Sunday, 31 May 2015

End of month view: May 2015

The Long Shady Border, from the shadier end

May has been much cooler month than normal, it's been quite windy but there hasn't been much rain. The Long Shady Border laughed off the vagaries of the weather and went ahead and put on lots of growth during the month, making it extremely lush, as you can see above.

At the shadiest end in the Damson Border, the new growth on the Damson has made it a bit top heavy, not helped by all the wind. So I need to prune this, in part to stop branches from snapping off, but also to give it a bit more form. There are quite a few infant damson fruits developing, so I need to be careful not to chop these off.

Damson border

Underneath, the Pulmonaria has nearly gone over and needs to be chopped back. This will encourage new leaves to develop over summer/autumn, so that they will good next winter. I was surprised to find that some ramsons that I had planted last year have in fact come up and are flowering - if you look carefully you can see the white speck above. They are few in number and need to bulk up more before I can start harvesting them for pesto.

 Shady! Lush! Crowded?!

In the Long Shady Border proper, the shadier end is very lush indeed. In fact, I think I may have over planted. It's so hard to get right, because when you put them in the ground the plants are often quite small and there is much bare earth So even though I thought I was spacing them out enough, clearly it's a little congested.

Acer palmatum 'Sango-kaku' is looking very healthy after almost dying from being in the Bog Garden last year. This is one of Kevin's two plants in the garden and he is a little protective of it and feels that the Digitalis behind it are crowding it rather too much. So I'm going to tie them back toward the fence to give it a bit of space. I need to keep my master digger happy. Plus, he is right.

The Lamium orvala has also grown into a rather large plant and is swamping the Sarcococca confusa.

Lamium orvala. You can spy a couple of Sarcococca leaves to the left.

The flowers are absolutely gorgeous and I rather like the shape of the leaves. Maybe I should tie this back too. And give the Sarcococca some room...

Lamium orvala flower up close

And I love the starry flowers of Heucherella 'Tapestry'. In fact I think this, the Lamium and Acer, and along with the fern Dryopteris erythrosora, all go rather well together. They just need a bit more space, so I need to think about how I can edit this part of the border to give the plants some breathing room whilst retaining the lush feel.

Heucherella 'Tapestry'

Looking from the middle of the border back up to the Damson, the Morello Cherry, being trained on wires along the fence, is now in full leaf and the blossom of April has become tiny cherries.

From the middle of the border up to the Damson

Can you see the two Epimediums under the Acer? Between the Geranium and the Melica? Of course you can't, as these plants have totally over grown them! I've decided I need to rescue the poor things and move them elsewhere so they can have their place in the, well, shade. This will be a job for June.

What you can see under the crimson Acer, Acer palmatum 'Bloodgood', is a small grass Melica nutans, with delightful brown-cream flower panicles which rustle in the wind.

Melica nutans

After not growing much nor flowering at all last year, Geranium macrorrhizum 'Czakor' has filled out and has produced lots of flowers. Happy in shade and happy being picked for cut flowers; they lasted two weeks in my vase in the lounge room.

Geranium macrorrhizum 'Czakor'

The Bluebells have been flowering, but I'm slightly confused as to their variety. They are meant to be Hyacinthoides non-scripta, the English bluebell, but rather than leaning over to one side as they should, they are flowering all around the stem, like a Spanish bluebell. They do still have the fragrance, which the Spanish don't, and they didn't do this last year. I got the bulbs from Peter Nyssen, who are very reputable and I've never had any problems with bulbs from them. There are no Spanish bluebells nearby, neither in my garden or nearby ones, so I'm curious to know why they looked like English bluebells last year, but have changed to look like Spanish bluebells this year!

I've emailed Peter Nyssen to see if they can put some light on the matter. I'll let you know what they say. But if you have any ideas that could clear up this mystery, do let me know.

Bluebells in the border

From the conservatory end of the Long Shady Border there has been lots of growth since the end of April.

The above photo makes the conservatory end look quite lush, but as I mentioned last month, it's still quite sparse compared to the other end of the border as you can see below.

Thanks to readers who offered suggestions last month of what I might add that will give height and that doesn't mind being wet, those being: Photinia Red Robin from Angie (like me she isn't keen on it but it does survive being wet), Leucothoe fontanesiana from Juliet, Cornus from Home Slip, which to my surprise don't mind being wet, and Sorbus aucuparia from Helene. Of these, I quite like the idea of the Cornus, particularly as it would add much needed winter interest, or the Sorbus which would add height, but I'm still dithering over the decision-making!

