The Joy of Geraniums

Perennial geraniums are a fabulous plant. I mentioned ‘perennial’ because the misnomer that pelagoniums are geraniums continues, led by garden centres and nurseries around the country. In fact, both of these plants are perennial. Pelagoniums, though not frost hardy, will quite happily develop into a…

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A 'Blooming' Good Reason for Growing Houseleeks

Succulents have, by and large, passed me by for most of my green-fingered life. It was only when I began planning my wedding and looking at more masculine table settings and bouquets, that I began to realise just how wonderful Sempervivum (houseleeks) are. Until then I knew them only for nostalgic r…

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Making a Case for Violas

There’s no love lost between Pansies and I. I’m not really a big fan of gaudy flowers, and I’m afraid I normally put pansies in this category. Add the fact there’s a vast amount of deadheading to do throughout the season, not to mention these plants tend to be short-lived and get very straggly, and …

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Plant Pick - Growing Hollyhocks

I’m the first to admit I’m not a fan of short-lived plants. I like to plop a plant in and leave it, allowing its perennial nature to keep it growing year after year. All this annual and biennial sowing nonsense; no, I can’t be doing with that. Aside from a few plants, however. And one of these is th…

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Plant Pick - Growing Dahlias

‘Tis very much the season for dahlias. I’m a huge fan of these blooms, though I admit, I have a slight love/hate relationship. There are a vast array of varieties in the dahlia collection, from sinewy, single-petalled bloomers to small, clump forming plants with huge, gaudy flowers. It’s the latter …

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© Geoff Wakeling

Plant Pick - Growing Tulips

If you hadn’t heard, it’s September already. That means it’s time to plant bulbs for a spring show in 2015. And, if you’re stocking up, then it’s definitely time to be thinking about tulips.

I often think that tulips are one of the more overlooked bulbs. We all fill our gardens with daffs, crocus…

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Plant Pick - Growing Osteospermum (Cape Daisy)

I always feel as if some plants are vastly overlooked for tropical looking species and varieties that are new on the scene. Osteospermum (African Daisy), for example, seems to have a new colour shade coming out every years. However, I still have an extremely strong affection for Osteospermum jucundu…

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Plant Pick - Growing Sedum (Herbsfreude)

Okay, hear me out; Yes, Sedum Herbstfreude is an extremely common plant that may seem rather dull to you. BUT, I feel this plant is often overlooked. It has a huge number of positives; it’s wildlife friendly, it’s easy to grow, it has fantastic cover during late summer/early autumn AND it provides s…

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Plant Pick - Growing Skimmia

Okay, I know it’s still summer, but winter will be here before you know it. I’m honestly hoping for a cold snap this year – the wet, grey winter of 2013 was horrendous; I don’t think we had even one frost in London. That’s BAD for plants – they need dormancy. And it’s BAD for gardeners – we need a r…

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Plant Pick - Growing Thrift (Armeria)

I think I must’ve first come across Thrift (Armeria) when I was a lad holidaying in Scotland. Our family didn’t head abroad, but jumped in the car and journeyed to the stunning landscapes of the Lake District, Scotland and Northumberland. I distinctly remember great swathes of thrift clinging to the…

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Pink Thrift in a natural setting - Flickr - © AnnaKika

Monday Magic – Cordon Tree Flowers!

Spring. Isn’t it marvellous? A hint of warmth and some rain, and the garden comes rushing back to life. It seems as if there’s something new to discover every day. Over the past few weeks, buds and leaves have begun to open and then, today, I discovered cordon tree flowers!

 

When it comes to fruit trees, I’m a total amateur. I know how to prune only through managing my clients’ trees; often huge, misshapen things that haven’t been managed properly for years. But, starting fruit trees from scratch, particularly cordons, is completely new to me.

