Thursday 27 February 2014

End of month view: February 2014

It's amazing what a difference 28 days makes in the garden. Since the end of January the amount of light coming into the garden has doubled, and the middle veg bed is now getting full light during part of the day.

More sun in the kitchen garden

The height of the sun in the sky increases daily and with it the light that the garden receives. This is good for the veggies, and the broad beans and garlic are very happy.

Cat-Merlyn posing with the broad beans, plus garlic sticking it's leaves up

I thought it was time to dig out the old mini greenhouse and put it together as I'm starting to sow seeds. Sadly, the new cover I got for it was the wrong size. Well, not so much the wrong size as the fact that manufacturers have changed the sizing of recent frames, making them smaller, and meaning I cannot purchase a cover the right size to replace it. Very frustrating! I have considered trying to make one bespoke, but have instead decided to buy a completely new mini greenhouse. When it comes to gardening and having ME, I have to carefully decide where to put my limited energy, and I'd rather put it into growing plants than trying to make a (not very easy to make) bespoke plastic cover.

Hedera colchica 'sulphur heart',
plus snowdrops and pulmonaria planted under the damson tree

I haven't done a lot of planting this month as it rained for much of the month until the last 10 days, though not as bad here as down South. The ground was sodden so not great for planting into. In the last week it's been better and I finally planted my ivy Hedera colchica 'sulphur heart'. This is a lovely variegated evergreen climber, and my hope is that it will not only start covering the fence, but also give more interest and colour to this dimmer corner of the garden. I added some snowdrops under the Damson tree that I picked up at Hodsock Priory, Galanthus Ikariae and Galanthus S. Arnott

The other changes since the end of January are growth! Such as the Solanum crispum 'Glasnevin', also growing up the fence. 

Lots of new growth on the young Solanum

It was with great joy that my Galanthus Bagpuize Virginia suddenly popped up. I wasn't sure they would come up as I dug them up before we left Oxford last March, and they sat in a pot for most of the year, leaves died back, until I finally planted them in the Strawberry Border last November. My lesson from this is that maybe you don't really have to plant snowdrops 'in the green' as is the usual horticultural advice. Or maybe I got lucky?!

Galanthus Bagpuize Virginia in the Strawberry border

Strawberry border with 7 Galanthus Bagpuize Virginia

My first daffodil has flowered, only in the last day, along with Crocus snow bunting.

I pruned back the perennials and Rosa Seagull (growing up the arch) and tidied the herbs in the Herb Border.

Herb Border

And I have this Hellebore, Blue Lady, to plant in the middle of the obelisk.

Helleborus 'Blue Lady'

The hellebores in the Cornus Border are now fully flowering.

Cornus border

As is the first of the gorgeous Iris Reticulata J. S. Dijt.


The long Shady Border is starting to see sights of further bulb/corm growth, and the Sarcococca confusa is still flowering and fragrant. I need to get onto putting up the proper frame for the Morello Cherry in March, so hopefully by the end of next month the current bamboo cane against the fence will have gone.

Shady border

Overall, the garden has really started to come to life by the end of February. My jobs for March will be focus on some vegetable seed sowing, some in modules and some direct into my new vegetable borders. I'm quite excited that I'll finally be using these borders!

I also need to get the grapevine in, which will be growing up the pergola, and cut back the Cornus shrubs so I can get the lovely red stems to bring joy next winter.

February has been a good month, despite the rain. I'm looking forward to March.

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End of month view is hosted by Helen Johnstone, aka @patientgardener. Visit Helen's blog for her February 2014 EMOV and links to other bloggers EMOV posts.

Saturday 22 February 2014

Garden visit: Hodsock Priory - snowdrops

Now that we have moved 'up North', we are in the process of discovering our new annual flower pilgrimages. In Oxfordshire, each year we would see the snowdrops at Kingston Bagpuize Gardens in February, the fritillaries at Iffley Meadows in April, and the bluebells at Foxholes in May. It's February, so time to find the snowdrops.

And find them we did, at Hodsock Priory, which is east of Sheffield and north of Worksop, and the very edge of Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire (it's in Nottinghamshire, just).

Hodsock Priory: looking towards the house from the garden

It was my chiropractor (of course?!) who alerted me to the fact that Hodsock was the place to go for snowdrops up this way. And she was right, it certainly is.

We started with the woodland walk first, had tea and cake, then visited the garden that semi-circles the house.
The beginning of the woodland walk

The woodland was a carpet of snowdrops, a sea of white that tantalised you from a distance and delivered up close. So, so many pretty snowdrops.

I love snowdrops, but make no claims to be a true galanthophile. I enjoy kneeling down and turning up their pretty flowers to get up close and personal and try to work out the different markings, but I couldn't name the variety I was looking at at the time. In fact the only reason I know I have G. Bagpuize Virginia in my garden is that the owner of the Kingston Bagpuize gardens dug some up and handed them too me! Without that knowledge, all I would know it they were a 'double' variety, and there is plenty of those in the Galanthus species.

However, you don't need to be an expert to enjoy the different varieties of snowdrops, and Hodsock has plenty.

The green marking is more defined in the photo below, compared to the one above.

A double variety...

And a single with broader leaves, Galanthus woronowii the label said.

Another single, with more grey-green leaves and a perky flower.

