Archive for ◊ February, 2009 ◊

• Saturday, February 28th, 2009

March is the month when the sowing activity really picks up for me. Already I feel like spring is just around the corner since I have noticed this morning that the crocuses are out; although my daffodils don’t look like they will be ready for St David’s day which is tomorrow.

Garden Crocuses

Garden Crocuses

Now is the time when a lot of seeds can be sown indoors on a warm and light windowsill ready to be potted next month and then transferred to the garden once we have had our last frost.

I have already started to sow a few seeds over the last two weeks however the majority of the flowers and some of the vegetables that I grow will be sown in March.

I have purchased most of my seeds online and selected carefully the following seeds which I will sow in this month:

Marigolds : my old favourite, easy-to-grow seeds, perfect for the front of the border, and useful companion planting for tomato plants
Tomatoes: I sow various varieties but I particularly like to grow cherry tomatoes because they ripen quicker in our variable British climate
Cosmos: charming tall flowers which remind me of my childhood in the garden
Sweet peas: easy to grow and right now there is still time to sow a few of these lovely climbers. You may want to soak the seeds in water beforehand prior to sowing them in a pot as it helps with germination.

Also, I have already started to sow some pea seeds in modules in my greenhouse. I tried sowing peas that way last year and it worked well for me. Since the modules are sheltered in the greenhouse, the peas tend to grow quicker than in the cold ground and suffer less from the bad weather. You can do the same with beans.

Top TipMy top tip: if like me you grow peas, beans or sweet corn in modules/pots in your greenhouse, make sure that you protect the seeds by covering them with a protective plastic lid otherwise the mice will make a meal of it!

• Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

This morning I have started to pot my chili plants which are now enjoying the winter sunshine on the windowsill. Chillies are fairly easy-to-grow and right now all they need is warmth, a lot of sun and a bit of water.

This month I have also started to sow flower seeds, in particular this selection of flowers which are suited to drier conditions or rockeries:

    Growing Chillies

    Growing Chillies

  • Erigerons (Profusion): I first noticed these dainty little flowers growing on the banks of a stream in Lower Slaughter in the Cotswolds.
  • Chamomile (lawn) which is supposed to be delightfully fragrant and may be suitable to both my English and French gardens. Hopefully I may also be able to use it as herbal tea!
  • Livingstone Daisy (Micropterum schlecteri) : also known as mesembryanthemum is a succulent annual which looks like a daisy.

Now, I have never grown these flower seeds before but I have noticed that the seeds are really tiny, which in my opinion makes them more challenging to grow. And judging by the instructions on the packets, the seeds will take longer to germinate.

Top TipMy top tip: if the flower seeds are tiny, i.e. the size of a crystal of salt or smaller, I strongly recommend using special compost for sowings.
You can work out how small the seeds are by shaking the packet and comparing it with other seeds that you know.

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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.

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• Thursday, February 19th, 2009

My potato seeds have started to chit nicely as you can see in the picture below. You don’t have to chit potatoes, you could just simply plant them in the ground when the time is right but chitting potatoes usually helps get a quicker start (particularly for early varieties).

Chitting potatoes

Chitting potatoes

Chitting potatoes is basically encouraging the tubers to produce sprouts by placing them in a light and frost-free environment. I remember the TV presenter and experienced gardener Monty Don made a trial a couple of years ago which showed that early varieties of potatoes benefit from chitting, as it usually gives you earlier and bigger crops.

And ít’s so easy to do: place your tubers in a tray or individually place them in an egg carton ensuring that the rose end (where most of the eyes or indentations are) is facing upwards. Chitting can take up to 6 weeks and when the sprouts are short, shubby and about 3cm (1 in) long they are ready to be planted.

And it’s not too late to start – so get chitting now!

See my other posts on growing potatoes and my growing potatoes update.

• Sunday, February 15th, 2009

Garlic is a bit like marmite except that I love garlic.  Personally I cherish it not only because it revives any dish with its potent flavour but also because its health properties have been praised for thousands of years.  It is characteristic of Mediterranean cooking and is also said to prevent heart diseases and cancer.

Mediterranean Garlic

Mediterranean Garlic

I have tried to grow it in our fenland garden but unfortunately it does not grow so well.  I guess the issue partially lies in the nature of the soil which is heavy clay.  I read that for heavy soil it is advisable to grow garlic on a ridge, which I have tried and it has grown better but the size of the cloves still is nowhere near what I can buy in supermarkets anywhere.  And I so much long for those long plaited magnificent garlic heads which adorn so many Mediterranean kitchens.

So this year I have decided to put it to the test in both by Fenland and my Mediterranean garden, 780 miles apart.  I am not a very experienced gardener but I will try to grow the same variety in a similar way in both gardens.   Obviously the climate and the soil are different so it will affect the way the garlic grows and I am keen to see how certain factors influence growth.

