Category Archives: gardening

Pottering with Pansies

White jug of multi-coloured pansies

I find pansies are such cheerful flowers as they can give us a dash of garden colour in most months of the year. This pot of pensive beauties were part of a project a while back.

I also love the smaller, old fashioned ‘Johnny-jump-up’ violas that retain their wild pansy charm.

Johnny-jump-up violas flowering in rustic basket planter
The Johnny-jump-up Violas in their rustic basket planter on my yard wall

With this is mind, this year, pansies have been my first seed sowings of the year. The first ones to go in were the Swiss Giants Mixed – they’re the ones with smiling faces πŸ˜‰

Sowing Wilko pansy seeds
Sowing my Swiss Giants Mixed Pansies in coir compost

I sowed these seeds two weeks ago and the seedlings are now pushing through in earnest.

Sowing Wilko pansy seeds
Swiss Giants Pansy seedlings and sowing seeds for Clear Crystal Mixed

Today, I’ve sown a second set of pansies. These ones are the single colour type with a yellow eye, Clear Crystal Mixed.

I’ve sown my seeds in coir compost again, as I did last year. I’ll do another post to show you this useful addition to my gardening kit, but if you’ve not seen this type of compost before, here is a quick preview of how it starts out –

Using Wilko lightweight multi-purpose compost - 100% coco coir
Using Wilko lightweight multi-purpose compost – 100% coco coir

These lightweight blocks of compressed coir from Wilko are really handy for me to carry home on the bus. In the above image, we are sawing off some smaller blocks to make up into the growing medium.

Now I’ll be watching for today’s pansy seeds to put in an appearance, but I’m sure there’ll be lots more seed sowing going on in the coming weeks. Spring is coming …

Peggy

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Flowers for Friday

Dianthus - pinks in different shades

This week I’ve chosen Dianthus for my Flowers for Friday, or Pinks as I usually call them.

I grew these flowers in my yard a couple of years ago. I remember it was a hot, dry summer and everything was looking parched and bedraggled. Daily rounds with the watering can were to no avail. But then after a week of August rain, all of my yard flowers produced another flourish of blooms just before Autumn.

I do love nature’s way of gifting us in our gardening endeavours, especially when we are beginning to feel that the efforts we have put in have been in vain.

Peggy

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Flowers for Friday

I love flowers. For me, flowers give so much, from the anticipation when sowing their tiny seeds to enjoying the beauty and scents of their full grown blooms. Then, there are some flowers that become so much a part of life, they are practically part of the family.

Christmas Cactus in bloom
Christmas Cactus

My fondness for the plant I know as the Christmas cactus spans several decades. From early Autumn, I begin watching out for the beginnings of tiny buds forming on its shiny dark green leaves. Gradually the buds fill out and then, usually just before Christmas, the bright fuschia pink flowers burst open.

I remember my very first Christmas cactus. It comprised of just two green leaves. I’d bought it from the plant stall at the church Christmas fair. I was an eight year old Brownie and the plant cost me 10 pence.

There were no flowers for a few years, but slowly, year by year, my two leaves grew into the fuschia flowering plant I now know so well.

My cactus plant has met a few mishaps along the way. Bits of it snapped off when it fell off the fridge in the first apartment my husband and I lived in. Bits of it “snapped off somehow” at the hands of our children too – it usually involved footballs or light sabers πŸ˜‰

Many of these broken off pieces of cactus plant were then divided up into smaller cuttings and planted into potting compost in a small pot. Quite a few cuttings later is the plant you see in my photo.

I have several of these cactus plants, all grown from cuttings … that would have been taken from plants that themselves had started out as cuttings …

Some of my cuttings have developed into the most splendid specimens, about 2 feet across (that’s about 60cm), just like the original plant that fell off the fridge years ago.

Some plants are really so generous and can be so easily raised from cuttings from mature plants. For me, the Christmas cactus has always been one of those.

Peggy

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Eleven-peas-in-a-pod

Pea wars and tech woes

I’ve been missing from the virtual world this week. I’ve been fighting a battle – well, two, actually. Though, the second one required me to call up the cavalry.

Did you see my beautiful fresh garden peas on my Wordless Wednesday post last week? This is the image here if you missed it.

First Champion of England Pea Pod 2016

I’ve been carefully watching the pea pods gradually plumping up and this was my ‘test pod’, to check if my tall garden peas had fully grown and were ready to pick. A pod-full of bright green, sweet, juicy peas – just right and just ripe for picking. There were quite a few pods at this stage now, so I was looking forward to my first Champion of England tall pea harvest.

The next morning, I went off to pick my peas. But OH NO! Horror! My beautifully ripe pods of peas had already been picked! Well, not as much ‘picked’ as pecked!

