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

Annie's Little Plot

Annie's Little Plot

Friday, 30 May 2014

Silver Gilt and Silene

Well the joy that is Chelsea is over for another year. I had a brilliant time at the show, after I helped on the build the following week I was back down again on the Tuesday to help out on the stand, telling people about the Chelsea garden, about the charity Perennial and to try and encourage people to go and visit the two Perennial gardens, York Gate and Fullers Mill. It was a bit of an eye-opener for me, quite surprising how many people had never heard of the charity. Many people walking through the garden and asking about the plants thought we were a nursery so we had to do a lot of talking and telling people what the charity do. It was pleasing that the charity got some coverage on the BBC Friday night coverage of the Flower Show.
Tuesday was obviously medals day and pleasingly the garden got a Silver-Gilt.
People asked lots of questions about the plants, the most popular was Silene fibriata, which is on the left hand side of the first photo below and in close up at Kew Gardens. From the Campion family it has lovely white bell like flowers with a frilly edge. The joy of this plant is that it can grow most places, shade or sun. We have it in the white border at York Gate.
The other popular plant was Anemone 'Wild Swan'.
Its hard to get photos of the garden exhibit during the show, as it was very popular place to walk through and also to sit for a few minutes. Hopefully this was great for Perennial with lots of people taking leaflets and hearing about their work. I took a final picture at the end of my shift, when it was getting quieter in the Great Pavilion.
I was on the garden till 8pm but what a treat after that getting to see the gardens outside without the crowds, there were lots of corporate events going on but I managed to get another good look round all the gardens and as it got dark many of the gardens were lit, the best being Cleve West's garden.
Then back to get some rest before the next day when I did a quick trip to Kew gardens and then I had afternoon tickets for the show, so back to the Royal Hospital Chelsea for a proper look round....

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Chelsea Flower Show dream come true

Well one of my all time dreams has been realised this week, I've been going to the Chelsea Flower Show most years since 2004 but this year I'm getting a very special opportunity. As I've mentioned in previous posts, Perennial, the horticultural charity who own York Gate, the garden that I'm doing a years training at, are celebrating their 175th anniversary. To promote this there has been a garden at the Harrogate Spring Flower Show and now they are creating a walkthrough exhibit in the Great Pavilion at Chelsea, designed by Jo Thompson. The exhibit measure 10m by 12m and it has been supported by many horticultural bodies with most of the plants donated or on loan from Hardys Cottage Plants, Coblands nurseries and Majestic trees. Streetscape have been doing the hard landscaping. See their website to find out more about this amazing social enterprise. I spent Friday on the build of the exhibit helping "plant". Look how dirty my knees are to show how hard we worked!
It was so exciting to be behind the scenes of the greatest flower show and be part of that hussle and bussle for a day. It was a busy day, I was exhausted by the end of it, forty winks on the train home was inevitable.
The design is inspired by Perennial's two gardens, York Gate and Fullers Mill and is shaped like Perennial's logo which is a Arum lily. This is definitely inspired by York Gate.
And the box spirals from the Herb garden at York Gate.
The underplanting the tall silver birches is spectacular.

The key plants are Allium hollandicum, Anthriscus sylvestris 'Ravenswing', Digitalis purpurea 'Sutton's apricot', Geum 'Totally Tangerine', Verbascum 'Cotswold Beauty', Salvia nemorosa 'Caradonna'  and Silene fibriata.
I'll try and get better pictures next week.
We had some time to look round the Great Pavilion, which when inside all day is a heady mix of scents, we were next to Hart's nursery and all their lilies and we also kept getting wafts of roses. Heaven. Right next to us were Clematis.
 Each container took hours to assemble, painstakingly tying in the plants.
We were awe-inspired by the Thai stand.
I hate to think how many orchids, but each one placed by hand into the soaked oasis.
We also had a sneaky peak at all the main avenue show gardens under preparation but all you see are masses of builders bums and hi-vis jackets galore. I'll save my pictures of the gardens for when I go down on Tuesday and Wednesday. I'll be on the garden telling people about Perennial, their work and their two fabulous gardens. Keeping fingers crossed for the judging.
There are pictures of the finished garden on Twitter (follow @PerennialGRBS) or Jo Thompson's Facebook page and more information here. I'll have more posts about Chelsea next week.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

