An experiment in container gardening

Squashed

The other day, over on the main blog, I briefly mentioned that the Hallowe’en pumpkins have been put into the darkest corner of the garden, the southern end of the back bed, for the local slugs and snails to eat. As not much grows successfully in that corner of the back bed save for sweet cicely and (once) tree spinach, it tends to be left as something of a wildlife corner; and The Child Who Likes Animals likes to leave things like melon rind there, to see how it attracts invertebrates and to watch it decay. So, a week ago when it was time to put the hollowed-out carved pumpkins in the food waste, we thought it might be a nice idea to leave them in the garden instead.

Pumpkin decay

It was getting towards twilight yesterday when I took this photo; but you can see that there are a number of small slugs greatly enjoying them. Mould is spreading, too, and spiders are using them to lurk behind. If they behave like a melon rind does, the flesh will slowly disappear and possibly in a few weeks time only a papery skin will be left.

Halloween, pumpkin, squash, decay, back bed, autumn

...oooOOOooo...

And autumn continues

A month since the last post on the garden blog, and not much has changed. For a number of reasons I have not done very much at all in the garden, not least the continuous bleak weather: cold, rainy, and blustery. Occasionally there is a clear night and Mars, Saturn and Jupiter sail smoothly across the sky; but more usually the heavens are filled with fast-moving grey scudding clouds.

The plants are still growing, of course; or are settling down for winter. The honeysuckle’s flowers have gone, and it is covered in little dark round berries instead.

Honeysuckle berries

The nasturtiums I mentioned previously are still going strong, though, covering the back bed from top to bottom in yellow flowers and straggling halfway across the decking too. The bumblebees are still feeding from them; next year’s queen bumblebees preparing to hibernate, I presume. In this one, however, I spotted an earwig, its head down and pincers outwards.

Nasturtium and earwig

Apparently you can sex earwigs by the size and shape of their pincers. I didn’t try with this one, and left it be inside its flower.

autumn, bumblebee, nasturtium, Tropaeolum, bee, honeysuckle, Lonicera, earwig

...oooOOOooo...

Going native

It’s been a few years now since we deliberately planted any nasturtiums, other than occasionally moving seedlings that have been popping up in particularly strange places. Since then, they’ve been left to self-seed. Every year, midway through summer we start thinking “there aren’t many nasturtiums this year,” and then when they come up, “the nasturtiums aren’t flowering much this year”, because we forget how late in the season they really come into their own.

This year was no exception. By the end of August we had plenty of foliage but barely a single flower; in mid-September we noticed they had suddenly leapt up and were climbing all over the back neighbour’s shed roof; and now, at the start of October, they have taken over half the back bed and are covered in flowers.

Nasturtiums

Their long, muscular stems are bursting through the honeysuckle, across the lemon balm and around the rosemary, and wide, round leaves are bursting through all over the place.

Nasturtium flower

nasturtium, Tropaeolum

...oooOOOooo...

Wildlife

Some of the wildlife we have spotted in the garden this summer, not including the fox that passed through, then scaled the neighbours’ kitchen roof and was away up the street along the ridgeline of the terrace.

Scarlet tiger moth with damaged wing

White-tailed bumblebee

Mint moth

Honey bee

Garden snail

These are all phone pictures, because it’s much easier to whip my phone out when I spot something interesting flying around than to go hunting for a better camera. The biggest pain using the phone for photos like this is the difficulty in focusing on exactly the right thing.

wildlife, bee, bumblebee, honey bee, moth, mint moth, tiger moth, scarlet tiger moth, snail

...oooOOOooo...

The Situation of Symbolic Towers (Redux)

When this blog first started in 2011 I drew a sketchplan of the garden and have referred back to it in posts here a few times since. It only recently occurred to me that now I have a better phone than I did then, I could get the same effect by leaning out of the bathroom window. So here is what the garden currently looks like, more or less, in yesterday’s rainstorm. Please excuse the chopped-down brambles wilting on the roof of the shed.

A bird's eye view

plan, overview

...oooOOOooo...

Takeover

When The Children went back to school part-time in the summer term, one of the things The Child Who Likes Fairies did was plant basil seeds in a pot. In fact, she enjoyed it so much she did two pots, and brought them home with her. We put them on the kitchen windowsill without much optimism, and were as surprised as anyone when a number of seedlings came up. We split apart the most viable ones, and now she has four small basil plants growing on the kitchen windowsill, taking up most of it.