Damaged pea pod - pecked by birds
One of the damaged pea pods – pecked open by birds

This was the sorry sight that met my eyes on my tall pea frame. Lots of ripe peas ripped away. Some of the pea plants were mangled too – evidently visited by a stampede of starving birds.

My battle with the pea-eating birds has been ongoing this week, attack and counter-attack … them against me – me against them. Though I must say they have been very sneaky … or, from their point of view, very careful and clever! I’ve still never actually caught them in the act of pea-munching … but I do now have a reliable witness who has seen them both picking the peas and then picnicking happily on the shed roof πŸ˜‰

I was initially inclined to blame the local population of jackdaws, as I’ve previously encountered them pea pinching. But then I began to think the amount of damage there’d been to the pea plants, this must be the work of heavier birds. I then believed the wood pigeons must be responsible. However, the witness for the prosecution was quite certain – definitely the jackdaws, and very persistent they have been too!

Tall peas covered in netting and fleece
The first line of defence – garden netting and fleece on the pea plants

The first of my counter-offensives saw me covering the whole of the tall pea frame and the growing pea plants with a combination of garden netting and fleece (in the pouring rain, of course!). Did this work? No, not good enough!

Next, I added willow hoops to hold the netting away from the pea plants. Still not good enough! I then added unstable hazel twigs on the outside of the willow hoops and the netting. Promising at first, but still not completely effective.

Now, hopefully, I have added the final layer of defence – chicken wire! With each additional layer of defence, it’s certainly becoming more difficult to pick the peas … not only for the jackdaws, but also for me!

Protecting pea plants
Three layers of defence – protecting peas from the birds

My other battle this week has been against a machine … my desktop computer to be precise. At the end of last week, I’d carefully prepared to upgrade my computer’s operating system. Early in the morning that Saturday, I hit the upgrade button.

For the first two hours everything went smoothly. I was completely in control. Then, boxes began to appear. The boxes said things like, “failed” and “cannot complete the upgrade”. Before I’d managed to digest the first message, succeeding ones appeared much too quickly. UGH!

There was nothing else for it, I’d have to call in my tech team. “Are you busy, dears? I’m afraid something’s gone wrong,” I called up the stairs.

My children came to the rescue. My carefully planned upgrade was now in tatters. I don’t consider myself entirely useless with computer software but my two teenage sons are invaluable when things do go wrong. Rather like my ‘pea wars’ against the jackdaws, we devised a battle plan against the computer.

Gradually, over the course of the week, I am glad to report that not only have I managed to repel the maurauding jackdaws, but we have also managed to win out against the computer’s persistent attempts to thwart us πŸ˜‰

Hopefully, peace and tranquility have now been restored so I can get back to my blogging … πŸ˜€

J Peggy Taylor

Home-grown-potatoes

Home-grown Potatoes

One of the special moments in the gardening year is digging down into the earth to harvest your very first batch of first early potatoes of the season.

In the shops, these early potatoes are known as ‘New Potatoes’ … but there is nothing like the the taste of delicious earthy tubers you have lovingly raised yourself.

‘First Early’ potatoes are simply the type that are normally planted earliest in the year and are therefore ready to harvest first. The ‘First Early’ potatoes I chose to plant this year are the Pentland Javelin variety.

Back in the cold days of January, I took delivery of my Pentland Javelin ‘seed’ potatoes and set them up on cardboard egg boxes to ‘chit’. ‘Chitting’ potatoes means leaving them in a light, frost-free place to start sprouting little shoots from the potato ‘eyes’.

01Pentland Javelins chitting in greenhouse
My Pentland Javelin seed potatoes chitting in the greenhouse

Here in the northern UK, we would often expect to be planting out our first early potatoes during March. But with our cold Spring, this wasn’t possible this year. My Pentland Javelins sat patiently in the greenhouse until 11th April before I felt the Winter had sufficiently turned to Spring to risk planting out my first earlies.

Planting potatoes on comfrey leaf beds
Planting potatoes on beds of fresh comfrey leaves

Each seed potato is set into its own little planting hole on a bed of fresh green Comfrey leaves. For me, this is another indicator that it’s time to plant my early potatoes – when the Comfrey has grown enough leaves to make the potato planting hole beds. I add Comfrey leaves because Comfrey is a wonderful natural plant food that feeds my growing potato tubers as the Comfrey leaves break down in the soil. I’d also added a good helping of garden compost to the planting row, as potatoes really benefit from a nutrient-rich soil.

The seed potato tubers are then covered over with a generous amount of soil – and then, you just sit back and wait …

Potato bed - bracken mulch
Bracken mulch to protect the potato bed from snow

But then … oh no! Two weeks after I’d planted my early potatoes, the Winter returned with a final icy blast! I had to dash off and collect bracken to cover over my already-planted potato bed. The bracken mulch provided its protection beautifully – though, I did leave it in place for a few weeks … just to be on the safe side!

