The gardening year has a vast multitude of gardening shows to visit, and whether you’re visiting a local nursery with some show gardens or are enjoying the horticultural wonder that is Chelsea, you’re more than likely to get a few ideas. That is, until you get home and realise
‘Oh, this plant doesn’t really grow in the same soil as that one‘,
‘These two plants flower at completely different times of years. How come in the Chelsea garden they were both in bloom?‘
The thing is; when it comes to flower shows, much of what you see is a falsity. Plants have been pampered and preened, planted at the last minute and often grown in unnatural environments so that they’re in bloom at the right time.
Having said that, 2013 seems to be shaping up to be a home-grown flower show in our own gardens. My foxgloves are WAY behind schedule, as are my alliums, but my red and orange geums are plastering every area of garden with colour. I have wisteria and forsythia flowers out as the ajuga reptans and Welsh poppies throw up their buds. These perennial Welsh poppies are an absolute delight. They grow quickly so that even seeds that are scattered after the first flowers in May are capable of producing their own buds a few months later. They don’t die over the winter so you can actually plan out a bed with a degree of certainty as to where plants will be the following year. Though…this may be thrown into slight disarray by these poppies’ other benefit; their manic reproducing!
If you look at your own garden, you’ll probably realise that a lot of things are out of sync this year. Early flowering plants are dashing to catch up with themselves, causing them to burst into life at the same time as those plants more ordinarily in bloom at this time of year. It’s nice, for a change, to see that the British flower show façade is in our own backyards. Now, with summer almost certainly gone (there’s no need to sniff out the cynic in me), we can get on with the growing and slug squashing season….whilst drawing on this year’s shows for inspiration, of course!
You know how, on January 18th, I wrote that post welcoming snow? Well, I’m totally over it. Snow can be a good thing for the garden, and it puts plants into a proper hibernation so that they can burst into thriving life when warm weather appears. The problem is….we haven’t had any warm weather. It’s almost the end of March, the sun has disappeared from the sky and the Arctic seems to have extended her claws downwards and has Britain firmly in her grasp. Are we in an Ice Age? Has Danny Boyle’s ‘Sunshine’ movie become true?
My broad beans, egged-on by their warm windowsill temperature, have become leggy and can’t be put out until some of this bitter cold has disappeared, and as such, will probably be a dead loss. I several pots of seeds which, luckily, have done nothing, but I’m hoping that the cold hasn’t actually killed them. It’s around this time that I begin wishing I had a beautiful log cabin with roaring fire to ensconce myself in and forget about the woes of winter whilst dreaming of the spring sunshine and pottering around amongst the seed beds.
So, what can we do if sowing is not an option?
I know that the last place you probably want to be is outside in the freezing cold, but if you want to work up a sweat, doing some soil preparation in this weather is a good idea. Adding manure to the soil in frozen temperatures can be extremely helpful as the frosts will break down the organic material and help it seep into the soil. Uncovering covered areas of garden that you want to plant later in the year can also be a good idea. I pulled the huge articulated lorry tarp off my long row of allotment beds a couple of weeks ago and dug the soil over. Not only can the cold get in and help break down the material, but any weed seeds and pests that may have been hiding will helpfully be killed off by plummeting temperatures. You may find that friendly critters, such as frogs and toads, have taken up residence under these covered areas, so be sure to move them somewhere else frost free.
If you forgot to split plants or transfer shrubs last autumn, this long spell of cold has given you a little bit of extra time. Most things haven’t yet started growing, and even if new foliage has been produced, it’ll only be a tiny amount.
If you really need to move that shrub or split those perennials before the spring gets going, do so quickly. Plants won’t have an extended time to settle as they would in the autumn, so water consistently to ensure they get a good start this year. I have a couple of huge clumps of sedums that need splitting, so I’ll be doing so over the next few days and getting them in place before we get some warmth.
There’s a few things I didn’t get around to cutting back last autumn – especially the beautiful ‘shrub’ rose that’s outside my back door. I say shrub in inverted commas because it’s 7 foot tall and growing out the back of an escallonia. The spring shoots have grown a couple of inches already, but there’s still time to have a chop back. The berries on my callicarpa (right) are also long gone, so as spring growth hasn’t yet started, now is the ideal time for a quick prune.
At this time of year, birds are often already nesting, so it’s not the ideal time to snip. But, with the extended winter period, it’s the ideal time to do a little bit of garden tidying before the warm weather allows plants to take off.
