Back garden planning…

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

It’s time to concentrate on the back garden for a while.

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View of the back garden.  Obviously, it’s not normally covered in snow…

I’ve been turning my attention to planning the front borders up until now because there’s just so much bare soil out there.   I now have this space three-quarters planned – there’s just one corner I’m not exactly sure what I’ll do with yet.  I’ve moved most of the shrubs I want to move and even binned a couple which have outlived their usefulness.  Now it’s a case of waiting for everything to grow; most of the herbaceous perennials or annuals I want to plant in the front I will grow from seed.  This is probably ambitious, to say the least, but I simply couldn’t afford to go into a garden centre and buy everything I’ll need to fill the front garden, and I kind of want the satisfaction of knowing I’ve created much of it myself, from seed.   Don’t get me wrong – I have bought and will continue to pick up bits and pieces along the way, especially if I spy bargains at a plant sale or special offer.  But I’m trying my best to grow most of it, and that process is already underway.

So, with spring fast approaching, it’s time to look again at the rear garden.  There’s plenty of bare soil here too and I want to take a different approach with this area.    I have had the idea of woodland planting for the back garden for a while, as it tends to be more shady and there are a lot of mature, established shrubs and conifers.  This was confirmed on a visit to Belfast Botanic Garden in late spring last year when much of the planting which caught my eye was lovely lush, untamed woodland-style planting and I was inspired by many of the combinations – pulmonaria and geraniums, ferns and tiarella, hostas and hellebores, planted alongside rhodedendrons, pieris and euphorbia.  It struck me that I have the basis of this kind of planting already and want to keep the theme going.

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Ferns and pulmonaria at Belfast’s Botanic Garden

There are other criteria for the back garden: I would also like it to more or less take care of itself, I’m happy with a slightly ‘wild’ look and the plants will also need to be fairly tough as the chickens are free-ranging out there regularly now and love to scratch about in these borders and take dust baths in the driest spots.

Colour-wise, everything that’s out there already is purple, pink or white and that’s a theme I quite like and will continue – with the exception of wild primroses.  I really want these, as they are perfect woodland plants, will spread and provide early spring colour.  I hope their soft yellow shade will be a nice contrast for other planting in this area.

The plants which already shine in the back garden are geraniums, hostas, aquilegia and some alchemilla mollis which I have to keep an eye on or it would take over.  There are quite a few Fritilliaria melleagris (snakes head fritillaries) which will soon be emerging I hope and I’m also watching for the hellebores to make an appearance.    Last year I also added some white Hesperis matronalis (sweet rocket) which I really like and some Japanese anemones – I hope these will settle in and spread around the back and in between the larger shrubs.

So, the planting is already fairly ‘woodland’ or ‘wildflower’ in theme and I want to continue that, adding some sturdy specimens which will provide more colour for more of the year, and preferably ground cover too.

I’ve made a start – my local garden centre had an offer on pulmonaria this weekend, so I’ve picked up three ‘Raspberry Splash’.  These have lovely silvery-variegated leaves and are a pink-red colour which I like as an alternative to the more common purple variety.  They’re quite large so I’m pleased that they’ve already filled quite a good-sized gap.  I also spied primula vulgaris, which I’ve been hankering after and got half a dozen to plant at the front of the border.  They’re not in flower yet but I really hope they’ll establish and provide a very welcome spot of early colour.

Here’s how it’s looking now they’re in place:

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Obviously, still quite a lot of soil on show, but as we know, gardening is about playing the long game, and I’m hopeful these young plants will establish and spread over time.  I expect I may still have to use some annuals or bedding plants to fill in the gaps for a year or two but that’s fine with me.  In fact, I have a plenty of forget me nots grown from seed which will need a home and I think they will work nicely here too.  The other plant I want for the back garden is tiarella – I think the frothy white spires will provide a nice contrast to some of the other plants and, again, should provide some good ground cover in time.

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Tiarella at Belfast’s Botanic Garden – I love the fresh green leaves of this variety

So watch this space – I certainly am!  I’m checking almost every day for the little green shoots of bulbs, hostas and other perennials emerging in this part of the garden and I’m looking forward to creating a little bit of Belfast Botanic Garden which I can see from my kitchen window.

 

Garden visit: Cambo Estate

flowers, Other Gardens, photography, Plants, Uncategorized

This is the perfect time of year to visit Cambo Estate in Fife, when it hosts its annual snowdrop festival.

