Flower Garden

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.


Inside my Greenhouse

Ever since the hose pipe ban came into force on April 5th it hasn’t stopped raining. At times the rain has been very heavy, sometimes hail, making gardening tasks and allotment visits virtually impossible to carry out. Seed sowing outside is a definite no-no here at the moment, the soil is saturated and cold. But, my garden is thriving in other areas, everything is leafing up and looks green and lush. I’m not in any hurry to sow outside anyway, there’s plenty of time and everything will catch up eventually.

Besides, if you’re really lucky, like me, and you have a warm glass greenhouse in your garden (or at your allotment), I’m sure you have taken the opportunity to escape the heavy rain and banish ‘gardening blues’ by pottering about inside it. As a boredom buster, try sowing some coriander and rocket in pots, or edible flowers such as Calendula to brighten summer salads or the veg plot. They come up really quickly undercover. Potting on seedlings is another task that I enjoy doing inside my greenhouse, as I listen to the rain battering down on the glass roof I appreciate my greenhouse even more.

Speaking of seedlings, cosmos are coming along well and looking really healthy, peas are coming up, also kale, sweet corn, Swiss chard, coriander and alpine strawberries. Sprouts and summer sprouting broccoli have been potted on, also foxglove seedlings – one of my favourite flowers.

According to the news we’re on course for the wettest April on record (although still officially in the middle of a drought!), flood alerts have been issued in some places. What a difference to last year, hottest April on record! Mind you, water-butts are filling up nicely, this time last year it was a real chore to get everything watered and prevent trays of seedlings from being scorched. Everything seems to be thriving in my greenhouse.

From the amount of photographs in this post I think you can probably guess where I’ve been spending a great deal of time lately. I hope you’re enjoying greenhouse or windowsill gardening if the weather is bad where you are.

Wildlife Pond

Pond Life

There has been a surge of activity in the wildlife pond recently. The pond is ‘alive’ with wriggling mosquito larvae, I spotted lots of eggs floating on the surface recently. Last month frogs spawned in our pond, since then I’ve watched the eggs develop into tiny tadpoles. It was amazing to watch them all eating their way out of their jelly world, I’ve never seen tadpoles as small as this before.

The tadpoles are growing bigger and are very active now, resting on rocks and stones when the sun comes out. I’ve seen some frogs hanging around the pond at dusk, naturally, as soon as I approach they dive into the pond.

Pond snails are laying eggs in the weed and on rocks, there’s a mixture of Ramshorn Snail and Great Pond Snail in our pond.

Great Pond Snail moving along the surface of the water

What have you spotted in your pond recently?


Gardening with my Son

I had a great time teaching my 11-year-old son to sow seed at the beginning of the week, he seemed to enjoy himself, even though gardening isn’t his thing. Right now, to him, gardening just isn’t ‘cool’. I’m sure there are boys of his age that do take an interest in gardening, my son isn’t one of them.

The recent half-term holiday dragged on a little too long for him, he had an extra day at home due to teacher training and he was bored. Very bored. I suggested he could help out in the garden, a blank expression crept onto his face so I acted quickly before he had time to complain or think about what I’d just said. Out came the camera, seed packet, tray, watering can and a bag of potting compost. Boy, compost, water. The idea of gardening with me suddenly seemed OK – he could make a mess!

I gave him all the things he needed, quickly ran through what he needed to do then sat back and watched him get on with it. He had great fun filling the tray with compost, watering and making little planting holes in the compost with his fingers, dropping a pea seed into each one. Once the seeds were in the planting holes he carefully covered them with soil. I think he did a good a job, most importantly I also think he enjoyed it.

We got our pea seeds from T&M, variety Mangetout ‘Shiraz’. I’m looking forward to seeing the pods develop, being purple they will stand out against the green of the plants, making picking easier. The flowers are bicoloured and edible. To get your purple mangetout seeds or to find out more, visit Thompson & Morgan’s website: http://www.thompson-morgan.com/vegetables/vegetable-seeds/pea-and-bean-seeds/pea-shiraz/gww4959TM


Free At Last Hens, Four Years On

We collected six scruffy ex battery hens (our very first hens) from a Bedfordshire based hen rescue called Free At Last, four years ago today.

I’m really chuffed to announce that two hens from the original six that we collected are still here, still laying when the occasion takes their fancy and most definitely still scratching up the flower beds and chasing flies.

Emily blowing a kiss!

To find out more about Free At Last hen rescue, visit their website: http://free-at-last.org.uk/

Jobs Each Month

Jobs for April

April can be a mixed bag of weather and often unpredictable, making visits to the allotment (or garden) difficult if you don’t have a shed or greenhouse in which to retreat. Nights are chilly and frosts are still troublesome so don’t risk planting out anything tender. There’s plenty of things that you can be getting on with this month, such as sowing or planting hardy crops outside. If it’s particularly chilly where you are, try covering the areas of soil where you want to sow with cloches. Warm soil makes for successful germination. Keep a roll of horticultural fleece to hand, you never know when you may need it.

