The weather has turned really cold here. We’ve had high winds and hail. I’ll be sorting through my seed box and making plans for next year this weekend. And keeping warm. All my tender plants have been stored in the greenhouse and poly tunnel, safe from freezing temperature. What gardening tasks have you been doing recently?
I grow a huge number of bedding pelargonium plants – better known as geraniums- for containers in the summer. They flower non-stop from June to November. They are little trouble and all I do is give them some potash liquid fertiliser once a week, and regularly dead-head them
These are tender evergreen perennials and can be kept over winter in a frost free place. This year I have nearly 100 4” pots, full of cuttings which will be kept in my heated greenhouse. This is a space-saving method to keep them from one year to the next. If you don’t have a greenhouse, a bright windowsill indoors is suitable. As long as the cuttings are kept frost-free they will fine. The secret is not to overwater them. In the greenhouse, I only water pots once when the cuttings are taken, and then I don’t water them again until next February when I want to start them back into growth. Cuttings kept indoors in the house will be watered very minimally as the temperatures indoors are higher than in the greenhouse. Full-size plants can carry on flowering all year round if they are brought indoors. Check them for pests and diseases before bringing them in and top the pots with horticultural grit to keep the surface of the compost dry. Wet compost promotes grey mould. Remove any damaged or diseased leaves. When watering, make sure to keep leaves as dry as possible by aiming the water at the base of the plants.
My father in law used to keep his prize-winning pelargoniums in the garage. He dug up his plants in autumn, shook off all the compost, removed all of the leaves and wrapped the remaining stumps and roots in newspaper. They were kept cool, dry and frost free until the spring. I’ve tried this method, but only found it partially successful as my potting shed got damp in winter.
Are you planning to keep your pelargoniums over the winter? Or do you sow yours from scratch each spring? Or buy them ready to plant from the garden centre in early summer?
This year I grew all my bedding plants, including some new varieties of pelargonium, from packets of seed. I was amazed how many pelargoniums could be grown from such tiny dust-like seeds. It was a money-saving option that worked out well.
Some more photos from my greenhouse and garden to brighten your day:
A collection of bedding pelargonium plants making a display in the greenhouse.
Common names can be confusing. Most people use the word geranium when they are talking about pelargoniums. But geraniums are a different plant genus. So to avoid confusion, people refer to them as ‘hardy geraniums’ – the sort you grow in beds and borders, as ground cover amongst other plants, and ‘tender geraniums’ (pelargoniums) grown in hanging baskets and containers.
A variety I’ve kept going for more than 20 years, taken from a cutting from my grandfather. It was his favourite pelargonium.
A miniature pelargonium which flowers all year round. This one came from Fibrex Nurseries, a specialist grower, highly recommended. https://www.fibrex.co.uk/. Miniature pelargoniums are wondrous things. I’ll write a new blog post explaining how to grow them. They are easy to grow and once you’ve grown one, you’ll want to start a collection. I warn you, they are addictive!
If you listen in to BBC Radio Leicester, the gardening programme has moved to Saturdays at 11am. Josie Hutchins and I take it in turns to answer phone-in questions and talk about what gardening jobs we are doing each week. If you have a question, please get in touch with The producer, Dale. We are one of the few local stations now offering gardening advice on the radio.
Dahlias have been fabulous this year, giving masses of cut flowers from mid June until November. We’ve had unseasonably mild weather, which means we still have flowers today. But other areas in the county have had night-time frosts. So now is the time to dig up and protect your dahlia tubers for the winter.
There are two methods for saving dahlias for next year. You can either dig them up and store them in a frost-free place, or you can leave them in the ground and cover them with dry leaves, straw or horticultural fleece. Leaving them in the ground is only possible is you have well-drained soil. In heavy clay, and or where gardens flood, the tubers will rot.
Method 1. Digging them up:
If you are planning to dig them up, wait until the foliage has been frosted. This makes the dahlias absorb goodness back into the tubers and sends instructions to become dormant.
Using a fork, carefully dig up the tubers, taking care not to damage them. Remember to keep any labels with the tubers. Brush off the soil if you can. If they are wet and muddy you can wash off the soil and use a soft brush to clean them up. Or you can put them in a shed to dry and brush the soil off in a week or two. Washing and brushing helps to remove slugs and earwigs and other soil-borne pests and diseases .
Cut back the stems leaving about 3”. Turn the tubers upside down so moisture drains out of the stems. After a week, turn the tubers the right way up and store them in pots or seed trays. You can use dry compost or horticultural fleece to cover them. Keep them in a cool, dry frost free place such as a garage or potting shed.
Tip: You can plant tulips in the space left behind in the garden. I dig up the tulips next spring to make way for the dahlias again.
Method2. Leaving them in the ground:
If you have well-drained soil, you can try to leave some dahlias in the ground. In a very cold, wet winter, this is risky.
To leave them in the ground, do not cut off the stems. Fold the stems over and collapse them back onto the tubers, this will stop the stems becoming like ‘straws.’ Cut stems will direct water straight to the tubers, causing rotting.
