The Greenhouse Review – April

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Here we are and the greenhouse is just as full as last month although the occupants have changed a little.  Some salvias and an agave which were being overwintered have now moved outside, although I will have to keep an eye on the temperatures.  The succulents and pelargoniums have been moved around to make room for seed trays and the remaining pots of bulbs have been moved out to the cold frames or outside completely.  Working in such a small space is a constant cycle of relocating plants to give those most in need the best conditions.

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I have brought out a heated propagator (the long thin one) to get some seeds which need warmer temperatures going.  These are all Mediterranean plants and I want to get them going asap to give them a long season of growth.  The other propagator is unheated but I am using it to give some of the seeds a little bit of an edge over the normal greenhouse conditions.  It seems to be working as I am starting to have to move out seeds sown only a week ago. I have sown a ludicrous amount of seeds this year especially as I was all for not bothering but it seems to be something deep in my psyche that I cannot avoid.  I should say these are all ornamental plants there are no vegetables or fruit seeds.

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The two small shelves that my sons bought for my birthday last year are in full use.  I have to be careful though as the top one gets  strong light and heat being so much closer to the roof and I am currently housing some of my smaller succulents up there.  The second shelf has a mixture of cuttings which are bulking up, tender bulbs and more seeds.

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This is the top level of the sand plunge whose purchase wasn’t my best decision last year.  You can see how much staging space I have lost at one end.  I can put some taller plants on the ground here but it is rather tight.  I am thinking of putting a plank across the end of the greenhouse between the two lots of staging to give more surface area.  I have got a potting bench which fits in here but it’s too low for me and gives me back ache so I use a work surface in the garage which has been put in at the right height.  I could get a small bit of staging to go in this space but then again it is very helpful to have the floor space for tall plants to overwinter and I have some southern hemisphere plants which should get quite tall and need space so it’s a case of coming up with temporary solutions as and when they are required.

As you can see pricking out has already started, the tray above is full of rudbeckia seedlings.  These of course add to the problem as one small seed tray quickly multiples up into larger module trays with seedlings, and then maybe pots.  I am quite good at being ruthless with seedlings.  I only prick out a tray of each as I know I don’t have room for 50 odd rudbeckia so I only prick out just more than I want.

 

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I have started to move some of the seedlings out into the cold frame to free up space and to start hardening them off.  These are generally hardy annuals so they should be fine with the lower temperatures.  I have two cold frames.  The one above used to be my mother’s and it didn’t have the middle shelf as I think it is meant to be for tomato plants.  Anyway this was wasted space for me so my son has built me a 3rd shelf.  Both cold frames have been full over winter with one year old perennial seedlings overwintering and pots of seeds sown last year or the year before waiting to germinate.  I always leave the pots of seeds of perennials for at least a year, two if I can, as many need cold to germinate and in my experience it doesn’t matter how much time you spend putting them in the fridge and taking them out it really doesn’t work, they need a good long cold snap with low temperatures.

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I have been making myself sort through the contents and bringing out the perennial seedlings to harden off completely before planting out.  Some will get repotted just to bulk them up and some have already found their way to new homes with my mother and aunt.  This is the part of growing plants from seed where I always fail.  I am pretty good at getting plants to germinate but when it comes to pricking out and then growing on, I tend to lose my way.  Plants fail due to a lack of the right conditions and then I become despondent so this year’s aim is to do better.

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The second cold frame is older but of the same style.  Its location by the garage is not ideal.  When the sun comes out like this week the compost on the top layer has a tendency to dry out quite quickly so I need to monitor the situation closely.  Then the lower shelves are very shady and seedlings don’t really benefit from the environment.  Having removed all the overwintering seedlings from here I am now using the lower space for the pots of seeds from over a year ago on the off-chance that some of them decide to germinate – two pots of fritillaries decided to do just that this week.  The top shelf is a real mess and is in need of sorting.  There are some newly sown seed trays but the majority of the rest are pots of bulb seedlings.  The yellow labels indicate that the seeds germinated in 2014 and so if they germinate again this year I will then pot them up into a bigger pot or prick them out.

