Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Hoe, Hoe, Hoe!

I seem to spend most of my time in the kitchen garden on my knees with a handfork weeding, weeding, weeding.  So in the interests of spending time in other parts of the garden I've been trying different approaches and tools for this continual task.

I do use my long handled dutch hoe to slice through the weeds but all to often I manage to slice through the plants especially as they begin to grow and fill the space between the rows.  I've also tried a longhandled fork which allows me to stand up and fork up the weeds but then I have to bend down to collect them up or they simply reroot.

short handled onion hoe
The latest tool on trial is a shorthandled onion hoe; at first I wasn't sure how to use it but after a chat with the Handyman and a bit of trial and error I think I've found the technique; a sort of chopping action as opposed to the pushing motion with a dutch hoe.

Yesterday I tried it out in earnest on the three raised beds and couldn't believe how quickly I managed the weeding and how manouverable the tool proved, getting close to the plants without cutting through them.  Like the dutch hoe the onion hoe slices the tops off of the weeds, I then ran my neat little rake over the soil and voila! lovely weed-free neat beds of young veggies.

neat and tidy
I'll be interested to see how quickly the weeds come back, but I will be using this tool more often and if it's a success through this season then I may try a longhandled version so I can get off my knees for a while and enjoy a different view of the kitchen garden. 

Whilst browsing for hoes I have stumbled across a swoe - has anyone out there experience of using one of these - I'm intrigued!

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Cherry Sweet

Yesterday the Handyman and I ate some of the most delicious, sweetest, freshest cherries straight from one of our own cherry trees.  We've been watching them ripen over the past days and wondering if the birds would get to them before we did.  Then yesterday afternoon we noticed a handful - well, 7 cherries - that were a gleaming, deep, cherry red.  They were perfect, so we decided to try them there and then.

Wow! They were so tasty and sweet, 3 each and an extra one for me, thank you Handyman.  I'll be watching carefully now as the rest of the fruits ripen and picking them off to eat as I pass the tree.  I'm sure the birds will have more than their share but at least the Handyman and I can say we've tasted cherries from our own garden.

Monday, 23 May 2011

Pots and Baskets

I spent some time on Saturday morning browsing around our local plant nursery for suitable candidates for our summer baskets and pots.  I wanted some of the usual suspects: bright red geraniums (more correctly pelargoniums) and various fuchsias.  There was a fair range to choose from but not as good as in previous years and the plants were larger and more expensive than I would normally pay.  This is due to me being well behind on the basket front this year.  I did manage to find a bargain or two at the supermarket to add to the fray!

I normally buy my pot and basket plants as plug plants and grow them on in the greenhouse from April.  This year it's the end of May and I'm just getting around to thinking of summer containers, so I've paid the price quite literally! 

The Handyman and I have agreed to cut down on the number of hanging baskets this year as the watering every evening takes up such a lot of time.  So until we work out an automatic watering system we'll restrict the number of baskets and plant a few more flowers in the borders where watering is less of an issue.

The afternoon was spent potting up the containers and phaffing around to get them in the right position.  It normally takes me two or three attempts to be happy with the positioning of the pots.  After that I can sit back and wait for the summer show, as long as I keep watering, feeding and deadheading they should go on until the first frosts.  Look out for updates on progress in future posts.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Stop for a Moment

Stopping is something I seldom do in the garden at this time of year, there is so much to be getting on with as the garden bursts into growth.  Yesterday, however, after a strenuous bit of re-edging, weeding and planting I sat on the steps of the woodland borders with a glass of fruit juice and cast my eye across the scene.

Sitting at this level with the borders rising gently above me gave quite a different view of the planting; I'm not sure my photographs do it justice.  Usually I'm walking up the steps and looking down on the plants, so to sit and look through them was unusual and interesting.

As I sat and perused the flowers another job became apparent...time to thin out the aquilegia. These have been a real self-seeding success story and now I'll have plenty to share with friends when they have finished flowering this year.

