Entries Tagged 'Diary' ↓

Encouraging Butterflies into your garden

I have a number of Buddleia Davidii Bushes in the garden and at the moment they look great. The flowers are from white through the lilac shades to the dark purple of Black Knight but it is not only the flowers that look so good, it is also the constant movement and colour of the butterflies and bees which are visiting them.

One of the ways to encourage butterflies into the garden is to grow flowers which are particularly attractive to them. (Buddleia is one of them). Another way is to grow plants which will provide hosts for their eggs and caterpillars. To that aim I have taken a small area in one corner of the garden for a ‘wildlife santuary’. That is a very posh way of saying that I allow weeds to grow there.

These weeds are not allowed to grow rampant. I do try to keep some sort of control so that no species overwhelms the rest, but in the main I leave it alone to do its own thing. Among the weeds is a clump of stinging nettle. A month or so ago, this was looking very porly, black and covered with what looked like spiders webs. In fact it was covered with caterpillers which were pupating. They are now turning into Red Admiral Butterflies and it is these. among others (notably Painted Ladies) which are visiting my Buddleia.

A number of the so called weeds (wild flowers) are very attractive and many have formed the basis for more recognised garden flowers. Whilst you don’t want these growing all over the garden, there is no reason why you shouldn’t leave a small area where they can grow undisturbed. You could even allow a few nasturtiums to grow there in the hopes that black fly will populate them, rather than your broad beans and other prize plants. The trick is to clean as much as you can in autumn and don’t allow their roots to spread further than their designated area. You will be surprised at what pops up if you leave it alone.

Dead-Heading and other summer jobs in your garden

In theory any work you do in your garden now is of the enjoyable type.

You should be harvesting produce from your vegetable patch and from your greenhouse, if you have one. Tomatoes and Cucumbers are at their most abundant and need picking as soon as they are ready so that the plant puts its energy into ripening the rest of the crop. My melons are now growing well but are not yet ripe. You will know when melons are ripe – you will smell them as soon as you enter the greenhouse. Otherwise, feel the top of the melon, it goes slightly softer when it is ready.

One of the jobs you should be doing regularly is dead-heading your flowers. That means cutting off the flower heads which are finished. I find this a gentle and enjoyable job. Out in the sunshine, surrounded by the birds and the insects going about their work pollinating your plants.

When dead-heading, there are a few rules you should be aware of. Don’t just snap off the dead flower head. Particularly with roses, but with all flowers, you should cut the stem back to a sensible leaf. This will make the plant produce another stem hoilding another flower. The point of dead-heading is to make the pplant put on another batch of flowers.

Even flowers such as Lupins, Canterbury Bells and Sweet William will sometimes reward you with a second crop of flowers if you dead-head. The technique here is slightly different as you cut the plant back almost to the ground. Leave a few leaves, they need them to make energy to grow again. Your second flowers will not be as large as the first, but they will be there.

When dead-heading, always use secateurs which are sharp and clean. There are two types of secateur – the Anvil type and the Parrot-bill type. They are both equally good at their job and it is really up to you which type you prefer. Remember that they are meant to cut small branches. If you are using them to prune, never try to cut wood which is too large for them. You will damage the secatears as well as the branch you are cutting.For larger branches, you need long handled pruners or even a pruning saw. The other thing to remember is that if you are cutting back dead or diseased wood , then you should be sure to steralise you secatears before you move on to another bramnch, otherwise you risk spreading deseases around.

Anyway. back to summer jobs, one of the most important things is to sit and enjoy. It will give you a good reason to start the whole process again next spring and will renew you energy levels for the work ahead to prepare your garden for winter. You can also take the time to look at your garden and decide what wants changing or moving and where you need to put in new plants. Most importantly though is to sit back and enjoy.

Vegetables for Winter

The vegetable patch is now at its most prolific and you should be harvesting fresh vegetables for your table every day. However, whether deliberately, or accidentally, you will find that in some cases you will have more vegetables than you can eat at the moment. So the obvious answer is that you should store them for the coming winter months when fresh vegetables will be less prolific.

