The first plants spring to life in 2018

The garden and the seed trays begin to wake up with the first flowers and the first seeds germinating. Here comes the Spring! (hopefully)

There’s some early signs beginning to appear in the garden and in the seed trays now – a welcome diversion from the cold, frosty starts of this week.

First to note is the Cyclamen, which has uncurled its leaves and crowned them with pink flowers in one of my wooden troughs.

A pink cyclamen on flower
The Cyclamen, nestled amongst the uncurling tulips in a garden trough.

This Cyclamen is one that I found in a little shop pot in the garden of my late-uncle when we were clearing his house. Along with the trough, I brought it home and planted it. It’s a reminder, not just of him and his garden, but also that life continues on, with it’s bright flowers when so much is still dormant in the garden.

Meanwhile indoors, the first of the seeds have germinated – with Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ leading the way after 8 days. They’re the oldest of the sweet pea breeds with origins in Sicily in 1699, and I’ve grown these since at least 2011.

Whilst these aren’t the first seeds to have been sown in 2018 (that’s the Cineraria ‘Maritime Silverdust’), two small little green shoots have begun to push the compost aside as they reach upwards.

The first up are the Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ seedlings.

There should be 10 more Cupani, and they sit on a cool windowsill alongside a dozen Sweet Pea ‘Royal Mixed’, and 6 Broad Bean ‘Crimson Flowered’ all of which I sowed on the same day.

I can’t wait to see these climb my fence and cover it in fragrant blooms in the summer.

Sweet Pea 'Cupani'
Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ on flower

Which reminds me: I need to re-do the climber web on my fence this weekend with wire. Last year the Sweet Peas grew and flowered, but, they didn’t like the string/twine that I hung for them to climb up. They simply flopped over onto the lawn and wouldn’t go upwards. I’m hoping wire will be better for them. It sounds weird that their tendrils have preferences, but it’s my only explanation why they wouldn’t touch it.

Anyway, as the plants of 2018 begin to come to life, have a great week, happy gardening, and thanks for reading,

Andrew

Sowing Sweet Peas, Salvia and Broad Beans in February

The propagator is fired up, and the sow-athon begins with Broad Beans, Sweet Peas, and Salvia.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably been chomping at the bit to get gardening again. February can be one of the most bitterly cold months in the UK, and so when you get a little bit of sunshine, or a day without rain, snow, wind, or freezing conditions, it is so tempting to get out there and make a start.

In my last post I shared my seed planner, and I’ve found that really helpful in reminding me what I’m going to grow and how I can pace myself a bit. I’ve already added more seeds to the schedule!

So, with four days of February under our belts, I’ve decided to start sowing some seeds, and set up my little propagator again on a windowsill.

pots of cineraria and salvia seeds in a propagator
Cineraria ‘Maritima Siverdust’ and Salvia ‘Farinacea Victoria’ are the first in the propagator this year.

First in today were my Broad Bean ‘Crimson Flowered’ seeds – only 6 seeds so far, but I can go back and add more seed in a few weeks if they don’t germinate well, or add more a few weeks later just to stagger my crop.

As a child, broad beans were like nasty little warts and they tasted disgusting, yet, as an adult I simply cannot get enough of them. I’m frustrated by the lack of them in my local supermarket – and can’t even get them frozen, so I thought that I would sow some myself. I’m worried about the blackfly though, as they took great delight in attacking my tomatoes last year, but I’ve been watching several videos on how to deal with these on Broad Beans. I’m also looking forward to the benefits that they will give my garden by pumping nitrogen back into the soil. The courgettes and squash will love that!

packets of sweet pea, salvia, and broad bean seeds
The first seeds to sow in February – Sweet Peas, Salvia, and Broad Beans.

In addition to these, I also sowed a dozen each of Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ and Sweet Pea ‘Royal Mixed’. I grew both varieties last year, and whilst they flowered well over a long season, they didn’t climb. I think this was due to the garden twine ‘web’ that I put up for them, so I will swap that to wire before I plant these out. Past experience shows that these will germinate quickly, but last year the Royal Mixed variety were up first.

