December Catch-Up

Like my garden, this blog always seems to go into a partial hibernation in the winter.  There are still things to do, though: I have plans to take up more gravel, there are greens under the cloche tunnel, cuttings and winter sown seeds to take care of.  I also, at some point, need to put up the new roofing felt for the shed as the bad winds we had just before Christmas tore half of it off.  As well as the outdoors work of the garden, there’s also the indoor things – planning what will go where, seed inventory and ordering, pot washing.

There’s still some green close to hand, though, as I’ve expanded my indoor jungle quite a bit this year!  I think, looking through my photo archives, that there were a few more of my violets ready to flower at this time of year.  However, most of those which did have been re-potted or restarted within the last few months or weeks and likely won’t be giving me a good display for a few more months or so.  One of my violets, ‘Rob’s Shadow Magic’ has decided to peek up and say hello, and my oddly white ‘Jolly Orchid’ is still giving its best but the rest are slumbering away.  There are a few tiny buds on some plants,  but I don’t expect to see much more from them until maybe late January or February.

On the other hand, the little seedling AVs are getting greener by the day – I’m up to 27 seedlings, now, with most of the older ones showing their typically gesneriad single-cotyledon expansion.  I can’t see any variegation for sure, yet, but I think that it will be less obvious on these ones as ‘Mum’ has a more buff variegation to my eye, with a little red, rather than a bright white like some other plants.  I’ve been peeking at them through my loupe, but it’ll be hard to tell until they mature a little.  Hopefully I’ll be reporting soon on some true leaf growth!

This year I also have a small bulb collection on the windowsill to brighten things up – though they’re also only sluggishly awakening.  One hyacinth is showing off spectacularly, with a lovely, gentle scent, and I’m expecting the ‘amaryllis’ (hippeastrum), given to me by a kind folian in promise of some AVs when the weather is warmer, to open any day now.  Lined up are, hopefully, the other hyacinth and a second amaryllis gifted to me by Andy’s mother.  I had to laugh when I opened it, as we’d just given her an almost identical bulb – great minds and all that… It’s a lovely double flowered cultivar called ‘Nymph’ and the bulb is massive.

I also took part in a European seed swap via Folia – I sent seed to Belgium and London and received some from Belgium, & Holland.  There was an interesting mix – quite a few plants I’ve never even tried before – chamomile, wallflowers, tulbaghia, and giant scabious, amongst others  as well as more varieties of amaranthus, to add to the ones I bought earlier in the year.

I also went a wee bit mad when I found out that Chiltern Seeds do gesneriad seed for sale and bought some Streptocarpus cooperi (an annual streptocarpus which produces one huge leaf and flower stalk) and some mixed Episcia hybrids.  I also grabbed some Drosera spathulata (sundew plant) to have a go at.  The sundew is currently in sphagnum in the propagator along with the african violet seedlings.  Once those are a bit bigger and ready to move on I’ll try the others!

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October Cleanup

Usually, in the winter, the patio is desolate – stripped of all of the bags of potatoes, gladioli and other sun-loving plants which I grow there.   I have wanted to reclaim some of the land under the patio since we moved on, but was held back by the fact that the patio is actually useful, and a nice place to have a barbecue, however, I decide there was a way to kill two birds with one stone – get more planting space and liven up the patio during the winter – removing some of the slabs around the edge.  This preserves the width of the patio but allows me to plant some shrubs!  If you can’t quite see them, the shrubs in question are buddleja!

I’m a big fan of these hardy bushes which are vigorous, attract insects and have a nice, fairly open, silhouette when not in flower.  These particular ones, too, were grown from seed – I have no idea what colour they are but of the three which I managed to grow to this stage they all have very different leaf colours and shapes and differing bark colours.  They are davidii, but beyond that?  Could be white, magenta or lilac!  I’m also hoping that by planting them in the ground now they’ll make it through the winter better than in pots.  They had already filled their pots with roots so they really should have been repotted sooner, but I’d been slacking a little on getting these new ‘beds’ done.

Behind the half-barrel is another mini-bed – not sure what will go there, yet! In the half-barrel itself is an Acer, which went straight from summer-colour to winter leaflessness.  I’ve heard that it’s common for Acers to drop their leaves all at once but I think this might have been a stress reaction due to being in a too-sunny spot during the summer and also being transplanted a little late.  The branches all have little buds, though, so I’ll look forward to it doing well next year in a shadier spot.  During winter it’s staying where it is, though, as our light levels drop so much that even the sunniest spot in the garden hardly gets much light all day.  The joys of living in the north, eh?

