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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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?

On My Oasis – Winter Veggies and Honeymoon Memories

Oh, the gentle breeze of the Ionian sea, the soft lapping of crystal water against white pebbled beaches and the vast olive groves swathed across the shore line seem so long ago. My honeymoon memories are still as vivid as they were a year ago, but I have to admit – I do crave seeing that beautiful island of Paxos again. The tiny little retreat was definitely a gardening inspiration; never before had I intended on trying to create a garden area with Mediterranean ambiance. Now, we have olive trees (and they’re fruiting!), beautiful intertwined lavender and grasses, a jet black chimenea for those colder nights and a whole host of herbs in terracotta pots. Two stunning scenes were the cascade of lantana shrubs everywhere and the way in which pale pink cyclamen hung out of the mountain’s stone walls. I certainly can’t recreate the latter memory for now. Instead, I plant to underplant a gorgeous smoke bush (cotinus) with cyclamen instead, offering colour through the seasons.

The Sun-room

IMG_5345We’re fortunate to have bought a house with a lean-to; a place I’ve named the sunroom (Mrs Bucket, *ahem* Bouquet, would be proud). Having not yet been here a winter, I can’t foretell just how cold it gets BUT, it will keep the frosts off. I’m currently growing several species of hibiscus, a sunset shades black-eyed Susan and a plethora of houseplants. The sunroom’s also home to the ever-growing (and monstrous) banana. This little sun trap has also afforded me the confidence to buy a Lantana – something that brings about nostalgia every time I set eyes upon the colourful flowers of these plants. In our temperate climate it’s grown as an annual, but in warmer places, it grows into quite a large shrub. It’s all an experiment, but I’d like to see if I could get it to last long than one season and, if possible, shape it into the flowering shrubs that crept through every nook and crevice in Paxos’s stunning landscape.

Winter Veggies

One of the things I haven’t been very good at this year is planning; something that’s crucial when it comes to the vegetable garden. I realised last week that I’d planted nothing for the coming winter and that, as time is marching on, I better get my butt in gear. Luckily, and totally by chance, it’s not actually too late to get things in the ground. Okay, yes, the cabbages and kale I’ve sown were supposed to be put in during June, but that was only 20 days ago, right? They germinated extremely quickly thanks to the warmth, so I’m going to hope for an extended autumn as we’ve seen in recent years to give them a helping hand. And, if all else fails and they don’t mature, I’ll still have fresh greens to pick – perhaps just not the scrumptious cabbage heads I craved.

IMG_5346With space running out, and the no-dig patch still filled with beans, peas and onions, it was time to begin a new bed. Having being burgled, plans for the bottom of the garden have been rethought, and we’re no longer dismantling the large shed as it would cost too much to then safeguard the end of the garden (the building acts well as a boundary). There’s also a large yew tree that I don’t have the heart to cut down. With all those roots in the ground, and with concrete currently in-situ we decided to try something else – cloud prune the yew to allow more light in, and build deep raised beds.

There’s a vast amount of cladding that came out of the house when we were renovating, and so I’ve begun to put it to good use. We’ve got space for at least three of these beds, so I’ve got to construct another two. Filled with a good garden centre soil and lots of the year’s compost, we’ve made a start.

Will it work? Who knows.

The bed’s built directly onto the concrete, and the tree’s still there. But, unless you try these things, you’ll never know. I expect the leeks and salads will do just fine. The brassicas on the other hand? Well, they may require more soil than they’ve been given. However, with any luck, we will have winter veggies for harvesting this year!

Take The Hard Work Out of Gardening with Mantis Power Tools

It has to be said, that when you’re gardening with a small budget, spending your hard-earned cash on power tools seems like a no-go area. I’ve always had this staunch idea, and rather stupid – it has to be said – that labouring away and toiling  manually on the land would give me more satisfaction. You know what? I doesn’t. It’s just bloody tiring and slows the work down. So I turned to Mantis for some advice and got their take on which must-have tools should be the first for your gardening arsenal.

Mantis Electric Tiller

Tiller’s make short work of turning the land.

 

Firstly, why should people invest in tillers and power tools? I was a staunch ‘I’ll use brute force and stamina’ man for many years. What’s the major selling point about Mantis tools?

The Mantis Tiller takes all the back breaking work out of preparing beds for planting.  It breaks up the soil into a fine tilth to a depth of 10” perfect for planting vegetables or turning over flower beds.  There are attachments for edging borders and scarifying and aerating the lawn, also jobs that can be back breaking and time consuming.  Why not make life easier and less painful and spend less time working on your garden and more time enjoying it?

For someone who’s just starting a vegetable garden, for example, from scratch, what’s the best tiller and/or attachments to utilise?

