In a Vase on Monday

My cut flower patch is in full swing. Luckily, flowers sown last summer and planted out in autumn are weathering the heatwave. Here’s a selection for this week’s vase. As always, my posies are for my mother in law Joan and my Mum, Marion.

Sweet peas High Scent are top favourites this year. I love the creamy buds that open to pale lilac. There’s a pretty violet picotee edge to the flowers. And the scent really is amazing. Only a few are needed in a jam jar posy to make an impact.

Seeds were sown last October in root trainers and kept all winter in straight-sided clear plastic storage boxes to outwit mice. It worked. And in April the well-rooted plants were set out along a wonky network of hazel twigs.

I pick flowers at dawn and drop them straight into buckets of cold fresh tap water. To travel, I pop ice cubes in the buckets to keep them cool.

In amongst the sweet peas this week there’s beautiful cornflowers Blue Boy. These are really prolific. I’m picking these flowers most days and there’s lots more to come. Great value for a small area.

For a pop of pink, there’s corncockle, an easy to grow wildflower that’s growing all around my garden.

Creamy white double chamomile reliably comes back every year and seems to go with everything.

As usual, I’m joining in with Cathy at Ramblinginthegarden blog for this week’s IAVOM. Why not go over and see what Cathy and all the others are growing and displaying at the moment. It’s fascinating to see how many of us are growing the same plants in gardens all around the world.

https://ramblinginthegarden.wordpress.com/

Dahlias- beautiful varieties for home and garden

Book Review

Naomi Slade. Photography by Georgianna Lane

http://www.pavilionbooks.com. £25. August 2018.

Leave a comment below if you’d like your name to be put in the hat for a chance to win one free copy of the book. The publishers will draw out a name. Their decision is final. Sorry, it’s open to UK entries only.

Photo : My favourite dahlia Nuit d’Ete in my own cut flower plot in Leicestershire.

I’m away from home for a few days, staying with my mother-in-law Joan. Everything here is at a slower pace. Breakfast takes an hour, and over tea and toast she tells me how her husband Keith once won awards at the local flower show with his dahlias and chrysanthemums. The whole garden from the back lawn, to the greenhouse was set in regimented rows of flowers. I can picture the scene. This garden has been lovingly tended by my in laws for more than 60 years. And now everyone in the family is stepping in to keep it looking perfect. It’s quite a challenge, but one we all enjoy.

Today, between hoeing and weeding and keeping them company, I’ve got time to sit down and catch up with some reading. And top of the pile of new books is Dahlias by Naomi Slade.

photo: Naomi Slade with her latest book. My photo, taken at Chelsea Flower Show.

Over 65 types of dahlias are profiled in the book. There’s 240 pages of mouthwatering photographs and inspiring, easy to read descriptions. There’s an introduction followed by sections on history and botany; and the dahlias are split into themes such as “romantic,” “dramatic and daring,” “fabulous and funky,” “classic and elegant.” A growing and care guide gives cultivation techniques, information on selecting varieties, choosing a suitable site and soil and planting tips.

Photos are sumptuous. I’m particularly drawn to the darker shades; deep red and almost black. Rip City is one I’d love to try.

Karma Choc is another on my wish list. This small waterlily flower is excellent as a cut flower and lasts at least a week in a vase.

I’d never heard of the Happy Single range of dahlias. These are perfect for small spaces and containers, growing to 30-60cm high by 30-40cm wide. Such a wide range of cheerful, rich colours. You couldn’t fail to be happy with them! Varieties include Happy Single Flame, Happy Single Party, Princess and First love. Even the names made me smile.

To calm things down after all that colour, there’s some dazzling and very beautiful white dahlias. I enjoyed learning about all the different kinds of dahlias. I knew about cactus and water lily types, but didn’t know much about collarettes, and anemone- flowered forms. And ones called star, or orchid-flowering sound particularly appealing.

Here’s some photos of dahlias from my own garden. I’ve taken cuttings from mine to grow in my in laws garden. Having read Naomi’s inspiring book, I’ve made a list of new varieties to share between our two plots. And I’m hoping to learn some prize winning tips from my father in law. You never know, I might even enter the local flower show.

Naomi Slade is a writer, broadcaster, consultant, speaker and photographer. A biologist by training, a naturalist by inclination, and with a lifelong love of plants. She writes regularly for national newspapers and magazines. Her books include The Plant Lover’s Guide to Snowdrops and An Orchard Odyssey.

