Wednesday, February 29

Kathleen's arrived at last!

Some of you with good memories may have guessed who Kathleen is or maybe I should say what she is!

I've been scouring the flower bed in front on the house for signs of her as I thought that would be where she would first show her face but so far she has only managed to push her nose through the soil like this.
Then yesterday I was wandering round the garden checking out what was growing and what was still keeping me guessing when I couldn't help but spot her in all her glory in the border under the crab apple tree. She was nestling in a little dip where I am guessing that a blackbird scraped away soil during a foraging expedition. So let me introduce a fairly new addition to our garden family - Kathleen Hodgkins ...

We first saw her at Dunham Massey in their winter garden. They had large swathes of her nestling amongst a carpet of dried leaves.
We decided that we would like to give her a home in our garden too and never having seen her for sale in the garden centres we sent off for a pack. Of course suddenly she made an appearance in one of our local nurseries whilst we waited for our order to arrive. When the order did arrive we worried that we would be late planting and since then have waited somewhat impatiently for some sign that she had settled in. So it was with some excitement that I spotted the first flower. 

The three lower 'petals' are not really petals at all but sepals - the bit that protects the developing bud. If you look a first photo you can see the stripes on the sepals that will develop into this.
The markings are honeyguides which the bees and other insects use to guide them to where the nectar is stored just like the lights on an airport landing strip. The sepals are called falls and also provide a flat landing platform for insects.

The three upright petals are called standards and are the true petals. 

I spotted another flower just starting to open so I hope soon Kathleen will put on a good show which fingers crossed should get better each year!
I had heard that mini irises didn't reliably flower after first being planted and that Kathleen Hodgkins was the most reliable but having seen Mark's irises at Marks Veg Plot maybe they aren't as difficult as I thought.

Anyone else out there growing mini irises if so do you have any recommendations that I could add to our collection?

Don't forget to enter the competition and also vote in the poll

Monday, February 27

Indoor gardening Tasks

I have a couple of hibiscus house plants that live on my windowsill which if left to their own devices would grow into large shrubs. Like most of our house plants in warmer climates they would be garden plants. 

Malar at My Little Garden in Malaysia often features plants in her garden that we would buy to keep indoors - I know she has hibiscus in her garden and so will probably smile at me having a couple inside the house.

I've had my two hibiscus for several years now - one has red flowers and the other orange ones.
The flowers are huge but very variable - sometimes single, sometimes double, sometimes a pastel colour and at other time a more intense colour. The red one on the left often has pink flowers and the salmon one on the right often has deep orange flowers. The plants are never exactly covered in flower but they have a few flowers throughout the year.

At the moment some of the leaves are turning yellow and starting to drop off so I took this as an opportunity to do some pruning! This keeps the plants bushy and also means they don't grow too large for the windowsill. I must admit when I first did this it was with some trepidation!

So here's the red plant before and after:
You may just be able to pick out the cyclamen that I grew from seed this year that are still flowering.

And here is the orange one before and after:
Now all I need to do is refresh the compost. This does mean also removing some of the fibrous roots which fill the pot. Really the plants would love a larger pot but if I let them have their way they will grow too large for the windowsill.

As it won't have lots of compost I think I'll add a slow release fertiliser and some water retentive granules.

Don't forget to enter the competition and also vote in the poll

Saturday, February 25

Things are on the move

At the side of our house is a large magnolia tree that casts lots of shade once it is fully in leaf. The magnolia is laden with bird feeding devices and as this is really close to the house we can enjoy watching the birds throughout winter at close quarters.

We have made this area into a spring garden so that all the plants can 'do' their flowering whist there is plenty of light. Again being close to the house, at this time of year, we are treated to a beautiful spring display whilst still being warm inside the house. Seeing everything burst into flower is something I always look forward to.

This week this area has just about reached it's peak. The snowdrops have opened and the hellebores are still in flower. (If you read Martyn's blog you will see that he stole my photo before I got a chance to use it!)
Another bonus is that the flowers are lifted up nearer to eye level as this bit of garden is held back by 2' (600mm) wall. It's the area behind the lower wall in the photo below. By the way the photo was taken last year as the large daffodils aren't as far forward as they are below.
This also helps when taking close-ups of the snowdrops.
The hellebore orientalis have been doing their thing for quite a while now. Janet at Plantilicious commented about how the hellebore flowers shyly hide their beauty. It is really difficult to get a close-up of the faces of the flowers so excuse my fingers on the following photo.
Their cousin hellebore niger on the other hand holds up its flowers saying look at me!
In the first photo there is a large shrub hiding behind a pink hellebore. From ground level you don't really appreciate it. It's a mahonia and it is covered with lovely yellow flowers at the moment which if you get close enough have a delicate perfume.
This evergreen shrub is a favourite hiding place for our feathered visitors so I am really surprised that it has so many flowers. Some birds often look as though they are pecking at the flower buds and with a pair of our visitors having the reputation of striping flower buds from fruit trees I am surprised that it has so many flowers.
Next to the spring 'garden' on the higher bit of ground is one of our bird baths so I've really imaginatively labelled it as the bird bath bed. I've planted lots of spring bulbs around the bird bath as again it is enjoyed from a house window.

