Tag Archives: Sunflowers

Planting Plans:Ornamental Plants

I feel like I’m being quite lazy this spring, as it seem we haven’t spent much time on the plot this month. Of course, my decision to buy in many of my plants has meant our flat isn’t awash in tiny seedlings this year. Also, given the recent weather, I’m quite happy that there isn’t anything that urgently needs doing. It’s given me far more time to make plans and work on other parts of the plot. The most neglected section was probably the ornamental beds at the top of the plot and this year I’m determined to make something of them.

Last year we cleared the top area and moved the raspberry canes down into the fruit cage. These beds are right next to the access road that cuts through the allotment site and is quite close to the main gates. We get lots of passers-by,  and lots of hellos as well, but in years past Simon noticed that these raspberry plants never produced fruit. We had a slight hunch that fruit theft wasn’t entirely down to birds, so we decided to move the more tempting fruit to the far end of our plot.

The first stages of clearing the ornamental beds.

The first stages of clearing the ornamental beds last winter.

 

In the late autumn, we planted spring bulbs galore and have done so again last autumn. The daffodils from the first year have returned in abundance, as daffodils often do. The tulips last spring were a bit stunted, so this year I’ve mulched the beds with our lovely compost we produced. The trial beds of tulips are coming on well too, I do love having fresh cut flowers in the house when ever possible, especially in the early spring.

Fresh Daffodils in the house.

Fresh Daffodils in the house.

Last year by the summer however, the beds had become a fairly weedy mess. Other than the sunflowers and sweet peas, the beds we’re really not looking like much. I had attempted to sow some wild flower seeds, but they never really took. So in the autumn, I cleared most things out in an attempt to start over and added a few perennials such as Japanese anemones and coreopsis. I’ll likely add more and include some annuals such as cosmos and corn flowers later in the early summer.

While I’m mainly after cut flowers, I can’t possibly use everything and the excess flowers will left to attract bees and other pollinators. We did have an enormous comfrey plant in one bed, which did an amazing job attracting bees. Sadly, it also did a stupendous job at protecting and feeding hundreds of slugs. So I’ve dug it out and will replace it with something else. As  I’ve also ordered some summer bulbs of dahlias and species lilies, which will need to be planted soon, they likely take up that space happily.

I’m not really planting with any real design, which is a bit of a departure from what I do all the time in my job. With this little patch of ground I can plant what I like and where I like, no client imposing any limitations on me. I find it quite liberating to plant like that and I imagine some interesting combinations will come out of it. I’m hoping I’ll finally make something of it, even without a absolute “plan.”

img_4513.jpg

The Pest Philosophy

It’s the peak of September and we’ve been enjoying the full flush of harvesting this month. While we’ve been enjoying the fruits and veg of our labours, we’re certainly not the only ones. While our rather brave Allotment Fox got relocated a little while back, there are new residents about. Mainly the two young fox cubs I’ve spotted several times dashing between plots.

Spot the fox!

Usually the magpies start making the most horrific racket when they’re about. I haven’t thought much about it until I arrived at the plot one morning and found our corn crop nearly gone. My parents are visiting from Canada at the moment and I was really looking forward to serving them some lovely fresh sweetcorn.

Smooshed corn stalks

As I surveyed the damage, a plot neighbour came over and commiserated at our loss. She told me she had long given up on growing corn and it always happened each year. The foxes seemed to have an uncanny knack for knowing when you were just about to pick the corn, nabbing it before you could get it. She also told me that the Old Boys at the allotment would insist that it was badgers that did it, but the delightful gift of fox poo in the corn bed told me otherwise. I still did have one Old Boy insist that it was badgers nonetheless.

Munched!

Between netting and the odd handful of slug pellets, that was one of the few major losses we’d suffered. The slugs only really started to get an upper hand on us when we fell behind on the weeding. However, keeping the beds clean and a bit of sunshine was a fantastic means of slug control, I kept finding lots of “cooked” slugs in the midst of the clear beds. Something to remember for next year.

Crispy slug

It may seem strange, but I wasn’t really that bothered about the loss of the corn and a few other things that have been eaten. I feel we’ve gotten off fairly lightly when it comes to animal pilfering. The netting over the brassicas and fruit has been doing wonders at keeping the birds off. Of course, other than the Blue Tit that somehow managed to get itself trapped inside the fruit cage the other day.

Generally, I don’t blame the various pests for eating the odd thing, I can’t really blame them for just trying to survive. I just try to take in stride and learn how to best to minimise any loss next year. I’m a bit of a softie when it comes to wildlife, which is why I’m so chuffed the sunflowers I planted have been such a hit with the bird life. Maybe next year, I’ll grow a special patch of corn just for the foxes…the rest will be protected by a ten foot high electric fence.

Happy birds

 

The Cutthroat World of Vegetable Showing

When we dug up some rather fine purple carrots a couple of weeks ago, we thought we might actually have something worthy of the allotment’s upcoming annual show. Suddenly, the care and pampering of our veg was taken to a new level. Actually, I just got a bit more diligent about removing pests.  Can’t have them ruining my prize veg, now can I?

