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Thursday
Oct272011

Late Flowering Perennials

Just a couple of years ago, our garden looked a bit tired by the time autumn arrived. We had plenty of colour from the first daffodils and Crocus in spring, right through summer with lots of perennials. Bedding plants in containers add spots of colour over a long season from late spring until the first frosts of the winter and of course the shrubs are always there, providing structure with their shape and leaves. But by the time late autumn arrived, Mrs McGregor was challenged to find flowers for church arrangementsRudbeckia Goldstrumand to brighten the house. We decided that rather than make a ‘cutting garden’ we would add some late flowering perennials to the borders, so that we could appreciate them along with bees and butterflies which are still busy on warm days.

One of the stalwarts of autumn borders are Michaelmas Daisies (Asters) which are available in a wide range of colours and heights. They do very well in sun or part shade and retentive soil, so I always give a good mulch of garden compost in spring and again when I cut them back for the winter after they have flowered. They are popular with late butterflies and bees as well as Mrs McGregor for her flower arranging!

Another of my favourites is Rudbeckia ‘Goldsturm’ which is still in flower in our border now, wowing everyone with copious amounts of rich golden blooms. This plant begins to flower in August and continues until the end of October, brightening the dullest of days!  Once the petals have dropped, the club like cones which were the centre of the flower come into their own for winter decoration in the border and a good source of seeds for birds as they ‘fuel up’ for the winter weather ahead. They look great on a frosty morning along with any ornamental grasses that still have flowers on them. The plant makes a large clump fairly quickly, so again, Mrs McGregor has plenty for her vases.

Schizostylis CoccineaSedum ‘Autumn Joy’ lives up to its name with pink flowers opening from green, broccoli like buds. The flowers change from pink to deep red as they age over several weeks and are enjoyed by butterflies and bees. The seed heads can be dried to provide material for winter arrangements or left on the plants for more bird fuel! Sedums are happiest in very well drained soil and a sunny site. They are also excellent plants for coastal gardens.

My great friend Tricia Trelawny has Schizostylis (Kaffir Lily) in her garden in Cornwall, a county where they were once grown extensively as a cut flower in market gardens. Schizostylis are much prized for their late flowering season from autumn into winter, and their gladiolus like flowers that last for weeks in a vase.

So after a visit to my local garden centre, I came back with a couple of varieties to try – I will have to  cover them with horticultural fleece if the weather gets cold as it did last winter, or grow them in a large pot that I can move inside! 

Friday
Oct212011

On the Allotment - caterpillars, potatoes & making chutney!

I have been on caterpillar patrol at my allotments for weeks now and must have cut hundreds in half with my scissors. Gruesome thoughts I know, but last year they reduced my Purple Sprouting Broccoli to lace before the plants had even started growing! The bold black and yellow larvae of the Large White Butterfly are easy to spot, but the green ones, which are the larvae of the Small White Butterflies, are well camouflaged against the leaves!  I try to spray my vegetables as little as possible and physical removal is one of the best ways to deal with these voracious eaters! What with the local pigeons and the few caterpillars that escaped my scissors for a while, some of my sprout plants look a little tattered and one or two of the broccoli as well. But with a good feed of pelleted chicken manure and hoeing to keep the weeds at bay, they are strong enough to stand the winter now.

As well as my brassicas, including some plants of Cavolo nero or black Kale, that the caterpillars were not so keen on, I have two rows of parsnips and lots of leeks. All these vegetables are perfectly hardy and will stay in the ground through the winter so that they can be lifted as we need them. Ideal if we get cut off in our village again by snow!  At least we can always make some soup and homemade bread to warm us up!

Sarpo Mira PotatoesMy potatoes for store have all been lifted now and are in boxes in the garage.  ‘Sarpo Mira’ was my choice of main crop potato. These are a red skinned, blight resistant variety. I cut the top growth off at the end of August to prevent the tubers from getting starchy and lifted them during September on a dry sunny day so as not to take too much earth with them! Blight resistant they may be but the slugs were onto them and a few had been hollowed out to shells. Mrs McGregor spent quite a bit of time sorting through them to use any damaged ones first, only storing the perfect specimens which should last us until after Christmas. By not washing them and storing them in the dark, potatoes will keep well until next spring when they begin to shoot again.

