Monday 2nd May 2022 – Potential

An overcast weekend (apart from the odd sunny spell on Saturday) but we are not deterred, no, we have gardened as much as we could and the garden is bursting with potential. Every spare inch of space in both greenhouses is packed full of seedlings or seeds just sown. The plants are all sighing with relief at the welcome rain which fell for most of Sunday. We need more, but we’re grateful for what we had. I am happier with the garden as it is right now than I have ever been before at this time of year, and that is quite something for me, as I am rarely happy with it. I’ve even remembered to sit in it and relax a bit. I can see my skills and husbandry improving and that’s very gratifying indeed.

Tulip ‘Ballerina’ has it all – fabulous form and colour, scent and allegedly happy to perennialise (I’ll believe that last when I see it).
Yes, it’s that time of year again – the obligatory ‘ant on paeony bud’ shot.
I almost like the sight of rain droplets caught on lupin leaves even more than I like the flower spikes. Almost. Fennel here on the left providing a beautiful feathery foil. Meant to be bronze. It isn’t. I actually prefer it fresh and green now anyway.
I said ‘almost’. The first flower spike is forming. They’ve loved their autumn feed, I’m hoping for great things from them this year.
Not wanting to be outdone, the first of the oriental poppies. I have these in two colours, these are my favourite of the two, a brazen rich red like a screen siren’s fingernails. This plant was here when we moved in but in a really stupid place. I moved it and it sulked and sulked… it has finally forgiven me and has bulked up. I shall look to divide it this Autumn.
One of the wisteria buds I didn’t knock off whilst planting the damn thing. Look at that colour. I can’t wait for this. Buying one that is in bud is the one sure way to know you won’t have to wait years for it to flower. Expensive, but worth it if you’re impatient and hate to be disappointed.
This honeysuckle smells so lovely and is a riot of colour along the hedge behind the apple tree. I’ve been gradually encouraging it from the back of next door’s hedge and now it is getting well established. I should take cuttings, really, as an insurance policy against it getting ripped out on the other side.
The lilac is especially frothy this year and the smell is heavenly. I had hoped to cut some for the house, but it’s all got extraordinarily stumpy stems. I’m wondering if this is due to some really ham fisted pruning. I shall read up – it looks as though it has flowered on last year’s wood, so probably all it needs is dead-heading after flowering and then for me to LEAVE IT ALONE! No snipping unless it is getting too big for its boots (or for the garden).
Here, and below, some pansies that are very jolly despite having been munched by slugs. Pansies are always worth buying from the plant graveyard in garden centres, as you will always find some languishing there at a bargain price and nobody buys them because they look beyond redemption, but they are easily brought back to life with a little disbudding and a dash of food and repotting (check for vine weevil before planting out – the little buggers love pansies and places like the garden section of DIY stores are a breeding ground for them!) Which reminds me, I must apply my nematodes before they go out of date…
Fortunately there was enough sun on Saturday to please the Under-Gardener.
Homer the Hopeless Pigeon has monitored me from various nearby perches throughout the weekend, dropping down to ground level occasionally to inspect things and to see if I feel like offering any food. He’s probably been over fed, to be honest. How much are pigeons meant to eat, anyway? I’m worried about him, really. He must be lonely. I am no substitute for a flock. Poor thing. Keeping him seems ridiculous but his owner doesn’t want him. I suppose sooner or later he will find a lady pigeon and fly away. Or a cat or buzzard will get him! I’ll look after him as best I can for as long as possible.

Six on Saturday – 30th April 2022

In haste, my Six on Saturday. Despite this being a bank holiday weekend I can’t quite seem to get on top of things… but sometimes I think the point of gardening is to teach one to let go of the need to feel on top of things all the time. Wishing all the SoSers and indeed gardeners everywhere hours of happy gardening this weekend… remember to pause and admire the fruits of your hard labour!

Geum (“Totally Tangerine”), cerinthe, teasel, euphorbia oblongata. Love these colours together.
Dicentra spectabilis if you’re old-fashioned like me, lamprocapnos if you’re up to the minute, bleeding heart if you’d really rather not make things any more complicated than they need to be. One of my very favourite plants. I don’t seem to be doing as well with it as I used to. The places I have it may be too dry. I will experiment.
First of the artichokes forming a fruit (is it a fruit? Not sure!) These haven’t really cropped properly since transferring from the old allotment. I think I forgot how hungry these plants are. They had a good mulch of manure in the autumn and look happier now. This is the violetta di Chioggia variety, where it is picked young and eaten whole. I could eat these until they come out of my ears… but that would probably hurt, as they are spiky.
I’m delighted the candelabra primulae have returned for a second year but I’m bemused as to how the yellow and orange ones planted last year are now red.
Here are those irises again, more fully in bloom. Aren’t they beautiful?
We have been adopted by a stray racing pigeon. He’s been hanging around for ages. I’ve found his owner and tried all sorts of advice and techniques to get him to go home, but it’s not happening. He’s clearly rubbish at homing. The owner says I can keep him. We’ve named him Homer (the pigeon, not the owner). I’ve got a sinking feeling this might turn into more work and hassle than it at first appears. The Under-Gardener is extremely put out and keeps chasing Homer, but Homer is completely unruffled by this, and simply flies out of reach, peering down at the Under-Gardener from a height, as if he’s thinking “idiot dog”. To be honest, they’re both incredibly stupid. I’m not sure what I’ve started here… if anyone has any pigeon-tending tips, please do pipe up!

I forgot to add a link to Mr Propagator’s page with all the updates from the other SoSers – go here to check out what other gardeners around the world have been up to! https://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com/2022/04/30/six-on-saturday-30-04-2022/

Sunday 24th April 2022 – dog tired

The Under-Gardener has had a lot to complain about: he’s exhausted from all the garden supervision he’s had to provide for the humans this weekend and he’s peeved that despite these being his notes, people haven’t seen much of him. So here he is, in his favourite occupation of sunbathing on the job. That ridge in the lawn is where Chief Engineer has uncovered the mole tunnels, packed them with chopped onion and replaced the turf back over the tunnels. It’s working so far… and I see next door have two fresh molehills, so hopefully we’ve pushed Moley over there for a bit!