The show was held to today and when we arrived in the early morning, there was a noticeable buzz about the site. I could see several people scouring their plots for something presentable. I heard quite a lot of conversations in near by plots that went along the lines of;

“Find anything?”

“No, the birds/foxes/slugs have got there first.”

Still, with some searching and a show schedule in one hand, we managed to pull together enough things to enter eight classes. The purple carrots and “beautiful” onions were our main contenders. The herb patch hasn’t completely gone to seed and produced a decent collection of herb bunches. Similarly  the purple dwarf beans and squash plants contributed some fine specimens. Finally, our lovely little orange sunflowers managed to just squeak out the minimum number of stems required to enter the flower class.

Getting prepped

We headed up to the site’s community building, produce and vases in hand. I used to do horse shows when I was younger and it’s been many years since I felt that slight flutter; a delicious mix of excitement and apprehension.  I did actually have a tiny moment of paranoia, which made me reluctant to leave my entries unattended, worrying they might be “tampered”with! Okay, maybe it’s not quite like that, especially at this level.   At least, not that I saw…

In the end, my fears were clearly unfounded as we placed in all our classes except one! The courgettes were the only non-placing entry, but admittedly they were a bit mismatched, albeit the only yellow variety entered.

Third place in the Other Vegetable class for our slightly over grown summer squashes.

 

Third place in the Flower class for our orange sunflowers. First went to a vase of stunning blood red dahlias, so I can’t fault that choice!

Second place in the Dwarf Bean class for our suddenly-ready-today purple beans. We have masses of them, so getting matching lengths wasn’t a problem.

A second place for Ugliest Vegetable class with our last minute entry of a mangled carrot we dug up in the process of looking for perfectly shaped ones.

First place in the Herb Collection class. Went for as much visual contrast as I could, which was only possible with the wide variety of herbs we have.

 

First in the Carrot class for our much better looking purple carrots. The only purple carrots in the whole show. Lots of compliments, comments and questions about these.

 

Yet another first for our onions this time, described by one of our plot neighbours as “beautiful.” Lots of queries from everyone about where we bought the sets (Marshals), what variety they were (Fen Globe) and when we planted them (March).

At the end of the show, many of the entries were auctioned off to raise some money for the association. Most things went for 10 to 20p generally, all our veg were snapped up pretty quickly. However, I did go a little pink when the onions came up. They went for a whopping 50p, out doing anything else auctioned off. One of the organisers commented that they were amazed I was willing to part with them. It’s quite hard to modestly say, “it’s okay, I have plenty more where those came from.”

Scott told me that someone asked him which plot was ours, which had produced so well. When they were told, they replied, “ah yes, the one with the blue shed.” Yes, the Blue Shed Plot, a force to be reckoned with when it comes to vegetable showing.

Hits and Misses: The Hits

On to the positive! I have been amazed at how much is growing despite the low temperatures. I realise ripening may be an issue later, but I’m hoping we’ll get a final summer surge for September and October, hopefully starting this weekend. Also, with all the rain, the pressure has been off slightly with having to keep up with the watering. As much as I can, I often pop by the plot after work to potter about for a bit. However, work has been very busy of late and I’ve been glad that the necessity of going to the plot regularly to water has been reduced.

The Hits

As I mentioned in my previous post, the early potatoes have been patchy, but the main crop potatoes have been beautiful, full and healthy. Full to the point of needing no weeding, other than a quick tidy around the edges of the bed. I can’t wait to dig those up and see if the foliage growth gives all it’s promising now.

I’ve often read that beet seeds can be quite temperamental when it comes to germination. The seeds I sowed about three months ago have done very well. We thinned the seedlings out and used the leaves for salads, the last collection even giving us a couple of baby beets. Well, maybe not even baby beets, more like embryonic beets. Perfectly tasty anyway. Encouraged by their success, I’ve sown another row else where for a later crop.

Wee beets.

The garlic has been looking quite rusty from all the wet weather, but the onions, so far, have gone unscathed. I worried they would start to rot with all the wet, but having mounded up the beds seems to have paid off. They’re meant to stay in the ground for sometime yet and to only be pulled up as they’re needed. I’m glad they’ve kept well so far, otherwise I’d have to do a marathon Onion Tart Making Weekend!

Happy onions.

In the legume corner, we have the contenders; the lightweight French beans and the heavyweight broad beans. The French beans have germinated well and are working their way up the netting. They’ve done so well, that I’ve sown a second lot of purple beans on the patch the cucumbers were originally suppose to occupy. If the peas continue to struggle for much longer, I may even add some beans there. The broad beans suffered a touch of black fly, but pinching out the tops and the resident ladybird population have worked their magic. I don’t really consider myself a fan of broad beans, but I can’t deny their reliability.

Beans, beans, the musical fruit…

Over in the ornamental area, along with the bumper crop of sweet peas, the sunflowers have been growing strong. No flower buds yet, but I’ve already had to stake them to keep them upright. I have no idea how many seeds we sowed in that patch, but I’m happy some have survived in the end.