I make a point of going each winter/spring because there’s no better way to lift you out of the winter doldrums than gazing at hundreds of snowdrops.  And there are, literally, hundreds of snowdrops at Cambo.  There are 350 different varieties on display in the gardens and around 70 acres of woods, carpetted with snowdrops and aconites.

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Not only that but the grounds of Cambo Country House also include a walled garden, prairie planting, beds of winter interest planting and piglets!

In winter the walled garden is full of grasses and seedheads, with sculptures dotted around, a huge weeping willow over a stream, a pergola and glasshouses with specimens of succulents and pelargoniums.  It’s one of my favourite places to be and I’ve promised myself to go back in the summer so that I can see how different it looks at that time of year.  I love it in winter so can’t wait to see what impact it has full of flowers and greenery.

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The garden isn’t all brown seedheads and straw coloured feathery grasses…check out this dogwood – no filter or post-processing for this image!

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BLAM.  They also had some Cornus ‘Midwinter Fire’ which I may have coveted for my own garden…20180217-DSC_0993.jpg

And another hit of colour in the glasshouse…20180217-DSC_0980

One of the highlights of the visit at this time of year is the large daphne planted at the rear of the house.  You can smell it before you see it…follow your nose and you’re rewarded by the most beautiful scent.  Daphnes can be tricky plants to grow, liking only specific conditions – well, this one must be very happy because its flowers this year are prolific and the fragrance is amazing.

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The snowdrops which caught my eye this year had a touch of yellow to them:

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These may have been ‘Hippolyta’ although I admit I forgot to snap a picture of the label to remind me. However I did get a photo of  ‘Lady Elphinstone’ as she was another favourite.

I didn’t allow myself to fall completely in love with snowdrops…as galanthophiles will tell you, it can be an expensive obsession, with some single snowdrops selling at Cambo’s visitors centre for as much as £20.  However I did manage to come home with a small clump of doubles which I’ve planted ‘in the green’ under the magnolia bush in the back garden.  I hope they’ll thrive and multiply so that I can enjoy a little corner of Cambo in my own garden.

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Sow many seeds…so many seedlings

flowers, fruit, Garden design, Grow Your Own, Plants, Secret Garden, Uncategorized, Vegetables

aquilegia seedling

I’ve been on a sowing frenzy.

Although I work part time and theoretically have two days each week to spend in the garden/greenhouse doing lots of lovely gardening…it never usually works out that way.  Family/work/home responsibilities often creep into this time and so I have to grab gardening opportunities with both hands and make the most of it.  This sometimes means that I will sow like mad or get planting even if conditions aren’t perfect or if it’s a bit early or late – because if I wait until just the right time, I may miss it.

Yesterday gave me just the right opportunity for a bit of seed-sowing: some spare time, a sunny day and the need to stay close to home to nurse a poorly hen (latest on her on my Instagram feed @mycorneroftheearth).  Also we’re into another month – February! – and this brings with it a whole new set of seed packets to crack open and sow to get things off to a nice and early start.  I realise this can be a risky move, as seedlings can end up leggy or be exposed to frosty weather if sown very early.  However, where we live (North-east Scotland) it can be fairly cold and even frosty right into April/May and summers are frustratingly short.  So this year I’ve decided to give many of my plants a good head start so that they can flower for as much as possible of that short window of time when summer properly begins and autumn hits us again.

So my greenhouse is already looking pretty busy…

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This panoramic shot makes it look like the bench is bending under the weight – but we’re not quite at that stage…yet!  We have: sweet peas, calendula, greater knapweed, leeks, wallflowers, more sweet peas, nasturtiums, various cuttings, astrantia (taking a while to germinate!) two varieties of cosmos and shasta daisies.

And outside I’m hardening off the seedlings which were sown in the autumn and have been overwintering in the greenhouse…

This selection includes aquilegia, gypsophila, some geum cuttings, plus hollyhocks and stipa tenuissima.  What you can’t see on the ground under the table and along the fence is all the extra teasels, lavender and various cuttings of shrubs and fruit trees which I grew last autumn too!

What am I going to do with all these plants?  Well, some of them will definitely be planted out in the front garden.  I’m deliberately sowing a lot of herbaceous perennials and hardy annuals according to my planting plans for the front.  However, I know I’ll end up with too many.  Some, I will probably gift to family and friends but if I really end up with a lot of extra plants, I’m seriously considering selling them – I’m just not quite sure how to do that yet.  More on that later, perhaps.

Bearing in mind all this new growing activity, I’m going to need more kit.  I will definitely need more pots.  Thankfully I spied a bargain recently which will help with hardening off all these new seedlings – my local B&Q was selling off hardwood cold frames marked down from £48 to £20, so I snapped up two!  My husband very kindly put them together for me yesterday.

