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…..





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.


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.


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 is a fantastic vegetable for colour and taste.


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.


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.


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!

On My Oasis – Banana Plants, Beans and Chicken Obsessions

Firstly, I have to say, I am completely obsessed with my new chickens. I’ve hatched chicks under a broody hen before but it’s not quite the same as popping eggs into an incubator and watching the little ones pipping their way out. The effort behind that hatch is immense, and it’s crazy to think these little chicks do it after just three weeks of growing – from embryo to hatch.


IMG_5120We have four Polish bantam chicks and a sole survivor Barbu d’anver. I was pretty disappointed, it has to be said, that only six of 18 eggs hatch and that I had to put one down due to a leg deformity. However, in hindsight, it’s a good thing. I’ve decided I’d like to have a little breeding flock of both polish and d’anver bantams. If they’d all hatched and had come from the same breeder, there’d have been problems with inbreeding etc. Now, as it is, I have another 11 eggs on the go; six pure white Polish bantams, and five Lavender/Creole barbu d’anvers. This way, my flock won’t be brothers and sisters. I’m also going to try buying ‘cock collars’. Don’t get too excited – they’re not pornographic you filthy minded readers. 😉 They’re little velcro straps that go round a rooster’s throat and stop him expelling all the air in his airsacks at once – thereby reducing the noise and length of his crow. I won’t lie, they’re are some dangers of using these. BUT, if it falls to cockerels having to definitely be despatched, or trying to use the collars, I’ll opt for the latter.

IMG_5110Nature really is amazing. I candled the eggs today – five days after being put into the incubator. In that time, the lifeless yolk we eat by the billions has already started to develop. Red veins are etching their way around the egg as the tiny embryo starts to form. It’s even more incredible to think that from this, in only two weeks time, an actual chick will emerge!

Meanwhile, I’ve been having a few problems with the battery hens, namely bullying. Cersei (yes, typical isn’t it) was relegated to chicken jail for the past week because she was picking on Arya. The coop has been fairly quiet, though Matilda’s now become top hen and has been throwing her authority around. Cersei went back in today and the attack on Arya began again. It may be that I’ll have to house Arya in the new coop with the bantams. She’s also moulting at the moment, so I’m hoping that as she comes in to lay again, she’ll begin, possibly, to hold her own.


There’s been some hits and misses with the veggies. The tomatoes, which I’ve kept in the greenhouse, are doing wonderfully. I’m growing three varieties; moneymaker, oxheart and fenda. All have grown really well and are beginning to flower – fruits soon, I hope. Meanwhile, my squashes are thriving, and the French beans and runner beans popped in a couple of weeks ago are coming up trumps.


Beans (runner and French) are coming up a treat. We’ve planted in a trough to keep them under control – we really don’t need vast quantities!

However, the broad beans have been an epic failure; largely due to my neglect in squishing greenfly. It’s been SO dry and the aphids have sucked SO much, that the beans have become limpless messes. The peas, too, didn’t get up to much, whilst I didn’t pick enough spinach and it bolted. Gah.

Must. Try. Harder.

Especially if we’re to try and reduce our food shopping with self sufficiency.

Flower Garden

IMG_5121The dry spell has taken it’s toll on the garden, particularly as its newly planted and, therefore, the roots haven’t become established. However, the Mediterranean garden is starting to fill out nicely, and I love the mixture of grass, lavender and verbena. The grass is wonderful in the breeze and I’ve even convinced the husband (who’s dead set against grass as it looks ‘messy’) that, actually, it’s rather wonderful. I love the backdrop of the coal bunker too. I’m still unsure of what to do with it; it’s empty. But I like it for setting plants against, and my sempervivum collection are basking in sun on top so, for now, it’s staying.

Meanwhile, if you remember my post from a while back about the banana….well, here it is now! It’s been potted up once and not even fed – only water. It’s kicking out a leaf a week at the moment and quickly taking over the sun room. Not that I mind; I love the tropical feel. Once I can get those canna’s going, and the climbers have gained some more height up the wall, it’ll be the paradise I want it to be!


Ensete ventricosum (Abyssinian banana) is growing FAST!

With A LOT of watering, the garden’s growing great guns considering it was only created a few months ago. I’m already looking forward to next year when things start to become more established, but for now, I’m loving the sound of droning bees, the smell of the chocolate cosmos and the vibrancy from the dahlias in the fern bed.

What are you growing in your own oasis?

On My Oasis – New Pets and New Plants

This weekend was an extremely exciting one in our house as the 21st day of chick incubation arrived. I basically spent every waking moment from Friday onwards sat next to the eggs, staring through the perspex and waiting for the slightest signs of a pip. I was rewarded at about 3pm on Friday (day 21) when one Polish bantam and one Barbu d’anver egg had a little hole. Whilst the polish chick made short work of its shell, the little black d’anver did nothing, and I worried, and stressed, and worried some more.

On Saturday another three Polish bantams arrived, and another d’anver egg pipped but still….no signs of this variety hatching. Finally, on Sunday, after the first d’anver had started to unzip (a process where they roll around in the egg to peck through a circumference of membrane and shell), the chick became stuck for three hours. I finally intervened and broke the top away. A few minutes later and some forceful pushes, and the little mite was out. Number two was in a similar position and had to be helped out the shell this morning. Alas, it’s got a leg deformity and can’t stand – I’m unsure this happened because of the long hatch time or the chick wasn’t able to get out of the shell due to this. At the moment I’m now worrying, stressing, and worrying some more about this chick. We’ve strapped its toes to try and uncurl them but it still can’t stand – rather sad.

New plants

I also headed to the local garden centre this past Saturday and, being unable to control myself, bought some more plants. This is how my last garden became a mess; I just bought all the plants I liked and any thought of design went out the window. Unfortunately a similar thing seems to be occurring here….though the dark leaved dahlia is ideal for the tropical border. I got a gorgeous white wisteria for the front of the house – hopefully to hide some of that 1930’s architecture or lack thereof – and also a chocolate cosmos. It’s the latter that doesn’t really fit into any of my design, but I’ll find a worthy spot for it.

One plant that is coming into it’s own is Verbena ‘Bampton’. I’ve planted this in the Mediterranean garden amongst the lavender and grasses, and against the coal bunker. It’s looking beautiful!


The stunning new dahlia


Verbena Bampton


Chocolate cosmos – I’ll need to take cuttings from this as it’s only half hardy

With the oncoming heatwave – I’m not looking forward to it – this week is going to be ALL about watering the garden and trying to keep things alive, particularly in a newly established patch where roots haven’t had a chance to properly penetrate the soil. So…get through the heat, don’t melt and most importantly of all, enjoy the garden!

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