Category Archives: Penny’s gardening blog

Penny’s gardening blog….

Hello Everyone

Oops, it’s been over a month since I wrote my last blog so I apologize for this lapse and all I can say is that I have been far too busy working and also having a jolly good time too. So before I launch into gardening tips, photos etc, a little bit about ….

My jolly good time

I went to the most amazing festival, just inside Cornwall called The Port Eliot Festival or the Lit fest. It is held on the most beautiful estate and has a rare mix of literary guests, fashion designers, brilliant bands and DJ’s, fantastic food, drinks, a flower show and lots, lots more.  Take a look at the gallery of photos on their website : http://www.porteliotfestival.com/

The highlights for me were:

  • Coming across an acoustic band of young men called Maia the Band performing along the estuary skirting the estate, http://www.youtube.com/user/maiatheband
  • Watching another quite new band called Toy – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dcQ2nXDvWDY  who were amazing and am sure are going to be really big
  • Meeting a charming man with a v, v, gsoh from Ottery st Mary, called Sebastian, who took me on a midnight walk and showed me the maze on the estate. Unfortunately I lost him on the dance floor later on (or maybe he suddenly got the fear and did a runner, poor thing!!). Anyway, whatever hey! So thank you Sebastian from Ottery, your tour has made me think about mazes in a completely new light and maybe sometime I will write a blog dedicated to them alone. So much fun has been had. Now back to work….

Cut Flowers

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Monarch mixed cut flowers (in our Riverford Boxes to Grow) 

As you know I am an organic flower grower (as well as a gardener, a gardening blogger and a Riverford  Farm Tour guide). The terrible weather we have had this season has made life very difficult for anyone attempting to grow anything. I can’t remember worse conditions for all the years I have been a grower.

Over the last couple of months my flowers have finally started producing beautiful blooms which need regular cutting, conditioning, bunching and delivering to Riverford’s Field Kitchen restaurant, Riverford Farm Shop and to various parties and weddings that have booked me. So, my life is quite hectic as you can imagine.

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 Snapdragon, Antirrhinum ‘bizarre hybrid’ –

this variety has unusual speckled markings on the blooms

Tips on cropping your flowers from your cutting garden

Some of you have had our cutting garden ‘grow your own’ kit this year so here are some tips on cropping your flowers and how to care for them:-

Cutting your flowers:-

  • It is best to crop your flowers either first thing in the morning, before it gets too hot, or later in the evening when its cooling down. If you cut them in the midday sun they will wilt before you get a chance to put them in water.
  • Always cut your flowers at an angle, allowing a bigger surface area to take up water. The first flowers such as Cosmos, Rudbeckia or sundflowers for instance, may be fairly short. Cut the central flower to some lower side shoot. These will lengthen and so your next stems should be longer.
  • Put them in a bucket of water in the shade and give them a drink.
  • Some flowers will wilt unless you condition them.  Euphorbias are a classic example. The milky sap that is produced when you cut them blocks the stems and stops the water from being taken up. It is also highly allergic. The answer is to sear the stem ends in hot boiled water for twenty seconds, then refresh them in cold water again. This method is useful and worth a try with any wilting flowers.
  • All the leaves that are going to be below the water line of your vase must be stripped off. If you don’t do this the leaves start to rot in the water, the water becomes rather a smelly bacterial soup and will shorten the life of your flowers.
  • Refreshing the water every day or two will also help you get a longer life out of your flowers.
  • Regular picking is essential if you want your flowers to carry on producing. If you leave them to go to seed the plant will think that this is what you want and put all its energy into producing seeds rather than flowers.

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Zinnias

A few gardening tips:-

  • Dead head flowering plants such as Dahlias and Cosmos to encourage more flower production.
  • Cut back any perennials and annuals that are over and looking messy, being mindful about leaving those seed heads that are strong enough to withstand the wet rain and wind. These can look fabulous in winter when Jack Frost visits and covers them in a layer of sparkly, diamonté like crystals.
  • Feed any container grown plants. I have a patio full of pots, tanks and old metal baths. I plant these up in May with pelargoniums, scented geraniums, morning glory, salvia and all sorts. Any thing grown in pots will need a good feed every couple of weeks to keep them healthy and looking good through out the season.