This bed is only beginning it's performance with one or two tete a tete miniature daffodils opening.
I'm sure there should be some crocuses in this bed but they don't seem to be putting in an appearance!

Thursday, February 23

Market Research- I've turned off word verification!

Just a very quick question.

Blogger has taken upon itself to change the word verification utility used to filter out non-human commenters. Many have complained about this as the new system is very difficult to read. It may be a coincidence but since all the complaints Blogger has changed this slightly!

It could be another coincidence but since the new system was implemented there have been far less comments on my posts.

We have three options:
  1. Continue to use word verification
  2. Turn it off and just delete any spam comments - this has caused problems in the past as any comments getting past the spam filter have been sent on  to anyone subscribing by email to comments.
  3. Moderating all comments - which means comments don't appear until the blog owner accepts them.
Please add your vote in my poll and add a comment if you wish to say more!
If you have a Blogger account you can also add your view to the Blogger help forum here Maybe just maybe we can make them change back!

In the meantime I'm switching to moderating comments!

If you can't find how to turn it off it could be you are in the new 'improved' interface which I tried and hated! So...

  • Switch to the old interface
  • Go to Settings
  • Click the Comments tab
  • Near the bottom is  Show word verification for comments? Click the No radio button
  • To moderate go to the option above and choose when you want to moderate and type in an email address where moderation notices are to be sent. You can moderate directly from the email without visiting your blog.
Looking at the results of the poll so far it looks as though Captcha is a bad step for Blogger - implementing a code to cut down on spam which no-one wants to use - are they going to force us to use if when they eventually dispose of the old interface?

Wednesday, February 22

Tidying up

Tuesday's weather was just what I had been waiting for in order to spend a bit of time tidying our front flower bed. 

The bulbs that I planted last autumn were coming up but some were hidden behind what remained of last year's perennial growth. I hadn't wanted to cut this back too early on the grounds that the top growth was likely to give a bit of protection against frosts but I couldn't really leave this any longer unless I wanted to hide the bulbs. There were also lots of dry leaves to clear away that had blown into our corner over autumn and winter.
Happily there were signs that quite a lot of the perennials planted last year were still alive but the jury is still out on some plants.

The bulbs are springing up with the crocuses being the first to flower. I planted a bag of mixed and it seems that all the colours featured on the photograph have made an appearance. Hopefully these will multiply to gradually put on a better show each year - that is if I can avoid digging them up when they die down leaving no trace. I may even add some more this year.
Along with the crocuses, I planted several varieties of miniature daffodils and species tulips which are shooting up, but as yet are not showing any signs of flowering. 

I also planted some Kathleen Hodgkins irises which are only just showing the tips of shoots. I was disappointed that they seemed to be so slow, but looking back at the photographs I took when I first saw them at Dunham Massey, it seems that my memory was playing tricks as our visit there was in early March so I guess they still have time to perform!

Now I'm looking forward to my first sight of the rest of the flowers although what appeared to be masses of bulbs when I planted them now seems nothing like enough!

Sunday, February 19

Win a Vegetable Seeds Field Guide

You may remember that back in October I wrote a review of The Pictorial Guide to seeds of the World by Terry Woodger

Well Terry has now produced a series of five field guides:
Each field guide focuses on one of five groups of seeds - vegetables, fruit, herbs and spices, garden flowers and trees, shrubs and vines and is basically an abridged version of the book I reviewed previously

Like their big brother each contains information on collecting, cleaning and storing seeds and each guide has 100 or more colour, scaled photographs just like the ones in the larger book.

If you read the main review then basically the same applies to the smaller field guides so I don't want to go over the same ground and repeat myself here.

So why am I mentioning these guides - well, Terry has sent me a set of the five guides which I have decided to offer as prizes in five different competitions. I'm going to start with the Vegetable guide as I think that will be the one that will most appeal to most of my blog visitors.

