Thursday 27 June 2013

Mixed Bag Miscellany

Gentle Reader, in the four days since my last entry, there has been a mixed bag of weather.  The wild, wet, and windy weather of the weekend passed and the days have found gentler, kinder conditions, but not without some anomalies, like the bank of fog that swept in from the ocean yesterday morning, only to be replaced a few short hours later with warm summer sunshine that seemed blistering and left me melting with the juxtaposition of temperatures.

One of the bizarre things that seems more prevalent than usual in the garden is a strange little critter called a frog hopper.  Frog hoppers hide beneath a shield of 'spit', a frothy substance they secrete to keep themselves covered and prevent them drying out.  We call this phenomenon 'cuckoo spit' because it generally shows up on plants in the garden around the same time as the cuckoo bird arrives in Britain after it's migration from Africa.  Although they suck the sap of plants, the damage is minimal.

Here is Cuckoo Spit~

and I rinsed it off to reveal the tiny Frog Hopper underneath for you~

It soon replaced the 'spit' so no harm was done!

Every year, the sycamore trees that border my property drop their leaves in Autumn and over several days I am able to go out and rake them up.  I gather them into big bin bags, tie the tops and pierce the bottoms of each back to let moisture drain out.  Over the winter, these rot down to make a rich humus that can be added to soil or used as a mulch to suppress weeds.  I usually harvest several such bags, and once the job is done it is forgotten about until I come to use them.  Yesterday, however, I noticed a bit of a mess by the bags, and on closer inspection some have been torn open, scattering the contents to the wind.  The only thing I can think of that has done this is a badger!  I know there are several holts nearby, so it is entirely likely that one wandered into my garden again, as they have done in the past, in search of juicy worms~

I am still waiting for my runner beans and broad beans to germinate, but am happy to see that I now have three tiny courgette plantlets, so there is hope that there will be something to eat from the garden very soon.  I am preparing the small vegetable plot in earnest now, and today I ventured to turn back the weed killing membrane that I placed over part of the plot late last year.  This is how it looked a few weeks ago, you can see one of the yellow recycled inflatable mattresses I used~

and this is how it looks today after I turned back the two mattresses.  It seems to have worked really well, there are just a few white bindweed roots, squiggling across the surface like long, skinny worms.  They will soon be removed~

If you remember, I mentioned that I am using this area to hold plants for the borders this year, and this is how it looks now, after I planted out five healthy foxglove plants.  They will soon grow and fill out, and I hope they will be a natural weed suppressant~

These are the same plants just a few weeks ago, so they have grown really well~

Gentle Reader, the plants and flowers continue to open and delight, so here are a few for you to see tonight~

A double, cultivated poppy that looks like an old~fashioned ball gowned dancer waiting to waltz~

The fragrant David Austin rose Frances E. Lester, a beautiful, and highly fragrant, rambler that I have pruned into a shrub~it is covered in clusters of these delicate, pink blooms~

Another fragrant favourite, the rosa rugosa that I am making into a small hedge~

and another image of the lovely poppy, with colour singing out against the blue borage~

A peach coloured patio rose which I bought quite cheaply as it had no label.  A bargain purchase, don't you think~

My dwarf clematis, which trails rather than climbs, in a terracotta pot against a sunny wall~

So, Gentle Reader, I have brought you some of the strange, and some beautiful too . . Please stop by again to see how this garden grows, for I have been busy clearing the soft fruit patch and there is now some news to share from there.

Sunday 23 June 2013

The Drone of Lonely Lawn Mowers

The drone of lonely lawn mowers, like giant bees, buzz across the gardens of the village earlier in the week.  Everyone was out working hard, just like those honeybees, cutting grass before the next forecast deluge arrived at the weekend.

It almost seemed a shame to mow through the pretty daisies and buttercups sprinkled across the green like stars across the night sky, but they have had two extra weeks to grow, and it has been three since the lawn was last cut.  Here are the before and after~

See the pretty daisies and buttercups?  Look how green the grass is too.  It makes me want to walk barefoot across the lawn, so cool and pleasant.