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.
Can you believe it’s February? January seems to have rushed by, yet Christmas seems as if it were a year ago already. With so much snow on the ground, followed by drenching rain, there hasn’t exactly been a huge amount of time to get out into the garden. However, the past couple of days have been positively balmy, and the warmer weather’s got me in the mood for sowing.
I’ve been lacking on my garden duties, and I spent several hours over the past few days clearing, tidying and cutting back a lot of the foliage that should’ve been chopped last autumn. Much of this didn’t need to be pruned anyway as the sedum heads looks gorgeous in the frost, and the Japaneses anemone’s offered seeds for the birds.
In my discoveries I’ve discovered that many plants are already beginning to burst into life. The pulmonaria, a fantastic plant for early appearing bees, already has buds and some open flowers. Meanwhile, shoots on all manner of plants are starting to appear, bright and luminous green fronds searching for the sun on warm days. Crocus leaves are appearing, and even some of the daffs are already developing the buds, ready to burst into vivid life.
With my green fingers itching to get growing, I couldn’t help but do a little sowing yesterday. I always start too early; pop in hundreds of seeds and then end up with vast quantities of seedlings which can’t go out until they’ve been hardened off. I do the same with my finches too; get a warm day and desperately want to put all the nesting boxes up in the aviary - MUST HOLD OFF. However, there are a few things to plant, so I popped in some sweet peas and broad beans (aquadulce claudia, of course. Would I have it any other way?)
I’ve also got some VERY old seeds from a few years ago. I don’t expect much to come from these astrantia, hosta, eryngium and allium seeds, but I stuck them in anyway. They’re sporadic germinators at best, so a few years wait has probably been enough to kill them. Still, I threw them all in a pot so we’ll see what happens in the next few weeks.
In the meantime, let’s up the snow’s receded for good. The blackbird’s are piping in the air, the sun’s warming the soil. Folks, it’s almost time for spring!!
I don’t know whether it was a general lust for gardening ease, the London Olympic Park or Sarah Raven’s Bees, Butterflies and Blooms BBC show last year, but wildflower meadows have become very stylish. Looking ahead to the growing season in 2013, it seems as if a lot of people are planning on attempting to grow their own wildflower meadows this year. And, I have to admit, I’m one of those souls. I grew up in the countryside and was surrounded by wildflower meadows in their true sense, and these beautiful planting schemes bring a welcome nostalgia for me.
But, why plant a wildlfower meadow?
There are numerous reasons why you might want to plant a wildflower meadow, but several key reasons stick out in my mind. For one, planting a patch of wild flowers is incredibly simple, and once you’ve sown the seeds and given them a water to ensure that germination occurs, you pretty much don’t have to do anything else for the rest of the year. A light strim after the main flowering season is all that you’ll need to keep your patch under control, and though you’ll have to re-plant if you’re using annual varieties, if you plant a perennial patch, you’ll very rarely have to do much after the first year.
Cost is also another important point, and we’re still all trying to save thanks to our gloriously awful economy. Spending £40 or £50 on wildflower seed may seem rather exorbitant, but how much do you spend on other seeds every year? Plants from the nursery? New tools because you’ve left your old ones out in the rain and they’ve rusted away? It might be a slightly more costly initial approach, but you’ll save a lot of time and money in the long run.
Beauty is, of course, another reason for establishing a wildflower meadow and there’s something wonderful about just throwing some seeds down and allowing nature to do its thing. I don’t know about you, but I spent a huge amount of time in my garden every summer trying to get everything looking as lovely as possible. But there’s a natural beauty that comes with wildflowers, and will thrive with your neglect! We saw that at the Olympic Park in 2012, where huge swathes of wildflower patches were sown in time to be in decadent colour once the sporting events started.
And, of course, a matter that is close to my heart – wildlife. It remains a vital part of city life to create wildlife corridors for animals to move along. A wildflower patch, no matter how small, will offer a home for a multitude of insects. This will bring birds and amphibians to the patch too, and whether they set up residence or only pass through, your little meadow will become a vital resource.
I’m not going mad this year with acres of meadow, but am simply going to transform my front garden. It’s north facing and gets very little light, but luckily for me, there are wildflower mixes for shady patches too. It’ll be a great improvement on the raggedy grass that currently takes up the spot and doesn’t offer much for wildlife or the eye.
