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

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Chelsea highlights - The Great Pavilion

Its a grey windy day here in Huddersfield and I'm quite glad to be inside looking through my photos from Chelsea. It was a busy couple of days and tiring but I was very lucky to have two days there. Its my treat of the year, a real celebration of Britain's love of gardening. I know it gets busy but you can time it and get to see everything. On the Tuesday I was helping Sue Beesley on her stand in the Great Pavilion, she had a lovely display of shade loving perennials.
In only her second time at Chelsea she got a silver medal which she was happy with, the judge came round while I was there to give feedback and it was positive on the whole, he said that most of the plants were gold medal quality, there were just some issues with the presentation. There were gaps in height at the back of the display and some were too close to each other, they also thought the willow cat was a bit big for the display. Sue would prefer to get an island stand for the plants that she displays, as they are often small and delicate and deserve close inspection which you can't really get with this type of display. But Sue has learnt lots and standing by the display we got lots of feedback and interest. People seem to love the Thalictrums which are fabulous plants for shade, giving height and gorgeous ferny-like foliage and airy flowers (and most importantly slugs don't tend to like them!). Another popular plant were this Primula.
Primula sieboldii 'Winter Dreams', isn't it lovely. Unusual foliage for a Primula and soft-pink flowers like a snowflake. I had many discussions with people about the renaming of Dicentra spectabilis to Lamprocapnos spectabilis, yes doesn't it just roll off your tongue. The display contained the white form and also a newish variety called 'Valentine' which has dark red flowers and dark burgundy stems. 
Sue is specialising in Thalictrums at her nursery and she displayed a range of varieties, from the tall varieties such as Thalictrum 'Black Stockings' which has dark purple star-like flowers and dark almost black stems to small delicate varieties such as Thalictrum ichangense which is a tiny variety with unusual foliage and the pinky white star-like flowers of the genus.
You can see from the very top picture that the Bluebell Cottage Nursery stand was right next to a display of lilies. Two more contrasting displays you will ever see! The scent was very strong and a bit much after a few hours!!
On the Wednesday when I got there at just after 8am the show gardens were already busy so I headed for the peace and tranquility of the Great Pavilion and it was really quiet. There had been long queues previously to go into the Bowdens display which was taking the usual place of Hilliers nursery in the centre of the marquee at the monument site. I'm sure you saw this on the TV coverage it was the one with the train carriage, the Belmond British Pullman. The concept was that you stepped onto the train from a typical English country station and leave the train onto a lush, exotic rainforest, with tree ferns and bamboos. It was a great idea and really popular but I had it almost to myself that morning what a treat.

