28 Feb 2013

Smiling despite the wind chill ...

February bee
My first bee of 2013!
Two weeks ago, as I retraced my steps around the walled garden at Capel Manor, I spotted this little bee getting busy on a potted Scorpion Vetch next to the greenhouse.  As it's early in the visiting season, I was alone in the garden and able to sit quietly watching. It's moments like this that let me know that spring is surely just around the corner. Each bright day now I want to be doing things in the garden.  For me, it's a physical pull to be outside and really hard to resist when there are things that need to be done elsewhere.

Back in the York Rise veg patch, I was very pleased to see that a French Tarragon plant had survived the winter thus far due to being igloo-ed under a clear plastic storage box back in December. It's unbelievably exciting to see the garden coming back to life and quite a relief to see new shoots appearing on plants that were largely abandoned to fend for themselves. My perennials - wild garlic, herbs, aquilegias, monarda, geums, poppies, polemonium and lilies - are all putting up new growth and buds are showing on the fruit trees. Old raspberry canes have been chopped out as the new canes push through at the base and raised beds have been topped up with fresh compost in readiness for the new season.

I'm catching up with college work today (sadly, indoors) but plan to spend as much time as possible in the garden over the weekend, testing out my new pruning saw on the next overgrown border and collecting organic material from the City Farm to mulch the raspberry canes. It doesn't sound like much but, my goodness, I'm looking forward to it!  Let's hope the weather stays dry for us all.

26 Feb 2013

RHS Plant and Design Show - a good day out

Stop Press!  Free Day Friday: if you're interested in visiting any of the four RHS gardens, have a look at this link. It would appear that entry is free this Friday, 1st March.

Primula belarina
~ Primula belarina Cobalt Blue ~
If asked, I'd say that I dislike shopping but last Tuesday at the RHS show was my kind of shopping. I'd taken the time off work to attend the RHS Plant and Design Show in Victoria (first time I've been) and, as a bonus, the weather that day was fantastic - warm sunshine and no wind.  I couldn't resist spending most of the day outdoors in an unscheduled bout of gardening, getting jobs done including putting together a new protective cloche to house my plants as bitterly cold temperatures were forecast.  As we had flurries of tiny snow at the weekend, this turned out to be a good move.

So the day was already a success when I tore myself away mid-afternoon to head off to the show. It was open until 7 so I thought I'd left myself enough time for a browse round... and, naively, I thought I'd get away with just window shopping!  (Several carrier bags on the tube home disproved that theory.)

Traders selling their wares don't overlook the opportunity to introduce the public to more unusual cultivars and planting. I bought an Ugni molinae Flambeau, or Chilean Guava, having been told that it has white flowers in the summer, aromatic leaves (make tea with these) and red edible strawberry-flavoured berries in winter. A perfect addition to the veg patch. The fruit was apparently Queen Victoria's favourite and, if you could buy it, would retail at about £9 a punnet.  Apart from anything else, it's small, edible and rather pretty.

Snowdrop display
Displays of bright blue primulas and iris had me hovering, snowdrops planted up with honesty and black Lily Turf (Ophiopogon planiscarpus) were visually inspirational, a row of winter stems from the Sir Harold Hillier gardens reminded me to add a visit there to my Bucket List and I didn't dare stop at the second-hand bookstall, gardening books being a particular weakness of mine. I bought a trio of agapanthus for my mother's garden from Hoyland Plants, the holder of the national agapanthus collection, as they were able to give good advice as to soil, flowering, hardiness, etc of each cultivar. I took these down at the weekend; Mum was thrilled as she's wanted Agapanthus in her garden for ages.

My downfall though was Pennard Plants.  Plates of heritage potato tubers set among vintage garden paraphernalia first grabbed my attention - and then I saw the trays of heritage and heirloom flower and veg seeds.  I think I may have even trembled with excitement.