So there is my complicated greenhouse operation early in April 2015.  Sometimes I think I should just go back to tomatoes it would be so much simpler!!

For more peaks into greenhouses visit Julie at Peonies and Posies

My Garden This Weekend – 8th March 2015

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What a wonderful weekend it has been.  Saturday was bright and sunny and warm enough for gardening in a T-shirt and for sitting and contemplating with a cuppa.  Luckily I bothered to check the weather forecast for a change and focussed all my energies on outside gardening jobs leaving Sunday for seed sowing and potting up which can be done under cover.

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I have dug out the cane domes and placed them over the new peonies that were planted over the last few weeks.  This will help me remember where they are until they put in an appearance and I also think the domes are rather charming.  I have added an Euphorbia x martinii ‘Ascot Rainbow’ to the border, you can just see it in the top left corner.  I had been looking for one having seen it in ‘The Layered Garden’ but having secured one at the local HPS group I started to wonder why I had been attracted to the plant.  It is rather a strange combination with yellow streaks on the foliage and pinky new growth – it was christened the ‘ugly plant’.  However, when I planted it out I was won over again as it works very well with the pink hellebores so maybe my first instinct was right – I knew where I wanted to plant it before I bought it.

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I am pleased with this bit of border now especially when the sun lights up the hellebores.  This border is ‘done’ for the time being while I wait to see how the plants fill out and then the plan is to try to add a little late summer colour.

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I’m thrilled that the Hepatica noblis are flowering although I have to admit that they were only bought last month – the test will be to see if they reappearing next year.  I have bought a couple more and I am planting them over the other side of the garden so hopefully at least one group will establish.  However, I also have some hepatica seeds germinating in the cold frame which were sown as fresh seeds last April.

2015_03080015I got myself in a bit of a pickle the other week when I finally got round to doing a soil test and discovered my soil was alkaline, which wasn’t great given I had just bought two small rhododendrons.  I have been dithering around about them and decided to plant them up in pots and display them by the shed.  Once they have flowered and it gets warmer in this part of the garden I will move them into the shadier part of the garden and make sure they are watered well so they produce buds for next year.

I haven’t been very good at using pots in the garden for some years now.  I used to be really good at baskets and summer bedding in pots but I seem to have lost the knack and I do actually prefer the more mono planted pots but with several grouped together.  So the plan is to do more of this to create seasonal displays.

Finally I found enough energy to remove an unnamed and unloved shrub growing near the compost bins which has never really done much and had got battered when the tree surgeons were throwing the large willow logs around.  It came out fairly easily which was perhaps part of its problem.

I had come up with a scheme for this small area the other week when I was having a tea break – its to the right of the bench.  After adding lots of green waste compost I planted white Digitalis, Epimedium perralchicum ‘Wisley’, some lily of the valley, and a Polypodium cambricum ‘Oakleyae’.  I also replanted some self-sown Pulmonaria.  There is a gap left in the middle of the planting for a Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ which is growing elsewhere but has needed a new home; I just need to wait for it to put in an appearance so I know where it is.

 

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It’s only a small area but it is a start to the style of planting I am trying to adopt with lots of texture and contrast and hopefully not much soil showing once the plants get going.  I plan to add some white honesty next year so I will need to remember to show honesty and white digitalis on an annual basis although I may get lucky and they might start to self sow.

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Sunday was grey and damp so I used the time to sort out the greenhouse.  The pots of bulbs which have finished flowering were moved out to the cold frames – I am regretting, a little, getting the plunge staging (not in the photo) as I haven’t enjoyed the pots of bulbs this winter and I want to plant them out in the garden.  I am toying with getting some sort of warming cable system for them to create a propagation unit but I am waiting to see how I get on this season before I invest more funds in something I might change my mind about.  There is a sorry tale associated with the empty space but I will share that later in the week when I join in the monthly greenhouse meme.

