Wednesday, August 15, 2012

August flowers

Proof that we're about a month behind where we should be at this time of year: my garden has suddenly, spectacularly burst into flower. Even though it's August, when everything's usually looking a little saggy and tired and definitely more green and brown than colourful.

This is either what my borders should be looking like in midsummer, were I a properly organised gardener giving due consideration to year-round colour: or it's what my borders would have looked like in July, had it been a normal summer.

Oh hell, I don't care, I'm just enjoying it for what it is. For once I am spoiled for choice as to beautiful things to photograph for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day, hosted as always by Carol at May Dreams Gardens. And I couldn't be happier.
Pumpkin 'Atlantic Giant' in the tropical edibles border: its huge plate-like leaves are looking gorgeous snaking around the feet of some ruched near-black Cavolo Nero kale. I'm experimenting with edible planting with an exotic feel and this one is a real winner.

Malva moschata var alba

The brilliantly-coloured if rather thuggish daylilies are also a feature of the tropical edibles border: they don't have a variety as I inherited them (and have been digging out great clumps of them where they've invaded neighbouring territory ever since). I am forever weighing up the pros and cons of getting rid of them altogether: at the moment, when they're looking this lovely, they're for keeping I think. 

Garlic chives in full flower

Another thug with no name which I harden my heart against while it's just a big, ugly, strappy clump of leaves shouldering everything around it into oblivion: then it flowers and I lose the will to take action yet again. I love crocosmias but my goodness they're difficult to live with.

Nemesia which survived the winter in the chimney pots flanking my patio and are flowering their socks off once again

Geraniums: or should I say pelargoniums. I'm very rude to them every year and call them my old-lady plants but they just flower on regardless and defy all my attempts to ruin them with blatant neglect.

I rather like this one, though. Nicked as a cutting from a client's garden many years ago and still going strong.

Rosa 'Wildeve'

The two-tone flowers of Nicotiana mutabilis: I overwintered mine this year in a frost-free greenhouse on advice from Chris Ireland-Jones at Avon Bulbs and it's worked a treat.

Geranium pyrenaicum 'Bill Wallis' coming back for a second charming flowering: it's never really out of flower, actually, and is one of my desert-island plants I wouldn't be without

Cichorium intybus: otherwise known as chicory. I first saw chicory flowers on the Hooksgreen Herbs stand at one of the shows a few years ago and fell in love with it: now I've planted chicory all through my herb garden and it looks just lovely.

Tropaeolum majus 'Ladybird' forming a gorgeous frothy pile in the salad garden

Also in the salad garden the dill has flowered like big yellow fireworks in one corner: you're not supposed to let them do this, as it means you can't use the leaves any more, but they do look spectacular

And a little further along the same row there's another froth, this time of coriander which has run to seed rather spectacularly all along one side. It's very unruly and flops right across the path but it does look lovely: and I'll be saving the seed for use in cooking and also of course to sow next year.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Of sumptuous sweetpeas...

Last week I trundled around the North Circular at slightly less than walking pace (being a country bumpkin these days I'd forgotten to think this through: Olympic Lanes plus standard rush hour traffic equals journey demanding nightmarish levels of endurance) on my way to East Anglia. It took me four hours to get about 20 miles.

But anyway: I put all that behind me as soon as I walked onto the modest but treasure-filled trials grounds at Mr Fothergill's (also home to Johnsons Seeds and DT Browns, so you get three for the price of one, so to speak).

I was there on my annual pilgrimage to East Anglia (where for reasons buried in the mists of horticultural lore most of the seed companies seem to be based) to get a sneak peek at this year's new varieties.

There are dozens of them, too: the results of years of labouring behind the scenes to select flowers and veg which are just that little bit different. This year there were mini cabbages (container gardening is a rich seam for breeders), a handsome stripey courgette that hadn't even got a name yet, and several of the new long, pointed sweet peppers which look more like big chillies.

Courgette 'TZ 9308'
And there were sweet peas. Row upon row of them, brilliant with colour and a breathtaking sight. Mr Fothergills has declared 2013 the Year of the Sweet Pea and it's introducing 25 sweet pea varieties to its range including six new ones.

They are quite sumptuous to look at, too, with lots of the deep clarets and burgundies I find so ravishing. My only quibble is that the breeders seem to have left most of the scent behind them on the lab bench: most of these are somewhat fragrant, but it's a pale shadow of the rich scent of a 'Cupani' or 'Matucana'. Perhaps they'd be best grown with a few of the old favourites threaded among them, just so you don't forget what a sweet pea ought to smell like.

I adore sweet peas: this year mine have been something of a disappointment (pesky slugs - again) but luckily the school garden I'm currently looking after has two big wigwams of them which nobody's picking at the moment, it being summer holidays, except me.

