I am still aching from my gardening session yesterday which shows either just how unfit I have got over the winter or that I took on more than I should have. It doesn’t matter though because despite the aches I am really pleased with what I achieved and it certainly clears your head and recharges you mentally before another week at work.
Not the most prepossessing photo but it signifies a good couple of hours work and much hauling of heavy and awkward objects. This is the space that was formally occupied by the Stipa gigantea and I was intent on improving the soil so I could plant out at least one of my new peonies. Having dug up the couple of bearded irises which had disappeared under the skirt of the grass and hadn’t flowered for years I added a bag of gravel and some sand to improve the drainage and break up the residual clay. This was then topped off with three bags of green waste compost from the local council which is like black gold. The initial planting has been done although its hardly obviously but I am assure you that a Peony Immaculata, Agapanthus ‘Alan Street’, Agapanthus ardernei hybrid and the original irises have all been planted. The Agapanthus had been growing in pots on the patio and overwintering in the garage. However I read somewhere that deciduous Agapanthus are generally hardy so I have taken a gamble and planted them out – fingers crossed. I now need to think about what additional planting is needed to fill in. I am thinking of Aquilegias as I have a number of plants to plant out but I also need something for late summer but without strappy leaves.
Before I added the compost etc to the border above I took a soil sample so I could test the PH. Now I know it is basic horticultural practice, what you could term gardening 101, but I realised the other day that I had never tested the soil in my garden. I planted a rhododendron from my last garden when we moved in and as it has done alright I had assumed the soil was acidic. My neighbour has a wonderful Pieris (top pic) in his garden which grows over my fence and is healthy and floriferous so knowing Pieris need acidic soil I don’t think my assumption was too daft. So I was completely flummoxed when the test showed the soil was alkaline (7.5). This is Ok for the bearded iris and means I don’t need to add lime to the soil but it got me wondering about the rest of the garden and the two rhododendrons I had recently bought. Three further tests later from different parts of the garden and the conclusion seems to be that the soil is alkaline this would explain why eranthis do so well in my garden but I am still perplexed as to why the Pieris looks so good and what to do with the two new rhododendrons!
Of course the obvious thing to do having spent a couple of hours digging and lugging heavy things is to empty a small greenhouse of the pots of bulbs (heavy with gravel), remove the overwintering tender plants from the garage and generally re-organise the whole lot. As I have been indecisive over the last 6 months or so I have gone off the idea of showing plants as I just do not have the time to ensure they are up to standard and I don’t need any more pressure or stress in my life at the moment as there is enough in my working life. This being so I decided that I really didn’t need to keep the pots of bulbs in the greenhouse especially as the likelihood of sustained long temperatures was past. I do like seeing the pots of alpines and bulbs in alpine houses but I have discovered that I get more of a feel good factor from a collection of tender plants and I was missing mine which had been banished to the garage.
The view above makes me much happier. I have still got some pots of bulbs in the greenhouse including some S. African ones which won’t do well outside and the Narcissus bulbocodium whose hardiness I’m not sure on and need to research. As the bulbs go over they will be moved to under the staging to dry out and rest. I will have to rejig things at some point in order to accommodate the hall hardy annuals I want to sow but I am OK for time at the moment.
As you can imagine after all that labouring I was quite exhausted but I was thrilled at what I had achieved. I have no plans at all for next weekend so weather permitting I will have two days to garden and hopefully the other two peonies will be planted.
This photograph represents a serious amongst of angst and irritation that I have experienced over the last few weeks.
I have had my small greenhouse (6′ x 4′) for probably 8 years and it has a small thermostatically controlled electric heater. Anyone who has read this blog for a while will know that I use the greenhouse extensively throughout the year. In recent years it has been home to a tender succulent collection which came through the recent cold winters, when we had temperatures down to -18C for days on end, unscathed.
I have never been tempted to use bubble-wrap. In fact the use of bubble-wrap seems so wrong to me as in my mind it could create condensation and this isn’t great for overwintering plants possibly leading to Botrytis cinerea. However, for some obscure reason I seem to have lost my ability to listen to my instincts, never a good thing, and I have started to doubt myself. Having changed things around in the greenhouse so I can display my alpine collection I have been feeling all at sea and somewhat bewildered about using a sand plunge. So no surprise that reading about others putting up bubble wrap I trotted off and bought a role along with the fiddly plastic widget things for attaching the plastic to the frame.
