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.

IMG_8925

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

 

 

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.

img_6299

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.

20180826-DSC_0503

 

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.

Lady m BEST-4

‘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.

image_558445370734348

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…

img_6861

 

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.

DSC_0221

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.

img_4647

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.

img_4687

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!

20180526-DSC_1272

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).

20180526-DSC_1190

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.

20180526-DSC_1208

Delphiniums, roses, foxgloves…perfect cottage garden planting

20180526-DSC_1209

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.

20180526-DSC_1148

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.)

20180526-DSC_0974

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

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.

20180526-DSC_1102

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.

20180526-DSC_1267

Lupin ‘Masterpiece’ and Cerinthe major

20180526-DSC_1151

Astrantia – I need some! 

20180526-DSC_1177

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… 😉

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

Back garden planning…

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

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

IMG_1528.jpg

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.

IMG_1358.jpg

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:

IMG_1506.jpg

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.

IMG_1355.jpg

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.

 

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…

IMG_1255.jpg

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.

IMG_1248.jpg

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…

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.

IMG_0567.jpg

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…

IMG_3945.jpgIMG_3946.jpgIMG_3944.jpg

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’…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

 

 

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…?

IMG_0725.jpg

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.

IMG_0754.jpg

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.

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:

DSC_0628

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:

DSC_0610

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:

DSC_0623

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:

DSC_0608

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:

IMG_2165

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…

DSC_0636

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.

Planning…

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

img_0568

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!

img_0030

 

 

 

Too busy gardening to blog about gardening!

flowers, Garden Birds, Garden design, Other Gardens, Plants, Pots and containers

Which is a good thing, really!  But I have missed writing these updates and sharing the photos and plants which I’ve accumulated in the past couple of weeks.

The weather has, unbelievably, been marvellous – sunny and warm and perfect for getting into the garden and planting out all the seedlings and young plants which have, until now, been crowding the utility/greenhouse, plastic growhouse and my ‘hardening off table’ outside the kitchen door.  Over the past fortnight I’ve planted out marigolds (mostly in the veg garden), cosmos (corner patio), zinnia (in the raised bed with other cut flowers) and filled an enormous hanging basket with lobelia.

The garden’s also filling up with some new additions, thanks to a local church plant sale which was quickly followed by the school summer fair – I managed to pick up about maybe 20 different cuttings and small plants for less than a tenner!  Annoyingly I forgot to photograph them, so I can’t display this triumphant haul, and I have now planted most of them!

They included some crocosmia ‘Lucifer’ which is now in the front borders in between the rhodedendrons to provide some late summer colour.  I’m looking forward to seeing those spring up.  I also picked up some gorgeous little forget-me-nots, which I’ve put into the side patio bed (the plan for this has changed somewhat – but that’s for another post!).    There was a cutting of rosemary, two cornflower plants, some more lobelia and a mystery plant which I’ve put in a pot to see how it will turn out!

I’ve also picked up some new plants at Gardening Scotland – an event in Edinburgh which featured show gardens, plants, floral displays, food and lots and lots of gardening-related equipment for sale.  My mum and I had a great day wandering around and enjoying the sights and scents.  There was a wide variety of plants for sale, most by independent Scottish nurseries, and I found some beautiful, delicate alpines (I love them so much I will also do a separate post on these) and two hydrangea.  I just couldn’t resist the hydrangea, as I have a weakness for these anyway, but also because these were unusual varieties and beautifully coloured.  One is called ‘Popcorn Blue’, basically because it’s blue and looks like popcorn!

So, along with these new additions to the gardening, and thanks to the abundant sunshine, everything is filling out nicely and the garden’s beginning to look properly lush. The nearby trees have obviously filled out and we’re now surrounded by greenery.  I’m spotting young birds visiting frequently and if you pause to listen you can often hear the squeaks and cheeps of a little feathered family nearby.  The starlings are still doing daily raids too – I wonder if they’ll stick around when they’re grown, as we don’t usually get starlings in our garden.

The fruit and veg in the secret garden’s also looking brilliant, but I think this post is long enough and they deserve their own entry!  So, it’s time to get back outside.  I’ll leave you with a few photos of the various plants which are new or are showing off in the garden just now…

 

 

Catching up…

Chickens, Garden Birds, Garden design, Grow Your Own, Nature & Wildlife, Secret Garden, Vegetables

Well it seems it’s been a busy couple of weeks since I last wrote a post.  Thankfully, part of the reason for that has been some lovely weather – when the sun’s shining I’m not inclined to stay in the house and stare at a computer screen, I want to get outside and garden!

Some updates on what’s happening out there:

Sad news first – the blackbird nest which was in the ivy on the back wall has failed.  I went out one morning about a week ago to discover it was on the ground.  I don’t know what happened, perhaps it simply collapsed, or perhaps a fox or bigger bird came along and attacked.  I investigated briefly using a stick (it was hard to reach!) and couldn’t see any eggs but it was surprisingly solid to try to turn over.  Here’s a photo of Mrs Blackbird which I took literally the day before the nest came down…

DSC_0108

I felt quite sad for the pair – they spent so long building the nest and she’d been sitting in it for a few days before it failed.  However, it seems that this is common with blackbirds as their nests are so open and therefore vulnerable to predators and the elements.  The good news is that I think they are now building another nest inside a large conifer nearby.  Will it be third time lucky?  We’ll have to wait and see.

