll also be sowing some Stipa tenuissima as I want to add some more soft grasses and I just love the texture and movement of this feathery grass.

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Sanguisorba and Stipa tenuissima in the beautiful perennial borders at Cambo

And that’s just a small selection of the seed packets I currently have spread out across my dining room table!  There will be a lull around November/December but between now and next spring there’s a lot of sowing and growing to do.  If you want me, I’ll be in the greenhouse…

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Flower & Food Festival

flowers, fruit, Grow Your Own, Houseplants, Other Gardens, Plants, Uncategorized, Vegetables

This is one of the highlights of my gardening year – Dundee’s Flower and Food Festival.

I go every year and really enjoy being in the midst of the best of what our area has to offer in terms of plants, produce and food.  There are displays of beautiful plants and flowers, from amateurs, dedicated growers and local businesses.  Not to mention the rows of fruit and veg and the amazing giant leeks, carrots and cabbages.  It feels like an exhibition built on the hours of love and joy which people have put into growing their favourite things.

I have a new-found appreciation for the people who enter these competitions.  You can’t accidentally grow three petal-perfect chrysanthemums or dahlias.  It’s impossible to grow a leek the size of a plank without putting in a great deal of time and effort to make it as large and perfect as it can be.  Maybe someday when I have more experience, and a great deal more time, I’ll consider trying my hand at a competition bloom, but for now I think I’ll continue to enjoy the flowers and veg I grow on my windowsill or on my plate…

Dahlia heaven at the Flower and Food Festival – so many beautiful blooms on display as part of the Scottish Dahlia and Chrysanthemum Society’s annual competition.

I was also very taken with some of the indoor plants on display – especially this frilly variety of coleus and these gorgeous swirly begonias.

The fruit and veg looked so healthy and colourful – you can tell the people who produced them just love growing!  #veggiegoals

Learning lessons…

flowers, fruit, greenhouse, Grow Your Own, Plants, Propagation, Raised Beds, Secret Garden, Uncategorized, Vegetables

This summer I have been learning a few lessons.  Not the book-reading kind – I’ve taken a break from horticulture studies as I decided that it would be madness to add this to the summer agenda of school holidays, parenting, working, enjoying the heatwave and almost constant watering.  I plan to resume studies in September (seems like a good ‘new-term’ kind of time to do it) but there have been plenty of other things to learn on a more practical level during the past few weeks:

1. I CAN have a nursery in my back garden.  This is number one because it’s been the most exciting and satisfying lesson of recent weeks.  For quite a while I’ve dreamed of having my own nursery – growing the kind of plants I love to sell to others – and I’ve take a big step forward by simply doing it.  I had quite a large number of surplus perennials and annuals which I had grown for planting in the front garden.  So I started a Facebook page, listed a few plants on FB Marketplace – and people actually wanted to buy them!

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The Secret Garden is open for busines…

I’ve called this a micro-nursery because it really is tiny – both in size and in stock availability – compared to a proper commercial nursery anyway! It’s very small-scale and I have not made a huge amount of money – perhaps enough to re-invest in some plants and seeds for next year.  But it has been worth it for the experience of producing plants for others, learning how to market them and deal with customers and moving towards my dream of owning a little independent nursery growing wonderful perennials, annuals, herbs and shrubs suitable for Scottish gardens.  In fact, I suddenly realised that not only moving towards it but I’m actually doing my dream – the Secret Garden micro-nursery is my own little corner of the earth for doing just that.  It may be small, and I may not make a living from it just now – or ever – but I’m doing it!  Having dipped my toe in the water this summer, so to speak, I’m excited to see how I can take it forward.  I am already planning ahead for next year: which plants to grow again and which were not successful or less popular; better ways to market the business, how to grow and expand via social media…. I have so many ideas for how to keep going and growing – and I’m so glad I’ve taken the first step.

