Okay, so the meteorologists can never seem to make up their minds so we’re never quite sure what kind of summer we’ve had. The winter has been long, the spring has been late, but though the cold’s been rattling at my bones there’s one thing that’s been all too obvious, and that’s the lack of rain.
You might think, rain? but we’ve had LOADS! In fact, here in London, we really haven’t. I’ll agree…there’s been some very wet days where a lot of rain has fallen in a relatively short space of time. But, certainly in my garden, dig beneath the surface of the soil, and the moisture has quickly drained away. Three days of sun, and my plants are already starting to look rather parched and I’m expecting to put the hose system on tonight to give them some welcome relief to their thirst.
There’s no doubt, that a hot summer is on everyone’s wishlist and we’ll all be very happy sitting out on our porches, verandas and lounging around in garden log cabins (if you have one of the latter, I expect an invite). But what of our plants?
If you’re looking for inspiration, then my Four Ways to Protect Plants from Drought is worth having a quick read. Watering in the evening is the most economical way to water, whilst watering long, hard and infrequently encourages deep roots for prolonged plant health. Changing your plants, too, can help, and using silvery leaved varieties helps to create a drought resistant garden. Mulching heavily around plants can lock moisture into the ground so that you don’t have to water so frequently, whilst ensuring that seeds are planted in-situ, instead of being transplanted, can help with establishing young plants quickly and ensuring that less watering’s required.
Of course, we’re not yet into the summer, and who’s to say that we won’t have yet another complete washout? But, with the hot days of spring arriving, taking the time to ready your garden for drought now, will provide dividends in the coming months is blissful days arrive. And, by watering, mulching and protecting your garden now, all that awaits on hot summer days is a glass of Pimms and a lounge chair on the patio.
You know how it is; you go to the nursery, throw a few plants in the trolley, get to the till and somehow you’ve spent £100. I can never work out how a few plants and a bag of soil always manage to deepen the credit card debt, but somehow they do. Instant gardening – that’s having your garden look beautiful for not a lot of work – is always going to be expensive. But, if you’re a ‘proper‘ gardener, there are a few ways to keep it cheap-ish.
If you’ve ever actually looked in your shed, you’ll probably discover there’s a few rusty tools laying in one corner. As your green fingers develop there’s a growing urge to rush out and buy every horticultural tool possible. But, here’s a little secret, you really don’t need them.
I don’t drive, and people often ask me how I carry all my tools about if I’m a jobbing gardener. Well, the answer’s easy; in my backpack. Unless you’re doing major work in the garden, such as lopping down trees, you can get by with the bare essentials. Obviously, a mowers pretty essential if you’ve got a lawn, but as for big tools that promise to make even the hardest jobs easy? Naa, not so essential. I sharp pair of secateurs, a strong pruning saw, a hand trowel, and a sturdy spade and fork are really all you need. Y0u can bolster your tools with nifty little gadgets, such as electric pruners or telescope handled tree loppers, but if you ain’t got the money, then a few tools will go a long way.
I always find that if I buy a plant from a nursery, I shove it in somewhere and then it subsequently dies, I’m not too bothered. However, if something I’ve sown has a leaf which begins to discolour in the slightest, I’m all over it.
Nurturing plants from seeds is cool…you’re basically growing a new life, albeit it a green plant one. There’s something about seeing your seedlings grow and thrive which really humbles me and brings me back down to earth. Plus, being able to say to friends, ‘oh yes, that beautiful shrub that you’re just dying to have….I grew that myself from a teeny seed,’ give a swelling of pride. I grew these heucheras from seed and I LOVE them!
Avoid Bedding Plants
I’m a little biased here because I hate bedding plants, which means I’m always thinking up good reasons not to use them. One, is that they’re so expensive. Okay, the tray of begonia plugs is less than a fiver, but remember; they’ll only last a season and then you’ll have to buy more next year. Buying perennials is actually far cheaper in the long run because these plants mature and grow over the years, instead of dying at the sign of the first frost like so many bedding plants. In addition, once they’ve thriving, you can easily take cuttings or split plants = MORE plant and FREE plants.