Each of the field guides is available on Amazon at at cost of £19.95 so these are prizes well worth having.

I'm going to run each of the competitions on both this and The School Vegetable Patch blog and each competition will focus on the group of seeds featured in the prize guide.

So what do you have to do?
Look at the edited pictures of vegetables and try and identify each one. Although they may not all be technically vegetables we use them all as vegetables. The photo may be of any part of the vegetables not always the part that we eat. The closing date for the competition is 31 March 2012 The winner will be chosen at random from the list of those who get all the answers correct. In the unlikely event that no-one gets all the answers right the ones with the most correct answers will go into the 'hat'! You may only enter once!
Don't post your answers in the comments area as if you do everyone will see them, I've set up an entry form here
The form is a Google document so may only work if you use Google Chrome as your browser - I wish these browser developers would get their act together instead of trying to thwart each other!

To enter the competition click here

The competition form is a bit of an experiment and so to make sure that your entry has registered can you leave a comment on this post to tell me you have sent in an entry so I can check that it has worked - don't want you to miss out!

Friday, February 17

Most things have survived

We've been to the plot a few times this week. Martyn has written about his activities on his blog most of which have involved a sledgehammer that I can hardly managed to pick up.

I took time out from battling with tenacious thorns to access the state of the various plants that had been left in the ground overwinter and for the most part things looked good.

You may remember that we sowed some peas last autumn as an experiment. The idea was just to see if they could make it through the winter unprotected. Using cloches on our site over winter isn't really an option as when the wind blows it doesn't take prisoners. There is still one shed close to us that is on its side having being blown over in the strong winds. So how did the peas fare - well they managed to stay happy until the last frosts but they now look like this.
Not a completely unexpected outcome but it was worth a try!

The onions and garlic in the next bed are somewhat battered but still look fine despite the ground in which they are planted being very wet and soggy.

It looks as though we should still have a few cabbages to harvest too - although sometimes appearances can be deceptive with what looks to be perfect cabbages not as perfect when cut through - even ones that feel fairly firm can be a soggy mess inside. 

The parsnips have started to regrow but are still absolutely fine to eat. They won't remain so for long so we are considering freezing some. As the roots are now sprouting it seems it may be a good time to remind you to keep arms et.c covered when you are pulling up old parsnips as the sap can cause very bad burns especially if there is a little sunshine.

The beetroot don't look as healthy - we expected to be digging mush from that bed but we can't complain as we have had a good harvest from them.

We still have plenty of leeks that look healthy - we could turn some into soup or has anyone frozen leeks?
Another bit of vegetable news which may be of interest is that I have won a prize with a potato! I have to confess that it wasn't even my potato - it was grown by a plot neighbour. You may think it's an odd time of year to be entering a competition featuring a potato but for this particular potato it was exactly the right time of year. It starred in a Valentine's card design that I entered and it managed to net me second prize. If I've sparked your curiosity the card is in this post on one of my other blogs

Tuesday, February 14

Let battle commence

This afternoon we decided that we really did need to get on with some jobs on the plot. It wasn't raining and the temperature had risen a little from perishingly cold to just cold so we really didn't have any excuse not to go and get stuck in. Never mind flying visits to collect vegetables we needed to do some work.

Martyn decided that he was going to finish off our raspberry support - last year we just let the canes trail as we didn't get round to constructing anything to support them. It wasn't an ideal set up so this year our end of season evaluation was that we had to do better this season. The supporting posts had been in place since before the freezing weather set in but we hadn't managed to attach the wires needed to tie in the canes.

This was Martyn's job for this afternoon. I had given him the benefit of my 'expert' opinion that it would be a good idea for the wires to go through the posts rather than be attached to them. To my surprise he thought that was a good idea and so he did just that.
The canes still need tying in and there is another similar support system to be done at the other end of the plot but on the whole - a job well done.

As for me - well I drew the short straw - for some reason which I can't remember I'm the official blackberry pruner. A job that I take on with a fair amount of trepidation each year. Now this blackberry is a beast. I'm not sure which variety it is as the root was given to us when we first took on our plot, about twenty plus years ago,  by one of the long time plotters. It was one of the first signs that we had been accepted into the plotting fraternity - a privilege not to be sniffed at. Since then it has produced a bumper crop year after year without fail. (Now why did I tempt fate by saying that)?

For those of you who keep telling me that our plot looks neat and tidy - stand by to be shocked as this is what it looked like before I started.
It's not a pretty sight is it? The secret of survival when pruning blackberries is to wear the right sort of clothing and tackle the problem bit by bit. The right clothes means a fleece rather than anything woollen and some strong gloves. Even then the thorns find a way to entangle you in several rather aggressive embraces. In the end I managed to cut out all the canes that had fruited last year and any thin straggy canes. I also cut short any that were making a bid for plot domination.

