Flower Garden, Vegetable Garden

Top 5 Flowers for the Vegetable Garden or Allotment

It must be said, a veg garden in full productive swing is a thing of beauty. Throw some flowers into the mix and you have yourself a masterpiece. Apart from fruit, veg and herb flowers which are beautiful in their own right, I always include flowers to grow in our veg garden to attract pollinators and for cutting to enjoy inside the house.

Here are my top 5 easy-to-grow flowers for the vegetable garden or allotment:

1.  Sweet Pea

sweet peas

Great for cutting with delicious scent and early colour, grow them up a willow obelisk for a gorgeous stylish look, cut regularly to encourage more blooms. Dwarf varieties are great for growing in containers or for gardens where space is an issue. My favourites are old-fashioned grandiflora types and strongly scented tall climbers. A lovely variety to try is ‘Old Spice’ from Mr Fothergill’s.

2.  Cosmos

cosmos

Summer colour which lasts well into late autumn, good for cutting and attracting pollinators. Adding height and interest to the garden they can grow quite tall and get a bit wild and airy, but that’s what I love about them. Beautiful feathery foliage and flowers in many colours from soft white to bold crimson. For smaller gardens try growing the better behaved dwarf varieties.

Sarah Raven Bright Lights Cosmos

For something a little different try ‘Bright Lights’ from Sarah Raven, beautiful shades of orange to liven up any plot.

3. Sunflowers

sunflower

The well-known yellow giants as well as other coloured cultivars are perfect for attracting bees and hoverflies to the veg garden, during autumn and winter the large seed heads become a feast for wild birds.

dwarf sunflower

Great first flowers for children to grow, a firm favourite with adults too! I grew a beautiful multi-branching variety called ‘Black Magic’ this year from Mr Fothergill’s – not truly black but blooms of the darkest maroon. The seeds are black and small enough for all wild birds to enjoy, as they currently are in our garden!

4. Nasturtiums

nasturtium in a trough planter

This is such a versatile plant/flower and perfect for poor soils. Grow in the border, beds or containers, flowers and leaves are edible with a spicy punchy flavour and perfect for adding colour and a hint of pepper to a salad. Seed pods are edible too (best when green) and resemble capers, learn how to pickle them with this lovely article by What You Sow.

cabbage white caterpillar

Nasturtiums are attractive to pollinators and can be used as a distraction plant to Cabbage White butterflies, steering them away from brassicas to lay their eggs. Mighty handy if you love your cabbages, although you might want to check your salad before munching! Keep sowing throughout the year to extend the flowering time well into autumn, they’ll keep going till the frosts come.

5. Rudbeckia Gloriosa Daisies

img_0012rudbeckiagloriosadaises

I grow this type of Rudbeckia as a half hardy annual, spectacular colour from summer right through to late autumn. Bold flowers with different pattern markings glow in autumn sunshine, they also brighten up the veg patch on a dreary day when little else is in bloom. Support is needed, they grow well over 4ft high, lovely as a cut flower. I use Mr Fothergill’s seed starting them off in seed trays in spring and pricking out strong plants to grow on in individual pots, planting out after the risk of frosts has passed. Plant in clumps, ideal where space is not an issue.

 

Flower Garden

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.

Flower Garden, Uncategorized, Wildlife

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.

Flower Garden

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?

Flower 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.

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.

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.

Flower Garden, Harvest

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.

Flower Garden

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.

Flower Garden

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.

Flower Garden

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!

Flower Garden

Spring Flowers. What’s Your Favourite?

Fans of the simple but very beautiful daffodil will agree with me that every garden should be home to at least a few daffodil bulbs. You can’t really go wrong with this tough old bulb, shove them in the ground during the most miserable months and pretty much forget about them. Then, as if by magic, you’re rewarded for your lack of effort with dashes of golden-butter yellow, cheery nodding heads and blade-like leaves swaying on the slightest breeze  – whispering the song of spring.

 

What’s your favourite spring flower?

Flower Garden

Ready Steady Sow!

I can’t wait to get cracking for the growing season ahead, I have Charlotte seed potatoes chitting away, a second attempt at peas and broad beans (potted up undercover) and my impatient fingers are still itching to sow more seed. Our soil is not a hospitable place right now, it’s far too wet and cold for outdoor sowing and a little too early to sow anything else indoors for our tummies so I made a head start with sowing flower seed.

I have quite a few packets of flower seeds to choose from, I decided to sow lupin and foxglove because they are amongst my absolute favourites. I know from experience how hardy foxglove can be if planted out slightly early also how slow lupin can be to germinate, what I’m aiming for is strong little plants to put outside as soon as conditions are right – hopefully flowering the same year too.

