The snails and aphids celebrate in the summer rain

The summer showers welcome some hungry pests into the garden, just as the Rose and the French Beans are about to put on a show.

There’s just been a short rain shower – enough to stop me being outside in it – but as soon as it stopped I was out there to meet the unwelcome visitors that are enjoying my green finger skills.

The French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ that I planted out only a few days ago, have seen two of the plants stripped completely of buds, shoots and leaves. These snails move fast. But today I moved quicker, and with the rain on a momentary pause, I went out and immediately pulled 8 small snails off of the beans. It seems that they’re using other plants to get them up and onto the bean leaves… and then they work their way up or down, decimating the plant until it’s a just lanky stem resembling a continuous chain of arms and elbows. I don’t know if they’ll re-grow, but i’ve got seed.

The Rose
This Rose was already in the garden when I moved here.

Not far away, is the Rose (of an unknown variety). It was already in the garden and clearly hadn’t been in place for many years. Still, it has flowered without fail – sometimes reaching two seasons of flowers in a year. This year though, after pruning it hard, it is full of lush growth and green leaves, and lots of buds.

Today, it is also full of lush green aphids.

Aphids on a rose bush
The Aphids have moved in. I just hope they don’t spot the Sweet Peas nearby.

Having witnessed them obliterate last year’s sweet peas, I was gutted. There’s not enough Ladybirds around yet to feast that lot, and the Hoverflies aren’t about due to the rubbish weather… so it’s down to some manual techniques to usher them away – a piece of tissue and some careful squeezing (not to damage the rose buds), or maybe some diluted washing-up liquid. Aphids breathe through their skin – so if you clog that with an oily washing-up liquid mix, they suffocate and die. Gruesome but fortunately true.

Again, not far away are this year’s Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ – they’re looking stunted at the moment, and not much different from when I planted them out weeks ago. I know that the aphids will show them no mercy, so I will need to deal with these aphids sooner rather than later.

For now though, it’s the snails that are top of my hit list.

The Sweet Peas feel a pinch of success

The Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ seedlings are growing so well that it’s time to pinch out the buds to help the seedlings become strong and more resistant to pests.

If your sweet peas are anything like mine, they are growing very happily on the windowsill at the moment. In fact, a bit too well. It’s time to be brutal with them.

I sowed my Unwins Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ seeds in my propagator back in January, and by now they would be climbing several feet up anything they could find if given the chance. But I’ve been doing them a favour – i’ve been nipping the buds out.

This might seem a bit destructive but by doing so, you’re not only going to avoid having sweet peas up your curtains, but you’re also going to encourage the remaining plant to bulk up – grow sturdy and strong – which is what your plants will need if they face the real risk of a flock of marauding aphids like mine did last year.

To do this, wait for about 4 tiers of leaves, and then pinch out the stem growth after the second set of lower leaves. This will mean that growth will be encouraged from low down on the plant – helping it to grow stronger – stem-wise and root wise. A stronger stem means it’s a stronger plant, and better roots means that the plant will be able to better at finding nutrients in the soil.

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

It’s almost time for sweet peas to go start going outside – but as we’ve had some pretty hard frosts here in the last few days – i’ve held them back. It’s best to do a gradual acclimatisation, so i’ll be putting them out during the day, and bringing them back in at night for the next week or so just so that the shock doesn’t kill them before planting them out.

Fortunately, I have already seen some Ladybirds (Ladybugs) in the garden, and hopefully the Nasturtiums that I planted last week will bring the Hoverflies back – both of which will enjoy munching on aphids.

For more about Sweet Pea varieties and how to grow them, check out the National Sweet Pea Society.

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.