Allotment update – the fate of the September sown seeds

At the beginning of this month I wrote how I had started off some hardy annuals from the Higgledy Garden ‘Seeds to Sow in September’ range.  Not only was this because I wanted to get some of my cut flower seeds off to a good start next year, but also because I had finally managed to reclaim a large section of the allotment, and wanted to feel it was being productive.  Furthermore, being a bit of a romantic, I have this vision of what my allotment will look like next year ( I will seek out an appropriate image) and the sooner I can feel I’m well and truly on my way to this flowery utopia the happier I will be.

It was going well.  Everything germinated.  I’d sown Calendula, Larkspur, Cornflowers and Nigella, and marked up those from Sarah Raven and those from Higgledy Garden just to compare notes on performance – as you do.  As I walked to and from the station I was able to watch the progress of the seeds, and was quietly confident.  Just over a week ago I was stopping off every couple of evenings to water them.

But then we’ve had some rain.  And whilst this little corner of Surrey has had nothing like the deluge that other parts of the country have suffered, when I returned to the allotment today to work on easing out the weeds that had the cheek to try and re-establish themselves in my cut flower patch, it appears that it was enough for most of my seeds to retreat back beneath the surface again!  Either that, or something has been feasting on them.  It is very frustrating.  The same has happened in the garden.  I’d sown a seed tray full of Papaver rhoeas ‘Bridal Silk’ – they were safe inside a cold frame, and all but two have vanished.  I can only think that slugs or snails have had them.  So the second batch are in the shed.

However it is not all bleak.  I am very pleased to see that the seeds I sowed from the Lunaria annua ‘Variegata’ have germinated.  They are in one of my cold frames in the garden where I can keep a close eye on them.  I bought the plant from a RHS Westminster show in the Spring, it was expensive for an annual, and on the scrawny side only managing one flower stem.  However when it gave up the ghost I saved the stem, drying it off in the shed, and so far so good.  From my recollection the seeds do come true; I will update in due course.  And on the allotment I’m pleased to say that the Calendula have come on a treat, and the Higgledy Garden Nigella are doing well.

The image I’ve included here is from a postcard I bought from the Garden Museum in Lambeth.  I have a feeling this sentiment will be shared!

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Out of my garden

A week off work this week, and the treat of a few days away to get it off to a good start. Sadly the weather did not quite live up to expectations, September can usually be relied upon to give beautiful sunny days and gently crisp mornings – but so far, not this week.  However Saturday was beautiful and reports of trouble on the M25 meant taking a different route into Kent (the destination for a few days away).  And how lucky that the detour was taken!  It took us past Sissinghurst; which gave an ideal place for a stop to break the journey.

I did not have my camera with me, but grabbed a few pictures on my phone, and just wanted to share this fabulous daisy with you.  It was in the White Garden, standing about 6′ tall and was smothered in flowers – stunning.  It is called Leucanthemella Serotina and has gone to the top of my ‘must get’ list.

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Planning for next year – introducing the ‘synchroseedsow’

So it’s been a bit of a washout summer for gardeners, farmers and allotmenteers – and what else is there to do but plan for next year?  After all, next year will be so much better and it is this attitude that keeps us all going.  With that firmly in my mind, and a weed infested allotment to reclaim I’ve been busy digging my patch and preparing it for next year – one advantage of the rain is that I have been able to dig out dandelions roots and all – which would have been a horrible task if the earth had been baked hard.

I am very happy to have completed digging over the square bed on the plot (marked out by previous incumbent and I’ve chosen to keep it) and whilst the bindweed and dandelions are continuing to pop up, gradually they are getting weaker and smaller, and fortunately I find weeding to be good therapy.  This bed will be the focus of my energies for next year as it is to be my cutting flowers bed.  Most exciting of all is that many cutting varieties are hardy annuals, meaning you sow them in September – which brings me to my ‘synchroseedsow’.

I’ve bought a fine selection of seeds from the wonderful Higgledy Garden site – if you’ve not seen it do take a look.  Mr Higgledy grows flowers for cutting, and not only sells fabulous bouquets, but the seed as well.  He has also put together a collection of seeds for autumn sowing.  I’ve bought the collection, and various other seeds as well and whilst engaged in a conversation on Twitter last week I suggested it might be fun to synchronise the sowing of a few varieties just to compare notes with other Tweeters.

