Tag Archives: Sweet Peas

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.”

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Tempus Fugit

Time management is usually one of my better skills. The greatest exception seems to be when I set foot on the allotment. I often pop in on my way home from work to do some “quick” weeding. Three hours later, Scott is phoning me, wanting to know when I might be coming home.

I’ve taken to limiting my time by only allowing myself only one or two tasks at a time. If I am weeding I keep my time there in check by allowing myself one bucket load of weeds. If I have more time available, then one wheelbarrow load. Sticking to this proves difficult occasionally, as I often start the “just one more bed” technique.

Early morning start

I did recently allow myself a day without any time restriction. I packed a lunch and headed over to the plot at 7am. I’m quite used to early starts, as I often have to head to the New Covent Garden Flower Market in the wee hours before work. It was glorious, just me, some playful fox cubs and the mist. By the time people started to arrive, the temperature really began to rise, so I just took it easy and dead headed the sweet peas instead.

The TO DO list

I do have a touch of the OCD when it comes to organisation, as can be seen by the To Do whiteboard we have hanging up in the shed. A bit hard to see in the above photo, but the paper tacked on the cork board is our Veg Map to remind us of what variety is planted where. Sowing and planting dates also included…

It may seem a bit much, but it is interesting to see just how quick and slow some things are coming along. Timing really is everything when it comes to veg growing. My parents are flying over from Canada in early September and I really want the plot to be in peak production when they get here. I find myself urging the sweetcorn to hurry up and attempting to cajole the French beans to slow down a bit!

Grand harvest!

I’m amazed at how much we’ve done in less than a year and I’m looking forward to showing it to my parents in person. It’s been a mere nine months, we’re still very much on the steep learning curve and I’m already think of how to better use the plot next year. Getting things started earlier definitely has got to be part of that. Also, get myself a much bigger weeding bucket.

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.

Hampton Court Flower Show Shopping

I always swear to myself that I will never purchase things at flower shows. I know that it’s almost always possible to get the same stuff; whether it’s plants, tools or decorative doo-dads, at much cheaper prices elsewhere. I did first break this rule at Chelsea Flower Show this year by buying a couple of hand tools from Burgon and Ball. Okay fine, it was several hand tools, but they’re sooo nice.

Scott and I had a lovely time at Hampton Court Flower Show today and utterly abandonded my “no buying things at flower shows” rule. Well, we certainly spent far too much money. I have managed to justify all of it, of course. I love the Hampton Court show, it has a great variety of things there, isn’t wall-to-wall with people like the Chelsea show and has lots of Grow Your Own stuff (hence the purchases). I also have a special love of the Palace, as I spent a year there doing my landscape design diploma, and wish I was still going there twice a week now.

Hampton Court goodies.

I bought some seeds, two of carrots to fill in the bed when the early potatoes come out and some more French Beans to fill in where the cucumbers were going to be. The peas are struggling terribly and may need filling in as well. Also, I love French beans and welcome any possible “glut” I may create with planting these.

I also got four cucumber plants and two Jalapeño plants to replace those lost in The Great Plant Die Off of June 2012. I easily justified the purchase of these, as I’ve been hunting for a supplier of veggie plants with absolutely no luck. So many suppliers are completely sold out, I guess I wasn’t the only one to suffer big losses this year…

We have been having great success with the Lautrec Wight garlic we planted in January, so the display from The Garlic Farm was irresistible. I got four seed garlic bulbs, their Softneck Pack which includes Solent Wight, Iberian Wight, Early Purple Wight and Albignesian. I’m looking forward to planting them up later this summer for a vampire-free year next year.

Don’t be fooled by its small size, that garlic will blow your head off.

I also loved the display from Eagle Sweet Peas, I’ve bookmarked their website and plan to order some seeds from them for next year. Our own sweet peas have been growing like crazy, despite the wet weather, and I’ve been picking them as often as I can to prolong the flowering. This has lead to virtually every room in our flat smelling of sweet peas, which is utterly divine.

Eagle Sweet Peas

Masses of sweet peas!

I’ve come home with lots of excitement and enthusiasm for what to do next year. Even though the weather has been rubbish so far, I’m hoping next year will be better and I can crack on with all the things I want to do. Even if my wallet won’t thank me for it.

 

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.

Seed Anxiety…

…we all get it. What to start, when to start, where to start and how long until we plant it out. No matter how much reading you do, it seems, rather annoyingly, that the only way to really learn is through trial and error. Lots and lots of error.

I’ve seen a slew of posts recently from other bloggers reporting their success and even failures when it comes to starting seeds. I envy those that are lucky enough to have a greenhouse or a polytunnnel in which to start their seeds. At the moment all I have at my disposal is the spare room and a bit of space on the kitchen table. The spare room is unheated, I’m planning to start most things there, with the chillies, tomatoes and peppers started in the kitchen.

I made the mistake of getting impatient and turned the heat on in the spare room for two days. Whoops! The sunflower seedlings shot right up to the moon and are looking dangerously leggy. Everything else, to the best of my knowledge, looks okay but may soon follow suit.

The chillies are doing nothing so far. I’m thinking it’s not warm enough for them, but now I’m worried that they’ve rotted sitting in moist compost for the last week. So for now I hover over the trays, wringing my hands, hoping they’ll make an appearance soon.

Hello? Anyone growing?

I also keep wondering what is going on with the weather. Last year in Southern England it was 30°C in April. On Thursday I was working in a t-shirt and driving with the windows rolled down. Friday, I was wearing a lined jacket and a scarf… In desperation, I even tried to find a Farmers’ Almanac online to consult. The best I found for March 2012 was, “a  mix of weather types.” Very helpful, not.

This morning I looked at my floppy sunflowers and decided to take a chance and plant them out. I did the same with my sweet pea seedlings, which went out with some sweet pea plants I had to plant anyway. I figure if worst comes to worst, I can always sow some seeds outdoors later if needed. So I’ve set them loose to manage without my constant, erm, pampering.

Sweet pea Tee-pee.

This morning we met our new plot neighbour Tom, who confessed to being a complete amateur. I confessed to being a professional gardener, to which he immediately started requesting advice. I offered up suggestions for transplanting shrubs and tips on watering. He then asked me if it was okay to plant out his broad bean seedlings…I laughed and told him he was suffering classic seed anxiety, he just looked confused.

Edit 23/03/2012:  YAY!

Hello!