Thursday, 13 December 2012

Secret Gardens

I was recently given a load of garden books that had belonged to my mum. There are several interesting ones there that I'll review as I get through them, but the most eye-catching one for me was a book on the creation of private spaces within the garden called Secret Gardens that looks like it was published by an Australian magazine. How it found its way into my mum's collection I have no idea. I assume it was a charity shop find...

Anyhoo, reading through this book really got me thinking about things I'd love to do, but there is a limit to the amount I can or am prepared to do to my current space. As I've mentioned before, the house is rented and given how reluctant the landlord seems to be to spend money on it, I'm loathed to put too much into the garden.

Friday, 16 November 2012

The Curious Gardener, By Anna Pavord - A Review

The Curious Gardener is a collection of Anna Pavord's articles from her column in The Independent. It is set out by month with a few relevant articles and then a "what to do now" section.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Autumn in Stuarts Park

Stuarts Park, Middlesbrough, is somewhere I've written about a few times. It's a lovely period park that has been getting slowly restored over the last few years and I spend my lunch time there as often as I can. The upper ponds area of the park is one of the recently restored areas and is starting to look really good now that the mud slick that has surrounded the ponds for the last few months has started to give way to grass. There is a lovely selection of trees there including one of my favourites, the weeping willow. If I ever have a garden big enough to accommodate a large pond, then it will definitely have a weeping willow planted next to it.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Garden Visit - Jardines De Alfabia, Mallorca

The other half and I recently spent a relaxing, child free week on the Balearic island of Mallorca. Many will cringe at the mention of it, picturing horrific clumps England transplanted, numerous St. George's crosses and all, to a sunburned collection of cheap all inclusives and "English Bars". Past experience had led me to believe much the same thing. What we discovered away from all of this however was a very pleasant coastal village called S'illot. There were a few hotels and the odd Anglicised pub, but there was also a fine selection of Spanish Bars and restaurants offering local food and drink, which is just the sort of thing we like when we go away. Needless to say, I ate like a pig and we drank a very pleasing amount of local beverages. I still find it incredible that you can buy a carton of very nice Spanish wine for less that 2 Euros... Anyhow, enough of that, on with the point of this post.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

The Rogue Asparagus

Earlier this year, in a fit of uneducated and ill advised enthusiasm,  I planted 6 asparagus roots. Cue at this point, months of deluge during which the shady corner of the garden where I had put them turned into a mini pond. I had completely given up on them, assuming that they'd rotted in the ground and that part of the garden had been re-purposed from veg to general planting.

Amongst this planting I had spotted a sort of wispy, ferny growth which I hadn't really investigated and had left there simply because it looked quite pretty. I had vaguely thought that it might be something to do with the potted fennel plant that was sited nearby as they had the same sort of fine, feathery foliage. (accidental alliteration anyone?).

Imagine my surprise when watching last nights Gardeners' World to see Monty talking about cutting back and mulching this self same plant, and identifying it as asparagus! Yet another example of the truly incredible resilience of plants, and their amazing will to stay alive. Fingers crossed that it will survive and, in a couple years, possibly even supply us with some of my favourite veg.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Garden Log - September? October?

Another thoroughly tardy post. I do actually have an excuse this time however! A few (to me) exciting things were taking place mid-September that I wanted finished before I started taking photos and writing my gardeny drivel.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

The Peat-Free Diet, by Emma Cooper - A Review

I have been somewhat lax in my blogging duties in the last few weeks. My apologies to Emma for being being a casualty of this and the length of time that it's taken for me to get this post finished. Thanks for giving me the book to review!

Peat free gardening is not a new topic of discussion. It is something that gardeners have been made aware of for several decades now. Some choose to ignore it, possibly pleading ignorance, others will give it their best efforts, and then at the other end of the scale are those who approach the subject with an almost maniacal zeal.
Whilst I applaud the standards of the latter group I'm afraid I probably fall into the middle one. I buy peat free compost, but this is something I have only recently started to make an effort with. I don't however have the time or the money to start demanding that all plants I buy be grown in a completely peat free environment. As far as I'm aware, my local nurseries and garden centres don't do this (I assume it would be advertised as a selling point if they did) and I do feel that supporting those local businesses is important. One of the main issues I've run into when starting to look at peat-free gardening is that a lot of the available compost is total crap. There seems to be a wide range of woody rubbish that's riddled with lumps of plastic, and in one case pieces of glass. Not pleasing. Many gardeners are unlikely to be totally converted until the alternatives are as good as their peat based counterparts. I have started making my own compost, but as I've been on with this gardening lark for less than a year I don't have any ready for use yet.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Garden Visit - Millgate House, Richmond

I go to Richmond, North Yorkshire, quite a lot. My Grandpa has lived in a home there for a fair few years and over that time I've got to know its mixture of antique shops, charity shops, book shops, cafés and local pubs very well. It's a lovely town and I can quite easily spend whole days there pottering around and relaxing. On top of all of this there is the beautiful surrounding countryside and the lovely local architecture which all adds up to a place where I could very comfortably go and live.

