End of the Month View – March 2nd 2018

Thank goodness there’s some colour in the greenhouse right now. I planted these Iris reticulata last October. And just when I need something cheerful to look at, they’ve sprung open like a jack-in-a-box. As soon as the sun hit the greenhouse glass, they pinged open. A lovely moment. Glad I was there to see it.

Such an inky blue. I planted Iris Pixie and Harmony, and then somehow lost the labels. A common occurrence in my garden. I must address the problem of how to keep labels this year.

I’ve no need to tell you what the temperatures are like at the moment. One look out of the window and you can see for yourself. We are white over in the UK. So today I’ve been mooching in the potting shed and greenhouse.

Planted last September, these Carnegie hyacinths are a joy for months. The buds are pretty, with just the green tips showing. I think there’s as much pleasure in anticipating what’s to come, as there is when the buds finally burst into bloom. The scent fills the whole greenhouse and makes it a pleasure to work in there on a freezing cold day. I heat the greenhouse to between 5 and 7 degrees. It is an old Alton Cedar greenhouse -second hand, renovated and painted black. Being cedar, the wood swells in the winter and cuts off any draughts – keeping it warm and cosy in there.

Prepared -or temperature treated bulbs – are planted in September in individual 3″ pots. The bulbs are given a cold period to fool them into thinking they have been through winter. We then put them in a cool, dark cupboard in the potting shed or garage for 20 weeks which finishes the treatment. Then, the bulbs are gradually brought out into a cool greenhouse and grown on. You can delay development by just keeping them cold and on the dry side, which is how I’ve managed to keep them flowering right through winter.

Choose bulbs that have flowers roughly the same size to plant into bowls and create displays for the house.

Today, I’m looking out at a snow, right across the back fields, and there’s icicles dangling from the greenhouse roof.

All along the top shelves are succulents and cacti- which need virtually no water between November and mid-March. These Echeverias have grey -blue leaves and striking orange flowers in summer.

The potatoes are starting to chit. Hard to believe, I will be planting them in a few weeks. I’m growing Charlotte and Lady Christl- both delicious. These varieties are on the RHS recommended list for growing in containers. If you are thinking of growing in containers, you need 8 litres of compost per potato. So put five in a 40 litre bag or 16″ -18″pot. Start off filling the bags with 20 litres of compost and 125g organic potato fertiliser. Sink the potatoes into the compost, and water. As the haulms or stems grow, add more compost to cover them and gradually fill up the pots. The secret to success is not to overwater. Soggy compost deprives the plants of oxygen and leads to stunted growth. Start feeding with potash when the leaves are out of the top of the pots. Other varieties I’ve tried and are RHS recommended include Casablanca, Golden Nugget, Sharpes Express, Maris Bard, Jazzy and Vales Emerald. I don’t grow Sharpes Express as much though, as it tends to disintegrate when it’s cooked and you end up with a pan full of soupy water.

Just behind the potatoes and bedding plant cuttings is a pot of wild rocket. I sowed the seed in autumn and now have lots of little pots like these from which I can pick a few leaves each day. Pick from the outer leaves, leaving the centre of the plants to keep growing.

Here’s a quick peek in the potting shed at dusk. The last of the Paper White narcissi are cheering up the potting bench. Another fabulous scented flower.

And in the potting shed window there’s snowdrops. This one is a very pretty Galanthus Viridapiece which has delicate green-tipped flowers. A favourite of mine.

Thank you to Helen at Patient Gardener for hosting this EOMV meme.

How are you coping with the weather? Get in touch and let me know how your garden is faring in the snow. Keep warm everyone.

Ellicar Gardens -open for NGS 25th February @ellicargardens

There aren’t many invitations that start with the warning “beware of the goose!” But when Sarah Murch sent an e-mail inviting us to visit, she told us to sound our horn when we arrived. She would safely let us in past the goose.

Now, I had a very unfortunate experience with a gander some years ago. I only just managed to outrun him. They are surprisingly scary at full speed, with their necks out stretched and wings flapping. Not an experience I particularly wished to repeat.

But to be honest, we didn’t need to worry. The Ellicar garden goose was more concerned with guarding his “family” of adopted bantam chicks. But we gave him a very wide berth anyway.

The newly-hatched chicks and goose combination were just the start of what turned out to be a most surprising visit. We found a llama, goats, rare breed sheep, cows and two adorable rescue pigs. And they all clearly love their owner. They all come racing across the field as soon as they catch sight of Sarah.

This is Orlando, Sarah’s newest acquisition; a birthday present, she explains. Well, I’ve never met anyone who’s had a llama as a birthday present before, but I’m soon quite envious. I find myself enquiring exactly where one could obtain such a gorgeous creature, how much they eat, how much they cost…… I’m nearly ready to order one on the spot when I hear the coat can be brushed and fluff woven and knitted into jumpers! What a joy. We move swiftly on. Turning our thoughts to the gardens, around the corner, past the paddocks, is a sight of great beauty- a natural swimming pool.