Hodsock has plenty of other early spring flowers to complement the snowdrops. It seemed around each bend in the path there was a new delight.

Prunus Mume, as you enter the garden

Reticulata irises

Leucojum Vernum, the snowflake

Random snowdrops, eranthus and a hellebore that snuck into the patch

Sweet and dainty: Narcissus Cedric Morris

The yellow Hamamelis was stunning against the blue sky

And I must not forget the many delightful hellebores, of which a selection below.

There was also room in the garden for the weird...

I had no idea what this was, but thanks to the ever-helpful Twitter gardeners I discovered that it is Butterbur - Petasites japonicus. My thanks to Tanya @VergetteGardens for identifying the plant for me. I must admit, I found it intriguing, but not necessarily attractive. It appeared quite 'alien' looking; though I may have been influenced by the Sci-Fi I've been reading over the last few days (all hail the United Federation of Planets*).

To add to the floral delights was the constant wonderful fragrance of Sarcococca and winter-flowering honeysuckle permeating throughout the garden. It is so wonderful and made me stop many times just to take a deep breathe and enjoy the scent.

Winter-flowering honeysuckle

What might be hard to believe from all the photos above, is that we didn't actually finish seeing all of the garden or the woodland walk! Yes, there was even more to see than what has been shown above... It will be no trial to return. In Hodsock Priory, I have found my new annual place of snowdrop pilgramage.

Before leaving, I picked up a couple of bulbs each of Galanthus Sam Arnott and Galanthus Ikariae. I'm going to plant them together under my damson tree. They are different enough from each other that I should be able to continue to know which one is which as they (hopefully) increase numbers over time. I wonder if there is any chance they might cross-fertilise and I end up with a new variety? Galanthus Gwenfar perhaps...

*yes, I'm a Trekkie.

Friday 21 February 2014

Something new

In recent years, I have challenged myself to try to grow something new each year. Originally it was more unusual varieties of potato, such as Salad Blue or Highland Burgundy Red. As my confidence with growing vegetables developed, I then moved on to vegetables that I had never really come across before, such as Kale, and Fennel bulbs. These were not part of my diet growing up in Australia, so although they might not be unusual to people in the UK, they were to me. Both are now firm favourites on my dinner plate and in my growing plans, and I wouldn't be without them.

This year I have chosen to experiment with growing Kohl Rabi. I hadn't eaten Kohl Rabi until it arrived in my Beanies veg box last autumn. It's a quirky looking vegetable...

Screen shot from Real Seeds website

There is something kind of alien about the look of Kohl Rabi, and also rather fabtabulous!

I had to google it to learn how to cook it. I chose to roast it because that seemed the easiest thing to attempt for a first time. It was crunchy and delicious; could I please have some more? Kohl Rabi can also be used in curries, salads and can be stir fried, so it's a pretty versatile vegetable.

When thinking on what I should experiment with this year, this was an obvious choice. And it's purple! I have a penchant for purple vegetables, and although Kohl Rabi also comes in green, I of course, had to go for the purple variety.

Kohl Rabi is my something new for 2014. What's yours?

Sunday 2 February 2014

Crop rotations for the vegetable beds

It's February, it's sunny, at the moment anyway, and I finally feel like the growing season has begun. So I thought it was time to work out what vegetables I plan on growing, and plan the vegetable bed rotations.

Garden design, showing where the vegetable beds are

You can see above where the vegetable beds fit into the overall garden design. And below is a layout of how I'm dividing up the beds for crop rotation. Most beds are 1m square, except for beds 6 and 11 which are 50cms square. The odd size is simply because I couldn't quite fit in 5m long beds, so went for 4.5m long beds. I am squeezing as much out of the space I can, even if it means slight odd bed sizes!

Numbering the vegetable beds for planning rotation

I have planned for a 4-year crop rotation. There are a lot of ways that you can plan your crop rotations. You could do a simple: brassicas, potatoes, legumes and roots, the latter including onions and garlic. You then plant everything together within their respective families, so with potatoes you could place tomatoes and aubergines, and in brassicas you would include cauliflowers, Chinese greens, brussels sprouts and kale.

Crop rotations plan, 2014- 2017

I've gone for something that is more detailed, as I also want to plan for what beds get the most sun. Beds 1 - 8 will get sun for a longer period (an extra 2-3 weeks at least) than beds 9 - 13. So I wanted to ensure that plants that need more sun, such as tomatoes, aubergines, squash and courgettes were to be rotated within the sunnier borders.

As beds 4 - 8 and 9 - 13 and parallel to each other, I'm going to create arches between some beds each year to extend how many climbing beans I can get in. So in 2014 I will be planting legumes in bed 4, with the climbing beans at the right side edge, so I can put in arches (using canes) over to the parallel bed 9 and grow more beans on the left edge of that bed. An added bonus is that this should also look pretty with the temporary arches and bean flowers and pods hanging down.

I also intend on throwing in some poppy, calendula and cornflower seeds into the vegetable beds, randomly, to add more prettiness(!) and to attract pollinators.

In the future, I plan on bringing the west-facing front garden into production. This gets quite a lot of sun all year around, even in winter, so will give me even more beds and yields to play with. I probably won't be starting on that until 2015, as I really want to focus this year on getting the back garden into production, with both vegetables and fruit, as well as flowers.

So the crop rotations are sorted. On with the seed sowing.