Monday, 27 August 2012

The Virgin Gardener, By Laetitia Maklouf - A Review

The Virgin Gardener is intended to be a starter guide for people who have either never gardened before, or are are very new to it and want some low hassle projects to get them started. Don't let this put you off if you are a bit more experienced however as there are plenty of interesting and quirky ideas in here for you too. I'd count myself as being somewhere in the middle. I'm not a total newbie, but I'm certainly not an old hand by any stretch of the imagination. For me this book filled in some informational blanks on topics that other books just seem to assume you know, and gave me some ideas to try out both in the garden and inside.

Friday, 24 August 2012

The Flowerpot Gang

This is a fairly brief post to fill anyone interested in on my experience of being a volunteer for the current series of The Flowerpot Gang.

The episode that was broadcast this week was based in Sunderland at the young carers support centre and, being a priviledged resident of that fair city, I responded to the call for volunteers made the previous week. I emailed in as instructed and, much to my surprise, I was contacted within a couple of hours by someone from the production company inviting me along last Friday and asking for details of when I'd like to come along and what I could do. I work full time so was only able to go for the afternoon session. This was a bit of a shame as it turned out because most of the interesting work was done in the morning, and apparently most of the filming was too.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Garden Log - August Update

This has been a really exciting month for things getting going and loads of fantastic flowers appearing. It's nice to start getting a proper idea of how things are going to develop once the planting ages and gets denser.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Life In A Cottage Garden, By Carol Klein - A Review

Written to accompany the TV series of the same name (which unfortunately I've not seen and have infuriatingly just found out was repeated last month), this book takes you through the development and  changes to Carol's garden at Glebe Cottage over the space of a year.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Garden Visit - Durham Botanic Garden

Last week the other half and I visited the Durham Botanic Garden. We've been there a few times before, but we'd yet to see it in summer. The garden is run by the university and is used as a teaching resource as well as a public attraction.

Despite the garden having obviously suffered from the same appalling summer weather that the rest of us have endured it was looking very pretty. It was fairly obvious that the gardeners were battling with the aftermath of all of the rain with lots of massively overgrown plants and several of the paths being washed away.

Thursday, 19 July 2012


Just wanted to share this picture of my Poundland Irises. There's one in the previous post but since then more have come out. I'd forgotten I'd planted them, I wish I'd planted more of them, and I will be remedying this come next spring.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Garden Log - July Update

One of the main reasons for doing this blog was to give me a month by month record of how things are developing. One of my main problems when I'm gardening is that, as I've said before, I'm impatient. To much time spent looking at mature gardens in magazines and on online make me want things to fill in and look beautiful now. Posting these words and pictures allows me to look back and see that, actually, things are developing quite rapidly. Looking back at last month and comparing it to this I can see that things have rocketed up and that the garden is developing nicely.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

NGS Garden Visit - Glebe Farm, Sunderland

Today the intrepid baby and I went on our first NGS Garden visit to Glebe Farm in Whitburn, Sunderland. It's been a grey and blustery day, but the good old BBC weather pages gave hope that the rain would stay away, so off we went. The garden was very easy to find with clear signposting right from the main road. It obviously helped that I live in the area and know Whitburn fairly well anyway, but I'm quite sure visitors from further afield would have had no trouble finding it.

Friday, 22 June 2012

The Ivington Diaries, By Monty Don - A Review

I've just finished reading Monty Don's The Ivington Diaries, and what a joy it was. It has been a long time since I've read a book that I've enjoyed so much that I've actually had to force myself to put it down to avoid finishing it too quickly.

The book is made up of excerpts from Monty's garden diary covering a period from the mid 90's through to the mid 00's (I will not call it the noughties, it sounds ridiculous) and describes the process of building and evolving his current garden. It covers planting, hedging, hard landscaping, successes and failures, and leaves you feeling like you've been given an intimate insight into an obviously much loved personal space. There are interesting reflections on the uses of different areas of a garden that apply to any family outdoor space that make it clear that this is a garden to be used and enjoyed, not just viewed from afar. It is all beautifully written in the style that anyone who has read much of the author's work will be familiar with - articulate, yet not intimidating, and with a sense that he is speaking directly to you.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Garden Log - June Update

Although it's been a bit duller than anyone would like, June has seen my garden start to fill out a bit. Bare earth is starting to give way to greenery and, although the splashes of colour are a bit thin, they are starting to appear. I'm particularly pleased with the way the Delphiniums and Foxgloves are performing. The photo above shows the two better Delphiniums. These are starting to sprout a pleasing mount of new growth from the bases, and the colours are just fabulous. I have however lost one of them. It was slowly but surely failing, and gave up the ghost altogether about a week ago. All is not lost though as I took some cuttings from them before planting, two of which have taken.

