Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Plant of the month - December

Euphorbia martinii

Not one of the usual suspects for this time of year, but though lots of people praise this lovely euphorbia, not many talk about how gorgeous it is in winter.

The purplish-blue glaucous leaves, with an accent of red at the centre of each rosette, hold their form and colour so well. They make a compact mound in the border which looks even more beautiful when, as in this picture, a drop of water or frost is held motionless and perfect on the surface of a leaf. This is a beautiful plant to use as an unusual evergreen accent: about two feet high, rising to about three feet in summer with the flowers (equally stunning) come out. I wouldn't be without it.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Plant wrestling

Another session with the overgrown pond today, and I've at last had a go at the sadly overgrown forsythia which dominates that corner. It's interwoven with an equally neglected Kerria japonica, and though they make quite a display in the spring, it's in that brassy yellow which is better reserved for my kids' paintboxes. They've got to go.

So out came the pruning saw, loppers and secateurs, and I've now got a towering pile of bonfire material waiting for me to set a match to it. The area looks a whole lot clearer already, but I've yet to tackle the really difficult bit - digging out those massive rootstocks. There must be 15 years' worth of growth there, and it's going to be a horrible job.

I've put it off for now, as failing light meant I had the perfect excuse, but before long I'll have to put the concrete breaker to it - my standard solution to unyielding shrub and tree roots. It's a massive piece of iron, so heavy I can barely lift it, with a spike on one end and a wedge on the other. Once you've dug a hole into the rootball, you thrust the spike into its heart, and then jump on the other end - it takes a few attempts, but I've yet to come across the rootball that can withstand the onslaught! Easy work it is not, though - I'm not looking forward to this...

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Pond dipping

I have a small and very overgrown pond at the end of the garden that's been woefully neglected over the last few years. It was pretty bad when we moved in, as the previous owner hadn't thought to net it in the autumn so it was very silted up with leaves and stank to high heaven.

I had been getting on top of that problem - last year I almost had it clear - but I'm cursing now because I didn't get around to putting down the net in October, and now have a pond full of leaves again. It doesn't help that the pond is sited under a willow tree, with a big old forsythia the other side. It's also at the "woody" end of the garden, where all the apple trees are, and also close to our tree-lined boundary with next door. Clear proof of the old advice never to site a pond near trees.

Anyway, so I spent some time today doing a repair job on the leaves situation, as best I could, and then put the net down anyway as the forsythia is still hanging on to some yellowing leaves on a particularly large branch overhanging the pond itself. The words lock, stable, horse and bolted come to mind, but there we are, it can't be helped. I have lots of ideas on developing this area in the long term, but for now it's a clearance job. Lots of hard work ahead here, I think.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Layers and layers of colour

I've just planted up a potful of bulbs - yes, I know, much too late really, but these were a freebie from a magazine and they missed my main bulb-planting push, so I've only just got around to putting them in.

To make matters worse, they didn't put in quite the combination they'd promised in the freebie - result, I missed out on the one plant I wanted (Allium neapolitanum) and ended up with a mish-mash of nice plants, but in colours which don't go with my colour schemes so left me a bit non-plussed as to where to put them.

So I took the easy way out and put them all in a big pot on my patio. I used the "layer" technique - where you plant the tallest bulbs on the bottom layer, then just cover them with soil and plant another layer of shorter bulbs on top.

So here's what I did:

  • Layer 1: Ranunculus asiaticus: this will be the latest one to flower of them all, putting up big powder-puffs of blowsy flowers in July in lots of wonderfully vulgar colours!

  • Layer 2a: Allium ostrowskianum: a new one on me, so I'll be very interested to see how these come up. They look very pretty on paper - pale mauve flower heads in June.

  • Layer 2b: Tulipa tarda: these are among my favourite tulips, a lovely species with pale yellow, cheerful little flower heads in April. I put them in a circle around the Alliums.

  • Layer 3: Pushkinia libanotica: these tiny little gems will be the first to flower, in February or thereabouts, and since they're so tiny I've popped them in on top.

I'm so looking forward to it - the last time I tried a layered pot it was one of the most beautiful displays I'd ever had on my patio. Fingers crossed I haven't left it too late, that's all...

Friday, November 24, 2006

Uninvited guests

I've had to take my uninvited guests in hand this week - in other words, thin out the self-sown seedlings in my borders ruthlessly to allow my other newly-establishing plants enough room to develop properly.

