Friday, 22 April 2016

Building a Flower Bed

My masterplan for 2016 largely includes making an effort to build up the garden's display of decorative plants. Up to now my floral efforts have been sporadic and ill-thought out, with not much thought given to plant placement and year round display. My motivations are not primarily aesthetic, although as I progress my mind is becoming more design sensitive, but to introduce biodiversity to the garden.

There are many great reasons to grow flowers and vegetables together. Complimentary plants can help pest management. The nasturtium, which is a flower common to many gardens, is said to reduce aphids, cabbage worms and whiteflies, so grow it among your brussels sprouts and broccoli. As well as looking great, it provides ground cover like a mulch and as a bonus, the leaves, flowers and seeds are edible. I've planted it in a few areas this year and cannot wait to see the effect of the creeping orange and red flowers among my vegetables.

The area of the garden in which I am currently concentrating my efforts is a patch near the patio that was cleared when a huge bush of box honeysuckle was removed. This is how overgrown the area at the back of the house had gotten (blame a new baby):

I can't believe we let it get so bad, and look at the ivy eating one of the bedroom windows:

A few days work in the good weather and we removed the ivy, all the brambles by the back door and the huge bush. After this photo was taken, the big spiky plant was cut back (I don't know what it's called but I know it's common enough).

Here's how the area looked a few weeks ago. The box honeysuckle has proven vigorous and has grown back but I am keeping it trimmed. Wood chips were laid down months ago but they are thin on the ground at this stage. In the foreground you can see pansies, wallflowers and a purple sprouting broccoli. Under the spiky bush are nice creeping plants that will release tiny flowers in many colours later in the year. I'm hoping they will have spread by then. In the pots are lupins, some of which have been moved into the ground now.

Vacant space around the big spiky bush:

And the area where the brambles once roamed:

To get my flower patch off to a good start, a very generous neighbour gave me a load of flower divisions from her garden. Look at all this:

There were at least twenty varieties in the pile, of all shapes and textures. I got to work immediately planting them, continuing even as a massive hailstone shower hit. When everything was in the ground, the result was unimpressive at first as many of the plants are small slips, but even after just a few weeks of sun and rain, they are already beginning to fill out and flower.

I'm slowly building up a rockery around the base of the spiky plant to hide the huge ugly root:

Little scraps of creeping plants are positioned around the base of the root and hopefully these will spread like crazy:

In the open area, I've planted out garlic that I had over-wintered in modules, in my efforts to mix flowers and veg. Beetroot seeds have also been planted and I am looking forward to seeing the effect of the purple leaves among the flowers.

Nice textures are filling up the blank spaces but I've still a bit of weeding to do:

Forget-me-nots are flowering:

A few shells are added to the rockery and lots more decoration needed. Another good excuse to go to the beach:

So far the flower bed has cost me next to nothing. Now I have to give it my time and allow the plants time to grow. If you don't need the instant effect, growing from seed and cuttings is a really cheap way to garden. I cannot wait to update this post with photos in a few months and I guarantee my patience will have paid off.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

My Garden: 27th March 2016 (Easter Sunday)

I haven't anything posted in months but I have been working in the garden.  I always try to get as much in the ground in autumn as possible so I have something to be tinkering with over winter. From November to March, I've been mulling over my broad beans which were getting leggy in the cold frame (it's been milder than usual), gazing at my garlic (three varieties which I planted in containers and a raised bed) and picking at my purple sprouting broccoli.

I ended up planting out the broad beans in January after the extreme wet weather had eased off a while. It was a risk at that time of year but they are looking fairly healthy, if a bit twisted.  Even though the variety is dwarf, they need some support so I've built simple tepees with bamboo and twine.

We have been eating purple sprouting brocolli (PSB) with a few weeks now. The crop isn't as good as last year but I think that was down to me being late moving them from pot to ground. Apart from one towering plant, the rest are on the small side. I think they also benefit from a bit of frost and the winter was quite mild and wet. As you get three cuts per plant, there is still plenty fruit to come. I think PSB is the staple plant to include in your garden plan and I'll be sowing my seeds for next years crop very soon. Picture below shows some that I'll need to cut very soon as it looks like it is starting to go to flower.

Back in October I planted some garlic (softneck variety Solent Wight) in window boxes and this will be eaten young and green. This week I sprinkled some spring onion seeds on the surface and watered in so hopefully they will happily grow around the garlic.

