The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies. Gertrude Jekyll

Annie's Little Plot

Annie's Little Plot
Dreaming of my summer garden

Monday, 7 September 2015

A funny old summer

Hasn't it been a funny old summer. I don't know about you but I feel like my plot is just about getting into gear and its probably going to be cut down in its prime with the talk about cold nights this week. Slow is the operative word and anything that prefers a warmer summer has struggled for me this year. I was at the plot most of Sunday and it was glorious weather, here are a few photos of it now.

Last year I had masses of cucumbers grown outside, this year, they just sat and sulked in the ground and then were the target of slugs. Two measly little yellow cucumbers. Courgettes have even been slow and I've probably had just the right amount of courgettes (usually am overwhelmed by the glut and end up giving lots away). Squash usually romp all over my plot and given a few more weeks probably would again but I don't think I'll have too many fruit this year. Even my runner beans have been slow, masses of flowers and beans now which is frustrating but I should still get a reasonable crop. But it amazes me every year how different it can be. Hence my ploy which I stick to of growing a range of vegetables so that I get something for all the hard work. What has done well after all my whinging, well I've had a good crop of onions, shallots and garlic, roots crops like beetroot have been OK, lots of spinach and chard, calabrese and kale. I'm hoping my sweetcorn crop will be good and I've got lots of leeks to come, plus still got sprouts, broccoli and cabbage, though have had a few 'issues' with that, have been trying to protect my Brassicas by using proper good netting called Enviromesh (its not cheap!), this is to largely try and stop the cabbage white butterflies, I was sick of searching for caterpillars amongst the heads of calabrese!! It also prevents whitefly to some extent and then obviously the much larger pests, the pigeons which are a problem on my site. But it doesn't stop SLUGS!!
So I have lovely filigree cabbage, now consigned to the compost heap! They don't seem to have gone as much for the red cabbage (they were too busy with the white!). The problem I think for me is that because of the cover I wasn't weeding it as well and this creates more of a haven for slugs and snails and well another lesson learnt.
On a more positive note, my fruit crops have been amazing, loads of gooseberries, red and blackcurrants and strawberries. I've harvesting masses of blackberries and my raspberries have been the best ever this year. I grow blackberries along my fence, they pop out the back and I have raspberries at the front of the fence. I've taken some hard wood cuttings of one the blackberry bushes that are along here (the one which is thornless!) and have three new plants so plan to replace the vicious thorny one with one of these and then put the other two plants along my other fence..

