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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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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Plant Pick - Growing Aquilegia

 

I grew up with aquilegia’s in the garden, and remember being around these plants from when I was tiny. As such, I don’t really think of them as all that exciting. Many species, particularly the wilder varieties, can be fairly bland and though the dainty flowers offer a welcome treat spring…

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On My Oasis – Misdiagnosis and Cutting Season

I’ll let you in on a secret; for years, I’ve attributed that dry, crusty leaf curl on acers to wind damage, sun burn or both. My husband bought me a beautiful acer for a house-warming gift – after years of wanting one, I finally had my very own. As we moved in during the depths of the winter and it had been kept indoors for several months, it began to bud early, unfurling stunning deep red foliage. Then, when the leaves fully opened I finally planted it outside in what I thought was a relatively sheltered spot. Almost immediately, the dreaded leaf curl occurred, and though I knew it wasn’t dead, I was slightly heartbroken at its awful look. I decried the blustery wind coming off the Thames and the scorching sun.

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The dreaded dying acer leaf.

Then, a few weeks ago on Gardeners’ World there was an acer expert who revealed ‘all that wind damage? Well it’s not. It’s poor watering.”

What?! For all these years I’ve had it wrong?

I began watering the acer every day and, would you believe it, new shoots have begun to appear. I’m thrilled and simultaneously mortified at my neglect. Luckily, plants are pretty hardy things and tend to come back with a little bit of love. There’s still A LONG way to go before it’s beautiful once again, but just seeing some new growth is welcome!

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What’s this, I spy? New growth! Hurrah!

Cutting season

Meanwhile, I’ve begun taking cuttings like mad; partly because I want to establish Brimwood Farm Nursery, but also because I haven’t got the cash to be going out and buying three, or five, or seven of everything to make beautifully designed borders. I’ve now got a greenhouse filled with herbs, chocolate cosmos and hebes at this point, and I’m sure there’ll be more to come.

I always tend to watch The Beechgrove Garden on Sunday mornings. Honestly, I prefer it to Gardener’s World. There’s something rather upper class about GW; the gardening features come across as something most people can’t ever attain. Like Monty’s box balls, for instance. I mean – beautiful plants, great to have in a garden, and a good idea to do a feature about cutting out the blight and getting fresh growth. But, WHO actually has a box ball garden?! They’re bloody expensive things; most people will have one or two at most, or perhaps a tiny box hedge. I don’t know anyone who has an entire garden room devoted to box! Beechgrove Garden, on the other hand, is just so down to earth. They make no qualms about showing all the things that have gone terribly wrong as well as the wonders. The growing is all far more realistic too; instead of a large and beautifully manicured vegetable patch, here’s a 1m x 1m square – let’s see what we can grow in it. Or, here’s a greenhouse filled with some lantana’s and pergoliums – all crammed together because the lack of space.

It’s from Beechgrove that I got the tip about cuttings; my chocolate cosmos is full of flowers and there aren’t any bud-less shots to strike from. 

Instead of cutting back and waiting for fresh growth, I took cuttings, stripped off the lower leaves and then just nipped out the oncoming buds. I may need to do the latter again if the vegetation persists in producing blooms instead of healthy roots and leaves. I’ll keep an eye on them and see how they go.

Finally, here’s a few shots of the girls. It’s hard to believe that only 10 weeks ago they were scabby, featherless and due for the chop. Now, we have eggs every day and they’ve fluffed up beautifully – apart from a couple of bare bottoms!

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Budget Gardening – 9 Ways to Recycle Common Household Items

I’ve always been one for recycling wherever possible, and I work hard to reduce our weekly waste output. Buying a house and doing some heavy renovation work meant not only being short on cash for the garden, but also having a HUGE amount of trash. However, whilst some might’ve shoved it in a skip, I’ve re-used as much as possible. So, if you’re looking to garden on a budget and recycle too, here’s a few things I’ve done.

1. Use carpet as a weed suppressant

The amount of old floral and smoke-filled carpet I took out the house was immense! But it’s living on in the garden as a weed suppressant. You can’t readily plant through it, but it’s ideal for paths and patios where you intend to put down stones. Because it’s porous, it allows water through, but creates a great barrier to stop the weeds whilst preventing gravel and other pretty aggregates sinking into the soil.

It also makes a great cover for the compost heap – keeping out the light but keeping heat and moisture in.

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It’s also ideal to line areas where pebbles are going down.