My main garlic crop has been in a raised bed since October, a mix of Solent (single layer on the left) and Lautrec (hardneck). The stem of the Solent is noticeably thicker than the plants of the same variety that are in the window boxes. It's interesting to see the differences in results between various settings. I'm not 100% but I may have added a layer of seaweed to this bed back in the autumn, which would have given the plants a boost. Again I have sprinkled some spring onion seeds on the surface this week.  The third variety of garlic, early Purple Wright, is in other beds around the garden.

The first direct sown seeds of spring were planted yesterday - two rows of beetroot, one Bolthardy and the other Chiogga. In my efforts to mix vegetables and flowers, nasturtiums will go in between the rows. This bed got a nice treatment of a thick layer of seaweed in Autumn plus some garden compost and the soil is looking really well. 

Dormant flowers are starting to revive and I'm hoping for some surprises. Below is some 'Braunherz' which will spread its luscious thick purple leaves to give ground cover. 

Last year I planted lupins from seed and got bountiful foliage but being a biannual, no flowers. This year the foliage is coming back beautifully and hopefully come May I'll have towering explosions of colourful flower. The seeds were mixed so what emerges will be a surprise. I can take basal cuttings now so hopefully I'll be able to successfully multiply the plants, and give some for gifts.

My pansies were ravished by slugs this year so I was delighted to get a photo of this perfect flower before she is nibbled away to nothing.

Pea seeds are swelling and starting to sprout. Yesterday I planted marigolds in the remaining cells. The marigolds, which attract the beneficial hoverfly, will be inter-planted among the vegetables.

And to finish, a picture of my Bowles's Mauve wallflowers which have just started their flowering season but have always had a bloom or two at all times over winter. It's a perrenial plant that has a tendency to get leggy so after the flower stalk finishes blooming, cut it back down at the base. This is another plant that I'll be taking cuttings of soon. It makes a wonderful fragranced cut flower.

Till next time.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Planting Potatoes in a Wire Container

This year I have a big plan to get more creative in the garden. I've been growing vegetables for about four years now but I have never put much thought into the aesthetics of the plot. In 2016 I am concentrating on flowers as much as vegetables and thinking about structures for growing climbing plants to take things above ground level.

So on the subject of growing potatoes, how can you make that look more interesting? Well I have a big roll of wire and a bag of hay waiting to be used so today I started building a container for my potatoes using both. 

First I cut a strip of wire to size and fashioned a cylinder. At the base I placed a layer of straw.

Next I added a mix of garden compost, soil and shop bought compost to create a layer of a few inches, surrounding the sides with a layer of straw.

On top I placed my nicely chitted potatoes - Golden Wonders. It is tempting to add more tubers but they need space so three is enough for this area.

I removed any small sprouts, leaving three big ones per spud, taking care not to crack them during the planting process.

The potatoes are covered with a few inches of the compost. I'll wait until the green growth starts and then add compost gradually (earthing up) as the greenery gets taller, until they are ready to harvest

I think the soil/hay layers will give a nice touch to the overall look. Im hoping to build three more of the same.

**Photo update on 25.04**
Here's how the spuds are doing today:

** Photo update on 14.05**
 Must earth -up more.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Hopes and Dreams for the Vegetable Garden 2016

It's January, it's cold and wet and the garden is a hostile place, overgrown, mucky and dishevelled. But your mind is full of warmth, colour, shapes and tastes. You can envision your garden as it could be, not as it is now. Suddenly you remember that you had the same lavish thoughts last year, and reality didn't quite play game. But this year will be your year. You're sure of it this time.

Reasons 2016 will outshine 2015:

1. I have new beds cleared and have relocated my raised beds to allow access on all sides, making weeding easier.

2. My rabbit moved on to greener pastures meaning the gladiolus and primroses that she demolished before they had time to flower will get a second chance.

3. I have put in the ground work in what, I hope, will be my pièce de résistance - a large curved bed with a mix of vegetables and decorative plants of various heights and colour. Now I have to gradually add to it as the year goes on.

4. I have bought fresh seeds for my main vegetable crop (most of what I used last year were old seeds) and a nice selection of flowers keeping in mind those that would make good cut flowers, and those that attract pollinators.

5. I read The Edible Garden by Alice Fowler and it helped to move my mind-set beyond the traditional vegetable beds to a more harmonious pairing of edibles and ornamentals.

