Product Review: Dalefoot Seed Compost


I don’t tend to review products as I feel that in order to provide a good review I need to test them properly and I am just too disorganised for that.  I can read a book, consider a plant but testing a product is more challenging.  However, I was rather tempted by the email asking me (some time ago – I told you I was disorganised) if I would consider review a new peat-free seed compost from Dalefoot Composts

Peat-free is one of those subjects that can really divide gardeners.  The alpine plant growers I know through the Alpine Garden Society tend to still rely on John Innes which is peat based.  However, there is a growing movement in horticulture that gardeners should stop their reliance on peat in composts.  I think the attraction of peat based composts is that they are good at retaining moisture whereas the majority of alternatives dry out very quickly and are hard to re-wet.  Personally I don’t have any strong views.  I do use John Innes for my bulbs and alpines and without guilt as I figure the amount I use is so small that it hardly makes an impact and really I would like to see the plant producers change their practice  across the board first.  When it comes to seeds and general potting up I sometimes go for peat free but it generally depends on what is available since there are a number of peat free brands that having used once I have no desire to use again.

Dalefoot Compost was particularly interesting to me since it is made of a combination of bracken and sheeps wool.  The bracken provides a high level of potash which is good for fruiting and flowering and the sheep wool provides nitrogen but also helps with water retention!  Interestingly, according to their website, rhubarb in Yorkshire is grown in wool!

Larkspur seedlings
Larkspur seedlings

I have to admit that I was anticipating a small bag of seed compost probably enough for a seed tray not a full size bag.  Unfortunately life got very busy at this point and it is only recently that I have got around to sowing some perennial seeds and so an opportunity to try out the compost became available.  I was surprised by the very open quality of the compost, I really dislike claggy compost as I feel the germinating seedlings have little chance of pushing through it. I sowed a range of perennials and annuals and  watered them well.  They went in the greenhouse and over the last three weeks, since sowing, I have only had to water them once a week and even then the seed trays haven’t completely dried out – this was very pleasing as I have struggled with before with peat-free compost and with germinating seeds you really don’t want to have the moisture of the compost changing radically.

Today, I was delighted to see that the Larkspur and Cerinthe had started to germinate and look good and strong.

Admittedly the compost is quite  expensive compared to the standard and well-known makes you can get in your local garden centre.  This is a bit of a stumbling block for me but it depends on how much compost you use and what your budget is like.  I suppose it comes down to that old adage ‘You pays your money, you take your choice’. However,  I will definitely consider using this compost again as I really like the texture of it and if peat based compost is going to be withdrawn from the market over the coming years then this would be an excellent alternative.


My garden this weekend – 26th August

Lemon Cheesecake

It’s been a long bank holiday weekend which theoretically means lots of gardening.  However, as I have intimated nearly every week for the last couple of months I keep feeling tired. (I should add at this point that I have been to the doctors and had various tests and the doctor says I am just working too hard with too much stress). This morning I thought I was coming down with a cold so we cancelled our planned trip to the local flea market and I read in bed – an unheard of luxury for me.  However, the cold symptoms seem to have gone and the general consensus is that I am just plain exhausted and now I don’t have to be anywhere or do anything for the next two weeks my body has said ‘enough – STOP!.  The trouble is that I’m not very good at the whole relaxing thing, it doesn’t come naturally to me.  As children we were always expected to be doing something, achieving something, time was not to be wasted.  I am therefore going to try very hard over the next two weeks to take things slowly – although the effort that will take might counteract the relaxing!!

Yesterday I finished clearing the first part of the Fence Border.  The ground is quite dry here and I definitely need to remove some of the overhanging branches from my neighbour’s Pieris as it isn’t helping at all.  I love the way the dark fence really exaggerates the colour of the rose.  I have no idea which rose this is as it was one of the few plants in the garden when we moved in but I think this is the best it has looked, possibly due to having all the clutter removed from around it. Once my eldest has run the electric cable along the fence to the workshop I can get on with the planting here which will focus on foliage.  I was pleased to have tackled this as its one of those areas of the garden I don’t really like and ignore.


