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

Annie's Little Plot

Annie's Little Plot

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Review of the year 2016

I'm a bit late doing this but one of my rituals at this time of the year when everything in the garden has slowed down and I have more time, is to reflect on the previous growing year. To see what went well, any disasters and new things that I've learnt. I like to get out my garden diary and notes and just see what have been the stars of the year and the disappointments. There are always some things that fail and the more experienced I've got, the more I've learnt that sometimes you can do the correct things but in gardening you are a slave to the vaguaries of the weather, pests and diseases and sometimes just luck. Time is a really crucial thing, I know I don't get as much time at my plot or in my garden as I'd like and so have to accept that its never going to be perfect. If I could go to my plot every day I could keep an eye on watering, pests etc but thats just not possible so I've got to accept some losses and challenges!
I have a A3 diary with a page per day and usually like to jot down a bit about the weather when I remember! I've been very good the year past in noting down as I sow seeds and also if I try propagating plants. I've tried hard to make notes as I plant at the allotment though that didn't always happen, I'm hoping that will change now though as I've got a little notebook in the bag I take to the allotment and am trying to jot notes in there as I work which is really useful.
It was very wet start to the year with bad floods in the area, luckily I wasn't affected but there were problems in Hebden Bridge and Colne Valley close to me. So there was not much work done in January at the plot but lots of planning! I started some seed sowing at the end of January and I'd got some autumn sown hardy annuals that I potted on. These actually didn't really end up flowering much more ahead of the spring sown annuals so I've not sown too many this time. By the looks of it there wasn't much done in February as well and no blog posts, but I had managed to get manure on most beds before the end of the previous year so there wasn't that much to do. We had some more snow in March but then we had more settled weather and the spring frenzy began with the start of seed sowing and planting.
We were still getting quite hard frosts in mid-April and actually this turned out to be a cold April and so many things were slow to get going. We then had a very cold snap at the end of April into early May and unbelievably we had some snow. Thankfully May became warmer and plants got going at last. But you can see that wasn't a huge difference in the photo below taken in May with the one above taken in March. April was a slow month!!
Things moved much quicker into June.
The rest of the summer was a bit hit and miss, but all was lush in mid August.
But as we have had the last few years we had a long mild autumn with lovely weather in September and October into November.This is at the end of September.
On the veg side of things it was an OK year for me, not the best, but I had some good crops however I also had a few failures. The bigest failures was my Celeriac and Celery which was completely decimated by slugs, they were planted at a time when I didn't manage to get to the plot as much as usual. The problem with this crop is that you have to get them started so early that its not one that you can really start again with. So I had none of those this year. The same happened with my Kale, so again I've had none of that this year which has been greatly missed. The legume family was pretty successful, though my first sowing of many things failed but they got going in the end. I had lots of beans for eating fresh and freezing. The Brassicas, apart from the Kale, have been fine. The star of this bed has been the purple cauliflower 'Di Sicilia Violetta' which didn't start cropping till November but was a real success compared to my previous attempts of the white ones.
Onions and shallots cropped well and I had some leeks for winter, though not as many as I'd have liked, garlic did ok, not massive bulbs but enough for us. It was too cool a year for a good crop of squash and I had a poor year for that usual glut-forming crop, the courgette, slugs again, they have been a real pest on my plot this year. I planted good sized plants but the slugs got on them and ate the centre and so no flowers developed. So frustrating! In my garden I also had a different predator of my lettuces.

One developing crop on my plot is Asparagus which I've grown from seed, I got some spears coming up last year but it was still not possible to pick yet, will see how it goes this year and I may be able to pick a light harvest. How exciting.
I joined the Heritage seed library last year and so had some unusual veg varieties to try. I'll write a separate blog post about that at some point I think. So as you can see there have been some successes and some failures which is the usual with me. With everything that has been going on this year though I think its been fine, I've not been able to get to the allotment as much as usual and it helps to have regular visits to keep on top of pests and just generally keep an eye on things.

