Always plenty to do!

With the recent rain, there is plenty to do in the garden and on the allotment. The vegetable crops are thankful for the water and many seem to have a second wind, so there are plenty of courgettes and runner beans, along with peas, carrots and beetroot. I managed to lift my onion crop during a gap in the weather and they are drying on wire racks in the garage at night and outside on dry days. The tops are already beginning to die back so they will soon be dry enough to store. The bulbs are not as large as in previous years but there are a good number with very few ‘bull necked’ (thick topped) ones which need to be used as soon as possible as they do not dry properly and therefore cannot be stored.

The garden too has a second wind after the rain and the green shades of leaves seem even more vibrant. Lush growth has started again on many of the shrubs and the lowered Privet hedge which I am constantly snipping to prevent it taking hold and growing back into the giant it was before!

Plants in the green and white border have definitely benefitted from the extra light that has been let back into the garden and the white Buddleja has flowered more than ever. The Red Admirals and Small Tortoiseshells have spent many hours walking across the flowers and feeding - so drowsy with nectar that you can almost pick them up! They have been joined on occasion by Hummingbird Hawk Moths who also love the Japanese Honeysuckle nearby. I managed to get out with my camera and take some photos – they move very quickly and many pictures were out of focus or taken too late, which makes a digital camera worth its weight in gold! No wasted reels of film as in the ‘old days’!

Many of the perennials in the garden have finished flowering now and I am gradually cutting them back, chopping up the clippings and adding them to the compost heap along with chicken manure from the bantams shed and shredded paper from the office. We also use Garotta, which helps speed up the rotting process and I sprinkle a layer onto the heaps whenever I remember!

The gaps created when the perennials are cut back will be filled with some new varieties of Daffodils and I will be visiting Notcutts this weekend to look at the range and choose some for the borders as well as the cutting garden. I am very fond of bunches of Daffodils and Tulips in the house. Although they do not last long in water, Tulips especially, always look so decadent and seem to arrange their blooms perfectly in a vase as they flop over and the flowers begin to open.

As I wrote before, I intend to plant up plenty of containers with Tulips and have decided to use a green and white variety in small pots to drop into the borders where we had the variety ‘Spring Green’ growing for a couple of years before they were shaded out by other plants. This border is so crowded now, with white Daffodils and perennials that it is difficult to find room to plant more bulbs even if we thought that they would come up year after year, so this seems like a good compromise. I just hope that the cat (who is asleep not far from me as I write this!) earns his keep and does not allow the mice to eat the bulbs through the winter!


Spring Flowering Bulbs

I cannot believe how quickly this year has gone by! The Japanese Anemones in the garden are beginning to flower and chutney is being made on the stove as the courgettes and runner beans are harvested in huge quantities!

It is time to start thinking once again about spring flowering bulbs and my local Notcutts have already taken some of their deliveries with plenty more to follow.

We have been busy cutting back the huge amounts of growth on shrubs in the back garden and there are lots of gaps in the borders where some new Daffodils can be planted. Like many gardeners, we put in several different varieties when the garden was initially planted up and some have been crowded out by shrubs growing large and shading them completely. After a while, although the bulbs were planted deeply, they have stopped flowering and some have died out. Now that the back garden is less shaded, with the Privet hedge under control at last, we can try again with some of the more unusual ones!

I love to see early Daffodils poking through the soil before Christmas – a reminder that spring is not far away, and the bright yellow trumpets of ‘Rinjveld’s Early Sensation’ are always included in the arrangement on the table for Christmas Day. I would not be without this variety but I am also very fond of the late flowering poeticus types which flower in May. Their pure white, rounded petals are set off by the small, deep red centres (‘Pheasant Eye’ is a good common name) and they have a delicious sweet scent. Some of these would be a good idea for the cutting garden as they are stunning in a vase with twigs of Hazel catkins.