I must admit; it’s not started too well. The first tree was an apple which had grown a little too large to be planted straight out as a cordon. This meant some heavy pruning had to take place. Then, a very dry year and lacklustre watering stunted it’s growth. I bought three more fruit trees from a cheapo store last year for £3.99 each – two plums and a pear. I planted. I watered. And then, in the middle of summer, I realised I needed to move the chicken coop which required transplanting two plums. Not ideal by any means. As you’ll note from the video, they both made it, but one is all-but useless now.

Still, I am thrilled to see flowers on the plums. And just as thrilled to note lots of leaves and buds on the pear and apple too. It’s too early for those to flower yet, so there is still time for buds to open and hint at autumn fruit. Then I’ll have to nurture the trees through the year and pay close attention to those fruitlets – I’m not going to get much, but I’d be happy with just one of each!

‘Tis the season to be excited. Now…to go and read more on cordons so I don’t muck it up.

Book Review – Good Soil

There’s only so much you can say about soil, right?! Wrong! ‘Good Soil‘ is PACKED with delightful surprises, from a little science on soil biology through to guides on how to best use all that chicken manure (a topic close to my heart). And then there are the stunning photos and drawings included. This might be about soil, but it’s about beautiful soil.

‘Good Soil’ is a GREAT book.

It’s all too easy to forget about your vegetable or ornamental garden earth. There’s those obvious first steps; shoving in some ericaceous soil for those acid-loving plants, topping a bed with shop-bought compost each spring or piling in the manure. Some of my earliest allotment memories are heading down to the local stables to go mining for black, steaming gold to enrich the beds. But once a bit of titivation has taken place, we get on with growing, often forgetting about the complex nature of soil.

Tips on chicken manure? YES please!

And complex, it is. Good Soil addresses this in a interesting and beautifully written way. Tina Råman’s writing draws you in; this isn’t a simple reference book. There are stories to unravel, fun facts to discover and vast, vast amounts of delectable information to enjoy. Manure might seem a strange and slightly unsavoury topic for a book but it’s often a crucial component for any successful growing season, regardless of whether you’ve got flowers or vegetables. Towards the end of the book, there’s also a very useful section on various plant types (bulbs, trees, and vegetables, for example) and the best soil practices for each group.

Beautiful artwork accompanies wonderful writing.

This book really surprised me. I liked the idea and topic of the book; a soil bible to live by. But I wasn’t expecting the gorgeous images and the alluring writing to draw me in quite as it did.

I highly recommend Good Soil. Honestly, if you buy it as a gift, buy two; you won’t want to part with your own copy!

Time for Transplanting Tomatoes

It feels great that the growing season has already reached a stage where I’m transplanting tomatoes. There’s nothing quite like that smell of tomato leaf; I think I even prefer it to the actual taste of the eventual fruit! I soaked the tray of young plants in water first and gave a little tug – some aren’t quite ready, but eight popped out with great rootballs.

 

For the past three years I’ve grown tomatoes in the greenhouse and they’ve survived without any blight. So I’ll be doing the same thing this year. There’s nothing worse than growing a crop throughout the season only to have a disease destroy it in its closing months; soul destroying, or what?! Both of these varieties are climbing vines, so they’ll be fixed to string until they reach the greenhouse roof, at which point, I’ll snip the tops out.

Can’t wait to see some lovely tomatoes ripening once again!

The Big Bramble Clearing Project

Bramble clearing is most certainly much easier done in winter, when the leaves have disappeared and you can see exactly what you’re doing. For the most thorniest of thickets, it’s still tough going and you’ve got to be prepared to be assaulted by painful barbs. However, it beats trying to bash your wash through a jungle of spiny leaves and fresh, grasping tendrils in the middle of the summer.

There are a lot of projects going on at Brimwood Farm, from wildflower meadows and owl nesting boxes, to bluebell groves and coppicing. One job I was very keen to get on top of before the growing season really starts was the messy thicket at the top of the pit. The quarry is a fantastic wildlife area, but needed some major landscaping. Our weekend work-parties normally camp at the top of pit in grassy ground regular kept mown by rabbits. But I thought it would be nice to clear the brambles so we can actually see into the pit and watch the deer, owls, badgers and other creatures in the area.

