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

 

The seedlings, the survivors, and the casualties

Seedlings are thriving at the moment, and there are some surprise winter survivors in the garden, but also some unexpected casualties.

It won’t be soon until I can stop buying those expensive bags of Rocket leaves, which supermarkets seem to pollute with Watercress. I don’t particularly dislike Watercress, but it seems that any bagged salad that contains Watercress is like buying a tasty crop of green leaves, with a special handful of slimy, rotting waste thrown in. It almost feels like your bag of salad has become Baby Bio by the time you get it home.

The Rocket ‘Skyrocket’ seeds that I sowed in the Unwins salad kit, germinated within 4 days of sowing, and the seedlings are now more than an inch high.

Rocket 'Skyrocket' seedlings
The Rocket ‘Skyrocket’ seedlings are growing fast.

Meanwhile, the seeds for the Parsley ‘Moss Curled’ and Chives (from the other Christmas gift) are happily growing on the next windowsill along. These will need pricking out soon. I’ll have more than enough of these plants.

Parsley (left) and Chives (right) have germinated
Parsley ‘Moss Curled’ (left) and Chives (right) have germinated in their BBC Gardeners’ World growing kit.

Last year’s Salvia ‘Nemerosa Ostfriesland’ has continued to thrive in its pot, so this afternoon i took some of the top soil out and replaced it with some fresh compost. I’m really pleased that this survived the harsh winter, as it was last seen completely covered in snow alongside some bright blue/indigo Polyanthuses that sadly didn’t survive. When the Salvia flowers, I hope that it will once again attract the bees into the garden.

The Salvia survived
The Salvia ‘Nemerosa Ostfriesland’ survived the harsh winter and is lush with growth for 2012.

My second wave of 2012 Salvia ‘Farinacea Victoria’ seed sowings seems to be more successful. I’d previously managed to prick out the paltry four seedlings from my January sowing into some 3″ pots to grow on, and now my sowing from a couple of weeks ago is beginning to see the lush green leaves poking through the compost.

Garden discoveries

I managed to spend some time in the garden lightly digging and removing some of the weeds that had managed to take hold. These weeds will easily take hold at this time of year, so it’s important to remove them now.

I discovered that a Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ has self-sown and a small but healthy plant is merrily growing halfway along a border. The Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ has self-sown – again, another flowering plant popular with bees.

Sadly, my Rosemary Upright Rosemary Officinalis (which I often use in cooking as it grows fast and is very aromatic) was unable to survive the hard winter in its pot, so I’ll aim to replace this soon.

Sowing herbs, salad crops and bedding plants

With spring upon us, I’ve set a load of herbs, salad crops and flowers for this summer’s garden.

With the birds busily singing and making nests and the semi-regular appearances of the sun, I’ve been able to enjoy being outside a bit more over these last few days. It’s given me the chance to clear away the final remnants of last summer’s season and prune a Buddleia and trim down the mystery rosebush to encourage the buds to grow into this year’s flowering branches. So, with spring well and truly here, I’ve decided to sow some more seeds for this year’s garden.

Gardening kits

If you remember back to December, I received two gardening kits for Christmas – one from Unwins (or should I say ‘Secret Santa’?) and one from the Gardeners’ World brand. I’ve unpacked these and set them going – with Parsley ‘Moss Curled’ and Chives set in the Gardeners’ World kit.

Three pots for herbs from a Gardeners' World branded kit
The Gardeners’ World branded herb kit.

The Unwins kit was a bit misleading – as it shows the great range of salad crops on the box, but when you open the box there’s just two packs of mixed seed. So, i’ve actually not sown them and have chosen to grow another crop of Rocket ‘Skyrocket’ in the kit instead. Maybe i’ll come back to the mixed seed – as I had been excited by trying the Pak Choi.

flowers you can eat

Last year I rescued a few withering Nasturtium ‘Peach Melba’ plants and they really did well and brought a lot of much-needed aphid-eating hoverflies into the garden. So, this year I’ve bought a pack of Suttons’ Nasturtium ‘Jewel Mix’ to replicate the effect.