Now this blog might be called ‘The Patient Gardener” but I am not really a patient person especially when it comes to fiddly and tricky inanimate objects. Over two weekends I have carefully cut panels of the wrap and painstakingly attached them to the sides of the greenhouse which worked reasonably well. Then it was time for covering the roof. What a faff! It isn’t easy to hold up a sheet of bubble wrap while you try to push one of the tiny plastic widgets into the gully in the frame.
That was two weeks ago. In a matter of days the panels on the roof started to droop and it was clear that the clips that are meant to hold the wrap on the side bars were coming off. More time was spent using more clips to secure the panels better but No! the panels were intent on coming adrift which defeated the whole object. Then to make matters worse when I went in the greenhouse this weekend to sort out the problem I found myself in a slow cold shower. My theory about the condensation had proved to be right and there was a constant drip drip of cold water on to my alpines – disaster. The one thing alpines don’t like is winter wet so here I was creating an environment that was exactly what they, and to be honest me, didn’t like. I have also noticed that the light levels are reduced by the opaqueness of the wrap which isn’t what you want for plants growing and flowering over winter as it produces plants with long drawn out stems.
I have to be honest that at this point I had a complete sense of humour failure and the bubble wrap on the roof was removed in a matter of minutes with a lot of muttering and maybe a few profanities. What a complete waste of time and money. It has cost me more to buy the wrap and fixings than I would spend heating the greenhouse even in a very cold winter and I haven’t noticed any increase in the greenhouse’s temperature when the wrap was up.
I am so cross that I didn’t trust my instincts and allowed myself to be swayed by others’ views. I am sure that if you have a large greenhouse then bubble wrap will have an impact your heating bills which will no doubt be much higher than mine. I can also see it is good for partitioning off an area of the greenhouse which you want to keep warmer but it isn’t for me or my plants.
Interestingly on the day I had to dry my hair after getting so wet removing the loathed wrap I went to a lunch with my local Alpine Garden Society Committee and shared my tribulations with others. The general consensus was that bubble wrap wasn’t ideal for alpines and that it would be better if I cover the pots with fleece if the temperatures drop and if I am really concerned then I can put a layer of bubble wrap on top of the fleece to provide a little more protection.
The lesson learnt is to trust my instincts and not follow everyone else blindly if it doesn’t make sense to me.
A nice horticultural weekend has been had with yesterday spent at my HPS group meeting. As ever an excellent day was had with an interesting group discussion in the morning about what is looking good in gardens mainly chrysanthemums. A bit of plant buying over lunch including a rather nice Nerine ‘Kinn McIntosh’ and a Polyxena corimrosa to add to the bulb collection. I also was given a rather large Viburnum which has been planted today; I am always amazed at how generous gardeners are not just with plants but with knowledge as well.
The afternoon talk was on mistletoe which I have to admit I thought might be a little dull but as with the fungi talk last year it was completely fascinating. Our speaker, Jonathan Briggs, dispelled many myths about mistletoe, explained amongst other things how they were our only native white berry evergreen semi-parasitic plant, and how the real centre for mistletoe in this country is the Severn Valley including Herefordshire and Worcestershire. Hardly surprising given that there seems to be mistletoe everywhere around here but I don’t think I had really noticed how little there was elsewhere.
Despite the weather temperatures being warmer than normal for this time of year we have had really stormy skies and strong winds so some of the trees around the boundary are nearly bare of leaves and I need to start the big leaf collection. I am particularly keen on the autumn colour of the Prunus kojo-n0-mai which simply glows at the moment. Having planted the viburnum my focus today was planting the latest bulb purchases and making a decision about what should and shouldn’t be overwintered in the greenhouse. I have been procrastinating and dithering because I didn’t really know what winter conditions I should give my bulbs or some of the borderline hardy plants. Thanks to
the contributors on the Alpine Garden Society forum I have received advice and I plan to leave the greenhouse unheated and open for the winter unless the temperatures really drop in which case I can shut the door and if really bad turn the heater on. Research has made me decide to overwinter the tenders in the garage. The majority will be allowed to dry out but there are some that need a bit of moisture and I will put these to stand in saucers so I don’t flood the garage.
Having finally decided to dedicate the greenhouse to the bulbs I have relocated all the succulents and the bulbs have now taken over the whole space. There are also some primula marginata which I have a love/hate relationship with as I haven’t managed to get them to flower this year and some crusted saxifragas which are the nearest to alpine dome plants I plan to get.