But its my cut flower patch that has given me the most joy this year and its still looking great even if I say so myself.
This is the bed that was newly created this year as overspill!! Jostling together here are Salvia Bouquet Mixed, which is a mixture of the blue, pink and white forms (I have to say I much prefer the blue form) and it lasts for ages. Really good doer. I have a few plants of Didicus 'Blue Lace', the absolutely gorgeous Panicum 'Frosted explosion', a revelation to me is Ammi visnaga 'Casablanca', there is Bupleurum for foliage, a few Zinnias which haven't flowered prolifically but they last ages in a vase, Nicotiana 'Black Knight' and some white Snapdragons. This is the more sedate part of the patch. The other main bed has the larger more thuggish plants, the cornflowers, Cosmos, Amberboa, Gaura, Sweet peas and sunflowers. I'm still very much experimenting with the planting of the annuals and realising some just can't cope in this bed. The Nigella I think will need to be put somewhere where they don't get overwhelmed and I grew a lovely Gypsophila 'Kermesina' which grew well initially but then got a bit overtaken as well. Some plants in the main bed are starting to go to seed now, like the cornflowers, Amberboa, Cerinthe so I'm trying to take lots of bags with me when I go up to the plot to collect seed to save me money for next year. Like last year I've edged the bed with sunflowers though I might rethink this for next year as it does make picking from one side more difficult!! I'm trying to get pictures of them all so that I can assess which have been the best. I'm going to do a proper review of my cutting patch later in the year so that I can decide what to grow next year, though I've already been tempted by a special offer from Higgledy Garden and ordered some of the annual rudbeckias for next year. I'm also planning on sowing some hardy annuals anytime now to try and see if I can get a head start next year. First on the list being Echium 'Blue Bedder' which has flowered non-stop since May and looks lovely here in combination with Calendula 'Coffee and Cream'.
Another brilliant plant this year has been the Scabious black and white mix, which has flowered for a long time and the flowers have really long thick stems. I've also grown Scabiosa 'PingPong' which really is grown for the lovely seed pods, you may see one amongst the others here. I only ended up with one plant of this and it got a bit overwhelmed by the Cosmos. Another lesson learnt.
Anyway I must stop now, could talk all day about my cutting patch. I'm going to have a post showing some of my arrangements soon.
At home, my greenhouse has been full to bursting all spring and then over the summer I've had a great crop of tomatoes in there. The same varieties that I grew last year 'Sungold' the sweetest tomato ever, Martin never really gets many of those as I just eat them like grapes straight from the plant. But also 'Lucciolo' which is a small red plum tomato but I like it as it crops over a long time, not all ripening at once and it tastes good. I have two plants of each variety. I feel like I should be experimenting with other varieties but I don't have much room, I may try and squeeze in another pot in next year and try a new variety. I've also successfully grown Aubergines this year, a dwarf variety called 'Ophelia' which produces small almost perfect size fruit. Not hugely prolific and again slow growing but I've had three fruits so far. I also have some chillis which I'm urging on to ripen. Must mention Martin and our friend Bob who put the greenhouse up for me over a chilly winter a couple of years ago. couldn't do without it now, and need a bigger one. But that may necessitate getting a bigger garden!!

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Invisible sheds and the Flower Farmer

This is my last post about the Tatton Park Flowers Show but I just wanted to show some pictures of a really fun new addition to the show, the Garden Hideaways. Five standard garden sheds that were transformed into fabulous garden features in their own right. It was really popular area for visitors to the show. I wanted to take all of them home with me!
The first was The Hungry Gardener's Shed, I really loved this one as it could be found on any allotment. there was a small stove for cooking your freshly harvested produce on the back of the shed. Inside there was all the usual kit of the vegetable grower with seed labels, pots and plant supports, the must-have radio and kettle. There was even an apple tree growing on the side.

Sean Harkins is the National Trust Urban gardener in residence in Manchester and he created a shed to tell the story of the Lost gardens of Manchester. This tells of old gardens in Manchester, the sunken gardens in Piccadilly, the zoological gardens at Belle Vue, orchards of Shudehill, and who knew that there were Royal Botanical gardens at Old Trafford. There is an exhibit about this at Manchester Art Gallery at the moment.

The next shed was painted with a great picture of a blue tit, designed for nature lovers a hide for viewing wildlife.

The shed that caught the imagination was the Invisibility Tardis Shed of navel contemplation! Covered in mirror it was a bit disconcerting as it does seem to disappear when you viewed it from certain angles

But last but not least my favourite was the Cut Flower Shed created by the Northwest members of Flowers from the farm. How could I not love this with my new found passion for cut flowers. Lovely to chat to the ladies there about the flowers that they grow and sell locally.

While I'm talking about cut-flowers, another real treat at the show was being able to go to a talk in the Floral design studio by Georgie Newbery, an artisan flower farmer and florist who grows her flowers from a small-holding in Somerset. She's going against the grain really trying to persuade us to buy flowers that are grown locally and not flown in from places like Kenya and South Africa. But people are really starting to think about where flowers come from as well as their food. What an inspiring talk, she is really changing things along with a growing network of small-scale growers. She talked about the types of flowers that she grows, a big range but small amounts of each and successionally grown, all the while creating a handtied posy. She made it look so easy! It was a lovely end to our day at the show.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Lilac Squirrel

