A close call....

The days are getting noticeably shorter, there is a nip in the air and there is morning dew on the grass. The season is drawing to an end and autumn is just around the corner.

The robin is making a regular appearance in the garden at the moment, but it could easily have been his last had I not noticed his dilemma recently. It was my own doing of course, he had spotted a gap in the netting covering the blueberries, I am usually so careful in pegging it down but in my haste had missed a corner and he had tried unsuccessfully to hop through and got caught.  All this happened within seconds of watching him fly down from the top of the pea frame in the kitchen garden. I quickly dashed outside, rubbed dry soil into the palms of my hands and very carefully held him in one hand whilst removing the netting from around his head. He was so still whilst I was doing this, it was as though he knew I was trying to help. On freeing him I placed my other hand over his face before slowly lowering him onto some open ground. As I let go he flew straight up onto the pergola, before flying off unscathed. I saw him a short while later sat on top of the bird table where we had put some left over crumbs from a blueberry loaf.
The flowers in the garden have been deadheaded on a regular basis to try and extend the season as long as possible, so there is a constant supply of material being put onto the compost heap. To try and get this to break down into a useable material it needs to be turned on a regular basis and this was one of the tasks that I needed to get done this weekend. Despite the amount of rain that had fallen the day before, I found myself caught out by the weather, when whilst turning the heap we had an unexpected downpour. I wasn’t the only one caught out, a blackbird took cover on the bird table and some of the bees that had been buzzing around were seen to be clinging to the sides of the echinop flowers.

Meanwhile in the kitchen garden we are still picking courgettes and beetroot, whilst the leeks are hopefully fattening up. Given the late start to the season they are looking a little on the lean side. The sweet peas are still hanging in there with the occasionally flurry of flowers, but they are ready for the compost heap really. I am glad that I wasn’t too hasty on that front as the other morning a number of sparrows took a great interest in them, or rather the aphids, and it was entertaining watching them flitting in and out of the plant.
I now need to be thinking of ordering my onion sets and garlic for planting out in the next few weeks. I haven’t made any plans for growing other crops over the winter period, but before I know it, it will be soon time to reflect on this year and start planning for the next.

Bank Holiday catch up.

The garden is at its best this time of year with just about all of the late summer flowers jostling for their space in the borders. The yellows and oranges are really singing out and as always the borders are filled with bees, butterflies and hoverflies. Not one for tempting fate, but this year has been the best summer we have had for a while, and despite being on the dry side the plants have just about hung in there. A few weeks ago I did have to cut back the Knautia as it was suffering quite badly from mildew, but overall the plants are surviving quite well, I put this down to not molly codling them. After all as I work full time I don’t have the time to pander to the gardens needs. I try to plant any new additions to the garden in spring once the soil temperature is rising but the air temperature is still cool enough to give the plants chance to get their roots down. Then they only get watered for the first few weeks. The best bet is to give them a soaking say once a week rather than a sprinkling of water every day.  That way you encourage them to get their roots down deep otherwise they will stay near the surface and this will not be beneficial in the long term as in a summer such as this the plants would rely on a regular water source to survive.  I prefer to grow my plants hard and spend my time enjoying the garden and deadheading a plant or two. Speaking of which, the lavender has had a clip over recently to remove all the spent flowering stems. You need to be careful with lavender not to cut back too far as new growth will not grow from older wood.

Having spent the bank holiday away from home on our return there were one or two jobs that needed doing in the kitchen garden.  The onions have now finished and these have been dug up and left on the greenhouse staging to dry. I did initially have them drying in the sun, but as a dark cloud passed overhead I thought better of it. The last of the turnips were harvested as were some beetroot, courgettes, spring onions and runner beans. The celeriac looks like an improvement on previous attempts of growing as they are showing signs of the roots swelling, but not much, only time will tell whether we will have more success this year.  A further handful of peas resulted from leaving the plants standing longer than usual, these have now been cut down and composted. They had been standing there for so long that the tiny nitrogen fixing nodules on the roots had already broken down into the soil. In the greenhouse the tomatoes are steady away with all plants bearing fruit, albeit still green. Just to one side of the greenhouse are the autumn raspberries and when these were first put in I was under the impression that these only ever grew to four feet and needed little support. Ours must grow six feet and are a little rebellious. After picking the first ripened fruits I was covered in scratches along the length of my arms. I have to control them every year and this year is no exception. I have put two canes in place at either end with a further cane horizontal half way up the overall height. This appears to have curtailed their need to sprawl across the pathway so hopefully I can get to the fruit as they ripen without all of the scratches.



