Archive for the Category ◊ Favourite Posts ◊

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• Sunday, March 07th, 2010

This weekend I have been busy picking the last of the Winter vegetables from the garden as the weather has been good and I can get on with digging the vegetable patch.

I collected the last brussel sprouts, most of which have been nibbled by hungry wild rabbits. In my raised bed I also harvested the last carrots and parsnips, which were actually quite small but very tasty in my beef and ale stew.

Cold frame lettuce

Cold frame lettuce

My coldframe protected the Winter Lettuce from the worst of the Winter weather including the snow and I was delighted to be able to pick some Lambs Lettuce and Rocket as you can see in the picture below. A few croutons and some fried pancetta accompanied my mixed salad nicely at lunchtime.

I am still enjoying the garlic and shallots which I grew last year but supplies are running out rapidly. And in fact this morning I planted my new shallots (called Red Sun) in the area where I grew potatoes last year. The sun was shining and the crocuses near my greenhouse had opened up their purple petals as a sure sign that we are now coming out of Winter.
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• Sunday, July 26th, 2009

Following my previous post on planning a flower border which I wrote back in May the border has been looking good and it is also constantly evolving.

Clarkia in flower border

Clarkia in flower border

The effect can be seen in the following pictures taken in June and also on this lovely July morning. In my original post I was planning to have a few annuals amongst some of the perennials that were already there. I was also aiming to have a continuous display of flowers which is always the challenging part of any border design in my opinion.
Gallardia and Rudbekia

Gallardia and Rudbekia

Some of my ideas have worked out, so for example as you can see the Clarkias provided some interesting lush colour in the flower border.
But unfortunately some of the seeds did not germinate so I did not manage to get the homogenous effect which I was looking for. The Clarkias were interspersed with some Sisyrinchiums (Stiatum) which are perennial plants that produce elegant spikes of creamy yellow flowers. Since these flowers tend to self seed freely I ended up with too many of them in the border but it was nonetheless looking good in June.

Then later in the month there were a few unexpected blue cornflowers in the wrong places but they filled in some gaps nicely. I am also rather disappointed with the lawn Chamomile and the Erigerons which do not seem to have grown well as you can hardly see them in the border.

Mixed flower border

Mixed flower border

On the other hand this month the Gallardias are in full bloom and the double pompom-type blooms look nice as do the Rudbekias. The Dahlias in the background are just starting to bloom and hopefully the pink crinums will soon do too.

So my flower border is not really what I was expecting in terms of general effect but it does look good and colorful, and that’s what matters after all.

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• Sunday, June 28th, 2009

If you have been watching the Gardener’s World BBC TV programme for a few years like myself then you cannot fail to have noticed that it has changed greatly this year. Not only did a new presenter come on board along with a few other familiar gardening presenters but also the content and therefore the audience being targeted seems to be different.

As with all changes it was bound to displease some and delight others. In line with the Dig-In campaign supported by the BBC I feel that the programme tried to address the needs of gardening beginners to make it more accessible to everybody.

Work In Progress

Work In Progress

A worthy endeavour indeed but it probably means that some long-time viewers started to feel a bit alienated by the new stances and style of the programme.

In particular I noticed a lot of anger voiced not only in forums such as the BBC gardening forum but also reported in articles such as on the Times Online, in gardening magazines, or popular blogs

Having never seen such anger in the peaceful world of gardening I did wonder if the economic doom & gloom combined with the recent MPs’ scandal story had exacerbated gardeners’ recent outbursts of anger.

Personally I have always felt that I needed to see more episodes of the programme to make up my mind, just like a new garden needs time to mature and reveal its full potential.
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• Friday, May 08th, 2009

If like me you have a flower border which is looking a bit bare at present then you may want to start planning your flower border. Planning or designing your flower borders should help you achieve a succession of flowers right into autumn.

My Flower Border

My Flower Border

Obviously you don’t have to plan the border in exact details but you may find that it pays to do so in the long run and it’s also quite interesting and fun. You will find below my personal gardening tips on how to achieve this.

Right now my flower border is adorning a few tulips which will soon fade away (as you can see in the picture) so I need to fill the empty spaces with some more beautiful flowers and plants.

I first had a look at my border area earlier in the year and did a lot of sowings of flowers which are currently growing patiently in the greenhouse. And now I am just considering which plants will be grown in the border and as part of my simplified version of garden design.
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• 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.

Primula Vulgaris

Primula Vulgaris

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.

