Sunday, 4 December 2011

Gone but not forgotten

I thought I'd stop by just to remind you that I haven't dropped of the face of the planet and that this blog is still running even if it is in its winter hibernation right now.

I'm toasting my toes in (sub-tropical) Naples, Florida for the winter (October through March) and I am constantly reminded how lucky I am by my friends and family but I can't tell you how homesick I get for my garden!  Yes, even in winter.  I am also endlessly reminded how few times I'd actually be in the garden in those months and, again, even though my head agrees something in me desperately misses those times, however few.  Even the view from my kitchen window here which is composed of masses of exotic greenery only serves to remind me of the beauty of an English winter garden.  I love the stark thinness of it all set against a slight frost or morning mist.  The colours are so gentle on the eye and we are constantly reminded that everything needs rest and calm.  I never see the garden as dead in the winter; it is just sitting back and catching its breath, ready to begin again.  There really isn't any stopping point if you watch your garden.  The autumn second flush of my New Dawn roses often goes on into December if the weather is mild and certainly there are many lovely plants to look forward to in the colder months.  I love seeing the first tips of the bulbs coming through and following their slow progress with my own human impatience willing them into flower and then being sad when they are over.  It is hard to think of anything more lovely than the first snowdrops followed by crocus and daffs and then the glorious blousy drunken tulips.  I don't need to wait until April to miss Bury.  Oh, to be in England .....

I am returning for a very short Christmas break and hope for some friendly weather (unlike the last two winters) so I can get out into the garden and do some chores.  I thought I'd share my proposed list with you to set you thinking about what you could be doing out there right now.

There is a good month by month list on the Thompson and Morgan site which would prompt you better than my (ten days at home) list as it will cover the six months I'm not here and lots of things you are growing or wanting to grow which I don't have.  They also have a good seed sowing guide which has something you can be growing all year. That said here's my try-to-do-it-when-I-am-home jobs:

- Prune climbing roses, cut out diseased and damaged wood and tie in new shoots.  Prune back by two thirds.

- Check all my climbers are tied in properly.

- Think about planting any more bulbs.  I know October is the month but I've found over the years you can pretty much plant any time (when it isn't freezing) and you'll get a result.

- Just use the spaces in the garden to think about paths and access to plants for next year.

- Clean up the bird feeders and baths and put out a mass of food as we won't be there to do it for them in the worst months.

In my parents garden when I was a child my mom and (mostly) my dad used to just chuck all the veggie peelings and waste in a (semi) hidden heap in the corner of the garden somewhere and every so often they would spread it around the plants like a mulch. It didn't obey any composting laws.  Conventional wisdom says fresh compost like that would burn a plant's roots and stems.  It seemed to work just fine for them.  I saw a suggestion in the T & M site which suggested this is done through the winter in the place where you will be growing runner beans next year.  You need to dig a trench and just keep spreading your veggie waste along it.  I suspect it would be better if it was chopped up into smallish pieces.  This is left open to the elements to rot down to feed the beans.  If you were concerned that it might be a bit too 'new' when you come to put the beans in I am sure it would be fine if it was buried in the trench and then newspaper or cardboard on top to hold in the moisture.  They shouldn't need feeding or watering all summer.  I suppose we are supposed to worry about newspaper ink and what paper and cardboard is made of these days?

For now, happy winter gardening and I hope you have a lovely Christmas.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Colour photographs of the Duke of Windsor, gardening | HOW TO BE A RETRONAUT

This is how we should dress for gardening.......

Colour photographs of the Duke of Windsor, gardening | HOW TO BE A RETRONAUT:

'via Blog this'

Slug Pellets

Opened my diary today to be reminded to put down some slug pellets - a note for myself on 15th of every month from February to November.  Not a lot of use as I am now a few thousand miles away but I will be hurling them around when we get back in December.  The more slugs we can kill this side of the winter the better, less to breed next spring.  So I thought I'd remind you.  I use these:

Wildlife Safe Slug Pellets

If you are not fully convinced of the safety of metaldehyde based slug pellets and many people are not, then you can use pellets based on Ferrous Phosphate, also known as Ferramol, which are approved in organic systems and will only kill slugs and snails, and will not harm children, pets, birds, animals or wildlife etc. if used as directed.

The slugs and snails are attracted to the bait in the pellets which they then ingest and then crawl away to die, leaving no dead slugs or snails around and no unsightly slime. Any bait not eaten breaks down rapidly to iron and phosphate nutrients as part of garden soil.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Garden Tours for 2012

I've just had an email newsletter from the NGS advertising some NGS garden tour holidays next year.  I don't know how to pass that one to you here????   If you want to see the email just send me your email address and I'll forward it on to you.  (my email address is:  The company who are organising the tours are Brightwater Holidays.  Click on the name if you want a look.  They also have a blog which I've added to the favourite blogs list.  Check it out. 

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Jefferson and Susan's garden

Something for you to check out..........

