Sarah Raven’s Cosmos ‘Bright Lights’

Sarah Raven Bright Lights Cosmos

Apart from the mighty Sunflower, Cosmos has to be one of my favourite garden flowers to grow and enjoy in my garden and the allotment. The usual Cosmos colour palette that I grow ranges from snow-white to deep plum, but this year I added a different colour to the mix – Cosmos sulphureus ‘Bright Lights’ from Sarah Raven seeds.

An orange/yellow-flowered variety, the foliage being denser than other Cosmos varieties that I grow, resembling Marigold leaves. The colours are vivid tangerine orange to golden-yellow, mix this variety with other Cosmos or grow it on its own to brighten a dull corner. Perfect for containers, my pots of mixed Cosmos in the garden are still flowering and attracting plenty of bees and other pollinators. They look amazing flowering in front of my blue allotment shed.

Easy to grow, if you love Cosmos you won’t be disappointed with this variety. I confess to preferring fine ‘feathery’ foliage Cosmos but that’s a personal choice. You can purchase your seeds direct from the Sarah Raven website.

Beautiful Spring

blackbird egg

Our garden is a visual and audible treat at the moment, even though spring arrived a little late this year everything appears to be catching up. The huge pine trees are a nursery to many garden birds right now, twiggy nests can be seen in branches.

bird nest

Blackbirds are nesting inside the rockery conifers surrounding the pond, occasionally I hear the ‘peep peep’ sound of hungry chicks throughout the day, eagerly awaiting the return of their parents with food. At dusk we are treated to an aerial display of bats hunting, if we listen really carefully we can just make out the distinct clicking-sound. Another nocturnal visitor to our garden and a favourite of mine is the hedgehog, they can be heard snuffling around the lawn at night, on a clear moon-lit evening we might catch a glimpse of one, scurrying off into bushes.

tree blossom, fruit tree blossom, white blossom, spring blossom

spring blossom

I’ve noticed squirrels digging in the lawn, taking off for the pine trees when I approach. I love watching them leap from tree to tree with the grace and skill of a gymnast. Some of the fruit trees are ablaze with blossom, attracting bumblebees in their numbers, daffodils are just finishing now and Forget-me-nots are taking centre stage, creating a pretty blue haze.

forget me not

forget me not

IMG_4147forgetmenotresized

forget me not

I saw my first ladybird of the year yesterday and a number of butterflies on the wing are passing through the garden too, mainly Peacock. Here’s a great website for those unfamiliar with UK butterfly species: http://www.britishbutterflies.co.uk/index.asp

I love nature, especially during spring. I hope you’re enjoying watching and listening to nature/wildlife in your garden too.

Inherited Things

The garden is looking really beautiful this month, especially with the sun shining. I realise I hardly mention the rest of my garden, beyond the vegetable garden boundary. There’s plenty of plants and flowers growing in our 1/3 of an acre garden and we inherited them all from the previous garden owner. Our garden is what you’d call mature, well stocked and well cared for over the years. A mature garden can quickly become a jungle if left to its own devices, I’m not a great fan of neat and tidy gardens (not ideal for wildlife) but I do have to keep it under some sort of control, otherwise I’d have my work cut out with all the pruning it requires.

The old honeysuckle arch has to be my favourite part of the main garden. Unlike the rest of the shrubs and massive conifers, it doesn’t demand yearly attention and does very well without much input from me. The wooden arch is rickety, not made particularly well (I’m certain the honeysuckle holds the arch up) and leans, but I think this only adds to its charm. The honeysuckle is an old gnarly specimen, highly perfumed flowers displayed profusely in May/June, often with another flush a month or so later. Right now it’s in berry but there’s still flowers hanging on to be enjoyed.

Honeysuckle flowering in June

Alongside the honeysuckle arch hangs a fairy ornament, left behind by the previous owner. Now I’m not one for garden ornaments, but I am rather fond of this one. Covered in lichen, gorgeous colours of natural garden patina, she blows a kiss to all that pass through the sweetly-scented arch. The ornament does have its uses, we use it as a bird feeder but I imagine that’s what it was meant for anyway.

Do you have any inherited things in your garden?

Self Seeding Sunflowers

The veg patch was a hive of activity for sunflower seedlings earlier this year. Seeds were planted on the wind and by wild birds, eagerly feeding on seed heads left over from last summer. Easily recognisable by their large almost wax-like seed leaves, most had to be thinned due to self seeding in the most awkward of places.

Seedlings growing in good positions were each given a bottle cloche, they grew big and strong (annoyingly I lost a few to slugs one night because I forgot to cover them). By recycling 2 litre plastic drink bottles and turning them into cloches, instantly a warm environment safe from slugs can be achieved for next to nothing. Just cut the bottom of the bottle off, place it over your chosen seedling or plant and remove the lid to allow ventilation. Remove the bottle cloche during the day in hot weather to avoid scorching and remove permanently once the plants grow large and fill out.