I do like the gentle buzzing of bees and there have been a reasonable number visiting the garden of late. I have tried to identify the different species, but unfortunately the majority do not stay still long enough for me to get a good look.  It has also been noticeable that they vary significantly in size, with some of the bees being reasonably large.

The bees are currently enjoying the flowering raspberry canes, Alliums, Lavender, Heleniums, Echinacea, Knautia and Monarda.  They appear to be staying well clear of the Persicari this year, but that said it has received great interest from a number of wasps.

As the night starts to draw in, the larger variety of the bees seem to find a rest in the garden for the night. Their favourite place tends to be clinging to underneath the allium heads upside down. I have got this species down to be the cuckoo bee, but I couldn’t tell you any more than that.


A productive garden.

We have had quite a lot of heavy downpours over the last couple a weeks, and yet the temperature has remained reasonably warm. Although it is a far cry from the bar-b-que weather we were starting to grow accustomed to, the flowers and vegetables in the garden will probably not complain. For those plants that were starting to struggle from the lack of water, a sigh of relief could almost be heard as the growing conditions became more favourable. As the lavender and roses come to an end the garden begins to warm up with the hot colours of the crocrosmia, rudbeckias and heleniums.  On the opposite side of the border the more subtle colours of the monardas, echinaceas and persicaria are also in full flower. Despite our bee hive coming to an end, there are still plenty of bees buzzing around enjoying the garden as much as we are.

In the kitchen garden the leeks are finally underway and growing well, whilst the onions look like they have just about given up hope, albeit a month early. The peas have long since finished and we should now be enjoying the climbing beans, if it wasn’t for the snails! Earlier in July I did sow a batch of dwarf beans just in case and these are now almost ready for planting out. I will get a decent crop of green beans if it is the last thing I do, Sunday roast just isn’t the same with only four of them! The courgettes are finally growing well and I am even trying to grow an autumn squash in the greenhouse below the tomatoes, which are also now starting to produce fruit. Hopefully these will do better than last year.

In the midst of the kitchen garden I am growing a tower of sweetpeas. Undeterred by last year’s failure I decided to give these a go again this year. They have been a complete success and I am picking a bunch of sweetpeas every other day for the house. They smell divine.

A bite to eat.

On checking on how the cabbages were doing I noticed that something had been having a nibble at the outer leaves. It wasn’t just the outer leaves that had been nibbled, but something had tunnelled straight through the heart of my cabbage. On closer inspection I found a big, fat, caterpillar trying its best to stay out of sight. I was not impressed. Every year I cover the brassicas with insect proof mesh and every year a caterpillar or two always seems to find its way inside and create a catastrophe. Ok I might be exaggerating a little here, but when I only have enough room to grow a handful of cabbage, and I really do mean five or six, losing just one or two is quite a significant number. I ended up tossing the remains of the cabbage on the compost heap, along with the caterpillar. After hunting down and removing a further two caterpillars, the bed was re-covered with the netting.

As I turned my attention to tidying the flower border at the back of the garden I could hear a rustling of leaves. The sound was coming from underneath the hedge and when I bent down to see where the noise was coming from I came face to face with a baby blackbird. With no hesitation the bird hopped out in front of me and started to peck around the area I had cleared minutes earlier. Feeling a little sorry for the birds efforts in finding a bite to eat I retreated to the compost bin and scooped up one of the caterpillars that I’d chucked in earlier. I offered this to the baby blackbird who promptly ate it before flying off to the call of its parent nearby.
I would like to point out that I don’t make a habit of sending caterpillars to their doom by feeding them to the birds. This was a one off occurrence and as this seems to have been a particularly good year for butterflies, given the number I’ve seen on my lavender alone, I hope you will understand why I had no sense of guilt in doing so.