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Carpet can be used to retain moisture in greenhouses

2. Carpet your greenhouse shelves

Okay, it might sound bizarre, but some carpets hold water like a sponge – metal greenhouse shelves? Not so much. To stop water running straight to the floor I’ve simply cut out sheets of carpet and placed my pots on top; works like a charm.

And whilst I’m on greenhouse shelving – SAVE YOURSELF SOME MAJOR MONEY AND GO TO IKEA. I was looking into greenhouse staging and it was costing almost £100 for one stack. IKEA’s metal shelves are £9, thinner so you’ve got more manoeuvring space and have four tiers!

3. Reuse bricks for paths

One of the first things the husbo did when we moved was to knock down the brick wall out the front so we actually had a driveway. But you can’t let all those bricks go to waste! I’ve used them to create path blocks and edging (it’ll later get filled with pebbles to the top). You can use cement if you wish, but as my gardening style normally requires plants to spill over, all the gaps will get hidden in time. Odd bricks have also become doorstops and pot supports.

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Reuse bricks to outline paths – here, pebbles will be filled up to the top of the bricks and plants will eventually cover any gaps.

4. Reuse any paving

In the same way that bricks were reused for hard landscaping, the concrete slab path now has a new home as my shed and greenhouse footing. A couple of bags of sand and a spirit level and job done. Yes, it’s not entirely flat but it was almost free (sand was £2 a bag).

5. Compost and line beds with cardboard

Why chuck cardboard into the recycling when it’s ideal for gardening?!

I had shed full of cardboard from the new kitchen, gifts and other house moving paraphernalia. I used it on the no dig garden; laying it directly onto the grass before piling compost on top. I also lined my raised beds with it; it’ll help retain moisture and will simply rot down.

6. Build your raised beds from scrap wood

I tell you – the house looked like a 1970s sauna with the amount of wood cladding there was!

You can’t really burn this stuff in a woodburner or chiminea because of the varnish used. However, you can still build things with it. I’ve placed all the varnished edges on the outside of the raised beds. They may not look designer chic, but they work and were free – that’s what counts!!

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1970’s cladding has been converted into a raised bed. I only need it to last a few years; perfect.

7. Save woody stems and logs for the chiminea

Talking of chimineas; save those woody stems and twigs! Small branches from overgrown shrubs and trees often aren’t worth much for winter fuel if you have a stove or open hearth. And you can’t readily compost them either. But, what you can use them for is garden fire pits and chimineas.

I don’t know about you, but I normally only use my garden burner for an hour or two, so I don’t want to throw a bloody great log on it. A few solid pieces of branch along with some twigs create the perfect marshmallow-roasting fire.

8. Use excess food packaging for greenhouse saucers

With the veggie garden only just established, I still have to buy a lot a food and often this comes in metal or plastic trays. These are perfect for saucers so you’re not continually watering greenhouse pots. I agree, they don’t look great, but if you’re greenhouse is for cultivation and not aesthetics, that doesn’t matter. And you could always paint them. 😉

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It might not look great, but plastic food packaging are ideal saucers for greenhouse pots.

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Fill food packaging with sand for houseplants and grow mile-a-minute. This will soon cover the sand and unsightly pot.

9. Use food packaging pots for your houseplants.

This is a tip I picked up from my Nanna Noon; my godmother’s mum. She always had a conservatory filled with tropical foliage and flowers. She kept everything moist and humid by standing the pots on trays filled with sand. Then, she grew mile-a-minute in the sand so it spread across the pots and tables, obliterating all view of the unsightly trays. It’s something I’ve just started at home. Though I’ve not yet got the mile-a-minute to spread thoroughly, I can already see much healthier plant growth.

And that’s it! I’m SURE I’ve probably done other things to, so look for an update. What recycling methods do you use in your own garden?

On My Oasis – Garden Changes and Chicken Updates

Alas, first for some sad news. Cersei may have survived the shame nun in Game of Thrones, but here on my oasis, I’m afraid to say that Cersei is no more. She’s been looking poorly for several weeks. Ever since I put her back with the flock since her time-out for bullying, she’s been under the weather; I’m really not entirely sure what caused it. She had sour crop, that’s for sure, and a few weeks ago I spent my Saturday making her vomit, getting plenty of water into her and feeding her scrambled eggs. She seemed to perk up, and throughout her illness, she continued to lay. But one night last week she looked very poorly indeed and just as I expected, I found her dead in the morning. She’s been buried at the bottom of the garden where the bench will go. We’ll underplant with thyme and grow bronze fennel and hollyhocks behind as a screen between the cutting garden and veggie plot so it’s a nice resting place for her.