In the next few weeks I will be writing about –

Riverford Farm Tours – I will show you in photo form some of our hot house crops growing in our relatively new 3 acre polytunnel.  With the kind permission of his mum and dad, here is a picture of one of my recent Riverford Farm Tour customers, Benji:

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Benji was clearly not that interested in the statistics I was giving them on the tomato crops and yields etc and was just champing at the bit to get back to the tractor, which is so obviously his passion at the mo. I love the fact that he really does look like a proper grumpy Devon farmer who is really hacked off with the awful weather we’ve been subjected to this season.

I’ll also be writing about the Herb Garden in front of the Riverford Field Kitchen which I designed and planted up over seven years ago. It’s worth a whole blog on it’s own too.

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Riverford Field Kitchen herb garden

I also have more stunning photos of plants and planting combinations in my own garden and some gardens I tend and look after, to share with you and inspire you.  Here’s are a couple of pics below, keep following my blogs for more.

Late summer flowering plants:-

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In the foreground we have Rudbeckia goldsturm, crocosmia in the

middle and cotinus in the background

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Photo Verbena bonariensis with Stipa gigantea behind

In Penny’s gardening blog today – gardening tips for longer-lasting good looks

In today’s blog I will briefly touch on the weather, cheer you up with some garden photos, give you tips on prolonging your garden’s good looks and suggestions for plants to use for this.

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Sedum, lavender, sisyrinchium and stipa gigantea flourishing

The Weather

I have nothing to say. It’s boring and relentless and I am sick to my dwindling top teeth of moaning about it… so, in a cup half full (or actually overflowing) sort of approach, the continual onslaught of rain has been jolly good for our shrubs, trees and perennials. They are loving it. After a pretty dry couple of years, I have observed these plants lapping it up. Everything has shot up to its full height and more. This season, I’ve seen Delphiniums as tall as me (just under six foot).  Last year they were more like four and a half feet tall. The rain can damage this growth, weighing it down and with a little wind can cause havoc, so staking is essential in these circumstances.

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 Sweet rocket, iris, feverfew and euphorbia at the gardens in Riverford

Gardening tips for longer-lasting good looks

For the last couple of weeks I have been stripping out and cutting back various plants that are over, to make space for plants that will flower over the next few months. In the garden pictured below we let campions, forget me nots, feverfews, valerian officinalis, comfreys, euphorbias and sweet rockets seed freely. In the following year they will give a great early summer show and when inter-planted with other perennials, roses, shrubs etc they give a really natural look.

When they are over I cut back and pull some out, leaving a few to go to seed, and use these new spaces to fill with some later flowering plants, suggestions below:

Plant  Suggestions

Some of my favorite annuals are:

Nicotiana Sensation: A lovely scented mix of pinks, purples and whites. Nicotiana lime green are fabulous and look great next to bright pinks, reds and orange plants.  Nicotiana affinnis  are white and the most heavily scented.

Having sowed these a little later than usual I am now inter-planting them in gaps I have created. They look fabulous and scent the whole garden especially in the evening.  Nicotiana mutabilis grows to a statuesque 3-4 foot and have a strange but pleasant sort of bubble gum fragrance.

Cosmos: Another annual fave of mine and if picked regularly, will carry on flowering til the first autumn frosts. I love the various bright pinks and whites of nicotiana ‘sensation mixed’ but also think ‘candy stripe’ a beautiful variety,  pale pinks with a white stripe.

Dahlias: I have been rather worried about myself the last few years as I have taken to liking dahlias, after being really rather snobby about them for the last 25 years!! What is going on?  Maybe it’s an age thing and the next step will be carnations. God forbid! The thing is, they really are a fantastic late flowerer and more often than not will perform for many years if the tubers don’t rot over winter. They come in all sorts of colours and shapes and sizes. My favourites are the deep pinks, maroons and reds and planted up with some lime green nicotianas in front, well all I can say is, its heaven.

Verbena bonariensis: Another late flowering perennial I love. Its little purple flowers sit on top of long see-through stems and I plant lots of this in any gaps available.