Jefferson and Susan's wonderful garden which we went to this summer (and last year) is being featured in the October issue of Lancashire Life magazine.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Back end of Summer

I am absolutely creased from half a day of putting my garden to bed before we decamp for six months for the winter elsewhere. I've emptied pots and hay rack and hanging baskets and added bonemeal to the lawns and borders.  I've scattered slug pellets to, hopefully, knock down the overwintering population - probably too soon to do any good - end of October would be better.  I've only planted two boxes of bulbs this year as I don't ever get back in time to see them! I did plant a few (white) Thalia narcissi in hopes of seeing them - and smelling them as they have a lovely perfume.   Even the general tidying up of pots and plant stands and trolleys takes loads of lifting and carrying.  Finally Ken and I put the furniture away and now everywhere looks like someone else's garden. 

I've potted on a peony my sister gave me when we visited a couple of weeks ago so  I hope the weather stays mild for a bit to let that settle in.  Fortunately (!) when I'd done all that (and more) I'd managed to (over) fill the brown bin so I wasn't able to chop down all the roses as I'd planned to do.  One job I've escaped from.  That major task will have to be done as soon as I get back in April.

I could do with a piece of advice...  one of the heaving and carting tasks is pulling down the bean plants.  I cut them off at the base as you are supposed to leave the roots in the ground over winter, but it is a heck of a job disentangling  seven eight foot poles all lashed together and twined around with jack and the Beanstalk beans.  Does anyone leave them in for the winter and are they then easier to sort out when they've all died back?  Please let me know here or email me.  Thanks.

Saturday, 3 September 2011


28th August and we are still picking great stuff from our little veggie patch.  As I've said a zillion times before we are in such a cold spot that we run at least a month behind the South. Sadly for us it always means we miss quite a bit of our crops as we decamp for warmer climes at the end of September and a lot of our stuff is still going for another month after that.  I am leaving a tub of King Edwards on the go for when we come home for Christmas - I'll let you know if they are edible in December!  I've frozen the usual gluts of rhubarb and  runner beans but that's OK as they always come back just fine.  I use them both from frozen - chucking the beans into a small amount of boiling water for a few minutes and usually sticking the rhubarb under a crumble mix and into the oven before it has a chance to go 'sad'.  I've never yet had a crop of (outdoor) tomatoes ripen in time and I've pretty much given up on them this year.  Now I have my little greenhouse I might have another go next year though.  Watch this space.  The strawberries are wonderful but they are a rare treat and I always say they are too much work and effort (watering and feeding) for what we get; but then we get those couple of puddings from them and it all becomes worth while.  Pretty much like the rest of the garden really!

Rethink on photos

 I recently decided in all my blogs to add links to individual photo albums in the left hand column.  In a short space of time I've come to realise that's going to be a bit unwieldy as there will be a ridiculously long list very soon; so I've put individual links back into the text of the post.  Don't forget to click on the highlighted text to look at the pictures.  As soon as I can I will remove the links I have on the left and attach them to the appropriate places in the blogs.  I'll just put a link to my main site (containing the individual albums) there instead.  Apologies in advance if that doesn't happen immediately - too many things to do and too little time right now.

NGS Gardens this year

I seem to have done less NGS gardens this year and, in the main, those I have done have left me underwhelmed.  This may just be that I am getting spoilt the more I see and so I get more and more picky.

We have just spent a week in Alston, Cumbria and on the way there we took a break in the journey to visit an NGS garden in Milnthorpe (Sunnyside).  It would have been a paradise I 've no doubt for someone interested in growing dahlias.  The chap there had given over a large part of the garden to growing show-standard blooms - row upon row of specimens tied up sticks.  You had to admire the skill involved even if, like me, you weren't all that fussed about the flowers themselves.  The whole garden as always with NGS gardens was testament to the couple's hard work and love of gardening but I didn't come away with a single new idea/thought/inspiration and it was all very nice but no WOW in sight.  As I said I think I am just getting jaded.

The second NGS garden we did (the next day) was actually in Northumberland not Cumbria. Thornley House, Allendale.  This offered a good deal more to see with a series of small gardens dotted around the house on three sides rather than one cohesive design.  It was filled with bits and bobs from all over the world it seemed which culminated in a huge statue.  I'll let you see it for yourself in the photo album. The artist is Star Liana York if you want to see more of her work.  The interesting thing about this garden in particular was they way that every little garden enclosure had some sort of seating (or lying) area - the garden was meant to be enjoyed.

Don't let my whining put you off doing all the NGS gardens you can do.  Firstly it will support a couple of charities which is good, you always get a great cup of tea/coffee and cake and often a lovely place to sit and enjoy it and most of all you get to see someone else's  garden which helps you get even more out of your own.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Weeding, feeding, thinning

I just had some thoughts on these topics as I have done it all a bit differently this year.

Firstly - weeding...........  I pretty much haven't done it.  Visitors always say the garden looks immaculate - it really doesn't when you get close up and personal, but it just goes to show that if you weed because you worry that others might think the garden is a mess you are doing it for the wrong reason.  When we came back in April the garden had already romped off to a great start - weeds and plants alike and I was too busy to get to it other than cutting down dead stuff and sorting out the winter dead mess.  I was away early May so by the time I really had the time and inclination to get in there and tackle the weeds all the perennials were in full flight and making it really difficult to do without damaging the new growth here and there.  That was my excuse any way. Almost all this summer all I've done is remove the really offending weeds when I see them; truly this has meant pulling out three foot plus flowering stuff and giant dandelions.  It has been lovely and easy for me - many. many hours of backbreaking toil avoided and, unless you are the gardener, it goes unnoticed.  I only hope I haven't got an horrendous job next April getting back on top of them again; I suspect I might as grass and creeping buttercup seem to have taken over the back one foot of the space!!