I have even had a go at some cuttings which are in the propagator on the shelf. I know how to take cuttings but I never have much luck. Most of them, the fuschia and pomegranate, are from display stems brought to the club meeting yesterday but I have also had a go at some cuttings from Salvia ‘Phyllis Fancy’. I expect I am a bit late doing these but who knows they may take which would be fab. Actually I did manage to get the Malmaison carnation cutting I got from the club last year to take so who knows my luck might be changing. Moving all the pots around was quite time-consuming but at least its done now. I have a few succulents I want to dig up from the garden and overwinter under cover but the rest will be left in situ and get a thick mulch of used compost topped off with straw.
I have a couple of days off at the end of the week as hopefully, weather permitting, the tree surgeons are coming to tackle the weeping willow which swamps the top of the garden. This time next week, all things being equal, this view will be very different which I find exciting but also a little scary.
It has been some time since I featured the greenhouse. It may be small but I try to maximise the space as much as possible. The raised sand beds are beginning to bear fruit with the first bulbs flowering. Some crocus have been and gone but Galanthus peshmenii is looking quite lovely although I still struggle with the idea of snowdrops in October.
Sternbergia greuteriana is a new plant to me. I acquired the bulbs a year ago but this is the first time they have flowered. Whether the conditions of the sand bed have helped or whether they just needed a little more time I don’t know. I quite like Sternbergia, some people call them yellow crocus but they are actually in the Amaryllidaceae family.
The second Oxalis is flowering. This is my favourite Oxalis and was the reason I started to acquire them. I adore the sugar-cane markings on the flowers. Hopefully the plants will bulk up and produce more foliage and a more busy plant with lots of flower.
As you can see there are more bulbs to follow although I think it will be some time before the narcissus are in flower. As the plants in these pots finish I will move them down below the bench to rest and replace them with the next pots with emerging shoots. It isn’t ideal but its the best I can do with the space I have.
I am currently storing some of the tender perennials on the floor space in the greenhouse. I haven’t thought very far ahead but I think I will be moving them into the garage soon. I am thrilled with the brugmansia as it is flowering for the second time and far better than its first flowering. I need to research how to overwinter it – should I bring it in to the house or do I cut it back and store it in the garage? I also need to research the bergenias.
Finally the other side of the greenhouse which is full of the tender perennials. Again I need to work out which ones will be OK in the cold greenhouse and which need a little more warmth from the garage. I am also toying with the idea of putting some bubblewrap around the lower part of the staging to create a sort of cocoon in which I can store some of the tender plants.
As a gardener who uses their greenhouse for more than tomatoes and annual seedlings I was interested to receive a review copy of The Greenhouse Gardener’s Manual by Roger Marshall from Timber Press. There aren’t many books on greenhouse gardening and in fact they rarely appear in the media so I thought it would be interesting to see if the author brought a different approach.
The book is fairly accessible and covers all the aspects of having a greenhouse you would expect – different types, where to locate, how to heat, ventilate, and water and recommendations on what equipment or layout you should consider. I have one quibble with the recommendations on staging which proposes slatted benches as the best option. I dispute this as my experience is that you have to be very careful what you put under the slats. If like me you have trays of seedlings you are trying to accommodate in a tiny space then having an area where any seed trays will be subject to large plops of runoff from the shelf above is not great. Although, of course, the author has a very large greenhouse so this isn’t such a consideration.
However what I found more interesting than the run of the mill setting up your greenhouse stuff and the propagation advice was the sections on the different uses you can put your greenhouse to. There is the expected vegetable and fruit growing uses but also a significant section on using your space for growing orchids which is fascinating especially to someone, like me, who is incapable of making even Moth Orchids reflower. Also interesting were the cactus and succulents and bromeliads. I wasn’t so convinced by the section on herbs as I was surprised at the idea of growing rosemary and bay in the greenhouse but I suppose if you are in certain parts of the US with very long winters then this might be more normal to you. What was very unusual and unexpected was a section on growing plants without soil, hydroponics, which goes into enough detail to give any one interested in this a good start.
The section that really interested me were the ornamentals, either flower or foliage, and a good selection were included ranging from bulbs through to shrubs such as Gardenias. The range of plants included and the advice on looking after them under glass would make this an interesting book for someone who wanted to use their conservatory for plants.
As you would expect there is a section at the back of the book on pests and diseases, some of which are illustrated although personally I would l have liked to see more photographs of these as they are quite hard to identify for the novice.
Overall I think this is a good book for someone who is thinking about investing in a greenhouse but even more so for someone who already has a greenhouse which seems to sit empty for a significant part of the year when the tomatoes have gone over. The range and diversity of plants that can be grown and give you something to enjoy during the winter, whether edible or ornamental, is often underestimated. The Greenhouse Gardener’s Manual certainly makes you consider alternatives and is well worth a read.
