Symbolic Forest Gardenblog

An experiment in container gardening

Archive for April, 2016

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.

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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.

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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.

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Fireweeding

The first few pea shoots started to break the surface a couple of days ago, making it five days after sowing. Rather fast, I thought; only a few have come up so far, which makes me worry I’ve kept them too damp or something.

In the meantime I’ve been clearing out the back bed, into which the peas are going to be transplanted once large enough. A few years ago, I spent weeks clearing bindweed out of it, going through the soil archaeologically to excavate the tiniest pieces of bindweed rhizome. Now, after a couple of years of baby-rearing abandonment, it’s been colonised by rosebay willowherb. So I’m going through the soil almost archaeologically again, pulling out chunky pieces of rosebay willowherb rhizome this time. Hopefully I have got as much as possible: if I’ve missed any, once there are other plants in there the archaeological approach isn’t likely to work very well. I will have to resort to pulling up each shoot again and again until the rhizomes are exhausted.

There is still no signs of the calendula seeds we sowed twelve days ago germinating. To be honest I have no idea how long they normally take to germinate, but as I usually tend towards the impatient side, and I was always a bit skeptical that the packet would still contain viable seeds, I am suspecting that nothing is going to appear. Pushing on ahead, today we planted a pot of borage seeds (Borage officinalis) and another of poached eggs, which is hardly the nicest plant name I’ve ever come across, so I think I’ll just refer to it as Limnanthes douglasii from now on. Both pots will only really be large enough for one plant of each; a rather small plant in the borage’s case; but that will suffice. There may be just enough room for one borage plant in the back bed too, in front of the peas, but I doubt it with everything else I’d like to squeeze in there.

We did also buy a few plants from the greenhouse at St Werburghs City Farm, which sells plants as part of its horticulture training scheme for adults with special needs. A couple of chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium) and a dwarf variety of sunflower, which hopefully should grow to about the same height as the children. They were repotted this afternoon, despite a cold shower of rain, and with the children “helping” moving the compost about.

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A bowlful of mud

We had the children planting peas yesterday. Never mind cress: in theory they are surely an ideal children’s plant? They germinate fairly quickly and easily, grow fairly fast, have interesting shapes as they climb, and produce something you can eat. Moreover, we’ve always had a reasonable amount of success with peas in the past, despite my moans of despair at them falling over rather than climbing (see the archives on here for various moans of woe).

Some would think that sitting two toddlers down at the kitchen table with a bowlful of “soil” (actually seed compost) would be a Bad Idea, but I was impressed just how well it worked. Give each child a small fibre pot and a spoon, and they quickly work out what to do. When it’s about half-full, hand them a pea, let them drop it in, and when they look away make sure it’s nicely aligned in the middle of the pot. Watch them spoon more compost in, tamping it down occasionally, and there you are.

So now we have eighteen pea seeds in pots on the windowsill, waiting to see if they come up, and waiting to see if, if and when they do, the children remember that they planted them. When they do come up, we are planning to try them in the back bed this time, which does make me worry if they will survive without being savaged by slugs also. Fingers crossed, I suppose.

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Seeds

The gardening was certainly a hit with the children: the first thing they wanted to tell the child-minder the next time they went to see her. Indeed, most days since then they have asked, at some point, to help in the garden. They now have a small watering can. The watering can may have been a mistake. They like watering, maybe a bit too much. For Ezra, their watering can just isn’t enough: he has to grab hold of the big watering can and take charge of that. Gretchen is happy with the small one, but every time it’s empty there is a cry of “More water!”

We have acquired and re-potted another new plant from the garden centre: a lavender, Lavandula x intermedia “Vera”. A small one-litre plant at the moment, we’ve put it into a wide plastic thing in the hope that it will grow into it and never need repotting ever again.

Now, I’ve heard the theory that planting a small plant into a big pot that it doesn’t really need doesn’t do very much for the health of the plant; it just gives it chance to get a bit “pot-drunk” and doesn’t really translate into long-term healthiness. It sounds like a strange idea, though. I wouldn’t be surprised if maybe the plant doesn’t grow quite as fast above-ground, because it will put more work into extending its roots. However, even in a container, good roots are surely rather more important if you want to ensure the plant will live any length of time. I don’t mind if this plant doesn’t grow quite as fast or quite as large, straight away, as if I’d only put it into a three-litre pot initially, if that means it won’t need repotting again in a year’s time. Time will tell, I suppose.

At the same time – this was on Saturday – I planted some seeds with Gretchen. Calendulas, from a packet that is three-years date expired. On the other hand they were very reliable seeds when I last tried them a few years ago. We have plenty more new ones to try in the coming weeks; I just rather like these calendulas. The interesting part is going to be seeing, if and when they germinate, if Gretchen realises they are the seeds she planted. We do have a packet of dwarf sunflowers in hand to plant, but they have a 3-week germination time. Even I have trouble remembering what I’ve planted where three weeks later.

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