Then weeding and feeding the lawn - this is another pain.  We get a lot of moss and quite a fair amount of weed as it is a builder's laid lawn and you know what that means.  Also it hadn't been gardened for the first two years of its life and was simply reverting to a field.  I don't know any other way to tackle it other than weed and feed.  Individual grubbing out weeds really wouldn't work I would end up with an area that looks like the Somme. The old methods of sharp sand and bone meal and other treatments probably would work but I know it means I have to research and study and learn by trial and error and probably is a slow process to knock a lawn into shape.  I lack the patience and, to be fair to me, the time for this route.  I use a soluble variety of both the weed and feed and the interim lawn food; I find I get a more even finish as I put it on thinly and fast in all directions and go over the area twice.  What I don't like is that it is so expensive.  It costs me ten pounds for the front and ten pounds for the back garden just for the weed and feed treatments and it needs doing at least twice in the season  - a total of forty quid just to kill the weeds.  The change I made this year has been to do it only once and no supplemental feeds and live with the consequences.  Again the weeds haven't offended me as much as I thought they would so maybe I'll back off on this idea of striving for perfection and just strive for reasonable instead.  Perhaps it will get worse year on year and need doing thoroughly again some time but if I get one or two years out of this regime I will have saved a lot of money and work.

Finally thinning out vegetables grown from seed is another fiddly job.  I know the rules of sow very thinly and the method of mixing seed with sand to 'dilute' it but I find this doesn't work all that well. If you sow seed really thinly to save on the seed and the trouble of thinning out I find you often don't end up with a plant where you want one.  I have discovered a pretty neat method though if you are veg growing on a small scale like me... don't bother pulling out unwanted seedlings just use a pair of scissors and cut them off at the soil surface.  When you thin out seedlings you always disturb the roots of the ones you are trying to keep and it is a very slow boring job. The scissors method is quicker and less disruptive.  If they need to be spaced four inches apart (or whatever) simply give them the appropriate hair cut.  I've just done a batch of beetroot and carrots (last batch) this way all I need now is some sun to bring them on so I can actually eat them before we leave at the end of September!

Biddulph Grange Gardens

Hmmm!  tough one this...

On our way back from Wales we did a bit of a detour and visited Biddulph Grange Gardens.  I am perfectly sure people must rave about this garden but I actually didn't like it.  It was interesting to have seen it and a pleasant way to spend an afternoon in the sunshine but its not for me.  

Possibly one of the reasons is that it isn't a plant person's garden.  It houses massive collections of specific species - dahlias, rhododendrons for example so it doesn't have the traditional billowing English borders and planting (like Hidcote for example) that I love.

It is described as follows:
James Bateman designed it as a rich and varied series of 'gardens within a garden', to amaze and impress his friends and visitors. 

I know grand houses and gardens were pretty much always built to impress; but often they are out to impress the world with what good taste you have because you are rich and well bred whereas this seems to be a sort of (1850s) Victorian bling affair - loadsamonee but not an atom of taste.

I also felt it was very much a man's garden - all tricks and construction and fiddling about.  The pathways through the heart of it are steep and winding and narrow and full of steps and (worse) very narrow tunnels so it is a constant battle of concentration to find your way and keep your footing.  I particularly don't like dark confining wet tunnels to grapple through just to get from one part of a garden to another.  All very clever and tricksy (and impressive!) but it doesn't make for a pleasant meander amongst flower beds which is pretty much my idea of a garden.

It is also unrewarding in that you can't go round the house and, indeed, get to the middle section of the terraces, because it has been converted to nine apartments (2bedrooms for 700K) so you really have to like the garden itself to make it a worth while trip.

All that complaining aside I am certain it is a case of each to their own as it seemed full of happy tourists/visitors enjoying their day out and Ken liked it because it was more interesting than a heap of plants! 

If you click the link in the left column you can look at some photos and maybe make up your own mind......

Harvest home....

Have a look at the couple of photos with the same title.

The rhubarb will be my last picking for this year as it has to have time to feed itself before the winter but we've had a nice crop for a couple of months or so - lots of rhubarb crumbles and I made some jam (with lemon zest and juice) which is delicious.  Small amounts of Jam are very easy to do in the microwave and using 1 or 2 lbs of fruit is enough for us.  I'll post the method in the recipe section at the top of the page. If you want recipes for microwave marmalade and the best lemon curd ever just email me.

Runner beans are always a very easy success - never failed me yet and as long as you keep picking they keep coming - very tender and tasty and so much cheaper/better than store bought plus mine don't get any nasty sprays and stuff.  That said the varieties do seem to vary a lot and these (the most common and basic Scarlet Emperor) aren't that prolific; although they are plenty for us two.

I did say I was dubious about planting brassicas when I did it and 'm not so happy with the cauliflower.  In the photo it is soaking in some slightly salty water to get out any bugs - by the time I'd done that and seen how many bugs came out I couldn't eat it!!!  How pathetic.  It also looks a funny colour in the picture but it was a perfect head of cauli.  It has a purple tint here and there which is typical for the variety it is.  We ate a couple of baby ones I picked a couple of weeks ago that seemed to be caterpillar and bug free.  Where crops are coming out (lettuce, peas, etc) and leaving spaces I have planted some spring cabbage and purple sprouting broccoli to go through the winter, so I'll see if they fare any better.

