• Sunday, January 29th, 2012
This is the start of a new gardening year for me as I rummage through the 2012 garden seed catalogues and plan my sowings for the year ahead. Today I went to my local garden centre and I bought some first early potato seeds, which are a variety called Swift, as well as a salad potato variey called Ratte which is highly appreciated in France. I have never grown the Swift potato variety before and I hope to get better result with this type of early crop which is supposed to be good for boiling as well as new potato.
Ratte New Potatoes
Last year I gave the International Kidney variety a try – they are the equivalent of the Jersey Royal new potatoes. Unfortunately the yield was not so good last year and this could be due to the dry weather which was not so favourable to a healthy growth of the tubers.
Last Spring I also grew a first early potato variety called Epicure, which is a typical Ayrshire potato but again the crop was not particularly outstanding.
On the other hand the main crop variety which I grew last year was Kind Edward, and the yield was good except that they did not store so well in the shed compared to previous years. The reason for this could have been the exceptionally warm autumn and winter which we experienced and this goes to show that no two years are the same with gardening. Certain crops will perform differently given certain conditions.
For now I have stored my potato seeds in a cool dark place ready for chitting in a few weeks time.
By then I will need to have finished digging the vegetable plot in time for planting my seeds in March. Speaking to fellow gardeners in East Anglia it seems that many of us are not yet done with the digging which makes me feel better.
Half way there with my muddy wellington boots and my fork I paused to contemplate the barren soil in anticipation for an abundant forthcoming harvest season.
• Friday, February 11th, 2011
Gardening in February always starts with some ungrateful tasks such as cleaning the greenhouse and fixing the water butt (which collapsed on the floor due to the amount of ice in the worst of the winter cold). However the sense of anticipation of the new season to come has kept me going on a grey and blustery weekend.
Top of the agenda was pruning the red grape vine which is climbing alongside my shed. I had to borrow a ladder and started to cut down the excess of shoots back to 2 buds. I have also managed to secure a plastic bucket on my rhubarb with the help of a few stones – which offers a basic alternative to fancy rhubarb terracotta pots designed for forcing the vegetable.
I have also pruned my blackcurrant and redcurrant bushes and weeded the base of the bush. Hopefully when the wind eases off and weather allowing I shall be able to feed my bushes a sprinkling of sulphate of potash. This should help them get a kick start in Spring and stimulate the bush to produce a good crop of fruits.
Getting on with the digging is a key task at this time of the year, as I start looking into my sowing plans for the year taking into account plant rotation. I actually found a few rotten beetroots which had been missed from the harvest in autumn, as well as a few baby carrots which I have managed to use in a beef stew. I also wish I had harvested the last of my celery stalks earlier as the plant didn’t fare well in the cold and snow.
I have observed a few crocuses starting to emerge and I guess a warm spell is all they need to burst into blossom. The garden looks like a battle field with the vestiges of faded flower heads, worn out lawn and broken plants seemingly struggling in the wind.
As I contemplate my bare garden and consider alternative crops and flowers I really look forward to the Spring to come.
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
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.
• 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 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.
• Friday, March 27th, 2009
Outdoor sowings can really get started in April and I have already started to sow the following flower seeds in my garden which are annuals:
Clarkia: this elegant cottage flower is one of my favourite annuals. It reminds me of my childhood in the garden when I was as tall as the flowers and enjoyed walking through the flower border.
Otherwise hardy annuals like nasturtium, lavatera, and calendula can also be sown in April. In fact, I noticed this morning that calendulas from last year had self seeded and started to grow near my greenhouse!
I shall probably wait until the next sunny week end to sow more annual flowers. Unfortunately it’s been raining here and it is now cold but soon I shall sow these flowers: Phlox; and Californian Poppies – these are so easy to grow and self seed so you usually benefit from free flowers the following year.
Vegetable seeds to sow outdoors:
Potatoes: now is a good time to start planting your potato tubers. I have already sown some of my potatoes as you can see in my last growing potatoes update but I haven’t sown the Desiree maincrop variety yet.
I have also just sown some carrots (Amsterdam forcing variety), parsnips and Kale (black Tuscany variety) in my raised bed.
• Sunday, March 22nd, 2009
This morning I noticed that the lettuce seeds which I had scattered haphazardly in my cold frame only 2 weeks ago have started to germinate. Cold frames are handy if you want to protect small plants from the cold. I also like to use mine to grow early seeds of lettuce or any other crop which needs protection (from rabbits as well as the cold). I usually try to sow lettuce seeds such as the Little Gem variety or mixed salad leaves (Red Salad Bowl) in a row, but since I found an old packet of seeds which I did not expect to germinate I freely sprinkled the seeds and put a little bit of compost on top.