It’s been a weekend of non-stop gardening and we were all exhausted at the end of it. I spent a fortune on replenishing my dahlia stocks and a selection of really beautiful tubers arrived on Thursday, so I potted them up at the weekend and already shoots are visible. I can’t wait for these – it’s going to be a technicolour explosion. I also bought a wisteria (which Chief Engineer kindly paid for half of, as it was rather more expensive – and bigger – than I was expecting!) I made very heavy weather of planting it and affixing it to the pergola, knocking off several buds in the process, which I am furious with myself for. The rest of the work was largely pricking out of seedlings and making successional sowings of veg. Chief Engineer netted the gooseberries (after I’d meticulously hunted down every gooseberry sawfly caterpillar and dispatched it with a squish) and he also netted the brassicas – not a moment too soon, as the idiot wood pigeons have finally found them and started tearing into them, plus multiple cabbage white butterflies have been spotted. I see that the nettles I leave to grow here and there are well munched by something, so I am hopeful that some of our more attractive native butterflies will also be seen in the garden before too long.

Chief Engineer at work. Buying this cage was a revelation after years of constructing ramshackle things from scratch using canes, string and bits of old net. This was well worth the investment and I’ll gradually buy more. So much quicker and easier and more attractive and effective, too.
It’s a terrible photo – I just never seem to be able to capture the apple blossom well on camera, but this is one of our best years yet for blossom and the bees are going wild for it. The apples aren’t great but they’re fine for cooking and the tree is well used by a huge range of garden birds. The tits in particular (blue, long-tailed, great, coal) all love to pick off aphids and other pests (and they are most welcome!)
Although the wind was quite fresh, the sun was strong. The Under-Gardener was grateful for a spot of shade. That lemon tree in the black pot – grown from seed! – is being munched. I think it’s the dreaded vine weevil – time for nematodes. Vine weevil nematodes are the only nematodes I’ve ever had any success with. Even then I still find the odd adult weevil (they are a lot crunchier than the sawfly larvae when squished!)
Planting out germinated peas. If I sow direct, the voles will take the lot. Sowing in guttering in the greenhouse has revolutionised pea growing for me – it’s so incredibly easy to plant out. Hoe a shallow trench and slide everything out of the length of guttering into it. I’ll never grow peas any other way again. Attributed to the late and utterly wonderful Geoff Hamilton, I think.
Here’s a curiosity – imagine my surprise when I opened this packet of carrot seeds to find they were a bright pearlescent green. Apparently they are coated with a “green, non-toxic, anti-fungicidal food dye to aid visual identification in the soil”. Well, I will say that it made it much easier to sow the seed thinly, but I am not sure I’d have bought these if I’d known about this. It’ll be interesting to see what the germination rate is like (and the quality of the carrots!)
An overlooked plant in an overlooked corner, this epimedium is flowering its heart out right now. I love its crazy jester’s hat flowers on delicate branching stems. An uncomplaining plant that thrives without fuss in difficult, dry shady corners. I’d actually like to get more of these in some different varieties.
Tulips starting to go over now (apart from new introduction Ballerina, giving welcome orange-red on the far left) but plenty of other stuff bulking up. the lupins seem particularly happy about the autumn manure mulch (unsurprising, since they are legumes, I think). I do hope this doesn’t mean they’re going all out on foliage at the expense of flowers.
The year’s first allium fixing to open! Every year I plant more, every year I wonder where they’ve all gone. Surely nothing eats alliums?!
The Under-Gardener wishes it to be understood that the snacks are closer to the top end of the path and Head Gardener should focus her attention this way.
First irises in the last of the evening sun. I shall take better photos of these in better light when more have opened. They are heavenly. I want to fill this space with them. They love the heat bouncing off the house and the patio.

Six on Saturday – 23rd April 2022

A lack of rain and a cold drying wind have some things looking a bit parched here – I need to get out and do a spot of judicious watering. The weather was just the same this time last year, according to my sort-of garden journal. A busy weekend of planting out and potting up awaits me and I shall try to post again tomorrow, but in the meantime here are my Six on Saturday (well seven actually, I’m cheating this week!) Happy Saturday to SoSers all around the world, and happy gardening, hope the weather is kind where you are.

Camassias really love our moist rich Welsh soil. I’m really pleased with the way the pinky-purple tulips and the red hints on the new rose foliage pick up the pink undertones in the camassia spires. It’s at least half deliberate on my part. The camassias keep spreading – their beauty is fleeting but they provide such welcome vivid blue and good form and height so early in the season that I’m happy to leave them to it.
I’m taking a bit of a gamble here but I’ve put the potted tender perennials outside for the Summer season. This should turn into a billowing collection of foliage and flower soon, with the warmth bouncing off the patio paving and the wall of Chief Engineer’s office (West-facing). The flamingos have been in for a service and had a re-spray. My Dear Friend and Gardener observes these and remarks that I refuse to take gardening seriously, don’t I? On the contrary, I say, I am very serious about it indeed! They remind me of Alice in Wonderland. If only we had hedgehogs.
Great year for apple blossom so far, I just hope we don’t get very high winds and heavy rain smashing it all before fruit sets. this is St Cecilia, a relatively new addition to the garden. St Cecilia is a variety bred in the village we live in. It was grafted specially for me by a nursery in West Wales, on a very dwarf rootstock. The diminutive height has given me an opportunity to smell the blossom, which I never have before. It has a light, subtle, fresh scent, it smells of Spring.
An unusually understated tulip for me, Spring Green. I wanted one border to be a bit more subtle. This border is the last to get sun as it gets higher through the year (again, West-facing) plus it suffers from running along the leylandii hedge. Here Spring Green battles on regardless, looking rather fine with the honesty in the background and the slightly glaucous new growth on the valerian all around it. This is partially a medicinal herb bed. I use the valerian leaves for tea and also make tincture from the roots – it really does help with short-term sleeplessness, plus the flowers are pretty and insects love it. My phone camera doesn’t seem to like photographing white. I don’t grow a lot of white, actually, but it does lift and brighten and I think I might start introducing more of it.
Mr Mole is causing havoc! Whilst I am very grateful for the piles of beautifully tilled soil which make great potting compost, I should prefer it if he went away. Does anyone have any ideas, please?
A double cheat here as these last two pictures take me to seven in total and they are not from my garden, but the sight is too beautiful not to share, though my elderly phone camera does not do it justice. Bluebells as far as the eye can see, a beautiful haze of blue in woodlands near our home, managed by a truly wonderful little charitable trust. Every year they get better and better. I wish I could share the smell, too, which is heavenly.