Strobilanthes atropurpurea: An excellent perennial that grows to just over a metre, this plant freely bears curved and hooded indigo blue or purple flowers above a mound of leafy stems in late summer. It’s not that commonly grown, but I found it at our local plant nursery, Hill House Nursery in Landscove (www.hillhousenursery.co.uk ).  This nursery run by Ray, and his son Matthew, is an amazing place to visit with a great café and lovely gardens.  It has a classy selection of trees, shrubs, roses, perennials, annuals, herbs, geraniums and well…. I could go on and on. The great thing about Hill House Nursery is the staff have excellent plant knowledge and are very helpful, and they stock many plants you will rarely see in most garden centres.  I believe they have an online shop too. Its worth a visit if you are in the area.

Some other perennials to consider for a later performance are Rudbeckia, Helenium, Michaelmas daisies, Japanese anemones and Sedum.

Here are some garden photos from June to cheer you up:

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 Sambucus nigra, box, roses

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Yew, roses, euphorbia and phlomis

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Acanthus and cotinus blooming in the garden

slugs and snails

In my gardening blog today I will be giving some advice to the gardeners among you on how to protect your plants from slugs and snails. In the extraordinarily wet weather we have all been subjected to over the last few weeks, you may have been experiencing problems with them munching away on your newly planted seedlings. Seedlings are particularly susceptible to damage as the tender leaves are attractive to these predators. This is very disheartening and tricky to overcome at the best of times, but it is essential to be on the war path and be proactive in your approach, otherwise you may find that many of your seedlings and young plants will simply disappear.

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slugs and snails

Slugs and snails are related, and are biologically known as gastropods. They are hermaphrodites being both male and female, and each one can produce up to 500 eggs over a season. Their life span can be up to five years if they’re lucky. They feed on plant material and, as I said before, are particularly fond of young fresh tender growth so any seedlings you plant out are in danger of being devoured by these pests. They tend to come out to feed at night or during cloudy wet spells of weather. They like to shelter under leaves, stones, wood, plastic and the like. They don’t like open, dry, well cultivated, weed free ground.

slug pellets

Conventional slug pellets are made with metaldehyde or methiocarb and are not to be encouraged as they cause harm to other wildlife in our gardens, and also leave chemical deposits in your soil. Birds, beetles, hedgehogs, toads and frogs are all gardener’s friends and helpers, and will happily dine on these slimy creatures, helping to keep their numbers down and hence allowing you to successfully grow your own veg, flowers, and fruit. These slug pellets will kill the slug or snail and then the bird, beetle or toad etc that may eat it. It really is an absolute no-no.

ferric phosphate based pellets

These pellets are made up of iron phosphate and cause no harm to other wildlife and are Soil Association approved, although organic growers still need to get permission to use them.

nematodes

This is a biological control for use against slugs, but it is not effective against snails. It is a microscopic sort of worm known as Phasmarhabditis hermaphrodita, and is a native species living in our soils already but not in quite enough numbers to really control your slugs and snails. Once introduced they will help protect your crops for up to six weeks. They need the ground to be damp to survive so a certain amount of watering may need to be done to help them.

home remedies

There are all sorts of methods that people adopt to try and overcome the problem of slugs and snails, some of which I have listed below. There is loads of info on the web so take a look and try some out for yourself. Primarily, take a look at your garden and discover where they like to hang out. Physical removal is a good start and tidying up your garden, clearing debris and objects where they congregate is key. Getting the balance right is hard though as a completely weed free, spotless garden doesn’t provide a habitat required to encourage the biodiversity that is essential to garden organically.
Find out more about the home remedies and have some fun. Here are more ideas to Google: salt, traps, eggshells, coarse sand, bran, copper bands, seaweed squashing, vinegar, beer traps, culling.

Penny’s Gardening Blog- flower box to grow

In my Gardening Blog today I will be wittering on about the weather as usual as well as warning those of you who have ordered a flower box to grow to get ready, showing off about my tractor driving skills and treating you to some more photos of beautiful garden shots.

The Weather

We have all been enjoying some proper hot sunny days the last couple of weeks and oh boy was it was needed. All around me I can see the effect on growth in my field, the herb bed at the field kitchen, the toms and cucs in our polytunnels and well just everywhere around. It fills me with joy I have to say.

 The Herb Garden at Riverfords restaurant , The Field Kitchen.

