My garden this weekend – 21st September 2014

Aster trinervius 'Stardust'

Aster trinervius ‘Stardust’

Unlike some parts of the country we have been lucky to have a couple of days rain towards the end of the week.  It was mostly light persistent rain but there were a few real downpours which have filled up the water butts and everything is looking fresh again.  Given that Saturday was a damp and overcast day I ‘gardened’ under cover repotting all the miniature bulbs which are stored in the greenhouse now.  There are already some signs of narcissus and oxalis appearing which makes me really happy.  The greenhouse is being given over to overwintering my various alpines so won’t have any heating this year; I will be storing the tender plants in the garage which has a good size window with a work-surface under it.

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I am finding that my tastes have been changing over the last year or so and I am becoming more focussed on certain plant groups which should hopefully mean that the garden looks less chaotic in the future! I am pleased with some of the plant combinations I have created this year.  At the moment this combination of crocosmia, witch hazel with its autumn leaves and the asters is making me smile – it is so vibrant.

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Today, due to my general need to sort, tidy and have a more cohesive approach today, with the sun shining, I decided to continue the clearing I started last weekend and tackle my nemesis – the compost heaps. As you can see my compost heaps are a far cry from the organised and tidy heaps we regularly see on Gardeners’ World but I would say to Monty, in my defence, that I am an amateur garden who has a full time demanding job and no time for turning and moving stuff from one heap to another.

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The two heaps nearest to you in the chaotic photo were emptied this spring, truly, but we never got around to emptying the one nearest the fence and I suspect its been a good year or so since we did and even then I don’t think its been emptied properly for years.  I only needed to remove a small amount of the top layer before I came across good quality compost.  Look how wonderfully friable it is – Monty would be impressed, well maybe!

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A couple of hours later and not only had I emptied the bin completely – yes me on my own, both my sons were out – but I had dismantled and removed the bin.  Some of the lower planks had rotted through which is hardly surprising.  The amount of compost was ridiculous.  I shovelled it down to the border below where the Acer was removed the other week and where I want to plant some new shrubs and add hellebores and spring bulbs.  The stones at the front of the area are a loose retaining wall which I need to redo once everything else is sorted.

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The height of the border has significantly increased but it will go down once it has had time to settle and been rained on plus I want to rake it down the border further once some of the perennials have died back. The compost is so thick here that you sink in it as you walk over it – this makes me very happy indeed.  You can also see that I have painted the fence alongside the space for the compost bin. I would have painted more except I could feel my muscles seizing up – I will do the rest as each bit is more accessible.  It all looks very smart but if you look the other way…

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You can see some of the chaos I have created in the process and left for now!  The bin needs rebuilding and will be shorter than before due to the rotten timbers.  I then need to fill it with a pile of stuff you can’t see and also tip the overflow from the other bins into it.  Then in a month or so when I have tidied and cut back more perennials I will empty out the other bins and use the compost to mulch them.

So for the second weekend on the trot I am tired but happy.  I think the weather is starting to turn so I will need to start moving tender plants under cover in the next week or so.  In the meantime I am researching shrubs for the border above and also peonies for somewhere else.

My garden this weekend – 9th March 2014

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Yellow describes this weekend – the sun has shone, the daffodils have bloomed and I have had two happy days gardening. Last weekend having only one day’s good weather I charged around the garden and the same was true yesterday but today, being greeted by a second sunny day the sense of panic gardening eased and I almost managed to potter!

2014_03090013As ever I had a ridiculous list of jobs I wanted to achieve this weekend.  The priorities were pruning the roses and emptying the second compost bin.  The drive for pruning the roses came from a talk last Monday at the local horticultural society  on roses.  The speaker advocated hard pruning at this time of year.  It turns out that despite my smallish garden I have acquired 9 roses, with most of them purchased in the last two years but it still didn’t take long to prune them.  As for the compost bin, as I said in my last post, my compost making is really slap dash.  I bought an extra bin this time last year but it ended up being filled with the turf we lifted to make the Big Border so my plan for being organised failed.  Anyway,  the first bin was emptied about a month ago but the bins were still overflowing and out of hand.  With my eldest son’s help we soon emptied the second bin – it was good to see that only a small layer on top was not composted down.  The contents were put on the Big Border as a thick mulch as you can see above (I must round off that angular corner on the path).

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After this arduous job was completed I spent the rest of the day weeding and tidying the 2014_03090020cottage garden border along the top of the wall.  It was pleasing to see the Delphinium shoots just beginning to nose through the soil.  As I have in past years, I took the opportunity to scatter some pre-emptive slug pellets.  I have found that doing this gives the plants a chance to get good strong shoots above ground and they seem to do well.  At my local HPS group they call this approach The Valentines Day Massacre because shoots often start to appear around Valentines Day!

I know that I planted out some peonies in the Big Border but as yet there are no signs of any emerging shoots.  However, the tree peony which has had a rough ride in recent years since I bought it, is rewarding me for planting it out last spring and feeding it by producing some lovely new shoots. Who knows this year it may flower again like it was when I bought it, I seem to remember it had a beautiful soft yellow flower.