© Geoff Wakeling

Reading a book on chickens with a Polish pullet on my arm.

Chicken obsessions grow

The day before Cersei departed, we attended a poultry auction. Oh My God. It was FABULOUS. I’d got the idea from watching River Cottage, and wondered whether there were any local auctions to avoid me having to sell our excess chicks on Gumtree. Can you believe it – there’s an auction every month within walking distance! We went to suss out the auction for the future and, luckily, didn’t take a lot of money – otherwise I think we’d have bought all sorts. In addition, with friends coming over we couldn’t stay for the entire time – just as well as there was a rather beautiful Pekin rooster with a funny squeaky crow that caught my eye. Hubster, meanwhile, was caught on a pair of barnacle geese and some pheasant chicks. Yes, we were definitely on dangerous ground.

So far, the five chicks from the first batch (now six weeks old) all look like pullets which I’m quite happy about because it means we can keep them. I’m hoping that of the new five, we’ll have one white Polish rooster and the Lavender Barbu d’anver will also be a cockerel. That way, we’ll have three excess chickens that we can sell at the auction when the time’s right. Three ex-batt layers, a quintet of Polish and a pair of d’anvers should keep us quite well. And, at some point, we’ll get some meat birds too but as someone at the auction pointed out, it’s probably worth picking up chicks for around 75p each rather than going through the time-consuming hatching process.

Garden changes

As anyone who’s gardened knows, those outside spaces evolve, particularly when you’re first establishing the oasis. Most of what I’ve created so far as stayed with the plan, but there are a few changes afoot. Firstly, the void behind the shed was to become a potting area and pot storage. However, with ample space at the bottom of the garden, I’m actually going to build a new chicken coop here; making perfect space of the area and allowing the flock to grow.

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Just one week in, I was already attacking the garden.

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The garden in it’s current state; still A LOT to be done.

Meanwhile, at the bottom of the garden, there are some alterations to the veggie area. Firstly, due to security concerns, the large shed that dissects the triangular end to our land is now going to stay. It’s large and filled with wood at the moment, but over the coming months, I’ll be chopping some of that down. It’s good storage space and should allow for some chicken overflow too. What is does unfortunately mean is that we’ll have a small triangular patch of garden we can’t access. Losing this space seems really costly, but this is not the forever home, and it will take a lot of money to bring down the shed and then build up the walls to stop thieves coming in. Hence; it’s lost to us.

The other plan had been to cut the conifer down – until we found out it was a yew. I don’t really want to remove it, so we’ve been hard pruning it upwards to create lollipop-like topiary. After the tree was gone, we were going to smash up all the concrete paving and turn it into a vegetable garden. This plan is NO MORE. Instead, we’re creating several large raised beds. The area gets quite a bit of sun, and with the tree pruned even higher, enough light should get through. In addition, even after all the work of lifting the concrete, we’d have been left with extremely poor soil that’s riddled with tree roots. With our new idea, I’ve literally built the beds on top of the concrete, lined with cardboard and filled with compost. It’s not ideal, but again, we only plan on being here between five and seven years, so as long as we keep enriching the soil in those beds, it should be fine. The brassicas, salad onions, radishes, leeks and lettuces are in, and I’ve a few more germinating seeds to pop in during coming weeks.

Essex, as a whole, desperately needs some rain. We had a full day’s downpour a couple of weeks ago and the difference in the garden was incredible – suddenly the plants all looked so nourished and happy. Now, with another heatwave, it’s back out with the watering can every evening – it takes me forever. However, with a wet, and hopefully cold, winter season ahead, I can’t wait to see the garden maturing next year!

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 reasons; they grew on the terracotta slate roof of my nanny’s woodshed. My sister and I used to pull off the ones spilling over the guttering and put them in pots – until, of course, they were forgotten in favour of a chocolate bar or the chance to chase a chicken.

With wedding plans afoot, we quickly grew to love sempervivum and their various forms. It came as quite the shock to know that those plain old green ones were just one of around 40 species. Soon, we were racing round Kew Gardens and Columbia Road Flower Market grabbing up as many as we could find (though it has to be said – our local greengrocer was incredible in her sourcing and we got LOADS from her). Several weeks of splitting, growing on and then a mad day’s potting them into small glass jars with gravel for table decorations, and we were done.

