Wednesday 30 April 2014

End of month view: April 2014

April has brought with it a mix of sunshine and showers, all of which has seen increased growth and more colour to the garden, particularly in contrast to the end of March.

Overview from the conservatory. More foliage and flowers.

In the Strawberry Border the strawberries have started flowering. I've decided that the Salvia transsylvanica (left of the lime tree pot) doesn't look right in this border and I need to move it. It also grows quite quickly and covers the strawberries. I've also got some self-sown poppies that are getting a bit too big for their boots, so I will probably pull them out once they have finished flowering.

Strawberry Border

The Herb Border has filled out considerably, though much is hidden by the forget-me-nots. I do love forget-me-nots, but I think some editing is needed! The herbs have grown enough since planting last summer, that I can now rely on them for my cooking. Which is just what you want from a herb border.

Herb Border, with an invasion of forget-me-nots

The Shady Border is also filling out, but there are also places that are looking bare. I think once the Solanum, which is semi-evergreen, has grown up the fence more it should help fill it out. I think I need to be patient and see what else might come up before I add anything further...

Shady Border

However, in another part of the Shady Border, I need to move something. I seem to have planted Sarcococca confusa too close to Lamium orvala. I think the Lamium that needs to move, as I like the idea of the evergreen Sarcococca growing up the fence. A task for May.

The flowers of Lamium orvala peeking through the Sarcococca.

Some plants I'm particularly happy with and which have grown nicely or is flowering by the end of April are:

The nodding bells of Clematis 'Blue Eclipse'

The leaves of Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood' are fully out and adding colour to the Shady Border

After being pot bound, the Luzula sylvatica 'Marginata' is flowering wonderfully.
I love the airy nature of its flowers.

The alien like flower spikes of Darmera peltata (Umbrella plant), which come up before the leaves.

The pulmonaria under the damson tree, not just for the flowers
but for the many bees that have enjoyed the flowers.

The cornus cuttings that I took last month appear to be taking off,
so I may have quite a few free shrubs as a result.

Saxifraga x urbium flowering in the Herb Border.

Tulipa 'Abu Hassan' shines brightly under the young greengage tree

In the Kitchen Garden, I've started my small section for perennial edibles. I've planted out perennial Kale Daubenton, and added non-flowering sorrel, which I got from Alison of The Backyard Larder. Alison sells quite a number of edible perennials and I recommend her to you. I also have some wild garlic which I thought I might add to this section.

I've planted potatoes, Pink Fir Apple and Stemster, sown chard and beetroot, including Beetroot Cylindra which was recommended by Jono over at Real Men Sow. And there are plenty of brassicas, legumes etc getting bigger by the day in the mini greenhouse. 

We also finally finished sorting out the space between the pergola and the fence. This isn't technically our land. Long boring story... I've spoken to the neighbour and this fence is very new and it's unlikely they will ever move the fence back, or if they do so, it will not be for years. They don't mind me growing plants in the in-between space.
The Back Border, or should I call it the 'Illegal Border - immigrants welcome'?!

Legally it is their land and you never know what might happen in the future, so the game plan is that I plant only plants I'm prepared to 'lose'. This includes a couple of climbers, Clematis alpina 'Pamela Jackman', which is deciduous, and an evergreen honeysuckle Lonicera similis var. delavayi. These grow up the pergola and the honeysuckle will add some winter interest with its leaves. I'm also adding some perennials and I'll throw in some wildflower seeds. The only plant I don't want to lose is the grapevine, but I have planted this well inside our border.

Finally, there is the difficult to photograph, Dianthus cruentus, that are almost ready to flower. These are the infamous dianthus that Cleve West planted in one of his Chelsea Gardens' several years ago that were much admired. I was one of those admirers, and when last summer Sue Beesley tweeted that she had some, so I said yes please and picked them up at her Tatton Park stand last July. Twitter can be wonderfully useful for sourcing plants! Behind them are the recently planted eating pea 'Lativan' which should climb up the obelisk and be both pretty and edible.