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• Friday, April 03rd, 2009

Growing your own tomatoes couldn’t be more satisfying. They are fairly easy to grow and nothing beats the taste of organically home-grown tomatoes.

Another benefit of growing your own tomatoes is that you get a wide choice of varieties of tomatoes to grow from seeds. The choice is much wider than the tomatoes which you can find in supermarkets and the varieties are also adapted for growing in the UK.

How to get started

At this time of year you have a few options: you can either purchase a plug plant from a garden centre or order your plants online. Make sure that the plant is watered sufficiently and do not plant the tomato outdoors until all risk of frost has finished.

Potting tomato plants

Potting tomato plants

Alternatively you could try growing tomatoes from seeds, which is my preferred option. All you need is a pot or tray of fine compost where you will place a few tomato seeds that need to be covered with a little compost. Place the tray on a sunny window sill and keep the soil moist (you may want to cover the tray with a plastic bag to keep the moisture in until the seeds have germinated). Within 2 weeks you should start to see some seedlings emerging from the compost.

Once the seedlings are big enough to handle i.e. once they have at least an additional pair of leaves to their original leaves (called true leaf) you can transplant them in their own individual pots to grow on in a sunny area. Once all risk of frost has passed and the weather is warmer you will be able to plant your tomatoes outside. If like me you have a greenhouse, you can move the plants earlier in the greenhouse and either grow them in big pots or grow bags. Grow bags are handy because they take little space and can be disposed of easily at the end of the season. I simply put 3 plants per grow bag of either tomatoes or peppers.

My favourite tomato varieties

I recommend Gardeners Delight which is easy to grow and ripens quickly. Also another favourite of mine is Tigeretta – a middle sized tomato with little yellow stripes, which is tasty and proved to be very disease resistant when we had the really wet summer two years ago and blight and rot was killing most plants.

I tend to use the Roma variety to make tomato sauce or for cooking. I have also grown Alicante tomatoes which are bigger than the above mentioned varieties and therefore take longer to ripen in my personal experience. I normally prefer to grow cherry tomatoes because they ripen quicker than big tomato varieties and produce vigourous bushes full of fruits. Additionally for cherry tomatoes I recommend Sun gold and Black Cherry (although some people find that the colour is a bit off- putting).

You can get some varieties which are specifically adapted to baskets so they are worth giving a go too. This year I will also try the Marmande variety (my friend has given me a few plants that he grew from seeds) which usually produces big beefsteak tomatoes.

Caring for your tomatoes

You will need to feed your tomato plants as soon as they have flowers. I recommend using an organic tomato feed which you can find easily online or even in DIY shops. This will ensure that you get a bounty of juicy and tasty tomatoes.

Some tomato plants need to have their side shoots removed for plentiful crops; it’s best to follow the instructions on your packet of seeds. As the plants grow, they will also need staking to alleviate the plant from the weight of the fruits and branches. I personally use bamboo canes and some garden twine. Also, I have always been advised by my peers that you should avoid getting the tomato leaves wet as tomato plants don’t like the damp and can get diseases.

Don’t worry if you get it wrong, you should still get some tomatoes as long as you give them a little care every so often. And harvesting couldn’t be more fun!

Top TipMy top tip: marigolds are a perfect companion plant to tomatoes, i.e. they repel the pests which are likely to damage your tomato plant. I always grow marigold every year and I plant them along the path which is near the tomatoes so it does not only looks good but it’s beneficial to my vegetables too.

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• Sunday, March 29th, 2009

My long border in summer is a vibrant display of flowers, shrubs and textures which attracts butterflies and friends alike. At present it is looking rather plain; the last crocuses have shriveled away and the tulips are just about to bloom. My border is not as wide and large as the magnificent ones which you can see when you visit national gardens like Wisley or Kew, however there is still scope for creativity.

Weeding in my English Garden

Weeding in my English Garden

On this sunny yet chilly day I have started to tidy up the border by trimming back some of the hellebores (also known as Christmas roses) which provided a bit of winter blossom over the last few months. Hopefully this should provide more light to my bulbs and allow them to grow quicker.

I have also finished pruning the roses which are at the back of the border. I found a few slugs as I was weeding that area and promptly disposed of them with my secators.

There is a semi permanent structure to my border in the sense that the rose bushes always form the background colour of the border and a few perennials and bulbs make an appearance when the season is right for them.

