Saturday 11 August 2012

What's flowering at Oxford Botanic Gardens

I'm rather lucky to live on the doorstep (just over 1 mile away) of Oxford Botanic Gardens, and it's great to be able to drop in and see what is currently in bloom. Here is a couple of plants whose flowers took my fancy today...

And it is always worth taking a seat to enjoy the views...

From the water garden, looking back towards Magdalen tower

Thursday 9 August 2012

Trying to keep on top of the lottie

I'm in the rather fortunate position of having a few days off and sunny weather coinciding. A rare treat this summer of which I'm trying to make the most of the opportunity.

Gwenfar's Lottie - producing food, but massively over run with weeds...

So today I decided it was time to pay the lottie some attention. I haven't been particularly regular this summer. Not just because of the weather, but because work comes first and I've been very busy, and then I'm tired, so garden and lottie come last. I'm really struggling with energy levels over the last few months, so have actually given up one of my part-time jobs (I had two) and am taking some time out over August & September to rest and hopefully rejuvenate, AND spend some time gardening.

I confess in the last few months I've several times thought about whether I should keep going with the lottie. I love the plot and the community, but I'm struggling to keep both home garden and lottie going. Then I read Helen's Dear John post to her lottie this morning. She too has been struggling, though has different issues to myself. Her thoughts were really helpful in making me think more seriously about what I should do.

I decided that before I think any further, I should go and visit my plot and see how I feel. So I spent a couple of hours down there checking it out and doing some work.


Like everyone else, the mix of wet and humid weather had meant a massive weed explosion on the plot. My strawberries are getting covered in couch grass, the asparagus bed (right) is looking tatty, some asparagus is ok but some has died and it needs lots of weeding. The peas (next bed to asparagus) are doing well - lots to pick, but need more staking(!). That bed also has broad beans, which I should have picked but didn't (had no time to get there the last few weeks), so the crop is going to seed. I can and will save the seeds, but it's a shame to have missed out on such a good crop of beans.

Tomato, sunflower & french bean bed

In the bed which has a mix of tomatoes, sunflowers and climbing french beans, it was crowded with all kinds of weeds. The sunflowers are looking great, and I'm going to cut a heap tomorrow to bring home, which should give some more light to the tomatoes behind them. Some of the tommies were completely destroyed by blight and I had to pull them out. Some had mild blight attacks, so I've tidied them up, cutting off any effected branches and will see how they go. I have some fruiting tomatoes, so maybe with luck they'll go red over the next few days and I'll get to eat my first tomatoes this year.

It was nice to see the climbing french beans (soissons - for drying) doing well. Last time I was at the plot they were looking like giving up, so it was a lovely surprise to see I didn't lose them all and those that remained are doing quite well.

Pumpkins, courgettes & sweetcorn bed

The corn is short and though flowering, I don't expect any crops unless the next two months are warm and sunny (unlikely...). A couple of my courgette plants have managed to fight the weeds and I was able to pick a couple! Marrows of course, so will make some of VP's lovely courgette & brie soup with them. Sadly, but not surprisingly, no sign of any pumpkins yet.

The one bed doing really well, is my brassica bed with an agricultural mesh cage. This is some of the brassicas, post weeding:

Dwarf curly kale, brussel sprouts & purple sprouting broccoli. I am very pleased with the health of these plants. The benefit of not such a great summer is that brassica's love it, as I learnt from Charles Dowding's excellent Winter Vegetables book. I highly recommend this book; both very practical and incredibly inspiring.

After about 2 hours I was feeling wiped out and decided to stop and come back tomorrow. Thinking about it on the way home and when undertaking the desmellification process (having a shower..!), I realised two things. One: that I do love being at my lottie. Two: it's just too much space for me to cultivate at the moment.

So, do I give it up, or are there other options? I've decided to try other options first, and am going to see if I can find a couple of people to share the plot with me. Although still being developed, there are 3 rows with 5 beds each (the last row still in process of being made up). Under black plastic is space for a shed, small polytunnel and grass area with small open fire (that's the plan I've been working to, anyway). I could keep the strawberries (separate beds) and the row with the asparagus, and maybe I could find two people to take on the other two rows with 5 raised beds each? We could all share the future shed and polytunnel etc.

I like this idea as it would reduce how much space I have to cultivate myself, but not have to give up on having a lottie entirely. I think it would be fun to share the plot too. I love growing veggies, and though I can grow some at home, it's a smaller north facing garden (apart from the south-facing front garden) and there is limits to what I can grow there. I'm thinking particularly of heritage (in general) potatoes, brassicas (which need lots of room), plus carrots and parsnips and extra legumes.

Share the plot with me?

So, that's where the thought process has got me so far. I need to check with lottie committee sharing would be ok - I think it should be but don't want to assume. Of course, whether I could find people to share with me is another matter. What do you think? If you are in Oxford, do you want to share Gwenfar's Lottie with me?

Sunday 5 August 2012

Start of the month: August 2012

2nd August 2012

So, anyone notice the slight change to the title of these posts? I'm clearly struggling to always publish on the 1st day of the month, so decided changing the title was better than apologising yet again, for missing the date.

Welcome to the August 2012 start of the month blog post for the front garden!

July was a bit of a roller coaster. Started dull & wet, then we had a week of glorious sun, then back to dull & wet. It was a bit sunnier and warmer between the showers through July, and the Heleniums are now in full flower. I've already picked a couple of big bunches for the house so I have their lovely brightness inside and out.
Helenium 'Sahin's Early Flowerer'

Sadly almost all of the nasturtiums that were in flower last month have now been destroyed by the black fly. Very good weather for blackfly. Though I beat the blackfly to the last of the broad beans, which I finished picking and plants now pulled up (roots left in ground to rot and let nutrients stay in soil).

I also finally picked some garlic. This is Metechi freshly dug up.

The bulbs are much smaller this year than previous years. Metechi is usually known as a garlic with larger (and hot) cloves, but it seems all the rain has really effected the bulb size. From the couple of others at the lottie I dug up (i.e. Susan Delafield) it looks like the whole crop may be smaller than usual. I'll save the absolute best ones of each variety (I have about 13 or so varieties this year) and hope they will revert to form next year.

The tomato plants, who were shying away last month, are finally getting into their stride. Shows just what a week of sun and warmth can do. Lots of flowers and tomatoes now forming on my heritage variety Estonian Yellow Mini Cherry.

Tomato 'Estonian Yellow Mini Cherry'

The other heritage tomato I'm trying, Porter, is coming along and has quite a few tomatoes that need just a bit of sun to go red. Please come back sun....

Tomato 'Porter'

The Daubenton Kale is finally growing after I took the advice of @AlysFowler and pinched out the tips.

My plants just were not growing beyond seedlings, and after seeing Alys's amazing plant on Twitter, and experiencing Kale envy, I asked her how she got hers to grow, and she advised to pinch out the tips. Advice duly followed and now they are growing really well. Though might be another couple of months before they are the handsome studs that Alys has!

The teasels are now flowering and attracting lots of bees; here is one dashing in for some pollen before the next burst of rain.

Perhaps my favourite success is having grown Pennisetum thunbergii 'Red Buttons' from seed, and having it now flower. This was an easy grass to grow from seed and this plant is a good size after just six months.

Pennisetum thunbergii 'Red Buttons'

Despite the weather, the front garden is coming along ok. I lost a large amount of my strawberries to the deluge and slugs, but have had a good crop of broad beans. The nasturtiums were 'black flyed', but the Heleniums are doing wonderfully and I hope to show my new Helenium, 'Rubinzwerg' in flower next month.