If you would like to join in that would be fabulous and this is what I’ve suggested we do:

Aim to sow on Sunday September 2nd – or thereabouts (it is not a very scientific exercise)

Sow from this list of varieties, all or as many as you wish to grow, have room for etc: Cerinthe major, Cornflower, Gypsophila, Larkspur, Sweet Pea(needs to be sown later than Sept) Nigella, Calendula, Molucella, Ammi majus, Escholtzia, Scabious, Godetia.  I will certainly be sowing the Calendula, Larkspur, Cornflower and Nigella on Sunday 2nd, some of the others will be later in the month.

Tweet, using the hashtag synchroseedsow (if you are on Twitter you can find me at @inoutofmygarden) or post here that you’ve done this, and then again once each variety starts to germinate, each time using the hashtag (in my dreams we’ll trend on Twitter).  Then we’ll take it from there.  And next year we can celebrate with a lovely selection of flowers for cutting!

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Russian roulette for [by] gardeners – an update

Back in May I wrote how the ink lettering on the labels in the dahlias I’d planted had vanished, soaked away into the cheap coffee stirrers I’d used as markers.  As a result I had to employ a bit of guesswork when it came to placing out some of the dahlias, not quite sure how they were all going to settle in together.  Well I’ve been well and truly caught – not only is ‘Summertime’ not the gentle pale lemon I’d been anticipating – more highlighter pen dayglo yellow, but it ended up slap bang next to some magenta and lavender coloured Phlox – it was a game of Russian roulette that I did not win!

Anyway, it has now been relocated to the relative safety of my white border at the end of the garden, where the soothing tones of the ‘Swan Lake’ dahlia next to it provides a calming influence, and it can glow away to its heart’s content.

This year the dahlias have really struggled with the weather and the persistent attacks from slugs and snails, I’m not anticipating anything like the display they gave me last year, which is such a shame after so many of them came through the winter.  Still, gardening is all about resilience, of both the plants and the gardener

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My “Olympic” allotment


It has been a weekend of excitement in my neck of the woods.  The Olympic Cycle road race events came to the beautiful Surrey Hills, and Box Hill took centre stage.  So as you can imagine the garden, and the allotment have had to come second.  Thankfully the garden is looking after itself at the moment, and quite frankly my allotment is past rescuing, at least as far as this summer goes, although the runner beans are starting to form and I’m keeping an eye on their progress.  I know that next year will be different as I will have had the autumn months to tackle the weeds, and I have a grand stock of seeds for autumn sowing (more in a future post) just waiting a few more weeks until I can get them going.

The photo I’ve added to the end of this post was taken from the allotments, but is more about the backdrop – although this year my allotment (to the left of this image) is not a medal winner it does have quite an iconic hillside behind it!

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For the first time ever I am going to have to destroy a plant.  Not anything no longer wanted, in which case I always try to re-home wherever possible; and my allotment will be the richer for a number of plants that the garden has no space for, but the forced removal and destruction as a result of disease.

I have two Cercis in the garden, one the ‘regular’ Cercis siliquastrum (Judas tree) which I’ve had for many years and it is a good strong tree.  But my Cercis ‘Forest Pansy’, given to  me as a birthday present a couple of years ago, has never quite taken off with the same enthusiasm and now I think I understand why.  It has been in the ground for a year now, planted once the new design was completed and first I put its slow growth down to it needing to establish itself.  But this year I have no such excuse to make.  Some of the stems have died back altogether, and the leaves yellow and wither – they certainly don’t achieve the size of the leaves on the other Cercis, or reach the purple gloriousness they should – and if there is one thing I can be certain of this year – there is no drought to be held responsible for the wilting effects on the leaves.

I looked up the plant on the RHS website and learned it is subject to verticillium wilt – and I believe this is the cause of the problem, all the symptoms match.  There is nothing I can do to treat it, the guidance is to remove and destroy – and (a bit extreme this) consider grassing the area over for some 15 years!  I am also prevented from replanting this species, as well as several others I might have looked to as replacements, such as Acer or Sambucus nigra because the disease is caused by a soil borne fungus.  Needless to say I’ll be giving the ground a good soaking of Jeyes fluid to disinfect as best as I can.

So it has to go – to leave it would be to risk the health of my English roses growing nearby, and of the other Cercis which is a size to leave a significant gap were I to have to remove it.  I am now looking for plants resistant to this disease to fill the gap.

The image in this post shows the garden in 2010 with my Cercis ‘Forest Pansy’ to the right of the frame.  Looking at this picture I can see just how very poorly it is now.