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So that’s what’s going on in the Secret Garden at the moment.  Lots of sowing and growing already – and I haven’t even started on veg and/or cut flowers for the raised beds yet!  Spring isn’t quite here yet but I’m getting ready for her…

Witch Hazel

flowers, photography, Plants, Uncategorized

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I take photos of the witch hazel every year when it blooms.  I think it’s because I’m just so glad to see some colour in the garden.  This bush shines like a little beacon in the darkest corner of the garden, close to the compost bin, and I don’t always notice it straight away, but when I do it makes me feel really happy.  Those delicate yellow ribbons are a sign that there’s much more to come…Spring is on her way.

Chickening out

Chickens, Grass and lawncare, Uncategorized

I’m a bit feather-brained at the moment.

We have three chickens – Minnie, Polly and Iona – they’re our first little flock and we’re extremely fond of them.  I have previously documented their arrival here and since we got them they seem to be quite happy in our back garden.  They’ve recently started laying again after a bit of a break over Christmas time and their eggs are delicious.  My current favourite lunch is poached egg and avocado on a nice bit of thick bread, with a good cup of tea.  YUM.

Our hens live in the middle of a back border in a second-hand Eglu (thank you, Gumtree) and have a small run outside of the main coop and wire run.  We have experimented with free-ranging before, but for various reasons I have always gone back to restricting them to their bigger run and keeping them out of the main garden.

The reasons included – bird flu restrictions (the advice was to keep them under cover and away from wild birds for several weeks), poo on the grass and paths, fears they would eat some of my plants – plus one of them worked out how to escape and, having had a taste of freedom, would get out at inconvenient times.

However, I recently bought and read this book…

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…which has reminded me of my original hopes when we got the hens – that they would be an important and valuable element of our garden, not destroying it but contributing to it.

This book has been around for while, it’s not a new release, but it’s still very relevant.  The author, Jessi Bloom, is an experienced chicken owner and writes with passion and enthusiasm about how easy it is to integrate chickens and gardens.  She gives advice about housing, planting, training and looking after hens.

The main message I took away from reading this book are that chickens can not just live in your garden, but can actually be beneficial too – I already compost their poo so that the nutrients will return to the soil, but the book also made it clear that hens can reduce pests and weeds and be useful garden helpers.

It’s helped to calm my fears about letting the hens loose.  If there are young plants you don’t want them to eat, these can be protected.  Yes, there may be occasional damage but it’s avoidable and not a great tragedy if it does occur.  Let’s face it, the nature of gardening is such that if something doesn’t work the first time, you can simply try again.  And yes there may be some poo on the grass but at this time of year it’s not a big issue and a quick sweep of the lawn in the spring/summer should see it clear for the kids to play on.  In fact, I might even get them to do the poo-picking!

And so, our ladies have been released.  They are free-ranging part-time (afternoons, when we’re home to keep an eye on them) and seem to be loving it.  They’ve already established the New Favourite Dust Bathing Area – under a conifer I recently clipped so that the hellebores underneath would have a bit more breathing space.

I do have plans to introduce new plants to the back garden but now I’ll be more mindful of how to protect these until they’re established.  I feel more comfortable that what’s already there will survive a small amount of treading or scraping and if it doesn’t, well, it can be replaced.

This back garden area will eventually be an area of woodland planting – tough, hardy, resilient to a bit of ‘chicken love’, and I hope they really will keep the pests down and the weeds at bay.  For now, I’m enjoying seeing them run across the garden, wings outstretched, or run up to me hoping for treats and just kicking about making their little ‘boop-boop’ noises.  They’re good garden companions.

In fact, they’re so good that I’m now keeping my eyes peeled for a second coop – either for raising chicks or for a new flock.  I was warned that chicken-keeping becomes addictive and it’s true.  Hence why I’m feather-brained – I keep wondering if it should be Pekins, bantams, ex-batts, Auraucanas, Buffs….

 

 

 

A total redesign

flowers, Garden design, Grass and lawncare, photography, Plants, Uncategorized

These are scary words!  A TOTAL REDESIGN of the front garden.  This means digging, moving, sowing, replanting, more digging, weeding, propagating… I can’t wait.

