The Sunflowers begin to open and nature pays a visit

Finally, summer has arrived with the opening of the cheery sunflowers, and nature decides to pay me a visit!

It’s been a long time coming, but some of the sunflowers have begun to open.

I sowed the first wave of Sunflower Helianthus Annus ‘Autumn Time‘ back in March, and these sunflowers went up a bit, then round, then down, then horizontal, and they looked rubbish, as if unable to tell where the sky was.

I then sowed a second batch of them at the end of May, and then a few weeks ago I planted them out into one of my newly created borders in my back garden. Some frantic slug ‘meet and greet’ sessions ensued but they’ve reached for the skies, throwing big lush green leaves out, and now the flowers are uncurling.

These sunflowers aren’t the variety that you’ll ever win a height competition with, they’re about 3 foot tall, and rather than the traditional large-headed yellow flower, they’re smaller and a bit more reddy-brown (hence the ‘Autumn Time’ name). Even so, I’m really pleased to see them, as are the bees.

a red Sunflower Helianthus Annus 'Autumn Time'
a red Sunflower Helianthus Annus ‘Autumn Time’
Sunflower Helianthus Annus 'Autumn Time' with a bee.
Sunflower Helianthus Annus ‘Autumn Time’ with a bee.

Over the last weeks, my garden has become home to what seems to be about 35 Sparrows. Blackbirds have fought over my garden, there’s usually a few Blue Tits on the peanut feeder. Nature sure is visiting this once blank plantless (aside from grass) garden, and late one night some neighbourhood cats were in my garden making weird sounds. They woke me, as it was hot and my windows were open, and when I looked out, I could see that the cats were clearly upset about something (not each other). I could hear movement near the shed, so I dressed and headed out with a torch, only to be met by a hedgehog. I don’t know what the time was, but I’m pretty sure I said ‘Oh…. Hello Mr Hodgepodge‘ out loud in the garden at about 2am. It snuffled and waddled off hedgehodging.. or whatever they do. I’m pleased to find it in my garden, as there’s still SO many slugs.

Amongst the many bird feeder battles between the fat little sparrows, the bird seed has inevitably been getting spilt across my garden. Sometimes there’s a few big black Crows that swoop across the garden, and make the birds scatter, and so this perhaps accounts for my discovery of finding two self-sown Sunflowers in the garden. By coincidence, they’re in the same bed as the others, but right at the front. I’m wondering what kind these will be, as both look like strong plants. It’ll be a while before the flowers arrive, but I’m just enjoying having them there.

Speaking of things I didn’t plant, the fence at the bottom of my garden is my responsibility. It’s a tall wire fence, and it adjoins the bottom of the garden of an empty property behind (where there’s a fantastic pear tree fyi). This fence not only has my sheds close against it, but it is also laden with brambles, and of course, I’ve been watching these lethal spires shoot up since moving in, and watching them flower, and now they are literally dripping with fruit.

I picked these blackberries from the bottom of my garden
I picked these blackberries from the bottom of my garden, ate them, didn’t enjoy them. Meh.

I don’t really like Blackberries, but i showed willing and picked a bowlful. Had them with porridge and kind of regretted it. Definitely need to turn them into a cake or crumble.

Anyway, that’s it for now, there’s loads more things going on in the garden – really keeping me busy, but I’ll share more real soon.

As ever, thanks for reading, and happy gardening!

Andrew

 

Peas, Cosmos, Sunflowers and a spot of Archaeology

The bank holiday sees me spend 4.5 hours in the garden playing catch-up with nature.

It’s been a Bank Holiday weekend, and so today (the Bank Holiday Monday), I decided that if the weather was good then I would spend a few hours in the garden, and if it was bad, I’d spend it painting my new house indoors.

The weather has been mostly dry and a warm 20C, so out I went at 9:30am, and I came in for lunch, and then packed up at 3pm when some drizzle began to get annoying.

In that time I planted my first row of peas since the 20-30 foot row ones that I used to grow as a child in the 1980s. This time, I’m only doing 6 foot, but I carefully sowed the climbing Pea ‘Alderman’ seeds from Unwins into the softly hoed trough alongside my re-positioned fence, and carefully covered them over.

A handful of Pea 'Alderman' seeds.
A handful of the Pea ‘Alderman’ seeds that will hopefully be bringing me delicious fresh peas.

The ground was fairly soft, due to the rain overnight, but I still plonked the rose on my watering can and gave them a soak. I love peas, always have, and so I hope to see those little shoots start to emerge.

One thing’s for sure, the Hitchcock-esque situation I’ve induced by adding two bird feeders into the garden, might increase once those peas start to emerge. A few twigs should put them off a bit, but I’m going to have to keep my eye on them.

A row of freshly sown Pea seeds.
The satisfaction of a freshly sown line of Peas. This brings back memories.