The potatoes in the photo are new to me - Red Duke of York.  They boiled into a mush so weren't deemed a great success.  I decided they were far too floury for boiling so we had them roasted today and they were absolutely delicious.  Anyone who makes their own chips would find them good for that too; so I guess it is just a matter of getting to know your spud! Great colour, flavour and texture.

Whilst thinking about spud-taters...... it is worth a mention that I didn't get any better yield from my perfect (quite expensive) ground planted seed potatoes planted at the right time than I did from the three lots I bought for 25p for 5 tubers for each variety.  The tubers were a bit shrivelled and were planted a month later in large bins.  So it just goes to show where gardening is concerned it is always worth a go at something and try not to get too precious about what is and isn't 'right'.  The other pluses for bin-planting are that 1. they are easier to harvest - just tip the bin out (!) 2. slug, bug. water control is easier, 3. it doesn't leave tiny tubers that keep sprouting up through your other veggies next year (I rotate my stuff).  I am under oath 'not to have pots all over the place' next summer but it is awfully tempting as far as the spuds go.  I might do a really daft compromise and plant in tubs and stand them on the area where they would have been planted in the ground.  It just seems such a shame to waste sixteen square feet of garden space......  but then it would only have potatoes in it!!!  There's a kind of logic there.

Strawberries are a bit of a pain as far as I'm concerned.  I've come to the conclusion you need a field of them to be able to go out and get a dessert for two when you want it.  You really do need a lot of plants to get any usable crop.  They just appear in dribs and drabs and generally only for a very short period.  I have got a huge pot of six ever-bearers (two varieties to spread the cropping period).  They produced maybe ten reasonable strawberries between them in May which ripened one at a time over a couple of weeks so they were just picked and eaten in the garden whilst doing chores. They are now back in fruit again and this time in earnest - some really large berries (many the size of this one) and they taste as good as they look BUT again they are spacing out their 'pick me' times.  Lovely though they are they probably aren't worth the trouble of feeding and watering and inspecting for such a little gain.  The one in the picture is an ever bearer variety called Calypso;  I also have Albion which performs in very much the same way.  I have a large pot of a rescued (cheap!) Elsanta which has thrown up about four fruits this year (!) and six Mignonette plants - the teeny wild ones - which fruit fairly consistently but half a dozen teeny berries at a time doesn't do much to satisfy a strawberry lust.  I wish I could abandon them all and resign myself to Tesco only fruits.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Staking plants

Between the showers I have been out trying to stake plants which are flopping about because of the rain.  The flowers get heavy with the water and bend the stems over - some are even broken.  I bought a couple of what I think of as expensive stakes to hold up a couple of things to give them a try - and yes, they work very well.  Others have the old method of tripod of canes and string - one of those broke very quickly!  It did remind me that I'd seen Monty Don make the contraptions I'd bought on Gardeners World - take a look here: home made stakes for border plants   I haven't managed to source the 6mm steel rods yet.  Anyone know any where that sells them locally?

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Before and after - front edging strip

There's just a couple of pictures in this album but worth a look if only to see the huge lumps of rock I was excavating from the puny little two foot strip I was re-cutting around the house.

It began with my falling out with the lavender border next to the house.  It was planted four years ago because the lawn grew up to the wall of the house but certainly wasn't thriving there because of the shade and drips from the roof.  I knew when I chose lavender that it was just about the worst possible place for it - North facing, against a house wall, in the shade most of the day.  Never one to obey the rules;  I always think most things are worth a try and so I planted the lavenders.  To be fair they did really well and each year they looked lovely.  By this summer they had begun to get woody and 'break' and two had died back completely during last winter so without a great deal of consideration I decided, even though they were in flower,  they had to go and I set about yanking (not digging!) them up.  Then I felt sorry for the hardiest of the survivors and planted them in the back garden - guess what - so far, they are flourishing.

I then decided I would widen the border slightly to neaten the very ragged edges the floppy lavenders had created and prepare the ground a bit better than I had done previously when I just wanted to stick the lavenders in and let them take their chances.  What a nightmare!!!  After pulling up two I regretted it  and wished I'd left well alone.  Too late; I was stuck with having to get on with it.  

One of the photos in the album shows the two largest pieces of rock I had to dig out - I say largest as the whole border was filled with rocks and stones of all sizes and shapes, not to mention the pieces of wood, a long iron bar and any other old builders rubbish you can think of.  How the poor old Hidcote lavenders survived all that I can't imagine.  

I was then faced with a thirty foot long, two foot wide strip to fill.  I started by splitting some lovely little irises ( iris setosa canadensis - a dwarf variety - maybe 'Nana') which I heartily recommend.  They flower in spring.  I then thought I might be able to buy a couple of pots of crocosmia which I could break up and plant with those for a late summer show.  I am aiming to plant enough strong, upright perennial plants (so the gardener doesn't strim them when he does the edges!) and to always have something in flower but this is proving a bit of a challenge.  I priced up a suitable of mix of stuff and it came to about £180.  This was beyond my reach, so for this year at least I've put in the irises as a bit of something for the spring and some annuals to get me through the rest of this summer and I'll think about it again next year.  The annuals are French Marigolds that I don't really like and some red salvia,  also not on my hit list but at around £30 it was more financially doable, kept the colour scheme and filled in for this year.