2. Echinaceas are tricky to grow from seed.

When they do succeed and flower in the garden they are gorgeous and are currently providing a fantastic pop of pink in my front border.  But I have been trying since early spring to grow the intriguing looking variety ‘Double Decker’ and this is the result…

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Barely an inch of growth for the entire season.  I don’t know if it’s the seed, the soil, the conditions, or my lack of faith.  But those echinaceas are not going to grow into beautiful, flowering plants.  Mainly because I’ve composted them.

3. Don’t grow cucamelons too close together.

This was a difficult lesson to learn, resulting in me recruiting my eldest daughter to help me untangle about 20 young cucamelon seedlings which had started to twine around each other as well as other plants in the greenhouse.   We spent some time separating the cucamelons’ delicate tendrils, trying not to damage them.  Finally we got them all apart, so I potted up the ones I wanted to grow on, supporting them with bamboo canes.  I also potted a few more into a hanging basket, to see if they’ll grow as successfully hanging down.  However I was still left with quite a number of plants which no-one showed any interest in buying (I guess my local customers are not as interested as I am in experimental or exotic fruit/veg!) so I had to compost these too.  Which leads me to the next lesson…

3. Don’t sow too many seeds!

I do this Every.  Single.  Year.  and tell myself I don’t care – I just want loads of plants!

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Composting healthy cucamelons…argh! 

But inevitably there are Too Many Plants.  So I have to spend more time and effort potting on, watering and resisting throwing them away because I hate getting rid of potential plants.  However they do end up going in the compost as I have no room or they’re not selling or become too poor quality to sell.  If I want to raise more plants to sell I must be more efficient with space, materials and my time. So – I will sow more sensibly next year.  I will sow more sensibly next year.  I will sow more sensibly next year… I will…

4. Don’t dig – and don’t do green manure

I wanted to have a no-dig policy this year…but then I also decided it would be a good idea to sow green manure.  But these two things are not entirely compatible.  Yes, I think it is possible to do both – but I ended up doing neither very well.  The green manure grew well in some beds, but not so well in others, at least giving me an indication of the soil quality in each one.  But in the spring I then had to cut down and either remove or dig in the plants.  I tried to remove the majority of the largest plants, but eventually ended up digging over most of the soil, which still had shoots and roots left in them.  This is, of course, what you are supposed to do with green manure – but didn’t comply with the no-dig theory!  This autumn I will try to mulch the beds and may well cover some over if they are bare.  I don’t tend to grow many winter crops so I think I will mulch, cover and officially begin my no-dig policy next spring.

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The Secret Garden in early August

5. It’s all about layers

The front garden is looking well – probably deserves its own separate post to update on how it’s developing – but I still see lots of gaps.  I can see bare soil and smaller-than-they-should-be plants.  When I visit other gardens, I notice the fullness of the planting, how each plant blends together and merges to create a whole effect.  I think I am moving towards this, but it’s taking time.  And that’s ok.  I’m learning that I can’t achieve this look in one growing season, unless I empty the bank account at the local garden centre (not an option, according to my husband).  But I appreciate that this year there’s an extra layer that wasn’t there last year.  And next year there will be another and then another, until I’ve got the overflowing herbaceous border that I can see in my mind’s eye!  I’m playing the long game – and that’s good, because I’m really enjoying it.

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Echinacea purpurea – as it should look – in the front garden

Playing the long game…

flowers, Garden design, Nature & Wildlife, Plants, Propagation, Uncategorized

Gardening is a lesson in playing the long game.

I’m a quick-fix, instant-gratification type of person, so my growing love of the garden has brought with it an appreciation for taking things a bit slower.  For taking the long view and planning ahead for the same season, the next season, the next year, the next few years…

Very few aspects of gardening are instant.  You can buy a fully grown plant in a pot and have instant colour.  Buy a few of them and you’ve got instant impact.  But like many ‘instant’ things in life, the satisfaction is fleeting.

I’m learning to love the long game.  I have no choice, really, as I don’t have the budget for an instant garden!  But even if I did, I think I would still choose to plan and sow, make careful selections and take the time to move and shape things over the course of days, weeks and months.