The legume family (peas and bean) do not store well. Beans are best harvested and eaten when small and young. If you have too many, cut them into bite size pieces and freeze.There is no need to blanch them, they will freeze perfectly well dry.  Peas should also be frozen as soon after harvesting as possible. They very quickly lose their taste and nutrients once they have been picked.All the legume family freeze well and will keep their flavour for at least six months.

Root vegetables arre a different matter.  Most roots will stay in the ground for quite a long time without any harm. However, if they look as though they are going to go to seed, or start to go ‘woody’ or you need the ground. You should dig them up and store them inm a cool, dark place. Wash and dry the roots, cut off any excess foliage clinging to them (being very careful in the case of beetrof not to dame them or cut them too close to the root so thay they ‘ bleed’), then lay them out in a box with either dry sand or soil. Make sure all is very dry, dampness will cause rotting. If you have nothing else, you can use newspapers top separate the roots. Make sure they are cool and dark. You don’t want them sprouting. Check regularly for any damage. This treatment applies to all the roots, including potatoes, although in the case of potatoes, you can keep them in a paper sack without the sand or soil. Make sure you have no damage to any of the vegetabl;es when you do this. Rot will very quickly set in and spread if there is. Of course, should you prefer, you can freeze root vegetables as easily as legumes, although I think beetrot changes its flavour slightly with freezing. You can alway pickle beetroot should you so desire.

When you have cleared a patch of your vegetable garden, it is time to plant (or sow) your vegetables for winter. It used to be quite difficult to find vegetables which grew in winter.That has now changed. There are still the old favourites around such as Brussel Sprouts, Cauliflower and Cabbage, not to mention brocolli and parsnips, although even they have changed somewhat in recent years. You can now have Brussel Sprouts which are purple and cauliflowers which are red, green and yellow. However, there are now a number of chinese greens which grow quite well in the U.K. if you want a change.
If you decide not to use some of your vegetable patch during winter, then why not sow one of the ‘green manure’ plants. These are plants which are grown spefically to enrich your soil. You grow them, then chop them up and dig them in. Not only do they enrich your soil, they also keep it free from weeds.  Whilst I am talking about enriching your soil, dont forget that the roots of bean plants should be left in the ground as they fix nitrogen in the ground and will help next years crops. If you just want to leave the soil bare, then cover it with black plastic. This will stop the weeds growing and make preparation next year much easier. Weigh the plastic down well. You don’t want it blowing away. Also make a few holes in it (or you could use porous membrane) so that the soil remains moist and you do not have huge puddles on top of the plastic.

Gardening is a lesson in patience and planning. You always seem to be planning for next seasons display and waiting for those plants you have put in to mature into the plants you planned for. However, don’t lose sight of the whole picture.Enjoy the moment.  Your garden can still look great even if not quite the way you envisioned it when you set the plants.

Sweet Peas – the cut and come again flowers

Sweet Peas are often grown for cut flowers, but they are equally attractive left outdors to flower. The only thing you hjve to remembnr is to go round them every day (two at the most) and dead head them. If you do that, you will have flowers for months on end.

Sweet Peas used to be one of the best flowers there was for fragrance. Then the breeders got obsessed with making the flowers larger and brighter (which is nice) but in the process, they lost most of their fragrance. The Spencer varieties are great if you want flowers which are bright and showy (they will win awards at flower shows with very little trouble) but, to me, Sweet Peas are at least mainly about their smell. Fortunately, the breeders have realised this and they are now producing new strains which are beginning to smell as they should.

Having had my moan about the loss of scent, I would now say that Sweet Pea varieties have never been so numerous or so – varied”. You can now find flowers in every colour imaginable from Pure White (White Supreme), through the pastel shades of pink, violet and cream to the much darker and more vibrant colours of Orange Dragon, King Size Navy Blue to Midnight which are a deep navy blue and Blue Velvet which are almost black. You can find them in one colour or striped or rippled. The list is almost endless. There is a colour to suit any scheme you can think of. You can even nopw get sweet peas which are smaller and do not climb (Snoopea).

