Category Archives: gardening

Garden plans

Despite the gloom, I’m getting outside as often as I can to make a start on the changes I’ve planned for 2014. It’s very late though, especially given it’s been relatively mild.

Note: To maximise time in my own garden, I should really stop volunteering to get involved with other and bigger green spaces!!

I sowed the sweet peas around 2 weeks ago. I should have started with veg, but I never get around to it with sweet peas. Last year only one of the three that germinated actually survived after transplant at the allotment. The scent is intoxicating and they look so pretty clambering up cut branches. So far 24 have germinated, so I hope I will have many cut flowers in the house and around the veg plot.

Toilet rolls and potted papers for the sweet peas
Toilet rolls and potted papers for the sweet peas

I have finally been out with my secateurs to neaten the woodland wildlife garden. I needed to, to cut back the rampant Kerria japonica alongside the fence. The starlings in particular have been giving me a helping hand with taking last year’s perennial stems, but it felt good to finally start tidying and making space. I still have a long way to go, but it’s a start.

Forks at the ready
Forks at the ready

Our fence is in quite a bad state. It needed treating, so I thought a pretty colour would brighten up the back garden on a gloomy day. It draws attention to the crumbling frames, but I hope it will last another year or two. We have windbreaks to put up in the allotment before we can think about replacing this!

'Wild Thyme' Garden Shades fence paint
‘Wild Thyme’ Garden Shades fence paint

And the sorry state of the frog pond… The Scirpus had fallen completely under water while we were away, the stones put in to create shelves when the pond was built have moved, and there are no hiding places for the frogs, or easy places to get out. I still haven’t sorted it out, but I have bought a collection of water plants. Once I buy a new net (the small one I was using this morning snagged on a stone and went in AGAIN) and get even longer rubber gloves, I will be able to locate the stones, rearrange them and create some planting spaces to help the frogs. Hopefully then they will reward me with frogspawn, but it might be too late this year now.

Planted basket with marginals
Planted basket with marginals

Still, the sparrows are keeping busy. When a bunch of 6 or so screaming males descend in the garden at the same time it is wonderful to stop and watch. A pair of hungry great tits have just been to visit, and the dunnocks are coming a bit more frequently again.

Not strictly veg-growing, but all things that contribute to biodiversity by providing habitat and food for wildlife. Oh and I finally ordered raspberry canes today after dithering for weeks. So I will HAVE to get those beds finished over the next few days.


Early spring scent

Mahonia in jugI’ve been busy planning seed orders over the last week or so, and travelling around Sarah Raven’s website, I was reminded that all sorts of flowers can be used for cutting. I will be ordering some dill seeds this year! Given how well the mahonia is growing in the front garden, I thought it could spare a few of the wonderfully scented flower stems. There are plenty left for early bumble bees and insects.

The colour yellow makes me smile, but especially at this time of year. A promise of spring sunshine, an an opportunity to bring out Grandma’s old jug.


Bee identificationBumblebee_Heath on FritillaryWe’ve been putting more thought into attracting pollinators through giving over space to flowers up at the allotment. Certainly in the gardens at home, front and back, when researching new options I look for the bee-friendly sticker on the RHS and other plant web pages.

We are RSPB family members, and the Summer 2013 magazine that arrived last week has a section on the RSPB conservation action for bumblebees (pp.46-54). This includes a handy identification chart for the 8 most common garden bumblebees.

I spotted a bumblebee visiting our Snake’s Head Fritillary this morning and rushed out with my phone.

I think, from what I recorded, that we had a Heath bumblebee or Bombus jonellus here. I’d like to be able to spot the difference right away, but the differences are so minute, I’m not sure I’ll ever be that accurate. I would like to record how many different species we have visiting our garden and allotment over the summer though (another post-phd dream!).

2013-05-01 09.39.32

Lavender to lift the mood

I’ve been a bit headachy today – probably the thunderstorms for the second day in a row. So I sipped some water, picked up my secateurs and gloves and headed outside to trim back the old flower heads. I snipped a bunch of lavender too as it’s just starting to flower, the smell is quite fabulous.

Did my headache go away? Not entirely, but the effect of pottering in the garden for just 20 minutes made me feel so much better for several hours. I was planning a bike ride with the children late afternoon, but then the thunder storm decided to break over our village and now it’s too wet – and dark – to hope for that. Happily, the smell of lavender in the kitchen is reminding us it is still actually summer!