Self-sowers are a wonderful benefit to the garden. In my garden, there are some which just come back every year in greater and greater numbers - usually because the conditions suit them so well.

I'm over-run with Californian poppies, from a batch sown in my first year here and revelling in my dry sandy conditions ever since. I love their sunny orange flowers, and always end up with a few which turn up excitingly different shades from white to pink just to liven things up a bit. But they do form great thickets of seedlings, all deeply rooted with a carrot-like taproot and taking a bit of digging out.

Then there's Phacelia tanacetifolia, again from a few seeds I popped in in the first year I was here (when I relied heavily on annuals while I was waiting to see what else there was in my newly-acquired garden - answer, not much, unfortunately). This is a big, lush, sappy plant with really wierd powder-blue hairy tails for flowers, and grows like mad so it overpowers everything near it. I do love it, but it's done for too many of my more precious plants for me to want to encourage it too much.

Another much-loved self-sower is love-in-a-mist, Nigella damascena. As well as the usual - but nonetheless beautiful - blue, I have a gratifyingly large number which come up that stunning white, sometimes with blue throats, and I just adore them. They are terrible little hussies, though, and scatter seeds indiscriminately and in their thousands.

This year I've also had the delight of a new self-seeder - Cerinthe major "Purpurascens". I germinated about 10 plants of this last year from a free packet of seeds, and fell for them big time. There's something about those big, luxurious mottled leaves and the sultry dark-purple nodding flowers that's a devastating combination. Well - they seem to like it here, which is fantastic, so I've left in a dozen or so where I think they look best, and either moved some of the others or... difficult to do, this, and demands the hardest of gardening hearts... put them on the compost heap.

These are the ones I need to control, though you might also add forget-me-nots which are gradually gaining more and more of a foothold. I'm encouraging them this year, though, because of the newly-planted tulips, so I'm being a bit kinder to them just for this one season.

The others, though, will be subjected to the Christopher Lloyd treatment: he advises weeding out around 99% of your self-seeders, which always seems horribly brutal. I just know I'll congratulate myself come summer, though, when I can enjoy my lovely uninvited guests without cursing their numbers and wanting them to go away and leave my more cultivated party-goers alone.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Late-season planting

I was expecting to have finished my planting until spring by now - but to my surprise, an order I put in for the next leg of the Christopher Lloyd border turned up just a couple of days after I'd placed it. All credit to Beth Chatto's wonderful nursery - but it meant I've had a hectic weekend getting the plants in as soon as I could after getting them.

So I've now added to my increasingly packed border:
  • Helenium "Moorheim Beauty": The classic Helenium, burnt bronze and copper in a strong, long-lasting daisy.
  • Papaver "Goliath Group": Another classic, this time the reddest oriental poppy you can think of.
  • Santolina neapolitanum: Silver filigree leaves and pompoms of yellow in summer. Not usually my kind of plant, but I'll take a punt on it, and besides I know it'll do well in my dry conditions.
  • Libertia peregrinans: part of the structural planting of the border, a lovely greeny-yellow evergreen that puts up spectacular flowers, too.

I've only got a few more of the main structural plants to put in now, and then it'll be a matter of putting in the annual contingent and waiting for the perennials to beef up a bit. It's all coming together easier and more quickly than I'd hoped!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Plant of the month - November

Prunus subhirtella "Autumnalis"

This is the view outside my front door at the moment. The mature winter-flowering cherry in my front garden has many virtues - flowering all through winter being one of them - but for two weeks in November each year, it catches fire. Palest yellow in the lower leaves darkens to burnt orange at the centre and erupts into richest red at the top. Utterly gorgeous.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Coming up roses

The construction of my little tribute to Christopher Lloyd continues... I got my roses in the post today from Peter Beales, all very exciting as I ordered them at the Chelsea Flower Show. Gardeners are patient folk - can you imagine anything else where you pay for something for delivery five months later...

Anyway - I whipped out this afternoon to get them in the ground as soon as possible. The "conventional" one is Rosa "Perle d'Or" - lovely old-fashioned scented shrub rose. Then I've indulged my passion for species roses, in my opinion criminally under-used. These are fantastic roses, super-reliable and tough, and without the "blowsiness" of the cultivated types. I know most people want romance with their roses, but they're fantastic plants in their own right if they're allowed to show what they can do. Just look at a Rosa canina (dog rose) scrambling through a dense hedgerow and putting out its shell-pink blossoms - or Rosa alba, also known as the White Rose of York, which has to be the toughest rose I know. It grows happily in shade and on poor soils, making it a really valuable rose for people who can't usually grow them.