All in all I love the front garden.

July Borders

My posts are like buses....   none for ages then two come along!  As I said before I added four little albums and the links to them and I thought I could write a sentence or two about each one - how little I know myself.  So here comes the chatter to accompany the July borders album.

Firstly a question...  has anyone any idea what the beetle is on the astrantias (and everywhere else)?  Do I kill it or nurture it?  I don't seem to have a lot of beetle damage this year - I might even have beaten the lily beetle thanks to the wonderful Provado - I can't recommend it enough.

As for the giant tree climbing snail - I still only seem to have snails in the front garden and not in the back.  I know they came in with a plant from somewhere because they were new to me last year.  Are they harder to kill than slugs? - again I seem to winning the invasion war on that front thanks to organic slug pellets.

I really would welcome comments/answers please.

As for the borders themselves............ in July my front garden looks better than the back.  In the back garden all the roses, delphiniums, poppies and foxgloves have gone over and I think they are the backbone of those borders.  The front garden has all the hot colours and always has something in flower so I like it pretty much all the time but by July the three baskets have come into their own.  Round the corner  the Golden Showers rose and Black Prince clematis are flattering each other and at the front the tree/half circle border is bursting with crocosmia Lucifer which has to be one of my favourite plants.  It is such an extraordinary colour in all kinds of light and is especially lovely as they day shifts into evening.  It positively glows.  I've even come to like this year's corporation parks planting in the skinny border which is a surprise as it contains one of my least favourite plants - the marigold but it does seem to be OK here.

I hope you have a nice trip round my July garden.

Before and After - the caravan space

If you look in the left hand column under Photos you'll see I've added some albums to make the pictures easier to find.  One of them shows how we've used the space by the side of the house where the caravan used to stand.

Luckily the real hard work was done in that it was already laid to hard core and gravel for the van so all I had to do the day the 'van went was to load it up with all the garden junk I've always hated sharing my space with.  Then it was a big think as to how I really wanted to use the space.

Initially I decided that just for once I wouldn't rush at it and I would live with it for a year and see how I actually did use it and then see what was needed to make that work.  That lasted about two days and were off looking for trellis and an arch!

We did very well and came away with a double bargain (by sheer fluke) from Newbank.  We had hunted all over the place for the trellis to match what we already had.  We knew it was unlikely we'd find it because we'd had a similar job a couple of years ago. After buying our first lot of trellis (from Newbank) and were told that it had come from Poland (???) and it wasn't available any more; at that time we were lucky to find an odd piece at Newbank which wasn't quite what I wanted but did the job.  At the same time as the great trellis search we were also sussing out various arches.  The spread of prices and quality was huge.  Back to Newbank to buy the cheapest arch we'd seen which would do the job.  We knew it would as, again, we'd used one at our previous home (in the third garden I'd done from scratch!)  This was £49 but was the last one and we got it for less - I'd tell you how much if I could remember. As before there was no joy on the trellis as it had not been sold for some years.  Then I spotted some used, old, weathered pieces on a trolley in a work area which they had recently taken down from various display areas and replaced with new stuff.  They looked as though they were just waiting to be scrapped so I set off to ask if I could buy them.  An executive decision later and they were ours for £15 instead of £60.

My valiant husband then did battle,often between showers, and in a couple of days the entrance was complete.  Then just by happenchance, as these things often are, I was at Boscow nurseries (for a mooch) and came across Lady Boothby.  To explain; this isn't one of my many titled friends (!!) but a climbing fuchsia. A couple of years ago I had fallen in love with one at my favourite garden - Wollerton Old Hall and was keen to get one. Yet again in another amazing co-incidence shortly afterwards my sister bought me one for my birthday.  We took all ten feet of it to lunch in Manchester - but that's another story. Then last year following the hard winter I was convinced it had given up the ghost and dug it up.  My sister left hers in and it is thriving!!!  Since then not only was I bereft of Lady B but also dying of envy.  When I saw four of them at Boscow at only £2.50 each it was as if it was meant to be.  A pair of these for the new trellis was a given.

Our utility area, as it is now named, houses the three - soon to become four!! - dustbins (do you know about this?), a greenhouse, bags of potting compost, a great watering system for all and sundry, a huge box for chair cushions and (for this year only [oh yes!] pots of vegetables. It will soon have a rotary line too.  The parasol base in the photo is to be replaced with the usual tube in the ground.  The brolly base was just to test out the theory.  We will use it to take the overflow we sometimes have when we do the washing.  If it works OK and the washing actually dries there it will become our main one and then we won't have to have the washing spoiling the garden on Mondays!!!  Obsessive - moi?

We added a couple of lounger type chairs to the ex-BBQ space.  These were also a bargain from Argos - not made to last a lifetime but cheap for wooden ones at £90 the pair and do the job very nicely.  All the chairs have cushions I was just to lazy to put them out for the photograph.

