Showing posts with label sunflowers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sunflowers. Show all posts

25 Nov 2015

(Almost) Wordless Wednesday

I spotted this, one of five buds, on my walk round a very soggy and cold garden at 8 a.m. this morning.

Shouldn't someone tell this sunflower that it's … {say it quietly} almost December?

So, what do we think: London micro-climate, the warmth of a semi-walled garden or just the mild weather getting plants all confused? 

2 Feb 2014


Not of the brussels variety, but sunflower sprouts!  Seedheads were cut off the sunflowers in the autumn of last year and, as usual, left out to provide winter food for wildlife. Cue one exceptionally mild and extremely wet winter - and this is the result.

The seeds have sprouted!  ...which demonstrates nicely why seeds should be grown in a relatively nutrient poor compost - all they need to get started is contained in the seed itself. So clever. Sunflowers don't like being transplanted so, if I'm to make use of these little plants, I'll have to act quickly to get them potted up.  Or I could eat them.  Sunflower sprouts are deliciously crunchy and nutritious in a salad but only at this sprouting stage before the first true leaves are formed.

During previous colder winters, all the seeds have vanished; I know there are plenty of sparrows, tits, starlings and a couple of wood pigeons (as well as the urban sky-rat variety of pigeon) flapping around the veg gardens so I conclude that the winter has been mild enough for them to forage elsewhere for food. Presumably on the berry-laden shrubs nearby.

Amazingly, today being Sunday, the sun is shining - and for the second morning in a row! Raspberry canes were cut back yesterday and I'm about to do more work in the veg garden today. I have the rather onerous task of clearing the beds of fox/cat poo, clearing off all the top soil because of that, topping up the beds and netting them off with chicken wire. Hopefully that will keep animals out because, frankly, I don't fancy eating root veg grown in what's in there at the moment.  Eeeeuuuwww.

Back later with an end of month round up.

6 Oct 2013

Autumn, officially

There's no denying the need for a cardigan or jacket outdoors in the last few weeks. The temperatures have dipped, skies are (mostly) grey - today being an exception -  and I'm back at college for the next year of Garden Design training. So that's it for another year.

I rather enjoy autumn, the chance to pack it all away (and make space for winter veg) while the weather is just nice enough to be outside, the trees being laden with berries, leaves turning the most glorious shades of burgundy, red, yellow and acorns (lots of them!) appearing on the ground.

Orach seed heads
Orach (aka Mountain Spinach); stems are great cut for a flower vase in the late summer.
Stems left on the plant into autumn quickly develop brown seedheads.
In order to embrace the year's end,  I started tidying up the food growing areas last week and set off with a roll of garden waste bags and my secateurs.  I didn't get far with this, the garden is a bit lush at the moment so there's plenty to do. I cut down tall sunflowers that were leaning at a 45˚ angle, saving the seed heads for the birds. I cut down most of the Orach plants covered in seed heads as every one of these pods has the potential to burst into life next year (and take over the plot). And I also cut back some of the fennel seedheads for the same reason! (A bit of a theme developing there!) Those three jobs just about took up my gardening session.

Sunflower seedheads

Although the weather's feeling autumnal, there's still plenty to eat. Tomatoes, sweet corn and apples are still slowly ripening in the veg patch. I had home-grown tomatoes on toast for a late supper last night, one of my favourite quick snacks. I didn't need many as the Sub-Arctic and First in Field toms are almost a meal in themselves, weighing in at around 100g apiece! (And frequently falling off the vine due to their weight and needing to be ripened in the banana bowl.)

Tomato collage

I've grown several varieties this year - Yellow Pear, Outdoor Girl, Sub-Arctic and First in Field, the last two being a larger variety.  All are supposed to do well if grown outdoors in the UK climate. I bought some compostable tomato buckets to plant them in; these are supposed to let the deeper roots search out water in the ground so only the uppermost roots need feeding and this is done by only watering into the bucket area.  Very neat.  Having a proper warm summer probably helped but there's no denying that I've enjoyed good harvests - not massive deluges of tomatoes but just a gentle daily trickle of ripening tomatoes, enough for a salad or gardening snack.  The self-seeded Cherriettes of Fire (bottom right, above), a tiny centimetre wide fruit, have been perfect for snacking and the children love them as well. I allow the end of season fruits to fall back into the compost and rot down there, knowing that that's next year's tomato sowing taken care of!

Tomato 'buckets'  - quite hard to see as they blend in with the soil! 

It's interesting to look back and think about what worked and what didn't at the end of each growing year, especially if you have limited space, like me.  The big issue this year has been having enough time to look after the garden so crops that look after themselves (bar a bit of feeding and staking) such as these tomatoes, beans and potatoes, are a boon.  There seems to be a lot of reward for very little effort!  The biggest issue this year, though, has been the cat/fox visitors and their calling cards.  Some serious thinking is needed to come up with a solution to keep them at bay while keeping the beds easily accessible to gardeners! 

