The garden and the seed trays begin to wake up with the first flowers and the first seeds germinating. Here comes the Spring! (hopefully)
There’s some early signs beginning to appear in the garden and in the seed trays now – a welcome diversion from the cold, frosty starts of this week.
First to note is the Cyclamen, which has uncurled its leaves and crowned them with pink flowers in one of my wooden troughs.
This Cyclamen is one that I found in a little shop pot in the garden of my late-uncle when we were clearing his house. Along with the trough, I brought it home and planted it. It’s a reminder, not just of him and his garden, but also that life continues on, with it’s bright flowers when so much is still dormant in the garden.
Meanwhile indoors, the first of the seeds have germinated – with Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ leading the way after 8 days. They’re the oldest of the sweet pea breeds with origins in Sicily in 1699, and I’ve grown these since at least 2011.
Whilst these aren’t the first seeds to have been sown in 2018 (that’s the Cineraria ‘Maritime Silverdust’), two small little green shoots have begun to push the compost aside as they reach upwards.
There should be 10 more Cupani, and they sit on a cool windowsill alongside a dozen Sweet Pea ‘Royal Mixed’, and 6 Broad Bean ‘Crimson Flowered’ all of whichI sowed on the same day.
I can’t wait to see these climb my fence and cover it in fragrant blooms in the summer.
Which reminds me: I need to re-do the climber web on my fence this weekend with wire. Last year the Sweet Peas grew and flowered, but, they didn’t like the string/twine that I hung for them to climb up. They simply flopped over onto the lawn and wouldn’t go upwards. I’m hoping wire will be better for them. It sounds weird that their tendrils have preferences, but it’s my only explanation why they wouldn’t touch it.
Anyway, as the plants of 2018 begin to come to life, have a great week, happy gardening, and thanks for reading,
I can’t wait for Spring to really kick off, and for the flowers and lush foliage to return. For now though, here’s a quick fix:
Rose ‘Ernest H. Morse’
I’m a sucker for Roses, and this Hybrid Tea bush Rose ‘Ernest H Morse’ was one that I picked up from a market stall in Ely, where they were doing a 3 for £15 deal.
This heavily fragrant rose has grown about 3 feet since I planted it into the soil concrete-like clay when I broke my lawn in April 2017. In fact, the day I picked up my keys to my new house, this rose was in my car and amongst the first things I dropped off.
Sweet Sultan ‘Mixed’
A family friend gave me a load of seeds that she’d saved from the front of her gardening magazines, and amongst these packets were Sweet Sultan ‘Mixed’. I’d never heard of them before, so thought I’d give them a try.
I’ll definitely be growing these again in 2018, as they work well with the Cosmos.
I found just one Gladiolus bulb whilst picking the plants to move from my old house to my new one, and in its new home in the fresh border, it performed the best it ever has done.
However, this Gladiolus was clearly not the same one that flowered in the old garden in 2013-2016. I hope that that one brought a dash of surprise deep pink colour back there to the new resident.
I have purchased some more Gladioli bulbs, and will be adding more to the border for this year.
This time, I grew them, although I admittedly sowed them so early that I worried that they would be too straggly to come to anything much. They spent too long in their secondary seed modules before planting out.
However, after a few weeks, they had recovered and within a few months had become huge plants that filled my garden with cheery pinks, purples, and white flowers, set upon sturdy green stems and delicate leaves.
I’ll definitely be growing these again in 2018.
Tulip ‘Mixed Garden’
I bought a pack of Tulip ‘Mixed Garden’ back in 2016, and planted them into a few wooden troughs that I rescued from my late-uncle’s garden when we were clearing his house.
At that point, I was living at my previous house, so I made sure that I didn’t plant them in anything I couldn’t pick up and move with – and I remember driving to my new house with a car boot full of beautiful tulips gently swaying in the rear-view mirror.
It’s time to sow some flat-leaf Parsley ‘Laura’ – it’s more than just a garnish.
I’ve added a third pot to my propagator… and yet another seed sowing that wasn’t on my 2018 plan (I wonder how many times I’m going to do that?).
Ever since 2012, when I was given a packet of Parsley seed within a leaving present I’ve grown it, but it has been with mixed results. I don’t think the seed keeps particularly well, but when it does grow, it is a handy nutritious addition to salads and as a garnish.
I don’t really like the look or taste of the curled leaf parsley, with this flat-leaf variety taking on a more discrete salad leaf taste.