The grand plan is that after bramble clearing has taken place, stock fencing will be erected around the edge and – eventually, steps cut into the hillside so there’s actually a path into this area. Beneath the fencing, roses and lavender will be planted for bees and insects, along with rosemary for barbecues and sage for giving the bonfires are fabulous smell. The top area also gets a lot of sun, so I’d like to plant some edible nut trees (walnuts, sweet chestnuts etc), a fig tree and a couple of lovely little crab apples too.

Armed with a rake and a pair of secateurs, and with a bonfire at the ready, the clearance started. Actually, it’s fairly easy. The rake had a two-pronged approach; bash the top of the brambles to break old and dead stems, and then heave the tendrils out straight to make them easier to cut. I could then just rake bundles of material onto the low-smoking bonfire to get rid of the mess.

 

Having a bonfire at the ready gets rid of the mess.

The morning’s work – half the brambles gone.

The afternoon’s workload

Stage One – Clearing brambles complete!

Bonfires aren’t exactly environmentally friendly, but with all the trees I want to plant, I hope I can offset some of the carbon.

 

Now, it has to be said that the brambles aren’t exactly cleared. I still have a lot of work to do to dig out the plants from the soil. However, now the thicket is cleared away, it’ll be a lot easier to keep on top of things. Next up – along with digging out – comes getting the fence in. And I’m sure it’s not going to be easy as this is an old dump site filled with concrete and other odds and ends, so actually digging down into the soil deep enough for stable posts could be a challenge. Still, armed with a fence post digger and some determination (and probably quite a bit of swearing) I hope that, by summer, we can actually get some landscaping finished and plants in!

Monday Magic – Dahlia Shoots

There’s nothing quite like the sight of dahlia shoots to know that the growing season has really begun. The sun has arrived in UK, and regardless of how fleeting it might be, it looks to be staying for at least a week. I checked the dahlias (which have been wrapped in newspaper and left in a bucket in the store room all winter) and – to my amazement – shoots! Whilst most of the tubers only have a few developing eyes, a couple had some decent growth. So, having washed the greenhouse down this morning, I thought it was time to pop these into some soil ahead of the growing season.



Propagating Osteospermums – Potting up 2016’s Cuttings

It’s mild in the UK. Beautifully so. Along with the warm weather has come some rain, and with spring well and truly on the way, it means that everything is starting to burst into life. I often forget to stick my head into the greenhouse as it’s at the bottom of the garden and I’m too busy dashing about feeding chickens. However, I took a moment to explore and found that many of my cuttings have not only rooted, but are growing new leaves and even, in some cases, flower buds. Propagating osteospermums is super easy, and with these young plants needing some more room, I decided to separate them into individual pots.

 

 

The speed at which things grow always astounds me, especially at this time of year when everything is desperate to maximise its potential before the season is over – yes, plants are already ‘thinking’ about next winter. There are lots of cuttings on the go. Lovely purple penstemmons, lots of pyracantha to turn my boundary into a spiky fortress, and some variegated eunoymous too. The succulents have sprung into life. Whilst nicitiana and coreopsis annuals from last year have lived through the winter. I’ll put them into the garden this year for early colour.

As you can see, I still have A LOT to do in terms of greenhouse cleaning. All that glass! There’s also an ash branch overhead which helps the pigeons aim directly towards the roof. So, on another warm day, I’ll get out there with a sponge and clean everything; especially important if I’m to ripen tomatoes and aubgerines in there later in the year.

However, for now, I’ll just enjoy the sight of free new plants that are almost ready for planting out. Propagating osteospermums, and indeed, other plants, isn’t hard and it’s a great source of wonder!





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