I’ll let you in on a secret; for years, I’ve attributed that dry, crusty leaf curl on acers to wind damage, sun burn or both. My husband bought me a beautiful acer for a house-warming gift – after years of wanting one, I finally had my very own. As we moved in during the depths of the winter and it had been kept indoors for several months, it began to bud early, unfurling stunning deep red foliage. Then, when the leaves fully opened I finally planted it outside in what I thought was a relatively sheltered spot. Almost immediately, the dreaded leaf curl occurred, and though I knew it wasn’t dead, I was slightly heartbroken at its awful look. I decried the blustery wind coming off the Thames and the scorching sun.
Then, a few weeks ago on Gardeners’ World there was an acer expert who revealed ‘all that wind damage? Well it’s not. It’s poor watering.”
What?! For all these years I’ve had it wrong?
I began watering the acer every day and, would you believe it, new shoots have begun to appear. I’m thrilled and simultaneously mortified at my neglect. Luckily, plants are pretty hardy things and tend to come back with a little bit of love. There’s still A LONG way to go before it’s beautiful once again, but just seeing some new growth is welcome!
Meanwhile, I’ve begun taking cuttings like mad; partly because I want to establish Brimwood Farm Nursery, but also because I haven’t got the cash to be going out and buying three, or five, or seven of everything to make beautifully designed borders. I’ve now got a greenhouse filled with herbs, chocolate cosmos and hebes at this point, and I’m sure there’ll be more to come.
I always tend to watch The Beechgrove Garden on Sunday mornings. Honestly, I prefer it to Gardener’s World. There’s something rather upper class about GW; the gardening features come across as something most people can’t ever attain. Like Monty’s box balls, for instance. I mean – beautiful plants, great to have in a garden, and a good idea to do a feature about cutting out the blight and getting fresh growth. But, WHO actually has a box ball garden?! They’re bloody expensive things; most people will have one or two at most, or perhaps a tiny box hedge. I don’t know anyone who has an entire garden room devoted to box! Beechgrove Garden, on the other hand, is just so down to earth. They make no qualms about showing all the things that have gone terribly wrong as well as the wonders. The growing is all far more realistic too; instead of a large and beautifully manicured vegetable patch, here’s a 1m x 1m square – let’s see what we can grow in it. Or, here’s a greenhouse filled with some lantana’s and pergoliums – all crammed together because the lack of space.
It’s from Beechgrove that I got the tip about cuttings; my chocolate cosmos is full of flowers and there aren’t any bud-less shots to strike from.
Instead of cutting back and waiting for fresh growth, I took cuttings, stripped off the lower leaves and then just nipped out the oncoming buds. I may need to do the latter again if the vegetation persists in producing blooms instead of healthy roots and leaves. I’ll keep an eye on them and see how they go.
Finally, here’s a few shots of the girls. It’s hard to believe that only 10 weeks ago they were scabby, featherless and due for the chop. Now, we have eggs every day and they’ve fluffed up beautifully – apart from a couple of bare bottoms!
Alas, first for some sad news. Cersei may have survived the shame nun in Game of Thrones, but here on my oasis, I’m afraid to say that Cersei is no more. She’s been looking poorly for several weeks. Ever since I put her back with the flock since her time-out for bullying, she’s been under the weather; I’m really not entirely sure what caused it. She had sour crop, that’s for sure, and a few weeks ago I spent my Saturday making her vomit, getting plenty of water into her and feeding her scrambled eggs. She seemed to perk up, and throughout her illness, she continued to lay. But one night last week she looked very poorly indeed and just as I expected, I found her dead in the morning. She’s been buried at the bottom of the garden where the bench will go. We’ll underplant with thyme and grow bronze fennel and hollyhocks behind as a screen between the cutting garden and veggie plot so it’s a nice resting place for her.
Chicken obsessions grow
The day before Cersei departed, we attended a poultry auction. Oh My God. It was FABULOUS. I’d got the idea from watching River Cottage, and wondered whether there were any local auctions to avoid me having to sell our excess chicks on Gumtree. Can you believe it – there’s an auction every month within walking distance! We went to suss out the auction for the future and, luckily, didn’t take a lot of money – otherwise I think we’d have bought all sorts. In addition, with friends coming over we couldn’t stay for the entire time – just as well as there was a rather beautiful Pekin rooster with a funny squeaky crow that caught my eye. Hubster, meanwhile, was caught on a pair of barnacle geese and some pheasant chicks. Yes, we were definitely on dangerous ground.
So far, the five chicks from the first batch (now six weeks old) all look like pullets which I’m quite happy about because it means we can keep them. I’m hoping that of the new five, we’ll have one white Polish rooster and the Lavender Barbu d’anver will also be a cockerel. That way, we’ll have three excess chickens that we can sell at the auction when the time’s right. Three ex-batt layers, a quintet of Polish and a pair of d’anvers should keep us quite well. And, at some point, we’ll get some meat birds too but as someone at the auction pointed out, it’s probably worth picking up chicks for around 75p each rather than going through the time-consuming hatching process.
As anyone who’s gardened knows, those outside spaces evolve, particularly when you’re first establishing the oasis. Most of what I’ve created so far as stayed with the plan, but there are a few changes afoot. Firstly, the void behind the shed was to become a potting area and pot storage. However, with ample space at the bottom of the garden, I’m actually going to build a new chicken coop here; making perfect space of the area and allowing the flock to grow.
Meanwhile, at the bottom of the garden, there are some alterations to the veggie area. Firstly, due to security concerns, the large shed that dissects the triangular end to our land is now going to stay. It’s large and filled with wood at the moment, but over the coming months, I’ll be chopping some of that down. It’s good storage space and should allow for some chicken overflow too. What is does unfortunately mean is that we’ll have a small triangular patch of garden we can’t access. Losing this space seems really costly, but this is not the forever home, and it will take a lot of money to bring down the shed and then build up the walls to stop thieves coming in. Hence; it’s lost to us.
The other plan had been to cut the conifer down – until we found out it was a yew. I don’t really want to remove it, so we’ve been hard pruning it upwards to create lollipop-like topiary. After the tree was gone, we were going to smash up all the concrete paving and turn it into a vegetable garden. This plan is NO MORE. Instead, we’re creating several large raised beds. The area gets quite a bit of sun, and with the tree pruned even higher, enough light should get through. In addition, even after all the work of lifting the concrete, we’d have been left with extremely poor soil that’s riddled with tree roots. With our new idea, I’ve literally built the beds on top of the concrete, lined with cardboard and filled with compost. It’s not ideal, but again, we only plan on being here between five and seven years, so as long as we keep enriching the soil in those beds, it should be fine. The brassicas, salad onions, radishes, leeks and lettuces are in, and I’ve a few more germinating seeds to pop in during coming weeks.
Essex, as a whole, desperately needs some rain. We had a full day’s downpour a couple of weeks ago and the difference in the garden was incredible – suddenly the plants all looked so nourished and happy. Now, with another heatwave, it’s back out with the watering can every evening – it takes me forever. However, with a wet, and hopefully cold, winter season ahead, I can’t wait to see the garden maturing next year!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
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?
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.
We’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.
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.
With 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!