14 Jun 2014

Tree Following, June

As part of Lucy's Tree Following group, I've chosen to observe the fruit trees growing in the veg patch garden; here's where we are in mid-June.

So what shall we have first: the good news or the bad? Let's get the not-so-positive stuff out of the way.

Looks like these will be the only 'pears' I get this year - 

two tiny quince.
It's definitely not shaping up to be the fruit bonanza that all the early blossom promised.  My hopes for some plums this year, if not pears, have been dashed.  Last month, the plum tree had lots of tiny fruits, about 5mm long, but also lots of aphids causing the leaves to curl.  This month, no fruitlets. Just crispy, browned leaves.  So that's that for another year. I am slightly disappointed but have that gardener's mentality that these things  happen, nothing I can do about it for now and there's plenty more to enjoy in the garden.

Being me, I have tried to look into possible causes of the problem and have read that plums need to be pruned in the summer, after fruiting, in order to encourage fruiting wood for next year. I didn't prune them last year. They are also better off in a south or west facing location, mine are east facing which won't help.  If I remember right, the trees are grown on a semi-dwarfing rootstock so shouldn't get taller than 15 ft. Given the size of them now, I'm not convinced that's strictly correct. In any case they could do with having the crowns opened up so, in July, after I've finished college, the loppers are coming out.

The pear trees also have no fruit and need pruning but that will have to wait until they're dormant in the winter months. Good advice from the RHS here. The RHS also state that pears fruit better when grown with a different but compatible cultivar. We have two Conference pears so I might think about taking one out and replacing it.  Pear trees should fruit within four years; the trees here are coming up to seven years old.  I really want them to fruit because the trees are otherwise healthy with good, solid trunks. Taking one out really has to be a final option.

So no pears, no plums.  But the apples are looking good.  There are two Braeburn apple trees, growing too close together and leaning towards each other.  Hindsight is a wonderful thing and I wish I'd known how important it is to stake young trees for the first 3 years (minimum) of their lives.  On the bright side, in decades to come, maybe these two will graft together and people will marvel at a single tree with two legs!

There seems to be a good number of apples left, quite a few have dropped off onto the soil - the so-called 'June drop' in May?  In the past two years there were few enough fruits that I could - and did - count them. (I like to know what's happening when my back is turned!) 19 apples last year. (I got to eat two of those, and delicious they were too.) This year I reckon it will be around 40 to 50 over both trees if they all ripen. They're growing fast as well.  Here's what they looked like at the beginning (7th) and end (25th) of May.

And here's yesterday's photo, taken on Friday the 13th as dusk fell under a full Honey moon:

Last year's orange and cream nasturtiums crossed so I've got lots of gorgeous salmon pink nasturtiums sprouting up in the veg patch. These are the long trailing type so I'm encouraging a few to start growing up the apple trees as companion plants, rather in the way that these are growing up the alliums.

So that just leaves the cherry trees. Rather worryingly I noticed a few weeks ago that lots of the fruit was turning brown and dropping off. And I do mean lots - this is not even a tenth of the lost fruit.

This also happened last year but they went on to produce not only a bumper crop but a second autumn blossoming.  Yes, I know. Weird.  It seems there's plenty of fruit left on the tree but, looking back at last year's photos, I don't think there's as much.

Goodness, this is a dreadful photo! I'll try and take another one to replace it. :)
Cherry tree corner is another area that needs tidying and summer pruning.  (Cherry trees - and other stone fruit - should always be pruned, where needed, in the summer after fruiting to avoid silver leaf fungus getting a hold.) There is an excellent, easy to follow article here. (Will open in new tab/window.)

This tree needs to have the lower branches taken right back (or possibly taken off altogether) as they're arching way out from the tree and are too spindly. I've been adding plants to the area around the tree over the past couple of years; the clematis was last year's addition and I'm pleased with the way that it's spiralled up the support and is now growing around the tree. Until last week it was hidden by the suckers growing from the rootstock base of the tree.  I removed those as I was pretty sure they weren't doing the tree any favours with the bonus that we can now see the clematis properly. They like to have their roots kept cool and moist and that job is being done by strawberries and Jacob's Ladder polemonium.  It wasn't intentional as I hadn't realised what a prolific self-seeder Jacob's Ladder is - moving them is a job for another day and I'm grateful that they're providing a useful purpose in the garden.