Roses and succulents with the vintage tea setting

Roses and succulents with the vintage tea setting

One of the large succulent displays

One of the large succulent displays

 

But long after the wedding and festivities have receded, the succulents have stayed. For a long time, I made the error of keeping them inside. They really don’t do very well; even if they’re placed on a sunny windowsill. They tend to get leggy as they reach for the sun. And, though Sempervivum can get pretty much baked it seems, they can also happily survive outside in the winter. So, when we moved, I potted them all up into terracotta pots with a 50/50 soil to gravel mix and put them out on the coal bunker. THIS is what’s happened…..

 

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If there was no other reason for growing houseleeks than the flowers, after seeing these flowers, that would be enough for me. They’re really quite beautiful, and a surprise from a succulent which, whilst architecturally interesting, can’t really be described as stunning.

So, if you’re looking for a space-saving plant which doesn’t need a lot of love (it does require watering and feeding during the growing season though) and can produce a rather welcome surprise now and then, definitely get a few houseleeks for your collection!

On My Oasis – Hatches, Plant Trials and Tumblr

Oh my god. Is that wet stuff I see falling from the sky? What is this strange onslaught of liquid?

I should be asking, how have we coped without it for so long? Finally, after many months of dry, parched earth (and me scurrying around with a watering can whilst simultaneously worrying about the fact we’ve just been put on water meter) there was TWO days of rain. The water butt’s half filled. The ground is darkened with moisture. The plants have almost let out an audible sigh of relief as they’ve drunk without stopping for hours on end. On my Oasis, life is very good.

Chickens

Have you quite realised by now that I have the chicken bug? First my four ex-batts arrived to fill the void ever since Charlotte was stolen. I currently have one sickly hen – though she’s still laying. Arya, having now got over her moult, has a red comb again and finally seems to be making her mark in the pecking order and not just running around trying to avoid everyone and everything. I’m averaging three eggs a day at the moment – fantastic.

Meanwhile, the little chicks have grown fast. They’re putting on quite the show with their Las-Vegas Strip-style hairdo’s. AND, this Friday I had ANOTHER hatch. Five more this time; funnily enough it was exactly like last time – four Polish bantams and a beautiful Lavender/Cream d’anver. With eight Polish, I’ll have to raise them and sell a couple. The plan is only to have three or four Polish and d’anvers to create our own breeding flocks. IF we don’t have a cock and hen d’anver, I expect I’ll have to hatch out some more. They can nestle in with the meat birds I’m thinking about hatching next. I mean – eggs is good, but if we’re doing this whole self-sufficiency thing properly, I ought to actually raise some meat.

© Geoffrey Wakeling

Two of the Polish bantam chicks eyeing each other up.

© Geoffrey Wakeling

The Lavender/Cream d’anver from the recent hatch – complete with egg tooth.

Plants on Trial

The flowers have been rather neglected over the past few weeks, largely because any time spent watering was focused on the greenhouse. However, the Mediterranean bed is filling out better than I’d have ever hoped – I can’t wait to see it next year. Also ALL THOSE YEARS of believing Acers got wind-burn only to discover on Friday’s ‘Gardeners’ World’ that it’s actually water stress. Lord, I feel like a plonker. I’ve been watering my new acer like mad and the new buds are already forming, just as all the old, shriveled leaves fall off.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a few plants thrust my way this year as a means of reviewing and/or trialing new varieties. In the greenhouse, I’ve got a couple of tomato varieties (Fenda and Corazon) from Marshall’s Seeds. They’re doing exceedingly well, especially since they’re being grown in pots. I’m having to supply a lot of liquid feed as a result, but if that’s the only downside of space-saving, I’ll take it. They’re fruiting well and seem to be pretty drought and disease resistant – very happy so far, though the true review will be in the taste.

Meanwhile, I’m trialing Salvia ‘Kate Glen’ from Unwins . These three tiny little plug plants didn’t do a lot for the first couple of months, but – dare I say it – actually look as if they might throw a flower or two into the sky. I don’t mind if they don’t, of course; I’d prefer they put on good growth for next year and look even better.

Finally, my love for grasses has grown considerably over the years. A very unimpressed husband took some convincing, but as the low grasses billow amongst the lavender in the Mediterranean bed, I’ve heard a few mumbles of appreciation. I was luckily enough to get hold of a Stipa ‘Goldilocks’ by Knoll Gardens. This is a lovely compact version of Spanish Oat Grass, making it ideal for smaller gardens where space is at a premium.

© Geoffrey Wakeling

Salvia ‘Kate Glen’ has suddenly come on in the past few weeks

© Geoffrey Wakeling

In the greenhouse, tomato ‘Fenda’ are beginning to swell.

