This is one of the highlights of my gardening year – Dundee’s Flower and Food Festival.
I go every year and really enjoy being in the midst of the best of what our area has to offer in terms of plants, produce and food. There are displays of beautiful plants and flowers, from amateurs, dedicated growers and local businesses. Not to mention the rows of fruit and veg and the amazing giant leeks, carrots and cabbages. It feels like an exhibition built on the hours of love and joy which people have put into growing their favourite things.
I have a new-found appreciation for the people who enter these competitions. You can’t accidentally grow three petal-perfect chrysanthemums or dahlias. It’s impossible to grow a leek the size of a plank without putting in a great deal of time and effort to make it as large and perfect as it can be. Maybe someday when I have more experience, and a great deal more time, I’ll consider trying my hand at a competition bloom, but for now I think I’ll continue to enjoy the flowers and veg I grow on my windowsill or on my plate…
Dahlia heaven at the Flower and Food Festival – so many beautiful blooms on display as part of the Scottish Dahlia and Chrysanthemum Society’s annual competition.
I was also very taken with some of the indoor plants on display – especially this frilly variety of coleus and these gorgeous swirly begonias.
The fruit and veg looked so healthy and colourful – you can tell the people who produced them just love growing! #veggiegoals
This summer I have been learning a few lessons. Not the book-reading kind – I’ve taken a break from horticulture studies as I decided that it would be madness to add this to the summer agenda of school holidays, parenting, working, enjoying the heatwave and almost constant watering. I plan to resume studies in September (seems like a good ‘new-term’ kind of time to do it) but there have been plenty of other things to learn on a more practical level during the past few weeks:
1. I CAN have a nursery in my back garden. This is number one because it’s been the most exciting and satisfying lesson of recent weeks. For quite a while I’ve dreamed of having my own nursery – growing the kind of plants I love to sell to others – and I’ve take a big step forward by simply doing it. I had quite a large number of surplus perennials and annuals which I had grown for planting in the front garden. So I started a Facebook page, listed a few plants on FB Marketplace – and people actually wanted to buy them!
I’ve called this a micro-nursery because it really is tiny – both in size and in stock availability – compared to a proper commercial nursery anyway! It’s very small-scale and I have not made a huge amount of money – perhaps enough to re-invest in some plants and seeds for next year. But it has been worth it for the experience of producing plants for others, learning how to market them and deal with customers and moving towards my dream of owning a little independent nursery growing wonderful perennials, annuals, herbs and shrubs suitable for Scottish gardens. In fact, I suddenly realised that not only moving towards it but I’m actually doing my dream – the Secret Garden micro-nursery is my own little corner of the earth for doing just that. It may be small, and I may not make a living from it just now – or ever – but I’m doing it! Having dipped my toe in the water this summer, so to speak, I’m excited to see how I can take it forward. I am already planning ahead for next year: which plants to grow again and which were not successful or less popular; better ways to market the business, how to grow and expand via social media…. I have so many ideas for how to keep going and growing – and I’m so glad I’ve taken the first step.
2. Echinaceas are tricky to grow from seed.
When they do succeed and flower in the garden they are gorgeous and are currently providing a fantastic pop of pink in my front border. But I have been trying since early spring to grow the intriguing looking variety ‘Double Decker’ and this is the result…
Barely an inch of growth for the entire season. I don’t know if it’s the seed, the soil, the conditions, or my lack of faith. But those echinaceas are not going to grow into beautiful, flowering plants. Mainly because I’ve composted them.
3. Don’t grow cucamelons too close together.
This was a difficult lesson to learn, resulting in me recruiting my eldest daughter to help me untangle about 20 young cucamelon seedlings which had started to twine around each other as well as other plants in the greenhouse. We spent some time separating the cucamelons’ delicate tendrils, trying not to damage them. Finally we got them all apart, so I potted up the ones I wanted to grow on, supporting them with bamboo canes. I also potted a few more into a hanging basket, to see if they’ll grow as successfully hanging down. However I was still left with quite a number of plants which no-one showed any interest in buying (I guess my local customers are not as interested as I am in experimental or exotic fruit/veg!) so I had to compost these too. Which leads me to the next lesson…
3. Don’t sow too many seeds!
I do this Every. Single. Year. and tell myself I don’t care – I just want loads of plants!
But inevitably there are Too Many Plants. So I have to spend more time and effort potting on, watering and resisting throwing them away because I hate getting rid of potential plants. However they do end up going in the compost as I have no room or they’re not selling or become too poor quality to sell. If I want to raise more plants to sell I must be more efficient with space, materials and my time. So – I will sow more sensibly next year. I will sow more sensibly next year. I will sow more sensibly next year… I will…
4. Don’t dig – and don’t do green manure
I wanted to have a no-dig policy this year…but then I also decided it would be a good idea to sow green manure. But these two things are not entirely compatible. Yes, I think it is possible to do both – but I ended up doing neither very well. The green manure grew well in some beds, but not so well in others, at least giving me an indication of the soil quality in each one. But in the spring I then had to cut down and either remove or dig in the plants. I tried to remove the majority of the largest plants, but eventually ended up digging over most of the soil, which still had shoots and roots left in them. This is, of course, what you are supposed to do with green manure – but didn’t comply with the no-dig theory! This autumn I will try to mulch the beds and may well cover some over if they are bare. I don’t tend to grow many winter crops so I think I will mulch, cover and officially begin my no-dig policy next spring.