We need to provide more plants in our gardens that benefit bees and butterflies, and in doing so know that we are doing our bit for nature.

When a swede, isn't a swede....

The other day I was in the kitchen garden just checking things over and seeing how things were getting on. This year I am particular pleased with the brassicas, especially my apparent success with the swede.

A couple of months ago I had direct sown some chard, turnips and swede all side by side,  the rest of the bed being planted up with cabbage, parsnips, beetroot and celeriac. The bed was then covered with insect proof mesh to keep out everything from the cabbage root fly to the pigeons. The weather initially was a little hit and miss, but eventually some of the seeds which were sown started to germinate and grow.

Given the dry June that we had it became necessary to uncover the bed and drench the ground around the plants once or even twice a week. It was at this time I noticed just how well the swede and turnips were growing. That is until one particular day, it suddenly dawned on me that the turnips were putting on a lot of healthy top growth, but not much was developing in the way of a root. What I had initially had thought was the turnips were in fact chard, hence the swede that I was so proud of were in fact the turnips. What happened to the swede? who knows, it seems that the seeds never actually germinated.  It just goes to show that whenever sowing direct you should always label the rows.


A Blooming Dry July

Yesterday I awoke to the rumble of thunder and the sound of rain pounding on the roof. It hasn’t rained for a few weeks now and the water butts were dry.
I have spent most of my evenings in the garden watering, but not the flower beds as you would think. Although one or two of the plants are starting to show some affects of the dry weather, it  goes to show that the theory of right plant in the right place really does work. The only watering in respect of the flower borders has been a weekly drench of the ground around the roses. Needless to say they have put on a fantastic display, and with one or two other plants, have needed deadheading almost daily. In the kitchen garden the peas, courgettes and tomatoes have needed watering every day with the brassicas and onions requiring a good drenching once or twice a week.
The garden overall is really starting to get going now. The cold spell early in the year has resulted in some plants flowering 6 weeks later than usual, with the warm dry weather that we are currently experiencing, resulting in the earlier flowering of other plants. Some vegetables have also been ready for picking, namely shallots, garlic, managetout, peas, beetroot and spring onions. The tomatoes are a little behind in the greenhouse, and are only just starting their second truss of fruit. I was absolutely gutted a few weeks back when seeing some tomatoes growing in a public garden, further south from here, they were strong looking plants and already onto their forth truss of fruit. Mine at the time hadn’t even managed the first, let alone a forth. The tomatoes are not the only fruit we have had a problem with so far. The blueberries/bilberries have produced only a small amount of fruit this year. This could be down to not enough pollinating insects around at the right time, or maybe with the bumper crop we had last year they need some time to recover. All I know is that we are not the only ones with a poor harvest this year.
For those of you that recall, the bees that were introduced into the garden a few months back, all is not well. I can only assume that the warm weather has assisted in bringing to a near end our hive. The queen bee has died and all but two or three of the workers have gone. Our only hope now is that the eggs that have been laid hatch okay and the hive exists a while longer. Despite this we are still getting a number of bees in the garden, some species of which I don’t recall ever seeing before.



Hidcote Manor and Kiftsgate Court

A few weeks ago we spent 10 glorious days in the Cotswolds and whilst there managed to squeeze in a garden or two. We spent some time at Hidcote, a garden created by Lawrence Johnson, which later became the first garden taken on by the National Trust. It is a fantastic garden and it was not the first time that we had visited.

We also visted Kiftsgate Court, a garden that is just down the road from Hidcote, and one that I would recommend. It has been gardened by three generations of women, with help and inspiration coming from Lawrence Johnson when he was a friend to the Muir family.

All is well in the garden.

Over the last month the garden has changed significantly and whilst the plants have been going through a growing spell so to have the weeds.  I spent the first part of May dodging the heavy rain showers weeding the flower beds to try and gain the upper hand. If you let the weeds get hold this early in the season you end up fighting a constant battle for the remainder of the year. 
The border at the back of the garden was the first as usual to take the lead with the rhoderdendrons coming into flower, soon followed by a mix of dicentra, brunnera and aquilegias. The foreground of the border filled with geum  and alchemilla.  Last autumn some alliums were planted in the midst of the border and these have also come into flower this last week and are seemingly floating above the other plants like purple pom poms, its starting to look quite good.