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Today, I started off with a little planting.  First up a Grevillea victoriae in the front garden border to add a little evergreen colour and also hopefully some more of the wonderful exotic grevillea flowers which I love.  Then the last big plant move for a while – moving a large persicaria from near the workshop to the woodland border.  It was a bit of a beast but it is moved and well watered in which means I can start to sort out the area around the workshop soon.

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Next up I brought all the hardy succulents out of the garage where they have over wintered.  I stored them under cover, despite their hardiness, due to the plants being in small pots and I was worried they would freeze if left outside.  The majority of these plants are destined for the border in the front garden under the window along with the aloes etc.  They need a lot of tidying up but I think I will do that when I have decided what is going where.  In the meantime they have had a good water so they should perk up.

2014_03090042I had planned to sow more seeds but instead I decided that I needed to follow my resolution this year to be a better gardener and sort through the cold frames.  They are both full of pots of seeds, some sown a year ago, and seedlings from last year.  Some of the seedlings have died over winter.  I suspect that the compost I potted them up in was too damp which is why all my compost is now under cover.  I have decided I’m not allowed to sow any more seeds until I have sorted both cold frames out – not sure if I will stick to that.  The auriculas grown from seed two years ago were all repotted with fresh compost and last year’s auricula seedlings were also potted up.

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One cold frame has been sorted now and a start on the second.  I am thrilled to see I have peony seedlings from seed sown last year.  Peonies start by putting a root down first so it can be a good year before there is any sign of life above soil – patience is essential.

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The work was rounded off by sweeping up the patio and removing the last of the winter debris and mulching the roses with manure.

A completely satisfying and rewarding weekend – here’s hoping that next weekend will be as good.

The 20-30 Something Garden Guide – A Book Review

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Hells bells my shoddy compost making has been immortalised in print in my friend Dee’s new book - The 20-30 Something Garden Guide.

I met Dee last summer at the Garden Bloggers Spring Fling in San Francisco.  We seemed to click with a similar sense of humour so when she put out a plea for photos of compost heaps for her new book I was happy to help – strangely not many people have photos of their compost heaps, I can’t understand why not.

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This is Dee’s first book and an ambition she has had for a while.  The premise is that Dee acts as a garden coach for the reader, coaching them through their first few years of creating a garden, mainly for edibles.  I like the idea of a garden coach and I think it is something which is quite prevalent in the USA but to the best of my knowledge not here in the UK which is a real pity.

The tone of the book is chatty as if you are standing considering your plot with Dee by your side.  The pages are full of asides and stories to illustrate Dee’s points. We learn that Dee’s grandparents survived the Great Depression in the Dust Bowl through growing their own food, the battles US gardeners have had to be allowed to keep chicken in an urban setting and to plant their front gardens with edibles rather than grass.  These are of course all asides but they add colour and flavour to the text.

The book is basically divided into three garden plans. Starting with a balcony/patio garden with everything in pots, going on to a slightly larger space with raised beds and then ending up with a larger garden.  This isn’t a book that has pages devoted to this veg or fruit but various plants are discussed in relation to different projects.  There are sections on pests, diseases, deer, two-legged pests, watering, compost making etc.  She covers all the topics that we encounter time and again in the garden media such as community gardens and heirloom v hybrids but in an easily digestible format.

Despite the book being written primarily for a US audience it is completely transferable to the UK.  As the US has such a wide range of growing conditions, many far more extreme than anything we experience here in the UK, Dee hasn’t been very specific about timings of sowing etc but given more wide-ranging advice.

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Throughout the book you are: encouraged; reassured that all gardeners have failures; given little projects and ideas to keep you inspired – everything a new gardener needs to hear.  Unlike many How to Books this book does not take a superior tone, it does not use strange horticultural terms and lingo, it does not dictate rules about spacing, timing, planting etc, and most importantly it does not extol a council of perfection – hence the inclusion of my shoddy compost heaps!  Instead it encourages you, not only the 20-30 something in the title, to have a go.

This is a book I would have liked to have had by my side when I first started trying to grow veg.  Maybe instead of going for a large allotment straight away I would have followed Dee’s advice and started small and manageable with some pots on the patio.  Despite giving up my allotment (which is in the book) two years ago I am now reconsidering the possibility of growing some veg in pots on the patio.

I would recommend Dee’s book to anyone toying with starting to grow their own or to anyone with a friend or relative who they think might appreciate some words of encouragement and good advice.

 

My Garden This Weekend – 3rd March 2013

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This weekend saw a slight increase in temperature and on Saturday the sun was shining.  There was still a nip in the air so I decided that if I was going to spend some time out side I would need to do a strenuous job to keep myself warm.

As I have intimated before since the New Year I have a whole host of projects set up for the house and garden this year.  This is part of what has been christened ‘Operation Sort it Out’ (you have to say this in an East London accent like Terry from Minder if you know who I mean).  I have said before that the last three and half years I have been in a sort of fog and functioning just enough to get through work etc.  Now that I am learning to accept the loss of my sister better its as though my eyes have been opened and I have new energy to get on top of the garden and house. – there is 3 years of neglect to deal with.  Both the bathroom and dining room have been redecorated, cupboards and a bookcase sorted and clutter removed.  With the weather warming up I can now move my energies to the garden.  First up is sorting out the patio.  Our patio is quite narrow and has my small greenhouse off it.  There have also been two tall cold frames and these have made the patio feel more like a corridor with no real space to sit and enjoy the patio (as you can see below which was taken last September).