I will sow more tender flowers around March/April, the garden should be a riot of colour and a haven for beneficial  insects. Yay!

Flower Garden

Flower Power

img_0250sep2008blog

Chickens and fragile flowers, hmmm, sadly not a great mix. Even though our back garden is fairly well groomed for chicken owners, we are reluctant to plant any new and unestablished perennials, or, dare we say, flimsy annuals for that matter. Gulp. They just would not last 5 minutes with chickens on the hunt for bugs and slugs. So, our front garden has been our focus for being daring and bold with colourful perennials, at least here they are safe from over enthusiastic chicken feet.

Our choice of planting have been those that add colour and drama, that give that punchy wow factor such as giant foxgloves, lupins, titan sunflowers and echinacea. Perhaps a little cottage like in the choice but they have always been my kind of thing. Oh, and I have thrown a couple of shrubs into the mix. Much to my mums horror I have included hydrangeas, you know, the big mop head in your face type. Some may argue (like my mum) that they are old fashioned blah blah blah but I really love them! I have never seen a pink turn blue in the past, mainly due to the wrong soil conditions, but, I have a sneaky inkling that the soil here may be slightly acidic, so, if we also have aluminum present in the soil already, we might get lucky. Even just a flush of blue would be nice.

Our choice of flowers will hopefully keep the bees, butterflies and other nectar collecting insects happy as well as passers by. We want people to be drawn to the planting arrangement and colour, to be given a ‘lift’, to place a smile upon the faces of folk as they pass by whilst walking their dog or taking their children to school. Many gardens that I pass by each day make me feel exactly this way. I must look like a crazy person in this day and age society, smiling away at flowers, sometimes running my hands over luscious foliage that’s crying out to be touched. Oh, and I’m not only talking about my own plants either, maybe one of these days someone will be a little concerned for my well being and make that call, I will be carted off by the people in white coats for acting strangely outside peoples front gardens. Whoops. Seriously though, perhaps I’m just an old fuddy duddy stuck in a younger persons body, I don’t know, but I do know what I like.

Flower Garden

Colour of the Season. Yellow!

forsythia

It’s all very ‘sunshine yellow’ out there in the garden smallholding. Forsythia, daffodils and spring primroses (or should that be Primula?) all competing with each other for the best and brightest shade of jaune. I just adore daffodils and was pleased to see a good number of them poking their way through the soil in January /February. I prefer the shorter wind tolerant varieties such as Tete-Tete, a strong wind is sure to arrive just as the taller varieties of daffodils burst from their buds. The garden ends up looking like a scene from a hurricane movie with sad-looking beaten up daffodils.

daffodils

Which varieties do you grow?

Flower Garden

Quick Tree Update

A while ago I blogged about a neglected apple tree that turned out not to be an apple tree but still a neglected tree regardless. Still with me? Ok, well after examining said tree and pruning hard it came to our attention that the tree was past saving. Basically it was rotten to the core, badly decomposing and not in a good way at all. My dad cut it down for me today, what was left of it will be used for firewood. I feel a bit sad but we will be replacing the tree with many others soon so I suppose this should counteract the negativity. I HATE seeing a tree felled but sometimes I guess it has to be done. Bah!

Flower Garden

Red Faced and Appleless

Calling all tree spotters – We need a tree identified please!

Let me explain. It seems that the neglected apple tree that we thought we had at the end of the garden is not an apple tree after all, according to a neighbour. But, that leaves us rather stumped (no pun intended) as we do not know what the tree is. Serves me right I suppose, getting all ahead of myself and assuming that it was an apple tree because next door has one that looks similar to ours but tons healthier and with apples on (oh the shame)  bah, im so gutted!

So, all we know is we have a crusty looking tree that failed to leaf this year (when we viewed the house at the end of summer I remember the tree being bare) and it seems for many years according to the neighbour. So what is it?  

tree-trunk

frosty-tree

Flower Garden, Wildlife, Wildlife Gardening

Autumn Nectar

This welcome sight for hungry bees and other beneficial insects is the flower of Fatsia Japonica, an evergreen shrub that’s as tough as old boots. After the flowers are finished tiny purple/black seed heads are food for small birds. We planted this shrub around 5 years ago and now it must be well over 10 ft high by 9 ft wide, every autumn it’s teeming with hungry bees when the creamy white flowers emerge. They are very similar to the flower spikes of ivy Hedera helix  but are more than double the size. Flowering commences from the bottom of the spike which elongates as it matures, so it’s quite a spectacular plant when there are several spikes in flower.

Fatsia Japonica likes full shade or part shade, in full sun its deep glossy leaves will end up burnt and sickly looking but it will probably still cope!