My two species roses are Rosa setipoda - mainly for its long, wierd hips in autumn - and Rosa pimpinellifolia, an ancient low-growing variety with black hips. The hips are actually one of the best things about species roses - they haven't had them bred out of them so they keep them well into autumn. It rather puts the lie to the idea that roses have a short season.

The only disadvantage is that they're all, without exception as far as I can tell, extremely prickly! Rosa pimpinellifolia's other name is Rosa spinosissima, which says it all really. I'd better invest in some heavy-duty protective clothing when pruning time comes around...

Friday, November 10, 2006


Haven't had a moment for the last couple of weeks as every five minutes I've been shooting outside to plant a few more tulips.

It's just the right time of year, so I've bought myself nearly 100 bulbs to plant. That sounds like a lot but it still won't quite make the carpet I have in mind - the plan is to add to it gradually over the years. I've got white Triumphator, purple Purple Prince and fabulous scarlet Apeldoorn, all planted in blocks of colour.

I've underplanted them with forget-me-nots, which grow in self-seeded clumps in my garden but have never really been allowed to come to the fore before. I've hit on the rather handy trick of transplanting a little clump onto each tulip bulb, reminding me where the bulbs are without having a graveyard full of labels everywhere.

With luck, I'll get away without digging them up every year since I have sharply-draining light soil, so there's no danger of rot. Just hope there's enough nutrition in there to keep them flowering from year to year. We'll just have to see.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Heaps of compost

My winter building programme is now well under way at the allotment - there are still a few crops in the ground (parsnips and cabbages, mainly) but the summer crops are being cleared away now and I'm turning my attention to developing the next quarter of the plot.

Before I start stripping turf off the new beds, though, I have to sort out my compost bins. I had two last year, which lasted me fine, but now the "current" pile is tottering woozily about three feet above the bin and I really need to extend!

So I've built myself a third bin. In true allotment spirit, I spurned the new wood I built my bins at home with, but I've kept the design similar. So I made a square of three pallets, knocked 2" poles through where the forklift arms go in the back one to keep it stable, and nailed them together as best I could (I did think of using corner brackets, but thought it was probably over-egging things).

Then I nailed two lengths of 2x2 timber up the front edges, and cut a length of gravel board to fit the front. Then I nailed the gravel board to the inside of the 2x2. This holds the whole thing square and provides a base for the next gravel board up, which sits loose on the top (held forward by the weight of the compost). You can put another 2x2 behind the gravel boards if you like to create a channel to run them down.

This makes a 4ft x 4ft compost bin which I find a really good size. I'm not an obsessive composter - that is, I'm not turning it every five minutes, since I don't have time and don't like the job anyway! So I content myself with turning every 6 months - the price I pay, of course, is that the compost takes longer to rot down (about a year, on average), and it's a "cold" heap so I can't kill weed seeds and the like. But since I still end up with excellent compost I make the compromise.

I spent this morning breaking my back turning heap 2 into the new compost bin (it's now ready to use and will go into the double-digging later this winter), then turning the half-rotted heap 1 into bin 2, which will be ready for use in the spring I'd say. And I've got a growing pile of new stuff to go in bin 1 - my suspicion is that I'll need a fourth compost bin before the winter is out. It's amazing how much you can make from just half an allotment - once I've got the whole thing up and running I'll have a small production line going!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Water, water everywhere

It's raining again...

It's not often I get rained off a job but last week I was out doing a client's garden and the thunder and lightening started. It started raining slowly - a few fat drops at first, then more, and more, and more...

After about 10 minutes I was about as soaked as it's possible to be, squelching around in my gardening boots with the path turning rapidly into a river. I have one of those great gardening hats with the wide brims that keeps everything out, but even so it was streaming with water to such an extent it was like standing behind Victoria Falls.

Since every time I stuck my fork in a bit of earth it turned into a muddy stream and ran away, I figured it was time to stop and knocked off half an hour early - first time I've ever been forced to do that as I'm a hardy type usually!

Since then it's been raining more or less non-stop, including another thunderstorm and downpour, and everywhere is soaked right to the bedrock.

