Gardening made up as we go along

Archive for the ‘Garden Diary’ category

A chimera

If there were any regular readers of this blog, they would have noticed that since the last post, when the garden was being radically relandscaped, there haven’t been any further updates. Well, the landscaping has finished since then, the garden now has a lawn, an apple tree and a variety of beds which are slowly being populated with plants. So far, of course, the plants all appear to be tiny little things somewhat dwarfed by the amount of empty bare earth between them, but that will slowly change.

This post, though, is something of an aside, before I get around to the Proper Post with a map of the garden and summaries of some of the plants that have been scattered about. Because between a couple of plants which had been properly planted, a strange weed grew up. It started growing and grew up fast; and it seemed to have a strange mixture of leaves, some of them long and thin like a grass and some broad and heart-shaped. In other words almost as if it was a chimera of two completely different types of plant, half-monocotelydon and half-dicotelydon. Outside of science fiction, that’s completely and utterly impossible.

Well, I looked at it more closely today, and I’ve realised what it is. Take a look yourself and see if you can spot it.

A strange chimera

So what sort of plant is it, that I’ve realised I have? It’s a bird food plant, of course!

No, really, look. In the middle, that’s a typical sunflower stem with its flower forming at the centre. Round the outside, some sort of cereal plant, possibly barley. Why on earth would you have a sunflower and a few stems of barley all germinating in exactly the same spot? Because a small lump of bird seed cake was dropped there and has started to grow, of course.

Whether it was accidentally dropped by a passing jackdaw or wood pigeon, or whether it was in the topsoil when it arrived and has germinated now it has light, I don’t know and will never know. The topsoil certainly does have a good number of weed seeds in it, a significant proportion of them nettles, so it possibly was in the soil before it was spread out. The sunflower has probably started a little late in the season for best results, but it will be interesting to see just how high and fast it manages to grow before autumn. If it flowers, I’ll make sure I take a picture.

weeds, weed, sunflower, helianthus

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One week of the year

This blog has been quiet since the end of last year. If you’re a regular reader of the main blog you’ll be aware that in February I left the garden behind and made a new start, with a new-to-me house and garden, in South East Wales. Nothing has changed in the garden of the new house since moving in; there hasn’t been anything to post here, and there’s a good reason for that which I’ll come to in a moment.

I’m writing this today, though, because right now it’s the middle of the 10th UK National Gardening Week. This year’s event, understandably, is themed around wellbeing, about the benefits that gardening can bring to both your physical and mental health. It doesn’t, of course, have to be your own garden; you can get the same benefits from community and public gardens too.

The garden here, on the other hand, is something of a barren empty space at the moment.

Overview of part of the new garden

On the upside there are plenty of dandelions for the local bees, and a few patches of clover and Herb Robert, even if the rest is a barren stony, sandy desert.

This garden is much bigger than the tiny scrap we had previously, and I’m sensible enough to realise that making over a garden of this size completely from scratch is probably beyond me: even if I thought I could take it on myself, I’d probably not get it finished this decade. However, even if we have had to reach outside for some help with the basics and the layout, there are plans in hand to transform it and create a space that both evokes the same atmosphere as the previous garden did when it had matured, and that we are able to change and evolve over the coming years. I’ll go more into the thoughts behind that further down the path, when change has started to happen.

National Gardening Week, new garden, dandelions, herb robert

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End of the year

The last day of the year, and the first proper frost to hit the garden. If you read the main blog, you might have already seen yesterday’s post about a frosty cemetery. The garden, though, is rather more sheltered so wasn’t really touched by yesterday’s frost at all. Today was the first day that the frost was hard enough for the cold air to get properly into the garden and touch everything down to the ground.

Frosty nasturtiums

As I’ve said previously the nasturtiums normally have late autumn and early winter mostly to themselves in this garden, and by the time the frost comes the garden often consists mostly of nasturtium. This frost, though, will start to kill them off.

Frosty honeysuckle

The honeysuckle should be made of somewhat sterner stuff.

The garden has been fairly quiet since I restarted this blog. Hopefully, 2021 will see some interesting new developments. You’ll have to wait and find out exactly what, though.

frost, honeysuckle, Lonicera, nasturtium, Tropaeolum, weather, winter

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The process of decay

The previous post was about putting Halloween pumpkins in the garden to decompose. Now they’ve been there for a month, I thought it was about time to post a composite of their gradual decay into the soil.

Pumpkin decay

It makes me a little sad to see this, especially given the goofy grin on The Child Who Likes Animals’ design. Still, I have to remind myself that it is inevitable, and they are just part of the circle of life and death in the garden. They have been broken down by mould, eaten by slugs and snails, and are now feeding the herbs and the honeysuckle.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

germination, pea

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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.

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

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