Flowers & Seeds

Now that we’re past the half-way line of summer it’s time to get ready to start the wind-down.  Even though some plants have just gone in, a lot of others are now beginning to wrap up their yearly efforts and set seed.  Particularly of note are those plants which are normally biennials but which, if you make inroads now, could be flowering next year.  In my garden that means foxgloves – which I’m collecting the second the little conical seed pods start shading to brown.

I’ve marked all of my foxgloves and lupins, this year as to what colour the parent plant was.  They’re open pollinated, but given the information here and here I think I can safely say that my white with purple spots foxglove plants will majoritarily produce white seedlings due to being white-dominant (i.e. they have a gene which means that magenta colouration is ‘overwritten’) but the white with green spots could be much more variable as they are a recessive white form, shown when there is no information for magenta to start with.  I may be mixing that up, so any input would be more than welcome.  Next year I’ll likely attempt hand pollination as I’d like to increase my odds of getting more white foxgloves – especially those with green throat spots!  Some of these are earmarked for auntie Beth but if there’s anyone keen on having some, let me know as I suspect within the next month or so I’ll have rather a lot of seed.

Also likely to produce a lot of seed are my lupins – mixed dwarf and tall varieties varying from white to purple and various shades of pink  as well as bi-colours thereof which I’d be happy to share with anyone who wants – they’re a really good plant for bullying out other weeds if you’ve not got a lot of time to spend on weeding or if you have a rough patch of ground.  The big downside to lupins is that they’re herbaceous perennials so have nothing to show for themselves during winter!

Some other plants which tend to produce large amounts of seeds are also coming into flower at the moment:

The sunflower is a new type for me this year (‘Velvet Queen’) and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to harvest true to type seeds from it as my other sunflowers – a tall plain yellow variety – won’t bloom for a while yet.  The dill is from seed I saved myself last year and will hopefully give me more this year.  I really need to use more dill – it’s ended up as more of a decorative plant as I’m not used to using it in the kitchen.  Anyone got some good (non-pickle) recipes?

Another edible flower growing rather well at the moment is the purple sprouting broccoli.  I took the large main bud off of it a few days ago and the side shoots have exploded with growth – they seem to be one of the few plants doing really well in the new veg bed – along with the cabbaged and cauliflowers.  I suspect it may be that they enjoy the heavy soil a lot more than the other plants.  Either way, given I’d thought I wouldn’t have any sprouting broccoli this year, I’m rather looking forward to putting these on my plate!

Other flowers just coming into bloom are this lovely white dianthus – likely edible but I’d feel bad tearing apart that beautiful blossom head and a flower with an ‘edible name’ or sippable, anyway – Gladioli ‘Espresso’.  I’m really looking forward to those unfurling as their colour is already spectacular when the light catches the buds.

 Last but not least, this week I bagged a squash.  This poor thing had been in a pot for ages – the usual conundrum of having sown too many expecting more fatalities, thus ending up with spare plants.  When I removed a potato, though, I realised I could reuse the bag for my squash!  A quick clean and re-fill later and I now have a patio squash.  Hopefully it’ll take to its new home – at the very least it’s better than a tiny wee pot!


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Updates & Insects

 Alpine strawberries really go the distance compared to normal ones – my ‘Cambridge Favourite’ plants only have a few late fruit clinging to them but my little alpines (‘Mignonette’) are still bursting with tiny, sweet, aromatic fruit.  Not on that, but they’re also still flowering! I was getting handfuls of these little things into September last year and I’m hoping for the same again.  Another great thing about these tiny, tasty plants is that they don’t produce runners – so unlike my other strawberries I’m not having to check every week for sneaky attempts to invade the rest of the veg patch.

The container garden is maturing a little – there are now fewer potatoes (3 bags have been harvested) and the older nasturtiums are starting to look a little ragged as they go into seed production mode.  Since I want seeds as both food and for next year’s ‘crop’ I’m happy to let them go.  The gladioli are throwing up flower spikes, though none have opened yet, the buddleja are starting to grow again after a midsummer break, and there have been a few additions – some little Dahlias and a spectacular, if still small, Acer.

There are a few species of plants I’ve wanted for a while and this is one of them – and about the only tree which is likely to fit in such a little garden ;)  Andy picked the type – ‘Butterfly’, which is a lovely green, yellow and red-edged variety.  I think it’s a rather beautiful little thing and it’ll stand out nicely versus our red fence where a red one would just fade into the background.  I aim to plant it in the half-barrel where the larger gladioli are currently residing, but until then it’s hiding in a terracotta cachepot.

The tomatoes are going strong – I’ve thinned out a few branches to allow for better airflow and to stop a few of them resting against the condensation-damp sides.  The nasturtiums are enjoying being planted alongside them, it seems, and with being planted so much later than the others, will hopefully give a little bit of colour in a few weeks.

Finally, the ‘miscellaneous brassicas’ rescued when my greenhouse fell over are showing their ‘true colours’.  I have one purple sprouting broccoli (hooray!), one cauliflower and two cabbages all growing happily side-by-side.