We have a definite gap in the Narcissus flowering season from the beginning of February until the mainstream Daffodils begin in March, so this needs to be addressed as well. Many of the early flowered varieties are multi headed, often in orange and yellow with a strong, sweet scent similar to the ‘Sols’ that are grown in Cornwall and the Scilly Isles as cut flowers. Some of these varieties are more prone to frost damage, so we will need to site them in sun and a sheltered position away from any cold winter winds.

As I have often written before, our back garden is too shady and damp to keep Tulips from year to year and many other gardeners seem to have the same problem. But I must have Tulips in the garden; they link spring into summer so cleverly with their bold leaves and green buds that sit in suspended animation for weeks before opening flat in warm sunshine, to reveal their exotic markings. I treat them as bedding plants and replant each November, choosing different varieties each year, knowing they will be a fleeting pleasure but giving me more pleasure choosing different colours and flower forms for the following year!

Last year I planted some in pots and they were a great success. In previous years, the mice had eaten the bulbs through the winter, but our cat, Oscar is a great hunter a spring show of Tulips in pots is one of the benefits of this!


Bank Holiday Tasks

The allotment has been a mixed bag this season with the dry weather and sometimes strong, drying winds making growing conditions difficult but the courgettes have done very well and we have a bumper crop for courgette and walnut chutney. The first batch is on the stove as I write this and there should be several more to follow!

Runner beans too are looking good and we have just started to eat them. I am always late planting mine out, but don’t mind as they follow the peas and broad beans. They are full of scarlet flowers and seem to be standing up to the windy weather so there should be plenty for eating and for runner bean pickle, is which is delicious with cheese!

One of the jobs that I must do over the Bank Holiday weekend is lift the onions. The tops of most of the plants have bent over naturally and I have ‘eased’ the roots to encourage the bulbs to start drying off. Once I have lifted them, I will bring them back to the house and dry them in the garage if it is wet or outside during the day on metal trays.

The garden has grown a lot this summer and there is plenty of pruning to do! We have completely removed a Cotoneaster tree and a winter flowering Honeysuckle (which had grown far too large) and now have a good sized area to plant up near one of the sun decks. It is a sunny spot and we have decided to put in a couple of raised beds to grow salads and other vegetables that can be cut and used in the kitchen immediately, without the need to go to the allotment! I would also like to grow more Sweet Peas next year and some new varieties of Dahlias for cutting.

This weekend seems like a good time to start this project by building the raised beds out of timber. I will start by staining the wood and chipping out the soil so that the lengths are slightly buried. Wooden pegs will hold the timber in place and the soil level can be raised with bags of stable manure and top soil from Notcutts. Before the soil mixture is added, I will need to dig over the base to ensure good drainage.  Nothing will be planted here until next spring, so I will also add a top layer of rotted garden compost that can be worked on by the worms over the winter. Next spring should just be a case of raking the soil and sowing some seeds once the weather is warm enough. I have some cloches on the allotment which rarely get used, so they can come back to warm the soil for earlier sowings and to protect Dahlia tubers if they are left in the ground over winter.

As well as continuing with harvesting from the allotment and weeding and pruning in the garden, I hope to get a few hours in the sun watching the butterflies on the Buddleja and planning where the first of the spring bulbs will be planted.

Whatever you are up to this weekend, enjoy your garden!


Late Flowering Clematis

Clematis are such a varied bunch of plants; blowsy large flowered hybrids and old favourites such as stripy pink ‘Nelly Moser’ and velvety blue ‘jackmannii’ on the one hand and on the other, fascinating, smaller flowered ‘specie’ Clematis which, despite their delicate looks, are stone hardy and easy to look after requiring nothing more than deep, well cultivated soil and a few slug pellets around the plants in spring so that the new growth is not eaten away!