Check out the other Six on Saturday posts from other gardeners via The Propagator’s page, http://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com .

Here are a few other SoSers whose posts I’ve been enjoying recently: http://gardenruminations.co.uk;

http://wisconsingarden.wordpress.com;

http://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com

http://frogenddweller.wordpress.com

Six on Saturday – 16th April 2022

I am determined to get my Six on Saturday post right this week so I’m getting it in early! Lots of new growth and signs of Spring in the garden this week as the days lengthen and temperatures rise. I’ve taken the risk on bringing a few of the more tender things out of the greenhouse, starting to make room in there for other things. The last of the potatoes have gone in and I’ve planted out the peas which I started off in guttering a few weeks ago (no photo as not very interesting to look at!) Check out the other Six on Saturday posts from other gardeners via The Propagator’s page, http://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com .

First apple blossom bud of the year. Every year, Chief Engineer gets better and better at the twice yearly prune. I’ll make a gardener of him yet.
I’m not brilliant at butterfly identification but given the amount of ivy in our garden I’d say this was a Holly Blue. Tiny, beautiful, and the most vivid bright blue when it opened its wings (which it resolutely refused to do for the camera).
Big, fat, juicy iris buds. I can’t wait for this iris to open. The rich deep purple is like velvet and the scent is heavenly, like no other floral scent I’ve ever smelled. Given to me by my mother, from a house owned by a friend, and a place I loved – these also have huge sentimental value for me.
I know I keep posting photos of tulips but these just captivate me. With the evening sun behind them last night they glowed like stained glass. I’ll definitely be planting more of these, I want to fill this bed with these two (Abu Hassan and Purple Dream).
The fierce sunshine we’ve had (I’m not complaining!) has fried the earliest tulips but the later ones are coming on to plug the gaps – these yellow ones in particular (no idea of the variety) always come up last and stay the longest. I love it when the forget-me-nots join them – the blue haze is a fabulous gap-filler and their scent is the essence of Spring (the bees love it too).
It looks a little battle-weary and it probably needs repotting but I’m very pleased with this brugmansia. A present from my mum, bought in Lidl (last of the big spenders, my mum), it is now about 6 years old and has never been this big or had so many leaves so early in the year before. In previous years I’ve hauled it into a greenhouse to over-winter, but this year I just kept it outdoors and kept it covered with a heavy duty fleece bag whenever temperatures dipped below 5 Celsius (fleece bags from Gardening Naturally, http://gardening-naturally.com . I can’t recommend this company highly enough, they’re truly excellent). It has some woody patches on the stems but it still looks healthier than it usually does at this time of year – I normally have to lose a lot of the height in pruning out wood that’s died back. It looks happier than its smaller offspring which was kept in the greenhouse as an insurance policy. I’ll start feeding it, repot and tidy it up a bit, and have high hopes of big blooms earlier in the Summer than usual. It has tended to flower at the end of the Summer/start of Autumn, just as the weather changes, spoiling the flowers and making it too cold and wet to sit outdoors and enjoy the heady evening scent. Fingers crossed I can coax a better, earlier performance out of it this year!

Six on Saturday – 9th April 2022

One of the nicest things about WordPress – and something I didn’t anticipate at all – is that it is a sort of community, and one may connect with other gardeners all over the world (and have a good nose round their gardens, too). Via Rosie Amber (http://rosieamber.wordpress.com) I have come across Six on Saturday, started by The Propagator (http://thepropagatorblog.wordpress.com), both well worth a follow (I hope I’m putting these links in correctly, I’m still a complete Luddite when it comes to finding my way around WordPress!) Anyway, here are my Six on Saturday. Blogging on a Saturday is tricky for me usually due to a convergence of many hours in the garden and sundown beers, but I’ve been uncharacteristically on the alcohol-free beer tonight, so I’m able to participate in Six on Saturday, albeit at the 11th hour!

Tulip Abu Hassan. I’m thrilled with these, the photo doesn’t do it justice, the colours really glow like jewels. I’ll be planting lots more of these. As a bonus, they’re said to perennialise, too.
Cerinthe. I love this crazy plant. To me it looks metallic, like titanium jewellery or something. Looks amazing with bright orange (which I hope that geum behind will demonstrate when it really gets into its stride).
Tulip chaos in my long border – I like the jumble of colours though so I’ll probably give up trying to have a colour scheme.
This is an idea I got from a Sarah Raven book. Apparently this technique with roses was used at Sissinghurst Gardens under Vita Sackville-West. A framework of bent hazel stems is placed in the ground round the bush, and the supple new growth is bent down and tied to the hazel. This forces the plant to produce more blooms (upright growth – foliage, laterals – flowers) – I think! Certainly I always find lateral training boosts flowering so it’ll be interesting to see how this goes. Looks a bit mean to the plant, though, doesn’t it?!
We have several breeding pairs of blackbirds in the garden and they all think I’m their best mate. Mrs Blackbird followed me everywhere as she knows worms and other titbits appear when I’m out gardening.
Bosun the Under-Gardener celebrated the first lawn-mowing of the year by performing an elaborate dance routine in the dappled sunshine under the apple tree.