Then I read that the water companies are saying there's still going to be a hosepipe ban next year. What does it take? This has been the warmest October on record, but also one of the wettest - yet they don't seem to have the nous to collect the damn water and put it somewhere until we need it. Instead it's "oh look, it's July and it's not raining, so there's no water available - sorry....".

Something tells me they're giving whatever water there is to the higher-paying commercial users - who incidentally seem able to use gallons and gallons to cool machines, jet-wash buildings and the like - while us poor householders get pinched. And could the fact that they're making more money out of the commercial users have something to do with the fact that they have to pay dividends to shareholders? I wonder...

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Spring in autumn

I was weeding the garden yesterday - or rather, pulling out the self-sown nigella, phacelia and echscholzia which colonises it at this time of year and smothers everything else - and pulled aside a particularly thick cover of seedlings to find.... a crocus, in full flower.

Today I was in a client's garden where her Iris sibirica has just started flowering.

It's October. These are early spring flowers. I cannot say how unutterably depressing I find it to have the seasons spoiled like this. To say nothing of how frightening it is to see how advanced global warming is - and how much it's confusing natural life.

How is it that nobody is worried about this yet? It's too late already, yet here in the UK everyone just makes jokes and says how much they're looking forward to living in the Loire.

I don't feel like that about it at all. I love the English seasons - the pinch in the air on a crisp autumn day with the leaves reddening and crunching underfoot; the sparkle of a snowdrop above the snow in January as you can just dare to hope another gardening year might begin soon; the glory of a garden full of spring bulbs in March.

The parched look of the earth this summer in the middle of the worst drought for decades was warning enough, wasn't it? Everyone I know lost at least one favourite plant (mine was a glorious Helianthus "Lemon Queen" - I've been mourning it ever since). I spent this morning repairing the damage in a client's formerly packed perennial bed - the client was ill this summer (before I began working in her garden) and couldn't water it, and less than 10% has survived.

Yes, we can plant drought-tolerant Mediterranean plants, and yes, we can enjoy the frost-tender exotics we formerly couldn't grow. But what of flame-red, moisture-loving lobelias, water-hungry but jewel-like trollius, or even more traditional stalwarts like phlox and roses? If this goes on much longer, we're looking at the disappearance of these gorgeous plants from our borders altogether.

English gardens will be the poorer for it. And no amount of cannas, banana trees or English vineyards can make up for their loss.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Autumn at Kew

This weekend I took some time out to go to the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew - and what an amazing time to go. It's always been a favourite garden of mine, but this weekend they really excelled themselves.

It is, of course, autumn, and that means Autumn Festivals springing up all over the place. Kew was no exception - and here are a few pictures of the spectacle they put together.

Autumn display in the Waterlily House
This is the display in the Waterlily House - over 30 tonnes of pumpkins, gourds and squashes. Where did they find room to grow all these?!

Bright orange squashes
If this doesn't make you think of autumn, I don't know what will!

Chilli plants among squashes and gourds
Chilli plants packed with fruit among a pile of gorgeous gourds.

Blue-grey squash variety
We loved the subtle colour of these blue-grey squashes - unfortunately couldn't find the label so don't know what the name is, but they're beautiful.

Lots of different squashes
The sheer variety on show was just amazing.

And another autumn show at Kew - they floated over 5 million cranberries on the pool outside the Palm House as a demonstration of how cranberries are harvested in New England. Apparently cranberry bushes are grown on marshland which is then flooded so that the berries float to the top of the water, where they're then harvested. I'm sure it doesn't quite look as neat as this - but aren't they colourful?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


One of the only disadvantage - well, ok, the only disadvantage - to being a professional gardener is that you never get to spend any time in your own garden. I had a lovely morning weeding through a border and sorting out an overgrown pampas grass for a client this morning - and now I don't have time to plant the wonderful box of new plants which was on my doorstep when I got back, sent from Great Dixter's nursery in Sussex.

There's something truly wonderful about getting mail-order plants from a specialist nursery. It puts a smile on my face every time. My resolution for this year is to make sure they get in the ground straight away, rather than - as in previous years - languishing in some siding somewhere, usually stuffed into a pot and slowly starving while I dither about where to put it. No more! The plants currently sitting on the floor of my kitchen will be in the garden by sunset, come what may!

