Anticipating Spring

Where does the time go?  The anniversary of this blog passed unnoticed and here we are in mid-March already.  I’ve decided to blame the weather (that and other demands on my weekends) because I’ve barely  set foot in the garden, and as for the allotment – well I pass it twice a day,to and from the station, but otherwise it is as I left it at the start of winter.

However, I remain positive – as a gardener you have to be.  I have sweet peas in the shed (note to self – must check and see if they’ve germinated), seeds waiting patiently in their packets to be sown, dahlia tubers in the cupboard under the stairs and assorted summer flowering bulbs in a box by my desk as I write this.  Not to mention five sacks of potting compost and three of garden compost sitting in the garden.  This coming week I have taken three days off work with the sole purpose of working in the garden and on the allotment, and I’m determined that unless it continues to rain until Wednesday morning I will be working outdoors in some way or another, there is so much to be done.

So fingers crossed that by the next time I post I will have some meaningful progress to report, and more importantly, the weather will have turned more Springlike!

Primroses in the snow


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Seeing green

Hellebore, Double Ellen

Hellebore, Double Ellen

I love the colour green; I like to wear it, I have rooms painted in green and most of all I love to see it in the garden.  And I find that this time of the year, when things have appeared to be various shades of grey for so many months, I really start to exhibit signs of green deprivation!

This year these signs have manifested themselves in different and interesting ways.  Not only am I spending hours browsing seed and plant catalogues, painting mental images of flowers to come, I’m buying fresh flowers (#britishflowers of course) and spring flowering plants such as the glorious hellebore illustrating this post.  But a new departure for me this year has been to resume knitting, something I’ve not done since my twenties and it’s all down to a conversation on Twitter.  And the wool I’ve bought – has been green!  I’m sure a psychologist would not need to work very hard to diagnose Spring deprivation, and advise an emergency course of exposure to the garden, with a bit of time for knitting up the green yarn, when it gets too dark outdoors to see what I’m doing!

Now that I’ve enjoyed a weekend that has included some quality time in the garden with the sun shining, I don’t feel quite so green deprived – but I’m going to keep knitting, just in case!

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A conversation with my Mum

Hellebore 'Double Ellen' Red

Hellebore ‘Double Ellen’ Red

I’ve inherited my passion for plants and all things gardening from my Mum.  It was she who gave me my first patch of ground and seeds to sow in it; Candytuft and Virginian stocks; and who taught me the names of all the flowers in her garden.  She still propagates plants in her greenhouse and can get pretty much anything to put down roots. and grow.  So when I visited her and Dad today the conversation naturally turned to plants.   It was good to share my news with them about my blogging for Sarah Raven project, and Mum was particularly keen on the #britishflowers movement.  In fact given a bit more time I might be able to persuade her onto Twitter!

My parents have recently treated themselves to an iPad and so I gave Mum a little tour of some of my favourite websites, Common Farm Flowers and Higgledy Garden to name but two, and this afternoon she messaged me to say she was going to sit down with a cup of tea and catch up on my blog as well.

So knowing that Mum will find this post sooner or later, I want to say thank you Mum for passing on your love of gardening to me; sometimes my garden is the only thing that keeps me sane!   And thank you too Mum, for listening to me ramble on about my plans today and, just for the time being, keeping my secrets for me.

With all my love xxx

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Daisies and grasses

Creating this blog and actively engaging with some like-minded souls in the Twitterverse has brought me some amazing rewards already (my previous post refers) but I think the most exciting development in my gardening world to date must be the creation of the #britishflowers movement.  For the most part my Twitter activity is confined to all things gardening and I’ve found some lovely people there who are trying to re-energise the floristry industry to sourcing their cut flowers from growers based in Britain, rather than relying on flowers artificially forced and produced out of their natural season (tulips in August anyone?) and containered here either in massive Dutch lorries or by air-freight.  The (very sensible and persuasive) argument is that British cut flowers have as much, if not masses more to offer than these hothoused/refrigerated blooms which usually have no perfume to offer, rack up air and road miles and had (but not for much longer) all but destroyed the British cut flower scene.

So the #britishflowers movement is all about raising awareness of the numbers of British growers out there; to encourage florists to think about sourcing their stock from them and so re-establish the home market.  For the last two Monday evenings, between 8pm and 9pm, there has been a concerted effort to tweet about #britishflowers, using the hashtag I’m scattering throughout this post, with the aim to get it trending.  And the most exciting news of all is that last night, only the second attempt remember, we did it!

The events are being stage managed by Georgie from CommonFarmFlowers (@britishblooms) and were the brainchild of @bespokeconfetti.   Once the hour is over Georgie collates the conversations and posts them on her blog meaning we have an ongoing record of useful information to share!  Yesterday’s subjects covered conditioning; what #britishflowers florists would like to see more of; and using foxgloves as cut flowers and you can read the results for yourself here (click on 29 January post):

At the present I’m only dabbling on the fringes of being a grower of #britishflowers other than as my garden plants and this coming year on my allotment will help me discover if I wish to attempt to take it further.  But I have to say that at present the subject is occupying every spare thinking moment and I can’t wait to get started.