April Showers

I know that I said that I wasn't go to say this every blog post, but where is the time going!! This year is going by far too fast. I've had a manic few weeks and there is a lot to catch up on, the weather has been reasonable too, sunshine and showers so perfect growing weather and plants are moving on fast, what a difference from the cold spring of last year.
I've been getting used to my new greenhouse, previously many of my seeds have been started on the propagator on the desk in my small bedroom, which gets lots of sun, and then moved outside into plastic greenhouses and I had got surprising efficient at planning my sowing and moving things on. It was amazing the amount that I grew. Now I've got the greenhouse I'm having to get used to slightly different conditions, my struggle really is that its not heated so can go cool at night but then its getting quite hot during the day. Fluctuating conditions which aren't great for plants but I think I'm getting there now. I'm having to be a bit more patient as some things aren't germinating as quick as when inside but they are growing and I'm starting to get a routine going now. A big thanks to our friend Bob for putting that up, he's also just fixed the automatic window that opens when the temperature gets too hot which helps keeps the temperature more stable. So here we are, brightened up with some beautiful bunting that my friend Amy made me for my birthday a couple of years ago.
As you can see I've used the frames from my plastic greenhouses inside so I've got quite a lot of space, though its getting full now. I've still kept one plastic greenhouse outside to act as a coldframe for hardening plants off. 
My plans to cut down the laurel hedges at the side of my house have been put on hold as there is a blackbird nesting in one of them. Though I'm a bit worried about this as its not a very high hedge and my cat, Bob, though getting on a bit now used to be quite a predator. Maybe I should have just stopped the blackbird nesting there and hope it would find a better place for a nest?!
At my allotment I'm actually on top of things which is unusual for me at this time of year, all beds are ready and dug over. The paths on my plot are all made of wood edging filled with bark chippings of which we used to get a regular delivery to the site. However due to a dispute between the council and the school, of whose grounds our site is situated, we are not getting any delivered any more (might be something to do with the fact that when they were delivering one time, they knocked a stone finial off the main gate to the school!). Our allotment committee have been complaining about this but have been told that if we want bark chippings we have to go and pick them up ourselves, so I spent one morning last week at Lockwood cemetery where the council have a big pile of chippings, bagging them up. I filled my car with about 15 bags but I needed to do two journeys to get enough chippings to fill my new path and to cover the area near my shed which was looking very messy and which I'd put down black plastic. I think it looks a lot better.
As for starting planting, my shallots have been planted and onion sets have just gone in. Potatoes are in, though I'm only growing a couple of shorter rows this year. I've planted my broad beans which I'd started off in modules. Today I sowed some peas and spring onions.
My redcurrent is full of flowers this year.
I'm dedicating a whole bed for growing cut flowers this year and have planted some gladioli and just put out some sweet peas.
There is a patch of Sweet William in there already which is almost ready for picking which will be a good start.
I've even started trying to tackle that place of dread, where all bits of wood, glass, compost bags etc things get placed, that place is the back of the shed! I've not quite plucked up courage to open the covered bucket that contains some comfrey stew, to feed my flowers, that was made a couple of years ago and was forgotten about though, I might need a mask for that one.
I've had a week off my normal job this week, though carried on my 2 days at York Gate and then on most other days I've been at Harrogate Flower Show, what a great week helping to create a small show garden. It was for Perennial, designed by Shanet Alexander and called 'The Essence of York Gate'. I'll write a separate blog post to show more photos, but here is a couple of the final garden.
I may be biased in thinking that the garden was brilliant but the judges agreed too.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Mad March

