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!