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

Annie's Little Plot

Annie's Little Plot

Wednesday 30 December 2015

Presents and poppies

Storm Frank is starting to get going now so hunkering down for the day, no plans on going anywhere. I'm in my back bedroom and I've been sorting out my photos that I've taken this year. Where has the time gone, I really struggled to find the time to organise them this year and some I'm only just taking off my camera but its nice to look back at them and I might do some belated blog posts about some of the garden visits that I've been on this year.

I hope you've all managed to have a relaxing Christmas break, I'm making the most of mine, lots of reading, watching films, things I just don't tend to have the time to do at any other time of the year. I particularly like reading my gardening books at this time of year. I've had a few on the go throughout the year, two Monty Don books (The Ivington Diaries and Gardening at Longmeadow) and one by Carol Klein 'Life in a Cottage Garden'. They are written almost in diary form so I've been reading each month by month sort of, though more often chunks at a time to catch up. I've finally finished Gardening at Longmeadow as December comes to an end. I do like his writing, probably more than I like him on Gardeners World. Tend to watch that more for Nigel. But have you seen Monty's new dog? If you follow him on Twitter you will have seen he has a new puppy called Nell!! Gorgeous.

I've had a couple of new books for Christmas, The Crafted Garden by Louise Curley, otherwise known as Wellywoman looking forward to being inspired to be more creative in my garden and the latest book by Georgie Newbury, more inspiration for my cut flower patch. My bedside books for 2016 will also be Dan Pearson's Home Ground, Joy Larkcom's Creative Vegetable Gardening and Helen Yemm's Thorny Problems. I think I'm sorted till next Christmas now. 
My friend also bought me a book on the meaning of flowers which is an interesting one. I find it fascinating though confusing with lots of different versions out there. This concept of the language of flowers was especially popular in Victorian times, with the giving of Tussie-mussies, small posies of flowers the content of which had much meaning. 

But on Monday I went to visit an exhibition which truly emphasises the power of flowers as symbols. I went to the Poppies: Wave sculpture at Yorkshire Sculpture Park. It is a wave of poppies arching over the Cascade Bridge in the park. At once, stunning and moving, on a gloomy Yorkshire day. We approached from the lake side.
These poppies were initially seen in that amazing display at the Tower of London, which marked the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. Its estimated that 5 million people visited the exhibit in London and many wanted the exhibit to stay there longer but the artist and designers always wanted it to be transient, however they decided that parts of it, the wave section and the weeping window segments, would be displayed at sites around the UK before finally being installed in the Imperial War Museums in London and Manchester. There were so many people there to visit this, I've never seen the sculpture park so busy.

I love the YSP anyway, especially in winter, though its becoming a bit of a victim of its own success, and of the weather too. Many of the sculptures were temporarily fenced off, at least I hope its only temporary. Because of all the rain, the ground was sodden and there was lots of mud in places so they've stopped people going on some parts of the grass, to protect it. As I say I hope it is only temporary as that is one of the joys of the park in that you can get up close to touch the sculptures. You couldn't walk round the lake either as they have closed the bridge at the top end of the lower lake so you can't do the usual circular walk. But this is while they do work on the bridge so hopefully this will be open again for the summer.
Its always worth a visit at any time of year but the Poppy exhibition is only on until the 10th January 2016 so you'll have to hurry if you want to see this.

Sunday 27 December 2015


Ahhh sunshine, where have you been hiding this last month. So lovely to see you again! Clear blue sky for what seems like the first time in ages, but more importantly it has stopped raining at least for the time being. What a relief for those living here in West Yorkshire who have suffered with the floods, there have been problems all round the Calder valley. Thankfully we've not been affected either by the flooding or the subsequent power cuts, the allotments behind my house have been a bit like a pond in places but our house is raised up. 
I walked over to my allotment yesterday to get some fresh air and to pick some vegetables for our roast dinner. I grow enough sprouts to have some for Christmas and a few other meals and that is enough for me. I never used to like them much at all but do like them now. This year I had a go at growing two varieties. Just three plants of each. An F1 variety called 'Titus' and one called 'Ruby Crunch'. Both from Marshalls. Some of the sprouts on 'Titus' had blown or gone over a bit and there was a mixture of sizes, some very big and some small. I think some of the sprouts should have been harvested earlier. Growing F1 hybrids is supposed to help to get more even sprouts but I think the growing conditions have made the growth a bit erratic this year with some dry spells and then a long warm autumn. In fact sprouts are supposed to be up to a third bigger this winter due to the long mild autumn. Have other growers found this? Those on 'Ruby Crunch' were probably more even in size. This is a variety with red/purple sprouts and Marshall's claim it as a dual purpose Brussels sprout as it also produces a red cabbage at the top of the stem. Mine did have a lot of greenery at the top which I used as cabbage but it was quite loose in growth. Maybe it should have been left for longer. This is the first year that I've really properly grown a purple sprout successfully. I found that they had a lot less of a tight button than the green variety and they did look very weird. Like little brains!! Here they are all picked and peeled.