Another popular display in the pavilion was that from Birmingham City Council. Rare these days to see council displays and they are one of the few councils left that grow their own plants for shows and for their parks and displays. Their display was a bit odd in celebrating sport but also collaborating with an amazing artist called Willard Wigan who makes small sculptures in the eye of a needle!! Crazy stuff and they had set up little microscopes round their display to show the work. There was then a larger version on the stand. Bit bonkers but certainly a talking point.
The flower arranging displays as always were impressive. Especially the display by New Covent Garden market, who were making their debut at Chelsea. With one side showing the work of the market with a wall of black flower buckets highlighting the range of flowers and foliage.
But then on the other side is a modern sculpture of the Queen's head with layers of colours and flowers against a white background, a tribute to the Queen's 90th Birthday.
Fabulous, and well worthy of the Gold medal.
The NAFAS display was a Victorian revival
But one one piece stood out for me, look at this, a little pouffe footstool made from Stachys byzantina leaves (otherwise known as Lambs ears!), gorgeous.
There was a definite change in the pavilion this year regarding some of the plant displays there was a clear move towards the use of props and I think this was a bit hit and miss. I do wonder what traditionalists will think of this. My feeling is that it worked sometimes but less so with others and it is a fine balance between them helping to show off your plants and detracting from them!! I think some of it is needed as I've been to Chelsea for many years now and some displays are exactly the same every year. So for example a display from Blackmore and Langdon (who have shown at every single Chelsea Flower Show since 1913) of Delphiniums and Begonias is a fantastic display, though like Monty I'm not a great fan of the big Begonias, but isn't it the same each year and to be honest I think I just whizz by these displays. Maybe its the displays that show only one type of plant, I also don't go a bundle on the displays of Chrysanthemums, Gladioli or Lilies. Even the tulips, though they can give you ideas of varieties to choose. But some nurserys were using more props to highlight their plants, such as Heucheraholics who displayed their plants around some colourful beach huts. I think this worked and the plants were definitely the stars but then I wasn't so keen on a display by Primrose Hall nursery who had a display of paeonies, one of my favourite flowers, but the display had a big Chaise-Longue in the centre and not many plants!! Apart from the flower heads in a bunch at the bottom. Didn't take a very good picture, I apologise. I know that nurserys are being encouraged by the RHS to work with designers to develop these displays but I don't think this one quite worked. The plants should still be the stars of the show and I didn't think the balance was quite right on this one.
No my favourite displays tend to be those that have a mixture of perennials, such as Hardy's, Barnsdale Plants, Culm View Nursery or Claire Austin's stand. I also like the displays of alpine plants in troughs and pots. I loved the display by Kevock Garden Plants, I was fascinated by the range of Primula species, and I spent a good few minutes going round this stand.
They had a stunning display of Blue poppies, which I can only dream about growing but lovely to see it in its prime.
Having said that I prefer stands with mixed plants, the stand out display in the Pavilion this year was a display of a single genus. This was a display by Ashwood nurseries of Hepatica's. What an amazing display and far and away the best in the pavilion and rightly so the winners of the Diamond Jubilee award for best exhibit in the pavilion. What a challenge this would have been to bring these early spring flowers to a late spring flower show. But the display showed off these jewel like flowers to their best in a mini-woodland setting. All set at the perfect height to inspect their delicate blooms. A real delight and if you saw the interview by Carol Klein with John Massey, the nursery owner, you will have seen what it meant to him. A real dream come true.
I don't think my photos do them justice really, the range of flowers and also interesting leaf shapes and foliage markings. Ah I could go on and on about this stand. Just gorgeous. I really must visit this nursery. Anyone else go to Chelsea? Or saw the coverage, what are your thoughts on the displays and plants in the Great Pavilion?



Monday, 23 May 2016

Sunshine, showers and off to Chelsea

May has been a much warmer month thankfully and the plants are growing quickly. Its manic with all the seed sowing and planting, but I love this time of year. My garden is looking good, alliums are just starting to come out, foxgloves start to point to the sky and roses coming into bud. The tulips are finishing and blossoms floating from the trees. At the allotment its all about the chives, its a sea of purple and the bees love it. I'm excited because the asparagus which I've grown from seed is coming up well, I'm not able to pick this year but its starting to bulk out a bit, so maybe next year!
The cutting patch is getting into gear. Lots planted but still more hardening off in the greenhouse or being potted on, be glad when its all in now. This mixture of sunshine and showers is really getting things growing at last which is great. Though the slugs are also loving this weather too as you might expect.
The plot is certainly looking greener. The wallflowers are still flowering away and I've picking lots for the house. There are lots of flowers on my fruit bushes and the strawberry plants so looking forward to a good crop from these. There are buds developing on my artichokes. I've got ladybirds all over my plot, has anyone else noticed lots this year. Its been lovely to see.

I've got some lovely Camassias on plot starting to bloom.
I'm off to Chelsea tomorrow, going to help Sue Beesley, from Bluebell Cottage Nursery, on her stand in the Great Pavilion, she has a small stand showing Thalictrums and delicate shade loving spring perennial. Then on Wednesday I have a ticket to look round the show myself. Looking forward to seeing all those lovely plants and get lots of ideas for my garden.