Last year I was making cherry compote by the end of July, hopefully it will be the same this year and then the pruning can begin in August.

12 Jun 2014

My RHS Chelsea (Day Two): Surely the last blog post on Chelsea!

On a practical, take-it-home-with you, level, the Telegraph garden was my first choice.

Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.

Here we are again. After a quick end-of-month interlude, I'm back to reviewing my Chelsea photos.  Visiting Chelsea Flower Show is a bit of a twelve course dinner: looks great, you want to eat it all but, my gosh, there's too much for one sitting! There's a bit of mental pressure to get the blog posts written and published in tune with the rest of the blogging world but it's much more relaxed to pop back later via photos and really think about what I've brought away with me in ideas and inspiration.

This year, there was colour

This rainbow of lupins was a startling sight! I admit this wouldn't be to everyone's taste but it was certainly eye-catching. Part of my teenage years were spent living in the countryside in Yorkshire. I loved it, apart from the nightly ritual of checking my bed for earwigs. In the summer, they were ever-present.  I heard that they were particularly drawn to lupins in the garden; although we didn't have any lupins, my dislike of earwigs latched onto that thought.  This summer, for the first time, I've planted lupins in the gardens here as they've been gradually creeping back into my thoughts; this display just sealed my admiration. Designers are taught to draw inspiration from all around and I could easily see this image as a textile - a Kaffe Fassett cushion or embroidered panel, perhaps.

Of course I had to search out the Interflora stand as they were the reason that I was able to be at the show on Saturday. The emphasis here, as with so much of this year's show, was on young talent and the company had chosen five of its finest young florists to decorate large hanging egg shapes, for which they were awarded a gold. Jolly well done - and it's great to see young people given the chance to shine.

There was inspiration:

A pretend cat slept in the Alitex/Thrive greenhouse - presumably to stop people getting too cosy in that lovely armchair. Most people did a double take, thinking that the cat was real! But what a great chair for sitting in while drinking tea and reading at the end of a gardening day. Bring me a kettle and I could live in that greenhouse.

More inspiration, seen in the Pennards garden: this little lookout perch for a bird waiting for grubs and worms. (A good use for old worn out tools.) I really liked their before and after staging of the effect of gardeners going off to war leaving nature to reclaim the land. The wildflower 'weeds' were most poignant.

The friend that I took with me to the Saturday show declared a loathing for garden artefacts inscribed with aspirational messages. I partly agree but not when confronted with this lovely bench… or is it a sculpture?  Not only is it a good solid chunk of wood but the words capture the mood of a summer's day perfectly. As does the song.  It would look gorgeous in a woodland setting, quite in the spirit of the place.

Onwards to tea and cakes at the Leeds Allotment society: What a lovely bunch of people they were to chat to! I asked why they exhibited at Chelsea and was told that the importance of preserving our allotment heritage was highlighted to the gardening public and, as a charity, their exhibit fees were waived. The cost, of course, was in transport. The enormous and perfect veg had been lovingly grown by their allotmenteers (with more than a few spares!) and the display put together by their members.  I loved it - even the little robot who had been cobbled together out of bits and pieces (his head is a biscuit tin!), an allotmenteer habit if ever there was one! And what about Mrs Scarecrow? She's turned up for Chelsea in her sunday best - I think she deserves to go back into pride of place at the allotments.

Finally, in 'the big tent', Peter Rabbit in the Beatrix Potter garden for Hooks Green Herbs caused a few nostalgic sighs.  Ignoring the big bunny for a moment, look at how cleverly the space has been used with so much packed in: beans, nasturtiums, lettuces, borage, alliums, lemon balm, thymes, sweet woodruff (peeking out under the gate), foxgloves, campions, sweet rocket, angelica, honeysuckle - even an espaliered apple tree!  Surely cottage garden inspiration for the tiniest space? And presumably there were no radishes because Peter had eaten them all. And I'm glad it's not only my veg garden where the nasturtiums take over!