Another uninspiring photo for the reader but for me it’s another ‘hoorah’ as again this is one of those areas I avoid in the garden.  The border is in the front garden and runs along in front of a beech hedge.  I widened it back in the Spring and it is planted with Alchemilla mollis and a variety of Bergenias.  As anyone who has grown beech will know their roots are quite fibrous and near the surface which makes it hard to really plant near.  I have weeded it and although it looks a little bare, due to the Alchemilla being cut back hard, I am very pleased and  have decided that the best approach for this border will be to let the Alchemilla spread and fill  it out.   It seems to like it here and the lime green flowers really work well with the new beech leaves earlier in the year.  So that’s two neglected areas tidied for now.


Finally to complete this blog post bereft of wonderful flowers but full of dull photographs here is one of some of the seedlings I have pricked out today.  As I said I find it impossible to sit and do nothing so I decided that pricking out and potting up seedlings would be a gentle occupation for an hour or so this afternoon.  I recently confessed to my blogging friend, Karen, that whilst I love sowing seeds I am rubbish at looking after the seedlings and I have realised that I am not really cut out to be a nursery-woman.  Not  only do I have  neglected borders, as above, but I have a cold frame of seedlings climbing out of their pots.  I am very pleased with the progress I have made – potting up lots of alpines, some Geraniums and Meconopsis.  I am determined that by the time I go back to work I will have gone through the cold frames and sorted everything out.

And if you are wondering why there is a photograph of cheesecake at the top of this post it’s because my youngest decided to make one and it was delicious.  It is an old family recipe, well he is the third generation to make  it, and knowing my mother the recipe is probably from the Jimmy Young cookbook!  It is incredibly easy to make  and never fails to please.  And of course in order to enjoy cheesecake you have to sit down with a drink and that is just what I need to do right now.



My garden this weekend – 21st July 2013


It continued hot and dry during the week and I and the plants were struggling. However, on Saturday the temperature dropped to around 24C and we had good cloud cover and a steady breeze which made life much happier.  Its amazing the difference a slightly lower temperature can make to your enthusiasm for gardening.  I weeded the border opposite the Big Border which hasn’t been given a name.  Despite being on the edge of the bog garden even last year when we had a lot of rain it wasn’t particularly wet and this year it really is dry.  However, I was pleased to discover that the phlox and monardas I planted late last year were doing well.  I had seen a lovely border of phlox and monardas at Stone House Cottage and wanted to create something similar. This is a start and I need to add to it. 2013_07210018logo

There is a growing orange hue in the Big Border from the Emilia javanica (Irish Poet) plants. They are half hardy annuals which I bought seed of from Sarah Raven late one night – I must stop this late night seed shopping as it really is distracting me from my main interests.  Saying that the Emilia is rather pretty and is adding colour low down amongst the dahlias.


The dahlias in the Big Border have started to flower and they couldn’t be more different to last year, so many flowers and lush growth.  I am really pleased.  However, if I was to show you a photograph of the far side of the Big Border, where the original cottage garden border was, you would see a different view altogether.  Here I have cut back all the Delphinium and other early flowering perennials and it has left the border looking very bare with large spaces revealed.  In the autumn I need to rearrange the plants across the whole of the new border to create a better effect.  In the meantime I am hoping that the rain we have forecast will come and moisten the soil and then I can plant some more annuals that I have been holding back.


I had forgotten that I had grown some Mina lobata from seed and planted them against the obelisk so it was a lovely surprise to spot these brightly coloured flowers although they don’t really complement the pink rose also growing there!

Today, Sunday, I woke to discover it had rained overnight.  The air was fresh and clean and although there hadn’t been enough rain to soak the soil the plants looked a little happier.  The rain had brought the Nigella hispanica ‘African Bride'(top photo) into flower.  I bought these from Chilterns, suckered in by the photograph on the seed catalogue and I am pleased that they have lived up to my expectations.  I have decided, almost, not to grow any annuals next year as I want to focus on other plants and they take up too much time and space before they are planted out.  However, I think I will let some of the annuals set seed and seed themselves around.


The hot weather has meant that I have been doing a lot of reading rather than gardening and I have been researching alpine houses, plunge beds, bulb frames etc which has to be honest left me a little confused but I think I have a plan now for next year.  I did spend some time sorting out the greenhouse and tied up the cucumber plants which had got a little out of hand over the last week.  I also spent a happy hour pricking out various South African seedlings which are now the only things, apart from the cucumbers, in the greenhouse.

I may not have done much gardening this week but I am getting a clearer idea of what I want to do in the garden in the next year and also more importantly the direction I want to go in which is quite exciting.

