Flowers, Gardening, Grow Your Own, Guest Posts, Nicole

Fog starting to lift on distant hills
I was woken up earlier than usual the other morning by the rumbling of thunder and crack of lightning. Daring a peek outside, I was greeted by the sight of a torrential downpour. The sky was darkened by thick grey clouds and an eerie fog had settled over the distant hills creating a rather gloomy atmosphere. I reckoned that it was far too early to get up, being 6.30 AM. Plus, the weather wasn’t exactly good for gardening, let alone pegging out the washing, so I headed back to bed.

After finally dropping back off to sleep with the sound of the rain lulling me into a deep slumber, I was rudely awoken by something bashing off my blind. Reaching for my specs, still half-asleep, I got up to investigate. Upon moving the blind out a little to look I found myself face to face with a little blue tit. I don’t know which one of us was more shocked – my squeak of fright was drowned out by a loud chirping.

I closed the curtain over sure I was dreaming and had another peek; nope! There was definitely a wee bird inside my bedroom sitting on my window ledge! Leaning over slowly so I didn’t scare it I lifted the latch and let it outside watching as it flew away to the shelter of the trees. I think it may have come in during the bad bit of the thunderstorm and the poor thing couldn’t get back out. I’m relieved that it didn’t injure itself and I didn’t dare try to take a picture because I think it would’ve scared it more than it already was.
Thunder clouds forming over my garden
Who needs an alarm clock when the wildlife pops in for an early morning visit? I was now thoroughly awake so I decided to venture outside regardless of the weather. My back garden was waterlogged so I didn’t bother trekking up it to check on my roses and butterfly bush which from the window look like they’re blooming; I’ll check those when the risk of my shoes getting stuck in mud is gone. The word ‘quagmire’ may be more appropriate to describe the waterlogged mess that is my garden at the moment.
Sweetpea experiment - a complete flop
I was happy to notice that the sweetpeas are blooming and were ready to cut although my experiment of growing a dwarf variety in a two-tier planter is a complete flop. Next year my sweetpeas will be grown in the traditional way, climbing up a support instead of hanging down! Despite another rumble of thunder and black clouds rolling in I nipped inside for my pruners and cut some to put in a vase. If I can’t get out to garden then what the heck, I might as well bring some of the garden indoors to brighten up my living room on yet another wet and washed out day.

My cut bunch of sweetpeas

I noticed that the carrots are almost ready to harvest so I’m hoping that they have remained pest free in the coldframe but we shall see. There’s not a lot that I can do in this weather so I think it’s a great opportunity to start planning things for next year, time to get the plant catalogues out!

Happy gardening!
Nicole

Gardening, Guest Posts, Nicole

Mini meadow bursting into flowerWhat a difference a lawnmower makes! After our old one packed in, what seems like decades ago, we’ve tackled the task of cutting our grass with a strimmer which took roughly two hours on top of endless breaks to refit the gut and left a finish which was rather scruffy to say the least. Taking a leap into the great unknown after having been so long without one, we bit the bullet and purchased a replacement, using it for the first time today. I cannot believe the difference it’s made to our grass — the overall finish is nice and tidy plus it took a fraction of the time!
White Astilbe flowers
I can safely say that the strimmer is packed up for retirement – I just wish we’d bought a mower sooner. My husband is asthmatic but refuses to let me touch the grass at all (the ‘lawn’ is his domain) and it’s really helped reduce the symptoms of his allergies/asthma when cutting it. I enjoyed pottering about while my husband mowed the grass and my boys accompanied me on the daily plant check-up. We planted dwarf sweet peas in a two tier planter for an experiment to see how they’d look but so far they’re a bit scraggly and not really hanging down how I thought they would. It could turn out to be an epic fail but I suppose if you don’t try you never know!

The astilbes are beautiful at the moment; I think the wet weather we keep getting has really made them flourish. Our rosemary is growing well and is frequently used to season our meals. It’s absolutely delicious with roast chicken – the scent is heavenly when it’s cooking.
Tall sunflower plant growing ever taller
The sunflower my boys were so pleased about is now taller than me! Needless to say they want more and had to be lifted up to see whether it was close to flowering yet. The dwarf sunflowers in our ‘paw-print’ are starting to flower and we enjoyed looking at them although my boys say they’re not as exciting as the tall ones.

Our dogs even joined in with inspecting the plants! Our chocolate lab certainly enjoyed having a sniff of the lavender; they even helped clear the cut grass by grabbing mouthfuls and running around with it.

Chocolate and Yellow Labrador smelling the lavender plants

They’ve been officially banned from certain parts of the garden because they both tend to chew on some of the plants — Our pampas grass is still recovering from being eaten. Apparently it causes no harm to the dogs and it’s normal behaviour… I have my doubts about the ‘normal’ part, as our yellow lab seems to have made it her mission in life to flatten every plant she can find — going so far as to make herself comfortable sitting on our plants in their pots. Do your pets have any quirky habits in the garden?