We’ve lived here for three years now and I have tweaked the front garden only slightly each year.  It’s been good to wait and live with the garden for a while.  To see what thrives and what doesn’t; what I look forward to seeing each year and what bores me.  I’ve added bulbs for spring colour and a number of roses.  I’ve hauled out a couple of shrubs which did nothing for me or the garden, and experimented with adding a few annuals and perennials.   It’s a very mature ‘shrubby’ garden – there are several rhodedendrons and azaleas, a skimmia and a couple of handsome continus, for example.  And while many of these plants do very well and have their moments throughout the season I want to introduce interest right through from spring to autumn.

Last year saw the biggest change and I chose a section beside the driveway to add more planting than ever – mostly herbaceous perennials and a couple of new roses and shrubs.  And even though I didn’t really plan it properly and added things ad-hoc, perhaps slightly haphazardly and sometimes just to fill gaps…it looked great!  It gave me a vision for how the whole of the garden could look and made me realise that cottage garden style planting is the way forward.  For this particular section of the border I was attracted to echinaceas, lavender, roses, hollyhocks, geums, more roses, salvias and gypsophila.  Soft colour, blousy petals, frothy flowers were held together by showy dahlias and some good old-fashioned roses.  I enjoyed the colour, the scent, the fact that there was always something in flower to enjoy and that the seedheads and stems are there to keep things interesting even now, in the middle of winter.

So – a cottage garden it is.  And the planning is underway…

Now, I am not a designer – I’m not even a particularly good artist so please forgive the slightly scrappy drawings, but I’m loving sketching out plans for what should go where and creating ‘mood boards’ to give me a clear idea of the kinds of plants I want to grow and plant.  I’ve even gone into Full Organisation Mode, using spreadsheets to keep track of what seeds I have, when to sow them and to keep a record of what I’ve grown as I go along this year.

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I’ll be honest – I’m not normally this organised, and you don’t have to do this to be a ‘good gardener’.  Up until now I’ve had a pretty relaxed ‘it’ll grow when it grows’ attitude to what I’ve sown and planted!  But this is such a big project for me – my first proper garden project in fact – that I want to try and document it as much as I can.  I feel like I’ve been my own apprentice up until now, messing about with growing a few veg, sowing some flowers and I’ve been surprised at my own success.  Now I feel like it’s time to graduate up to Assistant Gardener/Trainee Designer!

Work will begin in earnest in a few short weeks but as well as all the indoor planning and a little bit of seed-sowing (sweet peas, delphiniums, astrantia and echinacea are in the propagators as I write) I’ve managed to do a bit of preparation in the garden itself, taking away some of the lawn to widen the borders at each corner, hard pruning of two shrubs (which are either Philadelphus or Deutzia but haven’t flowered for a couple of years so I can’t ID them! Hence the hard pruning…) and I’ve also moved the Monkey Puzzle, as blogged here.  As soon as the weather warms up enough for me to dig a bit more I’ll move some more shrubs into better locations – I want to keep them for structure and because I like most of them, but they need spaced out to make way for interplanting of all those lovely herbaceous perennials and annuals.

A few ‘Before’ photos…

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See – lots of bare soil and potential.  Wish me luck, there’s lots of ground to cover!

And finally some of the stars last year’s trial ‘herbaceous border’…

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Curly wurly

Nature & Wildlife, Other Gardens, Plants, Uncategorized

I’m noticing a certain kind of shape around me at the moment – for the past few days I’ve been spotting curls and twists, exposed I suppose by the bare branches of winter.

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One that I notice daily is the contorted hazel (Corylus avellana ‘Contorta’which is right outside our back door.  This large shrub is also known as a twisted or corkscrew hazel and by the nickname of ‘Harry Lauder’s walking stick’, after a Scottish entertainer who apparently used to carry a walking stick made from a branch of the shrub.

Only a couple of days ago I was listening to a podcast of Gardener’s Question Time and this plant came up – one of the panellists revealed that the twisted hazel was first discovered by a drunken vicar, who fell into a hedge, looked up and saw the contorted stems.  So he took a cutting, grew the plant and that’s how it’s ended up in many of our gardens (according to Chris Beardshaw!).

It’s a fascinating shrub to look at, but especially in winter, when you can see the exposed shapes of the branches, and then in spring when little yellow catkins appear.  Even its leaves are quite bumpy and textured so it’s well worth having one in the garden for year-round interest.  You can even bring it indoors – sort of.  I’ve pruned a few branches from mine as each year it throws up a few vertically, which is out of keeping with its general weeping shape; so I’ve put the pruned shoots into glass vases so I can admire the twists and turns inside as well as out.

And now it appears I’m being followed by twisted branches… on a visit to the hospital last week to donate blood I noticed a twisted hazel in one of the flower beds in the grounds.

