• Thursday, April 30th, 2009
April was a wet month in Languedoc Roussillon and therefore a lot of weeds have cropped up in my French garden.
I missed the almond tree blossom but I was delighted to see that the tree was full of newly formed green almonds.
The apricot tree has also finished blossoming and I could see a few small apricots amongst the green leaves. Unfortunately one of the main branches appears to be dead and will need cutting probably in the dormant season. I am a bit concerned about this dead branch since I also found an unsightly 2 inch grub which you can see on the picture below. It was nestled underneath a rotten mimosa tree stump which I dug out to clear some space.
I think that this type of grub feeds on cellulose and therefore is prone to weakening trees.
My nectarine tree which I only planted last November seems to be growing well despite the cold and wet weather which we had during winter. Trees are an important feature of my French garden since I am aiming for a low or no maintenance garden (since I am not often there to look after the plants).
Casualties happen however and I was disappointed to see that my bougainvillea didn’t make it through winter. I did protect it with a special garden fleece but I made the mistake of adding some newspaper sheets at the base of the plant in an attempt to protect the roots from the cold. I think that my bougainvillea did not appreciate the cold wet newspaper treatment so it’s a lesson to be learned about frost tender plants and bushes.
• Tuesday, April 28th, 2009
Many flowers and vegetables can be sown safely outdoors in May as the risk of frost is diminishing. Last month I made a lot of indoor sowings of plants which I currently have sheltered in my greenhouse and should be going out gradually by mid May. This includes tomatoes, chilies as well as a wide range of flowers such as cleomes and geraniums.
Below is a list of plants which are easy-to-grow and I shall start sowing most of them outdoors in May if the weather allows it.
– Outdoor sunflowers: bring a bit of sunshine in your garden with tall sunflowers. May is a better month to grow them outdoors. I did sow some sunflowers seeds in my greenhouse in April but they did not germinate and it looks like a slug ate the tender shoots.
– Love-in-a-mist: easy to grow annuals usually available in shades of blue and pink.
– Sweet peas can be planted outside and trained to climb on a bamboo wigwam for example. Mine are already out.
• Sunday, April 26th, 2009
The garden has evolved so quickly recently with the warm weather which we have enjoyed that it has proved difficult to keep track of all my gardening activities. However this is my update of what’s growing in the garden right now including the flower borders, vegetable and fruit areas.
My tulips are all out including the bulbs which I planted back in autumn in containers along with pansies grown from seeds. In turn, I have also spotted a few butterflies including the lovely red peacock butterfly.
The rose bushes are growing new leaves following the spring pruning which I carried out earlier in the year (I must remember to give them a good feed!).
• Thursday, April 23rd, 2009
Radishes are so easy-to grow and now is a good time to start sowing the seeds in the garden. I sowed a line of radishes 3 weeks ago and they are already out so I shall sow a few more today to make sure that I get a continuous crop of radishes.
My preferred variety of radishes is called French breakfast which has a long shape and a nice crunchy taste and which you can see on the picture below. You can grow radishes too since they do not take much space: you just need to make a drill in the soil and sow your seeds at a depth of 1.5 cm and cover the seeds with soil. If you grow a different variety the depth may differ so it is best to check the instruction on the packet.
Radishes need a fair bit of water to grow well and remain crunchy so I usually tend to grow them only in spring time.
My top tip: did you know that you can make a nice soup with radish leaves?
My mum used to make a nice green soup with the radish leaves which actually taste like spinach. All you need is freshly cleaned radish leaves, butter, onion, potatoes, seasoning and some crème fraiche. Fry the radish leaves lightly with the chopped onion and add a couple of boiled potatoes and liquid to make the soup. Then once you have liquidized all the ingredients, just add a good spoonful of crème fraiche or double cream to make it unctuous.
In the old days people in France used to also add a boiled egg cut in chunks in the soup. Which reminds me of the old recipe for making fish pie when people in the UK used to include a boiled egg too.
• Tuesday, April 21st, 2009
Following from my Garlic trial 2009 article I recently traveled South to check how the garden had evolved since I last visited back in January.
Garlic Trial in France
As you can see below the garlic grown in my southern French garden is doing well and has grown bigger shoots than the same varieties grown in my East Anglian plot (UK).
Back in November 2008, it rained a lot in Languedoc Roussillon with near floods (5cm of water covered my garden area). Then the first half of 2009 was also a cold winter for the region including some snow.
I also tried to do a newspaper mulch around some of my garlic plants, which was effective in so far as it prevented to some extent the growth of the horsetail weeds. However there were a few annual weeds growing on the soil on top of it. I am really looking forward to the forthcoming period of growth and the result of my garlic trial.