This is the first tranche of my shameless strategy to nick the border design from Christopher Lloyd's Long Border and adapt it to my own main herbaceous bed. The plants are three Achillea "Lucky Break", a Viburnum opulus "Compactum", and three Phlox "Long Border Mauve". These last won't be found in any other catalogues as they're an otherwise un-named variety which just turned up in the Long Borders one day - they're a lovely shade, though, so I can see why they wanted to keep them. I have my doubts how it'll manage in my sandy soil, but I'll put loads of organic matter in the planting hole, mulch them well next spring and keep my fingers crossed.

The Viburnum will be a gorgeous focal point, though Christopher Lloyd's book says airily "easily kept to 6' high with pruning" which makes me gulp a bit. Not very "Compactum", then. At the moment it's a tiny 1ft or so - hard to imagine it in its full glory.

Right-hand herbaceous border in October 2006

This is what my very own "Long Border" looks like at the moment - can you see why it needs a re-design? It's far too slewed towards June (when it looked gorgeous) - by this time of the year I'm down to a clump of Aster "Climax" in the back corner and a few Nicotiana for colour. The rest of it is pretty much all the "dead plant" look so beloved of Piet Oudolf. I'm all for winter structure from interesting seedheads - but not this early! Hopefully though my new colour-for-all-seasons design will bring it out of the colour-free doldrums and give it a bit more pizazz. Watch this space!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Christopher Lloyd lives on

I've had my nose stuck in my favourite gardening book over the last few days - "Succession Planting for Adventurous Gardeners" by Christopher Lloyd (BBC Books, 2005). I'm re-planning my biggest herbaceous border at the moment - too much bare soil, not enough colour after June - and have roped in the late, great Christo to help.

For anyone who doesn't know who Christopher Lloyd is - shame on you, and find some of his books NOW and start reading. He's quite simply the most inspirational gardener of recent years, and he writes beautifully to boot. His knowledge of plants is thorough and colourful: he'll not just tell you how to plant something and where to grow it, but will tell you its funny little quirks and foibles - this tulip has extra fat leaves, so don't plant it too close to its neighbours; that Allium self-seeds itself around with abandon. You don't have to like his trademark bright colour combinations to enjoy his practical advice and suggestions, and to revel in his wonderfully unique style of talking about his garden as if he were sitting in an easy chair right next to you.

This particular book deals with the art of producing a continuous display of colour from early spring to late autumn, and plenty of interest through the winter months too. It uses Christopher Lloyd's wonderful garden at Great Dixter in East Sussex as a kind of laboratory or workshop, with examples from his planting throughout the garden, and tales of his experiences growing these wonderful plants and experimenting with combinations. It really is like learning at the feet of the master.

Here's a quote just to whet your appetite - this from the chapter on self-sowing plants, which Christopher Lloyd allows throughout the garden:

"Gardens that give space to self-appointed volunteers have a comfortable, personal feel. A plant ripens seed after flowering; it falls to the ground, germinates in due course (sometimes after a considerable interval) and produces another generation.

"So far, you have had no control over the situation. This is when many gardeners get frightened, have visions of a garden overrun by thousands of seedlings with nothing much else visible by midsummer. They remove the lot and apply thick mulches to prevent further germination. Control is restored, but what a lot they are missing!"

What a wonderful, refreshing attitude, from a man whose love of and passion for plants shines through on every page. RIP, Christo - we miss you.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Running strawberries

My poor strawberry bed has been bursting out of its box after this summer, when I failed dismally to keep up with the sprouting runners which have by now rooted and grown away merrily. I do hate pulling up good strawb plants, and lots of people don't bother and end up with a good ground cover of tightly-packed strawberry plants instead. I don't like the randomness of that - control freak that I am - and prefer to keep an eye on how long my strawberry plants have been going for. I try to grow plants for three years only and then propagate them in the third year to replant afresh. That's impossible if you don't know which year your strawberry plants started off! I also have a suspicion that letting your plants spend all their energy making new babies rather than producing strawberries doesn't make a lot of sense.

This is the first of three beds I'm sowing with strawbs - I have 8' by 4' raised beds across the width of the allotment, so the idea is that I have an early crop, a mid-season crop and a late crop. This lot are the mid-season ones, a variety called "Cambridge Favourite" - a reliable stalwart beloved by most strawberry growers as it's easy-going and not too fussy, and produces good crops of really good-flavoured fruit.

I'm just waiting for the new edition of the Organic Gardening Catalogue (http://www.organiccatalog.com/catalog/) and then I'll order in the next lot, which I think will be earlies this time. I think I'm going to go for "Honeyeoye" - it's supposed to be very early indeed, and though "Rosie" has better flavour I'm put off by the number of diseases it's prone to catching!