Tuesday 29th March 2022 – cheating just a little bit

Much work was done in the garden over the weekend of 2nd and 3rd April, but not by me, and there is no photographic evidence as yet (apart from the pic above). I’ve been away for the weekend and Chief Engineer has been working through a list of jobs solo, well apart from the close supervision of the Under-Gardener, of course. I took a few photos earlier in the week, mainly to chart the progress of several plants in Soggy Bottom, so here are those, just so I can keep up my run of more or less weekly blogging. Normal service will resume this coming weekend, I hope!

Here follows some photos of brown lumps. I love ferns. I find them endlessly fascinating, especially when they’re just at the point of bursting into life after the Winter. This one is poised to start unfurling… I’ll be inspecting daily now.
I don’t actually know what sort of fern this one in the foreground is, other than a potentially dead one. I’ll wait and see what happens, ferns have a habit of surprising one. Further behind, I think, is an emperor fern, though it’s a mystery what it’s doing over there as I have no recollection of lifting and planting any there, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t do it. My memory deteriorates at an alarming rate. This blog is partly intended to help with that!
More emperor ferns in unexpected places (I think – could be something else altogether.) Don’t those coiled fiddleheads look somewhat alien? I hope they proliferate here. I’ll probably have to contain the enthusiasm of the sweet woodruff breaking through around the ferns already – this stuff smells lovely and is so pretty, but if you turn your back on it it will envelope everything in a dense carpet of green starry leaves. There are worse things to have running rampant, of course.
These hellebores are such good value, they bulk up more each year and they flower for ages. They’re unusual and give great interest really early in the season. I’ve added a white one too, but it could be a year or two more before that one flowers. I’d love to see these pink ones self-seed around, but they don’t seem to want to oblige so far.
More coiled fiddleheads! The damp shade of Soggy Bottom really lends itself to ferns. These are asplenium, the hart’s tongue fern, I think. This one self-seeds itself all over the garden and I relocate any babies. Hopefully they’ll get really big here with the perfect conditions and then and give good structure and texture for most of the year (and if last year’s froglets return, cover for frogs too!)
The Under-Gardener participated in the inspection: fluffy bottom in Soggy Bottom.
I do not understand why it should be that the hostas in Soggy Bottom do not fall prey to molluscs, unless it is due to other inhabitants of the area keeping their numbers down (do we have frogs that I just never see, or perhaps a hedgehog?) Whatever the reason, there are three here and they go from strength to strength each year. I’ve probably jinxed it now and will find these rendered into lace doilies as soon as they open their leaves.
This self-seeded foxglove is truly huge. It’s seeded in the base of a laurel tree which is partly rotted, so presumably it is in some sort of symbiotic relationship with the decaying wood and this is contributing to its rude health. I can’t wait to see it flower… and hopefully it will disperse its seeds all over this bank at the bottom boundary of the garden, and we shall have a forest of foxgloves in a few years.
This whole bottom boundary of the garden is gradually coming together. This is where Chief Engineer hacked back the laurel, letting more light into this bank that rises up behind the parapet that spans the stream and looks down onto Soggy Bottom. I’ve planted cuttings of kerria japonica here and they’re starting to flower and sprawl around (the little yellow pom-poms dotted about). I don’t actually care for it usually but it brings a welcome splash of colour here and will hopefully cover the dead hedge in time (which itself forms good habitat for all sorts of things). I’ve transplanted lots of primrose here too and there is a hydrangea, some shade-tolerant roses, violets and cow parsley spangled about. It’s slow, but I’ve got hopes of getting a nice solid bank of semi-wild shade-tolerant flowering plants down here eventually.
The parapet spans this stream which runs along the bottom of the garden, along the back wall of Soggy Bottom, then past and under our neighbour’s property, via a culvert, eventually going under a main road before emerging again to join the nearby river. We have a makeshift bench here and it is so soothing to sit and listen to this mini waterfall.
This is the view back up the length of the garden, from the parapet. The compost bays on the right and the ramshackle gooseberry bed below the daffodils rather spoil the view! This is really the working and/or wilder end of the garden… but we still need to tidy up!
I’m trying to persuade this euphorbia to self-seed too. I don’t think it’ll need much persuading and its bright crisp green will really light up the shade down here.
Also lightning up the shade, this lovely acer. Tree surgery by some professionals and a bit of judicious hacking from Chief Engineer has introduced much more light to this end of the garden and I think this little acer is brighter than it’s ever been as a result. Shown here to its best advantage by whatever it is that has self-seeded underneath it – either that funny garlic-y Jack in the Hedge plant, which I quite like in salads, or perhaps it’s an honesty seedling. I’m really not sure, both self-seed prolifically throughout the garden and on the whole I let them get on with it as I don’t mind either of them.
Those gooseberries are bursting into life. I’ll soon be netting them and commencing the annual battle with gooseberry sawfly (nothing works besides daily or twice daily inspections and lightning reflexes in squashing every single one of the little buggers between thumb and forefinger!)
Isn’t this blue incredible? Appropriately named Lithodora “heavenly blue”, a gift from a gardening friend. I’ve been pampering it for some time and it’s finally rewarded me with blooms. It was well worth the wait!
The propagation station. Four grow lamps, three heated propagators, three unseated propagators… I keep saying I’ll stop, but it’s addictive! The grow lamps are an absolute game-changer.