Take delphiniums for example.  I have sown many of these this year, some to share and sell, others will hopefully find a home in my garden,  but I am taking the time to grow these in pots until they’re large and healthy and can withstand the assaults of the various snails and slugs patrolling my front garden.  It’s true, even large plants can be decimated by the jaws of a hungry gastropod, but the larger ones stand a better chance of survival.  As an experiment, I planted out a few young delphiniums into the front border and in a matter of days – as I suspected – they’d been torn to shreds.

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Delphiniums…worth waiting for (as this bee will testify) 

This border itself is another example.  In many ways I wish I could blow the bank account and buy dozens of plants to fill the bare soil still showing in the front…and yet by sowing and propagating, along with some careful bargain-spotting at plant sales and garden centres, I’ve managed to gradually fill gaps in around two thirds of the garden so far.  I like seeing it take shape gradually, and it gives me time to pause and redesign areas which aren’t working, or try new ideas when I’m inspired by a photo or magazine article.

In that very border are two mature philadelphus shrubs.  Last autumn I pruned them hard – knowing this would mean no flowering for at least a year.  They had flowered poorly the previous summer anyway and were congested and overgrown.  So I played the long game – removing most of the older stems and branches to leave a healthy selection of wood with a far better structure.  I’ve missed the flowers but hopefully next year I’ll find out if my hard work has paid off and be rewarded with a much healthier and better flowering plant.

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The front border is filling up slowly but surely…

My studies are part of my long-term plans too.  Much as I would like to, I can’t train in horticulture full-time – work and family commitments demand my time and ensure an income.  But I can take little steps forward – studying for half an hour each morning, taking a couple of exams every few months…inching forward towards a qualification which might come in useful, or might simply make me a better gardener.  Either way, I’m enjoying the process and I know that the theoretical learning is going hand in hand with what I’m practicing over time in my own garden.

This week I sowed biennials – again, another long wait to see how they’ll turn out.  Biennial plants flower the season after sowing, so the foxgloves and hesperis seeds I’ve sown now won’t flower until next spring and will need cared for in the greenhouse during autumn and winter.  But it will be worth it when they’re finally planted out in the garden, proving colour and scent and encouraging insects and wildlife.

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The teasels I sowed at the end of last summer are making an appearance now

So yes, even though ‘instant’ gardening can be a good thing, playing the long game is better for me – it slows me down and asks me to think and plan and anticipate what’s to come.  When many other aspects of my life seem to be whizzing past at speed, I’m grateful for the garden, which slows me down and helps me to appreciate what I have in front of me.

 

#TBT to Chelsea Flower Show 2018

flowers, Garden design, Other Gardens, photography, Plants, Uncategorized

As it’s Thursday, and I didn’t have the time to write about it at the time, here’s my own little summary of the joyous day I spent at RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2018!

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Me on my first visit to Chelsea Flower Show

This was my first ever visit to the show and it’s fair to say I was excited.  Very excited.  The event lived up to my expectations and I felt awed, inspired, influenced and delighted while I was there.  Although watching the highlights on TV give you a pretty in-depth view of the show gardens and plants, as well as a useful commentary from experts and the designers themselves, there’s nothing like standing right beside that garden and experiencing it for yourself.  Admittedly, you’re sharing that experience with hundreds of other people, all jostling for a good view, but it’s still a great experience.

Of the show gardens, my ultimate favourite was probably the Yorkshire Garden – I just loved its lush cottage garden planting, the stream and the beautiful stone building.  It looked like somewhere I could sit and enjoy for hours (assuming it wasn’t still in the middle of Chelsea and being viewed by thousands of plant-hungry people).

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I also loved the artistic creativity of the Harber and Savills Garden – I enjoyed its colours and the view down the line of the garden to the sculpture at its centre.   The one that took me by surprise was the South African Wine Estate, which I expected to feel ambivalent about – in fact I loved the different stages of this garden and the way it captured all the aspects (I assume) of the kind of land it was depicting.