Whatever I decide, I'll have to do quite a bit of editing in the area around the plants above, which include the Tradescantia Andersoniana with the grass like leaves, and Amsonia tabernaemontana with the yellow-green leaves next to the fence. And therein lies the reason for my dithering. The ME is much worse at the moment and I'm reluctant to add more gardening tasks to my already long list. The rest of the garden beyond the Long Shady Border also demands my attention. Rearranging a whole section of a border, even a small area like this, is a lot of work. And as you saw earlier, I have to sort out the crowded plants up the other end of the border. Hopefully when I've improved I'll be able to make a decision, and have the energy to carry it out.

In the meantime, this part of the border will stay as it is, the ideas on hold, and instead, I shall try and make the most of enjoying the border as it is. And there is quite a bit to enjoy. Flowering in this area now are:


I wasn't expecting their flowers for a few more weeks, but hey, not complaining! There are a few of each planted in the Bog Garden area, plus thanks to a reminder from Helen, I've also managed to purchase and plant out Iris siberica 'Silver Edge' which should also flower in June.

The Bog Garden, with the leaves of Ligularia 'The Rocket' making their dramatic appearance.
To the right are the leaves of the new Iris.

My current favourites in the bog garden now are the stunning flowers of Astrantia major 'Hapsden Blood'.

And the beautiful leaves of Osmunda regalis 'Purpurascens'.

The gorgeous new leaves of Osmunda regalis 'Purpurascens'

On the whole, whilst there is still work to be done, the Long Shady Border gave both Kevin and I lots of pleasure in May. I look forward to seeing what it does in June. See you then.

End of month view is hosted by Helen Johnstone, aka @patientgardener. Visit Helen's blog for her May 2015 EOMV and links to other bloggers EOMV posts.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Gardening with ME: kitchen garden update

The strawberries are flowering well

Back in January I talked about planning the kitchen garden year. I thought that it would be good for me to do an update, looking at what I said then and how things have panned out so far for the 2015 growing season.

I am going to use my limited energy growing what I know and love, and get better at that rather than try anything new. 
I started the season with getting lots of well-rotted manure and leaf mold into the veg beds to improve the quality and structure of the soil. Well, my super Kevin did the lifting, the hardest part, I just spread it out. I particularly added a lot onto the beds that will be for my courgettes and pumpkins, as they are rich feeders and I was determined to get better at growing them.

The Greengage has lots of new growth

So far, so good. But. I've was having lots of problem with germination. Lots. Almost nothing I was sowing in pots was germinating. My heritage Tomatoes weren't germinating. Was there a problem with my saved seed? But the aubergines weren't either and it was bought seed. Huh? Now the cauliflowers aren't germinating, nor the kale. But I never have problems with the brassicas, what's going on? Oh, and the spinach and chard that I sowed direct and covered with a fleece weren't growing. Spinach and chard are easy.

I was worried. Really worried. And I didn't say anything, didn't even voice it out loud to myself, as I was really frightened that ME was impacting on my ability to grow. I tried sowing in different compost thinking it might be that causing the problem, but still no germination.

Herb border

After two months of this, a week ago I finally I decided to break my silence and asked on Twitter if anyone was having problems with germination. Turns out it wasn't all about me, or ME, but lots of gardeners were having problems with germination. Because it's been such a cold Spring. And the soil just doesn't want to warm up. And even people with real greenhouses, not like my mini-plastic greenhouse, were having problems. A massive sigh of relief. Why didn't I ask Twitter sooner, rather than over thinking I was losing my touch. Thanks Twitter gardeners. Note to self: just ask next time. And also, take more notice of the weather and not just think, oh, but I sowed that time last year and had no problems...

Pea 'Lativan' growing up the obelisk

The irony is that as I was worried I was losing my touch, the parsnips and carrots I sowed direct to the soil germinated without a problem and are growing really well. And I had sowed some courgettes and pumpkins direct into the soil and covered them with cloches, in part as I was trying to save energy with potting, and they were growing really well under the cloches. Interesting how I focused on the negative of the problem germination's, and not the positive of the veg I was having no problem with. I suspect I wasted limited energy worrying when I could have held off and sown later as it finally started to warm up. I recently sowed brassicas and chard and these have have all germinated.

Parsnips, garlic and carrots to the right under cover from the dreaded carrot fly

The grapevine has woken up

I have been sensible and reading up on how to grow courgettes and pumpkins more successfully and have discovered that the reason for last years failures might in part be due to problems of pollination. In both cases the fruit would start to grow, then die. And this is what happens when the flowers haven't been properly pollinated. Although I was seeing plenty of bees and other pollinating insects, clearly they weren't getting to the courgettes and pumpkins. So I'm going to do some hand pollination this year just to make sure. I've not done it before but it doesn't look that hard. Watch this space.