Fruit-wise it was a good year starting very early with the rhubarb, I now have two big clumps of Timperley Early and its just the easiest of all fruits (sorry I know officially its a vegetable) it just needs a bit of a mulch late winter and it just gets on with things. I think I'm going to have to split it soon though. Strawberries did OK though was having a bit of a hectic time when they were fruiting and so didn't get as many as I'd have liked. The plants were getting a bit woody so I created a new patch at the end of last year with some of the young plants that have grown from the runners, this should be done every 3 years or so, so I may have a slightly reduced crop this year. My Blackcurrant bush was at its peak with lots of berries and the same for the redcurrant and gooseberries. At the end of the summer my raspberries arrived and these made for a very pleasant snack when I was up at the plot. I did take some home for Martin too but most were eaten in situ! Finally lots of Blackberries from my thornless blackberry. After many years of battling with a very thorny blackberry I dug this up and planted a thornless Loganberry, it was just settling last year and sending off new growth and I'm hoping I'll see some fruits this year. Once established fruit growing is simple and so rewarding.
My real passion on my plot though is my cutting patch which keeps expanding each year and now takes up multiple beds on my plot. I had a good year, though I did have a few unexpected failures. I had good success with my sweet peas and they seemed to grow well growing up the frame rather than the usual wigwam, I didn't get a long a crop as I normally do as at one point I struggled to get there to pick them and so they stopped flowering earlier than normal.
I had good pickings off the usual suspects, the Cosmos, Calendula, Clary, Cerinthe, Scabious, Nigella, Amberboa muricata, Daucus carota 'Dara', Panicum elegans 'Frosted explosion' and Cornflowers. New varieties that I tried were two trailing type larkspur, Consolida regalis 'Snowcloud' a white variety and 'Blue Cloud' a stunning deep blue variety both from Chiltern Seeds. I'd sown them in the autumn but they got a bit leggy so I cut then down quite hard when planting so probably didn't end up flowering that much earlier than if spring sown. They added an airy effect to bouquets and so I'd really recommend it. I tried to find some pictures I'd taken of it but I've not got any good ones apart from this one with 'Snowcloud' round the edge of the bouquet.
I'm already planning on sowing these again this year. Other new seed varieties include Orlaya grandiflora, which I have struggled from seed before. I've learnt that this needs to be sown in modules as the germination is a bit erratic and happens over time so if you sow in modules you can pot the ones germinated on while not disturbing the others. I think they also like fluctuating temperatures so germinated better in my greenhouse which can have extremes of temperatures, rather than inside on my windowsill where I have grown them in the past.
I had hardly any sunflowers on my plot this year and really missed their cheery presence, the slugs put paid to them and also to the Ammi visnaga. I'd had great success with 'Casablanca' last year with no interest in them by the slugs. This year I was trialing a couple of other varieties 'Green Mist' and 'Mystique' but almost every plant was completely eaten by the slugs.
I had success with my biennials this year with some lovely dark red wallflowers and mixed pink and whites of Sweet William, I had some sweet rocket which looked good with the chive flowers, Aquilegia's and Geum. I've got quite a few perennials on my plot which I cut from now too, though I have to be careful that the Aquilegias don't seed all over the place but I have a lovely dark red double variety and a pale blue one too. Actually they make a nice addition to a bouquet even after the flowers have finished as have quite unusual seedheads.
Other perennial plants that proved great for cutting were Sanguisorba, Feverfew, Campanula persicifolia, Sedum is great even before the pink flowers have developed, Veronica gentianoides, Gaura lindheimeri 'The Bride', Lysimachia 'Beaujolais', Lythrum salicaria, Linaria purpurea,  Erysimum 'Bowles Mauve', I've used the architectural grey leaves of artichokes, and again Oregano was in nearly all my bouquets at one point its a great foil for other pink flowers. I planted some allium bulbs on my plot this year, the drumstick ones which aren't too big and look great in bouquets and they are quite cheap to buy. These look nice before and after they turn purple. Some plants don't just produce nice flowers but nice buds, such as Chives, Sedum and Scabious, or nice seed heads, again Scabious, Nigella, Aquilegia. So sometimes its worth thinking outside of the box when you are looking what to pick.
I grew a couple of Dahlia's which proved great for cutting a creamy white variety called 'Cafe au Lait' which has huge flowers and a more simple variety called 'Bright Eyes' which has a bright pink flower and yellow centre and went well with the Cosmos.
So its been a successful year overall I think, its certainly kept me busy, there were moments of despair on arriving at my plot and finding completely empty beds where there had previously been young plants. But the plot is my refuge and place to go to clear my mind and get some fresh air and for me the process is almost as important and the crops. So what kind of year will 2017 bring, I have already placed my seed orders and and looking forward to getting started. Looking forward to following everyones progress on your blogs. Here's to a good year of growing.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Goodbye to my gardening companion