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I also wanted to get to grips with composting instead of continuing in my usual chaotic manner.  A third wooden bin has been ordered and yesterday I made myself empty out the plastic compost bin by the garage.  This is generally used for kitchen waste with the odd bit of garden rubbish.  I was pleased to discover that over two-thirds of the contents had decomposed into good compost albeit with lots of egg shells in it.  This has been wheel barrowed onto the front garden to improve the soil by the birch.  The old bin has been cleaned and is going to the my Mum’s allotment site so someone else can use it.  Hopefully in a couple of weeks time my eldest will have time to help me level the ground by the two wooden bins and put in the new bin.  I will then have a bank of three bins so no excuses for not doing it properly.

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With the plastic bin gome it meant that we could  re-jig the space by the back of the garage and move the two cold frames here.  It is quite compact but I think it will work well and the patio without the frames looks vast and quite bare.

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Today, feeling a little weary of all the work yesterday afternoon and recovering from an excessive dinner the night before due to my eldest taking me out for my birthday, I decided that something more gentle was in order.  I potted up all my dahlia tubers.  I have invested in six tubers from Sarah Raven.  This is a bit of a leap of faith for me as my dahlias were rubbish last year due to slug, rain and cold.  However not one to be detered, as part of the changes to the back garden, I am putting in a new border with the intention of using it for dahlias and other late summer plants.  I have chosen the following dahlias which I hope will provide  lots of sumptuous colour: Juliet, Bishop of Auckland, Classic Rosamunda, Sam Hopkins, Jowey  Mirella and Con Amore.  I also have some Castor Oil seedlings coming on in the greenhouse which should add to the effect – I hope.  Some Hymenocallis festalis  were also potted up which I am hoping will add a glorious scent to th greenhouse.

Finally, I started tidying the borders.  I  have been waiting what seems like ages to get into the garden and the list of jobs I want to do has grown and grown to the point where I just didn’t know where to start.  So I started at the top of the steps from the patio, weeding and tidying.  I had already pruned the roses during the week and also dug up the three cornus from the front garden so all in all good progress has been made with the projects – oh and the front grass got its first cut of the year.

While I pottered in the garden I discovered hyacinth beginning to form buds and daffodils flushed with yellow which I think will be in flower within the week.  Spring is definitely creeping up on us.

 

How not to make compost

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I posted earlier this week at the turn of the  year about my plans  for the garden for 2013 and how I wanted to be a better gardener.  An example of my rubbish horticultural practice is my compost bins.  The photo above was taken late November.  If you look through the bamboo on the left of the photograph you can see the top of the nearest bin.  By the beginning of this week the second bin, which sits alongside, was full to the same height and in danger of tipping over the fence into neighbour’s garden.   I think it is pretty fair to say they haven’t completely been emptied for probably two  years.  I went through a phase of taking garden rubbish to the allotment in order to build up compost there, which someone else is now benefitting from.  This was perfect excuse as it meant I could just turn a blind eye to the bins in the garden – but no longer

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If I was a good gardener I would have one bin for garden waste to rot down in while I filled the second and I have tried to do this but it only works if you empty the first bin out!

I realised four days ago that the situation couldn’t go on any longer and decided that I wasn’t allowed to do any more gardening until the compost bins had been sorted.  To access the first bin I had to drag the top pile of stuff off.  Some I managed to put on top of the  second bin and the rest had to be piled on the ground.  I was close to giving up at this point.  However, as a reward I discovered that once I reached the top of the wooden bin it was full of well-rotted compost.  I then spent a number of hours of the next 3 days shovelling it out and sieving it.  The sieved compost went on one of the borders as a mulch  and the woody stuff was put on the pile to go back in or used as a mulch under shrubs.

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Today my eldest long-suffering son offered to help as he knew my back was suffering and it was an awkward space to work in.  Having filled the emptied bin with the unrotted stuff and the top of the second bin we started emptying the second bin.  I decided not to sieve it as it wasn’t as full of woody stuff as the first and also I realised that the sieved compost I had used as a mulch had little structure and once it rained it would just  form a crust on the surface of the border.

Having his help made a huge difference as I had  got to the point of giving up.  The compost was amazingly good very broken down, sweet smell and full of bugs.  I used this bin’s worth to mulch the border where the pond had been.

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I lost count of the number of barrow loads of compost we had but  I reckon if I had bought the equivalent amount of green waste from the council I would have been looking at spending at least £30, if not more.

The area around the bins has been raked and tidied and I now have one almost empty bin to fill.  I have vowed that I shan’t let  this situation happen again and that I will empty the first bin as  soon as it looks ready and I will use  the two bins properly – honest.

Now there is just the third plastic bin by the garage to empty.