In the cut flower border, Helenium Sahin's Early Flowerer (left) and Rudbeckia Takao (right)
with non-flowering Sorrel in the middle

I'm going to grow what I like, not what I think I should like.
I decided to pull out the perennial kale and grow cut flowers instead. I sowed my seeds, but again had problems with germination, only a few Cosmos Antiquity have germinated and no sunflower seeds. Having learnt from the above, I have sowed some more a few days ago and they are germinating fine. However, I have decided that if they aren't coming along quick enough for planting out in June, I'll just buy some plugs from Heeley City Farm and plant those out instead. It will cost me a couple of quid, but will take up less energy. Plus, I 'll get to check in on the baby goats at the farm - so cute. In the meantime, I've added Helenium Sahin's Early Flowerer and Rudbeckia Takao to the cut flower border.

More Pea 'Lativan', plus courgettes and pumpkins planted out, intermingled with Corncockle

Luckily I've had no problem with my peas germinating (see, it really wasn't that bad - why didn't I see what my eyes were telling me?!) and I expect at the rate they are growing I should get a good crop. I like fresh peas. Mmmmm.

In the right bed you should just be able to make out the newly sprouted brassicas

I'm growing because I enjoy it and I love the food, not to be self-sufficient
The worry about losing my touch aside, this is mainly working. I'm still feeling pretty relaxed aside from the occasional wobble about wishing I had an allotment too, and I'm enjoying what veg I am growing. The Broad Beans and Garlic are both looking good. The Garlic should be enough to supply us for a year and with some to spare. The Broad Beans will give us a few yummy meals. Not self-sufficient, but self-picked and cooked within a short space of time. That's pretty good.

Pollination! Broad Beans!

Workability: I will accept that even with all my hopes and planning, it may all fall apart
Because there was no tomato germination and they need longer to grow, and rather than taking up more time and energy and start sowing more now, late May, I've just bought a few plants instead. I've decided not to get hung up on only growing heritage forms or varieties from saved seed, and just make life easier.

The potatoes need earthing up. That's another job for Super-Kevin :)

I'll confess that it's not easy to accept at this point that things might all fall apart. After all this time invested in worry, it's hard to not be invested in my crops.  But I need to remind myself that it might all fall apart. ME is unpredictable. And in recent weeks the ME has been worse and I haven't spent much time out in the garden. The doctor has put on new medication, including Vitamin D (ironic to think a gardener would be vitamin D deficient), and I'm quietly hoping that this will improve things. But only quietly, because let's face it, it might not.

So I have to remind myself that it is as much about the pleasure of gardening when I can as anything else. That the end product isn't the point, but the process and time spent doing so, that is.

* * * * *
I welcome your thoughts and suggestions. And if you blog about gardening with ME/a chronic illness, do link to this post in your blog and leave a comment below with a link to your post, so we can all find each other.

About Gardening with ME

Twitter hashtag: #GardeningWithME

Recent Gardening with ME posts...
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Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Photo essay: Alpine Plant Centre

Living in Sheffield means living close to the Alpine Plant Centre in the Peak District, which has an amazing selection of alpines, often rare, and at really good prices. I've been before and have used quite a few alpines from there to plant up my alpine wall. Alongside the nursery is the alpine garden, 30 years in the making, and I finally managed to rock up (rock, geddit...) on a rare day that the garden was open. 

Due to the cold Spring the alpines were only just starting to flower. Here is a selection of some that caught my eye. Because this is an actual gardeners garden most of the year there are no labels, hence the lack of specific names on this occasion. 

But I will start with one family that I know, and love, Daphnes.
 Large alpine Daphne shrub
 A really large alpine Daphne shrub! The fragrance was gorgeous.

Daphne yes, but it's the lichen that caught my eye here

 I'd love to know what this is, such a pretty pink and a lush green

Alpine Erysimum

I love how this almost looks like a valley. Valley of the alpines.

The owner and grower Steve caught Kevin and I in mid-amazement looking at this Tufa. He informed us that it's taken 35 years to get to this stage. 35 years! Dedication and beauty.

Did I mention Daphne? 

The alpine garden nestles comfortable within the Peak District

Ok, is this a Wookiee or a fern? Kevin & I voted Wookiee :)

 View looking up towards the house. Hell of a front garden, huh.


I'm still quite the beginner with growing alpines. When I saw that there was Tufa (naturally reconstituted limestone Steve told us) available, I wondered if I would be up to the challenge of growing some alpines in Tufa? Well, why not. I picked up a small piece, only £3, and a couple of Sempervivums which are good beginner-tufa plants. I'll have a go at adding these to the Tufa sometime soon.

Sempervivum Black Mountain (dark red one) and Virginius with my piece of tufa.

I also picked up a couple of Daphnes, D. Hybrid Meon & Cheriton, plus Penstemon newberryi, Sisyrinchium macounii and Lavendula angustifolia Nana.

The garden will be open for two more days this year, 31st May and 14th June, 2pm to 5pm. I'm hoping to go back as I'm sure I'll see different plants in flower as the weather (finally?) warms up. See you there.