Strong sunflowers

Super smelly sweet peas.

I think I may have to book mark this post for myself, to read again and again. For when it all starts to go wrong again, I will need to be reminded that it does go right sometimes.

Hey Good Lookin’

One of the perks of being a professional gardener is that I often come home with leftover plants, or “strays” as I like to call them. In the flat we have a Kentia Palm, a massive Peace Lily and a six foot Ficus tree (nicknamed Benji for Ficus benjamina), all rescued from a one way trip to the tip.

We often over buy plants for clients’ gardens, which keeps me with a steady supply of bedding plants, bulbs and perennials. Other than the few pots outside the front door and the kitchen window boxes, we don’t have any garden space at home. The space at the plot has become a fantastic home for many of my strays and other garden finds.

I’ve already mentioned my terracotta bust Matilda, but clearing old gardens has also yielded a couple of other ornaments which I’ve added to our bright blue shed.

Decorated shed

We don’t have a cut flower bed per se, but we do have ornamental beds at the top of the plot next to the access road. There used to be raspberries in one part, but they have since been moved into the fruit cage. I planted leftover daffodil and tulip bulbs there, but with those over, I’ve let it go a bit more wild.  I’ve sprinkled in some wildflower seeds I got from Landlife Wildflowers,  so we’ll see what comes of that.

The other half has lots of lavender in it, along with some fennel and a rather massive comfrey plant. At one point, I think our resident allotment fox decided to make it into a bed and squashed the whole thing flat. I gave it a good chop and added it to the compost of course. It’s had the bonus of keeping the comfrey compact and leaving some space for more leftovers. I planted some stunning blue Allium azureum and firework-like Allium schubertii. Also a few Stipa arundinacea (aka ‘Pheasant’s Tail Grass’)  under the bee house. It’s a bit of a mish-mash, quite unlike my professional plantings, but I like them so much individually that they work just fine as a group.

Having the best of both worlds, in this case things that are both edible and beautiful, I also have a bed of sweet peas under planted with nasturtiums. I love the smell of sweet peas more than I can express and also the wonderful peppery taste of the nasturtium flowers in salads.

First sweet pea flower of the summer.

We also planted lots of sunflower seeds, sadly only a few have grown so far. I love the red ones best, but would happy for any to do well, as I’d like to leave them for the birds to eat.

I also have a good wander around the site regularily and see what’s blooming in other plots. There’s an empty plot near the front gates that is full of poppy blooms right now. We have a few that have shown up in our plot, but I’m not sure what colour they are yet. I love the purple ones best and noticed some growing wild by an old industrial building across the road from our house. I’ll collect some seeds when they ripen and add them to our patch.  If the veg growing goes bust, I may just convert the whole plot into an ornamental garden.

Just kidding…but only just.

Wild Poppies

Setbacks

So far I’ve been feeling rather pleased with how much progress we’ve made with the plot. From a mass of weeds, we’ve cleared and organised the plot amazingly. However, just to make sure I don’t start feeling too smug, there have been a few setbacks. Swings and roundabouts as they say.

I posted in mid-March about my Seed Anxiety, a worry that hasn’t really gone away and I imagine never really will. The sweet pea, nasturtium and sunflower seedlings I planted out have all succumbed to recent late frosts and hail storms. They had struggled on for a while but the torrential rain/hail in the last week may  have been the final blow. It was nearly the final blow for me as I got caught in it on Friday, which resulted in a rather soggy drive home.

The rain has also given the weeds and snails a lovely kickstart, which I think will need to be tackled today. I do have to admit though, when I made a quick visit yesterday to pick some more rhubarb, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be. Still, plenty to do nonetheless.

I also planted up my window box with lots of lovely herbs, but a naughty starling has discovered them recently. The little fecker has nearly annihilated my mint, one thyme and a sizeable chunk of my chives.  I caught the blighter early one morning as I was drinking some motivation (aka tea). I banged the window thinking that would be the end of it, but he’s been sighted more recently by my flatmate. Dawn raids seem to be the main tactic. I find it particularly irritating as we had a bird feeder out there for two years with no takers. Now that it’s gone, why suddenly start on my herbs!?

Thyme, Chives & Mint. @%$&%$!?!!

Mint. @^%#@^&^$!!

I’ve also noticed that my chilli and tomato seedlings, which started out really well, but seem to have “stalled” over the last couple of weeks. I’m assuming their growth naturally slows down as they get bigger, but any advice, input or reassurance from anyone would be very welcome.

Lovingly watched over by Sparkly!Jesus.

I suppose in the grand scheme of things these things aren’t all that bad, I’m fully aware there will be more to come. I pride myself in being a good problem solver, so I will directly plant out some more sweet pea, nasturtium and sunflower seeds. Hunt snails, weed and rake beds until my back hurts. Most of all, I’ll get up extra early and sit by the kitchen window boxes, armed with a sturdy broom.