The vaguely green-fingered thoughts of a rambling rose.

April's End

Drip, drip, drop
Little April shower
Beating a tune
As you fall all around

I can't believe how fast April seems to have passed. It only seems like yesterday since the first seeds were sown in the greenhouse, and now I can barely move for all the plants. It's like a scene out of Day of the Triffids!

The month has been extremely kind to us gardeners, by being warmer and sunnier than the average in our part of the world, allowing our plants to catch up after the late start to Spring. However, the last days of the month brought weather more typical of an average April, with sunshine and sharp showers.

My first lot of salad should be ready to begin harvesting in a matter of days. The first sowings are that of Webbs Wonderful and Little Gem.

The sweetcorn has gone mad, and the sweetpeas need to be planted out very soon.

One of my fuschia's has recovered, and just needs to be top-dressed. All the young shrubs I overwintered have begun to spring into life again. With a bit of luck, they will be planted out this year.

Potting up was the order of the day, and I have been pleasantly surprised how many Dahlias have made it to this point. I finally got around to planting my Charlotte potatoes today too. I've planted them in potato sacks, covered them with compost and for the time being they're safe in the greenhouse, away from Mrs Nutkin and any late frosts. The temperature has dropped dramatically over the last day or two, so I'm hoping by being in the greenhouse, it'll help them to catch up, as I'm a little late.

Minibell tomatoes, Razzmatazz peppers and a couple of fuschia's were potted up, and I finished by planting up two of my hanging baskets. The recipe for these is:

1x Fuschia
3x Petunias
1x Bidens
1x Lobelia
Plastic lined basket
Mulit-purpose compost

I tend to use a plastic-lined basket these days as there are green-issues around using sphagnum moss, and the coir liners tend to be attacked borrowed by the birds around here. The plastic also helps to retain water, but do remember to cut some drainage slits.
Water each of the plants well and allow to drain. Sit the basket on top of a plant pot to keep stable.
Half fill the basket with compost, and place the fuschia towards the rear of the basket. Next place the bidens, and lobelia, with a petunia between each. Fill in all the gaps with compost, and water well to settle.

These hanging baskets will remain in the greenhouse for the moment while it is still very cool. Once the weather begins to pick up again, I shall begin the simple process of 'hardening off' whereby the plants are left outside during the warmer daylight hours, and brought back into the protection of the greenhouse over night. Once they have become accustomed to the outside world, they will be hung in place either side of the front door.

April 2010

If you've never been thrilled to the very edges of your soul by a flower in spring bloom, maybe your soul has never been in bloom. ~Terri Guillemets

A wander around the garden in April is one of the most pleasurable of moments. Looking for signs of life here and there is more exciting that one can admit to. With trepidation, I seek out fresh new growth in what began as a holding bed, but without effort is actually beginning to resemble the intention of a cottage garden. What has survived the bleakest of recent winters?

Either side of my front door hang a basket of  blue violas. I prefer these to pansies as they seem to withstand the weather a little more. I cannot resist a quick sniff of them as I pass, deadheading if needed to prolong the flowering.

To one side of the door, lives this wall basket. Despite having some of it's coir lining 'borrowed' by the little sparrow for her nest, and Mrs Nutkin occasionally digging them out, it puts on a marvelous display of purple violas. On the side furthest away, a bi-coloured viola has sneaked in...lets keep it our little secret eh?

Last Spring, I planted some Polyanthus below the clematis, and in a very narrow strip in the lea of the front boundary wall. I really didn't think these cheap and cheerful dandies would survive to flower another year, but once the ground began to warm up, I was pleasantly surprised.

This little lady was my biggest worry over the winter. Dicentra spectabilis. Also known as 'Bleeding Heart', 'Dutchman's Breeches' or rather delicately 'Lady in the bath' (I think you have to turn the flower upside-down). I bought her last Spring, and with the late start to the season this year, I was beginning to fear the freezing temperatures had claimed her.

But as you can see, she has come through it's icy grip and gone on to flirt with us once more. This is one lady I don't mind The Man That Can to fact I encourage it!

I'm a big believer of sharing plants. In fact many of my plants have been shared with neighbours, friends and family, and vice-versa. It is useful in fact, as most perennials need dividing from time to time to keep them growing strongly and healthily.

Take this Bergenia (Elephant's Ears) for instance. It came from Grandad. For a few months, it lived in a container of garden soil. It was just a chunk taken from it's parent. The first year in the garden, it just put down roots. The second year it's leaves began to beef up, and this year it has flowered for us.  Ok so they're not everyone's cup of tea, but I rather like it, and since we daren't try to grow hosta's in our slug-and-snail infested garden, it becomes a useful foil in amongst the hustle and bustle of a cottage garden. Another handy use for it is it becomes a snail hotel on a warm day, and over winter. Take along a bucket and collect them up, dispose as you see fit. Oh, and I've even bought another to go with it, but it is still very much in it's infancy.

