Saturday, 28 March 2009

Rhubarb and grass seed

A cold day today, dry but windy, bursts of sun but a two fleece day. This morning we went up to some friends' house to collect a trailer full of manure - marvellous stuff, gold dust. We have nine bags of last year's collection rotted down to perfect richness. This morning's hoard is stacked in one of the compost bays. On land like this with thin, stony soil, manure is the magic transformational ingredient which produces sweet peas in abundance, green beans and mangetout, courgettes and squash.

We bought some new rhubarb in the autumn. We ordered some very cheaply with our bare rooted plants for the hedging from Buckingham Nurseries and also ordered a collection. The plants were all very small, some laughably so, in 3 in pots and looking totally unlike anything which would ever provide a crop. We heeled them in one of the raised beds while deciding what to do with them. The plan had been to put them into the new bed in the field with the new raspberries but they are so tiny, and we have so many seed potatoes clamouring for space, that we have potted them up today in pots of mixed soil and well rotted manure. We will let them put on some growth over this year in their pots before they go into their permanent home. Ultimately each of these crowns will need about three foot of space. Hard to believe.
They are:
3 Sutton, all of a decent size, one smaller than the others,
3 decent sized Victoria
2 small Victoria which came in 3 in pots and don't look much bigger for having spent three months in the ground
3 reasonable sized Timperley Early
1 mingy little Glasnevin Perpetual.

We also raked and riddled the bank in front of the workshop which now contains the soil from the spoil pile after the utility build. The ground breeds stone, it wells up like water in a spring. We have bags and bags of stone which we have removed. With luck this bank will take grass seed now and will soon be part of the field again. I also want to reseed the side garden.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009


Today on the way home from the station (last day at work yesterday!) I stopped to buy some sweetpea seeds. I bought Elegant Ladies, heritage varieties with good scent. As I came away I thought I did not have enough and had been thinking about buying some of Sarah Raven's seeds. At home a card was waiting from a lovely friend, welcoming me to my new workless life and enclosing a packet of Sarah Raven's Dark Colour Mix. Synchonicity writ large.

This afternoon I split each packet in two and put half of each packet into water to soak overnight. The other halves I sowed in three inch pots and put into the propagator. I have read contradictory things about the value of soaking sweet peas so I thought I would do a mini trial. Sweetpeas should germinate within seven to twenty one days so there is plenty of room for manoeuvre there!

Saturday, 21 March 2009

In the greenhouse

Much weeding today and discovering more things that did not survive the winter, this time one of my globe artichokes.
I have also sown beetroot in the greenhouse in guttering and two seedtrays, one of Little Gem and one of mixed salad leaves.
Ian built me another cold frame so now all the foxgloves, the tulips in pots and the eremurus are out of the greenhouse leaving more space for starting vegetables. Ian also sowed some tomatoes which are in the kitchen on the windowsill.

Friday, 20 March 2009

A packed afternoon

This is the time of year when it all starts again, that sense when you walk round the garden that there is so much to do and you could be out there all day.

This afternoon I sowed some sweetpeas in the greenhouse, split snowdrops for nearly three hours and began planting out the new bed in the side garden. I have so many white foxgloves that there are 12 out there already and loads still to put in. The soil is only about six or seven inches deep though, stony as always round here and laid on a bed of rock. Will my bed grow? I hope so. I have tried really hard to avoid the temptation to grow things I love which need moisture and rich soil and to focus on the kind of plants which I know thrive here. However this is my first attempt at making a bed which is in sun for the morning and then in shade for the rest of the day. Most of the beds here are in full sun and the oriental poppies, lavender and penstemons which thrive in them are not likely to be happy in half shade. The hellebores seem to be ok in the other bed so I have risked quite a number of other hybrids. I must remember that they should be fed after they have finished flowering and again in September. There are hardy geraniums and some more to move and put in. There are lots of self seeded alchemilla mollis in front of the house which I shall lift and move to the new bed.

Monday, 16 March 2009

The Side Garden

For the last eight months or so the side garden has been a building site as the old stone utility building has been rebuilt with its corner further away from the ancient yew tree. New drains had to be laid and the small lawn was dug up. We lifted a lot of plants from the main flower bed and kept them in old potting compost bags ready for replanting when the garden came back into its own.

It is still far from finished. The grass needs to be reseeded, paths need to be laid and a piece of trellis erected to hide the oil tank for the cottage. It is not currently a lovely spot. It is also not a piece of garden that will be easy to create: the soil is stony and thin, some of the garden gets sun for most of the day but some is in shade for a good while. In the winter the wind is funnelled past the house.

In its favour: the utility is a stone building under a slate roof and you enter the garden by walking under a really noble yew tree; one boundary is a ramshackle stone wall topped by a hornbeam hedge, one boundary is a tumbledown wall and one is a thick, properly disciplined Leyandii hedge. There is a glorious pink rhododendron which has singlehandedly cured me of my dislike of rhododendrons and a Viburnum bodnantense which is lovely but needs a bit of restorative pruning. Many plants just won't grow here at all but there are some already that will: oriental poppies, day lilies, hardy geraniums and crocosmia Lucifer and some daffodils. There are snowdrops along the bottom of the horbeam hedge and wall.

This makes it sound rather more prepossessing that it actually is. At the moment it looks bare, stone filled and totally unpromising.

I have made another big bed, quadrupling what was a narrow bed, perhaps four foot wide, which I dug out and treated with manure a couple of years ago. That strip has been fertile enough to support foxgloves and penstemons so my hope is that with a little cosseting with compost and watering in the first season and careful plant choice, I might be able to create something which will last and look beautiful from the kitchen window.

This is the new bed, at the end of February, to prove the unprepossessing point! The blue thing at the back is a small tree fern under its winter protection.

Plants to go in:

Euonymous Fortuneii Emerald and Gold (H 4 ft, S 5ft 6ins)

Snakes head Fritillaries (7)

Pulmonaria Blue Ensign

Pulmonaria Diana Clare (2)

Euphorbia martini (2)

5 Hellebore orientalis, 4 single, 1 double

another five white foxgloves

Sunday, 15 March 2009

The start of the year


I love snowdrops. We have only the common snowdrop here, galanthus nivalis. I planted five hundred bulbs the first spring we were here. They went nowhere, a tiny trickle of white, drips and drops and puddles when I saw rivulets and streams. In the following February of 2007 I planted another five hundred. This year there are more. For the first time they are bulking up and I intend to split them over the next couple of weeks and spread them further.

I read with interest on VP's gardening blog that she counts her snowdrops so I intend to do a count this year and will put it on here. The side of the drive on the other side of the wall from the compost heaps needs snowdrops so some must go there. The side garden snowdrops also need splitting so that more snowdrops are further away from the wall. A count today (18/03/09) shows 730 snowdrops. This suggests that not everything I planted has taken but what is there now is looking settled and happy.


We have very few crocuses. This is a reminder of where to put some more in come the autumn. I walked with Emma in the Oxford Botanical Gardens on the 6th March and there were pools of glorious pale creams and lilacs as well as the dark purple which we have already. This spot by the lower gate would be perfect for more.