I really enjoyed reading her latest book. It’s brought back some lovely memories for my mother in law and sparked off a new plan in my head to grow more dahlias in their garden.

Right then…. back to the weeding. Must not let my in laws down! 🙂

In a Vase on Monday – My Cut Flower Patch

One of the joys of June is to walk out into the garden and pick a bunch of flowers for the house- flowers that have been nurtured all winter, and are now ready to harvest.

Sweet williams are currently my favourite. They provide masses of flowers which last at least a week in a vase. Sown in June last year, they were pricked out and grown on, and then planted out in late August. And today I’m picking basketfuls of fragrant flowers.

Regular readers will know that all my flowers are grown for my mother in law Joan and my wonderful mum, Marion. Once a week I fill every vase they own with home-grown flowers.

Here’s some photos from my cut flower patch. I have 10 3m by 1.2m beds. Half are planted with sweet peas, dahlias and sweet williams. Half are set out with potatoes, beetroot, beans, courgettes and strawberries

In the background you can see the fruit garden. It’s completely overwhelmed with brambles and stingers this year. A renovation project is planned, when I get a minute to spare.

I’m growing a range of old-fashioned Sweet williams with seed from Higgledy Garden. As you can see, bees love them too. I’m always thinking of what would be best for pollinators.

I particularly love the auricular-eyed sweet williams. Rich Venetian colours really stand out in the summer sunshine. And they go so well with summer roses. This one is called William Shakespeare. Looks like red velvet to me.

And another favoured rose for picking right now is the highly-scented Constance Spry. It only flowers once, but what a spectacular show.

I’m sowing more sweet williams right now, preparing for next summer’s bounty. I use half seed trays filled with good quality seed compost. Fill them right to the top of the trays. Press down gently to level. Sow seeds thinly to prevent moulds and damping off disease. Seeds germinate at 17 – 19C, room temperature at this time of the year. So no propagators are needed. When seedlings have two leaves, I prick them out into full size seed trays to give each plant more space to grow. I’ll place the trays in a bright place to grow on, making sure the plants don’t dry out. And I’ll plant them out into the garden in August, 25cm apart, when I’ve harvested one of the vegetable crops to make space. I water plants with seaweed extract and home-made comfrey liquid which makes them grow healthy and strong. I’m adding some almost black sweet williams Nigricans and white alba for next year.

Here’s another view of my cut flower patch with Diascia Hopleys in the foreground. Another good do-er for flower arranging.

I’m joining in with Cathy for her In a Vase on Monday meme. Why not go over and see what Cathy and the others are growing and putting in their flower arrangements this week. Let me know how your gardens are doing this summer. How are you coping with unpredictability weather, rain and high winds? I think summer storms are becoming the norm.

REVIVE YOUR GARDEN book review

Nick Bailey. Photography by Jonathan Buckley

Kyle Books £25 Hardback. Published spring 2018

My garden blends seamlessly with the surrounding countryside. If you drive along our country lane, you wouldn’t be able to tell anyone lived there. The garden shelters behind mature hawthorn hedges with scented wild roses and honeysuckle. I love its wildness. But there comes a point where the wild garden starts to get the upper hand; some paths are no longer accessible. The woodland is expanding and cow parsley taking over. And don’t even mention the brambles.

Just in time, Nick Bailey has produced a book that seems to be written specially for me! Revive Your Garden is a step by step guide to restoring order.

When a garden has got out of control, the task to get it back into shape seems overwhelming. It’s difficult to know where to start. This book sets out a sensible plan of action, starting with a section on “understanding the opportunities and limitations” of your plot.

Next there’s a back-to-basics approach on pruning. I should really know when and how

to prune my shrubs, but Nick’s guide gives me reassurance that I’m doing it right. There’s a master class on renovation pruning with plenty of photographs to illustrate different techniques.

For beginners, there’s a very good section on identifying the difference between weeds and useful plants worth saving. My daughters found this particularly good – as they are starting to look for their first-time homes. All the houses we’ve looked at in their (low) price range have terrible, ramshackle gardens.

There’s a section on renovating lawns. Mine have been attacked by all kinds of creatures, gouging holes in the grass. I just need a nudge in the right direction to tackle the eyesore.