However, I am happy to say that my seed sowing mojo has returned with gusto and I have sowed quite a few packets today.  I found myself really enjoying the process.  I had forgotten how much I love that sense of anticipation. I also potted up a dozen aquilegia and dianthus and 3 primrose digitalis; some of them might even be good enough in a few weeks to sell at the local HPS group – wouldn’t that be good.

 

 

 

Product Review: Dalefoot Seed Compost

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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 – 24th February 2013

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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.

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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.

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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.

Confessions of a seed addict

It appears that I have acquired a reputation amongst my blogging and twitter friends of being a seed addict – goodness knows why!

Well if I’m honest I do get particularly excited at the potential that comes with each small packet of seeds.  In this day and age with soaring costs and tightening budgets there aren’t many things you can buy for a couple of pounds with the potential to provide so much enjoyment.

I find that I am constantly learning as I garden and understanding more and more how plants grow and what they need to grow well.  I understand  now that some seeds need cold to break seed dormancy; some need their seed coats broken, maybe by a light sanding; some need to be sown while fresh and some need light to germinate whilst others need darkness. Learning these lessons has improved my propagation skills and I no longer cautiously choose only the seed marked as ‘easy’ to try.

And for me that what it’s all about – trying and seeing what happens.  I do like a challenge.  So this year’s challenge is to try some more troublesome seeds such as strelitzia reginae.  These apparently need to be subjected to smoke in order to prompt germination and I have bought some from Fine Bush People in South Africa which comes complete with a smoke primer.  This is a slice of paper which is soaked with various things that simulate the chemical reaction the seed would experience if exposed to fire and smoke in the wild.  I love the seeds they are so cute with their orange fluffy heads.

Whilst I was wandering around Fine Bush’s website I decided to give their Healing Start Pack a go.  This contains seeds for aloe ferox, cotyledon orbiculata, geranium incanum, bulbine frutescens, leonotis leonurus.  What has impressed me so far with the seeds from Fine Bush is the information pack that comes with the seeds.  In the healing pack there is information about how to use each plant for medicinal reasons – something that really interests me.

And how did I end up on Fine Bush’s website.  It was all because I had some seeds for romneya coulteri and my research told me that they benefitted from smoke for germination.  It was surprisingly difficult to find smoke primers and in fact the only ones I found were from South Africa.  I don’t know if these will work for my romneya coulteri as they are from the US and therefore the smoke that would improve their germination rates derives from different plants to those growing in South Africa.  Never the mind we shall see what happens.  I intend to try half the seeds with the smoke primer and half without just to see how important it is.  The other downside of buying seeds from South Africa was that my credit card company thought my card had been stolen and put a freeze on it until I explained my seed addiction to them!

Sadly, despite my enthusiasm I have to wait a while for temperatures to warm up a bit before I start my sowing experiment.

Seeds & Cuttings A Plenty

There comes a point when you realise that there isn’t much more theory you can learn about something and the only way forward is to get hands on experience.  This realisation came to me yesterday when I attended an excellent propagation study day at Sally Gregson’s nursery in Somerset  organised by the WFGA

There were 9 of us on the study day  with varying amounts of knowledge regarding propagation but all keen and interested.  As with all the other WFGA events I have been to this year the women* who attend are all good fun, down to the earth people many of whom work in horticulture on a day-to-day basis.

We spent the morning learning about propagation from seed and I realised that actually I know quite a bit about this type of propagation but as Sally said we all learn something new every day we are involved in horticulture and that is what is so appealing.  For me it was two significant realisations.  Firstly seed from a named variety will not come true.  This seems perfectly obvious in hindsight and I knew that F1 hybrids don’t come true from seed but I hadn’t realised that named plants ie those with a name in between inverted commas don’t either.  They have to be propagated by clonal propagation.   The other realisation which I think was already half-formed in my head was that the natural  habitat of plants is very important to how you treat the seeds.  For example plants from the Mediterranean will not germinate in the heat of summer so there is no point sowing them in June/July in a hot greenhouse.  If you think about it when the plants scatter their seeds in the wild it is hot and dry and not ideal for germination so inhibitors exist in the seeds to prevent them germinating before the conditions are better.  I have copious notes about what seeds should be sown straight away, which need heat, which don’t etc.  I also have several envelopes of seeds collected from Sally’s garden (see photos).