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Delphiniums, roses, foxgloves…perfect cottage garden planting

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Cottage garden section of the South African Wine Estate 

The winner of Best Show Garden was of course Chris Beardshaw’s garden for the NSPCC.  I felt a little underwhelmed by it at the time, but I now wish I could go back and take another look at it again, having read a little more about it.  I think you would also fully appreciate the garden if you were able to get inside it and stand amongst the plants and enjoy the seating spaces.  This is, of course, impossible, but it must give the judges, celebrities and journalists a sense of each garden which we can’t quite achieve observing from the outside.

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I loved this planting combination – purples, red-purples and zingy greens, with the dark cornflowers popping up in the background

I felt the greatest connection to some of the smaller gardens, however.  The playfulness of the Seedlip Garden was brilliant.  I loved that every plant in it was from the pea family, and yet it was interesting and varied, as well as educational – I never knew there were so many ornamentals in the pea family!   (As a sidenote, if you haven’t tried Seedlip I’d encourage you to do so!  It’s a non-alcoholic spirit and it tastes of the garden.  Lovely with an elderflower tonic.)

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Lupins and other pea-family planting in the Seedlip Garden.  Note the brilliant pea-villion! 

The Artisan Gardens also impressed me – they also seemed more playful in their creativeness; there was a freedom in these which I imagine the bigger Show Gardens can’t quite access.

Of these, the ones which stood out for me were the Billion Dreams Indian garden with its blue Mecanopsis and gorgeous patterned marble walls; the peaceful and elegant Japanese Hospitality Garden (amazing moss balls!) and the Laced with Hope Garden – this last one reflecting on the journey of a child with cancer.  Its graffiti wall certainly wouldn’t be for everyone but I loved the explosion of colour, which was also reflected in the planting, and the sculptures which I think really illustrated what the garden was trying to achieve.

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The Great Pavillion was almost overwhelming there were so many flowers and plants on display.  The highlight for me was the The National Dahlia Collection.  So many dahlias on display in one place… I added loads to my wish list but the real inspiration was the planting combinations.  They looked fantastic next to hostas, grasses, foxgloves and aquilegia.  I’m still learning about how and where to grow my dahlias and this was really helpful and interesting.  I will definitely try to combine some of these in my garden in future.

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Dahlias planted with foxgloves, grasses, ferns, aquilegia 

So, what did I take away from Chelsea? Inspiration, ideas and a packet of seeds.  Sweet pea ‘Harlequin’ in fact.  Other stand-out plants which I will now seek out: lupins (especially ‘Masterpiece’), more geums (‘Mai Tai’, ‘Cosmopolitan’) and it’s reaffirmed my desire for some astrantia, having seen a variety of these on show too.

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Lupin ‘Masterpiece’ and Cerinthe major

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Astrantia – I need some! 

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I wasn’t sure about this Iris – until I saw it planted with this straw-coloured grass

I really did love my visit to Chelsea – I felt like I was in Plant Heaven all day, which is how I feel in my own garden, only with extra Pimms and a few more celebrities!  Will I go back?  Yes I think I would – although ideally on a day or time when you could avoid the worst of the crowds.  It’s definitely made me keen to see more of the RHS Shows too – next on the list, Chatsworth… 😉

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May snapshot

flowers, photography, Plants, Uncategorized

As I suspected, with the coming of Spring is the waning of the blog. However, I would never judge another garden blogger for forsaking screen in favour of soil, so I hope you won’t judge me similarly!

It’s now early June and I want the garden to stay as it is for a little while longer – everything seems to be in bloom at once.  I’m sure it’s a result of the delayed spring which means all the flowers have held back that little bit longer, and instead of appearing sequentially they’re putting on a fantastic show all together.  The laburnum tree in the back is humming with bees and spills over the pink rhodedendron, which is complemented by the dicentra and aquilegia popping up under the shrubs, with the foliage of those yet to bloom – hostas, alchemilla, lupins – filling out the gaps and making it all look quite lush.  And the clematis and honeysuckle are clambering over each other, competing to see who can look the prettiest (clematis wins this contest, but honeysuckle beats her on scent every time).