Lavender ready to flower

Heavenly scent

I’m despairing at how little time I have to spend in the garden and up at the allotment, never mind updating the blog. My studies are due to end this year, so I have to accept this temporal shift in leisure time.

Bumble beeI took a break in the garden at lunch time as it’s the warmest day of the year so far with lovely blue skies, bird song, the odd lawnmower in the distance and that promising smell of spring in the air. As I sat down on our rather weather-worn bench, increasingly becoming part of the hideous conifer hedge :(, I was aware of the most delicious scent radiating from the Mahonia in the corner. Mmmmmmm. And it was busy attracting the emerging bees as well, the second bumble bee I have seen today swooped into the garden, circuited three times and then landed.

I had the camera in hand as I had noticed several ladybirds sunning themselves on the old Achillea seed heads.

Ahhh spring, how happy you make me feel on days like these :)


Sarah’s garden

When we moved to our house in 2001, the fact that it had only a small triangular north-facing plot to the rear didn’t bother us too much. It only gets full sun (weather conditions permitting) for 6 weeks of the year. For this reason, and the fact that we are on a slope draining away excess rainfall from the agricultural surrounds, the previous house owner replaced the boggy grass with a 3-tiered patio. Functional, but unattractive!

I started going to City & Guilds gardening classes through Craven College that autumn and planned how to maximise a planting area. A landscaper came April 2002 to build my design. The one thing I would change is that I ordered reclaimed railway sleepers believing they would offer a good sustainable material to reuse. The landscaper didn’t warn me about the annual seeping of tar in hot weather – I just didn’t know they would do that although it makes sense. It’s killed quite a few plants around the edge and it also prevents me from sitting on the wood in the summer, or using it for weeding and replanting.

I’ve recently started collating my gardening photos and it’s interesting to see just how much the planting changes yearly. It’s a tiny plot, and given the shade and conditions, plants don’t often survive long, or need moving on when they get too big.

We lifted the flags and dug out the hardcore, with the help of a very kind friend!
The area for planting that gets the most sun
The reclaimed sleepers going in
The finished raised bed and wildlife pond
2 months later – the foliage taking over
June 2003 – a year later – more defined structure
Summer 2004 – the alpines already died off at the front, so replaced with impatiens, and the hebe taking over
May 2005 – the height starting to come with the lilac, crab apple, and kerria woven into the buddlia
May 2009 – having put a pathway in to access the back, with the bergenia really well established at the front
May 2010 – a notable difference in growth after a long, hard winter

Lords & Ladies at the end of the garden

When we had the raised bed put in to our small back garden, the year after we moved to our house, I was too impatient to stock the garden to carefully designed plans. This would have taken 2-3 years in terms of cost. Instead I inherited a lot of clump forming perennials from my Mum and Grandma’s gardens. One of these is the rather handsome Lords and Ladies (or Arum Maculatum). I knew that they are poisonous, but I was not designing a child-friendly garden at the time.

As time went on, I loved the glossy, variegated display that the leaves brought alongside the bare Lilac tree trunk in early spring and after a couple of years we saw the flowers and berry spikes too. By this time, we had little helpers in the garden, but our boys have both been very good at listening to important advice, such as leaving berries for birds, and we didn’t feel it necessary to dig up the more poisonous plants from the garden. That was, until I happened to catch a neighbour’s child about to pop a berry in his mouth from the Lords & Ladies I’d divided and replanted in with the potted Acer japonicum. I went out with the trowel there and then.

It took about 3 months for the Arum to grow back, like dandelions with renewed growth and vigour. Now seemingly pernicious, I eventually got around to googling why the Acer was not growing. We don’t get much sun in the back, so I realise that it is never going to flourish. I also read that Acer’s don’t do well when sharing root-space with other plants.

StrippingL&LFromAcerThe white strands are the Arum roots, tangled with the darker Acer roots

I finally got around to relieving the Acer of it’s companion last weekend, and I was surprised at the vigour of the rhizomes, they were dense and had grown into every crevice of the Acer’s roots. I wanted to be sure to remove every root piece, so I emptied the entire pot and picked all strands from the Acer, and gave it a ‘hair wash’ by running it under flowing water, just to be sure. It’s back in new organic compost now, I hope I have not caused undue damage. To complete a splash of spring colour, I have added narcissus bulbs and more shallow-rooted primula to keep cats out (I found some of their nasties in the old soil too).