Well its turning out that I'm only managing a monthly blog post at the moment! This is a bit frustrating but there are only so many hours in the day and if the weather's good I'd far rather been out doing rather than writing about it. We've been away for a long weekend in Scotland and making the most of any dry weekend days at the allotment, roll on the lighter nights. Plus I'm busy at York Gate, we are getting the garden ready for opening again at the beginning of April which this year excitingly includes a complete revamp of the white and silver garden, I've spent my last two days there planting with all new plants. What a treat. The garden is looking great at the moment the snowdrops have been fabulous, they have masses of Galanthus 'S.Arnott' which is big snowdrop. Its been flowering for weeks. The gardens open again on Thursdays and Sundays from the first of April.  My training year is racing by at the speed of sound and I'm making the most of my time there and I'm learning so much. Its a real treat to see the garden through the year.
I've also been getting a bit on top of my allotment, I've almost finished my paths now, so my plot is completely divided into workable beds now. I'm just waiting on a delivery of bark chippings to fill the path, its a bit erratic our bark chipping delivery we get loads dumped and then none for ages but should be grateful that we get some for free. I want to dig up the grass path at the bottom of the plot to again fill with bark as its full of buttercups and is often slippy, but going to wait till it gets a bit drier, the structure is all there though now.
I have had a delivery of manure though, shared with a fellow allotment holder and so I spent the warmest day of the year so far barrowing muck to my plot, I know I'm late but better late than never. I've done all but one bed now. The rest, as its a big pile, will be piled up in the corner of my plot and covered over for next year.
I've fed and topdressed, with compost, the overwintered onions and garlic.
I've mulched and tidied the fruit bed. I dug the strawberries up that were in this bed as they had been looking a bit sickly the last year and I've other strawberry plants in other parts of the plot so I've got a gap and not sure what to put in, I quite fancy a small plum or cherry tree on a dwarf root stock. So will have to research that. This will join the rhubarb, gooseberry bush, redcurrant, blackcurrant and apple tree.
The rhubarb is almost ready for picking, I love rhubarb.
Its been such a mild winter that I've got some selfsown overwintered annuals including Cerinthe and even some Calendula. So cheery as an early flower.
The Globe artichokes often look a bit ragged at this time of year but the fountains of silver grey foliage are looking great.
I like to have chives dividing my two main beds (to split into 4 which I rotate round, brassicas, legumes, roots and Allium family) but these have become a bit congested so I've dug these up and split most into 4, its a bit brutal but they are much better to have space. It also means I've got many more plants to spread round the plot so most beds have got a row at each end now. I love the flowers as an early cut flower and the bees love them too. The alpine strawberries edging the fruit bed were also a bit woody and congested so they have been consigned to the compost heap but I've had self sown seedlings around that bed which I've just used to replace them.
So all in all I think I'm almost on top of things at the plot, though shed is needing a bit of TLC and needs some panels replacing and my bench needs sanding down and painting but think I'm going to get Martin on the job for that!
More excitingly we've finally got my greenhouse up and ready for action, this is after a few false starts (it was nearly finished before we had those terrible storms that wreaked havoc and blew out and broke quite a few panes of glass so we've had to replace some with perspex. Our friend Bob takes all the credit for putting it up, he's been a legend, though I think he's been cursing me for weeks but its all finished and the first plants are in there now. So just in time for the main seed sowing time, I've not got any heaters at the moment though so its not frost free so will have to be careful with some things. But I'm very excited about a good crop of tomatoes this year. I'll post a picture in my next post.
Other news is that one of the gardener's from York Gate has designed a garden for the Harrogate Flower Show in April so I'll be helping out with that too. The garden is owned by Perennial (previously the Gardener's Royal Benevolent Society) which is a national charity for those who work or have worked in horticulture and their spouses/partners when they face adversity or need. It's Perennial's 175th anniversary this year and the show garden, which is inspired by York Gate, will help promote the charity and the garden. So I'm looking forward to that experience. Will keep you posted.
Finally my heated propagator installed on my desk in my back bedroom is proving a toasty seat for my cat, Bob!