The strong winds that we have had recently have almost finished off the runner beans and they are starting to go stringy. However, there are still enough to make a few jars of spiced runner bean pickle, which was a winner last year. The last of the courgettes are coming in as well but they have been disappointing this year –I don’t really know why. Mrs McGregor loves to make courgette and walnut chutney for Christmas presents but we have only managed two small batches this year.

Now it is a battle with the weather to hoe off the weeds on vacant areas and around the winter crops as well as starting winter digging when time and soil conditions allow.

RECIPES TO TRY

Beetroot in Jelly

Big bunch of medium sized beetroot

1 Raspberry jelly

1pt vinegar

1 teaspoon sugar

Gently wash the beetroot and twist off the tops. Boil in water until tender and allow to cool. Slip off the skins and cut the beets into small dice. Melt the jelly in the vinegar over a low heat and add the sugar. Stir until everything has dissolved. Pack the diced beetroot into sterilized jars and pour in enough jelly mixture to cover. Set in fridge. Once set, label and store in a cupboard for use through winter.

This recipe has been passed down from my grandmother.

Courgette and Walnut Chutney

1 ½ lb courgettes, sliced

1 ½ tablespoons salt

8oz ripe tomatoes, skinned and chopped

4oz onions, chopped

3oz sultanas

1 tablespoon coarsely grated orange rind (or lemon)

1lb sugar (Demerara is good!)

12 fl oz spiced vinegar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3oz walnuts, chopped

Put the courgettes in a colander and sprinkle with the salt. Leave for 2 hours then rinse and dry. Put in a pan with the remaining ingredients except the walnuts and heat gently, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Simmer until thickened and then stir in the walnuts. Pour into hot sterilized jars and seal.

Makes about 3lb.

Adapted from the book preserves and pickles by Heather Lambert.

Mr McGregor

Friday
Oct142011

Lawn Care Tips

Being keen gardeners our lawn always gets a lot of use through the summer. Whenever friends visit, they inevitably ask if they can look at the garden often with a glass of wine, when the weather allows! Children are safe and happy to play whilst the adults relax and leave them to their own devices. This usually results in even more wear and tear, but is counteracted by the laughter and animation that friends bring.

This week I have been busy giving the lawn some beauty treatment that should pay off through the winter months and next spring! I started by removing excess moss with a spring tine rake – a physical job but very satisfying as the moss is ‘scarified’ to reveal the earth underneath. The next task was to spike the lawn all over to aerate the soil and help with areas where the drainage is not as good as it could be. A special machine that removes plugs of soil can be purchased for this, but I like to go over our smallish lawn with a garden fork and sink the tines right in at about 15cm (6 inch) intervals. A good wiggle of the handle then opens up the earth channels. Once I had completed these two jobs, I was ready for a cup of tea and one of Mrs McGregor’s scones and strawberry jam!

Then it was off to the local garden centre to buy some sharp sand that I could mix with sterilised topsoil, in equal quantities. This was scattered over the lawn and brushed into the holes. I will now wait for a few days before using the autumn lawn care product that I also purchased. This will strengthen the grass for winter, by feeding the roots and also kill anymore pesky moss that appears now that the days are shorter! With the rain that is forecast, it will mean that I will not need to worry about watering it in either!

We have an area of rough grass in dappled shade under trees that often looks a bit neglected – an ideal area to brighten up with some Daffodils in spring. I have chosen a mixed selection that will flower over several weeks and can be left to die back naturally after flowering before the grass is mown.  After gently throwing the bulbs down so that they landed at random, I used a bulb planter to remove plugs of earth and placed a bulb in the resulting hole – the correct way up of course! Then it was just a case of replacing the turf topped soil plug and gently treading it down, keeping the buried treasure safe until next spring. Planting at the correct depth of three times the depth of the bulb seems cruel but ensures that they will flower in subsequent years and not come up ‘blind’.