My First Plant

My son's cactus in the wonky clay pot
My son’s cactus in the wonky clay pot

It’s all a little hazy what my first plant was.  I have racked my brains and finally whilst staring at the snow and sipping another cup of tea, I really am drinking too much tea but I am so bored, I remembered that as a young child I was given a mini-greenhouse as a Christmas present.

Now don’t be overly impressed when I say mini greenhouse I don’t mean something that you can use outside.  No, this was what I suppose would be classed as a simple propagator now.  I have a memory of it looking like a greenhouse in shape but I don’t know how distorted that memory is.  Anyway, with this mini-greenhouse there were definitely some packets of seeds.  I can’t tell you what they were except one packet was some form of cactus seeds.

I sowed the seeds and a cactus germinated.  I expect there were also sunflowers and other child friendly seeds but I have long forgotten those.  It is now occurring to me that cactus was rather a strange thing to put in a child’s gardening kit or maybe they are in fact easy to germinate.  They certainly thrive on neglect so are ideal for small gardeners.

My cactus grew though not very large and always lurked in some corner of my bedroom.  I think I treated it a more of an ornament than a living thing I needed to care for.  Every so often, maybe once or twice a year, it was watered and then forgotten. In my teens the cactus progressed to living inside a clay pot I made at school – one of those wonky brown jobs.

I grew into an adult, got my first flat, the cactus moved in too – lurking in another corner.  I should say for clarification it was probably no more than 3 inches at any point.  I got married, I had children, I got divorced.  Still the cactus lived with me sometimes forgotten and dusty, sometimes watered and moved into a more obvious position when I felt guilty.  I moved house twice more, the cactus came too.

Then – I discovered gardening big time and sadly this was to be the demise of the cactus.  In a fit of guilt and greenfingered enthusiasm I decided to re-pot it. I bought cactus compost and carefully transplanted it.  It died.  After 30 years of neglect I  showed my cactus some tlc and it died.

That was my first plant but certainly not my last.  I may not be a fan of cactus but there are two more lurking in my house which my sons bought a few years back.  As before they get watered from time to time, they even flower and to be honest they need re-potting but I think I shall just ignore them for that bit longer.

This post has been written as a response to the first prompt from the Grow Write Guild, set up by You Grow Girl.  For more ‘My First Plant’ posts visit the prompt post


My Garden This Weekend – 10th March 2013


Any one would think we are heading towards Winter with the amount of time its possible to garden decreasing and decreasing rather than heading towards Spring.  Having been excited by a couple of warm days and thoughts of starting to harden off the perennial seedlings which were overwintering in the cold frame we are now back to bitterly cold and any hope of gardening dismissed.  The daffodils though are continuing regardless and have  started to flower which is a welcome sight.

I did spend a couple of hours in the greenhouse on Saturday re-jigging plants and moving things around so I can start seed sowing.  The cyclamen have been squirreled away under the staging and the pelargoniums have been brought up to the top of the staging so they get better light.  They have been watered and tidied up and next weekend I will give them a good feed to really start them off.

In my tidying up I discovered signs of a peony starting the germinate.  The label tells me that I sowed the seeds nearly a year  ago.  I know that peonies take a while to germinate and I read somewhere that they put their roots down well before showing any sign above ground so I tucked the pot away over winter and ignored it.  I don’t know which peony it is as it was in a packet of mixed peony seeds from either the RHS or the Hardy Plant Society seed distribution schemes.  The trillium seeds I  thought had germinated the other week are now looking to be very much like the real thing and I think, or I hope, that what has appeared in the meconopsis poppy seed tray are indeed meconopsis poppies and not some random weed seed that has blown in.

Having had a rejig and moved some plants into the garage until temperatures rise I found I did indeed have room to start seed sowing.  So for those of you interested in such things this is what I sowed this week:

Allium karataviense ‘Ivory Queen’
Cosmos ‘Purity’
Didiscus ‘Blue Lace’
Digitalis trojana
Gentiana sino-ornata
Geranium yeoi
Geranium yoshinoi
Linaria ‘Canon West’
Nemesia Masquerade
Nomocharis aperta
Primula x chunglenta
Saxifraga grisebachii (Macedonia)


I also pricked out the Ricinus seedlings.  These germinated within days when I sowed them in a propagator back in January but I hadn’t got as far as pricking them out and consequently lost 3 of the 6 – a lesson to learn.  But the biggest lesson I learnt was not taking into account the size of the seed when choosing a pot to sow them in.  Next time I will sow them in individual pots as I would beans or peas.  Finally  before I completely lost feeling in my fingers I potted up some Francoa which I grew from seed last year and which will be a good size to plant out in a month or so.

