It has come to that time of the year when my thoughts turn to our garden. My husband (a self-employed gardener) is wonderful at design and our 1/4 acre garden has developed over the past 25 years to accommodate (in the early years) boys and footballs, dogs, cats and ducks, and then (in latter years) a more adult orientated area with a cottage bed and jungle area. We are very lucky here in Cornwall, as we have a climate that allows us to grow semi-tropical plants with the minimum of protection, and being fond of large foliage plants, we have indulged this passion in the jungle.
Three years ago my hubby announced that he would mark my birthday by digging and, preparing the ground with lots of his home-made compost, creating a cottage bed. We are not very flowery people, but I had felt that possibly we needed an injection of colour, that changed and reflected the seasons, for as much of the year as possible. The new bed looked very bare, and armed with my husband’s contribution of birthday money, we headed off to a nursery to select our plants. I had done my research and had chosen some core plants for each month from March to December, beyond that I was looking for inspiration!
We came home laden with so many plants that it was quite daunting, and we started by placing them out on the bed in their pots, or in groups of bulbs or corms. Once we had a working combination of seasons, heights, spread and colours we started to plant. Needless to say this was ongoing and took several days. The ground still looked incredibly bare. My birthday is in March and not a lot was growing at that point, but we were confident that the bed would fill out.
It has actually taken the full three years to reach an overflowing look. In that time we have had failures, and added new plants, and the overall result is wonderful.
Last year, when I was ill and unable to work, I decided I would like to grow vegetables at home for the first time. I had been growing vegetables with the gardening club at school for many years. We had a very shady site and struggled to improve it. We put in raised beds, a polytunnel and a fruit net and all of this had made me keen to try and grow in my own garden. The only place available was at the top of our main garden (considerably lower than our terrace). We are lucky that we are south facing, but like school we are surrounded by many large, mature trees. However, the top is the sunniest and clearest spot. I measured up and my husband bought wooden planks and battens for the corners and we built a raised bed. I say we – I built the first level but the second level proved a bit too much for me, so I called in reinforcements and he finished it off for me. It was on a lawn so I lifted the turf and turned it over and then threw earth on top. It has sat there – empty – for the autumn and winter.
The good weather this weekend has prompted me to get the bed filled, so Bob and I have barrowed in loads of our home-made compost and I created a ten square (actually rectangle) frame to divide the bed up. A sloping stone-walled bed next to it has also been covered in compost ready for squashes and pumpkins.
I started off some seed – tomatoes, mixed salad leaves, carrots … and today I planted into the bed for the first time. Two rows of garlic (solent white) and three rows of shallots (red sun) and I also prepared a bag for early potatoes that I have been chitting for a week or so.
The cottage bed has been rather invaded with corydalis and I have been a bit brutal digging up lots of it and putting it in the jungle as ground cover. I also had to thin out the marsh marigold that we have in our bog garden – it has been there for many years and is in danger of overpowering everything else, including the gunnera.
Our little meadow looks beautiful with snowdrops and dwarf daffodils,
and the orchard (only planted the year before last and only comprising three apples, a plum and a pear) has also got snowdrops and bluebells (not in flower of course) poking up through the grass.
I did have a scare on Monday morning when we awoke to quite a crisp frost as I had slightly uncovered the pink rheum in the jungle to reveal a huge leaf bulb just about to unfold. Fortunately it did not get frosted, but I think I was lucky! Our green rheum is hardier and is covered in new leaves.
They become more giant as the season progresses. The other plant that always gives me concern is one of our treeferns. The Antartica is taller and tougher and bigger, but the much slower growing Fibrosa scares me every Spring by looking stubbornly dormant. It hasn’t failed yet, but it always gives me cause to worry. However, I have got wise about my bananas, which we did not wrap for years and then suddenly had really severe frosts in October/November (unheard of down here) and had to cut them off at ground level where the stems were not soft. This stops the rot seeping down to the roots and, fortunately, they have recovered. I wrapped them early this time, but they have collapsed inside the wrap so I think I will have to cut them down again, but not yet. I think I will wait til April.
