Planting the French Beans

It’s time to sow the French Beans and to tackle my Antirrhinum forest.

As we’re heading towards the end of April, it’s time for me to plant my French Beans.

I’ve always started them off indoors in pots, and once again, I’ve opted for French Bean ‘Blue Lake’, which have grown well for me most years (when they don’t get fried, blown to bits, or eaten by marauding snails).

In good years, these beans have given me many crops of beans, so as I head towards the final days of my tiny little border garden, and towards the proper new garden, I’ve sown 12 of these beans in a hope that they will give me a bumper crop come July. I erect a wigman from bamboo canes and let them get on with it, and give them plenty of water.

French Bean 'Blue Lake' seeds to sow
French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ are ready to sow.

Usually these smooth pale off-white bean seeds shoot up through the multipurpose compost within just a few days and with a great success rate. I’ve bought some fresh seed for the first time this year too, so hopefully they’ll be super-charged and soon climbing up those poles in my new garden.

Meanwhile, I tackled my Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’ forest, which having only had one germinate from the old seed, and hundreds from the seed head of one of the Antirrhiums in my garden that I used to re-sow a few weeks later, it was time to prick out some of the seedlings from the lush green forest on the windowsill.

Antirrhinum 'Chuckles' seedmings
My Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’ forest. The large seedling (foreground, right) was the only one to germinate from the old seed.

One great thing with these plants is that once you’ve got Antirrhinums, you’ve got Antirrhinums – such great value for money! Whoever is having my old house and garden, is going to have Antirrhinum’s unless they own a blowtorch or are very creative with concrete and cement. I’m looking forward to introducing them to my new garden and letting them find where they’d prefer to grow in year 2.

I spent quite a cathartic while carefully pricking out seedlings on Saturday morning, which hardly seems to have made a dent in the forest, but as given me 47 pricked out seedlings.

Some of the Antirrhinum 'Chuckles' seedlings after being pricked out.
Some of the Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’ seedlings after being pricked out.

I suspect I could probably fill another 4 or so trays with Antirrhinum seedlings, so I might do another one, and see whether my mother wants any for her garden. If not, just plonk the rest in the garden after the frosts and let them get on with it.

Anyway, there’s plenty of things to prick out, sow, and dig up in preparation for the coming week’s house move. So, with April nearly at a close, I wish you another week of happy gardening.

Thanks for reading, Andrew 🙂

The 3 Little Propagators

The third propagator came into action this weekend, as British Summer Time arrived and I fill another windowsill with seedlings.

I’ve been on a seed sowing frenzy these last few weeks, and now I have 3 propagators full of seedlings and freshly sown pots, and a number of other pots, taking up space on 5 windowsills.

The first propagator saw an early leap from a Hollyhock ‘Majorette Mixed’, with Sunflower ‘Helianthus Annus Autumn Time’ and a Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ close behind. These have now migrated onto windowsills, and more seedlings have since emerged from their pots. They’ll soon need pricking out so that they can grow on in their own pots.

Hollyhock and Lupin seedlings in pots.
The Hollyhock and Lupin seedlings were soon up.

I loaded propagator 2 up a few days later, and that swiftly followed with more seedlings – the Sweet Sultan ‘Mixed’ seedlings in particular sprang up (and have now been removed), with a slower appearance from the Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’, but then this is older seed, so I’ll keep an eye on the progress and re-sow with newer seed if they fail to grow much. My original sowing of these seeds still inhabit my garden, so even if this fresh batch fails, I will still be taking them with me to my new garden, as they’ve self-sown into my garden pots. The Antirrhinums have been joined by Parsley Laura ‘Petroselinum Crispum’ – a flatleaf parsley I like to use in the kitchen, and Cosmos ‘Seashells Mixed’.

I realised that I had a couple of single-pot tall clear plastic domes, so I commandeered these into action – becoming micro propagators for Tomato ‘Minibel’ and Monarda Austromontata ‘Bee’s Favourite’ also commonly known as Bergamot. I’ve never grown Monarda, but apparently the bees love it and from the photo on the seed packet, they do look a bit like dead nettles with little delicate flowers. The seed was tiny, and I think it takes ages to grow.

Tomatos and Monarda inside propagator domes.
Tomatoes and Monarda inside propagator domes.

Meanwhile, on a cooler windowsill the Sweet Pea Royal Mix have nearly all broken the compost – there’s just three seeds left to appear. These haven’t needed a propagator, but like the rest, I’m making sure that they have enough light and water.

I’ve just filled up propagator 3. This time I’ve given in to previously hopeless attempts, and sown some Aubergine ‘Early Long Purple 2’ seeds after being re-inspired by GoTropical’s video on them and how he’d has had luck with them. I’ve only sown three, but I’m determined to get at least one fruit from them… ever, as they’re another great alternative to pasta for me.