The daisies and buttercups are gone, there is a semblance of stripes, but I am shocked at how poor the condition is.  Yellow is the new green!  I will have to look up what to do about this to improve it for next year.  I don't mind the daisies, but I don't like the yellow grass.

There were pollinating insects at last!  This is a hover fly on the pink osteospermum~

and here is a white tailed bumblebee getting ready to dive, head first, into the oriental poppy~

Then, with what is becoming almost too predictable for comfort, it all changed for the weekend.  On Thursday I made an emergency dash to the hardware store for thirty bamboo canes to stake up the lillies in an attempt to give them some support from the forecast gales and rain, due on the weekend.  It is now Saturday, it rained heavily all night, but that is okay . . I don't mind the rain at night.  Night time is a good time for it to rain!  The wind, is another matter.  My lawn is littered with the fronds of a neighbouring Cordyline Palm tree.  This is a viscous tree.  I do not like them at all.  The fronds are tough and I can quite see why they are used for making sturdy baskets in foreign climes, for they are strong, fibrous, and do not compost well as they just break down into fibrous strands that knot into everything.  They have a vicious spike on the tip that can give a nasty, sore wound.  They caffle around the lawn mower blades . . and the flowers produce a pungent, sickly sweet smell that cloys and permeates everywhere.  I do not like them.  Rant over! 

For two days now the wind has blown hard, and more again today.  Thankfully, my attempts at emergency staking are mostly successful.  The ground is deep pink underneath the rugos roses where the petals have ripped off.  They should recover well, as they flower all summer long before producing those beautiful, glossy, red rose hips.  The poppies did better than I expected too, but they are a sorry shadow of what might have been.  I am increasingly amazed at the tenacity of plants to survive and recover.  This photo was taken before the wind~

My lettuce has not fared well . . the slugs have decimated the small crop, so I must start over.  It is not too late to sow another crop.  My curly kale and Swiss chard seedlings also became slug fodder.  What can I do?

Still, the flowers are doing really well, and here are some photographs for you to see them all~

This is one of my favourites (I do seem to say that about most plants, don't I?) It is purple alyssum.  When I bought the seeds I thought they were annuals, but this is a not~so~common perennial variety!  The purple cushions of bloom just get bigger each year~

I love how these two Alchemilla mollis tumble into each other, over from a raised border and down the step.  Very effective, and it pleases me a lot~

This is a dwarf clematis.  You can see there are many buds, and I wait patiently to see this a mass of purple, one of my favourite colours in the garden~

This 'dwarf' geranium looks very healthy, but so far it is all leaf and no sign of flowers.  It is puzzling, because it is also twice the size it should be! I grew it from a cutting taken in spring this year. We must wait and see~

The Nigella are opening too.  I love their feathery fronds surrounding the pure, white flower.  These are all self~seeded.  Originally, there were blues, pinks, and mauves, but only the white seems to survive now.  Very pretty, though~

This is a dwarf verbascum.  I check daily for the Mullein moth, for verbascum and mullein are different names for the same plant.  Mullein moth can destroy a big, healthy plant overnight if left unchecked.  I love how this opens up in sections along the flowering spikes~

A wild poppy, not quite like the Flander's Poppy, and I wonder if it isn't a cross between two varieties~

The same bloom in close up~

Finally, Gentle Reader, just yesterday evening I received a beautiful gift from a dear friend.  A copy of  The Plants of Middle Earth by Dinah Hazell.  I cannot tell you how thrilled I am, especially as I already have many of the plants listed growing merrily in my garden.  Now, new ones are added to my wanted list too!  Isn't this such a thoughtful gift, for a gardener who also happens to be a fan of Tolkien and Middle Earth?  I am such a lucky gardener.

