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.

A dash of colour in the snow

Snow and severely low temperatures have come as a shock to some plants, whilst others carry on regardless.

Heavy snow and very low temperatures have struck the garden in the last few days. The Wallflower ‘Ruby Gem’ plants that I planted out recently took a real battering from the severely low temperatures, and my Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’ (that i’d grown from seed) have met with a real shock too.

Blue Polyanthus flowers peek out from the snow.
The blue of the Polyanthus peeks out from the snow.

Despite these wintery conditions, there have been some flashes of colour – the blue Polyanthuses have been peeping out, and the Crocus ‘Giant Ruby’ bulbs are reaching upwards with their lush green growth out. Other bulbs are also happily growing too, and even the Daylily ‘Hemerocallis Bonanza’ are beginning to wake up.

How is your garden faring? Is there colour in your borders? Are there plants living far beyond their usual life expectancy? Let me know in the comments below…

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.

The Aubergines Awake

The Aubergines finally wake up; Next year’s colour is ready to plant out; and spiders wrap the garden in their webs.

I’m feeling a tiny bit paternal today having just discovered that one my the seven Aubergine ‘Black Beauty’ plants has finally started producing a berry (apparently they aren’t botanically classed as ‘fruit’).

aubergine-plants-awake
The Aubergines begin to emerge…

Having sown seven seeds back in March, all of which germinated and then giving three plants to my mother (who has grown hers on in a greenhouse), and tended to the remaining four in a large basket in my garden, this will be the very first ‘berry’ from all six plants (one plant collapsed and died a month or so ago).

The clock is now ticking though, with night time temperatures sometimes coming in at about 8C degrees and all these foggy mornings, it won’t be long until the cold snap comes and kills the plants off.

Will this aubergine be worth harvesting?

Elsewhere in the garden, I bought some Wallflower ‘Ruby Gem’ the other weekend from Twenty Pence Garden Centre, so these need planting out, as do the 50 or so Foxglove ‘Excelsior Hybrids Mixed’  which I have carefully tended to from seed. The Foxgloves will love the shade, and in turn the bees will love them. Both of these will bring colour to the garden next year.

Spider!
One of many garden spiders (Araneus diadematus, apparently)

About 15 beautiful spiders have been covering the garden in very large and strong cobwebs. There’s few birds in my garden, so these beautiful arachnids (Araneus Didadematus) spend their day sitting in the middle of their webs. I’m struggling to catch a good photograph of them though – their colourings are amazing and the photo above just doesn’t do them justice.

Everywhere I step I seem to be just a few inches away from a spider web or a spider – sometimes at face height.