Many perennials are the same, every couple of years, dig up the clumps, chop them up, and re-plant them, sharing them with your friends, family and neighbours. Everyone's happy!

Down the side of the house runs a narrow bed. I haven't done an awful lot with this, but each Spring it is transformed into a sea of blue Muscari armeniacum (grape hyacinth). These are so easy to grow that even Mrs Nutkin can do it...and often does. She has a tendancy to dig them up in the winter and bury them elsewhere, which makes the verges around our property quite a colourful place. And don't they multiply!
This is the first year that our narcissi and muscari haven't flowered together - our narcissi are going over now, just as the muscari are going at it full pelt.

The pots of bulbs are going strong too. I spotted (or should that be 'checked') this little fella peeking out of the fading hyacinths. A wee Snake's Head Fritillary.

And in the other, Cheery yellow tulips.

2010 The Plan Continues

The winter of 2009/10 was harsh. The coldest in some 30 odd years. A winter like those experienced as a child. The snow lay thick. Public transport came to a halt, schools were closed and taking to the roads was positively suicidal!. Gritters ran out of grit, and shops ran out of table salt, there was even panic buying of basics.

Pathways were dug to the hen house almost on a daily basis, who refused to come out to play in this strange, cold white blanket.
This was my first proper winter since moving up here in 2006, and from a gardener's point of view, unknown territory.

Despite faithfully dressing my little greenhouse with bubblewrap, most of the tender plants I tried to overwinter, along with  most of the cuttings I had taken at the tail end of the previous summer perished. Given the hard winter, I wasn't surprised.

But Spring was just around the corner...wasn't it?

The first blooms in our garden are snowdrops. These dainty little ladies were shy this year, not beginning to open until 20th February. These beauties were a gift from a good friend of ours last year, planted in-the-green as they take better that way. The following day, they were hidden under a thick blanket of snow again.

Bright yellow crocus were next. Usually I have problems with the birds tearing them up, but this year I've been lucky. Close behind, were these beautiful purple ones.

These pots contain many jewels. Late last autumn, I potted up two very large tubs with lots of different bulbs. It's a bit of a trial, and I do like to try new things. At the bottom are some summer flowering lillies, and above these I have layered many bulbs from crocuses and daffodils to hyacinths to name but a few. The plan is for each new layer to help hide the dying leaves of the next. I'm not entirely sure it will work, but it's worth a go.

My first daffodils finally burst into life on March 16th. Almost a month later than last year!

There seems to be some activity in the bird world. A little later than recent years, but there's certainly a feeling of urgency. Some lost ground to make up in the woo-ing perhaps? This little lady is building a nest in a neighbour's fascia. and finds the coir in my wall basket perfect to line it with. Completely unfazed by my presence, I sat watching the female sparrow for an hour and a half flitting back and forth, before I got so cold, I couldn't feel my fingers. I wonder what my neighbours think I was doing...

Another change in the garden. The weather is improving, and the chickens would be better placed at the bottom near the greenhouse, freeing up the 'patio' again for entertaining. But the stepping-stone path isn't really as practical as it is attractive, so The Man That Can laid a new path down the length of the lawn.

The Bumble Bee and I had the task of cutting the Passiflora back hard. I've taken to carrying out this drastic action every couple of years. It does check the flowers for the first year, but it generally makes so much difference, and allows me to check and preserve the wood of the archway.

It's hard work to clear the site, but very necessary, as this is where the hen house will live. You can just make out the dry-stone planting space The Man That Can made me last year, but that has to go will all the lovely friable compost within.

The chickens will love it down here, it's out of the full sun, so not so hot in the summer as on the patio. If only we can coax them down. Aretha and Gladys are too busy chasing Lola around the lawn, who has found a particularly tasy slug whilst scratting about in their favourite place under the conifer hedge.

The rockery behind the garage was given a good weeding and some garden compost added to it to help improve the soil. A Buddleia was planted here, along with a couple of primulae that had been struggling to grow in the raised bed. They join a couple of what appear to be large Athyrium ferns (Lady Fern, I think) and a Asplenium scolopendrium (Hart's Tongue Fern), along with a clump of deep crimson peonies.

What used to be the pond has had a facelift too. The cherry tree was dug up and given to one of our neighbours, where we can still enjoy the blossom. The bed has been dug over, and some compost mixed in. I'm going to grow some veg here. It has been divided into four for now. The front right has the acer whose buds are just begining to break. It's sheltered from the winds down here. To the left is a large clump of the same deep crimson Peonies found on the rockery above, and also in the front garden.