Yes, I wish I could pause the garden for a bit longer – I can tell it’s about to tip over from fresh and bright and frothy into overgrown and blousy and blown-out.  Not to worry…we might lose the primroses, forget-me-nots and aquilegia but the geraniums and roses are waiting in the wings – not to mention the geums and poppies already putting on a show in the front garden.

The flowers of May have also encouraged me to ramp up my photography – there are so many to capture after a long, cold, colour-free winter!

Here’s a snapshot of the garden last month, which will hopefully serve as a catch-up.

There are plenty more photos of what I’ve been up to in the garden on my Instagram feed @mycorneroftheearth.

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Spring has sprung…

flowers, greenhouse, Grow Your Own, Plants, Propagation, Raised Beds, Secret Garden, Uncategorized

…and my blog is suffering!  But it’s a good sign – I’m blogging less because I’m spending more time in the garden.  I have to – there are seedlings to prick out, beds to mulch, weeds to weed and plants to pot up.  And it’s only going to get busier from here on in!

Real Life is also getting in the way of Creative Life, as it sometimes does.

The best way to bring you up to speed is perhaps to post a few photographs of some of the garden jobs I’ve been up to in the past month or so…

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I’ve bought and planted half a dozen Anemone blanda to perk up a bare patch of earth under the magnolia in the back garden

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I’ve got two plants for my tin-bath pond – a lovely double marsh marigold and a corkscrew rush

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The forced rhubarb is about ready to pick!

 

 

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I briefly considered starting a sycamore farm – these are all the seedlings germinating at the side of the greenhouse… and there are many, many, many more popping up around the raised beds, paths, plant pots, in between paving stones…

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I’ve started all my dahlias…and *may* have bought some more along the way… #dahliaaddict

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Most of my seedlings and young plants are progressing well – some of these I’ve already planted out, like the forget-me-nots, wallflowers and gypsophilia.

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Basically I am loving the fact that Spring has arrived, bulbs are blooming and the sun is occasionally shining – long may it continue!

It’s the age-old battle for a garden blogger – blog vs garden.

I suspect I will be posting monthly for the forseeable, however I do post much more frequently on Instagram and you can follow me there for some micro-blogging action at @mycorneroftheearth.

 

Best kit – top 5

Garden equipment & products, Propagation, Uncategorized

Well the weather is still deeply disappointing here.  I look on Instagram and see photos of daffodils, anemones, primroses and even some tomatoes beginning to flower!  And then I look out the window and see grey, brown, damp and a chicken coop slowly turning into s a swimming pool.  I must keep reminding myself that even without the grim wintery weather, our growing season is a good 2-4 weeks behind many other parts of the UK…

While I wait out this particular wintry blast (yep, it’s actually snowing again here) I thought I’d share with you some of by best bits of kit – the gardening tools I love the most or find indespensible.