Finally, I’ve sown some more of my Salvia ‘Farinacea Victoria’ seeds. I sowed some of these (same packet) last year, but only one germinated – although it did become a large striking plant in my new garden.

Salvia 'Farinacea Victoria' with deep blue flowers
The sole surviving Salvia ‘Farinacea Victoria’ plant was covered in deep blue flowers.

Hopefully, they will be more successful this year, and help fill my new border with its beautiful deep blue spires that looked great, and were popular with the bees. This early sowing does at least allow me time to perhaps get some new seed if the germination is poor.

These Salvia seeds actually join my Cineraria ‘Maritima Silverdust’ that I sowed last week. Those will add an intricate snowy-leafed set of foliage to my garden.

Cineraria 'Martima Siverdust'
Cineraria ‘Martima Siverdust’

They worked really well in my previous garden where it was sheltered and shady, and they lived on for about 4 years! They contrast well with most other plants.

As I finish typing this post, the sun is blazing, the birds are feasting on my feeders, and I can hear a blackbird singing. It feels like Spring is here, but I’m not fooled by February – which won’t flinch about bringing deadly snow and ice.

Have you started your 2018 sowing season yet? Let me know in the comments below.

As ever, thank you for reading, and happy gardening!

Andrew

Planning the 2018 garden

I’m planning my 2018 garden. Always have a plan!

This April, it will be 1 year since I bought and moved in to this house.

During that time, I have broken a garden laid entirely to a tired lawn, moved fences, planted a hedge, and enjoyed a lot of homegrown vegetables and flowers.

Now that I’ve begun to understand my garden a bit, I’m creating my plan for 2018, based on what I’ve observed so far.

Above is my 2018 Google planner for the seeds that I want to sow this year – helping me to keep on track.

 

1. There’s a shady bit

Close to the fence, patio and house, there’s a shaded area which is also pretty heavy clay. The water sits here sometimes for a while, trying to escape the patio. My potted Ferns like this area, and I successfully transferred a few self-sown Foxgloves that had tried to make home in my garden pots that I moved with me from my previous house.

This part of the garden will be getting some Aquilegia ‘McKana Giants’ in 2018, which apparently enjoy more shaded moist conditions.

2. There’s an old shed

The old decrepit shed needs to be demolished, as it’s empty, somehow has stood the countless gales we’ve had with little more than an occasional door swing, and it’s taking up precious growing space. What it is doing though, is helping to provide some privacy between the bottom of my garden and the houses who back up to my fence. I’m thinking about having a new fence installed, but first I just need to take it down. I hope it’s not concrete under that!

3. More raised beds

Having demolished the old shed, then I’ll have space and a pile of wood from which I aim to make some more raised beds. This part of the garden fared really well for my French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ and my ‘sow-by-2012’ salad crops. It also gave me the occasional courgette, although these were the only ones grown in the ground (rather than a raised bed) so they were a bit slower. The new raised beds will fit in the old shed space.

4. Blackcurrants

I’ve bought a couple of Blackcurrant ‘Ribes Nigrum’ bushes. They’re just budding at the moment, but I hope to eventually get a crop from them in the next couple of years. I think these are also going near the shed footprint.

5. Birds

This morning, I participated in The RSPB’s Big Garden Birdwatch with my independent adjudicator, RubyCat. The garden is busy this weekend – now that the snow, wind, and rain, gave everyone a few hours break. I noticed that there’s a reasonable range of bird life coming in, and so I hope that my B&Q birdbox (which incidentally split) will get its first use, and I hope the birds are enjoying the 4 bird feeders and the sunflower heads I left on. I’ll be growing more sunflowers for them and the bees.