Wednesday 23rd March 2011
Well the good news is the pink rheum is looking great with three new leaves. The bananas are not so good. One has no core left, the other two may survive if I cut back the rot to firm growth, but that is at ground level for both. Bob has promised me a couple of new ones.
In this beautiful weather though, I have been tempted to get seeds outside and today I planted parsnips, radishes, carrots, lettuce, spinach and rocket.
I also planted sunflower seeds indoors. They were free ones from Bob’s Gardeners’ World magazine and I have sweetpeas from the same offer to plant next month.
I decided with all the seeds sown indoors to sift garden soil rather than buy potting compost. I only tried this because I know that seeds can rot off so easily without germinating, particularly in a humid environment like our polytunnel that we had at school. I seem to have had good germination on my pak choi and mixed salad leaves, but I am still waiting for carrots and tomatoes to materialize.
My first early potatoes are not showing yet, but I decided to start chitting my second earlies and they are sprouting well:
Sunday 10th April 2011
It is absolutely glorious here in Cornwall at the moment. The temperature has soared and my thoughts have turned to my next lot of seeds. At present I have garlic and shallots romping away, radishes, saladin lettuce, rocket, cos lettuce, spinach, pak choi, carrots and early potatoes.
I successfully transferred carrots from trays to my bed, which surpised me as I have failed trying to do that in the past. Germination of carrots and parsnips outdoors has been very slow, and I am not confident … I may have to resow – still I will give them another week.
My new plantings this weekend included sweetpeas. I have been a bit radical and just sown them without soaking (we will just have to wait and see). My little friend Sam was over for a few hours and we nipped down to the nursery and bought seeds. He chose sweetcorn, so I have had to think about where I can fit them in. Outdoors we added summer sprouting broccoli, beetroot and sugar snap peas to the beds. We also planted up two bags of 2nd early potatoes. Indoors we started french beans and sweetcorn. My sister-in-law gave me four tomato plants which seems to have triggered my seeds to germinate, and our little sunflower seedlings will need potting on this week.
Monday 25th April 2011
The last few days have been very exciting. Everything is suddenly putting on one heck of a spurt. I now have beetroot up, and summer sprouting broccoli, and the pak choi and spinache have finally started to bulk up. Today I weeded my vegetable sections and pulled my first radishes. I earthed up my first early pots and got very excited about how many second early pots are showing their first leaves.
My sister in law gave me some ‘moneymaker’ tomatoes and I have potted them into large pots and put stick supports in, as they have grown immensely in the sunny weather. My own (all Gardeners’ Delight) are now turning into decent seedling, so I may have some to give to friends. My sweetpeas are nearly big enough to go out now and I will need to support the sunflowers soon. I have one sweetcorn germinated, but no others and no beans yet. I have over twenty sugar snap peas up at the base of my wigwam. Hoping to get some cosmos started this week and thinking about squashes, pumpkins and courgettes.
The pear we put in, bare-rooted, seems to have died, disappointing because this is the second one we have planted, but our apples are in blossom. Tommy Knight and King Byerd have put on a good show. Cornish Pigsnout has less blossom and is later into leaf. Our victoria plum looks healthy with plenty of leaf, but not much blossom this year. Bob had to put lemonade bottle sleeves around the bottoms of the trunks, as we have had a lot of rabbit nibbling. Fortunately the badgers haven’t started snuffling around the base of them yet, so we are hopeful that with another year under their belts, they will all grow away strongly.
Tuesday 3rd May 2011
Feeling a little disgruntled that we have had grey days for the last few and very little rain. Bob is pleased, of course, because he is gardening in it all day, every day, but I feel that if the sun isn’t shining, we ought to at least have the compensation of some rain. Anyway, the garden is rushing on as it does at this time of year. I haven’t managed to keep up with the duckweed on the pond, so I don’t think my waterlily will appear. The new banana that Bob brought home the week before last is getting very large. It is obviously happy in our jungle.
The vegetable bed is very pleasing. I have a good crop of garlic and shallots developing, and the radishes are huge (I have sown a second lot that are growing fast). Salad leaves are ready to start harvesting and pak choi and spinache are getting big. Summer sprouting broccoli and beetroot, that I sowed with Sam, are all doing well and the carrots I transplanted are, amazingly, getting taller. Sugar snap peas are now clustered around my cane obelisk and I have earthed up my first early pots to the top of their bag. All I can do now is water and wait. I also earthed up the second earlies and they look very healthy.