  1. Thermal gardening gloves. IMG_2058.jpgI have quite dry skin and these have been a hand-saver all winter – I’m still using them now while the weather is still a bit on the nippy side.  They’re lined with soft, cosy material and genuinely keep my fingers warm.  This makes them a bit thicker so they’re not ideal for fiddly jobs but for general digging, moving, lifting bags of compost or whatever they’re great and fairly waterproof too so your hands don’t freeze off when the hose drips all over the place.
  2. Wooden tools.IMG_2189.jpg I love these mainly because they’re a thing of beauty.  I am drawn to certain materials – wood, corduroy and I’m a total sucker for tan leather.  I love these so much I bought matching loppers and shears.  I wish I could say I have a set of well-loved wooden-handled tools handed down by a relative or the head gardener of a huge estate, but these were simply bargains in TK Maxx!  They may not have the heritage but they look wonderful and I feel like I will care for them more because of it.  Hand tools tend to end up a bit rusty and rickety for me – I will confess I don’t usually clean and sharpen them regularly the way you’re supposed to.  These look so simple and refined it’ll be easy to give them a wipe down or sharpen them up – I’m sure of it!
  3. Propagator IMG_0729.jpg This model is a 52 cm Stewart Essentials electric propagator which I picked up for just over £20 during the last Black Friday sale.  It’s not thermostatically controlled but as I use the rear sun room as a sort of indoor greenhouse it keeps my seeds at a good temperature for germination in a room where the temperature can fluctuate quite a lot, especially at night when it’s pretty cold.  I am currently trying to germinate my pelargonium seeds in there and they’re taking AGES.  I’ve also have very limited success with astrantia – only two seedlings so far.  But I think this is down to my choice of tricky-to-grow plants rather than the propagator!  I’m not very patient and need the space in that propagator for other seeds so I think I will very soon cut my losses and move these out in favour of something that will grow much easier.
  4. Boots. IMG_2037.jpg These are my beloved and very scruffy gardening boots.  I’ve had them for years, they’re still reasonably comfy but not very waterproof.  However when I’m wearing them I feel in ‘gardening mode’ – I feel like I can dig and sow and weed and do garden-y things because I’m in my Gardening Boots.
  5. iphone.  Truly indespensible in the garden for me.  Obviously it’s useful if anyone needs to get hold of me, I also take photos to post to my Instagram feed, check sowing times or names of plants, or for various bits of gardening advice if I come across something I’m unsure about.  IMG_2191.pngI also really love to listen to podcasts while I’m in the garden or greenhouse, and my podcast library is rapidly expanding – everything from Gardeners’ Question Time to Womens Hour to Adam Buxton to On The Ledge.  I’ve added quite a few more gardening podcasts recently, including this new one from Andrew O’Brien and Laeticia Maklouf.  I find them so useful and interesting – I like to absorb more garden knowledge through my ears and into my brain as I’m getting my hands dirty in the soil!

Despite the snow…

photography, Uncategorized

It snowed again.

The weather has once again put the brakes on any serious gardening activity this weekend, although I did manage to sow a few more flower seeds in the greenhouse while dodging the snow showers on Saturday.

I also stepped out into the front garden for about 10 minutes to take some photos.  They’re not my best images of all time but reminded me that I can still appreciate my garden, whatever the weather, and that Spring is under there…somewhere…

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The best laid plans…

Uncategorized

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I’m sitting indoors looking out at the sleety rain pummelling my garden, still pretty sodden from being covered in several inches of snow and the subsequent thaw.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  My plan for this week involved taking annual leave from work,  getting lots of seeds pricked out, sowing more, mulching, digging, planting and generally getting a head start on spring – preferably with the sun shining all the while!

But that’s not how it’s worked out; I rescheduled annual leave because of the snow disruption and now, on my only clear day off, the weather has taken a turn for the hideous.  Even working in the greenhouse would be cold and miserable.

So, I’m back to planning instead of doing.  And there are So. Many. Plans.  I want to do it all.  Vegetables, fruit, flowers, herbs, planting, growing – even selling!  Front garden, back garden, secret garden and school garden.  And learning too – I want to study horticulture, garden photography, research and write things…I want to figure out where I fit into the world of horticulture.  Do I have a speciality?  Could I be an expert in something? Should I blog more, read more, start a podcast?  I’ve never been so entirely gripped by a subject that I want it to fill up all these areas of my life, and I’m desperate to move forward, find my way, join the growing community, show people what I can do…  so many plans, but so little time.

I’m in denial about the sad truth of the matter…I just don’t have the time to do all of this.  And if I try to do too much I won’t do any of it well.  A wise man called Ron Swanson* once said “Never half-ass two things.  Whole ass one thing.” Ok, I’m not going to choose just one thing to focus on in my garden or my home or life this year, but the principle is sound – if I try to do too much I won’t do any of it well, and probably make myself unhappy and stressed out that I won’t be achieving what I wanted.

So, what DO I choose?  What ideas do I reject?  Like I said – I want to do it all!  I could fit it all in if only I could give up work, or criminally neglect my children and family – or do without sleep?!  Obviously none of these is a realistic choice, and I will continue to do what I do, and that is to fit as much garden time as possible into my free days, and to read and watch and absorb plant knowledge and expertise from others.