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Review of the year 2013

Ok so I'm a bit late posting this but I do like to go through and see how the year has gone, which crops have been successful, which varieties have done well or otherwise and what I could have done better. I'm learning all the time about which varieties are good, how to grow crops to their best on my plot and I'm now developing a good routine and some varieties which I know do well for me but its always worth seeing how things could be changed and how the new varieties that I try each year fit in.
Its also always interesting to reread my posts from last year to see how the plot changes, I also keep a diary noting when I sow seeds, when they get pricked out or potted on and eventually planted and then hopefully harvested at my plot to give me a guide to my year. I also make a note of the general weather conditions as this often dictates how the year goes.
So 2013 started slow, very slow, the winter seemed endless, in Huddersfield we had a big snow fall in January with some snow on the ground for around 12 days and very cold, there followed a cold February with some further snow showers, though there were some really sunny days including one day when I made a delightful trip to Hodsock Priory to view the snowdrops little realising till I got there that the garden also contained a host of other winter flowers.
February and March stayed mainly dry with many cold but grey days seemingly endless, until mid March when we had some more really heavy snow, the most I have seen in Huddersfield, this was when I really lost the plot, under drifts of snow.
The snow lasted into April and up to Easter but by now the days were getting longer and spring did eventually arrive. Though it was unusual as some of the earlier spring flowers, like the daffodils and the hellebores which flowered for a much longer season as it was cool, were still in flower when the later spring flowers started into bloom, like the tulips which burst into flower when the sun and warmth finally came.
With spring being quite dry I managed to get quite well ahead with jobs at the allotment and I also made a big effort to improve my soil this year, sharing a big load of manure with a fellow plot holder, I also had a go at growing some green manures but I've not managed to get that into my routine yet. The other advantage of this spring was the blossom, which was delayed due to cold but once it came was glorious and so this meant bumper crops for fruits at my plot. I had good crops on my gooseberries, redcurrants, strawberries and my newly planted apple tree had a great first crop. My rhubarb had matured enough for a proper harvesting this year too. This year I added a blackcurrent bush to the bed so hopefully next year I'll get a few of those too.
My plot really helped me this year too, I'd had a difficult start to the year as my dad had been poorly since October of 2012 with a stressful time of him being in and out of hospital and my mum struggling too, sadly my dad passed away in May. But the allotment was a place for calmness and refuge which may sound daft but it really helped me stay 'normal' in a bit of a mad time.
In June we finally had some warm weather which was much appreciated by all and everything really got going and its fair to say I think we all caught up after a long winter and spring. Everything really started to flourish in July and with the weather being so good I was up at my plot at least a couple of nights a week. We had a really warm July, and that's when the harvesting started in earnest. I had a couple of fabulous trips away this year the first was a trip down to Devon as I'd won a competition for the 'Get Growing' course at River Cottage and we had glorious weather.
With the weather being so good sitting out in the evenings became a regular occurrence and this is when we realised we were on the evening walking circuit for hedgehogs, which encouraged us to sit out all the more just for a glimpse of these lovely little creatures.
My blogging started being a bit erratic after August as this is when I started my WRAGS training in a lovely garden on the outskirts of Leeds called York Gate, I'm working 5 days now two days at the garden and 3 days at my usual job and it is tiring but worth it as I'm loving the training. Its really varied and just lovely to be outside for 2 days a week very different from my other job. But I've managed on the whole to keep up with my allotment but we'll have to see how that goes this year, the weather will be the crucial factor there.
Vegetable growing wise it was an extremely successful year, I even had some success in sowing things direct, though I made some mistakes, I sowed some peas direct and some in modules, I assumed that the ones sown direct hadn't come up (not patient enough!!) and planted the ones in modules in between and then up they came so I ended up with 4 rows of peas too close together. I still got massive crops off them though.