Indoors I still have sweetpeas that I am putting out during the day, sunflowers likewise, french beans and sweetcorn (both not germinating as quickly as I expected), and I have about twelve tomato plants to pot on. I have also sown cosmos and aubretia for next year, and I am about to start on the squashes.
The cottage bed is a riot of lilac, soft pink, blue and purple with strident splashes of yellow from the Californian poppies. It looks very pretty and I am very worried that it will all be gone by the time the horticultural society come to visit on the 22nd May. I know other things will be in flower and the jungle will have huge leafy plants threatening to take over, but even so it is a shame the visitors won’t see the bluebells and some of the aqualigea. Of course my guilty pleasure (rhododendron ponticum) that we have had since before we married 39 years ago, will be in flower. It looks healthy, so I’m hoping people won’t be too critical.
Wednesday 18th May 2011
The visit grows nearer. As it turns out there are still lots of aqualigea in flower, The bluebells are nearly over and not a camelia in sight. However, rhodie in flower, blue iris, poppies (welsh), persicaria bistorta and plenty more. I decided to turn the bay behind my veg plot into a standard because, as you will see in the photo, it was hit very badly by the frosts we had this winter. Our other two bays survived unscathed, but this one is a bit exposed.
I also moved a euonymous (sorry about spelling) and put in some box to edge the vacated bed, as well as clearing cleavers and nettles from our tiny orchard area. The daisies, campion and other wild flowers look great amongst the fruit trees.
The veg bed has filled out, even since this photo, and the garden looks a picture. I will post more pictures soon.
Monday 6th June 2011
Hmmm – a bit of a list. The garden visit went very well (I think). People seemed to like our humble plot, and our nine visitors fitted on the terrace for coffee, tea and cake (kindly brought by the visitors). The weather was incredibly kind.
Since the visit I have resown horseradish, thinned beetroot, eaten lots of salad and spinache, potted on sunflowers and tomatoes, tidied up the cottage bed, deadheaded … and so on. Today I cut the twiggy ends off of a fallen branch to create a protective cage for my summer ball and baby bear pumpkins, courgettes and butternut squash. I planted all but the butternut out and am hoping the twigs will stop the pigeons pulling the seedlings out. I now have half a dozen sweetcorn seedlings, but I will buy some more to complete my bed. The sugarsnaps are in flower and I pulled my first baby carrot today, tiny and sweet. Still no rain to speak of, but everything seems to be surviving well.
Finally I thought you might like to see one of our more exotic visitors. We have a Mr. & Mrs. Greater Spotted Woodpecker but this is just Mrs. They eat very messily and a lot, but we love having them around.
Wednesday 22nd June 2011
The weather has done strange things to my garden. We started with a very dry March, which did not bother it much because I was sowing everything indoors. April being so hot made lots of things germinate well and start to grow rapidly (with me watering regularly). May was a mixture of sunshine and showers and everything put on good growth, or germinated outdoors easily. June has been cold! We have had quite a bit of rain and sunny periods, but the temperature has rarely got above 15 and a lot of my veg have gone on strike. It’s like they will not do anything because they’re too busy shivering.
I have now potted on all my tomatoes and I have given some away. I now have about 12 plants, four of which are older and have got some trusses forming. My sweetcorn seemed to stop at three pairs of leaves and, in desperation, I have now planted them out. I don’t hold out much hope…. If my pumpkin bed is anything to go by, the snail and slug population has taken on plague proportions. I say this, but I haven’t seen that many, they are crafty little devils.
Likewise the cosmos have reached about four inches and then stopped. I am going to pot them on and try to get them to at least six inches before planting them out. I have about 40 aubretia seedlings to pot on and my husband (bless) has just presented me with a load of foxglove and nicotiana seedlings. Pricking and potting seem like endless occupations at present.
I have finally planted some ‘old lady flowers’ (pelargoniums) and some red begonias, behind my little box hedge by the pond. They look very bright and perky, particularly with all the rain we have been having.
