Archive for the Category ◊ My English Garden ◊

• 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

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.

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• 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:
Aubrieta – 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.
Primula auriculata: 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.

Happy gardening!

• 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

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.

• Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

Has anyone watched Toby Buckland investigating the issue of peat-based compost in the special edition of the BBC1 Gardeners’ World programme last Friday? The debate around the necessity for gardeners to use peat based compost was very interesting and has certainly brought to light issues which I personally was not aware of.

In particular, I am amazed that despite the fact that the government is aiming for peat free compost by 2010, it appears that most compost manufacturers do not seem to label the content of their products adequately. In fact only last Sunday I was visiting my friend who was potting some tomato plants in his greenhouse and I casually asked him if it was peat-free. He was adamant that it was because he assumed that peat free was the standard these days.

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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…

• 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.

• Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

This week I have started to get the greenhouse ready for the arrival of my new seedlings next month. I grow a lot of tomatoes in the greenhouse and invariably it becomes a jungle every year, and things start to deteriorate towards autumn when blight may start to affect the plants. So it is important to disinfect the green house each year to avoid getting any diseases on the new tomato plants.

Spring Clean in the greenhouse

Spring Clean in the greenhouse

I have now finished washing the inside glass panels of the greenhouse with some disinfectant fluid (personally I use Jeyes for disinfecting purposes). I have also removed any remaining white power shading which obscures the outside of the glass panels.

During the winter time I use my greenhouse to provide shelter for plants which are tender such as my palm tree (Trachycarpus Fortunei), which is quite small and needs protection from the frost. It also includes my autumn-sown sweet peas as well as a cactus which I have brought back from France (it is commonly called a ‘rat tail’ cactus down there but I don’t know its proper latin name). I have also sown some peas (Twinkle early variety), lettuce and broad beans in modules which are also located in the greenhouse at present. I did sow some broad beans directly in the ground back in autumn but the snow and cold windy weather had the better of half of my beans, hence the new sowing of broad beans in modules to replace the ones which I have lost over winter.

On a sunny day like this, it feels good to be working in the greenhouse in preparation for the bountiful harvests to come in July. I have left the window and doors open to let the fresh air come in the disinfectant-smelling green house.

It is now ready to be insulated by using bubble wrap which I usually stick to the top of the window panels to prevent the frost from affecting my new tender plants. I will soon need to start transferring my plant seedlings from the window sill to the greenhouse, where I have also brought a high shelf back from my shed . The bubble wrap insulation does not look great but it is an essential task since I will want to acclimatize plants to the outdoor conditions as soon as possible. I have also sown some new seeds for flowers which I will also move in the greenhouse as soon as any risk of frost as gone, such as: cosmos, geraniums, camomille lawn, and gallardias.

As I start moving my plants in the greenhouse I imagine the seasons to come and I look forward to glorious days in the garden.

• Saturday, March 07th, 2009

You know the saying but what if you could have your own supply of home-grown Fresh organic apples?

Apple Tree

Apple Tree

Two years ago we planted two apples trees in our garden. Since we regularly eat apples in all forms (lunch box fruit, crumbles, apple sauce, tarts,…) it made sense to give it a go (did I mention cider?). And it’s not too late to plant a tree now; in fact the dormant period is probably the best time to do so.

This country used to be a major grower of apples of all sorts but due to many reasons (cheaper exports, supermarkets demands…) we now mainly ship in standard varieties from abroad.

And yet there are so many delicious different varieties to choose from. Personally I would recommend that you make sure that you plant a local variety of apple tree. Not only because it has more chances of growing well in its local environment but also it’s part of our heritage and the chances are that your local varieties will include anything but the standard bland tasting supermarket apples.

• Wednesday, March 04th, 2009

This was probably the discovery of the year 2008: curly kale. I had never cooked it or grown it before and the idea came about when I watched a television cooking programme.

Curly Kale Seeds

Curly Kale Seeds

Also, I like to try new vegetable seeds every year and since the purple curly kale seeds were on offer with Thompson & Morgan I thought I did not have much to lose (69p).

It has always been a bit of a challenge for me to grow vegetables from the brassica family (i.e. any cabbage related plant) since wild rabbits regularly devour them. And my cabbages have also suffered greatly from the white butterfly caterpillar.

I seem to remember that it was Jamie Oliver who suggested cooking curly kale in a very simple way by blanching it and then frying it in olive oil with garlic and chilies. Now the taste is absolutely superb, it has a fresh mineral flavour and it accompanies any other vegetable such as potatoes really well. It’s really worth growing!

Since then, I have bought curly kale from supermarket but the taste is not as good as the home-grown one.

This year I plan to try the Tavola Nero kale since other chefs have recommended its great taste too.

If you have any tips that you would like to share for growing cabbages successfully I would love to hear from you.

• 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!