I didn't have great success with the Florence Fennel as many bolted, I think this was partly due to sowing too early and also the dry spring. I tried growing Tomatillo but had a few problems with slugs when potting on the seedlings and only ended up with one plant which grew really well and flowered well but never fruited. I found out later that you need more than one plant for pollination to get them to set fruit. I had my first go at growing cauliflower and they grew well and set nice heads but that's when I hit the problems I didn't cover them up well enough and so the curds became a bit discoloured. Still fine for eating though so I was pleased with them overall but will just cover them better next year.
Again I had mixed success with the celeriac, it grew well from seed but it didn't develop very big swollen roots, I think again this was a watering issue they need plenty of water and also I think the advice is to start removing some of the leaves later as they develop so will try that next year.
I've got a large middle bed in the plot and this is where I planted sweetcorn, beans, courgettes and squash, but I also put in two rows of leeks but this ended up looking a bit of a mish-mash and the squash overran it a bit which isn't surprising but the leeks got a bit taken over and the competition meant they didn't grow as well. This issue has been solved now as I've split this bed into two now and so I'm hoping this section will look more organised this year.
Those are the negative things but they are tiny compared to the great crops I got from other veg. One vegetable which I've struggled with in the past was beetroot, mostly as I was trying to sow direct and they never got going or eaten by slugs, but this year we needed to grow some for our allotment show, they were one of the compulsory vegetables so I needed to get some. I think I went a bit mad as I ended up with loads of beets! The trick for me here is to sow into modules and then plant out and that has been fine. I managed to grow some different varieties including 'Golden Globe' and 'Chioggia' as well as the sturdy 'Boltardy' but I have to say for taste and sweetness I don't think you can beet (pardon the pun) the 'Boltardy'.
New vegetables that I grew this year included the Cucamelon which is like a cross between a cucumber and a melon. It grew quite rampantly and did have quite a few grape-like fruits on them, though not as many as you'd expect from the growth, but it was the taste, I was never really quite sure whether I liked them or not, I think its because in your mind you think they are going to be sweet like a grape and they are not!
I grew a wigwam of some Borlotti beans and these grew and cropped really well and these have been stored as dried beans and are being used in soups. They look great too with the red marbled pods shining out.
I had a good summer season of salads, with good success at a few lettuce varieties, the old-favourite 'Webbs wonderful' a few seedlings of which were given to me by my plot neighbour, this grew really well, as well as 'Little Gem' and a lovely variety called 'Freckles' which was slow to bolt. Little and often is really the key to these plants. I grew some great cucumbers with no greenhouse, the variety was 'Burpless Green' and I got at least 6 or 7 really long cucumbers from these. This was due to the great sunny weather of course so whether that will happen this year only time will tell.
My squash plants did well again and I'm still eating the stored fruits now. Courgettes were excessive as usual, and overall beans did well. I grew some Crimson flowered bean this year and these were pretty as well as cropped well, they also had a delicate scent.
I was much better this year at spreading the growing season and so into autumn and winter I've had a good crop of Brussel sprouts, parsnips, leeks, celeriac and the ubiquitous beetroot to get me through. For some reason I missed out sowing Kale which I've missed this year and I'm going to grow some purple sprouting broccoli for next winter.
I've taken to growing lots of flowers on my plot too and I think this year that is going to be extended, my real favourites this year were sunflowers I had them all over my plot, I love the tall single flowered varieties just for the sheer fun of them but I also grew some multistemmed varieties which were a revelation. I started cutting some for indoors and they just kept sending out more flowers I was still picking them in October. The two I grew were 'Valentine' which is short pale yellow variety and 'Claret' which as its name suggests is a dark red. They are on the must grow list for next year.
I also had masses of Cosmos, again another fabulous cut flower which kept on going well into autumn. I had a great year for Sweet peas, though I was quite late in sowing these as my first sowing failed to germinate well they really took off. Cropped well all summer and then seemed also to have a second burst of flowering in the autumn. Tithonia rotundiflora 'Torch' was a new one for me, it germinated really quickly and really took off with erect orange flowers which looked great with another new flower I grew, which was Salvia viridis, the Blue Clary, this was also planted in that great mish-mash of my middle bed at the plot and again this flowered for months and I just kept picking and picking.
I also had Nasturtiums, Dahlias, Borage, Calendula, Cerinthe, Campanula, Veronica, Astrantia, plus some lovely delicate poppies. I want to extend my range of flowers for cutting this year.
So all in all a great year for veg and flower growing, can we order a summer like that again for this year.