I need to plant some red lettuce and I need to think about where late parsnips and carrots will fit into my scheme, as well as purple sprouting broccoli. It’s all getting a little congested. I did turn out my first early potatoes and they were delicious. This has left a potato sack free, so I am thinking about planting leeks in it. Everything else is coming along nicely and the bed looks very full.
Wednesday 29th June 2011
Dry for quite a few days again now. Actually managed to mow the lawn on Monday after three weeks. The rain has taken its toll a bit on my roses and the welsh poppies are looking mottled and floppy, so I figure it’s time to clear them to the ground. Trouble is it leaves gaps in the bed that look messy, so I am trying to think what I can pop in there to make it look more complete. I have some cosmos to go in, but they have not achieved a very good size with the colder weather. I potted them on yesterday and I am hoping to get them out within the next couple of weeks.
I have now sown some red tipped lettuce and the winter purple sprouting broccoli, but my spinache looks a bit tatty, and I think I may have to pull the last row of it. I tried pulling a couple of carrots but they have purple shoulders and forks. Goodness only knows what my parsnips look like – or the beetroot come to that. The shallots are bursting out of the ground, but I will leave them as long as possible. We have eaten some sugar snap peas, but all my pumpkins, squash and courgettes have been monopodded in a big way! Out to get some organic slug pellets before planting any more (I have some butternut left), but I think I have missed the boat really.
I do feel a sense of anti-climax right now. The garden seems to be a little bit in limbo and I get worried that I should be doing more than I am. Still, no point worrying. I will just keep plodding away and hope that I haven’t missed anything important.
By the way, I find the birds are hungrier than ever at present. I am getting through a lot of bird food. Our present visitors include the nuthatch pair, blue tits, great tits, coal tits, house sparrows, dunnocks, wood pigeon, greater spotted woodpeckers and a dear little baby marsh tit. The last two mornings we have even got up to jackdaws hanging off the feeders! It certainly isn’t quiet on our terrace.
Wednesday 20th July 2011
Well the weather continues to be very unpredictable, or rather should that be predictable? Cold, grey, mizzly, sunny, warm, windy and rainy. Do you get the picture? The garden hasn’t been quite sure what to do. Despite my late replanting, the butternuts and courgettes are now growing well. The sweetcorn are beginning to get some height and my five Russian Giant sunflowers are in full glorious bloom. I have now lifted all the shallots and am going to sow some winter onions in that bed. I have not as yet cleared the garlic although I have lifted one bulb and it was delicious.
The sugarsnaps have all gone yellow and curly and I am not sure why. I have tried feeding them but to no avail. The beans are flowering and I replanted two potato bags with leaks (doing very well) and two more butternut and courgette.
Interestingly, after losing our bananas in that sharp winter, I now have two very small seedlings sprouting from the rotten base. Bob brought me a banana home from one of his clients and that is doing well, but I think the seedlings are growing quicker! The gunnera really haven’t recovered their normal size and expanse, so we think we will lift them and split them this autumn, and the pond seems devoid of newts. Usually when I net off the duckweed at this time of year, I have to check my dredgings for baby newts, but this year there is no sign. Was it last winter? Is there too much bamboo leaf detritus in the bottom? Has the duckweed smothered the water to the point of no return? Is the floating marsh marigold getting too big? Your guess is as good as mine and I feel a major clear out looming in the winter.
Finally my tomatoes … hmmm, yes tomatoes, well they should be growing fat, green shiny fruits weighing down the fragile branches. So I’m a failure. I have flowers, I have some fruit set and a couple growing, but to be honest my efforts are pathetic. My thirteen plants all look healthy, but they don’t seem keen to develop anything edible. Oh well, keep watering and watching.
Update on the birds – still all hungry and the jackdaws keep flocking in the large trees in, I suspect, their hundreds. There is a crow scarer in the field nearby and every now and then there is an enormous whoosh as all the birds take off at once. Fantastic sight as they wheel above. With their cawing and the grey sky – brrrr, it almost feels autumnal!