Now things look like this. 
Really the photo was more to show how much debris, (to be burned later before every bit roots), I created but you may be able to make out the blackberry in the background. 

When I first started pruning the blackberry and its cousin the tayberry, each year I thought that I had overdone things as what was left looked very sparse but it's amazing how much growth the remaining canes will make over the season.

The canes like the raspberries still need tying in but at this stage we were both frozen so we called it a day and headed back to the warmth of home with the feeling that at least we had made a start to our gardening year.

Saturday, February 11

Guess what I've been up to this winter!

You probably won't remember - why should you? but I had to move my websites about 18 months ago. I posted about it here 

It was all due to BT changing their web management system and leaving me high and dry. I moved to a Microsoft system which I thought would be a safe move. How wrong could I be - at the end of last year they announced that they too were going to change their system and if I wanted to remain with them it would mean manually moving all my website.

Well twice bitten I decided that if I had to manually reconstruct the 285 pages of My Our Plot at Green Lane website and the 64 pages of The School Vegetable Patch website, I was going to move to a system over which I had greater control.

Over winter seemed a good time for the move rather than to see what happened when Microsoft changed their system in April.

Now copies of my websites sit on my computer, rather than floating in the ether of the www monster, so if I have to move again at least it won't be a rewriting/redesigning job! In the end I'm pleased that I have moved everything (well almost) as the web management system did have limitations and the move has meant I have been able to also make some improvements.
My Our Plot at Green Lane Allotments site has moved to here
and The School Vegetable Patch site is now here

I still have some tweaking to do and I also have to release my domain from Microsoft to use for the allotments site (fortunately the link above will still work when I do) and the mega task of updating links from my blogs to the new location.

Oh and contacting those I know who have links from their sites to let them know of the change! If you have a link I'd be really grateful if you could change the appropriate bits. I know I am frustrated by dead links especially for somewhere that I have regularly visited in the past.

If you get chance to pay one of my sites a visit and you find a mistake or a dead link please let me know - you can be my unofficial proof readers!

I'm hoping it's third time lucky and I won't have to do all this yet again at some later date!

Wednesday, February 8

Welcome White Stuff

I must confess that I am not a snow lover but some white stuff is more than welcome in the garden.

Yesterday Martyn posted about the snowdrops which are almost ready to burst into flower under the magnolia tree. Despite last year's freezing winter and this year's relatively mild start to winter their flower clock is keeping good time. From previous photos, we noted that the snowdrops are at exactly the same stage as they were last year - give or take the odd day!

I love it when the first snowdrops are visible - it's a symbolic sticking out of the tongue to winter!

Yesterday we didn't see much sunshine but for the short while that we did the hellebore nigers (or should that be hellebores niger?) on our designated blue and white border just shone!
Being hidden under a layer of snow doesn't seem to have done them too much damage!

This one smiled up at me but the other plant was a little sulky and had turned its faces away from me towards the fence! It obviously didn't like the snow either!

On another note:
I had an email from Stafford Sports College asking for support with a planned memorial garden. Too far away from me but if anyone is near and would like to offer help then read my post here

Saturday, February 4

WARNING - Garden Centres are dangerous places

We decided to pop to one of our local garden centres for lunch on Tuesday - nothing special we just fancied a day off cooking. Things started well - we have a members' card that entitles us to a free meal every so often and free coffees each month and even better 10% of all our purchases. At £10 for a year's membership it's good value - we break even on just the coffee part.

Our orders were taken and we queued up at the till to pay only to be asked - have you had this month's free meal? We hadn't noticed we were entitled to one so that was a good start. The meals were tasty too I had mushroom stroganoff and Martyn had a chicken pie. Nothing too dangerous there!

To be honest we chose the garden centre as our lunch venue for a reason, we thought we would browse the potatoes and onions. The potatoes for - well just to see if they had anything interesting - and the onions - well having had so many rot on us this year we were a bit worried that we hadn't ordered enough sets!

Now for the danger - well not actual personal danger - more wallet danger! They had an abundance of potato and onion varieties! In the end we limited ourselves to three packs of potatoes (they only had 10 tubers in each after all). We bought Casablanca - a first early, Vales Emerald also first early and described as having good disease tolerance and Marilyn described as having a superb flavour.
Then the onions. I quite fancied trying a white variety called Snowball which was described as storing well which has been an issue this year. We have tried white onions before with limited success and so we thought we'd better try another variety too so we chose Setton which also was described as storing well.