6. Up

Last year I learned that Squash ‘Spaghetti Stripetti’ loves to crawl, climb, grab, grasp, and strangle. That was my first ever year of growing squashes, and they gave me plenty out of just one plant. This year, I need to make that plant go upwards, instead of letting is maraud its way over, through and around a 20ft radius of garden. I shall be looking for either a trellis, or an arch that will suit my needs.

Elsewhere in the garden, I also want to solve the issue I had last year with the reluctant Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ and Sweet Pea ‘Royal Mix’. They were happy to flower and grow where i’d planted them, but they refused to climb. I put it down to the climbing ‘frame’ being made of string rather than wire, and so I will swap my intricate string grid with wire, and see if I can finally persuade them and my new Honeysuckle ‘Lonicera’ to reach upwards and give me scent and blooms this summer.

Flower and vegetable seed packets
My seed packets are raring to be opened!

Right! My seed packets are all alphabetically filed in a new storage box, and ready to go… c’mon budge over Winter, let’s have some Spring!

What are you planning for your garden this year? Are you trying anything ‘new’ in 2018? Let me know in the comments below.

As ever, thanks for reading, and happy gardening,

Andrew

 

Pinching out the Sweet Peas

The Sweet Peas need some tough love in the form of ‘pinching out’, and the Tulip ‘Triumph’ flowers are about to open.

It’s been about 2.5 weeks since I sowed my Sweet Pea ‘Royal Mixed’ seeds, and about 10 days since I sowed my Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ seeds. Out of 12 seeds of each, I have 9 Royal Mixed, and 7 Cupani that have germinated. There could be more on their way, but those early Royal Mixed are now several inches long.

Sweet Pea 'Royal Mixed' need pinching out
Sweet Pea ‘Royal Mixed’ need slowing down.

I say long, because they’re long, not tall. The longest being 22cm, and this means I need to do something to help stop these getting too straggly. These Sweet Peas need ‘pinching out’.

When a Sweet Pea hits on something good, it goes up and up and up, or would do if these were planted against some wire, or sticks, but as they’re still too little to go outside, I need to stop them getting too straggly. By ‘pinching out’ the top growth buds, it will encourage the plant to throw out side shoots, therefore making a stronger, bushier plant.

The 'pinched out' Sweet Pea 'Royal Mixed' growth tips.
Some of the ‘pinched out’ Sweet Pea ‘Royal Mixed’ growth tips.

This will slow them down a bit, result in stronger plants, and also encourage more stems. More stems means more buds, and then more flowers.

This is a fairly common practice, and one that I’ve done in previous years. However, if you’re new to this, or new to growing Sweet Peas, then check out this handy little guide from Thompson and Morgan.

Elsewhere in the garden, the Tulips continue to bloom in a range of lilacs, peach, and now red and deep purple – with my Tulip ‘Triumph’ bulbs blooming for the first time – after I set them on 20th December last year.

Tulip 'Triumph' purple flowers
The dark crimson Tulip ‘Triump’ flowers are almost open.

The windowsills are still creaking with pots and trays, but we’re now back down to one propagator only.

It’s lovely and sunny this weekend, and as I type this I can hear the birds singing (and rowing under my eaves), and someone is mowing their lawn somewhere down the road.

As ever, happy gardening, and 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

The Chysanthemums and Sweet Peas brighten the garden

Further flowers are beginning to open in the garden – this time in the shade, as well on one of the reluctant climbers.

The Chrysanthemum and the Sweet Peas have now joined in the colourful fanfare, adding crimson, purple and white to the palette. 

White Chrysanthemum flower
The mystery Chrysanthemum is happily flowering in the shade.

With this continuing heat and sunshine here in Cambridgeshire, England, the garden is seeing more and more flowers opening. Over the last few days I have watched the Chrysanthemum with its dark glossy leaves, send up its straight stems that have now burst into its annual show of white daisy-like flowers. This plant was another one that was already in the garden – it’s variety remains a mystery for now (any ideas – leave a comment below!). It seems to thrive in the shady part of the garden (it’s just a few feet away from the Fern). It’s white flowers, which seem to attract hoverflies, delivers a welcome contrast to the greenery that dominates the corner.