Wednesday 27th July 2011
Well, a few days of sunshine and the garden is once more at a gallop. I cleared the sugarsnaps with a twinge of failure in my stomach, but I know this is a learning curve year, as I have never grown veggies at home, and my plot is so tiny and intense I won’t win every battle. So I have sown the first of three planned rows of perpetual spinach in that bed and I have bitten the bullet and thinned my summer purple sprouting broccoli, which has opened up two more of my rectangles, which had become very shaded. I filled gaps in the winter broccoli sowings and have sown rocket in with the pak choi. I’m not sure I will grow pak choi again. I am saving seed but if I sow them next year, I think I will sow a few at a time, repeated over the summer, as I cannot use them quickly enough. The sweetcorn are growing apace now and my squash and courgettes are finally looking like they might reach a reasonable size, but to be honest they are so late I will be amazed to get any fruit.
Sam came to visit yesterday and he pulled some of the beetroot he sowed, and also carrots. The carrots were all fantastic shapes, but a decent size. I am going to clear a row and sow more for the winter. My last potato bag needs to be emptied and I have decided to put parsnips in there. I am leaving the garlic to flower, but I think I will plant some more and see how far we can get before the frosts. My climbing french beans are now bidding for the skies and are just beginning to flower – be interesting to see what I get!
I woke up yesterday morning to the sight of a young buzzard sitting on the barn in the farm next door (it forms a boundary on part of my garden). It was hunched, as only young birds can be, and the breeze was lifting feathers that were barely more than down. I haven’t seen one this close before, it was beautiful.
30th August 2011
Feeling very guilty indeed because I have not updated for so long. It has been an odd month since I last wrote. We have had a lot of rather dreary weather and quite a bit of rainfall, but it has not been very useful. I have had to make sure I water all the time, and the rather cloudy conditions have persuaded some plants that it is not worth the effort of growing or developing fruit. Tomatoes have grown, but they are sparse and many leaves yellowed whilst I was away for five days recently. I think I am going to end up with lots of chutney! I have a similar problem with the aubretia that I have grown from seed. They just do not seem to want to get any bigger. I have tried feeding them, but no, they stubbornly remain small and spindly.
I am very excited about the courgettes, which are flowering freely and have lots of small courgettes developing. The sweetcorn is also doing well. It is about a metre tall and has tassles. I cleared the shallots and garlic and have resown with red winter onions. I also planted some garlic which was sprouting in my fridge. The onions took a little while to germinate, but are now taking off well. The garlic has shot off at a heck of a pace.
I sieved the soil in the carrot section to a depth of about 30cm. I am determined to get some straight ones. I have scatter sown and they are germinating well. I also cleared and resowed beetroot. I have left the parsnips for later in the Autumn although the few we have eaten were lovely. The leeks I planted in the potato bag are doing very well and I wish I had more as I still have an empty bag.
So in this, my first year, I have made a few discoveries. Firstly I probably won’t grow broccoli next year. It gets so tall that it shades too many of my other little beds. I think I will go for cabbages and harvest them small. Secondly I will plant my nasturtiums in pots and possibly the cottage bed, as again, they create too much shade and frankly use too much of my precious planting area. So big successes are: shallots, garlic, onions, carrots, beetroot, parsnips, radishes and salad, courgettes, leeks and climbing french beans (I have loads). I will definitely grow all of these again, but I will think carefully about brassicas and peas.
We have two apple trees in fruit this year. They are both Cornish varieties: Tommy Knight and King Byerd. One is a cooker and I have had about 15 large apples from it, which is amazing as it is a very young tree and has only been in two years. The other is a braeburn type apple and although I have a decent crop, they are not ready for picking yet. We have to replace our pear, so we are going to go for a Cornish variety and one other to cross pollinate. Self pollinators do not seem to do well in our little orchard.
Finally the garden is looking wonderful and I have been pleased (except for the beginning of July) with the amount of colour and flower from Spring right through to now. Here are some pictures to show how it all looks now.
Finally, I think our younger son Byron, might have caught the gardening bug. He has moved into a student house where he has cleared the garden of rubbish, laid a turf lawn, unearthed a pond and taken lots of plants home from our garden to restock the borders. A chip of the old block(s)?