However…..I feel the odd heavy shower at night would improve life even more. Like the one we in Buckfastleigh had last Saturday night at 4 or 5 in the morning (officially Sunday). It was a proper deluge, a downpour and was so loud that it woke me up. I was delighted as I had just planted my first seedlings in my flower field that very morning. What luck! Obviously I had watered them in already but this extra dousing was just the ticket. In previous years I have planted up my field in the first couple of weeks of April. This spring has been unusually cold and then rained for ages and no one could get on the land to cultivate-hence a late start.

Flower Box To Grow

These cut flower kits are being delivered from next week. The plants have arrived and are looking great. A couple of varieties haven’t germinated very well so we have a bit of substitution here and there but all in all, it’s looking good. Having originally worried that this kit was going out too late in the season it turns out that what with the weather we’ve had, it’s really an ideal time after all. So if you have a box arriving, spend some time this bank holiday weekend preparing your site for your cutting garden kit.

If you haven’t already dug in some manure, do so now or chicken pellets will also do fine.  Flowers don’t need as much nutrients as veg so they say. You can end up with too much leaf and not so many blooms but I am not totally convinced. The years I have had muck spread before cultivation everything grew lovely and tall and produced buckets and buckets of flowers. Don’t over do it but a couple of sacks of well rotted manure chucked about ‘never did no one no harm’ as we say down here.

Tours

This week I have given my first farm tours at Riverford. I have been training over the last few months and to start with was very wary about driving a massive tractor, pulling an extremely long trailer behind it. But I have to say, not wanting to big myself up or anything; I am a dab hand at it now. I can back it up too, round quite awkward corners where pallets have been strategically placed in the way, to really put me through my paces!! Some of the male staff were pretty skeptical to begin with but I am pleased to say they were wrong. I am pretty good at it. But more about the tours next week where I will introduce you to Julius, a Ugandan pineapple farmer who I have had the pleasure of working with this week, teaching children about growing and showing them the farm.

Gardens in May

Here are a few photos for you to enjoy.

Foxgloves    

foxgloves 

Iris and sweet rocket, Hesperis matronalonis

Iris and sweet rocket, Hesperis matronalonis

Formal garden with loose informal planting.

Formal garden with loose informal planting

I am off to London for the jubilee celebrations and to see my offspring. Happy growing and don’t forget to water in this hot dry weather.

Penny’s Gardening Blog – Flower box to grow

I will be talking about the weather in true English style, be sympathetic and give some support to all you growers out there battling with your veg/herb/flower gardens, encourage you to try a Riverford Flower Box To Grow and inspire you with some photos of gardens I work in.

the weather

Heavens Above! What is going on? In recent times we have had the driest autumn on record, the driest winter, the coldest April and now the wettest too. How about the hottest summer next please. It really makes life rather difficult for anyone trying to grow anything at all. I read some garden articles in early spring listing plants suitable for drought as this is what we were all expecting then, hose pipe bans spreading across the country like wild fire and then it starts and we are all relieved to have at last a shower and then another….. and another …..But this onslaught and absolute deluge of rain that we have been subjected to over the last few weeks is just all too much. Maybe an article on damp gardens is called for now.

It is pretty miserable working out in this kind of weather and sometimes if it’s persistent enough one just has to give up. I have pretty good waterproofs in the form of fishermans salopettes,  wellies,  a coat and an assortment of hats, (shorts and a sun hat in the car too, just in case, yeah right!!!). It is not a pretty sight! 

Penny

Even some of the field workers have had their hours cut as no planting can be done because it’s impossible to get the tractors and planters on to the ground. Things are not happy!

box to grow

Veg and heb  box to grow customers have had their plants for a month now and hopefully  have manages to plant them up. Nothing has grown much this last month because its been unusually cold and very wet. My courgettes have copped it…just couldn’t cope, simply drowned and my other seedlings are sat there not growing and looking rather sodden and sorry for themselves . All you can really do is keep checking for slugs and snails who come out in troops in this weather. If really keen you could cover the plants with cloches to try and keep some rain off them and also raise the temperature a bit. We could all do with some sunshine to make the plants grow.