I recommend the use of a cold frame as an alternative to a greenhouse if you do not have enough space for a big greenhouse. Each year I replace the soil in my cold frame by adding some compost and some sand to lighten the structure of my clay soil. I can recommend 2 varieties of lettuces for their taste, crunchiness and easiness to grow: Counter (mentioned by skilled gardener Pippa Greenwood) and Batavia Rouge de Grenoble.
My top tip: this may sound obvious but you need to remember to water your seeds regularly when they are covered in the cold frame as it can get quite dry. And in summer it’s warm enough to be able to remove the glass frame completely and just use the cold frame as a raised bed.
You can get a ready-to-be-assembled cold frame which is lighter than mine (made of polycarbonate glazing and aluminium frame) and can be delivered to your doorsteps in good time.
• Friday, March 20th, 2009
Beetroot is an easy-to-grow vegetable which I started to grow on my vegetable plot about two years ago. I got some free seeds which were for a variety called Boltardy, which is one of the most used and recommended variety for beetroots. As its name indicates this beetroot variety is resistant to bolting which can happen if we get a hot summer. I have also tried a variety called Cylindra but the results were not so good with smaller size beetroots.
The plants are sensitive to cold weather so it is best waiting until the weather gets warmer in April. Alternatively you can try sowing them into modules and provide shelter if needed (with a cloche for example) – my neighbour tried this successfully last year and I intend to do the same this year.
Otherwise you can sow them directly in the ground, just draw a line in the ground with a stick at a depth of 2 cm (0.75in) and drop a seed every 10 cm. My personal experience is that they tend to prefer soil which is not too compact to get the seeds going; but otherwise beetroots are fairly low maintenance.
It’s best to pick the roots when they are young and, as with all the vegetables that I cook from the garden, I try to pick them just before cooking to keep them fresh and benefit from all the nutrients within.
Beetroots are normally harvested in June/July. I am not so keen on pickled beetroot but I enjoy them roasted in the oven as I find that the mineral sweet taste is enhanced during cooking.
Packed with goodness, beetroots are said to help reduce blood pressure, and are also used as a natural die in a wide range of food. So it’s well worth giving it a try.
My top tip: try them roasted, it’s so easy and tastes great with your Sunday roast.
• Saturday, January 31st, 2009
Potatoes are one of these vegetables which I never really saw any point in growing until 4 years ago. I used to be prejudiced against the good old potato because I considered that it was part of the staple diet and fairly cheap anyway. But then I read that growing potatoes could help with the structure of the soil and that the growth of the plant can cover an area quite tightly making it difficult for weeds to come through.
This was at a time when I still had a fair proportion of my garden covered in weeds and it needed digging anyway, so why not plant a few tatties?
I was pleasantly surprised by the generous growth from the potato seeds and indeed it did cover a large area for many months until I needed to harvest my first potatoes. The process was really easy: basically you just need to dig out a trench, follow the instructions with regards to depth and width for planting the seeds, add a bit of fertilizer (optional) and just make sure that they don’t suffer too much from drought.
Our first crop was not as plentiful as subsequent harvests because my soil is heavy clay and therefore I guess it is harder for the plant to develop big potatoes. The first crop was a potato variety called Maris Piper which is now not my favorite variety but I can vouch for the fact that home-grown potatoes taste better than supermarket grown ones. They are also better for you – I eat my new potatoes with the skin on, confident that they have been grown organically.
So if you have enough space for potatoes, I strongly recommend them even for beginners. You cannot go far wrong.
My top tip: early varieties of potatoes tend to be less prone to diseases such as blight and new potatoes are so delicious that it’s a good choice to grow early or first early varieties.
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See my follow up posts on chitting potatoes and my growing potatoes update.
• Tuesday, January 27th, 2009
Looking back at the successes of the year 2008 the Globe artichoke is definitely a winner and has been for me for several years now. I grow mine from seeds, which takes longer since the artichoke seedling really needs to develop to a 3 foot tall plant before producing any flower. Some of my plants took 2 years before growing a long stem which terminates in a few flowering buds. The artichoke flower buds tend to get bigger after a couple of years as the plant settles and grows each year.
Bees on an artichoke head
I recommend protecting young plants from the winter cold by mulching the base of the artichoke with straw for example.
I usually harvest my artichokes in June/July. If you leave it too late to harvest your artichoke, it will develop into a lovely flower which is very popular with bees.
This underrated vegetable is full of fibre, packed with goodness and is known for its diuretic and antioxidant properties. And it always feels good to grow your own vegetable. Personally I have grown my artichokes from the T&M globe artichoke seeds and was satisfied with them.
My top tip: I recommend cooking artichokes in a pressure cooker since it takes half the time (only 20 minutes) of the traditional boiling method. Then you simply dip the heart of the vegetable into a mixture of olive oil and a touch of balsamic vinegar. Bon appetit!
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