A few memories of 2013 for my mum & Nick, who are rarely here to see for themselves. In 2014 I'm going to be dreaming of more borders ... and more flowers. Happy New Year to anyone else who stops by!
I was all set to write about the little winter knot garden I'm trying to make so that we have lovely patterns and colours to look down on from our balcony, even when the steps are too slippery or icy to allow us to enjoy using the garden. But then Pauline at Lead up the Garden Path left a comment on my post about the view from my living room window and her words brought a 20-year-old memory rushing back.
A group of us were on a visit to the home of an alpine plantswoman. Unfortunately we were treated to particularly gloomy weather that day and did the tour of her smallish garden in heavy drizzle (it was either November or February, one of those slightly blue months).
Eventually we crowded into her living room and carried on the talk about her exciting cold frames full of trillium seedlings and the other things we'd enjoyed outside. After a while I stopped concentrating, because I could hardly take my eyes away from her big picture window. There, framed as if they were in a painting, were the trunks and bare branches of two trees, planted in close partnership: Betula utilis var. jacquemontii and Prunus serrula.
The colours and shapes seemed to fill the room with a vibrant sense of the garden outside, in spite of the miserable weather. I planted these two together in the garden of our house in Ireland, but a year or so later we moved and I was never able to enjoy the effect. Here it would be impossible. But if you are looking for two reasonably small, well-behaved trees to bring the 'outside in', think of this pair.
The picture of the birch above was borrowed from the website of the Stone Lane Gardens in Devon, both a garden and a tree nursery, which holds the NCCPG collection of birches. Do take a peek at their website (I hope they forgive me for 'borrowing' their picture, but at least it's to promote birches and their collection). Better still, pay them a visit and post about their beautiful plantings. If only I still lived in the UK and could visit myself!
It is difficult to buy plants in this part of France, and I have to resort to buying new things online. If anyone who lives in Europe can recommend good nurseries (with good prices!) that deliver in France, I'd appreciate it.
Below are two pictures of the relatively small area where I'm hoping to put the winter knot garden. I had to rip out the young box plants in September when they came down with blight, and now I'm wondering if hedges of Sarcococca humilis or S. confusa might do as a box replacement?
Meanwhile, Merry Christmas to anyone who happens to stop by!
It’s happened again. This is the second year running that we'll be eating 'blown' Brussel sprouts for Christmas. I’ve trawled the net for solutions. With relief I realise that I am doing some things right. I chose to grow the F1 variety, 'Cascade'. My soil is alkaline, they like that. I’ve tried both pinching the tips (this year) and not pinching (last year). Modern advice is that pinching is not necessary (unless you want to eat the flavoursome young leaves). Finally I’ve come up with the following points to keep my eye on in 2014:
1. The ground on which they are planted is not firm enough. This might be my problem (although I doubt it). I fork over the ground just before setting out my young seedlings, which I sow in a frame. Then I take care not to firm them in too much, because my soil is a silty clay and compacts quickly in the kind of heavy rain we experienced this spring. Apparently it is better to fork over well in advance (very early spring), and then just allow it to settle. When you plant, you don’t fork it over again, but simply pop the youngsters into the ground. When the sprouts are swelling in early autumn, you can also try earthing up the base of the plants. To hedge my bets, I'll fork the ground over at least a month in advance next year.
2. Lack of fertiliser. This could also be my problem. Because my garden is so young, I’m finding it hard to make all the compost I need (most of my gleanings from the ground so far have included pernicious weeds - creeping buttercup in my case - which you cannot add to a compost heap). I’m going to be setting up a fertiliser 'factory' using comfrey and nettles (and describing how I do it in future post), but for the time being I’m relying heavily on artificial fertilisers. Fertilisers of any description are shockingly expensive in France (and I prefer organic methods in any case), so my sprouts get one dose of feed when I put them in the ground and that’s it.
3. Lack of available nitrogen when the sprouts are starting to swell. Looks to me like the most likely answer. This year we had a deluge of rain in the early autumn (washing available nitrogen from the soil). Since my plants were very late in the ground, that weather coincided exactly with the time the plants were budding up.
4. High temperatures (over 24 °C) when the sprouts are forming. Also a possibility, given that my veg patch is on a south-facing slope. The only solution here is to plant later, so that the sprouts are maturing in the early autumn. But, since I planted them a bit late in 2012 and 2013, all I can do is pray for bad weather in August and September. And I'm not that fond of sprouts.
My favourite solution is 3, so I’m going to try a liquid nitrogen fertiliser when the buttons are forming (and make a note in my diary to get that little nettle factory into production). All ideas welcome!
I should add that I’m going to eat them anyway, because those little sprouts still look pretty tasty, even if they resemble small cabbages.
Or perhaps, since I’m half way there anyway, I should try the new ‘Flower Sprout’ from Tozers next year? A cross between cabbage and kale, the company claim that the taste is much more subtle than the Brussel. I’m definitely not one of the ‘supertasters’ discussed in this BBC Science article, but you never know who might come to dinner!
Once again Holley at Roses and Other Gardening Joys has inspired me. What can we see from the windows of our own homes when the weather is awful, or we are too tired or ill to go outside?
The view from my windows always lifts me, in spite of the fact that I can't see anything of my garden and plants from inside the house. Even when I lived in an upstairs flat in London, the view was fascinating and ever-changing. Amazing rooftops but, more importantly to a fledgling gardener, I revelled in a magnificent specimen of the Wichurana rambler 'Alberic Barbier'. He made a small shed look like a palace in his short season.