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It looks quite good with the background of the brighter green conifer.

Then on a walk around the village a few days later, I looked up and noticed these striking trees in someone’s garden:

IMG_0730.jpgI’m not certain if these are hazel or not – I expect this is the ‘tree’ version of my medium-sized shrub.   I couldn’t get close enough to check but they make a fantastic silhouette against the winter sky.

Finally, one of my favourite little plants in my garden, this little grass…

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…which is Carex comans ‘Frosted Curls’ and provides a wee corner of interest in its spot in the front garden all year round.  At this time of year its little curls bounce around in the wind and towards the end of last summer it provided a brilliant backdrop for the chocolate cosmos I planted next to it.

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So there you have it, everything’s a bit twirly at the moment and I like it.  Nature really doesn’t do straight lines and what’s more interesting for your winter garden than a twisty, turny, curly, wurly plant to make you stop and look for a while…

 

 

 

 

 

Monkeying around…

Garden design, Grass and lawncare, Plants, Uncategorized

I’m really quite pleased with this weekend’s main gardening project – moving my monkey puzzle tree.

Actually I’m really quite pleased to have been in the garden at all – it’s been ages.  Pre-Christmas, Christmas and post-Christmas did not leave much time to get outside and tackle winter gardening jobs, and when there was a bit of spare time the ground was so hard and frosted there wasn’t much point!

So now that we’re back to school/work and in the regular routine, I spent a few hours on my non-working days in the greenhouse and the front garden.  It was so good to get my hands dirty again.  As well as sowing a few seeds in the greenhouse and my new propagator – see below, isn’t she pretty…?

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This was an early birthday present to myself – a bargain in the Black Friday sales.  It’s currently warming up some astrantia and echinacea seeds – fingers crossed it will do the trick.

Anyway, back to the monkey puzzle.  Moving it is Step 1 of my grand plan for the front garden, which I am attempting to totally redesign.  Previously shrubby and a bit, well, boring, I have already begun removing the most dull/old/overgrown shrubs and last year managed to introduce a few perennials.  This year I will be moving a few plants around, and planting as many perennials as I can get my hands on.   More on the Grand Plan in a later post – back to Step 1.

I wanted to move the monkey puzzle as I had put it to the front corner of the garden after we moved in here.  We acquired it when my youngest daughter was just a few days old so it’s almost 8 now.  It’s done fine and is gradually getting bigger (they grow very slowly for the first 5-10 years) but the branches are growing towards one direction, a bit like arms which are stretching towards you for a hug…but this would be a very bad idea as it’s incredibly prickly.  I think this is because the trees behind are shading it and it’s been growing in the direction it gets most sunlight (west).  So I’m hoping that moving it into the middle will enable it to get a more even tan, so to speak, and might help it to rebalance its direction of growth.

I was a bit nervous about moving a tree which is about seven years old and had been in its current position for about three years, but when I came across Rachel the Gardeners post on this here I was reassured that, with a bit of care, it should survive the transplanting process.  So I dug carefully around it, lifted it with as many roots intact as possible and replaced it into the nice deep hole I dug in the centre* of the front garden.

*Please note my entirely UNscientific method of measuring the centre: pace lengthways across the garden and pace the breadth.  Then take half the number of paces each way and you’re in the middle.  Simples.  I don’t really do measuring.

Et voila – one replanted monkey puzzle tree.

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I really like it there – it seems to change the whole nature of the front garden.  I guess it’s the addition of a focal point.  So I’m hoping that I can nurture it into its new home and that it will continue to grow and thrive, and that in years to come I can give people directions to my home by telling them ‘we’re the first house as you enter the village – you can’t miss us as there’s a massive monkey puzzle tree slap bang in the middle of the front garden.’

Now for the botanical bit…

Monkey puzzle (Araucaria araucana) originates in Chile, South America and came to Britain in the 1800s.  Its common name derives from this time, when it was very rare to see one.  Apparently Sir William Molesworth, who owned a young specimen at Pencarrow garden in Cornwall was showing it to a friend who remarked “It would puzzle a monkey to climb that”.  The name has stuck – as has the novelty of seeing one in someone’s garden and my own children frequently enjoying shouting ‘MONKEY PUZZLE’ at the top of their voices when we pass one.

Trees can grow more than 12 metres tall, although it will take at least 20 years for it to reach its full height.  They usually bear either male or female cones, although it won’t produce seeds until it is at least 30-40 years old.  It’s thought they can live up to 1000 years.