I thought that title might catch your eye!! More on the squirrel later, I'm continuing my visit to the Tatton Park Flower Show last week. I spent a full day there with my friend Tracy on the first day, its members day that day so seemed a little bit quieter. We had a good look round all the gardens as described in my previous post. We also looked round the Floral Marquee, I think I have got a bit blase about the displays in the marquee recently, if you go to a lot of the shows then you will notice that many nursery's display are the same every time. I remember my excitement at seeing these displays the first time I went to a flower show but I think I often just skim by many of them now, especially the ones that display only one type of plant. I'm never that keen on the big Begonia's with flowers the size of dinner plates and in colours that hurt your eyes. Though actually I might be a bit biased there as I love the display of South African Disa orchids by Dave Parkinson plants and you definitely need sunglasses here.
Fuchsia's also don't really catch my eye, and I'm not a big fan of the big displays of Chrysanthemums. The vegetable stands, such as that of Robinsons, though often similar each year, always attract my attention as there are often new varieties to try and I like a browse through the seeds. I love the displays by the Alpine plant growers, such meticulous and perfect combinations of mini plants, that always needs close attention. Some displays attract your attention from a distance with wafts of scent that get your nose twitching and looking round for the source of the perfume. This often happens with the glorious lily displays or the delicate sprays of Sweet peas. However by far I prefer the mixed displays, this year there was a stunning display of different climbing plants, by Tynings plants, great for ideas to give height in the garden. There was a mix of tender and hardy climbers. The herb displays such as that by Hookgreen Herbs are a verdant calming space to rest your eyes. For new varieties the perennial nursery's hit the spot. Hardy's Cottage Garden plants and  Cath's Garden Plants are always a must for the plantaholic. But I was interested to read in The Garden magazine in July that there was a project to help growers exhibit to win gold medals. It encouraged a change from the more traditional displays to a contemporary style. I think this was really refreshing and it was definitely noticeable and created some new displays in the Marquee. One example is the display by Letham Plants which specialises in Astrantia.
I'm definitely all for nurseries making some changes to their displays to invigorate the Floral Marquee. Wish I'd taken more photos now!
I spent the day on the Friday experiencing at first hand the enthusiasm and passion of the visitors to the show, by helping Sue Beesley on her stand for Bluebell Cottage Nursery in the Marquee. It was such a joy chatting to very knowledgeable gardeners about plants and helping more novice gardeners on whether the plant they had their eye on was really suitable for their gardens. It was certainly full on especially as it rained in the afternoon, which brought bigger crowds into the Marquee. Now to the title of this post, the plant of the day for the nursery was Sanguisorba 'Lilac Squirrel' we were continually restocking this. If you don't know what it looks like, here you are.
It dangles and swings in the air and the bright colour attracts the eye and once one person had one, you could see others looking and asking about it.
Sue is specialising in one of my favourite plants the Thalictrums, she has some gorgeous ones.
 But this is the real beauty. Thalictrum diffusiflorum
A tiring day but a really great experience.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Tatton back on form

Its been the Tatton Park Flower Show this last week. This is my local show, I think I've been every year since it started and after tinkering with it quite a bit in the last few years, I think they've gone back to what it was like at the start. I definitely enjoyed it more this year despite the inclement weather. I think they have struggled to establish its own identity to stand apart from the other Flower shows like Chelsea and Hampton Court. But now they have adopted 'The Great Garden Carnival' theme which I actually think is fun and twice a day a Carnival parade makes its way through the showground. There is also a colourful Carousel which gives great views over the showground. Horticultural purists may not like all this but I think its a great way to get a mix of people into the show. As with the other shows they have the main Show gardens but its quite noticeable that the well-known designers that create gardens at Chelsea don't come here which is a shame I think, though Chris Beardshaw has created a few gardens here. The Show garden that won 'best in show' was the garden for the charity Perennial designed by Paul Hervey-Brookes, a very traditional garden with a long herbaceous border and a pavilion. A great advert for the charity. My photos aren't very good as it was a very dull day.
One of the most vibrant gardens even in the dull weather was the Aurora Arbora garden which was a contemporary garden inspired by the Northern Lights, the planting was really fabulous.
Tatton is establishing itself as a Flower show for up and coming designers and it has developed the RHS Young designer of the Year competition. The gardens created by the three designers were quite different gardens but all of good quality, with lots of nice ideas. In my opinion, these three gardens were some of the best in the show.