The rest of the garden is also still a little messy – I need to figure out what to do with the pile of decorative slabs!  The sunflowers are still doing pretty well and I’m even managing to grow some ‘small’ green stuff again.  The slugs must be starting to hibernate! Mwuhaha.

‘Dragon’s Tongue’ in the foreground, mibuna way at the back and I have no idea what’s in the middle as I seem to have lost the label – probably ‘Green Wave’ mustard greens.  Next to them is the late daikon I put in – it seems to be doing well and despite being grown outside of the cloche the slugs don’t seem to have looked at it much – guess they don’t like the taste!

This little geranium is still trying hard, despite the cool nights –

Oddly, it’s blooming pink – it was blooming deep red a month or two back!  Maybe the cold, whilst not killing it off, is affecting the colours of the flowers?  Or maybe the nutrients in the soil are less available in the cooler weather.

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Next Project & Autumn / Winter Sowings

Didn’t get my Tuesday post in this week due to being busy in the garden – not a bad excuse at all, to my mind ;)  I’ve been working on my next ‘project’ for the garden – converting the back piece of ground into a plantable flower bed – it’ll be where I get to plant some non-edibles.  It was a reasonably pretty part of the garden in spring, with daffodils showing up brightly against the grey slate stones, but for most of the year it was a little dull, with only the holly tree and tall stump for interest.  It seemed like a waste of space to leave it all covered in stones like that when I’m desperate for any growing space so it was time to get the space out!

The first picture was from early in this year when I was digging over the new side bed – it shows the back section and how barren it is with no plants.  The second picture was where I’d got to in one go – clearing as much stone as I could and double digging the centre section, adding bags of manure to it as I went.  The third picture shows what I got done on Tuesday – the corner section has been dug, the fruit canes (which were doing terribly in that spot) have been lifted, separated and moved and I’ve added a few stones so I don’t have to step all over the freshly turned over, loose soil.  It’s a bit lumpy, but it started to rain so I had to run inside and took the photo from the window.

It’s a very well drained spot, gets good light in spring and autumn and part shade over half of it in summer (due to a tree in next door’s garden).  It is a big area compared to my other beds and will allow me to plant some of the bigger shrubs I want to grow such as this little beauty:

Hydrangea paniculata ‘Bombshell’ – I really like hydrangeas, who cares if they’re ‘fashionable’ or not!  This modern variety is a fairly compact one and, as it’s a paniculata, is one of the hardiest types – able to survive down to -20C.  That should be useful, given our recent bad winters.  Once I see what colour their flowers are some of the buddleja may go in here and I’m hoping to get a nice strongly scented, white rose – preferably a shrub or climbing type – suggestions welcome.  I’ve already got a small pile of seeds for both annuals and perennials ready for next year, too – as well as some dahlias and fritillary bulbs.

This year’s project is coming along ‘ok’.  The brassicas seem to love the soil in the ‘Sunnyside’ garden, as I’ve dubbed it, but a few other things are suffering either as a result of poor growing conditions, bad weather or my major nemesis this year: slugs!  The soil I bought which was supposedly meant for raised gardens or starting new beds isn’t all that great – it’s fairly strawy, dries out fast and generally was not as good quality as I’d have liked.  Because of this I’ve decided that once all of the plants are done in this bed for the year I’m going to heavily compost it and possibly re-dig it.  I’m not fond of the idea of re-digging it as it’d mean messing up any nice soil ecology which has managed to establish itself this year but I’m not sure if leaving all of the poorly composted material on top is a great idea either.  I may only loosely dig it over and hope that, with the added properly composted material, the winter frosts will take care of breaking it down to something a little finer.  Any thoughts on this would be appreciated!

My gladioli this year are… monstrous!  I’m used to growing butterfly types – you can see one of them at the very front, the yellow and pink.  The red flowers are large hybrid types (‘Espresso’) and are about the size of my hand!  They seem to die a lot quicker than the butterfly types, though.  If you look right in the middle of the picture you can see a very, very tall flower spike.  I have no idea which variety it is, yet, but that spike is about as tall as me!

Pinks seem to be dominating the garden in August – from the delicate shades of the little gladis, to the bright pink and white fuschias and more delicate tones on the begonia and bean flowers.

Apparently my gladis weren’t the only ones growing overly tall – I had to pick my potato up as it fell over with the weight of water on it from the frequent showers we’ve been having.  It seems to be ok, just rather tall and spindly for a potato, hence the accident.  It’s ‘Yetholm Gypsy’, my main crop, and I’ve yet to try any of them.