Sweet Peas are very easy to grow. You can sow them in spring or, for earlier flowering, in autumn. The one thing you have to remember is that they have deep rots and they resent being moved. So, if you want to sow them under cover, you should sow them in post which are very fddep (such as rot trainers) or bio-degradable, so that you plant the whole pot, or if you sow them in normal pots, then you must keep a very careful eye on them and plant them before the rpots start to show at the bottom of the pot. Never attempt to prick out or split plants in any way. They will just die.

This year, my sweet peas have been covered with beetles. These do not bite or sting but they are a nuisance when you cut the flowers and bring them indoors. The way to get rid of them is to put your vase of flowers in a dark ish place (like a garage or shed) with the door openfor a short time, the beetles will leave the flowers and head for the light.

So there you have it, sweet peas are such a flamboyant and easy flower to grow giving you loads of flowers for every plant, it is worth finding a place for them. I grow mine round the edge of the vegetable patch. They help to make the fence more attractive and help to attract pollinating insects to the area.

The only thing you have to rememnber is to cut the dead blooms off them regularly. They produce new flowers every day so you will never be short of flowers if you do this. If you don’t they will just put all their strength into making seed and you will not get many flowers. Its a p[leasant job, standing in the sunshine dead-head sweet peas, smalling the fragrance and listening to the drone of insects.

Daffodils – the nations favourite spring bulb

It is hardly surprising that when it comes to spring bulbs, the daffodil is among the nations favourites.  Not only are the bulbs very inexpensive but recently great improvements have been made not only with the range of colours and shapes of the flowers but also the length of the flowering season. They also make great cut flowers, lasting well in a vase for upwards of two weeks.

Not so many years ago, you had a choice when looking at Narcissi (the family name for daffodils) – you could have yellow or white with a much smaller orange trumpet. Breeders have now changed that. Daffodils are now available  in a wide variety of colour combinations from a soft, blush pink to soft yellows, whites and oranges. The basic shape is the same (five petals and a trumpet) but the size of the trumpet can now be almost any size and the petals can now be flat or curved outwards. The season has grown progressively longer too. You can even have daffodils flowering in July now.

Daffoldils were one of the first bulbs to be ‘ naturalised.’. That means planted amongst grass and left for a number of years. There is a good reason for this. Daffodils need very little in the way of maintenance and will thrive left alone for a number of years, getting better and increasing in number. Eventually, you will need to dig them up and thin them out because they will become overcrowded and will stop flowering.

In my last garden, I had a grassy bank. I plamted this with 400 Daffodil bulbs. I used ‘Carlton’ which is a particular favourite of mine. It is just an old fashioined brash yellow daffodil which flowers between March and April. They looked terrific but after about five years, they became so thick that they stopped flowering. Somewhat reluctantly, I dug them out, replacing one large bulb in every ten. I ended up with 4,000 bulbs! My friends and family were delighted.

Daffodils are not fussy about where they are planted, although they like a little sun and, remembering that they are bulbs, will not toilerate too much water. They will rot in soggy ground. If your soil is not too hard, you don’t even need to dig a hole. Just make a slit and drop your bulbs in it. However, make sure the bottom of your bulb is in contact with the soil. The bulb planters which you can buy are ideal for this job, but if you are planting more than a dozen or two, it become very tedious. I have found that pushing a garden fork in and wriggling it around does the job just as well and you can put 4 bulbs in at a go.

Like all bulbs, you should end up with twice the depth of soil above the bulbs as the size of the bulb. So you measure how deep your bulb is and make your hole three times that depth. Put your bulb in and cover. Job done.