flower box to grow

The Flower Box To Grow is my baby in some ways as growing cut flowers is my speciality so riverford have used me to select the plants and varieties that come in this grow your own kit. I have grown organic cut flowers in a field I rent from riverford over the last four years. The Kit will provide you with flowers to cut and enjoy in a vase through out the summer and well into the autumn.  The flowers are all traditional English country flowers such as cornflowers, bells of Ireland, love in a mist, sunflowers, snapdragons and so on….take a look and be tempted.  The kit comes with 54 seedlings and two packets of seeds and is extremely good value for money and obviously I highly recommend it.

in the garden

What with all the rain perennials have pretty much doubled in size over the last few weeks and have been really enjoy this long awaited drink. I am lucky enough to work in some really beautiful garden in the local area and to cheer you all up and possibly inspire you I will show you some photos of some of these.

This garden is partly walled and formally planted with fastigiated yews and lots of shaped box and box hedging. It sits quite high on a hill and has lovely views across the valley. With in the formality it is planted quite loosely with loads of old fashioned roses, geraniums, day lilies and so on.

We let campion, forget me not, sweet rocket and valerian officianalis seed freely and then cull when necessary. This makes it look very natural and also fills gaps creating ground cover and hence suppresses growth of unwanted weeds.    

forget me nots

symphytum ibericum  comfrey

This is a low growing comfrey and a useful ground cover plant too

This is a taller comfrey useful for making a liquid feed  and  great for composting as it encourages the rapid breakdown of other materials  you put in your heap and its also very pretty.   

Symphytum x uplandicum   Russian comfrey

I love this combination of bright yellow Kerria japonica and a bright red Rhododendron behind. Very cheerful indeed.      

Penny’s Gardening Blog – identifying plants

This is a very short blog as support to any customers who have received a Veg Box to Grow and are having problems identifying the different plants. These pictures should help.

kohl rabi

kohl rabi

cabbage

cabbage

Rainbow Chard

Rainbow Chard

mustard

mustard

beetroot

beetroot

lettuce

lettuce

spring onions

spring onions

parsley

parsley

coriander

coriander

rocket

rocket

tomato

tomato

courgette

courgette

Unfortunately I couldn’t find a cucumber plant to photograph and they do look very similar to courgette but… the cucumber was sent out in a pot and the courgettes were a block.

The italian parsley also may get confused with the coriander but easily worked out by giving the leaves a gentle squeeze and having a good sniff. Coriander has a quite distinctive smell that’s quite different to the odour of parsley. 

I hope this will be of use to those of you who are having problems and just to reassure you Riverford have taken on board that this is an issue and are working on finding a good solution for future boxes to grow.

Penny’s gardening blog – box to grow

In My Gardening Blog This Week
A cold snap has arrived down here in Devon and we’ve had some frosts in the last few days and now thankfully a little rain and hail.  On my way home I noticed even a light dusting of snow on the edge of Dartmoor. What with the untimely hot weather of last week where summer thoughts and searches for shorts were both on the cards in my life and now this!  What trickery Jack Frost!! Slow down and beware. Spring is just here, trees still bear of leaves and cold weather is still on the cards.

The first Boxes to Grow have been dispatched from Wash and will be being delivered over the next two weeks to customers up and down the country. Today I will give you some extra advice and tips on planting out and caring for your seedlings.

Box To Grow Welcome
I want to thank our growers first who have really come up trumps this year with the most fantastic quality seedlings and plants for our veg and herb boxes to grow. I am proud to say we have developed a really good growing kit.
When your box arrives you will find inside full instructions on how to care for your seedlings right from the start and how to then get on with the task of planting them out and growing them on. Below I am going to list the most important things to bear in mind. Please feel free to use me as support and leave comments and questions on my gardening blog.

Frost Protection.
In the veg and herb  boxes to grow there are tomatoes , courgettes and cucumber and coriander seedlings that are all quite tender so need extra care for the next few weeks or more. Basically these plants need to be protected from frost, wind and cold temperatures generally. If you have no option but to plant them out it would be wise to cover with a cloche or make a little greenhouse recycling a large plastic water bottle, or at the very least cover with  horticultural fleece. In the past I have put individual cardboard boxes over such plants at night. Do not forget to uncover first thing in the morning though!  I would tend to plant into a pot with some compost and grow them on a bit on a window sill if I didn’t have a greenhouse.