Friday, 29 April 2016

The plot in April

April, is it really April. Looking out my window as I write you would be forgiven for thinking that its January or February, only when you look closely and see the brightly coloured Tulips against the snow and the pink blossom of the Rhododendron and the greeness of the garden. Yes its snowing. Crazy April weather. Its May day on sunday!! I thought we had escaped the snow that has been hitting the north of the UK this week, but woke up this morning to a thin covering and its still snowing now. I need to go outside to knock the snow off the greenhouse roof but it can wait a bit. I'll wait till it stops, the showers come and go with bright sunshine in between, and the north wind, it goes right through you. Its no wonder that for the second time this winter I've got a cold. Its all the temperature changes I think.
So I missed posting my last update of the blog in March, as usual its just been too hectic but actually its slow moving on the plot. The cold snap we've had for what it seems like most of April has slowed things down. It will all burst forth soon I'm sure but its still quite bare at the moment. I've been busy at home and in the greenhouse with seed sowing and as usual my greenhouse is fit to burst. Its made all the worse by this cold weather as I can't move things on. I've bought extra shelving for the greenhouse and another mini-greenhouse for outside as a coldframe. But still no space.
At the allotment, my cutting patch has started producing which is the earliest I've ever had flowers, my wallflowers are in bloom. They are a bit dwarfer than I thought they would be, but make a lovely small posy. I've got them in a vase with some chive flower buds, Dianthus 'Green Trick', Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve' and some white Spanish Bluebells that have sprung up on the allotment site round the communal hut. The wallflowers are also delicately scented.

At the plot I've planted a few of my hardy annuals, but how they will be coping with this weather I'm not sure. I'm more worried about them getting squashed by the snow and battered by the wind than the cold really. I've planted some Larkspur, some Poppies 'Falling in Love', Echium 'Blue Bedder', Ammi majus and some Calendula. But still got lots waiting in the wings. I've planted my autumn sown Sweet Peas and have tried a new way of growing them this year. I usually grow up a wigwam but you get lots of growth at the narrow part of the wigwam so thought I would try growing up a vertical frame this time. looking on other blogs have seen people recommend jute netting from Agriframes so I ordered some and got it all set up. Unfortunately I'm not sure what happened but this was what I found when I went up to the plot this week.
A big hole!! My plot neighbour think it would be the foxes but I've managed to salvage it and tied it back up.
Veg-wise I've planted my onions and shallots, potatoes are in and lots on the way in the greenhouse. I've had another go at sowing peas and broad bean direct but no sign of them yet, so we'll see.
Another beauty that I've been growing in my greenhouse this year has been a lovely variety of Ranunculus. Its been in a big pot in my greenhouse and I've had lots of blooms off it for the house. Mostly mixing with tulips, white ones as shown here but also a lovely purple streaked variety. Here it is on its own and then with some tulips and pussy willow.
They have cheered me up on a bleak day, hope they have you too xx

Monday, 21 March 2016

Spring has sprung

Yippee, we have passed the Spring equinox, we are now getting longer days than nights, oh joy and the clocks change this weekend so we will have even more time for gardening, and its Easter so we have extra days off. And lots of chocolate eggs. Ok I'd better calm down. Just to temper the excitement, the weather forecasters of doom are suggesting this settled weather is going to break just in time for the Easter holidays. Lets hope they have got that wrong. 
I hope you have all been making the most of the settled weather, I certainly have hence the blog getting neglected as usual. We have had some gloriously sunny days here in Huddersfield but also some grey days where the sun has never made an appearance and its stayed chilly but even those days have been good for gardening in. Especially if like me you have been barrowing muck. Myself and a fellow plot holder got a delivery last year, but it gets dumped in a communal area and we have to barrow it to our plots. I'd put what I needed on my beds and the rest needed to be piled up to store for next year. I thought I had taken my half but chatting to Marion she said she had taken hers so the rest was mine. Well I wasn't going to complain (though my back did a bit) and let anything go to waste so I set to on sunday to get the rest moved onto my plot. This pile never seemed to diminish and backwards and forwards I went, the pile on my plot was getting so big now that I was having to use a spade to put it on top rather than just making a run and tipping it on top. Anyway lets just say I earnt my dinner that day, and a sneaky early Creme Egg. The one good thing is I won't have to do this again next year, I have plenty to see me through for a bit. So the beds just need a bit of a fork over but already for planting when needed. The plot is looking slightly greener and less bleak now.
I did manage to do a few other more pleasant jobs over the weekend. I cut down the old stems on my monster artichoke plants. The fresh foliage looks fabulous in the sunshine.
I pruned the gooseberry and redcurrant bushes and mulched those. Cut back all the dead foliage on the strawberry plants. Gave the over-wintered onions a light feed and removed the few weeds. In the cutting patch I had a big mass of self seeded Briza maxima, which is a lovely grass for foliage in bouquets, it is also good for drying. Also known as quaking grass it has oval-shaped flower heads which dance in the breeze. I dug these up and split them and made two rows in the plot. So that was nice and easy.
I planted some biennials last year but sadly the slugs, which have been so active over the early part of the winter at least, have made a mess of the Sweet Williams and I'm not sure they will recover. The wallflowers look ok. However on a recent trip to B&Q I spotted some nice packs of bedding biennials. I'm never that sure about B&Q plants, they sometimes look neglected and not well watered. But these looked newly arrived and in good condition. You could get 4 packs for £10, so I bought some sweet william, some stocks and some forget-me-nots. They were in little 'teabags'!