It was really difficult to take a photo of the Sunset garden as you could walk through this garden so always had lots of people in!! My favourite was the middle garden shown above, the Time is healer garden by Kate Savill, which was based on a Physic garden and was a very tranquil garden. 
Apparently after a lot of requests from visitors they have bought back the back-to-back gardens. These were always one of my favourite parts of the show. They are only small (6m x 4m) but the range of gardens that are designed is always fascinating to me, I always find that I get ideas from these for planting and design. More accessible to the average gardener I guess.

I had a couple of favourites, with quite different colour schemes. The first was Surf n' turf which was planted to evoke the waves of the sea and so was a mix of blues, purples and whites. I liked the feeling of enclosure that was achieved with the planting and timber posts, it felt like a secluded place for relaxing.

I also liked the Melitta garden which had a vibrant colour scheme of warm yellows, oranges and reds. As might be expected from the name this garden was designed to attract bees. I loved the willow bees and the hexagonal structures to represent the honeycomb to divide up the garden.

Tatton also has a range of gardens built round a central theme, in previous years this has been Galaxy in 2013 and Elements in 2014, this year the theme was the International year of light. 

All very abstract but some great examples of planting schemes on all of them.
Tatton used to renowned for the Flower beds that the councils built and there used to be many entrants and competition was fierce but its a sad sign of the times that there were only 3 this year!! Cutbacks in most if not all councils will surely mean that this will probably disappear in the next few years. A new feature this year were the 'Blooming beds' which were very small plots (3m x 3m), this was supposed to be a way for novice designers to test the water with small designs and planting schemes, or for small community groups to advertise themselves. These again had a theme which was Plant Hunters. I actually missed this bit and only heard about this on the TV coverage. There were a couple of other new competitions, one to design deckchairs (I think was to fill the gap where they usually have the council flowerbeds!!) and the other was the garden hideaways competition which turned out to be a big favourite with the visitors. But will finish this post here and update on the Floral Marquee and other features of the show in my next post.....

Friday, 17 July 2015

My cut flower patch keeps expanding

Woke up all this morning to hear the rain on the window, that was a nice sound. At times it has been great recently with rain at night and then sunshine during the day. Perfect weather for gardeners, we could just do with a bit more night time rain. We are never happy!
The last couple of years I have been developing a proper cut flower patch on my allotment. I love having flowers in the house and have been growing Sweet Peas on my plot for many years but there are many other annuals that are easy to grow from seed which can also make lovely cut flowers. I guess a lot of this was started by Sarah Raven who has developed such a mouthwatering catalogue, but many other seed companies stock a good range of cut-flower seed, I've used Chiltern seeds and Higgledy garden this year and been impressed with both.  I've also been inspired by Wellywoman's book The Cut Flower Patch.
It started in earnest last year when I put aside one of my long beds on my allotment for a cut flower patch. I'd planted some Sweet William, some Gladioli corms and then the rest of the patch was left for annuals which I grew in modules or seed trays and potted on to reasonable size before planting at the plot (to give them a head start and a chance against slugs). These could all be grown almost like a cut-and-come again crop, so the more you pick for the house the more flowers they produce. Last year my plot included cornflowers in black and blue, Nigella 'Midnight', Amberboa muricata, Cosmos 'Click Cranberries', 'Rubenza' and 'Diablo', Salvia 'Blue Clary', Ammi majus, Nicotiana 'Black Knight', Tithonia 'Torch' and Didiscus 'Blue Lace'. I had a row of sunflowers on the edge of the plot including 'Velvet Queen', 'Claret', 'Valentine' and Vanilla Ice'. I was amazed how great they were as cut flowers. Once the first main flower has gone over you cut the flower head off and they send out lots of new flowers, often on nice long stems. I was picking these well into October. Another revelation was the Amberboa, which flowered over a long time, lasted long in a vase and had a light scent. I loved the flowers of Didiscus but the young plants were also loved by slugs and I think I only ended up with a couple of plants, they also got a bit swamped by more vigorous flowers so I have learnt to give them a bit more space. They need a bit more cosseting.
One of my first flowers for cutting last year was the Sweet William, which I'd bought as plug plants and planted them the previous year. These lasted for weeks.
I didn't have any of these this year and I missed them so in May/June this year I sowed a batch of mixed colour seed. These have been pricked out and are now growing nicely. They will be planted at the plot in September and will hopefully flower for me next spring.
The cutting patch after the initial planting in 2014.