After the excitement of the show gardens and the excellence of the pavilion trade exhibits, the sun had come out and it was time for a woodland walk past the Artisan Gardens on the way to lunch.  Last year this area excelled so I was anticipating a treat.  Several of the gardens were well up to the mark but it's an area best viewed early in the day before the crowds arrive! Squeezing in, I managed to see the Topiary garden (lovely green and white planting) and the Potter's garden (Dial a Flight) with its sensuous planting:

Brilliantly 'natural' planting in the Potter's garden:
geraniums, cirsium, iris, foxgloves, sweet rocket, Orlaya grandiflora, poppies., aquilegia.
The Viking garden was interesting. Of course, the garden was inspired by the sponsors, Viking River Cruises but how do you link Vikings and a flower show. The clue is in the word 'Artisan'; the longboat prow was custom made by master craftsmen in Falmouth, Cornwall and yours for only £18,600.  The design and build were authenticated by the British Museum. Even the rune stone steps are available for £3,250. (I did wonder if there was a hidden message in those symbols!) That seems to be the way with garden design - the landscaping and 'features' cost way more than the plants (unless you buy mature trees for your garden).  I did, however, really like the pools of water; these would be a brilliant way to safely introduce a water feature into even the smallest garden - especially if they can be programmed to suddenly shoot a jet of water skywards!

It seems that many people, including me, admired the Japanese garden and especially the moss balls.  I've recently read that a couple of days before the show opened, the waterworks sprung a leak which flooded the garden. With less than a day to put it right, the garden was deconstructed, repaired and put back again. Very impressive and in time to win a Gold. There was so much detail in that garden, no wonder it was called 'A touch of paradise'.  The garden was based on a mythical place of such beauty that all your troubles are forgotten but, once visited, can never be visited again. Very fitting considering it would all be gone at the end of the week.

And there was synchronicity:

The more I look at my photos of the gardens, the more I absolutely love the Telegraph garden. Yep, the one with the big lawn. (First photo, at top.) The shape of those big shrub 'pebbles' is just an invitation to bounce on them and I could see this as a family garden with kids loafing around on the grass in the sun.  Imagine the peacefulness of sitting in this garden at the end of the day, with the view (out over the countryside, of course! or perhaps the veg garden) framed by the pleached lime trees (Tilia x europaea). It would be a pleasure to maintain with just a bit of therapeutic pruning and shaping.

Those same box balls appeared in the Homebase garden, the Laurent-Perrier garden, the M+G garden and the topiary-opera garden.  It was the same story with the planting schemes.  Of all the thousands of plants to choose from,  the same ones appeared over and over.  Still, silver linings, at least I can now spot and name several previously unknown plants with confidence.

And so to Cleve West's garden for M+G. I thought it was beautiful.  All of it. I really liked the planting in the gravel and the way this drought area flowed towards the sunken courtyard fountain and the denser planting at the back. It would have been so easy to take inspiration from Beth Chatto's famous drought garden but I think Cleve took it a step further; roses and irises interplanted with dianthus, sedums, santolina, erigeron, succulents, nigella, cerinthe (hello old friend!) and artemisia at the front while the same drought planting (alliums, sedums, nepeta, salvias) were closely planted for lushness on the other side of the courtyard. Wonderfully inspirational. And it's so cool that he carved the 'Tree of Life' sculpture himself. Multi-talented.

And, finally, no-one could say that Chelsea takes itself too seriously! Fifty years in Bloom from the South West consisted of four gardens put together back to back.  This is the seaside garden with Punch and Judy and a succulent and sedge creature that was very reminiscent of, er, Dill the Dog. (Remember The Herbs on BBC tv?) Have I mentioned how much I loathe old wellies used as planters. At the risk of hurting feelings, it's unoriginal. Move on, people. (Sorry.)

Talking of bonkers, need I mention pianos and gorillas made of rosebuds or giant moth nets over trees? No?  Good.  As Kenny Everett used to say "It's all in the best possible taste."  Good old Chelsea, we love you.