So most have gone at my plot, but some of the forget-me-nots have gone into my garden.
Also picked the first crop of the year, some rhubarb. I have two big plants now so will have loads. Last year I had a go at making some rhubarb wine, it should be ready to drink soon....
I've also been getting busy in the greenhouse, potting on a few autumn sown annuals. I've started hardening off the Larkspur plants which have made nice big plants now, I also have some Orlaya grandiflora, some poppies, Ammi majus, Scabious, Echium 'Blue Bedder' and some Calendula plants. Plus some Sweet Pea seedlings. But I've also started sowing some Cornflowers and Nigella. My chilli peppers are growing well and I've just pricked out the Tomato and Aubergine seedlings. The Celeriac and celery seeds have germinated. But I've had a few disasters, the onions that I sowed way back in January have failed, they germinated well and I pricked them out but they've not thrived and most have died. Oh well thank goodness for onion sets. Plus I had some Aeonium cuttings in my greenhouse from my sister and a couple looked sickly and a bit of investigation found the roots had been eaten by vine weevils, yuck so they have been chucked. I've repotted the others and am hoping to get some Nemasys to try and save them, but who knows. I'm worried about other things in the greenhouse now.
I'm starting back working at Bluebell Cottage Nursery this weekend, the gardens are opening for visitors for the new season. The garden is a real showcase for the lovely plants that Sue sells in the nursery. I'm like a kid in a sweetshop when I'm there. Come and visit and say hello!




Monday, 7 March 2016

New garden visitors

Its been a cold weekend but thankfully mostly dry after the snow fall on friday. Here is the snow on the war memorial in Greenhead Park.
To contrast here is the same place but on a recent winter afternoon.
So very different. I've not been able to make the most of the dry weather though really as I've been full of cold and feeling very lethargic. I'm just starting to feel better again today. Thankfully I had a day off today though and its been a gorgeous day, clear and sunny though still cold. But I've made a start on my seed sowing. Tomatoes and aubergines are on the propagator, I've sown celeriac, some lettuce, broad beans and leeks. For the cutting patch I've sown a few hardy annuals, some cornflowers, scabious and nigella. So nice to be back in the greenhouse and pottering. It feels more like spring every day.
I love watching my garden birds, there is a big flock of sparrows which visit each day, fighting and squabbling to get to the feeders, blue tits and coal tits, a robin, and a couple of blackbirds. A couple of bigger birds like magpies and pigeons come along every now and then but I've been excited this week by a couple of new visitors, and the two couldn't be more contrasting. One is a wren which I've seen flitting around the garden not actually on the feeders, such a lovely little bird. But the other was a bit of a shock, and perhaps not surprising that its found my garden because of the number of small garden birds and that is a handsome Sparrowhawk. The first time I saw it I think it just quickly flew through, but this week it was sat in the old apple tree. I did try and take a picture but I wasn't quick enough. I don't think it had anything this time but it looks like I'm inadvertantly also feeding him! The other new visitors I've had in my garden before but not for ages and that is a small flock of long tailed tits, I love these little pink, black and white balls of feathers with long tails. The joyous thing was watching them. They were flitting in and out of my two Japanese maple trees, these are leafless at the moment and so I could watch them easily. They looked like they were feeding on little insects along the branches, they were busy dangling upside down and in and out. Twittering away to each other the whole time. So happy for them to clear up any bugs on my plants.
In my previous blog post I mentioned a visit to Dunham Massey last week so I've added a few pictures from our walk here. Above are the snowdrops highlighting the white stem of the silver birches. Daffodils were the other star plant of the moment


