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?