That should have been the end but we decided we'd get a packet of early peas to grow as pea shoots. We chose Twinkle. The trouble is that took us to the seeds bit where I decided I needed some small leaved basil. There were two varieties to choose from - oh dear - I ended up with both Basil Bush ( not Basil Brush) and Aristotle. I was very good though and only slightly tempted to buy a bronze leaved variety too.

Meanwhile Martyn had added a packet of microgreens - broccoli and some French salad leaves to the basket. We've enjoyed our fresh salad leaves over winter using up old lettuce seed so this was to add to the range!

I didn't mention that to reach the cafe you have to pass through the whole of the inside of the garden centre - they're not daft are they! Well en route we passed some oven gloves - creamy coloured - just the colour I had been looking for and hadn't yet found. Did we buy a set? Well yes and no - we bought two!
One with not exactly a realistic bird design and the other ...
 not an exactly realistic chicken design!

It was just as well we didn't browse outside but still we did get 10% discount on all off this so we did save money - didn't we?

Thursday, February 2

In a quandary

You may remember the border that I just wanted to add a focal point to, the one that in the end turned into a total dig up and change job. I posted the latest about it here

Well the time has come to consider what plants I want to order to plant it up! Hence the quandary. I want to plant it up with a blue and white theme - it's the first time I've actually restricted myself to two colours and in many ways it's a good job I have.

You may remember last year I discovered Beth Chatto Nurseries and was impressed . Well I decided to have a first look through what the nursery had to offer. I decided to search first for white flowering plants and then blue ones - and I've ended up with a list - a long list - a far too long list - both in terms of space and cost!

At the moment I have planted a couple of Helleborus Niger, Brunnera Jack Frost, Pulmonaria - Diana Clare, Omphalodes - Cherry Ingram, Lamium - White Nancy,  a tall white phlox given to me by a friend - variety unknown,  Acer Palmatum - Osakazuki, hydrangea quercifolia and Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Nigrescens' (I know it's not white or blue but I thought it would look good at the base of the white bird bath and I had lots of it in the garden). In amongst the OPN I've planted some dwarf irises - Kathleen Hodgkins which I'm a bit worried about as they should be very early and there are no signs of them pushing up through the soil yet!
I have a cutting of the lamium to add to the left of the bird bath too to balance this up.

There were already a couple of bamboos planted which have been severely pruned and will need to be kept in check but for now they add a bit of height. There are also three asplenium ferns.
The choisya that we also severely pruned is shooting so it looks as though that has survived too.
You may also remember that I planted five clematis up the fence which I am desperate to see signs of life from.

Originally This border would have been classed as shady - that was until Martyn armed with pruning saw and loppers waged war on the overhanging crab apple tree and the large camellia at the far left of the border.

So that's the situation so far and now the quandary. This is my first list of candidates for planting:
Campanula glomerata 'Joan Elliott'
Epimedium x youngianum 'Niveum'
Erythronium californicum 'White Beauty' Erythronium dens-canis 'Snowflake'  
Gaura lindheimeri
Geranium clarkei 'Kashmir White'
Malva moschata f. alba
Papaver orientale 'Black and White'
Physostegia virginiana 'Summer Snow'
Pulmonaria saccharata 'Alba'
Dictamnus albus
Omphalodes verna 'Alba'
Gypsophila paninculata 'Bristol Fairy'
Brunnera macrophylla 'Betty Bowring'
Leucanthemum 'Becky'
Leucanthemum 'Snowcap' 
Thalictrum pubescens 

Malva mochata f. alba
Hesperantha f alba (schizostylus)
Geranimum sylvaticum 'Album'
Camassia leichtlinii 'Alba'

Anemone x hybrida 'Whirlwind'
Aconitum carmichaelii 'Arendsii'
Baptisia australis
Campanula glomerata 'Joan Elliott'
Catananche caerulea
Geranium 'Johnson's Blue'
Platycodon grandiflorus
Sisyrinchium idahoense
Ipheion uniflorum 'Wisley Blue' 
Omphalodes - Starry Eyes
Camassia leichtlinii 'Caerulea
Anemone nemorosa 'Robinsoniana'

So now do you see the problem? - I haven't really got down to researching the plants properly these just took my fancy initially.

Now here's where you come in. If you have any experience of any of these plants and either think they are great or not to be touched with a barge pole please tell me and maybe I can cut down the list a little - well OK (Martyn may be reading this) a lot!