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Woodland Paths

Stewart's Park, Middlesbrough

On another of my lunchtime wanders recently, I discovered several paths through the woodland sections of Stewart's Park that I had not previously noticed. These make for a very relaxing, softly lit walk between the Ash and Birch (I think - I'm not too good at tree identification yet), lined with a froth of green woodland plants. Lots of Cow Parsley, Buttercups, a random single Aquilegia, and what I think is Gentian (I'm open to corrections on that one - it's the pink flower in the photos). All very pretty and tranquil. I just wish I'd been wearing wellies so that I could have explored it fully.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Veg Planting and Flower Pics

It's been a lovely evening here. Sun strong enough make shorts a possibility, and to dry the grass from earlier rain. A huge blue sky with billowing white clouds. Just the sort of night that makes it essential to rush home from work as quickly as humanly possible and get out there. I got home first giving me time on my own for a tour of the garden, peering at newly sprouting additions, and then getting started with some planting. Not long after this Marie arrived home with the boy and we spent a very enjoyable hour on the lawn with him attempting to roll over (and very nearly getting there!). I've spent so long labouring away in the garden, getting it into shape and often in less than wonderful weather. It's really nice now to be able to learn to enjoy it.
We had a pair of goldfinches here yesterday, fluttering about the feeders. I'm not sure if I've ever seen them before, and if I have it's been a very long time.

I've had a productive little time getting my peppers and tomatoes planted out. They were getting a bit on the large side for the bedroom window ledge, so I reckon it needed to be done. Hopefully it's not too early...

The peppers are sweet and cayenne with 4 of each planted in a 50 litre pot, and then a 3rd pot with a mixture in. I ran out of gravel while I was doing it, so I need to get some more to finish mulching. It's all looking pretty good if I do say so myself. Better than grow bags!

Pot's O' Veg (or technically, fruit)

Sweet Peppers

The tomatoes are 'Red Alert'. I'm not a massive tomato eater, but I do very much like freshly made pasta sauce, so hopefully we'll get a few. They're planted individually in 5 litre pots. Both the peppers and the tomatoes were given a layer of gravel in the bottom of the pots to aid drainage.

Tomato 'Red Alert'

There are several things either in flower, or just getting there at the moment. It's making a very pleasant change to the dullness that's been going on for so long. It makes me feel like I'm getting somewhere.

Delphinium. A beautiful colour, the picture doesn't do it justice.

The gorgeous Aquilegia that I admitted to neglecting to photo in my previous post.
Marie says she'd fill the garden with them if she could, and I'm inclined to agree.

Digitalis (Foxglove) just starting to come into bloom. I love the speckles inside the flowers.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Anemones and Relaxation

I can't stop taking pictures of these things. They're beautiful I and I love them!

I had a fantastic day in the garden yesterday. It was mostly just spent enjoying it, on a rug on the grass with my son. It's been one of the first chances I've had to just appreciate having somewhere to relax like that. The day consisted of playing with him when he was awake, and reading when he was snoozing. Very pleasant. Once bedtime came around and he was safely tucked in I was a bit more productive - Lawns mown, edges clipped and bi-weekly plant feeding done.
Gardening is on of those strange pastimes where there's always something to be done, but you don't mind getting on and doing it. I've just been looking at some older photos and I can't believe how much it's changed over a few months, so the effort is obviously worth it. My wife and I were just saying a couple of days ago that we couldn't now imagine moving anywhere without a garden. What a change it makes!

The Birdies "helping"

I've just realised that I've taken shockingly few pictures of the beautiful Aquilegias I have flowering at the moment. Must rectify that today!

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Seedlings, Staking, and Nematodes

Note to self. Pot on all seedlings as soon as possible after a true leaf appears to avoid much fiddly separation and probable horrendous root damage.
Overcooked Nigella seedlings
This batch of seedlings was sown with rather unfortunate timing, in as much as they reached point of needing to be pricked out at about the lowest financial point in the month. With over a hundred of them I didn't have anywhere near enough potting space for them, so they've had to wait until I could afford to buy in a load of plant modules. This is done and they're now sitting taking up about a third of my coldframe... Hopefully this is the sort of situation I'll run into less as A) I build up a stock of equipment big enough to handle this volume of seedlings, and B) I learn the hard way to avoid it!