Let's just leave quietly with a backwards glance at Patrick Collins' garden for the Neonatal unit at St. George's Hospital, Tooting.  All put together with bravado and luck, it worked on every single level. As a story, as a garden, as excellent design.

3 Jun 2014

Garden Share Collective: May, warts and all.

Ah, the merry month of May! It's usually around this time of year that I start to panic over all matters relating to gardening. (Possibly that also applies to June.) A glimpse into other blogs reveals the perfect lettuces, new potatoes and flowering tomatoes of other UK growers while I battle garden pests and the relentless ticking of time and remember (too late?) that I haven't planted any sweet corn, again. It's that time thing that gets me every year.  In a large community garden, there's always something that needs attending to, usually at the expense of the veg garden.

At the end of a month of unpredictable weather, and despite careful calculations made in February, there are so many jobs waiting for my attention.  My potatoes need topping up with soil.  The shady corner needs weeding, as does the fruit tree border.  I have way too many strawberries; they need to be thinned out and have straw put underneath. Lettuce needs to be resown. I have to concede that my hopes for a beautiful cut flower patch are unlikely to succeed this year as the seedlings are still in plug trays. (There's always next year!) The second wave of peas needs to be started. I'm not sure I've grown enough mange tout. My sweet peas are not growing well. Really, it's enough to make you want to throw in the towel and retire to the sofa to eat cake.

Apple cinnamon cake with apple ring and demerara topping, link below

But let's look on the bright side! Accentuate the positive is one of my mottos, it makes for a much nicer life. Bees have been buzzing around, finding plenty of nectar. Ladybirds and hoverflies are also abundant. Poppies and cornflowers have opened, the linaria (toadflax) has seeded itself around, I've added a wonderful tangerine Geum from Chelsea to the garden, peas are starting to pod and at least one of my courgettes is still standing. Okay, so the sunflowers have been chomped but let's move on from that.  I'm going to resow.

In three weeks, we'll be at looking at Midsummer's Day and the days will imperceptibly start to shorten.  Gosh that's a sobering thought!  Or is it?  In the UK, we've still got four good months to grow and resow as the weather is often good until the end of September. I, for one, am going to need a good summer.

While I'm grateful for the rain showers that water the garden, the result is that my bush beans have been spectacularly slugged. I thought twelve plants would be more than enough; four have disappeared to a stump in the past week, along with the marigolds I planted as pest deterrents. Even my nasturtium leaves are being munched and these are usually left alone. I picked off 4 fat orange early diners at dusk only yesterday evening. Luckily I have a few spare plants. Slugs have also been sighted on the hairy poppy leaves in drizzly broad daylight - have they no shame?

The peas are being largely ignored for now (say it quietly) as are the broad (fava) beans, although the latter have to be regularly zapped with a liquid soap solution to keep black aphids away.  So, although I don't have any mature pods yet, I hope that I'll be eating home-grown peas and broad beans by the end of June.

Aha! There's that lovely Totally Tangerine geum being propped up by the beans.

I'm also growing this Golden Sweet mange-tout (seeds from the Real Seed company).  I hope it tastes as good as it looks - I love the purple flowers against the yellow-green foliage; these will soon become golden pods - something to look forward to in June.

My tomatoes are still quite small.  I'm now growing five varieties as I couldn't resist buying a grafted black tomato 'Indigo Rose' from the Suttons stand at Chelsea. I'll keep a few plants on my balcony and the rest will go into ring culture pots in the garden - with a good slick of petroleum jelly around the pot to keep slugs at bay!

Days of hot sunshine followed by days of rain have seen off my spinach and pak choi - both have now bolted; the spinach has been pulled up but I've rather enjoyed eating the peppery flowers of the pak choi with salads.  The lamb's lettuce is doing really well, as are all the balcony salads - now joined by tiny little watercress plants - I always thought running water was needed to grow this lovely peppery leaf and it's a revelation to me to discover that it's not!