So, if you simply don’t know what to do with your garden this year, if you crave a simple and maintenance free patch for most of the year, if you want to get styling with your green fingers, sowing a little wildflower meadow this spring is the perfect solution.
Getting and keeping your garden in perfect shape can be a considerable amount of work, but you will be rewarded all summer long. Here are a few things to remember when getting your garden into tip-top condition.
Cutting and pruning
The advent of spring should herald the growth of new shoots, but it also brings some less friendly plants back onto the scene, specifically brambles, nettles, and weeds. Now is the time to dust down the secateurs and find the hedge cutters. A spade and some weedkiller will help with persistent weed offenders, though you must make certain that if you pull or dig them up you get the root out, or they will simply return in a few weeks.
As long as frost is not forecast the spring is also the best time to clear some space for new plants. Use this season to indulge in some severe pruning of any existing hedges; if you cut out dead patches you will allow space for new stems to grow. Last year’s annuals will be long gone, and you may well need to fill the holes left by their demise.
You have had all winter to examine the seed catalogues and will hopefully have ordered everything you are looking to plant already. If you want to buy plants from a nearby garden centre, now is the time to see how far you can spread your budget.
Before planting anything you should ensure that your flowerbeds and other areas where you intend to plant are fully composted and fertilized – good soil will make for stronger plants. Summer bulbs, including, sidalcea and aparaxis can be planted in the early spring, and will continue to flower throughout the summer.
Take a look at how much work keeping your garden in trim will take. Try to be realistic as far as what you will be able to do is concerned; it is no use buying all the beautiful plants you have seen at the local horticultural show if you have neither the time nor energy to maintain them.
Most lawns look rather sad in the early spring, and you may need to lay down some new turf or grass seed to cover any nasty yellow patches or gaps in the lawn. Once the new growth is ready and there hasn’t been any prolonged rain, you will be able to give your grass its first cut.
If ants have decided to colonize in your lawn, one trick is to lay treacle over the nest; this will kill the ants well before summer, and it is relatively child friendly. You can also buy a commercial ant killer from the local garden centre, but make sure that any area where it is used is fenced off from children and pets until the nests have been eradicated.
In preparation for the summer, April and May are the best months to clean and, if necessary, re-paint your garden furniture. Check the barbeque to make sure that all is in working order. Pop up gazebo should be inspected at this time as well to ensure that they are ready for the long summer months. If you have a pond or water feature, make sure that the filters are all working and clear the water of any algae or debris.
If you are looking for some extra lighting in your garden, try draping some fairy lights around your trees, but make sure that you aren’t damaging any new growth. Solar lights are also an excellent investment and can really cheer up the garden; they are environmentally sound too.
Once the hard work is finished, all that will be left to do is to sit in your garden and enjoy the beauty you have created.
The main reason for having a well-maintained and attractive garden is that it provides you with your own natural space in which you can relax, unwind, and recover your energies in our increasingly busy, complex, and demanding world. Admittedly, it does take time and effort to keep your garden well maintained, but if you follow a few basic guidelines you should find that your garden repays the effort you invest in it many times over.
In the spring, add grass seed to the lawn. Homeowners often forget that grass is a plant and that it needs to be well maintained, fed, and replenished regularly in order for a lawn to stay healthy and looking good. Feed your grass at least once a week, especially in summer, and cover damaged areas with plastic sheeting as it recovers.
Plant blooming flowers and other colorful plants in mid to late spring to allow them time to grow for the summer months when you really need them. It is best to weed regularly rather than having to do it all at once, in which case it can become a real chore.
Trim the edges on a regular basis. Not only will this keep the garden looking neat and tidy all year round but it will also encourage your grass to grow vertically rather than invade the edges and borders.
Tips and tools
Remember to only water the garden plants when the sun has gone down in the evenings. They will over-absorb and wilt if you water them in the hotter parts of the day, which will be counter-productive.
Get somebody to water your plants at night if you go away for a few weeks in the summer. If you just leave the garden to fend for itself when you disappear on vacation it will look a real mess when you return. More importantly, many plants will die and have to be replaced if there is a prolonged hot spell.
To give the garden more depth in winter and keep it looking good all year round, consider using potted plants and evergreen trees, bushes and shrubs, and take delicate plants indoors during bad weather, or move them into a greenhouse. You don’t want to be in the position of having to change all your plants as the seasons come and go.
