Around this time of year I start to plan (well at least think about) next year’s plantings. The spring bulbs and bedding plants are ordered and will soon be delivered, and I have made up my mind about which plants we grew this year that we won’t be giving space to next year. For instance, a new antirrhinum called Night and Day which was stunning in June, quickly succumbed to rust by the end of July so its days and nights are numbered .
I try to remember to save seed of some of the annuals we grow, if only to cut down a bit on the seed cost which easily reaches £250 a year. The seed is collected when ripe on a dry day and stored in paper bags in a sealed tin and kept cool. I generally don’t sow much in the autumn but some herbaceous plants germinate better when the seed is fresh.
I also take cuttings of the tender stuff that would not overwinter outside, or from plants that have got too large to house under glass . The conservatory beds are only wide enough to take a 10 litre pot which means in practice most plants in there are only 2 years old. I take soft nodal cuttings (this just means cut below where the leaf comes out from the stem) and root them individually in small pots of half potting compost, half vermiculite . Because of a lack of space I restrict the numbers I grow to those plants not easily found in garden centres, so I don’t bother with fuchsias and some geraniums. This is a bit of a far cry from my first job in horticulture working in a local authority parks nursery where we used to take 8000 geranium cuttings, and with this came the first bit of practical advice on taking cuttings that I still use today. Cut a small length of hosepipe down the centre so that it can cover your thumb and retain your fingerprints when using a sharp knife. The second bit of practical advice given I have never used, mainly because was to do with rolling your own cigarettes and keeping an extra one behind your ear for later.
7 September 2014
It has been a month of garden tours and I am often asked what are my favourite plants in the garden. The stock answer is the same as with most things, ‘the ones that give me the least trouble’. However most things growing in the tropical bed have been propagated from plants that I have collected over the years some are pre-Reveley so they rate highly. The benefit of being in the garden every day is that I get to see an area or group of plants which may only be at its very best for a short time, maybe even when the sunlight catches the leaves or flowers for a few minutes. Anyway before I drift off into old hippy ness – favourites.
Tall Bearded Iris
We have a small collection beside the greenhouse, they fulfil my requirements of a large range of clashing colours, some ridiculous varietal names (Giggles and Grins, AsAp, Teapot Tempest). Short flowering time but certainly pack a punch, and I have just bought a new book on them which only lists the 150 you should grow so I can see an expansion coming on.
Again after a new book we have the beginnings of a collection of the shrubby sorts in pots in and around the conservatory. Not so many silly names, yet.
A new bed planted in the Mulberry garden, it’s a shame that there is no scent but we have a few single flowered varieties which the bees love. Lots of clashing colours, some within the same flower head and many mad names. Also as some trendy chefs are now cooking the tubers for their menus I can see the return of dahlias to the vegetable garden where there is much more space!
All the above favourites are summer flowering so in the autumn and spring my favourites will be different. Worryingly because of the huge range of colours and varieties available collecting these plants could easily become an obsession so watch with interest.
7 August 2014
Well that title has given away the slightly embarrassing and not often played part of my record collection from the days when albums were 12” black vinyl in cardboard sleeves that you could actually read the notes from. Today I am considering watering which at this time of year takes a fair bit of my day. The watering of the pots, conservatory and greenhouse takes me about an hour and a half and that is 7 days a week. So as I explained to my friend who wants to replace his lawn with a large patio and pots there is still quite an effort and cost involved keeping the pots watered and that is before any consideration of who maintains them when they are on holiday.
I prefer to water as the first job in the morning and I water until the excess begins to come out of the bottom of the pot, that ensures that the potting compost is wet throughout. You wouldn’t want me looking after your house plants with that method. If you are unsure if a pot needs watering one method is feeling the weight of a plant or lifting a corner if its an outside tub, dry potting compost is very much lighter. In the old days of clay pots we used to tap the rims and if they made a ringing sound then they needed a drink, over vigorous tapping however could have a shattering effect! As for plants in the open ground or when repotting I always plunge anything in a pot or tray in the water but until the bubbles stop and then give the plant a soak from a watering can, without the rose fitted, immediately after planting.
At Reveley I keep the watering of outside borders to a minimum usually only on first year plantings as we mulch as much as possible and so far this year I have only watered the vegetable area twice. There are exciting water conservation and rain harvesting practises on building and landscape projects but unfortunately I cannot see the funds necessary for any of these to be installed at Reveley being available in the short term so you will be seeing brown grass in the summer up here for sometime yet.
Now where on earth did I hide my Marc Bolan collection ?