I think I also need to decide what the focus is for this blog.  As you can tell from the above witterings, it’s currently a bit rambly and unfocused… once I decide what my Garden Thing is I should probably write more about that.  Propagation?  Garden re-design?  Perennials?

I’m not sure about any of this yet, but if the weather stays as it is, I’ll have plenty of time to think about it…

*Ron Swanson, Parks and Recreation

Shinrin-yoku: forest bathing

Nature & Wildlife, Uncategorized

Tree-huggers and leaf lovers, come this way…

After a week of house arrest due to the snow, then frantic work days catching up after the snow, plus too much talking, eating, drinking, thinking and social-media-ing I decided that the best and quickest way to feed my soul and enter recovery mode was a good solid walk in the woods .

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The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku, which means ‘forest bathing’ and I can’t think of a better way to describe the act of putting on a pair of boots and walking alone amongst trees, fields and birdsong.  It’s been a thing in Japan since the 80s and its aim is to encourage a healthier lifestyle by taking walks in specially designated forests.  Forest bathing is not just about relaxation, although that’s a big part of it; studies have been done by Japanese scientists which show it can improve your physical health by boosting immune systems, reducing stress hormones, enhancing mental wellness and brain health. It might even blood glucose levels among diabetes sufferers.

I can certainly report it’s good for my soul as well as my health.  I always find something  in the woods to make me smile – today it was a flock of geese which passed so low overhead I could hear their wings beating.  And I also spotted lots of little chewed cones and nut remnants lying on the path which made me look up and wonder if there had been a little squirrel feast overhead.

I’m now wishing I had taken a photo of these…but then part of the joy of forest bathing is sometimes stopping to take photos, and sometimes simply enjoying the moment and not viewing it through a lens.

So I walked, breathed, greeted a couple of friendly dog walkers, and felt the sun on my back – it was wonderful.  I am extremely fortunate to have a number of woods just a short distance from home – I can leave my doorstep and walk to one of three woods within 5 minutes and if I ever got bored of these I could jump in the car and drive north to Big Tree Country in Perthshire, where there are some fantastic forests and woods to walk in.

However I do have a growing desire to visit Japan for some authentic forest-bathing.  I’ve been fascinated by the country and its culture for a long time and the more I read about it, the more I want to experience it for myself.  The Japanese relax by gazing at trees, lying on logs and breathing in forest smells.  Not to mention their cherry blossom festivals, zen gardens and moss meditation… for a garden-loving introvert it sounds like heaven!

For now though I will grab any opportunity I can to gaze at a Scots pine or my own (not-so-zen) garden.  Now the snow is melting the signs of Spring are showing up again at last.

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Soulful Sunday

Uncategorized

Just a little break from the usual garden-related chat to join in a new meme which has been started by The Mindful Gardener.

She suggests sharing on your blog ‘anything that makes you feel emotional, warm and fuzzy, grateful, inspired, appreciative of the world around us’ and as I have experienced this in the past few days I wanted to join in and write about my Soulful Sunday, reflecting on the past few days of joy and happiness and warmth in my community, despite some of the coldest temperatures we’ve experienced for many years.

Very few of us have escaped the icy grip of the Beast from the East in the past few days – the Siberian snow storm which has hit Britain.  I live in Scotland, in one of the areas which was under a Red weather alert for the first time ever! This meant heavy snow, extremely hazardous conditions and risk to life – so the usual work and school routine has been disrupted since the middle of last week.

Despite the icy chill, the freezing temperatures and the long days at home our community has become closer than ever, thanks to a friendly village v village ‘Winter Games’.  A mass snowball fight on one afternoon was extended to a snowman-building competition the next day.  And when each village won a point each, we held an Olympic- style series of races to decide the winner.   Each day brought families, parents, grandparents and other villagers along to take part and have a bit of fun in the snow.  Not only that, but it galvanised us into action to clear paths for the local sheltered housing complex, and today we all gathered to clear the snow and ice from the school grounds to make sure we could all return to normal tomorrow.

It’s been one of the best bonding experiences for our community, and a series of snow days which we know our kids will remember for a long time.  I’ve felt so happy and proud of where we live and the good people that we know.