One thing I’ve really noticed a lot this year is the increased traffic of wildlife in the garden – mainly insects of course.  Above are a hoverfly, spider and tiny bee taking advantage of the flowers and shade given by my garden plants – all of which are all sitting on what was bare patio or slate-stone when we moved in.  I don’t know if I’ve noticed more bees this year or less, but I’ve certainly seen more varieties of bees.  I can’t be sure if it’s just that I’m recognising more of them, now, or if there is actually a wider range, but it’s really nice to see so many little critters buzzing around hard at work.  Unfortunately there are also a tonne of earwigs, woodlice, ants and scale insects alongside slugs and snails – I can only hope that the nesting birds and ladybugs make inroads on those as my poor turnips are starting to look a bit ragged =(  Oddly, all of my aphid problems are indoor!

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Late Beginners

My first and only raspberry and the first of my little tomatoes.  Fingers crossed that it’ll be the first of many!

Legousia Pentagonia flower – I thought I’d lost these pretty little ground-cover plants when I’d accidentally left them in the shed.  I noticed them suddenly yesterday when I went out to check on things after a weekend away from the garden.  Next to it, is a teeny tiny physalis pod!  I wasn’t entirely sure that they’d survive outside but I had just run out of room indoors and gave it a shot.  They’ve certainly done better than the tomatillos I tried to grow.

This holly bush has caused me some consternation since we  moved in.  It’s very vigorous – the picture on the left was the first time I pruned it when we first moved in and, as you can see, the height them was reduced to the edge of the fence but it’s now grown several feet past it again.  I tried at the time to just keep it from making its way over the fence but this time I decided to give it a prune to make it more of a tree instead of a bush.  I wanted to be able to get in underneath it, and maybe plant a climber up it (which I now have, a lovely white alpina type, spring flowering clematis).

The bed in which the holly bush sits is ‘next years project’ ;)

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African Violets – My Indoor Garden

I don’t really remember my first african violet – at least, I don’t think I do.  What I remember is the one which I’m sure was my second.  My little cousin, aunt and I used to go with my grandmother to the garden centre – it was flat for the wheelchair, had a nice tea-room, and changed seasonally so there was always something different to see.  Often my cousin and I would get some small plant – usually a coleus, or fittonia because they were funky and brightly coloured.  One time, though, I spied an african violet and, amazingly to me at the time, it wasn’t one of the deep purple ones!  I’d never seen an african violet which wasn’t dark purple and here was an array of frilly, spotty, brightly coloured plants just begging someone to take them home.  I picked out a pale blue one with white stripes and a pointy star shaped flower.  This was a ‘cool’ flower, to my mind.  I’d never managed to keep flowering plants ever (perhaps the coleus really were a good choice, given that) but this little thing wouldn’t give up.  Even when I naturally forgot to water it and sat it in bright sunlight all it did was peaceably wait until I did remember and then blossom profusely when it was shown the slightest attention.

It was sometime around then that I found out they could be propagated by leaf.   It must have been from a book, or maybe grandpa, because I wasn’t even really aware of the internet at that point.  I got a pot, tore some leaves off of my poor long suffering plant and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  I watched the leaves die, one by one, until there were only two left.  Those two ‘took’, though, and by the next year I had two more plants almost the same size as their progenitor.  They didn’t flower the same – both were either plain white or pale blue (it’s been a while, I can’t remember exactly) which I was confused by at the time as, hey, propogating from leaf is like cloning, right?  They were star shaped though, so that was fine.  They were still cool.  Before I left home for Uni I think there were eight or so plants clogging up my grandparent’s windowsills.  My original plant is lost to time and moving house about three times since, but I still have a keen fascination with these really cool, easily kept plants.

I’ve just begun, really, to understand how to grow them and I’m still having beginner problems – no amazing prize specimens like those I’ve seen elsewhere.  However, with the kind advice of some kindly expert growers I’m beginning to get good results!  I’ve also embarked on something I’d always dreamed of but thought it was way out of my reach as an amateur gardener – hybridising.  I loved genetics when I was at school, I have always been fascinated by them since, and the idea of doing my own crossings seemed like a pipe-dream.  Something only serious people with big greenhouses and years of experience do.  For some plants, that is inevitably true – they require too much by way of special conditions – but with african violets ‘home hybridising’ is relatively easy – possibly too easy given the thousands of different cultivars available.

There are some things you never see in garden centres here though – reds, yellows, variegated leaves, and trailing violets. Minis and semi-minis are also very rare, though I’ve spied a few micro-minis near the tills in Homebase!  Rarely, plants like the one at the top crop up (a chimera with striped petals) and there’s also the occasional ‘fantasy’ type (where they have streaks or spots of colour splashed across the flowers), but these are also few and far between.  It seems a shame that most generalist shops are limited to only the same 8-10 cultivars from the same dutch companies but I guess that’s probably true of most plant types – and I’m not sure I’d like to consign any more african violets to watery graves in diy-stores and garden centres.

The internet has a lot of resources about african violets.  Tonnes.  Squillions.  It can be hard, sometimes, to sift through the same ‘basic plant care’ sites which are all copies of one another and contain little real information to find the gems of the online resources – so I figured I’d share a few links to those I’d personally found useful.




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