Dig/No-dig

Uncategorized

To dig or not to dig…that is the big question I’ve been asking myself lately.

I have six large raised beds and all of them are needing a bit of TLC in order to improve the soil and make them more productive.  As we inherited these with our home when we moved in three years ago, I have no way of knowing their history, how they were previously used, where the soil came from…I can only judge how it feels between my fingers and the results of my own growing.

In my first year of growing in these beds I soon discovered we had some issues.  The crops I sowed (potatoes, carrots, parsnips and some annual flowers for cutting) came up rather wimpy and lacking vitality.  Growth was a bit slow and stunted and although we did get some edibles and a few handfuls of flowers I realised that the growing conditions were not great.

Last October when it came to emptying and prepping the beds for winter I attempted to dig them over and realised I couldn’t get the fork more than half of the way into the soil – serious compaction.  So, on an impulse I went to my local tool hire store and rented a rotavator for a couple of days.  That was a fun one to explain to my husband aka the only one physically able to operate it for two days on six seriously compacted beds…

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Here he is in action, along with my eldest who helped with moving the soil.  Apparently it’s good for the biceps, really he should thank me for the workout.

So, after rotavating each one, moving half the soil across the bed, digging right down to turn it all over, then moving the soil back again, I was able to dig down a full fork’s depth or more.  We’re talking a lot of soil movement, but I felt it was the only way to break up the compaction and create a loose enough structure to improve the growing conditions.

So this year I have definitely noticed an improvement, I believe I’ve had a better crop and healthier plants.  However I think the soil is still a bit thin and has a tendency to be very dry.  I’m not a soil expert, but it just doesn’t seem all that healthy.  More nutrients are needed and having done some research it’s clear that organic matter is the answer.

The first thing I hit upon was green manure; I’d heard vaguely about it and understood very little, assuming it was some kind of very fresh animal dung!  In fact, it’s a plant, or various kinds of fast-growing annuals or herbaceous perennials, such as alfalfa, crimson clover, buckwheat, mustard, or a combination of these and others.  You sow the seeds onto bare ground and their foliage suppresses weeds, while the roots restore nutrients into the soil and improve its structure.  Before the plants set seed and a few weeks before you want to start using the ground again for growing fruit or veg you then cut down the plants and dig them back into the soil,  This seemed like a very good idea and several months ago I took advantage of a retailer’s online seeds sale to buy a few packets of mixed green manure seeds.

However this research has also turned up a second, very interesting technique which is the complete opposite of how I’ve been treating the beds up until now: no-dig.

No-dig is a non-cultivation method of gardening and is pretty simple – you just don’t dig! The theory is that when you turn over the soil you disturb both weed seeds, bringing more of them to the surface, and the natural bacteria and structure of the soil.  With no-dig you simply smother any existing weeds with a thick mulch of organic matter, which is then taken down into the soil to enrich it by worms and other insects.  You can even plant straight into the mulch, as the seeds you sow there will be nourished enough to grow and put down roots further into the soil, below the mulch layer, giving you a nice healthy crop.  In fact, I shouldn’t be explaining this to you – I should be pointing you in the direction of the rather wonderful Charles Dowding, a very successful and knowledgeable proponent of no-dig gardening.  He’s written a number of popular books on the subject and his website and forum is also full of advice for anyone keen to try the method.

So – I have green manure and the time-pressed (and lazy) gardener in me is very interested in no-dig.  The result of all this research is a highly unscientific experiment in my own back garden allotment.

 

Bittersweet peas

flowers, Plants, Pots and containers, Uncategorized

I’m having a love/hate relationship with sweet peas.

Actually that’s not strictly true – I love them really, but I hate the way they make me sneeze.  I’m growing lots of different varieties this year and although it’s now September and Autumn is definitely peeking its head round the corner, they’re still going strong in my garden.  So I’m bringing in bunches of them every few days – but the pollen is definitely exacerbating my allergies and every morning when I wake up I explode a number of times and end up looking like I’ve been crying for a week.  But that scent though…

I nabbed some photos of the main offenders this morning to ‘review’ the varieties I’ve been growing this year.  Way back in March I treated myself to a window propagator from Marshalls like this one, which came with a selection of new varieties of sweet pea seeds.   I grew a few of each in two batches, one of which was quite late and I guess that’s why I’m still picking them mid-September.

The prize for the most prolific goes to…Little Red Riding Hood:

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This one has been covered in flowers for a number of weeks and is really bright and cheery.  There are so many that I’ve never yet managed to take off every flower with each picking – I’d run out of vases!  The stems are on the short side but if you don’t mind that, this flower just gives and gives the whole season.