Monday 17 June 2013

After the Wind and the Rain

Gentle Reader, the weather was not kind.  Today there is change for the better, and after three days of wind and rain the clearing up begins.  It could have been much worse!  There are a lot of leaves down in my garden from neighbouring trees, and that mess must dry before I start to rake and sweep.  That is the sort of work I expect to do in autumn!

The main casualties are the oriental poppies, which do choose to bloom when bad weather seems imminent every year!  As I said in an earlier entry, the cold has held the blooms back so not too  many were open for the destructive forces of nature.  Only one lily did not remain upright, but I am confident it will recover as it does not seem damaged.

Here are the poppies after I had tried to tie them up, but there is only so much one can do when being buffeted by wind, and rained upon.  I did what I could, we will see how they recover, and it will be interesting to see what happens next year when they are staked early on~

but here is one that bloomed earlier~

I think it looks like a gorgeous, pink clamshell, don't you?

This is the stone hedge that forms part of my boundary walls.  It is a Pembrokeshire stone hedge, and may well be two hundred years, or more, old.  I have no way of telling, or finding out~

Until last year it was completely hidden by the ivy.  I removed most of it last summer, and since then I have trimmed it twice, once in the autumn and again in the spring of this year. It looks so much better now, and I am hoping that two half yearly trims will keep it tidy and in check.

Since clearing the lower half, I am delighted to see that nature is returning, and ferns and pennywort have started to grow along the bottom edge and in some nooks and crannies of the stonework.  I love both, and they are the sort of plants you see growing on a stone hedge in the wild countryside~

Further along, there are foxgloves and primroses too!

Sadly, I had to cut back much of the lovely honeysuckle that is spilling over from next door's side.  It is so pretty, and the birds love it, but it has a habit of winding around my washing line, clambering over my roof, and generally cutting out my light.  I have done a quick job today, just to keep it away, but think it will need much more drastic attention in the autumn~

In just thirty minutes I filled my garden weed sack!  Later, when it is dry out there I will have to go and sweep up all the debris that was blown in on the winds.  It is too wet and messy right now.  In fact, I doubt I shall do much more until it is dry.  I can be such a wimp!  There are petunias to pot up, so I might attend to those later.  You will see the pictures of those in a future blog, I promise.

Until the next time, Gentle Reader, I leave you with a female blackbird, who is always hopping around the garden looking for grubs to feed her hungry brood of chicks.

Saturday 15 June 2013

Waiting for the Weather {Again}

Gentle Reader, the late spring weather is once again on holiday.  After just over a fortnight of dry conditions, gentle breezes, and steadily rising temperatures, inclement weather has returned. The last few days have seen us buffeted by increasingly stronger winds and heavy rainfall with daytime temperatures dropping into the mid~fifties and lower.  Most seeds do not like inconsistent conditions, so germination may be poor again this year.

Yesterday, the oriental poppies were dragged down with a combination of the weight of water trapped on the hairy stems and wind.  I feared the worse, for the winds blew strong through the night.  This morning there is some damage, but nothing like I feared~


I am confident they will recover, and there are still many blooms to open~

Thankfully, the cold came in before the rain and wind and I think this stopped the delicate blooms from opening.  I recall that this is not the first time this has happened, so I am making a note to stake them well next year as they begin to grow.  This will not only give the much needed support, but if done early enough the foliage will grow around the supports and make them less visible.

Not all was blown about.  This little corner, however, looks quite refreshed and green. Of course, when it rains the weeds grow too, and I can see I must tend this area soon!  I love the many shades of green, and my lavender has many  spikes.  Thankfully, those spikes are whippy and so survive all but the strongest winds.
There are so many tones and textures here, and the soil looks so rich and dark I just want to dive in with bare hands and feel it crumble between my fingers~

The mixed leaves sown last Sunday started to show tiny green seedlings yesterday, and here they are~
Not shown in this picture is the tiny, baby slug that I removed as he crept his way along the soil.  Barely an inch long, and so thin I almost missed him, these creatures are the bane of every gardener I know.  I hope he didn't eat any tender seedlings!