Veg seed tray

A jolly conversation ensued; Pennards people were so helpful with their advice that, despite best intentions of keeping my growing list simple this year, I came away with a paper bag full of seed packets. (And the aforementioned Ugni plant.)  I'm particularly excited at having found red flowered broad beans and a short/cold season sweet corn which has a pretty good chance of maturing even in a bad summer. Pennards will be at the Garden Museum's Potato Day on 10th March, by which time I'll have chosen which tubers I want to buy from them.

The "design" part of the show was held in the second Horticultural Hall; I didn't leave myself enough time to fully appreciate all the displays but, for my resource book, I made a note of the makers of this very stylish cloche.  Possibly a thing of beauty for my own garden one day ...


But the most useful discovery was Oxford Green Roofs, a husband and wife team who are passionate about sustainable living and displayed a variety of green roof possibilities on their stand. I'd love to introduce their ideas into my garden designs.  I thought the Pocket Habitat was especially brilliant, see it here transforming the urban landscape of the Ove Arup offices in London.

Pocket Habitat
The Pocket Habitat: a felted pebble pocket made of recycled materials
and filled with bio-diverse plants - good for the environment on all counts!
As a member of the RHS, entry to the show was free for me and, on the following day, I could have taken a guest in with me, also free.  As with Chelsea, any remaining plants are sold off on the final day.

I was recommended to join the RHS by Jekka McVicar, mainly because the membership fees fund research into plants, pests and diseases.  It's proved to be a wise move representing very good value as I've more than recouped the cost of my membership in garden visits to Wisley and various shows (free or discounted), as well as the extremely readable and informative RHS 'The Garden' magazine which members receive every month. There's free seeds as well if I order before 31st March.

Upcoming shows that I plan to visit are the 'Grow Your Own' weekend at Wisley on 23/24th March, the Great London Plant Fair on 26th March in Victoria and the Spring Craft Fair on the 2nd - 6th May at Wisley - and, of course, Chelsea and Hampton Court shows. More information on the RHS website, here.

Pennards Plants
~ Jovial conversation with the team at Pennards Plants.
He even pointed out the RHS bigwigs and television scouts! ~
P.S.  Read more about the show at Out of my Shed blog, here.

17 Feb 2013

More haste, less weed

There's an alarming trend in my life where I sit down in front of the laptop for a 'quick look at my emails', I get distracted and suddenly a large chunk of my day has disappeared. You all know what I'm talking about. The weather over the weekend has been dry, mild and perfect for gardening ... then yesterday my washing machine decided it wasn't going to spin properly anymore. I can't be upset as it's done 10 years of sterling laundry servitude but it has meant going online to do some extensive research into a  new best buy. (I never make "big" purchases without a lot of thinking beforehand!) I've just finalised the deal, a new machine will be delivered on Wednesday, but it's now lunchtime on Sunday and I'm going straight down into the garden, and sunshine, without further ado. My heart and soul are singing already.

Life is good

Just before that though, two lovely things to tell:  Naomi Schillinger of Outofmyshed blog has kindly sent me a copy of her new book 'Veg Street - Grow Your Own Community', published 7th March.  What should have been a quick flick through on Friday evening almost made me late for my Girls Night Out;  it's really that good, even for an gardening obsessive like me.  I want to give it a proper review post in a day or two but (as I'm heading outdoors now) will say it's beautifully written, extremely well laid out, visually tempting and stuffed full of excellent advice.  Have I whetted your appetite? More soon.

Secondly, my tickets for the RHS shows are booked and the first has arrived.  I've taken Tuesday off work to pop down to the Horticultural Halls in Victoria, SW1 to visit the RHS Plant and Design Fair. It's my first time but I'm anticipating a good day out!  

But for now my garden awaits and I have two cheap mini-cloches from Morrisons to sow lettuce and spinach under.  Gotta go! 