Given the current weather, we knew first thing in the morning yesterday that after lunchtime the garden would be too hot and sunny for us to comfortably spend much time in, but, we thought, at least we can put those basil plants outside to get some sun and some fresh air. Given we knew we wouldn’t be outside, it gave me an idea to try something I’ve thought about doing, on and off, ever since I first bought a digital SLR. I set up the camera on its tripod pointing at the basil plants and the nasturtiums, and programmed it to take time lapse photos, two per minute. We all went inside (and watched The Railway Children), shut the doors, and left the camera to do its thing.

After the film had finished I headed back outside and found that the camera’s batteries had run down after not much more than a couple of hours, and I hadn’t really thought about how the sun would move around and start shading part of the area in the frame as the afternoon progressed. Moreover, after being sat in the middle of the garden on a sunny day for that amount of time, the black rubber handgrips on the camera were now almost too hot to hold, and I had to carry it back inside rather gingerly with its strap. Maybe that had some sort of an effect on the battery life as well. In the evening, I worked out how to stitch each frame together into a video, and upload it onto YouTube.

“I, for one, welcome our new Triffid overlords” said one friend. The nasturtiums might not be changing much over the course of a couple of hours, but The Child Who Likes Fairies’ basil plants are definitely making the most of being in the sunshine.

basil, Ocimum basilicum, nasturtium, Tropaeolum, timelapse, herbs

...oooOOOooo...

Apparently what little boys are made of

There haven’t been any posts here in the past month, partly because I was waiting to see if the Zierkürbis seeds would germinate. As they haven’t, I suspect it is safe to say that they were too old to grow successfully.

Not much else has been very successful in the past month, largely because the local slug and snail population has woken up to the fact that there are fresh tender new seedlings all over my garden. So, seedling after seedling has sprung up only to have its baby leaves immediately nipped off. The whole line of pea plants seemed to be doing reasonably well, until over the course of a few days last week something sluglike went eating its way along the row, a couple of plants per night. So far only one is left – ironically, one that The Child Who Likes Fairies grew by accident in the bucket of stale compost she has been given to “play digging” in.

So now, a whole new round of seed-sowing has started, this time with the idea that everything will be germinated indoors, and kept indoors overnight until it is chunky enough to survive a brief slug attack. The next round of peas will be going into containers, on the grounds that previously, when growing peas in containers, they stayed remarkably slug-free. We’ve switched pea varieties too, because the peas we were using previously had less than a 50% success rate at germinating: not great if you want to try to get back on track quickly and only have limited space to do it in.

pea, slug, snail, zierkürbis

...oooOOOooo...

Tourism

A few years ago, now, we spent a couple of weeks one September on a camping trip to the Mittelrhein region of Germany. We spent those weeks driving around various towns and cities: Koblenz, Köln, Mainz, Bonn, countless smaller towns with a town wall, four gates, gingerbread architecture and a castle overlooking it all. Towards the south of the area we visited every valley was covered in vineyards; but further north, where the land flattened out towards the spires of Köln cathedral, we drove along surrounded by pumpkins and squashes ready for harvest.

Up in the Eifel hills, west of Koblenz and Andernach, we visited the Benedictine abbey of Maria Laach, tucked away inside the crater of a beautiful, placid, dormant volcano. In the abbey’s shop we bought two souvenirs: a bottle of the roughest cider I’ve ever tasted outside Somerset, and a packet of ornamental squash seeds, a variety of Curcubita pepo called “Schwanenhals”, or “Swan-neck”. In our tent we drank the cider and grimaced; and when we got home, the packets of seeds went into the seed tin. No doubt to German gardeners they are just a regular brand of seeds from the local garden centre, but to us they were something of a holiday souvenir.

We never actually planted them, though, but the other week when working out what we could grow within our new set of gardening tenets, and as I was going through my seed tin working out what might be salvageable and workable within those guidelines, I came across the Zierkürbis packet. The seeds are obviously well past their recommended sowing date, but the longer they were left on the shelf the less viable they would always be in any case. So today, all 9 seeds in the packet went into fibre pots on the windowsill; the hope being that, should any sprout, they will be large enough to be transferred outside right at the ideal time of year.

Zierkürbis seeds

It will, of course, be slightly disappointing if nothing comes up; but better than never knowing at all.

squash, zierkürbis

...oooOOOooo...