6. Surely the weather will be better than last year?..........

Vegetables I plan to grow:

Garlic - already in the ground/modules

Broad beans - already in the ground/modules

Onions - already in the ground

Purple Sprouting Broccoli - already in the ground and by the time I am eating this crop it will almost be time to sow next year's seeds.

Tomatoes - to be planted indoors soon. This year I am expanding beyond the cherry tomato variety and trying a wicked looking beefsteak variety called Ananas.

Beetroot - I want a lot of beetroot for making chutney and soup. Last year I grew the Chioggia variety which has a vivid pink and white concentric pattern inside but I preferred the flavour of the bog standard Bolthardy. However, I grew them in poor soil in containers so I'll try again, to compliment my main crop.

Carrots - I must get coarse sand to add to carrot bed

Peas - I've only grown mange tout up to now, but I've realised that we prefer garden peas so I've bought some new seeds. I still have mange tout seeds that I saved from my own plants so they'll be sown also.

Spinach - love me spinach.

Leeks - I grew leeks two years ago and they were delectable. Definitely one of the vegetables where the superiority in taste of home-grown versus shop-bought was most apparent. I've previously written on how to grow leeks successfully.

Courgette - it's a vegetable I never really ate until I grew it last year and I am already looking forward a freshly picked courgette cooked in butter. Along with the standard variety, I have ordered seeds for a funny little yellow duck shaped breed just because I can.

Potatoes - I am undecided about growing spuds but I think it is worth growing a few for the earlies, which are pretty expensive to buy. It's probably time to buy my seed potatoes so they'll be well chitted before planting (traditionally on Paddy's Day).

Herbs will include basil, coriander and dill.

That's about everything. Next is to make a list of the equipment I need and stock up. I need more seed trays and support canes and of course, lots of compost.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

My Garden: 24th December 2015

Happy Christmas all. I haven't posted in ages because anytime I get a chance to take photos, night has already fallen. At least we have gotten through the shortest day of the year and are looking towards the light.  The weather has been dismally wet for weeks now. A lawn enthusiast would cry to see me walking over the boggy grass. Although it appears our drainage is pretty good; the grass is soggy but not holding puddles of water.
Despite the unfriendly conditions, I get a warm feeling when I look at the vegetables growing in my garden. I have garlic, onions, purple sprouting broccoli, broad beans and lambs lettuce. I've said it before (to myself perhaps) that Autumn/Winter is possibly my favourite time of year for gardening. Options are limited which means you are more likely to do things properly. Growth is slower so problems are smaller and pests are reduced.
In this bed I have Early Purple Wight garlic:
And under cover in modules I have Solent Wight and Lautrec Wight garlic, which will be planted out in Spring:

I have broad beans in modules which are being kept under cover. The mild temperatures have led to more growth than expected so I wonder if I should move them to bigger pots. For the meantime, they are looking nice and healthy so I'll leave them be:

Other broad beans are in the ground, framing the new bed I dug in the Autumn. The last of the seaweed mulch is being turned to soil:

I have many purple sprouting broccoli plants but only one producing food yet. This plant is from last year and is miles ahead of the others. It's my first time treating a vegetable as a biannual and I am delighted to get a second harvest:

Wallflowers are showing a splash of colour and you'd be forgiven for thinking the purple flowers belong to the broccoli plant in front of them:

Some lambs lettuce takes shelter in the corner of a window box. I like to call this my "snack box":


Senshyu onions in their bed. They look a little crowded but hopefully as I pick the small onions, room will be given to allow others to swell:

That's all the highlights from the garden. Till next year...

Friday, 6 November 2015

My Garden: 5th November 2015

I love gardening and writing about gardening this time of year. The jobs are bigger - digging and covering beds, clearing leaves, tidying away spent plants - and the dreams are bigger. It's a time for reading books and making plans for next year, thinking of your regrets and failures in the year gone by and about how to emulate your successes. I have lists written on scraps of paper all around the house and open books left on every seat. Plus the autumnal colours of my blog design become more relevant.