I lost my gardening companion this week, my beautiful, funny, affectionate cat Bob. 
He's been a constant in my life for the last 16 years, there to keep an eye on me and bring me joy. I got him in 2001 from Dove Holes cat sanctuary near Buxton when I used to live in Disley. A small male tabby and white cat, they weren't sure of his age but thought he was probably about 1 year old. He was a small cat and always stayed small for a male cat but he could look after himself!! He was certainly very protective of his territory and did get involved in the odd fight and despite his size often won. I hated hearing that sound of cats preparing for a fight outside my bedroom window and often had to go down and out to split them up and move them on. I remember once being woken up in the middle of the night by two cats fighting outside the bedroom window and rushing down in my dressing gown. Then once outside realising that it was not Bob and coming in to find him cuddled up on his chair in the lounge wondering what all the fuss was about!!
In my first house he liked to look out over the garden. Can you spot him on the window ledge? Must have had a head for heights then.
In 2006 I split from my husband and moved to Huddersfield, living on my own for the first time was hard but he was there with me, keeping me company and more importantly cheerful. Happily for me a couple of  years later, Martin came into my life and Bob had a new friend. He was such a friendly cat, very much wanting to be around us. He was very fair with his affections sitting on my knee for a bit then moving onto Martin, spreading his love. If we were in the house he was invariably with us and if I was in the garden he'd always come and find me and sit close by. Though often that was because he was waiting for his tea! My favourite thing in the summer was to get the rug out on the lawn and lay in the sun with Bob snuggling me by my side. He loved being outside in the sunshine. Here he had the whole lawn to sit on but the comfiest spot was my kneeler.
In the summer when he was younger one of his favourite spots was on top of the wheelie bin, when it was being warmed by the sun.
Which was an easy jump onto the shed.
Over his life he's had many favourite seating places, some weirder than others. In the wardrobe, on the wardrobe. 
In the bedding chest.
Under the desk on the computer. On top of the desk when I was trying to work.
 Last summer when it was hot he went through a phase of sleeping on the mat near the front door.
But we had visions of him getting squashed by the post coming in the door so put some things there to try and stop him. This is what he thought of that...
But his two favourite places were on the back of the chair in the lounge where he could get the evening sun and watch the world go by, when he could be bothered.
Or at the back bedroom window in the morning looking out over his domain.
He loved going out in the garden but didn't like it when it snowed.
He was very "helpful" for me around the garden. Helping me chose seeds.
And sowing them...
Helping me pick apples.
Warming the soil in my pots
Then when it all got too much he'd flop on the steps in the sun.
In his younger days he was a bit of a hunter which was a real challenge for me being a bird lover. When I lived in Disley, its semi-rural location meant that I had quite a mixture of presents laid at the door. Lots of mice, one rat which was a bit grim, shrews, voles and sadly two moles. One mole was left almost perfect on the bedroom floor, I don't think they taste nice! Sometimes I managed to save the creatures and many a time I've been searching for mice that had escaped and which had sort refuge under the dresser or the bed. One time I was searching for ages for a mouse that had escaped Bob and raced off the bed. I had the whole bedroom upside down and then found it in a bag that was hanging from the bedpost. Easy to carry it out to safety. It was the birds that I hated him bringing in, not too many luckily, mostly sparrows and the odd bluetit but one time when my mum and dad were visiting he bought in a dove. It was flying round the lounge and in trying to catch it, it flew out of my hand leaving its tail feathers behind. I did manage to get it out safely though. We got him collars with bells on but he was too good a hunter it didn't really stop him. He was also always losing his collars, fighting with other cats most often. But as he got older there was less and less thank goodness.
Doing his best lion pose.
He loved catnip and used to go into wild ecstasy whenever I bought any home. I wanted to grow some Catmint in the garden and tried it many times but it never survived beyond a week with Bob nibbling it. For the last few years my friend has knitted him a catnip toy for Christmas and wrapped it in tissue paper. It was always a treat on Christmas day to see him rip open and go mad over this smell.
The last few years he has slowed down and slept a lot more. He became even more affectionate, coming to sit with you all the time. A constant presence whether he was asleep or stalking you round the house waiting to be fed. He also became more vocal as the years went on. He'd always meiow for his tea and also made a very strange gargling noise when he had bought something in. This noise he developed as he got older and more recently when he came in he would make that noise to catch our attention. I think that was partly because he started losing his hearing and sight, which must have been hard from him, and needed to know where we were. Usually when I came in from work I would hear a thud from upstairs as he heard me and came down for his tea but recently I've had to go right up to him to wake him and for him to realise that I was there. He had slowly got more frail and unsteady on his feet. We had to lift him down from where he had jumped up and he went upstairs less and less. Sadly last week he started to have what we think were mini-strokes and could hardly walk, he recovered a couple of times and we though they were transient episodes but it became clear that these were happening too frequently and finally made the decision that it was kinder for him to be put down. But how hard that was. I do know though that he had a good life and gave back to me and Martin so much love, we are both heartbroken. He will be greatly missed, he was part of our family. The house now is oh so quiet.