More jobs that can be tackled this month:

  • Harvest the first asparagus spears of the year
  • Plant asparagus crowns in a well prepared trench or sow seed indoors
  • Sow parsnip, carrots and broad beans direct outside if the soil is warm
  • Get areas of soil ready for sowing by covering with cloches
  • Erect runner bean poles
  • Plant second early or main crop potatoes
  • Pot on tomato and chilli seedlings
  • Keep sowing crops such as peas, spring onions, radish and salad crops for a continuous harvest
  • Harden off young plants raised indoors before planting out. Move them outside during warm days and then back in at night
  • Keep the hoe busy!
  • Make the bees happy – sow wildflower seed mix direct where they are to flower
  • Harvest established early rhubarb for those warming crumbles
  • Plant out onion sets if you didn’t do it last month
  • Sow some flowers such as sunflowers and other half-hardy annuals indoors


Product Reviews

Water-Butt – Garden Product Review

Our local garden centres have sold out of water-butts due to the recent hose pipe ban, there’s now a waiting list on deliveries. Luckily, I was asked to review a water-butt recently. I did wonder what on earth I could write about a water-butt, they’re pretty self-explanatory and not exactly the most attractive of garden items, but, they are probably one of the most useful tools in your garden. Unless you shop around (or make one yourself) they can be rather pricey too, I’ve noticed.

The 200 litre water-butt arrived at my doorstep very quickly, it was well packaged but not over the top, avoiding unnecessary waste. It came supplied with a stand which was a pleasant surprise, I know from experience water-butt stands can be just as expensive as the water-butt itself (of course there are other alternatives to use such as breeze blocks or bricks). All the parts where there, nothing missing.

One niggle though, the tap needed to be fitted and I found this very tricky to do on my own – my arms were just not long enough to reach. I needed the help of Rich, my other half to hold the water-butt still on its side while I crawled inside to screw the tap tight. Rich did try, being 6 ft tall (much taller than me with longer arms) he also found it impossible. So, unless you have extraordinarily long arms, you will need someone to help you fit the tap.

Once the tap was fitted I noticed it displays ‘On’ and ‘Off’, a simple feature I agree but one that the water-butt at my allotment doesn’t have. I’ve accidentally lost water by leaving the tap open (once the water-butt was emptied), simply because I was wasn’t aware if the tap was closed or not. Now I do it by memory but it would be nice to have the status of the tap visible. All I need to do now is connect it up to the greenhouse permanently, at the moment it’s stood there, catching all the April showers.

For the price of £35.99 it’s good value for money, considering the amount of water it will hold, the stand, lockable lid (great safety feature if you have young children) and the easy turning tap. Thank you Idealo UK for contacting me and supplying the water-butt. If you would like to view other products from Idealo UK, visit their website: http://www.idealo.co.uk/cat/11452F1185158/watering-irrigation.html

Flower Garden

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.

Fruit Garden

The Early Strawberries are Flowering

As I was tidying the strawberry bed yesterday, I noticed the early varieties starting to flower. Wet from rain the night before, they glistened and glittered in the morning sunlight. Open flowers were laden with raindrops,  offering water like tiny glowing goblets.

I can almost taste the strawberries to come.

Fruit Garden · kitchen garden

A Few Hours in the Warm Sunshine

I woke to a beautiful sunny day, I took the opportunity to take some early morning photos. Although the recent rain was needed, it was nice to have a break from it. The sun disappeared by mid-morning and the sky looked an angry grey, I felt sure the rain would be back. The sun burst through the gloom and stayed for the rest of the afternoon, allowing me to spend a long time in the garden.

I spent a few hours pottering around in the garden. Well I say “pottering” but what I really mean is I actually tackled a few jobs that I’d been putting off. My usual definition of pottering involves a bit of day dreaming, starting something and then moving on to something else without finishing what I started before, a bit of head scratching at why the garden looks messier than when I first started, oh and wondering where the time went.

The rain has helped the grass to put on lush growth

Anyway, one of the jobs I was avoiding was to tidy up the strawberry bed. The plants went berserk last summer, sprawling runners rooting anywhere and everywhere. I potted up a few stray runners to plant out at my allotment and moved some that insisted on growing in the most awkward of places. The autumn raspberries were sending new canes out everywhere, I found one coming up on a path so I traced that back and took it out, then tackled others that were growing out of the boundary I had set for them.

I really enjoyed working in the warm sunshine, randomly sprinkling packets of wildflower mixes in a bed right next to the wildlife pond. Should be gorgeous in summer. I also sowed a few rows of parsnip (my trusty and favourite ‘Gladiator’) and ‘Resistafly’ carrot, a Nantes type with good resistance to the dreaded carrot fly.