You can grow daffodils from seed. It is a long process. It takes about three years for the seed to form a bulb and at the end of it, you don’t know whether the flower will be any good. You are much better off looking after your bulbs to bulk up their number. To do this you should pick the flower heads off when it has finished (it keeps it tidier as well as stopping the plant from putting its energy into making seeds) and then leave the leaves for six weeks. It will look scruffy but you should do this not only if you want to bulk up the number of bulbs you have but also just to keep those bulbs you have healthy and flowering well, year after year. Don’t tie the leaves up to keep them tidy. The goodness from the leaves need to go back into the bulb and it cannot do that it is stopped by being tied.

If you really cannot bear to see the leaves in this state, you could dig them out and ‘heel them in’ somewhere else until they have finished. That means planting them shallowly in a trench. This allows them to complete their cycle whilst making it easy for you to move them. Alternately, why not plant a deciduous shrub next to them. The dafs will grow through the bare branches and flower well, then by the time they have finished, the shrub will have burst into leaf and will cover your daffodil leaves. Herbacious plants could also be used to do this job, although you need to be a bit careful in what you use so that they come up at the right time.

Daffodils – an early sign of spring.

Like many people, seeing the first daffodils in flower lifts my heart and is the first sign that spring has really arrived.However, this is no longer exactly true as you can now buy daffodils which will flower from December right the way through to June and even July. It would appear Daffodils are no longer just a spring bulb.

The daffodil flowering in December is really a cheat as it is an indoor bulb. It is called Narcissus Paperwhite. As the name suggests it has white flowers but, unlike many daffodils they are multi-headed. The bulbs are available from Gardening Direct.

The earlier outdoor daffodils tend to be dwarf flowers such as Narcissus Tamara, again available from Gardening direct. They have all yellow flowers which appear in January.

February heralds the flowering of Spring Dawn, which as its name suggests is a much softer hue that the usual brash yellow of other daffodils. This has white petals and yellow trumpets and bulbs are available from Gardening direct. Although the catalogues state that Tete-a-tete daffodils flower in March, my bulbs regularly flower in February so I have chosen this as my favourite for that month. Again it is dwarf and all yellow. I love this flower, it is such a perfect miniature of the grown up flower Carlton ot Tenby Daffodil (Narcissus Obvalaris) Both the tete-a-tete and Tenby bulbs are available form Gardening Direct, although I have not seen Carlton bulbs this year. It is obviously out of favour for some reason. It is such a hardy and bright flower, though, it is sure to be back.

March is the height of the Daffodil floiwering season and there are so many varieties available, that it is impossible to list them all and do them justice. However, if you want something a bit different why not try Flower Parade. These are double white flowers with orange centres. You could also do worse than Jack the Lad and Gaytime which are both double yellow flowers. They are all available from Gardening Direct.

Have you ever seen the variety which is commonly known as Yellow Hoop Petticoat. This is only 7 to 8 inches tall, but the flowers are very different both in shape and also that they have up to 15 stems per bulb. An easy way to make a statement inexpensively. They flower from March to May so have a very long season. Bulbs are available from Thompson and Morgan.

May also sees the flowers of Rose of May , a daffodil variety which is double white and has a delicious fragrance.

This brings us to the last variety I am going to mention, Summer Erlicheer. This is really unusual in that it flowers fron June to July. It is also Deer Resistant. – very useful if you live in an area where deer tend to invade your garden and nibble your favopurite flowers.  The bulbs are available from T & M.

Unusual Winter plants

It may seem a bit strange, thinking and planning for your winter garden whilst still thinking about your summer holidays, but now is the time to plan how your garden will look during those grey dreary days when few plants are in flower. I suppose, considering that you plan your summer holiday just after Christmas it’s not so strange!