I really enjoying tearing some up to have on scrambled egg, sneaking it into a sandwich, or using it as a garnish for a soup.
My 2014 pot lasted on my windowsill for about 6 months – happily growing and renewing me with fresh green leaves. I managed to do a second sowing that year once it had tired out.
I don’t grow this outside, as it saves it from garden pests and makes it reassuringly cleaner for me to quickly wash and use in the kitchen.
There’s plenty of health benefits for Parsley, with claims that it can aid digestion and reduce gas, contribute to kidney health, provide Vitamin K and C, and acts as an antibacterial, amongst many others.
So, with this in mind, I’ve sown a pot with some Parsley ‘Laura’ seeds, and added it to my propagator. Hopefully in a few days it will begin to push out above the compost and start to throw those green little leaves skywards.
As I type this, the blacbirds are singing, and I can hear loads of other birds twittering around. I think Spring is definitely on its way, even though the sky today is grey and a bit drizzly.
The older shed is now dead, leaving me with plenty of space to add raised beds and grow more veg.
I’ve done shed loads today. I spent the best part of 4 hours shedding myself of a shed, and fitting out my other shed.
When I looked around what was to become my new house in August/September last year, I made a mental note, that should I be successful in buying the house, then the little, rotting, rickety, second shed would need to come down.
The lounge window gave you prime viewing of the ugly deterioration of the shed. It had nothing more than a few inches scrap of torn roof felt on the roof – which seemed to be nothing more than a remnant of what once was, and no doubt a contributor to its demise.
The roof would be prime territory for fighting cats, and the shed was the perfect shield stopping me from removing those Blackberry brambles between myself and my neighbours.
In all the gales and storms we’ve had in late 2017 and 2018 – where I’ve laid in bed worried that my house roof would be ripped off – this damn shed wouldn’t budge. You could walk up to it and prod it with one finger and the whole thing would shake, but I think that it was mostly held together by the ivy and brambles.
So, this morning as I ate my breakfast and watched the sun begin to shine, I decided today was the day it went.
I now have a heap of planks, although many were rotten. I shall go through these in the next couple of weekends and see if there are any that are still firm. Those will be pieced together to form sides of raised beds in this area.
I cleared up the smaller bits of wood and put them in a box for a future trip to the dump, and smashed up and binned that brightly coloured plastic drawer frame that the previous owners abandoned (I kept the coloured drawers though).
The soil beneath the shed was bone dry, weedless, and easy to dig. However, no sooner had i removed the bramble stems and the ivy, than down came some hail storms.
I took this opportunity to make a cuppa, and headed into the remaining shed to do some tidying up, and to turn the old shed’s door into two sturdy shelves.
So, now with a tidy usable shed with storage space, and a demolished old shed, I’m ready to choose what will screen my garden from the neighbours adjoining me at the bottom of my garden (it’s currently an old wire fence), and then plan my raised beds.
I’m putting my feet up now, so thank you for reading, and as ever, happy gardening!
So, what better way to beat the February chills or driving myself crazy with wanting to sow every seed, than to look back at my five favourite vegetable successes that grew in my new garden.
Squash ‘Spaghetti Stripetti’
Having never grown a squash before, and rarely tasted them in anything other than soups, I decided to grow 2 Squash Spaghetti Stripetti seeds.
I greatly underestimated what these plants could do, although the wind sorted one of them out in just a few hours of planting it out into my new raised bed. I sowed a replacement, but really didn’t need to.
Within only 6-8 weeks of sowing the first one, I was already expectantly watching the first of the squashes form under a mass of leaves and tangled stems.
I ended up with the original plant meandering and clinging to all other plants (including the lawn), with a radius of about 20 feet.
By the time that the plant had peaked, it had given me about 15 edible big plump squashes. I swiftly learnt how to roast them up and have enjoyed eating their soft, spaghetti-ish, kind-of sweet yellow flesh. I still have three of these in my kitchen – they store really well.
Courgette ‘Black Beauty’
The Courgette ‘Black Beauty’, just like the namesake horse, galloped along and took over my diet for about 3 months, allowing me to legitimately infiltrate the courgetti fad crowd with my tricky-to-clean spiralizer gadget.
I’d tried growing these over the years with intermittent success. In this new garden though, for some reason I thought 6 plants would be ok. This gave me heaps of courgettes resulting in a great soup recipe, and new-found friends at work (gardening really is sociable!).