Sunday 27th March 2022 – snatching some gardening time from the jaws of (welcome) chaos

Dreadful photos (bright sunshine, don’t want to complain!) and no confluence between enough time to take better ones and the inclination to do so. Chief Engineer’s birthday and a weekend of extremely welcome visits and a sense of normality and a life fully lived… WELCOME, LIFE, we missed you. The Under-Gardener is noticeable in his absence from these outdoor photos – he’s either been menacing visitors for snacks, lounging in awkward places on the patio or skulking indoors…

Some annoying bare patches still, but I am heading in the right direction I think. Except these were meant to be orange and red tulips. The orange ones have come up decidedly on the red side. As for those pale pink ones… I think I might have worked out what’s happened…
…I think I might have mixed the pale pink ones up with the deep pink ones and planted them in the wrong place, though even with my love of clashing colours I can’t quite believe I meant to put this deep pink in with red…. This little beauty has come up in another bed, I love this colour, I think it would look great with blues, grape hyacinth maybe… and maybe I’ll try again next year with my tulip combinations!
Apparently I bought multiple different types of plant supports some time ago and left them in their packaging in the shed. I thought I’d try to be clever and put them in place now, so the delphiniums can grow through them, which is how they’re meant to be used, as opposed to my usual trick of trying to fit the supports over delicate fully grown plants, invariably breaking flower spikes in the process. The height of these rings can be increased a little as the plants grow. I’ve never yet managed to get them in place in time to see how well they work, so this could be an interesting experiment.
A hot day and full sun are precisely the wrong conditions for pricking out seedlings started indoors. Too bad, because something has found its way into my heated propagator and is munching my tender seedlings, so I needed to take everything out, sort it all out a bit and try to get on top of the problem. These padron peppers, chilli peppers and… erm… something else were all in tiny modules so really needed pricking out anyway. I’m hoping they’ll perk up once I get them back in the propagator. If not, I have time to sow more, but I’ll be annoyed with myself.
A lovely friend and fellow gardening obsessive sent me an aconitum. I’ve only ever seen pictures of them and I’ve always fancied one – they’re often a really arresting blue, but this one will be white. I knew they were highly toxic but I never realised just how toxic until I researched it further – apparently the entire plant contains neurotoxins which can even be absorbed through the skin when handling the plant, especially the roots. I have to say, I didn’t realise and handled it bare-handed and I did feel quite peculiar in the evening but that might have been psychosomatic (or sleep deprivation, or an attack of the vapours). Anyway, I’ve written myself a reminder to wear gloves on the plant label, though with my habit of losing plant labels, the writing coming off, or me just ignoring them, this is hardly a fail safe approach…
Three different types of peas, the two gutters on the left sown at the same time (about 2 weeks ago or maybe a little more; the one on the right sown last week). Why are the ones on the far left so poor? It’s either mice, slugs, old seed, cold claggy soil, or seed rotting before it can germinate. I gave up and sowed more today. And – much as I hate to do either of these things – I baited the rodent bait station with poison and I put down the lightest possible sprinkling of slug pellets! Both, however, are in the greenhouse, which I hope will mean that I can target pests in here without affecting the wildlife outside the greenhouse. Using endless amounts of seed and compost and getting no plants out of is is not environmentally friendly either, so I figure I need to strike a balance here and employ some pest control wisely, judiciously and strictly according to the instructions – it’s astonishing how light a sprinkling of slug pellets we’re meant to use, and how heavily you see people shovelling them on. My main concern will be to ensure birds and other garden friends can’t eat the dead slugs – I think if I’m careful to leave a decent amount of time between the application of the pellets and taking the seedlings out of the greenhouse, I should be able to ensure it’s as safe as it can be. I feel ridiculously guilty about using these… less so the rodenticide, to be honest, I don’t mind mice but I really can’t stand rats! They really make my flesh crawl.. and I saw quite a big one in the garden a couple of weeks ago, plus I found obvious signs of them having been in and around the shed today!

This perpetual wallflower (erysimum) is a fleeting joy every Spring. It has one short lovely flush of flowers early on, but I don’t mind its brevity too much as it has a biddable form and it looks so happy, lending a nice bit of evergreen structure to the border year-round. The yellow and pink on this one (I think it’s called Winter Orchid) are a bit grubby-looking really but I think it gets away with it. It didn’t look remotely like this in the nursery, both the colours were much brighter and cleaner. I assume this is due to soil variations (it was growing somewhere in West Wales, where the soil is much redder than our dark loam).

I cannot believe that these tiny onions raised from seed are going to bulk out – so far, growing from seed seems altogether more hassle for far less reward than simply planting sets. Unconvinced but undeterred, I have planted out all my seedlings and we’ll see what happens (I don’t suppose the impending cold snap will help, I might have to wrap the whole garden in fleece…)
Another failure, due to 1) me being hopelessly optimistic and sowing too soon or 2) slugs or 3) wood lice or 4) old seed or 5) wet/rotting off…. Who knows, but neither the carrot seed sown under the wood nor the ones covered only with compost germinated (or if they did, they didn’t stick around). So I’ve sown some more, though I suspect the seed is too old. Really carrot seed should be bought fresh every year, but there was so much left in the packets I couldn’t bring myself to throw it out. This is probably a false economy and one I need not to repeat next year! Otherwise I’m just wasting time and effort and losing valuable growing time which will impact on yield through the year. We are growing in order to eat, after all. A sprinkling of sand seemed to help last year so I’m done that again.
Very out of focus, but this is the first showing of flowers forming on the currants. The white currant always comes first, then the red, then the black. I hope the white currant doesn’t start putting out lots of flowers, only to be knocked back by a cold snap and then fail to fruit. It’ll probably be ok, currants are really tough. We’ll be needing to net the fruit cage again before long, though.
I applaud the enthusiasm of the raspberries, really I do, but must they spread so exuberantly? Not content with inching over the wooden edge of their bed and invading the left edge of the path, they’ve suckered and popped up on the right edge too. I bet I end up trying to lift the suckers and potting them up in the belief they’ll either come in handy somewhere here or someone else will want them. I think I’ve already given raspberries to anyone who could possibly want them, though!