Did you get outside in the sunshine today?


Washout Weekend

The Easter bank holiday weekend was pretty much a washout, rain, rain and more rain. Mind you we had lots planned, what with family visiting on Sunday and shopping in Milton Keynes with the kids on Monday, I hardly had time for gardening anyway. I managed to visit my allotment on Good Friday to plant potatoes, then a quick visit on Saturday morning to plant some raspberry canes and a few other bits and bobs.

Last night was very windy and today we had a hail storm, complete with thunder and lightning. Very strange and unsettled weather at the moment, I’m delaying sowing outside for fear of my seeds being washed away!

I’ve recently discovered field mice are digging up my early pea seeds and eating them (they were just sprouting too). A few of the broad bean seedlings were left half eaten, the mice are digging down to the bean and chomping the top growth clean off. I can keep deer out of the garden but not the mice, it’s just one of those things I’m afraid, gardening alongside nature. All I can do is start the peas off again but in the greenhouse this time, planting out later. I’ve put cabbage collars around the broad beans to prevent the mice digging in for the bean, so far this seems to be working.

I hope you had a good Easter, did you manage to get any gardening or allotment visits done, despite the lousy weather?

kitchen garden · Uncategorized

Vegetable Garden in Photos

I wanted to share a few photos of my favourite place to be, our vegetable garden. The photos were taken last summer when everything was looking its best, the plot looks more or less as you see here once it gets going, I just haven’t included the greenhouse or wildlife pond. As you can see, I like to include flowers to attract and help pollinators. Vegetable gardens can be a thing of beauty too.

When we moved into our property in 2008 there wasn’t a vegetable garden. The area we designated to be our future veg patch was a sight for sore eyes, overgrown and completely neglected, bursting at the seams with rubble, rubbish, brambles and the remains of an old stable. Once we finished chopping our way through the dense jungle of brambles, the plot had to be levelled using a mini digger. Gradually and ever so slowly, we began to put the bare bones of our vegetable plot together.

It has gone through a lot of changes over the years, gradually increasing in size and maturing, looking now as if it had always been there.

Do you like our scarecrow? Our children made it a few years ago. It’s very weathered now and blends in a bit too well. The wood pigeons completely ignore it.

A lot has changed since we first started and will continue to keep changing for a while yet. I hope you have enjoyed a quick tip-toe through our vegetable garden.

kitchen garden

Purple Sprouting Broccoli for the Patient Gardener

I confess to not being a very patient person in many areas of my life, however, I’ve discovered that I am in fact a very patient gardener. For a whole year I’ve been waiting for Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli (PSB) to reward my efforts, I’m pleased to announce the wait is finally over. If you’re not a patient gardener, this crop is not for you. Sow from February, plant out from late spring and harvest the following spring. Now that’s a long old wait.

I will admit, wood pigeons set the harvest period back slightly, stripping the top florets just as they began to grow in February. I could have prevented that from happening by netting the plants, but, as regular readers to my blog will know, that’s not something I feel comfortable doing. The weather was awful in February, greenery and food were scarce for most wildlife (I do put out food for wild birds but the heavy snow kept covering it), with a heavy heart I turned a very blind eye to the destructive survival antics of the wood pigeons, remaining the ever patient gardener for just a bit longer than I would have liked.

At the moment, the pigeons no longer rely on my generosity to survive which means the PSB has had time to recover, right now it’s sending out side shoots of purple florets, just for me. I’m eagerly harvesting these florets, and jolly nice they are too. The more you pick the more you get, just don’t let those pretty purple buds flower, otherwise it’s game over. Would I grow it again? Probably. For the sheer fact that it’s a very tasty crop when little else is available in the vegetable garden. It’s rather expensive to buy in the supermarkets too, another good reason to grow it. Would I recommend PSB to other veg gardeners? Yes. If they have enough room….and plenty of patience.

kitchen garden

Asparagus from Seed

The asparagus that I started from seed almost a year ago is growing again, tiny spears pushing up through the soil. I’m certain they’re showing earlier than usual for asparagus, the recent hot weather probably had something to do with it. The plants are currently in large pots in the greenhouse, on sunny days I move them all outside. All being well, I will plant them out in a permanent bed, probably early next year. For now, I want them to develop a good root system.

Growing asparagus from seed was an experiment really, just to see if I could. I started with 20 seeds but only 5 germinated after approximately 4 weeks of watching, willing and waiting. The small seedlings over-wintered well in the greenhouse, they just seemed far too fragile and precious to plant outside straight away (I’d waited so long for them to appear in the first place). Being all male plants they should be prolific in the future, when they really get going.

The plants are almost 1 year olds. I can’t cut spears yet (they’re too small anyway), not for another 2 years at least, but that’s OK with me, they’re worth the wait and I’m enjoying the challenge.