We do get some frosts in Languedoc-Roussillon which is actually good for the growth of garlic but there is also more light and sunshine and my garden soil is apparently adequate for growing vines.

The garlic varieties which I will put to the test are:  germidour and garlic thermidrome.

Last year on the Gardeners’ World programme I watched Alys Fowler grow garlic cloves in pots to get them started in the greenhouse and then she will plant them outside in spring.  So I shall also try this method here to see if the garlic cloves fare better than those directly planted in the ground. 

If you have any tip on how to grow garlic in heavy clay soil or have other preferred varieties, I’d love to hear from you.  Otherwise watch out for my next update on the garlic trial 2009!

• Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

One of the first tasks when you have a new garden is to take stock of what is already there and growing well and what needs sorting.

Unkempt Olive Tree

Unkempt Olive Tree

Looking at the olive tree in my Mediterranean garden and comparing it with other specimens growing in so many gardens and fields in the area it is clear that it hasn’t been looked after for a long period of time. In particular the long shoots growing from the base of the olive tree need to be cut right back. Or so I was told by the locals who probably had never seen an olive tree so neglected.

This olive tree was not grown for its olives but because in Southern France it is supposed to bring good luck – so most Mediterranean gardens will have at least one olive tree. The gracious Olea europa (as per its latin name) is also the symbol of peace and wisdom in many countries. My tree is likely to be a local Picholine variety which is quite versatile in its use.

I have started to remove these long shoots and I think that I will probably need to trim the top a bit too but it is already starting to look better as you can see in the pictures. People in Provence say that the right shape of the olive tree should allow a little bird to fly through the tree without his wings touching the branches.

I have noticed that the olives were stained and I have been told that the culprit is likely to be a little fly that damages the fruits if you do not treat your olive tree.

Pruned Olive Tree

Pruned Olive Tree

The harvest season has already passed but I will need to find out more on that subject so that I can make the most of my olive tree. Apparently you can use a special Bordeaux mix treatment to act as a fungicide to start with. I need to find out more about the best way to grow olives trees organically.

Top TipMy top tip: Ask local people who have similar conditions and plants to yours their tips on what to do for plants which you may be struggling with.  Their personal insight and the fact that it is straightforward advice which has been tried locally are highly valuable.

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• Friday, February 06th, 2009

I am so eager to get started and leap into Spring that I tend to start my sowing too early and every year I make the same mistake. So my resolution each year is to not start tomato seeds in particular too early because the plants get leggy and take longer to get started in the ground.

Chilli de Cayenne seeds

Chilli de Cayenne seeds

Garden centres and shops are partially responsible as they start displaying plants and seeds too early.  Potato seeds have been available since early January and in my personal opinion that is too early even if you are planning to chit early varieties.  In fact looking at the cold weather that we have just experienced, I wonder if Spring is going to come as early as it did last year.  So as far as spuds are concerned I have waited until last week – early February – to buy and start chitting my early variety potato seeds.  I plan to purchase my main crop variety a bit later.
This is what I am currently sowing indoors:
– Chillies – are so easy to grow even for beginners and are an essential ingredient of curries and other exotic dishes.
– Geraniums – I have chosen a new variety called Moulin Rouge F1 hybrid by T&M which comes in vibrant red.  Geraniums are worthwhile growing from seed since they can be expensive if you buy them as fully grown plants from garden centers.
– Portulaca – I have never grown these before but I chose them because they like a sunny spot and seem to stand the drought more than most plants I know.  I have just noticed that the seeds are really tiny so I guess it’s going to be a challenge to grow these.

I may also grow a few cauliflower seeds if I have enough space in the sowing tray.
It feels so good to grow-your-own.  Hopefully you will join me too in the sowing frenzy!

Top TipMy top tip: I recommend sowing the right amount of plants that you need plus a few more just in case germination does not work so well (for whatever reason that it may be).  In the case of chilli plants, they have been so popular over the last 2 years that I would recommend growing a few more just for your friends and because the chilli plants also look good!

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• Monday, February 02nd, 2009
Today as I watch the falling snow I cannot help but contemplate the year gone by and realize that we have had a real winter.  All the frost and snow will hopefully rid us of any pests or diseases that may linger in the garden.  It’s nice to have the seasons back.
I have just noticed the first snowdrops in the garden with their white bell and I look forward to spring ahead.  This short English poem says it all:Snowdrops
“One month is past, another is begun,
Since merry bells rang out the dying year;
And buds of rarest green began to peer,
As if impatient for a warmer sun;
And though the distant hills are bleak and dun,
The virgin snowdrop, like a lambent fire,
Pearces the cold earth with its green-streaked spires…”
H. Coleridge – from The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady
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