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!
Here's hoping you had a good Christmas. I've had a lovely relaxing break from work, catching up with friends and family, but also just spending time quietly at home, reading and watching films. A welcome respite from a busy world. I've been sorting out my seeds and planning ahead for the new season.
I'm sure I'm not the only one who will be glad that 2016 is over. Its been a difficult year for me losing my mum and its certainly been an emotional first Christmas without her. I've been getting out in the garden when the weather has permitted. The joy of walking round the quiet garden in winter is the waiting for all my winter treasures to start emerging or flowering. The first shoots of the snowdrops and keeping an eye on my witch hazel in the front garden. Its just starting to unfurl its spidery vibrant orange flowers My snowdrops are starting to peek up out of the soil and there are thick buds on the Hellebores, the winter plants are starting to get into gear. Its a joy to see. The year gets marked by my favourite plants of the season. The anticipation is half the pleasure, but I just find myself thinking I must tell mum about that, we both loved telling each other about the new signs of the new year. 
I've managed to get up to the allotment a couple of days, enjoying the fresh air and the quiet. I'm still busy clearing and tidying. I've harvested most of the leeks now and some parsnips, and have still got some sprouts to pick. Some of my bulbs are coming up there too, some Camassias and some of the alliums. It won't be long, enjoy this quiet time, the mad days of Spring will soon be here. 
In the garden the birds are back on mass especially the sparrows, barging and bumping each other off the feeders, the blackbirds are about and my Robin is back visiting. I love to go out and just wait a few minutes and then hear his delicate warbling song coming from the Rhododendron or his perch on the apple tree.
I want to wish all my gardening friends and bloggers a very Happy New Year, I love reading all about your growing year, the places you visit and the plants that you love. Here's to a peaceful and productive 2017. May all your gardening dreams come true.