Winter is the time when your ‘architectural’ plants come into their own (that is those plants which are grown for their size and shape as well , or instead of, their flowers. One of the more unusual ones is Bamboo – Phyllostachys Nigra or Oriental Black Bamboo

Bamboo - Phyllostachys Nigra - Oriental Black Bamboo

Black Bamboo, unlike many other Bamboos, does not run. That is it stays in clumps and does not try to take over the whole of your garden. Many Bamboos will suddenly appear some way away from where you planted it having sent out running roots. It is a real pain to keep under control. Black Bamboo is very well behaved. It can grow quite large (10ft tall and 10ft spread) but it will stay where it’s planted. Whats more, if you so desire, you can grow it in a very large pot or a half barrel. That may ‘bonsai’ it, i.e. make it grow slightly smaller. It is evergreen but it is really the black stems that you are growing it for and these look stunning in the weak winter sunshine or even with the frost clinging to them.

The other plants I want to mention are becoming more popular but are none the less  useful plans, that is the Hellebores.


Thompson and Morgan are selling double hellebores from the Washfield Collection and make a good addition to your garden as they flower during winter (they are not called ‘Christmas Rose’ for no reason.) and they keep their leaves – which in themselves are quite pretty, all year.

It is useful to keep a small patch of  ground somewhere hidden away which you can use as a nursery bed – that is a bed where you grow plants on until they are the right size to plant out or until the place you want them is free. You often need to do this with ‘bi-annuals’ (plants which you sow one year but do not flower until the year after). You don’t want these taking up space in you flower borders for 18 months whilst they are growing. so you sow them in spring, grow them on in a nursery bed and plant them in their final place in autumn, ready to flower the next year.

Bellis Perennis – a great little flower

Last year, I grew Bellis Perennis. It started flowering in March (it usually starts in February but it was late due to the really bad weather we had then) and is just now starting to look as though it is past its best.

Bellis Perennis is a really cheerful flower. Very easy to grow and really long lasting. Worth the price and the room it takes up. It is only 6 inches tall, so you need to plant it in the front of your border. Some varieties look like a daisy although the popular variety this year (Tasso) looks, I thing, like a very, very small Chrysanthemum.It is white with red edges to its flowers.

I grow my Bellis Perennis from seed. Just chuck the seed in  and it will grow. Actually, I grow it in seed trays now and plant out in autumn. However, there is no reason why you can’t sow them in a nursery bed and plant them out when you have room or even  sow  them in situ. If  you do sow them outside, they will need watering regularly, particularly this year when it is so dry.

If you are not confident enough, or have enough time, or simply can’t be bothered to mess around sowing seed. Then Gardening Direct are selling plug plants of two different types of Bellis Perrenis for just under £9 a set. This means 42 medium plug plants or 24 large plug plants. That means you have loads to spread around your garden (or, if you prefer share  with family and friends).

A plug plant is a small plant which has been grown so that it has a good root system. They are sent through the post in trays which hold individual plants. You just push the plants out from the bottom and plant them. Small plug plants are better if you put them in 3 inch pots and protect them for a few weeks so that you have larger plants when you put them in the garden.  However, the larger plug plants can by planted straight into your garden.

Large plug plants are 4 inches high when you get them whilst medium plugs are 3 inches tall. Gardening Direct also  sell  small plug plants which are only 2 inches high but not in Bellis Perennis plants.

As I said, I think Bellis Perennis is well worth the room in your garden, not least because it is such a bright splash ot colour so early in the year when there are very few flowers around.

Bedding Plants for your Garden

Half Hardy Annuals are flowers which are not frost hardy and which grow, flower and die in one year. They are at their best at the moment and are sold as ‘bedding plants’ in all garden centres.

Many of the gardeners who own the garden centres will tell you that although they make a healthy contribution to their profits, they do not really love them. Their true love is the perennials (plants which flower year after year); herbacious plamnts (plants which flower , then die back to the ground for the winter, then grow the next spring) and shrubs. I beg to differ. I love them.

Whilst I admit, they are a lot of work to raise them when they are only going to last a couple of months, they are so bright and cheerful – gaudy even. Not only do they give bright colour and shape for the summer months, because you ddo not have to work around them, they make weeding and digging your flower bed much easier. The down side is that it leaves the beds empty for the winter months.