Beg, Borrow and Steal
Well, not so much of the stealing, but you know….you don’t even have to buy plants if you have no money. The pretty amazing thing about plants is that you can propagate them. Cut off a human arm and it’s just a gory and bloody stump of flesh. Cut off a plant’s stem, leaf or root and it’ll grow a new plant! Awesome! Some plants are easier than others, but if you don’t try, you won’t know. If you’re at a friends house, just ask to take a little cutting or two and hey presto, you can populate your own garden for free!
You don’t need those £5.99 plant markers just because they come with a free weather-proof pen. You really don’t. You can use lollipop sticks, painted stones or anything else found laying around the garden. The word here is; RECYCLE. There’s a lot you can do with old products. Carpet makes an ideal compost bin lid and can be used beneath mulch as a weed suppressant. An old tyre sunk into the earth and lined with plastic makes the ideal base shape for a little pond, and will be cheaper than buying a new mould. Old bricks are ideal for creating paths and all manner of various objects make interesting planting containers. Being unique and customise, and you’ll ensure that you have a garden like no one else!
There’s been a lot in the news about the decline of bees over the past few years, and the support for saving these insects has soared. After all, without these vital pollinators, human beings are pretty much stuffed when it comes to the whole producing-enough-food-to-survive lark. But, whilst bees are deteriorating in numbers, so too are butterflies. Last weekend, when the weather finally warmed, there were a lot of butterflies about, resting on fence panels and trying to warm their wings in the sun. But, despite a plethora of spring bulb flowers, food for butterflies was seemingly scarce.
If you were miserable in 2012 because of the wet summer, then just spare a thought for butterflies. The UK Butterfly Monitoring Scheme revealed that 52 of the 56 species studied, that’s 93%, saw population declines last year, with a lack of mates, shelter and food causing huge drops in numbers. You can’t do a lot of help some species, such as the high brown fritillary and black hairstreak, because they’re very unlikely customers to your garden. However, for a few more of the common garden varieties, you can offer some butterfly feeders as well as growing nectar rich plants.
I already offer bird food around the year, offering local feathered friends an easy place to come and grab some grub when they’re hungry. I grow nectar rich plants for bees, and try to ensure to there’s always something in flower. So, why not offer butterflies something too?
For anyone who’s visited a butterfly house, it’s common to see rotting fruit left out. Why? Because it’s oh such a boozy delight for butterflies to lick up. There’s no reason you can’t do this in your own back garden to offer something extra for passing insects to enjoy. If you’re worried about caterpillars – fear not. The vast majority of Britain’s butterfly’s lay their eggs on wildflowers and not your beloved plant specimens.
If you’re keen on trying something new this year, then the Woodland Trust have got a couple of easy butterfly feeding guides. The basics are to offer slightly rotten slivers of fruit on a flat dish somewhere in your garden. It’s probably best to situate this somewhere where you can actually see the butterflies coming in to feed, whilst keeping it in the open so that the insects can see danger. You can easily make your own nectar solution by simply boiling 1/2 cup of sugar in 2 cups of water. Wait until the sugar’s dissolved, allow the mixture to cool and then use a sponge to soak up all of the liquid. Then simply place the sponge on your butterfly feeder – aka a flat dish with fruit – and allow the eager long tongues of butterflies to arrive.
With the late start to spring, many butterflies coming out of hibernation might be having a problem finding food, so I’m going to try offering food as a priority. I’ll let you know how I get on!
I don’t know about you, but the start of this veggie growing year has begun rather late. I had too much going on in November to get broad beans or overwintering onions in, so the allotment has been completely sparse of any harvests at all. An above freezing day in February got my sowing juices going and I put some broad beans in which, when placed upon the windowsill, quickly germinated and shot towards the sky. This year I made the positive step of actually acclimatising the seedlings fairly on so, yes, whilst they’ve got leggy, they’re not as bad as usual. The small sweet peas that I put in around the same time have also been hardened off – to the extent that they were snowed on and survived – so they’ve now been planted out along the fencing.