18 Jul 2012

Sun, flower


(Sing along now...)
I got sun-shiiiine, on a cloudy day...
When it's cold outside, I got the month of May...
I. guess. you'd. say... what can make me feel this way?

After the gloom of the slug post, I thought sharing a bit of mid-week cheer was in order (even though, for now, it's still raining here in London).

SunflowerTwo whole days of dryness in one week would be reason enough to celebrate this summer; yesterday was one of those days - albeit pretty overcast - and, on Sunday, we actually saw some blue skies in London. Yesterday evening after work, determined that summer will happen eventually, I took a stroll down to the veg patch to plan what needed to be done next.  Everything looked as it did when I left it on Sunday, perhaps the purple podded were a little plumper but the courgettes were no bigger, the climbing beans no taller. Then - whoop-di-doo! - I spotted that the first of my sunflowers had flowered!  Obviously the Sunday sunshine had worked it's magic.  Such a simple thing, but it definitely cheered me up.

I dashed home to get my camera and had to stand on two wobbly bricks and hold it up high, at arm's length, in the gathering dusk, to get this photo.  I confess I have used Photoshop to deepen the colours very slightly in the top photo to bring out the warmth of the petals.  I could almost believe the sun was shining!

According to online forecasts, the jetstream is moving north this weekend and, in the south at least, we will be basking in, err, 66 degrees Fahrenheit (19 celsius).  That'll do me.

Photo, untouched by photoshop.

For more feelgood cheer, try watching (or dancing to) this video by NZ band The Babysitters Circus:

So you say everything's going to be alright now
But how do you really know?
And I know everything's going to be alright now,
Cos that's the seed I sow.

2 Oct 2011

Saturday Snap: Summer swan song

Goodbye summer

Of all the flowers in the garden, the sunflower is surely the one most readily associated with the long, leisurely, picnic-filled days of summertime.  Most of my sunflowers have either faded and drooped their lovely faces towards the soil or have been cleared away during the last week due to their extremely brown and crispy appearance. As this gloriously welcome hot weekend dawned over the veg patch on Saturday morning, there are two sunflower plants still putting on a show.  By standing on a wall, I could just about photograph this one;  with the sun shining through the petals, I was struck by how beautiful the back of the flower is. It seemed an appropriate view to symbolise the last of the summer. 

This unseasonal heatwave is forecast to start fading soon, with it lingering the longest in the South East of England, and then we'll be forced to face the reality of October as it should be.  I noticed a heavy beading of dew on the cauliflowers so the night temperatures are low; not too long before we all have to think about night frosts and cloches, I think.  

25 Sept 2011

Seed saving

As well as noticing more bugs and slugs in the veg garden as the season revolves round into autumn, I'm also watching out for seeds.  Some will be saved for sowing next year, others have food uses.

Cerinthe, orache, sunflower and nasturtium plants are the ones in my garden to look out for as they are all prolific self seeders.  If the seeds are not collected, they'll scatter into the soil and pop up goodness knows where. (As I found with my nasturtiums and sunflowers this year.) Earlier this year I had to relocate dozens of tiny red orache plants that had self-sown from one underdeveloped plant plonked into the soil last summer.  I also bought one cerinthe seedling from Perch Hill Farm in Easter 2010 and collected the seed at the end of the summer; this provided enough seed for another 2 dozen plants this year.

Cerinthe seeds are very easy to collect as they're so obvious. Two large black seeds sit in the leaf bracts where the flowers were.  Here's the flower:

Cerinthe purple

and here's the seeds:

Cerinthe seedhead

When they're ready, you can just pick them off. That will be a job for this week. I won't be able to collect them all, scars in some of the bracts show that a few have already been shaken off by recent windy weather!

I've also grown fennel in my herb bed for the last two years - the leaves are lovely in salads and sauces if you like the taste of aniseed but are best cut before the plant flowers. A couple of weeks ago, I needed fennel seeds for a sauce and there they were, practically on my doorstep. They worked perfectly so I'm now going to cut the rest of the seeds for use in the kitchen; the main plant can be propagated from side roots separated from the main tap root.  The way to collect fennel seed is to cut the whole head then suspend it upside down in a paper bag although if the seeds are already fairly dry, make a paper funnel and brush them into this.

Fennel seedhead

I've read that fennel can be quite invasive - a bit like bamboo - but apparently makes a poor companion plant for other herbs so perhaps I've been spared the invasion by growing it in the middle of my herb bed! It's also worth knowing that whilst aphids find fennel thoroughly unpleasant, ladybirds, hoverflies and other beneficial bugs love it.

Sunflower seedheads drying

The other seed that I'll be saving, although not for myself, is the sunflower seed.  Last year I left the heads for the birds but as that encouraged a bit of random propagation, I'm cutting the smaller flowers when they've gone brown and removing the heads for seed and drying the stems because I'm hoping these will make good pea sticks next year.  The bigger heads will be cut and suspended as a sunflower perch, as illustrated in Dave Hamilton's book 'Grow your food for free (well, almost)'.