And that’s why I’m feeling quite Soulful this Sunday.

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Another snowball fight at the conclusion of the ‘Winter Games’

Houseplants

Houseplants, Plants, Propagation, Uncategorized

Blame it on the winter weather, blame it on Instagram, blame it on Jane Perrone and her brilliant On the Ledge podcast… Actually I think I have only myself to blame – it was only a matter of time before my plant obsession came indoors…

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Yes, I have succumbed to the charms of houseplants.

I have resisted in the past as they honestly didn’t interest me that much; I have had a handful for a while which I have either been given or were picked up when I took pity on them in the bargain basement section of the local DIY store.  I have ignored them a lot, watering sporadically, allowing the dust to collect, and they’ve mostly survived, despite the neglect.  I’ve taken little interest in them in garden centres, plant fairs, books and magazines.

But something has changed in the past few weeks and I’m looking at houseplants with a fresh, and somewhat lustful, eye.

Monstera delisiosa Philodendron                                                                                                                                                      More

Monstera deliciosa – image courtesy of Pinterest

I mean, who couldn’t love a plant with the name Monstera deliciosa.

We had one of these, growing up in a bungalow in Northern Ireland in the 80s.  It’s also known as the Swiss Cheese Plant.  The leaves are whole when they begin to grow and then later develop the ‘swiss cheese’ holes.  I want one now for my own house – a really big one. I would put it in the dining room and polish its leaves lovingly.  See, my attitude to houseplants is definitely shifting…

Binge-listening to On The Ledge certainly hasn’t helped – Jane and her guests discuss various houseplant related issues and the podcast is full of top tips and helpful advice for getting the most out of indoor gardening.  I recently listened to Jane and James Wong enthuse about ‘Dr H’ and his House Plant Expert book – one of the many books in Dr Hessayon’s ‘Expert’ range.  The next day I was in town for a meeting and decided to kill some time in one of the local charity shops (I always make a beeline for the gardening books – there are always gardening books in charity shops).  What did I find?  The new (well, 1980s!), updated bumper edition of Dr Hessayon’s House Plant Expert, plus another excellent guide with lots of useful photos, written by Matt Biggs of GQT fame.  Both of these cost me just £5!

I’ve also invested in Alys Fowler’s ‘Plant Love’ , which I think I would be tempted to buy even if I wasn’t newly-obsessed with houseplants as it’s a really beautiful book.

I’m already loving learning about a whole new genre of plants, and as well as picking up a couple of waifs at B&Q (a sorry looking Guzmania and a yet-to-be-identified but healthy looking possible ficus) I’m also growing my own.  Yes, yet another way I can indulge my love of sowing and growing.  There’s a sowalong happening over at On The Ledge so I’m joining in by growing Pelargonium ‘Attar of Roses’ and Sempervivum tectorum, otherwise known as houseleeks.

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Seeds of Pelargonium ‘Attar of Roses’

The pelargonium seeds are AMAZING.  They have twisty tails which wind and unwind according to the moisture of the soil, helping them to bury themselves into it and then germinate.  AMAZING.

And the joy of houseplants is that even when the weather is not great for gardening outside, you can still care for and take joy from your indoor plants.  Today has been a great example of this; we are currently in the grip of the Beast from the East – a Siberian snow storm which has dumped about a foot of snow on us and closed schools and workplaces.  Gardening is out of the question – but today I managed to get my hands dirty and do some propagation, sowing the Sempervivum seeds and splitting and re-potting a large Aloe vera.

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I commandeered the laundry room floor for some indoor gardening

Instagram is currently heaving with trendy photos of fashionable houseplants – it’s the New Thing in gardening.  Am I being brainwashed?  Possibly.  Am I jumping on the bandwagon?  Maybe.  Do I care?  No!  I’m looking forward to growing my collection of beautiful houseplants – glossy green foliage, strappy variegated leaves, delicate flowers and patterns – and taking my own trendy photos to post on Instagram!

#plantaddict #sorrynotsorry