Joining them in the propagator is Poppy ‘Coral Reef’ which is a pink oriental poppy, some Sage which I commonly use in cooking, and some fresh Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ seeds that I bought this weekend. I’ve had mixed luck with those in the past, but they’re very elegant, and historically they’re credited as the original Sweet Pea variety from 1699. These don’t really need the propagator, but I thought I’d pop them in, if only to encourage them along to the same stage as the other Sweet Pea plants on the windowsill.

Sweet Pea 'Cupani'
Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ – when they go right.

This is such an exciting time of year, and it looks like everything is go, despite it still being cold and misty some mornings.

How is your seed-sowing going? What are you growing this year? Let me know in the comments below.

Happy gardening,

Andrew

I’m sow excited

Last night I had a seed sowing binge.

I’d hope that I’m amongst friends here and that some of you can relate to this:

I had a sowing binge.

It was only because I ran out of compost that I had to stop.

I even accidentally sowed some French Bean seeds a month early, and then extracted them from the dry compost (i’d counted them), dusted them down, and returned them to the packet. I’ll sow them for real in April otherwise they’ll get long and straggly on my windowsills.

Pots of newly sown seeds.
Just a few of the pots jammed in one of my propagators.

Last night I filled a second propagator with some of the new seeds that family friend Anne gave me at Christmas, and I also sowed a few more of my favourite flowers.

First up was a tray of my trusty Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’. I first sowed these back in 2011, and they’ve self sown ever since – into small cracks in paths, into garden pots, into the backs of borders. They are tremendous value for money, and my Suttons seed packet is pretty much all I ever needed. They just keep turning up and flowering everywhere, with lush dark green foliage and deep red, yellow, or white and pink delicately brushed flowers.

antirrhinum-chuckles-on-flower
The Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’ plants over-winter, and have self-sown for 6 years so far.

I’m hoping that this new batch will give my new incoming garden the same successful generations of flowers… although I’ve got plenty of the self-sown ones already resident in my garden pots that are all ready for the move.

Next was a few Sunflower ‘Helianthus Annus – Autumn Time’ from Thompson & Morgan. They’re a kind of burnt orange short sunflower, reaching about 3 feet tall. I’ll be sowing the taller ones later. Like the Antirrhinums, these will probably find themselves self-seeding into the next season, but only if the birds let them – the packet notes that they ‘make great food for birds’. I need to persuade my father to make me one of his bird boxes.

This was followed by another new choice for me – a small tray of Sweet Sultan ‘Mixed’ from Mr. Fothergill’s. These are pink and white pom-pom looking plants that reach about 2 foot tall. They look pretty flouncy, but apparently these release their scent particularly when touched – so I thought i’d give them a go and I’d aim to plant these near my new garden’s patio and the path.

Add to the windowsill a few pots of Sweet Pea ‘Royal Mixed’ part of Mr Fothergill’s royal 90th birthday commemorations. I’ve really struggled with sweet peas in the last few years – it doesn’t seem to matter how many I grow, they’ll all die – either by being annihilated by snails and aphids, flattened by wind, or roasted by sunshine. My first year was great – Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ worked a treat, but they failed ever since. Fingers crossed with these.

Sweet Pea 'Cupani'
The successful Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ – hopefully ‘Royal Mixed’ will be a success this year.

Then, as I began to pack everything up, I found the old Secret Santa wooden Kitchen Garden mini ‘windowbox’ planter from 2011… so I threw some compost in, and sprinkled the last of the old Rocket ‘Skyrocket’ seed into it. This might come to nothing as the seed is old, but I’m giving it the chance. I can easily re-sow over the top with some other salad seeds.

So that’s it, as I sowed these pots and trays, the urgent sound of ‘Tony Ices’ ice cream van blared past my house with it’s off-key shrill tune. My mind wandered to hot sunny evenings in the garden as the flowers gently sway in the breeze. Surely that’s a sign of what’s to come?

Happy gardening,

Andrew

 

Planning the garden for 2012

Andrew looks back at the successes and failures of 2011, and plans for 2012!

This weekend, I once again found myself buying seeds for next year. This is a fairly addictive habit of mine. So whilst my local Huntingdon Garden and Leisure was thick with shoppers, pushing and shoving their way round calendars and Christmas decorations, I headed off into the opposite direction towards the pots, propagators and seeds.

2011 wasn’t great for my courgettes with both of the Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ plants succumbing to a mildew. This is perhaps partly because I planted my Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’ so thickly, that air wasn’t able to circulate around the courgette leaves to dry them and avoid the outbreak.

The Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’ plants were reluctant. Out of 7 plants (3 kept in a greenhouse, 4 grown outside), 1 died outside suddenly, leaving 6 plants. None of them produced a harvestable Aubergine, with one of the outdoor plants producing a fruit that you could practically inhale instead. It’s still there. The fruit hasn’t grown and the plant hasn’t died. It’s almost as if it’s just switched off!

Finally, the first Aubergine begins
Seven aubergine plants, and not one harvestable fruit!

Blogging chum ‘Scyrene’, who has a tomato addiction and writes the brilliant ‘The Gourmand’s Progress’, suggests that I sow the Aubergine seeds in a propagator in January in a bid to get that little bit further on. So, I will try again (on a smaller scale). If you have any tips on growing aubergines, please let me know in the comments!

My Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ took a real hammering from those pesky aphids / greenfly, with ladybirds moving in far too late to deal with them. This aside, I will try growing them again, as they tried hard to recover from the ordeal.

Speaking of ‘sweet’ – my little collection of Strawberry plants (Strawberry ‘Fragaria x ananassa Elsanta’ in particular), did well. Okay, so I only have 4 plants, but they kept going even when there wasn’t a great deal of sunshine around. I’ll hopefully find myself with an expanded crop of these in 2012.

Blue is the colour

My observations this year, is that everyone’s friend the bee, loves blue flowers. With this in mind, I took cuttings of the existing Lavender that was in the garden already, as it was very popular with them. In addition, I have one of those freebie packets of Thompson & Morgan Lavender ‘French’ from the Amateur Gardening magazine, which seems to be the same type.

Added to this will be Salvia ‘Farinacea – Victoria’ from Suttons Seeds – giving the garden another shot of blue. My Salvia ‘Nemerosa Ostfriesland’ was very popular with the bees this summer, so hopefully this will build on it.

…and the rest…

Foxgloves are ready to escape
The Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’, grown from seed, have been planted out.

Already planted out are the now matured Foxglove Excelsior ‘Hybrids Mixed’Wallflower ‘Ruby Gem’, and the Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ which should be flowering early next year.

I also picked up a packet of Suttons Seeds Night Scented Stock ‘Matthiola Bicornis’ – as I would like to see if I can get some plants that are fragrant. The Sweet Peas are supposed to be, but I never smelt anything (perhaps they were just stressed by the aphids?).

Having read many praises for their fragrance from Sean James Cameron on Twitter (a presenter on The Horticultural Channel), I’ve decided to give them a go too.

All set!

So, I’m already set up for 2012! 2011 has been great for learning in a new garden – which is both windy and shaded, and despite some failures, it has been very enjoyable to grow things from seed, nurture them to maturity and then see them grow and bloom for both myself and the wildlife to enjoy.

Moving up a gear

The garden has really grown on in the last couple of weeks – Antirrhinums are flowering, the Sweet Peas are recovering, and some mystery seedlings have turned up….

The garden has really progressed in the last couple of weeks since I last blogged.

antirrhinum-chuckles-on-flower
The Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’ plants are beginning to bloom.

The Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’ (above) are now sturdy plants with the beginnings of a colourful range of flowers – their leaves a lush green.

All of the plants have really grown on, I’m now two courgettes in, with two more that will probably be ready for harvesting this weekend. It hasn’t rained for a few days, so i’ve resumed giving both plants more of the Doff Liquid Tomato Feed, as well as giving some to the Hydrangea to help boost it a little in this drier (although not warm) weather.

The Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ plants are beginning to recover from the army of aphids, with new green growth without a sign of those pesky bugs. I even spotted a ladybird clambering about.

A Sweet Pea 'Cupani' flower
Last year’s Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ produced few flowers after battling with aphids.

The Nasturtium ‘Peach Melba’ plants have settled into the basket and the garden and this has helped to attract the hoverflies. These hoverflies in turn like to feast on aphids – so this may partly account for the sweet pea’s recovery.

Some mystery seedlings appeared in the garden a few weeks back in a small space beneath the Forsythia. I had a good idea as to what they were and how they got there and now that they have grown to almost 1ft tall, I’m sure.

Sunflower seedlings
The Sunflower seedlings

During the winter and spring I hung some bird feed fat balls from the Forsythia branches – a favourite with the Blue Tits. The balls contained lots of seeds. These plants are clearly Sunflowers and given where they’ve grown – they have clearly fallen from the ball and germinated. There’s also some grass too. It’s unlikely that they’ll come to much height or flower-wise, but they are welcome to stay in the border – adding some greenery and height amongst the plants.

A sweet feast goes sour

The Sweet Peas have come under attack from a colony of aphids; the garden gets another roasting; and some houseplants find their way outside.