Considering that the seed ‘should have’ been discarded about 8 years previously, they did very well. After drowning in courgettes, and the plants experiencing mildew that eventually suffocated the courgettes and the marauding squash plant, I pulled up both after a long and happy harvest.
I kept a tally, but gave up at the end of Week 7’s harvest. At that point, i counted a total of 45 courgettes, weighing a cumulative 15.5 kilos (that’s 15,500 grams – the equivalent of just less than 1 London Bus).
French Climbing Bean ‘Blue Lake’
This was probably my best harvest yet, and these French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ beans soon took to the wigwam and cropped. They were the second plants to be planted out into my new garden, as the seedlings had spent most of April crawling around my old house’s windowsills desperate to be planted out whilst solicitors did their job.
Heavy assaults from snails were seen off with some magic sweets, enabling me to have many harvests right up to the frost. I’ll definitely continue growing these, as the beans are so tasty, and I love to pop a few in a stir fry.
Mixed Salad Leaves
These did really well, considering that they were supposed to have been sowed ‘before 2012’. They were desperate to be planted out when they were filling up the windowsill of my old house, so they were the first plants in – just a few days after getting my new house keys.
I grew a mixed range, and I soon realised that one of the red leaf varieties did not appeal to slugs and snails. I think I’ve identified the variety as Lettuce ‘Red Salad Bowl’ (ingenious name, right?), and will be growing it again in 2018.
They germinated fast, but the woodpigeons and slugs were fast too. I managed to pop some wire over them but they’d already taken heavy slug damage. I managed a harvest though – a handful of pods – and well, a mouthful of fresh peas. They were delicious, but brief.
I hope to improve this in 2018, and be two steps ahead of my pea-nibbling foes.
So, those are my vegetable highlights of 2017 – all of these grew from seed, and were planted out in my new garden.
What did you grow in 2017?
Did you have any vegetable growing successes in 2017? What are you planning to grow in 2018? Let me know in the comments below.
As ever, happy gardening (or simultaneous seed catalogue browsing and dreaming). I’ll post the garden review of my favourite flowers in a few days, but for now – thanks for reading.
The propagator is fired up, and the sow-athon begins with Broad Beans, Sweet Peas, and Salvia.
If you’re like me, you’ve probably been chomping at the bit to get gardening again. February can be one of the most bitterly cold months in the UK, and so when you get a little bit of sunshine, or a day without rain, snow, wind, or freezing conditions, it is so tempting to get out there and make a start.
In my last post I shared my seed planner, and I’ve found that really helpful in reminding me what I’m going to grow and how I can pace myself a bit. I’ve already added more seeds to the schedule!
So, with four days of February under our belts, I’ve decided to start sowing some seeds, and set up my little propagator again on a windowsill.
First in today were my Broad Bean ‘Crimson Flowered’ seeds – only 6 seeds so far, but I can go back and add more seed in a few weeks if they don’t germinate well, or add more a few weeks later just to stagger my crop.
As a child, broad beans were like nasty little warts and they tasted disgusting, yet, as an adult I simply cannot get enough of them. I’m frustrated by the lack of them in my local supermarket – and can’t even get them frozen, so I thought that I would sow some myself. I’m worried about the blackfly though, as they took great delight in attacking my tomatoes last year, but I’ve been watching several videos on how to deal with these on Broad Beans. I’m also looking forward to the benefits that they will give my garden by pumping nitrogen back into the soil. The courgettes and squash will love that!
In addition to these, I also sowed a dozen each of Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ and Sweet Pea ‘Royal Mixed’. I grew both varieties last year, and whilst they flowered well over a long season, they didn’t climb. I think this was due to the garden twine ‘web’ that I put up for them, so I will swap that to wire before I plant these out. Past experience shows that these will germinate quickly, but last year the Royal Mixed variety were up first.
Finally, I’ve sown some more of my Salvia ‘Farinacea Victoria’ seeds. I sowed some of these (same packet) last year, but only one germinated – although it did become a large striking plant in my new garden.
Hopefully, they will be more successful this year, and help fill my new border with its beautiful deep blue spires that looked great, and were popular with the bees. This early sowing does at least allow me time to perhaps get some new seed if the germination is poor.
These Salvia seeds actually join my Cineraria ‘Maritima Silverdust’ that I sowed last week. Those will add an intricate snowy-leafed set of foliage to my garden.