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Allotment challenges

Back to the allotment this morning; I knew things must be looking gloomy when, earlier in the week my other half offered to help me with it – gardening is not really his thing, but that said, now that I’m helping him with the replanting of his, I’m hoping that perhaps a little seed or two of interest will be sown.

The beans are still clinging to the poles, which is a positive, I even have one set of flowers open, so it proves they know what needs to be done.  However, they are still looking very feeble; if they were a character in a 19th century novel they would be the consumptive relative reclining on the chaise longue rather than our huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’ heroine if you get the picture?  Anyway, they have two chances; I’ve fed them, applied a suitably organic slug and snail repellent and now it’s up to them (and the weather of course).

As for the rest of the plot, well I’m still fighting the weeds.  The areas so far reclaimed have been planted up with green manure seeds, and at the moment I’m not sure which seedlings belong to the green manure, but the dandelions are doing a good job of trying to re-establish themselves, in fact of everything sown to date it seems to only be the dandelions that are doing any growing!  Dandelion wine anyone?  Anyway, I keep weeding  and hoping that I am seeing some of my invited plants establishing themselves too.

What I have decided is how I will lay the plot out in the autumn/next year.  It is a triangular shape and as there is already rhubarb in the top pointy bit of the triangle, that will be where I plant some more soft fruit once the beans are finished.  I want to grow gooseberries, as shop bought ones never have any flavour, not sure of variety yet, recommendations most welcome.  Then in the centre of the triangle is a square area, sectioned off by the previous tenant, and this is where I’m working now.  This is going to be my cutting garden and I will grow mostly annuals, sourced from Higgledy Garden (do see the website, it is fabulous – and Sarah Raven.  The remaining area, which has had the least work done to it, will be for veg once I get around to deciding what veg I want to grow.   I also plan to grow wildflowers on the two boundaries that border the footpaths through the allotments.  Here’s hoping to better weather next year!

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Time away from home

I’ve just returned home from a week’s holiday in Pembrokeshire, walking part of the coast path and just taking time out to simply ‘be’ – it was fabulous.  The cottage we’d rented was a stone’s throw from the pub, and a bistro serving the best fish & chips only a hop, skip and jump from the front door – perfect in every way.  Something I was keen to try to capture on this visit were the roadside verges and I could have easily stopped every hundred yards or so for ‘just one more shot’, they are truly beautiful.  What makes them stand out is the fact that the banks rise above the road on either side, and they are topped by wild flowers and grasses which are set against the sky – fortunately my other half was happy to do most of the driving so I could just soak in the sight for mile after mile.

The weather was kind too, which was lucky, given how bad it had been in Wales a week earlier – and even better, there was a lot of rain at home meaning my garden did not suffer in my absence.  It has grown – and then some, and I’ve yet to check on the allotment!

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Allotment update

Work is progressing (albeit slowly) in the reclaiming of my allotment.  I usually have a couple of hours there every Sunday morning and reckon that at this rate it will take me a month of Sundays to get it into shape – so watch this space.  I’d been given some spare runner beans by my neighbour, so last Sunday’s visit was dedicated to getting them in.  I have to say that I’m pleased with the results – if you ignore the rest of the plot, which is pushing up dandelions and precious little else – it actually looks as if I know what I’m up to.

What is disappointing was that very few of the seeds I’ve planted have germinated.  A couple of weeks earlier I sowed some Larkspur, Nigella and some lovely dark blue cornflowers in the rhubarb bed  – there’s a whisper from the Nigella but nothing else.  In the large bed, as I dug out the dandelions I’ve sown a green manure, Phacelia tanacetifolia, which should be good for cutting, for bees and for digging back in.  Again, not a sausage.  I’m hoping it is just the incessant wet gloomy weather we’ve been having that is putting off the germination – and who can blame them?  But the weeds are not having any trouble!

Ah well, one of the joys of allotmenteering I guess!  At least my garden is looking good on all the rain – and the beans on my plot have perked up amazingly since planting.  Happy days…

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My gardening companions, although I would question the amount they actually contribute to the garden, especially when they take to digging in places where I really don’t need the extra help!  But even if they are fast asleep in the house I can usually guarantee that within five minutes of my being in the garden my girl cat, the chocolate colour point, will always join me.  Her brother might take a little longer, but this time of year especially, when the catmint (Nepeta) is growing well, and the sun is shining (well I can dream!) will bring him out to patrol his domain, roll in the catmint and generally lord it as King Cat in the neighbourhood.

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