If you are going to raise half hardy plants yourself, you do need to give them shelter in the early months. You can do this in a cold greenhouse or even on your kitchen windowsill, if you are not growing to many.  Most packets of sed have far more seeds thabn you need, so why not get together with your friends and neighbours and each raise one sortr of plant, then share them out when they are ready to plant. That way you get a variety of pplants whilst not taking up to much rom, costing a fortune in seeds and throwing away loads of unwanted plants.

If you do not have the room, or time to grow half hardy annuals, then the alternative is to grow hardy annuals. These are flowers which you can sow outside because they will survive the frosts. The flower and then die in the same year. Both half hardy annuals (HHA) and hardy annuals (HA) are inexpensive to grow and will give you a good display all through summer.

Even if you do not want the formality of having your plants in lines, when sowing hardy annuals outside, you should sow them in lines. They do not have to be straight lins, but you need to be able to readily recognize where you have sown them when they are young so that you can pull out any weeds which grow amongst them.

The seed packet will tell you how deep you need to sow your seeds but the usual technique is to dig over your plot, rake the top to a fine ’tilth’ that is so that the top is smooth and crumbly. Then draw your lines to depth you want them, scatter the seed thinly in them and cover them up. Keep them watered. In three weeks you should have tiny plants emerging. When they are large enough to handle, thin them out by pulling up those you do not want. You should not grow flowers too close to each other. They will not develop to their full potential. However well you have dug and weeded your flower bed, you will still get the odd weed coming up. Pull them out early. That way they will not put on good root systems and compete with your flowers for space and nutrients.

If you only have a small garden, or you only want a few annuals because most of your garden is filled with permanent planting, then the answer may well be to go out and buy bedding plants. Remember, though that most bedding plants are half hardy annuals and they are not frost hardy, so although they are sold early in garden centres, you should not put them out in your garden until all the frosts and finished.

Pricking out and Potting up

Pricking out and potting up are allied in that they are both methods of giving small plants more room – and nutrients – for growth.

When you sow seeds in a seed tray (or pot) you will have a great many plants growing very close together. They obviously need thinning out. This is done by transferring the small plants into seperate, larger pots. They will still be too small to plant in the garden and will need to be ‘grown on’. The way to seperate the plants is to first fill your new pots with compost.  Then using a small stick, carefully lift your young plant out of the seed tray. Hold the plant by its leaves, do not touch the root, you might damage it. Make to small hole in the new pot (a ‘dibber’ is useful for this, though a finger will do the trick, if you don’t mind soil under your nails). Place the plant in the hole and firm around it. Water it in – gently – it is very delicate at this point in its life . Then label it. You don’t want to forget what it is. This is called ‘Pricking out’.

Potting up is the next stage on from this. When your plants have filled up their pots with roots, then they need to be put into larger pots with more soil or compost.Doing this is called ‘potting up’. The way you do this is to get your larger pot, put compost in the bottom until your plant pot reaches to an inch or two below the top. (You leave this to make watering easier. ). Then take your plant from its pot, place it in the centre of the compost and fill the  side of the pot (to the level of the plant)with soil or compost being sure to press down on the sides so that there is no air pockets trapped in it.  Be sure to water the new pot well. If you are planting your plants into the garden, there is probably no reason to ‘pot on’. One other thing, some plants (like begonia) flower better if they are ‘root bound’. That means that the roots are filling the pot. The usual way to get round this is to have a plant pot which will keep the rots copntained but which will allow water and nutrients through.

When growing tomatoes or cucumbers in a greenhouse, then you will frin that you need to pot on your plants at least twice before they end up in the large pots or grow bags in which they will fruit. You pot on your plants into pots one size larger than the ones they are currently in. If you are growing your tomatoes or cucumbers in large pots, then they need to be grown either in garden compost or in grow bag compost. Multi purpose compost does not hav e enought nutrients in it to feed the planmts enough. Even if you do use the correct compost, they will still need feeding after six weeks or so.