Planting out

Seven of the pea seedlings that we all sowed together a fortnight or so ago were looking healthy, upright, and if anything a bit constricted; so this afternoon with the childrens’ help I planted them out in the back bed. Now, I’m just paranoid that slugs are going to descend on them en masse overnight and chomp them off at the ground. I’ve already been outside twice tonight with a lantern to try to detect the oncoming horde, but haven’t spotted any at all so far.

The seed peas had been sown in “expensive” fibre pots from the garden centre. However, I’m not sure they worked as well as they could have: unlike when I have done that in previous years, the pots seemed to stay very solid and the seedlings found it hard to push roots through their walls. So, the next batch of seed peas have been sown in cheap fibre pots from the pound shop. I’m not sure that “under 50%” was the greatest germination success rate, so hopefully the next batch will be better.

germination, pea

...oooOOOooo...

Bare soil

This afternoon, I finished weeding the rosebay willowherb, until more shoots spring up at least. Weeded every shoot I could see, dug up every rhizome I could find, levelled out the soil and spread a layer of compost across the top.

The sowing plan for the bed starts with: peas at the back, against the trellis. Now, I’ve had issues with pea support in the past, and I suspected that the laths of the trellis are a bit big for a pea plant to wrap a tendril around, so the trellis has been covered in green plastic pea netting. It’s not the prettiest solution but it’s not too obtrusive; and I’m sure the vines of the back neighbour’s honeysuckle will love clinging onto it too.

In the front of the bed, we have scattered various seeds, mostly flowers, in the hope that the will grow up in front of the pea plants without eclipsing them entirely. We’ve scattered handfuls of:

  • Cornflower, Centaurea cyanoides “Blue Diadem”
  • Night scented stocks, Matthiola bicornis
  • Corn marigold, Chrysanthemum segetum
  • Poppy, Papaver rhoeas “Flanders”
  • Swiss chard, Beta vulgaris vulgaris Cicla-Group “Five Colour Silverbeet”, because Gretchen has spotted it elsewhere and liked the different colours of the leaves.
  • Tree spinach, Chenopodium giganticum “Magenta Spreen”, scattered from a packet I bought a couple of years ago and intended to sow but never did. The aim of the tree spinach is much as it was when I bought the packet: it has been sowed in the left-hand end of the bed, a dark and fairly damp corner where not much grows apart from dandelions. Tree spinach might prefer sun, but will hopefully cope with the shade there; and there won’t be any peas at that end that it might crowd out.

There are also nasturtiums, Tropaeolum majus “Empress of India”, apparently “a classic Victorian variety” according to the Internet, sowed in a couple of spots, their seeds like tiny miniature brains. The key to all of this, of course, is the idea that the peas are going to clamber up high enough and quick enough that none of the stuff around them will cause any problems. The other key, which you might have realised, is that nearly all of the ornamental (or semi-ornamental) stuff is self-seeding. Hopefully, once everything is set up, everything will keep on going year after year, or at least until we move house.

This is all very experimental and no doubt a Proper Gardener would tell us we were trying to cram far too many plants into a tiny space. However, we will wait and see. I won’t be surprised if not everything develops, or at least, doesn’t grow exactly how I originally envisaged things. It might need a bit of tweaking next year, or it might all come up again, irregular but satisfactory.

I’ve given up on the calendula seeds mentioned previously, and bought a new packet. Into pots, we sowed:

  • More calendula, obviously.
  • And more Tropaeolum majus.
  • Mixed rocket leaves
  • A different dwarf sunflower, Helianthus annuus “Choco Sun”, allegedly one of the smallest sunflower varieties available. Short enough for a toddler to sniff, I hope.

And with a general tidy-up, the garden is looking reasonable again. The back bed may be bare soil now, but hopefully within a month or two it will be full of greenery, and mostly the greenery we intended, too. In the tidy-up a lot of the wooden containers were thrown away, their wood rotted too far to save them, but that leaves us a good terracotta core. The plants we bought and potted up 2½ weeks ago are settling in nicely: the fennel looking lively, the thymes putting on new growth, and the marjoram already starting to fill up its pot. I’m rather pleased with how quickly things have been turned around. Even if things aren’t perfect yet, there’s not too much more tidying up left to do.

calendula, chard, corn marigold, cornflower, creeping thyme, fennel, french marjoram, green fennel, lemon thyme, marigold, marjoram, nasturtium, pea, poppy, rosebay willowherb, sowing, sowing plan, sunflower, swiss chard, thyme, tree spinach, weeding, Tropaeolum

...oooOOOooo...