Each year I look forward to selecting the flowers which will make up my border throughout the seasons. And that’s probably the most challenging part of the task: finding plants which will contribute to a constant display of flowers from april to september. You can see a picture of my long border in full bloom in the introduction page to my English garden.

There are flowers which I am really fond of, and will include invariably in my borders and it includes: Dahlias, Cosmos, Clarkias, Californian poppies and sweet williams. This year however I shall remove the self seeded sweet Williams and try some new Crinum bulbs, as well as Gallardias which I have not grown for a long time (I have chosen a variety with double flowers called Razzledazzle). The seedlings for most of these plants are still indoors for now and doing well.

One thing you can guarantee with a border like mine is that whatever I plan to do, there is always some unexpected flower, usually of an odd colour, that will crop up amongst the composition. But I guess that’s all part of the magic of gardening…

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• Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

My passion for roses came about when I discovered English roses. Until then I had only known about cup roses which, whilst they are lovely, often lack the fragrance of the English rose.

To me nothing compares with the fragrance of an old English rose and certainly 2008 has seen the resurgence of the famous English rose amongst gardeners. In my garden you will find fine specimen of luscious roses – a total of 12 varieties, mainly from the David Austin nursery.

Gertrude Jekyll rose

Gertrude Jekyll rose

Amonst my favourite roses are Teasing Georgia for its abundance of flowers, its Tea Rose perfume and its repeat flowering habit. My rose bushes are planted next to the path leading up to the terrace and I cannot fail to notice the succession of fragrances as I am walking along.

Also high on my list of favourite rose varieties is Jude the Obscure. It is said to be rather susceptible to rain damage on the petals but I like the shape of the flower which is quite distinct (very large incurved cup shaped flowers) as well as the subtle perfume: sweet and aromatic like a glass of chardonnay wine.

Finally, it is said to be the nation’s favourite rose and it is surely mine too: Gertrude Jekyll – stunning with its rich pink blossom and the true perfume of the English Old Rose.

English roses are generally fairly easy to grow. I have had some diseases with my roses but I still do not use any pesticides or other chemical products.
For example one of my apricot-coloured rose (called Pat Austin) was badly affected by blackspot two years ago. A friend of mine recommended to cut the bush right back and to dispose of all the cuttings in the green bin.

So we cut the rose back to 2 inches from the ground which seems quite cruel at the time and I wasn’t sure that the bush would recover from this drastic approach.
The following year the bush grew back some new shoots and admittedly the rose was overall smaller than before; but last summer it looked healthy and good and it is coming back to its original height.

Roses and Sweet Williams

Roses and Sweet Williams

What about aphids on roses?

They tend to appear in mass in Spring and they feed on the sap of roses. Because I try to garden organically I do not spray my roses. At the beginning of summer I try to squeeze the insects between my fingers. But then the lady birds take over and I guess I am lucky to have enough lady birds to rid me of the little aphids throughout summer. Or is it because I don’t spray my plants that I get so many of the beloved insects?

Certainly I have noticed that my greenhouse offers the little ladybirds a nice shelter to over winter each year. And yes – the early rose buds do get damaged by the first aphids but I believe that it is worth it to remain organic.

Top TipMy top tip: the perfect combination: roses & sweet williams.
Sweet williams are fairly compact plants which surround the rose bush tightly hence preventing a lot of weeds to come through. I definitely recommend growing them together.

Was it tip-top for you? Please leave a comment – thank you!

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• Sunday, January 18th, 2009

This is my first post in this blog and I am really looking forward to an exciting journey of gardening going through all the seasons, and sharing with you all the surprises, successes and failures that gardening will bring along the way.

Robin in the snow

Robin in the snow

This is January and it’s time to prepare for the growing season, although I tend to think that November is when it all starts for me as I look back on what has been cultivated and start clearing the dead crops and flowers from the garden.

So this week I shall take another look at all the seed catalogues to see what new varieties will tempt me (what with so many varieties of flowers, vegetables and fruits to choose from!).

I shall also look back at which seeds I will continue to grow this year and establish a sowing schedule for the calendar.

Already it looks like the first seeds that I will grow this month will be chilies. Chilly seeds are very easy to grow and the plants do well on a sunny window sill which is ideal if you do not have a garden.

I hope that you will follow me on this journey as I am aiming to post my gardening activities on a weekly basis. So look out for my next post on my gardening plan!

I am only an amateur gardener and therefore welcome your comments and ideas for improvements.

May 2009 be a Happy gardening year for us all! (with a lot of sun…)

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