The pool is frozen over when we visit, but Sarah explains the water is warm enough to swim in from March to November. The temperature is 17C in spring, and 20-26C in summer. The pool is naturally filtered and surrounded by grasses and willows that cast their reflections on the water. Sarah painted a lovely picture when she described swimming with kingfishers flying by, just above their heads.

The garden is planted with wildlife in mind and many of the perennials and shrubs provide nectar for bees and butterflies, and seeds for birds. Grasses are a special feature of the garden. At this time of the year, they look stunning, backlit by a sunset, which is when I took these photos.

The grasses include various stipa, silver feather grass Miscanthus Silberfeder, and feather reed grass Calamagrostis Overdam.

Seed heads shine amongst the colourful dogwoods and willows; eupatorium, aster and sedums in particular.

Coral bark willow, Salix Britzensis- pollarded to produce bright red stems- looks fabulous set against a background of white silver birches. They are underplanted with masses of emerging spring bulbs, including crocus, snowdrops, iris and narcissi.

We love this living willow “fedge” a cross between a fence and a hedge, with teasel heads in front. And there’s a children’s garden, with bug hotel, wild flower planting- and even a willow den.

Ellicar Gardens covers five acres and has been created over the past eight years by Sarah and her husband Will. The gardens open this Sunday February 25, 12-4pm for the NGS charity. There are other opening dates on the website. Adults £4.50, children free. Carr Road, Gringley-on-the- Hill, Doncaster, DN10 4SN. For more information : ngs.org.uk. Hodsock Priory is about 20 minutes drive away and the winter garden there is open until March 4th. Their last opening day is also in aid of the NGS.

Hodsock Priory .

Ellicar Gardens

Two happier pigs have never been seen! Just irresistible.

Flowers in a Vase

We all need more sunshine and smiles. And these multi-headed sunflowers have provided both this summer. Regular readers will know that I grow flowers for my mother in law Joan as a way of keeping her connected with me and my garden. Joan, who is 88, can’t come to visit as often as she would like, and so each week I run round the garden and gather a sample of everything in flower. Joan enjoys flower arranging. She did the chapel flowers for 65 years. She loves arranging my bundles of flowers and filling every window ledge and hall cupboard with colour.

I’ve had the best year yet with these sunflowers from Mr Fothergills seeds. Some of the multi-headed varieties provided 9 flowers per stem. Almost a bouquet in themselves. I will be growing varieties Halo, Buttercream, and Solar Flash again next year. I’ll start them off in the spring and plant out in May, using Slug Gone wool pellets to protect them from being nibbled. This year I grew morning glory up the stems, and under-planted them with calendulas.

I have been in love all summer with new Calendula Snow Princess. In truth, it’s a very pale cream, not white. But so frilly. It reminds me of a tutu. And so prolific. Every time I’ve walked up the plot there’s been a handful of stems to pick. Such a pretty flower, and accommodating as it didn’t mind being planted under sunflowers.

No two plants are alike, but I particularly love this one with the delicate caramel picotee edging. Lasts for 7 days in a vase. I’ve just planted out some for next year. If you have a spare bit of ground or a few large pots, there’s still time to sow some from seed. There’s also time to sow other hardy annuals- cornflowers, nigella, larkspur, poppies. They will grow slowly over winter and provide early flowers next spring.

in just about every bouquet of flowers this summer I managed to include one of these white water lily dahlias. This tuber cost £1 from Wilkinson’s in the spring. I started it off in a pot in the greenhouse and planted it out end of May. It grew to nearly 5 feet and has been smothered in flowers. I will pay better attention to earwigs next year, putting plant pots of straw or corrugated cardboard on canes amongst the plants. As I don’t like to kill anything, the straw etc will be shaken out in a wild part of the garden every morning. Interestingly, the earwigs didn’t attack a deep red cactus-flowering dahlia growing right along side.

Another stalwart of my summer cut flower garden is rudbeckia. These were gown from a packet of seeds called All Sorts Mixed from Thompson and Morgan. I love the twisty edges of this one, and the lime green stripe on the back of the petals. Truly scrumptious.

Rudbeckia Marmalade from Mr Fothergills seed has beautiful shiny, chocolate-coloured centres.

Rudbeckias last for at least 7 days in a vase and brighten any posy of flowers. I grow mine in semi-shade under a plum tree, as that’s the only space I have. Seed packets cost just a couple of pounds each, and Mum and I share a packet between us as there are too many seeds for one garden.

Fitting in with the daisy theme are these Snow White asters which flower reliably every October under my old plum tree.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this gallery of photos of my MIL’s flowers this week. I love to join in with Cathy and her meme In a Vase on Monday. But my flowers are always picked on Saturdays and Sundays when we go over to the in laws to do their gardening, shopping and look after them. However, I always read what the others are growing and picking in their gardens- all over the world. Go over and have a look. It’s fascinating to see how many are growing the same plants in different climates.

Do you grow cut flowers for your home or friends and family? I have 10 1.2m by 3m beds with little paths between. Four of them are filled with flowers, and the others are packed with kale, beetroot, chard, onions and strawberries. There’s quite a few weeds too! Leave a comment and let me know what you are growing right now, or what plans you have for next spring. Flowers have certainly kept everyone cheerful here this summer. And you can never have too many smiles, can you.