Here is one of those things that delight and surprise.  This is a wild poppy, self~sown in a crack in a wall.  It is completely miniaturised!  How tenatious is the nature of plants!

The Euphorbia did not fare so well, so once the weather settles I will chop off these heads, like the Queen from Alice in Wonderland!  It will do no harm, for there is much new growth ~ as you can see ~ and this plant is due to be moved in the autumn anyway.  Always wear rubber gloves when handling Euphorbias for their sap is toxic and will cause a nasty skin irritation.

Alas, the peonies are finished!  They were near the end of their flowering period for this year, but it is always sad to see the petals ripped away and scattered on the ground~

Gentle Reader, do you recall those strawberry plants?  Well, here is a small crop in the making!  Next year, when established, there will be many fruits, and some of the plants have already produced runners which means more plants too! 

So far, the runner beans have not germinated, and I fear that it is still too cold.  I do not have a suitable indoor space to bring them on, so I had to take a chance.  Is it too late to sow a second attempt, I wonder?  Given that the daytime temperatures are hovering around the mid~50℉ I am not certain this will be warm enough yet again.

I would like to crop something other than soft fruits this year, but realise that, without a sheltered, covered space to bring plants on it is an uphill struggle.  Given the weather, they need a head start to help them establish and survive.  It is not the end of the world, I have learned from this, and over winter I will make sure I find a suitable space to bring things on in good time.  The vegetable plot is still under cover of weed killing layers and perhaps it is better to do this job thoroughly this year and let the layers do their work before removing them.

The native foxglove plants are so pretty and give a lovely splash of purple pink.  These are one of my top ten favourites and I'm thankful they do well in my garden.  See how they stood up to the wind? 

A final note, the lawn, so yellow and sparse, has shot up overnight and is now green with pretty sparkles of yellow buttercups and white daisies! 

p.s. there is now a Facebook page to support this blog, so do stop by and join me there for daily weather reports and garden updates.

Monday 10 June 2013


Gentle Reader, I must share with you that I had a "serendipity moment" this very morning.   You may have read here, just yesterday afternoon, my delight at discovering that certain plants waiting to be moved into their permanent position in my borders unexpectedly offer natural weed suppression.  The few weeds that have managed to force a way up grow very weakly indeed and are incredibly easy to both identify and remove.  For me, this is a huge bonus because these are plants I love, plants I want to have in my garden, and plants that seem to do well in my garden whatever the weather happens to be.  To discover that, when planted all together, they get along with each other and really slow down the progression of weeds is a truly welcome bonus.

This morning, while out making my daily early inspection, camera in hand, I took this photograph.  It is strange how, when looking at the planting in the garden successful arrangements are sometimes overlooked, but when I uploaded it onto my laptop, I instantly realised that this arrangement, although originally haphazardly done, is quite appealing to the eye and works very well for me, so much so that I have decided to use it for one of the borders that edge the lawn.  That border already contains two Aconitum (monkshood; wolf's bane) in deep blue, and I believe these will all work harmoniously with the deep blue flower spikes.  I can hardly contain my excitement!  I will need to slightly widen the borders, which I had already considered, clean them thoroughly to remove as many weeds as possible, then carefully move these plants over to their planned positions.   I am so excited, but I think I told you this already.  Here is a photograph of the current holding border, and I hope you will see the cause of my excitement~

The planting is (top to bottom) osteospermum, oregano, cultivated poppy, foxgloves, self~heal, Alchemilla mollis, Papaver Orientalis, and interspersed with Aquilegia of various colours.  Thiere is a sage plant behind (not part of this holding area) and it is not out of the question that I might take cuttings to put a sage plant or two into this arrangement.

The Papaver Orientalis are opening too, more cause for great excitement, and here is a macro image of the centre of one~

How uplifting to suddenly find a planting scheme that suits my garden and my plans, especially as it was so unexpected!