I forgot to mention the greenhouse.  This was another "I don't want one of those", quickly  followed by - ''That's a bit of a bargain, I think I'll have one of those''.  We were at B & Q doing other stuff and I spotted the 6' x 4' polypropylene greenhouse for £185 (after our wrinkly discount).  By the way, the large warehouse B & Q in Bury only offer that discount on Wednesdays unless you ask (!) and then they'll let you have it.  Go figure!  The Crostons B & Q let you have it every day.  As for the greenhouse, I have never seen anything with so many pieces - hundreds of bits and bobs.  Husband (mostly) got it up and running fairly quickly and I am (unexpectedly) thrilled to little bits with it.  I wanted it for raising seedlings in April when we get back.  I started with a small, green, loose-cover job the first year and then bought a bigger one last year and still didn't have enough room.  They haven't gone to waste as the shelving fits the new greenhouse perfectly and has saved me having to buy staging.  We added a small potting bench which also fits perfectly.  Argos and B & Q sell them.  I thought I'd toss in some bits and bobs of plants I'd already got, such as the peppers and basil plants I was going to grow outside, rather than let it stand empty.  Something worth mentioning here in case it happens to you...  I had a four foot tomato plant all raring to go and I broke it getting it out of my old greenhouse.  There was a three inch stump of the stem remaining - no leaves, nothing.  I put it in the greenhouse out of curiosity and within a little over a week I had a two foot tomato plant.  It is now a good deal taller than that and flowering.  Like the (bargain) potatoes in pots which I planted miles too late this late tomato has romped away to almost catch up its predecessor.  I have also added some tiny strawberry plants (Mignonette) and started some dill.  I also started some lettuce, radish,beetroot and carrots in there as an experiment and to get them up to speed before putting them outside.  It is such fun and with a bit of thinking about it should be really useful next year.

We've stapled my usual green coated chicken wire to the fence panels where the loungers are and planted some climbers that I've moved from the patio area.  They were plants that I was moving any way because, again also by luck and excellent timing, when we were away last week in Lincoln we visited Belmont House (NT) and they had just one Blush Noisette rose which I've been waiting to buy to match the brilliant goer that I already have on one of the patio trellises.  It was going to cost me something like twenty to thirty quid from Peter Beales where my original one came from.  This one cost £7.50. The moved plants may or may not survive in that spot but I am hoping the jasmine Beesianum and clematis (Josephine Evijohill) will have enough sense to find their way to the outside of the fence they are planted against as directly under their feet it is pretty much solid concrete - necessary to haunch up the slabs when the patio was built.  I do have a fall back plan if they fail: I will remove them, the soil, the wire and just hang pots on the fence instead.  I'd much prefer permanent planting as I am trying to avoid  having to plant up any more pots each year.  It is costly to do and hard work maintaining them.  I love pots of annuals but I don't like the maintenance.

So.....  job well done.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

July Veggies

It takes until July for me to begin to get some pay back from the veggie garden but it is lovely when it does and worth the wait.  I'm under no illusion that I make any impact on my grocery shopping with the small amounts I grow but it is lovely to have one part of your garden actually producing something for you other than just lying there looking beautiful.

The peas are already pulled up but they have been fantastic this year.  We eat many of them just by picking a few here and there when we are in the garden and munching them there and then so they don't often get as far as a saucepan.  I picked two crops of around 2 lbs which did actually get cooked and some were frozen.  Both were really lovely.  This was a pleasing size crop for petit pois.  The real surprise is that there hasn't been a single pea discarded - this is to be taken literally - not one pea was flawed in any way.  Remarkable.  

The 100% success rate moved on to the first potato lifting too.  A while back I emptied one of the four bins I'd planted with what I thought was the earlies.  The whole bin gave us one meal of marble sized potatoes.  I later realised I'd lifted one of the King Edward bins which are, of course, lates.  What an idiot.  Happily last week when I emptied the right bin I had a great crop of (again) 100% perfect potatoes.  No discards and no blemishes of any sort on them.  The variety is called Annabelle and if this was an example of what they can do I heartily recommend them.  Creamy, waxy new potatoes whose skin you can rub off with your fingers should you want to.  They cooked in about ten minutes and were lovely with the peas and baked haddock (not smoked!) and caper sauce.  I cooked double the amount I needed so that the other half could be used the next day. These were yummy sautéed in a little olive oil and unsalted butter with the left overs from a home roasted ham lightly fried and an egg.  The yield was good.  I got six to eight meals from three seed potatoes; also they were pretty evenly sized.   I split them into two different sized groups and that worked fine.  This result was even more pleasing as these were my bargain rescue potatoes which I'd put in a month late and didn't hold out much hope for.  They have been cropped earlier than the ones in the garden.  I can recommend growing them in a bin if this was an example of what they can do.

My cauliflowers look as though they are doing what they always do....  the ones I have left are getting smothered with cabbage white butterfly eggs.  I know you have to net brassicas but as I've said before I want the throw it in and see what it does type of veg growing. We did have the first early one - small but perfectly formed but looking at the remaining ones I'm not sure what we might get from them.  Does anyone have a companion plant suggestion or anything else which is an easy solution to protect brassicas from the butterfly fiend?  Please share it here.