They worked really well in my previous garden where it was sheltered and shady, and they lived on for about 4 years! They contrast well with most other plants.
As I finish typing this post, the sun is blazing, the birds are feasting on my feeders, and I can hear a blackbird singing. It feels like Spring is here, but I’m not fooled by February – which won’t flinch about bringing deadly snow and ice.
Have you started your 2018 sowing season yet? Let me know in the comments below.
As ever, thank you for reading, and happy gardening!
Close to the fence, patio and house, there’s a shaded area which is also pretty heavy clay. The water sits here sometimes for a while, trying to escape the patio. My potted Ferns like this area, and I successfully transferred a few self-sown Foxgloves that had tried to make home in my garden pots that I moved with me from my previous house.
This part of the garden will be getting some Aquilegia ‘McKana Giants’ in 2018, which apparently enjoy more shaded moist conditions.
2. There’s an old shed
The old decrepit shed needs to be demolished, as it’s empty, somehow has stood the countless gales we’ve had with little more than an occasional door swing, and it’s taking up precious growing space. What it is doing though, is helping to provide some privacy between the bottom of my garden and the houses who back up to my fence. I’m thinking about having a new fence installed, but first I just need to take it down. I hope it’s not concrete under that!
3. More raised beds
Having demolished the old shed, then I’ll have space and a pile of wood from which I aim to make some more raised beds. This part of the garden fared really well for my French Bean‘Blue Lake’ and my ‘sow-by-2012’ salad crops. It also gave me the occasional courgette, although these were the only ones grown in the ground (rather than a raised bed) so they were a bit slower. The new raised beds will fit in the old shed space.
I’ve bought a couple of Blackcurrant ‘Ribes Nigrum’ bushes. They’re just budding at the moment, but I hope to eventually get a crop from them in the next couple of years. I think these are also going near the shed footprint.
This morning, I participated in The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch with my independent adjudicator, RubyCat. The garden is busy this weekend – now that the snow, wind, and rain, gave everyone a few hours break. I noticed that there’s a reasonable range of bird life coming in, and so I hope that my B&Q birdbox (which incidentally split) will get its first use, and I hope the birds are enjoying the 4 bird feeders and the sunflower heads I left on. I’ll be growing more sunflowers for them and the bees.
Last year I learned that Squash ‘Spaghetti Stripetti’ loves to crawl, climb, grab, grasp, and strangle. That was my first ever year of growing squashes, and they gave me plenty out of just one plant. This year, I need to make that plant go upwards, instead of letting is maraud its way over, through and around a 20ft radius of garden. I shall be looking for either a trellis, or an arch that will suit my needs.
Elsewhere in the garden, I also want to solve the issue I had last year with the reluctant Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ and Sweet Pea ‘Royal Mix’. They were happy to flower and grow where i’d planted them, but they refused to climb. I put it down to the climbing ‘frame’ being made of string rather than wire, and so I will swap my intricate string grid with wire, and see if I can finally persuade them and my new Honeysuckle ‘Lonicera’ to reach upwards and give me scent and blooms this summer.
Right! My seed packets are all alphabetically filed in a new storage box, and ready to go… c’mon budge over Winter, let’s have some Spring!
What are you planning for your garden this year? Are you trying anything ‘new’ in 2018? Let me know in the comments below.
The bees might be hibernating at the moment, but it won’t be long until they’ll be looking for food and places to stay. It’s time to get the garden bee-friendly.
Once again, family friend Anne gave me a fantastic gardening Christmas present last month.
A bee hotel
It’s about the size and shape of a standard bird box, but instead of being sealed with one hole at the front, it is open with dozens of holes at the front – as it’s filled with bamboo. The RSPB have a nice guide on making one.
The idea is that bees (like solitary bees) will come along and seek shelter, and they’ll be able to check-in at my bee hotel whilst they wait for safety, and can then resume their visit to my garden.
I’ve never had one of these before, but I’ve often seen them around in garden centres, so I will be interested to see how this fares in my garden. It was a bit tough to get it onto my shed – not through any fault in the bee hotel’s design, more of a lack of opportunity on my shed’s part, so for now it’s on an end. Hopefully it won’t blow off in the inevitable March/April gales.
Last year she gave me a pair of shears and loads of packets of seeds, the latter of which made my garden pretty with some new sowings – particularly the Sweet Sultan ‘Mixed’ and Monarda ‘Austromontana Bee’s Favourite’ flowers.