Sunday proved to be even colder and my fingers were frozen within 10 minutes when I went out to take some photographs so I retreated indoors so dream and wish for sunshine and warmer days.


Further confessions of a seedaholic


I am a self-confessed seedaholic.  I can’t resist, its hopeless.  My addiction is really tested in the winter months when its hard to get outside to gardening and I find myself wandering around the internet in the evenings.

This evening I have decided I need to sort through the box which I can barely close the lid on as I really need to start the serious seed sowing for the season.  Alpines and seeds which need cold to break their dormancy have all, more or less, been sown back in January.  When we had a few warmer days earlier this week I found myself peering at the seed trays and muttering words of encouragement which I have to admit are beginning to get more and more impatient.  So far the Allium are the only seeds to have germinated outside.  In the greenhouse I have castor oil seedlings that desperately need pricking out which is a job for the weekend.  But most of the other things I have sown in the propagator haven’t germinated yet and I wonder how much the low light levels are impacting as I am providing the right heat levels.   I took the precaution of not sowing all the tender seeds in one go and kept some back from each packet as I wasn’t sure if I was sowing the seeds too early.  It is all very fascinating and this year I am trying to keep proper records on a spreadsheet – no doubt I will get to April and forget to update it.

Lurking in my seed box are everyday annuals such as Cosmos and Rudbeckia which I can’t imagine a summer without.  Last year they didn’t do very well partly due to the seemingly never-ending rain but also because I was stretched too far with the allotment.  This year I am hoping with only the garden to focus on I will be a good gardener and look after my seedlings better – we shall see!  There are various perennials such as Delphinium, Linaria and Lysimachia which took my fancy late in the evening.  Oh and more  seeds from the Hardy Plant Society and Alpine Garden Society such as Aquilegia and Geraniums which don’t need cold to germinate.  Then there are the seeds from Chiltern Seeds that haven’t arrived yet, I discovered they had a pale yellow foxglove while I was reading something late at night and well once on the web-site all hope was lost.  Oh and I also succumb to some Barnhaven Primrose seeds as I have a growing fascination with Primula and there is just time to sow them.

But it’s not all ornamental, hidden amongst the packets of flowers are one or two vegetable seeds – some cucumbers for my eldest son. I have found in recent years they do better for me than tomatoes and I have read on several occasions that cucumbers and tomatoes are as different as chalk and cheese in their preferred growing conditions so its goodbye to tomatoes and blight and hello to the lovely cucumbers.  I also have some Carvelo Nero seeds as I want to grow them for winter eating and I think they will look quite stunning in the borders with the frost on them.

So now I must go and sort the packets out into some semblance of order.  I suspect I will then spend the evening wondering how on earth I am going to fit all the seed trays in the greenhouse and cold frames which are already full and it’s too cold to start hardening plants off.  Tough decisions will have to be made but hopefully the results in the summer will be worth it.  Plus if I get some of the alpines to germinate then maybe next year I can start to think about entering my club’s annual show which is at the start of April, who knows.

My Garden This Weekend – 24th February 2013


The cold has continued so there has been no real gardening done which is quite frustrating.  I have my fingers crossed that by next weekend, the first weekend in March and my birthday weekend that things will be warming up.

Despite the cold the weekend hasn’t been without its horticultural flavour.  Yesterday, I spent the majority of the day at my local Hardy Plant Society meeting.  This is the first time I have attended this group’s meetings mainly  because they have a day long meeting which isn’t great when you work all week and your weekends are precious.  However, this group’s meeting kept being mentioned to me and I discovered last weekend at the Galanthus event that people travel from Herefordshire, Gloucestershire and Worcestershire to attend the Western Counties meetings.  I was advised not to miss the discussion in the morning so ever one to follow advice, well at least once, I got there for 10:30 and left around 3:30 and I have a fab day.  I learnt lots including just how little I actually knew, bought plants, acquired free seeds and will tell you more later in the week.