Dianthus cruentus, if you look hard enough for the red-pink spikes

My visits to Stillingfleet Lodge Gardens and Harrogate Flower Show during April resulted is quite a few new purchases for the garden, mainly for the Shady Border. They include several Epimediums, a low growing Cornus canadensis for the Cornus Border, and Luzula sylvatica 'Taggart's Cream' to complement the other Luzula already in the Shady Border.

mmm, more plants, mmmm

These will be planted during May. And if the lack of frosts continue, we might see the courgettes, pumpkins and Climbing French Beans also planted out and growing on by the end of May. See you then!

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

Tuesday 22 April 2014

Garden visit: Stillingfleet Lodge Gardens

It was Easter holidays, my friend Manishta was visiting from Oxford, and it was sunny: a perfect combination for garden visiting. My choice was Stillingfleet Lodge Gardens, which lies just south of York. I follow Stillingfleet on Twitter @SLGardens and had seen photographs of the gardens which piqued my curiosity.

Stillingfleet Lodge Gardens is presented as a series of 'garden rooms', a majority of which combine classic garden rooms such as the orchard, the avenue and the woodland walk, with a sense of lush casualness to the planting. The overall effect is a tranquil yet lively garden, allowing the visitor to take their time and relax into the space, whilst being alive with bird song, bees buzzing and a gentle breeze through the trees.

The orchard greets you as you arrive, with chickens scurrying about clearing up any pests. Well, pests to the gardener, a delicious meal to the chicken.


Past the stock beds you come to lush shady planting complete with a chicken wire fox (chicken wire, fox, ha ha ha). I love how the artist got the colours and shading of the fox so right. The shuttlecocks of the emerging ferns glowed in the dappled light, and the blue of the brunnera reminded me that I really must get this for my shady border. The green leaves beautifully enhance the blue flowers. Yes, a common plant, but that doesn't mean it cannot be a beautiful one.

The quick brown fox... 

In the Courtyard garden, Manishta and I joined the reading companion for brief sit-down.

The borders were filled with plants that enjoyed dappled shade, such as this gorgeous Epimedium.

The Courtyard garden contains the help yourself cafe, with lovely fresh fair trade cake made by people in the village. The cake was so good that we went back for seconds... On the side of the building (an old barn) were steps leading up to a door, accompanied by pots of sunny coloured pansies. The pots of pansies just gave that extra bit of detail which enhanced the romantic-like nature of the space.

The Rill garden was perhaps the only garden that didn't really work for me. It was tranquil, but too formal and somehow appeared out of character when compared to the rest of the gardens. I didn't think to photograph it, only this planter with a Primula (Guinevere?), which I did like.

The Pear Tree garden, next to the Rill garden, returned to the lush borders that I preferred.

Pear Tree Garden 
Whilst one end of the Pear Tree Garden gave shade (above), the other end was a sun trap (below). You could just imagine eating your breakfast at the table, enjoying the sun and plants at the start of the day, before the garden visitors arrived.

 Pear Tree Garden, next to the house

In the Woodland walk we came across a tall Acer Griseum. From personal experience I know this is a very slow growing tree, so the fact that it was that tall suggested it must have been planted early on when the garden was first started, in 1975.

Kevin stands next to one of his favourite trees, Acer Griseum,
and gives a good size comparison

The wildlife pond is well placed in the garden, with taller trees on the north side, with the south side allowing in plenty of light.

Manishta enjoys a rest and the view of the wildlife pond 

Marsh marigolds were flowering along the edges of the pond, and I could see that in a few weeks time it will be golden with yellow flag irises. I loved the way the light almost shone through the leaves of the irises.

Stillingfleet has several beehives. With so many pollen rich flowers in the garden, the bees don't have far to collect their pollen.
 Beehives on the edge of the Wildflower Meadow

I found the wildlife meadow particularly interesting. Yes it had fritillaries flowering, but it was also planted with Sanguisorba and Geraniums, amongst other things.

Sanguisorba leaves. The plant will flower in summer.

'Other things' included tulips. I thought it was very clever, as well as attractive, to have pink and white-ish tulips mimicking pink and white fritillaries.

Pink and white-ish tulips in the meadow 

On from the meadow is the play area, including a lawn that seemed to encourage Manishta and I to plomp ourselves down and enjoy the sun and sounds. It sits next to the poultry run, and we soon had chickens checking us out, I think in hope for a bit of food.