I had lots of flowers by July, the harvesting was in earnest.
This was taken on the 10th October, and though it all looks a bit chaotic I was still picking flowers!
I wish I'd taken more pictures now of my arrangements but here is one.
This year I'm trying to grow a few more varieties, I'm trying the annual Scabious, Vipers Bugloss, Corncockle, Ammi visnaga 'Casablanca', Gypsophilia elegans 'Kermesina', Bupleurum rotundifolium, some Zinnias 'Envy' and 'Mammoth', a few other Nigella varieties 'Delft Blue', 'African Bride', 'Albion Black Pod' and a grass called Panicum 'Frosted Explosion', a few additional Sunflower varieties including 'Sparky' and 'Moonwalker'. The sunflowers again line the edge of my patch but I've also spread onto another part of my plot. My cutting patch has expanded into half of another long bed. Plus I've got some Dahlia 'Bishops Children' which I'm going to plant to replace some of my early crops. I'm also trying to grow things more like a crop this year so in rows, with better spacing, as I get to see how the flowers grow.
My first sunflowers are out now. I've been cutting lots of Vipers Bugloss already.

So just the start but I'll be seeing what works and what doesn't again this year.
I have a number of other plants on my plot that can be used as cut-flowers. I have chives that line the edges of nearly all of my beds, split from the original plants that I grew from seed, these go in my first few posies. They can be cut back hard after flowering and before they spread their seeds all round (I've learnt that lesson!). They have another added attraction of being a great bee and early butterfly plant. I keep trying to grow garlic chives which have lovely white flowers but I've struggled growing these from seed and even as pot plants that don't seem to thrive on my plot like the normal chive.
Another great plant that I've discovered as being great as a cut flower is the Purple Loosestrife which I have next to my rhubarb (I have to take care it doesn't get smothered in the spring. This is a perennial which is even better. It adds a vibrant pink to an arrangement. I've recently bought from Dove Cottage Nursery a paler pink variety which I think is Lythrum salicaria 'Blush'. So I'll see how that performs this year.
I have a couple of clumps of a dark red Astrantia which was given to me from one of the other plot holders after I admired it on their plot, which also is nice as a cutflower. So I'm trying to bulk that up a bit. I grew some Gaura lindheimeri 'The Bride' plants from seed last year, they came through the winter and are growing much stronger this year and flowering now. I also have a small patch of Dianthus 'Mrs Sinkins' which can look a bit straggly but I have used a bit this year in combination with the dark black cornflower to create a nice black and white mix. It has a lovely clove scent. I like the idea of having a few more perennial plants for cutting.
I often top up my bouquets with plants from my garden, such as Alchemilla mollis (which I have a love/hate relationship with, as it seeds all over my garden, I now make sure to cut flowers off before they go to seed), Linaria purpurea (and its lovely pale pink variety 'Canon Went'), Scabious, Knautia macedonica to name a few.
I'm loving learning and developing this and have a few plans for next year, one being that to cut down on all the spring sowing I'm going to try sowing some of the hardy annuals like Cornflowers, Nigella and Scabious in the autumn and overwinter them in my garden greenhouse. The idea is these will give me a head start next year, not only in sowing but hopefully also with flowering. But this is an experiment so we'll see.
So an exciting flower harvesting year ahead of me, I have a feeling my cutting patch might extend to even more of my allotment next year!