I came home this afternoon after a day away in Northamptonshire, to find the garden seriously roasted once again and in desperate need of a drink (the Parsley Japanese ‘Cryptotaenia Japonica’ seems to be the first to wilt but is soon upright again) but also to find that my Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ were absolutely covered in aphids.

Aphids swarming on Sweet Pea plants
The Aphids were having a great time on the Sweet Peas.

Every leaf, and in particular every bud, had a flock of marauding green bugs clinging to it.

So, out came the plant sprayer containing some tap water and a liberal helping of Fairy Liquid. This is an old trick, and one that i used a few weeks ago when aphids started appearing on the rose bush next to the Sweet Peas. The aphids soon vanished from the rose so fingers crossed that it will swiftly work here too.

It’s pretty simple to do: Just get one of those cheap water sprayers, fill it with cold tap water, add some washing-up liquid and spray this sticky oily mixture onto the aphids. Aphids breathe through their skin, but with a sticky oily coating all over them, it seals their skin up and they suffocate (nice).

One of the plants to suffer in the heat whilst I was out was the lovely blue Salvia ‘Nemerosa Ostfriesland’ – adored by bees. So I have decided to pot it up into a spare medium-sized container. Around the edge are some of the left-over but more upright of the Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’ plants and inbetween those goes some Spider Plant ‘Chlorophytum Comosum’ plants – a native of South Africa but generally grown indoors in the UK as easy-to-keep houseplants. These won’t survive our winter, but they are so easy to grow and their foliage will be a great contrast to the blue Salvia (fingers crossed it recovers) and the mixture of the Antirrhinums.

The Rocket ‘Skyrocket’ salad leaves have had their day now. So I have pulled out the tired plants that have been desperate to flower, and will re-sow the pot. Last time it took them 3 days to germinate.

Planting out

I’ve been planting out my seed-grown plants today – all 3 hours of them!

I’ve just come in from an afternoon of planting out.

After a few days of rain (thunder, lightning, flooding, hail etc…), I took the opportunity to put out the plants that i’d nurtured from seed and also the few that i bought at a trip to Homebase and Huntingdon Garden and Leisure.

It’s taken me almost 3 hours of planting but I have finally given most of the Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’ their release into the wild. A few had begun to flower, the ones that I’d transplanted into normal trays had got lanky, but the ones that i’d transplanted into plugs were smaller and more upright. Still, i’ve picked them out and planted them everywhere (with loads left over… oops).

Antirrhinum 'Chuckles'
Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’ – waiting to be planted out

After all my sowing, re-sowing (due to poor germination rate) and nurturing, including fending off a flock (?) of snails, I’ve ended up with a paltry half-a-dozen Marigold ‘Boy O’ Boy Orange (French)’. This is disappointing considering that my mother has them growing like weeds! No doubt she’ll remind me of this when she visits next.

With some very carefully tying up of my Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’, in a bid to entice them upwards, I’d noticed that one of the canes that I’d set two against now has no sign of a plant. So, with it being late in the season, I decided that I would pop two Pea ‘Celebration’ seeds in to see if they’d like to grow and give me some tasty green petit pois late in the season.

I was really pleased to see the bees out in full force today. It was almost like they thought they’d help me in the garden. They’re all over the Lavender and also going for the Salvia ‘Nemerosa Ostfriesland’ that I bought yesterday. I reckon that bees love blue flowers.

The Buddleia that I took from cutting months ago, and which I planted out a few weeks back, looks like it’s heading towards a flower. It’s still quite short, and the Foxglove ‘Digitalis’ that I bought from Tesco, is towering over it ready to burst. According to my mother (!) the bees love that Buddleia – it’s white. The Foxglove is meant to be a creamy yellow-white – so the bees will be in for a treat.

Speaking of Foxglove, I’ve just set some Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’ seeds in a propagator to grow some new plants for next year. Buying the plants is expensive, but the seed is a cheap and easy way to get loads of them.

Right, that’s enough for now – time to make a cuppa and put my feet up!

2011 Season

This year I am aiming at trying to encourage more bees and other insects into the garden. I seem to have no problem attracting woodlice, aphids and blackfly into the garden last year, so I aim to plant more bee friendly plants in a bid to help their plight. I’d also like to see more ladybirds in the garden too, particularly to help keep that aphid colony down.

The flowers:

  • Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’
  • Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’
  • Marigold ‘Boy O’ Boy Orange (French)’
The veg:
  • Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’
  • Courgette ‘Black Beauty’
  • Rocket ‘Skyrocket’
The fruit:
  • Strawberries
 The herbs:
  • Welsh Onion
  • Applemint
  • Rosemary
  • Mint
  • Thyme
  • Caraway
  • Chives
  • Sage