A few more potatoes, planted deep and covered with plastic sheeting to act as a cloche. Hopefully I can defeat the cold snap this way and get nice early first earlies. I held some seed potatoes back, anyway, just in case this proves to be a failure. It doesn’t look especially nice, but hopefully the plastic can come off in another couple of weeks (and no doubt be put to use elsewhere…. It really is incredibly useful around the garden!)

Plum tree coming to life. Every plum I’ve ever tried to grow has turned its toes up and died on me. I’m not sure whether it’s my poor husbandry or just that they’re a bit miffy. Fingers crossed this one turns out ok eventually. I might have a long wait, they’re not known for their speed: “he who plants a plum plants for his son”…!
Flower buds forming on the lilac. Lilac in bloom is one of the nicest things about Spring – the fragrance is like nothing else. It seems to me that we don’t se the old-fashioned lilac around much any more, perhaps it has fallen out of favour. I love it and I’m so pleased that the two I have are finally old enough to flower (both about 7 years old… well worth the wait!) Despite being the same variety both have different habits and flower spray shapes altogether – this one is upright with fairly small sprays (panicles), which point up, the other , which is not so far along as this one as it gets more shade, is bigger, with more scandent branches and big fouffy cloudy panicles which hang a little more. I have no idea why this difference exists – some sort of genetic mutation, probably.
Indoors and snoring. Good use of counter-camouflage on the teal blanket, there.

Friday 18th – Sunday 20th March 2022 – A Perfect Weekend

Three days of really glorious sunshine this weekend made for a happy Head Gardener (and a happy tulip too, opening up to greet the sun). I’ve been busy pruning penstemon (possibly a bit early, as we may yet have more frosts, but I’m reckless like that); tying in clematis and climbing roses; pricking out seedings; sowing tomatoes and all sorts of other bits and bobs. The garden was thrumming with insect life – fritillary, peacock and small tortoiseshell butterflies were all seen but were all camera shy; several different types of bumble bee and other bees were spotted; the robin followed me around and the Under-Gardener bullied the blackbirds. Spring has sprung!

Last week’s photo of Soggy Bottom didn’t show it to its best advantage. The bright dappled sunlight filtering through does, though, so here are a few pics. I have cropped some of these a bit as the compost heaps and accumulated junk around the periphery rather spoil the effect, but they are still showing slightly in the shot below, annoyingly.
I can’t resist a bit of “wombling” – recycling or repurposing things that others might throw away – nor can I resist the temptation to sow a few first early potatoes a bit too soon. Every year I chuck just a few in the ground while there is still some risk of frost and every year, without fail, those very early spuds are not ready any sooner than the later sown ones, which catch up quickly anyway. Really I do this early sowing because after the Winter I JUST WANT TO BLOODY WELL GET ON WITH IT. Here, I’m trying something slightly different – I’m using a cloche made from some clear plastic packaging to give two spuds a little protection and there’s a third spud planted and then tucked up under several layers of horticultural fleece. This might just be enough to keep them warm… a low of 3 Celsius is forecast tonight, so a few of the things I’ve gambled with this weekend might struggle – but at least it’s dry, so I might just get away with it. Also in shot here, the old rose arch (well part of it) which toppled in the storm named after me. I intend to grow beans up it, though I do wonder whether it’s quite tall enough. Next to the new rose arch, it looks so attractive from the seats under the pergola at the top of the garden, that I’ve decided to put one in on the other side of the rose arch too – the repeated shapes look surprisingly elegant when seen from further away and it’ll be good use of space, too, if it works. The other side is a lot shadier but peas always do well there, so that’s what I’ll try.
The Under-Gardener had to make a thorough inspection. He’s especially interested in potatoes, though admittedly more in the form of chips or crisps.
I decided that, yes, it would be nice to have pebble paths right the way around the veg beds, so Chief Engineer cracked on with it. We may live to regret using cardboard instead of membrane as the base layer but I really do hate that stuff so much. I’m forever finding crappy disintegrating bits of it around the garden and the sorry compacted soil underneath looks lifeless and strangely slimy. I end up pulling it up or tearing holes in it so I can plant through it.
Another section finished. I’m so pleased with how smart it looks, it’s making me think completely differently about the veg garden. I’m going to put a lot more thought into the appearance of the veg beds – there’s no reason they can’t look attractive as well as being productive. As part of my intuitive gardening experiment for this year, I’m going to try planting the veg beds as if they were mixed borders – so I’ll plant veg in groups rather than rows and I’ll arrange the heights as one would with herbaceous perennials, with taller things at the back, descending in height from back to front. Of course, I might be scuppered by different things growing at different rates, but it will be fun to try a different approach nonetheless. We’ve run out of pebbles for now, so the other side of the bed will have to wait until we can buy some more!

Three little friends, all in different parts of the garden. I wish they’d eat the bloody whitefly, there’s been no let-up in the bloody things since last year. You’d think colder weather would see whitefly off, but apparently not. Nothing seems to get rid of them. I’ve even got them in the house, on the houseplants, I just can’t get rid of the pesky things. Maybe I should bring the ladybirds indoors. Or do they only eat aphids, not whitefly? Surely SOMETHING eats whitefly (besides me, when I fail to wash the kale thoroughly enough…!)

At times, it was almost too hot for the Under-Gardener in the sun and he needed a little snooze in the shade (keeping one eye open to supervise, of course).
I never tire of these perky little drumstick primula.

Nothing especially unusual about these bellis daisies, which I rather like for their simplicity, but look at the size of them – they really are huge, so I included my finger for scale. They’re happy little things and I like the pink edges. I suppose they’re a weed really, but I did have some cultivated ones at one point so perhaps these are the result of some promiscuity between the wild garden type and their fancier cultivated cousins. Whatever, I like them, they can stay.