The prize for the prettiest colour goes to…Erewhon:

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This flower is such a delicate blue-purple with just a hint of pink.  It’s really gorgeous and very subtle.  Can you spot the aphid in the photo above by the way??

Which brings me to – the prize for the most covered in aphids goes to…Cream Eggs:

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These are also a really pretty colour, with delicate purple veining inside and around the edges, and they smell beautiful.  However, I’ve been chasing aphids off the buds and flowers for several weeks – they hide inside the folds of the flower until you bring them inside and then invade your house too – grrr.

The prize for the most dramatic flower goes to…Berry Kiss: DSC_0618

This has produced lovely deep pink and purple flowers, although these tend to fade quicker and can look a bit tatty after rain.

And the prize for the purest, ruffliest sweet pea goes to…Misty Mountains:

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This mix also has dark and paler purple flowers in it, but I’ve been most struck by the white ones, which look like they’ve fallen straight off an Elizabethan gentleman’s shirt sleeves.  Lovely.

However my favourite sweet pea for this season is a bit of a wild card – it’s a dwarf variety which I planted into a blue pot and set by the front door.  Although it didn’t last as long as the rest, the colour was magical – it’s Northern Lights:

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What a beauty.  The plant has finished flowering but I’ve kept it aside in the hope of keeping some of the seed to sow more next year.

So there you have it, my sweet pea selection.  I’m off to take another antihistamine and enjoy more of one of my favourite flowers in the garden…

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An epiphany…

flowers, Garden design, Plants, Uncategorized

Looking around the mix of various shrubs, trees, annuals and perennials in the front garden I often become frustrated by its lack of consistency and theme.  Many of the mature plants were there when we moved in and I have enjoyed acquiring many more shrubs and perennials over the past couple of years and filling the gaps, but I’m not sure the gaps are being filled very effectively.

More planning is needed, and a better design.  This is still in the early stages, and I have ideas for widening the borders, removing some shrubs and transplanting others.  But I’ve also had an epiphany – as I view what’s already there in the borders I realise that cottage garden planting is dominant.  There are lots of roses already, along with established Philadelphus and I’ve added hollyhocks, geums, echinacea, lavender, alliums, dahlia and quite a number of other herbaceous perennials which could definitely or loosely be termed ‘cottage garden plants’.

So – I’m excited!  I have a theme.  I have a shortlist.  I have parameters for this area and this will help curb my enthusiasm for buying every plant I fall in love with (most of them) and allow me to be more selective, choosing varieties and colours which will fit in with the existing planting and blend into the blousy, loose and colourful mix that’s already there.  I will add some structure, and I’m not afraid to break the rules a bit, but I have a vision now for what the front garden could be, and I’m really looking forward to creating it.

Catching up

flowers, photography, Uncategorized

I’m not going to apologise for neglecting my blog.

Because I don’t like it when other bloggers do that – I think blogging should be one of those things you can pick up and put down. There are very few things in my life I have time to keep doing consistently (apart from, like, bathing and dressing and eating and all that….y’know…) including yoga, running, writing, photography…I love all of them and wish I had time every day to practice each and every one, but I don’t.

Sidebar: C’mon retirement!! – only 28 years to go… <despair>

So, I pick these interests up when I can and put them down again when I must. Gardening is the exception – I ALWAYS want to garden.  But I sympathise with other bloggers when I see they’ve gone a bit quiet because I know that Real Life has got in the way.  And I’m amazed and impressed when I see other garden bloggers faithfully typing away year-round, especially during the spring and summer when the urge to be outside with soil on your hands is at its peak.

So here I am, back again.  It’s summer but it’s a rainy day.  And I’m procrastinating doing other boring admin jobs.  And I really miss writing.  And I joined a FB garden bloggers group AGES ago and feel guilty each time I see an update on there, knowing I Don’t Really Belong because I’m not *actively* blogging.

So what have I been up to?  What’s growing?  What’s failed?  How’s the garden?  What does it look like?  Well, it’s not exactly true that I haven’t been updating The Public on my corner of the earth, Alvare, as I’ve been regularly posting pics to my Instagram feed. Micro-blogging, if you will.  I try to post photos there most days of what’s looking good in the garden, or the latest significant changes or successes, what’s growing well and also what the chickens are up to!   If you’re not already following it, please feel free to check it out.  You’ll find me there as @mycorneroftheearth.