Sorry chook, no food here. Just some humans lying down on the grass looking up at the blue sky. And when not looking at the sky, admiring this pretty yellow flowered plant, similar in looks to pulmonaria (I forgot to write the name down when I saw it in the nursery - doh!), but preferring full sun.

 A plant very similar to Pulmonaria, much loved by bees.

I love how grasses and other self-seeding plants had spilt into the paths
in the area between the Pulmonaria borders and The Avenue.

Once Manishta and I finally dragged ourselves up from the comfy lawn, it was time to visit the nursery. Many of the plants you see in the garden are available in the nursery. This makes a very nice change from other gardens I have visited. I've never really understood this; garden visitors will see plants in the garden that they will want to purchase, surely it makes sense to make these available? Thankfully Stillingfleet is on the right track and the nursery is full of wonderful choices. Perhaps too many wonderful choices? No, not possible, right?!

I had to keep my purchases limited as I wasn't prepared for such a good nursery and hadn't the funds to purchase much on this visit. In fact, Kevin bought me the two Epimediums I wanted, Epimedium x versicolor 'Sulphureum' and Epimedium x youngianum 'Roseum'. With the help of Vanessa (and my thanks to her), I purchased a matt-forming geraniaum that I was after, Geranium x riversleaianum 'Russell Prichard'.

Manishta picked up quite a few plants, which were fine coming back in the car to Sheffield. Getting them on the train back to Oxford was another matter. But of course when there's a will, a true gardener will find a way.

Stillingfleet isn't a particularly large garden, but it is a testament to its gardener, Vanessa, that it feels like it is. I believe this is because it has been designed in such a way that encourages you to amble and take your time. I admit that I tend to favour gardens that welcome wildlife and allow plants to follow their nature, spilling over borders and onto, and in some cases, into, paths. Stillingfleet has this type of planting in abundance, and it was both inspiring and fun to explore.

I'll be returning to Stillingfleet in the future to enjoy the garden in other seasons. I also want to take advantage of its wonderful nursery. I'll remember to have more cash on me next time.

Sunday 13 April 2014

My entries for "Great British Spud Off 2014"

I love potatoes. Just love them. Growing them, cooking them, eating them. I need a regular potato fix. I don't know if it's some distant Irish genetics in my blood or just that crispy baked potatoes are one of the finest foods on this earth. My Sheffield garden is considerably smaller than my Oxford allotment, so I'm limited in the number of potatoes I can grow. So whilst I'm unable to grow 10 varieties a year and enough spuds to last my partner and I c. 6 months, I can still grow some and get my potato fix.

This year I will be growing Pink Fir Apple and Stemster, in my kitchen garden raised beds, each 1m x .75cms. That was going to be it, until I heard about the Great British Spud Off 2014. In this contest, the idea is to grow one potato in one container. When you harvest your potatoes, you send in the information on how many potatoes you produced and their overall weight. Participants use "whatever soil or compost you wish to grow it in as we hunt for Britain’s spud growing champ". How exciting!

So, as a way of harvesting even more potatoes from my small garden, and the chance of becoming a potato growing champion, here is my entry...

First up: Pink Fir Apple

Pink Fir Apple is meant to be one of those potatoes that does well in containers, so I've got hopes that I should get a good crop. I suggest we not comment on the very phallic look of Pink Fir...

The rules don't say anything about how many entries you can have, so if I'm allowed a second, then here it is...

Second entry: Stemster

This is a good all-rounder potato, and when I've grown it in raised beds in the past I've had a great crop with some very large potatoes. I'm not expecting that much from growing this variety in a container, as I don't think it's really meant to be container grown. However, I had a spare seed potato and decided to throw this into the ring and see how it does.

I have of course covered both with some compost, watered them, and now await my (winning) crop!

Anyone can join the competition, even if you aren't living in the UK! To enter the competition, visit the Two Thirsty Gardeners website for details.

* * * * *

Date planted: 11th April 2014
Soil: compost from Heeley City Farm (green waste compost)
Container: 40cms at base

Thursday 10 April 2014

Reflections: Gardening Myths and Misconceptions

Gardening Myths and Misconceptions, by Charles Dowding

The following is not so much a book review as some reflections from reading this book. I recommend you visit Helen over at Patient Gardener, who has written a very insightful review of this book. It is what encouraged me to purchase this book in the first place.