Early growth of potato plants
Early growth of potato plants

Gradually, the green shoots of the potato ‘tops’ began to push up through the soil. By mid-May all of the potato plants were showing some green leaves.

Happing or earthing up potato plants
Happing (or earthing) up my potato plants

We had some heavy rain leading into the Bank Holiday Weekend at the end of May and this ample watering produced something of a growth spurt in my potato plants. This meant my task for Bank Holiday Monday was ‘happing up’ the potato plants – otherwise known as ‘earthing up’ – which involves drawing up the soil around the potato plants, leaving a small tuft of green leaves sticking out at the top.

Well-grown potato plants - tall as a garden fork
Well-grown potato plants – tall as the garden fork

The potato plants then grew, and grew and grew … the potato tops were like trees! The potato tops became a regular topic of conversation on the garden. By the end of June they had grown as tall as the garden fork!

Checking if First Early potatoes are ready to harvest
The very first tuber – are the potatoes ready yet?

Now it was time for the Big Question – the exciting part. The tops were well grown. The flowers were beginning to show. But were my early potatoes ready to harvest? All the signs were there, though I still wasn’t quite sure if the potatoes had been growing long enough.

Full of anticipation, I dug up my first Pentland Javelin potato plant. There was my first potato!

Harvesting Pentland Javelins - not quite ready
Harvesting Pentland Javelins – tubers are still a bit too small

When I dug in further, I could see there were a promising number of tubers growing, but, as I’d suspected, they were still a bit too small. I would need to be patient and wait a little longer.

Harvesting my first Pentland Javelin potatoes of 2016
Harvesting my first Pentland Javelin potatoes of 2016

Two weeks into July was the Big Day – my first potato harvest in my new garden space. I selected two plants with open flowers and dug in with great expectations. I wasn’t disappointed this time. Each plant produced a selection of decent sized tubers.

First kilo of Pentland Javelin potatoes 2016
On the scales – my first kilo of Pentland Javelin potatoes 2016

When I returned home with my first cargo of newly harvested potatoes, I weighed them. There was about a kilo of potatoes from the 2 plants.

As I’m sure you know, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’ … and I can tell you, my Pentland Javelin first earlies did not disappoint. They are very tasty, with that genuine ‘earthy’ flavour of home-grown potatoes. Now I’m looking up more potato recipes … πŸ™‚

J Peggy Taylor

Planting up my herb garden

Planting up my Herb Garden

Cooking herbs are essential, aren’t they? How could people possibly manage without bunches of fresh parsley? Or pinches of thyme and marjoram? Or sprigs of mint? Imagine having no handfuls of fresh sage leaves just there when you need them!

Well, perhaps I exaggerate slightly πŸ˜‰ But I find herbs really are quite easy to grow. Even if you don’t have a garden or outdoor space, your herbs will grow happily in pots on a reasonably sunny window ledge. Before I had my allotment garden, I grew my herbs in pots on my kitchen window ledge or in my yard. Now, I’m growing herbs on the window ledge AND on the allotment. Let me show you what’s where.

Old Thyme plant - New Thyme plants
Old Thyme – New Thyme

My old pot of Thyme was well-used but had grown woody and the leaves are now very small. This Spring I sowed some new Thyme. When I returned to blogging after a long break, I talked about “Making more Thyme“. The thyme has now begun growing on a little and I’ve potted it up into a terracotta pot on my kitchen window ledge. Thyme doesn’t like wet soil, so I find a clay pot is best for growing it.

Pot Marjoram - new plant
Pot Marjoram – new plant

I was aiming to grow Pot Marjoram directly in the herb garden but when the snails ate my seedlings, I resorted to sowing more seed indoors in a seed tray. As with the thyme, the marjoram is growing on a little now and I’ve potted it up into a terracotta pot on the window ledge.

I’ve not harvested leaves from my new thyme or marjoram yet. I’m letting them grow on a little more first. Both my thyme and marjoram plants have benefitted from pinching out – that is removing the growing tips to encourage side growth. If you’re new to gardening or would like to learn more about the process of pinching out, you might like to take a look at the helpful Green Thumb Tip on pinching out by fellow blogger, and experienced gardener, Woodland Gnome, over on her Forest Garden blog.

Titan parsley plants going to seed
Titan parsley plants going to seed

Parsley is a herb I use regularly, so I grow lots of it. Here in my herb garden you can see last year’s parsley plants. This is a flat leaved variety of parsley – “Titan” (from D T Brown). I’ve found it a very sweet, tasty parsley with the deep green leaves produced on short stalks.

I over-wintered some of these plants in pots in the greenhouse so that they still grew and I could harvest from them during the Winter months. Some of the parsley plants just stayed in the ground in a sheltered part of the garden through the Winter and, although they grew more slowly, they were fine. I’ve left my parsley plants to grow their flower heads now and then they’ll hopefully produce seed.