Other seeds I may be able to collect are nigella (love in a mist), calendula (marigold), poppy, hollyhock, wallflowers and nicotiana.  I've passed a magnificent nicotiana plant on my walk over to the heath, I may have to find the courage to ask the owners for seedhead in due course!

I wonder what seeds other people are saving?

24 Sept 2011

Saturday Snap: Just a Perfect Day

Actually, yesterday was the perfect day especially since it was also my day off! I was at liberty to go and drift through the veg patch making lists of what needed to be done.  I'd walked past earlier on my way to the recycling corner and been completely bowled over by how beautiful the garden looked in the morning sunshine.  So pencil, notepad and camera in hand I strolled, paused, sat, pondered, touched, ate, plucked (the odd weed) and planned.  Being Friday, with all the kids at school, it was so quiet in the garden that as I approached the Cerinthe planted next to the purple beans, I could clearly hear several bees busy collecting nectar.  The usual determination to gather every last drop of nectar was evident as they buzzed between the flowers.  And there I sat, on the ground, crouching low, camera in hand in the warm sunshine.  I have no idea how long I sat there because it was just ... perfect.

And this is what I came home with:

Aaaand on to the next one!

Finally! A clear and detailed photo of a bee in action!(Click on the photo and you'll be taken through to Flickr where you can see the photo in BIG full screen size.) Can't begin to tell you how pleased I am with this photo but it was a hard choice as I also snapped a ladybird dozing on a drying sunflower head, which is sort of cute and summed up the moment nicely.

Summer's end

Hope the weather stays good for us all, happy weekend everyone! (Our street party takes place today so I'm hoping to fit that in as well as gardening.)

11 Jun 2011

The Saturday Snap: Wandering Around

Due to the rain, I was back indoors in time for Gardener's World yesterday evening. I don't watch it regularly but last night's was jolly good with Monty in his herb bed, dispensing good advice about which herbs will happily grow together, i.e. get the soil type right, one size does not fit all. I particularly liked how to tell the difference between french and russian tarragon, especially as I've just bought a tiny (labelled-as-french) tarragon plant. Carol Klein pottered around her beautiful garden at Glebe Cottage, gathering seed from Hellebores and taking softwood cuttings from a Black Elder (Sambucus nigra) shrub and honeysuckle. (I didn't know you could do that with hellebores.)  Catch up with it on BBC iplayer.

I've just been outside to see if I could find any seed to gather from the hellebores in the Secret Garden below my windows but, sadly, the rain has made the flowers mushy and all the seeds have already dropped. I'm probably a week too late but I'd hoped to photograph the seeds still attached to the flowers for today's Snap.

Wandering further along the path, some beautiful Hydrangea heads caught my eye, still glistening with the drops of night-time rain showers;  as I rounded into the veg patch, the sun came out from behind a cloud and, although there was a little breeze, I managed to photograph red orach, a yellow ladybird, the unopened centre of a sunflower and honeysuckle rambling through ivy.  All together a very satisfying start to the day but now comes the choice:  which photo to pick for the Saturday Snap?? I think it has to be

Yellow Ladybird

The photo feels so bright and sunny even though there are currently black clouds looming, it's going to be one of my favourites and looks lovely as a desktop background!  If you want to see the others, go to my Flickr page (link on the right).  I'm not sure how this works, but I think you can also download the photo to your own desktop (if you want).

Tomorrow's forecast is for rain ALL DAY so I'm off to put out tubs and containers to catch the water (good for the blueberries) and to get some more seeds sown.  I seem to remember parsley doing particularly well a couple of years ago, sown just before a downpour.

Good gardening everyone!  Caro xx

P.S.  If anyone would like to join me in the Saturday Snap, please leave a link in the comments box.  I'd love to see your photos! xx

22 Mar 2011

Sunflower Challenge 2011

Last year I encouraged the Veg Patch Kids to grow sunflowers, just for the love of growing spectacular plants.  We planted them in a row against a warm sunny wall where their large yellow blooms nodded gaily at passers-by and drew some very complimentary comments.  (The Veg Patch sits in a 'sunken' garden so the flowers, despite being over 6' tall, were at eye level!)

We'll do the same this year (but, hopefully, with lots more flowers planted).  It's such a fun thing to do with children that nearly everyone does it and, if you haven't got your seeds yet, can I point you in the direction of a Sunflower Challenge that's being run to raise funds for Compton Hospice?  The name will only be familiar to people in the West Midlands.  As this is where one of my sisters lives, I can vouch for this being a very worthwhile cause.  I know it through the annual fund raising efforts of local people;  in my sister's street, a friend and neighbour makes legendary jams and chutneys from her brother-in-law's allotment and sells the lot in aid of Compton Hospice.

For a £2 donation, which buys you sunflower seeds, enter the competition (as a family, school or group) and be in with a chance to win lovely prizes.  Or do it just for fun, knowing that the beauty growing in your garden is making a difference to someone's life.

More info about the competition here - and this is where you'll also find an e-book of sunflower activities to do with the kids, download for free.
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