The rhubarb has sorted itself out really well.  I moved it from sunlight to shade and it has quadrupled in size and health.  I have half of yesterday's rhubarb crumble in the fridge as I speak in testament to its bounty.  Rhubarb and ginger jam next year if it keeps going as it is.

The square foot garden was fun and initially I thought it was a great idea.  I still do think it would be a lovely idea for children to do because they could grow lots of different things in a small identifiable space.  For me? not so good.  After three years of doing this I now know I want to stick to a few basics which are easy and successful so my square foot garden will comeback into the game as a brassica (cauliflowers and broccoli) bed next year.  Maybe I'll even net it (!!!) 

The patio is home to pots of strawberries - all sorts of varieties so we get ongoing production.  The word production is a bit of a joke as all we get is the occasional foraged strawberry as we putter about the garden - not a single serving as yet!  Right now I am living in hopes as the ever-bearers are coming into their second flush and are full of flowers.  Fingers crossed.  I have also just bought six small Mignonette plants which I am going to try in the greenhouse.  As these produce a tiny fruit, like a wild strawberry, they will only be used as an addition to a salad or dessert.  That said they have a lovely flavour and appearance.  I have just pegged down half a dozen runners off a couple of the large plants (Elsanta and Calypso) to get some new plants for next year but already I am wondering if I want to be overrun with strawberry pots everywhere for such a small return.

The runner and French beans still have to come into production. I have one (!) decent runner bean at the moment - heaven knows what I can do with that.  Watch this space.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Jefferson and Susan's Garden, Sunday 24th July 2011

This is the most fantastic garden and well worth a trip for anyone.  Don't be misled by the front of a fairly ordinary house - just wait until you get round the back.  I won't spoil it for you with photos. I saw it last year in light showers and last Sunday in none stop torrential rain so I may pop back for a sunshine visit on Sunday if that yellow thing is actually in the sky!

 Just a reminder about the open garden this Sunday, the weather looks good so it should be a good day
Please Park on the Main Road
Jefferson & Susan’s

Open Garden for Charity

24 July 12 – 5pm

23 Dalesford Haslingden
Rossendale BB4 6QH
Tea & Cakes in Cafe
Sorry no Dogs - Strong Shoes -
We have a young but very interesting garden on many levels
English and Mediterranean Style, Long Borders and Interesting Features.
Japanese Garden, Outdoor Chess, Ponds.
Steel Sculptures and Art Studio.
We are supporting:
Rochdale Hedgehog Rescue - Lancashire Wildlife Trust & the Smile Train
                                                                                                                              Please Donate £3.00

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Two other ramblings

I've added a link on the right to my other two blogs if you are interested.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Some photos

I've added some photos of some of the flowers out in my borders right now.  Just click here. 

The orange poppy is a bit of a mystery and a lot of an annoyance.  I have only planted pink and white poppies in the garden - not always successfully I might add;  yet I now have three groups of bright orange poppies.  All the colours in my back garden are cool - the hot ones being in the front garden, so I really don't want three lots of in-your-face poppies nestled among the pastel shades.

One of the groups has been with me from the beginning of this garden - five years plus and each summer after it has flowered I try to dig it up, but next year back it comes.  Being a gardener I can't bear to poison them or rip them out when they flower so I grin and bear it until they have finished.  I am determined this year that when they've done their thing I will get every last bit of root out and pass them on to someone who can use them.

I am curious though as to whether they are absolute rogues from somewhere or other?  or wrongly labelled ones I've bought and planted (this is the answer I think is the right one)?  or do pale poppies eventually revert to the simple orange?

Answers please?

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Back home and loving it.........

The following is how I began my time back here in Bury.  It is the opening to my diary blog which I do for family and friends so they can keep up with where we are and what we're doing.  In case you've forgotten this was written in that lovely hot stretch we had in April.

I'm absolutely cream-crackered but sweetly content.  Gardeners out there will recognise the feeling.  I've just spent most of the day in the garden beginning the clearing up after six months abandonment.  It is always a cross between the Secret Garden and Miss Haversham's when we get back but at least when you do it there is a huge payback. It was so hot today - actually summer temperatures (around 18C) so absolutely no excuse not to get on with it.

Had we not had six breaks in our cold water pipes and a broken boiler thanks to the -17C experienced in Bury (the repairs were finished the day we were flying home!), I would have thought you lot were telling porky pies.  Clearing the veggie beds today I dug up proper radishes; only the slug damage prevented them from going on our salad.  There were half a dozen potatoes all sprouting into life and showing above the soil and the land cress that I’d left to rot down over the winter to improve the soil was eighteen inches high and in flower.  We have rhubarb almost ready to pull and so far I have only one dead plant to report.  This is an incredible result following the winter the UK had again this year.

So, as you can see I was out getting things back to rights as soon as I got back in April.  Good job as it turned out as our weather has been a bit hit and miss ever since.  

Everything is staying pretty much as is this year with a couple of tweaks in the veggie plot.  I moved the rhubarb down to the bottom square (0) as it likes shade whereas other crops like beans don't and they get stuck in there every third year with my three year rotation system.  So now - this year - reading from the bottom of the strip to the top I have - rhubarb in the none rotating bed along with four cauliflowers (they are supposed to be better for shade too) which I thought I'd have a go at as I found six (plus) of them reduced to 50p and looking as though they needed rescuing.  They seem to be going great guns so far.  I have grown all kinds of brassicas many years ago and they were so full of various bugs I was squeamish about eating them. I'm  made of sterner stuff in old age and, unless they are truly beyond eating, they'll be fine.