In the afternoon we moved on to clonal propagation, which is when you propagate the plant through cuttings of some form.  The benefit of this type of propagation is that you are reproducing the parent plant exactly whereas the outcome from seeds can be quite variable.  I finally got to grips with the difference between softwood, semi-ripe and hardwood cuttings and it isn’t the mystery I thought it might be.  We  did most of our clonal propagation learning by walking around the garden and seeing what sort of cuttings would work on what, taking cuttings and then potting them up in the potting shed.  I bought some holly and pelargonium cuttings home.  I have taken cuttings before and had some success and I was surprised there wasn’t much else to it than I already sort of knew and the best way to learn is to experiment and see what works.

The overriding message I got from the study day was the idea of give it a go.  There is nothing to lose from trying a few cuttings than the cost of the pot and compost and a little time.  Some attendees expressed irritation when bought seeds didn’t come true to form but for me this is part of the entertainment of growing plants.  I suppose if I was to do this  as a living it would be more vexing when something didn’t come true and was unsaleable but I’m not there yet – but I will be one day but hopefully by then I will be more confident in propagation

*Whilst it is called Womens Farm and Garden Association men are welcome too and I have come across one so far attending a study day.

The photographs were all taken in Sally’s lovely garden.

Drive into the skid!!

A weekend of two halves this weekend.  The first half was full of the noise of motors revving and the second half of  flying  seed compost.

We had a great day on Saturday at Silverstone Race Course. It was my eldest’s birthday last weekend and one of his presents was learning to control a skidding car at Silverstone.  Having partaken of a very nice lunch at the White Lion in the village of Silverstone, voted the best pub in Northamptonshire and Buckinghamshire 2009, we took him to the registration point.  I was amazed at how many ‘petrol heads’ there were all waiting for their couple of hours of excitement.  Charging around a track in a flash car doesn’t appeal to me at all but obviously it does appeal to lots of other people.  I had taken my Mum & Dad and youngest with me so once the eldest was deposited we drove the rest of the  way around the outside of the track and went off to the nearest garden centre.  Are you surprised?  I hadn’t been able to find anything else for us to do close to the track and  watching  someone learning to control a car on a cradle isn’t exactly a good spectator sport.   So the best thing we could come up with was a garden centre after all there would be a cafe with tea/coffee and cake.  The garden centre was OK,  although they didn’t have a Fatsia which I was after and which surprised me as I thought they were quite  common plants.  However, the coffee shop was very nice with a range of coffees and warm scones and jam – yum.  The eldest emerged from his experience with a big grin on his face and a certificate.  Hopefully now I won’t need to worry about him so much when he is out and about in the ice and snow.

Today I decided that I would get on and sow some more seeds.  I have previously confessed  on here, several times, that I am a seedaholic. I have around 60 little packets of seeds to sow this year which is really ridiculous but I just  can’t resist them.  In my defence most of the packets only have 5 or  so seeds in them.  I spent a pleasant hour in the greenhouse sowing some of the seeds from the  Hardy Plant Society – lots of little pots all neat and tidy, labelled and lined up.  Then disaster struck I had been watering two seed trays in the kitchen, picked them up to go back out to the greenhouse and somehow managed to drop them both!!  One landed  on  top of the other, wet seed compost went up the back door and over the  floor and me. I  now have one seed tray instead of two and I have no idea whether any of the seeds survived, only time will tell.  On looking in the mirror I discovered I had seed compost all over my face which at least made me laugh and see the funny side.

Hopefully, by next weekend the weather will have warmed up and I might be able to do some of the chores that are long overdue in the garden.