Snow
If you live in one of the areas that have been hit with snow then it will be impossible to plant out your seedlings until it is has thawed. Make sure to take the seedlings out of the box and stand upright in a seed tray or cut the box down so that the plants don’t get leggy searching for light. Place the seedlings in a polytunnel, greenhouse, conservatory or window sill. Basically they need light and protection from freezing weather for the moment and ideally shouldn’t be put anywhere too warm either. The plants shouldn’t need watering but if look at all wilted or dry then do water gently with a watering can.

Planting
Follow the instructions provided with the kits.
The Cabbages, beetroot, rainbow chard and the kohl rabi in the veg kits can be planted quite deeply however make sure  the other seedlings and lettuce particularly are planted level with the ground and not at all below the surface.

Watering and fleece
Be sure to gently water in your plants after planting them in the ground and check for slugs and snails before ideally covering with horticultural fleece. Fleece will help protect against frosts and cold temperatures and give your plants a head start generally. Remove the fleece carefully every few days for watering as required. Once the weather has warmed up the fleece can be removed. Keep an eye on the weather and check your plants regularly.

Weeding
Keeping your plot, planters or pots free of weeds is important for the success of your vegetable growing. Use a hoe if appropriate to your situation and hand weed around the seedlings themselves.

Patience
Your seedlings will take a few days to adjust and recover from their hike over dales, down and up hills and so on. Look after them tenderly and give them the best chance of success. Speak to them nicely and before you know it they will start doubling in size over and over so do pay attention to the suggested planting distances to. Good luck!

Penny’s Gardening Blog – Part 5

Gosh, its three weeks since I posted my last blog already. How time flies! Being a gardener and grower this time of year is pretty full on. I have lots of clients I work for on a weekly basis as well as preparing my field where I grow flowers and am also busy propagating plants to go in it. So life is hectic and I am slightly overwhelmed by the impending season. But it is also a very exciting time of year in the garden with the first signs of growth and plenty of plants in flower. In this blog I am going to give you all a reminder and do a final push on our boxes to grow. I will suggest some general gardening tasks and wax lyrical about spring flowering plants.

Boxes to grow

Veg, Herb and cut flower gardening kits

April is nearly here and deliveries of our vegetable and herb boxes to grow will be going out imminently, cut flower kits a bit later.  It’s not too late to order one as we have a few left. I don’t want to bang on too much about it but these kits are great value and a fabulous way to  kick start  your gardens in one fail swoop. No decisions on what to grow or where to get it all from. We have used our experts to select good tried and tested varieties to give you the best chance of success and comprehensive advice on how to plant and grow these are also included in the boxes. I will also be supporting you with my gardening blogs and here to answer your queries.  

If you have already ordered one remember to do the recommended site preparation we have on our website.

gardening blogMarch in the garden

 I have taken some photos of some plants I love that are flowering now. Its good practice to keep your eyes open  when out and about and observe good companion plantings around you and maybe think of incorporating these into your garden spaces to improve what you already have. In the foreground a red Camelia, clematis armandii climbing through a tree and in the background a magnolia tree. 

gardening blog

A close up of Clematis armandii. You can grow this evergreen climber up a wall,trellis,fence or through a tree. It has lovely glossy foliage its quite happy planted in more shady positions.

Hellebores are an absolute favorite of mine.  

Hellebores

Once big enough they can be split after flowering and replanted to increase your stock. I have done this in this little woodland area over the years and it really looks a picture at this time of year with the under planted periwinkle and primroses in flower too. 

white double Hellebore

This white double Hellebore is particularly pretty and looks great with Euphorbia as a backdrop 

Jobs in the garden

 

WEEDING This is the time of year to have a jolly good ‘spring clean’ in your gardens. Perennial plants are just beginning to grow again. Before things get too tall its an ideal time to really get in there and give your beds a jolly good weed. I have problems in a fair few gardens with perennial weed such as bind weed, couch grass and ground elder.  Gardening organically I would not use weed killers as they are detrimental to the wildlife in our gardens and leave nasty deposits in the soil too. Keeping these nasty weeds at bay is the answer. If you’re feeling thorough, this might mean digging up a perennial clump and teasing the roots of the said weed out and replanting the clump. Remember…DO NOT put these weeds in your compost heaps.