The Classic Electric or 4 Stroke tiller, which can turn over the soil easily, even compacted soil and create a great base for growing vegetables or shrubs and flowers.  You can use the Tiller to mix manure into the soil.  There are plough and planter attachments that will create ideal furrows in the soil in which to plant vegetables.  These attachments are adjustable dependant on what you are planting.

Grass is a very time-consuming garden feature and millions of people across the country struggle year round to get that perfect lawn. Any tips or advice to make life a little easier?

Regular mowing in the growing season, at a high setting to avoid the roots getting scorched by the sun.  Scarifying and aerating especially at the beginning and the end of the winter and top dressing and reseeding where there are thinning patches.  Also, regular feeding is a must.  Once done, water the lawn heavily to encourage root growth and build drought resistance

Also, why is it so important to do major lawn maintenance in the autumn? Scarifying and improving drainage, for example?

Scarifying removes thatch that builds up around the roots of the grass, allowing air and moisture to get through.  If the lawn has experienced heavy traffic over the summer and the soil has become compacted, aerating allows the air and moisture to penetrate and encourage deep root development as well as assisting with drainage.  It also allows the roots of the grass to take on nutrients and to hang onto moisture in the ground during dry spells.

composter

 

compost tumblers can be the ideal alternative to a stationary compost heap

You sell some great compost tumblers. What’s the advantage of these over regular compost heaps?

The Mantis Compostumbler uses the Hot Composing method and allows the user to mix up the heated ingredients at the core by turning the drum 5 times every day.  This displaces the heat and allows an even decomposition, which speeds up the process, which is why the Compostumbler can provide you with good quality compost in 14 – 21 days as opposed to months or even years in a traditional heap.

polepruner

Pole pruners make out-of-reach places accessible.

One of the problems a lot of people have is pruning their taller shrubs and trees. Do you have any tools that can help with this?

Yes we have the Cordless Pole Pruner which has a reach of up to 4 m / 13ft.  It is lightweight; 3kg / 8lb, and a rechargeable lithium battery that allows up to 1 hour of pruning.  It is basically a powerful chainsaw on a stick.

Finally, for anyone considering restocking their garden tools, what three pieces of equipment are must haves?

Dependant on the focus of the gardener;

Vegetable garden / allotment users – Tiller with Plough and Planter attachments.

Flower bed / lawn care – Tiller with Lawn Care Package that includes the lawn scarifier, aerator attachments and border edger.

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 they’re definitely not in my ‘plant must-have’s’ list. However, I’m going to have to eat my own words when it comes to a similar looking plant – the viola.

 

 

Succulent

I was looking for a new plant to add to my painted pots….violas will be perfect.

 

If you’re anything like me, you’ll only have really come across the small and wild viola thriving in the undergrowth and pushing up little specks of bright purple in the gloom. They’ve normally been pulled up and swept away with the rest of the weeds. I’ve never really paid much attention to them before, and it wasn’t until perennial violas were highlighted on Gardener’s World that I showed any interest at all. But my interest was  piqued, and I began looking into them. I’m also looking at starting a small nursery at home and selling little plants in little pots at local events and venues. I already sell a variety of succulents and have been growing on and propagating my alpine asters. So, armed with my painted 4″ pots, I began looking at the perfect plant accompaniments.

 

Enter the viola. 

These really are wonderful little plants. Yes, they do need deadheading throughout the year to keep them flowering, but why wouldn’t you take the time to do such a thing when the cascade of blooms are so glorious? Snipping them down in autumn is all that’s required to keep healthy for the winter and then, in spring, they’ll burst up again.

IMG_5116With so many varieties to choose from, I headed to Plant World Seeds and ordered four sets of seeds; Papuanum, Jooi, Blueberry Cream and Tigereye. Each is wonderful in it’s own right – whilst Tigereye is a total crowd pleaser, Papuanum is a diminuitive little bloom that looks similar to its wilder cousins.

Tigereye, by far, was the quickest to germinate, and I had little plants within a couple of weeks. Papuanum followed, whilst both blueberry cream and jooi have been relatively late starters. I have a few plants coming up, but they’ve not been as successful (so far) as the others.

So, I’ve got a lot of growing on to do, but I’m really happy with my plants so far. I can see this obsession growing and what’s great is, because they’re little plants, it’s not hard to find plenty of room – you can have LOADS with only a small amount of space. So, give violas a go, whether in a pot, a rockery or the front of a border. Underplant a bench with them, or grow them between the cracks of a stone path to add some vibrant colour. I hope, like me, you’ll realise their wonder!

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Viola Tigereye is growing a treat.





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