Friday, 20 May 2011

To Stake or Not to Stake

I'm sooo pleased with our large stand of oriental poppies this year and the reason is...I've been a good girl and properly supported them with a combination of twist easy and arc shaped metal supports.

Last year the poppies were looking really beautiful and then the winds came!  We're pretty exposed to wind here sweeping down off the north Shropshire plain and, as the garden is still in its infancy, the shrubs and trees we have planted are just beginning to provide some shelter.  So our lovely poppies were swept over.  They still managed to bloom but had to be cut back before they finished flowering as they fell over on to the grass paths.

June 2010 - damaged by the winds
This year is a different story...still blooming beautifully but standing up straight and proud.  I've put three twist easy supports in the centre of the poppies and the arc supports around the edges.  I did this at the beginning of the season as the poppy foliage was starting to appear and now, just a few weeks on, there are no signs of the metal supports just lots of lovely straight poppies.

May 2011 - well supported
So a successful lesson learned and now I'll be investing in more plant supports for other vulnerable plants in the garden and taking the time in early spring to put them in place.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

From April into May

A lot of time has been spent in the garden over the past three weeks and it's beginning to show the benefit.  It's coming into its best and things are developing nicely, though we did lose a few shrubs with the hard winter.  Amongst the more serious casualties were the two pampas grasses that gave a lot of cover and privacy around the edge of the circles garden. On the plus side this has given us an opportunity to try other plants in their place.  We're thinking of putting in a couple of hazels and keeping them shrubby at about 5ft high at the back of the border and putting a couple of specimen evergreen conifers in front to provide some colour through the winter months.

The Handyman has already removed one of the pampas grasses – who needs to go to the gym for a workout! We've planted a self-seeded HG hazel and Cypressus Macrocarpa 'Goldcrest'.  This evergreen cypress should reach a height and spread of 15ft x 8ft in about 10 years but can be clipped, but not into the old wood.  In the interim we've divided a huge clump of yellow rudbekia (aka black-eyed Susan) and planted two groups either side of the cypress.  These will grow in excess of 5ft tall in a season which should provide some privacy on the circles garden through the summer and early autumn as well as masses of flowers the colour of liquid sunshine.

The original rudbekia plant was given to me by my sister's partner, JC, when we were in our previous home. A clump was transplanted with us to Holly Grove and now we have several stands around the garden and along the hedge line – a great value for money plant and one of the latest flowering in our garden – we often have flowers through to the end of October.

The second pampas grass will be tackled when the Handyman feels like another workout…and we're still trying to decide what to grow in the spot; current thoughts are Thuja Occidentalis 'Rheingold' growing to 6ft x 4ft in 10 years or there's a golden yew that I've found in one of my gardening books that looks good – I'll update when we've made our decision.

After a slow start this season, I'm beginning to catch up a bit in the kitchen garden, thank goodness! I was ashamed to show it to my sister, JA, when she visited over the Easter holiday as it was very weedy and looking quite neglected. But after a few days concentrated effort it is now fully weeded and planted.

I've sown broad beans, carrots, onions, lettuce, small white turnips, kohl rabi, sugarsnap peas, radish, spring onions, beetroot and spinach in three of the raised beds and seed potatoes, Charlotte, in the remaining raised bed. I also planted up a potato barrel of Pink Fir Apple, a knobbly, pink, salad potato at the end of March and they are sprouting well, almost time to cover the shoots with some more soil.  If you've never tried potatoes in a tub then you should.  Great fun when you tip out the pot at the end of the growing season and search through for the potatoes and especially lovely to share with children.

I've also planted seeds of runner beans – Butler and Lady Di, French beans – Blue lake, tomatoes – Principe Borghese - and courgette in the greenhouse and also have five varieties of small tomato plants – Gardener's Delight, Shirley, Tomtom - and a couple of cucumber plants that I've just potted.

