Time to plan…

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

It’s winter, but it’s not cold.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

hydrangea jan 2019

 

 

Where do ladybirds go in winter?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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September Stars

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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.

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Sanguisorba and Stipa tenuissima in the beautiful perennial borders at Cambo

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

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Learning lessons…

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

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

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

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The Secret Garden is open for busines…

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

2. Echinaceas are tricky to grow from seed.

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

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

3. Don’t grow cucamelons too close together.

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

3. Don’t sow too many seeds!

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

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Composting healthy cucamelons…argh! 

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

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

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

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The Secret Garden in early August

5. It’s all about layers

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

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

Playing the long game…

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

Gardening is a lesson in playing the long game.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The front border is filling up slowly but surely…

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

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

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

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

 

May snapshot

flowers, photography, Plants, Uncategorized

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Spring has sprung…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The forced rhubarb is about ready to pick!

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Best kit – top 5

Garden equipment & products, Propagation, Uncategorized

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

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

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

Houseplants

Houseplants, Plants, Propagation, Uncategorized

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

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Yes, I have succumbed to the charms of houseplants.

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

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

Monstera delisiosa Philodendron                                                                                                                                                      More

Monstera deliciosa – image courtesy of Pinterest

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

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

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

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

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

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Seeds of Pelargonium ‘Attar of Roses’

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

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

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I commandeered the laundry room floor for some indoor gardening

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

#plantaddict #sorrynotsorry

 

 

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.

 

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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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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Geranium or pelargonium?

flowers, Plants

We’re going to talk geraniums and pelargoniums.  I am developing a love for both, however it’s only recently that I’ve discovered I’m calling one of them by the wrong name. I’m learning to tell the difference, and it’s a useful skill because the two types need to be cared for differently.

True geraniums are also known as cranesbill, because of the shape of their seed heads, which look a bit like the long and pointed beak of a crane.  There are many species of geranium – this is one from our garden, fairly typical of the cranesbill I think:

Geranium – possibly ‘Alan Mayes’?

It’s a hardy perennial,  clump-forming, grows well in sun/partial shade and can easily be divided – I have a very large clump of this, which is still a bit too big even though I took away about a third of it in spring to replant on the other side of the border.  You can recognise a cranesbill because of the beak thing, but also by its flowers, which have five petals, all identical.  These grow on individual thin stems which come from from fibrous roots.
And now for pelargoniums.  It’s important to know that these are tender – they don’t grow in cold climates and must be cultivated in a greenhouse and planted out in summer. They’re also sometimes used as houseplants.  There are many different varieties of pelargoniums too and you can also identify them by looking at the petals – there should be five, but the upper two will be a different size and shape to the other three.  They grow on succulent, thick stems, which help to hold moisture during times of drought, which would be typical of their preferred climate – hot and sunny.

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The classic pelargonium: bright red, terracotta pots, hot climate

Both of these plants belong to the family Geraniaceae,  and when pelargoniums were first introduced to Europe from South Africa, it was assumed they were the same.  However when their differences were finally identified in the 1780s, the newcomers were re-classified as pelargoniums.  However, by that time most people were calling them geraniums, and still do.

Interestingly, the name also contains a bird reference; pelargonium derives from the Greek for stork, pelargos.  The seed heads of this plant look at bit like that of a stork, and so these are commonly called storksbill.  They’re also the plants which have that distinctive smell you might recognise – one that makes me think of warm sun, greenhouse glass and green leaves.

So there you have it – a bit of history, botany, Latin and two confusingly similar plants!  As I say, I’ve developed a real fondness for both – I like the tough and resilient geranium/cranesbill and enjoy watching it fill out my borders during the spring, giving a much-need burst of purple.  But I also love the delicate flowers of the pelargonium/storksbill, their scent and the sometimes gaudy leaves.  I acquired one of each recently which are new favourites…

Pelargonium ‘Vancouver Centennial’

Geranium ‘Dusky Crug’ (needs deadheading!)


 …and I’m looking foward to nurturing them over the winter – I don’t mind the extra work necessary by their tender nature.  I’ll happily take cuttings and grow these on under glass to go back out again next summer.

Finally, I must give credit to the book which has been very helpful in writing this post – RHS Latin for Gardeners, which geekily combines many of my loves – gardening, language, Latin, and gorgeous books!

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…