I’ve worked really hard on denser planting in the long border, above and below, to give a lusher look and to have fewer gaps. Most garden design books will tell you that bigger blocks of the same plants, repeated at intervals, will give a more effective, harmonious look than a random collection of single specimens in no particular order. Until last year my approach to gardening in the borders was mostly pick and mix, like a kid in a sweet shop, but more recently I’ve worked on building up more stock of my perennials through cuttings and divisions so that I can have them planted in bigger groups – it’s starting to pay off already. I’m really pleased with how it’s looking. Damn those pale pink tulips though, messing up my new colour scheme. I wanted hot bright colours only in here – but clearly I did a terrible job of evicting them last year. I’ve marked all these with sticks so that I know where to find them for removal this year once they’ve finished flowering!

Not exactly my finest hour as a photographer but that there is the first leaf-bud break on the largest apple tree. Hurrah! Chief Engineer’s pruning skills advance every year. If the rest of the Spring continues in the same vein as this weekend, we could be in for a bumper year for blossom (and fruit), which would make a nice change after the dismal, cold grey year we had last year. Looking back at my notes, I recall it felt like warm weather was never coming. This year already seems better.
He’s yawning, but it looks like he’s talking, doesn’t it? He followed me around all day, contentedly settling down to snooze near me, occasionally coming over to demand affection. It’s hard not to stroke him when he’s this cute. He knows this, of course.
I pricked out these tender purple bell vine seedlings. They’ve been indoors in a heated propagator – I’ve moved them to the warmer greenhouse and wrapped them up in multiple layers of fleece, I hope they make it. I’m planning to try Sarah Raven’s suggestion of growing them up a wigwam with thunbergia (black-eyed Susan – you know, now I type that, I’m not entirely sure that plant name is especially politically correct! Why has Susan got a black eye?!) The only problem is that the thunbergia is very shy to germinate, whilst the purple bell vine (rhodochiton) is not at all, and I won’t manage to get equal numbers of the two plants. Sarah Raven probably has several heated greenhouses at her disposal, whereas I am juggling three small heated propagators and four grow lights!
This periwinkle has really taken off for the first time ever, it’s a beautiful colour and really lights up the otherwise dull and dark bottom of the hedge here. I think improving the light by getting the hedge cut at the right time has made a big difference and the improved flowering means I mind a little bit less about its incredibly irritating invasiveness.
Sunday found me labouring (or, rather, failing to labour effectively) with a really heinous hangover. I had to stop and rest in a deckchair at intervals. It was lovely sitting in the sun with my eyes closed, even though the sinking of the lawn due to the mole’s subterranean earthworks is more than a little unnerving under chair and foot. I’ve stuffed crushed garlic down all the molehills and holes – knowing my luck it’ll start bloody growing and we’ll end up with garlic-smelling lawn, without actually getting rid of the mole.
At the end of the day, it’s all been a bit much. I felt like this too. Oooooooffffff.

Monday 14th March 2022 – let there be light

We picked a good day to be off work today as the weather was glorious. The Under-Gardener (fresh back from a stay at his holiday home) soaked up the Spring sunshine, as did the daffodils and everything else that is now bursting into life. It was still light at 6pm this evening… just like that, the day length changes dramatically, and it never fails to amaze me how quickly it happens… every single year. You’d think I’d expect it by now, but no, it takes me by surprise every time. It’s a nice surprise, though.

I was out in the garden ready for action before 9am this morning and the sun was just hitting the hedge. In the foreground there are alliums coming up all over the place. We definitely need more daffodils in the long border: I can move some from the bottom of the garden when they’ve finished flowering (that’ll be one less thing to spend money on!)
Tulips coming through everywhere too. Last year I got irritated with the lack of a cohesive colour palette from the Triumph tulips – I thought I had meticulously removed all the pale pink ones so that this bed could have strong yellows and reds only. Clearly at least two escaped me! I’ll try to mark the spots somehow in the hope I can get them out at the end of the season.
That makes three pale pink ones! Grrrrrrrr! Happy to see the red one, though.
He spent most of the day in this position in various spots around the garden.
I love the vivid colour of this aubretia. What would we call it – purple? Maroon? Mauve? Anyway, I borrowed some out of someone’s wall nearby. The same place has a very nice hot pink variety too, actually, I must go and borrow some of that too! (This is a terrible habit which runs in the family. I’ll get caught and told off one day).
These little dog violets usually irritate me by self-seeding everywhere and refusing to flower. This is the first time they have ever flowered for me. And where do they do it? In a pleasing swathe at the front of a border? No of course not. In the pebbles under a table!
I’m not sure he’s moved, actually.

This stachyaurus praecox, above, is beautiful but really difficult to photograph. The flowers are so elegant and delicate. It isn’t fully opened yet, I’ll try again when it has opened its flowers a little more. The reddish brown stems are quite pleasing too. I bought it with some gift vouchers, so I think of it as a gift, and I’m very fond of it. It may get quite a lot bigger – showing unusual foresight on that front, I’ve planted it somewhere where I can clear more space around it as it grows.

I really hate tending to strawberry beds and planters – it’s a mucky job, the plants never really look very nice or very happy, and I always put it off until I have to deal with a soggy matted mess with lots of dead leaves that need to be cleared away. I bit the bullet at last, weeding the planters built by Chief Engineer (above) and applying blood, fish and bone liberally here and in the big strawberry bed. Then I filled in any gaps with the runners I had planted up last year and finished off with a mulch of the spent compost from a decommissioned blueberry planter. I can’t bear to see all the strawberry runners at the end of the season and not do something with them. I have enough left over to start a strawberry bed for a friend. My tactic with these planters and the large bed is essentially to beat voles, mice, rats, birds, slugs, wood lice and any other opportunistic feasters with sheer weight of numbers: when we had an allotment, we had several huge strawberry beds which we never netted, and we always had pounds and pounds of fruit, with plenty spare to give away. Here at home, we are lucky to get a couple of bowls a year for ourselves, nets notwithstanding. Perhaps this year is our lucky year.