The shears will certainly come in handy when my persuasion hedge wakes up and has grown a bit more, but I guess I can practice on the inevitable Blackberry growth at the bottom of my garden.
Early food for emerging bees
For now though, it’s far too cold for the bees, but in a few weeks they may begin to emerge. In the last couple of years I’ve always tried to meet them with Crocuses, so that they get that essential early food, and I’m pleased to say that my first planting of crocuses in my new garden are up… I just hope the rest are on their way too. I managed to lift some of the Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ bulbs from my old house before I left, and I hope to see them again real soon.
I also intentionally and coincidentally brought some of the Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrid Mixed’ X-generation plants with me too, and I’ve planted these into suitable areas. Hopefully their colourful spires will soon begin to shoot up too.
I’m now in the depths of garden planning, and raring to go, whilst bingeing on allotment videos. My Friday night was spent mostly watching a chain of YouTubers explaining how they sow and harvest turnips!
Anyway, wrap up warm, and get those seed catalogues out – I’ve already heavily thumbed the Suttons Seeds Catalogue. It won’t be long until we need to start sowing again.
I must obey my cat overlord…. I must obey my cat overlord… I must obey my cat overlord…
In that limbo between Christmas and New Year, I planted some seeds into an old terracotta pot and plonked them onto my kitchen windowsill. They’ve germinated!
These sturdy green-ish shoots belong to Cat Grass, one of the packets of seeds that landed onto my doormat straight after Christmas from Suttons.
I’ve never grown it before, but it took about 48 hours to break the surface of the compost with only a cool windowsill. The grass seeds were pretty big and tough too (up to 1cm long).
These will hopefully grow into tall grass, that my cat overlord Ruby will be able to chew. This apparently helps cats with digestion, gives them nutrients (my cat is pretty much vegetarian anyway!), helps the passing of hairballs, and can calm their stomach. Sadly it’s also culprit #1 when it comes to cat sick on your carpets!
Still, we must do as our overlords instruct, so instead of watching my cat sit in the half-dead, cold (and sometimes snowy) wet garden trying to find something remotely green and grass like, i’ll be able to offer her some lush green fresh grass grown entirely for her convenience.
How obedient of me.
I already have Catnip‘Nepeta Cataria’ and Catnip ‘Nepeta Mussinii’ growing in my garden, but this is a double-edged sword:
Ruby Cat loves it, and likes to bury her head in it for about 10mins every time she goes out in the garden. I know where she’ll be – high as a kite.
The neighbourhood cats like to bury their heads in it too at night time, resulting in Ruby almost kicking my kitchen door out to get at them (she hates other cats). I don’t let her out there at them.
Both of these plants are really quite pretty, and I have them growing close to my herb garden area. At the moment, both are somewhat dormant, and somewhat flattened by the cats. I find that bees quite like their flowers in spring.
So, whilst I’m busting to start sowing seeds again, I’m holding back, and planning the garden for 2018.
For now, happy garden planning, happy new year, and thanks for reading.
Always acknowledge when it is time to give up. And give up.
I’ve always wanted to grow Aubergines (US readers: that’s an ‘egg plant’), but I just can’t get them to a harvestable level.
I’ve been trying to grow Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’ since 2011, pretty much every year but only got close that year, and again in 2017 (when I switched to Aubergine ‘Early Long Purple 2‘), but they just don’t give me any fruit bigger than a radish on a cold day.
The plants are always healthy and their silvery green leaves are quite elegant, but years into trying, I’m going to stop.
Even 2017’s raised bed saw them grow well, but in the end they seemed to run out of steam. It’s not that I’m not sowing them early enough – I’m following the packet. I just don’t have a greenhouse, and have no plans to.
It’s important to know when to stop and move on.
What about the Tomatoes?
In 2017, after gales, baking sunshine, and waves of blackfly, I did get a bumper crop of Tomato ‘Minibel’ but I threw most of them away as they were turning faster than I could eat them.
I only eat them in salads, and whilst their small red plump fruits were delicious and fresh, I just wasn’t able to keep up (not least because of the Courgette glutz).
I’ve decided that I probably won’t bother growing them in 2018, or if I do, it’ll just be a couple of plants.
Instead, I’ll try out some new produce instead – Turnips and Broad Bean are top of my ‘must grow, must eat’ list for the new year.