Nasturtium 'Peach Melba'
One of last year’s Nasturtium ‘Peach Melba’ plants recovering in the garden.

I’m pretty sure that the packet for last year’s seed mentioned eating the leaves, yet these new seeds recommends eating the flowers as part of a salad. I’ve never tried it as it feels a bit destructive to me – much like eating the flowers of Courgettes – again, apparently a delicacy. Maybe I’ll try eating some this year though.

Don’t eat these though…

My first sowing of the Salvia ‘Farinacea – Victoria’ seems to have produced just 4 plants – a bit disappointing really. The packet does say germination takes between 7-21 days, so I’ll leave the pot alone for a while longer, but set a few more. The blue flowers really seemed to draw the bees in last year, so I want to be sure I get a repeat this year.

Thankfully, last year’s Salvia ‘Nemerosa Ostfriesland’ has survived the winter and has begun growing again.

I’ve also picked up a packet of good old Cineraria ‘Maritima Silverdust’ – in a bid to add that delicate silver/grey foliage amongst the blue flowers of the Salvia.

The Rose returns and next year’s garden is growing

The Rose returns to bloom; the Foxgloves for next year have been potted-on; the Rocket is almost ready to pick.

This week, the inherited and anonymous Rose bush has started its second season of flowering. It’s first season tends to be more pinky before having about 6 weeks off, and this second session (which the camera just couldn’t cope with accurately portraying) is a bright near-fluorescent orange.

A red/orange Rose on flower.
The mystery Rose bush begins to flower.

I’ll need to keep an eye on the Rose as I don’t want it to bring the aphids back, especially as the Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ have recovered and begin flowering on mass.

Today I discovered a secret courgette hiding in amongst some large leaves. It’s really knobbly. Maybe this is down to it having been growing on the plant for too long? I’ll be putting some of my Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ to good use again soon with the discovery of Lemony Courgette Cake (thanks to the Horticultural TV Channel) and to making some more Eden Project Garden Courgette and Tomato Chutney, which my parents have been enjoying. I ‘rebranded it’ as ‘Tomato Chutney’ as my Dad “hates” courgettes, despite enjoying the chutney. Don’t tell him (my mother is in on this).

Foxglove 'Excelsior Hybrids Mixed'
Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’

I’ve also been pricking-out the Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’ seedlings that I sowed in a tray back in June. In total, there’s about 60 plants now, which can grow on and be potted up again before being planted out for next year’s season. This might seem a bit laborious but when the plants are expensive to buy individually, I’ve essentially got 60 foxglove plants for the price of one – and there’s still a lot more seeds left – I got them from Thompson & Morgan. The bees seem to love them.

The Rocket ‘Skyrocket’ is almost at picking stage – which is good news as the hot weather has been creating a salad shortage in my local supermarket. Seeing as I live on salads all year round, having my own crop is great.

Planting out the Aubergines

The Aubergines finally find their home and are joined by the rescued Nasturtiums.

I planted out my four Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’ plants into a wicker basket at the weekend.

The basket, bought from the excellent Twenty Pence Garden Centre, is a few feet high and contains a durable liner bag into which I have put a mixture of composts and some soil, with a few drainage rocks in the bottom. I’m not sure how well this is going go, or how long the wicker basket, or more to the point, the liner bag, will last. However, I’m willing to give it a go and see how it gets on.

Aubergine and Nasturtium plants in a wicker basket.
The Aubergine and Nasturtium plants in the wicker basket.

The Aubergines were very keen to move on to their next pot, so this is ideal for them. I’ve been feeding them regularly, and so they’re flowering and in need of being planted out. Hopefully they’ll forget their windowsill days quickly and become established in their new home.