Make sure that you have a good pair of pruning shears on hand for the autumn pruning, a trowel for regular weeding, and a good lawnmower for keeping the grass well trimmed; make certain that you sharpen the blades on your lawnmower several times during the mowing season, as dull lawnmower blades can damage grass. You should also have a good spade for the borders and for planting shrubs, as well as a fork for turning the soil and letting it breathe.
If you don’t want to go to the trouble of preparing the earth properly and sowing grass seeds from scratch, or if your soil is not suitable for growing grass, consider opting for artificial grass. This, like artificial flowers these days, is as good as the real thing and will need very little if any maintenance. Purists may balk at the idea, but for people short on time and skills it can be an excellent alternative to a real lawn.
Do you remember that awesome film when you were a kid? Fern Gully? This film is pretty much one of the only cartoon animations that I’ve fallen in love with over the years. It was reincarnated as Avatar – watch the movies and compare the story lines - and from the first time that I saw this film, I was hooked on creating my own little fern gully. Not only are ferns incredible plants, but they come with an intrigue and magical mystery about them, making their inclusion in the garden a must if you want to create a little grotto.
At this time of year, when geums, iris, clematis and all other manner of beautiful flowers are bursting into life, in the fern bed the extraordinary green of unfurling fronds is unveiling itself. It’s a green that is unmatchable by photo or painter’s brush, and every time I creep down the garden to see the hens, there’s the fern bed, more fronds curling outwards every day. The colour is so intense that it draws you in, and the bench is the perfect place and watch the fish in the pool, or chat to the hens for a while.
Creating a fern bed in your own garden is very easy, and it’s an ideal planting idea for a shadier place. My little patch catches the light in the early morning, before being cast into shade for the rest of the day, making it the perfect place to put ferns. However, the morning sun makes it the ideal palce to interplant with a few other varieties for contrast. In the early spring, geums pack the area with their gentle orange, before fox gloves rise from beneath the emerging fronds. Later in the year, I’ll plant california poppies and marigolds here, giving a splash of sunshine hues to lift the green to even more loveable levels.
With the summer months almost here, it is certain that you will be spending more time in your garden. Whilst the spring may have been exceptionally wet, the one benefit is that your plants will have thrived in this important growing season. If you are looking ahead to the warmer and drier months of June, July, and August and want to ensure that your garden looks great, here are eight easy steps you can take.
Incorporate garden furniture
Whether you use your garden frequently to entertain guests or treat it as more of a private, family space, it is important to splash out and buy garden furniture, and particularly a garden table and chairs. This will enhance your enjoyment of your garden when the sun shines, and allow you to use it as an outside room.
Grass can sometimes be difficult to maintain, and one of the biggest reasons that it becomes unmanageable is because it is not cut on a regular basis. Faster growing grasses can overshadow and choke out slower growing strains within your lawn mix, resulting in tufts and rough specimens taking over. By mowing at least every ten days to two weeks, you will help to ensure that your lawn always looks magnificent.
It is all too easy to pop to the nursery, fill your garden with beautiful flowers, and then be discouraged when they don’t last. By deadheading – or removing – all of the faded blooms before they begin to form seed-heads, you will help to encourage new flower growth throughout the season.
With the warm summer evenings on the horizon, you can enhance both the look and the usability of your garden at night by adding garden lighting. There is a great range of solar powered products and torches available, offering an easy option for adding illumination to your garden without having to worry about electrical fixtures and fittings.
Trim lawn edges
If your garden is looking untidy, one easy way to spruce it up is to trim the lawn edges. Along with cutting the grass, this is one step which will instantly transform your patch. In many cases you will be amazed at just how big an effect keeping carefully manicured lawn edges can have.
Buy more foliage plants
Plants with great foliage are the backbone of any garden, providing colour and interest to the space. If you have gaps in your garden, consider buying foliage plants. Purples contrast beautifully with greens, whilst silvers will reflect the light and are generally more drought tolerant.
Buy more flowering perennials
Many of the flowers that you will see in the nurseries will be annual bedding plants. You can remove the need to buy new specimens every year by investing a bit more in perennial flowering species such as lavenders, rudbekias and geums (left). These will add vibrant colour to your garden year after year, and require very little effort to maintain.
Consider all the senses
Gardens aren’t just about their visual impact, and it is important to try and appeal to all of the senses. Plants such as jasmine will offer a bouquet of perfume to smell, whilst fountains and wind chimes will offer something for the ears. Using a range of textures in furniture, decorations, and hard landscaping will offer an interesting variety for materials to excite the sense of touch.