Meanwhile in the border nearest to the house the plants are bulking up for flowering later in the year. To make the most of the space left by the dogwoods, which were pruned back in March, we have planted centauria, which is electric blue in colour and loved by the bees, and the oriental poppy Pattys Plum. During this last week I had also decided to add one or two of the smaller flowering  aquilegias  to the border to give more colour.

In the kitchen garden the boundary wall is draped with clematis Montana. This was a gift to us after the family dog had taken a liking to chewing on the branches at the base of the plant. It survived well and this year its put on its best show yet.

The weather has been warm and sunny these last couple of weeks and it has been all systems go in the kitchen garden. As the peas have started to grow these have been tied into their supports so that they can start to climb, and I noticed today that they have already got their first flowers. The canes have also been put up to support the climbing beans and the courgettes have been planted out to hopefully fill the ground at their feet.
Due to the weather earlier in the year the shallots and garlic are a few weeks behind and the leeks directly sown into the ground are no-where near as ready as they should be. That said the leeks that were sown into a pot in the greenhouse are now ready to be planted out into their final positions, but they will have to hang on in there another week or two until space becomes available.

The parsnip seedlings that were sown out, after getting kick started on some damp kitchen towel  indoors, appear to be growing well.  After the third attempt at sowing the swede, beetroot and beet at regular intervals, the seedlings for these have also finally germinated.  The celeriac has been planted into its final growing position and it wont be long before the cabbages join them. The only worry now is whether there is enough room for it all, well that and whether  the slugs will devour the lot overnight. 

2013 Chelsea flower show.

The 2013 Chelsea flower show has come and gone, but we managed to get tickets for the final Saturday.

It was a long day as we were up early to catch the train down to London and it was late that evening before we arrived back home. As expected the event was busy and trying to get a glimpse of the show gardens took some doing, especially if you wanted a photograph or two.  Despite the crowds the place didn’t make you feel claustrophobic and the day was thoroughly enjoyable. There was plenty to see, from the show gardens to the nurseries in the floral marquee who’s stands were done out like show gardens themselves. There was also array of other exhibitors ranging from those selling garden accessories to garden sculptures.

After being at the show for a few hours it became evident that no-one was actually selling plants.   I found this quite strange, as being in attendance of similar events, the nurseries usually have some stock that they sell.  It is possible that because of the location of the flower show that they cannot do this due to space and accessibility, however this created a massive sense of expectation in the build up to the 16:00 sell off, with everyone wanting to take a little bit of the show home with them.

The build up to the sell off starts well before 16:00. Once the plant you want has been identified you need to stay relatively close by to be in with a chance of obtaining it when the chaos commences. This wait can start at least 30 minutes before the selloff, in fact its long enough to get to know the people waiting next to you and which plant they’re after.  I had decided upon a rose, a new introduction for 2013 by Harkness Roses. A good half an hour before the 16:00 bell, we had to leave their stand and a rope was put up to keep people from re-entering, a bit like a boxing ring and it must have felt like that to the staff who were surrounded by a massive crowd of people.  We along with many others waited nearby not wanting to lose out on our target rose.  As the time came nearer the staff gave out carrier bags and put on their gloves in readiness whilst we got our money out ready.

Suddenly Alan Titchmarsh was on the tanoy and a countdown commenced before the bell was rung. There was a large cheer and the madness started as plants and money exchanged hands quicker than shares on the stock exchange.   It was all very well being at the front of the queue, but trying to get out was a nightmare. With plant raised high above my head I had to push my way through the crowd.

Some of the plants that people buy are madness and it is obvious that they have bought them to try and get on the telly. Tall echiums and delphiniums that will never last the bus or train journey home, at least not intact. Huge bunches of tulips and lilies, or spires of flowering foxgloves that will last out the week if you’re lucky.  I may not have made it on the telly, but my rose will flower year after year and I can say I was there for the 100th Chelsea Flower Show.


An exciting delivery.