Amongst them, I’ve planted some Nasturtium ‘Peach Melba’ in a bid to add some colour, and have something spill out over the sides of the pot. These Nasturtiums were ones that i bought as a ‘rescue’ purchase. They’re a bit leggy, but I read that they can attract hoverflies. Hoverflies in turn feast on those pesky aphids which pretty much obliterated my Sweet Peas in an afternoon. There’s also my neighbour’s old dilapidated trellis that divides our gardens, and which is next to the basket, so the Nasturtiums might want to climb this too. I may even try some of the leaves in salads.

This part of the garden gets sunshine from the East, and it stays in the garden for quite a while. Plants such as my Fern and the Digitalis ‘Primrose Carousel’ do well nearby, and I allow the yellow Corydalis ‘Pseudofumaria Lutea’ to grow up through the join between the paving here in a bid to add some colour for a few weeks in July.

However, the glorious sunshine has turned to chillier days with grey skies and rain showers. Hopefully the sunshine will return to help ripen those veg.

The Rocket ‘Skyrocket’ that I planted on 6th July had begun germinating by the evening of the following day and they are now standing about 3cm tall. Hopefully these will crop for longer than the previous lot.

Rocket returns to earth

A second wave of Rocket has been set; the first Courgette is almost ready for picking; the Aubergine’s patiently await planting out; and the Campanula begins seeding.

Today I planted (launched?) the second wave of Rocket ‘Skyrocket’ into my windowbox. The first batch had germinated within three days – but these have been planted in warmer temperatures and also in a slightly different compost – so we’ll see how these fare.

Rocket Skyrocket is sown

I found the last batch had the peppery taste, but the leaves were far from being as big as the ones on the seed packet or as big as the ones that you’d get if you bought one of those (overpriced) bags of rocket from your local supermarket.

I’m a serial buyer of bagged Rocket because I generally eat salad leaves every day, but I found that the previous wave of Rocket just wasn’t producing enough and was spending a lot of time just sending up flower buds that seemed to appear every other day.

Maybe the differences with this second round will help to achieve a better crop.

Speaking of crop, this week I expect to pluck the very first Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ from my two plants. They are both producing them but the plant at the sunnier end of the garden has been a bigger plant, and ahead of the one in the slightly shadier part of the garden (close to where last year’s one had been). This year of course, I’m also feeding them with the Doff Portland Tomato Feed, so this might attribute to the slight boost as well.

I’ve also collected seeds from the Campanula ‘Persicifolia’ which show up every year. It’s now finished and so where there were once beautiful spires of white or blue flowers, they are now covered in little brown pods ready to guarantee next year’s blooms.

The bees come into the garden – loving the Digitalis ‘Primrose Carousel’ (the Foxglove)  and in particular the blueness of the Lavender. I’ve struggled repeatedly to catch a photo of a bee on any of the flowers in my garden – either because the bee is moving too fast, or the wind is frantically flinging the plants around… but it looks like i might have caught one at last.

A bee collects pollen from Lavender
No prizes for spotting the bee.

To do…

This weekend’s duties include planting out the Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’ plants with supportive canes (one of them seems a bit wobbly) in one of those wicker boxes (which i’ll need to buy), plus fill in any gaps in the borders with 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.

It all starts on the windowsill

The 2011 growing season for the garden has started – on the windowsill

So 2011’s garden is well underway.

Tray of seedlings growing on a windowsill
Sweet Pea, Marigold, and Aubergine spring to life on the windowsill.

 

Back two rows are Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’, middle 4 rows are Marigold ‘Boy O’ Boy Orange (French)’ – these should discourage black/greenfly that feasted on the veg last year, and in the foreground are Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ – a bright, climbing and very fragrant variety which should help bring in the bees and other bugs. They’re about 5 inches tall now and need to start going outside a bit to harden them up a bit before going outside full-time.

Lots more to plant, or already underway including Antirrhinum ‘Chuckles’ (again for the bees), and Courgettes, Rocket, French Beans, Peas.

Perhaps this year the Strawberries will have established enough to provide fruit?

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