 DIVIDING up over crowded perennial clumps can be done now. Dig out the clump and put a sharp spade blade through the centre of the clump to cut it in half or more if necessary.

COMPOST  I have a rather tired body, being rather ancient doesn’t help and nor does the kind of work I have been doing the last few weeks emptying a fair few compost heaps in various gardens in the area. It is quite satisfying though to see what you have produced from simply garden waste.

gardening blog

This is great stuff to spread on to your beds, around the plants and lightly fork in. It will improve the soil and act as a mulch helping the soil to retain moisture. As a lot of us are already being threatened with hose pipe bans this is pretty essential.

In My Next Gardening Blog

As my seedlings are not ready for transplanting yet I will leave this till next time possibly with a video clip…heres hoping!

Penny’s Gardening Blog – Growing from Seed

In My Gardening Blog This Week

I am going to suggest some easy seed varieties to try and explain how to go about germinating them. I am sure many of you are experienced at growing plants from seeds already so bear with me if you are finding this blog simplistic but I am approaching it from the angle of teaching a novice. There is nothing more rewarding than raising plants from seeds. It feels rather miraculous and magical not unlike the feeling of having a baby, but a lot quicker and without pain! (I suppose it is creation of sorts. It’s so exciting when you first notice some movement under the soil in your seed tray and then slowly the first seed leaves appear.)

Equipment you need

Growing Space   A green house is ideal place to grow your seedlings. A polytunnel is a close runner up. A light conservatory, porch or window sill will do.

Seed trays, pots or containers. Plastic seed trays, modules and pots are widely available in garden centres but you can improvise recycling plastic containers you may have at home that have held food etc. It is important that there are drainage holes in them though. One of my friends uses the Riverford milk cartons, cut down in size and makes drainage holes in the bottom. These are waxed so hold up to being watered.

Growing media.  There are a lot of different composts out there on the market. Get one that states it is seed compost as it will be finer in texture( and therefore more suitable). Basically you need a light loose medium that retains moisture and doesn’t develop a crust.  Oxygen and water are essential for germination.

Labels.   Plant labels are crucial( as unless you’re pretty experienced,)or  you will get into rather a muddle and not know what is what when your seedlings germinate. You can buy plastic labels or recycle plastic pots and cut them into labels. I use a pencil to log the variety and date sown.

Seeds.   The following seeds (I have suggested) are pretty easy to grow ( if you give them the correct treatment). There are billions to choose from so this is literally a drop in the dark! Many of my Gardening blog readers have probably ordered one of Riverfords boxes to grow- veg, herb or flower or maybe all three. If this is the case, try and grow different varieties from the ones to be delivered to your door. The flower box to grow delivery date is later in the season than usual so maybe try and bring on some seedlings to produce some earlier flowers for yourself.

Helianthus-Sunflowers. There are many different varieties, some grown for their height (great fun for family competition) and smaller headed with a more bushy branching habit that are good for cutting.

 Tropaeolum –Nasturtium.  This herb is said to attract black fly keeping them away from your veg plants such as broad beans and cabbages. It is also a favourite with hoverflies which are great to have around as their larvae eat aphids. The leaves and flowers can be added to salads although it is said you should not consume more than 30gms a day.

Borago officianalis-Borage.  This herb is a fantastic companion plant, the blue flower being attractive to bees hence aiding pollination. It is equally attractive in the flower or vegetable garden. The flowers can be pinched off and used to add to a gin and tonic or a summer Pimms. They also look great added to a salad along with nasturtium and calendula flowers.

Lathyrus odoratus-Sweet Peas.  These are a must in any garden and are really pretty fool proof. They will provide you with flowers right through to the first frosts as long as you keep cutting them so stopping them from going to seed. I prefer the old fashioned varieties, although they have smaller flowers, they are daintier and are far more scented.

Sowing seeds in seed trays or pots or modules.

I really wanted to do a little video of sowing seeds to run alongside this blog but have been struck down with the lurgy and unable to get out there.