I have been watering like mad over the past few days.  The sunny and warm weather means the veg beds have been looking parched and the seedlings (cosmos, marigolds and zinnia) which are now outside in the growhouse need a drink almost twice a day!  They’re getting quite large now and I’m hoping to start planting them out in the next few days.

The raised beds are looking good – every one now has a little row or sprig of green appearing, with the peas/carrots/lettuce bed looking the most healthy of all.  I have high hopes for the peas, especially after they did so poorly last year.  The potatoes are now all sprouting, after my worry that they were nowhere to be seen, and even the little leeks are popping up…

DSC_0290

…I noticed these yesterday morning and could have sworn they were about a centimetre bigger by the evening after a day of sunshine and a liberal hosing!

I’m also making a fairly sizeable change in the front garden; I’ve removed a large ceonothus and another unidentified shrub which have been taking over a large section close to the driveway.  I plan to extend the rose bed and perhaps also use the space for bedding and dahlias.  It was a bit of a gamble as they took up quite a lot of room, but the space looks nice and clear now and is another corner to play with, so I’m happy.  Sorry no before/after photos because I forgot to take them!

Lastly, a chicken update: we are now getting three eggs a day, as Iona has joined her two friends and begun laying – hurrah!  She’s also developing her comb and her voice and likes a good cluck when you go into the run or if she thinks something’s amiss.  Perhaps the quietest hen will turn out to be the noisiest?!

DSC_0089

New layer Iona gets extra cuddles from Biggest Daughter 

 

Sunshine and snow

flowers, Grow Your Own, Plants, Pots and containers, Raised Beds, Vegetables

It has been a week of VERY mixed weather, with the past couple of days seeing glorious sunshine…while little flakes of snow gently drift down from above.  Beautiful but c-c-c-cold.

So I’ve been wrapping up some of my tender plants or bringing in those in pots which I’ve been hardening off, like geraniums and fuschia.  The passiflora I planted up in a lovely blue pot just last week is currently ‘dressed’ in one of my husband’s old t-shirts pinned together with clothes pegs.  And my pea seedlings, which are showing signs of slight frost damage have most recently been protected by a free fleece cover which I got when I  recently bought a little growhouse.

I chose the wrong week to move my seedlings from the utility/greenhouse into their new growhouse (I got it partly for hardening them off and to make watering easier, and partly to get some space back in the utility room!) because I think they’ll be ok inside their little plastic cocoon but I’ve been worrying about them during the snowy days – maybe it’s just too cold for them to be outside??  I’d be frustrated to lose them after spending the last few weeks watching them grow.  But I suppose that’s the joy/despair of gardening! Fingers crossed they are protected enough and will survive this cold snap.

Checking the raised beds in the secret garden, I discovered signs of germination – hurrah!  The purple sprouting broccolli is emerging, along with a few pea shoots and some rocket and lettuce.  I am slightly worried about my potatoes – not a sign yet, although my dad, who planted his just the day before I did, has already got green tops showing.

Back in the main back garden, the blossom on the apple and plum trees is there, tightly wadded up, just waiting for the next warm and sunny day to burst out and really show off.  I love blossom.  One or two little flowers are already emerging – a hint of what’s to come…

DSC_0542

 

 

 

 

 

Lobelia learning curve

Chickens, flowers, Garden design, Grass and lawncare, Plants, Pots and containers, Raised Beds

I sowed lobelia last year, directly into the raised bed I used to grow cut flowers* and they did quite well, but flowered fairly late in the season and are not really great for cutting, they’re better for baskets or pots.  So this year I sowed early under cover, with the aim of using the plants for two large wire hanging baskets which we inherited with the house.  I have a vision of these lovely trailing purple flowers decorating the front of our house and making visitors ‘ooh’ appreciatively when they visit.

lobelia_erinus_003

Lobelia erinus

However.  Lobelia seeds and indeed their seedlings are ickle tiny wee things and quite tricky to prick out, as I have discovered!  It’s not impossible, and I did manage to transfer most of the delicate little plants from the seed tray in clumps into a slightly bigger modular tray.  I’m hoping from here they will grow big enough to then plant into baskets so that they can look beautiful at the front of the house, visitors will ‘ooh’, etc etc… However.  Having dragged the wire baskets from the back of the shed to have a good look at them, they are BIG.  60cm each in fact, and I’m pretty sure my little crop of lobelias will only fill one of these at best.

I will definitely keep growing them anyway, they’ll do for a smaller basket or pot – but perhaps in the meantime I might have to invest in some pre-grown bedding plants for the hanging baskets, especially if I want them on display any time soon!

In other garden news, I did the first grass cut of the season – yay!  I observed two things:

1) the chickens didn’t freak out as much as I thought they might at the sound of the lawnmower. This is good, as I really didn’t want to have to cut the grass fortnightly during the summer under cover of darkness after they’d gone to bed to avoid scaring them!

2) The grass is in a pretty crappy state.  What with scarifying, plus a bit of extra treading around fixing up a chicken run, plus a lot of rain recently, it’s not exactly looking green and lush and is still very mossy.  This will be a long-running battle I think, to restore it to a healthy state.

grass-1147851_960_720

My grass does NOT look like this <sob>

*This sounds impressive, but didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, apart from the cornflowers and a few snapdragons.  I am giving it another bash this year and have sowed earlier so hopefully will get better results!