7 July 2014
For those who misread the title this is not about working in the garden with no clothes on but about how we plan, plant and maintain the borders at Reveley. If you look at the garden plan you will see the garden is made up of rectangles of differing sizes; generally I have not changed this layout of paths, lawn and beds just filled in the spaces created. I changed the mowing of the grass areas leaving the main lawn cut with traditional stripes, this is the only grass area fed and occasionally weedkilled. The other grass is left longer with paths cut through and I am slowly planting a mixture of bulbs to hopefully increase as the years progress. Within the planting areas which are progressively being replanted I plant some shrubs to give structure and then infill with herbaceous perennials and more bulbs. I plant close together and rarely stake plants allowing them to hold each other up (or not) and only hand weed. I mulch when we have some available and never fork through or hoe borders allowing what wants to seed itself about to do just that. We do not usually cut plants down until the spring which again allows seed dispersal and provides shelter for insects and food for birds. In the new plantings I do not plant large blocks of one variety but select similar colours of a species for a group, (for example I am selecting some pink flowered hardy geraniums for this winters replant, and there does seem to be rather a lot of them). In this way I get a lot of different plants in small area but from a distance you get a similar colour block -although I am not against a bit of colour clash as a glance in my wardrobe will prove. They do say a garden takes on the personality of its gardener so here at Reveley we have a fairly strong centre which tends to fall away as you reach the edges.
7 Jun 2014
With the wetter and warmer weather a lot of the trees and shrubs are rushing into leaf and the recently dormant herbaceous plants are bursting through the ground, some to be instantly grazed close to extinction by the usual suspects. I am very loath to use slug pellets out in the garden although I do use some in the greenhouse and cold frame. This year I have started using a commercial garlic spray on some outdoor plants mainly the roses, fruit and some of the early veg. It will be interesting to note the results, if any, but it is very easy to convince myself that anything that takes time, effort and cost works; in the meantime the rose garden has a distinct smell of Chicken Kiev once a fortnight.
There was a report recently about a large number of gardeners admitting lobbing snails over into the neighbours so beware if you are driving along Elstree Road. I have sown most of the veg seed now and usually thin out the seedlings as the last job in the afternoon so I can use the thinnings to liven up my salads. I also took a few cuttings out of a bag of watercress which are now growing nicely in a pot stood in a bucket of water and seem to taste stronger.
30 April 2014
One man went to mow… I have now started regular mowing, in fact I never really stop because if there is a warmish day with a drying wind during the winter I often run the mower, with the blade set high, over the lawns which seems to freshen the grass and pick up any lying leaves. I have managed to persuade my friend at long last to adopt my regime for a better lawn. Raise the height of cut not less than half way on the adjustment lever and cut once a week regardless of the weather, so long as there is no frost on the grass. Also leave any patch filling and feeding until September. I know this works but he is yet to be convinced, and a good meal out is resting on the results. The mild weather has enabled me to move a lot of the young plants into the cold frame but I am still listening to the forecast in case I have to get myself out with a torch and cover the frames with fleece if a frost is predicted. I will not be able to use an old duvet, however, which has given a few years use as a cover. It became a mice hostel over the winter months and is now consigned to the compost heap where our resident fox is enjoying the warmth of the feathers.
8 April 2014
Even after 45 years of being a gardener I still get a huge buzz from producing plants from seed. I may order online but pouring over printed seed catalogues that arrive on the doormat before the end of the growing year and planning what to grow next year is a joy for a wet end of summer day. Apart from some of the vegetables all our seed grown garden plants are germinated inside and pricked off into modules or small pots before hardening off and planting in the garden. It is one of the certainties of gardening that there will never be enough room in the greenhouse during March and April but this year I have tried to be disciplined so that I can at least get inside the door without standing on a seed tray. We also need room for the overwintering tender plants such as Dahlia and Canna that end up in the tropical bed and any plug seedlings brought in from specialist producers. Then of course there are my impulse buys on sunny days in garden centres and nurseries (but I always tell people not to do that!)
16 March 2014
The question most often asked me at this time of year is “what do you do in the winter?”. The winter season is often one of the busier time in the garden and certainly the most physically demanding. To date I have cleared and dug the vacant areas of the vegetable garden, created and planted a new shrub border and pruned our shrubs and trees on a continual maintenance and renewal plan. The tender plants have been lifted, potted and kept sheltered in the greenhouse, cuttings taken and seed sowing has begun for the summer. As this winter has been somewhat ‘breezy’ at times I have spent quite a time picking up twigs, branches and other debris blown about the place. I have now started cutting down the herbaceous plants which we leave through the winter as the seed heads and stems provide food and shelter for wildlife. The garden machinery is serviced and mower blades sharpened but I have to confess to doing my upmost to put off my least favourite winter task that of cleaning the trays and pots needed for the new crops.
28 February 2014