My most recent read was Alys Fowler's The Edible Garden which I picked up in Carrigaline library. I had taken my two year old out for an afternoon walk and when he unexpectedly fell asleep, I decided to park up in the library to relax and enjoy a read while he slept. I couldn't have chosen a more beautiful book for leafing through. Her garden is built on the premise of polyculture which is the mingling of plants for different purposes together, rather thank having, say, a vegetable plot and separate flower beds. It's something we hear of in companion planting tips - planting basil among the tomatoes to improve flavours, sweet peas with your brassicas to add nitrogen to the soil - but so far my efforts have manifested in tiny, awkwardly placed flowers at the edge of my vegetable beds. Looking at the photos in Alys's book, I realised that I have been doing it all wrong. Her sumptuous Birmingham garden is fabulously chaotic with fruit, flowers and vegetables of different colours, heights and textures intermingled with each other leaving virtually no uncovered ground.

So I've started trying to patch things together. I am slowly filling a patch of ground that was uncovered after we cleared a hugely overgrown bush and for the first time I am thinking about the overall aesthetic rather than the individual plant. In the background of the photo below you can see wallflowers on the left, Euyonomous in the middle and on the right what I think is Lonicera nitida or box honeysuckle. In the middle is purple sprouting broccoli and onions with pansies in the foreground. Hopefully when the plants fill out, and with more added, it will create a nice effect.

In other areas of the garden, I have dug a new bed by removing the top sod, digging the ground underneath and covering with the turned sod, so the grass side faces down. Over that I placed a layer of cardboard, which I have covered with loads of compost from the heap in the garden Finally, a layer of seaweed, which was washed up on a local beach after bad weather, has been spread over the top. Hopefully by the time the planting out season comes April/May, the bed will have good soil structure and be filled with nutrients. At the edge of the bed are Brussels sprouts, broccoli and broad beans:

This year I ordered my garlic from again, which I've found to be the best stockists for choice, quality and speed of delivery. I even got two extra heads of garlic in my order! I am trying Lautrec (hardneck variety), early Purple Wight and Iberian Wight I've planted my garlic in a raised bed but I've also put some in modules in a cold frame for planting out in the spring, as I've read that this can have good results. I'm hoping I've made a good choice as the hardneck and the early won't store too well. I plan on eating the early fresh so I can pick as needed, then using the hardneck and finally the Iberian, which I have planted more of as they will store well. The heads under cover have started to poke out:

In my front garden I am tidying up the old flowers. I've saved the seed from my Crocosmia Lucifer, for planting later:

My rose bush has flowered for the second time this year, the first time it has ever flowered twice, but with the Autumn winds, the flower fell apart quickly after blooming. Not to waste them, I gathered them up and placed in a jar of water. It looks very pretty on my kitchen window sill and smells gorgeous.

That's about the main news from my garden. My next big job is to attack an overgrown raised bed frame so I can move it out from the wall to the middle of the garden making it easier to maintain as I will be able to access all four sides and won't have to deal with thick coarse grass growing up between the fence and the wooden frame. It's a lovely big frame and I can't wait to put it to use.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Green Tomato Chutney

So 2015 was a dismal year for my tomatoes unless you like tiny green ones. However, after making the following recipe, I have discovered that I like tiny green tomatoes very much. I will no longer fear a crop that refuses to ripen now that I have found a way to use them. I got this recipe from one of my favourite cook books - Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen. It tastes along the lines of a spiced apple chutney, and is quite Christmassy making it a perfect food gift. It is simple, once the tedious peeling and chopping is taken care of.


Makes around 1.4 litres

  • 1kg cooking apples, peeled and diced
  • 1kg green tomatoes, chopped (no need to peel)
  • 450g onions, peeling and diced
  • 450g sultanas
  • 350g white granulated sugar
  • 350g Demerara sugar
  • 2tsp ground ginger
  • 2tsp all spice
  • 2tsp cracked black pepper
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 2 cloves garlic crushed
  • 900ml white wine vinegar


Put everything in a large pot, leaving the vinegar until last to help dissolve the spices and sugar and mix well.

Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for 45mins - 1 hour uncovered, or until the mixture has thickened and reduced by half. Stir regularly throughout the cooking to prevent sticking, keeping a close eye on it towards the end of the cooking.

How it looked at the end of cooking:


Pour the hot mixture into hot sterilised jars and seal immediately to help the jars form a tight seal.

Use jars with non-reactive lids (plastic coating on the inside) so the metal won't react with the vinegar. If you are reusing jars, those from relishes, chutneys and pickles should be ideal.

Ideally leave to mature in the jar for at least two weeks but I recommend saving some of the hot fresh chutney for your dinner today. I had mine with a pork chop and mash - divine.