Sunday 9 June 2013

Thickly and Quickly

Gentle Reader, as the garden grows, so does the inspiration for new posts.  Despite the cold, wet start, the garden is now growing like a proverbial weed and each new morning brings something new to look at, observe, and consider.  Indeed, I do not know which way to turn with my camera or my thoughts!

Fruits are starting to form, like these tiny apples~


and gooseberries~

Soon I will be picking fruit daily.  What can be better than fresh picked strawberries and raspberries for my breakfast, sun~ripened and warm, from berry patch to breakfast bowl in moments; blackcurrants for jam, pies, crumbles, and cordials; gooseberry crumble (a favourite with custard); and tay berries for jelly.  The surplus will be frozen for the winter months ahead, a steady supply of summer sunshine and vitamins.

My herbs are growing rapidly, and already some seeds are setting like this Sweet Cicely, I do so like the name, it is delightfully old fashioned, pictured here growing through my vigorous rosemary~

two types of oregano, green and variegated~

and this is the Moroccan mint I found, languishing in a tiny pot, which I potted up and is now producing tiny shoots from the base~

I use a lot of fresh herbs in my cooking, and dry them for a supply over winter when, although they are still in leaf, the oils are not present for sufficient flavour.

There is weeding and digging to be done (they are always on the list of jobs) and a lawn to be mowed this week. A Gardener's Work is Never Done! Seeds are waiting to be planted, and today I sowed some beetroot, mixed leaves, broad beans, courgettes, curly kale, and Swiss chard in pots to plant out if the weather holds.

Much of my vegetable plot is under weed killing cover ~ old, punctured inflatable mattresses to be precise.  Rather than confine them to landfill, I am recycling them to help suffocate the weeds.  It is not a pretty sight, weighted down by old Land Rover wheels, and it is a lengthy process, but I refuse to resort to chemicals unless absolutely necessary.  I have taken photographs, and I will share these when I am ready to remove the covers, which will be a blog entry in itself.  I pulled them back a few weeks back and although working the job still has some way before they can be removed for cultivation so I am not planning on using it this year.  There are some small spaces around the edges that I hope to use though.  More on this later.

Part of my vegetable plot is being used as a holding area for flowers and shrubs until the relevant areas of the garden are ready to receive them.  I put these plants there last summer, not planning to leave them there so long, but I procrastinated over what I wanted to do with the rest of the garden, so here they remain.  They are thriving and offering good weed suppression that I did not expect!  This gives me useful information I need to remember, as I have learned something new, that osteospermums not only do well in my garden but are good weed suppressants~

Other plants that seem to do this are oregano, Alchemilla Mollis, self~heal, foxgloves, and oriental poppies. You can hardly put a pin between them!  No room for weeds to grow here!

One task connected with the edible garden is storing and consuming the produce.  I used to only grow what I could eat directly from plot to plate, but one year I had a glut of courgettes (zucchini) and even after giving away many fruits I still had masses left.  I stumbled upon a wonderful book, "Jams, Preserves, and Edible Gifts Paston" by Sara Paston~Williams for The National Trust which contained a recipe for Courgette Chutney.  I bought it, made my first batch and have never looked back.  Now, I freeze my freshly picked fruits and make small, regular batches of jams, jellies, and preserves throughout the winter months.  I also use the defrosted fruits with home made yogurt for breakfast, or in delicious pies and crumbles for warming winter puddings.  No wonder I gain weight in the winter!

So, one of the jobs I must do is empty the freezer of all of last year's fruit that is still left and turn it into jam.  This week, I found 3lbs of raspberries, so raspberry jam is made~

As the blackcurrants will be the first to ripen and generally need picking in mid~July I must make jam and crumbles from the remaining 12lbs I have in the freezer!  They do crop very well indeed.

I have a busy time over the next few weeks!  There will, I am certain, be many entries here to look for as I spend my days between the garden and the kitchen.