I’ve measured them at just over 10 feet tall, not exactly giants I know but they’re just how I love sunflowers to be, tall with large flower heads. Sunflowers that I raised from bought seed were disappointing. As long as the sunflowers keep self seeding, I won’t bother sowing them.

Pretty Primula

I don’t feel as if I’ve had a chance to really enjoy the spring bulb and fruit blossom display. Daffodils finished a while ago after flowering earlier than usual, the tulips put on a bit of a poor show this year (the few blooms we did have now spoilt by yesterdays heavy downpour and high wind). In the main, blustery and miserable weather ruined most of the pretty fruit blossom here, scattering pink and white petals everywhere against an angry slate grey sky. I feel a bit cheated.

However today is gorgeous, warm and sunny (hoorah!) and there’s still a splash of colour to be seen in the garden thanks to the Primula. Sheltered from the worst of the weather by the established shrubs their blooms were spared the onslaught of yesterday. Because of this, I’ve paid attention to these tiny little plants more than I usually do, appreciating their presence although they’re not really ‘my thing’. Our Primula were planted long before we moved here, call them old fashioned if you like I’d forgotten how pretty and robust they can be – our chickens scratch most of them to dust by early summer but they still come back every spring.

I’m actually looking forward to seeing them again next year.

Accidental Sunflowers

I adore sunflowers, especially the giant varieties. I grow them every year, always hoping to grow one just that little bit taller or with a bigger bloom than the year before. Once they’re past their best, rather than pull them out I leave them in situ, all through autumn and winter, right through to late spring. The flower heads eventually provide seeds for wild birds and a place to shelter for insects.

Seeds dropped by birds or carried on the wind fall to the ground, self-seeding/sowing where they land. Recently I noticed sunflower seedlings appearing here and there, not too far from where their parents once stood. Some of the seedlings started life in awkward places, on the pathways between the raised beds for example. Fortunately, quite a few germinated in good positions, places that I probably would have chosen for them to be. I’m nurturing these seedlings through the cold nights by covering them with homemade plastic bottle cloches to keep their growing environment warm, this also helps to prevent slugs devouring the young plants during the night.

I will be sowing more sunflowers using bought seed but I think these seedlings are extra special. Nature, sowing sunflowers.

July in the Garden Smallholding

The garden is in full swing with frequent mini harvests of potatoes, carrots, beets, peas, soft fruits, onions, beans and squash (I could go on) providing plenty for meals, which of course generates a great sense of achievement and pride. A few days of much-needed rain gave the kitchen garden the boost it so desperately needed in order to spring back to life, sun-scorched tones soon changed to lush green – I find it fascinating how rain can change the colours and textures of a garden so quickly, almost like a magical tonic.

I’ve grown some beautiful flowers from seed this year including pretty Cosmos pictured above. Cosmos is one of my favourites for attracting wildlife, the flowers are like magnets for bees and butterflies. I’m slowly forgiving the sunflowers for their poor show this year, they’re still my absolute favourite flower.

Grumpy with Stumpy Sunflowers

I’m so disappointed with my sunflowers this year, they’re embarrassingly short and the flowers are titchy. Just pathetic really. Usually I manage to grow very tall plants with dinner plate-sized blooms, just how sunflowers should be. I grew my favourite ‘giants’ from new seed, just as I always do so I can’t start pointing the finger of damnation thataway. Hmmm.

I didn’t get around to planting any sunflowers at the allotment this year, I’ve no idea if they would have done better, but in saying that I was surprised to see other plot holders having the same problem with sunflowers too. Why are sunflowers so stumpy this year? Is it a Bedfordshire thing I wonder…….

Strange.

A Beautiful Sunny Weekend

The weather is utterly gorgeous at the moment, brilliant blue sky and wall to wall sunshine. The weekend was spent pottering around the garden, watering seed trays, sowing rows of carrots, planting herbs and dining al fresco with evening drinks by candlelight, entertainment provided by bats with their magnificent aerial display. Everything looks so much better in the sunshine, especially the tulips which are putting on a dazzling show at the moment, they look even more beautiful glowing in the sunshine, igniting the borders like hot fire lanterns. I cannot claim credit for planting these red beauties, we were lucky to inherit them from the previous homeowners/gardeners.

The weather is set to change of course but its been a joy having a taste of summer for a while.

Pinching out Sweet Pea

I started sowing sweet pea at the end of February, an old-fashioned highly scented variety which will be allowed to scramble over an arch in the veg garden. I pinched out the growing tips of my young plants a few days ago. Why? I hear you say, well in a nutshell it’s all to do with hormones. Not mine, the sweet pea.

The aim of pinching out sweet pea is to encourage the plants to grow side shoots for more lovely flowers (that’s where the hormone bit comes in) resulting in bushy plants that should flower well all summer, provided they are cut regularly to avoid the plants running to seed.

It’s simple to do, wait until your plants are at least 8 inches tall then pinch off the growing tip between your forefinger and thumb. It certainly works, my sweet pea are sprouting lovely little side shoots already!

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