The big thrill of the past month is seeing buds appear on the Violette de Provence artichoke! Not that that in itself is surprising, it's just that I grew this from a seed, so satisfying. I confess I've never eaten artichoke - it's expensive in the shops (if you can get it) and can be slightly intimidating to cook and eat if, like me, you have no idea how to go about this. This video from Sarah Raven gives an excellent tutorial plus recipe for a delicious dipping sauce.  So, what better than to tackle an artichoke in the privacy of your own kitchen by growing your own. Even if I find that I don't like the taste, it's a plant that looks wonderful left to flower with large purple heads that the bees love.

Top: Honeyberry and Mara des Bois strawberries.
Lastly, how's the fruit doing? There's lots of green fruit on the raspberry canes and redcurrant bushes; I've already eaten a few ripe strawberries (the ones the slugs didn't get to first) and a few honeyberries - I'm not sure about these as I was expecting blueberry with a hint of honey; instead they're quite sharp in flavour but were definitely ripe for picking. The jury's out on these.  No sign of any goosegogs yet, maybe next year; apples/cherries, yes; plums/pears, no. Physalis (Cape Gooseberries), yes! I'm really looking forward to these! Plus the plant has the most strokeable velvety leaves.

So, what's ahead for June?

Get round to fencing/netting off the garden against cats
Sow sweet corn/climbing beans/coriander/parsley.
Sow more peas/mange-tout/calendula/sunflowers
Sow more lettuce/sorrel.
Plant out tomatoes
Pot up plugs of winter broccoli and romanesco cauliflowers
Keep weeding
Enjoy the garden!

And on warm sunny days appreciate all the good bugs that are helping out …

I always bookmark a good looking cake when I see it.  This one from Claire at Things{we}Make blog is delicious but I'm not a fan of frosting so, instead, used fresh apple rings and a good crunch of demerara sugar over the top before baking. It was divine. And equally yummy as a pudding with custard.

29 May 2014

My RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2014 (Day one)

(I think they were enjoying how excited I was to be there!)

If readers of this blog can possibly bear to read another post about the Chelsea Flower Show (there have been so many and such excellent coverage this year), I really do want to write about my day out.  It was a corker and my thanks go to Interflora yet again for my prize of two Saturday tickets.

As it happens, the RHS press office also stumped up an eleventh hour press pass but by this time I could only go in the afternoon on Tuesday so whizzed over to collect a show catalogue and have a quick look round. Tuesday is the first day that it's open to the public and the show was absolutely mobbed - and got worse in the evening slot. I dislike pushing (and being pushed!) so, at the back of a deep crowd, I decided to leave most of the show gardens until early Saturday morning … and be grateful that there wasn't an editor waiting for my copy before going to press!

It certainly wasn't a wasted afternoon though; as I knew I'd be returning, I was able to drift through the crowds making the most of any gaps that I spotted.  Thus, I got to chat with Paul Hervey-Brookes who designed the Brand Alley garden; drawn firmly from the early Italian Renaissance gardens, it was awarded a bronze but I thought there were many ideas in the space that could easily be taken forward into a domestic setting. (Don't be surprised if I come back to this topic.)  Just look at that gorgeous raspberry colour!

I'm suspecting a favourite colour theme going on here … 

Paul Hervey-Brookes.
A lovely chap who took the time to tell me about his garden and let me wander  round - yes! I went beyond the fence!

I stood next to designers Wayne Hemingway (remember avant-garde fashion house Red or Dead?) and his wife Gerardine as they discussed their thoughts on the Telegraph garden for the BBC cameras (they loved the structure and planting but thought the marble was overused. It should be noted they have a large pristine lawn in their own garden.).

I worked my way along one edge of the Cloudy Bay garden, listening to the comments all around me. My impression was that the grasses seemed to dominate the planting but there was a lovely airiness to the garden. I was able to name a few of the plants for a gaggle of ladies behind me as Andrew Wilson, one of the designers and head of the Society of Garden Designers, passed by which earned me one of his famous beaming smiles.  Seems like a nice chap.