I guess the real verdict is in the taste. Well we weren't sure but found the purple variety a little bit bitter compared to the green one. Hmmm so not sure whether to try that again.
Its been a good year for Brassica's for me. Calabrese was good over the summer, I grew the variety called 'Marathon' which is always reliable. I grew a mixture of Kale varieties which are still going strong. I also had good success with red cabbage, I grew a pointed cabbage called 'Kalibos', less so with the green cabbage 'Primo'. Wish I'd tried cauliflower this year, it might have been a good year. I was less successful with Kohl rabi, I struggle to get nice round balls as the slugs always seem to take a chunk out of them. But I did get some to harvest. I grew my main crops under enviromesh this year, which really helped with the cabbage white butterfly so I would definitely recommend it. There were no sneaky caterpillars in amongst my Calabrese which can be very off-putting!! It is also effective against the pigeons, though I still have a bit of a problem with cabbage whitefly but much less so for the ones grown under the mesh. The thing that was the biggest Brassica pest was slugs and snails. I would say that you need to be really diligent with weeding under the covers as I wasn't for my cabbages and the green ones got ripped to shreds. It can create a lovely haven for slugs and snails. It was clear when picking the sprouts and cabbage that slugs and snails are still active on my plot. We really need some cold weather to see some off!
So what to grow next year, well think I will stick to my tried and tested Calabrese and Kales, and the Cabbage 'Kalibos' was great. But our local garden centre was recently selling off seeds for 50p a packet and so I got another couple of curiosities, a Brussels sprout variety called 'Flower Sprout' from Suttons, which is a cross between a Brussels sprout and a Kale! It develops like a sprout with buttons along the stem but then these are like frilly kales. A bit bonkers yes but will give it a try. I also bought a packet of seed of Cauliflower 'Di Sicillia Violetta' from Suttons in the same sale, this is a vibrant purple variety. Maybe I should have learnt my lesson with the purple sprout. Are you growing any curiosities next year?

Monday 21 December 2015

Counting down

There is a lot of counting down in December, many of us lighting an advent candle to mark each day leading us to Christmas day, others indulging in a chocolate a day (I do both!). Some of us count down to finishing school or work for the Christmas break or to the Christmas party. My countdown though is to Winter Solstice! This is more often than not on the 21st December but this year it is tomorrow, the 22nd December, more precisely at 04.49. The day after which the days start to get longer again and for me the promise of Spring. 
Spring you might say though has come early this year, or have we had a super-long Autumn? Its certainly been very mild here in Huddersfield the last few days, there has been a lot of talk in the media about daffodils and snowdrops being in bloom, blossom on trees. I'm not sure about this as there will definitely be some varieties that given a mild winter will flower earlier, and there are some well-known snowdrops which flower before Christmas anyway. But there is no getting away from the mild weather. Its looking like we may have one of the warmest Decembers on record. My bulbs are starting to come up, I'm planning a day of winter tidying this week, weather permitting, so I'll have to take care not to damage any emerging spikes of foliage. But as soon as we get any cold weather the plants will just sit tight and wait it out. So far we have had one or two frost here and a sprinkling of snow but other than that it has been wet, wet, wet and windy. Its been the lack of sunshine though that has been the hardest to take. There seems to have been a constant gloom throughout December that even the sparkle of Christmas and Strictly has struggled to shine through. But I did manage a walk the other day to forage for some foliage and made a wreath for my dads grave.
I also decorated a willow ring that I made last year and made a couple to give as presents.
Luckily I did manage to get busy at my allotment a few weeks ago, before all this rain, and cover most of the empty beds with a layer of well-rotted manure or compost. I've still got some leeks, cabbages, sprouts, kale, chard and celeriac to see me for a few more weeks. So it is virtually sorted for winter now, just a couple of other beds to tidy up now, like the raspberry bed and the main fruit beds. I even managed to give my shed a good tidy as well!
At this yuletide I have a very welcome visitor to my garden, usually making himself known as I do my check on my greenhouse. What is it about Robins that make you think they are looking right at you, the way they cock their heads and really seem to connect with you. No other birds seem to do that. The little delicate trilling that he makes is a sure sign that he is around and waiting for some mealworms.
I bought this feeder especially for him as he was struggling a bit with the seed feeder, though he can do it. Robins seem to have learnt how to use them now, though its often a battle to get on it when the sparrows are in force. The blue tits also seem to like this one too.

Enjoy the Winter Solstice and the return to longer days.

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.....