If you haven’t been following me there (it’s ok, not everyone loves Instagram) here are a few photos which I hope capture the essence of my garden over the past few months…

 

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When I’m not gardening my garden my next favourite thing is to photograph it.  It’s been such a joy this year not only to watch things grow and flower but also to capture a beautiful image and share it with others.  It’s addictive and I find myself wandering round the garden on evenings when the light is good, trying to pick out my next subject (flowers are very obliging and hardly ever complain that they ‘hate getting their photo taken’).

So there you have it – literally a snapshot of the spring and summer in my corner of the earth.  So much has gone unwritten in the past few months, or unphotographed but I’m working on changing that.   I have a lot of ideas about what I want to do in the garden, how to develop it and myself and I want to continue to write this stuff down, take pretty pictures and share it all with anyone who cares to read it – I don’t care if that’s 2 people or 2000.

I think it might be time to pick up something I have put down for a little while…

 

Planning…

flowers, Garden design, Grow Your Own, Plants, Raised Beds, Secret Garden, Uncategorized, Vegetables

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It’s time to get planning.  For the past few weeks and months, a lot of ideas, plans and wish lists have been floating about in my head or, when possible, noted on my phone (Notes, Reminders and Evernote are the gardener’s friends for recording these on-the-go).  I’ve also sorted through the seeds I have left from last year as well as ordering a few to sow this year.  Now the moment has come to commit these to paper and decide when to plant it all and where to put it all.

I’ve made use of this year’s Big Garden Birdwatch year planner and made myself a visual guide – each packet’s been placed on the month which is the earliest they can be planted. If I follow the plan exactly, the next couple of months are going to be busy!  However, I suspect the timings will be very much dependent on climate and opportunity.  I hope that I’ll get a few peas (sweet and savoury) off to a start in the greenhouse by the end of this month, however where we are (East Scotland) it may be worth waiting until a little later to sow many of these plants, so that by the time they are ready for planting out, the weather will also be ready to welcome them.

Until then, I’ll keep tweaking The Planting Plan and I have some work to do in the front garden – I’ve begun moving a few shrubs to clear various areas for new planting.  I’ve been reading quite a bit about garden design and collecting a few resources to help with this task (more on these in another post) and am looking forward to giving the front beds a serious overhaul.

We’re still in the middle of winter…but Spring is coming!

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A day in Edinburgh

flowers, Nature & Wildlife, Other Gardens, Plants

When I’m not in the garden I do my best to hold down a job, working in communications.  Today I’ve been in Edinburgh at a PR festival, in an attempt to learn a bit more about my profession and do some networking. So I’ve spent the day listening to PR experts discuss the media, politics, best practice and public affairs.

Here are the highlights of my day:


sorry it’s not too clear – it was hard to get close!

Make sense? Nope, not to me either! I realised by the time I got onto the train home this evening (where I’m typing this post!) that all the things that have made me smile today have been to do with gardens or nature.  Walking through Princes Street Gardens this morning I noticed most of their roses are blooming and enjoyed seeing new cosmos plants being put into the borders around a fountain.

At lunch I escaped all the people and went in search of cake, which I found at the fantastic cafe Love Crumbs. As I ate I looked out of the window to a courtyard below which was full of plants but looking a bit scruffy. I wished I could get my hands on it to pull the weeds and tidy up the plants which were in need of a bit of tlc. I also stopped in at the second hand bookshops to indulge my love of old-fashioned gardening books and found this:


Who better to get some wisdom from than the grande dame of gardening, Gertrude Jekyll?!

Later, on the way back through the grounds of the Parish Church of St Cuthbert I spotted, an instantly fell in love with, a lovely double-petalled geranium. And to crown it all I saw a family of magpies!  They were floating through the trees the way they seem to do on those black and white wings, the youngsters calling to the parents; they stopped under a bench for some crumbs presumably left from lunchtime, the older birds feeding the fledglings. It was fantastic – the first time I’ve ever seen six magpies together – a whole family.

And now, as I type this on the train I have in front of me a copy of Garden News which I brought with me to read…and inside is Carol Klein, describing one of her favourite geraniums, Plenum Violaceum, a double variety of a meadow cranesbill!


So it’s been an interesting day. I expected to come home buzzing with enthusiasm for public relations and communications practice. And I have to admit I did enjoy the conference and learned a few things.

However, what I’ve been most excited about is all the green stuff I’ve seen, new plants and books I’ve discovered and an awesome bird-spot.  Whatever this all adds up to, it’s been a good day.

Beetroot & Coconut cake with Earl Grey