We all wondered about this one which I was told was Gladiolus communis subsp. byzantinus, or Gladioli byzantina if you prefer.  A truly gorgeous eye-catching colour that had been teamed beautifully with burgundy astrantias, purple salvias, red roses, lavender Baptisia australis and pink campions (Silene). It's a plant that needs to be the star of the show with a strong supporting cast!

Put that bed together with the larger Cloudy Bay planting that included purple Allium hollandicum, irises, verbascum, Ammi majus, bronze fennel, foxgloves, aquilegia and, of course, grasses (Deschampsia) and it all becomes rather beautiful - like one of Hannah McVicar's illustrations.

A proper brick-based greenhouse has long been on my wish list so the sight of the Alitex stand lured me over. Admiring the wonderful veg growing within and fabulous planting without, I was introduced to the charity Thrive who help disabled people towards a life of health and wellbeing through gardening.  The plants had all been grown by Thrive gardeners in Battersea.  Hearing about their work and subsequently reading their website, I feel a separate post about this marvellous charity is called for.

I was glad to glimpse the Homebase garden 'A Time to Reflect' for the Alzheimer's Society. Adam Frost had created a calm, peaceful space filled with memories and sounds. My much-loved dad has early Alzheimer's so this garden was especially poignant for me and reminded me of our childhood days on the beach and in the countryside as a very happy united family.

My plant highlight of Tuesday afternoon was this Chrysanthemum coronarium or chopsuey greens, mainly because I'm growing this for the first time!  This is a fast growing vegetable that can be on your plate 6 weeks after sowing, likes part shade and every bit of it can be eaten.  And rather pretty to boot!

I finished my Tuesday outing with an evening lecture at the Royal Geographical Society; the event was an 'in conversation' talk from garden designers Dan Pearson and Fergus Garrett, hosted by Anna Pavord. I came away with a deep respect for Dan Pearson whose gardening philosophies I thoroughly agree with. It was a splendid event where they talked about their childhood and adult influences, their horticultural backgrounds, gardening styles and what they thought of the Chelsea show. I particularly liked Dan's phrase that as a gardener he likes to "sit gently on the land, preferring to grow with a garden and be a part of it rather than to transpose yourself onto it.  I like that.

I went back to Chelsea on Saturday and will be writing up highlights of that day in my next post - the bold, the bonkers and the beautiful - including my thoughts on Cleve West's garden which, yes, I eventually got to see and thought utterly delightful.

28 May 2014

(Almost Wordless Wednesday) Chelsea Fringe: A second show of hands

Whilst I'm going through my Chelsea photos (and thinking of something original to say about the day!), I couldn't resist posting these pictures.

The giant glove made of roses caught my eye as being perfect for VP's Shows of Hands project for the Chelsea Fringe*; I especially like the photo with the assistant soaking up the Chelsea atmosphere over a cuppa but ...

…am I alone in thinking the guy in the second photo looks like an actor - perhaps from the Father Ted tv show?  If anyone recognises him, please put me out of my misery!!

* You can contribute to Shows of Hands until June 8th. Read more about it on the Veg Plotting blog.

18 May 2014

Chelsea Fringe: Shows of Hands

As an alternative to the Chelsea Flower Show - which I will now be visiting (*thrilled*) - the Chelsea Fringe, now in its third year, has become hugely popular and even global! It's a massive success story and worth checking the Fringe website to see if anything is happening in your neck of the woods.  If not, why not organise something for next year?

VP from Veg Plotting blog who organised the globally accessible Fringe cake event, The Bloggers' Cut, last year has come up with another winning event for this year.  Her project is called 'Shows of Hands' and you can read about it on her blog.  It doesn't matter where you are in the world, you can join in - and the more the merrier!

I don't like the look of my own hands; they are outdoor hands, lined and with age spots creeping in,  but I've been drawn to images of working hands since I first studied photography as part of my belated design degree at St. Martins two decades ago. I was initially inspired by Dorothea Lange's images of the migrant farm families, the American dustbowl pioneers in the Depression era.  I'm therefore hugely excited by VP's project and have trawled back through my veg patch photos to see if my own hands have crept into any of my pics.  There was a total of five over the past few years and I asked my son to take the last photo - me on the balcony, gently stroking and talking to my plants, an activity I indulge in daily.