Hopefully these Daffodils will slowly multiply to give a much need boost to a quiet corner of the garden for many years to come.

Mr McGregor

Top Buys this Season

 

Thursday
Oct062011

Berried Treasure

I do love this time of the year as the garden (and gardeners!) begins to slow down for a welcome rest through the winter months before the hectic spring rush comes around all too quickly once again! Now I have time to look back over the past year at successes and failures and start to plan what will be done differently in the future.

Pyracantha Orange GlowThe garden has become a treasure box of berries as evergreens and fruits take centre stage now that the chaos of the overblown summer borders are being cut back for the autumn tidy up. Despite clocking every piece of ‘berried treasure’ in our garden, the Blackbirds and Thrushes have not yet had their feast, so Mrs McGregor and I can enjoy the jewel like colours for a while longer! The Pyracantha (Fire Thorn) on our fence in the back garden had bad frost damage after last winter and has not flowered at all so no berries, but the one on the front of the house is smothered in clusters of ripe orange ones, that contrast well with the brown stone of the house walls. Perhaps the activity of people at the front of the house will deter the birds – I doubt it somehow once the colder weather begins! We do not begrudge the birds their food source that is essential if they are to ‘fuel up’ before the cold winter weather ahead.

Some of my favourite autumn plants are the Cotoneasters and we have a handsome evergreen shrub of Cotoneaster x rothschildianus with yellow berries and long, leathery leaves. As well as giving colour and interest through the year, this is an ideal shrub to give us and our neighbour privacy from each other. It really has done well in part shade and quite dry soil, making a dense bush.

Another plant that is looking really good at the moment is our Abelia which is smothered in clusters of pink flowers, much appreciated by the bees. Although the plant does not have berries, to my mind it is one of the best shrubs for late summer and autumn flowers and such as easy doer.

This week I have emptied the compost bins and bagged up the well rotted compost to use as mulch on the borders as I tidy them for the winter. The gales of wind that we had have broken several of my herbaceous plants so these have been cut back to a few inches above the crowns and the chopped stems used to begin the composting process again. Mrs McGregor has been busy tidying out some old papers which she has shredded and added as well. These seem to rot down in no time and make a good airy layer between the garden and kitchen waste.

As well as the plants in our garden, the hedgerows are full of berries and we have been busy picking sloes to make sloe gin ready for the festive season – a real winter warmer!

Mr McGregor

Thursday
Sep292011

Protecting plants as the chillier nights descend upon us

September has made its presence known with colder winds and the nights are drawing in earlier. With this in mind, we need to act quickly when it comes to planning the techniques we’re going to use to protect our plants during the winter months. Cold weather, especially frosts, can damage the cell wall of plants as the water in the cells freeze. This can cause a plant to become limp, the leaves to turn brown in colour and in some cases translucent.

With British weather being unpredictable, some gardeners struggle with the best form of plant protection. However, with preparation and an awareness of the pending weather, protecting your plants should become a breeze. After all, the best cure is prevention.

Covering your crops and plants

Many people make the common mistake of covering their plants with plastic. Although it can be quite effective, it does prevent the plants from breathing and can trap moisture. This can be extremely threatening to the plants underneath, as the moisture can freeze when temperatures drop.

When covering your plants this fall, opt for a fleece tunnel, with this your crops and plants will receive the benefits of both a net and a poly tunnel. However, the greatest advantage of all is that the fleece creates warmth and insulation whilst allowing water and sunlight to filter through.

Poly Tunnel

Poly Tunnels are the most efficient form of crop protection available today. Constructed of tough UV stabilised 150 micron polythene, the poly tunnel instantly creates a barrier, which retains warmth and protects your plants from frost. It can also be used to warm up the soil, which is extremely useful when wanting to plant out your winter crops.

Notcutts