So all in all, not bad progress for a few days effort.

Flower-wise about three weeks ago I sowed my sweet peas directly into the border where they will grow.  At the same time I sowed a couple of pots in our cool greenhouse as a backup and, surprise, surprise, both sowings have germinated at the same time.  Over the past couple of weeks we have begun to replace the seven or eight shrubs (in addition to the pampas grasses) that succumbed to the winter freeze – more of this in a later post.

The springtime flowers were especially lovely this year and are now being followed by foxgloves, roses, rhododendron and clematis coming into bloom.

The blossom on the fruit trees was glorious and about a whole month earlier than last year, so we're hoping for a bountiful harvest of apples, pears, plums and cherries later in the year.

Continuing on the fruit front we started to pull rhubarb a couple of weeks ago and should continue to harvest this until June. I have two established plants, Timperley Early and Victoria and have just planted a, currently, very small Pink Champagne rhubarb.

The raspberries in the fruit cage are looking good so my pruning and tying in efforts last autumn seems to be bearing fruit (excuse the awful pun). The redcurrants, whitecurrants and blackcurrants are loaded with immature berries, all of which should start to deliver fruit for the table and preserving pan sometime between late June and late July. I also have a small gooseberry bush but as it's only little I don't think it will produce any fruit this year.

So that's the garden round up for late April to mid May – it seems like quite a lot as I read it back! But there's still plenty more to be getting on with including: grass cutting, the Handyman's wild flower garden, weeding, deadheading and planting – always lots to enjoy in Holly Grove's garden, thank goodness!

Monday, 16 May 2011

Rhododendron Renovation

May is the month for rhododendrons and they flourish here in Shropshire.  Although they bloom for only a short time to me they are worth the garden space.  They come in so many colours and sizes from true giants to more dwarf varieties.

Here at HG we inherited a bedraggled specimen crammed up against the old dog run (now long since removed) and it has taken 3 years of judicious pruning and lots of feeding to get to the stage of producing these lovely lilac blooms. 

We're so proud of our achievement as we'd never before owned, let alone pruned, a rhodo.  Last year we invested in three more, a bit of a challenge as the soil is very light and free draining here but, hey, if we can regenerate a straggly, non-flowering one perhaps we can have some success with the ones we're nurturing from scratch.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Malvern Spring Show Impressions (VFTA No 2)

First things first, my friend C and I had a lovely day out at the show, as usual we really enjoyed each other's company.  The weather was fine, no rain until I was driving back to Shropshire.  During the day it was cloudy with sunny intervals and very breezy, but pleasant enough for us to eat our lunch outdoors and to have a good wander around the show.

So impressions...well, lots of acers, lilies, hostas, acquilegia, grasses in the various nursery stands.  A mixed bag of a show with crafts and specialist foods alongside gardening tools, clothing, plants and show gardens.

Orange Marmalade on the left and Fragrant Bouquet on the right

I love hostas and the show had a number of stalls showing such a range of these plants from minatures to giants.  Needless to say I bagged a couple, Orange Marmalade and Fragrant Bouquet, well who could resist - not me!  C looks like becoming a hosta convert, it's the minature ones that have caught her interest.  I also picked up a envelope of hosta seeds.  According to the packet they seldom come true to the parent plant as, like acquilegias, they are very promiscuious, so it will be interesting to see what results I get.

I couldn't come back to Holly Grove without at least one new addition to the flower borders.  The chosen plant is Nemesia Vanilla Lady, chosen for its striking perfume and its dainty flowers.  I think it will go into the front of the swingseat walk border, right by the steps so that its perfume can be fully appreciated.

Dainty Lady
Highly perfumed

Lilies were my other purchase.  The displays in the Floral Marquee were amazingly beautiful and these are what tempted both C and I to buy some bulbs.  We came away with three types, all asiatic lilies I believe:

Dimension; the most dramatic of the three.  A very deep burgundy with texture like velvet.