Cover the tubers with a thick layer of dried leaves, straw or horticultural fleece. I usually try to keep them dry by covering them with sheets of recycled corrugated plastic or old compost bags. Plastic cloches can also be used.
Tubers will be started back into growth next spring.
Here’s some dahlias from my plot. Nuit D’Ete with cosmos and persicaria.
My favourite orange dahlia, David Howard, shown here with chrysanthemum Swan.
Dahlia Evelyn with carnations and senecio grey foliage from the plot.
Dahlias can also be started from seed in early spring . This was from a mixed packet which included lots of jewel-like colours. This summer I’ve grown the ‘Bishop’s Children’ range which has lovely bright reds, purple and orange with attractive, dark-coloured foliage.
How have your dahlias fared this year? Which method are you using to save them over the winter? Do you have any further tips to share?
Thanks for reading my blog, and listening in to BBC Radio Leicester for the gardening show on Saturdays at 11am. If you have any questions for either me or Josie, please leave a message here or get in touch with producer Dale. We are very pleased to still have a gardening programme when many other stations have now cancelled them.
I am @kgimson on twitter and karengimson1 on instagram.
Winter is just around the corner and there’s a feeling of urgency to get on with gardening jobs, before the weather turns cold. I’m always rushing around. There’s tender plants to bring under cover, pots to plant and bulbs to sort out. There’s never enough time to do everything. However, gardening tasks can end in accidents causing painful injuries. Here’s a reminder to take extra care this autumn and winter when working in the garden.
We were all shocked to hear news that Tamsin Westhorpe had suffered a fractured spine in a recent gardening accident. Tamsin is a writer, and editor and works as a gardener at her family’s farm, Stockton Bury Gardens, in Herefordshire. I wrote about Tamsin last year when she published her country diary book. Here’s a link: https://bramblegarden.com/2020/02/22/diary-of-a-modern-country-gardener/
I asked Tamsin to tell me what happened when she had her accident in the garden, and here’s what she said:
It was a sunny Saturday at the start of September. I had a rare day off from work, so I was determined to make a mark on my much-ignored home plot. My day job is to help my uncles garden their four-acre open garden, so my plot gets pushed to the back of the priority list.
What task were you doing when the accident happened? I have a row of six aronia trees that I like to keep to a manageable height of about 9ft. My aim was to remove the very enthusiastic young growth and give them a neater shape. To reach the centre branches I needed a ladder. In my haste a grabbed a lightweight A frame ladder and headed down the garden armed with enthusiasm and secateurs. I was on a mission to get as much done in a day as possible.
Describe what happened next. Standing on one of the top steps I simply leant forward to reach a central branch and the ladder went from under me. It happened so quickly, and I found myself flat on my back on the lawn in agony.
What were your first thoughts? My first thoughts were for the garden. Who would lift my dahlias and plant the tulips? Being part of a small family business, I was concerned how the other members of the family would be impacted. Physical fitness is essential for my work. My second thought was that I’d been a complete idiot and should’ve waited for someone to hold the ladder. To say I was cross with myself was an understatement.
How did you get help? My garden is in a rural location and not looked over by any other houses. I shouted but no one came as my family were out. I know only too well that you shouldn’t try and move if you have an accident, but I was struggling to breath, so somehow struggled to the house to get my phone. How long this took and how I can’t recall.
What were your injuries? My spine has a stable fracture and I cut the back of my leg quite badly. However, I have been incredibly lucky. I’m so thankful that my spinal cord wasn’t damaged, and I didn’t hit my head. As far as I’m concerned, I have had a very lucky escape. When working from a ladder in future I’m going to ensure that the pots and tools are placed well out of the way and I always have a friend or family at the foot of the ladder.
How long will your recovery take? All being well I will make a full recovery in about 12 weeks. I should be able to plant my own tulips this year! For now, I’m not lifting anything and I’m focusing on doing all the right things to speed up my return to the garden. I’ve already seen the impact of trying to rush things so I’m not about to make the same mistake twice.
Anything happened like this before? I’ve been gardening since the age of 16, spending time as a parks gardener, greenkeeper and interior landscaper. In all those years I have only succumbed to one nasty incident with a pair of secateurs (again caused by trying to rush a job) and a few splinters. So, all in all I’ve been lucky and don’t see gardening as a dangerous hobby – far from it in fact. Gardening has kept me physically fit for decades. I’m the only danger! By being impatient and trying to garden at speed I’ve caused this accident to happen and only have myself to blame. Having said all that I think my steel toe capped boots have saved my toes on many occasions.