Today I wrapped up warm and spent an hour in the garden.  The main task was to sort out the step-over apple trees.  I started them off this time last year and had been tying in the branches during the spring and early summer.  The ties looked awful, like a row of damp and frozen washing hanging forlornly on a washing line.  So today I removed all the ties, which was good as some of them were rubbing the branches.  I tied the branches in again with just one tie, or two at the most, this time done better and I also cut the upright canes down to the horizontals – something which had been irritating me for weeks when I looked out the living room window.

My second job was to sow some alpine seeds which arrived this week from Alplains in the USA.  I have sown Fritillaria pudica and Allium obtusum v. obtusum and placed them on the patio so they at least benefit from the continuing cold weather.


My eldest son meanwhile was taking out one of the branches of the inherited Prunus tree.  We inherited three trees with the garden and two of these are in the top left corner of the garden – a willow and a prunus.  Both far too large for their location and the willow has swamped the prunus over the years.  I probably should have the tree surgeons in to tackle the willow but access is awful and I suspect the cost would just be extortionate due to this.  Over the last year my son has started to tidy the trees up but taking out the branches he can reach and cutting back stumps from where our predecessors and neighbours have chopped branches off.  Of course, as a hobby wood turner, he has an alternative motive but he also cares about trees a lot and the state of ours irritates him hugely.  The branch that came out today was removed as it was out of balance with the rest of the tree and also grew over where I planted a new Sorbus last year.

So all in all some annoying task were achieved this weekend and ticked off the list and I have a lot of food for thought from the talk on Saturday,  Another good weekend.

My Garden this Week – 27th January 2013

Iris 'George'
Iris ‘George’

The garden has spent most of the week under several inches of snow.  Whilst this is boring to  look at the snow has insulated the emerging bulbs and perennials from the consistently low temperatures.  Come yesterday the temperatures lifted and returning home from a day out at Ashwood Nurseries I discovered my garden had returned to its greenish/brownish self.

I think there is something special about looking at the garden after snow has covered it for a week or more.  It is as if the emerging shoots are released in one go.  This morning I discovered my hellebores were starting to flower; tulip (yes there are a few not eaten by the badger), narcissus and snowdrops were shooting; new buds were appearing on various shrubs and shoots were starting to appear on some of my perennials.  Oh at the Fatsia that was looking pathetically limp over the last week is back to its former glory.


The garden is sodden and really I shouldn’t be walking on it especially having been told forcefully yesterday about the damage compaction does.  My excuse is that  I have waited two weeks to really get into the garden and every  where I walk is going to be dug up during this year or turned into paths so the damage is limited.  I spent a happy hour this morning checking the greenhouse and cold frames, opening them up to get some air and watering.  Delphinium were shooting in the cold frame and the alpine seeds are starting to germinate.  But despite the bright sun and the beautiful blue sky the wind was just too cold for any prolonged gardening.  My only other task was to scatter some slug pellets around the Ligularia shoots which already looked like they had been munched and to cover the plant with one of the lobster pot cloches to prevent the cat eating the pellets.

Hellebores ready for selling
Hellebores ready for selling

But I’m not down at this lack of gardening as I spent yesterday immersed in horticulture and it was fabulous.  I treated myself to a ticket for a lecture at Ashwood Nurseries by its owner John Massey.  I booked it well before Christmas, taking a gamble on the weather and it was touch and go on Friday whether it would be snowed off.  Luckily, well for me, the snow was further north.  I had chosen to go to the Hellebore lecture.  Ashwood is renown for its hellebore breeding programme which has been running for some 25 years.  We learnt that John Massey had started by talking to all the good breeders, including Helen Ballard who used to live not far from me.

There were about 40 of us attending the lecture which was held in a separate building adjacent to John’s house.  John went through how to cross-pollinate hellebores, which he says is very easy and I have to say I feel inspired to give it a go when I have a few more established.  He went through the various forms of hybrids they have breed over the years and then through all the species that exist and how their different qualities come through the breeding programme.  The talk was entertaining and incredibly informative.  I was surprised at the end of the talk when John offered to give us a tour of his garden  after we had adjourned for lunch – to good an opportunity to miss out on.

John Massey's winter garden
John Massey’s winter garden

After lunch and some plant buying we reconvened and spent a fascinating hour with John in his garden.  I learnt about pruning shrubs to give a transparent view of the garden by lifting the lower branches and removing crossing branches.  John talked about choosing a season for a border when planting it and focussing on that season, then to  look at adding interest in other seasons.  This is an approach I am trying to take to my garden since  I have tried borders with interest throughout the year and they could be termed by Christopher Lloyd as having measles they are so bitty.  Seeing the winter interest borders and even the summer borders has given me the confidence to go ahead with this approach.  The in season borders become the main focus and the out of season borders just the supporting act.