What I wanted to do instead, was pick out a few things from the book that I found particularly useful to me, and explain why I think this book is a 'must read' for every gardener.

When I first became interested in gardening, I will admit that I did take 'expert' opinions to heart. Whether it was advice from Gardeners World TV show or magazine, or from other gardeners on my allotment site, I assumed that they all knew better than me. So when I was told to space my seed sowings to the 'correct' centimetre, or that I really must use bordeaux mixture to prevent mildew on my tomatoes, I did follow the 'rules' and their advice. But when several of 'the old guys' tried to convince me that double-digging was the only way to go, thankfully I took a step back and questioned this.

I admit I questioned it at first because it sounded like a lot of damn hard work, and well, ouch, my back. But then I decided to do a bit of research and found that not only was double-digging going out of fashion(!), but that it might do more damage to the soil than other methods.

The reason why I think this is a must-read for every gardener, whether you are a beginner or have been gardening for 40 years, is because it's a reminder to us all that no-one has all the answers. Questioning what you hear on TV or down at the allotment, or what you read in books and online, is the key learning point from this book. Charles urges us to have the courage to question.

So when you are told, as I was, that you should thin your carrot and parsnip seedlings, well fine if you want to, but don't throw the extras away, plant them elsewhere. I've been doing this for a few years, first out of curiosity to see what would happen, and then deliberately as I found, contrary to most advice, that the carrots and parsnips grew just as well in this manner. To my great delight, Charles mentions this very point in his book, page 24.

You know how you've been told that watering in sunlight damages the leaves of plants... Not true. That manure can make the soil acidic? Also not true. That potatoes clean the soil - only partly true - much of the work you have already done has cleaned the soil, not the potatoes.

Perhaps the most interesting learning point for me is that it is often untrue that you need to strictly rotate your crops, particularly in a small garden. I have spent a lot of time learning about crop rotations (yes, reading and listening to 'experts'), and I was very careful with the design of my Sheffield kitchen garden to include 4-year crop rotations in the plans. Charles suggests we can be more relaxed about the 'rules' of vegetable rotations and that you should grow what you like. As he says, in small gardens vegetable families are planted quite closely together anyway, and disease could potentially meet at the edges, "although they often don't".

This is something I had been thinking about when planning my beds and rotations. My kitchen garden and the beds cover a small space, c. 5m x 5m. Charles is right, the different vegetable families will be growing close together; I could throw my crop rotations onto the compost heap. However, it doesn't hurt to use crop rotations, if you are so inclined, and I am. I'm also a bit of a nerd when it comes to things like planning crop rotations and I actually enjoy putting them together (in an Excel spreadsheet, of course), like a puzzle that needs solving. It was a revelation though, to realise I didn't have to be quite so exacting.

But bloody hell, I wish I questioned the myth about cleaning (to sterilise) all your pots years ago. You don't need to, see page 22*. I'm too frightened to think of how much time and water I wasted on one of the crappiest jobs in the garden. I'm not going to do it anymore. Let's move on.

This book does talk about myths predominantly in relation to vegetable growing. However, many of the topics, sowing and planting, watering, manuring and fertilising, making and using compost, and soil structure and care, are just as relevant to ornamental growing. Perhaps one of the best things about the book is that the myths it busts will also relieve vegetable and ornamental gardeners alike, of many unnecessary and boring tasks, giving us more time to do the things we like to to, like planting and harvesting crops.

My only 'niggles' about the book is the font size - why is it so small?! Yes, I was using my glasses... And although the leafy page numbers are pretty, they are also hard to read. So if the book is revised or republished in future, I hope the publishers will increase the font size and make it easier to read.

It's my view that one of the great things about gardening is that there is always something new to learn, and that I'll end my life still needing to learn more. Gardening Myths and Misconceptions is a 'must read'. It might be a small book, but it has a lot of big, and sometimes challenging, ideas. It prompts you to really think about why you do things the way you do in the garden or on the allotment. It will lead to lots of questioning, probably some experimenting, and plenty of trial and error. It will also help you become a better gardener.

*ok, I'll tell you - it is unlikely that any diseases young plant might get will have anything to do with the materials (pots) you use. It's more likely to come from other factors, such as damping off, or to much watering. See page 22 for full explanation.