Along with the charming ‘viticellas’ which include the tiny, perfect double flowers of dusky purple ‘Purpurea Plena Elegans’ that we have growing through a climbing rose, and the deep wine coloured ‘Etoile Violette’ that scrambles through an ornamental vine, I am very fond of the ‘Orange Peel Clematis’ (Clematis tangutica) with thick petalled, nodding blooms of golden yellow. This plant really is no problem to look after and grows through a Pyracantha. The fern like leaves are late to appear in spring and although the plant can be cut to 30cm above the ground then, I tend to leave it alone so that it rambles through the host plant without seeming to get out of hand. The beautiful flowers are remarked on by friends when they visit and love by bees as they forage on sunny autumn days and the fluffy seed heads that follow are valuable additions to Mrs McGregor’s flower arrangements.

I battle with Clematis rhederana – another species that I cut hard heartedly almost to the ground in late spring. As soon as the weather warms, the plant makes great strides to cover what is left of an old pine tree with vigorous shoots and pale green leaves. I can forgive its brutish behaviour as it is almost time for the show of hundreds of cowslip yellow bells in large, hanging clusters. The flowers have a sweet scent and bees love to clamber into them before they turn into fluffy seed heads that compliment the vine leaves as they change to red and orange and also contrasting with the deep red berries of the Cotoneaster.

Clematis texensis is a true perennial that dies back to the ground and requires no pruning save for the removal of last year’s dead stems in spring. ‘Duchess of Albany’ has cherry pink flowers that are like inverted tulips. The texensis types have more delicate growth and need to be grown through other plants near a path to appreciate their beauty – when the flowers are turned up they reveal a deep pink stripe to each petal.

Looking around the garden at the moment, there is plenty of colour but there are also plenty of plants that I can use as climbing frames for late flowering or early spring varieties of Clematis to scramble through! As well as brightening the garden, Clematis flowers are valuable food for bees and other pollinators. I will soon be visiting Notcutts to look at their range of Clematis - they really are some of the most versatile of plants and so easy to grow! 


Perennials for late colour

Sedum HerbstfreudeAlthough there is plenty of colour in the garden, many of the early perennials have finished flowering and I have cut the stems to the ground so that the crowns will build up for subsequent years. The compost heap is ready to be turned now and I will use what is ready through the autumn to mulch around the crowns of perennials and on the rest of the borders to improve the soil and cut down on weeding!

Verbena bonariensis is a joy in our garden for months through summer and autumn. Not only do the leafless stems hold up to the strongest of breezes, so that the flowers wave around, but there are always plenty of insects and butterflies attracted to them adding more movement and colour. The Day Lilies have done well this year and the big established clumps have flowered for weeks but are ending now. I will cut them to the ground, leaves and all and give them a feed of fertilizer to reward them for their show - new leaves will soon be produced and the crowns will build for future years. Some of the clumps have grown very large and although they are still flowering well, this is a good time to divide them and spread them around the garden!

For late colour in the garden, Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ is one of my favourite plants. It is such a good doer in most soils and sun or part shade, where the bright gold daisies shine for weeks above ground covering clumps of deep green leaves. We have it in several spots in the garden as it is not too fussy about the soil as long as it remains moist – hence the productive compost heaps for mulch! It also grows in Mrs McGregor’s cutting garden as it is invaluable material for this time of the year.

 Asters in the garden flower for weeks and attract plenty of butterflies. There is nothing like them for autumn colour and there are many to choose from. From August until October, there is at least one in flower starting with ‘Little Carlow’ which has single, rich blue flowers with a nectar rich purple centre and ending with the dwarf growing ‘Little Pink Beauty’. Again, moisture retentive soil is required so that the plants do not dry out in summer, making many varieties susceptible to mildew. My favourite has to be the old variety ‘Winston S Churchill’ with magenta flowers that glow for weeks in the borders and in a vase.

In the front garden, the Dieramas (Angel’s Fishing Rods) have been a picture wafting in the breeze and loving the hot weather. They have almost finished flowering now and are a mass of papery seed heads holding plenty of potential progeny that will seed around the garden! I have been content to let them do so but we are thinning them out this year as some of the older clumps are beginning to crowd other plants. Luckily there are always plenty of friends who would like corms of these charming plants although Dieramas dislike being moved and will sulk and not flower for a few years until they settle into their new homes!