Having sown the peas, I decided to start planting out some more plants – my Cosmos ‘Seashells Mixed’ which I sowed back in March, have become quite long and lanky, and have been desperate to go out for some time, whilst also desperate to grow in any direction other than upwards (a bit like my rubbish sunflowers).

Cosmos 'Seashells Mixed' on flower
My Cosmos ‘Seashells Mixed’ seedlings needed flowering and were already flowering, and have no idea where the sun lives.

Also, my Sweet Sultan ‘Mixed’ seedlings, which are a plant that are completely new to me, were planted alongside them as I dug my new border.

My spade went in, and suddenly DONG!, there was resistance against the spade and a resounding resonance. I’d found something. Something hard.

A little more digging found something metal buried about 5 inches below the lawn. I soon realised that this slight hummock which sat in the area I was turning into a border, contained a drain and this was the manhole cover for it. My Archaeology course with Open University finally paid off, but sadly there were no obligatory Roman brooches or post holes.

Finding a buried manhole cover.
2/3rds of a drain manhole cover is in my garden, part under my fence, and presumably the rest under my neighbours’ decking.

This part of the garden has different soil – it’s more ashy, and had bits of burnt material. I can only guess that this was where previous owners used to tip out the ash from the fireplace before that all got bricked up.

Whilst planting this border, I also popped in a pretty perennial Geranium ‘Himalayense’ that I’d picked up the other day when I went to spend my national gardening vouchers at nearby Parkhall Garden Centre. This will look lovely right by the backdoor when it gets established and comes back on flower with it’s purpley-blue flowers.

A Geranium 'Himalayense' on flower.
The beautiful gentle flower of perennial Geranium ‘Himalayense’.

I’ve just sown some more sunflower seeds. Back in mid-March I sowed some Sunflower Helianthus Annus ‘Autumn Time’ seeds. This gave me three plants – one got stripped overnight by slugs, one has got some black blotchy leaves (although seems otherwise healthy), and one is fine – although none of them could bring themselves to grow more than an inch straight up at any time – they’re not much more than a tangled mess, so I thought it would be good to grow some more, if not to just save me embarrassment when someone spots them.

I’ve also plucked out some older Sunflower ‘Giant Yellow’ seed, which did grow perfectly well a few years back in my old garden. Hopefully these will add to the colour, with their majestic cheery yellow heads, and provide the birds with more food in the winter, perhaps a few seeds for my food, and a load of plants for the next year. Fingers crossed!

There’s so much going on in the garden right now – and I’m digging my garden layout as and when I’m planting out, and when the weather (and soil) allows me to. It’s a race against time though.

Thank you for reading, and happy gardening!

Andrew

 

Keep Calm and Prick Out

It’s time to start pricking out some of the seedlings and move them into larger pots and onto the next stage of growing.

The Cosmos ‘Seashells Mixed’ seeds that I planted a few days ago have sprung up, looking not much different from grass initially, and also the Sweet Sultan ‘Mixed’ seedlings have gotten to a size where they need to be moved on from their tray into their own spaces.

So, with my trusty old 40-plug tray, I filled it up with multipurpose compost, and with a pencil to hand, I carefully began the process of pricking out each seedling and setting it into a small hole in the middle of each plug. This took me a fair while. You need to be delicate with this process though, so time really is of the essence.

Tray of pricked-out Cosmos, Hollyhock, and Sweet Sultan seedlings.
Tray of pricked-out Cosmos, Hollyhock, and Sweet Sultan seedlings.

The Cosmos roots were quite long, whilst the Sweet Sultan roots were quite shallow but clumped. Carefully up-rooting each seedling, whilst holding a leaf (rather than stem) takes time, but it avoids the sickening feeling of snapping them and knowing you’ve just killed a plant.

I left one plug hole blank, so that I can easily get water through into the base, and this left me with room to add in the Hollyhock ‘Majorette Mixed’ seedlings, and sow two further of those seedlings to make up the 39th plug. There was quite a range of sizes with these seedlings, with some quite tiny, and one quite large – odd considering that they came from the same seed packet, were sown in the same pot, at the same time. I guess everything is just a reminder of nature’s roulette.

All this pricking out has helpfully condensed my windowsill jungle together, and resulted in one of the three propagators being closed down.

Hollyhock Majorette Mixed seedlings
Two Hollyhock seedlings planted from the same seed packet on the same day, with such different results.

With these three sets of seedlings pricked out, I turned to the Sunflower ‘Helianthus Annus Autumn Time’ seedlings. Only three of about five germinated, but I potted each one up in their own 3″ pot. I’ll probably grow a few more, along with the full size variety, but I’ll sow those seeds in a few days.

Are you at pricking out stage yet? Have you seen a contrast between seedling sizes? Let me know in the comments below.

As ever, happy growing!

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