With the warm weather finally arriving this past weekend, the first broad beans are in, 120 potatoes have been planted and two rows of parsnips are now sown in the increasingly warming beds. The potatoes range vastly, but I’m glad to have got some charlottes (my favourite) and pink fur apples (a great rot-resistant or so I’ve found potato) in. Luckily, a huge delivery of wood clippings has allowed us to finally get rid of the grass paths completely and mulch the entire plot. Not only should this reduce mowing times, but it’ll also ensure that there are less avenues for those belligerent couch grass roots to invade our beds and pull precious time away from growing. Last year was a hell-of-a-year for veggies, with slugs and the wet weather resulting in minimal harvests all round. 2013? This year just has to better!
You might think I’m a bit batty, but this year I’ve decided to try and grow some of my own peanuts. I don’t really know what’s entailed and I’m not sure whether it’ll work as well as I hope, but hey – if you don’t try, you won’t know.
Whilst I’m a good gardener, I’m an awful cook and my diet at home is very limited. I’m a tuna, chicken, brown rice kinda guy. I also eat a hell of a lot of peanut butter because a) it’s a simple snack and b) it’s divine! I was thinking about self sufficiency and realised that I can’t keep enough hens to keep up with demand and I sure as hell can’t go and catch a tuna fish. But, one thing I could have a go at is making my own peanut butter from my own peanuts.
I just bought some bog standard Sainsbury’s monkey nuts ready for roasting. There’s normally two per seed pod, so unless you’re trying to sow an entire field, you’ll have enough. I’ve been waiting for the weather to warm up before I planted my peanuts, but having looked online, the growing time can be rather long, so I’ve decided to get going now and germinate the first seeds. I can plant some more at a later date if needed.
Using a standard potting compost, I’ve sown three seeds per pot and once the seedlings appear, I’ll thin them down to the strongest plant. Each peanut is supposed to provide between 20 and 50 peanuts, so if I have four or five plants, I reckon that’ll be enough to make a jar of homemade peanut butter!
It’s pretty darn cold out at the moment (yes – I had to brave the cold to get my moaning cats some food), so it’s not really a good idea to leave pots on windowsills. This is fine later in the year when temperatures aren’t fluctuating so much, but for now, I’ve placed my peanuts on a side cabinet so that they don’t note sudden drops in heat. I’ve also placed them inside resealable bags which will help keep the warmth and moisture in, aiding germination and initial seed growth.
I’m excited to see if this works. If I’m honest, I don’t really have a clue, but it’ll be an interesting experiment. What strange harvests are you considering this year?
As many of you know, I’ve had an allotment for many years and grow a variety of scrummy veggies to harvest for the kitchen table. But all too often I don’t get down to the allotment because it’s raining, because I can’t be bothered to mooch the 20 minute walk through the forest or because I only have a few minutes to spare. It’s hard with an allotment; you need to set aside some real time to go and work. There’s no pottering here. So, this year, in addition to growing larger harvests, such as potatoes and onions, down on the plot, I’m going to be growing some veggies at home amongst the ornamentals.
Due to the allotment, I don’t have a specified veggie path at home. Nor do I want one, because my garden is so tiny that there really isn’t room. I love flowers too much to be digging in a veggie patch, but there are some areas that can be utilised for easy harvests.
One of the crops I’m definitely going to be home harvesting this year are beans. My broad beans are already sown, and I have a spot amongst the sedums ideal for a lovely little bean patch. I also have a large expanse of empty fence and trellis panels which will be ideal for runner beans. The panels in question are right by the house in a south facing spot so, in addition to the clematis, this year they’re going to become home to a swathe of perfumed sweet peas and, hopefully, the heavy stems of prosperous beans. Runner beans are incredibly delicious when picked right off the stem, so having them within backdoor leaning distance will be rather indulgent.