I’m sure our dogs enjoy creating a little havoc when they get the chance. It’s a shame that they have no interest in digging though, as it would have been nice to sit back and let them dig holes where we want things planted instead of tackling our nightmare clay soil ourselves… Oh well, I can but dream.

Happy gardening, Nicole 🙂

Gardening, Grow Your Own, Guest Posts, Jackie

While I’m happy growing all sorts of flowers and shrubs, I’ve never really gotten into growing vegetables, until this year – apart from tomatoes that is.
Jackie's potato patch
What triggered me off was my new greenhouse. OK, I just got that for tomatoes (I must be psychic as I’ve a feeling outdoor toms will be struggling a bit this year), but there was a £50 voucher with the greenhouse kit and having spent some on a water butt, there was a bit left over for a plastic 3-tier potato planter.

I ordered seed potatoes from my favourite supplier and, following the instructions, planted 5 into the bottom tier. It was early and frosts were still hovering around the Kent countryside, so we started in the greenhouse. In next to no time leaves were peeping out. So, time for the next tier and more compost. Once the leaves were above the final tier, it was mid May and the planter was moved outside.
Potato plants in flower
The potatoes did splendidly, although a few wayward shoots forced themselves in between the tiers – I think I’d better cut these off next time. Last week, I harvested the crop as the flowers were over and the haulms were flopping every which way. Harvesting was easy: I chopped the stalks off, removed the top tier and scraped the compost into one bucket and the potatoes into another, taking just enough for our supper. I went back over the next few days, garnering the crop as I needed it.
Homegrown potatoes in bowl
The potatoes were small and quite delicious, but I think if/when I do it again, I’ll make sure I use some fertiliser. I’m planning to get a crop in for Christmas. I might try a couple of the more unusual varieties – which means I’ll have to get another planter. The Victorian Potato Barrel looks interesting.
Potato plant growing in potato planter
But, of course, I’d purchased more than 5 seed potatoes – there were another 15, beautifully chitted and wanting attention. These went into the ground – I’d created a new vegetable bed near the greenhouse on almost pure clay at the start of winter. We’d had a weeping willow pollarded a couple of years ago and the resultant bark had been rotting down. Some of this I dug into the new bed together with soot from the chimney. The bed had wintered well and took the remaining potatoes in May in two, fairly close rows – just wide enough to weed and earth up (at least in the early stages). I also gave them a good covering with some of last year’s compost heap and are good, healthy looking plants.
Potatoes from potato planter
This morning I lifted one plant – and they are fine, large, potatoes about 1kg in total. A better crop than from the potato planter, but I’d not used any fertiliser in the planter. (Note to self: add Growmore to the compost in the planter next time.)

But it’s not just potatoes that I’m growing – there are runner beans, courgettes, garlic, and peppers – but that’s another story…

Jackie

Guest Posts, Ponds, Victoria

Water Lily just openingAs I am a novice at water gardening, I’d like to hear from anyone with a pond.

In a moment of creativity I made a mini bog garden out of an inverted plastic dustbin lid that had been kicking around for years. I dug out just enough turf and soil from a corner of the lawn and pierced the lid with an awl, feeling sure there was a better way to do it, but it was a thing of the moment – it had to be done! The lid was placed in the hole so that the edges wouldn’t be visible or damage the mower. The soil and upturned turfs were put back in the lid and left to break down.

Soon after, I was given an old pre-formed pond liner from a neighbour who had graduated from goldfish to koi! I didn’t feel up to digging a hole myself, so sat it on a gravel bed surrounded by containers of different heights – giving access to anyone who might care to live in it. The ‘bog-garden’ is near-by.

Frogs came – and went! I think because I’d had trouble getting the water right. It became so pungent that any amphibian would turn its warty nose up at it.

The water was actually the melted snow that had settled in it after the winter of 2010. I topped it up from other rainwater containers and from the mains and installed a selection of oxygenating plants and barley straw. I had received so much conflicting advice: from using assorted chemicals to just allowing the water to ‘right’ itself. I wanted it to be as natural as possible. I ‘de-sludged’ it twice, bailing the bilge, and scooping out as much gunge as possible– a horrible smelly job – so this year I have installed a proper pond pump/filter and used an organic compound intended to break down decayed matter. The water is lovely now and I can see to the bottom!
Water Lily in Pond
The reward is my water lily open for the first time today. I’d almost forgotten it was there and I had to look twice at the tight pointy-egg of a bud, and visit it several times a day as it slowly opened – a beautiful diving nymph showing her set-albumen tutu and egg-yolk underskirt.

When a new plant flowers for the first time I just have to greet it (a sign of madness?). Like little children, new blooms deserve praise and encouragement for good behaviour. Well done Lily!

I’ve added half a dozen shubunkins to the pond as company for the only one to survive the winter. They are such pretty fish: deep red-orange, silver and black. They already wait around eight AM in the same spot for me – or maybe for their food!

And, although I was talking to my ‘man-who-can’ about a scheme for inserting the pond into the ground and extending the bog garden, we both agreed that this part of the garden looks just as if it was planned.

Victoria