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.

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.

Being Bee Friendly

Bees play a crucial role in the garden and also in the food production industry. Crocuses make the perfect early food for them.

It’s no surprise to anyone who has read my earlier posts, or who knows me, that I love bees and I dream of having my own hive one day. I bought a book called ‘Keeping Bees: Looking After An Apiary’ by Vivian Head some time ago, and watched with interest when Alex Langlands tried bee-keeping on the Victorian Farm series.

Bees are enchanting, and the benefits of their work really are significant in food production. Yet we have taken them for granted for so long.

According to the Cooperative’s ‘Plan Bee’ campaign:

“bees pollinate a third of the food we eat, so without them there would be no apples, onions or even tea!”

A Bee at work
The only bee that I managed to catch on camera.

I’ve been trying to consciously pick plants that bees really like – this has ranged from visiting garden centres and following the buzzing sound until I find the plant they’re going crazy for (as has been the case with the Salvia ‘Nemerosa Ostfriesland’ and the Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’), and reading up on different plants that attract them.

Today I managed to plough my way through the Christmas shoppers (!!) to pick up 70 Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ bulbs whilst on a visit to Huntingdon Garden and Leisure. Crocuses are great for bees, because they flower early in about February or March when there are very few other flowers in the garden. This early bloom gives bees the perfect source of food as they hungrily emerge from hibernation.

Crocus 'Ruby Giant'
The Crocus ‘Ruby Giant’ bulbs need to go in now for Spring 2012 colour.

According to Vivian Head, bees also appreciate Winter Aconite, Snowdrops, Gorse, Hazel, Willow and Yew in the spring. I know that I don’t have any of these other plants, trees or bulbs in the limited space that I do have in my garden, so these crocuses will be crucial.

By the time that their flowers begin to die off, my other plants like the Nepeta and Salvia, as well as the 50 Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’ that I’ve grown from seed, should be coming into bloom. I only had one foxglove in the garden in 2011, but my shady garden should be awash with towering spires of irresistible bell-shaped flowers for the bees to climb in to.

It’s important to leave a little water out for bees too – even just a shallow dish with a few pebbles in it so that the bees can have a drink without drowning.

Do your bit. Bee Friendly.

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!

April Showers (June Edition)

Rain arrives! So, it’s off to the garden centre where I pick up some strawberries and yet more herbs.

At last – the rain arrives. And it does it properly. Everywhere has been completely soaked by almost a day’s worth of rain.

Admitting defeat, I ventured off to my usual gym session but got stuck in my car for 10 minutes whilst thunder, lightning, hail and torrential rain turned the carpark into a reservoir.

About 90 minutes later it had stopped and the sun was out, so I took the chance to go Homebase, and Garden and Leisure in nearby Huntingdon to see if i could find some nice plants and some pots.

Having found the pots i needed to do some overdue houseplant re-potting, I found myself looking round the garden plants and noticed that the bees were all over the bright blue flowers of the Salvia ‘Nemerosa Ostfriesland’, so in the basket it went.

Salvia
Salvia ‘Nemerosa Ostfriesland’.

Over at Garden and Leisure I remembered that I had a ‘get a Strawberry plant for free’ voucher, so decided to pick up two Strawberry ‘Fragaria x ananassa Elsanta’ plants (very green and lush). Last year’s Strawberry ‘Judibell’ are all but dead – apart from a few runners where they shouldn’t be, and a couple of tiny signs of life. I picked up some more organic compost and then ended up with yet more herbs Parsley Japanese ‘Cryptotaenia japonica’ and Tarragon French ‘Artemisia dracunculus’ (the latter is good with chicken apparently).

Monty Don said a couple of weeks ago on BBC Gardeners’ World, that if you’ve had a Tarragon plant growing in your garden for more than a year, then it is undoubtedly the Russian Tarragon as it is hardier and is characterised by a bitter taste. However, whilst Russian Tarragon was in stock, the French Tarragon also says that it is frost hardy, so it’ll be interesting to see how this one does when I plant it out.