© Geoffrey Wakeling

Stipa ‘Goldilocks’ from Knoll Gardens is still rather small, but it won’t take long….

New Tumblr

Finally, I’ve set up a new Tumblr account that’s associated with The Guide to Gay Gardening. Gardening can be a very visual thing, I don’t share half the images I take on his blog, so I thought I’d use a photo-friendly site to upload them. I share everything on Instagram too, so if you follow either one (or both) you’ll discover a lot more photos of plants, flowers and everyday goings-on.

Till next week!

Six Great Veggies for Sowing in July

I must confess, in my manic moving state and the attempts to get the garden sorted as a first priority, my management of vegetable crops has been slightly lacking. A combination of drought, poor soil and being overrun with work means that many of my starter crops (beans/peas/spinach) didn’t do so well (read – failed miserably). And now it’s already July.

I’ve been watching a tonne of River Cottage, and I’ve realised there are no winter veggies growing. LUCKILY it’s not too late to sow and get plants growing ready for harvests in the autumn and through the colder months of the year. What a relief! So, here’s my top six veggies for sowing in July – and they’re all things I’ve just put in myself, so we grow together!

Spring Onions

I love the bite you get from spring onions, but I’ve never grown them myself. Unlike traditional onions, these work as a salad harvest and you can pick them as needed. Things I like? No thinning required, quick to grow and perfect for successional sowing. July’s the last month to get them in, and you can harvest up to October – or longer if the frosts keep off. I’ve planted a variety called Ishikura which is supposed to have excellent flavour.

Spinach

The strong green stuff is a staple in our house, but I’ve become increasingly frustrated at the cost, and plastic packaging, when buying it at the supermarkets. Even with my poor husbandry skills at the start of the year, we still have a good crop through the spring – the plants germinated fast, grew even quicker and gave us plenty of leaves with a great taste. If you want to harvest through until October, then get some seeds in now and they’ll come up in no time.

I’m growing Spinach El Grinta. which is high yielding, slow to bolt and disease resistant. So far, so good!

 

Chard

Chard is a fantastic vegetable for colour and taste.

Chard

Here’s another veggie I just don’t eat enough of. And it’s a crying shame as it grows SO easily. Another fantastic thing is that varieties like ‘Bright Lights’ come in a stunning array of colours; so much so I’ve actually planted some amongst my ornamental beds.

If you want to get nice bushy plants with a good harvest, July’s the last month you can really sow it. But if you do, you’ll be picking leaves up until December. As they grow, keep snapping a few stems and leaves off here and there, being careful not to strip plants entirely. And when the weather begins to cool, covering with a cloche will help encourage continued growth.

Lambs Lettuce

Salad crops, despite what many people believe, can actually thrive in the cold. Lambs Lettuce is a wonderful salad crop that can be sown between April and August and you’ll be harvesting leaves until November. Even better, if you germinate in a greenhouse bed or deep trays, you can actually get plants to grow through the winter, providing you with a constant, fresh salad leaf.

Kale

The above are all salad greens really, so it’s about time to get onto some proper nosh. Kale is well renowned for being a winter plant; in fact, frosts are actually required to bring out the flavour – a tip I discovered from television show ‘Kew on a Plate’. I’m growing two varieties – Reflex F1 and Nero di Toscana. Both can be sown outdoors until September, so there’s plenty of time to get that winter vegetable bed prepared. It must be mentioned that the later it’s sown, the more likely it is you’ll get leaves and not mature plants. July is a little late, but with recent autumns being warm, I’m hoping I might’ve just slid in on time.

Another plus – it’s an awesome source of vitamin A and vitamin C; a perfect supplement during the cold winter months!

 

Kale varieties

Kale offers baby leaves and mature plants depending when it’s sown.

Cabbage

Okay – I’m going to say outright; I may be reaching a little with this one. I’ve sown Mini Savoy Caserta F1 and Savoy January King 3; both of which are recommended to sow in June or before. However, as I mentioned above, autumn’s in the UK have been rather mild the past few years so as long as that continues, I’m hoping the few weeks’ delay won’t really be noticed in the final harvest.

If you sow immediately, the warmth will have them germinating within days and the nice thing is, you don’t have to do an acclimatising!

So, there you have it; my top six veggies for planting in July for autumn/winter harvests. I’ll keep you all updated on my progress – most likely on the Monday ‘On My Oasis’ posts. In the meantime, tell me how your garden’s growing. What are you harvesting? And what are you still sowing in hopes of continued harvests?





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