Elsewhere in the garden, the Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ flowers have begun to open with their pungent crimson and purple flowers.

Sweet Pea 'Cupani'
The Sweet Peas are blooming, they just forgot to climb.

Fortunately the Sweet Peas have eluded the aphids this year (which were probably blown and washed away a couple of weeks ago), leaving them with strong stems and early flowers. However, they haven’t exactly utilised the wigwams yet, despite some gentle woollen encouragement.

They have been joined by the French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ which similarly have started flowering and again haven’t climbed very high.

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.

Bank Holiday rain won’t stop the plants growing

Whilst the wettest drought continues with continuous heavy rain for yet another Bank Holiday, there’s still plenty of jobs to do indoors in preparation for this year’s garden.

Over the last few days, the plants have been busily growing on my windowsills, but the heavy rain (which has led to my village being cut off from the East and South!) stops any activity in the garden.

With the Bank Holiday weather rain beating down, I decided to tackle a job i’d put off for a while – tidying up my gardening pots and tools. So I bought a cheap set of shelves and made use of the height – giving me loads more floorspace and some kind of order to the tools, pots and seeds.

Keeping the plants moving

It’s important to keep seedlings moving through the potting-up stages otherwise they can quickly suffer. I’ve just pricked-out the 40 Cineraria ‘Maritima Silverdust’ seedlings that I sowed back in late March. Of all the things I’m growing (apart from one exception), these seem to be the slowest growing, but they now have their own little plugs to grow into before being planted outside in a few weeks time once they’ve grown on, and the cold weather finally goes away.

Cineraria 'Martima Silverdust' seedlings
The Cineraria ‘Martima Silverdust’ seedlings.

The Dill has not surfaced – it’s been 3 weeks and there’s no green speck on the compost. Is there a trick to growing them? I’ve kept them in my propagator the whole time. Am I just being impatient?

Meanwhile, the two Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ plants and the French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ seedlings are standing tall, with the latter looking for their first grasp of cane. I didn’t grow French Beans last year, but this variety did well for me in 2010.

French Bean 'Blue Lake'
French Bean ‘Blue Lake’ plants

The Salvia ‘Farinacea Victoria’ that I potted up almost two weeks ago, are now getting used to their new pots and have started showing signs of a growth spurt too.

Out you go!

Last week I also planted out the Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’, so hopefully these are enjoying this wet drought and will be making good use of the wigwams. Fingers crossed that the snails don’t find them for a while.

Wigwams, French Beans and Salvia

Over the weekend I was able to dodge those April Showers to build wigwams, sow the French Beans and prick-out the Salvia seedlings.

I managed to find a few minutes over the weekend when it wasn’t raining to erect two wigwams for my climbers – the Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ and also for the French Bean ‘Blue Lake’.

Bamboo Wigwam
One of the bamboo cane wigwams.

I’ve used a collection of bamboo canes and some strong garden twine – tying the canes at the top and then winding the twine around and down the full length of the wigwam – making sure that wrapped twine around some of the canes on the way down in order to give it all some strength and also to encourage the climbers.

One of the wigwams didn’t have the same number as canes, so i added a cane gripper in the middle to help hold everything together. Based on previous years experience, this means that the UK will now experience gales – as the wind tries desperately to blow them down.

As it started to rain, I returned indoors where I then set to sowing the French Beans in pots – now’s the ideal time to do this.

pricking-out

It’s so important to keep seedlings moving at the moment as it’s easy to get behind and end up with some pot-bound or hungry plants.

This week was the turn of the second batch of the Salvia ‘Farinacea Victoria’ that I sowed back in March to bump up the low numbers of the January sowing.

Salvia 'Farinacea Victoria' seedlings 2012
There’s quite a difference between the January and March sowings of Salvia ‘Farinacea Victoria’.