Giant Italian Parsley - in the greenhouse
Giant Italian Parsley – in the greenhouse

This Spring, I’ve chosen a different type of parsley – “Italian Giant” parsley, from the Organic Catalogue. It took the plants a while to get going (though, as with many plants this year, I suspect it did not care for our cold Spring), but now these Italian Giants are beginning to live up to their name.

My Italian Giants are looking rather large for their small pots in the greenhouse so I must get them potted on again soon. I have just begun harvesting leaves from these plants. The large flat bright green leaves are produced on long stalks. I think perhaps this variety doesn’t have quite the full parsley flavour of the “Titan” variety and seems a little drier and less juicy, but it’s still tasty enough.

The Mint cutting in my backyard is growing on into a plant in its own right now
The Mint cutting in my backyard grew on into a plant in its own right

The spearmint plant that I’d nurtured from a cutting a couple of years ago had grown to a nice clump in a pot in my yard. I had hoped to add the mint plant to my new herb garden this Spring, but sadly somehow it didn’t survive the Winter and I lost it altogether.

Large bucket of new herbs
Large bucket of new herbs

To replace my lost mint, I asked a neighbour (who I knew had a large patch of mint in his garden) if he could take a couple of mint cuttings for me. He readily agreed … and the following day presented me with this beautiful large bucketful of herbs – far more than the plant cuttings I was expecting! I could see there was a large clump of spearmint, complete with roots. I could not resist taking a few leaves for a lovely, refreshing cup of mint tea … mmmmm … wonderful.

In the bucket with the mint, there was also a large clump of sage, flowering freely with its gorgeous bee-friendly purple flowers. Sage flowers are so bee-friendly, there were bees visiting these flowers as I was collecting the bucket of herbs from my neighbour, bees visiting while the bucket of herbs stood in my yard and more bees visiting when I took the herbs down to my allotment garden! If you want bees, plant sage!

New sage plants in the herb garden
New sage plants in the herb garden

When I investigated my bucket of new herbs more closely, I found there were two full sage plants, complete with roots. I’ve now planted up these sage plants in the centre of my herb garden, next to my own original sage plants. And the bees are still visiting my sage flowers!

My new Spearmint in a large pot
My new Spearmint in a large pot

I planted my new clump of spearmint into a very large pot and it is currently still standing on the herb garden, though I will be moving it elsewhere in the garden at some point. You have to be careful with mint, as normally it is a very strong grower and can easily do a bit of a take-over in your garden if you aren’t careful. I will choose a permanent spot for my mint when I’ve thought carefully about where will be best. Mint needs rich, moist soil which is quite the opposite of some of the other herbs I like to grow.

Lavender among the herbs
Lavender among the herbs

As well as my culinary herbs, I love lavender. I’ve grown pots of lavender in my yard for years. I love to brush my hands over the leaves and breathe in that beautiful perfume. Lavender is another herb flower that is very popular with bees. The lavender I grow is the old English lavender, “Vera”.

In addition to the lavender plants I keep in my backyard, I have planted out a couple of well-grown lavender cuttings into my herb garden, between the parsley and the sage. I take and cultivate cuttings from my lavender plants to create more plants. As well as receiving unexpected bundles of beautiful herbs from generous neighbours ( πŸ˜‰ ), taking cuttings is a really useful way of producing new plants for free. I’ll have to show you that process another time.

Pot Marigolds in the herb garden
Pot Marigolds in the herb garden

For the very first time in my life, I am growing Pot Marigolds. I don’t how I’ve never grown them before, but this year I decided to rectify this oversight. I sowed the seeds directly into ‘pots’ in the herb garden. I grew them in bottomless pots so that I knew where I’d sown them! The Pot Marigold plants that the snails have kindly left for me seem to be growing on quite well now and I can even see the promise of flowers.

Soapwort seedlings
Happy, healthy Soapwort seedlings … and they continued to grow

The final herb in my herb garden at the moment is soapwort (Saponaria officinalis). I raised these soapwort plants in my yard a couple of years back (you can read my soapwort tale here). I decided the soapwort plants would benefit from the sunnier position of the herb garden, though, rather like the mint, I’ll need to be careful that the soapwort doesn’t take over, as it too can be a rather vigorous grower.

My soapwort - carefully pruned by the rabbit
My soapwort – carefully pruned by the rabbit

However, I must say, so far there isn’t much chance of the soapwort running amok, as my bob-tailed garden helper is keeping it rather well-pruned! Yes. Of all the herb plants in the herb garden, my visiting rabbit only seems interested in eating … soapwort! πŸ™‚

Are you a herb gardener too? Do you grow your favourite herbs in your garden or in pots?

J Peggy Taylor