So if you have even the tiniest bit of interest in #britishflowers either as a grower (actual or potential) a florist or as a supportive gardener and/or buyer of cut flowers do join the fun next Monday evening!

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Snow, and an exciting development…


The viburnum branches are made to hold snow!

The viburnum branches are made to hold snow!

My garden, and allotment are both fast asleep under a blanket of snow and whilst the pavements are icy and walking to the station means risking life and limbs I am still finding the sight of it beautiful.  Best of all was yesterday when the sun came out as everything sparkled – sadly I was at work all day and so denied a chance to get out with my camera which is so frustrating, and leaves me hoping that the coming weekend might deliver the right conditions – but then another part of me wants it all gone!  Wouldn’t it be fabulous if the snow could vanish as quickly as it arrives?

Anyway a snow-bound garden and allotment means there is little to do outdoors for the moment (I dream of a greenhouse but no space in this garden) and so I am contenting myself with dreams for this summer’s display.  I’m really looking forward to growing a cutting flower garden on my allotment, and thanks to Sarah Raven’s team I now have another project lined up  – the exciting development!

A couple of weeks ago I saw a tweet from Sarah Raven (@srkitchengarden if you wanted to follow on Twitter) asking for gardeners who blogged to get in touch if they were interested in growing some seeds and blogging about the experience.  Naturally I jumped at the chance, sent off an email whilst crossing my fingers, and they have very kindly supplied me with a packet of their Venetian Cut Flower Meadow Mix.  It contains the following: Cornflower ‘Black Ball’, Cosmos ‘Rubenza”, Nicandra physalodes, Papaver somniferum ‘Cherry Glow’, Malope ‘Vulcan’ and Anethum graveolens (aka Dill).  The link below should show what I can expect to grow – lovely!

I now need to identify which site is to benefit from these riches – my garden, the allotment or the third plot that I’m now responsible for, which I don’t believe I’ve written about – yet.

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Perfume for a wintery day…

Snow on Viburnum

Snow on Viburnum

I woke up to a fall of snow this morning.  It was what I’d describe as the ‘right sort of snow’ in that it dusted the rooftops and gardens but had not been enough to settle on the roads and pavements.  It has subsequently turned wet and so the photo on this post is from last year – but the Viburnum is flowering this year too.  I love winter flowering plants and Viburnum bodnantense ‘Dawn’ is a great example.  It has been flowering non-stop since about November, and will go on for some months yet.  Up close, the flowers can sometimes look a little tatty as the dying blooms stay on the stem alongside the freshly opened ones, but from a distance the plant is a mass of sugar pink on bare stems.  The perfume is quite sweet too, in common with other Viburnums such as V. bonariensis, a spring flowering favourite of mine.

Another winter flowering treasure in my garden is Chimonanthus praecox more commonly known as Wintersweet.  This is quite tender and in my part of the world (not far from RHS Wisley) it is best grown against a wall, as they do at Wisley.  Sadly I don’t have a walled garden and so my next best solution was to plant it against a fence in a protected spot outside my back door.  It is happy there and is a mass of shaggy lemon yellow flowers.  You have to work to get the best of the perfume from Chimonanthus – but it is worth it and I’ve discovered this tip works for any winter flowering plant.  Put your face up close to the flower and breathe out very gently.  Then breathe in and the warmth of your exhalation will release the perfume.  Chimonanthus has a slightly spicy perfume – at least to me it does.   After flowering it becomes a very unassuming specimen,   and there are times when I wish I’d planted something with a longer season of interest so close to the house – and then it starts to flower and I remember why I chose it.

Chimonanthus praecox

Chimonanthus praecox

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Back to the allotment

With the weather continuing so mild, and it managing to not really rain very much for the past few days I was desperate to get onto my allotment this weekend.  It is situated next to the footpath that I use twice a day to walk to and from the station and so I can’t help but notice it (although this time of the year it is still pretty dark when I pass which helps) and its untended state, since last autumn, has been bothering me.

So this morning, rather than set to work on my usual Saturday chores; the Waitrose run, cleaning the house etc. I put the allotment first.  I’d been given some old pallets last year by the allotment agent and wanted to add these to my existing compost heap – but to do this I had to move a compost dalek (you know the sort, the upside down dustbin type).  This was full of weeds and other stuff I’d cleared away last year, so I needed to empty it before I could think about moving it.  It was a grotty mucky job and I would have much preferred to be digging or weeding, but I did it, then hauled the pallets into place and suddenly things began to look tidier.  I still have to sort out the neighbouring heap but that’s for another day, and when I can persuade my gardening apprentice to help me!