How do you feel now, mentally and physically? I am feeling better by the day and although I can’t do anything for long, I’m seeing improvements in my physical heath. A gardening friend suggested I put comfrey oil on my back to help with the healing process. I have no idea if it is working but I love the idea of a plant being involved in my recovery. Having not experienced an accident of this nature before I was surprised at how much shock has an impact on your mental wellbeing. It’s been difficult having to scratch out events in my diary, but I have the good fortune that I will recover. The messages from fellow gardeners have been a great help and I’ve been thrilled to hear from many who say they now won’t go up a ladder without an ‘assistant’. I’m glad that my accident might prevent others from having a similar experience. This time has made me feel such concern for those who won’t recover from an accident or can’t tend their garden due to old age. I can only imagine how frustrating and devastating this must be. I’ve also experienced the healing power of nature. Thanks to a wonderfully warm September I have been able to recover under a blue sky outside. Watching the birds and insects flutter around me has been just the best medicine. It’s given me time to realise how important gardening is to me and my health.
What advice would you give other gardeners? Invest in a proper gardening ladder for one. Secondly never use power tools and climb ladders when on your own in the garden. Thirdly keep your mobile phone in your pocket but put it on silent so your gardening time is undisturbed. But, the most important thing is to never rush gardening – sip it like a good glass of wine and savour every moment. It’s not a race.
Update: Tamsin has made a good recovery, and is now back at Stockton Bury making a start on light gardening duties.
Here’s some photos of Stockton Bury taken when I visited the garden this summer.
Have you any experiences to share involving injuries while gardening? Please share any advice and suggestions.
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Latest news from the plot. Click on the photo to enlarge the print. There’s never enough room for all the photos I take. So here’s a selection of pictures to go with the diary recently published in Garden News Magazine.
I’m looking forward to growing this Limonium Pink Pokers next spring. The photo above was taken at Mr Fothergill’s seed trial grounds in August. I love the two-tone flowers and their delightful habit of twisting and turning as they grow towards the sun. They remind me of fireworks. I’ll start seed sowing indoors in February at 20C in a propagator and plant them out in June. They will be perfect for my jam jar posies. In addition, flowers can be hung up to dry. It will be useful to have flowers for winter decorations. Limonium, a half hardy annual, grows to 80cm and flowers from June to October. Available from Johnson’s seed, the premium range from Mr Fothergill’s.
In the article above, I mention growing dahlias from seed. I’ve been so delighted with the success of my seed-sown dahlias this year. I’ve had outstanding flowers, large single blooms with bright, jewel-like colours. It’s a money-saving option too. My Mum manages to fill her back garden with dahlias grown from a packet of seed. Started early in February, seedlings make small tubers and grow to full-size plants by mid-summer. There’s a non-stop supply of flowers for our vases. Plus bees love them too, so it’s an wildlife-friendly option. Pollinators have easy access to the flat, open centres of these flowers. You can sometimes see the ‘bee lines’ showing pollinators the way to the centre. If you don’t have any storage space for dahlia tubers over winter, don’t worry. You can get excellent results by starting from seed in spring.
I mention the new Home Florists’ range of roses specially bred for cut flower gardens. I’ve been amazed by the sheer number of flowers these provided. Such good quality flowers which last a week in a vase, if water is refreshed each day. The scent is reminiscent of old roses, particularly old-fashioned bourbon roses. The roses, by Wharton’s Nursery, can be found in most good garden centres, or on line. Look out for Timeless Purple and Timeless Cream. Both recommended.
In amongst my cut flowers, I grow vegetables such as peas, climbing beans, courgettes, sweet corn and beetroot. I’m growing Valido peas, a new maincrop variety which is disease resistant. Luckily it is resistant to mildew which means the plants keep cropping right through to the autumn. Often pea plants turn brown as leaves and stems die back. Valido copes with anything the summer weather can throw at it, and produces a heavy crop of delicious peas. I’ve saved some of my seed for growing in seed trays over the winter. Pea shoots will be harvested just a few weeks from sowing – and won’t have cost me a penny. Lovely nutritious shoots to add to my salads and stir fries.
Monty Kitten is more like a dog than a cat. He follows me around the garden and likes to get involved in everything I’m doing. He followed me out onto the grass verge when I put my jam jar flowers out for sale.
Finding newts in the garden is always a cause for celebration. It’s reassuring to find them under stones by my mini-pond, and in the greenhouse and polytunnel. They must be attracted by the moisture. I only use natural seaweed-type feeds, diluted in a watering can, to feed my fruit, vegetables and cut flowers on the patch.
Fruit and vegetables have grown well this year. In my basket there’s white-stem chard, perpetual spinach, herbs, white-flowered runner bean variety ‘Moonlight’ onions, tomatoes Blaby, Marmande and cherry types. There’s been a steady flow of blueberries from the plot. Ivanhoe is growing in a large 40cm diameter pot.
This is made by Martin and Jill Fish who provide cookery talks and demonstrations and have written a favourite book ‘Gardening on the Menu’ with advice on growing fruit and veg, and how to cook and preserve them.
Thank you for reading my blog, and my diary in Garden News Magazine. If you also listen to BBC Radio Leicester, the gardening show has moved from Wednesdays to Saturdays, 11am to 11.35. If you get in touch with the producers, I’ll answer any questions live on the show.