Put some compost into your chosen container and gentle tap to settle the compost, not quite filling to the top. You can sow in rows, individually or broadcast over the surface. Now cover with a layer of compost. The depth to which your seed should be covered is dependent on its size. Generally speaking it should be covered by about the same depth of compost as the seed size itself, so for very small seed, covered with an equally small depth of compost and for larger seeds with a deeper layer. Now gently firm down the compost with your hand and label the container with the variety and date sown. Water in, using a watering can with fine rose attached. For very fine seed use  a mister so as not to dislodge the seeds.

 Place your containers in a light warm situation and keep your containers moist at all times but not drenched. You may need to water once a day. 

Some people like to cover their seed trays etc with a pane of glass or a clear plastic bag to give extra warmth. This is fine but be careful as the seedlings emerge that they don’t get scorched by direct sunlight.

Check for unwanted intruders such as slugs and snails on a daily basis, being careful to look at the underside of the containers as this is where they often hide.

In My Next Gardening Blog

I will be look at gardening tasks for March and how to grow on germinated seedlings

Penny’s Gardening Blog – Ground and Site Preparation

Penny's Gardening BlogIn My Gardening  Blog This Week

I will be covering ground preparation and tools and kit needed. As the weather has suddenly turned arctic and the ground is pretty frozen in many parts of the country there is really not a lot one can do in these conditions. No one in their right mind would willingly stomp forth into their garden brandishing fork in one hand and bag of manure under the other arm. I really feel for the field workers out there picking leeks and kale etc. Come rain or shine they just get on with the job. So I am going to introduce composting into the arena too. This is a massive subject so-introduction- I mean.

Ground and Site Preparation
Now is the time to choose a site in your garden, if you haven’t one already. I am a great fan of pinching some of your lawn, redesigning your garden so that you can have a go at growing. Lawns are great, yes, but take a lot of care and are not half as rewarding as producing flowers, veg and herbs for your table, in my opinion.

A decent amount of sun and light are needed to grow successfully. Good well drained ground is a bonus but you can do a lot to improve your soil and its make up by adding well rotted manure and your own compost made from veg and fruit peelings and waste from your garden. Weather permitting, now is a good time to get out there and dig out perennial weeds such as docks, dandelions, couch grass, buttercups and the like.  Spread some well rotted manure and any rotted compost from your own compost heaps and lightly dig in. Covering the ground with plastic sheeting or even cardboard will warm the ground slightly and stop weeds from germinating.

Recommended Kit

Fork, spade, hand trowel, hoe, watering can with rose, hose and bucket, plant labels and pencil, fleece, well rotted manure.

gardening blogComposting

To make compost you need to build up a good mix of nitrogen rich waste from your garden such as grass clippings, annual weeds and carbon rich materials such as newspaper, cardboard and bark. The smaller the material is chopped up or shredded, the faster it will decompose.  Fruit and veg peelings from your kitchen may be added but no cooked foods or proteins should be used as these attract vermin. Clippings from pruning can also be added but nothing too woody. Ash from fire places and woodstoves can also be added too. Turn the heap regularly as air is an important factor to encourage decomposition. Be careful not to add huge amounts o lawn clippings at once as you will end up with layers of slime.

 There are lots of different compost bins available on the market and it really depends on the size of your garden/outside space as to what is suitable for you. Just make sure to place straight onto soil, no plastic is needed at base as its good to encourage the worms up out of the ground to work your compost for you.   If you only have a patio a wormery is perfect and takes up very little space. If you have a large

garden, building your own heaps out of wood (old pallets are ideal) is the way to go. Having two compost heaps side by side is best, as you can fill one up and leave to rot and then start building the second one.

Avoid putting in perennial weeds, especially bindweed, couch grass and ground elder.  Also avoid adding diseased materials and weed seed heads. These should be put in the dustbin. Make sure to add layers of different materials and water if looks too dry. Cover with old carpet or plastic. The level of the contents will drop as it rots. This process happens faster in the summer when it is warmer. It really depends on how you keep your heap as to the speed of decomposition. Over the spring/summer period you can produce good compost within four to six months. It’s a slower process over the autumn winter months. When ready add to your garden and lightly dig in. This will improve the make up of the soil and adding nutrients and fertility.

In My Next Gardening Blog

I will look at propagating from seed and suggesting some easy varieties to try.

Read the rest of Penny’s Gardening Blogs