I was really bowled over by John’ winter border which had at least half a dozen if not ten witch hazels in it and it wasn’t that large a space.  John showed me how to keep the witch hazels in check by tip pruning whilst also letting them keep their natural shape.  Needless to say I ended up buying another witch hazel before I left the nursery – Aphrodite which smells divine.


Whilst I enjoyed the lecture the tour of John’s garden and the way he has developed the borders, added structure with various shrubs, trees and plants has really helped me to open  my eyes to the potential of the back garden and what I can achieve when I lift the lawn.  Not bad value for £12.50!!

My Garden This Week & Five Years of Blogging


Five years ago today I posted my first blog post.  I remember being very nervous about raising my head above the parapet and throwing my voice out into the world-wide web.  I love the internet with a passion.  I think it is just an amazing invention.  When I think about how easy it is to find out information, to research holidays, contact friends and family abroad compared with 22 years ago I find myself wondering how we managed.  My eldest son was born the same year the worldwide web was created in 1991 so I will always know how old it is.  I find it fascinating that my sons have never experienced life without that wealth of knowledge at their fingertips.

Well I needn’t have  worried as the last five years blogging have generally been great.  It took three posts before I had my first comments which was incredibly exciting and then I joined Blotanical and discovered a world of gardening blogs which has grown dramatically over the last five years.  I have met some great people, learnt so much, far more than I would have from the television or reading gardening books and magazines.  I have had my dreams and aspirations broaden and my thirst for knowledge encouraged.   I have embraced the world of social media in all its forms but for personal reasons first closed my Facebook account and more recently left Twitter.  Now my social media focus is on my blog, connecting with others – gardening and otherwise and continuing to share and learn.


Anniversary aside whats been happening in the garden this week? Well not a lot.  It has been cold and the week finished off with a blanket of snow somewhere around 6-7″ deep.  I said in my last post that I thought the back garden being covered in snow would help me see it with fresh eyes.  You see I have decided to get rid of the back lawn.  I have been thinking about it more and more for about a year now.  Two posts ago I reviewed Beautiful No Mow Lawns and I suppose having a quiet time garden wise has given me time to really think it through and consider what I would put there instead.  This still isn’t very clear but I have talked it through with my eldest son and we have agreed that we will be putting a path in along the top of the lawn – which is a natural footpath anyway, extending the steps from the patio (which was already on the to do list) and constructing some sort of level small seating area.  Because of the slope and the fact that we just never use the lawn I am struggling to see how I should put paths through this area so we have decided to lift the lawn and see how we naturally use the space once planting starts.  I have decided I want to include a small tree – maybe a crab apple or maybe a wedding cake tree but I need to do a lot of research to find something just right.  In the meantime the plan is to plant up where the lawn was with dahlias and castor oil plants and anything else that peaks late summer that takes my fancy.  This will give me more time to prepare the site and also time to think about what will work here.


Today my snowy gloom was lifted by the arrival of my seeds from the Hardy Plant Society distribution scheme.  I seem to have done well and appear to have received 19 of my 20 first choices.  Interestingly my second every blog post was about seeds; this time arriving from the Cottage Garden Society.  My passion for growing from seed hasn’t abated although it had been through a few troughs and I got side-tracked by growing vegetables for a couple of years.  Anyway, I am back to my first love and thrilled that some of the seeds I sowed last weekend in the new propagator have already germinated.  So far I have the following pushing through the compost:

Coleus Carefree Mixed
Caesalpinia gillesii ‘Bird of Paradise Shrub’
Pelargonium worcesterae
Ricinus comm impala ‘Castor Oil Plant’

So whilst it might be snowy and cold outside I have lots of plants to research and in particular dahlias to choose over the coming week.





My garden this week – 13/1/2013

Melianthus major
Melianthus major

I find this time of year challenging in the sense that I don’t see my garden Monday to Friday due to it being dark when I leave for and return from work.  I have no idea if the witch hazel is flowering, whether the snowdrops are emerging but also blessedly I have no idea what damage the tulip crazed badger has done.  This means that weekends, regardless of the weather, are very important to me.