• Sunday, April 19th, 2009
Today looks like a good day to get on with cutting the lawn. My lawn used to look like an unkempt meadow, patchy with dandelion weeds, buttercups, and ribwort to name but a few weeds.
Relax on the lawn
Other European countries like France envy our expertise in growing the perfect English lawn. Lush and green with razor sharp cut edges and neatly clipped on top, the English lawn involves a lot of skills and some will say art.
I’m no expert at growing a perfect lawn however I have a few tips for the occasional gardener who is keen to get the green spruced up and ready for the forthcoming good days of barbecues and play in the garden.
Lawn care Tip no.1: patch it up
Spring time marks the beginning of the lawn growing season. Now is a good time to get started by removing carefully any weeds which may have creeped up in your lawn such as daisies or dandelion. Then carefully patch up the gap left with some ‘heavy duty’ type lawn seeds and water well to help with germination.
• Wednesday, April 15th, 2009
Dahlias invariably form part of my flower borders each year. With over 50,000 different dahlias to choose from, it’s a real pleasure at this time of year to be browsing through the horticultural catalogues for ideas of new dahlia varieties to grow.
My Red Dahlias
I feel a sense of nostalgia associated with dahlias, which hangs around memories of allotments separated with rows of dahlias. Commonly used as cut flowers in allotments, they are often arranged in a garish display of colour with all shapes and colours lined up casually. One benefit of growing dahlias is that they have a long flowering season which extends well into autumn and sometimes winter.
My favourite dahlia types:
Various types of dahlias are available to choose from: pompon style; daisy-like flowers – the Bishop of Llandaff is particularly recommended for its stylish red blossoms on a dark foliage; cactus flowered type; and they come in all sizes and colours. Personally I prefer the tall varieties which I can use as filler at the back of my borders. And I love their striking colours as well as the size of the plant and flowers.
• Saturday, April 11th, 2009
Spring is here and with the weather being so good lately I have enjoyed going for a walk in the east-anglian countryside, through the fields and along the streams.
At this time of year the wild primroses (primula vulgaris) and the common dog violets thrive in the countryside and also in my garden in fact.
This reminds me of a little poem which can be found in the Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by E. Holden and edited in 1906. And I wonder: will there always be violets and primroses?
This is the poem from the diary:
“Long as there’s a sun that sets
Primroses will have their glory
Long as there are violets
They will have a place in story”
Source: Wordsworth, The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by E. Holden.
• Wednesday, April 08th, 2009
Many of us will be looking for flowers to plant in our garden over the coming Easter Bank Holiday weekend and heading straight to the garden centres. Ideally we will be looking to bring instantaneous colour to our gardens and get planting over the weekend.
Fritillarias in my garden
There are always the usual pansies, primroses and potted bulbs which are easy-to-grow plants that won’t suffer too much from the frost which we may still have to endure until mid-May. But if you are looking for something different, I would recommend the following:
– these are in full bloom at present and are very handy as ground cover, looking like a carpet of purple/pink flowers. They will grow and cover more ground each year and are also easy to propagate.
: lovely delicate flowers which comes in so many different colour combination. Not scented though.
The Pasque flower is similarly a very stylish flower which is referred to in the Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady and in bloom at this time of year.
For scented bliss, try Skimmias who are in full bloom at present although the flowers are probably not their best asset. Similarly Mahonias are average size bushes which yellow blossom at this time of year and could make a nice addition to the back of a border or near a fence.
Otherwise, although not yet in bloom, I will be looking to plant more perennial flowers which will grow on and blossom for many years. For my blue border the addition of the heart shaped pink flowers of the Dicentra bleeding heart may complement the blue theme nicely.
Delphiniums are also a must-have perennial which are dominating my blue border and this year I shall try to propagate them this by doing some cuttings for the first time.
• Sunday, April 05th, 2009
On a glorious morning like this, I enjoy walking in the garden looking at the daffodils and hyacinths which are in full bloom now, and just taking stock of what’s happening in the garden.
You may be fooled into thinking that everything is ready to grow and burst into bloom. But last night we got a nasty frost and my neighbour who had left his tray of lobelias just told me that they got hit badly by the frost.
Cherry Tree Buds
So today I only planted the broad beans which I had started in the greenhouse to fill in the gaps in my line of broad beans, where quite a few are missing since the broad beans were damaged during our cold winter. I also planted out the garlic which I had left in trays during winter. And finally I cleared the area for the sweet peas, and strenghtened the bamboo canes and the structure as a whole.
I have noticed that the Berberis bush is about to blossom. It is a prickly but lovely bush which carries deep coloured orange flowers which attracts bees. Similarly full of bees is the rosemary which is in full bloom too.
Finally, my cherry tree is just about to burst into bloom as you can see on the picture above. By next weekend it will look like my header (at the top of the page), soon to be followed by some fruits.