Allotment September 2006Here's what the allotment looks like at the moment - more and more of it has been put down for the winter now, and I've got three beds down to grazing rye (and a fourth cleared and ready to be double-dug this winter). Still cropping beans, courgettes and potatoes, though - and looks remarkably chipper given it's the end of the year.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Heuchera heaven

Heuchera 'Obsidian'I bought another Heuchera the other day - this time "Obsidian", a fantastic matt-black brooder of a plant. I love it already. I'm a bit of a collector of Heuchera - my front garden relies on them, along with Tiarella (I'm afraid the mongrel Heucherella is banished, for snobbery's sake if nothing else). The purple mottled foliage makes a great contrast with the ferns which tower above them - both are more-or-less evergreen, too, so my purple-and-green scheme continues all year.

It started out as a white garden, but then I thought - well, that's just one big cliche, so I added a twist and underplanted the white flowery things with a purple-and-green ground layer. It works brilliantly, all the more so since the purple and green recedes to the background while the white flowers do their stuff, and then takes over once the best of the herbaceous is over.

Conditions are dappled shade and dry sandy soil - so you wouldn't have thought it would do well. I add a thick mulch every spring and feed it, too, and that seems to keep the plants more or less nourished despite their otherwise starvation surroundings.

Other Heucheras I've got the hots for:
  • H. "Palace Purple": the one everyone has, but there really isn't any beating it
  • H. "Chocolate Ruffles": leaves good enough to eat
  • H. "Pewter Moon": marbled leaves that look painted

I also have a bright yellow-leaved strain which I picked up at Hampton Court Flower Show a few years ago - I paid a bit more than I intended for it, as it was a new variety, but I've been delighted with it as it's just flourished. Sadly I don't think the variety has continued - it's similar to H. "Lime Rickey" but much more yellow - and now I've lost the plant label. I don't suppose I'll ever identify it again now, but maybe there's a National Collection Holder out there somewhere who knows what it is.

I'm not a fan of the very fashionable H. "Amber Waves" - it's a slightly sickly colour for my taste, and I'm told it doesn't do well in wet winters. They say H. "Caramel" does better, and is a similar colour, but since I'm left with a bad taste in my mouth looking at the diarrhoea-yellow shades of "Amber Waves" I doubt I'll be converted. Leave me my purples and my dark-brown lovelies, and I'll be content.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Putting the allotment to bed

It's that time of year again when although there are plenty of crops coming from the allotment, the early crops have finished and the raised beds I use need putting away for the winter.

I love this time of year, when you start to draw a line under the triumphs and occasional disasters of this growing season and look forward to the next. Gradually, the allotment falls asleep, and I can dream of what added delights are to come when it wakes up again in the spring. I've got a few winter crops which will keep me going, but it'll be the peas and strawberries of next year that I'll be looking forward to.

I have a little routine when it comes to clearing beds and putting them down for winter. First of all, I remove the remains of the old crops and, if they didn't carry any disease, I compost them. Then I lightly fork over the surface and remove any weeds - bindweed has become a bit of a nuisance this year, but I've kept on top of it and it's at a manageable level.

Raised bed sown with grazing ryeThen, the bed cleared, I put on a winter "quilt", depending on what I'm going to do with it next year. A lot of them are sown with green manures - this year I'm using grazing rye as it doesn't interfere with my rotation system, but so far it's looking alarmingly like couch grass (it isn't, of course, but I don't like the similarity!) and they say it's tough to dig in come spring time, so we'll see if this is a success. Everyone sings its praises as far as retaining nutrients goes, so hopefully my misgivings will be unfounded. I'm sowing it broadcast, then raking in and watering gently, and finally netting it against the birds.

A couple of the beds - those I'm going to plant up with my "odds & sods" next year like courgettes and sweetcorn, which don't really fit into a rotation plan - I'll cover with a thick layer of pure manure. We get our muck from the stable next door, which brings it over by the tractor-load, and I'll put it on so that it raises above the sides of the beds - that's about a 3" layer. That suppresses weeds, keeps in the moisture, adds nutrients and bulk to the soil, and generally improves growing conditions for my plants.