Another little oddity was this tri-branched cyme stalk on my vine tomatoes:

All of my other tomatoes have just single cyme per stalk, but this plant likes producing them in threes, as though it’s a bush type – unsurprising maybe, given it’s a bush-vine hybrid but it’s growing otherwise entirely like a vine (it was the tallest and fastest growing before I stopped it).  My tomatoes all seem to be doing fairly well, so far (fingers crossed) and I’m hoping that I get to taste at least one before we head off on holidays.  If not, I expect to come back to a fair crop!

Lastly, I’ve started some autumn and winter crop seeds.  I had planted all of these directly a few weeks ago but with only a couple of exceptions the slugs seem to have murderised the lot.  This set, therefore, are being coddled in the greenhouse until they’re big enough to handle a few chomps without keeling over.

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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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End of June ‘Quick-notes’

The one squash outdoors which has survived is blooming.  After a shaky start and removing a few grubby, yellowed leaves it seems to finally be settling down and getting to work producing squash.  This variety is ‘Boston’, an early winter squash – I’m not sure it’ll manage a full-sized fruit this late in the year but that I’ve gotten this far is a personal achievement.

There seem to be a good number of bees around this year – they are certainly loving my sage, lupins, and foxgloves.

I must have mixed up a seedling when planting these lettuces – a row of green punctuated by deep red =) These petunias (‘Fanfare Dark Blue’) are growing really well.  Despite being in a tiny container it’s growing and blooming profusely – I know these are bred to work in hanging baskets but I didn’t expect them to work quite so wall in the flower bags due to the limited amount of soil available in them.

These are the same buddleja I grew from seed on the windowsill last winter – I can’t believe they’re getting so big.  Growth isn’t super-fast at the moment but it’s still satisfying to see them getting a little bushier with each passing week.  I’ve been advised that they’ll most likely take a growth spurt in the autumn so watch this space.

The turnips are getting to a fair size now – this picture is of a ‘thinning’ – one I removed to allow the others to grow to full size with plenty of space.

I’m now up to over 4 and 1/2 kilos of produce this year – with plenty still to come.  Not bad, for a beginner, though there are certainly particular areas (I’m looking at you, beans and peas) where I feel my harvests have been very low so far.

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Weeding Week

Now that I’ve (just about) caught up with my planting, stuffing the last few unfortunates into the ground in the hope that being kept in their pots hasn’t hurt them over-much, I decided it was finally time to make a start on the weeds. I actually don’t mind weeding, especially on a nice day, but I knew this was going to be a full-scale war. Especially with the creeping buttercup. Oh how I love and hate thee, creeping buttercup. Beautiful flowers, horribly invasive. If it stayed in my lawn I’d honestly let it do it’s thing – same with clover and daisies – I’m not one for a ‘manicured’ lawn – I even leave the ‘annoying to cut’ bit at the side to go a bit wild as the birds seem to like it. When those weeds start invading my veg bed, though…

From a quick look on the internet, I think I can say with fair certainty that I found these weeds: creeping buttercup, dandelions, daisies, hairy bittercress and / or thale cress, sheep’s sorrel, bugle, white clover, groundsel, rosebay willowherb, broad leaved willowherb, sow thistle, cleavers, bramble, and possibly pineapple weed, I’ll need to go back out and smell it. Oh and marigolds (calendula) since I’ve taken up nearly as many of those as all the rest of the weeds combined. There were others, but I caught them either too small to be identified or I have too fuzzy a memory of them to guess at what they might have been.

Some of the weeds I just trim back, knowing they’ll try to invade my growing space again but enjoying their flowers too much to remove them entirely – like the buttercups, rosebay willowherb, clover, & daisies. I never touch the bugle as I really like it and it isn’t very weedy in my garden.

The last and biggest ‘weed’ I took out was this privet branch:

Our next door neighbour’s privet hedge has remained untrimmed for a few years and is now very tall – I totally don’t mind this as it’s beautiful when in full flower and the birds and bees love using it as a nesting site / perches. However, when there was heavy snow, a lot of it started to overhang my fence. Most of it popped back up but I think the weight of the snow and heavy winds finally took their toll and this branch was half snapped-off by the time I took a saw to it. Now my berry bushes are less shaded and I don’t have to worry about them being dropped on from above. I have absolutely no idea what to do with a small-tree-sized piece of privet, though – pretty sure my mini-shredder won’t manage it ;)

As if that wasn’t enough for me, I’ve also been over to volunteer a couple of times at Jupiter Wildlife Centre in Grangemouth… where I’ve been mostly weeding! It’s just that time of year, I suppose – everything is flourishing, especially the weeds.

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