I'm pleased with the ones that I've found as I think they reveal a little of the joy that I get from immersing myself in all aspects of being an urban grower. Working hands, working towards a simple life.

Batter coating courgette flowers for deep frying; plaiting onions; checking roots before repotting; talking to my plants. 

#shows of hands
I'm calling my collage 'Gardener Cook'
All photos taken at my home in London NW5 between 2012 and 2014.

Read more about the Fringe in this Daily Telegraph article.

17 May 2014

Tree Following: Plums, aphids and nature lending a hand

~ Plum fruitlet and curly leaves ~

I've chosen to follow all the fruit trees that I'm growing here in the garden; in the past month, the trees that have been causing the most concern are the plum trees.  The new leaves have been targeted by aphids whose sap-sucking activities cause the new leaves to twist, curl and, ultimately, die. Squishing is not an option with a 10 foot tall tree but I have been reading up organic measures that I can put in place for the future.  I haven't seen many lacewings in the past few years and these, as well as ladybirds, love to dine on aphids. Apparently tying rolls of cardboard to the tree will provide a daytime shelter for them and planting tansy, fennel, marguerites and cosmos nearby will also help.  No problem there - I'd love to see my fruit trees surrounded by flowers and, luckily, I have seed trays full of cosmos and marguerites.

I also read that an anti-aphid spray can be made by boiling up rhubarb leaves and using a dilution of the liquid to spray the insects. The oxalic acid content (which makes the leaves poisonous to all, even people) causes the heart to stop and so the insects die. It sounds good but I don't know if this will also affect the fruit (or me!) so have decided against this. Last year I was told by fruit growers at a local nature reserve that a squirt of Ecover washing up liquid in water used as a spray was what they found effective. (I'd forgotten about that until I re-read this posting!)

By working in the garden on my own during a quiet day, I realised that a much better alternative was being provided by nature.  The tiniest of birds in the garden, the Blue Tits, are flying in and pecking off the aphids (well, okay, probably the leaves as well but I don't mind.)  I've seen them doing the same to the rose bushes at the other end of the garden but then they'd been very timid. One of these little birds became less timid during the day as he flew back and forth but I worked very quietly just in case!

I'm keeping a careful eye on the trees as they're looking a bit the worse for wear now; the affected leaves are going brown which will reduce photosynthesis. Apparently once the aphids fly off (to another host plant), the tree should recover.  So, how to help this recovery? Bob Flowerdew, the organic gardener, advises that all fruit trees benefit from a nitrogen boost in the soil; beans and peas return nitrogen to the soil. Nasturtiums are also a good companion plant as aphids are drawn to their succulent leaves (although do I want more aphids around my trees? No.)  I think the answer is to use the trees as climbing frames for tall beans and see how that works out. Also to water well so that the tree isn't stressed and to remember to mulch the roots (but not the trunk) in early winter.

The good news is that, so far (but we still have the famous 'June drop' to get through), the fruitlets seem to be holding on and there are a few growing...

...Unlike the pear trees where the leaves are unaffected and looking very healthy but I've only found one fruit spike left from all that earlier blossom - and I think that's since dropped off!

The cherry trees are also promisingly dripping with fruitlets. I'm expecting quite a few of these to drop because that's what has happened in past years although there were loads left to pick!  I've also had to remove a small branch from the corner cherry tree as it had died but the rest of the tree seems okay.

The apple trees are also looking really good, with just one leaf (that I could find) having a few woolly aphids; lots of ladybirds on the apple trees should keep this in check but I'll keep an eye on it.  There was just a hint of blossom remaining on 29th April when I took these photos but, again, lots of tiny fruitlets have developed which have withstood the funnelling winds we had last week. I have strawberries, pelargoniums and borage planted around these trees and seen lots of bees buzzing around so I'm guessing this all helped with pollination!

And, finally, I have to give a big thank you to Victoriana Nurseries for the wonderful quince tree (Cydonia oblonga 'Champion') that they delivered earlier this year. It's established really well and makes me feel happy every time I stop to look at it!

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