I've been experimenting with different methods of staking. To the inexperienced eye this does seem at first to be a little bit of a black art, but it quickly becomes apparent that it's one of those things that, on a basic level, isn't that hard, but will probably take a few years of experience to become proficient at. I started out on my first batch of plants with just standard garden canes and twine. This does what's required of it, but isn't very elegant or pretty. Hopefully the foliage on the plants concerned will grow in enough to cover it soon.

Ugly staking on Delphiniums
I've since realised that the large supply of apple tree cut-offs that I've been hoarding for burning on our chimnea could be used for a more natural appearance. I've started experimenting with this by attempting to sort of weave the branches together to form a useful structure. It looks a lot more natural, but only time will tell how functional it actually is.
Emerging Gladioli with apple branch staking

Nasturtiums with an apple branch trellis
Apologies for the poor pictures, but it was drizzling and a combination of wanting to not get too wet, and our neighbours already thinking I'm a bit strange without catching me taking pictures of sticks in the rain, drove me to haste.
The other staking tactic I'm going to take is to start acquiring some nice metal ones that look good in their own right. These seem to be very pricey however, so it will be a gradual accumulation.

The third and final subject I wanted to touch on in this post was a thought that was sparked when reading this post on the Bluebell Cottage Gardens and Nursery Blog that talks about peoples attitudes and approaches to organic gardening, and in particular a section in the comments where someone talked about nematodes.
I wouldn't say that I am an organic gardener as such. I don't use chemical sprays or similar, beyond taking some soapy water to the dreaded aphids, but I do have a very damp garden, and the result of this is slugs. Lots of em. I know Monty advises the use of grit around plants as a slug repellent, but to be quite honest, I can't afford that much grit. I have a lot of time for Monty Don - I thoroughly enjoy his writing and programs, and take a lot of inspiration from his gardening style. He does occasionally, however, recommend techniques that basically amount to throwing money at a situation, and this grit advice is an example.
Anyhow, I digress. My chosen slug solution is iron phosphate pellets. The reading on them I've done suggests that they are a good alternative to the standard ones that don't cause as much collateral damage, and they seem to work for me.
This post has been edited since I first published it because I came to the conclusion that what I'd written was drivel. I originally posited that we we didn't know what the long term effects of using nematodes might be, and that we should treat them with caution as a result. Since then I've done some actual reading up on them (as opposed to voicing a totally uninformed opinion) and I have to say I'm pretty sold on the idea. We do know what they do, we know that they're naturally occurring, and we know that should they fail to find enough slugs to feed on then they'll die back to natural levels. Given the amount of plants I've had ravaged by the slimy menace, I intend to give these a try. The Hostas will grow!

Monday, 28 May 2012

Garden Log - Flowering Update

Clearly I'm getting far too excited by odd things flowering here and there, but it's my first year of it, so I think it's excusable. Especially after the long grey winter of empty garden, followed by a month long freezing downpour when nothing grew. With this in mind, I think I'm going to start limiting these "Garden Log" posts to monthlies or bi-weeklies, unless something particularly exciting happens.

The first fully open Anemone

Some sort of pelargonium?

Different Climates - A Visit to Gloucestershire

I've just got back from visiting my parents who are living in Gloucestershire. It's quite incredible how much further things are along there considering it's only 250 miles south. Both plants and animals are weeks ahead and it's striking how green it is. My parents live on a canal boat and the village where they're moored is quite small and very quiet. It's lovely at the boat - you can't hear any cars or anything. Very peaceful. It's the first time I've visited that part of the country and I'm very taken with it. A truly beautiful area.

Here are some pictures I took while we were there.

A mandarin duck and ducklings

Forgetmenots (I think) growing wild

Some beautiful irises and aquilegia in this garden. I'm quite jealous!

A classic English countryside view - a field of buttercups

Friday, 25 May 2012

Stewart Park, Middlesbrough

Stewart Park is one my regular lunchtime haunts. It has been looking a bit sorry for itself until recently when the council have been doing a refurbishment. Lots of newly laid paths and some refreshed lakes have gone in , and recently the new planting has started. It's going look very nice once things are established, provided the local intelligencia manage not to destroy it...

This rose garden with box hedging is going to be gorgeous once things get going:

There was a newly planted bed of perennials as well which was lovely with aliums and ferns, but one one of the afore mentioned intelligencia was sitting behind it drinking cans of Skol while I was photographing...

This is one of the more established sections, which I think is lovely with tulips and the rhododendron blooming together

There's also a very nice, newly planted shaded bed with hellebores and euphoribias, amongst other things. I'm looking forward to seeing it all next year and will update as things establish themselves.