Wednesday, 2 March 2016

The plot in February

Ok so I'm running a bit late with this post, though to be fair there is not much to talk about on my plot. Its been a quiet month gardening-wise for me, it was still too wet at the start of the month to do anything. I've only actually been a few times to the plot and on one of those the wind was so biting that I just checked everything and then just headed home to the warmth. But miraculously towards the end of the month we have a some runs of dry days, how exciting is that. We have had some lovely sunny days here though it has been cold with frosts at night. Plus the nights and mornings are getting lighter, spring seems to be on the way. However, I'm looking out of my window now its snowing heavily, we've even had some thunder and lightning today, so spring is on hold for a couple of days. After the really mild days early on in the year where plants were going a bit crazy and flowering madly, we've had some cold here and things seemed to have settled a bit and I think getting back to normal flowering times again.
Here's an example of a crazy combination. I still have some bedding plants left over in a pot and they have continued weakly flowering over the winter, so I had a little vase of my first snowdrops and osteospermum!!
At the allotment, I've also finished top dressing the beds and all looks calm and still. There is some greenery from chives edging the beds and the rhubarb is growing well.
I spent a day pottering there on Friday, pruning the redcurrants and gooseberry bushes and mulching. I also mulched the raspberries and rhubarb plants. I dug up and composted the remaining Chard which was looking a bit worse for wear now after the frosts. I also cut down the green manure I have growing in a couple of beds. Garlic is sprouting well now, though the over-wintering onions look a bit tatty I hope with some sunshine they will perk up. So all poised and ready to go.
In the garden I've also been cutting down the remaining dead foliage on my perennials and I've pruned my few roses. By the way a great tip if you are nervous about pruning your roses. Go and visit a good rose garden at this time of year. Last monday Martin and I went to Dunham Massey, we go most winters to visit the winter garden but we also had a quick wander round the relatively new rose garden that they have there. There for all to see is a masterclass in pruning as they are just starting to sprout and you can see how the gardeners there have pruned mostly to outward facing buds to create an open shape. Not great photos but go and visit and see for yourself.

I know it looks a bit bleak now but this is it at its peak.
So far I've restrained myself from sowing too much, its still too cold. But I will get going soon. My chilli seedlings are coming on strong. In the greenhouse I've lost a few things due to damp and rot I think but its so hard getting the balance between keeping it warm but also keeping it well ventilated. Most days I'm out very early and it would be far to cold to open it then. Oh well my experiment in overwintering annuals was just that an experiment, some things have thrived, like the Larkspur and others like Ammi really not done well.
At home I've taken great pleasure from a lovely Amaryllis which I got for Christmas. Quite a subtle one.


Saturday, 30 January 2016

The plot in January

It has been an up and down week this week weather-wise. I was off on Monday and spent a couple of hours at my allotment on a very mild day and the week is coming to an end with snow showers and biting cold winds. I've not been to the plot too many times in January, its been far too wet, but finally we had a dry day and I managed to get a few jobs done. I cleared most of my last few crops that are in the beds, the last of the celeriac, parsnips, sprouts, leeks and cabbages. All that's left now is some kale and chard, though they are both looking a bit worse for wear now so they'll probably get harvested and then composted next time. The garlic is peeking up out of the soil now which is a good sign and though the overwintering onions are a bit battered they will soon grow on well again as soon as the weather warms up. With most of the remaining crops cleared I can now finish the spreading of compost and manure as needed so all the beds are then ready for the new seasons planting. Not much more to do as I did most beds before Christmas.