Tuesday 8th November 2011
Went away on holiday during September and lost quite a few tomatoes due to drying out. However, I cannot complain about my first year of growing my own veg in my tiny plot. My squashes really went in too late and I didn’t get any butternuts, however I have had loads of courgettes, and as they are one of our favourites, I will definitely grow them again. Still in the ground are my parsnips and leeks. I also have some garlic which I will overwinter for an early crop, and I also have winter purple sprouting broccoli and perpetual spinach.
My whole garden (as is the case with most people’s at this time of year) looks a bit limp and slimy at the present. I have not had time to clear my cottage bed and I really do need to sort it out as I have some large daisies and arum lilies to get in before the frosts. I mowed the lawn the week before last and raked all the earth paths – everywhere looked quite neat – then we had gale force winds and my garden is smothered in ash leaves, which don’t rot, and twigs. What a mess! I also need to wrap my bananas and our tree ferns (oh crumbs, when will I find time?).
I must also drain my wildlife pond and give it a good dredging. It is under the shadow of a large bamboo thicket, which is very popular with local birds, but which sheds leaves all year round. That, coupled with a thick layer of duckweed, has reduced the amount of wildlife making use of the crystal clear water. We usually have frogs, newts, dragon flies, water skaters, diving beatles and so on. The water remains clear above the blanket of leaves in the bottom, but I think the duckweed just shades it out too much, so draining it is!! We tried a chemical solution for the duckweed, which a friend has had good success with, but I think we left too much still on the pond and it soon regrew. I was given two large koi carp for whom my husband is building a beautiful formal pond on our terrace, but as this is a little way off I propose putting them in the newly restored wild pond for the winter. They currently reside in a water butt, which by anybody’s standard is unsatisfactory. We will just have to make sure that they are out of the pond before the wildlife wants to move back in.
Recently started feeding the birds again, after a six week break at the end of the summer, and although we do not have quite the breadth of varieties experienced earlier in the year, they are slowly getting the message and returning to the terrace. One of our frequent visitors is a carefully painted male pheasant. He has good lungs and entertains the two doodles endlessly by sitting on the gate, or strutting under the cherry, or yelling loudly as he flies down onto the lawn. I don’t think Bertie and Banjo are huge fans.
Wednesday 16th November 2011
We were given two Koi carp, one white with a splash of orange, one black and orange. We called them Moby and Dick. They have been living temporarily in our water butt. Their final residence will be the formal pond that Bob is creating on our terrace, but my dilemma is that winter approaches fast and the water butt is not really suitable in very cold weather. So I decided to clear out our wildlife pond. Now I know what you are thinking – fish in a wildlife pond is a no no – and you are right, but as a temporary measure it seemed the ideal solution. However, several years of little attention means that the wildlife pond is very wild, with very little life. Mostly it is full of rotting leaves, and non-rotting leaves (bamboo), silt and empty baskets. There is nothing for it – a clear out is in order. Let’s face it, even our newts didn’t come back this year.
Two days of siphoning and I am down to the deepest area with about six inches of leaves and muck on the two shelves that run round the perimeter. Two hours of backbreaking scooping, brushing and tipping, and I can see the liner, however the bit in the middle, at the pond’s deepest, is so full of rubbish that I cannot sink the hose deep enough to finally empty it. Out comes the trusty pond net and I watch it bend perilously under the weight of the debris that I fish out of the depths. Eventually I can see enough water to make it worth while to sink the hose once more. Hoorah, water flows furiously from the hose and I go in to lay down in a darkened room, heartened by the knowledge that tomorrow I will have mostly mud and leaves and little water to clear.
Hang on, what can I hear? I am woken from a restless, painful doze to the sound of pouring rain. Hmmm, how much rain does it take to fill a six by eight pond? The plan for tomorrow is to finish clearing, hose and brush the liner and then refill with the hose. Hopefully in about a week, I will be able to transfer the carp into their winter accommodation. It is then up to Bob to finish their palatial formal dwelling for the spring, to allow the frogs, toads and newts, that will indubitably be tempted by my reformed waterworld, to take up tenancy and repopulate my wild pond with life.