In bed number 1 I have the spuds.  I did fantastically well last year with International Kidney and was sorely tempted to do it again especially as the Swift all fell down with blight.  Gardeners are nothing if not adventurous so I resisted and planted Red Duke of York (2 rows) and Rocket (1 row).  I have to have first earlies because we leave here before we can harvest the later ones.  That said I was weakened by another bargain a couple of weeks ago and planted two large planters with King Edward (my favourite spud of all time to eat) maybe they will be OK when we come home at Christmas (?) and 2 more containers with Annabelle.  This is a first early I know nothing about.  The seed potatoes were knocked down to silly cheap as it was a bit late for planting.  They are all coming up though!!!

Bed number 2 has my legumes.  'Scarlet Emperor' runner beans and 'Speedy' dwarf French beans.  The French beans have had a poor germination rate both in pots under cover and in the soil - I am still struggling to get another four plants into growth which I need to make up the nine I want.  Lastly I have some Petit Pois - another B & Q bargain strip. Like the strawberries that I have in a couple of pots on the patio, I don't grow enough of them to ever get enough for a proper meal but they are lovely to just munch now and again in the garden on a nice sunny day.

Bed 3 is my change of method this year and I like it already. This is square foot gardening.  Take a look at the link and if you get interested there is masses of stuff out there to get you started.  Mel Bartholomew is decidedly the best bet for sensible down to earth (pun not intended) advice.  I have his little book for $4.99 and it answers any question you could ever ask.  I'm sure you could find it in the library to see if you want to own it before you buy - that's what I do.  My twelve squares have (at the moment) Beetroot, radish, lettuce, a couple of the left over cauliflowers, mixed salad leaves, carrots, some left-over peas and a new and interesting addition to my repertoire - India Mustard.

So that's the veg.  The flower borders are looking good right now too with the roses, foxgloves, poppies, clematis - all very English and fluffy.  I intend to get round to posting some photos on my web album soon and I'll let you know when they are up.

OK this is where I want some advice.......  My rhubarb is in its third year, yes, I know I've just moved it but it hasn't been fantastic and indeed its twin dropped dead in year one.  It is Glaskins Perpetual.  Is it a rubbish variety?  no good up North?  needs feeding a lot? etc etc etc - I am very inclined (next year) to just bin it and replace with good old Queen Victoria.  Opinions welcome.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Raised Beds

I heartily recommend raised beds.  I started with them three years ago because my soil was poor and full of stones and they have been just brilliant.  My husband made them for me simply by hammering a stake in the ground and screwing on four foot long decking strips.  The photo probably explains it.  I painted the outside with food friendly outdoor paint and Bob's your uncle.  I  am trying to figure out a way to add a strip a year until they build up to a stand up working height which would be terrific.  I knew that I would have liked that when we did them but thought I'd never be able to afford the soil needed to fill them.  As it turned out with my own compost and some bought bags to top them up each year and I'm sure I could get there eventually.  So if you think that's a possibility- make the corner stakes the height you'd like the beds to be eventually.  If you change your mind you could always saw them off.  Meanwhile they might make good posts for draping plastic sheeting or fleece over?  Here's a posher version to get you thinking about them from Gardeners World.  Raised beds.

Change of email address

I have a link at the top of this page for anyone who wants to contact me directly rather than via the blog.  Please note I have changed my (gardening) email address to:  I don't even want to attempt to explain why - suffice it to say this is an easy solution to a computer techie problem.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Thinking of home

A friend emailed me today and happened to mention that all the spring bulbs are just about appearing above ground with a particular reference to snowdrops.  They remain my most spectacular failure (so far).  Every so often I forget that I have never succeeded in growing them and duly plant the next huge batch.  I have bought them dry and 'in the green' and planted them at all different times and generally in a 'woodish' sort of area of the garden with about as much success as I have strewing poppy seeds and watching them grow.  Zilch!  It has been suggested that as I change homes like other people change socks maybe they appear the year after I've left and the new owners are inundated with snowdrops in the Spring followed by glorious swathes of poppies.  Mmmmm??.

If you have great success with either of these little blighters would you like to share how you do it?

A thought occurred to me reading Gardeners World on line today that maybe not everyone knows about it.  I do snatch the good six month offer they do each year (usually with a free gift) and subscribe to just that  but it isn't worth my buying a year's magazines as I'm not in the UK for half of it.  Even on offer and with a gift six months it isn't especially cheap and like most magazines the pictures are great (but in themselves not useful) and when you are my age you maybe get one fresh idea or bit of information per magazine, so I am happy to read it on line for half a year to ease out the cost.  Any way if you click on Gardeners World you can check it out for yourself.

I have linked to the 'jobs to do this week' page to see if you agree with me that the recommendations (from the South) run about a month ahead of what we need to do up here? Frustratingly I won't be doing anything until April.

I noticed Thompson and Morgan are promoting their seed potatoes right now on line and I saw an offer this morning to save 20% (future VAT) right now.  Again click on the name if you want a look.

Happy (gardening) New year!