That done - I'm finished, and it's time to start planning for next year. Sweet dreams!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Going up in smoke

Had a great afternoon stoking the fires - we have a permanent heap of bits of wood at the bottom of the garden, and when the need for a bonfire gets too urgent to ignore we send it all up in smoke in an incinerator. This time it was the demise of the honeysuckle which meant I couldn't put it off any more, so we had a happy afternoon playing with matches.

There are plenty of people who'll tell you that's the most environmentally-unfriendly way to dispose of this kind of waste... uh, no, I think not. First it's carbon neutral - the plant has absorbed as much carbon dioxide as you're sending out. Second, it's a lot better than putting it in landfill. Third, the preferred deep green option - of putting it on the compost - would require extensive shredding, involving a lot of electricity, noise pollution and generally dirty and non-eco-friendly things. To say nothing of being infuriatingly slow and time-consuming (has anyone out there found a garden shredder that's actually worth using?) So for all you closet arsonists out there - go ahead, it's the only (legal) way to go!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Too much of everything

It's glut city here... I've just chopped up 3lbs of courgettes to make a double quantity of vegetable mulligatawny - a really good, filling soup which sees me through the worst of the winter days. There are still two courgettes sitting there glaring at me balefully, and I just know my triffid plants up at the allotment are puffing up more of them every moment.

Then I went down to the four apple trees at the bottom of the garden and found the ground thick with windfalls, so I've now got a big sack of them waiting to be cooked and frozen. I think the trees are three Bramley Seedlings and a Cox, but I intend to go on down to RHS Wisley, just up the road from me, for their apple-tasting weekend on 21st & 22nd October and find out for sure. It's a great weekend, with the chance to taste all sorts of different apples - and Wisley has a mind-boggling selection in its fruit gardens - and you can also take along mystery apples for a diagnosis. Details can be found on the RHS website: http://www.rhs.org.uk/wisley/wiseventsplantcentre.asp.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Honeysuckle blues

There are honeysuckles, and there are honeysuckles. The one I spent yesterday hacking down off the side of my house was definitely in the "so-so" category. It was a lacklustre performer at best - a smattering of flowers with none of the heady scent you'd expect. And the flowers themselves were a disappointing muddy pink: decidedly uninspiring.

I think this was a Lonicera periclymenum "Belgica", which is a selection of the common honeysuckle and really not the best. It was also a classic example of wrong plant, wrong place: we inherited it with the house five years ago, and it was planted - can you believe it - into the compacted gravel of the patio, right up against the wall of the house where it got little or no moisture at all. It finally succumbed to this year's drought and all summer has been resembling a survivor of some awful famine somewhere.

Now I don't want you to think I'm some kind of honeysuckle hater - far from it, which is why I couldn't bear to carry on with this particular sorry specimen. I've grown a couple of other varieties in my time: L. japonica "Halliana" over a fence in a small city garden I used to have, where it turned out to be a thug, like many evergreen climbers - though so beautiful you could forgive it pretty much anything.

And just now I have probably the best honeysuckle I've ever grown - L. "Graham Thomas", another periclymenum but so infinitely better than the one up the side of the house it hardly bears comparison. I have mine in a very large pot - matching another pot with a couple of clematis in it on the other side of the patio - and climbing up a hazel and willow wigwam. It's been plastered with fabulous large scented flowers all summer, and now sports clusters of cheerful red berries all over. Just lovely.

Friday, September 01, 2006

In a pickle

There's something very wholesome about making chutney. I've just spent an hour or two dicing courgettes, apples, plums and onions - all off the allotment or out of the garden apart from the plums which were from a garden I look after - and now it's blupping quietly on the stove where it'll stay for the next three hours until it magically transforms into comforting, warming chutney.

I'll leave it a couple of months to mature before we eat it, as it mellows beautifully if you leave it a while. This is my first venture into real diced chutney - last year I pickled several pounds of runner beans and the result was a bit chunky, but it tasted so good I've now got the preserving bug good and proper. There's nothing better, or more pleasurable, for dealing with the inevitable glut at this time of year.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Getting my hands dirty

Well I finally gave in. I've been fighting the urge to inflict my meanderings in the garden and up at the allotment on other people, but I can resist no longer. The trouble is, when you're the only one in your entire family who's totally obsessed with plants, you need to just tell someone sometimes. You just need to be able to share when that combination of annual dahlias, cosmos and agastache you planted last spring without much of an idea how it would turn out is actually the best bit of your garden at the moment. And besides, I need somewhere to put my garden photos.

So welcome to my green and pleasant world. I love it - hope you do too!
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