One idea in the book I’ve copied involves taking photos of the garden and laying tracing paper over the top. Draw on the changes you’d like to make. In my case, I want to create a new breakfast terrace near the summerhouse; a sunny spot first thing in the morning. Drawing it out first gives an impression of what it would look like- before you’ve spent any money on the scheme, and you can play around with various options.

Practical advice on restoring paving, reviving gravel and fences is followed by a section called “How to Wow.” I need to revamp some of my planting areas- once I’ve hacked back the brambles.

Revive Your Garden gives you confidence to tackle any garden work, whether it’s bringing a tired and neglected garden back into shape, or putting your own stamp on a newly acquired plot. It’s written in an enthusiastic way. You can definitely hear Nick’s voice as he explains the techniques. It’s just the encouragement you need to get going.

Here’s some photos of my garden, before I start work on our renovation project. Wish me luck. I might be out there for a while!

There’s a path through there……

And there.

Honestly, there’s a path through there. Leading to the outside world, and this view.

NICK BAILEY, a regular presenter on BBC2’s Gardeners’ World, has worked as a professional horticulturalist for more than 20 years and won silver gilt for his first show garden at Chelsea Flower Show in 2016. Until recently he was head gardener at Chelsea Physic Garden.

#wordlesswednesday – RHS Chatsworth

Cosmos Razzmatazz. 12,000 of them!

This is the first mass planting at an RHS Flower Show. Cosmos, an annual daisy that hails from Mexico, is planted on a bank between Chatsworth House and the River Derwent. There will be two more mass plantings this summer; Verbena bonariensis at RHS Hampton Court and Rudbeckia Prairie Sun at RHS Tatton Park.

Packets of annual seeds are relatively inexpensive. They often contain hundreds of seeds. So you too could create your own “river of flowers.” Bees and butterflies love them too.

RHS Chatsworth is open until 10th June.

#wordlesswednesday- Malus Wedding Bouquet- with the Royal Wedding in mind.

Crab apple trees are among my favourites. I love the spring blossom- and then there’s the fruit in the autumn, which makes wonderful jams and jellies.

Malus Wedding Bouquet is highly recommended. It has soft pink buds which open ivory white and mature to a dazzling pure white. Finely tapering green leaves turn red in the autumn. Very disease resistant, it grows to 3.5m by 2.5m, although can be easily pruned to keep in a smaller space.

We’ve got our patriotic flags and bunting out, and my grandmother’s coronation glassware trifle bowls- all set for Saturday. Whatever you’ve got planned, enjoy your weekend celebrations.

Visit to Bowood House and Gardens

My invitation read: “Come and visit Bowood’s famous spring planting; and Lord Lansdowne will lead a tour of his woodland garden.”

Who could resist such a missive. Not me! So I set off for Wiltshire- dreaming of camellias, magnolias, rhododendrons and azaleas galore!

And what I found was one of the best spring gardens I’ve ever visited. Over two miles of paths meander through the 30 acre garden- set within a former quarry. A stream runs through the valley with banks of ferns, candelabra primroses and bluebells either side.

Now, I’ve been on these garden visits before, where tours are promised. The owner is often there for a welcoming reception- but then frequently hands over to staff for the tour itself. So I was surprised and pleased to see Lord Lansdowne standing by his offer and giving us a walking tour of his garden – and one that ran an hour longer than planned.

If you come to visit my garden, I’ll take you around, show you the tree I planted when we moved here, my favourite seat, my favourite shrub and the plants I inherited from my grandparents’ garden. To be honest, our visit to Bowood felt just like that; a keen gardener showing us around his plot – with all his favourite trees and shrubs and viewing points. As soon as we arrived, Lord Lansdowne pointed to a group of cornus dogwood trees and described them as his “pride and joy.” And then followed a chat about how difficult they are to grow, and how “wonderful” they look when the white bracts appear in spring. His enthusiasm is something we all share as gardeners. We nurture and plant something, and then stand back and admire it, and want to share that moment with fellow gardeners. It’s something I recognise and understand.

One thing I haven’t got though (ok, there’s no rolling acres and stately home either) is a rhododendron named after me. This one is Lord Lansdowne’s – it’s rather lovely, with peachy cream petals and pink buds.

I can see why this is one of his favourite views, looking out from the garden. We are standing on the mausoleum steps looking out across the tops of the rhododendrons through a gap in the trees.