But these two harvests will not be alone, and the yearly salad growing continues with containers of cut-and-come-again greens on the windowsill. There’s no point putting these amongst ornamental borders, unless you’re trying to save your hosta’s from being munched, in which case, throw in some lettuces and watch the slugs devour them. Meanwhile, I’m intending on growing a couple of gourds next to the reading bench, intertwining some French beans on the flowering blackcurrant and planting a few beetroot and carrots at the front of some of my ornamental borders.
There’s no reason not to enjoy your ornamental garden and grow a few home veggies too. And, in many circumstances, being able to pick both edibles and flowers from the same patch will be an additional joy.
As readers will know, I’m as much a conservationist as I am a gardener. I had the following infographic shared with me today, a thought it appropriate to post. As you can see, we’re not only dumping our trash in the oceans, but we’re putting it back into our own food chain. Please recycle.
Created by: MastersDegree.net
It’s my favourite time of year, a time where my godmother wishes me adieu and where my hermiting REALLy excels. It’s the two weeks of Wimbledon.
One of Britain’s most quintessential fruits, and one that is synonymous with Wimbledon, are strawberries. These exotic looking fruit ripen just in time to be swathed in cream and topped with sugar for the mid June tennis. Last year my crop in the front garden was stolen after dark, a burgeoning crop of red jewels that disappeared into someone’s nimble fingers and eager mouth. This year, however, they seem to have been left alone and I’ve just picked a great crop.
I fully believe that front gardens can be utilised for growing, and shouldn’t be smothered in paving and gravel. Of course, on some busy streets, there may be issues of car fumes and pollutants entering crops, but on my small residential road this isn’t something that I’m too concerned about. So, in my little front urban patch I grow herbs, strawberries and the odd tomato plant from which to pick tasty crops from when I arrive at my front door.
The strawberries are planted alongside the main path to my house, and I’ve found that the paving works wonderfully in taking up heat and ripening fruit quickly. It also stops fruit from laying on the soil and becoming rotten. Strawberries are very easy to grow, and fruit very easily – the hardest part being actually ensuring that fruit get enough sun to ripen and are protected from rot and slug damage. I fully encourage you to try so that next year, whilst I’m once again engrossed in Wimbledon, you can enjoy strawberries too.
I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a plant collector. Even though I shouldn’t add more plants to my garden, I do, in every possible space. I also can’t help buying up those sad looking specimens that you seen in shops. I’ve bought French moult Budgies and bengelese finches with crippled feet before from pet shops too, just because I knew that no one else would. I’ve even rescued discarded orchids from bins and skips. I just can’t help myself. I think I was a hoarder in a previous life.
But, when you find a bargain, it’s joy. Especially when you know that it’s not tat, but something alive that can be rescued. Perusing Homebase yesterday I happened upon three very sickly looking venus fly traps. I, like so many other kids, was fascinated by these plants and they were one of the most intriguing species to me when I was young. I didn’t need robots, or action figures, or gadgets. I was just obsessed with the coolness of carnivorous plants – I still am. Did I need them? No. Did I want them? Yes. Did I need them for 10p – TEN PENCE – each? Definitely! These poor little things were in the houseplant section, being kept under artificial lighting and well away from sunlight. I expect that they were being watered with tap water too. And, I’m sure that every kid (under and over the age of 18) couldn’t help put prod one of the traps in an attempt to see it close – one of the most damaging things you can do.
I am no cook, but I do like some scrambled eggs after a work out. There’s nothing quite like popping down to the coop to gather some freshly laid hen-fruit; you don’t have to spend a penny. Now, with the 52 Week Salad Challenge, I also have the means to indulge in a little side portion of greenery.
The amazing thing is though, you don’t even need a garden to grow salads. My current crop is coming from washing up bowl, filled with multi-purpose soil and placed on the windowsill. I’ve sown new seeds every couple of weeks to get a succession of salads. Now that the bigger plants are growing well, you can easily remove several leaves without damaging the plant, and with many more plants coming up, there’ll be salad for weeks to come.
Get yourself a washing up bowl, a few salad seeds and a couple of hens and, hey presto, one free and easy meal!