Using the slots at the side of the pallets I fitted in canes and other sundry bits of wood to save them creating trip hazards on the ground, and finally moved the compost daleks alongside.  The last thing I did was to start to prepare the ground where I plan to grow my runner beans this year.  I’d covered it with a black membrane for the past few months which had managed to kill off the couch grass (the roots are another matter) but the wretched dandelions are as strong as ever and despite being pallid looking through lack of light their roots are holding tight to the claggy soil.  So I’ve contented myself with turning it all over and will return next week (weather permitting) to start the proper weeding.  As I left so the robins which had been monitoring my every move were flying in to feast on the bugs and beasties I’d unearthed.  All in all a good morning’s work!

Good to finally make a start on the allotment

Good to finally make a start on the allotment

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First post of the year!

And I’ll open with a photo:

Garden, January 1 2013

Garden, January 1 2013

This is the view from just outside my kitchen window, and my plan is to take a photo from the same spot at least once every week, for this year. I tried something similar last year but I overcomplicated it, so this year am keeping it more straightforward.

The weather today has been beautiful – dry, bright, sunny with blue skies, and mild too for the time of year. Spent the day with family as it is my Mum’s birthday, so no time for any gardening, but borrowing a New Year’s Day habit from Beth Chatto I did go out into the garden to note what was flowering. The Viburnum and Chimonanthus are both blooming well with the added bonus common to winter flowers of each having lovely perfume. Also here and there early primroses are in flower, and the cheeky buttercup that is poking through next door’s fence deserves a mention before I pull it out.

Driving home from my sister’s in the late afternoon it was lovely to be out in the remaining winter light and watch the sky deepen as the sun went down – still too early for my liking, but three minutes later than yesterday!

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At the end of the year…

I don’t get the whole New Year’s Eve party thing.  I never have done and can recall being at a party as a teenager and wondering why we wanted to make so much fuss about time passing, and with those years far behind me, feel that even more so now.  But that’s not to say I don’t welcome an opportunity for reflection, and the end of the year is an ideal time to do so.  As every UK-based gardener will know, this winter has been so very wet, and we’ve some months of it left yet, which has meant that winter gardening jobs have been delayed over and over, especially when working full time means that the only daylight available to get in the garden is at the weekends – so if they are a wash out that is more precious days lost.

When I booked time off between Christmas and New Year I had such plans for the garden not to mention my allotment – both would finally be ‘put to bed’ for the winter, one of my favourite tasks.  However the dry days I’d envisaged did not materialise and apart from a brief couple of hours in the garden yesterday, most of the things on my ‘to do’ list remain undone and garden and allotment continue to look rather ragged around the edges.  But it was a pleasure to be outside yesterday, and whilst far too wet to do any digging I was able to clear away leaves I’d missed earlier, and in so doing, reveal small signs of Spring – a welcome reminder that no matter what the weather throws at us, Nature will out.  Now that we’ve passed the Winter Solstice and gradually each day brings us a little more daylight, so our plants start into life again.

So for me the saving graces at the end of the year are the fat buds of the hellebores, the grey green spikes of the snowdrops just starting to show and the bold green and white leaves of the Arum italicum ‘Pictum’ – they confirm that this weather will pass and the ground will begin to dry – and we will cope with whatever 2013 brings us ‘garden wise’.

Happy New Year!

Arum italicum 'Pictum'

Arum italicum ‘Pictum’

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Where does the time go?

I knew I’d been very remiss with my blog lately, but until just now, when I re-read my last entry, from September, I’d not appreciated quite how remiss. So I must work to re-establish myself and write and read more over the coming months.

Like many UK based garden bloggers my thoughts are almost entirely linked to the weather, it has certainly had an enormous impact on my time in the garden over the past couple of months, and as for the allotment, well I’m just relieved this is the ‘down’ time as otherwise I do believe the powers that be would have been chasing me by now. That’s not to say I’ve not been gardening! I’ve added another plot to my ‘to do’ list, and more about that soon.

So, to catch up. I’ve nearly planted all my bulbs, a few tulips remaining and if the ground does not dry out soon, they’ll end up in pots. My autumn sown seeds have frankly been a real disappointment, those that did germinate have either been decimated by slugs, or have gone leggy and feeble looking from being placed in the shed – no slugs but not a great deal of light either. The sweet peas are looking grand, a good 6″ tall, but I’m worried they will not survive the winter months. I should be planting some more soon, perhaps between the batches I will get some viable plants for next year.

The garden itself is not looking too bad, I’ve made a point of collecting fallen leaves when I have been able to get outside, and I am looking forward to lots of lovely leaf mould in a year or so. Because I no longer have a lawn it all looks fairly tidy, but the paving is getting very slippery in places, so I can see some fun with a pressure washer next year.

Plant-wise, the most lovely looking thing right now is my Betula jacquemontii, this is the first year it has shed its bark and the clean white stems look fantastic. That and the grasses are the stars of the show.


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