Some of the rhododendrons are called Bowood Hybrids, and Lord Lansdowne showed us the nursery beds where his selected seedlings are planted. He said they could be sitting there for 10 years before he’d know if they were something special or not. Patience is obviously a virtue when you are growing new varieties like these.

I must admit, there were a dizzying array of variety names as we walked through the woods. I should have written them down, but I was just listening to the commentary and enjoying what turned out to be a most unusual and special day. I mean, how often can you report that you were meandering through the woods and suddenly there on the path is the celebrated plantsman Roy Lancaster!

Roy, who is writing about the gardens, stopped for a chat and joined our group for a photo. It was fascinating to hear the two friends talking, the Latin names flying back and forth. And later, we visited a patch called Roy’s Corner, where specimens brought back from Roy’s plant-finding expeditions are being nurtured. Altogether, it had been, a day like no other.

Bowood Woodland Garden opens from 28th April until early June. Check the website for details. http://www.bowood.org

No wonder the owner admits he spends every Saturday lunchtime having a picnic in the gardens. I think I would too.

Many thanks to the Garden Media Guild for organising this visit to Bowood. If you work in horticulture, you can become an associate member. Membership is open to anyone working in garden writing, broadcasting and photography. Probationary membership may also be available for new starters in the profession and there are training courses and mentoring schemes available.

Weeds. Geranium robertianum

I’m writing a piece about weeds at the moment. Suddenly, in the sunshine, after all that cold weather, weeds have gone whoosh!

In my woodland garden, there are thousands of wild geranium, robertianum. It has so many common names: herb Robert, stork’s bill, crane’s bill, red robin, stinking Bob, fox geranium, cuckoo flower.

“Herb Robert is very familiar. It lives with man: much as the robin flips into his garden and to his back door” – Geoffrey Grigson- The Englishman’s Flora.

I’m enjoying reading up and investigating more about this common weed we usually pass by without noticing. And meanwhile, a posy of herb Robert sits in my potting shed window today. Mixed in with some wild violets -which are so numerous they could be considered a weed. Both very pretty indeed.

What “weeds” are growing in your garden right now.

End of the Month View -April 2018

We leave cold, wet April behind, and May finally brings some warm, settled weather.

The potting shed window ledge soon has a jug of cow parsley and forget-me-nots from the wild garden.

We’ve waited for this display all winter. Wild cherry trees in the paddock. Alive with bees. An avalanche of white blossom.

Scented narcissi Geranium pop up in the long grass around the pond. I love the egg yolk centres.

Needing some work this summer, the pond is ringed with marsh marigolds and lady’s smock wild flowers- and brambles and stinging nettles! A bit of cutting back and control is planned.

Our front lawn is a blue haze. My Grandfather Ted Foulds brought the first wild violets here, seedlings from his garden. They spread over the whole plot, and I love them.

I’ve planted my sweet peas. The hazel rods are a bit ramshackle, but they’ll soon be covered with flowers. I planted seed in October. I’m growing old favourites: High Scent, Wiltshire Ripple and creamy white Mrs Collier, plus heritage varieties from Easton Walled Gardens .

Suddenly, these dog’s tooth violets pop up through cow parsley in the woodland. I forget I’ve planted them – and then they emerge. Sunshine on a cold, cloudy day. Erythronium Pagoda is the variety growing here.

Shining out from the shade, Tulip Purissima. Reliably comes back every year. Copes with everything the weather throws at it.

I grow Orange Emperor tulips in the daylily bed in front of the greenhouse. Another good do-er. Always comes up every year if planted deeply on a bed of grit for drainage.

Favourite shrubs in flower at the moment are daphne and quince. This one is Japanese quince, Chaenomeles Kinshiden. Double flowers open pale lime green and change to clotted cream as they age.

Pleased to see my plectranthus has survived the winter, tucked up in the greenhouse. A striking plant for summer containers. Easy to grow from cuttings.

There will be plenty of citrus fruit for summer preserves. This plant flowered all winter, filling the greenhouse with such a wonderful scent.

We do quite a bit of owl watching from the top of the garden. Delighted to report the barn owls and tawny owls have survived the freezing winter. We’re hoping they bring their fledglings into our garden again this summer.