Oh, and the pink gloves in the photo?  New weed and seed gloves bought from Capital Gardens online; they're a tad too big for my hands but the supplier hasn't responded to my calls or emails for an exchange or a return.  I used London-based Capital Gardens as they have a garden centre up the road in Highgate which I thought would make life easier. Apparently not.  After 2 weeks of one-sided communication, I'm going to give up and use Big Gloves.  Naughty Capital Gardens.  London readers have been warned.

10 Feb 2013

Currently inspired by ...

Galanthus 'Magnet'
Snowdrops at Cambridge Botanical Gardens.

I really wanted to be outside today, playing with a recent purchase of a new cloche, but it's raining so there's no gardening to be done - too muddy, too cold, too wet. This time last week I marvelled at the colours as I wandered around the winter garden in the Cambridge Botanic Gardens (a college field trip); on Friday, it was the yellow crocuses on the lawn in front of Capel Manor house and tiny deep blue Iris reticulata in the walled garden that brightened the view.

Crocus x luteus 'Golden Yellow' So today I'm indoors, cup of tea, slice of cake, sitting in the warmth and thinking about work for my garden design course. We have a big test next Friday to make sure all the plant science stuff has been understood - revision will have to be bedtime reading.  In the meantime, I'm having fun sketching.

I've just handed in a big drawing assignment on garden graphics, now I'm building up my sketchbook. It's another assignment but, as ever, laying down good habits for future design planning.  It started with sketching at the V&A but now extends to include plants, hard landscaping and whatever else inspires us. At last, a valid reason to browse Pinterest and read endless garden mags!  I'm trying to do a little bit every day, although that works better in theory than in practise.

For the big horticulture test, we've been learning the science behind how plants function; words like xylem, phloem, cortex, stomata, transpiration and photosynthesis trip lightly off the tongue when in the classsroom.  Sounds dull?  Not at all.  It's why dark green leaved perennials usually prefer to grow in the shade and why variegated leaves are much brighter grown in the open with good winter light.  Plants such as Chimonanthus (Winter Sweet), Sarcococca (Sweet Box) and Mahonia use their fantastically perfumed flowers to attract early pollinators towards their nectar, a symbiotic relationship that ensures survival for both. (Who would have thought the insect world was keeping busy in this cold and dreary weather?)  Cyclamen seeds are moved around the garden in late winter by ants, the wide dispersal giving the plants a greater chance of survival.

And what an eye opener this week's lesson on plant nutrition was!  This brought me full circle back to the veg:  learning why (and when) plants need extra NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) and other minerals was invaluable. Potassium hardens the cell walls in a plant, hence its importance for roses and tomatoes.  Brassicas with yellowing base leaves (chlorosis) need more nitrogen; with rotting stem centres, they're lacking boron (fortunately quite rare but helped by a seaweed feed) - and dead.  When plants get sick (as in they're nutritional needs are not being met), they're more susceptible to pests and disease; with a bit of knowledge, the situation becomes retrievable. I've always suspected that any success in the veg patch was due to more luck than judgement. It seems that the more I know, the more I realise how little I knew before.

I hope all this college work will leave me enough gardening time this summer.  I'm reading Anna Pavord's book 'The Curious Gardener' (highly recommended) and her advice is not to be in too much of a rush to sow seeds of annuals: "Those that are sown in April quickly catch up with those sown in March." Despite this good advice and my own resolution not to yield to impulse seed buying, I bagged packets of cornflowers, poppies, loads of sweet peas and nasturtiums for £2 after popping into my local Poundstretcher for a pop up garden waste bin. The colours on the seed packets were so inspiring! I'm looking forward to growing them - the nasturtiums will be trained up the apple trees - and have kept them in the kitchen for now to remind me that spring can't be too far off. For now, I'll console myself with planting broad beans if it ever stops raining.

Seedy temptation

A few jobs to do now:

Last chance to prune apples and pears, if needed.
Hard prune autumn fruiting raspberry canes and mulch.
Plant broad beans, garlic and onion sets, if not already done.
Start to chit potatoes.
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