This is the question I’ve been asking myself lately.
I’ve noticed more ladybirds than ever in my garden this year. They’ve popped up all over the place – in pots, under the bin lids, on doorframes, in the house, and – thankfully – on my plants, presumably feasting on any pests which would dare to come their way. It’s no coincidence that I’ve barely noticed a single greenfly since the spring.
They seemed particularly happy perching in and around the sunflower heads, especially the slightly dried-and-curled-up faded flowers which must give them plenty of nooks and crannies in which to hide.
They also – strangely – took to congregating in the multiple hose head thing which I installed to try and keep the plants watered while we were on holiday. I’ve no idea why this was an attractive place to gather, but each time I looked in there were at least half a dozen piled into it.
So, as the season has changed and the temperature’s dropped, I’ve been asking myself what’s going to happen to the ladybirds now? Many of them still seemed to be hiding out in my faded sunflowers, and I needed to cut these down – but I didn’t want to disturb them or compost their winter hideaway. And I don’t have a bug hotel in my garden which I could encourage them to populate instead.
Apparently they do hibernate for the winter in various types of sheltered spots – tree bark, leaf litter etc. They like crevices, leaves, bark, often low down. So, having spent some time clearing the raised beds today, I did cut down the sunflowers, but took the heads of the flowers off first with a short section of stem and have piled them, and their little ladybird occupants, in a sheltered corner. Hopefully the ladybirds will make themselves cosy there for the winter or can crawl away to the many trees and piles of leaves nearby which might make a more suitable winter holiday home.
I certainly hope they will wake up and return in the spring – it’s been a real joy to have a loveliness of ladybirds sharing my garden this year.
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.
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!
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…
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.
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!
teeny, tiny seedling
pricking out lobelia is tricky!
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.
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!