Next to the strawberry bed, Chief Engineer erected some supports for the raspberries. My hope is that I might get the wires on here in the next month or so and perhaps manage to contain the raspberries before they go crazy like they did last year, flopping all over the place. Actually, herein may lay the problem with the strawberries: it might be all about the soil. The garden soil is incredibly rich: I think raspberries might be hungrier than strawberries and so perhaps this is why the raspberries are the happier fruit here (on the old allotment it was quite the reverse, the raspberries were ok but didn’t grow like they do here.) Perhaps I should try starving the strawberries a bit and refrain from pampering them too much!
Here’s a very poor photo of Soggy Bottom. The sun was not really in my favour here I think. Anyway, those two fatsia are happy and the pink hellebores are delightful. There’s a little yellow flower bottom left, I think it might be coltsfoot, it’s very jolly. I hope it is coltsfoot as I think that has some herbal medicinal applications. No frogspawn in the pond as yet – I check eagerly and often but I suspect I stand to be disappointed.
Nope, still not moved… or perhaps just moved round to face the sun a little better, like a daisy. Chief Engineer, buoyed by his success on the path behind the long border, is now laying a pebble path between the two veg beds. This will be a massive help in the winter and indeed in wet weather throughout the year, as the grass path turned into a treacherous mud bath and the air went blue several times when my feet went from under me whilst on a sortie to pick Brussels sprouts for dinner. Eventually we’ll probably do this all around the raised veg beds and the lawnmower will become increasingly pointless. I’ve never especially liked lawn anyway. You can’t eat it, for a start.
Here’s something you can eat, though. The Asturian tree cabbage is sprouting – just like sprouting broccoli, really, and the shoots can be treated in just the same way. Or they could, if they actually made it into the kitchen – they’re so delicious that I kept eating them, and the kale, raw. Hopefully I’ve left enough for a stir fry tomorrow.
The Under-Gardener thinks the grass should stay on this path, so that he can disco dance on it in the sunshine. The sun always makes him feel like dancing.
I lifted and divided the miscanthus grass in here, redistributing chunks of it so that we get a nice solid block of it (that’s the idea, anyway). The cornus sibirica ‘Midwinter Fire’ needs to be pruned hard, at least every other year if not yearly, to ensure the stems always have this bright glow. Fortunately it is incredibly easy to strike new plants from cuttings so what I’m attempting here is a row of cornus along the edge of the bed, hopefully they will support the miscanthus and give good winter interest. I’m not sure it’ll work, but I’ve nothing to lose, and I really do hate to waste viable prunings!
This pieris was swamped in the depths of a laurel hedge. I have an intense, possibly even irrational, hatred of Spanish laurel, so I ripped out as much as I could when we first moved in, reclaiming a substantial amount of ground space as I did so (it was incredibly hard work – when I think about it I’m not sure how I managed it, I don’t think I would now!). I like pieris, so I have been pampering this one with ericaceous feed and mulches. I am now a victim of my own success, as it’s about four times bigger than it was and now that I want to plant in the bed behind it, it casts quite a bit of inconvenient shade. I could possibly try lifting it and keeping it in a very big pot, but really I want fewer pots, not more, as the watering is so very boring (and really as an acid lover it would need rainwater not tap, and we don’t always have enough stored in butts in dry spells.). Plus I don’t really want to risk losing it, having nursed it back to health. I can’t do anything with it whilst it’s flowering anyway. This is the first year it’s done that: I’ve obviously pampered it sufficiently at last. I bet I end up trying to grow things in its shade, to avoid moving it.
The original idea when I ripped out the laurel was to create a wildlife hedge in its place, with native plants. This worked to some extent but started to get a bit out of control – I hadn’t really accounted for things growing at different paces, so it transpired I’d put things in the wrong place, and the hawthorn turned out to be a bad choice altogether (it’s called quick thorn for a reason and it threatened to take over the world, as well as casting shade on the veg bed. Sadly it had to come out). I’ve kept half of the wildlife hedge, which now mainly consists of viburnums, lilac, elder, hazel and common dogwood, with nettles, borage and comfrey mixed in, but I’ve also added an apple tree and today I added some blackcurrant cuttings too. They’ll take a while to come to anything much, though. My idea is that there are different ‘storeys’ so there are things going on at different heights – I suspect I’ve overplanted terribly, though. This may be another reason for retaining grass on this side of the veg bed – it might be better for wildlife. Last year I found several froglets hopping from the raised bed into the hedge, across the grass – I’m not sure whether the pebbles might make for a more dangerous, less comfortable journey…
Here’s the finished path. Chief Engineer has also used some spare kitchen tiles to edge the cornus/grass bed, with a view to laying pebbles over this scrappy bit of lawn, too. I’d better come to a decision about the other path quickly!
My last job for the day: sowing carrots. I actually sowed brassicas and some annual flowers today too, but I didn’t bother to photograph those. Here I am sowing carrots in between the garlic – the idea is that the garlic deters carrot fly, but I’ve read lots of articles that say this isn’t really terribly effective. It’s still good use of space, though. The lovely Huw Richards (well worth checking out on You Tube, he is as charming as he is informative) suggests this technique with both parsnips and carrots – laying a piece of wood over the sown seed until germination occurs. This prevents the seed from drying out, I think (though one does wonder whether it encourages slugs). Anyway, all good experiments need a control, so I have covered roughly two thirds of each row in this way and left a third, to compare. This is actually the remains of last year’s seed so it’s highly likely nothing will happen at all – carrot seed loses viability very quickly and its better to buy fresh every year, but I had so much left I couldn’t bring myself to bin it. If it doesn’t have a decent germination rate, I’ll still have time to buy fresh and make another sowing.