Patricia's Pride; picking up the burgundy theme in the centre of the predominently white flower.

White Heaven - what can I say, irresistible!!!

White Heaven
Talking of show gardens I found these a bit disappointing; they were very small (not that big is necessarily better) and lacking in imagination and (for me anyway) lacking in inspiration.  The focus of the gardens seemed to be more on the hard landscaping than the plants - a pity as if the planting had been better the gardens would have risen in my estimation. I was really surprised to see that any of them had an RHS Gold Medal - but then this is only my view and I'm no RHS judge!

There were three gardens I found of interest:

A Garden for Life - very attractive garden building surrounded by dense planting and a lovely fountain water feature.  The colours in this garden really appealed to me; mostly blues and purples.

The Atomic Journey - strange theme for a garden but this was beautifully executed.  A very symmetrical garden with a small but effective range of plants - both C and I thought that this would make a lovely front garden.

The Rain Garden
The Rain Garden - my favourite, not for the planting but rather it has provided a couple of ideas for using water in the garden and may provide inspiration for a garden somewhere in Holly Grove - still considering it.  My photo doesn't really do it justice.  You can find descriptions of all the show gardens here.

I should also mention a stand that I have visited at a couple of shows and on-line: Plant Supports.  They stock very robust and attractive plant supports and there is always a bargain to be had on their show stands.  Add to this that it's a family firm and they are so friendly and helpful, it makes it a pleasure to do business with them.  This time I bought some spiral supports and some edging supports; I'm getting quite a collection and they are required on this exposed and often windy site.  My preference is for the rustic version as they fit in so well with the cottage garden planting, though by mid season they are hidden from view by foliage. They also supply green plastic coated supports.

We really had a lovely day out and I would recommend the show to anyone who enjoys their garden - lots to see and do in the lovely setting of the Malvern Hills.  We'll be going back for more in September at the Autumn Show.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Gardening Day Out

I'm off to the Malvern Spring Show today to meet with my good friend, C.  We've been meeting at the Malvern Autumn show over the past few years and have been very fortunate with the September weather and had lovely days sharing each other's company.  C lives in Devon and I in Shropshire, so it's a good venue for us.

This is our first foray to the Spring Show and the weather forecast isn't great, 14C and showers, so instead of the summer dress, sandals and a straw hat I was planning on wearing it's back to jeans, sensible shoes and a warmish jacket, with, of course, the ubiquitious umbrella.

I'm sure we'll have a great day out, as we can wander through the marquees during the showers and the show gardens when the sun come out (fingers crossed); but best of all we get to spend the day together and catch up over lunch - oh, and there's always the prospect of some new plants for the garden!

I'll post an update on the show (hopefully with some nice photos) tomorrow.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Blooming Early!

I've just been looking back through my posts in 2010 to see when the apple blossom appeared last year to find that I wrote about the plethora of blossom on 12th May.  This year I was photographing the trees in blossom on 17th April - almost a whole month earlier!

apple tree and morello cherry blossom
 I would put it down to the lovely April weather however as I recall the April weather last year was just as lovely; so what has made the difference - any thoughts?

crab apple blossom
And it wasn't just the fruit trees that were gorgeous.  We have only a couple of ornamental flowering cherries and they were lovely too.  To recall a favourite quote of the Handyman's: 'loveliest of trees the cherry now, is hung with bloom along the bow...' with thanks to A E Houseman.

ornamental cherry
Alongside the blooming trees we had a good show from the aubretia training over the low walls of the woodland borders - spring is definately sprung!

lovely aubretia
The weather here is still beautiful and sunny with bright blue skies, though over the past couple of days an easterly wind has picked up and brought much cooler air in with it.  So I'm not allowing myself to be tempted by the nurseries full of basket plants just yet, there's still time for a late frost - now, there speaks a real gardener!