It won't be long before I'm planting next year's seeds, in loo roll inners, to overwinter in the coldframe. This has been pretty much a foolproof method for me for years now: the overwintered seedlings don't like being moved around and are a little sulky at first but get going eventually, and I back them up with a second sowing (direct) in about March or April to flower well into summer.

So if you're poised with your box full of compost-packed loo rolls just itching to get the seeds in - here are a few new pretties to whet your appetite.

One of the best colours of them all, I thought, though I do have a little thing about this particular shade of flower. Lovely big plant with sturdy straight stems: very little scent though

'Chelsea Centenary'
Guess what the big fuss is going to be all about next year? You couldn't really have a Year of the Sweet Pea coinciding with the 100th birthday of the world's most famous flower show without naming one of your new varieties for it. It's a multiflora, producing lots of blooms on the same stem, and pretty in a lavender sort of way.
An old-ish variety bred in 1974 and the perfect cutting flower, with long, straight stems and a good clear colour. It was a little more perfumed, too.
'Fire and Ice'
I liked the two-tone effect you get with this one: mauve, pink, cream and the occasional flower with say a dark purple edging to the petal.
I found this charming: flowers the colour of clotted cream just splashed with the most subtle of pink tinges. And hallelujah: it smelled wonderful. Very spicy, perhaps too rich for those who like their sweet peas sweet, but I loved it.
'Wiltshire Ripple'
My prize for the most intriguing colouring, with flowers the colour of bruised plums. No scent, though.
'Air Warden'
This one shouted to be noticed with those bright cerise pink flowers: a plant to leap out from the border and demand attention. A little perfume to this one, too.
'Almost Black'
Mmm.... just look at that colouring. Sex on a stem: sultry, sumptuous, gorgeous. I do love a black flower.
Last but not least, another of the new varieties: large flowers with those raspberry-ripple blooms gambolling around the ramrod-straight stems.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

It's show time!

You have to be a little bit brave to enter our village horticultural show. 

It's taken extremely seriously and is very well supported - there was disappointment that there had been a mere 200+ entries this year (in the wake of the abysmal summer and subsequent failure of even the most accomplished of local veg growers' crops) - a shadow of last year's 570 entries.

I chose this year (perhaps in anticipation of there being marginally less fierce competition than usual) to make my debut.

I didn't win. Anything.

To be honest, with cucumbers like this to contend with - in early August! - it's not really that surprising. I was congratulating myself the other day on the appearance of my second fruit: it has taken me a little while to get going with the cukes this year as planting them involved moving an entire greenhouse, so they were a little late off the starting blocks. Seeing this lot makes me realise just how late.

And as for the leeks... just look at these leeks!

And these are grown in people's back yards, on their allotments, possibly in their greenhouses I suppose, but with no special facilities. I have, quite literally, no idea how you do that.

I was going to enter my onions - I have a fine crop of onions this year, at least - but I ran out of courage faced with this lot. As you can see, it's not all about size: presentation counts for a lot, and these guys are pros.

However, with a little emergency work with the elastic bands at the last minute I did manage to get my shallots into presentable condition - and scored the triumph I am most proud of: a third!

Those are mine, on the blue plate. Next year I shall know better and have them beautifully laid out on a tray of dried sand like the seasoned exhibitor who won first prize: sometimes I think entering competitions like these is as much about learning what's required as anything else.

My flowers were an absolute damp squib: I only entered two or three classes but drew a blank in all of them. I dare not take on the rose growers, or the chrysanth growers, or indeed the sweet pea exhibitors, all of whom had been doing it for far longer and with far more dedication than me. I simply bow to their superiority and admire.

I did think I'd have a chance with my 'five sprigs of herb plants, all different' - but I messed up by trying to be clever. My herbs were - to my eye - much bigger, healthier and generally more impressive than the other entries, so I had really high hopes of a first in that one. But I had decided to put in two different types of mint (I am building up quite a collection and they're rudely healthy at the moment) - and that meant I was the dreaded 'NAS' (Not As Schedule) since they meant five different genera of herb plant. Bother.

You couldn't help being impressed by the standard of exhibits: this was one of the floral art entries from our local and very talented florist. She's almost impossible to beat - one of the few times I've been glad I'm no good at flower arranging and therefore have no incentive to put myself in for this sort of thing.

And of course there were the fun classes and the kids' classes. The youngest was mighty chuffed to win a whole £2.50 for her friendship bracelet and handwriting entries (best not to mention the sock puppet). And oldest was doubly chuffed that her painting won a second prize against the grownups: she's too old these days to enter the children's classes.

Probably my favourite class in the whole thing, though, was class 111: an animal made from vegetables, in the 3-4 years age category. Don't you just love this little guy?

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