This week I arrived home from work one evening to find a package I had been expecting had been left on the front doorstep, or more correctly in a safe place whilst I was out.
I carefully took the box around to the back of the house and removed the tape. This was a first for me and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Inside was a beepol lodge complete with our native British bumblebees. I couldn’t help but take a peek inside the lodge. I lifted the lid carefully and found inside the self contained nest and bumbling bees wandering around.
On following the detailed instructions, I carefully removed the lodge from the box and set it down its allocated spot in the garden and left it for almost an hour for the bees inside to settle back down. I was a little worried at this time as over the last few days the temperature had dropped and we currently had heavy rain. It had been raining continuously since the previous evening.
Thankfully, at about the time I needed to release the bees, the rain had stopped. I opened the lid and broke open the catch on the box inside that contained the nest,  before I had chance to close the lid the bees were already starting to move through the hole and up into the roof of the beepol hive.
About an hour later the first bee was to be seen at the hive door and after a few attempts managed to work out how to get out of the hive. It sat on the ledge, cleaned its wings and took flight. Its first flight was initially clumsy and a little drunk looking, but it managed a lap of the garden before settling on the cherry blossom. It wasn’t long before the first bee was followed by one or two others.
On later inspection of the hive it was noted that in the entrance hole were two bees that appeared to be sitting in the way. I had heard that a bee’s nest was guarded by bees to prevent unwelcome guests entering the hive, but didn’t believe it until I saw it with my own eyes. There they were sat in the hole side by side, like bouncers, with the worker bees having to clamber over them to get in and out.

It wasn’t until the next evening that I actually got to see the bees re-entering the hive. Due to the plastic cat flap idea it takes them a little while to figure it out. I watched as some of the bees took a few minutes wandering around the entrance area before they realised how to obtain access. Hopefully it won’t be long before this becomes second nature to them.

On inspection of the hive last night I spotted one of the bees on the floor next to the hive. It looked dead. I carefully picked up the bee, it was much smaller than the others, and as I gently blew away some of the soil and debris around it, there was some faint movement of its antenna. I quickly went to get some sugary water and placed the bee next to this. It managed a sip and within minutes the bee was back on its feet walking around. I took it back up to the hive and placed it back inside with the others. I am not really sure whether this was the right thing to do or not, but being so small and with the light dropping it wouldn’t have lasted the night outside. Hopefully the little bee will be ok and it will be going about its business as usual today. We will never know.


Spring has finally arrived.

By the third week of April it was really beginning to feel like spring had finally arrived.
The primroses and daffodils put on a great display and the colour of the flowering currant was electric. Even the snowdrops that had looked a little sorry for themselves after the snow had melted put on one last show before going to seed.
The cold spell has probably delayed the seasonal growth in the garden by about 3 weeks, and although no major damage has been done to the shrubs and plants by the weather, the same cannot be said for the blue tits that had been visiting the garden every day. Since the snow fell we have had no sight of them and it is possible that they did not survive.
Things on the gardening front have been busy with plenty to catch up on as the soil starts to warm. The onion sets have finally been planted out, the leeks, spring onions and parsnip seeds have all been directly sown in the vegetable beds. Meanwhile, in the greenhouse , the peas and mangetout have been growing well and it has only been this last week that they have been planted out into their final positions, albeit with some protection from the weather and the birds. Climbing beans have also been sown into module cell trays in the green house and annual flower seeds of cosmos, rudbeckia and verbena bonariensis, as well as some celeriac have been sown in seed trays indoors. These are all now growing away quite well.

Over the May day bank holiday we had a few days away and on our return we found that the shrubs and plants had really come on leaps and bounds. The garden was starting to fill out as the warm weather encouraged the plants to put on some growth, the garden was looking green and fresh. In our absence the cherry tree had started to blossom and the erythroniums, brunnera and clematis were all in full flower.
The tomatoes, peppers and courgettes are growing well and these are now gradually being acclimatised to the greenhouse conditions during the day. A dip in the temperatures over the next few days has been forecast so it may be another few days or so before they can remain in the greenhouse on a more permanent basis, and slightly longer still before the courgettes are planted into their final positions outdoors. Thats British weather for you, it can change at the drop of a hat, and as a gardener it keeps you on your toes.