I find myself scrutinising all the borders looking for changes, bulbs emerging, buds plumping up.  There is often a little squeak of joy as a special plant is spotted to be showing signs of life but at the moment the groans of disappear seem to outweigh them as I find more holes with the remains of tulip bulbs.  I am really going to have to rethink tulips next year, maybe plant them in plastic pots so I can plant them out in the border when they are substantial and less at risk from tulip junky badgers.


This morning the sun was shining and despite it being very chilly (3C/37F) I found myself quite distracted examining the bluebells and snowdrops pushing through the mulch I applied over the Christmas break. The snowdrops seem to be further behind than normal with hardly any sign of flowers, last year they were definitely in flower on the 15th January.  The bluebells seem to be ahead with lots of lush strong foliage.

Helleborus Argustifolius ‘Janet Starnes’
Helleborus Argustifolius ‘Janet Starnes’

The various hellebores are budding up well and are really becoming quite substantial clumps.  I have one, Helleborus argustifolius ‘Janet Starnes’ whose silvery foliage has more impact than its flower which is quite  nondescript. However, there seems to be more flowers on it this year so it has improved a little on previous years.  Don’t get me wrong the foliage is lovely, as you can see, but to me hellebores are really all about the flowers.

Hamamelis mollis 'Arnold Promise'
Hamamelis mollis ‘Arnold Promise’

The witch hazel (Hamamelis mollis ‘Arnold Promise’) is  just beginning to open its flowers.  I do hope  that  the flowers stay a while so I get a chance to enjoy it in its finery next weekend.  There are also Primulas in flower which does seem a little early and I can only assume the mild weather we had over Christmas and the start of the new year has contributed to this.  But my favourites are the Eranthis and Cyclamen coum which are really brightening up the spring/patio border at the moment.  I am thrilled that the Eranthis has four flowers on it this year.  Not a huge achievement you might think but it means it is beginning to spread finally.

I have been through a difficult patch in recent month, challenging mentally and emotionally and the garden and writing this blog about it has been a helpful distraction.  I am trying to be a better gardener as I have said before, to really focus on what I am doing and not be distracted by other peripheral things.  This focusing is beginning to really help.  My head is clearer and I am really seeing the garden and the plants in a more thoughtful way, instead of my previous rushing with a 101 other things crashing around in my head.  One of the things I am trying to do is to be more methodical in keeping a garden diary.  I originally started this blog as a garden diary but it soon digressed so now I have a journal which I write in during the evening after gardening.  It helps me sort the ideas that have occurred to me, to organise the ridiculous plant moving that always seems to plausible when first thought of, to make a note of things/plants I would like to try.  More importantly when I read back to earlier in the season I realise how much I have achieved or am reminded of some great idea that has slipped from my vague mind.  I know it seems old-fashioned but I find it more comforting than sitting typing on a laptop or scrolling back through blog posts.

The other thing I am attempting to do, and I suspect if past experience is anything to go on I will fail at, is to keep better record of what I sow and how.  I want to learn more about plants and how they grow and what environments they need etc, so I decided that I had to teach myself and to do that I need to keep records.  Also if I ever pluck up the courage to exhibit something in the distant future at an Alpine Garden Society show I need to be able to say when it was sown and where the seed came from.


Talking of seed sowing, this weekend it was the turn of the tender annuals to be sown.  I had some really really good news this week which has gone a long way to helping me overcome my demons and so I decided to treat myself to a new propagator.  This one is narrow so will fit on a windowsill.   Today I sowed a variety of tenders including hibiscus and ricinus.  My son was a little perplexed at the increasing amount of compost that I am sterilizing in the oven, it is certainly an interesting smell.  We tested the propagator for 24 hours with a greenhouse thermometer to see how hot it actually got and it has reached 25/28C which is just right. I only sowed half of each packet, keeping the second half for a later sowing if needed.


Outside I have decided to get another compost bin so I have a bank of three wooden ones and I am determined to rotate the compost properly and in a timely fashion!.  This will mean that I can get rid of the horrid ugly green plastic one which is currently near the back of the house.  This will then mean that I can move the two cold frames to behind the garage and free up the patio for somewhere to actually sit and have nice pots of flowers on – who’d a thought!!

So it might be cold, the ground might be frozen but I end the weekend feeling refreshed and connected with the garden; with things to research for next weekend and items to order – after all retail therapy, especially online, is always good for you!