I've cut the autumn fruiting raspberry canes down to ground level, they'll send up new canes which will flower in the late summer and will fruit in the autumn next year. I'll give these a mulch soon too. Here underneath and around the raspberries I planted some Snake's head fritillary bulbs in the autumn but there is no sign of them yet. This area is right at the bottom of a minor slope on my plot and with all the rain that we have had, this is the wettest part of the plot. I thought these plants would like it here, knowing that they like a moist soil and naturalise in wet meadows but we will see. I'll keep an eye out over the next few weeks. 
I came home with laden bags and I then spent a relaxing couple of hours in the kitchen cleaning and chopping, preparing the veg mostly for freezing, though saved some for cooking this week. I've discovered a great recipe for braised red cabbage, who knew red cabbage could taste so good!
I've already started my seed sowing for 2016, only a few things but have sowed another batch of sweet peas and these have been put on my propagator in the back bedroom, as soon as they are all germinated they will go back out into the greenhouse, but I get better success using some bottom heat with the sweet pea seeds. So they get first place on the propagator and then quickly moved on leaving the space for other things. I've also sowed some chillis and they are starting to germinate now. Its important not to get too carried away with seed sowing yet (easier said than done I know!), but there are a few things that can be started now. Chilli plants need a long growing season and they can be slow to germinate, so its good to get them started soon and grown on. Other crops you might want to get started soon are celeriac, summer brassicas, early lettuces and salad leaves like rocket and mizuna which prefer a cooler growing season. I'm also going to start a sowing of some hardy annuals soon too to try and get some earlier flowers. You could also sow some Broad beans undercover to get an earlier crop.

In the greenhouse, I've been overwintering some hardy annuals which I sowed in the autumn, I've never done this before and its been an interesting experiment. I've some Sweet pea plants which are looking robust and healthy. One surprise has been the toughness of the Larkspurs, I've struggled getting these to germinate in the spring in previous years so was pleasantly surprised to get such a good number of seedlings from an autumn sowing. These have then been pricked out and have grown on slowly but steadily and have now made nice little plants. I've got some of a Stock flowered Mix which have done really well and also pricked out some Consolida regalis 'Blue Cloud' and 'Snowcloud' which I'm very excited about. These are new to me this year and apparently grow quite differently to the usual Larkspur which have spikes of flowers, so these grow more bushy and have a more airy habit. The seeds were from Chiltern Seeds. I've also got some small plants of Ammi majus which I'm hoping will grow better from an autumn sowing. I've recently pricked out some Ammi visnaga but this seems to be struggling in the cold of my unheated greenhouse, will see how many get through. I've also got some Orlaya grandiflora seedlings, some varieties of Scabious, Echium 'Blue Bedder' and a Poppy called 'Falling in Love'. I think this will be trial and error for a few years as I get to grips with my greenhouse growing. Think the trick is to get the seedlings to a reasonable size before over-wintering. So I maybe need to sow a bit earlier than I did last year. So things are getting going both for veg and flowers.

This afternoon I've spent a pleasant hour gazing out of my back bedroom window watching my resident birdlife go by. All in aid of the Big Garden Birdwatch and the way the weather has been this afternoon I'm surprised I saw anything. A squally day, with the wind blowing along lots of mini hail showers and then the sun showing its face every now and again. I have a great view out of my window here of the garden, out over the allotments behind my garden, out further to the field where people walk past with their dogs hunched against the bleak weather and then even further out to the hills surrounding Huddersfield. I can see the iconic building of Castle Hill straight ahead and then to the left is the tall spike of Emley Moor mast. You know when the weather has particularly come down bad when these disappear from view, as the cloud enfolds them and the rain, hail or snow comes down. Today the hail is blown along in gusts changing direction forming patterns across the view. So far its not sticking but may do later if the weather gets colder overnight. 

This morning, as I do couple of times a week at the moment, I went out to top up the feeders with peanuts, sunflower seeds, fatballs and a few mealworms. I topped up the water too. The feeders are placed along various branches of an old apple tree at the bottom of my garden. Along side it is a large rhododendron which provides good cover for the birds before they fly out onto the feeders.
I didn't see the Robin today but this is usually what happens when I go out to fill the feeders, I get a visit by a little Robin, who gets first dibs at the fresh food. Today I had my usual flock of Sparrows, hard to count but I think I had 10 at any one time. They seem to be doing OK round here, and fly together around the area, calling in at different feeders. You can definitely hear them when they are roosting in a tree or bush, tweeting away. I saw some blue tits and a coal tit. 2 blackbirds which like to catch the bits that drop from the feeders and forage around under the Rhododendron. I also saw 2 magpies, who when they are around tend to prevent anything else from feeding and really quickly peck the fatballs to bits so I try to discourage them, but they have to feed too. But so cold and windy today was glad to see the birds that I did. The Big Garden Birdwatch can be done anytime over this weekend, so get going and see what you see.