It was snowing when I took this (colour) photo. You can just about see the snowflakes. At the moment I am greeted with a forest transformed by the beauty of frost when I draw the curtains each morning. I watch it from the early morning fog through to the afternoon sunshine.
What inspires you when you look from the 'inside out'? I would love to see your photographs and enjoy your view.
This afternoon it finally hit me: Christmas again! Good grief! I may have been practising Christmas carols for weeks, but the reality only penetrated today, and it's already 8 December. (Well, ok, it dawned yesterday when I received my first Christmas card and realised I hadn't even bought my own.)
Unfortunately I haven't got another gardener to buy for, but here's what I'd buy if I knew a dedicated digger in need of a gift:
1. Quality hand tools Pictured left are my own favourite hand tools. Sometimes I accidentally throw them on the compost heap, but they always come back to me. My hand fork is by Wolf. Although a little heavier than some, it has a lovely, confident strength in the hand and wasn't expensive.
Why do I emphasise quality? Take a look at the secateurs below.
The secateurs on the left are less than 6 months old. They were sent to me as a
free gift with some irises I ordered this summer. I took one look at them and knew they were not built for the duration, but thought they might be useful if I left them (under cover) on our supper terrace, handy for snipping the sweet peas growing there.
About 3 weeks later (just as the rust was beginning to accumulate in spite of the fact they'd never had a sniff of rain and were well WD40d) my eye was caught by an ad for these same secateurs, boasting the marvels of their stainless steel blades and user-friendly handles. Not to mention the year's guarantee that was offered. If they hadn't been free ...
My Felco No. 2 secateurs on the right are about 20 years old (and that might be conservative). Four weeks ago they suffered a minor breakdown and had to spend a brief period in a rehabilitation centre. 'You don't know what you've got till it's gone' is all I can say ... it just goes to prove that sometimes the oldies are not only more efficient, they can also be better looking!
2. A gardeners' diary But not just any old diary. Certain features can mark out a trusty garden companion from an 'any old'. I like my 2014 Rustica Agenda (right, lying closed)because:
It has a week to view, which means I have plenty of space to jot down all the jobs for that week. And then there's room at the back for planning notes - many gardening diaries are just too small, with not enough room for scribbling.
It came with a separate organiser for 2014 (pictured open, above the diary). The layout is much as for the diary itself, with two days to view. There's room for me to jot down the temperature readings I take every day, as well as weather notes. It also gives me sunset/sunrise times and a recipe or health tip every couple of days. Best of all (as you can see from the picture, I hope), there's a monthly planner for my veggie plot, based on cultivating a set number of narrow beds. Very useful for someone like me who is a bit of a veggie novice.
The only drawback is that I have a suspicion the binding will be shot by June. Spiral binding is probably best, particularly for a gardener's diary, which is a bit of a workhorse amongst diaries. Since my own diary comes from France, it's difficult for me to recommend, but when I lived in Britain I always bought the RHS Desk Diary for the generous scribble room and the beautiful pictures. (I never liked the shiny paper they printed on, but perhaps that has changed?) For an organiser, rather than a diary, I'd say the spiral-bound Humorous Gardener's Organiser looks like fun.
What are your favourite gifts for a gardener? And do you know what I can get for a man who doesn't have much and doesn't seem to want anything more?
On the evening of 20 November I was tucked up in front of the TV watching the The Iron Lady (a newish film about Margaret Thatcher), and pondering the surprising parallels between her married relationship and my own. (And yes, I know that also means I'm admitting to being a bit of a Maggie!)
Suddenly Dennis - whoops, Nick! - danced in from the balcony (without the pink turban Dennis Thatcher wears in the film) and told me that the real Iron Lady had just arrived - it was snowing.
A half hour's panic ensued (still watching the film) until I decided that my pots would not freeze overnight, because the snow would temporarily protect them (the real tenders were already in our sunroom, it was the young hardy plants in pots that concerned me). In the morning, when I drew the curtains, this is the scene that greeted me. I was shocked - and then delighted, because a good fairy had brought all my plants into the house while I slept. Who says magic can't happen to adults? In this case the man of the house had worked the miracle in the wee small hours (still sans pink fairy turban).
The temperature doesn't seem to fall below 2 C° in our sunroom, so they are safe. Although I do have five rather small heliotropes and I was instructed as a student that heliotrope needs a minimum of 10 C° to thrive over winter. Make sure you try everything out for yourself. Here are the plants (below), all snug after a morning's tidying.
Today, the first of December, it is as if that brief embrace from the Iron Lady had never happened. All the snow is gone, the temperature is up to 10 C° - and I was out in the garden planting roses. Some were replacements, such as 'Jude the Obscure', 'Buff Beauty' and Rosa glauca (syn. R. rubrifolia).
I really can't understand why the last succumbed this year. I've had it almost everywhere I've gardened and value it for the beautiful glaucous red tones of the foliage, as well as the hips. Everywhere else it's been as tough as an old boot, but not here. Try, try and try again ...
My 'Lady Hillingdon' bush rose that was rescued into a pot and grown on without the chafers for a few months also went back into the ground. More welcome are the newcomers, because there is no sad reminder of the passing of a healthy plant. 'Pierre de Ronsard' went into the Iris Garden and 'Abraham Darby' (left) will lean against a small wall on the edge of the garden. I hope that people who walk the village lane to the river will also enjoy him eventually: it sounds as if, with his arching growth and flowers carried on rather weak stems, his blooms are best looked up at. I haven't been able to sleep for thinking about this rose ever since I saw the picture of it on the banner of the blog called Roses and other Gardening Joys. Have a look for yourself - he's simply scrumptious. (Only a rose obsessive could lose sleep like that ...)