Another cause for celebration. The hedgehogs- we think they are last year’s babies- also survived the cold, and have come out of hibernation, ravenous. They are doing a great job of clearing pests in the garden.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this slide show of my garden at the end of April and into the first week of May. Enjoy your Bank Holiday weekend. I’m hoping to spend some time just sitting in my favourite garden chair. If I can possibly ignore all the weeds growing rampant in the background!

Thanks to Helen Patient Gardener for hosting the EOMV. Why not go over and see how Helen’s garden looks at the end of April.

What are your plans for the garden over the coming weeks? Get in touch and let me know.

Fact sheet for growing strawberries /recipe for ten minute strawberry jam biscuits

If you listened in to the gardeners’ phone-in programme this week on BBC Radio Leicester you’ll have heard us giving hints and tips on planting and growing strawberries. Here’s a list of do’s and don’ts to get the best from home grown crops.

Buying bare-rooted runners, or root stock, is an affordable way to buy strawberries online or via seed and plant catalogues. It’s a good way to buy named varieties and virus free stock.

I’ve chosen the Plant Heritage Collection from Marshalls. 30 runners for around 66p each.

Royal Sovereign : A well-known mid season strawberry famed for flavour. Large juicy fruit. Crops in early summer- and again in autumn.

Cambridge Favourite : Reliable and popular variety. Good for jams and preserves.

Red Gauntlet: Mid season, heavy cropper. Fruit is held well above the ground. Good for damper soil, or for growing under cloches or in tunnels. Some resistance to botrytis.

1. When the plants arrive, take them straight out of the Jiffy bag and either plant into 3″ pots or straight into the garden, if soil and weather conditions are suitable.

2. Choose a sunny, well drained spot – not in a frost pocket

3. Enrich the soil with well rotted garden compost, organic Plantgrow fertiliser, or peat-free sheeps wool and bracken compost from Dalefoot Compost.

4. Planting depth is crucial to success of the runners. The crown, the thickened area where the leaves are attached to the roots, should be resting at soil level. Too high and the plants will dry out. Too deep, and they will drown.

5. Don’t plant where tomatoes, chrysanthemums or potatoes have been grown. The soil may harbour wilt disease.

6. Watering techniques are important. Do not drench the leaves and leave them wet overnight. The plants are more likely to suffer from moulds and the fruit will rot. Either use a leaky pipe, or push the watering can through the leaves to water at ground level.

7. Feed every 7-14 days with a high potash liquid fertiliser. I use seaweed extract, but you can also use tomato fertiliser. Plantgrow also has a handy liquid fertiliser in its range.

8. Protect the flowers from frost using a layer of fleece. The flowers are easily damaged and turn black. A whole crop can be lost to frost overnight.

9. Cut back all leaves and remove straw mulch after fruiting to prevent a build up of pests and diseases. We use chopped mineralised Strulch.

10. The plants will naturally produce runners. Stems will arch over and where they touch the ground, new plants will grow. Pot these up and renew your strawberry beds every 3-4 years. The old plants are best discarded after this length of time as pests and diseases start to take hold.

11. Vine weevils love strawberry plants. There’s a new organic nematode treatment that can be bought off the shelf. Previously treatments had to be posted out and used fairly quickly. The new nematodes from Neudorff are easier to buy and use.

STRAWBERRY JAM ALMOND BISCUITS

These are a family favourite and only take 10 minutes to make. Lovely with morning coffee, or for afternoon tea.

Ingredients: whizz together

200g caster sugar

115g butter

115g ground almonds

115g plain flour

1tspn baking power.

1 egg

3 drops almond essence.

Rest dough in the fridge for one hour if you want biscuits to retain their round shape. I was in too much of a hurry, so mine turned out flat.

Take teaspoons full of dough and roll in the palm of your hand. Place on a baking tray. Make a well in the centre with a spoon handle or little finger. Fill with strawberry jam. Top with slivers of almond.

Cook in oven at 200C for 10 minutes. Keep a close eye on them as they soon burn.

Will last for three days in a sealed container. If you can resist them that long.

Here’s a link to the radio programme. Have a listen in at 2.08.18 on the timeline.

bbcleicester http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p063rcnf

Here’s some fruit tarts I also made with the home-made jam. Totally delicious! Wonderful after a hard day working in the garden.

Click on the highlighted links for more information. These are not affiliate links.

What new plants are you trying out this spring and summer?