Dahlia Con Amore
My friend Victoria has recently said on her blog it is good to get away from your garden for a week or so as when you return you see it with fresh eyes. I think she is right. Having been away from home for a week and then feeling unwell when I finally got into the garden, even though it was ridiculously hot and not my kind of weather, I didn’t feel the same dis-interest as I did a month ago. I do find this time of year hard in the garden. I am more of a do-er so I prefer the Spring and Autumn when there are lots to do; I even don’t mind Winter as I can potter in the greenhouse or make plans. But Summer I struggle with. As I sit in the garden I seem to only see what needs doing and what isn’t working well and this is always a sign that I need to get away for a while.
While I have been away the dahlia have started to flower. This year they are all planted out in large pots as I filled their previous home with other plants. They seem to be doing very well this year, even better than last year. I have been following John Massey, of Ashwood Nurseries, advice and putting a little feed in whenever I water the pots.
It has been too hot to do much but I am known in my family for fidgeting so I decided to give the patio table and chairs a make-over. They, like so much else, has been neglected for the last year or two and were looking pale and dry. So I have sanded them down and applied numerous coats of teak oil. It was satisfying to do as the results are quite quick and I do like the smell of teak oil! The wood has been given a new lease of life and looks, in my opinion, better than when I first bought them, as you can see the grain etc better.
So now the table has had a face lift the Table of Delights has been re-instated. I have to admit that it was for most of Spring covered in seed trays but these are now all sorted or accommodated elsewhere and I am going to try very hard to keep it looking nice! The current residents are: Eucomis autumalis, Aeonium ‘Cornish Tribute’ and Allium flavum.
I’m conscious that I need to start re-potting my bulb collection but in order to do this I needed to sort out the chaos that had taken over part of the greenhouse. This morning when it was cool this seemed like a good idea but this afternoon the temperatures have soared again much higher than they forecast. Anyway, I have soldiered on and I am pleased with the result. A number of aloe seedlings and other smaller succulents, surplus to requirement, have been potted up ready to donate to the local horticultural show in a couple of weeks. All the other greenhouse residents have had a once over and where needed repotted – some borderline plants have been planted out and told they need to toughen up and take their chances!!
The result has cheered me up and I feel as though I have some handle on things – well that is until I go up the garden and see the various brambles that need to come out and the dead acer that needs removing, and….. well you could go on for ever but this is what I enjoy about gardening; there is always something new to interest or challenge you.
I decided finally the other week that I wanted to use the greenhouse more for my alpine and bulbs. I have lots of pots of bulbs and they are currently stored under the staging in the greenhouse with the aim of them drying out over the summer. However, I have read that plunging the pots in sand is very beneficial. It is particularly good for plants that don’t like their roots too wet.
The new staging arrived the other day sooner than I expected which meant a chaotic couple of hours which the staging was assembled and plants moved around. I hadn’t really thought about such simple things as how you fill the plunges but strangely it turned out to be more involved than I had thought.
If you just tip the sand into the plunge it really doesn’t work and you don’t get the neat appearance you see in alpine houses. It turns out you have to fill the plunge with a few inches of sand and then compact it with something like a brick. Then you carry on doing this layer by layer until the plunge is full. This makes the sand bind together and means that when you cut the holes out for the pots the sand doesn’t collapse. Having typed this it does sound a little OCD but it does work and it is strangely satisfying!
I have struggled to find information about setting up a plunge bed; no doubt the audience is a little limited. However, I came across a wonderful resource on the Alpine Garden Society website – The Wisley Diary. This was written from 2007 – 2012 by Paul Cumbleton the head of the Alpine section at Wisley. Of course reading such articles is like signing up to the council of perfection but I suppose it’s a starting point. Paul advocated laying out your pots in advance so they aren’t crowded and it looks neat. Anyway, it was quite entertaining a bit like making sand castles but in reverse.
Of course having filled the plunge with my alpines I realised that part of the plan was to accommodate the pots of bulbs! So these are still in the trays under the staging but the plan is now to move them into the plunge as they are coming into flower.
I have no idea if I am doing things right but it seems to me that the only way to learn is to have a go and see what happens. Seeing the plunge full of alpines makes me smile and I have a suspicion that this is the beginning of a slippery slope. The only obstacle is space for more frames, although there is a plan fermenting in my mind.