There were 8 new seedlings in all, bringing my total to 12. These will join the Nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ and last year’s Salvia to bring a wash of blue flowers to the garden in a bid to encourage and support more bees.

Pricking out the Salvia 'Farinacea Victoria'
The Salvia ‘Farinacea Victoria’ all pricked-out and potted up. They vary in size despite being sown at the same time.

The two smallest Salvia have gone into the propagator with the Dill and Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ seeds that I sowed a few days ago, in a bid to help it grow on. Btw, one of the courgette seeds has already germinated!!

Best way to grow courgettes?

I’ve grown Courgette’s in the garden – one year producing loads, last year they died from mildew. I’ve grown them in pots before but unsuccessfully (they were small and waxy and generally unappealing). What’s your trick?

The Magical Powers of April Showers

After some heavy April showers, the garden has leapt forwards with lush growth and flowers, but there’s still plenty more seeds to sow… including some for next year’s garden!

There’s a drought on at the moment but whilst I do live in the dry of East Anglia, my water provider (Cambridge Water Company) has not imposed a hosepipe ban. This has been a hot topic of conversation here on local radio and television but it wouldn’t really affect my garden as it is small enough to cope with lots of watering cans and buckets when it comes to it.

Wallflower 'Ruby Gem' about to bloom.
The Wallflower ‘Ruby Gem’ were planted out last year and are now starting to flower.

Fortunately though we did see a few days of refreshing rain (albeit typically and neatly fitted into a bank holiday/Easter weekend!) and then a few days of sunshine. This has resulted in a surge of lush green growth from things like the Wallflower ‘Ruby Gem’ plants that I planted out last year which are just starting to flower, the hardy Welsh Onion ‘Allium Fistulosum’ and Caraway ‘Carum Carvi’ herbs are also lush green,  and those pretty Daylily ‘Hemerocallis Bonanza’ have thrown-up lots of leaves.

The Broom ‘Cytisus Scoparius’ is on flower, and with it a delicate scent wafts closely to it’s branches. I’ve just captured a few photos of a large bee collecting pollen from the bright yellow flowers.

Bee and the Broom
A bee on a mission as it collects pollen from this flowering Broom ‘Cytisus Scoparius’.

With this warmer and rainy weather around, I’ve started putting the Sweet Pea ‘Cupani’ outside so that they can begin adjusting to the different environment. I’m bringing them inside at night as we’re still seeing low temperatures. Leaving them out all night might be too much of a shock for them. They were lucky to receive rain on their first day outside too!

The Chives and Parsley ‘Moss Curled’ that I sowed a month ago are now at the pricking-out stage. I also planted some Coriander on 1st April, to make up the third pot of the BBC Gardeners’ World herb kit. Some of these have germinated too but will need a couple more weeks before they will be potted on.

Two Pepper (Sweet) 'Friggitello' plants grown from seed.
The Pepper (Sweet) ‘Friggitello’ plants are growing well.

Those two Pepper (Sweet) ‘Friggitello’ plants that I grew from seeds given to me by team CBM, are now several inches high, one of them requires a support cane. I’m sure it won’t be many weeks until they’ll need potting on again before finally going outside to hopefully produce their fruit in July-October time.

Yet to sow in april…

  • Courgette ‘Black Beauty’ – my third sowing of this variety. They were plentiful in year 1, but poor in year 2 – having suffered from mildew.
  • Night Scented Stock ‘Matthiola Bicornis’ – This will be my first sowing of these, and they are sown directly outside.
  • Dill – I’ve missed not having Dill around for cooking – the leaves and seeds can be used for flavouring dishes, and in pickling, and can be used to aid digestion.
  • Delphinium ‘Pacific Giants Mixed’ – I’ve always liked the towering spires of Delphiniums (like the Foxgloves), so as with the Foxgloves,  I shall sow some of these now for flowering in next year’s garden.