5. It’s all about layers
The front garden is looking well – probably deserves its own separate post to update on how it’s developing – but I still see lots of gaps. I can see bare soil and smaller-than-they-should-be plants. When I visit other gardens, I notice the fullness of the planting, how each plant blends together and merges to create a whole effect. I think I am moving towards this, but it’s taking time. And that’s ok. I’m learning that I can’t achieve this look in one growing season, unless I empty the bank account at the local garden centre (not an option, according to my husband). But I appreciate that this year there’s an extra layer that wasn’t there last year. And next year there will be another and then another, until I’ve got the overflowing herbaceous border that I can see in my mind’s eye! I’m playing the long game – and that’s good, because I’m really enjoying it.
…and my blog is suffering! But it’s a good sign – I’m blogging less because I’m spending more time in the garden. I have to – there are seedlings to prick out, beds to mulch, weeds to weed and plants to pot up. And it’s only going to get busier from here on in!
Real Life is also getting in the way of Creative Life, as it sometimes does.
The best way to bring you up to speed is perhaps to post a few photographs of some of the garden jobs I’ve been up to in the past month or so…
I’ve bought and planted half a dozen Anemone blanda to perk up a bare patch of earth under the magnolia in the back garden
I’ve got two plants for my tin-bath pond – a lovely double marsh marigold and a corkscrew rush
The forced rhubarb is about ready to pick!
I briefly considered starting a sycamore farm – these are all the seedlings germinating at the side of the greenhouse… and there are many, many, many more popping up around the raised beds, paths, plant pots, in between paving stones…
I’ve started all my dahlias…and *may* have bought some more along the way… #dahliaaddict
Most of my seedlings and young plants are progressing well – some of these I’ve already planted out, like the forget-me-nots, wallflowers and gypsophilia.
Basically I am loving the fact that Spring has arrived, bulbs are blooming and the sun is occasionally shining – long may it continue!
It’s the age-old battle for a garden blogger – blog vs garden.
I suspect I will be posting monthly for the forseeable, however I do post much more frequently on Instagram and you can follow me there for some micro-blogging action at @mycorneroftheearth.
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…
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.
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…
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!
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…
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…
…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?!
New layer Iona gets extra cuddles from Biggest Daughter
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.
purple sprouting broccolli
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…
As promised in my previous post, just a few hours ago, I grabbed the opportunity to get out into the garden and I’m pleased to say it was a productive afternoon and evening.
I had to dodge a few showers but I managed to plant out pea seedlings, as well as sowing new pea seeds. I also sowed early carrots, lettuce and rocket under a fleece mini-tunnel (the only one of two which survived the recent high winds). In the same bed there was one square space remaining so I constructed a makeshift obelisk from some branches foraged from the woods just behind us (fallen, not cut!) and sowed a few remaining sweet pea seeds beneath it, with the help of my smallest daughter, who loves to pick the flowers.
AND just before the light fell, I also filled in some space at the top of the potato bed with a few broccoli seeds – a bit of an experiment as I haven’t grown it before and, to be honest, we don’t eat much broccoli. I reckon whether it’s successful or not, the chickens will benefit from these plants the most!
Phew – I got quite a lot done with the bit of time I had and am feeling quite satisfied that I’ve got a few seeds and seedlings into the earth today.
A word about my companion when I am sowing or growing vegetables – Mr Smith. After we moved in here and I acquired the raised beds in the Secret Garden, my Dad bestowed upon me his copy of ‘Mr Smith’s Vegetable Garden’.
Mr Smith’s Vegetable Garden
Look! It cost the princely sum of 60 pence
My Dad has been using this book since he began growing his own vegetables many years ago and swears by it as a very simple, straightforward guide to how to grow most veggies in your garden or allotment. For each vegetable, Mr Smith lists the basic guidelines for How to Grow, possible Pests and Diseases and Storage and Kitchen Hints, plus a few simple line drawings for a bit of illustration. I have just checked the front cover and the book was first published in 1976 (as well as a reprint in 1977 – the year I was born!) and the advice and guidance in it is as relevant now as it was then. The book looks old-fashioned, but then I have a weak spot for ‘vintage’ gardening books – something I will definitely share in a future post…
Clearly Dad thought I could find the book as useful as he did as a reference point – and I do. Every year at this time I know I will bring out the book to check guidance for sowing my veg. I don’t know who Mr Smith was – the Monty Don of his day perhaps – but he’s an excellent guide and adviser when it comes to growing your own vegetables.