The old stone from the planting space have found a new home too. We've made the boys flower & veg plot larger, and raised it a little. The compost from the original bed has been put to good use here too.

The layering in my containers seems to be working so far. I wish we had smelly-vision for you to breathe in the heady scent of these Hyacinths. I have moved them to the top of the steps, so that each time the back door is open, the fragrance wafts in.

The water butts have been emptied and cleaned out and new potting bench was erected in the greenhouse. A bargain for £15 from our local supermarket, and a gift from my two sons, Toad and Bumble Bee.
I am ready for Spring, and the busy seed-sowing and potting on that it brings.

2009 The Year of the Plan

Over the winter months, I've been busy planning. Having saved and saved, I finally have enough for a greenhouse.
I did have a lovely one with some bespoke staging in our old garden, but alas when we moved, it had to be sold as we had no-where to store it, so I have been longing desperately for another.

But first, we have an awful lot of preparation to do. The awful dog-shed found a home via our local Freecycle. A fella came, took it all down, loaded it up on his van and off he went. He was happy to have a new dog run, and we were happy to have the site almost cleared without the expense.

At the far end of the cleared area, we discovered a raised bed. There was very little soil in it, but tonnes and tonnes of york stone and terracotta pots! GOLD!

The next job is a new fence. I want the same sturdy style as we chose for the drive to help prevent the wind trashing it to hide all the mess of the gardens behind us. Luckily The Man That Can's uncle came to the rescue, and a top quality fence was erected within a matter of a couple of very wet weekends. Fencing completed, my new greenhouse was ordered.

The Man That Can made great use of some of the york stone too. He made me a beautiful dry-stoned planter in the corner which fits perfectly among the other dry-stone areas down the bottom of the garden.

My new planter was filled with soil from the levelling prior to the fence being erected mixed with lovely crumbly home-made compost.

While I wait...and wait...and wait some more for my greenhouse, I make a start with my first proper attempt at growing veg with the aid of a plastic grow-house.

Still waiting for the greenhouse to arrive, we threw all our efforts into the floral displays.
I'd trimmed the two clematis back in March, it was do or die time, and it paid off in style.

What looks like a lilac bush keeps tryin to compete with the Nelly Moser. I'll dig it all out once the clematis has finished flowering.

I've finally managed to change the Ph enough in the raised bed beside the greenhouse base to grow a rhododendron. I chose a lovely white one to lift that corner....which turned out in the end to be cerise! Ah well, pretty all the same, perhaps I can bend The Man That Can's arm to try for a white one next year.

The greenhouse finally arrived in June, just days before we went on holiday. It therefore had to wait until our return to be put up, but it was well worth the wait. Apparently the delay was caused by the high demand - it seems everyone is jumping on this grow-your-own band wagon!

Tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, peas, carrots, onions, spring onions, strawberries and raspberries were all tried this year. But not all succeeded. The peppers failed to set fruit, the carrots grew to only stir-fry size, and the onions baffled me completely by only growing to the size of ping-pong balls.

We had great success with the strawberries and tomatoes growing in hanging baskets, but very few found their way to the's just too easy to pop them into your mouth each time you pass...

We trialled growing potatoes in bags on the patio too. These went down a storm.

Two other major changes in the garden during 2009 was the removal of the lonicera nitida in the front garden, and a stepping stone path down the length of the lawn in the back.



This freed up valuable planting space for other plants. Our two roses, Jacques Cartier and Pascali have finally found their forever home, along with some foxgloves sowed earlier in the year and a clump of fern lifted from the overgrown rockery behind the garage.

We're lucky to live just a mile or two from the botanical gardens, and a few times each year, the Hardy Plant Society hold plant sales. Many bargains are to be had here, and a recent trip was no exception. A couple more hardy geraniums, a clump of penstemons and some other herbacious perennials join plants given to me by neighbours and family members.

Towards the end of the year, we thought it might be nice to have some chickens. Not only would it be nice to have fresh eggs, but they are said to help gardeners by eating slugs and bugs, and their waste is a useful addition to the compost heap.

Let me introduce you to Lola (no tail), Aretha (no comb), and Gladys (who has a comb and fully feathered tail).

We bought a purpose built hen house with a run, but we soon realise this is far too small, so The Man That Can sets to building a much larger run. As winter approaches, we decide the best place for them to live is on the patio, close to the house.

Within two months, we have our first small, but perfectly formed egg. Thank you Lola!

I don't know about bugs and slugs, but these ladies are rather partial to my ornamentals!

Happy Gardening!